SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Peace, Ruinous War
With the preordained collapse of the peace deal, violence has returned to Swat District in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Full fledged military operations were launched on May 8, 2009, with the offensive coming after Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani announced, a day earlier during his address to the nation, that the Government had called out the Security Forces (SFs) to fight the militants, and appealed to the people to back the decision. The Government, he added, had given enough opportunity for the Taliban to lay down arms and eschew violence.
The Inter-Services Public Relations Director General, Major General Athar Abbas, stated at a Press briefing in Rawalpindi on May 8, that the military had launched a "full-scale operation" in Swat and the Taliban were on the run. More than 140 militants have been killed in Swat during the preceding 24 hours, he stated. Abbas added, further,
He also stated that the militants were attempting to block the exodus of innocent civilians by preventing their departure through coercion, roadblocks and holding people hostage. According to Reuters, he said there were 4,000 to 5,000 militants in Swat, including Uzbeks and Tajiks. Abbas also said 12,000 to 15,000 Army personnel were taking part in the operation and there was no need to pull out troops from the eastern border as a sufficient number of troops had been deployed in the disturbed areas.
On the ground, intense violence continues to afflict the NWFP, although the guns had fallen relatively silent in Swat since the ‘peace deal’ was announced on February 16, 2009. 1,772 people, including 470 civilians and 1,131 militants, have already died in the province in 2009 (till May 10). Since May 6 alone, at least 315 militants, 40 civilians and nine soldiers have died in Swat (the categorization is based on official declarations. No independent confirmation of the identity of militants is available). Major General Abbas said the militants had abducted over 100 individuals, killed 30 soldiers, carried out four suicide and eight improvised explosive device attacks, looted six banks, destroyed three Police Stations and one electricity Grid Station and damaged two schools, after the peace agreement. The military disclosed that the Taliban carried out patrolling, set up check-posts, kidnapped for ransom, killed, and damaged private properties, violating the peace deal.
The deteriorating state of play since last week could lead to increasing violence and greater displacement across Swat and the adjoining Districts, which had been relatively peaceful since the peace deal on February 16. More than one million people have already left their homes in the violence-hit Malakand region, after a Taliban surge and the military response, the NWFP Environment Minister Wajid Ali Khan said in Peshawar on May 8. Major General Abbas said the Army had taken measures to prevent civilian casualties, but said "no guarantee can be given that there will be no collateral damage." The provincial Government estimates between 150,000 to 200,000 people have already arrived in safer areas of the province over the last few days (reported on May 8), with another 300,000 already on the march or about to leave, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. UNHCR noted that those fleeing the latest escalation of hostilities in Lower Dir, Buner and Swat join another 555,000 previously displaced Pakistanis who had fled their homes in the tribal areas and NWFP. The refugee crisis is expected to worsen in the coming days as fighting escalates in Swat and other areas of the Frontier.
Latest reports indicate that the Khawazkhela and Chamtalai areas in Swat had been secured by the SFs. The SFs have focused on militant hideouts in many areas, including Malokabad, Shahdarra, Rung Mohallah, Rajabad, Zamrud Mine, Qazi Baba, Watkai, Naway Killay, Ingoro Dherai, Takhtaband, Balogram and Qambar. Troops are currently targeting the militants’ training camps on the mountain strongholds, ammunition dumps and command and communication centers. "Special care has been taken to strike identified targets and those which are away from populated areas," military spokesman Major General Abbas said. The Taliban, on its part, has regrouped rather well. On May 6, militants were seen patrolling the streets of Mingora, the main town in Swat. Furthermore, Taliban militants who came down from the mountains late on May 5, occupied the homes of local residents and were, reportedly, controlling many strategic points in the Valley. More ominously, the Taliban has planted countless landmines and explosive devices around the populated areas of Swat to stop the people from leaving their homes and were using women and children as human shields against the military operation, a Federal Cabinet meeting was told on May 6.
The military has stated that the Taliban resistance in the adjoining Buner District had been reduced considerably, but militants were maintaining positions at Sultanwas and Pir Baba. Despite the reverses, however, sources indicate that the Taliban have a considerable presence in Buner, including militants from south Punjab, as well as Uzbek and other foreign militants. The military spokesman said the resistance the Taliban had put up and their weapons – assault rifles, anti-aircraft missiles and mortars – showed they had come to Buner with the intention to stay. He said locals had confirmed that foreigners were also present in Buner, and were fighting the SFs along with the Taliban. Brigadier Fayyaz Mehmood Qamar, who is in charge of military operations in Buner, claimed, on May 3, that the operations would be completed within a week. He said there were few local militants, while Uzbek militants were present in large numbers, putting up a stiff resistance.
