SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
War IV: Imminent End
Mullaitivu Town, situated in a narrow stretch of land between the Nanthikandal lagoon and the Indian Ocean, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) ‘military capital’ as well as the strongest Sea Tiger (sea wing of the LTTE) base, and the last of the urban settlements under the Tiger’s control, was captured by troops of the 59th Division in the afternoon of January 25, 2009, heralding the imminent termination of "Eelam War IV", which began with the Mavil Aru operation in July 2006.
With the fall of Mullaitivu, the Tigers lost their ‘Kingdom’. Earlier, on January 2, 2009, the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) had overrun Kilinochchi Town, the de facto capital of the projected Tamil Eelam (Homeland). Mullaitivu had been under LTTE control for a span of 13 years, since July 18, 1996, when the LTTE had swarmed over the last Army camp there in what was to go down in Sri Lanka’s military history as a major debacles, in which more than 1,000 soldiers were killed and a large haul of weapons, including long range artillery and mortars, was lost to the Tigers.
In the evening of January 25, 2008, in an interview on State-run television Rupavahini, the Army chief, Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka, announced that the Army had "captured the Mullaitivu bastion completely today," adding, that the fighting was continuing elsewhere and that the war was "95 percent" over.
In the build-up to the Mullaitivu victory, the SLA had, on January 9, 2009, ‘fully liberated’ the 325 kilometres stretch of Jaffna-Kandy (A-9) road, which the LTTE had held for 23 years, reuniting Point Pedro, the northernmost tip of the country, with Dondra Head, the southernmost tip. The longitudinal distance between these two small towns is 480 kilometres.
The Tigers had lost Paranthan, Elephant Pass and Jaffna over the preceding two and a half months culminating in the fall of Pooneryn on November 15, 2008. Prior to these victories in the LTTE heartland the Security Forces (SFs) had crushed the Tigers in Vavuniya and Mannar Districts.
According to media sources, the remnants of ‘Eelam War IV’ are now being fought in a territory less than 300 square kilometres on the Eastern coast, where the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) has set up a massive blockade. In an interview broadcast on January 6, 2009, General Fonseka told Independent Television Network that "the LTTE not only lost 95 per cent of the land it held but also lost within the last one year 8,000 terrorists, out of whom the Sri Lanka Army knows the names of 4000." He boasted that the victory in the Northern Province was much greater than that in the East Province, since the Army had to enter only a 20 kilometre distance in the Eastern battles, while the distance recovered in the North was 89 kilometres. Later on January 17, 2009, General Fonseka said, "When the war started, I used 50 map sheets to plan it. Now I only need one sheet to plan it."
Meanwhile, the Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, in a press briefing on January 30, 2009, rejected calls for a Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA), stressing, "We will continue with our military operations and we will continue to liberate areas which had not been liberated so far. We are determined to eradicate terrorism in Sri Lanka.'' Earlier, on January 29, President Mahinda Rajapakse urged the LTTE to ‘release’ all civilians in the conflict area within 48 hours to allow them to move to safety in the Government controlled areas. The Government has set up a special ‘no-fire zone’ in the LTTE-held area. However, the LTTE rejected the call, with LTTE political leader, Balasingham Nadesan declaring on January 29 that, "Only a permanent ceasefire mooted by the international community and negotiations followed by it would resolve the conflict as envisaged by the Tamil people and the LTTE."
The SF’s triumph in Wanni and Jaffna in 2009 was the extension of the Government troop’s successful operations over the years 2006, 2007 and 2008.
The relentless multi prong assault of the military exhausted the Tigers, and on June 30, 2008, the Army Chief had already noted that the LTTE has "lost their capability of fighting as a conventional army". The Sri Lanka Air Force carried out a relentless succession of air raids on identified LTTE targets almost every day, to weaken the Tiger’s military establishment prior to the ground troop’s assault. The SLN simultaneously neutralised the prowess of the Sea Tigers (arguably the most lethal wing of the organisation) in 25 major clashes in the Sea, cutting the LTTE’s supply routes and opening up alternative routes for advancing troops in North. In the early stages, the Army had adopted a policy of inflicting damage on the outfit, rather than any effort to recover land.
