Friday, 31 August 2012

A para-military force par excellence

War on terror revisited: Part 38

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Subsequent to the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in Feb 2002, the LTTE launched a series of protests targeting security forces bases and police stations in the then temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Province.

The LTTE ordered students and their parents to lead the protest campaign. They stormed Point Pedro Brigade headquarters on Sept. 2, 2002 and the Valaichenai police station on Oct. 1, 2002, inflicting considerable damage on those facilities. Their strategy was simple. The LTTE obviously felt that a sustained protest campaign directed at troops and police deployed in the region in the wake of Pongu Thamil rallies would undermine the GoSL’s authority. The GoSL didn’t adopt counter measures to control the situation. Instead, it brought pressure to bear on the media not to highlight the deteriorating situation (Students in Point Pedro style attack on V’chenai police––The Island Oct 2, 2002).

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), comprising representatives from five countries turned a blind eye to what was going on in areas under security forces control. The SLMM and local monitoring groups did nothing to discourage the LTTE from taking advantage of the CFA. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) openly backed the LTTE campaign, while a section of the UNP-led UNP administration, too, supported the project.

Close on the heels of the attack on the Valaichenai police station, the LTTE targeted an isolated base held by the elite Special Task Force (STF) at Kanjirankudah, south of Batticaloa. Several hundred civilians launched a protest campaign on Oct 9, 2002 shortly after an incident involving STF personnel and two LTTE cadres, M. Visuvanathan, in charge of Pottuvil and Christy Rajah. The LTTE exploited the situation to launch the protest. The LTTE used civilians as a human shield to advance into the detachment, though the STF fired warning shots into the air. But, once the STF realised the LTTE’s strategy, the commandos opened fire, killing several persons. Protesters fled carrying the dead and the wounded. The STF recovered seven bodies. Of them, two were identified as Vijayaprakash and Nagarasa. To the surprise of many, Vijayaprakash was identified as one of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), but released consequent to the CFA (Released LTTEer among attackers killed with strap line SLMM in crisis talks over Kanjirankudah confrontation––The Island Oct 11, 2002).

Although the government reacted angrily to the STF’s action, it helped the GoSL to stabilise the situation. People resisted LTTE attempts to use children in protests, in the wake of the STF taking a tough stand. The government gave an interesting twist to the Kanjirankudah incident. It alleged that the Presidential Security Division (PSD) had been involved in the attack, prompting both the President’s Office and the PSD to issue statements. The then PSD head, DIG N. K. Illangakoon, a former Deputy Commandant of the STF (present IGP) said that his officers hadn’t even visited the base ahead of the incident (PSD denies presence at camp attack––The Island Oct 13, 2002). Shortly after the incident, the GoSL appointed SSP Nimal Lewke, the then deputy commandant of the STF as the senior officer in charge of troops deployed in the Ampara-Batticaloa sector (SSP Lewke for Ampara-Batticaloa sector––The Island Nov 8, 2002).

JRJ decision

It would be important to examine the formation of the para-military unit during President JRJ’s time in response to the threat posed by the LTTE. In fact, the decision to establish the unit was of the most important move made by the JRJ administration. The STF played a critical role in the war against terror, particularly in the Eastern theatre, as well as special operations in the city and its suburbs over a long period of time. During the eelam war (Aug 2006-May 2009) and the post-war era, the STF facilitated the overall combined forces strategy. Interestingly, the US assessment of Sri Lankan military conducted in 2002 didn’t focus on the STF, though the para-military unit was an integral part of the combined security forces strength.

Gradual expansion

Let the formation and gradual expansion of the STF be discussed briefly as it celebrates its 28th anniversary tomorrow (Sept 1) with a series of religious ceremonies to invoke blessings on those who paid the supreme sacrifice for the country.

Although the JRJ administration deployed the STF in the Jaffna peninsula in the aftermath of the July 1983 riots, subsequently, it reviewed the move. Instead, the STF was given the responsibility to bolster security in selected parts of the Eastern Province. A landmine blast in the Jaffna peninsula, the first major strike directed at the STF may have prompted the defence hierarchy to review its strategies with regard to the STF.

The STF lost four personnel on Sept. 1, 1984 at Tikkam on the Point Pedro –Valvettiturai road due to a landmine explosion. The blast wounded nine men. They were the first to die and receive injuries while serving the STF. At the conclusion of the war, the STF reported 462 killed and 792 wounded during the war.

The number of dead and wounded suffered by the STF, when compared with the SLA, may seem insignificant, though the contribution made by the unit to defeating terrorism was DEFINITELY NOT. The SLA lost 6,000 officers and men during eelam war IV alone, while some 27,000 received injuries.

The STF was set up in the early 1980s on the recommendations made by a committee, which studied the growing threat posed by Indian trained terrorist groups. One of the key recommendations was the establishment of a Special Strike Force (SSF), to strengthen the police. The initial group comprised 60 policemen released by the department to receive training at Katukurunda and at the SLA Combat Training School at Ampara under the guidance of the then Majors Ananda Weerasekera (now retired) and S. Manawadu. The SSF operated under the command of the then ASP Bodhi Liyanage. SSF personnel initially used SLR rifles, though they gradually acquired a range of new weapons to meet the threat. Among the weapons were US manufactured M 16 and German Heckler and Koch. They also acquired a range of mortars, including 120 mm used by the SLA.

Initial deployment

The SSF’s initial deployment was in the Jaffna peninsula, with the focus on Point Pedro, Valvettiturai and Kankesanthurai. As terrorist threats increased, the SSF was directed to support the PSD, at the expense of other security commitments.

The unit was brought under the Defence Ministry and the then SP Zerny Wijesuriya was placed in charge. It was named the Special Task Force on May 5, 1984. Wijesuriya was replaced by the then SSP, Lionel Karunasena, who made a tremendous contribution during an early stage of the conflict.

Thanks to Ravi Jayewardene, the then Security Advisor to President JRJ, the STF had an opportunity to receiving training from ‘Kini Mini Service’ (KMS), comprising former members of the British Special Air Services (SAS). The British personnel imparted their knowledge and expertise on a range of subjects, including tactics adopted by anti-riot squads, weapons training, firing practices, counter terrorism search, handling explosives, mapping, use of compass and first aid.

As the security situation rapidly deteriorated in the North, the government pulled out the SLA from Batticaloa in February 1985 for re-deployment elsewhere. The STF was given the challenging task of combating the terrorists. The STF had its first base at Kallady, while the then ASP N.K. Illangakoon (present IGP), commanded the police commandos deployed in the Batticaloa theatre.

The STF received the appreciation of the government and the security community for saving the Eravur police station from the LTTE on April 3, 1985. Subsequently, the STF took over security in the Ampara District as it expanded its network of bases to Kiran, Karadiyanaru, Kalawanchikudi and Akkaraipattu.

In August 1985, the STF began direct recruitment to meet manpower requirements. As part of its overall deployment, the STF set up a new command structure to cover Batticaloa North and South with the then ASPs, N. K. Illangakoon and Jayantha Gamage, respectively, in command of the two sectors. The STF had to deploy troops in support of the SLAF in the Ampara-Batticaloa sector. Additional camps had to be established to thwart attacks on Sinhala and Muslim farmers.

Post-IPKF deployment

With the end of eelam war I, the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord on July 29, 1987, paved the way for the second JVP-led insurrection. The beleaguered UNP regime ordered the military, police, including the STF to counter the insurgency. The STF closed down some bases and moved troops to Moneragala, Walasmulla, Morayaya, Tangalle, Matara, Wellawaya, Yalabowa and Thanamalwila.

The STF was accused of excesses on several occasions during counter-insurgency operations. The STF had faced similar allegations during eelam war I, though the government strongly backed the elite unit. However, ‘Bolgoda killings’ caused irreparable damage to the STF’s reputation in the mid 1990s ,when some officers and men were found guilty of extra-judicial killings in the city and its suburbs. During eelam war IV, an ‘STF operation’ in Trincomalee, too, brought disrepute to the force, though overall it has been a well disciplined unit.

The then President R. Premadasa had confidence in the STF and felt that police commandos could be entrusted with any task. At the behest of Premadasa, the STF protected top LTTE delegates involved in talks with his government (April 1989 to June 1990) in spite of a section of the officers strongly opposing the move. Among those who had STF protection was the London-based Anton Balasingham, a former employee of the British High Commission in Colombo subsequently appointed chief LTTE negotiator. When eelam war II erupted in the second week of June, 1990, the STF had to escort a small group of LTTE personnel from the Colombo Hilton to the Ratmalana air base. They were airlifted to Palaly and allowed to leave the base safely as Premadasa and his chief negotiator made a desperate bid to bring the LTTE back to the negotiating table. 

The LTTE was confident of victory. Prabhakaran spurned fresh talks and went all out in the East. The STF was given the task of regaining the Ampara-Batticaloa sector. The STF launched operations on two fronts, with one column advancing from Lahugala (Moneragala), and the other via the Yala sanctuary.

In spite of fierce resistance, the multi-pronged STF advanced gradually which forced the LTTE to retreat. Had the STF failed to move in on time, the LTTE could have overrun the isolated SLA base at Arugambay. The then STF Commandant, Lionel Karunasena, provided exemplary leadership under difficult conditions. Under his command, the STF conducted several major operations to weaken the LTTE in the Batticaloa-Ampara sector.

The government brought military trained police platoons under the command of the STF in 1991 to facilitate the restoration of civil administration.

The Sri Lankan military received a respite from January 1994 to April 1995 when President Chandrika Kumaratunga initiated talks. CBK’s peace initiative was even shorter than that of Premadasa. The LTTE launched eelam war III in April 1995, with devastating surface-to-air missile attacks on the SLAF and underwater attacks, targeting two gunboats anchored at the Trincomalee harbour.

Pukukunawa battle

The LTTE realised the need to weaken the STF presence in the East and threw some of its best cadres at STF bases at Tikkodi, Porativu, Ambalanturai and Pulukunawa, though it never succeeded in causing major damage. The LTTE’s major success was at Pulukunawa. In November, 1996, the STF had to call for the SLA’s assistance to save its base at Pulukunawa. It was the heaviest attack on an STF base during the entire war. The STF regained the camp following a bloody battle. Ironically, Karuna Amman, who led the LTTE against the STF in the East today, received protection from the STF. The STF never allowed Karuna to take the initiative, though the experienced LTTE battlefield commander fought hard.

