The Defence Column

14th April 1996

The war goes on...

By Our Defence Correspondent

Throughout Operation Riviresa, and unknown to many, government troops have been compelled to carry weapons as well as shovels. As the rattle of gunfire ceases, soldiers dig up the ground to bury their dead enemies. By Friday April 5, in the latest phase of Operation Riviresa, the bullet-riddled bodies of 123 rebel youths had been laid to rest by the troops.

Judging by the turn of events on the ground, it seems obvious that the tragic scenario will continue unabated and the soldiers will have to do the final rites for many more unfortunate rebels.

It was during the first few days of Operation Riviresa that the International Committee of the Red Cross broke the news to the Army top-brass in Jaffna. The ICRC said that no communication with the LTTE was possible as it had lost contact with the LTTE hierarchy. Senior leaders were not available at any time, said the ICRC and refused to take over the bodies of Tiger cadres killed in combat, as the Red Cross had done for so many years.

It has been obligatory on the part of troops to handover the dead bodies to the ICRC under the Geneva Convention.

By the first week of April repeated requests to the ICRC to take over the large number of Tiger infiltrators killed in the Valikamam West had been negated with the ICRC pointing out that there were no senior LTTE officers to accept the bodies. The LTTE it seems, has condemned its own fighters to part the world without a decent funeral and last rites by the families as well as the organization. Honouring the dead with a hero's funeral had been a long standing practice - perhaps a passionate tradition for the LTTE.

The sudden twist of events points to a drastic breakdown of law and order within the LTTE. Prabhakaran's stringent code of conduct even at the most difficult hour had propelled LTTE to the level of being the most ruthless guerrilla outfit in the world. But today, the very core of the foundation is crumbling as Prabhakaran attempts to raise a new order in an organization in tatters. A funeral with full honours had been a tradition, but of late the heroes seem to have been forgotten.

Eelam's new headquarters is fast coming up in Kilinochchi and in the process, the military's crippling strikes elsewhere are creating chaos for the Tiger top-brass.

At least 6000 Tamil civilians are now living in the Valikamam area. These civilians reported the infiltration of up to 140 armed Tiger cadres between the FDLS and the sea.

Ironically, the successful limited offensive left no injured Tiger cadres with deaths mounting to 123. What is difficult for the military to fathom is why the LTTE played into the hands of the troops by deploying such a large number in an area surrounded by the enemy. With civilians now turning against the LTTE, its cadres can no more expect the same care and loyalty they enjoyed in the past.

Any infiltrators will be identified in no time and information passed on to the troops. With its rank and file fast dwindling, the LTTE cannot afford to sacrifice more men in such large numbers.

In the face of continuing set backs amidst a few consolation victories, the LTTE is attempting to create violence in the east, in an attempt to force a troop re-deployment in the area. However, the military insists that troops withdrawn from the east will not be sent back.

Meanwhile, yet another ill-conceived deadline set by the government to crush the LTTE and its Eelam search ended with the dawn of the New Year. The intelligence warns of renewed attacks. Meanwhile the protracted war goes on.

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