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5th August 2001
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President Kumaratunga receiving the Sannasa from 
Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeratne .Left The 
Dalada Maligawa's diyawadana Nilame Neranjan
Wijeratne and other Nilames had to wait for about 15
minutes in the foyer of President's House in Kandy 
yesterday till President Kumaratunga arrived for
the traditional ceremony of receiving the 
Sannasa from them. 
Pix by Shane Seneviratne

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With the campaign hotting up for the upcoming referendum, political parties have stepped up their propaganda. Cutouts, posters and banners are once again up on display. In the pictures commercial artists prepares a cutout for the PA and a banner for the UNP. The JVP put on a display of banners at its meeting held at the Hyde park corner on Wednesday. Pix by J.Weerasekara and Athula Devapriya 


 


S.O.S. helpline request from tourism sector

By Tania Fernando
The tourism industry is seeking a massive relief package of about Rs 3 billion for a full-scale rebuilding and renewal operation, trade sources said.

They said the Rs. 3 billion package would be requested when Ceylon Tourist Board Chief Renton de Alwis held crisis talks with Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundara tomorrow.

Mr. Alwis himself confirmed the meeting with the Treasury Chief but declined to give a specific figure.

He said that the board was working out urgent measures for worldwide confidence rebuilding, with the focus being on persuading the US and Western European governments to review or remove travel warnings issued by them.

"According to information we have, tourists are keen to come, but tour operators have to offer alternative destinations because of the travel warnings issued by their governments", he said.

The Tourist Board Chief said the alternative measures included a 'bring a friend home' programme which they hoped to promote to Sri Lankans living overseas and a personal note to all tourists who had previously come here, reassuring that all was well now.

The massive rescue and relief operation was launched amidst devastating reports that upto 70 percent of the tourist bookings for this month had been cancelled while airfares to Sri Lanka also skyrocketed by 10 to 30 percent, because of a hefty increase in the insurance premia payable by airlines flying to Colombo. 

At least one airline, Cathay Pacific, announced it was cancelling flights to Colombo because of the insurance surcharge.


New row over film director's case

By Laila Nasry
Film Director Prasanna Vithanage whose banned film Purahanda Kaluwara is to be screened on the orders of the Supreme Court, said yesterday he would take further legal action if Minister Sarath Amunugama paid Rs. 50,000 as compensation from any Ranaviru Fund instead of giving it personally as directed by court.

The Supreme Court in giving the order which was seen as a triumph for media and artistic freedom awarded the director Rs. 550,000 as compensation with Rs. 50,000 to be paid by Minister Amunugama who had banned the film in July last year.

Dr. Amunugama told The Sunday Times that the Ranaviru Seva Padanama, an organisation consisting of ex-service men and parents of service personnel, had expressed their wishes to bear the brunt of the costs on his behalf. 

"The secretary of the organisation contacted me with this proposal and I will finalise it once I come to Colombo tomorrow. But I humbly accept the decision of the Supreme Court and will comply with its order," he said.

The film which won world wide acclaim was banned on the grounds that it would affect national security, lower the morale of the troops and drastically impede on recruitment drives to the Armed Forces as the film dealt with corrupt arms deals and controversial funeral scenes. 

But a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court said that if exposing of corrupt arms deals affected the morale of troops, then non-exposure could even endanger the lives of troops. The bench comprised Justices Mark Fernando, A.R.B. Amerasinghe and P. Edussuriya.

The court directed the National Film Corporation to release the film for screening before September 15. It also directed the compensation be paid before that date.

Essentially, the court said the NFC and the Minister had no power to ban films. It could only be done by the Public Performance Board. Upul Jayasuriya appeared for Mr. Vithanage 


Drugs: patients vs patents

Competing actively with private companies, the government is to make immediate and large scale "parallel imports" of good quality and safe medicinal drugs in a move that is expected to slash drug prices within the next few weeks, an official said yesterday.

The Director General of Health Services Dr. A.L.M. Beligaswatte told The Sunday Times that on the recommendation of a committee of experts he would be asking the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation to immediately make parallel imports of essential and critical drugs from companies which offer them at the lowest possible price.

Dr. Beligaswatte said he had obtained clearance from the Attorney General for the parallel imports of the SPC so there would be no legal conflict over patent or intellectual property rights of private drug companies under World Trade Organisation regulations. 

As a major first step in importing life saving or essential drugs under their generic names and at prices which are about 50% less than most brand names, the Health Chief has negotiated a deal with an Indian based company to buy anti retroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV/Aids.

The price of the drug manufactured under the lowest cost generic name will be about Rs. 27,000 annually for a patient - a huge reduction compared to the brand name which would cost a patient more than Rs. 900,000 a year.

The scores of African countries - where HIV/Aids has reached pandemic proportions have now switched to the generic name after last April's historic South African court battle whereby the government there won the right to buy the anti aids drug from a generic supplier at 30% of the price of the brand name sold by drug companies.

Sri Lanka is also now to follow this precedent. First in anti aids drugs and then in others-switching from the highly expensive brand names to the generic names and low cost brand names.


Opposition fine tunes impeachment draft 

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Seventeen charges including wilful violation of the constitution and treason are to be levelled against President Kumaratunga in the proposed impeachment motion .

A member of the drafting committee told The Sunday Times the draft had been distributed among opposition parties on Tuesday and they hoped to have the final document ready by Friday after discussing it with party leaders on Tuesday.

He said the draft also accused the President of proroguing parliament to thwart the no-confidence motion, preventing MPs from entering Parliamentary precincts, corruption and abuse of power. The member said they were collecting documentary proof to substantiate the charges.

