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12th September 1999

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Photo journalists snap at Mangala

The Photo Journalists' Association of Sri Lanka has expressed concern over Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera's admission that the July 15 attack on photo journalists was carried out by some members of the PSD and condoning the attack.

The PJA says the minister has added insult to injury by patting the PSD staff on the back for a job well done.

"Now that the Government has identified the perpetrators of this barbaric attack, we demand that the authorities take immediate action to compensate all photographers, both from the state and private media and ensure that the due process of law is allowed to take place.

"We are concerned that even though police complaints have been made identifying the perpetrators of the attack, no action has so far been taken to bring to justice those responsible.

"Minister Samaraweera has said that he is willing to consider on sympathetic grounds the plight of freelance photographers who lost their cameras at the hands of the PSD. We do not need Minister Samaraweera's pity. We need justice. It must be noted that there has been no response from the Media Minister to a request made by us to compensate the victims.

"However several senior ministers of the Government and opposition leaders have contributed to a fund set up by us to provide redress to our members. We reiterate once again that the government must compensate our members on the same basis announced to provide compensation to doctors who lost property while staging a trade union action recently.

"The difference is that our members were not involved in any trade union or illegal activities when the PSD beat them up. We hope that local and international human rights organisations will take note of the minister's admission that the PSD was involved in the attack on the photographers and reporters while covering an opposition rally," a statement said.


Catch killers, if your hands are clean

The Free Media Movement has strongly condemned the murder of Satana editor Rohana Kumara and called on the government to track down and prosecute the killers immediately if its hands are clean.

The murder of Mr. Kumara on International Journalists' Day shows the extent to which the forces that want to repress media freedom are willing to go, to achieve their aim.

Mr. Kumara had to face considerable harassment from successive governments because of the critical attitude taken by his newspaper of leading politicians and powerful officials in the government. The FMM does not approve of Mr. Kumara's style of journalism. His newspaper sometimes used hate speech and disregarded journalistic norms. However this in no way can justify his murder.

The Free Media Movement feels that his murder must be seen in the context of the growing campaign against the independent media by the government. "This is another step in that campaign to terrorise independent journalists and media organisations."

The Free Media Movement appeals to all media personnel and democratic groups to join forces in a campaign to overcome the dangerous situation that has developed.

The FMM appeals to the government to track down his killers and to prosecute them without delay. The FMM believes this is the only action available to the government to demonstrate that it was not responsible.


Who's wild man or elephant?

By Shane Seneviratne

The conflict between man and elephant has been increasing over the past few months resulting in the death of more than 20 persons and nearly 90 elephants.

The frequent visits by elephants to villages and more recently into the Matale town have put heavy pressure on wildlife officials to recapture the elephants and drive them into the jungles.

But, wildlife officials appear to be ill-equipped to meet the situation and this has resulted in elephants being either shot or killed by angry villagers.

Villagers have been complaining over the past month that they were facing threats from the elephants which enter their villages and go on the rampage, but wildlife officials have not been able to respond to all these cases mainly because they are not in a position to handle the situation.

Villagers in Matale who recently witnessed the entry of a rampaging elephant herd last week saw the agony undergone by an elephant which had been shot by villagers and the efforts of wild life officials to capture the elephant and release it into a forest reserve.

The elephant captured by the wildlife officials had 10 gunshot injuries most of them believed to have been fired from a T 56 weapon. Of the 10 shots four hit the right side while three others had struck close to the lungs of the animal.

The elephant was among six others who had entered the Matale town and was later driven by the villages into the Iriyagolla area, eight kilometres off Matale.

Villagers said the elephant believed to be around 55 years old and eight feet in height was captured in the Iriyagolla area after being heavily tranquillized.

The vehicle transporting the elephant was seen broken down last Saturday while on its way to release the animal into a forest reserve.

