Monthly Archives: May 2008
By Col R Hariharan (retd.)
There should be no illusion that despite the flare of success in repelling a division strong security forces offensive at Muhamalai in April 2008, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is fighting a war of survival. The continuing ground and air operations of the security forces after Muhamalai debacle, and the progress they have made during this month in Mannar sector capturing Adampan and other outlying LTTE defences have further constricted the territory under active LTTE control in the Northern Province.
The fall of key LTTE defences in Mannar sector indicate that the LTTE probably pulled out some of its forces earlier to reinforce Muhamalai-Kilinochchi. This would enable the LTTE to repel future forays of security forces into the vital heartland of the LTTE from the north.
As the troops advance further in Mannar and Vavuniya sectors, and as pressure builds up in Welioya, even without a major offensive along Muhamalai, the LTTE’s options would be reduced further. As the war prolongs further, the constraints of conventional warfare dictate that the LTTE has to progressively pull back its defences, and reduce its frontage to conserve its strength to offer better resistance. This would be the long term picture even if the security forces have a few debacles along one or more fronts in their offensive, as long as they do not give up half way.
There had been few pro-active LTTE operations after Muhamalai. These were limited to dropping of three bombs on the security forces in Welioya front by two Air Tiger aircraft, and sinking of A 520 (MV Invincible), a naval logistics vessel in a clever underwater suicide operation by the Sea Tigers in Trincomalee harbour during mid May. This would show the LTTE has severe limitations in its conventional operational capability.
The security forces have carried out relentless bombing of suspected LTTE assets. The LTTE has accused the security forces’ deep penetration unit of killing 17 people including women and children in a claymore blast well inside the LTTE territory in Vanni. This is the third time the LTTE has accused the security forces of carrying out such clandestine attacks deep inside its territory. The security forces have routinely denied these allegations. These killings targeting civilians are probably retaliatory in nature for settling scores for the LTTE’s killings of civilians elsewhere.
While they do not directly impact the current operational situation, they impose caution on movement of cadres and spread insecurity and panic among the population. These could get worse as the war makes further inroads. If the LTTE accusations are true, they show the weakening ability of the LTTE to dominate areas under its control. If it is not the security forces, who are behind these deep penetration operations in depth? Are they the handy work of one of the shadowy "para military" outfits that the LTTE accuses of colluding with the security forces? These questions are probably being debated within the LTTE and some of its attention would be diverted to prevent such attacks as the war progresses.
Recourse to unconventional war
LTTE’s strong suite had always been its guerrilla capability in areas outside its direct control. Under present circumstances, to compensate its limitations in conventional operations, the LTTE appears to have stepped up its unconventional actions with a series of bomb blasts in areas outside the battle zones.
The LTTE attacks outside the theatre of operations started the day after Muhamalai attack, with the killing of 26 civilians in a bus bomb blast at Piliyandala on April 28, 2008. This was followed by the Amparai caf้ parcel bomb blast on the eve of the eastern provincial council elections in which 11 people were killed and 29 others wounded. There was a motor cycle-borne suicide attack on a police van in Colombo on May 16, 2008 killing 10 persons including seven policemen. The latest in the series was the bomb blast carried out in a train at Dehiwela near Colombo on May 26, 2008 in which nine people were killed and 73 others were injured. Only two days before the train bombing, three time bombs were defused before they exploded – two on passenger buses near Colombo and one in the Kandy area.
Of course, there was the tragic, gangster style LTTE killing of Ms Maheswary Velayutham, while visiting her ailing mother in her Jaffna home. She was better known for years of yeoman service in the cause of human rights and Tamil refugees than for her later day role as advisor to the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP). And how her killing makes it easier to gain Tamil Eelam is a question only the LTTE’s warped logic can answer.
Essentially an insurgent force, the LTTE probably feels more comfortable in carrying out bomb blasts, suicide killings, and other such attacks targeting civilians. Such acts by themselves do not win wars. But they tend to create panic among the population and psychologically pressurise the government to ease military operations if the social and political environments encourage such developments. Whether these happen or not in the current situation in the country, the feeling of insecurity among Tamils living in Sri Lanka will be increased every time the LTTE carries out such strikes due to inherent ethnic overtones of such acts. In any case President Rajapaksa appears to be undeterred in his intention to crush the LTTE after each bomb blast. In fact, he has reiterated the same sentiment after the May 26 train blast. And after his successful election foray in the east he would have no hesitation to enlarge its scope further.
