SAARC summit amidst storm
Despite India and Pakistan plunging to the brink of what they are calling
a "final war", Nepal has finalised arrangements for the SAARC summit from
January 4 to 6.
Officials of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation met
in Nepalese capital Katmandu yesterday to prepare a wide-ranging agenda
which would be put in shape by foreign secretaries and foreign ministers
before being put to the summit.
Sri Lanka will be represented by President Chandrika Kumaratunga who
had taken over as SAARC chairperson during the Colombo summit in 1998 and
continued for almost three years because the annual summit was postponed
She will hand over the chair to Nepal. Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando
who will represent Sri Lanka at the ministerial meeting said regional development
and terrorism would be among the main topics on the agenda while the reports
of the eminent persons group would be studied.
Security in Kathmandu is reported to be tight, especially after the
December 13 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament and an upsurge in
Maoist rebellion in Nepal.
The Nepalese government has declared January 4, the first day of the
South Asian summit, a holiday for the residents of the capital Kathmandu,
state-run radio said today.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan President General
Pervez Musharraf have confirmed their participation despite escalating
tensions between the two neighbours.
India also said it would allow Musharraf to fly over its airspace to
attend the summit in Nepal, despite a ban imposed on Pakistani aircraft
flying over Indian airspace from January 1.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) formed,
in 1985, groups Indian, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka
Fowzie, Batty, Mahinda back peace move
Though the President is yet to make her stand on the new government's peace
initiative clear, several former ministers who are members of the defeated
People's Alliance have welcomed it with a note of caution and a call for
Former minister and the PA's Colombo District leader, A.H.M. Fowzie
said he would welcome any move to stop this unwanted war. "Twenty years
of an unwanted war have sapped our resources. Tens of thousands of people
have been killed and more than 20,000 people maimed while hundreds of thousands
have been internally displaced," Mr. Fowzie said adding that the PA was
not opposed to peace.
"We tried to end the war through dialogue in August last year. Unfortunately
due to one or two conditions laid down by the LTTE, we could not go ahead
with our peace initiative," he said.
Calling on all Sri Lankans to rally round the prime minister to make
his mission a success, Mr. Fowzie said the country would be able to save
about Rs. 30 billion war expenditure and divert it for development projects
if the war was brought to an end.
He said the PA as a responsible opposition should support the peace
effort and urged Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to discuss the peace
initiative with President Kumara-tunga and other PA leaders, especially
former foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.
"The Prime Minister has displayed much confidence in removing barriers,
and taking steps to relax the economic embargo effectively in the uncleared
areas. I hope the LTTE will also take similar steps to keep hopes of peace
alive," Mr. Fowzie said.
Former minister and LSSP leader Batty Weerakoon also welcomed the peace
initiative but called for greater transparency.
"Our position is that talks could be held in confidence but the people
must know the agenda," he said.
Mr. Weerakoon said that going by what the Norwegian Prime Minister had
told the BBC in an interview, it appeared that the peace initiative had
been launched without the necessary preliminary work. Pointing out the
LTTE's track record vis-a-vis peace initiatives of past governments, Mr.
Weerakoon warned Premier Wickremesinghe to handle the issue carefully and
Chief opposition whip and former Minister Mahinda Rajapakse said: "Personally,
I welcome any moves towards peace. Everybody wants peace. However, the
government has not informed the PA of anything officially."
PIA cancels Colombo flights
Pakistan's national carrier PIA has suspended flights to and from Colombo
following India's decision to deny airspace to Pakistan flights as tension
between the two countries hit flash point.
A spokesperson for PIA said yesterday they were making alternative arrangements
for passengers who had already booked to be accommodated on other airlines.
Government arms itself for crackdown on arms
A list of weapons issued by state institutions to unauthorised persons
or are not accountable is being prepared under orders of Interior Minister
John Amaratunga as a prelude to the weapons amnesty which begins on Tuesday.
Some police units are alleged to have issued weapons to certain police
stations outside the official quota for selected officers to carry out
illegal activities during elections.
Mr. Amaratunga said the list would help the government to seize unauthorised
weapons soon after the amnesty for their surrender ends on January 15.
Any person found to be in possession of unlicensed firearms and unauthorised
explosives after the amnesty would be liable to be arrested, according
to a notice issued by Interior Ministry Secretary N. M. Junaid.
The governments hopes to launch a major crackdown on the underworld
and other criminal elements after the amnesty ends.
Bid to revive police morale
By Chris Kamalendran
New Interior Minister John Amaratunga has directed Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku
to appoint three committees to probe alleged political victimization, political
transfers and promotions.
Mr. Amaratunga told The Sunday Times the appointment of these committees
to be headed by three Deputy Inspectors General was aimed at promoting
motivation and discipline and restoring public confidence in Police.
The committees, which are being set up in terms of the recently-passed
17th Amendment, will look into the grievances of police officers and recommend
measures to improve the welfare of the police officers and ways to improve
the efficiency of the police force.
"Once these committees are set up, police officers will not have to
go to courts with regard to their promotions and transfers," Mr. Amaratunga
He said the police chief had been directed to take a series of other
measures related to police welfare such as housing and barrack facilities.
City buses coming
Private bus operators are planning to start city services following the
opening of roads and removal of security restrictions.
Private Bus Owners Association Chief Gemunu Wijeratne said they would
discuss the matter with the police and other authorities before launching
the internal city services similar to the earlier trolley bus service.