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12th July 1998

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Unearth 400 graves: challenge to PA

By S.S. Selvanayagam

A human rights group which is respected for its independent views has urged the government to appoint a judicial body to probe an allegation that about 400 bodies were buried in a mass grave at Chemmani in Jaffna.

The University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR), while appreciating the judgment in the Krishanthi Kumaraswamy rape and murder trial, where the convicted security personnel received maximum sentences, has also appealed for follow up action.

One of those convicted alleged in courts that a large number of bodies of those who disappeared in 1996 were buried at Chemmani.

To give substance to the President's pledge to probe disappearances impartially, it would be more meaningful to appoint an independent body to go into the allegations made by the convicted man, UTHR said.

The group said government needs to do something quickly to reassure the people of Jaffna, and particularly the people of Vadamarachchi that high standards set by Major Gen. Larry Wijeratne would be maintained by the security forces.

Meanwhile, the main Tamil party the TULF has urged President Kumaratunga to extend the period of reference given to the newly appointed Presidential Commissions probing disappearances in the north-east so that incidents from 1995 todate could also be proved.

TULF group leader, Joseph Pararajasingham, a member of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on defence said, there were charges of more than 600 disappearences in 1997 and to exclude this period from the probe would be a cover up and a travesty of justice.

He said the latest allegation of some 400 bodies in a mass grave in Chemmani should also be probed.

Soon after assuming office, President Kumaratunga appointed three Commissions to probe disappearences in the north-east from 1988 to the end of 1994.

After these Commissions submitted their reports late last year, another Commission headed by human rights lawyer Manori Muthettuwegama was appointed to look into cases that had been left out. But again the period of reference was restricted from 1988-1994.

The people will get final report soon

The Sinhala Commission is scheduled to release its final report next Saturday, as the government and opposition parties still find themselves bitterly divided on how to solve the ethnic issue.

The Sinhala Commission was set up by the National Joint Committee to report on the injustices caused to the Sinhala people from colonial times todate, as well as other matters which would have a bearing on the future of the Sinhala people in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres.

The first copy of the report will be presented at the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy at 2.00 p.m. on Saturday.

This will be followed by the handing over of copies of the report to the Mahanayakes of three Nikayas at the International Buddhist Centre in Asgiriya.

The report will be ceremonially presented to the people at a public meeting at the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress Hall in Colombo on July 21.

An Interim Report was issued by the Commission in September 1997, dealing with the government proposals for constitutional reforms including the devolution package.

Who will buy Maturata?

The sale of the 51 per cent stake of Maturata plantations is hanging in the balance as Freelanka Trading Company Ltd., (the buyer) has taken a restraining order against the Employees Trust Fund (ETF) preventing it from selling the stake to another party.

ETF sources say, Freelanka has failed to come up with the money for Maturata, despite getting an extension and therefore, ETF may decide to offer it to the next highest bidder, Forbes Ceylon Ltd.

A consortium led by Freelanka secured the sale of Maturata plantations in April this year, at a cost of Rs. 884.5 mn (including convertible debentures). The other bidders for the issue included Forbes Ceylon Ltd and Asia Capital.

Freelanka failed to make the required full payment, despite PERC/ETF giving Freelanka additional grace period. Sources say Freelanka agreed for a part payment, but PERC refused the money, instead opting for the amount as a whole as stipulated in the contract.

A spokesman for Forbes said they would be interested in purchasing the plantation in the event it is being offered. Forbes had earlier offered Rs. 884.4 mn for the 51 per cent stake. Market sources say if the deal does not go through, Freelanka may stand to lose the bid bond of Rs. 13 mn as well.

Angry citizens blast Canadian Supreme Court decision

Royal Canadian Mounted Police does not get its man

A Sri Lankan refugee, convicted of drug trafficking, has created legal history in Canada.

Velupillai Pushpanathan, tried to sell heroin to a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer three times.

In 1987, together with others, he was charged with conspiracy to traffic drugs. The RCMP seized heroin valued at ten million Canadian dollars from them.

In 1993, while on parole and facing deportation, he applied for refugee status, saying he feared persecution if he was sent back to Sri Lanka. The Refugee Board rejected his application, arguing that under the international refugee convention he was 'guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.'

