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14th May 2000

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Repatriation cover for Kuwaiti housemaids

By Nilika de Silva

Commencing July 1, Kuwaiti employers wishing to employ Sri Lankan housemaids will have to deposit US $ 300 and hand over a copy of their National Identity Cards, Chairman, Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, Jayantha Liyanage said on Friday.

"We have decided to obtain at least US $ 300 from each and every sponsor at the time they enter into an agreement to employ a housemaid, to cover repatriation costs, if necessary, which are expensive," Mr. Liyanage said.

Mr. Liyanage was speaking following the recent focus on the situation in Kuwait from where reports reached Sri Lanka that close upon 600 housemaids had fled from their employers, due to assault and abuse.

About 600 housemaids are presently in safe houses established in Kuwait. These workers who have fled from their places of work due to maltreatment at the hands of their employers, are being maintained at Bureau expense.

"We have deployed more than ten people at our expense to work in the safe houses. In addition to two Labour welfare officers, there are two senior level officers from the Labour Department, two or three security guards, two or three clerks including an interpreter, and two female wardens to look after them," Mr. Liyanage said.

"There are instances in which the housemaid has been abused or assaulted, but there are also instances in which the housemaid is at fault," he said.

Of the approximately 150,000 workers in Kuwait, about 63,000 are women, and therefore 600 housemaids who have fled are, in fact, a very small percentage of those employed in Kuwait. It is not even 0.5 percent of those working in Kuwait, he said.

However, the cost incurred by the SLBFE in feeding and looking after them is large. "It is a big burden on us to maintain and feed them," he said.

Safe houses have been established in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Lebanon which have a large number of female migrant workers from Sri Lanka.

Following a five day visit to Kuwait by a delegation headed by the Deputy Minister of Labour and the Additional General Manager of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment discussions had taken place on how to bring about a solution regarding these workers.

"The delegation discussed with the job agents, migrant workers, stranded girls and embassy staff and also with cultural and social organisations on how this problem can be solved," Mr. Liyanage said.

The delegation returned to Sri Lanka yesterday. They will produce a report and work out what measures should be taken to minimise the problem.

"The plan to implement measures to protect our migrant workers will soon be implemented. Starting from Kuwait we want to cover other countries as well," Mr. Liyanage said.


New Sinhala party to meet in Kalutara

Sihala Urumaya will hold its Kalutara district conference at the Kalutara Town Hall at 2.30 p.m. today.

Party President S. L. Gunasekera, Secretary Thilak Karunaratne, national organiser Champika Ranawaka and other leading members will address the conference.

Participation at the conference will only be by invitation, organisers say.


Hostel named after Sujatha

The University of Colombo will re-name the Women's Hostel at Bullers Road as Sujata Jayawardena Women's Hostel on May 21.

The ceremony will coincide with the second anniversary of the death of Ms. Jayawardena, a well respected academic.

The Vice Chancellor of the University will be the Chief Guest at the ceremony.


First steps to school get new rules

By Laila Nasry

School admissions to higher grades will be revised under the proposed recommendations currently being presented to the National Education Commission (NEC).

This comes after a directive given by the President to formulate a national policy on school admissions, in a bid to streamline the education process.

The Commission which called for recommendations through the media, received a favourable response from the general public. Around 60 written submissions were forwarded by concerned parties- both local and foreign.

The Commission has had discussions with a few of these groups, some of them being parent-teacher associations and past pupils' associations of schools, and gone over the proposals forwarded by them.

In a bid at obtaining balanced views, political parties were invited to make submissions to the Commission.

"The political parties were very keen but also very busy. Around five to six parties submitted their suggestions while a few other groups asked for a fresh date," Mrs. R.C. Jayawardena, the secretary of the NEC said.

The Commission which comprises officials of the National Institute of Education and relevant authorities will study the composite set of regulations, tabulate them and present them to the President towards the end of June, for approval. Once approval is given, the NEC hopes to implement them in the coming school year.


