The Sunday TimesFront Page

22nd September 1996




UNP supporters gunned down in cold blood

Killing Fields of Negombo

By Arshad M. Hadjirin & Ratnapala Gamage

Carnage in Negombo: a woman who was injured in the crossfilre explains how she became an innocent victim of political violenc. Pic. by Ranjith Perera

In continuing rivalry between the supporters of the two main political parties, another UNP Pradeshiya Sabha member was gunned down yesterday, raising the number of those killed since Friday's shooting in Negombo to six.

Charles de Willam was shot at point blank by a lone gunman on a motorcycle around 6.30 p.m. yesterday when he was returning home at Kussala, close to the Raddolugama housing scheme after attending a funeral.

Yesterday's incident took place as tension was building up in the area after four UNP supporters and a bystander were killed on Friday evening when the UNP-ers were returning from a controversial court case in the Negombo Magistrate's Court.

All the UNP supporters gunned down are reported to be close political associates of the UNP strongman of the area, Chief Opposition Whip Wijeyapala Mendis, a former Textiles Minister.

On Friday, UNP MPs Anura Bandaranaike and Wijeyapala Mendis themselves narrowly missed being hit when the convoy of UNP supporters returning from the magistrate's court was ambushed by a group of persons who are reported to have waited for the convoy.

Mr. Bandaranaike told The Sunday Times soon after the incident that "this was the most gory scene he had ever seen in his life."

Meanwhile, the owner of the vehicle allegedly used in Friday's shooting was taken in for questioning after a top level CID team took over investigations on the political violence that has rocked this major town.

Police said the man who claimed his vehicle was hijacked around 11 a.m. lodged the complaint at the Seeduwa station well after the incident.

The owner claimed that an armed gang removed the vehicle saying they would return it to him by 5 p.m., police said.

Police said the owner of the vehicle who had been operating the van from the airport taxi stand was under interrogation to ascertain whether he had any links with the group involved in Friday's attack at the junction of the turn off to the Katuwapitiya Road.

Magistrate Lalith Jayasuriya yesterday morning visited the scene of the attack along with CID Director O.K. Hemachandra. They later visited the place where another person was killed by two men on a motorcycle. The magisterial inquiry was fixed for Friday.

The first incident took place when some UNP supporters were returning from courts after the proceedings of the case in which Western Provincial Councillor Davindra Mendis and his bodyguard were produced in connection with a shooting incident at Kurana on August 31, in which two persons were killed.

The vehicle carrying a group of UNP supporters was ambushed as it came along the Chilaw-Negombo main road and was turning towards the Katuwapitiya Road.

An eye witness, M. S. Appuhamy, a coconut plucker who had been standing on the road said it was around 2.30 p.m., when a white vehicle

came at a high speed and parked near a cross road.

"Soon afterwards a blue van came up to the cross road and took a left turn from the junction, but suddenly persons in the white van started shooting at the blue van.

He said one bullet struck his wife, while another seriously injured a friend of his. A hail of bullets ripped through a third person - a beetle seller, who later succumbed to his injuries at the Negombo Base Hospital.

"When the driver of the blue van, despite the gun attack tried to drive the vehicle away from the scene, a hand grenade was lobbed closer to the vehicle, and the white van sped away.".

The gang in the white van had driven a short distance, abandoned the vehicle and hijacked another vehicle at Kadirana junction and escaped after threatening the driver with a T-56 automatic weapon.

This driver had lodged a complaint at the Negombo police.

Among the five persons killed in both incidents was the Katunayake-Seeduwa Urban Council vice chairman Silvan J. Perera who was also the former president of the UNP affiliated Airport Taxi Service Union.

Mr. Perera who had complained of death threats earlier had written his last will on Thursday night. His house had been bombed earlier when the UNP affiliated taxi union was set to resume taxi services from January 1, 1996 after winning a fundamental rights case against Deputy Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle.

Meanwhile the widow of Mr. Perera yesterday urged the Magistrate to make arrangements to provide additional security for the funeral of her husband as there were threats and accordingly the Police was given a directive to strengthen security.

Two persons who had been admitted to the Negombo hospital with injuries were transferred to another hospital for security reasons.

Tension has been mounting in the area for the past several months due to rivalry between PA and UNP supporters.

Move to resume talks?

CBK ready for outside mediation

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has indicated willingness to accept third party mediation between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to end the country's 14-year-old ethnic war.

In an interview with the popular Frontline magazine published in India, the President said the government would insist that the LTTE should lay down arms before any negotiation.

"But, of course, the third party making contact and beginning discussions can happen even without that, if certain other conditions are fulfilled," the President said without elaborating.

Ms. Kumaratunga, in response to another question on third party mediation, said it would be accepted "if the conditions are correct" adding that the government had been trying to persuade the LTTE to agree to that in the past.

