By Ranjith Jayasundera
Soaring sky high, on par with the prices of
bread, electricity and fuel is the Defence
Ministry's tally of the number of LTTE
cadres killed in its 'defensive' operations
on the northern front lines.
If anything can testify to the haste and
lack of planning with which the Rajapakse
defence apparatus manages this bloody war,
it is the haste and lack of planning of
their public statements relating to the war.
To submit that Army Commander, Lt. Gen.
Sarath Fonseka is arithmetically challenged
under the circumstances would be the most
gross understatement. Since the start of the
government's campaign to 'liberate' the east
for the TMVP at the beginning of last year,
General Fonseka has seemed confounded in
efforts to estimate the fighting strength of
In an interview with The Hindustan Times in
May 2007, he suggested that the LTTE had
less than 4,000 cadres alive in its northern
bastion. He didn't stop there. "But they are
not its best cadres," he continued, before
concluding that "if they lose 2,000 cadres
they are finished."
Seven months and over 2,500 dead Tigers
later (figures from government reports) he
told the Sunday Observer in an interview
published on December 30, that the LTTE had
3,000 cadres remaining and that they would
be wiped out within six months, or by June
If the Army Commander's May 2007 assertion
of 4,000 Tigers is to be believed, after
wiping out over 2,500 (2,562 to be precise)
LTTE cadres by December 2007, there should
have been scarcely 1,500 Tigers remaining.
Coupled with his gem last May that "if they
lose 2,000 cadres they are finished," one
must ask what held back the champagne corks
at Army Headquarters in December? Put
another way, how were there suddenly 3,000
LTTE cadres remaining for the picking?
Analysts had barely a day to absorb the
incredulity of Fonseka's bizarre statements
before he was quoted the next day from Lake
House again, this time by the Daily News of
December 31, where he said the war would
enter a 'decisive phase' by August 2008.
Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka's December
estimate for ending the war within a matter
of months was not completely ungrounded. His
hypothesis for ending the war to the Sunday
Observer was explained by his "daily target"
of killing "at least 10 LTTE terrorists."
By Defence Ministry figures - and the
General's own admission - the army managed
to maintain double this rate, killing on
average 20 Tigers per day for the first few
weeks of the new year. On January 11, at a
new year's party for foreign media a buoyant
Commander boasted about this kill
performance. Bright as a button, General
Fonseka vowed that he "will not leave this
war to the succeeding army commander."
Lt. Gen. Fonseka is due to retire from the
military in December 2008, having served the
last of four one year extensions he is
entitled to. So his vow to end the war by
December could be generously perceived as
keeping in line with the plan to enter a
'decisive phase' by August. Word of
Fonseka's confidence spread far and wide
across the country, from Cinnamon Gardens
all the way to Muwanpellesa, that the army
was on the verge of wiping out the Tigers.
At The Sunday Leader, being the wet blanket
that we are to the government's propaganda
bonanza, we instituted a weekly graph of 'Fonnie's
Law,' showing how close the government was
getting to wiping out the remaining 3,000
Next came Independence Day, with huge
billboards springing up all over the country
showing us denizens that the Rajapakse
government would purge Sri Lanka of
terrorists in 2008. The end was nigh, we
Not too many days after Independence Day,
General Fonseka made a statement to the
Sinhala weekly, Irida Lakbima published on
February 10 that made us wonder whether he
was suffering from Alzheimers and signalled
the beginning of a flurry of official
backtracking on the war timetables.
General Fonseka started on an ominous note
when broaching the topic to Lakbima. "They
are an organised force with a lot of
experience. They have thousands of
fighters," he began. It was apparent the
Army Commander respected his enemy, as Sun
Tsu prescribed in The Art of War. But here's
where things got a little funny. "I don't
conduct the war looking at deadlines and
timeframes," insisted the General.
"This time when we take Kilinochchi, we will
not leave it after a while. But we must
realise that the offensive is going to take
time," he warned. He also revised his
estimate of LTTE strength to 5,000 cadres.
This u-turn if nothing else should have
raised enough eyebrows. Something's wrong
with this picture.
In May 2007 there are 4,000 Tigers left, and
they will be "finished" once 2000 of them
are taken out.
