9th January 2000

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Millennium bang shakes the House

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent

There is one man deserving the entire nation's respectful sympathy- the Speaker of our Parliament who on occasions, has to play diverse roles - school teacher, task master, disciplinarian, all rolled into one.

Perhaps Speaker K.B. Ratnayake underestimated the potential of our members when he called for restraint- new beginnings at the dawn of a new century.

Mr. Ratnayake's call for sanity was like pouring water on a duck's back. So his call to treat the millennium as 'one for reflection, hope and resolutions and not to disappoint the nation which expected much from their representatives' was reduced to ritualistic jargon- going by the eventful day. Far from being restrained, the first ever Parliament sessions for the century was marked by verbose- five suspensions of sittings due to unruly behaviour and a host of snide remarks which were removed from the Hansard.

Spearheading the attack on the UNP was maverick Sarath Amunugama who despite vehement denials by his victim Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena coupled with fervent appeals by Deputy Speaker Anil Moonesinghe who vociferously chorused- 'traitor and murderer' in a House gone mad.

Yet the commencement didn't give an inkling of what was to unfold when, despite the week being marred by gruesome killings and dastardly acts of violence, UNP chief whip W.J.M. Lokubandara held sway in an obvious attempt to nurse the electorally defeated UNP pride. Not to be outdone, the government also zealously counter attacked the UNP, channelling all energies to paint the UNP as the biggest LTTE apologist.

Lokubandara's delivery, reminiscent of Mark Antony's epic delivery was a sketch of appreciation for the 34 lakhs who voted for his party and an analysis of alleged rigging by the PA. In his inimitable style, WJM saw a paradox in the President's call for UNP support.

" First it was the outstretched hand - and next the hand was snatched back by issuing a cold challenge to the UNP leader to assist the government to resolve the ethnic question. An indefatigable defender of the PA leadership and for once, early to the Legislative chambers was minister Mangala Samaraweera who shot back like a thunder bolt. "If there was no response to the invitation, wasn't it natural to pose a challenge" he retorted, accusing the UNP leadership of lacking a 'konda' (backbone) to take a stance on the national issue.

The irrepressible WJM loved the diversion- and tore to pieces the PA's campaign, which according to him was on 'Ranil's backbone' and other parts of the anatomy with wild claims of UNP attempts to hand over the North to the LTTE for two years.

He gleefully found fault with the president for using the Queen's tongue in her address to the nation- (and preferred to ignore the PA comments about the last time the UNP leader spoke in Sinhala in parliament). "There were many sins in using a language not understood by the commoner- and mind you- unimaginable by the 'political daughter' of the illustrious Bandaranaike!," he said.

"She was addressing the entire world after the blast" said Minister Samaraweera, swift on the draw.

The PA robbed the peoples' right to elect a President of their choice by an election which was equal to a highway robbery. And when the President cast her vote, for starters, it was cast too late and without the consent of all presidential candidates, accused Lokubandara.

No, thundered Mangala, all were informed from Ranil downwards.

WJM's comments on restrictions on private media only managed to enrage the media minister, already heady with his competent job as a UNP basher- and on the question of private media, he simply exploded. "There was media freedom only after us" he thundered, and WJM jubilantly informed that freedom of expression was not a 'divine gift from a government on a platter' but an essential component of a democracy.

As if the morning din was insufficient, the second round of artillery was fired by the government when UNP's Jayalath Jayawardena began speaking about the recent suicide attack on the UNP's Ja Ela election rally.

But the MP probably put his foot in his mouth when he charged the government of attempting to kill him. From that moment till the conclusion of sittings, there was no peace- only repeated suspensions.

"My character was first assassinated and now there are attempts to kill me," he charged. And the PA met the remark with a malicious chorus of 'traitor' and up jumped the UNPers in stoic denial of the various charges by thumping on desks and stamping of feet- about LTTE links and attempts to assassinate the President by errant government benchers- with senior ministers too, joyously exercising to their vocal chords.

"Why won't you say it was the LTTE" boomed red-handkerchiefed C.V.Gooneratne's voice while new minister Sarath Amunugama, perhaps gave an inkling of his new 'assignment' by lambasting Dr. Jayawardena for flouting the oath as a parliamentarian to safeguard the country's sovereignty-thereby violating the country's constitution. An angry Mano Wijeyaratne shot back that a man who flouted the party constitution should leave the country's constitution alone and deal with what he knew best. An angry Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and several others tried to give graphic details of Dr. Amunugama while the Deputy Speaker hopelessly tried to bring the House under control.

