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Tuesday, 25 November 2008

From Today's Papers - 25 Nov

IAF asks officers to be more vigilant

Tribune News Service

Commanders of the Western Air Command pose for a group photograph prior to the commencement of the Commanders' Conference, in New Delhi on Monday.

Commanders of the Western Air Command pose for a group photograph prior to the commencement of the Commanders' Conference, in New Delhi on Monday. — PTI photo

New Delhi, November 24

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has asked its officers to be more vigilant keeping in mind the instability in the neighbourhood.

Western Air Command chief Air Marshal P.K. Barbora told top commanders at the start of the two-day WAC commanders' conference here today that the country was going through a very difficult phase while the world economy was in turmoil posing new challenges to our country.

During the two-day conference, the top commanders will deliberate on how to capitalise on the operations conducted by the WAC this year. The WAC achieved gains by landing a fixed wing aircraft at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), the highest airstrip in the world at a height of 16,200 feet, after more than four decades. The command also revived Fukche airbase in eastern Ladakh, 2.5 km from the India-China border, by landing a transport aircraft there.

For the first time while Sukhoi-30 fighter jets also roared in the skies of Jammu and Kashmir this year and conducted night operations from forward bases in the state.

Meanwhile, Air Marshall Barbora said the need of the hour was to make optimal use of all our assets, be it equipment or our skilled manpower so as to expand on our capability spectrum. Air Marshal Barbora also asked his commanders to increase their operational efficiency by making the best use of the hi-tech equipment being inducted under the modernisation of the force.

The WAC chief called for a greater synergy between the three services to cope up with the present challenges faced by the country. "The synergy among us and the other services needs to be strengthened to cope up with the challenges of the time," the Air Marshal said.

The WAC operation extends from the world's highest airfields in the Himalayas to the deserts of Rajasthan.

IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali H. Major will address the annual commanders' conference tomorrow.

Air Force Personnel's Wife Alleges Gang Rape at Army Hospital

Panchkula (Haryana)
An Indian Air Force personnel's wife was raped allegedly by the staff at an army hospital in this Haryana town, police said Monday, adding that a case has been registered against three people.

"The rape has been confirmed in the medical reports and a case has been registered against the accused. Our investigations are on and we have also informed the defence officials," Superintendent of Police (Panchkula) Sandeep Khirwar told IANS.

The 38-year-old victim was raped Saturday at the Western Command hospital at Chandimandir in Panchkula district, around 10 km from Chandigarh, officials said. The victim's husband is posted at Jamnagar town in Gujarat, while she stays here with her two children at an army accommodation.

"The victim had gone for some physiotherapy treatment at the Western Command hospital at Chandimandir Saturday," said the investigating officer of the case.

He added: "In the hospital, the ward-in-charge Hottam Singh with the help of nursing attendant Iftikhar Khan forcibly dragged the woman in the adjoining dining hall and raped her."

According to the complaint, a third person identified as Raj filmed the crime and molested the victim.

"The police is investigating the case and we are fully cooperating and assisting them in their work. Though we have not detained the accused, they cannot leave the army premises," Ashish Goyal, an army spokesperson here said.

"We cannot comment anything about our further action right now as the police investigation is still on. If they are found guilty, then we will take stern action against the accused," he added.

Sri Lanka War Reaches Crucial Phase;
Troops Zero in On Kilinochchi
By P. Karunakharan

The long drawn out civil war in Sri Lanka has reached a crucial phase with reports of the fighting spirit of the Tamil Tigers said to be at an "all time low" after the fall of two of their strongholds even as government troops march in on the rebels' political capital Kilinochchi.

The troops last week captured the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) bastions of Pooneryn and Mankulam which they had held for a decade.

Retired navy commander and chief of defence staff (CDS) Admiral Daya Sandagiri said the capture of Pooneryn "has virtually neutralized the LTTE threat to the troops stationed in the Jaffna peninsula while the capture of Mankulam has mounted pressure on the LTTE.

"The capture of Pooneryn has now given the military the necessary land route access to Jaffna. Such a land route is vital for ongoing military operation in terms of logistic supply and casualty evacuation," Admiral Sandagiri told IANS.