Military operations are also underway in Lower Dir District, where the Taliban are reportedly in control of the eastern part that connects with the Swat Valley. The Taliban also operate a training camp in one of the hills in Lower Dir. While the Interior Minister Rehman Malik claimed, on April 27, that the District had been cleared of militants, intermittent reports since then, quoting residents, stated that clashes were still taking place. Lower Dir is strategically significant since it is bordered by Swat to the east and the Bajaur Agency in FATA to the west. U.S. officials say the "Taliban domination of Lower Dir could create a pipeline for fighters from Swat to reach the battlefields of Afghanistan" while Pakistani officials "fear the same route could be used in reverse, to move Taliban fighters from bases in the mountains near the Afghan border to within striking distance of Pakistan's plains."
An operation has also been launched against the Taliban in the Shen Dhand, Tor Chappar, Sunni Khel, Bosti Khel and Akhorwal areas of Darra Adamkhel, the Frontier’s weapons bazaar. Further, in Shangla District, SFs attacked militants’ hideouts in Loisar and secured two dominating mountain heights called Point 2245 and 2266 on May 9.
The Taliban-led militancy in the Frontier not only challenges the writ of the Government but also threatens to accelerate Pakistan’s collapse as a nation-state. The loss of Swat, which is barely 100 miles from national capital Islamabad, to the Taliban-al Qaeda combine, has generated a fear that this could lead to an implosion of the state itself, with perilous repercussions for regional and global security. The peace deal and introduction of Sharia (Islamic law) in Swat District and Malakand Division must be viewed in the context of a failing state apparatus in Pakistan. The disastrous peace deal was an unambiguously desperate move to escape militancy in the Frontier, and an indication that the SFs were either unwilling or incapable of fighting Islamist militancy. The simple truth is that, in Swat, around 4,000-5,000 militants (there is still no accepted official figure) defeated the SFs, whose numbers were at least four times as many, over about 17 months of intense fighting. (The Army was deployed in Swat in July 2007. However, till November 10, 2007, it was only assisting the Police and Paramilitary Forces, who were conducting operations against the militants. It was only on November 11, 2007, that President Pervez Musharraf had announced that the Army had taken over the anti-militancy drive under emergency regulations.)
Successive regimes in Pakistan have resorted to a muddled approach of alternating military operations and peace accords. Most peace deals with militants in the past few years, be it in the Frontier or FATA, have quickly collapsed, only serving to embolden the forces of radical Islam, be it in Afghanistan, Pakistan or elsewhere, in the brief hiatus of diminished hostilities. Dialogue and short-lived peace deals have been tried again and again, only to have the Taliban return to the areas stronger than before. More importantly, the fairly substantial presence of military and paramilitary forces in the region has not led to a modicum of stability. In fact, the seventh-largest Army in the world has failed comprehensively in dealing with the multiple internal security challenges confronting the nation.
Islamabad, for the moment, has again swung to the belief that force is necessary. How long this remains the case is to be seen. There has been a strategic failure in Pakistan and elsewhere in South Asia when it comes to neutralising insurgencies of this kind, and an unwillingness to accept the plain truth that, without forcefully neutralising the insurgency, there is little likelihood that a political approach or counter-insurgency strategy will succeed.
While the Taliban may have over-stated their case after the peace deal, by a blatant display of their prowess through their actions in Buner, Swat and Lower Dir, the reality is that the state is far too weak to counter them.
The latest military offensive was launched under severe global pressure at a time when President Asif Ali Zardari was on a visit to the United States. The Commander of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, had reportedly told US officials in late April that the following two weeks were to be "critical to determining whether the Pakistani Government will survive." He also stated, "The Pakistanis have run out of excuses..." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 22 that Pakistan was facing an "existential threat" from Islamic militants. She said the Government in Islamabad was ceding territory and "basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists". Under intense pressure from the US administration, everyone in Islamabad now seems to be making the ‘right noises’. While Prime Minister Gilani has said it is a battle for the survival of Pakistan, the CoAS, General Ashfaq Kayani, declared that the Army would fight till "decisive ascendancy" had been achieved in Swat. President Asif Ali Zardari had stated, in Washington on May 7, that military operations would continue till normalcy was restored in Swat.
