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LTTE: Rising Desperation

Paper was first published in South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR), Volume 6, No. 43, May 5, 2008

Two light aircrafts of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) carried out an air attack on the security forces (SFs) forward positions in Welioya, 280-kilometre northeast of Colombo in the morning of April 27, 2008, but no injuries or damages were caused in the ‘air raid’, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara disclosed, adding, “The LTTE planes have returned safely to their hideouts in the Wanni after dropping three bombs.”

Earlier, the LTTE took control of the Madhu Catholic Church and asked the priests to remove the famous statue, known as ‘Our Lady of Madhu’, from the shrine, leading to the vacation of the church for the first time in 400 years – on April 3, 2008. However, the Tigers left the Church Premises on April 24, after realising that they had been surrounded by the SFs. The Church was finally handed over to the Mannar Bishop on April 26.

The capture of the Church failed to yield desired result – as a base to launch attacks on troops as well as to defame the Government if it attacked and damaged the Church in its bid to throw out the militants – since the LTTE had to evacuate it. But, with the failed air raid, these remained symbolic of the sheer desperation that is creeping into the rebel leadership because of the SFs continuous advances into the LTTE-controlled areas of North, the loss of public support in the East and the global onslaught targeting the organisation’s fund raising and arms procurement agenda and infrastructure across the globe.

The SFs, which gained effective control of the Eastern Province in July 2007, have now been pushing the LTTE further north in their endeavour to completely wipe out the rebellion. The Army has made substantial gains in the battle fields of Mannar, Jaffna and Vavuniya. Some of the major gains of the troops in 2008 include the following:

• April 30: The troops captured the LTTE’s ‘18 Base’ in the Veppankulam and Kallikulam areas of Mannar District killing at least 40 LTTE militants, including a leader.

• April 23: The SFs captured about 400 to 500-metres of LTTE area in the Muhamalai region of Jaffna District. 169 militants and 82 soldiers were killed in the fierce gun-battle.

• April 21: In a pre-dawn attack the troops captured the LTTE’s main operation base in Mannar, codenamed ‘Lima-3’, located east of Kathankulam. A stretch of about 1,300 metres also came under the troops’ control while seven militants were killed in the operation.

• April 12: The troops extended their defence line in the areas north of Giant Tank, north Kathankulam, south east of Adampan and Periyakulam in the Mannar District after fierce clashes with the LTTE. At least 66 militants were killed while over 50 others sustained injuries in the clashes. 10 soldiers were also killed and 20 others were injured in the incident.

• March 25: Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara disclosed that the SFs have been successful in capturing 31 square kilometres of territory south of the A-14 road in Mannar.

• March 4: The troops took under control Pallikuli east and a LTTE cross-loading point on the Uyilankulam-Andankulam road in Mannar District (a total of about 2.5 square kilometres).

• February 8: The Army captured a one-square kilometre area to the south of Adampan Tank in the Mannar District after clashes with the LTTE militants. 12 militants and two soldiers were killed during the clashes.

• January 30: The SFs captured the Muhamalai, Nagarkovil and Kilali FDLs of the LTTE in the Jaffna District destroying 35 rebel bunkers. 30 militants were killed and an unspecified number injured during the operations, in which seven soldiers also sustained injuries.

• January 29: The last village, Vaiyttankulam, in Adampan under LTTE control fell to the SFs following heavy fighting in Mannar. The SFs destroyed 10 bunkers and killed 10 militants during the operation.

• January 25: Troops captured a one-kilometre stretch of land in the Karpiththanmoddai area on the Uyilankulam–Adampan road in Mannar District and killed nine LTTE militants.
• January 9: At least 19 LTTE militants were killed and over 30 injured during clashes between troops and the militants in the Parappakandal area of Mannar District where troops further consolidated their positions capturing an area of about one kilometre covering the north of Parappakandal.

The troops’ advance on the Northern Front has resulted in high casualties among the LTTE ranks. More than 3000 LTTE militants have been killed in the first four months of 2008, as compared to 570 in the corresponding period of 2007, and a total of 3,352 for the entire year 2007. The dead include many senior leaders, prominent among them being the Chief of the ‘Liberation Tigers Military Intelligence’, self-styled ‘Colonel’ Charles aka. Shanmuganathan Ravishankar – deputy to Pottu Amman, the chief of the LTTE’s intelligence wing – who was killed in a ‘random claymore attack’ by the Sri Lanka Army’s Deep Penetration Unit at Pallamadu in the Mannar District on January 5, along with three LTTE ‘lieutenants’. Further on January 9, the outfit’s Eastern leader, Shanker, was killed by the troops in the Shaukade area of Batticaloa District.

The loss of huge numbers of cadre has dealt a body blow to the Tigers fighting force. Corroborating the fact, the Army Chief Sarath Fonseka stated, on April 29, that the LTTE was reluctant to use its best fighting cadres after the fall of the East and was encountering a severe manpower shortage with cadres deployed in the Wanni fronts composed mainly of conscripted young people, Sea Tigers (the Sea Wing of the LTTE) and those recruited for the LTTE police force. Media reports also indicate that women are being forced to join the LTTE, according to letters purportedly recovered from slain woman militants in Sri Lanka. “Every LTTE cadre is anxious to see his or her parents and I will come home for Pongal (harvest festival – January 14) though I do not know what my fate will be,” said one letter recovered by security forces from a slain woman militant. “Amma, what can I do? When all those at home in the area were taken away, I too had to go with them (LTTE),” said another, which was released by the Media Centre for National Security.