"I requested them to name people. They did not. The government named a very neutral person from a very neutral country. They refused," she said referring to third party mediation.

However, the President during the interview had appeared to be skeptical about LTTE's seriousness to enter into a negotiated settlement, saying "it is very clear that the LTTE leadership does not believe seriously in negotiated settlements."

President Kumaratunga's inclination to accept a third party mediation was seen as a significant move to bring the government and the LTTE back to the negotiating table, since the LTTE renewed hostilities against the security forces in April last year.

EPDP: 15 only in interim body

By M. Ismeth

The Interim Committee for the North and East should be delegated powers to implement decisions taken by it and consist of 15 members on an ethnic proportion, said EPDP leader Douglas Devananda.

He told "The Sunday Times" that it would be advisable to have a committee of 15 members representing all three communities - eight from the Tamil parties, four Muslims and three Sinhalese. They could be appointed by the respective political parties. This committee could elect a chairman of its own, he said.

The committee should be given powers to implement any political decisions taken by it. As it is, any decision and its implementation is done by the Cabinet. Since the appointment of the Interim Committee is a step in the right direction, the President under Section 154 of the Constitution could delegate powers to the committee to implement any political decisions it may take.

The committee appointed by the President recently consists of 31 members of Parliament. Mr. Ashraff's committee consists of eight District Secretaries, 39 MPs and 72 from local bodies which is well over hundred.

Mr. Devananda said his party and the PLOTE oppose the size of the committee and would want a committee of 15 members with powers. There is no use in having a committee without any powers delegated to it, he emphasised.

The EPDP and the PLOTE are opposed to the Interim Committee which was set up by the President recently with Minister of Shipping M.H.M. Ashraff and Governor of N/E Gamini Fonseka as Co- Chairmen.

Kolonnawa discards take minister to court

By Kishali Adhikari

In the wake of an activist fundamental rights jurisprudence which upholds the rule of law against political thuggery and violence, the supreme court recently gave leave to appeal in a fundamental rights petition involving four politicians.

The respondents are Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and three prominent PA Mulberry group members, Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, Nawalage Bennet Cooray and Upali Gooneratne.

In this petition, sixteen newly recruited labourers at the Government Factory, Kolonnawa have gone before the highest court of the land, alleging their employment has been terminated due to political influence being exercised by these MP's.

The petitioners point out that they applied for the posts of unskilled labourers at the Government Factory Kolonnawa after the vacancies were advertised in the gazette. The Government Factory Kolonnawa is the only factory catering to the Government Departments in various functions such as repairing and building of vehicles etc.

After the applicants were interviewed and exhaustively questioned regarding their knowledge and experience, seventy three persons including the petitioners received letters of appointment in July 1996. Shortly thereafter on the 2nd of August, work at the factory had been disrupted by the Mulberry group MPs who had come with a crowd of supporters and demanded that the new recruits be sent home and "their people" employed instead.

Amidst the melee, several factory officials were assaulted by the crowd. Later on in the same day, the new recruits had been summoned by the factory officials and told to stop work.

When they had protested, they had been informed that the action was being taken on the instructions of Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva.

Debarred from the factory premises, the petitioners had sought a meeting with the Minister who had assured them that President Chandrika Kumaratunga had initiated an inquiry into the incident that had taken place in August and that the petitioners would be told of the outcome in two weeks time. Subsequent attempts to meet the Minister after two weeks had however failed.

The petitioners were meanwhile unable to report for work or collect their salaries and attempts by them to report the matter to the police also failed as the police refused to record their complaints, saying that they do not wish to offend powerful politicians.

Citing these matters the petitioners allege that the termination/suspension of their employment is unlawful, unreasonable, arbitrary and discriminatory, thereby violating Article 12 (1) and (2) and Article 14 (1) (g) of the Constitution. The supreme court will decide on the merits of the petition in due course.

President appeals to TULF

Stressing that the North urgently needed political leadership, President Kumaratunga has called on the TULF to support the coordinating committee set up recently for the administration of the war torn areas.

The President, at a meeting with TULF leaders on Thursday, also asked them to study the committee proposal carefully and meet her again if they needed to sort out any issues.

TULF leader M. Sivasithamparam told "The Sunday Times" the meeting also gave them an opportunity to discuss with the President the crisis facing thousands of refugees in the North.

The TULF urged that severe restrictions imposed on the refugees be eased and that food distribution be handled by civil administrators and NGOs. The party also reiterated its call for a cease-fire.

Ministry in Rs. 1.1m move

Amidst heavy criticism, the Ministry of Rehabilitation will move into an office complex which will cost Rs. 1.1 million as rent.

The government has agreed to pay the rent while the treasury will pay an advance of Rs. 27m. Justifying the move, Secretary to the Ministry Mr. Junaid told The Sunday Times, after advertising in the papers for bidders, this was the best building they came up with.

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