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13th September 1998

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UNP ready for talks on bipartisan principles

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The UNP is willing to support any sincere attempts by the government to hold talks with the LTTE to resolve the ethnic conflict, Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said as speculation grew about peace moves by both main parties along with accusations being thrown against each other.

But the support would be within the ambit of the Liam Fox agreement for bipartisanship between the two main parties in efforts to resolve the conflict, he said.

Mr. Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Times he had reliably learnt that the President had sent a letter through a special messenger to the LTTE expressing her wish to hold conditional talks, which he thought was a good gesture.Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe

However, the Opposition Leader lamented he had been vilified by the President and other PA leaders as a person conspiring with the LTTE to topple the government.The President, he said was correct in expressing willingness to talk to the separatists as any right thinking political leader should do. This was the biggest problem facing the country today,thus all parties and people needed to rise above pettiness to achieve the common goal of peace.

On a note of censure, the Opposition Leader accused the government of playing petty politics with his call for unconditional talks. He said he had never mooted the idea of a ceasefire, which he believed would prove detrimental to the armed forces."Talks must go on even while the fighting continues," he said.

Meanwhile the man at the centre of the latest political controversy, UNP Parliamentarian Jayalath Jayawardene was questioned by the CID on matters relating to his alleged visit to the uncleared Vavuniya jungles for secret talks with LTTE Political Wing Leader Thamilchelvam.

President Kumaratunga charged on Wednesday that Dr. Jayawardene's visit to the Vavuniya jungles was in violation of Emergency Regulations and that his talks with Thramilchelvam were aimed at toppling the government. Dr. Jayawardene told The Sunday Times. He was undeterred by what he saw as a sinister government effort to distort the purpose of his visit.Dr. Jayawardene

Denying the government charge that he had committed an offence, Dr. Jayawardene said he was ready to meet any Tamil leaders including Thamilchelvam to achieve peace.

The MP flatly rejected the charge that his visit was aimed at conspiring with the LTTE to topple the government.

Dr. Jayawardene said he had visited LTTE controlled areas in Vavuniya from May 29 to June 1 after receiving Defence Ministry clearance on May 18. The accusation against him was made by President Kumaratunga in Kurunegala more than three months after the visit.

The physician turned politician, who co-ordinates humanitarian work for refugees in the North and East through a UNP committee said he was responsible for many medical service projects there, in addition to his active work connected with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Sri Lanka Red Cross.

" It is distressing to see the government going for my blood. My jeep driver, D. Pathmanathan has been taken into custody.

" It was the same driver who transported the bodies of some soldiers to Vavuniya from the LTTE controlled areas," he said..

Dr. Jayawardene said he was wondering why the government was suddenly galvanised into action against him when it was aware that Catholic members of Parliament irrespective of political divisions were making pilgrimages together to Madhu.

" I have been vilified and my visit to a holy shrine has been given a political twist . I do a lot of humanitarian work there and intend visiting Vavuniya soon.

"Instead of fabricating charges against others, the government must needs to ensure adequate food, water and medical supplies, to the suffering people," he said.

President calls for report on July strikers

By Shelani de Silva

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has called for a detailed report on the grievances and demands of the July strikers immediately in a bid to pay compensation to more than two thousand workers.

At the request of the President, Minister Maithripala Sirisena held talks with union leaders and would brief her on the outcome, sources said. The minister, who met members of the Joint Organization of July strikers on Thursday took into consideration six demands put forward by the union.

The Minister told The Sunday Times that the President's call came in the wake of attempts by the union to meet her on several occasions.

"As requested by the President I will handover an in-depth report on the grievances of the July strikers. I was not given a time period but the President told me she needs it immediately," the minister said. The talks with the union were successful with the union being given an opportunity to express their views.

Mr. Sirisena said the President might meet the union leaders once she studied the report.

The Secretary of the Joint Organisation of July Strikers, P Amaradivakara told The Sunday Times they made their position clear and hoped the President will solve the problem. He also said that they would continue with their islandwide protest which began last month.

"We were assured that within the next two weeks the President will give us a final word. However our protest will continue. We already had a successful public meeting in Matara, and several meetings in Gampaha, Kandy and Kurunegala will be held," he said. Meanwhile Labour Minister John Senevirathne told The Sunday Times a cabinet paper was submitted last week to pay compensation to 2,000 private sector employees. It is being studied." The biggest problem we are facing is the lack of funds to pay compensation. The Cabinet is considering utilising part of a lottery fund as compensation money. The lottery Srama Wasana might be used for this purpose," the minister said.

"If we decide to utilise the lottery money we hope to get the strikers too involved in selling the tickets. We may appoint them as agents and get their co-operation because we need to sell a lot of tickets," he said.

Welfare to be cut?

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have advised the Sri Lankan Government to reduce welfare programmes including pensions and other social welfare projects before it applies for the next loan the Sunday Times reliably learns.

