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In the face of increasing threats from the Sea Tigers, the New Navy Commander, Cecil Tissera, says he is revamping the force to thrice its strength in terms of vessels.
Soon after assuming office, the Navy Chief spelt out his plan in a message based on three points — firm control over the sea, maintaining high standards of discipline and honesty. He told The Sunday Times the message seemed to be working and he was confident there would be a good response within the force.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: Sea Tigers have been a major threat to the Navy. How do you assess this threat and what are your plans to counter them?
A: According to our estimates, the Sea Tiger strength is about 2,000. To meet the challenges of the 21st century we are acquiring new naval craft and modern weapons.
Q: What was the impact of the recent attack by the Tigers at Mullaitivu?
A: It was one of the biggest in recent years. The fighting lasted about five hours. According to our information, 108 Tigers were killed in this battle which took place 30 miles off the coast. This was a big defeat for the Tigers.
Q: The Navy often uses big craft and the Tigers small ones to carry out suicidal attacks. Is this a big challenge to the Navy?
A: Their strategy is proving to be outdated. At Mullaitivu, we proved this point and they would not be able to continue it.
Q: The LTTE is known to bring weapons by small boats and ships to the north. How are you countering this?
A: To bring an end to this war, we should prevent the LTTE from getting weapons. We are giving priority to this aspect. We will use our naval craft strategically for this purpose and step up patrolling.
Q: Don't you think the co-operation of neighbouring countries is needed to check arms supplies and how would you achieve this?
A: We do not need any agreement on this. Neighbouring countries will look after their territories and we will look after ours.
Q: Fishermen in Mannar and Trincomalee are facing severe problems due to restrictions on fishing. Is there any possibility of relaxing these restrictions?
A: We have relaxed the rules in areas under our control. After military operations are completed there would be further relaxation.
Some 130 policemen including a riot squad yesterday gave protection to wildlife officials as they removed lions, leopards and other species from the shutdown Ahungalla zoo while hundreds of area residents protested.
Dehiwela Zoo Veterinarian Dr. P. Kandasamy told The Sunday Times that except for about 20 crocodiles and a pair of sloth bears, all other species were removed from Ahungalla and were brought to Dehiwela. The remaining animals are to be brought today, after the government last month cancelled the licence given to the Ahungalle private zoo.
"We had to remove the animals with the protection of nearly 130 police officers including a riot squad as the Ahungalla zoo officials had disconnected water and electricity supplies and hundreds of protesters were waiting outside the zoo premises," he said.Dr. Kandasamy said animals ranging from lions and leopards to deer and foxes were transported after they were tranquilized.
Among the species transferred were 10 lions, 10 leopards, a python and four peacocks.
The legal issues swirling round this long standing dispute are still pending.On Friday, the Supreme Court granted special leave for the Environmental Foundation to appeal against last year's judgement of the Court of Appeal concerning the license given to the Ahungalla zoo.
The Court of Appeal had said the environmental group had sufficient standing to come to court but refused to interfere with the license granted to the zoo saying it was within the law. The case will be taken up on July 21.
In a sweeping reorganisation of the Ceylon Workers Congress after the debacle at the local elections, an angry party leader, S. Thondaman has dissolved some 48 District councils and some 2100 estate committees.
Wielding the axe in a desperate bid to revive the party, Mr. Thondaman has stripped eight CWC members of all their powers, in the face of allegations of irresponsible behaviour and maladministration against them, a spokesman said.
Mr. Thondaman himself told The Sunday Times he would fully use the executive powers vested in him, to revamp the party, including the policy making working committee. More women and youth would be included in the decision making bodies.
Mr. Thondaman said the people's verdict at the March 21 elections was a clear message that the CWC had failed to deliver the goods in a situation of high prices and a host of other grievances. It was a warning and a challenge to the CWC and every step must be taken to meet the aspirations of the people.
