30th December 2001

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To ensure a smooth traffic flow on New year's eve police have put up such boards opposite leading hotels in the city. Pic by Gemunu Wellage

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 twice.

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 and Bhutan.

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 greater transparency.

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 diligently.

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 said.

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.

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