Wounded civilians on Pulmoddai beach
North of Mullaitivu April 28- As two Israeli-built Dvora Fast Attack Craft (FAC) approached the Mullaitivu coast on Tuesday morning a heavy fire fight erupted on the north-eastern coast encompassing the civilian safe zone.
The battle is between the 58 Division advancing further southwards, where LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, his intelligence chief Pottu Amman and Sea Tiger leader Soosai are taking refuge among civilians.
The raging battle on the ground is evidence that President Mahinda Rajapaksa hadn’t give in to mounting international pressure to call off the offensive. Although the UNP and JVP attempted to capitalise on the unexpected arrival of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner close on the heels of a visit by a top level Indian delegation, the offensive spearheaded by the army is on track.
While the guns boomed, the ICRC chartered vessel Green Ocean took on board several hundred men, women and children, both wounded in fighting, sick and their relatives accompanying them to medical facilities as well as makeshift accommodation in the government-held areas.
On Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s directive, the Eastern and Northern Area Commands had taken up the challenge in facilitating the rescue of civilians while tracking down LTTE boat movements.
The writer was among a group of journalists taken on board the FACs to observe a permanent naval blockade off the Mullaitivu coast to thwart any attempt to rescue the LTTE leadership.
Captain D. N. S. C. Kalubowila, Commanding Officer of the 4th FAC Squadron accompanying the group said that the navy was confident of meeting the challenge. Responding to The Island queries, he said that a sizeable force had been deployed to destroy LTTE craft launched from the civilian safe zone. "The elite Special Boat Squadron, Rapid Action Boat Squadron and FACs are on a 24 hour watch," he said, asserting that they had the required firepower to prevent an LTTE breakout. Captain D. K. P. Dassanayake, now on a temporary assignment in the northern theatre to oversee small boat operations, told The Island that the navy had the capability to detect and destroy any hostile boat movement launched from the no fire zone. He said that as the LTTE retreated in the face of army advance on the Mullaitivu coast, the sea access available to the LTTE had been gradually shrinking. "Now they have just six km of coastline under their control and we are ready to take on the enemy day and night.
In the early hours of the following day (Wednesday) the navy destroyed six explosives packed LTTE boats and one attack craft off the civilian safe zone. Commander Mahesh Karunaratne, responsible for arranging the well organised tour said that the navy had destroyed six explosives packed boats and one attack craft during the battle. One ‘Arrow’ type small craft had been hit and five personnel received injuries in action, he said.
Before returning to Trincomalee, the home base for the 4th FAC Squadron around 10. 40 p.m., the navy moved us to Chundikulam, a naval outpost, situated north of the civilian safe zone involved in the blockade. Northern Area Naval Commander Rear Admiral Somathilaka Dissanayake who was on an inspection tour of the area said that the officers and men had displayed extraordinary courage in action. Dissanayake said that the crew of a locally built ‘Arrow’ type boat last November died in an attempt to save a bigger vessel, an Inshore Patrol Craft (IPC) off Nagarkovil. Had they failed to thwart the attack at the expense of their lives, the LTTE would have blasted the IPC, he said, emphasising the importance of being alert to both internal and external attempts to throw a lifeline to the LTTE.
Responding to The Island queries, he said that the rapid expansion of their capabilities and acquisition and deployment of state of the art equipment had given the navy unprecedented strength. "What we have achieved during Eelam war IV is a miracle," he said, dismissing the perceived possibility of Prabhakaran escaping as a figment of imagination. "Top Tigers are trapped on the ground and there is absolutely no chance to escape," he said. He expressed confidence that major operations against the LTTE would come to an end shortly.
After the Government of India established a medical facility at Pulmoddai, the navy has turned the area to an IDP centre to accommodate people fleeing the civilian safe zone under a tripartite agreement worked out by Sri Lanka, the ICRC and the LTTE. Captain Samantha Wimalatunga, the senior officer in charge of the Pulmoddali SLN base told The Island that every effort would be made to prevent the LTTE from sending suicide bombers. As Green Ocean flying the ICRC flag anchored off Pulmoddai, a group of Sinhala fishermen swung into action. Wimalatunga who had received a commendation for commanding SLNS Sagara, an OPV involved in the destruction of an LTTE ship on October 7, 2008, said that elaborate arrangements had been made to detect a suicide bomber. According to him, the ICRC regularly brought in IDPs from the civilian safe zone while a sizeable number of people fleeing the area on their own, too, had been directed by sea patrols to Pulmoddai. Asked whether they had arrested any LTTE infiltrators, he said that the navy had once detected a person carrying a cyanide capsule.