The government has also been advised to bring the 35 exempted consumer items under the GST bracket to raise money for the state.

However, Justice Minister G.L. Peiris refuted this saying the government was borrowing the international lending agencies' theories lock, stock and barrel and there was no intention to review this and impose burdens on the people. If the exempted items were also brought within the GST bracket, items such as bread, flour and dhal would also rise in price, financial sources said.

Hulftsdorp in uproar over arrest of judge

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

The legal profession is in uproar over the sensational arrest of a judge with lawyers accusing the government of threatening the judiciary, but the Attorney General alleging that the judge had committed serious offences.

The principal body of lawyers, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka issued a tough statement yesterday, accusing the government of insulting the entire judiciary, by allowing the CID to arrest High Court Judge Mahanama Tillekeratne.

While some lawyers said the arrest was illegal, others said it was politically motivated. But the Attorney General said the victim in this incident, an army sergeant had been crippled in an attack by a gang allegedly involving the judge and his son.

The Executive Committee of the BASL after an emergency meeting yesterday issued a statement saying the arrest of judge Tillekeratne by the CID on Thursday was illegal.

"The improper conduct of the authorities concerned is a gross violation of personal liberty and the safeguards provided by law. All persons are equal before the law and the law must take its course. But the arrest of the judge is a serious affront to the dignity of the judiciary and a threat to its independence," the BASL said.

Judge Tillekeratne was arrested on Thursday on a complaint made two months ago regarding the alleged assault on a neighbour who is an army sergeant.

According to lawyers, the judge had surrendered to the Kesbawa Magistrate and was released on personal bail of Rs. 1500.

But on Thursday, a team of 30 CID officers arrested Judge Tillekeratne.

He was produced before Colombo's Chief Magistrate on Friday, by CID Director Bandula (Show) Wickramasinghe and was released on the same bail granted by the Kesbewa Magistrate. He was also directed to appear before the Kesbewa Magistrate on September 17.

"It is illegal for a person on bail or in the custody of the courts to be arrested by anybody, unless the court cancels the bail, or the permission of the High Court is obtained. The CID is guilty of contempt of court," well-known criminal lawyer Daya Perera said yesterday.

According to him, the CID had been after judge Tillekeratne's son, but the army sergeant later made a new complaint implicating the judge himself in the assault case.

Attorney General Sarath Silva gave a different picture. Mr. Silva, the chief legal officer of the state, told The Sunday Times yesterday that although the complaint was two months old, investigations had not made much headway as the judge had allegedly persuaded the police to suppress evidence.

He said that while the complaint was initially and essentially against Mr, Tillkeratne's son the judge allegedly brandishing a gun had led the assault conducted by a group of five persons including his son, which left the army sergeant crippled.

The Attorney General said that police had a legal right to further question a person even when he was on bail though it would be illegal for a person on bail to be remanded.

But BASL President Romesh de Silva spoke out yesterday in support of judge Tillekeratne.

He said that as far as he knew the judge had denied allegations of suppressing police investigations. "Even if he had done so, although it would be very strange if he has, the police chief should take disciplinary action against officers who allowed someone to suppress investigations," Mr. De Silva said.

He said many in the BASL were of the view that once a person was released on bail, he could not be arrested again on the same charge.

"If the AG is saying the CID was merely taking him for questioning, the CID could have asked him to come to the police station. There was no need for an arrest," he said.

Backing up the BASL viewpoint further, lawyer Daya Perera said a CID ASP had visited Mr. Tillekeratne on Thursday night. When the judge had shown him the court order, he had left.

Later that night, CID director Wickramasinghe visited the judge's residence, with around 30 policemen. When the judge had shown the court order, the CID director had flung it away and arrested Mr. Tillekeratne, saying he had got orders from the top, the lawyer alleged.

Mr. Perera also charged there were ulterior motives behind the arrest, pointing out that it was judge Tillekeratne who had acquitted UNP parliamentarian Rajitha Senaratne in a recent case.

Lawyers of the Colombo Chief Magistrate's Court on Friday morning launched a picketing campaign in Hulftdsdorp, to protest against the arrest of judge Tillekeratne.

Lawyer Hemantha Warnakulasuriya warned yesterday the entire legal profession would march out in protest if action was not taken against those who illegally arrested the judge.

"It has come to a stage where we can't trust the police. There is a state of anarchy. If this is the way a High Court Judge is treated we dread to think what will happen to ordinary people," he said.

A senior CID official, who did not wish to be identified, told The Sunday Times, that the CID had not been informed that Mr. Tillekeratne had been released on bail by the Kesbewa court. He said they learnt about it only on Friday.

(Please see Mudliyar Column )

This bombshell for Jaffna was bottles of booze

By Christopher Kamalendran

A vessel loaded with some 5,000 bottles of liquor for Jaffna was raided by Excise officers who seized the stock.

