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22nd October 2000
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In the latest security move, a high speed army motorcycle unit has been deployed for surprise checks in the city. Pic by Lakshman Guantileke 

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PA, UNP reach landmark accord

The People's Alliance government and the Opposition United National Party (UNP) have reached a landmark accord to co-operate in a number of spheres in a move which analysts describe as a step just short of a National Government.

The accord came during talks between Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickemanayake on behalf of the PA and Tyronne Fernando, Chief Whip of the UNP Parliamentary group on behalf of the UNP.

Premier Wickremanayake told The Sunday Times it was a 'working arrangement' between the government and the opposition.

The Sunday Times reliably learns that the two parties have agreed to introduce legislation for the setting up of an Independent Police Commission, Independent Elections Commission and Independent Public Services Commission. They have also agreed to adopt measures to ensure media reforms. 

This will encompass the media reforms presented by UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and other opposition members. 

The media reforms include the repeal of the criminal defamation and Press Council Laws and the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act among other measures to ensure media freedom.

The UNP's working committee will be informed tomorrow about the details of the agreement. 

The move is intended to obtain the endorsement of the UNP's policy-making body on co-operating with the government on national issues.

Mr. Fernando who was involved in the talks with Mr. Wickremanayake told The Sunday Times they had also agreed with the PA on bringing an end to political victimisation and harassment.

'The aim of this exercise is to introduce a new political culture', he said.

Mr. Fernando said they proposed to expand the discussions by talking to other parties in Parliament.

As a prelude to the PA-UNP memorandum of understanding the two parties on Tuesday reached a historic consensus to unanimously elect Anura Bandaranaike as the Speaker of the 11th Parliament.

Peiris names PA men in Chennai drama

The controversial Police officer Douglas Peiris was released on bail on Friday as he disclosed in a fresh affidavit to courts about a cabinet Minister and another PA politician visiting him in India to organise his return trip.

Mr. Peiris was released on Rs. 10,000 cash bail and personal bail of Rs. 100,000 when he was produced before Negombo Magistrate Priyantha de Silva.

The counsel moving for bail said Mr. Peiris in his fresh affidavit had mentioned that he returned to the country with the knowledge of CID Director C. J. Gajanayake and Inspector Linton .

Mr. Peiris said he left Sri Lanka in July 1996 to save his life as he was receiving death threats and could not remain in the country without security. While in India towards the end of 1999, he got to know that warrants were out for his arrest.

He was preparing to return to the country to give himself over to the courts and towards this end he met Minister Mahinda Wijesekera and MP Sarath Kongahage at T Nagar in Chennai. 

"They met me at a hotel called PRT and said they would make arrangements for my safe return to Sri Lanka and to give myself up to the courts. They said they would also provide protection for me in Sri Lanka,," Mr. Peiris claimed in the affidavit. 

"These gentlemen also said that as soon as they returned to Sri Lanka they would arrange for CDB officials to go to the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission in Madras and that I should give myself up to these officers and accompany them back to Sri Lanka.

"Accordingly acting upon the instructions I got by a phone call I received from Mr. Kongahage on August 1, 2000, I went the next day to the Deputy High Commission with a Madrasi Lawyer C. J. Madana Gopal. I gave myself up to Director CID, C. J. Gajanayake and Inspector Linton in the presence of Sri Lanka's deputy high commissioner Mr. Jayasinghe. At this time I also handed over to Mr. Gajanayake the passport in my possession which was brought up in the criminal case. 

"I handed over an affidavit prepared by me for my protection while at the Madras mission to Mr. Madana Gopal and asked him to see to my safety until I left India," the affidavit said. 

The Madras mission then issued an emergency passport in Mr. Peiris' name. The two police officers with me (Gajanayake and Linton) brought me the air ticket," he said.

On August 3 in the charge of Inspector Linton Mr. Peiris left on UL 124 while SSP Gajanayake remained in Chennai. He arrived at Katunayake at about 22.30 hours. 

Superintendent Kulatunga and Inspector Liyanage of the CID were there at Katunayake. Inspector Liyanage obtained clearance to take him out without taking him through the immigration counter.

"Under high security I was brought to this location by this team of police officers," Mr. Peiris said. 

Oslo on hold

Norwegian intervention in bringing the LTTE for peace talks has reached an impasse because the rebels believed they could win their demands militarily, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said.

Mr. Kadirgamar in an interview shortly after he returned from Oslo said the Sri Lankan government had formally told the Norwegian government to continue its search for a peaceful settlement to the conflict through a negotiated settlement, but admitted that they were no where near "even fixing a date for talks."

Mr. Kadirgamar said he had briefed Norwegian leaders about the security situation in the northern Jaffna peninsula, and told them that by all accounts the LTTE remained intransigent, and was hopeful of military success in regaining control of the peninsula.

