Features

Tsunami deals a crippling blow to LTTE
By Our Defence Correspondent

The giant tidal waves that devastated South Asia and Southeast Asia dealt a crippling blow to the LTTE, killing more than 200 of its cadres and destroying huge stocks of weapons and war supplies, according to sources in the North.

The Sri Lanka Army suffered 64 officers and soldiers killed, while the death toll of the Sri Lanka Navy was 18. On the missing list are 70 sailors and 232 soldiers.

The civilian death toll in the LTTE controlled Mullaitivu district is 4,200, while that of LTTE controlled areas in the Jaffna district was 2,100, sources said.

One of the most incredible occurrences was the complete absence of LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran from public view. He has yet to be seen either in public or through the media, leading to much speculation of his whereabouts. However, there is no information coming from the North to suggest that he was a victim of the tidal waves.

In contrast, many other senior LTTE leaders were very much in evidence directing rescue operations around Mullaittivu, Muttur, and Jaffna, such as Sea Tiger Leader Colonel Soosai (now recovered from his medical troubles which took him to Singapore), Trincomalee District Commander Col. Sornam, Political Wing Leader S. P. Thamilchelvan, and Trincomalee District Political Head Elilan.

The LTTE’s Sea Tiger Wing has been almost completely destroyed with more than 100 fighting craft sunk or badly damaged along the Mullaittivu, Trincomalee and Jaffna coasts, sources said.

However, the LTTE is officially admitting the loss of only seven cadres killed, three of them in Mullaittivu and four in the Vadamarachchi area on the eastern coast of the Jaffna district. The Tigers have placed a blanket on news of destruction to their bases, with the result that there is no official news from the LTTE on this front.

All LTTE communications facilities, Sea Tiger bases, radar stations and artillery on the coastline have been destroyed, sources said.

The two tidal waves swept through the low-lying Mullaittivu and Vadamarachchi coasts, which are only a few feet above sea level for several kilometres. Mullaittivu town, which is located on a spit of land with the sea on one side and a lagoon on the other, was completely destroyed.

Two of the Sea Tigers’ largest bases, Mullaittivu and Alampil, were annihilated. However, there was less damage to the main Sea Tiger base at Chalai.

As with the rest of the country, the LTTE was taken completely unawares.

However, the main Tiger land fighting units were relatively unscathed, being based further inland. The LTTE still has its vast army of cadres, including new recruits, numbering some 18,000.

Two of the LTTE’s specialized units, the Anti-Aircraft Unit and the Artillery Unit, are also unscathed. They had been based in Mullaittivu earlier, but had been moved and dispersed to secret locations inland about a year after the ceasefire began.

The Sea Tigers have assigned a large number of cadres to locate and salvage their boats which have not been completely destroyed.

On the armed forces side, many coastal army camps and navy bases were damaged. The Galle navy base, SLNS Dakshina, was completely wiped out, and one of the navy’s largest ships was heavily damaged while moored at the base, being lifted bodily out of the water and slammed to the bottom of the harbour. The navy base at Boossa was also damaged.

The main navy base at Trincomalee was also flooded, but gunboats and fast attack craft moored in the navy harbour suffered no damage as they had cut their moorings and sped out of the harbour when the water began rising. Craft at Kankesanthurai also were undamaged except for some minor vessels, since KKS received five minutes warning of the impending tidal wave from Trincomalee.

Incredibly, navy vessels that were at sea in deep water off the east coast were completely unaware of the first tidal wave, which passed under them before slamming into the coast. Tsunamis have the unique ability of travelling through deep water at the stupendous speed of 800-1,000 kilometres per hour without causing so much as a ripple on the surface.

Armed forces personnel of all three services located in coastal camps, for the most part shoo off the disaster that had befallen their camps, and responded magnificently to the humanitarian disaster around them. Junior officers led groups of soldiers and sailors throughout the North, East, West and South, combing through debris and rescuing the thousands of wounded. It fell to them also to recover the bodies of the nearly 30,000 dead. Bodies recovered during the first two days were dispatched to the nearest hospitals, but after that, bodies had decomposed to such an extent that transporting them was impossible. In any case, identification of the bodies was now not possible due to the high state of decomposition, and all that the armed services personnel could do was to count the number of bodies and bury them in mass graves.

SLAF

The Sri Lanka Air Force did not suffer damages to any of its aircraft. However, its helicopter pilots have never been trained to carry out rescue missions at sea on such a massive scale at a rapid pace, although many of its pilots strived to gallantly carry out their missions of mercy.

However, it is unfortunate that several of the SLAF’s choppers were kept busy by politicians and bureaucrats, including the President, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and leaders of the JVP.

The performance of many police stations in affected areas was less than satisfactory. Policemen and officers in many areas of the south were of little help, and there were a large number of reports of police pilfering relief supplies that had been handed to them by civilians for distribution to refugees.

On the bright side, inter-service co-operation was excellent, as was co-ordination with the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force. The Indian Navy immediately rushed rescue ships. The INS "Sharda" and "Sutlej" went to Galle, while the "Sandhayak" and "Sukhanya" went to Trincomalee, and "Aditya" to Colombo. All of them carried rescue teams, vehicles, supplies and medical teams. Six MI17 helicopters of the Indian Air Force also arrived the day after the disaster, and Indian Air Force Ilyushin IL76 transport aircraft carried out a series of supply runs to Katunayake.

The LTTE in fact called for foreign assistance as early as Sunday evening, within hours of the tsunami striking. However, with other governments and international relief organizations occupied with disaster relief in Indonesia and the south of Sri Lanka, little aid was sent to the LTTE-controlled areas for several days. However, foreign NGOs with a presence on the ground in those areas did their best to assist, and sent invaluable reports to their head offices describing the situation.

However, the LTTE simply could not cope with the scope of the disaster. Unlike in the south, where television stations, companies, and members of the public organized a massive relief effort which dwarfed that of the government, the Tigers could not count on any such effort in their war ravaged and impoverished areas. Road conditions from Kilinochchi to the Mullaittivu district coastline were also very bad, as the roads have not been repaired to any great extent, unlike the A9 highway where work has been completed.

The LTTE’s insistence that all aid be channelled through its relief arm the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) was a further blunder, as foreign governments were reluctant to hand over aid to a terrorist organization, not knowing whether the relief items would be properly distributed.

 

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