Situation Report

17th August 1997

“Jaya Sikurui will continue”

By Iqbal Athas

Overall Operations Commander, Major General Asoka Jayawardena, made a whistle stop visit to Colombo last Monday.

Arriving in an SLAF aircraft, he drove from the Ratmalana domestic airport for a meeting of the Joint Operations Council. He briefed them on how the 55 Division and 53 Division have linked up at Puliyankulam as first phase of “Operation Jaya Sikurui” ended.

Thereafter he had a brief meeting with Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Rohan De S. Daluwatte and was airborne again. The latter had only returned last week from Pakistan where he met senior military leaders and defence officials.

After the four hour stint in Colombo, he flew back to Vavuniya, where the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH) was busy overseeing measures to further secure areas that have been re-captured during phase one of “Operation Jaya Sikurui.” This phase ended on August 6 when troops of the advancing divisions linked up some two kilometres south east of Puliyankulam junction.

Early this week, troops of the 55 Division, along the A 9, the main highway from Vavuniya to Kilinochchi, were strengthening their defences with bunkers and other fortifications. Men of the 53 Division along the axis from Puliyankulam to Nedunkerny were busy developing strong points whilst groups of heavily armed men provided a screen ahead of their defences.

Today is the 97th day since “Operation Jaya Sikurui” was launched on May 13. The link up which marks the completion of phase one came on the 86th day. The declared objective of “Operation Jaya Sikurui” is to re-open the main A9 highway and thus establish a land based Main Supply Route to the Jaffna peninsula.

From Vavuniya to Nochchimodai, (the furthest point under Government control until “Operation Jaya Sikurui” was launched), the distance covered is seven kilometres. With the link up, a further 17 kilometres of the highway (or 24 kilometres from Vavuniya) has been added. A distance of a further 48 kilometres has to be re-captured for the troops to reach Kilinochchi - the precursor to the opening of the Main Supply Route.

Both politically and militarily, “Operation Jaya Sikurui”, became an important landmark in the ongoing 15 year old separatist war.

Politically, as the name given to the operation implied, PA leaders expected the fuller aims to be accomplished much earlier. Besides such an achievement becoming a happy augury to coincide with the introduction of the Government’s devolution package before the year end, it portended a substantial cut in military expenditure which the Government hoped to plough back into its political agenda.

In view of both the political and military factors, the operation evinced greater interest from the Colombo based diplomatic community. So much so, the Ministry of Defence broke a month long silence to give them a military briefing.

Undertaking the task last Wednesday was the official spokesman and Director Media at the Ministry of Defence, Brigadier Sarath Munasinghe. He recounted the developments so far and made it clear that “Operation Jaya Sikurui” will continue until its objectives are achieved.

So far in the three month long “Operation Jaya Sikurui”, over 530 soldiers have been killed and over 3,200 wounded. This is a high casualty rate compared to that of the three phases of “Operation Riviresa” which lasted nearly an year to re-capture the Jaffna peninsula. The operational casualties were 14 officers and 436 soldiers killed and 3117 soldiers wounded.

In its political aims, “Operation Jaya Sikurui” was as much a gamble as in its military perspective. Any military success without significantly making the LTTE impotent in its political appeal would not have led to an environment where the non militant Tamil political groups could have established a political base in the north.

Though the LTTE is not a political group per se, it is nevertheless committed to a political goal. And in this regard, as a result of its militancy, it has out distanced the other political parties. Hence the Government to gain any political leverage through the non militant Tamil groups, the first requirement was and is to subordinate the LTTE.

Without a revolutionary capability, the LTTE lacks any political clout. The first priority therefore was to defeat the LTTE on the ground in the Wanni and to diminish its military capability to extend itself to the eastern province. Unfortunately this has not been achieved. In the circumstances the political options still remain weighted to the LTTE leadership.

The situation is thus both politically and militarily stalemated. To overcome the stalemated situation, the military need to give the impetus to trigger any political programmes. This is the fly in the ointment.

Lacking resources the military seems to be tied down to a static consolidation of gains rather than to be able to pursue an aggressive offensive.

The question then is whether a political programme could supercede the course of events by creating a political climate which would assist to politically marginalise the LTTE in a situation of military deadlock. Perhaps the ongoing programme of Prof. G. L. Peiris, holding seminars and workshops on the devolution proposals is a prelude of a new evolving political strategy.

