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14th March 1999

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Candid Cabinet

Conspiracy to tarnish govt. will not be allowed says Mangala

With the weekly post-Cabinet briefing becoming such a bore, the number of journalists covering the once important post-Cabinet meeting is gradually decreasing.

Journalists are of the opinion that the post-Cabinet briefing is being turned into a PA propaganda meeting to get enough publicity from the media against what is said by the Opposition.

Little wonder one of the journalists wanted the Media Minister to switch on to government business as there was so much to discuss about government matters and to keep the opposition bashing for another day.

A request was made by the media that the IGP and a senior DIG be present at the next briefing to enable them to ask questions about the law and order situation prevailing in the country.

Following are excerpts of the briefing.

Minister Samaraweera: Certain newspapers do not report if PA supporters are attacked. But if UNP members are attacked, it is highlighted in bold letters in all the newspapers. Are PA supporters second class citizens of the country?

Q: Mr. Minister, will you have a separate meeting for this? The briefing is to discuss government issues. We don't have time and we have a lot of questions to ask.

Minister Samaraweera: You can stay as long as you like and we will answer your questions. This is a matter of life and death for us.

Journalist: It may be for the PA and the government.

Q: There have been some bomb blasts in Colombo during the last two or three days. Can you comment on it. Is this a new trend? Is it anything to do with the LTTE?

Brigadier Tennekoon: The LTTE has been planning to carry out certain attacks in Colombo. The security forces have carried out certain operations, a lot of arrests have been made, a lot of detections have been made. So they want to show something, that is why they have made these attacks.

Q: What are the security measures in the other parts of the island?

Brigadier: I can't tell you what we are doing but security measures have been taken in Colombo.

Q: Have there been any arrests after these bomb blasts?

Brigadier: I can't comment on that because there are certain implications that are present.

Q: What are the type of explosives used in the attacks?

Brigadier: They are small explosives and small attacks.

Q: Does this mean that the LTTE does not want to attack large populated areas?

Brigadier: I can't say that . We don't know what is in their minds, although small explosives,were used to create widespread confusion.

Q: Can you confirm the police statement that they had detained 22 people?

Brigadier: I can't confirm that.

Q: Minister Samaraweera says that we are always critical of the government. The response of the government is very good. But the public perception is much more than what the government thinks. I have a lot of questions to ask and I believe all my colleagues have a lot of issues to bring up. We are making a request to you. Can we have the IGP and his senior DIGs for a press conference on this issue?

Prof. Pieris:What is the issue?

Q: On the breakdown of law and order and flaunting the election laws.

A news item has been published in a newspaper with regard to a conspiracy. Several editors of newspapers and other journalists as well as a Member of Parliament are to be attacked. A bodyguard has revealed the conspiracy. Editors of the Ravaya, Yukthiya, Editor of the Sunday Leader and some journalists from Lake House are targets.

Minister Samaraweera: This news item appeared in a tabloid newspaper, I think, last Friday and it was brought to my attention and we have taken serious note of it . And as you said it is a conspiracy to assassinate certain editors and certain politicians.

I have already asked the CID to look into this in order to find more details, not to find the source, because you have to safeguard your source as a journalist. But we really want to find out more details about these allegations so we can ensure that even if there is a conspiracy to tarnish the government, that will not happen. We will ensure that it will not happen. And we'll also be offering protection to any editor who wants it and see that their lives are not in danger. The government is willing to provide any form of security.

N' Eliya SAARC meeting

It's a logistical nightmare

By Our Diplomatic Correspondent

Nuwara Eliya is being readied for next week's South Asian foreign ministers' conference where the agenda for the next summit in Kathmandu later this year is to be discussed, but arrangements for the meeting are posing a logistical nightmare to organisers.

Security arrangements are tight with the presidential security unit meticulously going through all details paving the way for SAARC Chairperson Chandrika Kumaratunga to inaugurate the meeting at the century-old Grand Hotel on March 18. Special chairs are being transported in Army trucks to the hotel as the big chairs with arms in the Presidential Lodge would need more space, making it difficult to accommodate all the delegates.

While foreign secretaries and officials would take the winding road to Nuwara Eliya, ministers will be airlifted by helicopter.

Hotels in Nuwara Eliya gearing for the annual April holiday season are getting a bonus this year with the host of bureaucrats expected from some of the world's most poor nations. They have quoted an astronomically high figure of Rs. 2,000 per head for the official banquet.

Organisers were trying to knock it down by half stating even Colombo five Star hotels don't charge that much. What originally was believed to be a good idea, with the twin objectives of shifting conference sites out of stale Colombo and cheaper costs, is turning out to be a logistical nightmare and the costs may now turn out to be higher.

