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17th October 1999

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Cabinet column

Let's get together, it's not too late -Mangala

Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera slammed the UNP for not helping to settle the ethnic problem and attempting to create problems over the Equal Opportunties bill. The Minister was speaking during the post Cabinet press conference held at the auditorium of the Department of Information on Thursday.

Referring to the letter sent by President Kumaratunga to the Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe about calling the UNP to make its position clear about solving the ethnic problem Mr Samaraweera said: "To begin with it is a matter of great national importance. After the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition at the recent investors forum at the Hilton, there was a certain amount of optimism. That is why the President has clearly stated that she welcomes his interest and apparent readiness to participate in arriving at some form of solution despite his track record. Even at this stage it is not too late, for the leader of the Opposition and the Government to get together to solve this great problem which is tearing apart our country.

"Ranil keeps on saying that his party was not consulted, his party was never a part of the decision making process etc. in order to justify his indecisiveness in the last five years.

"But in this letter, he wants to set the record straight and gives, in chronological order, the discussions the People's Alliance government and the President has had personally, with the Leader of the Opposition, the details of which have not been released yet. She has even gone to the extent of saying you are a young leader. Please take the credit.

"Because you are a potential leader of this country let us get together and solve this problem. Despite that, everytime his reply has been 'we will wait and see'. And everytime he has said 'we will come back and give you the names of the committee.

"Immediately after the Liam Fox agreement, the President herself met Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe at the residence of Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar who worked out the details of the Liam Fox agreement so that the two parties can work together. At that meeting itself the President had suggested that both parties appoint a small committtee to carry things forward. At this point the Leader of the Opposition had said 'I will be off to Hong Kong in a few days. When I come back she can appoint that committee. But after two years the committee has yet to be named.

"This is a matter of great national importance dating back 50 years. This problem has come to the stage where, as the letter says, approximately11 people lose their lives everyday, because of this war for the last 15 or 20 years.

"Therefore it is high time we got together. The Government from the very inception since we came into power in 1994 and the President even while in the Opposition had a clear policy on this issue. She tried her utmost and we are the only Government in the history of Sri Lanka which has had the courage of its convictions, to present a definite set of proposals which we believe are necessary to solve this problem.

"The President says we are willing to consider everything. If they do not agree with our proposals, let us have their proposals and let us start talking about them. Commenting on the Equal Opportunities Bill the Minister said "I personally feel that the public must be given an opportunity to make their representations.'

"In my personal opinion, there are certain sections which am not happy about. For example introducing caste as an issue for discrimination because the caste system is dying out in this country. And if you bring out that issue, I think J.R. Jayewardene gave caste a new lease of life through the preferential voting system. This of course will give a further new lease of life.

"There are two different areas. Cabinet took a decision yesterday on such schools. And we are not waiting for the report on the Equal Opportunities Bill to implement that part of the proposal that has got Cabinet approval.

"We certainly wont withdraw anything because innocent school children were misled by Veera Vidhana elements, UNP elements and anti-terrorist elements. In fact I know at Nalanda College, it was some three wheeler drivers led by and I will name them people like Ananda Weerasekera, the anti-terrorist megalomaniac called Ranawaka who has visions of being a Sinhala Buddhist Hitler one day and a few others like that. "I don't want to make this a forum to attack the UNP, but one has to when an event occurs. Evident is right in front of you. For example the former Central Bank Governor, H.M. Karunatillake lives in Isipatana Road. The rear of his house is being used as headquarters for the Veera Vidahana movement and the NMAT.

"In Nuwara Eliya the leading propagandists of VeeraVidahana are supporters of the MP of that area, in every district this is happening.

The Bill was not withdrawn, it was not presented. As a democratic government we have all the right because we thought we have certain areas where we have to re-do it.

"I think it is very important that not only Tamil but all foreign languages are taught. In school we used to welcome children of other nationalities and religions because it gave us new experience. When a new boy came to school from a different region and from a different country, we all flocked round him. That is part of growing up, that should be a part of life. But those schools are allowed to take their own decisions.

