More trapped civilians have freed themselves from the clutches of the LTTE despite an ongoing forcible recruitment of civilians by the guerrillas, in a rapidly shrinking terrain.
Civilians who escaped from the LTTE in Puthukkudiyiruppu have reported to the military of desperate and angry civilians going on the rampage against the guerrillas who are preventing them from leaving.
According to these reports the guerrillas this week, have distributed leaflets in the “safe zone” demanding that every man, woman and child take up arms and fight to the end.
These people have also said that the LTTE has mounted gun positions in the 12 km “safe zone” .
This week, a group of rebels who attempted to forcibly recruit men and women in the Puthumatallan area, in the safe zone, were attacked by a group of civilians resulting in the stoning of several LTTE cadres and an ensuing clash between the two sides.
This incident, was reportedly triggered off when a group of cadres attempted to forcibly recruit a young girl, despite the protests of her parents and relatives and in the melee, had reportedly dragged the girl out while holding her parents and relatives at gunpoint.
|Pictures downloaded from Tamil websites and later identified and marked by defence authorities
The military says this is part of a forcible recruitment of civilians between the ages of 14-25, from camps in the “safe zone”. These civilians are to be deployed in the frontlines.
Angry civilians who had pelted stones at the LTTE cadres had set ablaze the six vehicles the LTTE group had come in. The military says there were also reports of civilian mobs hacking a few LTTE cadres, in their desperation to flee the area.
Later, the mob surrounded an LTTE political office in the area and pelted stones. In retaliation, the military says a group of armed LTTE cadres had indiscriminately opened fire on the civilians who were only armed with knives and poles killing and injuring several of them in the presence of humanitarian agencies working in the area.
Civilian resistance against the LTTE is probably being reflected in the sudden increase of the number of civilians who have fled the fighting over the past week. In the previous two weeks the numbers had dropped, but it has now picked up again, the military says,
More than 5000 civilians arrived in the cleared areas by sea and land routes during the week bringing the number of civilians who have sought military protection to more than 47,000 since January, the military said.
Last Wednesday, intercpted LTTE communications revealed senior members such as Soosai, Rangan, Maran, Alagan and Illayawan giving orders to their Sea Tigers to apprehend civilians who were attempting to flee during the early hours of that morning, the military said.
They said about four Sea Tiger boats had pursued a flotilla of boats heading towards the northern coast carrying 643 civilians. The Tigers had fired at the civilian boats, but it was repulsed by the Sri Lanka Navy that had intercepted the LTTE boats on time. Dvora Fast Attack Craft (FAC) were later deployed to intercept the Sea Tiger boats that were fleeing after firing at the civilians.
The civilians were immediately taken to safety and provided with refreshments and medical attention, before they were directed to their welfare centres. Another group of about 140 civilians including over 50 children too had been rescued by the Navy while they were travelling by boats towards the north.
Following last Wednesday’s high seas shootout, the Navy has now made special arrangements to assist those who are fleeing the LTTE via sea routes, with vessels being stationed off the coast of Mullaitivu, with stand-by rescue and medical teams on board.
Meanwhile, despite infiltration attempts and stiff resistance by the guerillas, the advancing troops gained more ground last week. Last Monday, the fall of the Iranapalai junction located north of Puthukkudiyiruppu was a significant blow to the Tigers.
Infantrymen of the 20 Gajaba Regiment (20 GR), 7 Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment (7 SLSR) and 11 Sri Lanka Light Infantry (11 SLLI) serving in 581 Brigade under the command of Lt. Colonel Deshapriya Gunawardena reached Iranapalai junction following bitter clashes that raged for days.
The significance of Iranapalai junction is that it was the nerve centre for LTTE intelligence operations. The residence of the LTTE intelligence wing chief, Pottu Aman is believed to be located at this point.
The 58 Division which has now passed Iranapalai junction has taken full control of the road that leads to Puthumatallan in the “safe zone” from Puthukkudiyiruppu. The capture of this road which has direct access to the civilian ‘safe zone’, located in Tiger held terrain will enable troops to facilitate fleeing civilians trapped in the area.
Troops of the 58 and 55 divisions are now two kilometres away from the safe zone from the east and north of Puthukkudiyiruppu.
Following the fall of Iranapalai junction the LTTE launched several deadly waves of attacks against the military to retain its fast depleting terrain. The military believes that the LTTE had their ammunition dumps in the area and all matters concerning LTTE espionage was gathered at this point.
Meanwhile, troops of the Task force 8 advanced further towards the northern boundary of the Nanthikadal lagoon on Wednesday. The 53 Division is moving parallel to the A-35 road from Puthukkudiyiruppu to link up with Task Force 8.
Last Monday, troops from the Special Forces that were operating west of Puthukkudiyiruppu escaped when an LTTE suicide bomber, clad in an Army camouflage uniform blew himself up while attempting to breach the security forces defences.
This occured when troops who were preparing to receive displaced civilians suddenly noticed a Black Tiger posing off as one of the troops. The troops ordered the suspect to halt and identify himself before any further movement At that point he activated his suicide belt dying on the spot. No one was injured in the blast.
At present nearly 65,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in the LTTE safe zone. The LTTE are now confined to a space which is less than 25 square kilometres and this terrain is rapidly dwindling.
As a heavy exodus of civilians is expected in the coming days, the troops’ greatest challenge so far lie ahead as they move closer to the civilian “safe zone” where the LTTE cadres have positioned their guns.