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ත්‍රිකුණාමල ප්‍රදේශයේ ඝාතන රැසකට සම්බන්ධ කොටි හමුදා නායකයා වූ එලිලන්ගේ බිරිය වන ආනන්ති සයිහරන් නමැත්තියද මානව හිමිකම් කොමසාරිස්‌ නවිපිල්ලේ හමුවීම සඳහා ඉල්ලීමක්‌ කර ඇත.

ඇය ද්‍රවිඩ සන්ධානය වෙනුවෙන් උතුරු පළාත් සභාවට තරග කරයි.

වන්නි මෙහෙයුමේ අවසාන අදියරේ සිදුවූ දේ තමා දුටු බව කියමින් එලිලන්ගේ බිරිය නවිපිල්ලේ හමුවීමට ඉල්ලා ඇත්තේ සාවද්‍ය යුද අපරාධ චෝදනා එල්ල කිරීම සඳහා යයි ආරක්‌ෂක අංශවලට හෙළිවී ඇත. ද්‍රවිඩ සන්ධාන මන්ත්‍රීවරයෙක්‌ ඇය පසුපස සිටින බව ආරක්‌ෂක බුද්ධි අංශ විසින් සොයාගෙන තිබේ.

එලිලන් ත්‍රිකුණාමලයේ ආනත්තිපුරම්හි කොටි කඳවුර මෙහෙයවූ බවත් නාවික හමුදා යාත්‍රාවලට ප්‍රහාර එල්ල කිරීම් ආදිය සියලු ත්‍රස්‌ත ක්‍රියා මෙහෙයවීමට ඔහු ක්‍රියා කළ බවට සාක්‌ෂි ඇති බවත් ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ ආරක්‌ෂක නිලධාරියෙක්‌ පැවැසීය.

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article_imageApril 2006 during Oslo-arranged CFA: At the behest of the LTTE, students and the staff of Manchanthoduvai Technical College, Batticaloa, hoist the Tamileelam Flag at the college premises at a memorial event for Annai Poopathy, whose fast unto death in April, 1988, against the IPKF, caused irreparable damage to India’s image. Poopathy launched her fast on March 19, 1988, at Mahmangam Pillayar Temple, to highlight the atrocities committed by the IPKF on the Tamil community. She demanded an immediate unconditional ceasefire between the LTTE and the IPKF. She died on April 19th, 1988.

The parish priest of St. Mary’s church, Batticaloa Rev. Father Chandra Fernando was assassinated on June 6, 1988. Some say he was attached to the Batticaloa Mission House at the time of his killing. The killing was meant to silence those opposed to atrocities committed by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Eelam People’s Revolutionary Libation Front (EPRLF) and the LTTE. Both the PLOTE and the EPRLF operated in the temporarily-merged Northern and Eastern Provinces under the protection of the IPKF. They carried out IPKF directives regardless of the consequences. They operated both from IPKF bases as well as their own established close to IPKF detachments in line with the overall security strategy in place in the wake of the outbreak of hostilities between India and the LTTE.

Rev. Father Fernando, the then Vice President of the Batticaloa Citizens’ Committee (BCC), was particularly harsh on the IPKF for the failure on its part to stabilize the situation in Batticaloa. The 46-year-old priest earned the wrath of the IPKF high command in Batticaloa for being severely critical of its conduct. Rev. Father Fernado dared the IPKF publicly. In spite of repeated warnings from friends, Rev. Fernando alleged that the IPKF deployed in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, in accordance with the Indo Lanka Accord (ILA), was nothing but a failure.

The Sri Lankan military, police and the elite Special Task Force (STF) were confined to their bases.

Rev. Father Fernando was among the few civilians living in Batticaloa willing to discuss the situation, though they realized the danger in provoking the IPKF. Unlike many senior priests in Batticaloa, Rev. Fernando didn’t turn a blind eye to unprecedented atrocities committed by the IPKF and its allies, in the guise of counter-insurgency operations.

IPKF urged to quit Batticaloa

The BCC called a meeting in late Jan. 1988 amidst unprecedented turmoil in the Batticaloa district. The LTTE regularly targeted IPKF patrols moving through heavily populated areas knowing the jawans’ reaction. The LTTE sometimes launched attacks in predominately Muslim areas. Such attacks were meant to provoke IPKF attacks on the Tamil speaking Muslim community. Having made representations to the IPKF and the Indian High Commission on numerous occasions regarding the worsening situation, the BCC felt it should step up pressure on the IPKF to restore normalcy in the region. But a section of BCC realized that the IPKF was the primary cause of the catastrophic situation. It was obvious nothing would change as long as the IPKF was in control. Although the IPKF knew its conduct was under fire, it felt reasonably confident none would dare to challenge its mandate publicly.

Outspoken politician and Tamil nationalist Sam Tambimuttu was at the helm of the BCC as its Secretary. Having succeeded Prince Casinader during the mid 80s, Tambimuttu worked closely with other members of BCC. Rev. Father Chandra Fernando played a significant role in the BCC, which had access to the IPKF high command in Batticaloa.

Addressing members of the BBC and a group of representatives from Tamil and Muslim communities, Rev. Father Fernando declared that there wouldn’t be peace unless the IPKF quit the district. The immediate removal of the IPKF would be a prerequisite for restoration of normalcy in the region. The people living in the Batticaloa district were unanimous in their view that the continued presence of the IPKF in the region was no longer appreciated, he said. Much to the discomfort of those present, the priest declared that Tamil speaking people needed a viable political solution. The deployment of a foreign army was not in the best interests of the people, he said, lashing out at the Indian government as well as Indian High Commissioner J. N. Dixit. Rev. Fernando alleged that India was not interested in the wellbeing of the Tamil community. Instead, India wanted to station its army in Sri Lanka, the priest (Call to remove Indian forces from Batticaloa-The Island Jan 23, 1988).

The call for the IPKF to quit Batticaloa was made about three weeks after Indian High Commissioner Dixit toured Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts to assess the situation. The visit was his first to the Eastern Province after the outbreak of hostilities between the IPKF and the LTTE in the second week of Oct. 1987. Dixit was accompanied by the IPKF’s Eastern Commander Maj. Gen. Jameel Mahmood. The visit took place in the backdrop of Sri Lankan police executing 20 civilians in Batticaloa to avenge the death of a colleague at the hands of the LTTE. During a meeting at the main IPKF base in Batticaloa, the BCC urged High Commissioner Dixit to take up the massacre with President JRJ. The BCC also urged Dixit to immediately shift the police station. (Dixit tours Trincomalee and Batticaloa-The Island Dec 31, 1087).

The meeting at the Mandressa camp was also attended by Sri Lankan security officials. They said that they couldn’t discuss the matter of police stations, without specific instructions from Colombo (Batticaloa citizens’ request to shift police complex refused-The Island Jan 3, 1988). The BBC also called for the removal of the IPKF from the Eastern University situated at Vantharamoolai. The IPKF maintained a heavy presence of ground forces at strategic locations to meet any eventuality. Although the LTTE couldn’t threaten major Indian bases in the Eastern Provinces, it regularly targeted troops on patrol as well as those on supply missions. By late May, Batticaloa was in chaos with the IPKF stepping up operations. The IPKF vowed to continue anti-insurgency operations until the LTTE renounced violence. The IPKF efforts supported by para military operations conducted by the PLOTE and the EPRLF caused substantial losses to the LTTE. But civilians, too, suffered at the hands of foreign troops and their local collaborators.

The assassination of Rev. Father Fernando should be examined in the backdrop of the battle for supremacy in Batticaloa between the LTTE and its one-time masters.

The killing was blamed on both the PLOTE and the EPRLF, which received arms and ammunition from the government of India through the IPKF.

