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The Indo-LTTE War

An Anthology, Part 1

If Nehru had valid doubts on the quality of Indian history written by both Indians and non-Indians (the British empire builders), I’d say that history writing about the Indo-LTTE War should not be left to the retired Colonels and intelligence peddlers either.

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

Contemporary India has existed as a country for only 60 years, but ‘India’ as a polity (a conglomeration of multi-states and mini-states, conglomeration of many empires, crown colony of a Western empire, and in a whole range of other concoctions) has existed for over four millenia.

Indian Troops waiting to board a Mi-8 equipped with rocket pods for assault mission in Jaffna 1987 Bharat Rakshak

In his all-encompassing ‘Dictionary of Wars’ (1986), compiler George C. Kohn has counted a total of 94 major wars which were staged on the Indian subcontinent – excluding Ceylon (Sri Lanka) – since historical times. Kohn’s list of military engagements in India begins with Alexander’s Asiatic Campaign (329 – 327 BC) and ends with the Siege of the Sikh Golden Temple (1984). Since this compilation first appeared in 1986, India’s most recent war staged in Sri Lanka against the LTTE between October 1987 and March 1990 has not received an entry. As such, it is pertinent to place on the electronic record details about this longest war of India since its independence.

Indian Two T-72 tanks of the 65th AR got blown up by mines during the Jaffna Operations Bharat Rakshak

I venture to provide this record in monthly or bi-monthly segments. Multiple reasons exist. First, to present the guys who ate crow in their predictions of the LTTE’s early demise. Secondly, to blunt the thrust of anti-LTTE propagandists in India and elsewhere who are peddling recent history as per their whims. Last, but not the least, to pay homage to the LTTE’s young heroes and heroines (maveerars) who stood up against India’s bullies with altruistic motive.

First, it may be of some help, if we absorb the thoughts of Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) on the quality of the past historians of India. In his ‘The Discovery of India’ (1946), the first Indian prime minister had observed:

“Unlike the Greeks and unlike the Chinese and Arabs, Indians in the past were not historians. This was very unfortunate and it has made it difficult for us now to fix dates or make up an accurate chronology. Events run into each other, overlap and produce an enormous confusion…The ignoring of history had evil consequences which we pursue still. It produced a vagueness of outlook, a divorce from life as it is, a credulity, a woolliness of the mind where fact was concerned…Many competent historians are at work now, but they often err on the other side and their work is more a meticulous chronicle of facts than living history.” (pp. 102-103).

On the overt bias of non-Indian aggressors who wrote the Indian history, Nehru noted as follows:

“The histories of India that most of us have had to read, chiefly written by Englishmen, are usually long apologies for and panegyrics of British rule, and a barely veiled contemptuous account of what happened here in the milleniums preceding it. Indeed, real history for them begins with the advent of the Englishman into India; all that went before is in some mystic kind of way a preparation for this divine consummation. Even the British period is distorted with the object of glorifying British rule and British virtues…” (p. 104)

If Nehru had valid doubts on the quality of Indian history written by the Indians and non-Indians (the British empire builders), I’d say that history writing about the Indo-LTTE war should not be left to the retired Colonels and intelligence peddlers either. In presenting a retro-spin to shore up the dented image of the Indian army which left the blessed island in 1990 after being nose-thumped and humiliated by the LTTE, Col.R. Hariharan (Retired) recently painted his version of the Indo-LTTE war (1987-1990) as follows:

“….After 20 years, India's role is better appreciated now by most of the Sri Lankans than in 1987 only because the IPKF men fought and died to uphold the Accord in a country that was not their own. This recognition is a small, but fitting tribute to 1255 Indian soldiers who died in Sri Lankan soil.

Was the IPKF a success? Indian troops operation which started off as a conventional one in 1987 quickly changed into a full fledged counter insurgency operation. In such an environment, how do you measure success? The popular perception of success in wars is in terms of territorial gains and body counts. In insurgency wars these yardsticks are flawed, because the battles are for the mind of the people. If territorial gain and body counts were the only the yardsticks of victory, Americans would be considered victorious in Iraq. However, even on this scale the IPKF proved itself. By August 1988 it had LTTE seeking the refuge of Wanni jungles to save itself from the onslaught of IPKF.Within a year after IPKF completed Operation Checkmate-I (Battle of Nithikaikulam) in August 1988, it had restored normal life to the people of northeast. The IPKF, despite some aberrations and limitations imposed by political dispensations, gave them a feeling of security and gained their trust; both of these are absent there to this day. [Note: Italics, are as in the original.] People of Colombo revelled without a conscious thought of the war in the northeast had their good night sleep!...” [South Asia Analysis Group, Note No. 394; August 7, 2007]

Really? Eelam Tamils have solid reasons to challenge Col. Hariharan’s hyperbole that, “Within a year after IPKF completed Operation Checkmate-I (Battle of Nithikaikulam) in August 1988, it had restored normal life to the people of northeast.” Those whose normal life was restored then belonged to the Indian army’s circle of collaborators and militant groups such as the EPRLF led by V. Perumal and K. Padmanabha, as well as the hotchpotch ENDLF. The problem with Col. Hariharan’s analysis is that its objectivity is dubious. If he wishes to be evaluated as a competent war historian, Col. Hariharan, who served as an officer of Indian military intelligence during the Indian army operations, should shed his partiality, omit the exercise of ‘passing the buck’ (towards the politicians’ ill-timed, expedient decisions), and throw more light on the strategic failures of the Indian military personnel and the deceptive ploys of the intelligence section that misfired.

