20th February 2000

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Joint action by defeated candidates

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The recently formed defeated Presidential candidates group has decided to launch joint action against the government calling for the nullification of the recently held Presidential election and stage continuous protests calling for free and fair polls, political sources said.

The group which issued a joint communiqué last week is scheduled to meet next week after presidential candidate Vasudeva Nanayakkara returns from overseas.

Sources confirmed that the group has also decided to launch a three pronged protest action immediately. Accordingly, all candidates are to collectively protest to the IGP over the recent crime wave, political violence and the general breakdown in law and order. Also, the candidates will formally protest to Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake about the election malpractices during the recently conducted Presidential polls and meet Transport Minister M.H.M. Fowzie to complain regarding politically motivated transfers in various SLTB depots.

Despite the JVP's decision to boycott this group alleging that the UNP had no moral right to call for free and fair elections after 17 years of misrule and abuse of power, all other Presidential candidates have agreed to launch a joint protest to agitate for free polls.

Containing containers a thorny issue

By Nilika de Silva

The dangers involved in containers and other heavy vehicles wending their way through light weight traffic was brought home to us last week, when a container overturned crushing several three-wheelers, and critically injuring people.

In fact, the damage done by the container could have been far more extensive, bringing us close to a problem that needs urgent solutions.

The victims could have included a van load of school children who would have been instantaneously crushed to death.

"I feel that in certain areas container transport hours must be regulated," DIG Traffic, Camillus Abeygoonewardena said.

Responding to The Sunday Times this week DIG Abeygoonewardena said, "We have strongly recommended to the Ministry of Transport that import cargo should be cleared at night."

However, an official of the Ministry of Transport and Highways said the Ministry has no power to restrict the movement of containers as all decisions are reached after a consensus between several parties.

"This is a multi-faceted problem and unilateral decisions cannot be taken," the official of the Ministry of Transport and Highways, who wished to remain anonymous stressed.

The most disheartening information revealed by this Ministry official was that container transportation was an "ongoing subject at forums".

Meanwhile, the secretary of the Association of Container Terminal and Depot Operators, Jagath Pathirana, said that they would not agree to restricting container movements to certain times of the day.

"I don't think we could say 'yes' to this, because ships would not wait for us," he said adding, "We are being governed by the shipping lines who are the customers of the Port of Colombo".

It is evident that for purposes of revenue, container movement cannot be totally banned. However proper time-tables can be drawn up to ensure that the roads are kept free for smaller vehicular traffic during the day time. The roads could be utilised by larger vehicles late into the evening until early next morning.

Some of the containers being transported to the outstations are also seen taking risky journeys along narrow roads besides travelling at high speeds.

Check-points should not be death traps

By Leon Berenger

Last week's fatal shooting at a police road block in Slave Island which left one person dead and three others injured has prompted a fresh call for a change in the appearance of the check points in the city and elsewhere since some of them look so gloomy that it gives a ghastly atmosphere which is not a pleasant sight to both locals and foreigners who include many investors as well, a senior policeman said.

He added that this situation could be helped and improved if the road blocks and checkpoints are given a fresh coat of paint in bright colours where they are visible from some distance away.

The camouflage set up is the last thing that should be applied to the points, since the visibility, particularly at night makes is extremely poor, and this could be dangerous to motorists and other road users, and as a result innocent lives could be snuffed out.

Camouflage setups are mainly used in the operational areas of the North and East to make it difficult for the enemy to penetrate.

"I don't see how such a setup would help in the metropolis, except that it presents a scary sight", the official who did not wish to be identified said. Such suggestions have already been made to the Operational Colombo Command (OCC), where it was even recommended that private business establishments be invited to make their own contributions such as providing the material and other assistance in return for some advertising.

It was also recommended that private sponsors be brought in to help in the maintenance of the checkpoints in return for some free publicity. Some private companies are already involved and more of them should be encouraged to join in, the official said. Among the many fatal shootings that took place at police and military checkpoints was the killing of popular actor Nihal Silva of Sergeant Nallathambi fame.

