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The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

09th, March 1997




Yala hijack: CID grills ex-officer

By Christopher Kamalendran

A former police inspector of a southern station has been arrested by security forces at the Yala national park during a combing out operation after suspected terrorists hijacked a jeep carrying two British tourists and three locals last Tuesday.

The former inspector has been handed over to the CID for further questioning on what he was doing in the Pathanagala area of Yala on Thursday when he was nabbed by troops from Boosa and Thanamalwila army camps, police said. During the search a soldier lost his leg in a 'Johnny' mine explosion.

Meanwhile the hijacked jeep driver R.M. Gunasiri said they were proceeding towards Tissamaharama on Tuesday when four armed men dressed in black stopped them and ordered them to turn back. The order was given in Tamil.

"The hijackers took us through an area known as Julmandiya upto the pier.

At that point they tried to get the vehicle across the Menik Ganga but it stalled. They tried to push it but failed and then they released all of us," the driver said.

As the British tourists and others trekked towards an army camp nearby, the hijackers are reported to have set fire to the jeep.

Detectives said they were still not sure whether the hijacking was the work of the LTTE or a poaching gang that probably included the ex-police officer.

No hush hush in floating deal

By Asantha Sirimanne

Central Bank Governor A. S. Jayawardena has denied that there had been an attempt to mislead, the public about the real purpose of a high powered delegation which went on a road show to promote a sovereign debt issue the previous week, though a public announcement had not been made on the advice of the lead managers.

"The Central Bank did not make a public announcement in keeping with international practice of making an announcement after the issue," he said. Mr. Jayawardena said investors had been privately canvassed by the lead managers - ING Bearings and Citibank.

"After the offer document had gone out you cannot keep this a secret, so there was no secrecy," he said. The government is in the process of issuing US $ 50 mn worth of Floating Rate Notes (FRNs) among Asian and European investors.

This is said to be the first interantional debt instrument issue since a placement in 1982. A delegation comprising Deputy Finance Minister G. L. Peiris, Treasury Secretary B. C. Perera, Deputy Treasury Secretary P. B. Jayasundera, Attorney General Sarath Silva and Mr. Jayawardena visited Hong Kong, Seoul, Bahrain and London to meet potential investors.

Mr. Jayawardena was unable to account for a report that appeared in a government owned newspaper, giving the impression that the mission was aimed at promoting foreign direct investment, but said it could have been due to a misunderstanding. The Central Bank was not the source of the story, he said.

A Central Bank news release said, besides raising funds the issue would raise awareness of the international investor community about Sri Lanka and also help private borrowers access international capital markets.

Some of the financial institions that met the delegation knew very little about the country and did not even have asset allocation for Sri Lanka, Mr. Jayawardena said.

The country does not have a sovereign rating at present and the issue would pave the way towards obtaining a credit rating for Sri Lanka.

The Central Bank would approach international rating agencies for this purpose towards the end of this year, Mr. Jayawardena said. The funds would be utilised in part to finance infrastructure projects, such as toll roads. The response to the issue has been encouraging and offers are being evaluated, Mr Jayawardena said.

He declined to reveal the target rate of the Central Bank, as it may signal investors prematurely and be counterproductive, but said the interest premium would be lower than what was previously paid by private fund seekers earlier.

Polls monitor clarifies statement

Dr. Paikiasothy Sarawanamuttu, Executive Director of the Centre for policy alternatives has written to The Sunday Times clarifying an interview he gave us and published in last week's late city edition under the heading "polls; threats on the rise", he states:

"The first paragraph of this news story reads as follows:

""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.

"This is followed by a paragraph citing me by name at the head of a Centre monitoring election violence and refers to an interview which together with the report of the Centre, forms the substance of the next seven consecutive paragraphs. In fact, the second paragraph contains an alleged reference by me to 'the tragic turn of events.....' " In the circumstances, this could only refer to the opinion expressed in the first paragraph, leaving the reader in no doubt that I hold this view.

"I neither made such a statement nor said anything that could be construed as holding the opinion that violence during the current local government election campaign is reaching proportions that make the situation worse than the reign of terror during 1988-89.

Note: There is no reference to Dr. Sarawanamuttu in the first paragraph of this news item, and he is not the only polls monitor in the country. However as he wishes to disassociate himself from those comments we publish the gist of the complain.

Chips of the old block

First children Yasodara and Vimukthi will take the stage in the Colombo International School's production of Amadeus on March 15 and 16 at the Lionel Wendt Theatre. Popular actor, the late Vijaya and President Kumaratunga's son (second from left) and daughter (left) are among the young cast of CIS students, who will present the play which is set in the 1790s amidst the intrigue of the Viennese court.

'Amadeus' tells the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the young prodigy whose musical genius threatens the dominance of court musician Antoino Salieri. It is a tale of passion, intrigue and heavenly music that unfolds against spectacular sets to reach a dramatic climax.

