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19th July 1998

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Helping hand for Samanmalee

An appeal published in The Sunday Times last week seeking help for the blind telephone operator Saman Karunasiri and his BA qualified wife Samanmalee has brought an immediate response.

Within 24 hours the Sri Lanka Federation for the visually handicapped received a call from a kind and generous lady at Skeleton Road, Colombo 5 saying she was prepared to gift a Braille typewriter and a cassette recorder to Samanmalee. The equipment is said to be worth about Rs. 30,000/=. A doctor from Grandpass called to offer cash assistance.

The 33 year old Saman, trained by the Federation in modern telephone operating is seeking employment in a related capacity.

Susanthika left in the lurch

By M.H.M. Manasique

As Sri Lanka watches the performance of its eleven athletes at the Asian Championship starting today, super star sprinter Susanthika Jayasinghe is still languishing in uncertainty and confusion while the local controlling body sits on the inquiry relating to drug abuse charges against her.

Top criminal lawyer Daya Perera who represents Ms. Jayasinghe at the inquiry told The Sunday Times he was shocked at the cavalier way in which the Amateur Athletic Association of Sri Lanka appear to be treating an athlete who is the country's brightest prospect for gold medals at international games.

The lawyer said AAA officials did not have the courtesy to inform of what was happening at the inquiry and he was thoroughly 'disappointed' over the officials' lethargy.

Ms. Jayasinghe sky rocketed to international fame when she won a silver medal at the world games in Athens last year after winning several gold medals at Asian meets. Returning to Sri Lanka as a national heroine, the village rocket from Warakapola soon ran into controversy over alleged sexual harassment she faced from a VIP at the Sports Ministry.

In March this year she faced another bombshell when local sports officials announced that two off-season drug tests on her had proved positive - meaning that Ms. Jayasinghe had allegedly taken banned drugs to enhance performance. The star athlete strongly denied the allegations, saying the urine samples had been tampered with. In April the AAA appointed a committee of experts to probe the affair, but for the past four months officials have been dragging their feet.

The Sunday Times tried to contact top AAA officials several times but they were either abroad or not prepared to comment. Even now AAA President Ari Kannangara and Secretary Rohan Amarasinghe - the only spokesmen for the controlling body - are out of the country while Sri Lanka's greatest woman sprinter is left in the lurch.

AAA officials had promised in May that the final inquiry would soon be concluded and the findings announced within a week but it is almost two months after that and now the champion athlete without practice feels her chances or hopes of making a comeback are dying day by day.

Lankan refugee now sells Canadian citizenship

A Sri Lankan refugee seeker now a Canadian citizen is alleged to be operating a multi-million dollar racket offering Canadian citizenship to foreigners, particularly Asians.

The racket came to light after the elite Royal Canadian Mounted police (RCMP) raided the man's second floor apartment in Cote des Neiges in Montreal. Among other things, the RCMP found a blank Canadian diplomatic passport, three regular Canadian passports, a Sri Lankan passport, 134 Canadian citizenship cards, 259 plastic covers for laminating citizenship cards and photo copies of two Bangladeshi birth certificates. An RCMP report filed in Montreal Courts said the Sri Lankan had paid Canadian dollars $ 14,000 for the citizenship cards. A report in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper said "The RCMP are investigating an alleged trade in thousands of bogus citizenship cards and want to know how a genuine, blank Canadian diplomatic passport came to be in the Montreal apartment of a non-diplomat.

The discovery comes as Police grapple with what appears to be an increase in fraudulent immigration and citizenship documents in major centres across Canada. Their task is complicated by the fact that these documents can be used in a wide range of other crimes.

Neither the Foreign Affairs Department passport office nor the RCMP is commenting on the most recent find, but news about the diplomatic passport has shocked law-enforcement officers.

"It's absolutely incredible," said one immigration intelligence officer not connected to the case. Such a passport in the hands of a criminal, he said, is a passport to the world enabling him to conceal drugs, weapons and cash, because holders are spared the usual Customs and Immigration Inspectors at border points. A genuine blank one could be easily doctored to fit any identity and could sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars to criminal organisations, another law enforcement officer said.

The seizure of the diplomatic passport raises grave questions about internal security at the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Ottawa-area company that produces Canada's passports. In my opinion, this is a very serious thing. It indicates some lax controls somewhere, or monitoring is not going on too well, said David Brown, a former senior immigration intelligence and interdiction officer who is now a consultant on government - document fraud.

Your daily bread 'pus paan'

Hard, too moist and infested with weevils; consumers may hit us, say bakers

By Ayesha R. Rafiq and Nilika de Silva

Tens of thousands of loafs of bread produced daily in Sri Lanka today are like lumps of clay —unfit for human consumption and leading to an epidemic of stomach upsets.

Consumers told The Sunday Times the bread they were getting daily for the past few weeks was not only of a deplorable and dangerous quality but also underweight.

Many small bakery owners who were contacted by us put the blame on the Food Department and the Co-operative Wholesale Establishment. They said the flour they were getting was of poor quality — too much moisture, too little protein content and to make it worse, often infested with weevils.

Bakers' Association secretary W. D. N. Canisius alleged that they were getting spoilt flour from which weevils had been removed. He said such flour was usually used as animal feed.

R. Ponnasamy, manager of Samudrasiri Bakeries in Nawala, said: "The only thing the customers don't do is hit us.

"Earlier we sold all our bread, but now we sell only half the stock we bake. Our daily loss is heavy and we are finding it difficult to pay our workers with the GST being an additional burden."

According to bakers, the flour being supplied now is of two different qualities classified as numbers three and six.

They say number six is a little better than number three, but even that does not rise properly in baking and the loaf is often only half the size it should be. It is also lumpy, hard and is full of weevils.

