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SRI LANKA- Update no. 10. Disaster in Vanni


Note 44

The Sri Lankan army suffered unprecedented losses in the Vanni region in a matter of four days in a counter offensive code named Oyadha Alaigal- 3(unceasing waves III) by the LTTE on 2nd November. President Chandrika Kumaratunge must be shell shocked by the way the Sri Lankan army let her down and should be regretting her decision to announce Presidential elections almost one year in advance.

We had referred to operation Neerchindu of Sri Lankan army in the Ambalagamam area in update no. 9 which brought in no territorial gains and on the other hand weakened Sri Lankan’s army defences elsewhere. With the operations in Vanni, troops in eastern region were tied up in search operations particularly in Batticola district.

In the early hours of 2nd November, LTTE having assembled over 2000 cadres, made a frontal assault on Oddusuddan, a town situated 20 kms east of Mankulam on the A 34 highway and Nedunkerni, a place located 12 kms south of Oddusuddan that connects the Main supply route A9at Puliyankulam. Both Oddusuddan and Nedunkerni had fortified Sri Lankan army camps.

In two days of fighting, the LTTE captured a large number of armoured vehicles, artillery pieces, heavy weaponry and ammunition. Large quantities of food stocks meant for the troops were also captured. Over 20 villages were brought under control.

On 4th November, on the fourth day of fighting, in a bold move the LTTE moved towards and targeted its artillery on Kanakarayanlulam the HQrs of 55 and 56 divisions of Sri Lankan Army. Some cadres crossed Manalaru (river) and almost reached the edge of Sinhala dominated area of Siripura and Parakrampura. In the east LTTE attacked Karipattumarippu a place east of Mankulam as also the Ambalagamam area. It may be recalled that Mankulam was captured in operation Jayesikuru and Ranagossa after heavy losses in an effort to open the main supply route to Jaffna.

Realising the seriousness of the situation, the Defence minister Ratwatte reached Vavuniya to confer with the army commanders to stem the reverses.

On 5th of November Mankulam. as well as Olamadu fell to LTTE . Olamadu is situated 10 kms east of Mankulam on the Mankulam Mullathivu Highway A34. Olamadu was the base from which the Sri Lankan army started its fresh offensive after Ranagossa 5. See update no. 9.

A large number of trucks, jeeps and bulldozers were also captured.

On the same day, another column of LTTE captured Kanakarayankulam, Madhyamedu and Nainamadu, thus occupying the entire area west of Vavuniya- Jaffna road along A9 in Vavuniya district. The loss of Kanakarayankulam the divisional headquarters and the artillery base of Sri Lankan army is a major disaster.

Latest reports indicate that fighting is going on at Omanthai, a place not far from Vavuniya town itself as well as in another area far removed from Vavuniya, at Palampidi north of Madhu in Mannar.

In our update No 4 as far back as March 99, we had indicated that Oddusuddan then under the control of Sri Lankan army is vulnerable as the LTTE strong hold of Mullathivu comes within the artillery range of Oddusuddan. The Sri Lankan Army had also been making frequent artillery attacks from that base. We had also been watching the Army over reaching itself for territorial gains on grounds of denying LTTE space for recruitment. In that process it had over stretched itself, leaving the Police to bear the brunt of attacks in Mannar and losing control of Batticola district. LTTE’s strategy appeared to be to pin down the Sri Lankan army at its bases and not allow movement from one base to another for any major offensive.

It is too early to go into the reasons for the debacle of the Sri Lankan army. What is surprising is that the soldiers were unable to withstand artillery fire and they start scattering under heavy fire. Second is the poor leadership of the Sri Lankan officers and their lack of strategic thinking. Above all is the failure of intelligence to notice the assembly of over 2000 LTTE cadres near Oddusuddan.

It is expected that the Sri Lankan forces will make a stand north of Vavuniya and reinforcements from south are pouring in. The morale of the forces is low and it is pathetic to see the opposition leader Wickramesinghe appealing to the soldiers to stay on in their positions and follow their leader.

It is not a question of loss of territory but loss of innumerable high powered weapons which in due course will be used against them.

The LTTE must itself be surprised to control territory roughly from Kokilai sanctuary westwards to Omanthai, Periamadhu and to Viduthalathivu cutting right across the island in the south up to Killinochi in the north. LTTE will face the same problem in holding on to the territory. They do not have the numbers or the infra structural facilities to control this vast territory.

Death of an Icon:

Soumyamurthy Thondaman, the leader of the Plantation Tamils died last week leaving a vacuum among the people of Indian origin in the Plantations. For many years, Thondaman symbolised the hope and aspirations of the Tamils of Indian origin. Neglected by India, shunned by Sri Lanka and treated with contempt by the indigenous Tamils (only one among the many Tamil militant groups had some sympathy for them), it was Thondaman who won them their citizenship, franchise and their labour rights. No doubt the Tamils of Indian origin are still languishing in the Plantations, but as one of the Sri Lankan Papers, the Island has said their situation could have been worse.

Early in the Tamil ethnic struggle Thondaman realised that the Plantation Tamils surrounded as they are by the majority community on all sides, their future and their well being will be safe only if they go along with the Sinhala government in power. Despite pressure from the Tamil militant groups to involve themselves in the ethnic struggle, he steered a middle course and guided the community to stay away.. This saved the community.


Dr. S.Chandrasekharan                                                   8.11.99