30th April 2000

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On the spot

Storybook thriller, but last chapter goes blank

By Leon Berenger

It was shortly after midnight on Wednesday and there were some 120 uniformed officers from all ranks, both men and women, armed to the teeth. They chose to call it 'Operation Dehiwala'-targeting crime, vice and the bloody underworld.

The group, drawn in from various police units in the southern part of the western province were assembled at the Headquarters Police Station in Mirihana where they were listening intently to the instructions and orders being given out by Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Rajasingham.

Earlier in the day Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Jayantha Wickramaratne who is in overall charge of the district met his hand-picked officers to draw up plans for that night where a massive raid was to take place on a notorious underworld hideout known as the 'Quarters' situated behind the Dehiwela zoo.

The DIG was briefing his men on some reliable information he had received on the activities of several underworld figures at the Quarters who were involved in various types of serious crime including drug dealings . These men were reportedly armed.

The DIG said he had information that some key underworld figures were linked to some police officers stationed in the area . These officers were allegedly on the take and this was making matters worse since it was difficult to conceal plans for a raid or a related anti-crime operation.

The informants had also provided a detailed sketch of the overcrowded Quarters and a list of names of those to be taken in. Various other suspicious locations were also given and noted down by the police.

Prior to the raid plainclothes officers from the Special Unit moved into the area in an unsuspicious three wheeler along with an informant and conducted a reconnaissance of the areas to be targeted later in the night.

DIG Wickramaratne repeatedly insisted that the identity of the informants be kept top secret since their safety was of utmost concern. The local police were also to be kept out of the picture for reasons best known to the top brass.

And so it was around 2.00 am when the police finally swooped on their target taking most of those inside by surprise, or so it was believed to be at that time. And the raid began.

First, some nine exit roads leading to the Quarters and the canal that runs alongside the place were ringed off by armed officers preventing anyone from entering or leaving while the other officers spread out into the heart of the dwellings.

The checks were done from house to house, backyard to backyard and this routine went on till 5.00am.

Scores of male residents were subsequently rounded up and frog marched to a nearby area where they were paraded before a masked informant who would nod if any wanted man was among them.

Shocked and sleepy-eyed residents woke up from their sleep to be told that a group of LTTE operatives had infiltrated the area and believed to be hiding somewhere in the Quarters-hence the sudden search. But at the same time police officers were also discreetly inquiring into the names provided by informants.

But something was wrong, the whole place seemed to be too clean to be true. Not a single person on the wanted list was in their homes when the police came calling. Whether there had been a leak on the raid would only be known later. Only a few weeks earlier two T-56 assault rifles were recovered from the area.

It was also from the same place earlier this month that a group of armed persons stormed the temple across the street and attacked a rehabilitation centre for heroin addicts.

The attack was allegedly cheered on by drug barons who were against the rehabilitation camp since it was eating into their drug business as most of their customers were under treatment.

For all their trouble the police were forced to return empty handed. But the underworld was given a rude jolt, for such anti-crime raids on such a large and well organised scale are few these days since the police are understandably stretched to the maximum.

"The law of the jungle cannot be allowed to rule at any time," says DIG Wickremaratne, adding that public cooperation is vital if the fight against crime is to be successful.

"Informants are important people to us and we always think of their safety. I have repeatedly instructed my men in all ranks to give information the highest priority, even though some may be false and perhaps provided by mischief makers. But everything must be checked, because I don't believe in taking any chances," DIG Wickramaratne said.

The DIG did not rule out the possibility of some police officers being on the take. "This happens everywhere and in many other countries as well and it has to be stamped out if the fight against crime is to be won," he said.

Child abuse outstrips all

By Faraza Farook

More and more children are falling prey to sexual abuse, and this crime has far outstripped others, despite tough new laws.

Statistics reveal that the number of files opened for crimes such as rape and murder add up to 73 while child abuse cases amount to a staggering 369 from January 1 to April 25 this year.

