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Sri Lanka-Update No.5


Note 12
 More on Operation Rana Gossa

After  the occupation of Madhu Church and bringing  the surrounding areas with more than 20,000 refugees and of 325 sq.kms of the area under government control, there has been a stream of articles both in Sri Lankan Press and to a lesser extent in the Indian Press that taking control of the pilgrim centre Madhu from the LTTE on the eve of the crucial provincial elections is a boost for the government.  Madhu was never under the control of LTTE and as said in an earlier update its strict neutrality which was observed throughout the ethnic conflict has now been breached. There was no opposition from LTTE either and the Sri Lankan army occupied the place without firing a shot. It is too early to call it a  great "victory"for the Sri Lankan forces or too great a setback for the LTTE.   It is still not clear either, why the Sri Lankan troops ever wanted to occupy Madhu Church unless they are looking for an alternative route to Jaffna from Vavuniya.

 Ever since operation Jayesikuru was given up there were speculations how the Sri Lankan government will be able to establish a main supply route (MSR) to Jaffna from Vavuniya.  The visit of a South African delegation and the speech of LTTE leader Prabakaran on Maveerar day (Heroes day) indicated that a new initiative is in the offing for talks to be facilitated either by Britain or  South Africa.  The offensive operations of Ranagosa I&II have effectively put to rest the possibility of resumption of  talks.

Under Ranagosa I, the settlements north of the Vavuniya- Mannar road, namely Poovarasankulam, Vannivilankulam and Mundumurippu were occupied.  In the second phase of operation the army moved into the area of the 400-year old Madhu Church and its environs.

In an earlier operation, the security forces moved east of Vavuniya up to Oddusudan but got stuck and could not go beyond toward Mullaithivu.  Some would argue that the overall objective of the Sri Lankan army was to bottle up the LTTE in their stronghold in and around Mulliyavalai, Thanniyuthu and Pudukudiyiruppu and then take care of the  rest of the area in Vanni.  This would make sense  then for the Sri Lankan army to stop at Oddusudan and be satisfied with firing few artillery shells at Mullaithivu once a while.   Any further advance toward east from Oddusudan would have brought in heavy casualties, not politically acceptable to the Sri Lankan government then or even now.

While no official announcement has yet been made, the Sri Lankan army appears to have almost given up the opening of the Main supply route through Vavuniya-Mankulam-Paranthan- Jaffna route.  There is no move either to proceed north of Mankulam toward Killinochichi.  The present objective could therefore be to open up the western flank to make the Mannar- Pooneryn-Jaffna as the main supply route. This route will actually be shorter.  But this is not going to be easy either.  Earlier the security forces had moved up to Viduthalaithivu on the road to Pooneryn from  Mannar.  The army's hold on this route, even a few Kilometers north of Mannar is tenuous at best  as evidenced by the ability of the LTTE to move in heavy artillery and attack Thallady camp, quite close to Mannar.  The efforts to replace the military with Police in the Mannar area are also being thwarted by regular attacks on Police and Police stations in this area from the beginning of this month.  The Policemen from other areas are now disinclined  to work in Mannar Region.   

The LTTE's objective appears to be to stretch the Sri Lankan forces and tie the bulk of them in static duties.  If  the strategy of Sri Lankan army is to expand control in space, it would force LTTE to revert back from conventional/guerilla war to that of guerilla war with occasional conventional battles.  This will suit them for the present.   But LTTE also needs space.  It has more than 400 Sinhala army and police men as prisoners and they are  being moved frequently with great difficulty.  Therefore, any further move toward Pooneryn by the security forces will be severely resisted by the LTTE. 

Thus, a solution to the vexed ethnic question appears to be still farther away.  

 Dr.S.Chandrasekharan                                07-04-1999