7th May 2000

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Self analysis plans for war-torn children

By Faraza Farook

Save the Children, an international child rights organisation, has launched several programmes as part of their campaign to raise awareness on the impact of the armed conflict on all Sri Lankan children.

The introduction of the children's activity pack, based on the theme of the campaign, is one of the programmes where children will directly participate in the campaign by analysing the impact of the conflict on their lives.

Some of the activities include a summary on children and war to be read to those between the ages of 12 and 18, to get them to think about children affected by the war. Another exercise is to get a child to read a story of a war victim and have a discussion on that issue.

Two children reading a story called "Happily Ever After", a dialogue, is another part of the activity pack. Another feature of the pack is that children are asked to find out about the childhood of older people and compare it with their own situation.

Save the Children said that the activity pack would be distributed soon to schools, children's organisations and children's clubs.

Another feature of the campaign is the launch of a safety pin for the public to wear showing their support towards the campaign during Save the Children Week from June 19 to 25, .

The red pin is supposed to symbolise 'safety for all our children,' a spokesperson for the campaign said.

The safety pin will be available after June 1 at schools, supermarkets and shops.

Save the Children statistics show that more than 270,000 children have been displaced in Sri Lanka with 55% of the children fearing the future of the country while one in three are constantly haunted by the war.

"When going out, we don't go with a peaceful mind. Everything is so uncertain because of the war," said one girl.

Children who witnessed the death of their family members were scarred, as Sothi related her father's death. "My father was taking a wash after work. An artillery shell from a nearby camp fell close to our house. I saw him die," she said.

The war, something that many children have grown up with, has become part of their daily life.

As 16-year-old Mahesh from Colombo said, "we cannot escape from its reach. Like a rubber ball pushed under water, it will surface, again and again."

Crisis in CWC over funds

By Chris Kamalendran

The Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) leadership is split over financial disputes with party leader and Minister Arumugam Thondaman and senior members trying to fire each other.

The crisis surfaced after five senior members were kept out of a District Committee leaders meeting in Colombo recently.

CWC Vice President P.P. Devaraj, one of the five who were kept out, said they were excluded because they were planning to raise major question about how party funds were being handled.

After the District Committee meeting Mr. Thondaman had met former CWC General Secretary M.S. Sellasamy in another alleged move to undermine the five senior members.

Mr. Devaraj said that they were concerned about various misuses, including the sale of a party property without proper approval.

UN chiefs warn against suppression of press

Geneva - (AFP): World Press Freedom Day was commemorated here on Wednesday with a warning from UN chiefs that suppression of press freedom would have serious consequences for social cohesion and stability.

"In every society, freedom of the press is essential to transparency, accountability, good governance and the rule of low," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Director-General Koichiro Matsuura said in a joint statement read out here.

"It cannot be suppressed without dire consequences for social cohesion and stability," the three said.

The message stressed the responsibility of the media to provide independent and wide-ranging coverage of conflicts. The media could help prevent the worst atrocities by reporting on conflicts, it added.

The UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize was presented to jailed Syrian journalist Nizar Nayyouf, editor of the weekly magazine Sawt al-Democratiyya, or The Voice of Democracy.

Nayyouf was condemned to 10 years of forced labour in January 1992 for "disseminating false information" and belonging to the banned Syrian Committee for the Defence of Democratic Freedom (CDF).

The message by the UN leaders on Wednesday expressed concern over attacks on the press by those who regard press freedom as anathema to their cause, and the media as no more than a propaganda tool.

Meanwhile fifty journalists from five continents were named "world press freedom heroes" by the International Press Institute (IPI) in Boston ceremony here on Wednesday.

The 50, including Sri Lanka's Esmond Wickremesinghe, were chosen by the IPI for "significant contribution" to the defence or promotion of press freedom in their country or worldwide over the past 50 years, the IPI said in a statement. Seventeen of those honored are deceased. Of these, five were killed as a result of outspoken work on controversial topics, the IPI said.

Poverty program for Lanka

A poverty alleviation programme that includes a comprehensive plan for Sri Lanka, will be taken up for discussion by the Government, this week UNDP Resident Representative Peter Witham said on Friday.

"Governance and poverty need to be seen as two different sides of the same coin," Mr. Witham said at the launch of the Poverty Report 2000 at the Taj Samudra last week. The report emphasised the need for closer integration the local levels of government and other government organs that are closest to the people to be involved in poverty alleviation.

