Archive for the ‘Front Line’ Category

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Boat carrying refugees capsizes in the sea

December 15, 2006

By Walter Jayawardhana

Valaichenai Police said at least one child died and six others were missing after a a boat of fleeing refugees capsized off Eastern Batticaloa District.

It was not revealed why the boat capsized but Valachchenai Police said the many were admitted to the town’s hospital out of which the ten year old girl had died.

The people were fleeing from Vahara, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is engaged in heavy fighting with the security forces of the Sri Lanka government.

The ten year old girl who died in the hospital has been identified as Anandarasa Meena. Five others who were rescued from the capsized boat are also admitted in the hospital. Six other people who were also passengers in the boat are missing the police said.

Thousands of people who were prevented of leaving the Vahara area by the LTTE have managed to escape both by land routes as well as by sea, refugees who came out of the area have told aid agencies.

People who came to the government controlled areas have been sent to temporary refugee camps, the Batticaloa based refugee services said.

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Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka hints Tamil Tiger era in the East is coming to an end

December 13, 2006

By Walter Jayawardhana

The Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka has dropped a hint to the media that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) will be driven out of Eastern Province.

Lieutenant General Fonseka is reported to have briefed the media that his troops engaged at Vakerai and kadiraveli in the Eastern theatre of war have over run two forward defense lines making the enemy retreat and cornered.

The army has indicated that the enemy is going through its final phase of their end in the Eastern Province that started in March 2004 with the departure of Karuna that has never improved from its gradual deterioration since then.

Many analysts believe that the sudden suggestion of the army commander would not have come without a strong confidence in the battle hardened commander that his troops are on their way to victory in their battles engaged right now in the theatre of war in the Eastern Province.

Without quoting him directly, the website for the media center for national security said that Fonseka is reported to have told the media that the insurgents will be driven out of Eastern Province so the people in the area could pursue their daily lives peacefully.

According to the statement, although the the commander did not reveal a time frame for the fall of the LTTE in the East many expected that to be imminent.

The website said the LTTE who escaped from Sampur have now retreated to Vakerai and kadiraveli from where they fire their artillery guns at military garrisons and civilian settlements.

The media center for national security website declared, this is not the first instance the LTTE has lost its hold in the Eastern province.  During the period 1993 – 1994, LTTE influence was swept away under the then Commander of the Eastern   province Brigadier Lucky Algama.

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Slain MP’s final words an hour before being gunned down

November 11, 2006

Following is the complete text of the last live programme Mr. N. Raviraj attended on Derana TV yesterday. Mr. Raviraj was invited for the Derana Aruna programme last morning from 7.30 am to 8.00 am to discuss the A-9 closure and recent attacks on civilians. He was in the Derana studio in Nugegoda for about 45 minutes before being attacked by an unidentified gunman in Narahenpita within two hours after the interview.

Q: Hon Member, Your party launched a massive protest in parliament against the de- merger of the North and the East following the recent Supreme Court judgment. What was the reason for these protests?

A.We in the TNA started agitations demanding the reopening of the A9 Road… Meanwhile on Oct.16th, the Supreme Court passed the judgment on de-merger of the two provinces. However, we do not have a problem with the judgment… we have a political problem. The people in the north-east aspire to live together. They aspire for the merger of the two provinces, it is a basic human right of those people.

In the ancient times, there were Sinhala and Tamil kingdoms in Sri Lanka. It is not new to our people. That is mainly an area of Tamils from ancient times. It does not mean that we want to divide the country. We believe that North and east be considered as a one unit. That should be the base if to find a solution to the ethnic crisis.

Q: Why do you insist on the de merger of the two provinces, and what special privilege will the Tamil community have by that or in what manner does the merger benefit them?

A.Why do you people say that this country should not be divided? Because, then only people feel more strong and powerful. Likewise, Tamils will feel more powerful when they are together. The merger will enhance their strength and provide them the opportunity to look into their affairs well. It is their aspiration. The two provinces are prominently Tamil areas.

Q: If you are accepting that living in unity will make people more powerful, why don’t you support the unitary state concept ?

A. Unitary state concept is no longer acceptable now. It is an old system and has no validity today. When we achieved independence in 1948, not a single Tamil leader talked about a separate state or a federal state. Who forced us to the present situation?

Q: You say that Tamil leaders did not demand a separate state. But, Wasn’t Mr.Ponnambalam’s 50-50 demand the origin of this crisis?

