Piercing the LTTE’s Last Redoubt: THE HINDU Reportage, 21-30 April 2009

Michael Roberts

When the LTTE persuaded and/or forced their civilian population in Thamilīlam to retreat ahead of their defensive retreat in 2008, the grand strategy was to build up picture of “a humanitarian catastrophe” that would draw the Western nations and the HR lobbies in West and the island into the fray as active participant voices who would save the LTTE from total defeat – as I have argued from way back [i]

A Scene from Pokkanai in the Last redoubt , 9th March 2009 — Pic from TamilNet  SL Army Special Forces

  Schematic Map– from ICG

The Rajapaksa government deflected and withstood the Western state-power blackmail (which had the US ambassador in Colombo, Robert Blake, as its point man.[ii]Its military forces proceeded to advance in a measured way[3]–apparently restraining their aerial and artillery bombardment (as far as I can judge[4]) and taking on greater casualties than they would have because of this programme. But the advance was relentless and after SL forces succeeded in mauling Tiger forces that w ere massing for counter-attack at Aanandapuram in early April[5] (where they killed some 620 fighters[6]), the remaining Tiger forces and the Tamil populace serving as sandbags were pinned down within some 16 sq. kilometres of the north eastern shores to the east of the Lagoon. This was the “Last Redoubt.”[7]

The aerial footage provided by the UAVs and the Beechcraft of the GoSL enabled the SL forces to identify and map the Tiger strongpoints within this congested arena.. Leaflets and loudspeaker announcements in Tamil were deployed to prime the populace and there are whispers that indicate that Tamil-speaking agents had been infiltrated into the jam-packed ranks of these people.[8] At 2,00 am. on the 19th April special forces led by Maj. Generals Ralph Nugara and Athula Kodippilly[9] penetrated the bund and bunker defences of the Last Redoubt and the SL Army proceeded thereafter to take control of the northern two/thirds of this remnant Thamilīlam.

Needless to say, this set of events was depicted in the full by government or pro-government media and TV channels in the island; while being subject to critical outcries in TamilNet and other pro-Tiger sites. Given such a propaganda war, the reportage from relatively neutral sites is of some consequence. I have previously pinpointed the excellent coverage from Reuters under the guidance of Bryson Hull (see Bibliography below).

I now present the daily coverage from Muralidhar Reddy, the experienced reporter for The Hindu, who had spent quite a period in the island before this moment arrived. While I was up to speed with his fortnightly articles in the Frontline,[10] I admit a failure to consult his daily reportage till now.

These reports are now selectively reproduced in Thuppahi so that they become part of the convenient documentation. ………… Michael Roberts

REFERENCES & End Notes for this INTRODUCTION are located at the end of the selections from The Hindu newspaper.

THE HINDU

I = “Exodus from LTTE-held area as route opens up,” B Muralidhar Reddy in The Hindu, 21 April 09

COLOMBO: An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 civilians who were trapped in the no fire zone (NFZ) and held hostage by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam poured into the government-controlled area in Sri Lanka’s northeast on Monday.

This exodus came about after the Sri Lankan security forces succeeded in opening a safe route following the capture of a 3-km-long earth ditch-cum-wall raised by the Tigers on the western edge of the NFZ.

An estimated 40,000 civilians are still in the remaining part of the NFZ occupied by the residual Tiger leaders and cadres including Velupillai Prabakaran.

Rajapaksa sees images ….  Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited the Air Force Headquarters here to look at live video footage of fleeing civilians as aired by a military spy plane. He described it as the beginning of the end of the Tigers.

“The footage clearly shows that the people are defying the rebels and escaping. They are running to safety. The process of the complete defeat of the LTTE has just begun. It is now all over for the Tigers,” Mr. Rajapaksa remarked.

Video footage released by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) showed a large number of civilians rushing towards military check points on the edge of the NFZ amid intermittent firing and blasts. The military said that in a desperate bid to halt the civilian exodus, three suicide bombers of the Tigers exploded themselves among the fleeing people, killing at least 17 persons and injuring 100 others.

A clear picture on the exact number of fleeing civilians, those killed and injured could be expected only on Tuesday as the military would follow the standard procedure of screening the newly arrived refugees and undertaking mop-up operations in the newly captured territory.

Defence Minister and spokesperson Keheliya Rembukwella said the government was giving a last chance to the remaining Tiger leaders and cadres to surrender to the military before noon on Tuesday or face the consequences.

