The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Sri Lanka defence chief calls for ban on Tamil Tigers: report

COLOMBO (AFP) — Sri Lanka's defence secretary has called for a ban on the Tamil Tigers and said the ongoing military campaign was aimed at destroying the rebels' top leaders, a report said.

Rajapakse, who is President Mahinda Rajapakse's younger brother, said the military had started a campaign to capture rebel-held areas in the island's north, after securing the east last year.

"We have started our thrust from all sides, from Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya and Weli Oya. It is done in a systematic manner. We don't plan to stop," Rajapakse was quoted as saying by the Sinhala-language Lankadeepa newspaper.

He said the military was aiming at eliminating Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran and two to three other top leaders.

"If we destroy their leadership, the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) will collapse," the defence secretary said, adding that it was time the government reinstated a ban on the Tigers.

The rebels were banned for a period of five years till mid-2003, when the then government moved to re-start peace talks under a 2002-Norwegian brokered truce.

The government pulled out of the ceasefire this month, leading to the departure of Nordic monitoring teams.

"They (the LTTE) should be banned. Our aim is to destroy the LTTE," he said.

Sri Lankan army chief Sarath Fonseka also told state television that the issue of whether the Tiger chief was alive or dead was "irrelevant as he is as good as dead".

Fonseka said the rebels were not "finished" yet but "weakened".

Fighting meanwhile continued to rage across the north, as Sri Lankan warplanes Saturday bombed what was said to be a nerve centre of the rebels' Sea Tiger unit.

"Fighter pilots have confirmed that the target was accurately hit," a defence ministry statement.

It also said at least 30 Tigers and one soldier were killed in a fresh wave of fighting on Friday, although the pro-rebel website said three government soldiers and two guerrillas died.

Since the start of this month, the Sri Lankan government has said it has killed 666 rebels for the loss of 27 of its soldiers. At least 63 civilians had also been killed, according to defence ministry figures.

Both sides give wildly varying casualty figures which cannot be independently verified as the government bars journalists from visiting frontline areas and rebel-held territory.

Tens of thousands of people have died since the rebels launched a separatist campaign to carve out an independent homeland for minority Tamils in the majority Sinhalese nation in 1972.

Source: AFP

Media censorship & defamation law should be introduced at once - Gotabhaya

Under the current war situation, media censorship and defamation law should be established immediately, said Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

In its publication on Jan.27th, the ‘Sunday Lankadeepa’ reports a lengthy interview with the defence secretary on the current war situation.

Citing the defence secretary, the weekend newspaper reports, “In my opinion, it isn’t necessary for anyone to report on military information. The amounts of weapons in stock, the varieties that are purchased are not important for the public. All the public needs to know is the current war situation. Needless pressures are unnecessary. That is not media freedom.”

“I am not afraid to say that if I have the power, I will not allow any of this to be reported. From the beginning, I was very much against this. I told the President that a media censorship and laws enabling strict punishments should be introduced immediately”, it adds.

“Why publish lies? Consider how much defamation is taking place. The defamation law should be introduced to curb this situation. It is like death penalty. If no one commits murder, they will have no cause to fear the death penalty, even if it exists. It is the same with the defamation laws,” quotes the ‘Sunday Lankadeepa’.

“Is this what is meant by media freedom? There are two or three masterminds behind this, who will do much damage. Today, media freedom has become the freedom of only two or three people. This is the true story isn’t it? The freedom of Ranjith Wijayawardena is in one place while the freedom of Maharaja is elsewhere…..”

“…Media freedom is the freedom of the one who reports it. For example, Maharaja should give the freedom of reporting the truth in his opinion to the program producer. However, this is not what is happening. They give the producers guidelines and tell them what to air. Briefly, it has become the freedom of the media institution owners. Everything in this country is used for prostitution. Media, peace…everything. And vocabulary is to be invented to do justice to such happenings”, reports the paper, quoting the defence secretary.

Source: lankadissent

India for political settlement on Tamil ethnic issue: envoy

Colombo (PTI): With the Sri Lankan military stepping up is offensive against the LTTE, India on Saturday said it desired a "political" solution to the 25-year-old Tamil ethnic problem that is acceptable to all sections of the Sri Lankan society.

Maintaining that New Delhi was committed to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the island country, Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Alok Prasad said a political settlement acceptable to all communities in the Island Country should be found.