Politico rapist gets his desserts

By Hemachandra Nanayakkara

An ex-Pradeshiya Sabha member of Hambantota district, Geeganage Lionel of Rekawatota was sentenced by Sarath Ambepitiya, High Court Judge, Hambantota, to seven years RI for raping a 14 year old girl.

The rape had been committed in 1994. The girl was related to him. He was also ordered to pay Rs. 7500 as a fine or serve another two years RI in default of payment.

Sudharshan de Silva, State Counsel, prosecuted while attorney-at- law K. Edirisuriya appeared for the accused.


PoW's parents seek nod to go north

Parents of soldiers missing in action have sought permission from President Chandrika Kumartaunga to visit the uncleared Wanni area and hold talks with the LTTE on the release of their sons.

The request follows after President Kumaratunga pointed out to them difficulties and constraints the government was facing in sending a top level official to negotiate with the LTTE on the release of the soldiers held in Tiger captivity.

Members of the Association of Parents of Missing Soldiers met the President on Wednesday.

The group's president P. Nanayakkara told The Sunday Times they were prepared to go to Wanni if permission was granted.


Editor refused to reveal writer ASG

The Sunday Times editor in refusing to reveal the name of the person who wrote the gossip column has withheld information from the High Court, Additional Solicitor General Rienzie Arsecularatne P.C submitted to the Court of Appeal.

The editor is appealing against his conviction in the High Court on charges of criminal defamation. He is alleged to have defamed President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga by publishing an article in the gossip column of The Sunday Times paper of 19.02.1995 which alleged that the President had attended the birthday party of parliamentarian Asitha Perera at the Hotel Oberoi in his private suite. It also alleged that the President entered the hotel through its rear entrance in a circumspect manner.

The ASG told the bench comprising Justice Hector Yapa and Justice P.H.K. Kulatillake that the accused had made untrue statements to make the court believe that the gossip column is written by several writers as opposed to one writer. He said the editor had falsely denied in evidence that he told the CID that the column is written by one writer. He had also falsely sought to make the court believe that in his statement to the CID by the word 'column' he meant one item of news in the gossip column and not the entire gossip column. Thus he alleged that he used the word 'column' in two different places in the same sentence to convey two different meanings. He had also further falsely stated that the gossip column is written by several writers.

Counsel said that the editor in his evidence had said that the gossip column is written by several persons but had later said the 'gossip columnist' makes one composition from several articles supplied by various reporters, thereby falsifying his earlier statement. The trial judge had also considered the opening paragraph of the article i.e. 'for the high and mighty, be they blue or green, purple or whatever colour of the political rainbow this is party time and we feel if readers want it ; we shall deliver...' which indicates that the writer knew of the other parties which were referred to in the article; as the article itself referred to seven different parties. Thus the learned trial judge has concluded that the writer of the first paragraph is the same person who wrote about the rest of the party referred to in the relevant gossip column. The accused Editor had refused to admit what was as plain as a pike staff. The learned trial judge also held that the relevant gossip column has a unified sequence which shows that the entire column is written by one person and not by several writers.

The ASG submitted that the editor had told the CID that he takes responsibility as the editor for all the news items published in the newspaper and therefore takes responsibility for the gossip column as well as the editor but not as the writer. The ASG said that the accused had tried to show that the editor takes only ex-officio responsibility.

The ASG further submitted that although the accused editor took up the position in court when he testified that he wrote three paragraphs of the relevant gossip column relating to the mix-up of a bungalow allocated to a minister, he had failed to mention that fact to the CID when he made the statement.

Justice Kulatillake: What is the position he took up with regard to the ommisison?

Counsel: My Lord the editor is trying to falsely persuade the court to accept that he did not write the entire gossip column including the portion set out in the indictment. He had told the High Court that he knew the writer but refused to disclose the name. He had no privilege to do so. Under the Press Councils Law he could be without divulging the source of information only, but he has no privilege to be without disclosing the name of the writer.

