Delhi wades into Sierra storm
Bindra backs out of Kapil proof test
Civilian-attack charge on defensive Tigers
Sangh, Left sing together

New York, May 14 
India is rushing in where others fear to tread. In addition to a second Indian battalion which is due to leave for Sierra Leone for peace-keeping operations on Monday, New Delhi has promised the UN one mechanised unit, one special forces unit and one attack helicopter unit, says Fred Eckhard, spokesman for the UN secretary general here.

Although the additional troops and equipment are being rushed to Freetown amid hopes on Sunday of an imminent release of the 33 Indian peace-keepers held hostage by the rebel Revolutionary United Front (Ruf) of Sierra Leone, India’s determination to push ahead has drawn international attention here. New Delhi’s perseverance in the African peace effort comes at a time when the US is being criticised for its unwillingness to commit even a single soldier and other major powers are being accused of being callous towards the latest African tragedy.

Even as New Delhi committed more troops and equipment to Sierra Leone, India’s permanent representative to the UN Kamlesh Sharma told a special session of the UN Security Council here: “Even though India has troops on the ground (as hostages) we have no intention of pulling out (of Sierra Leone) and (we) very strongly urge the council not to consider this as an option”.

Sharma went one step further and suggested that it would be logical for the council to consider enlarging the scope of the UN operation in Sierra Leone from one of peace-keeping to one of peace enforcement. “In our opinion, the UN’s mission in Sierra Leone (Unamsil) needs to consolidate”. But he added: “In the present circumstances, it cannot implement many of the tasks given...Unamsil presently does not have the troops, the equipment or the logistics needed to mount a peace enforcement operation.”

India’s unexpected willingness to be sucked into the African operation has evoked surprise because the assessment here and in key Western capitals is that Africa is on the brink of a conflict with ramifications all across the continent. The major powers have no hope of any lasting peace in Sierra Leone even as they fear renewed fighting between Uganda and Rwanda. The weekend saw clashes between Eritrea and Ethiopia flare up again. In addition, there are worrying reports from both Angola and Sudan where civil strife has been rampant.

A Security Council delegation visited seven African states in as many days last week in a desperate effort to avoid a continent-wide conflict, but the mission has been unsuccessful. The delegation’s leader, US ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke, acknowledged at the end of the mission that it had failed.

But what’s more puzzling about the growing Indian involvement in Africa is that it is becoming increasingly clear that it is a thankless job. While South Block’s motives in Africa may be altruistic, India is being criticised for what went wrong in Sierra Leone, where the Ruf took UN peacekeepers hostage nearly 10 days ago.

Zambia’s President Frederick Chiluba said after meeting the Security Council delegation led by Holbrooke that Major General Vijay Kumar Jetley, Commander of Unamsil, had sent the peace-keepers into unknown territory with out-of-date maps and shortage of vital equipment. Chiluba has reason to worry because the majority of the nearly 300 soldiers taken hostage by the Ruf are Zambian.

Of the Indian leadership of Unamsil, the Zambian President said: “This is not the first time our forces have been in peace-keeping...we have done very well because whenever we have gone, we have been under some good leadership. That depends on who is in command, who is giving orders to people to do what.”

The only good news from Sierra Leone during the weekend is that prospects of a release of the hostages had brightened. According to information reaching here, the Indian hostages have been shifted to a new place, with better conditions. Even as negotiations for their release were at a crucial stage, the expectation was that the shift was a prelude to their release. Thirty-three of the 1,612 Indian soldiers are now hostage, two men having been released two days ago.    

Mohali, May 14 
Inderjit Singh Bindra, former Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president, today said he did not have any evidence against Kapil Dev.

Talking to reporters at the cricket stadium here, Bindra said he will submit documents to the CBI tomorrow to support his allegations of match-fixing. But he added: “I wish to make one thing clear. As far as allegations of match-fixing against Kapil Dev are concerned, I have no evidence other than the ‘voluntary verbal disclosure’ made by Manoj Prabhakar in the presence of Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) honorary secretary M.P. Pandove and another independent witness.”

CBI sources had quoted Prabhakar as saying during his “informal” interrogation last week that he did not have any proof against Kapil.

Bindra said the meeting with Prabhakar took place at the cricketer’s instance.

“He simply came here in the morning, saying he wanted to meet me. So we asked him to come to the stadium, where he made the disclosure. We had no idea why he had come, and we were ourselves shocked when we heard him mention that it was Kapil Dev who had offered him Rs 25 lakh to perform below his potential in a match. The meeting at the stadium lasted for over an hour.”

Bindra said the PCA holds nothing against Kapil. “We have done more for him than the BCCI. We have no intention of damaging reputations, only providing information to the public. If the information provided by Prabhakar is wrong, then he must pay for it,” the former board chief said.

Bindra’s counsel will reply to Kapil’s legal notice tomorrow. “It will comprise what I was told by Prabhakar. I had some information, which I have made public. Had I not done so, people would have blamed me for hiding information I was privy to. I am against match-fixing and want to see the game cleansed of it,” he said.

Bindra claimed that Sharjah was the epicentre of match-fixing. “The roots of match-fixing lie in the mushrooming of masala matches. These masala matches were held in places like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Toronto and Dhaka.”