I present below seven newsreports which appeared in October 1987, from the Economist, Time, Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek magazines.

South Asia Correspondent: It’s war again. Economist, Oct. 10, 1987, pp. 29 & 32.

Edward Desmond: A Comeback for the Tigers; New violence threatens to undermine a peace accord. Time, Oct. 12, 1987, p.12.

Manik de Silva: Restore Peace, or Else…Jayewardene turns the heat on the Indian forces. Far Eastern Economic Review (Hongkong), Oct. 15, 1987, p.50.

Anonymous: The Tigers Lash Out. Asiaweek (Hongkong), Oct. 16, 1987, p.22.

Anonymous: Getting Tough with the Tigers. Asiaweek (Hongkong), Oct. 23, 1987, pp. 16-18.

Thomas Sancton: Battle for Jaffna; Indian troops step up their assault on the Tigers’ stronghold. Time, Oct. 26, 1987, pp.12-13.

Anonymous: Jaffna Takes a Pounding. Asiaweek (Hongkong), Oct. 30, 1987, pp.16-17.

We can chuckle from re-reading these newsreports. How silly and inept were the comments and cocksureness of politicians, pundits and journalists who were utterly clueless on war strategies? Here are some choice ones.

We were provided with a sound bite by Rajiv Gandhi at a news conference in Washington DC that “The problem in Jaffna should not last more than a week, perhaps two weeks.”

An anonymous Indian diplomat (in all probabilities J.N. Dixit, the then Indian High Commissioner stationed in Colombo) had bragged to Time magazine’s reporter, “‘He made the mistake of not realizing that what is at stake now is nothing less than the credibility of the Indian state.’” The ‘He’ was none other than LTTE leader Pirabhakaran.

An obviously intelligence-challenged, anonymous Sri Lankan intelligence officer had prophesied, “with satisfaction, it will be ‘only a matter of time before the Indians smash him.’[Pirabhakaran, that is] ”

To another intelligence-challenged, anonymous Sri Lankan official, “Prabakaran had ‘lost control’ of himself…”

At least one Sri Lankan military official was more attuned with reality. “‘The Indians are encouraging a split within the LTTE. The question is whether the cadres will take the bait.’”

As Nehru has aptly critiqued concerning histories contributed by ‘foreigners,’ I caution the readers that not all that has appeared in the print media such as the Economist, Time and their sister publications need to be believed as accurate. But, as first drafts of history, these reports have some value in sifting the kernels from the chaff.

It’s War Again

[South Asia Correspondent; Economist, Oct.10, 1987, pp. 29 & 32]

The Tamil Tigers are fighting again in Sri Lanka. In truth the Tigers had never stopped fighting, despite agreeing to the peace pact negotiated by Sri Lanka and India, which seemed to give them much that they were fighting for. But on October 6th they stated formally that they were opposing the pact and would no longer co-operate with India’s peacekeeping force on the island. They have accompanied their defiance with the worst outbreak of violence since the peace pact was signed on July 29th.

The Tigers’ first victims this week were eight Sri Lankan soldiers they had held captive, and four Sri Lankan policemen; they were murdered on October 5th. Next day the Tigers went on the rampage near the eastern town of Batticaloa, hijacking a bus and killing a number of passengers. They stopped a train bound for Colombo and shot dead or hacked to death some of the Sinhalese passengers. In Batticaloa they rounded up Sinhalese men, women and children and butchered them too. In all, they killed more than 100 people.

What precipitated this massacre? The Tigers were doing well in the negotiations about control of the semi-autonomous homeland that the Tamils had been promised in Sri Lanka. The Tigers had demanded, and been given, a majority of seats on the interim council for the Northern and Eastern provinces that is being set up under the peace pact. According to the Tigers, things came apart on October 3rd, when 17 Tigers were arrested while they were on a boat off Sri Lanka’s Jaffna peninsula.

Sri Lanka’s security minister, Mr Lalith Athulathmudali, a hard-liner, decided that the 17 men should be brought to Colombo for interrogation. The Tigers said they would commit suicide rather than be taken to the Sri Lankan capital, where they expected to be tortured. When their pleas were disregarded they swallowed cyanide capsules and 12 of them died, including two Tiger leaders. It was after this that their comrades ran amok.

Even without this tragic sequence of events it seems likely that the peace pact would have been jeopardised. The Tigers, the largest of the Tamil guerrilla forces, believe that India’s intelligence agencies are trying to destroy their organisation. They also claim that 1,500 Tamils are still being detained under Sri Lanka’s prevention of terrorism laws, in violation of the peace pact.

Above all, the Tigers are refusing to tolerate political opposition in the Eastern province, where Tamils do not form a majority. Since the peace pact was signed the Tigers have killed 75 members of rival groups. They may think they would gain by destroying the peace pact before the referendum in the Eastern province which will give its inhabitants an opportunity to refuse to merge with the Tiger-dominated north. This week’s killings may represent a bid to expel from the Eastern province the Sinhalese who make up a third of its population.

The 11,000 Indian peacekeepers have found themselves in a nearly impossible position. They have seen their task as preventing violence, rather than committing it by shooting Tigers. In any case, many of the island’s Tamils have close links with those in India’s adjacent state of Tamil Nadu. Politicians in Colombo have been clamouring for the Indians to be replaced by Sri Lankan troops who would impose peace in their own way.