Justice Yapa: What if the editor refuses to divulge the name of the writer, without being privileged to do so.

Counsel: My Lord if a person withholds information from court, that will be unfavourable to the person who does so. The court ought to take cognizance of that fact, but where the editor has got into the witness box and sworn to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, he has no right to withhold relevant information from court.

Counsel also told Court that the trial judge had further considered the similarity of words written by the accused in the editorial of The Sunday Times paper of 16/10/94, which contained the words 'in the heat of the night', similar to the words 'in the heat of the silent night' which were contained in the article referred to in the indictment. He also submitted to court that the phraseology is so similar that it is clear that one person with the same writing characteristics has written the article. Further it was submitted by the ASG that on both occasions the words referred to used to describe the conduct of the same person namely; Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in the capacity of Prime Minister in the editorial of The Sunday Times of 16/10/94 and in the capacity of President in the gossip column of The Sunday Times paper of 19/02/95.

It was also submitted that the editor during his evidence had said that the editorial is written by him and that is the reason why he makes it a point to read it. He had said 'I inevitably read the editorial because it is written by myself and the political column as it contains serious comments about politicians. Therefore I read these two columns, i.e, the editorial and the political column'. But later on when he was confronted with the phrase "in the heat of the night" of the editorial of The Sunday Times of 16/10/94, he changed his evidence and said that the editorial is written by a sub-editor on his instructions. In answer to a question as to whether he told court that the editorial is written by himself, he had said no, thereby contradicting the record. The trial judge has remarked 'what is there in black and white speaks for itself'.

When he was asked if he would disclose the name of the writer who wrote the editorial in The Sunday Times of 16/10/94, the accused had said he would prefer not to do so. The trial judge had considered that there is no principle of press freedom which allows one not to disclose the name of the editorial writer, the counsel submitted.

Justice Yapa: On the question of the person who wrote the editorial of 16/10/94, he said he didn't want to disclose, not that he is privileged?

Counsel: My Lord, he did not say he is privileged but refused to divulge.

The counsel also submitted that the similarity of words used in the relevant editorial and the gossip column suggest that both were written by the same writer.

Justice Kulatillake: Was there an evidential burden cast on him, could he keep away relevant evidence from court ?

Counsel: My Lord if he does so, presumptive liability would operate.

Justice Yapa: So he could not keep away relevant evidence ?

Counsel: That is so My Lord.

The ASG submitted that the accused had in his evidence said the editorial contains his ideas but not his words. The trial judge had said it was rather difficult to visualise a situation where the editor's words are not seen in the editorial, and cannot realistically be so. The accused had given evidence that the editorial does not contain his words but over a month before in answer to his own counsel during the examination in chief, he had said that he writes the editorial and therefore reads it as a matter of routine. The learned trial judge had said that it beats his understanding as to how the accused could now say the editorial does not contain his words and 'perhaps no one can display a greater cynical disregard for the truth as the accused himself has done'. He had concluded that against the background of the facts marshalled i.e. the near absolute sameness of the two phrases in the editorial and relevant article points to the fact that the accused is the writer of the article. The accused had earlier stated that he wrote the editorial although he later denied it. This is also one of the facts the learned trial judge had considered in coming to the conclusion that the accused wrote the article.

The accused had said he did not know who the person referred to as 'myself' in the above passage was. He did not ask the writer whether he was there, as referred to in the article. He said that he believed the article to be true and if there had been any doubt it would have been withdrawn.

Justice Yapa: The article would not have been published?

Counsel: Yes my Lord at least that part of it.

The editor had not during the course of the inquiry asked the writer if he watched the President's entry even though the writer says he saw her entering the hotel through the rear entrance.

Justice Yapa: The inference is whoever who wrote this portion watched the entry of the President?

Counsel: My Lord the article says so.

