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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

All roads don’t lead to Jaffna

23 March 1997

The Jaffna peninsula is the precious jewel in the PA’s crown. It was re-acquired at great cost. The government seems quite determined to keep it.

The government’s military hold on the peninsula is predicated on two things. One, the control of some population centres, some of which are important for political reasons and some of which are important for strategic reasons. Two, the control or domination of some key roads and access routes. In trying to achieve and sustain this the army has to inevitably leave certain areas uncleared apparently due to manpower shortages. This is gradually leading to a situation similar to what existed in the east, in particular the Batticaloa district, prior to 1994, when it was the showpiece of the army’s achievements in Eelam War II. It impressed visiting diplomats.

The only difference is that access to the uncleared pockets in the East which the army at that time routinely supervised with STF operations was extremely difficult from the LTTE’s heartland in the Vanni due to geographical and logistical problems. In contrast, the ‘uncleared’ areas of the peninsula lie almost next door to the Vanni. The advantage, however, which the army thinks it has in Jaffna today is that achieving a concentration of forces in the uncleared parts is virtually impossible for the LTTE given the location of the uncleared areas in the peninsula.

This is an assumption which sounds near perfect in theory and has worked well in practice thus far-yet it remains very much presupposition which has to stand the test of time and the unpredictable turns of the Eelam War.

And now to a brief overview. The government completely controls the three major population centres of Jaffna town, Chavakachcheri town, the Chunnakam-Mallakam area and the larger part of Vadamarachi which includes Nelliady, Pt. Pedro, Valvettithurai, Uduppiddy and Manthikai. In addition to these the (currently) minor population centers of Kodikamam, Palai and the area defined by Pandatharippu, Chithenkerni junction, Chulipuram Moolai and Ponnalai are also completely controlled. The military established its presence in Ponnalai, Moolai, Chulipuram, Chithenkerni and Vaddukkoddai only late last year. For many months the Ponnalai causeway which links the Karainagar island to the peninsula could not be used by the army because there apparently were not enough troops to completely dominate the northwestern sector of Jaffna. Kodikamam is maintained because it straddles the strategic junction of the access route which links the Vadamarachi and Thenmarachi divisions.

In all these major and minor population centres complete control means military saturation. There are large and small camps, sentry points, intelligence units, Police stations etc., and above all the bunds which define the area of control. Civilian access into these areas is controlled and monitored, subject to strict regulations. In time to come the non-LTTE groups may also play a role in this, whether they like it or not. Complete control also essentially means very good intelligence gathering capability. This is ultimately possible only if the Tamil groups, or at least some sections of them, get fully involved in the work of the military intelligence units stationed in these places. Some people in the army may be trying to learn Tamil, but when it comes to blending with the population to find out what’s going on they are thoroughly handicapped-they are Sinhalese. Two of the main area commanders of the army in the peninsula, incidentally, are former chiefs of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. The Tamil groups, however, are trying their best to avoid getting involved, as they did in the east and in Vavuniya since 1990. They are very scared that their political fortunes in the peninsula can decline if they are publicly identified with the army. This is wishful thinking on their part because their local leaders who have to regularly liaise with the army and the military intelligence have to share information and in due course use at least some boys under them for information gathering. The pressure on the groups in this respect is bound to increase when the army has to pull out part of its manpower from these population centres.

Secondly, maintaining one’s hold on Jaffna militarily is dependent upon the permanent or regular control of the KKS Road, the Palaly Road, the Kandy Road, the Manipay Road, the Pt. Pedro Road which emanate from Jaffna town and the Chavakachcheri - Karaveddi road and the Kodikamam- Nelliady road both of which connect Thenmarachi and Vadamarachi. Of these the army controls only the Palai road completely.

The KKS road which is one of the Peninsula’s key routes is not under the army between Nachchimar Kovilady junction which is less than a kilometre from the heart of the Jaffna town and Inuvil where the army has set up a camp. There is no military presence on the Manipay road beyond the Oddumadam junction at the western corner of the town. The Chavakachcheri - Karaveddi road is ‘uncleared’ between Sarasalai and the Vadamarachi bund south of Karaveddi.

Routine clearing operations have to be conducted on the Kandy Road, Pt. Pedro Road and the Kodikamam- Nelliady road to make access safe. On the Kandy Road, between the town and Chavakachcheri, the Arialai, Kaithady and Nunavil areas remain quite vulnerable despite regular patrolling and ‘route clearing operations’. Some Tamil ex-militants in Jaffna say that this is inevitable because of Tiger movements between the ‘uncleared’ areas which lie north of Sarasalai and the Jaffna lagoon to the south. Civilian traffic on the Kandy Road between Kodikamam and Palai is restricted apparently due to a shortage of troops to daily clear the road. The Kodikamam-Nelliady road has to be regularly cleared as well.

The stretch between Neervely junction and the Puttur junction-near the hospital- on the Pt. Pedro road remains exposed to the Tigers who operate in Vatharavathai and other villages which lie to the east and south-east. Several incidents have been reported in the area. (The PLOTE, the EPDP and the EPRLF protested when the army retaliated on civilians here following one of these incidents recently.) Consequently travel between Vadamarachi and the Jaffna town has become extremely tedious. Civilians have to get down at a large number of checkpoints in the scorching sun before they can reach the town. One ex-militant in Jaffna claims that there are ten such checkpoints.

And finally, we have to consider the three important ‘uncleared’ areas in the peninsula to complete the picture. All these afford the Tigers direct access to the population centres controlled by the army. The most important of these is the coast between Vallipuram and Aaliyavalai. Sea Tiger speed-boats regularly ply between Chalai and the jettys of the fishing villages which dot this part of the peninsula. The second area is located between the southern part of the Vadamarachi defence bund and Sarasalai, between Puttur and Kodikamam. The third of course is in the heart of Valikamam which enables the Tigers to deal directly with the population in the town.

The Tigers, in short, have those conditions in the Jaffna peninsula which are essential to sustain the two key elements of their strategy.

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