Batti's calm busted
A woman in Vaharai keeps a blow
up shell as a momento and (inset) A
police Officer stands guard near the
newly set up Vavunathivu Police
By Amantha Perera
For 16 days the calm held in Batticaloa
after the much talked about local government
elections. It was shattered last week on
March 26, when a claymore mine exploded in
the Koralaipaththu Division, north west of
Two police officers on a motor cycle were
killed in the Kanchirankuda area, west of
former Tiger administrative hub,
Kokkadicholai around 9.30 a.m. The claymore
had been placed on low ground on the side of
the road, hidden in the undergrowth on the
side of the main link road connecting
Vavunathivu and Kokkadicholai. It had been
triggered by a remote control. Government
military agencies said that the two officers
were part of a cordon operation and the
blast had also injured four more policemen,
including two from the STF, and three
A Japanese national travelling to inspect a
water project in the area was behind the
police party when the explosion took place.
He escaped uninjured. However the timing,
the location and the presence of the
Japanese aid official raises several
The area where the blast took place is part
of the Koralaipaththu Division. Not only was
it part of the nine local bodies that
elected the Pillayan led TMVP overwhelmingly
to the councils, it is also where the
largest number of persons were resettled in
Batticaloa last year.
Between last March and now over 104,000
people from 31,400 families have been
resettled in the Batticaloa District. Over
27,000 of them returned to the Vavunathivu
Division, the single largest resettlement
figure for a division. Most of them fled in
March 2007 when government forces launched
attacks into the area to dislodge the
Tigers. This was following the shelling of
the Weber Stadium on February 28, 2007 as
helicopters carrying several Western
diplomats, including the ambassadors of the
Italy and Germany, and Disaster Management
and Human Rights Minister, Mahinda
Samarasinghe, landed there.
Despite the mass resettlement drive, areas
like Vavunathivu and Vaharai have hardly
recovered from over a decade and half of war
and at least 12 years under Tiger rule.
There is hardly any public transport to talk
of, the roads are mere dirt tracks and get
flooded after a heavy shower. The houses
are either temporary shelters with tin roofs
or still bear the pot marks of fighting. It
is the same with schools.
The mainstays of the local economy have been
fishing and agriculture, and farmers in
Vavunathivu told The Sunday Leader early
this month that the last harvest was one of
the better ones in recent history. "There
was no war and the paddy prices were good,"
Vannasingham Mahalingam from Vavunathivu
told The Sunday Leader, "but look at the
roads, the hospital or the school." And his
faced turned dark.
One of the main projects that has got off
the ground in the area is a massive water
project and the rehabilitation of the
Unnichchi tank, the latter - a Japanese
Relief agencies have been concerned about
security and access restrictions into the
newly resettled areas. Access has eased in
the past three months and all areas in
Batticaloa have been open to agencies that
have received the government's green light
for projects in the areas.
Security authorities have also opened up the
newly resettled areas gradually. Even now
there is still lingering criticism that work
related to security issues has been held
back and only projects directly linked with
development of the area are allowed.
Access allowed to outsiders is still
regulated. Wherever the line of control
stood last year, separating government areas
from those held by the Tigers, today there
stands a government check post that checks
on those going in and out, like at the old
bridge just past the airbase west of Batti
or at Black Bridge, Chenkaladi. The press
has also not had free access into the areas
at its will. There have been visits arranged
by non-governmental organisations and those
for media personnel approved by government
The March 10 elections gave the media
unrestricted access into the newly resettled
areas for the first time.
Civilians who have returned to their former
homes after the ouster of the Tigers did so
only after registration. All of them were
issued with special identity cards by the
Presidential Secretariat. It is this white
identity card that is used as a pass to move
in and out of the newly resettled areas.
The election was seen as a major victory for
the government's efforts to bring normalcy
back to the areas. And it was obvious that
with the return of local governing bodies
the government wanted to kick start
localised development work.
In fact President Mahinda Rajapakse gave
each council Rs. 2.5 million for projects.
