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21st February 1999

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Treasure hunters nabbed

By Shane Seneviratne

Four young men were nabbed by a police team in civils while treasure hunting within the precincts of the Madanwala Purana Rajamaha Vihara early yesterday.

The treasure hunters who were armed with saws, hammers, chisels and duplicate keys to open the temple doors, had their bodies oiled and wore gloves.

They had managed to open five of the seven doors of the temple, when they were confronted by the police team led by SI Gunatilleke, SI Herath and Sergeant Dissanayake of the Kandy police, which had kept vigil at the temple until 2 a.m.

The treasure hunters who had come the previous evening from the Galagedera and Mahiyangana areas in the guise of pilgrims were suspected to be after a valuable Buddha statue and the makara thorana at the viharaya.

On hearing of the successful arrest of the robbers the villagers had streamed in to the temple. The villagers attacked and damaged the Nissan van used by the allrgrd robbers.

Women tell CBK to invalidate Wayamba

The Sri Lanka Women's Conference has appealed to President Kumaratunga to invalidate the Wayamba elections on the basis of provisions in various election laws.

In a statement, the SLWC cited legal provisions under which the Wayamba elections could be declared invalid.

The principles in election laws did not prevail on polling day and this might have affected the results," SLWC president Manel Abeysekara said. Appealing to the president to ensure a free and fair poll at the upcoming PC elections, Ms. Abeysekara said the democratic process had been blotted because the objective of election had been forgotten.

"Persons were elected to office and not to power. Issues at election should be people based and not power based. We have provisions in the law to ensure free and fair elections and it is abundantly clear that although the legislative provisions are in place, the 'donts' in them have not been observed and enforced at Wayamba," she said.

Two ex-judges to probe Wayamba

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has appointed a two-member committee to inquire into the alleged malpractices at the Wayamba Provincial Council election, a press release said yesterday.

The committee comprises former Supreme Court Judge Ananda Coomaraswamy and former Appeal Court Judge Nesbit Abeyweera.

The committee has been directed to submit a full report within two months.

Hospital to save the dead

By Faraza Farook

With rats and cockroaches attacking bodies in an overloaded mortuary, the National Hospital is installing more coolers and calling in pest control experts to save the dead.

"We have contacted pest control companies. We are installing 42 more coolers," the National Hospital's Acting Director, Dr. Hector Weerasinghe said.

He said 18 coolers costing Rs.7.1 million were recently installed and 24 more coolers costing Rs 9.2 million would be installed soon.

Right of Reply

Tea Small Holdings Development Authority responding to a news item last week says:

It is my responsibility to disclose the truth about the press release and statements to newspapers made by Messrs. Edward Welikala, Padma Nanayakkara and M.H. Gunarathne on behalf of the Private Tea Factory Owners' Association. The allegations made against the Government and the tea smallholders and the factual position of these allegations are shown below.

* The loss to factory owners by forcing the calculation of payment on a ratio of 4.5 when "5 kg" of green tea leaf are "required" for a kg of made tea

Scientific research investigations carried out by the Tea Research Institute at the request of the subject Association has revealed that only 4.65 kg of green tea left are required to make 1 kg of tea although the spokesman for the Association had stated that 5 kg were required.

* Factory owners 'subsidising' smallholders on behalf of the Government.

The Association claims to have 'subsidised' tea smallholders under the reasonable price payment scheme and thereby suffered losses which should be reimbursed by the government. The question however is who is exploiting hepless tea smallholders by making unfair deduction under various pretexts during weighing of leaf, obtained extra leaf free, earning millions of 'subsidy' by force from tea smallholders?

* Heavy Indebtedness suffered by factory owners due to sharing of 68% by tea smallholders on the Reasonable Price Scheme.

The construction of a medium size tea factory costs about Rs. 45 million. The cultivation of tea on land to feed such a factory involves not only the investment of Rs. 173 million by tea smallholders but also relieves the factory owners of the risks of planting tea.