The day of decision was October 7th. After the Batticaloa killings, the Indian government said that its soldiers had been ordered to use force to restore order in the north and east. This means killing Tigers, if necessary. It has been an appallingly difficult decision for the Indian prime minister, Mr Rajiv Gandhi. In India some people feel that their government has become more deeply entangled in the Sri Lankan mess than it had originally intended.

In Sri Lanka, President Junius Jayewardene’s next problem is his own government. He must see the supporting legislation for the peace pact through parliament. He had probably just pulled together the necessary support when this week’s violence erupted. Opposition to the pact may now grow. If the Indians do not keep the peace, the agreement may fall, not on the battleground in the north, but in parliament in Colombo.

*****

A Comeback for the Tigers: New Violence threatens to Undermine a Peace Accord

[Edward W.Desmond; Time, Oct. 12, 1987, p.12]

The Tamil Liberation Tigers were up against the wall just two months ago. Their leader, Velupillai Prabakaran, was held hostage in New Delhi to ensure that the Tigers would give up their arms as part of an accord between New Delhi and Colombo to end Sri Lanka’s civil war. Prabakaran reluctantly accepted the agreement, and India sent 7,000 troops to Sri Lanka to enforce it. Yet in the face of defeat, the wily Prabakaran has regained lost ground and, without openly defying the accord, helped place it in jeopardy.

Prabakaran last week made his silkiest move to date. One of the Tiger leader’s best-known lieutenants, Rasiah Parthipan, died while on a hunger strike protesting Colombo’s failure to meet Tiger demands. Parthipan’s death aroused Tamils, and New Delhi and Colombo felt pressured to give in to Prabakaran on a key point: control of an interim body that will rule the merged Tamil-dominated northern and eastern provinces until elections for local government are held later this year. The Tigers were given seven of the twelve seats in return for agreeing, for the first time, to ‘cooperate fully in implementing’ the accord.

As a result, the Tigers will control the police, which will give them the power to crack down on rival Tamil groups. Prabakaran’s forces have already killed about 150 members of the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam and other rival groups since the signing of the accord. Says Annamalai Varatharaja Perumal, a spokesman for the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front: ‘They will finish us off once they control the police.’

Though the Tigers initially promised to hand in all their weapons, Indian High Commissioner J.N. Dixit estimates that only about 60% have been turned in. So far, the Indian army has not intervened to stop the killings. New Delhi, however, has brought in an additional 10,000 combat troops and policemen.

The Tiger comeback has made it difficult for President Junius Jayewardene to gain support from the island’s Sinhalese majority, who are wary of the Tigers’, as well as India’s, intentions. Says once Sinhalese businessman: ‘They didn’t take away Prabakaran’s weapons, and they gave him everything he wanted.’ Riots between Tamils and Sinhalese last week in Trincomalee, a predominantly Tamil town on the east coast, did not help matters. Six people died and 2,000, mostly Sinhalese, were left homeless.

Those developments have fueled support for the radical Sinhalese groups, including the Patriotic People’s Movement (DJV), which attempted to assassinate Jayewardene seven weeks ago. The DJV has threatened to kill any member of the government who votes in favor of making the accord law, and its assassins have already murdered seven workers for Jayewardene’s United National Party.

Jayewardene’s government insists that the Tigers are coming around to the democratic process. But late last week that claim looked questionable as Prabakaran and Jayewardene reached an impasse over who should head the interim council. At the same time, Jayewardene is having a hard time disciplining his legislators, though he has promised to make the accord law by November. One example was Asoka Somaratne, a UNP member of parliament who resigned from the legislative body three weeks ago after a series of death threats. ‘People will hold us responsible,’ he said, ‘and I don’t want to be held responsible.’ [Reported by Qadri Ismail/Colombo and K.K.Sharma/New Delhi.]

*****

Restore Peace, Or Else…Jayewardene Turns the Heat on the Indian Forces

[Manik de Silva; Far Eastern Economic Review (Hongkong), Oct.15, 1987, p.50]

Ethnic violence in the eastern Trincomalee district, which claimed at least 12 lives earlier this month, has strained relations between Sri Lankan security forces and the Indian peace keeping force (IPKF). On 4 October, Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene indicated that he may be compelled to ask the Indian troops to pull out of Trincomalee if law and order were not restored there immediately. Some 10,000 Indian troops and paramilitary forces are deployed in the north and east of the country to ensure the July Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord.

Jayewardene made this indirect threat at a meeting with Lieut.-Gen. Depinder Singh, the chief of India’s Southern Command, and the acting Indian high commissioner in Colombo. Also present at the 4 October meeting from the Sri Lankan side were National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali and military and police chiefs. Although an official statement only referred to continued cooperation and stated that the Indian general was flying to the east to ensure India’s obligations, sources present at the meeting confirmed that Jayewardene ‘had made his point.’

While the top brass on both sides could iron out the problems at their level, implementing the peace accord on the ground is another matter. The Sri Lankans are convinced that the Indian troops have been partial to the Tamil militants and that the Indians had also provoked the Sri Lankan forces. In turn, the Indians have charged Colombo’s forces with sniping at them.

Sparking off the recent violence was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – commonly called the Tigers – whose followers left at least 12 civilians dead and some 400 houses and shops destroyed in the harbour town of Trincomalee. Officials said the death toll in the villages and settlements in the sprawling district was much higher. During the height of the ethnic war, the outlying Sinhalese settlements in the district had been under constant attack, but the town itself had always been very well secured.

The picture changed with the provisions of the peace accord, requiring Sri Lankan security forces to be confined to their barracks. As violence erupted in the east, the government came under heavy criticism by the opposition. Discontent among a section of the majority Sinhalese that the accord had eroded Sri Lanka’s sovereignty also heightened as the incidents in Trincomalee escalated.

