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21st February 1999

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Delegation seeks date with President

By Shelani de Silva.

The high-powered religious delegation which met LTTE representatives last week is scheduled to meet President Chandrika Kumaratunga to convey to the government the LTTE's willingness to resume peace talks .

Ven. Dr. Kumburugamuve Vajira Nayaka Thera told The Sunday Times that they felt that the LTTE was waiting for the Government to make the first move.

"This is the right time. The LTTE has showed much interest in peace talks, but expressed dissatisfaction over the Government's lacklustre response to its gesture of releasing six captives last year. We will convey the LTTE's views and also our observations," he said.

Professor Tissa Vitharana who was also in the delegation told The Sunday Times he had informed the President on Thursday of their desire for a meeting.

"I am hopeful that an appointment will be given soon. We will be giving our observations. The LTTE is showing much keenness in resuming peace talks. We do not know what its motive is but it wanted to resume peace talks. We will convey this to the President," he said.

Peace alliance offers hand as facilitator

While the business community continues its efforts to bring about a consensus between the main political parties, a peace alliance comprising religious prelates and social justice groups has offered its good offices to facilitate a process for negotiations with the LTTE.

Anglican Bishop Kenneth Fernando, a member of the group of eminent persons in the National Alliance for Peace, told a news conference that he and other religious prelates during a recent visit to the North had seen the terrible agony that tens of thousands of innocent displaced people were going through.

He said the group of eminent persons including 5 Nayaka Theros and two other bishops had observed the Sathya Kriya in the hallowed Madu Shrine and committed themselves to do everything possible to settle the horrible conflict.

Bishop Kenneth, who met LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in 1993 and visited the North several times since then, said he believed the LTTE would be ready to give up its demand for a separate state if adequate regional autonomy was given to meet the aspirations of the Tamil speaking people.

Prof. Tissa Vitharana, convenor of the alliance said they would be meeting President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to brief them on what the LTTE leaders had said and on the terrible plight of the civilians. The delegation from the alliance met LTTE political leader Thamil-chelvan and Deputy Military Commander S. Karikalan during which they reiterated Prabhakaran's offer made last November to negotiate a political settlement of the conflict. The NAP will lead a massive peace march and rally in Colombo on Friday Feb. 26, with the participation of some 200 multi-racial groups.

Organisers said they expected more than 20,000 people to take part in the rally during which the voice of the silent majority would be made loud and clear, calling on the government and opposition parties to give priority to the search for a just and fair solution to the ethnic conflict. Prof. Vitharana said it was unfortunate that last year priority was given to the military option while now the prioirty appeared to be on election politics. He said the aim of the alliance was to mobilise, the people to persuade both the government and the opposition to give priority to the search for a peaceful settlement.

The Ven. Dr. Kumb-urgamuwe Vajira Nayaka Thero, former Vice Chancellor of the Buddhist and Pali University, said his heart was broken when he saw the immense suffering that innocent Tamil people were going through.

While lights blaze all over the City (Colombo), families in the Wanni region received only about one bottle of kerosene for the whole month and they had to use if for lighting, cooking, studies and other purposes.

He said the plight of school children was especially pathetic and he would be appealing to the President to send school books and other materials immediately to them.

In terms of basic health he said thousands of families in the Wanni region did not even have soap while it was difficult for them even to get an Asprin.

He said hundreds of people were going blind because of cataracts and there were no specialists there to carry out the eye saving operations. He appealed to the government and medical specialists to rush to the aid of those suffering human beings.

The scholar-prelate expressed regret that some Buddhist monks were promoting the military solution or war and thus causing serious damage to the hallowed Dhamma of the Lord Buddha.

He said the Dhamma transcended race and to confine it to any particular race would be a dilution or distortion of a way of life that applies to all people equally.

Ven. Prof. Vajira widely respected for his scholarly and objective outlook said he felt some Buddhists including monks were distorting the Dutugemunu-Elara episode to justify war.

The prelate said in his view the most important feature of the episode was Dutugemunu's humane approach to a conflict.

