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19th August 2001
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Kurana carnage: The wreckage of the 
MiG 27 fighter jet near an upstair house 
on which it crashed in a ball of  fire.
Pic by Gemunu Wellage

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Mirrror Magazine

MiG ball of fire crashes at Kurana: pilot killed, six injured

By Faraza Farook 
As Sri Lanka picked up the pieces from the Katunayake catastrophe where at least 13 aircraft were destroyed, another calamity hit yesterday when an SLAF MiG 27 jet crashed on to a row of houses near Katunayake, killing the pilot and injuring six residents.

The MiG 27 piloted by Ukrainian Captain L. Veralli, was on a routine training mission with another aircraft following when it crashed around 11 a.m. at Kurana, according to military spokesman Sanath Karunaratne.

Eyewitnesses said they saw a ball of fire crashing down near the lagoon, hitting about six houses.

Air Force spokesman Ajith Wijesundara told The Sunday Times a technical team had been rushed to scene for investigations, and they found the black box flight recorder. The Air Force commander has appointed a four-member inquiry team.

Kurana residents Sujith Perera and Shantha Fonseka said they saw two aircraft flying at a low altitude. Then they heard a blast and saw one aircraft crashing in a ball of fire.

Mr. Fonseka said he ran to his house and took his mother out fearing that other houses too would be engulfed in the fire. He said that when he went near the lagoon, he saw a part of the plane with the leg and boot of a person, presumably that of the Russian pilot.

Six people injured by the crashing aircraft were warded in hospital with two said to be in a serious condition. The impact of the crash was so severe that live electric wires caught fire and panic stricken people were seen running for cover.

Rajitha Serasinghe, whose house was directly hit by the crashing aircraft, said he heard a noise, but did not really know what was happening until a huge ball of fire slammed in. 

A shocked Mr. Serasinghe said it was something like what he saw in films. He escaped without serious injuries but his father and brother who were inside the house suffered severe burn injuries.

UN envoy wants CJ to step aside

By Nilika de Silva
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of the judiciary has written to the Sri Lankan Government requesting that Chief Justice Sarath Silva step aside until the impeachment motion against him is disposed of, while a delegation of international jurists have been prevented from visiting the country to assess the rule of law here.

The UN special rapporteur on the independence of the judiciary, Param Coomaraswamy, is reported to have written to President Chandrika Kumaratunga through Sri Lanka's ambassador in Geneva requesting her to ensure that Chief Justice Sarath Silva who is facing an impeachment motion by the combined opposition in Parliament steps down from the bench, and also refrains from constituting benches until such time the select committee probing his conduct disposes of the charges against him.

Legal sources point out that the UN special rapporteur's suggestion to the President to ask the chief justice to step aside could be construed as an interference by the Executive under Sri Lanka's constitution which has separation of powers enshrined in it. They have suggested that the UN representative write directly to the chief justice instead, but UN protocol prohibits him from dealing other than with governments.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson has in the meantime also written to the Sri Lankan government requesting permission and dates for the UN special rapporteur to visit the country to assess the independence of the judiciary, but the government has yet to respond to her request.

Meanwhile, Lord Brennan, a former Chairman of the Bar Council of England and a ruling Labour Party peer who was to head a delegation to Colombo beginning next week on behalf of the International Bar Association (IBA) to assess the rule of law situation in the country was refused a visa to enter the country by the High Commission in London.

Former IBA president Desmond Fernando told The Sunday Times last night that Lord Brennan had been told that he could not be given a visa because he had no confirmed appointments in Colombo.

When the High Commission had been told that Justice Minister Batty Weerakoon and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had given him appointments, the High Commission had turned around and said that Lord Brennen could not be given a visa because Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was not available for a meeting.

Lord Brennen had requested to meet Mr. Kadirgamar and President Kumaratunga along with the rest of the IBA delegation comprising Mr. Kyatt, chairman of the Bar Council of Malaysia and Justice Malimath, a former chief justice of Karnataka state in India.

Both Mr. Kyatt and Justice Malimath had been granted visas, but last morning Justice Malimath received a telephone call from Sri Lanka's deputy high commission in Chennai to say that his visa was being withdrawn. No reasons were given.

Justice Malimath had indicated a willingness to come to Colombo today (Sunday) notwithstanding the cancellation of the visa, but had spoken to India's High Commissioner in Colombo Gopal Gandhi and decided to skip the visit.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Colombo told The Sunday Times last night that the IBA had requested a visa for Lord Brennen to visit Colombo only the day before he was scheduled to leave London.

The IBA was informed that the visit on the days proposed would not be convenient by the Government given the shortness of the notice.

