Thursday, 1 November 2012

PA’s plans goes awry in Jaffna

War on terror revisited: Part 63

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Having taken over Jaffna Command on Aug. 3, 2000, Maj. Gen. Anton Wijendra faced the daunting task of neutralizing the LTTE’s conventional military threat to the Jaffna peninsula. The LTTE retained a formidable fighting force on the northern front with sizeable Sea Tiger assets in place. Maj. Gen. Wijendra had all three services as well as the police under his command on the northern front for operational purposes. The PA government struggling on the political front due to stiff opposition to its devolution package, which President Chandrika Kumaratunga asserted was a panacea for the national problem, felt that the military could help the government’s cause by flexing its muscle in the North. The SLA was under heavy pressure to rescue the PA.

On Aug 8, 2000, Kfirs and MiG 27 launched coordinated attacks on Sea Tiger facilities at Chalai on the Mullaitiv coast. During the raid, the LTTE fired a missile at a MiG 27. Although the shoulder-fired missile missed its target, the incident sent shock waves through the defence establishment. A section of the Sri Lankan military thought a few Stinger missiles supplied by the US to the guerrillas fighting the Russian invaders in Afghanistan had found their way into the hands of the LTTE (LTTE fires missile at MiG 27s with; Was it a Russian SAM, US Stinger or any other?––The Island Aug 11, 2000).

Making his first statement to the media after taking over the Jaffna Command, Maj. Gen. Wijendra told The Island that the SLA was on the offensive in the Jaffna peninsula, while the artillery and the SLAF were taking identified LTTE targets in the Vanni mainland. The newly acquired Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs) spearheaded the attack (Jaffna troops on the offensive, says Maj. Gen.Wijendra––The Island Aug 13, 2000). In the wake of change of Jaffna command, the government allowed a group of journalists from Thailand to visit the Jaffna peninsula in the second week of Aug. 2000. They were the first scribes allowed into Jaffna since the fall of the strategic Elephant Pass base in the third week of April 2000 (Thai journalists flown to Jaffna––The Island Aug. 13, 2000).

UK urged to proscribe LTTE

The LTTE coordinated its propaganda efforts from London with the tacit understanding with UK authorities. In fact, the LTTE issued daily statements from its London headquarters as regards its operations on the northern and eastern battlefields. The LTTE statement, which dealt with the killing of hundreds of soldiers at Elephant Pass in April 2000, shook the government. The PA government urged the UK to proscribe the LTTE under a new Anti-Terrorism Act of July 2000. On behalf of Sri Lanka, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on July 27, 2000, requested the then Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Minister Peter Hain to proscribe the LTTE. The Labour government ignored Sri Lanka’s plea. Sri Lanka pointed out that the British High Commission in Colombo knew what was going on in London. The then British High Commissioner here, David Tatham in Aug 1998, during a visit to Jaffna urged the Tamil community to stop funding the ongoing war (UK delays decision on Lanka’s request to ban LTTE––The Island Aug. 23, 2000 and SL disappointed over British government’s delayed move to ban LTTE––The Island Aug 24, 2000).

General Elections on Oct 10, 2000

The PA concentrated on parliamentary polls scheduled for Oct. 10, 2000. While the PA vowed to meet the LTTE threat, the UNP offered to give peace another chance by calling for direct unconditional talks with the LTTE. As the campaign entered the final stage, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe declared that President Kumaratunga’s wings would be clipped following their victory at the general elections. The UNP leader vowed that his cabinet would restrict funds for the President in order to compel her to act on UNP’s directives (PA pooh poohs UNP’s vow to clip CBK’s wings––The Island Sept 3, 2000).

In the run-up to the elections, the ICRC revealed in a special communiqué that fighting in the Jaffna peninsula in May 2000 had forced 160,000 people out of their homes. Some of them took refuge at 136 welfare centers established in Waligamam and Point Pedro, whereas the rest stayed with their relatives and friends in the peninsula. The ICRC also revealed that over 3,000 had crossed the Jaffna lagoon during the crisis to take refuge in the Vanni. The humanitarian agency placed the number of civilians killed due to fighting at 70. The ICRC didn’t mention that the LTTE had initiated the Jaffna campaign (ICRC says recent Jaffna battle forced over 160,000 out of their homes––The Island Sept 3, 2000).

