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Troops withdraw from Elephant Pass

Troops withdraw from Elephant Pass

COLOMBO, April 23 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan troops have withdrawn from their key Elephant Pass base and as heavy fighting with Tamil Tiger rebels rages at the gateway to northern Jaffna, military officials said on Sunday.

Troops had "tactically" pulled back their defence line north of Elephant Pass and the Iyakachchi camp, the final bastion protecting the military base, amid a heavy volume ofmortar and artillery fire by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

"Heavy fighting continues. The army has readjusted its defence lines north of Elephant Pass," army spokesman Brigadier Palitha Fernando was quoted as saying.

The LTTE said on Saturday they had overrun Elephant Pass, which straddles the isthmus land route to Jaffna, after storming Iyakachchi camp.

The giant Elephant Pass camp was manned by two divisions of the Sri Lankan army. Unconfirmed reports said a large number of troops were still unaccounted for.

The defence ministry said in a statement late on Saturday that 49 soldiers had been killed and 383 wounded in the battle.

It said ground troops had confirmed that over 150 guerrillas had been killed on Saturday.

Officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross told Reuters by phone in Colombo that they had no word on casualties or on arrangements to hand over bodies.

The government launched an appeal on state radio for blood donations.

Both sides have suffered hundreds of casualties since the LTTE launched the latest offensive four weeks ago to capture Jaffna, the stronghold they lost in 1996.

Independent verification of events is not possible as journalists are not allowed into the war zone.

72 soldiers killed, 243 injured

By Norman Palihawadana
72 soldiers including Brigadier Percy Fernando were killed while 422 were injured in the confrontation between the LTTE and the security forces south of Elephant Pass.

Security sources said that about 150 Tigers were killed.

"About 300 Tigers had come in tractors and opened fire on the army using automatic artillery. A leading captain of the LTTE is now under the custody of the army," sources said.

Air Force launched attacks by MI-24 and KFIR crafts on LTTE positions located south of Elephant Pass.

Meanwhile Northern Commanding Officer Major General Janaka Perera instructed army officers about new war strategies.

Army Commander Sri Lal Weerasooriya also visited the war front.

Senior army officers did not make any statement regarding the re-capture of the Elephant Pass South area by the LTTE.

Security sources said damages were caused on both sides in the fights after the re-capture of the area by the LTTE.

Eastern Province Tigers also have joined the fight, sources said.

UNP wants debate on Elephant Pass

By Kesara Abeywardena
The UNP will request the Speaker today to summon a party leaders meeting immediately to have an urgent debate in parliament regarding the present situation in the North following the capture of a section of Elephant Pass by the LTTE.

Chief Opposition Whip W. J. M. Lokubandara said yesterday that he will make the request from speaker K. B. Ratnayake today on the instructions of the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

He said that since the parliament is the supreme body of peoples’ representatives and on handling the country’s finances it should be briefed on the present situation. "The government should not eyewash the people about what’s going on in the North. We have a right to know what’s happening," he said.

It is the party leaders or the Business Committee of the Parliament that decides on the days the parliament should meet. The parliament is expected to meet again on May 9.

Call for ban on imported cooking oil

The Sri Lanka Coconut Cultivators’ Association has called for the import of cooking oil to be banned immediately to arrest the fall of coconut prices.

A spokesman of the Association said coconut sold at Rs. 4.50 at the beginning of this month is selling at Rs. 3 now. The main reason for the price drop is increase of consumption and plenty of cooking oil in the market.

He said, the Association is taking steps to explain to the Ministries of Finance, Trade and Plantation the situation that the coconut industry is facing. He said it was a severe threat to the industry that a 5% tax relief granted on importation of cooking oil.

Senior food researchers of CISIR have recommended coconut oil is much better than cooking oil.

It was also pointed out that the coconut oil is used as a medicine for AIDS in Philippines.

Police open fire on luxury vehicle transporting illicit liquor

Peliyagoda police last week arrested a suspect alongwith 900 bottles of illicit liquor transported in a luxury vehicle which stopped only after police opened fire on the vehicle.

Police sources said one of the suspects injured in the shooting was admitted to the National Hospital, Colombo. Another person travelling in the vehicle had bolted.

Peliyagoda police had ordered the Colombo bound white colour corolla motor car to stop at Nuge road in Peliyagoda. However the vehicle sped towards Wellampitiya area. Police officers followed the vehicle in a jeep and opened fire on it at Wellampitiya.

