"They are all toys," Santa Claus seems to tell the inquisitive policeman who was on the beat at Kollupitiya. This Santa was from Burgerland, a fast food outlet and was on his way to a party with all goodies. But for the Cop, like all others on duty, greater vigilance was the need of the day. Checks had to be carried out, and Santa was no exception. Pic by Dunstan Wickremaratne
Four main Tamil political parties were holding talks in Jaffna over the weekend to launch a joint boycott of the controversial Northern Council elections for which nominations were opened last Tuesday, but none has been received so far.
Party sources said representatives of the TULF, the EPDP, the PLOTE, and the EPRLF met yesterday. A ten member TELO delegation led by Gen. Secretary K. Sivajilingam arrived in Jaffna by air last evening. The five party meeting which will resume at the Jaffna Central College, Sunday morning will aim at arriving at a consensus on the boycott on the basis that the situation in the north is not conducive for elections while electoral registers have not been revised for a decade.
The move came as the Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake declared that the closing date for the nominations would be extended if no nominations are received by December 23.
The government has strongly rejected the repeated calls for a postponement, with Local Government Minister Alavi Moulana saying last Tuesday they were confident of conducting the elections successfully.
Tamil party sources told The Sunday Times yesterday they were disturbed and angry over the government's unfavourable response if not indifference to their appeal.
They said that besides unfavourable conditions in view of the threat of violence, thousands of eligible voters were still in refugee camps and the current voting list was both outdated and incomplete.
"Government leaders don't seem to have even the courtesy to hear our case," one party leader said yesterday.
The TULF and other Tamil leaders had met Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissananayke regarding the matter but he pointed out that he has no power to postpone elections with only the President being able to do that.
While the main opposition party the UNP has already decided to boycott the poll describing it as a mockery to justify some false government claims, PA General Secretary D. M. Jayaratne told The Sunday Times last night that the ruling alliance would no t contest the local polls if Tamil parties forward nominations.
"If there aren't any contestants, then we will surely field candidates to hold the elections," he said.
Mr. Jayaratne said the PA decided not to contest because of fears among Tamil parties that security forces might be engaged in stuffing of the ballot boxes. "We do not want to tarnish our reputation. But if no one submits nominations by Dec. 23, we will do so," he said.
Meanwhile the LTTE has warned that it would deal with officials taking part in the conduct of elections. Some state officials are reported to have received letters to this effect.
The motion to impose civic disabilities and order the expulsion of former Transport Minister and Gampaha District MP Wijayapala Mendis is to be taken up in January, highly placed political sources said.
The motion, which appeared on the Order Paper several months ago has got Presidential blessings, the sources said.
The motion which received Cabinet approval on August 27 will be the first item on the Order Paper in January. It has been decided to take the vote by name to ensure an individually expressed vote.
The Sunday Times reliably learns that despite the motion requiring a 2/3 majority in Parliament to carry it through, the PA benchers have been directed not to canvass for support from either the UNP or the Tamil political parties, if they do not support the motion on their own accord.
A senior PA member said that the motion will be moved, fulfilling a commitment of exposing corrupt people to the nation, irrespective of the outcome.
The date for the debate is to be announced by Chief Government Whp and Minister of Education and Higher Education Richard Pathirana at the Party Leaders meeting scheduled to be held on January 5.
The UNP leadership suffered a major blow yesterday on the eve of its annual convention when a candidate sponsored by it had to step down in favour of another for the Joint Secretary's post at a youth league election.
Akila Kariyawasam a party worker attached to Sirikotha and promoted by the UNP leadership for the post stepped down at the eleventh hour enabling Ananda Priyanath to win the post uncontested.
A party spokesman called the move a 'compromise' but others said Mr. Kariyawasam promoted by the leadership had to step down in the face of a defeat.
They said that at a time when the government was ruining the economy, blundering in the war, and reeking with corruption, the UNP had been watching as spectators with little mass mobilization against the government.
Party insiders conceded that Akila Kariyawasam's withdrawal from the race was a set back to the leadership
which had been under criticism for its inability to organise sufficient agitation against the government.
Parliamentarian Ananda Kularatna who backed Ananda Priyanath was elected to the post of President of the Youth League
UNP sources told The Sunday Times the party leadership had got wind of moves to challenge its nominee only after a party earlier in the week attended by Anura Bandaranaike, Navin Dissanayake (son of Gamini Dissanayake ) and Sajith Premadasa (son of President Premadasa) among others at which Ananda Priya nath had also been present.
The party at the residence of a friend of Mr. Bandaranaike had been held on the same night UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe gave a dinner for his parliamentary group at the Taj Hotel. Mr. Bandaranaike had left the Leader's party early to attend the other dinner.
Mr. Bandaranaike was not available for comment last night.
Earlier Mr. Kariya-wasam had been hand-picked by the party for the post of joint secretary. He had earlier been sent to Britain on a course by the party.
As a compromise, the party leadership agreed to split the two year term between Mr. Kariya-wasam and Mr. Priya-nath, and eventually Mr. Kariya-wasam did not contest the elections.
UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale last night confirmed to The Sunday Times that both candidates had agreed to a settlement with the two -year term split between them.
The Sunday Times learns that hectic campaigning between the two sides was on before they reached an agreement.