It maintained that thousands of civilians in the NFZ were waiting to be rescued by the armed forces and said that all hostages held in Ampalavanpokkanai and Valayanmadam areas have been rescued.

There was no immediate reaction from the LTTE. The pro-LTTE TamilNet charged that hundreds of bodies and wounded civilians were still in Maaththa’lan and Pokka’nai, and that more than 600 seriously wounded persons had been brought to a “makeshift hospital functioning at a school in Mu’l’li-vaaykkaal in the LTTE-held area following an attempt by the military to capture civilians” in the NFZ.

Tamil IDPS flee Last redoubt –Pic not from Hindu

 II = “Over one lakh civilians leave NFZ,”  B Muralidhar Reddy in The Hindu, 23 April 09

Two senior LTTE officials surrender

Daya Master surrenders-Pic from Hindu

COLOMBO: Amid a declaration by the Sri Lanka military that the number of civilians who have fled the no-fire zone (NFZ) since Monday morning has crossed the 1-lakh mark, two senior LTTE officials have surrendered to the security forces.

They are Daya Master, head of the Tigers’ Media and Publicity Division, and George Master, who served as interpreter to Thamilchelvam, political head of the LTTE who was killed in an air raid by the Sri Lanka Air Force in 2007.

In view of the fast-paced developments and their implications, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is believed to be despatching his Senior Advisor and brother, Basil Rajapaksa, to New Delhi.

The fight between the forces and the Tigers is now confined to approximately 8 sq. km. still under the control of the LTTE in the NFZ.

The two LTTE officials crossed over to the government-controlled territory along with a group of fleeing civilians and disclosed their identities to military officials at the check-point. The defection is a big blow to a battered LTTE and shatters the myth of discipline among the Tiger cadres and leaders.

It is rare for senior Tiger cadres to surrender. Leaders and cadres are supposed to wear a chain round their neck with a cyanide capsule and are expected to consume it if they sense the danger of being captured alive.

With the influx of refugees arriving from the NFZ turning into a tide, the Army is convinced that time is running out for the remaining LTTE cadres holed up, among the civilians, in the safe zone. The question uppermost in the minds of everyone is whether the military could succeed in getting LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabakaran dead or alive.

Based on intelligence inputs and information garnered from the newly arrived civilians, the military is convinced that Prabakaran and other top-rung LTTE leaders are in the NFZ. Yet speculation persists that the LTTE chief could be elsewhere.

Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa said Prabakaran had spurned the possibility of the government pardoning him by his refusal to give up arms and surrender, and must now face the consequences of his acts

  +++ +++

III = Holding civilians hostage,” B Muralidhar Reddy in The Hindu, 25 April 09

An escape from hellhole:  Survivors talk of the harrowing time in the last few weeks

PUTHUMATHALAN (On the border of the no-fire zone in northern Sri Lanka): Worn out and anxiety writ large on their faces, scores of Sri Lankan Tamil civilians continue to trickle from the no-fire zone (NFZ) into the government-controlled territory in this sleepy hamlet.

It has been four days since the military broke through the three square kilometre earthen wall-cum-ditch the Tigers had built to halt the advance of forces and prevent the escape of civilians they were holding as human shields.

The number of civilians fleeing the NFZ, which had turned into a hellhole, on day four crossed 1,06,000. Most of those who trudged in on Friday were old women, men and children, walking bare foot in the scorching sun as security personnel kept a close vigil.

Media visit

An international and local media team that visited the area on a military-conducted tour saw for itself the terror-stricken faces. Surviving for weeks on next to nothing and terrorised by LTTE cadres holding a gun to their head, the new arrivals looked emaciated.

In a brief interaction with the journalists, they talked of the harrowing time they had gone through in the last few weeks at the hands of the Tigers.

We have been craving for safety for months now. We were forced to move with the LTTE as the military advanced into the Wanni since the middle of 2008. The trauma in the first few months was bearable as we were repeatedly told by the Tigers that they would protect us at all costs. But in recent months, we saw a dramatic transformation in the attitude of the Tigers. Every family was forced to send a youngster to fight for the Tigers,” Kamalakaran, a 70-year-old woman said.

Every civilian had a tragic tale to narrate of a brother or sister dead in the fighting or about a missing family member or a family member still trapped in the Tiger-held territory.

Shavendra de Silva, Officer Commanding 58 Division and spearheading the operation to rescue the civilians, told journalists that the Tiger chief Velupillai Prabakaran was very much present inside the NFZ, along with some of his trusted aides.

