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10th May 1998

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"I am a victim of a sickening disease that racks
me with its burden of cruel pain." Unmindful
of the pain, a handicappped youth at Kirullapone
uses his fingers to create intricate lanterns
and sell them to light up Vesak night.
Pic by Gemunu Wellage
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Commander: Army will go to schools

Malicious attempt to twist what we reported

By Chris Kamalendran

Army Recruiting Officers will visit schools countrywide to recruit students over 18 years, Commander Lt. Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte, declared on Friday.

"We will not only go to schools, but also to population zones and to Samurdhi beneficiaries. We will seek the help of clergy too," he told a news conference.

He said going to schools for recruitment was nothing new. "Even in the United States the Army goes to schools to tell them that the military is an attractive profession," he added

Lt. Gen. Daluwatte's remarks confirmed The Sunday Times exclusive last week that the Army will launch a campaign in schools countrywide in a national level recruitment campaign to enlist 15,000 soldiers.

The report said Army recruiters will explain to "students who plan to leave school the need for them to enlist."

Although The Sunday Times referred to the recruitment of school leavers, sections of the state electronic and print media quoted Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera giving the report a mischievous twist to say The Sunday Times reported that the Army planned to recruit children.

"I don't know how this came about because there is an age limit. We have regulations. Schoolboys over 18 years or anybody over this age is most welcome," the Army chief declared.

Lt. Gen. Daluwatte also pointed out that earlier schools had their cadet corps. However, these corps do not come under the Army any more. He said he joined the Army because he was a cadet at his school, Ananda College. He was in fact willing to go to Ananda College and explain to students the need to join the Army.

He said that a few months ago, a Buddhist priest had met him and offered 500 fresh recruits.

"We could not get the correct numbers. So we had to lower the standards. That is the reason why we have so much casualties. They are not skilled," Lt. Gen. Daluwatte declared. He added: "that is why we have to approach the schools, including those even in Jaffna."

"We need co-operation of everybody to get back the deserters. Our biggest problem is manpower. If we have manpower we can achieve the peace which is needed very soon. All of you could co-oporate to bring peace to our country.

"The main reason for this discussion is to get your support for the deserters to come back. We want them to come back as soon as possible because our main problem is manpower. We have taken large areas and we have to maintain the operation capability and also protect those areas. For that purpose, we require large numbers. We are little short to meet that requirement, the best way is to get the deserters back, because they are trained soldiers. So, I request your assistance and co-oporation in this endeavour," the Army Commander told journalists.

Q: What kind of support do you need?

A: Maximum publicity. Call for the deserters to come back on their own, because it is they who have to make the decision. I think with the right publicity and if we project the situation correctly there will be a good response.

Q: Do you think that kind of campaign has not been carried out?

A: We have had a fair response, but not to the extent we like to have. Still there are a number of deserters who are not coming back. You must remember we started this offensive as far back as 1995. The areas we have taken over are vast. What we have taken over must be protected and secured. For this, we need more troops. Also at the same time we have to maintain the offensive capability.

"Now this is the first time we had an offensive of this magnitude. We never had that earlier.

"We should try to maintain that offensive capability. If the deserters come back that should be sufficient for the moment to get on with the offensive fast and to get on the target fast.

"We are trying to get the deserters back first. If that fails we need fresh recruits.

Q: What is the total number of deserters?

A: About 15,000.

Q: How many are you expecting back through the latest amnesty ?

A: At least 6,000. If we can get 10,000 or the whole lot it will be tremendous.

Q: What has been the response so far?

A: I haven't got figures now. But generally a large number came in the last few days. So we'll wait and see.

Q: Why are they deserting?

A: It happens in any army anywhere in the world. When there is a war you get this type of deserters. The German army had lakhs of deserters during the second world war.

Q: Don't you think there is something fundamentally wrong to bring back deserters to the army without discipline and punishing them. What happens to the morale of the troops who have been loyal and committed?

A: I agree but we have no option.

Q: Why do you say that you have no alternative. Why can't you recruit?

A: Because our recruiting programmes also have not been that successful.

Q: So does that mean that you won't go ahead with operation Jaya Sikurui?

A: No I never said that. We won't stop it at all. But we need to speed it up.

Q: Some of the deserters have become criminals, are you going to give amnesty for those people also?

A: Not for those people

Q: How are you going to screen them?

A: We have a process.

Q: Has there been an increase in desertion after the launching of operation Jaya Sikurui?

A: No. But after the Mullaitivu setback the recruiting process was slowed down.

Q: If your current amnesty does not succeed and also if as you say the recruitment is not working well, what are the options?

A: We have a plan to get the maximum number of recruits. It should work.

Q: Was the option of conscription considered at any stage?

A: No. Not with us.

