21st May 2000

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Mystery cover for Mulleriyawa farm

By Tania Fernando

A Mulleriyawa livestock farm which is allegedly causing diseases and other difficulties to nearby residence is carrying on its business while three state agencies are at cross purposes over who should do what.

Even nine months after a letter was issued by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) to the Mulleriyawa Pradeshiya Sabha, to close down the farm, little has been done residents complain.

The CEA last year had sent a letter to the chairman of the Pradeshiya sabha requesting that the licence of the Delgahawatte Livestock Farm be cancelled without delay.

Meanwhile the Pradeshiya sabha chairman P.S. Perera said the Ministry of Health (M.O.H) had filed legal action against the farm.

He said the dispute arose when waste water from the farm started flowing to the road causing inconvenience to the people in the area.

While he is aware of the letter sent by the CEA he says prior to closing down any farm, an inquiry has to be held.

CEA legal director C. L. Panditharatne said ,even though they have sent a letter to the Pradeshiya Sabha, a directive was necessary from the Ministry of Forestry & Environment ordering the closure of the farm.

However, the ministry secretary K A S Gunasekera said it was the responsibility of the CEA to follow up and ensure that the Ministry sent the directive.

Meanwhile residents living in areas close to the farm say various illnesses have been caused due to the waste water. They said appeals had dragged on for years apparently because the farm owner had some influence.

Staff shortage forces DMH to cut down on admissions

By Faraza Farook

Faced with a severe staff shortage and with many mothers from the outstations opting to come to Colombo for their confinement, the De Soysa Maternity Hospital (DMH) has been forced to cut down its clinic admissions which would invariably limit admission to wards and reduce the number of surgeries performed, administrative sources said.

The DMH, a tertiary referral centre that sees at least 500 mothers a day, has been crippled with just 168 nurses available.

" The DMH has been short-staffed for the past five or six years," says a senior consultant at the hospital adding, "most nurses are not trained in maternity. It is by practice that they have learnt the trade".

Most nurses who do the one year training in maternity, return to their original duties, instead of continuing in a maternity hospital. "There are nurses in Angoda with maternity training. They acquire it just because they need a post graduate training," the consultant said. The need to have specialised courses in ICU training, cardiac work, paediatrics etc. was also stressed by him.

The DMH is in need of 144 nurses to meet its 312 cadre requirement, but as nurses retire, their absence too has added to the shortage. The hospital is in need of more staff for two main reasons - to replace those retiring and to take over the extra services as it expands.

Another problem the hospital confronts is the inflow of mothers from outstations despite having access to specialised hospitals in their districts. "We are supposed to cater mainly to the population in Colombo and those referred to us by peripheral hospitals due to complications or insufficient facilities. But we see nearly 40 % of mothers come from the suburbs such as Negombo, Ragama, Kiribathgoda, Maharagama etc. These places have good hospitals and improved facilities, yet, they opt to come here" the consultant said. "The public has disrupted the system," he said.

Though the hospital can turn away mothers who come without a referral letter from the local hospital in their district, the DMH has always accommodated them, another consultant said. Now, with the problem becoming acute owing to the cadre shortage and increased patient inflow, the hospital has decided to turn away mothers who come without being referred. We have been very lax with this arrangement," the consultant said adding, " what we are planning to do is refer these mothers back to their local clinics".

UN-diplomatic hunt for mole

The United Nations offices in Colombo launched a full scale internal probe last week to find the mole who leaked a story to The Sunday Times that they were preparing for a race riot in Colombo.

They were probing the sources of The Sunday Times (Late City Edition) page one story last week saying that the higher echelons of the UN staff in Sri Lanka believed that a race riot against minority Tamils might take place in the event that the Jaffna peninsula fell into the hands of the LTTE in the on-going fighting.

The UN staffers had felt that a 1983-style pogrom against nearly 200,000 Tamils in Colombo and almost half a million Tamils in other parts of the south of Jaffna might happen.

Later however the UN denied the existence of a circular to that effect stating that, 'no circular as described in The Sunday Times has been issued, although the article purports to quote directly from such a circular'.

They however conceded that the exigency plans were related to their staff and their immediate families. "UN security plans are applicable only to UN staff and their immediate families. Such security plans attempt to cover all eventualities - however unlikely. All plans for UN staff are made without discrimination as to gender, race, religion or ethnic background," a news release from the UN office in Colombo stated.

