Close on the heels of the fall of Adampan on the Mannar front, Tigers over the weekend abandoned Palampiddy as the army strengthened its position in the western part of the Vanni region. Situated eight kms north of Madhu, Palampiddy junction connects Vidattaltivu, a key Sea Tiger base in the northwest, Mullikulam in southeast and Nedunkandal in the southeast.
The military said the 57 Division took six days to complete the assault on Palampiddy by Saturday afternoon. A senior military official said the enemy had abandoned the town in the face of superior firepower of the infantry backed by the armour, artillery and air strikes. During confrontations over the past several days, troops had recovered bodies 13 LTTE cadres along with 11 T-56 assault rifles, one Multi Purpose Machine Guns (MPMG) and 4 communication sets.
On Saturday night Mi 24 helicopter gunships attacked what SLAF spokesman Wing Commander Andrew Wijesuriya called an LTTE tactical operations centre situated about 3 kms north of the army frontline at Andankulam on the Mannar front. The official asserted there had been a sizeable group of LTTE cadres there at the time of the attack as gunships had experienced ground fire. The helicopter gunships had attacked the same location at 11. 50 a.m. on Sunday, he said.
Army Chief Lt. General Sarath Fonseka Saturday visited Security Forces Headquarters, Vavuniya where he had discussed the status of the action on the Vanni front with the army top brass there.
The Task Force 1 and 57 Division conducting operations on the Mannar and Vavuniya fronts, respectively, had caused heavy losses on the enemy, now struggling to thwart the army advance. They would be now poised to step up pressure on Vidattaltivu on the north western coast.
Army Headquarters said troops had confronted LTTE units at Navatkulam, Vavuniya Friday afternoon. Troops had also destroyed an LTTE strongpoint in the same area, an army spokesman said. In separate confrontations at Periyamadhu, Palampiddi and Palanoddai, troops had killed five LTTE cadres also on Friday.
Troops engaged in clearing operations in Periyamadu killed seven LTTE bodies along with one Multi Purpose Machine Gun, one T-81 weapon, five T-56 weapons on Friday. Bodies of six female LTTE cadres had been among them.
On the Weli Oya front, the 59 Division had been engaged in operations under heavy resistance.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Messenger in its latest issue (May 18) quoted Rt. Rev. Victor Susai, Vicar General of the Mannar Diocese as saying Mannar Bishop Rt. Rev. Rayappu Joseph had received an assurance from the army that troops would be deployed 2.5 kms away from the church. According to him the Mannar Bishop had received this pledge from Vanni Security Forces Chief Major General Jagath Jayasuriya on May 7. This assurance had been given after the Mannar Bishop urged the government and the LTTE to deploy at least 2.5 kms away from the church. The Catholic Messenger acknowledged the LTTE hadn t so far responded to the Mannar Bishop s plea.
Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena has urged the government to officially hand over the church to the Mannar Bishop immediately. The MP told The Island that once the army had handed over the church, the Mannar Bishop would be able to bring back the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Madhu to the church.