Allocation for informants increased

The annual allocation made to the Assistant Superintendents of Police (ASPs) of divisions to be paid as rewards for persons providing information regarding terrorist suspects and other criminals has been increased from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 25,000.

IGP Lucky Kodithuwakku had taken the decision after the ASPs had pointed out that the allocation made so far was not sufficient.

Campaign to tackle malaria underway

By Faraza Farook

With a rise in the number of malaria cases reported in the country, the Health Ministry, in coordination with UNICEF, UNDP, WHO and the World Bank has launched a new project to control the disease.

The number of malaria cases have been rising especially in the conflict areas during the last three years, a Health Education Bureau seminar was told.

The seminar discussed a new programme titled 'Roll Back Malaria' (RBM) which is aimed at tackling the problem differently - involving other sectors such as the concerned ministries (Education Ministry), the community, NGOs, the private sector, the research community, medical personnel, international agencies and the donor community.

The RBM project was instituted in July 1998 with one and a half years (until December 1999) being designated for the preparatory phase.

The problem is rife mainly in the North-East Province with 53% of the total cases reported in the country in 1998 being from there. Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu were the districts affected in the North, while Anuradhapura from the North Central and Moneragala from the Uva Province were also affected.

These five districts collectively contributed to 71% of the total case-load of the country in 1998. In 1999, a 10% increase was reported.

Who drove killer Pajero?

An eight month old baby girl was left fatherless and a twenty-one year old woman widowed after an accident last week in Wellawatte when a Pajero of the Sports Ministry crashed into a motorcycle.

The accident killed Sailendra Subramaniam on the spot while his father Ramaiah Subramaniam(65) died while being taken to hospital. Speculation is rife as to who was the driver of the vehicle in police custody.

Doubts are being raised as to whether the vehicle was driven by the man presently in police custody or whether he was just a scapegoat.

An eyewitness had made a statement to the Police that he believes that the person who drove the vehicle at the time of the accident was not the person who had produced himself as the driver.

It is just two years since the marriage of Sailendra and Shanthini took place, and Shanthini has still not come to terms with her loss. It was only last year that baby Amirthavarshini was born.

"It's a big shock," said Geethanjali, a cousin of Sailendra. "The problem is we cannot be sure of what took place." Geethanjali recounted what she knew of that fateful night.

"My cousin phoned us at about 12.30 that night and said that they were on their way back home, but since it was raining they had stopped the bike and said would come after the rain ceased," she said.

"But that was not to be. The next phone call that came was from Kalubowila hospital saying that my uncle had been brought in," she said.

"My mind was uneasy. Why were they not speaking of my cousin I wondered. As we entered the hospital we saw two bodies covered and placed on trolleys. My father said someone has died. Little did he know that these were our people," she said.

Tamil parties optimistic

By Roshan Peiris

Last week some of the Tamil political parties and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress met President Kumaratunga for discussions on the ethnic issue. Talking to The Sunday Times, those who met her were optimistic.

R.S.Sampanthan Secretary General of the TULF said the government is planning a larger programme and has in mind to discuss it with both the UNP and LTTE.

"We in the TULF have always urged that the government and the UNP must get together to settle the ethnic issue.

"After discussions we were of the belief that for the ethnic war to end there must be discussions with the LTTE. We urged that the LTTE must be spoken to.

"We also pointed out that the Norwegian Minister as a facilitator would create an opportunity for the government to speak to the LTTE.

Douglas Devananda, Leader of the EPDP said: "It was a healthy discussion on the Regional Councils and the unit of devolution, which we want. So now we have to wait and see the outcome of this amicable discussion."

R. Yogaraja, who acted on behalf of Arumugam Thondaman who is away in Australia, said "The Ceylon Workers' Congress considered the discussions very progressive in every aspect.

"Ideas were receptively entertained and the CWC feels the ethnic problem will, after these preliminary discussions, be solved soon.

"There are a few minor difficulties we pointed out, in the devolution package. The PA suggested changes in the original devolution package. We are optimistic about the discussion.

