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Issues

Pros and cons of the Tiger ban 


Tigers in Dunkirk-type evacuation from Jaffna Peninsula


Troops carrying out operations

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

"Operation Dynamo" was the codename  for the successful   exercise that succeeded in  evacuating trapped  soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk in France in May - June 1940 during World War Two.

I don't usually like to compare battles fought by the Sri Lankan armed forces against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to those of World War One and Two.

When comparisons were  made between  the fight for Killinochchi and the siege of Stalingrad, I pointed out that the similarity was only superficial and that equating both amounted to the fallacy of false analogy.

It is with some reluctance  therefore that I invoke "Dunkirk" to describe  an event unfolding  in  the Jaffna peninsula right  now. But then I do see shades of Dunkirk there!

What happened in World War Two was that the rapidly advancing German army had separated and cut off the Allied army confronting it in France and Belgium.

As a result,  hundreds of thousands of stranded soldiers from Britain, France and Canada retreated for three days and were   trapped in a  coastal strip of land extending from Dunkirk in France to Poperinge in Belgium.

It was then that the British launched  the massive "Operation Dynamo" to evacuate trapped soldiers from Dunkirk across the English channel to British shores.

In a nine - day exercise from May 26th  - June 4th , 42 British naval vessels and 860 other smaller ships and boats  called the "Little ships" engaged in  maritime evacuation. The so - called 'Little Ships' comprised  fishing boats, pleasure cruisers and commercial vessels manned by civilian volunteers.

Together they made several trips back and forth facing great danger and brought back  to safety  338, 226 soldiers. These included 45,000 men of the elite  British Expeditionary Force who later went on to accomplish many spectacular feats.

Earlier it was feared that the entirety of trapped soldiers would be killed or imprisoned by the Germans. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned the house of commons to expect "hard and heavy tidings." Later he called it a "miracle of deliverance."

When  the British press portrayed the Dunkirk evacuation as a "Disaster turned to Triumph" the  realistic Churchill was to caution "We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations."

The Dunkirk evacuation is now embedded in  British national memory. The phrase "Dunkirk spirit" is descriptive of the  British people's ability to face up collectively to  impending disaster and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

What is  going on in  the Jaffna peninsula  now ( I am writing this on  Jan 6th night) is also an evacuation exercise. It is nowhere near the scale and scope of Dunkirk. But in some ways it amounts to a "kutty" or "punchi" Dunkirk.

Why do I say this? Let me place events in perspective

One of the strongest defence lines maintained by the LTTE is in Jaffna peninsula. This 12 mile long line extends from one coast of the peninsula to the other.

It is along the axis of Kilaly on the west , Muhamaalai in the middle and Nagar Kovil in the east. Soldiers of 53 and 55 Divisions are stationed opposite the LTTE forward defence lines.

The 53 and 55 Divisions have been conducting several operations in the past to  break through LTTE defences. The LTTE has been resisting fiercely.

The Tigers have attached tremendous importance to  the need to retain their presence and hold in the peninsula. An elaborate system of trenches, bunds and bunkers have been constructed with three lines of defence.

The LTTE's northern commander "Col" Theepan himself was  until recently in the peninsula supervising defences personally.

The LTTE retains areas in the south - west, south, south - east and east of the peninsula. These include the Pachchilaippalli AGA division and parts of the Pallai and Vadamaratchy east AGA divisions.

Once during July - August 2006, the LTTE had deployed nearly 10, 000 cadres to this front with ambitious plans of launching a peninsular invasion. This did not materialise. Later the numbers dwindled to around 6,000  Tiger cadres being in the peninsula.

With the Tigers coming under increasing military pressure in the northern mainland of Wanni, cadres from the peninsula were transferred to augment fighting formations. As a result there were only around 3,500 to 4,000 cadres within the peninsula  as the year 2008  ended.

Earlier the Tigers were able to resist a series of offensives and mini - offensives by the army inside the peninsula. It was at this juncture that the military balance shifted rapidly in Paranthan - Kilinochchi.

Task Force One or 58 Division commanded by Brig. Shavendra Silva succeeded in taking Paranthan on the eve of the new year. With that  success, the army was in a position to move north towards Elephant Pass.

This , the 58 division did and  within a few days  moved up to Kurinchatheevu adjacent to  the Elephant Pass Isthmus. As is well known the Elephant pass Isthmus linking Peninsula with mainland by land is of strategic importance and described as the "gateway to Jaffna." The LTTE had vacated positions in the mainland areas adjacent to Elephant Pass after the fall of Paranthan.

