Swarnam enters the fray a year after fleeing
Swarnam's base in Verugal that was
captured by the army
battle for Adampan
By Amantha Perera
LTTE top ranker, Swarnam has a score to
settle with government forces. Almost a year
back, he was forced out of his much vaunted
Swarnam base in the Verugal area north of
Vaharai and had to flee the east, injured.
The departure of Swarnam in early January
2007 from the eastern battle field was the
precursor to what was to come - the complete
withdrawal of the Tigers.
'Colonel' Swarnam is back in the news again.
According to radio messages intercepted by
the security forces he is commanding Tiger
cadres in the Adampan and Parapakandal areas
north of Uliyankulam.
No clear winner
There is so far no clear winner in the
Adampan battle ground, despite clashes
taking place almost weekly since a year
back. The government military has found
advancing painstakingly slow, with the
Tigers hell bent on holding on to the
forward defences on either side of the Wanni.
Though the Tigers have slowed down the
army's progress, they have been unable to
beat back advancing formations and put at
least a temporary lull to the forays. Both
sides have bolstered personnel and
resources, not willing to be found wanting
According to many, the northern theatre is
just warming up and what has been witnessed
since mid last year - since the fall of
Toppigala, may be just the entre.
Government troops have been trying to
advance towards Adampan almost on a daily
basis now. It was during one such advance
that Tiger shells fell on the St. Anthony's
Church near the Tallady army camp on
February 12. The Tigers said that the
artillery fire was part of their counter
attack in an attempt to foil troops moving
north from three different locations. The
fire was directed at the camp and the
causeway to prevent reinforcements, and the
church on the camp perimeter got hit.
A week later, a similar tactic was adopted
by the forces who began advancing north and
north east from three locations, north of
the Vavuniya-Mannar A-30 highway. Troops had
commenced moving around 4 a.m. from
Uliyankulam, Palaikuli and Parapakandal on
The tactic of small troop formations
attacking Tiger bunker lines in the early
hours of the dawn was witnessed on two
consecutive weeks along the Muhamalai line a
fortnight back. Those advances were backed
by strikes using T55 tanks. However there
were no reports of tanks backing troops in
According to the army and the Defence
Ministry troops gained considerable ground
during the February 18 advances. "In the
northeast of Uliyankulam, troops engaged
terrorists' defence between 5.30 a.m. to 4
p.m. and captured the defences line
comprising three bunkers, one strong point
and about 600m long trench line," the
Ministry said adding that 10 Tigers were
The Tigers however said that they had
thwarted the advances and killed as many as
10 soldiers. According to pro-Tiger news
outlets, the Tiger operational command has
reported that Tiger snipers have inflicted
heavy damage on troops.
The snipers have been moved from the
northern Muhamalai front according to some
reports. The army says that movement is
slow, not necessarily due to snipers but
more due to booby traps and landmines that
litter the path leading to Tiger front
The February 18 clashes went on for over 12
hours, from early morning till around 7 p.m.
and troops had been backed by Kfir jets as
well as MI-24 helicopter gunships.
Two days after the clashes Swarnam made his
appearance. In the early hours of February
20, Tigers in small groups launched a fresh
assault at troops who had moved forward,
north of Uliyankulam, just two days before.
Reports said that troops and Tigers clashed
for over four hours between midnight
February 19 and early hours of February 20.
The Tigers had used the cover of early
morning darkness to move in on troops.
Reports indicated that Tigers had tried to
storm the newly established positions in
small groups. They said at least nine such
groups were reportedly engaged in the
counter attack and were under the overall
command of Swarnam. The attackers had tried
to dislodge troops from two main locations
and were backed up by 122 mm artillery fire
(it was 122mm artillery from the Palaikuli
area, that lies south east of Adampan that
fell on the church) and 81 mm mortar fire
(the military had accused the Tigers of
positioning a 81 mm mortar launcher in the
Madhu Sanctuary area that lies east of
A day after the assault, the Defence
Ministry quoted the highest Tiger death toll
in a day since the fall of the ceasefire
when it said that at least 92 Tigers were
killed in the fighting on February 20.
At least 30 had been killed during the Tiger
counter attack, the Ministry said. And an
additional 13 were killed when troops
advanced further north from the positions
gained on February 18 after the Tiger
counter attack was put down. The Media
Centre for National Security later confirmed
the presence of Swarnam and another top
leader - "It has been confirmed that LTTE
leaders, Swarnam and Luxman led the attack,"
Top Tigers back
Swarnam's presence had been reported earlier
as well along with a number of other top
Tigers who had been moved to the FDLs. He
reportedly hails from the Mannar District
and has been relocated there late last year
along with other senior commanders like
Bahnu, and Vidusha who heads the female
Tiger military formations named the Malathi
Last year he was tasked with a similar
endeavour in the east, that of defending
Vaharai, Verugal and Echchilampaththu -
specifically all areas north of the
Panichchankerni bridge on the A15
Valachchenai-Muttur highway. The Tigers had
inducted seniors like Bahnu and Balraj into
the east when the government assault
commenced, but by January 2007 only Swarnam
Vaharai fell in the third week of January
last year. Two weeks before Swarnam's base
had come under an air attack and he had
disappeared from Tiger radio transmissions.
He was believed to have been injured and
relocated to the Wanni. He travelled to
Mulaithivu by boat from the Verugal coast.
The tactic of targeting Tiger area
commanders before the frontal assaults begin
has been witnessed in the Mannar front as
well. This was when Shanmuganathan
Ravishankar alias Charles, the head of Tiger
internal intelligence was killed by a deep
penetration team at Palamadhu on January 5.
There were also reports that another Tiger
top runger, Theepan who now oversees the
Muhamalai area had also disappeared off the
radio networks after a recent air strike.
