Tipnis in Colombo

COLOMBO, MAY 7. The Indian Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal A. Y. Tipnis, arrived here this evening on a `goodwill visit'.

The visit, at a time when Sri Lanka is facing a serious challenge from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has generated interest especially given the past Indian experience in attempting to bring about peace in the strife-torn nation.

Indian officials have maintained that the six-day trip of the Air Chief was a pre-planned goodwill visit and had nothing to do with the rapidly shifting military balance between the LTTE and the security forces in Jaffna. He is likely to meet the defence leadership and visit airbases.

Linking the visit to the current situation, the State- run Daily Observer in a front-page report, ``India poised to airdrop supplies'', said ``India will give `non-military' logistical help if requested'' but did not elaborate on whether logistical support would have air or sea transport capability.

The resumption of diplomatic ties with Israel by Sri Lanka, which uses Israeli-built K-fir bombers, and reports in sections of the Indian media that the IAF transport planes were on a standby have also added to the air of expectancy that hangs over the island.

On separatism, the report, quoting unnamed `highly- placed diplomatic sources' said ``India would never recognise'' Eelam in the eventuality of the LTTE capturing Jaffna and declaring a separate state.

On the military front, the Government today said its troops were ``consolidating'' their positions in the northern battle-zone and alleged that the LTTE was ``conscripting children'' to bolster its ``depleted strength''.