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The Menik Ganga, once the lifeline and living
spring of the deep south, has run dry with the 
parched riverbed giving a grim testimony to the 
worst-ever drought that has thrown hundreds of
thousands of people into starvation and suffering.
Pic by Dunstan Wickremaratne

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Crucial PA-UNP talks get going

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
PA and UNP leaders, locked in a make or break three and a half hours of talks yesterday, failed to reach accord on priorities to end the country's deepening political crisis. 

However, they agreed to continue talks tomorrow and on Tuesday in a bid to arrive at a common consensus or go their own ways.

The main thrust of the PA team at yesterday's sessions at the BMICH was to abolish the executive presidency and forge a government-opposition common ground for talks with Tiger guerrilla's to end the ethnic conflict. Other issues, they argued, could be raised thereafter.

But, the UNP delegation insisted on the government heeding their demands for reconvening parliament and the cancellation of the referendum. This is in addition to the setting up of five independent commissions for police, elections, public service, judiciary and state media and appointment of a constitutional council that would confirm appointments of key officials like judges, the Attorney General and the Police Chief.

Despite agreeing to holding urgent talks with the government to resolve the current situation, it is also learnt that the UNP delegation was reluctant to be photographed fearing undue publicity possibly in the state media to trumpet that the two main political parties have already reached a consensus on vital issues at yesterday's crucial talks. When deciding on the venue, too, the UNP was selective refusing to meet at five-star venues or the Prime Minister's office and opted for Parliament or BMICH.

The UNP at the talks formally presented what it called the 17th Amendment to the constitution. The proposal includes the setting up of the independent commissions and the constitutional council. Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Times last night "the talks are essentially preliminary. We will emphasise to the government the urgent need to meet the demands placed by the combined opposition."

UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya who led the UNP delegation at yesterday's talks told The Sunday Times the joint opposition would continue its programme of action whilst continuing what he called a meaningful and beneficial dialogue with the government. 

On Wednesday, a day after the make or break PA-UNP talks are due to conclude, the combined opposition is to meet Speaker Anura Bandaranaike to explain the stand it will take when parliament reconvenes on September 7.

The UNP has asked President Chandrika Kumaratunga to make a statement of government policy on that date and put it to a vote.

A brief joint communiqué issued by Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on behalf of the PA and K.N. Choksy for the UNP said: "Delegations from the PA and the UNP met today and had extensive discussions on the current national issues. The discussions lasted three and a half hours and are to be continued tomorrow and on Tuesday." 

The PA delegation comprised Ministers D.M. Jayaratne, Mahinda Rajapakse, Anuruddha Ratwatte, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Mangala Samaraweera and Lakshman Kadirgamar while the UNP delegation comprised Karu Jayasuriya, Tyronne Fernando, K.N. Choksy and Charitha Ratwatte.

Despite the dialogue, the joint opposition has also resolved to forge ahead with its protests and to even form a 'parallel government' if the President attempts to prorogue Parliament again.

UNP Assistant Leader Gamini Atukorale who is not in the delegation for talks with the PA told The Sunday Times that with 115 MPs an absolute majority on its side the combined opposition would have the right to decide on the Parliamentary agenda after September 7.


CBK listed to attend UN sessions

By Thalif Deen in New York
UNITED NATIONS, New York President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has been officially listed as one of the heads of state who is due to attend both the UN Special Session on Children and the upcoming 56th session of the General Assembly next month.

The three day Special Session, to be addressed by more than 75 world leaders, begins September 19.

The annual General Assembly sessions, which will be attended by most of the heads of state already in town, begins September 24. The Sri Lanka Mission to the United Nations has made a formal request for a meeting between the Sri Lankan President and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The Sri Lanka government has also requested a formal meeting between President Kumaratunga and US President George W. Bush in Washington.

But the President's proposed visits to New York and Washington, diplomatic sources say, will depend on the political climate back home.


President, JVP hold lengthy talks

By Shelani de Silva
As PA-UNP talks got underway yesterday, the government was also keeping the lines open to the JVP with lengthy talks taking place last night between President Kumaratunga and JVP leaders.

JVP propaganda secretary Wimal Weerawansa said they hoped last night's talks which went on till about 9 p.m. would centre on what the party saw as 'a vague and inconclusive response' by the government to proposals put forward by it.

Earlier the JVP had two rounds of discussions with the President on proposals relating to conditional support for the government during a probationary period.

The President had said she would give a response in writing. But last Wednesday, the JVP wrote to the government, asking why the response was delayed and seeking a firm answer before August 31.

In response, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake wrote to the party outlining the government's position on various matters. But a party spokesman said the response was vague.

According to the spokesman, the prime minister had assured that parliament would be reconvened as scheduled on September 7, but gave no assurance there would be no further prorogation.

He said the government had also expressed readiness to abolish the executive presidency as soon as possible and set up a constitutional commission to study various proposals for a new constitution.

The Prime Minister had also said the draft constitution proposed last year had included provisions for the setting up of four independent commissions and the government was ready to implement them. But he made no mention of the JVP's proposal for the setting up of a state media commission. The Prime Minister also said further discussions were needed on the JVP's proposals for a slashing of the cabinet to 20 and the writing off the debts of farmers. He said there were no plans to privatise banks, insurance and water supplies for the next one and a half years, while no further money had been allocated for work on a new Presidential complex.


Charges against Chandrika toned down

In a bid to achieve a consensus among opposition parities, the proposed motion to impeach President Kumaratunga has been toned down with the treason charge being dropped.

A member of the drafting committee told The Sunday Times, the nine charges in the latest draft would essentially cover alleged misconduct amounting to abuse of powers, violation of financial regulations and intentional violation of the constitution.

He said this draft was scheduled to be discussed by opposition leaders on Wednesday and would be ready when parliament was reconvened on September 7.

He said the motion now included only alleged offences committed this year, leaving out treason charges relating to events that took place some years ago. The TULF, especially, had objected to those charges.

He said the charges included violation of the constitution by preventing parliament from debating the no confidence motion, the attempt to bring in a constitution without a two-thirds approval of parliament, the attack on the July 19 demonstrators and the preventing MPs from entering parliament.

Calling for a costly referendum at colossal expense estimated at Rs. 600 million during a severe financial crisis sans informing or obtaining approval of the Cabinet, signing an MOU with the IMF for standing loan facility without informing or receiving approval of the Cabinet and the floating of the rupee without informing or obtaining approval of the cabinet have also been listed.

The charges relating to treason the inclusion of Varatharaja Perumal on the PA national list, offering self-rule to the LTTE for ten years and the nondisclosure of 40 letters exchanged between the head of state and the LTTE leader have been dropped.

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