19th October 1997


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Ranil dodges talks with me: CBK tells Hindu

''He is talking nonsense (referring to UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe). Every time, I have tried to speak to him, he comes with a different story.... I don't know what is preventing him from having a democratic dialogue with the government, because this is the most democratic government that this country has had in the last 20 years,'' said President Chandrika Kumaratunga in an exclusive interview to The Hindu, recently. Excerpts from the interview:

President Kumaratunga addressing a news conference on Friday
Q. The Leader of the Opposition prefers a framework of ground rules for co-operation between the UNP and the PA for normal democratic relations and another framework for talks with the LTTE. Have you been told of this? Or, is it kite-flying?

A: He is talking nonsense. Every time I have tried to speak to him, he comes with a different story.... I don't know what is preventing him from having a democratic dialogue with the government, because this is the most democratic government that this country has had in the last 20 years.

Secondly, now they (Opposition) have started a story that we (the government) must first talk with the LTTE before we agree with them the (UNP). We have kept telling them: "Tell us first what you think of the package. Without our knowing what they think of the package, how can they and we talk to somebody else? I have constantly asked Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe for the last two years. I have spoken to him about five times on the package.

Three times he has told me, "Oh, I have appointed a little committee of some young lawyers. They are studying it, I will let you know in a few weeks. Now, two years have passed and the few weeks haven't still come. Then I met him some weeks before this was presented to the Select Committee of Parliament (on Constitutional Reform). By that time, six or seven months had gone. He said. "Oh, we will tell you in the Select Committee.

Now the Select Committee deliberations have gone on for a year and a half. They have stated a few rules about minor things in the package. They have talked about the fact that they are against the unitary nature of the State being removed. If the State is unitary, you cannot devolve power. At every point, they are trying to obstruct this. The Select Committee deliberations will be over this week.

Now he is beginning to say (this) because the last UK government persuaded him to sign a letter in (April this year) and that was all. (For follow-up) I met him at a neutral place, I suggested to him that either, the two of us should talk with other people or alone. Or the third option was that he nominates three persons, and I nominate three, and that they first talk, and then the leaders can meet.

At this point, he brought a new thing, which he has told you recently, that there are certain issues that he wants to discuss in order to relax the atmosphere between the two parties. ''I said fine. Why don't you then nominate your people? I will nominate mine. We will discuss. Now three and a half months have passed since then and he has still not even nominated his three people.''

In any case, we have consistently told him that before we talk to the LTTE or any other outside force, the two major parties of the country must first come to some agreement. But he is not willing. So, the government has decided that it has to go ahead anyway with or without the support of the Opposition.

In fact we are now trying to solve a problem which is not our baby. It is their baby. The entire war in the North-East was precipitated by the UNP's July '83 program against the Tamil people. We have taken the whole burden onto our shoulders at the risk of our lives.

I have had the courage to do it, my government has had the courage to back me. I strongly feel that the UNP has a bounden duty to support this because we are in fact, clearing up their mess.

Q: If, without a two thirds majority, you go for a national referendum, will that verdict be sufficient for promulgating a new Constitution? Or, will you still have to go to Parliament for the presentation of a formal Bill?

A: There is a definite plan, legal framework we have worked out, which I cannot talk about now. But it will be an effective one. No government should be compelled by a Constitution which becomes irrelevant when the majority of the people votes against the stipulations of the Constitution. If the majority of people tell us that the constitutional reforms we intend to do is correct then some bizarre stipulation in the present Constitution which requires a two thirds majority in Parliament and a referendum cannot be adhered to for the next 500 years.

This present Constitution was foisted upon the people. The Constitution went through 16 amendments in less than 10 years under the same government that framed the Constitution.

Nowhere in the world is there a Constitution like this.

In the 1994 Parliamentary election the People's Alliance, which is my party, won 80 percent of the electorate in the country. But we only have one voice more in Parliament.

Having ensured that no party will ever get a two-thirds majority in Parliament, then they (the present Opposition) go and say that to even change the slightest dot or comma in the Constitution you need a two-thirds majority. This is not an acceptable situation.

Protest over reporter's detention

Associated Press, the leading news agency in the United States, has strongly protested over the detention of one of its reporters while he was covering the Fort bomb attack on Wednesday.

In a letter to Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, AP's South Asia Bureau Chief Arthur Max has questioned the manner the Navy had treated its reporter Niresh Eliyathamby, denying him opportunities to defend himself.

Mr. Eliyatamby was displaying his Information Department Media Accreditation card on his T-shirt and carried other personal identification documents, including the National Identity card which also states the profession as a journalist.

The bureau chief has called for an investigation into the incident.