Postmasters hit by hike

By Arshad M. Hadjirin

Though the mail go-slow has been temporarily sorted out, rumblings are continuing with postmasters now threatening a strike over salary anomalies and a strong telecom union protesting against the on-coming closure of the Telecommunications Department.

N.P. Hettiarachchi, Secretary of the Union of Posts and Telecommunications Officers (UPTO) said some 2000 postmasters were angry over a new salary scale under which their assistants will get as much or more than they did.

Earlier this month all postal workers protesting against the curbing of overtime payments went on a work-to-rule campaign which sent mail bags piling sky-high. That dispute was settled last week but the proposed strike by Postmasters could again bring mail services to a snails' pace.

The UPTO Secretary also said the plan to close down the Telecommunication Department would mean a loss of job for some 350 workers and protest action was being planned on that issue too.

But Ministry Secretary K.C. Logeswaran in a tough response said the government and the people were sick of the spate of strikes in essential services.

He said Union threats would not be tolerated and the government would not give into demands. But he also promised there would be no retrenchment of staff with the closure of the Telecom Dept.

TV show: former mayor retreats

Former Colombo Mayor K. Ganeshalingam, leader of the PA-backed Independent Group contesting in the city polls, last week refused to take part in a television interview claiming that the particular station was unfair in its reporting.

Mr. Ganeshalingam had been invited to appear on the popular 'Frontline' programme conducted by The Island Editor, Gamini Weerakoon.

Mr. Ganeshalingam is later reported to have asked for the questions to reconsider his decision, but the questions had not been sent to him. UNP's main candidate for Colombo city Karu Jayasuriya was later interviewed on the same programme telecast on Wednesday

Zoo closed, but animals enclosed

By Shelani de Silva

Though the much criticized Ahungalla zoo has been closed down by the govt., the owner has still not complied with a deadline to return the animals to the Dehiwela zoo by Friday and has appealed against the revocation of his licence. An angry Dehiwela zoo director, K.D.R.M. Wijesinghe said he was consulting the Attorney General's Dept., with a view to taking legal action.

Meanwhile, Ahungalle Zoo owner Mazahim Mohamed is also not taking things lying down. He accused then Wildlife Dept., of violating the agreement with him and appealed to Minister Ratnasiri Wickra-manayake against the cancellation of the licence. Last Tuesday the Minister revoked the licence after a 14-year-old school boy was killed by a so-called pet lion at the zoo.

Before the Minister acted, the Dehiwela zoo director had written to Mr. Mohamad ordering him to return the lions and leopards by Friday as terms on which the animals were loaned had not been kept.

Ministry officials told The Sunday Times on Friday, Mr Mohamed's appeal was being considered.

No third petition to PSC

By Shyamal A. Collure

According to a recent government decision, public servants will not be allowed hereafter to go before the Public Service Commission (PSC) more than twice on the same subject-matter, a government spokesman said.

Chairman of the Public Petitions Committee (PPC) and Deputy Minister Mahinda Wijesekera told The Sunday Times that it was not clear whether the decision would apply to petitioners invoking the jurisdiction of the PSC through his committee as well.

"The PPC and Ombudsman are empowered to entertain a petition even in such an eventuality but when the respondent is a public officer, appropriate action has to be taken by the PSC. Thus, the latter can turn down our findings on the above ground", he pointed out.

Docs fear committee a polls stunt

Govt. doctors warned yesterday they would launch strike action again on Friday if they found that the three member Cabinet Committee was dodging the issue or the government was playing for time till the local elections.

A spokesman for the Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA) told The Sunday Times they would meet on Thursday to see what progress the Cabinet Committee had made in examining the doctors' grievances regarding the withdrawal of some allowances.

Last Wednesday the GMOA launched a crippling country-wide 24 hour strike in support of their demands but suspended it midway after the Cabinet decided to appoint a ministerial committee to consider the issue.

The Committee comprising Ministers Lakshman Jayakody, G. L. Pieris and Lakshman Kadirgamar was told to submit a report. The GMOA spokesman said two of these three ministers were not in the country when the Committee was appointed and the doctors had fears whether it was just a political stunt.

He warned that this would boomerang on the government if it tried to take the doctors for a ride.

He said President Kumaratunga's letter last Tuesday contained little more than the Cyril Gamage Salary Anomalies Committee Report which the GMOA has rejected.

"Mr. Gamage had dealt with the case unfairly, and when we asked the President to look into this, she without seeking the advise of an independent authority again resorted to Mr. Gamage's own report, and copied the contents to reply the queries of the GMOA", he said.

JVP Fundamental Rights petitions struck down

The Supreme Court on Friday struck down the Fundamental Rights petitions filed by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) over five of its rejected nomination lists.

The Bench comprised Justices Dr. A. R. B. Amerasinghe, Ranjith Dheeraratne and Dr. Shiranee Bandaranayake.

These petitions were filed in respect of the JVP's rejected nomination lists handed in for the Seethawakapura, Beliatte, Kotikawatte, Akuressa and Walaawita local government bodies.

