Tigers step up activity in the East

[TamilNet, Thursday, 19 June 1997, 23:59 GMT]
The Tamil Tigers have stepped up their operations in the East of the Tamil homelands. In the past 2 days, a Sri Lankan police station has been attacked and police and army patrols ambushed. The attacks come after a comparative lull, indicating that the LTTE may be refocusing on the region.

Hepitikolawa TankAccording to government officials, an army patrol in Pulmoddai was ambushed by Tamil Tiger fighters who simultaneously hit the nearby police station with mortars. At least 25 Sri Lankan soldiers are believed to have died in the fierce fire fight. Tiger casualties are not known.

The attack comes a day after the LTTE ambushed a patrol of armed home guards (government militia), killing 4 and subsequently ambushed police commandos sent to rescue the militia. At least 15 Special Task Force commandos were killed in the second fire-fight.

There has been a comparative lull in eastern Tiger activity in the past two months, as the LTTE has been preparing to face a Sri Lankan offensive currently underway in the southern Vanni region. The resumption of operations in the East, such as the attacks in the past 2 days may indicate that the LTTE is, once again, prepared to allocate resources and personnel to expand it's control in the region.

As the Sri Lankan government is desperately short of troops, it has closed down most of its eastern military facilities, leaving it up to the police to hold the area. Despite being well armed, the police have been overwhelmed by the Tiger units operating there. Western analysts estimate that up to 80% of the territory has reverted to Tamil control as the police have fallen back to areas close to major towns or army camps.

The limited army presence continues to be attacked, with smaller camps being overrun and army patrols being ambushed. Western analysts say that some of the bases are thinly defended, reflecting the SLA's lack of manpower. Desertion is also said to be a severe problem.

Like the military, the Sri Lankan police are also predominantly Sinhalese, even in the Tamil areas of the island. In the East, the Sri Lankan police are part of the military, and armed constables carry out combat patrols from heavily defended police stations.

The police also have a paramilitary unit, the Special Task Force, which is deployed in the East. The STF was initially trained by South African and British mercenaries in the mid-eighties and operates effectively as part of the army. However, it is not bound by the rules of war, being officially designated a police unit.

Since early last year, the eastern Tigers have focused their attention on the elite STF, and hundreds of commandos have been killed in a series of ambushes and assaults on their camps. In one incident late last year, at least 55 commandos were killed when their camp was overrun in a Tiger assault.

The Sinhalese police in general, and the STF in particular have been responsible for wide spread atrocities against the Tamil populace. Murders, rapes and torture by Sri Lankan police and armed government militia are routine occurrences.

Although the Sri Lankan military claims that the loss of the East would be 'temporary state of affairs', Western military analysts say that it would be 'substantially more difficult to take this area, than maintain a holding operation'. In addition, as the recent attacks show, the Tigers are also straining the holding operation itself. The analysts who visited the region last year say that even the towns are no longer controlled at night by the Sri Lankan military, as the troops have to return to the safety of their main bases.

The LTTE intensified it's campaign for independence following the island wide pogrom against Tamils in July 1983. Over 50,000 Tamil civilians have been killed in the government's attempts to crush the Tamil struggle. In the 1977 elections, the Tamil people of the island voted overwhelmingly for parties supporting independence from Sri Lanka.


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