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2nd August 1998

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The New SAARC Chairperson, President Kumaratunga
greeting the journalists at a media conference, after the summit
ended at the Presidential Secretariat on Friday. She is flanked by
Ministers Lakshman Kadirgamar and Mangala Samaraweer.
Pic by Lakshman Gunathilake
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Experts give low marks to SAARC

Eminent group hands over report to CBK

By M. Ismeth

A group of 12 eminent persons from South Asia have served a severe indictment on the progress made by SAARC so far, saying co-operation has been hindered by the lack of political will and the association is still very far from maturing into a regional economic grouping.

The group has called upon South Asian countries to agree on the specifics of a comprehensive multi-sectoral agenda for co-operation in such areas as trade, investment, infrastructural development as well as the optimal utilization and development of the natural resources of the region.

The Group of Eminent Persons (GEP) comprised Ibrahim Hussain Zaki (Chairman), Muchkund Dubey, Mangala Moonesinghe, V.A. Pai Panandiker, B.P. Shreshtha, Rehman Sobhan, Senake Bandaranayake, Mohammed Moshin, Niaz A. Naik, Ahamed Shaheed, Y.K. Silwal and Lhatu Wangchuk.

The South Asian region cannot be exclusively driven by a defensive response to the pressures of globalization but must rediscover for itself the compelling logic underlining a process of constructive regionalism, the GEP has said in a report to SAARC's new chairperson President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The GEP appointed after the last summit in Male to assess the work of SAARC and propose a new vision and goals for the regional grouping has pointed out that the organisation has regretted that SAARC has fallen far short of aspirations.

"Often, co-operation has been hindered by a lack of political will and hampered by the vicissitudes of the political climate. Despite the positive development, SAARC is still very far from maturing as a regional economic grouping.

"The progress made through negotiations undertaken under SAPTA has so far been very limited. Consequently, SAARC countries have not developed any collective leverage in global economic negotiations nor do they constitute an effective voice in global economic forums," the GEP report said.

The group was concerned that the recent nuclear weapon tests carried out by India and Pakistan and the escalation of the tension between the two countries following this development may impede the progress of regional co-operation in South Asia. The group expressed the hope that despite this development, the momentum of co-operation reached under SAARC should be maintained.

South Asian countries remain mired in an unacceptable level of poverty, human deprivation, population pressure and environmental degradation. At the same time, the increased pace of globalization of economic processes, the information revolution, new technological advances and the growth of trade in services and greater movement towards liberalization have exposed countries in South Asia to the challenges inherent in the present phase of globalisation, the GEP stated.

The Integrated Programme of Action, which has formed the core programme for regional co-operation under SAARC has in general succeeded in fostering contacts between experts, facilitating exchange of information, sharing of experiences and compiling data.

An important achievement of SAARC has been its success in putting in place schemes designed for promoting greater people-to-people contact. These include the SAARC Audio-Visual Exchange Programme, The SAARC Chairs, Fellowships and Scholarships scheme. A major step forward has been the decision for the Association to grant recognition or affiliation to professional bodies established to promote regional co-operation in their respective specialised fields.

This is apart from the continuing costs that member countries are incurring due to non-co-operation in these areas. There are still several economic areas like energy, manufacturing services, money and finance which are still outside the pale of SAARC, the group observed.

Even in areas where SAARC has been active over the past decade or so, several of the decisions taken at the highest political level remain unimplemented.

None of the four Regional Centres has emerged as recognised centres of excellence in the region. They have been bogged down to routine activities and are hardly distinguishable from the national centres with which they are associated, the GEP has stated.

The facilities provided under the SAARC Food Security Reserve have never been utilized even though member countries have suffered from acute food shortage from time to time.

The GEP commenting on the Conventions on Suppression of Terrorism and Prevention of Drug Trafficking said there had been no impact on controlling terrorism or drug trafficking through regional co-operation in South Asia. Some of the countries have not so far even enacted enabling national legislation to give effect to these conventions.

The GEP has also expressed that the schemes of people-to-people contact have been stagnating at their existing levels and have degenerated into being a mere tokenism. Vast number of people in South Asia still encounter formidable difficulties in moving from one country to another and getting access to information regarding other countries, in the pretexts of security and other political considerations.

In the field of environment, there has been no progress in SAARC beyond producing the two studies. This is all the more regrettable because cost of non-co-operation in the area is colossal.

Full probe on mass graves in Jaffna

Human Rights Commission takes up Chemmani case

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has appealed to the Attorney General to facilitate investigations on the charge of a mass grave at Chemmani in Jaffna.

The HRC last Tuesday discussed the situation arising from the statement made by the accused Somaratne Rajapakse in the Krishanthi Kumara–swamy rape and murder case. The convicted soldier said there was a mass grave where some 400 bodies of civilians were buried.

After commissioner T. Sundaralingam interviewed the convicted soldier at the Welikada jail last Tuesday the HRC called for further investigations while contacting the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva and the ICRC for expertise, funding and logistic support.

The HRC headed by former supreme court judge O.S.M. Seneviratne is also collecting more information on the matter, an official said.

Justice Minister flouts court order

Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris has failed to comply with a District Court order for the declaration of documents in his possession, Colombo District Court Judge Sarath Ambeypitiya said in an order.

This was stated by the District Judge issuing an order for ex parte trial in a case in which the Minister is a defendant.

