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Got to go home: National Transport Day was marked on Friday, but it seems it had made little difference to these commuters who risk their lives daily to take a ride on the overcrowded train. Pic. by Lakshman Gunathilake.
Violence during the current local election campaign is reaching proportions that make the situation worse than the reign of terror during 1988-89 and the whole democratic system will be threatened unless effective action is taken, polls monitors warned.
Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu who heads a centre monitoring election violence said the tragic turn of events had been evident even before the Ellawala assassination and it was clear that some parties were using violence to further their own ends.
The Monitoring Centre which is backed by several NGOs such as the Free Media Movement feels that the proliferation of illegal weapons among politicos and the lack of control even over the authorised weapons could be the major contributory factor to the cult of violence, Dr. Saravanamuttu said.
He appealed to political parties to surrender all unauthorized weapons. He pledged that the monitoring groups would exert pressure on political parties to maintain discipline and non-violence among their members while creating awareness and drawing wide public support for a fair and peaceful poll.
Dr. Saravanamuttu said political parties and the people could report incidents directly to the centre which would then take up matters with the police.
His warning came as incidents of election violence continued unabated with cases of murder, assault, arson, and threats being reported daily. Upto Friday around 500 incidents had been reported with an unprecedented 50 on Friday alone. The incidents include at least five election related killings.
The latest report from the Centre last night said during the past 24 hours 18 election-related incidents of violence had been reported to the police. Thirteen of these involved threats and five damage to property, mischief, hurt and assault.
In one incident in Wattegama, R.R.T Karunachandra, a local UNP organiser has alleged that a group of PA supporters including Mr. Tikiribanda, co-ordinating Secretary to Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte fired shots at the local UNP office on the night of February 27.
The Centre said it had spoken to OIC Wattegama IP Nawalage. According to him Mr.Tikiribanda had denied the allegations and wanted the police to take action against the complainant for making false complaint. Police are conducting inquiries.
Meanwhile, another group of independent observers, the 'People's Alliance for Free and Fair Elections' told a news conference yesterday that if the violence was not curbed immediately, there was a strong possibility of a mass public boycott of the elections with people losing trust in democracy and politicians.
Renuka Herath UNP MP for the Nuwara-Eliya District said several incidents had taken place and she had reported them to the Monitoring Centre because she had lost confidence in the police.
According to police election secretariat, the UNP has reported 142 incidents, the PA 89, JVP 19, MEP 02, the Telo 02, SLPF 01, CWC 01, and Independent Groups 03.
On Wednesday a 70-year old woman died of shock when a political gang allegedly stoned houses in the areas including hers.
The same day UNP General Secretary Gamini Athukorale alleged there was an attempt to kill him but a PA candidate made a counter allegation against Mr. Athukorale.
Meanwhile the UNP has also compiled a list of incidents. In its report they said on 23 February, Minuwangoda Pradeshiya Sabha (PS) UNP candidate Hema Chandrakumara was allegedly assaulted at Kehelbaddara Junction at 10 p.m. when he and his supporters were campaigning.
24 February: UNP candidate for the Medagamuwa in the Minuwangoda PS, Jayantha Chandrasiri Ekanayake and his supporters were assaulted at Kotugoda Junction at 11 p.m.
25 February: UNP candidate for Minuwangoda PS Chamila Nishantha Tennakoon of Opatha, Kotugoda and his supporters were assaulted and threatened.
26 February: PA supporters had forcibly entered the premises of the residence of K.R.K.W. Gnanapala residing at Tammita, Gampaha and removed the decorations and party symbols within his premises.
27 February: D.M. Dassanayake MP had stormed the village of Karaitivu, 18 miles off Puttalam with about 50 people in seven vehicles armed with T-56 and other weapons, assaulted David, the brother of UNP candidate Marcus Fernando and removed all decorations, flags and banners and threatened him.
Elections Commissioner, Daynanda Dissanayake is consulting Attorney General, Sarath N. Silva regarding an appeal by political parties and independent groups to reconsider the rejection of their nomination papers for the March 21 local polls.
The JVP on Friday appealed to Commissioner that the same criteria applied by the Court of Appeal to the PA, UNP, CWC, UPF and a host of Independent Groups over the issue of rejected nomination lists be extended to it as well, General Secretary Tilvin Silva said.
Other independent groups have made similar appeals.
Mr. Silva stated as the Local Authorities Elections Act provided that the Commissioner's decision on such a matter was final and conclusive, they did not wish to challenge him but now they were at a clear disadvantage for having acted in accordance with the law.
Mr. Silva said they would not be time-barred if they decided to file action even at this stage.
