Thai PM here to mark 250 years of Siyam Nikaya establishment
Vesak celebrations on strong religious note
The Vesak celebrations this year will also have the presence of the Thai Prime Minister who is visiting the country to commemorate 250 years since the establishing of the Siyam Maha Nikaya, with several Buddhist organisations also preparing programs.

Vesak Poya Day will also see the commissioning of the new ran weta (golden fence) around the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura. The exhibiting of sarvagna dhathu brought down from India will take place at the Sambodhi Vihara at Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo 7.

The All Island Vesak Lantern Competition will be organized in front of the Colombo Town Hall from May 15 to 18 with prizes totalling Rs. 500,000. Preparations have been made by the Buddha Sasana Ministry to enable priests to engage in pindapatha (seeking alms) walking from house to house.

The Bodhimaga Padanama in Kalutara has also organized a full program to commemorate Vesak Week. Along with the Kalutara District Sasanarakshaka Mandalaya, it has organised a Vesak commemoration programme from May 11 to 18 with the active participation of all temples and daham schools in the entire district.
The focus of this programme is to highlight the importance of Buddhist principles and to promote a society which respects panchaseela (the five precepts).

The opening ceremony of the Vesak Week will take place on May 11 at 4 p.m.
A braille copy of the Dhammapada will be issued for the benefit of visually handicapped persons and dry rations will be distributed to them.

The All Ceylon Buddhist Congress Bauddhaloka Festival will take place from May 15 to 18. On Vesak Day morning a pindapatha charika with the participation of a 100 monks has been organized.

The opening ceremony for the display of Vesak lanterns along Bauddhaloka Mawatha will take place between 7.15 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. and the pandal at the BMICH will be commissioned at 7.40 p.m.

As in other years there will be a Vesak pandal erected at the Nawaloka premises at Peliyagoda. In addition there would be bana preaching by two eminent Buddhist Nayake Theras on May 15 and 16 commencing at 5 p.m.

On May 15 the sermon will be delivered by Rev. Kolonnawe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera and on May 16 the sermon will be delivered by Rev. Uduwe Dhammaloka Nayaka Thera. There would also be Vesak bakthi gee recital and a cultural show on these two days commencing at 6 p.m.

Lighting up, but little else at Vesak
By Nilika Kasturisinghe
Despite the setting up of a National Organising Centre for Vesak and plans to get the private sector and hospitality industry involved to promote the festival, hotel managements have shown a lacklustre approach.

They are yet to get involved, apart from lighting up their buildings. The in-house Vesak sermons at hotels and the guided tour of tourists to a neighbourhood temple is unlikely to take place as arrangements are yet to be made.

A week before Vesak, public relations officers of top hotels told The Sunday Times preparations for Vesak were limited to lighting up their buildings. Colombo Plaza Public Relations Executive Nirmalene Marambe said nothing had been arranged for Vesak. This was echoed by the Mt. Lavinia Hotel PR Desk saying "Nothing at the moment".

While the Galadari Hotel would be lighted up as instructed, the Hilton Hotel would also be lighted up and have one big lantern displayed. But a week before Vesak the design for this lantern was not known.

The enthusiasm of the Tourism Ministry and other parties to make Vesak a tourist attraction does not appear to have been communicated to the related industries, which did not feel that this year's Vesak would be any different from other years.
Hilton PR Manageress Yasmine Cader said corporate clients and businessmen go back during this time because everything is closed for Vesak, as is the case during the Sinhala New Year.

It should be noted that the Police played an active role before Christmas. Letters were distributed from police stations instructing business premises to support the festival by providing lighting.

A letter issued on November 24, 2002 under the heading "Lighting Up and Decorating the City during the Christmas Season and Vesak" stated that under the aegis of the Interior Ministry all buildings in police divisions would be lit up and decorated during this period of time.