The  army is now  in  Elephant Pass at the southern end of the causeway. Troops are staying put as the Tigers have established  fresh positions in Northern Elephant Pass and are capable of inflicting heavy losses on advancing soldiers.

The Tigers however were  caught between a rock and a hard place. It was only a matter of time before the 53 and 55 from the north and 58 from the south would move closer and  link up in a pincer - like move called "double envelopement" in military parlance.

This had to happen and was inevitable. The only  question was "When"? Initially , the LTTE seemed to have other plans. Instead of withdrawing from the Peninsula well in advance the LTTE cadres continued to remain there. The Tigers seemed determined to resist the army at both ends.

There may also have been contingency plans to move into areas east and south of the Jaffna - Kandy road or A - 9 highway and hold on to the region. This would encompass a coastal strip from Thalaiaddy to Chundikulam  lagoon. Another possibility is that the LTTE in an unconventional gambit was thinking of a limited counter offensive inside the peninsula.

Also a  communication "gap" though highly unlikely cannot be ruled out entirely. Whatever the reason the Tiger cadres continued to remain in the peninsula despite the over hanging  Damoclean sword .

Suddenly,  a change of  plan seems to have  occurred. Why, is yet an unknown.

A plausible reason may be the belated realisation that the army could move further east  of the A - 9 in a push parallel to the A - 35 or Paranthan - Mullaitheevu road and seal off the  coastal areas adjacent to the Chundikulam lagoon.

If and when that happened   the existing supply route to the peninsula would be knocked out,  rendering entrapped cadres in the peninsula  vulnerable.

The series of ground - based drives  by soldiers to reach the Kandawalai - Ooriyaan region  along the lagoon  complicated the situation further.

Meanwhile the 53 and 55 were "revving" up their engines to launch a multi - pronged assault. Against this backdrop  a  late decision was probably taken to evacuate. Soon  frantic efforts were  underway to  bring  the boys back.

Unlike in Dunkirk there were no civilian volunteers to assist in the efforts. Besides the beleaguered Tamil civilians were in no shape to do so. So the LTTE began its own "Dunkirk - type" evacuation. Two rout‚s are being used.

One is for the cadres to move eastwards to the Vadamaratchy east coast where sea Tiger boats transport them to the Mullaitheevu coast. The other is for cadres to  go to the south - eastern area to a place called Kombaatty and then go across the lagoon to Ooriyaan on the mainland.

There was a time  in the nineties of the last century when the people of Jaffna used the Kombaatty - Ooriyaan route to go across and  return to the peninsula.

Later another route across the  lagoon between Kilaaly in the peninsula and Paranthan Nalloor on the mainland was used.

To strike a personal note there was an occasion in 1986 where I was stranded in Paranthan. I had to reach Jaffna but transport through Elephant Pass was suspended then because of an escalation in the fighting

So  some of us went to the Ooriyaan area. Fortunately the waters in the lagoon were shallow. We got into a tractor - trailer. The driver charged 100 rupees per head to go across.

He navigated the vehicle through very shallow waters. At one stage it got bogged down in the mud and all males had to get down and push. It is this very route which is being used now.

Apparently an LTTE commando unit is engaged in ferrying across trapped cadres in dingy boats and rafts. Seeing that the withdrawal process had begun the army also  began moving. After resisting for hours , the LTTE began retreating from positions along Kilaly and Muhamaalai.

The army moved at least 500 metres and took over vacated LTTE second line of defence positions. The army is likely to push forward further in the next few days

Withdrawing Tigers have established a new line of defence in areas north of Puthukkaadu junction on the A - 9 highway. Tigers are also sniping from the Pallai area. Cadres stationed along the Nagar Kovil front continue to remain for now. Current LTTE resistance is not likely to be durable as it is only a matter of time before the Tigers would have to  completely withdraw from entrenched positions in the peninsula.

The countdown has begun. Meanwhile the evacuation goes on like a caricature of Dunkirk. The armed forces are shelling the fleeing Tigers. Aerial attacks are also on.

Still large numbers of Tiger cadres have been evacuated. The remaining cadres would also be evacuated within  a day or two. The  resistance being put up now amounts to delaying tactics by the LTTE until cadres are safely relocated.

How long the LTTE would try and hold on to positions in the peninsula is not very clear. But it certainly appears that the bulk of cadres stationed in Jaffna are evacuated or will be evacuated.

Already the evacuation exercise is being glorified in pro - Tiger media as a glorious victory.

The Tigers and fellow travellers would do well to remember what Churchill said after the miracle of Dunkirk. "We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations."


