4th October 1998
An army medical officer takes a thumb impression of a
casualty of the Mankulam battle after taking details of
identification at the Kalubowila Hospital yesterday.
Pic. by Sajeewa Chinthaka
As Army Headquarters prepared to name a military court to ascertain how the secure 54 Division and 543 Brigade complex in Kilinochchi came under attack and how much of military hardware was lost, detailed reports now emerging showed the incident to be the worst during the 17-year war.
Last night, official Military Spokesman and Military Intelligence Director Sunil Tennekoon told The Sunday Times 632 soldiers were killed in action and another 400 were wounded. He declined to elaborate.
The Sunday Times has learnt that the figures were much higher. However, casualty figures forwarded by The Sunday Times for scrutiny of the Army Censor have all been deleted except for the official figures issued in communiqués put out by the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence.
The attack on the Kilinochchi Defence Complex — the headquarters of Sri Lanka Army's 54 Division and the 543 Brigade — began at 2 a.m. last Sunday and continued throughout Monday. A heavily armed and large group of LTTE men and women cadres stormed the defence complex triggering off bitter gun battles. A large number of soldiers were killed and wounded.
The move forced remaining troops at the Kilinochchi Defence Complex to make what Brigadier Tennekoon called a tactical withdrawal to Paranthan. The Paranthan defences also came under simultaneous attack but military officials later learnt this was a deceptive move.
Brigadier Tennekoon told media on Thursday that troops had withdrawn from Kilinochchi. Asked whether the incident was a setback for the security forces, he declared it was not a setback but a "reversal."
Army Commander Rohan de S.Daluwatte is due to name a top level court of inquiry next week. Army Headquarters sources said the Court would ascertain, among other matters, how the attack occurred, whether there were intelligence warnings, military hardware lost and whether there were any lapses on the part of those concerned.
Although most Sri Lankans were not aware of the full details of the Kilinochchi disaster, international news agencies and satellite television channels (beaming even to Sri Lanka) gave full details of the incident, how it occurred and the heavy toll.
The attack on Kilinochchi defence complex came just twenty four hours before security forces resumed "Operation Jaya Sikurui" (Victory Assured) from a location some two kilometres south of Mankulam on Monday morning. Troops fought their way through enemy resistance to capture the strategic Mankulam town by Tuesday.
The Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence said 62 soldiers were killed in the two days of the operation. However, higher figures submitted to the Army Censor by The Sunday Times were deleted.
Soldiers injured in the attack on the Kilinochchi defences filled city hospitals and caused an accommodation problem when casualties of "Operation Jaya Sikurui" began to arrive. Several suburban hospitals, some far off from Colombo, had to be cleared by the health authorities to accommodate the soldiers.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) took charge of 674 bodies of the Kilinochchi victims from the LTTE, 600 on one occasion and the rest thereafter. These bodies wrapped in polythene bags provided by the ICRC were taken charge of in Mallavi and transported in 25 lorries through the Wanni to Poovarasankulam along the Vavuniya-Mannar Road.
In a heavily guarded area, representatives of various regiments spent over 20 hours identifying bodies. Those who were personally identified were handed over to the next of kin whilst those who were only identified as soldiers were cremated at a close ceremony with full military honours.
Whilst playing down the Kilinochchi incident, the recapture of Mankulam was given wide publicity over the state media.
Clad in military fatigues and wearing the General's insignia, Acting Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte stood with the Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force at a ceremony in Mankulam. He raised the national flag and later faced the television cameras for an interview. This organised event was confined only to the state print and electronic media.
After the ceremony, Gen. Ratwatte shook hands with officers and later mounted an Army battle tank for a photo opportunity.
Mankulam, the last major LTTE held town until last week along the A9 highway, sits astride a junction that leads to Mullaitivu on the eastern coast.
"Operation Jaya Sikurui" launched on May 13, last year, is now on its 17th month.
By Ayesha R. Rafiq
A report on 24 LTTE child soldiers, including six girls, who surrendered to the Army after the capture of Mankulam, is being handed over to a UN special committee which meets tomorrow, a foreign Ministry official said.
Director General Bernard Goonethilleke, said the report would be handed over to the committee through special representative Olara Otunnu who visited Sri Lanka earlier this year to probe allegations of children being used extensively in war by the LTTE.
During Mr. Otunnu's visit, the LTTE reportedly pledged it would not use children as combatants. But the surrender of child-soldiers from Mankulam is proof that LTTE is still criminally abusing children in war, the official said.
