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12th March 2000

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Roof-top raid ends battle

Crack commandos in blazing pre-dawn operation hunt down holed-up terrorists

The blazing battle of Rajagiriya which began at dusk on Friday between the security forces and LTTE guerrillas ended at dawn yesterday with Army Commandos storming an apartment complex where the fleeing guerrillas were holed up. 

Commandos trained in anti-hijack and hostage release operations moved into the Serpentine flats in Wanatamulla before the break of dawn.

A commando fired a sniper rifle killing a guerrilla. As they made their advance, the Commandos were greeted with loud explosions. 

It later turned out that four guerrillas had detonated the explosive laden suicide jackets they wore. Three commandos were wounded, one of them seriously. Two civilians were also killed in the incident.

The bodies of the five terrorists, Army officials said, were blown to pieces.

The five were those who fled from an LTTE group that made an abortive attempt to attack on government leaders and senior security officers returning after Fridays' parliament sittings.

Parliament was debating the extension of the state of emergency and was also discussing the votes of the Defence Ministry. 

Police said the guerrillas expected the convoys escorting Government politicians and senior security officials to proceed past the ambush point the guerrillas had prepared near the roundabout at Castle Street, directly opposite the Ayurveda College at Borella.

See Iqbal Athas' Situation Report

Airbus fiasco: Rs. 100m for repairs

By Leon Berenger

In the wake of a London flight fiasco where the airbus took off and came back twice, the national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines is facing serious questions about safety precautions, airline sources said.

The questions arose after an A340 which was purchased two years ago was almost forced to make a belly landing at the Bandaranaike International Airport after the pilots were unable to retract the undercarriage that supports the wheels for landing.

The incident occurred shortly after the aircraft took-off from Colombo for London's Heathrow Airport with some 260 passengers and crew on board.

The pilots were later forced to turn around but not before dumping thousands of kilograms of fuel into the open sea to bring the plane to the required landing weight.

Before landing at Colombo however the pilots were forced to fly over the control tower where ground assistance was required to know the position of the wheels. Luckily, for all those on board the wheels were still pointing down in a landing position so that the aircraft was able to come down safely without any incident.

If the wheels had been in a different position the result would have only been a frightening belly landing at the BIA with much risk to all those on board, the sources said.

However the episode did not end there, because the pilots in their second attempt to take off later in the day were again forced to do the same routine after the plane's hydraulic systems and the undercarriage were once more on the blink.

The end result was that the passengers were able to leave for Heathrow only the next day and the passengers waiting to board the plane to Colombo from that end were also delayed for more than one day and had to be put up for the night on the airline's account.

However the airline is not holding its officials responsible for the maintenance of the aircraft since it claims that after the first episode the aircraft was fully tested and given the greenlight to take off.

"The plane was kept suspended in the hangar and the undercarriage was successfully tested five times where it worked perfectly. It was only after this that it was decided to use the same aircraft but the problem occurred again. It was just bad luck," one official said.

The plane, which is presently under close scrutiny by both local and foreign experts is expected to be operational as soon as the undercarriage problem is fixed, the official said.

And at the end of it all the airline was forced to cough up an estimated one hundred million rupees for a brand new undercarriage that had to be imported from the makers in France along with a group of experts from that company entrusted with the task of installing it on the plane.

While an estimated $1 million was required for the undercarriage an additional $250,000 was needed to transport the piece of equipment on a chartered flight from France to Colombo, the sources further said.

Meanwhile in a related issue an aging A300 aircraft has been grafted into the airline's operation to fill a shortage created by the ongoing refurbishment of several other aircraft.

According to sources this 'vintage' type model, manufactured in the early 1970s was added to the Colombo operations three weeks ago after it was taken on lease from a company in Ireland. 

"This aircraft is meant to operate only on short distance flights such as Colombo-Madras, etc. and the in-flight facilities for passengers on this plane are near-zero. One cannot even think of getting the plane to fly for a long distance", the sources said.

"Even the food trays are forced onto the laps of the passengers since most of the arm rests are broken and not operative. In addition there is no refrigerator or audio and video on board since the plane was designed only for short distances.

"But now with this aircraft being used to fly longer distances, it is bound to double the inconvenience of unsuspecting passengers," the sources added.

On Friday, the aircraft which was to leave for Saudi Arabia with the country's first batch of Haj pilgrims was delayed for more than half a day at the tarmac following a technical fault with the hydraulic systems that was affecting the undercarriage.

Meanwhile scores of flights destined for Hong Kong are being repeatedly cancelled owing to a serious dearth of aircraft at the moment and passengers who were booked on to the national carrier were switched onto other airlines, once again resulting in huge monetary losses, the sources revealed.

A statement from Sri Lankan Airlines confirmed the London flight fiasco and at the same time deeply regretted the inconvenience caused to the passengers.

"However we would like to mention that the failure of the landing gear to retract had no bearing on safety," the airline said.

Some allegedly erroneous remarks by the Commonwealth Press Union newsletter 'CPU News' and earlier by ARTICLE 19 Executive Director Andrew Puddephatt in a letter to Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera angered the Minister recently. 

According to the state-run Daily News, Minister Samaraweera has addressed his complaint over certain remarks published in the CPU News about the suppression of the media in Sri Lanka to Emeka Anyaoku, Secretary General, Commonwealth House. Presumably, he refers to Mr. Anyaoku as Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, but what is terrible is the fact that Mr. Anyaoku has retired. The new Secretary General is the former New Zealand Foreign Minister Don McKinnon. 

Information Director Ariya Rubesinghe has in the meantime written to Jeremy Scott-Joynt, Editor of CPU News - the official publication of the London-based Commonwealth Press Union. In his letter Mr. Rubesinghe has called Mr. Scott -Joynt the Editor of the 'CUP news', according to the Daily News, when it should be CPU news.

He has also addressed copies of his letter to 'Secretary Geneva - Commonwealth Union'. The word 'Secretary Geneva' is an obvious error. But there is no such organisation called 'Commonwealth Union'.

A copy has also been sent to 'High Commissioner of the Commonwealth in Colombo'. But the Foreign Ministry in Colombo say that no such High Commissioner is accredited to Sri Lanka. Who said to err is human and to forgive is divine!

Govt. envoy to negotiate release of troops

By Shelani de Silva

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has directed the Defence Ministry to send an official to negotiate the release of 11 more military personnel being held in LTTE-controlled areas, Deputy Justice Minister Dilan Perera said.

Mr. Perera told The Sunday Times he himself was ready to go to the Wannia area and negotiate with the LTTE for the release of the 11 prisoners who have warned they would resume their hunger strike on Wednesday if the government did not take action to obtain their release.

Four other military prisoners were released recently after family members visited them along with an ICRC representative. 

LTTE spokesman Thamilchelvam had told the family members the government should send a representative to negotiate the release of the others who had been held for more than seven years.

Chandani Boyagoda wife of Navy Captain Ajith Boyagoda who is the highest ranking prisoner being held, said she had met a Presidential Secretary official on Wednesday to discuss what could be done to get the prisoners released.

Ms Boyagoda said she had handed over a letter from her husband and though no assurances were given she believed some positive steps would be taken.

Meanwhile, an association of relatives of missing persons is going ahead with plans to carry out a peace march to Jaffna if the government does not take steps to get the service personnel in LTTE custody released.


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