Suresh Premachandran: Secretary General of the EPRLF said: "I was not present since it was a meeting of those in Parliament. However, I was told that the parties and the EPRLF also suggest a policy of wait and see after these discussions.

"We also support the Provincial Councils and we suggest that the amendments given to the Parliamentary Select Committee be considered.

"The discussions were no doubt a positive step forward in settling this on-going ethnic problem," he said. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was also present at the discussion. The Leader of the SLMC Minister M.H.M. Ashraff told The Sunday Times "as far as the SLMC is concerned we are hopeful that the President will succeed in bringing about a consensus of all political parties including the UNP.

"We also hope that the present exercise in constitution making will lead to ultimate peace," he said.

Blood Bank dispute

Director stays on

By Faraza Farook

The Public Service Commission which investigated into the Blood Bank controversy turned down a move to send Blood Bank Director Dr. Ranjini Bindusara on compulsory leave due to insufficient evidence, Health Ministry sources said.

Moves were afoot to send the Central Blood Bank (CBB) Director on compulsory leave, but the PSC has reported that it cannot send the director on compulsory leave due to insufficient evidence to prove the charge against her.

The Government Medical Officers' Association early this month opposed any political victimisation of the director and said it would defend Dr. Bindusara if she was interdicted or sent on compulsory leave.

Dr. Bindusara was also exonerated from one of the charges levelled against her due to the lack of evidence to prove it, a ministry official said.

However, the PSC has asked the Ministry to revise the other charge against Dr. Bindusara. The two charges against Dr. Bindusara was the calling of explanation from a medical officer for the release of blood for surgery on President Kumaratunga after an attempted suicide bomb attack at an election rally in Town Hall and the alleged move to transfer the medical officer.

The controversy arose after ten pints of blood were taken from the Blood Bank by Dr. Athula Wijesundara on the advice of the doctors at the Nawaloka Hospital attending on President Kumaratunga after the December 18 bomb blast.

Britain welcomes peace moves

British High Commissioner Linda Duffield has welcomed the government's proposals for a negotiated peace settlement involving all parties.

Ms. Duffield speaking to the Sri Lanka United Kingdom Society said that devolution could be a force to strengthen not weaken nationhood and said the many cultures, faiths, languages and traditions of the people of Sri Lanka should be a source of strength and pride.

She was speaking on the subject of devolution and constitutional reforms taking place both in UK and in Sri Lanka.

'There is much that unites us - we are both multi-faith and multi-cultural societies; we are both island nations with a strong and open trading relationship; we share a long history; we are firm believers in democracy, free speech and equality of opportunity; our parliamentary, legal and administrative systems share a common foundation', she said. Miss Duffield said today Britain and Sri Lanka are wrestling as never before, with constitutional change and devolution as we enter the 21st century.

'Why should devolution and constitutional change feature so high on the political agenda both in Britain and Sri Lanka today ? First it is about making democracy a reality. Bringing power and decision making closer to the people is democracy in action.. But secondly, devolving power enables governments to reflect the different traditions, cultures and aspirations of the people who make up our nations', she said.

'It is my earnest hope that the people of Sri Lanka will together find a way of resolving this conflict and of realising the dreams and potential of all your people. The many cultures, faiths, languages and traditions are part of the rich fabric of Sri Lankan society. They should be a source strength and pride rather than a cause of division', she said.

Parliamentary expert urges LTTE to talk peace

British-Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group Chairman Lord Naseby has has called on LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran to come to the negotiating table if he has the future of Sri Lankan Tamils truly in his heart.

Lord Naseby, also a former Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, addressing the Sri Lanka-UK Society in Colombo said if Mr. Prabhakaran did agree to negotiate at this time he would do so amidst strength and considerable respect for his abilities.

He said the LTTE leader would also do so with the knowledge that since the big powers such as the Western countries, the USA, Australia and South Africa were tightening the screw on LTTE activities, making life more difficult for the LTTE.

