The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

21st April 1996




Sixth circuit to the rescue

By Kumaradasa Wagista

The Presidential Committee on the development of the film industry has called for a sixth circuit to clear the backlog of local films.

The Committee headed by Prof. Senake Bandaranayake handed over its interim report recently to the President.

Among other recommendations are: removal of the 14-day compulsory exhibition period; the National Film Corporation to cease distributing films once the backlog is cleared; the National Film Development Fund (NFDF) to be revitalized and its funds used to support film producers, encourage young talent to make films and assist exhibitors to do up their cinema halls.

It also recommends that exhibitors be allowed to import films but the present 68 p.c. screen time for local films be maintained.

Trinco incident stirs protests by Hindus

The All Ceylon Hindu Congress has condemned some incidents at the water-cutting ceremony at Thirukoneswaram in Trincomalee on Friday.

ACHC treasurer M. Kandasamy told 'The Sunday Times' that the forces allowed only the Brahmin priest and the worshippers who carried the statue of Lord Siva to enter the premises where the ceremony took place.

The worshippers who were outside the premises protested saying they wanted to take part in the ceremony but the military did not allow them saying the premises come under their control.

The Congress has also stated that successive governments and the majority community have failed to treat Tamils as citizens with equal rights, an unfortunate situation in the country.

Monks oppose foreing mission's talks with Tamil political parties

By Shelani de Silva

The Federation of Buddhist Organisations has told foreign missions here, their recent meetings here with Tamil parties on the ethnic conflict amounted to an interference in internal affairs.

FBO Secretary, Gallege Punyawardena told the Sunday Times they had strongly protested to the foreign missions for having talks with political parties which had separatist claims.

"Most of these countries have helped the LTTE. They are to be blamed for the war. But now these Tamil parties are having talks with them. We see this as a serious threat to our country. Action must be taken to stop such discussions," Mr. Punyawardena said.

He said the FBO has written to the foreign missions and also asked the Government to take action.

Meanwhile an official of the British High Commission told The Sunday Times they were hoping to write to the FBO and set a date for a meeting. "We want to know what they have to say about our discussions with the Tamil parties. Their views on this will be considered", he said.

The Canadian High Commission said Canada would never interfere it the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, but neither would it shy away from the legitimate pursuit of knowledge to expand the understanding of this country and the people.

The High Commissioner, Konrad Sigurdson said he and other officers of the High Commission meet with a broad cross section of the people and organisations of Sri Lanka as much as possible to help them understand the issues of the country and their relationship to Canadian interests.

A spokesman for the Tamil parties which met European and other officials recently, said the meetings were important and fruitful.

Ex-director's plea fails

A Labour Tribunal recently dismissed the application of an ex-director of Freudenberg Shipping Agencies Limited who prayed for re-instatement with back wages, compensation, costs and other reliefs.

The applicant, L.V.P. Peiris submitted that he was appointed an executive director in the respondent company in November, 1987 and his services were terminated 'unreasonably and unjustifiably' with effect from March 10, 1995. He also prayed for an order awarding him Rs. 2,160,000 compensation.

The company raised three preliminary objections when the case was taken up on January 4, this year. It was submitted on behalf of the company that, as the applicant was a director, he could not be categorised as a 'worker' under Section 48 of the Industrial Disputes Act, the application was time barred. Also the applicant had already sought redress in a court of law.

Mr. N. Balasubramaniam, President of the Labour Tribunal dismissed the application upholding the last two objections of the company. Attorney-at-Law S.L. Gunasekera and Dinal Phillips instructed by G.G. Arulpragasam represented the respondent company.

No line with LTTE, unfortunately

Sri Lanka's main Tamil political party the TULF has reiterated its support for the government's devolution package but has appealed that the package should not be diluted in a manner that could make it ineffective.

TULF leader M. Sivasithamparam in an interview with The Sunday Times also reassured that the party had abandoned its demand for a separate state.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Are you not being political cowards in not sticking out your necks in trying to bring about peace and supporting the devolution package? The President mentioned this in her interview with the Hindu.

A: I must first make clear that I am not answering the strictures made by the President on the Tamil political parties. We are saddened by it no doubt but do not want to get involved in answering her as such.

As for not sticking out our necks and supporting the devolution package the TULF being for a political solution supported the government and the devolution package before changes were made in the Select Committee. I have taken risks and so have some of my colleagues since the package was introduced on August 3, 1995 to the country. I have talked on the Tamil service of the S.L.B.C. supporting the package. It is a risk I took, so did my colleagues. I have answered Sinhala extremists such as S.L. Gunasekera, Gamani Jayasuriya and Nalin de Silva. I have defended strongly the proposals which these people chose to attack. So much so that I have been pilloried in the LTTE press.

So how can anyone say we have not taken risks. If now we are not openly supporting the proposals it is because some of the facets of the package have been changed in the legal framework of the Select Committee. This dilutes the purpose of the package.

Q: What is the unit of devolution are you asking for? Is it a merger of the North and East?

A: Yes. One of the units has to be the merger of the North and East with arrangements for the Muslims.

Q: Why are the Tamil Parties including the TULF so specifically adamant about this issue when the Sinhala Parties, are opposed to it?

A: Have not the Sinhala people lived with the merger for nearly nine years? We as Tamils ask for it because we feel it is the only way the security and safety of the Tamil people can be ensured.

Q: Why are you talking of the safety and security of the Tamil people?

A: Why not? In the holocaust of 1983 where did the Tamil people seek safety but in the North and East?

Q: Is the TULF determined to support the devolution package or what does it propose if the package fails?

A: We want the devolution package with certain amendments to succeed. We may not go around asking for signatures to a petition in its support as has been suggested but we don't want it to fail by any means. With amendments and additions to satisfy the reasonable aspirations of the Tamil people we are for it.

Since the 1977 elections though we did ask for a mandate for a separate state we had given it up after the late Mr. Amirthalingam visited several foreign states as Leader of the Opposition and found that most countries did not want us to pursue the separate state theory. We were prepared to go back to our electorates and explain this to the people. But actually until last year nothing happened.

We appreciated very much the stand taken by President Kumaratunga in August last year, and we wanted to support the Devolution Package which replaced Article 2 of the 1978 Constitution which stipulated a unitary State. This was to be replaced by a Union of Regions acceptable to us.

So you see we, the TULF, supported the devolution package amidst virulent criticism from the extreme Sinhala people.

But in the Select Committee stage certain amendments have been introduced such as stating the indissolubility of the union of regions. Why when we never asked or spoke about seceding. So why mention it? It serves only as an irritant. Unlike the Indian system where a regional unit can be dissolved only if it is an external or internal threat and governance brought under the President. Now here the amendment allows the President even under emergency rule to bring a region under the President and dissolve the Regional Councils. Also the Regional Councils in such instances cannot go to the Supreme Court for redress of their grievances.

We hope these things can be adjusted. We by no means want the devolution package to fail.

Q: Why have you not tried to speak to the LTTE?

A: Unfortunately we have so far not been able to establish a line of communication.

Q: Why have some Tamil political parties decided to ask foreign mission here to intervene in settling the ethnic issue? Isn't it an invitation to interfere in our internal affairs?

A: The TULF is not one of those parties. We are only seeking certain amendments to the legal draft of the devolution package to solve the ethnic issue.

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