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Navy convoys move sans SLMM – by Shamindra Ferdinando

June 4, 2006

Despite the Nordic truce monitoring mission suspending naval monitoring consequent to the May 11 attack on a naval convoy off the Mullaitivu coast, the navy is moving men and material between Trincomalee and Kankasanthurai.

"We’ll not suspend our movements," a navy officer told the "Sunday Island" last week during a visit to the Trincomalee navy base, the nerve centre of operations in the east. As forces based in the Jaffna peninsula depend largely on the navy, a suspension of convoys due to the absence of truce monitors would have had a catastrophic impact.

The "Sunday Island" learns that an Indian warship loaned to Sri Lanka, till the Indians refitted SLNS Sayura (formerly INS Saryui) acquired in October 2000 at a cost of US$ 19 million, is being used to facilitate the movement of off duty personnel to and from KKS.

The visiting First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff of Great Britain Admiral Sir Jonathon Band Saturday visited Trincomalee where the navy briefed him of the current situation with the focus on their efforts to maintain the Trincomalee-KKS route despite Sea Tiger attacks.

Although the mission expected to resume naval monitoring after securing security guarantees from both parties to the Oslo-arranged Ceasefire Agreement, the LTTE reiterated its opposition to monitors travelling in navy vessels thereby blocking the recommencement. This would be discussed at the two-day meeting between government and LTTE representatives on June 8 and 9 in Oslo.

Acting Nordic spokesperson Robert Nilform Saturday said the focus would be on the security and strengthening of the five-nation mission. He acknowledged that the government recently responded to the issues raised with both parties following the May 11 attack. "The LTTE is yet to respond," he said.

Earlier the mission, following a meeting chaired by Head of Mission, Major General Ulf Henricsson, forwarded some requirements to the government and the LTTE.

According to Nilform, Henricsson recently met Sea Tiger leader Soosai in Mullaitivu where they discussed a range of issues. Government officials scoffed at the LTTE demand for diplomatic privileges for their delegation for the Oslo meet. "We have assured safe passage to them through BIA," a senior official said, pointing out the absurdity in their demand, particularly in the backdrop of the recent EU ban. Referring to S. P. Thamilchelvan’s demand, the official emphasised that the LTTE was in no way in a position to pressure the government. "The pressure is on them and they know it," he said.

Henricsson met Thamilchelvan last Thursday after a three-day tour of LTTE-held areas in the Vanni where he met Soosai.

During the meeting Soosai had urged Henricsson to deploy truce monitors on Sea Tiger vessels. The "Sunday Island" learns that the government would not accept such deployment. "This is part of their strategy to legitimise the Sea Tigers," a senior official said. Referring to the actions of Tryggive Telefesson, a former head of the monitoring mission, the official said that Sea Tigers were trying to take advantage of the situation.

The navy pointed out that a statement issued by the truce monitors immediately after the May 11 Sea Tiger attack dismissed their so-called right to operate in the seas. In fact, the monitors rejected their right to air space. The mission said, "Tigers have committed gross violations of the Ceasefire Agreement in recent days by moving at sea with the aim of provoking the Sri Lankan navy…"

"The sea surrounding Sri Lanka is a government-controlled-area. This has been ruled so by the Head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission in line with international law. Non-state actors cannot rule open sea waters or airspace. The LTTE has therefore no rights at sea.

"The LTTE has made, what the SLMM feels are threats to our monitors warning them not to participate in patrols in navy vessels. The SLMM takes these threats very seriously and would like to remind the LTTE of its responsibility as an equal partner to the Ceasefire Agreement to do everything in its power not to jeopardise the monitors’ safety.

"We therefore demand that the LTTE immediately ceases all activities and operations at sea as they are a serious violation of the CFA. This sort of reckless behaviour can only lead to a dangerous escalation resulting in growing hostilities and jeopardising any possibility for future peace talks."

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