Human rights issue
The failure of Sri Lanka’s bid for getting elected to the membership of the UN Human Rights Council for a second term was not unexpected. On this count the President had probably underestimated the increasing importance attached to human rights questions in many democracies regardless of their own human rights record. At present no counter insurgency operation can be carried out with utter disregard to human rights issues. And Sri Lanka had continued its war with total indifference to human rights. Moreover, it has not covered itself with glory on this count even on the eve of the UN HRC elections. The international group of eminent persons called upon to advise the commission of inquiry into killings quit in disgust after a long tussle with the bureaucracy. Strong arm tactics have continued to suppress dissonant voices of the media. Reputed international NGOs have been castigated and prevented from entering or working freely in Sri Lanka. And Sri Lanka has persisted in refusing to allow a representative of the UN HRC to be positioned to monitor its human rights performance.
Notwithstanding the rhetoric of Bruce Fein and the detailed reports of Human Rights Watch, even nations which voted against Sri Lanka are unlikely to pressurise Sri Lanka to curb the President’s pursuit of war effort immediately. Such pressure is applied in small doses and often gets diffused due to diplomatic and political compulsions of different nations. Moreover, globally counter terrorism and human rights aberrations are far from being equated as a zero sum game. Perhaps, the flow of foreign aid and the vigour of foreign trade would be affected if Sri Lanka persists in errant ways on human rights. But the President retains the option of visibly improving his human rights record, and carry on with the military operations when the chips are down.
Though the LTTE propaganda machinery had been harping upon the human rights issue, its own hands are tainted with too many human rights violations to point a finger at others. In fact, its dismal human rights record has been used by Sri Lanka to ward off the flack in international forums on this count.
Sri Lanka security forces
Muhamalai was undoubtedly a debacle for the security forces in that they suffered probably double the number of casualties suffered by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. And in the operations probably 300 fighters from both the security forces and the LTTE lost their lives. Offensive troops always suffer more casualties in operations. However, the operation should be put in perspective while assessing the future capability of the security forces. The security forces had shown three weaknesses in this operation.
The first was not coordinating the Muhamalai offensive with other simulated or actual operations on other fronts. That would have prevented the LTTE from beefing up its Muhamalai defences by milking forces from other sectors on the eve of operations. Though operations have been launched in multiple fronts for some time, the security forces appear to have failed to take advantage of creating confusion in the minds of opposition by coordinating them and fine tuning them to derive maximum advantage. Despite expanding the army, this weakness to coordinate formation level operations on multiple fronts exhibited in earlier Eelam wars has persisted in the higher direction of war.
The second relates to tactical intelligence. The security forces probably went in for a silent attack, a very sound proposition if the surprise element was there. But there were enough battle indications in Jaffna peninsula for at least ten days in advance about the impending operation in this front. When surprise was neutralised the silent attack becomes a futile effort. The LTTE is a past master in deception and the offensive troops appear to have been taken by surprise when they ran into unexpected resistance from defences. This would show battlefield intelligence acquisition was not real time. Moreover, silent attack requires accurate real time tactical intelligence and probably this was lacking despite the modern battlefield surveillance equipment available to the security forces.
The third major weakness is strategic. Sri Lankan operations are slow and plodding which fails to take advantage of tactical success in conventional operations. It also gives sufficient time for the opposition to readjust, reinforce or pull out from defences. There could be non military reasons for not pushing through with the offensive for fear of suffering more casualties. According to the figures of the government, since January 3,873 LTTE cadres have been killed as against the loss of 298 soldiers in operations. While these figures might be disputed, there is no doubt the LTTE losses had been heavier. But the operation has gone into the third year, and the indications are that it would be a long haul if present strategies are continued.
While tactical weaknesses can be set right, the strategic weakness might continue to dog the Sri Lankan operations. And that could prolong the war and increase its human and material cost to the nation.
Overall, LTTE actions outside the operational zone are unlikely to discourage President Rajapaksa from his pursuit of military option. And if he stays determined and the security forces do not blink as they did in their infamous Elephant Pass disaster in 2000, the military operations are likely to gobble up further territory in Mannar sector in the coming months. The LTTE attacks on civilians are not going to put a stop to the military operations. They only show that the LTTE for all its pretensions of de facto governance has not changed its Tiger stripes. As the LTTE has little choice, one can expect more LTTE attempts at creating mayhem, chaos and killings as the war intensifies in the coming months.
The strong defences of LTTE in Muhamalai axis to Kilinochchi show that it is not going to allow easy passage through. Strategically, the security forces will have to probably consider coordinating the Jaffna offensive along A9 with offensive along A32-Pooneryn to enhance the threat to Kilinochichi and weaken the LTTE defences. Whether the security forces have the wherewithal to carry out such a complex operation is the question only the Army commander can answer best.