Prof. S.T. Hettige, a sociologist at the Jayaw-ardenepura University said a survey conducted by him in all parts of the country except the North and East had shown 77 per cent of the people felt that war was not the solution to the problem. He said 85 percent of the youth they spoke to in the survey covering a cross-section of some 2000 people had come out for peace.

Most of the people who wanted war were from among those who had little or no education.

Power cuts irk consumers

By Faraza Farook

Several areas including Colombo were in darkness due to power cuts or power interruptions during the week. People complained of frequent power interruptions during the week which lasted at least two to three hours.

Havelock Town, Dehiwela, Mt. Lavinia, Ratmalana and Kotte were among the places that were affected.

A senior official of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) said, "it is due to a technical problem which needs to be corrected". Another CEB official in the Ratmalana area said it was due to some defect in a transformer.

"On Tuesday the power cut lasted for about three hours." Power went off at 8 pm. and was restored only at 11 pm. "I tried contacting the electricity breakdown unit in Dehiwela many times, but the telephone number was eternally engaged," a customer said.

Another resident in Mt. Lavinia grumbled that there were power interruptions twice during the week. Some people complained of low voltage during certain times of the day which gradually improved after a few hours.

"There is a tendency for the voltage to drop during peak hours which is usually from 7 to 8 pm.," the CEB official said.

He also said that tapping electricity had nothing to do with the power interruptions or the drop in voltage. However 'tripping may be due to unauthorised tapping,' the official said.

Flights to Mecca: no signals from Civil Aviation Dept.

A private airline chartered by haj pilgrim operators has been literally grounded with the Department of Civil Aviation still not giving its approval.

An official of Peace Air told The Sunday Times they offered rates lower than those of AirLanka to travel to Mecca but the civil aviation authorities had still not given the green light in spite of cabinet approval for the operation of charter flights to Mecca by the airline.

He said the airlines Chairman, G. H. Wettasinghe, has written to President Kumaratunga appealing to her to help expedite the process as the Haj season was soon approaching.

The spokesman claimed that the airline had decided to utilise the profits accrued from the charters towards building a hospital in the Eastern Province and for other charitable work.

Acupuncture clinic on pins as doctors' battle hots up

A group of patients receiving accupuncture treatment from a clinic at the Kalubowila Hospital have strongly opposed the closing of the accupuncture unit at the hospital and have decided to take the matter up at an international forum.

The Accupuncture Patients' Association has already written to the Attorney General seeking advice as to whether they could take the matter up with an international judicial body.

A former doctor of the Kalubowila Hospital, Professor Anton Jayasuriya who was operating the clinic has been ordered to vacate the premises by the end of this month.

Dr. Jayasuriya charged the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) was responsible for getting him out of the place.

"Punishing the patients by closing this free acupuncture clinic is unreasonable," he said.

The GMOA claimed that Dr. Jayasuriya, an acupuncturist who formerly was employed at the hospital has established an institution by the name of "Medicina Alternativa" without obtaining permission.

Denying this charge, Dr. . Jayasuriya said "official permission has been granted for teaching and certification in acupuncture by the Health Ministry, Education Ministry and the University Grants Commission(UGC)".

Dr. Jayasuriya who is refusing to vacate the hospital premises said that he is filing legal action against the GMOA.

Health Ministry Secretary C. Abeygunewardene said, "he is a retired doctor, hence it is impossible to let him continue services there. So, we want him out".

Anti-power plant man attacked

The house of Peter Singho Tissera, President of the anti-thermal power plant movement in Norochcholai, was attacked recently by thugs who had come in a vehicle without number plates.

Mr. Tissera was with his wife and six children at the time of the attack.

According to UNP MP A.H.M. Azwer, Mr. Tissera had a miraculous escape by running into the nearby jungle.

His wife and children are virtually starving as a result of the sole breadwinner hiding in fear of being kidnapped.

Meanwhile Mr.Azwer has brought to the notice of the IGP, the Bishop of Chilaw and all other religious leaders, the threat posed to this man's life.

Lanka backing Dhaka man as C'wealth chief

By Our Diplomatic Correspondent

Sri Lanka is expected to back Bangladesh's candidate in the upcoming contest for the post of Commonwealth Secretary General, The Sunday Times learns.