Citing battlefront reports, he said the fighting spirit among the LTTE cadres after the fall of Pooneryn and Mankulam "was at an all-time low, affecting their fighting morale and efficiency".

According to Admiral Sandagiri, LTTE chief "(Velupillai) Prabhakaran believes in fighting, nothing but fighting. He cannot deviate from his original stand. The LTTE is still left with some striking capabilities, but such capabilities are badly insufficient to halt or reverse the current military successes and progresses".

According to analysts, losing their strategic strongholds of Pooneryn in the western coast and Mankulam in southern end of areas under its control nearly after a decade has been a major blow to the LTTE, although they have moved their military resources, including heavy weapons, to safer locations.

Mankulam is located on the highway that connects the Sri Lankan mainland to Jaffna in the island's northern tip. Pooneryn is the last major LTTE naval point on the western coastal belt, from where the rebels in the past have used their long-range artillery and mortar guns to fire at military targets in Jaffna peninsula.

After gaining control of the entire western coastal belt of over 80 km from the northwestern district of Mannar up to Pooneryn, the troops, backed by artillery and aerial bombardment, are now trying to advance towards Kilinochchi town, 350 km north of here, from various directions, despite heavy LTTE resistance and the monsoon showers.

The LTTE, fighting for a quarter century to carve out a separate state in the northeast, is facing a critical situation militarily at a time when it is preparing to commemorate its fallen cadres in the third week of November.

The week-long event ends with an annual speech by LTTE leader Prabhakaran, who will turn 54 Nov 26. His speech, usually setting out the outfit's plans for the next year, largely carries political significance and is closely monitored locally and internationally.

Commenting on the LTTE's fighting capability, Dharmalingham Siddharthan, the head of the ex-militant People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), said that it was "very difficult to judge the LTTE's fighting ability at a time like this".

"Still I believe that they have about 3,000 battle-hardened cadres. One cannot expect them to give up so easily, although the fall of Kilinochchi, their political capital, is very imminent. It could even happen before Prabhakaran's 54th birthday," former MP Siddharathan told IANS.

He, however, said that the government troops "taking upper hand militarily will leave the (Mahinda) Rajapaksa government with no option but to come out with a political solution acceptable to all the communities sooner than later".

Siddharathan said that successive Sri Lankan governments "have made the LTTE an excuse and failed to come out with a just political solution.

"Their excuse has been that the LTTE would never settle for a political solution within a united Sri Lanka and the LTTE has also been proving them correct.

"The fall of Kilinochchi will virtually shrink the LTTE-held areas and confine them to the jungle district of Mullaitivu. With international pressure, mainly from India, the government has to come out with a reasonable and lasting political solution, adequately addressing the prolonging Tamil national question," he said.

The weeks ahead are going to be crucial for Sri Lanka both politically and militarily.

Two detained for rape of IAF personnel's wife

Indo-Asian News Service

Monday, November 24, 2008 (Panchkula, Haryana)

The Indian Army has detained two of its personnel for allegedly raping the wife of an Indian Air Force (IAF) official at an armed forces hospital here, said well-placed sources in the army on Monday.

"Panchkula police have also sent an application, seeking the custody of the two accused, to the Army office here. Most probably the accused will be handed over to the police Tuesday morning," the source said.

A 38-year-old woman alleged she was raped Saturday at the Western Command Hospital in Chandimandir in Panchkula district, around 10 km from Chandigarh, officials said.

The police have registered a case against three people.

The victim's husband is posted at Jamnagar town in Gujarat, while she stays here with her two children in army-provided accommodation.

"The victim had gone for physiotherapy treatment at the Western Command Hospital at Chandimandir Saturday," said the investigating officer of the case.

"In the hospital, the ward-in-charge Hottam Singh with the help of nursing attendant Iftikhar Khan forcibly dragged the woman to the adjoining dining hall and raped her," he added.

According to the complaint, a third person identified as Raj filmed the crime and molested the victim.

"We had called a team of forensic experts and they have examined the place and taken the samples. This is a very sensitive issue and we cannot do anything hurriedly without verifying everything," Panchkula police chief Sandeep Khirwar told IANS.

