Peace talks in Tiger-held Madhu?
The Government is considering Madhu as the venue for the preliminary round
of peace talks between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is said to be in favour of this
venue, home for the church of our Lady of Lanka, venerated by Catholics.
Madhu is located in the "uncontrolled" or LTTE dominated area. Hence, its
leaders will find it easy to attend the preliminary rounds of talks, UNF
government officials said.
Norwegian facilitators have indicated that they would like the preliminary
talks be held in their capital, Oslo – a move intended to give the peace
talks the widest possible international attention.
The LTTE has said that it preferred a location in a Southern Indian
city either in Tamil Nadu or Karnataka. Although media reports attributed
a venue in Southern India for the talks, an official Indian Government
spokesman has declared in New Delhi that no formal or informal request
has been received by the government.
The Sunday Times learns the Government's wish to make Madhu the venue
may materialize. UNF sources say talks would begin in May, this year soon
after formalities are cleared with the help of Norwegian facilitators.
As part of preparations for the upcoming talks, the government has decided
to strengthen the Special Secretariat which will function under Premier
Wickremesinghe. Bernard Gunatillake, Sri Lanka's ambassador in China, was
recalled to Colombo to head this Secretariat. And now, Sri Lanka's ambassador
in Thailand, K.S. Palihakkara, has been asked to join the Secretariat.
Early this week, visiting Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgessen,
expressed cautious optimism about the process of finding a political solution
to the ethnic conflict.
A statement from the Royal Norwegian embassy said Mr. Helgessen met
LTTE's chief negotiator Anton Balasingham in London on January 4 and briefed
the Government on the outcome of this meeting during his visit to Colombo
10-11 January. In Colombo he had discussions with President Chandrika Kumaratunga,
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando and representatives
of Muslim and Tamil political parties.
The discussions have shown that there is an increased level of confidence
between the parties. "We are convinced that there are opportunities to
move further step by step towards negotiations," Mr. Helgessen said. He,
however, underlined that the process would be challenging and both parties
would face difficulties.
IMF team here next month
By M. Ismeth and Chris Kamalendran
A delegation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will arrive in
Sri Lanka next month to determine future aid commitments, Finance Minister
K.N. Choksy said last night.
He said he was hopeful of an enhanced commitment than previous years
since the United National Front government had development programmes ready
on hand for implementation.
Mr. Choksy lamented that of the US$ 700 million development aid the
country received, the previous PA Government had been able to utilise only
US$ 400 million. "This was because it did not have proper plans or projects
on hand," he said.
Sri Lanka was entitled for US$ 700 million annually for development
projects. The growth rate last year was 0.6 percent minus.
"To improve the country's economy, we are looking into areas where local
and foreign investors could be attracted by revising the customs, tariff
and other taxes," Mr. Choksy said.
He said the Government had assured the IMF that it would closely monitor
the use of funds on the projects with the Treasury monitoring closely practical
improvements suggested by the IMF in project management.
The Finance Ministry is also examining the enormous burdens on the economy
as a result of subsidies on petroleum products and wheat flour. These subsidies
would be gradually reduced over a period of time without placing any burden
on the ordinary people, Mr. Choksy said.
He said the loss incurring public corporations like the CWE, the Transport
Board and the Railways would be restructured.
In the event of the peace talks being successful, the money saved on
defence expenditure would be utilised on development projects, he said.
"In this event, the IMF and other donor agencies are likely to give us
a greater aid package," he added.
The Minister also said the Government would appeal to the World Bank
to assist Sri Lanka with its poverty alleviation programmes.
Rain manthras —CEB goes mystic
By Shelani Perera
In a desperate attempt to overcome the power crisis, the CEB is now going
for mystic powers.
Officials said the CEB had commissioned a Buddhist monk from Kataragama
to visit the hydropower reservoir areas and chant "Mantrams" for more rain.
The monk has been given a luxury vehicle with a CEB welfare officer
accompanying him to the sites on a full time basis.
The first visit was to the Victoria on January 4, then to Lakshapana
and Randenigala with others on the cards later. The manthra move comes
amidst efforts by Power and Energy Minister Karu Jayasuriya to solve the
power crisis within 180 days.
The CEB said last week that the situation was still bleak and it might
have to impose longer power cuts if consumers did not cooperate by substantially
CBK relates holiday story
From Neville de Silva in London
"I had no commitments and felt I wanted to go mad," President Chan–drika
Kumaratunga said when she was interviewed for a travel article by the London
The article appeared in the back pages of the "Travel" section of the
paper. The President related the story of how she spent her holidays —
it was six months after she was bombed by those Tiger fellows, and it was
the best holiday since becoming president.
"I rang some friends and we headed for Camden market. I didn't tell
British security, the driver was new and he didn't understand security
protocols. When we got there, British security arrived and I convinced
them there were no guerrillas lurking. I had a ball walking around, buying
knick-knacks," she said candidly.
Then comes the piece de resistance of her holiday story: "Then we headed
for Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was so small the security people couldn't
get in. They complained that I was different from other VIPs. Their bosses
pick up their restaurant tabs while guarding me, so they'd sooner have
gone somewhere a bit classier. 'Let's hope she dines in a decent place
tonight', they said, 'Like the Ritz'".
Until she became president, holidays were "fun times", confesses Ms.
Kumaratunga, "shared with friends."
"I was free to walk among ordinary people in the street. But because
of the threats on my life, that's impossible now."
Despite all the holidays spent in Athens, watching the Acropolis dining
in a little tavern and listening to music, her favourite holiday was going
"I simply loved it. There were vast estates and a beautiful old feudal
house. It was typical Sri Lankan. We had lots of garden space and orchards
and we played with the village children.
"This was actually very unusual. Unfortunately we had a caste-and class-system
here. My paternal grandfather was very feudal and would not allow anybody
that wasn't from the top echelon to come to his table.
"But my father threw all that out. He took the lowest caste of people
to his table - people whom grandfather wouldn't allow beyond the gate.
He went to their homes, ate with them and encouraged us children to do
the same. He was a real revolutionary. Those carefree holidays with the
village children, playing under the mango trees, were very special," she
says, oozing with nostalgia.
See --> Those holidays in the good
Foreign witnesses to testify in missing painting
By Laila Nasry
Five key foreign witnesses are scheduled to fly down to assist the prosecution
in the case related to the missing Mulkirigala painting which once adorned
the President's House.
When the case came up before the Colombo High Court recently, State
Counsel P. P. Surasena moved for further time on the grounds that the foreign
witnesses who were scheduled to be in the country could only make themselves
available in February. High Court Judge Kumar Ekaratne granted the prosecution
time until February 21.
The prime suspect in this case, Rohan Jayakody, son-in-law of former
President R. Premadasa, was indicted last year in this connection.
The foreign witnesses include Scotland Yard officers and officials from
Spink and Leger Pictures of Kings Street London, to whom the painting was
alleged to have been sold. In addition former Sri Lankan High Commissioner
to England, Chandra Monerawala, has also been listed as a state witness.
The court earlier relaxed an order requiring Mr. Jayakody to present
himself at the CID headquarters every month, after it was pointed out he
was residing in England. The historical painting which went missing from
the President's House in 1993, later surfaced at Christies, the popular
auction house in London. The painting has now been recovered by the CID
and is back at the President's House.