Jaswant rules out military intervention
Vizag navy for Jaffna rescue
Mamata visit sparks fear of clashes
Ayodhya panel pins down official
Bengal hurdle in border fence plan
China-bound leopard skins caught in forest net

Teheran, May 23 
India today made it clear that it will not go for military intervention in Sri Lanka, though it is willing to provide “humanitarian assistance’’ in Jaffna on a request from Colombo.

It also expressed disappointment at Australia’s attempt to accord legitimacy to Fijian coup leader George Speight, who ousted the democratically-elected government of Mahendra Chaudhry last week. India has decided to raise the issue with Commonwealth nations and the European Union to ensure that their policy towards coup leaders in different parts of the world remains consistent.

Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh, now in the Iranian capital, is going to London tomorrow to chair a meeting of Indian heads of mission in Europe. He will meet British foreign minister Robin Cook and Commonwealth secretary-general Don Mackinnon to discuss the developments in Fiji.

Singh said here this afternoon: “India will not enter into a firefight on Sri Lankan soil even if it finally has to engage in humanitarian assistance.’’ On Sri Lanka, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and government troops are battling over Jaffna, the Tiger stronghold, Singh explained that India is willing to provide humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka but first a request has to be made by the Chandrika Kumaratunga government.

Referring to Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s recent remark that India was watching the developments in Sri Lanka closely and was ready to take any step necessary, Singh said this meant that Delhi was ready with a contingency plan, but that does not include a military intervention.

The Indian foreign minister also pointed out that the question of humanitarian assistance can only be made after a “definition of the military situation of Jaffna” is worked out.

India is of the view that talking about withdrawal of the Lankan army when it is fighting the Tamil Tigers is “extremely demoralising’’ for the troops. Therefore, an assessment of whether the Sri Lankan troops can hold onto Jaffna or are likely to cave in on the face of the LTTE onslaught has to be made first.

Singh said Norwegian envoy Erik Solheim, facilitator between Colombo and the Tamil Tigers, had a role to play in making the two parties come to the negotiations table. “Norway has a role to play since it has been chosen by both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE as a facilitator,’’ he added. Solheim, now in Sri Lanka, will be in Delhi within a day or two to keep the Indian leaders posted about the developments in Jaffna.

Earlier, the Indian foreign minister had expressed doubts on whether the Norwegian initiative in Sri Lanka will lead to a solution. But though a definite picture has yet to come out of Sri Lanka, the Indian leadership appears to be satisfied with the role the Norwegian envoy is playing by trying to talk to the two sides and also by keeping Delhi apprised of the latest developments.

On Fiji, Singh said the situation was “a delicate one’’ and India cannot assert itself too much as it may harm the Fijian Prime Minister, under house-arrest by the armed rebels. Singh, however, said he will make it clear during his discussions with Cook and Mackinnon to ensure that the Harare Declaration and the Milbrooke initiative on coups and undemocratic methods to overthrow governments are not encouraged.    

New Delhi, May 23 
The Eastern Naval Command will take the lead in evacuating Sri Lankan troops according to a decision taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security. This command with its headquarters in Vishakhapatnam is considered to be in the best position to lead the evacuation exercise.

The Southern Command with its headquarters in Kochi will obviously be involved in a big way but the Vizag navy is prepared because it is busy with the much-touted Operation Pasha. This particular operation is a joint surveillance exercise by the Navy and the Coast Guard.

As part of the Operation Pasha, the eastern command has already put on waters a number of ships including Kashin destroyers, Khanjar-class corvettes patrolling vessels and Navy-controlled aircrafts. The exercise aims at augmenting the security capability of the Southern Command which is facing the LTTE problem in a bigger way for quite some time.

With the operation on, the Eastern Command will not require time for preparation and can proceed to Jaffna straight.