Opposition leader Anura Bandaranaike said in a telegram to Jayewardene: ‘Sinhalese civilians have been butchered in cold blood in Trincomalee in the past few days and I am distressed to note that the government has watched helplessly as the killing took place…While the IPKF was deliberately turning a blind eye to the massacres, the government’s law-enforcement authorities were under orders not to leave their barracks and come to the assistance of the people…Is this then the peace you promised the people of Sri Lanka at th ecost of [the country’s] independence, unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity? Please ensure, Mr President that the writ of your government runs in Trincomalee and in other areas where the Sinhalese are a minority.’

The violence in Trincomalee followed the Tigers’ agitation to win a series of demands including a majority of the seats in the interim administration which is to run the Northern and Eastern provinces until the December elections for the joint provincial council. The Tigers were given the lion’s share of the administration with seven places, including the slot of chief administrator of the 12-member council, later expanded to 13.

But their pressure tactics, including a last-minute demand to change the chief administrator selected by Jayewardene from a list of three Tiger nominees, were straining India’s nerves. Jayewardene refused to change the chief administrator, a former municipal commissioner of Jaffna. The official promptly declined to serve. Most observers believed he was under pressure from the Tigers to bow out.

The violence in Trincomalee gathered momentum as the formation of the interim provincial council remained in limbo. In Colombo, Jayewardene presented the legislation on the provincial council to his cabinet. The government made it clear, however, that the joining of the Northern and Eastern provinces as a single administrative unit – a core provision of the peace accord – would not be legislated until the president was of the view that the violence in the troubled areas had ended and that the Tamil separatists had surrendered all their weapons. The president plans to submit the legislation to parliament by early November.

Apparently Jayewardene did not face any major opposition to the legislation at the recent cabinet meeting. Agriculture Minister Gamini Jayasuriya had said he could not support the legislation providing for even the temporary joining of the north and east. But after some deliberation, the cabinet – including Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa who was unhappy about the accord – appeared to have fallen in line. However, Jayewardene’s confident assertion that his party MPs would vote en bloc for the bill was belied by one of them resigning his parliamentary seat saying he could not support the legislation.

The MPs are also under physical threat by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), an extremist Sinhalese organisation. Special arrangements are being made for their security as JVP activity escalates. Police attributed attacks on the headquarters of the Trotskyist and Communist parties in Colombo on 1 October to this group. Both these leftist parties support the accord. The JVP subversives have also been attacking activists of the ruling United National Party in remote villages and also attempted to assassinate a prominent southern communist on 1 October.

Although the going seems rough at present, Jayewardene is clearly determined to implement the agreement and ensure peace on the terms of the July accord with India. But New Delhi, which has lately engaged in some tough talk with the Tigers, will be forced to flex its military muscle to ensure that the militants are fully disarmed. The Tigers too will have to adapt to the new situation and acquire the administrative and political skills they will need to win the provincial council election.

*****

The Tigers Lash Out

[Anonymous; Asiaweek (Hongkong), Oct. 16, 1987, pp.22]

On Oct. 4 a harried Jyotindra Nath Dixit, India’s high commissioner to Colombo, made a late-night call on Sri Lanka’s President Junius Jayewardene. An emergency had cropped up. While patrolling the seas off the northern Jaffna pensinsula, the Sri Lankan Navy had made a prize catch: a boat carrying seventeen members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the largest Tamil militant group on the island. Each of the men in the machine gun-fitted wallam were armed in violation of a ban on ferrying weapons across the Palk Strait. Among those captured were Kumarappan and Pulendran, two top Tiger commanders, and Ragu, personal bodyguard to Tiger boss Velupillai Prabhakaran.

At first the captured men were detained at the Palali military base in Jaffna. But then, against Dixit’s advice, the authorities decided to airlift them to Colombo for further interrogation. At Palali airport, the Tigers suddenly pulled out cyanide pills and swallowed them. Ten of the men, including Kumarappan and Pulendran, died on the spot. Within days three others were dead.

The mass suicides triggered a spate of killings by enraged Tigers. As a prelude, they executed eight Sri Lankan soldiers whom they had held in captivity since March. The bullet-riddled bodies were dumped in the main bus-stand in Jaffna City. The militants then abducted four members of a state-run television broadcasting corporation who were returning to Palali after seeing off a colleague. It is believed the four were later shot dead.

The next day the Tigers’ campaign of violence spread to Batticaloa town in Eastern Province. ‘They burnt the Batticaloa-Colombo train, thirteen carriages in all, with 40 Sinhalese inside,’ senior Inspector General of Police Ernest Perera told Asiaweek. ‘They also shot over 60 other Sinhalese in and around Batticaloa, wiping out two whole villages.’ The Tigers’ wrath was then unleashed on nearby Pottuvil, where they gunned down 21 Sinhalese. Police reports said 27 more people died in Sagarapura village, close to the northeastern port of Trincomalee.

In a strongly worded statement, New Delhi expressed ‘revulsion and horror’ over the killings. But Tiger spokesman Sivasubramaniam Kanagaratnam, alias Raheem, was quoted as saying that his group had discontinued observing a ceasefire set down in the July 29 peace accord between India and Sri Lanka. The pact, which aims to end Sri Lanka’s seven-year ethnic conflict between Tamil militants and the Sinhalese majority, provides for Indian troops to keep peace in the island’s north and east. New Delhi also acted as gurantor for the Tamil militants, many of whom used to have bases in India’s southern Tamil Nadu state. ‘We have been badly let down by India and we no longer think it is necessary to abide by any agreement,’ Raheem reportedly said.

