8th March 1998
A little schoolgirl, shocked into fear at the site
of Thursday's Maradana bomb blast, being taken
care of by a soldier in one of the touching sights at
the scene of the catastrophe.
By Arshad M. Hadjirin.
A team of seizers backed by armed security guards of a state bank stormed a private transport company in the outskirts of Colombo yesterday to seize some 20 vehicles bought under a leasing scheme from the bank, eyewitnesses and officials said yesterday.
The team of seizers stormed the vehicle yard less than a week after President Chandrika Kumaratunga addressing a meeting in Polonnaruwa claimed that a prominent Basnayake Nilame owed the People’s Bank Rs. 4.4 billion and was evading paying back both the capital and the interest.
The President’s comments were an obvious reference to the Chairman of Yashodha Holdings (Pvt) Ltd, Yasasiri Kasthuriarachchi, who is also a Basnayake Nilame and has a case pending about the disputed repayment of loans amounting to Rs. 3.2 billion.
The party made several abortive attempts to remove the vehicles from the yard of Yuni Agencies Transport (Pvt) Ltd., a subsidiary of Yashoda Holdings at Hendala, Wattala and eventually left with an understanding that the issue would be settled tomorrow.
In addition to the seizers, the People’s Bank Chairman, Gamini Fernando and at least three top officials of the bank visited the vehicle yard, eyewitnesses told ‘The Sunday Times’. But the Bank chairman denied his presence at the site.
“I never entered the premises of Yuni Agencies. I cannot disclose any details as I need to maintain the banker-customer relationship. Please allow me to recover my dues,” Dr. Fernando told ‘The Sunday Times’.
Mr. Kasthuriarachchi told ‘The Sunday Times’ the bank had sent a letter on February 27 setting yesterday as the deadline to repay a loan amounting to Rs. 4.5 million connected with the purchase of 10 vehicles.
He claimed the loan was settled in full.
However regarding the second contract involving another Rs. 8 million on the purchase of 20 lorries the letter was brought to him only yesterday and the deadline for the payments was also yesterday.
“If the bank gives me sufficient time, at least a week I am willing to settle the particular loan in full,” he said.
He said he felt there was a move to politically victimise him by stopping credit facilities.
M.K. Dissanayake, General Manager of Yuni Agencies who was present at the time when the seizers arrived said: “It is unusual for a chairman or his immediate subordinates to enter the premises during a seizure. He said fifty odd persons in sarongs and shorts too were present at the scene.
Mr. Dissanayake said he had lodged a complaint at the Wattala Police.
“When I was making the complaint to the Police one of the bank’s assistant general managers who called over at the Police station mentioned that he could even get the President’s security assistance to seize the vehicles,” he said.
DIG Western Province (north) Range, Seneviratne Banda, under whose jurisdiction the Wattala police area is, said it was only the area OIC who would get involved in providing security for such matters.
Last night the Wattala Police provided two armed guards to the container yard. At least five of the guards of the bank also had stayed back overnight outside the yard.
By Dilrukshi Handunneththi and Dinith Karunaratna
The main opposition United National Party warned yesterday it would extend its boycott of Parliament beyond this month if the government did not take immediate and effective action to ensure a climate for free and fair political activity by all parties.
UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale told The Sunday Times a team headed by party chairman and Colombo Mayor Karu Jayasuriya would meet diplomats in Colombo to brief the international community on recent fearful trends towards the harassment and intimidation of the government’s political opponents and the independent media.
UNP MPs walked out of parliament last Tuesday after party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe announced a month-long boycott in protest against violent attacks on UNP meetings at Eppawela and Kurunegala the previous weekend.
“ Our campaign is to ensure that a suitable climate is created not only for political parties but also for the independent media which are being attacked and intimidated,” Mr. Atukorale said.
The toughening of the UNP’s stand came amid reports that a controversial and significant bill giving the government some control over NGOs was among the record number of 21 motions rushed through in a matter of 23 minutes last Tuesday in parliament after UNP walked out.
“We will not let this arbitrary decision go unchallenged. It is in contravention of parliamentary tradition to pass important legislation having wide implications when the opposition’s back is turned,” UNP MP Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene told The Sunday Times.
The enacted legislation, though it appeared in the Order Paper, was not scheduled to be taken up for debate last Tuesday and it has now vested the power of appointing the board of directors of NGOs in a minister, UNP sources said.
They said the UNP would hold discussions with non-governmental organisations to decide on protest actions.
But the government is standing its ground. Minister Mahinda Rajapakse hit out at the UNP, accusing it of lacking the guts to face the oncoming motion to strip former minister Wijeyapala Mendis of his civic rights for alleged malpractices.
The UNP is known to be divided on the Mendis issue — one section standing by him and others calling for a vote against corruption in the past while the leadership is known to be trying to persuade Mr. Mendis to resign from parliament in a bid to avert an embarrassing situation for the party.
According to government sources, the motion to expel Mr. Mendis and strip him of his civic rights on the recommendation of a special presidential commission will be introduced on March 18 — during the month-long boycott of the UNP. UNP officials denied the boycott is linked to the Mendis issue and claimed the party was not aware that the motion was to come up on March 18.
Minister Rajapakse said that by the boycott, the UNP was abandoning a forum to express its views or protests and was also forfeiting its rights to represent the people who voted for it. In any event, the UNP with its horrible record of killings and state terrorism had little right to speak of thuggery or anti-democratic acts, he added.
