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Military Matters


 

 

Who says the war has reached a stalemate?

The week opened with an important military announcement by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and closed with a military operation that will continue into next week.
“The Government is determined to liberate the remainder of the uncleared areas in the Wanni from the clutches of LTTE the same way it liberated the East,” Defence Secretary

Rajapaksa announced on Monday (27).
The announcement assumes added significance as it was made during a passing out parade of Home Guards, who underwent special combat training at the Galakiriyagama Special Training School.
This was not a knee-jerk reaction to a question by a journalist, but a well thought out speech by the country’s Defence Secretary, whose brother is the President and Defence Minister of the country.
Not only did Rajapaksa announce the military would go for the Wanni, he also cautioned that the LTTE was making desperate attempts to destabilise the Government, using foreign forces to do so.
And the reason he adduces: They are trying to re-organise themselves during a lull “to get prepared for the next step in the war.”
Anyone who has talked to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa will vouch that he is very clear in what he wants to achieve. But, some within the government feel the timing was far from right to make such a statement.
This government is suffering from a hangover and in the process losing valuable friends and pushing itself into a corner.

Bogollagama’s opposing statement
As if to neutralize Rajapaska’s statement, three days later the country’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama made another announcement almost diametrically opposed to the first.
“There’s no plan for a major offensive in the North,” Bogollagama told Reuters in an interview, insisting that the Government’s main priority was to look instead for a political solution.

“We want the LTTE to return to the negotiating table,” said Bogollogama during an official visit to Malaysia.
Bogollagama said consensus proposals from an All Party Representative Committee (APRC) should be ready to be announced within a few weeks, adding the Committee was expected to come up with a new proposal for the devolution of power. Bogollogama knows the pulse of the international community better.

But, how many times has Bogollagama made pledges in foreign capitals and to important dignitaries that a political solution would be announced by the APRC?
After nearly 18 months of deliberations, nothing substantial has come out of the ruling party, which proposed the district as the unit of devolution. This was rejected as far back as 1981. For survival, this government needs the JVP, which, in turn, had proposed the district as the unit of devolution.

But, Bogollagama hinted that if Parliamentary approval was not forthcoming for a fresh proposal, the matter would be taken to the court of the people at a referendum.
The contradictory announcements by the Defence Secretary and Foreign Minister are both on the Defence Ministry website, “defence.lk.”

Military operations continue
As if to prove Bogollogama wrong, the very next day (31) a limited military operation was conducted in Periyathampanai and Iranai Illupaikullam west of Omantai after ground troops launched a multi-pronged attack. There was stiff resistance, with eight soldiers wounded in action, and the operation had to be called off.
The Government, which blamed the LTTE for the offensive, claims 11 Tigers were killed in this incident and nine soldiers were injured.
On Saturday (Sept. 1), the military commenced an offensive in Silavatturai, South of Mannar and, according to the LTTE, three civilians were wounded and three more hospitalized.
The military officially maintains the operation was a humanitarian one to liberate 6-7,000 civilians.
“The mission aims at liberating the civilians in the area who have been living under the clutches of the LTTE terrorist for years,” states the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS).

LTTE steps up operations
But, it appears that the LTTE, which has infiltrated Silavatturai, has constantly come down to Wilpattu where it staged attacks on a civilian vehicle and an army truck not too long ago.
Silavatturai is on the western coast and not a strategic area for the military to take control of in its efforts to penetrate the Wanni and, eventually, Mullaitivu.
Previous efforts to penetrate the outer Madhu area have not been very successful on account of the LTTE artillery and mortar fire.

The LTTE has also strengthened security on their forward defence lines against any possible attack by the security forces to capture the Madhu area. According to intelligence reports, the LTTE has buried anti personnel mines and booby traps between Madhu and Palampidi.
During the seven day cessation of hostilities for the Madhu festival, the LTTE is learnt to have constructed bunkers and trenches using caterpillars.

Unable to penetrate the Madhu area easily, the military has settled for a less strategic area below the A 14 Mannar Road, which it already controls.
“It has been reported that the terrorists have stepped up violence against the civilians to an alarming level during recent past putting civilians’ lives at a severe risk,” said the MCNS.

Government’s reputation at stake?
Liberating Tamil civilians from the LTTE seems to be the government’s pre-occupation and that is the line (right or wrong) the Foreign Minister should be espousing, saying the LTTE was not interested in talking peace as long as the organisation was strong.
With the opposition gaining ground, the government will not want the military to mess-up any operation, but will be wanting to show that it was capable of going beyond the East into the Wanni itself.

