From his hide-out somewhere in the jungles of the wanni, LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, held court with his top - rungers.
High ranking intelligence channels in Colombo learnt that he was assessing the overall situation in the past year and what portends in the new one that dawned last Wednesday.
According to what they learnt, the Tiger leader contended that the LTTE had only lost some land they dominated and had not incurred heavy losses of either its cadres or its military equipment. He had claimed it would be difficult for security forces to maintain large areas of land due to lack of manpower and equipment.
Hence he had re-iterated the need to continue to infiltrate new areas that have come under security forces control to destabilise cleared areas through attack and acts of sabotage.
Even if the intelligence community had not heard details of what appears to be an year and review of sort, LTTE actions on the ground made Prabhakaran's actions manifestly clear.
In the cleared areas of the Jaffna paninsula, last Thursday, a well concealed claymore mine exploded in Tinnelvely , killing six soldiers and four civilians. Another soldier and a civilian were injured. The men were travelling in a tractor when the incident occurred. It came barely ten days after another claymore mine killed three soldiers and four civilians who were on a foot patrol also in the Valikamam area.
In the controlled areas in the east too, infiltration and attack were on increase. It was on Christmas eve that the LTTE over-ran the Police Special Task Force camp at Pulukunawa on the main highway linking Kandy and Amparai.
This was despite intelligence warnings two months earlier that not only Pulukunawa but Pullumalai, Vavunatheevu and Vellaveli too were under threat. Following intelligence warning of increased LTTE activity in Batticaloa south, security forces have already launched "Operation Rivi Jaya" to clear the area.
Whilst this is going on, there were strong signs that the LTTE was stepping up activity in areas north and south of Trincomalee. There were reports of LTTE having smuggled in large quantities of explosives and focussed attention on targets in Pulmoddai and China Bay areas.
As for the Government, the dawn of 1997 saw hectic preparation to stabilise conditions in the Jaffna peninsula by opening the Main Supply Route from Vavuniya to Kilinochchi thus establishing a direct link from Colombo to the northern capital. Measures to be taken in this connection were discussed at a top level conference at the Ministry of Defence last week . For obvious reasons the fuller details cannot be discussed.
But one thing relevant that can be mentioned is the fact that the Deputy Minister of Defence, General Anuruddha Ratwatte, and his senior officials are highly elated with the response to his amnesty to deserters to surrender or face punitive action. The fourth and final amnesty to desrters which ended on November 27, led to the surrender of 11,205 soldiers.
Army Commander Lt. Gen. Rohan Daluwatte, was so pleased with the move that he hosted a cocktail party at the Army Headquarters Officer's Mess on Thursday night to say thank you to representatives of the local media for the wide publicity they gave to the surrender call.
In addition to Editors, News Editors and the Reporters who covered news conferences relating to the amnesty call were invited to attend.
Besides the surrendees, a further 1913 deserters have also been taken into custody so far in a recruitment drive before the last amnesty came into effect on November 7, a recruitment drive by the Army led to the intake of 1128 recruits. During the most recent recruitment drive (after the amnesty offer ended), a further 996 were recruited according to records available with the Army's Directorate of Personal Administration.
Whilst preparations for further crackdowns on the LTTE are underway, the Government last week took a major step, surprisingly without much publicity or fanfare. Moderate political parties are now being allowed into the Jaffna city to set up offices and embark on political activity.
Last week, the leader of the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) arrived in Jaffna to set up a political office. He has already begun his political campaign.
Contrary to earlier moves, the Government has allowed Mr. Devananda to have a group of armed bodyguards with him. However, when he chooses to travel outside Valikamam area, he is to be provided with Police escort instead of his own security men. Defence Ministry officials said the same conditions will be applied to leaders of other political parties taking part in political activity in the north.
The decision by the Government to permit non-militant political groups to organise themselves in Jaffna is not only a significant departure from its earlier stance, but is also an indication of the strategy it intends to pursue during this year.
In spite of the success of military operations in the peninsula in 1996, a notable failure of the Government's war policy was its inability to put into place a civil administration and political organisation into the peninsula. It should be remembered that for nearly a decade, the administration of the peninsula, though normally headed by the Government Agent and the local government machinery, the factual situation was that the administration was executed by the LTTE, followed by the IPKF and after their departure, by the LTTE again.
During this long period of militarised administration, the political-civil structures had all but broken down. What prevailed was the writ of a militarised authority.
Even after Operation Riviresa and after the end of the last year, the Government has been unable to correct that administrative imbalance. After the re-occupation, a system of militarised civil administration continued. Undoubtedly the delicate security situation with an existing infiltrated LTTE threat, the government was compelled to depend on a military civil affairs administration.
The dilemma of the Government was how to replace it, indeed not only to replace it but to do so as reasonably fast as it could. Only with the rehabilitation of the civilian structure of administration and local politics could the government claim legitimacy of reoccupation and the establishment of normalcy.
So long as the hiatus prevails, it is a reminder that Government is prevented from re-establishing normalcy because of the LTTE threats. The restroration of that normalcy is not only essential as a political strategy but is also an essential requirement to relieve the security forces of the enormity of the administrative and security commitments.
This is in order to re-employ in other areas currently under LTTE control or under threat of destabilisation. The Government's recruitment drive and the amnesty to deserters has not only by itself replenished the human resources necessary for a renewed major offensive by which to expand government areas of control and establish land-based supply routes.
To do so, the security forces have to be relieved of their manifold duties in the re-occupied areas by the process of restoring normalcy. The normalisation of the northern province and the restoration of confidence of the population in the north and by implication of the Tamils elsewhere must also be in the government calculation as a strategy to win at an impending referendum on the devolution particularly so as the Sinhala electorate is sharply divided on the issue and the government cannot be assured of a majority vote. Hence the wooing of the Tamil polity is party of Government strategy.
The coming months should see the Government accelerate its normalisation programme not only as a political strategy, but also as an adjunct to a military strategy. Both are complementary to each other.
The Opposite editorial
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