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23rd January 2000

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Matching the bravery displayed by her male
colleagues, this female soldier keeping vigil in a
bunker at the Elephant Pass Army camp which came
under LTTE fire early this month.


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Turmoil over political transfers

By Shelani de Silva

Government has begun making a series of transfers of state employees for their alleged involvement with the opposition during the presidential elections campaign.

Top officials and other employees of state transport boards, state radio, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, teachers and health workers are among those who have been affected by allegedly illegal or irregular transfers which are also being used to pay off personal grudges or promote personal interests.

Pro-government trade unions have prepared lists of employees allegedly linked with the opposition and handed over the lists to ministers and PA politicians.

The campaign launched by PA trade unions against what they see as sabotage by anti-government officials appears to have been dangerously distorted into a communal matter at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.

There are allegations that a communal line is being brought in to cover up a personality dispute and get rid of SLBC Director General Eric Fernando whose term comes up for extension next month.

SLBC Chairman Janadasa Pieris yesterday denied charges that he was behind the trade union campaign to remove the director general but said he could not take any action against the union whose members on Tuesday carried placards , accusing Mr. Fernando of being a LTTE sympathiser.

Mr. Pieris told The Sunday Times that following the presidential elections two pro-government unions sent a joint letter demanding the removal of the director general.

"The letter protested against the director general's behavior in the Corporation. I sent the letter to the Media Minister. The union last week joined Minister Alavi Moulana and carried out the protest. They even put up posters inside the corporation, however I ordered them to remove the posters," Mr. Pieris said.

In response, Mr. Fernando told The Sunday Times dismissed the allegation as absolute nonsense. He said his appointment came from the top and he took up the post as a challenge to do a service in the field where he had several decades of experience as a professional.

" It is the trade union with the help of some high-ups which is causing the problems. The union is questioning a cabinet-approved salary I am drawing. It is protesting not against me but against the President and the Cabinet. I still enjoy the confidence the President has in me, and it won't be affected by such petty allegations," he said.

Meanwhile, some SLBC sources said seven officers had been transferred and one senior officer interdicted for allegedly supporting the UNP.

But Mr. Pieris said action had been taken only against two officers who allegedly broke regulations by indulging in party politics.

In other departments and corporations, The Sunday Times learns that immediately after the elections hundreds of employees were transferred.

The worst affected were the transport boards where upto 600 officers and workers were moved out, UNP trade union sources said.

The UNP-oriented Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya Secretary Srinal de Mel said the transfers were illegal or irregular and the union would go to courts.

Opposition sources said upto 300 teachers had been transferred last week and the number was likely to increase. But it was also noted that January is the usual time for routine transfers.

Jathika Adyapana Sevaka Sangamaya leader Premasara Samaratunge claimed that most of the transfers were made on political grounds.

The Public Services Trade Union leader W. H. Piyadasa said they had in 1994 asked the government to appoint coordinating committees, including the minister and union representatives in every ministry and department to monitor progress and prevent sabotage by anti-government officers. But that was not done and the government had only now realised the magnitude of the problem, said Mr. Piyadasa whose union is one of the main pro-PA groups.

PA allies propose changes

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Two constituent parties of the PA are to insist on changes in the proposed constitutional reforms, giving early signs that government plans to finalise a draft within the specific timeframe may be difficult to achieve.

SLMC Secretary General Rauf Hakeem told The Sunday Times the electoral reforms would be one aspect the party would look into. He said the SLMC was not in favour of abolishing the executive presidency but would propose modifications.

ULF leader Srimani Athulathmudali told The Sunday Times that the party had reservations regarding land policy, the unit of devolution and foreign borrowings proposed in the earlier package.

The Cabinet which held a special session on Thursday at Temple Trees decided the new constitutional proposals would be based on the much criticised devolution package, but not in its entirety or in the same form.

A 14 member constitutional committee headed by President Kumaratunga and including leaders of PA parties will meet again tomorrow to further discuss the draft constitution.

