The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

12th January 1997



Main parties urged to compromise

TULF leader M. Sivasithamparam has made a passionate appeal to the main political parties to reach a compromise on the devolution package and help end the ethnic conflict.

The appeal was made when representatives of political parties were hosted to a dinner by Constitutional Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris on Thursday at Visumpaya.

"Are we to be victims of the power struggle? Shouldn't there be a positive approach towards solving this problem?' Mr. Sivasithamparam asked.

Senior members of the UNP, EPDP, SLMC, PLOTE and the CWC were present at the meeting.

After the meeting, several minor political parties decided to meet President Chandrika Kumaratunga soon and the Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe separately.

Madawala's funeral

Novelist, poet, lyricist Madawala S. Ratnayake's funeral took place on Friday, in the presence of a large gathering.

Mr. Ratnayake served on the 'Dinamina' editorial for one and a half years, at the beginning of his career and later moved to 'Lankadipa'.

Mr. Ratnayake next served as a producer at SLBC, authored many novels like 'Alutha Gena Manamali', 'Ambalam Paluwa' and a number of short stories as well.

Mr. Ratnayake also acted as the head of the Sinhala division of the Chinese broadcasting unit of the SLBC and Sarvodaya Audio Visual Department.

Mid-sea madness

By S.S. Selvanayagam and Christoper Kamalendran

While millions celebrating Christmas awaited Santa on his snow ride, a tragic human drama was taking place on the icy raging seas off Greece. In the center of it were more than 170 desperate Sri Lankans, caught up in a trawler that was out of control and a ship being steered by a drunken captain.

Though news of the deaths of some 47 Sri Lankan illegal immigrants now drifts in the scale of the tragedy and the international syndicate behind this trade in human cargo will probably never be fully known to the world.

Sylvester Mohil, a youth from Kotahena in search of a job and security wanted to migrate to the west. But with tight immigration laws being enforced and smuggling of refugees through the traditional routes becoming a virtual impossibility, in desperation he approached an 'agent' involved in the business of smuggling human cargo with the aim of going to Germany. He was to pay half of the total of Rs. 400,000 demanded by the agent.

Sylvester was told he would be smuggled into Germany but the destination should not be divulged to anybody and was told to keep the mission a top secret. In the second week of December he left Sri Lanka. Family members when they bid good-bye to him in Colombo knew that his first destination would be Cairo. Nothing more than that was known.

The next news his family members heard about Sylvester was that he was one of at least 47 Sri Lankans involved in a mid-sea disaster where two ships collided and the passengers were drowned in the Mediterranean sea, 15 miles east of Malta.

Sylvester's case is one among several hundreds where Sri Lankans are risking their lives to get across to the west through illegal routes in the wake of tightening up of immigration laws, coastal patrolling and other regulations.

In recent months hundreds of Sri Lankans, a majority of them Tamils, have been using these illegal routes paying large sums varying from Rs. 300,000 to Rs. 600,000. They take circuitous routes in some instances smuggling themselves as 'cargo' in containers.

An investigation by 'The Sunday Times' revealed that Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Hungary and Greece are among several countries now being made use for the smuggling of human cargo. Many of them were first flown to countries where Sri Lankans have relatively easy access.

According to families of the victims in the tragedy Sri Lankan agents took the illegal immigrants batch by batch on different days to different places by air. They were taken to Jordan, Doha, Georgia and Cairo and handed over to an operator.

Having collected the entire group of human cargo, the operator took them in a Panama registered ship "Franship' at the Egyptian port of Alexandria. On December 9 at about 10 p.m. the ship with human cargo set out towards Italy.

On December 10 about 10 p.m. the human cargo was transferred to another ship "MDE Sealines" in the mid sea. Then the 'cargo' was shifted to another ship "Yioham" on December 11 at about 3.00 p.m.

On 24th night, the illegal immigrants were shifted to a trawler from the third ship. Among them were 6 Sinhalese, one Muslim and 148 Tamils. As soon as the trawler started sailing towards Italy, it developed mechanical trouble. The captain took the trawler at top speed back to the main ship, when it went out of control and collided with the ship, breaking into two pieces.

After the collision the trawler began to sink. The illegal immigrants in the ship tried to rescue the drowning men, but their efforts failed. Only six were rescued. It is alleged at the time of the tragedy the captain of the ship was drunk and was unable to handle the situation properly.

It is reported that the Sri Lankans who survived are being detained at different places in Greece till police investigations are completed. The detainees have made an appeal to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to intervene on their behalf.

One of the victims is a 25 year old dumb youth identified as Rajmohan of Neerveli. His sister, a student at Kaithady Ayurvedic College said according to the news they had got, her brother Rajmohan and another boy Sakthi had kept on swimming after the collision braving the hostile waves, wind and icy weather.

But the dumb boy could not make it, though Sakthy and others did. They were rescued by a vessel and taken to an island.

The fate of another passenger on the ill-fated ship, Ganesha-thasan (21) is not known. According to his father from Neerveli the survivors had sent a list of those who were rescued, but his son's name wasn't there. So he is presumed dead.