By S. S. Selvanayagam
The long-awaited national convention of Sri Lanka’s biggest plantations union, the CWC, hung in the balance yesterday after a rebel leader obtained a restraining order from a Colombo court.
The Ceylon workers’ Congress headed by Minster S. Thondaman had planned a big show of strength at today’s convention at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium in Colombo. But former stalwart M. S. Sellasamy who was removed two years ago as general secretary has obtained a court order to stop the convention till a dispute over his position is settled.
Mr. Sellasamy who now heads a rival union claims his removal from the post of CWC general secretary was illegal. He told The Sunday Times yesterday that copies of the court order had been faxed and sent by courier to the CWC leaders. He had also sent copies of the restraining order to the police chief, other top officers and to those in charge of the indoor stadium, indicating there could be contempt of court if they allowed the CWC to go ahead with its convention.
The CWC head office in Colombo was closed and Mr. Thondaman was not available for comment. But sources close to the leadership said they were consulting top lawyers last evening and no decision had been taken yet whether to go ahead or postpone the convention.
The Colombo District Court on Friday issued a 14-day injunction restraining the CWC from holding the convention.
Mr. Sellasamy who was general secretary of the CWC for 25 years, has claimed that today’s national convention was intended to regularise the appointment of Mr. Thondaman’s grandson Arumugam as the general secretary.
A dust storm hit President Chandrika Kumaratunga as she was getting ready to speak at a public rally in Bogambara on Friday.
It was caused by an SLAF helicopter which wanted to land at Bogambara, apparently unaware that the President and top ministers were there. Presidential security personnel waved off the chopper but it left the President and others covered with dust and the meeting was held up for more than five minutes while the VIP dusted the dust.
Last week, The Sunday Times reported a similar incident at the racecourse in Colombo where Musaeus College girls saw their white uniforms turning brown when a VIP chopper landed during their sports meet.
By Our Diplomatic Correspondent
There was near diplomatic disaster between China and Sri Lanka last month.
Beijing’s envoy in Colombo, Cheng Defu threatened to pull out of an official ceremony at the Foreign Ministry on March 10 where China was making a formal presentation to Sri Lanka to mark the 50th anniversary of independence.
It was all over a Government move to deport Jin Wei, a Colombo based Correspondent for China’s national news agency, Xinhua.
Mr. Jin had moved a news story on the Xinhua wire that Navy Commander Vice Admiral Cecil Tissera, had died when Sea Tigers attacked a Navy convoy on March 1. Even after Information Department officials demanded an immediate retraction, Xinhua is said to have reported the denial but run an accompanying paragraph to assert that its original report was correct.
This was while Vice Admiral Tissera flew into Jaffna and was overseeing rescue operations or visiting the injured at the Palaly Military Hospital.
The news that Xinhua had moved the story reached the Ministry of Defence from a Sri Lankan diplomat serving in a Western capital. He had seen it on the internet and telephoned Defence Secretary Chandrananda de Silva. He had ordered the immediate arrest and deportation of Mr Jin.
CID detectives arrested Mr. Jin on February 27, a Friday, and were preparing to deport him on the first available flight at 6.30 am the following day.
The move infuriated Ambassador Cheng who protested in strongest possible terms to Foreign Secretary Wilhelm Woutersz. By that Friday night, a flurry of diplomatic activity was under way. Hardly an hour passed by without the Chinese envoy telephoning Mr. Woutersz to check whether the deportation order has been cancelled. The Foreign Secretary had to explain that he had already conveyed the representations to the Defence Secretary.
It was midnight when Ambassador Cheng telephoned Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. The Sunday Times learns he made it clear that his Government will review taking part in a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry where China was making a gift to Sri Lanka.
A concerned Minister Kadirgamar promptly telephoned Defence Secretary Mr. de Silva and requested that Mr. Jin be not deported the next morning. He told the Defence Secretary he would take the “full responsibility” and to resolve matters the next day. The order to deport Mr. Jin was then put on hold.
The next day it was agreed at the highest levels that the decision not to deport Mr. Jin was wise. This is in view of Xinhua being a State news agency and the act of deportation would have a direct bearing on government-to-government relations. It may be recalled that before the hand over of Hong Kong to China, official Chinese Government activity was conducted from Xinhua’s bureau in Hong Kong.
China is not only a close trading partner but more importantly a principal source for military hardware for Sri Lankan security forces fighting a 16-year-old war with the LTTE. A significant feature of the Chinese weapons sales has been the most concessionary financing terms offered by China. Sri Lanka is said to owe China more than $ 25 million in recent deals alone.
The Jin Wei affaire has laid bare that there is no co-ordination between the Ministry of Defence with either the Foreign or Media Ministries over the handling of Colombo-based foreign correspondents. Mr. Jin, 19 years old, is said to be a young recruit of Xinhua and is now said to be on holiday. However, Foreign Ministry officials believe he may have been called back home for an inquiry.
The Government is of the view that Mr Jin should be replaced. This is based on the grounds that his erroneous reporting has embarrassed both Sri Lanka and Chinese Governments.
Jin Wei’s arrest came a fortnight after the Army searched the house of an Indian journalist. Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, then assured that an official of his Ministry would be present during such searches in the future.