Wanni battle: Crucial days ahead

By Asif Fuard, Pic by Ranjith Jayasundera

Bloody battles were waged last week, resulting in more territory falling under the control of advancing troops, despite heavy resistance by the LTTE who are fighting a last ditch battle for a rapidly dwindling terrain in Puthukkudiyiruppu, Mullaitivu.

Last Thursday, The Sri Lanka Army 58 division captured Puthukkudiyiruppu west. This was followed by the fall of Ampalavanpokkanai-- believed to have been a strategic LTTE military location in Puthukkudiyiruppu north-- on Friday.

At present troops who are consolidating the recently captured area of Puthukkudiyiruppu west and Ampalavanpokkanai are also carrying out mop-up operations. The commander for the 57 division Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias is said to have instructed his Brigade Commanders of the 571 brigade to carryout immediate mop-up operations and consolidate the recently captured terrain, to prevent any enemy infiltration.

Sir Holmes visiting Manik farm IDP camp in Vavuniya on Friday.

According to the military, troops confronted Tiger guerrillas in the early hours of last Monday when they were pushing towards Puthukkudiyiruppu west. The troops reportedly planned a way forward from north of the A-35 road which connects the Paranthan –Mullaitivu road, where they faced heavy resistance from the Tigers who were defending their western boundary.

When troops of the 582 Brigade entered Puthukkudiyiruppu west by passing the Maradapiliara canal, an LTTE suicide bomber blew himself up injuring eight soldiers on the spot.

The suicide attack was followed by Tiger guerrillas firing at troop positions resulting in a battle that lasted for several hours. Tiger guerrillas were at an added advantage as they had been firing towards the advancing troops from higher ground. Due to the heavy resistance an elite team of infantrymen were deployed to ambush rebel ground positions. The troops were later backed by artillery which was followed by support given by the T-55 Main Battle Tank.

On Tuesday, 58 Division under Brig. Shavendra Silva with 581 Brigade under Lt. Col. Deshapriya Gunawardane and 6 Gemunu Watch under Lt. Col. Kamal Pinnawala advanced their troops towards Ampalavanpokkanai, north of Puthukkudiyiruppu. The main challenge the troops faced were the six earth bunds and the mined terrain.

By Thursday evening the 58 division troops managed to destroy the earth bunds in Ampalavanpokkanai and gain control of the area.. It was reported that Tigers made several desperate attempts to recapture the area.

At present a multi-frontal surge into LTTE dominated area is being carried out by the 53 Division, 55 Division, 58 Division, Task Force 2 and Task Force 4 troops. By Wednesday evening, the northern flank of Task Force 4 had linked up with the 58 Division troops.

In the backdrop of the Task Force 4 troops gaining control over a section of the A-35 Paranthan - Mullaitivu Road, troops are at present advancing from the south and west to clear the entire A-35 road.
Troops who intercepted the LTTE transmission confirmed the death of a senior LTTE leader who was in-charge of the LTTE's forward defences at Puthukkudiyiruppu. He perished with a large number of other guerrillas during confrontations with the advancing troops, military sources said.

Task Force 2 and 58 Division troops at the Udayarkattukulam junction are also advancing north of the A-35 main road. According to military reports, the 55 Division troops are forging towards Amparavan and Kukarayan areas, south of the Chalai lagoon.

Previously during the week there had been attempts by the Tiger guerillas to infiltrate military defences to slow down the military progression of the troops. However, many of these attempts were foiled. On Wednesday morning, troops of 533 Brigade serving under the 53 Division repulsed Tiger infiltration attempt resulting in three rebels being killed in the general area of Oddusudan.

On Thursday morning the 53 Division troops confronted another Tiger infiltration attempt at a location on the Oddusudan – Puthukkudiyiruppu road. The second infiltration attempt was also foiled resulting in two well-known rebels, identified as Anbu and Suresh being killed.

The Sri Lanka Air Force Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) that are carrying out reconnaissance operations in and around the LTTE dominated Puthukkudiyiruppu area have captured visuals of Tigers attempting to conceal large amounts of weapons, ammunition, boats and vehicles inside containers and digging in areas surrounding the coastal belt of Mullaitivu in an attempt to bury them.During Monday’s mop-up operation in Puthukkudiyiruppu West, the 5 Vijayaba Infantry Regiment (VIR) led by Lt. Col. Jayantha Jayaweera, serving under 533 Brigade, discovered two 130mm artillery barrels that had been covered in grease and polyethylene before being buried by the fleeing guerrillas.On Wednesday, troops discovered the skeletal parts and several partly burnt pieces of a fuselage and a rotor blade of an aircraft in Waddiakachchi, Mullaitivu. Lathe machines, aluminum sheets, motor engine parts, nuts and bolts and a stock of other similar tools and accessories were also discovered by troops, who were conducting a search operation.

Troops of the 18 Gemunu Watch serving under the 641 Brigade commanded by Lt. Col. Indrajith Bandara discovered the largest LTTE fuel distribution center for the general area of Puthukkudiyiruppu on Wednesday afternoon. The fuel had been stored in underground tanks connecting over 13 bowsers buried in three acres of land which was demarcated as a rebel high security zone. Over 300 empty barrels with a capacity of 210 L were also found in the area.

Troops of the 58 division carrying out a search operation in Ampalavanpokkanai on Thursday also discovered two underwater scooters, several diving kits and oxygen cylinders. According to Naval experts the underwater scooters would have been brought to train the Sea Tiger diving unit.

A senior Sri Lanka Navy officer who spoke to The Sunday Times on grounds of anonymity said the underwater scooter could not be used for suicide operations as it could be easily detected.

“The underwater scooter can only hit a ship that is docked as it is very slow and has a battery life of only 2 or 3 hours the most. Due to the propulsion underwater it can be detected on a sonar,” he said.

On Friday troops of the 53 Division under the leadership of Brigadier Kamal Gunarathna discovered a three storeyed underground bunker located in Puthukkudiyiruppu south. It is has now transpired that the said bunker was a hideout for LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Meanwhile as the fighting intensifies in the Wanni many international organizations are expressing concern over the plight of the civilians. Sir John Holmes, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said that the UN was greatly concerned about the fate of the civilians trapped.

“We call upon the government and the LTTE to avoid civilian casualties and injuries. International humanitarian law calls for both parties to strictly abide by this principle. We hope the LTTE will listen to our call,” he said addressing a news briefing in Colombo last week.

Sir Holmes also urged the LTTE to allow free movement of the civilians. UNICEF has also expressed concern over the plight of civilians and has charged the LTTE for forcibly conscripting children.

Following the declaration of the new safe zone, over 36,000 people have fled the LTTE and sought protection with the advancing troops, while about 1600 people including the sick and wounded were evacuated from Mullaitivu by the Sri Lankan Navy for treatment at government hospitals in Trincomalee last week.

The LTTE is being confined to a terrain less than 100 square kilometres and that terrain is fast shrinking, the military says. The days to come will be crucial as the Tigers fight for this remaining terrain.

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