"The rape has been confirmed in the preliminary medical reports," Khirwar said.

Pakistan troops kill 20 militants in northwest: Officials

Agence France-Presse

Tuesday, November 25, 2008 (Peshawar, Pakistan)

Pakistani troops on Monday killed at least 20 militants during clashes in the restive northwest where the military is waging a bloody offensive against Al-Qaida and the Taliban, officials said.

Fifteen militants were killed and six others were injured in gun fights in different parts of northwestern Swat valley, a security official said.

"Security forces engaged miscreants (militants) in different parts of Swat and killed at least 15 and injured six others," the official told AFP, adding that several vehicles used by the combatants were also destroyed in shelling.

The mountainous Swat valley until last year was a popular tourist destination but has been turned into a battleground since pro-Taliban group leader Maulana Fazlullah launched a violent campaign for the introduction of Islamic Sharia.

Separately, paramilitary troops killed at least five pro-Taliban fighters and arrested six others during a search operation in Pindyali village in the restive Mohmand tribal district bordering Afghanistan, another security official said.

Troops fired artillery on militant positions and cleared the area, he said, adding that local tribes on Monday handed over 18 wanted militants to authorities after negotiations between government officials and tribal elders.

Meanwhile police and paramilitary officials said security forces had killed at least 25 militants and arrested 40 others during a two-week long operation in areas surrounding northwestern Peshawar city.

Command Hospital rape: Army detains two staff

Express news service Posted online: Nov 25, 2008 at 2352 hrs

Chandigarh, November 24 : The Army has detained two of the three men accused of raping a 39-year-old woman in Command Hospital, Chandimandir, on Sunday. The third accused is still at large.

Defence spokesperson Ashish Goyal confirmed that the Panchkula police have already moved in a formal request to the Army, seeking the custody of the two accused as they are Army staff. "The procedure for responding to the police's request has already been initiated and shall be completed by late tonight," Goyal said.

The Panchkula police, meanwhile, got the victim's statement recorded under Section 164 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) before the Judicial Magistrate on Monday. The in-camera proceedings lasted for about 40 minutes, in which the victim named three men —Naik Hottam Singh, Naik Iftekhar Khan and Raj.

According to the police, the victim knew Hottam Singh, a native of Madhya Pradesh, who has been working as documentation in-charge of the Neuro-surgical ward in the hospital for the past one year. The other accused, Naik Iftekhar Khan, is a native of Bihar and had joined as a nursing staff in the same ward seven months ago.

"The victim, a native of Bihar, had visited the hospital for her treatment. She trusted Hottam Singh and went with him to a room where she was allegedly raped. As far as the identity of the third accused is concerned, we are not sure if he too was working at the Command Hospital. Once we interrogate Hottam Singh and Iftekhan Khan, Raj's identity would also be ascertained," said a police officer.

According to police officers, the victim, who is the wife of an airman, is in a state of trauma and thus has been kept at an undisclosed location by the police.

Talking to The Indian Express, Ashish Goyal said, "The Army is extending full assistance to the Panchkula police in the investigation and strict action would be taken against all those found guilty in the case."

Scorpene deal report can't be made public: CBI

PTI | November 24, 2008 | 17:36 IST

The CBI today expressed its unwillingness in Delhi High Court in revealing details of investigations into the alleged payment of kickbacks in the Rs 16,000 crore Scorpene submarine deal to an NGO, on whose complaint the preliminary inquiry was conducted.

"The report contains details of communication between the CBI with International agencies like Interpol. We have certain international arrangement under which we cannot reveal those information," Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium, appearing for CBI, said.

At the time of filing the inquiry report in a sealed envelop few months back, the CBI had said that it had so far found no evidence of involvement of kickbacks in the deal.

The report also contained details on the investigations that helped it arrive at this conclusion.

The ASG contended before a Bench headed by Chief Justice A P Shah that such sensitive information could not be made public and he would file a proper affidavit on the issue before the court.

The NGO, the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, on whose plea the Court had earlier directed the CBI inquiry, objected over the stand of the investigating agency.