Political recognition for terrorists

Both PLOTE and the EPRLF sought political recognition in late Jan. 1988 ahead of the first election for the temporarily merged North-Eastern Provincial Council later that year. They had the blessings of the Indian government. Indian High Commissioner Dixit discussed the pivotal importance of giving Tamil groups an opportunity to contest the forthcoming election by recognizing them as political parties. Dixit pushed hard for political recognition for Indian sponsored groups, which in spite of the ILA, openly carried weapons. The then Elections chief, Chandrananda de Silva, confirmed efforts made by Tamil groups to secure political recognition. The polls chief said that among those who sent in their applications were Tamil armed groups (Terrorist groups seek recognition as political parties-The Island Feb 4, 1988).

The EPRLF was the first Tamil group accepted by the Election Secretariat. It was recognized on Feb. 11, 1988. The recognition of the PLOTE was delayed much to the annoyance of Indian High Commissioner Dixit.

The government came under heavy Indian pressure to recognize armed groups in spite of them still carrying weapons in violation of the ILA. In fact, the amalgamation of the Eastern Province with the Northern Province was subject to the disarming of all Indian sponsored groups, including the LTTE, in accordance of the ILA. But President JRJ was compelled to conduct the election under the auspices of the IPKF. Colombo-based western embassies turned a blind eye to what was going on. Although President JRJ resented India’s dictatorial attitude and its effort to establish an administration in the NE Province loyal to New Delhi, he could not do anything. The UNP was struggling in the wake of the JVP stepping up attacks with the killing of the General Secretary of the party, Nandalal Fernando, on the morning of May 20, 1988 in the Wellawatte police area. Fernando was the second top UNP official assassinated by the JVP. UNP Chairman Harsha Abeywardena was shot dead on the morning of Dec 23, 1987 also in the Wellawatte police area. Under pressure on the southern front, the government easily succumbed to Indian pressure.

The UNP filled Abeywardena’s vacancy with tough talking Ranjan Wijeratne, who played a pivotal role in preparing the party for the PC polls. Wijeratne took the JVP challenge head-on. On his instructions, the police and the armed forces intensified their campaign. Although the JVP unleashed violence in a bid to discourage political parties from contesting the PC polls, it couldn’t stop the government from going ahead with the polls.

Polls on a staggered basis

The first PC polls were held on a staggered basis on April 28, 1988 in the North Western, North Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa Provinces. The UNP comfortably won all four provinces with the main challenge coming from the United Socialist Alliance (USA) due to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) deciding against taking part in what the party described as an Indian exercise to divide the country on ethnic lines. The JVP, which was a proscribed party at that time, too, adopted a similar stance.

The PC poll for the Southern Province was held on June 9, 1988. The UNP secured the South, too, without a problem.

While the UNP was battling the JVP in the south, the IPKF was busy creating a situation conducive for its allies to capture power in the North – Eastern Province. The assassination of Rev Father Fernando should be examined in the backdrop of the IPKF’s efforts to silence dissent in the province. Nothing would have been as important as neutralizing a discordant voice, particularly in Batticaloa.

In the wake of Rev. Father Fernando’s assassination, the IPKF warned the people of Batticaloa to keep their distance from the LTTE or face the consequences. The announcement was made on the last Sunday in the month of July 1988 through public address systems. The IPKF declared that anyone assisting the LTTE would be punished regardless of his or her status in society. The IPKF went to the extent of declaring that anyone harbouring LTTE terrorists would be regarded as a terrorist and dealt with appropriately. A senior IPKF officer based at Mandressa camp told the writer that the Indian Army would not tolerate a civilian-LTTE link. The Citizens’ Committees in Batticaloa and Ampara were told to move away from the LTTE or face the consequences. (IPKF warns: don’t harbour LTTE-The Island July 29, 1988). Such a public warning had never been given by the IPKF, though different commands privately threatened Citizens’ Committees against having links with the LTTE. The IPKF warning highlighted the plight of Tamil speaking people living in the Northern and Eastern districts. President JRJ couldn’t interfere with the IPKF strategy.

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article_imageBishop of Batticaloa, Dr. Kingsley Swampillai makes representations before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) headed by former Attorney General C. R. de Silva.

Indian Opposition Leader Swaraj Sushma visits Batticaloa at the conclusion of the eelam war
On the morning of Oct. 24, 1987, people found a bullet riddled body in the Kalawanchikudy police area in the Batticaloa administrative district. The killing sent shock waves through the Tamil community when the victim was identified as Chakravarthy, the son of one-time Federal Party Vice President and MP for Paddirippu, S. M. Rasamannikkam. At the time of his death, 29-year-old Chakravarthy was in the custody of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The victim was a father of two.

The IPKF captured him soon after a landmine explosion had ripped through a soft-bellied military vehicle killing several jawans, including one officer holding the rank of Captain on Oct 23, 1987. Although the Sri Lankan police initially placed the number of deal at four, the Batticaloa Citizens Committee (BCC), subsequently claimed the blast had claimed the lives of 20. The IPKF went on the rampage in the Kalawanchikudy area torching as it did a kovil, the regional educational office and many other buildings (Former MP’s son found dead following landmine explosion––The Island Oct 25, 1987).

The IPKF butchered 12 persons, including Chakravarthy and a female teacher. Jawans did not give a tinker’s damn about Rasamannikkam’s background; they were piqued and blinded by fury.

The Kalawanchikudy massacre was raised in Parliament by MP Anil Moonesinghe, though the government failed to take tangible action. It was the first major massacre in the Batticaloa District since the deployment of the IPKF in accordance with the Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA) in early Aug. 1987. During the next three years, the IPKF executed many civilians, though they were not in any way involved in terrorism.

Violence erupted in Kalawanchikudy two days after the IPKF had declared an amnesty to those giving up arms. The amnesty was announced by the Indian High Commission following consultations with President JRJ less than two weeks after the LTTE thwarted a heli-borne operation spearheaded by Indian commandos on the Jaffna campus.

In the wake of the IPKF atrocities, the BCC urged the Indian High Commission, the Sri Lankan government as well as Colombo based diplomatic missions to inquire into what was going on. It accused Indian troops of destroying houses and raping women. The BBC also brought to the notice of the JRJ government the crisis at the Batticaloa General Hospital due to medical staff fleeing in view of the escalation of fighting. In the neighbouring Trincomalee District, the IPKF attacked Sinhala villages causing further damage (Batticaloa citizens call for inquiry –The Island Oct. 25, 1987).

The IPKF was not subject to any sort of investigation by the Sri Lankan government. In accordance of the ILA, the IPKF was responsible for security in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Sri Lankan government was debarred from intervening in IPKF operations. The hastily arranged ILA also deprived Sri Lanka of at least having a monitoring mechanism in place. The police declined to accept complaints against the IPKF in any part of the country, whereas Citizens’ Committees in the Northern and Eastern Provinces maintained records of IPKF atrocities.

The JRJ administration was busy countering a bloody insurgency in the South. An influential section of the UNP felt that the government should not interfere with IPKF operations. The group was of the opinion that all available resources should be utilised to counter the JVP, leaving the IPKF to deal with the LTTE. The government lacked the capacity to deploy military and police personnel in the North-East and the South, simultaneously.

