10th June 2001
Speaker Anura Bandaranaike, a voracious reader,
By Our Diplomatic EditorThe apparent sidelining of Norway's special envoy Erik Solheim as the chief peace talks facilitator came following understanding reached between Colombo and Oslo that the young politician was on an agenda of his own and not keeping the two governments adequately briefed, The Sunday Times learns.
Mr. Solheim was kept away from a lengthy meeting President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar had with Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjorn Jagland at President's House on Thursday night when the Sri Lankan leaders complained that the special envoy's official conduct was not inspiring the confidence of the Colombo government.
Mr. Solheim had accompanied the Norwegian Foreign Minister to Colombo, though the invitation for talks with the Sri Lankan leaders had been limited to Mr. Jagland.
The Sunday Times learns that even earlier there had been concerns exchanged by President Kumaratunga and Foreign Minister Kadirgamar with Foreign Minister Jagland a few months ago. These concerns centred on Mr. Solheim's performance as special envoy in bringing the LTTE to the negotiating table with the Sri Lankan government.
It is probable the Sri Lankan government had been angry that Mr. Solheim was "blabbing too much" and giving interviews to a host of newspapers and websites on the peace process, some of which were revolving around issues that were matters that had to be thrashed out only between the LTTE and the Colombo government.
The government must have felt uncomfortable at Mr. Solheim's attitude in urging the Sri Lankan government to lift the proscription on the LTTE to pave the way for peace talks.
While the Colombo government appreciated Mr. Solheim's enthusiasm to jump-start the frequently stalling peace process, a sense of suspicion began to creep into the Colombo camp about the peace envoy's motives.
But the last straw, it appears from Washington sources, came when Mr. Solheim undertook a visit to Washington last month in what diplomats came to know as a move to seek the United States' support to pressurise Colombo to lift the ban on the LTTE. Mr. Solheim had not informed Colombo about his mission to the US capital nor of what he had discussed with them.
Norway had been picked by the Sri Lankan government from a host of countries which offered their good offices to bring the LTTE to the negotiating table. Sri Lanka had originally resisted having third party intervention, but following pressure from the international community, especially using aid as the weapon, it agreed to Norway being a facilitator.
The Colombo government went to great lengths to say that Norway would be a facilitator and not a negotiator explaining the difference in the two roles.
According to Foreign Office officials here in Colombo, one of the reasons the government picked on Norway was its record in keeping delicate initiatives under wraps until they had matured into issues to be discussed at the table.
Diplomats here were, however, surprised yesterday at Sri Lanka's insistence on having Mr. Solheim sidelined because it came only a few weeks after Mr. Kadirgamar wrote to Mr. Jagland (on May 10) praising the special envoy and the Norwegian ambassador in Colombo Jon Westborg for their "indefatigable endeavours" to assist the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to begin peace talks.
"Probably the Washington visit was his undoing," one Asian diplomat said yesterday, though she added that it was well known in the diplomatic community that Norway had quite clearly made it known to Britain at the time the London government was considering banning the LTTE, that such a ban would compromise Norway's peace initiatives.
The official communiqué issued by Colombo and Oslo on Friday stated that "it was decided that the government of Norway will henceforth participate at a high level to advance the peace process involving the LTTE."
The statement clearly meant that Norway would take the job of Mr. Solheim away from him, and place it in the hands of someone at a higher political level.
Diplomats felt that the "high level" would mean the Foreign Minister himself, though it would be unlikely that Mr. Jagland himself would be now seen running around to London, Colombo and the Wanni in a desperate bid to get the LTTE and the government to talk. Whoever is added to the Norwegian team will have to speak less to the media as the spokesman for Norway in these efforts.
Norway is to face a general election in the next two months. Mr. Jagland and Mr. Solheim are from opposing political camps, but Mr. Solheim has said that he will not be contesting the forthcoming elections.
The start of peace talks between the government and the LTTE has been
stalled at present with the guerrillas demanding that the ban on them be
lifted as a pre-condition and the Colombo government refusing to do so,
but willing to consider such a move only after the talks begin and make
By Dilrukshi HandunnettiAs the country faced one of its biggest constitutional crises on the impeachment issue, Speaker Anura Bandaranaike — who will have to give a potentially historic ruling — last night cancelled a scheduled official visit to London so that he could study conflicting opinions on the crisis.
The Sunday Times learns that the Speaker has already sought the advice of three senior constitutional lawyers — H. L. de Silva, L. C. Seneviratne and. K. N. Choksy.
The Speaker told Parliament on Wednesday he would study the issues and give a ruling, after a three judge bench of the Supreme Court issued an order restraining the appointment of a parliamentary select committee to probe the motion for the impeachment of Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva.
Mr. Bandaranaike has cancelled his visit to London for a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting and is expected to give his tensely awaited ruling when Parliament meets on June 18.
Despite the tense mood the Speaker was in lighter vein in Parliament on Thursday saying "I am supreme here."
Mr. Bandaranaike is reported to have told the UNP hierarchy that the Attorney General had not sought permission from him to represent him in the Supreme Court proceedings on Wednesday.
While the main opposition UNP has closed ranks in openly challenging the restraining order issued by the Supreme Court, the government group appears to be split and pulling in two directions.