"From the 1st of January, we will be starting to teach the mother tongue, whether its Sinhala or Tamil plus English as a link language from year one and Tamil will be taught from year three. Education specialists say don't start it all at once, give them a second language, which means Sinhalese learning Tamil and Tamils learning Sinhala.


DM to review progress of package

By Shelani de Silva

A People's Alliance committee headed by General Secretary D M Jayaratne, appointed to review the devolution package and proposed constitutional reforms, will submit its report by the first week of December.

The Committee which was appointed by President Chandrika Kumaratunge at last week's PA Executive Committee is made up of representatives from the constituent parties and senior lawyers.

The committee was appointed as the government came under severe pressure from two of the constituent parties the CP and LSSP, who have urged that the devolution package should be presented in parliament.

Minister Jayaratne told The Sunday Times that the discussion was healthy and helped the government to understand the viwes of the constituant parties.

'The Committee was mainly appointed to get the views of the public and the organisations which are against the package. We will also study each party's views. The government strongly feels that all these aspects should be studied,' explained the minister.

Minister Jayaratne added that once the report is finalised it will be put the PA Exectuive Committe and then decide whether it is nesessary to hold talks with the UNP.

'We are keen to change the constituon before going for elections,' explained the minister.

Meanwhile, the CP and the LSSP stand firm on the party request to present the package to parliament. The party will continue with its camapign.

SLMC leader A H M Ashraff told The Sunday Times that his party will give all support to implement the package.


Tiger top brass killed in Kokilai battle

Seven senior LTTE members were among those killed during a confrontation with the Navy off Kokilai on Thursday, Navy sources said.

The senior cadres were identified as two ' Lt. Colonels', four ' Majors' and one 'Captain'.

Two sailors were wounded and four SLV Dvora fast attack craft were attacked in this mid sea battle.

A naval craft on offensive patrol detected three clusters of enemy boats and intercepted and engaged the enemy craft in a battle, sources added.


The Army mess: Galle Face ruined

By Nilika de Silva

The Galle Face Green carefully tended over the past four years at a cost of about Rs. 25 million, is looking like a paddy field ready to be sown.image

This transformation took place last Sunday after the green was used as the venue for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Army.

Tanks and other heavy vehicles trundled on a large area of the green which as a consequence of heavy rain is now a muddy mess.

"I don't know how they got permission to take heavy vehicles on to the green," said Hester Basnayake, Director of the Environment and Landscape Division, Urban Development Authority.

"The whole thing is destroyed. It doesn't seem worth creating any green areas, if they are to be destroyed like this. It should be found out whether they are interested in having the Galle Face Green, or whether they want a sandy stretch, like the one in Madras," Ms. Basnayake said.

"We worked hard on the Galle Face Green project because of the historic associations, and the funding for the project came from the Treasury," she said.

"They will have to price the loaf of bread at Rs. 25, to re-do the green," Nimal, a vendor in the area, gloomily said.

Nimal who for the past 15 years has been selling food to strollers on the green, pointed to a track made of paving squares and added, "See those tiles, they had been broken and taken from that pavement and used to prevent the vehicles sinking in the mud on the day of the celebrations."

The public had been banned from using the green for days prior to the celebrations, with the Galle Face Green area being cordoned off.

A Superintendent Engineer of the Colombo Municipal Council, Jayantha Guruge said, "I carried out an inspection along with Army officials yesterday, and they are prepared to make good the damage."

"We will investigate to see if the subsoil drainage system or any water lines have been affected," he said.

Meanwhile, spokesman for the Army, Brigadier Sunil Tennekoon said, the event was a national event. "We are sorry for the condition of the Galle Face Green and will help to make good the damage. We cannot provide financial help, but will do whatever else we can to compensate, he said.

The greening of the Galle Face Green begun in 1995 was completed by the UDA, and the green was handed over for maintenance to the CMC nearly year ago.

Under this project the green was levelled, retaining walls constructed and a gradient maintained for the flow of water. Minister of Local Government Alavi Moulana said there was no other venue that could have been used as an alternative.

"This being the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Sri Lanka Army, bears a special significance for the country," he said.

"It may take the Municipality Rs. 400,000 to maintain the green, but what was the alternative.

What is the venue the Army could have used" Minister Moulana asked.

