SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
With more than 4,000 deaths in 2007, Sri Lanka continues to be one of the most violent theatres of conflict in the world. Worse, the conflict can be expected to become the more intractable over the coming year.
In 2007, the security forces (SFs) continued to gain immense military victories and appear to have cornered the LTTE, so much so that the outfit, once controlling a large swathe of land in the Eastern Province and ruling the Northern Province, is looking for international intervention to save it from being totally wiped out of the map of the Island country. That the LTTE has been on the run and at its weakest ever in the history of its fight against the Sri Lankan State was also reflected in the annual Mahaveerar Thinam (Heroes’ Day) speech delivered by its chief Velupillai Prabhakaran on November 27, 2007. Instead of his customary war rhetoric, he complained that the "partisan and unjust conduct" of the international community "severely undermined confidence of Tamil people". Claiming, absurdly, that the LTTE has been ‘fighting non-violently’ and through ‘armed struggle’ for a very long time against national oppression, Prabhakaran asserted that the Tigers were not "terrorists committing blind acts of violence impelled by racist or religious fanaticism".
Meanwhile, the SFs continued their march into LTTE-held areas and are close to Wanni now. On December 7, 2007, Defence Spokesperson and Minister, Keheliya Rambukwella, informed Parliament that Kilinochchi was ‘within sight’, and therefore the Government would pursue the target of eradicating terrorism to create a democratic environment. The Minister said that the Government had won unprecedented military victories after 30 years of war and should not relinquish this advantageous position, adding, "If we let this chance go, the country will slip back to the position that existed 30 years ago."
Although there is not much of a difference between total casualties for the years 2006 and 2007, the breakup of fatalities clearly indicates a steady strengthening of state Forces. 2007 saw a dramatic decline in both civilian and SF fatalities, and a sharp escalation in terrorists killed, as compared to 2006.
Fatalities in Sri Lanka, 2006-2007
* Till December 18. (Source: Institute for Conflict Management database)
Government troops, which commenced their operations in July 2006 in Mavil Aru, captured Vakarai Town in Batticaloa District on January 19, 2007. Further, on July 11, President Mahinda Rajapakse declared that the military had captured Thoppigala, the last remaining pocket of influence of the LTTE in the East, which had remained under effective rebel control since 1994. Earlier, the military had announced that its soldiers had reached the LTTE’s Baron’s Camp in Thoppigala and had declared, "With this victory, troops have captured the ‘nerve centre’ of the LTTE terrorists in their last stronghold in the Eastern province."
Validating the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s January 2, 2007, assertion that the Army would liberate the Eastern Province from the LTTE's hold and then proceed to liberate the Northern Province, the SFs then turned their attention to the North. The Army Commander had claimed "After eradicating the Tigers from the East, full strength would be used to rescue the North." Fighting there continues, with an average of 10 LTTE militants killed daily. The firefights along the currently held Forward Defence Line, both in the Jaffna Peninsula, north of the Elephant Pass, and along the mainland, north of Vavuniya, are now a continuous process, and SLA sources indicate that ‘long range operations’ deep into LTTE territory have also been initiated in a campaign of attrition intended to weaken the rebels in their final bastion. The Government, however, will have to strengthen its hold in the Eastern Province where, according to media reports, the Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), the LTTE breakaway faction led by ‘Colonel’ Karuna, is attempting to consolidate power in Batticaloa and surrounding areas. On March 11, Karuna had accepted that he had areas under his control and claimed that his group was "involved in civil administration" in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. However, according to an October 19 report, after a survey of the civil administration of the East, Karu Jayasuriya, the Minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs, disclosed that the civil administration of East will be almost completely established by January 1, 2008.
In a decisive incident, on November 2, S. P. Thamilselvan, the political wing leader of the LTTE and its de facto number two, was killed in a Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) air strike at Thiruvaiaru, a location three kilometers South of Kilinochchi. The attack was based on ‘very reliable information’ identifying the location as a meeting place of LTTE leaders, giving the marauding forces their biggest success in the ongoing battle. Simultaneously, fighter jets also pounded a Black Tiger camp in the East of Iranamadu. Five other leaders ‘Lt. Col.’ Anpumani alias Alex, ‘Major’ Mihuthan, ‘Major’ Nethagy, ‘Lieutenant’ Adchgivel and ‘Lieutenant’ Vahakai Kumaran were also killed in the air strike. Their meeting place was subsequently confirmed as an international communications centre run by ‘Lt. Col.’ Alex, as well as a centre for logistics, arms procurement, fund raising and operational coordination. Following the attack, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa declared that the military would target the rest of the LTTE leaders and, "When the time comes only, we take them one by one."
