Tiger trap for Trinco siege
Over the centuries the north eastern port city of Trincomalee has been steeped in history. The Cholas, the Pandyans, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the British have all left their footprints.

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In more recent times, for the British, Trincomalee was their first possession in Sri Lanka. During World War II, it was home for the British Far East Fleet after the fall of Singapore. During this time it was bombed by the Japanese.

Yet, Trincomalee remained a British naval base, long after Sri Lanka's independence in 1948. When they withdrew in 1957, the Navy took over. It became their largest base.

The international significance of Trincomalee diminished somewhat after World War II with developing naval technologies. But with one of the world's deepest natural harbours and naval infrastructure it has always remained a strategically important facility.

In the early eighties, possible military use of the port and the oil tanks there by the United States fuelled fears in neighbouring India. It came in the backdrop of the growing rapport with China, then the only supplier of military hardware to Sri Lanka.

The UNP Government at that time was negotiating to lease out the tank farm to a US company. Piqued by the move and in the aftermath of the 1983 ethnic violence, a deeply concerned Government in New Delhi turned a blind eye to Tamil militant groups operating guerrilla training camps in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. What followed thereafter was a near two decade long separatist war. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) eliminated all other rival groups in their armed struggle to establish a so called separate state of Tamil Eelam. They declared that Trincomalee would be the capital city of that new nation.

When the ruling United National Front (UNF) signed a Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE on February 22 last year, that officially marked the end of a phase of hostilities of Eelam War III. That fierce phase accounted for the largest losses in human and material terms.

The UNF was keen to undo what their own political predecessors did. They leased out the tank farm to state owned Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) - a move that ensured not only an Indian presence but also cleared their apprehensions. Since then, two fully equipped frigates of the Indian Navy have been patrolling the international waters off Trincomalee.

The importance of Trincomalee continues after the ceasefire as both a naval, political and economic centre. It still remains the life line for some 40,000 troops and policemen deployed in the Jaffna peninsula. It is only a few hundreds who travel in and out of the peninsula by aircraft daily. The bulk moves about by ships from Trincomalee after traversing along the main Alpha Eight highway. Military supplies and provisions for their sustenance take the same route. Hence crippling Trincomalee or choking Alpha Eight, like denying oxygen to a dying person, can be fatal to the troops holding the peninsula.

This is why the recently set up LTTE camp at Manirasakulam (or more appropriately at Kuranku Panchaan Kulam), just four kilometres south of an existing army camp, assumes greater significance. In mid June, villagers tipped off the army that a new guerrilla camp was being set up just four kilometres away.

An Army officer who went to the scene found construction work under way whilst armed guerrillas gave protection. He reminded the guerrilla leader on the spot that such activity in a Government controlled area violated the Ceasefire Agreement. His protests were brushed off. As the officer got in to his vehicle to return to camp, guerrillas opened out with 40mm grenades. They, however, missed the troops who were standing close by.

The Army lodged a protest to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). After a probe the SLMM ruled that the guerrillas should dismantle the camp and withdraw from the area. Weeks have passed but they are staying put. This week, the over enthusiastic state and sections of the private media reported the LTTE would pull out within 72 hours, only to draw a denial within hours from the guerrilla hierarchy in Kilinochchi. Fortification of security at the camp, located near a village where Muslim residents were re-settled after the ceasefire, continues.

But a development that sent tremors down the UNF hierarchy over the issue came from S. Prabagaran alias Pulithevan, the deputy head of the LTTE Peace Secretariat. Mr Pulithevan, now spends as much time in Colombo as he does in Kilinochchi. Unlike his guerrilla colleagues who are disciplined to lead frugal lives, Mr Pulithevan seems exempted from that strict LTTE code.

He has often preferred the luxury of Colombo's five star hotels or deluxe apartments. He had read reports early this week in the Colombo Tamil media. One report had attributed remarks to Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando, that the Government would resort to military action to oust the Tiger guerrillas from Manirasakulam.

