7th May 2000
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A Bodhi Pooja was held at Kuppiyawatte Jayasekerarama
By Our Diplomatic EditorSri Lanka ran into a political brick wall in New Delhi earlier this week when frantic efforts were made to seek military assistance for beleaguered troops in Jaffna — and swiftly moved to Israel when Indian assistance seemed non-forthcoming.
The Sunday Times learns that during 48 hours of frantic moves in the Indian capital Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar established contact with Israeli diplomats in New Delhi as the Indian Government itself eventually rejected providing military assistance to Sri Lankan troops gearing themselves to face an LTTE onslaught in the Jaffna peninsula.
Israel had on the other hand responded instantly and positively, to providing Sri Lanka with military assistance.
Despite two earlier rebuffs by Sri Lanka where Israelis were booted out of the island, in 1971 and again in 1989 due to local pressure by Muslim lobbies, the Tel Aviv Government had expressed delight at once again reopening diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka.
Of particular interest to the Israelis would have been the fact that Sri Lanka has no ties with it even though India has.
Tel Aviv understood why the Muslim states in South Asia did not recognise Israel, but was long disappointed with Colombo's attitude and its on-off relations despite doing business with Israel.
Sri Lanka's chairmanship of the UN Israeli Practices Committee for the past ten years would also have undoubtedly been taken into consideration by Tel Aviv.
The Sunday Times learns that initially as Foreign Minister Kadirgamar was establishing contact with Tel Aviv from New Delhi, Colombo had been reluctant to give him the go-ahead.
India's dilly-dallying however and troop morale plummeting in the peninsula made the move imperative.
India's High Commissioner in Colombo Shiv Shanker Menon left for New Delhi last Sunday after President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga told him that Colombo wanted military assistance from India to either defeat the LTTE in Jaffna, or to evacuate troops in the event of a possible strategic withdrawal.
Mr. Menon was given a shopping list, but in New Delhi he ran into a wall first at the External Affairs Ministry and later at a meeting of the cabinet sub-committee on security.
But insiders say that the Indian Army is '300 per cent' against involvement of any kind in Sri Lanka following its bitter experience between 1987 and 1990 when they forced themselves to north and east of Sri Lanka under a controversial accord, lost over 1000 men to the LTTE and were unceremoniously booted out by the Colombo regime at the time.
In addition to reluctance on the part of the Indian Army, the political fall-out from Indian intervention had also to be considered by the fragile Vajpayee Government.
The sensitive Tamil Nadhu lobby had to be consulted. DMK Chief Minister M Karunanidhi was already making noises that they had not been contacted.
Mr. Karunanidhi had informed Premier Vajpayee that he would give the Central Government a free hand in dealing with Colombo's request. However the private feelings of the DMK leader are well known.
Though he is no longer an LTTE sympathiser he is concerned about feelings of Tamils in his State whenever there is a military thrust against the LTTE.
By Wednesday (May 3) the Indian Government had decided to take the following positions.
1) That it supports a negotiated political settlement in Sri Lanka.
2) It is still considering the requests (for military assistance) for Sri Lanka.
3) India is concerned about the civilian refugees caught up in the conflict in Sri Lanka.
Indian External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh issued a statement to that effect and the following day made a statement in the Indian Parliament expanding on the same points.
The Indian Government which is also vying for a seat in the UN security Council had pledged to provide some military assistance to the Sri Lankan Government, but that assistance was on old requests.
The request by President Kumaratunga last weekend had been turned down however with just one little door open — "India will," Mr. Singh told Parliament, "render such humanitarian assistance as may become necessary" — leaving to interpretation, at least partially, whether the evacuation of troops comes under that category.
Meanwhile Mr. Kadirgamar had got in touch with the Israelis.
The Sunday Times learns that Israel has provided unlimited military assistance to India recently, especially in the battle for Kargil in the Kashmir Valley.
In Colombo President Kumratunga briefed Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader and PA Ally M H M Ashraff on the compulsions that led to Sri Lanka recognising Israel and the pro-Libyan SLMC Leader appears to have accepted the move with reservation.
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has indicated that the UNP has no objections to the move.
Foreign Minister Kadirgamar met Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee prior to leaving New Delhi on Friday to an undisclosed destination.
The meeting was for 10 minutes and strictly for an exchange of pleasantries with Mr. Kadirgamar thanking the Indian Government for extending courtesies to him during a two months stay in New Delhi for medical treatment.
No discussions took place over the situation in Sri Lanka. Mr. Vajpayee himself has cut his work schedule due to ill health this week.
India has ruled out military involvement in Sri Lanka, but has left the door open to humanitarian assistance.
"The Prime Minister has called a meeting of all opposition leaders on Monday to discuss the evolving situation in Sri Lanka," his spokesman said.
Indian leaders said Sri Lankan government, had not yet sought any humanitarian assistance.
