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Rain, rain make dam well: For the next few weeks, many an eye will be on the sky over this Victoria reservoir, hoping and praying for monsoon showers that would prevent an energy crisis and power cuts. At present, Sri Lanka's biggest hydro-electric power reservoir is down to a third of its capacity. Pic by Ranjith Perera
The People's Alliance and the opposition UNP which reached an understanding on a bi-partisan approach to resolve the ethnic conflict, will try to reach a constitutional compromise before the end of May, PA General Secretary D. M. Jayaratne said yesterday.
The process of talks between the two sides on constitutional reforms will continue and they hope to arrive at an agreement on a reciprocal basis, while the two sides have already agreed that peace talks with the LTTE will not take place immediately, he said.
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on Friday described the exchange of letters of understanding between President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as a step forward on a long road towards ending divisive politics in Sri Lanka.
Briefing Editors of the national press on Friday Mr. Kadirgamar the go-between with Britain's Under Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs (Deputy Minister), Dr. Liam Fox said it was for the LTTE to understand the two main parties in the country were expressing willingness to march together in dealing with it.
He said the LTTE often complained that it was useless talking to one of these parties because the other would undo what was already decided. The LTTE cannot use that excuse now.
Mr. Kadirgamar said one should not overplay this understanding, The future of a bi-partisan political approach, especially towards dealings with the LTTE lay in the spirit in which it is implemented.
He agreed that the onus was now on President Kumaratunga to reach out and bring the UNP leader into the process, but the modalities of how this is to be done is not known yet.
Mr. Kadirgamar said he was categorically denying any third party mediation in dealing with the LTTE.
Government is open to consider talks with the LTTE, subject to conditions such as laying down of arms, renouncing the claim for a separate state etc.
There may well be negotiations tomorrow he admitted. But for the moment, there is no change in government policy and no third parties involved in bringing the LTTE to the negotiating table he said.
The Foreign Minister gave a brief background of how the letters of understanding (please see political commentary for more details) came to be signed and said it would not have an impact on either the war or the political package now before the Parliamentary Select Committee.
The letters of understanding signed between the two leaders briefly state that the President will keep the opposition leader informed of all discussions and decisions taken by the government in dealing with the LTTE, and that if the opposition gives its concurrence to such decisions, it will not undermine them in whatever way.
The opposition will do vice-versa if in government and decisions taken with the concurrence of whichever party is in opposition will be honoured by whichever party is in government.
Asked why the words 'ethnic conflict' had come into the letters when President Kumaratunga has only recently said there is no ethnic conflict, only a battle against terrorism , Mr. Kadirgamar said sometimes these words are commonly used to describe the crisis the country faces.
The accurate position according to Mr. Kadirgamar was that an ethnic conflict is a battle between two races which is not the case in Sri Lanka.
It is a terrorist problem but it has an ethnic flavour because the terrorists are all from one race and the Army is from another.
If there are no rains by May Sri Lanka will face another power crisis with the possibility of power cuts also, a CEB Engineers Union official said.
He said water levels at the major reservoirs had gone down to a third of what it was at the beginning of the year.
But the Ceylon Electricity Board had not yet taken any decision on power cuts hoping for rains and also for a substantial decline of energy consumption by factories during the New Year holidays.
The engineer said whatever happened, the situation would not be bad as last year when crippling power cuts were imposed in addition to a total three day blackout.
He said the CEB had spent a colossal sum to provide thermal power and the cost might have to be passed on to consumers soon through increased tarrifs.
(See also the business section.)
Ever heard of having to pay Rs. 20 to CMC employees to clear branches of a mango tree fallen in front of your house? Strange isn't it.
But employees of the CMC who were down a road in Colombo 7, who had gone to collect garbage, were asked by a security guard of a house to clear branches of a mango tree that was in front of that house.
The employees who did not know that it was the residence of the Mayor-elect Karu Jayasuriya, had demanded Rs. 20 from the security guard who promptly paid to get the place cleared of the branches and went in and told the boss who said this has to be brought to the notice of the Municipal Commissioner.
