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Q: The military seems to be holding a vast area in the north. But in the eastern province, it is gradually losing its grip. How do you read this situation?
A: There is no question of "it seems". We are indeed in control of the north. It is a broad strategy. Before 1994, It was a case of domination of the east, and almost the entire north had been handed over to the LTTE., except the camps at Palaly, Pooneryn and Elephant pass. There was a certain amount of military control in the east, but the north was a de facto Eelam.
Most of the limited troops were in the east, some in the border villages .
Q: What is the situation now?
A: The eastern province geographically runs down the coastal line, where different ethnic groups live. That is not an area the LTTE can dominate. This can be easily won by the military in no time, but our idea was to prevent a declaration of an Eelam state. So we had to use all the resources available to us, so as to break the backbone of the LTTE in the north. To do that we had to use part of the forces deployed in the east because our resources were limited. There are certain things happening in the east, but that does not mean we have lost the east. While we consolidate the north we are also controlling the east. So that's not an issue. The armed forces are quite confident they have the situation under control. The problem is while we are redeploying troops in the north the LTTE is having a bit of a free time there. That is a temporary issue.
If the situation prior to 1994 August continued, we believe they the LTTE would have achieved Eelam by now. So, we drew up a different strategy. There could be temporary setbacks.
Q: What is the situation in the Jaffna area? There have been reports of the LTTE infiltrating certain areas.
A: That arises when you are dealing with a terrorist group. A few skirmishes and infiltrations could happen . These are interim measures, problems, temporary set backs which are minor. This does not in any way, upset our overall strategy. These will be controlled in due course. We cannot inconvenience people too much by carrying out too many search operations.
Q: You have been going on to capture land. Do you hope to continue to go on ?
A: It is not only that we have been capturing land. Problems came up when we captured Jaffna. But the situation changed. It is not easy to capture land and also keep and bring the people there at the same time. In Jaffna first we captured the land, thereafter the people came back. This is going according to a set plan. Our aim is to liberate the people from the LTTE, and militarily weaken the LTTE and ultimately find a solution through negotiations. We will complete this with the necessary steps.
Q: You commented on the strength of the army. But some ministers have said the expected numbers are not joining
A: That has not been a set back. But if more come in, it would be better. By 1994 August, about 22,000 had deserted the army. We offered an amnesty and some have come back. We expect more to do so. So far about 10,000 have returned within the past two years. About 1200 deserters have been taken into custody.
Q: When Jaffna was recaptured the LTTE carried out a campaign to say the people were with it.
A: (Defense Secretary Chandananda de Silva): By the end of March the civilians came back, only the people who could not come, are at Kilinochchi. They wanted to come. Some people asked why no route was opened for their return, but the roads were heavily mined, at that time. Again in Kilinochchi we have captured land and the question where are the civilians is being raised again. One reason for civilians not being there is, that the LTTE has sent them to other areas. We will see what happens in the future.
Q: You expected a large number of refugees to come to Vavuniya with the beginning of the Sathjaya operation in the Paranthan - Kilinochchi area, but the number coming is much less?
A: Defense Sec. There is a reason for that. We made arrangements to receive 125,000. We took over schools and provided all facilities. We were surprised that people did not turn up. We heard that some of the people coming, were stuck at Omanthai without any facilities. That was about 66,000. The LTTE stopped them at Omanthai. We waited for a while and sent medical supplies through the ICRC. The LTTE prevented the people coming as it knew all facilities were available in Vavuniya. . We still have the facilities available. With the Kilinochchi operation, the LTTE forced the people to go to other areas.
Q: A supplementary estimate of Rs. 10.5 billion is to be presented in parliament for Defense expenditure. Is this for the recruitment of 13,000 homeguards?
A: DS: It is for necessary equipment. We need to supply the armed forces with certain items The allowance for homeguards and police also has been increased.
Q: There is an opinion that rapport between the people of Jaffna and the government has not been built sufficiently, particularly after the attack on Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva Is anything being done to build this rapport?
A: The LTTE does not like us getting closer to the people. The LTTE is not going there because it is scared.
Q: Some say that visits are arranged for propaganda while the peoples' needs have not really been addressed.
A: I invite everyone to go and see. Even the Tamil parties I have even invited the UNP to go there.
Q: Is that invitation still valid?