To sustain its onslaught and maintain dominance in recovered areas, the Army had deployed a total of 50,000 soldiers on the war front, and had backed this with a recruitment drive, adding 15,000 soldiers to its Forces in 2008, over the 30,000 recruited in the preceding year. The Army’s recruitment got a boost as the SFs secured increasing dominance on the war front, and as the myth of the LTTE’s ferocity and invincibility receded. General Sarath Fonseka, on January 13, 2009, thus stated, "Today the Army is strong with 180,000 personnel, where as a few years ago, we had just 116,000 people. We elevated ourselves not just with manpower but with well trained, sharp and skilled professionals." According to a November 17, 2008, report moreover, Sri Lanka Police sources disclosed that plans were underway to set up Police Stations in recently captured areas in the Northern Province, as had been done earlier in the Eastern Province. Under this scheme, reports indicate, a new Police Station was to be set up in Pooneryn, the strategic point in north-western coast captured by the Army on November 15, 2008.
The LTTE, on the other hand, was finding it increasingly difficult to replenish its shrinking cadre base. On June 6, 2008, in a release by its "Hero’s department", the LTTE claimed that the outfit had lost 21,051 cadres, including 16,516 males and 4,535 females, in the quest for a separate State for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, over 26 years between November 27, 1982 and May 31, 2008. Since its defeat in the Eastern Province in July 2007, the Tiger’s attempts to replenish cadre strength by coercive conscription had failed in the East, the principal source of earlier recruitment. According to one November 3, 2008, report, the LTTE was paying SLR 25,000 to parents who permitted one of their children to join the organization. Accoridng to a November 22, 2008, report, the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), quoting sources from the Wanni, claimed that, since early September 2008, the LTTE had conscripted 9,000 ‘very young’ persons. The LTTE also directed over 8,000 students who sat for the GCE ‘O Level’ Examinations in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts to join combat training, according to military intelligence reports released on December 24, 2008.
Mounting international pressure added to the LTTEs woes. New Delhi’s policy of non-interference, allowing Colombo to pursue its agenda of wiping out the LTTE menace in accordance with the international community’s current policy of ‘zero tolerance towards terrorism’ helped the Mahinda Government. The November 26, 2008, multiple terrorist attacks in Mumbai forced India to stick with this policy, despite the political compulsions of the Government at New Delhi. The actions taken against the LTTE network by Governments the world over, were a result of an increasing commitment to support Colombo. Thus, responding to requests made to the international community by the Sri Lanka Government for assistance in destroying the LTTE Air Wing which continued to attack Government installations throughout 2007-2008, Russia and the Czech Republic announced that they would help Colombo destroy the small aircrafts of the LTTE’s air wing, according to a November 2, 2008, report. All this happened despite the desperate efforts of the branches of the LTTE’s political wing in at least 12 countries, including the United States.
Facing an ‘open war’ since January 16, 2008, the year turned out to be the bloodiest in the history of 33 years of ethnic strife in the island nation, with a minimum of 11,144 people killed through the year in about 1,200 major incidents [incidents in which at least three persons have been killed], including 13 suicide attacks. The dead included at least 404 civilians – including top politicians and ministers – 1,314 SF personnel and 9,426 LTTE militants, including top leaders of the outfit.