Reply to Mangala: facts and fallacies on recruitment

Media Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, has lashed out at The Sunday Times over our lead story last week.

We reported exclusively that the Sri Lanka Army will launch "a campaign in schools countrywide in a national level recruitment campaign to enlist 15,000 soldiers."

Last week's report said, "plans for this are being formulated by Army Headquarters. In terms of this, the Army is to seek the help of Grama Seva Niladharis.

"Army recruitment teams who will visit schools will, with the help of Audio/Visual aids, explain to students who plan to leave school the need for them to enlist."

Addressing the Government's weekly media briefing at the Sri Jayawardenapura - Kotte Parliamentary Complex last Thursday, Mr. Samaraweera charged that "this news item has been deliberately inserted to create mischief" at a time when Mr. Olara Otunnu, UN special envoy on children and armed conflict, was visiting Sri Lanka.

The reason for this accusation is not because the Government took exception to the report after The Sunday Times hit the streets last Sunday. There was no such move. Not until last Wednesday, when the Sri Lanka Embassy in Bonn had monitored the news on toll free telephones operated by the LTTE.

And on Thursday Mr. Samaraweera declared at the media briefing, "I would like to read the news item, the LTTE released which I am sure, has been picked up from The Sunday Times."

He went on to read "as the Sri Lankan Government found that the number of soldiers has been insufficient for the war to conduct genocide, it had been planned to recruit school students, male and female, to the forces."

He added: "Two days after this news item was printed in The Sunday Times, our embassy in Bonn reported the LTTE broadcast. We are sorry that a responsible newspaper like The Sunday Times is behaving in such an irresponsible manner.

This in turn enables the LTTE to justify its diabolical practice of using young children in its terrorist activities. The Government of Sri Lanka, I would like to categorically state, has extended its final amnesty to all Army deserters and it has absolutely no plans to recruit school children to the armed forces."

Therefore Mr. Samaraweera chided The Sunday Times for what he called its "irresponsible" behaviour.

He also referred to an item that appeared in The Sunday Times political gossip column. That, however, does not warrant a front page response.

Who said school children were to be recruited to the armed forces?

It would be abundantly clear, even to a school child, that The Sunday Times report made no mention of any "plans to recruit school children."

Why then the accusation, and that too, responding to a canard spread by the LTTE?

As reported in The Sunday Times, Army Commander Rohan de S. Daluwatte arranged a meeting with the media to speak on the national level recruitment programme as well as measures under way to round up deserters. The meeting was scheduled for last Monday and the media was informed. However, it was called off and the Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, instead met newspaper editors and senior journalists. He declared that the Government would launch a number of initiatives to recruit badly needed troops for the war effort. The first of these is the amnesty for deserters. This will be followed by a crackdown on them and a major recruitment drive.

Mandatory military service would only be a last resort, he said.

As we reported exclusively last week, Army Headquarters was formulating plans for a national level recruitment campaign which will target schools. The idea is to encourage school leavers to choose a military career. For the past several weeks a Planning Committee at Army Headquarters headed by Major General Wasantha Perera, has been working out plans for Army Recruiting Officers to visit schools and speak to students who plan to leave after their ordinary or advanced levels. Video clips of the military were to be shown to them to educate them. Audio tapes on the various benefits that will accrue were also to be played. The Committee had information that some deserters were discouraging school leavers from joining the Army.

The Committee noted during its deliberations on the need to focus on urban schools including those in Matara, Colombo, Galle, Kalutara, Kandy, Kurunegala and Negombo. It was noted that urban schools had not been paid adequate attention before.

One suggestion under consideration was to assure school leavers of good benefits. A proposal was made to bring down those willing to join by special buses to Colombo for a reception at the recruitment centre and provide them good accommodation.

The Planning Committee was to incorporate representatives from the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Public Administration among others, to facilitate its recruitment drive. UN Special Envoy Olara Otunnu, who met Government and high ranking military officials discussed his assignment children and armed conflict.

The Sunday Times learnt he was told by high ranking military officials that over 95 per cent of those in the Army, both officers and other ranks, had joined straight out of school.

They also made it clear to Mr. Otunnu that Army laws governing recruitment prohibited any Recruitment Officer from enlisting those below the age of 18 years.

They also said a mandatory compulsory service of those between 18 to 30 years would become inevitable if the deserters do not return in large numbers and a recruitment drive does not produce desired results.

In such an event, mandatory recruitment of those above would automatically cover school leavers, Mr. Otunnu was told.

Widespread propaganda after Mr. Samaraweera's statement at last week's media briefing claim that no students would be recruited to the Army.

If the final effort to round up deserters fail, recruitment would be the next step. To now claim that schools are to be scrupulously avoided, because the LTTE had chosen to spread a canard, is not only futile but counter productive. This is particularly when other countries like Britain have taken their recruitment campaign to schools to catch them young, that is just when they leave school.