Maureen Seneviratne, who heads the children's rights group PEACE said yesterday it was tragic that children were being used for war and she felt this was another reason why the government and other parties should press ahead to win the war.
Prof. Harendra de Silva, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Protecting Children, said the conscription of children for war was a blatant case of child abuse.
The UN charter defines a child as a person below the age of 15 but Sri Lankan law categorises anyone below 18 as a child.
The 24 child-fighters from Mankulam are reported to be between the ages of 15 and 18.
By Chris Kamalendran
With ambulances blaring all over the city these days to save the lives of wounded soldiers, a horrible reverse tragedy took place at Dehiwela yesterday morning when a soldier rushing to save others was killed in an ambulance smash-up with a lorry.
An Army X-ray technician on his way to board a flight to the north for urgent medical duties was killed along with the driver of the ambulance in the head-on collision.
X-ray technician Sgt. Major P.L.A. Karunaratna was making his third trip to the Ratmalana airport after failing to secure a seat on two previous occasions as the flights were full.
He had been informed that one seat was available and was rushing to the airport in the only available vehicle, an ambulance, when a Colombo-bound lorry lost control and collided with it, police said.
The lorry driver and the cleaner were arrested.
In a separate accident in Vavuniya an airman controlling ground traffic was beheaded when he was hit by a rotor of an Mi 24 helicopter.
He was hit when the rotor blades of a grounded aircraft started rotating for the force of the wind of three other helicopters carrying wounded soldiers were trying to land.
Another airman was critically injured in the incident which took place apparently due to a ground signal error.
A meeting of the United Lalith Front's main policy-making body ended abruptly after its leader Srimani Athulathmudali called in her security officers to physically remove a member.
"I was chairing the working committee meeting on Friday at my residence at Flower Terrace. I heard a loud banging of the door and someone trying to enter the hall where the meeting was going on. The next moment, a person who is a member walked in and was banging on the table," Ms. Athulathmudali said last night.
She said she feared physical harm and called in her security officers to remove the member, who is not in the Working Committee.
"Those opposed to me are now going around spreading a canard that I behaved like a thug. There was no such thing," she said.
Other ULF sources said last night that the working committee session was heated with Ms. Athulathmudali and her one-time confidante and party MP, Ravi Karunanayake, hurling accusations at each other.
One issue had been over allegations that Ms. Athulathmudali had changed the party's constitution without consulting other members. She denied the charge.
Prompt action by the Ministry of Defence averted what might have turned out to be a minor diplomatic incident between Sri Lanka and India.
It was over an Air Force helicopter firing warning shots above an Indian fishing trawler which was inside Sri Lankan waters. One fishermen was killed accidentally and the other four on board the vessel were brought to the Security Forces Headquarters in Jaffna for a full probe on what happened.
Air Force Commander Jayalath Weerakkody rushed a team of his officials to Jaffna to conduct an on-the-spot inquiry and report immediately to the Defence Ministry. The details were immediately passed on to the Indian High Commission.
Army sources said the fishermen had been allowed to return to Tamil Nadu.
By Chamintha Thilakaratne
The setting up of a firearms factory for the first time in Sri Lanka initially to make weapons for farmers but eventually to meet the requirement of security forces, has been proposed, a government minister revealed yesterday.
Agriculture Minister and PA General Secretary D. M. Jayaratne said he had submitted a cabinet memorandum to this effect and it would be put before a committee including the defence secretary. He said his proposal was intended mainly to protect farmers from wild animals and other dangers.
Mr. Jayaratne said the committee which also included the Agriculture Ministry Secretary was expected to submit a report within two weeks. He said there were many illegal factories producing firearms in Sri Lanka and his proposal would legalise the business.
Mr. Jayaratne said a proposal for the setting up of a firearms factory was made during the UNP regime but could not be implemented mainly because of dangers such as the JVP uprising. But he felt the time was right to go ahead with the firearms factory.
The Minister said his proposal would also help cut costs considerably. At present farmers had to buy an imported weapon at Rs. 25,000 and he felt the local factory could reduce the selling price to about Rs. 4,000.
"My idea is to develop weapons from knives to guns," the Minister said adding that the country's import bill for arms could be cut down drastically.
But defence experts were appalled by the proposal. They said it had come up during the UNP regime also but had rejected because of a major security or criminal problem it could pose.
A senior military officer warned the arms factory here could lead to a situation where the government would find itself fighting two wars — one in the north and the other against armed criminal elements here.
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