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15th November 1998

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President Kumaratunga 
President Kumaratunga in a meditative 
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Kataragama Kiri Vehera this week.
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President has insulted the Tamils - UNP

By S. S. Selvanayagam

The UNP has accused President Chandrika Kumaratunga of making irresponsible and unwarranted statements against the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. 

The President in an interview on South African television had said: "They are wanting a separate state - a minority community which is not the original people of the country." 

Tamil parties and leaders have reacted angrily to the president's statement, saying it was an insult to the Tamil community. 

Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar denied that the President had made such a statement but a private TV channel last Wednesday broadcast the tape in which the President made the statement regarding the origins of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. 

At a UNP working committee meeting last Monday, M. H. M. Azwer raised the issue and the party appointed a committee to draft a statement regarding the president's remarks. 

In the statement issued by General Secretary Gamini Atukorale, the party strongly condemned the president's remark regarding the Tamil people who have been living for thousands of years in Sri Lanka. 

The UNP said it had always stood for a common Sri Lankan identity with equal rights for all the people to live in peace and harmony. 

"Such irresponsible statements coming from the President can only exacerbate an already difficult situation created largely in the first instance by the foolish and irresponsible policies initiated by the first SLFP-led government in 1956," the statement said. 

The UNP also called upon President Kumaratunga and the government to immediately send food and medical supplies to the starving people of the Wanni and prevent a possible genocide there. 

At present, hepatitis and cholera are raging in the Wanni and it is imperative that adequate stocks of food and medicine are sent there immediately before the monsoon rains come down heavily and make things worse, the party said. 

The main Tamil party, the TULF, earlier issued a statement expressing shock and anguish over the President's remarks. 

The TULF which has supported the government in parliament for the past four years, also said it would vote against the latest budget because it felt the government was pursuing mainly the military option in settling the ethnic conflict. 


She spoke the truth, says NJC

The National Joint Committee (NJC) has called upon Tamil politicians to refute with evidence the statement made by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga during an interview in South Africa that Tamils were a minority community who were not the original people of the country. 

"However much the Tamil politicians may dislike it and however great the 'anguish' it may have caused them, the President has spoken nothing but the truth as proven by historical evidence," an NJC statement said adding that some of the evidence appears in the latest report of the Sinhala Commission. 

Challenging the Tamil politicians, the NJC asked them to cite evidence that their 'traditional homeland' is Sri Lanka if they wish to dispute the President's statement . 

The statement made over South African television stirred Tamil politicians. The NJC statement also said that Mr. G.G. Ponnambalam had written stating that this statement made by President Kumaratunga was an affront to the Tamil community. 

The NJC quoted the President as saying, "They are wanting a separate state, a minority community which is not the original people of the country". 

Standing by the President's statement the NJC said, "The President has touched a raw nerve, namely the much touted myth of 'traditional homeland' on which is based the entire separatist campaign". 

The Committee felt that by making such a statement, the President has destroyed the foundation on which their myth was based. 


26 years of injustice explodes on rooftop

By Chris Kamalendran

A JVP activist claiming that justice has been denied to him for more than 25 years staged a roof-top hunger strike on the Public Administration Ministry building till he was given a written assurance. 

Fifty-five- year-old U.D.E. Karunaratna, a member of the JVP and the Communist Party had been arrested after the April 1971 insurrection and detained for about one year. 

Mr. Karunaratna from Wattala had been employed as a civil worker in the Navy when he was arrested for alleged JVP involvement. 

He says he was found not guilty and released in 1972. He was reinstated by the Navy on May 2 that year but was dismissed the same day and since then he claims that justice has been denied to him despite repeated appeals for reinstatement. Mr. Karunaratna, a father of three, says other former JVPers have been reinstated and are holding top posts today one of them even being a deputy minister. But he has been denied his rights and privileges for 26 years and thus he decided on a hunger strike. The ex-JVPer said he had chosen the Public Administration Ministry building for his protest fast because it was this ministry which had issued a circular in 1977 after the then UNP government gave a general amnesty to all JVPers. The circular directed that all ex-JVPers be reinstated. 

