6th January 2002

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Warrior snuffed out before enjoying victory

By Chandani Kirinde
Thousands of people bade farewell to a much-loved and respected politician Gamini Atukorale as he was laid to rest in his hometown of Kahawatte in Ratnapura on Saturday.

For Mr. Athukorale (50) who was found dead in his sleep on January 1 at his Panawenna residence in Kahawatte, it was the end of nearly three decades of dedicated public service during which he had served in various important positions and come to be known as an indefatigable and fearless leader.

In less than a month after he was sworn in as the Transport, Highways and Civil Aviation Minister under the new UNF-led government, Mr. Atukorale met his untimely death.

His body was bought to parliament on Wednesday to enable his colleagues and staff to pay their last respects to the late legislator. It was a deeply moving moment when the former minister's casket was placed in the parliament premises and realisation dawned on his many colleagues and admirers present that his fiery voice would no longer echo within the chambers.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe led the pall bearers as the late minister's casket was carried into the parliament building. The members of Mr. Atukorale's family including his wife, children and sisters were present on the solemn occasion. There were also heads of several diplomatic missions.

Former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayke was among the prominent members of the former government present on the occasion along with former Ministers Mahinda Rajapakse, Dinesh Gunawardena, A. H. M. Fowzie, Richard Pathirana and Douglas Devananda. Sunil Handunetti was the lone JVP member present.

Most of Mr. Atukorale's colleagues present on the occasion spoke of the yeoman service he had rendered to his party as well as the people during his political career.

Mr. Atukorale's body was taken from parliament to his home in Kahawatte where it lay till the last rites were performed on Saturday.

Mr. Atukorale who first entered parliament in 1977 served as the Deputy Minister of Youth Affairs and Employment and was appointed as Lands, Irrigation and Mahaweli Development Minister in 1991. In 1994 when the UNP lost the elections he was appointed the party's general secretary and was faced with the arduous task of re-organizing and galvanizing a party that had been crushed in both the presidential and general elections held that year. Months prior to his death, Mr. Atukorale was appointed as the UNP's Assistant Leader.

Mr. Atukorale was instrumental in organizing the "Jana Bala Meheyuma," a series of public protests which were the beginning of a concerted opposition effort to topple the People's Alliance government which fell in October. It was at these protests that Mr. Atukorale along with thousands of his party supporters faced tear gas attacks and baton charges by the police.

He was a man who led from the front and was outspoken in and outside parliament exposing corruption and mismanagement in the public sector.

Premier Ranil Wickre-mesinghe deeply shocked at losing a close friend and confidante in a statement said his companion who journeyed with him in pursuing an aim of rebuilding the country had left him before reaching that goal.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga who could not attend the funeral as she was out of the country issued a statement expressing her grief at the demise of Mr. Atukorale.

The government declared Saturday a day of national mourning in honour of the late leader. And so the journey ended for another promising politician in the country just as soon as he had begun his mission to usher in a new era under the government led by his party.

Pallethalawinna massacre

Kandy's mystery suspects end up with police

By Shane Seneviratne 
Two army suspects held by a secret vigilante group in a mysterious twist of the Pallethalawinna massacre have finally been produced before a magistrate and remanded.

The two suspects _ believed to be drivers of the Defender jeeps in which the killers travelled _ were produced before Teldeniya Acting Magistrate Sarath Premakumara who remanded them till Wednesday and significantly ordered that they be remanded at a place outside Kandy.

As exclusively reported in The Sunday Times, the two suspects had been stopped and abducted by a mystery group at Uthuwankanda in Mawanella while they were apparently trying to get away to Colombo in the Defender jeeps the day after the elections. The suspects, Corporal M. K. Wijeratne from Ragama and M. D. Siriwardena from Padukka, will be produced on Wednesday for an identification parade. According to police, the two suspects had escaped from the vigilante group which had kept them handcuffed and blindfolded. Police claimed the suspects were hiding elsewhere when they were arrested in a new turn of the sensational case where ten SLMC supporters were brutally gunned down when they were escorting a bus carrying ballot boxes to the counting centre.

Politicos face eviction from govt. houses

By Chandani Kirinde
Housing Development Minister P. Harrison has said politicians and their supporters who are occupying government houses will be evicted soon as he believes there were irregualirites in the manner in which the houses were acquired.