IPKF hoist with its own petard

The IPKF never realised that the LTTE was simply carrying out what Indian instructors had told those undergoing training in India several years ago. The LTTE was told to mount attacks on Sri Lankan military and police patrols in populated areas knowing very well that troops would attack civilians. It was a key element in the overall LTTE strategy aimed at destabilising the country. Reprisals drove Tamil youth to its ranks and it would be important to keep in mind that the LTTE was not the only group which practised the despicable strategy. The IPKF played in to the hands of the LTTE, which carried out hit and run attacks causing considerable damage to the Indian troops. The LTTE effectively used a range of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and landmines against the IPKF. In fact, IEDs and landmines remained the major threat to the IPKF during its deployment in Sri Lanka (July 30, 1987 to March 2, 1990). IEDs and landmines caused heavy losses among Sri Lankan security forces and the police during eelam war I (July 1983 to June 1987). According to statistics available with Army Headquarters, approximately 90 per cent of casualties during eelam war I were caused by IEDs and landmines. During the five-year period, the army lost 52 officers and 881 men, the SLAF 52 officers and men and the SLN 41. The number of wounded in all three services was placed at 180.

On Oct. 29, 1987, a landmine blast wounded five persons, including an officer believed to be the IPKF commanding officer in Batticaloa. The blast took place close on the heels of an explosion at Tirukkovil also in the Batticaloa District killing five IPKF personnel. The IPKF targeted every one suspected of having links with the LTTE. It arrested the President of the Ceylon Trade Union Federation (CTUF), Batticaloa branch at the People’s Bank office in Batticaloa. Interestingly, the IPKF took him in while the Batticaloa police looked on (IPKF, police arrest CTUF (B’caloa) President-The Island Oct. 30, 1987). His arrest was preceded by the detention of the CTUF’s Secretary who was nabbed in Urani while addressing an LTTE gathering.

The LTTE exploited the situation to alienate the Tamil community from the IPKF deployed particularly in the Batticaloa District. It also brought heavy pressure on the BCC to toe its line. Selected members were ordered to make representations on its behalf or face the consequences. Much to the discomfort and surprise of community leaders, the LTTE worked closely with some sections of the IPKF, though it mounted attacks on jawans in some areas. The LTTE killed Muslims to cause ethnic tension in the Batticaloa District.

Batticaloa remained the main theatre of operations outside the Jaffna peninsula throughout the IPKF deployment. The IPKF encouraged Tamil youth to mount attacks on Sri Lankan troops in Batticaloa, hence creating an explosive situation. The IPKF top brass used all groups trained in India to promote their agenda. The LTTE was not an exception, though it declared war on the IPKF subsequently. In spite of the ongoing battle between the IPKF and the LTTE, Indian intelligence maintained contact with the LTTE.

Many families fled Batticaloa fearing for their lives as the IPKF hit back hard at the LTTE causing loss of civilian lives. In spite of regular meetings between the IPKF top brass in Batticaloa and BCC, the situation continued to deteriorate with the people of the district subject to severe hardship.

Respected Batticaloa citizen, Prince Casinader remained in contact with the writer throughout the IPKF deployment. The Island could not have reported on the situation in Batticaloa without Casinader’s input due to reluctance on the part of the local police and the government to discuss the situation. One-time principal of Methodist Central, Batticaloa, Casinader was one of the few good contacts on the ground. He remained a reliable source during his tenure as a parliamentarian. Another was Sam Tambimuttu, an LTTE target. Tambimuttu and his courageous wife, Kala remained intrepid and outspoken to the last. Their son, Arun, sometimes answered the phone in his ancestral house in Batticaloa. Today, Thambimuttu junior is the SLFP organiser in Batticaloa having returned to the country after many years in exile after the eradication of the LTTE. Arun left the country after the LTTE assassinated his parents in Colombo (the issue will be discussed separately).

Assassination of prominent parliamentarian

The Muslim community reacted angrily to the assassination of former SLFP MP and Deputy Minister of Information Abdul Majeed at his residence on the night of Nov. 13, 1987. Muslims launched a protest campaign demanding action against the killers. The IPKF’s presence in Kinniya did not deter the assassin acting on the orders of those pushing for an all-out confrontation between the Tamil and Muslim communities in the Eastern Province. The Kinniya assassination accelerated the crisis in the East, with the Batticaloa Mothers’ Front launching a hartal to pressure the IPKF to be sensitive to public feelings. Mothers’ Front members alleged that Batticaloa women had been harassed by jawans on the pretext of security operations. They demanded the release of Tamil men in the custody of the IPKF.

An SLAF officer’s anguish

The situation in the Northern Province, too, was extremely bad. A former SLAF officer, Raja Mahendran, recalled the IPKF gunning down his 75-year-old mother, Lily Rajah and his sister Wasanthi’s three children, Suresh (17), Priyanthi (15) and Mahendrarajah (13) at Uduvil on the morning of Nov. 3, 1987. In an interview with this writer at The Island editorial two weeks after the incident, Mahendran said that IPKF troops atop armoured personnel carriers had surrounded Uduvil in the Jaffna peninsula causing panic among the hapless civilians. With tears in his eyes, Mahendran said that the IPKF had ordered his mother, sister and her sister as well as many civilians who rushed from their houses to walk towards the residence of Anandaraj, former Principal of St. John’s College, Jaffna, where they were ordered to kneel down. Wasanthi was married to Superintendent of Works, Local Government, Batticaloa. Mahendran visited The Island editorial with his brother-in-law, R. Indran in a bid to highlight what was going on in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Without the slightest provocation, the IPKF opened fire, at point blank range, killing Lily Rajah and Suresh on the spot. Suresh was known at Uduvil as the local Lylie Godridge. Mahendrarajah succumbed to his injuries before he could be moved to the nearby government hospital. Priyanthi managed to crawl to the residence of a bank employee and was rushed to the local hospital, where she died without receiving medical attention. The IPKF had turned the Northern and Eastern Province into a hellhole, though India promised to restore law and order, Mahendran alleged. An irate Mahendran said that his family could not bury the dead without the LTTE’s assistance (Ex-Air force officer recounts killing of mother and children––The Island Nov 22, 1987).

The then Kalutara District MP Anil Moonesinghe raised The Island report in Parliament, seeking an explanation from the then Deputy Minister of Defence T. B. Werapitiya as regards the deteriorating situation in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, due to atrocities committed by the IPKF.

The JRJ administration was helpless. The IPKF simply ignored Sri Lanka’s concerns. In fact, the IPKF on many occasions threatened to use force if Sri Lankan forces or police intervened in their operations.

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article_imageThe IPKF never realised the battlefield capabilities of the LTTE until it launched Operation Pawan in the second week of Oct. 1987 to capture Jaffna. The IPKF leadership was confident of evicting the LTTE from Jaffna within three days.

In fact, the IPKF was of the opinion that the LTTE was nothing more than an irritant, which could not pose a threat to the IPKF’s conventional fighting capability. It planned to rapidly advance from Palaly to Jaffna. Indian planners believed they had sufficient infantry, armour and artillery to meet any eventuality. But, it was obviously clueless about the fighting capabilities and tactics of the LTTE, in spite of having trained and armed the outfit. The IPKF did not even bother at least to consult the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) regarding the impending operation, though it could have easily done so.

Had the IPKF cared to consult the SLA, it could have avoided the loss of many lives. Although the LTTE had not developed a conventional fighting capability at that time, it retained sufficient forces to meet the IPKF advance on Jaffna.

Interestingly, in the second week of June 1987, India threatened to intervene if the SLA marched on Jaffna, regardless of its warning. At the time, two under strength Brigades led by Brig. Denzil Kobbekaduwa on the western flank and Col. Wijaya Wimalaratne on the eastern flank were ordered to halt their advance, after they had regained Tellipalai and Achchuveli, respectively. The Brigades consisted of only two infantry battalions each, including the 1 battalion of Gajaba Regiment (1 GR) commanded by the then Maj. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

In his memoirs titled A most Noble Profession, Gen. Gerry H. de Silva, the then Security Forces Commander, Jaffna reveals the circumstances under which the SLA had to call off the second phase of Operation Liberation. The Gemunu Watch veteran quoted the then General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Joint Operations Command (JOC) Gen. Cyril Ranatunga as having told him: “Stop the advance and consolidate the line you are holding or the Indians will come.”

