30th December 1997


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Hidden hand behind campus chaos, extortion

By Christopher Kamalendran and Shyamal Collure

A wave of violence in several universities and reports that cloak and dagger gangs are extorting massive sums from businessmen and others in the south possibly point to a re-emergence of a violent faction of the JVP, intelligence sources have warned.

The worse-hit were the Ruhuna and Kelaniya Universities while an underground movement in the Colombo University is alleged to have provoked a battle amidst warning that this premier campus might be shut down if the incidents continue.

The Ruhuna University, the premier seat of learning in the southern capital, has been rocked by violence for several weeks with hundreds of angry students forcing Vice Chancellor S. Pinnaduwa to stay out. After a tense stand-off, some 600 policemen last Wednesday broke through the student barriers to enable the Vice Chancellor to get back to his post but what will happen next is uncertain. Demonstrating student leaders say the dispute is centred on allegedly unfair acts by the Vice Chancellor. But most observers feel political motives are the underlying cause.

At Kelaniya University, some 500 students last Thursday held Acting vice Chancellor K. Thillekeratne captive for more than two hours till police intervened. Over the weekend the situation in the campus was tense and some students said an unseen political hand was manipulating the disputes not only in Kelaniya and Ruhuna but also in Colombo University. Intelligence reports said the aim of the underground group was apparently to sabotage higher education, get the universities closed and obtain some political mileage from the resulting rumpus and instability.

Reports from Matara, once the hotbed of JVP activities, said armed gangs had extorted upto Rs. 50,000 or 100,000 each from several businessmen and others.

In a rerun of what happened during an earlier reign of terror, the victims have been warned of more trouble if they tell the police.

Intelligence sources say they believe the university violence and extortion are part of a political plan by a violent group. But some government figures have brushed it aside as an ordinary exercise in collecting funds for legal political work.

In an angry reaction, JVP spokesman Wimal Weerawansa dismissed the police allegations as baseless and charged that the government was again fabricating stories in a bid to suppress the party.

Recalling that similar tactics were adopted before the banning of the JVP in 1983, Mr. Weerawansa said, "The then government issued directions to the police to hide weapons in the houses or compounds of all diehard activists of the party within one day but the plot was defeated to a great extent as we became aware of the sinister move well in advance and took steps accordingly."

Mr. Weerawansa said there was also much talk about a JVP poster alleged to have been found in Kandy with a warning to the effect that anybody removing or tearing off it would be punished with death.

"The government is resorting to cheap tactics with a view to covering up its bankruptcy and nakedness. We have not received any such complaint. Nor have the police brought any incident of extortion to our notice. We don't know whether a group of people with vested interests was actually engaged in extorting money posing as members of the JVP," he said.

He challenged the police to take legal action against the JVP if the allegations could be substantiated.

Muslims resist return to north

By Arshad M. Hadjirin

With military operations being intensified in the northern province, and LTTE losing control of more areas, moves are afoot by the government to repatriate nealy 30,000 displaced Muslim families of the north, despite their resistance to such a move.

Government Agents of Mannar and Puttalam districts, yesterday held discussions with the displaced Muslims who are now being housed in camps in Puttalam to explain matters to them.

"We are not the least bit prepared to go and settle there, even if the LTTE had given the green light," M. M. Zubair, a displaced Muslim from Pandarawelli, Mannar, to The Sunday Times.

The Nothern Muslims Rights Organisation after convening several pocket meetings also has dismissed the idea of going back to the north. "Unless the government and the LTTE jointly discuss this issue with the Muslims probably with a mediator and give a security guarantee, we are not prepared to leave our huts," a senior member of the NMRO said.

Rizena, a 32-year-old mother of two said she would not go to Jaffna as she was worried about the safety of her two children, aged six and seven.

"I do not want to take a risk and sacrifice my innocent children," she said.

SLMC MP Dr. M.Illiyas said that according to a government directive the ration cards of the displaced persons could be scrapped if they refused to return to Mannar.

