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28th February 1999

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Info chief in the dark

While the newly established propaganda division of the government began appointing its officers to ministries, Information Director Ariya Rubasinghe said yesterday he had no knowledge about the unit and had not been consulted.

The Policy Research and Information Unit (PRIU) under the control of President Kumaratunga has sent out a circular asking ministries to nominate senior officials or to recruit persons on contract.

PRIU chief Cyril Gunapala, an additional secretary of the Presidential Secretariat, also has directed the ministries to make arrangements to accommodate the members of the new unit and provide them with the required facilities.

The directive also said the ministry should make budgetary allocations for the PRIU functions.

The new unit is to bring under its umbrella a number of state agencies including the Department of Information.

"I first saw it in The Sunday Times last week. I have no knowledge about the unit and I have not been consulted on the matter," Mr. Rubasinghe said.

He said that after the news item appeared he had sought clarification from Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera about the new unit and had been given an assurance that the functions of the Information Department would not be changed.

"We have plans to expand the Information Department. We will be setting up a national data base," he said.

The functions of the new unit are likely to clash with the interests of other state institutes disseminating information.

The PRIU is scheduled to meet on a daily basis and will prepare a summary of news which has appeared in the print or electronic media and direct them to the Presidential Secretariat.

Monitors seek pledge again

By Shelani de Silva

An independent election monitoring body will meet party leaders next week to seek their support for free and fair elections.

Kingsley Rodrigo, executive director of People's Action Front for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) told The Sunday Times that they would request the leaders to sign a pledge guaranteeing violence-free elections to five provinces on April 1.

The Sunday Times learns several political parties have expressed their willingness to give the non violence pledge, but political observers and some religious prelates say they have doubts about politicians keeping their promises.

MEP Dinesh Gunewardena told The Sunday Times his party men and he would honour the pledge because they were committed to free and fair elections.

JVP Spokesperson Wimal Weerawansa said the party had decided to give its fullest cooperation to PAFFREL and any other such organisation.

Meanwhile responding to an invitation by a prominent Buddhist monk, all chief ministerial candidates in the upcoming provincial polls will gather at a temple in Colombo on Wednesday to pledge their commitment to a free and fair election.

Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera, who was actively involved in politics, especially during the presidency of R. Premadasa, told The Sunday Times that all chief ministerial candidates had agreed to attend the special meeting where they would be allotted three minutes to give the pledge of non-violence and fairplay.

People power rises for peace

Thousands of people of all races and religions silently marched for peace on Friday — setting the stage for a people power movement to settle the ethnic conflict in a just and fair way.

Gathering at Campbell Park in the blazing heat, the peace crusaders from more than 150 social justice groups, trade unions and other organisations linked to the National Alliance for Peace (NAP) marched several miles in a meditative spirit. There was no shouting but they quietly carried banners and placards calling for an end to the war and for top priority to be given to a bipartisan peace process.

When the peace march neared Lipton's Circus the blazing heat turned to heavy rain - and a Hindu dignitary who spoke at the peace rally in Hyde Park later described the sun-rain transition as a sign of a dobule blessing.

With faith, hope and determination the marchers carried on through the pouring rain. Among them were enthusiastic young people who apparently enjoyed the showers and ailing old people who took a risk and made a sacrifice as a sign of their commitment to peace.

Prominent among the social groups in the peace march was the Sarvodaya Movement led by Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne. Leading a meditation at the rally Dr. Ariyaratne — a Magsaysay Award winner — called on the people to emulate the beauty and power of nature through unity in diversity. He said there was a need for people to control and concur their minds so that they could rise from the bondage of hatred and violence to the freedom of goodwill, understanding and peace.

The Ven. Athureliya Indraratne Sanganayake Thera of the Southern Province in an outspoken sermon said Buddhism transcended the limitations of race and totally rejected the concepts of war or violence. Anyone who propagated war or racial prejudice was doing serious damage to the hallowed Dhamma of Lord Buddha. The prelate said that man who had risen to the heights of intelligence was also capable of falling to the lowest depths or fallacies. One such fallacy was racism. Some extremist spoke of the blood of this race or that race but medical science had proved beyond doubt there was no Sinhala blood, Tamil blood or Muslim blood, only A-positive or B-negative.

Anglican Bishop Kenneth Fernando spoke of the visit by religious prelates and others to the Vanni region where they met LTTE leaders recently. He said the Ven. Professor Kamburugamuwe Vajira Nayake Thera who headed the delegation had given the LTTE leaders a sermon that should be written in letters of gold. The Bishop said he was privileged to listen to that wonderful discourse which he considered as one of the greatest Dhamma sermons he had ever heard.

Bishop Kenneth said Friday's peace march and rally was a significant step in the building of a mass movement for peace. He called on people of all races and religions to renew faith in the goodness of each other, to act with determination and courage for peace and to hope for the best.