Although the SLA believed it could at least retain Vadamarachchi regained in the last week of May 1987 during the first phase of Operation Liberation as well as the area liberated in phase II, though it could not be completed, India forced President JRJ to vacate liberated areas in line with the Indo-Lanka Accord.

IPKF’s battle for Jaffna

Responding to a query by The Island, Gen. de Silva explained how the initial IPKF plan to seize Jaffna had gone awry. LTTE snipers targeted Indian officers, who led the infantry from the front. The only difference was unlike their counterparts, the Indian officers were in full uniform, with some of them wearing slouch hats. LTTE snipers easily recognised them, causing an unprecedented number of casualties among the officer corps. A stunned IPKF leadership quickly realised it had been blind to ground realities and deceived by those who conveniently failed to brief them on the LTTE’s real capabilities.

The LTTE effectively used a range of improvised explosive devices and snipers to cause heavy losses on the IPKF, which struggled to come to terms with Tiger tactics. At the time Operation Pawan got underway, the IPKF had approximately 6,000 personnel deployed in the Jaffna peninsula. The IPKF estimated the total strength of the LTTE in the Jaffna peninsula between 2,000 to 2,500. But, the IPKF strategists remained confident of crushing the LTTE in case of a confrontation. A section of the IPKF leadership believed the LTTE would simply disintegrate as the Indian infantry advanced on Jaffna. The SLA, too, appeared to have underestimated the LTTE’s resolve to take on the IPKF, regardless of the consequences. The IPKF strategists planned to target the top LTTE leadership, believed to be operating from the Jaffna University. A high profile raid there was planned. The LTTE brazenly used the university premises as its tactical headquarters, where senior Indian officers met LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Less than a week before the IPKF launched a disastrous heli-borne raid on the university, Overall Force Commander of the IPKF, Lt. Gen. Depinder Singh flew in for a powvow with Prabhakaran. The IPKF made a desperate bid to reach an understanding with the LTTE in the wake of 18 LTTE personnel, including Prabhakaran’s brother-in-law, Kumarappa, the then second-in-command of the group, taking cyanide at the Palaly air base. (A previous article dealt with the arrest of an LTTE group following a confrontation in the seas off Point Pedro in the early hours of Oct. 2, 1987 with the Sri Lankan navy).

Tension was running high in Jaffna as the navy had seized another LTTE vessel close on the heels of the detection in the early hours of Oct. 2, 1987 in northern waters. The second detection resulted in the seizure of a large vessel along with 36 LTTE cadres, 2,000 detonators, 23 rolls of wire and several small arms (Trawlers with arms captured-The Island, Oct. 4, 1987).

The meeting between Lt. Gen. Singh and Prabhakaran failed to produce the desired understanding. Had the IPKF disarmed the LTTE in accordance with the ILA within 72 hours after the suspension of hostilities, it wouldn’t have been in a quandary. Immediately after the signing of the ILA, President JRJ offered a general amnesty to those handing over their weapons. Although some terrorists gave themselves up to the SLA in Jaffna, the IPKF declined to accept their surrender without consulting the government. Undue delay in arriving at a decision on the part of India allowed Prabhakaran, who had been detained in New Delhi, to instruct his cadres not to surrender weapons until his return to Jaffna.

Raid on Jaffna University

Having received instructions from New Delhi to capture Jaffna, the IPKF worked out a battle plan. In support of the ground assault on Jaffna, the IPKF launched an ambitious heli-borne raid on the Jaffna University, believing Prabhakaran and his chief lieutenants remained there. It was widely believed that the LTTE had intercepted IPKF communications and was aware of the impending raid. The LTTE had ample time to prepare, though it may not have been aware of the identity of the raiding party. The IPKF most probably believed that the death or capture of the top LTTE leadership would pave the way for capturing Jaffna without much resistance. The IPKF went to the extent of telling senior SLA officials that the operation could be concluded in three days! The General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 54 Infantry Division and his senior staff were so cocky. Some of the IPKF officers during conversations with SLA officers, revealed that troops received specialised training for the invasion of Sri Lanka. They also talked of air borne troops planning to seize airfields, whereas amphibious forces were to secure beach heads for large scale troop landings. In that background, raiding Jaffna University seemed relatively an easy task. But soon after the operation got underway in the early hours of Oct 12, the IPKF realised its folly. The top brass was aghast.

In hindsight, the IPKF’s failure to induct a large number of commandos, instead of just 40 due to the absence of sufficient number of helicopters led to a debacle. The IAF (Indian Air Force) had just four helicopters positioned in Palaly to shift commandos from Palaly to the Jaffna University premises. The SLAF was surprised to receive a request from the IPKF for the deployment of one helicopter gunship in support of the mission. The SLAF was tasked to carry out a diversionary attack near the university during the landing operation. Although the SLAF was successful in its mission, the IAF could induct only 40 commandos. The second pair of helicopters carrying 20 commandos had no option but to return to base due to the failure on the part of the first contingent to secure the ground. By that time, the LTTE had cut off the commando group on the ground. Although the second drop had to be aborted, the third succeeded though they could not take the initiative. Much to the surprise of Palaly based top brass of the SLA and the SLAF, the IPKF deployed normal infantry troops alongside commandos. By the time the IAF inducted 40 more commandos along with 30 infantry troops, the LTTE was in a commanding position with Indian troops fighting for survival. Although the IPKF had planned to induct a much larger force, the operation had to be abandoned after the induction of 120 commandos and 30 infantrymen. The debacle at the Jaffna University stunned the IPKF leadership. During the operation, the LTTE hit all four Mi-8 helicopters involved in the action, though none of then crashed. Even if the IPKF wanted to continue with air drops, Mi-8s could not be deployed due to the considerable damage caused by enemy fire. Later in the day, a disgraced IPKF had to launch a rescue operation spearheaded by main battle tanks to save the remnant of the raiding party. At the conclusion of the battle, the Indian High Commission reported the death of 29 out of 30 infantrymen and six commandos. Many commandos received injuries. The SLA knew what was going on due to constant monitoring of IPKF and LTTE communications. The SLA observed that those infantrymen deployed along side the commandos, weren’t given at least an adequate briefing. Ill-equipped troops were used in a high risk operation immediately after they had arrived from their home base in India.

First major debacle

The Oct. 12 battle claimed the lives of nearly 40 personnel, whereas the SLA lost 33 and about 200 wounded in the first phase of Operation Liberation. The LTTE proved that it was better than the high flying 54th air borne assault force commanded by Maj. Gen. Hakirat Singh. After a series of blunders at the expense of fighting forces, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 54 Division Singh was replaced. The IPKF realised the difficult position it was in. One of the largest armies in the world found itself in an unenviable situation. The LTTE proved beyond any doubt that it was better than its Indian trainers. LTTE tactics demoralised the IPKF, which never intended to engage in combat operations against the Sri Lankan Tamils India had trained and armed.

