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18th June 2000

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Scores of hungry hands reach out for free food at a Poson Day Dane at the Kelaniya Temple

Scores of hungry hands reach out for
free food at a Poson Day Dane at the
Kelaniya Temple indicating the crisis that the
poor and now even the middle class
people are facing over the escalating cost of living.
Pic by Gemunu Wellage.

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Reform package to bypass LTTE

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The PA and the UNP are divided on the issue of presenting the political package in Parliament before the August deadline with the opposition insisting that the proposals be presented to the LTTE first but the government wanting to bring the reforms directly to Parliament.

The proposals are expected to include the setting up of an interim council to run the north-east for a limited period of three years after which a referendum will be held, according to sources involved in the PA-UNP talks.

The Sunday Times learns that the PA wants to bring the reforms directly to Parliament as it believes that presenting the proposals to the LTTE could further delay the process but the UNP feels that the proposals will have to be put to the LTTE since it is a party to the conflict.

A UNP spokesman said they saw the interim council as a viable solution to bring all parties to the conflict under one umbrella and they hoped it would be possible to hold fair and peaceful elections in the north-east after three years of proper civil administration.

He said the UNP was proposing a referendum in both provinces after three years while the PA idea was to hold the referendum only in the east to decide whether the people there wanted to continue the merger with the north.

He said the UNP would oppose any sample referendum, much like an opinion poll, in selected areas like Trincomalee and Batticaloa.

In this backdrop, the UNP was also asking for Ampara to be separated from the eastern province and not to be annexed to any north-east merger.

In a related development the SLMC leader and Minister M.H.M Ashraff is seeking a separate South-eastern Council consisting of Akkaraipattu, Kalmunai and Pottuvil with Ampara being linked to the north-east council.

A senior PA minister said that with growing international pressure on the LTTE to come to talks, the government felt the best course of action would be to present the political package to Parliament where it hoped it would get support from the UNP and Tamil parties.

Balagalle to stay on

The President has made significant changes in regulations covering the extension of services of officers of the Army, Navy and the Air Force.

Notwithstanding any previous regulations, she is now empowered to retain in the same rank, the service of an officer now holding the rank of a Brigadier or Major General. This is by extending the service of the officer, or by appointing him in his substantive rank, at the time of his retirement, beyond the age of 55 years or beyond the period stipulated in respect of such rank. The immediate outcome of President Kumaratunga's move was the extension of the services of the Army's Chief of Staff, Major General Lionel Balagalle. He reached 55 years, the age of retirement, on June 14.

See also

All clues lead to guesses

By Leon Berenger

Investigators probing Wattala's bomb carnage have questioned at least 40 people, including several associates of the alleged bomb carrier, amidst the emergence of a key eyewitness.

The eyewitness claimed to have seen the carpenter astride the pedal cycle moments before the explosion.

The alleged bomber who has already been identified as a carpenter, a Sinhalese, was traced to a fishing hamlet in Koralawella on the Moratuwa coast where he lived with his Sinhalese wife and three children.

Police Superintendent Upali Ranasinghe told The Sunday Times the motive for his deadly action remained a mystery.

"He could have done it for anything money, commitment, revenge or just plain fanaticism. However what the police are probing foremost is the possible money link, since the carpenter was on the brink of bankruptcy, and even his tiny home at Moratuwa had already been mortgaged to the local bank. Somewhere down the line, during his many visits to the Wattala-Hendala area he may have tied up with LTTE operatives who would have offered him cash for tiny services in return, like making a delivery of a parcel or bag," SP Ranasinghe said.

Police also suspect that the carpenter would have been a habitual gambler and was on the lookout for any such outlets he may have frequented.

He said the carpenter's wife had been remanded and their house placed under police guard.

The couple's three children are being looked after by relatives. Investigators are also trying to put together clues which would lead to the exact target of the bomber since the Air Force bus was caught up several metres away from the attack.

Or was it meant for a senior minister who uses the same junction on his way to the capital from Negombo, another policeman asked.

Take cover, President tells all

President Kumaratunga has advised all ministers, deputies and MPs, including opposition members to cancel all non-essential public appearances and coordinate closely with their security officers whenever they take part in essential events.