**  ***

A video grab of a night-vision shot from a governmental TV presentation is reproduced in The Hindu –a shot which shows Tiger fighters threatening  a body of civilians who were desperately seeking to flee

IV =  “Massive influx from NFZ worries Colombo,” Muralidhar Reddy, 26 April 2009

Army narrowly missed Prabakaran

U.N. envoy arriving to assess situation

COLOMBO: With the number of civilians crossing into government-controlled area from the LTTE-occupied land in the no-fire zone (NFZ) in northern Sri Lanka exceeding 1,10,000 since April 20, the government is faced with the gigantic task of providing them immediate shelter and other basic facilities.

An eight square kilometre land is occupied by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Over 1.8 lakh civilians have so far crossed over into the government territory. The 70,000 people who crossed prior to April 20 have been accommodated in temporary camps in the districts of Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna.

International help

A senior official told The Hindu that though the government had been preparing for an influx of two lakh civilians for several months now, establishment of temporary camps was delayed for several reasons. A top United Nations envoy is arriving here for a first-hand assessment of the situation.

“We have to gear up on a war-footing and look after the minimum needs of the civilians who have suffered for several months now,” the official said. “Sri Lanka would require help from the international community to address the humanitarian crisis.”

A large number of civilians were in Puthumathalan town awaiting screening before being taken to temporary shelters. A group of international and local journalists was taken close to the NFZ by the Army.

The Commanding Officer in charge of the 58 Division told journalists that the troops narrowly missed LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran a few days ago. “We had succeeded in encircling the LTTE cadres just outside the NFZ. Later we learnt that Prabakaran was there two days before the military took on the last contingent of the Tigers outside the NFZ.”

The Defence Ministry said that the troops were continuing with their operations to rescue an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people held hostage by the LTTE.

Polls peaceful

Meanwhile, an election to the crucial Western Provincial Council in Sri Lanka passed off without any major event on Saturday. The outcome of the election, in which the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the United National Party (UNP) led by the former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, are pitted against each other, is being watched keenly.

It will give an idea of how the minorities in the island nation view the ongoing war between the LTTE and the security forces.

The province, which consists of Colombo and its suburbs with a large percentage of minorities, has traditionally been a stronghold of the UNP.

  ***  ***

V. “Colombo announces end of combat operations with heavy weapons,” Muralidhar Reddy, 28 April 2009

Security forces to confine their attempts to rescuing civilians

COLOMBO: The Sri Lanka government on Monday announced that the combat operations against the LTTE had reached their conclusion and that the troops were instructed to end the use of heavy weapons, which could harm civilian population. The mission now was rescuing an estimated 20,000 civilians trapped inside the eight sq. km. no-fire zone.

A statement, titled “Statement by the Government on the Security situation,” issued by the Presidential Secretariat here said: “The government of Sri Lanka has decided that combat operations had reached their conclusion. Our security forces have been instructed to end the use of heavy calibre guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons, which could cause civilian causalities.”

The statement followed a meeting of the National Security Council presided over by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It said: “Our security forces will confine their attempts to rescuing civilians, who are held hostage, and give foremost priority to saving the civilians.”

The current phase of combat operations started in eastern Sri Lanka in August 2006 after the LTTE closed the sluice gates of a tank.

The LTTE, which on Sunday announced a unilateral cessation of offensive military operations, described the government statement as an “attempt by Sri Lanka to deceive” the world.

The government announcement came three days after the visit of National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to Colombo.

Prior to the announcement, Mr. Rajapaksa said in a statement that the outcome of the just-concluded elections in the Western Province (in and around Colombo) sent a decisive message to the world community.

“It has categorically declared that no power has any right or moral justification to bail out brutal terrorism at a time when the last lines in its final chapter are being writ[ten],” he said.

The ruling combine, led by Mr. Rajapaksa, registered impressive victories in all segments of the province, barring the Tamil and Muslim dominated Colombo Central.

In a statement, the Defence Ministry said the forces would continue with the humanitarian operations to rescue the people held hostage by the LTTE while avoiding the use of heavy calibre weaponry as a strict measure coinciding with its “zero civilian casualty policy.”

It said a section of the media misinterpreted the government declaration as “cessation of hostilities” and a “ceasefire.” “This is crude and an unethical way of media “reportage’ and a blatant twist of the original statement, perpetrated to motivate the hell-bent terrorist sympathisers-cum-political clouts.”

The logic behind the government decision was to avoid any form of collateral-damage while surging into the remaining 10 sq. km swathe of coast south of Valayarmadam and Vellamullivaikkal.

