SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Denying the accusation of Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan alias ‘Colonel’ Karuna Amman, the founder of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pullikal (TMVP), a breakaway faction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), that the Sri Lanka Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse provided the passport for his travel to Britain, the Defence Secretary on January 27, 2008, argued that he had no reason to want to send Karuna away from Sri Lanka. Rajapakse asked "Why should I want to send him away when he could be useful in Sri Lanka?", thus, corroborating the widely believed, though officially vehemently denied, fact that Karuna has been acting as an adjunct of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces in its fight against the LTTE in the Eastern Province, ever since the group broke away from the LTTE in March 2004. The TMVP is presently led by Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan
Karuna was sentenced to nine-month imprisonment on January 25 by a United Kingdom (UK) Court for violating British immigration laws by entering Britain on a Sri Lankan diplomatic passport that carried his photograph but a different name. He had pleaded guilty at the Uxbridge Magistrates Court on December 24, 2007, to breaching the UK Identity Card Act 2006 following his arrest on November 2 in London, and had told the Isleworth Crown Court in West London that Gotabaya Rajapakse had arranged the documents for him.
According to reports, Karuna fled to London after an internal rift in his organisation. The central committee of the TMVP, which met on October 7, 2007, decided to suspend Karuna from the organization and formally appointed its former ‘supreme commander’ Pillayan as its leader. Pillayan, who had his activities confined to Trincomalee District under Karuna, had since started setting up offices in Batticaloa District. Of the 1,200 TMVP cadre base, 800 are now said to be in Trincomalee supporting Pillayan, including senior leaders Thuyavan, Markan, Jeyam, Seelan and Ajith. The remaining 400 remain loyal to Karuna, and include leaders like Mangalan Master, Bharathi, Thileepan and Sinnathambi. The TMVP had never functioned as one united entity and always had different commanders – such as Sinnathambi, Riyaseelan, Mangalan Master, Iniyabharathy, Markan and others – in different spheres of influence, each accountable to a different handler. Pillayan was considered the "first among equals" among them and was also the channel of communication between Karuna and the other commanders. In the process Pillayan progressively began to style himself the ‘supreme commander’.
The Government is reportedly concerned that cadres of the two factions would clash in the East and has urged Pillayan to ensure Karuna loyalists Iniyabarathy, Mangalam and Sinathambi be drafted into the outfit under the new leadership. Reports also suggest that the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, which allegedly plotted the split, prefer Pillayan to Karuna because it is Pillayan who is in the field and actually working with Government Forces. Most of the instructions from the military intelligence hierarchy to the TMVP were relayed through Pillayan.
The involvement of the group in acts of violence in the East has been a matter of serious concern for the Government, which has been criticised for its lackadaisical attitude in dealing with this armed group. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) warned of growing insecurity in the Eastern Province owing to the activities of the Karuna faction, which included killing, abductions, and extortion from local businesses in the Province. In its report published on December 15, 2007, the SLMM accused the TMVP of involvement in the abduction of 18 of a total of 22 civilians, including seven children, during the first week of December. According to the report, the group was also involved in one murder case. The SLMM noted that, despite the growing insecurity in these areas, "The TMVP/Karuna group was well protected by the authorities and thus even the police are reluctant to pursue them in certain areas." The SLMM stated further that it received frequent complaints of the Karuna faction holding people inside its political offices. The SLMM, however, had no power to act: "We can’t really rule against Karuna since he is not a part of the CFA but the Government is responsible for their areas and since they have not made any attempts to stop the Karuna faction then they bear some responsibility." The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a report published on December 28, 2007, covering the period from November 1, 2006, to September 14, 2007, noted that the number of children recruited by the TMVP/Karuna faction rose to 207 between November 1, 2006, and August 31, 2007, from 193 in the previous 12-month period.
The group is also reported to be involved in acts of intimidation against the media and humanitarian groups working in the Eastern Region. Reports indicate that Iniyabarathi, one of the TMVP ‘commanders’, telephoned Asian Tribune Editor K. T. Rajasingham on June 9, 2007, and threatened to kill him. The Asian Tribune is an online internet Daily published by the World Institute for Asian Studies, currently based in Sweden. Earlier in April, Iniyabarathi had threatened the Colombo-based Daily Mirror Editor, Champika Liyanaraachchi, and warned that he would send a killer squad to execute any person who filed adverse reports. According to available information, Iniyabarathi threatened the Daily Mirror staff in a conference call, with an interpreter at hand to translate his death threat into English. Separately, a group claiming to be the ‘Intelligence Unit’ of the TMVP sent a threatening email on April 17, 2007, to several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and United Nations agencies working in and around Trincomalee, demanding registration of all workers with the TMVP, and explicitly stating that all unregistered expatriate NGO workers will not have their security guaranteed.
