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2nd August 1998

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The SAARC closing session ceremony was held at the Presidential Secretariat on Friday.

Pictures show:

Journalists left high and dry outside the press conference room.

Last minute preparations of adjusting banners.

Pix by Lakshman Gunatilleke, Gemunu Wellage and Sajeewa Chinthaka

SAARC anti people says action group

A South Asia peoples' action group, including well known social justice activists, has protested against what is seen as the anti-people's stance of the SAARC bureaucracy and the manner in which civil activists are kept out.

In a statement coinciding with the South Asian Summit in Colombo the South Asian People's Solidarity Forum said it had made several appeals to the SAARC secretariat and missions here to grant the group an appointment to air its views. But the appeals were ignored.

The forum consists of several local and South Asian networks involved in issues related to human rights, workers, children and women's rights, agriculture and environmental concerns and alternative media.

"We met in Colombo on July 25 and 26 to prepare a memorandum to be handed over to the SAARC Leaders bringing our concerns to them.

Since last month we have submitted two requests to the Secretary General of SAARC on July 15 1998 and subsequently to the Secretariat in Colombo. Our representative Vasudeva Nanayakkara spoke to a Secretary seeking a response. Upto date we have not received any response or an acknowledgement. Further we also communicated to High Commissions and Embassies of the SAARC region requesting appointments to hand over a petition signed by concerned South Asian citizens on the nuclear explosions in India and Pakistan. We have also not received any response from these offices.

Sinhalese,Tamils, Muslims tell their woes to Vajpayee

By S. S. Selvanayagam

Sri Lanka's main Tamil party, the TULF, has urged Indian Premier Atal Behari Vajpayee to persuade the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE to settle the ethnic conflict by meeting the needs and aspirations of the Tamil people.

A TULF delegation headed by its President M. Sivasithamparam met Mr. Vajpayee at India House after a reception during his visit here.

The delegation included TULF Parliamentarians R. Sampanthan, Joseph Pararajasingham and Neelan Tiruchelvam.

Highlighting the plight of the Tamils, they cited the arbitrary arrests in Colombo and other places.

More than 800,000 Tamils are refugees and more than 70% are undernourished. Travel to Jaffna was limited. There was continuous firing and artillery shellings from the Army camps in the North, the TULF said.

Meanwhile the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress has told Mr. Vajpayee that it felt the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord had failed because it did not provide for the Muslim dimension in the North-East.

SLMC leader M. H. M. Ashraff told Mr. Vajpayee during a meeting in Colombo that he felt the proposed devolution package was an improvement on the Indo-Lanka accord because it addressed the needs and aspirations of North-East Muslims.

Mr. Ashraff who met the Indian leader at India House during a reception there said he would be visiting India in October. SLMC general secretary Rauf Hakeem was also present at the talks.

Mr. Vajpayee also met an All Ceylon Hindu Congress delegation who told him of the continuing harassment and threat that Tamil civilians were facing. They appealed for Indian mediation to find a just and peaceful solution.

Meanwhile, the Jaffna-based Hindu Religious Priests Organization of Sri Lanka (HRPOSL) has requested Mr. Vajpayee to initiate peace talks to end the crisis in Sri Lanka.

In the request made through the Indian High Commissioner, the group has said that it looks upon India as its motherland for various aspects of socio-cultural relations which have been maintained since ancient times.

"We have the highest trust that your visit to our country on a peace-mission will definitely help the Tamil-speaking people of this nation to live in peace and harmony for ever.

"This is the appropriate time to appeal to you to use your esteemed offices as Indian Premier to bring peace and harmony to our country by initiating talks with our leaders in solving the long unsettled ethnic problem which is being unwantedly dragged on for years" the HRPOSL has said. Meanwhile the National Movement against Terrorism has sent an open letter to the Indian premier through the Indian High Commission.

The group has said in the letter the forces which are trying to break up Sri Lanka will also carve up India.

See open letter to Mr. Vajpaye from NMAT

Conflict over move to relocate mosque,church

A religious conflict is looming in the Mattegoda housing scheme at Homagama over the building of a mosque and a church in the area.