Ambassador Farooq Sobhan, one time Bangladesh Foreign Secretary is now in Colombo as a special envoy of Prime Minister Hasina Wajed seeking Sri Lanka's support for his candidature. The present secretary general, Chief Anyaoku of Nigeria is completing his two terms later this year.

Mr. Sobhan's only rival is New Zealand's Foreign Minister Don McKinnon who is believed to have the backing of Britian, Australia and possibly Canada, the three big powers in the 54 nation Commonwealth. The two other big powers India and Nigeria, are learnt to be non-committal so far.

The Sunday Times learns that India is tilted towards backing Mr. Mckinnon on the basis that he is a foreign minister as against foreign secretary. It is also known that Mr. Sobhan did not endear himself to the Indian South Bloc (External Affairs Ministry) during his period as High Commissioner in New Delhi from 1992 to 1995.

Mr. Sobhan is due to meet President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar tomorrow. His meeting with Foreign Secretary Wilhelm Woutersz is likely to be cancelled due to Mr. Woutersz being indisposed.

Sri Lanka's backing for Mr. Sobhan is within the framework of SAARC solidarity, but Colombo will also be mindful of India's thinking, a Foreign Office source said yesterday.

New Zealand meanwhile has launched a campaign among Commonwealth members in the Caribbean and Pacific Islands which have formed themselves into a small-islands club.

Mr. Sobhan met local journalists upon his arrival on Friday and was pressing the point that the Commonwealth has never had an Asian Secretary General and that the Bangladesh candidate is the only one from Asia. The Bangladesh position was also that 50 of the 54 countries in the grouping are developing countries and that the four developed countries, including New Zealand, are already well represented in the secretariat and tend to have an overwhelming influence on the Commonwealth and its activities.

The 58-year-old Sobhan is a graduate from Oxford University and is a career diplomat who also served as his country's ambassador to the UN in New York. He is also a keen bridge player, being the president of the South Asian Bridge Federation.

MP hit me, says environmentalist

By S.S.Selvanayagam

A well-known environmentalist has filed a petition in the Supreme Court claiming that he was assaulted and ordered to keep out of a meeting on the Muthurajawela master plan by a Member of Parliament of the area, the Pradeshiya Sabha chairman and others.

The petitioner Lerins Peiris of Paranambalama, Uswatekeiyawa cited Parliamentarian Neil Rupasinghe MP, Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman Dalton Janaka Suriyabandara and other members along with the Attorney General as respondents.

Mr. Peiris said he was the chairman and chief animator of Janodhaya Sajeewana Kendraya. One of the priorities of the Janodhaya was to implement the Muthurajawela Master Plan. This project was initiated by the Greater Colombo Economic Commission with the objective of conserving and developing the Muthurajawela marsh while protecting the environment.

He said he was invited by the Chairman of the Central Environmental Authority in collaboration with the Integrated Resources Management Programme on Wetlands to attend the meeting on January 5.

He went to the hall at 9 a.m. A little later, an official asked him to come out as the MP and the PS Chairman wanted to speak to him.

When he went out, the MP and the PS chairman told him to keep out of the meeting and unless he kept away, they would not permit the meeting to start.

Mr. Peiris alleged he had asked them what right they had to prevent him from attending the meeting. Then the PS chairman and other members who were present there assaulted him.

The Minister of Forestry and Environment Affairs, senior police officers and others were present at the scene, he said.

Mr. Peiris said he was persuaded to leave the hall and go to hospital for treatment.

The petitioner's counsel R.K.W. Goonesekera said Mr. Peiris was a citizen who had engaged in a useful function. He was prevented from attending the meeting by the respondents.

The petitioner's fundamental rights under Article 11 (assault and degrading treatment) and Article 14(1) a, b & c (freedom of speech and expression and freedom of association) had been violated by the MP and others, he said.

Mr. Peiris claimed one million rupees as compensation.

The bench which comprised Justices Dr. A.R.B.Amarasinghe, Priyantha Perera and D.P.S. Gunasekera granted leave to proceed and directed the JMO, Ragama Hospital to forward the bed head ticket and medical report in respect of Mr. Peirs.

The hearing was fixed for July 14.

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