The Sea Tigers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) took the Sri Lankan Navy completely by surprise early on the morning of October 18, 2006, by successfully penetrating a naval base and a commercial harbour at Galle in southern Sri Lanka and destroying three naval boats in the base. One sailor and one civilian were killed and 26 other persons—naval personnel and civilians—were injured.
The Sea Tigers—15 of them—dressed as fishermen approached the naval base and harbour in seven boats looking like fishing vessels. Five of them managed to enter the base undetected. Three filled with explosives rammed against three naval vessels and exploded. The remaining two were sunk by the Navy before they could cause any damage.
The inmates of the two boats, which penetrated the harbour, opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and other small arms and then escaped into the town after abandoning the weapons.While the attack on the naval base was a suicide mission, the incident in the harbour was apparently not.
After the LTTE's unsuccessful attempt to kill Col.(retd) Bashir Wali, Pakistan's former High Commissioner to Colombo, at Colombo on August 14,2006 —which came on the eve of the arrival of a fresh consignment of arms and ammunition for the Sri Lankan military from Pakistan—the Sri Lankan military authorities have stopped unloading military consignments from Pakistan at the Colombo harbour. Instead, since August 14, 2006, ships bringing in arms and ammunition from Pakistan, are being diverted to Galle for unloading. The Sri Lankan authorities were worried that the LTTE might attack ships bringing in arms and ammunition from Pakistan at the Colombo harbour, thereby endangering the harbour.
It is learnt that the LTTE attack at Galle came a few days before the arrival of a fresh consignment of arms and ammunition from Pakistan at Galle.
The LTTE attack had two other objectives—firstly, to demonstrate that the capability of the Sea Tigers for covert actions remains strong despite government claims of severely damaging the LTTE's naval capability in the North and the East; and, secondly, to create nervousness among foreign tourists about the advisability of their coming to Sri Lanka for spending their forthcoming Christmas vacation. Galle is a favourite tourist resort.
In 1997, the LTTE had unsuccessfully tried to kill the naval commander in Galle. Since then it has not operated there.
Galle is a stronghold of the Sinhala extremist Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). The LTTE attacks in Galle on October 18 led to some attacks on local Tamil shops by the Sinhalese. The Police was able to bring the situation under control after imposing a curfew.
Despite the serious incidents since October 11, the government as well as the LTTE have re-assured their international interlocutors of their willingness to resume the peace talks as scheduled at Geneva on October 28 and 29, 2006.
So long as the Sri Lankan government continues to use its Air Force indiscriminately in an attempt to decimate the LTTE and intimidate the civilian Tamil population, we can expect more retaliatory covert actions by the LTTE in other parts of Sri Lanka outside what it looks upon as the traditional Tamil homeland—that is, the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
After having demonstrated its continuing capability against the Army at Muhamalai in the North on October 11 and against the Navy at Galle on October 18, the LTTE is expected to demonstrate its capability for covert action against the Air Force and the Pakistani personnel posted in Sri Lanka,
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.