* Data till February 1, 2009; ** Data from March 1, 2000
Source SATP Database
Fatality figures from the conflict zones – Northern and Eastern Provinces in the years 2006, 2007, 2008 – may, in fact, reflect gross underestimates, as there has been only fitful release of information by Government agencies and media reports. Accurate estimation became even more difficult after the Ministry of Defence, which used to release regular data about the fatalities, suspended the release of casualty figures after October 24, 2008. Contradictory figures put out by different Government agencies from time to time made matters worse. While Sarath Fonseka, on January 6, 2009, stated that nearly 15,000 LTTE militants had been killed by the SFs over the past two-and-a-half years and nearly 2,000 SF personnel lost their lives over the same period, Defence spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella asserted, on January 11, 2009, that some 3,000 soldiers had been killed in battles with the LTTE over the preceding three months, and not 15,000, as had been alleged by Opposition parties. Similarly, in the case of civilian fatalities, the Government repeatedly insisted that it was adhering to a policy of Zero Civilian Casualties in the battlefield and that there had been minimal collateral fatalities. It is, however, beyond debate that the loss of life among the civilians has been considerable, though it may not be as high as the LTTE claim of nearly 3,000 civilians killed.
While deadly fighting ensued in the North, the Eastern Province (EP) also felt the heat of LTTE terrorism, with 199 persons killed through 2008 in as many as 194 incidents of violence since May 16, 2008, when the Provincial Government was installed. Ethnic clashes between Muslims and Tamils, which erupted soon after the appointment of Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan, the leader of the Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), as Chief Minister (CM), further vitiated the atmosphere in the East. Notably, on September 23, 2008, US Ambassador Robert Blake said abductions and extra-judicial killings and other security challenges must end in the Eastern Province, if private sector investments to develop the region were to be taken forward. On December 14, 2008, military sources claimed that 21 LTTE militants led by Nagulan, a former LTTE leader in the East, had infiltrated into the Province with the objective of destabilising the security situation. Four militants who had been killed by the troops in Bakmitiyawa in Ampara on December 8, 2008, was said to have belonged to this group. Earlier, on November 17, 2008, sources indicated that some 70 TMVP – the political wing of the LTTE breakaway faction founded by Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias ‘Colonel’ Karuna Amman – cadres had defected to rejoin the LTTE over the preceding months. Some of these cadres killed their colleagues prior to fleeing to join the LTTE.
The Eastern Province plunged into chaos despite elections to the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) on May 10, 2008 and appointment of Pillayan as the first ever Chief Minister of the EPC on May 16, 2008, as part of the Government’s efforts to democratise the East. Prior to the EPC elections, the Batticaloa local body polls had been held on March 10, 2008. With democracy returning to the Province, it was expected that the security scenario would improve, as would overall development. Things, however, went awry when Karuna returned to Colombo on July 3, 2008. The simmering intra-party rivalry between the Karuna and Pillayan factions reached climax when, on December 21, 2008, Karuna formed a new party named Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Koddani (TMVK) or the Tamil People’s Liberation Alliance. A worried Colombo , on its part, tried to play safe by appointing Karuna as a Member of Parliament representing the ruing United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), on October 5, 2008. However, on November 23, 2008, Pillayan claimed that that, since he took office, not a single person had been recruited to the Council. "I don’t have any powers to implement the 13th Amendment. We have asked the Central Government to give us the powers vested in the 13th Amendment," he said, accusing Karuna of having convinced Colombo not to delegate powers to him.
Nevertheless, on November 12, 2008, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees disclosed that more than 150,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) had returned to their former villages in the Eastern Province over the preceding year. Later on December 3, 2008, the Project Manager of Humanitarian De-mining Unit, Imthiyas Ismail, stated that landmines had been removed from a 17 billion square metre area in the ‘liberated areas’, including the recently liberated Eastern Province. The Province received a boost when the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), on April 15, 2008, announced that it had awarded a five-year USD 12 million contract to support regional Government in Sri Lanka's Eastern and North Central Provinces.
Outside the conflict zones of the North and East the LTTE continued to carry out strikes, killing 110 persons in as many as 71 incidents in just the Capital Colombo and its suburbs. Reports indicate that at least 14 suicide cadres were present in Colombo to carry out attacks on the occasion of the country’s Independence Day (February 4). In October 2008, the Government had created a Special Police Task Force to protect Colombo and its suburbs from possible terrorist attacks.
