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The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

02nd, March 1997



In Ahungalla, it's Jaws. But live

By Rajpal Abeynayake

The alleged owner of the Ahungalla zoo, Mazahim Mohammed, has announced that he wished he had died instead of the boy who was mauled by his lion.

The crocodiles of Ahungalla couldn't do a better job of shedding tears for the boy who died. Mohammed is backed by some strange company. He is backed, at least obliquely, by a minister who can't risk getting more egg on his face by withdrawing the licence that has been issued against all advice.

The licence was issued through ministerial prerogative, despite the advice of environmentalists who came very close to predicting the tragic event that took place. As it turned out, it was a licence to kill.

A local paper which likes to do a token critique of the government it regularly backs, has argued that Mohammed cannot be deprived of his licence now.

It's a classic example of what apologists do. If the paper can claim from its bully pulpit that everything that happened in Ahungalla was wrong, then what is the logic that stops the minister from withdrawing the licence that he issued earlier against all considered advice?

In other words, if everything is rotten about Ahungalla, then why should the show go on?

In a previous day and age, the Ahungalla story would have been received differently. A boy being mauled to death by a lion is not a bit of a mishap that can be dismissed as one of those things that happen. But, wait and see. That is the logic that is being neatly worked into the mass mind by the Ahungalla people.

So a lion killed a boy, so we are all sorry about it, so it was an accident, and so life must go on? Next thing we know, the Ahungalla apologists will come out with the assertion that, after all the Ahungalla zoo makes a good deal of money from tourists and provides jobs for the unemployed youth of the area during times of economic malaise.

These are times that a peculiar construct can be given to any story that would normally elicit the indignation of the masses. There are spin doctors who are willing to do the spin on any story which requires to be angled.

But it has to be noted that such spin cannot work if we had not lived in times in which there was the correct background for it. That's why the audacity of people such as Mohammed works. Given time, (they figure) the tragedy in Ahungalla can be romanticised. Maybe three years from now, the scenario will be different.

The guides at Ahungalla will be showing off an added attraction. They will be saying, "look, that's where the boy was attacked by the lion. Pity! It was only a school picnic. The next cage is where the hyena lives."

But we can analyse things further, and maybe look at this story from a different vista. Say, for instance, the picnickers were from S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia, or better still, Ladies' College, Colombo. Say the child who was mauled by the lion was not some poor Vidyalaya joe, but a daughter or son of a permanent secretary or a general manager of a multi-national giant that among other things has been a great source of funds for Madam's government? Or, say, just say, the picnic was for an international school, and the child who died at the hands of the lion was a classmate of the children of the country's first family.

Why should such a conjecture be ghoulish? After all, anything can happen, and it's not just the hoipolloi who love to go on picnics?

The lion is no respecter of persons, and in that mood, would have lunged at any school tie. Only, I'm sure, with different and catastrophic results.

The lion itself would have been history. But, more importantly, Mohammed would not have been so lucky. He would have learnt that no hungry lion can lock jaws with the elite, and after the shrieks, howls and the frenzied breast beating of Colombo's alarmed mothers and confused fathers, Mohammed would have had his licence cancelled (if he was lucky enough to evade arrest for criminal negligence, in the first place).

Such a scenario would be almost amusing to imagine in the abstract, but the part that is not funny is that such a tragedy is waiting to happen again in Ahungalla.

As it usually happens with these things, as things stand, the family of the deceased will be modified with a little largesse, and the immediate situation will be sidestepped with a few strategic operations here and there.

Any zoo that is reduced to the level of a private money making enterprise seems to be conceptually flawed.

A zoo is not a roller-coaster or an arena for dodgem cars. Those amusement parks are different because safety in those places needs to take into account inanimate objects, safety belts, secure carriages or whatever the case maybe. The zoo is a different menagerie which deals on the other hand with animals which have in the first place been made hostile because they have been removed from their natural habitats.

Now, even if Colombo society cannot be made to feel sorry about a poor little dead boy from Polgahawela, Colombo society can definitely be made to feel sorry about a lion. It's what the environmental lobbies have been trying to drive into the heads of the authorities for a long time.