Wildlife officials said the correct practice was that the elephant should be bathed regularly and a bowser should have followed the vehicle, but in this case in the absence of a bowser the heavily drugged elephant was being bathed from tube wells on the wayside.

Wildlife Director Nandana Atapattu said that in recent months clashes had been on the rise as villagers have started setting fire to the jungles to drive out the animals. He said five such fires had been reported from areas around Matale over the past two weeks.

He said cattle owners also were setting fire to grassland so that fresh grass may grow in the area to be used as cattle feed.


UNP on diplomatic offensive

The UNP is holding meetings with diplomats in Colombo to clarify the party position on projects which are a cause of serious concern.

Party leaders who met diplomats from the Indian, British, and Canadian High Commissions and the US and French embassies, held talks on subjects including the Channel 9 issue, which the party felt had affected the country's economy.

UNP spokesperson Karunasena Kodituwakku told The Sunday Times they had discussed topics ranging from the Bribery and Corruption Commission to the Channel 9 issue.

"Some of the diplomats showed serious concern in this regard while some others said it was an internal problem. We also discussed the P&O deal and the AirLanka takeover. We pointed out that the UNP was not against the projects but that the Government had not tabled anything about them in Parliament," he said.


CWE goes overseas

The main state trading group, the CWE, will open its first franchise shop overseas, with local foodstuffs, to cater to Sri Lankans and foreigners.

The shop is scheduled to be opened in Melbourne, Australia next Sunday. It is the first time the CWE has given a franchise to a local living abroad.

The Sathosa outlet will be opened at 'Paradise Grocery', a shop owned by Olga Karavitheniya, a Sri Lankan residing in Australia.

Goods worth over one million rupees had been stocked at the outlet for the opening. Similar Sathosa outlets will be opened in America, Japan, France and England.


PARLIAMENT

When Rohana ruled the roost

By Dilrukshi Handunentti, Our Lobby Correspondent

Julius Fucik, the Yugoslavian doyen of journalism was remembered in style, breathed fiery Vasudeva Nanayakkara as he marched in along with the rest on Wednesday morning to the House by the Diyawanna which was agog with the news of the brutal slaying of "Satana" editor Rohana Kumara.

So Rohana Kumara's gunning down eclipsed everything from debates to motions as emotions predictably ran high, and villains from the past donned new clothing, happy to pose off as defenders of media freedom. And the government fared badly by being hell bent on trading insults than taking action.

The slaying, according to Vasudeva Nanayakkara, was a timely reminder that the government, in its desperate bid for survival shamelessly emulated the UNP style governance- killings included. Opposition cannons were well positioned while the government clutched at straws to defend itself.

When opposition members trooped in on Wednesday armed with Satana papers and downcast faces to debate some regulations under the Fisheries Act, the focus fell on the assassination. And the fishing regulations proved fatal with UNPers opting to fish in troubled waters.

When Mahinda Rajapakse stood up to move the regulations, up jumped UNP's Dharmadasa Banda. "Have you read the papers," he asked a baffled Speaker who shook his head. And the Moneragala member then went on to enlighten the Speaker about the slaying.

He charged that the killing was an indicator of fearful trends to come. The PA cannot exonerate itself from these acts as political killings have escalated, he noted.

"Here was a man who actively participated in PA politics and addressed PA rallies. He ran part of your propaganda machine. He ensured a UNP defeat but his singular sin was in opting to expose the reeking corruption within the PA. He exposed you and you exploded," he charged.

If the wizened member opted to remain diplomatic about it, UNP's perennial heckler Mervyn Silva was in no mood to appease. He launched into a tirade of slogans, ably assisted by vocal UNPers who gleefully thumped on their desks while books and documents flew around.

"It's a killer government" thundered Mervyn Silva in a menacing tone while the PA members in a matching mood traded insults.

Though the speaker was forced to suspend sittings peace eluded the House when the Tissamaharama member began to speak on inland fisheries.

