The Sunday TimesFront Page

30th June 1996




Lanka warns UN envoy for discourtesy

The United Nations Resident Representative Arve Ofstad was summoned on Friday to the Foreign Office in Colombo and warned by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar for advising a UN agency that Colombo was unsafe for an international conference.

Norwegian born Mr. Ofstad was told by Mr. Kadirgamar that he should have had the courtesy of first consulting the Foreign Office before such advise was tendered. He was also asked not to do so in future.

The issue arose after the UN agency, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), wrote to Sri Lanka's Ambassador in Geneva, Bernard Gunathillake, seeking advise on the feasibility of holding a training conference in Colombo after the UN Resident Representative and Resident Co-Ordinator had informed them that Colombo was unsafe.

Mr. Ofstad had said the conference, a regional training course on intellectual property, could however be held in Bentota, Negombo or Kandalama and mentioned by name specific hotels which were safe.

The WIPO had pointed out that this training course was organised annually since 1984 without a break jointly by it, the UNDP and the Sri Lankan Government.

Foreign Minister Kadirgamar last night expressed the grave displeasure of himself and the President that the UN Resident Representative thought it fit to give advise to a specialised agency of the UN against holding a meeting in Colombo without even extending to the host government the elementary courtesy of consulting it before hand.

The Minister said, "never again should such advise be tendered without giving the government the opportunity to express its own views first."

Mr. Kadirgamar said he would not tolerate the discourtesy to the government or the people of Sri Lanka from any quarter.

Mr. Ofstad had explained to the Minister he was only following UN guidelines on countries where there were disturbances, but said he would in future consult the host government before tendering his advise.

The Sri Lankan envoy in Geneva was instructed to advise the WIPO that Colombo was safe for such a conference.

He was also instructed to advise the WIPO that 19 international conferences including one by UNESCO had been held in Colombo since the January 31 Central Bank bombing.

Late last year the Foreign Ministry wrote a sharp letter to UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali saying he had been misinformed on the situation in Jaffna following Operation Riviresa I. Mr. Boutros Ghali has retracted later.

About that time the ICRC Representative in Colombo had been warned after he made some erroneous remarks to the international press about an alleged bombing of the Navaly Church near Jaffna by the armed forces.

In February this year, the Australian and West Indies cricket teams refused to come to Colombo to take part in their scheduled World Cup games.

Cricket Board checkmated

A cheque for US $20,000 given by the organisers of the controversial Sri Lanka cricket tour of Los Angeles has bounced, a Cricket Board official disclosed yesterday.

He said the matter was taken up at a Cricket Board executive committee meeting held yesterday morning at it's headquarters.

This fly-by-night tour of Los Angeles had raised a storm with reports of non-payment of fees to players and other issues.

Fares up, but no funds for better bus service

By Arshad M. Hadjirin

A proposal to improve the country's transport sector with a subsidy of over Rs. 200 million has been turned down by the Treasury for the second time, compelling an increase of busfares, Transport Minister Srimani Athulathmudali said.

The Minister told "The Sunday Times" that since the Treasury had refused the money, the Ministry would now try to raise funds to improve the transport sector with the additional revenue from the increased bus fares.

A 15 percent bus fare increase both, in the private and state sector comes into effect from midnight today. Accordingly the minimum bus fare will go up from Rs. 1.50 to Rs. 2.00.

The increase in the bus fares comes despite a recommendation made by a committee which said fares should not be increased without improving the services.

Ms. Athulathmudali said the government had no funds to improve the bus services at present and the only alternative left was to use the revenue from the increased fares. "I tried my best to convince the Treasury to get the subsidy which could have meant a lot to the transport industry", she said.

The committee which studied the transport fares was looking into the possibility of providing subsidies for private sector operators to maintain their vehicles and purchase spare parts.

According to Sri Lanka Central Transport Board Chairman, Ramal Siriwardena, the Peoplised Transport Services are running at a huge loss of Rs.1.84 for every kilometre a bus operates.

The bus fare increase comes at a time when transport services have deteriorated causing severe hardship to the public.

Writing on the wall for paper company

Amidst growing disputes over privatisation, reports are emerging to privatize the National Paper Company and its factories as a great national asset.

Insiders at the NPC's Embilipitiya mill say the factory had a profit of Rs. 101 million for the past financial year and the performance this year would have been better if not for the power cut.

They said the head office complex of the NPC at Hyde Park Corner, had assets to the value of Rs. 350 million.

The NPC and it factories have a total staff of about 3500 and there are fears among them that this key industry might be sold to interested parties at undervalued rates.

Net closes in on drug mafia

Police have launched a surveillance on drug king pins islandwide, with all police stations keeping a close tab on the movements of drug traffickers and dealers in their areas, a senior police officer said.

Senior DIG Merril Gunaratne said on information received, Police had detected 679 cases leading to a number of arrests. "We have detected more than one kilogram of heroin in three raids to the value of Rs.1,105,000.

He said of the 679 cases detected and taken to court, 237 cases had already been concluded resulting in 17 suspects receiving rigorous imprisonment terms ranging from 6 to 12 months and fines to the tune of Rs.1,022,000.00. "We still have 447 cases pending in courts, and with their conclusion, total fines will exceed Rs. 2.5 million" he said.

Police crackdown on big timers in narcotic trade came after President Chandrika Bandaranaike met the Inspector General of Police and other senior police officers and ordered the crackdown.

Police said the campaign against heroin will be further intensified in the weeks to come.

Local polls in 2 months

Amidst widespread speculation that elections to all local bodies except the North and East will be held within the next two months, all political parties are gearing up for the polls.

Elections Commissioner, Dayananda Dissanayake confirmed that the Department was preparing for polls.

Government sources said President Chandrika Kumaratunga has directed SLFP General Secretary Dharmasiri Senanayake to organise the party at grassroot level for the local polls.

Elections will be held for the Municipal and Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas. The last poll for the local bodies was held in 1991.

A spokesman for the UNP said the party was geared to face any election, whether local, provincial or general.

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