"Our firm belief is that the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka has to be resolved through a political settlement acceptable to all sections of the Sri Lankan society and consistent with the principles of democracy, pluralism and human rights," he said in a statement on the occasion of 59th Republic Day.

He said being a close friend of Sri Lanka, "we have an abiding interest in peace, stability and development in this country so that it is able to harness the fruits of development taking place in our region and beyond".

Fighting in Sri Lanka has intensified since the government scrapped the 2002 ceasefire with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam this month.

The head of the Indian mission said the political leadership on both sides continues to nurture the friendship that has spanned over two milliennia.

This is through sustained interaction and sharing of views on development "in our respective countries and in the world at large," the High Commissioner said.

On economic ties, Prasad said the cumulative Indian investments in Sri Lanka today stood at 300 million dollars and the recent trends indicated that there could be a massive increase in it.

"Recent trends indicate that a quantum jump in Indian investments can be expected, including in core sectors like infrastructure development, power, telecom, creation of SEZs and IT parks," he said.

The High Commissioner said the bilateral trade turnover between India and Sri Lanka had grown more than five times since March 2000 when the Free Trade Agreement came into force.

The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at 2.3 billion dollars and is expected to cross 3 billion dollars in the current financial year, the High Commissioner said, adding India was Sri Lanka's largest trading partner in South Asia.

"The heartening aspect of our recent trade relationship has been the fast pace of growth of Sri Lankan exports which have grown nine-fold in the last seven years as against a fourfold rise in Indian exports to Sri Lanka," he said.

India is also Sri Lanka's largest source of imports.

Source: Hindu

SL Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka - 24.01.2008

Source: sadun(

Sri Lankan jets bomb Tamil rebels' naval headquarters, military says

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) - Sri Lankan air force jets bombed the Tamil Tiger rebels' naval headquarters Saturday as the group's sea wing leader was holding a meeting, the military said.
The air force targeted the base near Puthukudiyiruppu village in rebel-held Mullaitivu district, a defense official said on condition of anonymity, citing government rules.
Pilots confirmed hitting the compound but did not provide details about the fate of the rebel naval leader known as Soosai, he said.


17 Tamil rebels killed in Sri Lanka

At least 17 Tamil Tiger guerrillas were killed in a series of battles with government soldiers in northern Sri Lanka, the military said on Saturday.

Fighting occurred along the frontlines in Vavuniya district throughout Friday, leaving 13 guerrillas of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) dead, said a defence ministry official.

Separate clashes in nearby Mannar district killed four insurgents and one soldier.

Clashes have escalated between government troops and guerrillas since the government officially abandoned the six-year-old Norwegian backed ceasefire Jan 16.


Australia legend Gilchrist to retire

World record-breaking wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist has announced he will retire from cricket at the end of the Australian summer.

The 36-year-old chose Australia Day to make his decision public, coming at the end of the third day of the fourth and final Test against India in Adelaide.

Gilchrist said he would retire from Tests at the end of the current match, and then hang up his gloves in one-day internationals after the upcoming tri-series with Sri Lanka and India.

"It is with great pride and happiness that I make the decision to retire from Tests and one-day internationals," he said in a statement on Saturday. "I've come to the decision after much thought and discussion with those most important to me.

"My family and I have been fortunate to have had an amazing journey full of rich experiences throughout my career and are sincerely grateful to all who have helped make this stage of our lives so fulfilling.

"I am now ready and excited to move into the next phase of my life which will, of paramount importance, include much more time with my family."

Gilchrist broke the world record for the most wicketkeeping dismissals in Tests with 414 on Friday, overtaking South Africa's Mark Boucher in his 96th outing in the five-day game.

Boucher, by comparison, played in 109 Tests.

Gilchrist took over the gloves from Ian Healy -- third on the list with 395 dismissals from 119 Tests -- in November 1999, and went on to establish himself both as a wicketkeeper and as a batsman of brutal hitting capabilities.

He has scored 5,556 runs to date, at an average of 47.89, with a highest score of 204 not out and having made 17 centuries.

He has been similarly prolific in 277 one-dayers, scoring 9,297 runs at an average of 36 and reaching three figures 15 times.

Gilchrist's revelation came as Australia put themselves in a strong position to win the series against the touring Indians, reaching 322-3 at stumps.

