SLA forced to change plan.

[TamilNet, Sunday, 10 August 1997, 23:59 GMT]
The twin prongs of the Sri Lankan military's Operation 'Jaya Sikiru' are said to have linked up, the SLA spokesman, Brig. S. Munasinghe, said on Thursday. However, the troops have still not been able to overrun the small town of Puliyankulum, due to continuing Tamil resistance around the town. LTTE units are said to be continuing to launch mortar attacks on the SLA troops 2kms south of the town.

At least 20,000 Sinhalese troops are taking part in the Sri Lankan army's offensive in the Vanni. Two army divisions pushed out from Vavuniya and Manal Aru military complexes nearly 3 months ago. After a short unopposed advance across no man's land, the SLA ran into stiff resistance from the Tigers.

After several days of bitter fighting, the Tamil towns of Omanthai and Nedunkerni were captured. The two army columns were preparing to push out towards Puliyankulum in early June when the LTTE launched a counter-attack on Thandikulum, the 55th Brigade HQ, stalling the offensive. Two weeks later, the offensive started again but almost immediately the Tigers overran a key fire-base, stalling it again.

The offensive resumed in mid July and the two columns inched towards Puliyankulum, with the intention of linking up in this Tamil town. One column approached from the south, the other form the north-east.

However, stiff Tiger resistance halted the advance outside the town. After a few weeks of inactivity while a recruitment campaign for SLA deserters was conducted (with lack lustre results), the offensive resumed on 31 July.

An LTTE ambush using artillery stopped the advance within hours. An LTTE counter-attack at Omanthai on 1 August d* also delayed the attempt to link the two columns up with in Puliyankulum.

Frustrated, the two columns have swung round Puliyankulum and linked up south of the town on Wednesday, according to the SLA. Brig. Munasinghe. He put a brave face on the change in the SLA's plans, saying "we have achieved what he had planned to do. We will consolidate and then move forward".

The LTTE is not thought to be present in strength in the vicinity of Puliyankulum, but is said to be using a limited number of troops backed by precision artillery fire to hold off the SLA assaults. Sporadic Tamil mortar fire continues to fall on the columns according to the SLA.

The Sri Lankan artillery based in Vavuniya, Nedunkerni and Omanthai have been relentlessly shelling the area around Puliyankulum in an effort to crush the resistance, but the Tamils have so far managed to hold out.

Operation Jaya Sikiru is several months behind schedule, assuming its stated aim of securing a supply route to its Jaffna garrison is valid. Nevertheless, the linking up of the two columns is a symbolic achievement for the SLA.

While the Sri Lankan military says that it now has a continuous presence from Vavuniya to Manal Aru, and can prevent LTTE movements from the Vanni to the east, military analysts are unimpressed. "Maginot line type defences are impractical and will not stop LTTE infiltration" said one. "The Tigers were able to get into Thandikulum, and in any case would have planned for this eventuality."

"Furthermore, if the large number of troops needed to seal this 'border' are tied down, it will be difficult to advance forward at the same time. The army will need another two divisions in the Vanni to manage both." he said.

The SLA is desperately attempting to recruit more men for the offensive, launching recruitment campaigns for new recruits and for deserters. While attempts are being made to apprehend deserters, the option to rejoin the army (even after arrest) is also being maintained.

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.


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