Army-LTTE clashes continue in Lanka
LTTE retreats to its second line of defence in Thenmarachchi sector of Jaffna, reports PK Balachandran.india Updated: Sep 12, 2006 19:53 IST
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) retreated to their second line of defence in the Thenmarachchi sector of South Jaffna on Tuesday, as Sri Lankan ground troops pushed forward from Muhamalai towards Palai, while subjecting Kilaly and Pooneryn to sustained aerial and artillery bombardment.
The army spokesman, Brig Prasad Samarasinghe, told Hindustan Times that the ground troops had occupied 800 metres of land across the Tamil Tigers' first line of defence in Muhamalai, and pushed them a further kilometer from there, to their second line of defence.
Asked if the army's aim was to take Elephant Pass, the doorway to the LTTE-controlled district of Kilinochchi further to the south, the government Defence Spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, said that the current operations were only a retaliation for the LTTE's unprovoked firing on government troops and that the idea was only to neutralise the LTTE's gun positions in the vicinity.
However, if the LTTE offered to remove its guns from Elephant Pass, as it supposedly did earlier in the case of Sampur in Trincomalee district, it would be appreciated as a great service to the peace process.
The LTTE's political commissar, SP Tamilselvan, had said a few days ago that his organisation had conveyed to the Sri Lankan government through the Norwegian peace brokers, that it was ready to remove its artillery pieces from Sampur if the government stopped its offensive in Sampur.
But the government had disregarded this offer and went ahead with the invasion of Sampur, he complained.
Government spokesman Rambukwella said that he was not aware of any such offer from the LTTE, but such an offer would pave the way to peace.
If a similar offer was made in respect of Elephant Pass also, the peace process would be greatly helped, he said.
Govt determined to move relief by sea despite threats
Rambukwella said that the government had moved 3,800 metric tones of relief material and repatriated 790 Tamils stranded in beleaguered Jaffna, despite a threat to government shipping from the LTTE, and the refusal of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to escort the vessels in the absence of security guarantees by the LTTE.
The LTTE had written to the ICRC saying that it could not guarantee the safety of Sri Lankan vessels in the sea off the coastline held by it as the areas of control were not clearly demarcated by the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement.
As an alternative it offered to open the A9 main highway and give full protection to ICRC escorted relief convoys.
For this the on-going military operations in the northern end of the highway between Palai and Muhamalai would have to stop.
The government troops are currently on a successful offensive here.
The government is yet to reply to the LTTE's proposal. But it is unlikely to agree to it given the state of the military operations in Thenmarachchi when the government forces have the upper hand and the LTTE is retreating.
It is also felt that the land route will enable the LTTE to inspect the convoys and perhaps even tax the contents.
ICRC and NGOs, not doing their job
The government spokesman sharply criticized the NGOs and the ICRC for not doing what they ought to do in the war-torn North-East.
Such organisations were needed at critical times like this, when, in the midst of war and tension, innocent civilians had to be supplied with essentials and the stranded repatriated to safe places, Rambukwella pointed out.
If there was security, these organisations would not be needed, he argued.
He pointed out that the government had braved the LTTE's threats and had taken the risk of ferrying food and personnel by sea.
The Tamils of Jaffna were after all Sri Lankans.
And referring to the thousands of Jaffna Tamils clamouring to leave Jaffna and come to the Sinhala-dominated south, the government spokesman said: "The oppressed (Tamils of Jaffna) are eager to leave the liberators (the LTTE) and come to live with the oppressors (the Sinhalas) in the south."
Govt ready for any change in truce panel
Rambukwella further said that the Sri Lankan government would cooperate with the international community in the matter of reconstituting the truce monitoring mission in the light of the crisis created by the LTTE's refusal to accept monitors from the European Union (EU) countries.
The co-chairs of the Tokyo Aid Lanka conference who were meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, were expected to seek an amendment to the clauses relating to the truce monitors, making it possible for non-Scandinavian countries also to contribute personnel to the monitoring mission.
The LTTE had refused to entertain truce monitors from the EU because the EU had banned it at the end of May this year.
This had led to the exit of monitors from Finland, Denmark and Sweden, leaving only those from Norway and Iceland.
Either Norway and Iceland should supply more monitors now, or non-Scandinavian countries should be allowed to supply monitors.
"We are ready to accept any changes, whether through an amendment or through an annexure or through an exchange of letters," the Sri Lankan government spokesman said.
He said that several non-Scandinavian countries had expressed an interest in joining the truce mission.