SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
The faltering truce in Sri Lanka was brought under tremendous pressure last week when the Nordic truce monitors temporarily suspended monitoring in the sea, following an attack by the Tigers on a convoy of Sri Lankan naval crafts off the Jaffna Peninsula on May 11, 2006.
A cluster of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Sea Tigers boats, including 12 armed boats and 12 boats with suicide cadres, attacked the convoy south east of the Peninsula. Four Navy gun boats were providing security for MV Pearl Cruiser, which was transporting 690 troops to Jaffna, when the attack occurred. The main target was the troop carrier which sailed into Indian waters while the Navy gun boats engaged the Sea Tigers. One attack craft with 18 on board was lost in the battle. However, the troop carrier, which was assured of its safety by the Indian Navy in the event that the Sea Tigers pursued it into Indian waters, arrived safely in Jaffna later that night.
There were at least three monitors on board the vessels in the convoy and the boats were running the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) flag as well. Soon after the attack, the SLMM headquarters in Colombo held discussions on the safety of the monitors and a day later decided to suspend monitoring in the sea.
In effect, despite missing out its main target, the Tigers have achieved a temporary military victory. With no monitors on board, Navy vessels would now be even more vulnerable on the seas close to Tiger held areas in the North East. The Government has to use the sea route to supply troops in the Jaffna Peninsula, given the Tigers control of parts of the main land access route.
But while it was a military victory, it was a political and diplomatic disaster for the Tigers. The US, European Union and UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, all condemned the attack and the Government was hopeful that it would put more pressure on the EU to ban the Tigers.
The attack on the Navy convoy came just three weeks after the attempt on Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka inside Army Headquarters in Colombo. The commander survived the attack and is expected to resume duties soon. After both attacks, the Government deployed jets and attack helicopters from the Air Force to bomb Tiger territory.
After the May 11 attack, jets bombed an airstrip operated by the Tigers at Ernamadu, close to its political headquarters in Kilinochchi. Tiger sources in Kilinochchi confirmed the bombings but denied that the airstrip had come under attack.
Last week witnessed the continuation of violence that first escalated head on December 4, 2005, when an Army convoy was attacked with a claymore mine at Koddavil in Jaffna, killing seven soldiers. The bloodletting continued till late January, when Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim was able to bring a temporary halt. In fact the two sides recommenced negotiations after an almost three-year hiatus in Geneva shortly thereafter. However, the negotiations soon descended into bickering and exchange of charges.
Between December and January, 120 persons, including 80 services personnel, were killed. The second bout of violence commenced in April, soon after the murder of a prominent pro-Tiger Tamil civilian activist in Trincomalee. More than 100 persons have been killed since, and there appears to be no end to the violence.
The head of the SLMM, Ulf Henricsson, said soon after the Navy attack that there was a low intensity war going on in Sri Lanka. His monitors have had to duck for cover at least twice in the last week. Once during the naval confrontations and, just 48 hours earlier, in the eastern district of Batticaloa, when they were caught in Army mortar fire inside Tiger areas.
The Tigers appear to be hardening their stance as each day passes. Just before the Naval attack, they issued a last warning to monitors not to get on to Government boats:
After the attack, the verbal posturing continued, even after the SLMM observed that, according to the 2002 truce, the Tigers had no rights over the sea. Tiger political wing head S.P. Tamilselvan, however, insisted that the organization was not prepared to take orders from the Nordic monitors and felt that that the LTTE had sovereign rights over the land they controlled as well as the adjoining sea and air. The Sea Tigers leader, Soosai, stated:
The Tigers claim that they control a vast stretch of sea in the north east of the island. They possess a large fleet of shallow-sea crafts, some fitted with powerful guns, under their Sea Tiger wing and, according to Government intelligence sources, at least 22 deep-sea vessels registered under front companies. Soosai himself disclosed that 1,200 Sea Tigers have died in battles.
