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Claims and counter claims over Mannar air attacks
 

Defence Diary by Ranga Jayasuriya

Amidst LTTE allegations over civilians casualties in the air strikes in Illuppaikadavai, north of Mannar, it remains a fact that Illuppaikadavai, the scene of the aerial bombardment, housed a major sea Tiger facility.

Illuppaikadavai was identified as a main sea Tiger base, long ago in mid 90s. The main base located interior in Illuppaikadavai, was supported by four satellite bases on the coast which functioned as launching pads for sea Tiger craft. They were Kiranchi, Sudapiddi, Vedithalthivu and Nachchikudai.

The four satellite bases were used as launching pads in both offensive operations against the Naval craft as well as smuggling of arms and other logistics.


Aerial shots of the mannar attack


 

December 22, 2005: A group of sea Tigers disguising as fishermen attacked two fibreglass dinghies of the Navy, killing three sailors off Pallimunai, Mannar. The sea tiger craft withdrew to Vedithalathivu after the attack. This was the first sea Tiger attack during the ceasefire.

January 26, 2006: A naval patrol seized an Indian trawler with six indians aboard near the Kachchathivu islands, when they were transporting 60,000 electric detonators, intended for the LTTE. The destination of the haul of weapon was believed to be Illuppaikadavai.

June 17, 2006: a flotilla of about twelve sea Tiger boats attacked a routine Naval patrol off Pesalai, killing six sailors. Navy said thirty sea Tigers were killed and several sea Tiger boats destroyed in the ensuing battle during which the Navy was supported by a MI 24 gunship. The launching pad of the sea Tiger boats for the attack was Vedithalathivu.

November 18, 2006: Two Inshore patrol craft on a routine sea patrol intercepted a flotilla of sea Tiger boats heading towards Vedithalathivu. Navy IPC engaged with the sea Tiger flotilla. Seven more sea Tiger boats were launched from Vedithalathivu as reinforcement. After the clash, of which two sea Tiger boats were destroyed, the rest of the sea Tiger craft returned to Vedithalathivu.

November 27, 2006: A Dovra Fast Attack Craft on a routine sea patrol intercepted a suspicious trawler, 50 nautical miles off Udappu. Sea Tigers aboard the trawler fired at the Navy patrol, when it closed in for an inspection. The trawler used as a logistical craft for the LTTE exploded in a ball of fire in the subsequent Navy retaliation, which was a sign that the trawler was carrying explosives when it was intercepted. Six sea Tigers were believed to be dead. The destination of the logistic craft was identified as Illuppaikadavai.

The Air Force which bombed the suspected sea Tiger facility in the North of Mannar- and accused of bombing a civilian habitation- says that air strikes were conducted after the constant observation of the target. Air Force spokesman Group captain Ajantha Silva told the Sunday Observer that the target was under observation since 2005.

The target has been confirmed not only by the electronic intelligence- mainly the areal pictures taken by the UAV-, but also by ground intelligence.

Pro LTTE website Tamilnet and LTTE peace secretariat website said fourteen civilians including several children were killed in the air strikes.

Media Centre for National Security flashed a press statement on its website, rejecting allegations:

"...The government believes that the LTTE is attempting to mislead the International community. The sea tiger base at Illuppaikadavai was a well identified target which was under constant observation by the Air Force. The government reiterates that the Air Force carried out this attack on a well identified sea tiger base and not on a civilian settlement."

The government stated:

1. That the sea tiger facility was under constant observation of the intelligence services.

2. The LTTE claim that the injured civilians were taken to the Kilinochchi hospital is unacceptable as the nearest hospital to Iluppaikadavai is the fully equipped Mannar hospital and if, further treatment was needed, the closest hospital was the Anuradhapura General Hospital. The distance from Illuppaikadavai to the Anurdhapura hospital is around 112 kilometres. From Illuppaikadavai to Kilinochchi hospital there is a distance of around 140 kilometres.

"If there was an air strike on a civilian settlement yesterday, it is astonishing as to why the injured were taken to a hospital far away when there were other hospitals in close proximity," MCNS said.

3. There cannot be civilian casualties in Illuppaikadavai as the Army had banned the area for civilian settlements earlier.

4. The LTTE attempt was an effort to gain international sympathy and to demonise the Security forces. But, the Air Force had not ruled out the possibility that LTTE could have used civilian as a human shield. That is a trademark Tiger practice, now used in Vakarai, where scores of displaced civilians arriving Valachchenai, fleeing besieged Tiger held town, have narrated stories of human shields.

