US mediation push with emissary to Lanka
General in India for strategy tips
Phoolan tormentor shot dead
Sonia’s economics in freezer
Karnataka cries off river meet
Family reunites with missing son

 
 
US MEDIATION PUSH WITH EMISSARY TO LANKA 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, May 18 
The US is sending its senior-most career diplomat to Sri Lanka to discuss the crisis in Jaffna.

Before going to Colombo, the under-secretary of state for political affairs, Thomas Pickering, will stop in New Delhi.

Pickering has already met Norway’s special envoy Erik Solheim, who has been negotiating peace in Sri Lanka with both the government in Colombo and the LTTE.

The Clinton administration’s decision to send Pickering to Colombo comes close on the heels of an American willingness to mediate in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict. According to US state department spokesman Richard Boucher: “We have actually made clear that we would be willing to facilitate a (mediation) process if we were asked.”

Boucher had said last weekend that the US has been talking to both Sri Lanka and India on the situation in Jaffna. “We have been obviously in close touch with the Sri Lankan government. We have an embassy and an ambassador out there.”

The decision to send Pickering to Colombo is clearly the result of these consultations with Colombo, New Delhi, London and Oslo. London’s role, it is understood here, has primarily been to broker peace between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the leader of the opposition, Ranil Wickremesinghe, so that they work together in preserving Sri Lanka’s unity and territorial integrity by upsetting the LTTE’s plans.

It is understood that the US has been in touch with Wickremesinghe urging him to cooperate with the Sri Lankan President in the current crisis.

From indications that are available here, America’s role, if any, during the Pickering visit would be to end the fighting in the Jaffna peninsula so that the Norwegian peace effort is given a chance. The US would also attempt to ensure that international conventions are observed in the areas of combat and that humanitarian relief takes precedence.

However, it is clear that in any US initiative, Washington will work closely with New Delhi because it recognises — without actually saying so — that Sri Lanka is very much within the Indian sphere of influence.

Pickering is also expected to urge Colombo to ease press censorship and relax other measures which are seen here as draconian. He will tell Sri Lankan officials that these measures are costing Kumaratunga friends in the West, notwithstanding the LTTE’s image as a terrorist outfit.

Pickering’s trip to New Delhi was scheduled much earlier, as part of the post-Clinton visit consultations between South Block and the US state department. But by extending his trip to Colombo, Washington is signalling that the crisis in Jaffna is now a priority on its foreign policy agenda.    


 
 
GENERAL IN INDIA FOR STRATEGY TIPS 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, May 18 
Sri Lankan Chief of Defence Staff General Rohan De’Silva Daluvatte arrived in Chennai yesterday, primarily to seek strategic advice from senior Indian defence officials and strategy planners.

With the Tamil Tigers extending a vice-like grip on most of the northern peninsula, Sinhalese commanders want strategic tips on how to contain the guerrillas in a difficult terrain where the Indian Peace Keeping Force had found the going tough 13 years ago.

As India does not intend to mess around in Lankan affairs, the general’s visit was kept under wraps, till information leaked soon after his arrival. Daluvatte, however, did not waste time by making an official visit to Delhi, but made off straight to the Southern Command headquarters in the Tamil Nadu capital.

He is now in Bangalore to discuss ways and means of blocking the LTTE’s supply routes.

Going by the Centre’s official statement, it looks as if the general is here to seek divine intervention. According to officials, Daluvatte would travel to Puttapurthi from Bangalore and seek Sai Baba’s blessings.

Though the statement could not be verified, it shows how cautious the government has been ever since the outbreak of the conflict. India has so far maintained that it can mediate only if both the Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers want it to.

Under no circumstances does it want to be seen playing an active role in the troubled waters off Palk Straits.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s “wait and watch” policy stems from this contradiction within the ruling coalition. Ignoring the hardliners’ view, the BJP — the dominant partner — says it wants a solution to the crisis within Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity and unity.