Notwithstanding the adverse impact on the polls to elect a total of 101 members from nine local councils in the Batticaloa District, scheduled to be held on March 10, 2008, the Election Commissioner’s Department, on January 23, 2008, recognised the TMVP as a political party, allowing it to contest polls.
However, many independent groups and political parties have opposed the TMVP’s participation, as it is still a group bearing arms and involved in numerous acts of violence. People's Action for Free and Fair Elections, a citizen-based Election Watch organization in Sri Lanka, in a Press Communiqué issued on February 6, 2008, stated, "It is possible that violence and election malpractices will surface as the election campaign gathers momentum, as the armed groups have not been disarmed. Further complicating factor is that the Government has apparently decided that its partner in the East would be the TMVP, which retains its arms."
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress has also accused the TMVP of unleashing violence in a bid to wreak havoc in the run-up to the nominations for the local polls. Justifying their fears on September 7, 2007, were leaflets distributed in Batticaloa, allegedly in the name of Chennan Force, an armed wing of the TMVP, threatening people against extending support to political parties such as the Tamil National Alliance, Tamil United Liberation Front, Eelam People's Democratic Party, People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam and Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front. "If this warning is neglected, they will be killed", the leaflet stated. The main opposition United National Party noted that the Government’s commitment to crush terrorism was questionable as it had weakened one terrorist group in the East while permitting another such group to function freely in the area.
Though the TMVP may have been an ‘asset’ for the Government in its fight against the LTTE in the East, allowing it to take the law into its hands in the recently cleared areas of the East is evidently problematic. The TMVP has, of course, adopted a political idiom as well, putting forward its power devolution proposals to the All Party Representative Committee, focusing primarily on establishing a provincial council for the East with greater powers, resettlement of displaced people in the East and deciding whether the Eastern people want to ‘re-merge’ with the North through a referendum. However, its substantial and continued armed strength injects a necessarily extremist and non-democratic dimension to the TMVP’s profile, which is fraught with risk, particularly as the LTTE’s dominant power is eroded by ongoing military operations. As the TMVP’s sway over Tamil areas augments, there is no reason to believe that this opportunistic formation will not use its considerable and increasing capacity for use of force to consolidate its power by all means available – and potentially in opposition to Colombo’s will.
The Peace Consolidates
On December 26, 2007, the Tripura Police chief, K. T. D. Singh, declared, "Terrorism in Tripura is under control". With only 39 militancy-related fatalities in 2007 and 79 incidents of insurgency-linked violence (till November 30), conditions in Tripura compared favourably with the various conflict-afflicted States in the country. Indeed, Tripura continues to reap the benefits of the extremely successful Police-led counter-insurgency strategy unveiled six years ago.Militancy-related fatalities in Tripura: 2000-07
Source: 2000-2006: Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India, *MHA, **Provisional Data: South Asia Terrorism Portal
Available data indicated a decline in fatalities both among Security Forces (SFs) and the militants, while fatalities among civilians have remained at the 2006 level. The 22 per cent decline in total fatalities is principally due to the 57 per cent decline in losses in the SF ranks. Cases of abduction, however, registered an increase of 40 percent, but these are nowhere close to the figures that had made Tripura the abduction centre of the Northeast in the year 2000. 60 abductions were recorded in the State in 2007, compared to 43 such cases in 2006. Improved policing has considerably dented militant capacities to engage in extortion. Police sources indicate that both the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) have fallen short of their ‘financial targets’ by 60 to 70 percent.