How does the sharing of 68% of the sales proceeds by smallholders be unreasonable when they contribute heavily by participation of investment, supply of 100% raw material, provision of interest free working capital? Don't they know that the smallholders' share in Kenya is 75%.

May I request them to reflect as to how the reasonable price formula was changed from its original proportions of 75% to the smallholder and 25% to factory owners reduced to 68% to smallholders to the advantage of the factory owner by increasing his share to 32%. I also wish to remind them that such false statements while resorting to unfair activities are made at a time when smallholders' production costs have risen higher than those of factory owners.

* Refusal to grant appeals for relief made to the Government.

There is no period in our history where factory owners were offered more relief than the last four years.

1. Relief to factories due for auction.

2. Rescheduling of loans on low interest.

3. Waiving of interest.

4. Supply of machinery for modernisation.

5. Support for direct export, the lack of gratitude for which is painful.

The Minister of Plantation Industries and Treasury have approved a relief scheme to overcome the present crisis, a majority of factory owners having come forward in support. With what objective then is the Association engaged in activities to bring the government into disrepute, delaying leaf payment harassing smallholders during an election?

Of the smallholders and their dependents numbering 1.5 million, 68% are average rural folk owning quarter or half acre of land. Smallholders who were helpless have now strengthened themselves through the organisation of 1200 societies. Reached entrepreneurship through Tea Shakti.

The largest leaf collection and transport system is in the hands of the smallholder. Twelve tea factories are under construction. We are not shaken by statements made by organisations representing a small minority unable to bear this progress.

The majority of progressive factory owners who realise the value of smallholders have joined hands within their march forward. We have the strength and the courage to go forward protecting such factories.

Rohana Ilangaratne,
Tea Small Holdings Development Authority.

Why was UNDP being evasive?

In what appears to be an unusual step by a United Nations agency, the Colombo headquarters of the UN Development Programme issued a news release on February 15 titled 'Misleading Reports have potential to Endanger Mine Action Programme'.

The news release circulated to local and foreign media with the exception of The Sunday Times drew several reader inquiries. It turns out that the UNDP's news release related to last week's Page 1 lead story in The Sunday Times.

But there was no mention of The Sunday Times. Yet the UNDP news release claimed 'misleading reports that misquote interviewees can be extremely damaging to this vital programme'.

This is the first time a UN agency had thought it fit to sit in judgment over a Sunday Times news report. That too without extending the elementary courtesy of bringing the contents of the news release officially to the attention of the Editor of The Sunday Times.

Yet we reproduce the media release obtained from our own channels.

"The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would like to clarify misleading statements reported by the media over the weekend.

"The UNDP Mine Action Programme in Jaffna has not been slowed down by a dispute over maps. Contrary to misleading reports which included direct misquotation of the interviewee there is no dispute over maps.

"Misleading reports that misquote interviewees can be extremely damaging to this vital Programme. Damage to the Programme can only result in negative implications for civilians in mine affected areas who are attempting to re-establish their lives."

The above UNDP media release refers to an interview The Sunday Times reporter Christopher Kamalendran had with the UNDP Land Mine Action co-ordinator David Taylor. The entire interview which ran to 45 minutes is on tape. We reproduce below extracts from the story.Some parts of the transcript which relate to matters of an extremely sensitive nature have been deleted.

"On the invitation and request of the Sri Lanka government we came to Sri Lanka last April. The landmine clearing operation was started after the resettlement programmes were launched by the Sri Lanka government. Initially , the UNDP officials had problems with the Sri Lanka government officials, about bringing the sophisticated equipment and communication equipment to demine.

"This project will cost US$ 9 million. Therefore we have to plan everything very carefully since the cost is very high. Three experts including myself are involved.

