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21st March 1999
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SAARC sees progress in economic sphere

Despite uncertainties created by Indo-Pakistan political issues, the meeting of South Asian foreign ministers held here this week had much for many to be happy about. 

On the economic front, SAARC seemed to be on a fine wicket with the foreign ministers at the 21st session of the SAARC council of ministers expressing commitment to see the organisation grow into a viable economic grouping on the lines of Asean. 

Of late, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation has been interacting with other regional groupings, especially the ASEAN and the European Union, to get concessions. Moves are underway for SAARC to get group recognition in trade with the EU. 

Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said such recognition could increase intra-SAARC cooperation and economic integration. 

A EU grant of Euro one million will be utilised to conduct workshops on how SAARC can serve the European market. SAARC will also present a common voice in the World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle in November this year. 

Intra-SAARC economic ties will get a boost when the country of origin rules are amended and the local content scaled down by 10 percent from the present 50%. 

South Asia has identified some 3,400 items for free trade with India dominating in intra-regional trade. 

In this context, it is suggested that member states will be compensated for loss of customs revenue and joint ventures will be promoted. SAARC is to have an investment promotion and protection treaty. 

The South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) is to be raised into a full fledged treaty. A draft treaty is to be placed before an expert group in July. This group will submit its report by August. 

SAARC has also worked out a time frame for implementation of SAFTA. It is now suggested that the least developed countries in the grouping could affect SAFTA by 2010 while the relatively developed countries like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka could adopt it by 2008. 

SAARC members will be eagerly watching the implementation of the Indo-Lanka free trade pact, which has run into difficulties. 

"Talks are on and we are considering new possibilities," Mr. Kadirgamar said. 

An Indian quota for Sri Lankan tea is one of the possibilities in the scheme to break the deadlock, Indian sources said. 

The absence of a level playing field is a nagging problem retarding the movement to free trade. "The playing field has to be levelled first," said the Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Shamshad Ahmad. 

Final doc: Paks do it their way

Kris Balendra reporting from Nuwara Eliya
The Pakistanis were wreathed in smiles at the end of a particularly excruciating bout of negotiations at the 21st meeting of the SAARC council of ministers here on Friday. 

Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz and his team of articulate diplomats had fought India hard and secured mention of the Lahore Declaration in the final conference report. At the end of the day, it did seem as if, for a change, the weight of SAARC was behind Pakistan rather than India. 

Pakistanis had two objectives in mind when they came to Nuwara Eliya one was to get the Lahore declaration signalling a detente between Pakistan and India, included in the conference report. The other was to get SAARC to agree to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's plea for a SAARC initiative on South Asian peace and security. 

India was opposed to both. As for including the Lahore declaration in the conference report, its objection was that the Lahore declaration was an Indo-Pakistan bilateral matter and therefore had no place in a SAARC document. SAARC had its own agenda and extraneous matters strictly had no place in the meeting's report. India's objection to the plea for a SAARC peace/security initiative was that this was Pakistan's way of getting SAARC involved in the Kashmir dispute, the bee in Pakistan's bonnet. India's view was that the Kashmir dispute was a bilateral matter to be resolved bilaterally, not multilaterally. 

India was not opposed to informal discussions of any issue. It believes formal discussions would wreck SAARC, which is primarily an economic organisation. 

But Pakistan's contention was that SAARC would be a non-starter if there was no peace in the region and the biggest threat to peace in south Asia was the possibility of a nuclear war over Kashmir. 

Pakistan's pleas had takers in the seven member SAARC group. Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga welcomed the Lahore declaration in her inaugural speech, describing it as a key development in South Asia. 

She said it was time SAARC ceased to shy away from discussing contentious issues dividing SAARC members. Recalling the Male declaration she said that informal discussions on these issues should take place. 

Armed with such support, the Pakistanis stood their ground, and delayed the finalisation of the standing committee report by a day. Ultimately, through the persuasive skills of the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a compromise was worked out. 

