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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2956

A Soldier's Version – from start to finish of the fall of Pooneryn

By K.T.Rajasingham

The Asian Tribune had the rare opportunity of interviewing over the phone a Commissioned Officer of the Sri Lanka Army’s 58th Division just before the capture of Pooneryn on the evening of the 14th and on the 15th of November after the capture.

While extolling the courageous and heroic feats of the patriotic soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army that liberated the entire A32 road from Mannar to Pooneryn and up to Sangupiddy Jetty, this Officer, revealed that this Operation was initially launched in the last week of September 2007 and, that after a long hard fought battle for 10 months, the area described as the "Rice Bowl" in the district of Mannar located between the Giant Tank to the North up to Thalladi and covers an expanse of 58 square kilometers was finally brought under the control of the Sri Lanka Government on 31st of June in 2008. Subsequently, he says, the operation to liberate A 32 road began on 1st of July 2008 and continued to the date of capture.Map showing A 32 Road from Mannar to Sangupiddy JettyMap showing A 32 Road from Mannar to Sangupiddy Jetty

The Officer who wishes to maintain his anonymity told the Asian Tribune that the Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka and the Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse were undoubtedly two great driving forces behind the liberation of Pooneryn and they, in fact, are great role-models to the many young soldiers of the 58 Division of the SL Army. Talking of Brigadier Shervendra Silva, the Commander of the 58 Division, he says, that this valiant 44 year old Brigadier, a great moral force behind the most disciplined Division, who always encouraged the soldiers under him to fight fearlessly for the country and to liberate it from the terrorist yoke.

The soldier speaks:

I am a soldier – (a commissioned officer) in the 58 Division of the Sri Lanka Army commanded by Brigadier Sharvendra Silva. We started this offensive from Mannar, in the Mannar – Vavuniya Road on the initiative of the Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka, who explained that the reason to do so was due to the presence of the LTTE very close to the road and were firing at the passing military, as well as civilian vehicles, have also detonated claymore mines at civilian vehicles and that even the cyclists and pedestrians were not safe.

The Army Commander intending to give priority to make the Vavuniya – Mannar Road a safe thoroughfare for vehicles and pedestrians, decided to launch the offensive to secure the road from the Giant Tank region to Mannar mainland up to the lagoon. You must remember that this is the area called the ‘Rice Bowl’ and has yielded the highest harvests in 1990, 1994 as well as in 2000 and even in the year 2002.

Fall of the Rice Bawl Region

Another reason to launch this operation was to secure the paddy lands belonging to civilians who could not cultivate them for years due to the area being occupied by the LTTE. This area being paddy fields were flat and open land and has no cover for the advancing troops making the operation risky. In spite of the risk involved the Army Commander decided to go ahead with the operation with the intention of securing this land back to owners making this a humanitarian operation.

So, we started the offensive in the last week of September 2007, by moving slowly but steadily northwards to get the maximum attrition on the LTTE, to engage them and to push them back as much as possible with zero damages to military and to the civilians. We found that LTTE had constructed three massive earth bunds across the land within the rice bowl area of 58 square kilometers, to prevent military from crossing into their lands beyond under their control. This offensive went for 10 long months and in the end on 31st June 2008, we successfully wrested control of the Rice Bowl Region.

Offensive Campaign to Liberate A 32 Road

Subsequently, from 1st of July 2008, we continued with the offensive to repulse the LTTE further in the Northwest region beginning with the liberation of A 32 road from Mannar to Pooneryn up to Sangupiddy Jetty.

It must be pointed out that earlier while we were engaged in the offensive for almost about 10 months in the "Rice Bawl" of Mannar, to capture the region , due to our sustained and ferocious attacks LTTE fell into our trap by bringing their cadres to the front to prevent us from the capturing the Rice Bawl. The LTTE leadership failed to understand our tactical engagement. We managed to inflict maximum damage on the LTTE, killed many of their senior cadres and good fighters. This was a serious blow on the moral of the LTTE leadership as well as on their cadres.

Fall of Vidathaltivu

When we launched our operation in A 32 Road, in the beginning they expected that we might continue with the same slow momentum in our fresh offensive campaign as in the previous one. But we had a different agenda to follow.

Within a week’s time, after taking control of the Rice Bawl region, we took control of Vidathaltivu, the biggest Sea Tiger Base they had in the Western coast, located about 13 kilometers on the A-32 Road.

From this sea base, they made all sorts of interferences to the Mannar Island and to the Western Coast. You may not be aware that Vidathaltivu is a natural harbor where one can’t see from outside the boats parked inside this harbor. They had hundreds of their boats in that natural harbour.