Substance-wise, the foreign ministers meeting is expected to map out the way forward for SAARC with the report given by the Eminent Persons group coming up for discussion. The Eminent Persons group handed over its findings at the SAARC Summit in Colombo last July.

The report identified several shortcomings in areas such as policy-making and implementation strategy.

The foreign secretaries who usually hold two days of talks have been given an additional third day to hammer out a common strategy which is expected to be adopted by the ministers.

Among the other areas that the ministers would focus on is SAARC's linkage with other groupings. An official referred to this as "tunnels of co-operation". SAARC is likely to forge greater links, especially with the European Community, ASEAN and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

First round tomorrow

By M.Ismeth

The SAARC meeting will be formally inaugurated with economic matters, including South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) being given top priority.

Preliminary meetings of officials from seven South Asian countries are now being held. The foreign secretaries will meet tomorrow setting the stage and agenda for the foreign ministers meeting.

A highlight of the meeting will be the informal talks between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan in the light of recent 'bus diplomacy' by Indian Premier Atal Behari Vajpayee to Lahore.

The 21st Session of the Programming Committee will also discuss the calendar of activities under the Integrated Programme of Action (IPA), the examination of the report of the Independent Expert group on the IPA, and reports of various technical committees.

The Publicity Division of the Foreign Ministry said it cannot give details of the delegates.

Probe on 8 IPKF men may ruffle Indo-Lanka ties

By Kris Balendra

The work of the fourth Disappearances Commission took an interesting turn this week, with the panel's chairperson, Manouri Muttutewegama, saying that it would examine eight complaints against the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), which was in the country's north and east from July 1987 to March 1990.

The panel left Colombo for Jaffna yesterday, expecting to be in Jaffna for ten days, examining about 360 complaints.

Ms. Muttutewegama clarified that the commission would not be taking any complaint at face value but would insist on some evidence or documentation to back it up. Vague charges could not be the basis of an inquiry, she said.

The commission was yet to get any evidence or backing in respect of the complaints made against the IPKF, she added. Asked what the commission might do if there was evidence against the IPKF, she said that, as in other cases, the commission would place the result of the investigations and its recommendations before the President. It was for the President to take action, Ms. Muttutewegama said.

Asked if there would not be an unprecedented hitch in pursuing these cases, given the fact that the IPKF was a foreign entity, she said that the commission could not go beyond its terms of reference, that is stating the facts and suggesting a course of action. It was upto the government to act on it.

However, undeniably, there is a theoretical possibility of some IPKF personnel being hauled up before Sri Lankan courts if there was sufficient and credible evidence against them. It would, therefore, be interesting to see how the Sinhalese and Tamil opinion in Sri Lanka, Tamil opinion in Tamil Nadu and the governments in Colombo and New Delhi view the issue, in case there was prima facie evidence against some IPKF men.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga set up three regional commissions on disappearances to probe complaints pertaining to the period between 1/1/1988 and the end of December 1994. The intention was mainly to probe the happenings during the UNP regime, leaving out the Peoples' Alliance government period when an estimated 600 Tamils disappeared in a Sri Lankan army crackdown following the Kilinochchi debacle in 1996. But the probe could not avoid the IPKF period which lay inconveniently between July 1987 and March 1990.

The fourth commission, now in Jaffna, is headed by Attorney-at-Law, Ms. Manouri Muttutewegama, retired High Court Judge P. Balavadivel and retired Commissioner General of Prisons H.G. Dharmadasa.

The panel will sit in Jaffna, Point Pedro and Kayts. According to the secretary of the commission, M.C.M. Iqbal, there were no complaints pertaining to the period when the Jaffna peninsula was under the control of the LTTE, though many disappearances had taken place then.

Checking intensifed

By Shelani de Silva

Security has been intensified on trains and at the Central Bus stand following last week's bomb blasts in the city.

Railways General Manager W K B Weragama told The Sunday Times special security measures were being taken under a directive from the Defence Ministry.

"Consultations are underway with ministry officials to intensify the security. We will also deploy special security, along with the Department security," he said.

W S Attanayake, head of the Railway Protection Division said checks on passengers as well as on trains would be strengthened.

"We have decided to check trains at all starting points. Checks will be carried out at Maligawata, Maradana and on trains coming into the city," he said adding that passenger vigilante committees would also be strengthened.

Central Bus Stand Manager Nimal Premathilake told The Sunday Times that checks would be done on all buses, including those coming from the south.

"Earlier we carried out checks only on buses coming from the North and East but now all buses will be checked. All parcels will be checked. We checked only large parcels but now all baggage will be checked," he said.

