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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
These people have little choice
22 June 1997
The LTTE has been stepping up pressure on three sectors in the east. They are, the Sinhala areas on or near the border of the Batticalao district, the Main Supply Route to Batticaloa and the border zones of northern Trincomalee.
Of these, the strategic Valaichenai junction where the Main Supply Route to Batticaloa which runs west-east through Polonnaruwa, Manampitiya and Welikanda takes a turn to the south along the coast to Batticaloa town is the highest conflict intensity zone in the northeast. Soldiers, Policemen, homeguards and civilians die almost daily here. This has been the case since late last year. A brief overview of some incidents which occurred here this month in the course of eighteen days will give one an idea of the intensity of the violence.
1) June 2 - nine policemen killed in Tiger ambush. Sixty seven houses damaged, eighteen civilians wounded and one killed by mortar fire from police and army camps in the area.
2) June 4 - army shells the Naasivanthivu island in the Valaichenai estuary. Eight civilians including six school children wounded. One dead. Local school building destroyed.
3) June 8 - The LTTE fires on the Valaichenai ASP's office. One civilian wounded in the ensuing cross fire.
4) June 9 - Six soldiers killed in Tiger ambush. Heavy shelling, according to the local MP, from the ASP's office in the direction of Peythalai in which nine persons are wounded and one killed in the Vinayagapuram refugee camp. Two more civilians killed in other parts of the area in the firing at Kannakipuram and Kinnaiday.
5) June 10 - Shops in the local market robbed and set fire to.
6) June 15- Severe shelling from some camps in the area. Six civilians wounded.
The shelling from the camps occur daily. The Valaichenai junction on the MSR to Batticaloa is deemed so important strategically that the government has concentrated ten army camps and five police camps in and around it in addition to numerous posts and checkpoints. Valaichenai is also covered by the large Karadikkulam camp to the town's west in the interior which serves as the main artillery firing base for this zone. The town has two main approach roads. Both have been closed. One can enter Valaichenai today only through a detour which winds through the densely populated Muslim parts of the area. The vital Oddamavadi bridge is another key factor in the zone's strategic balance.
The military will lose its grip on the Batticaloa district substantially if the junction falls to the LTTE. Despite the high concentration of army and police camps in this relatively small part of the district, the LTTE has been able to steadily increase its strength and activities in the general area of Valaichenai and particularly within the triangle formed by roads to Kalkudah (see map). The LTTE now roams in broad daylight in villages which lie in the interior of the triangle and are surrounded by two army camps and a police station in the heart of the town, the main police station, and army camps in Kinnaiadi, the paper factory, Navaladi junction, Usanaar Aeyththam, Kalkudah (the police also has a camp here), Kalmadu, Kumburumoolai, and in the Valaichenai fisheries harbour.
The Razeek group also has a camp in the town. (This 'outfit' comprising EPRLF members operates with the army). The army is not too inclined to enter the villages in the strategic triangle from where the LTTE operates. It appears that this attitude stems not only from the severe shortage of troops and the limitations of the police but from what the army thinks is the LTTE's military capability in the area. In April the army lost seventeen soldiers in a pitched battle near Kalmadu. Later on the day of this confrontation they took on an army column that tried to move from the Kinnaiady camp disabling a armoured vehicle with RPG fire. What may have been alarming to the army was the fact that the attack groups of the LTTE did not make an attempt to withdraw out of the triangle to the western hinterland dominated by as had invariably been the case in the past but had stayed on challenging the army to further confrontations.
The basic problem in keeping the Valaichenai junction secure, even with the high concentration of security forces positions, is the almost overwhelming manner in which it is hemmed in by Tiger dominated regions. The LTTE, therefore, can enter the triangle of the junction at will. The aim is obvious - to saturate the triangle militarily and critically curtail the mobility of the police and the army gradually.
Male and female Tigers in uniform came to shop in the Valaichenai market recently. They informed the terrified civilians, some of whom took to their heels fearing an attack on one of the army and police positions, that they were there only to buy provisions. The Razeek group and the army have told the townspeople to bring the market back to its former premises. (This was relocated following the Muslim-Tamil problem early this year).
The LTTE has blocked the move. The people of Valaichenai have little choice. It looks as if the LTTE is working towards inducing the eventual collapse of the Valaichenai junction and thereby strangle one of the government's vital Main Supply Routes in the east.