Captain Ricky Pointing, whose team lead 2-1, was unbeaten on 79 after adding an unbroken 81 for the fourth wicket with Michael Clarke (37).

Resuming the day on 62-0 in reply to India's imposing first innings of 526, Matthew Hayden and Phil Jaques took their opening stand to 159.

Jaques was the first to fall, bowled by India captain Anil Kumble for a patient 60 off 159 deliveries.

Hayden, on his return after missing the defeat in Perth due to a hamstring injury, reached his 30th Test century before being bowled by 19-year-old seamer Ishant Sharma for 103 off 200 balls.

Ponting, who came in at first drop, added another 55 with Mike Hussey before the left-hander was also castled by fast bowler Irfan Pathan for 22 to leave the home side teetering a little at 241-3.

But Ponting, who has struggled for form so far in the series, ground out his 40th half-century in Tests and Clarke provided able support to take Australia through to the close of play with no further loss of wickets.

Source: CNN

TN: Fishermen begin indefinite strike

Rameswaram (TN), (PTI): Demanding the release of 12 fishermen detained by the Sri Lankan Navy,fishermen from this island began their indefinite boycott of the seas Saturday.

A Fishermen's Association member N J Bose said the 12 fishermen had been lodged in Jaffna prison and it was the duty of the Indian government to get them released.

They were arrested on January 22 for allegedly entering the island nation's territorial waters near Kachathivu.

The association demanded that they be allowed to enter the waters near Kachathivu as it was their traditional fishing area. Kachathivu had been ceded to Sri Lanka by India under an agreement which allowed fishing rights for Indian fishermen, the association said.

Meanwhile, officials said five fishermen, who went in a boat in search of four others whose boat had sunk near Neduntivu on January 23, were taken into custody by the LTTE and all of them were released on Saturday.

The officials said earlier the four fishermen were rescued by their Sri Lankan counterparts on January 23 itself and were asked to stay at Kachathivu but LTTE men who spotted them took them to Iranativu.

The five fishermen, who had put to sea on Friday, were also taken to Iranativu by the LTTE. All the nine were released and were on their way home, the officials added.

Fishermen said the Sri Lankan navy and Indian coast guard were monitoring the Indian fishing boats and advising them not to cross the International Maritime Boundary Line as mines had been placed near the IMBL.

They told the officials that they also saw a "yellow ball like thing' floating in the sea, but could not say if it was a was a mine or not.

Source: Hindu

Lanka's UWDS a 'naked agression' into India's sovereignty

Chennai, Jan. 25 Describing the Sri Lankan Government's decision to install an Under Water Defence System (UWDS) between Katchatheevu and Neduntheevu on the high seas as ''naked agression'' into the domain of India's sovereign rights in the international waters, MDMK General Secretary Vaiko today urged India to take up with its Sri Lankan counterpart for removing the UWDS.

In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, copy of which was released to the press here, he expressed shock and concern over that Government's decision to set up UWDS, in which mines were placed to destroy the fishing boats of Indian fishermen.

''This highhanded action of the Lankan Government is a naked aggression into the domain of our sovereign rights in the international waters'', he said and claimed a sinister design behind the move to threaten and prevent the suffering Tamils of Sri Lanka to reach Tamil Nadu as refugees.

''It is a most inhuman and barbarous attitude. The UWDS was set up with the malicious aim of curtailing the rights of Indian fishermen,'' he added.

Observing that Indian fishermen have the rights for fishing near Katchatheevu as per an agreement with Sri Lanka, Mr Vaiko said if the island government refused to remove the UWDS, India should take steps to nullify the Katchatheevu Agreement.


Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers must compromise for peace: envoy

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Sri Lanka said Friday it could not return to the negotiating table with the Tamil Tigers unless there was a guarantee from the rebels that they would not walk away from the talks.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) must also be prepared to compromise on its demand for a separate state in Sri Lanka's north and east, said the country's US envoy, Bernard Goonetilleke.

The LTTE wants "to establish a separate state by hook or by crook," he said at a forum in Washington.

"Against this backdrop, the question we ask from those who urge the government to seek a negotiated settlement is, are they asking us to negotiate with the LTTE once again," he said.

"If the LTTE's demand for a separate state is non-negotiable, what exactly are we going to negotiate with them?" he asked.

Goonetilleke said Colombo attempted to hold six series of talks with the Tigers over the last two decades, only to see the rebels walking out on each occasion.