Figures gone wrong
By December 2007, after claims of over 2,500
killed, we were told that there are 3,000
remaining, and for some reason the LTTE were
not "finished" yet. But this was to follow
in six months, as 10 Tigers would be killed
everyday and by June the whole island was to
The government was in line with Fonseka's
predictions and things seemed to be going
fine as of Independence Day - it was the
central government, not General Fonseka,
that sprang up those billboards at public
expense - and somehow six days later, the
Army Commander takes back all of his own
"deadlines and timeframes" and insists that
the campaign was "going to take time."
By February 10, 2008, the public is asked to
swallow the fact that there are now 5,000
Tigers remaining. The numbers are
spectacular. There were 3,000 in December.
By February nearly 1,000 are supposed to
have been killed according to the Defence
Ministry website. After killing 1,000 out of
3,000 we thought there should be 2,000 left.
But according to the Army Commander, there
are 5,000 "LTTE terrorists" out there
Is there some special terrorist breeding
programme that we are not aware of? Is
Pirapaharan cloning his cadres? Or is the
government just picking numbers out of a hat
to distract people from the skyrocketing
cost of living?
It was only several weeks later that the
government admitted in parliament that over
a hundred soldiers had been killed in
intense fighting during February alone -
intense fighting that somehow slipped the
mind of the kept press as they splashed
daily reports of cakewalk advances and
cattle slaughters of LTTE cadres.
Defence Minister, President Mahinda
Rajapakse was the next to give us a new
deadline, the most recent. He said on his
disastrous interview on India's NDTV that
the war would take another 18 months to
complete. "We would have cleared them out of
the remaining areas long ago but we also had
to ensure no civilians were killed. I would
say, in a year and a half, we might be able
to do it."
It's funny that the President mentions
civilians in his fumbling explanation. If we
were to hold the government to its December
claim of 3,000 Tigers remaining, by the
Defence Ministry's 'Kill-O-Meter' figures,
we should have polished off these Tigers by
the end of the upcoming New Year season, at
the current rate of "terrorist killing."
Not to say 'we told you so,' but we did. The
government has been lying about the war, for
no other reason than to use chauvinism and
extremism as fuel for its engine of
nepotistic and seemingly limitless power.
The only question is what they are lying
about. Is the number of LTTE cadres
remaining a lie, and are there several
thousand more that we don't know about?
Or are the numbers that are being killed off
daily false? Is the government killing
civilians and passing them off as LTTE
cadres? Just last month, Air Force
Spokesman, Commander Andrew Wijesooriya told
us that the air force does not even bother
keeping a count of the number of civilians
killed in airstrikes, although he did
mention that "all possible precautions" are
taken to prevent civilian casualties. We
wonder how the air force manages to take
"all possible precautions" without knowing
how well they have been doing in the past.
That the government claims that "only 3,000"
or 5,000 LTTE cadres are remaining in a tiny
portion of the Wanni jungles is the biggest
insult imaginable to the security forces.
Even the ill-fated Jayasikuru operation for
all its failings led to the killing of
between 3000 and 3,600 Tigers as the LTTE
and military estimates, respectively. And
there are many differences between the LTTE
of the late 1990s and the organisation
For one the government claims to have
destroyed the entire fleet of the Tigers'
floating armouries or arms smuggling ships,
making it difficult for them to resupply.
The east is 'completely' out of LTTE hands.
The air force has advanced with the purchase
of newer bombers and bombs. The LTTE has
been banned in countries across the world
and its funding and arms procurement
networks have been stung by high profile
arrests and convictions from the USA to East
It is difficult to believe given all these
restrictions (and the fact that the
government has supposedly been able to kill
over 5,000 LTTE cadres in less than the last
one year) that the war will take another one
and half years to complete if there are only
3,000 or 5,000 LTTE cadres remaining.
Even if this were to be so, and the LTTE was
on the verge of defeat, why is the
government investing in four brand new
MiG-29 interceptor jets from Russia, as
reported by Janes Defence Weekly? These
aircraft, valued at over Rs. 2 billion each,
with options, are used by air forces
worldwide to intercept other jet planes. Why
would we need such sophisticated air
interception capabilities if the war is on
the verge of completion?
It is clear that as the cost of living
increases and public unrest skyrockets with
it, the government will continue to exert
pressure on the military to seize more
territory and kill more Tigers, damn the
cost of our soldiers' blood.
Having effectively torpedoed the APRC and
abandoned the 17th Amendment and its checks
and balances on executive power, it is clear
that the government is dragging the country
down to the depths that Robert Mugabe
managed to keep Zimbabwe buried in for the
last several years.
