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28th March 1999

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LTTE's sunk ship: mission accomplished?

By Vaijayanthi Prakash Our Correspondent in New Delhi

New Delhi: Trawler M.V. Mariamma, which the LTTE scuttled and sank after it was cornered by the Indian navy and coast guard in the sea off the Andamans earlier this month, may well have unloaded millions of dollars worth of arms on the northern coast, before it was caught up with.

Official versions emanating from Colombo and New Delhi, according to which the LTTE had been prevented from landing the weapons in the northern Lankan coast as planned, may have to be taken with a pinch of salt, if what sources close to the Indian navy say are taken seriously. The official line is that the lethal cargo was abandoned and thrown into the sea before the crew escaped in boats under cover of darkness But it is said that Indian naval divers who had scoured the sea where the ship had sunk, did not find any evidence of armaments having been dumped. The ship either had no arms on it or the crew had already unloaded them somewhere on the northern Lankan coast. The naval engagement took place about 210 nautical miles from Point Pedro.

Press reports in Colombo quoted unimpeachable Sri Lankan naval sources to say that MV Mariamma had been spotted several times in March by fishing vessels close to the Mullaitivu coast where the LTTE generally unloads its arms. They had reported that the trawler was 70ft. long, painted black, and had a gun mounted on it. Fishermen had complained that the trawler had been firing upon and sinking their vessels off the Mullaitivu coast, once as close to the shore as 50 nautical miles. Clearly, the LTTE did not want any one snooping around when arms were being put on small boats to be taken ashore. The fishermen had reportedly seen some of the mid sea transfers.

Some analysts in New Delhi feel that MV Mariamma could well have been boarded and its men captured, but the pro-LTTE Indian Defense Minister, George Fernandes, might have prevented this from happening. He could have wittingly delayed matters and given the LTTE critical extra time. It is said that when the Sri Lankan High Commission in New Delhi asked the Indian Defence Ministry for urgent assistance to intercept the ship, it was told to come through the proper diplomatic channel, which involved needless delay. Finally, the External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, had to be contacted, and it was he who pressed the defence ministry to get the naval brass in Thiruvananthapuram to act. INS Khanjar, the missile carrying corvette, and its fleet closed in on Mariamma at 3 pm on March 11, but at that time, there was an inexplicable decision to wait until dark to attack and board the ship. The precious hours and the cover of darkness, thus gifted to the LTTE, enabled the crew to scuttle the ship and make good their escape. As sunken ship told no tale.

As for Mr. Fernandes' LTTE connection, it is well known that sacked Indian Admiral, Vishnu Bhagwat, had charged that the minister was entertaining LTTE operatives in his house. This may or may not be true. Mr. Fernandes has, himself, denied it and said that government should investigate how a man who makes such ridiculous charges could have become navy chief. But what Mr. Fernandes cannot deny is that before he became a minister, he had hosted a conference of unabashedly pro-LTTE Eelamists in his house. Asked why he should support the LTTE when it had killed Rajiv Gandhi, Mr. Fernandes had said that a country's foreign policy could not be mortgaged to the interests of a particular family (the Nehru-Gandhi family).

After he became Defence Minister in the BJP government last year, he has not voiced any pro-LTTE views or at least openly rubbed shoulders with LTTE and Eelam sympathisers.

"He has nothing to do with our Sri Lanka policy even as a cabinet minister," said BJP foreign policy expert N.N. Jha, a former Indian High Commissioner in Colombo. Serving officials point out that India would not have continued the ban on the LTTE (it recently extended the ban by another year) if the likes of Mr. Fernandes were committed enough to the LTTE to help them out. "Indian foreign policy has remained stable despite changes in government. Further, politicians have always said one thing while in the opposition and another while in government. Mr. Fernandes has done nothing to change established policies on Sri Lanka and the LTTE," a ranking foreign office person said recently.

Chemmani a non starter

By Chris Kamalendran

The much awaited Chemmani mass grave court inquiry scheduled to be held in Jaffna on Friday did not get underway due to the failure to provide transport for the Magistrate to be flown to Jaffna from Colombo, legal sources said.

The CID was due to submit its report whether the soil at the Chemmani grave had been tampered with, but as the Magistrate was not available the CID official who had visited Jaffna returned back to Colombo in the evening.

Reports from Jaffna said that family members of those people who were allegedly killed and buried in the Chemmani grave yard had come to the court house, but were disappointed that the inquiry could not be taken up due to the absence of the Magistrate. After half an hour the crowd dispersed.

The Sunday Times learns that Additional Magistrate, N. Arulsagaran who took up the case on March 5 was due to be flown to Jaffna again and was awaiting to be contacted by the CID who were expected to make logistical arrangements for him to be flown to Jaffna. He had not been contacted by the CID officials, however.

The Additional Magistrate told The Sunday Times that he was out of the country for a few days and returned last Tuesday, but thereafter the CID had not made any contact.

"I understand that the CID had tried to contact me before the day I arrived. They had contacted the Attorney General's Department on Monday, but thereafter they did not contact me," he said.

He said that the CID could make a fresh application for the inquiry and a new date could be fixed.

CID Director K. Gajanayaka told The Sunday Times that he was awaiting a full report from the Chief Inspector, Kamal Perera who was sent to Jaffna for the case.

Meanwhile another suspected mass grave was unearthed near the Duraiappa Stadium in Jaffna on Friday.

Municipal workers who were digging up the area to build toilet pits came across at least seven human skulls and parts of skeletons.

The digging was stopped immediately and the Police were informed through municipal authorities, reports said. As the news spread hundreds of people gathered and some of them took photographs of the grave.

