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14th March 1999

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Choppers under investigation

Civil Aviation authorities are investigating the unscheduled arrival of two Mi-8B helicopters from the Maldives. Initial reports say that the two helicopters, operating a tourist service in the Maldives were on their way to the South Indian state of Kerala.

Indian air traffic controllers are learnt to have refused permission for the two aircraft to fly through Indian air space. Thereafter the two helicopters had sought permission to land in Colombo. They are said to have been allowed to land on the Sri Lanka Air Force side of the airport at Katunayake

The two helicopters are said to belong to a firm in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Polls committee in the balance

By Shelani de Silva

The fate of the newly-formed Election Monitoring Committee is in the balance with several political parties questioning its progress and purpose.

Several delegates were angry when they were told at the gates of Temple Trees on Thursday that the meeting was cancelled and instead of it a meeting with an additional secretary of the Presidential Secretariat had been organised.

A Presidential Secretariat statement issued soon after this said that the cancellation of the meeting was due to the non-representation of proposals by political parties.

However this explanation was not accepted by the parties which accused the Government of making the committee a front for its image-building exercise.

UNP Parliamentarian John Amaratunga told The Sunday Times the party was drafting its proposals. He said the issue was not that the parties came up with proposals but it was the commitment by the government to ensure free and fair elections.

"What about the President's directive to remove all banners and cutouts within 72 hours? If such a directive is not carried out what is the purpose?" he asked.

"There is little meaning in attending such a committee if it does not serve any purpose. The UNP will consider pulling out if no progress is made," he said.

Mahajana Eksath Peramuna Secretary Piyasena Dissanayake said many of the party members felt there was no purpose in attending the committee.

Deepthi de Mel, the MEP representative in the committee said the party submitted proposals on Thursday.

JVP representative Nandana Gunethilake told The Sunday Times his party would not ask the Government when the next meeting would take place and they were assessing the purpose of attending the committee sessions.

'The President's attitude towards the committee is not healthy. If the Government feels that it can mislead other parties, the committee should be disbanded," he said.

He said he had gone to Temple Trees on Thursday with the party's proposals.

Meanwhile election monitoring group PAFFREL has written to President Kumaratunga expressing disappointment over the postponement of the meeting.

District judge's ex-wife files rights case

The Supreme Court on Friday granted leave to proceed to the former wife of a District Judge. She alleges in the fundamental rights case filed by her that she was unlawfully arrested by the Kompannaveediya police at the behest of her husband.

The Bench comprised Justices Dr. A.R.B. Amarasinghe, S.W.B. Wadugodapitiya and D.P.S. Gunasekara.

The petitioner, Firdous Jabir, cited Chief Inspector S. Jagodaarachi, Sergeant Ariyaratne, Constable Upali, all from the Kompannaveediya police station, the District Judge and her ex-husband Mohamed Mohideen Abdul Gaffoor, the IGP and the Attorney General as the respondents.

Ms. Jabir in her petition said she obtained a divorce from her husband after a Quazi court hearing on the basis of her husband's alleged immoral conduct with a 14 -year- old servant. She said her ex-husband, however, had filed an application for revision of the Quazi Board's order.

She also said that her ex-husband filed action in the District Court for custody of her two children and obtained interim order for access to the children.

She alleges the police prevented her from leaving her house when she wanted to meet her lawyers on January 10. She also alleges she was later arrested by police officers from Komapnnaveediya.

Hearing was fixed for August 17.

'Poor poll show by IGP'

By Chamintha Thilakarathna

Police chief Lucky Kodituwakku came under fire at an all-party meeting where he was accused of being not enforcing election laws and presidential orders in respect of posters and banners.

Party secretaries at their regular meeting with the elections commissioner last week told the police chief that putting up of posters and banners with party symbols was against the law and it was the responsibility of the police to see to it that the law was adhered to.

They also accused him of ignoring a Presidential order to remove posters and pull down banners and cut-outs. The police chief told party secretaries that the police department lacked personnel and equipment to get about the operation.

But Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake said he had promised the IGP he would supply equipment and pay the workers to complete the task.

At this meeting, all parties pledged not to display cutouts or banners.

To avoid poster wars, the secretaries suggested that they be given equal air time on TV and radio to express their views.

Although a similar request was rejected by the commissioner during the Wayamba elections, he said he would look into the matter.

The Commissioner received approval of the secretaries to amend section 46A1 of the elections act, empowering him to invalidate voting at a polling booth or an election in the case of rigging, or other illegal activities.

Kelaniya ties-up with Army institute

The Army Command and Staff College at Sapugaskanda has been granted affiliation to the University of Kelaniya.

Major General Anton Wijendra, Commandant of the Staff College, received confirmation of the affiliation, from Prof. K. Tillekeratne, Acting Vice Chancellor, Kelaniya University, on March 12.

At a meeting of the University authorities held on February 23 it had been decided to authorise the Faculty of Graduate Studies to conduct a Masters Degree Programme in Defence Studies, in collaboration with the Army Command and Staff College. This is the first collaboration venture of its kind between a Sri Lankan University and a Defence Academy.

"We have been working towards this for a long time and it has finally come through," said Maj. Gen. Wijendra, who was delighted with the news. "Our students will now be awarded a Master's Degree in Defence Studies. We will have a convocation as well as a graduation," he said.

Pensions: why preferential treatment to MPs?

By Chamintha Thilakarathna

Cabinet has approved a proposal to provide pensions to families of MPs who have not completed their full term of five years due to death under tragic circumstances.

The proposals made by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Jeyraj Fernandopulle, include pensions for bachelor MPs.

"It would only be fair since many have been victims of tragic circumstances leading to death while in the course of completing five years in Parliament. This would include any MP who had been in Parliament for one day or four and a half years," Mr. Fernandopulle said.

"A number of MPs such as Nalanda Ellawela, Godfrey Fernando, Shanmuganathan, Thangadurai, and Ossie Abeygunasekara have fallen victim to terrorism and their families have received nothing but compensation, which again needs Cabinet approval," Mr. Fernandopulle said supporting his proposal.

Public service trade unions have protested against the proposals saying it was unfair. "To be entitled for a pension, we have to serve at least 20 years and no allowances are made available whether we die of natural causes or due to terrorism," a union leader said.

He said every time an MP was a victim of a tragic circumstance, his security personnel who were public servants were also affected. Therefore, the benefit needs to be extended to them as well, he said.

Poultry imports is a plot

By Tissa Liyanage

This is a case of 300 tonnes of chicken and 126,000 eggs arriving from Australia, Netherlands and the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The private sector has imported this quantity to bring down spiralling local costs for chicken and eggs. But poultry breeders are angry and say that the imports were a plot hatched to destroy the local industry.

"Most poultry farmers operate on bank loans. They have to pay heavy electricity bills. They have invested heavily." Dr. D.D. Wanasinghe President of the All Island Poultry Farmers Association said.

His association has called upon President Kumaratunga to stop these imports since 75000 farmer families are affected. But Senior Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Trade C.Hettiarachi said that import control regulations do not prohibit import of chicken and eggs.

Prices which stood quite high before these imports have come down below the cost of production.

Imports of chicken can bring poultry diseases and even infect humans. Therefore these commodities have to be inspected by the animal health quarantine officials employed by the Ministry of Livestock Development.

It is the responsibility of the Customs to see that these products are not under invoiced Dr.Wanasinghe said.

Recreation centre at Madiwela proposed

By Nilika de Silva

Three hundred acres of prime land in the developing locality of Madiwela is to be acquired for setting up an eco-friendly sports and recreation village. One of the main objectives of this Rs. 2 billion project proposed by the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDE) is to preserve the present environment of Madiwela which is as yet free of industrial pollution.

Chairman SLLRDC, Godwin Withana said, "At present 50 to 60 percent of this area is being farmed." Mr. Withana said that as the land is not state land, and owned by private individuals they would be paid due compensation. He also said that if any delays take place interest would be paid as well.

