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Arms dealers (nameless) against me
Rehabilitation , Resettlement and Refugees Minister Jayalath Jayawardena, who is said to be in the bad books of the LTTE and banned from entering LTTE-controlled Wanni, denies allegations that the rebels have imposed restrictions on him entering the north and says he is willing to face any probe on allegations of corruption or misuse of power.

Dr. Jayawardena, who visited Jaffna yesterday after a long absence, says he will be visiting the Kilonochchi area within the next fortnight for a medical camp to donate 100 wheel chairs and will continue to carry out his ministerial work in the north. Excerpts from the interview.

Some reports say the LTTE is objecting to your presence in the areas controlled by it?
That is not correct. I have travelled several times through LTTE-controlled areas and I was the first Sinhala cabinet minister to go on the A-9 highway. In two weeks time, I will be holding a medical camp in the Kilinochchi district to donate some 100 wheel chairs. If the LTTE does not want my presence, why is it allowing me to work in LTTE-controlled areas?.

But, senior LTTE members have not met you?
I won't give names but I am dealing with an NGO called Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation, which is linked to the LTTE. It provides relief to widows and orphans. I was recently invited by the TRO to see its de-mining project in Kilinochchi.

You have been involved in work in the north before the UNF came to office, but the LTTE's political wing leader S. P. Thamilchelvan who has met leaders of many parties has still not met you or you have not met him.

If the opportunity comes I will meet him. There is no problem that I cannot meet him.

So you deny that the LTTE does not want you to come there?

Such reports are fabrications.

If so, from where are they coming?

In the past few weeks, baseless and malicious allegations are made against me by individuals or groups which are gunning for me for some reason.

Could you be more specific or name names?

Not yet. Let me say this. My campaign for peace and ethnic unity started long before the UNF came to office. Even as an opposition member, I had the courage to visit the Wanni, despite allegations that I was a spy and the link between the UNP and the LTTE. The state media were used for a full-scale attack, portraying me as a traitor.

My wife could not go to the market, my children to school or my mother to church. My whole family went through a trauma. Some of the charges were made by President Kumaratunga herself but I could not take any legal action because she had immunity.

That was in the past. Now different allegations are being made against you?

With the blessings of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, I have since the UNF came to office worked hard and achieved much for the poor people of the north. Arms dealers are dead against me. People who have been earning millions of dollars out of war are against me. Arms dealers' money can be used to discredit or even destroy me physically.

Can you name names please?
There is such a move but I cannot name names now. They will be disclosed at the
appropriate time. There have been specific allegations against you. One linked to the reconstruction of a main road in the north. Construction of roads comes under the Ministry of Highways and the Road Development Authority. My ministry has nothing to do with.

Did your family get a road construction project?
My father was a civil contractor and started his business in the 1940s. When he died in 1972, I was still a schoolboy awaiting A/L results and my mother took over the business. She ran it herself till 1996 when my sister was brought in as a partner and the company was registered again..

Were they actively involved in business before the UNF came to office and did they carry out any construction work?

It was registered as a civil engineering company during the previous government. It was doing construction of state buildings and I have details regarding contracts. So it is not correct to say that the company suddenly got active after the UNF came to office.

What about the particular road in the north?
The RDA called for public tenders in February. My mother's company applied and was selected by the RDA because it gave the lowest tender. I have documents to show this. Just because I am a minister, can't my family members earn a living legitimately? There is no proof that I influenced anyone.

What about the allegations relating to commissions from dry rations being sent to the north?
My ministry secretary is a senior civil servant. There is a cabinet appointed tender board which decides on suppliers, prices, quantities in a transparent manner. I am not directly involved in any supplies.

What about the allegation that you rented an apartment at JAIC Hilton for US dollars 2600 (about Rs. 250,000) a month.
I have a letter from the General Manager of JAIC Hilton denying this allegation.

What has the Prime Minister said about the allegations against you?
He did not ask me anything but on my own I have given him all the details.

Have you been sidelined from rehabilitation work in the north ?
No. I was the chief guest at yesterday's trade fair in Jaffna.

The tragedy behind a two-year-old child's death
By Chandani Kirinde
Dilshan Lakmal was like any other two-year-old child. He played with his two older siblings and did naughty things that all young children do. But unlike most other children, Lakmal met his death last week as a result of an internal wound allegedly caused by a beating by his mother.

This unfortunate incident occurred in the Mawella area in Kelaniya with neighbours claiming that children in house were beaten up by their mother frequently.

Today she and her sister-in-law are in remand for causing Lakmal's death and his remaining siblings are left alone with the father, a hearing impaired labourer.

"Lakmal suffered from many physical ailments. A few days before his death, he had a breathing difficulty and I took him to the National Hospital. He was there for three days and he died. It was only after the post-mortem the doctors said his heart had been damaged by a blow," the father said.