Excise sources said they had busted the major liquor racket by a businessman on a tip- off that he had loaded a huge stock on the vessel MV Wadduwa at the Colombo port.

They said the 5,000 bottles of a popular brand of liquor had not been purchased from an authorised dealer but the businessman had loaded them after producing forged documents.

This businessman is also believed to be involved in the smuggling of other banned items to the restricted war zones of the north.

Three suspected cholera patients die in Welikanda

By Faraza Farook

Three suspected cholera patients have died at the Welikanda Hospital.

"The victims were admitted to the hospital only when their condition aggravated." a Health ministry release said.

For the past month, 28 patients have been detected as positive cases of cholera of whom 12 are still under treatment at the Polonnaruwa Base Hospital. Fourteen diarrhoea patients , including children are now under treatment at the Welikanda Hospital.

Health authorities confirm that the use of polluted water from the Maduru channel for drinking and not adhering to sanitary habits are the principal cause for spread of the disease, the statement said.

Separate wards have been made available at the Polonnaruwa Base Hospital and the Welikanda Hospital for treatment of cholera patients. Adequate quantities of drugs have been made available at these hospitals to treat the patients.

Special cholera control activities are conducted by 122 public health Inspectors (PHIs) who were sent to these areas. A team of health officials from the Health Education Bureau (HEB), Epidemiological Unit and other health units left Colombo on Wednesday to conduct surveys. Suspected cases of cholera are reported from Welikanda, Aselapura, Senapura, Katuwangala and the Dimbulagala areas. Steps have already been taken to control the spread of the disease.

Protest over delay in funds

More than a Thousand refugees along with Jaffna Parliamentarians carried out a mass protest in the Puttalam town protesting over the delay in granting funds to the refugees.

The protest which was headed by parliamentarian I M Illyas was held soon after Friday's Jumma prayers.

The protest follows after the refusal of funds by Jaffna MP Douglas Devananda to the Parliamentarians.

"We will not give up, as we need the funds because we have to deal with refugees and cholera patients.

"We will be supported by members of the Mulberry Group, Mr. Illyas said .

Food distribution in Wanni at standstill, says NPC

By S.S.Selvanayagam

There is a virtual shut down of government administration and the food distribution network in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts in the war torn Wanni region, said a peace organisation.

National Peace Council (NPC) media director Jehan Perera said even though there has been a flurry of positive statements by the government leaders about their readiness to engage in peace talks with the LTTE, the ground situation precludes such talks.

The ground situation in the north-east, especially in the areas near the currently stalemated 'Jayasikurui' military operation, depicts a pessimistic scenario and there appears to be a hardening of attitudes that bodes ill for an environment conducive to peace talks, he added.

Out of about 70,000 internally displaced families in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts, food rations have been stopped to all but a third of this number from June this year, he said.

"Public servants have implemented this decision by denying food rations to needy families. When they protested to the government, they have closed down their offices as they face threats from sections of the people" he added.

"The government has attributed the cut back in food rations to the budgetary difficulties. But government should give priority in its resource allocation to assisting the internally displaced people who are the most helpless and victimised section of the Sri Lankan population," he emphasised.

"NPC requests the government to obtain the food it requires from international donor agencies which have expressed their readiness to provide the necessary rations," he said.

Rupavahini telecast to Jaffna to resume

By Shelani de Silva.

The Rupavahini Corporation has taken immediate steps to install a high powered transmitter to rectify the "Jaffna transmission" which has been non functional for the past few months.

The Jaffna transmission which was begun with the restoration of civil administration in Jaffna was initially to serve the entire Jaffna peninsula but has been received only in certain parts of the town.

Last month Jaffna District MP I M Illyas and several parliamentarians held discussions with Rupavahini Officials and requested the officials to rectify the Jaffna transmission claiming that the breakdown had paved the way for LTTE propaganda.

Mr.Illyas told The Sunday Times that despite the government's plan to bring about civil administration and normalcy to the peninsula, such facilities as television had not been seen to.

"The transmission was received only in the town area. Now it has been halted temporarily. Due to the request of the people we informed the Rupavahini Officials but nothing has been done so far, said Mr.Illyas.

However Rupavahini Chairman D E W Gunesekara told The Sunday Times that the Jaffna transmission will resume in a month and that a team of engineers are already in Jaffna.

Jaffna Teaching Hospital to get UNDP aid

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Health Ministry have reached an agreement to proceed with the rehabilitation of the Jaffna Teaching Hospital (JTH).

During discussions between the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Authority of the North (RRAN) and donor representatives, the need to rehabilitate and improve the services of the JTH had been identified as a top priority.

The estimated cost of the project is in excess of US $ 600,000. Formulating an appropriately co-ordinated strategy for addressing the specific needs of the JTH has required extended discussions between the Ministry, UNDP and other participants of the Project, UNDP sources said.

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