Tuesday, 17 June 2014

How Tamil Nadu lifeline prolonged war

Shocking Norwegian link with Dalit Panthers



The LTTE displays an artillery piece in Kilinochchi during the Norwegian arranged ceasefire (Feb 2002-April 2003)

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Two pairs of Inshore Patrol Craft (IPCs) intercepted two LTTE craft north of Talaimannar on the evening of July 28, 2007. The confrontation took place well within Sri Lankan territorial waters. The IPCs swung into action soon after the enemy craft moved across the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary, alongside a cluster of Tamil Nadu fishing trawlers poaching in Sri Lankan waters. At the time of the incursion, there had been at least two Indian naval vessels deployed in the area. Having spotted the LTTE craft among the poaching Tamil Nadu craft numbering about 60, the IPCs blocked the cluster. The navy used loud hailers to order the poachers to return to Indian waters, forcing the LTTE craft to move away from the cluster and speed towards Vidathalthivu, a strong point north of Mannar (The then Brigadier Shavendra Silva’s formation tasked with clearing the coastal region up to Pooneryn was several months away from Vidathalthivu). The navy believed that the fishing fleet was providing cover to the LTTE craft moving from Tamil Nadu to the Vanni. Although the LTTE fired two rounds of rocket propelled grenades as well as a light machine gun, the navy destroyed both, killing at least six men. The dead included a senior cadre who had lost a leg during a previous confrontation with the military. The navy believed that some of them took cyanide to avoid being captured (Sea Tigers among Tamil Nadu fishing fleet with strap line Senior cadre among six killed in SLN operation-The Island July 30, 2007).

The widely circulated Dinakaran, affiliated to Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi’s DMK, alleged that the SLN had targeted the LTTE craft off Dhanuskody at the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary.

It was the first major confrontation since Indian and Sri Lankan naval representatives met on July 13, 2007, on-board SLNS Sayura close to the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary. The delegations were led by the then Northern Naval Commander, Rear Admiral S.R. Samaratunga and Commodore Van Holtern, the senior officer in charge of Tamil Nadu. The SLN called for increased cooperation between the two countries to prevent the LTTE from using Indian waters as well as the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet for its advantage. The meeting took place in the backdrop of two serious atrocities committed by the LTTE, namely the massacre of a group of fishermen from Kanyakumari and the seizure of Sri Krishna, a Tamil Nadu trawler along with its 12-man crew (Indo-Lanka naval delegations meet on-board SLNS Sayura-The Island July 16, 2007). The previous article dealt with the Kanyakumari massacre as well as the seizure of Sri Krishna leading to its destruction in the Maldivian waters.

Eelam war IV lasted nearly three years (August 2006-May 2009). Had there been a genuine Indian effort to prevent the LTTE using Tamil Nadu as a weapons transit point, the group would have collapsed much earlier. Lives of combatants on both sides as well as civilians could have been saved if India took tangible action against the LTTE-Tamil Nadu project. Those demanding President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government to address accountability issues or face a high profile international probe turned a blind eye to Indian complicity. Unfortunately, the government is yet to take up the contentious issue of Indian support to terrorism, though presidential secretary Lalith Weeratunga referred to the Indian role in Sri Lanka (July 1987-March 1990), during a costly campaign in the US ahead of the 25th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council last March. Had India deprived the LTTE of a safe haven in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka could have crushed the enemy much earlier. In fact, the LTTE wouldn’t have procured such a massive load of weapons if the group didn’t have the wherewithal to transfer arms, ammunition and equipment to its bases in the Vanni. In spite of detections made by the SLN, the LTTE continued with the operation with the blessings of the state government of Tamil Nadu. The main opposition the AIADMK led by Jeyaram Jayalalithaa too, turned a blind eye to what was happening.

