Controversy after Navy attacks LTTE trawler

[TamilNet, Monday, 15 July 2002, 01:39 GMT]
(News Feature) Following the Sri Lanka Navy’s (SLN) attack on an LTTE fishing trawler Saturday, the movement registered a strong protest with international monitors Sunday , describing the incident as a ‘serious violation’ of the ceasefire agreement. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) meanwhile protested that two of its monitors who boarded the trawler had not been allowed to embark before the crew took the damaged vessel to shore and said this was a violation of the ceasefire. The LTTE however said the monitors - who had checked and cleared the trawler - had been assured of their safety and that the vessel was being rammed by SLN gunboats during its travel to shore.

In a letter to the SLMM sent Sunday, the LTTE protested that one of its fishing trawlers had been intercepted and fired on Saturday evening by SLN gunboats. SLMM monitors travelling on a SLN vessel had later been invited aboard the LTTE trawler and, after searching the vessel for an hour, had found only communication sets.

Yet the SLN had demanded the LTTE surrender the trawler into its custody and when the crew refused, SLN gunboats - including one flying the SLMM’s flag - had rammed it despite the presence of the monitors on board, the LTTE said in its letter.

“Please treat this matter as a serious violation that may result in jeopardising the efforts put into the maintenance of the [ceasefire agreement],” Mr. S. P. Tamilselvan, head of the LTTE’s political section, wrote to the SLMM head, Major General Trond Furuhovde.

Describing the incident, Mr. Tamilselvan said the LTTE trawler engaged in fishing in the Iranaitivu seas (near Mannar) when it was fired on by SLN ‘Dvora’ gunboats and damaged at 17.00hrs Saturday. A Sea Tiger commander on shore had contacted the SLN flotilla commander and then sailed to the Dvora after verifying the incident with the trawler crew.

“The SLN Dvora had the SLMM flag and on embarking, our commander found that 2 SLMM sea monitors were also on board. In their presence our commander volunteered to allow the SLMM along with the SLN to check our trawler if necessary,” the letter said.

“Accordingly the SLMM monitors and three SLN officers checked our trawler for about an hour and declared that there was nothing that they consider as unlawful."

"At this stage, one of the SLMM monitors said that the trawler can proceed and the SLN personnel too concurred. All of a sudden one of the SLN officer said that he has HQ instructions to take the trawler off to KKS,” the letter said.

The Sea Tiger commander had refused, pointing out the terms of the ceasefire agreement had not been breached by the trawler.

“While this was going on the SLN Dvora boat with the SLMM flag and two other Dvoras kept circling our trawler. The three SLN personnel, who were in the trawler jumped into the sea and swam across to reach their boats,” Mr. Tamilselvan wrote.

“Since the three SLN boats were hitting continuously on our trawler, our regional commander … decided to sail back to the shore. The SLMM monitors were given assurance of their security and brought ashore. This information was passed on to SLMM HQ and SLMM Kilinochchi, and they were picked up by the SLMM vehicle,” Mr. Tamilselvan said.

“We consider the following as very serious violations of the [ceasefire agreement], more so in the presence of the SLMM monitors and [an SLN vessel] having an SLMM flag,” Mr. Tamilselvan said:

“After having inspected the trawler with the SLMM monitors and being satisfied that there was nothing unlawful, the SLN insisted on taking the trawler to KKS in spite of the SLMM monitors satisfaction;”

“Since the SLMM monitors communication equipment failed, the SLMM was relying on messages and at one stage falsely stated that Mr. Puleedevan of the Political HQ has consented to the taking of the trawler to KKS. It was not so;”

“The Dvora boats, one of them with the SLMM flag, were engaged in [ramming] our trawler with the full knowledge that two SLMM monitors were on board.”

Meanwhile, the SLMM, in a press release titled “Two SLMM monitors held against their will onboard a LTTE vessel,” said the Navy had intercepted two trawlers at 17.45 Saturday and that one had ‘fled from the scene.’

The SLMM said it had been contacted by the SLN at 18.00 and that two monitors had embarked on the trawler at 20.10 “with the full approval of the LTTE’s Political Leadership in Kilinochchi.”

“SLMM found communication equipment onboard the trawler, which was controlled by 4 LTTE cadres. SLMM suggested … that the LTTE cadres would be allowed to go ashore and the remaining trawler would be taken into the custody of SLN,” the press release said. “That offer was rejected by LTTE leadership and the LTTE cadres onboard refused to disembark the trawler.”

SLMM HQ had learnt at 23.20 that the LTTE cadres had started to move the trawler towards the shore of Vanni and whilst SLN personnel had got off the trawler, “the two SLMM Naval Monitors where held against their will by the LTTE cadres and physically hindered from leaving the trawler,” the SLMM said.

The monitors were released when the vessel reached the shore at 00.35, the SLMM said adding that representatives of LTTE’s political wing brought them to Kilinochchi at 05.40 Sunday.

The SLMM statement did not mention the SLN’s firing on or ramming of the LTTE trawler. But it quoted Major General Furuhovde as saying: “This is a serious violation of the Ceasefire Agreement and a major blow to the trust of SLMM in the LTTE.”

“This kind of behaviour is extremely counterproductive to the success we have had so far. Instead of relying on SLMM as impartial monitors working for both parties in solving disputes and ensuring the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement, LTTE members decided to mistreat two SLMM Monitors,” Major General Furuhovde was quoted as saying.

Mr. Tamilselvan, in his letter to Major General Furuhovde said “Under the circumstances we wish to remind you that … in spite of our respected requests to you, the SLN continues to engage itself in provocative actions.”

 

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