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26th April 1998

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Some one thousand child victims are being admitted
to a chaotic and over crowded Lady Ridgeway
Hospital in the face of a mysterious viral flu
epidemic. Our picture shows a child on saline
being comforted by her motherin the sweltering
heat in a corridor of a ward.
Pic by Sajeewa Chinthaka.
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Postal go-slow banned, several union leaders arrested

By M Ismeth

Hours after the Government declared the postal sector as an essential service and gave an ultimatum for employees to get back to normal work, Police yesterday began arresting union leaders responsible for the go-slow.

By noon yesterday 12 trade union officials of postal union including those of the Union of Posts and Telegraph Officers (UPTO) were arrested. The UPTO General Secretary and two others were being grilled at the CID headquarters while others were held at various city police stations.

Union leaders were defiant and declared they would continue their go-slow until their demands were granted.

Shortly before he was taken into custody, UPTO General Secretary N. P. Hettiarachchi told The Sunday Times, "Come what may, we will not call off the overtime boycott until the Post Mistress General Soma Kotakadeniya is removed."

Asked why they were insisting on the PMG's removal he said "whatever assurances President or ministers may give, we know through past experiences that Ms. Kotakadeniya will not implement them."

"The public must be aware of our position as well. For more than 15 years the balance of 3, 000 cadres of all grades to the postal service had not been filled. The total should be 24,000," he said.

"Ours is not a strike, he said, emphasising that it was a boycott of overtime.

The Cabinet Subcommittee comprising Ministers John Seneviratne, Batty Weerakoon and Amarasiri Dodangoda had agreed to four of the five demands. They are the cancellation of transfers effected for the trade union action; removal of the fine imposed on the Southern Provinces postal workers; hand over the handling of the telegraph services to the Postal department; rectification of the salary anomalies of the supra grade and last, removal of the PMG, to which the subcommittee had not agreed. A confident Mr. Hettiarachchi said that the UPTO was optimistic that the PMG would be removed.In the first politcal reaction to the clampdown on the postal workers, the main opposition UNP has accused the government of "mucking up an almost resolved problem" by its dictatorial and worker-unfriendly attitude.

General Secretary Gamini Atukorale told The Sunday Times time had proved that suppression of trade unions would only create a further gulf between authorities and the working class and cause greater inconvenience to people.

The JVP also in reacted angryly condemning the arrest as a blatant suppression of democratic trade union rights. Two of the trade union leaders arrested were JVP members. Police had carried out midnigt raids on some of the houses of trade union members on Friday night.

Jha's remarks raise alarm in Colombo

The Government has taken serious note of remarks by a former Indian envoy to Colombo that the new BJP Government in New Delhi was working on what he called "a concrete, palatable and immediately implementable" package to end the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

Nagendranath Jha, former Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka and foreign policy advisor to the BJP Government told Indian journalists on Tuesday the Gujral doctrine of non-interference had put India's neighbourhood policy in a straight jacket. "India should take a friendly interest in Sri Lanka because we cannot be idle spectators when a house in the neighbourhood is on fire," he was quoted as saying. He had also said that there should be a permanent merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Mr. Jha's remarks were reported in the Indian media and in sections of the local press and became the talking point in diplomatic circles.

The Sunday Times learns that the government has expressed its displeasure over the matter to the government of India and was concerned to ascertain whether the remarks had been made.

Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar confirmed to The Sunday Times last night that he had referred to Mr. Jha's remarks with Indian High Commissioner Shiv Shanker Menon. The Minister, however declined to elaborate.

During a public lecture at the Indian Cultural Centre on Friday, Mr. Jha said no such remarks were made by him. "You cannot formulate policies in three weeks, especially towards important neighbours like Sri Lanka," he said.

At this lecture Mr. Jha did say, "Our party is not in favour of the Gujral doctrine at all, but it has nothing to do with trying to be unfriendly to our neighbours, especially Sri Lanka with whom we have extremely close ties and a very special place in our affections also."