However he said that the incident was a result of an accidental beating. "My wife had been angry and had given him a blow. Two of his ribs had been broken as a result and his heart had been affected," the man said after visiting his wife in the Welikada prison.

Peliyagoda police who are investigating the incident admitted that the neighbours had complained to them on a few occasions and the woman had been warned not to beat the children.

An official of the Women's and Children's Section of the Peliyagoda police said the main suspect (the mother) who did odd jobs in houses to make a little money seemed to have been directing her frustrations caused by poverty at her young children.

The other two children Krishantha (8) and Chalani (5) used to attend a neighbourhood school but these days as they cannot be left alone at home, they are forced to accompany the father when he goes out for work.

"I am in a difficult situation without their mother. There is no one to look after these children," the father lamented. For him the sorrow of losing his young child has been compounded by the burden of how he could raise his two other children with his meagre earnings.

US Senate backs Lanka's peace process
The US Senate has passed a resolution supporting Sri Lanka's peace process and called on the international community to support the process and lend assistance to the reconstruction of war-damaged areas.

The resolution passed this week said the US was willing to "lend its good offices to play a constructive role in supporting the peace process, if so desired by all parties of the conflict".

The resolution was passed 10 days after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met US President George W. Bush who pledged full support for the peace process.

It welcomed the ongoing ceasefire between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE and the government decision to lift travel restrictions on the north.

It called on both the government and the LTTE to recognize that adherence to internationally recognized human rights facilitated the building of trust necessary for an equitable and sustainable peace.

The resolution also called on the parties to negotiate in good faith with a view to finding a 'just and lasting political settlement to Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict while respecting the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka'.

Bail refused for ex-Air Force officers
By Laila Nasry
The Colombo High Court last Thursday refused bail for two Air Force officers convicted for criminal intimidation, trespass and unlawful entry with weapons into the home of The Sunday Times Consultant Editor and Defence Correspondent Iqbal Athas.

Delivering the judgment in the application for bail pending appeal, filed on behalf of the two Air Force officers, Rukman Herath and Sujeewa Kannangara by their wives, High Court judge Sarath Ambepitiya dismissed the case stating the exceptional circumstances as urged by the defence to be considered were not of such a nature and therefore bail would not be granted.

The judge said that there was no legal precedence as to what these exceptional circumstances could be and therefore he believed such circumstances should be determined on a case by case basis.

On the previous date when the application was taken up for argument both counsel for the defence, Srinath Perera PC and Mr. Ranjit Abeysuriya PC urged court to consider granting bail under exceptional circumstances, submitting that the judge had the discretion to grant bail under such circumstances and that he should not feel in any way that his hands were tied.

Senior State Counsel P.P. Surasena countering the argument said that to consider this an exceptional case which demanded exceptional concessions would only invite more persons in similar situations urging court to do the same.

In delivering the judgment, court considered the exceptional nature of the grounds for bail as submitted by the two counsel on behalf of their clients - the main factor being the wives and the children suffering as a result of the convictions and absence of the convicts from home.

Mr. Abeysuriya citing the illness of his client's daughter as a strong factor in support of bail submitted two reports one by a paediatrician and the other by a psychiatrist. The reports said that the behaviour of the child had changed subsequent to the conviction and that currently she remained psychologically disturbed.

Mr. Perera, too, citing the miscarriage suffered by the wife of his client as a result of her husband's conviction urged bail adding that the child would also benefit by having the father home.

Nevertheless in the judgment it was held that consequences to the family were not exclusive to this case alone and often inevitable in a conviction and thus did not amount to an exceptional situation.

Further it was stated that respectability was not a ground for bail. Mr. Abeysuriya, in support of bail, had submitted on the previous occasion that his client Kannangara came from a family with a legal background and the chances of him absconding consequent to bail being granted were remote as he had been present in court on all 30 trial dates. Mr. Perera too made similar submissions stating his client Rukman Herath had an unblemished service record in the Air Force, and that the likelihood of his client absconding was remote.

The court also referred to the time limit factor urged by the defence stating that bail should be granted in the interim of appeal which would take two years and also the defence submission that it was Ms. Athas and not Mr. Athas who had identified the 2nd accused Kannangara. The defence argued that these factors should be considered for bail as the chances of the case succeeding in appeal were great. But the court dismissed this argument by saying that they were not grounds on which bail could be preferred.

Squadron Leader Rukman Herath and Squadron Leader Sujeewa Kannangara were found guilty on two counts namely for committing the offence of entering the Athas residence on February 12, 1998 and for criminal intimidation towards Mr. Athas by threatening to cause grievous hurt by using a firearm.

Both were sentenced to seven years RI each for the first count and two years RI for the second count. They were also ordered to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000 in the event of default, one year RI.

Senior State Counsel P. P. Surasena appeared for the prosecution. Srinath Perera PC with Christopher de Alwis and Senerat Jayatunga appeared for Rukman Herath. Ranjit Abeysuriya PC with Duncan de Silva appeared for Sujeewa Kannangara.

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