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26th October 1997


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EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND, -President Kumaratunga and South African President Nelson Mandela laugh together before the first session of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting October 24. -Reuter


Air Force Chief blamed for crashes

By Iqbal Athas

The loss of two Avro aircraft following LTTE missile attacks in April 1995, killing over 100 soldiers, may have been averted if the Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force had taken intelligence reports seriously, a high level Committee has reported to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

The Committee was appointed by the President to investigate 16 SLAF air crashes which occurred between April 1995 and May 1997.

It was headed by Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva and comprised General Denis Perera, a former Army Commander, Air Vice Marshal Pathman (Paddy) Mendis, a former Air Force Commander, Cyril Herath, a former Inspector General of Police and C R de Silva, Additional Solicitor general.

An SLAF Avro (Charlie Romeo 835) was destroyed by suspected LTTE missile attack on April 29, 1995 killing 51 persons on board. The next day, another Avro (Charlie Romeo 834) was also destroyed in similar fashion killing 54 persons on board.

The Committee which handed over its report to President Kumaratunga on August 27 has said that Air Force Commander, Air Marshal Oliver, Ranasinghe, during his evidence admitted that the Directorate of Military Intelligence gives various intelligence reports. He has declared "if he were to accept all such reports 'there would be no Air Force flying.' "

The report says: "This answer epitomises a complete lack of responsibility by the Commander and had he taken the intelligence reports seriously, the loss of Avro aircraft CR 834 and CR 835 may have been averted. It also appears from the Commander's statement that he did not believe the LTTE to possess Stinger Missiles as 'the USA has recovered all the Stinger Missiles from the American continent and was paying US $ 200,000 for all missiles surrendered in Afghanistan.'

Commenting on the purchase of Israeli built Kfir ground attack aircraft, the report says: "The commander informed the Committee that these aircraft were purchased outside tender procedure on the grounds that no other country would offer us Ground Attack aircraft as India would object."

An Indian High Commission official, responding to this remark on grounds of anonymity said "India had not taken any such stance. It is entirely an internal matter for Sri Lanka."

The report also says that "there appears to be open conflict between the Commander and his Chief of Staff. Some of the remarks made by the Commander in the court of inquiry proceedings leave no doubt whatsoever regarding this. As a consequence of this open conflict the Chief of Staff has been sidelined from the decision-making and command process. In a disciplined Service, this has had its effect 'down the line' and there appear to be two camps backing one or the other.

The report makes severe strictures over SLAF aircraft purchases.

In today's Situation Report Special Assignment, (pages 6 and 9), The Sunday Times reveals exclusively the findings of the Committee.

Colombo sealed, 1,000 detained

More than 6000 security forces and police personnel mounted the biggest ever search operation in Colombo causing chaos and confusion among residents and those entering the capital.

Around 1,000 people including 139 women were detained in the six-hour operation, but about 500 them were questioned and released by evening.

The search operation caused a string of reactions. Hundreds who were heading for work and other duties in the city from outstations were turned back, opening of offices was delayed, sales in shops, bakeries dropped while at least two government examination were postponed.

The search co-ordinated by the Police was aimed at arresting suspected Tamil rebels and tracing arms, ammunition or explosives that may have been smuggled into the city for attacks similar to the bomb explosion near the twin towers on October 15.

Kotahena, Kirullapone, Bambalapitiya, Maradana, Maligawatta, Hulftsdrop, Fort , Pettah, Mattakuliya, Modara, Wellawatta, Narahenpita and Kompanna Veediya were among the areas heavily searched.

Intense questioning, photographing, videoing and fingerprinting of suspects were underway and police assured that those not involved with the LTTE would be released.

"Police personnel were brought from almost all the provinces. They were told to report in Colombo after dark," one police officer who did not wish to be named said.

All police and security force personnel reported to three main centres - Foreshore Police, Bambalapitiya and Maradana between 12.30 a.m. and 1.00 a.m. where they were briefed by the respective divisional heads. Earlier they were briefed by a co-ordinating committee headed by the Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte. The three service commanders and the Police Chief were among other senior officers who briefed them on the operation.

Police sources said Colombo was sectored and searched with separate teams being assigned for interrogation, photography, videoing and finger printing.

Some of the vehicles heading for Colombo from outstations returned, most of them fearing that search operation would continue throughout the day.

Our Kandy Correspondent, Shane Seneviratne said vehicles heading for Colombo were turned back with several rumours doing the rounds.

"We were told that it was dangerous to go to Colombo and the operation would continue throughout the day. Most people started getting off the buses and were taking the next bus back to Kandy. When I reached Nittambuwa people told me it was dangerous to go to Colombo and I returned to Kandy," our commuter said.

Railways General Manager W. K. B Weragama said train services were not disrupted, but several people who had booked tickets in the Inter City train and Observation Saloon were unable to make it in time to the Fort or Maradana station.

He assured they would be given a refund or could use the ticket on another day.

Examinations Chief Gamini Gunaratne said two examinations for Auditors were postponed in view of the security operation.

Residents said that in some areas the checking was intense.

A resident from Narahenpita said the checking was so thorough that the troops even checked bottles of perfume.

