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4th November 2001

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Although all of  the anthrax scares in Sri Lanka have proved to be hoaxes, the authorities are taking no chances. This Public Health Department official of the Colombo Municipal Council was all geared up in something like a space kit when he checked an envelope containing a suspicious powder. Pic by Gemunu Wellage

Britain freezing LTTE funds

By Neville de Silva in London
The United States and Britain tightened their laws on banned terrorist organisations such as the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) this week, especially in regard to freezing of assets and bank accounts.

In Britain, Her Majesty's Treasury, in coordination with US authorities on Friday circulated through the Bank of England a list of 25 organisations, including the LTTE, to financial institutions requiring that assets belonging to them be frozen.

British Treasury Secretary Gordon Brown said: "Those named today have committed or pose a real risk of committing or funding acts of terrorism. They will find no safe haven for their assets in the UK. I expect all financial institutions to check their records and freeze the assets of those named wherever found.

"Today's list is further evidence following the Financial Action Task Force's recommendations earlier this week of concerted international co-operation to disrupt and destroy the financing networks of terrorists. The UK will continue to play a leading role in this work.

"The ready supply of finance is the lifeblood of modern terrorism. Those who finance terrorism are as guilty as those who commit it. UK domestic controls of terrorist financing are already among the best in the world, but we will do whatever is necessary to deprive terrorists of the funds they rely on. Just as there is no safe haven for terrorists there is no safe hiding place for their funds." 

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has issued new international standards to combat terrorist financing, calling upon all countries to adopt and implement in a bid to deny terrorists and their supporters access to the international financial system.

They have set out to provide the "widest possible assistance" to other countries' law enforcement and regulatory authorities for terrorist financing investigations and to ensure that entities, "particularly non-profit organisations" are precluded from misusing funds for terrorist activity.

Referring to non-profit organisations, it was decided that countries review the adequacy of laws and regulations that relate to entities that can be abused for the financing of terrorism. Non-profit organisations are particularly vulnerable to terrorist organisations posing as legitimate entities, it states.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who was on the same "Breakfast with Frost", television programme, is understood to have told President Kumaratunga during a break in the programme, that the LTTE will also be caught up in the new laws. He said the new laws would give strength to the Terrorism Act 2000 under which the Tamil Tigers and 20 other organisations were outlawed as terrorist groups, well informed sources said.

Home Secretary David Blunkett had also given President Kumaratunga the same assurance when they met on Tuesday morning.

The Sri Lankan leader had pointed out that despite Britain's terrorism law, the LTTE was still engaged in extortion, credit card rackets and petrol filling station operations to fund its war machine.

After the ban on the LTTE, it continues to operate through other Tamil organisations that hold cultural and other events, ostensibly to raise money for refugee rehabilitation in northern Sri Lanka. New organisations have also emerged and function without any apparent link to the LTTE.

The discovery that Al Qaeda, the organisation held responsible for the September 11 attacks and is banned in Britain, operated several bank accounts and laundered money has exposed Britain's laxity and lack of sufficient intelligence surveillance.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the US Government announced that the list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations, on which the LTTE is listed, has been merged with the list established by President Bush in the wake of the September 11 attack on the United States. The Bush list consisted of mainly Islamic fundamentalist groups.

Million pounds for UK PR firm?

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kuma-ratunga's miserable propaganda blitz in the western media this week will cost the nation's coffers a tidy sum.

The reason? The campaign which boomeranged has been lined up by the British public relations firm Bell Pottinger the company that conducted image-building exercises for Chile's one time dictator and now ailing Augusto Pinochet and is currently on-the-job for Emirates Airlines.

The cost for hiring this PR group, some highly-placed government sources say, is as high as a million sterling pounds or our Rs. 120 million enough money to launch a newspaper group. But officials who dealt with the matter remained tight lipped. They would neither confirm nor deny the prohibitive cost for the media blunders.

This group had ealier suggested former US President Jimmy Carter to negotiate with the LTTE.

The Sunday Times learns that a long-planned visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by President Kumaratunga was cancelled at the last moment to pave the way for her British tour, which the Presidential Secretariat dubbed as a "working visit".

The Larger part of President Kumaratunga's recent five-day visit to Britain was spent on giving interviews to BBC, CNN and other media.

SAARC summit in Jan.

Sri Lanka is to hand-over the chairmanship of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in January next year, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar told The Sunday Times yesterday.

Mr. Kadirgamar said the dates for the summit meeting had been confirmed for January 4, 5 and 6 next year. The summit will be held in Katmandu.

Nepal will assume the leadership of the seven-nation regional grouping that has been unable to hold a summit of heads of government since the 1998 meeting in Colombo, mainly because of differences between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and especially after the skirmishes between Indian soldiers and Pakistan-backed militia in Kargil, the mountainous glaciers separating the two countries.

As a result of these differences, Sri Lanka has had an extended three and a half year term as chairman when the normal term is an year.

Mr. Kadirgamar said the Foreign Ministers of SAARC may meet in New York on a date yet to be finalised during the truncated United Nations General Assembly sessions between November 10 and 16.

He told The Sunday Times the Foreign Ministers would be visiting New York at the time, some of them accompanying their prime ministers or presidents, but it was still not certain whether they would all be there at the same time for a formal meeting.

Usually, SAARC Foreign Ministers meet as the Council of Ministers before the Heads of Government meet.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Bangladesh's new Prime Minister Khaleda Zia are due to visit New York for the General Assembly sessions accompanied by their foreign ministers.

Passport for JVP godfather but for UK-SL travel only

By M. Ismeth
A new passport for the JVP's self-exiled leader Somawansa Amarasinghe to return has been sent by diplomatic bag to London, The Sunday Times learns.