What the foreign ministers did was to mention the Lahore declaration indirectly, in a reciprocal and appreciative gesture. The Lahore declaration had mentioned SAARC and hailed it. So SAARC reciprocated the sentiment by mentioning and hailing the Lahore declaration. India agreed, as the mention did not injure the SAARC charter. Pakistan thought it was good enough. 

Where Pakistan floundered was on the issue of getting SAARC to discuss contentious bilateral issues collectively and formally. The standing committee's report recalled the Male declaration and re-iterated the norm of keeping the discussions on bilateral issues strictly informal. 

But Pakistan was unfazed. Its Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad, said: "Everything has to begin informally to become formal eventually."

Wheel of violence hovers engineering students

By Faraza Farook
Clashing student groups of Sri Lanka's premier engineering university have failed to reach a consensus on the issue of a diploma certificate with one group alleging the other had resorted to violence.

Engineering graduates of the Moratuwa University claimed they had been attacked by National Diploma of Technology students on Thursday.

The engineering students told a meeting organised by the Engineering Faculty Students' Committee at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute on Friday that NDT students were armed with cycle chains and clubs in the University premises to attack them. 

Four Engineering Faculty students who were seriously injured in the attack have been admitted to the Kalubowila and Panadura hospitals.

The clashes between the two groups erupted when the engineering students protested against the issuance of NDT certificates showing no disparity between the engineering course and the technology course.

"The NDT students refuse to accept a certificate that states the level of the course and are demanding a document equivalent to the B.Sc given to the Engineering students," says Dilhan Fernando, a faculty Committee member. 

"We want the university management to indicate the level of the course conducted so that it would differentiate between engineering studies and the NDT course. If the certificate doesn't indicate the level of study, the NDT students can misuse the document pretending that they have received an education equivalent to that of engineering students. 

"NDT students are claiming they are not given a certificate. This is false. The fact is they are refusing to accept a certificate," he said. 

Open University lecturer Cecil Fonseka said the NDT certificate could be mistaken for a post-graduate diploma if the certificate did not specifically state the course of study.

He said NDT students had requested the government to give them Engineering posts which makes their motives obvious.

Asked why the issue wasn't settled when the NDT course was incorporated to the university, a student committee member said they did not see it as a threat because the NDT course was brought in to the university only temporarily. 

W.B. Wickrema, Convenor of the Engineering Faculty Students' Committee alleged NDT students were provoking engineering students for a clash, in the hope that the university would be closed.

Professional engineers who addressed the conference suggested that the NDT course be removed from the university and given to a technical college which is capable of handling this type of studies. 

Indian, Pakistani FMs bring gifts

Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh on Friday presented a gift to his Sri Lankan counterpart Lakshman Kadirgamar at a ceremony held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Singh presented a bronze replica of the 12th Rock Edict of Emperor Asoka of India to Mr. Kadirgamar.

The presentation was made as a gift from the Indian government to commemorate Sri Lanka's 50th anniversary of Independence.

Mr. Kadirgamar said that when the idea of presenting a gift to Sri Lanka to mark the 50th year of Independence came up two years ago, it was decided that the gift should be connected with Buddhism as it is 'the most significant and memorable tie between the two countries'.

The choice of the 12th Rock Edict was made as it deals with international relations.

Mr. Singh said the replica would serve as a reminder of the message of peace and non-violence of the great monarch, and testify to the close ties India and Sri Lanka have always shared.

Mr. Kadirgamar accepted the gift saying it was an 'auspicious and happy augury for the continuance of the excellent relations that our two countries are privileged to enjoy'.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz presented a carpet to Mr. Kadirgamar.

Diamonds boomerang

A leading jewellery export firm's case against a man in a cheating case went against it when the Fort Magistrate ordered the company to pay Rs. 50,000 as compensation to the man.

The case had been brought against Phillip Gibson on the charge that he had allegedly cheated Blue Diamonds (Pvt) Ltd. to the tune of Rs. 20,000.