A displaced family, irrespective of its size, gets rations to the value do Rs.1,250 per month.

Puttalam GA, J. M. Siriwardene said the government would send back the Muslims to Mannar by January next year and a census of internal displaced persons in Puttalam was being done for this purpose.

Assistant Divisional Secretary, Arachchikattuwa, G. C. Bandara said they had decided to send three families in one lorry. Dr. Illiyas said that the displaced Muslims from Mannar, numbering some nearly 30-40,000 families, would be settled in Mannar Town, Mannar Island, and Silawaththurai areas.

Meanwhile the UNHCR held talks with the LTTE political leadership in Jaffna on the settlement of the Muslims.

It is understood that the LTTE had initially agreed to the proposals and wanted a small group of fifty families to lead the way.

The LTTE had said it had no objection as long as the Muslims were not a hindrance to its activities. UNHHCR Resident Representative Peter Meijer told The Sunday Times they had been waiting for more details from the LTTE.

Most of the displaced persons are living under difficult conditions along the Kapitti stretch and Puttalam areas. One could hardly see a plot of arable land in the vicinity of their cadjan huts.

Some have bought their own lands, while others continue to live in welfare camps. A perch of this barren land would be anything between Rs. 1000 to 1500. Some of the cadjan huts gave way to heavy rains when The Sunday Times was visiting the area.

But this is better, we'd like to stay here, rather than going to north," said B. A. Cader, living in a hut in Nurachcholai.

A seven-year-old child drowned in a latrine pit last month at the Faridabadh camp at Pallavi, Puttalm. And this could happen again, lamented the mother of another child. "But certainly life back in the north is going to be ten times worse than this," she said.

Most of the IDPs had been either farmers or businessmen. Many find it difficult to adopt to socio economic conditions of the Puttalam district where their kind of cultivation or trade is not available.

Jansirani, 23, from Mullaitivu said: "My father being a butcher earned as much as Rs.20,000 a month. Now the situation has changed, and he does hard labour. He barley manages to earn Rs.1,500 a month to feed a family of six.

New page in Maldivian history

The Maldives is getting a new constitution from January, providing, among other things, for any person to run for the presidency.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who signed the document approving the constitution, expressed satisfaction at the way the constitution was amended through wide and open discussions among the Special Majlis members.

The new constitution is expected to turn a new page in the history of the small Indian Ocean nation.

A whole chapter of the constitution specifies in detail the rights of the people, the democratic principles of government and accountability.

Two students released

Two Jaffna University students, arrested by the security forces last Saturday, were released by Jaffna Commander L. Balagalla in the presence of the Vice Chancellor and others at Palaly. The students were released after questioning.

Top UN award for journalist

United Nations - a Sri Lankan journalist was cited for "excellence in UN reporting" at the annual UN Correspondents' Association (UNCA) annual awards ceremony at the United Nations recently.

Thalif Deen, Development Editor of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency, shared the Bronze Award with John Gosko of the Washington Post.

Mr. Deen was honoured "for his well-informed inside reporting on the UN, ranging from diplomacy to development" while Gosko was given the award "for his perceptive coverage of the relationship between the US and the UN."

The winner of the 1997 UNCA gold award was Andreas Zumach who covers the UN in Geneva for Berlin's die Tageszeitung and the silver award went to Chad's Abodel Hamid al-jamal of the al Mukhbir newspaper in Sudan.

Last year Mr Deen received an "honourable mention" for his "investigative work at the UN"- specifically for stories exposing fraud, waste and mismanagement in the UN system.

Before joining IPS, Mr. Deen was a senior military editor and defence analyst covering Middle East/Africa for Jane's Information Group in Washington DC. Currently, he also covers the United Nations for Jane's Defence weekly London.

The awards were presented by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at a blacktie dinner at the UN Delegate's Dining Room before a gathering of 400 guests, including UN ambassadors, high ranking secretaries and representatives of the US business community.