The accused said he had asked Mr. Naveen Gunaratne, who was a close friend of the President and Asitha Perera, whether the President had come for the party. He said he had thought that Naveen Gunaratne being a good friend of Asitha Perera's would have attended the birthday party and would therefore know whether the President had gone for the party. Counsel told court that this was the same person who said he did not question the writer.

Justice Yapa: At what stage did he question Naveen Gunaratne?

Counsel: My Lord after the complaint had been made by Her Excellency.

Justice Yapa: Not before?

Counsel: No My Lord.

The ASG pointed out that the simplest thing for the accused editor to do was to question the writer.

Justice Yapa: If there was a writer.

Counsel: My Lord he asked Naveen Gunaratne because the accused himself was the writer.

Justice Yapa: If the writer was present as stated in the article, there was no need to ask Naveen Gunaratne?

Counsel: Yes My Lord.

The ASG questioned why the accused had questioned the writer instead of the writer, unless he had falsely stated that he was there and watched the President enter. The position is that he got hold of a rumour, did not check it, wrote it and said that he watched it. The article said this time the President was more circumspect, and this has a bearing on the behaviour of the President in the past, he told court, and this has a bearing on the sentence given to the accused.

Justice Kulatillake: Why do you say it has an impact on the sentence?

Counsel: If the accused wrote the false article, he falsely claimed having seen the President, which is worse than writing a false article.

The trial judge had concluded that if the accused is not the writer, his conduct in questioning Naveen Gunaratne is irrational. But refraining from questioning the writer is quite understandable for he had nobody to question but himself.

Submissions will continue on May 15.


MPs to form special military assistance group

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

A group of government parliamentarians are to form a special 'military assistance group' to encourage troops and look into their various problems by co-ordinating with the military high command.

A Colombo based PA parliamentarian told The Sunday Times they have conducted private investigations into the war situation and discovered that tightening a few loopholes could give the necessary impetus to the war thrust.

The MPs who are to meet the President this week to map out a strategy 'to maximise assistance' wish to assist the logistical operations, supplement programmes to ensure adequate and necessary supplies, prioritise non-military hardware purchases and welfare requirements with special programmes to purchase/collect artificial limbs and other related matters.

Government sources confirmed that a fully fledged civilian involvement in the war effort would assist troops in no small measure. "After launching this, it would not be confined to a few parliamentarians. This is only the start. We want people to gradually get involved and realise the true meaning of a country being placed on a war footing", a spokesman said.

According to the preliminary plans, upon receiving approval from the President and the military high command, the MPs would co-ordinate with all units and ensure civilian assistance, whenever required, is forthcoming.

Sources said that they would shortly meet the commanders of all three forces and the police to make a priority list of requirements that could be obtained from outside. The issue of having all military hospitals adequately supplied with blood and medical supplies has also been discussed by the parliamentarians.


Pressure on polls chief

Another legal controversy is reported to be arising over Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake.

Some government sources said he had been asked to step down and if he did not, a motion might be introduced in parliament.

Last year, Mr. Dissanayake was on medical leave due to a heart ailment when presidential elections were called.

The government then brought in the Sabaragamuwa provincial secretary D.M.P.B. Dassanayake to conduct the December 21 elections.

After the polls, Mr. Dassanayake reverted to his substantive post in Sabaragamuwa while Mr. Dissanayake resumed office as Commissioner of Elections. The Sunday Times however learns that Mr. Dissanayake has indicated he is fit enough to continue in office though there are calls for him to step down.


Paedophile Baumann pleads bankruptcy

M.Ismeth reporting from Zurich

The 100,000 Swiss francs (Rs. 4.5 million) promised by paedophile convict Victor Baumann (57) to his victims in Sri Lanka and the child protection organization will not be forthcoming as he now claims bankruptcy.

According to Victor Baumann's lawyers he is unable to pay the money. Nevertheless he owns a house in St. Gallen, Switzerland which is now under litigation.

Mr. Baumann is at present serving a four and a half year term in Strafanstalt Poschwies Regensdofr jail in Zurich.

