18th January 1998


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PLOTE supporters distributing leaflets in Jaffna


All-party 'yes' for ragging laws

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

All party support and virtually unanimous approval is expected in Parliament for sweeping legislation to ban ragging in universities - but some student unions are coming out against the crack-down.

Govt. sources said they expected the UNP and other opposition parties to support the legislation when it is presented next month in the wake of two deaths from ragging which raised a national outcry.

One student leader told The Sunday Times they felt the excesses of a few would be used to curb the rights of all students. He said some student unions would launch campaigns to oppose the ban.

But education officials responded by insisting that inhuman or sadistic ragging would not be claimed as a right by any decent student body.

According to these officials the anti-ragging legislation will lay down tough punishment including expulsion for students involved in severe ragging, while penalties will also be given for those who watch and condone ragging and for officials who are responsible for the breakdown of discipline.

Prefects put school to shame

One of Kandy's leading schools was plunged in crisis and shame yesterday after five senior prefects were suspended for allegedly subjecting a whole class of students to cruel or inhuman treatment.

St Sylvester's College principal Asoka Herath told The Sunday Times yesterday the five prefects would face a disciplinary inquiry and possible expulsion on charges that they had punished a class of about 50 students by forcing them to carry their desks on their heads for some 10 minutes and then to crouch under the desks.

The principal however denied reports that the alleged torture had gone on for three hours.

Some reports said one of the students punished was seriously ill and had been admitted to the Kandy hospital. The principal said he was checking on this, while reports last evening said the student had been discharged from hospital.

Meanwhile police also have moved in to question three of the prefects. Police said they would take action after getting a report from the JMO on the illtreated students.

BA to stop flights from March end

British Airways is likely to cease operations in Sri Lanka by the end of March, this year, airline sources said yesterday.

According to these sources, BA's move follow lower yields in operating London-Colombo sector.

UNP begins its signature hunt

In a bid to bring the party closer to the people, the main opposition United National Party will launch several programmes from tomorrow, a party source disclosed.

This will include a people's petition to impeach the president with more than 1,000,000 signatures for alleged corruption and other malpractices in the government.

To strengthen the link between the party and the mass media, a series of news conferences titled "Meet the UNP" has been organized by the UNP.

Under this programme, the party will highlight matters of urgency and public importance beginning on January 19.

The spokesman added that the anti-corruption drive which begins with the 1,000,000 signature campaign within a stipulated timeframe would culminate in the moving of a no-faith motion in Parliament. The recent privati-zations, the Galle Port project fiasco, lack of transparency in the AirLanka privatisation talks and the mismanagement and corruption in high places will be some of the themes discussed.

CBK determined on Eppawala deal

By Imran Vittachi

The People's Alliance is determined to clinch a $425mn foreign investment deal to exploit the Eppawala phosphate reserves, despite mounting opposition and extended delays to its signing, administration officials say.

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is pressing ahead with the deal, and there is no danger she may cancel it, Board of Investment chief Thilan Wijesinghe said last week.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the agreement is going to be signed," he told The Sunday Times. "The Head of State is absolutely committed to seeing that this gets done."

Legal snags in adjusting Sri Lanka's investment laws to accommodate a foreign deal of this scale had delayed the signing of the Mineral Investments Agreement and related documents, he added.

Mr. Wijesinghe and senior government officials earlier said that the largest ever deal struck in the domestic manufacturing sector would be formally concluded by mid-January with foreign investors IMC Agrico of the United States and Tomen Corporation of Japan.

The government's decision to allow the two companies to extract up to 3.6mn metric tons of phosphate at Eppawala and export it in rock form from Trincomalee in just 12 years has sparked a public outcry.

Among their many grievances, critics say the deal could deprive the nation of a vital source of fertilizer for its food crops, security needs and bring untold environmental damage to the Mahaveli-H area, displacing up to 12,000 families there.

Meanwhile, lnter Press Service news agency, reporting on Jan. 4 about high environmental and public health risks posed by phosphate mining in Florida, where IMC Agrico is said to control at least 30 percent of industry output, says Sri Lanka should carefully consider warnings voiced by American scientists.

"More than 200,000 acres of the southern state have been strip- mined, leaving behind land that looks like a car race track after heavy rains, filled with pits and gullies and mini mountains of dirt and thousand-hectare slime pits," IPS reported. "Some 20 stacks of phosphogypsum, a waste material from phosphate mining, that towers ten storeys high occupy the Florida landscape."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to IPS, has banned the dumping of this waste into waterways, because there is no safe way to store or treat it, and scientific evidence points to phosphogypsum containing radium and radon, both radioactive gases .

