3rd June 2001

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Mannar yet to get Samurdhi manna

By Chris Kamalendran

Six years after about 15,000 people in the Mannar district were identified as being qualified to receive relief and assistance under the state's poverty alleviation programme, little or no action has been taken to implement the Samurdhi scheme, an opposition MP has said.

TELO leader and Parliamentarian S. Adaikalanathan said poor families in the neighbouring Vavuniya district had been benefiting from the scheme since 1996, it was yet to be implemented in the Mannar district where an initial survey had identified some 15,000 people from 54,000 applicants.

The MP warned that the situation could lead to youth unrest if measures were not taken to implement the scheme in the war-ravaged district where the livelihood of about 90 percent of the people had been hit due to security forces imposed restrictions on fishing.

He said his party would hold a protest campaign demanding the immediate implementation of the programme in the district.

Mannar's Government Agent V. Vishvalingam told The Sunday Times that documents had been sent to the ministry but he had not got a reply yet.

He said poor people in the Mannar district had been supplied with food stuffs sent by the Commissioner General of Essential services. But Mr. Adaikalanathan claimed that only displaced persons had been provided food supplies and not those who had been permanently residing in the area.

Ticket to Grade One won't be on lottery

By Chandani Kirinde

The National Education Commission's recommendations including a system of drawing lots for Grade One admissions have been rejected by the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Education, officials said.

The NEC recommended the introduction of a system followed in Singapore and the United States. Under this system 50 percent of admissions would be offered on a lottery basis while the other 50 percent would be allotted to children of past pupils, government servants in transferable jobs and other groups.

The NEC made the recommendations following a directive by the President to find a better system of school admissions that would eliminate malpractice by school officials and parents.

An NEC official said their recommendations were made after meetings with school unions, principals, members of religious groups and other interested parties.

The parliamentary committee rejected the guidelines on the grounds that this would be even more unfair than the present system where only 50 percent of placements would be available for all children while the rest would be reserved for chosen groups. Committee sources said the number of applications for admission to popular schools would double or treble if this procedure was adopted.

The twelve most popular government schools in the country, mostly of them in Colombo, receive a total of 13,000 applications a year but can admit only around 2,300 students.

However, a survey has revealed that most of the children who are admitted to Colombo schools live outside the city limits.

JVP parliamentarian Bimal Ratnayake, a member of the parliamentary consultative committee, said if the new procedure was adopted, it would only raise the expectations of many more parents who sought popular school admissions for their children.

But he said it also dimmed the chances with more applications flowing in.

Claiming that the new system offered no guarantee that it would eliminate corruption, Mr. Ratnayake said what was needed was an improvement in the standard and facilities of all smaller schools so that parents would be encouraged to admit their children to the school closest to their homes.

Protect Jayalath, world body appeals to CBK

The Geneva-based Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) has appealed to President Chandrika Kumaratunga to provide adequate security to UNP parliamentarian Jayalath Jayawardena as state-media reports linking him with the LTTE have made him a target of assassination.

Anders B. Johnsson, Secretary of the IPU's human rights committee, in a letter to the President has pointed out that the world body's 105th sessions had noted that Dr. Jayawardena's personal safety was at risk in the light of repeated public statements accusing him of having links with the LTTE.

The IPU secretary has also noted with concern that the MP has not been provided with additional security even after requests were made to the Ministry of Defence.

The IPU's appeal follows a similar appeal made through Speaker K. B. Ratnayake last year.

SB: 'If you take one, we'll take two'

Minister and SLFP General Secretary S.B. Dissanayake has warned the Opposition that the government has the right medicine to deal with any attempt to overthrow it.

In an interview, a tough talking Mr. Dissanayake said that if the Opposition tried to get one member from the PA, the Govt. knows how to get two members from the UNP.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q:The opposition is accusing the Govt. of borrowing more than US dollars 250 million from the IMF as part of stand by credit without informing Parliament. As Deputy Finance Minister what do you have to say?