The Centre facilitated the Tamil Nadu project. Having met Karunanidhi on May 31, 2007, the then Indian National Security Advisor Mayankote Kelath Narayan declared: "Fishermen are going there (Sri Lankan waters) for their livelihood. We have told the SLN not to fire at them and they assured us there will be no firing. By and large they are adhering to this. Fishermen will go wherever there are fish. To prevent them from crossing the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary is asking for too much," (Narayan’s ‘chandi’ talk spurs poaching in Lankan waters-The Island June 20, 2007).

In late July 2007, Tamil Nadu fishermen found two rounds of 120 mm mortars which had probably fallen overboard during a mid sea arms transfer carried out by the LTTE in Indian waters. The chance recovery made about 15 nautical miles off Uvary highlighted the use of Indian waters for an operation directly targeting neighbouring Sri Lanka. The bombs, each weighing 20-25 kgs had been neatly packed in wooden boxes. The fishermen had opened the boxes at Chinnamuttam port. Indian fishermen found three 120 mm mortars on Dec 5, 11, 2006. The bombs got entangled in fishing nets, hence the recovery. At the behest of Tamil Nadu politicians, a section of the media alleged that the two 120 mm mortars had been brought to blow up the Kudankulam power station, which was under construction at that time time. A section of the Indian media continued to shield the LTTE arms smuggling operation, though being exposed on several occasions (TN fishermen ‘net’ 120 mm ‘ammo’ with strap line Recovery highlights use of Indian waters for arms transfers-The Island August 1, 2007).

Although the Tamil Nadu police made some important detections, including 1,500 kgs of gelex boosters used in mines (near Madurai in November 2006) and two tons of steel ball bearings (in Chennai in January 2007) meant for the LTTE, the Tamil Nadu administration refused to crackdown on terrorism. The DMK conveniently ignored the revelation made by the ‘Q’ branch of the Indian police regarding the use of Indian waters as well as some Tamil Nadu trawlers by the LTTE for arms smuggling. It confirmed what the SLN had been saying throughout eelam war IV.

No less a person than the then navy chief, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda pointed out the pivotal importance of breaking the Tamil Nadu link when he declared that interrogation of four LTTE cadres rescued from sinking the Tamil Nadu trawler Sri Krishna led to the successful attacks on three floating LTTE arsenal over 600 nautical miles south-east of Sri Lanka during the second week of September 2007. Addressing the media at the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS), Karannagoda said that LTTE cadres in Maldivian custody identified two of the three targeted vessels. The navy chief revealed that those in custody knew of the cargo as they had boarded the vessels before they ran into the Maldivian Coast Guard on May 16, 2007. Sri Krishna, carrying a large consignment of 120 mm mortars was on its way to Sri Lanka when the Maldivian Coast Guard intercepted the vessel (Sea Tigers in Maldivian custody facilitated SLN attack-The Island September 13, 2007). Among the LTTE cargo weighing approximately 4,000 tonnes, were aircraft in knock-down condition, speed boats, a bullet proof vehicle for LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran and a large quantity of 152 mm, 130 mm and 122 mm artillery shells and 120 mm mortars. US intelligence services too, confirmed the presence of the three vessels as well as MV Matsushima which was sunk next month).

Although the then army chief, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka constantly played down the navy’s efforts and in some instances went to the extent of ridiculing the service, the navy continued planned operations. The war veteran, undoubtedly Sri Lanka’s most successful commander, steadfastly refused to acknowledge the significant role played by the navy in depriving the LTTE of required ammunition. The LTTE felt a serious shortage of ammunition in mid 2007 due curbs on LTTE boat movements across the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary (SLN steps up pressure on LTTE ‘Gulf of Mannar’ supply line with strap line Coastline under LTTE control shrinks-The Island September 24, 2007).

