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Claims that SL’s intelligence services have been revamped are mere fairy tales – Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka

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‘Though we don’t have gunboats, we have an Admiral of the Fleet’

by Saman Indrajith

Claims that the country’s intelligence sector has been restored to its former level and revamped are mere fairy tales, former army commander and Gampaha District SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka said in parliament.

Participating in the third reading of the budget debate 2021 under the defence ministry expenditure heads, Fonseka said that it would take at least five to six years to re-streamline an intelligence service. For a complete overhaul and bringing it to optimum level, it would take more than 10 years.

“So those who claim to have rebuilt the intelligence services within one year are either lying or they do not know the service priority but only their political priorities. The intelligence sector must be revamped. There had been several changes in the top-most positions of the intelligence services but that does not mean the service has been overhauled,” he said.

He stressed that the tri-forces should be provided with necessary equipment and facilities to keep their morale high.

“During my time as the army commander, I increased the cadre strength of the army from 116,000 to 200,000. As the morale was then high, the youth joined the army. Earlier, only 3,000 personnel were recruited per year but I was able to increase it to 4,000 per month. Though the numbers increased, there was no corresponding budget allocation increase”, he said.

“I fought the battle with an allocation of Rs. 82 billion. But I used the money to provide for the soldiers. They had only one jungle fatigue. I gave them two. They had only one pair of boots, I gave them two pairs. A soldier was given only a half of an apple, but I provided an apple to each of them. I could do so as the army was free of corruption then. Sometimes, I had to make unpopular decisions and implement them. I visited the army hospital and got all those who could see, hear and stand on their feet to carry a weapon and deployed them in the operational areas, sometimes with their doctors and nurses”, Field Marshal Fonseka further said.

He added: “In that manner I, redeployed 10,000 men from hospital to the front. Though the soldiers had the morale to fight, they changed their minds once they went home and saw the tears of their mothers and wives and some who went home on leave did not come back. It was the time we were holding fortifications near an earth bund near Mullaitivu. The number of our casualties was high. I wrote letters to the soldiers asking them to come back. Thereafter, I wrote to their parents and wives asking them to send their sons back to service. I distributed CDs containing patriotic songs among soldiers but nothing worked and desertions continued.

“Later, I asked the police and military police to capture the deserters and court martial them. Earlier, it took at least two months for a decision, I brought it down to two days and those found guilty were put in prison. Around 2,000 were put behind bars. I had to send 2,000 to jail. No politician claimed ownership for those moves. Those who claim credit for winning the war did not know the actions I took. They were not popular moves but they helped win the war”.

The Field Marshal said that the tri-forces should be modernized. “The army has not been modernized since the day I left it. One may have got two or three computers and boast that they modernized the army. Modernization means that they should buy new armaments. We still have the tanks of 1955 that came soon after World War II. There were 80, and we lost 50 under my command in the war. The army has only 30 now”.

The air force does not have fighter aircraft. It had 11 fighter planes. Four of them were brought from corrupt deals by Udayanga and his friends. Today, we have only a single fighter aircraft. The navy has only two gunboats which are with the coastguard for offshore patrolling. Though we don’t have gunboats, we have an admiral of the fleet. War or peace we must build the tri-forces which are the pride of the nation, he added.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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