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3rd February 2002

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Troops rehearsing yesterday for tomorrow's National Day parade at Independence Square in Colombo while the country prepares for peace. Pic by Gemunu Wellage


President's impeachment: Not yet

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe discusses problems of cohabitation with CBK
The new United National Front government has conveyed to President Chandrika Kumaratunga that it has no plans so far to impeach her.

The government's views were conveyed to President Kumaratunga during a near three-hour meeting at President's House this week between herself and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe smothering two months of speculation.

Hardliners in the ruling coalition have been pressing Mr. Wickremesinghe to impeach the President on alleged grounds of corruption, abuse of power and intimidation of political opponents, following the UNF's election victory on December 5 last year.

President Kumaratunga was re-elected in December 1999, and is entitled to rule till 2005.

The meeting between the President and the Prime Minister took place to iron out outstanding problems arising from the two month-long cohabitation administration of Ms. Kumaratunga's PA coalition and Mr. Wickremesinghe's UNF coalition.

Ministers Karu Jayasuriya and K.N. Choksy were associated with the Prime Minister during the talks. President Kumaratunga alone represented the PA.

The President spoke for nearly half an hour on speculation the new government was preparing to impeach her. The UNP delegation had told her that there was no decision so far to impeach her.

Some UNF supporters are calling for the impeachment of President Kumaratunga for alleged violation of the constitution and other activities inconsistent with her office.

But the UNF hierarchy appears disinclined to move for an impeachment motion at this stage due to two factors - pressure from the "international community" to leave her alone and the absence of a two-thirds majority required for the exercise.

UNF sources however did not rule out the possibility of filing an impeachment motion against her sometime this year purely to prevent her from dissolving Parliament when she has the Constitutional powers to do so after the present parliament completes one year.

At this week's talks, one of the main requests from the UNF side was the appointment of Agriculture Minister S. B. Dissanayake, a key architect in the collapse of President Kumaratunga's PA government last year, as Samurdhi Affairs Minister.

President Kumaratunga has refused to swear-in her one-time confidante, alleging that he was being investigated for bribery.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Presidential Secretariat said that "all members of parliament recommended by the Prime Minister were appointed as ministers in charge of the portfolios proposed".

UNF sources said the statement was not true because the Prime Minister's recommendation for Mr. Dissanayake to be sworn-in as Minister of Samurdhi Affairs remained ignored by President Kumaratunga.

During the last general election campaign in December, Mr. Dissanayake who was Samurdhi Affairs Minister under President Kumaratunga confidently asserted that he would regain the post immediately after elections.

When Prime Minister Wickremesinghe proposed Mr. Dissanayake's name for the portfolio, and President Kumaratunga objected citing corruption charges, the premier had said he would appoint a parliamentary select committee to probe the charges, and if Mr. Dissanayake was found guilty, he would ask him to resign.

President Kumaratunga had not agreed to this suggestion.

This week, the UNF delegation had pointed out to President Kumaratunga that the Bribery Commission had exonerated Mr. Dissanayake, but the President said she would still have to "consider" the matter.

The UNF delegation had also referred to the recent walk-out from Parliament by the PA, reportedly instigated by President Kumaratunga herself who was in her office at the Parliamentary complex at the time.

The delegation had asked what the PA's position was in relation to cohabitation as there were hardliners in the UNF who were asking for a tougher stance towards the PA leadership, especially issues relating to the impeachment of the President, the arrest of one-time Power and Energy Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte etc.

President Kumaratunga had complained that the new government had placed her under "siege".

She had explained that there appeared to be a witch-hunt against her party supporters in many constituencies and that she was "caged" in her own official residence with the near 3,000 man Presidential Security Division (PSD) that is guarding her under intense criticism and police investigation.

The main target of criticism is aimed at the controversial Senior Superintendent of Police Nihal Karunaratne, the head of the division. 

In the statement on Friday, the Presidential Secretariat defended the PSD saying the President was "satisfied that the PSD had not been involved in any wrong-doings or illegal activities".

No evidence against Ratwatte sons - yet

An Army Lieutenant and a group of soldiers are to be indicted by the Attorney General's Department for the murder of 10 supporters of the United National Front (UNF) at Pallethalawinne on polls day, December 5, last year. The move will also see the release of an Army driver from remand custody.

