How Lanka averted bid to cause Gaza-style incident

A so-called mercy mission was launched by the Tamil Diaspora on March 31, 2008 in London shortly after Sri Lanka opened a new front west of Vavuniya. Among the participants at the launch were several British MPs representing the Labour and Conservative parties and LTTE sympathizers. It was nothing but an international propaganda campaign targeting Sri Lanka in an effort to force an immediate halt to military offensive.

Shortly after the conclusion of the war in May last year, the Tamil Diaspora made an abortive bid to cause an incident in Sri Lankan waters similar to the recent Israeli ‘raid’ on a ship trying to run a naval blockade off Gaza.

Had Sri Lanka acted recklessly, the country would have played into the hands of those bent on hauling Sri Lankan military and political leaders before an international tribunal for spearheading war against LTTE terrorism. Now that the Israelis had caused another international furore close on the heels of the assassination of a top Hamas operative in a Dubai hotel, it would be pertinent to discuss whether the international community would go the whole hog to punish the Jewish State.

At a news conference in Tel Aviv, Israel’s military said all of the violence was centered on the lead boat, the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying 600 of the 700 activists involved in the attempt to challenge the blockade. Israeli forces took over the remaining five other boats without incident, the Israeli top brass were quoted by international wire services as saying.

Israel imposed a blockade in 2007 to thwart smuggling of arms, ammunition and equipment into Gaza.

In the wake of the Israeli raid which had caused several deaths and injuries to dozens of Palestinian activists, the way Sri Lanka handled the attempt by MV Captain Ali hired by the Tamil Diaspora to trigger an incident in Sri Lankan waters should be appreciated. To the credit of the then Navy Chief Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, the issue was handled well.

A senior government official told The Island that the navy had intercepted Captain Ali early June in the international waters off the Western coast and ordered the vessel to move into Sri Lankan waters. The vessel sent by Mercy Mission (UK) had complied with the SLN directive and soon found a 13-member search party on board the vessel. Although they did not find anything except relief cargo as claimed by the INGO, a section of the SLN team had stayed back on the detained ship for almost 110 hours until the UK charity negotiated for the release of the ship.

The navy went to the extent of deploying five vessels (SLNS Sayura, SLNS Nandimithra and three Fast Attack Craft) for the operation, though Captain Ali did not pose a threat. A navy official said: "We didn’t want to take any chance as the Tamil Diaspora could have done anything to attract international media attention in the wake of the battlefield defeat of the LTTE."

The army finished off LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon on May 19 morning last year.

Responding to a query by The Island, another official emphasised that the navy denied the Tamil Diaspora an opportunity to exploit what he called the Captain Ali affair. The Mercy Mission (UK) Chief Poorana Chandren, in a letter addressed to navy headquarters went to the extent of commending the navy for professional and courteous conduct and particularly polite treatment of the crew. Chandren also acknowledged that the ship had not followed the accepted protocol.

An officer said that no one would have expected the UK charity to thank the navy for being respectful when dealing with the crew though it failed to achieve its objectives.

An incident involving Captain Ali would have been ‘ammunition’ to those who are targeting Sri Lanka over alleged war crimes. Sources said that a single shot fired at the ship could have facilitated their attempt to investigate the conduct of Sri Lankan forces.

For want of credible evidence in relation to the killing of unarmed LTTE cadres as alleged by former Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka in the run-up to the January 26 presidential election, the LTTE sympathizers are struggling to build a case against Sri Lanka.

The presence of Samantha Power, Special Assistant to President Barack Obama on multilateral affairs and human rights, and David Pressman, National Security Council Director for War Crimes and Atrocities in Colombo for a five-day visit beginning June 14 is evidence of continuing pressure on Sri Lanka on the human rights front. The White House officials are scheduled to visit Jaffna and Batticaloa.

The Embassy said: "Their visit aims to continue last month’s productive dialogue between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and External Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris, in which both leaders discussed Sri Lanka’s path through economic renewal, accountability, and reconciliation to greater peace, prosperity, and a stronger partnership with the United States."

Japanese Special envoy Yashushi Akashi and B. Lynn Pascoe, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs are in Colombo for talks with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, other senior Government officials, Opposition and minority party representatives, Tamil leaders, media representatives and civil society groups.

The UN is also setting up a panel of experts as part of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law following last year’s end to the war. Although Sri Lanka has strongly opposed the move, the UN is likely to go ahead with the inquiry. Military sources said that the absence of reliable evidence was unlikely to discourage the UN and its backers, including the EU.

Diplomatic sources said that the vessels that tried to run an Israeli blockade too had not obtained the necessary clearance to reach the Israeli waters, promoting an unprecedented raid on one of the vessels. Recalling India’s infamous parrippu drop over Jaffna in the immediate aftermath of Operation Liberation, sources said that the IAF action followed the navy turning back Indian boats bringing in essential items to Jaffna.

As Sri Lanka celebrates the first anniversary of her magnificent victory over the LTTE on Friday (June 18) with a tri-services military parade, officialdom should not turn a blind eye to the threat posed by those sympathetic to the LTTE.

The navy played a pivotal role in the war against the LTTE. The navy hunted down LTTE ‘floating arsenals’ on the high seas, cut off the Mullaitivu coast during the final phase of the ground assault, liquidated key LTTE operatives, kept the sea line of communication between KKS/PPD and Trincomalee open, conducted successful intelligence operations and tackled hostile LTTE propaganda, primarily emanating from Tamil Nadu. Perhaps the most difficult task undertaken by the navy during the entire war was keeping the Trincomalee KKS/PPD sea route open since the mid 1990 after the army lost control of the Omanthai-Elephant Pass stretch of the Kandy-Jaffna road.

The navy also deployed ground troops in several areas in support of the overall war strategy and played a vital role in defensive action. Combining of Fast Attack Craft (FACs) and small boat operations is perhaps one of the most important developments achieved by the navy during the eelam war IV.

Navy headquarters on Tuesday released pictures of seven serving senior officers who had spearheaded the war against terror.

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