Will the military operations be sustained and carried to their logical conclusion – the neutralisation of the Taliban? Much of the answer to this lies in the trajectory of violence in NWFP and elsewhere in Pakistan and also whether Pakistan is able to sever its bond with radical Islam. There is bound to be a severe backlash following the launch of military operations in Swat and elsewhere in Frontier. In fact, the success of military operations in Swat is closely linked to the trajectory of violence in other Districts of the Frontier and in the other provinces. The Swat division of the Taliban is closely linked to the Taliban and al Qaeda network across Pakistan. In order to reduce the pressure in the Frontier, the Taliban-al Qaeda combine will, in the coming weeks, resort to violence and subversion throughout Pakistan, including, specifically, the urban areas. Furthermore, the Taliban has already vowed to ‘eliminate’ the country's top leadership, including President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani and their close family members. "We thought that being a member of a religious family, Gilani will support our demand of implementing Sharia in the Malakand Division, but instead he has announced an all-out war against us, which has angered our commanders as well as fighters," an unnamed Taliban commander told The News. He warned that Gilani's hometown, Multan, and the tomb of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto might also be targeted by the militants. He claimed, further, "Besides, the personnel and installations of security forces, we have now also included civilian rulers in our hit list. We will definitely need some time to plan our actions but it is not impossible for us and we have all the means to implement our plan of attack anywhere in Pakistan."
The Pakistan Army has failed earlier, before the peace deal was signed, to neutralise the Taliban in the NWFP. Another inconclusive campaign will be disastrous well beyond the Frontier.
New evidence of the Maoist's real intent – to capture the state through the democratic process – came to light at Kathmandu, even as the fragile political détente in Nepal disintegrated. The unsuccessful attempt by the Maoists to get rid of the Army Chief and the subsequent exit of Prime Minister Pushpa Kumar Dahal aka Prachanda over the issue, as the Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist-Leninist and the Sadhbhavana Party withdrew support to his Government, led to the collapse of the nine-month old regime, once again pushing the country into a grave crisis. Whatever the outcome, it is now abundantly clear that the Maoist engagement with democracy is purely tactical and is only a stop-gap arrangement to secure the complete subversion of parliamentary democracy in Nepal.
After failing to get his way against the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Rookmangud Katawal, Prime Minister Prachanda, announced his resignation on May 4. The announcement came after the President, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, asked the CoAS to continue in office, overriding the Maoist decision to dismiss him. The President, issuing a statement, said the CoAS’ dismissal by the Cabinet did not "meet the constitutional requirements and due process."
Prachanda, in his address to the nation, described the President’s move as "unconstitutional". He added that it was no longer appropriate for him to remain in the Government, when there clearly existed "two ruling powers (executive and President)" in the country. Saying that a constitutional President had no right to block the decisions of an elected Government, he rued that the Presidential decision had "dealt a serious blow to democracy, peace process and the newly established republican order."
Prachanda did try to seize the moral high ground, speaking of civilian supremacy over the Army, while underlining the democratic values that the Maoists claimed to believe in. But the rhetoric made little sense within the realities of the Maoist end goal in Nepal.
The current crisis surfaced when the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (Unified CPN-Maoist) led Government, having clear intensions of removing the CoAS sought, a clarification from General Katawal on April 20, within 24-hours, for "disobedience of the Government decisions" on three issues – recruitment in the Army, extension of the tenure of eight Brigadiers, and the Army’s withdrawal from some of the events at the Fifth National Games in which the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was participating. The CoAS did reply to the accusation and, predictably, his response was not found to be satisfactory.
The main opposition party, the Nepali Congress (NC) did caution the Maoists not to sack the General. Other political parties, prominently including the CPN-UML, also voiced their concern. President Yadav cautioned the Maoists not to take such a controversial step without political consensus. However, the Maoist Central Secretariat, in its meeting on April 30, asked its leadership to go ahead with the plan to sack the General.
It was a unilateral decision. The Cabinet meeting that discussed the proposal had been boycotted by the CPN-UML (with 103 seats in the CA), the Sadbhawana Party (with nine seats), and the CPN-Sanyukta (with five seats, while the the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (with 50 seats) issued a note of dissent. The Cabinet decision to sack General Katawal and to appoint second-in-command Lt. Gen. Kul Bahadur Khadka to act as CoAS was, in effect, the decision of a minority Government.
