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Humiliating Debacle

Humiliating Debacle of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces - Serialized

Recently, Sri Lankan armed forces ventured into a tragic foray at Eluthumadduval in the Jaffna Peninsula to with an intention to bring the entire Peninsula under the Army Control. It was a well-planned offensive campaign to wrest back the Elephant Pass isthmus - the narrow stretch of land that connects the Peninsula with the mainland.

The Operation was called "Gini Khela - 1" and all efforts were put into the campaign, unfortunately it turned out to be a humiliating debacle to the Sri Lankan Government.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) must have anticipated such short shrift forthcoming at any moment from the Sri Lankan forces and were ever ready to meet the enemy at its own terms.

The entire campaign was a futile exercise and the Government in vain lost a few hundred soldiers and ended up licking its own wounds.

The three-day campaign is hereby serialized into three episodes and compelling details of the gruesome campaign is given below:

Episode - 1

Sri Lanka on Red Alert, As Tamil Militants Withdraws Unilateral Cease-fire

Colombo, April 25: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in an official statement last night, declared that it would not further extend the four-month-old unilateral cease-fire, describing it as a "futile exercise" on their part when the government refused to respond positively.

Subsequently a red alert has been sounded throughout the island from midnight of 24 April -when the four-month-old unilateral cease-fire observed by the LTTE was withdrawn. Security in and around the capital has also been tightened.

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam alleged that the international community has failed to urge Sri Lanka to reciprocate to the four-month-old unilateral cease-fire declared by them as a goodwill gesture of peace. Also, the LTTE alleged that United States of America, Britain, European Nations and India encouraged the Sri Lankan Government by providing with financial assistance, military and training facilities, thereby persuading it to adopt militaristic approach in the long drawn ethnic conflict.

In the meantime, Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunge vowed to defeat the Liberation Tigers and safeguard the territorial integrity of the country, the state-owned Daily News reported Wednesday. Describing the LTTE an, "unprincipled terrorist organization," she applauded Sri Lanka's military for "continuing to fight tooth and nail to wipe out the LTTE from the face of our dear motherland."

"I stress here we will not deviate from our mission of militarily attacking the Tigers," the President asserted while addressing the Armed Forces Gallantry Awards. She called for the cooperation and support of all countrymen, the paper said.

Tamil political parties have expressed dismay over the announcement and blamed the Chandrika Kumaratunges Government for the withdrawal of the cease-fire. "Had the Government responded positively to the truce, the LTTE would have extended it to pave the way to create a conducive climate for peace talks," they said.

The Sri Lanka government of Chandrika Kumaratunge consistently rejected the LTTE's offer as a 'political stunt' and continued with offensive operations with intense naval and aerial assaults provoking the Tigers to the maximum.

The Tamil United liberation Front (TULF) today accused the Sri Lankan Government of being "insensitive" towards the agony of the Tamil people by rejecting the LTTE's unilateral cease-fire.

Reacting to the LTTE's decision to call off its cease-fire, TULF Member of Parliament, Joseph Parajasingham said that the Tigers offered a unilateral truce for four months, as they felt the need to create a facilitating climate for the Norwegian peace initiative.

"By rashly rejecting their cease-fire and stubbornly refusing to reciprocate it, the Government displayed its growing insensitivity to the agony of the Tamil people."

"It showed that the Government was not genuinely interested in peace but was only paying lip service to the settlement of the problem. The international community should have seized the cease-fire opportunity and prevailed on the Chandrika Kumaratunges Government to move closer to the peace negotiations," he added.

A team of Catholic bishops today set on a journey to the Madu church, in the sprawling Vanni region in the Northern Sri Lanka, an LTTE-controlled area. The bishops would utilize the opportunity to meet some rebel leaders and pursue them to enter the peace talks with the Government. The team included bishops from Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Ratnapura and Colombo.

However, official sources expressed optimism that the Norwegian-brokered peace process would not be affected due to the LTTE calling off the cease-fire. "Once the peace talks begin, there will be a cessation of hostilities. We are working for the peace talks," a senior official said.

