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COPE wants to open doors
By Shelani Perera
The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), the Parliamentary body which probes financial matters in public institutions, is likely to be thrown open proceedings to the media, COPE Chairman Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said.

Mr. Fernandopulle said they would consult Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe regarding amendments to the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act so that the media could cover COPE investigations. This came after Speaker Joseph Michael Perera told the COPE chief that the Privileges Act did not permit media coverage of parliamentary committee meetings.

Mr. Fernandopulle said all COPE members felt journalists should be allowed to report on COPE investigations just as they reported parliamentary proceedings. Mr. Fernandopulle, a senior minister in the former PA government, was elected chairman of COPE after the ruling UNF decided that an opposition member should chair this vital committee on public accounts.

Jumbo rescued from walauwa
By M. Ismeth
A baby elephant captured in the Uda Walawe area and kept illegally in a walauwa, has been taken into custody by the Wild Life Flying Squad and is now at the Dehiwala Zoo.
The four-year-old elephant was captured in the Uda Walawe area early this year and kept in a walauwa in Dompe. It was rescued by the Wild Life flying squad and sent to the Zoo on a court order. According to the chief of the Flying Squad of the Wild Life Department, M. Faiz, when he and his rangers and two policemen raided the walauwa, they found the elephant in captivity with several wounds on its body.

He told the Sunday Times that under the Fauna and Flora Act, charges had been filed against the owner of the walauwa and two mahouts for possession of an elephant without a licence, with an additional charge against one of the mahouts for escaping from custody.

When the case was called up on May 28, the magistrate has called for a report from the Director of the Zoo Brig. Perera on the health of the animal. Trial was fixed for June 26.
The detection was made by Wild Life Flying Squad chief M. Faiz, rangers K. Harendra and Kamal Peiris, veterinarian Dr.Taraka Prasad and two policemen.

Bus fare policy mooted
A national bus fare policy that will assure both commuters and bus owners a fair deal is on the cards..

The matter was discussed extensively at a meeting on Wednesday attended by State Transport Minister Upali Piyasoma, National Transport Commission officials, commuter organisations and private bus owners. Private bus owners said such a scheme would minimise injustice meted out to them by the state which resisted their moves to increase fares. Meanwhile, Cabinet approval has been granted for a bus fare increase from June 15, but the first section rate of Rs. 3 will not be increased.

Only a trickle of returning refugees
By Chandani Kirinde
Only six hundred and fifty of over 66,000 Sri Lankans living in south India have contacted the United National High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Chennai seeking assistance to return here so far, according to a spokesman for the organization.
The first batch of UNHCR assisted refugees returned last week consisting of three elderly persons and would be followed by a batch of 12 others from three families, UNHCR spokesman Mike De Sisti said. Seventy others have also been cleared for return as the third batch.

However dates have not been finalized because an exit permit has to be first issued by the Indian government following which some of them would need to obtain emergency travel documents to return to Sri Lanka, Mr. De Sisti said. He said the numbers seeking to come back were still "very small" given the large number of Sri Lankan living in refugees camps there.

Meanwhile, the arrival of the three refugees caused much media speculation with several newspapers and electronic media reporting that those who arrived were the parents of the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Mr. De Sisti categorically denied that those who arrived were the LTTE leader's parents. "We have not assisted them to return to the country but if they sought our assistance they would be treated the same way as any other refugee who wished to come back," he stated.

He said it was standard UNHCR procedure not to reveal the identity of refugees who return to a country after fleeing it due to various concerns. "We don't discuss personal details. We promise to keep these details confidential and this is the same world over," he added.

Under the program for repatriation for Sri Lankan refugees, those seeking assistance from UNHCR have to first get themselves registered at its office in Chennai after which they are advised on the present situation of the area they are planning to return to.
"We want them to make an informed decision. There is no attempt to force them" he said. The refugees also have to sign a voluntary repatriation form before they return.
The spokesman said that the UNHCR staff in India had no direct access to the refugee camps but help those who contact them. The UNHCR program covers the refugees' air fares. Refugees are also given an allowance to help them to travel to their homes in Sri Lanka, he said.

Meanwhile, several hundred Sri Lankan refugees living in India are reported to have made the journey back home on their own since the signing of the MoU between the government and the LTTE. The exact numbers are not known.

Chief Minister faces CID probe
By Tania Fernando
North Central Province Chief Minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake and senior officials of the Presidential secretariat are to be questioned by the CID tomorrow on alleged misuse of five state vehicles during the parliamentary elections.

CID sources said the questioning is a part of a broad investigation about the misuse of state property by the PA during the last elections.

Meanwhile, the CID questioned PA's Moneragala parliamentarian Jagath Pushpakumara yesterday in connection with the attack on the Moneragala residence of actress Anoja Weerasinghe's house in Moneragala. This follows three days of CID questioning of former Presidential Media Adviser Sanath Gunatilleke with regard to the incident.
Mr. Gunatilleke while being questioned had admitted that he still continued to occupy the official residence given to him when he served as the Presidential advisor. According to the CID, the electricity, water, telephone bills are all still paid by the Presidential Secretariat.

The CID questioned him for three days in connection with several incidents. Mr. Gunatilleke was to present himself at the CID yesterday as well, but the inquiry was put off for Monday when he said he had to see a doctor.

TNA leaders to meet PM for second round
Tamil National Alliance members are scheduled to meet Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for a second round of talks on his return from Europe, TNA parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham said.

The Premier who met the TNA members last week prior to his departure gave some indication the ban on the LTTE may be lifted, one of the demands put forward by the TNA.

Mr. Pararajasingham said that after their meeting with the premier, they would meet leaders of other political parties as part of their plan to build up southern consensus for the peace move.

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