A mixed package from Nakhon Pathom
By Anthony David
The second phase of the first round of peace talks comes to an end in Thailand today with a mixed bag of developments and surviving a fresh acid test following a court order sentencing LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran for 200 years in Jail.

With first day of talks, at the Royal Resort, Nakhon Pathom mainly focused on the eastern province situation, the second day shifted to the issue of the establishment of a Joint Task Force (JTF) aimed at drawing a comprehensive plan to be submitted to an aid pledging meeting in Oslo on November 25, where Sri Lanka is to seek aid for rehabilitation and reconstruction work.

On the eastern province security situation the two sides were able to finalise mechanisms that would help to maintain better relations between the LTTE and mainly the Muslims in the area. An informal meeting between LTTE Eastern military leader Karuna and SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem was useful for the drawing up of the measures.

The LTTE in a change of course has also reportedly agreed on taking disciplinary action against those failing to obey instructions of the leadership, while assuring that civilians will be able to return to their original areas in LTTE controlled areas and carryout farming activities, a promise given earlier by the LTTE leadership, but not fulfilled.

The LTTE during the process had raised the issue of the presence of the STF in the eastern province.

A series of changes are expected to come into effect in the eastern province to reduce communal tension, clashes between the LTTE and security forces and regarding the rights of the civilians in the areas.

As an immediate step on improving the situation in the eastern province, direct communication between the commanders of the LTTE and the STF will be established, while more senior members are to be named from both sides to the existing Sri Lanka monitoring missions committees in the east.

As the government delegation and the LTTE were finalising details on resolving the problems in the east, the news about the verdict on the Central Bank bombing case reached the delegates on Thursday evening.

The issue about the impact of the judgement on the current peace process turned out to be the question posed to the government and the LTTE. Sri Lankan delegation chief Prof. G.L.Peiris downplayed the issue saying he saw no reason that the talks should be affected.

But, LTTE's chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham reacted sharply criticising the judgement saying it could affect the spirit of the peace process adding that "if Sri Lankan leaders are tried before our courts for war crimes committed during the past they would be sentenced for 2000 years."

Mr. Balasingham told journalists they were confident that the judgment did not reflect the government thinking. But the government would not be able to disassociate itself as it was a verdict from the courts.

More focus was on the issue about the judgement than the other issues cropping up from the ongoing talks, after the news about the judgement was received. As soon as Mr. Balasingham briefly met the media on Friday, the first question posed to him was calling for his reaction on the court verdict against Mr. Prabhakaran.

Many of the international media focused more on the court verdict than other issues cropping up from the peace talks itself. Even the pro-LTTE media covering the event also sharply focused on the issue and made use of Mr. Balasingham's comments critising the verdict.

The judgement is likely to add some pressure on to the LTTE which would have to face the reality as the court directions would have to follow.

As the talks continued taking up the issue of the Joint Task Force (JTF) Minister Rauff Hakeem representing the interests of the Muslims, stressed that the composition of the delegates from the proposed three persons from each side should be increased. Accordingly the number is to be increased to four or five from each side and the Muslims will have two representatives.

The Sri Lankan delegation was in touch with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on the issue and until Saturday morning matters relating to the issue had not been finalized.

Mr. Hakeem laid the ground work to press for the demand by meeting the Norwegian delegation led by Vidar Helgesen Norway's Deputy Foreign Minister ahead of the JTF issue being taken up.

Eventually Mr.Hakeem's demands regarding the establishment of the JTF were accommodated substantially and drastic changes were made. But the issue whether they could set up such a committee as a separate body still remains.

The High security zone issue, where the rebels have been demanding that the security forces be withdrawn from places occupied by them, was another matter which came up for discussion, but had not been resolved and further talks were to take place.

The issue has been one of the other demands by the LTTE.

The government has not made it clear as to what concerns on its side had been addressed during this round of talks.

