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23rd January 2000

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Stuffing for the other side

By Tania Fernando

Defeated Presidential candidate Harischandra Wijayatunga of the Bhumiputra party dismissed claims that ballot boxes were stuffed in his favour in the Jaffna District.

"The people are fed up with the LTTE and the government, and that is why I obtained 818 votes in Jaffna", he said.

Though other candidates campaigned against him and he did not hold any public meetings, he had achieved that amount due to promises made by him. In previous elections too he had obtained a substantial number of votes from Jaffna, he said.

Mr. Wijayatunga prior to the elections openly stated that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist state and citizenship will be given only to persons who accept this. The question is did the Tamils of Jaffna actually vote for the ultra Sinhala Mr. Wijayatunga?

However speculation is rife that the ballot boxes were stuffed with votes for Mr. Wijayatunga. It is alleged that the PA in order to avoid suspicion of their victory in Jaffna with a considerable margin had done this.


Reshuffle put on hold

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

With the main opposition UNP expressing willingness to work towards broader consensus to resolve the ethnic conflict, more political drama is unfolding with the scheduled Cabinet reshuffle for January 27 being indefinitely postponed.

Authoritative PA sources said that the reshuffle was imminent as it was mandatory to assign specific subjects to the two Special Assignments ministers and make a few necessary changes.

"But it has been temporarily done away with as the government has turned its entire focus on seeking a negotiated settlement to the ethnic conflict through the enactment of a new constitution. The UNP has positively responded and that takes priority on the PA agenda" a PA Cabinet source confirmed.

Yet the reshuffle which was originally meant for Friday (21) did not take place as 'package deliberations' started in full swing. With the fate of the UNP rebels hanging in the balance with a court determination due next week, it is highly unlikely that the government which has also abandoned the Conscience Bill would resort to reassigning subjects.

Originally, it has been proposed to appoint UNP rebel Susil Moonesinghe as Minister of Buddhasasana while the two Special Assignments Ministers Dr. Sarath Amunugama and Nanda Mathew were tipped to be assigned the subjects of Public Administration and Sports respectively.

In addition, Deputy Cultural Affairs Minister Dallas Alahapperuma was expected to get Cabinet rank while MEP leader Dinesh Gunewardene was also expected to be brought on the National List in place of late Y.P. Silva and given the portfolio of Plantation Industries.

Meanwhile, Parliamentarians Upali Guneratne, T.B. Ekanayake and Nandasena Herath were also hopefuls for the second rung portfolios.

In a move to change subjects, Minister Mahinda Rajapakse was tipped to be put in charge of the trouble plagued health sector while many other changes in portfolios were also proposed.

At the first Cabinet meeting since the assumption of Presidential office for the second time, President Kumaratunga instructed all ministers and deputies to cancel foreign travel till February hinting that a reshuffle was in the offing with specific functions for the two rebel UNP ministers.


New twist in child abuse case

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

A suspect who was alleged to have sexually abused his seven-year-old niece has been acquitted for lack of evidence by Colombo High Court Judge P. Wijeyaratne.

The suspect was alleged to have abused his sister-in-law's daughter by having her perform oral sex on him and by trying to rape her.

Mr. M. Fazhan who is a motor spare parts businessman, has filed action in the Military High Court against a captain in the Volunteer Force of the Army. He charged that the captain was instrumental in bringing the charges of child abuse against him.

He told The Sunday Times that he would be filing defamation action against the Army officer as he alleged that when the child abuse case was reported in the newspaper, the Army officer had posted copies of the article to Mr. Fazhan's clients, telling them it was Fazhan who was guilty of the crime.

He said that although his business generated between Rs. five to six million yearly, due to this development he was not able to conduct any business last year.

Mr. Fazhan said he believed the fabricated charges had been brought against him to settle a personal vendetta.

He said that one night when he was sleeping he was hit hard on the head and when he awoke boiling water with chillie powder in it was thrown on his neck.

He was then asked to get into a police vehicle by several policemen who were present and taken to the Dehiwela police station where he was later released on Rs. 7000 bail because he was severely burned on his back.

He was also given permission to collect his clothes and other items from the house where his wife, her sister and the sister's daughter were living.

Mr. Fazhan said that he was no longer able to live or conduct any business in Dehiwela as he continuously receives threatening phone calls and now fears for his safety.


Last post for Jaffna commander

The funeral of the security forces commander for Jaffna, Major General Nihal Jayakody was held yesterday at the Borella cemetery with full military honours.

Major General Jayakody was appointed to the post in Jaffna less than a month ago after his arrival from military training in India last December. He served as the Secretary of the Sri Lanka Army, Chief Staff Officer of the Defence Ministry, and as a senior Executive of the Kotalawela Defence Academy.

After his promotion as Major General in 1998, he served in Trincomalee as officer in charge of the 22nd Division before he went to India for training at the Indian National Defence Academy.