The Southern Command, not prepared till recently, has also begun the process of readying its ships. They are concentrating on providing the back-up for the Eastern Command, including ad-ding to the fleet of offshore patrol vehicles, survey ships, mine-sweepers and transport ships. The Southern Command will also provide intelligence inputs. The LTTE being unpredictable, the Indian Navy does not want to take any chance and will be fully prepared for all eventualities.

The government has informed the navy that they will have to move in only after they had been assured of minimum casualties by both warring sides. It is the unpredictability of the LTTE that the government is worried about. Defence minister George Fernandes has wanted to know repeatedly under what circumstances the navy is being sent.

At least 6,000 personnel will be necessary to evacuate a 27,000 strong force trapped in Jaffna. The Prime Minister has assured Fernandes that Indian security forces will be deployed only when there is a pledge from both sides that there will be no Indian casualties.

In Delhi, the navy said that they had prepared a foolproof plan for going in after receiving instructions from the government. The naval spokesperson even said that the government had put them on a 72-hour alert and that they were ready to move in any minute. Of course, they said, the Eastern Command being in a better state of preparedness would take the lead. But the Southern Command would also do its bit and provide the necessary help.

The navy said they would lift the stranded Sri Lankan troops from Chavakacheri but would not bring them back to the Indian mainland. They would instead be transported in ships to ports which are still under the occupation of the Sri Lankan troops, including Trincomalee.    

Midnapore, May 23 
Tension ran high in Keshpur, about 25 km from here, a day after railway minister and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s visit there on Monday night with her party supporters. They are waiting for her promised re-visit tomorrow afternoon.

The CPM in Keshpur, however, fears a re-run of last Saturday’s violence following Mamata’s visit and her announcement to the families of the killed supporters that she would be there again tomorrow.

“Mamata’s visit has emboldened the Trinamul supporters of Keshpur. We fear that the worst may happen. It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to control our supporters. So far, we have been able to restrain them. We have asked the police to keep a close eye on the situation,” said Manick Sengupta, district CPM committee member.

The bodies of five of the six Trinamul supporters killed in Saturday’s violence were buried while the body of another was cremated amid tight security in Birbira, Amalda, Amdubi and Chutergeria villages last night. On Tuesday evening police recovered another mutilated body of Prasanta Koley, a Trinamul activist, who was kidnapped during the Saturday’s violence from a canal at Boharagol.

The inspector-general of police (West), R.K. Johri, held a meeting on Tuesday with district superintendent of police, Gaurav Dutt, to draw up security plans for Keshpur in view of Mamata’s announcement to visit Keshpur tomorrow.

“We have divided Keshpur into four sectors. Each sector will be manned by a police official of the rank of an SP till the byelection. Another official holding the rank of an SP will be deputed to recover the illegal arms,” said Dutt. Police vehicles with wireless have already been sent to the four sectors on Tuesday evening.

From Tuesday, one hundred jawans each of the Eastern Frontier Rifles and the State Armed Police have been deployed in Keshpur, Dutt said. The district administration this morning removed Subhankar Sarker, Congress candidate for the Panskura Lok Sabha byelection, on hungerstrike demanding postponement of the bypoll, to a hospital.

Trinamul leaders in Keshpur, however, feel buoyant that Mamata took the trouble of visiting Keshpur all the way from North Bengal.    

New Delhi, May 23 
Threatened with a bailable warrant by the Liberhan Commission probing the demolition of the disputed structure at Ayodhya, Cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar today said he would appear before the one-man panel on June 9.

Confronted with virtual non-cooperation of the Centre, Justice M.S. Liberhan had yesterday threatened to issue a bailable warrant against Kumar, a Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS officer, for continually ignoring the commission’s summons. But before Justice Liberhan’s threat could be executed, Kumar’s counsel today filed an “undertaking” that the Cabinet secretary will depose before the panel on June 9.

