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30th May 1999

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pic 01
Unruffled by the intermittent downpour, thousands 
of Buddhists from all over the country came to the 
Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya yesterday to observe sil. 
Pic by J. Weerasekera
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Europe not happy with Jaffna rehab

By Iqbal Athas

European Union Member States in Sri Lanka have expressed "disappointment" over the Government not taking the "required lead" in relief and rehabilitation projects in the Jaffna peninsula and charged that it is only "supplementing activities of the international donor community."

Germany which currently presides over the European Union Member States (EU-MS), has through its Colombo embassy placed its concerns in a Note Verbale to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Such a note connotes a verbal representation but a prepared text of issues raised, has been obtained by The Sunday Times.

The Note Verbale observes that EU-Member States represented in Sri Lanka and the Delegation of the European Commission to Sri Lanka are jointly by far "the biggest donor of relief and rehabilitation projects in the Jaffna peninsula. 

The aim of the EU-MS and the European Community assistance, the Note Verbale points out, is to contribute to consolidating the economic and social basis for peace. 

"It reflects the confidence of donors that peace will return to Sri Lanka and that their efforts will help to make that peace a lasting one," the Note Verbale points out. 

It adds "it is this political dimension which made donors accept the risk of initiating relief and rehabilitation projects during on-going military operations without the usual technical and financial counterpart contributions from the Government."

"As a consequence of the lack of regular, safe and adequate transport facilities to and from Jaffna," the Note Verbale says, "costs for foreign expertise has risen by 450% and overhead costs by 30 per cent it is inevitable that this will effect the level of rehabilitation activities. Moreover, some donors are unlikely to be able to implement 'nation-wide' programmes and projects in the North and East under these circumstances."

Other points made in the Note Verbale:

* The situation seriously compromises the delivery of relief and rehabilitation assistance, and will inevitably have an impact on the ability of EU-MS and the EC to deliver other bilateral programmes in the North and East. EU-MS strongly fear that in time only UN activities will remain available. It is therefore under consideration to raise this matter at the next UNDP/World Bank Development Forum on Sri Lanka. 

* Current relief and rehabilitation work has been mainly hindered by the lack of adequate transport, both for people and material to and from Jaffna. Constraints have increased since the end of September. 

* EU-MS and EC have noticed with sincere regret that since the meeting of the enlarged group of donor representatives with Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on December 11, 1998, no progress has been achieved towards improved access for relief and rehabilitation work to Jaffna and that the conditions for rehabilitation of and humanitarian access to the North and East have not become more substantial. The EU-MS had expected further signs of commitment by the Government to the relief and rehabilitation process. 

European Union Member States represented in Sri Lanka are Germany, France, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, The Netherlands and Britain.

The Note Verbale comes a time when there was an increase in Tiger guerrilla infiltration into the Jaffna peninsula. 

The move led to the presence of pistol gangs and other groups who stepped up attacks on security forces and on members of other non militant organisations. Early this week, an Army officer who regularly visited a communications centre to make phone calls to his home in a city suburb was gunned down.

For the first time since the re-capture of the Jaffna peninsula in December, 1995, Tiger guerrillas have launched what military officials say is fore-runner to a civil disobedience campaign. They have "decreed" that government offices remain shut on Tuesday and Fridays.

Senior military officials met high ranking government officials in the peninsula to advise them not to stop work. Many are said to have produced letters addressed to them by the LTTE and expressed fears they would be killed if they defied the "decree." Further measures to counter the LTTE campaign are now being formulated by the security forces.

Politics utter rubbish, says Ranatunga

From Rangi Akbar in London

Reports that Sri Lanka's crestfallen cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunga would enter politics and contest the upcoming elections on the UNP ticket have been dismissed as "utter rubbish."

The captain's brother Dhammika Ranatunga, chief executive of the cricket board, told The Sunday Times he could say with the full authority of his brother that such reports in local newspapers were baseless and intended to create trouble. 

"My brother is not interested in politics. He wants to be a coach when he retires. These papers are simply trying to cause trouble," he said.

He was referring to a report in a local weekly that Arjuna had held talks with UNP MP Anura Bandaranaike with the aim of coming into politics. 

Phone bills up but night calls down

New telephone charges for Sri Lanka Telecom subscribers will come into effect from Tuesday.

