Sri Lankan airmen shifted to Bangalore? Send them home, Jayalalitha demands (Fourth Lead, superseding previous story)

July 7th, 2012 - 1:15 am ICT by IANS  

Chennai/New Delhi, July 6 (IANS) In an apparently delicate balancing act, a group of Sri Lankan airmen being trained at a base near Chennai have been shifted to Bangalore after their presence was objected to by the state’s main political parties, including the ruling AIADMK. While the Indian Air Force indicated this - albiet unofficially - Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha late Friday demanded they be immediately be sent home and not to Bangalore.

The events were set in motion Friday afternoon with the Chennai wing of the Press Information Bureau issuing a cryptic note saying that the airmen were being “sent off” from the Tambaram air base. The external affairs and defence ministries in New Delhi denied any such action - but not officially.

“All Sri Lankan trainees are being sent off today (Friday) from this (Tambaram air force) station as per instruction of Ministry of Defence,” said a one-line statement issued by the Press Information Bureau’s Chennai wing around 2 p.m.

This was construed as the central government bowing to the political pressure exerted by the AIADMK and opposition DMK against the training being provided to the Sri Lankan airmen.

But in the evening, the ministries of external affairs and defence in New Delhi stated that no action had been initiated against the trainees, adding that they would not precipitate a diplomatic row by sending the airmen back.

For good measure, the Indian Air Force (IAF) too pointed out that training Sri Lankan airmen was nothing new and that three-to six-month courses had previously been conducted at air bases in Tamil Nadu.

An IAF officer also noted that the Sri Lankan trainees were only being shifted to another air base in Bangalore - reportedly to Yelahanka - for the next phase of training, after having completed the Tambaram phase.

However, neither the two ministries nor the IAF were willing to come on record to state their positions on the issue.

Jayalalithaa, in a statement, demanded the trainees be sent home immediately and not to Yelakahka.

Reports of Sri Lankan air force personnel being trained at the Tambaram air base on the outskirts of Chennai have raised the hackles of all Dravidian political parties and their leaders in Tamil Nadu.

These include Jayalalithaa, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi and MDMK leader Vaiko.

The DMK is a partner in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the centre.

These leaders have demanded the immediate expulsion of Sri Lankan Air Force personnel being trained in Tamil Nadu.

Jayalalithaa had said this training was being given at a time when the Tamil Nadu assembly passed a resolution that India and other countries should impose economic sanctions against Sri Lanka for committing war crimes.

“When the international community is raising its voice that India should urge Sri Lanka to accord equal rights to Tamils, the news of Sri Lanka Air Force personnel (coming) for nine months training at the Tambaram air force station (near here) is like piercing (our) heart with a spear,” she had said.

She said the training and that too in Tamil Nadu “is not only inappropriate but also anti-Tamil”.

Former chief minister Karunanidhi also condemned the training and demanded the trainees be sent back.

Tamil parties have accused the Sri Lankan military of committing atrocities on Tamil civilians during the final stages of the war against the separatist Tamil Tigers that ended in May 2009.

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