“The commission is prima facie satisfied that the witness is avoiding appearing before it. Consequently, bailable warrants for Rs 5,000 be issued for securing Prabhat Kumar’s appearance on June 9, 2000,” Justice Liberhan had said. In his three-page directive, the commission chairman had said that Kumar could not be excused from appearing before him as he was an important witness. Kumar was state principal secretary (home) when the Babri masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992.

Commission sources said fresh summons have also been issued to former state chief minister Kalyan Singh, who will now appear before the panel on June 21.    

New Delhi, May 23 
The West Bengal government continues to be a major block in the Centre’s efforts to fence the Indo-Bangla border.

Union home ministry sources today said the Left Front government in the state had been asked to expedite land acquisition so that a 500-km stretch of international boundary could be fenced.

West Bengal has a 2,216-km long border with Bangladesh.

“For some strange reason, the government is going slow and has simply not been following the ministry’s guidelines, especially at a time when the Centre wants to prevent the influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh,” said a senior home ministry official.

The Centre decided to fence the entire stretch of the 4,000 km long Indo-Bangla border. It also sanctioned Rs 1,334 crore for erecting fences along a 2,429-km stretch of the border and laying roads along 797 km.

Work on the project would start this year and is expected to be complete by March 2007.

Of the total length of the border, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram share 262 km, 443 km, 856 km and 318 km, respectively. This excludes the riverine border, where river patrolling will be intensified.

About 1,020 km of the border running along West Bengal will be fenced at an estimated cost of Rs 440 crore.    

Lucknow, May 23 
Indian cats in Chinese drawing rooms? Sounds a trifle strange, but if the current spate of smuggling out animal skins continues, that’s where the big cats from India will end up.

In an incident that has set off alarm bells in the Uttar Pradesh forest department, over 80 leopard skins worth crores in the international market have been seized from warehouses in Haldwani, Nainital, in the last two weeks.

While 30 “processed” leopard skins were found yesterday, police confiscated around 80 animal skins from a godown on May 6. There were 50 leopard skins, 10 tiger skins and nearly 20 skins of black bucks.

According to Haldwani SP M.S. Bangyala, the skins, which lay unclaimed for nearly a month, were headed for China via the largely-unmanned Dharchula international border. Police say the consignment was sent from Kanpur.

Information from police and forest department sources say that on December 19 last year 70 leopard skins were seized from Ghaziabad.

On January 12, over 50 leopard skins and four lion skins were confiscated in Khaga near Fatehpur. There were also about 221 black buck skins in the truck carrying the consignment.

Apart from this, there were 125 tiger and 18,000 leopard nails packed in a bag. There have been an amazing 1,377 cases of poaching in the state since 1998.

Shocked at the phenomenal rise in smuggling of animal skins, the state forest department has demanded a CBI inquiry. A senior team of IAS officers headed by Bholanath Tiwari has left for Delhi to discuss the matter with the environment ministry.

Haldwani police have identified two Nepalese, Basant Antwal and Trilok Singh, as the go-betweens in the two recent cases. They say that unless more officers man the international border at Dharchula, it is impossible to check the racket.

“It is a huge racket involving locals from Dharchula who work as carriers,” said Haldwani circle officer Saumitra Yadav. “We have asked help from our counterparts in Nepal.”

Added Pithoragarh SP Ram Kumar: “We are aware the smuggling is on in a big way, but unless the state comes down heavily on the smugglers there is nothing we can do. The logistics involved are rather intimidating.”

There are only four hanging bridges over the 90-km Kali river that divides Nepal and India. Smugglers exploit the fact that long stretches are unmanned. From Dharchula, possibly the main exit point, the smugglers usually head for Zhangru in Nepal from where they fan out.

Said R.K. Negi, Pilibhit zone IG of Indo-Nepal Border Police: “There is not a single person manning the 100-km border. Areas beyond Dharchula are totally unmanned. What compounds the problem is the indifference of the local administration. Our plea to the state government for more checkposts and men along the border have fallen on deaf ears.”    


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