19th March 2000
The picture of the scene yesterday on Sri Jinaratana Road
By Shelani de Silva
President Chandrika Kumaratunga is to meet Mahanayaka theras to discuss proposed constitutional reforms amidst growing protests, mainly by Sinhala groups, against the reforms and Norwegian facilitation.
Presidential Secretary K. Balapatabendi assured Mahanayakas who handed over a petition at the Secretariat on Wednesday, that a meeting with the President would be arranged soon.
The petition signed by prelates of Malwatte, Asgiriya, Amarapura and Ramanna Nikayas, was handed over as part of a new campaign launched by Sinhala groups amidst reports of possible talks with the LTTE through Norwegian facilitation.
On Friday, Constitutional Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris met the Ven Rambukwelle Sri Vipassi Mahanayaka Thera of the Malwatte Chapter in what was seen as a prelude to a meeting with the President.
The Mahanayakas have reiterated their view that what essentially prevails is a terrorist problem and not a ethnic problem.
"In this situation, the only solution is to use the power of the State to crush terrorism and firmly establish the writ of Government and Law and order throughout the country," their petition said.
The prelates have also accused Norway of supporting the LTTE from the inception.
This came as the Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg left for Oslo amidst speculation that he was going to set the groundwork for talks.
Norway's Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek who came to Colombo for talks last month has quit with the collapse of the government there. But the new Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland, a former prime minister, has pledged he would continue earlier policies, including the peace-brokering role in Sri Lanka.
The controversy over Minister S. B. Dissanayake's remarks has taken a new turn with four MPs planning to file petitions in courts asking that the minister be charged with contempt of court.
Parliamentarians Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Rajitha Senaratne and Segu Issadeen and P. Chandrasekeran are to file petitions asking that the minister be charged with contempt of court for reportedly stating that the government would close courts and Parliament if it could not obtain the necessary two thirds majority to implement constitutional reforms.
Mr. Nanayakkara said the minister appeared to have not only made such a statement but also repeated it despite the outburst against it.
Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva has appointed a three-judge panel to study whether the minister should be hauled up on contempt charges. The panel has asked for affidavits from newspaper editors.
The editor of the Lankadeepa said he would be sending an affidavit tomorrow but Divaina editor said he had not yet received such a request. However, Supreme Court Registrar M. A. Cyril said the letter had been delivered to the Divaina office and signed for and accepted. The editor of the state-controlled Dinamina has requested for further time to submit the affidavit.
The Sunday Times on a request from the Supreme Court has submitted an affidavit and the tape recording of the minister's speech made at the annual sessions of architects on February 26.
The main opposition UNP has also moved a motion in parliament asking for the appointment of a select committee to probe Mr. Dissanayake's remarks. A row over this matter broke out again in parliament on Wednesday when the votes of Mr. Dissanayake's ministry was taken up for debate. Opposition MPs accused him of contempt of parliament and breach of privilege.
By Ayesha R. Rafiq
The Defence Ministry has defied a Supreme Court ruling to promote Brigadier Parry Liyanage after he was acquitted in the Embilipitiya schoolchildren abduction and murder case and later succeeded in a fundamental rights case for not being given his due promotion.
The Sunday Times learns that Brig. Liyanage is to file a contempt of court petition against the Secretary of the Defence Ministry (as the Minister of Defence is the President who is immune from prosecution) for the failure to implement the court ruling given late last year.
The court ruled that the promotion be recommended by the Army Commander through the Defence Secretary to President Kumaratunga. However the promotion has not been granted yet.
Brig. Liyanage was a suspect in the abduction and murder of schoolchildren case and was interdicted. Later, he was acquitted of the charges. The Brigadier's promotion was however not granted to him despite the Army Commander's recommendation that the interdiction be lifted and he be promoted.
Defence Ministry officials refused to comment on the matter.
By Leon Berenger and Chris Kamalendran
A young woman suspected to be a suicide bomber had to strip on a city street yesterday morning.
The bizarre incident took place around 10.30 am near Muttiah Park in Kompannaveediya after the woman was unable to produce her National Identity Card and spoke in faltering Sinhalese when she was challenged by MSD plainclothes officers who were suspicious of her behaviour.
The Ministerial Security Division officers then alerted a nearby checkpoint while ordering the woman attired in a Salwar Kameez — a dress many woman suicide bombers wore — to come to the centre island of Sri Jinaratana Road.
Security forces reinforcements who arrived at the scene then forced her to strip at gunpoint as they ducked for cover fearing that she was strapped with an explosive jacket.
Later it turned out that the woman was a Sinhalese from Kurunegala.
The episode came to an end after the woman was found to be clean and embarrassed police officials quickly bundled her into a jeep and drove off to the Kompannaveediya station where they established her identity.
While all this was happening on Sri Jinaratana Road near the Empire Cinema, the military high command had also been alerted and were preparing for a possible strike on the suspected suicide bomber. The Air Force was also told to be prepared for a possible strike, a senior police officers said.
He said this could have been avoided if the officers manning the checkpoint had been more professional in their handling of the suspect. They could have first established her identity before alerting the military high command and the Air Force, he said.
Anti-harassment Committee member and Colombo District parliamentarian M. Yogarajan said whatever the circumstances were it was horrible that a woman was forced to strip in public.
But a police source pointed out what had happened at Flower Road recently when police tried to check a suicide bomber, setting off an explosion that killed 13 people.
By Mel Gunasekera
Vanik Incorporation has run into further troubles, with the company's shareholders tipped to call for an emergency general meeting and the long awaited sale of Forbes Plantations reported to be called off last week.
Shareholders said an EGM was necessary to clarify the financial status of the company and to seek what remedial measures the board had lined up to save the company.
Forbes Plantations, which owns Kahawatte Plantations, was expected to be sold to Central Highfield (Pvt.) Ltd. for Rs. 250 mn.
However, the buyers backed out last week, when a due diligence on the company revealed that a total liability of Rs. 500 mn was due to both Kahawatte Plantations and Forbes Plantations Ltd. "They were shocked with this discovery and decided to drop the deal," a source closed to the buyers said.
Meanwhile, the MJF Group is going ahead with the purchase of Forbes & Walker Ltd. (FWL) for Rs. 130 mn from Vanik Inc.
The deal would be structured in the form of a management buyout, with the senior managers of FWL buying 40 percent of the company and the MJF Group coming in as a strategic investor.
Under the deal, MJF is to purchase Forbes & Walker Tea broking, Forbes & Walker Produce broking and Forbes Services.
A senior official from the MJF Group played down market speculations that the tea exporting arm of MJF would acquire FWL.
Instead, MJF would come in as a passive investor, with a non-tea related subsidiary acquiring the stake. "The Forbes management team would run the company and we may not even have a representative on the board," he said.
At present, the MJF Group is actively involved in the plantation business through MJF Plantations Ltd. The company formed a strategic alliances to acquire and manage Talawakelle Plantations with Hayleys Ltd and Elpitiya Plantations with Aitken Spence.
The MJF Group's core activities include: manufacture and export of tea in pre-packaged branded products; printing and packaging; real estate; agency representation of packaging machinery and material; tea and rubber plantation management; and investment and private portfolio management.
Vanik had earlier struck a deal with the MMBL Group headed by business tycoon Milinda Moragoda to dispose FWL and Forbes Plantations Ltd for Rs. 625 mn. But the deal fell through when MMBL defaulted. At that time, both parties denied the deal was off, instead said they were trying to resurrect the deal under different payment structures.
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