Situation Report

23rd November 1997

By Iqbal Athas

Confessions and concoctions

Jaya Sikurui thrust for jubilee goal

Confessions and concoctions

Selvathurai Senthinathan: LTTE translator
In one of the regular di versionary tactics we are seeing these days, certain interested elements in the government and the military set the stage for yet another mock interview with pre-planned and loaded questions to an obviously well-coached LTTE translator.

Selvathurai Senthinathan, allegedly an LTTE translator of news reports and military analyses in the independent media was on national TV on Friday with the state media giving lead story prominence to his claims.

We had prior information of the strategic planning that went into this drama which had elements of a detective fiction story. Our sister papers, the Midweek Mirror and Lankadeepa, last Wednesday reported how a twisted or diversionary tale of a Tiger was to be used to discredit The Sunday Times.

Senthinathan, saying Sir after almost every sentence to his unseen interviewer spoke as if a gun were being held at his back.. Viewers saw only his bust.

To a leading question Senthinathan claimed he felt some of the Situation Reports and other articles in The Sunday Times were damaging to the interest of the security forces. And this coming from an LTTE translator. The Sunday Times has unearthed and highlighted especially in The Situation Report during the past few weeks issues that are of vital national importance. It is the ordinary people who must carry the burden of this costly war, and we believe they must be privy to the 'real picture', the victories and the defeats of this war.

One such issue was the report by a top-level committee, comprising the Defence Secretary and former Service and Police Chiefs. The committee was appointed by the President to investigate the series of SLAF mishaps and questions regarding purchases.

The Sunday Times Situation Report exclusively revealed the findings of the committee that Air Force Chief Oliver Ranasinghe had acted with lack of responsibility in military operations. The committee also raised serious questions about the procedures and standards adopted by the Air Force Commander in the purchase of aircraft and the hi-tech equipment valued at billions of rupees.

To put the issue in its full and proper perspective for our readers to come to their own judgment, we need to reveal some information as to who was behind the much publicised TV interview with the alleged LTTE translator last Friday.

Almost a month ago, Iqbal Athas' sources in the security establishment — those who are concerned about the truth — warned him a sinister move was afoot. The source said that some sections were embarrassed and angry about Mr. Athas' exposures and were branding him "anti national" and were making plans to "sort Athas out."

Last Monday, Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte flew to Vavuniya in the company of the services chiefs and the IGP. He presided over a top level conference at the Joint Operations Headquarters.

Those at the conference heard General Ratwatte ask a senior military official handling media tasks to interview the surrendee who had made confessions. He ordered that the tape be sent to Colombo within 48 hours. A senior Air Force official had then offered to make arrangements to fly the tape. Officials in Vavuniya flew the tape to Colombo on Wednesday afternoon.

On Friday, General Ratwatte himself met senior officials handling state media including those from the Rupavahini, ITN, SLBC and Lake House. Besides asking the electronic networks to use the taped video interview, he also directed that transcripts of the interview be made available to the print media. Keen interest was expressed by some that no deletions be made to references to Athas' name.

That the LTTE is monitoring Situation Report is not a secret. Mr. Athas himself has reported this in his column (Situation Report) on September 15. Often his reports are quoted by The Voice of Tigers as indeed by Colombo based international news agencies and the diplomatic community. We reproduce on this page today a montage of the relevant Voice of Tigers broadcast appearing in The Situation Report of September 15, 1996. It is headlined East: a prize catch, thinks LTTE. The relevant para is in italics in the last column. The LTTE has also sometimes criticised Mr. Athas. More recently the LTTE-backed newspaper Tamil Guardian (edited by Vasantha Raja) accused Mr. Athas of "bobbing along the surface of the missing mystery ship".

After the Midweek Mirror and Lankadeepa stories about the plot appeared, Mr. Athas also had inquiries from several security sources. Some were already in the know that "interviews" with the surrendees were underway about Situation Report. One of them told him that a high-ranking security official who had come under severe criticism in The Sunday Times had declared that Situation Report would soon be out of the newspaper. He had boasted that measures to ensure that were underway.

