By Amantha Perera
It started with a SMS from
to a Norwegian diplomat in Colombo well past
midnight on July 21. The message said that
the Tigers had informed
that they were declaring a unilateral truce
between July 26 and August 4 to coincide
with the upcoming SAARC Summit in
The Tigers by then had made it known through
friendly media of the truce offer. The one
SMS suddenly spawned many more as messages
flew around among journalists, diplomats and
government officials of the 'truce.'
The Tiger Peace Secretariat in Kilinochchi
had first contacted Oslo by midday Norway
time, but close to midnight here on July 21
to intimate the news. Then the Norwegian
mission was contacted.
The Norwegian mission in
spoke with the Government Peace Secretariat
early on July 22 morning to inform of the
truce. According to Director General, Peace
Secretariat, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha he was
made aware of the truce offer first by calls
from media personnel seeking reaction.
"We were informed by the LTTE Peace
Secretariat of the truce on July 21 night
and we in turn informed the Government Peace
Secretariat on July 22 morning," Deputy
Head, Norwegian Embassy in Colombo, Hildeh
Haraldstat told The Sunday Leader.
The Tigers had first hinted at a truce
several days earlier. "We are not naive to
disturb the SAARC conference. We believe
that the other countries in the SAARC group
will support us in our just struggle for the
freedom of the Tamil people," its Political
Head Balasingham Nadesan told this newspaper
on July 20.
It was quite clear that the truce was aimed
more at the international community than as
an olive branch to the government.
"We are always keen to develop friendship
with the countries of the world and our
neighbouring countries in our region. We are
sincere in our efforts to create the
external conditions in order to build these
friendships. We wish to express the goodwill
and trust of the Tamil people. As a sign of
this goodwill, our movement is glad to
inform that it will observe a unilateral
ceasefire that is devoid of military action
during the period of the SAARC conference
from July 26 to August 4, and give our
cooperation for the success of the
conference," the ceasefire declaration by
the Tigers read.
As the government reaction became clearer by
July 22 midday, the Tigers emphasised that
this was a gesture of 'international
diplomacy' on their part. "This is a gesture
aimed at the international community and the
SAARC nations in particular," Tigers
Military Spokesperson Rasiah Ilanthirayan
said later that day.
The lukewarm government reaction was
expressed by ministers and other officials.
"The military is within sight of Kilinochchi
and we will not do anything to discourage
our soldiers," Minister Nimal Siripala de
Silva, who headed the government delegation
to the last round of talks in
in October 2006 said in parliament. He
reiterated the government's argument that it
was not about to give 'oxygen' to a
militarily weakened LTTE facing a government
As if to make a statement that there was no
let down in the pressure on the Tigers, and
as Colombo was abuzz with the Tiger truce
offer, air force jets carried out a raid
over Uddayarkattukulam in the Mulaithivu
District, east of the Iranamadu tank and
south of the Paranthan-Mulaithivu highway.
The raid took place around 8.15 am and
according to Air Force Spokesperson Wing
Commander Janaka Nanayakkara the target was
a training session of a group of Black
Tigers who were rehearsing a suicide attack.
He said that at least 22 Tigers had been
Security in the city was also kept at high
alert with the summit looming.
The Norwegian mission nevertheless was in
touch with government officials throughout
July 22, especially with the Peace
Secretariat and the Foreign Ministry.
No official intimation
Prof. Wijesinha was quick to point out that
the government was merely informed of a
unilateral truce declared by the Tigers, and
nothing else. "I wish that they (LTTE) had
officially informed the Government of Sri
Lanka or asked Norway to pass the message on
to us officially, if they needed a response
from the government," he said.
During their communications government
officials had informed the Norwegians that
there was no formal letter addressed to the
government on the truce and it was merely a
recipient of a press statement that went out
public, Foreign Ministry sources said.
The government was also very quick to
emphasis that despite the truce offer, the
tone was very aggressive when referring to
government troops and also expressed fears
that the Tigers would use any mutually
agreed lull in military operations to
"Because the chauvinistic Sinhala regime is
putting its trust in a military solution,
the war is spreading and is turning more and
more intense. The Sinhala nation is intent
on occupying and enslaving the Tamil
homeland," the Tiger truce offer said. It
also made it clear that if troop advances
continue into their areas, they would
resist, the truce notwithstanding.
"We would like to see a firm commitment on
the part of the LTTE for a settlement of
this conflict and a similar commitment to a
demobilisation process," Foreign Secretary
Dr. Palitha Kohona said.
The Tiger truce offer did not contain any
indications of a change of stance over
dialogue with the Mahinda Rajapakse
government. On the contrary, before the
truce offer was made public on July 21
night, Nadesan was quoted on a wire service
report that there was no chance of talks
with the government given the current
military scenario in the north.
"It is impossible to hold peace talks when
one party, the Government of Sri Lanka, is
undertaking large-scale military
offensives," Nadesan was quoted in the
report that appeared on July 21 afternoon.
