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The Sri Lanka Navy yesterday foiled a major Sea Tiger attack on their eastern command headquarters at the dockyard in Trincomalee but lost an Israeli-built Dvora fast attack craft with two officers and ten sailors on board.
The incident occurred shortly after Saturday dawned when at least ten Sea Tiger boats loaded with suicide cadres tried to enter the naval harbour at the entry point between Foul Point and Koneshwaram.
Shortly before midnight on Friday Navy observation posts had detected suspicious boat movements some distance away from the entrance to the harbour and sounded a high alert. It was the first hours of Saturday when the Navy put out a fleet of patrol craft and they ventured into the deep sea chasing the flotilla which was retreating.
About three miles into the deep sea off Koneshwaram, a Sea Tiger boat with suicide cadres rammed into the Dvora patrol craft carrying the SLN identification No. P 457. Navy personnel said they heard the noise of a huge explosion and saw a large fireball leap into the sky. Moments later, the Israeli-built Dvora mounted with 20mm cannons and fifty calibre guns sank. The entire crew are feared dead but a search was under way yesterday for the bodies. Until last night, searchers by air and sea proved futile.
On board the Dvora P 457 were Lt. A.D. Nanayakkara, Lt. M.A.S. Amarasekera and ten sailors.
Soon after the Naval vessel was hit, other boats in the Sea Tiger flotilla had gone further towards the deep sea and disappeared. Despite only partial visibility, Sri Lanka Air Force helicopters conducted reconnaissance flight but were unable to locate the other boats. Hours before the break of dawn yesterday, a Naval fleet began a search operation. By day break, they located the area where the Dvora had sunk. They found oil slick and air bubbles surfacing but there were no signs of any bodies. The search continued till late evening yesterday.
Senior security forces officials believe yesterday's attack was a direct retaliation for last week's combined Army, Navy and Air Force operation code named "Operation Dirithara". Its aim was to destroy an LTTE radar station at Ponnaltuduwai in Chundikulam, located on the thin strip of land that links Jaffna peninsula to mainland Sri Lanka the LTTE dismantled the radar and removed it from the area and the operation ended with troops destroying the Sea Tiger facility where it had been installed. Details of this incident appear in the SITUATION REPORT on page 7.
This is the second time the LTTE had made an attempt to attack the eastern naval command headquarters in Trincomalee. The first was on April 19 when they blasted two Naval gunboats. "Ranasura" and "Sooraya" on April 19 thus triggering off "Eelam War Three" and ending 100 days of peace talks with the People's Alliance Government.
The LTTE has earlier destroyed at least three Dvora fast attack craft. One was in August 29, 1993, when Sea Tigers attacked P 484 off Point Pedro. On August 29, 1995, two more Dvoras were attacked in the seas off the coast of Mullaitivu.
The cost of Dvora is over Rs. 150 million without additional fittings like the guns on board.
Persons believed to be supporters of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) infuriated by comments made in an editorial about their leader are reported to have set fire to the newspaper in separate locations in the eastern province over the past three days, sources from the area said.
On Friday a gang burnt newspapers at Ninthavur while on the previous day a gang allegedly waylaid a newspaper delivery van and set fire to the entire load of newspapers in the vehicle at Sammanthurai in Ampara district close to the police station.
The editorial critical of the SLMC leader M.H.M. Ashraff carried in the Tamil daily "Virakesari" referred to last week's differences with President Chandrika Kumaratunga over an exchange of words about the development of the Ampara area.
The controversial editorial states that Mr. Ashraff had done nothing for the development of the Tamil area but only developed the Ampara including Oluvil harbour and Eastern University.
SLMC sources said the party had no involvement in the burning of the newspapers.
New emergency regulations which seek to encourage voluntary surrender of LTTE cadres and ensure their safety have been promulgated by the government.
According to the new regulations, LTTE cadres who surrender themselves are required to make a written statement to an officer or an authorised person stating that the surrender is voluntary.
The surrendees will be then sent to three "Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centres," where they will be provided vocational, technical and other educational training. The regulations also say the surrendees would be sent to the centres, which comes under a Commissioner General, within 10 days.
The surrendees would kept at the centres for not more than a year and at the end of the period, their progress would be reviewed and a decision would be taken whether to extend their stay.
Any surrendee involved in an offence would be produced before a court which will determine the sentence taking into consideration of his voluntary surrender, according to the regulations.
Analysts say the regulations have been introduced mainly to rehabilitate LTTE cadres who want to leave the organisation but fear reprisals from the LTTE.
A similar programme was launched in the case of JVP suspects in the 1989-90 period.
The three rehabilitation centres have been set up in Weerawila, Bindunuwewa, and Gangodawila. At the main centre Weerawila, some 88 LTTE suspects, most of whom were from Jaffna, are being rehabilitated.
The officer in charge of the Weerawila Rehabilitation Centre, Captain Nimal Karunadhipathi, told The Sunday Times:
"Generally, the rehabilitation period is eight months to one and a half years. First, we try to get to know the boys. Once we win them over we give them vocational training", he said.