This comes in the aftermath of the slaying of Minister C. V. Gooneratne on June 7 and the mystery-ridden Wattala bomb a week later.

A memorandum to this effect was issued to all Cabinet members by the Presidential Secretariat this week. In the same vein, the President is also expected to make the same request to her parliamentary group and also opposition members, specially the UNP, when she meets the UNP delegation to discuss constitutional reforms.

PA sources said the tough measures were needed because the LTTE was now going not only for VIP targets but for anyone. This was the reason why the President had advised all politicians to prioritise their programmes and attend public events only if it was 100 percent necessary.

Political link in Kumar killing?

Police probing the assassination of ACTC leader Kumar Ponnambalam in early January are looking into a possible political connection, investigators said yesterday.

The political link to the murder is being probed after it was confirmed that a reserve police constable had ordered the contract hit using underworld operatives.

Police have begun a massive hunt for the constable after his name emerged following the arrest of two underworld hit-men who are alleged to have planned the killing and later fired the fatal bullets at Mr. Ponnambalam.

"It appears to be an underworld job. The killers, along with the suspect constable seem to have been motivated by some sort of patriotism or nationalism to get at Mr. Ponnambalam, who openly advocated and supported the political agenda of the Tamil Tigers," Detective Inspector Nuwan Wedasinghe told The Sunday Times.

The constable is absconding and several teams have been sent to various places including his parents' home at Embilipitiya but there is no trace of the man. With his arrest more light could be shed on the case, Inspector Wedasinghe said. The two underworld operatives identified as Moratuwa Saman and Sujeewa were wanted by police in connection with a series of criminal activities, largely robberies, extortion and intimidation of certain political elements.

They have repeatedly told investigators that the hit on Mr. Ponnambalam was carried out purely for patriotic reasons and that there was nothing else to it. The police however, will investigate further.

There are also reports that the son of a VIP is alleged to have attempted to use some kind of friendly persuasion seeking the release of 'Moratuwa Saman', according to sources.

Mr. Ponnambalam, was shot dead on January 6 on a lonely by-road in Wellawatte.

Hours later a previously unknown group, styling itself as a Sinhalese nationalist movement claimed responsibility for the killing and warned of a similar fate to those supporting or sympathising with the Tamil separatist cause.

Mr. Ponnambalam's widow had earlier requested the CDB to conduct a parade to identify the suspects, but the CDB turned it down on the grounds that Moratu Saman had been taken in for other cases. However, in a sudden change, the CDB has now identified the Moratu Saman as the suspect involved in the killing of Mr. Ponnambalam.

CDB investigations are continuing with Inspector Wedasinghe heading the probe under the personal direction of CDB chief Bandula Wickremesinghe. Meanwhile. Mr. Ponnambalam's widow Yogaluxmi said yesterday she believed that pressure from international organisations might have brought up at least a part of the truth and she was thankful to some Sinhala newspapers which had brought out the story long before the latest arrests were made.

ACTC General Secretary N. Kumaraguruparan said the suspects taken in had obviously been hired by some one and the full story must be told.

UNP pushing hard for polls commission

By Shelani de Silva

In an effort to ensure the conduct of a free and fair election the PA and the UNP are planning to bring in changes to the election laws before the forthcoming polls, The Sunday Times learns.

On Wednesday the UNP presented a set of proposals to President Chandrika Kumaratunga giving guidelines for an independent elections commission which is described as the key factor in the proposed changes.

The proposals came amidst a meeting between the Election Commissioner and a five-member delegation.

The Sunday Times learns that President Kumaratunga had given an assurance to the UNP that the proposals would be discussed by the cabinet and a decision taken next week.

The UNP is proposing that the commissioner of election though appointed by the President for a six year period could be removed only with the approval of parliament as in the case of a Superior Court judge.

The commissioner would have powers to give orders to the police and the armed forces in ensuring a free and fair election. UNP MP Tyronne Fernando commenting on the new election laws said things seem to be progressing in a positive way.

It is learnt that the proposals are drawn from practices followed in countries such as India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Israel, France and the USA.

The changes are likely to be made along with the constitutional reforms being worked out by the Government and the UNP.


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