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Tiger attack on Mankerni paid with heavy cost

War and Peace : The Defence Diary

84 LTTE cadres, 13 soldiers killed in the fight

The northern insurgency rose to a new intensity when the Tigers conducted simultaneous attacks on four security forces camps in the East on August 1, almost suggesting the beginning of the fourth Eelam war.

When beaten back in the Eastern front, which took a heavy toll on the LTTE's Eastern sector, Tigers shifted battle to the North, having attacked security forces forward defence lines in the Muhamalai, Eluthumattuwal and Nagar Kovil. This failed offensive amounted to a self inflicted annihilation to the LTTE, which lost nearly 1000 cadres and others wounded seriously in equal numbers. This considerably weakened the LTTE's fighting strength, having 'neutralised' around one third of LTTE's 6,000-7,000 strong fighting cadre.

Then came the offers for 'unconditional talks'. Visiting Norwegian envoy Jon Hanssen Bauer brokered a fresh round of talks set for October 28-29. Air was heavy with the new found optimism on the peace front. However, Bauer left the shores of the island, fresh fighting erupted in the East, in Kajuwatta, the last security forces outpost towards Trincomalee on the Batticaloa-Trincomalee road.

In the wee hours of Friday, the Tigers shelled Mankerni and Kajuwatta military outposts. Then under the cover of mortar fire, LTTE attacked the forward defence bunker line in General area of Mankerni and Kajuwatta. Over two hundred LTTE cadres are believed to have taken part in the attack.

Army repulsed the Tiger offensive and then pushed the Tigers back towards Panichchankerni in the Tiger territory. Artillery and Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers fire was directed at the LTTE positions as naval gunboats guarded the sea off Vakarai. Troops moved 5 km into the Tiger territory.

According to initial reports from the security forces, twenty two LTTE cadres were killed during the LTTE attack on the forward defence localities of the Kajuwatta outpost.

Twelve LTTE bodies were brought to Valachchenai hospital yesterday and were expected to be handed over to the LTTE through the ICRC. Further forty LTTE bodies were collected by the troops as they advanced towards Panichchankerni. The LTTE down played its casualties.

Independent verification of the LTTE casualties could not be certain. As troops battled the Tigers inside the Tiger territory, Naval gunboats and Dovra FACs positioned off Vakarai intercepted five sea Tiger boats bringing in reinforcement for the LTTE fighting in Mankerni. The boats launched from Kathiraveli were heading towards Mankerni.

In the ensuing confrontation, three sea Tiger boats were destroyed. Ground troops had intercepted LTTE transmissions saying 20 LTTE cadres were killed in the confrontation. Soldiers on the ground could see the boats being destroyed in the Navy attack.

According to a senior Military official, at least 84 LTTE cadres were killed in the army retaliation. This is based on the LTTE casualties witnessed by the troops in the ground operation.

A senior military official described the LTTE attack as a "deliberate and well planned" offensive to overrun the security forces forward defence lines in the General area of Kajuwatta and Mankerni.

In Panichchankerni, the Tigers offered a fierce resistance to the advancing troops. Thirteen security forces personnel were killed and several others injured. This included two soldiers categorised as P1 injury and four soldiers categorised as P2 injury. P1 in military jargon is the serious injury.

During the fighting Panichchankerni bridge has been destroyed. There are conflicting versions of the incident. The security forces' blamed that the Tigers destroyed the bridge to halt advancing troops, while the Tigers held the security forces responsible.

Collapse of the bridge has stranded over 30,000 civilians in Vakarai unable to cross to the government controlled area. During the last two week, nine thousand people sought refuge in Valachchenai, fleeing Vakarai. Most of them were Sampur refugees, who moved to LTTE controlled Verugal and Vakarai, following the collapse of the Tiger enclave in the southern perimeters of the Trinco harbour.

As fighting raged in Panichchankerni, the Karuna faction got into action. Around 150 Karuna fighters overran LTTE positions in Kaddumurali Kulam, 10 km west of Vakarai.

According to the Karuna faction, 49 LTTE cadres were believed to have been killed. Five Karuna fighters were killed and 18 wounded.

This is the second major attack on the mainstream Tigers by the Karuna faction, which is gradually becoming a force to be reckoned with. The Karuna faction earlier carried out an attack on three jungle LTTE camps in Karadiyanaru in Amparai. However, the Tigers dodged the attack and pulled out from their camps as the Karuna fighters advanced.