And as much as the public will suffer the
unbearable price of survival, we will have
to learn to be thankful for the chance we
are granted to wake up each morning. Few of
us felt the pain of the three families who
lost a father, son or husband, in each day
of February, to the folly of the
government's war and keeping the Rajapakses
Our thoughts go out to those serving in the
military on the frontlines and their
families, for it is with their lives that
the Rajapakse brothers are enjoying their
game of political Russian Roulette, with
virtually all the bullet chambers loaded.
The many deadlines
May 28, 2007
Jan. 11, 2008
Dec. 30, 2007
Feb. 10, 2008
Feb. 19, 2008
Feb. 22, 2008
Gen. Sarath Fonseka
Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka
Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka
Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka
Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara
LTTE has 4,000 cadres in the north. They are
not its best cadres. If they lose 2,000
cadres, they are finished."
"LTTE has 3,000 cadres remaining.
Military plans to kill them within six
months. Our daily target is to kill at
least 10 LTTE terrorists."
"My term of office is coming to an end this
year and I will not leave this war to the
succeeding army commander."
"They are an organised force with a lot of
experience. They have thousands of fighters.
I don't conduct the war looking at
deadlines and timeframes. The LTTE has
around 5,000 fighters. This time when we
take Kilinochchi, we will not leave it
after a while. But we must realise that the
offensive is going to take time."
"We would have cleared them out of the
remaining areas long ago but we also had to
ensure no civilians were killed. I would
say, in a year and a half, we might be able
to do it."
"But we have never said that we will finish
them off. We have never set deadlines. We
are fighting a terrorist organisation, not a
conventional war. The more we weaken them,
then the more they will come into
negotiations. It is not possible to wipe
Where it all began. A police
officer stands guard near the dried
out Kallar anicut in late July after
the closure of Mawilaru -- Photo
by Buddhika Weerasinghe and (inset)
Civilians flee the fighting over
Mawilaru and Muttur, August 2006 --
Photo by Amantha Perera
By Amantha Perera
It was June 20, 2001. Rauf Hakeem had just
walked across the aisle in parliament into
opposition ranks and dealt a death blow to
the second Chandrika Kumaratunga
He sat among journalists in one of the
parliament dining rooms and mused aloud of
the crossover of the seven SLMC
parliamentarians. "My neck is on the line,"
His neck is once again on the line - last
week he upped the stakes in next month's
Eastern Provincial Council election by
resigning from his parliament seat, along
with two of his close associates, to run in
It is only apt that the Mahinda Rajapakse
administration faces it first stiff
political test in the east. The east, from
Kumana in the south to Kokillai in the
north, is where it fought its first major
military battles with the Tigers, and won.
Five years, one month and two days after
Hakeem sat in the opposition triggering the
eventual fall of the Kumaratunga Government,
on the afternoon of July 22, 2006, the water
ran dry under the Kallar anicut in Somapura,
north of the now famous Mawilaru sluice
The Tigers said that civilians angry at
unofficial restrictions placed by the
government forces closed the gates. Whoever
closed the gates, the incident was the first
fall in the domino action that would end
with the Tigers losing all their real estate
holdings in the east.
Just a week shy of the anniversary of the
Mawilaru closure, on July 15 last year,
government forces gained Toppigala in the
Batticaloa District, a symbolic event that
signalled the culmination of what began with
By July 27, 2006 water flowed once again
under Kallar, but by then the government
had already ordered troops to march towards
the sluice gates.
As battles raged near the dirt track that
was the access road to Mawilaru from the
Somapura Road, the Tigers attacked
government held western parts of Muttur
town, about 20 km north of Somapura.
The Tigers held western and southern parts
of Muttur while the government maintained
its hold on the north-eastern parts where
the important jetty was located. Fighting
spread like wild fire in the northern edges
of the province in the first 10 days of
On August 11, the Tigers upped the ante yet
again, when they shelled the Palaly base
using long range artillery and also launched
an assault on the government defence line at
Muhamalai. They even said that Tiger
aircraft had flown over Palaly during the
The August 11 fighting closed the A9 and it
has remained closed since. The Tigers also
launched artillery attacks on the
Trincomalee Naval Base, targeting a naval
troop carrier convoy that was in the bay
But the tide quickly turned in favour of the
government forces. The government gained
lost ground and even moved a half kilometre
into Tiger held areas in Muhamalai two weeks
after the August 11, 2006 debacle.
