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7th December 1997


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Commandos and 'Tigers' in pitched battle for highway

Casualties mount in final phase of Operation Jaya Sikurui

At least 146 soldiers, mostly commandos, were killed in fierce battles that erupted after 'Operation Jaya Sikurui' or Victory Assured resumed Thursday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) handed over 110 bodies to the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH) in near Omantai yesterday.

The bodies of Major Nilantha Sirimanne and 35 soldiers, which were in the hands of the security forces when the battles ended, have already been delivered to their next of kin.

Although the LTTE claimed only 35 of its cadres including ten women were killed, the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence said "transmissions revealed 102 terrorists killed by Friday night."

The battles erupted when troops broke out of their defences in Puthur, south west of Puliyankulam, in what was seen as the third and final phase of the operation.

Led by commandos and followed by infantry units of the Sinha Regiment, the men moved on either side of A9, to begin the recapture of the remaining stretch of A9 (Kandy-Jaffna highway).

En route they were tasked to take on three separate LTTE targets, all believed to be fortified camps.

Military officials said artillery and mortar fire caused most casualties. Others were killed during fighting at close quarters.

Nearly 400 soldiers who were injured have been warded at hospitals in Anuradhapura and the city.

Hours after the battles erupted on Thursday, the security forces said the bodies of 36 soldiers including a Commando Officer were already in their hands. A total of 158 soldiers were declared Missing in Action.

Of this number, 24 soldiers returned to their camps on Friday night leaving 134 to be accounted for. With the ICRC handing over 110 bodies, 24 more soldiers are not accounted for.

In a statement issued from its so called International Secretariat in London, the LTTE claimed it had recovered 133 bodies.

It said that 113 of these bodies "which were in good condition" were handed over to the ICRC.

A press release said the remaining '20 bodies which were in a bad condition were cremated by the LTTE."

Nelum Gamage to be charged

The Permanent Commission on Bribery and Corruption is to file charges against its Director General Nelum Gamage for corruption, a commissioner said.

"The Commission is functioning as usual, there are no petty little squabbles between us. It is however unpleasant and irksome to have to work with the Director General when we are contemplating charge sheeting her for corruption," said Commissioner Rudra Rajasingham, a former police chief.

He declined to comment further on whether the Commissioners intend to defy the Presidential directive made public by Justice Minister G. L. Peiris last week requesting the Commissioners to relinquish their posts.

The Presidential directive was made on the basis that the credibility of the Commission has been affected by the long drawn out controversy.

Commissioners T. A. de S. Wijesundera, Rudra Rajasingham and Director General Nelum Gamage figured in the controversy.

It was in consequence of this dispute that writ application was filed by the Director General against the commission for initiating a mala fide investigation against her. Subsequently her husband Lal Gamage was charge sheeted by the Commission for alleged corruption.

Presidential intervention was expected to settle the controversy but all three commission officials have continued to remain in office despite the directive.

The move on the part of the commission is expected to intensify the long drawn out controversy between the commissioners and Ms. Gamage.

All three officials have continued to remain in office despite a Presidential directive that they vacate their posts. Director General Nelum Gamage who says that she had received a letter transferring her to the Justice Ministry without the date of transfer being indicated maintains she would abide by the directive once the date is stipulated.

The Commissioners have meanwhile indicated that the Presidential directive would not apply to them but would apply to the Director General. According to the law under which the commission was set up, the commissioners can be removed only by Parliament for misconduct or incapacity, if proven.

Section 2 (5) A of the Act specifies that a member of the Commission shall not be removed from office except by an order of the President made after an address of Parliament supported by a majority of the Members. The resolution for a presentation of an address must be signed by not less than one third of the Members of Parliament.

Troops treated in the dark

By M. Ismeth and Arshad M. Hadjirin

Doctors and the staff of the National Hospital battled in the dark during the two-hour islandwide power failure as the war-wounded were being brought there, hospital sources said.

National Hospital Director Dr. Terrence de Silva told The Sunday Times scores of injured soldiers were brought to the hospital which was plunged into darkness and the doctors and the staff had a tough time handling the situation.

Dr. de Silva said this was the first time that a power failure had lasted for two hours, since the islandwide CEB strike last year.

The hospital has a couple of generators which hardly meet 10 percent of the requirement. Dr. de Silva said the hospital never relied on generators, as they were assured of power from at least three back up stations.

"This time none could restore power, leaving most parts of the hospital in total darkness, except for the emergency units, and the Accident Wards," he said. "Only one lift was in operation, and ventilators had to be hand operated."