The LTTE is reported to have carried out 168 suicide attacks between 1984 and 2006 – the highest number of suicide attacks by any terrorist organisation in the world during this period – and assassinated 3,262 civilians in 346 targeted attacks across the country. In 2008 alone, the LTTE killed as many as 158 persons in not less that 90 incidents outside the war zone. Intelligence reports indicate that Kandy and its suburbs were identified as the second worst affected area after Colombo, outside the theatre of war. Suicide squads of 11 LTTE militants were reportedly living in the Kandy area. According to a November 2008 report, Police in the Kandy, Matale and Nuwara Eliya areas recovered about 500-kilograms of C4 explosives from a group of LTTE militants. Another LTTE militant caught transporting a large quantity of explosives by lorry admitted to previously transporting some 1,000-kilograms of explosives to Kandy, Matale and Nuwara Eliya. On December 23, 2008, the Inspector General of Police, Jayantha Wickramarathna, revealed that the SFs had seized approximately 4,350 kilograms of C-4 and TNT explosives in the southern areas in 2008.
The media has also been confronted by the tribulations of war. Chief Government Whip, Dinesh Gunawardena, on January 21, 2009, disclosed in Parliament that nine journalists had been killed and another 27 assaulted in Sri Lanka since January 2006. He also indicated that, during this period, five journalists had been abducted by ‘unidentified groups’ in the country, though four of these were found later. On June 4, 2008, the Defence Ministry formulated guidelines for the media on war news coverage in the form of an advisory that was posted on its website,www.defence.lk, under the heading, "Deriding the war heroes for a living — the ugly face of 'defence analysts' in Sri Lanka". The guidelines addressed four main issues that the Defence Ministry was most concerned over – military operations, promotion schemes, procurement and unethical methods used to obtain sensitive information – and media criticism on any of these issues was classified as an act of ‘treason’.
On November 2, 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that Sri Lanka’s war-battered economy, with an overvalued currency, reliance on foreign borrowings and poor management of the budget, was at "serious risk". In its annual assessment, the IMF stated that Sri Lanka could have inflation at 23.9 per cent by the end of 2008. Economic growth was expected to slow down from 6.8 percent in 2007, to 6.1 per cent in 2008 and 5.8 per cent in 2009. The Island nation's forex reserves have fallen from USD 3.4 billion in July to USD 2.6 billion dollars by October 2008, as the Central Bank spent hundreds of millions of dollars since September, in a bid to shore up the Sri Lankan Rupee. One October 2008 report indicated that, under these adverse circumstances, the Government spent SLR 6,840 per minute in the war over the preceding months, and subsequently increasing this expenditure to SLR 18,000 per minute.
On the political front, in addition to the EPC elections, the Government successfully conducted elections for another two Provincial Councils – the North Central Provincial Council and the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council – on August 23, 2008. Later, on September 4, 2008, President Rajapakse asserted that his Government would shortly move towards establishing a ninth Provincial Council: "When we came into power there were only seven Provincial Councils functioning in the country. We have now increased it up to eight. We would establish the ninth Provincial Council shortly." On December 8, 2008, the Government, in a special gazette notification, dissolved the North Western and the Central Provincial Councils where elections are scheduled to be held on February 14, 2009. Terms for both these Provincial Councils were to end in August 2009. According to a January 15, 2009, report the Government is even considering the holding of local Government elections in Jaffna and Kilinochchi Districts before the Sinhala and Hindu New Year in April 2009. No elections have been held in the region since 1997.