Mr. Karunaratna said he entered the ministry building on Thursday after showing his national identity card, took the elevator to the top floor and broke the door and got on to the roof for his protest fast though the weather was bad. 

Public Administration Ministry Secretary P.A. Senaratna said that though the ministry had issued the circular, implementation was the responsibility of the institution concerned. Thus Mr. Karunaratne's case needed to be handled by the Navy. On Friday, a Navy official came to the ministry and gave a written assurance to Mr. Karunaratna that his request would be favourably considered. The ex-JVPer then called off his protest, hoping that justice be finally would done to him after 26 long years of struggle against red tape and bureaucracy. 


Child rights groups appeal to principal

Take little Zakhir back to school

By Shelani de Silva

Child protection authorities have begun investigations while a top child psychiatrist has requested the principal of Zahira College to take back eight year old Zakhir Khan who was allegedly suspended from school over a dispute between the principal and the father of the child. 

Zakhir Khan had been kept in the police station for more than six hours until his father surrendered to answer charges relating to the incident with the principal. After the boy was released he went back to school the next day but was again sent to the police station on the ground that his classmates were harassing him, as reported in The Sunday Times last week. The boy is now debarred from school and the family has filed a fundamental rights case. 

Child psychiatrist Dr. B Karunathilake after examining Zakhir has advised Zahira principal Dr. Ifthy Ismail to take the boy back to school and to ensure that no further emotional trauma is caused to him. According to the medical report Zakhir is suffering from acute stress reaction and needs to go back to school to normalise his life. 

Meanwhile Zakhir's father Mohammed Khan told The Sunday Times they had sent the medical report to the principal but had not yet got a reply. 

The injustice caused to Zakhir -whatever the dispute between his father and the principal may have been- has raised concern among Child Rights Activist's who are calling for the immediate re-admission of the child to Zahira. 

Prof. Harendra de Silva Chairman of the newly appointed National Child Protection Authority told The Sunday Times if the allegations were proved the incident would amount to abducting and holding the child hostage. He said he had asked the special Children's Unit at the Police and the Education Ministry to initiate action. 

"According to the new laws every child below 14 has a fundamental right to education. So the authorities have violated this law. We also want to know on what grounds the principal removed the child," he said. The Chairman pointed out that while Child Rights Groups were highlighting sexual abuse of children, other forms of abuse in schools were also severe. The child was sent to the police station after an alleged clash between the principal and the boy's father over a missing cap. The principal alleges he was assaulted by the boy's father but the family denies this. 


Speaker acts to keep discipline

Amidst a clear deterioration in the standards of decorum and discipline in Parliament, Speaker K.B. Ratnayake is calling an urgent meeting of party leaders to discuss remedial measures. 

His move comes in the wake of last Thursday's unruly scenes during the budget debate in Parliament when UNP MPs brought posters to the House and government MPs crossed the floor to tear them down. 

Pending the meeting, the Speaker has delayed a ruling on the cross-over of over 20 government members, including Parliamentary Affairs Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. 

Parliamentary sources said the move was technically a cross over to the opposition. 

According to standing Order 85 (2), there cannot be any irregular crossing over by any member unless he or she intends occupying a seat on the other side of the divide. 

At the government parliamentary group meeting, President Kumaratunga, who is celebrating her fourth anniversary in office told MPs they must be present in full strength during the budget debate and they must maintain parliamentary discipline. 


Protests against move to disband NGOs

More than 500 NGO officials will stage a mass protest against a new amendment which enables the Minister the Social Services to intervene and disband an NGO in case of misappropriation of money. 

The amendment which was enacted a few months ago has been criticised by the NGOs as having loopholes. 