�� "This is not fair on the part of the government. The Court opened the seal of the report on September 12 but the Centre didn't say at that time that contents of the report cannot be disclosed," advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, contended.

The Court on the last hearing had asked the agency to take instructions from the government so that NGO could be allowed to peruse the report if providing its copy was not feasible.

The bench had observed that if contents of the report are not revealed to the NGO then it would be a "handicap" for its lawyers to oppose the CBI's findings.

Malegaon blast: 5 more Army officers probed


New Delhi: Five more serving Army officers are being investigated in connection with the Malegaon blast in which 10 people are under arrest, top government sources tell CNN-IBN.

A serving Army officer, Lt Col Srikant Prasad Purohit, and a retired officer, Major Ramesh Upadhyay, are among the 10 people arrested in connection with the blast till now.

The two military men are accused of training people and organizing explosives for the blast, which killed five people in the communally sensitive Maharashtra town on September 29.

CNN-IBN's Meetu Jain reports the officers being investigated by the Director General of Military Intelligence, ATS and the Maharashtra Police. They are suspected of having helped Purohit in the blast and providing logistical support to the conspirators.

Sources tell CNN-IBN the Government's worried at the shocking number of serving Army officers who appear to be involved with hardline Hindu groups.

The Army has called Purohit an "aberration" and said it would conduct internal checks on its personnel. "It was an aberration. We will ensure that it does not happen again," Army chief General Deepak Kumar has said.

"There are internal checks and steps are being taken that no such repetition takes place,'' said Kapoor on November 12.

All the 10 accused under arrest are allegedly supporters of Abhinav Bharat, a radical Hindu group, or have links to Sangh Parivar groups.

Two Hindu seers, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Dayanand Pandey, who are among the 10 suspects allegedly guided the operation to plant the bomb.

A Nashik court on Monday sent seven of the 10 accused to judicial custody—a step that may hamper the ATS' probe.

The ATS presented the seven accused, including Thakur and Upadhyay, before a Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) special court, seeking their remand, but the plea was turned down.

An ATS lawyer said the accused should remain in police custody so that they can be interrogated to trace out the source of the finances and the explosives used in the blast, but the MCOCA court rejected the plea.

Ng Eng Hen observes bilateral Agni Warrior exercise in India

By Lau Joon-Nie, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 24 November 2008 2306 hrs

SINGAPORE: Education Minister and Second Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen is on a two-day official visit to India.

On Monday, he observed soldiers from the Singapore Armed Forces and Indian Army in a joint artillery exercise, codenamed Agni Warrior, in Devlali.

For the first time, a 155mm Singapore Lightweight Howitzer (Pegasus) was deployed for a live-firing exercise in Agni Warrior.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Defence (Mindef), the exercise provided valuable opportunities for both sides to understand each other's doctrines and tactics, which would in turn enhance mutual understanding and interoperability between the two armies.

Mindef said this year's Agni Warrior is the first to be conducted under the terms of the Bilateral Agreement for Joint Army Training and Exercises, which was signed in August this year.

Apart from bilateral exercises between the two armies, the Republic of Singapore Navy and Republic of Singapore Air Force also conduct regular exercises with their Indian counterparts.

The two defence establishments also interact regularly through policy dialogues, visits and courses

Senate Defence committee conveys concern on US drone attacks to UK : NATO

ISLAMABAD, Nov 24 (APP): The Senate Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production has successfully conveyed its reservations on US drone attacks and unmandated large presence of Indian troops in Afghanistan, to the UK Parliamentary Defence Committee and NATO Headquarters. This was stated by Chairman of Senate Defence Committee Senator Nisar A. Memon on Monday while briefing media persons after returning from a weeklong visit to UK and Brussels.

He said during their stay the committee met with House of Commons Defence Committee, UK Defence Ministry, UK Foreign Ministry, Martin Baker Manufacturing, NATO and SHAPE Headquarters in Brussels.

The delegation was also invited to Kashmir Centres in London and Brussels where they met and supported Kashmir's right to self determination.

