Combat units of the LTTE quit the Eastern Sri Lankan Muslim town of Mutur at midnight on Friday, bringing to an end three days of military operations in which 40 Sri Lankan soldiers, 32 LTTE cadres and 40 civilians were killed, and 35,000 were displaced.
“Having accomplished our humanitarian and defensive objectives, our units withdrew from Mutur and its environs at midnight last night,” the LTTE’s military spokesman, Ilanthirayan alias Marshal, told Hindustan Times over phone from Kilinochchi.
The Sri Lankan Army and government, had, however, been saying all along, that Mutur was never occupied by the LTTE, and that what was going on since August 2, was only mopping operations to clear the town of the infiltrators, who were killing and harassing the local Muslim residents.
Asked what were the “humanitarian and defensive objectives” that had been attained by the LTTE, its military spokesman said that his organisation has succeeded in bringing “pressure” on the Sri Lankan government to stop its anti-people activities in that area.
“The government had imposed an embargo on essential food items like milk powder for babies, and had not provided drinking water to the people.”
“The security forces lodged in the camps around Mutur were using (Tamil) paramilitary groups to harass and arrest people from areas under our control.”
“The camps used for this purpose were at Mutur police station, Mutur jetty, Mahindapura, Kiliveddi, Palathoppu, Kattaiparichchan and Pachchanur.”
“Government servants from our areas, venturing out to get their monthly salaries (from the Trincomalee district capital) were detained.”
“Many people had not got their salaries for months, because they could not go to collect them,” spokesman Ilanthirayan said.
This was the reason why the people of the Mavil Aaru area closed the sluice gates of the Mavil Aaru anicut (dam), he added.
“The LTTE then attacked the concerned Army camps in Mutur town and its environs,” he said.
Arrival of Norwegian peace broker
The LTTE’s withdrawal coincided with the arrival of the Norwegian peace envoy, Jon Henricsson Bauer, in Sri Lanka, and an increasing international interest in defusing the situation, which had led to a major humanitarian crisis, in addition to the one already existing in Sri Lanka for the past year.
The closure of the Mavil Aaru dam had spoilt the paddy crop over 30,000 acres and affected the lives of 15, 000 families, mostly Sinhalas.
The battle of Mutur had resulted in 15,000 people fleeing the town.
Even inside the town, 35,000 civilians were displaced, with mortar and artillery shelling and rockets from Multi-Barrel Launchers, raining on them for three days.
The US Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Norwegian peace brokers, and the Government of India called for an immediate end to the hostilities.
Norway announced an emergency aid of US$ 1.5 million dollars and rushed its special envoy Hanssen Bauer.
Talks on Mavil Aaru likely
As the guns went silent over Mutur on Saturday, informed sources told Hindustan Times that talks were likely to begin over the opening of the Mavil Aaru dam under the auspices of the Norwegian facilitator Hanssen Bauer.
The LTTE’s leadership is believed to be ready to enter into talks.
The likely trade off is: the LTTE opens the sluice gates of the dam, and the government gives an assurance that it will speedily construct the long pending water tank in Mutur East; lift the embargo on essentials; and stop the “harassment” of people from the LTTE-controlled areas at army camps with the help of the “Tamil paramilitaries”.