Embarrassed UN officials began questioning senior Sri Lankan staffers as to how the story leaked.

On Sunday only a few hours after the story hit the streets the UN's resident representative, Peter Witham, had questioned heads of separate agencies how the confidential story leaked.

The Sunday Times said that a circular had also been released saying that the UN compound in Colombo should be converted to a refugee centre for 'innocent Tamil crivilians' in the event of a communal riot.

The hush-hush contingency moves by the UN have angered the government, The Sunday Times learns.

A Foreign Office spokesman told The Sunday Times that they had to repeatedly caution UN officials in Colombo for being over-enthusiastic in the country's internal conflict and for acting beyond their mandate.

Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar recently told a news conferencer at the UN headquarters in New York that the UN in Colombo should limit itself to tackling mosquitoes and malnourishment rather than getting embroiled in local politics.

(See related story on FM: Might be useful to ask UN Representative for explanation ).

Shiv Sena backs Tamils

Coimbatore, Saturday: The Hindu fundamentalist Shiv Sena has reaffirmed its support to the cause of Tamils in Sri Lanka with senior leader and Union Heavy Industries Minister Manohar Joshi reiterating his party's stand on the issue.

"Tamils in Sri Lanka are our brothers, we have to look after them. This is our party's (Shiv Sena) stand," Mr. Joshi told reporters here.

On the Centre's stand, he said the Government had taken a neutral stand on the matter and even offered to mediate provided the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE asked for it. Asked about different stands taken by parties in the Government, Mr. Joshi said it happened sometime. There could be a slight difference in the Government's and the respective party's stand.

However, he expressed confidence that the problem in Sri Lanka would be solved shortly. It should be resolved by the Sri Lankan government, he maintained.

Right of reply

Censor on 'Censor censors censor'

My attention has been drawn to the purported interview published in your journal under the above caption.

In the first instance, I totally deny any such interview attributed to have been given by me to your newspaper. I presume that your story would have been based on an interview given by me to your sister paper "Lankadeepa". But, I am pleased to inform you that the particular interview was not subjected to any deletion under the existing Emergency Regulation by me as the Competent Authority.

As your article may tend to create a wrong impression amongst your readership about me, I humbly request you to take the necessary initiatives to expose the correct position with the same prominence you extended to the said article in your newspaper.

Thanking you,

Ariya Rubesinghe
Director of Information

ADB team visits refugees

By Mohamed Jahufer, our Pottuvil correspondent

An Asian Development Bank fact-finding team visited the war-affected areas in the north and east to help implement projects aimed at refugee welfare.

The ADB delegates visited refugee centres in Ampara, Batticaloa, Vavuniya and Trincomalee and met officials to discuss about the implementation of the projects.

The officials told the ADB team the refugees were facing threats not only from the LTTE but also wild elephants and were concerned about their safety.

Five points leading to editor's conviction

The trial judge considered five vital facts in coming to the decision that the accused is the writer of the article under indictment, Additional Solicitor General Rienzie Arsecularatne told the Court of Appeal bench.

Mr. Arsecularatne was presenting the prosecution case in The Sunday Times editor's appeal against conviction of criminal defamation of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga by way of an article that appeared in a gossip column of the newspaper.

The article said that the President had attended a birthday party of Parliamentarian Asitha Perera at his private suite at the Hotel Lanka Oberoi, but it later turned out to be incorrect.

Mr. Arsecularatne said that the judge had considered the fact that the accused refused to disclose who the writer was, his attempt to falsely make court believe that several writers and not one writer wrote the gossip column, the similarity of words used in an earlier editorial and the gossip column, the reluctance of the proprietor of the newspaper Mr. Ranjit Wijewardene to disclose the writer, and the reference to 'myself' in the article which indicated that the writer had watched the entry of the President, to conclude that none other than the accused was the author of the article.

Justice Yapa: This is the one and only inference possible?

Counsel: Yes.

Counsel pointed out that the trial judge had said that the non-disclosure of the writer was not decisive enough and only overwhelmingly suggestive to conclude that the accused was the writer, but that it had sufficient strength together with other circumstantial evidence to show that the accused was the writer. He said that one does not see many judgments of this nature.

The ASG was arguing the point brought up by senior defence counsel Mr. Tilak Marapana that the trial judge had wrongly applied the principles of circumstantial evidence in coming to the conclusion that the accused is the writer.