Smaller but vocal southern allies like S. Ramadoss’s PMK and Vaiko’s MDMK have, on the other hand, publicly supported the demand for a Tamil Eelam, by bifurcating the island nation. The Centre does not want to take a position because the issue is so delicately balanced.

Though the battle for supremacy in Jaffna is crucial, experts and defence ministry sources say the real contentious area is not in the north but in the eastern part — around Batticaloa — where a large number of Muslims reside.

By trying to regain control over Jaffna, the Tigers want to put themselves in a position from where they can strike a better bargain with the Chandrika Kumaratunga government.

Obviously, Daluvatte is here to inform the Southern Command how they are going about Jaffna and exactly how they are positioned in and around the besieged town.

What they want now — if not material help — is strategic counsel from Indian military experts to make sure that their fortress does not fall into Tigers’ hands. And also, if Jaffna falls, how the Lankan army can get out of the situation without suffering heavy losses and with their stacked arsenal intact.    


 
 
PHOOLAN TORMENTOR SHOT DEAD 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, May 18 
Uttar Pradesh police heaved a sigh of relief to-day with the death of the dreaded Chambal dacoit Lalla Ram who was instrumental in turning Phoolan Devi into a dacoit.

The 50-year-old brigand, with more than 186 crimes against his name in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, was killed by the Kanpur Dehat police in an encounter at 1.45 am today.

Sunil Gupta, SP, Kanpur Dehat, said Lalla Ram was on his way to Hathima village to meet his ailing sister Ramwati when the police apprehended him. The police retaliated when Lalla Ram, who was accompanied by two others, opened fire. His accomplices, however, escaped.

Lala Ram evaded the police for 20 years and had been ruling over Chambal Valley, Etawah, Auraiya, Kanpur Dehat, Bhind and Gwalior since 1974.

He had raped and tortured Phoolan Devi and was behind her metamorphosis into a dacoit. In 1987, Lalla Ram had Phoolan picked up by Babu Gujjar when she voiced her resentment against the upper castes. Phoolan retaliated by gunning down 20 Thakurs in the infamous Behmai massacre.

Lalla Ram had recently left dacoity to start an abduction racket. The police had proposed a hike on the price of his head from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000.    


 
 
SONIA’S ECONOMICS IN FREEZER 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, May 18 
Caught between a sulking Manmohan Singh and an aggressive anti-reforms lobby, Sonia Gandhi has decided to shelve the move to review her party’s economic policy till the dust settles down.

Though the decision to form a panel to re-examine reforms was taken by the Congress Working Committee, senior leaders feigned ignorance. “Where is the panel? How can I comment on a non-existing committee?” asked Pranab Mukherjee.

But the anti-reforms lobby, which includes many CWC members, said Sonia would have to set up the panel as support to liberalisation was not helping the party. “As an economist, Dr Singh’s remarks on subsidy might be making perfect sense but the big question is, can we politically sustain it and oppose subsidy on power, irrigation, higher education and other non-merit areas?” a CWC member asked.

Sonia’s managers are now planning to revive a “legislative affairs committee” to co-ordinate between party functionaries and MPs. During the budget session, there were several instances when the Congress appeared to be wavering on important Bills such as information technology.

Sources close to Sonia said the leadership was worried that the onslaught from within the party would force Manmohan to withdraw into his shell. Of late, he has not been happy with the functioning of the party. Any remark aga-inst the leadership by Manmohan, widely seen as Mr Clean, would further queer the pitch for Sonia.

Manmohan remained indoors through the day, refusing to meet reporters to clarify his speech in the Rajya Sabha calling for a reduction in subsidy on a day when Sonia submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister seeking restoration of subsidies.

For the second consecutive day, Pranab defended Manmohan saying the Congress was in favour of food security. He invited the BJP to work for a consensus on subsidies on the basis of Manmohan’s speech in the upper House.