Accordingly for those who consume more than 500 units, call charges will increase from Rs. 1.65 to Rs. 2.25 a minute. Businesses will face an additional burden of rental being increased from Rs. 180 to Rs. 300.

Meanwhile, calls taken from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. will be given at a concessionary rate. For these late night calls, consumers who use less than 200 units will be charged 12 cents a minute while 200-500 units will be 20 cents a minute and those who use more than 500 units will be charged 25 cents a minute.

During this concessionary time, nine seconds are considered one unit. 

New Army procedures

Die now, pay later

An almost two year long effort by the Sri Lanka Army to procure 3,000 pieces of Body Armour has ended up in a fiasco again. 

A British supplier who won the tender after a long drawn controversial process shipped the consignment to Colombo last month. Two weeks ago, Army experts carried out tests on eight randomly selected pieces. Three failed the test. That means one in nearly three was defective. 

Army officials have refused to accept the consignment if the supplier does not fulfil fresh conditions. Main among them is a "guarantee". 

What is this "guarantee"? In the event of "an injury to a soldier due to the failure of Body Armour" that compensation will be paid by the supplier. 

Body Armour is worn by ordinary foot-soldiers as protection against fire from automatic weapons.

See Situation Report o for details. 

Move to stop cabinet news stirs protest

By M. Ismeth and Ayesha R. Rafiq

Angry or embarrassed over regular news leaks from the cabinet, President Kumaratunga has ordered the setting up of a top level committee to urgently study ways of plugging the leaks.

But the move has run into a storm with the Free Media Movement calling on all journalists and civic rights groups to rally together in resisting what it sees as an attempt to muzzle the freedom of information and expression.

Justice Minister G.L. Peiris yesterday confirmed that a three member committee had been appointed to examine the provisions of the 1953 Official Secrets Act and other regulations to prevent publication of cabinet news. 

Minister Peiris told The Sunday Times the committee headed by Justice Ministry Secretary M.S. Jayasinghe, would include Media Ministry Secretary K. C. Logesweran and Deputy Solicitor General Palitha Fernando. The committee had been given two weeks to examine the provisions of the Act and other regulations and report back to the Cabinet, he said.

Attorney General Sarath Silva told The Sunday Times that the committee would look into ways of enforcing the Official Secrets Act, but he believed it would not impede the freedom of the media to expose acts of corruption and the like. 

Former Information Minister Tyronne Fernando said taking cover behind Official Secrets regulations was considered to be both draconian and obsolete in the modern era. He regretted that the PA which spoke a lot about transparency was now seeking a veil of secrecy. 

Former media secretary and UNP MP Sarath Amunugama said that enforcing the Official Secrets Act would not be necessary if ministers adhered to the basic principle of Cabinet secrecy.

The Free Media Movement (FMM) in a statement called on media groups, and the public to be alert against what it saw as an attempt to suppress the freedom of information. 

It said the PA had pledged to bring a freedom of information act and scrap the Official Secret Act but now it appeared to be going the other way. 

Justice by the mob: judges protest

By our Legal Corr.

More than 50 judges of the district, magistrates and primary courts have called on President Kumaratunga to provide adequate security for judges to act independently following the storming of the Ratnapura Magistrate's Court by a mob of upto 300.

Members of the Judicial Services Association also mandated a special commission to take what they called 'whatever action' after reviewing the situation in the event the government failed to heed their request.

The judges have also called for the immediate arrest of those responsible for the mob attack and urged the Minister of Justice to discuss this issue with the President and impress upon government politicians not to permit this conduct, which the Association believes is a continuation of a series of attacks on the judiciary. The mob attack occurred after Ratnapura Magistrate W. Nambuwasam remanded the Chairman of the Nivitigala Pradeshiya Sabha in a case of attempted murder by shooting. The mob, alleged to be the PS chairman's supporters had stormed the courts and threatened the magistrate with death. Later they had held a procession outside the Court House protesting against the suspects being remanded. 

Police officers had reportedly taken cover in the canteen during the stormy procession. The JSA has asked that those police officers be charged with dereliction of duty and cowardice. 

The JSA has also decided to write to the Judicial Services Commission, President of the Court of Appeal and the Bar Association to look into the matter, and sought additional security for the Magistrate from police officers selected by him.

Chief Justice G.P.S. de Silva has noticed the DIG Sabaragamuwa to present himself at the office of the JSC on Wednesday for a discussion and to apprise the commission of action being taken against the police officers. 

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