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Relations between the government and a five-party Tamil alliance came to a breaking point over the weekend, with the ex-militant groups rejecting a police demand to surrender all arms in the aftermath of clashes and counter clashes.
In the backdrop of differences that have been simmering for several months, police recently this week raided offices of four Tamil parties in Trincomalee and demanded that all groups should surrender the weapons given to them by the government earlier. But a spokesman for the Tamil group said they would not comply and were appealing to President Kumaratunga
The spokesman said Tamil parties had been supporting the government for the past few years. Therefore they were under threat from the LTTE and needed the weapons to defend themselves.
While TELO spokesman M. K. Sivajilingam said they were even losing faith in the President, officials of PLOTE and EPDP said they would take up the matter in parliament as certain MPs also were victimised in the police raids and they saw it as a breach of parliamentary privileges.
Police sources said they were calling for a surrender of weapons as there were reports that some of the arms were being used for criminal activities, but Tamil party officials flatly denied the claim.
The weapons have never been misused and there are no complaints against us. The police claim is baseless, EPDP spokesman Ramesh Nadarajah said.
After the shooting of a police sub inspector, on Tuesday the offices of the EPDP, PLOTE, TELO and EPRLF were raided jointly by the army and Police.
The situation became worse on Thursday with a demonstration being staged by about 800 people, mainly Sinhalese and Muslims, calling for the disarming of the Tamil groups and closure of their offices. The demonstrators marched from the Trinco Clock Tower to the Divisional Secretariat to hand over their petition
Later in the day EPDP parliamentarian, S. Thangavel was stopped at the Trincomalee railway station check point and the police wanted to search his vehicle. An argument erupted and an angry MP turned back to his office, as the police insisted he could go on only after a full search.
Amidst this tension, EPDP member Chelliah Sivakumar riding a bicycle was stopped by police at a checkpoint on the Third Mile Post.. After clearance, he was proceeding when a policeman allegedly shot at him. The EPDP member then jumped off the bicycle and ran to his office but police followed and allegedly fired at the office, Tamil party sources said. Crowds then gathered there and hurled stones at the office while a grenade also went off, they said. Two EPDP MPs were residing at that office.
EPDP leader Douglas Devanada, known to be close to the President and reportedly considering a cabinet portfolio offered to him, is away in Germany at present along with Minister M. H. M. Ashraff.
After his return, the Tamil groups will be holding a crisis meeting to decide on their future course of action, Tamil party sources said.
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar will discuss with British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkin the issue of the LTTE using Britain as a base to raise funds to continue the war.
Mr. Kadirgamar who arrived in London on Thursday on an official visit will discuss with Mr. Rifkin the recent Paris declaration on terrorism among several other international and bilateral issues.
Earlier at the Heathrow Airport, British Labour leader, Tony Blair who was waiting to leave for South Africa had heard of the arrival of Mr. Kadirgamar and expressed the wish to see him, according to a Foreign Ministry source.
The two men, meeting for the first time, had an animated conversation.
Mr. Blair was probably getting some finer points on how to defeat a Govt. after 17 years, the source added.
In Britain Mr. Kadirgamar also addressed the famous Oxford Debating Union of which he was once a President.
Government has called for potential bidders worldwide to sell a stake of 35 per cent of the Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT).
The government through the Public Enterprises Reform Commission (PERC) has advertised this tender in several international newspapers and magazines, amidst protests from employees and trade unions against the sale of the SLT.
Several trade unions have appealed to President Kumaratunga not to go ahead with the privatisation of the SLT as it may lead to employee unrest and threaten national security.
The advertisement says the PERC will issue an information memorandum to any interested party who meets the net worth requirements and enters into a confidentiality agreement.
Deutsche Morgan Grenfell and Development Finance Corporation of Ceylon would act as the financial adviser in this process.
A Sri Lanka Telecom Union official told The Sunday Times their attempts to save another national asset from falling into private hands have failed as other trade unions and engineers did not support them fully.
He said talks were underway to ensure job security and other facilities for employees as already they were concerned about a circular issued by the Public Administration Ministry restricting pension entitlement for those who joined the staff after August 31, 1991.
However, the official warned that if the basic rights and privileges of employees were to be overlooked during the privatisation process, they would take trade union action.
Army intelligence reports indicate the LTTE has plans to set up a camp at Pooneryn from where the army withdrew recently.
The Tigers are attempting to build a new camp at Pooneryn to replace and make up for the losses they had suffered during Operation Riviresa.
