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28th February 1999

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Govt. respects human rights but killings go on: report

The US State Department's latest (1998) report on Human Rights practices in Sri Lanka has noted that the 'the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in areas not affected by the insurgency' but charged that, 'the ongoing war with the LTTE continued to be accompanied by serious human rights abuses by the security forces'.

The report charges that, 'police, home guards, and army personnel committed extra judicial killings in the eastern province, and army personnel also were responsible for killing a number of persons in the Vavuniya area in Jaffna in the north.

It adds 'at least 33 such killings occurred, many of them associated with operations against the LTTE insurgents or with the interrogation of suspected terrorists'.

Pointing out that 'torture has remained a serious problem' the report said 'prison conditions remain poor'. It said 'torture remained a serious problem, and prison conditions remained poor. Arbitrary arrest – including short-term mass arrests and detentions – continued, often accompanied by failure of the security forces to comply with some of the protective provisions of the Emergency Regulations (ER).

In addition to the Security Forces, Tamil militant groups have also come in for criticism. The report said, 'there are several former Tamil insurgent organisations that now are aligned with the Government. These pro government Tamil militants sometimes committed extra judicial killings and were responsible for disappearances, torture, detentions, extortion and forced conscription in Vavuniya and the east. The military wing of the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) committed many such abuses. The Government took no clear action to stop such abuses'.

The report also accuses, the LTTE of attacking civilians last year. It said 'the LTTE attacked civilians during the course of the year. The LTTE regularly committed extra judicial killings, including killing of prisoners taken on the battle fields, and also was responsible for disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest, detentions, and extortion. The LTTE killed 13 worshippers, including several children, in a truck bombing of the 'Temple of the Tooth' on January 25. The temple is the holiest Buddhist shrine in the country. On March 5, a vehicle bomb in downtown Colombo killed 36 persons, including the LTTE suicide bomber. More than 250 persons were injured in the attack.

The 22 page report deals with several aspects including disappearances, arbitrary arrest, detention, use of excessive force, respect for civil liberties, respect for political rights and other matters.

A significant feature in the latest report are the observations made on the freedom of speech and press. This is what it said:

"Although the Constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression, the Government restricts these rights in practice, often using national security grounds permitted by law. During the year, the Government strictly limited the access of domestic and foreign media to information and censored news relating to military and police matters.

'On June 5, the Government imposed direct censorship on all domestic and foreign media reports relating to ongoing or possible future military and other security operations. Censorship was still in place at year's end, despite the Media Minister's statement in June 1997 that all censorship would cease.

A journalist who regularly reports on defence matters, including corruption in military procurements, was attacked in his home by armed men on February 12. He and his family were threatened at gun point before the attackers fled. The Government criticised the attack, and subsequently arrested and indicted two air force personnel in the case, including the bodyguard of a former commander of the air force. The case was being heard at year's end. The journalist had been harassed on previous occasions in 1997.

A number of government actions during the year led to concern among the media. The Government still has failed to reform the Press Law and to privatise government-owned media as promised during the 1994 election campaign.

In 1997 an editor of a leading national newspaper was found guilty of defaming the President, fined the local equivalent to $ 180, and sentenced to 18 months in prison. The editor is appealing the verdict. Another defamation case filed by the President in 1995 and three others filed in 1997 – all against editors of major pro-opposition newspapers—were pending at year's end.

These cases were viewed by journalists as frivolous and intended only to harass and intimidate the media. In some instances, security forces took journalists into custody, treated them roughly, and destroyed their film. At least one such incident occurred while reporters were covering a mass arrest of Tamils in Colombo. In another incident, a journalist investigating police involvement in bootlegging reportedly was beaten by police and his home was burned down.

In restitution the Government hired the journalist as a full-time employee of a government newspaper and rebuilt his home. In December the Supreme Court ruled that the journalist's fundamental rights had been violated and ordered the officer in charge of the police station responsible to pay him the equivalent of $900 in compensation.

The LTTE does not tolerate freedom of expression. It tightly restricts the print and broadcast media in areas under its control. In the past, the LTTE has killed those reporting and publishing on human rights.