The latest massacres, along with internecine fighting among the Tamil militants, have increased the clamour in Sri Lanka for stern action by the Indian troops. Said a senior government politician: ‘In keeping with the accord we withdrew our forces to their camps and also curtailed operations by our paramilitary units…because we trusted the Indian forces to keep peace.’ But there has been friction between the Indian and Sri Lankan armies ever since an Indian soldier was shot dead in Trincomalee on Oct. 1. The van used by the assailants was later traced to the Sri Lankan security forces, who have denied any involvement.

Many believe the success of the accord hinges on whether the Indians can cage the Tigers. Under the terms of the accord, all militant Tamils were to surrender their weapons to Indian troops. Sri Lankan officials claim the militants have laid down only 40% of their arms. The recent violence, say observers, is ample evidence that the Tigers have retained the bulk of their weaponry.

As communal tension mounted, Jayewardene last Wednesday conferred with his cabinet for more than two hours. He told his ministers that the Indian peacekeeping forces had been ordered to take ‘positive steps’ to control the violence. Even as he was speaking, Sinhalese refugees from the Eastern Province were streaming into Colombo. One of them, Vipul Jagathsena, a fisherman, saw his thatched hut put to the torch while his wife was still inside. Surrounded by polythene bags containing all the possessions he could salvage, Jagathsena said in a voice choked with emotion: ‘They sealed off our village and then started burning the houses one by one. The Indians were not far away, but they didn’t do anything.’

Some have accused the government of misjudging the consequences of transporting the captured Tigers to Colombo. ‘It was obvious [the Tigers] were provoked,’ said Neelan Tiruchelva, a spokesman for a moderate Tamil political party. ‘One should inquire why Colombo insisted on bringing down the seventeen captured terrorists when they could have been kept in prison in Jaffna.’ He added: ‘It will be a long time before the Tigers can be persuaded to come back to the negotiation table.’ Indeed, with the return of ethnic violence, hopes of peace seem to be receding by the minute.

*****

Getting Tough with the Tigers

[Anonymous; Asiaweek (Hongkong), Oct. 23, 1987, pp.16-18]

When Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka stepped up attacks against the Sinhalese majority earlier this month, Jyotindra Nath Dixit, India’s High Commissioner to Colombo, urged the Indian peacekeeping force on the island to take firm action. In private, Dixit had begun referring to it sarcastically as the Indian pussyfooting force. Not any longer. When guerillas from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the biggest Tamil militant group in Sri Lanka, attempted to blow up an Indian convoy, the Indian Army finally decided to get tough.

On Oct.9, the army launched a major offensive against Tiger strongholds in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna peninsula. Backed by tanks and heavy artillery, Indian troops fought the militants in pitched house-to-house battles. To reinforce some 9,000 soldiers already in Jaffna, more than 100 commandos were flown in from southern India by helicopter. Another 5,000 troops were deployed in the Eastern Province, where the Tigers had gone on a killing spree earlier this month. In eastern Batticaloa district, about 20 Indians were reported killed on Thursday when a land mine shattered the vehicle they were in.

In the north, the heaviest fighting was reported around a historic fort outside strategic Jaffna City, and in nearby Urumpirai village, where Tiger boss Velupillai Prabhakaran had reportedly been holed up. By mid-week, the Indian troopers appeared poised to take control of the city. But the cost was high. In the first week of fighting, some 77 Indian soldiers were reported killed – the Tigers claimed to have 30 commandos as they rappelled down from choppers. For their part, the Tigers lost at least 400 fighters by Indian count. No official figures of civilian casualties were released.

New Delhi clearly intended to pull out all stops in an effort to disarm the Tigers. A key part of the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement signed July 29 was that all Tamil separatists were to lay down their arms. The accord also provided for Sri Lankan troops to return to barracks and for Indian soldiers to keep peace in the island’s north and east. But the Tigers kept the bulk of their weaponry in open defiance of the pact. Soon they were waging war against rival militant groups as well as the Sinhalese.

The Indian crackdown extended to its own shores. Last week Tiger offices and homes in Madras, capital of India’s southern Tamil Nadu State, were repeatedly raided. Transmitters were seized and telephones disconnected. Earlier, Tiger leader Sathasivam Krishnakumar, alias Kiddu, tried unsuccessfully for two days to meet Tamil Nadu Food Minister S. Ramachandran, a trusted aide of the state’s chief minister, M.G. Ramachandran. In the past, the latter had acted as the militants’ benefactor. Analysts said the snub indicated that the food minister, a key figure in bringing the Tigers to the negotiating table, had now washed his hands of them.

Still, many analysts believe that the Indian offensive against Sri Lanka’s Tamil militants may badly backfire at home, possibly unleashing a storm of protest from India’s own 50 million Tamils. Last week K. Kalimuthu, a senior leader in the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party in Tamil Nadu, roundly accused New Delhi of being anti-Tamil. Fumed he: ‘It is cruel on the part of the Indian peacekeeping force, fed and paid for by Indians, including Tamils, to do the dirty job of exterminating the Tamil Tigers on behalf of the Sri Lanka government.’