The ministerial arrogance was evident, in contrast to his opposition days as Amunugama demanded for the pound of flesh.

With Jayawardena warning the government of fake intellectuals with 'Alert' connections and deputies Ediriweera Premaratne and Mahipala Herath adding to a chorus of 'kotiya, kotiya' an exasperated deputy speaker Anil Moonesinghe, had no option but to suspend sittings.

Yet there was no chance of chaos subsiding as the attacks continued soon after resumption, with more vigour. Unable to contain the House Moonesinghe directed his wrath on the new minister with a cryptic- "I t is good that you are a minister- if you would behave accordingly' while a jubilant UNP called for a ruling on Amunugama's conduct.

Yet Amunugama didn't stop- as he fired unceasing artillery on the lone UNP member accusing him not only of treason- but for plotting to assassinate the head of state in connivance with the LTTE - and a fresh chorus of 'murderer and Tiger' reverberated in the House.

Amidst ritualistic abuse and trading of insults, cross fires and volcanic eruptions indicating which way the legislature was heading in the new era as well, it was UNP's Rajitha Senaratne who rekindled some memories- of PA's media friendly days and incumbent ministers showering praise on free media from toppling a corrupt and barbaric UNP and winning them portfolios!

Dr. Senaratne wanted to know why Victor Ivan, once fondly referred to as 'Victor Aiya' had become anathema to new ministers who treated Victor as their 'political guru' during their dark days in opposition. The amnesia of the government was evident he said when the President in an abusive interview to state run television lambasted the media.

Memories being truly short, Dr. Senaratne wanted to know why the media were being crucified for being critical. "When the media campaigned for the PA openly, it was alight and they were being dutiful. Now that they have turned critical, they were the villains," he said.

The House obviously more intent on holding a postmortem on presidential polls, did not touch on the country's new security threat- barring of course Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte's thunder bolt-like claim that there was evidence to implicate Dr. Jayawardena's alleged links with the LTTE.

Amidst the uproar, he claimed: "You are the reason for the UNP's electoral debacle. You are the one who led Ranil Wickremesinghe down the garden path and ruined him by making people identify him with the LTTE" he alleged.

"Mrs. Bandaranaike was a dignified loser. When she lost the polls, she was the first to come here. But where's your defeated leader- hiding somewhere and licking his wounds after his proposed Pact with the People was completely rejected by the masses?"

Gone were the resolutions of good behaviour and fair comment in a haze of anger during the first sessions of the millennium A new year ushers in new hope. But not here in Paradise Isle.

Emergency snag if House is dissolved

By Ranga Sirilal

In the event of the government deciding to dissolve Parliament in the near future as speculated, the dissolved Parliament has to re-sit to extend the state of emergency for another month.

If that happens, according to political analysts, it would be the first time in Parliamentary history where a dissolved Parliament has to be resummoned.

Under Section 155 of the Constitution, Parliamentary elections should be held within 52 days of the dissolution of Parliament.

It may be recalled that President J.R.Jayewardene dissolved Parliament on December 20 1988, during a state of emergency. The Emergency lapsed during the elections and could not be extended in the absence of a Parliament.

The emergency was only passed by the new government after President Ranasinghe Premadasa won the Presidential elections.

More compensation

The Government is to revise compensation for bomb victims, following the recent bomb attacks in the city.

Last week the Ministry of Rehabilitation on a directive from President Kumaratunga increased the sum for victims of the Town-Hall, Ja-ela and last Wednesday's attack.

Secretary of the Ministry of Rehabilitation M. N. Junaid told The Sunday Times that the Government is likely to revise the circular.

'The sum has been the same for many years, we did give the revised sum to the victims of the last three incidents . We paid the Town Hall and Ja-ela victims the day after the incident' he said.

He added that the standard sum for a public servant was Rs. 50,000 and Rs.150, 000 for a civilian but now it was revised as Rs. 350,000 and 200,000 respectively.

