NATIONAL

Sri Lankan naval chief for Delhi

COLOMBO. DEC. 25. Sri Lanka's Navy chief, Daya Sandagiri, left for India today to hold high-level talks in New Delhi during the next two days in a move to curb smuggling of arms by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The Vice-Admiral would meet the top brass of the Indian Navy during the talks to " strengthen cooperation between the two navies,'' defence sources said. The meeting comes close on the heels of the spotting of a mysterious vessel off the north-eastern Sri Lankan coast. Last week, the Indian Navy had spotted the vessel, said to be loaded with a consignment of arms and fuel, and had reportedly informed the Sri Lankan navy. Searches by the latter did not yield results and the vessel was last sighted moving towards South-East Asia.

During the 10 months of the bilateral ceasefire agreement in force, there had been reports of the LTTE increasing its military strength in terms of personnel and arsenal. The Sri Lankan military had also maintained a state of preparedness with the acquisition of military hardware. Given the LTTE's extensive shipping network and its near-total control over the waters off north-eastern Sri Lanka, the naval cooperation with India gains significance.

Abductions in east

Meanwhile, a year after the LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire, there are continued reports about abductions of civilians and killings of members from rival Tamil political groups. The Daily Mirror, in a report today, said that 11 persons were abducted in the eastern Batticaloa district last week. A member of a local council from a rival Tamil party, the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (Perumal faction), was abducted and killed.

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), a Nordic team of truce overseers, has condemned the abductions. Its spokesman, Teitur Torkelsson, was quoted as saying that according to complaints received, the victims had no ties with political parties.

As the peace process heads towards the fourth session of talks next month, there is increasing pressure on the LTTE to adhere to human rights, democracy and pluralism. Next month's talks would also address the issue of human rights, especially subjects such as child soldiers and disappearances.