Trial here, extradition later: Rajapaksa

*** ***

VI = “Troops advance into NFZ,” Muralidhar Reddy, 29 April 20

Colombo advises Swedish Foreign Minister to defer his proposed visit to May

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan troops on Tuesday reported further advance into the approximately eight square kilometre no-fire zone (NFZ), where the remaining cadres and leaders of the LTTE, including its chief Velupillai Prabakaran, are keeping an estimated 20,000 civilians as human shields.

The slow but steady march of the security forces continued even as Foreign Ministers of France and United Kingdom, Bernard Kouchner and David Miliband, are scheduled to arrive here on Wednesday for discussions with the Sri Lankan authorities on the plight of the internally displaced and those trapped in the NFZ.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wanted to join his British and French counterparts on their visit for a first hand assessment of the humanitarian crisis but Colombo has advised the Swedish Minister to defer his travel to May.

Reports from Stockholm suggested that the Sri Lankan mission there turned down a request from the Swedish government to allow its Foreign Minister to visit Colombo along with his British and French counterparts as part of the European Union (EU) delegation. He was asked to consider postponing his visit to May.

Unhappy over the refusal of Sri Lanka to entertain a visit by Mr. Bildt, Sweden has recalled its charge d’ affaires in Sri Lanka to Stockholm for consultations.

With the combat operations having concluded, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government is faced with the twin challenge of catering to the needs of over 1.9 lakh civilians who have fled from areas under LTTE control and taken shelter in government camps and rescuing citizens still trapped in the NFZ.

Meanwhile, Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Alok Prasad flew down to Pulmodai in the east where India has established an emergency medical unit including a hospital to provide humanitarian relief and emergency medical care to IDPs from the North.

***  ***

VII  =“LTTE did not spare even sick people, ” Muralidhar Reddy, 30 April 2009

COLOMBO: In his confession that was aired on government-run television channel Rupavahini, the former media coordinator of the LTTE, Daya Master, said: “When the LTTE broke away from the peace talks in 2006, I decided to break away since I believed in negotiations.” After killing innocent civilians, the LTTE put the blame on the military.

The Tigers were forcibly recruiting children in the age of 14-15. “People who were born after 1994, 95 and even 96 were forced to fight. They were recruited forcibly… They [LTTE] did not even spare the families that had only one child. They did not spare even people who were sick and suffering from heart diseases… They recruited everyone and attacked people who refused to heed,” he said.

Recounting his nine-day ordeal in slipping from the LTTE areas, the former interpreter for the late Thamilchelvan , George Master, said: “I could not run as I am old… I used the opportunity when people broke out in a group to escape from the LTTE. I was among thousands of people. So I was able to escape.”

The LTTE did not react to the confessions and the military statement.

Pro-LTTE TamilNet, in a report, said the Sri Lanka Navy attack crafts, fitted with 100 mm cannon, began firing along the shore of Mullivaaykkaal on Wednesday around 4.00 p.m.

The web site said a makeshift hospital in Mullivaaykkaal was hit by artillery shells, killing patients and injuring 15 others.

It said that the attack came as U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner met Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa and sought NFZ access to independent observers. Colombo conveyed to them that such access was not feasible and warranted.

++++++++++++++++++++

Muralidhar Reddy

Related Stories in THE Hindu

**************************************************

SELECT REFERENCES

Gamage, Daya 2014 “The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National Issues, 1970s-2014,” 5 July 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/the-american-agenda-for-sri-lankas-national-issues-1970s-2014/

Gamage, Daya 2009 “Rudrakumaran’s Role to promote LTTE contravenes US material support Laws,” 22 September 2009, http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2009/08/23/rudrakumaran%E2%80%99s-role-promote-ltte-contravenes-us-%E2%80%98material-support%E2%80%99-laws

Hull, C. Bryson 2009 “Sri Lanka opens eye in the sky on war zone,” 20 April 2009, http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSCOL450259

Hull, C. Bryson & Ranga Sirilal 2009a Sri Lankan War in Endgame, 100,000 escape rebel zone,” 23 April 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-srilanka-war-idUSTRE53J0IZ20090422

Hull, C. Bryson & Ranga Sirilal 2009b “Sri Lanka’s long war in bloody final climax,” 17 May 2009, http://mg.co.za/article/2009-05-17-sri-lankas-long-war-in-bloody-final-climax

IDAG [i.e. Citizen Silva] 2013 “The Numbers Game: Politics of Retributive Justice,” http://www.scribd.com/doc/132499266/The-Numbers-Game-Politics-of-Retributive-Justice OR  http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/shrilanka/document/TheNG.pdf

Jeyaraj, DBS 2009 “Wretched of the Wanni Earth break Free of Bondage,” Daily Mirror, 25 April 2009.

