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SRI LANKA- Update No. 9


Note 40

Presidential Elections:

On 20th October, the Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunge announced early Presidential elections. The elections were scheduled to be held only in November 2000 when the six-year term of the current Presidentship ends. Following the proclamation of the elections it would take about eight to nine weeks for the elections to be held and thus it could be any time after feburary in march 2000.

Chandrika was waiting for a major victory in the north before announcing snap polls. The massive efforts taken in operation Ranagosa 5 and the present operation in Vanni did not bring in the expected results. On the other hand Ranagossa 5 stopped in its tracks after two days of fighting with heavy losses and the current offensive under operation Neerchindu has not brought about any fresh gains for the Sri Lankan army. Chandrika appears to have decided to go for the snap elections without waiting for any spectacular result in the war in the north east.

Media reports indicate that Chandrika’s intention to go for the snap polls was to try and break the stale mate on the peace proposals she had made. She has blamed the constitution for the stalemate as constitutional changes would require approval by two thirds of the members of the Parliament.

Chandrika has herself to blame for the deadlock. It took her five years to realise that the constitution was standing in the way to make any meaningful reforms and is now blaming the opposition. For the last two years the proposals for reforms have been stuck. No efforts were seen made by the government to expedite the process or carry on a dialogue with the opposition to come to a consensus. The original proposals which were radical to begin with, were progressively diluted. It has always been the case that any proposal made by the party in power is scuttled by the opposition and there has been no genuine concern or a feeling of urgency to solve the ethnic crisis by the majority community. Unless the two major political parties of the majority community put their acts together and come to an understanding there could be no solution to the ethnic crisis. The more it is delayed the lesser are the chances of reaching any peaceful solution.

War in the North East:

On 14th of October, after a break of almost one month the Sri Lankan army went on a fresh offensive under the code name operation Neerchindu. The government forces that had under its control the stretch of Highway A 34 from Mankulam to Oddusudan, made a general advance towards the LTTE controlled areas from a place Olumadu 10 kms east of Mankulam on the high way. The purpose of this offensive is not clear. Having failed to make any further incremental advance towards the alternate supply route through A 32 in Ranagosa 5, the Sri Lankan army perhaps wanted to keep the LTTE engaged in the Vanni- Mullathivu area. Fighting continued for more than two days and there have been heavy casualties on both sides. The army made little progress on the ground.

The problem with the Sri Lankan army is that they are unable to spring a surprise on the thinly spread LTTE cadres. In the earlier offensive of Ranagosa 5, the Sri Lankan army assembled over 3000 troops and the troop movements could be seen from far and wide. In such a situation the LTTE was able to anticipate the offensive. The present operation was also no surprise to the LTTE cadres.

In our last update we had mentioned about the loss of control over Batticola and Amparai districts by the Sri Lankan army. . From the middle of September to the current operation from Olamadu the Sri Lankan army concentrated in Batticola and Amparai districts with numerous search and destroy operations almost one a day and many Tamil youths were rounded up. The LTTE cadres continued to harass the security forces in Batticola in spite of the operations. Also, the Police posts came in for special attention.

Some of the important incidents during the period were

* Vehicular convoy of Sri Lankan army attacked near Madhu killing over 11 personnel on 19.9.99

* Same day, a Police patrol at Kinniyayi was attacked and two policemen were killed.

* On 20.9.99 the Police post at Udayapuram in Amparai district was attacked.

* Army posts at Kandalai allai and one near Oddusudan were attacked on 28.9.99

* On 2.10.99 the police posts at Anbuvazhipuram and Thoppur, Trincomalee was attacked resulting in the killing of some policemen.

* On 7.10.99, the Police Post at Batticola town was attacked in broad day light.

* In Ampari, three buses belonging to New Eastern Bus company were totally damaged by explosives placed inside the buses. The devices were placed during the night when the police were supposed to be guarding the vehicles.

Air strikes and retaliation:

After a long pause, the Sri Lankan army on 15th September resorted to aerial srtrikes in LTTE held area of Pudukudiyiruppu, Mullaithivu district. Though the Sri Lankan Army Representative claimed that the aerial strikes were on known LTTE concentrations, in actual fact, the residential areas were targeted. Twenty-two civilians were killed on the spot and many more were injured. Some of the injured later succumbed to the injuries and the death toll is estimated to be more than forty. The provocation for bombing the civilian areas is not clear. Two days later, the LTTE retaliated by attacking the Sinhala settlers in Amparai district killing over 50 civilians. It is sad and unfortunate that innocent civilians are being killed.

Success in the sea:

If the Sri Lanka army could call it a success, it was in the sea. On the night of 14th October, Sri Lanka Navy’s Devora boats clashed with sea tigers in which LTTE lost seven of its senior cadres. It is likely that many more were killed and this was a major setback for the LTTE.

LTTE, East Timor and Indian elections:

Jayakumar, the LTTE representative in Australia, participated in a reception given by the Australian trade unions to Gusamo the leader of East Timor. A medallion bearing an inscription of LTTE’s emblem was also handed over to him. Mano Navaratnam another LTTE representative while conveying the goodwishes of LTTE and the people of Tamil Eelam expressed solidarity with the people of East Timor who he said, had suffered at the hands of the Indonesian army.

The LTTE sources kept a close watch on the elections in India and welcomed the success of the National democratic alliance and the election of Vajpayee as Prime minister of India. It is not surprising and no coincidence either that Vaiko whose party is a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance also referred to the dispute in East Timor and the role of the United Nations.

Dr. S.Chandrasekharan.                                               25.10.99