By September 1, 2006, troops had broken out
of their encampments in Kattaparichchan,
west of Sampur after the camp had been
besieged. Three days later on September 4,
2006, the security forces reported that
troops had entered the Tiger stronghold of
Sampur, and the Tigers said they had made a
tactical withdrawal from the town. Sampur
was the main Tiger political/military
enclave in areas south of the Trincomalee
bay and Tiger big guns had been positioned
On the march
By December 2006, troops had began moving up
the A 15 that links Muttur and Valachchenai
from the southern tip of the highway in the
January 21, 2007, government announced that
the key coastal town of Vaharai had fallen
into government hands.
On February 28, the Tigers committed yet
another inexplicable act. They started
shelling the Weber Stadium on the western
edges of Batticaloa town as helicopters
carrying several key Western ambassadors and
Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe landed on the
A week later troops had launched into the
only areas held by the Tigers in the
Batticaloa District, around Toppigala,
Karadiyanaru and Vavunathivu.
By July 15 last year it was all over and
Toppigala had fallen. While the northern
parts of the province were being cleared of
the Tigers, the STF had succeeded in a
similar effort in the Kanchikudichiaru areas
in the Ampara District.
The fighting did not go as a chess game as
some media reports would indicate. Hundreds
of combatants and civilians died, and
hundreds of thousands fled for their lives.
Between last year and this March the
government had resettled over 104,000 in the
Batticaloa District alone.
Seven months after Toppigala was gained, the
Batticaloa local government elections were
held, and the TMVP led Pillayan crowned in
Now the entire province is heading into a
provincial council poll. As the local
government campaigning reached fever pitch
last month, Hakeem felt the direction of the
political winds in the east - that the LC
polls was a launching pad for larger
Now that the sixth sense of the seasoned
politician has come true, he has no option
but to do battle himself.
Ampara Muslims want TMVP out
By Mandana Ismail Abeyawickrema
The Muslim factor in the east cannot be
undermined in the forthcoming Eastern
Provincial Council elections due to the
large number of Muslims in the province.
The biggest Muslim bloc in the province is
in Digamadulla (Ampara) District, which is
to also elect the highest number of
provincial councilors to the Eastern
Provincial Council. A total number of 35
provincial councilors are to be elected at
the elections (Digamadulla District 14,
Batticaloa District 11 and Trincomalee
Over 50% of the 409,360 voters in the
Digamadulla District are Muslims with
Kalmunai, Samanthurai, Ampara and Pottuvil
being the areas with the highest Muslim
However, the way in which the Muslim vote
would sway depends mainly on one issue - the
Pillayan factor and the support given to it
by the government.
According to Muslims in the Digamadulla
District, the results of the Eastern
Provincial Council election would also play
a key role in the future survival of Muslims
and also the Sinhalese in the province.
The friction between the Muslim and the
Tamil communities following the activities
of the Pillayan Group in the area would push
the Muslims to exercise their franchise
against any group representing the Tiger
The growing dissention against the Pillayan
Group intensified last week when an act of
intimidation by several members of the group
in Kalmunai resulted in a hartal launched by
the Muslims in the area.
Although the hartal ended by Tuesday, April
2 afternoon, the impact the incident had on
the Muslims have made them more vocal on the
need to safeguard their rights at the
According to residents in Kalmunai, being
under Pillayan would be like being under the
"The election results would show if the
Muslims and for that matter even the
Sinhalese would be able to survive in the
east," Mohideen Ajeemal, a resident from
He said that although Kalmunai was calm at
the moment, there was growing dissention
against the Pillayan Group.
Pillayan's affiliation with the government
has made the Muslims think twice about the
UPFA and supporting it.
"Muslims and the Sinhalese have no issues
and they can co-exist. The problem is with
the Pillayan group," Ajeemal said.
He added that Pillayan's group was trying to
intimidate people in the east just after
winning the local government polls in the
Batticaloa District. "The Pillayan Group
does not have a huge presence in Digamadulla
like in Batticaloa, but still they try to
intimidate the Muslims. Imagine the plight
of the people if Pillayan or any faction
supportive of them wins the elections?" he
Muslim big guns enter the fray
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The closure of nominations for the Eastern
Provincial Council (EPC) ended on Thursday
(3) on a dramatic note. The government,
requiring significant Muslim political
support managed to clinch a last minute deal
with SLMC Executive member, M.L.M. Hizbullah,
the SLMC's driving force behind the recently
concluded Batticaloa local authority
It is well known that Presidential Advisor
and MP Basil Rajapakse struck the crucial
deal with Hizbullah, splitting the SLMC
further in a bid to strengthen the
government's Muslim representation at the
May 10 poll. Strangely, it was Hizbullah,
whilst spearheading the SLMC election battle
in Batticaloa last month that proved the
most vociferous critic against the Pillayan
Group, highlighting instances of violence
and intimidation against Muslims.