Employees of the CMC are sure going to meet a tough customer, unlike in the past, residents say.
Dhaka stock chiefs hunted by police
DHAKA, (Reuter) - The long-term impact of a court-ordered crackdown on share price manipulators, which has included arrest warrants for the stock exchange chairman and 35 others, should be positive, brokers said.
A Bangladeshi Court has ordered the arrest of 36 brokers and company owners on charges of manipulating share prices. Under SEC rules offenders can be imprisoned for up to five years or fined 500,000 taka ($11,548).
Police said the arrest orders were issued after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the watchdog of the country's capital market, filed cases against the suspects for alleged "fraudulent activities" in the capital market.
As the dispute over the appointment of heads of the newly-elected local councils grows, the PA executive committee will hold an urgent meeting today at which the final decision will be taken.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga summoned today's party meeting after a controversy arose over the appointment of the mayor of Matale and chairmen of Beruwela, Matara and Puttalam urban councils.
The PA will have to decide today as the official deadline for such nominations ends tomorrow.
The SLMC and the CP, constituent parties of the PA, have insisted that the heads and deputy heads of local bodies should be appointed clearly on the basis of preference votes.
But SLFP leaders, including PA General Secretary D.M. Jayaratne, have said not only the preference votes but also the abilities of the candidates must also be taken into consideration.
SLMC candidates topped the lists of PA preference votes in Matale, Beruwela and Puttalam while a Communist Party candidate topped the list in Matara. Some SLFP leaders expressed reservations about an SLMC Muslim member being the Mayor of the largely Sinhala Matale, but SLMC leaders rejected such yardsticks as communal politics.
The SLMC candidate who topped the list of preference votes in Matale told Sunday Times he and his party would oppose the appointment of any other person as Mayor of this city.
The Sinhala Ekeeya Sanvidhanaya yesterday condemned the agreement reached between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on following a bipartisan approach to resolve the ethnic issue.
The text of the statement:
"We totally and unreservedly condemn the exchange of letters between the President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the Leader of the UNP, Ranil Wickremesinghe, which can only pave the way to the betrayal of our country. This exchange of letters has come about consequent to the visit to Sri Lanka of Dr. Liam Fox, the British Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
The object of this exchange of letters is not the defeat of the LTTE through the unity of the government and the opposition. On the contrary the object is to grant further concessions than was even envisaged in the so-called package, through discussions between the government and the LTTE engineered by the British government. It is abundantly clear that the future interests of our country can in no way be safeguarded by the intervention in our internal affairs of aliens, including Britain which should be held accountable for the partition of India as well as to numerous problems some other countries have to contend with.
The consequences of this exchange of letters will be the sheer negation of both democracy and the parliamentary system. This exchange between the President and the Leader of the Opposition will be highly secretive and will not be known even to their respective political parties who will have to make decisions oblivious of such discussions.
The totality of our experience is that peace cannot be achieved through discussions with the separatists and will on the contrary make the problems even more acute instead of offering solutions. It is our firm belief and conviction that it is futile to hold discussions with Tiger groups.
While opposing third party intervention in the internal affairs of our country we vehemently oppose any attempt to surrender any part of our island recovered by our heroic forces through the sacrifice of their blood, tears and toil.
We therefore beseech and invite all parties to forget political differences and unite in order to defeat international conspiracies and to safeguard and preserve the unity and territorial integrity of our motherland.
The statement was signed by:
R.S. Wanasundara (Retired Judge of S. C., Dinesh Gunawardene (Leader of MEP and Ex-MP), S.L. Gunasekara (Attorney-at-Law and Ex-MP), Dr. Mervyn de Silva (Ex-MP), Geethanjana Gunawardene (Ex-MP), Bandula Gunawardene (Ex-MP), V.W. Kularatne (Attorney-at-Law), Ananda Nihal Singaravelu (Attorney-at-Law), Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara, Dr. Nalin de Silva, Lt. Col. Anil Amarasekera, Chandra Gunasekara, A.L.B.K. Perera, Indra Lal Gunawardhene.
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