A worker sweeps up debris while a soldier walks past wrecked vehicles piled up at the car park of the Galadari Hotel in Colombo yesterday. Tamil Tiger rebels exploded a truck loaded with explosives and fought a gun-battle with government soldiers on Wednesday killing 18 people and wounding more than 100. Three hotels and several other buildings were damaged in the blast Photo by Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachch
As Colombo rose from the shambles of Wednesday's explosion, a high-powered team is continuing investigations to find out whether security lapses in the tightest security Fort zone allowed room for the disaster which left 18 people dead, some 100 injured and damages estimated at millions.
The Govt.-appointed committee has handed over a preliminary report to President Chandrika Kumaratunga and is due to give a full report soon, recommending measures to strengthen security in the city.
Government sources told The Sunday Times it was likely that security in the Colombo city would be entrusted to a security command headed by a Major General and including senior police officials.
Defence Secretary Chandrananda de Silva confirmed that the high-powered committee was looking into evidence to ascertain the route of the bomb truck.
Preliminary investigations have revealed that the lorry carrying some 350 kilos of explosives had been loaded with bags of rice at Kathiresan Street in Pettah and then driven through Maradana and then to D. R. Wijewardena Mawatha or Sir Chittampalam Gardiner Mawatha apparently to avoid security checkpoints before it came to the Lake House roundabout and then to Lotus Road. On working days lorries are not allowed to enter certain roads but this rule was not strictly enforced on holidays.
One of the areas the committee is looking into is whether adequate precautions were taken to protect the World Trade Centre — the main target of the LTTE's bomb attack. Tight security is maintained on the main access roads to the twin towers but its rear adjoining the Galadari car park was virtually exposed.
The 39 storeyed twin towers have been identified by security authorities as one of the economic targets of the LTTE.
Police investigations so far have revealed that a lorry driver of an NGO had helped the LTTE suspects involved in the attack to come to the city, posing as his cleaners. They had registered themselves with police stations.
Police chief W. B Rajaguru met senior DIGs and other top officers including those in the traffic section to discuss new security measures and traffic arrangements.
The UNP yesterday said its position on the proposed devolution package would be announced once the proposals reached finality.
UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale was reacting to President Kumaratunga's remarks made at a press conference on Friday charging that the UNP had still failed to come out with its stance on the proposed devolution package. Mr. Atukorale asked how the UNP could take a stand on the matter when there was no consensus amongst the SLFP ranks themselves, let alone divergence of opinion of other constituent members of the People's Alliance on many issues pertaining to the package.
"We are not at all worried about President Kumaratunga's allegations. The UNP being the singularly largest political party in the country, is not prepared to rush into decisions or dance to the tune of the government. We want to see what provisions the proposed package will ultimately contain, for the proposals already released are those of the government and not of the Parliamentary Select Committee," he said.
Mr. Atukorale re-assured that the UNP would take a firm stand when the proposals were presented in Parliament.
President Kumara-tunga in a stinging attack on the UNP called them to break the silence and make public what they think on the package.
At least three Western countries have advised tourists to minimize their stay in Colombo during visits to Sri Lanka in the wake of the Wednesday's bomb blast - but the Tourist Boad is confident there will be no major cancellation of tour charters.
French Ambassador Elizabeth Dahan said the advice given to French nationals was virtually the same as in the past two years. "However, we have told them to be more cautious and not to stay for long periods in Colombo. We are encouraging them to visit other parts of the island", she added.
An official of the British High Commission said they would be giving British tourist a balanced description of what happened on Wednesday emphasising it was after 18 months that a bomb had affected the capital city. "However, we have told them that such an attack by the LTTE could take place again and to confine their visits mostly to the south and other places of tourist interest," he added.
German Embassy Counsellor, Andreas Berg told The Sunday Times they were advising German tourists to minimize their stay in Colombo. "We are not discouraging them from visiting Sri Lanka but rather promoting the beaches, the cultural triangle and other places that have not been affected by the conflict," he said.
Meanwhile The Ceylon Tourist Board is launching a fresh campaign to assure foreign tourists who have planned to come here for the winter season that steps are being taken to provide maximum security.
Tourist Board Chairman H. M. S. Samaranayake said a top PR company in New York was carrying out an 'image building' campaign for Sri Lanka, and he was confident the winter season would bring in large numbers of tourists despite the latest bomb blast.
He said he felt that cancellations if any would not exceed 10% and he was hopeful the situation would return to normal within a month.
Tourism Ministry Sectretary W. P. S. Jayawardena was optimistic. He pointed out that the day after the bomb blast almost 500 tourists had come.
According to reports there has been a 21% increase in tourist arrivals upto July this year in comparison to the same period last year. Tourist earning have increased by 33% during the first half of this year.
Tourist Hotels Association Chief Gilbert Jayasuriya told The Sunday Times he felt it was too early to assess the impact of Wednesday's blast but he believed the truck bomb was not aimed at driving the tourists away but at an economic target in the twin towers.
Meanwhile officials of the Hilton and Galadari hotels which suffered most in the attack said every effort was being made to rebuild and resume operations soon but they could not give a timeframe. Hilton communications executive Yasmin Cader said there was 70% occupancy at the hotel prior to the blast. The hotel is closed indefinitely and we have get to assess the full damage. We will perhaps have to re-open the hotel in stages" she said.
Galadari PR Manager Manthri Perera said the damage to the hotel was extensive. We had 60% occupancy and were expecting this rate to rise upto 80% during the winter season, she said.
Leading figures in the business community told The Sunday Times they also felt the fort bomb attack would not have any major effects on business and the economy. Forbes and Walkers chief Ajith Jayaratne said. Sri Lanka was now a resilient country and he was confident we could rebound after some initial setbacks.
UNP national list MP Anura Bandaranaike accompanied by top Constitutional lawyer K. N. Choksy met Speaker K. B. Ratnayake to complain that a stranger who came to parliament had deleted part of the speech he made in the House last Thursday.
Mr. Bandaranaike said this deletion from the official record, the Hansard, was a breach of privilege. The Sunday Times has obtained the copy of the unedited Hansard and we publish this controversial document today showing the deletion allegedly made by the stranger in the house with a red pen.
An interim report on the ongoing investigations into the Stassen case where the company is alleged to have under-invoiced its imports has been handed over to President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
The President told journalists on Friday that the government would act on the report.
Meanwhile, the Customs this week recorded the statement of Stassens Director Raja Mendis. However, only a brief statement was recorded, according to Customs sources.
Customs chief S. M. J. Seeneviratne declined to comment on the issue.
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