"There is an effort to make a good policy framework but much more involvement by the government than in the past is important," says Marga Institute Governor Godfrey Gunatilleke. Sri Lanka's approach to national anti-poverty planning was described to be 'explicit' in the report, with the overall poverty rate estimated to be 19% in 1997. The report showed that Sri Lanka had a target to bring the overall poverty rate down to 5% by the year 2010.

Polythene taboo on the Peak

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

A strict regulation code curbing all activities detrimental to the fabled Adam's Peak, including declaring it a 'polythene free' area, will be introduced by the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council in a bid to curb environmental pollution and the general hassle caused to devotees climbing the sacred mountain.

Chief Minister Athauda Seneviratne told The Sunday Times that over the years, pilgrims have caused much harm to the environment in the vicinity of the Peak, which has become a virtual dirt pile rather than a place of worship.

"Warnings and pleadings have not worked. This place is the pride of Sabaragamuwa and has to be kept clean.

The quantity of garbage that is accumulated daily during the 'Sri Pada season' is so great that we have no option but to introduce a strict code," Mr. Seneviratne said.

Sabaragamuwa environmental authorities said that despite mounting public protests to control pollution, no action has been taken so far.

As an initial step, the Provincial Council will pass legislation banning polythene during the next pilgrim season.

In addition to the necessary legislation, the Provincial Council has also sought the assistance of the police and two non-governmental organisations to make the plans a reality.

Sources explained that the NGO workers and civilians would form themselves into vigilance committees and clear massive collections of garbage from the area.

Environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardene commented that such programmes were long overdue as pollution has increased in the Adam's Peak area in the previous decade. In addition to the harm caused by discarded refuse, bottles and polythene, noise pollution is also caused by those who carry cassette radios to the summit.

In a bid to curb all these activities, the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council will shortly make paper and cloth bags available for purchase by pilgrims. Similarly, the police post will be equipped with a 'safe' where cassette players and similar equipment could be kept.

"There will be a grace period. After the legislation is introduced, people will have to strictly adhere to the code and show respect for this place" Mr. Seneviratne said, adding that from January 2001, the entire area would be declared 'strictly polythene-free'.

Aviation body under probe

By Leon Berenger

The Civil Aviation Ministry has launched a probe into alleged malpractices at the Department of Civil Aviation.

Ministry Secretary B. Jayewardene told The Sunday Times the Ministry was going through files and a decision would be taken in a week or two.

A few years ago the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) found glaring shortcomings in the local body and threatened to ban international flights from leaving or landing at Colombo.

The authorities responded immediately and coughed up Rs. 180 million for the ICAO project which was aimed at re-adjusting the shortcomings in the aviation industry.

Railway services to expand despite losses

By Nilika de Silva

Transport Minister A.H.M. Fowzie last week gave an assurance that he had no intention to increase train fares in the near future despite massive losses suffered by the Railway Department, as shown in the Central Bank Report for 1999, .

Although the Central Bank Report stated that "an upward revision of fares is imperative in order to cover operating costs" the minister said his priority was to give a good service.

From June 1, a new train service will operate between Padukka and Avissawella. This is a move to ensure that more people travel by train, the minister said. Soon there will also be an express train operating from Dehiwela to Colombo.

Extension lines from Medawachchiya to Pulmoddai, Anamaduwa to Galgamuwa, Matara to Kataragama are also to be laid, while the double line will be extended from Wadduwa to Alutgama and Ragama to Negombo.

Mr. Fowzie said the emphasis would be on giving a better deal to the passengers. He said rail passengers had in the past lost confidence in the railway system, due to it being neglected, and therefore he was working to improve the image and thereby draw commuters back to this mode of transportation. Locomotives were being purchased from France, China and India for the purpose of improving the transport system, he said.

Meanwhile, more than 3000 vacancies in the Railway Department remains to be filled, and is in itself a cause for the massive rise in the operational costs last year, the General Manager of Railways, W.K.B. Weragama said.

"Because the vacancies have not been filled, there is considerable expenditure on overtime," he said.

"The reason for the rise in operational costs is of course that the salaries have gone up but the fares have not. Raising fares is a matter for the Government, a policy decision where we are not involved" Mr. Weragama said.

Starting this year, SLR is to tie its incentive policy to productivity. This could have a remarkable effect on the 'poor worker productivity' identified by the analysts.