Jeyaraj D. B. S. 2012 [2009] “Theepan of the LTTE: Heroic Saga of a Northern Warrior,” orig, 4 April 2009, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/5381

Jeyaraj D. B. S. 2012 [2009] “Anatomy of the LTTE military debacle at Aanandapuram,” 10 April 2009, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/315

Roberts, Michael 2009 Dilemmas at War’s End: Thoughts on Hard Realities, 10 February 2009,  http://groundviews.org/2009/02/10/dilemmas-at-wars-end-thoughts-on-hard-realities/ … rep. in Roberts, Fire and Storm, Colombo, 2010, pp. 265-74.

Roberts, Michael 2009 “Dilemma’s at War’s End: Clarifications and Counter-offensive,” www.groundviews.org.

Roberts, Michael 2009 “Realities of War,” Frontline, vol. 26/10, May 02-20, 2009  … rep as  “Simpletons at the Worlds’ Peak: Sri Lankan Situation stumps the World,” in Roberts, Fire & Storm, 2010, pp. 289-302.

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: Us Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE, 27 August 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/ball-by-ball-through-wikileaks-us-embassy-despatches-from-colombo-2009-one/#more-13481

Roberts, Michael 2015a “Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009,” 26 August 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/ambassador-blake-in-never-never-land-misreading-ltte-capacity-in-early-2009/

Roberts, Michael 2015b “Targeting Sri Lanka by playing ball with Tamil Extremism,” 24 July 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/wpadmin/post.php?post=17127&action=edit&postpost=v2

Roberts, Michael 2015c “American Action and Inaction on Sri Lanka, 2008/09: A Critical Evaluation,” 15 September 2015,  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/american-action-and-inaction-on-sri-lanka-200809-a-critical-evaluation/#more-17725

Roberts, Michael 2015  “Lilliputs in a World of Giants: Marga and CHA bat for Lanka in the Propaganda War, 2009-14,” 18 November 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/lilliputs-in-a-world-of-giants-marga-and-cha-bat-for-lanka-in-the-propaganda-war-2009-14/#more-18467

Roberts, Michael 2016 “Reuters in Word and Image: Depicting the Penetration of the LTTE’s Last Redoubt, 19-22 April 2009,” 19 March 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/reuters-in-word-and-image-depicting-the-penetration-of-the-lttes-last-redoubt-19-22-april-2009/#more-20190

END NOTES

[i] See Roberts,“Dilemmas at War’s End: Thoughts on Hard Realities,” 10 February 2009, in Groundviews. The most cogent version can be seen in Roberts, “Generating Calamity,” 2014.

[ii]  See Blake Despatches No. 283 of 12 March 2009 and 418 of 15th April (Wikileaks) where his commands were directed at the Foreign Minister Bogollagama and the Minister of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa respectively. Also see Roberts, “Ball-by-Ball,” 2014. For the context and other pertinent details, see Gamage 2009 & 2015; and Roberts 2014 and 2015a, b & 2015c.

[3] This assessment was conveyed in early 2009 to Lord Michael Naseby by Lt. Col. Gash the British Military Attache in Colombo (email and person-to-person communications to Roberts from Lord Naseby).

[5] See Jeyaraj “Theepan,”2009 and “Aanandapuram,” 2009 as well as Gash’s summary note in Roberts, … 2018.

[6] Communication from General Shavendra Silva during interview, August 2017.

[7] I have consistently used this term instead of NFZ or “Safe Zone” –terms used mechanically by Robert Blake and even t GoSL spokesmen. The concept of “No Fire Zone’ had/has no legal standing because it had not been accepted and delimited by the LTTE and because the Seattigers, artillery, munitions and HQ were located therein for much of the year 2009. See Maj. General Holmes 2015 for categorical verdict on this issue.  But note that “Last Redoubt’ is my shorthand description.

[8] See de Silva-Ranasinghe 2010 for some details.

[9] Coincidentally both officers are Catholics –Kodippilly being a Sinhalese from Matara educated in Kandy, while Nugara was educated at St Peters, Colombo.

[10] For e.g. see Reddy, “An Escape from Hellhole,” http://www.hindu.com/ 2009/04/25/stories/2009042558390100.html. Reddy is a Telugu-speaker.

 

 

 

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