Tens of thousands of people have died since the rebels launched a separatist campaign to carve out an independent homeland for minority Tamils in the majority Sinhalese nation in 1972.

Earlier this month, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse decided to pull out of a 2002 Norwegian-brokered ceasefire with the Tigers, drawing strong concerns from top aid donors Japan, the United States, the European Union and Norway.

The powers ruled out a military solution to the conflict and maintained their stand for a negotiated settlement.

Goonetilleke asked whether the United States, if faced with a similar situation, would negotiate with the Tigers, notorious for its suicide bombings and blamed for the assassination of various political leaders, including a Sri Lankan president and a foreign minister.

"Some may even ask, if the players were different, for example, would the US negotiate with a terrorist group which has used suicide bombers to assassinate one president, nearly killed another president and assassinated several secretaries, including the secretary of state?"

The envoy called on the international community to persuade the Tigers to return to the negotiating table "and to hang in there until a satisfactory compromise is reached."

"Only such action will drive home the message that undemocratic methods of seizing power as the Tigers currently employ, are unacceptable to the civilized world," he said.

Source: AFP

Another TV Network on air for Sri Lankan and Sri Lankan expatriates in other countries

By Quintus Perera

Colombo, 26 January, (
The newest television network that goes in the air is Lak Vision – International Satellite Television Broadcaster and its lunch took place at Hotel Colombo Hilton with its Chairman, Nawaz Rajabdeen and host of popular artistes and other guests.

This newest television network aims at the Sri Lankan expatriates spread all over the world, with special attention to those who are in the Middle-East and in the EU countries. While the Network is also accessible by the local clientele the programmes that would be telecast for overseas Sri Lankan viewers would also be in Sinhala.

It is a TV channel with a mission to cater to specific needs of expatriate Sinhala community who may feel lonely in a foreign land. The channel brings wholesome programmes in Sinhala comprising news from Sri Lanka, tele-dramas, musical programmes to entertain and inform.

At the launch Rajabdeen said that both the European Union countries and the Middle-Eastern countries is dynamic and wealthy markets in the world and the purchasing power in those countries are driven by unprecedented economic growth achieved during the past decade. He said that the 27 nation EU has a population of 500 million people which is in excess of the population of both the US and Russia.

These advanced nations attract continuous migration for employment by professionals and in the same manner oil rich Gulf Countries too attract people for employment. He said that Lak Vision aims at that market segment.

He said that the surveys done by Lak Vision has shown that the Sri Lankans resident in those countries are interested to know what is taking place in their country of birth.

He said that Lak Vision is not just another TV Channel but to be service oriented and would focus on specific problems concern the Sri Lankan Community overseas. – problems such as remittances of earnings, provision for obtaining information on relations and friends etc.


Government will consider grievances of all Tamils - Minister Rambukwella

Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the Government would “take the grievances of all democratically minded Tamil people on board” in evolving a political solution to the country’s conflict.

Rambukwella, in the UAE on a visit, was commenting on proposals submitted by the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) to the President which recommended the full implementation of the 13th Amendment - the setting up of Provincial Councils and a greater devolution of powers to the provinces.

The 13th Amendment, the brainchild of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene, was never implemented, he said.

“Although any amendments to the Constitution require a two-thirds majority, I am confident it will go ahead,” he added referring to the support needed from the United National Party and the Jathika Hela Urumaya to get the Amendment passed.

The APRC proposals are “in the same spirit” as the peace proposals by previous Governments headed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, he said.

The Government has worked closely with the international community and particularly India on working out power sharing between the Centre and the States.

“India has a very strong devolution model,” he said, adding that “one way or the other we will decide what political and administrative powers must be granted to each.

After years of conflict, it is time to join hands, to give and take.”

In a nod to addressing the alienation since the fifties of educated Tamils who resented Sinhala becoming the national language he said his government was even willing to re-examine the feasibility of making English the national language alongside Sinhala and Tamil.

The minister’s comments come on the back of a sustained war of attrition to reduce the Tigers military capability and the controversial cancellation of a five year long ceasefire agreement (CFA) that has seen a spike in violence.

Rambukwella says “the CFA was never what it should have been”. He said: “Prabhakaran (the Tiger supremo) used the piece of paper to advantage at various international forums, never intending to adhere to the deal.

