The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Sri Lanka army chief vows to defeat Tiger rebels

COLOMBO (AFP) — Sri Lanka's army chief has renewed a vow to defeat Tamil rebels, but refused to set a deadline for ending the decades-old conflict, saying the separatists remain a potent force, a report said Sunday.

Army general Sarath Fonseka said in an interview with the Lakbima weekly Sinhalese newspaper that a military campaign to capture the rebel-held Wanni region in the north begun in March last year was proceeding according to plan.

He however refused to give a timeframe for defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who have fought since 1972 to establish an independent homeland for minority Tamils in the Sinhalese-majority island.

"They are an organised force with a lot of experience. They have thousands of fighters. I don't conduct the war looking at deadlines and timeframes," Fonseka said in the interview published Sunday.

"Can a war that has been going on for more than 25 years be completed by March? But, what I say is -- give us a chance."

At the beginning of the year, in an interview with the state-run Sunday Observer, Fonseka said the LTTE had 3,000 fighters and pledged that the military could defeat them by mid-2008.

But in the interview published Sunday, he increased his estimate of rebel strength to 5,000 combatants, citing new intelligence reports.

On the ground, the military on Sunday defused a powerful bomb found by an off-duty sailor in a crowded area of the north-central town of Anuradhapura, officials said.

Security forces defused two more roadside bombs further north in neighbouring Vavuniya district, military officials said.

The military has accused the Tigers of committing a string of bomb attacks against civilians since an escalation in fighting on the ground following the government's formal withdrawal last month from a tattered truce signed in 2002.

The defence ministry said at least 42 rebels and four soldiers were killed in fierce fighting in northern Sri Lanka on Saturday.

In the heaviest fighting in Vavuniya district, at least 15 rebels and three troops were killed, the ministry said in a statement. Twenty-seven other rebels and one soldier were killed in separate clashes.

The ministry put the number of rebels killed since the start of the year at 1,088. A total of 48 soldiers were killed during the same period, it said.

The number of casualties reported by both the government and the Tigers cannot be independently verified as journalists and human rights workers are not allowed to enter the battle zone.

Fonseka said the military had killed 5,000 Tiger rebels last year, without mentioning the total losses for security forces.

However, he said 4,000 government soldiers had been wounded in the last two years, with half of them choosing to return to the battlefield.

Fonseka, who was severely injured by a Tamil rebel suicide bomber in April 2006, told the weekly that security forces were advancing on the rebel-held town of Kilinochchi, the Tigers' political capital in the north.

"This time when we take Kilinochchi, we will not leave it after a while. But we must realise that the offensive is going to take time," he said.

The government has repeatedly said it is confident of a military victory in the conflict, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Source: AFP

Jairam Ramesh(Indian Minister of State for Commerce and Industry) to visit Sri Lanka

The Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Mr. Jairam Ramesh is arriving Colombo this afternoon on a five day visit to Sri Lanka. He is being accompanied by senior officials of Ministries of Commerce, Textiles and Information Technology. The Union Minister is heading a 15 member business delegation representing various sectors of Indian industry.

The high-powered delegation being headed by Mr.Jairam Ramesh is expected to discuss possibilities of enhanced investment opportunities and bilateral co-operation between India and Sri Lanka. The Indian companies, represented in the delegation include Reliance, L&T, Mahindra and Mahindra, Aditya Birla, Arvind Mills and Indian Oil Corporation.

A round table on progress, prospects, and future possibilities of bilateral co-operation will be held in Colombo tomorrow. This will be co-chaired by Mr.Jairam Ramesh and Sri Lanka's Minister for Enterprise Development Dr.Sarath Amanugama.

According to official sources the union minister, during his talks in Colombo, is likely to review the implementation of India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement. He is also likely to review the current status of negotiations towards Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) proposed to be signed between the two countries later this year.


Sri Lanka has highest inflation in South, Southeast Asia

The inflation rate in Sri Lanka has been reaching dizzying heights lately. It was 21.6 per cent on an average in 2007. In November it touched an all-time high of 26.2 per cent.

Sri Lanka also has the highest rate of inflation in South and Southeast Asia, points out Harsha de Silva, chief economist of LIRNE Asia, a regional development economics think tank.

"At the end of the last quarter, inflation in Indonesia was seven per cent; in Thailand 2.6 per cent; in Malaysia two per cent; in Singapore 2.9 percent; in the Philippines three per cent; in India six per cent; and in Bangladesh it was 11.2 per cent," he pointed out in a recent article on Sri Lanka's monetary policies.