Major General Jayakody was born in Kegalle on June 10, 1949 and studied in Kegalle till he joined the military service as a cadet officer in 1970. Later, he was promoted as Second Lieutenant of the First Engineering Regiment.

He served the Sri Lanka Army for a period of 30 years.

He leaves his wife Mohini and son Bhathiya.


Parliament sitting hours changed

Parliament sitting times have been amended. From February 8 the House will meet at 10 am. Parliament sitting times were advanced to 9. 30 am. two years ago when daylight saving time was adopted by Sri Lanka.

It is learned that Parliamentarians have requested that the time be further advanced and to reduce the regular lunch break of one hour to just half an hour to facilitate Parliamentary business.


3000 taken in second snap search

By Leon Berenger and Chris Kamalendran

At least 3,000 Tamils were yesterday taken in for questioning by security forces who launched a massive cordon and search operation in several areas of the Gampaha district and Kolonnawa, after a snap 10-hour curfew was declared before dawn.

Most of those taken in were from the north and east and could not come up with a convincing reason for their stay in the areas where thosuands of security forces conducted a massive search operation to flush out LTTE suspects. Some of them did not have valid identity documents, senior police and military officials told The Sunday Times last night.

The LTTE hunt was launched during the curfew which came into effect at 4.00 a.m. yesterday and went on till 2. p.m.

Lodges and other boarding houses were also thoroughly searched by armed police backed by Army, Navy and Air Force personnel after state intelligence units warned that many wanted Tiger operatives had moved into the area from Colombo city, and among them were possible suicide bombers.

The areas where the snap curfew and searches were launched were the AGA divisions of Wattala, Negombo, Ja-ela, Kandana, Peliyagoda, and Kelaniya, where there has been a notable LTTE presence in the past few months.

Those detained will be released after they are screened and their identities recorded at the local police stations, a senior policeman assured.

In some cases the security forces used spotters to identify Tiger infiltrators. The spotters whose faces were masked were believed to be former Tamil militants now co-operating with the Government.

In a related development heavily armed STF personnel also searched houses in the Wellawatte area while some houses were searched by persons in civvies.

The STF search at Wellawatte was a total surprise, as it was earlier thought that the operation was only confined to the Gampaha district where a curfew had already been announced.

Yesterday's dawn operation comes barely two weeks after a similar surprise search was carried out in the city and immediate suburbs. Some security sources said the Colombo operation was not successful since there had been an apparent leak prior to the search.

The security intelligence agencies have repeatedly warned of mass-scale LTTE infiltration into the south of the country, and among them are a large number of suicide bombers sent to target top government and opposition figures.

These warnings were confirmed in late December and early January after suspected LTTE suicide bombers made an attempt on the life of President Chandrika Kumaratunga at the Town Hall premises.


Seeduwa seething after bar brawl

By Leon Berenger

Residents of Seeduwa were still angry yesterday after drunken soldiers supported by hundreds of their colleagues went on a rampage soon after midnight on Thursday, assaulting civilians and causing damage to private property.

The fracas erupted after a group of six soldiers were assaulted by some civilians while enjoying a drink at a bar on the main Negombo-Colombo highway.

Two soldiers who were injured in the incident had later gone to the Seeduwa police station to make a complaint of assault, but instead of hearing them out in a fair manner the constables manning the night desk had allegedly pushed them into a cell. The constable reportedly said their case would be taken up in the morning once the officer-in-charge of the station arrived.

This led to a heated and volatile situation as hundreds of soldiers at a nearby transit camp poured out on to the streets, some of them armed with iron rods, poles, swords and other weapons they could get their hands on.

A shortwhile later they surrounded the poorly manned Seeduwa Police Station and demanded the immediate release of the two soldiers. When the police refused to heed their demand the soldiers numbering around 450 headed for the town and the restaurant where the incident had sparked off.

The real trouble started when the soldiers went berserk smashing up restaurants, shops, vehicles and even a private bank.

At the end of it all there were at least 20 injured civilians, some 10 shattered shops and a frightened local populace as an uneasy calm fell over Seeduwa junction.

The police meanwhile are blaming both the civilians and the soldiers for the incidents on that night.

Here is a simple case of assault that could have been amicably solved in the police station. But this was not to be as we all know now, Inspector M. L. Somasiri in charge of the Seeduwa Police Station told The Sunday Times.

He could not be drawn into comment on allegations that the two soldiers were treated unfairly at the police station, but quickly added that no one should be allowed to break the law, soldier or not.

In this case we have also launched a hunt for the six civilians, whose identity is known, but they appear to have fled their homes, IP Somasiri added.

Police investigations have also revealed that Thursday night's fracas had actually originated over an incident at a musical show at Liyanagahamulla some 10 days ago.

During that musical show it is learnt that several soldiers numbering around 100 and from the same camp had clashed with local youth apparently over some incident involving a girl.

The incident had apparently been brought up and an argument started at the Gemunu Restaurant and the rest is already known, IP Somasiri said.

As he put it: "The problem is that we have too many off-duty security forces personnel and female factory workers in the same area, and any confrontation involving them always creates a highly-volatile situation".