He added that more security personnel will be deployed on a 24 hour basis.

'Unlike the trains, checking of buses is difficult because a bus leaves the stand every three minutes. There are 1,450 buses which come to the stand, through five gates, but we will do our best," he said.

Tiger commits suicide

A LTTE cadre committed suicide when the Army tried to arrest him last afternoon in Jaffna.

The LTTEer had entered the co-operative society building in Jaffna demanding money, but the Army rushed there on information provided by the civilians. He exploded a grenade killing himself when the Army cordoned off the area. Troops found two T-56 automatic rifles, a claymore mine and a set of letters addressed to co-operatives calling on them to pay money to the LTTE .

The LTTE had set a target of rupees one million to be collected from co-op societies within one month.

Ex-mayor turning towards PA?

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Former UNP Mayor of Nuwara Eliya Ms. Nalin Thilaka Herath has discussed possibilities of joining the ruling People's Alliance, as she claims, she has been sidelined by the UNP.

A senior PA spokesman said that it was not proper to say that she has actually joined the PA yet, but admitted two rounds of discussions were held to discuss her political future.

'The reasons cited for her change of heart were that several relatively fresh politicians have been given priority overlooking her seniority and that her contributions went unrecognised,' the spokesman said.

Political circles were abuzz that Ms. Herath who went into political hibernation after the defeat of the MC was disgruntled over the changes made in the district leadership and other structural changes, which allegedly disregarded the old guard.

Navin Dissanayake, son of the late Gamini Dissanayake and organizer for Ududumbara, has been appointed Nuwara Eliya organiser from March.

Mrs. Herath was not available for comment.

On the hard road to peace in Kashmir

By Vyjayanthi Prakash

New Delhi : If the SAARC foreign ministers' meeting in Nuwara Eliya next week is going to attract world attention, it will be for one reason - the informal talks between India and Pakistan which are slated to take place on the sidelines. These talks will be significant as they will be the first since the prime ministers of the two countries met in Lahore in February and signed the momentous Lahore Declaration.

With the Lahore Declaration, it did seem that the two arch sub-continental rivals had put half a century of bitterness behind and were on a new road to peace, amity, trade and economic co-operation. The thinly veiled US brokered declaration promised a lot. The two countries pledged to give advance notice of ballistic missile tests and notify accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons; they agreed to prevent accidents at sea and thus pre-empt a naval confrontation in the Arabian sea, which has two major ports - Mumbai and Karachi. The two countries envisaged co-operation in information technology and easing of travel curbs. There was to be a committee to resolve the issue of POWs and other detainees. To sustain the tempo set in Lahore, and also to reciprocate the Indian Prime Minister, Mr. A.B.Vajpayee's gesture in coming to Lahore, the Pakistan Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, agreed to visit New Delhi. The Delhi -Lahore regular bi-weekly bus service is to begin on March 16 and India has suggested that a similar road link may be established through Kokhrapar in Sindh.

The Lahore Declaration, which came about, thanks to the shuttle diplomacy of US Deputy Secretary of State, Mr. Strobe Talbott, and the Asst. Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, Mr. Karl Inderfurth, triggered considerable cheerfulness in Washington. Mr. Inderfurth told the House International Relations Committee on March 3: "South Asia will benefit if India and Pakistan promptly turn the Lahore commitment into concrete progress. We will continue our efforts to work with India and Pakistan to promote progress in the region. Greater co-operation and thrust between India and Pakistan is essential for the realisation of many important US goals in South Asia." The US official particularly welcomed India's acceptance of Pakistan's legitimacy, something which was reflected in Mr. Vajpayee's visit to Minar-e-Pakistan, the monument for the movement which led to the separation of Pakistan from India in 1947. The US official went on to say that progress on the Lahore Declaration would enable the reassessment of US sanctions imposed following the nuclear tests conducted by the two countries in May 1998.

However, events subsequent to the Lahore Declaration have not reflected the Lahorian spirit. The hardline Indian Home (Interior) Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani, had spoken of securing an "Akhand Bharat" or Greater India, including what is now Pakistan. This ran counter to the spirit in which his senior, Mr. Vajpayee visited Minar-e -Pakistan. Then there were the "war games" which India played at Pokhran, the site of the nuclear blasts and close to the Pakistan border. India's position on Kashmir remained the same, which was that, Kashmir's accession to India was final and irrevocable and that Pakistan had no locus standi in that place except as an aggressor, and that this aggression had to be vacated.