The Sunday Times learns that there will be no indictment on Lohan and Chanuka, the two sons of former minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, on the grounds that the evidence against them is inadequate and will not stand the test of scrutiny before a court of law. But the Teldeniya Magistrate has already issued a warrant for the arrest of Lohan and Chanuka. 

The officer concerned and the men, now in remand have confessed to the killing of the 10 youth. They have claimed that they were compelled to open fire in self-defence after they were attacked.

The decision to indict the army personnel was remade at a conference chaired by Additional Solicitor General, Rienzie Arsecularatne. 

He is learnt to have given necessary instructions to the CID.

It was only this week that investigations into the Pallethalawinne killings were entrusted solely to the CID. This followed a top level conference chaired by Interior Minister John Amaratunga, where he acceded to a request by the CID to take over the inquiry. This decision leaves out a police team from Kandy headed by Superintendent Kulasiri Udugampola who heads the Special Operations in that Division.

However on the advice of the Attorney General's department, CID investigations are continuing into Gen. Ratwatte and his sons over a broader conspiracy charges involving several incidents in the Kandy district during elections. Both Lohan and Chanuka Ratwatte are in hiding and evading arrest.

Cohabitation on 54th National Day

The first Independence Day under a nominally cohabitation administration will be held tomorrow with President Chandrika Kumaratunga proclaimed as the chief guest and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as guest of honour.

Religious ceremonies for the 54th National Day began yesterday with pirith chanting followed by an alms giving today and special services by Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims in several parts of the country.

A spokesman for the organising committee said the President and the Prime Minister would take the salute at the guard of honour but there would be no traditional message to the nation. 

Though President Kumaratunga is the head of state and the government, Premier Wickremesinghe is known to be virtually in total charge of formulating national policy. Thus the President did not make the traditional policy statement when the new parliament where the UNF has a majority held its first sitting last month.

UNICEF slams Tigers

Child recruitment continuing under cover of ceasefire
The United Nations Children's Fund has expressed deep concern over reports that the LTTE is continuing the recruitment of child soldiers despite a cessation of hostilities and plans for peace talks.

"We have had reports that children are still forcibly being taken and even during the ceasefire period, a lot of pressure is being put on children to join the LTTE," UNICEF's Colombo chief Colin Glennie said.

"Reports indicate there is intense psychological pressure to join the LTTE while a few cases of physical abductions were also reported. Older people are also being taken forcibly," he said.

Mr. Glennie said UNICEF was making representations to the LTTE directly to adhere to the commitment it made to the UN's special representative Olara Otunu in May 1998 to refrain from recruiting child combatants. But, he said, the LTTE appeared to be violating its pledge.

Mr. Glennie said that after the 1998 pledge the LTTE had put up banners and posters, proclaiming there would be no child recruitment. But these appear to be largely slogans and the abuse of children was continuing.

Meanwhile, the Government Information Department also said on Wednesday there were reports that the LTTE was on a recruitment drive in Kiran, asking every family to send at least one child.

Military spokesman Sanath Karunaratne, however, declined to comment on the reports.

Mahinda group resumes battle

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The crisis and contradictory claims over the position of opposition leader Ratnasiri Wickremanayake plunged into more confusion over the weekend with the Mahinda Rajapakse lobby planning to press its claim again at Tuesday's parliamentary group meeting.

The Rajapakse group is planning to question the validity of appointing Richard Pathirana as acting opposition leader and is demanding the appointment of Mr. Rajapakse as opposition leader, party sources said.

Mr. Rajapakse told The Sunday Times he was aware of the lobby for him and he also believed the party needed a strong leadership which he could give but he would not act in any way to divide the party.

Mr. Wickremanayake has gone abroad reportedly for medical treatment and during the past few weeks conflicting media reports have been splashed about his resignation and a multitude of disputes over it. Last Wednesday, the Speaker received a fax message purportedly from Mr. Wickremanayake saying he was resigning but the authenticity of that message also is being checked.

Meanwhile, the government is refusing to accept the appointment of Mr. Pathirana as acting leader of opposition, saying the standing orders do not provide for such a post. Amidst the confusion, the appointment of the Constitutional Council is being delayed, because the concurrence of the opposition leader is required for some appointments.

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