An astounding fact is that in most of these cases, the abuser has been a relative of the child. "Often it is the father, brother, uncle or boy friend of the child who is involved," says Deputy Solicitor General Palitha Fernando. In all 369 cases the sexually abused victim was a child under the age of 16, he said. Meanwhile the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) is planning to introduce a child friendly inquiry procedure to protect the child victims from being mentally tormented during cross-examinations.

The prevailing system of inquiry is the adversarial system where the judge is a mere umpire and involved only in giving the judgment. The system to be introduced would be the inquisitorial system where the judge will play the role of an inquirer and be more involved in the case.

Earlier this year, delegates from Britain were in Sri Lanka to train local authorities on handling child abuse cases. They also introduced the 'video evidence' system to reduce the stress on the child when giving evidence.

"We are trying to relax the system, to completely do away with the formal procedures such as taking oaths etc.," Mr. Fernando said. Accordingly, a special committee has been appointed comprising officials from the AG's Department, the Law Faculty and the NCPA to study the different systems in other countries.

Mr. Fernando said the AG's Department was studying the investigation aspect and the lapses in investigations.

Ceasefire week for battered children

The UNICEF office in Colombo is to draw up a programme to observe a 'week of tranquillity' or a ceasefire devoted to child protection, following a proposal made by Special Representative Olara Otunnu.

Programme Officer Hiranthi Wijemanne said the proposal to observe a world-wide week of tranquillity came from Mr. Otunnu during an address to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

Mr. Otunnu said that a simultaneous week-long cease-fire should be observed each year for the sake of children.

"This week devoted to child protection would be more than symbolic; it would enable the international community to provide relief and medical help to war affected children," he said.The days of tranquillity observed last year in Sri Lanka enabled UNICEF to hold a successful vaccination campaign in the conflict areas.

Case of cosmetics for cosmetics

With cosmetics proliferating in every corner of the country, unregistered products have come into the market of which some could be harmful, the Cosmetics and Drugs Authority said.

The influx of cosmetics has roused the authorities to begin monitoring the quality of products in the market.

"Some of the products that are sold in the market are harmful and could be allergic. For instance, some baby eau de colognes when used, result in the baby getting rashes," a Food and Drugs Inspector said.

He said they were randomly taking samples of products from different shops to test their quality. Samples of products from three companies found in shops at Liberty Plaza have been brought for testing last week, he said.

The Food and Drugs Authority has also called upon cosmetics importers to register themselves with the Authority to ensure that harmful products are not brought into the country.

Most of the companies importing the cosmetics are not registered in Sri Lanka. "We are in the process of identifying these importers and getting them registered," the Food and Drugs Inspector said.

He said that some importers have taken application forms from the Authority to get themselves registered but the Authority hasn't received a response yet.

Beachcombers offer tourists pleasures beyond the sun, sand and sea

You name it, they have it

By Tania Fernando

Drugs, boys and girls are being offered to any tourist who takes a walk along the beach, said a spokesperson for the Mt. Lavinia Hoteliers Association.

Mt. Lavinia beach, a popular spot for many, has turned out to be the latest haunt for wantonness. It is not possible for a tourist to stroll around and enjoy the fresh air without being solicited by a person offering some services.

Though most of us believe that this trade is mainly restricted to the South, it has now moved towards the city.

The spokesperson for the association said that they have made many complaints to the police, but to date no action has been taken. "When we complain to the police we are told that they have insufficient staff to carry out the task of patrolling the beach, since they have to guard government ministers," he said.

He said that guests at hotels often complain that it is not possible for them to walk along the beach without having a pimp approaching them.

While the hotels are trying to attract tourists, these activities only discourage those who only want to enjoy the sun and the sea, he said.

He said complaints to the police have been made on a regular basis for the past two years, but they seem to be falling on deaf ears.

While there are some tourists who seem to go looking for these illicit activities, there are the genuine tourists who visit the beach to enjoy it and just to take a stroll.

"I was taking some photographs, when a man approached me and wanted to know whether I was interested in having a female", said A.S Vivekumar, a tourist from India who had visited the beach.

Residents of the area are up in arms over the issue saying that it is not possible for them to walk freely. Even though they are not approached, they still find it uncomfortable to take their kids for a stroll.

