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19th March 2000

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Sitting ducks and Roman geesePOLICE PROBLEMS

Take Care of the 'Sacred' policemen and women.

Information of terrorist suicide cadres infiltrating Colombo has been available to the authorities for the past four to five years. In spite of this prior information, terrorists have successfully hit several of their targets killing innocent civilians too in the process. The heightening spate of attacks by terrorist suicide cadres is alarming and the public is losing confidence in the capability of the authorities to provide security to the city of Colombo.

Attention has to be drawn to the fact that many more 'targets' of higher priority to the terrorists, have been protected by alert security/police personnel. There is no doubt that the authorities are grappling with this situation to protect the known targets of the terrorists.

But what about the inevitable targets in the present situation-the 'alert' ones among the security/police personnel deployed to check/arrest suspicious persons and vehicles? During the past few years security/police personnel alert enough to make successful detections of suicide bombers have been killed in the process. From the terrorists' point of view an alert security officer is as important a target as any of their listed targets. I would say even more important to the terrorists for reasons given below, and a bigger loss to the country. It is these officers in the first line of defence who have thwarted many a terrorist attempt by raising the signal in time for others to take counter action, but at the cost of their lives. The lack of imaginative planning to counter the increasing threat against the 'alert' first line officers, apart from the drawbacks to security, is a social injustice.

Ancient Rome was once saved by the cries of a brood of geese caged at the top of the Roman citadel of Capitolium. The Gauls (Gaul was part of present France frequently at war with ancient Rome) had stealthily climbed the Roman citadel by night, taken up positions under cover of darkness and were about to execute their master stroke against Marcus Manlius and his guards and besiege the citadel, when the cries of the alert geese gave the warning. Marcus Manlius in turn alerted the guards and the citadel was secured at the brink of falling into the hands of the enemy. Ever since then, the Romans considered the geese as 'sacred' (Anseres sacri) and treated them accordingly. That was the esteem in which the Romans held even birds that raised an alarm and helped to avert an invasion. In Sri Lanka the 'alert' ones among our frontline officers continue to be offered as mere fodder to obtain signals to ensure safety of others.

There is a growing apprehension among the public that 'policemen and women will not move as swiftly as they should for fear of being sitting ducks for suicide cadres'.

One does not have to strain one's imagination too much to realise the need for an alternative plan, other than merely instructing the policemen with limited resources in the first line, to search/arrest suspicious persons. Experience has shown what the outcome will be, if the suspect turns out to be a 'good catch'. In the cases of suicide bombers near the Prime Minister's Office on Flower Road, and the recent attack at Rajagiriya, the police officers concerned could have passed the information swiftly enough to units better trained and equipped to meet the situation, and positioned at strategic points, had there been such a security infrastructure devised and the police officers on street lining and surveillance duties instructed accordingly. A well organized security infrastructure on these lines will not only be far more effective to meet the present complex situation, but will minimise the risk to the alert first line policemen and women, and thereby give them more confidence in the discharge of their duties.

These 'sacred' policemen and women need to be taken care of.


Papal visit stems Holy Land rifts - for now

JERUSALEM, (Reuters) - The pilgrimage of a lifetime for Pope John Paul has moved Holy Land Christians of diverse often feuding local denominations to cooperate as never before in living memory.

Just don't expect miracles.

For the Roman Catholic leader's visit, Orthodox Christians have agreed to suspend hair-trigger sensitivities and make what amounts to a momentous change in a centuries-old routine born of rival claims to one of Christendom's holiest shrines:

They will open a door for him.

It is not just any door. For almost a millennium the entrance of Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been a symbol of friction between Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox orders which share the shrine in wary co-existence.

The brittle status quo is such that church officials have been unable to agree to a change as elemental as adding an emergency exit to the serpentine structure, the lone opening of which was blamed for dozens of deaths in a 19th century fire.

"Now, for the Pope's visit, all the heads of the churches are cooperating amongst themselves, which is in itself something quite rare," said Uri Mor, longtime head of the Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry's Christian Communities Department.

In a ritual so unchanged in 800 years that only members of one Jerusalem family have been entrusted to enact it and pass it down from father to son, a Moslem skirting intra-Christian squabbling unlocks the portals of the church each morning.

Franciscan Catholics, Greek and Armenian Orthodox inside the church scrupulously take turns in pushing a ladder out to the doorkeeper so he can reach the ancient conical lock high above.

The rhythms of the bizarre daily routine have been cemented into tradition by the mutual distrust of the denominations which supervise the ancient church, built over the traditional site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus.

But a sea change has washed over church leaders, who have agreed to reschedule services, clear the church early, and open the doors an unheard-of second time on a Sunday to aid the 79-year-old pontiff in realising a dream of retracing Christ's steps.

"There's never been cooperation like this, for as long as I can recall," Mor said. "Of course, it's not every day that you receive a Pope."

Organisers of the historic papal pilgrimage have laboured mightily to negotiate the religious minefields of a Holy Land shared with Islam and Judaism, not least because of the precarious detente between Catholics and other local Christians.

In Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, jointly revered as Jesus's birthplace, the footfalls of the pontiff will be guided as much by past Christian infighting as by the dictates of Scripture.

Both churches have seen power struggles at times spilling over into violence for control of sacred ground.

As a consequence the clerical status quo has long been observed with fanatical precision.

But in Bethlehem as well, Orthodox officials have given ground, allowing the Pope to enter the manger site through a main door, and not through the Catholic church built nearby.

"The visit shows us that we truly are brothers here, the Catholic and the Orthodox," said Victor Tabash, 54, manning the counter of the Nativity Store, a souvenir shop in Manger Square.

Although Christianity began in ancient Palestine, its rifts stem largely from foreign fields.

At the heart of most of the conflicts is the question of allegiance to the Pope, the bishop of Rome, viewed by the world's Catholics as the spiritual descendant of the apostle Peter and the supreme clerical authority of Christianity.

The Great Schism between Catholicism, with roots in the Latin-speaking Western Roman empire, and Orthodoxy, from the Greek-speaking East, was touched off in 1054 by the refusal of a Byzantine group in Italy to pay homage to Pope Leo IX.

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