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11th March 2001

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Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar meething
Pakistan's military ruler Pervez Musharraf in
Islamabad to discuss ways of prevnting moves
by the Teleban regime to destroy historic
Buddha statues in Afghanistan.

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Samurdhi scandal for SLFP show

In an apparent violation of an assurance given to courts, thousands of Samurdhi officials were lured to attend the Sri Lanka Freedom Party's annual convention in Colombo last Sunday on the pretext of attending an official workshop at state expense.

All Samurdhi managers and Samurdhi development officers were directed to attend the workshop, at the Samurdhi Ministry at Reid Avenue, adjoining the venue of the SLFP convention, but instead of the workshop, they were asked to attend the convention. The workshop itself was held in Colombo a few days later.

Minister S. B. Dissanayake who as SLFP General Secretary was the chief organiser of the massive convention is the minister in charge of Samurdhi affairs.

The Samurdhi officials who were told that the attendance at the workshop was compulsory were eventually asked to attend the party's convention presided over by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The Samurdhi Ministry is one of the ministries which receive a high allocation from the annual budget and is supposed to provide relief assistance to the poor.

The Samurdhi Authority's estimated expenditure for this year is Rs. 2400 million, a marked increase from its actual expenditure of Rs. 1152 million.

The alleged political use of Samurdhi officials comes despite a firm assurance given by the Samurdhi Director General to the Court of Appeal in September last year that Samurdhi managers and development officers would not be deployed for any party political activity or election work.

The letters directing the officials to attend the workshop were signed by the relevant District Secretaries and addressed to the Divisional Secretaries to be enforced.

The Deputy Solicitor General U.J.W. Wijethilake forwarding terms of the settlement in a court case in September told courts that the Samurdhi Director General would instruct Samurdhi Managers and Development officials 'not to engage in political activities except as strictly permissible under the Establishment Code.'

Directions were also given to hire buses for their travel with the approval of the Samurdhi Commissioner and the officials attending the workshop were promised meals.

The letter also said that those not attending the workshop due to medical reasons should send their names to the ministry.

The move came amidst reports that hundreds of state-run buses were put into use to transport SLFP members for the convention from outstations without making payments to the respective depots. The misuse of the buses also triggered off other reactions including transport problems, mainly in the Kandy district where the private buses were on strike.

The Sunday Times learns that while most depots had sent 10 to 20 buses to transport participants to the convention, certain depots had sent as many as 40 buses.

Wennappuwa depot had released 19 buses, Nikaweratiya 12, Wariyapola 20, Maho 9, Giriulla 10, Matara 40, Godakawela 12, Ambalangoda 17 and Mahiyangana 18. Nearly 100 buses had been released from the Kandy district.

Depot officials said that in some cases passengers had contributed towards the hiring charge but no payment had been made yet for most of the buses.

Transport Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told The Sunday Times he did not know how many buses were taken and it was not his business.


Premier orders son to quit

Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake has ordered his son Vidura to resign from the post of coordinating secretary to the Buddhasasana Ministry, The Sunday Times learns.

Buddhasasana Ministry Secretary L. Sugunadasa said Vidura Wickremanayake had informed the Ministry that he would be quitting the post.

This came after several disputes and a warning from the premier after a newspaper photograph described Vidura Wickremanayake as coordinating secretary to the prime minister.

The premier had earlier written to his son, insisting that he should confine his work to the Buddhasasana Ministry and not get involved in the Prime Minister's office.


Budget blow to battered Lankans

By Feizal Samath

Thursdays budget was seen by many economic analysts as a typical IMF-prescribed budget, laced with spending cuts, a freeze on public sector salary increments and other spending, and curbing the budget deficit.

While the ethnic conflict has cost the lives of more than 65,000 people since 1983 and retarded economic growth, now at an average five percent instead of 7-8 percent if there was normalcy, consumers have been hit by the high cost of living in the past year.

Sri Lankans, reeling from a protracted war between the government and the LTTE and soaring costs of living, are being asked to further tighten their belts at least for the next six months.

"The government appeals to the people to refrain from demanding concessions for the next six months and fully co-operate with us to re-strengthen our economic fundamentals," Deputy Finance Minister G.L. Peiris, said in presenting a budget that had little if any cheer for the people.

Analysts said the government was probably banking on peace talks with the LTTE, likely to begin in May to trigger a turnaround in the depressed economy. That would also ease the burden on consumers.

"If peace comes, then the whole scenario changes and confidence could be restored in the economy," Peradeniya University economist Sumanasiri Liyanage said.

He however believed that the government's call for austerity would have had a bigger impact if the country did not have a giant-sized cabinet.

