14th January 2001
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The Mahanayake's discourse with an ambassador

By Shane Seneviratne
Ven Rambukwelle Sri Vipassi Maha-nayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter has said he does not wish to stoop to the level of politicians to discuss matters of public interest in private.A lesson in transparency..........

The Mahanayake made this observation when he rejected a request from US Ambassador Ashley Wills to keep journalists out of their meeting at the Dalada Maligawa.

"I cannot go down to the level of a politician who discusses matters secretly and betrays the country,"the Maha-nayake told The Sunday Times. "After all the ambassador did not come here on a private matter. If he wanted to discuss a private issue, I wouldn't have journalists around me. But in this case it was obvious he was going to discuss about the current situation in the country. Therefore it was not correct to tell the journalists to leave.".

The episode took place when Mr. Wills accompanied by three diplomats called over at the Malwatta temple. The ambassador who walked in with shoes, was kindly reminded that he could not enter the premises with shoes and thereafter he removed the shoes and re-entered the temple.

When Mr. Wills saw journalists in the presence of the Maha-nayake, he told the prelate that he wished to discuss matters without journalists. When the Maha-nayake rejected the request, the ambassador said he would have to limit his discussion. The Mahanayake responded saying that Mr. Wills could continue the discussion within the limitations.

US Embassy spokesman Stephen Holgate commenting on the issue said that what the ambassador meant was that holding a public discussion in the presence of journalists would not help. I was one of the journalists who were at the temple when the ambassador visited the Maha-nayake. 

Following are excerpts of the discussion between the Ambassador and the Maha-nayake:.

Ambassador: For how long have you been holding this post?

Mahanayake: For the past 11 years.

Ambassador: You would have seen many changes during this past 11 years?

Mahanayake: Yes, I have seen many changes.

Ambassador: The war has continued for the past 18 years, What do you see as the solution?

Mahanayake: The war should end, but I am not a person involved with the war.

Ambassador: How should the war end?

Mahanayake: The war should be won militarily. Thereafter steps should be taken to solve the problem.

Ambassador: There is an opinion among those who are living abroad that the war cannot be won militarily.

Mahanayake: That is the opinion of those living abroad. The war is in our country. I am speaking about the opinion of the majority of the country. We cannot live how foreigners want us to live. Not only in Sri Lanka, in any country in the world nobody can live according to the wishes of another country.

Ambassador: Some say that the problem can be solved militarily and some others say it could be solved by negotiations.

Mahanayake: That is the opinon of some.

Ambassador: What is your opinion?

Mahanayake: The war should be ended by war.

Ambassador: What do you say about the rights of the Sinhalese as well as the Tamils?

Mahanayake: The country belongs to the Sinhalese. From the ancient days all communities have been living together.The problems have been caused by foreign countries interfering in our problems.

Ambassador: Which countries ?

Mahanayake: Cannot differentiate the countries, but it is also the politicians who create trouble.

Ambassador: You have any idea of devolution of power?

Mahanayake: That's the job of the politicians.

Ambassador: Do you have anything specific to tell us?

Mahanayake: Those issues will be taken up with persons who govern the country. Whenever they come I will tell them. 

Ambassador: If I meet them in Colombo I will tell them to call on you. 

Mahanayake: No, not necessary to invite any person. 

Ambassador: My opinion is that the war cannot be won militarily. This should be solved by discussion. I think more care should be given to the Tamils. An atmosphere where both communities can live together should be created.

Exorcise the evil system

By Victor Ivan 
It was in January 1994 that Sri Lanka signed the United Nations Convention against inhuman and demeaning treatment. Thereafter a special act relating to torture was passed in Parliament in November 1994 to put into practice the provisions of that Convention. 

According to that law, torture is a serious offence punishable with a term of imprisonment not less than seven years and not more than 10. Although it's a progressive law one wonders whether it was enacted to end torture or simply please the international community ?

There is political torture as well as personal. Inspite of this resilient law, political torture appears to have increased rather than decreased. This law also does not appear to operate in the case of torture that takes place against opponents of the ruling party especially during election time.

In this context the incident relating to SSP Bandula Wickramasinghe and beautician Yvonne Turner is a glaring example of the violation of the law against inhuman treatment.

Bandula Wickramasinghe is alleged to have taken Ms. Turner into custody on a complaint made by a woman billionaire in connection with the loss of a diamond necklace. The SSP is alleged to have got a detention order from courts charging that the woman had LTTE connections.

Instead of conducting a criminal investigation, she was allegedly stripped and tortured in a most degrading manner. 

The terrified woman had fled to Sweden after undergoing treatment in hospital.

She is reported to have informed diplomatic quarters about the incident, as well as President Kumaratunga through a close associate of the President.

Finally the punishment that was meted out to Mr. Wickramasinghe was a transfer to Police Headquarters from the Colombo Detective Bureau. Whatever the criminal code may say, the government seemed to think that subjecting a woman to torture was a minor offence that should carry no greater punishment than a transfer. 

This state of affairs is not confined to one particular sphere but has spread to all spheres of life. The gravity of the offence appears to be determined by the extent of the political loyalty of the person concerned. This is not a characteristic of this government alone, the previous government, had it too. Bishop Frank Marcus uses the term 'evil administration' to sum up this state of affairs. 

Within this evil system , only ruling party members appear to have fundamental rights. It is they who get jobs and it is they who are protected by the police and other institutions that dispose justice . All others appear to be treated as second class citizens. 