Counsel for the petitioners, R. K. W. Goonesekera told the court that 28 rejected lists of several other political parties were later accepted by the Commissioner of Elections on orders of the Court of Appeal. It was submitted that the JVP was not equally treated before the law. Additional Solicitor General K. C. Kamalasabeson appeared for the Elections Commissioner.

Polls violence keeps rising

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence has reported a steady increase in political violence during the past one month and claimed that police has taken significant action in only less than one per cent of the cases.

Most of the alleged incidents have been reported mainly in the Central, North Central and the Southern provinces.

In the period between February 5 - March 5. 731 incidents of violence in 30 police divisions covering all areas where local government elections have been scheduled were reported out of which the highest number of allegations have been received for assault 159; mischief 153; threats 152; threat and intimidation 147; while reports of murder, attempted murder, hurt, robbery and damage to property have been made.

From the data available from February 23 to March 5 out of the 471 incidents reported the PA is allegedly responsible for 227, UNP for 115, JVP for 8 and the rest independent groups and other minor parties, the report said. In the last five days of February and the first five days of March, 451 incidents have been reported.

The PA, according to the Centre reports is the alleged perpetrator of nearly 77% of the complaints made by all other individuals and parties, while out of the registered parties only the PA and a few instances the JVP has alleged violence by the UNP.

The highest number of complaints from members of the same party fighting among themselves have come from the PA.

The only way to contain the threat of violence is for the leaders of political parties to take immediate steps to curb such tendencies within their parties.

ITN employees resist Lakhanda rejects

Employees of the state-run Independent Television Network are resisting attempts to foist 85 SLBC Lakhanda staff on the TV station, ITN sources said.

They said ITN was self-sustaining with funds from sponsorship and advertising, while it needed more money for modernisation to compete in a high-tech market.

Burdening ITN at this stage with payments to 85 more employees just because the SLBC had no money to pay them would be a severe blow to the TV station, they said.

ITN union leaders who last year led a campaign against moves to privatise the station said they would resist attempts to get ITN to pay Lakhanda staff.

The struggle for a seat in the ship Thraki

By Christopher Kamalendran in Trincomalee

The Finnish Captain of the ship that shuttles between Trincomalee and Kankesanthurai has not taken a single day off since Thraki, as the ship is called, began its mission in September.

Worse, is the plight of the passengers the ship carries. Among them were the displaced of Jaffna who go through tremendous hardships for months in Trinco before they get a place in the ship to go to Jaffna for which they require security clearance. Obtaining security clearance is also a difficult process, pushing the displaced into more hardships.

In KKS, too, hundreds of people, some of whom require urgent medical treatment, wait for a long time in the waiting list to get a place in the ship.

Thraki takes three days to come back to Trincomalee.

Passengers lucky enough to get a place on the ship would have spent at least a month awaiting the security clearance and a place on the ship.

Reserving a place on the ship is a difficult task, but life in transit refugees camps in Trincomalee, is more difficult.

The Sunday Times team visited two overcrowded transit camps in the Trincomalee town. The inmates have no choice but to bear with inhuman conditions there until they get back to their homes.

The two camps - the Glass factory camp and the camp at the Sangamiththa Pilgrims Rest, house more than 2000 inmates each at any given time. Facilities available there hardly enough for1200 persons.

Not only refugees, but regular passengers as well are clamouring for a berth in the ship that carries only 289 passengers.

But priority is given to the displaced many of whom stay in lodging houses and with friends and relatives.

Trinco Divisional Secretary V. Velummylum says, "for a day I am receiving at least 500 displaced persons from Vavuniya. In addition I get 300 more applications from regular passengers who want to go to Jaffna. We give priority to the displaced persons.

In addition to ship 'Thraki' there are two other smaller chartered vessels taking refugees and passengers between KKS and Trincomalee.

Refugee influx to Trincomalee soared after the recent Operation Edibala. More than 13,000 refugees who have arrived in Vavuniya from the uncleared areas want to get back to their homes in Jaffna. Unable to proceed further south, the only option open to them is to return to Jaffna.

Nagendran Devendran, 30, a fisherman from the northern town of Karainagar left Jaffna a year ago. While in Vavuniya he said his parents, sister and one of his aunts died of Malaria due to lack of proper medical treatment.

"It's difficult living in Vavuniya. The only place left for me is Jaffna and I am trying to get back to my native place", Devendran said adding that life in Jaffna was much better than in Vavuniya.

Eagambaranatham Sivalingam, an electric welder on his way back to Jaffna said that even if he got back to Jaffna it was not possible to start his job as there was no electricity.

"But it is still better to go back to Jaffna and stay there", he said.

Among those awaiting their turn to return to Jaffna are government servants, farmers, fishermen and students.

All of them are determined to get back to Jaffna and try to start a new life, although they are not quite sure as to what is in store for them.

Continue to the News/Comment page 2 - * Allowances not paid - Govt. Servants, * Kotelawala scion at the hustings, * Forward march: many more miles to go yet, * The revolution that never took place

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