"It's not fair to expect people to support government cuts when the government itself is not prepared to trim spending and maintains a huge cabinet." Economists said the austerity budget and the government's appeal for people's support appeared to be a moratorium on demands from trade unions and workers for a pay rise.

A 20 percent surcharge on corporate tax will raise taxes on companies listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange to 36 percent from 30 percent and on unlisted companies to 42 percent from the current 35 percent. "The additional defence levy and the corporate surcharge would be passed on to the consumer through further price hikes,'' the analyst said.


Last ditch efforts to save Buddha statues

By Our Diplomatic Editor

Sri Lanka was adopting a two-pronged approach to the moves by the Taleban regime in Afghanistan to destroy the world-famous Buddha statues in the cliffs of the Bamiyan valley of that country.

The Sunday Times learns that the two-pronged strategy is to put international pressure on the Kabul government and by urging the international community, in return, to care for the 1.7 million Afghanistan refugees, the result of nearly two decades of civil war inspired by Western powers.

Sri Lanka co-sponsored a resolution introduced by non-Buddhist Germany at the UN General Assembly which met urgently on Friday to call upon the Taleban to abide by their previous commitments to protect Afghanistan's cultural heritage from all acts of vandalism, damage and theft.

The resolution also urged the Taleban to take immediate action to prevent further destruction of the irreplaceable relics, monuments or artifacts of Afghanistan's cultural heritage and called upon member states to help, through appropriate technical measures, to safeguard the sculptures, including, if necessary, their temporary relocation or removal from public view.

The resolution was adopted without a vote. The delegation representing Afghanistan's ousted Rabbani government, which is still officially recognised by the UN, also co-sponsored the resolution.

The Taleban government is recognised only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN, John De Saram spoke (please see page 9) along with envoys from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Cambodia, Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Iran, Japan, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, South Korea, Sweden (on behalf of the EU), Thailand and Ukraine.

Mr. De Saram said "we in this hall today can only hope and pray that the statues in Bamiyan are not and will not be destroyed in cruel and wanton destruction of a shocking magnitude. We do not know what their fate is or will be".

Foreign Minister Laksh-man Kadirgamar told The Sunday Times from Islamabad that his information was that the famous statues had not been destroyed but Western as well as Pakistani news agencies said that at least part of the statues had been destroyed.

The UN Security Council also considered the subject of the statues in view of the visit of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to South Asia. Mr. Annan arrived in Pakistan late yesterday.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kadirgamar was in Islamabad yesterday on an urgent mission for talks with Pakistan's Chief Executive Gen. Pervez Musharraf to save the statues.

Following Mr. Kadirigamar's visit the Pakistan government has decided to despatch its Interior Minister, the tough talking Lt. Gen. (retired) Moin-Ud-din Haides along with a one-time ambassador to Kabul to meet the supreme ruler of Taleban Mullah Mohammad Omar who issued the edict to destroy the statues.

Lt. Gen Haides left for Kabul yesterday. There was no word about the outcome of the visit.

Reports from the Pakistan quoted the Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel as saying that he would meet Mr. Annan in Pakistan to defend the Afghan regime's destruction of ancient statues.

"I will tell him (Mr. Annan) that what we are doing is an internal religious issue. It is not aimed at challenging the world," Mr. Mutawakel was quoted as saying.

An official release from the spokesman for the Pakistan Foreign Ministry said Mr. Kadirgamar expressed concern of the government and people of Sri Lanka at the decision of the Taleban regime to demolish the historic relics of Buddhist civilization.

Pakistan shared those concerns, the release added.

Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake is also due in Islamabad on Wednesday to pursue the diplomatic initiative against the Taleban move.

Last week Sri Lanka's Ambassador in Dubai, J. Nakawita, met his Taleban counterpart and appealed to him to spare the statues, but the Kabul envoy had replied saying that the world was not concerned about Afghan refugees and only about rocks and statues.

Meanwhile a mass protest and Satyagraha led by Mahanayakes will be held on Tuesday in Colombo.

More than 5,000 monks are expected to join members of various Buddhist groups for this protest march which will start opposite the ACBC at 2. p.m. and proceed to Viharamahdevi Park.

Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, Secretary of the Jathika Sangha Sabha, said the silent peace march would end with the proclamation of a statement made by the four Mahanayakes appealing for international support to stop the vandalism.

He said all four Mahanayakes were expected to take part in the Satyagraha in a show of solidarity over an issue that has shocked and scandalised the world.

Flash The Afghan Taleban militia said yesterday it had all but destroyed the ancient Bamiyan Buddha statues as its foreign minister prepared to meet UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in Pakistan. "I will tell him that what we are doing is an internal religious issue. It is not aimed at challenging the world," Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel told AFP from Kandahar.

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