17th September 2000

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President Kumaratunga expressing her sympathy
to the family members of Minister Ashraff.
Pic by M.A. Pushpakumara


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Shopping around for voters at CWE?

By Chandani Kirinde

In the backdrop of walls, buses and garbage trucks being tainted with political muck as the poll campaign hots up, even the plastic shopping bag has not been spared.

The Co-operative Wholesale Establishment (CWE) has issued plastic bags adorned with a picture and message from the minister of Internal Trade and Food Kingsley T. Wickremaratne.

These bags are being distributed at CWE outlets in the Colombo district from where Mr.Wickremaratne is contesting for a parliamentary seat much to the annoyance of CWE employees who see it as an abuse of state funds, sources said. The bags bearing the CWE logo describe the CWE supermarkets as Mr. Wickremaratne's concept and as the largest chain of such outlets in the country earning more than 20 billion rupees annually.

Sources also say that about 1,500 CWE employees who were recruited recently have been asked to sign in at work and then report for duty to help the minister with his electioneering. Most of the vehicles of the CWE have also been taken over and senior staff members have been forced to forego the vehicle facilities they are entitled to for election work, The Sunday Times learns.

Meanwhile election fever has even gone internet and a huge bill board advertising the web site of Minister G.L.Peiris looks down on passersby near the Kelaniya bridge. Former MP for Wattala Neil Rupasinghe has managed to bypass the cutout ban in a novel manner. His picture appears on a billboard announcing a film festival outside a theatre at Wattala.

The Kotte Mayor Chandra Silva who is also in the fray, saw it fit to promote his candidature on a garbage truck.

Familiar figure turns into deadly bomber

By Chris Kamalendran

The suicide bomber who exploded himself opposite the Eye Hospital killing seven people including himself carried out a dry run for more than a month before he was intercepted unexpectedly by a Policeman on Friday an eyewitness said.

"For the past one month I had seen this man visiting this location at least twice a week and spending about two hours on each visit," P.W. Premawathi, a traffic warden told The Sunday Times.

Premawathi who has been working as a warden in unofficial capacity for the past five years said she alerted a threewheel driver about the person on Friday morning because she felt he was acting in a suspicious manner.

"As usual I arrived at 7.00 a.m. and the bomber came there at about 7.30 a.m., the normal time he arrives there. At the beginning I did not take notice of him since his presence was a familiar sight.

But later in the day I felt he was behaving in a suspicious manner and informed a three wheel driver who was on the opposite side of the road," she said.

Premawathi recovering from her injuries at the Colombo National Hospital said that soon after she alerted the three-wheel driver he crossed over towards the Eye Hospital and followed a Police officer who was accompanying a group of police patients into the Eye Hospital.

"At this moment the bomber, dressed in a blue shirt, brown trouser entered through the gate and went towards the hospital. The policeman went up to the bomber and attempted to question him but failed, as he did not respond. The Police officer asked me whether I could speak in Tamil, and I said no but offered to bring a hospital employee who could speak in Tamil.

"I rushed into the hospital and looked for the person but I was told she had gone out and would be back in five minutes. I was returning to convey the message when I heard the explosion and I was thrown aside by the impact.

It was only later at the hospital that I was told that the police officer was killed," Premawathie said.

Tears of pain and relief

By Faraza Farook

In the aftermath of the deadly blast in front of the Eye Hospital there was near pandemonium at the Colombo National Hospital. Even at five in the evening family members and friends were rushing to the Accident Ward looking for their loved ones.

While some were relieved to find their friends and family members injured but still living, others were forced to go through the bitter ordeal of identifying bodies at the mortuary.

The suicide bomb explosion left seven dead including security personnel and 34 injured with three of them at the Intensive Care Unit. Among the injured were 11 women and of the three receiving treatment at the ICU was an 18 year-old boy who suffered a vascular damage to his leg.

His mother B.A. Somawathie (54) was also admitted to the hospital with injuries to her right thumb. "We were going home from the Eye Hospital where my son was being treated for sore eyes..A man from a nearby shop called us for tea as we stepped out of the hospital, but we ignored him and proceeded towards the Town Hall when suddenly we heard the blast," she said.

The thick black smoke that enveloped the area had made it difficult for Somawathie to find her son who had crawled up to her. Both mother and son were then rushed to the hospital. Little knowing about her son's condition, and praying for his well being Somawathie said, "I saw some blood on his legs as he was being rushed in for surgery. But I don't know how serious his injuries are," she lamented.

Twenty-two-year-old Deepika Lasanthi a security officer at the Eye Hospital had narrowly escaped with no injuries but was still in shock and complained of a heavy head.

Deepika was coming out of the hospital to question the suicide bomber who had been loitering around the place for quite some time. The traffic warden in the scene, unable to communicate in Tamil had sought the assistance of the Tamil speaking Deepika but before she could approach him, the suspect had detonated the bomb.

