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6th January 2002

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The city of gems was a sea of heads despite the rain yesterday as Ratnapura gave a final farewell to one of its great sons, Gamini Atukorale. The mourners led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe included leaders of all parties. Pic by M. A. Pushpakumara
The city of gems was a sea of heads despite the rain yesterday as Ratnapura gave a final farewell to one of its sons, Gamini Athukorale. The mourners led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe included leaders of all parties. Pic by M. A. Pushpakumara

CBK offers hand of peace to Ranil

From Anthony David
KATHMANDU, Saturday -President Chandrika Kumaratunga today expressed, for the first time officially, a willingness to work together with the new United National Front government in Sri Lanka and pledged to support the peace process to end the country's two-decade long insurgency with minority Tamil separatists.

President Kumaratunga whose People's Alliance government was defeated at general elections exactly one month ago told the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) summit here that the elections had provided a "historical opportunity" for the main parties in Sri Lanka to forge with a "constructive system of cohabitation" for the resolution of the separatist conflict in Sri Lanka.

It was the first time that President Kumaratunga had offered to co-operate with the newly installed UNF government in Colombo but she maintained that "the government" meant the party controlling the presidency and the party controlling the cabinet.

President Kumaratunga was first reluctant to handover some of the ministries under her charge to the newly elected UNF, but later stepped down. During inner-party discussions, she had shown bitterness at the electoral defeat she and her party suffered, and expressed her opposition to a call by the new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to form a government of national reconciliation together with her People's Alliance.

President Kumaratunga who handed over the chairpersonship of the South Asian regional grouping to Nepal after an extended three-year period as its head, conceded that the peace process she initiated in 1995, soon after she came into office to end the northern insurgency with the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) had not succeeded, though it had shown progress.

She said she was happy the process had been continued by the new UNF government.

In what will surely be viewed with some resentment by the UNF government which controls the cabinet and parliament, President Kumaratunga also offered to give "leadership and guidance" to the efforts to find a peaceful settlement to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

Speaking on global terrorism, President Kumaratunga said in a half-hour address that the best way to stop terrorism "is to stop generating it."

"Violence perptrated by the states or their agents against the people of the state is the womb of terrorism. Humiliation is the cradle and continued revenge is the mother's milk and nourishment of terrorism," she said on a philosophical note.

President Kumaratunga has repeatedly blamed her rivals for triggering the separatist demand in Sri Lanka and lately has been accusing the new UNF government of attacking her party supporters in the aftermath of the December 5 elections.

But her accusations of her rivals for starting the separatist demand have been contested and her own role in permitting the perptration of state sponsored violence has been often questioned.

"I believe that it is time now for the world to stop and take stock, honestly and strongly. We cannot encourage and finance friendly terrorist organisations in one place and attempt to defeat others.

"Double standards cannot work any more, and will not resolve the long-standing problem of terrorism. The use of force directly by a State or through encouraging other terrorist movements to use violence against an enemy State or group, may temporarily curb a terrorist movement or the enemy. But these methods have proved to spread an intensified violence. 

"Today I believe that the challenge before us nationally and regionally, is to recognise terror and political violence as the main enemy of modern society. The main enemy of all that is just and decent, of all that humanity has built up through the centuries, to be respected and looked upon as civilisation.

"But saying this will not be sufficient. It should lead urgently to identifying the causes for terrorism in each different state. Then begin with nations and together regionally and internationally, to find solutions to these causes, to alleviate the sufferings and the frustrations that have given rise to each terrorist movement." the President said.

President Kumaratunga arrived in Kathmandu after spending just two days in Colombo. She earlier spent a fortnight visiting Portugal and Britain on a private visit.

The new Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando from the rival UNF is accompanying her on the visit to Nepal in one of the early working arrangements of the new co-habitation government in Sri Lanka.

Polls staff unhappy about new move

By Shelani Perera
The first piece of legislation to be introduced by the new government has run into a storm with the Elections Department complaining that local polls fixed for March 1 do not have the department's formal approval, nor is it supporting the move to shorten the time period for calling of nominations and elections for nearly 300 local councils.

Cabinet spokesman G. L. Peiris announced earlier this week that a Cabinet sub-committee appointed by the new government had recommended changes in the law and March 1 as the date for elections to these councils, which include 14 municipalities, 36 urban councils and more than 200 Pradeshiya Sabhas (the combination of Town and village councils).

The Government appeared keen to wrest control of these local-level councils in the flush of victory at the December 5 parliamentary elections. Many of these fell into the hands of the People's Alliance at the last elections held in 1997.

Prof. Peiris said the first piece of legislation that the new Government would introduce would be amendments to the Local Government Ordinance whereby they would shorten the period to call for nominations from 14-21 days after the proclamation calling for elections to 7-10 days.

The period from the end of nominations to the date of elections has also been reduced from 6-8 weeks to 4-6 weeks.