Mr. Max in his letter which was also copied to Deputy Defence Minster Anuruddha Ratwatte said:

"The interrogators claimed that Eliathamby should have obtained written permission to photograph the site of the LTTE bombing — a demand never before presented to reporters covering such events. Eliatamby was denied his request for water to drink and to make a telephone call to verify his identity. At one point, the interrogators threatened to blindfold him.

"At no time did they make any effort to confirm his credentials, even though he gave them the names of several people who could confirm his identity.

"While caution might be demanded of the security forces in the heat of battle, I see no excuse or justification for the refusal by the sailors to take the basic measures to quickly establish Eliatamby's identity. Failure to do so can only be seen as harassment of the media."

DC has no jurisdiction,say organisers

By Shyamal A. Collure

Co-partners of 'Studio 9', organisers of the Teen International Sri Lanka Contest 1997, have filed answer to the plaint of fashion designer Christine Keil asking that her application for an interim injunction be dismissed with costs.

The Disctrict Court of Colombo has issued an enjoining order directing the organisers to postpone the contest until the final determination of the case.

Ms. Keil had filed this application on behalf of her teenage daughter, Karen, who had been selected to participate in the final contest of Miss Teen International - Sri Lanka 1997, alleging that certain conditions embodied in an agreement asked to be signed between the contestants, their parents or lawful guardians and 'Studio 9' were detrimental to the interests of the contestants.

Organisers Prasantha Dias and Christina Subhashini Dias Abeygunawardena on September 19 took a preliminary objection to the territorial jurisdiction of the court stating that no enjoining order could be issued by the District Court of Colombo - as they were residing outside the jurisdiction of that court.

It was also contended that Ms. Keil had no locus standing to institute the present action as she had failed to adhere to the provisions of Section 476 of the Civil Procedure Code pertaining to suits on behalf of minors.

The enjoining order against 'Studio 9' has been extended.

Day's toll in North-East

Eight soldiers, a homeguard and a civilian were killed in three separate incidents in the north and east, military officials said yesterday.

Three soldiers were killed and three wounded when the LTTE attacked a patrol at Welikanda while in a separate incident a homeguard and a civilian were killed in the fourth colony in the Ampara district.

Shocked Cooray to take action

Former UNP strongman Sirisena Cooray has vowed to take "appropriate action" to clear his name after the Special Presidential Commission which probed the Lalith Athulathmudali killing recommended that he be stripped of his civic rights for failing to appear for the inquiry.

In a strongly-worded statement issued yesterday from Australia, Mr. Cooray said the SPC had not summoned him to appear before the commission when he was in Sri Lanka and he had never refused to do so. Therefore, he felt the recommendations of the commission to impose punishment on him were not based on factual or legal considerations.

He said the report, though being predictable, was a rude shock to him. He claimed that before he left Sri Lanka he had written to the SPC saying he was ready and available to testify, but he had not received a reply.

Closure of schools hits the poor

A UNP parliamentarian has appealed to the Education Minister to desist from closing down two government Muslim Schools at Kompannaveediya.

A.H.M. Azwer MP has brought to the notice of the Minister that there is public agitation against the proposed action by the ministry to close down 'AI-Iqbal Muslim MV' and 'AI-Ameen Muslim Vidyalaya.

The closure of these two schools will jeopardise the education of poor Muslim children and will have far reaching consequences in society, particularly at a time when the standard of education of Muslim children in the metropolis has fallen far below acceptable standards, he pointed out.

Package as white paper for full debate

By S.S. Selvanayagam

The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Tuesday will decide when the constitutional reforms and the devolution package should be presented to parliament and the manner in which it should be debated, political sources said yesterday.

Constitutional Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris, who spearheaded the select committee discussions during the past year said the proposals would be presented as a sessional or white paper - not a bill but a draft for a debate by the full House of parliament.

He said the sessional paper would be presented as government proposals, but it would incorporate amendments proposed by the UNP and minority parties. The opposition proposals would be included as riders.

When the PSC met last Tuesday UNP representatives asked that the issue be put off till opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe returned from India next Sunday. But Minister Peiris pointed out that more than one year had been given to the UNP to present its proposals and the government could not put off this vital issue any longer.

Ex-minister Ronnie de Mel, representing the UNP on the PSC said his party would be proposing the appointment of independent police and election commissions.

Dr. Peiris said proposals on electoral reforms - how many MPs should be directly elected and how many on PR — were not included in the white paper but the issue would come up for debate in parliament and could be incorporated later.