The LTTE assassinated SSP Upali Sahabandu on Nov. 19, 1996 at Kalmunakudi in the Kalmunai police area. The STF veteran Sahabandu was on his way from Batticaloa to Ampara when a suicide cadre rammed an explosive laden motor cycle into the top policeman’s jeep.

Deployment in Vavuniya

The STF expanded its deployment in 1998 with troops moving to Vavuniya during DIG Nimal Gunatilleke’s tenure as the Commandant of the force. The STF took over security in Vavuniya and Murunkkan divisions. Then SSP K. M. L. Sarathchandra (later received appointment as Commandant), was in overall command of the two divisions.

A desperate government moved a contingent of STF personnel to the north during SLA operations conducted by the then Major General Janaka Perera. Although the STF wasn’t geared for conventional high intensity battles on the northern theatre, the government felt the STF could assist the SLA.

The LTTE couldn’t sustain the momentum of its offensive action in spite of the collapse of the SLA’s 54 Division headquartered at Elephant Pass in April 2000 due to valiant efforts by those who fought under the command of the then Majors General, Janaka Perera and Sarath Fonseka. The then CBK government sent the two Majors General after repeated attempts to halt the LTTE offensive on the northern front failed. The then Deputy Defence Minister, Anuruddha Ratwatte strongly pushed for military action in Jaffna, regardless of the consequences.

Norwegian CFA

The Norwegian-arranged CFA came into operation in Feb. 2002, thereby giving the STF an opportunity to rest and prepare for the next battle. Although the government felt the LTTE was serious about the Norwegian initiative, the armed forces and the police were suspicious. They knew it was just a matter of time before the LTTE launched eelam war IV.

The STF had a critical role to play in eelam war IV. STF veteran DIG Nimal Lewke was at the helm of overall operations as the Commandant of the elite fighting force. Lewke made a major contribution in Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism and was an immense source of strength to successive governments.

The then SSP R. W. M. C. Ranawana was in charge of operations in the Batticaloa-Ampara theatre. Among the senior officers deployed the Batticaloa-Ampara theatre were SSP Ranjith Perera, SP Wimalasena, SP Ayasa Karumarathna, ASP Hadjee, ASP Patrick Silva, ASP Sylvester Wijesinghe, ASP Kalum Gunathunga, ASP Padiwita, ASP Vidura Dissanayake, ASP Gunarathne, ASP Ratthepitita and ASP Senadeera. Although the STF focused on the East, it had a sizeable presence in the Vanni theatre, under SSP Jayaweera, in support of the SLA.

‘Niyathai Jaya’

After several limited operations in October and December 2006, the STF launched ‘Niyathai Jaya’ operation on January 4, 2007 to clear strategically located LTTE bases in the Kanchikudichchi-aru jungles. Experienced LTTE cadres operated from these bases targeting villages in Siyambalanduwa, Lahugala, Hulannuge, Bakmitiyawa, Pannalgama and Manthottama. The LTTE also destabilised Akkaraipattu and Pottuvil, causing fear among local communities.

Karuna’s split weakened the LTTE, particularly in the East. Along with Karuna, several hundred experienced cadres quit the organisation and some of them threw their weight behind the SLA, thereby causing a debilitating setback. The LTTE never recovered from the split caused by Karuna.

The STF had 13 bases at Akkaraipattu, Tirukkovil, Sagama, Kanchankuda, Sangamankanda, Urani, 10th mile post, Sengamuweva, Arugambay, Lahugala, Sasthraweli and Panama to meet the threat emanating from Kanchikudichchiaru. The STF threw everything it had to meet the daunting task of conquering the LTTE stronghold. Unlike previous forays, ‘Niyathai Jaya’ wasn’t an isolated operation, but an important element in the overall military strategy. The STF had to secure Kanchikudichchiaru and hold it whatever the consequences, while the army conducted large scale offensive actions in the Eastern theatre.

The STF engaged in ‘Niyathai Jaya’ on the third day of action reached Kanchi tank and located the LTTE ‘Mahaweera’ cemetery. The following day, troops secured the LTTE political office, Col. Thileepan medical centre, about 450 houses belonging to LTTE ‘Mahaweera’ families and ‘Ponweera’ families in Thangawelayudapuram. Troops also came across a large ganja (cannabis) plantation among other crops. They also found two booby trapped motorcycles, one lorry and a massive food store. The LTTE retreated, believing it could come back once the STF withdrew. But that was never to be. At the end of two-week long operation, the STF set up new bases at Rufus Kulam, Kotte Vihara, Kanchikudichchi and Thangawelayudapuram.

The STF also joined the SLA in a major clearing operation to regain the A5 highway (Chenkaladi to Maha Oya), which further weakened the LTTE’s position.

Once the combined security forces secured the East in mid 2007, the STF facilitated the resettlement process. Some international agencies expressed surprise at the speed the STF had carried out the resettlement process. Lewke left the STF on March 23, though he continued to serve the department in a different capacity. He was succeeded by K. M. L. Sarathchandra, another experienced officer, who oversaw STF operations during the Vanni offensive.

As part of a plan to improve and enhance effectiveness, the STF set up several specialised units, including VIP Division, Bomb Disposal Unit, Jungle Warfare Unit and ‘Cheetah’

Those picked for the ‘Cheetah’ unit received training in special weapons, naval training in coastal defence, life saving, jungle warfare and special training on the lines of the SLA Special Forces. The present STF spokesperson ASP, Sylvester Wijesinghe commanded ‘Cheetah’, which carried out several raids, targeting the LTTE.

The STF also set up a special motor cycle unit in 1996 and had a para troopers unit as well as SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), to provide visiting foreign dignitaries and sports teams with security.

The valuable services rendered by the communication specialists, who intercepted LTTE messages, thereby providing STF bases advance intelligence regarding impending LTTE assaults, too, should be commended. They provided advance intelligence regarding LTTE attacks on Tikkodai and Ambalanturai during a critical stage of the conflict.

Post-war responsibility

The STF is expected to maintain a smaller force to meet post-war challengers. The present STF commandant Ranawana strongly believes in the quality of troops. The strength of the elite arm of the police department isn’t in numbers, he believes.

Ranawana, who has served the STF for 28 years out of his 33-year career, said that the force comprised over 7,000 officers and men, though there was provision for a strength of 10,000.

Recently, the STF showed its class when it swung into action at the Vavuniya prison, after LTTE suspects held there seized control of the facility.

Explaining the post-war re-deployment pattern, DIG Ranawana said that troops operated from 58 bases in all parts of the country.

(Next installment on Sept 3 will focus on some naval operations during the CFA with comments fromformer SLN Commander, Wasantha Karannagoda)

CFA and US assessment of Sri Lanka’s military capabilities

War on terror revisited: Part 37

SLNS Sayurala, an Off Shore Patrol Vessel acquired on Aug 23, 2008 was commissioned at the SLN Dockyard, Trincomalee on August 28, 2009. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa attended the commissioning parade, the first since conclusion of the conflict in May, 2009. The former Indian Coast Guard Ship Vigraha joined the SLN on Aug. 23, 2008 and was assigned Pennant Number P 623. Since then it has been returned to India. The SLN deployed three Indian OPVs against Sea Tigers.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s decision to invite the US to conduct a Professional Military Education (PME) for Sri Lankan military at the onset of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in 2002 should be examined against the backdrop of SriLanka’s invitation to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) representative to advise the local intelligence community. The controversial move paved the way for US representative to sit with senior representatives of the Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DII) and Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) at weekly discussions.

One-time Director General of Intelligence, Senior DIG (retired), Merril Gunaratne earned the wrath of the UNF government for expressing concern over US representative sitting at intelligence meetings. Gunaratne felt that it could cause unnecessary complications. The Prime Minister and his key advisors dismissed Gunaratne’s concern.

RW–Bush meet

Before discussing the circumstances leading to the US being invited to scrutinise both military and economic establishments, it would be important to mention that Norway, which crafted the CFA, felt that the GoSL had no option but to depend on the international community, in the face of the conventional military capability of the LTTE.

An expensive post-war study commissioned by Norway captioned ‘Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009’ has asserted that Wickremesinghe and his advisors pushed for the internationalisation of the peace process, as they believed the LTTE couldn’t be defeated militarily. According to Norwegian and British NGOs, which prepared the report, the GoSL was of the opinion that both the United States and India would throw their weight behind the GoSL in case the LTTE resumed hostilities. The publication of the report commissioned by Norway as well as the PME assessment on the Sri Lankan military revealed the extent of international military involvement here. The Norwegian-led Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) had the backing of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), to verify intelligence, including information provided by Indian intelligence through informal channels, according to the Norwegian study.

On the invitation of the GoSL, the US carried out a comprehensive study of the three armed forces as regards their weaknesses, strength, capabilities etc vis-a-vis the LTTE, during 2002. It would be important to keep in mind that the assessment was done in the wake of the CFA. This followed the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe meeting US President George W. Bush in Washington (Ranil-Bush talks to centre on peace agenda, security matters––The Island July 12, 2002).

The US study highlighted the pathetic situation as regards the three armed forces and the failure on the part of successive political and military leaders to face the LTTE challenge. The US faulted the GoSL for not providing required arms, ammunition and equipment as well as for a severe shortage of armaments. In fact, the US assertion didn’t surprise the military. It was nothing but a demoralising report, which said that the GoSL, in spite of having a well-equipped army would face ‘probable defeat in the North and possible defeat in the East, if the conflict with the LTTE renews.’

Sri Lanka’s Peace Co-Chairs comprising Norway, the US, EU and Japan took the US assessment seriously. India, too, would have been guided by US findings. The GoSL felt that the US assessment couldn’t have been wrong as those tasked with examining the capabilities of the military had access to all relevant information pertaining to deployment of frontline troops and equipment. But interestingly, the US failed to identify the main difficulty faced by the military. Those who conducted the study didn’t realise or conveniently forgot that the primary reason for the GoSL’s failure to destroy the LTTE was nothing but lack of ground forces capable of holding onto captured territory, while the army pushed ahead with operations aimed at regaining the entire Northern and Easter Provinces.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told The Island that expansion of the military was a political decision. The President authorised the expansion of the army by 100,000 officers and men and that was the key to our success, the Gajaba Regiment veteran said. The Navy and Air Force, too, were authorised to increase their strength, while the police, including the elite Special Task Force (STF), and Civil Defence Force (CDF), also recruited additional men.

