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28th February 1999

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Exchanging abuse over a 'stranger' in the House

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent

In a week full of events which generated much heat but no debate, the man who took a personal beating was the newly appointed Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Kitulgoda who was vilified in the most sordid manner.

What it all amounted to was a blatant display of non accountability by both sides- a sad indicator of what democracy has become in this island.

While the House rallied round to heap praise on the outgoing Secretary General Bertram Tittawella, his successor was treated with scant respect as the UNP positioned its artillery towards him.

So, the bill to suppress terrorist bombings never saw the light of day as pandemonium held sway inside the hallowed precincts by the Diyawanna which got embroiled in petty matters.

The cause for all the demeaning hype was the appointment of Mr. Kitulegoda which apparently evoked a lot of dislike among UNPers.

Mr. Kitulegoda, who entered the House on Tuesday, quietly behind Speaker K.B. Ratnayake would never have imagined in his wildest dreams the reception that was awaiting him.

No sooner had he stepped in when UNP members started shouting themselves hoarse, causing embarrassment to the government and the new Secretary General . These theatrics once again displayed the abysmal depths Parliament had sunk to, with legislators intent on hurling abuse and defying orders at the drop of a hat.

The Speaker, who has to be sympathised with as he is often called upon to act like a school master with his errant students, could not get past the ritualistic presentation of papers when up jumped new entrant Harindra Corea who shouted out 'there was a stranger in the House and he should be asked to withdraw'.

The wisened Speaker stoically maintained there was no stranger in the House.

The Opposition after a stinging defeat in Wayamba was at its vocal best with members hurling accusations and demanding that the traditions of the House be maintained and the deserving person be appointed instead of 'planting favourites'.

The din steadily increased with shouting and thumping on desks. The burly Mano Wijeratne judiciously declared that 'as far as the UNP was concerned, Mr. Kitulegoda was indeed a stranger' to which pat came the Chair's response: "That's only your contention."

The Speaker then adjourned House and events took a horrifying turn with UNP members trying to grab the mace out of the Sergeant -At- Arms' hands-with Nanda Mathew and UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale leading the 'tackle.'

So they had a free hand with the mace. And what an appalling sight it was with a helpless Parliament official, the Sergeant- at -Arms striving to hold on to its symbol pleading with legislators to kindly let go and equally defiant government members trying to place it on the stand.

The disgusting performance went on till Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe walked in and ordered his troops out. The Sergeant- at Arms ultimately removed the mace, signifying despite the confusion that the House had adjourned for the day.

The mood was the same on Thursday when the PA's performance was likened to a comedy of errors- when a bill once declared inconsistent with the Constitution was presented again.

The government blundered again by contravening Supreme Court recommendations to amend the said bill-the amendments which were neither incorporated into the bill nor separately presented or circulated.

At the conclusion of the round of oral questions, UNP 's Chula Bandara, (the bespectacled lawyer who replaced Gamini Jayawickreme Perera when he vacated seat to contest the Wayamba polls), announced to the House that the necessary amendments had never been circulated among Opposition members, hence debating the unknown was not possible.

Presenting his case scholastically he said : "Sir, certain amendments have been recommended and this bill does not include them, and so I suggest the bill be moved out of the Order Paper for the time being."

Then up jumped government benchers protesting over what they saw as UNP's destructive and domineering attitude.

No, they were tabled said the Speaker, "But we never saw them," chorused the Opposition, getting ready to repeat Tuesday's antics.

It was Cultural Affairs Minister Lakshman Jayakody who jumped to defend his flock, claiming all amendments had been incorporated in the Bill. "Where, where," thundered the UNPers and the silver haired Minister cornered badly shouted back: "They will be moved at the appropriate time."

And all hell broke loose then with vociferous UNP benchers calling the senior member an 'opportunistic liar', while Dharmadasa Banda contemptuously said the original bill had been presented, not the amended one. A helpless, clueless Alavi Moulana looked on pensively as if to say the show must go on.

inside the glass house:

Take the step or… leap

by thalif deen at the united nations

A global treaty banning landmines becomes international law tomorrow

NEW YORK— A global treaty banning one of the world's most deadly weapons becomes international law tomorrow. But critics of the treaty, including Sri Lanka, argue that while the UN obligates its member states to outlaw the use of anti-personnel landmines, the world body does not have the power to enforce the same law against armed rebel groups.

The UN admits it can only "persuade" some of these groups— such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone or the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA)— against deploying these weapons, which are known to kill more civilians than combatants, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

But some member states complain that the UN's persuasive powers are not at all convincing— judging by its own dismal track record, specially in Angola, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone where new landmines are being laid every week. The landmine treaty— officially titled the "Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines'' — has so far been signed by 133 of the 185 member states. It has also been ratified by 65 of the 133 states making it part of national laws in these countries.

But more than a dozen key nations— including the United States, Russia, China, Cuba, Turkey, Greece, Israel, North Korea, South Korea, India, Pakistan and most of the Arab nations in the Middle East— have flatly rejected the treaty.

Some of these countries are at war with their neighbours while others have vast heavily-mined geographical borders where landmines are used to prevent military infiltration.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a coalition of more than 120 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which won the Nobel Peace Prize, has launched a new campaign to prod the United States into signing the agreement.

