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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 75

Aranayaka, Sampur and Kosgama (Salawa)

By A Patabendige

This time, those parliamentarians who without an iota of shame shockingly mocked the Army’s magnificent victories at Elephant Pass, Killinochchi and Thoppigala over the formerly rampant LTTE, now being in the ‘Rainbow’ Government, got it right.

First they were compelled to pay gushing tribute to the Forces for their selfless and diligent intervention where tragedies occurred and for showing at Sampur abnormal restraint beyond the call of duty in the face of unbecoming provocation.

The tragedies at Aranayake and Kosgama (Salawa) and the ‘Austin, you don’t know the protocol’ confrontation at Sampur were not asininely turned to be at respectively Bandaranayake, Kosgoda or Thoppur. Had it been Kosgoda the probable fireworks there would have run the Kosgama explosions close. The government functionaries who had not been anywhere for some time were exposed everywhere.

When the floods occurred, the plethora of Disaster Management organizations failed miserably. Politicians were not in a hurry to get stuck in. They had no idea of what was expected of them as there were so many supposedly in charge. Some were absent. However the wonderful people of SL as in the spirit of the 2004 Tsunami took total control. The world has acknowledged that SL is miles ahead of the rest of the world in disaster response.

The affected were cared for spontaneously by an informal, concerned, experienced and effective, hugely compassionate and generous public on a 24x 7 x 30 basis. They matched with relief of every kind from cooked food, dry rations, milk, water, clothes and even sanitary pads, the relentless hard work of the Forces working in the midst of tremendous hazards especially at Aranayake where nearly 200 were entombed. Glib politicians who are always willing to sacrifice their lives now that the LTTE is no more, were missing, feared cruising around in their brand new tax free SUVs. They say they cannot perform unless they have SUVs. This is in one of the poorest countries in the world and at a time when tragedies have struck hard.

Light entertainment was provided by parliamentarians wearing ties flying over the affected areas. The citizens engulfed in raging waters clung to roof tops and gaped in disgust. Some politicians made sure when they came down to earth, that their feet did not get wet while showing their faces to the stricken. Saving the environment for publicity and living well far away from it in times of distress is a politician’s consummate skill. Relief was ordered to be given only at designated places that being marooned, few were able to reach. The insanity of it all struck like a thunderbolt. One minister going in a boat even doled out one ‘Dole ‘ (The USA company that has a monopoly on bananas), at a time. Grandiose promises were made with feverish haste and intent to make up for the tardy initial response. The miserably affected can only hope that at least some of them will be kept. It was repeated as usual that steps would be taken to prevent such tragedies in future –nearly 70 years after independence.

Traditionally friendly and reliable neighbour Pakistan with carefully calculating India and Bangladesh weighed in immediately. China the greatest benefactor of all, lived up to its reputation and gave and gave and still gives, like Pakistan. The West took its time as it has only HR on its eye lashes, verbiage and little in its pockets. UK sent two nosey parkers after the floods receded.

While recovering from this terrible disaster, the boorish behaviour of an elected representative of the people who made an ass of himself at Sampur, followed. The aged appointed head of the Province, representing none of the Easterners, had on spurious grounds wound up the other by denying him a seat to travel in a helicopter to attend a function at Sampur. The enraged politician while going by road had plenty of time to plot his revenge. Probably assured he could get away with whatever he did, he performed outrageously. His ire landed not only on the appointed head but also a blameless Navy Officer. The US envoy had more than a glimpse of what passes for decorum, behavior and conduct in public in SL. The seething under currents had boiled over for the ‘world’ (read white west only) to smirk.

The performance of the Governor was pure bathos, pathetic and paralytic. It did not strike anyone that he was or acted like the head of government in the province. Comparisons with other possibilities would be impolite. His known expertise is appeasement as any Navy man will tell you, especially the Navy Commander in 2001-4.

What followed with bewildering and blinding speed was news of a boycott of the elected representive not only by the Navy but the Tri Services and then the revoking of these nebulous orders by the MOD/PM/President. Did the Tri Services pass the original orders on their own? If not, who did? Or was the MOD countermanding its own orders? The elected man was next seen at a Navy base, apprehensive, appeased and then satiated. Rainbows in the sky if not over the government may have appeared in the East.