In this case, former Finance Ministry advisor Nihal Sri Amarasekera has filed suit against Dr. Peiris for recovery of damages from the minister for his alleged intervention to suspend the implementation of the Hilton Hotel settlement agreement.

The plaint filed by Mr. Amarasekera's lawyers states that Dr. Peiris without disclosing his personal interest, has intervened in July 1995 to suspend the implementation of the Hilton settlement agreement, notwithstanding that he has been a party to a condition affected in the settlement .

The plaint further states that the defendant has caused injury to the name and reputation of Mr. Amarasekera by making false statements regarding the Hilton settlement agreement.

The plaintiff's lawyers then filed interrogatories to be answered by Dr. Peiris, but court has now determined that Dr. Peiris has failed to comply with the order made by court for declaration of documents in his possession along with answers to interrogatories. Therefore court has ordered that the answer filed by Dr. Peiris in response to the plaint of the plaintiff be struck out, and the case taken up for ex parte trial.

This equates to the type of trial granted to plaintiffs when defendants fail to appear in court. The ex parte trial has been fixed for September 3.

Thonda seeks Vajpayee help

By S.S. Selvanayagam

CWC leader and Minister S. Thondaman has urged Indian premier Atal Behari Vajpayee to grant Indian citizenship to about 100,000 Sri Lankans of Indian origin who had fled across the Palk Straits after the 1983 riots.

The appeal was made when Mr. Thondaman and a delegation from the newly formed plantations coalition met Mr. Vajpayee at Hotel Taj Samudra on Friday evening. The delegation said in the aftermath of the 1983 riots, a large number of Sri Lankans of Indian origin had to seek refuge in India.

Initially they were received with sympathy and understanding. Now they have been asked to leave.

The Thondaman delegation sought financial aid from the Indian premier to promote social and infrastructure development in the plantations through the Estate Infrastructure Development Ministry.

The delegation complained that a large number of the 500,000 people so far repatriated to India under the Sirima-Shastri Pact were living in virtual destitution. It said funds had been allocated by the Indian Central Govt. for the welfare of these repatriates but it seemed that utilisation and implementation at state level were faulty. The delegation appealed to Mr. Vajpayee to make a full study of the problem and rectify matters.

CBK speechless, Ranil, Pathirana put behind

Police are probing whether any sabotage was behind the failure of all microphones when President Chandrika Kumaratunga — watched by millions in Sri Lanka and South Asia — began her much awaited inaugural address at the 10th South Asia summit in Colombo. Two employees of Telecom were taken in and questioned by Cinnamon Gardens Police as the probe continued on whether it was sabotage or a technical fault.

The Sunday Times learns the microphones were in perfect order but something happened just before the President went to the podium

An apparently embarrassed president was seen desperately tapping at mike after mike and asking the audience in the packed hall, " Can you hear me, can you hear me."

Meanwhile a cabinet minister is raising questions about an apparent breakdown of protocol where senior minister and government chief whip Richard Pathirana was relegated to the third row while those who ranked lower in seniority were on the front row. However a Foreign Ministry spokesman told The Sunday Times that seats were allotted according to order of precedence. Front rows were for Sri Lanka's 32 delegates to the summit which included Ministers G. L. Peiris, Kingsley Wickremeratne, Lakshman Kadirgamar and officials, sources said.

Another controversy is the relegation of Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to a back row while an ordinary MP like Anura Bandaranaike was seen in the front rows. There was a near walk out at the opening ceremony by both government ministers and opposition parliamentarians over seating arrangements.

Mr. Pathirana saw two of his colleagues offer their seats to him when he began protesting loudly about the seat allocated to him.

He protested to Foreign Secretary Wilhelm Woutersz and Presidential Secretary Kusum Balapatabendi when he found junior cabinet ministers seated in rows ahead of him. Mr. Pathirana had also taken up the case of the opposition leader who had been put on row six, when protocol equates his post to that of a cabinet minister.

Opposition MPs led by Sarath Amunugama had suggested a walk-out moments before the SAARC leaders arrived, but others from the UNP had prevailed on him saying Sri Lankan MPs would cut a sorry figure in the eyes of the world if they walked out. Anura Bandaranaike, the estranged brother of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, an MP from the UNP had however been given a seat next to cabinet ministers and ahead of his party leader.

The seat is reported to have been allocated through the intervention of his mother, Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike.

Meanwhile the media centre at Hotel Intercontinental was muddled by messes and mix-ups.

Journalists covering the post-summit media conference at the Presidential Secretariat on Friday had been asked to assemble at the media centre at 9.15 am. Some 200 journalists who gathered there were put through full body check and then told to get into four buses. Well and good. Security is essential. For almost one hour, the journalists had to sit and wait in the buses. There was little to see and less to report. The buses finally crawled from the hotel to the Secretariat at noon but another wait was ahead till the media conference started at 1.55. pm.

Three journalists walked out from the bus, saying there was a limit to their patience.

Journalists said that while they were ready to co-operate in enforcing tight security measures, it seemed that inefficiency or inexperience in professional organisational skills had made matters intolerable.

On the opening day, journalists, photographers and TV crews were told to gather at the media centre by 6. a.m. to be taken from there to the BMICH for the opening ceremony at 10. a.m. The ceremony went on till 2 p.m. For those eight hours, the local and foreign journalists were not even able to get a glass of water, leave alone other refreshments.

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