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article_imageThe then Brigadier Shavendra Silva explains the ground situation to Al Jazeera journalists on the western front at the onset of major operations in late July 2008. Although a section of the international community accused the army of depriving the media from visiting the Vanni, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa authorized some media visits. The Colombo based BBC correspondent was one the journalists, who had the opportunity to fly over Paranthan soon after Brigadier Shavendra Silva’s Task Force I (TF I) liberated the town. During the last phase of the offensive, a group of Colombo based Indian journalists was with TF I/58 Division. The Indian team included The Hindu correspondent. Brigadier Silva was one of the few senior officers who exploited the media and used it as a tool against the LTTE. In fact, Maj. Gen. Silva, in his current capacity as Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative in New York, continued his efforts on the media front, hence became a target for a section of the international press supportive of the LTTE macabre project. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa and the then army Gen. Sarath Fonseka effectively used the media to carry the GoSL’s message. The Defence Secretary’s spearheading role was the single most important factor in countering the LTTE media, which always had the upper hand during previous phases of the conflict. The former Navy spokesman Capt. D. K. P. Dasanayake played a significant role in managing the war-time ‘Indian factor’ which at one point overwhelmed the GoSL.(Pic by Captain Wasantha Jayaweera, formerly of the Special Forces)

In the wake of the Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA), the then President JRJ imposed a censorship on the independent media as it felt that suppression of the free flow of information could prevent the JVP from exploiting the deployment of the IPKF to fuel its subversive campaign. A powerful Competent Authority (CA) appointed by the government for that purpose debarred the independent media from reporting what was going on in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. It killed reports relating to the IPKF and the JVP-instigated insurgency.

In the absence of privately owned television networks as well as the Internet at that time, JRJ’s strategy was somewhat effective. At the behest of those in power, the CA even went out of its way to harass the print media. Articles submitted for approval were held for hours without rhyme or reasons, thus causing them to miss the deadlines.

Censorship introduced

Having joined The Island in June 1987 as trainee reporter, the writer experienced the appalling conduct of the CA during his many visits to the Information Department to submit articles. In some instances, the CA approved sections of news reports, features and comments published by the print media, prompting Editor of The Island Gamini Weerakoon to front-page a note to keep readers reminded that the media was subject to censorship. Most of those campaigning for media freedom today dared not criticize the government action at that time.

However, the Indian High Commission in Colombo issued statements concerning security matters regardless of the censorship. Capt. B. K. Gupta of the Indian High Commission dealt with the issue of the Indian Navy and the Sri Lankan Navy launching joint patrols in the Palk Strait consequent to the ILA (Patrolling of Palk Strait begins today-The Island Aug. 15, 1987). Gupta discussed the issue close on the heels of JRJ’s CA censoring a section of news report on the cooperation between the two navies (Joint Indo-Lanka patrolling of Palk Strait –The Island Aug. 14, 1987).

The Competent Authority brazenly deleted anything it felt could antagonize the political leadership. Among the many articles censored was the one which dealt with difficulties experienced by the police in the absence of sufficient number of Tamil speaking law enforcement officers for deployment in the Northern and Eastern Provinces was censored (Tamil and Muslim policemen for N&E-The Island Aug. 18, 1987). The CA butchered a news report which dealt with the crisis caused by the government accommodating armed forces in some schools in Colombo and its suburbs and the South, following their withdrawal from the Northern and Eastern Provinces (Quandary over forces still in some schools-The Island Aug. 26, 1987). The CA found fault with The Island for not submitting the headline of that news item, while warning us to follow instructions or face the consequences.

The JRJ administration had to pull out the bulk of the forces from operational areas to meet the growing threat posed by the JVP. The Defence Ministry was forced to assign more troops to quell the JVP rebellion in the wake of the JVP grenade attack on a section of the government parliamentary group on the morning of Aug. 18, 1987 in Parliament. The unprecedented attack claimed the life of Keerthi Abeywickrema, Member of Parliament representing and the Matara District Minister. The then National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali was among those injured in the blast.

The grenade attack sent shock waves through the political establishment causing uncertainty and political turmoil. The SLAF was given the tough task of running civil administration in the JVP stronghold of Hambantota as the government intensified anti-insurgency operations. In support of the police and security forces operations, the UNP authorized some government members to undertake clandestine operations with the help of vigilantes. The police and the armed forces, too, conducted covert operations outside the scope of regular operations.

Indo-Lanka Accord exploited

The deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) fueled the JVP insurrection with many youth volunteering joining the outfit’s ranks. The Indian military presence facilitated the JVP’s second attempt to overthrow an elected government. The JVP believed that at least a section of the armed forces would revolt against JRJ, primarily due to the suspension of successful Operation Liberation in June 1987. The then Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Brig. Gen. Gerry H. de Silva in his memoirs tiled A most Noble Profession launched in 2011 discussed the IPKF’s assertion that about 40 per cent of the armed forces despised JRJ. In an interview with this writer, now retired Gen. de Silva (Commander of the Army 1994-1996) emphasized that the armed forces had always being loyal to the government in power. “We were surprised by the IPKF’s claim,” a smiling de Silva said, adding that the IPKF officers soon realized their folly. The Indian intelligence services and the High Commission had erred in their assessment, the Gemunu Watch veteran said.

Indian sponsored terrorist groups could not have been unaware of India’s assessment. They, too, must have sought to exploit the situation. The same could be said about the JVP, which wrongly assumed that the armed forces, particularly the fighting forces consisting of rural youth, would switch their allegiance to the JVP. Much to the surprise of the JVP, it realized the armed forces remained loyal to the government, though a few personnel cooperated with the proscribed organization.

The JVP distributed leaflets urging the armed forces to turn their guns on the UNP government for having invited the Indian Army to take over the Northern and Eastern Province. In spite of its rhetoric, the JVP never wanted to take on the mighty IPKF, though a section of the media recently boasted of JVP operations in the East in the wake of the Kumar Gunaratnam affair.

Had the JVP attack in Parliament caused the deaths of the top UNP leaders, the insurgency would have taken a different course. The attacker subsequently identified as Ajith Kumara hurled two hand grenades into Committee Room ‘A’ of the parliamentary complex as the government group was having its bi-weekly meeting ahead of the first session of the House since the signing of the ILA. Those present at the meeting later told the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) an attacker lobbing two grenades towards them and President JRJ and Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa. The attempt on his life promoted JRJ to blame terrorists among the Sinhala community for the attack.

The JVP assassinated Hambantota District MP Jinadasa Weerasinghe on Aug. 1, 1987 at Angunakolapelessa. The situation continued to deteriorate in areas outside the Northern and Eastern Province due to JVP hit-and-run attacks. The JVP caused immense damage to the national economy by destroying public property. By late Sept. 1987, the armed forces had minimal presence in the two provinces leaving the IPKF in charge. Even those based there were under constant IPKF surveillance with restrictions imposed on their movements, whereas the LTTE and other Tamil armed groups operated freely. The Sri Lankan military was ordered not to step out of their bases without prior approval. Although the military brought the situation to the notice of JRJ, he could not do anything. The IPKF remained adamant that the Sri Lankan military had forfeited its right for deployment under any circumstances, consequent to the ILA.

Home guards asked to surrender weapons

In Sept. 1987, the LTTE launched an attempt to disarm home guards deployed in areas vulnerable to terrorist attacks. The deployment covered the Eastern districts as well as adjoining areas. The LTTE demanded an immediate surrender of their weapons in line with the ILA. The Sri Lankan government ignored the demand, though the Tigers persisted. The LTTE launched a highly publicized fast unto death opposite Nallur Kandasamy kovil to draw international attention to its demand. The LTTE claimed that the IPKF should take charge of weapons in the hands of the home guards.  India promptly rejected the LTTE call (Home guards won’t handover weapons to IPKF-Indian Defence Advisor-The Island Sept. 19, 1987).

Hot on the heels of the LTTE’s call, the IPKF increased its strength in the Eastern Province. The then General Officer Commanding the Indian Army, Southern Command Lt. Gen. Depinder Singh was quoted by the Indian press as having said that he was ready to bring in more troops to maintain law and order. Lt. Gen. Singh would never have thought he was going to need thousands of troops, main battle tanks, helicopter gunships and a range of other equipment, the following month for a different purpose.