LTTE agrees to keep children out of war

By Arshad M. Hadjirin

A United Nations special envoy has made Sri Lanka's diplomatic initiative to keep children out of the on-going separatist war, a reality.

Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, has secured an assurance from the LTTE that it would not use children below the age of 18 years in conflict. It has also assured it would not recruit children below the age of 17 years.

"Nearly a quarter of the child population in the world are caught in conflict and Sri Lanka is one of 30 countries where children are involved," Mr. Otunnu told a news conference at the end of his six day visit.

He was invited to Sri Lanka by Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgarmar, who is at the forefront of a Sri Lanka diplomatic initiative to keep children out of armed conflict.

Mr. Otunnu met LTTE's Thamil Chelvam and Anton Balasingham in the Wanni for a lengthy meeting which covered several other issues.

Significant among them was the LTTE targeting of civilian population and sites throughout the country. Mr. Otunnu said the LTTE acknowledges this to be an important and legitimate concern and undertook to review its strategies and tactics in this regard.

Mr. Otunnu said "it is sad that no proper action is taken to look into the welfare of children, who grow up in a conflict zone. Children are the most vulnerable group. There should be programmes to rehabilitate them"

A statement issued by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Friday said the LTTE leadership made a number of commitments to Mr. Otunnu. They were:

  • Freedom of movement for displaced populations

The LTTE leadership made the commitment that the movement of displaced populations who want to return to areas now under government control would not be impeded. The LTTE leadership also gave the commitment that there would be no impediment to the return to their homes of Muslim populations. The LTTE leadership accepted that a framework to monitor these processes should be put in place.

  • Distribution of humanitarian supplies

The LTTE leadership made a commitment not to interfere in the distribution of humanitarian supplies destined for affected civilian populations. The LTTE leadership accepted that the framework to monitor this commitment should be put in place.

  • Observing the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Mr. Otunnu stressed the importance of all parties, including non-state sectors, to observe the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In particular, Mr. Otunnu urged the LTTE leadership to make a public commitment to respect the principles and provisions of the Convention. In this connection, the LTTE leadership indicated its readiness to have its cadres receive information and instruction on the provisions of this Convention.

SLAF officers to be suspended

The Ministry of Defence has ordered Air Force Commander Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody, to suspend from service the two airmen allegedly involved in the harassment/intimidation case of Iqbal Athas, Consultant Editor and Defence Correspondent of The Sunday Times.

The two are Squadron Leader Rukman Herath, a security officer of former Air Force Commander Oliver Ranasinghe and Flight Lieutenant Prasanna Kannangara, officer-in-charge of the Special Airborne Force (SABF).

The X-files of AirLanka - Emirates deal

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

About 50 vital documents on the controversial deal between AirLanka and the Emirates Airlines are either missing or were not tabled in Parliament when the Aviation Minister tabled what he termed "all documents on the deal" the UNP has charged.

Among the missing documents are the business plan, disclosure letter from the government regarding warranties, airline operating certificate agreement between the Company and the BoI, letters from the BoI providing concessions to AirLanka catering services, documents relating to various airport concessions and leases, aviation fuel pricing, pre-delivery financing commitments and more.

Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has complained to Speaker K. B. Ratnayake in this regard, and questioned as to why the government's policy of transparency led to the non-tabling of crucially important documents on the deal.

Meanwhile, the government and the UNP have agreed on the provision of live TV coverage of the AirLanka debate on May 19.

The UNP agreed to the televising of the widely awaited full-day debate on the basis that equal coverage will be given to speakers from all parties, a party source said.

UNP to move no-faith motion

The main Opposition UNP is to move a no-confidence motion against the government for bringing the Permanent Commission on Bribery and Corruption, which was set up with much fanfare and a 2/3 majority in Parliament, to a grinding halt for political reasons.

A senior UNP spokesman alleged the Commission was set up by the government to vilify the opposition which nevertheless cooperated when establishing it. Officers investigating into important cases have been transferred out, and the Attorney General's Department has withdrawn its staff.

"It was the duty of the Justice Minister to provide personnel to the Commission and ensure its function. The crucial factor was that despite the government's anti-corruption rhetoric, there are files against six ministers and the government had to save its face," he said..

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Times he would write to President Kumaratunga to ensure the Commission's functioning by appointing a Director General and filling the vacancy created by the death of Commissioner Siva Selliah over one year ago.

The UNP also has decided to resume its anti-corruption drive "Pavithra Yathra" in the Kalutara District next Friday on a house to house basis.

The UNP has decided to keep up the tempo of the campaign leading up to the provincial council polls scheduled for July. The unofficial campaign for the hustings will begin simultaneously.

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