In the aftermath of October 15 bomb blast and November 14 attempt on Kelanitissa Power plant incidentally both on Poya days, security forces are taking no chances this time. Security measures were tightened up in the city. The picture shows vehicles entering Fort area being thoroughly checked by the soldiers yesterday, a Unduwap Poya day. Pic by Dunstan Wickremeratne
Linking of the land based Main Supply Route (MSR) to Jaffna through Killinochchi would be achieved by February 4, next year, acting Defence Minister, General Anuruddha Ratwatte declared.
"At any cost, we have to re-unify the country. Those who scoff at our plans are in for a shock," he told the Sri Lanka Foreign Correspondents Association on Thursday. General Ratwatte's assertions came at a news conference that preceded a dinner he hosted for members of the FCA at his Stanmore Crescent residence in Colombo. The assurance by General Ratwatte, who is personally directing the military machine against the LTTE, would mean the ongoing seven month long "Operation Jaya Sikurui" (Victory Assured) would be completed in time for Independence Day. Some 20,000 troops are engaged in the offensive to recapture 74 kilometres of the A 9 - the Kandy-Jaffna highway - which has not been under Government control. Already nearly 50 kilometres of the highway had been re-captured.
General Ratwatte declared that neither he nor the Army were worried about casualties as war meant casualties. At any rate, the wounded were three fourths of the 4,000 casualties. Out of the 3,000 wounded, only 500 were not in a position to get back to the front. Most of the rest had gone back, he said.
Asked if the armed forces had enough manpower to hold the 74 kilometre stretch of the road, General Ratwatte admitted they had.
A whole formation, comprising 10,000 troops, was deployed only to guard the road and the offensive, as such, was being carried out by another set of four divisions, Gen. Ratwatte said. If the operation was taking this long (it started on May 13), it was because the forces were keen that the captured stretches of the road were defended adequately. If this had not been done, the LTTE would have re-captured vast stretches of the road. But the LTTE had not been able to do this so far, the General said. The forces, he added, were securing a 10 km stretch on either side of the road.
In last Thursday's heavy fighting and high casualties in the battle for Mannakkulam, 8 kms north of Kanakarayankulam on the MSR, the General said that this was not because of any intelligence failure or poor performance, but because the affected troops had gone there mainly to remove the casualties. Helicopters could not be used because of bad weather and ground troops had to go on the rescue mission in the night. These were attacked by the LTTE's crack Charles Anthony regiment, which had come in as a reinforcement. The forces had earlier destroyed the LTTE camp and the LTTE's bid to re-capture it had failed. The LTTE also had suffered heavy casualties, the General said.
He was satisfied with the training and level of competence of the Sri Lankan troops including the commando groups, and did not think that foreign training was necessary. "We can teach other armies a thing or two about guerrilla warfare," the General said.
Answering a specific question on when he expected the US Green Berets to come back, he said the Green Berets, like other such groups from Britain and France, would come as per a set programme. "They do not go to the front. They deliver lectures here," he explained.
The General said that the situation in Jaffna was conducive for conducting local body elections, for which nominations had been called. "The people want a representative government and government too would like the army to be taken off civilian work," he said.
The General said that he knew what the army might do if it stayed too long in an area. In this context, he recalled the complaints which the Jaffna people had against the IPKF.
On the situation in the east, he said that here too there was a lot of misreporting. The LTTE had not been able to move about and send reinforcements to the Wanni because the main road and the sea had been blocked.
Asked if after the opening of the road, there would be talks with the LTTE, Gen. Ratwatte said the LTTE would be welcome to talk if it laid down arms and be like any other Tamil party. On whether he would meet LTTE chief, Prabhakaran, Gen. Ratwatte said: "I will meet him and shake hands with him, but only after we win and he is defeated!"