The chances of the Tigers regaining these
areas is very remote - there are no large
number of cadres operating together, no
heavy weapons, no senior cadres operating in
the Batticaloa district to talk of, and also
a lack of facsimile communication, movement
and command/control structures.
All this however does not negate the ability
to carry out guerilla type strikes as well
as hit and run attacks, like the one carried
out last week. The Tigers were in control of
areas like Vavunathivu and Vaharai for over
12 years till they were dislodged last year.
If similar attacks continue, foreign funded
projects would be slow to get off, outside
interaction would be even more slow and the
newly resettled areas would remain like an
open fish bowl regulated at entry/exit
The ultimate victims will be the civilians
who will have to wait even longer for jobs,
schools, dispensaries, passable transport
and all things else that are mundanely
Further north along the eastern coast, there
were more new developments - that was with
the sinking of a naval Dvora fast attack
craft on March 22 early morning. The Colombo
Class III type craft built by Colombo
Dockyard bearing Serial No. 438 according to
the Defence Ministry sank around 2 a.m. soon
after an underwater explosion ruptured its
The craft can be mounted with canons and
machine guns, and can carry a crew of 16.
Six crew members were later rescued by
another craft which was on patrol and heeded
the distress call sent out by P 438 before
the crew abandoned it. The commanding
officer of the Dvora was among those
The Ministry said that the mystery blast was
either due to a sea mine or a new underwater
weapon developed by the Tigers.
The Tigers however said that the craft was
sunk soon after being rammed by suicide
craft. They gave the names of three Sea
Tigers - two females and one male who had
died in the attack as Niranjani, Kaninila
But the government's claim that the
survivors did not report any Sea Tiger
activity before P 438 was sunk or
confrontations had led to much speculation
as to what type of weapon may have been
used. There have been suggestions of a human
torpedo used by the Tigers and at least one
pro-Tiger website said that Sri Lankan
intelligence should look at the possibility
of Sea Tigers possessing submarine
capability - something that they have been
known to have tried to develop.
The Tigers are known to possess underwater
magnetic mines as well as floating types.
They have also used suicide cadres swimming
under stationary naval craft and planting
explosives - the best known occasion being
during the late night of April 18, 1995, and
the next day morning when two naval craft
were attacked in the Trincomalee harbour.
Explosives had been planted under them by
suicide cadres later identified by the
Tigers as - Kathiravan, Thanigaimaran,
Mathusha and Santha. The attack not only
sank the two boats but had the same effect
on the Chandrika Kumaratunga
administration's peace efforts with the
Days before the March 22 sea battle, ground
clashes were reported from the Nayaru area,
and just three days after the sinking of the
Dvora, on March 25 early morning, naval
craft on patrol in the same sea area
confronted a flotilla of Sea Tigers and the
navy later said that one craft was disabled.
The navy has been on alert in the seas south
of Mulaithivu and Nayaru. Ships supplying
Jaffna sail close by, though they sail in
deep seas and at least one had fled to
Indian territorial waters when threatened by
Sea Tigers. The navy is also tasked with
thwarting Tiger gun running as well as
smuggling cadres into the Peraru jungles,
north of Trincomalee.
There has been speculation that small
numbers of cadres are being rotated in the
east and south eastern areas to carry out
Clashes were also reported from the FDLs
right through last week in Mannar, Vavuniya,
Welioya and Muhamalai, Jaffna.
The week before had been slow due to the
rains and the subsequent flooding. But
fighting commenced once again during the
weekend of March 22 and 23. Air raids that
were restricted between March 17 and 21,
have also been stepped up.
Tiger targets were bombed in Visvamadhu and
Pooneryn on March 26 and 27.
Mi-24 helicopter gunships also returned to
action in the Mannar front straffing Tiger
positions ahead of troops.
Civilians in Mannar said that fighting has
been intense in the last week with
continuous shell and artillery fire.
Government troops have found the going slow
due to soggy ground conditions, the thickly
grown terrain, booby traps and Tiger tactics
of moving out when bunkers are threatened.