A:The Opposition is bankrupt. First it accuses us of not getting foreign aid, then when we get the aid it protests. We are prepared for any debate on it. Even the JVP is going to courts. let it go ahead. It is the usual practice that conditions are placed when loans are disbursed, but the IMF cannot force us to follow these conditions. Minister G.L. Peiris is due to make a full statement in Parliament about the matter, therefore I will not elaborate.

Q: Critics say sufficient firm action has not been taken against those responsible for the recent Mawanella violence. Any comments?

A: That's wrong. The courts have remanded people and we have transferred police officers for failing to take action to prevent such incidents .

Q: But, no action has been taken against minister Maheepala Herath who is one of those accused for being responsible for these incidents. Any comment ?

A: The offenders may include persons who supported Mr. Herath during elections. I cannot deny that. But I must also say people of similar calibre supported the UNP leader also during elections in the past.

Q: Are you justifying this?

A: No. But we need to acknowledge there are thug elements in every party. The law will take its due course. It is unreasonable to accuse Mr. Herath. It is the UNP which is trying to create communal problems.

Q: Why are you blaming the UNP? There are some within your party trying to create problems. Why are you silent about them. ?

A: No we won't be silent about them. Minister Rauf Hakeem was apparently trying to gain some political mileage from Mawanella. This is like fishing in troubled waters. It's third class work. The repercussions are on the poor Muslims.

Q: Largely because of the slim majority in Parliament, isn't the Govt. in a precarious situation where it has to regularly give some form of political ransom to minority parties?

A: We have serious doubts about the stand of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress on the Mawanella violence and the proposed local government election reforms. Mr. Hakeem within the government praises the way the President and other ministers acted to defuse the tension but he goes out and tells a different story. I believe he is trying to be something like the keeper of the Muslims. We do not mind him trying to gain some power base in Mawanella, but to stir up a communal problem is wrong.

Q: That may be so but isn't the Govt. now offering a political ransom in the form of a new district?

A: There is a request and we are discussing it. There have been objections and protests. We will carefully study the matter and take a decision.

Q: But, if the opposition moves the no confidence motion against the government and against the Chief Justice the govt. will be on a tricky wicket. There are reports that even some ministers might cross over and the CID is said to be tapping telephones.

A: We may be in a weak position in Parliament and we know that the UNP wants to overthrow us. But we are alert and ready.

Q: You are among those accused of involvement in violence and malpractices during recent elections. In that backdrop isn't it somewhat of a joke that you are co-ordinating the work of a probe committee.

A: Such allegations are made by some group called PAFFREL. But no complaints have been made to the police.

Q: The peace talks and the war are deadlocked. The cost of living is rising, the economic crisis worsening and the Govt. is unstable. Where do we go from here?

A: We are continuing with the war. We want to devolve powers and end this war. We have sought international support for it. The cost of living is a major problem. we have long term policies and the results will be achieved. Have no doubts about the stability of the govt. We know how to get two persons, if one leaves. - Courtesy Lankadeepa

Aids claims the boy who shamed a president

Even in his last hours the unconscious skeletal figure of Nkosi Johnson was embroiled in South Africa's wrangling over what is Aids.

The 12-year-old boy who humiliated and scolded President Thabo Mbeki to his face for his government's refusal to supply pregnant women with the drugs that could save their babies from HIV clung to life so far beyond his doctors' predictions that he slipped from the forefront of public consciousness.

The daily updates on his condition dropped away. His imposing white foster mother, Gail Johnson, was rarely heard from.

But just hours before Nkosi finally succumbed early yesterday to the Aids that ravaged his tiny body for months, he was again at the centre of racially charged turmoil provoked by the disease.

A black doctor created a storm of protest earlier this week when she filed a complaint with the South African human rights commission accusing Ms Johnson of abusing the child for financial gain.

Hilda Khoza, a reflexologist, claimed that Nkosi was fit to go to school and that from television pictures she had diagnosed him as merely suffering from constipation.

In other circumstances the accusation of abuse might have been dismissed as ludicrous or cruel, but it once again touched on Mr Mbeki's implied claim that Aids is an elaborate hoax perpetuated by the west on Africa.

