28th January 2001

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Waves of hope for captive crew

By Chris Kamalendran

Norway's peace envoy to Sri Lanka Erik Solheim this week gave fresh hopes to family members of those being held captive by the LTTE in the north saying that the current peace initiative would help to resolve the issue of prisoners of war (POWs).

Mr. Solheim's response came soon after the family members of 11 ship crew members being held by the LTTE made written representations to him.

In an interview over the BBC, Mr. Solheim told that he had hopes that the negotiations would work out and would help in securing the release of the captives.

At least 600 people, most of them armed forces personnel are said to be in custody of the LTTE.

Feroze Noordeen, acting as coordinator for the 11 ship crew members had written to Mr. Solheim calling for his intervention to secure their release.

The crew members were taken into custody by the LTTE from the Irish Mona hijacked in August 1995, the M.V. Missen hijacked in July 1997 and the Princess Kash taken into LTTE custody on August 28, 1998.

Mr. Noordeen told The Sunday Times that he had written to Mr. Solheim as, at the moment, he was the best person to intervene in seeking the release of the captives.

He said though President Chandrika Kumaratunga gave an assurance that the issue of the captives would be looked into, little action had been taken while the ships' agents have gone missing.

"The families have not got any assistance from the government or the ships' agents," he said.

He said for the moment the only consolation was that ICRC representatives regularly visit them.

"For the parents and kith and kin of those being held by the LTTE in the north it is some relief to receive a short note or a letter through the ICRC. In return the parents send their loved ones, small food parcels, greetings and letters," he said.

The exchange of letters, etc. takes place through the ICRC when its representatives visit the captives every one and half months.

This exercise has been taking place for the past couple of years.

Mr. Noordeen whose 26 year old son Mohamed Sajjad is among the captives said "We live in hope that attempts will be made to release those in custody. Some of the families are financially in a bad situation while some others are mentally affected."

He said the captives describe the state of their health in their letters, but do not go into sensitive details while their family members give details about their families, but do not comment about the political situation in the south, in keeping with ICRC requirements.

He said after the meeting with the President the relatives of those in custody sought Ministry of Defence clearance to visit the 11 crew members, but no response has been received so far.

Among those in custody are Sunil Liyanage from Pannipitiya and his nephew Mahinda Dias who were on board the M.V.Missen.

Anthony Fernando was in the Irish Mona when he was taken into custody while his wife was pregnant. He has so far not seen his son, except in the photographs which have been sent through the ICRC.

K.P. Richard of Trincomalee, an able seaman, who was taken captive from Irish Mona was the sole breadwinner of the family.

His wife has now been forced to now look after the family of three school going children.

Mohamed Mustafa from Slave Island had made all arrangements for his marriage before he left on the M.V.Missen and was taken captive three years ago. His fiancee still awaits his return.

The breadwinner of a family and only son is also among the captives. He is M.M.D Bandara hailing from Kurunegala who was taken captive from the Princess Kash.

The other crew members in custody are P.M.B.S. Buddhika from Galigamuwa whose father is a retired estate superintendent, Lal Jayakody, M.H.R. Ravindra Pushpakumara from Matara and J.M.I Jayasundera from Kurunegala.

For their families a short message, a greeting card or a letter brings them relief although they are not sure when they could see their kith and kin.

The families are eagerly waiting to make arrangements to make a trip to visit their loved ones in LTTE custody.

ICRC spokesman in Colombo Harsha Gunawardena told 'The Sunday Times' that both parties have to agree for such a trip to be arranged.

Mr. Noordeen's grandson recently received a birthday card on his fourth birthday while Noordeen too received a card on his 56th birthday.

Noordeen, an engineer by profession working in Saudi Arabia resigned from his job and returned to Sri Lanka to campaign for his son's release.

"My only aim is to see that my son and the other crew members are released," said a determined Noordeen.

Building up or sitting on job?

By Sunil Jayatillake

Inspite of millions already being spent by the Central Cultural Fund on reconstruction work on the Jethavana Chaitya, little work is being done, The Sunday Times learns.

Heavy rains in recent week have also washed away large sections of the chaitya.

Although little work is being done it is alleged that about two million rupees is being spent monthly on workmens' salaries alone.

Although there are about 500 labourers and masons working on this site only about 50 men are engaged in construction work, resulting in only about1000 bricks being laid daily.