"The Members of the Committee showed deep concern about the drone attacks in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. They emphasized that this action is earning a bad name for the United States and its allies including the United Kingdom," Senator Memon said while divulging details about their various meeting held in UK and Belgium.

The delegation held meeting with Ms. Baroness Taylor, Minister for International Defence and Security at the Ministry of Defence.

Ms. Taylor said that the Government of United Kingdom was pleased that supply routes to ISAF in Afghanistan have reopened. It was important for the working of NATO Forces in that area and the UK looks forward to working with its allies, including Pakistan in fighting terrorism.

At the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) the Committee was briefed about the United Kingdom's policy towards Afghanistan and the role of ISAF Forces in Afghanistan.

The committee was informed that Pakistan was a top priority of the FCO and it was for that reason that the Secretary of State visits Pakistan and the region quite frequently.

They expressed a keen desire for continued close relations, especially military to military between Pakistan and United Kingdom.

They also noted the restoration of civilian political system in Pakistan as a great encouragement for UK Government.

Senator Nisar Memon said he conveyed to the British authorities that it was time that the allied forces powers operating in Afghanistan should do more as Pakistan was playing its due role and has sacrificed numerous lives both of the security personal and the civilian population of FATA.

The UK Committee was told that the Parliament of Pakistan has passed a unanimous resolution in a joint session, held in camera last month.

The message through the resolution conveyed very clearly that the war on terror was not a military affair only but also includes political content.

The resolution condemned intervention in the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan. It also calls upon all stakeholders to open dialogue for the resolution of the problem. The UK Committee was very keen to know as to how the problem being faced in the war against terrorism and the Afghan situation could be resolved in an amicable manner.

Senator Memon said that Pakistan Senate Committee also visited the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS). Maj. General David Rutherford Jones, Commandant RMAS along with other officers received the Senate delegation.

The Commandant and Chief of Staff of the Academy briefed the committee on the role and objectives of the Academy in training officers primarily for the British Army along with officers from 38 other countries of the world.

Pakistan, he said, regularly sends cadets for training and without any exception they performed very well at the Royal Military Academy.

He said that the Academy laid great stress on inculcating leadership qualities for under training officers to groom them for future role in the army.

The members of the committee showed keen interest in objective and mode of training at the Academy and asked questions regarding their working.

The delegation to the UK comprised Senators Syed Dilawar Abbas, Ms. Saadia Abbasi, Engr. Rukhsana Zuberi, Asif Jatoi, Kamran Murtaza, Iqbal Zaffar Jhagra, Naeem Hussain Chattha, Tariq Azeem Khan and Secretary Committee Iftikhar Ullah Babar.

At the conclusion of the visit to UK, the Committee left for Belgium to hold talks with NATO officials. The committee met the Assistant and Deputy Secretary Generals of NATO separately and were given in depth presentations on NATO operations and held in depth discussion on a wide range of issues concerning the region.

The first meeting was held between the Committee and Ambassador Robert F. Simon, Deputy Assistant Secretary General to discuss security cooperation and partnership.

The second meeting was held with Ambassador Martin Howard on NATO's operations in Afghanistan and the third meeting was held between Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero who received the Committee on behalf of Secretary General on the overall relations between Pakistan and NATO with specific focus on Afghanistan.

The committee emphasized to the NATO officials that drone attacks on Pakistani territory was a serious cause of concern for the people of Pakistan as it infringed on the sovereignty of the country besides collateral damage which increased the sufferings of the innocent population.

The committee also conveyed to the concerned officials that these attacks were giving a bad name to the US and its allies operating in Afghanistan.

Senator Nisar A. Memon said that the people of Pakistan feel that they have contributed significantly in the war against terrorism and it was now for the other side to contribute its due share.

The committee also raised the issue of tremendous growth of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and that the NATO forces have not kept a check on this illegal production, which was now fueling the operations of terrorists in the region.

The members of the Committee also raised the question of the presence of Indian consulates and forces in Afghanistan and questioned their role in the war of terror without any mandate.

The committee also tried to understand the time frame by which NATO and ISAF forces will leave Afghanistan and return the country to the Afghan Government and people.