Former Army Commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, too, has said the doubling the strength of the army helped defeat of the LTTE.

US recommendation on

53 Division

Having studied the ground situation, the US made a series of recommendations, which if implemented, could have had severe repercussions. One was that the 53 Division should be removed from the Jaffna peninsula. The US further recommended that armour and artillery assigned for 53 Division should be allocated to other Divisions deployed in the peninsula. The US told the GoSL to stand down the Division and use staff for other duties, including at training facilities and military school. At that time, it had been deployed as a reserve division in the Jaffna peninsula. Army headquarters quite rightly ignored the recommendation. The division comprised Army Commandos, Special Forces and the Air Mobile Brigade which was undoubtedly one of the finest fighting formations ever deployed against the LTTE. The then Army chief, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle said that it would have been foolish to pull out 53 Division from Jaffna, knowing the LTTE’s determination to seize the peninsula at any cost. Although army headquarters assigned some of 53 Division’s troops for operations elsewhere under different commands depending on the ground situation, the division remained in the peninsula. During the absence of regular units assigned for 53 Division, army headquarters always made available experienced formations to the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 53 Division. The 53 played a crucial role in Jaffna’s defence in the second week of August 2006, when the LTTE launched a multi-pronged attack on Jaffna frontlines. Two years later, as the battle on the Vanni east front was reaching its climax, the 53 and 55 Divisions fought their way southwards to join 57, 59 and 58 Divisions and two Task Forces conducting operations on the Vanni mainland. The final phase of the operation on the Vanni east front involved 58 Division commanded by Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva and 53 Division commanded by Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne. The 53 Division grabbed the limelight for its role in the liberation of the Jaffna peninsula in Dec 1995. Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya explained the circumstances under which the elite division was brought down for ‘Jayasikurui’ (Victory Assured) operation and then again re-deployed in the peninsula for offensive action, though the LTTE launched a pre-emptive strike.

There couldn’t have been a dispute over continuous deployment of 53 Division in the peninsula, particularly after the LTTE demolished 54 Division headquartered in Elephant Pass after a series  of battles in early 2000. The Elephant Pass debacle was the worst defeat experienced by the army during the conflict. A fully fledged division plus a brigade collapsed, paving the way for the LTTE to make a bid to overrun Jaffna in April 2000.

Addressing the media at army headquarters on April 24, 2000, the then army chief, Lt. Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya claimed that delay on their part to vacate the base would have probably trapped thousands of men and armaments. A dejected Weerasooriya said that the LTTE offensive targeting Elephant Pass had begun on Dec. 11, 1999 with the overrunning of its southern defences at Paranthan (Pass withdrawal purely military, says Army chief––The Island April 25, 2000).

The US couldn’t have been aware that the army would jeopardise its contingency plans for the defence of Jaffna by withdrawing the frontline fighting formation. At that time, Jaffna was home to two other formations, 51 and 52 Divisions, which along with 53 Division had brought the Jaffna peninsula under army control in Dec 1995. The US recommendation to pull out 53 Division came in the wake of the GoSL agreeing to substantially reduce the number of troops in the Jaffna peninsula in line with the CFA. The then Defence Secretary Austin Fernando revealed that the GoSL had decided to reduce the number of camps in the peninsula from 152 to 88. In a well informed article captioned, The Peace Process and Security Issues, Fernando accused the LTTE of instigating public protests in Jaffna against GoSL efforts to shift camps as part of its strategy to reduce troop presence in the peninsula (Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures and Lessons – edited by Kumar Rupasinghe.

Sea Lanes of Communication

Commenting on the difficulties faced by the Navy in meeting the requirements of three army divisions deployed in the peninsula and that of its own, the US asserted that the Trincomalee –Kankesanthurai sea supply route wouldn’t be viable unless troops secured the area south of the harbour. The US recommended strengthening the SLN presence and deployment of required assets to facilitate the operation and a range of other measures to meet the LTTE challenge.

The LTTE further strengthened its positions south of Trincomalee by deploying artillery and mortars. The LTTE took advantage of the CFA to reinforce its presence south of Trincomalee harbour, while the then administration targeted COMESAT (senior officer in charge of eastern theatre) Rear Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda for taking up the issue on the advice of Navy chief Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri. The LTTE build-up and GoSL response triggered a major political battle leading to a section of UNP demanding that security given to th then MP Lakshman Kadirgamar be either drastically reduced or withdrawn as he took up the issue and briefed New Delhi and the media on the danger of LTTE concentration in the East.

Even if the GoSL had strengthened the southern defences of Trincomalee harbour, it wouldn’t have undermined the LTTE capability to mount attacks on sea movements north of Pulmoddai. The Sea Tigers had freedom of movement along the coast, north of Pulmoddai right up to Vadamaratchchy coast, to launch boats and stealth craft laden with explosives. Admiral Karannagoda’s successor, the then Vice Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe explained the difficulties experienced by the SLN in keeping the Trincomalee-Kankesanthurai route open, even after the liberation of the entire Eastern Province and the capture of Mullaitivu town on Jan 25, 2009. The LTTE threat on ship movements had been so high that the military had to deploy OPVs, one Fast Gun Boat (FGB), 20 Fast Attack Craft, twenty-two Arrow Boats, two Inshore Patrol Craft (IPCs), one Mi 24 helicopter gunship and one Beach craft to protect a single Trinco-KKS run. This was revealed by Vice Admiral Samarasinghe before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). The army had to place the artillery along the coast on alert to provide gun fire support in case of an attack on an SLN convoy.

Had the war lasted a little longer, the LTTE underwater fighting craft (submersibles), would have posed a grave threat to the Trinco-KKS supply route.

So the need was to launch an offensive at the first available opportunity to destroy the LTTE’s conventional fighting power in the Vanni mainland, clear the Eastern Province and go for the LTTE’s floating warehouses.

US on Indo-Lanka


Citing an instance, in which the GoSL and India to hunt down an LTTE ship the US suggested that there should a formal Indo-Lanka agreement to combat clandestine sea movements between the two countries. Given Tamil Nadu’s hostility towards Sri Lanka as well as its direct involvement of its fishing fleet in Sea Tiger operations, such an agreement would never have been possible. Nevertheless, the US proposed that Indo-Lanka combined exercises, which would benefit both nations, could be the answer to the LTTE threat. The US went on to suggest sharing of assets as well as expertise. The SLN felt that joint co-ordinated patrols could be effectively deployed against the LTTE, though political factors prevented such cooperation. However, three Indian Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) acquired by the SLN on different terms and conditions and the former US Coast Guard Cutter ‘Courageous’, played an important role in crushing the LTTE’s seagoing arm.

Closure of Vanni Sevaya

The UNF government’s decision to close down the army-run Vanni Sevaya, too, attracted the attention of the US. While highlighting serious shortcomings in the GoSL’s propaganda efforts, the US confirmed The Island reports of the UNP forcing the army to close down radio stations it operated for public service announcements and psychological operations. The US rightly asserted that the GoSL had denied itself ‘a low-cost, but highly effective medium to win public support.’ The US recommended that the GoSL reverse its decision to shut down the army-operated AM/FM radio stations. The US emphasised the importance of taking tangible measures to strengthen the army’s psychological directorate and explore ways and means of ‘targeting’ frontline LTTE fighting units. They stressed that the GoSL needed to do a lot more to meet the LTTE offensive on the media front. However, the US ignored controversy over the GoSL and Norway facilitating the LTTE to upgrade its Voice of Tigers (VoT) transmission. ‘War on terror revisited’ series deal with the issue on June 11, 2012 (Censorship of a different kind). Although the LTTE had lost its conventional fighting capability, it remained confident that its media offensive could still undermine the Sri Lankan state.

The Island on several occasions reported the closure of the Vanni Sevaya and the GoSL move to stop army headquarters from releasing daily situation reports. At one point, the GoSL directed the army to submit its situation reports to the Peace Secretariat for approval, before being released to the media.

 (Next installment on Aug 31 will focus on the creation of an elite police force to meet the LTTE threat. The US report didn’t examine the STF and police role in spite of them being part of the overall GoSL strategy)

LTTE’s procurement network and the Chinese factor

War on terror revisited: Part 36

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Sri Lankan Army chief and High Commissioner in Islamabad, Gen. Gerry H. de Silva discussed the importance of Sri Lanka having an uninterrupted supply of arms, ammunition and equipment to face any emergency.

The Gemunu Watch (GW) Regiment veteran highlighted a major crisis experienced by the Sri Lankan military, on the eve of the then Sri Lanka’s largest ever combined forces operation, Riviresa, which brought the Jaffna town under GoSL control in early Dec, 1995.

Addressing a one-day confab in Colombo on Feb. 23,2005, on Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations, Gen. Silva recalled how Pakistan had airlifted urgently needed weapons and ammunition when supplies from Sri Lanka’s main supplier China were delayed due to some reason. Gen. Silva appreciated Pakistan pulling out weapons and ammunition from operational areas to meet Sri Lanka’s requirement.

Five years later, Pakistan airlifted Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs) for deployment in the Jaffna peninsula, in the immediate aftermath of the LTTE capturing the strategic Elephant Pass base in April 2000.

The seminar, organised by the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, in collaboration with the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS), attracted many experts from both countries. Gen. Silva emphasised that the military was able to thwart LTTE efforts primarily due to what he called prompt and ready military assistance provided by China and Pakistan. A grateful Silva said: "Assistance received from these two friendly nations was always prompt, well within the budget and well suited to our servicemen."

Sri Lanka never made an all-out effort to prevent the LTTE from acquiring arms, ammunition and equipment until the Rajapaksa government made representations to the People’s Republic of China as regards terrorists receiving a range of Chinese weapons. The GoSL produced irrefutable evidence to prove that brand new weapons of Chinese origin were in the hands of the LTTE. In fact, the LTTE primarily used Chinese equipment, including artillery and mortars, though it obtained equipment manufactured in various parts of the world.

