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