Tigers rip out Lanka’s wings
PM sticks to terror track
Security nets for Sourav & Sanath
Salt Lake stadium skipperless
US push for sanctions lift
Centre mulls truce retreat
Circus ends, nightmare begins for animals
Short-haul flight plan for Bengal
Calcutta Weather

 
 
TIGERS RIP OUT LANKA’S WINGS 
 
 
FROM K. VENKATARAMANAN
 
Colombo, July 24: 
Zing, zing, zing. That’s all that could be heard during the Tamil Tigers’ lightning strike on Sri Lanka’s military airbase and the country’s only international airport where planes did not fly today. Only bullets did.

In a pre-dawn attack breathtaking for its sheer audacity, over a dozen guerrillas of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) sneaked into the high-security Katunayake military airbase, 25 km from the capital, and the adjoining international civilian airport, destroying or damaging at least 13 combat planes and passenger aircraft.

The raid, which began around 4 am, was carried out on the anniversary of the July 24, 1983, anti-Tamil riots. At least 400 Tamils were butchered in retaliation against the killing of 13 Sinhalese soldiers by rebels in the north. The date is considered the start of Sri Lanka’s ethnic war.

“It was observed that throughout its history of armed action, the LTTE has attempted to seriously damage or destroy the economy, push back the development of the country and disrupt constitutional processes that were not to their liking,” a government statement said this evening.

The Tigers, in a stunning breach of security, penetrated deep into the airbase and attacked it with grenade-launchers, machine guns, assault rifles, explosives and light anti-tank weapons. They targeted eight combat jets and helicopter gunships before moving to Bandaranaike International Airport, where they destroyed three Airbuses and damaged two, all belonging to Sri Lankan Airlines.

While two rebels blew themselves up to destroy a couple of Israeli-made Kfir jets, 11 were killed by security forces in a fierce gunbattle that lasted around six hours. Three air force personnel and two armymen died in the fighting and at least 12 soldiers were wounded. Two civilians, who were caught in the crossfire, received bullet injuries.

Besides the Kfirs, the Tigers destroyed an MI-24 helicopter gunship and one Ukrainian MiG-27. An ammunition dump and a fuel storage tank were blown up. Minister for aviation Jeyaraj Fernandopulle pegged the loss at US $340 million.

Panic-stricken airport authorities diverted in-bound flights to Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram. The airport was closed until late evening.

While there was no official word on how the breach of security occurred, information trickling in suggested that the LTTE squad, all dressed in army fatigues, gathered after midnight on the highway from which the airport road branches off. They were believed to have walked through a dry canal that links the Negombo lagoon with the sewerage behind the airbase and runs under the highway, without being spotted by security personnel manning two checkpoints and a bunker.

In an attempt to send the signal that its morale was not shattered by the incident, the air force sent out a few combat jets from the Katunayake base for a raid on the northern Vanni region, an LTTE stronghold. No details were available on the strikes.

The LTTE’s attack on what was believed to be the most secure airbase and airport is apparently aimed at preventing further air raids on their bases in Jaffna. The Tigers have not launched any attack in Colombo since November 2000, when the Norway-backed peace initiative began.

   

 
 
PM STICKS TO TERROR TRACK 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
India today brought the focus back on cross-border terrorism, making it clear that improvement in ties with Pakistan would depend to a large extent on how seriously Islamabad addressed the issue.

“I focused on the terrorism being promoted in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. I conveyed in clear terms that India has the resolve, strength and stamina to counter terrorism and violence until it is decisively crushed. I want to reiterate this determination today on the floor of the House,” Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in a statement in both Houses of Parliament.

But Vajpayee’s two-page prepared speech on the Agra summit failed to satisfy the Opposition, which termed it lacklustre. “We are deeply disappointed...” the Congress said, accusing the government of not only being under-prepared before going into the summit but also of failing to put across India’s concerns forcefully.

Vajpayee said “Pakistan’s insistence on the ‘settlement’ of the Jammu and Kashmir issue, as a precondition for normalisation of relations, and its reluctance to acknowledge and address cross-border terrorism” were the sticking points. This, he said, finally made India give up its “quest” for a joint declaration after the summit.