Colombo's Catholic Archbishop Nicholas Marcus Fernando, in a message read out by Vicar-General Rev. Fr. Joe Wicremesinghe called on the people to rise above racial divisions and build deep unity in diversity through acceptance and respect for each others' beliefs and traditions.

Hindu and Muslim leaders speaking in Tamil also made impassioned appeals for goodwill, harmony and peace among all communities through unity in diversity.

Sunila Abeysekera speaking on behalf of more than 50 women's organisations which participated in the peace march said the message of peace must now be carried to every city and village to build an effective people power movement.

Representatives of dead, disabled or missing troops also spoke.

They said they had personally experienced the horrors of war and deeply felt the anguish, while for the advocates of war it was largely a concept in the head.

The National Alliance for Peace at the end of the rally adopted a resolution calling on all political parties to give top priority to the process of coming to a consensus on a peaceful settlement of the ethnic conflict.

Members of the National Council of the Alliance are expected to meet President Kumaratunga and opposition leaders soon to discuss peace initiatives. Bishop Kenneth told a news conference recently the alliance was ready to act as a facilitator in bringing all parties to the negotiating table.

Kandana horror:

Suspect beaten to death

By Frederica Jansz

In a bizarre twist of events, a suspect in a recent assault and robbery case which shocked Kandana was allegedly beaten to death by an angry crowd when he was being escorted by the police.

Kandana police confirmed that Joseph Silva alias Berty who ran a grocery store was killed on Tuesday.

Police said the grocery strore owner was arrested after the main suspect Sampath Sinha Arachci alias Indika pleaded guilty to charges of allegedly hacking Priya Perera, his wife and two children with an axe in a horrifying tragedy at Kandana last month.

Indika who also was arrested on Tuesday allegedly confessed that he committed this dastardly act in connivance with Joseph Silva. Indika pleaded guilty to charges of attempted manslaughter before the Wattala magistrate and is now in remand.

Kandana Police Sub Inspector Quintus Fernando said Joseph Silva had died when being taken by police to recover the jewellery robbed from the Perera household. He clamed the suspect had broken free but he was beaten to death by an angry crowd.

He said police personnel were present at the time of the killing.

All the jewellery stolen from the Perera household was later recovered, SI Fernando said.

In the Kandana horror, the 26-year-old suspect Indika is alleged to have broken into the house at night an attacked Priya Perera, his wife Nicole and two little children aged five and ten with an axe. The family is yet to recover from the nightmare. The mother Nicole has lost one eye.

Commissions: CBK blames UNP appointed judges

By Sunny Samarasinghe

President Chandrika Kumaratunga said yesterday that some of the judges on presidential commissions had been appointed by the UNP and proceedings of the commissions had prolonged due to this.

She was speaking at a rally at the Anuradhapura public grounds last evening to mark the launch of the PA's campaign for the upcoming provincial council elections.

The President said one of the commissions found former minister Chandra Bandara guilty of plundering state property and ruled that his civic rights be stripped for seven years, but he passed away before that.

She said that another commission was looking into the allegations against former minister A.M.S. Adhikari, but it has not yet concluded findings.

'There is no end to the sittings as some of the judges were appointed by the UNP', she added.

President Kumaratunga in a 45 minute speech lambasted the UNP saying it had violated human rights, plundered the country of its wealth and broken election laws.

Healing crusade in Kotahena

The head of a popular charismatic preaching and healing centre in Kerela is coming to Sri Lanka to conduct a two-week healing service in Kotahena.

Rev. Fr. Mathew Naikom-barambil, founder-director of the Divine Life Centre at Chalakuddy in Kerala is due to arrive today with other priests, nuns and lay people.

The healing services will be conducted at St. Lucia's Cathedral, Kotahena and at the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows ('Mater Dolorosa') at New Chetty Street.

The services at the Kotahena Cathedral will be held on March 2 and 3 from 9 am to 12.30 pm and from March 4 to 7 from 5 pm to 9.30 pm.

At New Chetty Street the services will be held at 5.30 pm from March 1 to 3 and at 9 am from March 4 to 13. All services will be in English with translations in Sinhala and Tamil. A charismatic priest from this centre recently conducted healing services at the Cathedral, drawing thousands of people for the three-day crusade.

BASL elects new president

Upali Gunaratne was yesterday elected as the new president of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

BASL officials yesterday told The Sunday Times that while the results were unofficial, Mr. Gunaratne defeated the only other contestant, Vernon Boteju by a majority of more than 2000 votes. Although the Jaffna results had not yet come in there are less than 100 lawyers in that district.

Mr. Gunaratne replaces Romesh de Silva as the BASL presidnet.