Police investigations are continuing.

Samurdhi animator, army deserter remanded for robbery

Divaina Corr.
Polgahawela Circuit Magistrate Pleetus Deft last week remanded a Samurdhi animator and suspected army deserter who allegedly robbed goods worth about rupees one lakh from a teacher’s house.

The two suspects are B. A. Gamini Herath of Metikumbura, Polgahawela and S. P. Tissa of Pothuhera.

Police investigations have revealed that when the teacher Nimal Sisira was away from home to see his parents the suspects had entered the house through the roof removing tiles and carried away a motorbike, cassette recorder, television and cash.

Police said some robbed items were recovered.

Police investigations are on.

Explanation asked from PA MPs

The PA parliamentarians who were not present in Parliament on April 5, when the government lost the motion to abolish the Paddy Marketing Board by three votes, have now been asked to give explanations.

The motion sought the approval of the House to authorise Minister of Agriculture and Lands for the dissolution of the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) and the appointment of two liquidators.

With the defeat of the motion, it was dropped from the next day’s Order Paper, i.e. April 6.

However, four days later, the Parliamentary Secretariat issued an Addendum to the Order Paper listing the motion for a fresh debate and vote on May 9.

Government had announced that the PA parliamentarians who were absent when the government lost its motion on PMB and the appointment of two liquidators will have to explain the reasons for their absenteeism.

Teacher transfers on political grounds

WARAKAPOLA: P.A. controlled Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council authorities transfer teachers of Jatika Sevaka Sangamaya on political grounds. In transfer lists names of pregnant teachers who are seeking confinement leave are also included said Jayathilaka Podinilame Leader of the Opposition addressing a meeting held by Kegalle District Teachers’ Jatika Sevaka Sangamaya held at Warakapola UNP office.

Jayathilaka Podinilame further added in the transfers lists there are names of teachers awaiting for retirement. When I was the Chief Minister I had not transferred any of the teachers on political grounds. But now authorities are used to transfer teachers who served in difficult areas for nine to ten years. When I was the Chief Minister there was a transfer policy to be followed in transferring teachers disregarding his or her political affiliations. I request the Provincial Council not to indulge in unnecessary teacher transfers which annoy and frustrate them.

Teaching is a noble profession which is aimed at the next generation of country. Unless they guide younger generation on the correct path repercussions of their omissions and commissions cannot be rectified until the arrival of next generation. Hence it is our duty not to spoil and hurt the teachers to stay in power.

Podinilame also asked the Sabaragamuwa Educational Authority to immediately initiate a transfer policy to bring solace to all the teachers in the area. Unless we build a bridge with them, aim of sound education cannot be realised.

Massive attack on Elephant Pass

Fierce clashes were taking place in the general area Elephant Pass, armed forces spokesman Brigadier Palitha Fernando said last night.

Security forces yesterday afternoon abandoned some of their positions north east and north of Elephant Pass.

"In the early hours of Saturday, terrorists launched a major offensive against the troops defending forward defence lines in general areas Iyakachchi and Elephant Pass," Brigadier Fernando said around 10.40 last night.

Troops readjusted their defence lines north of Elephant Pass, he said adding that during the day’s confrontations 49 officers and men were killed in action and 243 wounded. Approximately 150 officers and men had suffered minor injuries.

He placed the number of terrorists killed in and around Elephant Pass as around 150.

"The fighting is continuing in the area," he said.

LTTE’s statement disallowed

The LTTE yesterday evening issued a special statement making certain claims. The statement was disallowed by the Competent Authority.

The following story was submitted to Competent Authority before fighting broke out in Elephant Pass.

A day after the newly appointed Overall Operations Commander [OOC] Major General Janaka Perera arrived in Palaly, Jaffna troops went on the offensive, trying to block a major infiltration route to the peninsula.

Armour led troops moved in against strong enemy groups operating at Ariyalai situated just across the terrorist held Pooneryn as the field guns engaged targets in the general area.

Major General Perera flew to Palaly late Thursday [20] to re-organise the government war effort in the peninsula after President Chandrika Kumaratunga demanded an all out effort amidst a crisis situation triggered off by terrorist attacks mounted two days before.

The presidential directive has been given from abroad after authorities in Colombo got in touch with her after (CENSORED) terrorist offensive threatened more government held areas in Jaffna.