The militancy, both of the Biswamohan Debbarma-led NLFT and the Ranjit Debbarma-led ATTF, however, are far from over. Despite the counter-insurgency successes, a significant number of militants continue to operate within the State. A senior Police official told SAIR that, at any point of time, close to 300 militants of different outfits, divided into small mobile groups of 8-10 militants, are dispersed across parts of the State. These groups, consisting of youth from poor tribal families, are trained in Bangladesh and then shifted into Tripura through the 120 kilometre unfenced portion of the 856 kilometre-long Tripura-Bangladesh border. Between 2004 and 2006, 5,317 families in the State had been forced to flee their homes and settle in safe areas as a result of militant threats.
Militant activities have been presently confined to two of Tripura’s four Districts: Dhalai and West. The unfenced international border in the Gandacherra sub-division of Dhalai District remains a major point of ingress from Bangladesh, and is likely to remain a problem at least till the end of 2008, when the fencing is expected to be completed. In addition, the distinct hilly topography of Dhalai District over 70 percent of its geographical spread makes the operations of the militants much easier and the task of the SFs daunting. Similarly, the Champahour, Sidhai and Jirania Police Stations in the West District remain affected by militant activities.
Despite the operational challenges, the SFs continued to secure significant success in countering the militants. In addition to the 19 militants killed through 2007, at least 150 militants have either been arrested or have surrendered. While the NLFT has suffered the most in terms of numerical loss of its cadres, three middle level ATTF leaders, Predesh Debbarma, Sonaicharan Debbarma and Purnab Debbarma, surrendered during the year. Another top ATTF ‘area commander’, Upayan Debbarma, was killed in an encounter on September 12, 2007, in the Tamakari area of the West District. Similarly, on February 24, a top NLFT ‘area commander’, Krishnadhan Debbarma, was killed during an encounter at Bablabari village in the West District. The continuing losses have rendered the militants almost incapable of planning attacks on the SFs. Barring the March 6, 2007, incident in which two Tripura State Rifles (TSR) personnel, Samir Choudhury and Aloke Das, were killed in an ATTF ambush at Binan Hazaripara under the Champahour Police Station of the West District, the remaining four SF personnel were killed (the total SF fatalities in 2007 were six) during encounters initiated by the SFs themselves.
To tide over the crippling losses, the Dhaka-based NLFT chief was reported to have held a ‘brain storming session’ of the outfit’s ‘commanders’ in a hideout across the Indo-Bangladesh border at Katacherra close to Raisyabari in the Dhalai District on May 17. Sources indicate that Biswamohan directed the ‘commanders’ to carry out attacks on TSR camps located in the interior areas. Only a single attack, however, actually took place following this directive. On August 27, a TSR trooper was killed in an NLFT attack at a worksite of the North East Frontier Railways (NFR) at Swapnabari under the Manu Police Station in the West District.
The unrelenting counter-insurgency campaign and the resulting operational infirmity of the militants has led to the forging of tactical alliances between the NLFT and ATTF, who now appear to be working in tandem, if not jointly. Indications to this effect were provided in an interview on September 29 by the Bangladesh-based ATTF chief Ranjit Debbarma, who spoke of the camaraderie between the two outfits: "The present leadership of NLFT is running the organization along correct lines. This has made it possible for us to work together. As of now our relations are very good."
The NLFT has also sought to revive the Borok National Council of Tripura (BNCT), a group that had emerged in 1997 and acted mostly as a collaborator of the NLFT. The BNCT, before passing into oblivion within two years of its origin, used to abduct non-tribal civilians and hand them over to the NLFT. The group was also involved in theft of cattle belonging to the non-tribals residing in the interior areas. In 2007, the NLFT is known to have recruited an unspecified number of tribal youth, mostly in the Dhalai and North Districts, into the BNCT. The relief camps of the Reang refugees and the Reang settlements in the interior areas of the North District were specifically targeted for this purpose. A recruitment drive was conducted between October and November 2007 in the Kanchanpur and Longtarai Valley area, and some 42 tribal youth were recruited from Mrityunjoypara, Sarbajoypara, Joymonipara and Bhandarima areas in the North District. The BNCT, whom a senior Police official described as the ‘junior wing’ of the NLFT, is currently engaged in extortion activities in the interior areas. The incidents involving the BNCT in 2007 included the following:
December 5: Four persons, including two drivers of private vehicles, were abducted by suspected BNCT militants at Kanchanpur in the North District. One driver managed to escape.
December 4: Three BNCT militants were arrested from the Laikhand area in the North District.
November 23: Two BNCT militants were arrested from Naising Para and Tulamani Para under Kanchanpur in the North District.