Two engineers of the Railway Department and the State Engineering Corporation have been taken on as advisers of the Jetavanarama Project however they too are reported to be not rendering a satisfactory service, while the Central Cultural Fund is paying more than Rs. 50,000 as their salaries and allowances.

Although there is a high-tech brick furnace at Alayapanthuve capable of producing the 12X10X2 bricks required for construction work at the Jetavana Project, it is learnt that the officials are opting to call for tenders and purchase bricks from outside.

Meanwhile Cultural Affairs Minister Monty Gopallawa has said he was not satisfied with the work on this project and had ordered relevant officials to conduct an investigation and forward a report to him.

He also said he had cancelled the calling of outside tenders for purchasing of bricks and was taking action to speed up work on the site.

Yellow Post Card to win ten demands

The Alliance for Democracy is to launch a Yellow Post Card campaign starting on February 28 to win ten demands which includes pressing the government to appoint independent elections and judicial commissions.

The Alliance said in a news release that it would also support the resolution that the opposition is to move in Parliament for the removal of Chief Justice Sarath Silva whose actions, it said were neither impartial or just.

With the appointment of an independent judicial commission, the ruling party will not be able to unduly interfere in the work of the Supreme Court thus ensuring the independence and efficiency of the judiciary, the Alliance said.

The campaign would also press for the appointment of an independent public service commission and an independent police commission to ensure the independence of the public service and the police.

The Alliance has put forward ten demands among which are the appointment of a commission of inquiry into the malpractices that had occurred in 17 electoral districts in the last general election that was described as utterly corrupt and irregular.

It has demanded that the national identity card be made compulsory for voting at future elections and that an independent elections commission with broad powers be appointed.

It has demanded the enforcement of the law against those who participated in election violence, the abolition of the executive presidency, to bring about more discipline among parliamentarians and to have the right to information enacted in order to have transparency in all transactions made at government level.

The Alliance which launched the Yellow Band campaign before the last election to press for a free and fair election said it expects to sell two million Yellow Post Cards as a part of its campaign.

The post cards would be collected with the ideas included in them by the people and taken to Parliament in a massive procession and handed over to the Prime Minister, the news release said.

Among the other demands of the Alliance are the creation of a national policy on ethnic, religious and language rights, education, transport, agriculture, industries and national assets, the abolition of the emergency regulations and the scrapping of the Water Bill.

The Alliance for Democracy is an independent movement consisting of 70 trade unions and organizations.

Electoral system should be changed: Nandimithra

By Shelani de Silva.

Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government Nandimithra Ekanayake was interviewed by The Sunday Times on the likely reforms to be made to the local government election system based on the recommendations of the Special Presidential Commission appointed for the purpose.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: What progress has the Cabinet sub-committee made on the recommendations made by the Presidential Commission for the reform of the local government election system ?

A: Some of the recommendations were accepted, while amendments were suggested to some others while yet others were directed to the Parliamentary Select Committee. At the moment the Parliamentary Select Committee has to study the recommendations.

Q: What are the new features which will be included in the system ?

A: The most important recommendation made by the Commission is that the electoral system be changed, to which we agreed. It recommended the first past the post system and to do away with the PR system. We suggested that there should be a mixed system similar to the German system.

There was also a recommendation to set up town councils and village council in addition to the urban councils, municipal councils and pradeshiya sabhas. We decided to have only the existing three councils.

The Commission had suggested a non-party system for the candidates, without accepting nominations from political parties and to have representatives from NGOs. We did not agree to this, but forwarded the suggestions to the Parliamentary Select Committee.

Q: Will the forthcoming elections be held under the new system?

A: The Select Committee has to give its consent but it is not possible to have the elections under the new system. There is no time to do it . Many amendments have to be brought forward.

Q: Are there any plans to postpone the elections ?

A: Legally the term ends at the end of March and the councils have to be dissolved to have the elections within 45 days. I personally feel that there is no problem in having elections at the stipulated time.

But if the people want to change the system and have an election then there is no time.

I personally feel that the system should be changed. The old system will definitely help the people. Violence too will be less since the preferential vote system will be scrapped.

SL booms against ceasefire

The Sinhala Jathika Sangamaya, giving details of how the LTTE used previous ceasefires to commit atrocities, has warned the Government not to enter into any further ceasefires with the LTTE.