However, Mr. Weragama said the policy of the Railway Department is to provide a safe, reliable, punctual and efficient service.

The Railway Department has been able to drastically reduce the number of derailments that have taken place, he said. Last year this figure was reduced to 457 from 556 in 1998.

"We have a fleet of very old locomotives and regularly check them to reduce the number of diesel locomotive failures," he said adding, "every morning the first thing we do is check the previous day's service and monitor the failures," he said.

The Central Bank Report for 1999 said the operational loss of the SLR increased by 118 per cent to Rs. 1,848 million. Highly subsidised passenger fares and low productivity are partly attributed for this unsatisfactory financial situation.

Underworld explodes in battle for supremacy

By Chris Kamalendran

The upsurge of killings among underworld gangsters in and around Colombo over the past week has been described as a battle for supremacy among gangs who have been dominating the scene over the past several years.

Crime Detection Bureau (CDB) chief Bandula Wickramasinghe believes a new wave of warfare has broken out among these gangsters after their senior members were killed in past battles.

In some of the serious incidents reported since last Sunday, at least nine people linked to the underworld were gunned down in clashes among themselves while four more were shot down by Police.

Among the victims was the prime suspect in the Lalith Athulathmudali assassination case, Janaka Priyankara alias Sudhu Mahattaya who was killed along with his wife at Wellampitiya.

Police said four men who had come in a van had waited for about one hour close to Mahattya's house, before storming in and shooting down the couple.

"They entered the house claiming they were policemen who wanted to check the house, before opening fire," the sole survivor of the attack who is now being treated at the National hospital said.

Sudhu Mahattaya, is the second person, connected with the Athulathmudali assassination case to have been killed . Arambewela Don Upali Amarasinghe alias Sotthi Upali was killed in a similar fashion last year.

Police said Sudhu Mahattya who claimed to be a businessman was allegedly involved in extorting money and evicting people from shops.They feel his killing could spark off other killings.

Three days later four more gangsters were killed in a shoot out between the Police and an underworld gang at Gonawala Kelaniya when the police on a tipoff raided a hideout of the gang leader 'Kotte Sunil'.

A police party had moved into the location when gang leaders opened fire.

Police returned fire killing four of the gangsters but Kotte Sunil escaped with two of his colleagues.

Western range Deputy Inspector General Jayanatha Wickramaratne told The Sunday Times it was difficult to track down these underworld gangs because they kept shifting their areas of operation. He said one example was Kotte Sunil who operated from Kotte but was from Gonawala area. In another rival gang incident four people were killed at Borella last Sunday while they were attending an Avurudhu festival.

SSP Wickramaratne commenting on the upsurge in gang warfare said he believed it was a battle for supremacy among upcoming new gang leaders.

He said unlike in the past most of them were armed with sophisticated weapons.

Buses coming back to SLTB

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Transport Ministry and Treasury officials have finalised modalities aimed at bringing the peoplised cluster bus companies under a central command, Transport Ministry sources said.

They said legislation was to be drafted to re-establish the Sri Lanka Transport Board. They said trade unions of the Transport Ministry were also seeking an early transformation to the SLTB, which the unions believed rendered a much better service than the cluster bus depots. The PA government prior to assuming office showed keenness to revert to the SLTB as the cluster bus companies were considered ineffective and a drain on government money. However, officials said though initial discussions were successful, with the suspension of non-essential development programmes and cutting down of government expenditure drastically on account of the war, the conversion could be postponed.

Hotel in lagoon: will it pose a threat to nature?

By Tania Fernando

A leading property developer is planning to build a 75-room hotel and amusement park in an island in the Negombo lagoon, but environmentalists say it will have adverse consequences for the people of the area.

M. D. Guruge, Chairman of the Guruge Property Sales (Pvt) Ltd., said his company owned 11 acres of the 15-acre islet. Asked about the environmental aspect of the project, Mr. Guruge said some people were opposing the project not because of their concern for the environment but because their interest in the property. "There will be no damage to the lagoon and the project will not harm the natural environment. No mangrove trees will be cut as they will be a part of the attraction. I have got approval from the Board of Investment (BOI) and now I am awaiting approval from the Coast Conservation Department (CCD)," he said. However, CCD mananger R A D B Samaranayake said no application had been made to the CCD with regard to this project. Meanwhile, environmentalists say they believe the project will pollute the area and affect the livelihood of the people who depend on fishing in the lagoon.

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