Civilians are intended SLAF targets

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 19 August 1997, 23:59 GMT]
The recent attacks on Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan Air Force aircraft are not a recent phenomenon. The SLAF has routinely attacked civilians throughout the conflict, hitting villages, schools, places of worship, houses and fishing boats with impunity. The attacks on Tamil civilians are an integral part of the Sri Lankan war strategy designed to induce war weariness in the Tamil populace.

The SLAF mounts daily harassment raids across the north and east of the island, targeting Tamil civilian centres. Although the choice of targets is often arbitrary (and hence more terrifying), the overall aim of the campaign is to break the Tamil populace's will to continue to defy Colombo's rule.

At times of intense fighting, when the Sri Lankan military is launching a major offensive or is facing a major LTTE attack, Tamil towns and villages are deliberately flattened by bombing and shelling, in order to provoke the mass displacement of civilians. As well as clogging roads (thereby hampering LTTE logistics), the refugees force the LTTE to divert resources to manage a potential humanitarian crisis.

The air attacks, combined with widespread shelling from SLA artillery bases ensure that death and destruction are regularly visited on the Tamil people. Eventually - it is hoped - the Tamil people will pressure the LTTE into giving up the armed struggle against Sinhalese domination.

The parts of the Tamil homelands which are not under Sri Lankan government control are effectively treated as 'free-strike' zones where SLAF aircraft can unload their ordnance at will. The Sri Lankan government has banned the international press from entering the 'affected areas' thereby ensuring the horrific civilian casualties and the widespread destruction does not draw adverse international publicity.

In recent years, the LTTE has built up its anti aircraft capability, according to western analysts, using surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), heavy machine guns and cannon. Both ground based and naval anti-aircraft have proved effective at protecting LTTE troop movements and operations.

The LTTE has also constructed many of its jungle bases and camps to either be impervious to repeated SLAF bombing (basing much of the structures deep underground) or difficult to detect, using the dense jungle canopy as cover.

The SLAF has therefore focused on hitting visible targets, which are the Tamil towns and villages. By hitting the structures which are prominent, the SLAF has destroyed Tamil schools, places of worship and hospitals. Ironically these are the very locations that the Sri Lankan government orders the Tamil civilians to take shelter in during Sri Lankan ground offensives.

Thousands of Tamil civilians have been killed in deliberate SLAF attacks in the past few years. The SLAF has destroyed hundreds of Tamil houses in deliberate strikes. Before the SLA captured the Jaffna peninsula, the area was subject to repeated air strikes for several years.

The LTTE has attempted to build thousands of air raid shelters, that have proved remarkably effective at reducing civilian casualties. However, in recent times, the fast moving SLAF Kfir jets have caught people in the open, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians.

The SLAF has not been effective in the close-air-support role, often being thwarted by intense anti-aircraft fire from LTTE units or bombing so inaccurately as to pose a danger to Sri Lankan troops themselves. During the bitter fighting near Mullaitivu in July 1996, at least 10 SLA commandos were killed by SLAF bombers and another 20 were killed by SLAF gunship fire.

The Sri Lankan air force uses several different aircraft types. Its bombing sorties are typically carried out by Argentinean Puccaras, Chinese-made F7 and Israeli-made Kfirs. Sri Lankan transport have also been used to throw out barrels filled with burning tar or excrement.

The Puccara is a twin turbo-prop that carries a mixture of rockets and bombs. The F7 and Kfir jets can carry several tons of bombs. The SLAF also deploys Ukrainian-made Mi-24 gunships, which strafe villages and refugee columns with ease.

The SLAF uses 250kg bombs, which are manufactured locally to minimise cost. These are often unreliable (at least one SLAF aircraft is believed to have been destroyed when a bomb detonated in flight). Unexploded bombs pose a severe danger to civilians, preventing refugees from returning to their homes once an air raid is over.

The widespread bombing is an important part of the Sri Lanka's war in the homelands. The jets and gunships are intended to instill a sense of insecurity in the Tamil populace. However this insecurity is playing into the LTTE's hands, as Tamil youths flock to join the LTTE, seeking an opportunity to strike back at their airborne tormentors.


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