The long sought-after Southern Consensus remained elusive. Even the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) mandated by the President in 2006 to prepare a set of proposals that would be the basis for a solution to the ‘national question’ has managed to get representations from only 13 political parties out of more than 58 recognized by the election commission. The prominent absentees include the main opposition United National Party, the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna or People's Liberation Front and the Tamil National Alliance. Only two parties from the Opposition – the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Western People's Front led by parliamentarian Mano Ganeshan – have made representations. Nevertheless, the APRC has finalized its report recommending a power devolution formula to solve the issue of ethnic conflict in the country. The Committee concluded its deliberations in the night of January 31, 2008, after its 104th meeting. APRC chairman and Minister, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, stated that all 13 parties in the APRC attended the final meeting. An interim report based on the consensus reached so far has been handed over to party representatives for observations and suggestions. Once the report is finalized by the 13 parties, it is to be handed over to the President. The APRC is expected to meet again on February 16 and 17 to take a final decision on the plan
On January 7, 2009, the Government confirmed that the Cabinet had taken a unanimous decision, in accordance with a memorandum submitted by the President, to proscribe the LTTE, which continued to engage in blatant human rights violations. The LTTE had been described by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as one of the most dangerous and deadly extremist outfits in the world, which had ‘inspired’ networks worldwide, including al-Qaeda in Iraq. The LTTE had also been listed as one among six blatant violators of human rights by the United Nations, for recruiting underage children in armed conflict and using rape and other forms of sexual violence against them. According to a December 10, 2008, report, the Government had ‘overwhelming public support’ for its war against the LTTE and most people believed the outfit would soon be defeated, an opinion poll indicated. Research group, Taylor Nelson Sofres (Lanka), claimed that close to 75 per cent of people questioned stated they were "firmly in favour of military action, seeing it as the only route to wipe out terrorism."
Even though the end of military operations appears imminent, the scourge of the LTTE is expected to survive for some time to come. The Jane’s Intelligence Report indicated that the LTTE's annual income was estimated "between $200-300 million, making it the second biggest income generating terrorist organisation in the world." Another December 2008 report claimed that, despite stringent measures to freeze funds, the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), a LTTE front organisation, reportedly raised over SLR 60 million in August 2008 alone. Earlier, on November 17-18, 2008, the Central Bank had announced that it had forfeited SLR 71 million belonging to TRO to the State. [The Government had confiscated TRO assets in August 2006 under the Financial Transactions Reporting Act and the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Financing Act.]
In July 2008, Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona had stated that the LTTE could wage a protracted low-intensity insurgency with hidden resources, despite a clear military victory. "Defeating the LTTE might not be the end of the story because an organisation like this might still have some resources hidden away. This might continue to be a problem for us. So the way we are trying to resolve this problem is... by a combination of military and political means." Army Commander General Fonseka had added, ominously, on September 18, 2008, that the LTTE would go underground rather than 'fight to the last man' in open war.
This danger would remain particularly acute if the elusive LTTE leadership, including Velupillai Prabhakaran, survives the present military confrontation. It will remain difficult to wipe out the LTTE if Prabhakaran survives in freedom. Contradictory reports regarding his location – some analysts claim he might already have fled to some south-east Asian country, while others claim he is still leading the fight in the Mullaitivu area – add to these anxieties.
Uncertainty continues, consequently, to loom large over Colombo. Until the present military operations do not arrive at their logical conclusion, and the LTTE’s capacities for insurgent and terrorist operation are not entirely neutralised, the residual risks of violence in Sri Lanka will persist, even as a satisfactory resolution of the ethnic conflict would remain elusive.
The October 1 serial explosions in the capital, Agartala, were the high point of militancy in Tripura in 2008. Four explosions, two of them described by the State Police as "powerful", went off within a span of 45 minutes, between, 7.30 PM and 8.15 PM, in the Radha Nagar, Gol Bazaar, GB Bazaar and Krishna Nagar localities, injuring 74 persons. Although no one was killed, the targeting of the capital, Agartala, created panic. A live crude bomb was also recovered and defused on the main motor stand in Agartala. Another live bomb was diffused near a temple at Radhanagar in North Agartala. While no organisation claimed responsibility for the explosions, subsequent investigations exposed the role of the All Tripura Tigers Force (ATTF) and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) in Bangladesh. The Assam based United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) had trained the militants who had carried out the explosions. On October 12, Tripura Police personnel neutralised an ATTF hideout where the bombs used in the explosions were prepared.