Indian Tamils’ sympathy for their brother Tamils in Sri Lanka has proved embarrassing for the peacekeeping force. According to Sri Lankan intelligence reports, Tamil officers of the Indian Army’s Madras Fifth Battalion, which was stationed in eastern Sri Lanka, maintained extensive contact with Tigers, even while the militants were staging terrorist attacks against Sinhalese civilians. They also allowed the militants access to a high security naval dockyard at Trincomalee port in Eastern Province. Once inside, the Tigers attacked a Sri Lankan Army headquarters. After the incident, New Delhi hastily sent the Madras regiment home.

The Tigers’ latest campaign of violence was triggered by a mass suicide earlier this month. Against Indian High Commissioner Dixit’s advice, Sri Lanka’s National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali had ordered seventeen Tigers captured in Jaffna to be flown to Colombo for interrogation. At the airport, the Tigers swallowed cyanide capsules; thirteen of them died. Enraged comrades then went on the rampage. One Indian diplomat called Athulathmudali’s order ‘an act of sabotage’. For his part, the security minister maintained that the Sri Lankan government was ‘perfectly within our rights’ to airlift the Tigers to Colombo.

There is a certain irony in India’s Jaffna offensive. Five months ago, when Sri Lankan security forces launched ‘Operation Liberation’ against the Tigers in the strife-torn peninsula, the Indian government accused them of indiscriminately killing civilians. The Tigers are now levelling the same charge at the Indian soldiers there. Last week New Delhi also found itself echoing a claim made by Colombo during its earlier offensive – that Tigers were using civilians as human shields. Said Ravi Mahadeva, a Sri Lankan student who was in Jaffna during last week’s fighting: ‘The only difference is that the Indians are not using planes to bomb Jaffna [as was done in Operation Liberation]’

The Indian objective in Jaffna, too, appears similar to that of Operation Liberation: destroy Tiger defences and capture Prabhakaran. A well-placed source in New Delhi told Asiaweek that the Indian Army’s brief was ‘to drastically reduce the Tigers’ strength’ and ‘put them out of action temporarily’. Although Indian officials deny it, many believe New Delhi is considering propping up Tiger rivals, possibly the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation. TELO, a pro-Soviet Marxist Tamil militant group, is reported to have links with India’s intelligence agency. In May last year the Tigers decimated TELO, killing 700 fighters, including leader ‘Tall Sri’ Sabaratnam. On Oct.10 TELO set up a new executive under the leadership of Dr.G.S. Kantha, Sabaratnam’s elder brother.

In the last week Prabhakaran has sent two messages to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi expressing his willingness to negotiate if India calls off its military offensive. New Delhi has not responded. Analysts believe the Indians’ patience with the Tigers has run out and they do not want to talk any more. To them, ending the impasse conclusively is now of prime importance. As one Western diplomat put it, New Delhi does not want Sri Lanka to become its Vietnam.

*****

Battle for Jaffna: Indian troops step up their assault on the Tigers’ stronghold

[Thomas A.Sancton, with reporting by Qadri Ismail in Colombo and Ross H. Munro in New Delhi; Time, Oct. 26, 1987, pp. 12-13]

Slogging their way through heavy rains, 6,000 Indian troops surrounded Jaffna town in northern Sri Lanka last week and launched a four-pronged assault backed by artillery, tanks and helicopter gunships. Resisting them every step of the way were about 2,000 guerrillas from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the rebel group that has led a four-year struggle to gain an independent homeland for the West Virginia-size island’s Tamil minority. Tens of thousands of terrified civilians were caught in the middle of the fighting. Most of them abandoned their homes and huddled in temples and schools as food supplies grew scarce and shells continued to explode around them. By week’s end Indian officials acknowledged that 86 of their troops had died and 260 had been injured. The Indians claimed to have killed some 500 Tigers, but the guerrillas charged that most of the dead were Tamil civilians.

The Indian offensive came just 2½ months after India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lanka’s President Junius R.Jayewardene signed a peace pact aimed at ending the civil strife. According to that agreement, a peacekeeping force from India, Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor, was responsible for disarming the rebels. An ‘interim council’ was to be formed in the Tamil-dominated northern and eastern provinces, which would officially merge and be granted a substantial degree of local rule, following elections scheduled to be held before the end of this year.

But Tiger Leader Velupillai Prabakaran, 32, caused problems from the beginning. Although the Sri Lankan army promptly returned to the barracks under the terms of the pact, the Tigers kept the bulk of their weapons, and used them to deadly effect. Within six weeks of the pact’s signing, Prabakaran’s forces had murdered more than 150 members of rival groups, most of them from the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam.

Last month, using his arms as a bargaining chip, Prabakaran won a major concession from the Sri Lankan government in Colombo, which accorded the Tigers control of a majority of seats on the interim council. But after promising ‘full’ support of the agreement, Prabakaran suddenly insisted on personally naming the head of the governing unit. Meanwhile, 13 Tiger guerrillas, including three of Prabakaran’s most trusted lieutenants, committed suicide by swallowing cyanide following their capture by the Sri Lankan navy two weeks ago. Prabakaran went on a rampage. In a series of terrorist attacks, mainly in the east, his troops killed 170 civilians belonging to the country’s mostly Buddhist Sinhalese majority. In addition, 27 Sri Lankan soldiers and policemen died at the hands of Prabakaran’s men.

That bloody spree prompted the Indians, whose peacekeeping force had grown to more than 20,000, to move against the guerrillas. With Jayewardene’s blessing, the Indians raided Tiger hideouts in the east, killing three rebels and arresting 98. Next, Gandhi’s forces began the much more difficult job of rooting the Tigers out of their main stronghold on the Jaffna Peninsula, where Prabakaran is believed to be hiding. After securing control of most of the peninsula, the Indians advanced on Jaffna town behind a barrage of artillery and tank fire. There were reports that Sri Lankan forces, who were supposed to remain in their barracks according to the terms of the peace accord, provided air cover. Sri Lankan troops were also helping the Indians with police duty in the eastern province.