The Navy officer, who was abused, was commissioned from the ranks. Had he not been, there may have been a different sequel to this episode. The US envoy would surely have given thought as to what may/would have happened if this had been a USN Officer in the USA. In SL appeasement is a well honed trait. Honour is not – for politicians and their ilk.

After a very short recovery came the news of an explosion and fire at the Salawa army camp, Kosgama. More effort was made to downplay the incident and the losses than to tackle the situation. A couple of days after aerial views of the damage were seen. It was devastating and extensive. Thereafter and not a day before only did one minister vouch on TV that the fire ‘spreaded and spreaded’. It gave ministerial proof to the Prime Minister’s latest short burst that learning English is another key to the fertile bunch of heavenly happiness he offers daily – like the vilified Volkswagens (Hitler’s peoples’ car) that were to roll out of Kurunegala this month.

The next was that a plethora of ‘Inquiries’ were set into motion in addition to one the Minister ‘spreaded’. Magisterial and Police inquiries were also to take place. Maybe the Law and Order, Health, Disaster and Justice among myriad other branches and connected if not related odd bod ministries will have their own day too.

Apparently the Defence Council (DC) had decided on a tri service court of inquiry. The DC may not be heir to whatever council preached appeasement at any cost with the LTTE at the turn of the century. This DC should have known that whatever other ‘inquirie’ are ordered, the Army Commander is obliged to order one himself according to the Army Court of Inquiry regulations made under the Army Act. Those regulations make it mandatory for such courts to be convened in case of death, injury, fire, loss of government property, misconduct, etc. Maybe it is a case of more the number of inquiries, the merrier (we’ll all be). Who knows what exactly each one is set to find out that one inquiry could not. Where will it all lead to? Chaos and confusion?

So why did it take the DC to step in? Was it trying to prove by over reacting that for once it had done something right after its performance at Sampur and late entry to the flood situation? No wonder rumours, mother’s milk to SL’s citizens, also exploded.

Apparently many hospitals were on ‘standby’ and fleets of ambulances had been sent to Salawa. The health services have a highly effective, well practised emergency plan, updated no doubt regularly. It proved itself during the Tsunami and during the 26 years of terrorist attacks and bombings. It is activated by the Service itself, immediately information of a disaster is known. It needs no publicity and has the best doctors in the region to perform. The Indian ambulances that made a Minister cry in front of TV cameras at its mention were probably not available yet. Had they been sent, a sinister motive may have been construed.

STF bomb disposal teams had also been sent to Salawa. The Army has its highly trained, mightily experienced and expert bomb disposal teams. Did it want any other? Is this another case of too many cooks spoiling over cooked bombs?

Now the Secretary MOD has found out that there had been a fire drill before the blast at Salawa camp. The Secretary has said this minimized damages and injuries. Was this a finding that should have been left to the various ‘Inquiries’ to conclude or a suddenly fuelled inspiration?

A former Defence Secretary meanwhile has said that the relocation of the explosives that had been stored at Salawa during the late 1990s had been in progress due to the dangers posed. Diyatalawa and Maduru Oya had taken some and two other sites, abandoned agricultural land in the Anuradhapura district, had been acquired to store the rest. However this was not completed before his tenure ended. He believes it is a serious act of omission not to have completed what he had initiated. If what he says is correct maybe the myriad ‘Inquiries’ may stumble on why it was not done. That former Secretary should however not have blamed the Army Commander prematurely, if at all.

What may occur to some is that defence matters should be in charge of pro active rather than reactive mandarins. They should update the national security strategy plan, understand the role of the Tri Services and what they can and need to do , and support them fully. They are very fortunate that the threat of the LTTE terrorists and their supporters no longer exists. It does not mean that they can luxuriate in the comfort and benefits of peace won at the cost of 21,000 lives of servicemen and many more civilians. They have to ensure the Forces can meet any eventuality. They must not promote political agendas. They know they have had a class act to follow since the war time man left. SL meanwhile must hope and pray that instant verbal pyrotechnics do not constitute its only defence if or when a serious security situation develops.

- Asian Tribune -

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