The government had to maintain a camp in Vavunathivu for two very important reasons.
One, without it the only air force base in the entire district of Batticaloa would stand completely exposed to the Tigers who dominate the Paduvankarai hinterland which lies less than a mile from it.
Two, in the absence of any military presence at the Vavunathivu junction whence the sole access road from the Batticaloa town to the vast paddy producing interior of the district branches off to form the vital southern and the north westerly routes beyond the lagoon, it would be almost impossible to supervise or sustain the island of Puliyantivu where the Third Brigade Headquarters, the Kachcheri, the military intelligence unit, the district hospital, government department offices etc., are situated. The main part of the town where the Portuguese built a fort in the seventeenth century is in the Puliyantivu island which is about two miles south east of the Vavunathivu junction. The Tigers have been able to build up and consolidate their position on the eastern side of the town as well, in areas which are accessible along the coast. There is a police post at the Mamangam temple to defend this corner of the town's outskirts.
The manner in which the LTTE is systematically stepping up pressure on and around the town can clearly be felt - and at times very obvious. The government for want of troops is trying to manage the situation with the Police. This is the case in Valaichenai which is another strategic sector of the district .The pressure is having the effect desired by the LTTE with each passing day. There is a patent tendency among soldiers and particularly Policemen in sectors which feel this most to decamp fast. This happened when the Mavadivembu camp between Chenkaladi and Valaichenai was attacked and overrun in January and when Police posts in the town were shot at recently.
The LTTE detained all the lorries and other vehicles that usually go to the Paduvankarai region to bring back bricks from the large kilns located near Veppavedduvan on Monday. It was quite obvious that the Tigers were going to launch a major attack on one of the precariously located camps of the region. Armed groups which work with the army in Batticaloa claim that all military positions in the district were duly instructed by the Ministry of Defence to go on full alert.
In the first phase of the attack the LTTE swiftly took control of the western half of the Valaiyiravu bridge and all the bunkers on its short gravel approach path from Vavunathivu junction. These bunkers were manned by the army near the bridge and by the PLOTE towards the junction. All vehicles bringing paddy to the town were unloaded and thoroughly checked by armed boys of this group here. A week before the attack, Ranjan, the person in charge of this point, was saying that it was virtually impossible for the LTTE to launch an attack from the north along the edge of the lagoon which was considered the direction most vulnerable or for that matter from any side because the surrounding terrain is flat (in some parts flattened, to be precise) and open. This, in his view, gave the army a very decisive and singular advantage to rapidly outflank and overwhelm any Tiger build-up in the camp's vicinity. This, indeed, has been the long accepted credo among many (including a couple of amateur military geographers) who have applied themselves to the study of the Eelam War that Paduvankarai has the most unsuitable terrain for fighting the army.
The camp was located about hundred and fifty metres from the approach road . The soldiers and PLOTE cadres ( one of whom was wounded) withdrew in haste across the bridge before it was blown up. The Tigers occupied these positions until about 10 A.M next morning and effectively thwarted attempts by army reinforcements to reach the camp which was completely destroyed by that time. Some of the bolder residents of Puthur and Thimilathivu, the densely populated northwestern outskirts of the Batticaloa town gathered on Thursday morning to watch the Tigers loading tractors on the other side of the lagoon. PLOTE cadres who moved to the eastern approach of the bridge that morning with the local Police Counter Subversive Unit said that they had to look on helplessly as the LTTE removed whatever was left of the camp. They said that the Tigers were busy ransacking the place until nine o'clock in the morning. A local resident claimed that eighteen soldiers including an officer who were captured by the LTTE when it overran the camp had been shot dead on the spot. There is also an unconfirmed report from Batticaloa , which was carried by the Virakesari yesterday, that altogether about hundred soldiers may have been killed in the attack.
The rescue operation was stymied by LTTE's mortar attack on the Brigade headquarters located on the southern edge of the town. Though the army is apparently saying that long range mortars had been used in the shelling, it is evident that the Tigers had set up an 81mm mortar position on the Buffalo island which lies close to the town separated from it by a narrow part of the lagoon. Ram, the LTTE's regional military commander, seems to have brought with him when he came from Mullaitivu late last year to take up his several of these medium range but effective 81 mm mortars and ample ammunition. This can be seen in the video called Neruppu Meenkal (fire fish - an answer, probably, to the army's Singing Fish Op) shows in some detail the attack on the Pulukunavi STF camp. The artillery piece captured by the Tigers here, incidentally, appears to have been sent to the north by sea.
The government has vacated four camps in the region, at Vellaveli, Pullumalai, Palaiyadiveddai and Bakkiella, since December. All the other camps, whatever their location, now stand exposed to attack as the fall of Vavunativu clearly demonstrates. The population of the region, both Tamil and Muslim, submit to the LTTE.
It is only the government which seems to assume and assert that it is inexorably progressing towards its strategic objective in the north and east.
Go to Rajpal Abeynayake's Column
Return to the Editorial/Opinion contents page