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DateLine Wednesday, 27 June 2007

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Winning and keeping hearts

The Sri Lanka Army is very rightly adopting a dual-pronged approach to fighting the LTTE. On the one hand, it is using strong law and order measures to keeping the Tigers in check. On the other, it has launched a hearts and minds battle in the North-East.

The latter strand in the Army's dual-pronged strategy is, apparently, as effective as the first. Yesterday, we quoted Jaffna Commander Major General G. A. Chandrasiri as saying that the Army has established excellent rapport with the civilian population of the North.

He went on to say that such amity has paved the way for the smooth functioning of day-to-day life. The end result of this process could be a contented populace who would view the Security Forces as friends and brothers and not as a hostile presence.

This is essentially a public relations exercise and we are glad that the Security Forces are gearing themselves for this complex role which calls for a creative reinventing of themselves. The end aim are the hearts and minds of the public and to the degree to which this is achieved, to the same extent would the LTTE be alienated and defeated.

The growing amity between the Security Forces and the civilian public in the North-East is a vast and happy change from former times - for instance in the early eighties - when a hostile relationship existed between sections of the public and the Security Forces. Such a state of affairs contributed considerably towards the growth of the LTTE.

It is heartening to hear that this equation has undergone a drastic change under the present administration. Reaching out to the people in a spirit of brotherhood and cooperation is one of the most effective ways of diminishing the influence of the LTTE in the North.

From this point of view, the special programmes launched by the Security Forces in the East to strengthen ties of cordiality between them and the civilian public deserve commendation. For example, the Army recently brought down to Colombo from Vakarai, a host of schoolchildren for recreational purposes.

This was a most touching moment in the life of the Army. The event proved conclusively that the Army meant well by the public in general and the younger generation in particular. There is no doubt that a multitude of hearts and minds would have been won for the State by the Army through this heart-warming exercise.

What is significant is that such exercises are catching on. Reportedly, the Jaffna Army Commander is engaged in a bridge-building exercise between the students of the North and their counterparts in the South. Exchange programmes are said to be on between Northern and Southern students with the aid of the Education Ministry and the Jaffna G.A.

We urge a continuation of such bridge-building exercises between North and South on account of the complex nature of our conflict.

Resolving the conflict is not merely a question of defeating the Tigers in battle. The civilian public of the North-East need to back the State fully and feel they are an important part of our polity.

In the latter task, the force of arms would be of little use. Hearts have to be won and kept. This too is an important challenge.

New man at Number 10

Number 10, Downing Street, London, will have a new occupant today. Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, will step into the Prime Ministerial shoes, after looming in outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair's shadow for so long.

This is no surprise. Blair faced an internal revolt, though not on the same scale as the one faced by Margaret Thatcher, and his electoral popularity took a nosedive thanks to Iraq. Blair's exit was inevitable and hardly any tears were shed at his departure. But therein lies a challenge for Brown, Britain's first new Prime Minister for a decade.

Although experienced, Brown has never really been tested in a Parliamentary poll - he has been chosen by the party, not by the people. Proving that he has what it takes to be Premier will be no easy task to a sceptical electorate which has become tired of the Iraq episode and the UK's perceived closeness to the Bush administration.

Brown has a good record as the Chancellor - he kept the economy stable and unemployment down - but as Prime Minister, he will have to face far more challenging issues. His biggest dilemma will be solving the Iraq imbroglio.

Afghanistan will be a formidable issue, though to a lesser extent. Should he pander to popular sentiment and reduce the scale of British involvement or is it better to go along with Washington right till the end ? This question is likely to haunt him for quite some time.

He will also have to confront the much-ridiculed tax system in Britain, with many advocating serous reform. His approach to devolution demands in Northern Ireland and Scotland will be watched closely. The war against terror at domestic level will be another challenge, given that it has strained the relationship between the Muslim community and others in the UK.

Amidst all these issues, his biggest test will be guiding the Labour Party to a fourth successive term. This is not as easy as it sounds, but polls already indicate that Labour is ahead. Brown now faces the daunting task of maintaining this momentum and translating it to another victory at the next General Election.

Gordon Brown: brooding heavyweight comes out of the shadows

Denounced by critics as a brooding control freak, but lauded by supporters as a misunderstood political heavyweight, Gordon Brown will finally step out of Tony Blair's shadow on Wednesday.

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The 'Black Prince' of the Sunday Observer

William Leslie Dahanaike known as the 'Black Prince' of the Sunday Observer and a former Acting Editor of that newspaper passed away on Sunday after a brief illness. He was 82 at the time of death.

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