"Studies by Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan Inc. for the Florida Institute for Phosphate Research indicate that radioactivity concentrations measured in foods grown on mined phosphate lands were found to be statistically higher than in foods grown on other lands," IPS added.

"We are not going to try and do anything different in Sri Lanka from what we do in Florida," said Peter Maples, Vice-President of business development at IMC Agrico.

"The state has very high environmental standards and we will try and apply the same," he said.

Visits to detainees limited

S.S. Selvanayagam

President has promulgated regulations restricting visits to persons remanded or detained in a prison in connection with offences under any emergency regulations or under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act.

The regulations have been promulgated in the Extraordinary Gazette Notification of December 10 under the Public Security Ordinance.

The regulation states that such visit shall be restricted to once a week and to a person nominated in writing by the prisoner.

Meanwhile TELO General Secretary K. Mahendran has appealed to the President to withdraw these regulations with immediate effect.

He expressed his concern that the new regulations under the Prevention of Terrorism Act are undemocratic and open to misuse of unimaginable proportions.

Thank you for the music, Father

A revered Catholic priest who made an outstanding contribution to the arts and culture of Sri Lanka for more than six decades will be honoured by the nation today when his body lies in state at the Art Gallery in Colombo.

The 96 year old Fr. Marcelline Jayakody, poet and composer of immortal songs such as 'Jesu Deviyeni' died of a heart attack last Thursday night and will be laid to rest at Kanatte tomorrow.

Fr. Marcelline, a priest for 70 years during which he has received the highest awards from the state and the church for his enriching work in arts and culture, will make his last journey from All Saints Church in Borella tomorrow after Holy Mass at 2 p.m.

The body of the Dankotuwa born priest who was known for his simplicity and humility even when the greatest honours were bestowed on him, lay at Fatima Church at Maradana till yesterday morning when it was taken to the Archbishops House. From the Art Gallery today the body of Fr. Marcelline will be taken back to Archbishop's House and from there to All Saints Church tomorrow for the farewell service.

LSSP votes 23-12 to accept ministry

By Shyamal A. Collure

The LSSP dispute over the acceptance of a cabinet portfolio is not over — though the politburo decided last Wednesday to nominate acting leader Batty Weerakoon for appointment as a minster.

The party's central committee which met yesterday to dicuss the decision was split down the middle with 23 members voting to ratify the politburo decision and 12 opposing it. The voting pattern was the same on a second resolution to ratify the nomination of Mr. Weerakoon as a minister.

The radical Vasudeva Nanayakkara said yesterday that he still felt the party should not accept a cabinet portfolio, though it should stay on in the government.

Mr. Nanayakkara and several others in the party feel the LSSP should stay out of the cabinet in view of serious policy differences with government leaders on economic issues such as privatisation.

At Wednesday's politburo meeting after the policy making body decided to accept the portfolio, two names were proposed Mr. Weerakoon and Deputy Minister Athauda Sene-viratne. But Mr. Seneviratne later stood down in favour of Mr. Weera-koon, though iro-nically he had supported the acceptance of a portfolio while the acting leader initially opposed it.

A brains trust plan to counter El Nino effects

By Arshad M. Hadjirin

The El Nino climate phenomenon, which has already caused severe drought, flood and snow storms, throughout the world, will affect Sri Lanka throughout the next six months.

Experts from various government and private organisations, in co-ordination with the National Aquatic and Research Authority (NARESA) are expected to meet before the end of this month to find solutions, in case of a severe drought.

Dr. K. D. Arulpragasam, member of the Steering Committee on climatic changes of the Ministry of Forests and Environment, said: "We have sound predictions to say that Sri Lanka will undergo a period of severe drought until June this year."

According to Deputy Director of the Meteorological Department Jayathilake Banda, the El Nino factor reaches its peak with an excess of rain during December, and dries the atmosphere towards March/April.

Dr. Arulpragasam calling this an issue of national importance said that Sri Lankans hardly prepare for natural disasters. "Our reservoirs and water tanks are spilling, but if the water is not conserved in a proper way, we might have to face dire consequences," he said.

He added that Sri Lanka will have to depend on reasearch being done by Indian experts as we do not have the hi-tech facilities, here.

Foreign ministers to attend freedom jubilee

By Imran Vittachi

Fifteen foreign ministers from SAARC and Non-Aligned Movement countries are expected to attend Sri Lanka's Independence jubilee, Deputy Foreign Minister Lakshman Kiriella said.

Most of these top-ranking South Asian and NAM diplomats have confirmed they will be on-hand as Sri Lanka marks its 50 years of Independence from colonial rule, Mr. Kiriella told The Sunday Times.