The LTTE strongly opposed the re-opening of new police stations in the Northern region and insisted that the ILA desist from helping the government restore a police presence in areas once dominated by the group.

LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran felt that the re-establishment of police stations would be detrimental to the interests of the LTTE and intensified protests after the police launched recruitment drive in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The LTTE wanted to fill the vacuum. Having killed hundreds of members of other Indian sponsored groups, the LTTE believed it had the capacity to run the two provinces. It conveniently forgot it could have been in serious trouble if not for India’s intervention in June 1987. India intervened as the troops of Operation Liberation were consolidating its positions at Tellippalai (on the western front) and Achchuveli (on the eastern front). The two Brigades engaged in the second phase of Operation Liberation were pushing towards Jaffna.

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Had the navy failed to thwart a secret mission undertaken by LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s brother-in-law, Kumarappan, in early Oct 1987, the situation would have taken a different turn. Kumarappa’s clandestine mission would have succeeded if not for unparalleled extraordinary feat by the then Lt. Travis Sinniah and Leading Seaman Prematilleke, who risked their lives to abort a journey undertaken by a group of senior LTTE cadres.

The much talked about surrender of weapons by the LTTE to the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in line with the Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA) within 72 hours was nothing but a farce.

Although the LTTE had handed over some weapons following the cessation of hostilities, the group retained its 100 per cent fighting capability and a range of weapons acquired over the years. They had plenty of explosives and the expertise to manufacture landmines and various improvised explosive devises in case fighting resumed. But they never expected a war with their benefactor, India, which remained supremely confident of meeting any eventuality.

The IPKF was strong enough to suppress any resistance by the Sri Lankan military in case it revolted against President JRJ in the wake of a section of the ruling party strongly opposing the ILA. The then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa strongly opposed the Indian intervention, though he did not want to say anything that may jeopardise his chance of being President JRJ’s successor.

Although India failed to disarm the LTTE, President JRJ had no option but to amalgamate the Eastern Province with the Northern Province pending a referendum before Dec. 31, 1988 in the Eastern Province to decide whether the arrangement should be made permanent.

The IPKF conveniently turned a blind eye to what was going on the ground, with the LTTE still working closely with Indian Intelligence services in spite of refusing to hand over its arms. The LTTE and its benefactors felt that the group’s weapons should be retained regardless of clause 2.9 of the ILA. In fact, the IPKF acted as if it were not aware of the total number of weapons in the hands of the LTTE. In spite of JRJ applying pressure on India to ensure the implementation of the ILA, the LTTE was allowed to hold on to its armaments.

The IPKF very clearly indicated that it was not keen to disarm the LTTE, though the ILA specified a period for the disarming operation. The IPKF asserted that it could not adhere with a time frame hence the LTTE was given an opportunity to maintain its arsenal. IPKF realised its folly ten weeks after being deployed in Northern and Eastern Province to implement the ILA.

Army gives up Jaffna

India prevented the JRJ administration from discussing security aspects of the ILA with the military, particularly those deployed in the Jaffna peninsula. Much to the dismay of the military, especially those involved in Operation Liberation, ILA envisaged troops giving up the area liberated during the first and second phases of the offensive. Although the army swiftly completed the first phase of the offensive launched on May 26, 1987 within a week, it could not complete the second phase due to Indian intervention. Although the army felt humiliated, it refrained from at least publicly expressing concern over the controversial decision to return to pre-May 26, 1987 positions. The IPKF was blunt in its dealings with the Sri Lanka military. Troops were confined to their bases, while LTTE cadres were allowed to enter restricted areas in spite of complaints.

It would be pertinent to mention that the military was kept in the dark in the run up to the Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement in Feb. 2002.

The then Brig. Gerry H. de Silva, the senior most officer based in Jaffna at the time of the IPKF deployment in the Jaffna peninsula, in his memoirs, A Most Noble Profession, reveals possible difference of opinion among the top brass as regards the Indian intervention and JRJ administration’s response. The Gemunu Watch veteran was the Security Forces Commander, Jaffna. Due to protests in Colombo and its suburbs as well as several other parts of the country, the government felt it had no option but to re-deploy units previously based in the northern and eastern provinces, to quell violence. The JVP took advantage of the crisis to launch its second attempt to grab power prompting JRJ to unleash the army on the Marxists.

Jaffna troops shifted to South

According to Gen. de Silva, on the night of July 29, 1987 he received a telephone call from Colombo informing him of the arrival of the IPKF at first light the following day. He was directed to abandon the entire area captured during Operation Liberation and prepare for re-deployment in the South. The Jaffna Commander received instructions from the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Nalin Seneviratne and General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the Joint Operations Command (JOC) Gen. Cyril Ranatunga to the effect that the Indian Air Force would swiftly airlift troops from Jaffna to Katunayake air base. Giant IL 76 transport aircraft bringing in IPKF to Palaly were to airlift the army. It was an unprecedented arrangement. When a concerned De Silva queried Gen. Ranatunga about the directives, Lt. Gen. Seneviratne had intervened. “When I questioned the GOC JOC on these orders, the army commander Lt. Gen. Nalin Seneviratne grabbed the telephone off General Ranatunga and told me to shut up and just follow instructions,” de Silva said.

The army complied with the directive leaving Jaffna in the hands of the IPKF. JRJ administration drastically cut down on deployment of security forces and police, including the elite Special Task Force (STF) in operational areas. The flare-up in the South could not have come at a better time for the IPKF and the LTTE. Drastic drop in government strength in the Northern Province as well as Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts facilitated LTTE efforts to consolidate its power in the region. The IPKF, too, liked the withdrawal of government forces from the Northern and Eastern Provinces as its actual deployment in Sri Lanka was meant to neutralise a possible threat from the army. India deployed T 72 main battle tanks and a range of other equipment necessary to meet a conventional military threat. The IPKF was never meant to confront any of the groups sponsored by India. Instead the IPKF was fully geared to engage in operations against Sri Lankan forces. The immediate withdrawal of experienced fighting formations deployed in the Jaffna peninsula in the wake of the ILA defused a potential crisis. The IPKF realised that the army was not going to cause any trouble, whereas the LTTE continued to flex its muscles.

Alleged threat on JRJ

Responding to a query by the writer, De Silva asserted that the Indian military believed that a sizeable section of the armed forces was hostile to the government. On the basis of information gathered by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and other agencies, the IPKF estimated at least 40 per cent of the entire military strength was disloyal to President JRJ. In his memoirs, De Silva says the IPKF may have claimed there was a threat to President JRJ’s life from the army to justify the deployment of two frigates carrying troops in the outer Colombo harbour for two weeks. The Sri Lankan military was told of heli-borne Indian commandos coming to the rescue of President JRJ in case the army moving against the political leadership. But in hindsight the deployment of the Indian navy was probably in line with their overall deployment of forces in the event of the Sri Lankan military, resentful of the Indian adventure, launching attacks. India recalled frigates as relations improved between the two armies.

Contrary to reports, the military had always stood by the military leadership and there was no evidence whatsoever regarding a section of the military planning to seize power in the wake of the ILA, the former Army Commander said.

Perhaps the IPKF refrained from disarming the LTTE to use it against the army in case of hostilities between the Indian Army and the Sri Lankan military. Those preparing contingency plans would have definitely examined the options available for the IPKF in case of a possible threat from the Sri Lankan military. Had that happened, the IPKF would have had an opportunity to utilise not only the LTTE but all other groups against Sri Lanka. The IPKF was ready for any eventuality, though it underestimated the fighting capabilities of the LTTE in spite of it being trained by Indian personnel. The IPKF never realised the mindset of the LTTE fighting cadre until it was compelled to take on the group about 10 weeks after the signing of the ILA. The IPKF never bothered to study LTTE tactics until fighting broke out in the second week of Oct. 1987. Before discussing IPKF operation codenamed Pawan, it would be important to examine the events leading to the outbreak of hostilities.

