5th March 2000
Venturing into stormy and unchartered areas,
Buddhist groups rise against Norway's facilitation role in Lankan conflict
By Shelani de Silva and Shane Seneviratne
The Venerable Mahanayakas of the two leading Chapters-Malwatte and Asgiriya and other leaders of the Buddhist clergy have decided to launch campaigns to prevent the Government introducing constitutional reforms and using Norway as a facilitator for a negotiated settlement of the ethnic conflict.
The decision to block the proposed constitutional reforms was taken at a meeting presided over by the Mahanayaka of the Malwatte Chapter, the Ven. Rambukwelle Sri Vipassi Thera, and attended by Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayaka Thera, among others.
The Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters along with the chief monks and Buddhist organisations have decided to send a petition to the government, expressing their opposition to the proposed moves.
Speakers at the meetings alleged that the government had added provisions to the 1997 draft based on demands made by Tamil parties and said these would be detrimental to the Sinhala people.
The Malwatte Mahanayaka who recently met President Kumaratunga told the meeting he had not discussed the proposed reforms with her.
Speakers at the meeting also said they were opposed to Norwegian involvement in solving the conflict here because they believe Norway was supporting the LTTE.
The National Joint Committee — an umbrella group for about 50 Sinhala groups — and the Sinhala Weera Vidahana were among the organisations that took part in the meeting.
The NJC is scheduled to hold a second round of discussions with the Buddhist prelates within the next few days, once the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapter sign the petition.
An NJC official said Norway had on many occasions helped the LTTE in fund raising programs and they saw a conspiracy behind the proposed talks.
Sangha Sabha chief, the Ven. Maduluwave Sobitha Thera, alleged that Norway was giving shelter to top LTTEers while trying to be a peace broker.
By Leon Berenger
Some 275 passengers on board a SriLankan Airline flight to London had a horrifying experience when the plane took off and came back — not once but twice — with tens of thousands of litres of fuel being dumped in the sea.
The sensational episode in the sky began around dawn recently after the SriLankan Airways Airbus took off from Colombo heading for London, when the cockpit informed those on board that the plane would be returning to Colombo since the aircraft's hydraulic system was on the blink and as a result they could not retract the undercarriage.
But a crisis erupted when it came in for landing, as the pilots could not bring down the plane owing to excessive weight in the fuel tank.
The aircraft was once again diverted to the Indian Ocean and the pilots were forced to dump an estimated 8,000 kilograms of fuel to lessen the aircraft's weight prior to landing at the Bandaranaike International Airport.
About 90 minutes later the plane landed safely on the BIA tarmac and the passengers were told that the flight would not take off till 4 p.m. local time.
When it took off at 4.p.m., once again the same problem surfaced and after some 10 minutes in the sky the passengers were once again informed that the aircraft would have to be taken back once more to Colombo.
The same procedure began and the plane was taken again over the Indian Ocean and another load of 8,000 kilograms of fuel were dumped in the sea before the aircraft was able to land safely again on the BIA tarmac.
The passengers were only able to leave the following day after they were put up at a nearby hotel for the night.
The frightening incident has understandably raised serious questions as to why the aircraft was not properly checked and allowed to take off for a second time.
It not only delayed the passengers enroute to London, but in addition hundreds of irate passengers waiting to board the plane to Colombo from Britain's Heathrow airport were delayed for several hours not to mention the huge monetary loses caused to the national carrier due to the dumping of the fuel and the pollution it may have caused to the sea.
Sri Lankan Airlines Chairman S. K. Wickremesinghe is out of the country and a spokesperson said they were not officially allowed to speak on such matters.
Bus off !
By Nilika de Silva
A ministerial battle erupted when Transport Minister A.H.M. Fowzie refused to transfer 1,200 Transport Board workers who were accused by PA trade union leaders of being anti-government.
A tough Mr. Fowzie said, "I'm the minister and I have the last word on this. If there are any saboteurs, I will investigate and take action if there is any evidence."