The ASG said that the trial judge had considered the five facts of circumstantial evidence mentioned above analytically. He said that under Section 479 of the Penal Code publication is an essential ingredient for defamation even if a person is not the writer and that the prosecution has gone beyond that point and proved that the accused wrote the article. The trial judge had considered whether participating in the publication is publication. The prosecution cited a judgment in a case which stated that failure to remove defamatory matter constitutes publication.

The ASG said that during the editor's evidence in High Court he had said that he saw the article prior to publication, but on a later date tried to qualify the time he saw the article, saying it was after publication in the provincial edition.

In answer to the question of whether he read the page in proof form containing the gossip column, the editor had said, merely because the proof is sent to him, he doesn't always read the proof but in this instance he read the whole paper. In this regard the trial judge had said it is unreasonable to suppose that the accused browsed through the paper with the exception of the gossip column, and counsel submitted that as the accused himself had written three paragraphs of the article as claimed by him and said he did not know what preceded or proceeded the three paragraphs that he wrote it is all the more reason why he should read the proof to see the sequence in which the paragraphs he himself wrote had appeared.

Counsel told court that publication in both editions was with the editor's sanction and that sanctioning is one basis of liability. The trial judge had also said that the conclusion is inescapable that the accused was the one person who published or authorised the publication for the accused would have composed it for the purpose of publication and no other.

The ASG said that the accused in defence said he wrote only three paragraphs of the gossip column but he should have extended the same defence and disclosed the names of the person or persons who wrote the other paragraphs.

Justice Yapa: He took up the issue of press freedom. His position was that he was privileged.

Counsel: My Lord, the law does not permit him to withhold the name of the writer.

Justice Yapa: The Press Council Law specifically states that he could withhold the source of information?

Counsel: Only the source of information My Lord.

The ASG then pointed out that in the provincial edition the gossip column appears at the bottom of page nine of the paper and the article is continued on another page, but in the city edition which has a higher circulation the article was rearranged to give more prominence, after the accused saw a photocopy of the provincial edition.

Justice Yapa: Was the accused questioned in this aspect?

Counsel: Yes My Lord he admitted there was a rearrangement.

The accused had made an application of 'no case to answer' at the close of the prosecution case but the trial judge had refused this application and called for his evidence. In the interim order the trial judge had held that the available evidence was convincing enough to hold that the article was defamatory.

Justice Yapa: Before the trial judge called for the defence, the defence presented the application for no case?

Counsel: Yes My Lord.

Counsel submitted that trial judge had considered that the article had said that the President used the rear entrance of the Hotel Lanka Oberoi to reach Mr. Perera's private suite. The defence also led evidence to show where and what the rear entrance was, and photographs were produced in this connection. The Court was then invited to peruse the photographs.

Justice Kulatillake: But an ordinary reader wouldn't know what this rear entrance was.

Counsel: The impression they would have got would have been worse if they did know.

The ASG pointed out that the rear entrance is a service entrance as depicted in the photographs and is quite different to the main entrance of Hotel Lanka Oberoi. He said no reason is given in the article as to why the President used the rear entrance.

Justice Yapa: In a defamatory article, should one take the whole article to find out if it is defamatory or can you take certain phrases and judge it to be defamatory?

Counsel: My Lord, even if parts of it is defamatory, then the charge can be established.

Justice Yapa: Senior counsel for the defence said the trial judge had paraphrased the article and did violence to the article.

Counsel: My Lord, my submission is that the defence counsel has done violence to the word 'paraphrase'.

Justice Yapa: We will need some assistance on this aspect, because defence counsel stressed on this point.

Counsel: I shall address your Lordship on this matter but for the moment my submission is that even if part of the article is defamatory, then the charge can be established.

Justice Yapa: If the article merely said the President entered from the rear entrance, that won't be defamatory?

Counsel: My submission, My Lord is that it is defamatory having regard to the person referred to in the article namely Her Excellency the President.

Justice Kulatillake: The question is what impression the reader will get from reading this.

Counsel: That is so My Lord, unless they say the front entrance was closed for some reason, especially when one is talking about the President.

Justice Kulatillake: The President who is a lady.

Counsel: Yes My Lord if the article for instance mentioned about my peon having entered from the rear entrance of the Hotel Lanka Oberoi then the readers would not have bothered, but in this instance the person referred to is the President of the country.

The ASG said that the fact that the reading public is told of the rear entrance and the time at which she entered, i.e. 12.30 a.m. is in itself defamatory, and in the accounts pertaining to the other parties referred to in the article the manner in which the guests came, and the time at which they arrived and left had not been mentioned.