The sources said that the government has told the top brass that they should regain control of the areas lost to terrorists during the current bout of fighting since March 27.

The military said that action is being taken to do whatever possible to prevent easy access to the LTTE from the Wanni mainland to the Jaffna peninsula.

The LTTE regained a foothold in the general area Ariyalai and Thanankilappu in December last year and has been using these points to send in men and material to mount operations in support of their main push that came in late March in the Vadamarachchy east and Thennamarachchi areas.

At least six terrorists were killed and dozens wounded during initial stages of the ongoing operation, the military said adding that later in day troops fired at boats coming from Pooneryn on the Wanni mainland in the direction of Ariyalai. "They were probably coming to evacuate the casualties," a senior officer said pointing out heavy security forces fire forced the boats to turn back.

He said that a lot would depend on the army’s ability to block infiltration points and go on the offensive at the same time.

The Ariyalai operation came as the military on Thursday [20] repulsed a series of fierce terrorist attacks on their defences in Soranpattu area, an area targeted by terrorists since last Tuesday.

During the initial stages of battles in this area and neighbouring villagers last Tuesday, troops were forced (CENSORED) take up new defences. Thursday’s attacks were aimed at forcing the army to abandon their new positions.

However, during Thursday’s battles, troops repulsed three heavy attacks on their Soranpattu defences. The military said that terrorists withdrew from some of their positions from where they mounted assaults after their third attempt failed to dislodge the army.

At least 30 terrorists were killed in Soranpattu battles.

However, strong enemy groups operate in the area and monitored enemy transmissions indicate that large groups had been withdrawn from their positions for re-deployment in the Jaffna theatre.

Meanwhile, troops on Friday [21] afternoon repulsed an LTTE boat landing south west of Muhavil. The LTTE regained the Vadamarachchy east in the last week of March and has been sending groups across the narrow lagoon to support cadres attacking the Main Supply Route [MSR] particularly between Pallai and Mirusuvil.

The military said that the LTTE suffered heavy losses when troops and Mi-24 helicopter gunships engaged the boats moving to a location south west of Muhavil.

About 30 minutes after the Muhavil boat landings failed, terrorists mounted the first of their three major attacks on the army’s Iyakachchi defences for the day. At least two soldiers were killed and 31 including four officers wounded, some of them seriously during these confrontations. Troops believe that over 20 terrorists were killed during Iyakachchi confrontations.

The government while placing Major General Janaka Perera incharge of the entire war effort in the North and the East provinces, replaced Jaffna Security Forces Commander Major General Chula Seneviratne with Major General Sarath Fonseka, a veteran in ground battles.

Fonseka, wounded in action a number of times had been also considered for the post of the OOC previously.

US State Dept. pressure over international telephone dispute?

The dispute between Lanka Internet Services Ltd. (LISL) and the telecommunication authorities here has been taken up in Washington by senior State Department officials with Minister G. L. Pieris at the recently concluded IMF meetings, the company said.

The international telecom industry is bound to take a very grim view of these developments," the company said in a statement which among other things alleged that the U.S. - Sri Lanka Investment Protection Treaty had been "flouted openly." LISL’s principal investor is a U.S. corporation.

According to the company statement, this dispute has been raised with Prof. Peiris by Assistant Secretary of State (South Asia), Carl. F. Inderfurth and Alan Larsen, Under Secretary of State for Economics and Business.

LISL described itself as a licenced telecommunications operator providing among others enhanced voice services within the terms and confines of its licence. But the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka appeared to be taking the position that these operations "infringe on a non-existent monopoly of Sri lanka Telecom."

"Enhanced voice" has been defined by the regulatory authority here as "voice transmitted in the form of packetised data in a compressed form at a lower bit rate." In effect, the dispute centers round LISL allegedly undercutting SLT on international phone calls for which SLT claims a monopoly until August 2002.

Lanka Internet which has rejected the allegations levelled against it as unsubstantiated and without a shred of proof says that if they are in any way violating the conditions of their licence, there is a procedure to be followed and they must be given an opportunity of presenting their case.

The company which claims that three operators including itself are authorised by their licence terms to provide "enhanced voice services" accused various state authorities’’ of resorting to roundabout measures to pressure them to cease their enhanced voice operations.

