5th November 2000
Gone are the days of police foot-patrols,
In the wake of Solheim-Prabhakaran talks, security top brass assure field commanders
By Our Political Editor
Top brass at Army Headquarters on Friday repeatedly assured Field Commanders in operational areas in the North and East there would be no change in the ongoing military campaign against the LTTE.
The urgent reminder came after senior Army officers sought immediate clarification on whether reported moves for peace talks meant a slowing down or a suspension of the stepped-up military campaign, that too after billions of rupees had been poured into further modernize the Army.
They were worried over reports in some quarters that LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had responded positively on commencing peace negotiations when Norwegian facilitator Erik Solheim, visited him in the Wanni on Tuesday, impacting badly on the morale of both officers and men.
This is particularly in view of no warning or briefing being given to senior officers of an impending dialogue by the Norwegian facilitator and what it meant for the battles under way in the Jaffna peninsula and adjoining areas to evict the LTTE from territory it captured in April this year.
"The surprise news of a fresh dialogue with the LTTE via Norway has given cause for concern to not only those in the upper echelons of the security forces but also to other ranks," a senior defence official said.
Speaking on grounds of anonymity, the official said: "when we have provided the troops with all the modern equipment and told them to crack down on the LTTE, news of peace talks without any prior warning has a devastating effect on their morale. This seriously affects their battlefield performance."
The Sunday Times learns that the visit of Norwegian Special Envoy to Wanni to meet LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was a top secret between Norway and Sri Lanka. It followed a visit to Norway late last month by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in the cover of celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Mr. Kadirgamar made it clear that Colombo had not shut the door to peace talks, but there was an impasse in peace talks because of LTTE intransigence.
Mr. Solheim's visit to Wanni, which even some officials in the Ministry of Defence were unaware of, would have passed off as a secret had it not been for a formal announcement by the LTTE.
Soon after Mr. Solheim's talks with Mr. Prabhakaran, the LTTE's international secretariat in London issued a statement setting out the parameters covered by the talks and the prerequisites for peace talks.
Mr. Prabhakaran, according to the LTTE statement, suggested "a process of de-escalation of the conflict as a necessary prerequisite for a dialogue." The LTTE statement said "by de-escalation Mr. Prabhakaran meant the cessation of armed hostilities, the removal of military aggression and occupation, the withdrawal of the economic embargo and the creation of conditions of normalcy in the Tamil homeland.
The LTTE leader also insisted that the Sri Lanka Government should take the initiative of relaxing the conditions of war if they wanted genuine peace".
Analysts say if the Government is to accede to Mr. Prabhakaran's "prospects for peace talks", the war effort will have to be called off and troops withdrawn from the North, before any formal dialogue could get underway with Norwegian facilitation. The Sunday Times learns that the LTTE news release, publicised the world over by international news agencies, prompted Mr. Solheim to hold a news conference at a Colombo restaurant. Mr. Solheim did not spell out "the prospects of peace talks" which Mr. Prabhakaran had spelt out except to say that the LTTE leader was very positive.
The news of moves for talks with the LTTE via Norwegian facilitation surprised many Government leaders too. When a leading private TV Channel inquired from Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake on Wednesday for his comments on the Solheim visit, he responded he was not aware. He confessed he had learnt of the development only after the TV channel had informed him.
Mr. Solheim who has had a lengthy meeting with President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, is to make contacts with the LTTE to inform it of the Government response. Mr. Solheim told Thursday's news conference there was no quick fix to the problem and bringing about peace talks would be a long drawn out process.
President Chandrika Kumara-tunga and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee yesterday discussed the current situation in Sri Lanka during a lengthy telephone conversation, the Indian High Commission said.
"The conversation between the two heads of state had encompassed subjects of mutual interest to the two countries," it said in a statement.
The discussion covered measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to restore calm in the wake of the recent violent incidents, and other matters of mutual concern including free trade, the High commission said.
Troop withdrawal from Elephant Pass and subsequent military reversals are being probed to ascertain losses suffered during the period, Army Commander Lionel Balagalle, told The Sunday Times in an exclusive interview – the first since he assumed office nearly two months ago.
He said a Court of Inquiry headed by Major General Sisira Wijesuriya was probing the incidents. The Army Chief said Elephant Pass did not fall but the troops carried out a withdrawal on orders received by them. This decision to withdraw was made on a recommendation by his predecessor, (Lt. Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya, now Sri Lanka's Ambassador to Pakistan), to prevent troops in Elephant Pass being isolated. That would have been a major disaster, he said. The interview with Iqbal Athas appears in Situation Report on Page 11
An LTTE explosive-laden suicide craft was sunk last night by the Sri Lanka Navy when it made an aborted attack on the Trincomalee harbour around 11 p.m.
The attack was the first major assault on a security forces target after Tuesday's talks between Norwegian envoy Erik Solheim and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Two other boats escaped, security sources said.
On October 23, Navy personnnel at Trincomalee harbour fired at a flotilla of LTTE suicide boats, destroying three. A passenger vessel and a Naval craft were damaged when an LTTE boat exploded.
By Hiranthi Fernando
Sports Minister Lakshman Kiriella has directed his Director of Sports to be present during the multi-billion rupee television tender talks between the Sri Lanka Cricket Board and bidders and referred the matter to the Attorney General amid allegations of irregularities in the awards.
The move came following discussions between the new Minister and Cricket Board (BCCSL) President, Tilanga Sumathipala this week, after a senior Board official complained to the Minister that he would not want to be part of an audit query for any irregular procedures in finalising a US $ 30 million (Rs. 2,340 million) award for Sri Lanka cricket TV rights for 2001 to 2003.
At the meeting, Board President Sumathipala is learnt to have challenged the Minister's right to question Board decisions, but the Minister, a lawyer, had pointed out to Section 32 of the Sports Law which empowered him to intervene.
The minister has also sought the opinion of the Attorney General in the matter.
Meanwhile, Sports Director Milton Amerasinghe has been directed to sit during interviews the BCCSL officials are having with the bidders, a step the BCCSL has accepted.
Fifty one companies were invited to pre-qualify by a letter dated October 21. Ten applications had been received. Two bidders, Trans World International (TWI) and World Sports have been short listed and presentations were held at JAIC Hilton on Friday.
Controversy surrounded a previous TV contract involving the BCCSL and WorldTel. It was alleged that a deal was concluded and US $ 100,000 paid by Worldtel chief Mark Mascarenhas as an incentive to award the contract.
However, the terms of the contract were queried by the then President of BCCSL and the contract fell through. The Bribery Commission and the CID got involved in an investigation, but no progress was made in the probe..
The non-appointment of a deputy finance minister is believed to be linked to a controversy over a plan to split the post, political sources said.
They said the plan was to have two deputy ministers of finance — one for internal and one for external.
Professor G. L. Peiris who was the deputy minister of finance in the last government was reportedly not keen on sharing the post with S. B. Dissanayake, the sources said.
After a long delay which caused controversy and much speculation, 35 new deputy ministers were sworn in by President Kumaratunga on Friday.
Another surprise omission was in the key post of deputy minister of defence. Amidst widespread allegations regarding the violence in Kandy, General Anuruddha Ratwatte who wielded much power as deputy minister of defence was left out on Friday.
But the post was kept open while Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayke has been handling some defence matters for the past two weeks.
Some ministries had two deputy ministers while others had none. The National Unity Alliance got three posts while the new comers included former UNPer Mervyn Silva.
Of the 116 members of the government, 79 are now either Cabinet Ministers or Deputy Ministers.
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