The United States has declared it would sign the treaty by the year 2006, only when its military commanders were confident they could dispense with the devastating weapons. But Ken Rutherford, co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network, says: "We Americans who have experienced a landmine— a weapon devised to maim and explode under our legs— do not accept the US intention to sign the ban by 2006."

The 185-member General Assembly adopted a resolution last November urging all member states to provide material assistance to locate, remove, destroy or render ineffective, mine fields, mines, booby-traps and other devices.

The UN has created a Mine Action Service as the focal point for all anti-landmine activities in the UN system. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) are reaching out to eliminate the deadly weapons, which in some countries have hindered economic development as large parts of the mine-scattered land remain out-of-bounds.

The UN Association of USA has launched a new programme called "Adopt a Minefield" where it has sought private sector assistance to locate and destroy landmines. Norway, one of the major supporters of the landmine treaty, has convened a Mine Action Support Group consisting of 20 major donor governments. Switzerland has set up an International Humanitarian Demining Centre in Geneva as a central repository for all mine- related information gathered under UN coordination.

But the UN estimates that it requires at least a billion dollars annually, or roughly five times what the world was now spending on demining, to eliminate landmines.

According to a UN database, the top 10 countries affected by landmines are Egypt, Iran, Angola, Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Iraq, Vietnam, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The United Nations has estimated that more than 110 million mines are buried in more than 70 countries, and there are also about 25,000 mine-related casualties worldwide each year.

Here we go again!

By Kumbakarna

A rather interesting development has become apparent in the political arena at present. This is the strain in the relationship between the PA govt. and the NGOs which did so much to bring it into power. Until quite recently, the PA was the greatest thing since sliced bread as far as these NGOs were concerned.

Of late, however, there has been much bickering, with various accusations being hurled in both directions. While this came about in the aftermath of the much maligned Wayamba polls, it is worth considering whether there is more to this than a mere dispute over an improperly conducted election.

The role played by the NGOs is the key to understanding what exactly is going on. These NGOs, created and funded by various Western governments and Christian organizations, are here for only one purpose. That is to establish an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka. Towards this end, they have influenced political events in this country over the last two decades.

It is hardly a secret that many external powers have involved themselves, to varying degrees, in the Tamil separatist issue. India is the most obvious example, directly arming and training the LTTE and providing them with military logistics. While India's involvement was greatest during the 80s, at present it is the Western powers which are most active in this regard.

The Jayewardene govt. which came to power in 1977 brought about an immense change in Sri Lanka's political and economic outlook. The previous United Front Government's foreign policy, which was aimed at close ties with other socialist regimes, was abandoned in favour of a pro-Western line and the state-controlled economy was replaced with a liberal, market-oriented one. Along with the accelerated Mahaweli program and the talk of Trincomalee being made a free port, Sri Lanka was being touted as the 'Singapore of South Asia'.

India, the regional power and a close ally of the Soviet Union, watched these developments with increasing alarm. The possibility of a US naval base at Trinco heightened the tension. In this context, backing the Tamil separatist campaign was a simple way for India to de-stabilise Sri Lanka and prevent it becoming a Western satellite such as the Philippines or Taiwan. The anti-Indian attitude of the UNP regime hardly helped matters.

Given this scenario, one could have expected the Western powers to have supported the UNP either directly or throughout their network of NGOs. This was done to some extent, particularly in respect of arms purchases and training of our military personnel. However the repressive, undemocratic measures adopted by the UNP, not to mention the blatant corruption, made it difficult for these countries to appear too closely allied with it.

Meanwhile, with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Indian relations with the LTTE became strained, and this left the latter in search of a sponsor. For the Western powers, this was a valuable opportunity to establish a counter force to the growing Indian threat. An independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka, along with the millions of Tamils in India itself, is meant to achieve this.

By this time it was obvious that the UNP regime was in its last stages. With Chandrika Kumaratunga and her left-liberal views at its head, the PA was considered likely to go the furthest towards granting autonomy to the Tamils and the Western powers threw their weight behind the PA's political campaign. One obvious method was to discredit the UNP's record on human rights and so forth through their network of NGOs.

However, having come to power, the PA departed from the script. For a start, it established closer links with the Indian govt. Next, after the failure of the 1994 peace talks it launched a vigorous military campaign which ended with the Jaffna peninsula being wrested from the control of the LTTE. Nor has the PA's 'Devolution Package' made any headway.

The UNP meanwhile is under different leadership. Some of its most influential figures are very closely allied with the NGO network, and they are even more sympathetic to the separatist's demands than the governing PA.

What we are seeing now is a shifting of the Western power base away from the PA towards the UNP. The aftermath of the govt.'s crude mishandling of the Wayamba elections, this has taken the form of loud criticism by the NGOs with the UNP in attendance.

The beleaguered PA is now scrambling to maintain its hold on power. The only way in which it can keep the NGOs onboard is by moving swiftly towards accommodating the separatists.

And this is just what they are doing at the moment. The 'religious dignitaries' visit to the LTTE was the first step. Next we had an interview given by Mangala Moonesinghe to The Hindu during the course of which he disclosed that the govt. is already communicating with the LTTE.

Yet another round of so-called peace talks, followed inevitably by yet another LTTE assault is imminent.

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