One of the most important tasks performed by the LTTE was the transfer of combatants’ bodies. The process began after the resumption of hostilities on the night of April 19, 1995. The then ICRC Information Officer Harsha Gunewardene in Sept. 2000 placed the number of bodies transferred since April 1995 at 2,112. Of them, 1,359 were bodies of security forces personnel (ICRC transfers 2112 bodies of combatants in 5 years––The Island Sept 8, 2000).

During the month of Sept. 2000, the SLA made a desperate bid to bring Colombuthurai under its control. The SLA suffered heavy losses during confrontations at Colombuthurai. De-facto Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte took time off from his general election campaign to visit Jaffna, where he insisted that the SLA regain the entire area lost during battles during the first nine months of the year. Addressing troops at the headquarters of the 51 Division, the Kandy District MP who functioned as the SLFP National Organizer said that the government had met their demand for arms, ammunition and equipment. The minister stressed that now it would be the responsibility of the military to defeat the LTTE. However, the LTTE offered heavy resistance inflicitng heavy losses on the army. (‘Regain lost areas soon,’ Ratwatte tells army––The Island Sept 17, 2000).

Assassination of SLMC leader

SLMC leader M. H. M. Ashraff on Sept. 16, 2000 joined the list of political leaders assassinated during an election campaign. Ashraff died along with a PA candidate contesting for Digamadulla electorate, S. Kadirgamathamby when an infiltrator accompanying the ministerial delegation triggered a bomb explosion inside an SLAF Mi-17 helicopter. Initially, it was thought the Russian built transport helicopter had crashed due to a fault. The assassination caused political destabilization. Those close to the LTTE remained silent over the killing. Political assassinations was a key element in the LTTE strategy, though political parties never took it up with the international community.

In the wake Minister Ratwatte’s call for the SLA to flex its muscles in the peninsula, troops in the early third week of September regained Chavakachcheri, the second largest town in the peninsula. SLA chief, Lt. Gen. Balagalle declared the liberation of the town (Army Chief says troops retake Chava––The Island Sept 18, 2000). The town was brought under the control of troops of Operation Kiniheera (first phase) on Sept 17, 2000. Many an eye brow was raised by the report as the Competent Authority didn’t allow the media to report the loss of the town during the April-May 2000 offensive. The SLA offensive led by the elite 53 Division caused heavy damage to buildings. During a visit to Chavakachcheri immediately after the liberation of the town a group of journalists including the writer saw massive destruction caused by multi barrel rocket launchers. (Chava now a devastated town––The Island Sept 21, 2000).

In an interview with the visiting media, Maj. Gen. Wijendra dismissed allegations that the ongoing offensive was not politically motivated. Although the Jaffna Commander denied the allegations, the then Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake, who led the campaign in the absence of President Kumaratunga, declared that the military had been re-equipped to regain Elephant Pass (Jaffna Commander stresses new offensive not politically motivated––The Island Sept 24, 2000). On the evening of Sept. 26, 2000, the LTTE mounted a large scale attack on the SLA’s Pallai defences, just hours after troops regained Madduvil (North) and Sarasalai (West). The LTTE forced the army to abandon some of its positions in the general area of Pallai. The then military spokesman, Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne had an extremely difficult job in handling the media. The second phase of Kiniheera was carried out on Sept 26, 2000. The second phase brought Madduvil (North) and Sarasalai (West) under SLA control (Troops retake Madduvil, Sarasalai-Army with strap line LTTE mounts major assault––The Island-Sept 27, 2000).

The PA obtained US expertise to handle the media. A four-member delegation from the US National Guard conducted a two-day workshop in Colombo for those responsible for media coverage of the eelam conflict (Govt. secures US expertise on reporting military matters––The Island Sept. 28, 2000).

