29th July 2001
Drums to beat off guns: If tourists were scared off
By Nilika de SilvaThe Commander of the Sri Lanka Air base at Katunayake, Air Commodore R. A. Ananda and Ground Defence Officer Wing Commander Nihal Ratnayake, were moved out from their positions yesterday.
The move came on the orders of the Commander of the Air Force, Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody whilst a top level Air Force inquiry is already underway into Tuesday's Black Tiger guerrilla attack on the SLAF base at Katunayake and the adjoining Bandaranaike International Airport.
The attacks are seen as the worst and the most damaging in the 18-year long war between government troops and LTTE cadres.
Air Commodore Channa Gunaratne has been appointed as the new SLAF base Commander. He is currently the Director of General Engineering at the Air Force Head Quarters. Taking over as Ground Defence Officer will be Krishan Yahampath. Until his new appointment, he was a Staff Officer at the Directorate of Operations. Both will assume duties today.
In a bid to ensure security at the Ratmalana Airport, from where flights to the North and East are operated, Air Marshal Weerakkody also appointed Wing Commander Palitha Obeysekera. He will assist Squadron Leader Rohan Silva who is currently the Ground Defence Officer at Ratmalana. Wing Commander Obeysekera is currently the Air Force officer tasked with Colombo security.
The Sunday Times reliably learns that more changes are expected to be made after a five-member SLAF team completes investigations. In addition to the SLAF probe, a CID team lead by Senior Superintendent A. N. S. Mendis is conducting a detailed probe. The Ministry of Defence is expected to conduct its own inquiry. A probe team headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and comprising other civilian members is to be named next week.
A total of 21 persons, 14 terrorists, six airmen and a commando were
killed in Tuesday's pre-dawn attacks on the air base and the air port.
By Dilrukshi HandunnettiThe UNP-led opposition has worked out a preliminary draft of the motion to impeach President Chandrika Kumaratunga, containing some 12 charges, party sources said.
They said the drafting committee hoped to present this draft to all opposition parties by Thursday and request them to make suggestions or amendments before the final draft was prepared within the next two weeks.
They said the committee headed by constitutional lawyer K. N. Choksy was looking into 12 charges, including the suspension of parliament, abuse of power and breach of trust.
The sources said the UNP was now concerned about the JVP which they claimed was changing its position regularly. The JVP which holds ten crucial seats had earlier expressed support for the move to impeach the President on the basis of illegally proroguing parliament and calling for a referendum. But in the past few days the JVP has shot down a UNP proposal for the opposition to summon a session of parliament and to move a motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake.
JVP frontliner Nandana Gunathileke told The Sunday Times that they saw the UNP strategies to be flawed. "The UNP is proposing a series of motions against the government, all of which are practically useless during a prorogation. We of the JVP also don't believe that just because the President had acted in a diabolical and arbitrary manner, the joint opposition should also traverse a similar path in violation of the constitution. This is why we think that Mr. Choksy's arguments based on Article 42 also stem from political reasoning than prudence," he said.
However, the joint opposition, including the JVP, in the aftermath of
the Katunayake catastrophe has written to the President, urging the immediate
reconvening of parliament. This request was also endorsed by 115 MPs _
constituting a majority in parliament.
Opposition parties were apparently disappointed but they said they believed the Speaker's absence would not hamper their moves to present a motion to impeach President Kumaratunga.
Opposition sources said they believed there was provisions for them
to hand over the motion to the Deputy Speaker, whose approval is required
if there is no two-thirds of MPs to sign the motion. They said the motion
would be ready in two to three weeks.
By Ruwan WeerakoonEuropean Governments have linked the holding of peace talks with the LTTE as the key to the withdrawal of a harshly worded travel advisory warning to its citizens not to visit Sri Lanka.
Colombo-based envoys of Britain, Germany, France and Italy told local tour operators in the immediate aftermath of the LTTE attack at the Bandaranaike International Airport that they were not in a position to revise the advisory until the political situation improved.
At least one envoy, when asked by a Sri Lankan operator "Where do we go from here?" was advised " Go to the President's House".
The US has referred to the suspension of Parliament and a minority government resulting in political demonstrations in the country. The travel advisories are bound to cripple Sri Lanka's tourist industry with an estimated 5,000 scheduled tourist arrivals already cancelled.
Five major tour operators have suspended their tours to Sri Lanka, and the trade was fearing more cancellations in the next few weeks.
The US has joined these European countries warning of civil unrest in Sri Lanka in view of the forthcoming referendum scheduled for August 21.
