4th May 1997

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Bring those high fliers down

All surely is not well in the state of our defence establishment and this is most glaringly reflected in the series of mishaps that have afflicted the Sri Lanka Air Force over the past two years. There are many questions in the air but all that seems to be happening with no questions being answered is that planes vital to the war effort are plummeting one after another to the ground - the latest, the loss of an highly prized and priced Israeli Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) reconnaissance plane this week.

What is more mysterious than the mystery losses of all these million dollar aircraft is the cover of silence that has been quickly drawn over many of the incidents each time they have occurred. No revelations have been made of a satisfactory nature although inquiries have been initiated and more importantly no one seems to have taken responsibility for any of them. This is all the more surprising under a government that promised to reveal all through its much publicised slogan of transparency - the little that is revealed is not by a long stretch titillating. Of the lot more that is yet to be seen one thing perhaps emerges with undeniable clarity and that is that people in influential places are lining their pockets as the war continues.

Those who know are often reluctant to challenge the doings of top brass in the defence establishment only because they see the futility of an exercise in which some top brass are probably involved in an unconscionable pastime, even as soldiers, sailors, airmen and airplanes fall to their doom. It is high time these high fliers in the establishment are grounded before the country finds itself irretrievably grounded.

Planes are falling apart like nobody’s business. Soldiers returning on home leave fear the air ride back than facing the guerrillas from their FDL’s. And there is no accountability whatsoever. That other vital arm of the defence establishment - the Navy - is not without taint as we saw in the recent reports of an arms procurement scandal in that sector. In Pakistan last week, for the first time in 50 years the Navy Commander was sacked and dishonourably discharged on charges that he took bribes to purchase French submarines. No person holding high position here is taken to task, even if the tentacles of misty tender deals are seen to be seriously flawed and reach out to people in high places in government and their close friends and relatives.

Tax payers increasingly called upon to foot a growing war bill are peeved at corruption by military and political brass whom they see dining at star class hotels, educating their sons abroad and having a fleet of cars at home. They generally appear to be leading champagne lives with what we presume are toddy incomes. How taxpayers wonder.

Flare and Blare

No longer do Sri Lankans catch a cold when it rains in England and for all its significance as the biggest landslide victory in British history, the spectacular rise to office by Tony Blair’s new Labour could turn out to be little more than a change of shift at a politics factory as far as Sri Lanka is concerned.

There were some strange parallels between what happened to John Major’s Conservatives on May Day and what happened to its affiliated UNP here in 1994. The Conservatives like the UNP here, had built Britain’s economy into a model with a high growth rate, lowest unemployment figures and lowest interest rates. Yet they were thrown out wholesale, after 17 years contrary to the centuries old experience in the democratic world that elections are generally decided on daily bread economics.

The Foreign Secretary Robin Cook of the new government in Whitehall has already been briefed by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar about events in Sri Lanka. No doubt the new Labour MPs will have increasing lobbying by ethnic Sri Lanka constituents of theirs who support the LTTE war effort.

However, the Foreign Office is not likely to make any dramatic swings in attitudes. We hope Labour will not ignore the Lord Berwick Commission that went into the British Law of Conspiracy i.e. where the committing of an offence abroad becomes an offence in Britain, and the tightening of domestic laws in line with recent international treaties on global terrorism despite Labour’s own heavy legislative programme.

International Terrorism has to be high on their agenda. Britain must help Sri Lanka overcome the LTTE problem the way she helped India break-up the Khalistan clique in England. They do not have to wait for the next IRA bomb in London to wake up.

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