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9th December 2001

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President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga greeting Prime Minister-elect Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Janadhipathi Mandiraya yesterday for the first time after Wednesday's Parliamentary Election. With them is President's Secretary Kusumsiri Balapatabendi. Pic by Gemunu Wellage
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Ranil offers national govt.

By Our Political Editor
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe will be sworn-in this afternoon as Prime Minister by President Chandrika Kumaratunga, but plans for a future national government will await a meeting with party leaders after he takes his oaths.

Thereafter, the new Prime Minister will invite members of the PA to form a national government together with his UNP-led United National Front coalition.

At the meeting which began at sharp 5.30 last evening, as scheduled, Mr. Wickremesinghe said that while he appreciated that the parliamentary opposition should be represented in large numbers, he would also like to invite all parties to solve the nation's problems.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake was associated in the discussions which lasted around half an hour.

It was earlier anticipated that President Kumaratunga would ask her new Prime Minister to appoint his own cabinet, but that she would retain the Defence portfolio. The matter was not raised during yesterday's meeting by either party.

The UNP has taken up the position that President Kumaratunga could remain as Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces as stipulated in the constitution, and thereby preside over the National Security Council, the apex body comprising service chiefs and cabinet ministers.

She would also be able to summon the Defence Minister for consultation. The constitution did not say that the President must be the Minister of Defence.

The counter argument is that it is the President who was constitutionally empowered to appoint the cabinet. President Kumaratunga had echoed these views when she presided over a National Security Council meeting on Friday, at which the outgoing deputy defence minister Anuruddha Ratwatte was also present.

All Service commanders and the Inspector General of Police, as well as senior gazetted officers of the tri-services and police are appointed by the President in the capacity as Commander-in-Chief and technically hold office "at the will and pleasure of the President".

Although the Soulbury and Republican constitutions stipulated that the Prime Minister would be the Minister of Defence and External Affairs, the 1978 Constitution which is now in force had no such requirement.

Under the US and French presidential systems, on which the 1978 Constitution was modelled, the president declares war and peace and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces but there is a separate defence minister (secretary) answerable to Parliament (Congress).

If the President retained the Defence portfolio, it would also create a situation where the deputy minister (presumably from the UNP) would have to be answerable to Parliament for the actions of the PA Minister of Defence in the absence of a National Government.

The position could get further complicated if President Kumaratunga insists on retaining the defence portfolio while the new Prime Minister wants to appoint a new Ministry of Internal Security which will be in charge of the Police Department. This would bifurcate the existing Defence Ministry.

When the northern insurgency gathered momentum after the 1983 riots, President J.R. Jayewardene created a new Ministry of National Security by appointing the late Lalith Athulathmudali to head it at cabinet-level.

However ensure that the new ministry was a supplementary to the defence ministry, he made Mr. Athulathmudali deputy minister of defence as well. President R. Premadasa discontinued the system and became Minister of Defence and managed the war himself.

President Kumaratunga who was Minister of Finance and Media at the time of elections has reportedly agreed to surrender those portfolios. Mr. Wickremesinghe, who will himself hold either no portfolio or one like Plan Implementation is now likely to delay selecting his cabinet by a few days.

The PA-UNP cohabitation government still lies in the balance with UNP hardliners preparing a march to Colombo demanding the President to permit the new Prime Minister have a free hand in selecting all the ministers.

A UNF front-liner said that another "messy" approach would be to starve the President of funds and move an impeachment motion on her if she remains adamant.

At today's meeting the subject is bound to come up for discussion.

Mr. Wickremesinghe is scheduled to meet leaders of all political parties represented in the new Parliament thereafter hoping to invite their participation in a National Government.

Already, Mr. Wickremesinghe's emissaries have informally discussed these plans with People's Alliance leaders.

On Friday, several PA heavyweights, especially those from the SLFP, conferred with President Kumaratunga on the future of the defeated Alliance. President Kumaratunga was emphatic that neither the SLFP nor the PA should join in a UNP-led National Government.

She said that there were sinister motives behind the move aimed at destroying the PA. Some members of the PA, however have expressed willingness to serve in a National Government.

Mr. Wickremesinghe has earmarked some PA leaders already. One of them, outgoing Ports Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, however, has indicated that he would instead make a bid for the post of Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Rajapakse has said that he would like the PA to provide "constructive support" for the new Government from the Opposition.

Anura Bandaranaike is also to stake a claim for the opposition leader's post. He is expected to call for a secret ballot, in the event of a competition, party insiders said.

One-time UNP Mayor of Colombo and outgoing Highways Minister A.H.M. Fowzie who led the PA team in the Colombo district at Wednesday's polls is reportedly another, while outgoing Leader of the House Richard Pathirana was talked of as a compromise candidate for the job of Speaker.

The need to discuss the formation of a National Government would inevitably delay the swearing-in of the new cabinet, unless Mr. Wickremesinghe decides to swear-in some ministers immediately and keep some portfolios open.

Already several UNF winners at last Wednesday's polls, and their hangers-on are showing signs if impatience and jockeying for places in the new administration.

There was heavy lobbying yesterday in both major parties also for selection on the National List.

Some foreign governments have also been supportive of the formation of a National Government of Reconciliation, especially to tackle the northern insurgency. Mr. Wickremesinghe conferred with Indian High Commissioner Gopal Gandhi on Friday on future relations between the new Government and New Delhi.


