Navy, Airforce on alert to prevent LTTE arms shipment

By Shamindra Ferdinando
Despite prospect of reviving the stalled Norwegian facilitated bid to bring the LTTE back to the negotiating table, the navy and the airforce remain on a heightened state of alert to prevent a possible attempt to smuggle in a fresh stock of armaments, defence sources said this week.

A few hours before the LTTE announced that they would observe a unilateral cease-fire for a month beginning midnight next Tuesday, Airforce headquarters ordered a pair of Israeli built Kfirs attack aircraft to take off from Katunayake airbase to engage a suspected LTTE ship sighted about 100 nautical miles off Mullaitivu.

The Kfirs took off immediately after an airforce reconnaissance aircraft sighted the ship, the sources said adding that the Beachcraft involved in the reconnaissance mission was unable to take a closer look at the vessel due to cloud cover and bad weather.

"The vessel was in international waters," the sources said.

The airforce has also observed a cluster of unidentified boats about 40 nautical miles away from the suspected ship.

Successive governments have repeatedly accused the LTTE of taking advantage of their unilateral cease-fires and mutually agreed cease-fires with government security forces to move in massive stocks of armaments.

The airforce has deployed aircraft in support of the ongoing Varuna Kirana naval operation aimed at crippling LTTE sea-supply routes to key bases on the north-east coast, the sources said expressing the belief that since the operation got underway on May 25 this year, exactly a month after the disastrous Agnikheela offensive in the Jaffna theatre, there had been eight major confrontations.

At least twelve enemy craft including some transport vessels were destroyed and another dozen damaged, some of them badly, the sources said adding following a fierce confrontation between the navy and the Sea Tigers on October 21 this year, the navy recovered a 56 feet long enemy craft that had been mounted with 25 mm guns. " The boat was big even by our standards," the sources said explaining that the operation has caused problems for the LTTE.

Several navy vessels particularly Fast Attack Craft involved in the operation had been damaged, some of them badly, in confrontations with the enemy, the sources said.

The sources implied that Varuna Kirana was launched following interrogation of nine terrorists taken captured alive during a sea battle in April last year, revealed regular mid-sea transfer of armaments off Mullaitivu.

The operation would continue, the sources said.

However, some have criticised the ongoing operation claiming that it has not produced the desired results despite headquarters deploying most of their precious craft available for operational deployment.

Since Agnikheela, there had been no major offensives in the north-east.

Defence sources implied that even if the UNP led United National Government decides not to agree to an immediate ceasefire, there would not be any major military operations in the north-east.