“The Rajapaksa Government decided it would give the CFA a chance. We went in for two rounds of talks at Geneva but when the Tigers made an attempt on the army chief we felt we should get out of the CFA and liberate the Tamils, terrorised by the LTTE as we have done in the east where Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese live in harmony.”

“First there were five. Now there are three. I assure you we will get all three, - Prabhakaran, Soosai (head of the Tiger navy) and Pottu Amman,” said Keheliya Rambukwella, Sri Lanka’s Minister for Foreign Employment of his government’s targeting of the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam’s secretive brain trust.

His famed “there are no good terrorists or bad terrorists, a terrorist is a terrorist” quote when the country’s Air Force killed the head of the Tigers’ political wing S.P. Tamilchelvam whom many mistakenly described as a “peace dove”, made headlines.

“Why should we spare him [Prabhakaran], has he spared anyone ? Not the leaders, nor people of this country, other countries, not respected Tamils, not his colleagues. He must be eradicated.”

“If Prabhakaran is caught alive, yes, we will hand him over to India to face charges in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. That is a promise we have made to India, it is a promise we will keep.”

Source: Dailynews

APRC Chairman says:Proposals firm foundation for new Constitution

The Chairman of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) Minister Prof. Tissa Vitharana yesterday asserted that maximum power would be devolved to the North and East, in implementing the 13th Amendment while maintaining the unitary framework of governance.

“This certainly would not be the final proposal and will not be a universal panacea for all ills in the country. It will however be a firm and reliable foundation to build and develop a new Constitution for the Nation. It is a long-term process, requiring a step-by-step approach.

“We will strive to implement to the optimum, what we could, under the existing Constitution and mechanism, amending it where necessary,” Minister Vitharana said.

At a special media conference to brief journalists on the recent developments regarding the APRC, he underscored the importance of the outcome of the APRC draft proposals inked by 14 political parties which had met on 63 sessions over 18 months to resolve the ethnic conflict.

He was of the view that on the determined and relentless efforts of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to solve the national issue, an exemplary and a new political culture had been created by the stakeholders of the APRC, who had reached a 90 per cent consensus following lengthy discussions for long hours, setting aside personal and petty political gains for the sake of their Motherland.

He pointed out that some of the proposals need a two thirds majority in Parliament for implementation and therefore would need the assistance of the UNP too. The implementation of some of the proposals would need the mandate of the people via a referendum.

Higher Education Minister Wishva Warnapala expressing his views stated that the prime objective of the APRC proposals were to provide a permanent and sustainable solution to the national issue, as envisioned in the realistic ‘Mahinda Chintana’, protecting the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the country.

The discussions and deliberations which filled a verbatim report of over 11,000 pages, could be considered as an intellectual property and the initial phase of a Constitution which has to be built up gradually.

“It is a proposal which strives to give a quick and instant response to the present political environment and burning issues in the North East, via the existing 13th Amendment. It would be a prelude built-up in an intellectual atmosphere, leading into a new Constitution. It is a classic beginning to a long process. They are in no way solely SLFP proposals as alleged by UNP Parliamentarian Lakshman Kiriella recently,” he added.

He claimed that issuing statements and slogans were easy tasks for certain political parties. Constructive criticism and the suggestions of suitable solutions for the issues were not forthcoming from them.

He said that an Interim Council would be established to expedite Eastern Development and to create a conducive environment to hold elections there. An Advisory Council including regional leaders selected and represented on a ethnic character, would be set-up to fulfil the aspirations of the minorities.

Issues such as ‘language’ which had been overlooked in the past, should be implemented to the very letter as per the 13th Amendment. EPDP Representative Maheswari Veluwethan, JHU Representative Udaya Gammanpila and several others also expressed their views.

Source: Dailynews

‘Human rights organisations mouth pieces of LTTE’

by Saman Indrajith

Human rights organistations and activists operating in Sri Lanka have taken the fight for rights to political territories, while some have actually become LTTE mouthpieces, a new human rights organization said.

"Most HR organisations have forgotten that their basic role was to fight against human rights violations. Some work according to political party agendas, while others work for the LTTE’s cause. They cause a terrible damage to the image of the country," Secretary, Civil and Political Rights of the Intellectuals for Human Rights, Prof Aruna Karunatilleke told The Island yesterday.