The Prime Minister said India cannot accept Pakistan’s position that unless the Kashmir issue was resolved “according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people”, there was no scope of improvement in relations. The Pakistani leadership, he said, would have to realise that relations could only move forward by progressing on other areas and re-building mutual trust and confidence.

“Our bilateral engagement with Pakistan will continue,” Vajpayee said. Omitting the words “we will continue to seek dialogue and reconciliation” from the text, he said: “We will persist with our efforts to convince Pakistan that our bilateral cooperation should not be held hostage to the resolution of any one issue.”

“We will further increase the areas of agreement,” he added. “Obviously, India’s concerns in vital areas — such as cross-border terrorism — will have to find place in any document that negotiations endeavour to conclude.”

Aimed at assuring the domestic audience, Vajpayee’s speech was also a clear signal to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. “We cannot accept that the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir today, with its foreign mercenaries and generous assistance from abroad, is anything but terrorism,” he said. “The daily killings of innocent men, women and children can simply not be glorified as jihad or as any kind of political movement.”

The Prime Minister also referred to the recent attacks on the Amarnath pilgrims and the militant strikes in Doda.

“That is why Pakistan’s refusal to end cross-border terrorism is the main hurdle in the creation of a conducive atmosphere,” he said.

   

 
 
SECURITY NETS FOR SOURAV & SANATH 
 
 
BY LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
In a move aimed at reassuring the Indian and New Zealand teams, the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka (BCCSL) convened an extraordinary security meeting this afternoon.

Prompted by the LTTE attack on the international airport and airbase just beyond Colombo, it was held at the BCCSL office and lasted 45 minutes.

Besides the captain and manager of the visiting teams (Sourav Ganguly-Anant Mate; Stephen Fleming-Jeff Crowe), Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya and manager Ajith Jayasekara were present.

Significantly, much of the talking was done by top officers of the Ministerial Security Division, which handles VVIP security and is pressed into service during every cricket series.

“We’ve been assured that security, which in any case is tight, is being reinforced... Both at the hotel (Taj Samudra) and at the tri-series venues. The briefing satisfied us and, so, we didn’t seek anything special,” Mate told The Telegraph.

He added: “We did, however, raise the issue of the two pitch-invaders during our game against Sri Lanka on Sunday. That it was a clear breach of security was quickly accepted and assurances given there won’t be a repeat.”

Mate didn’t say so in as many words but, in Colombo specially, players themselves are never too keen to step out of the hotel. The only social outing really looked forward to is the customary dinner at India House, hosted by the high commissioner.

Though there was a blast at a temple in Colombo during the team’s 1993 trip, subsequent visits were largely incident-free. The script changed this morning. India will be in Sri Lanka till September 3.

New Zealand, however, are accustomed to being greeted with a bang which carries to Christchurch. Speaking exclusively, manager Crowe acknowledged “it wasn’t the ideal situation”, but added: “We don’t, at the moment, actually have misgivings.”

Back in early 1987, a murderous car bomb explosion forced the scrapping of the second and third Tests of a three-match series. And, in late 1992, a bloody blast was so disturbing that coach Warren Lees and four players opted to return home when given the choice by their board.

Incidentally, present Indian coach John Wright was one of the replacements for the players who went back (Mark Greatbatch, Dipak Patel, Willie Watson and Rod Latham). Initially, Wright had been unavailable for the tour.

For the record, the explosion-induced levelling of Sri Lanka’s central bank, in the heart of Colombo in 1996, resulted in Australia and the West Indies forfeiting their World Cup games.

   

 
 
SALT LAKE STADIUM SKIPPERLESS 
 
 
BY SUBHRO SAHA
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
Salt Lake stadium is in the grip of a fresh crisis even before the dust has settled on the “political shelter to criminals” imbroglio.

The Rs 200-crore asset is now headless, with chief executive Saumitra Ray, who has been an integral part of the giant stadium since taking over on April 1, 1996, deciding to sever ties with it.