A. In 1947 when India achieved independence, Mohamed Ali Jinnah demanded Pakistan to be separated. We asked for 50-50 and then a Federal system and now the LTTE is fighting for separate state. However, as politicians we still believe in a united country. Who is responsible for this state? Since independence, we were being discriminated. First, they abolished the clauses in Soulbury Commission, which provided safeguards for the minorities, and then they brought Sinhala Only Act. Thus, who pushed us to this state? India that gained independence in 1947 has 22 states now. Yet, it is a united country today, because they implemented the right administrative system. Some fear federal system would divide the country. But the best example we can get is from India. In 1965, Tamil Nadu demanded separate powers. But today if you ask a Tamil in Tamilnadu, they will say we are all Indians..! Jaffna people are starving due to the closure of the A9.

We are one family. In a family, mothers generally tend to love or treat a disabled child or the youngest more than others. What we do is taking all the facilities including food from that child. That is what they did exactly by closing the A-9. In 1995, government launched operation Jaya Sikuru to open the A-9. Vice –versa, this government says it cannot open it, giving the impression that those people do not belong to our country. Thus, we will provide them goods in ships. What is this all about?

Q: The issue of the A9 road is an outcome of terrorist activities… everybody is aware that LTTE take ransoms and tax people on the A9 road?

A. They say LTTE taking ransom. What a lie…. A9 was opened only in 2002. how did the LTTE survive so far? Didn’t they earn before? Didn’t they have enough food and other facilities? This was a downright lie of the government. I returned from Jaffna only yesterday. I accept that LTTE tax people.

Q: But didn’t the LTTE attack the military checkpoint?

A. Ok let me finish on the tax affair. Goods were sent in ships even when I was the Jaffna Mayor since 1995. A petrol litre was sold at Rs 1000. To whom those taxes went? I want to emphasize one thing. The LTTE never ever imposed tax on essential items sent by the government to be distributed freely among poor people in the area through Divisional Secretariats and on items related to education. Also who are paying taxes for the LTTE. Not the people here, not Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, not Keheliya Rambukwella, not even Raviraj… it’s the people of those areas. When A9 was opened, the difference of a Petrol litre in Jaffna was only Rs 10 including LTTE taxes.

Q: Why are you opposing an alternative route?

A. Is not the Pooneryn route also going through Kilinochchi. Will there be no taxing then. Moreover, it is a more distant and difficult road and only two kilometres away from the sea. Besides, what happened to the people who went to observe the road yesterday? SLMM chief managed a narrow escape from an attack and had to hide in a bunker.

Let me tell one thing to Mr. Rajapaksa. Let’s close the main road to Hambantota and send all goods in ships from Colombo.

Q: But there is no terrorist issue in Hambantota?

A. Why are you always talking about a terrorist issue? If there is terrorism it should be suppressed using similar methods. In 1.1 clause, it’s clearly mentioned in the CFA that the A9 should be opened. If the government is not willing to do so, what they should do is to say that they do not accept the CFA, CFA is over and that they have started war. It has nothing to do with the innocent people of the area. .Now the A9 road is closed causing innumerable hardships to the innocent people. Even the animals in the area are starved to death. We have to obtain visas from the Army camp in the area to come to Colombo. Do you know that?

Q: Wasn’t it the LTTE who closed the A9 in their areas?

A. What nonsense! I even went to Kilinochchi and Pallai recently. I barely escaped a shell attack.

Q: From which side?

A. Obviously…. You do not look up to see from which side you have been attacked during a war. When I was in Jaffna, there were 50-60 shells from this side to retaliate one or two shells from the LTTE side. Situation is such that people of the area could not sleep in peace when there are no shell attacks. The LTTE is willing to reopen the road in their area with the intervention of international observers.

Q:These are happening because the LTTE attacked a ship carrying civilians. What are your comments on such terrorist activities?

A. Why does the government ferry civilians by sea? Let me explain. In one ship, have more than 1000 travellers aboard. Who are they? Only 300 of them are civilians and others are security personnel. I do not say that the security personnel should not come to see their kith and kin. But the government is only providing a civilian cover to ferry soldiers. You will understand that if the A9 road is open, these problems will not crop up. In 1995 the government launched Jaya Sikuru operation to open A9 road. Thousands of our youths were killed. Now the government has closed the same road.

Q: What solution do you proposed to overcome this problem?