Apart from the rhetoric, the Tigers want access to the sea in the east to keep the lifeline of supplies open. They use fishing vessels and other craft to offload cargo in mid-sea from ships and transport them to bases. At least one such vessel has been attacked during the truce, and the Sri Lankan Navy has placed a permanent cordon operation in the eastern waters to prevent the smuggling. The sea, in effect, remains the main lifeline for the Tigers who find themselves in control of a land-locked swathe of territory in the north and north central parts of the country. Both sides need access to the north eastern seas if not for anything but to keep supplies flowing.
Both the Government and the Tigers are increasingly talking of limited military operations. President Mahinda Rajapakse warned, on May 11, that no one should underestimate his resolve.
The international community, which has been playing a pivotal role in keeping the truce in place at least on paper, indicated on May 10 that there were limitations to its capacities and tolerance. Japanese special envoy Yasushi Akashi said that it was up to the two sides to decide whether it was going to be war or peace. With such talk going around, Sri Lanka is increasing bracing for more violence rather any breakthrough in the stalled negotiations.
Bodos Troubled Politics
The election results of May 11, 2006, brought in new, though not unanticipated, power players into Assams Legislative Assembly, and, if their current demands are even partially met, possibly into the States Government; players, moreover, who were, not long ago, designated as terrorists, and had relentlessly waged war against the state and the democracy that has now catapulted them into the arguable position of kingmakers. The Hagrama Mohilary faction of the Bodo Peoples Progressive Front (BBPF-H), with its leadership comprising principally of surrendered militants of the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), secured an overwhelming victory in the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) areas, capturing 12 out of the 18 seats it contested in the 126-member Assam Assembly. The centrality of this victory is underlined by the fact that Chief Minister Tarun Gogois Congress Party has returned to power with drastically reduced margins, and just 53 seats in the Assembly, well below the halfway mark, making it dependent on BBPFs support to form a Government. Cashing in on this dependency, the BBPF has demanded its pound of flesh, demanding at least four ministerial berths and the post of a Deputy Chief Minister in the new Government. The BBPF-Hs arch-rival, the Rabiram Narzary faction, BBPF-R, also won a solitary seat from Tamulpur. The Assembly election results, in combination with the outcome of the May 2005 elections to the BTC, put the BBPF-H in firm control of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) areas, and of Bodo politics, raising piquant questions, not only of legitimacy and moral authority, of the policy of creating autonomous areas and councils under pressure from violent political groupings, but more urgently, regarding the ongoing talks with the other Bodo militant group, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), that is currently negotiating the terms of its return to mainstream politics with the Centre.
The policy of satisfying militant demands through the establishment of autonomous councils has failed repeatedly in redressing public grievances and meeting popular aspirations in the Northeast and is failing yet again in Assams Bodo dominated areas. The war of attrition between former brothers in arms, the BLT and the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU), has ensured that the objective of providing good governance to the Bodo population through the arrangements enshrined in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution has again fallen prey to the political ambitions of factional leaders. This schism has, moreover, created enough space for the NDFB currently operating under a ceasefire agreement with the Government to reclaim its position among the sections of the Bodo population.
The formation of the BTC on December 7, 2003, had brought an end to the three-year dialogue process between the BLT and the Government of India and raised fresh hopes that good governance, now to be administered by the Bodos themselves, would keep militant and secessionist tendencies at bay. The BTC, in fact, was a repetition of a similar experiment in 1993, which went awry. Following the first Bodo Accord of 1993, a Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) had been established, but that hurriedly signed accord faltered on various counts, the most significant being the absence of a clear-cut geographical boundary for the BAC, which led eventually to its denunciation by the Bodo groups who were initially parties to the Agreement.
With the failure of the BAC, the statehood demand was once again revived by a new brand of militancy led by the BLT, which scorched the Bodo heartland of Assam. The violence diminished, however, after the BLT declared a unilateral ceasefire in July 1999 in response to the Union Governments appeal for talks. After a series of negotiations, the BLT gave up the demand for a separate Bodoland state on October 2, 2001, and reconciled themselves to political-administrative arrangements for autonomy under the Sixth Schedule.
