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Operation Agni Khiela ends, troops pull back

Heavy casualties in four days of fighting in North

Fierce Tiger guerrilla attacks and mounting casualties have forced the Security Forces to withdraw to their original defences, just four days after venturing out to re-capture Pallai, a village in the palm fringed thin stretch of land that links Jaffna peninsula to the mainland.

The four-day military adventure had taken the lives of 180 troops including three officers. Yesterday, Tiger guerrillas were to hand over 30 more bodies to the ICRC in Mallawi. More than 1600 soldiers have been injured, the vast number from improvised land mines.

The main aim of "Operation Agni Khiela" or Rod of Fire was to re-capture Pallai. In terms of the operational orders, troops were to seize the area so a defence line could be established there. Troops broke out on the offensive at 1.48 a.m. on April 24. It was nearly two hours after the LTTE's four-month long unilateral ceasefire had ended.

The Government yesterday admitted that heavy artillery and mortar fire had forced a re-deployment of troops to the original defence line.

The statement from the Special Media Information Centre claimed the operation was "successful in achieving their main aim of destroying the terrorist deployment, which posed an immediate major threat to forward defence line at Eluthumadduwal and Muhamalai".

It added: "Timely launching of this operation pre-empted the LTTE plans of conducting a major attack on Security Forces in the Jaffna peninsula. In view of the weapon systems and the facilities they had brought to the Elephant Pass sector it was obvious that the LTTE was poised to launch a major operation."

The Sunday Times Consultant Editor and Defence Correspondent, Iqbal Athas was in Jaffna. His exclusive account appears in the Situation Report on Page 9.



Killing of Customs officer

Main suspect protected by businessman

By Ruwan Weerakoon
Assistant Customs Superintendent Anura Weerawansa wanted in connection with the killing of fellow officer Sujith Perera is believed to have been hiding in an influential businessman's residence after he was reported to have been 'abducted' by a group of unknown persons.

A Sunday Times investigation has revealed that Mr. Weerawansa along with a female companion had taken meals at a fast food outlet and stayed three days at the residence of the businessman, before escaping to another location.

Mr. Weerawansa had allegedly been helpful to the businessman while serving at the Customs and helped him in clearing a consignment of digital dish antenna receivers without making a declaration.

The consignment was the last to have been cleared by Mr. Weerawansa before he disappeared from the customs and Police began to hunt for him in connection with the killing of Mr. Perera last month. 

According to Mr. Weerawansa's lawyer, Bandula Wijesinghe, the Customs officer was 'abducted' by an unidentified gang while on his way to meet lawyer Hemantha Warnakulasuriya on April 9. 

According to the lawyer, Mr. Weerawansa was to surrender to the police on April 8 on the advice of his counsel. A police complaint was lodged in this regard, but detectives had suspected 'foul play' in the alleged abduction.

However, Sunday Times investigations showed that Mr. Weerawansa had been living at this businessman's residence on April 8, 9 and 10.

In a related development more evidence has emerged about the dealings of Mr. Weerawansha and threats that were made against Mr. Perera, before he was killed on March 24.

A cabinet Minister is alleged to be among those who had brought pressure on Mr. Perera to clear a consignment of 60 Prado luxury jeeps imported by a leading businessman in Kurunegala.

The minister had allegedly wanted the consignment cleared without proper documents, but Mr. Perera had not allowed it.


MP's musical madness

By Laila Nasry
Parliamentarian Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and two others yesterday defied a court order and went ahead with a controversial musical show at the Mulleriyawa Mental Hospital recreation grounds despite warnings by doctors that it could seriously affect patients. The District Court on Friday slapped down an order, restraining the MP and two officials of a Mulleriyawa club from going ahead with the show. But, when the Sunday Times contacted Mr. Premachandra, he claimed the court order had not been communicated to him and the show would go on as scheduled. Last night, police reported that the musical show was in progress. Mr. Premachandra said the hospital ground did not belong to the hospital but to the provincial council and could be utilised for such an occasion. As for disturbances, he dismissed the concerns saying even buses on the roads disturb patients. He said the show had been held there for the past seven years and he had not heard any mental patient dying as a result. Mr. Premachandra's attempts to persuade Mental Hospital Director Dr. G.W.W. Pathirana to agree to the show failed resulting in the director going to court as a final resort to halt the show. Dr. Pathirana had told the MP and other organisers that such a show at night was not advisable as it could seriously affect some 1500 mental patients. He warned that commotion caused by the loud music and fireworks display might even result in the patients fighting each other. Such a situation would be dangerous as there were only two nurses and one attendant assigned for each of the 24 wards at night. 

Govt. ready for early talks

The Government yesterday reiterated its readiness to start talks with the LTTE as early as possible and pursue them expeditiously.

The Ministry of Information and Media in a 4000 word statement issued last night said the government was also ready to finalize a document on the implementation of humanitarian measures and to start the implementation of these measures with the assistance of monitors.

The government called on the LTTE to engage 'honestly and swiftly' in starting the process of talks.

The government said it had never believed in the use of violence for the resolution of any problem and it had from the beginning made every effort to persuade the LTTE to halt armed hostilities and to engage in dialogue.

The statement said the government wishes to remind the LTTE leader that it has taken every possible step to improve the conditions of civilian life in areas under Government control. It has to be emphasized that it is the LTTE that has constantly disrupted the supply of goods and services to the people in the Northern and Eastern provinces, the statement added.

The Government said issues concerning the early normalization of civilian life could also be discussed in the course of the proposed talks.



May Day security

Only banners, no baggage

By Shelani de Silva
Tight security will be enforced in Colombo and elsewhere for May Day on Tuesday. 

Deputy Inspector General Gerard Ignatius said some 2,000 police personnel were being deployed for duty in Colombo alone, especially in view of fresh threats from the LTTE.

He said May Day processions and rallies would be allowed until 9 p.m. but advised participants to refrain from carrying unnecessary bags.

The ruling People's Alliance will hold its main procession from Chandra Silva Grounds in Kotte with a rally at Campbell Park, while smaller May Day rallies will be held in the provinces.

The main opposition UNP, still recovering from a party crisis, will be going to Seeduwa this year for a rally where party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is expected to announce plans to defeat the government.

The JVP, celebrating its first May Day after the general election where it emerged as a strong third force, will put up a colourful show at the usual venue, the BRC Grounds.

Party spokesman Wimal Weerawansa said the theme this year would be the spiralling cost of living and the sell out of national assets to local and foreign capitalists.

Left wing socialist parties, the July strikers and other trade unions will also hold May Day processions and rallies. 

The new party Sihala Urumaya will hold a May Day with a difference on a theme based on Buddhist principles. 

A party official said both employees and employers would come together for the meeting at the Public Library to pledge to work in a spirit of cooperation instead of confrontation.

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