"It is an accepted principle that any international organisation, even a UN body, wishing to undertake a mission of this nature should seek the concurrence of the Government," the spokesman said.

The Government is learnt to have requested the IBA to reschedule the proposed visit for mutually agreed dates.

"The IBA delegation is welcome to visit Colombo on such agreed dates during which arrangements could be made for them to meet such Ministers and other Government officials as may be available," the spokesman added.

He said that the UN's Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Abid Hussein would be in Sri Lanka on mutually agreed dates in November for discussions with the Government leaders on media freedom and other issues in Sri Lanka. 

Among the issues the IBA was to study during the stay in Sri Lanka was the President's decision to prorogue Parliament, the holding of a referendum to enshrine a new constitution, the question of amending or enacting a new constitution through extra-parliamentary methods and the independence of the judiciary.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry has warned diplomats and foreign funded NGOs that statements by them on the current Sri Lankan situation might amount to an interference in the country's internal affairs.

The ministry in a note to members of the diplomatic corps, UN offices and specialised agencies said such public statement whether solicited or otherwise would be contrary to the well -established norms of diplomatic conduct and practice.

It has invited the attention of resident diplomatic missions to the relevant provisions of the Vienna Convention relating to the Diplomatic Relations, in particular Article 41.

The Foreign Ministry has stated that if any diplomat or diplomatic mission wished to make any representation, it could be done through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or with its knowledge.

14 killed, 50 injured in train disaster

By Chris Kamalendran
In one of the worst train disasters in recent years, at least 14 people were killed and more than 50 injured when the Colombo-bound Udarata Menike express from Badulla crashed off the rails near Alawwa yesterday evening.

Four of the train's five carriages, including the observation car, were smashed in the derailment when the train was taking a bend at high speed, eyewitnesses said.

Most of the passengers were trapped under the carriages and villagers moved in fast with police and the Army to rescue and rush them to Alawwa, Mirigama, Kurunegala and Ragama hospitals. At least three of the injured were in critical conditions and taken to the National hospital in Colombo.

Rescue workers said last night at least two of the bodies were still stuck at the scene of horror.

Railway Chief W. K. Weragama rushed to the scene of the tragedy last night while Transport Minister Dinesh Gunewardena ordered a full probe and assured compensation for the families of victims. 

Eyewitness K. Karunasena said the engine and the first compartment of the well-known up country express had delinked from the other compartments and proceeded about 100 meters before coming to a halt.

Railway Control Room officials said last night that services on the main line may be partially affected but they hoped to restore normalcy because only one of the two tracks had been damaged.

Ministers also to submit resignations

By Shelani de Silva
At least five cabinet ministers have already indicated they will follow the 28 deputy ministers and submit undated letters of resignation to President Kumaratunga within the next few days.

But in a jigsaw puzzle political scenario, the undated letters of resignation have produced more questions than answers with totally contrasting views coming from different camps.

Opposition sources said the resignations were apparently intended to prevent crossovers amidst reports that upto 20 PA members, including some minister, were on the fence.

But a spokesman for the deputy ministers who submitted the undated letters said their intention was to give the President a free and strong hand to deal with the crisis and to show that they or their posts were not up for auction.

But a dissenting voice among deputy ministers was that of Dallas Alahapperuma, deputy minister of Samurdhi Affairs. 

At one time a frontliner among the deputy ministers, Mr. Alahapperuma has in recent months been identified with a group advocating consensus or a national government with the UNP.

Mr. Alahapperuma, whose minister S. B. Dissanayake is also known to be clashing with the President, said he would submit his resignation only if requested by the people of his electoral district of Matara.

Mr. Alahapperuma said that if the deputy ministers unanimously decided to give up their perks and salaries due to the present crisis, he would be the first to send the letter of resignation. But The Sunday Times learns that though the 28 deputy ministers have given their letters of resignation from their portfolios and seats in parliament, they continue to enjoy all the perks and privileges of that office.

He said he would also be ready to resign if it was intended to pave the way for all to get together and solved the national crisis. Mr. Alahapperuma said that as he saw it, last Thursday's move by the deputy ministers was ridiculous and part of a conspiracy by some deputy ministers.

Deputy Minister Nandasena Herath speaking for those who submitted the letters said their move was intended to show full solidarity and stand by the President at a time of crisis. 

Meanwhile, Ministers Reggie Ranatunga and Alawi Moulana announced they too would be submitting undated letters of resignation to the President as a sign of loyalty and solidarity with her.

The Sunday Times learns that Ministers Pavitra Wanniarachchi, Milroy Fernando and Mahipala Herath are also to submit letters of resignation.


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