By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The small but strategic township of Sampoor in the Muthur East division of Trincomalee district came under the control of Sri Lankan armed forces around noon on Monday September 4th. There was no resistance as troops advanced cautiously because the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had vacated Sampoor ivernight after having moving out its heavy artillery earlier.
The Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) commenced a massive operation to retake Sampoor exactly a week ago on Monday August 28th. In a battle of mixed fortunes both GOSL and LTTE fighters inflicted heavy damage on each other and also won and lost territory.
The security forces however pushed relentlessly forward to Sampoor after taking a couple of “breathers’ on two days to rest and consolidate acquired territory.
With the GOSL pumping in more men and materials on the one hand and the beleaguered tigers in Sampoor region not receiving reinforcements from the North the result of the Sampoor battle became obvious. The ground based drive of the army was supported vy intensive artillery fire, aerial bombardment and naval gun boat shelling.
The armed forces moved forward along the coastal areas in what was clearly a battle weighed in their favour. As the LTTE began losing ground in Kattaiparichan, Senaiyoor, Ambalnagar and Ganeshapuram it became certain that the LTTE had to move out of Sampoor or face encirclement.
The LTTE began moving out its heavy, long range artillery pieces on Friday and Saturday night while offering resistance to advancing troops. On Sunday Sep 3rd night the LTTE moved out clandestinely from Sampoor township and outlying areas.
Security forces realised that the LTTE had abandoned Sampoor on Monday Sep 4th morning. Fearing a trap the troops did not rush in but moved forward along the coast cautiously while being on the look out for landmines and booby traps.
Soldiers also destroyed the bunkers and artillery positions found along the way. Security forces had taken over the small Sampoor town by noon on the 4th and were proceeding further along the coast slowly.
LTTE vacating Sampoor on the 4th was another stroke of luck for President Mahinda Rajapakse who was presiding over the 55th year party convention of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in Colombo. A beaming Rajapakse broke the news that the army had retaken Sampoor to wildly cheering and applauding gathering. Rajapakse also repeated his familiar chant that the GOSL was fighting a defensive war. [Picture: DailyMirror.lk]
Though Sampoor is a small township with a main street, some buildings and a few lanes the surrounding areas are of strategic importance. The Sampoor region is about 19 square miles in area. The LTTE had fourteen camps and three naval bases in the region and also its Trincomalee district political and military headquarters.
The tigers had reportedly stationed one 130 mm, two 122mm and four 120 mm in the Sampoor regions. A number of well – camouflaged platforms were constructed along the coast. The tigers used to shift the heavy artillery from place to place amid great difficulty.
Despite intensive bombardment and shelling the armed forces were unable to silence or destroy these batteries.They have all been relocated to the Verugal – Vaaharai region on the Trincomalee – Batticaloa district border.
It was the presence of this artillery battery which made Sampoor strategically important as the LTTE could target China Bay and Trincomalee harbour across Kottiyaar bay from here. The LTTE did do so on at least two occasions in August thereby adding a sense of urgency to GOSL plans of retaking Sampoor.
What remains puzzling to many is the conduct of the LTTE hierarchy regarding the Sampoor battle. Though tiger spokespersons stated that they will not give up Sampoor the Wanni leadership did not send any reinforcements. No counter strikes or ocounter offensives were launched.
[SLMM head Ulf Henricsson with Mr.Elilan and representatives of Tamil civilians at Maavil Aaru area to open the sluice gates on Aug 6th. - TamilNet Photo]
The tigers in Sampoor were virtually abandoned by Kilinochchi and it is indeed a manifestation of tiger grit and courage that LTTE cadres were able to resist military advances for seven days.
The GOSL troops are currently moving along the Sampoor coast towards Ilakkanthai. Security forces have now about 75 % of the Sampoor region under control. Most of these are littoral areas.
Though the tigers have vacated Sampoor they are still present in hinterland areas of Muthur East. The LTTE launched a mortar fire blitz against the army camp at Selvanagar on Monday. Two soldiers were killed and several injured.
The GOSL is projecting an impression that a major victory has been achieved and that vanquished tigers are on the run. The South is being told that the tiger “menace” in Sampoor is over. It is also being stated that Trincomalee and China Bay are safe now.
These assumptions could be proven wrong in the long run.
While the army consolidates captured areas of Sampoor the LTTE may very well launch guerilla incursions in the days to come. Though the LTTE vacated Sampoor it has not lost many men or important military assets. The tigers are down but not out in Sampoor.
Also the LTTE has in the past conducted operations in China Bay and Trincomalee without territorial control of Sampoor. It may very well do so even now.
The LTTE has admitted tacitly in a letter to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission that Sampoor has been taken over by the army and that it is a ceasefire violation. The LTTE has inquired as to why the SLMM remains silent so far and has not condemned the action so far.
The tigers had also sent an urgent message to Norwy on Friday Sep 1st warnig the four co – chairs that the LTTE will consider quitting the peace process formally if Sampoor fell to the army. Colombo however did not take this word of caution seriously and went ahead with its plans.
LTTE Defence Affairs spokesperson Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan has said that the LTTE hierarchy was seriously engaged in reviewing the current status of the ceasefire.
Meanwhile S. Elilan, Trincomalee tiger political Commissar has said that the army is only in possession of the coastal areas of Sampoor. The LTTE according to Elilan is still fighting the army and is re- positioning itself in the interior areas.
The GOSL is also trying to paint a humanitarian picture of its military operation by saying that displaced Muslims from Muthur and Thopoor will be re- settled as a result of Sampoor being retaken.
What is deliberately ignored is the terrible onslaught by the security forces against Tamil civilians in Muthur East from April 25th onwards. Aerial bombardment by the Air Force, Artillery fire by the Army and Gunboat shelling by the navy continued sporadically for months.
The final ground based offensive on Aug 28th was the culmination of a prolonged, cruel campaign where the civilians underwent great destruction, deahs and displacement.
According to LTTE figures 93 Tamil civilans have been killed and 215 injured in LTTE controlled regions of Muthur East and Eechilampattru from April 25th. Over 66, 000 Tamils in the region have been displaced to Batticaloa. 12 villages with a population of about 15, 000 have been totally destroyed while almost all other villages are greatly affected.
The GOSL has use security as an excuse to prevent foof, medicine, aid etc from reaching the affected areas. NGO’s and media are not allowed in while a military campaign of genocidal proportions is conducted.
International Humanitarian law has been defiantly flouted. All sense of proportionality regarding use of force has been disregarded. Moreover the Rajapakse regime has boldly stated that it’s military objectives openly and followed suit.
Even now plans are afoot to de – populate the strategic Sampoor region of Tamils and set up a high security zone for the military extending from Muthur jetty to Ilakkanthai. Muslims will be resettled in Muthur and Thoppoor as a “buffer”.
The Rajapakse regime will orchestrate a jubiliant victory celebration of Sampoor in the days to come. What is not realised is that this “victory” is in reality a great crime against humanity. Organizations like the Amnesty International which issued a critique of Israel in Lebanon should examine what went on in Muthur East critically and condemn both the GOSL and LTTE for their conduct.
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September 4th, 2006