A. There are many personal problems. My good friend J.VP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe has problems. The JHU has problems and even general Fonseka has problems… The Buddha preached the benefits of alms giving. Buddhists say that we must help others. However, the monks who follow Buddha are opposed to the opening of A9 road to supply food to the people in Jaffna. Wimal Weerawansa said that if the UNO intervenes in the problems it will be a violation of the country’s sovereignty. What right does he have to talk about sovereignty? It was them who took up arms against the democratically elected government in 1971. In 1988/89 period, they did not allow us to light even a kerosene lamp. So how can they talk about sovereignty today.

Q: Several solutions have been proposed to the national problem. Indian Panchayath system is one such. What is your opinion in this regard?

A. Indian Panchayath system is a system in a village administrative system. After devolution of powers at higher level, some measure of autonomy is given to the village level. However, I have not yet heard that this system is to be implemented in Sri Lanka.

Q: Hon. Member, what measures do you proposed do you propose to resolve this problem

A. In fact, the Sinhala or the Tamil people do not want to see a military struggle and bloodshed in the country. They are prepared to live in peace. When the tsunami hit Mullaithivu area, it was the Sinhala people who helped the Tamils. They do not want war. I am for a negotiated settlement.

This was not only what I say. The first such example was set by the Emperor Ashoka after Kalinga war. First of all the people who are starved should be given food and build confidence. The TNA is committed to support any such endeavor.

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Sri Lanka Air Force bombed selected military targets of Batticaloa and Vakarai

November 2, 2006

By Walter Jayawardhana

Los Angeles :-The Sri Lanka Air Force bombed selected military targets of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) around the town of Batticaloa and Vakarai in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka.

Defense spokesman for the cabinet Keheliya Rambukwella said the air raids were carried out to neutralize the Multi barrel rockets and artillery guns of the LTTE which have been used against government military camps in the East for the last few days.

He said the the government will have to react that way as long as the terrorist group become a challenge to the national security of the country.

The air raids are the first since peace talks between the government and Tamil rebels broke down in Geneva during the last weekend. There has been no comment from the Tigers yet.

Keheliya Rambukwella said the air raids were done on two main reasons. They were done not only as retaliatory measure but also based on army intelligence reports , he said.

Other reports said that the Sri Lanka army and the LTTE guerillas clashed during the 31st night using multi barrel rockets and artillery fire. At Mankerni one soldier was injured.

At Vavuniya the LTTE targeted a claymore bomb at the security forces but killed G. Jegadambal a pedestrian woman in the explosion. An army soldier and a home guard were also injured in the incident.

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Guns to the left, guns to the right

September 30, 2006

Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka inspects LTTE weapons and explosives captured by  troops during his inspection tour in Jaffna yesterday.

Tribute to Sri Lankan Armed Forces

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UNHCR demands access to war-affected civilians By Easwaran Rutnam

August 19, 2006

Travel restrictions strictly enforced as fighting continues

UNHCR has called on both the government and the LTTE to permit urgent freedom of access to humanitarian aid workers to reach all affected populations from the ongoing fighting between the government troops and the LTTE.

The relief agency estimates more than 162,200 people had fled their homes since fighting erupted in April but remain within the country, while another 6,672 had crossed the Palk Strait to become refugees in India’s Tamil Nadu state.

“We and our partners are now seriously concerned about the welfare of civilians in areas inaccessible to humanitarian agencies because of strictly enforced travel restrictions, as fighting continues in the north and east of Sri Lanka,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told the press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva yesterday.

UNHCR notes that with the closure of the A9 access road to the Jaffna peninsula through the LTTE-controlled Kilinochchi District, supplies of food and water have fallen to alarmingly low levels in many locations and as a result, people are hoarding food,while merchants sharply hike prices in local markets.

The Daily Mirror learns however that the government, through the government agent in Jaffna, has warned of taking serious action against traders in Jaffna who sell their goods at exorbitant rates owing to the lack of stocks created by the fierce fighting in the area.

Pagonis meanwhile says the situation in Point Pedro, in the north of the Jaffna peninsula, is even more fluid and unpredictable than in the Jaffna town, as people in the town have sought refuge in large communal buildings while displaced civilians in Point Pedro are staying in vacant homes and with host families, creating electricity, water and sanitation problems.

Eastern districts face a similar crisis. Thousands of displaced families in Muttur, Eachchilampattu Divisions of Trincomalee District, and the Vaharai Division in Batticaloa District, are in desperate need of sustained humanitarian relief, UNHCR said.

Some 15,000 to 20,000 people are now said to be displaced in LTTE-controlled Kilinochchi District as a result of repeated artillery shelling and air strikes. Humanitarian agencies are targeting their help to those displaced people – some 9,500 individuals – living outdoors or in communal buildings.