The UNP at today's convention will move several resolutions calling for the establishment for an independent Elections Commission, an Independent Police Commission and strengthening of the independence of the judiciary.
The UNP will also move resolutions to build up a mass agitation against the PA by launching a house-to-house campaign and educating the public about the alleged corrupt practices of the government.
Sri Lanka Muslim Congress chief and Minister M.H.M. Ashraff has offered to give up his proposal to carve out a Muslim majority province in the South East, if the Muslims of Trincomalee and Batticaloa feel that their interests will be better served in the absence of such a province.
"I wish to say that if the Muslims of Trincomalee and Batticaloa feel that their future will be bright only if the South Eastern Province is sacrificed, we are prepared to give it up," Mr. Ashraff told the 15th meeting of the Governing Council of the SLMC.
He was responding to the widespread criticism among the Muslims themselves, that the creation of a separate Muslim Province in the South East, would jeopardise the security and rights of the Muslims living in the other parts of the island among Tamils and Sinhalese.
Mr. Ashraff defended his proposal in a speech before a 2,000 strong audience, and said it was motivated by a desire to get for the Muslims something when Tamil aspirations were going to be met in the North and East. If the North and East were unified, Muslims, who were 33% of the population in the East now, would be reduced to 17% he pointed out.
"This is why, we talked to the TULF and entered into some agreements to safeguard the Muslims interest in the East . The fact that a separate Muslim South East Province is to be granted, is a major achievement of the SLMC, Mr.Ashraff said.
But apparently, the arguments that he could muster had made little impact on Muslims living outside the South East. The strongest opposition came from the Muslims of Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts. Mr. Ashraff had perforce to conclude his address by saying that if these Muslims still felt that his proposal would do more harm than good, he was willing to jettison it.
The Trincomalee Muslims' fears stemmed from the adverse effect the separation of the South East would have on ethnic proportions . The Muslims are currently 36.18% of the population of Trincomalee District. As such, they are the single largest group, with Tamils being 35.4% and the Sinhalese 27.97% (according to figures given out by the district administration). Both in the case of the merger of the North and the East, and the creation of a separate Eastern Province comprising Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts, the Muslims would be heavy losers. Their position would only worsen further, if the Muslim majority areas in Ampara District were excised and made a separate South East Province.
The Muslims form about nearly 45% of Ampara's population. In the case of Ampara's separation, the weight of this population would be denied to the other Eastern Muslims while they bargain with other ethnic groups on the share of the cake.
The Bribery and Corruption Commission's Director General, Nelum Gamage, who has been at the centre of a national controversy for the past few weeks, has decided to quit her post, 'The Sunday Times' learns.
In a letter to President Chandrika Kumratunga, Ms. Gamage has said she will revert to the Justice Ministry as requested by the President three weeks ago. Ms.Gamage who joined the Bribery Commissioner's Department in 1975 became the Commissioner and was later transferred to the Justice Ministry under a UNP Government.
The presidential directive to transfer Ms. Gamage came amidst a complete breakdown in the functioning of the Commission with the Commissioners and the Director General at logger heads and an inquiry into Ms.Gamage's husband being launched by the Commission.
President Kumaratunga has also called for the resignation of the commissioners T.A.de S. Wijesundera and Rudra Rajasingham but neither of them has resigned.
Legal analysts point out that the President has no authority to remove the Commissioners, it is only Parliament that can do that. They have also questioned the President's right to transfer Ms.Gamage. They ay it is uncertain as to whether Ms.Gamage can voluntarily go to the Justice Ministry without Cabinet approval. She has not been given a designation at the Ministry either.
A reference made by a minister to UNP National List member Anura Bandaranaike has been expunged from the official Hansard by Speaker K. B. Ratnayake.
At the request of Mr. Bandaranaike the Speaker has expunged portions of the speech made by Minister Mangala Samaraweera who had used one of Mr. Bandaranaikes pre-UNP quotes to support an attack on parliamentarian Sarath Amunugama.
Mr. Bandaranaike had pointed out that on an earlier occasion some references made by him to President Kumaratunga had been deleted from the official record of parliamentary proceedings.
American Green Berets have carried out yet another low-profile mission to Sri Lanka, this time to plan further joint-training exercises with the army, informed sources said.
A team of military planners from the United States Special Forces, having spent three weeks at undisclosed locations with their Sri Lankan counterparts, were due to fly home over the weekend, the sources told The Sunday Times.
The visit by the Green Berets was in no way connected to the recent ambush along Highway A9 in the North, in which the LTTE wiped out up to 150 mainly U.S.-trained elite commandos, the sources added. Citing security reasons, they declined to say how many Green Berets had taken part in the latest tour-of-duty to the country.
"The most important thing is the security of these Americans," a source told The Sunday Times.
According to reports, Americans in Sri Lanka have been alerted to possible reprisals from the LTTE after the U.S. State Department on October 8 branded it as a terrorist group. In the wake of the Twin Tower bombing in October a week later, rumours that the LTTE was now targeting the Green Berets intensified but American diplomats have denied such claims. The U.S. Embassy has, however, confirmed that "temporary-duty" military personnel were staying at the Galadari and Hilton hotels near the Twin Towers when the truck bomb exploded.
Since March 1996 Special Forces, under code-name "Operation Balanced Style", have been conducting a series of jungle and sea warfare training exercises with the SLAF.
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