It is the common people who are funding this war and it is to these people that we have a primary responsibility as a newspaper.

We have always backed our security forces in the battle to defeat the terrorists and restore peace and unity in Sri Lanka. Last week's Situation Report devoted several columns to highlight the bravery and heroic sacrifice of two pilots who died in a drama in the Kokilai lagoon.

Our support for the courageous men on the battlefield is total and unconditional. But the Situation Report is the situation report, and if some elements are inefficient and cannot defeat the LTTE while our best young people are dying for the country, then The Sunday Times will continue to investigate and expose corruption and ineffciency pocket edition Goebells' notwithstanding.

Jaya Sikurui thrust for jubilee goal

As "Operation Jaya Sikurui" or "Victory Assured" entered its 194th day, the security forces and Tiger guerrillas are bracing themselves for a major confrontation in the coming weeks.

Despite several reports, a third or a final offensive has not got under way until yesterday. Military Spokesman and Director Media at the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence, Brigadier Sarath Munasinghe, is on record as saying that a third phase would begin but did not say when.

Until yesterday, troops deployed in "Operation Jaya Sikurui" were only engaged in small probes and reconnaissance. The biggest impediment has been the outset of the north east monsoon, now at its peak. The Kanakarayan Aru which stretches from Iranamadu to Omanthai has begun to swell leaving the outlying areas inundated. Tanks and trucks have begun to get bogged down and bunkers where the soldiers spent almost their entire day and night were flooded. Needless to say hygienic conditions have become worse. Over 700 soldiers have been afflicted by hepatitis and are in hospitals in Anuradhapura and in Colombo.

That is not to say that the security forces will wait until the monsoon recedes to resume their offensive. "It will begin soon", as Brigadier Munasinghe declared.

The man who runs the country's military machine against the LTTE , General Anuruddha Ratwatte, wants the six-months long offensive to end by at least December, this year. He has set out the time-frame to the new Overall Operations Commander (OOC) , Major General Srilal Weerasuriya and other high ranking staff at the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH).

The need to accelerate "Operation Jaya Sikurui" to a finish stems from two main reasons - the government's plans to introduce the devolution package in Parliament and the 50th anniversary of Sri Lanka's Independence.

A stepped up media campaign to run parallel with the launch of the fresh offensive is already on hand. As it gets under way, political observers say, the stage would be set for the package.

The government is making elaborate plans for the 50th anniversary independence celebrations in Kandy. An exhibition to co-incide with the event will see the Army, Navy, Air Force and Police having their own stalls projecting their respective achievements. The successful execution of "Operation Jaya Sikurui" will undoubtedly be a significant highlight at the exhibition with a functioning land route linking the Jaffna peninsula to the rest of the country becoming the piece de resistance.

The Joint Headquarters learnt last week that the LTTE too was busy making preparations to stall a security forces thrust to Kilinochchi. Their efforts were being concentrated in the general area west of Mankulam. The LTTE had begun a mass evacuation of civilians from Mankulam area to Mallawi.

The Voice of Tigers (VOT) , the clandestine LTTE radio station, has been shifted from Mankulam to north of Muthiyankattu. LTTE are reported to be still operating in Kanakarayankulam from where Batticaloa leader, Karuna and Jeyam are directing operations against the security forces whilst Balraj and Banu are operating from Oddusuddan.

Although there has been a lull in the fighting in the past few weeks, security forces did launch two operations that led to the capture of Puliyankulam on November 14. The main operation involving commandos, after two weeks of probing, encircled Puliyankulam. They crossed a rail track and reached A9, the main Colombo - Kandy highway. This was carried out whilst infantry from the 53 Brigade staged assaults.

Security forces found that the LTTE had booby trapped the Puliyankulam area and withdrawn by the time they entered. At least seven commandos were wounded after they stepped on anti-personnel mines. Military officials found that the LTTE had earlier positioned themselves at three tank bunds.