It is therefore apparent that the country cannot get out of this evil state of affairs without adopting reforms and a system of government that would first and foremost establish the peoples sovereignty. The head of state should be made responsible to the judiciary, Parliament and the people. The judiciary, public service and police service should be depoliticised and there should be an electoral system where people have the right to elect their rulers freely and fairly. It is only through such a process of reform, that the people would be able to view the ethnic problem from a democratic point of view.

The writer is the editor of Ravaya

Modified monkey

ANDi, first GM primate: Will humans be next? 
By James Meek, science correspondent
The prospect of genetically modified human beings moved a step closer this week with the announcement that scientists had for the first time implanted an alien gene in a monkey, a species closely related to man. 

ANDi - "inserted DNA" backwards - a rhesus monkey, carries a gene which makes jellyfish glow green in almost every one of his trillions of natural cells. If he has offspring, they will also carry the gene. 

The US researchers who enabled ANDi's birth are not seeking to make GM people. They are trying to create transgenic monkeys which perfectly mimic human diseases, so that ways can be found to cure them. 

But rhesus monkeys and humans are so similar - they belong to the same order, the primates - that gene modification success in one is convincing evidence it would work in the other. 

"We're not interested in using this technique in humans," said Anthony Chan, of the Oregon Regional Primate Research Centre, where ANDi was born on October 2. "We don't find any reason to do so. But I think there will be a lot of discussion." 

Even setting aside the distant prospect of GM people, alarm was already being voiced yesterday about a future increase in experiments on transgenic monkeys. 

In ANDi, the jellyfish gene was used as a trial run. "We could just as easily introduce, for example, an Alzheimer's gene, to accelerate the development of a vaccine for that disease," said Dr Chan's colleague Gerald Schatten. "We're at an extraordinary moment in the history of humans." 

The easy availability of transgenic mice, modified to mimic human conditions like Alzheimer's disease and obesity, has already led to an increase in the number of animal experiments in Britain. 

"Experimentation on primates is particularly problematic because they are closer to us, because we know they are much more likely to suffer in similar ways to us," said Sue Mayer, of GeneWatch UK. "We should think extremely deeply before turning the clock back and increasing the number of experiments we sanction on primates." 

Last year the Oregon centre successfully cloned a monkey for the first time. 

The birth of ANDi, reported in today's edition of the journal Science, leaves researchers a long way from their goal: to take a primate egg, suppress or remove an inherited gene and insert another gene in exactly the right place. 

To create ANDi - who will probably now be patented - the Oregon team took 224 monkey eggs and used a modified virus to carry the jellyfish gene inside each one. The gene was then written into one of the monkey's chromosomes.

A few hours later, the eggs were fertilised with monkey sperm. A little over half developed into full-fledged embryos, and scientists implanted 40 of these in 20 surrogate monkey mothers. 

Only three monkey foetuses survived to be born, and the jellyfish gene was detected in only one, christened ANDi. Even in ANDi, the gene does not seem to be producing the chemical it should, since the monkey's hair roots and toenails do not glow under fluorescent light. 

Two monkeys which were stillborn did glow, however. 

"Efforts to make a fluorescent green monkey are not quite a glowing success - yet," commented Science magazine. "... the cumbersome technique is not likely to lead to transgenic humans, green or otherwise."

Yet scientists point out that ANDi does represent the first evidence that primate eggs can develop normally after genetic manipulation. "Ethics considerations aside, the project might have been easier to achieve in humans, for whom IVF technology is much more advanced," the journal wrote. 

Dave King, a campaigner against human genetic engineering, said yesterday: "This is yet another step on the slippery slope to designer babies ... It is science out of control and at its most irresponsible. People should wake up to the fact that genetic engineering of people could be just around the corner." 

If a more reliable technique to silence and replace targeted primate genes could be developed, without the huge wastage of eggs involved, some doctors argue that human couples who carry inheritable diseases should be offered the opportunity to have GM babies. 

"It all falls into the anti-cloning debate, the slippery slope, the Boys from Brazil - but I think we have to sideline that," said Simon Fishel, head of the IVF clinic at the Park Hospital, Nottingham.

"We've been striving for hundreds of thousands of years to eliminate human diseases. If we get to the stage in human development where the only way to do that is to attack the errors in our blueprint, then we have to try to attack those errors. It doesn't mean attacking God's work. 

"I see this as positive research. It just can't be moved into the human dimension until we get, as best we can, a guarantee of the technology."

Dominic Wells, a reader in transgenic biology at Imperial College carrying out research into gene therapy for muscular dystrophy, said of the ANDi work: "This sort of technology would be totally forbidden in humans because of the risk of damaging human genes." 

That might not always be the case, he went on. "At the moment, most of us hide behind the fact we couldn't conduct these sorts of techniques with any sort of certainty. If the technology gets to the point where you could, where we have eliminated many of the risks, we would carefully have to consider whether it was ethical or not." 

He said the world was caught between trying to restrict research which could have huge medical benefits and allowing transgenic technology to fall into unscrupulous hands. 

"Either we risk delaying medically important technologies, or we risk entering Brave New World," he said. 

Dr Mayer argued that interfering in human DNA at the egg stage would never be acceptable. "You would be experimenting on babies and the mothers who carry them. 

"All the animal work that goes on at the moment involves huge failure rates and huge suffering. I don't think we could even contemplate that with babies. The downside might not come out in the first generation but in the second or later." - Guardian, London

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