Bindra said he disclosed Kapil’s name to a foreign channel not because he wanted to reveal the name abroad. “That is not the case. They asked me the question. They seemed to know the answer themselves. I did not reveal the name of my own accord,” he said.    

COLOMBO, May 14 
The Sri Lankan government today accused the Tamil Tiger guerrillas of firing artillery and mortars into densely-populated areas of Jaffna after air force raids blocked their final assault to retake their former capital.

The situation report released this afternoon said that army officials in Jaffna have asked the Red Cross to intervene and ask the rebels not to fire shells into populated areas.

But three days after claiming that Jaffna was “as good as gone”, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continued to be at the doorstep of the city and failed to break through the defences mounted by the air force.

Neither Sinhalese nor Tamil commentators could come up with any convincing explanation for the continuing lull.

Defence commentator Taraki, who yesterday attributed the impasse to carpet-bombing by the air force, today admitted that he may have been “wrong” in his analysis.

“Now I learn that the Israeli aircraft, which could attempt saturation-bombing, are not yet in. The Kfirs, now being used, can drop bombs only in limited quantities,” he said.

The admission belies the claim that “intense bombing” had forced the Tigers on the defensive. Taraki, however, hazarded an explanation, saying “they might have suffered heavy casualties in the Ariyalai sector and are now reviewing their strategy”.

Several Sinhalese observers are equally perplexed. “After the Elephant Pass debacle, I just can’t believe that the Lankan soldiers can hold their own in any confrontation with the Tigers, even when they number just 10,” said one.

“Their morale is so abysmally low, I’d only think Prabhakaran has something else up his sleeves,” he added.

As of now, the Tigers can move forward along the south-eastern arm of Jaffna from Nagar Kovil, along the A-9 road link, or persist with Ariyalai to the west of the peninsula.

Although the LTTE lobby claims that the Tigers have “many options”, it is hard put to explain why no such advance is taking place anywhere.

But even as the guerrillas are held at bay on the outskirts of Jaffna, President Chandrika Kumaratunga has convened an all-party meeting tomorrow to explain the situation on the battle-front, a clear indication that the government is still wary.

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe, too, has convened a meeting of leaders of various parties.

In India, Union home minister Lal Krishna Advani today officially announced the extension of the ban on the LTTE by another two years.

In a related development, foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has called for the removal of censorship, saying that issues related to the nation’s survival were being clouded as a result.

In an interview to a local newspaper, he was quoted as saying that censorship, which had provoked concerns over press freedom, was further complicating the central issue.

Kadirgamar, who returned from abroad yesterday, also expressed apprehension over attempts to “internationalise” the Lankan situation.

But he hoped that Russia, China and the non-aligned nations would oppose any move to raise the matter before the Security Council.

“This is our internal matter,” he said. “Whatever the difficulties, we must maintain our self-respect and dignity. However small a country we are, our sovereignty is paramount.”    

New Delhi, May 14 
The Sangh is Sangh and the CPM is CPM, but the twain have met. They have been linked briefly by a superfast data carrier project that has pitted the swadeshi brigade against Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Unhappy with the government’s decision to allow the Sankhya Vahini project, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s economic spearhead, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, is exchanging notes with the CPM, another critic of the proposed optical fibre network.

The manch is in touch with the CPM’s Rajya Sabha member, Nilotpal Basu. He has been doing extensive homework on Sankhya Vahini and has identified what he feels are loopholes in the project.

Basu has been kept informed that the manch’s journal, Swadeshi, will devote a number of pages of its next edition to the “flawed” project. It will highlight the project’s drawbacks and the threat it poses to national security in the long run. The members of the manch are trying to draw on Basu’s research material to strengthen their arguments against the scheme.

The CPM, too, has found the RSS’ research helpful. A party leader said the Sangh has better access to the corridors of power in Delhi. CPM leaders saw red after they came across a monograph by B. Thengadi, the Sangh’s labour wing ideologue, castigating the project and underscoring the security threat.

Later, the CPM leader said, the party delved deep and unearthed the flaws. “We noticed that even the manch’s studies on the subject had some errors. That is why they are trying to find out from us now what else we know about the issue.”

The Prime Minister is not overly concerned about the CPM’s campaign against the project. But if the manch and other constituents of the Sangh persist with their opposition, South Block will be in a piquant situation. The stakes are high for Vajpayee as he had categorically told a BJP parliamentary meeting that there was no need to “review the project” and that “it was on”.

If Swadeshi hits out at the project, the Prime Minister may have to talk to the RSS chief, K.S. Sudarshan, again. Sudarshan had begun his innings with a burst of criticism of the government. But, soon after, the Sangh leadership had called a truce and assured Vajpayee that adverse views would not be aired in public.

The manch is intent on highlighting the security aspect of Sankhya Vahini. It feels the project will give monopoly power on data transmission to foreign players.

The CPM is focusing on the decision-making process. The Left will try to prove that the government has acted under pressure from the Andhra chief minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu, who had written to the Prime Minister to clear the project.

Both the manch and the CPM have said there has been no technical evaluation of the project. Basu has questioned the veracity of the claim made by the Carnegie Mellon University, the US-based institution and a key-partner in the venture, that the knowhow for the project was unique.

Another argument of the CPM is that a memorandum of understanding with IUNet, a co-participant in the project, was signed even before the board of directors had been formed.    


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