Special plane for little girl, but too late

By Chamintha Thilakaratne

A magnificent effort by a team of German doctors to save the life of an 11-year-old ended in despair when the child died just hours before she was to be flown to Germany ona specially chartered plane.

The doctors of Interplast Germany who have been in Sri Lanka on a mercy mission treating poor patients suffering from severe burns, encountered the case of 11-year-old Tharangani Weerakoon who had been severely burnt at her home at Godagama in Kandy.Tharangani Weerakoon

When the German doctors examined her, they realsied she would not survive unless special surgery was performed with ultra modern equipment in Germany. On 12 consecutive days Tharangani had been undergone skin operation for five hours each day at Peradeniya hospital, while other patients were also attended on, despite the strain on the team, project coordinator Francis Vedanayagam said.

Although the special dressing material was soon over, an additional 50 kilograms were airlifted free of charge by an airline, with special arrangements made by a travel firm. The huge box was rushed to Peradeniya by a courier immediately after the arrival of the plane at Colombo.

The fight with death continued. Tharangani suddenly developed a lung infection which aggravated the situation but it was brought under control.

The team had hoped to fly back last Monday to attend to all their patients and appointments in Germany.

But team leader Dr. F. Dietrich decided to postpone everything to stay with little Tharangani together with Dr. L. Finkler, also a dedicated plastic surgeon.

As no commercial airline was willing to alter their regulations to transport such a severly sick patient, Dr. Dietrich decided to charter a special ambulance jet from Munich at a cost of more than Rs.4 million, knowing that he had to advance this sum privately.

The next problem was the passport. For the first time in his life Tharangani's father travelled to Colombo. The passport and visa were obtained in time with the assistance of emigration officers and the German Embassy. The transportation of the young patient in her condition in an ambulance from Kandy to Katunayaka could have been too time consuming and dangerous. A senior executive of a leading private firm immediately used his connections with the Air Force and obtained a helicopter to airlift the girl to the airport on the company's account.

Everything was ready. The plane, the visas and the doctors who were awaiting the patient in Germany.

The ambulance plane was due to land in Colombo on Thursday, but unfortunately, some hours before that, the hospital announced that Tharangani had died. So the plane left on Friday, without its little patient but with the message that though the patient had died the mercy operation would be a living lesson to all.

Tharangani did not live to see the efforts and commitment of the doctors and volunteers who rushed to help when things seemed almost over. Her family can take solace that the German doctors, voluntary organisations and individuals did their utmost while, little Tharangani struggled between life and death.

Angry villagers hit back: PLOTE office torched

By Chris Kamalendran

Angry villagers burnt a PLOTE office in Nelliadi, Jaffna yesterday after its members were accused of killing a civilian whose headless body was recovered from a toilet pit reports from the area said.

The headless body was found in the toilet pit adjoining the PLOTE office, following a tip-off from a toddy tapper who made a complaint to the Grama Sevaka of area about an unusual stench.

The police was alerted when the Grama Sevaka informed the Human Rights Commission branch office in Jaffna about the complaint.

The dead man has been identified as R. Rajeshwaran, a salesman in a textile shop in Jaffna. The recovery of the body also helped the police to resolve the mystery about a severed head they found at Jaffna town early this week.

Police and army are jointly carrying out a search for PLOTE members responsible for the killing.

Why did Raja Collure quit PC elections?

Communist Party General Secretary Raja Collure has withdrawn from the People's Alliance list for the Western Province Provincial Council elections, but is saying nothing except that the reasons are not personal.

Mr. Collure confirmed that he had informed the Elections Commissioner and the PA General Secretary about his withdrawal, but declined further comment. Other CP sources said he pulled out on a decision by the Party politbureau and it was connected to Wayamba violence. They however stressed that the withdrawal did not mean the CP was reconsidering its position in the ruling alliance.

Tourist Board directive irks travel agents

By M. Ismeth

Travel agents are accusing the Tourist Board of bureaucratic bungling in issuing a directive that duty-free vehicles imported for tourism would be seized if the agents' logos or names are not properly painted on the vehicles.