Nevertheless, trends in continuously declining violence, established in 2003 in Tripura, saw a further consolidation in 2008. Starting 2003, violence in this tiny State in India’s Northeast, surrounded by Bangladesh from three sides, has steadily declined, suggesting that militancy in Tripura could soon be a thing of the past.
Total fatalities in 2008 declined by over 28 per cent from the relatively low figure of 39 in 2007, though militancy-related incidents increased by 23 per cent. Civilian fatalities were down 50 per cent and Security Force (SF) fatalities, 33 per cent. 17 militant cadres were killed in 2008, compared to 19 cadres in 2007.
Militancy-related fatalities in Tripura: 2001-08
Source: Data 2000-2007: Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India, and 2008: Provisional Data, South Asia Terrorism Portal
Despite the steady erosion of militancy, incidents were reported from all of Tripura’s four Districts in 2008. While the West District, in which capital Agartala is located, was the worst affected, with 60 militancy-related incidents, Dhalai, North and South Districts accounted for 26, 21 and 9 incidents, respectively.
On November 25, 2008, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar informed the State Assembly that the combined strength of the two principal militant formations operating in the State, the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and the ATTF was less than 300. While the NLFT’s cadre strength was estimated at between 180 and 200, the ATTF was believed to have fallen to an all-time low, with no more than 90 to 100 cadres. It is significant to note that extremely effective counter-insurgency operations continue to keep a bulk of the remaining cadres and their top leadership in the safety of Bangladesh. Hit and run type of attacks from across the international border, and surreptitious movements by cadres in search of avenues of extortion, remain the dominant mode extremist activities in Tripura.
According to Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) data, 295 militants were either arrested or surrendered in the first eight months of 2008. On May 8, 35 NLFT cadres surrendered at Kanchanpur in the North Tripura District, while another 12 had surrendered at the same place on March 30.
Only 25 incidents involving the ATTF were reported in 2008. At least 32 ATTF cadres were neutralised in 2008. A lone ATTF cadre was killed during an encounter at Gandabasti in the West District on July 25, while 20 cadres surrendered on separate occasions and 11 cadres were arrested. On September 14, Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) personnel handed over 18 ATTF militants to Border Security Force (BSF) authorities at Khowai Immigration Centre in West District. All the militants were reportedly detained by the BDR from their Satcherri hideout in Bangladesh in October 2004, and had served prison terms in that country.
The Borok National Council of Tripura (BNCT), a shadowy front organization of the NLFT, since its emergence in 1997, has abducted non-tribal youth and hand them over to the NLFT. The group was also involved in lifting of cattle belonging to non-tribals residing in interior forested areas. While the group had been marginalized within the first few years of its operation, the NLFT has helped its revival since 2006, in an attempt to divert the focus of counter-insurgency operations. The BNCT mostly manages the NLFT’s abduction and extortion activities, principally in the North and Dhalai Districts. BNCT has also abducted tribal youth for forcible recruitment into the NLFT. At least 19 cases of abduction were registered against BNCT cadres in 2008. Like its parent outfit, the BNCT also suffered setbacks in 2008. While two BNCT cadres were killed in an encounter with the SFs at Bankaraipara under Birganj Police Station in the South District, 45 BNCT cadres surrendered through the year. The SFs arrested another 10 BNCT cadres.
SF domination was further in evidence in the declining number of fatalities among the Forces in the State. Only two encounters involving deaths of SF personnel were reported in 2008. On January 19, unidentified militants killed a Special Police Officer (SPO), Bhajan Bhowmik at the Khedarnal village under Nutanbazar Police Station in the Dhalai District; and on November 29 three BSF personnel were killed in an ambush by the NLFT militants at Wadukcherra under Manikpur Police Station in the Dhalai District.