"We really want the foreign ministers to come and see, first hand, the situation in our country," he said. "Apart from the goodwill attached to the visit, we want them to form their own impressions."

They will join Britain's Prince Charles, the commemoration's honorary guest, and heads of all diplomatic missions to Sri Lanka as VIPs in Kandy on Feb. 4, Mr. Kiriella said.

"We are taking adequate security precautions," he said. "We are confident that we will have a successful celebration." However, he was unable to provide a list of names of those due to attend.

Mr. Kiriella, an SLFP MP for Kandy, said the commemoration would also represent accelerated urban growth for his constituency.

"In one year we will have accomplished what normally would have taken 10-15 years to do," he said.

To this end, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, in sprucing up the Hill country capital for Sri Lanka's Big Five-O, had earmarked Rs. 250mn, on top of the annual budgetary outlay for national commemorations.

Sour dates distribution: SLFP organiser resigns in disgust

By. M. Ismeth

Whilst the Minister of Constitutional Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris and the UNP are battling it out for deadlines and dates there is another sorry state of affairs and disappointment among the Muslims regarding the distribution of dates during the month of fasting.

Several trustees and prominent Muslims told The Sunday Times that this time round there had been a severe short supply of dates to the poor Muslim families in various places, probably due to someone bungling down the line.

So much so the SLFP Gampaha District Organiser M.S.M. Halaldeen had resigned from his post through sheer disgust as he was overlooked by the co-ordinating officer of the distribution of dates in the Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs (Muslim Affairs). He tendered his resignation on December 30. Mr. Halavdeen told The Sunday Times not only the dates were in short supply but also he was not consulted in this regard which had been a practice during the past few years.

He said that "in the Biyagama electorate three villages consisting of approximately 250 Muslim families had not received even one date even though 17 days of the holy month of Ramazan had gone by. This is a sad state of affairs, how could I face these people, they are complaining to me and I am receiving calls from other places as well, he said. This prompted me to resign from the post of district organiser," he said.

Muslims from Raddoluwa and Kowinna in the Katana electorate too had not received any dates todate, he added.

Minor incidents amidst growing tension

Some 2000 policemen, about 800 of them drawn from outside the north-east, are being deployed for election security work in the northern polls.

Police sources said yesterday 11 minor incidents were reported during the week as Jaffna and Kilinochchi prepared for the polls on Jan 29 amidst continuing tension and controversy regarding the number of eligible voters and how many will turn out.

Some reports said the LTTE was involved in two of the incidents during the past week, but police denied this while residents also pointed out that the LTTE had not threatened to disrupt the polls through violence. Possible violence was more evident in some islands including Delft and Kayts where armed EPDP men were seen moving around.

The Elections Commissioner has asked the Defence Ministry to disarm members of all political parties, but the EPDP insists it needs arms for self defence.

Security sources said police guards would be stationed at every polling booth and box, while Army and Navy personnel would provide additional security though being posted some 400 meters away from the polling booths.

Czechs want to be closer trading mates with Lanka

By Mel Gunasekera

The Czech Republic wants to import more products from Sri Lanka, Ambassador designate Ivan Jestrab said.

At present, the trade balance is in favour of the Czech Republic. "In the future we would like to promote economic relations more vigorously," he said. Czech Embassy officials plan to hold trade and investment seminars in Colombo this year.

In 1993 when the Czech Republic was formed after the break- up of the former Czechoslovakia, trade with Sri Lanka was valued at Rs. 108 mn. By 1996 it had climbed to Rs. 233 mn.

In 1996, Sri Lanka had imported Rs. 142 mn worth of Czech pharmaceuticals, skimmed milk, polymers and iron. Czech Republic had imported Rs. 91.7 mn worth of Sri Lankan tea, coir fibre and desiccated coconut.

It is believed there is potential for Sri Lankan rubber, coconut products, spices and ready-made garments, sportswear and tea in the Czech market.

Czechs are estimated to consume about 2500 metric tons of tea each year, but only 248 tonnes were imported from Sri Lanka in 1996.

"The Ceylon Tea Board should have some vigorous campaigns to educate the Czech people about your tea, why it is special and what makes it stand out from the rest of the world. Perhaps have a tea tasting ceremony, on the same lines as a wine tasting ceremony," he said.

The Czech Republic could also be a source of investment, as Czech investors were interested in investing in South Asia. One of the most visible traditional imports from the Czech Republic had been Skoda cars. Volkswagen who owns a major stake in Skoda, hopes to set up a plant in India in the near future.

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