One agent told The Sunday Times a directive from the Tourist Board dated February 18 states that the logo of each firm had to be painted on the side of all vehicles imported duty free, for inspection on February 25. If not the Customs would be told to take appropriate action — the seizure of the vehicle.

He said when such vehicles were taken to the Tourist Board, any official could scrape the logo even with fingernails and demand repainting on threat of seizure if that was not done.

Travel agents say what has really irked them is the way certain officials of the Tourist Board had turned away one of them on no less than 13 occasions to get his logo painted properly. Another agent was sent away four times.

New centre for kidney transplants

A training institute and operating theatre for kidney transplants and dialysis is being set up at Maligawattte, a well known specialist, Prof. Rezvi Sheriff said.

He said the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine (PGIM) had also started a programme to train medical personnel in kidney transplants.

"Today most of the private sector hospitals are capable of handling kidney transplants," he said.

With improvements being effected and more medical personnel being trained in this field, it was hoped that the cost of a kidney transplant now between Rs. 300,000 and 400,000 could be reduced along with the cost for dialysis.

Dr. Mackie Ratwatte:

Physician of politics in Sirima era

The funeral of Dr. Macky Ratwatte — brother, advisor, confidant and private secretary to Premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike for more than 10 years — will take place tomorow at Kanatte.

He died on Thursday at the age of 77 after a career in which he brought the gentle skill of a medical doctor into the political operations in the corridors of power.

The fourth in a family of six, Mackie Ratwatte studied at Trinity College, Kandy and passed out as a doctor in 1947.

One of the high-points in Dr. Ratwatte's illustrious career came in 1976 when he served as the director general of the Non-Aligned movement and summit in Colombo.

It was a fitting reward for a man who had access to the highest office but maintained a low profile and was widely respected not only for his intelligence but also for his integrity.

He leaves his wife Ira, daughter of former Governor General and first President William Gopallawa, his sons Dr. Mano and Chandaka and daughters Dr.(Mrs.) Dammika and Lekha.

NMAT attack peace moves

The National Movement Against Terrorism has reiterated its opposition to any talks with the LTTE and thrown charges of treachery again those whom it describes as 'peace mongers and religious mercenaries.'

In a statement, the NMAT alleged the final betrayal of the nation had begun with certain high officials and leaders of the government holding 'negotiations' secretly and unofficially with the LTTE.

It also condemned last Thursday's meeting between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as being part of a strategy of engineering to get the two parties together to activate the notorious bipartisan arrangement of Liam Fox.

The NMAT alleged the unofficial participation of a few hand-picked officers of the armed forces was an utterly despicable transaction. Further, it has alleged that these officers, however highly placed did not have any right to hold so-called negotiations with a treacherous organization which had plunged the entire country into deep despair.

The NMAT has also pointed out that TULF theoretician Neelan Thiruchelvam had hailed the talks between the President and the opposition leader which he believed would lead to a common approach to the revival of political negotiations and to substantive issues relating to power sharing.

The NMAT said that earlier negotiations had only proved that talking peace with a separatist terrorist group never worked, with the end result being death and destruction of vast magnitude.

"The time has come to unmask and wipe out the treachery of separatism, the LTTE, its bandwagon of paid peace mongers and religious mercenaries," it added

No more sarong service at Maligawa

The front page picture in The Sunday Times last week, showing a male employee of the Dalada Maligawa helping a woman tourist wear a sarong to make up for her short dress, has led authorites to end this practice and impose a strict dress code.

Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeyaratna told a new conference that from tomorrow, the service of providing sarongs to scantily-dressed tourists would be stopped and no visitor whether they be locals or foreigners would be allowed inside the Maligawa if they were not attired properly.

Ceylon Tourist Board Director General J.R.F. Perera told The Sunday Times that the Diyawadana Nilame had discussed the implementation of a dress code to visitors to the sacred places.

Mr. Perera said the board would intensify its programme to educate tourists on the need to follow the dress code. "We usually inform all tourists about how they should attire when they visit places of worship. The fresh campaign is to educate them through the registered tourist guides," Mr. Perera said.

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