On the eastern approach, they had created a narrow frontage preventing the entry of armour. With the re-capture of Puliyankulam, security forces also seized Karuppakuthi and Sinna Adampan, areas east of Kanakarayankulam which have been the scene of fierce counter attacks. It was here that the security forces lost the largest quantity of military hardware (Situation Report October 12) in the ongoing operation.

Whilst launching the commando assault on Puliyankulam, troops also carried out a diversionary manoeuvre elsewhere. They set out to capture a bridge across Kanakarayan Aru. When they reached the area, they found it had been blown off.

A military report on casualties upto September 4 (83 days of "Operation Jaya Sikurui") places the death toll at 640 and the wounded at 3675. The breakdown given in the report is as follows: 53 Division Wounded in action - 28 officers and 534 men Killed in Action - 6 officers and 104 men 55 Division Wounded in action - 154 officers and 2959 men Killed in action - 26 officers and 504 men

Referring to LTTE casualties, the military report sets out the figures and the various sources. Here are the details: 53 Division Ground troops estimate 130 killed in action Estimate 20 killed in action Transmissions confirm 37 killed in action 55 Division Ground troops estimate 728 killed in action Estimate1285 killed in action Transmissions confirm 485 killed in action.

The total number of LTTE cadres wounded until September 4, according to the military report, is 1469. The report also says that 59 LTTE cadres were confirmed killed by snipers in Puliyankulam until September 4.

According to authoritative military sources, the number of troops killed in action during the six month period of "Operation Jaya Sikurui" exceeded 900. The figure included deaths outside the battle field of those wounded. For the same period, the number wounded is over 4,200 although most injuries were classed as minor.

These sources placed the LTTE casualties at an estimated over 2,000 and a further 2,500 wounded. There were no independent means of verifying these figures. Since the advent of the so called Eelam War Three after PA Government was voted to power, journalists are barred from battle areas except for conducted tours arranged under the auspices of the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence. As a result, both local and foreign media, are forced to depend largely on the news releases put out by the Op Hq.

This is in marked contrast to LTTE's own media operations. Intelligence sources say satellite telephones are being used from LTTE hideouts in the Wanni jungles to feed information to LTTE's "International Secretariat" in London. An incident fed from the Wanni to London in the morning is faxed backed in the form of an LTTE press release to the Colombo based foreign and local media in the evening.

That is not all. Intelligence sources also say that using the satellite telephones the LTTE has also established facilities in their Wanni hideouts for computers that give them access to Internet. "That way they have access to all the major English and Colombo national newspapers all of whom have web sites," one intelligence source said. The source confirmed that the LTTE also had satellite dishes to monitor satellite television as well as local TV channels. Video material obtained from local channels, particularly the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, relating to military parades, operations or related activity are regularly incorporated in propaganda video tapes released by the LTTE.

To illustrate the point, one intelligence source cited an instance which came to light after they arrested a key LTTE member. He told intelligence officials of how the head of the LTTE intelligence wing, Pottu Amman, clapped hands, jumped up and cheered when he saw Doodarshan (Indian national television) report in its news bulletin that then Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, has been assassinated. This was when the LTTE satellite dish was in the Jaffna peninsula which they dominated then. Since the re-capture of the peninsula, they have been shifted to the Wanni jungles.

The media approach by the Government and by the LTTE is diametrically opposite. The LTTE have always been quick in their media responses to exploit maximum propaganda for their cause and at the same time attack the credibility of the Government. Even as far back as 1983 when the LTTE first ambushed a military patrol before the last shot was fired, the international wires were humming with the disinformation that the LTTE response was in retaliation to some Tamil girls being raped by the Army. That was one and half decades ago when the global information system had not been revolutionised.

The LTTE today has built up a global communication system even without a national infrastructure. This is utilised not only for its own communications but also essentially fine tuned to access the international media and through it to the international lobby.

Since World War Two, no conflict, armed or otherwise, has taken place without public participation. This has had both positive and negative impact on conflict situations.

