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PM at World Press Freedom Day
Call to coexist, not co-perish
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday called on the nation to work towards establishing a pluralistic society and move away from the traditional system of confrontational politics.

Mr. Wickremesinghe was speaking at a ceremony held at the BMICH in Colombo to commemorate World Press Freedom Day organised by the Editors' Guild of Sri Lanka in collaboration with UNESCO. Mr. Wickremesinghe emphasized that if we do not change towards a pluralistic society but continue with confrontational politics, it will lead to a system where one party will be governing and the others will be opposing.

'We have to look for a change to make sure politics is not confrontational', he said. He said that if we continue with confrontational politics particularly at a time when we had to reach out to the people in the North, the country will go nowhere.

The Prime Minister said that since the government came to power it had been able to take several steps towards ensuring media freedom. Among them was the move towards repealing the criminal defamation law, abolishing the Press Council and creating the conditions for the establishment of the Press Complaints Commission.
He said steps would be soon taken to introduce a Freedom of Information Act while steps are also being taken to introduce a Media - Military relations charter and introduce amendments to the Official Secrets Act.

He said that another area they were looking into was the Public Performance Act where its laws will be strengthened to prevent the publication of obscene material. He said the government did not believe in a Public Performances Board carrying out a pre-censorship. The Prime Minister said that the media training institute was another area which the government would be concentrating on.

He said the situation in the State media institutions would be one of the other major issues to be looked into and added there were plans to merge the Rupavahini and Broadcasting Corporations. 'Our primary endeavour will be to make sure they are profit making', he said.

The keynote address of the Prime Minister was followed by a presentation on the Draft Provisions of the Freedom of Information Act by Mr. Rohan Edrisinha of the Faculty of Law of the Colombo University. Earlier the UNESCO Representative in Sri Lanka, Mahinda Abeywardene also addressed the gathering. The Editor of the Divaina newspaper and Secretary of the Guild Upali Tennakoon delivered the welcome speech.

Choksy sets flying example
Finance Minister K.N. Choksy will leave for Shanghai next week on official business - the first time he will be having the State pay for his air ticket. An eminent President's Counsel, Mr. Choksy has never before in his Parliamentary career from 1989 onwards gone overseas on State account. This included the period he was Minister of Constitutional Affairs.

Referring to last week's The Sunday Time's news item about a host of Government Ministers spending the traditional New Year holidays overseas - which included his name in the list - Mr. Choksy said he only went to Jordan - on a private visit. "I might mention that I have been a Member of Parliament since 1989.

"I have not travelled out of the country on any Parliamentary delegation at Parliamentary expense, or expense of the Inter Parliamentary Union, or Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, or any other organisation. "I also did not make any official visit abroad when I last held Cabinet Office. Nor have I travelled abroad at Government expense since assuming office as Finance Minister.

"I did not attend the Spring Meeting of the World Bank last month as it was not essential since all arrangements for financial assistance to Sri Lanka had been concluded with IMF Missions which visited Colombo.

I have also recently decided not to visit Switzerland for a meeting to which I have been invited as it may not bring any tangible benefit to Sri Lanka," he added. Mr. Choksy said he was "most particular" not to incur State expenditure on foreign visits, and added that his wife would accompany him to China next week, but on personal funds.

LTTE gets police complaints
By Sunil Jayatillake
Civilians have begun lodging complaints with the LTTE about their grievances in military controlled areas, thereby reducing the number of complaints usually lodged with the area police station, reports said.

Most of the complaints have been lodged in Vavuniya with the LTTE over the past three weeks while in other districts similar complaints are being lodged at the newly opened political offices. The complaints vary from land disputes, thefts and disputes over money transactions to family disputes.

The LTTE has brought up the issue with the Police about receiving public complaints and said it had no authority to investigate these complaints. The matter was brought up at a discussion between the Deputy Inspector General of Police W.H.H. Dharmaratne and LTTE Vavuniya political leader, Melavan and his deputy, Elilan at talks in Vavuniya
The LTTE representatives said they hope to refer the complaints they had received to the Police as they had no authority to investigate such complaints.

DIG Dharmaratne told The Sunday Times the LTTE had informed him about the complaints it was receiving. The Sunday Times learns that the number of complaints received at police stations has dropped after the LTTE opened up its political offices in six districts of the government-controlled areas.

Disabled soldiers on goodwill mission
Disabled soldiers are to tour the north on a goodwill mission aimed at strengthening links between the north and south and the peace process. Asoka Dayaratna. President of the Association for Disabled Soldiers told The Sunday Times that their first visit to the North will be to meet the disabled LTTE cadres and not to meet the LTTE hierarchy.

"About 25 disabled soldiers will visit the North and present wheel chairs. We feel that it is important to build some kind of bond with them. Once this is done we may meet LTTE leaders," he said.

Meanwhile the association of servicemen missing in action last week requested an appointment with LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran to discuss the fate of servicemen in LTTE custody.

Seats for discards
Twelve defeated candidates of the United National Party are to be appointed as advisors to ministries with a salary of Rs. 22,000 a month, a vehicle and a fuel allowance.
The political discards getting a comeback call are: Ediriweerra Premaratne- Agriculture and Live Stock Development; Ali Zahir Moulana and M. Wijayaratne - Policy Planning; R.M. Dharmadasa Banda and Nihal Bakmeewewa - Home Affairs and Provincial Councils; R.M. Ratnayake - Human Resources Development, Educational and Cultural Affairs; Sarath Gunawardena - Health Nutrition and Social Welfare' Chandradasa Galappatti - Water Management; Shantha Punchihewa - Transport, Highways and Civil Aviation, Samson Silva - Tourism; Bandula Parakrama Gunawardena - Western Province Development and Abdul Majeed - Youth Affairs and Sports.
The appointments are due to take place within the next two weeks.

Promotions to prevent straying
In a bid to prevent a mass exodus by PA legislators once the right to a conscience vote is introduced, several SLFP members are expected to be given more responsibilities and recognition in the party, authoritative SLFP sources said.

It is learned that senior SLFPer Jeyaraj Fernandopulle is likely to be promoted as a deputy whip, following former media minister Mangala Samaraweera's offer to resign from his post as deputy whip to dedicate himself to party rebuilding following the electoral defeat in 2001.

Besides Mr. Fernandopulle several others like Dilan Perera and Jagath Pushpakumara are to be given responsibilities to strengthen the party machinery. At last week's special meeting with the group, President Kumaratunga herself had stressed on the need to rebuild the party at grassroots level.

When queried, SLFP general secretary Maithreepala Sirisena denied that any moves were afoot to change the office bearers of the party, but added that some changes seem necessary considering the need to strengthen the party at village level and train youngsters to accept additional responsibilities in the party.

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