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LTTE warns Nordic truce monitors

The Tigers have asked the monitors to board Lankan naval vessels at their own risk, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: May 12, 2006 16:57 IST

The LTTE on Thursday asked the Nordic truce monitors not to board Sri Lankan naval vessels and warned that they would be doing so at their own peril.

"We urge you for the last time not to be on board Sri Lankan Naval vessels until further notice from us. If you chose to ignore our warning, we are not responsible for the consequences," wrote the LTTE's political wing leader, SP Tamilselvan, to Maj Gen Ulf Henricsson, Head of the Scandinavian-staffed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM).

Tamilselvan charged that the Sri Lankan Navy was using the Nordic truce monitors as a "human shield" while indulging in hostile activities in the seas off the coast held by the LTTE in the North and East of the island.

"We have on several occasions verbally informed you to refrain from boarding Sri Lankan Naval vessels. We have also given this request in writing to you twice so far. This is the third request from us to you to refrain from boarding Sri Lankan Naval vessels," Tamilselvan said.

"Sri Lankan Navy is entering the sea adjoining the land in our control and disrupting the fishing activities of the people. It is also disturbing the LTTE exercises in doing so. If the Sri Lankan Navy disrupts our activities we will definitely retaliate," he warned.

"The SLMM monitors are used by the Sri Lankan Navy as human shields in order to continue with these disruptions," the rebels' political commissar said.

LTTE asserts right to use sea

By attacking vessels of the Sri Lankan Navy off the North Eastern coast, as it did on Thursday and earlier too, the LTTE is asserting its right to use the sea.

The LTTE says that free movement in the sea for its naval wing, the Sea Tigers, is necessary to maintain the balance of power.

It is the balance of power, which is the basis of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of February 2002, it argues.

In his letter to Maj Gen Henriccson on May 11, Tamilselvan said that it was a "simple truth" that any military CFA would be based on a balance of power.

And the LTTE's rights over designated areas of the sea had contributed to the creation of the CFA, he added.

Tamilselvan said that the Sea Tigers (the LTTE's naval wing) had always used the seas adjacent to areas under the control of the LTTE. And this had been confirmed and recognised by the SLMM.

He pointed out that in a Press Release on April 22, 2003, the SLMM said:

"When the Ceasefire Agreement was signed on the 22nd of Feb 02, the LTTE fighting formations, including the Sea Tigers, existed. Consequently, the LTTE Sea Tigers exists as a de facto Naval unit."

"Balance of power is one of the basic elements for the present Ceasefire. Hence, to maintain their Forces, capabilities, both parties must have the right to carry out training and exercise in designated areas."

Tamilsevan went on to say that it was when the Sea Tigers were conducting some exercises in the sea off the coast under the LTTE's control on May 11 that the Sri Lankan Navy attacked.

"As we have warned we retaliated," he asserted.

Tamilselvan disputed the SLMM's claim that the seas surrounding Sri Lanka were a "Government controlled area" over which the Sri Lankan Navy had exclusive control. The SLMM said that this had the sanction of international law.

Tamilselavan asked that if this were so, how did the SLMM say in 2003 that the Sea Tigers had conducted exercises legitimately in designated areas?

"We like to point out to you that you are contradicting your own earlier statement that Sea tigers are part of the balance of power and therefore must have the right to carry out training and exercises," he said.

Tamilselvan went on to mention the aerial bombing of the Wanni region and the shelling of populated areas in Sampoor in Trincomalee district by the Sri Lankan forces on May 11, and said that these were "serious" CFA violations.

He regretted that the truce monitors had not condemned these attacks.

Importance of sea movement for LTTE

Unfettered sea movement is of critical importance for the LTTE for two reasons:

(1) The rebel group depends on maritime smuggling for all its supplies, both lethal and non-lethal.

(2) Without free movement in the sea, its fighting units cannot be transferred from the northern sector to the eastern sector.

There is no land bridge between the Northern and the Eastern territories controlled by the LTTE, because the CFA prevents armed LTTE movement across lands controlled by the government.

All movement will have to be sanctioned and monitored by the Sri Lankan government and overseen by the SLMM.

This restriction is making the task of controlling Karuna, the breakaway LTTE leader, who is entrenched in the Eastern districts of the island and is posing a serious threat to the mainstream group led by Prabhakaran.

Karuna had broken away from the main group in March 2004.

The mainstream LTTE accuses the Sri Lankan armed forces and the government of backing the breakaway group.

Free sea movement would help the mainstream group transfer armed cadres between the two sectors more easily than is the case now.

It is recalled that the mainstream group was able to crush Karuna's revolt in mid April 2004 because it was able to use the sea and land troops in Vakarai on the Batticaloa coast.

At that time, the Sri Lankan authorities looked the other way when the sea movement was going on.

Apparently, the government's view at the time was that the fighting between Prabhakaran and Karuna was an internal feud and that the government should have nothing to with it.

First Published: May 12, 2006 15:23 IST