Political sources said most Tamil parties were expected to fully support the govt. move to put the package for a parliamentary debate, despite their reservations on certain proposals. Amidst persistent govt. calls for the UNP to clearly outline its stand on devolution, Mr. de Mel told the PSC last Tuesday the party had yet not taken a final decision on delicate issues such as the unit of devolution, land and police powers for the proposed regional councils.

At a news conference on Friday, President Kumaratunga also challenged the UNP to take a clear stand on devolution instead of asking for time and sitting on the fence.

Though the UNP wanted time till Mr. Wickremesinghe returned, Dr. Peiris indicated the proposals would be presented in parliament on Friday.

State media reported that PA MPs and organisers who met at the BMICH last Wednesday had unanimously endorsed the reforms package and urged that it be implemented as soon as possible. But coalition partner and NDUNLF leader Srimani Athulathmudali said her party had not attended Wednesday's meeting and still opposed vital issues in the package .

Top Zurich Tiger fired

The LTTE's chief organiser in Switzerland has been removed by the leadership, for allegedly extorting money from Sri Lankans in Zurich and for harassing women, The Sunday Times learns.

According to reports the removal of Nadarajah Muralitharan from his Zurich post is part of LTTE moves to restore its international image in the aftermath of last week's US ban on the rebel group.

Some 50,000 Sri Lankans, many of them Tamils or refugees are said to be living in Switzerland.

Regional Police Service: Governor given big say

The proposed constitution envisages more powers to the Governor of the region in regard to regional police service than the present Constitution does, political sources said.

According to government proposals presented to the Parliamentary Select committee on Tuesday by Constitutional Affairs Minister G.L.Peiris, the Governor of the region will be empowered to appoint the Regional Police Commissioner on the advice of the Chief Minister.

The proposed Constitution seeks to modify the Provincial Police Division set out in the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution and proposes to delegate the power of appointing the regional police chief to the Governor. Under the peresent Constitution, the IGP is empowered to appoint a DIG as the chief of the Provincial Police Division with the concurrence of the Chief Minister of the Province.

The sources said the Regional Police Commission would include a Regional Police Commissioner, one member appointed by the Chief Minister and three members representing the three major communities who shall be appointed by the Governor of that region. Under the present Constitution, the Provincial Police Commission is composed of the DIG of the province, a person nominated by the Public Service Commission in consultation with the President and a nominee of the Chief Minister of the Province.

The Governor of the Region shall, in consultation with the members of the Regional Police Commission, appoint one of them as chairman.

The Regional Police Service shall consist of the Regional Police Commissioner, Regional Deputy Police Commissioners, Regional SSP's, SPs, Chief Inspectors, IPs, Sergeants and Constables while all police officers serving in the region shall function under the Regional Police Commissioner.

Defence, national security and the raising, establishment and maintenance of regular, special and para-military forces shall be subjects reserved exclusively for the Central Government while law and order shall be a subject devolved to the regions and shall include public order in the region and the exercise of police powers.

First bomb against foreign investors — Ranil

NEW DELHI, Saturday - The leader of Sri Lanka's opposition said yesterday that a crippling bomb attack carried out by suspected Tamil Tiger separatists in Colombo this week was aimed at hitting tourism and foreign investment.

"The new blast in Colombo is in my view aimed at crippling the economy, tourism and foreign investment," Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party (UNP) said at a reception hosted in his honour during a private visit to India.

"For the first time foreign investment has been targeted," he told Reuters earlier.

Mr. Wickremasinghe was in the southern Indian city of Bangalore when the blast ripped through the heart of the Sri Lankan capital's business district on Wednesday. The 39-storey World Trade Centre was a key target of the attack.

Mr. Wickremasinghe said the LTTE, locked in a 15-year-long war with Colombo, was continuing to function in the capital despite a major government offensive on its base in the Tamil-speaking north.

"LTTE has been operating in Colombo for some time," he said. "We have been able to locate some arms dumps but not all."

Mr. Wickremasinghe said the attack could also be linked strategically with the Tigers' battles with Colombo's army near the northern Vavuniya town.

Hospital role touches heart

The National Hospital in Colombo which played a tremendous role in treating the injured in Wednesday's bomb explosion performed another miraculous operation to save the life of a victim who had a piece of concrete lodged in his heart.

The victim, Anthony Muttu, 27, a resident of Puttalam, was near the Galadari when he was struck by flying concrete pieces and rushed to the hospital.

Anthony Muttu who was severely bleeding was rushed to the hospital and he underwent immediate heart surgery by Consultant Cardiothorasic Surgeon Nimal Rajapaksa.

The surgeon along with the hospital staff battled for hours to save the patient's life. In the process 15 pints of blood were given to the patient.

The patient is on liquids and the medical team expects that his condition would return to normal soon.

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