Hours after midnight which marked the arrival of Wednesday, May 15, a flotilla of Navy boats filled with heavily armed men sped towards the shores of Valvettiturai and Point Pedro in the Vadamaratchi sector of the Jaffna peninsula. As they neared the shore, guns mounted on the boats spewed fire towards the bunkers that dotted the shore.
That signalled the launch of "Operation Riviresa III", the final phase of the government's ambitious military programme to wrest control of the entire Jaffna peninsula from the LTTE.
There was hardly any resistance from the bunkers which had formed a vital LTTE defence perimeter in the past. It is in this general area that the Sea Tiger bases were concentrated and Velvettiturai was the birth place of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
But many weeks before, almost with the launch of "Operation Riviresa I", the LTTE had pulled out its men and military hardware from the Vadamaratchi sector. LTTErs, had crossed the Jaffna lagoon to the Wanni. Improvised barges had been used to move heavy military hardware, including a few artillery pieces, fifty calibre guns, mortar lunchers and the LTTE's own Pasilan launchers.
The fact that the Tiger guerrillas were not there to engage did not matter to the advancing Naval flotilla. It was not their mission to do so. They were only carrying out a deception plan under "Operation Riviresa III".
As the engines of the Naval boats hummed in harmony when they approached the Vadamaratchi coast, elsewhere in that area, crack Brigades of the Sri Lanka Army's 53 Division were advancing from different directions backed by Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) and heavy artillery.
They were led by Major General Janaka Perera. One column moved northwards from Kodikamam towards Nawatkadu and Thunnalai south. During this move, one soldier died when he was hit by sniper fire.
But the next morning, troops reached Point Pedro and linked up with another column. One more soldier was killed but much to the surprise of most officers and men involved in the operation, the Vadamaratchi sector regarded as a key stronghold of the LTTE, had been captured within 36 hours with the loss of only two soldiers. The deaths were due to sniper fire and not direct combat.
The easy re-capture seemed in marked contrast to heavy resistance the LTTE would offer. There was talk of even a fleet of vehicles laden heavily with explosives being blown off to prevent the security forces advance. But, as officers and men of the 53 Division discovered, there was none.
Today is the 26th day since the government declared that its writ was now running in the entire Jaffna peninsula. But the total news blackout launched through a censorship introduced reportedly to facilitate the conduct of the operation continues.
Valikamam which encompasses the city of Jaffna, the first sector to be recaptured, is the area where the government's thrust for rehabilitation and reconstruction is focused on. The Thenmaratchi sector, like the neighbouring Vadamaratchi, continues to have small pockets of enemy presence and mined areas. Troops have already begun a campaign to clear the areas.
But Valikamam still remains the area of concern. "Operation Riviresa I" to recapture Valikamam was launched on October 17, last year. Forty two days later, this sector came under the control of the security forces. After four months of their domination security forces' plans to continue operations in Thenmaratchi and Vadamaratchi were stalled after the discovery that the LTTE had infiltrated Valikamam.
This prompted the security forces to launch "Operation Riviresa I" (Phase Five) beginning April 2. The six day long operation led to the deaths of five soldiers and 89 Tiger guerrillas.
But in the recent weeks, Tigers had infiltrated again.
Senior defence officials contend now that a group of around 30 hard-core guerrillas were operating in Valikamam. Their actions have led to the deaths of not only security forces personnel but also civilians.
The officials says the infiltrates had launched a campaign to intimidate the civilians. Recently they shot dead a civilian who associated with a military official. In some instances, the civilians reacted with instant demonstrations.
Security officials say the answer to this would be the speedy restoration of civil administration including the opening of Police Stations. They point out that their main role was over with the recapture of the peninsula. They have other areas to focus.
It seems it's in the hand of the government now to ease the load on the security forces in the peninsula. No easy task when one looks at the crisis developing outside the theatre of the separatist war.Go to the Defence Column