Front Page

30th December 2001

The Sunday Times on the Web















With a new government in office, many expect things to change for the better. Will there be war or peace next year, for instance? Here a policeman, anxious about what the future holds for him, getting his palm read by a soothsayer at the Galle Face Green yesterday. Pic by Gemunu Wellage

Envoy recalled to handle talks

The government has recalled one of the Sri Lanka's senior diplomats to exclusively co-ordinate upcoming negotiations with the LTTE.

Bernard Gunathillake, who was serving as ambassador in Beijing after an outstanding diplomatic performance in Geneva, has been hand-picked by the new United National Front government to liaise negotiations with the rebels through third-party facilitation by the Norwegian government. Mr. Gunathillake will function from the Foreign Ministry and co-ordinate the run-up to the peace talks with the others involved in the peace process.

The move came as the government worked out modalities to resume talks with the LTTE.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the media earlier this week on his return from an official visit to India that he hoped talks with the LTTE would begin with Norway's help some time in March.

Mr. Gunathillake earned a reputation for his negotiating skills when he served at the United Nations in Geneva as Sri Lanka's envoy during a particularly difficult time in the 1980s and early 1990s. At the time Sri Lanka was at the receiving end of a strong India-backed pro-LTTE lobby complaining about human rights excesses by government security forces.

At present, both the government and the LTTE are observing a month-long truce, running from Christmas eve to January 24. Mr. Wickremesinghe has said he expected the truce to continue thereafter as a confidence-building measure ahead of talks.

The truce itself is holding for the moment, five days after both sides agreed to hold their fire, but not without encountering difficulties. 

In one such area of possible friction, the Special Task Force (STF) has decided not to allow what it called "recognised LTTE cadres" in the East to enter into security forces-controlled areas.

STF Chief Nimal Gunathillake told The Sunday Times yesterday that orders had been issued to STF checkpoints in the Batticaloa district not to allow LTTE cadres to enter Government-controlled areas.

Taking advantage of a month-long cessation of hostilities between the government and the LTTE, some LTTE cadres on Wednesday crossed the STF checkpoint at Pattirippu.

Two of the four entry points from the uncleared areas in the Batticaloa district are manned by the STF. 

LTTE cadres wearing cyanide capsules and identification tags and some carrying walkie talkies entered the Batticaloa district through a checkpoint manned by the police at the Pattirippu bridge bridge on Wednesday, marking the first visit of an LTTE group into an army-controlled area since the truce came into effect.

The group led by Thurai, known to be in charge of the LTTE's dissemination division in the Batticaloa and Ampara districts, was allowed to pass the checkpoint and visit some of the villages where they spoke to the villagers.

The cadres said they had come to look into the welfare of the villagers and the people welcomed them with biscuits and soft drinks. 

On the following day, 19 more LTTE cadres entered the army-controlled areas through the same check point. The group arrived on motorcycles and was allowed to pass the check point manned by the STF. 

The group had lunch at a popular restaurant in Batticaloa and on their return, they were briefly detained by the army.

Batticaloa District TULF parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham had contacted Defence Secretary Austin Fernando and got the LTTE cadres released.

Meanwhile the government was yesterday working out modalities for resuming talks with the LTTE. 

Meanwhile, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said his government was having initial contacts with both sides to ascertain the basis on which talks could resume.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe telephoned his Norwegian counterpart Kjell Magne Bondevik to officially request Oslo to resume its facilitation role.

CEB to short-circuit cut 

By Shelani Perera
With a little more rain and a lot of new thinking, the Ceylon Electricity Board may not go ahead with the three-to-four-hour power cuts it wanted to impose in the New Year.

Power and Energy Ministry Secretary K. K. Y. W. Perera said emergency power supplies though expensive would be purchased from the private sector and two large thermal power plants repaired in a bid to avoid the longer power cuts.

Prof. Perera said more investors were coming in now and the ministry believed that every thing possible should be done to avoid disruptive power cuts.

Earlier this month, the Ministry had issued a statement saying water-levels in hydropower reservoirs had gone down and that one-hour power cuts were being enforced till the festive season and the GCE O/L exams ended. After that, it said the power cuts would be extended to three to four hours daily. 

Prof. Perera said yesterday the one-hour power cut would be continued for a few months though the water levels in the reservoirs had gone up with heavy rain over the past few days.

X'mas in Portugal

London-Colombo-Kathmandu for CB

From Neville de Silva in London
President Chandrika Kumaratunga who arrived in London on December 22 spent Christmas in Portugal with her children Yasodara and Vimukti, well informed sources said.

There was some speculation that the president would visit Paris before returning to London, but there was no confirmation of this.

She is expected to return to London over the weekend and will spend the New Year here before flying back to Colombo to attend the SAARC summit in Kathmandu in the first week of January.

The president is staying at the residence of High Commissioner Mangala Moonesinghe who has been unwell in recent weeks, having had to undergo surgery in November.

Meanwhile, diplomatic sources here are expecting Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando to participate in the ministerial meeting of the Commonwealth on combating terrorism.

The 10-nation-ad hoc group, of which Sri Lanka is a member, set up by Commonwealth Secretary- General Don McKinnon, is due to meet in London on January 29-30.

The experts of the committee have already met and worked out modalities which will now be put to the ministerial meeting for discussion.

The report of the ministerial committee will then be presented to the Heads of Government meeting in Queensland in Australia in early March.

Open media policy

PM to meet editors every month

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will meet editors of national newspapers once-a-month to brief them on the new Government's policies and initiatives in an effort to keep the country properly informed and to act as a sounding-board to public criticism, The Sunday Times has been informed.

Mr. Wickremesinghe who has agreed to implement media law reforms has already decided to repeal criminal defamation laws by February next year.

"He will be following an open-media policy," the newspaper was told in addition to having a continuing dialogue with all political parties and groups in and outside Parliament especially on the northern insurgency.

Ministers Karu Jayasuriya and G.L. Peiris have been designated to keep all parties, including the Tamil National Alliance and groups like the Sinhala Jathika Sangamaya led by S. L. Gunasekera briefed from time-to-time about developments in the new Government's bid to end the 20-year northern insurgency.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe will also be joining these discussions to seek the views of different parties and groups.

Ministers pass the buck

Bread prices up: bakers have no pity

By Faraza Farook
Though still baking on old flour stocks, bakers yesterday increased the price of bread by at least Rs. 1. 50 in Colombo and Rs. 2 in other areas while prices of other flour-based prices were also going up.

This came after the monopoly Prima company increased the price of flour from Rs. 17 to Rs. 20 a kilo.

Big-time bakers like Little Lion and Sumanadisi said there would be no immediate hike because they still had old stock of flour and they revise prices from this week. 

But scores of small bakeries were apparently not prepared to give even a few days' grace to the consumer and the price of bread was raised yesterday.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reportedly told the cabinet meeting on Wednesday the government had no control over the Prima company. But he promised that when large stocks of wheat flour were received from India under a trade deal he worked out last week, the government would be able to revise prices around February.

Consumer Affairs and Commerce Minister Ravi Karunanayake told The Sunday Times flour prices did not come within his purview and he told us to contact Economic Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda. But Mr. Moragoda said a statement would be made by cabinet spokesman G. L. Peiris. 

Meanwhile, a Food Department official said wheat flour prices might go up further unless the government made direct imports or provided a subsidy.

Bakers said the price of buns would go up by about 50 cents while hoppers, string hoppers and other flour-based items were also up for a hike.

Return to Front Page Contents
Front Page Archives


Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to
The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.