A ceasefire will be a "death-trap for our forces" and it would only lead to an aggravated repetition of the Tigers treachery in respect of past ceasefires, the group's leader S.L. Gunasekera said.

"In such event, the blood of those innocents will surely be on the hands of the Government and those credulous cretins and malevolent scoundrels who seek to pressurize our Government into declaring a ceasefire," Mr. Gunasekera added.

He said the group was glad that this time the Government had not fallen prey to the machinations of the LTTE.

The group gave a list of instances where the LTTE had used ceasefire periods from 1987 to re-group and carry out bloody attacks on the troops and massacre innocent civilians.

The violations of ceasefires by the LTTE began with the violation of a ceasefire during the Sinhala/Tamil New Year in 1987.

"Lalith Athulathmudali, the then Minister of National Security announced a unilateral ceasefire between the 11th and the 21st April 1987 for the Sinhalese/Tamil New Year as a gesture of goodwill to the Tigers in the hope, no doubt, of commencing negotiations to achieve peace. The Tigers reciprocated that gesture not with a corresponding ceasefire nor even with hostilities against our armed forces who were capable of fighting back but by stopping three buses at Kituluttuwa on the Habarana-Trincomalee Road on the 17th April 1987, separating the Sinhalese passengers from the Tamils and Muslims and murdering every one of them, men women, children and babies in arms, all numbering 127.

Just two days later they exploded a bomb at Colombo's Central Bus Terminus at Pettah during rush hour murdering 107 and injuring 287 of all races, mostly Sinhalese.

After the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed on the 29th July 1987 Prabhakaran announced to a vast crowd at a meeting on the 4th August 1987 that the Tigers had decided to hand over all their arms and ammunitions and the Tigers surrendered 4 truck loads of their unusable and discarded arms and ammunitions on the following day. Thereafter Anton Balasingham solemnly told journalists Jehan Haniff that the Tigers had surrendered all the weapons they had in their possession in an interview which was published in the 'Island' of the 27th September 1987. Four days later hordes of Tigers, armed to the teeth descended on the Sinhalese and Muslim civilians from Trincomalee to Chenkaladi and murdered over 200 helpless men, women children and infants in a program that lasted from October 1st - 9th 1987. While the 'Premadasa Peace Talks' and the resultant 'ceasefire' were 'on', the Tigers suddenly surrounded and attacked 10 police stations in the Batticaloa and Ampara Districts on the 11th June 1990. Thereafter, upon the UNP Government of the day ordering the Police Officers in those stations to lay down their arms and surrender consequent to a promise given by the Tigers to give those who surrendered safe conduct to and release at Ampara Town, the Tigers separated the Sinhalese and the Muslim Police Officers who surrendered from the Tamils and murdered them , about 677 in all, with assembly line efficiency. Within one week of unilaterally and suddenly breaking that ceasefire the Tigers attacked 20 Police Stations and causing the vacation of 4 Army Camps. Within one month of their breaking that ceasefire, the toll of casualties of our Security Forces was 1120 dead and 412 wounded.

While the 'Kumaratunga Peace Talks' and 'ceasefire' occasioned thereby were in progress, on the 19th April 1995, the Tigers sank two Naval Gunboats at Trincomalee Harbour murdering 12 Naval personnel on Board and there after shot down two Avro Aircraft with missiles (which they had never been able to do before those 'Talks') on the 28th and 29th April 1995 murdering 48 soldiers, 24 sailors, 23 airmen, 2 policemen and 2 journalists. The number of casualties in the first 39 days after the Tigers broke that ceasefire was 321 dead and 134 wounded.

The bombing of the Dalada Maligawa with its resultant carnage, the indiscriminate murders of helpless civilians of both sexes and all ages and races by the bombs at Orugodawatte, the Central Bank, the Dehiwela Railway Station, the Galadari Hotel, the SLFP procession at Ratmalana (where Mr. and Mrs. C.V. Gooneratne were murdered) the UNP meeting at Ja-Ela (where general Lucky Algama was murdered), the PA meeting at the Town Hall (where President Kumaratunga lost her eye and narrowly escaped death) as well as by the stealthy attack on the helpless Sinhalese villagers of Gonagala.

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