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Battles in north set the stage for a bloody new year


The Indonesian ship that was rescued by the navy

By Amantha Perera

There has been heightened surveillance and security  at naval bases in the north east since the beginning of December due to reports that the Sea Tigers were planning to mount an attack.

It was in this backdrop that the navy detected a cluster of unidentified craft off the seas southwest of Jaffna around 7.30 a.m. on December 26. The cluster made up of between 14 to 16 boats was heading towards Sri Lankan shores from the seas south of the Delft Island. The direction of the boats indicated that they were heading towards the north western coast under the Tigers just above Mannar island.

For four hours the navy tracked the movements and it was around 11.30 when the flotilla was confronted by naval craft south of Delft at a location between Mannar island and Delft.

Sea battle

At least six Dvora Fast Attack Craft were in the group that confronted the Tigers. The Tiger boats included at least six suicide craft, and smaller craft fitted with high speed outboard engines with a crew of two. They were loaded with explosives that were set to go off on impact. Their role is to engage the naval craft while the bigger boats can get away from the firing line.

And soon after the naval craft opened fire, it was the suicide boats that sped towards them. The battle raged on for over three hours.

"Clashes erupted and turned into a fierce sea battle when naval task units took the initiative to cut off the suspicious boat movement at 11.30 a.m. defence sources say. According to naval sources, LTTE elements were engaged in a clandestine sea movement smuggling warlike material towards the non-liberated Nachchikuda coast when detected by the naval patrol units," the Defence Ministry said.

"Naval fast attack craft responded effectively towards the LTTE cluster with heavy gunfire and evasive battle manoeuvres, forcing terrorist boats to flee further southwards. According to information received, SLAF MI-24 gunships also engaged aerial strikes at the fleeing LTTE boats," it added.

Killed in action

The Tigers said that Sea Tigers had rammed one Dvora and it was sunk with a crew of 14 while two others were damaged. They said four Black Sea Tigers - a.k.a suicide cadres were killed in the attack. They said that the first Dvora was damaged around 1.00 p.m. while another was hit around 1.50 p.m.

The military put the Tiger death toll at 40. The LTTE dismissed this claim stating only four Black Tigers were killed adding it was the navy that suffered heavy casualties with at least 11 killed. Initial reports said that it was an Israeli built Dvora that has been targeted and sunk. But a day after the attack, the Defence Ministry confirmed that the sunk craft was P-413  manufactured by Colombo Dockyard.

It had been under the command of Lieutenant Commander Lalith Ekanayake with a crew of 11. Ekanayake's body was later recovered while the 11 crew members have now been listed as Missing in Action. Unconfirmed reports said that two crew members had been rescued from the disabled Dvora.

P-413 had been at the head of the navy boats that took on the Tigers and had destroyed two suicide craft. The Defence Ministry said that the suicide craft had not been able to ram the vessel as some initial reports indicated, but it had suffered engine failure when the two exploded in close vicinity. It has sunk while being toed to the Kankesanthurai harbour.

"According to the final reports of the battle, P-413 had engaged the enemy from the front and destroyed several LTTE attack craft during the battle. Meanwhile, two suicide boats had sped towards P-413 making the crew engage with both suicide boats simultaneously. The reports said that none of the suicide boats could reach the craft as P-413 crew had destroyed them successfully. However, the two explosions had made the craft lose its engine power, compelling the crew to confront the outnumbered enemy but with no ability to make evasive manoeuvres. The crew had successfully defended the craft till assistance arrived during the battle," the Defence Ministry said.

Engaged in smuggling

The remaining Tiger craft had proceeded towards Nachchikuda/Vinddalathivu coast north of Mannar where the Tigers maintain supply bases. The military said that the flotilla was suspected to have been engaged in smuggling from the south Indian coast.

While the sea battle dominated the headlines, the Christmas week was no different to others in the recent past. Bloody confrontations were reported right along the northern FDLs and if numbers cited by both sides are correct over 60 would have died. While most dead are listed as Missing in Action, the number of injured combatants to various hospitals give an indication on how bloody the battles are becoming whatever the official propaganda dishes out.

Further clashes

Heavy clashes were reported around the Adampan area from December 27 morning, with the Defence Ministry reporting that government troops had advanced to Narikulam area just south of Adampan.

The military has been pressing ahead with its march into Tiger areas from the line of control at Admapan. A week back the Defence Ministry reported that troops had secured the Tiger checkpoint at the former Uliyankulam crossover point on December 22. The crossover point has been closed since early September.

Two days later, on December 24, troops said they had overrun a Tiger supply base code named 'Vietnam' north of the Vavuniya FDL at Periyapunchikulam. No Tigers had been present when troops moved in to the base.

Between 18 to 20 bunkers covered on the top were located at the base that stretched almost half a kilometre. A tunnel was also located stretching 150 m out of the base.

Fighting was also reported along the Muhamalai Nagarkovil line south of Jaffna and the newest front that has opened up, in areas north east of Weli Oya.

The Tigers said that attempts by government troops to move into their areas from the FDL in Mannar and in Weli Oya were thwarted by cadres on December 29 morning.

