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14th June 1998

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Local scientists in alleged plant smuggling racket

By Chamintha Thilakaratne

A multi-million rupee racket in the smuggling of rare plants from Sri Lanka has been exposed, with detectives probing the involvement of university scientists and officials.

The medicinal and toxic plants, some of them growing only in the forest reserves of Sinharaja and Pallakelle, have been smuggled through agents and NGOs here to companies in the United States and Japan, detectives said.

Five university academics who have allegedly smuggled these plants in the guise of long term international research, have been nabbed by Customs.

Investigations by the Customs have revealed that some senior officials of the Kelaniya and Sri Jayawardenapura University are allegedly involved in the smuggling.

Detectives said smuggling had been taking place on an agreement with a local partner and pursued through an NGO and a Foundation for Indigenous Medicine.

Over five hundred medicinal and toxic plants are reported to have been smuggled out.

The plants have been taken from areas such as Sinharaja and Pallekelle under the guise of research for which the Ministry of Forestry and Indigenous Medicine had granted research permits. The so-called research goes on and so does the smuggling.


Editors' Guild expresses dismay over censorship

The Editors' Guild has expressed its dismay at the manner the government has imposed the censorship on military related news.

The text of the statement is as follows:

The Editors' Guild of Sri Lanka expresses its total dismay in the manner in which the government has imposed a censorship on military operations in the country.

This civil war is the single most important issue in this country. It is being financed and fought by the citizens of our country, whom we believe, have a legitimate interest in its progress, or indeed its debacles, if any.

The Guild deplores the appointment of a military censor for the first time. Already the Editor of a Sunday publication has been informed that he has violated the censorship when in fact, the concerned articles were printed and distributed prior to the imposition of the censorship.

The Guild dismisses the Deputy Defence Minister's assertion that the censorship was imposed because the media provides the enemy with strategic information, and that it acts without a sense of responsibility.

The Guild has repeatedly requested the government to take the media community into its confidence. The Guild regrets however to note that letters addressed to the President's Secretary seeking clarification on other laws under Emergency Regulations affecting the war and the media, have not even had the courtesy of an acknowledgment.

The Guild re-assures the government that it is committed to the elimination of terrorism in Sri Lanka, but would also mention in this instance, that the military's biggest debacle, the over-running of the Mullaitivu garrison, occurred during the period the last censorship was in force.


CPJ denounces censorship and calls for its removal

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) while denouncing the curtailment of press coverage has called on President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to lift the censorship imposed on the media.

CPJ Executive Director William A. Orme in a letter to the President states that this kind of sweeping censorship is incompatible with democratic governance and asked her to rescind the censorship laws.

The censorship is an about face for Kumaratunga's government, which in recent months had been negotiating with publishers, editors and press freedom advocates over new constitutional guarantees for free expression. In April, CPJ Asia Programme Coordinator A. Lin Neumann visited Sri Lanka to attend a conference on Media Freedom and Responsibility at which government representatives and opposition leaders met with journalists to hammer out press freedom initiatives.

"The relative openness of the Sri Lanka government has been suddenly reversed", said Neumann. 'It would be tragic for the country if censorship became the order of the day'.

The letter also makes reference to an editorial in The Sunday Times' which said: 'We hope this is not the first step towards marital law.'

The CPJ also claims that it is their belief that a free and vibrant press is the cornerstone of democracy.

The CPJ further added that no reason was given for these drastic regulations.

This is the first time that Sri Lanka has appointed a military censor. Similar press restrictions on war coverage were administered by civilians for several months in 1995 before being lifted.


D.R. Wijewardene award goes to 'Pambaya'

The 14th D.R.Wijiewardne Memorial Award was won by J.C.P.S Siriwardene for his book "Pambaya" (Puppet). It was adjudged the best Sinhala novel in manuscript form.

The award was first won by Eileen Siriwardene in 1984 and since then it has been won by six women writers and seven male.

Mr. Siriwardene is a public health officer from Gampaha. In 1993 he had been highly commended by the Judges for the same award.

He has several books for children. Sarath Ariyarathna and R.W.A.B. Kularathna received merit awards.