The man went to Canada's highest court. The Supreme Court ruled last month that people applying for refugee status could not be denied a hearing because they were convicted of drug trafficking. It held that the Refugee Board was wrong to order the deportation of the Sri Lankan, convicted of trafficking drugs in Canada, who applied for refugee status after he was paroled from prison.

The Toronto-based Globe and Mail described the Supreme Court ruling as an 'unprecedented decision that lawyers say will read out around the world.'

The Refugee Board had rejected Pushpanathan's application, arguing that under an international refugee convention he was 'guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.'

In a four to two decision, the Supreme Court said the Refugee Board was wrong to take this interpretation: that it was not the intent of the UN Convention because drug trafficking, although a serious crime, is not a 'sustained violation of human rights' such as apartheid.

The Globe and Mail said: "The case has been watched by the United Nations. It is the first time a high court anywhere in the world has ruled on an interpretation of what counts, in a refugee case, as a guilty act contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. The Supreme Court's decision does not mean, however, that Pushpanathan will get to stay in Canada. His case will go back to the Refugee Board, which will determine if his circumstances qualify him for refugee status. But as the Court ruling points out, even if he is successful in his claim, he can still be deported because of his criminal record."

Lorne Waldman, a Toronto immigration lawyer who represented Pushpanathan, called the UN phrase at issue 'very ambiguous. And our Supreme Court has interpreted it in a very restrictive fashion. It will be the type of decision with a lot of influence. A lot of countries have signed the convention."

A division of the Refugee Board decided that Pushpanathan did not qualify as a refugee under the United Nations definition because of his criminal record. But the Supreme Court said that even though drug trafficking is a serious offence - one the United Nations continues to fight to eradicate - there is no clear evidence that the international community considers it a violation of human rights.

In the majority ruling, written by Justice Michel Bastarache, the Court pointed out that several countries, including Canada, previously expressed fears that the statement about United Nations 'principles and purposes' could give countries an avenue 'to easily reject individuals who deserve protection.'

The intent of the UN Convention, the Court concluded, is that only people who commit serious human rights violations be excluded from refugee eligibility.

So, the Court said, at this time, 'individuals should not be deprived of the essential protections' because of drug-trafficking convictions. Human rights don't just apply to people who live good lives,' said David Matas, a Winnipeg immigration lawyer who represented the Canadian Council for Refugees in the case. "It is a basic protection," he said.

In a dissenting report, Justice Peter Cory argued that a serious drug trafficking conviction should exclude an individual from being considered a refugee, because it causes serious harm in the international community.

"Pushpanathan trafficked on a large scale in the most debilitating drugs," Justice Cory wrote.

"He abused his status and jeopardised the lives, health and welfare of many. There is no reason why Canadians should be burdened with his continued presence," he added.

The judgment drew angry responses from Canadian citizens. Many were published in the Globe and Mail.

Milan Stolarik of Nepean, Ontario, said, "I cannot believe in the stupidity of the Supreme Court ruling on the Sri Lankan drug trafficker. No wonder Canadians are losing faith in our justice system when our highest court permits criminals and terrorists to stay in Canada, even after they commit serious crimes in this country. Canada is saying to the world "Give us your criminals and terrorists and we will protect their rights under any circumstances."

Another, Louis Roberts of Scarborough, Ontario, said, "The majority Supreme Court ruling granting him a refugee hearing might whet the intellectual appetites of legal scholars, but it is another sorry example of the contorted state of the criminal justice system and the religious zeal with which it frequently accommodates those who commit crime."

The lengthy letter added: "One is at a loss to understand why Pushpanathan contrived to lodge his claim for refugee status only after being faced with the threat of deportation. This is all the more peculiar as he was granted permanent residency prior to his arrest. I would venture to suggest the reluctance to return to his homeland is not actuated by fear of persecution. On the contrary, it is merely the exercise, as a last resort, of the most effective option to secure his continued stay in Canada: a successful refugee claim.

Tilak draws a different map

A UNP MP has said they are not criticising any army officer on the war front but are criticising the politics of the war.

