|Many questions remain unswered, opposition
Norway justifies Balasinghams flight fiasco
In a statement issued on Thursday, 15 days after the incident which prompted President Chandrika Kumaratunga to call for a special National Security Council (NPC) meeting to discuss the circumstances leading to the violation, Norway cleared Balasingham of directing the pilot of the Maldivian Air taxis operated sea plane to fly over the area. "They have cleared the LTTE by claiming the pilot decided on the flight path only after the red and white coloured aircraft was airborne. How convenient," said a spokesman for President Kumaratungas office.
"Their attempt to save the LTTE was ridiculous," he claimed, pointing out that the statement has failed to mention why the pilot decided to depart via the east coast and thereafter follow the coastline before heading towards Male. Wasnt he aware the flight path chosen by him would take at least two hours more than the normal three-hour flight between the Wanni and Male? he asked.
Like the pilots arrival at Iranamadu, his return route to Male too was to fly west from Kilinochchi towards Mannar and then on a straight course to the destination, the sources asserted. That would have lasted about three hours. But, the flight path taken on April 24 lasted about five hours. Norway has failed to explain why the pilot decided on a longer route, the sources said, adding that security forces spotted the aircraft around 1.30 p.m., about three hours after the navy trapped the Sea Tiger craft.
The craft including two attack craft-were first spotted around 8 a.m. when they were speeding southwards hugging the coast. The navy succeeded in trapping them effectively near Foul Point, close to Koddiyar bay, south of Trincomalee around 10.30 a.m.
Security authorities were convinced that the sea plane took off from the Iranamadu tank after the Sea Tiger craft were intercepted and shortly after the navy brought a Trincomalee based Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) member Pontos Westron to the scene. Westron was at the scene around noon. He, along with two navy officers inspected the three vessels carrying US M16 assault rifles, sniper guns, rocket propelled grenades, sub machine guns, mortars, communication sets and boxes of main gun ammunition.
The decision to fly over the scene of the stand-off was probably taken on the ground (in the Wanni), the sources said, pointing out that the three-craft convoy would have definitely radioed their Wanni headquarters immediately after they were spotted around 8 a.m. LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran probably ordered the change in the flight path, the sources said.
They further said that it was clear the decision to fly over the area was taken on the ground because the LTTE was fully aware of the tense situation in the Trincomalee seas. The sea plane carrying the Balasinghams and a Norwegian diplomat appeared over the area in a northerly direction, circled at a very low altitude off Browns Rock Point and then proceeded south along the coast, the sources said.
They expressed the belief that the sea-plane could not have changed the flight path after taking off from Iranamadu and flying westwards towards Mannar and then flying on a straight course to Male. "They knew where they were going," a security source said, adding the plane was directed to fly over the area because the LTTE wanted to see what was happening. They were seriously concerned over the safety and security of their top commanders including Batticaloa-Ampara leader Karikalan who is also the deputy leader of their political wing, Trincomalee district leader Paduman and eastern commander Karuna.
The Norwegian statement issued through their embassy in Colombo said that all arrangements regarding the flight were cleared between the appropriate representatives of Male, Sri Lanka and the embassy. The LTTE was not involved and was only informed of the time of arrival and requested to prepare for the landing and take-off. The embassy also said that the pilot did not provide any flight path for his entry into or exit out of Sri Lanka. The government had, however provided the pilot a "time-window" for his arrival and departure.
The sources said that the Norwegian-led SLMM comprised monitors from Nordic countries and Norway has now cleared the LTTE of violating the MoU on April 24. The SLMM claimed that the mission was informed of the movement of the three Sea Tiger craft on April 24 and the subsequent return on the following day, but failed to inform the government of the movement. Even if the government accepts the SLMMs failure to inform the government of the sea movement, what about the stock of armaments carried in the vessels. The MoU between the two sides bars movement of armed units or cadres from one area to another across areas held by either party.
The embassy has cleared the LTTE by claiming that the interception of Sea Tiger craft and the subsequent incident involving the sea-plane carrying the Balasinghams were not connected.
President Kumaratunga was highly critical of the way the Norwegians handled the Trincomalee situation on April 24, when she met with the chief of defence staff (CDS), service commanders, the defence minister and the defence secretary on April 30. However, government sources claimed (at that time) that the SLMM has ruled Balasinghams flight violated the MoU. Government representatives at the Janadhipathi Mandiraya meeting had told President Kumaratunga of the SLMM ruling.
If the SLMM did not really rule in favour of the government, did government representatives lie to President Kumaratunga? sources queried.
The incident involving Sea Tiger craft transporting a huge stock of arms to the east from an unknown destination took place the following day (May Day). The SLMM has not ruled on the incident by Friday despite the navy recovering two types of mortars including 120 mm from the LTTE vessel that was destroyed when LTTE cadres triggered an explosion to avoid detection by the navy.
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