The British have even warned their citizens of sexual assaults and to be " Wary of befriending strangers" (Please see full advisory on page 3)
British High Commissioner Linda Duffield met Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on Friday to explain her government's position.
In Colombo, the Defence Ministry issued a statement on the enhancement of security at the BIA stating that a "comprehensive review" of the security measures has been undertaken by the "competent authorities".
Among these measures, the statement says is to put into gear a "new contingency plan" during an emergency, which will include two strike groups kept in readiness. One of the complaints of the British High Commissioner was the absence of any evacuation plan for passengers when the attack took place.
When the local tour operators met Tourism Minister Lakshman Kiriella yesterday, five days after the attack, they had urged the privatisation of the international airport.
Minister Kiriella has also promised to arrange a meeting with President Chandrika Kumaratunga next week for the tour operators.
Walker Tours Managing Director Vasantha Leelananda, who heads the tour operators' association, said it appeared that little or no direction was given to stranded and panic-stricken passengers.
He said Walker Tour alone had been hit by more than 2,000 cancellations by Friday.
Another big operator Jet Wing Travels had 800 cancellations in two days and was fearing more, its managing director Shiromoal Cooray said.
Aitkence Spence Director Gihan Perera said one of their largest operators, TUI from Germany, had cancelled all bookings for next month.
Tourist hotels were also badly hit, especially those in Kandy, which before the blast had been overbooked for the Esala Perahera season.
An official of Queens Hotel said 50 percent of the bookings had been cancelled.
Travel Agents Association President Chandra Wickramasinghe said the government should immediately launch a strong campaign to show the world that areas frequented by tourists including the cultural triangle, Kandy and the beach sides had not been affected.
Kumara Mallimarachchi, President of the Tourist Hotels Association,
asked the government to provide fresh incentives for the tourist industry
to recover from this setback.
From Neville de Silva in LondonAny hopes the LTTE had of getting the British government to lift the ban it imposed on the organisation in March have been dashed by the Colombo airport attack which among other things endangered the lives of more than 50 British citizens.
Comments from British tourists caught up in the attack and their subsequent remarks to the media in London, indicate that they had to run for their lives in a nightmare of horror.
This could be interpreted as a terrorist attack that endangered British lives and property under the Terrorism Act 2000.
The attack came at a time when the Tigers and their supporters in the Tamil community and in British politics, were preparing to challenge the banning of the organisation under the Terrorism 2000 Act.
Observers here said that the Home Secretary to whom appeals were to be made to lift the ban, would now be hard put to entertain any arguments following Tuesday's attack.
However human rights lawyer and a former associate professor of law at Hong Kong University, Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama, argued that the LTTE attack was unlikely to have much of a bearing on a review by the Home Secretary.
He said no British citizen had been injured in the incident and there must be evidence that there was a definite move to harm them.
But stories told in Colombo and London by British tourists caught in the blazing attack seemed to indicate that they were in imminent danger of being killed or wounded.
Deborah Amaning 29, was quoted as saying that the bullets were coming at them because they happened to be behind the Sri Lankan soldiers.
"Each and every one of us could hear when they reloaded a gun. They were just above us _ it was almost as if you could look up and they would be there to shoot you."
Martina Bellieni said airport staff put them in a tunnel.
"The attacks were going off over our heads. We knew we needed to get out," she said. "But then the military started shouting 'run, run go for cover.' They sent us in the direction the bullets were coming from."
Most observers believe that the attack which did not stop with destroying military targets but was extended to civilian aircraft and the airport and so endangered non-combatants inside the terminal building including foreign citizens, would harden the attitude of the British government.
"This would serve well for the government to argue _ if any argument is necessary _ that the LTTE is a terrorist organisation," a foreign diplomat said.
All prime time newscasts and major newspapers carried prominent stories of the attack with pictures.
While the daring attack might have gained much publicity for the LTTE, it is too early to judge whether it was positive or negative.
The London Times of July 25 for instance accused the LTTE editorially of breaking every peace effort. It said the war was not ending "because the LTTE, one of the world's most violent, obsessive and uncompromising terrorist groups, has rejected every offer of political dialogue and repeatedly broken every truce."
After the arrival on Thursday of many of those British tourists from Colombo, the story has gone off the media radar screens.
Meanwhile the attack has not ended British tourism to Sri Lanka. Though some have postponed their scheduled departures, others left on Sri Lankan Airlines flights on Thursday and Friday.
One visitor, an 88 year- old woman was reported to be on her 15th visit to Colombo while her daughter who accompanied her was on her 22nd tour.
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