Ray, whose term expired on June 30 but was verbally requested to continue in office, has stopped going to the stadium since July 1.

He wrote to sports secretary S.B. Mondal on July 17, saying that since his tenure had ended and he was not told whom to hand over charge to, he was sealing his office and giving the office keys to the caretaker and the almirah keys to the sports secretary.

In another letter to Mondal on July 20, the stadium CEO stated his unwillingness to continue even if his contract is renewed.

Though Mondal refused to comment on the matter, it is learnt that the sports ministry — in a spot after the criminal shelter fiasco — is mounting pressure on Ray to stay on. The deputy secretary (sports) has been briefed to take temporary charge.

But Ray, a decorated retired armyman, has made up his mind to call it quits. He says this is not a knee-jerk decision sparked by the flushout of criminals from the youth hostel on the stadium premises.

“I firmly believe that the stadium shouldn’t become a hub of political activity and should remain an arena for sports only, but my decision not to go back to the stadium has nothing to do with the recent incident,” he said.

The CEO is upset with a number of “ills” that plagues the stadium, solutions to which have been eluding the authorities for long.

“I am deeply attached to the stadium and my staff and I have high regard for the sports minister. But I am first and foremost a soldier and would like to work with my head held high,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate that this magnificent edifice is losing its former glory for a number of reasons.”

To run the stadium efficiently, there should be provision for residential accommodation of emergency staff on the stadium premises, the CEO said.

“A lot of unwanted elements reside inside the stadium complex, posing a constant security hazard. There must be 70-odd families who have made the stadium their home, besides various non-governmental, semi-governmental and private parties setting up establishments,” he says.

Ray had written to the principal secretary, home, in 1998, suggesting that the stadium be declared a restricted area and a police station set up inside it with trained personnel. Consequently, a troop of 50 police personnel under an inspector was sanctioned for the stadium, but they could not move in for want of funds to upgrade infrastructure.

It is learnt that 28 security personnel of a private agency now patrolling the 70-acre stadium have not been paid for the past six months because the finance ministry has not cleared their pay packets.

“Another primary problem is that a large section of the stadium staff is a disgruntled and disillusioned lot as they have little future prospects, with no promotion granted in the last 10 years since the sports department took over charge from the SSS, and even graduates languishing as Group D staff,” says Ray.

While stressing on the need to generate funds to upgrade stadium facilities, through “one or two cultural events a year”, Ray stresses that “no political, religious or social functions should be held inside the main stadium”.

   

 
 
US PUSH FOR SANCTIONS LIFT 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
Serious about deepening ties with Delhi, the Bush administration is trying its best to get the post-Pokhran sanctions lifted.

“A review on our sanctions policy is now underway,” US assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca said. “We will need to work closely with Congress to see how the current situation might be changed. Getting beyond sanctions would do much to deepen the bilateral relationship.”

Despite significant improvement in ties, continuing US sanctions on India has come in the way of expanding relations between the two.

Rocca, here on a visit to acquaint herself with the issues and leaders in South Asia, said the Bush administration was reviewing its sanctions policy as a whole and also the one that pertained to South Asia. Though she set no time-frame on lifting of sanctions, she said: “I am confident we will work our way through this.”

“This is the first step. Once we go through that, we will look at other measures,” she added when asked about the fate of some restrictive measures clamped before the nuclear tests.

Rocca termed the Agra summit a “good first step and positive development”. She asserted that the US position on Kashmir has remained unchanged and Washington had no role to play in the imbroglio. “The Kashmir issue has to be resolved between the parties involved taking into account the wishes of the people of Kashmir,” she said. “The US has no role in this.”

Rocca, who met foreign minister Jaswant Singh, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and other senior leaders and officials, said she was not disappointed that India and Pakistan could not come out with a joint declaration. “You cannot resolve differences of 54 years in three days,” she said.

Asked if the US was in favour of a referendum in Kashmir, Rocca remained elusive, saying: “This is something for the parties involved to resolve themselves.”