The successful end to the negotiations witnessed one of the largest surrender ceremonies in the country on December 6, 2003, when 2,641 BLT militants bade farewell to arms at Kokrajhar town. A 12-member interim BTC, led by the former chief of the now disbanded BLT, Hagrama Mohilary, was constituted at Kokrajhar, but the rehabilitation of surrendered BLT cadres remained a difficult task. Indeed, about half of them had already been recruited into the paramilitary forces (Central Reserve Police Force - 339, Border Security Force - 300, Assam Rifles- 150, and another 400 as Special Police Officers) as a part of the Agreement reached on the eve of the formation of the Council. However, failure to provide compensation packages to the remaining surrendered cadres continues to rankle.
The Council had tremendous challenges before it. However, cooperation between the BLT and the ABSU was seen as sufficient to tide over such challenges. There was also the challenge of the non-Bodos who, under the Sanmilita Jana Gosthiya Sangram Samity (SJSS), an amalgam of 18 non-Bodo organizations, spearheaded an agitation against the BTC. In addition, there was a funds crunch that affected the timely implementation of development projects. Power, however, remained a great cohesive force for some time, giving Mohilary, the BTC chief executive, the confidence to claim, on June 2, 2005, that he would change the fate of the Bodoland in three years time.
The NDFB, however, remains an abiding challenge to the political arrangement arrived at with the BLT. Differences between the NDFB and former BLT leaders and cadres have resulted in a continuous stream of fratricidal clashes, despite the disarming of the latter, and the ceasefire with the former. On December 6, 2003, the NDFB had specifically opposed the formation of the BTC, terming it as an exercise in futility and warning people that this was a move against the interests of the Bodo community. An NDFB statement issued to the local media declared: The creation of the council was an exercise in futility and will go down in history as the day a group of opportunists surrendered the Bodo dream before New Delhi.
As expected, elections to the Council were not held in time, and when held, on May 13, 2005, were marred by violence, with at least one person killed and another 26 injured in poll-related clashes.
The high hopes of the Bodos following the formation of the BTC were quickly shattered when former BLT leaders fell out with the former leaders of the ABSU in their bid to control Bodo politics. The nascent Bodo Peoples Progressive Front (BBPF), formed at Kokrajhar on April 12, 2005, at the behest of the ABSU and former BLT militants, underwent a sudden split on the eve of the Council elections. The divide in the BPPF came mainly as a result of Mohilarys support to some former militant comrades who had contested Council elections as independent candidates against official candidates of the BBPF. Manoj Kumar Brahma, one of Mahilarys close confidents, for instance, was pitted against Rabiram Narzary, the founding president of the BPPF, at Banargaon. Nevertheless, on June 2, 2005, an 11-member Executive Council headed by Mahilary was sworn in at Kokrajhar, to run the 46-member BTC.
Post-poll violence continued to rock the Bodo heartland with two rival BPPF factions engaged in violent clashes attacking villages, torching houses and indulging in vandalism. A sampling of some of the incidents in the month of April in the current year alone provides an index of the relentless strife:
The split in the BPPF and subsequent clashes between the supporters of the two factions have been a boon for the NDFB, which has consolidated its lost position among the Bodos. Its ceasefire with the Government has also raised hopes that the outfit might be able to secure a better deal than the present BTC though it is difficult to see what more the Government could offer. When the NDFB signed the ceasefire agreement with the Union and State Governments on May 25, 2005, there was jubilation within a large section of the Bodo community. However, the proposed negotiations are expected to be difficult, since the outfit is yet to give up its original demand for a sovereign state of Bodoland.
