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The Endless War in Vanni

by K. Mylvaganam, March 7, 2008

When the East was “liberated,” Lt.Gen.Sarath Fonseka said that defeating the LTTE in the North would be a 'piece of cake.' He threatened to mobilize a multi-pronged attack on the LTTE. True to his words, I admit, he did commit his army - spreading it from Manalaru in the East to Mannar in the West, forming 09 fronts, and from Kilali to Nagarkovil in the North with three fronts, totaling 12 attack points. The army is pouncing today from all these frontiers, often simultaneously.

There are several “Truths & Untruths” floating in Sri Lanka (SL) when it comes to the situation of the on-going Eelam War IV in the Vanni. A Wiseman once said, “It is the Truth that is the first victim in a war.” Accusations, counteraccusations, lies and more lies are the rule of the day in SL today. One minister would claim that 30 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were killed, while the military spokesman would claim the death toll to be over 35. One day it will be announced that Adampan is overrun by the army and the next day it will be said that there is severe fight going on in Adampan. One is at a loss to find out why there should be a severe fight in Adampan if it had been overrun the previous day. A prominent journalist quipped in a Sunday paper that, if one were to add up all the Tigers said to be killed, there should not be any more Tamils remaining in Sri Lanka. The Bishop of Anuradhapura Rev.Fr.Nobert also made a similar remark very recently.

So what is the “Truth?” This is a very tricky question and is very difficult to give a direct reply, because no one is allowed free access to the war front for obvious reasons. Instead of trying to find out the truth, one may adopt an indirect approach to find out the “Untruths” and by a theory of elimination arrive at some plausible answers for the real situation prevailing at the war front.

Predictions Proved Wrong

The government promised to bring Madhu Church under its control before the July/August Feasts in 2007. They are still trying and have not moved even an inch from their Front Defense Lines (FDL). Nearly eight months back our President Mahinda Rajapaksha predicted in his usual flamboyant manner that the LTTE would be crushed before the dawn of the New Year 2008. This dateline was extended to 31st March 2008. The army General Sarath Fonseka further extended this date to the end of August. Later he predicted the 31st of December 2008, which is the time for his retirement. He vouched that the LTTE would be routed before he retires. But, in a recent interview to the press, Fonseka had to eat his humble pie and said, “This is a war that has been going on for more than 20 years and how can one fix ultimatums?” No journalist present there had the guts to say, “You only said it.” It is because none wanted his or her body to float in a lake the next day - Freedom of the Press, eh!

When the East was “liberated,” Lt.Gen.Sarath Fonseka said that defeating the LTTE in the North would be a 'piece of cake.' He threatened to mobilize a multi-pronged attack on the LTTE. True to his words, I admit, he did commit his army - spreading it from Manalaru in the East to Mannar in the West, forming 09 fronts, and from Kilali to Nagarkovil in the North with three fronts, totaling 12 attack points. The army is pouncing today from all these frontiers, often simultaneously. However, since the dawn of March the frequency of the attacks in the North has comparatively diminished. The intelligence reports say that there is a major build up in Vadamaradchi. But the army commanders know very well that Vadamaradchchi East is an open terrain that is most suited for the LTTE. The army learnt a very bitter lesson when it tried its luck last year to redeem Elephant Pass and sacrificed hundreds of soldiers and wounded over 600. They are sure to get a “warm welcome” from the LTTE cadres if they ever try to repeat it.

Area under control of Tamil Eelam 2008

Has the LTTE been Weakened?

To answer this question we have to plough into the past. It is true that the LTTE at the moment is cleverly confined to a defensive form of warfare. It has been typical of the LTTE to adopt such tactics before they do launch a ferocious offensive manoeuvre. The government and its General Sarath Fonseka are playing with hypothetical figures to boost the morale of its army, saying that the LTTE has only around 3000 cadres under its control. It is a fact that no one knows the actual strength of the LTTE. Even in this article, no figures are going to be stated as it would be baseless. However, to guess the truth to some extent one should dwell in the past for a moment. There was a time when the SL army was in control of a vast area in the Vanni including Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Poonakari, Paranthan and Elephant Pass, etc. With the help of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF), the LTTE was driven into the thickest part of the Vanni. But they fought back. First they drove away the IPKF, which lost nearly 1300 of its well-trained soldiers and then the Tiger turned its nose towards the SL army. In a matter of three and a half days, the SL army was driven out of Vanni and chased up to Omanthai. In Mullaitivu alone the army lost 1115 soldiers and a large quantum of arms and ammunitions were recovered. Oddisuddan, Mankulam and Puliyankulam were an easy walk through. Similarly, the victory of E’Pass gave a further abundance of military hardware including the 152mm artillery equipment.

