The Sunday TimesFront Page

25th August 1996




Until cricket matches are over

LTTE ban postponed

An impending legal ban on the LTTE scheduled to have taken place this week was indefinitely postponed at the last minute owing to the ongoing cricket matches in Colombo, The Sunday Times learns.

A national security council decision to proscribe the LTTE was to be implemented on Friday but a stormy sports lobby, urged the government to re-consider the move citing the possibility of the four nation Singer limited over cricket tournament being disrupted in the event of an immediate LTTE backlash following the ban.

A senior government source explained that the arrival of national cricket teams of Australia, India and Zimbabwe was viewed as a positive signal overseas for the fast declining tourist industry.

"If the LTTE struck during the cricket tournament everyone would have blamed the government for provoking the LTTE. If they strike nevertheless (in Colombo) they have only themselves, to be faulted",, the source added.

The ban was to have been discussed at Wednesday's regular cabinet meeting but had been put off following the Attorney general's advice (see political commentary, on page 8).

On Thursday morning Education Minister and Chief Government Whip Richard Pathirana had informal discussions with Tamil parties - other than the TULF - to seek their views on the ban.

Tamil parties have been against a ban on the LTTE on the grounds that it would affect any possible moves to negotiate with them in the future.

Mr. Pathirana had spoken to the Eelam peoples' Democratic Party (EPDP) leader, Douglas Devananda and PLOTE leader, Dharmalingam Siddarthan individually to ascertain their views on the ban.

"The Sunday Times" learns that the PLOTE leader questioned the practical implications of the ban on LTTE. He had also pointed out that it could affect the chances of any future talks. Mr. Devananda was reported to be non-committal, but had pointed out that any move against the Tamil speaking people would be opposed.

A special cabinet meeting was summoned on Thursday evening again to discuss the ban, but by the time the ministers had assembled, the President had decided to postpone the ban owing to the cricket matches. The Zimbabwe team will be in Sri Lanka till mid-September.

President Kumaratunga made use of the meeting to discuss the Samurdhi programme and also the need to cut the bread subsidy with her ministers instead.

The decision to ban the LTTE this week coincided with a visit by the 7-member US counter terrorism team led by Ambassador Philip Wilco of the US State department. It was the first time the US has sent a delegation to Sri Lanka to discuss steps to counter terrorism.

President to shift residence

By Asantha Sirimanna and Kumarasiri Hettige

With work on several multi-million dollar high-rise building projects at a standstill in Colombo city on security advice and protect from their investors the President's and Prime Minister's official residences are to be shifted to Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte.

Construction of at least eight high-rise buildings have been suspended on security advice sharply escalating building costs and putting thousands out of work overnight.

The construction of the residential complex for the VVIPs is to commence only early next year, according to a Government spokesman.

The decision has been taken mainly on security consideration, but it was not clear immediately whether the ban on construction of these high-rise buildings would stay until then.

It is believed that the move to stop construction was aimed at preventing a possible threat to the life of the President.

One of the affected projects is the US $ 65 million 35-floor JAIC luxury apartment tower in Union Place. The Bank of Ceylon/Merchant Bank Tower in Kollupitiya was also ordered to stop work.

The Presidential Security Division and Urban Development Authority officials visited the site last Saturday, sources said. However the Royal Park project is believed to be unaffected as it is located outside the city.

Analysts say the move will have a negative effect on the already troubled investment climate of the country. Officials say the delay is costing them millions of rupees a day. "We have to pay wages to idling employees",, one contractor pointed out.

In addition, delays would also push back the date up completion causing interest costs also to rise.

One project estimates that each work day lost is costing them US $ 20,000. (Rs. 1.1 million). Construction has been permitted on the first 3 floors.

Meanwhile jobs of hundreds of workers are also threatened, with temporary workers employed in the smaller projects losing their pay. However if the stoppage continues, even workers on monthly pay would be laid off, contractors say.

The JAIC project at Union Place for example employ 750 skilled and unskilled workers. The workers have been sent home with orders to report back on Monday.

One project official said the move gives the impression that the government is unable to contain the security situation.

Last year the government banned domestic flights of aircraft, again due to security fears, clearly demonstrating to the world that claims that tourists were safe was utter nonsense.