"Compensation is paid without delay. Even for the victims of the December 18 incident we paid the money on Sunday despite banks being closed. We dispatch our officers without delay. Even paying compensation has to be done tactfully' he said.

The money is drawn from the contingency fund which the Treasury provides.

Farmers in luck's way

By Shelani de Silva

A special insurance scheme along with a pension rise will be implemented for farmers this year, to improve their standard of living, an Agriculture Ministry official said.

The scheme will cover health insurance, equipment, animals and harvest. Pensions will also be revised from Rs.1000 to Rs. 4500 to meet the rising cost of living.

The official told The Sunday Times Govi niyamakas had already started a house to house programme educating the farmers.

"We have also commenced a programme to pay compensation to farmers for injuries caused while working. We are planning to have farmer organisations from village level to District level," he said.

The Ministry is looking at avenues to let farmers have direct contact with agrarian organisations in Bangladesh, Thailand, Germany and Japan.

'It is important that our farmer discuss and even find ways to export their products. In some countries the harvesting period is short due to the weather. It is to such countries that our farmers can make arrangements to export their products. We will also provide storage facilities, so that the farmers will be given a choice whenever they have excess products, as is done in other countries' he said. He added that farmer companies will also be set up to provide fertiliser and equipment at a nominal fee.

On your marks; ready, steady…

Crossover Bill on Jan. 18

The legislation enabling members of Parliament to cross over from one side to another is to be presented in Parliament on January 18, when Parliament meets next with several key UNPers poised to cross over to the government.

This comes in the wake of the government's expressed desire to implement the political package without receiving the support of the UNP in its entirety and as a sequel to the UNP rebels staging an 'alternative UNP group campaigning for a national government'.

Tipped to extend support to the government are veteran UNP members Festus Perera, M.H. Mohammed and Upali Amarasiri. Sources explained that several others are also tipped to extend support to the government if the package is re-presented in its entirety and a secret ballot taken instead of the regular open vote.

It was President J.R. Jayewardene who put an end to the crossing over from one side to another by MPs to ensure party solidarity and a collective stance on issues.

However, pressured by the supportive Tamil parties and other minority groups, the PA administration is expected to present the Bill possibly on January with the expectation that some of the UNP members who have expressed willingness will support the government.

Meanwhile, a problem has arisen in the government circles about giving nominations to the rebel UNPers with veteran PA members expressing shock and dismay at having to represent the same districts along with those against whom they campaigned during the past.

Sources said that several key politicians from Gampaha, Ratnapura and even Kandy have expressed their difficulty at campaigning in their long-standing constituencies with the rebel members in tow and requested to deny them nominations on the PA list.

SVV commend Army chief's bold statement

The Sinhala Veera Vidahana in a letter to the Army Commander, General Srilal Weerasooriya has commended him for his view that terrorism must be crushed militarily if lasting peace is to be brought to the country.

Pledging the support of all patriotic citizens to the Army Commander the letter said:

"The Sunday Island in its Sunday edition (January 2) highlighted you heroic statement that crushing terrorism militarily is necessary to bring about lasting peace to the country. We salute you, the Commander of the Army for your bravery and boldness in expressing your inner convictions at such a crucial time for our motherland, it said.

"At a time when a terrorist problem is referred to as an ethnic problem, at a time when certain Sinhalese think safeguarding the rights of the majority Sinhalese is racism, we appreciate your courage in expressing your opinion candidly," it said.

"You are aware that Sinhala Veera Vidahana is a non racist organisation, upholding and safeguarding democracy and committed to safeguarding the heritage of the Sinhalese, assisting the Sinhalese to regain their economic stability and safeguarding the territorial integrity of our motherland. Hence with every barbaric terrorist attack on innocent civilians and against the democratic process our conviction is growing deeper and deeper. Crushing terrorism militarily is indeed an essential condition for lasting peace in the country

"In the recent Presidential election, the country witnessed how Prabhakaran led an election campaign from his jungle hideout. The Head of State and the Leader of the Opposition both professed numerous means of bringing peace to the country such as negotiations, third party mediation, devolution package etc., whilst ignoring the essential condition for peace being crushing the brutal enemy's military might and above all ignoring the most qualified and capable person to do the being job, you, being the Commander of the Army assisted by the other two service commanders.