In addition to its battlefield reverses, the LTTE has also been trying to cope with the international pressure exerted by countries across the globe, with reports claiming that the LTTE’s activities were no longer confined to Sri Lanka. There was some evidence of emerging commercial links between the LTTE and al Qaeda. On May 17, the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the USA, Bernard Goonetileke, stated that the LTTE has stolen 130,000 Norwegian passports and sold them to the "highest bidders" including al Qaeda operatives. He said, "One of them [LTTE cadre] surfaced with 700 of the stolen passports in Thailand and got caught to the police." During the year, there have been some arrests of LTTE top leaders in various countries, including:
April 6: The leader of the LTTE’s branch in France since 2003, Nadarajah Mathinthiran alias ‘Parathi’ and Thuraisamy Jeyamorthy alias ‘Jeya’, who were in charge of the money collections in France, were among 17 LTTE suspects arrested by the French authorities.
April 25: The ‘director’ of the LTTE in New York, Karunakaran Kandasamy, was arrested by the FBI in Queens. He was arrested on Federal charges of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
May 1: Two LTTE leaders in Australia – Sivaraj Yathevan, in charge of Eela Murasu, a Tamil community paper, and his aide Arooran Vignanamoorthy – who had access to AUD 526,000 in two bank accounts between August 2001 and December 2005, were arrested during raids conducted on 10 premises in Melbourne’s east — at Vermont, Glen Waverley, Mount Waverley, Dandenong and East Burwood — and in the Sydney suburbs of Toongabbie and Parramatta.
The depleted LTTE has, nevertheless, carried out several lethal attacks in Sri Lanka (including the first ever aerial attack, followed by four others, mainly targeting the capital Colombo. There was an ill-considered Government backlash in response, and on June 1, Tamils from the north and east staying in various lodges without jobs in Colombo were asked to go back to their homes in view of the security situation. This briefly escalated ethnic polarization, which could well have been exploited by the LTTE, but the Government quickly realized its mistake, after the intervention of the Courts, and performed a U-turn, asking the Tamils to stay on.
Some of the major LTTE attacks in 2007 included:
January 5: At least six passengers were killed and 63 were wounded in a bomb blast inside a bus bound for Giriulla from Nittambuwa in the Gampaha District.
January 6: At least 16 persons were killed and 40 injured, as a second explosion occurred in a bus in a span of less than 24 hours in the Galle District, over 80 kilometres from the national capital Colombo.
February 27: Italy’s Ambassador, Pio Miriani, and US Ambassador Robert Blake were injured in mortar firing by the LTTE, targeting an air movement carrying Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, along with a few foreign diplomats in Batticaloa.
March 26: Carrying out their first ever air attack on the main Sri Lankan Air Force base in Katunayake at Colombo, the LTTE killed three Air Force personnel and injured 17 others.
April 29: An LTTE aircraft bombed oil and gas storage facilities in and around Colombo. One of the two bombs dropped on Shell’s Muthurajawela Gas Storage Facility caused minor damage to the fire guard equipment while the other damaged the water supply. The two bombs dropped on the Kolonnawa Oil Storage Depot failed to explode.
May 28: Seven civilians were killed and 42 persons, including 36 civilians, sustained injuries, in an LTTE-triggered claymore mine explosion at Belekkade Junction in the Rathmalana area of the capital Colombo.
October 22: Elite Army troops of the Special Forces confronted LTTE cadres who infiltrated and carried out a suicide attack on the SLAF base at Anuradhapura and evicted them from the premises killing 20 militants. Nine SF personnel, including two officers, were killed and 20 others wounded in the encounter. Subsequently the LTTE carried out an aerial attack, dropping two shells damaging two MI 24 helicopters parked in a hangar. Another BELL-212 helicopter, which was to reinforce SLAF fighter craft resisting LTTE air movement, had to crash-land at Doramadalawa area, closer to Mihintale, due to a technical fault, killing both pilots and two gunners. This was the first time the outfit had carried out a combined air and ground attack.
November 28: The EPDP leader and Minister for Social Welfare, Douglas Devananda, escaped unhurt when a polio-affected woman suicide cadre of the LTTE blew herself up at his office at Isipathana Road in the Narahenpita area of Colombo.
At least 19 civilians were killed and 35 others injured as a suspected parcel bomb exploded near a popular fashion store at Nugegoda junction near Colombo around 5.55 pm.
There were six suicide attacks carried out by the LTTE in 2007 as against 12 in the previous year.
The LTTE has collected rich resources for its campaigns. Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona stated, on May 1, 2007, that the LTTE internationally raised approximately USD 10 million to USD 30 million a month, of which almost 20 to 30 per cent came from Australia. Corroborating these claims, the London-based Jane’s Intelligence Review stated that the LTTE had not only created one of the most sophisticated insurgencies in the world but also has an annual ‘profit margin’ of USD 200 to USD 300 million. Despite the Government proscribing the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation on November 22, having earlier frozen its accounts, the LTTE retains various sources to replenish its coffers.