The cabanas seem to be a cover for what really takes place behind them, said Mr. A S Fernando, a resident of the area.

Meanwhile the OIC, Mt. Lavinia Police, when contacted by The Sunday Times, said they have not received any complaints and they do have a beach patrol.

"We have policemen patrolling the area everyday, and they are there from morning till evening", said HQI Chandana Atukorale, of the Mt. Lavinia Police.

Even though we depend on tourist arrivals to boost our economy, the question we need to ask is at what cost are we trying to boost the tourist industry and in order to attract the tourist are we going to turn a blind eye to what is happening around us.

Cane charm

Pix and Text by Athula Devapriya

Cane for the manufacture of cane products is brought from Manampitiya and Eravur. The cane growing in these areas are small in size. The longer, thicker cane is brought from Urubokka in Matara, Moneragala and Mahiyangana areas.

From recent times Malaysia is also exporting cane. This cane is more expensive. But often the consumers ask for imported cane products, such as chairs.

Permits to buy and transport locally grown cane are obtained from the Government Agents by cane producing societies, who in turn issue permits to their members.

However, since most members do not have the finances to bear the travelling and transport costs involved in the purchase of cane, they sell their permits to entrepreneurs. The cane producers buy the cane that these entrepreneurs bring for around Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 12,000, and produce cane items.

The person who buys the permit may sometimes be a person who knows nothing about the cane industry.

The long cane which is about 15 feet in length costs about Rs. 65. It takes 15 years for a cane plant to grow to this required length. Transport costs, the cost incurred in cutting the cane and the cost of production result in the finished products being sold below the production cost as they have to compete with items imported from Malaysia which are much cheaper.

Therefore the younger generation in families that went in for the manufacture of cane products have begun turning to other avenues to earn an income, some becoming labourers.

Although traditionally the people of Radaotunna are cane craftsmen they find it difficult to get their children to carry on this profession.

Although the Government distributed cane plants to the people of Radaotunna this scheme has not been successful. The people of Radaotunna hope that the Government will start a long term scheme, and make the production costs less expensive to help them.

The forgotten workers

While thousands of workers will take to the roads to celebrate May Day tomorrow, there is another section of workers who have no union to back them up and are not recognized as part of the labour force.

The question being asked is why no one has sought to include them. Does being a casual/informal worker restrict them from wanting to fight for their rights, and why are they not allowed to get a better tomorrow?

Casual/informal workers have no status as workers, not by law but by practice, and they have no constituency to assert their rights, said Parliamentarian Vasudeva Nanayakkara.

The domestic helpers who most of us seem to rely on, depend on the goodness of their masters for holidays, wage increases etc. Although there are labour regulations, no one seems to heed them when it comes to these domestic helpers.

If we look at the casual or informal workers in commercial areas like Pettah, they too do not have a support group. According to Mr. P B Tampoe, General Secretary of the Ceylon Mercantile Union, these labourers are scared of joining a union as it could result in them losing their jobs.

"We take in any person who wants to join us, but to date we have had no casual labourers who are members", he said. Labour Minister John Seneviratne said that there is a legal provision for these labourers to join a trade union if they wish to. If the domestic helpers want to form a union they too could do it, but is it practically possible is the question.

While most claim that it is not practically possible to get them to form a union, some ask whether it because people are worried that their demands wont be acceptable that no one seems to be really taking an initiative to form a support group for these informal workers.

Mr. Nanayakkara added that there should be a union for informal/casual workers, and that although this is a matter which is overdue, it is difficult to put into practice.

"All households should register their domestic helpers with the Labour Department, and thereafter give them their rights. First we could start with Provident Fund contributions for these workers", he said.

Mr. Nanayakkara said that the expression of this year's May Day wish should be the registration of domestic workers. He confirmed Mr. Tampoe's statement that workers in the informal sector are scared of joining a union and losing their jobs as a result. "There are some who register with us but we do not reveal their identity to the employer, but we talk to the relevant authority and help them in whatever possible manner", he said.

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