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14th May 2000

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Rumble in the hills as clashes erupt in CWC

By Chris Kamalendran

The most powerful trade union in the upcountry was heading for a crisis with the leadership and members divided and internal clashes on the increase over the week.

Arumugam Thondaman, grandson of late CWC leader Saumyamoorthy Thondaman was heading one of the groups while five senior members of the party were heading the 'cwc reforms group' challenging the new leadership.

The senior members who are planning to oust their new leader from the party this week sought the assistance of President Kumaratunga to intervene to resolve the crisis.

"I am not ready to step down from the party. If there are allegations against me they can be investigated," says Arumugam Thondaman.

But Vice President of the party, P.P. Devaraj who is heading the rival group said they wanted Mr. Arumugam removed as he was allegedly misusing funds and running the trade union without consulting other senior members of the party.

The clashes between the two groups came into the open when Mr. Arumugam Thondaman had a district leaders' meeting without informing the other senior members of the party.

Over the weekend MP Rajaratnam's house at Pussellawa was attacked by a group believed to be workers of a private estate of Mr. Thondaman. Mr. Rajaratnam earlier in the day had attended a meeting of the CWC in Kandy without an invitation.

Mr. Rajaratnam's house was attacked while he was attending the meeting in Kandy.

Eight men who were allegedly involved in the attack were arrested.

In a related development Nuwara Eliya District MP S. Sathasivam has lodged a complaint that he had received death threats from a politician. He is supporting the group led by Mr. Thondaman.

Mr. Arumugam who is at the centre of the controversy says the senior members of the party are trying to oust him as he had already become a Cabinet minister at a young age.

He said that the rival group had held talks with former General Secretary of the party, M.S. Sellasamy in a bid to bring him back to the party.

Reacting to the allegations made by Mr. Thondaman, Mr. Devaraj said they were challenging the leadership as they felt proper accounts of party funds have not been submitted for the past few years.

"We are asking Mr. Thondaman to submit proper accounts and audited statements. We are not satisfied at the way the funds are being handled. We are aware of many irregular dealings," Mr. Devaraj , a long standing member of the CWC said.

He said allegations about misuse of funds have been continuing for the past several years.

He said no action has been taken to settle a Rs. 70 million loan taken for the construction of the CWC headquarters at Green Path, Colombo despite the CWC collecting an average of Rs. 3.5 million monthly from membership fees and other sources including interest.

Mr. Devaraj said that they intend to bring the issue to courts if Mr. Thondaman fails to settle the problem.

'Our members are being kept out of important meetings. Mr. Thondaman had two meetings with district leaders, but the senior members were not invited. He has no right to keep out senior members from these meetings', Mr. Devaraj said.


Who will respond to minister's appeal?

By Tania Fernando

Censored plea from the Deputy Minister of Defence when he requested all Members of Parliament to get youth to join the Army?

With the present situation in the country, it seems that the youth are not encouraged to join the forces, to serve their motherland. Though there is no legal conscription at present Censored.

During the debate on the extension of the emergency, Deputy Minister of Defence Anuruddha Ratwatte requested all Members of Parliament to get one hundred youth each to join the Army.

While some MPs were in agreement there were others who believed that this was not the way to get youth to join the Army.

Censored said MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara.

In the event an MP does nominate names of youth, Censored.

He further said that the only solution is for the Government and the LTTE to have discussions.

Will the youth be willing to join the forces just because an MP makes a request? How do the parents feel about their children joining the forces are the many questions we have to ask ourselves.

To what extent will MPs go to get the youth, in order to do better than one another.

Censored.

While there are many who disagree with this statement Minister of Plan Implementation Jeyaraj Fernandopulle feels that if MPs can they should do it.

"We need the manpower to fight this war and therefore we must encourage our youth to join the Army. By way of posters, through political meetings, political organisations and religious organisations we must encourage them", he said.

Although Minister Fernandopulle was of the opinion that this statement made by the Deputy Defence Minister was correct, he said that he had not got down to speaking to the youth and had not decided as to how he was going to encourage them to join the forces.

Are the youth willing to understand the dire need of the country and willing to sacrifice their lives for this war which some feel is a useless war.

Censored Censored.

Minister of Industrial Development C V Gooneratne feels requesting MPs to get youth is a good idea in order to beat the narco-terrorism. "We have to boost the morale of the forces and show them that we are trying to supplement the strength of the forces" he said.

He claims that he has met groups of youth and after an initially negative response they now understand, respect and appreciate the validity of the request by the government.

"We will not flag or fail, we must go through the battle single mindedly and motivate them without any reservation", he said.

The public are raising questions as to whether MPs will look to their own kith and kin to join the forces or whether they will look to the rural youth who they feel are most likely to be gullible.


Bitter medicine for shady pharmacies

By Faraza Farook

Fifty two pharmacies have been prosecuted from January to April this year by the National Drug Quality Assurance Lab (NDQAL) for either not having a qualified pharmacist or a valid license, Food and Drugs Inspector P. Madarasinghe said.