In the meantime four soldiers who were handed over to the local police by the military authorities were produced before the Negombo Courts on Friday and each allowed Rs. 5,000 cash bail and Rs. 50,000 as surety.

They were later handed over to the military police, who will now conduct their own investigations, according to IP Somasiri.

The residents on the other hand are saying enough is enough.

Seeduwa, which is situated in the heart of the Free Trade Zone is home to thousands of female factory workers who have taken up employment in the area.

In addition the area is ringed with military institutions of the Army, Navy and Airforce.


Objection to two hats

Controversy looms at the Sri Jayewardenapura University where the Dean of the Medical Faculty is alleged to be holding two full time posts.

The Dean of the Medical Faculty, Prof. M.T.M. Jiffry is alleged to be holding a full time post as the Vice Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC), university officials said. However, Prof. Jiffry dismissed allegations, saying that his position as the Vice Chairman of the UGC was only part time.

The Dean is said to be under fire since his appointment as the Vice Chairman of the UGC on October 15 last year. Despite objections and petitions by many university lecturers against the same person holding two full time cadre positions, very little seems to have been done in finding a solution to the issue. Some alleged that no action is being taken because it is "a political appointment".

The Deputy Minister of Education Prof. Wisva Warnapala when contacted by The Sunday Times declined to comment on the subject. Other senior officials in the university too preferred to keep a closed mouth about the matter for reasons known only to them. One lecturer charged that Prof. Jiffry holding two senior posts, influenced appointments at the university.

Meanwhile members of the Senate have reported the matter to the University Council calling for Prof Jiffry's removal from his post as the Vice Chairman of the UGC. The members of the Council after taking the issue up at a special council meeting held on December 9 last year, have written to the Attorney General for a legal opinion, sources said.


Tamil parties at cross purposes

By Roshan Peiris

With question marks still hanging over whether and when the Crossover Bill will come up, most Tamil parties are also divided on the issue.

TULF General Secretary R. Sampanthan said: "we in the TULF don't want to say anything on the Crossover Bill.

"How can we make a decision just now since the whole Bill is not presented and is largely a speculative exercise," he said.

"Once the Government's stand is known, the TULF will not delay in taking a decision, he said.

"We are anxious to have a solution to the ethnic issue. The Crossover Bill is really to solve this issue. It must be done soon. Too many lives, both Sinhala and Tamil, have been lost," he said.

PLOTE leader Dharmalingam Siddanthan said: "We are going to support the Crossover Bill, on condition that those people who cross over should and must vote for constitutional reform the Package.

"This Bill is all about voting to support the package to find a final solution to the ethnic problem. This is why we will support it," he said.

EPRLF Secretry-General Suresh Premachandran said: "when our party members become MPs, it is because they have contested under the party banner and supported the EPRLF policies as a whole.

"If by crossing over they go against the policy of the party, then they must naturally and inevitably quit the EPRLF and come forward as independent members.

"This whole exercise by the government is said to be to solve the on-going ethnic crisis. If the government is serious about solving the ethnic issue then the government needs to consult all the Tamil political parties as well as the LTTE as a priority issue, instead of just talking about the Crossover Bill.

"The government must give the implications and spell out the agenda, to solve the ethnic problem. Just getting a two thirds majority won't do. Prior discussions must take place with the Tamil parties and the LTTE and with the UNP too," he said.

EPDP leader Douglas Devananda admitted that at present the opinion among party members was divided with some for and others against the Bill.

CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman said they would take a decision when the full contents of the bill were known.


Renuka Shan. probe: No clues

Investigations into the alleged conspiracy to topple the Government have drawn a blank, The Sunday Times learns.

The sudden questioning of Renuka Shanmuganathan,wife of the Managing Director of Union Bank a fortnight ago and screaming headlines in the state media about champagne parties and conspiracies have yet to be proved,i nvestigators admitted.

Ms.Shanmuganathan was accused of having thrown a champagne party following the LTTE assassination bid on President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga on the night of December 18. According to the official probe such a party had been non-existent.

Instead, Ms. Shanmuganathan is reported to have urged the President's brother Anura Bandaranaike to go and see his wounded sister in hospital, and had also spoken to the President's other sister expressing concern.

The state sponspored hysteria over the conspiracy involving two editors of newspapers has been questioned by international media organisations which have taken the matter up with foreign diplomatic missions in Colombo as well.

Neither the editors nor suspected military personnel supposedly involved in this conspiracy theory have been questioned.

Ms. Shanmuganathan, the sister of businessman Thiru Nadesan, who acted for the Maharajah Organisation and was labelled by name as a "crook" by President Kumaratunga in a recent television interview, was released after two days of questioning. She was represented by President's Counsel Daya Perera.

She was unavailable for comment this week having gone to Kataragama on a pilgrimage.

The probe also revolved around a loan that Ms. Shanmuganathan had obtained for a private company, R.S.Hartley, in which a police body guard of Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was allegedly a director.

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