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Tigers escalate violence in run up to talks

Habarana: Ruthless attack on unarmed forces

Defence Diary by Ranga JayasuriyaWhen the Tigers stepped up violence at the end of last year, the convoys of security forces personnel became an easy target. The Mannar-Vavuniya road and the Dambulla-Trincomalee road, two main road links frequented by the security forces’ convoys were highly vulnerable for claymore mine explosions given the sparsely inhabited terrain.

Following several claymore attacks on the convoys transporting security forces personnel, several precautionary measures were enforced — which included the induction of claymore proof buses for the transport of security forces personnel on the dangerous terrain from Habarana to Trincomalee. The number of passengers were also limited to 20. The roads were thoroughly inspected before the convoys pass them. All measures were intended to minimise, if not deter the destruction caused by claymore attacks.

But, just after the noon on Sunday, 1.45 pm to be precise, the Tigers tested a naval operandi. A suicide cadre driving a truck laden with explosives stormed the security forces’ transit point in Digampathana on the Habarana-Trincomalee, killing 115 naval personnel, the worst ever suicide bombing during the ceasefire agreement.

Understandably, there is little defence against suicide attacks. There were around three hundred soldiers who disembarked to swap buses before heading to the final destination, when the suicide attacker stormed the transit point.
Eye witnesses said a man clad in a T-shirt driving a white coloured canter stormed the parking ground at speed of 40 Km to 50 km.

As he drove into the transit camp, the suicide attacker was heard shouting, “break nee, break nee (No breaks) in an effort to mislead the sentries at the entrance.

A soldier ran forward to the truck, with the gun pointed at the driver to signal the driver to stop, according an eye witness, however, the truck ran over him.

The black Tiger rammed the canter truck on a bus, followed by a loud explosion and inferno.

According to the investigators, the explosives could have been laden in the two side doors, in the form of enlarged version of a claymore mine.

The bomb could have weighted 150 kg. According to the investigators, a resident in Vavuniya has purchased the dooms day truck from its previous owner, a woman residing in Perera Mawatha, Meethotamulla. The transaction had taken place in June, this year.

Female resident

According to the documentations at the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, the female resident in Meethotamulla had purchased the vehicle in 1999 through a lease arrangement. In February, this year, she has handed over the truck to a vehicle sale in Mahara. In June, a resident in Vavuniya, Anandapuram turned up at the “Vehicle sale and purchased the vehicle at a cost of one million rupees. Two youth from Vavuniya have signed as the guarantors.

However, though the transaction was completed four months ago, the dubious new owner did not register the vehicle under his name.

understandably, it is easier to go through check points in the city with an ownership registration under a Sinhala national in Colombo than owner in Vavuniya. That could have prompted the new owner to continue under the ownership registration of the woman in Meethotamulla.

Later this week, the investigators arrested the female owner and released her after interrogation. The hunt is on for the owner in Vavuniya and for the two guarantors.

Investigators have also found a cell phone sans the SIM card, supposed to be used by the suicide attacker. It is believed that an informant in the close proximity of the parking place of the security forces convoy could have tipped off its arrival.
“It is possible, that he (suicide bomber) removed the SIM card and tossed it away after receiving the final call and embarked on the suicide mission,” said an investigator. As investigators look for a clue of the attacker and his network of assistants, the very nature of the attack had given rise to some disturbing questions.

The attacker could have been prevented from storming the parking ground, had there been a barrier at the entrance. Had a bus, at least, parked, barricading the entrance to the ground where over three hundred troops had assembled, the attacker could have obstructed.

Health care facilities at Dambulla and adjacent hospitals had raised questions of their preparedness for an emergency situation. The Dambulla Hospital was short of medicine when it had to treat a large number of bomb victims.
However, the dilemma posed by the suicide bombers should be understood. There is little defence against a suicide attacker. First line of defence for suicide attack is to infiltrate the terror network itself.

Suicide attacks are a tactic of asymmetric warfare, resorted by one side to the conflict when lacks means for effective, conventional attack to match its opponent.

Cost benefit analysis of the suicide operation is that it intended to inflict the maximum casualties on the opponent, who is militarily superior with the minimum cost of lives of the attacker.

Civilians or the convoys of security forces personnel on leave are favoured targets being easier than to attack fortified military installation and armoured convoys on patrol duties.

The LTTE’s induction of suicide cadres against sailors going home on leave - the attack coincided with the arrival of Japanese peace envoy Yasushi Akashi - is itself a display of its growing frustration at the several of recent military set backs.

Where the LTTE could not match the conventional man and weapon power of the Security forces, it had moved to tactics it had perfected for years. For the starters, the LTTE had carried out the largest number of suicide attacks in the recent history, though it picked up the tactic from Hisbullah in Lebanon and Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey. By the beginning of July this year, 274 suicide attackers have killed themselves on suicide missions.

First modern suicide bombing - involving explosives deliberately carrying to a target by in person or vehicle- was carried out by the Hisbullah during the Lebanese civil war in 1981.

Going by the pronouncements of the LTTE leadership, any watcher of the LTTE could have noticed that the Tigers were planing a deliberate shift towards the tactic they had perfected for 15 odd years since the first black Tiger, Miller ran a truck full of explosives at Nelliadi School, then garrisoned by the advancing soldiers in the Operation Liberation in 1987.