These lions and bears and what not are not like the farmed broilers which can be reared purely for economic purposes, because, removed from their habitat and most often leading miserable lives of stress and unsatisfied natural needs, they are not creatures which can be subject to safe clinical analysis.

It's laughable when the Ahungalla people say that they are surprised because this was one of the tamest cutest lions in the zoo. That's feigned disbelief, because the environmental people who knew better have been saying this will happen for a long time. They have pointed out that the zoo practices in Ahungalla are reprehensible, because a zoo is something more than a private enterprise. It is a civic enterprise that needs to take into account several civic factors which do not necessarily come into the equation of the mercenary motive.

It can be argued that there are private zoos in the world. Those who have seen the film Jaws would remember how a small town mayor with his eye on tourist bucks glossed over a shark attack saying it was a 'boating accident.' Three sharks attacks and three deaths later, the mayor was forced to abandon his pursuit for the tourists' cash, because the towns people were at his throat. We hear that the Ahungalla owners have some organised backing around town. So, when is the next lion attack?

Road to Mannar and key to peace

The gap on FDL that Edibala bridged

By Sumedha

The Edibala Operation has been successfully completed and a land route has been opened from Vavuniya to Mannar after several years. The Armed Forces and the Government deserve to be congratulated for this achievement.

Access to Mannar by road and rail was denied with the outbreak of the Eelam war II in 1990. Intensified LTTE activity in the area with constant attacks on Army detachments in places such as Paraiyanalankulam on the Vavuniya-Mannar road resulted in the detachments dominating the main highway being withdrawn.

With their withdrawal, movement by road to Mannar ceased completely. The terrorists removed the railway sleepers for construction of bunkers and thus access by rail too was denied.

The government was, therefore, compelled to maintain a garrison in the Mannar island and the Thalladi area of Mannar district. Logistical support to this isolated garrison had to be maintained by air and sea. Most of the logistical requirements taken by sea had to be conveyed virtually around the island as sailing via Kalpitiya to Mannar was not possible for large ships due to the presence of the Adam's bridge. Thus since 1990, billions of rupees have been spent for logistical support of the garrison in Mannar.

The bunker line system which was first implemented in the Ulukkulama area of the Vavuniya district proved so successful that it was subsequently extended from Kuda Katchchikudiya, nine km south east of Vavuniya, through Maha Kachchikudiya and Mamaduwa, north east of Vavuniya, to Nochimoddai which was situated eight km north of Vavuniya traversing a distance of 20 km.

From Nochimoddi it continued to Puvarasankularn, 14 km west of Vavuniya, traversing 17 kms. It turned southwards from Puvarasankulam and continued 12 km to Cheddikulam and from there continued for another 13 km to reach Thantirimale in the Anuradhapura district. It then extended yet another 18 km in the Anuradhapura district to reach Paymaduwa.

This bunker line which is commonly referred to as the forward defence line was thus established along 80 km to provide security to villages within the Government-controlled area and proved exceedingly successful in thwarting LTTE attacks.

However some villages on the western side of the Anuradhapura district and at the northern end of the Puttalam district were left unprotected as a significant gap existed at Puvarasankulam where the bunker line turned southwards to the forward defences of the Mannar garrison.

To deter major attacks on these villages and to provide defence in depth to Sinhala settlements such as Thantirimale and Paymaduwa, three strong Army detachments were maintained at Silavathurai, Kondachchi and Kokkapadiyan until August 1993. With the intention of first annihilating the Silavathurai detachment, the LTTE made a determined effort in March 1991 but Lt. Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwa who rushed reinforcements to Silavathurai in time was able to prevent a major catastrophe. The reinforcements who were not conversant with the terrain were guided from Kokkapadiyan to Silavathurai by the young second lieutenant, L.U.S.P Weerasinghe, a volunteer force officer from the second battalion of the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment. He laid down his life to an enemy bullet after accomplishing his mission. Lt. Gen. Kobbekaduwa who understood the strategic importance of these three detachments made every endeavour to sustain them to defend the Anuradhapura district from the western flank.

The attack on Janakapura on July 24, 1993 made the military leadership withdraw these three detachments fearing that they too would fall if attacked by the LTTE during the north-east monsoon of that year, when troop reinforcements become difficult if not impossible in this rugged terrain.

