LTTE throws down a gauntlet
[TamilNet, Thursday, 17 July 1997, 23:59 GMT]
The Tamil Tigers have unequivocally said that they will target Sri Lankan ships supplying the Sri Lankan forces occupying the Jaffna peninsula. In a press release distributed by its London office, the LTTE has said it will do 'its utmost' to interdict Sri Lankan supply lines.
In a clear declaration of their intentions, the Tigers said yesterday that
they consider the ships that shuttle from Jaffna to the south of the
island as legitimate military targets. The press release quoted a policy
statement issued by the Tiger leadership via the official periodical
Viduthalai Puligal [Liberation Tigers].
Clearly irritated by the Sir Lankan government's claim that the ships
interdicted by the LTTE in the past few weeks were 'civilian' or
'refugee' craft, the Tiger statement declared "We cannot be party to the
government ruse of shipping war materials to Jaffna under the pretext of
supplying food and necessities to the [Tamil] people" and went on to say
"the LTTE has no option but to regard these military-servicing ships as
legitimate military targets."
"Sri Lanka is declaring that the people of Jaffna are being
pampered, fed and clothed. But the real situation is far different. The
government is mainly engaged in feeding, clothing and equipping its
Sinhala army of occupation in the peninsula while the Tamil inhabitants
of Jaffna do not enter into its calculations at all," the statement also
The Sri Lankan government claims that the Tiger attacks on two supply
ships were 'acts of desperation' as a result of the Sinhalese military
offensive in the Vanni. However, the offensive has been stalled by two
devastating Tiger counter attacks. Furthermore, the Sri Lankan
government's dismissive claims belie its concern: the Sinhalese garrison
in Jaffna is reliant on the sea-borne supplies as the SLAF has lost too
many aircraft to maintain an air-bridge.
The Sri Lankan military is also reliant on the sea bridge to rotate
the troops in and out of the peninsula. By stating
its intention to effectively maroon the Sinhalese troops on the
peninsula, the Tigers will be scoring a psychological victory: they have
the means to carry out their threat.
The LTTE's naval wing, the Sea Tigers have been developed from a
transport service into an elite fighting service which designs and builds
its own gunboats, has its own commando units and has acquitted itself
well in combat.
The Sri Lankans have been using foreign registered ships as they do not
have sufficient supply ships of their own. Many Sri Lankan ships have
been lost in Sea Tiger attacks whilst anchored within SLN bases and at
The Sri Lankans may also have been hoping that by using foreign nationals
to crew their supply ships, they could deter Tiger attacks. The Tigers
detained a supply ship crewed by 38 North Koreans and another with
The Sri Lankan military will have to escort any future supply runs.
Deploying one or two gunboats has proved ineffective. Though not as well
armed as the Israeli built Dvoras, the Sea Tiger boats have been able to
use numbers to disperse the SLN gunboats' firepower and destroy them. The
Sri Lankans will have to deploy several crafts to protect each supply run.
The convoy would be at risk even before it sailed - Sea Tiger commandos
have penetrated 3 out of the navy's 4 main naval bases. The convoy would
also have to swing wide off the Tamil coastline to avoid marauding raids
by Sea Tiger gunboats.
The Tigers have often laid large mines in the path of Sri Lankan convoys
and have enticed Sri Lankan gunboats on to the devices. It is believed
that the Tigers have even sunk Sri Lankan gunboats by deploying a T-55
tank (captured from the Sri Lankan army) on a beach.
Assuming the convoy reaches the Jaffna peninsula safely, the empty ships
will have to be escorted back as well: both ships interdicted by the
Tigers recently were returning from Jaffna.
The Sri Lankan air force may also be used to provide cover, but it does
not have sufficient aircraft to support offensives in the Tamil homelands
and to protect supply runs simultaneously. At least 16 transports,
fighter-bombers and helicopters have been lost since this phase of the
war started in 1995.
The LTTE intensified its 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.