Assistant Elections Commissioner K Senanayake said that firstly it was the Commissioner who fixed the date for local polls, not the Government. Secondly, he said the department was facing logistical difficulties in providing for such quick polls. He warned of possible shortcomings in the elections by shortening the dates available to them and added that the department had also petitioned the Parliamentary Select Committee, calling for an increase in the time period, not a cutting down of it.

He said that printing and distribution of high security poll cards and other logistical details had to be carefully looked into and pointed out they were able to hold a snap general election in December because logistics had been set in motion for a referendum, which was later cancelled.

The amendments to the law are to be presented in parliament on Tuesday, but Mr. Senanayake said the department would not make a fuss about the March 1 polling date unless other political parties raised objections. 

Opening Northern economy

Private sector inducted

By Chris Kamalendran
Private companies are to be given clearance to operate passenger cum cargo ships between Mannar and Jaffna as part of moves to improve the environment for peace talks.

According to Rehabilitation Minister Jayalath Jayawardena, one company has already sought permission to operate a 400 passenger cum cargo ship with modern facilities between Mannar and Kurikatuwan, Jaffna.

Dr. Jayawardena said the Ministry would encourage other companies to operate similar services to provide relief to the people in the north.

The minister said he hoped the ships would also bring vegetables, bananas, onions and sea food from Jaffna to the South so that the cost of those items here would go down with more supplies coming in. Dr. Jayawardena pointed out that sea food in the north was going waste while the price in the south was prohibitive.

Passengers have hitherto paid about Rs 6000 for a return trip to Jaffna by air and the new services are expected to slash the cost to about Rs. 500.

Body checks at night clubs: John's response to shootout

By Tania Fernando
City night clubs have been told to conduct physical checks on guests to avoid shootouts such as what happened at a city hotel on New Year's eve, Interior Minister John Amaratunga said yesterday.

"We may have to close down night clubs which do not comply with our orders, " he told The Sunday Times. 

This came after the shootout in a Colombo hotel involving a cabinet minister's controversial son and two girls one said to be the ex-girl friend and the other the present one. 

Though reports are contradictory and confusing, it appears that the two girls had clashed and the minister's son had wanted to bring in his armed security men to sort out matters.

The hotel staff reportedly refused entry to the security men as they did not have tickets for the dance and the trouble started then. A hotel employee is reported to have been hit with the butt of a pistol while the security men later open fire in the air, causing chaos on the dance floor. Another hotel employee was also assaulted.

A complaint has been made to the Kollupitiya Police by the hotel concerned.

President's shopping tips to journalists

Anthony David from Kathmandu
President Chandrika Kumaratunga arrived here on Thursday accompanied by her own team of media personnel to attend the seven-nation SAARC summit.

The media crew included Janadasa Pieris, Eric Fernando, the President's recently appointed spokesman Harim Pieris and Sudath Silva - photographer.

The Swarnavahini television team too arrived with the President though all other media personnel arrived here several days earlier.

The President was hosted to a dinner at the Sri Lanka Mission where Sri Lankan journalists were also invited.

Ms. Kumaratunga who spoke to local journalists after dinner gave some shopping tips and said that on her last visit to Nepal she had made a bargain purchase of a diamond-studded necklace worth about Sri Lankan Rupees 500,000. However in Nepal it cost only Rs. 40,000 in local currency, she said.

Key military secret becomes public

Wednesday's Police raid on a safe house at Athurugiriya, operated by the Army's Directorate of Military Intelligence, has laid bare a "top state secret" involving national security that trained soldiers ventured into Tiger guerrilla dominated areas to carry out daring attacks. 

Members of the Long Range Patrol Group or LRRP have been successful in eliminating some top guerrilla leaders. One group led by an Army Captain on June 9, last year, boldly ventured into Tiger guerrilla dominated territory. At Neduncherni, Batticaloa, they ambushed and killed Thambirasa Kuhasanthan alias "Lt Col Nizam," LTTE's Military Intelligence Wing leader and the man responsible for all "suicide killer" attacks in the city. They had many such attacks to their credit. 

The same captain and five soldiers, four of them regulars and one, a former Tiger guerrilla now inducted into Army ranks, are now in custody. They are being detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and interrogated at a secret location in Kandy. They are all said to be held in a single room located close to an unhygienic toilet. 

On December 21, the men had returned from a "top secret" mission in Tiger guerrilla-controlled area in the Batticaloa district. They had been forced to abandon a very important mission since time was not sufficient to execute it. A cessation of hostilities between the United Front Government and the LTTE had led to the mission being called off. 

Upon their return to the Athurugiriya safe house, they had returned part of their weaponry and equipment to an Army Camp in Kohuwela. The balance were to be returned later but on Wednesday night a Police team led by Kulasiri Udugampola, SP in the Kandy Division raided the safe house. He was accompanied on the raid by Military Police officials and the Athurugiriya Police. The resultant publicity and dissemination of information have laid bare to the LTTE details of not only LRRP operations but also the identities of those involved.

Why did the Police raid the Athurugiriya safe house?
See --> Situation Report

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