"We don't issue licenses to pharmacies that employ unqualified pharmacists. Only after verifying they have qualified pharmacists do we issue a license," Mr. Madarasinghe said.

Last month, eight pharmacies in Moratuwa were fined Rs. 5000 each for having violated the rules. Mr. Madarasinghe disclosed that cases are pending against seven pharmacies in Mt. Lavinia which were functioning without a qualified pharmacist.

Meanwhile, NDQAL Director Dr. Ajith Mendis told The Sunday Times that they have a computerised list of drugs registered in Sri Lanka and have made the information available to all medical institutions.

The list has been distributed to all the Colleges i.e. College of Physicians, Surgeons etc., Dr. Mendis said. This system, he said, would help doctors identify unregistered drugs and avoid prescribing them to patients.

"Doctors can't now claim that they were unaware that a particular drug was not registered," Dr. Mendis said.

He also said that any member of the public could call the NDQAL on telephone nos. 695173 or 687743 to check on a particular drug .

Another problem the authorities are trying to curb is the re-labelling of drugs in Sri Lanka.

"We have detected a few importers who re-label drugs. They claim that the original label was smudged or torn. However, they have no right to re-label them here," Dr. Mendis emphasised.

He said only the drug authority had the power to decide if the drugs are to be relabelled or destroyed.

There are around 112 drug importers in Sri Lanka, Dr. Mendis said, adding that the NDQAL has begun a series of operations to detect unscrupulous activities.


Get a cage, catch those rats

By Laila Nasry

In a modern and local twist to the Pied Piper of Hamelin who got rid of brown rats, gray rats, big rats and small rats, the CMC has launched a rat control project to clean up the city.

The programme, a pilot project initiated under the directive of the Mayor, started on May 10 and is in force in Fort, Maradana and Borella.

CMC Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Pradeep Kariyawasam said the main cause for the increase in rat population in these areas was the easy availability of food. The bulk of grain and vegetables are stored in these areas, making it an ideal breeding ground for rats. The garbage problem makes matters worse.The area surrounding the Manning Market, Pettah and the St. Johns Market is strewn with garage which in turn breeds rats.

"Colombo being a port city is an obstacle to the rat control programme. It makes the city directly vulnerable to rats as many of them come from different countries through the ships that dock at the port. Though the ships carry out a fumigation programme it does not eliminate them all and once in the city the rats have ample scope to breed.

The main purpose of the rat control programme which is co-ordinated by the pest control office of the CMC is to drastically reduce the number of rats in the city. The project includes educating residents and warehouse owners of these areas to make their homes and stores rat proof. For this the CMC has distributed a leaflet explaining the on-going project, the diseases caused by rats, what the CMC hopes to do to curb the menace and how the public can help in the process.

The project is carried out in the evenings, to avoid accidents with traps.

Rat cages and traps have been provided to the public on condition for one year and at the end of it they will be collected by the CMC to be utilised in a different area. However those interested could purchase these cages and traps which will be made available by the CMC for a nominal sum.

One of the main obstacles faced by the Municipal officials is the lack of funds. "We did not budget for this project as a result we have difficulty funding it. However we have invited the private sector to sponsor the equipment and lend their advice and expertise," Dr. Kariyawasam said.

But this project also has its loopholes.There is only a 50-50 chance of a rat getting into one of these cages. Further the usage of poison has its complications as rats that consume the poison go in search of water. Therefore water pollution is a possibility. As a result it needs to be ensured that drinking water is sealed and a small amount of water made available to the dying rat.


No one hears their cries now

By Nilika de Silva and Faraza Farook

When these three bundles of joy first made their appearance in the world, there was much fanfare and many promises made.SL's millennium triplets ......

But today the parents of Sri Lanka's first millennium triplets, and probably the worlds first triplets are facing many hardships with few of these promises being fulfilled.

The five month old babies are bright and healthy, but with no steady income coming in, the parents depend a lot on the little assistance they receive.

Their home in Waskaduwa, Kalutara was in a dilapidated state, with rain water seeping even into the babies room. The make shift polythene ceiling, just above the infants' bed was sagging under the weight of the previous night's rain water-a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The Rs. 25,000 deposited by the Bank of Ceylon, enables Iresha Dilrukshi, the 17-year-old mother, to draw a monthly allowance of Rs. 2,000. She also receives goods from the Dharma Vijaya Foundation under the Janashakthi insurance to the value of about Rs. 1,500. But their needs are many and the income too little, laments Dilrukshi.

"Since I breast feed my babies. I need to take nutritious food, but money is a problem," she said.

Some people donate food items such as coconuts and milk powder, but they are not sure how long this would continue."We don't know how we will manage if this little assistance also stops," Manupri Alwis, the father, said sadly.

The family had many hopes when the children were born, as hundreds of people flocked to see the new borns promising them a bright future. But now things appeared to be more bleak than bright.

When we went to see the babies at Kalutara the young parents showed us a list of promises that had been made by the people but had not materialised.

Entry to any school of the parent's choice, free medical treatment at any hospital, finding a permanent job for the babies' father, and building their house, were just a few of the promises made.

