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26th November 2000
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Every year this time of the year…: With the heroes week
being celebrated by the LTTE last week, security was stepped
up throughout the country anticipating possible LTTE 
attacks. Here armed police are seen patrolling 
Chilaw-Negombo beach. 
Pic  by M.A. Pushpakumara

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LTTE sets conditions for talks

By Our Political Editor
The LTTE has re-iterated its call for an end to hostilities and the withdrawal of the Army from the North and East and a so-called economic embargo before peace talks are held with the Government.

Its official position on the matter has been formally set out for the first time by the LTTE's Political Wing leader S.P. Thamilchelvam, in answers exclusively made available to The Sunday Times.

"It is only when hostilities cease, the economic embargo on a nation of people is removed and when the people too have a peace of mind, can lasting peace efforts succeed," said Mr. Thamilchelvam, who was associated with the November 1 Wanni talks between Norwegian Special Envoy Erik Solheim and his leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. 

His comments, the first official response from the LTTE, that too after President Chandrika Kumaratunga's Policy Statement after the Ceremonial Opening of Parliament, re-iterated the LTTE's position spelt out in a statement soon after the Solheim visit. In this statement, issued from the LTTE's so-called International Secretariat in London, the LTTE made it clear that Mr. Prabhakaran wanted cessation of armed hostilities, "the removal of military aggression and occupation, the withdrawal of the economic embargo and the creation of conditions of normalcy in the Tamil homeland." These were described by Mr. Prabhakaran as essential pre-requisites to resume political negotiations. 

However, Mr. Solheim told a news conference in Colombo, soon after his return from Wanni, that the LTTE leader had not laid down any pre-conditions for talks. 

Last Wednesday, on a visit to New Delhi to brief Indian leaders, he repeated the same position. 

Notwithstanding Mr. Solheim's public utterances, both in Colombo and in New Delhi, President Kumaratunga, in her address to Parliament on November 9, made it very clear there are conditions.

She said: "The Government of Norway is now acting as facilitator in this matter. They have informed us that there are certain conditions that has to be met before the beginning of discussions. However, there is no decision yet on what these conditions are. I expect that all Honourable Members of this House would agree with me that prior to taking any decisions about talks with the LTTE, we should take into consideration the previous practices and attitudes of the LTTE.

"We should give the most serious consideration as to whether they are trying to fool us too in the same way as they have fooled different governments through a period of fifteen years. However, once the Government of Norway through their facilitation informs us what these conditions are, we expect to come to the final decision having discussed the matter with all concerned parties. Until then we will in no way change our policy of replying to terrorism through military action."

See Peace? End violence, occupation

CBK, Ranil out of country

President Chandrika Kumaratunga and opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe are both out of the country.

President Kumaratunga left on a European trip on Friday while Mr. Wickremesinghe left for India on the same day.

Peradeniya University shut down

The crisis-ridden Peradeniya University is being shut down indefinitely from tomorrow, Vice Chancellor Kapila Gunasekera announced last night.

He said all students had been asked to leave the campus by 6 p.m. today following the university council 

decision in the face of continuing agitation by arts faculty students.

For more than two weeks, hundreds of arts faculty students have been carrying out a campaign in protest against the suspension of 18 students who were found guilty of ragging.

The university earlier this week appointed a committee to review the suspension, but student leaders vowed to continue the protest until the suspensions were withdrawn.

Sri Lanka's premier university has also being shaken by the abduction of a student and the discovery of a video camera allegedly planted by a lecturer in a girls' toilet.

Taken from GL given to Hakeem

By Nilika de Silva
The Export Development Board which was originally assigned to Minister Rauf Hakeem and then gazetted to Minister G.L. Peiris was last week transferred back to Mr. Hakeem by the President. 

The switch had been made following a meeting last week between the President and selected ministers. Minister Hakeem told The Sunday Times on Friday that the Export Development Board (EDB) had been allocated to Minister Peiris without the President's knowledge. 

"The President was in fact surprised to know that I was not handling the EDB," Minister Hakeem said. 

Minister Hakeem had initially lit the oil lamp and addressed EDB employees soon after his appointment, only to find the subject given by Gazette to Industrial Development Minister G.L. Peiris.

Acting defence minister, but no deputy yet

Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake was sworn in as Acting Defence Minister immediately after President Chandrika Kumaratunga left the country on Friday. 

Premier Wickremanayake who has been attending to security related matters since the PA government was re-elected to office, was appointed Acting Defence Minister amidst continuing speculation about the new Deputy Defence Minister. President Kumaratunga is yet to name a Deputy Defence and Deputy Finance Minister.

Anuruddha Ratwatte who was deputy defence minister since 1994 and acting minister when the President was away, prior to the last general elections returned on Wednesday after a foreign trip. 

The Premier took his oaths before Speaker Anura Bandaranaike. The Prime Minister has now taken oaths before the mother (Sirimavo Bandaranaike), the daughter and now the son.

Meanwhile, the Premier who holds several ministries, has instructed the Buddhasasana Ministry to accommodate four outsiders as coordinating secretaries to him. They are the Prime Minister's son, Vidura Wickremanayake, G. D. Ratnapala, Chularatne Gamage and Rahal Bulathsinhala. Mr. Wickremanayake is expected to officially move to Temple Trees after December 10. A pirith ceremony with 400 invitees is to take place on December 9 followed by a dhana. 

Britain not upset over the missed meeting

The British High Commission was informed that President Chandrika Kumaratunga could not meet the visiting Deputy Foreign Secretary Peter Hain due to her busy schedule, diplomats said.

They said the High Commission fully understood the President's position and they were satisfied with the fruitful talks that Mr. Hain had with Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, Ministers Lakshman Kadirgamar, G. L. Peiris and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe among others. 

Earlier it was believed the President could not meet Mr. Hain because she would be abroad. 

But the President left for her foreign tour on Friday morning after Mr. Hain's two-day visit.

In a flurry of diplomatic activity following the new peace initiative by Norway's envoy Erik Solheim, US Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth is also due here next week.

Labour Ministry for bigger EPF

By Shelani de Silva
The Labour Ministry is going ahead with plans to increase the EPF contributions from both employers and employees, despite objections by employers.

Labour Minister Alavi Moulana told The Sunday Times that he was confident of getting parliamentary approval for the proposal where by the employer's contribution would go up from 12% to 15% and the employee's from eight to ten percent— substantially increasing the retirement benefit for private sector workers.

The Minister rejected claims by employers that the scheme was intended to get more revenue for the government and that it would only encourage more employers to default on Employees Provident Fund payments.

He said state sector employees had received pay hikes several times and the government's aim was to give more relief to private sector employees. He vowed that tougher action would be taken against defaulting employers and said he believed the increased EPF contributions would have no adverse effects on the country's economy. But the Employers' Federation of Ceylon (EFC) is expressing serious concern.

EFC Director General G. K. B. Dassanayaka said it would be too much of a burden, especially on plantation management companies. He warned that plans to create more jobs could be affected and more employers might default on payments if the contributions were increased.

According the Central Bank's EPF Department Chief W. A. Wijewardene, the national savings rate needs to be raised from the current 19% to about 30% for more sustained economic growth. The current total contribution from the EPF is reported to be around Rs. 15 billion a year and most of it is invested in the state sector.


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