"All patriotic citizens are with you and with every one of your brave officers and men and are ready and willing to make sacrifices on behalf of those who are protecting our lives and our motherland. We are ready and willing to contribute to this noble cause in whatever way we can.

We are confident that our 'born again President' is capable of delivering the goods and the conditions are in place now at last to make the start. You have a key role to play in this valiant task and we believe that the candidness and uprightness displayed by you in your heroic statement is an essential condition for victory," it said.

Polls, bombs, scare away the tourists

By Faraza Farook

The hotel trade has been hit hard this season with the security situation in the country being intensified from time to time since the holding of Presidential elections were announced.

Security was stepped up in view of the Presidential elections in December, and was gradually intensified, especially in Colombo, following suicide bombings and shooting incidents that took away many innocent lives.

Many hoteliers complained that business dropped drastically since the holding of elections. Tourists have expressed fear at the recent incidents and have also been inconvenienced by the security situation.

The assassination of Kumar Ponnam-balam and the bomb near the Prime Minister's office during the week has further affected the trade.

While the defence establishment held a special Security Council meeting on Thursday evening to discuss security measures, the hotel industry is predicting a drop in their business in the months to follow too.

Most of the hotels that The Sunday Times spoke to said this has been the trend since elections but the problem has begun to gradually intensify since the beginning of this year.

When compared with the reservations made last year, many said that this year has had a bad impact on the hotel trade.

At least 30-35% of reservations have been cancelled says Trans Asia's Lobby Manager Ramzi Razak.

"This is the season, but unfortunately the trade has been badly affected this time," he said.

The hotel reported some 10 to15 guests being stranded at Peliyagoda on Friday on their way to the hotel because of the curfew while their staff had to be provided with transport to report to work.

Colombo Hilton Lobby Manager, Naushad Mutalif said that some of the guests who were expected to check in have not responded. At least ten reservations had been cancelled on Thursday and Friday, he said.

However the outstations hotels said that they saw no notable drop in the trade.

Town Hall crime scene re-enacted for US experts

Police investigating the December 18 abortive assassination attempt on President Kumaratunga were yesterday digging for more clues as experts from the United States joined the local team.

The group of seven scientific experts from the U.S. arrived in the country earlier this week, and immediately visited the scene of the attack,sources with the local investigation team said.

To help the U.S. investigators the local police re-constructed the scene at Town Hall, the way it looked before and after the blast. What the police are keen to find out is, how the suicide bomber managed to slip through the tight security cordon and gain access to the front row at the meeting. "This is the most worrying aspect to it all," one senior official said.

The CID which is handling the criminal side of the case has already questioned more than 1000 people including security personnel, CMC employees and workers attached to a private contractor.

The Government Analyst Department is meanwhile studying various objects and others forms of evidence that were found at the scene of the blast to determine the true nature of the explosives and system of manufacture. Their report is important to help in the ongoing investigations, the sources said.

A total of 26 people including a senior policeman and several security force personnel who were providing guard at the venue were among the victims. President Kumaratunga escaped with serious injury to her right eye.

In a similar attack on a UNP meeting on the same night at least 11 people, including the former Chief-of Staff of the Army, Major General Lucky Algama were killed and scores more injured. Both attacks have been blamed on the LTTE.

Meanwhile Senior Deputy Inspector General Indra de Silva who headed a separate unit to probe the security lapses that eventually led to the attack at Town Hall has denied statements attributed to him in our lead story published last week.

DIG De Silva in a letter to the Editor said "I have read your lead story in The Sunday Times of 02.01.2000 which quotes me as the source of information which is factually incorrect and misleading. I only mentioned to the reporter who contacted me on 31.12.1999, that we have submitted an interim report which is a secret document and inquiries are also not yet completed. Hence I deny this news originated from me.

"It will therefore lead to misunderstanding and be detrimental to the organizational discipline and also the relationships among the police, public and media. I kindly request you to publish this letter with same prominence to avoid such a situation."

The DIG's reaction came after President Kumaratunga's talk on state-television and radio where she accused the private media of irresponsible journalism.

Our reporter says he stands by his story but cannot reveal more as we are bound by journalistic ethics regarding sources.

Lots of Santas for millennium triplets

The triplets who made history as one of the world's first triplets to be born in the new millennium have received much attention and assistance, both financially and otherwise.