The Zurich judicial authorities rejected the conditional release of Baumann after completing two thirds of his sentence. In Zurich normally an accused is released after he completes two third of his sentence. However, the authorities said that they cannot give him a release.

"He is not a normal prisoner. He was sentenced by a Zurich District Court in 1998. This was a pilot process as this was the first time a Swiss national was convicted for a crime of this nature committed abroad.

Baumann promised 61,000 Swiss francs (Rs. 2.7 million)

to some of his victims and 50,000 Swiss francs (Rs. 2.2 million) to a child protection organization, during the final hearing in 1998.

The sentence of Baumann sent shock waves as it served as a warning to other Swiss paedophiles in foreign countries.

To date not only his victims but also the children's organization has received a single cent.

According to reliable sources in Colombo Baumann's wealth in Sri Lanka is estimated to be around 10 million Swiss francs.

One of the victim's lawyer Ms Urusla Kohlbacher (who appeared free of charge) had requested the defence lawyers many times to honour the word which Baumann gave in the summer of 1998. Ms Urusla has , however, not got a favourable response.

Now, with the greatest reluctance Baumann's lawyer has broken the long silence by stating that Baumann's electronic company in Seeduwa has now been closed down and after his arrest his prawn farm was destroyed by a virus.

At the time of his arrest in 1997 he had different companies, a villa, cars and other valuable items. At that time his possessions were valued at ten million Swiss francs. He cannot suddenly say he had lost all his assets, Ms Urusla argued.

There is speculation that Baumann's trusted people in Sri Lanka are still making use of the valuables he had left.

Mr. Rudolf Guuhl of the Swiss Embassy in Colombo is making every effort to see that the victims and the children's organization are getting what was promised to them, sources in Zurich told The Sunday Times.

Meanwhile, District Attorney Peter Pelligrini who prosecuted Baumann and conducted inquiries in Colombo in 1997 with the assistance of Hilmy Marikar (interpreter) and two Swiss police officials told The Sunday Times that he will be presenting the case against Baumann to the Swiss authorities in Berne on May18.


Army starts human rights unit

In a bid to boost its image, the Sri Lanka army has set up a human rights unit to monitor related areas and to work in co-ordination with other groups.

Army sources said the unit would be responsible for looking into human rights violations and co-ordinating with the ICRC in arranging for prisoner release or welfare programmes.

It would also maintain records on military personnel with regard to their basic requirements which were not only a logistical matter but a humanitarian one.


There will soon be a solution-Thondaman

By Roshan Peiris

Minister Arumugam Thondaman, leader of the Ceylon Workers' Congress expressing his views on the prevailing situation to The Sunday Times said "I am optimistic that there will be a political solution to the ethnic problem, despite an escalating situation in Jaffna now."

He also said, "I have not visited Jaffna in recent times, but I want to do so. At present the Army seems to retain some control.

"I think everything will turn out O.K. soon. I am sure talks could be held between the LTTE and the Government.

" I am optimistic there will soon be a solution to this 18 year old ethnic conflict. One must look at things in an optimistic way," he said.


Can't stop pandals

Despite appeals by the Government and Buddhist organisations for Vesak celebrations to be restricted in view of the war crisis, several giant pandals are coming up in and around Colombo.

"It is impossible to stop such activities in a Buddhist country,"said Colombo's DIG Bodhi Liyanage who faces the burden of providing security for the large crowds, but he said the police would do their best.

There will be eight pandals in Colombo- in Pettah, Borella, Kosgashandiya, Peliyagoda, Thotalanga, Dematagoda, Kollupitiya, and Kompannya Veediya. Pandals are also coming up in Gampaha, Ragama, Galwala junction, Divulapitiya, Piliyandala, Pasyala and Kiribathgoda among other places.


US troubleshooter coming

A US diplomatic troubleshooter is expected to visit Colombo and New Delhi this month amidst reports of a joint Indo-US initiative to help end the ethnic war.