(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90.He is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
UN human rights security Council warned that the Sri Lanka human rights violations have reached ‘havoc’ level, and classified it as among countries like Somalia, Sudan, Palestine and Columbia
The Under Secretary General for humanitarian rights said at the Council meeting, hundreds of civilians have died and been injured in Sri Lanka this year alone.
While calling on all parties to resolve the ethnic conflict, it expressed grave concern over the civilian casualties who bear the brunt of violence. Continued violations, genocides and war crimes have reached ‘havoc’ proportions in Sri Lanka, it added.
A weekend English newspaper has reported that attempts are being made to revamp the President-backed bankrupt Mihin Lanka Airline which has already swallowed up over Rs.3.5 billion of the tax payers’ money.
Surely the President and his coterie of advisors must be out of their minds to try to put Mihin Lanka back into the skies spending more of the taxpayers money. The report said the Treasury is to dole out the money for the dry lease of two second-hand aircraft to put Mihin Lanka back into business.
It is well known that this government has squandered depositor’s monies in the state banks to run the airline, which only served to boost the egos of the President and his men.
It is also known that the directors of the airline are paid a monthly salary of more than Rs.400,000 each for them to live in luxury when the common man has been starving because of the many price increases imposed by the government on the pretext of rising world prices. However it is now clear the real cause of all the problems has been the corruption that is taking place at all levels in government and Mihin is a prime example.
Even the monies in the Employees’ Provident Fund have not been spared by the government in its efforts to boost the egos of the President and his cohorts. This set of rogues is the greatest curse that has befallen this country. It is said that God when he wants to destroy a man, first drives him mad.
The President’s men must surely be wanting to spend further monies on the airline for them to make more money. The President by turning a blind eye is letting the country run to ruin. Why are the opposition and religious leaders, especially the Mahanayakes keeping quiet without telling the President that enough is enough?
Some people are dancing in the streets over Sri Lanka’s failure to retain the seat in the UN Human Rights Council. Now, the indefatigable campaigners for a UN human rights monitoring mission here will move up a gear to force their remedy down the country’s throat.
Those who launched an anti-Sri Lanka campaign in the run up to Wednesday’s (May 21) election are patting themselves on the back and we hear champagne corks popping. But, do they really have any reason to disport themselves in celebrations? The discerning may not think so.
Sri Lanka’s loss was more due to Pakistan’s (or Bahrain’s) entry into the fray than anything else. Now that the UN has voted Pakistan and Bahrain in and Sri Lanka out, if one is to go by the arguments being peddled by the anti-Sri Lanka lobby, the UN must be of the view that Pakistan/Bahrain has a better human rights record than Sri Lanka. How on earth could that be? Pakistan and Bahrain are among the nations that received negative ratings from the New York-based Freedom House (FH) and the Geneva-based UN Watch (UNW).
The NGO Coalition hell bent on giving Sri Lanka a bad name refrained from taking a position on Pakistan and Bahrain. Aren’t those NGOs being hypocritical? Their right to be critical of Sri Lanka cannot be impugned but by not opposing the candidature of Pakistan/Bahrain, they betrayed their intent to make Sri Lanka lose so as to achieve a hidden objective, which is widely believed to be helping a beleaguered Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. After the election we have the NGO collective telling Pakistan and Bahrain that they ‘must live up to the standards set for Human Rights Council membership’. In other words, before the election, the NGO Coalition didn’t want to paint those two countries black so as to ruin Sri Lanka’s chances of winning.
Why didn’t Nobel Laureates like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Adolfo Perez Esquivel (Argentina) and former US President Jimmy Carter campaign vigorously against the election/re-election of the other countries with FH and UNW negative ratings? It’s a pity that those great men have allowed themselves to be accused of having given a helping hand to the anti-Sri Lanka lobby promoting separatist terror on a flimsy pretext.
What have those who are celebrating Sri Lanka’s loss got to say about the election of Gabon and Zambia with the same negative ratings as Sri Lanka, due to an uncontested slate? Won’t their presence desecrate the ‘holy Council’? It was not for nothing that Romania’s UN ambassador in Geneva Doru-Romulus Costea, who chairs the Council at present said the other day that the UNHRC lacked credibility. The US voted against its establishment in 2006 and has refused to be a member. Backers of Israel have accused the Council of having a strong Muslim lobby which bashes Israel and shields its friends like Sudan.