Intelligence sources also said the Tigers were burying landmines around Pooneryn. It is reported that Tiger operatives see this an ideal location for launching attacks on the peninsula.
In November 1993, the Tigers virtually overran the Pooneryn camp, killing up to 600 soldiers, but it was re-established by the forces in about three days following the attack.
The UNP yesterday welcomed the lifting of media censorship, but said the government had been compelled to do it in view of pressure from donors who meet next month to consider the aid package for Sri Lanka.
Describing the six-month censorship on defence related news as an absurd joke, UNP media spokesman Karunasena Kodithuwakku said the UNP was happy that wiser counsel had now prevailed and government had accepted the request by democratic forces.
The UNP said:
The government announced recently that they have decided to remove the press censorship with regard to defence matters. This six months long press censorship was enforced only on local media. The reason given by the government for the censorship is to prevent defence information leaking out to the enemy.
This excuse became the biggest joke in this information age as foreign media was transmitting all those defence related information including Mulaitivu details through satellite technology. Therefore, the UNP requested on several occasions to remove this absurd press censorship.
In addition to the UNP a number of NGOs and other democratic groups agitated for the removal of this press censorship. It is significant to note that the government is preparing for the aid consortium meeting sponsored by the World Bank in November. We understand that already prior warning had been expressed by some donors on several issues including matters related to the North-East conflict.
Therefore the removal of press censorship was not voluntarily done. In addition to the pressure built up locally, it is the governments fear and concern that this may come up at the aid consortium meeting which prompted and forced the government to remove the press censorship before that. The UNP, is any way glad that wiser counsel has finally prevailed for the government to accept the request made by democratic forces.
The TULF has protested against any move to redemarcate administrative districts in the North and East.
The ministry of public administration recently appointed a committee to study the demarcation of all districts. But the TULF feels that re-demarcation of North-East districts would not be beneficial for the people of the area if it is done before the proposed devolution package is demarcated, TULF spokesman Joseph Pararajasingham said.
He said the party had written to the ministry requesting that no change be made in the North-East and he was hopeful the ministry would respond positively.
Presidential allowances have been increased by over 200 percent in the budget estimates for 1997.
The 1996 allowance was Rs. 244.4 m and the estimate for next year is Rs. 625 m. This includes the salary of the President, Secretary to the President and the staff.
Former President J.R. Jayewardene gets nearly Rs. 4.3 m and former President D.B. Wijetunga is allotted Rs. 10.8 m.
At a recent government group meeting Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike called for the withdrawal of the allowances given to former Presidents which would help bring down the cost of living. This did not go down well with the government MPs.
The following are the allocations from 1995 to 97.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga: 1995 Rs. 170 m;1996 Rs. 244.4 m and 1997 Rs. 625 m.
Former President J.R. Jayewardene: 1995 Rs. 3.6 m; 1996 Rs. 4.2 m and 1997 Rs. 4.3m and former President D.B. Wijetunga:1995 Rs. 5.9 m; 1996 Rs. 4.5 m and 1997 Rs. 10.8 m.
The office of the Leader of the Opposition has been allotted Rs. 5.6 m for the year 1997 as compared to Rs. 3.4 m in 1995 and Rs. 4.5 m for 1996.
Defence Ministry officials will determine the quota of medical supplies needed for the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts, because they feel that a large portion of supplies fall into the hands of the LTTE, a military spokesman said.
The move came in the wake of allegations by relief organisations that 75 per cent of medical supplies needed for government hospitals in these areas were cut. The Defence Ministry maintained that supplies were sufficient and no cuts were made. The ministry also had not allowed medical donations by Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
MSF Country Co-ordinator Frances Stevenson said there were no stocks of some essential drugs in hospitals and peripheral units in the Wanni region and the remaining supplies would only last for another two more weeks.
Ms. Stevenson said health facilities in the region were inadequate but hospitals were trying to cope with far more patients than usual due to the influx of displaced people.
The situation is also serious at the Open Relief Centre for displaced people in Madhu. In the health unit run by MSF many vital drugs and medical materials have run out completely because MSF has not got permission to supply them, she said.
This week a civilian died there from severe respiratory failure: the outcome would have been different if the health unit had oxygen, Ms. Stevenson said.
NGOs say the civilians in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts will face severe hardships if medical supplies are not allowed immediately into areas where many displaced people have taken refuge.
The defence ministry spokesman said that a special medical body is looking into the medical requirements in the area and they usually act on requirements sent to them by the government officials in the region.
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