November 19: Three BNCT militants were arrested from a village under Kanchanpur Police Station in the North District.
September 27: Four BNCT cadres were arrested following an encounter between the NLFT militants and SFs at Patlongjoypara under Kanchanpur Police Station in the North District.
May 28: BNCT militants abducted two labourers from Chakbeha Choudhurypara under Manikpur Police Station in the Dhalai District.
March 8: BNCT militants abducted a school teacher, Shambujoy Tripura, from Durjoynagar under Manikpur Police Station.
For over a decade, camps and safe houses in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and Sylhet Districts have been critical for the survival of the militant outfits in Tripura. The declaration of Emergency in Bangladesh on January 11, 2007, and the prior installation of the Interim Administration notwithstanding, NLFT and ATTF militants have continued to find refuge in that country. The number of their camps, in the range of 50 in earlier years, has, however, declined to about 30, mostly as a result of SF operations along the Tripura-Bangladesh border areas, forcing the militants to close some of the camps in the proximity of the international border and to merge others. Refuge in Bangladesh has, nevertheless, continued to provide easy access to small arms and explosives, as well as a secure base and training areas, and remains a critical factor behind the survival of these militant groups.
The ruling Left-Front cadres/leaders, seen as the principal political architects of the half-decade-long counter-insurgency campaign, have traditionally been targeted by the NLFT. At least six such incidents took place in 2007:
December 31: A tribal Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader, Chandra Mohan Debbarma, was shot dead by two NLFT militants at Naksirai Para under Kalyanpur Police Station in the West District.
October 21: Nine CPI-M activists were assaulted by ATTF militants at Rambabu Bazaar under Khowai Police Station in the West District, for demanding a security camp at Rambabu Bazaar.
July 13: Mannya Kumar Tripura, a CPI-M leader, was abducted by the NLFT militants along with two Booth Level Officers (BLOs), while returning from Naisharampara under Chawmanu Assembly constituency in Dhalai District. The BLOs were released later.
February 8: A tribal CPI-M leader Ratansen Tripura was killed by the NLFT militants at his home in the Ratan Nagar village of Dhalai District. The militants, while fleeing, shot at and injured another CPI-M worker, Tanijay Tripura, near the Ratan Nagar Bridge in the same District.
January 8: CPI-M leader, Phalendra Reang, was abducted by NLFT militants at gun point from his residence at Ashapurnaroaja Para area in the Dhalai District. He was released after 39 days of captivity.
Ongoing infrastructure building projects in the remote areas have always been easy targets for extortion by the militants. The construction of rail tunnels in the Longtarai Valley and Atharamura Hills, for instance, is yet to be started as a result of the threat posed by the militants. On a number of occasions during the previous years, workers from these project areas have been abducted on non-payment of money by the militants. The provision of dedicated SF personnel for these projects has been a crucial component of the counter-insurgency policy of the Tripura Police, and this has led to a substantial decline in militant attacks, directly impacting on the rebels’ capacities to generate funds. In the lone incident of its nature, on August 27, a TSR trooper was killed during an attack by the NLFT militants at a NFR worksite at Swapnabari under the Manu Police Station limits in the West District.
The improved security situation in Tripura is reflected in the unveiling of several new projects backed by foreign investors. In June 2007, a Thai business delegation visited the State to explore the possibilities of investing in the energy, gas and agro-industries sector. The Japan Bank of International Cooperation has pledged a substantial investment for preservation of the green cover and employment generation in the State. Tripura also received an INR 1.12 billion grant from the German Government for implementation of a poverty alleviation programme through natural resources management.
The impending elections to the State Legislative Assembly on February 23, 2008, will create fresh challenges for the SFs. During previous elections, militants, especially those belonging to the NLFT, have used violence to influence the voting pattern, and such a scenario is not ruled out this time around. Intelligence reports have already indicated intensified militant movements in the interior areas of 27 reserved constituencies in the State. However, the enormously weakened militancy is not expected to create a serious challenge to the electioneering process as such, though the extremists’ acts of desperation could result in a temporary spike in casualties in the State.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
February 4-10, 200
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Lashkar-e-Toiba will attack India, warns US intelligence: The United States intelligence believes that the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and other Kashmir-based insurgent groups will continue to plan and execute "attacks" in India. Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnel has said that, "The intelligence community assesses that Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other Kashmir-focussed groups will continue attack planning and execution in India. Shia and Hindu religious observances are possible targets, as are transportation networks and government buildings." McConnel, while speaking to the Select Senate Committee on Intelligence, also said that, "We judge Kashmir-focussed groups will continue to support the attacks in Afghanistan, and operatives trained by the groups will continue to feature in al-Qaida translational attack planning." Indian Express, February 6, 2008.