One group of government MPs, including at least four ministers, is reported to be circulating a petition, protesting against what they see as an attempt to devalue parliament. But another group of government MPs is reportedly going another way, collecting signatures for a petition supporting the Chief Justice.
At a government group meeting, sparks reportedly flew with senior ministers such as Mahinda Rajapakse, Mahinda Wijesekera, D.M. Jayaratne and Dinesh Gunawa-rdene challenging what they saw as a direct judicial intervention in the functions of the supreme legislature.
A senior Cabinet minister spearheading the campaign against the restraining order said there was "nothing UNP or PA about it" when the question was the direct interference and an attempt to devalue the supremacy of parliament.
Meanwhile, the UNP parliamentary group, which held an emergency meeting on Friday, decided, among other things, to look into the possibility of summoning those who obtained the injunction against parliament to answer charges relating to a breach of privilege.
Minister and PA General Secretary D. M. Jayaratne told The Sunday Times
that parliament was the supreme body and any interference with its functions
would cause serious damage to democracy.
By Shelani de SilvaThe swirling crisis in the Ceylon Electricity Board over massive corruption and mismanagement has taken a major turn with the interdiction of General Manager A. P. P. Seneviratne on charges of lying to parliament and alleged financial irregularities.
Official sources said Mr. Seneviratne was interdicted on Friday after the board of directors held a three-hour meeting to discuss the matter. The interdiction order was made by Power and Energy Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte.
Two other CEB officers are also being interdicted on charges that the three of them had violated tender procedures regarding a contract for the Kelanitissa Power Plant.
The general manager is alleged to have awarded a tender to a Singapore construction company paying an advance of 20 per cent instead of the Cabinet stipulated 10 per cent.
Apart from the allegedly fraudulent tender procedure, Mr. Seneviratne has been interdicted on the grounds of violating Cabinet decisions and lying to the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises when he was questioned recently regarding a contract awarded to a company owned by his son-in-law. The CEB is reported to be neck deep in losses of about Rs. 11 billion and has sought a Treasury bail-out package of Rs. 5 billion or approval to raise electricity rates by as much as 35 percent.
Sources said the new acting general manager G.D.C. Wijeratne was expected to issue orders for the interdiction of the other two officers, Project Director E.C.C.S. Thilekaratne and Project Coordinator S.H. Jeffry.
By Anthony DavidThe Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the National Unity Alliance, which was formed from the original party plunged into an open battle yesterday with Minister Rauf Hakeem's faction accusing the Ferial Ashraff group of attempting a political coup.
Sources close to Mr. Hakeem, who is the leader of the SLMC, said a coup to oust him from the NUA had taken place on Friday allegedly with government blessings.
They said that as part of the plans to oust Mr. Hakeem and sideline him, the NUA presided over by Ms. Ashraff met on Friday without informing Mr. Hakeem who is also the Secretary General of the NUA.
At Friday's meeting, which the Hakeem faction described as unauthorised, Mr. Hakeem was renamed as secretary general, but known loyalists of Ms. Ashraff were appointed to top posts and Hakeem loyalists believed the meeting was the first step towards sidelining him.
Hours later, the SLMC high command presided over by Mr. Hakeem met at the party head office 'Darussalam' to condemn the NUA meeting as a 'coup' to remove Mr. Hakeem by using indirect tactics.
The SLMC high command comprising about 20 senior members also said the coup had the blessings of the government as Mr. Hakeem has been outspoken in recent months and demanding that the PA must honour its pledges while Ms. Ashraff has been more subdued.
The NUA meeting on Friday was given wide publicity by the state media, giving credence to the SLMC charge of a government hand behind the move.
In recent weeks, President Chandrika Kumaratunga reportedly attacked Minister Hakeem on his stand and statements relating to the Mawanella violence, local government election reforms and other matters.
The latest clash between them took place over the setting up of a new administrative district in Kalmunai, one of the main demands of the SLMC. The President was earlier reported to have agreed to it, but facing growing opposition now, she has appointed a committee to study the matter.
Mr. Hakeem has reportedly objected and said he would make his position known within two weeks.
The SLMC's High Command also decided yesterday to take action against the party's National Coordinating Secretary M.I.M. Mohideen who is known to be a Ms. Ashraff loyalist. He recently went to courts seeking an enjoining order against the party.
At the NUA meeting on Friday, former MP Asitha Perera was appointed as chairman while M.L.A.M. Hisbullah was appointed as Senior Deputy Leader .
Mr. Hisbullah when contacted by The Sunday Times about the failure to inform Mr. Hakeem of Friday's meeting, said, 'Minister Ashraff invited me, so I went. I do not know whether Mr. Hakeem was invited.'
Both, Mr. Hakeem and Mrs. Ashraff were not available for comment about
By Shane SeneviratneCentral Province Sports Minister Thilina Bandara Tennakoon was horrified when he found girls from a Kandy school carrying two bottles of whiskey each. Minister Tennakoon happened to meet them at the airport. The girls were returning after participating at an international event. Asked why they were carrying whiskey, the embarrassed girls confessed to the minister that they were merely carriers for some teachers who accompanied them. The minister has ordered an inquiry against the teachers. He has also called for a closer check on who does what during foreign tours by schoolchildren.
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