Residents say the mosque and the church near the Araliya Oya area of the housing scheme were built on land they bought from a finance company and they see no reason why the Homagama Pradeshiya Sabha should raise objections to these places of worship.Mosque spokesman H. Sheriff, asserting the right to freedom of assembly and worship, said the local council had not given valid reasons for the objection and the Muslims in the scheme were not prepared to allow the pradeshiya sabha to relocate the mosque in another place.

Pradeshiya sabha chairman Sunil Perumbuli said permission had not been obtained from the local council to build the mosque and the church on 14 perches of land.

He said the traffic flow to the mosque and the church could block access roads to the housing scheme and cause other problems. Some residents of the area had protested against the building of the places of worship without proper authority or consultation and the council had proposed that the mosque be built elsewhere.

Angry tusker's Colombo chase ends in Kandy

By J.A.L. Jayasinghe

A mahout to whose care the Tusker Navam Raja was entrusted was killed by it on the 3rd day of the Kandy Esala Perehera.

The Tusker had been gifted to the Dalada Maligawa sometime ago.

After the Tusker trampled the 56-year-old mahout, Godakawela Dingiri ,the authorities withdrew it from the Perehere.

Last week in what seems to have been a pre warning, the elephant had chased the mahout along Marcus Fernando Mawatha in Colombo.

But the angry beast was pacified by a monk who gave it bread and sweets.

More SAARC lobbies for child

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

A request by the Parliamentary Lobby for Child Rights to encourage setting up of similar lobbies in other SAARC member countries has been welcomed by SAARC Secretary General Naeem U. Hassan. Mr. Hassan has pledged to include the two proposals by the Sri Lankan Lobby in the agenda of the next conference for the Speaker and Parliamentarians of SAARC to be held in Islamabad, Pakistan this November.

Chairman of the Lobby Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene told The Sunday Times the Sri Lanka stance had also been appreciated by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheik Hassina who observed the importance of upholding the rights of children as a "common cause".

The two Sri Lanka proposals to be included in the Islamabad agenda are the formation of a regional dissemination system on children and calling a separate conference on children .

Education for all S.Asia's children

SAARC leaders agree to tackle poverty at the roots

The South Asian summit in Colombo has chartered a new course for grassroots economic development and human issues to uplift the living standards of the regions 1.3 billion people.

In a Colombo declaration issued at the end of the tenth summit on Friday, they decided to expedite the regional convention to combat trafficking women and children for prostitution, draft a convention for the promotion of Child Welfare in the region and develop a Social Charter focused on poverty eradication, population stabilisation and human resources development.

South Asian leaders called for the eradication of illiteracy in the region through co-operative endeavours within the framework of SAARC. They felt that illiteracy was a major impediment to economic development and social emancipation.

SAARC will initiate a Social Charter focusing on poverty eradication, population stabilisation and the empowerment of women, youth mobilisation, human resources development, the promotion of health and the protection of children. The Council of Ministers has been requested by the leaders to draw up the Social Charter.

Serious efforts were also required in respect of education for all children and the eradication of gender disparities, they said.

The leaders condemned the exploitation of children by terrorist groups in hostilities and called for special measures for psychological, physical and social rehabilitation of child victims.

In this respect the leaders noted the initiative taken by the Maldives in pursuance of their directive at the last SAARC conference in drafting the Convention on Regional Arrangements for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia. While welcoming the offer the leaders urge the Expert Group Meeting to finalise the draft Convention for adoption at the next conference.

On the trafficking of women and children, the leaders pledged to co-ordinate efforts to take effective measures to address this problem.

Chapter closed for A/L old syllabus tomorrow

Some 179,473 candidates will sit the GCE A/L examination which begins tomorrow, Examinations Commissioner A.M.R.B. Amarakoon said.

Of this number, 27,274 candidates will be examined on the old syllabus, for the last time this year while About 130,733 school candidates and 21,466 private candidates will have papers based on the new syllabus.

The exams will be held in 292 centres with co-ordination being done from 211 centres.

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