Sri Lanka: Loss of Killinochi- a major set back for the Sri Lankan army:
The loss of the twin towns of Killinochi and Paranthan on the Jaffna-Vavuniya highway is a major setback for the Sri Lankan army. Reports indicate that the LTTE claims of over 600 Sri Lankan soldiers killed appears to be correct as over 22 trucks were used to remove the dead on the first day by the Red Cross and 200 more remain to be handed over. Bodies which were not identifiable have been cremated by the LTTE themselves. A considerable number of wounded soldiers have also succumbed to the injuries.
The capture of the two towns by LTTE has been at a heavy cost to the LTTE by losing over 300 of their people amongst whom many were young girls. Thinning out of defences at Mankulam has also resulted in Sri Lankan army finally wresting control of Mankulam from LTTE.
However the capture of Mankulam has not improved the strategic position of Sri Lankan forces. Operation Jaye-sikuru was launched last year with the main objective of clearing the road from Jaffna to Vavuniya and isolating the LTTE to the eastern triangle of the Mullathivu district.
Mullathivu has been the traditional stronghold of LTTE and the long term objective of Sri Lankan army appeared to be to keep the LTTE bottled up in and around Mullathivu, in the area covering Thanniyoothu, Mulliyavilai and Puthukudirippu. This strategy was necessitated when two years ago the LTTE launched a major semi conventional attack on the Sri Lankan garrison at Mullathivu. There were heavy losses on both sides, but for the LTTE the casualties were worthwhile as it removed the Sri Lankan army presence from the entire area of eastern Mullathivu once and for all.
If the capture of Mankulam was to prevent the LTTE cadre movement from the western half to the eastern half of Mullathivvu, there is now a bigger yawning gap of over 15 Km, in the Killinochi-Paranthan sector to enable the LTTE to move freely all over Mullathivu district.
It is back to square one for the Sri Lankan army in its operation Jaye-sikuru and is a major setback. The Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga will be blamed for this disaster by the opposition party the UNP, though the latter is equally responsible for the current situation.
No one could have started on a better note than Chandrika when she assumed the post of President. She came to power only by the help of the Tamil votes and the expectations were that she would make a bold initiative to give meaningful space to the Tamils. Her package deal had many novel features. But in its passage through the political and bureaucratic labyrinth, it got diluted considerably and as before it is now "too little and too late". She has to carry the burden of past mistakes of the majority community and in a sense a prisoner of Sinhala history.
In this battle of wits between Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, there seems to be a lack of sincerity for a genuine political settlement from the two sides. What is offered by the majority Sinhala government gets progressively eroded by various pressure groups. Even the talks for a settlement are affected by the fortunes of the military in the north and east. When the Sri Lankan army is seemingly winning , there is no talk of negotiated settlement as a "military solution" appears in the horizon. When there are major setbacks in the field like the one earlier and now in Mullathivu, there is an offer of settlement. But then, why should the LTTE accept when are they are winning? This goes on.
In our view a military solution appears remote. Both sides will not be in a position to sustain the heavy casualties like the ones at the Killinochi battle. While comparing the strength of the Sri Lankan army with the Indian army, if in a single battle the Sri Lankan army has had 700 casualties as it happened in Killinochi and if projected proportionately to the Indian army, it would amount to a large figure of over 12,000 troops which is more than half a division. This is serious. For the LTTE also the casualties are irreplaceable. The supply is not inexhaustible.
Before any negotiated settlement is thought of , the majority Sinhalese will have to come to a consensus. For a brief period the previous conservative government of Great Britain, tried to get the opposition UNP around to accept any settlement made by the government in power. But their efforts fizzled out more due to lack of interest of both sides in Sri Lanka. Meantime the government changed in Britain. Powers like Norway, Great Britain, or Japan are in an ideal position to mediate, but LTTE being declared a "terrorist " outfit by USA, it is doubtful whether any open negotiation is possible.