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September 23,  2007  Volume 14, Issue 14











Defensive Tigers warn of lethal days

Sequence of pictures showing the sinking of the
second ship which carried the name Seishin

By Amantha Perera

The Tigers are in a defensive combat mood, that is according to Political Wing Head S. P. Tamilselvan.

In comments reproduced on TamilNet on August 19, he said, "The LTTE is maintaining patience and still restricting itself to a defensive war. By doing so, it wishes the international community to realise the futility of achieving peace by dealing with such a government."

Coming in the wake of the navy's success off the south eastern waters nine days ago, Tamilselvan appears to be trying to make a case for the military losses suffered by the Tigers in the last 21 months.

Just 48 hours before the Tamilselvan comments appeared on TamilNet, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse had told the country that the military was poised to take the battle to the northern front.

"We cannot establish permanent peace in the country by winning only half or two thirds of the war against terrorism," he said at the felicitation ceremony in Trincomalee to welcome the navy flotilla that successfully sunk three Tiger ships between September 10 and 11.

Cornered in the Wanni

Rajapakse said that if the Tigers were now cornered in the Wanni, the military would go after them. "If we are aware that LTTE terrorism exists only in the Wanni there is no hesitation on our part about the next step."

The Tamilselvan interview was the Tiger reaction. "Without caring for international policies and passive requests, the Government of Sri Lanka is continuing its genocidal war against the Tamil people. The concerns raised by the international community have failed to make any dent on the ethnic cleansing by the Colombo government which has proved itself a terrorist-state. Some international governments, without understanding realities, give aid for the deceitful purposes of the Sinhala government, which will only escalate the island's ethnic conflict to hitherto unseen heights," he said.

It could also be an attempt to warn the international community that if the Mahinda Rajapakse government is allowed to pursue its policies, there would be more bloodshed. The government has been on PR overdrive in Geneva in its attempts to stall any resolution at the on-going sixth sessions of the UN Human Rights Council supporting the establishment of a UN backed human rights monitoring mission in Sri Lanka.

Despite major gains by government forces since the closure of the Mawilaru sluice gate on July 22, 2006 by the Tigers, major confrontations  where both sides have fought with equal vigour have been few and far between. Interestingly most, if not all such confrontations have taken place in the north - in  areas north west of Vavuniya and along the Muhamalai line of control south of Jaffna.

Tiger tactics clear

In the east, when the government military onslaught became too much to withstand, the Tigers  dispersed - it was the case in Sampur in August 2006, Vaharai in January 2007 and then most recently Thoppigala. They even moved out of Muttur that they had attacked in early August 6. From the beginning of the eastern battles, the Tiger tactics became clear, they had made an assessment that holding land while facing a military assault and dealing with the after effects of the Karuna breakaway was not the most opportune.

On January 19, the military gained control of Vaharai. SLMM reports filed that week predicted correctly the Tiger mood - "It is plausible that the LTTE has decided not to hold territory in the east, but will remain present."

Seven months later, the Tigers gave up holding any real estate in the east when Thoppigala was lost.

The same tactic was practiced in Silavathurai as well earlier this month, where the most spoken about incident during the government takeover of the areas south of it all the way to Kudiramalai point, was the claymore attack on a van full of civilians on September 1.

The Tigers said that they did not have military installations or cadres in the area, even though they had used the beach, especially Kudiramalai point to attack naval crafts off Mannar.

Different story

It has been a different story along the northern line of control. The Tigers have held the FDL running along the Vavuniya-Mannar border, through Periyatamapannai to Omanthai despite repeated government assaults.

Government forces have tried to breach the Periyatamapannai line on several occasions. Though the focal point of the military operations shifted to the north after Thoppigala fell in July, confrontations have been reported on the Vavuniya FDL since March.

On April 9, the military launched a massive operation in areas west of Omanthai involving around 400 to  600 troops. The Tigers lost some areas in the operation, but they regained them three months later.

The Tigers have vowed to hold on to the Wanni no matter what the military throws at them and at any cost.

The fighting on the Vavuniya-Mannar line has claimed over 150 combatants from both sides since July, but there has been no radical shift to the line of control.  It has been the same with its counterpart in Muhamalai.

Battles in Muhamalai

The Tigers  have held the Muhamalai line with the same vigour as well. Fighting erupted on Muhamalai on August 11 last year. The Tigers  attacked the government line from land as well as through cadres that were brought in from the sea while battles raged in areas south of  Trincomalee Bay in the east. There was artillery fire targeting the Palaly airbase from the Kalmunai Point area in Pooneryn as well.

The Tigers initially were able to break through the line, and it took government forces two weeks to fight back the offensive. Two months later, on October 11, government forces launched a fresh operation from  Muhamalai but did not get anywhere despite serious losses of men and firepower.

Since the assault on Muhamalai last August, Jaffna has remained cut off by  land. And the Tigers have also carried out several attacks in the south. There were the twin bus bombs in Nittambuwa and Galle in January, the suicide attack on the naval transit point in Deegampathana, Habarana last September, attack on the Galle Harbour and the three air attacks, two over Colombo and one on Palaly, Jaffna.

Similar strategy

The northern operation has seen similar tactics like the ones employed in the east where the military deployed heavy artillery, air cover, operations by deep penetration units and troop advances. But only in the Silavathurai operation did it work to script for the government forces.

