The Defence Column

26th May 1996

Jaffna: signs of sunrise

By Our Defence Correspondent

The liberation of the Jaffna peninsula has triggered the curiosity instincts of the Sri Lankan soldiers. The footsoldier's monotonous routine is temporarily suspended as each new day promises some excitement. The troops are now on a search expedition, discovering the remains of an enemy stronghold which seemed invincible, not so long ago.

Among other interesting findings, troops discovered 8 major LTTE bases in the Vadamarachchi sector last week. The total number of LTTE bases, offices and mini camps cleared by the troops in the Jaffna peninsula now stands over a staggering 250. Why these enemy positions were not spotted earlier during the LTTE regime is debatable.

It could either be the crafty defences and counter-intelligence methods adopted by the LTTE, or the clear inability and inefficiency of the government intelligence which had been in deep slumber for a good part of the protracted war.

Rohan Daluwatte has proven to be one of the most successful war-time Generals and in the government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Daluwatte has found the ideal facilitator in executing his new strategy. For once an Army Commander has a government equally committed to the military objectives. Now as the second and most important phase of the military-politico solution comes into effect, it's quite paramount the government does not cast the military to the dogs as seen in the past.

Had the LTTE's de-facto government been allowed to go scot-free for a few more years, the evidence in Jaffna show that the situation would have had terrible repercussions. The lackadaisical attitude of the government intelligence mongers would not have had a clue. The Air Force was rarely given an accurate target based on information, otherwise how could so many Tiger bases including Sea Tiger bases operate with no enemy interference.

For the first time in the Eelam war spanning over 13 years, the LTTE presence is almost entirely restricted to the mainland. Apart from the limited number of armed cadres in hiding in the Jaffna peninsula, the infiltration is confined to an unknown number of Tiger activists passing off as civilians.

The military meanwhile has monitored a major Tiger build-up in Mullaitivu where the Army has a strong presence. The Mullaitivu army base has been placed on red alert since the build-up was reported two weeks ago.

Latest reports said that an Air Force vehicle was fired at by unknown gunmen in Jaffna. The Army has sought the assistance of civilians to nab infiltrators posing as civilians. The Army has not ruled out the possibility of these infiltrators launching planned attacks.

Before the LTTE exodus, arms and ammunition may have been concealed in safe places for the use of returning cadres. The Army says the response from the civilians to keep a close watch on LTTE activity is encouraging with several suspects already nabbed with the help from civilians.

The Army has launched a door-to-door campaign (wherever possible) to educate the civilians of the new developments and to convince them that the soldiers would not ill-treat them.

Most teenagers and young adults have only heard of the 'barbaric qualities' of Sri Lankan soldiers as purported by the LTTE. This is the first time they have come in contact with the soldiers. The Army Commander Lt. Gen. Rohan Daluwatte insists that the first real-life impression counts. Despite the pressure of the situation, the soldiers have been instructed to be courteous and helpful to civilians returning to liberated areas.

Discipline among soldiers plays a crucial role in restoring the government machinery in the Jaffna peninsula. Among the troops are some who have gone unpunished for indiscipline and violence in earlier instances. Tamil civilians have ugly scars of these incidents which they will not easily forget. The Army would do well to ease the tension between civilians and soldiers.

As the government and the private sector move into restore Jaffna's once vibrant economy, the people are hoping for a new sunrise in their lives.

Go to the Economic Column

Return to the Editorial/Opinion contents page

Go to the Defence Column Archive