And, as a humanitarian operation, it would not draw too much flak from the international community, which approved of the liberation of the East in view of a substantial political offer to resolve the ethnic conflict.
But, by promising one thing to the international community and doing just the opposite, the government’s reputation can be at stake, even though the intention of the Foreign Minister could have been to neutralize the Defence Secretary’s statement.
Bogollogama’s predecessor, Lakshman Kadirgamar, used to participate at the weekly Security Council meeting and knew the tenor of the government and the military.

But, despite a ravaging war going on, the incumbent Foreign Minister is not present at these meetings. The result: His foreign policy statements are diametrically different to the actions of the government. It is he who should be influencing the President and other leaders on the importance of keeping the international community on board.
The military strategy of the government should be to take the international community with it in defeating terrorism but at the same time offering substantial devolution to resolve the ethnic conflict.

As the Defence Secretary claims, the LTTE and other political opponents do not have to bring the government to disrepute internationally, the Ministers and Secretaries are doing it by speaking in a cacophony of voices that are contradicted by the actions on the ground.

Foreign Minister Bogollagama also defended the Government against allegations that it was too slow to probe rights abuses by the military. (See box story for government’s human rights record and the probes undertaken).
This Government must realize whether it is: military action against terrorism, human rights violations by the security forces and the probes undertaken by the law enforcement officers, mooting a political solution to the ethnic conflict, or obtaining foreign aid and assistance; none of these can be treated in isolation as far as the international community is concerned.

Collective responsibility has to be the guiding principle by which administrations are expected to operate; different agencies cannot be seen pulling in different directions.
This government has always maintained that it has given the military the freedom to act and it does not interfere in military plans. But, the military is not elected by the people; it is the ruling party and the President—who is not only the Head of the Cabinet but also the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. The President has to direct policy whether military or otherwise. If the government feels it could play for time, to eventually defeat the LTTE, it must be reminded that the Tigers, too, are masters at the game of playing for time.

Results of military action
The military has, for months, been trying hard to push back the LTTE from its forward defence lines in the Wanni. Military action began in the Wanni even before the East was fully cleared, but the question is: Have there been tangible results?
In the East, of course there were results, despite the LTTE continuing its guerilla operations.

On Thursday (30) alone the defence ministry reported the LTTE had lobbed a hand grenade attack in Uppuweli, Trincomalee, and had gunned down two Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) members at Eravur, Batticaloa, while a claymore mine was found in Palauththu, Trincomalee.

While on Tuesday (28), a police constable sustained injuries when a jeep transporting police personnel was caught in a mine explosion, at Aiyyithimalai in Batticaloa. But, the difference is the LTTE is unable to have control of demarcated areas in the East as before.

But in the Wanni or the north there seems to be a stalemate.
The only result has been the unprecedented rise in the cost of living that is making the government more unpopular by the day. Despite its shortcomings, a majority of the people stood by the government on account of its military achievements, but now with the allegations of corruption in all spheres—including military purchases—and the ever rising COL, the government is facing unprecedented criticism.
Come November, the budget is likely to further burden the poor and the middleclass.
The Government is also losing the goodwill of the international community it has previously enjoyed and is likely to face cuts in aid. No wonder, then, that it is going for borrowing US$500 million on commercial rates rather than concessionary rates as has been the practice before.

No solution in sight
This week, the rupee depreciated to an all time low (113 rupees to a dollar). Together with the 213 rupee rise in Shell Gas and the recent increase in petrol and diesel, a cascading effect on prices of all essential items is likely.
Even the military cannot be blind to the reality that it would have to pay more for its purchases with the rupee sliding. According to the Jane’s Defence Weekly, it is estimated that the military plans to spend a whopping US$300 million in the next few months.
But the Defence Secretary last week insisted that this government was not keen on passing the burden of war to the next generation. But, what he may have not thought of is, he could be passing the burden of poverty to several generations to come by this massive war expenditure that the country can ill afford.

While his intention to defeat terrorism is good, only time will tell just how practical it is. We have seen how the mighty United States failed miserably in its efforts to defeat terrorism in Iraq, with a new foreign policy likely and the White House probably going to the Democrats who are now dominating the two House in the Congress.
Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the war and perhaps the third decade of terrorism, with no solution to this decades-long conflict in sight.

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Still no answers

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is known for his quick fixes to burning problems. In order to thwart an international monitoring team, he invited an International Group of Eminent Persons (IGEP) to study a Commission of Inquiry he appointed in November last year to probe several killings that have adversely affected the government’s human rights record.