The Sri Lankan Tamil militant organization alleged, "During the last four months of our self-imposed cease-fire we suffered serious set-backs militarily loosing strategically important territory in the Northern Jaffna peninsula and suffering substantial casualties. Over 160 cadres have been killed and 400 injured. Civilian settlements of the coastal villages of Mullaitivu and in the Eastern port city of Trincomalee have been subjected to regular and systematic aerial bombardments that caused heavy civilian casualties and massive property damage. However, the LTTE has been strictly and rigorously observing cessation of hostilities, the Sri Lanka armed forces have been relentlessly engaged in hostile military operations to frustrate and demoralize our fighters. Furthermore, Sri Lanka Government has been importing lethal weapon systems and boosting up its navy and Air force with the objective of strengthening and modernizing its armed forces in preparation for an all-out war", the statement said.

The LTTE's statement further clarified, "On our part we have co-operated in every possible way with the Norwegian Government in their facilitatory peace efforts. Our cease-fire for the last four months was intended to create a congenial atmosphere conducive for talks. By observing peace, we did implement the obligations of the Norwegian 'Memorandum of Understanding' by suspending all forms of armed operations and violent attacks in the capital city of Colombo and in the southern provinces. The Sri Lanka government refused to allow the free flow of essential items into Vanni, and therefore deliberately delayed the Norwegian initiative."

Military spokesman Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne countered this allegation and said the LTTE's withdrawal of the cease-fire would not make much difference as the Tigers themselves violated the truce 220 times during the past four months.

Episode - 2

"We Are Fighting for Rights And Not for A Separate State," Declares Tamil Tigers

Colombo April 26: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in a surprise move, has tone down its original stand of Separate state and declared that they are fighting the Sri Lankan Government "only for the Rights of the Tamil people and not for a separate state of Tamil Eelam."

The latest declaration of the LTTE is sharp deviation from its original stand of a separate state for the Tamils that include the geographically contiguous regions of the North and Eastern Provinces that have been the traditional homeland of the Tamil-speaking people in the country.

The LTTE has been fighting since 1976, for a Tamil homeland in the country's North and East in a war that has claimed more than 70,000 lives. Tamils are a minority in a country that is mostly Sinhalese, but is a distinct national group, which has a history of being an independent nation before their conquest by the western colonial rulers.

Political analysts say that the latest declaration is the most pragmatic approach and it would clear the roadblocks so far confronted, to resolve the conflict.

The head of LTTE's political wing Thamil Chelvam said "the LTTE was fighting for the rights of the Tamil people and not for a separate state." At a meeting with a delegation of Catholic bishops led by Rev Oswald Gomes, Thamil Chelvam said that if the Government creates the right environment, the LTTE would be ready for peace talks.

The statement comes amidst reports of a deadlock in the Norwegian efforts to start peace talks. The LTTE has made two-pre conditions- an immediate cease-fire and the lifting of the ban by the Government on essential commodities to Tamil regions controlled by them.

However, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake stressed that the Government would not agree to either condition. The Prime minister said that the Government has learned lessons from mistakes made by the earlier government. He said that cease-fires declared by the earlier Government has allowed the LTTE to re-arm and re-trains its cadres.

Also, "Daily News" the government controlled English language daily, today reported, "The Government would not consider lifting the ban against the LTTE, unless and until it is positively assured that future peace talks with the Government appear to be absolutely sincere and honest, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake said yesterday."

Meanwhile, in the wake of LTTE withdrawing its four months old unilateral cease-fire in the midnight of 24 April, Sri Lankan army launched a full scale "Killing Field" offensive against the Tamil militants to recapture the Elephant Pass, an isthmus, a narrow strip of land that connects the Jaffna peninsula with the mainland, Which was lost to the rebels in April 2000.

The Sri Lanka army launched the three brigade strong Operation "Gini Khela" from Muhamalai- Eluthumadduval-Kilali axis at 5.30 a.m. in the morning 25 April, Wednesday and called it off around 2.30 p.m. in the afternoon, when it ran into fierce resistance by LTTE troops.

According to Government report that on the first day's offensive, Sri Lanka's army pushed Tamil Tiger militants south toward a strategic pass in a day of fighting that killed 197 combatants on both sides, the military said on Thursday.

