29th April 2001
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Press Freedom Day:

Focus on key issues

The Editors Guild in association with UNESCO will mark World Press Freedom Day on Thursday May 3 with a seminar at the BMICH.

Justice Minister Batty Weerakoon and Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe will make keynote addresses followed by sessions on important issues. 

World Press Freedom Day is commemorated worldwide by the United Nations to sensitise the people about the role of the press in a democracy. In a joint message UN's Secretary General Kofi Annan, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura have called upon decision-makers to ensure journalists could peruse their work unhindered and undeterred so that people could benefit from the free flow of ideas.

The May 3 seminar in Colombo will have sessions on Global trends and challenges to press freedom; Codes of Ethics and Self-regulation; transparency and the Freedom of Information Act and the Economics of Press Freedom.

LTTE says won't drop conditions 

By Chris Kamalendran
The LTTE has reiterated that the government should declare a ceasefire and lift the ban on the rebel group before peace talks.

The LTTE's political wing leader, S. P. Thamilchelvam, repeated the conditions during three hours of talks with Catholic Bishops who visited the Wanni for a peace mission on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The LTTE said it was willing to halt hostilities if the government showed 'genuine desire for peace talks', by declaring a ceasefire.

The bishops were told that the LTTE wanted to come for talks 'with dignity and respect' and therefore was insisting that the ban on the group should be lifted before any talks.

The bishops reportedly urged the LTTE to drop some of the conditions and start talks immediately, but the Tigers reacted negatively, saying they could not go back to the people 'with empty hands'.

Trincomalee/Batticaloa Bishop Kingsley Swampillai told The Sunday Times they had got the impression that the LTTE was willing to settle something short of a separate state. He said the LTTE was aware that the international community would not recognise a separate state and therefore the group would not insist on separation.

The bishops are expected to meet President Chandrika Kumaratunga soon to discuss the situation.

In a statement on Friday, the President said the government was still ready for talks but there would be no ceasefire.

Athas case tomorrow

The case in which Sunday Times Consultant Editor and Defence Correspondent Iqbal Athas was allegedly harassed and intimidated by two Air Force officers, now under interdiction, comes up for hearing for the eighth time tomorrow.

The case was last taken up on February 16 when it was postponed for April 30 by Colombo High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya on a request made by the counsel for the second accused. This was on the grounds that he wanted time to prepare for the case. The Senior State Counsel was also not present. 

On the previous date of the hearing in December, the court was informed that the first accused's lawyer A.R.C. Perera had taken up a foreign posting and the lawyer currently handling the case wanted more time to prepare for it. The case was then postponed for February 16 by Colombo High Court Judge Andrew Somawansa. 

Two Air Force officers, Squadron Leader H.M. Rukman Herath and Squadron.Leader D.S.P. Kannangara, are indicted for committing criminal trespass, intimidation, and unlawful entry with weapons into the residence of Mr. Athas on February 12, 1998 and for threatening him and other members of his family.

Sq. Ldr. Herath was the bodyguard of a former Air Force Commander and Sq. Ldr. Kannangara was the Officer in charge of Special Air Borne Force(SABF).

Taken into custody by the CID on a complaint made by Mr Athas, the officers were produced before the Gangodawila Magistrate for an identification parade. They were remanded after Mr .Athas and his wife Anoma identified them but were later released on bail. 

Learning each other's languages

By Chandani Kirinde
As an important step towards national unity, Sinhala MPs are to learn Tamil and Tamil MPs Sinhala.

An official of the Department of Official Languages which functions under the Ministry of National Integration said upto 40 MPs including ministers had expressed willingness to follow the classes which would begin soon at the parliamentary complex. The official said advance methods and special audio-visual equipment would be used for the language training. 

Some MPs also want to learn more English. 

Doctor given bail

A medical officer who earlier served at the Galle Mahamodera Teaching Hospital and now works at a private clinic, has been charged with causing the death of a pregnant woman by giving blood of a wrong group.

Galle Police last week arrested the doctor and produced her in court. Police asked that she be remanded but the doctor was allowed bail and the case fixed for Wednesday. The victim, K.A. Kusuma of Angunukolapelassa near Tangalle, was reported to have needed Blood type 'O', but the doctor is alleged to have prescribed blood group A. The victim's husband Siripala Nanayakkara later complained to the authorities. 

Dissidents snub Mahinda

The crisis in the UNP spilled over to the Mahinda Samarasinghe felicitation ceremony in Matugama yesterday.

Mr. Samarasinghe having a celebration to mark his appointment to a human rights post in the Inter-parliamentary Union, had invited all 225 MPs for the ceremony, but only about 10 UNP MPs including party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, turned up. None of the so-called dissident group MPs was present, apparently because Mr. Samarasinghe is known to be a staunch Wickremesinghe loyalist.


Standing to the tune
The VIPs who recently attended a state function at the BMICH to award medals to war heroes stood to attention when the "Danno Budunge" tune was played over the public address system.

When the tune was played a VVIP promptly stood up and was soon followed by other invitees including the military top brass.

After a few uncomfortable minutes a minister was seen whispering in the VVIP's ear. The VVIP promptly took her seat. All the others followed suit. 

Ding-dong battle over state media
The UNP is to take legal action against certain sections of the state media for telecasting a false news item related to the crisis in the party.

Chief whip W. J. M. Lokubandara said Rupavahini on Thursday night referred to a UNP dissident group which threatened to expose party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe's alleged links with LTTE leader Prabhakaran.

Mr. Lokubandara also said the diplomatic missions would be informed how the government was handling the media.

Preethi Vesak
Outspoken Buddhist monk Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera is in the news once again. At a panel discussion over a private television channel he took printers and vendors of Vesak greeting cards to task for carrying voluptuous female figures and love poems which made a mockery of the sacred day. He said most of the Vesak greeting cards were fit for the Valentine's Day. 

Delayed fulfilment 

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) nominee H. M. Farook left for Kenya last week to take up his ambassador post. 

Mr. Farook's long-delayed departure came amidst speculation whether the ruling People's Alliance which clinched a Budget deal with minority parties at the eleventh hour would honour its pledge.

UNPer in alleged gun-running

By Sunil Jayathilake 
A top UNP politician in Matale has allegedly been involved in buying firearms produced at an illegal factory busted last week, and in the sale of a T 56, Police said.

A T 56 weapon smuggled out of the Army on April 9, was allegedly sold to this politician for Rs. 25,000, suspects in custody have told police.

Of the six persons nabbed at Rusirugama in Matale on April 20 for having illegally sold arms, four have been found to be supporters of this politico.

It has further been found that they have bought these firearms while at the residence of this politico.


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