"It is no use pretending that everything is normal when this type of move is made",, he pointed out. Crescat Development Ltd., a subsidiary of Asian Hotels Corporation, that is building a luxury apartment tower in the premises of the Oberoi Hotel, has escaped the ban, though situated close to Temple Trees. Officials say they were saved as there was another building between their project and Temple Trees.

Search for soldiers delayed for lack of list

By Shelani de Silva

The Defence Ministry is yet to release the list of names of soldiers missing in the Mullaitivu attack to the ICRC. The ICRC which receives hundreds of applications daily from soldier families is unable to commence tracing the soldiers without the official list of names.

Meanwhile the UNP has submitted a list of 250 names of soldiers after the party formed a committee to help family members. The committee is headed by Parliamentarian. P. Dayaratne .

"We handed over 250 names to the ICRC, but daily we receive at least ten inquiries. We have categorised the list into four sections, for each force," Mr. Dayaratne said.

It is learnt the 250 names include officers from all four forces and civilians. "Once word goes round I am sure we could get the exact number. The government should give a list to the ICRC, specially considering the plight of the families. We are told that the ICRC has got only a list of names of the Navy and Police. The number is less than hundred," he explained.

A military spokesman told "The Sunday Times" the army is unable to release the list due to security reasons but added the families have all the right to seek ICRC assistance.

However an ICRC spokesperson said they would begin tracing the 250 soldiers very soon. "Daily we get families coming to our office to get information but without the official list we are unable to do anything.

We have not heard from the LTTE of any captive soldiers. We appealed to them a month back asking for any names," she said.

Korean job figures blown up

Sri Lankans could get about 1,500 jobs in South Korea this year and not 30,000 as reported in some sections of the media, a spokesman for the Seoul mission here said.

Korean Counselor, S.K. Chung told The Sunday Times there had been a serious distortion of figures of jobs offered to Sri Lanka. Denying reports that Sri Lanka was to get 30,000 jobs, he pointed out that South Korea annually offered 30,000 jobs to people from several countries and of those Sri Lanka would get 1,500.

Since Sri Lanka had not used its full allocation of jobs last year, the figure this year might be a little more.

President Kumaratunga and a top delegation who visited South Korea on an investment promotion tour recently had also discussed the possibility of getting more jobs for Sri Lankans.

Meanwhile Labour Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa who accompanied the President to Korea said that of some 1,500 Lankans who were sent to Korea about 1300 had run away from there!

The majority of them are believed to have sought employment in Japan for higher salaries.

The Minister told reporters that due to this, Korean firms had lost confidence in Lankan workers.

Top cement maker buys Puttalam

"Holderbank", a Swiss based company, one of the world's largest cement manufacturers has purchased the controversial Puttalam Cement Co. Ltd. (PCCL).

Transactions with regard to the transferring of 80% of shares to Holderbank have to be finalised by Friday, thereby compelling the Thawakkals to sell theirs as well, trade sources said.

PCCL was privatised in late 1993 under the then government's privatization programme in which a 90 per cent stake was sold to the Thawakkal group of Pakistan for a purchase consideration of US $41.1 million (over Rs. 2000bn). A majority of the shares were then placed among several foreign investment funds.

Subsequent to a bitter court battle in which allegations of corruption and mismanagement were levelled against the Thawakkals, they were ousted from the Board of the PCCL following an extraordinary general meeting held in mid February, this year.

The latest purchaser of the PCCL who owns 70 manufacturing plants worldwide, produces one fifth of the world's cement requirements.

"Holderbank" was the second highest bidder when the Puttalam Cement Co. Ltd. was originally offered for sale.

Call for FEB head to resign

Chairman, Foreign Employment Bureau, Col. Nissanka Wijeratne has been asked to quit the post, for a statement he made which could jeopardise the country's future job opportunities in the Gulf states.

The Association of Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA), a body incorporated under an Act of Parliament, has called for stern disciplinary action against Mr. Wijeratne, for calling Sri Lankan housemaids working in Kuwait as "sex salves".

The Association Chairman W.P.M. Aponso addressing a press conference said: "We want Mr. Wijeratne deposed from the post of Chairman, or we will have to resort to an action similar to that of a strike; we will stop recruiting workers from our agencies".

Mr. Aponso warned that if foreign employment ceases, the country's economy will be hit. ALFEA has more than 450 member agencies and it consists all of Sri LankaÕs licensed job agencies.

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