Having given birth to three girls, their poor financial background was the main concern of the parents. With the triplets birth hitting headlines, the parents are now confident of being able to give their best to the children.

The Bank of Ceylon last Thursday opened three accounts with a deposit of Rs. 500 for the triplets and a separate account for the mother with a deposit of Rs. 25,000.

Iresha, the mother, will be able to withdraw Rs. 2000 a month for her household expenses from this account. Meanwhile the Janashakthi Insurance Corporation has made arrangements to deposit Rs. 1500 a month for a period of two years in this same account.

Those wishing to make any financial contributions are expected to make their deposits at the Kalutara branch of the Bank of Ceylon A/C 100162184924.

A businessman who wished to remain anonymous has promised to provide the father with employment. The Divisional Secretary of Kalutara and the National Institute of Health Science have promised to look into the health and social welfare of the family.

The triplets have been christened Rasmi Sahasrika, Pabasiri Sahanika and Eranga Sahasmi.

Both mother and children have been kept in a separate room with glass windows in Ward 2 to prevent infection setting in.

The triplets suffered a mild infection around the umbilical cord due to frequent visits by outsiders. Visitors have been restricted from entering the room and have been asked to see the babies from outside.

The mother and babies will soon be transferred to the Mother-Baby Unit attached to the hospital where the teenage mother will be trained with the routine work involved in bringing up a child, Dr. P.A. Denagama said.

This unit trains mothers for about two days, as handling premature babies is difficult.

Rohitha seeks protection from court

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

A UNP organiser has filed a Fundamental Rights application in the Supreme Court against the Chief Minister and a member of the North Western Provincial Council and three police officers asking that a stay order be issued restraining the police officers from arresting him.

Rohitha Bogollagama in his petition has stated that the police under pressure from the fourth and fifth respondent, the Chief Minister of the NWPC, S.B. Nawinna and a member of the PC, Mrs. K. Tennekoon respectively, were trying to wrongfully arrest him in connection with a bomb explosion which took place on the day of the Presidential election on December 21 last year at Thibiriyawa in Nikaweratiya.

Mr. Bogollagama has submitted that as the authorised agent for the Nikaweratiya Polling Division for UNP Presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe he was inspecting the polling booths along with his personal security officer.When he arrived at the Thibiriyawa polling booth, while conversing with the Senior Presiding Officer he had heard a commotion at the gates leading to the polling booth and later had heard an explosion.

The petitioner stated that having escaped from the rear of the booth and making his way, with his family to Kurunegala, to report the incident, people in two vans shot at and damaged the vehicle he was travelling in. He sped away and later abandoned the vehicle and spent some time on a rock in the jungle fearing danger from their attackers. He had later reported the incident to the Superintendent of the Kurunegala police.

When he learnt that the third respondent, Chief Inspector and HQI of the Nikaweratiya police had filed a report in the Nikaweratiya Magistrates Court saying that the petitioner's arrest is required in order to question him with regard to the bomb explosion. The petitioner states that he called the third respondent and offered to answer any questions he may have and told him there was no need for an arrest.

The third respondent had then allegedly told him that there was no need for further questioning but that the fourth and fifth respondents were pressurising him and the first two respondent police officers to produce the petitioner in court in connection with the incident.

Mr. Bogollagama also said that he had conveyed the matter to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and that UNP General Secretary Gamini Atuko-rale had informed IGP Lucky Kodituwakku of the matter who had told Mr. Atukorale that if the facts were correct then there was no reason for the petitioner to be arrested. Despite these measures the petitioner has stated that the third respondent has deployed a team to search for and arrest him and he has learned that the fourth and fifth respondents have organised a demonstration to be staged when he is arrested and brought to Nikaweratiya. The petitioner submitted that in addition to fearing personal danger, the offences cited against him are non bailable by a Magistrate and that he will therefore have to be unnecessarily incarcerated until bailed out by the Court of Appeal.

Submitting that the fourth and fifth respondents pressurising the three respondent police officers to arrest him when there is no reasonable grounds for arrest, is arbitrary and unlawful and a violation of his right to receive equal protection of the law and that his rights are being infringed on by this hostile discrimination the petitioner has asked that the three respondent police officers be directed to refrain from arresting him.

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