Front Page

27th January 2002

The Sunday Times on the Web















Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe has been briefing Buddhist prelates about government's position and the peace process. Mr. Wickremesinghe is seen briefing an associate of the country's first prime minister D. S. Senanayake, 91-year-old chief prelate of the Ramanna Nikaya, Ven. Weveldeniye Medhalankara Mahanayake Thera yesterday. Pic by Ashoka Peiris

Tiger ban: Government may opt for suspension

The Government is giving "serious consideration" to the amendment of the regulations promulgated under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in order to "suspend" the ban on the LTTE during the period peace talks are in progress, The Sunday Times learns.

This "suspension" of the LTTE ban is being treated as a way to break the log-jam over the LTTE demand to lift the ban on it before peace talks with the Government begin, pressure from the international community to de-proscribe the LTTE and start talks, and warnings from the southern constituency of the dangers of being tricked once again by the LTTE. Highly placed Government sources emphasised that this was only an option, and not a final decision.

They confirmed that the Attorney General was studying the PTA with the purpose of amending the regulations under which the LTTE was banned in Sri Lanka. The LTTE was banned after it bombed the sacred Temple of the Tooth in Kandy on the eve of the country's 50th anniversary of Independence and is the only terrorist organisation banned under this law.

The Government is willing to consider any other options that would pave the way for peace talks to start with the LTTE. These sources confirmed that the Norwegian facilitators had conveyed the LTTE demand to lift the ban on it to the Colombo Government.

The move to "suspend" the ban on the LTTE would be operational during the period of the negotiations aimed at ending the 19-year northern separatist insurgency. 

The ban would be either lifted completely or re-introduced depending on the progress of the peace talks.

The decision also comes in the wake of mounting pressure from foreign governments to the new government in Colombo to start talking to the LTTE.

This week, the US and British missions in Colombo made announcements saying both Washington and London which had banned the LTTE, would understand the reason for Colombo to lift or suspend the ban on the LTTE and such a decision would not affect their continued ban of the LTTE.

India has already made it known that even if Sri Lanka completely lifted the LTTE-ban, New Delhi saw no reason to de-ban the LTTE in that country, at least immediately.

These sources added that during recent discussions between the Colombo government and foreign governments that have banned the LTTE, it was made clear that any moves to suspend the ban or de-proscribe the LTTE in Sri Lanka was only in order to bring the LTTE to the negotiating table and was not to be seen as a wider campaign to legitimise the LTTE around the world.

In Parliament this week, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that he was giving "deep thought" to the question of de-proscribing the LTTE, while former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar urged the government to make maximum advantage of international opinion against terrorism after the September 11 attacks on the United States. 

A separate law specifically banning the LTTE was later repealed when the PTA came into operation.

Crisis in PA over leadership post

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The People's Alliance was this week rocked by internal disputes following the sudden resignation of former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake as the leader of the opposition and moves to promote former Labour Minister Mahinda Rajapakse for the job, as the opposition coalition remains split on whether to support the new UNF government.

Mr. Wickremanayake left for Singapore early Thursday morning for what senior PA sources said was medical treatment connected with a heart ailment. The sources said he would be checked if he required by-pass surgery while in Singapore.

Mr. Wickremanayake is reported to have sent in his resignation to President Chandrika Kumaratunga, but the PA officially denied he had offered to quit his post.

On Tuesday, Mr. Wickremanayake informed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as a matter of courtesy that he was unable to be present in Parliament that day when the premier was presenting his statement on state policy.

He attributed his inability to be present to a bad cold. He also cut that evening's PA parliamentary group meeting presided over by President Kumaratunga. At the meeting reference was made to the contribution made by Mr. Wickremanayake to the party after the defeat in 1977.

But Mr. Wickremanayake, who is in support of co-operating with the new government, is reportedly unhappy with the way he is being over ruled on the manner Parliamentary business is being conducted. 

This month, several decisions taken at party leaders' meetings where Mr. Wickremanayake participated for the PA — including the dates for the Local Government elections and fixing the date for the Budget Debate — have been subjected to changes subsequently. These developments come in the midst of moves by a section of the SLFP-led PA to have former minister Mahinda Rajapakse installed as leader of the opposition. 

On Tuesday at the PA Parliamentary group meeting the question of Mr. Rajapakse's quest for the post was raised, but the senior politician from Beliatta had denied knowledge.

The next day, however, Mr. Rajapakse had left for Saudi Arabia and later the UAE without informing President Kumaratunga of his departure — though he had intimated to her earlier of the impending visit. 

Mr. Wickremanayake meanwhile is reported to have also stepped aside from his electoral responsibilities. Western Province Chief Minister Reginald Cooray has been appointed Kalutara district leader two weeks back while Vidura Wickremanayake, son of Mr. Wickremanayake is likely to be appointed as Horana SLFP organizer shortly.

The Sunday Times learns that a lobby group led by Jeyaraj Fernandopulle is collecting signatures for a petition in support of Mr. Rajapakse's appointment as opposition leader. 

As a prelude, Mr. Fernandopulle's Katana group has passed a resolution calling for Mr. Rajapakse to take over as opposition leader.

Another division in the PA emerged after former foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in a keynote speech in parliament pledged cooperation with the new government's peace efforts. But a group led by Nimal Siripala de Silva boycotted the sessions later, saying they should be no cooperation until the alleged violence against PA candidates and supporters were stopped.

Mr. Kadirgamar made it clear that he was offering the PA's support for the peace process with the "full authority" of President Kumaratunga. But while he was delivering his speech, President Kumaratunga had entered the parliament building without informing the Speaker and held a discussion with some party stalwarts where it was decided that the 77 PA MPs should walk out of the chamber after Mr. de Silva's speech later that afternoon.