"We have to compensate for this by adding other ingredients such as margarine, but then the taste is different and the costs more," one baker pointed out.

Saman Jayalath, the owner of the Adara Kanthi bakery in Rajagiriya, said they had to close up for two days because of the crisis.

"It has come to a point where people just can't stomach the bread and they blame us for it, but what can we do. Many of our customers come back to return the loafs of bread, saying they are like lumps of clay and inedible," he said.

Bigger bakeries are not so badly affected, as they can cover losses from the profits of other products they make.

Sumith Kumara, a manager of the Anon Bakery in Nawala, said they were making only a limited quantity of bread, so they were not too badly affected, but they were finding it difficult as they had only a limited quantity of the good quality flour for bread.

Bakers Association president Parakrama Dassanayake said when the problem was initially detected in Kurunegala about a month ago, samples of the flour and the bread were sent to the Department of Food, but no action was taken by the department.

"The flour is of terrible quality. Customers are buying the bread only because they have no choice," he said.

Explaining the crisis, he said it started last December when flour was imported from Dubai and Singapore to overcome a shortage. Once these imports were stopped, Prima flour that had been kept as a buffer stock for a long time was released to the market.

But it was infested with weevils.

He felt this flour had been stored for too long a period and that the Food Department had not followed the First In First Out (FIFO) method, where the flour that was stored first was issued first. As a result old flour was issued.

He said the flour needed to make good bread should have a medium or strong content of protein.

But he felt the CWE had bought cheap flour which was high in moisture and low in protein.

But CWE officials denied the charge.

Food Commissioners N. B. Liyanarachchi, the main state official in charge of flour distribution, pleaded ignorance. He said that sometime ago he had heard of some weevil problem but he had got no major complaints in recent weeks and was not aware of any bread crisis.

But the Bakers' Association spokesman said they had asked Colombo chief food inspection officer to examine the flour and make a ruling.

The spokesman, Mr. Canisius, said it was a legal requirement that any packeted food put up for sale should carry an expiry date. But the packs of Prima flour had no such dates. Nor did they have the level of protein content or moisture as required by the law.

"When there is too much moisture, the flour cannot be kept for long. And as the storage houses here are too heaty, the flour will get spoilt easily," he said.

Mr. Canisius said recent health problems such as widespread stomach ailments, were linked to the poor quality flour.

Prima officials, however, denied the charges. They said that if expiry dates were put on the bags, bakers would demand the freshest ones and others would get stuck or get spoilt.

CRM asks, where's the commission?

By S.S. Selvanayagam

The Civil Rights Movement has urged President Kumaratunga to carry out her promise to appoint a commission to probe disappearances in the North after the security forces recaptured the Jaffna peninsula.

Relatives of the disappeared persons had agitated for action for several months and last year met President Kumaratunga who promised that a commission would be appointed.

The President also promised that the independent commission probing about 600 disappearances would submit a report within six months.

A military board of inquiry had looked into some cases but it was no substitute for a full scale probe by a commission, CRM said.

Meanwhile, EPRLF General Secretary Suresh Premachandran has added his voice to a series of calls by Tamil parties and human rights groups for a commission to probe a disclosure that some 400 bodies are buried in a mass grave at Chemmani. The disclosure was made by one of the soldiers convicted in the Krishanthi Kumaraswamy rape and murder case recently.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission has decided to probe the disclosure of mass graves in Chemmani area, a member said.

As a first step, the HRC is to question the soldier who made the disclosure.

Human rights groups have called for the suspected area to be cordoned off and protected to prevent interested parties from carrying away the remains before any inquiry is launched.

Doctors to strike again

War hospitals in crisis

By Faraza Farook

Government doctors at Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa hospital where war casualties are being treated will launch another token strike on Tuesday demanding that vital medical facilities be provided immediately.

Dr. Ananda Samarasekera, president of the Government Medical Officers Association yesterday called for an urgent meeting with Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva to discuss the crisis over the lack of facilities at the two hospitals.

The GMOA launched a token strike last Friday on this same issue but assured soldiers from the war front would be given treatment despite any strike action.

He said the lack of suture material and vascular surgical facilities were the a major drawbacks and could lead to wounded soldiers losing their lives or limbs.

He said the strike action could have been averted if the minister agreed to meet them earlier but he hoped that the dialogue could at least begin now.

S. Ganewella, the North Central Province Deputy Director General of Health Services, said they were looking into the urgent needs of the two hospitals.

Paksitan tells Lanka to mediate

By Arshad M.Hadjirin and Chamintha Thilakarathna

Special Pakistani envoy Akram Zaki has urged Sri Lanka to mediate in defusing tensions between India and this country.

"Sri Lanka is in a good position to mediate in South Asian matters. As the incoming chairman of SAARC, it has a bigger responsibility and we hope it would come forward to help resolve this crisis," Mr. Zaki said. Pakistan has called for third party mediation to resolve the tension over Kashmir and the nuclear issue, but now it is giving emphasis to the role that Sri Lanka could play as a neutral third party.

"We understand Sri Lanka's stand point as a small nation in the nuclear issue. Small nations are afraid of the assumed supremacy of India, but we are willing to welcome mediation by the Sri Lankans," he said.

Mr. Zaki has been visiting other countries in South Asia, to explain Pakistan's position. He met President Kumaratunga and delivered a personal message to her from Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif. But he declined to give any details, quipping that a postman was not supposed to know what was in a letter. "By no means can India refuse mediation. The UN charter calls on members to allow third party mediation in settling conflicts," he said.

He said Mr. Sharif and Indian Premier Atal Behari Vajpayee would meet during the SAARC summit and also after that to resolve the disputes. At last year's summit a declaration was signed for informal political mechanisms to operate for nuclear disarmament. This could provide the stage for possible dialogue, he said.

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