SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
The ceasefire between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – in place since February 22, 2002 – lapsed on January 16, 2008, following a Government pull-out. In the three ensuing days, the death toll was at least 42 civilians and over four dozen combatants. The civilians were killed in attacks that started on the morning of January 16 in south-east Sri Lanka, which were blamed on the Tigers by the President Mahinda Rajapakse Government. 27 civilians were killed in a claymore attack on a bus, while the rest were killed in two separate incidents.
The attacks came as international calls for reconciliation between the Government and the LTTE mounted, as did Government fear that the Tigers might attack soft targets to divert attention and resources from the northern battlefront.
The attacks occurred in an area about 250 kilometres east of the capital, Colombo, in villages that border thick jungles. The presence of Tigers in the area was known, when an Army detachment at Talgasmankada inside the Yala Wild Sanctuary was attacked on the evening of October 15, 2007. At least one female cadre from the attacking group was killed and one apprehended by Government troops, who combed the jungles thereafter. The attackers were believed to be members of a LTTE group estimated to number as many as a hundred, but operating in small squads, who remained in the jungles despite the Government troops gaining control of all areas previously under the Tigers in the east. The group is believed to be under the command of Nagesh and Jeyam and armed with small arms. The location and the timing of the attacks suggest that at least two small ‘squads’ were responsible for them.
Following the Yala attacks, the Tiger cadres were suspected to have moved to the Kotiyagala jungles, north east of Yala and the fear was that attacks would be mounted on villages that lay east of the jungles. However, the attacks occurred west and north west of Yala, indicating that the attackers had moved closer to areas with predominantly Sinhala villages.
One of the attacks, at Hambegamuwa, where 10 villagers died as a result of gunfire, took place at least 70 kilometres west of the Kotiyagala jungles. The Government has inducted more troops into the area and appealed for clam.
The attacks in the south came at a time when the two sides had been clashing in small groups along the northern front lines that separate the LTTE-held Vanni, a swath of land in the north of Sri Lanka, from Government-held areas.
At least five combat Divisions of the Army have been engaging the Tigers along the Forward Defence Lines (FDL) and a major thrust could come from all five at once or individually. Thus far, however, Government troops have refrained from launching a massive and concentrated push, and have been chipping away at LTTE defences and testing the latter’s supply lines.
The Tigers have been fighting with Government troops, trying to breach its defense line at locations along the Admapan-Periyatamapanai-Omanthai axis in the Vavuniya and Mannar Districts. Clashes were reported near Omanthai right through 2007 and, since September, clashes have intensified near Adampan near the north-western coast. The Uliyankulam crossover point located south of Adampan has been closed since the first week of September, when the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) pulled out due to intense fighting.
Fighting has also been reported along the Killai-Muhamalai-Nagarkovil line south of Jaffna. Both sides stated that there was heavy artillery fire in the area after the Government’s withdrawal from the Ceasefire Agreement.
Fighting has also been reported from the Welioya sector, which lies north-east of Vavuniya, since mid-December 2007, though the area had remained relatively calm before that, despite the fact that fighting between Government and LTTE forces had commenced in other areas in August 2006.
In mid-December 2007, the LTTE informed the UN and other international agencies working in the Mullaithivu District and those parts of the Kilinochci District that lie north of the fighting reported in Welioya, to move out as they could not guarantee the safety of staff members.
Government security forces have been also targeting LTTE leaders with deep-penetration units which operate far ahead of the forward defences. On January 5 such a team killed Shanmuganathan Ravishankar alias Charles, who headed the Tiger internal intelligence apparatus. According to LTTE intelligence chief, Pottu Amman, ‘Charles’ was in charge of suicide and similar operations carried out in Government-held areas. Sea Tiger chief, Soosai, stated at the funeral that Charles had been instrumental in setting up the suicide wing of the Sea Tigers.
The loss of ‘Charles’ came just two months after former political wing head Suppaiha Parami Tamilselvan was killed in an air attack on November 2, 2007. The Government defence establishment has made no secret that it was actively targeting the Tiger leadership. Unconfirmed reports even claimed that Tiger head Velupillai Prabhakaran may have been slightly injured in an air attack on November 28.
The Tigers have, thus far, not launched any large scale attacks in the north and have been limited to defending areas under their control from Government incursions. However, the front lines have been heavily bolstered and senior cadres have been moved there to lead the fighting. The main lines are manned by junior fighting cadres and Government forces have disclosed that there is a heavy presence of female cadres as well.