Capture of ‘Indumathie’

On the evening of June 19, 2008, the Sea Tigers mounted a large scale raid on Point Pedro in the Jaffna peninsula. The attacking party comprised 24 craft, including four explosives laden boats, operated by suicide cadres. However, the navy, backed by land based SLA artillery launched a heavy counter attack forcing the Sea Tigers to withdraw, leaving one large attack craft. It was the largest Sea Tiger attack craft captured by the navy during the entire war. The vessel, just five metres shorter than the SLN21- meter long Israeli built Fast Attack Craft (FAC) believed to be of Indonesian make, was mounted with five weapons–one 14.4 mm twin-barrelled anti-aircraft weapons and four 7.62 multi-purpose machine guns-all of Chinese origin. It was powered by four Japanese Yamaha 250 horsepower outboard motors (OBMs). The vessel was towed to Kankesanthurai, the SLN’s Northern area headquarters, where they found four bodies of Sea Tigers, possibly including the body of the man who led the operation. The SLN assertion was based on the fact that the captured vessel carried four communication sets, for boat-to-boat and boat-to-land communication. Interestingly, ‘Indumathie’ was equipped with Japanese JRC radar as well as US Gamin GPS (Global Positioning System) of South Korean make (SLN captures LTTE attack craft with strap line Shore-based SLA artillery help thwart attack––The Island June 21, 2007).

The captured vessel was among five Sea Tiger craft destroyed off Point Pedro. The SLAF deployed Mi 24 helicopter gunships in support of the SLN. The battle highlighted the importance of combined fire comprising FACs, shore-based artillery and multi barrelled rocket launchers as well as heli-fire in thwarting an LTTE raid. (Tuesday’s battle highlights SLA’s critical role in defence of Jaffna coastline with strap line Captured craft had Japanese radar, Chinese guns and US direction finding equipment––The Island June 22, 2007).

The LTTE for the June 19, 2007 battle, deployed 16 craft similar to the one captured by the SLN. Hence, they, too, may have been equipped with US and Japanese equipment and mounted with Chinese guns. According to the navy, this particular craft had been built at an Indonesian boatyard to the Sea Tigers’ own specifications. Sea Tigers categorised them as ‘Wave Rider’ class.

Unfortunately, both the SLA and SLN claimed the lion’s share of credit for the successful counter attack causing friction among a section of the top brass. The SLA claimed that the SLN was able to capture ‘Indumathie’ only after the vessel had been disabled by SLA artillery, whereas the SLN insisted FAC (P 412) targeted Sea Tiger craft with a 107 mm rocket, also of Chinese origin. The SLN said that ‘Indumathie’ had also been hit by 30 mm Bushmaster weapon mounted on some of the Fast Attack Craft. (Lanka concerned over Chinese-built LTTE arms with strap line SLN rocket fire disabled LTTE attack craft––The Island June 24, 2007).

GoSL briefed China on LTTE efforts to procure large stocks of arms, ammunition and equipment in early 2007. China responded positively to the request. (LTTE bid to tap top Lankan arms supplier foiled with strap line Government acts as multimillion dollar deal if finalised––The Island Feb 21, 2007). Sri Lanka intervened after the LTTE had received at least three consignments of armaments.

The SLN believed that the LTTE could have procured what it required via a circuitous route. At that time, speculation was rife that Chinese weapons could have been procured using North Korean end-user certificates. On Feb 28, 2008, the navy destroyed an LTTE ‘floating arsenal’ on the southern high seas, leading to the recovery of some mortars and artillery shells (130 mm and 152 mm) of Chinese origin. A few weeks before the Feb. 28 confrontation, the navy seized a 22-foot-long fibre glass dinghy mounted with one 14.5 mm single barrel anti-aircraft gun and a multipurpose machine gun also of Chinese origin following a battle off Baththalangunduwa (Tigers’ North Korean link bared?-The Island March 5, 2007).

Subsequent to The Island revelation, the North Korean Embassy in New Delhi assured the GoSL that it wouldn’t help the LTTE to procure arms. The North Korean mission told the SL mission in New Delhi that it had no connection with the LTTE, while claiming an international plot to derail what North Korea termed as smooth progress of six-party talks aimed at denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and also to drive a wedge between North Korea and the GoSL.

The LTTE had plenty of ready cash to procure weapons and hire those whom it considered as experts in the field. Kumaran Pathmanathan alias ‘KP’ now under house arrest, confirmed the existence of a vast LTTE procurement ring, which enabled the organisation to acquire whatever it needed. The LTTE never hesitated to take risks in its endeavour to acquire sophisticated weapons, as well as new technology. The LTTE believed that it could off-set Sri Lankan military’s numerical superiority by deploying state of the art armaments. The LTTE could have bought over influential officials as well as those on retirement to work on their behalf. The arrest of five persons, including retired Indonesian marine General Erick Wotulo by US agents for planning to ship arms to the LTTE revealed the link. The GoSL’s battle against the LTTE received a mega boost from US action to thwart LTTE efforts to procure weapons. Whatever US criticism of accountability issues in Sri Lanka, the GoSL should be grateful for crucial assistance, including information on the LTTE shipping fleet. The Rajapaksa’s government made a determined effort to improve relations with the US to counter the LTTE threat as it knew the US support was crucial for countering LTTE efforts to procure weapons overseas and transfer them to Sri Lanka, using a fleet of vessels.

LTTE leadership obstacle to peace

President Rajapaksa’s government also entered into the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) in March 2007 regardless of opposition by some political parties. Also known as ‘NATO Mutual Support Act’, ACSA highlighted the relationship between the US and SriLanka. In fact, some constituent parties of the UPFA expressed concern over the growing relationship between SriLanka and the US. The LSSP was one of those concerned by the agreement. It called for revelation of the agreement (LSSP wants military agreement with US published––The Island March 11, 2007). Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa emphasised the importance of US action targeting the LTTE in a brief interview with The Island, immediately after having talks with visiting US State Department official Steven Mann and the then US Ambassador in Colombo, Robert Blake. The meeting took place in the immediate aftermath of the signing of the ACSA, which was discussed with the previous administration headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe (2002-2004). Rajapaksa told Mann that the LTTE leadership was an obstacle to peace, therefore it had to be wiped out (No halt on offensive against LTTE; Lanka seeks more US support to stop arms flow––The Island March 11, 2007).

The GoSL dismissed criticism directed at it over the finalisation of ACSA. The JVP and UNP, too, criticised the UPFA move. The UPFA reminded the UNP that during Wickremesinghe tenure it had finalised an agreement with the US not to surrender each other’s citizens to the International Criminal Court (Govt. UNP initiated military logistical agreement with the US––The Island March 15, 2007).

On March 18, 2007, the LTTE suffered a one-two punch when Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), destroyed two of its floating warehouses on the high seas before they could transfer their cargo to multi day trawlers belonging to the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet. The LTTE lost two ships earlier on Sept 17, 2006 and Feb 28, 2007. The destruction of two more ships on March 18, 2007 caused a major shortage of ammunition, prompting the LTTE to step up its efforts to procure weapons overseas. They experienced two major obstacles. On one hand, the SLN had carried out a series of successful attacks on its floating warehouses as well as trawlers, including those owned by Tamil Nadu deployed to transfer weapons from big ships to shore (LTTE suffers double blow on high seas; Faces critical shortage of ammunition––The Island March 19, 2007).

The GoSL could never have brought the LTTE to its knees without destroying its arms procurement network, including its Tamil Nadu support base (Lanka targets Tigers’ overseas procurement network––The Island March 21, 2007).

The issue of the LTTE obtaining Chinese arms from a third party came up for discussion, when a UNP delegation visited Beijing in May 2007, on the invitation of the Chinese government. The UNP delegation, led by its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe rapped the GoSL for investigating a Chinese link in LTTE arms procurement operation. The GoSL insisted that it had never investigated a possible Chinese link, though it brought credible intelligence to China’s attention as regards LTTE working through North Korean agents to secure equipment (Arms to LTTE: Govt rules out Chinese link; China thanks UNP for boycotting Belgium confab of the Tibetan separatist movement––The Island May 21, 2007).

The LTTE also obtained weapons from Eastern Europe and various other sources. A case in point is the acquisition of Russian built heat seeking ground to air SAMS, as far back as during the deployment of the IPKF. The LTTE successfully fired SAMs against British built Avros as well as Russian built AN 32 during earlier phases of the conflict. After the liberation of the Eastern Province, the military recovered a 22.7 pound SAM-14 aka Stela 3 buried in the jungles of Thoppigala. Stela 3, which has a larger warhead, is the successor to SAM 7. The IPKF recovered one SAM-7during its deployment here (1987-1990). At the onset of eelam war IV, the LTTE made an attempt to procure SA-18, also of Russian origin, to bring down Kfirs and MiG 27s. After the liberation of the Eastern Province, the army recovered about 20 big guns, including two 152 mm artillery pieces and over a dozen 120 mm and 81 mm mortars. (Intelligence op. led to missile recovery-The Island Aug 2, 2007).

The LTTE was never short of ammunition for its big guns whereas the military always was plagued by shortages of ammunition and spares.

After the conclusion of the conflict, there was intense speculation of the LTTE also obtaining Chinese armaments, using Eritrean end user certificates, a charge denied by Eritrea. The LTTE never experienced a shortage of arms, ammunition and equipment, until the SLN targeted its floating warehouses on the high seas and trawlers carrying armaments from big ships to Sri Lanka’s northern shores.

(Next installment on Aug 29 will examine US assessment on Sri Lankan military on the invitation of the then UNP-led UNF government. The unprecedented US report is the only one of its kind made during eelam conflict).

International terrorism: Dhanapala’s suggestions

War on terror revisited: Part 35


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sept. 2010: Former Indian Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh at the IPKF memorial in Colombo

It would be pertinent to discuss accountability on the part of India, as regards the spread of terrorism in the region in the light of an unprecedented attempt made by Sri Lanka based Maldivian Abdulla Luthufee to use Indian trained People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) to overthrow the then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in Nov 1988.

The international community largely ignored Indian destabilisation efforts directed at Sri Lanka in the 1980s and the subsequent raid on Male by one of the groups working closely with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) deployed in the temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Province. At the time of the PLOTE assault on Male on Nov 3, 1988, it had been involved in para-military operations in support of the IPKF. In fact, it was one of the groups which operated under direct Indian supervision, having won the confidence of those running the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), at that time.