But, still, some security forces officials dispute LTTE claim.

They say the nature of injuries shown on Tiger websites does not resemble the injuries caused by air strikes where the casualties have burn injuries. But, none of the casualties displayed in the LTTE websites had burn injuries, they claim. Another charge laid by some security forces officials is that the International Committee of Red Cross was delayed giving permission to visit the site. When the ICRC visited the site, according to the ICRC spokesman Sukumar Rockwood, the site was cleared. "We could not see any casualties. They have been evacuated," he said. ICRC spokesman did not comment on the cause for delay.

However, the statement by Mannar Bishop Rayappu Josep strengthen the claim of civilian casualties by the air strike. The Bishop who visited the site, later in the day wrote to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. excerpts from the letter

His Excellency Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa President of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Your Excellency

Aerial bombing that took place at Padahu Thurai near ILLUPAIKADAVAI, in the un-cleared area of the District of Mannar at 9.35 a.m. Today the 2nd of January, 2007.

Three Kfir bombers aided by an aircraft that is said to be supplying information to them, had been bombing the above small settlement of displaced people consisting of 35 families from Navanthurai, Jaffna. This aerial bombing took place today the 2nd of January, 2007 at 9.35 in the morning. I saw 12 spots where the bombs had struck and two of these bombs remain unexploded. The area of this attack is just within a radius of 100 meters close to the sea shores.

This settlement consisted of 35 Catholic families who were all very poor fisher-folk. There is a Catholic church on this very spot in clear sight. They were living in small cadjan sheds. The Parish priest of this locality in the person of Fr. P. Arulnathan OMI.


Development strategy should follow: Military strategy in the East

Even the LTTE is coming to terms with losing the East. The official website of the LTTE peace secretariat once stated that it does not need to be a rocket scientist to predict that the army is planning to capture Vakarai, the last Tiger stronghold in the East.

According to certain intelligence reports, the LTTE is withdrawing its administrative and certain logistical units from Vakarai. There are reports that female cadres are also in the process of relocation.

In the wee hours of Friday, the security forces ambushed a contingent of LTTE cadres heading to Thoppigala, at a crossing point between Meeyankulam and Punani frequented by the LTTE.

Casualty figures were not available by Friday night. But, the intercepted LTTE communications reveal heavy casualties.

It is now confirmed that the Karuna faction attack on the Tiger jungle bases in Thoppigala last week had left heavy Tiger casualties.

An estimated forty LTTE cadres were confirmed killed in the attack.

Earlier there were intelligence reports of an LTTE concentration in the Thoppigala jungles. Reports said the LTTE had smuggle at least one 122 mm artillery gun to Thoppigala. Faced with the imminent collapse of Vakarai, the last Tiger strong hold in the East, the LTTE is in a process of relocation from Vakarai back to jungles.

Any observer of the LTTE could see two different strategies at work in the North and the East.

In the East, the LTTE never attempted to hold the ground. Even the areas such as Sampur and Vakarai fell in to the hands of the LTTE only after the security forces camps in the area were vacated to reinforce the military operations in the Northern theatre. Where as in the North, the LTTE is keen to hold ground.

It fought for months against the Operation Jayasikuru intended to open a land route to the Jaffna peninsula.

Recently, it resisted a limited security forces operation to advance from Muhamalai-Nagarkovil forward defence lines, which caused heavy casualties to both sides.

However, the collapse of Vakarai and resultant loss of the control in the East, would have a drastic impact on the moral of the LTTE cadres.

It could shatter the claims by the LTTE itself and its sympathizers of a military parity with the security forces.

Faced with the resurgent- and equally ruthless- Karuna faction, the LTTE's chances of rebuilding its ranks in the East are slim. Tiger recruits from the East have fast dwindled after the Karuna's split. For years, the East had been the fertile grounds for new recruits for the LTTE.

The collapse of its control in the East, could have more a phycological blow than a military blow to the LTTE. The decline in moral of the LTTE cadres have already resulted in an increase in deserters.

However, the greater opportunity is that once the East is cleared, the security forces could act in full force in the North. If one division of soldiers could be shifted from the East to North, it would enable a greater manoeuvering for the security force.

Development in the East should be part of a greater plan of securing the East. The government has mulled a development plan for Trincomalee, which include a mega tourism promotion, industrial park and the upgrade of local infrastructure.

Several road construction project are now in the process. Opportunities, empowerment and security are what people in the East need. They are the corner stones of a sustainable peace. If the military success in the East is to be sustained, a development strategy should soon follow the military strategy.

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