"But we never got anything in writing, " said Iresha's mother, Mislin de Silva.

"Unlike when the babies were born, now we get very little assistance. When they received so much publicity, as the first millennium triplets, I was even afraid that someone might take them away from us."

"I don't know whether the people were just making empty promises, in the excitement of the first millennium triplets or whether they thought there was no serious need for assistance," she said.

Long before the millennium dawned wide publicity was given to the fact that the first babies born in the year 2000 would receive many rewards.

But to these little babies and their parents in a little house in Kalutara it has been an anti-climax, with little assistance coming their way after the initial ha ho.


Their final journey to holy shrine

A pilgrimage turned nightmare for a Sri Lankan family, when the vehicle they were travelling in turned turtle on a lonely desert in Iraq, just a few kilometres away from Baghdad last week.

It was May 5, and Dr. A.A.M. Iqbal's family, which included nine, was just half an hour away from the sacred shrine in Baghdad after a near 14 hour journey from Amman, when fate played its cruel trick. The driver of the jeep they were travelling in had allegedly fallen asleep, and the vehicle toppled over killing four of the nine family members Dr. Iqbal , his father and two of the doctor's children.

His three other children, Bushra (10), Junaid (8) and Shaima (6), who survived the crash are still unaware of the scale of the tragedy.

Shaima is still receiving treatment in a Baghdad hospital while Bushra and Junaid returned to Sri Lanka. Dr. Iqbal's wife and his mother who are also hospitalised in Baghdad are still recovering.

Dr. Iqbal, his parents, wife and five children set off to Iraq on April 12. They were on a pilgrimage to the sacred shrine of Sheik Abdul Cader in Baghdad and were expected to return to Sri Lanka on May 9. The desert tragedy began on May 4 when the Memon family set off to Baghdad from Amman. "From Amman, they had to go to Jordan and from there to Baghdad. It is about 1600 kilometres and takes 14 to 15 hours," Yusuf Admani, Dr. Iqbal's youngest brother said.

He felt the tragedy may not have occurred if there were flights to the sacred land as was the case before the UN sanctions.

Mr. Yusuf who had returned to Sri Lanka after going to Baghdad to attend the funerals of his father, brother and two nieces, had mixed feelings about the tragedy that struck the Memon family. The fact that the victims were buried close to a holy shrine may have given him some consolation, but the loss of loved ones, was felt much more.

Relating that night of horror from accounts he had got from the survivors he said the party had reached Jordan on Thursday evening, spent the night there and left at 10.30 the following morning to Baghdad. Since it was a Friday, they stopped on their way for the congregational prayers and continued. The family was travelling in a private jeep and they had almost reached Baghdad. At 10.30 p.m. that Friday, less than 50 Kilometres from their destination, they had decided to take a break once more. After relaxing for about 45 minutes they set on the fateful pilgrimage which ended in a journey of death.

"It was around 11.30 p.m. when the accident had taken place. The vehicle had been travelling at a terrific speed and the driver had apparently fallen asleep. My brother who had been asleep had apparently suddenly woken up and realised that the driver had fallen asleep. The brakes had been applied but it was too late as the jeep turned turtle on a wide stretch of road," he said.

Meanwhile, passers-by had stopped and rushed the injured to the hospital. Dr. Iqbal (47), his father (71) and his elder daughter Maryam (13) died on the spot while his youngest daughter Rukayya (4) died on the way to hospital.

The driver (30), a father of four, was also a victim of the ill-fated journey.

"We received the news of the accident only on Saturday and 13 of us, immediate family members, flew to Iraq within 12 hours of hearing about the tragedy," Mr. Yusuf said.

The bodies were kept until the family members arrived and burial took place on may 8, on the same sacred land the shrine was located- the destination they had wanted to reach.

"There were no big wounds , except for a few scratches. They all looked peaceful and it looked as if they had died of shock," he said.

The rest of the family who were recovering in a premiere hospital in Baghdad, could not be transferred elsewhere for treatment because of the long journey they have to make back to Amman. The hospital has an efficient medical staff, but they don't seem to have sufficient medicines and syringes. He believed this was because of the UN sanctions.

"The Sri Lankan Embassy, the Iraq and Jordan Embassies gave us their maximum support," he said.


Taking or not taking?

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Despite the parliamentarians' pledge to voluntarily forego their salary increases and contribute the sum to help the troops, the Parliamentary Secretariat has made arrangements to include salary arrears and still give them a fat pay cheque from this month.

Consequently, all members would receive Rs.. 236,000 as this month's salary. A parliamentary spokesman said as there had been no official communication to suspend the increase and until such notice is sent, there would not be a suspension of the revised salaries.

The salary increase received parliamentary approval in March and it was decided to pay arrears from January, 1998. In addition to the basic salary increase, other allowances including fuel, entertainment and driver's allowance were also increased.

While the ordinary parliamentarians' increase had to be shelved for a month owing to the Treasury being unable to release funds immediately, all ministers and deputies were paid their thumping new salary. The general increase for each member was about Rs. 10,000.

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