Rocca maintained that the American position on Kashmir has been “consistent” and pointed out that Washington was hopeful that India and Pakistan would continue their dialogue. She will leave for Nepal tomorrow and on Sunday is scheduled to be in Islamabad to hold talks with Pakistani officials.

The US assistant secretary of state said the Bush administration was reviewing its policy on “every aspect” and, as part of this, was also trying to delink relations with India from that with Pakistan.

Her comments are likely to be greeted with relief by the Indian leadership. Delhi, for the past few years, had been trying to convince Washington not to see relations with India as a “hyphenated one”.

The hint, obviously, was at the past American tendency to club India and Pakistan together while dealing with the region.

   

 
 
CENTRE MULLS TRUCE RETREAT 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, July 24: 
The Centre seems to be coming around to the view that the accord with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) should be confined to Nagaland and not extended to neighbouring states.

Home ministry sources said a review of the ceasefire agreement — in force in Nagaland, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and the upper hills of Manipur — would take into account the “interests” of the Northeast as a whole, not only Nagaland. The NSCN (I-M)’s presence outside Nagaland had compelled the Centre to extend the truce outside its boundaries.

Manipur legislators have set July 31 as the deadline for the Centre to revoke the extension of the ceasefire outside Nagaland, failing which they have threatened to resign en masse.

The Centre’s interlocutor for the Naga accord, K. Padmanabhaiah, recently held talks with Muivah in Amsterdam following the Centre’s decision to review the accord. “The talks are bilateral between the government and Muivah and any solution can be found within the bilateral framework only. But the solution will have to be in the larger interest of the entire Northeast and not only Nagaland or Manipur,” home ministry sources said.

“Arunachal, Assam and Manipur don’t want the accord, so there is a feeling that just for one state, Nagaland, there is no point continuing with it,” they added.

However, they conceded that if the truce was lifted from Assam, Manipur and Arunachal, it was bound to have repercussions in Nagaland. “We will have to take care of this. We are in a catch-22 situation,” the sources said.

In the Lok Sabha today, Congress MP from Nagaland, K.A. Sangtam, warned that the ceasefire review would have “serious” consequences in the Northeast. “We do not know who is handling the issues,” he said.

But the growing perception is that if the Centre has to make the “best of a bad situation”, it is “better” to deal with Nagaland alone than have a host of problem states on hand.

The Manipur issue had its echoes in Parliament today with the Opposition grilling the Centre for its “inept” handling and warning it against taking the issue “lightly” as this would lead to the separation of the northeastern states from India.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan told the House that the Prime Minister had convened a meeting of chief ministers of north-eastern states on July 27 to find a solution to the Manipur impasse. Both Houses are expected to discuss the issue on July 30 after which the Ordinance enforcing presidential rule in Manipur will come up for ratification.

   

 
 
CIRCUS ENDS, NIGHTMARE BEGINS FOR ANIMALS 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, July 24: 
The old lion stared vacantly at the sun, his tongue hanging out of his mouth, as he rested on his two paws spread as much forward as possible in the cramped trolley-on-wheels that has been his home for the past one month in the circus maidan.

Twenty lions, a couple of Royal Bengal tigers, a monkey and a bear are struggling for survival ever since they were abandoned by the Ajanta Circus company a month ago. The curtains abruptly came down on the popular show last month, the result of a protracted legal battle between the Centre and the circus company.

Ajanta was forced to pack up and leave after it first faced a raid by wildlife protection officers from Sanjay Gandhi Zoological Gardens and then a notice to surrender their animals. Subsequently, another notice, alleging cruelty to the animals, was slapped on the company.

The dispute on the possession of banned animals and their exhibition finally went to Patna High Court. As the legal battle dragged on, the owners of Ajanta Circus shifted their establishment but left behind the animals, whose fate has been sealed till the court makes a final decision. The cruelty case is before the Patna district magistrate.

Sitting in their one-and-half by two-and-half metre-wide trolleys, the two Royal Bengals growled as onlookers, cashing on the free amusement, provoked them.