Anura hails judgement as object lesson

UNP parliamentarian Anura Bandaranaike has hailed the supreme court judgement in his fundamental rights case as a lesson to politicians that harassment of opponents is not tolerated in a decent and civilized society.

"History shows that blind patronage is a curse and blight on the political system. It has been so for the past 50 years or more in our fledgling democracy. Patronage exercised in the way it has been in this country always tends to corrupt and influence officers of the state to act as mere 'yes' men and women having no spine or courage to stand up for what is right and say 'nay' to the politician, Mr. Bandaranaike said in a statement issued on Friday.

Newsmaker - Tissa Vitharana

Introducing the doctor of peace

By Rajpal Abeynayake

"Tissa Vitharana has blood on his hands." So said some of his detractors in the National. Movement Against Terrorism at a press briefing a while back.

The only way Dr. Vitharana could have had blood on his hands is if he was a surgeon, but he wasn't a surgeon either in his medical career, he reminds….

So, what were the NMAT chaps talking about? It's just that Dr. Vitharana, in his own unobtrusive way, can get under the skin of some people when he wants to.

He is calm, and would dismiss his opponents with a sedate nod of his head. For instance, he describes as "laughable" the comparison of the LTTE with Hitlerite nazism, and reminds all war mongers that even though peace may have failed with the LTTE, war has failed against the LTTE too.

"We have fought them for the last fiffteen years , and at what cost to the country?" Dr Vitharana, LSSSPer and well-known urologist, is almost a caricature for the prodding peace monger personified.

He sees that moderate Tamils have been marginalised by the extremes, and he also sees that the Tamil extreme is complemented and kept alive by the Sinhala extreme (the Nalin Silvas and the SL Gunasekeras)

Though the names of Nalin and SL are put in his mouth by me, Dr Vitharana has no hesitation in classifying them as extremist. So his brand of peace politics is to be crisp, sedate, slow and steady but blunt.

But is Dr Vitharana also the wooly headed bleeding heart liberal that his "extremist" detractors paint him to be? Here is how he sounds like: Says he that on his journeys to the North recently, he encountered

"immense suffering ; was witness to the spectacle of men who were doing good jobs in the South being rendered homeless and being reduced to a plight where their children didn't have an opportunity of schooling. By way of argument, I take his mind to the border villages in the Sinhala areas; villages in which peasants have been forced to flee homes at the pain of death, where women carry guns , and children grow up under constant threat of violence. So then, this is not a problem that is endemic to underprivileged Tamils, is it? The doctor is unfazed. Though he acknowledges the fact that there is trouble for the Sinhalese , he repeats several times that the Tamils were persecuted by the mere fact that they were Tamils.

Dr Vitharana, a convenor of several dozen NGO's which make up the National Movement Against Terrorism could be your average urban sophisticate protected from the upheavals of the mainstream.

But, he reminds constantly that his detractors are the same as well. Asked about the claim of the NMAT and others that peace talks with the Tigers could only cost more lives of soldiers ("Dr Vitharana's son doesn't got to war,"I say quoting his foes) because the Tigers will make use of the talks to regroup, the doctor says his extremist enemies are the last people who can speak on behalf of those who are dying on the battlefield.

"We are for peace," he says, "and how can they who want war express concern for those on the war front?"

But pushed a little further Dr. Vitharana shows his realist streak as well. He dismisses as laughable the comparisons of the Nazis to the LTTE, but when he is told that the comparison may be more on the psychology of the situation rather than the details, he thinks about it. ("If a snake is poised to strike at you, wouldn't your only choice be to kill the snake" I ask by way of argument.)

"Our campaign for peace," he says is not "so much a campaign for dialogue with the LTTE. We know that the LTTE has committed what you call terrorist acts. I do not condone any of their acts of terrorism but our call is for a just settlement of the grievances of the Tamil people so that the LTTE will lose its support."

In other words, even peaceniks have to get real.

But Dr Vitharana's argument and analysis can be compelling, almost clinically compelling.

For instance, he doesn't demonize terrorism. Says he that "Yasser Arafat was once a terrorist, so were the IRA and even Nelson Mandela representing an oppressed majority was called terrorist. This is how these movements started."

But Vitharana's detractors would say that some of the LTTE's work would have made even Arafat want to blush. So is he seeing a "benign struggle for autonomy" whereas his ideological foes see a Pan-Tamil hegemonist movement? Dr Vitharana says that Pan-Tamilism which once originated in Tamilnadu is now dead, because even the Annadurai's have realised that its more profitable for Tamilnadu to be a part of greater India and trade with it.

So Pan-Tamilism is a classic example, he says, of the bogeys that extremists raise in order to perpetuate their extremism. With that expansive analysis, Dr Vitharna gets up to take another call; he is busy these days organising long marches for peace.

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