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5th August 2001
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Six-year-old Migara was selected as one of the most admired 
elephants at the Kandy Esela Perahera whch ended yesterday. 
In keeping with the tradition, the baby elephant was taken all 
dressed up to the President's House in Kandy to be fed by the
head of state. Migara waited and waited in anticipation 
at the President's House lawn to be fed. But it did not happen
and the tired Migara fell asleep. 
Pic by Shane Seneviratne.

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On two conditions

UNP ready for national government

Amidst rising speculation that the government may cancel the August 21 referendum, Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickre-mesinghe confirmed last night that PA leaders had proposed the formation of a government of national unity but declared he was sceptical of their bona fides.

"Whether they are genuine about a government of national unity or want to split the UNP remains the moot question," Mr. Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Times.

"We are aware President Kumaratunga had told the Cabinet she could not form a government with the UNP or with myself," he said speaking on the telephone from Hambantota.

He was on a tour of southern towns spearheading the Peoples Movement for Democracy campaign against the August 21 referendum.

The UNP was willing to discuss the formation of a short-term national government on two conditions, Mr. Wickremesinghe said. 

The President is learnt to have told her Ministers of her reservations about Mr. Wickremesinghe and her inability to work with him or the UNP, and also that she had to safeguard the interests of the SLFP.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said several PA leaders, including cabinet ministers, were talking to many senior members of his party about the need to forge unity and form a national government.

"This has not only led to confusion but also sent the wrong signals. I have hence named a three-member committee to deal with all overtures

made by PA leaders," he said. 

The three-members are party Chairman Charitha Ratwatte, Deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya and party whip Tyronne Fernando. 

President Kumaratunga invited the UNP for talks last week, but the invitation was addressed to Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, President of the UNP. As Mr. Wickremesinghe is the leader of the UNP, the party sent its Chairman Charitha Ratwatte for the meeting, but the President then cancelled the discussion as a result. The President has also hand-picked two businessmen to bring about rapprochement between the PA and UNP Vijay Malalasekera, director at Ceylon Tobacco Company and longtime friend of the President and Ken Balendra , Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon.

Mr. Wickremesinghe is reported to have met Mr. Malalasekera on Thursday.

"The PA can place all their proposals before the three member committee. That will enable us to carefully examine all aspects and place them before our party's decision making process," Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

He said if the government accepted the UNP's broad conditions, the UNP would join hands to pass legislation to set up the four independent commissions that had been demanded by the party.

Thereafter, the UNP was willing to face a general election or implement a French style government where the President had no ministerial portfolios. She could only preside at Cabinet meetings.

Overtures to the UNP have come particularly from Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, to deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya.

Mr. Jayasuriya told the Sunday Times last night the UNP would revel in the opportunity to defeat the government at the forthcoming referendum and had no wish to fall prey to deviation tactics by a desperate government at a time when NIB reports have indicated an overwhelming 68 percent popular support to the combined opposition and the pot symbol.

Reacting to claims that serious moves are afoot to set up a government of national reconciliation, Mr. Jayasuriya said the UNP had only responded to the Prime Minister's proposal as a prelude to any talks and said the UNP would always advocate a broader framework that accommodates diverse opinions.

PA overtures to the UNP came amidst increasing pressure on President Kumaratunga to call off the referendum in view of an imminent defeat. Adding to that were contradictory pronouncements by her cabinet ministers. Justice Minister Batty Weerakoon has declared that after the referendum, a new constitution would be adopted through Parliament. 

However, Minister Sarath Amunugama, now a close confidante of Ms Kumaratunga, has publicly declared such a new constitution would not necessarily have to go before Parliament for approval. Mr. Amunugama is also a member of the committee tasked to draft the new constitution. 


Hisbullah stages coup against Hakeem

By Nilika de Silva
The crisis within the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress yesterday further widened when M.L.A.M. Hisbullah appointed himself as the party 'leader' and named a new team of officials in what appeared to be an illegal move.

SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem immediately issued a statement countering the appointments and accused the government of backing the move.

The meeting presided over by Mr. Hisbullah and the naming of the new officials came a day ahead of the scheduled delegates conference to be held at the Public Libary auditorium in Colombo today.

Nizam Kariyappar was named as general secretary at the meeting held at the party headquarters Dharussalam. Mr. Kariyappar claimed that about 25 members attended the meeting.

An hour later, Mr. Hakeem presided over a politburo meeting to condemn the Hisbullah meeting.

An attendance of 28 was recorded at Mr. Hakeem's meeting. The politburo of the SLMC has 59 members, several of whom are presently abroad and some of them have been suspended. 

