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Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake being presented with a red rose by actress Ramani Siriwardana at the launch of the ceremony under the programme 'Love our forces' held at the President's House. Pic. Courtesy Dept. of Information

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Britain to let LTTE off the hook

From Neville de Silva in London
The LTTE will not be banned when the British Government brings its new anti-terrorist act into operation tomorrow.

The British Home Office will make a formal announcement tomorrow that the law will be operative from February 19. But it will not issue a list of banned organisations at the same time, official British sources told The Sunday Times.

This, in effect, means that Britain has decided not to ban any organisation, including the LTTE.

It is a slap on the face of several foreign governements, including Sri Lanka and India, which campaigned strongly for the ban on dissident groups operating and rasing funds from London against the home country.

The Terrorism Act 2000 allows the Home Secretary to proscribe any organisation by listing it in schedule 2 or if an organisation operates under the same name as one listed in that schedule.

While Britain has banned the Irish Republican Army (IRA) under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, it has shown its reluctance to ban foreign rebel groups under the new law. This is bound to draw heavy criticism from foreign governments and to cast doubts over British stance on international terrorism.

Last month The Sunday Times reported from London that the "British Government was preparing to let the LTTE off the hook".

On Thursday Home Secretary Jack Straw told parliament in reply to a question from Paul Clark, MP for Gillingham, that he had issued a commencement order under the anti-terrorism act. 

But on Friday, official British sources told The Sunday Times the Home Office would make an announcement on Monday but there would not be a list of proscribed organisations.

Diplomats said the Labour government had decided not to ban any foreign terrorist organisations because the ruling party is looking from the standpoint of its own narrow political advantage.

The Labour government's popularity is waning because of its ineffective policies and widespread media reports of sleaze and corruption in government circles.

Several Labour MPs who were elected with narrow majorites will have to depend on ethnic minorities who voted for them. They are worried that any unpopular laws would drive these votes away.

"Although a substantial section of the Tamil community here does not support the LTTE or its resort to violence because of the harrassment they have suffered from Tiger cadres, the LTTE has told MPs that they can still get the ethnic minority vote for them. But the Labour government should not ban the LTTE which the lobbyists claim was fighting for the Tamil rights," one party source told The Sunday Times.

Several diplomats contacted by The Sunday Times dismissed the British Government's inaction as further proof of its abandonment of the much vaunted "ethical foreign policy".

"This government dilly-dallied over the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet when he was here. So what is it for the same set of fellows to play footsie with that fellow Prabha.....," a well informed journalist said.

In defence of the British action, a human rights lawyer said the fact that no list would be issued on Monday "does not mean that the government cannot subsequently ban any organisation engaged in terrorist activity.

But others pointed out that Britain is adopting different standards on international terrorism. On the Lockerbie bombing which concerned Britain, it was in the forefront of global anti-terrorism drive, but it is abandoning its principled position when it comes to terrorism affecting other countries. 


CBK warns JVP unions

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has warned that she would crack down hard on politically-backed trade unions which are trying to cause industrial unrest.

She issued this warning during a meeting with a delegation of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce. The President said that a special force was set up to receive complaints of any third force trying to paralyse the economy.

The President's warning comes in the wake of complaints by several BOI approved companies which said they believed their work force had been infiltrated by a third force, an obvious reference to the JVP. 

The company bosses had insisted that they be allowed to adopt a hire-and-fire policy to deal with the situation, but the President had suggested that a council representing the employees and employers be set up to sort out labour disputes, The Sunday Times learns. The President assured them that the Government would take stern action against JVP or any opposition activists if they tried to destabilise the economy.


Justice Hector Yapa to SC

Justice Hector Yapa was last week promoted as a judge of the Supreme Court by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

Annan avoids Lanka

Sri Lanka has been left out of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's first official tour to South Asia.

Mr. Annan is expected to visit India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal in late March-early April. But Sri Lanka is not in his itinerary.

All four countries have formally invited Mr. Annan. But Sri Lanka, either for political or other reasons, has failed to extend an invitation to the Secretary-General who completes his four-year term in December this year.


Government launches Op. human rights in north

In the backdrop of a lull in the battlefields, the Government has launched a new operation in the Jaffna peninsula to solicit public complaints of human rights violations including disappearances. 

In an unprecedented move, appeals are being made through the Jaffna-based Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation's Tamil beam, calling upon the public to register complaints with a CID team now stationed in the northern capital. 

CID chief Punya de Silva flew to Jaffna to facilitate the working of the team headed by Assistant Superintendent A.M.S. Abeysinghe. During the first day of its operations, the special unit received 35 complaints from civilians in Point Pedro area. During its second day, in the Jaffna town, it received 43 complaints. The new move, The Sunday Times learns, is prompted by allegations of human rights violations, particularly against security forces and police in the north. Western Governments have placed pressure on the Government to expedite investigations and take action. 

The move comes ahead of a five-nation European tour President Kumaratunga is to undertake next month. She is to visit Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France and Britain. She is also due to visit India but it is not clear whether the visit would be linked to the European tour. According to Western diplomatic sources, the main thrust during her tour was to brief these countries of the Government's peace efforts and moves to improve its human rights record. 


Crane crash at port

A gantry crane in the Jaya Container Terminal of the Colombo Port was heavily damaged last night, when a container carrier collided with it, a ports official said.

The official said that the ship LT Greed carrying 2000 containers rammed into the crane valued around Rs 450 million.

The incident took place when the ship was being berthed in the container jetty.

Officials were last night estimating the damage.


They slept on Wanni minefields

Two soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army returned to a northern military base on February 10 after a 286 day ordeal in the Wanni following the fall of Elephant Pass. 

The saga of soldiers Weerasinghe Devalage Weerasinghe (23) from Weuda (Mawathagama) and Lunuwila Aratchige Mahinda Kumara alias Mahindasiri (20) began on April 30 when their defence lines at Soranpattu, the northern part of the Elephant Pass complex were attacked on . 

They were given up for dead or classified officially as Missing-In-Action.

But the two men from the 9th Battalion of the Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment endured hardships and faced close encounters with death during nine months and ten days of their epic return to base.

They drank their own urine or ditch water. In between, only Kurumba (young coconut water) refreshed them. The only solids they ate throughout were coconut, roots of young Palmyrah trees and wild ginger. 

In his Situation Report on Page 8 today, The Sunday Times Defence Correspondent, Iqbal Athas gives an exclusive account of the saga of the two soldiers.

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