Ominously, the BPPF-R is now entering into what appears to be a stable alliance with the NDFB. The formation of the Bodoland Peoples Progressive Youth Front and the Bodoland Peoples Progressive Womens Front by the BPPF (Hagrama Mohilary faction) on January 28, 2006, was widely perceived as a reaction to the BPPF-R announcement that it would go for an electoral understanding with the NDFB in the then scheduled Assam State Assembly elections. Declaring his affiliation to the NDFB on the eve of the elections, Rabiram Narzary stated: The NDFB also needs candidates to air their views. They can back some of their chosen ones. There are options open for an understanding with them. However, he said his party did not want to use the NDFB as a means to ensure victory.
With the BPPF having secured dominance in the BLT and now gaining a stranglehold in the Governing coalition at Guwahati, its power in Bodo politics will be difficult to challenge for the next five years. Other political formations will, consequently, be increasingly tempted to violence to undermine this influence, even as the Government will have little to offer the surviving Bodo militant group, the NDFB, to secure its return to democratic politics. The divisions within Bodo politics are violent and wide, and appear destined to become more so in the foreseeable future.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
May 08 - 14, 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
PULF Commander-in-Chief shot dead in Manipur: Assam Rifles personnel shot dead the Peoples United Liberation Front (PULF) Commander-in-Chief Bashir Lashkar alias Muthi alias Moti along with his deputy home secretary Mohammad Shafi alias Rami in an encounter at Kakmayai under Yairipok police station limits in the Thoubal district on May 11, 2006. Two 9mm pistols, with 12 live rounds, two mobile phones, some other equipment and documents, along with extortion notes, Rupees 6,500 in cash and one vehicle used by the duo, were recovered from the incident site. Bashir was the founder member of the outfit. It is apparent that under Bashirs leadership, the group was involved in rampant extortion in Thoubal district and its adjoining areas, an Assam Rifles spokesperson said. The Sangai Express, May 12, 2006.
No demilitarisation in Jammu and Kashmir, says Defence Minister: Speaking in Jammu on May 9, 2006, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee ruled out any demilitarisation in Jammu and Kashmir, saying the number of troops will not be reduced in the State. "We will not enhance or reduce the numbers of troops in the State", he told a press conference after visiting Thawa in the Kulhand area of Doda District and Basantgarh in the Udhampur District where 34 Hindus were killed by terrorists on May 1, 2006. Maintaining that India had voluntarily withdrawn troops from some pockets of the State earlier and not under pressure from any country, Mukherjee said even at that time he had stated that withdrawal of Army will be constantly reviewed and if terrorist activities were stepped-up, there would be no question of reduction of troops. Stating that the terrorist infrastructure was still intact in Pakistan, he disclosed that 59 terrorist training camps were still being run in that country. "Pakistan must strictly adhere to its promise that it wouldnt allow its territory to be used for cross-border terrorism. It must understand that the terrorists are friends of nobody. Terrorism is the biggest menace to world peace and tranquility and Pakistan must ensure that its land is not used for cross border terrorism", the Defence Minister said. Daily Excelsior, May 10, 2006.
Chairman Prachanda to lead talks team:
have made public their roadmap for holding dialogue with the Seven
Party Alliance (SPA) Government. A statement issued by Chairman
of the CPN-Maoist, Prachanda, on May 13, 2006, stated that the
Maoist roadmap to hold talks with the Government is: declaration
of a ceasefire; finalisation of code of conduct; formation of
talks team; release of political prisoners; starting talks; dissolution
of the old Parliament, Constitution and Government; formation
of an interim guideline and Government by holding a political
conference with representation from the political parties, civil
society and renowned personalities of different sectors; setting
of electoral constituencies by ensuring the representation from
people of all classes, castes, sectors and genders; holding of
constituent assembly elections under reliable international supervision;
and restructuring of the whole state structures including the
People's Liberation Army and the Royal Nepalese Army as per the
popular mandate expressed through the (constituent assembly) elections.
The statement also said that all the above decisions were taken
by a special meeting of the central committee of the Maoist party.