Hungry for several days except when individual animal lovers offered them some pieces of meat, the tigers cut a sorry figure. The cleavages on the stomach sunk deeper. Their roars were muted.

At one corner, a bear, dumped in a similar small cage, tossed restlessly raising its mouth in the sun. Its groans seemed to mimic the motley crowd of passers-by.

Close by was the cage of the monkey. It cringed into a corner and seemed to be trying to hide from the public show. It chirped in joy as two of the more generous pavement-dwellers tossed four bananas into the cage. Having devoured the bananas, the monkey went into a routine of trained behaviour: even in the small cage, it gave a show of gymnastics taught by the circus masters.

But the 20 lions are the worst off. Of them four are babies, two of them four months old. One of the lions, described as the oldest, is gasping for breath and could die any day. Without food for some days, the animal can’t even get up.

“It is in such a pathetic state that it couldn’t get up when some food was distributed by the local people,” said Sanjay Ahir, a shop owner.

The animals’ misery began on June 22 when the Central wildlife officers carried out a surprise raid of the circus tent. “We showed the owners of the circus company the Central government notice for cancelling the certificate of ownership, issued on May 18, 2001. We told them that exhibition or training of the animals was illegal. We also directed the owners of the circus to deposit the animals to the Central government’s designated rescue centres at Vizag, Tiruchirapally and Bangalore,” said Randhir Singh, director of the Sanjay Gandhi Zoological Gardens in Patna.

Under the new law, even if circus companies had certificates of ownership, the zoo officers could cancel them. The government has to bear the expenses of transporting the animals from the circus to the rescue centres.

The Circus Federation of India had appealed against the law, but the Kerala High Court and subsequently the Supreme Court had upheld the Centre’s order.

A spokesman for Ajanta Circus said the company had decided to file an appeal against the notice asking it to surrender the animals to the rescue centres. “Though we were curtly told to surrender the animals, there was no elaboration on whether it was a temporary measure or we were meant to give them up forever. If we return the animals, we need to be compensated financially for we purchased them and fed them for long and the Central government acknowledged our property right by issuing certificates.” he said.

If the circus companies have to surrender the animals without compensation, many of them would be ruined, he claimed.

However, zoo officials maintained that under the Wildlife Protection Act, there was no provision for the government to purchase the animals.

   

 
 
SHORT-HAUL FLIGHT PLAN FOR BENGAL 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 24: 
Calcuttans wishing to make a trip to mango country Malda or to the verdant Dooars will soon be able to fly there after a private airline resumes flights to the districts.

Representatives of Trans-Bharat Aviation Private Limited, a Delhi-based firm, met tourism minister Dinesh Dakua today. The company, which plans to fly 14-seater Beechcraft planes, wants the government to allow officials entitled to air travel to use these flights. It also wants the state to lobby with the Union civil aviation ministry to reduce charges on landing, take-off, parking and use of radar facilities.

Trans-Bharat also wants to use its Bell helicopters to fly between Bagdogra, Kalimpong and Gangtok for tourists. Dakua was hopeful that the flights will be in operation, at least between Calcutta and Cooch Behar, before the Pujas. “The Cooch Behar air-strip is in fine shape as flights used to go there till 1993,” he said.

“The Centre has already told us that neither Vayudoot nor Indian Airlines were in a position to resume flights to district towns and we were asked to approach private companies,” the minister said.

Trans-Bharat has promised that if traffic is good it would use bigger aircraft. Managing-director of the company, D.K. Khurana, said once the state government firms up the concessions, the flights will take off. “The state government wants to open up the areas for development and, therefore, should share a part of the burden. I will be taking the risk,” Khurana explained.

One major concession the airline is asking for is sales-tax exemption on air turbine fuel. Khurana said Trans-Bharat did not want the concession to remain in effect for more than a six-month period.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.3°C (-1)
Minimum: 26.5°C (+1)

Rainfall:

2.1 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 76%

Today

One or two spells of light to moderate rain in some parts.
Sunrise: 5.06 am
Sunset: 6.20 pm
   
 

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