The Tigers have also stationed heavy artillery behind the front lines, and have used them in the Vavuniya-Mannar theatre more often. Elite fighting units like the ‘Charles Anthony Unit’ and the ‘Imran Pandiyan Unit’ are thought to be stationed behind the forward cadres. The Government also fears the Tigers may go for soft targets in the south, in an attempt to divert resources. On January 8, 2008, a Minister in the Rajapakse Government, D.M. Dassanayake, was killed in a claymore attack blamed on the Tigers, 15 kilometres north of Colombo.
The last major conventional military attack by the Tigers was on October 22, 2007, when a group of Tigers launched an attack on the Anuradhapura Airbase located in central Sri Lanka. About an hour into the attack, two propeller-driven aircraft flown by Tigers dropped bombs in the vicinity. The ground attack caused considerable damages crippling at least 10 craft, but the air raid, the fourth in 2007 by the nascent Tiger Air Wing, caused little damages, though it produced huge publicity hype.
In the midst of the fighting, international calls for a halt to the bloodshed and recommencement of talks have mounted. Among those who have made such calls are peace brokers Norway, the European Union, the UN and Japan. Such pleas are, however, likely to go unheeded by both sides, at least in the short term, as military operations in the theatre of war and elsewhere in the island exhaust the focus of the leaderships on both sides of the conflict.
The National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), on January 12, declared a "state of emergency" in Nagaland in opposition to the imposition of President’s rule nine days earlier. The ‘chairman’ of the outfit, Isak Chisi Swu, declared, "In exercise of the powers conferred upon me by clause (h), Article 3, of part III of the Yehzabo (constitution), I, Isak Chisi Swu, Yaruiwo (‘president’) of the Republic of Nagalim, by this proclamation, declare that an emergency exists." He added, "In view of the precarious situation in Nagalim, which increasingly threatens peace and normal state of affairs… Henceforth, the state of affairs shall be conducted by the National Security Council until further orders." An unnamed functionary of the outfit clarified, "President’s rule has been imposed to dominate the Naga people and this has to be countered by the Government of the People’s Republic of Nagalim (GPRN)."
President’s rule declared in the State on January 3, 2008, dismissed the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) coalition Government, two months before it was due to complete its five-year term. The Union Cabinet’s recommendation to the effect came after the DAN Government, headed by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, managed to cling to office even after losing a no-confidence vote moved by the Opposition on December 13, 2007. A controversial decision by the Speaker of the Nagaland Assembly, K. Peseyie, barring three independent Legislators from voting in the no-confidence motion and declaring as invalid the votes of nine ruling Nagaland People's Front (NPF) Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) for defying a party whip, had helped Rio to continue as Chief Minister. Even though Rio made prolonged ‘murder of democracy’ noises following his dismissal, New Delhi’s decision appeared to have come as a blessing in disguise for his immensely forgettable Government. Elections to the State Legislative Assembly are scheduled to be held on March 5, and Rio can now hope to ride on a sympathy wave to overcome the strong anti-incumbency factor in the polls.
The declaration of an ‘emergency’ by an armed militant group, on the other hand, is unheard of, even from the NSCN-IM, which enjoys near-total domination over the affairs of the State. The ‘emergency’ has expectedly generated, a great deal of curiosity regarding the ascendancy of the military wing of the NSCN-IM over the political wing and the sort of the challenge that the outfit could pose to President’s rule in the State in the coming months. Some analysts have projected the outbreak of violence between the insurgents and the Security Forces (SFs) and an abrogation of the ceasefire agreement, which has been in place since 1997.
Despite the projected rationale for the declaration of ‘emergency’, the NSCN-IM’s move has little to do with the political implications of the imposition of President’s rule in the State. Unsurprisingly, the outfit’s initial reaction was to ‘wait and watch’ political developments in the State. The subsequent declaration of ‘emergency’ is, in fact, a desperate attempt to keep the NSCN-IM’s brittle house in order, in the face of a serious challenge posed by the Sema tribe through what is now come to be known as the ‘Niuland Declaration’ of November 2007.
On November 23, 2007, armed cadres and some senior functionaries of both the NSCN-IM and the rival Khaplang faction (NSCN-K) converged at Hovishe under the Niuland sub-division in the Dimapur District at a meeting chaired by Hokiye, President of the Western Sumi Hoho. The NSCN-IM was led by ‘Kilo-Kilonser’ (Home Minister) Azheto Chophy and the NSCN-K by ‘Kilonser’ (Cabinet Minister) C. Singson. An inter-factional ‘truce agreement’ was signed at the meet, declaring the unification of both warring factions a common goal. A new group, NSCN-Unification, was thus born, stationed at Vihokhu, 25 kilometres from the commercial township of Dimapur. NSCN-U has reportedly established contact with New Delhi and is expecting formal recognition.