Around 500 families have reportedly moved to the grounds of the Madhu Church in Mannar District, a previous displacement site during the 1983-2002 civil war. All permanent houses around the church are now fully occupied by displaced people, and nearly 75 families have erected tents in the surrounding area .-Daily Mirror

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Mahinda – JVP consultations continue

August 6, 2006

President Mahinda Rajapakse continues to be in intense consultation with the JVP which he would very much like to take into the government. But whether his red ally who helped elect him would agree to tone down its hard line on the approach to the peace process and push for a military solution if the LTTE remains recalcitrant is the big question.

The JVP’s entry into the government will help Rajapakse to resolve his problem of parliamentary numbers and stabilize the government. Also, the government would be much less exposed to a possible war on the trade union front if the JVP is in the government.

But it is a moot point on whether the JVP will be willing to adapt its stance to suit the exigencies of government. However helpful the hierarchy may want to be to Rajapakse, a Marxist party working on the tenets of democratic centralism will have to follow what the majority of its members want. A harsher approach to Norway, not appeasing the LTTE and going to war if that is the clear option appears to be all part of the current majority view of the JVP. This was reflected in a party meeting last week when the government’s militaristic tilt in the east won approving nods.

Doing what it now does from the opposition will be a “no, no’’ if it does join the government and such restrictions will not be an attractive proposition. But the JVP has to balance that with the reality that if it forces Rajapakse’s hand to dissolve parliament and go for an election, its parliamentary strength will drop to half the present number. That too cannot be an attractive proposition. Whether last week’s events on the security front will be a sweetener for a possible JVP entry to the government remains to be seen.

Ranil mending fences

The UNP anticipates the possibility of an election and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has been passing this word down the line. Hence the appointment of new electoral organizers where they are considered needed. The green party is also trying to overcome the in-fighting within the leadership and the fact that Prof. G.L. Pieris, suspected as a prime candidate for defection to the government, last week made a statement on behalf of the party suggests that some fence mending has begun. “We have to use the resources we have,’’ a party senior said. “It is futile for us to keep fighting each other and let personal likes and dislikes prevent us using capable people to good effect.’’

Fighting for Muttur

The fighting in Muttur last week held the national center stage. Despite the lives lost and the flood of refugees forced to flee their homes, neither side has been able to notch-up a victory. The plain-speaking head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, Major General (Rtd) Ulf Henricsson, has made the point that the Mavilaru anicut remains closed. All hell broke out in Muttur once again focusing on the importance of the Trincomalee district to the LTTE.

Both sides have been throwing around figures of who lost how many to demonstrate that their opponent has been second-bested. Most people do not take these numbers seriously but know very well that both the government and LTTE sides have suffered considerable losses. On top of that, the fighting has heaped heavy burdens on the backs of people whose lives were already difficult.

Once again the strategic importance of Trincomalee was underlined by the intensity of the fighting. The LTTE’s push for Muttur was very much a part of getting within striking distance of the eastern harbour town where the Sri Lanka Navy’s main base is located. Hopefully, as Minister Sarath Amunugama has publicly said, “the stupid CPC unions’’ trying to dislodge the Indians from Trincomalee should at least now understand the security implications.

BBC analysis

In a news analysis from Colombo last week, the BBC’s Dumeetha Luthra noted that the dispute that began over the closing of the Mavilaru anicut has now grown into something larger and more dangerous with the potential to trigger a wider conflict. “The paradox is both sides insist they want to abide by the ceasefire signed in 2002, but are doing nothing to show that,’’ her report said.

The conflict escalated into a situation where the government threw in its air power to neutralize the LTTE behind its lines and the Tigers demonstrated an ability to target the vital naval base with its long range artillery. Hopefully the SLAF neutralized that capability, given that there was no repeat attempt.

According to Luthra’s analysis, “elements of the military have been desperate to have a go at the Tigers arguing that a short sharp war was a viable option. Perhaps the water dispute was perceived as the ideal opportunity.’’

“But what’s in it for the Tigers?’’ she asks. Replying this question, Luthra says that since the Karuna breakaway, the LTTE faces the same guerilla tactics from Karuna’s forces that the Tigers use against the army. “Adding to their woes is the fact Col. Karuna has been receiving tacit support from parts of the military.’’ She quotes some analysts expressing the view that what the LTTE has been doing has been an attempt to show that it has not been militarily weakened in the east.

