PTA arrests expose covert operation - paper

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 08 January 2002, 00:49 GMT]
(News Feature) The arrest last week of members of an elite commando unit of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) on suspicion they were planning to assassinate the Prime Minister has blown the cover of an important covert operation to assassinate senior members of the Liberation Tigers, the Sunday Time reported this week. The arrests of members of a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) group came despite efforts by the SLA high command to prevent the raid on the soldiers’ safe house, the paper said.

Five SLA soldiers, including a captain, and a Tamil informant alleged to be a former cadre of the LTTE, along with a large quantity of weapons were taken into custody from a safe house in Athurugirya rented by the military. Along with small arms, anti-tank weapons and several claymore mines, sixty-six new LTTE uniforms were also found at the house, the paper said.

The soldiers are being detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and interrogated at a secret location in Kandy. They are all said to be held in a single room located close to an unhygienic toilet, the paper said.

Sri Lanka’ Interior Minister, John Amaratunga, justified the raid by a combined team of civil and military police and said that initial details pointed to a plan by soldiers, loyal to former deputy defence minister Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte, to assassination Mr Wickremesinghe.

The United National Party (UNP) alleges that thermo-baric weapons had been brought from the operational areas in the North to the Panaluwa Army Testing Range and that cadres attached to a Northern Tamil Political Party were being trained in their use. The training, the UNP alleged, was being co-ordinated by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) together with Army instructors specially flown from the north with the intention of using these weapons on the meetings held by the UNP leadership and their leader's campaign bus.

The Sunday Times learnt that men who were trained at Panaluwa were those engaged in the LRRP operations based at the Athurugirya safe house. However, the newspaper accused a group within the DMI of being responsible for instigating the raid on the location for political gain. The paper also said that SLA chief Lt. Gen. Balagalle telephoned Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku to call off the raid, but was unsuccessful.

The Sunday Times revealed that the SLA unit had carried out its operations from the safe house in Athrugiriya, penetrating deep within LTTE held territory. Their area of activity was the Batticaloa district. They were assisted in crossing the lines by the Special Task Force (STF), the counter-insurgency arm of the police, the Sunday Times said.

The Liberation Tigers’ political leader, Mr. S.P Thamil Chelvan was the target of two failed assassination attempts by SLA deep penetration teams, one of which was while he was en route to meet a Norwegian peace delegation for talks.

LRRP teams are also responsible for the assassination of Lt Col. Nizam (Thambirasa Kuhasanthan) the LTTE Military Intelligence Wing leader for the East, reported the Sunday Times. The killing of Col. Shankar, a close confidante of LTTE leader, Vellupillai Pirapaharan, was another high profile assassination attributed to LRRP units.

The deep penetration teams are also accused of the murder and abduction of Tamil civilians in LTTE controlled areas. On 22 May 2001, four civilians were shot dead by a SLA deep penetration team north of Batticaloa. On 2 April 2001 five civilians were abducted by a SLA deep penetration team in the same area. Later on 25 April nine civilians, including three women who were farming activities were also abducted in Kaaverikulam. In May last year, one civilian was killed and three were reported missing in an attack by a Sri Lanka army Deep Penetration team near Mathurankerni Kulam.

The Sunday Times newspaper said the LRRP teams work with ex-LTTE cadres. In the past, some of these cadres have turned out to be infiltrators. A trooper of a Sri Lanka army deep penetration group was killed by another member of the unit in August last year, who then escaped into LTTE held territory. Three senior operatives of the unit conducting deep penetration raids in the Batticaloa district were killed in a suicide bomb attack in the heart of Batticaloa town on 15 November.

The LRRP unit members have been hailed as national heroes by the SLA, which has expressed dismay at their arrest and subsequent treatment in the hands of the police. “These soldiers had in the past risked their lives for the sake of safeguarding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the motherland,” the Sri Lanka Army said in an official statement.

The Lanka Academic online newspaper reported that morale in SLA had been hit hard by the arrests. "The morale of the army is very low after this incident. It is sad the way these people are treated and it is definitely a victory for the LTTE," the Lanka Academic quoted on one officer as saying. "Why are the people keeping quiet when we are treated like this?" asked another. "The situation should have been handled in a more matured manner," a high-ranking Army source told the Lanka Academic.

The Sunday Times’ respected defence columnist, Iqbal Athas, echoed the SLA’s sentiment. “All of them [LRRP troopers] are in one room and have to tolerate the ignominy of a stinking toilet whilst they answer questions from their interrogators,” he protested.


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