Ranjith Premasiri (41), who has been running a grocery shop in the area since he left school, suffered minor head injuries. With two customers waiting, he went in to the shop to fetch the goods when the explosion occurred. "On my return I saw the two customers lying dead and my shop completely damaged," he said.

Muslims told not to quarrel over politics

Moulavis addressing the Friday sermons appealed to Mulsims not to quarrel over politics a reference to the dispute between Minister A. H. M. Fowzie and Minister M. H. M. Ashraff who was killed in a helicopter crash yesterday.

"Don't bring your anger and ill feelings to each other into the open, for it denies you God's mercy," an Imam at Kompannaveediya mosque told the congregation.

Better vision for the new millennium

Don Bosco Kotadeniyawa is organising a free eye test camp today. This is done in collaboration with the authorities of the Buddhist temples at Waradla and Kudugamana and the Parish Priest of Badalgama.

A team of ophthalmic opticians patronised by the Metropolitan Rotary Club of Colombo will be in attendance.

President Kumaratunga expressing her sympathy to the family members of Minister Ashraff. Pic by M. A. Pushpakumara

Smouldering wreck in uncharted terrain

Chris Kamalendran reporting from Urakanda

Police, Air Force teams, and villagers struggled through thick jungle terrain for more than one and half hours to reach the site of the helicopter crash at Urakanda in Aranayaka.

Farmer W.Seneviratne who was in one of the rescue teams said he heard a huge explosion around 9.30 a.m. and rushing our from his house, he saw a huge cloud of smoke from the top of the hill.

The 53-year-old farmer said about 40 village's were in a rescue team that was the first to reach the crash site followed by police.

Earlier in the morning there was a heavy downpour in the area and the terrain was muddy.

"We had to create a route to the scene of the crash. When we arrived there was a huge flame around the helicopter and we could not get close to the place," he said.

The villagers and the police team watched helplessly for about one hour till they were soon joined by a squad of about 30 airmen who managed to spread out the debris.

It took another three to four hours to start removing the bodies which were charred.

The bodies were wrapped in polythene bags and tied to poles to bring them down the hill in another difficult operation. When the bodies were brought to the Kumarapura village, about five kilometres from the crash site, Mr.Ashraff's rival Minister A. H. M. Fowzie was among the first to come to the village.

By 4 p.m. the bodies were removed to the Mawanella hospital.

As we left the scene around 5.30 p.m, the helicopter was still smouldering with Air Force personnel guarding the site.

Followers flock to bid farewell

By Faraza Farook and Tania Fernando

Upon hearing the shocking news on Minister M.H.M. Ashraff's death, the President, cabinet colleagues, party supporters, friends and relatives flocked to his Stanmore Crescent residence.

Also flocking to his residence were family members of others who were killed in the helicopter crash at Aranayake. They were there largely to confirm what they did dread to hear.

Mr. Ashraff's only son, 21-year-old Aman, although in shock, appeared to be much in control of his grief. Recalling the last moments he spent with his father, he said: "It was one of his usual visits to Ampara. It is his hometown and he goes there every other week."

Reports reaching Stanmore Crescent said Minister Alavi Moulana and onetime SLMC national list MP Asitha Perera had rushed to the scene.

The wife of Mr.Ashraff's Chief Security Officer Ajith Vithanagamage was unable to control her grief and was seen being consoled by the Minister's relatives.

Unable to handle the large crowd of sympathisers, she left with her child in tow.

Despite political differences, President Kumaratunga seemed to be in shock when she visited the residence clad in skirt and blouse to condole with Mr. Ashraff's widow and the son.

Meanwhile reports from the east said thousands of party supporters were mourning and many had left for Colombo to attend the funeral which took place at Jawatte Muslim burial ground at midnight.

Tension prevailed in the SLMC stronghold of Kalmunai and Pottuvil areas with shops being closed as a mark of respect.

He played a key role: CBK

President Chandrika Kumaratunga in a condolence message on Minister M.H.M. Ashraff's death said that the Minister gave an immense and invaluable support to the government to restore peace.

'He played a key role as a member of the Government delegation during the long and difficult consultations with all political parties on the new constitution, President Kumaratunga said.

President described Mr. Ashraff as an active member of the PA cabinet fulfilling his responsibilities as a Minister with the utmost dedication and efficiency.

'His constant struggle to obtain the rights of the Muslim people have had much success during the last six years. He had a vast following among the Muslim people who appreciate his vision, the immense sacrifices he has made for their cause and his sincerity of purpose', the message said.

'I express with deep sadness, my heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Ferial Ashraff, to their son Aman, to his beloved mother the other members of his family', she said.

'I also extend my sincere condolences to the leaders and members of SLMC. To his beloved people of Amparai all I can say now, is that we shall vow to continue all the good work he has commenced for you', President Kumaratunga said.

An obituary

Minister M. H. M. Ashraff, born on October 23, 1948, was the Minister of Shipping, Ports, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction and founder and leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress at the time of his death yesterday.