"Nobody has asked us for any support, that is humanitarian support, so far," Defence Minister George Fernandes said on Star News television.
An Indian Air Force official denied reports that the southern air command had been on put on alert but said transport aircraft could have been redeployed in southern bases as a precaution. "Nobody is on alert, there is no decision on what humanitarian aid we are talking about," he said. "We may of course move a few planes in anticipation," he said.
"The blanket press censorship imposed by the Gazette Extraordinary of May 3 is a flagrant violation of the freedom of expression of the people.
"(Censored) While the Guild accepts legitimate and permissible restrictions at a time when national security is gravely endangered, there are accepted international norms and standards that should be followed in this regard. The May 3 regulations violate all these norms.
"The Army Commander has publicly stated after the Elephant Pass setback (censored). The Editors' Guild requests the government to review this situation and remove the blanket censorship and impose regulations only where it is necessary to safeguard the national interest. The Guild will challenge this in court if necessary amendments are not made, immediately."
Meanwhile, the Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka has also protested against what it sees as severe restrictions imposed on the media.
The Society said it believed the media were mature enough to conduct itself with responsibility at a time of national crisis and called for the (censored) at the earliest opportunity.
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The spokesman also welcomed Sri Lanka's decision to restore diplomatic relations with Israel, describing it as a good step.
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Meanwhile Under Secretary of State Thomas R. Pickering reitierated that the Clinton administration strongly supported Sri Lanka's arduous campaign to resist separatist violence, and its bold offer to negotiate new arrangements for the Tamil minority through peaceful political means.
"While we are disappointed at the continuing violence in the north of the country, we are encouraged that both the government of President Kumaratunga and the leading opposition are coming closer together on a joint approach on autonomy for the northern and eastern parts of the country," Mr. Pickering said in remarks at the Johns Hopkins University.
"We offer our support for this approach, while at the same time calling upon the Sri Lankan government forces to adopt the strongest measures to prevent civilian casualties and human rights abuses. It is hoped that the military reverses suffered by the government forces in Jaffna will not derail its efforts to settle this dispute on honourable terms," Mr. Pickering, a former US ambassador to India said.
By Ayesha RafiqThe Supreme Court has held that the Fundamental Right to equality of Rear Admiral D.K. Dassanayake has been violated by Defence Secretary Chandrananda de Silva and Navy Commander Cecil Tissera.
The Court has held that the Defence Secretary readily concurred with the comments made by Vice Admiral Cecil Tissera in forwarding the appeals to the President, contributing in no small measure towards Rear Admiral Dassanayake's appeals not receiving due consideration of the President.
In severe strictures made on Vice Admiral Tissera, the Court has held that though he 'was undoubtedly entitled to express his views in this regard, he was equally obliged to present the facts to the President in a fair and objective manner.
There was no question whatsoever of circumventing provisions of law, as alleged by him. Nor was there any need to amend the existing provisions of the law with the approval of the parliament. On the contrary, there was a total failure on the Commander's part to draw the attention of the President to the provisions of Regulation 3 (2) (a) of the Navy Pensions and gratuities code'. The Court said the Navy Chief thereby misrepresented facts with a view to misleading the President.
The Court also held that the Navy Chief deliberately omitted references to the precedents cited by the petitioner as regards previous instances where officers who held the rank of Chief of Staff were retained in service beyond the specified period. The court has ordered the state to pay Rs. 500,000 as compensation, Navy Commander Tissera has been called upon to pay Rs. 50,000 personally before June 30 to Rear Admiral Dassanayake.
Rear Admiral Dassanayke told court that he had been prematurely retired from service instead of receiving his due promotion.
According to the Navy Gratuities Code, if the President says it is essential that a certain Naval officer be retained in service in the best interests of the Navy, then the Ministry of Defence in consultation with the Commander of the Navy could retain the officer's services beyond retirement date or age.
If a promotion is given before completion of the necessary period in the earlier rank the promotion is given temporarily until that time period expires in order to prevent premature retirement of efficient officers.
In keeping with a recommendation by the former Commander of the Navy the petitioner said he therefore expected his seniority to be adjusted in such a manner as to retain him until the age of 55.
But instead of being given a temporary promotion he was confirmed in his new rank, which would lead to his premature retirement. Although he addressed a Redress of Grievance to the President through the Navy Commander it was to no avail and he received a letter that Rear Admiral D.W. Sanagadiri would be promoted as Chief of Staff on completion of the petitioner's term of office.
The petitioner said two officers who were Chiefs of Staff were retained in service after adjusting their seniority. But Vice Admiral Tissera denied.
The Supreme Court reprimanded the Navy chief for a 'puerile attempt on his part to cloud the issue and perhaps bury his head, ostrich like, in the sand. The court must in no uncertain terms condemn the manner in which the second respondent (navy chief) dealt with these matters in his affidavit, particularly as he holds the very responsible position of head of the Sri Lanka Navy', the court said.
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