Lanka hails ban on child soldiers

Sri Lanka last night welcomed an international accord aimed at prohibiting the use of child-soldiers but said the LTTE had done nothing to adhere to a promise given to the United Nations to stop recruiting children for war.

Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar joined UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, US President Bill Clinton and a host of human rights groups which hailed the accord reached in Geneva on Friday night. (Please see world news story on page 14.)

Mr. Kadirgamar told The Sunday Times last night that Sri Lanka had taken a keen interest in these negotiations because it was of great concern to the people.

He said it was a 'terrible tragedy' to have the lives of children blasted by using them for war.

The accord came after six years of wrangling. In effect, the age for military recruitment and combat has been fixed at 18 years, but governments may recruit volunteers who have parental consent as young as 16 though they cannot be sent to combat.

Armed rebel groups like the LTTE cannot recruit youth under 18 nor send them into combat. The UN estimates 300,000 children under18 are sent to war worldwide. According to a Reuter report, Olara Otunnu, the UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict had reached agreement with the LTTE to stop recruiting youth under 18, but a government spokesman said last night the LTTE had not abided by that promise since the day it agreed to it.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's candidate for the post of chairman of the UN Committee on Terrorism, Dr. Rohan Perera received a boost this week when the only challenger from Argentina withdrew her candidature.

CBK says sorry

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has expressed her apologies to the widow of the slain ACTC leader Kumar Ponnambalam over the back-dated error in the condolence message sent to her.

The President in a letter to Yogalakshmi Ponnambalam said that normally she checked and corrected even the slightest detail, but as she could now see only with one eye, this little detail where the date read May 6, 1999 instead of January 7, 2000 had escaped her detection.

The President said: "It has been brought to my notice that some newspapers have tried to create unnecessary speculation due to the fact that the date of the letter of condolence I sent you on 7th January 2000, had been inadvertently dated erroneously. I regret this error.

"If I had caused you any pain of mind, through this lapse of my office, I apologise most sincerely.

"I went into the cause of this error and found that in my office there are set formats of various types of letters sent on different occasions to various persons, which are stored in the hard disks of computers.

"On the day of the curfew, one officer, who reported for duty for a few hours for some urgent work, was hurriedly asked to prepare a letter of condolence to you.

"The officer concerned in doing so, had not altered the date that had been typed in for a previous letter of sympathy and in a hurry, had submitted the letter for my signature with the previous date. "I normally check and correct even the slightest detail, but as I can now see only with one eye, this little detail skipped my detection. I totally reject the said media construction on the cause of this error. In fact, I am contemplating taking legal action against them for fabricating a baseless allegation for a perfectly innocent mistake."

Key commission still crippled

By Leon Berenger and Chris Kamalendran

Nearly a month after the PA administration announced a re-launch of the crisis-ridden Permanent Commission to tackle bribery and corruption, some 6,500 complaints are still on the table as the President is yet to appoint a director general to oversee operations.

Although the government has appointed a chairman and two commissioners, work cannot get off the ground till a Director General is appointed, judicial and police sources said.

The complaints which range from serious irregularities involving top politicians and VIPs to minor charges against public servants are gathering dust with the police unable to launch investigations.

Already some 150 police personnel, including at least three senior officers, have been listed to serve on the commission, but they are getting nowhere as the top post is still headless.

The commission's chairman, former Supreme Court Judge Ananda Coomaraswamy, when asked to comment on the state of affairs said the answer lay within the Presidential Secretariat, but he declined to comment further.

Justice Ministry secretary M.S. Jayasinghe said the appointment of the Director General had to be made by the President and the ministry had nothing to do with it.

The commission was set up in 1995 with much fanfare soon after the PA came to office. But an internal crisis led to the removal of Director General Nelum Gamage after which the President called upon the two commissioners to resign, but they refused. The dispute dragged on with an inquiry by a parliamentary select committee making little progress, till the term of the commission mercifully ended last month. The main opposition UNP repeatedly charged that the Commission was driven to the ground in a bid to cover up certain misdeeds by government politicians.


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