The Action Group of Tamils in Colombo has welcomed the accord between the People's Alliance and the UNP to tackle the North-East ethnic question.
"It's a welcome move," a spokesman for AGTC told The Sunday Times adding that, "In the past it has been the case of opposition opposing the government action, and this is the first time that they have got together on a common platform.''
A delegation of the Action Group of Tamils comprising N. Wijayasingham Kumar Ponnambalam and Dr. Velauthapillari had extensive talks with Britishunder Secretary for Foreign Affairs Liam Fox, who brokered the PA-UNP deal, here three months ago on a common approach to the problem.
An accused who pleaded guilty to six thefts was sentenced to a total of 27 years and 6 months rigorous imprisonment by the Trincomalee Magistrate. P. Swarnarajah.
Abdeen Faris of Sinnakinniya admitted two previous convictions and violating regulations when he was serving a suspended jail sentence.
UNP's Karu Jayasuriya is expected to take oaths as mayor before a Supreme Court Judge on April 15th morning, council sources said.
Next the Deputy Mayor Omar Z. Kamil and other councillors will be sworn in by the Mayor. The UNP group will then meet to elect their Whip.
Religious observances will be conducted in the Town Hall by the clergy of the four religions with CMC employees and Councillors participating. Admission of party supporters to the oath taking will be restricted.
Former Mayor K. Ganeshalingam will lead the opposition as head of the Independent Group of Councillors. According to informed sources Mr. Ganeshalingam has requested CMC authorities to let him have an office in Town Hall. "According to MC Regulations only the Mayor and his Deputy are entitled to have an office in the Council. The opposition leader is treated as a Councillor," CMC sources said.
This was a request made by the opposition in the earlier Council also but was turned down. "Why didn't Mr. Ganeshalingam give an office to the opposition leader of the previous Council when he was Mayor?" questioned a newly elected UNP Councillor.
Mr. Jayasuriya's first public appearance as Mayor will be at the prize giving of the CMC National Festival at the Municipal Sports Club on April 27. The festival of traditional games and a bicycle race will be sponsored by donors. The cost is estimated to be around Rs. 300,000. CMC is confident of collecting more funds than needed. The excess will be donated to the Ranaviru Fund, CMC sources disclosed.
Mayor-elect Karu Jayasuriya has got off to a flying start to dress up the city even before taking oaths (scheduled for April 15) by agreeing to hand over the upkeep of the city's roads to private firms who had offered to maintain them.
The 38 roundabouts in the city will be handed over to private firms and work on beautifying them will begin shortly.
Meanwhile, Mr. Jayasuriya will not be accepting the Mayor's salary, nor will he use the official car. As for the official residence it will not be occupied by him but a part of it will instead be converted into a Youth Centre. He would accept only for the Council's security, sources added.
Dr Ross Bailey and his wife planned to spend a short holiday in the south after a strenuous medical conference in Colombo. But the holiday they looked forward to ended in tragedy. Dr Bailey was drowned while taking a sea-bath off Triton Hotel, Ahungalle last Thursday.
The fifty five year old renal surgeon from New Zealand was in Sri Lanka last week to attend a medical conference organized by the Sri Lanka Medical Association. The couple decided to stay a few extra days in Sri Lanka specially to take a dip in the sea.
They arrived at Hotel Triton on Wednesday. Taking in the sun and sea the couple practically lived out of doors. On Thursday after a light breakfast they decided to take a sea bath.
Dr. Ross who loved the sea got into the water. It was around 11.30 am and the sea looked somewhat calm. A few minutes after Dr. Ross took to the water. Onlookers had seen him waving for help, and before life savers could get close to him Dr. Ross had disappeared.
Mrs. Lesley Bailey blamed the hotel authorities for not acting quickly. She claimed that the search operation lasted only for half an hour.
'It was a guest who first went into the water, later the life savers went in. Even for this, they took about half an hour to start the boat. They didn't try hard, they simply gave up,' she alleged.