The Human Rights Watch has said Wednesday’s vote should be a wake-up call for the Sri Lankan government. Yes, the government must get its act together. But, on no grounds should it give in to pressure and subscribe to the not-so-surreptitious moves being made in some quarters to undermine the country’s sovereignty and rescue the cornered Tigers.
It must say an unflinching ‘yes’ to the protection of human rights and a firm ‘no’ to the offer of Trojan horses like the proposed UN monitoring mission.
The Island Editorial via eMail
Dr. A. C. Visvalingam says…We Sri Lankans complain interminably that everything is going to the dogs. Many even go so far as to say that there is no hope of this country ever returning to the Rule of Law and good governance. CIMOGG does not contribute to this defeatist attitude. Whilst we have, over the past several years, highlighted several of the uncounted shortcomings in our body politic, we have always endeavoured to offer constructive suggestions to overcome them. It is true that most of our ideas have been ignored by both the authorities and the public but the dark clouds which cover Sri Lanka, nevertheless, have their silver linings.
Recent reports highlighted the cruel manner in which a patient in a hospital in Panadura was unceremoniously dumped on the pavement outside. Subsequently, we learnt of the death of six patients at the Ratnapura Hospital following a strike occasioned by the trivial issue of the transfer of an attendant who had assaulted a doctor. These are just two of the many publicised acts of heartlessness that occur from time to time in our health sector. Lamentably, whilst these bad examples get a lot of media exposure, the good work done by this sector has rarely been found to be newsworthy. There is little recognition for the hundreds of thousands of hours of qualified medical attention which are given to the majority of our poorer citizens who are unable to afford the cost of private medical care. For example, not many weeks ago, an old retainer of one of our members suffered a stroke and was taken to the Kalubowila Hospital. As the case was rather complex, he was transferred to Ward 64 of the National Hospital. Here it was found that he needed intensive medical care and was, therefore, transferred to Ward 44. Our member, who was able to visit the patient shortly after the move to this ward, saw the number of medical personnel attending on the patient grow from one doctor and one nurse initially to three doctors, four nurses and four technicians over a period of one hour. This large team tried everything in the book and spared no equipment or drugs in trying to save this 84- year old man’s life. It was learnt later that these lifesaving efforts had continued for eight hours until there was no fight left in the patient. We doubt that there are many countries in the world where a poor man in a such a hopeless situation would have received such intensive care, at no cost to him or his family. Cases of this type – and there must be hundreds every year throughout the country – do not make it to the media. The commitment of the vast majority of conscientious doctors, nurses and other staff are taken for granted and we forget to be thankful for our Health Service, which every government has responsibly supported within the narrow limits of our national income.
An altogether different type of silver lining was the recent initiative taken by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to reduce noise pollution from loudspeakers. Here, a bench of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice took strong measures to have the existing provisions of the law followed. On the whole, there has been a significant improvement of the environment in this respect, for which we are most grateful. We look forward to further initiatives by the Ministry to minimise the assault to which our ears continue to be subjected by various other sources.
The superb decision given by the Supreme Court to get rid of time-wasting and ineffective road barriers would have already saved this country billions of rupees by minimising wear and tear of vehicle mechanisms, fuel consumption, loss of productive work time, blood pressure build-up, atmospheric pollution, and the suffering of young children and the desperately ill who would otherwise have been stuck for hours in the resulting traffic jams. There is no doubt that the random checking that is being done now is superior in all respects to the earlier method.
The construction of the Fernandopulle Flyover exemplifies how big projects can be completed within specified time schedules, if there is the requisite will on the part of the Ministry concerned. The secret of success here was the evolution of a suitable design and the selection of a competent contractor. The price may have been high but, if the work had not been completed so quickly, the collateral losses would have been larger than the hypothetical cost savings that would have been effected by choosing a poorer design and a less skilled contractor.
For more than thirty years, the efforts of those engineers who tried to get coal-powered electricity for Sri Lanka were frustrated by political cowardice, opportunism and corruption. Crises situations were encouraged so that the most expensive option of going for quick implementation gas and diesel based power sources became unavoidable.The decisions taken by President Rajapaksa and the Cabinet over the past two and a half years to get on with several long-delayed coal and hydro power projects – Norochcholai, Upper Kotmale and Trincomalee – should be highly commended.
Whilst what is wrong in the country continues to exceed greatly what is right, there is no doubt that some good things do happen. These deserve approbation by the public so that the government will be encouraged, in the public interest, to take more and more rational economic, social and political decisions than in the past.