New Rata Perata draft

The JVP has prepared a revised draft of the Rata Perata policy program which the party’s general secretary, Tilvin Silva, presented to President Rajapakse last week. The draft was discussed by a group including Messrs. Somawansa Amarasinghe, Wimal Weerawansa and K.D. Lal Kantha on the JVP side and ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, Susil Premajayanth and Anura Priyadharsana Yapa representing the SLFP. Further discussions will take place in a week’s time.

Disturbed by telephone threats on his life, Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana accompanied by Minister Dinesh Gunewardena complained to Rajapakse about the calls he was receiving. The president placated Moulana saying, "What nonsense Alavi, no one will kill you. This is somebody’s joke. So don’t think too much about it.’’

He added that the veteran SLFP trade unionist should be in his cabinet rather than doing his present provincial council related job. So saying Rajapakse deftly diverted Moulana from his death threat preoccupation and got on to other pressing business that included conferring a deputy ministry on yet another UNP defector.

Facing South for luck

The SLFP’s Galle District leaders, Amarasiri Dodangoda, Piyasena Gamage and Gunaratne Weerakoon were waiting to see the president at `Temple Trees’. They had brought along UNP MP Lionel Premasiri, one time SLFP Mayor of Galle who was now defecting to the government.

Rajapakse banteringly asked Premasiri who was being sworn as Deputy Minister of Social Services, "So Lionel, which direction should you face when I administer the oath?"

"The South is good Sir, and the auspicious time 9.30," Premasiri said.

"Yes, the South is the best," agreed Southerner Rajapakse saying “let’s get this work done now’’ and duly swore Premasiri as deputy minister and gave him the relevant papers of appointment.

Once the swearing-in was completed, the president in a conversation with those present complained about some ministers not doing their jobs. Paddy from the last harvest remained piled up in warehouses with no plan to distribute it to the people. While urgent pubic work remained to be done, too much attention was focused on gaining more privileges. It is essential that everybody should be more focused on the work they must do, Rajapakse stressed.

President cautions some TV channels

With the war situation in the East worsening with fighting between the LTTE and the security forces in Muttur, the president summoned an emergency meeting of the National Security Council where some of the service commanders complained about irresponsible reporting by some private TV channels beaming programs helpful to the LTTE.

Rajapakse summoned a meeting of media heads to Temple Trees and asked them to give the national interest priority. "We may have political differences but helping a terrorist group is not in the national interest," he said. "I can use tough measures but I am only making a request."

Once the work in hand was done, the president invited the media heads for tea and exchanged pleasantries with them with no reference to the subject on which the meeting had been summoned.

Plaudits for Mahinda S

Disaster Management & Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe received an urgent message from the president that food was urgently needed in Kantalai, Somapura, Seruwawila and Muttur. Samarasinghe moved quickly to contact UNICEF, ICRC and the World Food Program who agreed to organize supplies. NGOs volunteered to ensure that food stocks reached Trincomalee by Thursday morning. Samarasinghe stressed that the supplies should reach not only government controlled areas but also rebel held areas. The NGOs praised the minister for his liberal and proper approach.

Reginald’s jest

Western Provincial Councilor Prasanna Ranatunge hosted a party at his Udugampola home last week. The event was attended by Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Chief Minister Reginald Cooray and several other Gampaha District Provincial Councilors.

The occasion provided an opportunity to discuss matters relating to the SLFP’s Gampaha District organization as well as the Western Provincial Council.

While the discussion was going on, the telephone rang in the Ranatunge home and President Rajapakse came on the line. "What’s happening there Prasanna?," the president asked. "I am told that there is a group getting `set’ there."

"No Sir, there is nothing special happening. A group of us have got together to map out a political course for the future and strengthen our organization."

"Oh, I wondered where there was a conspiracy," Rajapakse said. "Never mind. Tell the others that I also extended my good wishes."

Given that there are rumours of CBK looking at a comeback and Gampaha is her home base, Rajapakse may have wondered whether anything was brewing, an analyst said. This could be especially so given the guest list which included loyalists like Fernandopulle and Reginald Cooray. The president, cannily, would have wanted to pas on the message that he had his ear to the ground.

Once the preliminary business was completed, a rollicking good time was had by all. Ranatunge wined and dined his guests and Chief Minister Reginald Cooray demonstrated his singing prowess in the sing song that followed. His rendition of some golden Sinhala oldies attracted applause particularly from the ladies and a wag chuckled "You are getting support from the opposition!"

"Yes, I have always been getting support from the opposition side," countered Cooray referring to his current predicament in the WPC. "That’s the scene in the Provincial Council even now.’’ -The Sunday Island