Lord Naseby also appealed to the British Government to give a lead in the peace process. He said he did not blame the LTTE 'for wanting to see the colour of prospective money' as there is a wide recognition that for peace to succeed there must be a firm financial commitment that in the devastated areas there will be immediate and huge investment in areas such as infrastructure, schools, universities and hospitals.

He expressed confidence that if the war was stopped and the talents of the Tamil people were reintergrated into the nations capabilities, Sri Lanka could be a potential powerhouse in South Asia.

Internet row goes to courts

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

Lanka Internet, the company caught up in the voice mail controversy with Sri Lanka Telecom, has filed yet another petition in the Court of Appeal asking for an interim order restraining the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission from interfering with the services provided by the company.

Lanka Internet Managing Director Hemantha Jayawardene said the company had lost more than Rs. 25 million due to the disruption in services during the past two weeks.

The company said that the Acting Minister of Post and Telecommunications in mid January had informed Sri Lanka Telecom, Suntel and Lanka Bell that it had been brought to his notice that telecommunications operators were engaged in unauthorised activities deviating from the conditions of their respective licenses and that it was only SLT that was licensed for international voice telephony. The acting minister had also requested Suntel and Lanka Bell to cease any unauthorised interconnections with operators who were not licensed for international telephone. Lanka Internet however in a letter to the Acting Minister had denied any such unauthorised activity.

The company has said this action is carried out for a co-lateral purpose, namely to further the interests of SLT by preventing Lanka Internet from providing enhanced voice services, and thereby to enable SLT to have the monopoly over the transmission of messages to and from overseas.

Stating that the TRC is taking steps to prevail on Suntel and Lanka Bell to disconnect, disrupt or otherwise interfere with the services provided by the company, Lanka Internet has stated that this action is unlawful, mala fide and capricious. It has also submitted that if its services are in any way interrupted it would suffer grave and irreparable loss and damage.

The CID last week prevented Lanka Internet engineers from entering their workplace, as a result of which crucial maintenance work was not carried out and Lanka Internet services were unavailable to customers. The company had filed a fundamental rights violation application in the Supreme Court against this action by the CID.

The company has also filed a separate action against TRC for allegedly delaying it obtaining a batch of equipment required by the company to provide enhanced voice facilities.

Crews told to check buses fully

By Chamintha Thilakarathna

Bus drivers and conductors will be charged with negligence if it is found that they did not take measures to prevent explosives from being loaded into buses, a senior police officer said.

ASP Gamini Walgama, who is leading investigations into the spate of bus bomb blasts said drivers and conductors should be aware of their responsibilities during a time of national crisis.

He said there appeared to be some negligence on the part of the bus crew in the blast at Kurunegala and there was legal provision to take action against them. The conductor of this bus was produced in courts on charges of negligence and was allowed bail. The police have also advised crews on precautionary steps.

Judge-Police row ends with apology

The ongoing dispute between the Kandy Police and the Kandy judiciary has been settled with the officer in charge of Kandy Traffic Police being asked to apologise to High Court Judge Samith Silva.

The dispute arose when Inspector S. .M. Weerasinghe had allegedly been abusive towards the Kandy High Court judge. On a complaint made by the High Court judge to Kandy Magistrate Leon Seneviratne, Inspector Weerasinghe was remanded, after he evaded an arrest warrant for several days. On this basis, the inspector was refused bail and will be in remand until tomorrow.

Chief Justice Sarath Silva told The Sunday Times the case against the Inspector would end tomorrow with an apology to the judge.

Police security at the residences of judges and court-houses would also be resumed.

At the meeting chaired by the Chief Justice and attended by the IGP, and top Police officers along with judges, it was decided to hold such meetings on a regular basis to rebuild confidence and prevent such incidents.

Following the Inspector's arrest Kandy lawyers had refused to appear on his behalf and lawyers from Colombo were enlisted to defend him. Police however alleged that the lawyers had refrained from representing the inspector due to fear of antagonising the judges.

After the remanding of the Inspector, the Police had slackened security for judges in the Kandy district and not reported for duty at the Chief Magistrate's Court.

Following the incident the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and its Kandy branch issued statements voicing grave concern over the Police reaction.


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