"There are human rights violations in the country. But statements issued by most HR organisations have exaggerated. Some have been partial towards the LTTE. Their lopsided judgments produce ill consequences. When there is a violation of human rights, it should be reported and fought against, whether it has been committed either by security forces or the LTTE. What we have as human rights organisations close their eyes to LTTE."

Human rights violations in Sri Lanka are being used by foreigners and foreign funded local human rights activists to justify the LTTE’s cause and pressurize the Government, he said. "We have nothing against criticizing a government which fails to safeguard human rights of its citizens. But using human rights issues to achieve political targets should come to an end. For example, in a statement recently issued by the UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour, the issue of human rights violations had been taken up. According to the first few paragraphs of the statement, there are human rights violations. There are killings, abductions and disappearances which remain unresolved. But Arbour’s warning that "Violations by any party could entail individual criminal responsibility under international criminal law, including by those in positions of command," was inappropriate and unacceptable, Prof. Karunatilleke said.

The IHR, supported by university dons and civil society intellectuals, plan to conduct a series of programmes both in local and international fields to mitigate the damage caused to the country by the LTTE partial HR organisations. "We should not let our silence be used against us by activists with vested political interests. We should explain to the world what really takes place in this country," he said.

Source: Island

Cloak of mystery over 16 bodies

By Athula Bandara and Upali Ananda

With a full-scale investigation underway into the discovery of 16 bullet-riddled bodies in Kebithigollewa, the police said the bodies were yet to be identified as none of the victims’ relatives had come forward to do so.

A senior police officer of the area said the bodies were at the Anuradhapura Hospital mortuary and the autopsy was to take place yesterday.

He said a special police team set up to investigate the killings was trying to establish the identity of the victims and the circumstances that led to their deaths.

Initial investigations had revealed that the victims were not from Kebettigollewa as there were no police complaints regarding missing persons from the area.

On Thursday evening police unearthed 16 bullet-riddled bodies buried at Kiriketuwewa near the Kebithigollewa – Horowupotana main road. Police said all the victims were wearing civilian clothes, and some had their hands tied behind their backs and blindfolded.

The spokesman said the victims were males and appeared to be between the ages of 25 and 40.

Meanwhile, people in the area are once again living in fear following the recovery of the bodies and urged defence authorities to step up security in the area. Police said additional police and military personnel had been deployed in the area following the incident.

Source: Dailymirror

Prabhakaran In India To Recuperate From Wounds?

Rumours of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supremo V. Prabhakaran having crossed the Palk Straits to India to recuperate from wounds sent the Tamil Nadu police into a tizzy Friday.

The state police's anti-extremist wing - the 'Q' Branch - refused to comment on the rumours that said Prabhakaran may have been seriously wounded and moved to Tamil Nadu.

There were enough indications here that the law and order machinery was pressed into service to check all hospitals across the state for persons with unexplained wounds.

Meanwhile, fishermen belonging to Rameshwaram, 600 km south of here, are on an indefinite strike to demand removal of floating mines in the expanse of water separating India from Sri Lanka.

Fishermen's associations have threatened to block roads from Feb 1 if their charter of demands, including for immediate release of 12 of their comrades allegedly held by the Sri Lankan navy, is not met.

The island's navy has openly admitted to mining the expanse of water between Rameshwaram and northern Sri Lanka to prevent LTTE operatives from escaping sustained aerial bombing by the Sri Lankan Air Force.

Police officials in Chennai said a strict vigil was being maintained in conjunction with the Coast Guard personnel around Rameshwaram. Searches are being carried out in all islets where arms and ammunition could have been buried in preparation for transhipment.

Official sources also revealed that at least 200 industrial units in Coimbatore that had remained closed for a considerable period of time had suddenly resumed activity recently. These were searched for any illicit production, the officials said.

'We are just making sure that none of these factories is manufacturing contraband bomb parts. As a matter of ample precaution, we are also keeping a watch over all Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living here,' a top police official said by phone from Coimbatore.

The state government termed as 'untrue' all allegations made by the opposition - Congress and AIADMK legislators - that Tamil Nadu has become a haven for dozens of injured LTTE fugitives.

Top defence officials' admission of training Lankan military personnel has triggered protests from several Tamil political parties that offer 'moral support to the Tamil cause'. These include the MDMK and the PMK - though the two are on either side of the political divide in Tamil Nadu.