LTTE ‘political commissar’ S.P. Thamilselvan in his recent media pronouncements warned to take the war out of the North-East and defended suicide bombing as a military tactic.

It was the renegade Eastern ‘Tiger commander’, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna who only a few weeks ago told that “wounded Tiger is a dangerous Tiger.”

The abortive sea Tiger suicide attack on the Dakshina naval camp followed.

Two sailors, private P. Ratnayake and Able Seaman Sampath were in a Dingi boat in the mouth of the harbour checking the fishing boats entering the harbour. The general practice is that once a commercial boat is about to reach the point, the fisherman switches off the engine and proceeds towards the sentries who would check the entrance pass before permitting the boat to enter the harbour.

Three boats

At 7.45 am on Wednesday, the two sailors were inspecting the fishing craft. Three boats each not longer than 10 feet were heading towards the place where the two sailors were on duty. Boats looked normal, but the conduct of the men was a cause for suspicion. Private Ratnayake noticed a man clutching the handle of the boat, on alert to race the engine anytime in a matter of second. He also saw another man manning the third boat trying to cover himself.

Ratnayake pointed the gun at the person manning the first boat, shouting him to switch off the engine. The sea Tigers disguised as fishermen directed a burst of fire at Ratnayake and Sanjeewa. Ratnayake fired back. The attackers fired a Rocket Propel Grenade (RPG) at the dinghy. Sanjeewa was hit and fell into the water. With this, the three Tiger boats raced towards the harbour.

Ratnayake having seen his colleague falling off, jumped into water, despite shrapnel injuries suffered by him, and swam towards the commercial harbour carrying Sanjeewa with him. When reached the shore, he sought the assistance of an employee of the Ports Authority to take Sanjeewa who was in a critical condition to the Karapitiya Hospital, where both underwent emergency treatment.

Having fired at Ratnayake and Sanjeewa, Sea Tiger attackers raced into the harbour.

But three boats were destroyed before they reached the break water. Another suicide craft blew up in the close proximity of the Navy Inshore Patrol Craft (IPC) better known as “waterjet” damaging it.

Two sailors suffered serious injuries in the attack and around 28 persons including 15 fishermen suffered minor injuries.
Ratnayake’s conduct to save his colleague, despite the trauma of sustained injuries received many a praise. Eight bodies of the sea tiger attackers had been found washed ashore in Galle and handed over to the Karapitiya Hospital later this week.

A week of irony: peace hopes run high

Japanese peace envoy Yasushi Akashi arrived with the reverberations of the explosions of monstrous suicide bombing in Digampathana. But, he left the island heightening the hopes for peace talks. Indeed, Akashi who met Tiger political chief Thamilselvan in Kilinochchi secured an undertaking from the Tiger to attend talks set for 28-29 in Switzerland.

If Akashi wanted to meet Tiger chieftain, Prabhakaran, the Japanese envoy could have been a disappointed man. Prabhakaran who twice snubbed the Japanese envoy in his two previous visits, did not opt to meet the visiting dignitary this time too. However, unlike the two last occasions, Japanese embassy was not specific, requesting to meet Prabhakaran. Instead, it asked for a meeting with the LTTE leadership —Thamilselvan turned up.

The Japanese embassy arranged a press briefing for Mr Akashi at the end of his five day visit. Pressmen were hitting their heels in a Colombo hotel waiting for Mr Akashi’s arrival. At the end an embassy rep walked to the microphone and announced that Akashi could not turn up as scheduled. This time, Colombo weather had been harsh to the Japanese envoy. Travelling back to Colombo, from a visit to Mutur, the Japanese envoy’s chopper was forced to fly back to Anuradhapura for a safe landing as sky over Colombo was cloudy and rainy.

Norwegian peace envoy Hansen Bauer followed Mr Akashi.

He met the President Rajapaksa, chief government negotiator Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and flew to Kilinochchi for talks with Thamilselvan.

Richard Boucher was the third to come. Following a wide range of talks in Colombo, the US Assistant Secretary for South Asia, other than demanding for an end to hostilities.

Sea clash off Nagar Kovil: real or diversionary

Soldiers manning the Forward defence line bunkers in Nagar Kovil monitored a movement of sea Tiger boats around 6.45 pm Friday. Ground radars displayed three clusters of boats off the coast of Nagar Kovil. The boats were believed to be launched from Challai, which is the main launching pad of the sea Tiger boats.

An Estimated twenty boats were moving towards Nagar Kovil. The troops fired an air boost of artillery barrage. It is believed 4-5 boats could have been damaged when the artillery shells exploded in the air in the close proximity of the boats. As troops targeted boats with artillery, two boats, each carrying about ten cadres, raced towards shore at the Nagar Kovil FDL. Troops fired at the two boats destroying them.

Meanwhile, the navy Fast Attack Craft engaged with the flotilla of boats. A fierce battle broke out, but, soon the sea Tiger crafts opted to withdraw.

Three sailors were injured in the battle. The Navy said seven sea Tiger boats were destroyed and an estimated 35 sea Tiger cadres were killed in the confrontation.

Given the heavy battle losses sustained by the LTTE during the recent operations, it is not in a position to wage a major frontal battle. If the Tigers ever planned such an operation, last week’s security forces offensive in Muhamalai could have been a heavy blow.


Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Sri Lanka

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