He said the agents had demanded Rs.475,000 and the family had given an advance of Rs. 75,000 which they had now got back. The mother of another boy Kandiah Ragupalan age 18 from the same village of Neerveli said she had got little news about the fate of her son and the agent had intimidated her when she asked him to return the Rs. 75,000 advance that had been paid.

Though this tragedy reportedly took place at midnight on Dec. 24 the fragmented reports drifted to the media only after a week.

How this human cargo trafficking had been carried out will probably never come to light. The racketeers believed to be a de facto multi national company comprising about 25 operators in different parts of the world had used various ploys in their operation which ended in a Christmas eve tragedy.

Local polls before the new year

The twice postponed local elections will be held definitely before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year in April, the People's Alliance General Secretary D.M. Jayaratne said.

The PA is preparing for the polls, and is expected to finalise its list of candidates on January 20..

Mr. Jayaratne told The Sunday Times the PA's seven constituent parties should hand in their lists of candidates before 4 p.m. on Jan. 18, and based on that the PA Central Committee will decide on how many candidates each party should get in the final PA list.

He said that as both the PA and the UNP had wanted the elections to be held on one day, the earlier plan to have polls on a staggered basis was dropped.

President should have consulted me - Chief Minister

By Minna Thaheer

The dispute over the appointment of a Chief Secretary for the North Central Province continues with the UNP controlled council insisting that the appointment made by President Kumaratunga is unconstitutional.

NCP Chief Minister Jayasena Dissanayake told The Sunday Times that according to the 1987 Provincial Councils Act No. 42, clause 31, the appointment of the Chief Secretary should be made in consultation with the Chief Minister.

But the President had appointed D.W. Abeywickrema as Chief Secretary without consulting him and thus it was invalid, Mr. Dissanayake said. He insisted that Mr. Abeywickrema should resign.

Officials of the Provincial Councils Ministry and the Presidential Secretariat were tightlipped on the issue.

Prison officers killed my son, says Rohitha's mother

By Christopher Kamalendran and Shyamal Collure

A prison inquiry has been launched on the death of a suspect remanded in connection with a plot to kill a minister with the suspect's mother alleging her son was brutally assaulted by officers.

The suspect A.A.D. Rohitha, a son of Karthelis who also had been killed in political violence, was being held on charges of plotting to kill Industries Minister C.V. Gooneratne.

According to the prison officers, Rohitha was produced before the Gangodawila Magistrate's court last Monday. They claimed, while he was being taken back to Kalutara prison, he tried to escape compelling them to manhandle the suspect to bring him under control.

But prison authorities said if any of their officers was found to have been involved in the alleged death of the remand prisoner they would be dealt with in accordance of the law.

'The Sunday Times' learns that Rohitha was admitted to the Nagoda Hospital last Monday with severe head injuries and was pronounced dead on admission.

Meanwhile Violet Boteju (62), the mother of Rohitha told 'The Sunday Times' that her late husband, A.A.A.D. Karthelis too was killed in violence connected to politics.

"Rohitha was severely assaulted by escorting prison officers even before he was produced in court last Monday. While he was being led to the court-room, he asked me for two panadols and some water.

Then a prison official banked that my son would be given the needful on his return", a tearful mother said.

According to Violet, she had been standing close to the dock when Rohitha told her secretly of the ordeal he went through minutes earlier and that was why he asked for panadols and water. "A particular officer had told my son that he was going to be killed soon.

So, Rohitha wanted me to come to Kalutara at my earliest with a lawyer which I couldn't do.

However, I visited the prison around 3 p.m. As I was waiting there, I saw a van reversing from the direction of the main gate and two prisoners coming and loading into it something wrapped in white cloth or polythene soaked with blood. About three to four guards got into the vehicle and it sped off", Violat said.

Violet added that when she was called in around 4 p.m., she went straight to Sarath and Ajith, her other sons who are remanded over the same alleged crime, and asked them where Rohita was.

They told her he had been brutally assaulted and taken to the Nagoda Hospital in Kalutara.

"I went to the hospital and searched for him in all the male wards. He was not to be found.

Then I got the OPD register checked, only to be told that a patient by my son's name was not brought there. I had no option but to come home thereafter", she said.

Violet met her lawyer Udaya Rohan de Silva, who tried to contact the prison officials concerned. In the meantime, policemen from Dehiwala visited her home and wanted her to go to the Kalutara police station the following morning.

She contacted her lawyer who phoned the O.I.C., Kalutara and was told that Rohitha was dead.

Rohitha leaves behind his wife, Shirani (21) and daughters Chamila (12), Diana (8) and Imalka (7).

Walk for rights

The Chambers for Legal Analysis, Research and Counselling for Human Rights will stage a walk from their head office in Kollupitiya to Campbell Park, Borella today.

The march named 'The walk for the rights, dignity and protection of children" has been organised to create an awareness on the rights of the children.

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