A red herring?
The Foreign Secretary also raised concern
that the Tigers had used past bilateral
ceasefires to their advantage.
"We have experienced the LTTE's ceasefire
offers earlier, which were used to regroup
and rearm, creating greater havoc than
At the end of the day, there was no
official response for the truce from the
Kohona had met with Haraldstat from the
Norwegian Mission in Colombo in the evening
of July 22 and had conveyed the government
sentiments that were by then public.
Foreign Ministry sources however said that
there was no formal response to the Tiger
offer as the government did not consider it
received a formal notification of a truce.
Kohona had communicated what had already
been made known to the Norwegians during
various phone conversations and media
reports throughout the day.
The truce offer came at a time when the
security forces feel that they on a roll in
the Wanni battle fields.
Four days before the announcement troops
from Task Force One, operating along the A32
highway and areas just east of it and those
from the 57th Division operating north of
the Periyamadhu area, east of the A32, took
control of the strategic Vidattalthivu bay,
the main Tiger supply base on the
northwestern shores. Just the day before the
Tiger truce offer the military took control
of Illupaikaddavai, where according to the
Defence Ministry the largest Tiger base in
Mannar was located.
The FDL between Mannar and Omanthai, north
of Vavuniya has seen most of the activity
since Toppigala was gained by government
forces in July 2007. While Task Force I and
the 57th Division have been moving north of
areas west and on the Mannar-Vavuniya
District border, Task Force II and the 61st
Division have recently opened a front just
west of the A9.
Troops have made slow but steady progress in
the Mannar-Vavuniya theatre and now are
stationed at Illupakaddavai, Periyamadhu,
Nandakandal Navii and according to the most
recent ground updates are now within reach
of the Thunkkai/Mallavi area.
According to Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath
Fonseka the next target of the military is
Thunkkai and troops are within striking
Thunkkai and Mallavi lie almost dead centre
on the Vellankulam and Mankulam road that
links the A32 hugging the northwestern
coast to Pooneryn and the A9 that cuts
across the Wanni.
If troops do in fact gain control of
Thunkkai and Mallavi, it would cut the
Tigers from access to the road. They would
then have to resort to minor roads and jeep
tracks to keep supplies flowing to and from
the northwestern coastal belt.
The only other road of similar quality to
the Vellankulam-Mankulam road is the
Ponneryn-Paranthan Road, way north, almost
at the southern shores of the Kilali lagoon.
The Tigers last week said that rains had hit
the Wanni, which would also make transport
that much more difficult on minor roads.
Indian defence commentator R. Hariharan last
week observed that the Tigers do have a
chance at counter attacking troops moving
north if the northern most gains by the
security forces are thinned out or isolated.
"In the present operational situation, the
Mankulam-Vellankulam axis to the east of A32
provides perhaps the best opportunity for
the LTTE to launch a counter-attack to
dislodge the security forces as they are
stretched now with the rapid advance. So we
can expect the 57th Division sector to the
west of the A9 road to become active in the
coming week," he said last week.
The 57th Division did in fact kick into gear
last week when just two days after the Tiger
truce offer, troops reached the bund of the
Vavunikulam tank that lies just 3km south of
Mallavi and the Vellankulam-Mankulam road.
The Defence Ministry said that troops had
secured the bund around 10 am and also
recovered some weapons including a 120 mm
mortar launcher. The Tigers had launched a
counter attack in the area, but according to
the army had lost over 20 cadres including
two regional leaders of the Charles Anthony
Unit - Pallavan and Anbu. According to the
army, senior Tiger military commander Bhanu
had been leading the cadres in the area last
The air force had also carried out a raid on
a location 2km east of Thunkkai that
More importantly, if the government military
consolidates the hold in areas like Thunkkai
and Mallavi, the Tiger political nerve
centre, Kilinochchi, will come within range
of the army artillery units and army units
moving forward will also have artillery fire
power backing them.
Despite limited road access, the distance
between Kilinochchi and Thunkkai/Mallavi on
a straight line is within artillery range
and some of the key Tiger installations,
especially those southwest of Kilinochchi
would be at risk.
Interestingly, the Tigers have for sometime
now had limited access to a large portion on
the Vellankulam-Mankulam road, just west of
Thunkkai. Access maps maintained by the UN
and other humanitarian agencies indicate a
large red swathe that stretches about a mile
on either side of the road that ends where
the Mannar District begins - the red
indicates that no access is allowed. The
Tigers for some reason do not want any
outside access to an area between Thunkkai
and the Mannar border.
Truce or no truce, the unarmed civilians
appear to be the worst off due to the recent
fighting in areas between Mannar and
Vavuniya, north of the FDL. UN reports
indicate that several hundred thousand
civilians were fleeing north, to Akkarayan
and then towards Kilinochchi because of the
"According to field reports displaced
persons are sheltering under trees with
limited access to basic facilities. UNHCR
and UNICEF have distributed tarpaulin sheets
to over 1,000 families so far," the Inter
Agency Standing Committee (ISAC) - an
umbrella organisation of the UN and other
humanitarian agencies said in a situation
report on July 19.