Such remarks, he thundered, amounted to a warning to abrogate the ceasefire. In such an event, he clarified from UNF leaders, whether those remarks were an intimation, as stipulated in the Ceasefire Agreement, to give two weeks notice for abrogation. He was assured that was not the case. Defence Secretary Fernando issued a denial that he made such remarks. Needless to say the prompt response pleased his good friend, the guerrilla peace broker.

In another unrelated development, there was also a prompt response through a press release over Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Maj. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, going on overseas leave. On Thursday night posters had come up at Lipton Circus. They suggested that Maj. Gen. Fonseka was being sent out on leave so the High Security Zones in Jaffna could be dismantled. "The absence of Maj. Gen. Fonseka in the office will not affect the HSZ….. and the stand of the Army on High Security Zones remains the same," said the Op Hq of the Ministry of Defence.

The LTTE camp at Manirasakulam, now set to remain despite all the protests, is endemic of the gradual transformation of the landscape around Trincomalee. Tiger guerrillas have opened up new military camps, re-occupied ones they abandoned and set up a string of satellite camps around bases that existed. The map on this page tells the story of this changing environment. Newly recruited cadres have been trained and moved in. New weaponry and communications equipment have been widely distributed.

This rapidly developing scenario in and around Trincomalee is signalling a marked shift to the military balance. The Tiger guerrillas are continuing to become stronger militarily whilst the ground they dominate are expanding. This is in the backdrop of the Security Forces being plagued with desertions, hit by lack of resources and forced to maintain an inactive profile lest they be accused of sabotaging the peace process.

They are yet to receive even the three months requirements to replenish their dwindling stocks of ammunition and other items. The long term impact of this change may lead to a virtual siege of Trincomalee - a move that will threaten not only Sri Lanka's but now India's own interests.

This is the most disturbing, if not the worst impact, the Tiger guerrilla actions in the east during the 17 month long ceasefire has brought about. In the neighbouring district of Batticaloa, recruitment and training of cadres had gone on at such a hectic pace. According to one intelligence source the guerrilla strength is now around 9000 cadres as against a Security Forces strength of just over 6000. In the adjoining Amparai district, training camps in the Kanjikudichiaru jungles are said to continue.

That these developments have caused serious concern at the highest levels of the security establishment is no secret. A development which reflects this phenomenon clearly and comes as a warning to the governmenttook place at a meeting of the Security Forces and Police top brass last Wednesday. Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle (Army Commander) who is acting Chief of Defence Staff chaired a session with Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri (Commander, Sri Lanka Navy), Air Vice Marshal Donald Perera (Commander, Sri Lanka Air Force) and Deputy Inspector General Indra de Silva (representing T.E. Anandarajah, Inspector General of Police).

They were discussing a letter that had ended up with the Army for action. Having established two "Police Stations" in the east, one at Sampur (Trincomalee District) and another at Palugamam (Batticaloa District), the LTTE has now planned to open a "Police Headquarters" for the East at Kokkadicholai (Batti-caloa district). Staff had been trained in the Wanni and had to be moved out through Government controlled areas. V. Bavan of the LTTE Peace Secretariat wrote to Hagrup Haukland, acting head of the SLMM. He forwarded the letter to John Gooneratne, acting Director General of SCOPP (Secretariat Co-ordinating the Peace Process in the PM"s Office). From the latter, it went to Defence Secretary Austin Fernando who had called for Army action. This is what Mr. Bavan said:

Acting HoM
Dear Sir,

Transportation clearance of LTTE policemen
24 newly trained LTTE policemen will be going by bus to Batticaloa for their duties on Friday 1st of August. They will cross the Omanthai check point around 12.30.

They will be in civil dresses and carry uniforms in their bags individually. Please make the necessary arrangements for their journey. Mr. S. Tamilarasan is the OIC of this police team.

