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World Affairs









Battles after Nisha

Floods in the Wanni and Troops operating
south of Paranthan area

By Amantha Perera

In the last days of November, nature achieved something that was elusive in the last two years -  a significant break in the fighting.

Typhoon Nisha, that packed a punch barreled through the country between November 22 and 26 leaving a trail of destruction. It left over 370,000 affected, 11 dead, and over 50,000 houses damaged in nine districts. The worst affected was Jaffna, which bore the brunt of nature's fury.

"Jaffna has not seen anything like this in 50 years, the roads looked like rivers," S. Subraj, a resident from the Peninsula said.

Halt to major confrontations

While men, women and children sought refuge from the storm, the gale force rains were such that they brought almost a complete halt to all major confrontations in the Wanni. Heavy fighting was reported during the weekend of November 22 and 23, especially on the western flanks of Kilinochchi, where Task Force 1 (north west, on the Paranthan-Pooneryn Road and west) and the 57 Division (west and south west) clashed with Tigers manning a L-shaped defensive bunker line. The clashes were heavy and intense with over 150 casualties reported from both sides and scores more injured.

Despite reports that indicated that there was heavy fighting in the days soon after the weekend, and one remark by Defence Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella that government forces would roll over Tiger cadres in Kilinochchi before the annual 'Heroes Day' Speech on November 27, very little fighting was taking place due to the rains.

In fact several incidents where soldiers were washed away by gushing waters were reported. One was reported in Akkarayankulam area between November 26 and 27 and another in Jaffna. In the first, two soldiers went missing, while one survived. In the other, three had drowned when rain water washed them away from their bunker.

Several roads, especially those running east and west of the A9 had gone under water, making it virtually impossible for any kind of rapid movement. Humanitarian reports from the Wanni said that at least three tanks were filled to the brim and at risk of bursting.

Soldiers holding on to ropes

Pictures released by the government as well as Tigers showed men and women moving through fast flowing water. In one picture government soldiers were seen holding on to ropes tied at either end of a stretch under water to navigate the flood currents.

The Defence Ministry said that the operations recommenced in the Wanni theatre on December 1, after the lull due to the rains. "Army 57 Division (57 Div.) and Task Force 1 (TF 1) soldiers who have  lined  themselves along the western and southern boundaries of the Kilinochchi town yesterday (Dec. 2) started pushing their forward boundaries further in to the town area. Army's advance towards the LTTE's once administrative hub and symbolically vital town has been slowed down by the torrential rains and resultant floods in the area during last two weeks."

Government troops are now present on significant stretches of the A9. Last week they captured Kokavil, after a lapse of 18 years according to the Defence Ministry. This is where the famous former TV relay tower is located, east of the A9. In fact it can be seen from the A9.

Troops from the 57th Division had gained access to the A9 north of Kokavil. Troops had reached the A9 from the west; they had reached these areas by advancing west of the A9 beyond Murugandi. Once reaching the A9, the troops had turned south and reached Kokavil.

Just south of them, troops from the newest formation in the Wanni, Task Force 3 are stationed near the Mankulam junction. TF3 is facing a due east direction and is advancing along the Mankulam-Odusudan road.

Troops gain Puliyankulam

South of TF3 is Task Force Two (TF2). On December 4, troops from TF2 attacked Tiger positions west of Puliyankulam. Troops from the 8th Sinha Regiment (SR) and 7th Signal Corps (SLSC) attached to 621 Brigade were later able to gain control of Puliyankulam and according to the army, now they control about 8.5 km on the A9 from Omanthai to Puliyankulam and other stretches at Kokavil further north.

The army said that the control of the A9 up to Puliyankulam would allow for the easier  movement of supply convoys. The A9 is the best road in the Wanni and does not go under water as easily as other roads. The convoys have been moving north up until Puliyankulam and then taking the eastern route, through Nandukerni and towards Visavamadhu, Daramapuram, Putukudiuruppu through Mulaithivu.

"Tiger terrorists during the unsuccessful Ceasefire Agreement (CFA)  used to extract millions of rupees by way of so-called 'taxes' from all those who traveled, passing that 8.5 km long patch of the A-9 road. Tigers placing their heavily-armed kangaroo 'roadblocks' and 'check points' along this patch did not allow even an ambulance to pass 'untaxed' during that period," the army said.

TF1 that had reached Pooneryn and had begun to advance south towards Paranthan when Nisha came in, has also recommenced the advance. They were stationed  just south of Nivil area. Heavy clashes were reported in the area before Nisha and reports also said that the Tigers had intensified defensive formations around Kilinochchi.

Army inducting more formations

There were also reports that the military was inducting more formations on to the eastern Wanni flank. The newest division, Task Force 4 is likely to be involved in operations  in areas south of Mulaithivu to bolster operations. The 59th Division is now operating in the areas south of Mulaithivu and Task Force 3 which began operations in the Mankulam area on the A9, is heading towards Mulaithivu along the Mankulam-Mulaithivu axis on the A 34 road.

The tactic appeared to be to bolster the eastern Wanni front while the west is being consolidated.

Troops from the 59 Division had reached Alampili on the southern coast of the Nayaru Lagoon, about 12 km south of Mulaithivu on December 4.  The last time the military was in control of the area was in 1992, before troops withdrew during Operation Sathbala.

"LTTE Sea Tigers have used Alampil  as one of their principal logistics bases for Sea Tiger suicide missions and also as their main launching pad, particularly to strike against passing ships and vessels in the eastern seas of Sri Lanka," the army said.

The Tigers as has been the usual practice of late did not release much details of the fighting. They just said that there was fighting and heavy artillery fire south of Mulaithivu, in the Muliyaweli area.

Aid on the move

Aid convoys that had been unable to travel to Wanni since November 22, recommenced last week. The first consignment of Indian aid was part of the convoy that traveled to the Wanni on December 1 when 50 trucks moved in to the Wanni.

On November 25 a convoy that left Vavuniya for the Wanni could not make it and had to turn back because of the roads.

Commissioner General of Essential Services S.B. Divaratne said that they had received the all clear from the technical teams to travel early last week.

The Indian goods were distributed through the Co-operative Societies with ICRC supervision. The bags had a message that said that they were relief from India.  

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