24th December 2000

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Prepare ground for peace, says Balagalle

The commissioning parade of officer cadets at the Military Academy at Diyatalawa took place yesterday.

Addressing the officer cadets at the ceremony Army Chief Lionel Balagalle stressed that the present conflict was not with a minority community but with an uncompromising minority professing to be the representative of a section of our citizenry.

"As commissioned officers of the Sri Lanka Army you will have to share the responsibility, with others in the Security Forces, to prepare the ground for a lasting peace," Lt. Gen. Balagalle said, adding that "the road to peace is not an easy one".

"Being the first Commander of the Army to have undergone complete officer cadet training in Sri Lanka, I feel proud to stand before you who have successfully completed, a challenging and a demanding training course here at Diyatalawa," he said.

The Army chief urged the officer cadets to mix their knowledge and understanding of terrorism with the skills they gained throughout their training.

"It will serve you in good stead for you are now ready to join the rank and file of the Army to play your role in the national effort to eradicate terrorism, whilst safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Mother Lanka.

"Leading men is not easy, especially leading them in battle. Remember when troops are committed there is no way out other than victory. You must muster your knowledge and experience to lead your platoon to victory at all times. The lives of soldiers lie on the decisions you make in the battlefield," the Commander said.

Lieutenant General Balagalle told the officer cadets they were joining a victorious Army, which had achieved a series of successes during the past four months and successfully repulsed six major attacks launched by the LTTE in its quest to capture Jaffna.

Hain hails Tiger truce

British Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain this week hailed the LTTE's month-long ceasefire ofer in a statement released from London, but dropped an earlier reference in Colombo by him to the Tamils' right to self-determination in Sri Lanka, a matter critiqued by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

Mr. Hain claimed that he wished to encourage the Sri Lankan government to 'seize the opportunity offered' for the creation of a conducive environment for peace negotiations sans pre-conditions.

Mr. Hain's statement which stressed that he 'hoped' that the LTTE offer was for a 'genuine ceasefire and one that will be maintained' coincided with a strong rejoinder by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar who rapped Mr. Hain for comments he made on the issue of self-determination during his visit to Sri Lanka in November.

The comment drew criticism from the Foreign Minister who urged friends abroad to desist from making ad-hoc statements which undermined Sri Lanka's right to resolve its own problem.

It is in this backdrop that Mr. Hain has welcomed the LTTE's ceasefire offer, adding that for the sake of all Sri Lankans, he wished that this would provide the first step in the process towards creating the right environment for peace negotiations without pre-conditions.

He also reiterated British support for a solution preserving the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka whilst meeting the aspirations of all communities, including the Tamils.

Cop chop for tree sellers

Police yesterday warned cypress tree sellers along the Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo that they would be evicted if they conduct their business in a manner causing traffic jams and threatening security,

The tree sellers were asked to leave sufficient room for pedestrian movements and not to pile up trees on the pavement. Police said the seasonal tree sellers had occupied the entire pavements forcing the pedestrians to walk on the road and causing traffic jams.

Traffic jam is also caused when vehicles stop along the pavement to purchase the trees, a traditional Christmas buy.

Yesterday afternoon, police took away some trees following an argument with a few hawkers, but later returned them on assurance that they would follow the orders.

Tax to skyrocket goods' prices

By Shelani de Silva

The government's decision to impose a tax on the importation of several commodities is likely to increase retail prices within the next few weeks.

The government has already imposed a 25% tax per kilo on potatoes, which has seen a drop in the import of potatoes. The tax is levied on potatoes being imported by the CWE and private traders.

Minister of Food and Marketing Development Reggie Ranatunga told The Sunday Times the tax was imposed in order to maintain a balance in the local market.

"We have already commenced importing onions and potatoes directly from other countries. At present the tax is only on potatoes because we have got a good price for onions. We will continue to import these two commodities," he said.

However, the minister said the local farmer would not be affected due to the import of the commodities as it would be done in a systematic manner.

Meanwhile, importers are protesting over the tax claiming that the price of the commodities will sky rocket.

