15th December 1996

The Jungle Telegraph

By Alia

Early warning

Four months after they over-ran the Military Base in Mullaitivu, Tiger guerrillas did it again last week.

They over-ran the Special Task Force Camp at Pulukunawa on the main highway between Kandy and Amparai. This was the first attack on an encampment of the elite STF Commandos. A small group of Army men gave artillery cover there.

Six hours after the camp was over-run, it was re-captured. By then 42 Commandos, Policemen, Soldiers and a civilian cook had died and 40 others were wounded. Millions worth of military hardware, including an 85 mm artillery piece, 81 mm mortar, machine guns, rifles and ammunition have been removed.

Ironically, all this happened after intelligence warnings. Of course the re-vamped Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) did not give the date of the attack. Who could in a difficult guerrilla war where the enemy decides on the place, date and time of attack?

But the DMI did say that Tiger guerrillas had even concluded their final reconnaisance. If that was not enough to take preventive measures, what more is needed?

A military operation to clear Tiger activity in the Yala jungles has been diverted to clear Unnichi jungles from where the attackers came. It has been code named ‘Operation Singing Fish’.

On the mat

The voluminous report of the four member Court of Inquiry that probed the Mullaitivu Military disaster, the worst in the country’s history, is now being studied with a fine tooth comb by the authorities.

Insiders say one of the first official responses (barring the usual pressure moves) would be tough action against some senior officers. Already the initial steps have been taken, they say.

The Court was headed by Major General Patrick Fernando and comprised Brigadier Mahendra Wijeratne and Brigadier Gamini Hettiaratchi. Lt. Col. Vajira Wijegunawardene was its Secretary.

Although the handing over personally to the Commander was scheduled, Lt. Gen. Daluwatte, was away from office on urgent official business. Hence, the report was personally handed over to the Military Secretary, Brigadier Nihal Marambe. As the news of LTTE over-running the Pulukunawa STF camp spread, the telephone of the Inspector General of Police, W.B. Rajaguru at his residence, rang.

The caller was a VVIP who wanted to know what had happened. After the Police Chief explained the event and said he had already despatched a DIG to the scene, came the bombshell question.

‘How did he go? I hope it’s not by air.’

‘It’s by road,’ replied the Police Chief.

Heli blast

Did the Ministry of Defence jump the gun in declaring that the Bell 212 helicopter involved in the Fateful Flight of the Generals was destroyed by the crew according to what it called ‘Standard Operational Procedure for such emergency situation.’ This is not the first time the Ministry has resorted to, say the least, terminological inexactitudes.

With the entire might of the security forces focused on a rescue bid and all SLAF aircraft being airborne, why wasn’t an operation to salvage the Bell 212 thought of? The reason - it was too late. Tigers had blasted it.

Major shuffle in the army hierarchy

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