Significantly, General Katawal is due to retire in September 2009, while Lt. Gen. Khadka, who is in favour of the Maoist plan to integrate the PLA with the NA, is due to retire in June 2009. The Maoist plan was, evidently, to get rid of General Katawal and then retain Lt. Gen. Khadka as the CoAS by granting the latter an extension on the calculus that he would facilitate the integration process the Maoists fervently desired.
The other political parties in Nepal, however, quickly closed ranks. At least 20 of the 24 political parties in the country pleaded with the President to undo the Cabinet decision to prevent a total capture of power by the Maoists. President Yadav, after consultation with various political parties and constitutional experts, nullified the Cabinet decision.
The Maoists argued that the decision to sack the CoAS was necessary to assert civilian supremacy over the Army. The fact, however, remained that the decision had much to do with General Katawal’s stubborn opposition to the integration of Maoist armed cadres into the Army, a key Maoist objective.
The Maoist design was fully confirmed with the surfacing of the videotape of an address by Maoist Chairman Prachanda and now former Prime Minister, to PLA combatants, which was telecast by the Kathmandu-based Image Channel in the afternoon of May 3. The video grabs were of a meeting held at Shaktikhor cantonment in Chitwan District on January 2, 2008, when the Maoists were an important constituent of the Girija Prasad Koirala led Interim Government. The centrality of the plan to integrate Maoist combatants with the Nepal Army within the broader strategy of capturing national power unfolds as Prachanda chalks out the over all scheme of the revolution.
Speaking about the significance of having an Army, Prachanda continues,
Having explained the significance of having an Army, Prachanda goes on to explain how the leadership fooled the UNMIN to inflate the cadre strength.
Talking further about the Maoist role in Government, he asks,
Prachanda also elaborated on the ways of raising money for the revolution:
The authenticity of the video tapes has since been confirmed by Prachanda himself, though he maintains that the scandal is a "ploy against the peace process", claiming that the context within which these remarks were made was different, and has since changed.
Nevertheless, given the evident centrality of the integration of the Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army to the larger Maoist game plan, Prachanda had to take General Katawal head on. However, choosing to resign instead of exploring other options and painting his plight as the result of a conspiracy of ‘foreign powers’ (his close associate Baburam Bhattarai was quite unambiguous in blaming India), Prachanda has sought to whip up popular sentiment in favour of his party. He has also attempted to neutralize the possibility of any future military coup, against the backdrop of intense rumours of a ‘soft coup’ by the Army.
The Maoists have decided to agitate in Parliament and in the streets, until their decision to sack the CoAS is implemented. The Constituent Assembly members of the party have decided not to allow any business in Parliament until President Yadav apologises before the House for his decision to ‘reinstate’ the Army Chief.
There is no respite from the Maoists in Nepal. The President’s initiative, currently being challenged in the Supreme Court and in the streets, may provide temporary relief, but Nepal’s politics is almost certain to be overwhelmed by new Maoist moves in the near future. The Maoists remain a troubling reality in Nepal. Sadly, the fractured and discredited political class in the country hold little hope for the coherent evolution of a democratic and constitutional order in the foreseeable future.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
May 4-10, 2009
11 persons killed in Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh: Seven Security Force (SF) personnel and four civilians were killed on May 6, 2009 in an ambush by suspected cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), of a special Police party. The incident occurred three kilometres from the Vinjaram Base Camp in the Dantewada District. The slain SF personnel included five Special Police Officers and two para-military Central Reserve Police Force personnel. The Maoists managed to flee with the weapons of the dead SF personnel. The Police party was on its way back after delivering a consignment of monthly rations at a Police camp in Bhejji, when the Maoists triggered a landmine blast. The Hindu, May 7, 2009.