V. Bavan
Here is the case of the LTTE requesting permission from the Government of Sri Lanka for the passage of its "policemen" from the north to the east. Firstly, the so called police are not officially recognised. In fact, the latest proposals on a provisional administrative council (exclusively revealed in The Sunday Times July 20) specifically leaves out recognition for such an organisation besides the subjects of land, security and revenue.

The Sunday Times learnt a lengthy discussion ensued at the JOH meeting of top brass. Whilst agreeing that they should not impose any measures on the movement of LTTE leaders that would be construed as an obstruction to the peace process, they felt the latest request was different in nature. Whilst not recognising the LTTE "police" in a response to be sent to them, it was felt that some reciprocal measures had to be sought.

Giving effect to the decision of the top brass at the JOH meeting was the Army's DGGS (Director General of General Staff) Maj. Gen. Chula Seneviratne. He wrote (on behalf of the Army Commander) directly to the acting Head of SLMM with copies to Defence Secretary Fernando and the SCOPP. Excerpts of what Maj. Gen. Seneviratne said on July 30:

"In the above referred letter LTTE has made a request to transport 24 LTTE members through Omanthai Entry Exit Point, and the cleared area into Batticaloa uncleared area. The Army will not only conform to the LTTE movement but will certainly assist to facilitate unhindered movement through the entry Exit Point and escort the LTTE members through the cleared area in vehicles belonging to the Sri Lanka Army.

"We will also be willing to accommodate any timings given by the LTTE at their convenience. However, carriage of weapons and uniforms will not be permitted. Catering for this need the Security Forces will provide security for the LTTE members throughout the entire journey from Entry Exit Point Omanthai to Entry Exit Point Mankerni / Chenkaladi in Batticaloa as done in the past. It is stressed further that Army will make all necessary arrangements for the safe and unhindered movement of LTTE members from Omanthai to Batticaloa.

"However, in reciprocation, it is requested that an undertaking is obtained from the LTTE that they abide by the ruling given by the SLMM regarding the vacation of the Manirasakulam camp immediately. It is also necessary that the LTTE be informed to permit SLMM monitors to inspect the newly constructed bunkers in the Welioya area violating the MOU. The accomplishment of above will enable the implementation of the LTTE proposal to move their members to Batticaloa.

"It is expected that LTTE leadership will be convinced once properly briefed, the importance of seeing the problems on the ground, since we have to work together to achieve success in the Peace Process. It will be of immense value in building confidence between the Security Forces and the LTTE which has been eroded to some extent during the past due to the blatant violations reported."

In other words, to allow 24 LTTE "policemen" to pass through controlled areas the Security Forces and police top brass unanimously insisted through the Army that the guerrillas should (1) permit the SLMM to inspect a LTTE bunker line which the Army complains had been put up after the ceasefire. It says this bunker is within the line of control and thus violates the ceasefire agreement. (2) The LTTE should dismantle its camp at Manirasakulam and withdraw from this Government controlled area.

The acting head of SLMM Mr Haukland, after consulting the LTTE, responded. He wrote to Defence Secretary Fernando (with copy to Army Commander) on July 31 saying "SLMM is very pleased with your decision to provide Army escort for the transport of 24 LTTE policemen while travelling in GOSL controlled area on Friday August 1."

Dealing with the two requirements set out by Maj. Gen. Seneviratne, Mr. Haukland said "…the newly constructed LTTE bunkers will be inspected on Wednesday the coming week." As for dismantling of the Manirasakulam camp, he pointed out that "the LTTE has so far not responded positively to SLMM ruling…" He added "I have tried to reach Tamilselvan to discuss the matter with him. However, it has not been possible to get in touch with him."

"Taking into consideration the above mentioned," Mr Haukland said "I strongly recommend that the LTTE road movement on the 1st of August 03 should go ahead with army escort as planned. SLMM will monitor the road movement throughout."

The Sunday Times learnt Defence Secretary Fernando heeded Mr. Haukland's request. He is learnt to have asked the SLMM to ignore the requirements set out by the Army. After he over ruled the Army, which took the decision with the concurrence of the Navy, Air Force and Police, arrangements were being made by the SLMM with Army in Wanni when procedural snags arose. The latter said no. They had no orders.

