10th September 2000

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Probe the fiasco

It was hardly two weeks ago that Nor-wegian Special Envoy, Eric Solheim, arrived in Colombo to brief Government leaders on the latest developments in Oslo's efforts to broker peace.

After several rounds of talks with Government leaders early this year, Mr Solheim was to meet LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran and his close aides. A meeting had been promised on a date in April, this year, but had not materialised so far, he explained during his last visit. 

Not surprising. Even if Norway wanted to facilitate talks between the Government and the LTTE, peace was furthest from Mr. Prabhakaran's mind. In April, he was very busy waging war. His cadres forced troops to withdraw from the sprawling Elephant Pass defence complex and seized chunks of territory, south of the Jaffna peninsula, in what turned out to be humiliating debacles for the security forces. 

Even a tight censorship failed to hide the embarrassment to a Government, which after peace talks failed with the LTTE in April, 1995, vowed to crush Tiger guerrillas in six months. Under a cloak of heavy secrecy, millions of dollars or billions of rupees were poured into a massive procurement drive to further modernise the security forces. It is no secret that these measures imposed greater hardships on the people. Living costs soared.

And last Sunday, troops launched "Operation Rivikirana" with the new acquisitions. It turned out to be a fiasco with the deaths of over 125 officers and men. On the opposite page, our Defence Correspondent bares details of the latest debacle.

This is the first major offensive to be launched by the security forces since November, last year, when troops suffered a string of humiliating defeats in the Wanni. A Military Court of Inquiry was hurriedly appointed. Seven Army officers including two Majors General were prematurely retired. 

Alas, for the loss of Elephant Pass and parts of the Jaffna peninsula, there was no such action. Some of those who were publicly known to be responsible have now been rewarded with plum positions. Others have gone scot free. Hiding the truth of "Operation Rivikirana" fiasco under a censorship is not the answer. The Government which has met all the requirements of the security forces, even at the expense of hardships to the people, should probe the latest debacle and punish those accountable. 

It is not only in the interest of the nation and its people, but also for the greater good of those young men and women who are in the battlefront risking their life and limb. 

Honourable piffle

They must be the most privileged par-liamentarians in the world. For one day's sitting on Thursday to formally approve the extension of the emergency our departing MP s, whether they are honourable or dishonourable, will get a full month's pay. No wonder there is a scramble for the job.

On the campaign front the promising government and the promising opposition are matching promise with promise.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has promised an immediate allowance of Rs. 2000 a month for public servants. The President says such an exercise would cost about 100 million rupees and she wonders whether the LTTE could be among the sources funding it.

On the other hand, or chair, the PA which fulfilled its promises mainly in the breach is giving more promises apparently believing that the cure for the sickness of a string of broken promises is to give still more promises.

Adding to the scenario of political decay and cynicism among the people are an increasing number of allegations of the misuse or abuse of public funds for party work. The charges include the provision of thousands of jobs to buy votes, widespread misuse of state vehicles and other equipment with the main culprits appearing to be the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation.

By yesterday another disturbing development was the arrest of a printer who was doing some security printing for the Commissioner of Elections. Different stories are being told but it all adds to the growing sense of scepticism and fear that the election might be largely another manifestation of a facade democracy. 

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