Anyway after 1st of July 2008, within seven days, we could manage to capture Vidathaltivu, as the Tigers never expected us to come up with such a blitzkrieg.

Capture of Illuppaikadavai and Vellankulam

Thereafter, the next township was Illuppaikadavai in the Northwest of Mannar which was located about 10 kilometers off Vidathaltivu. We captured that 10 Kilometers within a very short span of 3 days. Our lightening attacks gradually brought a telling effect on the LTTE and they began to feel the pressure of our attacks.

After capturing Illuppaikadavai, we took Vellankulam, significant for many reasons. It was the last township of the Mannar district and earlier the Statute Our Lady of Madhu was removed unceremoniously from the Madhu and lodged in the church in Vellankulam by Bishop Rayappu Joseph. We observed in Vellankulam that LTTE had a lot of cultivable land in the form of large estate plantations. We learnt that LTTE has brought families who have not given their family members to their forces and had compelled them to work in these under their command. We also saw in the south of Vellankulam, one LTTE police station and an administrative office.

Another thing that attracted our attention was evidence to substantiate LTTE’s anti-people activities, in the Grama Sevaka office of the area. We found written instructions issued by the LTTE political office to the said Grama Sevaka ordering him to issue the food sent by the Government, to the families according to their dictum. This was the food sent to be issued freely to the civilians in the uncleared areas. As an example we noted where Government’s instructions were to issue 1kilo of rice, the Grama Sevaka was instructed by the LTTE to give 300 to 400 grams only and 1600 to 1700gms to be given to Martyrs family members.

Beyond Vellankulam, we went on to capture Mulankavil, the first township of the Kilinochchi district. In Mulankavil, LTTE had a Mahaveerar Cemetery, a Mahaveerar Stadium, a divisional hospital with two operation theatres, three police stations and a lot of administrative offices located around the township. According to civilians, Mulankavil was considered as the second administrative township next to Kilinochchi.

In Mulankavil, when we inspected the Mahaveerar cemetery. We found 563 new graves that were constructed within 1 month and 20 days and over 2500 dead bodies were buried in that cemetery. People of the area told us those were the bodies of LTTE military cadres who were killed while fighting to safeguard LTTE Leader Prabakaran and his family members. We found some mass graves too.

Operation Nachchikuddah

Thereafter, we went further north to Nachchikuddah. In the south of it, we came across a huge earth bund which was constructed using lot of machinery and lot of civilians. We suspect that heavy machineries used to construct the earth bund must have been provided by the INGOs operated in those areas. This earth bund started from the Nachchikuddah seashore via Vannerikulam, a long stretch of 25 kilometers to Akkarayankulam. We went towards Northeast to a place called Karambakulam, located west of Vannerikulam. There we managed to breach about 5 kilometers of the earth bund and went northwards subsequently. When we breached the earth bund, LTTE began to realize that they have no control over the rest of it. We could then take rapid movement northwards. We went and captured the A 32 Road about 12 kilometers north of Nachchikuddah in line with Vallapadu.

Fall of Pooneryn

From there, we started to march towards Kiranchi where, LTTE cadres fled by boat from Nachchikuddah. We suddenly decided not to go to Kiranchi or Vallapadu, but went straight to Palavi. We captured the 158 square kilometers of land area within 2 days, consisting of Palavi – Devils point and Kiranchi.

Thereafter, we came to Chempamkundu. After the capture of Chempamkundu, the 58 Division began its focus on the Paranthan - Pooneryn Road. The Army moved strategically by capturing Paranthan – Pooneryn Road so that, we would siege Pooneryn. We also were determined that we should not give an opportunity for LTTE cadres to escape from our siege and flee.

Although, the 58 Division in the offensive was involved mainly during the day operations, but on Friday, we suddenly started the offensive during the night. During our operation we went and captured a stretch of Paranthan- Pooneryn Road. Whole of Friday night LTTE continued their fight to flee for their lives. But, by 2 AM in the morning of Saturday, according to our intelligence report, LTTE leadership instructed the fighting cadres to flee even by jumping into the water. According to LTTE leadership some managed to escape, many were killed and a great number of them were captured.

By 8 AM in the morning, whole of Pooneryn, including Kalmunai Point, Sangkupiddi jetty, Navanthurai, Pooneryn Township and a total of 8 kilometers in the Pooneryn – Paranthan road was captured by 58 Army Division. Total area comprising of Poonakiri Division in Mannar District , now stand liberated from the LTTE, the officer proudly announced to Asian Tribune

- Asian Tribune -

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