The improved security situation in Tripura was visible in the largely peaceful elections to the State Legislative Assembly on February 23, 2008. In earlier elections, militants had unleashed a reign of terror, significantly affecting voter participation. In 2008, however, their obstructive activities were confined to snatching Voter Identity Cards on two occasions and carrying out handful attacks on political party activists. Only one incident of abduction of four supporters of the ruling Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M), including a polling agent, was reported from Hariyamani para under Chawmanu Police station in the Dhalai District on February 21. Earlier, on February 8, NLFT cadres had abducted two CPI-M supporters from their village at Shanpara in West District. All the abducted persons were subsequently released. On February 11, unidentified militants assaulted and injured Ajit Debbarma, a divisional member of the CPI-M at Khowai in the West District. Further on February 20, more than 20 CPI-M activists were injured when a group of NLFT militants stormed a local Party committee office in the Ramchandraghat constituency of West District, and assaulted Party members. However, not a single untoward incident took place on polling day on February 23, as a huge 91 per cent of voters turned out for the elections. The incumbent CPI-M won 46 of Legislative Assembly’s 60 seats.
The capacities for operation and recruitment among militant groups in the State have been crippled by the strategic deployment of SF personnel in the high hills, plugging militant routes inside the State. There has also been continuous improvement in SF capacities. Crucially, the retreat of militancy has ensured the penetration of State structures into the most remote areas of Tripura, which were once preying zones for the militants.
Just 80 kilometres of the 856 kilometre long international border with Bangladesh remain unfenced in the Gandacherra sub-division of Dhalai District, and this is the principal point of ingress for the militants from Bangladesh. Following the Agartala serial blasts, in which the perpetrators are known to have used the unfenced border to bring in men and explosives into Tripura, there has been a renewed emphasis on completing the tasks of fencing, enhancing force presence and patrolling, introducing modern electronic sensors and flood lighting the entire border. The entire process is scheduled to be completed by 2011-12.
The electoral victory of the Awami League (AL) in the December 29 Parliamentary elections in Bangladesh and the assurance given by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed that the territory of that country would not be allowed to be used to launch terrorist strikes within India gave further grounds for greater hope in Tripura. There is qualified optimism, now, that year 2009 may witness a Bangladeshi rethink on its past policies of support to outfits such as the NLFT and ATTF, even as SFs within Tripura gear up to hammer the final nail on the coffin of militancy in the State.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
January 26-February 1, 2009
kill 15 Policemen in
killed a team of 15
a Sub-Inspector, in
a thickly forested area
near the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh
border, 300 kilometres
from Nagpur, in the
morning of February
1, 2009. The Police
team had been sent to
investigate a major
fire in a remote forest
village on January 29.
"The Naxalites were
waiting for them and
ambushed them as they
were on their way,"
a senior Police official
said. The encounter,
which neutralised the
entire Police party,
began around 11 AM and
continued for two hours
in the jungles at Marke
in Gadchiroli District.
(squads) of Naxalites,
comprising over 150
cadres, armed with AK-47
rifles and other sophisticated
weapons, attacked the
Police squad. Police
suspect the attack was
in retaliation to the
arrest of 15 Naxalites,
including two squad
commanders, on January
75 civilians and 44 militants among 129 persons killed during the week in NWFP: 32 persons, including three soldiers, were killed and 22 others sustained injures as the Security Forces (SFs) intensified military operations in the Charbagh, Matta and Sangota areas of the Swat District on February 1, 2009. Locals said most of the people killed in Charbagh and Sangota during shelling were civilians, who were finding it difficult to move to safer places due to the perpetual curfew and escalating clashes. In addition, the ISPR-run Swat Media Centre in Mingora claimed that the SFs have killed 16 militants during the last 24 hours.
