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16th May 1999

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Signs of freedom on horizon for Lankan fishermen

By Shelani de Silva.

A four member delegation comprising Fisheries Ministry officials and Foreign Ministry officials are scheduled to leave for India to expedite the release of Sri Lankan fishermen in Indian jails.

Last week a large number of people calling themselves the 'Families of Sri Lankan fishermen in Indian custody', held a demonstration opposite the Indian High Commission demanding that they be released.

Deputy Fisheries Director H V C Fernando told The Sunday Times the delegation would meet top Indian officials to discuss the plight of the Sri Lankan fishermen.

"The main problem in the delay in releasing the fishermen is due to the lack of communication. Since India is a big country there are many officials to consult. The delegation will try to explain and meet the relevant officials. We are yet to fix a date as we are trying to get appointments with the relevant officials," he said.

Mr. Fernando said more than 100 fishermen were being held captive in India. While some fishermen have been in jail for more than ten months some have been released within a few months of capture. "The matter can be resolved if the fishermen are categorized. There are some who were captured while fishing in Indian waters, some have entered by mistake and the third category is where the boat has drifted in to Indian waters. Those who have drifted should be released immediately, considering their physical and mental condition. But this does not happen. It is important that we expedite the process," he said.

Meanwhile an official of the Indian High Commission told The Sunday Times that they were unable to mediate for or expedite the release of the fishermen.

"We do not get involved, the Sri Lankan mission in India has to mediate with our Foreign office for the release. We act in the same way when Indian fishermen are captured by the Sri Lankan authorities," he said.


Lots of bites but no serum despite bark

By Faraza Farook

The Health Ministry claims it has air-freighted sufficient stocks of anti-rabies serum for the increasing number of dog-bite victims, but provincial hospitals say they have little or nothing.

Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva at a news conference denied allegations that the serum was still in short supply and said the ministry had air freighted the necessary stock."

He said the cash crisis at the Medical Supplies Division (MSD) of the ministry had prevented it from getting the necessary stocks but hospitals were allowed to obtain the serum from another hospital or from a registered pharmacy.

But officials of some provincial hospitals said yesterday they had still not received stocks while others said what they had got was hardly enough.

The problem is severe at the Ratnapura General Hospital, especially where more than 950 dog bites victims had been treated during the past three months, an official said.

He said smaller hospitals in the district did not have the anti-rabies serum and they also were sending patients to the main hospital.

Patients who were able to go to Colombo were asked to get the serum from the Medical Research Institute while others were transferred to the Colombo National Hospital and children to the Lady Ridgeway. But now they had been asked not to transfer any patients to Colombo, he said.

The official said the hospital got about 1,000 vials of serum for the year but the need was more than 3,500 and they had asked for an extra allocation.

A pharmacist at the Nawalapitiya Hospital said they sent the patients to the Peradeniya General Hospital to obtain the anti rabies serum. The hospital had received only 15 vials for the last month and these had been used up, he said.

Meanwhile an official of the MSD said they had bought 100 vials of anti-rabies serum from a private pharmaceutical firm to meet urgent requirements in hospitals.


Kandana swindler's list tops 2000

Customers are still queuing up at the Kandana Police Station to make formal complaints against the confidence trickster who vanished after swindling about Rs. 50 million during the past three months.

So far, nearly 2000 people had lodged complaints against the alleged racketeer Sinnathamby Muralitharan, Kandana Police Inspector D.M.M. Pussala said.

Police are holding the accountant brother of the suspect for questioning but little progress has been made in the hunt for the swindler with some reports suggesting he may have got out of the country.

The racketeer who owned a hire purchase shop at Kandana won the confidence of thousands of people in the area by selling goods at remarkably low prices. Hand bills which were widely issued to passengers in the train and buses and advertisements in private radio channels prompted many a customer to join the chain at his Five Star Enterprises.

Items ranging from TV sets and washing machines to milk powder, were offered at incredibly low prices at this shop.