Silent over clashes
If Swarnam did in fact lead the counter
attack, the Tigers have remained silent on
the February 20 clashes. Then it would also
mean that elite Tiger formations too may
have been involved.
Swarnam has led the Jayanthan Brigade in the
past - in the north as well in the east.
Most notably he led cadres from the brigade
in April 2004 when they moved from Verugal
all the way to Toppigala, crossing the main
Habarana-Valachchenai highway at Punnani,
pursuing cadres loyal to renegade, Karuna.
When he came under attack last year, he was
reportedly mustering between 300 to 400
battle hardened cadres to face the
government onslaught. The Tiger defence
petered off soon after Swarnam dropped off
the airwaves last year.
The Tigers had stationed elite cadres behind
the main front lines, made up of a three
tiered bunker formation. Government troops
have said that the frontal defences were
mainly under female cadres, or raw new
recruits. On January 31, nine Tigers
surrendered to troops at Murukan, on the
A30, just east of Giant Tank. One had swum
across the tank before surrendering to
troops. What is of importance is the age of
the surrendees, which ranged from 17 to 61.
The nine were 61, 52, 35, 32, 28, 27, 24, 23
and 17 years old, respectively.
Last week's battles could be the start of
the Tigers launching their experienced units
at the forces. Smaller clashes were reported
from the north of Welioya, west of the
Omanthai crossover point in Iranai
Illapakulam area and the Muhamalai Killali
The air force also carried out raids of
Tiger artillery positions in Mannar and
Mulaithivu. The artillery pieces were being
increasingly used to counter troops
movements and operations in Mannar and the
On Friday, February 22, the air force
carried out a similar raid in the morning -
"Sri Lanka Air Force jet aircraft this
morning (22) around 8.15successfully
targeted and destroyed a major LTTE Sea
Tiger terrorist camp located in an inland
waterway about 9km south of Devil's Point in
Kiranchi west of Kilinochchi on the
northwest coast of Sri Lanka. According to
intelligence sources, the Sea Tiger
terrorist camp consisted of boats used on
suicide missions and seaattacks while also
serving as a transit point for goods and
other items," the MCNS said.
The Tigers said that the raid had hit a
civilian area: - "Eight civilians, including
three pre-school children were killed and 10
more were injured, four of them critically,"
In the midst of the clashes in the north,
the Tigers once again struck in Buttala when
three soldiers were killed in Dambakotte on
the Buttala Kataragama road around 11 a.m.
on February 20.
Despite the influx of security and weapons
after the series of attacks starting from
the January 16 morning claymore attack at
Helegama, none of the suspected attackers
have been killed or apprehended.
The attackers in small groups were suspected
to be moving inside the jungle treks and
some of the attacks indicate this. Civilians
in the areas also suspect that the attackers
may be moving closer to streams and pathways
that run close to them.
Soon after last week's attack villagers from
Helegama, Gonaganara and Dambakotte said
that they had seen groups of strangers
moving in the jungles.
Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group (ICG)
last week said that most of the blame for
the resumption of heavy fighting lay with
"Much of the blame for the resumption in
violence lies with the LTTE; its ceasefire
violations and abuses of the population
under its control pushed the government
towards war. The Tiger strategy was to shore
up internal support by provoking a Sinhala
nationalist reaction; it worked, although
the insurgents may come to regret their
approach," it said in a report titled Sri
Lanka's Return To War: Limiting The Damage
released last week.
The ICG and its Head, Gareth Evans have come
under heavy criticism from the government
after Evans spoke of the Right to Protect
during last year's Neelan Thiruchelvam
memorial speech. The Rama Mani controversy
also began from the speech and Mani's role
in getting down Evans.
"President Mahinda Rajapakse has also
overplayed his hand. Relying on support from
Sinhala extremists, he has let them set an
agenda that allows only for a military
approach," the report said. It added,
despite government victories since December
2005, it was still not clear how it planned
to win over a population that had been under
Tiger rule for over a decade.
"The military and much of the government
leadership believe they can defeat or
permanently weaken the Tigers by the end of
2008. The LTTE has been badly hurt over the
past 18 months: it has lost the areas it
controlled in the Eastern Province; its arms
routes have been disrupted; hundreds,
perhaps thousands of its fighters have been
killed; and senior commanders are now
vulnerable to targeted elimination, either
from air force bombs or special forces. But
the Tigers remain a formidable fighting
"While the army has been inching forward in
the north, they are fighting back from
well-defended positions. Even assuming the
Tigers can be defeated militarily, it
remains unclear how the government would
pacify and control the large Tamil-speaking
areas in the north that have been under LTTE
domination for a decade or more.
"The current phase of the war is likely to
be the worst," the ICG warned. "The current
conflict is worse than what preceded the
2002 ceasefire. The government's
counter-insurgency campaign is more brutal
and indiscriminate, the terror and criminal
activities of its Tamil proxy forces more
extensive and blatant, and the role of
chauvinistic Sinhala ideologues in
government more pronounced. The suspected
involvement of pro-government forces in the
assassinations of Tamil politicians is
particularly disturbing. The Tigers have
fully militarised life in areas under their
control and returned to brutal attacks on
Sinhalese civilians, intent on provoking
even worse retaliation."
The human toll in the last two years is
nothing like what was witnessed before the
truce, even at the height of fighting.
Between 2006 and 2007 the military says its
killed at least 4,800 Tigers and lost 1,200
of their own. This year, the figure quoted
by the military is that 1,200 Tigers and
little over 100 armed forces personnel have
There are no corroborated figures of
civilian casualties, but as the ICG report
suggested, a conservative figure of 1,500
deaths since 2006 is by and large accepted.
It may very well be more. In the first six
weeks of this year alone at least 180
civilians were killed according to the
International Committee of the Red Cross.