The unification move was, however, not palatable to the NSCN-IM higher command consisting of Chairman Isak Chisi Swu and General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, who have steadfastly remained opposed to any truce with the NSCN-K. On the night of November 23, within a few hours of the signing of the Niuland Declaration, NSCN-IM sources said that the declaration was made without the knowledge of the group’s ‘higher authority’ and hence was unacceptable. Subsequently, on December 21, Thuingaleng Muivah described those involved in the Niuland conglomeration as "unprincipled", "spineless workers" and a "crowd which has nothing to do with the politics of unity." Over the following days, the outfit issued a barrage of accusations targeting the cadres and leaders who attended the meet, the Sumi Hoho (apex body of the Sema tribe), the Sumi Church leaders who blessed the occasion and the Indian Government who, the group alleges, is attempting to split the organisation. The outfit also suspended Azheto Chophy, accusing him of being involved in a number of abduction and extortion cases in and around Dimapur.
Notwithstanding the role allegedly played by the Security Agencies in propping up the nascent NSCN-U, it remains the case that the NSCN-IM is gradually being dominated by the Tangkhul tribe, to which General Secretary Muivah belongs. The tribe has a marginal presence in Nagaland and is mostly based in the hill District of Ukhrul in neighbouring Manipur. The ascendancy of a tribe that has insignificant numerical strength in Nagaland, has created consternation within the ranks of the militant group, who are drawn from several tribes. Rampant and undiscriminating violence by NSCN-IM cadres targeting civilians of several tribes and the top leadership’s defence of such activities, has provoked extreme resentment. On January 13, 2007, for instance, two civilians, Pangai Konyak and Phoba Konyak, were killed by NSCN-IM militants in Kohima. The NSCN-IM claimed that the duo were NSCN-K cadres, a charge which was refuted by the Konyak Union (the apex body of the Konyak Tribe). The Konyak Union’s demand to punish the involved cadres went unheeded. A few days later, on January 31, 2007, the Sumi Hoho demanded the dismissal of ‘Maj Gen’ Markson, the ‘deputy commander in chief’ of the NSCN-IM, for his alleged role in the plot to assassinate former Sumi Hoho president Huska Yepthomi. Once again, the outfit refused to take any such action.
Many such episodes, however, were kept under wraps as a result of the timely intervention of the NSCN-IM top leadership, who command some respect among most tribes. Both Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu, then based abroad, were largely seen as non-partisan, and corrective measures initiated by them had considerable impact on inter-tribal relations. However, both the leaders are now based in Nagaland, barring occasional foreign sojourns and are consequently seen as party, not just to the activities of their cadres, but also to the systemic undermining of the recalcitrant tribes. Their statements and interventions now have diminishing impact in terms of assuaging the hurt feelings of these tribes.
Nevertheless, the NSCN-U may not be able to pose a significant challenge to the NSCN-IM, since the former is openly blessed by the NSCN-K and would, consequently, remain anathema for the fence-sitting cadres within the NSCN-IM. Additionally, both Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu remain more or less unchallenged within the outfit and continue to be supported by a trusted band of senior and middle level militants.
What is worrisome for Nagaland, however, is the prospect of the intensification of the internecine clashes between the NSCN-IM on the one hand and the NSCN-K and NSCN-U on the other. The NSCN-IM would find it expedient to teach both the factions a ‘lesson’ in order to pre-empt any possibility of further splits within its own ranks. An indication of such a scenario emerging was provided by the NSCN-IM attack on an NSCN-K camp on January 14 at Longmisa village under Mokokchung District, which resulted in the death of three NSCN-K cadres. New Delhi, for years, has remained a silent spectator to continuous internecine insurgent violence in Nagaland, and there is little likelihood that the recent developments would bring about any alternation in such a policy.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
January 14-20, 2008
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Maoists acquiring lethal weaponry and upgrading military bases: The Union Home Ministry has been alerted through a fresh report that the Maoists are acquiring new lethal weaponry, besides upgrading their military base and expertise by forming six regular armed Companies. The Intelligence Bureau has reportedly indicated that, while 162 Districts in 14 States were earlier affected by Left Wing Extremism, now 182 Districts are affected in 16 States. While 12 extremist groups are operating in Andhra Pradesh alone; Narayanpur in Jharkhand, Someshwar and Khymore Hills in Bihar on the Nepal border, are witnessing increased concentration of LWE activities, it said. The Bureau has also alerted the Home Ministry that the Siliguri Corridor is also activated and Maoists are importing cadres from Bihar and Jharkhand to Malda in West Bengal via the Katiyar and Sahebganj route. The report says that the recovery of rockets and grenade launcher dies in Bhopal (capital of Madhya Pradesh) are a matter of concern for security agencies, who accept that the Maoists have gained expertise in making lethal weapons. Maoists are widely using AK-47s, self-loading rifles, Carbines, .303 Rifles, DBBL guns, Mines/IEDs, besides gelatin sticks, TNT, potassium chlorate mixtures and other low grade explosives, it stated. The Intelligence Bureau also notes that the CPI-Maoist is acquiring their land mine manufacturing techniques from the LTTE. Asian Age, January 19, 2008.