The judges were Sumithra Rahubadda, Jayasumana Dissanayake and G.S.B. Senanayake.

The award ceremony was organised by the Chairman and Directors of Lake House Investments in commemoration of D.R.Wijewardene's 38th death anniversary.


Probe ship purchases of late '80s Srimani

The United Lalith's Front led by Srimani Athulathmudali has urged the government to reactivate the Commission for Bribery and Corruption immediately and investigate the purchase of ships in the late 1980s and also other allegations of corruption against the government.

Ms. Athulathmudali in a letter to President Chandrika Kumaratunga dated June 3 had stated that taking into consideration that the Minister for shipping from 1978 to 1984 was the late Lalith Athulathmudali she had called for the reactivation of the Commission for Bribery and Corruption and investigate the purchase of ships at an early date since Minister C.V Gooneratne has been harping on the same issue time and again.

Ms. Athulathmudali stated that a defamation case was launched by the late Athulathmudali against Mr. Gooneratne on the same issue in 1988 and Mr. Gooneratne was unable to establish the allegations. She had called for a full and fair investigation which would enable to lay Minister Gooneratne's mind forever at rest.

At the same time she had urged the President to investigate the recent allegations of corruption made against this government with regard to the following :

a) The purchase of locomotives for the railways from a French Company.

The company did not qualify to bid for the tender as they did not meet the requirement of railways that a locomotive must be tried and tested to enable a company to tender.

The locomotives were awarded to a company whose locomotives had not been used anywhere in the world.

(b) The privatisation of the Queen Elizabeth Quay. The port experts have highlighted serious financial and operational problems the project would create.

Operationally

The government is handing over to a private investor the ownership of a highly security sensitive national asset for over 30 years.

Colombo is the one and only commercial Port through which 100 percent and all imports other than wheat have to pass.

The port navigation experts are convinced that if the proposed expansion of QEQ is implemented, the turning circle in the harbour for the main line vessels will not be adequate.

Unless the radius for the turning circle of a ship is twice the length it could pose a grave danger to the port and vessels. Together with the concerns above, it has also been felt by the public that there was no transparency in the awarding of the tender.

Ms Athulathmudali further stated that it is not enough to accuse previous governments of corruption if the present government is not prepared to investigate allegations about its own activities.

A state owned paper has carried a news item that Cabinet approval has been given to investigate the purchase of ships in 1980s.


More questions asked

Airbus deal

According to the agreement between the Airbus Industries of France and AirLanka, Sri Lanka has paid and additional US $ 10 m for each airbus purchased as part and parcel of the tieup with Emirates Airlines.

According to the Lloyd's Aviation Register, a booklet containing price guidelines on aircraft, the Sri Lankan government has paid in excess of the stated price.

In addition, the monies have been defined in the contract as credit value for the French frame and the Rolls Royce -designed aircraft engine.

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe speaking in Parliament last Friday claimed that there was an inbuilt commission of US $ 10m according to the pricing formula, a fact Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dharmasiri Senanayake bared before the House during the AirLanka debate. The relevant question is where the money went, he said.


JJ wants India to intervene

One of the coalition partners of India's ruling BJP Government has called upon New Delhi to intervene and stop what it called the "genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka."

Jeyaram Jeyalalitha, leader of the AIADMK has called for a Parliamentary delegation to be sent from Tamil Nadu to visit the "Tamil homeland" in Sri Lanka to assess the situation.

The Indian Express newspaper said in its front page lead story on January 11 that Jayalalitha made the demand at a breakfast meeting AIADMK and its allies had with the Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee, last Wednesday.

The Indian Express report states "Leaders and AMPs of the AIADMK, MDMK, PMK, TRC and Janata Party handed over a memorandum to Vajpayee urging him to persuade the Sri Lankan government to withdraw its armed forces from the Tamil homeland and immediately halt the military offensive now under way. The first signature on the memorandum is that of Jayalalitha. Among those who present at the meeting were S. Muthaiah (AIADMK), Ramadoss (PMK,) Subramanian Swamy (Janata Party) and VaiKo (MDMK).

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