The author of this article on hearing of the withdrawal of these three detachments approached the then secretary of defence and enlightened him with regard to the dangers that would accrue to the western flank of the Anuradhapura district as a result. An assurance was given that the withdrawal was only temporary and that these three detachments would be re-established soon after the monsoon season. This assurance was, however, never complied with and a gap of over 60 km existed from Puvarasankulam to the Mannar garrison until Operation Edibala was launched to bridge this.

A letter was initiated by the author of this article to the General Officer Commanding the second Division of the Sri Lanka Army in May 1995 pointing out the dangers of not bridging this gap.

Since this letter was submitted several LTTE attacks had been launched as predicted in it, and many service personnel, policemen and innocent civilians were killed.

The LTTE attacks on Elavanculam Army detachment, Puliyankulam police detachment, the Dunumadelawa police post, the Suriyadamana and Naranwila villages occurred after the letter had been submitted. The abandoned Silavaturai Army Camp was subsequently occupied by the LTTE which made it a Sea Tiger base and it was from this base that an attack was staged to destroy the Sri Lanka Navy's flagship "Sagarawardena".

Valuable military hardware was either captured or destroyed by numerous attacks staged by the LTTE through this gap resulting in the loss of millions of rupees to the government.

The LTTE was also able to use the Silavathurai Sea Tiger base to boost its transport operations of fuel and other war requirements in small boats from Kalpitiya to the northern parts of the country. Thus a valuable lifeline was established for the continuance of the separatist war with the occupation of Silavathurai by the LTTE.

It is difficult to understand why the troops withdrawn from the three detachments of Silavathurai, Kondatchchi and Kokapadiyan which amounted to over one battalion were not immediately used to bridge the gap.

If a concerted effort was made in this direction the bunker line from Puvarasankulam to Paymaduwa could have been relocated to occupy around 45 km of the gap. The three withdrawn detachments could have been deployed to occupy another 10 km of the gap thus additional troops would have been required for only 5 km.

Had the benefits of Operation Edibala been achieved by rational thinking in 1993 over three and a half years ago the country would have been able to save billions of rupees. Furthermore the morale of the troops in Mannar could have been maintained at a very high level during this period if the land route had been usable as they would have had better logistical support.

With the success of Edibala, the troops can now look forward to defeating the LTTE terrorists in the Mannar sector with renewed vigour and march confidently towards the final goal of victory which is to defeat terrorism and separatism. A step in the correct direction in this regard would be to exploit this success to establish a land route along the main highway from Mannar through Pooneryn across the Sangupiddy jetty to Karativu and on to Jaffna town which is about 112 km away.

The establishment of such a land route will enable logistical support to be provided to the troops in the Jaffna peninsula by land without depending on sea and air transport. The advantage of this land route when compared with the land route from Vavuniya via Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass to the Jaffna town is that it is easier to defend as it follows the coastline most of the way, thus needing protection from a bunker line only for the eastern flank. The sea frontage in the western flank could be defended by the Navy. This would result in the deployment of fewer troops for its defence when compared with the other land route through Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass that would have to be defended on both sides which has considerable jungle terrain.

The defeat of LTTE terrorism in the north could only be achieved by establishing access routes to deploy troops from land. A country in the third world with limited resources cannot and should not try to sustain troops by logistically supporting them by air and sea. In the use of aircraft and ships, priority should be given to offensive operations against the enemy and not for logistical work.

An effort to logistically support garrisons over a long period of time would be counter productive and would bleed the nation to a slow death. The recent misadventures with the fleet of Russian planes have aggravated the problem of logistically sustaining the troops in the north sans a land route.

This article is the second in a series written by the author with sincere hope of focusing attention of those in power with no malice to anyone and to turn the tide towards the defeat of terrorism and to usher peace and prosperity to a unitary country. Let us all unite to regain the lost paradise and reject all opportunists who are directly or indirectly trying to divide our motherland for which so many soldiers and civilians have laid down their lives.

Continue to the News/Comment page 5 - * Muslim-LTTE pow-vow for co-existence, * Wild rice won't give Basmathi, * Cuba, Canada and the American dilemma

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