Unfortunately, due to the failure on the part of successive Sri Lankan governments, the Indian operation had never been thoroughly studied. A simple example is that many still believed that India had no option but to intervene here in the wake of the July 1983 anti-Tamil riots.

The LTTE attacked an army mobile patrol at Tinnaveli close to midnight on July 23, 1983. Although the LTTE killed a soldier in late Oct 1981 and carried out sporadic attacks on the army, there had never been an operation similar to that of the Thinnaveli ambush. The LTTE killed 13 of the 15-man patrol launched from Gurunagar and it had a demoralising impact on the army. The backlash in the southern parts of the country and the reaction of the JRJgovernment paved the way for a full scale Indian intervention. It was no secret that a section of the UNP administration turned a blind eye to the riots and in fact encouraged its supporters to go on the rampage. But the central issue is who trained the LTTE to mount a formal ambush by using landmines with devastating success. The LTTE couldn’t have acquired expertise overnight to wipe out an army patrol. It would be also important to look at the timing of the attack, which coincided with the TULF’s decision to quit Parliament.

Sri Lanka is busy responding to international criticism of the conduct of its troops during the eelam war. The government recently unveiled an action plan on the basis of recommendations made by the LLRC. Unfortunately, the government has failed to give due attention to Dhanapala’s recommendations.
Jayantha Dhanapala

Former diplomat T. D. S. A. Dissanayake described the terrorist attack in his book ‘The Agony of Sri Lanka’, the relevant extract of which is produced below: "As the crucial week end of July 23rd - 24th 1983 approached, it was increasingly clear that the TULF would decide at the Annual Convention, that their Members of Parliament resign their seats. In fact, on July 21st, 1983, when they last assembled in Parliament, Mr. V. N. Navaratnam (TULF - Chavakachcheri) delivered an emotional farewell address and the Leader of the Opposition exchanged words with the Prime Minister on the futility of a Round Table Conference."

Indian Air Force played an important role in support of ground operations, particularly in the northern region. Pic released by Indian Air Force of a crew based in Sri Lanka’s north.

It is important to establish the exact period during which India set up training facilities for Sri Lankan terrorists and inquire into the circumstances under which Sri Lankan terrorists received military training in the Middle East.

C. A. Chandraprema in his ‘Gota’s War: The Crushing of Tamil terrorism’ explains direct Indian intelligence operations in Sri Lanka in the mid 1980s. Chandraprema tells us how an EROS cadre named Neranjan exploded a bomb inside the Central Telegraph Office in Colombo in early May 1986 (The LTTE gains supremacy––Chapter 23). Chandraprema quotes the then National Security Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali, as having told Indian ministers Natwar Singh and P. Chidambaram that RAW was behind the destruction of a Tri Star aircraft belonging to SriLankan Airlines on the tarmac at the Bandaranaike International Airport a few days before the CTO attack. The Indian delegation was in Colombo when terrorists blew up the Tri Star.

At the recent launch of Chandraprema’s work, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga highlighted the Indian role. He didn’t mince his words when he asserted that Sri Lanka was a victim of Indian policy. In fact, the LTTE couldn’t have transformed itself from a ragtag army into one of the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfits without foreign assistance. India was allowed to do as it pleased.

Channel 4

Those demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lanka as regards unsubstantiated allegations made by the UK’s Channel 4 production ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ and ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished’ have never bothered to inquire into the events leading to eelam war IV in Aug 2006.

The British media never cared to examine how the LTTE’s campaign of death and destruction ultimately forced Sri Lanka to go all-out against terrorism. Interestingly, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who made a last minute attempt with the help of his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner in April 2009 to throw a lifeline to the LTTE, played a pivotal role in the second Channel 4 documentary. It would be pertinent to conduct a thorough study on the circumstances under which India subverted Sri Lanka, deployed its army here on the pretext of implementing the Indo-Lanka accord, and most importantly, the LTTE’s impact on international terrorism, et al.

One of Sri Lanka’s famed diplomats discussed the issue of accountability when he addressed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), headed by one-time Attorney General C. R. de Silva. In fact, Jayantha Dhanapala, one-time UN bigwig and head of Sri Lanka’s Peace Secretariat on Aug 25, 2010 commented on India’s role. Unfortunately, the LLRC didn’t take notice of Dhanapala’s assertion as regards accountability on the part of foreign governments, which promoted terrorism to undermine other countries. Dhanapala, in his submissions said: "Now I think it is important for us to expand that concept to bring in the culpability of those members of the international community who have subscribed to the situation that has caused injury to the civilians of a nation. I talk about the way in which terrorist groups are given sanctuary; are harboured; are supplied with arms and training by some countries with regard to their neighbours or with regard to other countries. We know that in our case this has happened, and I don’t want to name countries, but even countries who have allowed their financial procedures and systems to be abused in such a way that money can flow from their countries in order to buy arms and ammunition that cause the deaths, the maiming and the destruction of property in Sri Lanka are to blame and there is therefore a responsibility to protect our civilians and the civilians of other nations from that kind of behaviour on the part of members of the international community. And I think this is something that will echo within many countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, where Sri Lanka has a much respected position and where I hope we will be able to raise this issue."

Dhanapala also stressed on the accountability on the part of Western governments, which had conveniently turned a blind eye to massive fund raising operations in their countries in support of LTTE operations. It was no secret that the LTTE would never have been able to emerge as a conventional fighting force without having adequate funds to procure arms, ammunition and equipment. There also were legal proceedings, which revealed the LTTE acquiring certain items and expertise from Europe as well as Australia, enabling the group to mount bomb attacks.

Interestingly, even after the conclusion of the conflict, the Tamil Diaspora continued to raise funds abroad, regardless of tough international laws against clandestine operations. In spite of the collapse of its fighting capability on May 19, 2009, the LTTE’s financial network largely remains intact.

The GoSL hasn’t acted on Dhanapala’s sound advice so far. Sri Lanka should present its case before the international community, particularly at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Geneva. The forthcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) could give the government the opportunity to repeat what Dhanapala said before the LLRC in August 2010. India is among the troika appointed by the UNHRC to facilitate the UPR process. Having voted against Sri Lanka at the 19th session of the UNHRC, Geneva last Feb/March, the ‘God Father’ of terrorism here is now part of the troika. The international community couldn’t ignore one of its own, a respected UN diplomat, who represented the interests of the global community

In the wake of Dhanapala’s recommendation as regards those countries which facilitated LTTE operations by way of fund raising, it must be pointed out that the majority of them still allowed the same in their countries. The UK is an example, where those representing the LTTE’s macabre eelam project, still have direct access to the House of Commons, and work closely with INGOs and the media.

Dhanapala also made some valuable suggestions as regards the subject of International Humanitarian Law. He asserted that rules of war as of today couldn’t address the difficulties experienced by regular armies and amendments were necessary. Dhanapala said: " The primary purpose of International Humanitarian Law is the protection of civilians, and we have been exposed to a terrorist group who used child soldiers unconscionably; who used civilians as human shields and who used suicide bombers to cause mindless destruction of property and the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.  How does a conventional Army of a nation state pursue a conflict with that kind of combatant? The rules of war as they exist today do not cater for that situation. We would be providing something innovative to the international community if we can discuss amongst our outstanding international lawyers here – and we have a galaxy of talent from Judge Weeramanthri to Dr. Rohan Perera to Dr. Lakshman Marasinghe and many others - who could all form a brains trust on behalf of the Government, engage with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, the 4 Treaties and the 3 Additional Protocols which today constitute International Humanitarian Law, in order to try to give some guidance to armies of nation states as to how they should react to such a situation. We were very fortunate that in the end game of our conflict in May of 2009, we were able, through the bravery of our own Army, to save ourselves the possible holocaust of 300,000 civilians dying in the final stage.  The earth bund behind which they were held as human shields was breached at great sacrifice by our Army and we were able therefore to minimise civilian losses. I do not think we have an accurate estimate as to what the civilian losses were in the crossfire, but there were civilian losses. The tragedy would have been much greater if not for the bravery of our soldiers. But what if there was a tragedy greater than what happened? We would have been then denigrated in the eyes of the international community for no other reason but for the fact that these civilians were being held as human shields. We have to I think engage first of all the ICRC and  then the rest of the international community in order to perhaps convene a diplomatic conference to discuss the formulation of a new protocol with regard to combat with non state actors. This is a phenomenon that is taking place all over the world and I think the marshalling of international opinion on this issue will be one of the contributions that we can make in the codification of international humanitarian law."

Unfortunately, the government has not acted on Dhanapala’s second major recommendation. Perhaps, Sri Lanka hasn’t treated the two most important recommendations made to the LLRC, which could have been part of Sri Lanka’s defence at international fora.

A far reaching consequence of Indian intervention

War on terror revisited: Part 34


By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time India’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, J. N. Dixit, in his memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy, launched in 2004, says that he preferred to call India’s interference in Sri Lanka during 1980-1990 period as ‘Indian involvement.’ However, a comprehensive study is needed to counter various misconceptions as regards the conflict as well as regional issues caused by Indian intervention.

Dixit asserted that the decision to give active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants could be considered one of the two major foreign policy blunders made by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. But he strongly defended the Prime Minister’s action, while asserting Gandhi couldn’t have afforded the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils [Chapter 6:An Indocentric Practitioner of Realpolitik-Makers of India’s Foreign Policy].

Dixit failed to explain how the Prime Minister hoped to achieve her twin objectives by recruiting, training, arming and deploying thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil youth. India also helped Sri Lankan terrorists establish contact with international terrorist groups.

Indian action caused irrevocable damage to Indo-Lanka relations. The Maldives, too, suffered due to Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Dixit totally ignored the Maldivian factor, though India was responsible for the coup attempt in the Maldives in Nov. 1988.

Luthufee’s mercenaries

Maldivian businessman, Abdulla Luthufee, based in Sri Lanka, almost succeeded in seizing power in the Maldives in Nov. 1988 with the help of one of the terrorist groups trained and armed by the Indian government. Had Luthufee’s mercenaries assassinated the then Maldivian leader Maumon Abdul Gayoom, that country would have been ripped apart by political violence.