He said the inmates of the camp were initially so scared. This shows they have been forced into LTTE activities, he said.
"Most of them speak only Tamil, though we have officer's who speak Tamil initially it is very difficult. But now we have started language courses for them. They are keen to learn and even tell us that we will be blessed for teaching them", Captain Karunadhipathi said.
He said some of the detainees had not even seen a map of Sri Lanka, or heard the national anthem. Religion has little meaning in their lives.
"Almost all of them are Hindu and they have not visited a kovil. But we make it a point to devte one hour to religious programmes everyday. I must say it has helped them a lot," he said.
Asked whether rehabilitation would guarantee that they would not go back to the fold of the LTTE, Capt. Karunadhipathi said he could assure that they would not resort to terrorism again.
Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike was asked in Parliament this week whether she was aware that two vacancies in the Court of Appeal and two in the Supreme Court arising out of the retirement of Justice V. Kulatunga and Justice Tissa Bandaranayake in April and August this year remain unfilled.
UNP MP Rupa Karunatillaka asking an adjournment question from the PM wanted to know if she was aware that as a result of these appointments being delayed, people have been put to great hardship and it has added to the laws delay.
He also asked if the PM was aware that there are 12,000 cases pending before the Court of Appeal alone and in view of this grave situation would the government take steps to fill these vacancies immediately. If not why?
Education Minister Richard Pathirana on behalf of the PM wanted one week's time to reply.
Meanwhile, Ravi Karunanayake (DUNLF) has asked the Minister of Justice whether retired Supreme Court Judges could be appointed as consultants to government institutions and whether this would affect the independence of the Judiciary?
The President has appointed two judges to the Judicial Service Commission.
When the JSC Secretary was asked whether seniority was a criterian for appointment to the JSC, he said it was not necessary.
With the clocks being put back by half an hour from yesterday and Sri Lanka now six hours ahead of GMT, fresh controversies have arisen over last Wednesday's Cabinet decision.
It is alleged that the Cabinet in arriving at this decision had ignored or over-ruled a recommendation by an official committee that the clock be put back by one hour to the time that prevailed before May 26.
A member of this committee of experts told The Sunday Times most people were in favour of going back one hour mainly in view of transport problems. But the Cabinet had rejected this report and instead accepted a recommendation by officials who had painted a rosy picture about energy saving to the power and energy minister, he said.
On the contrary other quarters including space scientist Arthur C. Clarke hailed the decision to put Sri Lanka six hours ahead of GMT saying it would put the country move in line with the international time zone.
"I'm aboslutely delighted. At last local offficials have come to this decision and now Sri Lanka can join the rest of the world."
"Anyway it was a good compromise as people were of two different opinions with regard to time change. I think both the old time (5 1/2 ahead of GMT) and the advanced time 6 1/2 ahead of GMT were not keeping with the international time zones, and that the odd half hour difference led to so many complications, especially for those who have global connections," Dr. Clarke said.
But members of the experts committee feel the half hour time change might cause economic problems especially as it would put Sri Lanka somewhat out of line with India. "The New Delhi time is quoted for most things internationally and any change should have been made in consultation with India," one member said.
Meanwhile, airlines claimed none of their passengers was subject to any inconvenience. They had put back their schedules by half an hour after Friday midnight though the Cabinet decided on putting back the clock on Saturday midnight.
The airlines changed their schedules after an erroneous TV new bulletin based on a newspaper report, announced that the change was from Friday midnight. There was confusion among the people on Friday whether to change the time or not, as some reports said the clock would be put back on Saturday night.
The government statement said: "This decision will be effective from midnight Saturday (26/10/1996)", and added accordingly with effect from 12.30 a.m. on 26th October 1996, Sri Lanka will be six (06) hours ahead of GMT, Greenwich Mean Time".
Astrologers commenting on the time change said it did not have any bearing on the country's fate and compared it to times when people around the globe had to undergo the change to metric system.
A UNP meeting in Hasalaka yesterday was held in an atmosphere of tension, with burning of tyres and attacks on party supporters preceding the event.
Earlier in the day, supporters of both parties exchanged gun fire near the stage when one of the persons travelling in a vehicle flung a hand bomb. But no injuries were caused.
The UNP supporters who were decorating the stage had nabbed 12 persons in one of the vehicles and handed them over to the Hasalaka Police. The UNP supporters said the attackers came in three vehicles.
On Friday night, three houses of UNP supporters were attacked and one of them was burnt down at Hathe Ela, Hasalaka. Minipe Pradeshiya Sabha President D.N. Kannangara was assaulted and the windows of his house damaged.
A police officer at Hasalaka confirmed that there had been sporadic incidents and burning of tyres in the town. He said security had been intensified to prevent any incidents at the venue of the meeting, which was addressed by Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
A bus carrying media personnel to the meeting last evening was slightly damaged at the Gamini Kularatne Junction, Hasalaka when a group of people threw stones at it.
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