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Speech time


Velupillai Pirapaharan

By Amantha Perera

It is speech time. In two days ó November 27, at 6 p.m. LTTE leader, Velupillai Pirapaharan will deliver his annual Heroes Address from some unknown location in the Wanni. It would be over loud- speakers in Kilinochchi and eagerly awaited elsewhere. The last two years have seen significant shifts in LTTE policies and a symbiotic rise in violence. Both phases have been marked by previous November 27 speeches.

This year would be even more significant, coming just 25 days after his trusted political wing head, S. P. Tamilselvan was killed in an air force raid on top of government military advances.

Past speech

"The uncompromising stance of Sinhala chauvinism has left us with no other option but an independent state for the people of Tamil Eelam. We therefore ask the international community and the countries of the world that respect justice to recognise our freedom struggle. At this historic time when the Tamils are recommencing their journey on the path of freedom, we seek the unwavering support and assistance of the world Tamil community," he said last year.

A year back he was a bit more accommodative ó "In terms of policy, the distance between him and us is vast. Since President (Mahinda) Rajapakse is considered to be a realist, committed to pragmatic politics we wish to find out, first of all, how he is going to handle the peace process and whether he will offer justice to our people. Therefore we have decided to wait and observe, for sometime, his political manoeuvres and actions." There however was very little waiting.

Clashes

President Rajapakse had just assumed office but within days of the 2005 Heroes Day speech, Jaffna was rocked by violence. On December 1, two Tamils, visible and active in organising pro-Tiger events in Jaffna were shot and killed. On December 4 and 6, claymore attacks claimed the lives of 14 soldiers in Jaffna, and by some estimates, between November and December of 2005 over 40 government forces personnel had been killed. Two days before Christmas, on December 23, 2005, 16 sailors were killed. Intially, an obscure group calling itself the Peopeís Force took responsibility for the attacks. The group had earlier been organsising public protests in Tamil areas in the north east. There has been no turning back since December 2005 ó violence has spiralled out of control.

Balance of power

This yearís speech would be that much more significant owing to the balance of power in the battle fields. Since he spoke last, Pirapaharan has seen the Tigers driven out of Vaharai and other areas in Batticaloa north this January. They then lost the Toppigala area and Batticaloa south mid this year. In August he lost the narrow stretch south of Mannar hugging the coast. Last year, before the speech, the Tigers lost Sampur.

Gain nullified

Whatever military significance the October 22 attack on the Anuradhapura air base created for the Tigers has been nullified by the Tamilselvan killing.

The Tigers are also likely to make their disenchantment with the international community known. The Tiger frustrations with international backers of the peace process have become increasingly audible and may very well be a loud presence in the speech.

The Tiger Intelligence Wing head, Pottu Amman blamed the Tamilselvan killing directly on negligence on the part of the international community.

Unhappy

The Tigers were also not particularly happy that the Norwegians did not react officially to the Tamilselvan killing. Despite insistence of the Norwegian mission in Colombo that Erik Solheim did in fact make such a statement to the NTB news agency the day after the murder, the Tigers appear not to be satisfied.

When Kaushalyan, the political head in Batticaloa was killed by the Karuna Group in February 2006, there was even a reaction from the UN Secretary Generalís office.

This yearís Heroes Week celebrations have been muted and have lacked much fanfare. The Tigers did build up interest five days before the speech was due by releasing footage of what they said was from the October 22 attack in Anuradhapura. The grainy footage of little over seven minutes shows the team assembling in what appears to be deserted woody area, sliced by a tar road during daylight. In the latter half of the footage scenes of firing at a location where two rows of lights can be seen on either side of the screen and footage shot from under foliage showing a loud and massive explosion beyond the rim of the trees completes the segment.

As usual sporadic clashes continued between government forces and the Tigers on either side of the Wanni, last week as well along the lines of control.

Counter claims

The government military said that it estimated over 40 Tigers to have been killed in the fighting, while the Tigers rejected that they had suffered such heavy casualty figures.

Clashes were reported at Tamapanai, Villatikulam and Navatikulam along the Omanthai-Ulyankulam axis in the Mannar and Vavuniya Districts right through the week. The Defence Ministry said that troops had resisted advances by small groups of Tigers and on one occasion killed four Tigers in an pre-emptive strike on a bunker line at Mullikulam in Vavuniya on November 21.

"Responding to LTTE offensive bids at the Wanni defences, security forces engaged heavy artillery attacks at general areas of Vilathikulam yesterday evening and today morning (November 21 and 22), security sources said. According to military reports, artillery barrages pounded at an intense LTTE activity area" the Defence Ministry said.

Similar low intensity clashes between small groups were reported along the northern line of control, from Killali in the west to Nagarkovil on the eastern coast with Muhamalai in the middle.

The Tigers were quick to reject government military estaimtes ó "they are exaggerating, that is it, we havenít lost any cadres," Military Spokesperson, Rasiah Illanthirayan said.

Affects movement

The fighting on the lines of control can have a destabi- lising effect on movement of goods and persons between Tiger held areas and those under government control. In fact, Omanthai, 12 km north of Vavuniya now remains the only open gateway to LTTE controlled areas; its closure would have a serious impact on supplies to the Wanni.

The World Food Programme is moving almost 300 tonnes of supplies every week into the Wanni, and its officials remain concerned on security at Omanthai. They keep in touch with government officials constantly on the prevailing volatile situation that can change suddenly. WFP also transports most of the supplies needed by international agencies still active in the Wanni.

The ICRC also raised similar concerns last week in its monthly bulletin. ICRC head, Toon Vandehove said that tension prevailed in the area of the Omanthai entry/exit point, right through recent weeks. "The situation in the area remains tense. The ICRC hopes the entry/exit point can remain open because itís an invaluable conduit for the transport of commercial items and allows humanitarian action to be taken to meet the needs of people on both sides," Vandehove, said in the bulletin.

Thousands flee

In the last four weeks the ICRC has transported 26,000 persons and 8,900 vehicles had passed through Omanthai that now functions for six days, including Saturday since October 27.

In the last two and half months over 22,000 have fled the fighting along the front lines in the north, despite some areas being sparsely populated, the ICRC said.

"Since the beginning of September, 22,000 persons have been forced to flee their homes according to local authorities, who, together with humanitarian organisations, are assisting the displaced due to fighting in Muhamalai and in the Madhu area in the Mannar district," the ICRC said. 

 

 

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