"Before we start the demining programme we have to do a level 1 surveying programme which will take at least 1 year. We also formed a mine awareness committee comprising civilians. The government issued a detailed map of the Jaffna peninsula and later withdrew them giving reasons that it could be a security threat. Maps are freely available everywhere. I have seen the imagery of the Pallaly camp on the Internet.

"We have to sort out some very important issues with the Sri Lanka government. Each landmine detector will cost US$ 20,000. A dog will cost US$ 10,000. If we bring all the equipment down and take them back without using it, it would be an utter loss.

"That is the reason we have to proceed very slowly. Now the Sri Lanka government has said it is OK to have the map and we are going to get it from a private source. I cannot tell you the other key issues to be sorted out. We are going to destroy the landmines planted by the LTTE."

Q. Why did the defence authorities withdraw the map?

A. They said it is a security threat. But I can't understand that because you can get a detail map of Jaffna from many places.

Q. Did you threaten to withdraw?

A. No. We have sorted out the differences. Still we have more things to be discussed with Sri Lankan authorities.

Q. What is the progress of the demining operation?

A. So far I have destroyed 30 landmines in Jaffna. If we have other facilities we could have achieved more.

Q. What are the main problems you are having now?

A. Sri Lankan military persons are very helpful, but the government officials in Colombo are creating problems.

Q. Have you any idea as to what is the damage caused?

A. In December 13 civilians were injured in landmine and Johnny mine cases. This casualty rate is very high when compared with the population. If this rate increases , one day Jaffna will have the highest number of landmine victims in the world.

Q. How many landmine experts are involved in the demining programme?

A. Three, including myself.

Q. So, when are you going to commence the programme?

A. Already a start has been made, but the progress is slow. There are some significant issues to be resolved.

Q. Has there been any dialogue with the LTTE about the demining?

A. The UNHCR speaks to them regularly. The LTTE has given the OK for demining the area.

Q. Is it that the LTTE and the government have given an assurance that they won't remine the areas which have been demined?

A. Yes, the LTTE and the government have agree d on it.

Dead man tells tale, dogs symbolise horror of Hokandara

By Chris Kamalendran

Relatives of the gang members allegedly involved in the brutal murder of a whole family in Hokandara are fleeing the area after a mysterious outfit burnt the houses of the suspects and neighbours who allegedly kept quiet while the murders went on.

At least six houses had been burnt by Friday prompting the police to carry out special patrolling in the nights after more than 30 relatives of the suspects had fled.

Police said they had been able to extinguish the fire at a shop belonging to main suspect Amaradasa who was killed after he was assaulted by one of the family members whom he had killed.

Villagers speaking on condition of anonymity apparently due to fear told The Sunday Times they had heard some motor bikes moving in the area at nights and seen houses burning, but they claimed they could not identify who they were.

On Monday, in one of the most bizarre acts of the horrible drama, Amaradasa's grave was dug up and his body was taken in a three-wheeler to be dumped at the junction.

Meanwhile police on Friday produced seven suspects including Amaradasa's wife before Kaduwela Magistrate Pearl Karaliyadda and they were further remanded.

The suspects were not represented by lawyers amidst warnings in the village that no lawyers should represent those who last week killed the Lalanadasa family.

The magistrate ordered the prison officials to produce three of the suspects tomorrow and the others on March 3.

Among the suspects were Dimiyage Sriyawathi (Amaradasa's wife), Buddhika Viranga Hewa (Amaradasa's son), Menaka Sanjeewa and Sampath Sri Nandana.Police are looking for two more suspects in the case where the gang is alleged to have carried out the brutal killings because the Lalanadasa family had reportedly objected to the kasippu business on their land.

Meanwhile, the house of the Lalanadasa family has been put under a heavy police guard and the Kaduwela Pradeshiya Sabha has declared the land out of bounds. Two pet dogs of the Lalanadasa family were the only occupants of the house symbolic of a tragedy where judgement fled to brutish beasts and men lost their reason.

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