Justice Kulatillake: Is the time given to invite more credence to the article?

Counsel: My submission is that it was to show the reading public that the President is entering the hotel through the rear entrance at an ungodly hour.

He said the trial judge had said that the time is deliberately emphasised to impress on readers that it offends propriety to suggest that a lady was abroad at that hour.

Police beat up our crime reporter

The crime reporter of The Sunday Times was threatened, harassed and abused by the Dehiwala police after he was bundled into a jeep while he was on his way to buy food.

The reporter Leon Berenger who specialises in investigative reporting and counts more than 15 years in mainstream journalism said he was assaulted, stripped to the waist and later pushed into a cell at the Dehiwela station.

He said all this was done because he had protested at the way the police officers had treated him in front of the public and also while he was being kept in illegal detention.

In an official complaint to the Deputy Inspector General Jayantha Wickramaratne, the journalist identified the OIC of the Dehiwala CDB, a sub inspector and two other officers as being among those who manhandled him.

He said he believed the attack on him was linked to his investigative reports on underworld operations in the Dehiwala area in which some police officers are alleged to be in the pay of criminals.

These raids were ordered by DIG Wickremaratne himself. He allowed journalist Berenger to follow the police party and cover the raid.

The journalist said his ordeal at the hands of the police began around 11 am on Monday at the Anderson Road junction at Nedimale while he was talking to a friend.

A jeep bearing the markings of the Dehiwala Police suddenly pulled up and several armed men in civvies began questioning those on the road.

The journalist said he was slapped and bundled into the jeep after he protested at the behaviour of the armed men who later turned out to be police officers. Not a single person was attired in police uniform.

The journalist said the real trouble began after he identified himself as an accredited journalist of The Sunday Times. To this, the OIC CDB Sub Inspector Senaratne Ratwatte retorted that he was not worried about any journalist, and that instead he would have his arrest splashed on the front pages of several Sinhala dailies, claiming that he knew several reporters.

The journalist said he insisted that if the police persisted with the arrest then they should follow the official procedures and inform his family.

The police also did not follow the formal procedure following an arrest where the next of kin must be informed under the existing Emergency Regulations in the country. Furthermore, the journalist said that while in custody he was denied access to a toilet, food and water or a telephone call.

He said the police had resorted to racist remarks saying that all the bloody Burghers should be thrown out of the country.

The journalist said SI Ratwatte had also become angry when he continued to speak in English and demanded that the journalist should speak in the mother tongue.

In recent weeks, the journalist through The Sunday Times had exposed several underworld operations in the Dehiwala area and obtained evidence which indicated that certain police officers were on the take from drug barons and the likes.

Based on such reports a major dawn raid was launched on a notorious underworld area known as the 'Quarters' situated behind the zoo on the orders of DIG Jayantha Wickramaratne who himself was quoted as saying that they would keep the local police out of the operation.

In his complaint, the journalist said he believed the investigative reports he wrote with the help of DIG Wickremeratne had provoked SI Ratwatte and others in the Dehiwela police to act in a manner where he was victimised because he was carrying out legitimate professional duties as an independent journalist. He said he now feared for his personal safety and well-being.

During his nearly six hours of detention at the Dehiwala police station, the journalist said the same suspect officers had challenged him to write what he saw and heard as they beat up the inmates who were sharing his cell.

It would be a good story, they remarked.

The journalist was finally released after a large number of local residents gathered outside the police station and asked for his release.

"I was humiliated and insulted in derogatory language unbecoming of a police officer. My race and my parents were insulted.

The experience has caused me pain of mind during my illegal detention in the police cell," the journalist said in his complaint.

The Sunday Times is taking up this case with the Media Minister, the Defence Secretary, the police chief and the director of information.

Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera has requested the Police Chief to probe the incident.

Divine intervention

Chief of Defence Staff Rohan Daluwatte returned to Sri Lanka on Thursday after a short private visit to South India.

He is learnt to have met spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba to invoke his blessings for the troops and the country.

Secret sessions to brief all MPs

By Shelani de Silva

All MPs are to be given a special briefing on the security situation in the country - but it will be a closed door meeting with no reports in the Hansard or the media.

Government sources said this decision was taken by President Kumaratunga following a request made by UNP delegates at last week's all-party talks.

The UNP had earlier called for urgent special sessions of parliament to discuss the grave situation in the north.