Shipping lanes to Jaffna re-open

By S.S Selvanayagam

Passenger shipping services between Jaffna and Trincomalee will be resumed today after a five-month lapse, a senior Government official said.

About 700 passengers are expected to board a ship at Jaffna which would reach Trincomalee tomorrow. The ship would begin the return journey on the same day, carrying mostly refugees.

Jaffna's Government Agent K. Shanmuganathan told The Sunday Times permission has been granted by the security forces and the Commissioner General of Essential Services has made arrangements for refugees to return to their homes in the Jaffna peninsula.

Mr. Shammuganathan said the passage was free for the refugees but a fare of Rs 600 per head would be charged from others.

Trincomalee Town and Suburb Divisional Secretary Velum Mylum said he had made arrangements to bring about 1665 refugees from Mannar and 700 from Vavuniya to a Trincomalee transit camp before they are sent to Jaffna .

North bound shipping services were disrupted in July as the LTTE escalated attacks on ships.

Victims of freedom fever

By Shane Senviratne

Residents living in the vicinity of the Dalada Maligawa have got blunt orders to move out within the next two days to expand the sacred area in time for the independence golden jubilee celebrations on Feb. 4.

Distressed residents told The Sunday Times the Divisional Secretariat had sent them quit orders without offering any alternative land or compensation.

They said they were ordered to come on Tuesday to the secretariat and hand over the title deeds of their lands and properties worth millions.

The letter warned that the takeover of land must be before Tuesday.

The move was part of an overall project in the hill capital to renovate all roads and re-decorate all important buildings and sites for the jubilee celebrations which will attract tens of thousands including world leaders to Kandy.

Beware of snatch thieves

By M. Ismeth

With the festive season fast approaching, police warn Christmas shoppers to beware of pick-pockets, and snatch thieves.

For the past several weeks, the police have been recording an increasing number of incidents not only about pockets being picked, and snatch thieves on the prowl but also burglaries, police sources said. Many people, including students have fallen a victim in jam-packed buses during after schools and after office hours.

Sources also said the number of incidents could be higher than what they had recorded as many people did not complain to police.

Frequent bus commuters say route numbers155,112 and buses plying on the Moratuwa-Pettah and Maharagama-Pettah routes are those frequented by pick-pockets. Commuters also allege that some bus conductors are in the know of the pick pockets boarding their buses but they dare not warn the commuters.

Police are also warning people not to leave their homes unlocked when they go out on Christmas shopping, and they advise that at least someone stays back at home.

Arundhati Roy coming to Lanka

By Bandula Jayasekara

Arundhati Roy, the modern day Cinderella who once hired a bicycle for Rs. 2 a day will arrive here on December 18 with her 'God of Small things,' £20,000 Booker prize and million of dollars under her belt.

She will be in Sri Lanka as a guest of the Lake House Bookshop to autograph the book on the 18th evening and for a special reading on the 19th, according to Sarath Silva, General Manager of Lake House Bookshop.

Ms. Roy had shown a special interest to travel to Sri Lanka which is similar to Kerala, her home state.

During her stay here she will travel down south and will be hosted for dinner by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies.

Wife basher allegedly stabbed by son

In a bloody climax to a family quarrel an 18 year old boy is alleged to have stabbed his father who had run after bashing the mother.

Police said the incident at Akmeemana had started with a quarrel between the 40 year old man and his wife in the presence of the boy who is an advanced level student at a school in Pitigala.

The man had assaulted his wife and run away but the angry boy gave chase and allegedly stabbed the father with a knife which he grabbed from him.

Mission in Yemen

Dr. Uvais Ahamed left for Yemen recently as UN advisor to help in public awareness programmes using non-formal education and communication strategies for a new water resources management project.

He will also visit the Cairo-based UN/FAO Regional office.