Thomas Pickering a former US ambassador in Colombo and now Under Secretary in charge of South Asian affairs, will hold talks with leaders of both countries after reiterating that the Clinton administration strongly supported Sri Lanka's arduous campaign to resist separatist violence and its offer for a negotiated political settlement.

Meanwhile sources said the government was considering a fresh appeal to India regarding military assistance.

Earlier India ruled out military assistance but said it was ready to politically mediate if both the government and the LTTE requested it.


CEB employees fight for better pension

Some 1500 retired employees of the Ceylon Electricity Board have banded together to fight for a better deal in terms of their pensions.

A statement issued by the CEB Pensioners' Benefit Association said they were receiving a pension which was formulated in 1989 and a majority of them (who come from the labour grades) receive a monthly pittance of around Rs.1000 or less under the old pension scheme.

For the past four years, the pensioners said they had been making representations to the CEB , seeking an increase of this meagre "pension" on the grounds that:

* Provision in the CEB Pension Scheme which requires that the scheme be revised from time to time, has not been implemented.

* There has been no adjustment to take into consideration the rising cost of living and the dwindling purchasing power of the rupee.

* There has been no adjustment of the quantum of pension paid to the older pensioners, in relation to subsequent salary increases in the Ceylon Electricity Board, thereby creating a very striking anomaly.

"We understand that the Management Committee of the Pension Funds has made some recommendations for an interim increase sometime ago. Even though these recommendations have been submitted to the Board of Directors, they have not been implemented so far. We understand that the reluctance on the part of the Board of Directors is based on an 'actual assessment covering a time span of 50 years' - which appears far-fetched. We are aware that such actuarial assessments are based on 'half truths and wide assumptions', the pensioners' statement said.

"We are aware that the CEB Pension Fund is financially sound, the initial capital still remains untouched, and that the interest earned is more than sufficient to make pension payments. Earned interest too is cumulating and swelling the Fund along with the regular contributions on account of the present employees.

"We note with gratitude that on the intervention of the President, Government pensioners were granted an increase of pensions in the recent past. Even this modest increase has been denied to the older pensioners of the CEB

"At that time, there was an outcry from our members too that we take to the street and organize 'protest campaigns' before the election.

"However, the mature leadership of this association resisted this move as it did not want this matter to become a so-called 'election issue', and wished to refrain from joining the wild cat 'protest campaigns' " the statement said.

The pensioners said they were meeting on June 28 and would be compelled to take action if their grievances are not redressed."


Malaysia a good market, says SLBFE chairman

By Nilika de Silva

Do not pay more than Rs. 60,000 to job agents when seeking employment in Malaysia, the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment last week cautioned prospective migrant workers.

This advice was given after the visit to Malaysia last Wednesday by a team comprising Bureau representatives and job agents.

"Malaysia is a good market," said the Chairman SLBFE, Jayantha Liyanage, but added, "The maximum an agent can charge is Rs. 55,000 to 60,000. That will include the Government Levy payable, the Bureau Registration fee, passage to Malaysia, and the agent's commission."

"Sri Lanka will be sending a Labour Attaché to Malaysia around the 20th. Since it is a new market we will have a Labour Attaché and a clerk attached to him, to promote business and also to look after the welfare activities of the migrant workers," he said.

Meanwhile, a problem has arisen in Malaysia, with 200 Sri Lankan migrant workers in a factory asking for higher salaries. A delegation was despatched on Wednesday to study the situation and brief Mr. Liyanage on the position.

"I was informed last Saturday by the High Commission in Malaysia of the problem. I immediately called all three agents who had recruited those workers and had a meeting. I advised them to proceed to Malaysia immediately with a senior officer from the Bureau," Mr. Liyanage said.

One of the grievances of these workers is that they have been charged Rs. 75,000 to Rs. 80,000 by the agents. "I am going to ask these agents to refund the money," Mr. Liyanage said.

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