"These houses were occupied just before the elections. They have nothing more than a letter from a minister," Mr. Harrison told the Sunday Times.

It is alleged that politicians of the previous regime and their supporters occupied houses at the new luxury flats at Manning Town, Anderson Flats and government houses at Torrington Avenue, Edmonton Road and Diyawanna Gardens at Battaramulla.

Several prominent PA politicians, including Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Sumedha Jayasena, W.D.J. Seneviratne and Soma Kumari Tennakoon are alleged to have acquired houses in the Diyawanna Gardens housing scheme by making a down payment of Rs 645,000. These houses valued at more than Rs 2.5 million had been given to politicians and their cronies at concessionary prices with the monthly installment being a mere Rs. 8,000 _ an interest-free payment.

The minister said no applications were called from prospective buyers prior to allocating the houses - the normal procedure followed when selling houses in government schemes.

Among the politicians who had paid down payments for Manning Town houses are Mahinda Rajapakse, Jagath Balasuriya and S.A.R. Maddumabandara, while those who have acquired the newly constructed flats at the Anderson Flats scheme are Ruwan Ferdinadaz, co-ordinating secretary of former minister Mangala Samaraweera, and Janadasa Peries, it is alleged.

The minister said that legal action would be taken against those who did not possess proper documents.

All the documents giving ownership of these houses to politicians and their supporters had been signed by former Minister Samaraweera, the minister said adding that they had no legal validity.

These houses are meant for government servants who have no houses. But most of these politicians have more than one house in Colombo, the minister said.

Wheat aid from US: Will there be cheaper bread soon?

By Faraza Farook
With the United States announcing that Sri Lanka has been shortlisted for the PL (Public Law) 480 Title I Program wheat flour prices are likely to come down, Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake has announced.

The minister said through the PL 480 program Sri Lanka would receive more than 60,000 metric tons of wheat.

He said the 63,800 metric tons of wheat coming under the PL 480 food program would help Sri Lanka to reduce flour prices.

However, the minister said he was unable to announce the new price until the ministry worked out the US grant.

The US grant valued at $8 million represents 7% of Sri Lanka's total wheat consumption. 

Last year Sri Lanka received about 58,000 metric tons of wheat. The PL 480 loan facility administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be provided to Prima Ceylon Ltd. the US embassy has announced. 

Flour prices went up by Rs. 3 per kilogram last week prompting bakers to increase the price of a pound of bread by Rs. 1.50 while prices of all other flour based products were also increased. 

Soon after the IMF subsidy granted to Prima Ceylon Ltd. ended, the prices were due to go up by Rs. 7.50 per kilogram, but the government intervened to keep the prices down.

Meanwhile, flour prices varied in different parts of the country as Prima Ceylon Ltd., which holds the monopoly of flour production was charging transport costs as well. 

PAFFREL spearheads campaign for two-day elections

The People's Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) is spearheading an islandwide campaign to urge the Elections Commissioner to hold elections on two days to allow voters in the uncleared areas to cast their votes.

PAFFREL executive director Kinsley Rodrigo told The Sunday Times a large number of people in the uncleared areas were not able to vote.

"We discussed this with the Army Commander who also agreed with our suggestion to hold elections on two days to enable those in uncleared areas to cast their votes. 

The purpose of having elections is lost if the people can't vote," he said.

Kinsley Rodrigo said the PAFFREL would hold talks with the Elections Commissioner to work out a plan for the forthcoming Local Government polls.

"We will also brief political parties on the issue and launch a public awareness campaign," Mr. Rodrigo said.

Second phase of war against mosquito to be launched

The Public Health Department of the Colombo Municipal Council will launch the second phase of its Green Star Home Project aimed at eliminating the mosquito menace in the city.

Chief Medical Officer Pradeep Kariyawasam said the first phase of the project which targeted the dengue mosquito was a success with the number of dengue cases reported in the recent months being virtually nil.

He said the first phase focused on creating an awareness among the people on the need to keep their houses and the environment clean in a bid to eradicate mosquito-breeding places.

The Green Star Home project was launched in 2000 in the wake of a dengue epidemic. The second phase of the project would concentrate on eliminating mosquitoes which causes diseases such as malaria and filaria. 

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