LTTE throws down a gauntlet

[TamilNet, Thursday, 17 July 1997, 23:59 GMT]
The Tamil Tigers have unequivocally said that they will target Sri Lankan ships supplying the Sri Lankan forces occupying the Jaffna peninsula. In a press release distributed by its London office, the LTTE has said it will do 'its utmost' to interdict Sri Lankan supply lines.

In a clear declaration of their intentions, the Tigers said yesterday that they consider the ships that shuttle from Jaffna to the south of the island as legitimate military targets. The press release quoted a policy statement issued by the Tiger leadership via the official periodical Viduthalai Puligal [Liberation Tigers].

Clearly irritated by the Sir Lankan government's claim that the ships interdicted by the LTTE in the past few weeks were 'civilian' or 'refugee' craft, the Tiger statement declared "We cannot be party to the government ruse of shipping war materials to Jaffna under the pretext of supplying food and necessities to the [Tamil] people" and went on to say "the LTTE has no option but to regard these military-servicing ships as legitimate military targets."

"Sri Lanka is declaring that the people of Jaffna are being pampered, fed and clothed. But the real situation is far different. The government is mainly engaged in feeding, clothing and equipping its Sinhala army of occupation in the peninsula while the Tamil inhabitants of Jaffna do not enter into its calculations at all," the statement also said.

The Sri Lankan government claims that the Tiger attacks on two supply ships were 'acts of desperation' as a result of the Sinhalese military offensive in the Vanni. However, the offensive has been stalled by two devastating Tiger counter attacks. Furthermore, the Sri Lankan government's dismissive claims belie its concern: the Sinhalese garrison in Jaffna is reliant on the sea-borne supplies as the SLAF has lost too many aircraft to maintain an air-bridge.

The Sri Lankan military is also reliant on the sea bridge to rotate the troops in and out of the peninsula. By stating its intention to effectively maroon the Sinhalese troops on the peninsula, the Tigers will be scoring a psychological victory: they have the means to carry out their threat.

The LTTE's naval wing, the Sea Tigers have been developed from a transport service into an elite fighting service which designs and builds its own gunboats, has its own commando units and has acquitted itself well in combat.

The Sri Lankans have been using foreign registered ships as they do not have sufficient supply ships of their own. Many Sri Lankan ships have been lost in Sea Tiger attacks whilst anchored within SLN bases and at sea.

The Sri Lankans may also have been hoping that by using foreign nationals to crew their supply ships, they could deter Tiger attacks. The Tigers detained a supply ship crewed by 38 North Koreans and another with Indonesian officers.

The Sri Lankan military will have to escort any future supply runs. Deploying one or two gunboats has proved ineffective. Though not as well armed as the Israeli built Dvoras, the Sea Tiger boats have been able to use numbers to disperse the SLN gunboats' firepower and destroy them. The Sri Lankans will have to deploy several crafts to protect each supply run.

The convoy would be at risk even before it sailed - Sea Tiger commandos have penetrated 3 out of the navy's 4 main naval bases. The convoy would also have to swing wide off the Tamil coastline to avoid marauding raids by Sea Tiger gunboats.

The Tigers have often laid large mines in the path of Sri Lankan convoys and have enticed Sri Lankan gunboats on to the devices. It is believed that the Tigers have even sunk Sri Lankan gunboats by deploying a T-55 tank (captured from the Sri Lankan army) on a beach.

Assuming the convoy reaches the Jaffna peninsula safely, the empty ships will have to be escorted back as well: both ships interdicted by the Tigers recently were returning from Jaffna.

The Sri Lankan air force may also be used to provide cover, but it does not have sufficient aircraft to support offensives in the Tamil homelands and to protect supply runs simultaneously. At least 16 transports, fighter-bombers and helicopters have been lost since this phase of the war started in 1995.

The LTTE intensified its campaign for independence following the island wide pogrom against Tamils in July 1983. Over 50,000 Tamil civilians have been killed in the government's attempts to crush the Tamil struggle. In the 1977 elections, the Tamil people of the island voted overwhelmingly for parties supporting independence from Sri Lanka.


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