Last week also the Muhamalai FDL was active on  two consecutive days - September 20 and 21 when fighting erupted. On September 20, the military said that a Tiger bunker line at Nagarkovil, on the northern FDLs was attacked and on the next day a group of Tigers that had tried to breach the Muhamalai line had been beaten back. 

Military sources in Colombo also said that targeted operations by small units were continuing beyond the FDLs in the north.

The air force also carried bombing raids in Mullaitivu on the same day attacking an ammunition depot and a gathering of senior cadres of the Imaran Pandiyan unit.

The Tigers however said that both attacks had hit its civilian departments.

In this current context - the words of Tamilselvan are full of undertones, and they aren't good ones.  

After Geneva

Watch over human rights

The government's human rights headaches are unlikely to ease anytime soon. It may have been able to stall the push for a UN backed human rights outpost in the country in Geneva, but the pressure is likely to keep increasing.

Government officials have made use of the up coming visits by UN top rankers to show that the government was cooperating with the UN and in his speech to the UN Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative Dayan Jayathilleke warned the international community that too much pressure could harm any form of engagement.

The visit of UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour, between October 9 and 13 is keenly watched by activists and members of the Human Rights Council. Fransisco Xavier of Portugal speaking on behalf of the European Union said that members were expecting an improvement in the rights situation in Sri Lanka consequent to the Arbour visit. During the same speech he said there was an urgent need for a UN backed monitoring mission here.

"It would be foolish on the part of the government to keep ignoring these issues and turning a blind eye to international opinion," Executive Director of the Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Basil Fernando told The Sunday Leader.

Appeal for urgent intervention

The AHRC last week appealed to the Council for urgent intervention in Sri Lanka. It said that the government was either unwilling or incapable of dealing with rights abuses.

"Given the unwillingness and inability by the Sri Lankan government to guarantee the right to life and justice to the victims of killings and enforced disappearances, the AHRC urges the UN Human Rights Council to intervene with urgency directly; for instance, the establishment of a Human Rights Monitoring Committee based in Sri Lanka," it said last week.

Though the situation in Colombo had indicated an improvement, abductions and killings continued in the north east, AHRC said.

"In August 2007, 50 persons were either found dead or killed; while 38 others have been  forcibly made to disappear following arrests or abductions. Some of the perpetrators of these cases are allegedly members of security forces and intelligence units."

AHRC echoed sentiments expressed by other observers like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that local bodies set up to address abuses were proving ineffective.

"The AHRC is deeply concerned by this continuing violence and the lack of remedies and relief for the victims' families and their relatives. The continuing failure by the authorities to immediately and effectively address this grave concern reflects the extent to which the deteriorating  situation due to systemic failure endangers the lives of the people."

Grave situation

Fernando admitted that the situation was grave but nevertheless felt that the government still could take decisive action - "What is happening in Sri Lanka is scandalous, it is up to both the international community and the Sri Lankan government to act on the violations that are taking place. There are still a large number of disappearances that are taking place."

"We have to give the benefit of the doubt to the government, the pressure is so much and we think the government would not allow the situation todeteriorate even further."

Local activists felt that international attention had prompted the government to address rights violations, at least in fora  like the UN Human Rights Council.

MP Mano Ganesan, convener of the Civil Monitoring Committee (CMC) said that without international participation no change would come about.

"Local bodies have not done any effective work, organisations like the CMC and the victims families all are calling for international help."

Below international standards

The government's claim that local bodies were effective enough took another beating last week when the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIEGP) that is assisting the Special Presidential Commission investigating 16 high profile cases said that the commission was slow and below international standards.

"The IIGEP remains concerned about the speed of the commission's investigation process. The first investigation into the ACF case (the killing of 17 aid workers) commenced on May 14, 2007. Since that time, only a few witnesses have been examined. On  August 23,  2007, the Commission commenced a second investigation into the killing of five youths in Trincomalee. Since the inception of the commission, no public inquiry has been held and no substantial progress has been made into any of the mandated cases," IIEGP said on September 19.

Five days before the IIEGP statement, the government in an Aide Memoire handed over to the European Union by Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said that critical information on the murders had been uncovered by examining the phone details of the victims.

"The commission has made a decision that all of the investigations are conducted in closed sessions, and not open to the public or the families of the victims or their lawyers. The IIGEP fears that this may undermine the transparency of the commission's work. The IIGEP is also concerned that recent amendments to the organisational rules and procedures of the commission imply that commissioners can make a decision not to hold a public inquiry at the end of an investigation," IIGEP said.

The panel also continued being critical of the role of the Attorney General's Department on the workings of the commission - "The role of the Attorney General's Department in the work of the commission therefore continues to render the process flawed."

Witness protection programme

The panel also said that the lack of witness protection programme was also hampering investigations - "In the absence of a permanent witness protection programme and complementary legislation, protection for those witnesses under the commission's victim and witness assistance scheme will cease at the expiration of the commission's mandate."

Ironically the government has maintained that the commission and IIGEP as one example of the government's proactive measures to curb rights violations.

And as the UN Human Rights Council concluded the second week of the sixth sessions, the calls for UN backed monitors kept pace - "Is there no solution to the state of lawlessness that they face now? It is up to the Human Rights Council to find an acceptable answer to that quandary. The AHRC  urges the Human Rights Council to look into the extremely grave situation that Sri Lanka is facing and, as a first move for assisting the government to deal with this problem, take steps to send a human rights monitoring mission to the country," the AHRC said on September 20.

 - Amantha Perera



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