The NATO officials unequivocally stated that NATO and ISAF forces respect the sovereignty of Pakistan and that these forces had no mandate to cross the border into Pakistan.

They also emphasized that Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army were being trained to be able to combat such menace and maintain law and order in Afghanistan.

These officials stated that NATO and ISAF forces will continue to stay in Afghanistan till the Afghan Army and Police are trained and Afghan government requires them to stay to meet the security challenges.

The committee visited NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) at Mons, Belgium. Deputy Supreme Allied Commander General Sir John McColl received them and various Commanders presented different aspects of their operations.

The Pakistan Ambassador designate in Belgium Shafkat Saeed received the delegation at the airport and briefed the Committee prior to the meetings and accompanied the delegation in the meetings.

The delegation on visit to the Belgium comprised of Senators Syed Dilawar Abbas, Naeem Hussain Chattha, Ms. Saadia Abbasi, Engr.

Rukhsana Zuberi, Kamran Murtaza and Secretary Committee Iftikhar Ullah Babar.

Armed Forces don't get a chance to vote!

Monday, 24 November , 2008, 13:06

New Delhi: It is voting time again with assembly polls on in six states and general elections just round the corner, but for the tens of thousands of armed forces personnel in the country it is another occasion to let go their fundamental right to vote.

A majority of Indian defence personnel have never voted during their service tenure and they are hoping a solution will be found this time.

India's armed forces comprise a 1.1-million strong army, around 140,000-strong air force and nearly 60,000-strong navy.

Though there is a postal ballot and proxy voting system, most personnel are not aware about it or the procedure is full of hiccups.

Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali H. Major, confessed to IANS in a candid interview: "Though there is the proxy voting system and the postal ballot system, things have not materialised as desired."

The IAF chief has himself not been able to vote for the last 10 years because, like most people in the armed forces, he has not been home during election time. "The last I voted was 10 years ago when I was home on vacation. I have voted only four times (in his 41 years of service)," Major told IANS.

The IAF chief's statement underscores how successive governments have failed to give effective voting rights to the armed forces.

The postal ballot system has proved inadequate due to the long delays involved in sending out voting sheets.

"I have never voted during my 16 years of service. During the last general election (2004), I received my postal ballot well after the new government was formed," an air force officer said on condition of anonymity.

The proxy voting system for armed forces personnel, approved in 2003, has also failed as most of them are unaware of the provision.

The defence ministry has time and again stressed that it is seized of the matter but has not taken any steps to rectify the problems.

In June, Minister of State for Defence M. Pallam Raju had said: "We have been getting a lot of complaints from soldiers unable to cast their votes. We will soon meet with the Election Commission in this regard."

"The government has been promising to look into the issue time and again. But with assembly elections on in the states and other states gearing up for the general elections, it seems highly unlikely that we will be able to vote in next year's Lok Sabha elections," an Indian Army officer said over phone from his forward base in Jammu and Kashmir. He belongs to Uttar Pradesh.

New Indian Army Officer Assumes Charge in Kashmir

By Fayaz Wani

Srinagar, Nov 24: Lt Gen Bikram Singh on Monday assumed the charge of General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the Indian army's 15th Corps, which handles Kashmir operations.

Lt Gen Singh replaced Lt Gen Mukesh Sabharwal, who proceeded to Army Headquarters to assume the coveted appointment of "Adjutant General" of the Army.

An Indian army spokesman in Srinagar said that before the taking over ceremony, both the officers laid floral wreaths at the Corps War Memorial and paid rich tributes to the soldiers and officials of the Corps, who were killed while performing their duties.

"Lt Gen Singh, alumni of National Defence Academy, was commissioned into the SIKH LI Regiment March 31, 1972. The General Officer had over five tenures in J&K including Command of Battalion, Brigade as also a Division. In his career spanning 36 years, he has had the experience of varied command and staff appointments," he added.

Indian army's 15th Corps handles the army operations against militants in Kashmir.

Fayaz Wani reports on life in Srinagar, Kashmir.

The central government's failure to streamline the voting system for the armed forces may result in a majority of the soldiers who will not be at home during election time being again unable to vote.

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