A: Yes even today invite the opposition leader and UNP members to go there with me. Three UNP MPs who gave their names, pulled out at the last moment .. Even now they can go and see and thereafter make statements.
Q: What about the Tamil parties which are trying to get back there for political activities?
A: We are welcoming them, the only thing is they can't carry arms.
Q: Why ?
A: The people there are against it. We do not want to remove one armed group and replace them with another. When the people were returning to Jaffna one request they made was not to send any armed groups back to Jaffna. The army is ready to provide the security. They can engage in political activity under this security set up. Of course there is a risk even if we go there.
Q: Is there a plan to reduce defense expenditure?
A: That supplementary budget is for this year. Next year our expectation is that it could be reduced..
A: DS: Of the supplementary budget, some of it is being made use for payments, for purchases made in 1995. We could not include this in the 1996 budget estimate as the it had been prepared by that time. Therefore of the Rs. 10.5 billion, supplementary the bulk of it goes for repayment. In 1997 we need not have a supplementary as this has been included in the 1997 budget estimate. Therefore, it is not an additional expenditure, but a carry over from 1995.
Q: But it has been said the defense expenditure would be reduced?
A: We cannot say it will be reduced, but we have a plan.
The US-Israel "special relationship" is too well known to need repetition. And yet this strikes me as a rather exceptional situation. In a month's time the American voter will decide whether President Clinton deserves a second term. Two influential Republican Congressmen have warned Mr. Clinton not to press Israel to grant "unilateral concessions" to the Palestinians. Mr. Clinton has invited the Arab leaders, including King Hussein, PLO President Yasser Arafat and Egypt's President Mubarak. The influential Jewish Community in America traditionally votes Democrat.
Mr. Arafat has insisted on President Mubarak's participation. Mr. Mubarak has said, "No" The Middle-East is one of the most important regions of the world. As early as 1948 a State Dept. analyst spoke of Saudi Arabia as a "stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history". Today, there is another strategic reason the Islamic revival which began with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, known to the Iranian masses as "the American Shah'. The revolution was led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, an Islamic cleric and an exile in Paris. Western policy makers see this revival as a serious threat to the industrial nations.
Why are the alarm bells ringing in the White House, Wall Street and the Western chancelleries? The shortest answer is Israel. The Jewish state created by the US and its allies in 1948, gradually became a "garrison state' the tough disciplined, brilliant cop-on-the beat to defend western interests, mainly oil. Israel meanwhile became a new Sparta.
In the last few days all the major players and their advisers have gathered in Washington. With the scene shift, President Clinton will remain on center stage. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Trade Minister Nathan Sharansky met President Yasser Arafat. Students of post-election Israeli politics and Likud-led "grand coalition' in office should note that Prime Minister Netanyahu picked Mr. Nathan Sharansky as his top aide at the Washington talks. The Trade and Industry Minister is the leader of Yisrael Baaliyah, one of the eight parties that have helped Mr. Netanyahu's Likud to form a government. Despite pressure from the Clinton administration, Prime Minister Netanyahu refused to yield on "re-deployment" in Hebron, the flash-point. The Israeli pullout should have started in March at least 80%, according to "the peace accord". Does the right-wing Likud derive its strength from the knowledge that President-candidate Bill Clinton would think twice about the large Jewish vote and the massive campaign funds before he alienates the ruling Likud? Netanyahu spoke tough on another contentious issue. Would he close the tunnel near the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, one of the three holiest places to the world's Muslims? Netanyahu brushed off the question.
The controversial tunnel was justified by Likud spokesmen on financial grounds, tourist income. Any return to widespread violence, warns Julian Ozanne, a Jerusalem based British correspondent, "will have serious consequences on tourism receipts, foreign investment and Israel's capacity to raise money abroad, particularly in Europe, a new capital market the government believes is now ready to be tapped."
Though President Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu see the current crisis from different angles, they are both aware that without peace and stability in the region, the prospects for the planned development of Israel and its neighbors are poor. This makes the Cairo Economic Summit an important event. Israel was to be the "Star guest." But now, President Hosni Mubarak, may cancel the conference. In a characteristic response to that news, Mr. Netanyahu said that "Egypt would be cutting off its nose to spite its face". Evidently that expression, a commonplace in Hebrew and English has a far more offensive character.Continue to the News/Comment page 4 - 'RAW, IPKF, causing all the trouble', Racism: the evil elite of Jaffna
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