"What is wrong is that political leaders are trying to capitalise and take over the leadership of the war," said UNP MP Tilak Karunaratne. Tilak draws a different map

Speaking on the debate on the extension of the Emergency on Wednesday, he charged that in the earlier Riviresa Operation there were a lot of casualties, because the Deputy Minister of Defence tried to direct war operations. "His title of General is one obtained outside the battlefield. Hence we feel his knowledge of war and experience are inadequate. So we had to criticise his attempt to lead the war," he said.

"The claim that Jaffna has a civil administration and is under the writ of the government is a myth, a ruse to fool the people. Aren't the LTTE carrying out terrorist activities in the Jaffna peninsula today? They killed the Mayoress Sarojini Yogeswaran, Brigadier Larry Wijeratne and also the SLFP organiser there.

"The promotion of Brigadier Sarath Munasinghe as Major General was done without the consent of the Army Commander. This Major General Munasinghe on whom the government is pinning a lot of hope gave a news conference for the Sunday media, where he attempted to show the present position of the war with illustrations. But we dispute his claims.

"When our army marched into Jaffna during Operation Riviresa, it was this officer who boasted that over 2000 LTTErs were trapped in Jaffna and that the rebels had only three options to commit suicide by jumping into the lagoon, take cyanide or surrender to the army. I doubt that any LTTEer did that.

"We all know that they swam the lagoon, crossed over to the Wanni, mixed with the civilians and later on took over Kilinochchi. This officer must be renamed 'Borusinha'. Now this is the man who holds news conferences and presents maps showing the situation from 1994 till today.

"According to him, this government has taken great strides in the war since 1994, and the terrorists have lost much. This is not true. When this government came to office in 1994, much of the Eastern Province and other areas had been taken over from the LTTE. When the government assumed office and on the pretext of peace talks, it allowed the Tigers to regroup. Thereafter the third Eelam war began on April 19, 1995. Today much of the area including the Eastern Province is lost to the LTTE..

"Therefore the maps shown by Major General Munasinghe are incorrect."

Mr. Karunaratne then placed before the House a map which he had drawn showing the areas where the LTTE has control today.

He said, "See what has happened in the East? What was liberated then has now gone to the LTTE. On Wednesday morning, too, six STF men were killed. Transformers were destroyed so were telephone exchanges in Colombo, up-country and other areas. They attacked the Dalada Maligawa and carried out attacks in Moneragala, Yala and Nochchiyagama. So we had to say that the LTTE is attacking all over the country."

He requested the Deputy Speaker to include both his and Major General Munasinghe's maps in Hansard, because the people need to know what the truth is.

"Today, virtually, the whole country is under threat from the LTTE. We resent this war. We are against it. We will not allow the government to lose the Emergency debate but on principle we are against its extension due to many reasons."

Mr. Karunaratne recalled what General Anuruddha Ratwatte told The Sunday Island on November 2, 1997.

The General had said: "I think the LTTE cadres have been reduced to about 2500. All of them are not hardcore terrorists. Most of them are young girls and boys between 11 and 12 years."

Good move, but who'll teach?

By Chamintha Thilakarathna

School principals have welcomed the move by the Education Ministry to introduce English as a compulsory subject at the G.C.E. Advanced Level Examination, but have expressed concern over

the lack of good English teachers, especially for rural schools.

In a move to modify the A/L syllabuses under the National Education Commission's proposed reforms, English has been introduced as the fourth subject at the A/Level Exam. This means a pass in English will be a must to enter University.

"Although it is a good move there maybe an injustice when it is suddenly introduced without providing enough teachers", said Ven. Pitiduwa Dhammika Thera, Principal of Seewali MMV Borella.

The lack of trained staff to teach basic English at the A/L and the fluency in the language in urban areas compared to rural schools, is another issue that both teachers and Principals need to address.

"It will be difficult for rural students now but unless students are pushed into it they will never do it", said Ms. Malawana, Principal of Kegalle MMV.

"English is a must today and introduction of it is good.

But at the initial stages, outstation schools may face a problem in competing with more English oriented schools since University entry will depend on aggregate marks", said H.S. de Silva, Principal of Mirissa MMV in the South.

However, both ministry officials and school authorities agreed that this will help bridge the gap between students from different areas. They say it will improve the prospects of the rural students for both higher education and for jobs.