Chairman of the Pettah Traders' Association S. P. Samy told The Sunday Times with the government imposing a tax to protect the local farmer the consumer would be affected by a price hike.

"The consumer has to protest because finally it is the consumer who will have to pay a high price. The government cannot impose a tax on other items because that will have a drastic effect," he said.

A private trader in Pettah said the imports of potatoes had already dropped following the imposition of the tax.

"Earlier we had to pay Rs. 10 as duty, where a kilo would be less than Rs. 30 but now it has gone up to Rs. 45. Imports have come down and the small scale importers are finding it very difficult to import because of the tax. Earlier we had to pay Rs. 300,000 per container and with the tax it would cost close to Rs. 450,000. But after the tax was imposed it would come to Rs. 350,000," he said.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister D. M. Jayaratne said the government was planning to impose a tax on chillies, maize, red onions and big onions. "The tax will be imposed per kilo so that the local farmer will also get a good price. The government wants to maintain a balance in the market," he said.

Carols from lagoon

Kalapuwe Carol, a special carols programme, will be telecast over Swarnavahini from the Negombo Lagoon on Monday night from 8.30 p.m to 9.30 p.m.

Swarnavahini has selected Negombo as the location for this special carol service as large numbers of Catholics reside in and around this town popularly known as 'Little Rome'.

JVP throws brick on Speaker's new house

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The supplementary sum of Rs. 60 million for the provision of additional funds for the construction of the new official residence for the Speaker of Parliament has met with strong disapproval of the JVP, despite it being carried with the UNP abstaining from voting.

Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake moved the supplementary estimate which was twice the original allocation for the construction of the Speaker's residence.

The original capital expenditure has been Rs. 25 million, but the additional allocation is a mammoth Rs. 60 million, totalling upto a colossal Rs. 85 million.

The Speaker's residence is part of renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa's parliamentary complex plan- but was not embarked upon until the presidential palace in Madiwela got underway in 1996.

JVP spokesman and Colombo district parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa said this must be the only country where the additional allocation was more than double the original estimate.

"We can distribute the country's resources among the family members themselves and seem to be emulating the example of the sultan of Brunei who has toilet fittings plated with gold," he said, scoffing that there was no great urgency to put up this building at great expense to the nation, when there were more pressing financial needs to be addressed in the country.

The JVP asked for a division when the vote on the estimate was taken up in Parliament on Wednesday evening, amidst government protests over its stance to deny the Speaker of the House his due residence.

Meanwhile, it is alleged that incumbent Speaker Anura Bandaranaike has instructed construction workers to replace the toilet fittings with a better model and also the removal of floor tiles worth over several lakhs. The residence which is nearing completion is to be further delayed due to the changes recommended by Mr. Bandaranaike.

Mumtaz Mahal, which has been home to many Speakers of Parliament since independence is going abegging with the incumbent Speaker preferring to operate from his Rosemead Place private residence.

Moses as mediator

The name Albert Moses may not ring a bell for many, but if he is to be introduced as Ranjeet Singh of the famous comedy series "Mind your Language" it sure would bring a smile to your face. This time he is not planning to star in a comedy, instead he is planning to act as a peace mediator in the Sri Lankan conflict. Albert Moses has appealed to all Sri Lankans to help him act as a mediator to end the ethnic conflict.

He has made an open offer both to the government and the LTTE stating that his aim is to negotiate a successful agreement between the parties.

"Since I have nothing to gain personally, I am in a unique position to act as a mediator. Though I have been away from my motherland for so long, I have never lost touch with what is happening. This is my first offer," he said.

Big bill for PM's BMW

By Shelani de Silva

Repairs to the Prime Minister's super luxury BMW car which was severely damaged in a road accident last Saturday are estimated to cost upto five million rupees. The BMW was badly damaged in an accident on the Malabe-Kaduwela main road while returning to Colombo after dropping Premier Ratnasiri Wickremanayake at Diyatalawa.

BMW agent Prestige Automobiles has sent an estimate for repairs to the Prime Minister's office and is awaiting approval, General Manager Gihan Siribadana said. The Sunday Times learns that another BMW belonging to the Prime Minister met with an accident about three months ago while it was taken on a test run. Repair work on that vehicle was completed last week and the cost for that too was very high.