CIA chief says al Qaeda killed Benazir Bhutto: The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Michael V. Hayden said, in an interview published on January 18, 2008, that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed by al Qaeda and allies of Baitullah Mehsud. He told Washington Post that this combination was also behind a new wave of violence threatening Pakistan’s stability. Hayden said Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by fighters allied with Baitullah Mehsud, with support from al Qaeda’s terrorist network. According to him, "This was done by that network around Baitullah Mehsud. We have no reason to question that." He described the assassination as "part of an organised campaign" that has included suicide bombings and other attacks on Pakistani leaders. Daily Times, January 19, 2008.
90 militants killed in South Waziristan: Security forces claimed to have killed about 90 militants in two different encounters in the Ladha area of South Waziristan on January 18, 2008. In the first incident, militants attacked a convoy on the Jandola-Wana road in Chagmalai at 12.30pm. Troops returned fire and between 20 and 30 assailants were killed. Further, security forces attacked a large number of militants who had gathered to attack the Laddah Fort and killed up to 60 of them, the military said. Military spokesman Major General Athar Abbass said the troops suffered no casualties. However, Taliban sources have dismissed the Government claim and described the reports about the casualties on the part of Taliban as part of the propaganda to boost-up what they called as the shattered morale of the security forces. The Post ; Dawn, January 19, 2008.
12 persons killed in suicide bombing in Shia place of worship in Peshawar: 12 persons were killed and 25 others wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up in an imambargah (congregation hall for Shia rituals) in Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province, on January 17, 2008. Police said that the teenage bomber blew himself up at the crowded Mirza Qasim Baig Imambargah in the Mohalla Janghi area at around 6.55pm (PST). Senior Superintendent of Police (Operations) Imtiaz Shah told reporters that a policeman had attempted to frisk the suspect but he pushed him aside and detonated the explosive vest he was wearing. "It was a suicide attack," interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema confirmed, adding that "The bomber was 15 or 16 years old and he blew himself up after entering the gate leading to the prayer hall." Dawn, January 18, 2008.
22 soldiers and 40 militants killed as Taliban capture paramilitary fort in South Waziristan: Hundreds of militants captured a paramilitary fort in South Waziristan on the night of January 15 after killing 22 soldiers and taking several others hostage. 600 to 700 militants reportedly attacked the fort in Sararogha, manned by the South Waziristan Scouts, at around 9pm on January 15, firing rockets and mortars. 38 paramilitary soldiers and six civilians were in the fort when it came under the assault. "Soldiers put up a good fight, but couldn’t hold out for long in the face of an overwhelming militant force," a source said. The last distress radio message, according to him, was made at around 3 am to the Ludda Fort, asking for artillery fire at the militants who had broken through the defences and begun pouring into the base. The military said on January 16 that 40 militants were killed in the gun battle. While 15 soldiers escaped and reached the Jandola Fort, the fate of the rest was not known, it stated. Tehrik-i-Taliban spokesman Maulana Umar said that militant commander Baitullah Mehsud had led the charge on the British-era fort. Sources said that the militants had abandoned the fort after seizing arms and ammunition left behind by the paramilitary unit. The locals said that after capturing the compound the militants took away weapons, communication tools and blew up the building with explosives. According to eyewitnesses, the militants captured several soldiers and slaughtered many of them. Dawn, January 16, 2008.
27 civilians killed in LTTE-triggered claymore mine explosion in Moneragala District: 27 civilians, including some school children and women, aboard a Central Transport Bus proceeding to the Buttala town of Moneragala District, were killed and 66 others injured in a claymore mine explosion triggered by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Helagama area near Ella road on January 16, 2008. The bus was simultaneously fired upon by the militants immediately after the claymore mine explosion. The Hindu , January 17, 2008.
Recommend South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR) to a friend.