Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Lessons of the Mini-battle of Vakaneri

by S. Makenthiran

The battle was the first time the army was caught red-handed trying to kill LTTE fighters in an area under LTTE control since the ceasefire.  The fact that the bodies of the slain 12 soldiers were  in the hands of Tamil Tigers prevented the usual denials.

The mini battle of Vakaneri, 37 km northwest of  Batticaloa town in Tiger-controlled territory on July 14, 2006 was an eye opener.  About one hundred troops of the Sri Lankan army (SLA) and about the same number of Tamil Tigers were openly engaged in a trial of strength. At least 12 soldiers were killed and the bodies were handed over to the ICRC by the LTTE. Another corporal was captured alive by the LTTE.  The LTTE lost four of their fighters, all hailing from the areas around the battlefield.

It is not clear how many were actually injured on both sides and how many dead soldiers were carried away by the fleeing army. What is clear is that 12 Singhlese dead bodies were handed over by the LTTE to the ICRC, and that confirms that at least 12 of the SLA were killed in the battle.  It looks as a disaster for the SLA.

Sri Lankan soldiers killed in Vakaneri battle with LTTE July 14, 2006

SLA soldiers killed in Vakaneri, July 14, 2006

The battle was the first time the army was caught red handed trying to kill LTTE fighters in an area under LTTE control since the ceasefire.  The fact that the bodies of the slain 12 soldiers were  in the hands of Tamil Tigers prevented the usual denials.

It has been customary for the army spokesman to deny knowledge of attacks in Tiger-controlled areas, as Karuna has provided a convenient scapegoat.  Karuna got a boost from anti-LTTE elements, as all attacks carried out by the armed forces, or with their active participation, were credited to Karuna.  It is widely believed that Karuna is an absentee warlord.

Those who think that Karuna can save the East for the Singhalese had better sit up and think. The outcome of the mini-battle, clearly disproves the claim by some columnists in pro-Singhala media that Karuna is controlling the East.  It also disproves the claim that the LTTE has been weakened considerably.

Karuna, who also hails from this same  area in the East, can certainly be a pin-prick for the LTTE.  But his potential is limited. His men can  be paid ‘Sherpas’ to guide the Sri Lankan army to intrude into Tiger territory.  But it is obvious that  in an open confrontation, Karuna’s men cannot stand up to the Eastern cadres of the LTTE, who remain fiercely loyal to the LTTE high command.

The strategy of the SLA, in using the so-called 'men of Karuna and Douglas Devananda' in their war against the LTTE, can be a double edged weapon.  These paramilitary forces can be a source of support to the SLA. But they can also be a source of disaster.  The long arm of the LTTE intelligence will no doubt extend into the ranks of these mercenaries. It is obvious that, at Vakaneri, a large contingent of SLA was successfully ambushed by the LTTE while attempting a sneak attack in Tamil Tiger territory. The big unanswered question is, were the Tigers tipped off by their moles?  Did the SLA walk into a trap?  The mercenaries may well be the weak link in the chain of the Sri Lankan military structure.  They may well be a liability to the armed forces.

The battle was a confrontation between the trained and well-armed Singhalese army against the equally well-trained and battle-hardy Jayanthan Brigade of Jayasikuru fame. The result was a casualty ratio of 1:3, considering only the number of deaths and ignoring the number injured.

What the Singhalese fail to realize is that Karuna’s revolt was made possible by Ranil Wickremasinghe, who as Prime Minister, against the opposition of the then Executive President Chandrika Kumaratunga, signed a cease fire.  If there had been no cease fire, Karuna’s revolt may well never have taken place. So we have to give the devil his due, and Ranil created a crack in the solid LTTE wall.  But with Mahinda Rajapakse’s ‘Chinthana,’ the crack is fast disappearing.

Areas under LTTE control, Frontline March, 2006














Areas under LTTE control, Frontline, March 2006 (Map probably conservative, especially around Trincomalee)

Mahinda’s ‘Chinthana’ of unitarianism and Prabaharan’s ‘Chinthanai’ of self-determination are on two different tracks and the two shall never meet, unless one or both change their course.  At the rate the low intensity war is raging, unless there is a dramatic change by one or both parties to the conflict, a crisis is bound to occur sooner or later.

Let the Singhalese chauvinists be aware that their attempt to demerge the Northeast Province will be another disaster.   The JVP and JHU can huff and puff, but as long as the LTTE holds the swath of territory in Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts, any Presidential order or judicial decision to demerge the Northeast Province will not be worth the paper it is written on.  If that happens, worse violence could flare up. The days of the Singhalese chauvinists and Buddhist priests laying down the law for the Tamils is a thing of the past.  These issues will be decided on the field of battle, not by the Singhalese-dominated Parliament or Judiciary.  The mini-battle of Vakaneri is an ominous reminder of this fact and a sign of the future.