Weather men move out

By Tania Fernando

Huge trees in the premises of the Meteorological Department have been felled to make room for the removal of weather equipment for the British High Commission to move in.

The land belonging to the Met Department is to be acquired by the British High Commission in order to relocate their office behind which High Commissioner's residence is presently located.

The land on Bullers Road where all equipment to check on the weather by the Met Department is located is to be moved to the other side of the department and the British High Commission office is to be moved to that location.

No one seems to be aware as to whether the land is being sold or being given to the British High Commission.

The land in which the Chinese Embassy on Bullers Road is housed also belonged to the Met. Department.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the British High Commission said, "The British government and the Sri Lankan government are currently holding discussions on acquiring part of the Met. Department site for the British High Commission".

However, a director of the Meteorological Department was tight lipped about the situation. He simply said, "we are shifting the instruments".

Minister of Science and Technology, Leslie Gunawardena also declined to comment.

UNP threatens legal action

The crisis over electing a chairman for the Western Provincial Council has further deepened with the UNP threatening to take legal action if the chairman is not appointed based on last week's elections.

Last week the Western Provincial Council caused chaos during the elections to appoint the chairman after the results showed a tie, later when the UNP nominee Dixon J. Perera received a majority in the second vote, the council secretary refused to declare him elected chairman on the basis that he had not received at least 50 per cent of the votes as required by the standing order.

However, the UNP argues that according to the Provincial Council law, 50% of votes should be received only if there are three candidates, contesting chairmanship (Speaker).

The UNP nominee Dixon J. Perera told The Sunday Times it was a gross violation of the PC law, which further showed the demoralising of democracy.

"It is very clear that the candidate who received the most number of votes should be elected. We got the majority and it was not rigged votes. Ironically, the PA members themselves say I should be elected as the chairman. The confusion is caused by an official who is trying to gain political advantage," he said. He said the UNP was planning to take legal action if the problem was not solved by next week.

SLMC convention to be held on February 11

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), plagued by divisions and a tussle for party leadership, will hold its national convention on February11.

The convention will come after a fortnight of the completion of the mourning period of Ferial Ashraff, the widow of SLMC founder M. H. M. Ashraff and co-leader of the SLMC.

Ms. Ashraff is expected to complete her period of three months and ten days of mourning known as 'Idda' on January 25, well ahead of time for the party convention which would decide her fortunes.

Deputy Minister of Education A. L. M. Athaulla told The Sunday Times the party politburo would also meet a day prior to the convention, on February10 to take a crucial decision on the party leadership.

He said Minister of Internal and International Trade and Commerce, Muslim Religious Affairs and Shipping Development Rauf Hakeem commanded more support and was the most likely winner in the leadership battle, though this did not mean any disrespect to their founder leader's wife, Ms. Ashraff.

CRM urges review of Emergency Regulations

The Civil Rights Movement (CRM) has called upon the government to review the Emergency Regulations relating to the rehabilitation of detainees and surrendees, due to the complications involved in it. The regulations were said to be complicated as they covered varied situations. The CRM said certain provisions in the regulations pertaining to the rehabilitation of detainees and surrendees were anomalous.

Recounting the regulations briefly, the CRM studied particular aspects that directly affected the rehabilitation of detainees and surrendees.

The report drew reference to three aspects of the regulations - the rehabilitation of detainees and surrendees, the location of rehabilitation centres and the number of inmates.

The CRM went into detail on the first two aspects of the regulation making its own observations and comments on particular issues.

The Movement stated that the need to review the regulations has come into focus following the Bindunuwewa massacre in Bandarawela.

Fishermen seek fairplay

Northern Rehabilitation Minister Douglas Devananda is to take up the plight of northern fishermen when he meets fisheries Minister Mahinda Rajapakse after the latter arrives from a visit to China. The northern fishermen are asking why they have been discriminated against when it comes to distribution of fishing gear which are made available to the southern fishermen by the Fisheries Ministry.

Ministry sources, however said the Northern Rehabilitation Ministry should make a request for the supply of fishing gear for them to act.


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