Flour price hike likely

By Chris Kamalendran
An increase in flour price is on the cards with the state subsidy to the Prima Company coming to an end tomorrow, The Sunday Times learns.

The PA government, even after selling its shares in the flour giant, has been subsidising the company to maintain the buffer stocks, but the agreement is due to end by tomorrow, triggering a price increase.

The issue was discussed at a meeting between Prime Minister-elect Ranil Wickremesinghe and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident Representative Nadeem Ul Haq yesterday.

The Sunday Times learns that when the privatisation agreement came into effect from September flour and wheat valued at US dollars six million (Rs. 54 million) were handed over to Prima to maintain a buffer stock.

The company was required to maintain a buffer stock of 28,000 Mt under the agreement it reached with the government but it has been now reduced to 5,000 Mt. 

Food Department sources said that the withdrawal of the subsidy would mean the company would have to spend more to maintain its buffer stock. This together with the dwindling stock was the likely cause for a price increase of flour-based products, including bread, they said.


Shocking details of plot to kill SB

By Sarath Wijeratne in Nuwara Eliya
The courage and dedication to duty of a Sub Inspector of Police appears to have saved former People's Alliance stalwart and now United National Front campaigner S. B. Dissanayake from certain death.

He would have been killed, just three days before the elections, by a gang who allegedly planned to use a launcher to fire 40 mm grenades a weapon used by security forces only in their war against Tiger guerrillas. Unlike pistols or assault rifles that have to be fired accurately at a target, a 40 mm grenade is an area weapon. If it is fired, for example at a crowded stage, it could be deadly. That was to happen reportedly when Mr. Dissanayake took part in an election rally.

The launcher and ten grenades were among a small arsenal allegedly found in the possession of nine men a Police Sergeant and Constable from the notorious Presidential Security Division (PSD), a Sergeant, Corporal and a Private from the Sri Lanka Army and four civilians all Army deserters.

Other items in their possession included three Browning automatic pistols belonging to the Presidential Security Division, four Chinese built T-56 assault rifles, 400 rounds of ammunition, two unlicensed pistols and an MP5 gun. The men who were arrested have been remanded by the Kandy Magistrate until December 18.

The sequence of events leading to the arrests of the men and the recovery of weapons, The Sunday Times investigation revealed, is not only shocking but also revealing. 

Days ahead of elections, Sub Inspector Rohana Dissanayake, who counts 12 years service and is Officer-in-Charge of Maturata Police, made an entry in the Information Book about the suspicious movement of two Double Cabs in his area. He had logged their registration numbers.

On December 3, he had been on duty at a rally arranged by the United National Front candidate Renuka Herath. S.B. Dissanayake was due at the meeting.

SI Dissanayake had noticed a convoy of vehicles led by a Land Cruiser belonging to a PA candidate crossing a bridge and heading towards venue of the meeting at Padiyapelella. He had ordered the convoy to stop ahead of the bridge but it had already crossed. Somewhere at the rear he had noticed men in civilian clothes carrying arms alight from two Double Cabs and fire at the UNP candidate's jeep parked nearby.

The Police Officer jumped on the bonnet of one of the cabs, aimed his weapon at the group and had shouted that he would open fire if they did not stop. One of the attackers had then said that they were from the Presidential Security Division. With the help of other Policemen, he had rounded up the group of nine and taken them to Maturata Police to record statements. Thereafter, for security reasons, the group were kept at Walapone Police and produced before the Magistrate. 

Inquires into registration of the two vehicles proved false. They had borne numbers belonging to other vehicles. Though it was claimed to be vehicles belonging to the Special Task Force, its DIG Nimal Gunathilake told The Sunday Times none of their vehicles was involved. Police have now established that the two vehicles belonged to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, an organisatgion that came under the purview of ex Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte. 

After the incident, The Sunday Times learns, the Director of the PSD, Nihal Karunaratne, telephoned Frank Alles, DIG, to seek the release of his men. He had contended that the PSD men were on surveillance duty, a claim which was disputed on the grounds that such a task did not warrant the possession of grenade launchers and other weapons. When an argument ensued, Mr. Karunaratne is alleged to have threatened to come with the 3,000 men from the PSD to storm the Police Station and have his men released. 

Mr. Karunaratne had asked Mr. Alles to hold the line whilst he handed over the telephone receiver from which he was speaking to a VVIP. Thereafter, the VVIP who spoke in Sinhala had asked "Mokkada mey kerapu para veda (what is this parayah thing that has been done.) Oya mona club ekey indalada katha kerenney (from which Club are you speaking?)" The reference had been to a previous occasion where the VVIP had to locate Mr. Alles at a club after failing to reach him at his office by telephone.

The men who had been arrested were on surveillance duty since the VVIP was planning a private visit to the area, Mr. Alles had been told. 

DIG Alles is learnt to have politely explained the circumstances under which the arrests were made and pleaded that no insinuations should be made against him. 

Meanwhile, the DIG in charge of the Presidential Security Division, has written to Police Chief, Lucky Kodituwakku, stating that his men had been on surveillance duty and asking him to direct the CID to conduct an impartial inquiry. Until yesterday, no such inquiry has been ordered.

Police officials here say that advance surveillance tasks (Pera Rajakari as it is referred to in Sinhala) were usually undertaken by Special Task Force commandos who are trained in VIP protection. How, PSD men, soldiers and deserters got involved in the exercise is unusual, they say. 


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