Sunday, June 11, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Jaswant visits Lanka today
Trip not for damage control: govt
Tribune News Service & PTI

NEW DELHI, June 10 — The External Affairs Minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, is leaving for Colombo tomorrow for wide-ranging discussions with the Sri Lankan leadership, which is likely to include a revised devolution package to end the ethnic strife in the island nation.

On the eve of his departure, Mr Jaswant Singh met the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, and briefed him on the latest situation in Sri Lanka. The Army Chief Gen V.P. Mallik, also met Mr Vajpayee.

Emerging from an hour-long meeting, Mr Jaswant Singh, when asked whether the devolution package would figure at talks with Sri Lankan leaders, said, “I would not like to speculate on details. All issues will come up.”

New Delhi wants the package to go beyond the 1987 one, which accorded a merger of the north and east provinces, and addressed the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils there.

On the LTTE’s offer of a ceasefire, he said “it was a limited one. I would not wish to comment on that.”

The Minister’s visit is mainly aimed at reinforcing India’s position that it favoured a negotiated political settlement to ethnic strife within the framework of that country’s territorial integrity.

While the spokesman reiterated the Government of India’s position that any solution to the crisis in Sri Lanka has to be found through peaceful negotiations within the framework of the unity, integrity and sovereignty of the island nation, the sources said that one purpose of Mr Jaswant Singh’s visit was to allay apprehensions in Colombo about the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Mr M. Karunanidhi’s statements favouring balkanisation of Sri Lanka on the pattern of Czechoslovakia.

However, the spokesman denied that the External Affairs Minister’s visit was a damage control exercise.

In response to a question about Mr Karunanidhi’s views, the spokesman said that after the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security “there is a widespread support to the Government’s position”.

During his stay in Colombo, the Minister would meet the Sri Lankan President, Ms Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the Foreign Minister, Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The Minister is being accompanied by the Joint Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry in charge of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Myanmar, Ms Leela Ponappa. 


33 die as LTTE seeks ceasefire

COLOMBO, June 10 (PTI) — As many as 25 Sri Lankan soldiers and eight civilians were killed in an army offensive to recapture lost areas in northern Jaffna peninsula, even as the LTTE today appealed to international humanitarian agencies to work out a ceasefire to evacuate civilians.

An officer and 24 soldiers were killed and 49 wounded when troops conducted a limited operation near Sarasalai, southeast of Jaffna town, to destroy an LTTE ‘strong point’, an official release said here.

“Troops successfully destroyed a terrorist strongpoint and few terrorist bunkers on the Sarasalai-Puttur road”, it said. Two civilians, both women, were killed in Puttur West and Meesalai due to LTTE mortar fire, it said.

The LTTE in its press statement from London claimed that six civilians were killed in yesterday’s fighting and scores of others were injured. While claiming to have repulsed the army offensive, it, however, has not mentioned its own casualties.

It said fierce fighting broke out between its guerrillas and army at Sarasalai sector, after troops launched a massive offensive under the cover of heavy artillery and aerial bombardment.

But the troops withdrew to their former positions following stiff resistance offered by its fighters. Many civilian settlements at Maduvil and Sarasalai sectors bore the brunt of artillery and multi-barrel rocket fire.

The settlements also came under heavy aerial bombardment by Israel-made Kfir jets, it said, adding six civilians were killed and ‘scores’ of others injured.

The LTTE said in view of growing civilian casualties, the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) should help to arrange a ceasefire to evacuate the civilians from conflict zones.

The LTTE first announced a unilateral ceasefire on May 27, which the army refused to abide by, saying it was declared to gain strategic advantage.

“Although large sections of population moved to safer areas in Valigamam, Vadamarachchi and Vanni, thousands were still caught up in the crossfire,” the statement read.

It also requested the UNHCR and ICRC to visit the battle zones to take stock of the situation.

Meanwhile, amidst tight security, the bodies of Industrial Development Minister C.V. Goonaratne and his wife Shyama, killed in a suicide bomb attack on Wednesday, were laid to rest today.

Thousands of mourners, including ministers and political party leaders, attended the funeral at the people’s park in Dehiwala despite heavy rains.

Earlier, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Speaker R.B. Ratnaiake, Cabinet ministers and diplomats paid their last respects to the assassinated minister at Parliament House, where the body was kept.

Mrs Kumaratunga who flew in a helicopter from her official residence ‘Temple Trees’ to Parliament, spent considerable time near the body.

White flags were put up in the entire city as a mark of respect to the departed leader.

Security was tightened in and around Colombo amidst fears that the LTTE suicide bombers would target VIPs attending the funeral.


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