On the Amnesty International's charge that most of the 600 who had reportedly disappeared from Jaffna in 1996, had been killed by the troops, the General said, that this was not based on any proper investigation. Of the 750 cases brought to the notice of the government, 180 were duplicates and some were traced, leaving a balance of 400. Surely some may have joined the LTTE or taken away by the LTTE during the forced evacuation of Jaffna at the close of 1995, he said.
Why has the Amnesty or any NGO not contacted the LTTE and asked them if any of the disappeared were with them?" the General asked.
Asked about the plight of the Tamils in the camps in Vavuniya, he said that they were being detained because they were destitutes. "They would go to Colombo and wander about with nobody to look after them. They might get arrested. Sometimes we find that their 'Relatives' in Colombo deny any relationship or knowledge of them. Some express inability to put them up in their houses."
"Those who want to get back to Jaffna are allowed to go back and those who came from other parts of the Wanni would also be allowed to go back as and when civilian life becomes safe along the MSR. Efforts are on to allow civilian settlements in some areas along the road," Gen. Ratwatte said.
President Chandrika Kuma-ratunga returned to Sri Lanka yesterday after a private visit to Britain.
Security arrangements were so tight that her arrival area was sealed off. Some airport staff were asked to stay overnight.
Preparations for her arrival led to confusion with many believing that top Emirates officials were arriving to sign off the AirLanka deal.
Giving credence to this was the earlier arrival of a group of gentlemen in waiting with a welcome platter of kavun, kiribath and kokis.
The President and her entourage arrived by Emirates flight EK 800 right on the scheduled hour of 9.41 am.
But the gentlemen had been at the airport from 6.30 am. Whether the kiribath reception was ready three hours ahead for security reasons or otherwise no one could explain.
Airlanka Chairman, Harry Jayawardena together with his daughter, and AirLanka Director Nihal Jayamanne PC, and PA MP Felix Perera, were at the airport. Others included Emirates airlines officials Chandana de Silva and Tissa Bibile.
President Kumaratunga had made an unannounced visit to Britain in connection with an interview to admit her daughter to a medical school.
The opposition UNP, which lost office in 1994 mainly over wide spread corruption has accused the PA govt. of opening the floodgates of corruption and will launch a countrywide campaign on this issue from next month.
A party official said the launch pad for the anti corruption campaign would be a paliamentary motion of no confidence on both the govt. and on the permanent commission which was set up to fight bribery and corruption. The commission is still embroiled in crisis with its Diretor General Nelum Gamage being reverted to the Justice Minisry and the two commissioners being asked to resign by the President.
At a working committee meeting last Tuesday the UNP decided to appoint a special team to draft the no confidence motion and workout the thrust of the anti corruption drive.
The offical said that besides the crisis in the anti graft Commission the party would highlight allegations regarding the proposed privatisation of AirLanka and the deals of its controversial chairman Harry Jayewardene the P&O deal for the Colombo port and the tender for the purchase of 10 locomotives from a French firm. He said the anti corruption drive would also spotlight instances where the war has been used for certain individuals to make millions of rupees.
A plan to recruit 500 women to the Police force from Jaffna ended in a flop with only one candidate turning up for the interview, reports from the north said.
The recruitment drive for police women was launched with the hope of stepping up the police force needed for the coming local government elections in the distrcit.
The only candidate selected who underwent a medical test on Friday was due to start on Saturday.
The much awaited visit of South Africa's president Nelson Mandela for Sri Lanka's golden jubilee independence celebrations in February is virtually off, a government source said.
President Mandela who has emerged as one of the world's great statesmen had been invited by President Kumaratunga to be a special guest at the Feb. 4 celebrations in Kandy. But a busy schedule may prevent him from coming. President Mandela is due to open a session of South Africa's Parliament and visit Russia from February 1 to 3.
Prince Charles will be the Chief Guest at the 50th year of Sri Lanka's independence.
UNP MP Anura Bandaranaike has officially asked that questions raised about his conduct in a speech by Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera in Parliament last week be struck off the record.