The Magistrate however dismissed the prosecution case on the basis that the evidence was frivolous and baseless and ordered the company to pay compensation of Rs. 50,000 to Mr. Gibson who was represented by Maithri Gooneratne.

New bank's share issue lures many

The share issue of the Nations Trust Bank which was opened on Friday received a tremendous response, being oversubscribed by more than five times.

The total value of applications for shares at the time of closing was Rs.1.2 billion, far above the target of Rs. 234 million.

The issue of 19.5 million shares at Rs. 12 per share received 7500 applications.

The sponsors of the share issue are John Keells Holdings, Central Finance and the IFC of the World Bank.

Chairman of John Keells Group, Ken Balendra said it augurs well for the future, that such over subscription could take place in a weak market.

'It indicates an appetite for good shares at the right price', Mr. Balendra said.

Rights petition filed by aggrieved ASPs

By. Susitha R. Fernando
The Supreme Court granted leave to proceed in the fundamental rights petition filed by 21 ASPs challenging their non-promotion to the rank of Superintendent of Police.

The Bench which comprised Chief Justice G.P.S. de Silva and Justices Priyantha Perera and Dr. Shirani A. Bandaranayake also made order staying the implementation of a Cabinet decision which required interviews for promotion until the final determination of this application. 

The petitioners cited ministers, the Defence Secretary, the IGP, the Public Service Commission and the Attorney General.

The petitioners stated that the scheme of recruitment and promotion at the time the petitioners were promoted to the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police stipulated a period of eight years satisfactory service as the only condition for promotion to the next higher grade, that of Superintendent of Police Grade II.

Assistant Superintendents of Police were never required to appear before an interview board to be selected for promotion. There was no need for an Interview Board since they have a right to be promoted on completion of eight years satisfactory service. This procedure was adopted in order to ensure the impartiality and independence of the officers.

The petitioners stated that this is the first time in the 125 year history of the Police Department that the viva-voce test was held for the selection of ASPs for promotion to the rank of SP, Grade II. Hitherto, all such promotions were effected on completion of a stipulated period of service. 

The petitioners also complained that the Cabinet has recently granted approval to reduce the period of service from eight years to five years for an ASP to be promoted as SP.

D.P. Kumarasinghe, PC, who appeared in support of the petition submitted that the Cabinet decision was arbitrary, unresonable and unjustifiable as the petitioners who had over ten years of service in the rank of ASP would be placed on par with ASPs with five years service, thus causing loss of seniority, etc. 

Court fixed hearing for March 16.

Alleged ragging

Prefects in police net 

By Shane Seneviratne
Two senior prefects of a leading college in Kandy produced themselves before the Police for an investigation on the alleged ragging of two junior prefects in the school premises.

An Year 12 student Kavinda G. Weerasuriya had made a complaint to the Police stating he was receiving treatment at the Gampola Hospital, and he had burst an ear drum after being beaten by senior prefects.

The student said he had been appointed a junior prefect and on a particular day, after school hours, he had been detained until 5.30 in the evening by senior prefects and together with other boys, taken to classrooms and beaten. 

Call for early pay

State sector employees will ask the government to advance their pay day from April 9 to the end of March in view of the Provincial Council elections to be held on April 6.

The main reason for such a request is the anticipated post-election violence and the possibility of a curfew being imposed at a time when many people go Avurudu shopping.

Although every year April salaries are paid early, this year the date is inconvenient as it comes close upon the conclusion of the elections.

General Secretary of the Public Service Trade Union Federation W.H. Piyadasa said they were worried that because of anticipated violence many may not be able to collect their salaries on April 9, which is a Friday.

The deaf can hear

An awareness program for the benefit of families with deaf relatives will be held today at the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) auditorium, Jawatta from 10 am to 12 noon. 

The program will be conducted by Campion Fernando, Finance & Administration Manager (Asia Pacific) of Cochlear Ltd., manufacturer of Nucleus Cochlear implants, Sydney, Australia and Andrew Kendrick, General Manager of International Cochlear Implants Pty Ltd., Singapore.

Further details can be obtained by phoning 738893.

Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

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