Three Madheshi parties unite to form common Front: Three Madheshi parties, amid a press conference held on February 9, 2008 in Kathmandu, have declared the formation of a common "Madheshi Front." At the joint press conference called by the Terai Madhesh Loktantrik Party, Madheshi Janaadhikar Forum and Nepal Sadvawana Party, the Madheshi leaders declared the formation of a common front which has been named as the "United Loktantrik Madheshi Front." Speaking on the occasion, Mahanta Thakur the president of Terai Madhesh Loktantrik Party, said the Madheshi population will call for the civil disobedience henceforth, no taxes shall be paid to the Government of Nepal. "No Madheshi population will be allowed to vote in the forthcoming election if our six-point demands were not met with", decaled Thakur. Ensuring compulsory 50 per cent representation of Madheshi population in the constituent assembly, recruiting Madheshis in the Nepal Army, addressing the demands of the armed Madheshi outfits are some of the major demands forwarded by the Madheshi population, added Thakur. Upendra Yadav, president of the Madheshi Janaadhikar Forum said "the Madheshi population do not need the election to the Constituent Assembly… this Madheshi uprising however will be the final one." Telegraph Nepal, February 10, 2008.
27 persons killed in suicide blast in NWFP: 27 persons were killed and over 50 others sustained injuries in a bomb blast at an election rally of the Awami National Party in the Nahaqi village of Charsadda district in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on February 10, 2008. Officials said the bomb had been planted near the stage and the explosion occurred as soon as recitation from the Holy Quran began. Federal Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz termed it a suicide attack and the police said it had found a severed head at the scene. Dawn; The News, February 10, 2008.
Taliban declares unilateral cease-fire in South Waziristan and Swat: Taliban spokesman Maulana Umar on February 6, 2008, declared a unilateral cease-fire from South Waziristan to Swat, saying no security forces would be targeted. "We will not attack any security person, be it in Waziristan or in Swat (district)," he told Daily Times from an undisclosed location. Umar denied the truce was the result of "secret negotiations", claiming the Taliban were responding to a reduction in the military’s attacks on them. "We will not attack the security forces till [our] next announcement," he said, adding, "We see a marked decrease in intensity of attacks on us." Tribal sources said a Taliban shura (council) had decided on the cease-fire after the Government had "agreed to meet certain points." However, the military said that operations against militants would continue. "This (Taliban ceasefire) is [a] one-sided (announcement). We received no formal communiqué," military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said. Daily Times, February 7, 2008.
600 suicide bombers present in Karachi: 600 suicide bombers are present in Karachi and they are planning a major attack, revealed two militants Qasim Toori and Danish alias Talha during interrogations by security agencies. Most of the suicide bombers are reported to be former students of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid (Red Mosque). The militants confessed, "Around 600 Jundullah militants are present in Karachi. They are mentally prepared and trained to commit suicide attacks." They also confessed that they had robbed foreign banks and dispatched the money to their headquarters in Wana in South Waziristan, from where their needs for weapons, explosives and other necessities were being met. The two militants were captured along with some women and children during a raid in Sector-17A, Shah Latif, on January 29, 2008. A third militant, who was killed during the raid, was identified as Gohar Muhammad alias Abrar Keamari Wallah. Daily Times, February 6, 2008.
Ten persons killed in suicide bombing in Rawalpindi: At least ten persons were killed and about 10 others were wounded on February 4, 2008, when a suicide bomber crashed his bike into an armed forces bus carrying students and officials of Army Medical College, near the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi. An eyewitness said the suicide bomber hit the 30-seater bus in front of National Logistic Cell offices close to the GHQ, blowing away the roof, windows and doors of the bus. Several other vehicles were also damaged. A van carrying schoolchildren was also partially damaged, but the children remained unhurt. Daily Times, February 5, 2008.
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