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LTTE using Indian fishing fleet as cover for arms ferrying
SLN tightens screws on poachers on Lankan waters

With the army fighting to block the north-western coast and thereby access to the sea to the LTTE, the navy has stepped-up its ambitious efforts to thwart the Tigers from using the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet to bring in war material needed in the Vanni.

As the multi-pronged army advance on the western part of the Vanni reaches a decisive stage with troops poised to take Vidattaltivu, navy headquarters has ordered a crackdown on Tamil Nadu fishing fleet poaching in Sri Lankan waters.

Coming close on the heels of India sending a top level delegation to Colombo, the unexpected action had raised many eyebrows.

Once the army secures Vidattaltivu, the LTTE writ would lie only on about 30 kilometres of coastline extending to Pooneryn. Army headquarters said the LTTE had lost its wherewithal to resist the relentless assault on their bases.

The positioning of the Task Force 1 on the Mannar front and 57 Division on the Vavuniya front following their recent link-up, would force the LTTE not only to vacate Vidattaltivu but several other villages north of the one-time Sea Tiger command post, the sources said.

``This would cost them at least six more kilometres of the road leading to Pooneryn,’’ the sources said.

An authoritative official said there had been numerous instances of Tamil Nadu fishermen facilitating the movement of LTTE cadres and supplies through the Gulf of Mannar. The enemy’s dependence on this route had increased after the destruction of eight floating LTTE arsenals in four separate engagements on the high seas.

The detections made by the Indian navy, Coast Guard and other security agencies including the ‘Q’ branch had revealed LTTE attempts to make India a major supply base, the sources said.

The navy last week rounded up approximately 290 Tamil Nadu fishing craft poaching in Sri Lanka waters in the Gulf of Mannar.

"We deployed a sizeable force to carry out the operation," an official said, adding the poachers were trapped north of Talaimmanar and south of the Delft Island. The navy had prevented them from getting back to the Indian waters.

Declining to comment on the number of craft deployed to conduct the biggest operation to discourage poachers, the sources said the navy had carried out checks on trawlers and other fishing craft near Delft and Talaimannar.

Although the navy hadn’t found any incriminating evidence against the Indians and both trawlers and crews were released in batches, the operation has underscored the urgent need on the part of New Delhi to prevent their trawlers from crossing the international maritime boundary, the sources said.

The Sunday Island learns that during the recent high profile visit by a top Indian delegation, Sri Lanka has reiterated her concerns over hundreds of Indian fishing craft poaching in Sri Lankan waters.

Despite much talked about deployment of Indian naval assets across the international maritime boundary, hundreds of Indian trawlers regularly enter Sri Lankan waters under the very eyes of the Indian navy and Coast Guard, the sources said.

Dismissing accusations that the navy had harassed Indian fishermen, the Colombo foreign office emphasized that the presence of Indian trawlers was a serious security threat. Although, the number of Indian fishermen collaborating with the LTTE was negligible, their support had allowed the enemy to bring in much needed supplies.

Against the backdrop of media reports that New Delhi wanted to deploy men and material to secure Sri Lankan air space and sea ahead of the forthcoming SAARC summit, it would be interesting to see whether action would be taken to stop poaching, an official said.

A senior Defence Ministry official said by the time the SAARC leaders gather in Colombo, the LTTE would have lost more territory on the Mannar, Vavuniya and Weli Oya fronts.

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