Mr. Bandaranaike on Wednesday wrote to Speaker K.B. Ratnayake, requesting him to delete all references made about himself and another UNP MP Sarath Amunugama.
"I am writing this letter to draw your immediate attention to a speech made by Minister Mangala Samaraweera where he had quoted from a speech I had made several years ago from Hansard, referring to the conduct of Dr. Amunugama, Mr. Bandaranaike said in the letter.
Pointing out that the Speaker had earlier deleted from the Hansard certain references made by him to President Kumaratunga, Mr. Bandaranaike has requested the Speaker to adopt the same standard and delete references made to him and Dr. Amunugama in Mr. Samaraweera's speech.
The government is being accused of corruption and fraud as steam from the controversial locomotive tender continues to rise.
In another related development, the United States and South Korean govts. have taken issue over the deal. Angered by the rejection of the US bidder General Motors, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States Embassy in Colombo Richard H. Smyth has called upon the Govt. to explain how the US firm was left out.
The request has been made in a letter Smyth wrote to President Chandrika Kumaratunga (through the Presidential Secretary) expressing US displeasure over the manner in which General Motors were disqualified.
The South Korean ambassador in Colombo met Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, but was reportedly unable to make formal representation as Mr. Kadirgamar was a member of the Cabinet subcommittee that went into the tender.
The tender for 10 new locomotives for Sri Lanka Railway awarded to GEC Alsthom of France, has resulted in widespread allegations being made accusing the government of political interference and a lack of transparency and accountability.
The Maharaja Organization which is the local representative for General Motors, USA/Canada has accused Presidential Additional Secretary Cyril Gunapala of having gone against a decision of Finance Ministry Secretary B.C. Perera and Transport Ministry Secretary, Cecil Amarasinghe, with regard to a clause in the locomotive tender. According to tender clause 4.8.3, it was specified that the wheel base should not be greater than 10 ft. 6" and on this basis Mr. Gunapala recommended GEC Alsthom over Samsung and General Motors, Canada both of whom have a 3.5" or 2.8% deviation on wheel base. This clause in the tender specifications is a key factor in ensuring safety of rail travel.
Mr. Perera and Mr. Amarasinghe initially recommended that five locomotives be purchased from General Motors Canada and five from Samsung Korea, on the basis of standardization and cost. Samsung Korea too are reportedly agents for General Motors locomotives which parts are assembled in Korea. The South Korean government however is taking up the position that they are not associated with the Maharajah Organisation in this tender.
President Kumaratunga caused a controversy over this tender when she rejected these recommendations by Mr. Perera and Mr. Amarasinghe, using very strong words at a Cabinet meeting. There were unconfirmed reports later that Mr. Perera threatened to resign over this issue but was placated.
GEC Alsthom officials in Colombo have meanwhile denied claims about the unsuitability of the Ruston 12RK215 engine for rail track. While admitting that this engine has never before been used for railway they say however that the engine is an improvement on the RK series. Alsthom claims that Iran is also purchasing 100 of these engines while Syria is buying 50. Alsthom did admit that the engine has been used previously on ships.
However, according to company spokesmen this does not make the engine non-compatible for rail travel. They maintain that the Ruston 12RK215 engine has undergone a sample testing by rail authority. They say that both Lloyds and British Rail have tested the engine and found it to be compatible for rail track.
Alsthom further maintains that an engine only constitutes 20% of a locomotive while the balance 80% of equipment lies in transmission. This means power is transmitted to the wheel base through a generator driven by the diesel engine. Hence, the requirement for a wheel base length not exceeding 10ft. 6" which according to tender specifications and recommendations made by the Technical Evaluation Committee would ensure maximum safety on rail.
Countering other charges that the Paxman locomotives, also from France, used in Sri Lanka railway have not performed well, they say. Paxman was a separate company until 10 years ago, before it was taken over by GEC Alsthom which retained its original name for sentimental reasons.
