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22nd June 1997


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President Chandrika Kumaratunga shares a joke with the French Ambassador in Sri Lanka Elizabeth Dahan and her husband at a ceremony where veteran film maker Lester James Peiris was felicitated. Pic. by Gemunu Wellage


Plot against the President

Cooray detention takes sensational turn

The detention of former UNP strongman Sirisena Cooray in the headlines for the past six days with widespread conjecture and speculation took a sensational turn last night when state television and radio announced that he was being grilled regarding an alleged plot to kill President Kumaratunga.

Soon after the bombshell announcement, CID chief T. V. Sumanasekera told The Sunday Times last night that they had received some information regarding an alleged plot against the President and every aspect was being probed.

"There is a little bit of evidence and we are continuing investigations on this line," he said

The state run media last night said Mr. Cooray had been arrested following information about a plot to assassinate the President, but Mr. Sumanasekara declined to confirm the state media reports.

Earlier political sources told The Sunday Times a fear in some government circles of an alleged backstage political manoeuvre to set the stage for a possible impeachment motion against the President was believed to be one of the reason for the detention of Mr. Cooray at a Keppetipola Mawatha flat since last Monday.

CID detectives who have been grilling Mr. Cooray say the investigations are centred on the activities of the controversial Premadasa Centre headed by Mr. Cooray. But informed political sources believe the government fears his recent moves are aimed at higher stakes.

They said that during the past two weeks Mr. Cooray was believed to have held regular meetings with UNP and PA MPs while in the days before his sensational detention, he had also met EPDP leader Douglas Devananda and two dissident MPs of that party. Soundings were also made to Minister M. H. M. Ashraff's Sri Lanka Muslim Congress which at present is known to be at odds with President Kumaratunga mainly over the recent cabinet reshuffle.

With the government's small majority in parliament getting perilously slimmer after the dismissal of NDUNLF leader Srimani Athulathmudali from the cabinet, political analysts feel enough votes could be mustered at least to get an impeachment motion entertained.

EPDP leader Devananda confirmed on Friday that he had met Mr. Cooray but declined to give details. Mr. Devananda whose nine-member group helps the government to keep a majority in parliament, is known to have maintained a close relationship with Mr. Cooray since the days of the Premadasa regime. Immediately after Mr. Cooray's detention last Monday, Mr. Devananda was the first political leader to react. He fired off a strong letter to President Kumaratunga, protesting against the manner in which Mr. Cooray had been bundled into a Keppetipola Mawatha flat under mysterious circumstances for a grilling.

According to political sources, Mr. Cooray during a meeting with EPDP dissident MPs R. Ramamoorthy and R. Rameshwaran had urged them to iron out differences with Mr. Devananda and stick together.

Earlier there had been speculation that Mr. Cooray's detention might be linked to the probe on the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali. But an official of the Special Presidential Commission probing the killing said the report was still not ready, thus ruling out any link between the probe and Mr. Cooray's detention.

Though police have in recent days arrested two more suspects whose names were mentioned in the Athulathmudali case.

Meanwhile, almost five days after Mr. Cooray was taken in under emergency regulations, his wife and two sons, Ajith and Manjula , were allowed to visit him. Although the family members were carrying a letter from Defence Secretary Chandrananda de Silva the police had not permitted them to enter. However after the intervention of the lawyers they were finally allowed.

In recent weeks, Mr. Cooray was also involved in an open dispute with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe mainly over the activities of the Premadasa Centre which many UNPers see as a threat to party unity. The Wickremesinghe-Cooray dispute was patched up through the mediation of UNP's trouble-shooting lawyer K. N. Choksy just days before Mr. Cooray was incarcerated for what the Defence Ministry describes as national security reasons. Deputy Defence Minister Anurudhdha Ratwatte has made things more mysterious by saying Mr. Cooray was being detrained for his own protection.

Hisbullah restored, not Ashraff

SLMC's M. L. M. Hisbullah will be sworn in as deputy minister of posts and telecommunications tomorrow but the PA-SLMC crisis talks are far from over, political sources said yesterday.

The SLMC is said to be unhappy over the recent cabinet reshuffle which saw party leader M. H. M. Ashraff losing his reconstruction portfolio and the rehabilitation portfolio confined to the eastern province.

Mr. Hisbullah who was sworn in as the Deputy Minister of science and technology in the recent reshuffle told The Sunday Times he was happy with whatever post given to him but was happier to get back his former post.

