Big Five pledge disarmament
Trinamul, CPM in nightlong bloodbath
Jaffna scents respect on Tiger trail
Solitary jawan fights hell in heaven
Calcutta weather

New York, May 21: 
After month-long wrangling and an extended deadline, 187 countries meeting here for a review of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) agreed last night on a global disarmament agenda which committed the five nuclear powers to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

The agreement sets no time-table for the elimination of nuclear weapons, as demanded by India, but all the same it represents a step forward in global efforts towards nuclear disarmament. This is the first time that the five nuclear powers have publicly committed themselves to get rid of their nuclear arsenal.

In a move that is certain to be rejected by New Delhi and Islamabad with contempt, a document that sets out the agreement called upon the South Asian neighbours to sign the NPT, but only as non-nuclear weapons states.

The NPT review conference, the first since the international community decided in 1995 to extend the treaty in perpetuity, also agreed on a moratorium on further nuclear testing even if the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) does not enter into force.

Other elements of the new disarmament agenda finalised here during the weekend were: greater transparency on reporting details of nuclear warheads, a commitment to ban production of weapons-grade nuclear material in the next five years, further reduction of tactical nuclear weapons, removing plutonium and uranium from nuclear warheads and taking weapons off �hair-trigger� alert.

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan described the �historic consensus� which ended the NPT review as �a significant step forward in humanity�s pursuit of a more peaceful world�.

The consensus at the review conference actually reveals serious differences among the 187 signatories to NPT on issues which have forced India to stay out of the treaty. India is only one of four countries not to sign NPT: the others are Pakistan, Israel and Cuba.

The painfully worked out agreement nearly fell apart on Friday, the last day of the conference, after the US and Iraq disagreed over the wording of the final document. As a result, its final session had to be extended until 5 a.m. on Saturday, but with no agreement still in sight, conference president Abdallah Baali, Algeria�s permanent representative to the UN, sent the delegates to their hotel rooms for six hours to get some sleep. When they reassembled on Saturday, Canada helped broker an agreement between Baghdad and Washington which ended the deadlock.

The dispute centred around Washington�s insistence that the final document should mention Iraq�s dispute with the UN security council which has placed Baghdad under sanctions and the US claims that Iraq has not accounted for all its weapons manufacturing systems. Iraq argued that these were irrelevant to the NPT review.

In the end, the two countries wrangled over a single word. However, under Canadian mediation and pressure from other NPT signatories, Iraq agreed to a reference in the final document to a statement by the International Atomic Energy Agency on April 24 which noted that Iraq had suspended weapons inspections, and, therefore, the IAEA had been unable to certify Baghdad�s compliance with UN resolutions.

The dispute could have derailed the conference which operates on the principle of consensus.

More serious than the US-Iraq dispute were differences between the nuclear weapons states and the non-nuclear NPT signatories on issues of concern to India, such as a time-table for nuclear disarmament.

The �new agenda coalition�, an influential group of states, some of which have either been nuclear-capable at some time or have renounced nuclear bombs after having them, said the commitment by nuclear powers to disarm was not an �ultimate goal�. They said the big five powers had an obligation under NPT to give up their nuclear bombs. Members of the coalition include

Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, Mexico and Sweden.

Similarly, China�s ambassador for disarmament, Hu Xiaodi, argued that the final document did not �fully reflect the current international situation, nor does it call for the removal of fundamental obstacles to nuclear disarmament�. This is believed to be a veiled reference to the nuclear situation in South Asia.

Hu also said the final document should have addressed issues such as no-first use of nuclear bombs � a commitment made by India and China � eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) and US plans for a new missile defence system.    

Keshpur (Midnapore), May 21 
Eleven persons were killed during a nightlong clash between Trinamul Congress and CPM supporters in the almost mute presence of police.

The police did open fire, injuring two Trinamul workers, but failed to contain the violence that raged through Saturday night. Bengal�s two major political parties seem to have chosen to settle their rivalry with bloodshed in this rural backyard, about 150 km from Calcutta.