The Minister added that the rupees two or three lakhs required to plant the grass on the green was not such a big figure, and could be found.

Meanwhile, parents who had brought their families to Galle Face Green last week had little choice but to allow their children to wander about knee deep in mud.

"It's sad because we all know how long it took for the Galle Face Green to turn green," Anil, a youngster who had been visiting the green regularly said.

While the project was underway, for a long time it was known as the 'Galle Face Brown'.

But thanks to the easy-fix attitude of those in authority today, Galle Face Green which was tended for years and ruined in a morning, will soon be 'fixed' again.


SLT to raise billion through debentures

Sri Lanka Telecom Ltd. (SLT) is planning a billion rupee debenture issue by the end of this year for its planned infrastructure expansion project, a top official said.

Norio Asami, SLT's Finance Group head, said the debenture issue was to fund SLT's Rs. 22 billion infrastructure project to connect one million telephone lines as the Rs. 4.1 billion loan obtained earlier this year from local banks the biggest ever syndicated loan in Sri Lanka had been used up.


A magnetic touch for IDs

By Nilika de Silva

Computerised National Identity Cards installed with a magnetic bar code and other hi-tech security features will soon replace the present ones.

Commissioner, Registrar of Persons K.J.V. Ranasinghe said together with CINTEC they were working to come up with a full proof system.

"We will use an image taken by a digital camera in place of the present photograph, to prevent the identity being tampered with," he said.

The proposed identity card is to carry the holder's name in all three languages, the birthplace in English and all other information in the holder's chosen language.

CINTEC chief Ajith Ekanayake said unauthorised persons would not be able to access the computers used for production of the identity card.

At present the Registrar of Persons has records on paper pertaining to about 13.1 million people.

The project will consist of three stages. It will initially install a computer system, a small network. Secondly, a pilot project scheme in three districts and finally the system will cover all the districts.

The final section of the project is estimated to cost about Rs. 4.5 billion.

We have to link, all Divisional Secretariats, police stations, airport, harbour and port authorities, the Commissioner said.

The three districts in which the pilot project will be carried out are Colombo, Kalutara and Gampaha.


Lake House chairman causes stir at COPE

Chairman ANCL, Alloy Ratnayaka is to be reported for making an alleged derogatory statement about Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle during a cope meeting held at the Parliamentary complex on Friday.image

'The Sunday Times' learns that the COPE meeting presided over by Deputy Minister, Reggie Ranatunga ended abruptly after Mr. Ratnayaka made the statement about Mr. Fernandopulle. Members, both government and opposition, objected to his comments.

COPE was discussing ANCL accounts after the Auditor General had pointed out shortcomings in the accounts and made comments about the the dwindling circulation and the performance of Lake House.

UNP member A.H.M. Azwer had raised the issue that all points of view should be represented through the newspaper since it is a commercial establishment and needs to reach a variety of readers if it is to remain viable.

The COPE Chairman had complained that development activities in his electorate was not getting sufficient publicity.

It was also pointed out that several MPs had already filed action against Lake House resulting in losses to the establishment by way of paying damages.

Mr. Ranatunga had pointed out that it is no wonder that Mr. Fernandopulle had recently said that he buys the Lake House papers only when he wants to buy cattle.

Mr. Ratnayaka had reacted by making an allegedly derogatory statement at this point provoking angry reactions from the members, it is claimed.


Deva decries Mr. Denial

By M. Ismeth

EPDP leader Douglas Devananda has described SLMC leader M. H. M. Ashraff as Mr. Denial saying he is now known throughout the country for kicking up a controversy much to the anguish of the Sinhala community and later on when it comes to a boiling point trying to defuse the tension by denying.

"People living in glass houses should not throw stones," Mr. Devananda said.

In response to an interview given by SLMC leader Ashraff to a Sinhala weekly paper recently that the EPDP would not last more than an year, Devananda told The Sunday Times that if the EPDP won't last more than an year he was certain that the SLMC would be dissolved before that.

He said that Mr. Ashraff had created such a furore and tension between the Sinhala majority community and the Muslims by his various acts and later denials.

The Muslim community had been living in amity and unity with both the Sinhala and Tamil communities but the amity is now getting fractured as a result of the SLMC leader's controversial acts.