Government sources said Mr. Jha's remarks ran counter to what Mr. Kadirgamar had learnt from BJP leaders including Premier Vajpayee during his visit to New Delhi last month. The Sri Lanka Foreign Minister who was the first foreign dignitary to meet Mr. Vajpayee was assured that the BJP Government would have friendly relations with Sri Lanka.

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who returned to Colombo on Friday after a meeting with Premier Vajpayee in New Delhi told the Sunday Times it was his reading that the new BJP government did not wish to interfere in Sri Lanka. "I learnt that this was because Indian public opinion was against such moves," Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

Mountain of letters

Till yesterday there had been 25, 000 mail bags lying at the airport, 7.5 million ordinary letters, three million registered letters and topping all this 20 containers loaded with sea mail parcels, all uncleared.

On our visit to the mail sorting room yesterday we found that only the state electronic media were allowed inside apparently to show that all was back to normal.

However, we found that the mail bags which are normally sealed by porters were being sealed by some officials.

5 new Majors-General

Five senior Brigadiers in the Sri Lanka Army have been promoted to the rank of Majors General, it was announced yesterday. They are J.K. Nihal Jayakody, A.D. Wijendra, S.H. Kottegoda, A.M.C.W. Seneviratne and J.C. Fonseka.

The appointments will take effect from February 23, 1998.

Gayoom here today

Maldives President Abdul Gayoom will today brief President Kumaratunga on the progress of the SAARC movement under his chairmanship.

President Gayoom who will end his term as chairman this July is scheduled to visit other SAARC countries in this capacity. According to Maldives High Commissioner, Sri Lanka is the first country the President visits.

No power, no water what a day!

A power failure followed by a fire at a vital primary sub station in Kollupitiya left several parts of Colombo without electricity from yesterday afternoon making it one of the worst Saturdays with no fans and no water and the heat playing havoc.

The fire broke out at the sub station along Perahera Mawatha, behind Temple Trees and the Fire Brigade battled for more than one hour to bring it under control.

The cause for the fire was not immediately known, but a CEB official indicated it might have been a 'technical fault'.

CEB Chairman P.A.M. Deraniyagala declined to comment on the incident and would only say that a copy of a CEB statement could be obtained from Rupavahini.

CEB men struggled for six hours till power supplies were partially restored last night.

As a result of the power failure Kollupitiya, Kompanna Veediya, Cinnamon Gardens and Bambalapitiya were without power. A 24-hour water cut in these areas made things virtually unbearable for hundreds of families.

US to back de-mining

By Imran Vittachi

The United States is throwing its weight behind a United Nations drive to rid the Jaffna peninsula of anti-personnel land-mines, according to an American special envoy.

Karl F. Inderfurth, the Assistant US Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, said Washington would explore what kind of American technical assistance, expertise, or funding could be used to bolster a UN mine action project in the North.

"When I return to Washington I will see what additional forms of assistance the US may be able to provide," Mr. Inderfurth, who is also the US President and Secretary of State's Special Representative for Global Humanitarian De-mining, told a group of journalists at the US Ambassador's Colombo residence.

Beginning this week, the UN Development Programme, acting on a request by the Sri Lankan Government, will start to clear war-free sectors of Security Forces-controlled Jaffna District of land-mines and unexploded ordinance that endanger civilians, hindering economic activity and the resettlement of displaced people.

UNDP said it was bringing in an international mine action expert to survey the area and help set up a Mine Action Centre in Jaffna. The pert will work with district authorities to build a local De-mining and training capacity, combined with mine action and rehabilitation programmes, UNDP Resident Representative Arve Ofstad said. The project would cost $300,000 initially, but international donors were likely to contribute more later, Mr. Ofstad added.

According to Mr. Inderfurth, the "great tragedy" of the hidden killers is bleeding Sri Lanka of its human assets and potential to develop economically.