According to Mrs. Bailey the couple had not been warned, neither has there been a red flag warning swimmers. 'I remember seeing a notice board requesting the swimmers to swim within a certain area. The sea was fairly calm.
" I asked my husband whether it was rough but he said it was okay. I decided to read a book. I did lookout for my husband from time to time and he seemed fine, until a crowd gathered at the beach' she said.
Mrs. Bailey who was engrossed in her book had found people on the beach. She too had gone close to the water to find out what was wrong. 'They said someone was drowning. I immediately looked out for my husband and I couldn't see him. A hotel boy said it may be the doctor who is in trouble,' she said.
The doctor's wife still in a state of shock alleged that the search operation could have been more organized. She was hopeful of seeing her husband's body. However until Friday evening there were no traces of the body.
Meanwhile the Ahungalle police confirmed that the life savers did not act promptly and claimed that the team should have been prepared to tackle such situations.
Ahungalle OIC Yasawardene Weeratunge said that the two officers on duty at the beach had confirmed that the lifesavers should be more vigilant since the guests were their responsibility.
'It was stated that the boat had gone half way and had to turn back because it had run out of fuel.
Such mishaps should not occur since every second counts in such an incident. Warning the guest is something totally different to being prepared to save someone. I personally feel that if they acted promptly Dr. Bailey may have had a chance,' he said.
When The Sunday Times contacted Triton Hotel Resident Manager Niran Ratwatte he said that they had warned all guests not to go to the beach. Despite the red flag on the beach the guest had gone to the sea.
Dr Ross swam to the deep sea and it was very difficult for the life savers to get close. Yet with the greatest difficulty they managed to go close. When they were about five meters away Dr. Bailey had drowned', he said.
Q: JVP has got 101 members into local councils but what puzzles the voters is that some of them will resign and new members will be appointed. Why didn't you choose the best members to contest?
A: We didn't ask the people for preference votes but only to vote for the party. This was an indication by us that eventually we will consider the highest good of the party, and choose the best men not on the basis of any preferential voting.
Q: Isn't it strange that having nominated members to contest you now try to get them out?
A: I must emphasize our fundamental policy. We did select the best people to contest. They did not fight for their own places but for the party. So, while some elected members will remain, others will resign on their own accord giving place to comrades of great capabilities. They are not bitter about it. Some did not want to face the hurly burly of elections but since they are men of proven capability they will be selected to some of the seats won by the JVP in 10 local bodies.
Q: So do you believe your party is now a third force in Sri Lankan politics?
A: Yes, we have a right to claim this position, though there are people who don't want to accept this reality.
Just assess our votes and you will see that both rural and urban people have expressed faith in us. Even in Colombo the bastion of capitalism we have won two seats. So nobody can ignore us now.
We are seeking to be an alternative froce to both the ruling PA and the UNP which are capitalist parties.
Q: Do you believe the Communist Party and the LSSP have become spent forces in socialist politics?
A: It is sad to see these two pioneering left movements which once enjoyed wide acceptance in the country now stumbling like lame ducks. The reason is simple. They accepted posts in capitalist governments as ministers and deputies. They have betrayed the working classes who for more than half a century had depended on them. After accepting portfolios in the capitalist governments, they have lost both their independence and the confidence of the people. We have come into fill this gap and are today the principal socialist party in the country.
Q: What do you feel about the MEP under Dinesh Gunawardena? Do you write it off?
A: No. We don't, but I can only say we did far better than the MEP.
Q: What is your opinion about the way the election was conducted?
A: There was widespread intimidation by government supporters. They harassed and sometimes chased away our polling agents. Despite all that, we won 101 seats.
Q: To whom do you mainly owe this good showing?
A: I must bow my head to our late leader Rohana Wijeweera who set the stage for us I also bow my head to those who risked their lives for the party.Continue to the News/Comment page 2
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