PC polls on or off: ministers divided

By Arshad M.Hadjirin and Chamintha Thilakarathna.

Elections to the Provincial Councils will be postponed by each month soon after the Commissioner of Elections announces the dates for the polls at the close of all nominations, PA General Secretary and Agriculture Minister D.M.Jayaratne said yesterday.

Minister Jayaratne explaining the method of postponement said that a countrywide state of emergency would be declared, once the elections commissioner announces the polls date.

"If we are unable to withdraw security forces by that time, the government will postpone the elections initially for one month," the Minister said.

The emergency regulations are to be extended countrywide after nominations close for the Western and Sabaragamuwa provinces on July 15.

According to election regulations, polls should be held within five to eight weeks from the closing date of nominations.

Meanwhile most of the cabinet ministers said they were in favour of early Provincial Council elections, but are compelled to support the postponement as the Defence Ministry was firm on not releasing security forces from the north.

Ministers said they had no intention of postponing the elections, but added that the Deputy Defence Minister convinced them that there is no way to hold the elections and continue the war at the same time.

Minister Ratwatte recently said the war was at a very crucial point where victory is so close.

"If we withdraw the forces the future would be unpredictable," said Industrial Minister C.V.Gooneratne.

In fact, at a meeting last week with the Mahanayakes in Kandy, the Deputy Defence Minister had stressed the importance of their support in convincing the public and others on the need to conclude the war, before a full election.

Provincial Councils Minister Alawi Moulana felt that a free and fair election should be held and for this, one requires adequate security. The situation in the northern battlefront did not allow this and even the Mahanayakes had approved this, he said.

But some ministers, including Minister Jeyraj Fernandopulle who was sceptical on the matter was even prepared to sacrifice his security men to conduct the elections.

Minister Ashraff who felt bound by the decisions of the party said that it was a political judgment, and one had to respect the Deputy Defence Minister's views when it came to security matters.

Despite reservations held by other ministers on the issue, Trade Minister Kingsley T. Wickremeratne fully endorsed the postponement of elections. "One needs to unite the country and stabilize the security in the north before rushing into elections. We will definitely hold PC elections," he said.

However, not all ministers agreed with the Deputy Defence Minister, but were faced with little or no choice on the matter.

Some on the other hand felt otherwise. Ministers S.B.Dissanyake, Berty Dissanayake, and D.P.Wickremasinghe thought that the country was not facing a serious security crisis as yet so as to postpone elections.

S.B. Dissanayaka said that conducting the elections without police protection was a better idea. Minister Wickremesinghe and others agreed that a good enough reason to postpone elections has not yet arisen.

"The security council of this country has advised us not to hold elections and it is upto the politicians to take a wise decision," Housing and Urban Development Minister, Indika Gunawardena said.

However, most ministers were left in the dark as to the exact details of the elections, although they have all been assured that either the Provincial Councils or a Presidential election will be held by the end of the year.

Economy before party politics

A top industrialist has appealed to political leaders to put national economic interest above party politics if Sri Lanka is to develop.

"Politics should play second fiddle if Sri Lanka were to develop.

Politicians should look to the future and to the next generation rather than at the next election when working out economic policies, Industrial Association Chief Cubby Wijetunga told the annual meeting.

He said it was essential to urgently end the ongoing war, if the economy was to be improved.

Looking at the brighter side, Mr. Wijetunga said that they would continue to support the government's private sector-led industrialisation policy.

He hailed the government for achieving a 6.4 percent economic growth last year compared to 3.8 in 1996, though the war was creating a big dent in the economic growth.

Mr. Wijetunga said he hoped the GDP growth rate would be around six per cent this year in view of a much improved paddy harvest as well as improved tea production, and better weather patterns.

He said the garment industry would continue to be the important stakeholder in the industrial sector, which contributed seventeen per cent of the total exports in 1997.

"The garment sector provides employment to more than 50,000 persons and needs to be nurtured as a key growth area for employment," he said.

Other important areas are plastics, paints, milk products, processed tea, beverages, sweets, meat products, electrical items and rubber products.Commenting on the public sector, Mr. Wijetunga said the Ceylon Electricity Board, Telecom, Petroleum industry, Airport, and Seaport facilities needed to gear themselves to provide services at peak efficiency.

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