However in an apparent afterthought, the following day the PA held a news conference to say it was co-operating with the government on the peace process.

Defence Minister blasts police raid

Defence Minister Tilak Marapana has described the Police raid on the Army safe house in Athurugiriya as ill-conceived and charged that the treatment meted out to the army officer and men was very bad.

'The information the police provided to further extend their detention was hopelessly inadequate," he told The Sunday Times.

Mr. Marapana said: "I made it very clear to the police that I don't want the Prevention of Terrorism Act abused."

Mr. Marapana said there was nothing that the police had unearthed in that investigation which seemed to suggest that the army personnel had been acting other than on orders from superiors. They were very legitimate orders, he told Iqbal Athas. See Situation Report -->The LTTE's French connection

Ex-minister wants more security

By Nilika de Silva 
Former minister Nimal Siripala de Silva has requested more security from the Government as he considers himself to be a target of the LTTE. 

Mr. de Silva told The Sunday Times he had put forward a request for four security officers and was confident of receiving a positive response. 

He said he had already been attacked by a suicide bomber while visiting Jaffna in 1997 as a representative of the then government. 

"I was the first minister to visit Jaffna, after Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, and visited Jaffna many times in my capacity as the Minister in charge of Rehabilitation of Jaffna. It was on my twelfth visit that the suicide bomb attack took place killing 26 people," he said.

He claimed that a suspected LTTE suicide bomber, arrested recently, had confessed that he and Mahinda Rajapakse were targets. 

Mr. de Silva said he had requested more security since the active propaganda carried out internationally by him also led to him being a target of the terrorists. 

…And blasted for speech never made

The LTTE has complained to the Norwegian facilitators engaged in the peace process that a speech purportedly made by Defence Minister Tilak Marapana was detrimental to the starting of talks, but the minister says he never made such a speech.

Mr. Marapana has complained to Mass Communications Minister Imtiaz Bakeer-Markar that a speech he has made to military cadets at Diyatalawa has been distorted in the state press giving a wrong impression about government policy towards the on-going peace process with the LTTE.

Mr. Marapana has asked the minister to probe the circumstances that led to the misreporting which said that the country's new defence minister had told cadets at a passing-out parade to be prepared to "wipe out" the guerrillas of the LTTE if the peace process failed.

The news item in the Daily News said the new defence minister told newly commissioned officers at the Diyatalawa army training centre that all necessary assistance by way of weapons and other means would be provided by the government to wipe-out the LTTE terrorism from this land.

The report continued to say, "We assure the government's steadfast support and backing by way of military know-how and weapons to all the security forces to wage this war and establish peace and prosperity in the country."

This drew an angry and immediate response from the LTTE which accused the Sri Lanka government of preparing for war while talking of peace.

Mr. Marapana told The Sunday Times that he first came to know of the distorted news item only when the special secretariat dealing with the peace process had brought it to his notice.

The LTTE had apparently complained to the Norwegian facilitators, who had in turn communicated it to the secretariat in Colombo.

This week, the Daily News published what it called "the correct English translation of Mr. Marapana's speech". Apologising to the minister, the newspaper said the original version was "misreported" over three weeks ago.

Mr. Marapana is quoted as saying, "today our country has fallen to a very unfortunate state. I believe you have joined the army to salvage the country from this state. For this not only the government, but the whole country is indebted to you".

Mr. Marapana, a former Attorney General told The Sunday Times that he would not have said anything that would have been detrimental at this crucial stage of the peace process when the new United National Front government was on the threshold of starting a fifth attempt at negotiations with the LTTE.

This is the second inquiry being held in the state-run newspaper group since the new government came into office in early December.

Earlier this month the publication of a feature article in the Sunday Observer, questioning the authenticity of the sacred tooth relic at the Sri Dalada Maligawa raised a storm and an inquiry ordered by Minister Bakeer-Markar into its publication is pending.

The government this week also appointed a veteran editor, Edmund Ranasinghe, now retired, to chair a committee that would monitor the reporting of the state media group whose editors appointed by the former PA government are viewed with suspicion by the new regime, but continue to hold office.

PM stops wheat 'commissioner'

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last week stopped what he called was an "improper" act by the brother of a close confidante of his to make a quick buck in a government-to-government transaction.

The transaction revolved around the import of wheat flour from India following the premier's visit last month to New Delhi.

Economic Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda announced the deal on his return from India where he accompanied the premier, much to the displeasure of some of his ministerial (non-cabinet) colleagues who felt he was trespassing on their turf.

Bread prices were rising in Sri Lanka following the withdrawal of the IMF sponsored Government subsidy, and there was an urgent requirement for the import of wheat flour.

Neighbouring India obliged, and a local businessman with close connections to that country, decided to lose no time by getting into the act, contacting the High Commission in Colombo and offering himself to be the 'commission-agent' for the transaction.

His commission fees for a straight-forward already agreed government -to-government tender would have been in the region of US dollars 60,000 (SL Rs. 5.5 million).

When the news reached the Prime Minister's ears, the 'commissioner' was asked to back-off. The reason being that the 'commissioner's' brother, an aspiring diplomat, and close associate of Mr. Moragoda had been a member of the VIP delegation that had accompanied the Prime Minister to New Delhi for talks that included negotiations of the wheat flour deal.

India agreed to supply 300,000 tons of wheat which were urgently required to shore up buffer stocks that were running low in Sri Lanka. The shipments were to be spread over one year and are expected to amount to around 25,000 tons a month.

Indian diplomats said the two sides were negotiating what they described as "generous" credit terms involving low interest and a long repayment period and that they were likely to clinch a deal in about 10 days.

"It's a government-to-government deal but on commercial terms," an Indian diplomat said. "India would nominate a government exporter and the wheat would be sold to the Sri Lankan government."

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.