The Court of Appeal on Friday upheld petitions filed by The People's Alliance, United National Party, Ceylon Workers' Congress, Up-country People's Front and 21 independent groups against the rejection of their lists of nomination in certain areas and ordered the Elections Commissioner to accept them.
In what is gaining world-wide notoriety as Sri Lanka's Swiss connection in perverse child abuse, the Swiss Government has launched a full-scale probe, following disclosures that Swiss paedophiles have used Sri Lanka as a centre for child abuse for almost 15 years, detectives said.
A three-member Swiss team, led by a Judge currently in Sri Lanka, by yesterday had recorded the statements of more than 10 boys who had allegedly been sexually assaulted by a Swiss national now under arrest in Zurich. The Swiss probe came as a Magistrate's Court sentenced another Swiss national to two years jail after he was tried in absentia on charges of child sex.
The sentence was passed on Thomas Casperwivz by the Kesbewa Magistrate, Tudor M. Abeyratna, who had earlier sentenced another Swiss national, Armin Pfaffhauser who was arrested at the same location in February 1995.
Mr. Casperwivz had fled the country while on bail, but has been taken into custody in Switzerland, according to Police sources.
The Swiss team consisting of Justice Jacques de Lavallz and two detectives - Pierre Martin Moulin and Jean Mari Rey were carrying out their investigations in the Kalutara area where most of the offences had allegedly been committed.
One of the Sri Lankan boys whom the Swiss national had allegedly abused has been rescued and placed at a welfare centre.
Earlier, another Swiss national, Victor Baumann was deported while a case was pending against him on child sex charges. He is now under arrest in Zurich, pending trial.
The ongoing investigations are expected to trigger a chain of other reactions in other countries from where paedophiles have been coming here and sexually abusing Sri Lanka children over the past few years.
The Swiss team is working in co-operation with the local police who are being assisted by DIG Mohamed Nizam and ASP Noel Francis.
In a related development the Child Care and Probation office in the North Central Province has ordered the closure of a Children's Home in view of allegations of child abuse.
NIB chief Punya De Silva met UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale on Thursday following a request for additional security after a shooting incident at Ratnapura.
On Thursday Mr. Atukorale wrote to the IGP seeking additional police personnel as he believed there is a threat to his life.
Mr. Atukorale has pointed out that similar requests earlier on numerous occasions had gone unnoticed.
"However since you are statutorily bound to maintain law and order and to protect all citizens of this country regardless of political affiliations I now repeat my demand for additional security", the letter said.
"You may recall my letter of 18.02.97 in which I requested for additional security. In the same letter I indicated to you that there was a security threat to me especially in the Ratnapura district, given the anarchic situation prevailing in this country."
Mr. Atukorale has further pointed out to the IGP that the responsibility for any untoward events which may occur would be placed on him personally.
Mr. Atukorale told The Sunday Times the Director NIB visited him on Thursday and assured him that he would report details of the meeting to the IGP.
Political parties represented in Parliament are expected to agree to refrain from violence in the run-up to the local polls when party leaders meet Speaker, K.B. Ratnayake for a crucial round of discussions on having a violence-free election.
A common appeal to all political parties calling on them to refrain from violence during the elections will be put forward to the Speaker tomorrow for approval at the special meeting convened by him.
Three seasoned politicians - A.C.S. Hameed of the UNP, Science and Technology Minister Bernard Soysa and Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam of the TULF - who were appointed to draft the common appeal when the party representatives met last Tuesday are expected to submit the draft for approval.
The decision to draft the appeal was taken at a meeting presided over by the Speaker in Parliament and surprisingly not attended by the SLFP - the main constituent party of the PA.
The parties discussed how best to remove illegal weapons in the possession of politicians and also appealing to party supporters to ensure an incident-free election.
They also decided that all political parties should provide information to the Speaker regarding the stock of weapons issued to their members and also to instruct them to hand them over immediately. The Speaker himself will be in charge of receiving this information.
Meanwhile a fresh controversy has risen about the absence of the SLFP from Tuesday's meeting.
PA General Secretary D.M. Jayaratne who is also a senior member of the SLFP told 'The Sunday Times' that his party was not invited for this so-called vital meeting, to quell political violence.
"Neither the Prime Minister nor I were invited and that is why the SLFP refrained from attending this meeting. However, we are prepared to cooperate with the police and hand over any excess weapons in the hands of our partymen," Jayaratne said.
UNP parliamentarians were surprised when the SLFP was not represented at this meeting. They asked whether the SLFP was considered a non-violent group, for not being invited for the meeting.
Meanwhile, UNP National List MP A.H.M. Azwer has complained to the President that while the process of disarming politicians is continuing in the recent weeks more than 2000 weapons had been issued to PA politicians.
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