India’s military, particularly its navy, claimed credit for saving the Maldives from PLOTE (People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) mercenaries. The Indian media, too, talked in glowing terms of the operation code-named ‘Operation Cactus’ to save Gayoom. The Indian navy even mentioned it in an anniversary publication, ‘The Indian Navy: A nautical tryst’ alongside ‘Operation Pawan’ launched to liberate the Jaffna peninsula, in Oct. 1987. The Indian navy also pointed out that success of ‘Operation Cactus’ promoted TIME magazine to feature the Indian Navy on its cover, hailing it as the ‘the Next Military Power.’

TIME magazine didn’t even bother to point out that the PLOTE was one of the Indian trained groups, which had operated alongside the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force), deployed in the then temporarily merged Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. The PLOTE also maintained offices in India and worked closely with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

The PLOTE which ‘invaded’ the Maldives had been provided with arms, ammunition and equipment by India. It was ironical that India had to launch ‘Operation Cactus’ to neutralise a threat caused by a terrorist group which was under its own operational command.

Raid on Male

In an exclusive interview with ‘The Island’, Luthufee explained the events under which he had reached an agreement with the PLOTE to do away with Gayoom’s regime in the Maldives.

It was Luthufee’s first interview since his release following the Male coup attempt. He felt confident that PLOTE had the expertise to carry out a sea borne operation. Commenting on the raid on Male 23 years ago, Luthufee, who now lives in Sri Lanka said: "I wanted to get rid of Gayoom at any cost. As the election process in my country never gave a reasonable opportunity to the Opposition, I felt an outside force should be used to oust Gayoom. Due to my close association with the then PLOTE leader Uma Maheswaran, I negotiated for the deployment of an 80-member strong PLOTE raiding party. In fact, we discussed the sea-borne raid since 1987 after the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka, in line with the July 1987 Indo-Lanka peace accord."

Responding to a query, Luthufee emphasised said that PLOTE had been working with both Sri Lankan and Indian authorities in the wake of the Indo-Lanka accord. "PLOTE never asked for control over any part of Maldivian territory, in spite of Gayoom and his propagandists alleging that PLOTE wanted to use the Maldives as a base. Although, my revolt failed primarily due to shortcomings in planning, it forced Gayoom to realise that he couldn’t hoodwink the electorate."

Luthufee and another Maldivian joined a heavily armed PLOTE contingent on the night of Oct. 29, 1988 on the Mollikulam beach on the north-western coast. They left the north-western shores around 8.30 p.m in two 40-foot fishing trawlers. Luthufee had the support of several key persons in the Maldivian military, ex-Major Abbas Ibrahim, ex-Corporal Abdulla Shahid and Umaru Jamaal. The trawlers reached Male at 4.30 a.m. on Nov. 3, 1988. Having secured the beach without a fight, they divided themselves into several groups and moved to specific targets, among which were the army barracks, President’s house and the Deputy Defence Minister’s residence.

Luthufee said that he was confident of a bloodless coup. But, due to an irrevocable mistake on the part of the group assigned to seize the army barracks, the entire plan had collapsed within a matter of hours. He blamed the failure on the man tasked with securing the army barracks.

MV Progress Light goes

under water

Commenting on the situation after the arrival of Indian troops in Male, Luthufee said: "During gun battles we lost two PLOTE personnel, while several received gunshot injuries. We retreated towards Male harbour, as more Indian paratroopers landed in the capital. We didn’t have any other option other than to seize the Maldivian vessel, MV Progress Light. We got away at about 11.00 a.m. on Nov. 3, leaving behind the bodies of two PLOTE cadres killed in action. Three PLOTE personnel trying to get away in a rubber dingy were captured by the Indians."

The retreating PLOTE group took a small group of hostages, including serving Transport Minister Ahmed Mujuthaba and his wife, and attempted to flee towards Java in Indonesia via waters between India and Sri Lanka.

"We believed the presence of hostages, particularly a minister and his wife, gave us an advantage over those pursuing us. An Indian helicopter maintained constant surveillance, while we proceeded towards Java. But on the following day at about 4:30 p.m., our radar picked up two objects, and we knew the Indian navy was on its way to intercept us. One of the vessels, subsequently identified as INS Gadavari, fired at our ship, though it didn’t cause any serious damage. We kept on course. They contacted us over the ship’s radio and demanded the immediate surrender or face the consequences. A five-member Maldivian defence team, including Major Adam Saheer, was on the Indian warship."

"The Indian warship demanded that ‘Progress Light’ change course to either an Indian or Maldivian port.

"We refused to give in. We demanded mid-sea negotiations to settle the dispute. The Indians started firing at our ship at the behest of the Maldivians onboard their vessel. The PLOTE commander got in touch with their headquarters in Sri Lanka and sought instructions. They received instructions to execute one hostage and throw his body into the sea. In spite of the Maldivian minister in captivity making a desperate bid to avoid the execution of one of the hostages, the PLOTE took one person out the deck and shot him. They threw the body [overboard] and the Indians recovered it. The remaining hostages volunteered to come onto the main deck in a bid to discourage the Indians from firing at us. But the Maldivians onboard the Indian warship wanted all of us killed."

"INS Gadavari gave us three hours to surrender unconditionally or face the consequences."

"We didn’t stop but proceeded towards Sri Lankan waters. Then the Indians opened up with big guns. The minister was among the persons hit during the initial fire. We couldn’t fire back as the Indian ships were out of range of our guns. I directed the Filipino engineer on board ‘Progress Light’ to stop the engine. As I was watching him killing the engine, he was hit by the Indians. We were ordered to jump into the sea and were rescued by the Indians immediately after we raised a white flag."

Luthufee told The Island he had been blindfolded and locked in a toilet on board the Indian vessel as the warships turned towards Male leaving the MV Progress Light to sink behind them.

"Had everything gone according to our plan, India wouldn’t have time and space to intervene," Luthufee said.

How did PLOTE manage to keep its clandestine effort to remove Gayoom secret until the raiding party reached Male? Both India and Sri Lanka denied any knowledge of the PLOTE-Luthufee conspiracy. Although action was taken against the PLOTE contingent involved in the coup, the group didn’t face any punitive action. In fact, the PLOTE continued in Sri Lanka as if nothing had happened. India worked closely with the PLOTE. Sri Lanka didn’t even bother to conduct an investigation into the PLOTE’s role in the conspiracy to overthrow a founding member of SAARC. Interestingly, the Maldives too, remained silent as regards the responsibility on the part of India in forming irregular fighting formations, which could have posed a threat not only to a particular country, but destabilised regional security as well.

Due to the failure on the part of successive Sri Lankan governments, there is confusion as regards some issues, including the attempt made by Sri Lankan mercenaries to overthrow Gayoom’s administration. Ikram Sehgal, Publisher and Chief Editor, Defence Journal, Karachi, wrongly blamed the EPRLF (Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front) for the raid on Male. The accusation was made at a presentation made in Colombo on Feb 23, 2005, jointly organised by the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad and Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) Sehgal’s statement meant that even 17 years after the attack on Male, the identity of the perpetrators could still be mixed up. Nothing could be as important as setting the record straight at the end of the conflict. Sehgal alleged that 200 EPRLF cadres had been involved in the operation, while speculating on the possibility of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) being aware of Luthufee’s adventure. Citing swift Indian intervention in support of Gayoom, Sehgal asserted that India could have allowed the raid to take place to secure the Maldivian president’s confidence. But that allegation has never been substantiated.

Close on the heels of the Maldivian adventure, an unidentified gunman assassinated PLOTE leader Uma Maheswaran on July 16, 1989. Maheswaran, formerly of the LTTE was one of those who had received military training not only in India but in other parts of the world as well. Although the LTTE was the prime suspect in the Maheswaran killing, the possibility of some other party ordering his assassination cannot be ruled out. Maheswaran was killed during the Premadasa-LTTE honeymoon (April/May 1989 to June 11, 1990).

A Maldivian example: Ant-terrorism cooperation among SAARC countries

War on terror revisited: Part 33

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Immediately after the Maldivian Coast Guard had saved the lives of four members of a Special Sea Tiger unit from a sinking Indian trawler in Maldivian territorial waters on May 16, 2007, Sri Lanka sought access to those in Maldivian custody. Maldivian President Maumoom Abdul Gayoom’s administration swiftly granted SriLanka’s request, helping the SriLanka Navy Intelligence to dispatch a team to question them.

Within 36 hours, representatives of SLN Intelligence were in the Maldives. There had never been a comparable case involving a member of the eight- nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), established on Dec 8, 1985.

Under interrogation by SLN Intelligence, LTTE cadres revealed their role in mid-sea arms transfers, thereby giving valuable information with regard to arms, ammunition and various other equipment stored onboard the LTTE’s floating arsenals operating in international waters. They were among a selected group of personnel cleared by LTTE Intelligence Chief Pottu Amman for the operation.

Acting on the information obtained from those in Maldivian custody and intelligence provided by the US, the SLN destroyed four LTTE vessels in separate confrontations on Sept.10, 11 and Oct 7, 2007. The vessel sunk 2,600 nautical miles south of Dondra head was the largest LTTE-owned ship destroyed during the conflict.

Addressing the media at the Media Centre for National Security (MSNS), Kollupitiya, on Sept 11, 2007, a jubilant Navy chief, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda declared that the LTTE’s capability to wage war had been significantly reduced with the destruction of ‘three floating warehouses’ each 45 to 75 meters in length on the high seas on Monday (Sept 10, 2007) and in the early hours of Tuesday (Sept 11, 2007). Karannagoda asserted that the enemy’s sea supply was on the verge of collapse. (Biggest blow to LTTE arms smuggling with strap line Three aircraft, fast attack craft, bullet proof vehicle on board destroyed ships––The Island Sept 12, 2007).

The operation involved SLNS Samudura (formerly US Coast Guard cutter ‘Courageous’), SLNS Suranimala (Fast Missile Vessel acquired from Israel), SLNS Sayura (formerly of the Indian Navy) and SLNS Shakthi (Landing Ship Tanker acquired from China). The navy deployed two logistic vessels, 520 and 521 to re-fuel the Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), deployed for the mission.