Meanwhile both General Motors and Samsung maintain that their offer fully complies with the operating requirements of the tender specification. They also point out that their offers are cheaper and provide a large operational saving on spare parts.
The Cabinet appointed Sub-committee comprising Ministers, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Kingsley Wickremaratne, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and Lakshman Jayakody upheld the theory of the wheel base specification and thereby rejected the Cabinet Appointed Tender Board (CATB) recommendations and the decision of the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC). The four ministers also found it suitable to spend about Rs. 500 million extra on the French offer. This Committee further seems to have thrown away collective decisions to standardize the railway equipment which has been identified as essential for substantial cost reduction and efficiency purposes.
The glaring shortcoming which seems to have been overlooked in reaching this decision to award the tender to the French, is that the tender requires the locomotive design and the component parts to be well tried out designs used in railway services in tropical conditions. According to the Jane's Handbook on World Railways the Ruston 12RK215 engine has never been used on locomotives anywhere in the world.
The argument now is that while it is true GEC Alsthom is the world's main supplier for locomotives, it is clear that this engine being sold to Sri Lanka has never yet been used anywhere in the world for rail track. It now appears that the evaluation reports by the government officials from CATB and TEC have either willingly or unwillingly overlooked this matter when recommending the Alsthom offer as being responsive and conforming to all tender specifications.
The tender specification called for a wheel base not greater than 10ft. 6" The Maharaja Organization however asserts that on November 26, this year Sri Lanka Railway took delivery of four locomotives from India with a wheel base of 12ft. 5in, which were found to be suitable by the same Technical Evaluation Committee only a year ago.
A senior government official who insisted on remaining anonymous, said the Cabinet Sub-committee based its decision on the wheel base specification required in the tender. He said it was only GEC Alsthom which fitted this specification.
The Cabinet Sub-committee, he said, primarily focused on the necessity for safety and found that the technology of GEC Alsthom was far more "up-market." The Committee, he says, did make a comprehensive study of the available documentation and decided that the present spare parts used in Sri Lanka Railway may soon be obsolete.
In the event of buying from General Motors Canada or Samsung Korea their spare parts too would in the present context be modified, he said. The engine offered by Samsung Korea was not that great, he maintained, adding that the government's main concern was to buy what is best for the country. "It's not the money, it's the technology that is an important consideration," he said.
He admitted that the Committee was unaware the Ruston 12RK215 engine has never been used on rail track before. However it could be modified, he said. He added, "After all the Rolls-Royce company supplies engines to both planes and cars."
The question here is then was the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) aware when it made its recommendations saying the French offer conformed to all specifications that the Ruston 12RK215 engine has never been used on rail track before but is an improvement on the RK series. If so, did TEC check if the engine has indeed been tested by rail authority and found compatible in spite of the engine having previously been used primarily on ships. Has not Alsthom indeed deviated from clause 4.1.1 of the tender which requires that the locomotive design and the component parts shall be well tried out designs used in Railway services in tropical conditions.
It is now clear from what Alsthom agents in Colombo say that Sri Lanka is a first in buying this engine followed by Iran and Syria. Those countries cannot be termed tropical because of cold winters. The bottom line is that the engine has not previously been a well tried out design used on rail track in tropical conditions. Further that while it may be an improvement on the RK series this same model engine has been used primarily on ships.
A 1 1/2 page report on the locomotive tender submitted by the Cabinet Sub-committee and read out by Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake at the Cabinet meeting on December 3 was not made available. No copies have been distributed.
Three of the four ministers who initially spent two hours deliberating the tender decided to award it to the French on the basis that both General Motors Canada and Samsung Korea, did not conform to all tender specifications while GEC Alsthom according to TEC and the CATB did. The fourth Minister signed the Sub-committee report saying he agreed with its findings. The fact that the French offer was the most expensive by as much as Rs. 500 million became immaterial on the grounds that the technology offered was more modern than the other two responsive bidders.
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