The ongoing war has had an adverse impact on social, political and economic conditions in Sri Lanka. According to the Minority Rights Group International 2007 report, human rights in Sri Lanka reached a ‘crisis point’ in 2007, with numerous reports of extra-judicial killings, disappearances and abductions. The Sri Lankan human rights groups reported that some 662 people had been killed and 540 people have disappeared between January–August 2007. A vast majority of them were Tamils, while some were Muslims. The UNHCR office in Sri Lanka stated, on October 26, that 190,669 individuals of 51,908 families had been displaced in 2007 due to the ethnic conflict. The highest number of displacements was reported from Kilinochchi District – 48,512 persons. Another 38,230 individuals were displaced in the Batticaloa District while 32,323 individuals were displaced in Mullaitivu District. On August 17, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which was due to donate medical equipment worth millions of rupees to hospitals in the North, called off their mission due to protection money demanded by the LTTE, a clear indication of the worsening situation. A South Asian Watch group on the use of small arms disclosed, on October 28, that there were over 1.3 million illegal weapons in use in Sri Lanka, adding that the availability of illegal small arms had led to the escalation of the rate of crime on the island.
Inflation in Sri Lanka is currently pegged at 17 percent, the unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, there is a budget deficit of 8.4 per cent and Defence spending is at USD 1.3 billion. The Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) has fallen by around three percent this year against the US dollar, while other currencies in the region have risen. The tourism industry has taken a hammering, and there is widespread apprehension among the people of difficult times ahead.
On the political front, the Southern consensus which had emerged in October 2006, finally came to a disappointing end on January 29 with the main opposition group, the United National Party's (UNP) announcement that the political pact it signed with the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in October 2006 was invalid in the aftermath of President Rajapakse’s induction of 19 defectors from the UNP into the Government. More recently, on December 12, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem said that he and three other parliamentarians had decided to leave the Government as it had failed to guarantee the rights of the Muslim community. These are a major setback to the Rajapakse regime which had, in the fag end of 2006, garnered the support of Southern political parties to deal with the LTTE.
On a positive note, despite the upswing in violence, the country expected to record its fastest growth in nearly three decades, according to the Central Bank. With USD 530 million already received in foreign direct investment (FDI) by August, total FDI is projected to substantially exceed the total of USD 600 million in 2006. Foreign reserves were up at USD 2.8 billion in April 2007, from USD 2.5 billion in April 2006. With vast stretches of land cleared of the LTTE in the North and East, agricultural activities are bound to increase. Government control over these areas can enhance trade because, being an island nation, most of the trade activities are carried on over the seas, on which the LTTE had greater control till its recent reverses. Meanwhile, some political parties which had been intimidated into passivity over the past years have resumed their activities in the country. On April 20, the Defense Ministry said that the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation, a mainstream Tamil political party, which had been silenced since 1990 after continuous death threats from the LTTE, decided to actively restore functions as a democratic Tamil Front.
There are no prospects of peace emanating from anywhere. On April 12, Defense Secretary Rajapakse declared that Sri Lanka's cease-fire had "no meaning" and that it was only being left in place to satisfy the international community. Further, on May 31 Defense spokesperson and Minister Rambukwella stated that the Ceasefire Agreement, which now holds only on paper after breaking down on the ground last year, no longer reflected reality. Earlier, on February 12 President Mahinda Rajapakse, in an interview with the BBC, had said that the Government's peace pact with the LTTE was a mistake. "Today we realise we have made a mistake. Through the peace pact, we've demarcated areas called LTTE controlled areas, and they have taken over the rights of the people through this pact. In the LTTE controlled areas, no political parties can function, people cannot walk anywhere in freedom, and the children are being forced to join the armed forces of the LTTE. These rights should be given back to the people."
With the public opinion progressively hardening in favour of continued military operations, more bloodshed can be expected in Sri Lanka, already among the most violent places in South Asia.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
December 17-23, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Scottish gang funding terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir: Hundreds of thousands of pounds are allegedly being sent to Kashmir to fund militancy through counterfeiting and mortgage fraud. This information was revealed in a report appearing in Scotland on December 23, 2007. "A Scottish gang is bankrolling murderous terrorist attacks in Kashmir, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds each year through counterfeiting and mortgage fraud," the report said. The report quoting MI5 sources revealed, "Around 50 Scots Asians – most of them in Glasgow – are raising funds for Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a Kashmiri separatist group responsible for hundreds of deaths and reportedly involved in the kidnap and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl." It said that much of the cash raised in Scotland is sent first to Dubai, where it is laundered, and then passed on to JeM terrorists operating in Kashmir. The report revealed that up to £50,000 a month is raised in Scotland. As well as money from mortgage fraud, around £15,000 of this total is raised by selling counterfeit DVDs, CDs and clothing at market stalls and in pubs and clubs across Scotland. MI5 estimates that there are about 50 hardcore JeM sympathisers living in Scotland, responsible for shipping half a million pounds abroad every year to fund the militants' activities halfway across the world. Tribune India, December 24, 2007.