One of the concerns of the military had been that hartal campaigns organised by the LTTE were adding pressure to the security forces. The issues were due to be raised.

Eventually many of the LTTE concerns and the Muslim concerns appeared to have been taken up for discussion, while the court ruling on the LTTE leader has been down played. But what has not been made clear has been whether the concerns of the government had been taken up adequately.

Millennium city safe house commission caught in road blocks
By Chandani Kirinde
The Commission appointed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga to probe the political and military controversy over the police raid on the "safe house" in Athurugiriya has run into a series of road blocks- some practical and others as mysterious as the issue being probed.

The Commission was appointed on August 16 and told to submit a report in three months or by November 16, but Commissioner, Dharmasiri Jayawickrema- a retired Appeals Court judge has written to the president asking for more time he has been able to make only a little headway.

An investigation by The Sunday Times revealed that the main reason for the delay has been the failure of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to appoint a police officer to serve on the Commission despite a request being made in August.

Instead, the IGP had written to the Attorney General last week asking if he would be acting within legal bounds in complying with a request to assign police officers as there are several court cases filed by both the army and police concerning the January raid on the safe house.

Police Chief T.E. Anandarajah said the matter had been referred to the AG's Department and he was awaiting a reply before making the appointment.

Although the Commission has a retired DIG as the chief investigative officer, it needs a serving police officer to assist in issuing summons or recording statements.

The Commissioner last Tuesday visited the safe house in Athurugiriya's Millennium city to check on the location and related details.

The Sunday Times found that the Commission has been blocked by several other delays as well.

The AG's Department appointed a state counsel to assist the Commission only on October 8, although the request was made more than a month ago.

The person who was appointed as the secretary to the Commission has become indisposed after a minor accident and hence a new secretary would also have to be appointed. The commissioner's request for a Tamil speaking interpreter too has not been met as the Supreme Court which lends an interpreter is facing a shortage of interpreters because of the large number of cases being filed by Tamil speaking persons since the ceasefire.

The Commission will be unable to function without an interpreter as most of the army personnel whose names have figured in the investigation are Tamil speaking.

In addition the CWE which normally gives stationery on credit to such Commissions has also refused the request this time, The Sunday Times learns.

The Commission has been asked to query into several matters that include whether there was any information given by army personnel of the armed forces disclosing the existence of a safe house at Athurugiriya, and if so by whom and under what circumstance and to whom such disclosures were made.

It will also probe whether there were any compelling reasons for the police to raid the safe house and take action in the manner they did in taking into custody several army personnel and whether the police officers who raided the safe house obtained directions from the IGP or any higher authority prior to taking such action.

The other matters to be queried are as follows:

*Has the Commander of the Army or any other senior officer on his behalf been consulted or informed about the said raid and whether the Commander or any such authority has indicated the dangers in such a situation and whether the Commander has warned the police having assured of any information that would be required to ascertain the circumstances in which the unit existed.

*Have the police officers acted arbitrarily in acting in the manner they did, jeopardized the security of the state and the military strategy of the armed forces and exposed the personnel engaged in the duties entrusted to them by the army?

*Has this action in any manner induced/assisted in neutralizing the military strategy of the army in combating terrorism in the northern and eastern provinces?

*Have the defense authorities and the police Department taken appropriate disciplinary action under the police ordinance or other existing laws of the country against any officer/officers responsible for any illegal acts or violation of any police departmental orders/ regulations and if so, is it considered sufficient in the circumstances?

The Commissioner has also been asked to make recommendations to prevent interference by any officials or authorities in the military strategies of the armed forces duly operated on the orders of Commanders of the armed forces and any other recommendations considered relevant by the Commission on it's findings in terms of this warrant.

Boat boy Priyantha comes back without brain
By Tania Fernando
A young Sri Lankan illicit immigrant who did odd jobs in Italy for about seven years has died in a mysterious way days before he was to get a "sittu" of about five million rupees.