"What we don't want in Sri Lanka is it to become a Cambodia, what we don't want in Sri Lanka is it to become an Angola, where the wars have stopped but the land-mine victims continue for years and years afterwards, because nobody knows where the land-mines are, and whole areas of the country are off-limits to development," he said.

The special envoy of the sole superpower - which last December refused to sign the Ottawa Treaty banning the manufacture, stockpiling, transfer, and use of antipersonnel landmines - called on the Sri Lankan government to "join with the international community to become a party to that treaty."

But, until then, both sides in the ethnic conflict, while deploying landmines, should record and map their coordinates to facilitate their removal, Mr. Inderfurth said.

"The best course of action would be that there would be no more landmines laid by either party," he said. "However, if landmines are going to be used, we urge that this be done in a responsible manner."

For its part, strategic interests on the Korean Peninsula prevented the US from also signing at Ottawa, but, in the interim, the US sees itself as a leader in the international campaign against landmines, he added.

Under its Global Humanitarian Demining 2010 Initiative, Washington will next month host an international conference of donor governments and organisations, and will this fiscal year earmark $80 m towards demining activities underway in 19 countries.

Meanwhile, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official, Sri Lanka will continue to put the Ottawa treaty on hold and will not phase out landmines, until the war with the LTTE is over.

"Sri Lanka's position is that we are, in principle, agreeable to eliminating the use of landmines, but, for the time being, we are not in a position to sign the Ottawa Convention," Bernard Goonetilleke, Director-General at the ministry's UN desk, told The Sunday Times.

Mr. Goonetilleke also criticised the call by the US and other mine-producing countries for a ban on exports, saying it would promote the production and escalation of cruder, and more lethal, landmines in Third World countries such as Sri Lanka.

"The tragedy would be that you will have more of these in cruder forms that will affect more civilians than the limited number of landmines that a country would import under normal circumstances."

By the estimates of the International Committee of the Red Cross, anti-personnel landmines kill or maim up to 24,000 people around the world annually. In Sri Lanka's war-affected North, according to ICRC, 180 civilians and 116 members of the armed forces were killed or injured in 108 mine-related incidents, from December 1996 to December 1997.

Gang leader reveals ties with top politicos

By Christoper Kamalendran

Close links between a notorious gang leader and top PA politicians have been revealed with the arrest of the gang leader who is alleged to have been involved in more than 20 murder cases, robberies, kidnap and ransom operations, detectives said yesterday.

The gangster arrested in the Kuliyapitiya police division with a police service revolver recently has confessed he was handed over the gun and four rounds of live ammunition at a ministry in Colombo and inside vehicle belonging to the ministry, the detective said. He was also given a cellular phone at the same location.

Soon after his arrest at Giriulla the gang leader had made contact with two top politicians and one of them had sent his bodyguard to visit him, they said.

Though attempts to prevent him from being brought to Colombo had failed, within five days the officer in charge of the Giriulla Police station, Inspector J. M. Thilakaratne, was transferred to Kuchchaveli, off Trincomalee.

The day before the gang leader was arrested he had visited a powerful PA politician's residence in a high security zone in Colombo.

Investigations have revealed that the service revolver given to the gang leader who is known to have close connections with other notorious criminals in the country, had been issued to a police officer serving in the Mannar area. The officer had complained that he had lost his weapon following an attack in 1990.

Highly placed police sources said the particular officer who is supposed to have lost the weapon is also being investigated.

Among some of the serious cases against the gang leader are the murders of three persons, the burning of a printing press in Kandy on a contract given by a businessman in Colombo, abducting a teacher and obtaining a ransom of Rs. 375,000.

The CDB has questioned the suspect on how he entered the powerful PA politician's residence through a very high security zone.

The suspect revealed that through a friend he had known and been in contact with this PA politician for several years.

President Gayoom is also scheduled to hold talks on strengthening the relations between the two countries.

The High Commissioner said that due to the President's tight work schedule, specially since there is an election this year, the President had to limit his visit to one day.

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