Those in Maldivian custody had boarded ‘floating warehouses’ and knew all about their cargoes and the ongoing operation to replenish the depleted LTTE arsenal. Most importantly, they furnished irrefutable evidence to justify the GoSL’s assertion that the LTTE was in the habit of using Tamil Nadu fishing fleet for mid sea arms transfers. They also admitted that the ill-fated trawler, Sri Krishna, commandeered by them, belonged to the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet. Sri Krishna disappeared on March 4, 2007, along with its 12-man crew-ten from Kanyakumari and one each from Thoothukudi and Kerala. They went on to reveal how they had transferred 11 of the 12 member crew of the 25-metre long vessel to Vanni, while retaining its skipper Simon Soza. The Indian survived the attack. He was rescued by the Maldivians, along with four members of the eight-member Sea Tiger crew. They exposed the mid-sea transfer of arms, ammunition and equipment, the complicity of Tamil Nadu fishing fleet and most importantly, the rapid deterioration of the LTTE’s fighting capability (Sea Tigers in Maldivian custody facilitated SLN attack––The Island Sept 13, 2007).

Those conducting a post-war evaluation of Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism should at least now inquire into the circumstances under which the LTTE exploited the Tamil Nadu factor to its advantage. Soza could help them establish complicity of Tamil Nadu in LTTE operations. Another person who could relate LTTE operations is Sekar, another Indian. Sekar, who survived an SLN attack on an Indian trawler on Nov 14, 2006 near Sand Banks and subsequently was repatriated to India, through the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Even three years after the conclusion of the conflict, the GoSL is yet to examine critical developments as well as significant issues, which prolonged the conflict. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) didn’t touch on such issues at all.

Maldivian version

Sri Krishna had been flying the Sri Lankan flag at the time the Maldivian Coast Guard vessel, Huravee, a 46-year-old Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) confronted it in southern Maldivian territorial waters. ‘Huravee’ had swung into action after the Sri Krishna crew fired at a Maldivian dhoni (fishing craft). The vessel went down at 8.25 am following a 12-hour stand-off. The Maldivian intervention greatly embarrassed the Indian government, which turned a blind eye to what was going in its own waters in spite of SriLanka’s repeated warnings of increasing LTTE activity. The revelation that those in Maldivian custody, too, had been part of the LTTE group responsible for the Kanyakumari massacre stunned the Indians. The confrontation in the Maldives took place in the wake of Indian Defence Minister A. K. Anthony clearing the LTTE of any wrongdoing. Anthony alleged that the SLN had killed 77 Indian fishermen between 1991 and mid-April 2007.

The Maldivian government acceded to the GoSL’s request for an opportunity to question terrorists in their custody, though India declined Sri Lanka access to LTTE suspects in its custody. Interestingly, India, too, sought to interrogate those in Maldivian custody, though the SLN received the first opportunity to speak to them.

LTTE-TN reaction

The LTTE and its activists in Tamil Nadu reacted swiftly. They resorted to a damage control exercise. As the SLN gained access to Sea Tigers in Maldivian custody, the LTTE and Tamil Nadu administration launched an operation to transfer the remaining members of Sri Krishna crew from northern Sri Lanka to South India. On the day after the destruction of Sri Krishna, the LTTE ferried 11 Indians across the Palk Strait, from a base at Arippu, south of Mannar, to two different locations along the Tamil Nadu coast. The LTTE operation succeeded due to failure on the part of the SLN as well as the Indian Coast Guard/Indian Navy to intercept Sea Tiger craft ferrying Indian fishermen (LTTE frees Indians after losing Sri Krishna––The Island May 20, 2007).

India simply ignored the Maldivian example. The GoSL never had access to those in Indian custody for their involvement with the LTTE. But the GoSL received substantial Indian assistance during eelam war IV. Strengthening of the navy’s OPV fleet had been an important development, which played a critical part in the overall combined security forces strategy. And it would be important to keep in mind that the GoSL received crucial Indian backing to continue with the offensive.

Norwegian move

Soon after the Maldivians intercepted the vessel, the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo got in touch with the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo to inquire into the incident. Norway suggested that the Maldivian Coast Guard avoid using force and settle the issue without loss of life. The Norwegian mission in Colombo wouldn’t have intervened without having informed Oslo. The LTTE sought Norwegian help to save Sri Krishna, its crew and cargo as it knew a confrontation could expose the complicity of Tamil Nadu in the LTTE operation. Ironically, a group of Indian naval personnel, too, had been onboard Huravee, along with their Maldivian counterparts, when it was directed to confront the rogue vessel. Indian personnel were eyewitness to the rescue of Sri Krishna’s Indian captain, Soza. The Indian defence establishment would never have expected Indian navy personnel to be part of a Maldivian Coast Guard operation against the Sea Tigers, thereby helping the GoSL expose a lie, propagated by Tamil Nadu.

During the Galle Dialogue 2011 last November, Lt. Col. Mohamed Ibrahim of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF), explained the circumstances that had led to that confrontation. He said that the Sea Tigers had emptied barrels of diesel onto the deck before setting it ablaze. He was responding to a query raised by a participant at the seminar, which focused on regional as well as international maritime security.

Huravee, formerly ‘Tillan Chang’ of the Indian Navy arrived in Colombo on Feb, 2008 on a three-day visit. The vessel was on its way back to the Maldives after undergoing repairs in Chennai. Huravee visited Colombo in Oct 2007.

US role

In Jan 2008, a top US military delegation led by Admiral Robert F. Willard, the chief of the US Pacific Feet, arrived in Colombo on a three-day visit.

Admiral Willard’s visit was the first high level military visit since the signing of the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) signed in 2007.

Admiral Willard’s delegation visited Trincomalee, where it received a firsthand account of ongoing SLN operations against the LTTE/Sea Tigers, including the battle against suicide attacks. The world’s solo super power had been deeply concerned about tactics adopted by suicide attackers following the devastating attack on the guided missile destroyer, USS Cole of Yemen in Oct 2000. Sea Tiger Commander Thillaiyampalam Sivanesan aka Soosai, in an interview with the BBC, asserted that Al Qaeda had copied LTTE tactics. In an exclusive interview with the BBC’s Francis Harrison, during the Oslo-managed Ceasefire Agreement, Soosai boasted that Al Qaeda had emulated LTTE tactics. Soosai was quoted as having said that other terrorist groups, too, should learn from the LTTE.

The interview with Soosai recorded during LTTE celebrations on Heroes’ Day and broadcast over BBC Television, was posted on the BBC Website’s South Asia section, under the heading, "Tamil Tigers Reveal Suicide Secrets" as a video clip. The news feature introduced the Black Tigers as "The Original Suicide Bombers of the World."

Referring to the attack on three ‘USS Cole’, Soosai said, "they are using our tactics. I think in Yemen they used our strategy of suicide attack to blow up an American ship. That is exactly what we used to do."

America’s readiness to assist Sri Lanka should be viewed against the backdrop of its determination to neutralise Al Qaeda and its allies. During a banquet at SLN headquarters, Admiral Willard congratulated the SLN on the successful operations conducted on the high seas on Sept 10, 11 and Oct 7, 2007. Admiral Willard acknowledged that the US Pacific Command had monitored SLN action throughout the operations and there had been a lot of excitement among US officers (US to beef up SL’s maritime surveillance capability––The Island Jan 20, 2008). At the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa publicly appreciated US support received by the SLN. In fact, the GoSL received support from the US during the conflict, including a series of arrests, which caused irrevocable damage to LTTE weapons procurement operations. Nothing could have been as important as the exposure of Raj Rajaratnam, founder of the Galleon Group hedge fund. Rajaratnam, who had financed the LTTE throughout the war, offered funds for the rehabilitation project for LTTE cadres during the CFA. The US also strengthened the SLN’s capacity to conduct operations on high seas by paving the way for the GoSL to acquire the US Coast Guard Cutter ‘Courageous’, during the CFA. The role played by the then Minister Milinda Moragoda to enhance relations between the GoSL and the US shouldn’t be ignored, though the former UNP minister is no longer in active politics. In fact, Moragoda incurred the wrath of many including some of his own colleagues in the UNP for pushing for closer military ties with the US and India.

Shocking Indian move

A section of the Indian establishment went out of its way to shield LTTE operatives. In Dec 2007, six LTTE cadres, who may have had vital information on the Kanyakumari massacre on May 29, 2007 as well as the seizure of Sri Krishna were given a seven month prison sentence by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Ramanathapuram and set off against the period they had served in Madurai prison. In spite of the ‘Q’ branch of Tamil Nadu Criminal Investigation Department (CID) exposing their special role in the LTTE and unlawful activity in Indian territory, they were tried on a charge of violating the Indian Passport Act (Arms smuggling Tigers charged under Indian Passport Act; May have witnessed Kanyakumari massacre––The Island Dec 11, 2007).

India also denied SriLanka access to Jayakumar alias Gowrishankar (34), a senior Sea Tiger operative arrested along with another LTTE operative (46-year-old James) and an Indian (42-year-old-Ravishankar) in Dec 2007. At the time of their arrest, they were looking for a trawler for outright purchase with funds made available by an LTTE operative based in the UK. (Lanka seeks access to top LTTE agent in Indian custody––The Island Dec 11, 2007).

LTTE suicide-pack in northern waters

War on terror re-visited: Part 32


Oct 2010: Members of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) demonstrate in Rameswaram protesting against alleged SLN attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen. Former Ministers Jeyakumar, Kalaimani, A. Anwarraja, district secretary K.C. Animuthu, former district secretary S. Murugesan took part in the agitation.

In July 2007, Tamil Nadu fishermen netted two rounds of 120 mm mortar about 15 nautical miles off Uvary, Kanyakumari. The bombs, each weighing 20-25 kgs were neatly packed in wooden boxes. On Dec 5 and 11, 2006, Tamil Nadu fishermen found three rounds of 120 mm mortars. Recoveries highlighted the use of Indian waters for the transfer of armaments (TN fishermen ‘net’ 120 mm ‘ammo’ – The Island Aug. 1, 2007)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Close on the heels of the ‘Q’ branch of the Tamil Nadu Criminal Investigation Department exposing the LTTE’s hand in the Kanyakumari massacre, India’s Press Information Bureau in the second week of May, 2007 released a statement captioned ‘Attack on Tamil Nadu fishermen by Sri Lanka Navy.’ The bureau quoted Indian Defence Minister A. K. Anthony as having accused the SLN of killing 77 Indian fishermen during the period from 1991 to mid April 2007. Minister Anthony overlooked the Kanyakumari massacre, the seizure of ‘Sri Krishna’ etc by the LTTE. Minister Anthony was responding in the Rajya Sabha to a query raised by C. Perumal in the wake of allegations and counter allegations over what was going on in the Palk Straits. The minister’s statement in the Rajya Sabha meant that an influential section of the establishment was making an attempt to shield the LTTE. Sri Lanka strongly refuted the Indian statement (India shields Tigers despite compelling evidence of attacks on TN fishermen; overlooks Kanyakumari massacre, seizure of Sri Krishna with 12 men, castigates SLN in Rajya Sabha – The Island’ May 11, 2007).