The LTTE launched a major assault on SLA frontlines on Sept. 28, 2000. The SLA placed the number of personnel killed at 30 and wounded at 132, though the actual losses were much higher. The LTTE evicted troops from some of their positions in the Kilali-Muhamalai sector (Army says troops repulse offensive––The Island Sept 29, 2000). The LTTE launched ‘Unceasing Waves IV’ in the last week of September, targeting the SLA deployed in the Kilali-Muhamalai area. In the wake of the new operation, the LTTE ordered Kodikamam to vacate the town (Govt-LTTE battle for supremacy in North war with an eye on polls––The Island Oct 1, 2000).

Artillery strike on civilian target

In the run-up to Oct 10, 2000 parliamentary polls, the LTTE intensified attacks. The LTTE fired at residential areas in the Jaffna peninsula in a bid to cause chaos ahead of the election. The clandestine Voice of Tigers directed civilians to vacate both Thennamaratchchy and Vadamaratchchy (LTTE fires artillery on non-military targets––The Island Oct 2, 2000).

Also in the first week of Oct. 2000, an LTTE suicide attack targeting a PA rally in Muttur killed 23 persons, including SLMC candidate, Mohammed Baithulla, contesting on the PA ticket. The blast caused injuries to 39 persons. It was first suicide attack on a political rally outside Colombo. Baithulla was an ex-police intelligence officer and one-time head of the Counter Subversive Unit (CSU) of the Trincomalee district. Baithulla survived an LTTE suicide attack on Nov. 25, 1996. The LTTE killed four PA candidates in the run-up to the poll (EU observers voice concern––The Island Oct 4, 2000).

The European Union Electoral Observation Mission (EUEOM) blamed the LTTE for violence in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The PA lost about 45 supporters in the run-up to the polls (EU polls observers in Jaffna to watch situation––The Island Oct 5, 2000 and PA urged to cancel meetings to avoid LTTE attacks––The Island Oct 7, 2000).

In Nov. 2000, the PA repeated its call for the UK to proscribe the LTTE. Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar made the appeal on behalf of Sri Lanka, a day after LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran called for the immediate cessation of hostilities, removal of military bases from the North and withdrawal of what he called an economic embargo as prerequisites for the resumption of political negotiations. Kadirgamar made his move, though Norway was involved in talks with both the government and the LTTE to explore the possibility of resuming political negotiations (Sri Lanka calls on UK to ban LTTE––The Island Nov 4, 2000).

In the third phase of Operation Kiniheera, the SLA destroyed LTTE positions south of Madduvil on Oct 29, 2000.

On Nov. 25, 2000, Prime Minister Wickremanayake declared that President Kumaratunga wanted the LTTE defeated militarily. The PM stressed that the government would not agree to a ceasefire under any circumstances. He urged the armed forces to bring the Tigers to their knees (No ceasefire, LTTE must be defeated says MP––The Island Nov 27, 2000).

On Dec. 16, 2000, the SLA launched a large scale operation to expand the area under its control in the Jaffna peninsula. The offensive prompted TULF leader V. Anandasangaree to call for an immediate ceasefire in the peninsula. The veteran politician strongly criticized the PA for trying to negotiate with the LTTE with the help of the Norwegians while pursuing military operations. The operation helped the SLA to tighten its grip on Jaffna and Chavakachcheri (Army mounts major offensive in Jaffna––The Island Dec 17, 2000).

On Dec. 22, 2000, the SLA liberated Kaithadi Island, Kaithadi Bridge and Chiviyatheru (East). The operation was launched immediately after the LTTE announced that it would suspend hostilities for a month with effect from Dec. 24 midnight, 2000 as a goodwill gesture to facilitate and promote peace initiatives towards resolving the ethnic conflict. The PA declared that it wouldn’t suspend operations to facilitate the Norwegian imitative. This was primarily due to the wrong assessment that the LTTE was weak on the Jaffna front and couldn’t resist a major SLA advance. The SLA continued to score impressive battlefield victories. On Christmas Day, the ICRC transferred the bodies of 30 LTTE cadres killed during the Kaithadi battle across the Jaffna lagoon.

On the afternoon of Dec. 30, 2000, the SLA engaged in the eighth phase of the Kiniheera offensive restored the overland main supply route between Jaffna and Chavakachcheri.