Ten bodies were recovered from paddy fields and one from a well early on Sunday. Fifty-nine persons have been injured, of whom the condition of 15 is serious.

Nine of those killed were Trinamul supporters, most hacked to death by angry women of the CPM-dominated villages. The bodies of the other two � CPM supporters � bore bullet injuries.

Seven of the dead Trinamul supporters have been identified as Sheikh Jharu, Ainal Haque, Asad Ali, Wased Ali, Jamshed Ali, Chandan Das and Sahamat Ali. The two CPM supporters were Julfai Mullick and Besarat Mullick.

Even as jawans of the Eastern Frontier Rifles marched through the area, the Left blamed railway minister Mamata Banerjee for �encouraging� her supporters to violence against the CPM during her visit to Keshpur last week. �Look what Mamata has done. It is her fiery speech which ignited violence all over again,� alleged Manick Sengupta, member of CPM�s district committee.

Over 60 Trinamul and CPM activists have so far been killed in Keshpur and adjoining areas in clashes over the past six months. Four Trinamul and a CPM supporter were killed in the past two days.

The police said that late on Saturday night about 5,000 Trinamul activists, armed with guns, tangi and lathis, attacked CPM-dominated villages. They looted 170 houses and set over a hundred on fire.

Even though the police arrived, the force was inadequate and when they could not control the mob by firing, they stood in silence and watched.

Recovering from the initial shock of the attack, CPM activists organised themselves and about 5,000 villagers, many of them women, put up a stiff resistance.

The women, armed with scythes and bonti assaulted the Trinamul attackers. Most of the eight bodies recovered had deep gashes on their throats, necks and shoulders.

The district superintendent of police, Gaurav Dutta, arrived late at night and called for re-inforcements. Dutta said the situation was like Kurukshetra. �At least 1,500 FIRs have been lodged by both parties over the past few months,� he added.    

It might be days or even weeks before the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are able to recapture Jaffna. But there is little doubt that whenever they do, the majority of the Jaffna population will welcome their re-entry, if with a degree of apprehension.

�Any Indian intervention to shore up the Lankan army is only going to complicate matters still further and alienate your country even more, given the IPKF�s record ... You�ll get sucked in deeply and only our miseries will increase multi-fold,� said an elderly Jaffna farmer, now stranded in Trincomalee, a harbour town north-east of Colombo.

Hundreds of Jaffnaites are stranded in Trincomalee following suspension of all shipping and air services to Jaffna.

They wander aimlessly along the streets of the town. Huddled in small groups they anxiously exchange notes on the war, on when the promised ship would arrive. Many more wait in some government building or other, bemoaning their cruel fate.

But, for all the pervading paranoia and terror, it was evident that Jaffnaites would prefer the certainties of an LTTE regime led by its supremo Prabhakaran, and a modicum of self-respect his rule would imply, to the continuing harassment by Sinhalese army rule.

Why did they still back Prabhakaran? They reply, almost in unison: �Our girls were safe (under LTTE rule). Education was taken care of. Amid all the army shelling or bombing, lack of power supply and telecommunication links, life was predictable, if you knew your place in society.�

They said it had all changed after the Lankan troops regained control � arrack is available aplenty, poverty-stricken girls are sleeping with soldiers for a pittance and suspected LTTE supporters are arrested and tortured.

When asked about the violence perpetrated by the Tigers, they simply shrugged: �It�s all political. The people are not affected.�

But there were dissenting voices, too. �It was because we were justifying the excesses (by LTTE) that things have come to such a pass,� a man in his fifties intervened. The crowd melted away, leaving behind a trail of murmurs.

The only one to remain was N. Parameswaran and he was willing to be quoted. The freelance journalist said: �I�ll tell you what. The people are disillusioned with Chandrika (President Kumaratunga) as well as the other militant groups. Five years of their rule have not brought about any distinct change.�

Rajan Hoole, one of the few relentless critics of the Tigers and formerly on the faculty of Jaffna University, however, points out that in the recent presidential elections, Kumaratunga polled more votes than the Opposition UNP�s Ranil Wickremesinghe in the Jaffna peninsula.