A Tamil resident said that at the end of the search the Police wanted him to sign a form printed in Sinhala. It was a form saying that during the search no harm was caused. "Although the policemen were courteous, I would have preferred if they explained to me what I was signing," he said.

A statement by the Defence Ministry regarding the operation said: "This operation resulted in the detention of about 1000 persons for the purpose of interrogation which is now proceeding under the supervision of senior police officers. As soon as these interrogations are concluded, those who are not required for further investigations will be released. The present location of those detained has been communicated to their families."

As the search operation got underway the SLBC was forced to combine its channels as its staff could not report to work. Hospital staff and factory workers reporting for early shifts were also delayed at the main entry points to the city.

A Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) spokesman said that even the clearing of garbage had to be delayed due to the search operation.

A bakery owner said sales had dropped by 40 % as most of the bread had reached the outlets only near lunch time.

Major hotels in the city reported delays about their staff reporting to work forcing the night staff to continue until the day-shift staff arrived. However attendence was poor.

Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte in a statement issued last night said the search operation was carried out "on account of the threat to the security of Colombo, more particularly to the Tamil community emanating from the LTTE at a time when constitutional amendments were placed before Parliament".

The statement said those who had any complaint on account of the operation could contact the police on the emergency numbers or the general line 421111.

Stunning disclosures in Dixit book

Disclosing some dramatic secrets regarding the controversial Indo- Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987, a former Indian envoy has said that President J.R. Jayewardene preferred a military option had agreed to a compromise only after New Delhi warned him that it would otherwise throw its full weight behind the LTTE and the Tamil people.

Former Indian Foreign Secretary Jyotindre Nath Dixit, High Commissioner in Colombo during the height of the drama made the revelation in a recently published book titled 'Assignment Colombo'.

He said Mr. Jayewardene had nursed reservations about the Accord till two days before it was signed and it was the veiled Indian warning that virtually forced him to do so.

In another sensational disclosure Dixit said that while premier Rajiv Gandhi was negotiating with the Sri Lanka President in Colombo, they received information that Mr. Jayewardene had also met US Ambassador James Spain and asked for American logistical assistance" to maintain law and order in other areas of Sri Lanka while Indian troops operated in the North-East.

Excerpts from the book as given in the current issue of India Today See also page 4

CPU launching worldwide crusade against criminal defamation

Edinburgh - The Commonwealth Press Union (CPU) has declared it will launch a worldwide campaign to abolish criminal defamation in countries where it exists.

The CPU declaration on Thursday came on the eve of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Edinburgh. CPU represents more than 700 major newspaper groups in some 50 countries.

The International Press Institute and the human rights pressure group Article xix which jointly sponsored Thursday's symposium on "Press Freedom in the Commonwealth" said they would support the CPU initiative.

CPU Deputy Director Lindsay Ross told a news conference after the symposium a practical campaign would soon be drawn up after the Commonwealth summit and they would seek support from the World Association of Newspapers, the US based World Press Freedom Committee and the International Freedom of Expression Committee. She said references were made during the symposium to the criminal defamation cases against Sri Lankan editors and against journalists in Zimbabwe and East Africa.

She said a CPU sponsored seminar for editors from 20 Commonwealth member states held in Scotland earlier in the week underlined this requirement and that there was general consensus that this would be a "most valuable contribution to press freedom in the Commonwealth".

CBK dribbles out of Tiger circus

Edinburgh: It was literally a case of the Kangaroos getting the better of the Tigers at the Commonwealth summit here yesterday.

If the Tigers came in train loads to express their solidarity with their brethren, hundreds of Aussies turned up to espouse another worthy cause to save the kangaroos that are going extinct in Australia.

Some of the Aussies were dressed in Kangaroo kits.

As the two groups vied with each other, there were loud cries of 'Chandrika we love you', from members of the SLFP branch in London. They had also turned up in large numbers.

President Chandrika Bandara-naike Kumaratunga seated next to Nelson Mandela remained in TV spotlight as the camera focused often on South Africa's elder statesman.

"I know her mother very well. She supported our cause. I treat her (Ms. Kumaratunga) as our daughter," he declared.

There was also considerable media exposure on Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. He called upon the British Government to take action against LTTE operators who were using London as the main base.

Mr. Kadirgamar also said he was meeting Mr. Mandela's companion Graca Machel to discuss the tragedy of children being inducted by armed groups. Queen Elizabeth received a prolonged ovation when she made her opening address at the summit. She said she had just concluded an excellent visit to India and Pakistan.

But, in marked contrast editors from India and Pakistan were absent at a reception the Queen gave visiting commonwealth editors at the Palace of 'Holyroodhouse'.

Sri Lanka made a strong pitch at yesterday's sessions to urge Commonwealth countries not to give asylum to terrorists and to introduce laws to curb urban bombing.

Indian Premier Inder Kumar Gujral called for a universal extradition treaty to combat international terrorism against democracies.

The summit yesterday decided on a Commonwealth-South Asia Regional Fund to promote private sector investment.

Sri Lanka's Ken Balendra, Chairman of John Keells Holdings has been named as the Chairman of the fund.

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