The Commission runs out in November 2007; we are already in September and it is likely that none of the inquiries will be completed by then. The President is free to allow the Commission to lapse or extend the duration of it.
If he allows it to lapse, it would be a bad reflection on a government that has been sullied by delays in probing human rights violations.

The United Nations Human Rights Council will hold its 6th Session from September 10 to 28 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The Council is responsible for promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind, and in a fair and equal manner.

Following the historic adoption of the General Assembly resolution establishing the Council on 15 March 2006, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the creation of the Council, “gives the United Nations the chance – a much-needed chance – to make a new beginning in its work for human rights around the world.”

Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and Attorney General C.R. De Silva will be traveling to Geneva while a separate team will attend the sessions.
The Commission of Inquiry, which started probing the killing of the 17 aid workers from ACF, has also commenced inquiries into the killing of five students in Trincomalee.

In the ACF mass murder, it is learnt, that there were many eyewitnesses who have come forward to give evidence. The commission has been informed both the commandos and the Tigers were in the vicinity during the time of the killing.
So far, two sessions have been held into the killing of the five Trincomalee students and, according to inside information, this is a very difficult case to crack.

It is learnt that the authorities are unable to establish whether the firearms available were the actual ones used in the killing.
Meanwhile, in the mass murder of 11 villagers in Pottuvil, the Commissioners will today (2) commence a public hearing in Pottuvil.

On September 6, the Commissioners will hold a press conference to make an important announcement.
Meanwhile, the Law and Society Trust, which gathered information about the number of killings and disappearances for the first six months from January to June, has submitted this information to the Commission of Inquiry.

A total of 547 persons are learnt to have been killed with the number of missing persons recorded at 396. The highest number of killings have taken place in the Jaffna District (127), followed by the Batticaloa District (118), and Vavuniya (117). In the case of disappearances, the highest number is again from the Jaffna district (196), followed by Colombo (70).

Meanwhile, the LTTE has claimed that more than 400,000 Jaffna civilians are to be issued special Identity Cards.
A total of 16 humanitarian workers and religious leaders have been killed while five of them are learnt to have disappeared.
LST, quoting UNICEF, has also submitted that the LTTE is responsible for 1,591 cases of underage child soldiers and the Karuna group for 198.

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TERMINAL PROBLEMS – THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN

In response to our last week’s investigation titled “Terminal Problems” , highlighting the many shortcomings of the Colombo South Harbour expansion project, a concerned party writing under the name of Thomson and Thomson has forwarded a point of view.  

As In response to our last week’s investigation titled “Terminal Problems” , highlighting the many shortcomings of the Colombo South Harbour expansion project, a concerned party writing under the name of Thomson and Thomson has forwarded a point of view.  

By Thompson & Thompson
As in all multi-million dollar tenders in our little paradise isle, the Colombo South Harbour project, which is still under evaluation, has produced the biggest and nauseating stench ever to emanate from the Indian ocean surrounding this little island nation. Going by various media reports some of which have been confirmed by the Chairman of the SLPA who is a member of the Cabinet Appointed Negotiating Committee (CANC) as being factual, it appears that the only sensible thing to do now is to re-tender the whole project. This will enable the GOSL to clear its good name against the various charges of corruption brought against it by vested interests. More importantly, by following this course of action the GOSL will be able to demonstrate and compel the ADB to walk the talk and go for a re-tender, in line with internationally accepted tender procedure.

The Chairman of the SLPA who is a member of the CANC is on record (Sunday Leader of 15th July 2007) of having had meetings with Dubai Ports World (DPW) and Hutchinson Port Holdings (HPH) to initiate their bids for the Colombo South Harbour project. It is ironical that at the time these meetings took place the very same Chairman was also holding the position of Director - South Asia Gateway Terminals (Pvt) Ltd. who was also bidding for the same project. To add salt to this already “salty” ocean related project, the appointment of the technical evaluation committee came under the sole discretion of the Chairman of the SLPA. Having appointed 11 SLPA cronies of the 14 member committee from the SLPA management team (mind you none of these 11 members have had any experience in container terminal management or design), the Chairman had the audacity to Chair the pre-bid meeting with all the prospective bidders. At the pre-bid meeting it was clarified by the Chairman that the SLPA would not insist on the minimum guaranteed throughput requirement and more importantly that the SLPA would also provide a five year exclusivity to the successful bidder. This clarification was not withstanding the fact that some of the bidders were not in support of such “favours” which were detrimental to the Port of Colombo, the SLPA and Sri Lanka as a nation.