Mr. Hakeem told The Sunday Times that since the Elections Commissioner had already recognised him as the party leader he saw no legal validity of the Hisbullah meeting.

"They have carried out an illegal, invalid act and made a futile attempt to appoint new officials," he said.

The SLMC's General Secretary A.L.M. Hafrath in a statement last night called on the party members not to be misled by the appoinments made at the Hisbullah meeting.

Mr. Hisbullah is Chairman of the Water Resources Board which functions under the Ministry of Urban Development. Minister Ferial Ashraff also has access to the SLMC in the capacity of the NUA leader.


7 airmen injured

Seven Air Force personnel were injured in a claymore mine explosion at Puwarasankulam in Vauniya last evening. One of them is said to be in a serious condition.

IATA fires on second runway

The international air transport agency IATA had urged the Sri Lankan Government to construct a second runway at its only international airport at Katunayake several times, but the request had fallen on deaf ears.

At a meeting held just twelve hours before the fateful predawn raid by the LTTE guerrillas on July 24 at the Bandaranaike International Airport and the adjoining Air Force base, IATA representatives are reported to have again told Civil Aviation Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle that international airlines operating through Colombo were demanding a second runway.

The rationale for the second runway had been to distinguish the military runway from the civilian runway.

IATA representatives had complained that pilots of civilian aircraft were concerned that they found SLAF jets using the same runway as theirs and that they had to do simultaneous operations with military aircraft. They had also complained of occasions when civilian aircraft had to circle in the sky until the military had completed its task of landing and take off.

IATA, whose members pay for the use of the single runway and navigational equipment at BIA had suggested a runway at a site a kilometre away from the existing runway. Initially, the beneficiary from this runway was to be the Air Force, which could have used that runway. 

This was to be a precursor to the Air Force's long term plans to shift its main base for aircraft from Katunayake to another location.

If and when the SLAF shifted its military aircraft from Katunayake, the second runway was to be used for civilian traffic as in the case of most international airports.

IATA was expected to formally complain to the Government that its request had been long ignored. 

Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Minister Fernandopulle was not invited for talks this week at the Defence Ministry where a high-powered meeting on airport security took place.

Travel trade sources were aghast that one of the key ministers, and in fact the minister in charge of the airport, had been uninvited for the crucial meeting.

Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Minister Fernandopulle was this week appointed, in addition to his present portfolio as Minister of Christian Affairs.


Liquor giant wants it all

By Chris Kamalendran
Excise Commissioner General Parakrama Ekanayake Bandara has ordered an investigation into a complaint made by a group of Colombo liquor traders that a leading liquor company is resorting to unlawful practices to promote its sales.

According to the complaint, Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka has allegedly told some liquor outlets in Colombo that it would not supply its fast-moving brands if the outlets sell other brands of liquor.

The company has also reportedly asked liquor shop owners that they should give a letter saying they would not sell any other brands, but only brands produced by the Distilleries Company.

Excise Chief Bandara said that no company could give directions to any liquor outlet on how to conduct its business.

The move by the company has put liquor dealers in a dilemma. If they agree to the company's conditions, they would lose revenue through sales of other brands. If they disagree, they would not be supplied with the fast-moving DCSL products such as the Extra Special, popularly known as 'Gal'.

The Sri Lanka Liquor Dealers Association at a meeting last week decided to send a letter to the Excise Chief, calling for his intervention. Their letter said:

"The Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka Ltd has refused to issue its products to the under mentioned licensees. A verbal request has been made to the licensee asking him in turn to issue a letter of compliance stating that he would refrain from purchasing, exhibiting and finally selling products manufactured by W.M. Mendis & Company Ltd., International Distillers' Lanka Ltd and Rockland Distilleries Ltd. In the case of Rockland Distilleries, only selected outlets have been advised to curtail purchases. Non issuance of the letter of compliance by the outlets mentioned below has resulted in cessation of supplies even though they hold a valid licence for purchase, possession, transport and sale of the DCSL products.

"Conditional sale of products by DCSL will lead to a monopoly situation which is the bane of fair trading practices and leads to customer dissatisfaction and more significantly a loss of revenue to both the licensee and the Dept. of Excise."

A spokesman for Mendis & Company said the DCSL action was unlawful. "Most of our sales representatives say they are finding it difficult to market our products. Our company is also paying the taxes to the government. One particular company cannot have a monopoly in this trade," he said. A spokesman for the Rockland Company said they were also feeling the impact of the DCSL move.

The Sunday Times contracted DCSL officials to get their views, but they were not ready to comment.

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