In Operation Rana Gosha (Battle Cry), launched on 4 March, the Army advanced from Poovarasankulam, nine miles west of Vavuniya and from Thandikulam, three miles north of Vavuniya. Iranai Iluppaikulam, six miles north of Poovarasankulam was captured. Troops advanced 10 miles further north on 6 March and annexed Mundrumurippu, where they were joined by another column moving from Omanthai, on Vavuniya-Jaffna road. The Army pushed further north-east to take Vannivilankulam, a mile north-west of Mankulam.
The Sri Lankan government says 220 sq mile territory was captured in the operation. The Army now controls 101 of the 102 Grama Sevaka (Village Headman) Divisions in Vavuniya District. Reports say that the Sri Lankan government plans to open a new township at Poovarasankulam and extend the northern railway line to Puliyankulam, 14 miles north of Vavuniya.
Around 4,000 permanent residents of these areas and another 10,000 refugees fled north to Mulankavil, Thunukkai and Vinayagapuram. Reports say, some have found refuge in schools and others are living in the open without any relief. According to Vanni Government Agents 13,000 civilians remained in the Army captured territory. Government officers began registering their names and issuing two weeks’ dry rations.
As troops advanced, artillery shelling caused civilian deaths and injury. Three people, including Nageswaran Natheesa, 12, were killed at Thandiyankulam, east of Mankulam. Three more civilians died in Nedunkandal and Mundrumurippu.
The LTTE had earlier denied permission to civilians travelling north from Poovarasankulam. But humanitarian agencies used the route to reach Mallavi and Thunukkai areas where large number of refugees currently live.
The Army say that in Operation Bunker Buster on 16 March, seven LTTE bunkers were destroyed south and west of Paranthan. Three days later, the military launched Operation Rana Gosha II in Mannar District. Troops advanced from Madhu Road junction on Vavuniya-Mannar road and brought Madhu and Palampiddy, 12 miles north, under control and then proceeded north-east to Mundrumurippu. Another column moved from Mundrumurippu and joined the first column at Palampiddy, 12 miles north of Madhu junction, on 22 March. The Army says another 125 sq. miles territory has been captured.
Around 5,000 acres of rice, ready for harvest, around Mallavi have been abandoned because of the military operations. Food supply to LTTE-controlled areas in the Vanni was disrupted from 18 March. International NGOs say while relief stocks are already inadequate to cope with earlier displacement, large number of new refugees will lead to a serious problem in the Vanni.
A further 5,000 people fled when the Army shelled LTTE artillery positions in Vidataltivu and Pappamoddai in northern Mannar in mid-March. A medical centre in Pallamadu and a church in Vidataltivu were damaged. The people took refuge in Kalliyady, further north. The Army attack followed Tiger shelling of Thallady military base, three miles south of Mannar town on 17 March, in which 11soldiers and three civilians died and 19 others were wounded. The Airforce bombed Mullaitivu District on 20 March killing a woman and injuring three others. The following day, a girl student of the Mulliyavalai School was blown to pieces by an Airforce bomb.
During Operation Rana Gosha, there was hardly any resistance from the LTTE. Analysts say the Tigers were taken by surprise and misjudged the direction of Army advance. The LTTE began moving its bases in Mallavi area in late February and told the people to be ready to evacuate. Some 400 families in Mullikulam were ordered to leave on 8 March. Some observers believe that the Tigers are conserving energy to pounce Jaffna.
The government arranged for a team of Colombo journalists to visit the newly captured areas on 15 March. Deputy Defence minister Anuruddha Ratwatte told the journalists that the LTTE now controlled only 3,000 sq. mile territory and another 20,000 new Army recruits are needed to defeat the Tigers before December this year.
There are 20,000 refugees in the open relief centre near Madhu Church, the holiest Catholic shrine in Sri Lanka. In late March, Mannar Catholic Bishop Rayappu Joseph demanded the Army to vacate the church area to maintain it as a demilitarised zone. According to reports, the military has begun constructing bunkers within the area. Bishop Joseph says that campaign posters of the ruling People’s Alliance for the 6 April provincial council elections show a picture of President Chandrika Kumaratunge with the Madhu Church in the background. Operation Rana Gosha may have been launched to boost the chances of the PA in the elections, observers say.