Since battered by the surprise Good Friday offensive on 2004 by the mainstream Tigers, followed by the demobilising of 4,000-5,000 of Eastern LTTE by the renegade commander Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna, who then went underground, the Karuna fighters have increased in many a fold from their hundred odd die hard Karuna loyalists to a force of approximately 500-600 cadres.

The Karuna faction has conducted an aggressive recruitment drive and there are also complaints of forced conscription of children. Unicef has raised the same concerns. The latest flare up of fighting came a week after the Special Task Force commandos killed sixteen LTTE cadres who attacked the Pillimalai STF camp.

The STF ambushed the LTTE on a tip off of the impending attack. Later this week, the STF searched jungles in the area as well as Amparai to ensure that there is no LTTE infiltration in the area. Police commandos went deep into jungles, sometimes about 30 km, however, no signs of LTTE infiltration is seen, according to one officer, who also took part in the operation.

In the Northern front, troops exchanged mortar and artillery dual with the Tigers on Friday. This has now become a routine. Six soldiers were injured in mortar fire on the Muhamalai forward defence line.

They were admitted to the Palali Military Hospital. Almost daily air strikes on the artillery and mortar positions in the North have left their mark on the LTTE. But, they could not eliminate the indirect fire power of the LTTE.

As LTTE political commissar S. P. Thamilselvan talked peace with Norwegian peace envoy Hanssen Bauer, the Tigers exchanged mortar and artillery fire with the security forces deployed in Muhamalai. Later Israeli built Kafir fighter jets targeted three identified LTTE artillery positions and an ammunition dump in Poonaryn and Pallai. Next day, airforce conducted several sorties on the sea Tiger bases in Kathiraveli and Vakarai.

Artillery positions in Poonaryn point pose the greatest danger to the security of the Palali military Air port.

The LTTE repeatedly targeted the Palali military airport with 130 mm artillery guns which have an effective fire range of 27 km. Though the LTTE's failed in its offensive to lay seige to the city of Jaffna in mid August, it succeeded in halting operation of fixed wing aircraft from the Palali military airport.

As new fighting broke up in the East, the LTTE is reported to have held a emergency meeting of its military leaders in Kilinochchi. The LTTE military spokesman Irasiah Ilantharian alias Marshal said the "defence counsel of the LTTE forces has been summoned. The future course of action would depend on the outcome of the meeting".

Intelligence sources also confirmed that a meeting of LTTE military leaders had taken place in Kilinochchi.

According to reports available, the LTTE had stopped short of pulling out from the new round of talks. Instead, the LTTE leadership was planning to write to the Norwegian peace facilitators raising concerns of the LTTE on the security situation. Yesterday Thamilselvan wrote to the Norwegian peace envoy, Jon Hanssen Bauer warning to pull out if attacks continued. "Unless the Sri Lankan military halts its actions, we will be forced into an unfortunate situation where we will have to re-examine our decision (to hold talks), the LTTE political commissar said in his letter. Military analysts view the LTTE offer for unconditional talks as a means to buy time to re-group and re-arm for a fresh offensive. They point to the failed LTTE attempt to smuggle arms in the sunken ship off Kalmunai. Still, most of the military top brass do not believe that the ethnic question should have a military solution. The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Donald Perera echoed the same concerns when he told reporters the ethnic question needed to be solved through negotiation.


The Ramesh Saga

A story has been making rounds in the East since early this week. It said that Eastern military leadzer, Thambirajah Ramesh was planning to switch sides. Ramesh who was Karuna's deputy was appointed to Karuna's place following the latter going underground. However, Ramesh could do little to counter sporadic attacks by the Karuna loyalists. Bhanu was appointed in Ramesh's place as the Batticaloa-Amparai military commander.

The story goes as that the Wanni LTTE leadership had sent Ramesh to lead 100 LTTE cadres for an attack in the government controlled area. Having done this, they have tipped off the security forces of the impending attack. This was to make sure Ramesh is killed.

However, either Army or the Karuna faction tipped off Ramesh of the LTTE strategy. So the story goes that Ramesh is now contemplating joining the Karuna faction.

Ramesh is said to be in the Thoppigala LTTE base, also called Tora Bora after the Osama Bin Laden's mountainous hide out in Afghanistan.

He is with around 75-100 fighters loyal to him.

But a non LTTE politico-military activist, who during Karuna's split strongly campaigned among the country's political and military leadership for military back up for Karuna, ruled out the possibility of Karuna-Ramesh reunion.

These two factions don't see eye to eye. Ramesh has a lot of problems with Karuna. I don't think this can ever happen, he said.



Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service

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