Dogs hold up demining, not the map, says UNDP

Resident Representative of the UNDP in Colombo, Peter Withham has confirmed that the demining programme in the northern Jaffna peninsula has not begun, and it is expected to start operations in a couple of months.

Mr. Withham was responding to questions at a press conference held at the UN office in Colombo about the demining programme in Jaffna.

Mr. Withham confirmed reports that the mine action programme was slow, but denied that the security forces had withdrawn a map issued to them as the main reason for the delay. However he admitted that this was one of the reasons for the delay.

The UNDP making an obvious reference to a news item in 'The Sunday Times' earlier had issued a statement saying that the UNDP mine action programme has 'not been slowed down by a dispute over maps', butz did not give reasons for the slow progress of the programme.

Following are excerpts of the press conference:

Q: Military forces Commander in Jaffna Lohan Gunewardena has said that the mine programme has stalled. Can you comment?

A: Well I'll comment on it in two ways. First of all, for the programme to stall, it has to actually start. The basic issue here is the activities on the ground, not the mine actions but recruiting the dog teams and all the rest of it. We are reasonably confident that within a couple of months we'll have the first team on the ground. The first couple of dogs will help us. We have already received bids from various companies.

They are assuming that they will respond whichever team gets selected. The time frame we hope is about two months and that's why I say April/May. About six months of that delay was accounted for by the lengthy negotiations for government approval for communication equipment.

You do not risk mines or deal with unexploded ones, anywhere in the world without 100% reliable radio communications. I think the reasons are quite obvious, why you need that. Therefore we were not in a position to contact these outside teams, which is the expensive part of the project, until we knew that these teams if fielded would be in a position to operate.

But we knew they would not be in a position to operate until there was an agreement on the radio equipment because UN rules would have prevented them from allowing them to operate until the radio equipment was allowed.

So a great part of the delay was owing to this thing six months on the question of the radio equipment which I am delighted to say now has been settled.

We are in the middle of negotiations with the government about the composition of the team and expect to know the results of this negotiations in the next two weeks.

My approach is to allow these negotiations to go on; they have not been going long enough. In about a month we will see what happens. I am hopeful about solutions in other areas as in the case of radio equipment. We can find an answer that satisfies.

We are not in a position to do things ourselves without UNDP assistance. We are discussing with the government a method not to use people from abroad.

Q: Will they accept retired military personnel?

A: I don't know yet. That is a different part of the negotiations. Why I am saying two weeks is because at the end of this week, Ian Mansfield who is the head of the mine action will be coming to take part in discussions with the staff and the government. His visit has been warmly welcomed. He is coming here because he is a man with immense experience. He headed mine operations in Afghanistan and Indonesia and he is in a very good position to advise us, the UNDP locally and the government. These issues could be dealt with, as in 16 countries where the UN is involved in mine action.

Q: Is it in the UN Charter?

A: Not in the Charter. It is absolutely out of the question, for the UNDP to have enhanced the capacity of the military. We will not do that. I must emphasise that in the proposals made to us, I think the Major General made it clear that serving soldiers should not be employed but retired soldiers. It will not be a technical assistance project in Sri Lanka or any other country which would enhance the capacity of the military for mine action or anything else. It is not our business to build up the capacity of the military.

Q: Is the five million dollar programme meant to clear all mines?

A: We say upto five million dollars according to our estimates. But we do not know exactly until you estimate it. We don't know exactly how many hectares we are going to clear in the lightly contaminated areas and consequently how long it is going to take. Upto $ 5 million is our current estimate. But the answer to your question is no.

One is to certify as much land as fast as possible as being freed from mines and unexploded ones. It must be free of contamination so that the returnees coming back from Jaffna will be able to get back to their farms and earn an income to be economically productive and resettled. That is why we are focussing on the non-contaminated areas. When we come to the heavily contaminated areas the project will fence those areas off. At the same time, the mine action programme will continue along with the mine awareness programme.

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