�Besides, there has been a perceptible improvement in the army�s behaviour. People also know what the Tigers can do to anyone seen as having collaborated with the army. That�s one reason they talk the way they do,� he said.    

Humbotingla, May 21 
The presence of a solitary soul somehow makes desolation seem a little more desolate. Perhaps because a solitary presence means there is someone there to feel the absence of all else, to turn the abstract into real.

Humbotingla is, at the best of times and the worst of times, a very lonely place, a bald block of rock stuck 14,000 feet out into the sky, visited only by gale and cloud and the odd raven. Humbotingla would make a lovely picture to put on postcards � stark and sparse, a mountain almost unearthly in its handsomeness, almost heavenly in its loftiness.

But for its only resident, Humbotingla is as close as you might get to an address in hell. �Sometimes I think I will go mad, when the wind disrupts my only contact with human voice, my transistor,� says the jawan who mans this outpost from his foxhole bunker. �Even the passenger bus that goes and comes from Batalik bypasses me by far, sometimes I just whistle at the bus passing. The drivers know I�m just kidding, trying to keep myself busy, they don�t stop, some good ones blow their horns in return.�

So what does he do, what does he do all day and all night? �Nothing, I look at the mountains and I sometimes thank my stars. At least it is not so cold here, some of my mates have spent the whole winter in lonely perches at 20,000 feet and above, freezing and slowly going mad.�

The boys, as their officers are wont to call them, didn�t come down from their high posts on the frontier this winter, not after the lapses and lessons of last summer. But the boys need a break; this one we met at Humbotingla had been staring at the mountains for six months from the clammy darkness of his bunker.

For company he had a drum of diesel, a stove, a burner, a gun, a bedroll and his failing imagination. �You sit looking at these mountains for a week and your mind will go blank. My transistor keeps me sane, lets me believe that there is still a world out there full of human beings and there are still things I could look forward to.� He was to have got married last year but the Kargil war changed all that. He cannot decide if that was good or bad.

�Perhaps good, married or unmarried, I would still be here, in a single cold bedroll.�

But as he says, he is among the luckier ones keeping vigil on this frontier. For a lot many soldiers a gruelling winter has followed a bloody summer of war. They have spent it flung on far and high peaks in debilitatingly low temperatures and soaring loneliness. �Some of the boys suffered more keeping the winter vigil than they suffered during the war itself,� said an officer at a post on the road to Batalik.

�Frostbite, chilblain, shortage of proper clothing, high altitude sickness and nowhere to escape from it all. The last summer taught us some lessons and the last winter taught us more. We have still a long way to go if we are to keep up our morale on the peaks, we have to begin with providing our boys better.�

There are, for instance, still not enough high-altitude boots and uniforms in supply. And there is not enough mental and physical preparedness among the soldiers. Last year�s war didn�t leave them with enough time. �But this summer, hopefully, we will have the time to consolidate if there is no irritation from across,� the officer said, �hopefully they will give us a trouble-free summer this year. We have tried to ensure that from our side, but of the intentions of people across the border, who knows?�

But for the moment, the mountains are quiet, eerily so, nothing but the howling wind and the gurgling streams summer has unlocked. On the way back from Batalik, we climbed up Humbotingla again and passed the sentry�s foxhole. He had his head stuck out. He was staring at the mountains.

He didn�t wave back.    

Temperature: Maximum: 33.5�C (-3) Minimum: 27�C (normal)
RAINFALL: 7.8 mm
Relative humidity: Maximum: 95%, Minimum: 71%
Today: Cloudy sky, with one or two showers or thundershowers. Maximum temperature likely to be around 33�C.
Sunset: 6.10 pm
Sunrise: 4.56 am

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