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.
According 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
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.