Troops seized three square miles of land from the militants control, which was filled with booby traps and land mines, in Wednesday's offensive, near Eluthumadduval, 18 miles east of Jaffna City, said Brig. Sanath Karunaratne, the military spokesman. The army is trying to push the guerrillas back toward Elephant Pass, which is under the LTTEs control.

At least 87 soldiers died in the latest fighting, Karunaratne said. An additional 382 were wounded, he said:

"Tigers radio messages intercepted by the army suggested that 110 rebels were killed and more than 300 wounded," the military said. There was no comment by the Tamil Tigers.

Initially, according to independent reports emerging from Colombo, the Government troops managed to push the rebels back, but by afternoon, the operation had to slow down amid heavy resistance from the LTTE. A large number of injured have had been airlifted to Colombo for treatment in Government and army hospitals.

But, the website "Tamil Net" in its report said, "At least 1058 Sri Lanka army troops were wounded in Wednesday's massive onslaught against the positions of the Liberation Tigers in the Jaffna peninsula's southern sector, military sources in Jaffna said. A large number of these were airlifted to Government hospitals in Colombo and Anurudhapura. Many of the seriously wounded were also sent to the government general hospitals in Jayawardhanapura and Ragama near Colombo. Others have been admitted to provincial hospitals, according to medical sources. About 100 more are expected to be airlifted to Colombo later today for treatment, the sources added. Casualties started rising when several advancing SLA troop concentrations were hit by heavy artillery fire from the LTTE's gun positions in the rear, military sources in Jaffna said. "

Independent verification of the casualty figures is impossible, because journalists are denied access to the war zone.

The SLA, however, claimed that it had managed to advance 1.25 miles into the area held by the Liberation Tigers south of Muhamalai. However, the Liberation Tigers said that the advanced SLA troops were pushed back and are still under attack. Several armored vehicles, including a main battle tank were damaged in the fighting, sources in Jaffna said.

In Colombo, it was reported that, on Wednesday, a parcel bomb exploded in a high security area near the president's residence, injuring a police officer. The officer had minor burns on his hand, said Patrick Edema, chief of the bomb squad. He did not immediately link the blast to the rebels.

On Thursday, the Air Force assisted the ground forces with Israeli made fighter jet Kafir and MG attack craft, targeted several strongholds of the Tigers at Elephant Pass and Pallai.

Air Force said an MI 24 aircraft was slightly damaged by LTTE fire. "It's a very minor damage", said Air Chief Jayalath Weerakkody.

Air force jets bombed and destroyed two buses transporting rebels to Pallai, three miles south of Eluthumadduval. Karunaratne said it was not known how many separatists were killed, but Tamil Tigers flatly denied the claim.

Ferocious fighting in northern Sri Lanka left more than 306 troops and Tamil Tigers killed, the Defense ministry said. The Ministry added 126 soldiers were killed and placed LTTEs losses at 180 Tigers killed in fighting since Wednesday. Sporadic artillery exchanges continued Friday, but the main battles have died down, officials said

The LTTE placed military losses at over 300 soldiers killed and 1,200 wounded. The LTTE's clandestine Voice of Tigers radio said they lost only 33 of their cadres in the fighting since Wednesday.

Military sources said casualties had been high on both sides because they were fighting along a narrow front, with heavy concentrations of combatants who were vulnerable to artillery and mortar bomb attacks.

Despite the heavy bloodshed, Norway appeared hopeful of pushing the process forward although the Government may not be able to keep its April deadline to announce a timetable and the venue for possible talks, official sources said.

Norway has been trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting between the two antagonists in a bid to politically end the drawn out conflict, which has claimed over 70, 000 lives in the past two decades.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga said earlier this week that the door was still open for the LTTE to enter peace talks. Kumaratunga said that Government forces had reached a decisive stage in their battle against the Tamil Tigers and that the military action had paved the way for the Government to reach the threshold of peace.

Elsewhere, authorities arrested three Tamil men accused of escorting an American journalist into rebel-held territory in the north, police said. Marie Colvin of Oyster Bay, N.Y., a reporter for London's Sunday Times newspaper, was wounded April 16 after an army patrol spotted her trying to re-enter the Government-held town of Vavuniya.