The statement said that a "Summit dialogue" needed to
be held to take important decisions during talks with the SPA
government and that Prachanda would lead the negotiation team
during such a summit dialogue. The Maoists have also formed a
13-member "central" speakers' team to address the peaceful
mass meets across the country. Kantipur
Online, May 13, 2006.
Indian engineer killed on Pakistans order, says Taliban commander: The Zabul province commander of Taliban is reported to have revealed in an interview to a private Afghan television Tolo TV that the April 30, 2006, killing of Indian engineer K. Suryanarayana in Afghanistan was carried out on the direction of Pakistans Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). He claimed Suryanarayana was killed by Mullah Latif, a militiaman under the command of Maulwi Mohammad Alam Andar, allegedly on orders from the ISI, the website afgha.com quoted the Tolu report as saying. Suryanarayana, who was working for a Bahrain company, Al Moayed, on a telecom project in Afghanistan, was abducted on April 28 in the Zabul province on the main highway linking the capital Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar, and was later beheaded on April 30. Tribune India, May 15, 2006.
London bomber got 200 calls from Pakistan: British and Pakistani investigators are focusing on almost 200 phone calls made from Pakistan to one of the London bombers in a bid to uncover his links to the Al Qaeda, security officials said in Islamabad on May 11, 2006. One of the bombers may have also traveled to Waziristan, they said. A British official report published on May 11 said two of the attackers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, were in Pakistan from November 2004 to February 2005 and likely had contacts with Al Qaeda and received operational training. British Home Secretary John Reid told Parliament after the release of the report that Khan and Tanweer are likely to have met Al Qaeda figures during their visit to Pakistan. There were a series of suspicious contacts from an unknown individual or individuals in Pakistan in the immediate run-up to the bombing: we do not know their content, he informed. Dawn, May 12, 2006.
Six police personnel killed in bomb blasts at Police Training College in Balochistan: Six police personnel of the Anti-Terrorist Force (ATF) were killed and 13 others sustained injuries in five powerful bomb explosions at the firing range of the Police Training College in Quetta, capital of Balochistan province on May 11, 2006. The banned Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for the blasts. It is an act of terrorism and the perpetrators had used booby traps to trigger powerful blasts, Inspector-General of Police Chaudhary Mohammad Yaqoob said. Two suspects had been taken into custody, he added. The five blasts occurred in quick succession soon after the ATF contingent had arrived at the firing range at around 8.15am. Dawn, May 12, 2006
17 Navy personnel and 50 LTTE cadres killed in sea off Vettilaikerni: At least 17 Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) sailors and 50 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres were killed as the SLN successfully repulsed an attempt by a cluster of the outfits suicide boats to destroy a heavy troop-carrying vessel the 'Pearl Cruiser' with 710 troops on board off the coast of Vettilaikerni on May 11, 2006. The Navy, in a retaliatory attack with the assistance of the Air Force, destroyed five LTTE boats completely and disabled four others, killing 50 Sea Tigers and forcing the fleet to withdraw. The Operational Headquarters stated, In the firefight, Navy ensured the safety of the passenger craft and suffered the loss of one Dvora (P 418) with two officers and 15 sailors onboard. The clearing operations were continuing assisted by Air Force. According to reports, two Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) monitors were on board the Pearl Cruiser and the Dvora fast attack craft. The SLMM spokesperson, Helen Olafsdottir, said, "Our monitors saw several Tiger boats attacking the troop transporter and firing. We have a monitor on that boat, and added that two of the Government's Israeli-built fast-attack boats had been sunk. However, the LTTE political wing leader, S.P. Tamilselvan, said that the outfits cadres were "exercising in the seas adjacent to our land areas... when [navy] vessels attempted to interfere with our movements and attacked us." The LTTE also denied Governments claim of heavy outfit casualties and said that only four Sea Tiger cadres were dead. The outfits spokesperson, Daya Master, said, "The Air Force has bombed our territory, but nothing has fallen here. We have no word on casualties yet." Daily News, May 12, 2006.
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