A thoughtful young Samanera among the large gathering of Buddhist monks who came to the Vihara Maha Devi Park in a show of force to support the government's devolution package. Pic by Sajeewa Chinthaka
A team of elite United States Green Beret commandos have arrived in Sri Lanka to train troops on counter terrorism techniques.
This is the third such batch of US troops to arrive under the ongoing "Operation Balanced Style" — the Pentagon's military programme to train Sri Lankan troops to fight terrorism that was launched in March, last year. Until then, US military assistance was confined to training for officers under International Military Exchange and Training Programme (IMET). The team's arrival last week assumed added significance not only in view of Wednesday's US Government decision to list the LTTE as a terrorist organization but also because of what Government leaders believe is a campaign in a small section of the media to project that Colombo-Washington relations have taken a nose dive.
Lt. Col. Harold Michael Poore, Defence Attache at the US Embassy, told The Sunday Times "the US envisage conducting three more joint exercises this year. "These exercises are conducted over a period of 30 days with about 12 to 20 American servicemen," he said.
Lt. Col. Poore said three "Operation Balanced Style" exercises have been conducted so far.
The first was in March, last year, in the jungles of Wirawila and came months before the US Presidential elections. A campaign on the Internet by the LTTE led to the programme being put-on hold.
Thereafter a team of US Navy Seals conducted a joint exercise off the high seas in Tangalle. Last month, a team of Green Berets and another from the Navy Seals were in Sri Lanka on a month-long joint training exercise.
General Anuruddha Ratwatte, Deputy Minister of Defence, has declared that military co-operation between the United States and Sri Lanka has become closer under the People's Alliance Government. The Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte, is expected to pay an official visit to the United States next month.
Government sources said yesterday that a "campaign by vested interests" to create an impression that US-Sri Lanka relations were on a low ebb has "miserably misfired." These sources said attempts had been made to create "a grossly distorted" impression using letters leaked by these "vested interests." Commenting on newspaper reports that US-Sri Lanka relations were strained, Anne Barbaro, Director of the United States Information Service (USIS) said, "it is not true." She added "in fact, relations are very good."
Ms. Barbaro said while there have been some commercial drawbacks, the US is not "dissatisfied with this." She added that the ban on LTTE had been introduced to protect the national interest of the United States. "If Sri Lanka too stood to benefit by this ban, then it was good," she added.
About 30 armed men dressed in military uniforms took over the Kataragama bus depot in a midnight raid yesterday and set upto 20 buses ablaze before getting away after a gun battle with the police.
The blazing night drama which shook the sacred city and sent panic waves across the country was described by Transport Minster A. H. M. Fowzie as an attempt by anti-government elements to sabotage transport services.
Police said a security guard of the Peoplised Transport Board at Kataragama was killed and two others injured when the yet unidentified raiders stormed into the depot around 1 a.m., locked up the night-workers and demanded all the fuel to set the buses and the depot ablaze.
As the raiders armed with automatic rifles continued the siege, two of their hostages escaped and alerted the Kataragama police.
Within minutes, armed police led by Inspector C.A. Gunawardena of the Kataragama police surrounded the depot, setting the stage for a gun battle.
The raiders are then reported to have got away through the back entrance of the depot and disappeared into the nearby jungles through Gothangama village. On the way, they had blasted a transformer.
A full investigation was underway yesterday to find out the identity of the raiders and their motives. While rumours of a possible LTTE attack were afloat, other reports said the raid might be connected to recent incidents at the nearby Yala National Park.
Police and army launched a joint search for the raiders. Kataragama businessman Bandula Vithana, an eye witness, told The Sunday Times on telephone last evening he had closed his shop around midnight and was going home when he saw the police surrounding the depot. then firing broke out and he moved away.
The situation in Kataragama by last night was back to normal. Our correpondent there said the raiders had also looted two shops before getting away. He noted that the same shops had been looted last year too.
SLCTB chairman Ranmal Siriwardene who rushed to Kataragama yesterday in the aftermath of the depot blaze said initial estimates put the damages at around Rs. 18 million, state radio said.
The Speaker has ordered a full probe on a complaint by UNP national list member Anura Bandaranaike that some of the documents he tabled in parliament last Thursday were missing and that a 'powerful person' had come to the House and deleted part of his speech from the official record.
UNP General Secretary and Ratnapura District MP Gamini Atukorale has also complained of similar deletions from a speech he made in parliament and asked for a probe on what he and Mr. Bandaranaike see as a serious breach of parliamentary privilege.
Speaker K. B. Ratnayake has assured the two MPs that their allegations about intrusion by a powerful though unauthorised person would be fully investigated.
An angry Mr. Bandaranaike said certain documents he tabled, including one on the controversy involving the American firm Evans International, had disappeared in mysterious circumstances.
Mr. Bandaranaike made a wide-ranging and strong speech during the debate on the extension of the emergency.
Mr. Bandaranaike said a certain powerful person had come to parliament on Thursday and personally deleted portions from his speech. The Evans document that disappeared was a letter sent by this American Company to president Kumaratunga, protesting against an alleged default by Sri Lanka to the tune of some 450 million dollars.
Mr. Atukorale's speech was centred on recent bribery and corruption charges and alleged cover-ups including the headline-hitting Stassen case.
Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe will leave for India tomorrow on a week long private visit during which he is expected to discuss political and economic issues with Indian leaders.
Mr. Wickremesinghe's visit, following an invitation by Indian Premier Inder Kumar Gujral, comes at a time when negotiations on the devolution proposals to settle the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka have entered a crucial stage.
The UNP leader will be accompanied by Dr. V. K. Valson, Dr. Arjuna Mahendran and Milinda Moragoda. On his way back, he is scheduled to visit Purappathi to see Sai Baba the Indian holy man.
An outraged Ravi Karunanayake of the NDUNLF has complained to the Speaker that police raided his Thalangama residence at night without a warrant and searched the house without telling him why or what was happening.
Mr. Karunanayake who in recent weeks has been speaking out against government policy though still being in the government parliamentary group, said the police had no authority to enter his house without a warrant and the raid was breach of his privileges as an MP, and an abuse of emergency regulations.
In recent weeks Mr. Karunanayake has been particularly critical of the government's proposed devolution package and the raid raised speculation as to a possible link
The proposed referendum in Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts to decide the merger of the North and East provinces was indefinitely postponed yesterday, following a special meeting of ministers.
The decision was taken less than two weeks after the government decided to hold a referendum.
The decision to postpone the referendum until the ground situation in the two districts was conducive for the holding of a free and fair election came after TULF and other Tamil leaders had appealed for a postponement.
No date has been fixed for the plebiscite. On September 30, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris said that the referendum is likely to be held after the new Constitution had been adopted.
A news release issued by Minister Peiris' office through the Information Department said that this decision by the ministers was "unanimous".
The cabinet meeting was presided over by President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and the draft new Constitution, land, police powers and provisions in respect of finance were discussed.
The government has taken this decision in the wake of reservations by the Tamil political parties, especially TULF, at a time when a large number of people in the two districts are either living in refugee camps or outside their districts, The Sunday Times learns.
A full and candid discussion took place in respect of all these matters and decisions were arrived at unanimously by the ministers, said. Dr. Peiris.
The government's proposal on the draft new constitution is to be submitted to the PA Parliamentary group meeting next Wednesday. It is learnt that the draft new Constitution is likely to be presented to Parliament on October 24.
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