Adding to the mystery the body of 32-year-old Priyantha Dhammika Fernando- who went to Italy on one of those notorious boats- came back in a macabre way without the brain.

According to his brother Niroshan and other family members, the mystery of the missing brain came up when a doctor at the Colombo Airport directed that an autopsy be done on Priyantha's body by the JMO here.The inspector at the Airport Police post said the family had made an entry about Priyantha's death and that the body had been passed to the Airport Doctor, who in turn had sent it to the AJMO.

Priyantha had gone to Italy in August 1995 in search of a job and a better life there but for seven years he had done only temporary jobs in houses.

The shocking part of the story began on October 13, when his family in Wenappuwa received a call from a friend in Italy saying Priyantha had passed away a few hours after being admitted to hospital on complaining of chest pains.

Several more calls were received by the family from his friends but in another mysterious turn there was a delay of more than two weeks before the body was sent back to Sri Lanka in a sealed coffin.

Priyantha's brother said they had received instructions that the coffin should not be opened.

The AJMO here conducted an autopsy and gave a report saying further investigations needed to be conducted to ascertain the cause of death as the body had been embalmed in Italy and the brain was not available.

Niroshan said a medical report sent from there in Italian did not specify the ailment of the cause of death and the family was in touch with his brother's friends in Italy to clear the mystery.

According to Niroshan, Priyantha had called his former employer in Sri Lanka and spoken to him on October 8 telling him that he would be returning to Sri Lanka in December.

A relative who was at the funeral gave the only possible clue saying there was speculation of possible foul play in Priyantha's sudden death. He said Priyantha had joined a 'sittu' and would have got almost five million rupees in a few days and that might be linked to the mystery death.

Jaffna says no to Indian fishermen
An appeal by Indian fisherman in Rameshwaram to fish in Lankan waters has been turned down by the Chairman of the Jaffna Fishermen's Cooperative Society. He has turned down the request on the grounds that it was only with the signing of the MoU between the government and the LTTE that Jaffna fishermen had access to fish without constraints.

Back home
On Wednesday the Army accompanied three Divisional Secretaries on a tour to Ariyalay and Colombathurai to make arrangements to settle civilians after the area was cleared of mines.

Meanwhile following the completion of clearing land mines by US experts in Sarasalai area in Jaffna, 2574 families have been settled in the area.

Last week US experts cleared about 123,000 square meters of land, in Sarasali area in Jaffna. The US experts were able to clear 980 anti-personal mines and 42 pieces of unexploded ordnance. The team also collected and destroyed numerous other pieces of unexploded ordnance.

Fisheries Minister wants powerful coast guard
By Nalaka Nonis
Amidst reports of an increase in poaching by Indian vessels in Sri Lanka's fishing waters the Fisheries Ministry wants to set up a strong coast guard with at least two high speed boats and a helicopter.

Minister Mahinda Wijesekera said he was in touch with Indian Government officials to work out new ways and laws to curb the poaching.

For that purpose a 15 member committee including two LTTE members has been appointed to recommend ways of tackling the problem.

Mr. Wijesekera said the Navy was not able to cover the entire area of 200 nautical miles and thus there was a need for a powerful coast guard to safeguard Sri Lanka's fishing resources.

Dinesh sees separate state behind JTF
The Sinhala MPs Front led by MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena and about 20 other Sinhala organisations have protested strongly against the setting up of the Joint Task Force between the Government and the LTTE.

Mr. Gunwardhena claimed the JTF would infringe on the rights of the Sinhalese, Muslims and sections of the Tamil community.

He said that since the signing of the MoU the government seemed to be yielding to all the demands of the LTTE and the process might lead to a state of Eelam.

Mr. Gunawardhena expressed fears that the JTF would be an agency for the administration of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, with neither Parliament or the President having control over it.

He said the JTF was just another name for the interim administration to pave the way for a separate Eelam state which would be recognised by western countries led by Norway.

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