But it has now agreed to the compromise in view of the sensitive nature of what might be disclosed or discussed.

House leader and senior minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake said the modalities of the closed door security meeting would be worked out with party leaders when parliament met on Tuesday.

He said the meeting would probably be in the parliamentary complex but it would not be considered as an official parliamentary session.

Former UNP information minister Tyronne Fernando who took part in the all-party talks said the UNP would propose a full security briefing once a week.

Meanwhile Parliament Secretary General Dhammika Kitulgoda said he had not been informed officially of any special meeting.

Political programmes on low key over TV, radio

Private TV and radio stations have decided to limit political programmes aired in keeping with the blanket censorship.

The political programmes aired on private TV channels which are popular have come to a stop in keeping with the regulations. While the TV channels are requested to send the recorded programmes to the Competent Authority the TV stations claim that it is a tedious task, which has resulted in the scrapping of the program or airing a low key program.

Swarnavahini Programme Director Rosmund Senaratne told The Sunday Times that at present the political programmes keep a low profile.

"We are reorganising our programmes but we hope to commence our political programmes in a new way. At present we have to abide by the restrictions. We don't have any choice, we cannot give our opinion, but once we organise our future programmes we will be able to carry on," he said.

He added that at present they will not cut any programmes since they carry unbiased programmes.

Meanwhile TNL Chairman Shan Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Times the station had stopped live political programmes but the recorded programmes are aired after they are viewed by lawyers.

"News on the military front are definitely not aired but the political programmes are shown to the lawyer and then carried. We did send our programmes to the Competent Authority but they were delayed. As a result we could not carry the relevant news items. It is because of this delay that we show them to our lawyers," explained Mr. Wickremesinghe.

He added that a tape of the popular political program 'Jana Handa' which was sent to the Competent Authority had been sent to the Media Minister which was censored completely and the station is yet to get the tape.

Meanwhile Sirasa Program Director Nimal Lakshapathy said that the station decided to abide by the censorship taking into consideration the country and not any political party.

"We have to do it, taking to consideration the present situation. We too have a responsibility. We feel that the country has gone through enough. If this is the only way to solve the problem then we have to cooperate. The decision was taken not to please the Government but for the sake of the country," he said.

Ranil accuses Mangala of twisting BBC interview

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has accused Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera of twisting an interview given by him to the BBC on the current situation in the North and called it the action of a coward.

Minister Samaraweera demanded a public apology from Mr. Wickremesinghe for his statement to BBC TV that the LTTE has entered Jaffna and accused Mr. Wickremesinghe of being a traitor and supporting the LTTE.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Wickremesinghe said the LTTE had entered Jaffna city and are within a short distance of the Secretariat. He told the BBC he doesn't think anyone in the government has denied that the LTTE is in the city and that he had no information that they had occupied the Secretariat but that they were certainly close to the Secretariat.

Mr. Wickremesinghe had said that 'It's a very serious situation and the LTTE has entered the city. They are within a short distance of the Secretariat.

I do not know what the security forces plans are- whether they are going to fight in Jaffna or if they want to withdraw from Jaffna. My own view from 1995 about Jaffna was that it was not a military objective and in taking over Jaffna, the government really was opening the doors to a defeat'.

He however pointed out that the second question had not been broadcast during the brief extract of the interview transmitted over Rupavahini nor had Minister Samaraweera referred to it.

When Mr. Wickremesinghe was asked what evidence he personally has to say that the LTTE is close to the Secretariat he had said 'This is the information I have been getting through different sources.

The Secretariat is a centre of civilian administration and I don't think anyone in the government has denied that they are in the city. But the state media has denied that they have occupied the Secretariat. I have no information that they have occupied the Secretariat but certainly they are close to the Secretariat'.

While Minister Samaraweera vehemently denied that Jaffna city had capitulated to the LTTE, Mr. Wickremesinghe pointed out that the Director of Information confirmed the position he had stated to the BBC saying that 12 LTTE infiltrators who had attempted to break into the Kachcheri had been killed by the security forces.

More to challenge censorship

A number of civil rights organisations have announced their intention of challenging the present Emergency Regulations imposed early this month on the basis that they infringe on the rights of freedom of expression, association and information of citizens guaranteed in the Constitution.

The Editors' Guild of Sri Lanka has said it will bring that part of the regulations affecting the media before court on the basis that the right of the media to criticise the government was being arbitrarily constrained on grounds of national security.


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