by B. Raman
(“The LTTE has still much bite left in it as seen by the rapidity and deadly effectiveness with which it has hit back against the Sri Lankan Police, Army and Navy after each incident of reprisal killing by the Government in which their hand is suspected……After the spectacular assassination of Laxman Kadirgamar, the then Foreign Minister, last year, the LTTE has not been able to mount any other spectacular strike in Colombo. Most of its post-November,2005, terrorist strikes have been confined to the Northern and Eastern provinces. Is it due to operational weaknesses on the ground in Colombo or due to fears of further turning international opinion against it by operating in Colombo? It would be difficult to answer this question at present for want of adequate information on this subject”….. Extract from my article dated April 23, 2006, titled “Sri Lanka: The Wounded Tiger”
The LTTE demonstrated its unimpaired capability for planning and mounting a clandestine strike against even the key nerve centres of the Government in Colombo on April 25,2006. A suspected woman suicide bomber, reportedly posing as a pregnant woman needing medical attention, managed to penetrate into a high security area of the army and blew herself up as Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the Commander of the Sri Lankan Army, was reportedly leaving his office, which is located in front of the army hospital. The Army chief suffered serious abdominal injuries and is in hospital undergoing treatment. Eight people were killed, including some of the bodyguards of the chief.
2. The LTTE has not claimed the responsibility for the attack. It is unlikely to do so since it never claims responsibility for its acts of terrorism. Only the LTTE could have carried out an operation of this type marked by precise intelligence regarding the movements of the chief, an ability to penetrate even highly-guarded areas, precise planning and precise execution by a highly-motivated lone suicide bomber.
3.The LTTE’s targeting of Lt. Gen. Sarath should not be a cause for surprise. It is believed to suspect him to be the author of the covert action plan to keep it bleeding in the Eastern Province with the help of “Col” Karuna, a legendary commander of the LTTE from the Eastern Province, who raised the flag of revolt against Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader, in March,2004, in protest against the alleged discrimination of Eastern Tamils by the organisation’s northern leadership. Lt. Gen. Sarath is an anti-LTTE hardliner, who enjoys the confidence of President Mahinda Rajapakse, and has emerged as one of his key advisers.
4. The LTTE’s attack on the Army Commander came four days after a statement (April 21) made by Lt. Gen. Sarath in which he was quoted as saying: “If the LTTE do not participate in peace talks and continue their provocative acts, the army will have no other option other than to retaliate. There is no connection, whatsoever, with the recent killings in North and East and the army. It is the LTTE who are doing these ruthless killings. These killings are mercilessly done by the LTTE. The LTTE are forcing us for war. We will not allow this war to begin. The people of Sri Lanka are longing for peace. We too are desirous of the same.”
5. There is no reason to believe that the LTTE attack on him was provoked by this statement. He has been a marked man of the LTTE even earlier because of his suspected role as the chief co-ordinator of the anti-LTTE covert actions in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The attack on him was partly an act of reprisal terrorism and partly demonstration terrorism. Reprisal for the alleged killings by the Army and Karuna’s men of the supporters and sympathisers of the LTTE in the Eastern Province and demonstration of the LTTE’s continuing capability for precision strikes even in Colombo. It was an attack against supposedly the hardest of the hard targets—-the highly protected army headquarters– and not a soft target.
6. The Government has tactically retaliated through artillery, air and naval strikes on the LTTE positions in the Eastern Province for about five hours on the evening of April 25. The artillery and air strikes were particularly concentrated on the Muttur East area of Tricomalee District. The Government has so far avoided any retaliatory strike in the Northern Province and has projected even the strikes in the Trincomalee District as in retaliation for a naval strike allegedly mounted by the LTTE coinciding with the attack in Colombo. There is so far no credible evidence in support of the Government claim that the LTTE had made a naval strike in Trincomalee at the same time as the attempt to kill the Army Commander in Colombo.
7. The Government has been projecting its retaliatory strikes as tactical in nature, not amounting to a formal end of the cease-fire entered into with the LTTE in February,2002, and a resumption of its war against the LTTE. It remains to be seen how the LTTE reacts to the air strikes. De jure ceasefire and de facto fighting—-that continues to be the ground situation.
8. A retaliatory attack by the LTTE is very likely and it may be in kind against the air and ground assets of the Sri Lankan Air force, including its personnel. The possibilities are of a ground strike against the international airport in Colombo similar to the one launched by the LTTE with devastating effect in July, 2001 or an air-mounted terrorist strike by the microlite aircraft allegedly procured by the LTTE and smuggled into the area controlled by it in 2004. However, a factor inhibiting the use of its aircraft will be the fact that there will be no deniability of the LTTE’s hand if it uses its aircraft. [Source: saag.org]
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.)