The Kanyakumari massacre on March 29, 2007 took place on the eve of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in New Delhi, hence bringing immense pressure on the GoSL. Allegations that the SLN had targeted the trawler carrying fishermen from Kanyakumari when it strayed into Sri Lankan waters caused a diplomatic row.

Under pressure from Tamil Nadu, India turned a blind eye to LTTE operations in its territorial waters. The LTTE brazenly used Tamil Nadu fishing fleet to transfer arms, ammunition and equipment from floating warehouses to the LTTE-held Mullaitivu coast, as well as the north-western coast. On the evening of Nov. 14, 2006, the SLN arrested a person of South Indian origin when he jumped overboard from an Indian trawler on fire in the seas off Kalpitiya, west of Kudiramalai point (Indian link in LTTE arms smuggling operations with strap line Indian survives SLN attack on arms carrying trawler near Indo-Lanka maritime boundary – ‘The Island’ Nov 17, 2006).

TN fisherman rescued

The suspect, Sekar of South Indian origin, was brought to Colombo, where he revealed how six LTTE craft had surrounded his trawler on night of Nov 13, 2006 and fired into the air before seizing the vessel. A pair of Fast Attack Craft attacked the Indian trawler killing all on board except Sekar, who jumped off the ill-fated vessel as it went down. Interestingly, the Indian had identity cards issued by the Tamil Nadu Fisheries Authority to three of his colleagues, though he claimed he was the only Indian held by the LTTE. According to him, there had been seven LTTE cadres onboard the trawler, when FACs moved in for the kill.

The SLN requested the Indian High Commission in Colombo to take charge of the South Indian and repatriate him. The Tamil Nadu media remained largely silent on the issue. The then Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, told The Island that the LTTE couldn’t have transferred arms, ammunition and other equipment on its own. The LTTE operation needed the support of the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet, though some fishermen may have had no option but to help the LTTE or face the consequences.

The Navy chief briefed the National Security Council (NSC) on Nov 15 of the developing situation. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was informed of four previous detections made by the SLN on Feb 11, March 25, Oct 15 and Oct 31 in 2006. The SLN insisted that all four trawlers belonged to the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet and at the time of interception they had been heading towards the north-western coast. The confrontation on March 25 caused the destruction of an SLN vessel. Encirled by the SLN, the LTTE chose to blast the vessel along with a large consignment of explosives and ammunition. The blast triggered by the LTTE was powerful enough to rip apart a FAC positioned about 50 meters away from the Indian trawler!

The SLN also intercepted an Indian trawler off Kachchativu on Jan 26, 2006. The five-man crew confessed that they were carrying over 60,000 electrical detonators from India.

Following the confrontation on Oct. 31, 2006, near Sand Banks, the SLN recovered a small quantity of 120 mm mortars.

According to Vice Admiral Karannagoda, currently Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Japan, the LTTE had changed its mode of transferring arms, ammunition and equipment consequent to the change of SLN deployment aimed at cutting off enemy supply routes to Chalai and Mullaitivu. In line with operation Waruna Kirana, launched in May 2001, the SLN planned to intercept LTTE floating warehouses about 100 to 150 nautical miles off land. But, once Karannagoda took over command, he changed the strategy. Instead of waiting for the LTTE to take the initiative, the new Navy chief wanted to go for the LTTE international supply network. The LTTE quickly realized the danger in giving the SLN an opportunity to target its naval fleet. The LTTE decided to commandeer Tamil Nadu trawlers to transfer armaments from floating warehouses to Sri Lanka. Sekar’s trawler was one of the many vessels captured by the LTTE. Tamil Nadu neither investigated LTTE operations nore took action at least to prevent terrorists placing the lives of Tamil Nadu fishermen at grave risk.

Although Sekar claimed he was not involved in arms smuggling, but merely carried out LTTE orders due to threats, the SLN believed the South Indian was engaged in the operation. Tamil Nadu never made an attempt to investigate the alleged complicity in its fishing fleet in LTTE operations, though it could have easily launched an inquiry on the basis of Sekar’s statement.

MR in New Delhi

President Rajapaksa raised the issue during an official visit to New Delhi in the last week of November in 2006. The President was accompanied by the then Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera and Maj. Gen. Chula Seneviratne (redt) of the Intelligence.

The SLN found it extremely difficult to maintain the required level of surveillance simultaneously on the Mullaitivu coast and the Gulf of Mannar due to lack of resources. Having lost five fast attack craft in 2006 alone, the SLN felt that it couldn’t effectively counter the LTTE threat unless a fresh boost was given by way of new craft. The SLN struggled to sustain the sea supply route from Trincomalee to Kankesanthurai in view of a heavy Sea Tiger build-up. In fact, no other Navy in any part of the world had been forced to sustain a sea supply route through hostile territory for almost 20 years. The army lost the overland main supply route to Jaffna, in 1990.

The GoSL also sent the then Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake to brief Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam on LTTE efforts to use the region for its operations. The President and Prime Minister called upon regional partners to help thwart LTTE plans. The GoSL had never made a similar attempt before to counter LTTE efforts to procure arms. The President felt that an all-out effort was needed to foil LTTE operations. He personally raised the issue with relevant countries, urging them to deny LTTE access. Having returned from New Delhi, the President reiterated his commitment to finish off the LTTE.

The attempt on Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s life on Oct 1, 2006 should be viewed against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s efforts to cut off the Tamil Nadu supply route. Had the LTTE succeeded in its attempt to assassinate the Defence Secretary, the war effort would have collapsed. The GoSL offensive had been at an early stage and the President could have faced an extremely difficult situation. The absence of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would have derailed the offensive. Fortunately, the LTTE failed to execute missions targeting the Defence Secretary as well as Sri Lanka’s best army commander, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, on April 25, also in 2006.

Covert explosives import charge

The Tamil Nadu media targeted the SLN in an effort to demoralize the service, particularly its top brass. The TN administration made an effort to discredit the SLN by making public a non-existent secret pact between the GoSL and a Narpur based businessman. In December, 2006, Tamil Nadu press quoted Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi as having ordered an investigation into the recovery of a large stock of non-electrical detonators, which the media described as explosives bound for Sri Lanka (Lanka rejects covert explosives import charge – The Island Dec 11, 2006).

Despite Colombo’s denials, the Indian press continued to undermine the military effort against the LTTE. But the military leadership remained committed to an all-out offensive against the LTTE. The media also fuelled speculation that Sri Lankan ports were at the risk of being attacked and cut off by Sea Tigers. Vice Admiral Karannagoda told The Island that an attempt was being made to frighten shippers and isolate the country.

LTTE ‘suicide-pack’

In Feb 2007, the Indian media alleged that an explosives-laden LTTE craft was on a suicide mission. They speculated that it could be targeting vessels either leaving or approaching Kankesanthurai harbour. They warned that at least 15 explosives-packed LTTE boats operated in Indo-Lanka waters posing a grave danger to ships. The SLN felt that the ‘suicide-pack’ story was a total fabrication to discourage its patrols from approaching Indian trawlers engaged in arms smuggling operations. (Lanka rejects Indian claims of LTTE ‘suicide-pack’ in Indo-Lanka waters; Reiterates call for joint patrols – The Island Feb. 24, 2007). The unsubstantiated Indian media reports prompted shipping lines as well as insurance companies to explore the possibility of increasing premiums.

The ‘suicide-pack’ story was concocted after India blew up an LTTE craft taken into custody along with 2,000 kgs of explosives on Feb 14, 2007, claiming it posed a threat to the Chennai port. The India media speculated that the boat could have been on its way to attack Kankesanthurai harbour, a claim denied by the SLN. (The circumstances under which the arrest was made on Feb 14, 2007 were discussed previously).

The LTTE made an attempt to raid the Colombo Port in Jan 2007. Timely action by the SLN prevented a major disaster. In the wake of media reports of an LTTE ‘suicide-pack’, the GoSL took a series of steps to enhance security at key ports. But, some politicians found fault with the SLN for being too harsh on the fishing community. No one dared acknowledge that the LTTE was using the fishing community to facilitate its terrorist operations. The LTTE operated simultaneously on several fronts. It had direct access to Colombo-based diplomatic missions, journalists as well as politicians.

In March 2007, the Indian media quoted Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi as having said that the GoSL was willing to deploy Indian personnel on board its patrol craft. The announcement was made soon after the then Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai, Hamza met a DMK delegation led by State Electricity Minister, N. Veerasamy. The confab took place in the wake of a massive protest held in Chennai against the SLN. The Chief Minister’s son M. K. Stalin led that protest demanding that India take punitive action against the SLN. The GoSL dismissed Indian media reports as regards the SLN agreeing to share its vessels hunting for Sea Tigers with Indian Navy or the Coast Guard (Lanka won’t accept Indians on SLN vessels – ‘The Island’ March 14, 2007)

A move closer to M’tivu

In Nov. 2007, the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet made a different move on the Mullaitivu waters. Large clusters of Indian trawlers moved almost 10 nautical miles close to LTTE-held territory at Vettilaikerni. It was their first major foray into Mullaitivu waters since Dec 2005. The SLN asserted that explosives-packed Sea Tiger craft could use the fishing fleet to move closer to SLN convoys moving from Trincomalee to Kankesanthurai or the other way around. The SLN in a bid to discourage the Indians detained 17 trawlers along with 95 fishermen and brought them to Kankesanthurai. President Rajapaksa ordered them released after New Delhi intervened (Lanka urges India to stop ‘fishing in troubled’ waters; trawling off LTTE territory prompts naval action – The Island Nov 6, 2007). The LTTE constantly pressured the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet to operate according to its plans. The success of Sea Tiger operations across the international maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka, as well as its activities on the seas off Mullaitivu, needed a human shield. On the ground it took cover behind civilians right up to the final phase of the operations on the Vanni east front. The situation was the same out at sea. The LTTE used fishing communities in India and Sri Lanka to facilitate its operations.