Not only were civilians fleeing a hospital,
30 schools and a warehouse facility used by
the World Food Programme (WFP) have been
relocated out of the areas where the
fighting has been intense.
"Following the latest displacements in
Manthai East and Thunkkai divisions in the
Mullaitivu District, the Health Department
is making arrangements to shift the Mallavi
government hospital to Akkarayan where
thousands of IDP families, mostly from
Mallavi are settled. WFP also relocated its
warehouse from Mallavi to Kilinochchi this
week," the report said.
"Zonal Director of Education in Madhu (in
the Mannar District) reports that 30 schools
(6,949 children) have been displaced due to
the ongoing hostilities in Madhu and Manthai
West Divisions. These schools are
functioning in alternative locations," it
There are over 106,000 IDPs in the districts
of Kilinochchi and Mulaithivu and an
additional 24,000 in Mannar, parts of which
are under government control. The report
said that civilian population in the Manthai
area in Mannar where the most recent
fighting was concentrated was moving north.
"The statistical update received from the
office of the GA, Mannar (14 July 2008)
indicates that there are 6,652 families
(24,244 persons) registered as displaced
within the district. The situation in
Manthai West is changing rapidly with the
population moving north, away from
With supplies thinning out due to the
fighting and civilians moving further north
to escape, the situation appears to be
desperate. "The humanitarian situation is
getting increasingly difficult with serious
food, drugs and fuel shortages. Health
facilities in the district suffer from
substantial shortages of medicines,
personnel and fuel for operations," the
World Health Organisation said on July 24.
Madhu Matha returns to Mannar
By Arthur Wamanan
The return of the venerated Madhu statue
to government controlled areas last week
is no guarantee that the popular August
Madhu feast could be held at the church.
The Madhu statue was brought to the
Bishop's House in Mannar last Tuesday
(22) after being kept at St. Xavier's
Church in Thevanpitti.
The statue was taken away from the Madhu
shrine on April 3 due to heavy shelling
near the premises and was housed at St.
Xavier's Church till last Tuesday, July
The statue was again shifted to the
Bishop's House in Mannar due to heavy
shelling in the Thevanpitti area.
Mannar Bishop, Rt. Rev. Rayappu Joseph
told The Sunday Leader that it was
decided to bring down the statue due to
heavy shelling in the areas near St.
Civilians under threat
In a statement issued by the Bishop
Tuesday night, he said that civilians in
Thevanpitti and Vellankulam had come
under threat due to heavy shelling.
These people - nearly 21,000 - were
earlier displaced from Madhu and Manthai
West. As a result, the statue was also
taken away from St. Xavier's Church and
brought to the Bishop's House.
Catholic officials in Mannar were
tight-lipped on the issue until an
official statement was issued by the
Bishop last Tuesday.
The statue was brought down to the
government-controlled area in Mannar,
within less than 12 hours after the
announcement by the Tigers that they
would observe a unilateral ceasefire
during the SAARC Summit.
The Bishop stated that the decision had
nothing to do with the political
developments and was solely the decision
of the Diocese.
"It was our decision to bring the sacred
statue to the Bishop's House
temporarily. No one can question as to
why we brought the statue down," he
Catholic officials have now planned to
conduct special services at the parishes
belonging to the Mannar Diocese in view
of the August feast.
The Bishop said that the military had
not completed its de-mining work and
also had not ensured full security in
The Bishop again reiterated that both
the security forces and the LTTE should
in writing state that they would not be
present within 2.5 km of the shrine.
"They still haven't given permission for
our volunteer workers to go. I gave it
in writing stating that I would
supervise the repainting of the shrine.
But I hear that the army has already
begun to repaint it. I did not ask them
to do so," he said.
The statue was brought down by an
ambulance belonging to the Madhu
hospital through Omanthai. The route had
cut through interior roads from
Tevampitti to Omanthai and not branched
The statue will be at the Bishop's House
till a conducive environment is created
for it to be taken back to its original
abode, the Bishop said.
The military had said the statue could
be taken to the shrine the same way it
was taken away. The military was also
engaged in repairs amounting to Rs.1.5
million under instructions from the Army
"We will complete the renovation of the
LTTE-damaged buildings of the Madhu
Church and its environs in the first
week of August," Military Spokesman
Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.
The army has also launched a massive
operation to clear the area of mines and
booby traps and had lost one soldier
last week in the process.
The road to the shrine and the camping
area also needs to be cleared before the
statue is relocated at the shrine, the
Church officials said.
The diocese was to send seven voluntary
workers to Madhu to clean the area once
the military gives clearance.
The humanitarian situation is getting
increasingly difficult with serious
food, drugs and fuel shortages. Health
facilities in the district suffer from
substantial shortages of medicines,
personnel and fuel for operations. - WHO
Health Action In Crises, July 24.