Three civilians and a militant were killed in a clash between the SFs and militants in the Dherai area of Kabal revenue division on January 31. Separately, three people were killed as helicopter gunships targeted Taliban positions in Kabal. The air attack also destroyed a self-proclaimed Taliban court building. In the Aligrama area of Kabal, the Taliban militants attacked a SF’s convoy killing three soldiers.
Six persons were killed in Swat on January 30 as the SFs targeted Taliban hideouts in several areas of the Chaharbagh Sub-division, including Coat and Darul Uloom. Troops reportedly advanced into the valley and consolidated their positions in Matta and Manglawar areas of the District. Separately, four soldiers were killed and eight injured when an Army convoy was attacked with a remote-controlled bomb in Malakand on January 30. Official sources said a military convoy of the Sindh Regiment was on its way to provincial capital Peshawar from the militancy-hit Swat Valley when a remote-controlled explosive device, planted by militants near a school building on Ghat Koto Road, went off, killing four soldiers and injuring eight others.
Three persons were killed and four others injured in the Swat District on January 29 amid several abortive attacks by the militants on the SFs. Four militants were killed and several others, including a Policeman, sustained injuries when suspected militants attacked a Police Post near Baran Bridge in Bannu District with rockets and heavy arms late in the night of January 28.
On the day the Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited Swat on January 28, the SFs killed seven militants and injured 11 others in Manglawar and Sanghota towns during a ground action backed by helicopters. Earlier, SFs killed more than 16 militants in Darra Adamkhel on January 27. The SFs claimed that they had besieged a large number of militants after a fierce battle which claimed the life of an Army officer and injured five soldiers in Tor Chappar. The troops had reportedly been attacking the militant hideouts in the area with artillery fire and shelling for the preceding four days. The Inter-Services Public Relations said in a Press Release from provincial capital Peshawar that 16 militants were killed in Tor Chapper on January 25.
After the SFs launched the third phase of Operation Rah-e-Haq, five civilians were killed by artillery and mortar fire. Locals said a man, a woman and three children were killed when mortar shells hit four houses in Mangalawar area of Charbagh Sub-division in the night of January 26 as SFs targeted Taliban positions. Nine people, including two children and two women, were killed and 17 others sustained injuries in different incidents of violence in various parts of the Swat District on January 26. A woman and her two children were killed when a mortar shell, allegedly fired by the SFs, landed in a house in the Serai area near Manglawar. Further, two persons, including a woman, were killed and 14 injured in Sangota when mortar shells hit their houses. Separately, four bodies were recovered from the Ningolai area of Kabal Sub-division. Dawn; Daily Times; The News, January 27-February 2, 2009.
400 civilians and 150 soldiers among 615 persons killed during intensified fighting in North: 400 civilians, 150 soldiers and 65 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants were among 615 persons killed during the week in the North. More than 300 people were killed and several hundreds injured when the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) fired artillery shells inside the Safety Zone declared by the Colombo Government in the preceding 24 hours, the pro-LTTE Website Tamil Net claimed. Most of the shells exploded in a three kilometre area between Vallipunam Kaali Temple and Moongkilaaru towards Paranthan road. Further, on January 28, at least 50 LTTE militants were killed and more than 150 injured during heavy fighting between the troops and militants in the Udayankattu and Pallaikudiyirippu areas of Mullaitivu District. The Security Forces (SFs) also captured one LTTE base camp, with five buildings and one electric generator, and another camp with 15 bunkers. In addition, at least 44 civilians were killed and 178 others sustained injuries during SLA’s artillery firing in safety zones in Wanni since the noon of January 29, claimed Tamil Net. Meanwhile, at least 150 soldiers were killed and more than 350 were wounded when the defensive formations of the LTTE foiled SLA’s attempt to capture Puthukkudiyiruppu in the morning of on February 1, claimed Tamil Net, adding that the fighting was still continuing. The Website also claimed that the SLA fired indiscriminate artillery shells targeting civilians at Moongkilaaru on January 31 and February 1 killing 56 civilians. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Tamil Net; Colombo Page, January 27-Febraury 2, 2009.