Pakistan, on its part, continued to wage its proxy war in Kashmir by sponsoring separatist militancy, making Mr. Vajpayee declare that there could be no real progress towards peace if the proxy war continued. The Chief of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force in Kashmir. Mr. Pandey, told the press recently that Pakistan army regulars were now in combat in Kashmir fighting shoulder to shoulder with the separatists. Despite signing the Lahore Declaration, Pakistani leaders, including Mr. Nawaz Sharif, continued to harp on giving support to the separatist militancy in Kashmir.

They had taken pride in having internationalised the Kashmir dispute and getting India to recognise Kashmir as a disputed area, which it should discuss with Pakistan. The Pakistan army chief, Gen. Parvez Musharaff, had thanked his government for declaring that Lahore Declaration or no Lahore Declaration, the defense budget would not be cut. Gen. Musharaff also said that Pak troops would not be withdrawn from Siachen. "Siachen is as important to us as Kashmir," the chief said. Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif raised the hackles on both sides of the divide by suggesting that India take Jammu and leave the Kashmir valley to Pakistan. He subsequently denied having said that. India had once suggested that the Line of Control ( LOC) or the line separating the two armies), be made the international border in Kashmir. But this is not the line now. Pakistan itself wants the whole of Kashmir, and not the small chunk west of the LOC.

News Maker

Hair is like that, naturally, says Ranil

By Nilika de Silva

Ranil AbeynaikeRanil Abeynaike, the curly haired custodian of cricket at cricket's most sacred temple in Colombo, the SSC is also the curator of the SSC grounds; he prepared the pitch for the concluded 120th encounter of the Royal Thomian cricket match, and the Battle of the Blues of course has almost been his meat and drink since he played for STC in the seventies. (Only slight hyperbole there.) Asked whether he has any special memories of Royal Thomians in the past, he is wistful.

"Obviously the main memories are of the three years that I played. I had the fortune to captain STC in 1973. So that is the most memorable thing I can remember. It is a very special memory," he says.

Obviously, school cricket has changed with time. So, as a seasoned campaigner, how would he contrast the then and the now in Royal Thomian encounters?

"One thing I can say is that in those days, people were interested in the cricket. Now the interest in cricket is less, so the attraction is more as a social event. This is because people are exposed to more international cricket matches etc. unlike in the old days.

"Those days one used to get two or three thousand people watching school matches. But now you get only a handful. If you are lucky you'd get 100 or 150 people. I remember when I was in school in the first term we used to close two hours early so that boys could go and watch cricket matches.

"Between the late sixties to the mid-seventies the Royal-Thomian had the biggest crowd. The oval used to be packed. It used to be an event in their calendar, because people could afford the money.

"So has any of this got to do with the fact that there isn't a single Royalist or a Thomian in the Sri Lankan team? There were 7 (old) Thomians playing for Sri Lanka in 1967?

"There are a few reasons. The game has spread around the country. And naturally there are more people vying to play for Sri Lanka. Another reason is that these days Royalists and Thomians are going in for different careers. Cricket because is a full time sport is not perhaps an attraction to them."

Is three days good enough, or does that kill competitiveness as well?

"I definitely think so. Until the Centenary year, which was the first time we played three days, in the sixties there was only one result; in the seventies also I think there was only one result, so I think it is a very good idea to play three days."

But yet, nothing much spectacular happens in these matches – has the pitch been properly prepared for instance? (All these questions were obviously asked before this year's encounter.)

"This year the pitch I am preparing will be one that helps the bowlers more than what was prepared last year. Sometimes the bowling is not strong enough. This time the pitch is definitely weighted towards the bowlers, so we should have a result, or at least come close to having a result."

What do you think will happen at the vital World Cup I asked.

"I would say, as it is, the two most fancied sides are Australia and South Africa. England, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan are also teams to contend with. The six sides I mentioned, on their day, are all good sides. The teams will be tested much more than at any other World Cup.

At the last World Cup we had our best team… but it is… necessary to have a completely fit side to go for the World Cup.

Do you think players should hold positions in the Board of Control for Cricket?

"Certainly not.

"Don't you have any idea of playing in the Masters tournament?

I have played in two. I have toured India twice. I couldn't go the third time because I was on contract with MTV for the World Series.

"And of course an inevitable question.

Is your hair naturally curly or do you perm it?

"It is naturally curly. You see, after a bath, when I comb it, it is perfectly straight.

And finally, how about that illustrious family?

"Orville Abeynaike, my father, was a teacher at S. Thomas', and then the Sub-Warden there. My father used to be a cricket coach at STC but he stopped as soon as I entered the cricket pool. He felt it was wrong to coach while he had a son vying for the team. My mother was a housewife.

Only she survives. I am the second in a family of four boys. My three brothers are accountants. They never played cricket for STC. I captained the school in Cricket, Tennis and Hockey, and got National School colours in all three."

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