An official letter carried by Mr. Kadirgamar on behalf of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, however, assured Norway that Sri Lankan government remained fully committed to a peaceful solution and that she looked forward to continued efforts by Oslo in the peace process.

He said patience was the hall-mark of Norwegian diplomacy and that they would continue to keep channels open with the LTTE in the event the rebels decided to come to the table. 

Mr. Kadirgamar's visit to Oslo was in connection with the 50th anniversary of the setting up of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and Norway. Sri Lanka recently supported Norway's candidature for a seat in the UN Security Council.

Please see page 3 for an interview given by the Minister to the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation

Rauf-Reggie row rages

By Chris Kamalendran and Sunil Jayathilleke
The tussle for portfolios and control of top state bodies continued yesterday as the President was putting together the deputy ministerships after appointing 44 Ministers.

The Sunday Times learns that haggling went on till the last moment before the 44 Ministers were sworn in, with three different files being kept for NUA co-leader Rauf Hakeem. 

Shipping was to be assigned to Reggie Ranatunga but it was given to Mr. Hakeem at the last moment. However, the storm over it has not ended.

Mr. Ranatunga was initially sworn in as a Minister without portfolio and then by evening he was given Food and Marketing Development. Now he wants big state bodies like the CWE and Salusala brought under him, taking them away from Mr. Hakeem's Trade Ministry, political sources said.

Mr. Ranatunga claimed a gazette notification would be issued tomorrow bringing the CWE and the Salusala under him. Mr. Hakeem, told The Sunday Times he had heard about these changes and he felt the President should have the courtesy to inform him.

In a related development the subject of housing was to be assigned to Mangala Samaraweera, but on a last minute decision the portfolio of Rural Housing was given to Mrs. Ferial Ashraff.

Millions on new ministers

By M. Ismeth and Dilrukshi Handunnetti
With 44 ministers forming one of the biggest cabinets in the world, a poor country will have to provide public funds amounting to a colossal 1.3 million rupees a month for salaries alone.

An equal number of deputies' salaries will mean another one million rupees a month in public funds besides the expenditure for a multitude of other perks, privileges, and luxuries. 

The record-breaking cabinet was named after parliament this year approved a motion, giving ministers a thumping increase of about Rs. 10,000 a month, with arrears for more than two years. Deputy Ministers and MPs also got a tidy increment.

The ministers are also entitled to an entertainment allowance of Rs. 5,000 a month, unlimited fuel, two private telephones, a hand phone, computers, typewriters, special loan facilities and unlimited stationary.

In addition, there are other privileges such as duty-free vehicle permits, liquor permits, twelve personal staff and a pension at the end of five years. They are also entitled to two vehicles for private use and a security unit.

In this backdrop, The Sunday Times learns that the recently purchased eighteen luxury bullet-proof vehicles have cost a thumping Rs. 448 million in public funds. 

This fleet included two Benz cars, each costing Rs. 40 million. The government thereafter imported eight Benz cars from a different model each costing Rs.18 million along with six BMW vehicles each costing .Rs. 14 million in public funds. Last month, two additional Benz cars were also imported at a cost of Rs. 70 million, sources said.

With 66 new MPs coming in, they will also be entitled to vehicle permits immediately. Each permit is valued at more than Rs. 2.5 million in the open market. As for the size of the cabinet, a comparison with the neighbouring India would tell the story. India with a population of 1,000 million has 37 cabinet ministers while Sri Lanka with 18 million has 44.

Slaying of reporter

Editors want full story

The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka has condemned the killing of independent Jaffna-based journalist Mylvahanam Nimalarajan as a cold-blooded murder and called for a full probe to reveal the full story.

In a statement, the Guild said: "The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka joins the many fraternal organisations that have condemned the cold-blooded assassination of Mylvahanam Nimalarajan, correspondent for Verakesari, and Ravaya Newspapers and contributor to BBC's Sandeshaya and Tamil Osai services on Thursday night (October 19) at his private residence in Jaffna.

"At the time of his untimely death Mr. Nimalarajan was one of the few independent scribes and voices disseminating information from the news-starved Jaffna peninsula to the rest of Sri Lanka, and the world.

"Ironically, Mr. Nimalarajan was murdered while listening to one of his own broadcasts on BBC.

"The death of this young Journalist at the hands of undemocratic parties who cannot accept criticism, deserve the condemnation of all those who value democracy, especially freedom of expression, in Sri Lanka.

"That it happened in the immediate aftermath of the parliamentary elections of October 10, is a matter of extreme concern for us. This concern has been heightened by evidence that Mr. Nimalarajan had been recently critical of newly emerging political entities in the Jaffna Peninsula.

"We welcome the statement of the new Media Minister who has vehemently condemned this cowardly murder, and demand a thorough, impartial and speedy investigation into Mr. Nimalarajan's murder so that the culprits whoever they may be, are prosecuted according to the laws of the Republic."


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