B. Muralidhar Reddy
Ouster in Batticaloa district weakens Tigers' hold on the east
Military to continue drive 11 commandos killed in Amparai ambush: LTTE
COLOMBO: After weeks of intense battle, the Sri Lankan military on Friday ousted Tamil Tigers from one of their main military bases at Vaharai in Batticaloa district. The fall of Vaharai effectively cuts off the Tigers from the district in particular and weakens their hold on the east in general.
Second major loss
Vaharai is the second major loss they suffered in the east in the space of over four months. In early September, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was driven out of Sampur and Maavil Aru in Trincomalee district, marking the first instance of territory transfer since the much-battered 2002 ceasefire agreement.
``No other option''
The Mahinda Rajapaksa Government said it was left with no option but to oust the Tigers from the east in view of the threat they posed to its strategic interests. The Sampur operation was undertaken as the Tiger base there posed a threat to the Trincomalee naval base.
According to sources in the Government, the military will continue to follow the same strategy, chasing the Tigers out of their remaining bases in the east. "We are hopeful of success in the next few weeks," a senior military official told The Hindu.
There was no immediate word from the Tigers on the fall of Vaharai. There are apprehensions that the LTTE could "strike in a big way somewhere to make up" for its losses in the east.
There was no surprise in the capture of Vaharai as the military had been claiming for days that the Tigers could remain there only because of the presence of a large number of civilians. When the battle began in the second half of October last, there were an estimated 38,000 internally displaced people at Vaharai.
Influx of civilians
In the course of the pitched battles, the military repeatedly accused the Tigers of using civilians as a shield. The Tigers refuted the charge and attributed the influx of over 25,000 civilians into the government-controlled territory to terrible shortages.
``Shelling on hospital''
TamilNet alleged that the Army stepped up shelling on the Vaharai hospital on Thursday night, forcing 15,000 civilians to flee the area. It said 9,000 Tamil civilians, denied basic needs, were forced to flee towards the Kajuwatte entry and exit point on Friday morning, according to Vaharai divisional secretary, S. Giritharan. About 200 tractors with fleeing civilians reached Kajuwatte.
"Many women and children were fleeing on foot and cycle." The only doctor in the hospital, T. Varatharajan, said those who had sought refuge in the hospital area, fled as shelling was stepped up in the early hours. Six civilians were injured on Thursday night, TamilNet said.
The Tigers claimed to have killed at least 11 commandos of the Special Task Force (STF) in Amparai on Friday. Eleven others were wounded when an elite guerilla unit ambushed an STF convoy at Bakmitiyawa, LTTE military spokesman Irasiah Ilanthirayan told TamilNet. The LTTE claimed it had suffered no losses.
Quoting sources, TamilNet claimed that the Tigers had carried out the attack, triggering a claymore mine and deploying gunners armed with light machine guns in a booby-trapped area at 10.45 a.m. in the predominant Sinhala area.