Immediately thereafter,Brigadier N.A. Jayasuriya, Director of Operations, wrote (on behalf of Army Commander) to Mr. Haukland reminding him of the requirements set out in Maj. Gen. Seneviratne's letter. "Please be informed that the Army cannot agree to the movement unless LTTE agrees to the pre-conditions stated above," he said. The letter (dated July 31) was also copied to Defence Secretary Fernando and Maj. Gen. Susil Chandrapala, Security Forces Commander (Wanni).

By Thursday night (July 31) strong pressure moves were afoot for the Army to back down from its major demand. It was pointed out that the issue of the LTTE camp at Manirasakulam was being discussed at the political level with the LTTE. Hence, it was pointed out that the Army should not stand in the way. Once again the UNF government was going out of the way to please the LTTE.

Brigadier Jayasuriya telephoned Mr. Haukland on Thursday night to convey the Army's latest position. It was followed by a letter from Army Commander Lt. Gen. Balagalle the same night. Excerpts:

"We wish to place on record our appreciation for persuading the LTTE to heed to our request for the SLMM to inspect bunker line in Welioya. This conforms to one of our requests set out in our letter.

"As for the other, the LTTE withdrawal from Manirasakulam, we have taken note of your fresh assurance. We also note that in your renewed attempt you have so far not been in a position to make contact with Mr. S. P. Thamilchelvan. However, since the matter is being pursued by you further we feel confident you may be able to persuade the LTTE.

"In view of the above we have agreed to escort the 24 LTTE members from Omanthai Entry/Exit Point to Chenkalady /Mankerni Entry/Exit Point in Batticaloa.

"However, due to your intimation reaching us only at around 2000 hours today we regret to inform that it will be difficult for the Field Commanders to arrange for the escorts tomorrow. Hence we could carry out this task on Saturday 02 August 2003."

However, on Friday morning the 24 LTTE "policemen" turned up at the Omanthai entry / exit point and had to be turned away. They passed through yesterday.

The Tiger "policemen" reached Batticaloa where their "police" infrastructure for the east is being developed. In the meanwhile the LTTE Manirasakulam camp not only remains. Their Political Wing leader, S.P. Tamilselvan, told the media in Sampur (Trincomalee) on Friday the area has been under LTTE "for a long time and it was unjust for the SLMM or the Army to ask the LTTE to remove the camp." The Tamilnet said he flew into Sampur in an Air Force helicopter from Batticaloa. Earlier, he arrived in Batticaloa from the Wanni also in an Air Force helicopter.

Excerpts from the Tamilnet report: "Mr Tamilchelvan said the LTTE camp at Kurankupanchan had been there for a long period but the government troops did not know the existence of the camp for several years, as they couldn't go close to the LTTE held area during the war."

"We do not want to make a big issue out of this Kurankupanchan camp issue. But a section of the media and elements bent on disrupting the present peace initiative are using the camp issue to the maximum to achieve their ends," Mr. Tamilchelvam said.

"According to him, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission had believed the information supplied by the Sri Lanka Army at the first instance without verifying facts.

"Col. Pathuman interjected. It is like asking us to leave our own house which has been in our control for a long time. We have the deeds. There is no need for us to leave Kurankupanchan area..

"It is advisable for the parties concerned to leave the matter aside, said Mr. Tamilchelvan. Col. Pathuman pointed out that the SLA has recently established a temporary camp just 4 km away from the Kurankupanchan LTTE camp after this issue gained media attention."

The LTTE also plans to open more camps in the Trincomalee district and argue the Army has been doing the same in other areas. These developments make it manifestly clear that the LTTE are pursuing their strategic aim of dominating Government controlled areas in the eastern province. This has always been an area in which Tamil community is in the minority in this tri communal province.

Therefore the LTTE have to dominate the eastern province if they are to secure these territories as part of the so called Eelam. The eastern province remains the strategic plum for this.

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