Why only HPH? - Who are the Share-Holders of HPH?
Getting into one of the fundamental clauses of the tender requirement as stated in the RFP document, the eligibility criteria explicitly states that any bidder either through consortia partner or through share ownership, has been found guilty by a court of law for anti-competition practices, would be disqualified from the tender evaluation process. Now we have a situation where it has been brought to the notice of the CANC that one of the Bidders namely Hutchinson Port Holdings (HPH) with whom the Chairman of the SLPA has previously had discussions to promote the project, has been found guilty of violating the above clause in a project they manage in Indonesia.

HPH is an internationally listed Company and the share ownership is public knowledge to all and sundry in the Shipping and Ports industry. Giving the benefit of doubt to the Chairman of the SLPA who may have been lacking in this knowledge due to his previous commercial experience being limited only to the “OIL” industry, it is critical and relevant to note that a substantial share of HPH is fully owned by the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA).

The foregoing makes it abundantly clear that both HPH and PSA have violated the fundamental clause in the RFP document and hence should be disqualified. But, nay, it is not to be so. The most knowledgeable cronies in the technical evaluation committee have decided to turn a blind eye on the violation of this very fundamental and critical clause, and recommend that both HPH and PSA be short-listed for financial evaluation.

Why not PSA – Colombo Port’s biggest competitor?
Previous media reports including Lloyds List report from the United Kingdom have given publicity to the role played by PSA very recently in Tuticorin. In this action PSA moth-balled one of three cranes at the Tuticorin port and literally held the gun to the Tuticorin Port Trust, in insisting on a tariff increase which was an issue already taken up in court. They throttled the container handling throughput and all container related activities. This action seriously impacted on all the local importers and exporters in India. The domino effect of this unwarranted action by the PSA was that the Port of Colombo transshipment volumes were also affected. This goes to confirm the influence that PSA with a substantial share ownership of HPH, would have brought to bear on HPH in their action in Indonesia. These incidents which are on record go to confirm without any doubt, that both HPH and PSA are not eligible to be considered as prospective bidders for the Colombo South Harbour project. Additionally, the role played by PSA in developing the second container terminal in Chennai and another container terminal in Gawadar with confirmed intentions of removing transshipment volumes out of Colombo have been totally ignored by the powers that be.

What the CANC must accept willingly or otherwise, is the fact that PSA is the biggest competitor for the Transshipment cargo that is going via Colombo at present.

Vested interests are obviously playing their role by planting media reports on the various consortia that have submitted bids for the terminal project. Some reports are factual whilst others could be hallucinations. In order not to waste the print space and the paper of this respected newspaper, let us see the background of HPH and PSA, who should have been disqualified by virtue of the violation of the fundamental requirement in the bid document:

IE: bidder and or his partners or shareholders should not have been a party to and found guilty by a court of law for anti competition practices.
Therefore to put it down in laymen terms, if there is documentary evidence to confirm HPH is in violation of this clause, then PSA being a substantial shareholder of HPH, is in violation of this bid requirement by default.

Some reports have found fault with HPH for bidding on their own with the intention of siphoning all the profits out of the country. On the hand PSA is being represented through a local agency whose track record in the privatization of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation is now a serious matter being questioned by COPE in parliament. Several cases have also been filed in the Supreme Court against the individuals involved in this controversial privatization deal. Added to this, the agency representing PSA has direct links to many other subsidiary companies that are being relentlessly pursued by the Sri Lanka Customs.

We also read press reports about this very same agency claiming themselves to be container terminal managers in Durban South Africa. They obviously do not understand the basic difference between supplying labour to a Port, and managing a Port. The success or otherwise of this labour contract is best obtained from the Shipping Lines that call the Port of Durban.

From the foregoing, two of the world’s largest terminal operators HPH and PSA are obviously disqualified for violation of a fundamental tender requirement. The ADB is the main funding agency for this project. But for reasons unknown, the ADB appears to be turning a blind eye to the apparent non-transparency and conflict of interest charges made so far. Therefore it is now in the hands of the CANC to remove the dirty stink combined with a nauseating stench, that has been created by the SLPA appointed technical evaluation committee.

Finally, Thompson & Thompson is not holding a brief for any particular bidder for the South Harbour Terminal project. But, certainly in the wider interest of the Shipping and Port industry we hope that sanity will prevail, and the GOSL will go for a re-tender for the terminal concession. That will show the project financiers such as the ADB, that the GOSL does in fact believe in being transparent and will accept what is sauce for the goose (HPH) is sauce for the gander (PSA) as well.

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