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Karuna's troops give up without fight

Sources say Prabhakaran's men had it easy against Col Karuna's cadres, reports PK Balachanddran.
PTI | By PK Balachanddran, Colombo
PUBLISHED ON APR 12, 2004 11:00 AM IST

Cadres under the breakaway LTTE commander Col Karuna fled from their positions in Verugal, Kathirveli and Vaharai in North Batticalao district virtually without a fight, sources in Batticaloa told Hindustan Times on Friday.

Prabhakaran's "Good Friday" operation has punctured Karuna's image as a formidable military power. To rebuild it, Karuna has to emerge from his bases in South West Batticaloa, and recapture the lost territory in the north, especially the vital coastline. This seems to be a tall order in the light of the dismal performance of his units on Friday and Saturday, when places under his control fell like nine pins.

Aid workers who had gone to Vaharai and Kathirveli to serve people displaced by the conflict, reported that the people had fled more out of fear than fighting as such. Karuna's cadres had fled without a fight, it seemed. Vaharai and Kathirveli are now teeming with Prabhakaran's cadres.

The Karuna group is accusing the Prabhakaran group of attacking Vaharai and Kathirveli treacherously. A website friendly to Karuna's group said that the attackers had used loud hailers to say that they were Eastern people who were coming to surrender and not to fight. But on being allowed to come closer, they opened fire.

Independent sources in Batticaloa also confirmed a "Tamilnet" report that by the evening of Saturday, Karuna's bases in Amparai district had also fallen without a fight. The Kanjikudicha Aru base in this district is now in the hands of units loyal to Prabhakaran.

Most of the men thrown into battle by Prabhakaran were from units raised from the East. This is because they knew the lay of the land. Also, Prabhakaran did not want the fighting to be taken as one between northern and eastern Tamils. Karuna has been espousing the "Eastern Tamils' cause" to give himself and his rebellion, an independent political base.

Prabhakaran had sent the Jayanthan Brigade, which Karuna himself had raised from the villages of Batticaloa and Amparai. During the operations since Friday, the Jayanthan brigade has shown that it has not fallen prey to Karuna's regionalistic propaganda.

A top Sri Lankan military official stationed in Batticaloa said that Karuna had retreated his fighters to his bases in South Batticaloa. "He has six or seven bases here," the official told Hindustan Times.

Meanwhile, the mainstream LTTE"s spokesman, Daya Master, issued a statement saying that operations to remove Karuna from the Tamil Homeland would continue. Master appealed to cadres still with Karuna, to surrender or desert him. Kid soldiers who wanted to join their parents would be allowed to do so. The LTTE would facilitate this process, he said.

Karuna is said to have about 6,000 armed cadres under him. The bulk of them are in the bases located in South West Batticaloa. Though he is relatively safe here, it is not certain if all the cadres with him will fight for him. The expectation is that many will desert given the fact that Karuna is politically and militarily isolated, especially after the Good Friday fiasco.

However, Prabhakaran may have difficulty in approaching and attacking Karuna's bases because his cadres will have to cross Sri Lankan army controlled roads like A-11 linking Colombo with Batticaloa town. If he crosses, he will invite the charge of violating the February 2002 Ceasefire Agreement. Already the Sri Lankan government has complained to the Scandinavian monitoring mission about his transporting armed men by sea to Vaharai and Kathirveli.

Prabhakaran may, therefore, resort to clandestine operations to kill Karuna or harass him. He could plan swift, small-scale commando actions. He may also try to restrict the mobility of Karuna's men by staging ambushes. Infiltration followed by ambushes proved to be very effective on Friday and Saturday.

The fact that Prabhakaran's units are manned and led by experienced Commanders from Batticaloa itself, like Ramesh,should worry Karuna because they know the ins and outs of the place.

In a desperate situation, Karuna may have to count on some kind of help from the Sri Lankan armed forces in terms of intelligence gathering and prevention of the movement of armed cadres through government held territory, citing the Ceasefire Agreement. But given the Sri Lankan government's commitment to begin peace talks with the Prabhakaran group at the soonest, the army may not be able to render much help to Karuna.

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