Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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The Fall of the UAV is a Mystery

by K. Mylvaganam

The fall of the latest Unmanned Areal Vehicle (UAV) operated by remote control at Vignanakulam is the fourth of its kind – so far. The UAV is called a Searcher Mark II. Vignanakulam is nearly 20 km northeast of Omanthai and east of Kanagarayankulam. Readers may remember that in October 1997 fierce fighting took place between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan forces in Karappukuththi, Vignanakulam and Periyamadu where several hundred Sri Lankan soldiers were killed. It has to be pointed out that these areas are now in LTTE-controlled territory.

During 1997/1998 two such aircrafts fell down - one in Poonakari and the other in Omanthai. The third one came down later in Anuradapura. It is noteworthy to point out that Vignanakulam is only about 20 km from Iranamadukulam, near which the so called airstrip of the LTTE is said to be located. It is presumed that the Searcher was returning after flying over Iranamadu.

The spokesman for the SL air force, Mr. de Silva, said that the UAV fell down due to technical problems and that it happened in the army-controlled area. If so, why was not the vehicle recovered by them? At the same time certain SL military officials stated that the plane was possibly shot down by another aircraft as the nature of the fall of the latest vehicle differed very much from those of the previous ones. Another view point is that it might have been brought down by a missile fired by the LTTE.

One theory is that the Searcher, which has only a 73 H.P. engine, has its camera fitted to its bottom. Hence, a plane belonging to the LTTE might have flown over it undetected by the cameras and shot it down from above. Before the crash it is reported that the controllers received three warnings. One was an engine failure warning, the second a generator failure and the third a communication failure. All these appeared simultaneously, which did not happen with the three that fell down earlier. Furthermore, even if the generator packed up, the camera should have continued to work on the battery power for at least 15 minutes, but it did not.

Each of these vehicles cost the SL government US$ 1.3 million (Rs.130 million). Now there are only two more UAVs left with the SL air force.

The UAV has been noted on several occasions flying over the LTTE-controlled areas. Protests were lodged with the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) every time a UAV was noted by the LTTE. But there was no way to prove that these flights were taking place. Now there is concrete evidence to establish that fact beyond any iota of doubt. The government spokesman said that the crash happened only during a “training flight.” But a pertinent question arises as to why 'training' occurred LTTE-controlled territory and what is the training needed for an unmanned vehicle? It is evidently a ridiculous explanation.

The government spokesman did not stop with that. He tried to justify the UAV flights by stating that Sri Lanka is a unitary state and that it has the right to send its aircraft over any part of the island. He tried to argue that these flights are not a breach of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA). This is utterly wrong. According to the CFA, flying a UAV over the other party's territory is undoubtedly a breach of that agreement. If the spokesman is right, then, by analogy, what prevents the SL government from sending its troops in truckloads overland or their naval vessels by sea into LTTE-controlled territories? Why have their manned planes, including the Kfirs, stopped flying over LTTE-controlled areas? The armed forces would not dare to intrude into LTTE territory in those ways as they fear the deadly consequences, which would prove suicidal for them.

The spokesman further tried to lessen gravity of the discovery by saying that the UAV was not sent for conducting any military attacks. Then how does he justify the placement of such highly expensive and sophisticated cameras that were on board? The camera costs US$ 600,000.00. Was it not for military purposes? Will the SL forces permit anyone to take a photo of one of their military bases? Leave alone military bases, even common places are barred from being photographed. Recently an innocent Tamil who went past one of their bases was arrested on suspicion. A friend of ours who is a lady doctor living in London came on a holiday with her two daughters. She took them to Peradeniya to show them the medical college where she studied. When the children took a few shots of it they were instantly nabbed and taken to the police station for “questioning.” They were grilled for three hours before they were released. The film in the camera was confiscated.

It is very clearly stated in the CFA that there are both controlled and uncontrolled areas and the boundaries are also well defined. Hence Mr.Sripala de Silva cannot say that Sri Lanka is a “Unitary” state. It was so, but not anymore. Now there are two states in existence. There are two parallel governments functioning. They are independent of one another. Each of them has their own administration, military, police, judiciary, etc. The Prime Minister, one of the Presidential candidates, Mr.Mahinda Rajapaksha says he will not talk about Federalism. He is right.  He does not have to. It already exists.