Two hospitals get big gift package from Germany

The German Help Foundation, which has organized mercy missions in plastic surgery throughout Sri Lanka for the past six years co-ordinated the donation of medical equipment to the tune of Rs. 275 million to hospitals here recently.

This large donation was made by the German Government through an NGO in that country, and in turn co-ordinated by the German Help Foundation branch here.

Two German Doctors, Dr. R.Langer and Dr. T.Wymer who helped in negotiating this massive donation came from Germany for the handing-over ceremony which took place at Kurunegala and Kandy General Hospitals recently.

This equipment was originally intended for the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital, where a special burns unit was to be set up.

However, it was unfortunate the Hospital in Kurunegala is still under construction.

The equipment was shipped in containers from the port of Bremerhaven and arrived in the port of Colombo on May 2. Many anxious moments were experienced in clearing the two containers due to the administrative procedures and meeting the deadlines for the equipment to reach the two venues which almost seemed an impossible task.

However the local Foundations Secretary, Francis Vethanayagam and chairman Malcolm Perera worked hard to get the equipment cleared on time.

Speaking at the Kandy ceremony Foundation Secretary Vethanayagam paid a glowing tribute to Dr. Ulrich Huchne, the pioneer of the German Foundation. He said the work done by him cannot be measured in words. However it was rather unfortunate that he received brickbats instead of bouquets.

This was the work of some disgruntled elements who were carrying out a false and malicious propaganda to discredit him and the Foundation. However, all these brickbats would eventually fall by the wayside and in no way deter the Foundation from its forward march, he said.


Experts absent: case put off

The progress of the judicial probe on the alleged mass grave near the Jaffna Duraiappah Stadium was further hindered when the magisterial inquiry was postponed owing to the failure of forensic and soil experts to turn up before court on Friday.

Jaffna Magistrate A.E. Ekanathan had directed the forensic and soil experts to turn up in courts on Friday to finalise arrangements for the excavation of the suspected grave, from where at least 25 skeletal remains were recovered.

The Magistrate re-fixed the case for June 15.

Meanwhile, reports said the corporal who was convicted in the Krishanthi Kumarasamy rape and murder case would be flown to Jaffna on June 15 to identify the alleged Chemmani mass graves.


Main parties kick off southern campaign

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

While smaller parties have already begun their campaign for the June 10 elections to the Southern Provincial Council, the two main parties the PA and the UNP began their campaign yesterday from Galle.

The PA sources said they had a carefully organized campaign to secure victory in the South which offered the party a political springboard to national office way back in 1993. The party was scheduled to hold its first major public rally late yesterday evening in Galle town with President Kumaratunga attending.

The PA is also carrying out its house-to-house campaign which was launched in all three districts in the Southern province. The campaign managers include ministers D.M. Jayaratne, Dharmasiri Senanayake and Mangala Samaraweera.

The PA sources said the all-party monitoring committees in all three districts were also doing a good job with the main opposition UNP cooperating.

The sources claimed that the PA backbenchers have appealed to the President to prevent any outsiders from campaigning in the south.

Meanwhile, the main Opposition after losing several southern heavy weights owing to growing rifts between the party hierarchy and the old guard has launched an ambitious 60 meeting programme coupled with a house-to-house campaign.

UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale said that parliamentarians with exceptional campaign skills had been picked and appointed as campaign managers.

The UNP also kicked off its campaign yesterday from Galle.

MEP officials said their party which began its campaigning last week, would concentrate mostly on house-to-house campaigning, educating the masses, especially on the unsolved problem of unemployment and the litany of broken promises. The JVP which is emerging as a the third force said it was also confident of winning several seats. The party had its first public rally in Tangalle on Friday to coincide with the party's 32nd anniversary.


UNP accuses PA of stealing projects

By M. Ismeth and Dilrukshi Handunnetti

As the Southern Provincial election campaign moves into gear, the UNP is accusing the PA of failing to carry out even an atom of development to the South despite ambitious project plans and rhetoric.

