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Saturday, October 17, 2009

How a foreign power helped Navy sink Tiger vessels

Sri Lanka’s single most successful naval operation, which destroyed eight floating arsenals belonging to the LTTE, would not have been possible without the covert support of a foreign power, The Island learns.

Acting on specific information received from overseas, the Sri Lanka Navy had zeroed-in on four LTTE ships about 2,800 km south east of Dondra on September 10 and 11, 2007. Although one of the four vessels, believed to be the largest ship operated by the LTTE had escaped, the SLN blew up three. The SLN subsequently tracked down the missing vessel and sank it about 2,600 km south of Dondra on October 7, 2007. The destruction of four ships within weeks had helped Sri Lanka to cripple the arms procurement network.

Emphasising the importance of Sri Lanka’s relationship with the country concerned, authoritative sources said though the SLN could have tracked down the four vessels eventually, foreign support had made it possible within four weeks. That was the single largest blow experienced by the LTTE, as it battled the army on two fronts (57 Division and Task Force I, which launched operations in March and September, 2007) in the Vanni.

Sources said that Sri Lanka had, for about one and half years, sought foreign assistance, particularly from two countries ‘outside Asia’ to track down LTTE ships. Responding to The Island queries, they said that one of the countries had ultimately provided crucial information with regard to the location of four ships. The SLN had held talks with a top Colombo-based diplomat and also made representations to senior military representatives, in charge of the region.

The same country had also neutralised a major LTTE arms procurement ring which involved nationals from several countries. Had the LTTE succeeded in procuring a range of equipment, including SA-18 surface-to-missiles the war could have taken a different turn, sources said.

Early this year, Sri Lanka had sought assistance from that country to thwart LTTE attempts to move more than one ship load of arms. This was a few months before the army wiped out the LTTE on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon in May.

Sources said that the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), SIS, LTTE cadres captured by the SLN as well as external sources had contributed to the destruction of the two LTTE ships during former Navy Chief Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s tenure. A joint SLN and SLAF attack destroyed the first ship 225 kilometres off Kalmunai on September 17, 2006 and the second on February 28, 2007 675 kilometres south of Dondra.

The SLN, almost singlehanded, succeeded in tracking down two more ships which were destroyed 1,525 km south-east of Arugambay on March 18, 2007.

Sources added that between the operation in March 18, 2007 and the destruction of four ships in September and October, 2007, the Maldivian Coast Guard blew up an Indian trawler named Sri Krishna commandeered by the Sea Tigers. Sources said that at the time of the interception in the Maldivian waters, Sri Krshna had been carrying a consignment of ammunition obtained from the floating LTTE arsenals. Sri Lanka was grateful to the Maldives for allowing the SLN access to captured LTTE cadres, whose interrogation, too, contributed to subsequent operations aided by overseas support.

The Sri Lankan government had intervened recently to prevent the launch of a book on Eelam War IV by an Indian author at the Sri Lankan High Commission in New Delhi after it was found to be factually incorrect. The book wrongly asserted a direct Indian role in the destruction of eight LTTE ships whereas a country outside Asia provided the vital information.

The army had provided the information which enabled the SLN to destroy two LTTE ships off Mullaitivu in March and June, 2003 during Admiral Daya Sandagiri’s tenure as the navy chief. Sources pointed out that they had been the first successful operations since the LTTE blew up MV Mariamma 190 nautical miles west of Nicobar on March 11, 1998.

The SLN had alerted the Indian Navy regarding the presence of MV Mariamma as Sri Lanka did not have ships capable of conducting operations on high seas. Sri Lanka acquired a real off-shore capacity in 2000.

Today, the SLN operates several Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), including three acquired from India. The Indian vessels had played an important role in operations directed against the LTTE shipping fleet, sources said.
 

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