"We are the champions, champions of bad policies driving people to misery," he said mockingly.

The government blames it all on the high cost of oil imports. But economists like de Silva say that if rising oil prices were the reason, then other countries in South and Southeast Asia importing oil should also register high inflation. In reality, however, barring Bangladesh, all of them have registered low rates of inflation.

Clearly, these countries have curbed inflation by appropriate policies and Sri Lanka has not, the economists argue.

De Silva says that huge amounts of unproductive expenditure by the government, and the printing of huge amounts of money by the Central Bank (the country's apex bank) to cover budget deficits have been the root causes of the high inflation.

"Between May and September 2007, the Central Bank printed Sri Lankan Rs 49 billion (the equivalent of $457 million) throwing financial discipline to the winds," he said.

The IMF's country report on Sri Lanka for 2007 had added that a "pause in monetary tightening during July-August had contributed to the acceleration in inflation".

A recent analysis by top-level economists of HSBC had stated that inflation in Sri Lanka was largely a fiscally caused monetary phenomenon because the large fiscal requirements of the government were met by the Central Bank printing money.

While the Central Bank has denied that it has been pumping too much money into the market, Deputy Minister of Finance Bandula Gunawardene admitted to the BBC in October last year that the government had resorted to printing money to cover budget deficits and that this had resulted in "excessive" inflation.

In December 2007, Gunawardene said that the government had "no option" but to continue printing money to meet the deficit.

Recently, the government revised the cost of living index, saying the existing one was outdated. By the new index, inflation for 2007 was 20.8 per cent and not 21.6 per cent, the government contended.

While economists agree that the old index was outdated in many ways, they point out that the new index is unrealistic and is meant to ignore some important items of expenditure.

Giving an example, de Silva said that the new index excluded expenditure on alcohol and tobacco, on which an average Sri Lankan household spent 2.2 per cent of its income. This was almost as much as it spent on education, which was 2.3 per cent, he pointed out.

The proportion of income spent on alcohol and tobacco would keep going up because their prices would keep going up. And yet, these expenditures would not figure in the government's calculation of inflation, the economist pointed out.

Source: NDTV

LTTE rocks Congress-DMK boat

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger guerrillas are once again at the heart of a row between Tamil Nadu's ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party and the Congress.
Chief Minister and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi has expressed his disgust over the stand of the Congress, some of whose leaders have accused him of going soft on those in Tamil Nadu allegedly sympathetic to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
In an unusual outburst, Karunanidhi recently described allegations that his government was allowing the LTTE to have a free run in Tamil Nadu. He asserted that 92 people linked to the LTTE had been arrested in the past 20 months.
Alleging he suspected a conspiracy to destabilise his regime, Karunanidhi reacted angrily: Our self-respect is dearer than the crown of thorns that denotes power. We are ready to lose power if (our self-respect) is under threat.
Karunanidhi was reacting to statements made by federal Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Minister of State E V K S Elangovan. The two are reported to have said that Tamil Nadu had become a hunting ground for the LTTE and the state government was doing nothing to stop it.
There are enough reasons for Karunanidhi to get the heebie-jeebies when this sort of talk gets under way. In the past, his governments have been sacked after fights with ruling parties in New Delhi. Now, however, while a section of the Congress is going overboard to assuage the DMK's feelings, another is doing the exact opposite.
Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi downplayed the differences saying the two parties were allies both in Tamil Nadu and in New Delhi. On his part, Chidambaram has denied making the any statement critical of the DMK.
Elangovan has, however, kept mum.
Last week, the Congress followed the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) when its legislators walked out of the assembly on the issue of the DMK government's alleged sympathy for the LTTE.
We cannot and will not tolerate Tamil Nadu becoming a base for the LTTE. One must remember that this terrorist organisation assassinated our former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, said Congress leader Peter Alphonse within the portals of the secretariat.
Karunanidhi has reasons to worry. A section in the Congress in Tamil Nadu has been pressing the party to break the alliance with the DMK and tie up with former chief minister and AIADMK leader Jayaram Jayalalitha.
Jayalalitha more vociferously anti-LTTE, which is outlawed in India. The Congress withdrew parliamentary support to the United Front government in November 1997 after an inquiry commission pointed to the DMK's closeness to the LTTE over Gandhi assassination.
It took years for the DMK and Congress to mend fences.
Realising the long-term danger to the DMK-Congress ties, Singhvi said in New Delhi: Karunanidhi is a valued coalition partner. There are absolutely no differences. Whatever issue is there will be sorted out amicably between valued partners without any interference of any outsider, be it even the media.

