Lakmina bombed as publisher flees
A major SLFP row over reports in the Lakmina newspaper - known to be published by a faction of the party - took a new twist yesterday when an armed gang hurled bombs and set fire to the newspaper office at Welikada and the publisher pulled out saying he himself has received death threats.

Police said that according to a complaint, the gang brandishing automatic weapons had threatened two members of the staff before exploding bombs and setting fire to newspapers and files in the premises. Yesterday's incident came after the Lakmina openly attacked former minister and Gampaha District Parliamentarian Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, making several accusations against him.

Mr. Fernandopulle told The Sunday Times he had sent a letter of demand to the Lakmina seeking Rs. 100 million for alleged defamation. Adding to the confusion, Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse has also openly attacked the newspaper, accusing it of conducting personal vendettas.

The Lakmina, with an editorial staff including another Gampaha district PA frontliner, got another jolt when its publisher Ajith Gallage said he had broken links with the newspaper because it owed him more than Rs. 100 million and he also believed it was being used for personal vendettas, He said he had been the publisher only upto the May 25 issue and had nothing to do with the next issue on June 1.

He said he had received warnings that he would be killed if he did not go ahead with publishing the Lakmina. With mystery within mystery, the June 1 issue of Lakmina also attacked publisher Gallage but there was no Lakmina for this week.

The newspaper this week among its other stories reported that a Kalutara district minister who visited flood victims had returned with five lorry loads of soil and had found gems in them. It said the minister had taken away the gems and was avoiding his friends who helped him. The attack on the office came after the Lakmina newspaper hit the streets earlier in the day.

Meanwhile, Mr. Rajapakse has been excluded from crucial planning sessions and several committees appointed for restructuring of the party and other purposes before the convention on June 22 in Nittambuwa.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga, former Premier Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and frontliners like Anura Bandaranaike are heading some of the committees. Mr. Rajapakse told The Sunday Times yesterday he was told that he would be included in these committees, but the party had not informed him about his non-inclusion.
He declined to make any further comment.

Man from Virginia admits selling US visas in Sri Lanka
WASHINGTON, Saturday (AFP) - A Virginia man has pleaded guilty to participating in a scam to sell US visas out of the US Embassy in Sri Lanka, the US Justice Department said.

Rajwant Virk, of Herndon, Virginia, pleaded guilty before a federal judge in in Sacramento, California to one count of conspiring to defraud the United States, bribe State Department officials and commit visa fraud in exchange for cooperating in an investigation against the eight other accused co-conspirators.

Two US nationals employed at the US embassy in Sri Lanka were arrested last month. The government indicted Acey Johnson, 32, and his wife, Long Lee, 51, on charges of visa fraud and human smuggling.

"According to a criminal complaint unsealed April 29, 2003, the defendants were allegedly involved in a scheme in which Johnson and Lee took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes between 2000 and 2003 in exchange for the issuance of visas to various foreign nationals, primarily from Vietnam and India," the Justice Department said in a statement.

Mr. Virk, 46, faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. All nine defendants, are charged with conspiring to defraud the United States and to bribe public officials and to commit visa fraud.

Seven other defendants also appeared before Judge Garland Burrell. Johnson, until recently a Consular Associate employed in the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka; and Lee, a State Department Foreign Service Officer and career State Department employee are also in federal custody.

Defendants Narinderjit Singh Bhullar, 40, of Sacramento; Phuong-Hien Lam Trinh, 35, of Torrance, California; and Rachhpal Singh, 32, of Hayward, California were previously released on bail. A ninth defendant is a fugitive.

Govt. stand on Dalai Lama unchanged
Despite reports that the Dalai Lama had stated on Wednesday that the Chinese Government's official attitude is more positive, a Foreign Ministry official said that Sri Lanka's position regarding the Dalai Lama remained unchanged.

"Sri Lanka's position on Tibet has not changed. The Sri Lankan government still refuses to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama," a Ministry official said, adding that Sri Lanka wants to maintain cordial relations with mainland People's Republic of China. The Dalai Lama was refused a visa to visit Sri Lanka during the Vesak celebrations, and this has been the case even previously.

The Dalai Lama who is in Dharmasala, India, after fleeing Tibet in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule is reported to have said he expected to return to China and Tibet at some point in the future.

When contacted by The Sunday Times regarding the statement made by the Dalai Lama, a senior official of the Chinese Embassy who did not wanted to be identified said, "The Dalai Lama issue is a Chinese national issue," and added that China considered Sri Lanka to be one of it close friends and did not intervene in national issues and likewise Sri Lanka too should not intervene in the national issues of China.

The official said that it is a misconception that the Dalai Lama is a purely religious leader, and added that his objective was to separate Tibet from China.
"The Chinese government also wants the Dalai Lama to come back to Tibet. But we hope that the Dalai Lama will give up the attempt to separate Tibet from China," he said.

Like your country which does not want to allow separatism, China too does not want to allow separatism, the official said. Two of the Dalai Lama's envoys visited China late last month. It was the second visit made by them.
In the early part of the 7th century Buddhism came to Tibet from China and Nepal.

The Association for Sri Lanka - China Social and Cultural Co-operation last month stated in a release that apart from the 2000 Islam followers and 600 Catholics all others living in Tibet are followers of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as the Lama's religion and is a part of Chinese Buddhism.

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