The wider public awareness and concern have been due to the result of the communications revolution. No longer are wars fought in the isolation of deserts and jungles. The horrors and the tragedy of war are today seen in full colour in the sitting rooms of public far from the theatre of conflict. Thus public concern has had a significant impact on the outcome of a nation's participation in conflict whether within or outside its own borders.

The best example of public opinion influencing the nation's decision over a conflict situation was the United States decision to withdraw from Vietnam. It was an unpopular war which the public did not want.

The world public today are not prepared to accept the total horrors of war. Their opinions are swayed by extremes, whether it be high casualties and destruction to themselves or to their enemy. For this very reason, the US strategy of bombing North Vietnam was counter productive. Even recently, the controlled "Operation Desert Storm" in the Gulf reflected the public opinion of the allies that it should be an exercise of that far and no further.

Whether it is terrorism or guerrilla warfare, these are enacted with the world as an audience. It is they that judge the justification and the limits of the extremes of conflict. It is the media that links these two realities.

The LTTE has always realised the significance of the world as a forum and maximised the use of the media towards their ends. The government on the other hand has been woefully lagging behind. So much so the media have been banned from the theatre of conflict for the past three years during which the PA Government has remained in power. The only mode of information to the Sri Lankan public and the world outside are the news releases put out by the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence. There are of course a few exceptions like conducted tours, lofty pronouncements by political leaders of bases being overrun or percentage of the battle won and others stage managed dramas.

Stage managed drama is perhaps the worst example of amateurish media blitzes. The confessions of Selvathurai Senthinathan on state television and print media underscores the farce. This self declared "terrorist surrendee" who says he is a translator claims that newspapers, particularly The Situation Report by Iqbal Athas, fed sensitive information to the LTTE. This is an amazing revelation of the total inefficiency and inadequacy of the intelligence community not to have recognised earlier that sensitive information was being published. After all, isn't that a counter intelligence activity?

Senthinathan's purported confession regarding the LTTE reading The Situation Report should not be a surprise. After all any intelligence organisation worth a gram of salt would certainly occupy itself by examining all material put out by its enemy.

Presumably our own defence intelligence perhaps also studies and monitors all LTTE publications.

If on the other hand, some innocuous reportage is interpreted to be the passing of sensitive information, by logical extension the many announcements and advertisements of VVIPs attending public meetings or opening ceremonies would in any rational opinion be far more sensitive information considering the track record of the LTTE and the number of suicide squads that lay in wait for choice targets.

After all, were not Rajiv Gandhi, Lalith Athulathmudali, Ranasinghe Premadasa and Gamini Dissanayake assassinated at public functions. Perhaps, if the Indian media did not report about that impending Sri Perimpudur meeting, Dhanu and party may not have been there.

Notwithstanding the ludicrous extents of the interpretation of what is sensitive, the fact of Senthinathan's staged confession was seen a long time before the farce was enacted.

It was only last Wednesday, the Midweek Mirror and the Lankadeepa, revealed insidious attempts being afoot by interested sections of the security establishment to discredit The Sunday Times. The reports said this attempt was to come in the form of an alleged confession by an LTTE surrendee who claims to have passed translations of The Sunday Times, particularly the weekly Situation Report, to his leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

I am glad to hear Prabhakaran reads the Situation Report and I hope he has noted the many comments I have made about him as well.

Weeks before The Midweek Mirror and the Lankadeepa reports appeared, I was made aware of a sinister plot being under way to put words into the mouth of a surrendee which he could use in a confession so it would bring discredit to me and my newspaper.

Fortunately for this country, and the human race, there still exist gentlemen of principle and honour whose conscience will not permit dishonesty and corruption.

"We have been asked to do a dirty job against our conscience. All we can do is to forewarn you since you have done a great service by exposing corruption in the past weeks", said one of them. For obvious reasons, I cannot elaborate.

But I did take one course of action - to warn many international agencies concerned with media freedom and human rights of the insidious plot. What I told them has come right.

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