The passport No. M 2091658 issued on October 26, 2001 is only valid for travel between Britain and Sri Lanka with Mr. Amarasinghe being expected to return soon to lead the JVP's election campaign.

Mr. Amarasinghe, the only survivor of the ten-member JVP politburo after the second revolution, escaped by boat to India and then to Europe.

The near-VIP treatment given to Mr. Amarasinghe, according to political observers, is an indication of a continuing link between the ruling PA and the JVP though they are campaigning separately for next month's elections.

The UNP meanwhile is likely to take a tough stand against the JVP with outspoken Rajitha Senaratne saying he would press for Mr. Amarasinghe's arrest for killings during the 1987-90 insurrection.

Opinion poll next week

As the elections campaign intensifies, The Sunday Times will next week exclusively publish the results of the first round of an opinion poll conducted by Survey Research Lanka (SRL) and Org Marg Smart.

A spokesperson for one of the opinion poll company said these polls were started for the first time with the 1994 General Elections and then followed by the 1999 Presidential and 2000 General Elections.

In between the company had conducted many other opinion polls on current issues that were important to the country and its citizens. The spokesperson said the feedback received from the public so far has been very positive, especially since the actual outcome of the elections was very much in line with what the polls indicated.

However, the foremost objective of the polls was not to predict the outcome of the election, but to understand how the Sri Lankan voter's mind behaves in terms of emotional and rational thinking when going to vote.

C'wealth won't downgrade anti-terror body

The Commonwealth Secretary General Don Mckinnon appears to have over-ruled an objection by Australia reportedly backed behind-the-scenes by Britain and Canada to downgrade the 10-nation Special Committee on Terrorism in its efforts to join the crusade against global terrorism.

The Commonwealth Secretariat had earlier decided to have the 10 nation Committee on Terrorism at Ministerial-level.

Australia had formally written to the Commonwealth Secretariat in London saying that it felt it was best to deliberate first at the level of senior officials before having the Foreign Ministers take part. Britain and Canada are reportedly backing Australia's call.

Others, including India, Malaysia, Tanzania and Sri Lanka, are vehemently opposed to the attempt to downgrade the level of participation seeing this as a clear attempt by countries hosting sympathisers of terrorist groups to avoid high-level accusations of double-standards in the fight against global terrorism.

The Commonwealth Secretariat, widely criticised for its inaction and being caught off-guard on the subject when the September 11 attacks on the US took place, regrouped to form a ten-nation committee to represent the 54-member states that form the Commonwealth.

The ten nations picked by the grouping's secretary general, former New Zealand foreign minister Don McKinnon, are Britain, Canada, Australia, India, the Bahamas, Tanzania, Tonga, Malaysia, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Mr. Mckinnon, however, has stuck to his guns and convened a ministerial level meeting for November 19 and a preparatory meeting of officials for November 9 where they would draft the terms of references for the Ministers to act on the Commonwealth statement issued on October 25.

The strongly worded statement issued by the Commonwealth Heads of Government last week, claiming to be the largest association of democracies around the world, condemned any nation that harbours, supports or provides funds for "any terrorist activity".

It said that any member of the grouping of Britain and its former colonies that "aids, supports, instigates, finances or harbours terrorists" should be expelled from the Commonwealth.

The British High Commission in Colombo in a communication to The Sunday Times said: "We have accepted the Secretary General's invitation to participate in his proposed committee" but went on to add that "planning for this committee is still at an early stage.

"It is not clear exactly what the focus of the group will be, or at what level countries will participate. We have taken no firm decisions as to who will represent the UK," the statement added.

Diplomatic sources here in Colombo said that it was ironic that while British Prime Minister Tony Blair was hammering out on the scourge of terrorism, his government was reluctant to join in a high-powered committee of the (British) Commonwealth to root out the very problem he was so actively engaged in these days.

British High Commissioner Linda Duffield told a business leaders meeting yesterday that her government condemned terrorism "in every form and every country" but said that a negotiated settlement was the best security for lasting peace to Sri Lanka's terrorist problem.

She, however, reminded "those who have chosen the path of violence as a means of achieving their goals" that world opinion was not on their side. "There can be no justification for terrorism. They too must realise that peace with security can only come through a political process."

Grenade lobbed into newspaper office

A grenade lobbed into the Upali Newspaper premises yesterday morning was defused by the Bomb squad after being detected by an employee.

The police suspect that the grenade may have been thrown over the wall, which runs parallel to the Divaina editorial, Sunday Island News Editor Suresh Perera said. "One of the employees had seen it around 8 a.m. and informed the security who in turn alerted the Kotahena police," Mr. Perera said. 

The live grenade, which failed to explode was later defused by the bomb squad. Adjoining the wall from where the grenade is suspected to have been thrown is a rest room used by minor employees. The news editor said they were unable to determine the motive behind the attack or the persons involved. 

Recently the PA's Colombo Central candidate Mervyn Silva stormed the Divaina office to protest against a story published in the Divaina. After the incident, the newspaper group has sought police protection, but there has been no positive response.

Abuse goes on

By Shelani de Silva
As violence increases, the Elections Department is also receiving an increasing number of complaints regarding misuse of state property, illegal transfers and related violations of polls laws.

An official of a special unit monitoring these matters said upto 70 complaints had been received by Friday afternoon, while there might have been scores more which are unreported.

The official said they were taking immediate action and had asked the relevant ministry secretaries to withdraw the facilities that were being illegally used. In Gampola district, about ten double cabs belonging to state organisations are allegedly being used for party political work, a watchdog group has reported.

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