Citing various project plans seeking to alleviate poverty and generate employment to thousands of Southern youth, UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale told The Sunday Times that all were yet on somebody's shelf.

"The government in 1994 had grandiose plans for the development of the South through many projects totalling a colossal US $ 1,917 million. But few if any of these plans had come through causing embarrassment to the government and disappointment to the people. The biggest joke was the Galle Port development project which among other things promised jobs to 10,000 youths but today had produced only a political storm.

Mr. Atukorale accused the ambitious Southern Development Authority (SDA) of doing little or nothing and forcing a shameless government to claim UNP-initiated projects as its own to win the June 10 polls. Taking a shot at Highways Minister A.H. M. Fowzie, Mr. Atukorale said the much talked of Colombo-Matara highway was yet to get off the track. Only roads have been dug up causing severe traffic jams with no signs of any highway being built. This project, according to records was to cost US$ 270 million. The Minister also had plans(on paper) for the electrification of the Matara-Kataragama railway at a cost of US$ 340 million, he said.

Meanwhile, another airport at the cost of US$ 140 million in remote Badagiriya is planned to be constructed in the Hambantota district, but is yet to get underway.

The SDA has also proposed the Menik Ganga diversion project worth US$ 15 million and a pipe borne water supply scheme for a land expanse of 68,000 hectares in Hambantota costing US$ 2 million.

The SDA brochure has not included the PA-proposed Mirijjawila Industrial Park project which sparked off some controversies. The only achievement with regard to this park, the UNP General Secretary charged, was the laying of a foundation stone beyond which nothing had been done.

"What is really surprising is the spectacular brochure produced by the government even showing the Ruhunu University built during the UNP regime as part of its achievements. The plethora of lies and the nonfulfilment of promises are going to boomerang on the PA as it has \nothing to say or show," Mr. Atukorale said.


Exodus from Madhu begins

By Shelani de Silva

The first batch of refugees from Madhu was scheduled to leave for Vavuniya over the weekend to be settled in their own villages following a government directive to evacuate the people from the area by the end of the month.

Last week Minister Anurudda Ratwatte who visited the Madhu area for the first time after the Army took over, promised the Catholic Church that the refugees would be evacuated along with the Army, before the church feast in July.

Mannar Government Agent S. M. Croos told The Sunday Times that the refugees would be re settled in Mannar, Vavuniya and Jaffna by the end of the month.

"We have finalised the list of people to be sent to Vavuniya and they will be the first to leave the area. Arrangements have been made to transport the people to Jaffna by ship through Trincomalee.

The refugees will be settled in their own villages.

However where it will not be safe for them to return, the people will be transported to another camp," he said.

The GA said that in Mannar alone there were about five villages which were under the control of the security forces while some others were under LTTE threat.


Police nab dirty robbers behind child beggars

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

Racketeers who exploit children by employing them as child beggars and expose them to possible sexual abuse are being tracked down and punished, police warned.

Sub Inspector Indrani Abeygoonesekera of the special police team tackling crimes against women and children said the issue of child beggars had often been overshadowed by the battle against paedophilia, but it needed more attention and action as it is more widespread.

During the past three weeks around 10 people have been remanded for allegedly abusing more than 10 children by using them as beggars. This is categorised as a blatant violation of fundamental rights of children.

In one case, a child was allegedly forced by his blind father to beg and he reportedly earned about Rs. 600 a day. The boy has now been handed over to a home in Pannipitiya until foster parents could be found.

Child rights advocate Maureen Seneviratne said a large number of children used as beggars often became easy prey for paedophiles.

She said little beggar girls were exposed to sexual abuse or rape even by locals while the beggar boys fell victim to foreign paedophiles. One of the victims of the convicted Swedish paedophile, Armin Pfaffhauser, was a beggar child from Mt. Lavinia.

Ms. Seneviratne who heads the child rights group PEACE said many of the children did not come from beggar communities but were from rural areas and were either lured into it by false promises of a better education in the cities, or were forced into it by the beggar mudalalis.