While the drafting committee was going ahead with its job, the political scenario appeared to be changing from day to day. Latest reports said high ranking members of the PA and the UNP were making fresh efforts to bring about a consensus or national government between the two major parties. 


Fair deal on TV, radio

By Shelani de Silva
The Media Ministry has told the Commissioner of Elections to ensure that private TV and radio stations conform to election regulations during the ongoing campaign for the referendum.

Ministry Secretary Janadasa Peiris in a letter to the Commissioner has said state TV and radio had been obliged to conform by giving equal time to all parties and they are doing it now. Similarly private TV and radio stations must also conform to the regulations.

Propaganda speeches by various parties started on state TV and radio last Sunday but the rotating 90-minute power cuts a blackout somewhere between 6.45 pm and 11.45 pm has complicated the situation. Every recognised party has to be given 90 minutes and they are getting it in four 15-minute slots.


Express bows out

The Weekend Express, one of the five English language national weekly newspapers in Sri Lanka, has ceased publication with its last issue coming out over this weekend.

The newspaper which was launched in 1995 and emerged mainly as a voice of the minorities has been plagued by financial problems for the past few months.

A spokesman for Express Newspapers Ltd., publisher of The Weekend Express said they were compelled to close for financial reasons.


Jayalath pooh-poohs LTTE links

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
UNP parliamentarian Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena in an interview with The Sunday Times denied any links with the LTTE and challenged Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte to a live debate on the issue. However, the state media has been going on a binge of virulent attack on him making him vulnerable to attacks by extremists, Dr. Jayawardena complains. Excerpts:

Q: Have you ever attended any LTTE war heroes celebrations anywhere?

A: Never. 

Q: Then how did the state media obtain a photograph of you with LTTE cadres near the Tigers' heroes memorial in the Wanni jungles? 

A: The infamous photograph, if I may call it that, was taken at the first LTTE uniformed police checkpoint enroute to Madhu. It is a genuine picture.

Q: If the picture is genuine, why did you create such a hue and cry about it being a super-imposed photograph?

A: Prior to its publication, I reliably learned that a super- imposed picture of myself with several LTTE leaders was to be published. I swiftly reacted and wrote through my lawyers to all state media institutions, both electronic and print, to abstain from publishing a picture 'created' through high tech equipment. 

I believe they exercised caution and used this instead of the super imposed picture. I await more attacks as the referendum draws near. 

Q: To get back to the original question, what is your explanation to that photograph?

A: As a Catholic, I went on a pilgrimage to Madhu which is currently under LTTE control. 

Like everyone else, I proceeded to Vavuniya with MOD permission. Cameras, videos and batteries are disallowed from that point onwards. This time, such equipment were allowed but as they are generally prohibited, my group of four did not have cameras though many devotees did.

After security clearance, a military escorted convoy takes you on the Vavuniya- Mannar road up to Peramanandakulam where you find the final military check point. Here, Bishop Malcom Ranjith and two Buddhist monks also joined us.

From there, an ICRC escort group escorts you to Pandivirichchan where the first LTTE check point is situated.

The particular cemetery is by the side of the new approach road to Madhu. The old road has been closed by the LTTE. Here, the uniformed LTTE police conduct another security clearance before permitting entry. As I had a shoe cut, I got off the vehicle barefooted near this cemetery. If anyone takes a photograph of the LTTE barricade there, this cemetery will be in the background. Is it a fair assumption merely because I wore no shoes? What about the devotees who stood by me awaiting security clearance?

If I was paying homage, will I turn my back towards that? 

Q: What makes you constantly visit war-ravaged areas under LTTE control, shunned by other politicians? How can you manage visits unarmed if the LTTE does not co-operate with you? 

A: I entered parliament as a nominated member and had no electorate to nurture. 

As a committed social worker since my medical student days I began by serving threatened villages first. As a doctor, I don't believe in serving one community or a part of a country. So I opted to serve the untraversed, difficult and dangerous parts of this country at great risk to my life and reputation.

Q: You are also credited with bringing the Tamil political parties to support the UNP. Is this assumption correct?

A: I wish I had so much clout. The Tamil political parties do understand that the UNP having a non-communal policy is best suited for a multi-ethnic administration. Since the days of the late D. S. Senanayake, the UNP has been a multi-ethnic party. They trust us.

Q: Despite your protestations even the UNP leader seems to be rather wishy washy when criticizing the LTTE which has even earned the wrath of senior UNPers who recently rose up in rebellion against his leadership?

A: The UNP is committed to a negotiated settlement acceptable to all parties. The UNP leader is a responsible politician without vitriolics practicing noncommunal politics. 

Q: What is your personal opinion on the ban on the LTTE? 

A: The economic embargo is unnecessary. It only hampers the civilians. The LTTE is so well supplied that embargoes have no impact.

Q: While complaining that there is a mounted campaign against you, what have you done to clear your position?

A: I am easy prey. Having no legal recourse to the executive President, I lodged a complaint against her with the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UN-HRC). 

I have also volunteered to record a statement on the recently published photograph and I am suing the state media institutions for Rs. 20 million. 

Both the Speaker and the Opposition leader have requested from defence authorities for the enhancement of my security. The response was to refer the matter to the President. 

I have been vilified so much. The SLRC shows interviews with people branding me as a traitor. But they don't allow me to air my views. 

In this backdrop, I challenge Minister Ratwatte to a live debate on a television channel of his choice to debate the trumpeted LTTE charges against me. I also challenge him to produce the alleged telephone conversation I had with Thamil Chelvam.

One extremist can eliminate me. The PA wants to physically destroy me. The government media is making my life vulnerable, and expose my family to similar danger. 

I can't expect the President to enhance my security. But strangely, she is the very person who repeatedly grants MOD clearance to visit the north!

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