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 Post subject: 1991 and 2006 Battle for Mahaweli waters of Mawilaru
 Post Posted: Wed Aug 02, 2006 2:07 am 
1991 and 2006 Battle for Mahaweli waters of Mawilaru

On January 30,1991 LTTE blasted three sluice gates of the Mawilaru anicut. The purpose was to occupy the areas fed by the anicut water once the people leave their townships and villages. The affected people belonged to all three communities and gradually they started leaving their homes due to the water shortage and the LTTE was half way through to its target.


@ Source - DM /RH/ 1 Aug 2006

In the map of the East, Mawilaru marshland stands out as the meeting point of three districts – Polonnaruwa, Batticaloa and Trincomalee. It is some 78 km from Trincomalee town via Kantale. During the monsoons the anicut remains the only place in the entire area that does not come under water while the surrounding areas are flooded up to 8-15 feet. They continue to remain swampy most part of the year.

The geographical value of Mawilaru is tied to the Mahaweli river. Some 14 km south of Mawilaru, the Mahaweli river breaks into two tributaries at Kurinchamunai. Of these two, the main one – Mahaweli, flows past Siththaru, the Somawathi sanctuary areas and finally falls into the sea from Mutur. The smaller one - Madura Aru flows towards Mawilaru and about four km further down at Nadumathurai splits into two. The Main Madura Aru flows around the historical sites at the Somawathi sanctuary and disappears making several small marshlands. Its tributary, Pawanaru flows through the sanctuary past marshy lands to Mawilaru anicut. In addition to these another stream by the name of Kandankaduwaru coming through the village of Mawilla some 8km south of Mawilaru, too flows into Mawilaru.

The waters of all these brooks and tributories meet at the Mawilaru – the collection centre from where water is redirected to two regions by the sluice gates. A bigger flow is released as Verugalaru from the west end of the tank. This is controlled by five doors. Eachchelampattu, Verugal and Karakamunai are among the areas fed by the Verugalaru waters. A relatively smaller flow is sent through the gates from the East of the tank and that’s known as Vellaiaru. The water of this stream is controlled by a single gate.

It is this gate that the LTTE has blocked depriving water to some 15,000 families from all three communities in the southern part of the Trincomalee district.

On January 30,1991 LTTE blasted three sluice gates of the Mawilaru anicut. The purpose was to occupy the areas fed by the anicut water once the people leave their townships and villages. The affected people belonged to all three communities and gradually they started leaving their homes due to the water shortage and the LTTE was half way through to its target.

While this was going on, the ICRC, on a request by the Army, started negotiating a deal with the LTTE to get the anicut repaired by civilian engineers. Two Swedish nationals of the ICRC held overnight discussions at one of the biggest LTTE camps in the East then, at Angodawillu, some 8 km south of Mawilaru, to coerce the LTTE to allow engineers to come and repair the anicut.

Tigers were coming out with various conditions as a dilatory tactic and the ICRC informed the army that it had to consult its headquarters as to what should be done next. The process of fixing the water problem was being delayed and the ICRC headquarters could not send a prompt reply as it wanted a little more time to study the matter. Nearly half of the people in the feeding areas had started leaving their homes by then.

On 7 February the Army surrounded the area from four directions.

The teams included troops from 5 Light Infantry led by Captain K. A. L.U Ratnayake, 6 Gemunu Watch by Colonel Authula Kodippili, 6 Light Infantry by Colonel Jayantha Ranaweera and a team of Special forces.
Some 21 troops were injured due to landmines but no deaths were reported. The Army captured Mawilaru.

Once arrived at the anicut, a camp was set up next to it and Captain Ratnayake was appointed as officer in charge with 6 Gemunu Watch troops. An engineer from Kantale attached to the Irrigation Department was got down to Mawilaru. Troops filled some 6000 sand bags to keep water in a small temporary tank once the anicut was emptied for repairs.

Finally the water started flowing to the villages once again. The villagers then returned. Due to regular flooding the army camp built right next to the anicut was later shifted to top of the tank bund.

All these happened during the height of war.

Though Mawilaru “anicut” camp was opened to serve a different purpose – to provide protection to those who were repairing the anicut and later to protect the anicut itself - it went on to serve a strategic role as well.

Though it started with 300 troops, the numbers at the detachment later trickled down to two or two and half platoons – numbering 80 to 100.

Despite the small number and proximity to LTTE held area, there had never been attempts by the Tigers to overrun the camp for some reason or the other. A few soldiers had been killed in ambushes while they were moving in and out of the camp and a few had died in the floods, during the early days.

In August 1992 the camp was handed over to 7 Gajaba Regiment and six months later, in February, 1993 it was passed on to 5 Artillery regiment. Finally in March 1995 it was given to 2 Gajaba Regiment.

A similar detachment in Kattamurichchikulam – North of Welikanda near LTTE jungles - became the first camp to be attacked by the LTTE as the Eelam war 3 began in April 1995. This camp was overrun a couple of days after the attack on Dvoras at the Trincomalee harbour.

Though several smaller camps met with the same fate in the months to come, the “anicut” camp survived, at least till it was abandoned by the army. The Mawilaru detachment along with one in Sampoor and several others in the region, were pulled out in 1997 to send as reinforcements to operation Jayasikuru launched in the North on 13 May that year to capture the Wanni and Mullaitivu areas.

Understandably, the decision to withdraw the strategic camps in the East, was initially met with some resistance by those who foresaw its repercussions. However finally the urgency created by Jayasikuru which went ahead with many fatal blunders, relegated all other concerns, to provincial concerns.

By the time of the withdrawal of Mawilaru detachment, late Major General Parami Kulatunga was the Brigade Commander for Trincomalee and the pull out of troops from the East for North was largely a political decision, the military had little say in it. The pullout as predicted gave a field day to the LTTE.

Fifteen years later once again in 2006 we see the troops marching into the area, this time during the “ceasefire”. The LTTE had once again deprived water to some fifteen thousand families, not by blasting but by blocking the sluice gates of the anicut.

Many former flag ranking officers still believe that the LTTE blocking of water is part of its strategy to occupy the villages. Had the army continued to have the detachment there, perhaps things would have been different. Perhaps the people would have continued to have water. Still that alone is not a guarantee to solve the water problem in the region.

The strategic importance of the small camps near LTTE held jungles- despite the eternal threats of being overrun - is something that the veteran field commanders have learnt by trial and error.

It is this wisdom that made military commanders to open detachments adjoining the LTTE held jungles in the East, immediately after the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces.

Once abandoned, for nearly ten years the government security forces could not even go close to the place. It was only last Monday, amidst growing pressures from an impatient constituency and an administration, that the Sri Lanka Army with the help of the Air Force managed to go even close to the tank bund.

Ten soldiers were killed on Monday close to the site, eighteen others died on their way to Mawilaru when their vehicle got caught to a claymore mine. History repeats itself but with more violent twists, this time around perhaps.

Even by Tuesday noon it remained beyond the reach of the Army.

By blocking the water to civilians, the LTTE has violated article 2.1 of the ceasefire agreement which calls on the parties to adhere to the international law and abstain from any hostile acts against the civilians. The deafening silence maintained by the international community in the face of the troop movements to the LTTE controlled area to forcibly open the anicut, is largely attributed to this .

With a larger number of Tamil families too are among the affected, the move in a way also showcases how the so called “sole representative of Tamils” would behave in the event of a predominantly LTTE administration – placing their political agendas on top of Tamil civilian welfare.

However none of these should provide excuses for the government to further delay the measures to be taken to provide drinking water to Mutur east and Eachchilampathu divisions.

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