Maoists are the single largest security challenge, says Prime Minister: Stating that Maoists are the single largest security challenge to India, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh urged State Chief Ministers to cripple the extremists with all means at their command. Addressing the Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security [LINK: PM’S SPEECH, PMO] on December 20, 2007, in New Delhi, he reiterated the need to upgrade the country's internal security machinery and called for superior policing techniques to defeat the Maoist insurgency. "Not a day passes without an incident of Left Wing extremism taking place somewhere or the other. There also seems to be a consolidation of various groups with better coordination and strike capabilities," said Dr. Singh. He added: "I have said in the past that Left Wing extremism is the single biggest security challenge to the Indian state. It continues to be so, and we cannot rest in peace till we have eliminated this virus. We need a coordinated response to this challenge. The answers to the problem are well known. We need to cripple Naxalite forces with all the means at our command." The Statesman, December 21, 2007.
Maoists kill 12 police personnel in Chhattisgarh: 12 policemen were killed following an ambush by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres in a dense forest near Tarlaguda in the Dantewada District on December 20, 2007. Police said that 33 police personnel were escorting six other policemen, who had fallen ill at Kistaram Police Station, when the Maoists ambushed them in the area. Times of India, December 21, 2007.
Top CPI-Maoist leader arrested in Kerala: The Central Committee member of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), Malla Raji Reddy alias Sattenna, was arrested from Angamaly town in the Ernakulam District of Kerala on December 17, 2007. Reddy, who was underground for over three decades, is one of the senior-most Maoist leaders and a contemporary of CPI-Maoist chief Ganapathy. He also worked as central organising committee member, central committee member, military mission member and politburo member of the outfit. Reddy, who hails from Karimnagar District in Andhra Pradesh, was in charge of the outfit’s south west regional bureau, which includes Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. The Hindu, December 19, 2007.
Maoists to rejoin Government following the signing of 22-point agreement: The Seven Party Alliance (SPA), following a six hour-long negotiation in the capital Kathmandu, signed a 22-point deal on December 23, 2007, agreeing to declare the country a federal democratic republic through the Parliament, subject to implementation by the first meeting of an elected Constituent Assembly (CA). The Nepali Congress (NC) leader Mahesh Acharya also said that the Maoists will rejoin the Government, following the agreement. The 22-point deal provides for 60-40 allocation for proportional and direct election – of 601 total seats in the CA, 335 has been set aside for proportional representation, 240 for direct election and 26 will be nominated by the Cabinet. The negotiating parties also agreed to allow the Government to decide on the date for the CA election. .Nepal News, December 24, 2007.
13 persons killed in suicide attack on military convoy in NWFP: Nine civilians and four Security Force personnel were killed, and more than 25 wounded, in a suicide attack on a military convoy in Mingora in the Swat District of NWFP on December 23, 2007. According to an Army press release issued in Rawalpindi, a suicide bomber who was riding a vehicle blew himself up near Mehboob Petrol Pump in Mingora City at 18:00 hrs, killing 13 persons and injuring 25 others. The convoy was returning after carrying out counter-insurgency operations in the various areas of Khwazakhela and Charbagh in Swat District when it was attacked. Since curfew had been relaxed in that part of the Swat, civilians were also hit when the bomber struck the convoy on a busy route. The News; Dawn, December 24, 2007.
60 persons killed in suicide attack at mosque in NWFP: 60 persons were killed and more than 100 others injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the midst of worshippers offering Id-ul-Adha (festival of sacrifice) prayers at the Markazi Jamia Masjid Sherpao in Charsadda, 20 kilometres from capital Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on December 21, 2007. The target was Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, Federal Interior Minister in the just-dissolved Government, who was among the worshippers. The former Minister, however, escaped unhurt in the attack, though his son, Mustafa, was among the wounded. The mosque is located next to the former Minister’s home and was packed with more than 1,000 worshippers at the time of the attack. The Hindu, December 22, 2007; The Post, December 24, 2007.
12 Army recruits killed in suicide blast in NWFP:12 Army recruits were killed and two wounded in a suicide attack near the Army Public College in the heart of the Kohat Cantonment area in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on December 17, 2007. The recruits were returning to their barracks after morning exercises when a boy aged 15 to 17 years rushed towards them and blew himself up. Ten recruits were killed on the spot and two others died later in hospital. On July 19, a suicide blast in a mosque in an army compound in the same area had claimed 22 lives. Dawn, December 18, 2007.