No more than 150-160 Maoists present in Andhra Pradesh, says State Home Minister: Andhra Pradesh Home Minister K. Jana Reddy has said that not more than 150-160 cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) could be present in the State. Speaking to reporters after a high-level review meeting on the post-election law and order situation at the State Secretariat in Hyderabad on May 4, 2009, he said, "We have very effectively tackled the Maoists over the past few years and now they have been reduced to nothing. At best, there could be some 150-160 cadres of the outlaws hiding underground in the State." He further said that talks initiated by the Congress Government in late 2004 proved effective in tackling the Left Wing insurgency. "Though the talks failed, we could very effectively curb Maoist activity in the State. Many of them have given up arms and surrendered before the Police", he said. Times of India, May 5, 2009.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal resigns: Nine months after he was elected the first Prime Minister (PM) of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal announced his resignation on May 4, 2009. Later, President Ram Baran Yadav approved the resignation and said the current Council of Ministers would continue its work. In an address to the nation, the PM said, "to resolve this difficult situation and to create a positive environment to save democracy, nationalism, and peace process, I announce my resignation." The announcement came after the President, who is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, asked the Chief of the Army Staff (CoAS), General Rookmangud Katawal, to continue in office. In a statement, the President said the Army Chief’s dismissal by the Cabinet on May 3 did not "meet the constitutional requirements and due process." The Hindu, May 5, 2009.
More than 500 militants killed in the week during military operations in NWFP: The Security Forces (SFs) said on May 10, 2009, they had killed up to 200 Taliban militants in 24 hours during the on-going operation in Swat even as they secured Shangla Top and important towns and ridges in the Dir and Buner Districts. Troops engaged the Taliban in their Peochar headquarters and at hideouts in Kanju, Mingora, Banai Baba, Namal, Qambar, Fizagath, Tiligram and Chamtalai, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in an update. The ISPR claimed that 140-150 militants were killed in an attack on the Banai Baba training camp in Shangla and 50-60 militants were killed in different areas of Swat Valley.
SFs killed 55 Taliban militants in various areas of Swat on May 9, while 14 militants were killed in Lower Dir District after helicopter gunships targeted the Maidan area. "We have hit certain militant positions in Mingora with helicopter gunships," said military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas. "The Taliban were harassing the civil population and intensely involved in various activities of looting and arson in the city of Mingora and, in an early morning attack, helicopters engaged militant hideouts and reportedly left 15 militants dead," Abbas added.
The SFs killed more than 140 Taliban militants across the Swat valley on May 8. Seven soldiers were also killed as the SFs took control of Khawazakhela and Chamtalai, military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said in a media briefing. He said the military had launched a "full-scale operation" in Swat and the Taliban militants were on the run.
Jet fighters and helicopter gunships targeted Taliban hideouts and centres in various parts of the Swat and Lower Dir Districts on May 7, killing 60 Taliban militants. "We have carried out airstrikes today on known centres of militants, killing around 60 [Taliban] in Swat and Lower Dir," said chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas. In Lower Dir, District administration officials said the Taliban abducted 11 paramilitary troops after attacking the Malakand Levies Fort in Chakdara. They said three soldiers had been killed in the attack. The SFs on May 7 also killed a son of the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) chief Maulana Sufi Muhammad, in a clash with the Taliban in Lower Dir District. During an exchange of fire, 10 militants, including Kifayatullah – son of Sufi Muhammad – was killed, a military statement said. Earlier, in a bid to recapture the Government buildings seized by the Taliban, SFs on May 6 targeted militants’ strongholds with helicopter gunships and artillery, killing 60 militants. In the daylong fighting across Swat District, 40 civilians and two Frontier Corps soldiers were also killed. During clashes between the SFs and militants in Swat on May 5, at least 18 persons, including three militants and two SF personnel, were killed and 20 others sustained injuries. Sources said clashes occurred in Mingora city, Khwazakhela, Barikot and Shamozai areas, while heavy shelling was witnessed in Qambar area.
22 militants were killed on May 6 after the paramilitary forces raided Elahi village in the Buner District. "The Frontier Corps [FC] on Wednesday conducted a raid in the village of Elahi, located west of Daggar, killing 22 militants," the FC said in a statement. "Reportedly, 50 militants were looting the villagers and on receiving this information, a force was sent to control them. After a stiff encounter, 22 militants were killed and the rest of them ran away," the FC stated. The death toll, however, could not be independently confirmed due to the ongoing military operation. Dawn; Daily Times; The News, May 5-11, 2009.