The navy sent the floating LTTE warehouse, MV Matsushima to the bottom of the high seas off Indonesia over 800 nautical miles off Sri Lanka’s southern coast on October 7, 2007. Widely believed to be the largest of the eight rogue ships operated by the LTTE, MV Matsushima, carried electronic warfare equipment, among other armaments and equipment. The loss of the entire fleet of floating warehouse significantly reduced the workload of the LTTE units tasked with transferring arms to the Vanni (Last of LTTE’s original fleet sunk with strap line EU referred to LTTE fleet in its resolution-The Island October 8, 2007). Although the LTTE had retained the wherewithal to transfer weapons, the absence of floating warehouse significantly reduced the workload of special units assigned for arms smuggling operations. The loss of floating warehouses left these units with the responsibility of transferring whatever armaments and ammunition that had been already moved to Tamil Nadu or what could be procured in India. The navy had no option but to maintain a presence to block supply routes to Mannar mainland as well as Mullaitivu-Chalai on the other side. With the liberation of Pooneryn in November 2008, the LTTE lost its Mannar supply route, though the Mullaitivu-Chalai entry/exit point remained until January/February 2009.

During the second week of October 2007, the navy made an important detection following a confrontation off Talaimannar. Having spotted two fibre glass dinghies heading towards Vidathalthivu shortly after they crossed the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary, the navy zeroed-in-on them. Among items found on the boats were two ultra light model aircraft, including one of Taiwanese make five and half feet in length with a wing span of 13 feet, four communication sets, fifteen cans of hydraulic oil, four satellite mobile phones, ten global positioning systems and one hundred printed circuit boards. The detection was made in the backdrop of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to India (Navy seizes Tiger plane from Tamil Nadu as MR leaves for India-The Island October 12, 2007). Although the navy subsequently sought Indian assistance to identify what it initially believed was hydraulic oil, the request was ignored.

The navy believed the ultra model aircraft could have been used to deliver a small payload targeting military assets or deployed for surveillance missions.

In spite of the DMK’s efforts to protect the LTTE, a chance detection made in Tamil Nadu exposed the shocking involvement of Norway based LTTE operatives in the supply network. The seized equipment included propellers and spares for powerful OBMs used in Sea Tiger craft. Much to the embarrassment of the Tamil Nadu administration, the recipient of the consignment was identified as Jayaraj Rathinam alias Vanni Arasu (36 at that time), editor of Tamil Mann (Tamil soil), the party organ of Dalit Panthers. The suspect was granted bail due to political pressure. The exposure embarrassed the Norwegians and their mission in Colombo remained silent. Their plan was to bring in equipment from Noway and re-direct them across the Gulf of Mannar. Intelligence services identified the Norway based LTTE agent as Gokulan. Even five years after the conclusion of the conflict, it would be pertinent to establish whether the person identified as Gokulan was an associate of Norway based Perinpanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyawan widely believed to be in charge of a major LTTE faction. The close political relationship between the Dalit Panthers and the ruling DMK fueled speculation that the former was assisting the LTTE with the tacit understanding of Chief Minister Karunanidhi (Tamil Nadu-Norway supply route to the LTTE’s rescue with strap line Lanka seeks Indian help to identify chemicals recovered from Sea Tigers-The Island October 18, 2007).

Regardless of constant efforts to discourage the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet from poaching in Sri Lankan waters, it continued operations. In some instances, Tamil Nadu trawlers entered high security zones, causing a serious threats to naval movements. During the first week of November large clusters of Tamil Nadu trawlers reached Vettilaikerni waters and moved almost ten nautical miles close to LTTE positions on land. It was their first major foray into Mullaitivu waters since December 2005. Although the LTTE was on the retreat on multiple fronts in the Vanni region, it retained strong forces east of the Kandy-Jaffna A 9 road, as well as Pooneryn, Elephant Pass, Paranthan as well as Kilinochchi (Lanka urges India to stop ‘fishing in troubled’ waters-The Island November 6, 2007). The navy feared the LTTE could use Indian boats as a cover to mount attacks on its assets.

Sri Lanka took delivery of a US built radar-based maritime surveillance system and rigid hull inflatable boats in early 2007. The then US ambassador here, Robert O’Blake handed over the equipment worth USD 11 million at the strategic Trincomalee navy base. Had the US made available the equipment about a year earlier, it could have played a vital role (US boost to thwart Tiger arsenal replenishment efforts-The Island November 9, 2007.