17th March 2002

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Helicopter row grounds Ratwatte

By Tania Fernando
With confusion and controversy roaring over the helicopter flights of Anuruddha Ratwatte to face charges in a Teldeniya court, the Interior Ministry has ordered that he should be taken by road for the next sitting tomorrow.

Interior Ministry Secretary M. A. Junaid said he had told the Commissioner General of Prisons to take Mr. Ratwatte by road for the case where he is one of the suspects in the Pallethalawinna massacre of ten SLMC supporters. The directive came as the question on who pays the bills for the earlier helicopter rides still hangs fire with claims and contradictory claims swirling all over. The Interior Ministry is flatly refusing to pay the staggering bill of Rs. 534,033.96 and has passed it on to the Defence Ministry.

Prisons Commissioner General Upali Samaraweera clarifying media reports said he had not asked for a helicopter to take Mr. Ratwatte but he only sent his prison guards for security. 

Mr. Samaraweera said he had made arrangements to send Mr. Ratwatte by road, amid speculation that the orders for the helicopter rides had come from President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The mystery was further confused by Presidential spokesman Harim Peiris when he insisted that the President's Office was not ready to pay any such bill and that it should be passed on to the Air Force.

The spokesman made the jigsaw more puzzling by saying the President need not request any one but had the right to give orders as Commander-in-Chief, though he did not specifically say she ordered the helicopter ride for her former strongman.

Mr. Peiris said the helicopter ride for Mr. Ratwatte was not given for a pleasure trip, but for security reasons, as he still faced a threat to his life due to what he achieved on the war front as Deputy Defence Minister. Adding to the confusion were comments made by Air Force spokesman Ajith Wijesundera.

Wing Commander Wijesundera told The Sunday Times if a request was made tomorrow and the Defence Ministry approved it, the Air Force would release a helicopter for Mr. Ratwatte to be taken to Teldeniya. 

Sons moved to Class 1 ward

By Shane Seneviratne
Lohan and Chanuka Ratwatte, remanded over the Pallethalawinna massacre, have got themselves admitted to a class I paying ward in the General Hospital in Kandy, Prison officials said.

The two sons of former PA strongman Anuruddha Ratwatte were first remanded at Bogambara but then they got themselves admitted to the Prisons hospital.

Prison officials said that three days ago the Ratwatte brothers were moved to the Class 1 ward of the General Hospital.

Earlier Theldeniya magistrate Inoka Ranasinghe had called for a report about their medical condition.

They were produced before Kandy JMO Dr. A. Seneviratne who wanted them to undergo medical tests.

The case is due to be taken up at the Theldeniya Magistrates court tomorrow. General Ratwatte is also due to be produced in courts on the same day.

Meanwhile a pro-PA group including Buddhist monks are planning to stage a protest near the courts, demanding the release of the Ratwattes.

Police said additional security would be deployed around the court premises tomorrow.

Unemployed graduates reject cat's-paw theory

By Sunil Jayathilake
Over 3,000 unemployed graduates who marched to Temple Trees on Wednesday have dismissed charges that they are backed by the JVP and accused the government of ignoring their demands.

The unemployed graduates charged that they were baton charged by the police on Thursday while they were marching to Temple Trees. They claimed the government was accusing them of trying to get into Temple Trees after the alleged police assault. 

The graduates who began a Satyagraha opposite the Fort Railway Station last week decided to march to Temple Trees after the government failed to address their problems. As the Prime Minister nor any other official came forward they decided to begin a Satyagraha opposite Temple Trees, a spokesman said.

Coordinator for the unemployed graduates Ven. Vakamulle Uditha told The Sunday Times when they first carried out the protest in 1998 in Kurunegala the then Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe asked why the PA could not give jobs for the graduates.

"We were told if the UNP came to power we will be given jobs. But now the Prime Minister is avoiding us and has arranged a meeting with the Labour and Education ministers. We were told that with the present situation in the country it is difficult for the government to provide jobs for us," said Ven. Uditha.

He said that was the reason why they decided to hold a Satyagraha.

"Even after 16 days no one addressed our problem. We had the Satyagraha opposite Temple Trees for the same reason. We were treated in the most cruel manner around 11.00 p.m. The police closed the Galle Road from both sides and assaulted us," Ven.Uditha said. He said around 17 protesters were admitted to hospital and the government accused them of JVP backing.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Karunasena Kodithuwakku charged that the graduates were backed by interested parties .

"We held a meeting with them and said the government was interested in giving jobs. We explained to them that even in my ministry there are vacancies. However, just because one has a degree you cannot fill the vacancy. We asked them to give us a list of unemployed graduates but the union did not do it. This shows that their motive is different," said the Minister.

Labour Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said the government would open a special unit to register unemployed graduates before giving them jobs.

LTTE- CWC at hill show

For the first time after the ceasefire agreement, LTTE sympathisers will be openly in action in areas outside the north and east when they attend a meeting in Nuwara Eliya town today to explain the peace process.

The CWC led by Minister Arumugam Thondaman is organising the event where some 50,000 people are expected to gather. Mr. Thondaman himself has been visiting the LTTE-controlled areas and holding discussions with their membership. LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran's pictures have been put up in the form of posters and cutouts in the Nuwara Eliya town alongside pictures of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mr. Thondaman. The event is expected to be similar to the recent 'cultural show' in Vavuniya where the LTTE used the event to carry out propaganda work. A large stage was being constructed last evening with Mr. Thondaman paying regular visits to the site.

Nuwara Eliya DIG, F.R. Alles told The Sunday Times that they did not see any threat to the security in the area and around 150 police personnel would be deployed for the event.

Blow-up over Kandy Basnayake Nilame

Clashes and disputes erupted yesterday at a meeting to elect the Basnayake Nilame of the Vishnu Devalaya in Kandy.

Amidst allegations of vote-buying with bribes including cash and computers, Mohan Panabokke won the contest by four votes. The election was held at the Buddhist Affairs Commissioner's office adjoining the Dalada Maligawa and concern was expressed over the commotion and near chaos in a high security zone.

Mr. Panabokke replaces Dennis Ratwatte, brother of the controversial ex-minister Anuruddha Ratwatte. The defeated candidates included T.B. Walisundara, Gamini Athurupana and Jayampathi Heenkenda. 

Thirty-four persons, including the four Basnayake Nilames of the four main devalayas in Kandy, were eligible to vote at the election.

SLCTB official in billing trouble

By M. Ismeth
A top SLCTB official has been asked to explain an alleged overpayment of over 40 per cent of the estimated charges for buses repaired at the Ashok Leyland workshop.

Transport Ministry in a letter to SLCTB superintendent engineer D. S. Adikaram has called for a list of estimates relating to 23 buses repaired by Ashok Leyland company.

Ministry sources said 24 buses sent to the Ashok Leyland workshop from November 29, 2001 to February 21, 2002 for repairs had been estimated at Rs. 14,087,091.41 but the SLCTB had been billed for Rs.18,842,303.09.

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