SLA desperate to capture Vanni and the LTTE, Jaffna
By Satheesan Kumaaran
June 8, 2008

The Sri Lankan Army (SLA) is desperate for a quick military victory and will want to achieve that by capturing the LTTE-held Vanni region. However, the LTTE continues to make things difficult for the SLA as they continue to fight on all four-fronts, namely: Mannaar in the west; Vavuniyaa in the south; Manalaaru (Welioya) in the east; and, Muhamaalai in the north. While the government boasts their control of vast areas in Mannaar, LTTE fighters fight vigorously. Casualties on both sides are mounting, though exact casualty numbers are not known since no reporters have been allowed in the war zones.

While the Sri Lankan armed forces were busy along these fronts, the LTTE's Marines (land and sea fighting capable soldiers) - the Sea Tigers - went into the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN)-controlled Chiruththeevu near Mandaitheevu in northern Jaffna and destroyed the naval base there.

War to liberate Vanni
The GoSL claims that it wants to liberate Vanni from the LTTE, overthrow "terrorism" and deprive the Tamils of their political ground. It is also likely that the GoSL will claim that they will empower the people in the North and East and give them the moon.

India is a classic case in point. When the Sikhs were fighting for independence from India, the Indian government silenced it through military means. Later, the Indian government provided everything possible to the Punjabis politically and economically, subsequently making the Sikhs one of the more successful and wealthy ethnic groups in India. For example, many Sikhs have been given portfolios in the central government in New Delhi, including the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, who is also a Sikh. The central government has also offered better funding to Punjab than it has to other provinces. This is an Indian strategy to keep the Sikhs within the united India. However, this strategy is unlikely to work in Sri Lanka because Sri Lanka fears that if they provide more powers to the Tamils, the Tamils will overtake them. The main conflict between the Tamil-speaking people and Sinhalese is misunderstanding, and each party feels threatened by the other.

The Sinhalese mistook the Tamils - a smart, organized, and well-informed ethnic community - as a threat, believing that they would control the Sinhala areas. The Sinhalese also argue that the Tamils under the British rule dominated Sri Lanka's public services, the professions, the academic sector and received other favours from Britain. The Tamils argue that their survival on the island would come to an end if they were not aware of the Sinhalese ploy. They fear that the Sinhalese would destroy their culture, history, language, religion, etc., taking into account the fact that their areas were never developed after they gained independence from Britain in 1948. Tamil villages never received better roads, electricity and other manufacturing industries to provide employment for the locals. The Tamils had no choice but to move into Colombo or Sinhalese areas in search of greener pastures and opportunities.

The GoSL strategy to recapture Vanni and destroy the LTTE will be wasted and bring greater unrest to the island if the Tamils' grievances are not addressed as a matter of priority. Even though the Sinhalese leadership knows that the Tamils have grievances, they would never grant autonomy for the Tamils for fear that their survival would be destroyed by the extremists. Liberating Vanni will open many other militant fronts on the island, causing security and political instability on the island. Dealing with the cause of the conflict is the only way to make peace on the island.

LTTE eyes on Jaffna
Meanwhile, the LTTE wants to capture the Jaffna peninsula from the SLA because they are in dire need of support from all Tamils in the north. The LTTE's attack on the SLN bases on May 29 in Chiruththeevu near Mandaitheevu, at the heart of Sri Lankan military control in the north, proves that the LTTE can go anywhere they want. The LTTE - including its Marine unit - began its attack on the camp at about 1:25 a.m. By 2:00 a.m. the base was completely in LTTE hands. After destroying the base, the LTTE returned to their naval base in Vanni.

The LTTE attack on the naval base was not a great military victory for the LTTE. It was more to show the enemy that the LTTE could go anywhere, and demoralize them through such a minor attack.

The LTTE is also on the cusp of the Jaffna peninsula near Muhamalai, Nagarkovil and Kalmunai. The LTTE soldiers would only need a matter of weeks to capture the entire peninsula. But, the LTTE leadership is hesitant to give the order to advance further into Jaffna because it would involve a lot of civilian casualties as well as those to the LTTE and SL armed forces. However, the LTTE would have no choice but to fight if the GoSL forced itself upon the LTTE to recapture Vanni.