Episode - 3

Sri Lankan Armed Forces Suffered the Worst Carnage

Colombo April 28: Sri Lankan Government forces suffered a serious setback when they withdrew to the original defensive position, which halted its bloodied four-day offensive campaign against the Tamil militants - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in the Elephant Pass theater of war.

A defense ministry statement said troops had pulled back to their original positions in Eluthumadduval, 30 kilometers east of Jaffna City, in the face of heavy guerrilla fire. The military had initially claimed that it recaptured eight sq. kilometers of territory from the Tamil militants, in Eluthumadduval.

"Preparation of a new defense line would have given little advantage but would have cost more in terms of lives," the statement said.

According to the government, four days of clashes have left more than 1,600 dead and wounded on both sides. The defense ministry said 157 soldiers had died and 860 were injured. It claimed that 190 rebels had been killed and more than 400 injured.

Nevertheless, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in their press release issued from their headquarters in Vanni, in the Northern Sri Lanka, said:

"The Sri Lankan army suffered a humiliating military debacle with unprecedented heavy casualties as their major offensive operation was repulsed and the troops which penetrated the LTTE controlled territory were pushed back to their original positions in the early hours of the morning today. In the ferocious counter-offensive assaults by the Tamil Tiger combat formations, which lasted for four days, more than 400 Sri Lankan troops, were killed and over 2000 injured. On our side, 75 LTTE fighters, including female cadres, were killed."

The conflicting accounts don't hide the fact that the Sri Lanka troops suffered worst carnage in the hands of the Tamil militants, since both sides battled over a suburb of Jaffna peninsula, in early September 2000.

It is impossible to independently confirm the reports. Journalists aren't permitted into the war theater and the rebels though have phone lines, would not comment on any issues except by press releases.

On Wednesday, the military launched an operation to wrest back territory held by the LTTE rebels in the northern Jaffna Peninsula. The operation was aimed at pushing farther south toward a strategic area known as Elephant Pass, which is under separatist control.

Following the termination of the LTTE's four months old cease-fire in the early hours of the morning on the 24th April, thousands of Sri Lankan troops of the Sri Lanka Army's 52, 53 and 55 Divisions, in a major show of strength, supported by heavy artillery, multi-barrel rocket fire and aerial and naval bombardment, launched a major offensive assault against the LTTE positions in southern Jaffna.

The offensive campaign directed by the Deputy Minister General Ratwatte and heads of the armed forces in the Palaly military complex located within the Jaffna peninsula, the Sri Lankan troops initially breached through the heavily entrenched LTTE's forward defense lines on three fronts along the Kilaly - Eluthumadduval - Nagar Kovil axis.

The LTTE anticipating an imminent offensive by the Sri Lankan army launched ferocious counter-offensive assaults using heavy artillery, mortars, and multi-barrel rocket launchers. Government admitted that heavy artillery and mortar fire has compelled them to withdraw from their offensive and redeploys their troops to the earlier position after four day long campaign.

In the wake of humiliating defeat, the defense ministry defended the offensive. The Government statement said "Timely launching of this operation pre-empted LTTE plans of conducting a major attack on the security forces in the Jaffna Peninsula."

The escalation in the war drove up defense spending to over 80 billion Sri Lankan rupees ($1 = LK R89.10) in 2000, and the year ended up with a huge budget deficit. The Government has earmarked LK 75 billion for defense this year.

The latest press release issued by the LTTE stated:

"LTTE commando units have started clearing the area, about 2 square kilometers, vacated by the army in the Eluthumadduval sector, in southern Jaffna. Decomposing bodies of soldiers and their weapons are scattered everywhere in the area, according to LTTE field commanders. The Tigers have already started cremating thoroughly disintegrated bodies of soldiers with military honors, and identifiable bodies will be handed over to the International Red Cross. "

The release further added, so far, "30 bodies of the Sri Lankan soldiers were handed over to the ICRC in Vanni this morning and the rest will be handed over later."

It is estimated that, so far, 70,000 people have died in the 20 years long ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

Eelam Nation- 05/05/01