The amendment states that if it is reported to the Minister that there is evidence to support any allegation of fraud or misappropriation the Minister will appoint an interim Board of Management to administer the affairs of the voluntary organisation. The Board also has the power to discharge the functions of the NGO. 

An official from the NGO Forum protesting the amendment told The Sunday Times that the protest which will be held on Tuesday [17] at Lipton's Circus will submit a petition signed by 500 NGO members to the President and the minister. 

'We feel that giving powers to an individual [minister] to take action is not justifiable. The amendment states that if the minister finds allegations against the NGO he has the power to appoint the Board. This is not a right step in a country where allegations are thrown about very freely said the spokesman . 

The official said that they were against the amendment because they felt that laws pertaining to misappropriation exist and if it occurs it can be dealt with by the law and added that the amendment was passed in a hurry giving no chance for any discussion. 

'We hope to create public awareness and also to inform Parliamentarians of the gravity of this amendment. We will urge the MPs to take it up with the Cabinet the official said. 

Meanwhile Minister of Social Services Berty Premalal Dissanayake told The Sunday Times that the government will not repeal the amendment. He accused the NGOs of misappropriation of money. 

'The very people who are against the amendment are those who are guilty of taking money. If they are using the money allocated in the correct manner I don't see why they have to get so excited. The government decided to bring the amendment after it came to know of such happening,' he said. 


Appeal for berths at Point Pedro

Jaffna residents have appealed to the government to build quays at Kankesanturai and Point Pedro claiming they have to pay additional price when purchasing goods. 

Residents said there is no quay for berthing vessels alongside at Point Pedro where most of the ships discharge cargo. 

Vessels have to be anchored several metres from the coast and cargo discharged on to barges. 

More than 15 vessels are chartered to bring the consumer needs of civilians. The daily charter rate is US dollars 2500 per ship and the monthly sum is 1.1 million US dollars. 

However this sum could be reduced by more than 50 percent if quays are built at KKS and Point Pedro. It is learnt that foreign ship owners stand to benefit since they charter on a daily hire basis. 

Jaffna residents state that a few days ago a foreign vessel carrying 4500 tons of cement from Colombo to Point Pedro Chartered for US Dollars 211,500, had taken 21 days to discharge the cargo at Point Pedro and the round voyage had taken 37 days. 

The residents point out that if there were alongside berthing facilities the cargo could have been discharged in less than a week. 

They say that for the past 20 years all supplies had been brought by sea but nothing has been done about building quays. 

Meanwhile, several local ship owners too have protested over the non availability of quays and other facilities in Point Pedro and Kankesanturai. 


Cholera in the wake of rains

By Faraza Farook

After the heavy rains experienced during the past four days cholera has raised its head in the Puttalam and Colombo districts, a health official said. 

Since November 9, eight patients have been detected as positive. 

At least 23 diarrhoea patients are receiving treatment at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) and the National Hospital, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Tissa Seneviratne said. 

According to a statement issued by the Health Ministry, the number of suspected cases of cholera is put at 13. No deaths have been reported yet. 

Twelve eating houses have been closed in Colombo, Dr. Seneviratne said. PHIs have been deployed to sample food from eating houses and other food handling establishments in the affected areas. 

"All unauthorised food outlets on pavements will be closed," Dr, Seneviratne said. 

Health education activities, disinfection of toilets and chlorination of wells are also being carried out, the Health Ministry release said. 

Dr. Seneviratne said most cases reported were from Pettah with a few from Mattakkuliya. A two-year-old girl from Mattakkuliya detected as a cholera positive has been transferred from the Lady Ridgeway Hospital to the National Hospital. 

Her mother had also been reported to be ill after having consumed some food bought in Pettah. 

Compared to last year, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of deaths due to cholera. However the Health Ministry statement said that with proper treatment cholera is not fatal. 

A total of 1264 suspected cases have been reported todate this year which also showed a three fold increase. 


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