But with just a few days left for Vesak no such preparations appear to have been made. The leader of the National Organising Centre for Vesak, Power and Energy Minister Karu Jayasuriya said that more than 200 government institutions, provincial councils and the private sector are supporting this massive program.

Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku, chairing the sub-committee on culture and the aesthetic aspect of Vesak told The Sunday Times that the hotels have been instructed to switch on their lights for five days from May 14, the day before Vesak.

Although preparations for the Vesak Festival got underway more than three months ahead of the date, on the ground there is little to show for it.

SPUR faults Govt. for compromising security
An organisation of Sri Lankan expatriates based in Australia claims that any changes to High Security Zone boundaries will threaten the national security and the safety of civilians in Jaffna.

The Society for Peace, Unity and Human Rights (SPUR) states that the Government's inability to stand up to terrorism and its anaemic capitulation to outrageous LTTE demands continue to compromise the security of the nation.
"The response of the Government to Balasingham's demands has threatened the safety of civilians living in Jaffna and placed the lives of men and women in our armed forces at risk.

The Government's lackadaisical response to LTTE's grandstanding has confused the peace process and fragmented the thinking, paralyzing it from making any rational decision" it said.

The latest debacle is the Government's agreement to partially withdraw from HSZs in the Jaffna Peninsula. Relocating armed forces from the Gnanam and Subash hotels to the Jaffna Fort is another triumph for the LTTE as it is one of the most vulnerable positions in the peninsula, it said.

The security territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Sri Lanka should not be compromised at any cost. Proscribed terrorists should not be allowed to dictate terms to a democratically elected Government. The Government should not permit a gang of armed terrorists to hold 19 million people hostage, it said.

"We urge the Prime Minister not to withdraw from any facilities within the HSZs prior to the LTTE decommissioning its weapons", it concluded.

‘Govt.-LTTE relations dented’
By Faraza Farook
Recent developments have made a dent in the relations between the government and the LTTE, but have not resulted in the negotiations reaching a point of irreversibility, Japan's special envoy Yasushi Akashi said on Friday.

Mr. Akashi who was visiting Sri Lanka for a week to follow up on his mission, late last year to contribute to peace building, noted that deep mutual distrust separated the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government.

"Assassinations of political opponents and informants have resulted as a manifestation of that distrust," Mr. Akashi said at a press briefing held on Friday. Two specific stumbling blocks for the resumption of peace negotiations and for the LTTE to agree to attend the international conference to be held in Tokyo next month have to be addressed urgently, he said.

Mr. Akashi's discussions with the LTTE had revealed that the inefficiency of the Sub Committee on Immediate Rehabilitation and Humanitarian Needs (SIRHN) and problems relating to the final agreement on the establishment of the North East Rehabilitation Fund (NERF) were two issues that were of primary concern.

He said that the LTTE felt very frustrated at the slowness in improving the living standards of people in the North and East. The question of IDPs were also of concern, Mr. Akashi said. "For the LTTE it is a humanitarian question and for the Government it is a humanitarian question combined with a security question".
During his visit to Kilinochchi on Wednesday Mr. Akashi has given the LTTE a week's ultimatum to express its willingness to participate at next month's Tokyo aid conference.

He said the LTTE should participate in the event, as it will give it an opportunity to address its concerns, hopes and aspirations. Optimistic that the LTTE would participate at the donor conference, Mr. Akashi said that the rebel group attached importance to the aid coming into Sri Lanka from which it would get a significant portion. Moreover, the LTTE's awareness of the needs of its people who have lived amidst war and destruction and its desire to see peace dividends as quickly as possible was seen as a catalyst that would bring it to the aid conference.

While no estimate on the volume of aid was made, Mr. Akashi said that the donor countries were still watching closely the developments in the peace process and considering if it was worthwhile betting their money.

The Tokyo conference to be attended by 60 Governments and 20 international organizations will send a clear and strong message that the international community is in support of the Sri Lankan endeavour to construct solid peace, he said.

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