Wednesday, May 24, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

India ready to evacuate Lankan troops
Navy draws up contingency plan

Tribune News Service & PTI

NEW DELHI, May 23 — India is prepared to evacuate an estimated 30,000 trapped Sri Lankan troops in the Jaffna peninsula provided there is formal request from Colombo and “proper conditions” for it, National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra said tonight.

“If it comes to evacuation, there will have to be proper conditions for it.... If evacuation is desired obviously there should be proper conditions for it,” Mr Mishra told reporters after two rounds of meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security on the evolving Sri Lankan situation.

Asked if a ceasefire between the Sri Lankan troops and the LTTE would be a precondition for any evacuation by India, he parried the question saying: “I am not going to spell it out”.

He, however, said there was no formal request from Colombo for any humanitarian assistance, including evacuation.

Mr Mishra ruled out any Indian military intervention in the ongoing conflict in Jaffna saying: “India is not going to intervene in the conflict. What we are talking about is humanitarian assistance.”

The two sessions of the meeting were chaired by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who cancelled his visit to Bhopal earlier in the day for the purpose. They were attended by Defence Minister George Fernandes, Mr Mishra, Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar, three chiefs of the armed forces and Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh among others.

Mr Mishra said the special Norwegian envoy Eric Solheim, who is trying to broker peace between Colombo and the LTTE, is coming here tomorrow and will brief the Foreign Secretary on the situation in Jaffna.

The Norwegian delegation headed by Mr Solheim, he said, had held talks yesterday and today in Colombo with Sri Lankan leaders.

He recalled the recent statement of Mr Vajpayee that India was ready to provide humanitarian assistance if requested by the Sri Lankan Government.

“The ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka is under constant review of the government,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Navy continues to stay in a state of high alert for moving into Sri Lanka.

Although an official spokesman of the government denied reports that the Navy had been put on alert, sources in the Navy said that its eastern fleet had been geared up and could move into the Jaffna peninsula in two days time. But this would happen only after orders from the government and it would be up to New Delhi to negotiate the terms for the Navy to move in to provide the much needed aid.

According to reports a large naval and air force flotilla was on the standby.

A senior Navy official here said that if there was a government decision on providing humanitarian aid to Lanka then it would be done in close coordination with the Indian Air Force and also the Coast Guard. The IAF has the expertise in air evacuation and along with the ground evacuation by the Navy, the job would be accomplished quickly.

Sources in the government said that if there was any evacuation, it would be very clearly on “peaceful humanitarian grounds”. The CCS, which is headed by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, is apparently waiting for certain inputs from Colombo before taking a final decision, the sources said.

However, there was a view prevailing within official circles that Lanka might not seek humanitarian aid from India. This, the reports said, was possible as the Lankan Army was not ready to surrender and was still holding out against LTTE rebels. The problem they were facing was of tactics and apparently some input on that had been provided to the Sri Lankan Chief of Defence Staff who was recently in Bangalore.

Official sources said there was no possibility of any evacuation in hostile conditions. Making attempts to carry out any evacuation in hostile conditions would mean intervention and getting involved in the situation there, the sources said.

Sources in the Navy said if it had to carry out the evacuation, there had to be certain ground rules which the government would have to negotiate.

A senior Navy official said it was assumed that there would be peace and only then “we would be asked to move in.” 


Suicide bomber’s bid fails
Lanka clashes spread

COLOMBO, May 23 (PTI) — Fighting spread to more areas in the embattled Jaffna peninsula as Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga today warned that the country was facing grave national security crisis while an LTTE female suicide bomber blasted herself in her vain bid to kill a ruling party leader in eastern Trincomalee district.

Ms Kumaragtunga, in an address to the nation, called her people to cut down on their social functions and divert their savings to the ongoing military campaign against the LTTE.

“The whole nation is facing grave crisis as regards national security,” the President said and urged all employees to donate money to help finance troops currently engaged in heavy fighting in the north.

Reports from Trincomalee said an LTTE suicide bomber exploded herself while attempting to assassinate the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) leader M.K. Gunawardene at Kantale in Trincomalee district this evening. Gunawardene, a former Member of Parliament, however, escaped with minor injuries.

Even as the troops were engaged in hand-to-hand battle in Jaffna, the fighting has now been spread to Chammani, south east of Jaffna town, a government statement said.

This brought the battle virtually close to the doorstep of the town, where still several thousands of civilians lived. Eight militants were reportedly killed in the fighting near Chammani, it said.

Last night the government has claimed that over 150 rebels were killed at Sarasalai east of Chavakachcheri.

In another development the Tamil parties called on both Norway and India to ensure that a political solution satisfying the aspirations of the Tamil community was found.

The signatories included leaders of the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress, the Democratic Workers Congress, the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front, the People Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation and the UP-Country Peoples Front.

Meanwhile, a government official in Jaffna said today that essential services in the peninsula were functioning well despite the prevailing situation.

NEW DELHI: An embattled Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga has asserted that the government forces were in control of the populated areas of the Jaffna peninsula where a fierce fight was going on with the rebel tigers.

The President, however, said the army had to “move back strategically” from some places which had been since occupied by the LTTE.

Meanwhile, MDMK leader Vaiko on Tuesday met Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Defence Minister George Fernandes and discussed the latest situation in the Jaffna peninsula.

Mr Vaiko said he drew their attention to reports appearing in the press about Indian defence forces supplying radar pictures about LTTE locations to the Sri Lankan army, providing technical expertise to counter the Tamil insurgents and sending former Punjab police chief K.P.S. Gill to undertake counter insurgency operations. Both the Prime Minister, and the Defence Minister, however, denied any Indian involvement in the Sri Lankan Affairs, he said.

Mr Vaiko said he was satisfied with the cautious approach adopted by the government in dealing with the situation.

CHENNAI: The Ministry of Defence on Tuesday denied that Sri Lankan Chief of Defence Staff General Rohan Daluvatte had preliminary discussions with an Indian official regarding India’s intervention in the ongoing fighting.

A defence press release here said there was no truth in reports in a section of the press that the Sri Lankan Defence Chief on May 19 held discussions with Major General S.P. Kapoor, General Officer Commanding, ATNKK G Area.

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