A courageous act

The unexpected capture of an LTTE trawler named Kadalpura in the northern seas on Oct. 2, 1987 by the navy led to the swift collapse of the ILA signed on July 29, 1987. India was compelled to launch Pawan, after the group went on the rampage over those arrested onboard Kadalpura taking cyanide to avoid being airlifted to Ratmalana from Palaly. Among them were Pulendran and Kumarappa, two of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s closest associates.

The detection and seizure of Kadalpura was made by the crew of P 457, one of the Israeli-built Dvora MK 1, commanded by Lt. Commander Ariyadasa. His deputy was the then Lt. T. J. L. Sinniah now with the US diplomatic mission in Colombo. Having played a significant role in operations on the high seas targeting LTTE vessels during Eelam war IV, Sinniah retired about a year ago as Commodore.

Had P 457 missed Kadalpura, which was moving from Valvettiturai to Tamil Nadu, the IPKF wouldn’t have been forced to fight the LTTE.

Travis Sinniah recalled the circumstances under which the navy had apprehended the LTTE vessel. P 457’s crew comprised of 12 officers and men. In spite of Indian navy launching patrols in Sri Lankan waters consequent to the ILA, the Sri Lankan navy was not debarred from performing its duties, though there were certain restrictions as regards engagement of craft in the sea.

The detection was made during the morning watch at around 2.45 by Lt. Sinniah. P 457 shadowed/tracked and intercepted the LTTE craft about 45 minutes later approximately 35-40 nautical miles north-east of Point Pedro. P 457’s crew quickly realised the importance of the detection as one of those on board vessel identified himself as Kumarappa, brother-in-law of Prabhakaran. Newly married Kumarappa displayed his wedding ring to Lt. Sinniah as he was questioned. In his first public comments on the incident over 25 years ago, Commodore Sinniah said: “The vessel was a large modified trawler painted in battle grey. At night, we could have easily mistaken it for an Indian navy patrol boat. It was fitted with radar and state of the art radio equipment available at that time. There were 18 LTTE leaders on board, including Kumarappa, the then LTTE deputy leader who was married to Prabakaran’s sister as well as Trincomalee leader Pulendran wanted for Kittulottuwa massacre, where they attacked passenger buses on their way to Trincomalee. Among the victims were eight service personnel returning from leave on these buses. Five navy personnel were among the slaughtered. Some of the detained LTTE personnel were bodyguards assigned to protect leaders.”

 The group carried a range of weapons. They were armed with personal weapons. The navy found several other arms, including M16s, Berettas, SMG, FNs sniper et al.

“Once challenged they took up position with weapons but did not fire fearing we’ll retaliate. They kept on moving towards India and did not stop though repeatedly warned that we’ll take action,” Commodore Sinniah said. Had the LTTE vessel reached Indian waters, P 457 couldn’t have done anything. At one point P 457 crew feared the LTTE craft was going to succeed as they declared they wouldn’t stop whatever the consequences. They identified their vessel as Kadalpura.

 P 457 made the detection during a nine-day attachment to the Northern Command, though it launched combat patrols from Trincomalee.

In fact Kadalpura could have escaped if not for two members of P 457’s crew volunteering to jump into the moving LTTE craft from the moving navy vessel in the choppy seas. Commodore Sinniah was reluctant to highlight his role in the detection. He is averse to publicity but explained the circumstances under which the navy seized the LTTE vessel. “I along with Leading Seaman Prematilleke jumped off the Dvora into the moving LTTE vessel and confront 18 LTE personnel. We were armed and ready for any eventuality. Although shots were fired during the confrontation no one was hurt seriously. We commandeered the LTTE craft and sailed it back to Kankesanthurai under the watchful eye of P 457.” The distance from the scene of the confrontation to Kankesanthurai is 80 miles.

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article_imageHaving liberated Vadamarachchy within a week, the army prepared to launch the second stage of Operation Liberation to regain Jaffna. Newly created, but under strength brigades, commanded by Brig. Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Col. Wijaya Wimalaratne, were given the unenviable task. Although the army was elated over its success in liberating Vadamarachchy, its failure to trap LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and his senior lieutenants caused anxiety among senior officers. The army was also severely upset over the death of one of its officers’ holding the rank of Maj, due to friendly fire soon after the liberation of Valvettiturai. The first phase was launched at first light, on May 26, 1987.

Among those present at a meeting presided over by the then President JRJ at the National Security Council, where a detailed briefing took place before the launch of the offensive, were National Security Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali, General Officer Commanding Joint Operations Command Gen. Cyril Ranatunga, service chiefs, presidential security advisor Ravi Jayewardene, and presidential secretary W. M.P. B. Menikdiwela.

Canada bunker’ overrun

In an interview with this writer recently, the then Brigadier, Gerry H. de Silva, explained the difficulties experienced by the army in overrunning what he called ‘Canada bunker’ which covered Prabhakaran’s birth place Valvettiturai from the sea-beach, at the western entrance to the beach east of the town. “It was the most elaborate network of fortifications faced by the army at that time,” de Silva said, adding, “in the run-up to the presidential elections in late 1994, I told UNP presidential candidate, Gamini Dissanayake, how the LTTE had secured empty steel containers from Canadian contractors, involved in the construction of the Maduru Oya dam in the Mahaweli System C, for use as part of their fortifications at Valvettiturai. Mr. Dissanayake was surprised to hear the LTTE using discarded containers. The LTTE reinforced the containers with concrete.”

Valvettiturai was secured by Col. Wimalaratne’s Brigade, which included 1 Gemunu Watch (1GW) and 1 Gajaba Regiment (1 GR) commanded by Lt. Col. Vipul Boteju and Maj. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, respectively. Soon after liberating Valvettiturai, tragedy struck Col. Wimalaratne’s brigade.

Decorated officer killed in ‘friendly fire’

Gemunu Watch veteran and one-time Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Islamabad, retired Gen. de Silva recalled the circumstances under which one of the most promising army officers, Maj. R.P.H.S. Wijesinghe of the GR died due to friendly fire. Wijesinghe, decorated as well as admired by both colleagues and superiors for battle field performance, was with 1 GR at the time of his death. Although a section of the army claimed that Wijesinghe was shot dead by an LTTE sniper, de Silva said that Wijesinghe was hit by a 40 mm grenade round during a major exchange of fire between Col. Wimalaratne’s and Brig. Kobbekaduwa’s brigades. The battle erupted due to Brig. Kobbekaduwa’s troops making an unexpected move prompting the other brigade to open fire. Breakdown of communications between formations aggravated the situation leading to troops on the southern flank firing at Wijesinghe, who succumbed to his injuries while being evacuated to Colombo by air. Wijesinghe had also served the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF).

Although there had been previous cases of friendly fire, the death of Wijesinghe devastated the army. Former army Commander de Silva was of the opinion that the unfortunate confrontation between troops on the northern and southern flanks deprived them of an opportunity to trap top LTTE cadres. During the chaos, Prabhakaran and his trusted lieutenants escaped. The army was helpless as the SLAF could not carry out casualty evacuation due to inclement weather. The evacuation was delayed by several hours as the offensive came to an unexpected halt. The failure on the part of the army to effectively plug two big gaps, due to absence of required troop strength, caused irreparable damage. “We had to block the Valipuram gap that led to the famous sand dunes of Kath Kovilam and the Elephant Pass-Vettilaikerni stretch. As there was a serious shortage of troops, we decided to plug the Elephant Pass Vettilaikerni stretch and deployed a group of mobile troops to cover Valipuram. But they managed to escape through Valipuram. Although commandos were deployed on the Valipuram sector, they could not prevent the LTTE moving across to the Vanni mainland”

In his memoirs, A most noble profession launched in 2011, de Silva revealed how Wijesinghe had rushed to the assistance of troops on the southern flank, believing they were under fire by the LTTE. At that time he was hit, he did not have a helmet, nor body armour. Wijesinghe earned the praise of Gajaba Regiment veteran Col. Wimalaratne on many occasions. Officers and men still talked about how Wijesinghe spearheaded the defence of the beleaguered Kokilai army base, when it came under heavy attack by the LTTE, de Silva said, adding that he displayed extraordinary courage during his tenure as a Lieutenant and a platoon commander. Wijesinghe was one of those who could have contributed to our victory over the LTTE, the retired general said.