Many innocent victims were caught in the crossfire at Jaffna. With journalists and other independent observers barred from the town, the exact number of non-combatant deaths was impossible to verify. A doctor at Jaffna Hospital claimed there were 76 bodies in that facility and at least 100 more scattered in the streets outside, but it was not clear whether they were civilians or rebels. Tiger spokesmen charged that the Indians had killed more than 250 civilians and accused Gandhi’s troops of wholesale rape and murder. The Tigers’ own ruthlessness meanwhile, was demonstrated in the eastern province, where they murdered a total of 21 Sinhalese civilians in two separate attacks and killed 20 Indian soldiers in a land-mine explosion.

Indian diplomats did not deny that civilian casualties had taken place in Jaffna, but blamed them mostly on the rebels’ tactic of using the local Tamil population as human ‘shields’. That charge was confirmed by a 19 year-old from Jaffna town who had taken refuge in the Nallur Hindu temple on the eastern edge of the town. He told TIME that the Tigers were seizing young men, arming them and forcing them to advance against the Indians. ‘These people don’t know anything about a gun,’ said the youth. ‘They are just being killed.’ He added, however, that the Indian mortar fire was causing ‘much damage’ in the town and was ‘killing more civilians than Tigers.’

The Indians found themselves in an ironic situation. Last spring Gandhi had bitterly criticized a Sri Lankan army offensive against the Jaffna-based rebels and even parachuted food supplies into the area to demonstrate his concern for the suffering civilians. Now his own troops were shelling the city. Scoffed a Sri Lankan army colonel: ‘When we did that, the Indians called it genocide.’

That was not the only irony. The Indians were fighting against a group that had long enjoyed Indian support. Since 1983, the Tigers and other separatist organizations had been allowed to set up bases and receive supplies in Tamil Nadu, the southern Indian state that has a large population of ethnic Tamils. But Prabakaran’s refusal to cooperate with the peace process – and the Tigers’ latest burst of violence -  has eroded his support even among Indian Tamils. From a tactical point of view, Prabakaran’s actions are baffling. The peace plan had promised the Tamils local rule in the regions where they predominate. The rebel leader had extracted a further concession that would have allowed his group to control the interim administration. Why had he sacrificed such tangible political gains and provoked a military confrontation that could only lead to his destruction?

A widely held view was that Prabakaran had ‘lost control’ of himself, as one Sri Lankan official put it, following his comrades’ group suicide. Others speculated that, on the contrary, he had told his men to take cyanide in order to make martyrs of them and spark a general revolt among the Tamil population. According to this scenario, he had hoped the resulting unrest would topple the Jayewardene government and perhaps pave the way for full Tamil independence.

In any case, Prabakaran apparently had not expected his former Indian benefactors to move against him. That was a serious miscalculation. ‘He thought he could push us around and get away with anything,’ said an Indian diplomat. ‘He made the mistake of not realizing that what is at stake now is nothing less than the credibility of the Indian state.’ The Indian offensive in Sri Lanka also poses substantial political risks for Gandhi, whose administration is faced with serious regional unrest and opposition charges of corruption at home. Already, Indian army casualties have reached their highest level since the 1971 war with Pakistan. Should Gandhi become involved in a protracted guerrilla war in Sri Lanka, his own hold on power could be threatened.

The current course is similarly fraught with political danger for Jayewardene. The 81-year old leader, who survived an August assassination attempt, has been sharply criticized by some Sinhalese leaders for allowing India such a substantial role in Sri Lanka’s affairs. ‘This is the first time in the history of our country that our civilians are being killed by outsiders,’ said Lakshman Jayakody, an opposition member of Parliament. ‘The repercussions will be grave. After this, Indians will have greater and greater control over Sri Lanka, and this will result in a never-ending animosity between the two countries.’

Others, however, see India’s action against the hated Tigers as a military necessity that could ultimately help stabilize the country. Observed Sinhalese journalist Gyrika Perusinghe: ‘If the Indians can finish Prabakaran and then resettle all the Sinhala refugees who were chased out, Jayewardene may just be able to pull things through.’

As the Indians tightened their grip on Jaffna last week, Prabakaran appealed to Gandhi for a ceasefire to ‘negotiate matters’. Gandhi, however, had apparently stopped listening. Instead, he sent some 1,000 Indian reinforcements to the island in preparation for a final assault. Prabakaran showed every sign of resisting to the end. But as a Sri Lankan intelligence officer observed with satisfaction, it will be ‘only a matter of time before the Indians smash him.’

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Jaffna Takes a Pounding

[Anonymous; Asiaweek (Hongkong), Oct. 30, 1987, pp.16-17]

The battle for Jaffna had entered its second week, and Nallur Kandaswamy Temple was packed. More than 50,000 men, women and children in Jaffna City were crowded within its walls. It was Deepavali, the most auspicious day for Hindus in Sri Lanka. But none of the Hindu Tamils huddled in the temple were celebrating; all were fleeing pitched battles between Tamil guerillas and the advancing soldiers of the Indian Army. Rani Sivanayagam, 24, spent three days and nights in the shrine before she escaped the peninsula, reaching Colombo after a nightmarish journey over little-used jungle tracks, dodging army patrols and aerial strafing by helicopters. ‘There is no room to stand, let alone sleep,’ she reported. ‘Diarrhea is widespread and there aren’t any sanitation facilities. Only those with money or a relative nearby can have something to eat. That, too, is limited to a bowl of rice gruel a day’. Like Sivanayagam, many of the 830,000 Tamils in Jaffna peninsula have taken refuge in similar designated centres or fled south to escape the crossfire.