The racial undertones were clear in Dr Khoza's evident objection to a white woman fostering a black child.

Ms Johnson was so distressed that she did what she had long resisted: on Thursday she let press photographers show the outside world how frail Nkosi was.

The pictures reveal a child who, in different circumstances, might be mistaken for a victim of famine.

He lies with eyes shut, his tiny frail arms crossed, a feeding tube running into his nose. A few hours later he was dead.

The tributes flowed. "It is a great pity. He was an example in showing how one should handle a disease of this nature," said Nelson Mandela, who regularly checked on his health.

"Although it must be a relief for that wonderful woman Gail Johnson, nevertheless we are sorry about it."

The African National Congress said it was ironic that the government's recent victory over the multinational drug companies permitting the import of cheaper medicines had come too late for Nkosi.

But in practice the court victory will not mean access to the kind of drugs that would have saved the young boy.

Nkosi died on International Children's Day and a rally outside parliament in Cape Town respected a minute's silence for the child believed to have lived with HIV longer than any other in South Africa.

He certainly lasted longer than his foster mother thought possible.

After Nkosi collapsed in December, Ms Johnson and the doctors predicted that he had just days, at best weeks, to live. But he lasted for months.

Nkosi's speech rebuking Mr Mbeki shook last July's international Aids conference in Durban.

"Babies are dying very quickly and I know one little abandoned baby who came to stay with us and his name was Micky," Nkosi said.

"He couldn't breathe, he couldn't eat and he was so sick and my mummy, Gail, had to phone welfare to have him admitted to a hospital and he died.

"But he was such a cute little baby and I think the government must start doing it because I don't want babies to die."

Nkosi talked to the conference of growing up, but almost everyone there knew that was not going to happen.

He was born with the virus and Aids claimed his mother's life four years ago.

Nkosi's words gave voice to the rage that many South Africans feel at their government's failure to act against Aids, particularly the politicking around the failure to supply drugs which could prevent unborn children contracting HIV.

Nkosi Johnson was among the reasons that Mr Mbeki toned down his questioning of the link between HIV and Aids.

For a while it was believed that the president might even rethink his policy completely, but a recent television interview revealed that his views about the virus that infects more than 4m South Africans were as contentious as ever.

As Nkosi lay dying, there were many calls for Mr Mbeki to visit the child. His wife went, as did Winnie Mandela.

But the president stayed away. - The Guardian

Philippines embroiled in kidnap stand off

MANILA, Saturday (AFP) Negotiations were underway Saturday to resolve a standoff at a hospital in the southern Philippines where Muslim kidnappers are holding about 200 people hostage, a military spokesman said.

The negotiations and military action go hand in hand... these are not two separate actions," Brigadier General Edilberto Adan told a news conference as soldiers battled the rebels holed up at Fe Torres Memorial private hospital in the town of Lamitan on Basilan island." There are no reports as to how many patients or hospital staff are now inside but what we know it is now ringed by our troops and negotiations... are now now taking place so that this standoff will be resolved." Adan said. The presidential palace on Friday confirmed it had sent an emissary to the Abu Sayyaf but only to negotiate surrender and the safe release of the 20 hostages, seized from a high-end resort in the western island of Palawan last Sunday. Manila has firmly maintained its no-ransom policy. The rebels eluded a military pursuit after taking the hostages and fled from Palawan to their stronghold in the island of Basilan, where they seized more hostages from a church and hospital.

The rebels said they had taken about 200 more hostages and threatened to blow up the buildings along with the hostages, mostly hospital patients, if the military continued its assault against the rebels, Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya told Radio Mindanao Network (RMN). An Abu Sayyaf suicide squad "is now in control of a church and hospital with around 200 hostages," spokesman Abu Sabaya told the station in the southern city of Zamboanga." Now if the military will not stop the operation, we might be forced to execute our hostages," he warned, as the sound of gunfire reverberated in the background. Adan warned tandem negotiations and military operations could be a drawn-out process."

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