His remarks were seen as a direct shot at trade unions led by Minister Alavi Moulana who has been campaigning for action against public servants who worked against the PA, especially during the recent presidential election campaign.
Mr. Moulana was more compromising. He told The Sunday Times he was not trying to dictate terms to any other minister or victimise any workers. He said the trade unions were pressing for action against those who were sabotaging or obstructing the work of the government.
By Ayesha R. Rafiq
Seven military personnel, including officers, allegedly involved in the Chemmani mass grave case are to be arrested and will be produced before the Jaffna Magistrate on March 14, the state prosecutor said. State Counsel Yasantha Kodagoda who is handling the case said when the inquiry was held on February 22, Jaffna Magistrate E. Elanchelyan had ordered the CID to arrest the identified suspects. He told the CID to seek the assistance of the Defence Ministry, the Army and the Military Police to arrest the suspects..
Mr. Kodagoda said the CID had assured him that the suspects would be produced in court on the due date.
By Leonard Ratnaike reporting from Kamburupitiya.
Despite a growing controversy, Minister S. B. Dissanayake yesterday reiterated that politicians had the right to close down Parliament and the courts, if it is to solve the problems of the people.
The speech at the 11th National Cross Country race of the National Sports Festival at Kamburupitiya came in the wake of an earlier remark to the same effect last week which prompted an inquiry by the Supreme Court as to whether the Minister should be hauled up for contempt of Court.
Mr. Dissanayake said the right to close courts was with the politicians because they had a mandate from the people.
"Therefore, the politician has the right to close Parliament or the Courts and solve the problems of the people. We will definitely implement the constitutional reforms by appointing a constitutional assembly," the minister stressed.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court Registrar M. A. Cyril said yesterday the court was likely to refer the controversial speech made by Mr. Dissanayake last week to the Attorney General for necessary action.
Mr. Dissanayake told the 17th annual sessions of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects last week: "If we cannot obtain the required two-thirds for the constitutional reforms, we will close down Parliament for a short period and convene it as a constituent assembly and if required close down the courts and implement the reforms. There could be views against it. If any Judges are in disagreement with this they can go home."
The comments, first published in the front page of The Sunday Times last week, sparked off a demand by ten judges of the 11-bench Supreme Court requesting Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva to initiate an inquiry into the minister's comments. It also set off an uproar in parliament where opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe called for a select committee to probe the remarks.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka in a statement expressed grave concern over the reported remarks. It said that although Minister Dissanayake had issued a statement seeking to partly deny the accuracy of the report in The Sunday Times, he had not expressly and categorically denied the words, constituting an unprecedented attack on the judiciary of this country.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court registrar had written to The Sunday Times Editor on the instruction of the chief justice, seeking an affidavit on the veracity of the news report in question.
The same day, Minister Dissanayake issued a statement through the Department of Information, claiming the news item was distorted and accusing The Sunday Times of regularly publishing incorrect news items regarding his ministry and acting with malice.
However, the minister expressed his "deepest regrets to the honourable Supreme Court judges and the judiciary for any pain of mind caused."
Following this accusation of malice against The Sunday Times, the editor submitted the affidavit requested by the Supreme Court, along with the copy of the tape, containing the relevant portion of his speech, to discount the claim that newspaper had distorted his speech.
In parliament, Ministers Dharmasiri Senanayake and G. L. Peiris assured there would be no closure of either parliament or courts, and moved to play down Mr. Dissanayake's references.
However, on Friday, Mr. Dissanayake seemed to have defended himself during a speech he made at a book launching ceremony. He said as a politician, he had a right to say what he wanted.
He was quoted in the state-run Daily News as saying that as a politician he had all the right to state that he had lost faith in the parliament and Courts systems. If the Courts summon him, he would explain his statement even if it took months, to clarify his comment.
The Daily News added: "(Mr. Dissnaayake) said that democracy is having the right to speak freely, even to criticise the Courts of Law. As a democratic government we have established the freedom to criticise any institution, but the criticism should be justified, rational and responsible."
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