Conflicting casualty figures
The SLA and LTTE reports of casualties contradict one another and cannot be verified by independent reporters. When the LTTE destroyed the Chiruththeevu naval base, LTTE leadership reported that they killed at least 13 naval soldiers, wounding many others, and that they seized a variety of weapons including a 50-caliber machine gun, a mortar, two LMGs and a radar device from the strategic SLN camp situated at the islet facing Jaffna. They also revealed that they recovered three SLN bodies and they identified one sailor by the identity card found on the body. However, the Sri Lankan defense ministry flatly denied the LTTE report saying that the Sri Lankan navy and air force jointly defeated the LTTE's attempts to attack on the naval base, claiming that they destroyed the LTTE boats in the seas. The LTTE denies they lost a boat or any casualties on their side.

The defense ministry reported that 25 artillery shells fired by the LTTE from their bases in Pooneryn early on May 29 killed six civilians and injured twenty more including two children and a pastor who were fast asleep in Jaffna.

Independent reports from Jaffna reported that six civilians, including children and a couple, were killed and nearly 13 civilians were wounded when shells hit the coastal villages Gurunakar, Kozhumpuththurai, Paasaiyoor and the areas close to Jaffna Fort, Thuraiappa Stadium and the Sri Lanka Telecommunication building in the early hours of May 29, immediately following the LTTE raid at Chiruththeevu. The ministry's claim that the LTTE shelled these villages from their bases in Pooneryn is flatly denied by the residents. The residents claim that the shells came from the isles in the northwest which are controlled by the SLN.

On the other hand on the Vanni war fronts, the SL defense ministry keeps claiming that the LTTE suffered heavy losses day by day as they ran from the heavy onslaught of the SLA. It claimed that one of the major LTTE bases on the Manalaru front known as Munakkam base was captured by SLA on May 29 after four-days of intensive fighting. It said: "This terrorist stronghold fortified with bunkers and trenches consisted of many buildings interconnected with long underground tunnels, comfortable living blocks with tiled bathrooms and many other administrative and command points...The fall of this terrorist complex would serve a major and significant blow to the terrorist outfit and its cadres who are now being badly beaten in Vanni jungles and elsewhere."

In another fight, the ministry claimed that the SLA fought vigorously with the LTTE who strove to block the onward movement of the valiant troops in the Vavuniyaa and Mannaar fronts on May 27. It claimed that they killed dozens of LTTE fighters in these wars. However, the LTTE flatly denied these exaggerated numbers reporting that they lost five soldiers in the defensive attacks, including one of its senior female cadres.

Following the battle on the Vavuniyaa fronts in Mannaar on May 30 the LTTE claimed that they killed 28 SLA soldiers and wounded 52 wounded. The LTTE said: "We confronted SLA in Mannaar and Vavuniyaa fronts throughout the day thwarting the repeated attempts by the SLA to advance into our territory. A ground movement by the SLA from Malikaiththidal towards Theanudaiyaan in Mannaar, launched at 5:30 a.m. on May 30 was defeated around 12:40 p.m. 25 SLA soldiers were killed when they again launched the move at 1:00 p.m. 47 SLA soldiers were wounded in the confrontation that lasted till 6:15 p.m. when the SLA was pushed back...Three SLA soldiers were killed in a confrontation that lasted for 90 minutes from 4:10 p.m."

The LTTE further said: "Four SLA soldiers were wounded in the fighting in Vavuniyaa at the Forward Defence Line (FDL) at Kugnchukkulam. The SLA abandoned the attempt after stiff resistance put up by us. The fighting broke out at 4:10 p.m. and lasted till 5:40 p.m...An intense clash was reported at Paalamoaddai FDL in Vavuniyaa May 30 morning. SLA pulled back after sustaining casualties. Our cadres who completed a clearing mission verified that three SLA soldiers had lost their legs in the booby traps."

The GoSL exaggerates the number of LTTE soldiers killed and civilian casualties to showcase to the world that they are capable of capturing the LTTE-held areas. The LTTE on the other hand, is counting the days or weeks until they can show their military prowess, and hope that their efforts will entice the world community to help bring the warring parties to the negotiation table without pre-conditions. It's never too late.

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