The battle began on Oct. 9, when Indian peacekeeping forces, in Sri Lanka to enforce the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement of July 29, mounted an offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the largest and most powerful among several groups fighting for a Tamil homeland. The Tigers had earlier massacred more than 250 Sinhalese civilians in Eastern Province, and attacked an Indian convoy, in retaliation for the capture and suicide-deaths of more than a dozen Tiger guerillas. Since then, there has been no quarter given, and none asked.

India has vowed to continue until the Tigers surrender or are conquered. More than 20,000 of its soldiers are now on the island, about 8,000 of them in Jaffna peninsula. Many are crack border patrol troops, paratroopers or Gurkhas. The Indian High Commission in Colombo said at mid-week that more than 600 guerillas had been killed. On the Indian side, 127 soldiers were reported dead and 27 missing and presumed dead. Other sources said at least 40 Indian soldiers have succumbed to their injuries in hospitals in Madras.

Some sources suspect that more civilians have been killed than guerillas or soldiers. India has not supplied details of civilian casualties, and journalists are barred from the area. But a Tamil refugee from a village near Jaffna who reached Colombo last week said that the city was being shelled ’24 hours a day’. According to him, ‘the whole area looks as if a heavy cyclone has struck. Not many buildings are left.’ An independent group of twelve Sri Lankans, including Jaffna Hospital director P.S. Nacchinakkiniyar and the city municipal commissioner C.V.K. Sivagnanam, claimed about 700 civilians have died and more than 300 were wounded. ‘Even drinking water is scarce, and starvation deaths are imminent,’ they reported. Roman Catholic clergy in Jaffna reported that many died from indiscriminate shelling and strafing, although India denied using air cover in its assault.

Both sides have been accused of atrocities. Refugees who escaped to Vavuniya, 120 km south of Jaffna city, spoke of rape and murder. They claimed the Indians went on an orgy of violence after 30 soldiers were killed at Jaffna University. The Tigers had massacred the captured paratroopers and set their bodies afire. Another five captured Indian soldiers were burnt alive in Nallur temple.

The Indians claimed last week that they controlled three-quarters of the city centre, including the main bus stand and the general hospital. However, others on the scene reported that by Oct. 21 the advancing units were still half a kilometre away from the municipal limits, while soldiers camped at historic Jaffna fort had not broken out of the one kilometre security zone around the fort. ‘Their battle tanks are not made to withstand the 250 kg drum mines used by the LTTE’, said a refugee. Three reporters who slipped into Jaffna last week said the Tigers were still in control there. ‘Their supply lines seem intact, and they move about freely,’ said one journalist.

The Indians admitted encountering ‘very heavy resistance’ when they tried to capture the Tigers’ main base in Urumpirai village near Jaffna. After a final four hour assault on the morning of Oct. 16, the Indians said they counted 110 dead guerillas. At least 50 Indians were said to have died. These included 30 who rappelled down from a helicopter into the grounds of Jaffna University, 400 metres away. Their Russian M 18 helicopter returned to Palali airport on the northern coast riddled with bullets. Two accompanying choppers with 60 soldiers aboard veered off after seeing the intense ground fire.

The Tigers have asked for a ceasefire through various emissaries, including Tamil Nadu politician M. Karunanidhi. But India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi has insisted that nothing short of ‘an unconditional surrender of all weapons, and total acceptance of the Indo-Lankan accord’ will do. Tamil mediators have vainly tried to see Indian High Commissioner Jyotindra Nath Dixit, who is ill with malarial fever. ‘Without his approval, Delhi will not even hear of a ceasefire,’ one Tamil source told Asiaweek.

The Tigers seem divided over what course to take. ‘One [group] wants to surrender, while the other, led by [Tiger deputy Mahendraraja], wants to withdraw out of Jaffna while they can,’ an intelligence source privy to intercepted Tiger radio communication told Asiaweek. The Indians were exploiting the apparent dissent. On Oct. 21 they offered an amnesty, which did not include Tiger leaders, over the radio, loud hailers and through leaflets. ‘The Indians are encouraging a split within the LTTE’, said a Sri Lankan military official. ‘The question is whether the cadres will take the bait.’ The Tigers were apparently awaiting orders from their commander, Velupillai Prabhakaran, who had been missing since the day after the Urumpirai assault. He was said to have been directing the resistance from Nallur temple.

Even if the Indians wrest control of Jaffna, several thousand Tigers remain at large in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. New Delhi was apparently worried about a protracted struggle. Last week Maj.-Gen. Harkirat Singh, commander of the Indian troops, was relieved of his duties and recalled to Delhi. The Indian High Commission announced that the chief of Indian Military Intelligence had arrived in Jaffna on Thursday to take over command of the Indian forces. Lt.-Gen. Depinder Singh of the Indian Southern Command, who visited Jaffna and Colombo last Monday, was said to have revamped the command structure and issued orders to ‘speed up’ the offensive. Promised Gandhi at a news conference in Washington last week: ‘The problem in Jaffna should not last more than a week, perhaps two weeks.’ Others were less optimistic. Given the breakdown of order in Jaffna, India may be in for a long haul.

Continued...Part II

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