LTTE prepares thrust on Jaffna by Election Day

By Our Defence Correspondent
December 5 is the sixth anniversary of the liberation of Jaffna

LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has been angered by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s brazen decision to hold general elections on the fifth of December, which is a day of shame for the Tigers since it is the sixth anniversary of the liberation of Jaffna by the armed forces, according to sources in the north.

Many top government leaders believe that the fifth of December is an auspicious day. It was on this day in 1995 that the Deputy Minister of Defence, Anuruddha Ratwatte, ceremonially raised the Lion Flag over the city of Jaffna in front of thousands of troops, an event which was broadcast live on Rupavahini for the entire nation to witness. Even the raising of the flag was deliberately delayed by a few days in order to wait for the auspicious day.

Political sources say that President Kumaratunga deliberately chose this day as she considers it a lucky one, and still looks upon it as a shining moment in her seven-year rule of the country. The president was so pleased at the capture of Jaffna that she held a grand investiture upon Ratwatte’s return, at which he announced to her like a conquering hero of ancient times that "Yapa Patuna" (Jaffna) had been liberated. A delighted president conferred on him the rank of General.

The event still ranks as the most embarrassing moment for Prabhakaran and the LTTE in their 20-year fight for Eelam, as it signified that he was unable to defend the capital city of Eelam, and shamed him in the eyes of the Tamil people.

The Directorate of Military Intelligence has warned that there is now a heavy concentration of LTTE cadres at Pooneryn, just a few kilometres across the waters of the Jaffna Lagoon from Jaffna town. Sri Lanka Air Force Mig and Kfir jets have been engaged in bombing runs of the Pooneryn area, and have reported scoring several hits on targets such as bunkers and fuel and ammunition stocks.

One problem which the Tigers face is the Northeast Monsoon, whose winds make it extremely difficult for small boats to cross the lagoon at this time of year. However, Tamil civilian sources in LTTE areas say that Prabhakaran is pressing ahead with preparations for the attack.

Prabhakaran is also aware that even a minor victory over the troops in the run-up to the election would have significant negative consequences on the election campaign of the People’s Alliance. The LTTE is known to favour a win by the UNP in the elections since it would open the doors to negotiations. The Tigers have refused to negotiate with the People’s Alliance government, in recent months spurning repeated offers by the government for a ceasefire and peace talks.

It is not clear if the Tigers intend to strike only from the Pooneryn side, which is the most direct route to Jaffna, or if they will also attack from the Elephant Pass-Chavakachcheri sector.

The LTTE has been heavily recruiting new cadres in the last six months, during which time it has conserved its strength by not launching any major attacks against the army. Meanwhile, several shiploads of ammunition and weapons have been brought in across the Mullaittivu coast and the East Coast.

Up to now, the LTTE has not used any of its new supplies in attacks on the forces, and intelligence believes that the Tigers are conserving them for a major attack on Jaffna.

The army believes that more than two thousand LTTE cadres died in the battle for Jaffna, which raged for 50 days from October 17 to December 5, 2001. Nearly 500 soldiers were also killed and 3,400 soldiers wounded.

Other losses included an air force Y-8 transport plane which was shot down over Palali and an Antonov AN-32 plane which was shot down off Karainagar.

The armed forces captured Jaffna despite an incredible campaign by the Tigers to distract them from the Jaffna operation. These included attacks on the Kolonnawa and Orugodawatte Ceylon Petroleum Corporation oil storage tanks in Colombo on October 20 in which 23 forces personnel were killed; and a bomb attack on Army Headquarters in Colombo which killed 12 civilians. Both were by Black Tiger suicide bombers. Other attempts by the Tigers were the deliberate massacres of nearly a hundred Sinhalese men, women and children in border villages in both the North and East, such as Moneratenne (32 people) in the Polonnaruwa district; Kolakanawadiya (17 people), Herath Hamillewa (16 killed) and Tammannewa (8 killed) in the Anuradhapura district; Mangalagama (16 killed) in Ampara district; and Kotiyagala (19 killed) in Moneragala district.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Army has temporarily halted its major operations until after the elections. The army has been very quiet over the last six months in any case, with the last major operation being in mid April in the Jaffna Peninsula. The government has been pre-occupied with its own political problems during this time, and the army’s top brass has been slacking off due to the lack of interest from the government.

The onset of the monsoon will delay any operations even further, until at least February, and the generals are clearly more interested in who will win on the political battlefields, than fighting any campaign on the northern front.