Dr. De Silva said half of the ventilators and nebulisors did not have an adequate back up power supply.

"We have never suffered from such a long power failure," Dr. Silva said adding that they have requested the CEB to provide them with a 1000 KVA generator. 'However this will only meet one third of our demands," he said.

In the meantime rumours were afloat during the dark hours from 7.55 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday.

The Sunday Times was inundated with telephone calls inquiring as to what had happened. With the ongoing war in the North some asked whether it was a terrorist attack, recalling the recent incident at the Kelanitissa power plant.

Officials in charge of different plants gave us varying replies, when asked about the power failure. An official later said it was due to a technical defect at the Laxapana power plant.

Parliament food bill: Rs. 4 lakhs per day

It costs Rs 1.2 million for a day's sitting of Parliament and a third of it goes for the gastronomic delights of the country's law makers.

Parliament officials said 67 varieties of food were prepared during a normal day's sittings for the exclusive consumption of the MPs. For breakfast, they have a choice of three types of rice, bread, gram, string hoppers, omlettes and other supplementaries. Tea, coffee and kola kenda are accompaniments they can choose from.

Lunch includes three kinds of rice including fried rice, fish, chicken, beef with eight or more curry dishes. Fish and meat are prepared in various styles to suit the palate of the members.

In addition, Parliament officials say, a catering service prepares food separately on special requests of MPs.

Other beneficiaries of the food are executives in Parliament, media personnel and staff. They, however, pay a subsidised rate.

For evening tea, MPs are served with two varieties of cakes, cutlets and pastries.

One staffer said a 30 per cent of the food goes waste.

Parliament staff are not allowed to carry food home.

Tenth poll calls –this time on target

Wednesday's announcement about nominations for local elections in the north was made for the tenth year in succession but Election officials said they hoped to conduct polls this time.

This is after senior security forces officials in the districts of Jaffna and Kilinocchi had declared that security conditions would permit the conduct of local polls.

An announcement by the Department of Elections on Wednesday said nominations for elections to local authorities would be received from December 16 to 23 at the Jaffna elections office.

Elections Department officials said they had called for nominations for elections to all the 16 local bodies in the Jaffna district and the Pachchilaipalli Pradeshiya Sabha in the Kilinochchi district. In the Jaffna district there is the Jaffna Municipal Council, the Urban Councils at Valvettiturai, Point Pedro, Chavakachcheri and 13 Pradeshiya Sabhas.

The tenure of all 31 local authorities in the north expires on February 18, next year. The term of 14 local bodies for which nominations have not been called, is to be extended, 'The Sunday Times' learns.

French engine pulls no train

By Frederica Jansz

As the controversy surrounding the locomotive tender, awarded to GEC Alsthom of France, continues to rage amidst allegations of political interference and bias, questions are being raised on the suitability of the engines for trains.

In a letter to the Chairman of the Cabinet appointed Tender Board. Donald Rosa, Engineering consultant for Adtranz-Daimler Benz Company Ltd., says the Ruston 12RK215 series engine that is being bought by the government has not been in service as a locomotive power unit, but is rather being mainly used to power ships.

The Jane's Handbook of World Railway, which catalogues locomotives used by each and every railway in the world and is considered the bible of all railway operators has no record whatsoever of the 12RK215 engine being ever used in any locomotive in the world.

The book says that not even in France where Alsthom is dominant or in Britain where it is manufactured, this engine is used to power locomotives.

Meanwhile, the credibility of the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) is also being questioned as a report submitted by TEC, asserted the French offer was the only one which conformed to all requirements in the tender specification.

Tender specifications meanwhile insisted that the design of the locomotive and the component parts shall be of well tried out designs used in Railway services in tropical conditions for reliability and maintenance.

This is now being challenged as the Ruston 12RK215 engine has been mainly used to power ships and so its suitability is questionable, while it originated from the same stables as the Paxman engines which has performed adversely in Sri Lanka Railways.

A Cabinet Sub-Committee comprising Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, Lakshman Jayakody, Lakshman Kadirgamar and Kingsley Wickramaratne went into the tender after officials awarded the tender jointly to General Motors USA/Canada and Samsung Korea.

The Sub-Committee had made the award to Alsthom France after heavy pressure came from the presidential secretariat to change the tender in favour of Alsthom France.

Meanwhile the French offer was the most expensive on the table, at least Rs. 500 million more than the offer made by others.

Dulip Thiyagaraja local representative for GEC Alsthom France told The Sunday Times that GEC Alsthom supplied over 60% of the world locomotives. He did not however specify in which country 12RK215 engines had or is being used on rail track.

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