69 militants killed in FATA during the week: On May 10, 2009, 26 Taliban militants were killed in a three-hour encounter that followed a Taliban attack on a Frontier Corps (FC) camp in the Ambar Valley of Mohmand Agency and 18 militants were killed when troops retaliated to an attack on their convoy in South Waziristan. In Mohmand, about 150 heavily armed militants launched a midnight attack on an FC camp in the Had area. Four FC soldiers were also injured during the ensuing encounter. In South Waziristan, the Taliban attacked a security convoy in the Spin area south of Tanai. An officer, Captain Muneeb, also died in the attack.
Four missiles fired by a suspected US drone killed an unspecified number of Taliban militants in South Waziristan on May 9. While officials claimed that 10 militants had been killed, a deputy Taliban commander said five were killed. However, tribesmen claimed they had counted 25 dead bodies.
15 Taliban militants and two SF personnel were killed in a Taliban attack on the Spinki Tangi check-post in Mohmand Agency, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said on May 5. It also said six of the troops had gone missing after the Taliban attacked the check-post around 3:30 am on May 5. The SFs retaliated by targeting Taliban hideouts in the Baizai and Safi sub-divisions of Mohmand Agency. However, no casualties were reported. Dawn; Daily Times; The News, May 5-11, 2009.
Prime Minister declares all-out war against militants: Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on May 7, 2009, ordered the armed forces to launch an operation against the militants and terrorists so as to flush them out completely from Swat and Malakand in order to ensure security, restore honour and dignity of the homeland, and for the protection of the people. "The Government will not bow before the militants and terrorists but will force them to lay down their weapons and will not compromise with them," he said in his 20-minute televised address to the nation on May 7. Before addressing the nation, he reportedly had extensive discussions with the civil and military leadership. On May 6, he held a lengthy meeting with Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani while on May 7 he held meetings with Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, and parliamentarians belonging to Swat and Malakand Division. Following these meetings, Gilani addressed the nation, announcing the launching of an operation against the militants. In his 20-minute speech, the Prime Minister also appealed to the nation, political leadership, civil society, religious leaders and all the institutions of the country to lend their complete support to the Government and the armed forces for the cause of Pakistan. The News, May 8, 2009.
5,254 civilians among 5,362 persons killed during the week in North-East: 5,254 civilians and 107 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants were killed in the North-East during the week. At least 45 civilians were killed and more than 197 injured as the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) continued heavy shelling with cluster-munitions on civilian targets in the Mullivaaykkaal area of the No Fire zone (NFZ) in the Mullaitivu District throughout May 7 and May 8, the pro-LTTE Website Tamil Net claimed. Further, on May 8, at least 35 militants were killed, as the advancing troops took full control of the outfit’s last defensive earth bund in Mullaitivu. The troops completely cleared the Karyamullvaikkal area, Defence officials said on May 9. Currently the LTTE is limited to an area of just three square kilometres. In addition, troops in the Karaiyamullivaikal, Vellamullivaikkal, Udayarukattukulam and Vavunavillu areas, on May 8, recovered dead bodies of 31 militants along with a cache of arms and ammunition. Similarly, troops in Puthukkudiyiruppu west, Puthukkudiyiruppu east, Verakulam, Vellamullivaikkal, Vavunavillu and Allaiwewa areas recovered 31 dead bodies of militants along with a large cache of arms and ammunition.
Meanwhile, Lawrence Christy, chief of the Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) field office, on May 11, put the death toll of civilians in SLA shelling at more than 3,200 killed since the evening of May 10 up to the morning of May 11, according to Tamil Net. The SLA offensive formations were firing using cannons, 50 calibre machine guns, artillery guns, mortars and Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRL), the report added. Earlier, Tamil Net claimed that indiscriminate barrage of shelling by the SLA inside the NFZ, starting from the night of May 9 to the morning of May 10, killed more than 2,000 civilians, including a large number of women and children. The Government, however, has denied the allegation. The initial artillery attack — which lasted from the evening of May 9 and continued till the morning of May 10 — killed at least 378 civilians and wounded more than a thousand others, according to Dr. V. Shanmugarajah, a health official inside the region. Asked about the accounts provided by the Government health officials on the deaths inside the NFZ, a senior official reminded reporters of the circular issued by the Health Ministry, urging the media not to given credence to the versions of its officials stranded in the LTTE-occupied zone. "We have no reason to doubt the integrity of the doctors. But the reality is that these officials, like the rest of the civilians, are being held hostage by the LTTE and have no option but to take orders from the Tigers," he said. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Tamil Net; Colombo Page, May 5 -11, 2009.