Hizbullah's explanation was, "Either
Pillayan or I will be appointed chief
minister, depending on how we fare at
provincial level. One has to work with the
government to become the chief minister."
A political failure
Hizbullah who has twice defected from the
SLMC was also critical of the SLMC Leader.
"He has proved himself a political failure.
The Muslims need to be heard. That's why I
am here together with other Muslim leaders
who advocate a massive eastern voice for the
Irked by the defection, Party Leader Rauf
Hakeem claimed that some party members have
been conspiring to destroy the party but
expressed confidence in the unwavering
loyalty of SLMC supporters.
Matching words with action, Hakeem struck a
deal with the UNP and promptly resigned from
his seat together with Party General
Secretary, Hasan Ali and Basheer Segu Dawood
to contest the polls. As things stand, the
three SLMC members will provide leadership
to the three districts in the UNP-SLMC joint
campaign to capture political power in the
The SLMC's massive entry will work in their
favour, opines UNP General Secretary Tissa
"We are to contest in a province that is
multi ethnic and multi lingual. Besides, the
SLMC has a significant presence given that
it is essentially, eastern based. We will
ensure a formidable political contest," he
No such pledge
At least one government minister,
Digamadulla-based UNP defector P. Dayaratne
has broken the UPFA chief ministerial theory
claiming that no such pledge had been made
to either Pillayan or Hizbullah despite
their much-publicised ambitions to run the
"That post is currently open. It has not
been pledged to either Hizbullah or
Pillayan" Dayaratne said.
The quicksand political dynamics in the east
is not confined to the Muslims. The Tamil
community too has added to the sense of
Last week, the TNA officially announced its
decision to boycott the eastern PC poll
giving historic reasons for doing so.
The TNA's position is that the government
spent Rs. 250 million on a poll together
with a Tamil breakaway militant group to
deny the political rights of a community.
"What are the credentials of the Pillayan
Group? What ideology do they represent,
having given into the Sinhala dominance and
becoming a pawn in the hands of President
Mahinda Rajapakse," demands TNA Jaffna
District MP, K Shivajilingam.
Tiger political arm
In the meantime, a political arm of the
LTTE, the People's Front of Liberation
Tigers (PFLT) has submitted its nominations
at the Ampara Kachcheri for the forthcoming
poll. It is an interesting development to
find one time Tiger Political big-wig
Yogaratnam Yogi's signature on the party
nomination list. The PFLT is fielding 17
candidates including two women.
But the TNA remains unflinching, claiming
that whoever who participates in this
'farce' goes against Tamil ideology.
"President Rajapakse has bifurcated
north-east as opposed to the original merged
north-east which were merged following an
1987 international treaty between India and
Sri Lanka. The merged territory existed for
18 years and was accepted by four successive
presidents of Sri Lanka," adds TNA General
Secretary, Mavai Senadhiraja.
'Having destroyed the east through military
offensives since July 2006, the government
has caused immense damage to crops and
livelihood, property including houses,
plantations and fishing equipment. Over
500,000 Tamil civilians were displaced and
extra judicial killings and enforced
disappearances completed the picture,' he
"Hurriedly holding an election in the
bifurcated east is a diabolical step. It is
a smokescreen for all its misdeeds against
the Tamil people," he alleged.
Rightfully belong to a Tamil
Meanwhile, staking a claim for the top post
in the region is Pillayan himself. "The post
should rightfully belong to a Tamil. By
working with the government, we can ensure
development," he told the media April 3
midday, as nominations closed.
The JVP that has vowed to 'destroy the PC
system from within' has nominated a former
teacher and Pradeshiya Sabha Member, Wimal
Piyatissa as the party's chief ministerial
Piyatissa will head the JVP in the
Trincomalee District with Ibrahim Lebbe and
Krishantha Priyadarshana heading the
Batticaloa and Digamadulla Districts.
Adding a fresh twist, two PA constituent
parties, the CP and the LSSP too entered the
fray as the Left Front, staking a separate
claim in the eastern political battle.
Like the terrain and the ethnography of the
east, the political battle is proving to be
interesting, as it prepares for a poll after