Source: Gulf Times

Fisherman killed in Sri Lankan Navy firing

Rameswaram/Chennai: A Tamil Nadu fisherman was killed when Sri Lankan Navy fired at his boat at Palk Strait, fisheries department officials said on Sunday.

Thirty-five-year-old Thangapandi from Jegadapattinam in Pudukottai district had gone to the sea off Dhanushkodi coast for fishing with two other fishermen, Idumban and Babu.

As they neared the maritime border late Saturday, Sri Lankan Naval personnel fired at the boat, while asking them to go back, officials quoting the other two fishermen said.

Thangapandi died on the spot and others fled from the scene and returned to Jegadapattinam on Sunday with his body, officials told PTI.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister M Karunanidhi condemned the "indiscriminate firing" by the Sri Lankan Navy and took up the issue with the Centre, an official statement said in Chennai on Sunday.

The Chief Minister has "taken steps to draw Sri Lankan Government's attention to the issue through the Centre," the release said.

Expressing shock and grief over the incident, Karunanidhi ordered a compensation of Rs 1 lakh to the bereaved family of Thangapandi.


Sri Lanka curtails school gatherings due to security fears

COLOMBO, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) -- Sri Lanka's education authorities have restricted all public events in connection with schools and ordered these events to be conducted within school premises due to security consideration.

The Western Province Chief Minister Reginold Cooray told reporters here Sunday that participation of adults is to be restricted to barest minimum.

"Participation of adults will be the only way where outsiders could get into schools," Cooray, who is in charge of schools in the Western Province including the capital Colombo, said.

The Ministry of Education issued a circular last week banning all outdoor sports activity by schools after last Sunday's suicide bomb attack carried out by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)rebels killed nine students and a baseball coach from a school in Colombo.

The decision is expected to force the cancellation of traditional annual cricket matches involving Colombo's leading schools.

Some of these matches have been held without a break over the last century.

The schools within the Colombo Municipal limits remained closed last week for fear of attacks by LTTE rebels, who have been fighting government troops since the mid-1980s to set up a separate homeland for the minority Tamil community.  

Source: Xinhua

Sri Lanka: 46 killed in fresh violence

At least 42 LTTE militants and four security personnel were killed in fresh bloodletting in the embattled northern Sri Lanka.

In fierce clashes at Periyapatrichurichchan in Northern Vavuniya, troops killed 15 tiger rebels on Saturday, the military said on Sunday.

Three soldiers also laid their lives in the confrontation while seven others sustained injuries, they said.

As many as four militants were killed in clashes by the troops in Chettikulam, Ittikandal and Naedunkandal In North-western Mannar on Saturday, the Army said.

One soldier was killed in Adampan in North-eastern Sri Lanka on Saturday, the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) said.

Separately, in Kokkuthuduvai in North-eastern Welioya, troops killed three LTTE cadres in a clash on Saturday, it said.

Over 1,000 rebels have died since the government decided to end a six-year-old tattered ceasefire from January 16.

At Kovilmode and Navatkulam area in Northern Wanni, security personnel killed three rebels on Saturday, the Defence Ministry said.

In another incident, six militants were killed in three separate incidents in Vavuniya on Saturday, the MCNS said.

Separate confrontations that took place in Periyapantrichurichchan and Umayaratuvarankulam areas in Vavuniya left three militants dead, it said.

At Muhalame in Jaffna peninsula, troops killed five militants in a clash on Saturday; the MCNS said adding three other militants were killed in separate attacks in Nagarkovil and Muhamale last evening.

Source: NDTV

Clash leaves Sri Lanka university students hospitalized

COLOMBO, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) -- At least 31 students were admitted to a hospital after over 40 students were injured in a clash between student factions in the Kelaniya University just outside the capital Colombo, police said Sunday.

Police spokesman N. K. Ilangakoon said the police were called to quell the clash in the early hours of Sunday.

"A few buildings in the university compound had their glasses damaged in the clashes," Ilangakoon said, adding that security has been increased within the premises.

Students said the clash erupted when a group of students tried to set up an independent student union in the university, but the rival Inter University Students' Federation attempted to disrupt the formation of the new union.  

Source: Xinhua