The Dighavapi incident, proposed construction of the Oluvil harbour, the recruitment of hundreds of Muslims to the Port, and last but not least his alleged request that Muslim and Tamil students be given admission to leading Buddhist and Catholic schools were controversial issues brought about by him, Mr. Devananda said.

It's very surprising to see for the first time students of three leading Buddhist schools Ananda, Nalanda and Visakha coming out on demonstration against the Equal Opportunities Bill, Mr. Devananda said.

We do not know who the architect of this Equal Opportunities Bill was, he said, but asked whether it was necessary to bring bills of this nature to treat equally members of the minority communities. The harassment meted out to Tamils in Colombo at checkpoints was still going on. What good could a Bill of this nature bring about, he asked.

Mr. Devananda sounding an optimistic note said the EPDP would get a large slice of the Muslim votes in the Eastern Province at the next elections mainly due to controversies being built up by the SLMC leadership at different levels.

Mr. Ashraff's threat to leave the PA is nothing but an empty boast when his party candidates were soundly beaten at the Provincial Council polls. He came out with such a threat at that time as well.

He said the President could take Mr. Ashraff's threat with a pinch of salt.


Mangala not a propagandist!

Minister D M Jayaratne has been appointed to head a five member committee to monitor the People's Alliance media propaganda leaving out Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera. The committee which was appointed by President Kumaratunga consists of ministers S B Dissanayake and M H M Ashraff, Prof. Tissa Vitharana and National Youth Services Council Chairman Ranjith Navaratne.

Mr. Samaraweera has not been included and instead two officials from the Media Ministry will be included, a party spokesman said.

The Committee will discuss methods to promote party activities and counter allegations made against the PA by opposition media.


Docs do their own thing, Ministry theirs?

Claims are being made that the Ministry of Health doesn't interact well with the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), a spokesman said.

The Health Ministry has been charged that often they fail to respond to GMOA correspondence. "Problems will not blow out of proportion or become complicated if the government responds to our letters and other means of communication" the spokesman said.

However, Health Ministry Secretary C. Abeygunawardena denied the charge and confirmed that the Ministry has always responded to the GMOA.

Meanwhile there are rumours that the appointment of the candidate chosen to take over as Director, Kandy hospital from Dr. M.L. Beligaswatte, is being postponed on purpose.

The service extension of Dr. Beligaswatte as Director of the hospital was made only until someone is appointed, the Health Minister had told a meeting with the GMOA.

"The minister decides on the appointment and therefore there is nothing that we could say about it," a top Health Ministry official said.


First terror cop gets jail

While over 450 police and army personnel have been indicted for their alleged involvement in the disappearances of thousands of people during the 1988-89 terror era, the first sentence has been passed on a police sergeant who was given five years Rigorous Imprisonment, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Department said.

The sergeant has been accused of being involved in the disappearance of a person from the Ambalanthota area during the tail end of the era of terror in 1990.

State Counsel Yasantha Kodagoda said 890 cases were being probed with regard to the disappearances of thousands of people during this period.

He said that while suspects in 260 cases were discharged due to inadequate evidnece, further investigations had been called for on 207 cases. A total of 197 cases have been filed in High Courts around the country, while 73 cases have been filed in Magistrates Courts.

Meanwhile, the laboratory phase of the investigations into the alleged mass graves at Chemmani is set to begin tomorrow, Mr. Kodagoda said.


UNP defends handbook

UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale has denied minister Mangala Samaraweera's allegations that the UNP booklet on election campaign violates election laws.

Mr. Samaraweera at the weekly Cabinet news briefing said one clause which referred to registering a target number of voters, if put into practice, could adversely affect a free and fair election.

Mr. Atukorale told The Sunday Times it was a simple handbook which was designed for the candidates.

"Such allegations are baseles. It shows the bankruptcy of the Government. The booklet is not a secret. This particular clause shows that the voters have to be registered," he said.

However a delegation from the PA media co-ordinating unit has met Acting Elections Commissioner M C Arundava Chelvam to clarify the issue.

The group urged the Commissioner to inquire into it and take legal action.

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