With emphasis Mr. Silva appropriately clad in ominous black announced that Rohana Kumara was killed by the PA goondas. Stick to the subject ordered Deputy Speaker Anil Moonesinghe.

Firing his artillery sans control, the former SLFPer lambasted the PA imputing that the body of Rohana Kumara was made mincemeat due to his fearless exposures. As he continued a visibly annoyed Deputy Speaker ordered him out in a bid to bring sanity in the House, ensuring a suspension again.

Speaking after the din abated, burly John Amaratunge charged that Rohana Kumara's killing was a signal to media personnel for which the PA should take responsibility and not resort to petty politicking.

Come Thursday, the Opposition was still on the Rohana Kumara issue as Kegalle UNPer R.A.D. Sirisena moved an adjournment motion on the journalist's killing. The MP who knew the slain editor since his early childhood likened him to an innocent revolutionary whose only sin was being critical.

" But that is a journalist's prerogative. You got hurt by his Channel 9 exposures which boomeranged on the corrupt government. It is the crucial cassette "Comisana" which galvanized you into arbitrary and inhuman action" he accused.

He steered the debate towards a new dimension by claiming the attack on Lasantha Wickremetunge, Iqbal Athas' and Rohana Kumara's killing all occurred within the Mirihana police division.

" His wife has attributed the release of the controversial 'Comisana' cassette as the possible reason for the assassination. It is funny how the PA jumped the gun and used state media to brand him as a non-accredited journalist with a permanent contract to tarnish the PA image," he noted.

Next it was Rajitha Senaratne's, turn. He said he believed Rohana Kumara was a man who wouldn't even harm a fly.

"Leave his style of writing. Is the government labouring the point that for being different he had no right to live," he queried while a silent Anura Priyadarshana Yapa accepted the flak in the conspicuous absence of media minister Mangala Samaraweera.

"You believed Comisana to be the correct cassette containing Sanath Gunethilleke's secret conversation. Angry about the exposures, you eliminated an innocent man" he accused.

Riding his hobby horse, the dentist turned politician thundered that media minister Mangala Samarweera has put his foot in his mouth again when he claimed the PSD would have been breaching duties if they did not attack media men covering the UNP protest rally in July.

"Will he later also admit that it was necessary for the PSD in the line of duty to gun down Rohana Kumara for allegedly writing falsehoods? " he sniped.

The most vicious blows came from maverick Vasudeva Nanayakkara now facing expulsion from the LSSP. He said the government had claimed it would be mad to kill a journalist on Fucik's day. "The day did not matter. After all, the PA mercilessly assaulted Samurdhi animators who toiled for this government on Human Rights Day," he charged. At his sarcastic best, he proposed that one cannot rule out this government's ability to kill Rohana Kumara on a significant day as September 8. And there would be no stopping of these villainies, he breathed.

"You have stained your hands with his blood and this slaying signified the alienation of former PA forces who rallied round to defeat the authoritarian UNP". Mr. Nanayakkara,charged that the PA had shamelessly emulated the UNP style of governance, including killer squads. And the coincidence that it was Fucik's commemoration day should prove to the people that these defenders of media freedom were only committed to villainy and tyranny like their predecessors.

"We have heard diabolical lies and false pledges. If you have the decency to hold an impartial probe, I will resign forthwith from Parliament. If you hold impartial inquiries and bring the killers to justice I will resign from Parliament" he challenged, his passionate delivery earning a sombre applause.

A helpless Deputy Minister Anura Yapa striving to defend the government by promising impartial probes and appealing not to prejudge the case was jeered at from the beginning.

Who wrote your statement? It's transparent like the Emperor's new clothing, chorused errant UNPers while the deputy minister dubbed the killing as a sinister move to discredit a government which has done its best to create a vibrant media culture.

So, Rohana Kumara ruled the roost this week. But with the passage of time, this death too will probably be covered with the dust of time. Until the next. The question is how long will the truth be subverted in the name of politics.

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