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23rd August 1998

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Ceasefire over fuel crisis

By S.S. Selvanayagam

The hartal in Vavuniya district to protest against the rationing of fuel was suspended on Friday after a Buddhist prelate promised to mediate and bring about a fair settlement. The protest strike led by PLOTE had paralysed life with shops closed and transport services at a standstill.

PLOTE sources said the Vavuniya Peace Council Chief the Ven. Siyambalagaswewa Vimalasaratha Thera had appealed that the hartal be suspended while he held talks with the government and military authorities to bring about a settlement regarding the fuel restriction.

They said the prelate had pledged he too would join the protest action if state officials did not settle the dispute by the end of the month.

The hartal was launched after the government imposed fuel rationing in a bid to prevent the smuggling of fuel to the LTTE.

The EPRLF, the SLMC and associations of traders and trishaw drivers among others supported the strike against the rationing which produced long queues of people with coupons waiting for fuel outside filling stations.

PLOTE deputy leader N. Manikkathasan said the government had no valid basis for the fuel restriction since it was Mannar and not Vavuniya that was known as the major centre for fuel smuggling by the LTTE.

EPRLF leader Suresh Premachandran said the rationing would not affect the LTTE, but only cause more suffering to the people and further alienate them from the government.

He said people were being forced to waste time at army camps, police stations and kachcheris to get fuel permits.

The rationing scheme was also giving corrupt elements more opportunities to get bribes for fuel permits he said.

Rejecting the government's reasons for the rationing as "ridiculous and childish," the EPRLF leader called for its immediate withdrawal.

JVP's call receives a lukewarm response

By Shelani de Silva

An appeal by the JVP to put forward a common presidential candidate has been met with lukewarm response from left parties.

The JVP sent letters to left and minority parties, calling for a common presidential candidate while seeking their support for a campaign against the postponement of the provincial elections.

The MEP took the issue up at its politburo meeting on Friday and the party's decision would be conveyed to the JVP soon, MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardene told The Sunday Times. Nava Sama Samaja Party leader Wickramabahu Karunaratne said through they opposed the idea of a common candidate they would co-operate with the JVP in a protest campaign against the postponement of provincial elections.

"We believe that holding of an early presidential election is a ploy by the government to divert the people's attention from the real issue, the postponement of the elections. We have decided to alert the JVP not to be misled by the government but carry on the protest," Dr. Karunaratne said.

He said the NSSP would join other left parties to campaign for the holding of provincial elections.

"Provincial Councils are important for leftist parties. It is through this we can represent the grassroots people. The Government aware of this, is denying us this democratic right," he said.

Communist Party leader Raja Collure said his party was unable to take an independent stand on this because it was a constituent party of the PA.

However the JVP spokesman Wimal Weerawansa said his party was positive that the left parties would come forward and join in its protest.

The JVP which began last week a week-long protest campaign islandwide against the postponement of the provincial elections had by Friday afternoon completed nearly 100 public meetings.

"The campaign was successful. It was marred only by a clash with the Dehiwala police in Attidiya, when the organisers were asked to cancel the meeting under emergency laws. We also had problems in Polonnaruwa," Mr. Weerawansa said.

Unlawful occupant told to buy houses

By Faraza Farook

Unlawful occupants of government flats, houses and shops are being told to become rightful owners of these properties under a scheme being implemented now or face legal action for eviction, Housing Authority sources said.

Legal action will be taken to eject illegal occupants and those who have failed to pay their rents, if they do not settle their dues and come into ownership legally, Housing and Urban Development Minister Indika Gunewardene said.

He said the occupants - both the unlawful residents and those who have not settled their dues - would be given one month's notice which may come at any time and the National Housing Development Authority would take the ownership of their houses. These occupants have no right to claim ownership even if they had been occupying the premises for several years, the Minister said.

However, an urgent scheme is now being implemented to transfer the ownership of these houses and shops belonging to the Housing Authority and give them on lease or rent basis to the present occupants.

This is done to replace the lease/rent agreement of the occupants with the ownership agreement.

The occupants of government housing schemes are told to buy the houses on concessionary terms. The ownership will be transferred to the occupants with the property mortgaged in lieu of payment. A 20 year grace period is given for settlement after paying a down payment of 25 percent.

If unauthorized settlers, wish to purchase, they can pay in instalments over a 20 year period with 15 percent interest after paying the down payment of 25 percent.

Most of the government houses have been either sold or rented out by the original tenants who have signed the agreement with the Housing Authority to others despite a government warning that such transfers are illegal.

No more alarms

By Chamintha Thilakarathna

Parliamentary Secretary General Bertran Tittawella has called for a report on a false fire alarm in Parliament last Thursday.

He said it was just an accident and nothing serious but steps had been taken to prevent such incidents in the future.

Parliamentary proceedings were disturbed last Thursday when fire alarms on the ground floor went off creating chaos among many parliamentary staff and security divisions. But Dr. Sarath Amunugama who was speaking at that time, continued unruffled.

"Minister Lakshman Jayakody has demanded a comprehensive inquiry and I have called for a report from the parliament police," Mr. Tittawella said.

Police said they suspected two children who had come to visit an MP had pressed the fire alarm, realizing little the gravity of what they were doing.

'Shanthi' wows Lankans

Mandira Bedi, the Indian actress sensation now visiting Sri Lanka expressed her total disappointment when she learnt Friday night that she will not be in the 500th episode of the popular "Shanthi" teledrama now being aired on the MTV.

The 26 year-old Calcutta born one time journalist learnt at a private dinner booked in her honour that she will not be in the 500th of the 750 episode series. Her visit to Sri Lanka is in connection with the 500th episode.Mandira Bedi - Shanthi

"Oh no" she said while tucking into her egg hopper as she learnt from Sri Lanka dubbing master that she will be not in the episode.

She explained to those who interested why the producers keep her out of some of the episodes. "It is to keep the viewer in suspense. Something like absence makes the heart grow fonder," she said.

"But why from the 500th?" she asked bemused and equally disappointed guests.

Ms. Bedi has seen through a virtual red carpet welcome from the airport.

Crowds thronged the streets at reception centres all along the route to Colombo. At Seeduwa, Ja-ela and Kandana, traffic police had to clear the roads for her to move on.

"It was like when MGR (the famous TamilNadu actor turned chief Minister ) came from Rathmalana airport to Colombo in 1966," an old time policeman said. That visit was arranged by the now defunct Dinapathy Tamil Daily.

Ms. Bedi signed over 3000 autographs on day one. " I first signed saying best wishes Mandira Bedi. Then it was Mandira Bedi (without the best wishes). Then M. Bedi, then MB and then it was just a scratch," she lamented. I didn't want to do that."

The economics graduate who works in Mumbai wound up a hectic day, still signing autographs at the "Blue Elephant" disco and tripping the light, fantastic herself.

Yesterday she watched a cricket match and went to meet fans in Kandy. Moratuwa and Galle are also on schedule.

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