Pranab also played down differences within the Congress over Manmohanomics, saying: “There is no deviation. Reforms is a continuous process. The Congress’ economic thinking has evolved over the years.”

But many Congressmen want Sonia to direct Manmohan to tone down his support to reforms as it has not helped the party politically. The leaders want the Congress to take a left-of-centre line.

Sources close to Sonia, however, view the debate on reforms as part of the ongoing power struggle in the party. They said Manmohan was being targeted as the battle for the number two slot was hotting up.    


 
 
KARNATAKA CRIES OFF RIVER MEET 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, May 18 
The much-trumpeted 1998 Cauvery Accord between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala has suddenly turned into a messy affair for the Prime Minister with a change of guard in Karnataka.

Though Vajpayee took the credit for solving the decades-old water dispute between the riparian states, Karnataka’s Congress chief minister S.M. Krishna has put a spoke in the Cauvery wheel.

The accord ran into trouble today with Krishna deciding to boycott the meeting of chief ministers convened here tomorrow by the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister’s Office said this evening that the meeting has been put off and a fresh date will be announced later.

In 1998, Vajpayee was able to sew up an agreement with the then Karnataka chief minister, J.H. Patel, who at that time was cosying up to the BJP camp through Lok Shakti chief and then Union commerce minister Ramakrishna Hegde.

Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, an old friend of Vajpayee, also signed the accord.

But with the Congress assuming power in Karnataka, Vajpayee’s troubles are likely to mount. Krishna today convened an all-party meeting to discuss the scheduled Cauvery River Water Authority meeting at Bangalore.

He hinted that the Congress government would not sign on the dotted line and make things easy for Vajpayee.    


 
 
FAMILY REUNITES WITH MISSING SON 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Cuttack, May 18 
Captured by Chechen rebels in November 1998, Satyanarayan Raghunath Mishra today returned home a free man and was reunited with his tearful family.

With the Orissa government giving him a wide berth after promising his family all help, no official was present when the 24-year-old youth got off Neelachal Express at Cuttack station just after noon. He fell into the arms of his sobbing parents waiting anxiously to receive their son after a year-and-a-half in captivity.

Flash bulbs popped and television cameras whirred as reporters pressed around him. He looked fatigued as he fielded a few questions before his friends hurried him home through the clogged city roads.

“I have got my son back,’’ said father Ladukishore Mishra, his eyes moist with tears. “I have been waiting for him since July 1998, when he went missing from Daghestan Government State Medical Academy.’’

But the father was aghast at the government’s apathy. On May 13, special secretary of the home department Kulamani Deo wrote to him saying he had asked the deputy resident commissioner of Orissa in New Delhi to “make all arrangements’’ for the freed hostage’s stay at the state-run Orissa Bhavan.

But before Satyanarayan checked out yesterday morning to board the train for Cuttack, he was asked to pay for the stay. “He also had to pay for the food he had at Orissa Bhavan and asked to pay for the government car that brought him in from the Delhi airport,’’ the father said.

“Still, I hoped someone from the government would turn up at the rail station today, but I was mistaken,’’ he said.

Earlier, Indian government also had the family pay Rs 25,000 for Satyanarayan’s air fare from Moscow. After spending Rs 6 lakh on Satyanarayan’s medical education, it scraped up the amount to get the son back home.

The youth said he was worried about his future. “I do not know what I will do now. I want to continue with my study in medicine, but I do not know if that would be possible.’’

Fleeing from constant Russian shelling and bombardment had worn down his Chechen captors, using him as a cook and carrier of their weapons and the wounded. “We had nothing to eat, no place to stay and were always crying as temperature hovered around minus 20 and Russian troops kept strafing and pounding Chechnya with bombs,’’ Satyanarayan said.

Unable to take it any longer, the rebels finally turned themselves over to Russian troops on March 24, ending his captivity. But by then, 15 of the 25 members of the group had already perished in Russian attacks.    

 

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