Fighting/retreating

The Tigers said that troops had tried to break through from the Adampan area around 7.30 on December 26 morning but had been beaten back. They also said a deep penetration unit was also made to retreat in the Weli Oya area, near a location known as Ceylon Theatres Farm around 12 noon on the same day.

On the same day clashes had been reported from the Muhamalai area. The Tigers said that at least five soldiers were killed and 11 injured in the attacks. Later they said they had recovered the bodies of two slain soldiers in the Muhamalai area.

Heavy artillery was traded by both sides along the front lines in Jaffna and north of Vavuniya as well. Residents in Jaffna said that heavy fire could be heard right through the few days before Christmas and after.

The Tigers have positioned long range heavy guns at Pooneryn, south of Jaffna. Some suspect that guns are sometimes brought to Kalmunai point, at the northern edge of the  Pooneryn sector where their range easily encompasses Jaffna town and the Palaly base.

Along the southern FDL, the guns are placed three to five kilometres from the FDL and the fire has been mainly emanating from the Veddalathivu, Pallamoddai areas.

The Tigers are believed to have placed elite fighting formations behind the main front lines to face an army onslaught.

Two claymore attacks were also reported from Vavuniya and Kalawanchikuddi in Batticaloa killing four including two children.

Listing Indonesian merchant ship rings alarm bells

When an Indonesian flagged merchant vessel sent out a distress signal from waters south east of Sri Lanka, little would the crew have wondered that they would be suspected of gun running.

The vessel named MV Weling was listing for almost 15 days  when a Sri Lankan naval off shore patrol craft responded to its distress signal on Christmas day night, the navy said.

"Navy sailed an Off Shore Patrol Vessel with utmost dispatch in the night on 24th responding to this distress signal received and rescued the ship's crew; andbrought to the Colombo harbour in the morning today. Thereafter they were handed over to the Indonesian Embassy as they were all Indonesian nationals," the navy said.

Initially there were suspicions that the ship was gun running for the Tigers as it resembled some of ships destroyed by the navy in the deep seas south and south east of the country.

The ship was expected to be towed to Galle by December 27.

Ironically a similar incident occurred in waters north of where Weling was found listing exactly a year back. That was when the Jordanian vessel Farah II was found listing off the seas of Mulaithivu on December 24. Farah II tale has been the opposite of the Weling.

The vessel was on its way to  Durban, South Africa from the Indian port of Kakinada with 14,000 metric tonnes of rice when it developed engine trouble off Mulaithivu on December 22. A distress call was received at Maritime Rescuing Coordinating Centre, Falmouth in UK that the ship was under attack by pirates on December 23 morning according to the government.

The air force which was patrolling over the vessel recorded Sea Tigers boarding the vessel. The 150 m long vessel which lay about three to two nautical miles off Mulaithivu coast during last Christmas was later towed to the coast by the Tigers and beached. Some report later this year said that ship was being dismantled by the Tigers on the beach

The Tigers however have denied that they hijacked the ship or its cargo. They said that Sea Tigers had responded to rescue the crew.

The hull of another ship that was stranded in the late 1990's is also located in the same area where Farah was listing. 

What the LTTE said of sea battle 1900 hrs, Dec. 26, 2007

"A team of fighting patrol boats of the Sea Tigers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (STLTTE) was confronted by some six Dvora Attack Craft of the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) near Delft around 1100 hrs today.

The resultant confrontation lasted for about three hours. The SLN boats were given fire support by MI-24 Helicopter Gunships of the Sri Lanka Air Force.

One Dvora attack craft of the SLN was sunk by the Black Tigers of STLTTE around 1245 hrs.

Another SLN craft was damaged beyond repair around 1300 hrs, while the SLN craft were attempting to fall back to Kankesanthurai (KKS) naval base of the SLN.

While the SLN team was preparing to tug the damaged craft, further one of the SLN craft was severely damaged at 1350 hrs. Tugging the damaged craft, the SLN team fled back to KKS naval base.

Four Black Tigers of STLTTE have sacrificed their lives in today's confrontation at Delft."

1000 hrs, Dec. 27, 2007

"An infiltration attempt of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) was thwarted by the LTTE defenders in Muhamalai frontier at 0730 hrs today. In the following search operation, the LTTE defenders found one dead body of SLAF personnel along with his T-56 assault rifle, ammunitions and military equipments.

Another attempt of the SLAF to dominate areas at Palakkuli, Mannar was also thwarted by the LTTE frontline troops yesterday (Tuesday). The confrontation began around 0700 hrs and lasted as late as 1100 hrs. In the following search, one SLAF dead body was found along with military materials.

Arrangements are underway to handover above mentioned two mortal remains of the SLAF personnel to respective relatives with the good offices of the International Society of Red Cross."

1000 hrs, Dec. 28, 2007

"A small scale infiltration attempt of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) was promptly thwarted by the LTTE defenders at Muhamalai frontier around 0830 hrs today. Upon retaliation, SLAF team darted back to fortified areas.

Another infiltration team of the SLAF was also beaten back at Kandal, Muhamalai yesterday evening. A few military equipments were found at the scene in the following search. One SLAF personnel was killed and at least five others sustain injuries in that clash, the frontline sources say.

The LTTE front liners suffered no casualties in both the incidents mentioned above." 


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