This may have its appeal to the moderate Tamil parties, to the international Tamil lobbies and other lobby groups as a political priority replacing a total military emphasis. With the intransigence of the LTTE that we have seen, whether any such soft measure will be allowed any progress is speculative. Should it succeed, it naturally will be at the political expense of the LTTE. In such a scenario, the Tigers could be expected to resort to their military options to deny a political emphasis to the confrontation, which in the mind of the Tigers, has been solely fought by the LTTE.

The LTTE is unlikely to let any measure loosen its grip. The re-iteration of the often repeated pledge of its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, clearly indicates the mindset and the determination of the LTTE.

In his “Martyrs’ Day” message last year, he said: “We are compelled to struggle alone against formidable forces without support or assistance from anywhere. Therefore, the price we pay for our freedom is immense. It is our martyrs who have paid with their lives to protect and preserve the flame of national freedom.

“During our long journey towards liberation we have crossed rivers of fire. It is our commitment to the cause that sustained us during these violent upheavals. the cause we have charted to fight for the right to self-determination of our people is right, fair and just. From the beginning up to now, we are resolutely committed to our cause. Our cause is our towering strength. It is because of our cause we have our importance, individuality and history.”

Whatever the scenario, the hard fact still remains that the LTTE has to be militarily subdued before any political progress is made.

So much on “Operation Jaya Sikurui” and the aftermath of phase one.

The fate of the missing ship carrying 32,400 rounds of 81 mm mortar shells from Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) to Sri Lanka continues to baffle the defence establishment in Colombo though part of the mystery has begun to unravel itself.

In the past four weeks details of the events that unfolded have been exclusively reported in SITUATION REPORT.

Throughout last week Government’s intelligence agencies have been trying to unravel more information on the fate of the ship and its military cargo. They are increasingly convinced that the LTTE inveigled the ZDI authorities into loading the consignment into one of its own vessels and moving it to an Asian country where they are known to operate a “transhipment” facility. It is from here that the LTTE is known to smuggle military hardware through the east coast using the international shipping lanes off Mullaitivu.

Intelligence officials learnt from their channels in the east last week of LTTE reports that they had already smuggled in the cargo of mortar bombs. They believe this to be a clear psy ops by the LTTE to mislead the security forces. “They (the LTTE) are intelligent enough not to play around with the entire ship load outside Sri Lankan waters. They will not risk that. They will try to smuggle small quantities,” one intelligence source said.

I understand that Army Headquarters are in contact with Zimbabwe Defence Industries in Harare over matters relating to the missing load of mortar bombs. Besides trying to track down the cargo that has gone missing, one high ranking military official said, many other matters relating to the transaction itself have to be resolved.

According to the official, the 32,400 mortar bombs (81) mm had been negotiated at US dollars 80 each FOB (free on board). The supplier had agreed to ship the cargo and payment, according to L/C (Letters of Credit) terms, was to be made only after the cargo was delivered. “Since the goods did not arrive, the question of payment has not arisen,” the official claimed.

He explained that a senior ZDI official (identified only as Mr Mwera) during his talks with Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Rohan De S. Daluwatte (SITUATION REPORT August 10) produced documentation to confirm the goods were loaded and asked that payment be made. He had suggested that Sri Lanka thereafter resort to an insurance claim.

Independent verification of the military official’s claim was not possible yesterday. Senior officials in the defence establishment remained tight lipped and said they did not wish to discuss matters relating to procurements. However, the claim fell in line with the Government’s stated official position.

It was reflected by the Deputy Defence Minister, General Anuruddha Ratwatte, whilst winding up the debate on the extension of the State of Emergency in Parliament on August 7. He said “we have been having dealings with Zimbabwe for arms and all what we have ordered had reached here.”

Gen. Ratwatte did not elaborate but sounded a note of caution. “However, since it was possible that the LTTE may try to get some arms, the government has taken action to check that. The forces are on alert,” he declared.

I understand that Zimbabwe Defence Industries also executed an order placed since the fate of the ship with 32,400 mortar bombs became a mystery. Such an order was executed by the ZDI airlifting a shipment to Colombo. The flight bringing this cargo arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport on July 31 and was moved out from there under heavy escort. For obvious reasons, it is not possible to mention the contents of this cargo or its price. It would, however, suffice to say the flight could not carry 12 container loads.

As I reported in these columns last week, there was only one ship belonging to the Ceylon Shipping Corporation that unloaded military cargo in the Colombo Port since July 2 - the day the mystery ship reportedly departed Madagascar for Colombo and was known missing. Here again the details of the cargo and its origin cannot be divulged for obvious reasons. But that clearly confirmed that no shipments have arrived in the port since then.

Now that a clearer picture is emerging about the mystery behind the missing ship, it will not be too long before the fate of the 32,400 mortar bombs are known.

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