Crucial talks on bank dispute tomorrow

By Chamintha Thilakarathna

On a Presidential directive, the Minister of Labour will hold discussions with bank employees tomorrow to bring the crippling bank action to a close, but union officials warn that failure will result in their intensifying the trade union action from the following week.

"At last week's Cabinet meeting, the President and ministers urged the Labour Ministry to take steps to solve the bank problem. "Tomorrow we hope to come to an agreement with the unions," Minister John Seneviratne said.

He said they were agreeable to the payment of the 8% increase which had already been decided on in 1997.

He also said the union had been asked to forward the names of those who are not eligible for compensation as political victims, recommended by the Presidential Committee to Probe Political Victimisation.

The two month-long trade union action by state bank employees caused great inconvenience to customers.

Public sector officials say their cheques for March and April have still not been realised and this is causing major delays in payments.

"In the case of political victimisation, the final say is in the hands of the President. Therefore, once the list has been forwarded we will hand it to the President for directions on the matter," Mr. Seneviratne said.

But, officials of the Ceylon Bank Employees Union are not optimistic about the discussions tomorrow. They say that they would have to see what proposals the Minister has to offer.

"We are not attending the meeting with any hopes. We will see what the Minister has to propose before we decide our next move.

"If an agreement is not reached, we will go ahead with our plans to intensify the union action," CBEU General Secretary M.R.Shah said.

He said the union was drawing up a list to be forwarded to the President on the political victimisation issue.


Mendis to donate land to Sangha

By Shane Seneviratne

UNP veteran Wijeyapala Mendis, who has been legally cleared of the charge of abuse of power over a land deal, has said he will donate 76 acres of coconut land to the Sangha.

Mr. Mendis made this disclosure when he met the Malwatte Chapter Mahanayake, Ven. Rambukwelle Vipassi Thera, to invite him to his residence for an alms-giving in memory of Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake.

Mr. Mendis said he would donate the 76-acre coconut estate in Puttalam on the day of the D. S. Senanayake birth anniversary alms- giving on June 19.

Recently the Supreme Court quashed the findings of a Special Presidential Commission which found Mr. Mendis guilty of abuse of power over a land transaction.

Mr. Mendis also reiterated his demand that his membership in the UNP working committee and other posts be restored.

Mr. Mendis also met the Mahanayake Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter Ven. Palipane Chandananda Thera and Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeyaratne.


Saudi aid for level crossings?

By Nilika de Silva

Sri Lanka is appealing to Saudi Arabia for funds to put up gates or other safety measures at all unprotected level crossings, Transport Minister A. H. M. Fowzie said in the aftermath of the latest disaster in Madampe.

Mr. Fowzie said he had found that gate keepers at railway crossings were cutting work regularly mainly because they were paid only a meagre Rs. 1,000 a month. He said he was hoping to double this salary as a further safety measure.

According to officials there are about 600 unprotected level crossings and urgent steps are to be taken to put up gates at about 200 of them.

In the recent tragedy, a young couple, their baby daughter and another person were killed when their van was hit by a train at an unprotected crossing in Madampe.

Angry residents said politicians were busting up millions on non-essentials or extravagances but could not provide funds for railway gates which could mean life or death for innocent people.


Trico offers deal but some not happy

By Faraza Farook

Compensation has been paid to some of the migrant workers whose cargo was damaged extensively as a result of the floods last month, Trico officials said.

About 150 people were affected when their goods purchased abroad were damaged beyond repair in the recent heavy rains. While some walked away with whatever the company offered them as compensation, others fought for the settlement of the full loss.

Trico Director Jayantha Kannangara said most of the people had been paid compensation, and only about 15 more cases had to be settled. He said some of the returnees had agreed to leave their equipment to be repaired by Trico.

For those customers who wanted a refund or a replacement of their goods, Trico had agreed to purchase the product for them, Mr. Kannangara said.

He said their branch offices in other countries too had agreed to replace the goods with new ones.

However, not all customers were satisfied with the deal they got, because some of them had no idea of going abroad again while others had lost all they had collected over the years.

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