Operation Liberation II gets underway

Brigades, led by Brig. Kobbekaduwa and Col. Wimalaratne, were to assault Jaffna, keeping the Palaly-Jaffna road as the axis of advance. Brig. Kobbekaduwa’s troops were on the western flank, whereas Col. Wimalaratne’s troops advanced on the eastern flank. President JRJ ordered the army to halt the advance at the behest of India soon after Kobbekaduwa’s formation secured Tellipallai, whereas Wimalaratne’s troops regained Achchuveli.

Commenting on the Indian threat to intervene unless the army stopped the offensive, Gen. de Silva recalled a call received by him as troops were consolidating Tellipallai and Achchuveli. “As the senior officer stationed in Jaffna, I was called to the operations room where I received instructions from the then General Officer Commanding Joint Operations Command Gen. Cyril Ranatunga. We were ordered to stop the offensive and consolidate our positions. Gen. Ranatunga warned of immediate Indian intervention unless we stopped the offensive.”

Although India despised the LTTE for killing hundreds of rival members of groups run by premier Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the regional super power did not want to see JRJ destroying the most powerful group. Had India allowed the army to go ahead with the offensive, it could have liberated Jaffna town and its suburbs before launching the third phase of the offensive to regain Jaffna islands. Completion of the third phase would have paved the way for the army to lay siege until the remaining LTTE combat units in the peninsula were neutralized. The army could have achieved its objectives had India allowed JRJ administration to proceed with the strategy. Unfortunately, India felt it could not let Sri Lanka triumph over terrorism as destabilization plot was part of its overall project to deter JRJ from forging an alliance with US, Pakistan and Israel.

India steps up pressure

The global community turned a blind eye to what was going in Sri Lanka. Two days after the navy turned away a flotilla of Indian fishing craft, carrying food for the people of Jaffna, the Indian air force jets escorted five transport planes which dropped food over Vadamarachchy. India warned JRJ not to interfere with what it called relief operation or face the consequences. Gen. de Silva in his memoirs revealed the military was ordered by the government to treat them as friendly aircraft. It was nothing but a joke.

Sri Lanka did not have the wherewithal to challenge the Indian action. India felt it could get away with flagrant violation of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. The country could not have engaged French built Mirage 2000 fighters even if they were considered hostile aircraft. The SLAF lacked jets or anti-aircraft weapons capable of engaging such advanced aircraft.

Responding to a query by The Island, Gen. de Silva alleged the Indian military and intelligence personnel had accompanied the Indian Red Cross involved in the transfer of food stocks from India to Kankesanthurai harbour in late June 1987. The Indian military was on a mission, though the army never realized at that time that India was seeking to deploy its troops in Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka under an agreement. The LTTE, too, took advantage of the situation to infiltrate government-held areas on the pretext of being employees of various co-operative societies, tasked to distribute Indian food stocks.

Nelliady attack

Due to Indian intervention, the army stopped all offensive action in both provinces. The army was engaged in consolidating its positions, in newly captured areas, whereas the LTTE was planning a major suicide attack. The first Black Tiger, Vallipuram Vasanthan, on July 5, 1987, drove an explosives-laden truck into a government school in Nelliady, in Vadamarachchy, paving the way for a frontal assault. A section of the media propagated that Operation Liberation was called off due to the Nelliady assault.

Vasanthan was the son of Thurairatnam, a prominent TULF politician who represented the Jaffna electoral district.

The LTTE stormed Nelliady School after blocking off all access routes. The then Jaffna Commander de Silva arrived at Nelliady at first light on the following day. The soft spoken officer told The Island: “As the helicopter carrying me was about to land at close proximity to the targeted school, we saw men in Black uniform firing at the chopper. The newly raised 4 Gemunu Watch (4 GW) at that time was deployed at Nelliady. 5GW was raised on the field with the then Lt. Col. Wasantha Perera as its commanding officer.”

Subsequent to the Nelliady attack, the LTTE and those supportive of its macabre cause propagated that as many as 300 soldiers died in the suicide attack, though the actual number of death was far less. Almost 15 years later Colombo based journalists visiting Jaffna after the signing of the Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was told how Black Tiger Vasanthan a.k.a Captain Miller brought Operation Liberation to an abrupt end with his devastating suicide attack.

“There was no truth in these reports,” the Sandhurst-trained batch-mate of war veteran Kobbekaduwa said, stressing such erroneous reports tend to give an entirely wrong picture of the events leading to the Indo-Lanka accord in July, 1987. “Surely it was a part of their propaganda strategy. They wanted people to believe the offensive was called off due to heavy enemy resistance.”

De Silva was commissioned as a Second Lieut on August 3, 1962. “I was with the Sinha Regiment and joined the GW a year later.” However, when officers reach the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, they shed their regimental (unit) identity. He assumed command of the army on January 1, 1994 and relinquished the post on April 30, 1996. Four months later he was appointed High Commissioner to Islamabad and was there for two years.

“The Nelliady blast claimed the lives of less than 20 personnel”, he said, adding that the 4 GW did not have the required number of officers and men to call it a battalion.

There had been about 100 4 GW soldiers, a troop of armor (about 35 men, one armoured car and two scout cars) and a few others, including army engineers at the targeted school. Lt. Col. Perera had been at the school when the LTTE struck. Most of the troops were watching Rupavahini’s 8 p.m. Sinhala news bulletin when the blast occurred. Twelve 4 GW personnel were among the 17 killed in the blast triggered by the suicide cadre who drove in an explosive-laden truck. It was similar to the attack staged on the Dalada Maligawa many years later.

“Now they talk of hundreds being killed. Newspapers inadvertently carry erroneous reports. The sad thing is people believe in them. Obviously it was a part of the Tigers’ strategy. Such tales always attracted recruits to the ranks of terrorists.”

Indians arrive

“Were you in Jaffna when the IPKF flew in? Were you aware of the Indo-Lanka agreement and its impact on the security forces”? “As the Jaffna security forces commander, I welcomed Gen. Harkirat Singh, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 54th Independent Airborne Assault Division when the Indians flew in. It was a humiliating experience as we knew they forced their way here. Soon after they landed in Palaly, they simply asked the SLAF personnel to shift and took over the control tower. Our camps and detachments were cut off. Within hours they were in charge.”

It was a ridiculous situation. The army was not even made aware of the Indo-Lanka agreement. “We were in the dark. We were informed of it about three days later. The Indians did not even bother to tell us that the agreement guaranteed the right to move, particularly the logistical convoys until the LTTE completes the surrender of weapons. It was to be done in just 72 hours.

There were many contentious issues. The Indians and the Sri Lankan forces did not agree on many issues. But relations improved and reached an excellent level when the LTTE resumed hostilities by launching indiscriminate attacks on the Indians about 10 weeks after their triumphant arrival in the northeast. India lost over 1500 men. Over two thousand were wounded, some of them maimed for life. “They paid a heavy price for failing to identify the LTTE and its methods.”

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