Political sources said talks between President Kumaratunga and SLMC leader M. H. M. Ashraff are bogged down as regards the SLMC leader's portfolio.

They said Mr. Ashraff's demand that the reconstruction portfolio be given to him again had not been looked at favourably by the President.

Gangster exposes gun-running cop

Ratnapala Gamage

A retired police officer who allegedly sold weapons from the armoury of his own station while on duty to underworld gangsters, politicians and criminals has been arrested helping detectives to solve several mysterious crimes and robberies throughout the country.

The policeman now in retirement was picked up from the Kuliyapitiya area after a special police team from the Peliyagoda station carefully tracked down an underworld gang leader who was being produced before the Kuliyapitiya Magistrate's Court on Thursday.

The ex-cop allegedly confessed to the sale of four shotguns, two repeater guns, one T 56 automatic weapon, two T 84 weapons, one pistol and three revolvers mainly to gang leaders for exorbitant prices. All of the weapons had been stolen from the Armoury of the Kuliyapitiya police station.

Police made the detection after they arrested a member of this notorious gang in the Gampaha area who confessed that he had purchased weapons from a wealthy businessman in the Moratuwa area. Police tracked down the businessman and he confessed that the weapons had been supplied to him by a man working on his estate in Pannala.

A further investigation into the case led to the arrest of a member the gang, when he came to Courts and was soon followed up by the arrest of the policeman who is now being held under a detention order.

Among the weapons sold was a service revolver of a sub inspector who had been interdicted and had handed over his weapon back to the Police station. The suspect had made entries that the revolver was returned to Colombo, but inquiries have revealed that it had not been returned to the Police Headquarters.

One of the weapons had been recovered from a politician's driver in the northwestern province while another weapon is reportedly being held by a bodyguard of another powerful politician in the area.

One of the gang members had confessed he had carried out an attack on a printing press of a bookmaker in Kandy on a contract given by another leading bookmaker in Colombo, sources said.

Sweep winner alleges super swindle

A super prize winner from Ambalangoda has accused the National Lotteries Board (NLB) of swindling him to the tune of millions.

In a petition filed before the Supreme Court, sweep winner A. Jayatilleke said none had cracked the jack-pot in around 75 previous draws.

Thus when he won the super prize in the 635th draw he should have received all the unwon prize money from the previous draws but the NLB had illegally amended the rules to give him only 10%.

Thus the prize money of Rs. 41 million which he received was far below what he should have got.

A Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Ranjith Dheeraratne, A.S. Wijetunga and Ananda Coomarasamy has granted Mr. Jayatilleke special leave to appeal. The petitioner's application is supported by Tilak Marapana.

The respondents in the case are N.L.B. Chairman K. Balapatabendi and the other directors.

Norway's gift with devolution strings

By Frederica Jansz

The Norwegian Govt. has given Sri Lanka a gift of Rs. 120 million to promote a "devolution friendly administrative culture" and to fund programmes aimed at "power sharing" in a deal which some political observers see as bordering on interference in internal affairs.

The new Ministry for Ethnic Affairs and National Integration headed by G.L. Peiris is the beneficiary of this gift with compliments of the Norwegian Government. The gift was made three days after Dr. Peiris took over the new ministry.

Ove Danbolt, Charge d' Affaires for Norway here said the gift could be used as a parallel to the system used by the United Nations (UN).

Mr. Danbolt said in such instances foreign government funding was released to the UN which later decided on the implementing agencies. This meant the ministry would choose the recipients. Grassroots level organisations, other ministries, agencies and institutions will be beneficiaries under the scheme.

The memorandum between the governments of Sri Lanka and Norway signed on June 12, states, "the goal of the Programme is to promote sustainable ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka. The purpose being to promote a general acceptance of the multi-ethnic nature of Sri Lanka society and need for power sharing and local level democracy."

The objective of Norway's assistance is to support and supplement Sri Lanka's development efforts through promotion of national integration in the planned period 1997-2001.

The ministry together with the Norwegian Agency for Development Co-operation (NORAD) will act as representatives to decide on activities funded by the agreement.

A ministry official said Professor Kirawella Consultant to the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs and National Integration would head the programme and decide how the money needed to be spent.

The official however said they had no idea how this money would be utilised. Professor Kirawella said the money would be allocated by the Norwegians on a reimbursement basis every six months for five years.

The structure of each program he said, would focus primarily on conflict resolution promoting a multi-ethnic component. An advance payment of Rs. 8 million will be initially allocated to the ministry to begin work on the programme. However officials of the ministry could not specify any primary priority.

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