In August 2006 the LTTE moved into Mutur with ease and held it under their control before they returned with a big haul of arms. They took over 40 bodies of the SL soldiers. Within ten days from it (i.e. on 11.08.2006) the LTTE ran over Muhamalai, and its air force bombed the Palaly military base. The sea Tigers had the capacity then to attack simultaneously both the Trincomalee and KKS harbours and held the SL army and navy at bay, cutting off the supplies to the North for a considerable period of time.

If the LTTE had the numerical strength to manipulate all these strategic manoeuvres then, now after all these years what can one say about the strength of their cadres – 3000? ridiculous. As I said earlier, I do not wish to come out with a figure for obvious reasons, but I can stress one thing here quite forcibly. I have been in Vanni now for over two years at a stretch and I have noted that a concerted recruitment drive on the principle of one person from each family is strictly adhered to. But there are exceptions. No recruitment is to be made from:

  • Families of the Martyrs
  • Families with one child
  • Families with a single bread winner.
  • Families where the parents are indisposed or very old and have to be nursed.
  • Families whose son or daughter is already in the LTTE.

Some families give their children willingly, but some have to be coaxed. I know a lady living close to where I live. She is called as Thavamani Amma. She governs a lot of respect as she is a mother of three Martyrs. When the recruitment commenced, she took her fourth child (a daughter) to the recruitment centre. When Illamparithy (the one in charge of recruitment) saw her coming with her daughter, he rushed up to her and greeted her. When she narrated her intention, he was moved deeply. But he controlled himself and said “Amma, if I take your daughter in, Annai (meaning Pirapakaran) will kill me." This came in the local paper the following day.

There are nearly 500,000 people living in Vanni and, now, I leave it to the readers to make their own calculations.

Volunteer Force and the Village Helping Corps:

On top of the regular cadres, the LTTE has also recruited a “Volunteer Force” to assist in transporting the injured, food, supplies and goods, functioning as sentries and other auxiliary duties. This relieves the regular force to concentrate on the war.

The Village Helping Corps is applicable only for men between the ages of 18 to 50. They are taken for a short period of 7 days maximum at a time to do certain jobs like clearing work to enable easy movement of the cadre, to dig bunkers in schools, public places like markets and shopping areas, etc. The less able-bodied are given lighter work. If anyone wishes to be exempted from this, then they have to pay Rs.4,000.00 instead, so that the LTTE will engage the services of people who are willing to take up this job. Actually, there is a big demand for this now as the paddy harvest season is over and many are unemployed. So people queue up at the centres.

Now, we have to ask ourselves the following questions and the answers will be crystal clear:

  • When the LTTE was able to defend the North and East then, will they not be able to defend Vanni now?
  • If the LTTE had the confidence then with a limited number of their cadre, how strong will their confidence be with an enlarged number at present?
  • Will not the strategic retreat adopted by the LTTE from the East, leaving a certain number of their fighters behind and retaining the cadre intact and at the same time moving their cadre and hardware to Vanni enhance their strength now?
  • Have any of its air force planes been shot down so far, despite its several attacks and sorties?
  • Earlier, the ethnic war was confined to the North & East but now it is spread over the South as well. So whose forces are going to be disbursed all over the country?
  • The war-seasoned and able Colonels like Sornam, Banu, Balaraj, Pottu Amman, Soosai, Ramesh, Keerthy, Jeyam and many others, who have successfully faced many a war, are still in the field and how will a consolidated attack by all of them turn out to be?

This is not a war that could be fought to a finish. There is no proof of such a victory in history.

This is food for Mahinda Chinthana.