He hails from Eastern Samanthurai and had his early education in Kalmunai. In 1970 he entered the Sri Lanka Law College, obtained first class honours and a scholarship in the first year examination and the prize for Constitutional Law.

He obtained first class honours in the second year too. Mr. Ashraff wrote a book on Constitutional Law in Tamil with particular reference to the 1978 Republican Constitution.

He obtained his LLM from the Colombo University in 1995. He came to the unofficial bar in 1974 and a year later joined the Attorney General's Department but soon left the job to practise again.

He was a founder of the Muslim United Front formed in 1977. He formed the SLMC on September 21, 1981.

Delayed visit and date with death

Minister and NUA leader M. H. M. Ashraff was to leave for Kalmunai on Friday evening but he delayed the visit to summon an urgent politbureau meeting of the party at 11 p.m.

The meeting went on till 5.45 am and Mr. Ashraff left home around 8.30 am to board the Air force helicopter at Police Grounds at Bambalapitiya.

SLMC administrative officer A. Z. Aniff Administrative Officer told The Sunday Times minister Ashraff was to spend a week in Kalmunai and Batticalao where he was to attend a convention organised by the Buddhist clergy of the east.

He said the minister usually did not take the helicopter but this time he chose to do so because he was pressed for time.

Computers at Lake House: going all the way to election

Twenty computers purchased on urgent basis by the state-run Lake House newsaper group have been loaned to the Media Ministry for three months, The Sunday Times learns.

The Media Ministry made the request for the computers two months before the newspaper group made a 20 percent advance payment for the order valued at Rs. 2.3million and the approval was granted at a management meeting of on August 28.

The budget accountant's report states that there is no provision for year 2000 for these purchases.

The Sunday Times learns that computers which are to be loaned to the Media ministry will be used during the election. They are equipped with wide-screen monitors and powerful hard disk jazz drives and high-speed matrix printers.

Lake House Chairman Lucien Rajakaru-nayake told The Sunday Times yesterday he was not aware of any move to loan the computers to the Media Ministry.

"Tenders were called before I was appointed.

I am not aware whether they were purchased, but the computers will be used in the editorial. The editorial needs to be computerised," he said.

BBC focus on ethnic conflict

The BBC's Sinhala Service 'Sandeshaya' will launch a series of radio progammes on the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

The programme titled 'Bindunu Deshaya' (Broken Nation) will be broadcast every Thursday between 9.15. p.m. to 9.45 P.m. on Sw Meter bands 31 and 49.

Local and foreign experts will share their views on the history and the current situation about the ethnic issue.

Ashraff's lakh for fair poll

Minister and SLMC ledear M.H.M. Ashraff who died in a helicopter crash yesterday had donated Rs. 100,000 for the Yellow Ribbon campaign initiated by the Alliance for Democracy to create awareness for a free and fair election.

Unofficial curfew

An unofficial curfew was clamped by the Police in the Samanthurai area last night fearing clashes between rival groups after the tragic death of Minister M. H. M. Ashraff was announced.

HRC summons polls chief

The Human Rights Commission has asked Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake to present himself on Tuesday for an inquiry on the contorversial printing of stickers.

The move follows a complaint made by Attorney Ananda Goonetilleke who claimed the commissioner's action amounted to a violation of people's democratic rights. The printing of stickers considered to be a top secret had sparked off suspicions, he said in a petition.

Buddhist monks as polling agents

By Shelani de Silva

Buddhist monks are to be appointed as polling agents for several political parties as part of a bid to prevent rigging or other malpractices at the October 10 general election.

A spokesman for one of these parties said they would appoint a monk along with a party member as agents at the polling and counting centres. This would be discussed at a meeting with the Elections Commissioner tomorrow.

This move comes after the polls chief said he could not allow Buddhist monks to act as monitors or observers for the election. Assistant Commissioner K. Senanayake told The Sunday Times he believed that legally there was nothing to prevent them from being appointed as a polling agent of any party.

BASL wants probe to cover all killings

By Nilika de Silva

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has decided to call for investigations on the killings of all lawyers not just four lawyers mentioned in an affidavit of former Senior Police Superintendent Douglas Peiris.

The BASL took this decision at an executive meeting on Tuesday and it comes in the wake of an abortive attempt to pass a resolution calling on the government to take action against people mentioned in the SSP's affidavit as being linked to the murders of four lawyers. The resolution was not taken up at the September 9 Bar Council meeting due to a lack of quorum.

The new resolution will be taken up at a Bar Council meeting on September 30, BASL Secretary Palitha Mathew told The Sunday Times.

The resolution calls for the investigations on the deaths of Kumar Ponnambalam, Neelan Thiruchelvam, Gamini Dissanayake, Lalith Athulathmudali, Tudor Keerthinanda, Sarath Rathnayake, D. Wickramasinghe, Sarath Karaliyadda, Neville Nissanka, Kanchana Abeypala, Wijeydasa Liyanarachchi, Y. Yogeswaran, A. Amirthalingam, Charitha Lankapura, J.M.D. Bandara and Y.G. Leslie.


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