UNP begins study

A committee of top lawyers appointed by the UNP to study the proposed constitutional reforms and devolution package will meet party MPs and others on Tuesday to obtain their views, Committee Chairman K. N. Choksy said.

Prison guards under siege

By Shelani de Silva

Hundreds of prison officers, protesting against the killing of a colleague last Tuesday are seeking more advanced weapons and equipment along with extra security and welfare facilities.

In the aftermath of the Welikade incident where the prison officer was shot dead by an underworld criminal when he was leaving after night duty, jailors in Colombo, Kandy and elsewhere did not take any prisoners to court and visitors were not allowed into prisons as a mark of protest.

Jailors Welfare Association president Asoka Hapuarachchi told The Sunday Times they were holding urgent talks with Justice Ministry and other officials to work out new security arrangements.

He said they had been asked to give their proposals in writing when they meet the Prison's Commissioner later this week.

"It is a serious problem and we want immediate action. We have suggested that hard-core criminals and drug smugglers from Colombo be shifted to outstation prisons so that they will have less contact with their gang members," he said.

Mr. Hapuarachchi also alleged that some minor staff in the prisons were taking bribes and helping criminals.

"The lack of modern weapons and equipment is a major problem. Sometimes the criminals have more sophisticated weapons than us. They are aware of this and thus not only threaten the officers but also dare to kill them in broad day- light," he said.

Mr. Hapuarachchi said special squads should be formed to carry out search operations in the prisons and officers who make detections of weapons or drugs among prisoners should be rewarded.

Kandy's Prisons Superintendent Kasige said that 110 officers from the Remand Prison and 500 from the Bogambara took part in the protest.

Batticaloa Superintendent A. Kandarajah told The Sunday Times they were facing severe dangers not only from gang leaders but more so from the LTTE. "We are unarmed. Only in the night do we get army protection. It is dangerous transporting prisoners from Kalmunai, Akaraipattu and Ampara," he said appealing for more security and facilities.

Package-backing bhikkus oppose new regions

The Samastha Lanka Pevidi Sangamaya, which is supporting the government's devolution proposals has protested against the decision to set up new regions.

According to Ven. Watinapaha Somananda Thera, President of the Union, a letter would be sent to the President, expressing the bhikku organisation's opposition to the move.

"We are against the new ideas forwarded. Although we supported the proposals in principle, the new moves have led us to re-think our decision," the Ven. Somananda Thera said.

He said his organisation was against the formation of South Eastern region in the Eastern province and the move to join sections of the Eastern Province with the Northern Province, and the Ampara and some other areas of the Eastern Province with the Uva Province. He said they also opposed a permanent merger of the north and the east.

"We are not against the changing of the borders of the provinces but we fear that the new proposals will have ill-effects resulting in the breach of ethnic harmony. We feel that it will arouse ethnic disharmony. That is why we are against these proposals," the Ven. Somananda Thera said.

The monk warned that if the government did not take their views into consideration, then they would have to take other measures to get their voice heard. However, he said they would not join other groups which are rejecting the proposals in its entirety.

"If the government does not give an ear to our plea, then we will have to go to Ampara and other districts and launch public protests against the move," the Ven. Somananda Thera said.

Unions, engineers sound early warning

By Chamintha Thilakarathna

Plans to install generators mounted on barges in a container terminal of the Colombo port have sparked off protests by trade unions and environmentalists.

An official of a committee which studied this plan said the project for the Japanese Mitsui company to install the barged mounted generators at the Jaye Container Terminal had been submitted to the Central Environmental Authority for approval.The official Nissanka Perera also assured that port trade unions and others would be consulted before any decision is taken to go ahead with the project.

Some engineers and union leaders say the barged mounted generators might produce serious noise pollution. They said the proposed generators could hit 75 decibles though the permitted level of sound in the port was a 60 by day and 50 by night.


Scene of the train accident at Ginthota Bope, where two people were killed and many injured. Pic by Gamini Mahadura

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