Apart from losing cadres in large numbers in battle against the Army’s ground forces, the LTTE has suffered severe material damage inflicted by more than 50 air raids carried out by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) in 2008, which targeted the outfit’s communication centres, training centres, and military bases often visited by senior leaders in the LTTE’s last citadels in the Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi Districts. In one such incident the SLAF on February 22 bombed an inland Sea Tiger base in the Kiranchi area of Kilinochchi District, killing self-styled ‘Lt. Colonel’ Kalai Arasi’, ‘Major’ Thuwarika and ‘Lt.’ Senthamani.

The LTTE is also worried about the loss of public support for its cause – the creation of a ‘Tamil Eelam’. The successful completion of the Batticaloa elections – though the installation of the Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), a political party formed by the breakaway ‘Karuna’ faction of the LTTE, now led by Sivanesathurai Chandrakanttan aka Pilliyan is a source of worry – despite an LTTE boycott, has given the Tigers a great deal to ponder on. The subsequent announcement of the Eastern Provincial Elections scheduled to be held on May 10 has almost assured the fact that the LTTE will have no more say in the Eastern swathe of land where people, at one time, used to swear in the name of the rebel group.

These developments have made the Tigers frantic. It has been a pattern on part of the LTTE to attempt to raise the stakes by carrying out terrorist attacks targeting civilians and political leaders whenever it faces reverses on the battle field. The LTTE has, consequently, unleashed a wave of terrorist attacks since the Government’s January 3, 2008, unilateral decision to abrogate the Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) and the subsequent formal annulment of the CFA on January 16. The major terrorist attacks since then, include:

• April 25: 26 civilians, including seven women, were killed and 40 others injured when the LTTE detonated a bomb inside a Ceylon Transport Board bus parked at the public bus stand in Piliyandala suburb of Colombo.

• April 6: The Highway Minister and Chief Government Whip, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, and 13 others, including National Athletic coach Lakshman De Alwis and Olympic marathon runner and national record holder K.A. Karunaratnawere, were killed in a suicide attack carried out by the LTTE at a sporting event in the Weliweriya area, about 25 kilometres north of capital Colombo, in Gampaha District. Over 90 people, including Gampaha Division Senior Superintendent of Police Hector Darmasiri, were injured in the blast.

• February 4: At least 13 persons were killed and 17 others inured when LTTE militants detonated a claymore mine targeting a civilian bus, plying from Parakaramapura to Janakapura, at Kobbekaduwa Junction in Welioya, 200-metres away from the 223 Brigade Headquarters. The dead include five soldiers and two women.

• February 3: At least 12 persons were killed and around 100 injured, 10 of them critically, when an LTTE female suicide bomber blew herself up inside the Colombo Fort Railway Station.

• February 2: At least 20 passengers aboard a bus were killed and 50 others injured when the LTTE militants detonated an explosive device at Dambulla bus stand in the Matale District.

• January 29: 17 civilians, including 11 children, were killed in a claymore mine attack on a school bus in the Mannar District.

• January 24: Police recovered the dead bodies of 16 youth hacked to death by suspected LTTE militants from a swamp at Kiriketuwewa on the Horoupathana-Kebithigollawa Road in the Anuradhapura District.

• January 17: At least 10 civilians, including two home guards, were shot dead by LTTE militants at Hambegamuwa in the Thanamalwila area of Moneragala District.

• January 16: At least 26 civilians, including some school children and women, aboard a Central Transport Bus proceeding to Buttala Town in Moneragala District, were killed and 67 others injured in a claymore mine explosion triggered by the LTTE in the Helagama area near Ella Road. The bus was simultaneously fired upon by the militants immediately after the claymore mine explosion.

• January 8: Suspected militants of the LTTE killed Sri Lankan non-Cabinet Minister for Nation Building, D.M. Dissanayake, in a claymore mine blast near Rukmani Devi Junction at Ja-ela, while he was proceeding towards Colombo to attend the Parliament session. A personal bodyguard of the Minister, identified as K.P. Rathnayaka, also succumbed to his injuries in hospital. According to the Police, 13 people, including seven civilians, were injured in the incident.

Such acts of terror are at least partly intended to boost the morale of the desertion-prone LTTE cadres, as well as to draw the attention of the international community to apply pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to abandon its military operation in the North. The LTTE’s gameplan is based on the thesis that the war for ‘Tamil Eelam’ cannot be carried forward without popular Tamil support and such support can only be generated and sustained through persistent acts of terror against the Sinhalese and the Sinhalese Government.

The Government in Colombo, on the other hand, appears to be unrelenting. Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, on April 30, stated that isolated bomb explosions carried out by the LTTE to disrupt civilian life in the south would not deter the Government from achieving their ‘final objective’ of wiping out terrorism from the country before long. He warned that the LTTE chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran would not be able to carry out such barbaric acts endlessly because “our war heroes are in pursuit of him and his days are numbered”. Similarly, the Army Chief Sarath Fonseka on February 9 declared, “LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran should realize that he cannot go ahead with his military campaign. They have no option other than to give up their struggle and enter the political mainstream.”

Nevertheless, the LTTE demonstrates little inclination to accept defeat as yet, and the war in the North promises to be longer than Colombo’s projections. The LTTE retains capacities to hold a receding line for some time to come, and to continue its terrorist campaigns in the South. The prospects of peace in Sri Lanka remain far from imminent.