Pros and cons of the Tiger ban 

By Dislrukshi Handunnetti

The Sri Lankan government for the third time, has banned the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), declaring it to be a terrorist organisation.

Minister Maithripala Sirisena on Wednesday announced the government's decision to ban the LTTE, and another Minister Keheliya Rambukwella claimed that the reimposition of the ban was due to the continued human rights violations and the tremendous atrocities committed by the LTTE.

That this was coming for some time is a given. Time and again, Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama have been advocating the same. Whatever the advocacy through missions and at local level were aimed at achieving this end.

Besides, the government does understand that this would be a popular move at a time when the troops have shown military prowess with the capture of Killinochchi, the LTTE heartland.

Face consequences

This also means the LTTE would be made to face all the consequences that a regular terrorist organisation would. Chief among them - and this is where the government does appear unstable - there would be legal implications if the government were to hold discussions with a banned organisation.

It also does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the government has little or no intention of talking to the Tigers, specially riding a crest in the aftermath of continuous military achievements.

It was also clear, as the government persisted on not laying down arms in order to enter a dialogue process, practically precluded any chance of resumed talks.

And then came the ban - for the third time.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is also Minister of Defence, submitted a memorandum to the cabinet on Wednesday proscribing the LTTE as a terrorist organisation under the emergency laws. "The cabinet has unanimously approved it," explained Minister Sirisena who added that it was the appropriate time to do so.

Banned by the government

On two earlier occasions too, the Liberation Tigers have been banned by the govt. Among the most public supported bans was in the aftermath of the bombing of the Temple of the Tooth by the Liberation Tigers. In an angry reaction, the Chandrika Kumaratunga led government immediately banned the organisation. The ban was lifted in 2001 when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wished to create conditions for a peaceful dialogue.

It is seven years after that, that the LTTE is banned yet again.

Repeatedly demanding  the laying down of arms and surrender of cadres to the advancing troops, President Rajapakse on December 22 significantly threatened to outlaw the LTTE as a terrorist group if it did not allow Tamils living in its control to move to government-held areas for the coming year.

According to analysts, banning the LTTE is more of a formal move. It also seeks to create the impression that those who have any links with the LTTE or even suspected of such links would be dealt with under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and other anti terror laws.

Given the strong treatment meted out to LTTE suspects - a treatment that sometimes extends to the members of the Tamil community itself - the UPFA administration has severely dealt with those who may be suspect. And they have been dealt with under the PTA the biggest legal tool in the administration's hand. 

Some seven years after the lifting of the ban on the LTTE to facilitate political engagement and a peace process, the current government insists that the LTTE is committing immense atrocities and that the organisation's record of human rights violations was tremendous.

Besides, the charge is also that the Tigers allegedly prevent civilians trapped in LTTE held territory from crossing over to government controlled territory.

The plight of trapped civilians in the territory under LTTE control is on the rise. Given the LTTE's track record, it is difficult to perceive that the organisation would mend its ways simply by way of response. It had been banned twice before to no avail.

While political analysts consider the recent ban as a negative, symbolic gesture that seeks to close all doors to negotiated peace with the Tigers, there is Senior Presidential advisor Dulles Alahapperuma who feels otherwise.

He insists that though banned, it would in no way hamper possibilities of engaging in a peaceful dialogue with the LTTE. The scholastic arguments apart, there is very little that the state inspires about a desire to engage in a peaceful dialogue. In that sense, proscribing the LTTE is only the formalisation of its approach to the ethnic question as well as its resolution.

History of the ban

The LTTE was first banned in Sri Lanka in 1983 with the introduction of the emergency regulations and it was automatically revoked when the emergency regulations were withdrawn in 1987.

The willful ban took place later, on a wave of emotion. It was re-imposed on January 25, 1998, after the LTTE attacked the sacred Dalada Maligawa in Kandy.

The ban was revoked in September 2002 after the signing of the Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement to facilitate peace talks between the then Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.

The LTTE is already banned in several other countries, chief among them, neighbouring India that extended its ban on the LTTE only recently.

Besides, the LTTE is designated as a terrorist organisation in the European Union, United States, Canada and Australia.


India stands firm

A special tribunal has asked the central government to justify its renewal of the ban on Sri Lanka's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The tribunal, headed by Justice Vikramjit Sen, in September 2008 called upon the central government to produce fresh evidence against the LTTE as to have the ban on the group extended by another two years. The ban was first imposed in 1992 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967, a year after the LTTE was accused of assassinating former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The ban has been extended after every two years. LTTE counsel has argued that the group cannot be banned because it does not come within the territorial jurisdiction of the Indian government. 


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