It further states that the CID has to date not filed objections in the fundamental rights action they have filed over this dispute end "appears to be dragging its feet" in a case filed in the Fort Magistrate’s Court.

Post set up, scrapped and restored

In an unprecedent move, President Chandrika Kumaratunga on Friday (21) reactivated the all powerful post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) of the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH), a post she herself scrapped on June 9, last year.

General Rohan De. S. Daluwatte who held that post for less than a week in early June last year has been reappointed to the CDS of the JOH.

The post was created by issuing an extraordinary gazette on May 27 last year under Section 5 of the Public Security Ordinance. The three service commanders and the IGP were also placed under the Chief of the Defence Staff of the JOH while making him a member of the National Security Council (NSC) headed by the President.

According to the May 27 gazette, the NSC comprises the President, the deputy defence minister, secretary to the President, Secretary to the Defence Ministry, the CDS, the service commanders, the IGP and the director general of Internal Intelligence.

Seven days after the creation of the post, General Daluwatte was appointed the CDS of the JOH by issuing another extraordinary gazette notification. The gazette dated June 3 said that "it is hearby notified that in terms of Regulation 5 of the Emergency (National Security Council) Regulations No 01 of 1999 General R. De. S. Daluwatte, WWV, RWP, RSP, VSV, USP has been appointed by the President to be the Chief of Defence Staff of the Joint Operations Headquarters with effect from May 31, 1999.

However, the government issued another extraordinary gazette notification six days later, scrapping the post of the CDS of the JOH. Informed government sources said that the President ordered the scrapping of the post saying that she had not been aware of the crucial and far reaching changes in the command and control structure of the armed forces.(SF)

Call to stop destruction of Ma-Oya valley

Text and pix. by Kuliyapitiya Corr.
There are many institutions, a ministry, authorities and NGOs that deal with the conservation of environment but the destruction of Ma-Oya valley goes on unabated. So far there have been few calls to curb this destruction of environment in the area.

There are more than a hundred tile factories in the Wennappuwa Pradeshiya Sabha area, in addition thousands of brick kilns in the Ma-Oya valley.

Hundreds of lorries come up to Giriulla to transport sand, bricks and tiles to the different parts of the island.

Sand mining and clay mining are the main occupations of the people residing in either side of Ma-Oya. It is their livelihood, but the environmental destruction caused by these occupations is tremendous.

Due to the largescale sand mining in Ma-Oya the bed of the river is gone down more than 20 feet. The wells in the close proximity of the river have run dry as all the fountains that feed water into the river.

In the lower Ma-Oya area down Sandalankawa and Dikwela no sand is found in the river bed, but only clay.

At the same time the clay pits are so deep that there is no clay but only sand is found.

Now the clay mining is done in the river bed and sand mining is done in clay pits.

According to the by laws the North Western Provincial Council passed and gazetted in 1998 on clay mining, the clay pits should be filled. That is the law in the gazette, but no authorities enforce that law. The pits are opened so the Ma-Oya had changed its course.

Since the clay mining is done both in the river and in the high land, the river bank is subject to erosion. So the highlands in the Ma-Oya valley are gradually disappearing.

It is said that thousand earn a living through clay and sand mining. Tile factories and brick kilns too are depending on the clay. Thousands work in them.

The argument is that if environment destruction is taken into consideration and the work is stopped those who are engaged in clay and sand mining and working in tile factories and bricks kiln have to starve.

It is an argument true, but due to this largescale clay mining the Ma-Oya will invade the highlands changing its course one day or the other. Then those who are engaged in clay mining in the area will not have a place at least to live.

It is alleged that political protection is given to those who mine clay. Even the politicians themselves do clay mining.

The authorities engaged in environmental conservation are blind to these environmental destruction. They only hold seminars on environmental conservation, residents claim.

Second Kidney transplant operation successful

KANDY: The second kidney transplant operation at the Kandy General Hospital on Tuesday (18) too was successful the hospital authorities disclosed.

The first was successfully carried out two days ago at the Kandy General Hospital.

On Tuesday a kidney was replaced on a woman patient Mallika Podimenike from Kegalle area.

The donor was her brother R. Dissanayake, hospital sources said.

The patient and the donor were doing well, Dr. Keerthi Jayatilake Director, Kandy General Hospital said.

Dr. H. Hemachandra led the team of surgeons in performing the operation on the directions of Dr. Tilak Abeysekera sources said.