A political nudge for Haj

In a week of political gimmicks with each trying to overdo the other and families getting involved in the tug- of- war for power, an Id- Ul- Fitr greeting sent by a leading Muslim politician of the government has caused ripples.

The veteran Muslim politician has sent out a religious greeting to his brethren in his ministerial capacity with the postage paid by the state at the concessionary rate of Rs. 2.50 only.

Despite sending the greeting cards in his official capacity as minister, the card also carried on one side his own photograph and a religious greeting while on the other side was a message promoting the candidacy of his son who is a candidate for the forthcoming Provincial Council polls.

Editors reject President's charges

The Editors' Guild of Sri Lanka has expressed concern over attempts by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and some ministers to create a fear psychosis against independent journalists, by projecting them as a media Mafia.

In a statement the Guild said it was concerned and distressed over what it saw as the anti-media stand taken by the President and certain cabinet ministers during the past few months.

The Guild said that campaign against the free media had begun during the Wayamba election with government leaders accusing some media personnel of prostituting journalism and claiming that some newspapers were fit only for use as toilet paper.

PA unions backing out

Government affiliated trade unions complained that fellow unions are losing confidence and backing out of the ongoing election campaign.

The Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya, the SLFP main union, complained that trade unions are backing out of the campaigns leaving many unions in what they termed as a discouraging scenario.

"A number of unions which usually support the government campaigns have decided either not to support at all or not to support openly at this election," said President of the SLNSS, Leslie Devendran.

Call for a probe on medical lab purchases

Allegations of irregularities or corrupt practices in the purchase of medical laboratory equipment during the past five years have been made to the Health Ministry.

One supplier in a letter to the ministry has alleged that the Medical Supplies Division of the ministry and the State Pharmaceutical Corporation had favoured one particular supplier and thus caused not only discrimination but also a big loss to the government.

The supplier has called for a probe by the ministry and offered to produce documentary evidence of irregular tender procedure mainly relating to the purchase of coagulation reagents and diagnostic test kits.

CMU warns of subtle moves

By Chamintha Thilakarathna

A major trade union has alerted the working class to subtle moves by the Labour Minister to declare strikes illegal.

Mercantile Union General Secretary Bala Tampoe said, "A strike organised by the CMU a few days ago in Ja-Ela was declared illegal by the Labour Minister forcing employees to get back to work, or be considered as having vacated their posts." He said this should be taken as a warning that the Labour Minister could use sections of the Industrial Disputes Act to crush strikes and get rid of protesting workers.

Court and cabinet differ

Land allottees of Pallekelewatte in a letter to President Chandrika Kumaratunga have protested that injustice had been done to 228 allottees by a cabinet decision taken on February 17.

The letter of March 24 states the Court of Appeal in a judgment in June last year had stated that the original 641 families selected for allotments should be entitled for it and not the new allottees as decided by a cabinet decision recently.

It is learnt that at a Presidential Mobile secretariat held in Teldeniya in 1992, it was decided that 641 families from the middle and lower income groups were to be given 10 perches of land at Rs 15,000 .Only 406 families paid the money at that time.

However the Minister of Housing Indika Gunawardena presented a cabinet paper dated 3.11.98 that the order of the Court of Appeal to be implemented in respect of the selected allottees who have paid for the land and the balance land with a minimum of 20 perches to a worker family to the 310 estate worker families and the five staff members.

Big bill blocks TV speeches

By Shelani de Silva

The Elections Department is yet to settle a ten million rupee bill to State television Rupavahini for media coverage officially provided to all political parties in the 1994 elections.

The Sunday Times learns that this huge unpaid bill may be the reason for the Government's delay in making a decision on providing equal time slots for all political parties contesting the upcoming Elections. Unlike in the Private Television where political parties can pay to get time slots, the State owned TV gives free coverage but the Elections Department has to foot the bill. Rupavahini Chairman D E W Gunesekera said that he had written to the Commissioner of Elections asking him to settle the bill. He said he had not yet received a directive from the Govt. as to the allocation of times for all parties for the PC elections, though he had made some alternative proposals to the Cabinet.

Meanwhile the elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake told the weekly meeting of all parties that the Treasury had not yet released funds to obtain State TV and radio time for all parties. While this hangs in the balance the state controlled ITN is drawing up a plan to give each party 10 second slots on payment. This will be strictly controlled to allow the party only to give specific details like the symbol and preference numbers, ITN Chief Newton Gunerathne said.

Nutty pest

Some regions in the coconut growing Puttalam district have been struck by a new coconut pest.

The regions affected are the Kalpitiya, Mundel, Arachchikattuwa and Wanathavillu areas. The Marawila regional office of the Coconut Cultivation Board identified the pest as a mite which lives on the juices extracted from the nut itself .The husks of such nuts dry up.

PC's in debt

By Faraza Farook

The Medical Supplies Division (MSD) of the Health Ministry is in a dilemma over the supply of drugs to provincial hospitals as administrative snags between Provincial Councils and the central government have resulted in delays in collecting debts for several years.

The Provincial Councils owe the MSD over Rs. 600 million as accumulated debts, sources said.

Insufficient funds allocated to the PCs and the central government for the purchase of drugs and improper management of the funds, have resulted in the debts accumulating.

Ombudsman's work hampered

By Tissa Liyanage

Non co-operation by public officials who delay information and reports for the speedy disposal of cases and the absence of proper infrastructure facilities are the main obstacles the Ombudsman or The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration faces.

The cases centre mainly on infringement of fundamental rights, public administration, failure to afford access to public information and acts of administrative abuse, negligence or omission.

Examples of failure to provide access to public information relate to pension calculations, government school admissions, requirements to obtain a passport, identity card requirements, and basis for university admissions

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