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30th May 1999

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Secret moves to plunder National park

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Environmentalists are protesting against covert moves to amend laws in a manner that could make national parks and reserves vulnerable to predatory financial interests, The Sunday Times learns.

Environmentalists said the move to amend section 6 of the Flora and Fauna Protection Act had come in the wake of plans to clear more than 7,000 acres of teak cultivation in the Lunugamvehera National Park, which is considered an ecologicaly treasure.

Section 6 restricts or prohibits certain activities such as unauthorized entry, clearance, constructions, making of pathways and roads within natural reserves and national parks.

Environmentalists said the amendment was being initiated to allow clearance of forests for the gathering of valuable timber in all probability by the state-run Timber Corporation.

They said no government agency may grant permission for clearance or felling of trees as the cultivation was situated within the protected boundaries of the national park.

The Society for Environmental Education along with other groups have come out strongly against the move to clear the teak cultivation.

They said issues such as those of maintaining adequate elephant fodder, prevention of possible conflicts between man and elephant, soil erosion and alternative modes to rehabilitate and maintain the park had not been addressed by the authorities in their hurry to pass legislation.

The protesters also demanded that a proper evaluation based on an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) be completed before embarking on any project for clearing the teak cover.

They said that if the amendment was carried out, it would pave the way for all types of plundering of natural resources.

GL trial on June 9

Trial in the case filed against Minister G.L. Peiris by a shareholder of Hotel Developers Ltd. for losses caused to the company has been fixed for June 9.

Professor Peiris had earlier made an application to the District Judge of Colombo, asking that the plaint be rejected without the case proceeding to trial.

District Judge W.A. Salam rejected the Minister's application and fixed the case for trial on June 9.

The Minister had also been directed to answer questions on events leading up to the case but filed objections refusing to answer any of the interrogatories. The derivative action was filed by Nihal Amarasekere, a shareholder of the HDL, the owning company of the Colombo Hilton Hotel.

Professor Peiris is being sued on the grounds that he allegedly wrongfully interfered with its contractual arrangements while he was an affected party and that his illegal suspension of the Hilton Settlement Agreement caused HDL to lose around Rs. 55 million by reason of the delay in the implementation of the Agreements concluded by the plaintiff.

Rain and more rain

With heavy rain during the past few days, the Southwest monsoon has set in and will continue for sometime, a weather official said.

For today the forecast is occasional showers accompanied by thunder at times in the Western, Northwestern, Central and Southern provinces.

Strong winds are also expected from the Southwest over the western and Southern areas and seas will be rough.

Bank fills top posts

People's Bank has decided to fill in vacancies or make acting appointments for vacant positions of senior officers to ensure smooth functioning of the services.

The move came after complaints were made that failure to fill in such vacancies was affecting the bank's efficiency.

A spokesman said two such acting appointments were made amid allegations by a bank trade union that irregular promotions were being given.

Death for army deserter

By Sunny Samarasinghe

An army deserter was sentenced to death by the Anuradhapura High Court on Friday for the murder of a 37-year-old sub inspector of the police Special Task Force in 1996.

T. B. S. Dissanayake, 25, was attached to the army camp at Wilpattu National Park and had deserted in October 1996 with an automatic weapon. In November that year, the deserter had gone to the house of Sub Inspector Nadeesara Dissanayake (37), called him out and shot him dead because he believed the policeman had given information about a cooperative store robbery involving the deserter.

Now hotline for HR abuses

By Nilika de Silva

A 24 hour hotline enabling people to gain speedy advice on problems relating to the violation of human rights will be launched tomorrow by the Centre for the Study of Human Rights (CSHR).

"We have a database of the names of lawyers around the country who will appear voluntarily on behalf of victims of human rights violations," said Mr. Mervyn Senanayake, Chief Administrative Officer of the Centre.

A website is also to be launched soon by the CSHR at the Kotmale Community Radio Station to disseminate information relating to human rights. Already a weekly radio programme "Saranath Siyoth Se" (Free as Birds) is broadcast over the National Service and the Kotmale Regional Broadcasting Service.

On Friday a workshop was held incorporating media people to create jingles to carry the message of human rights over the radio, said Sajeevika Weerathunga, Media Communicator.

At Gampola, a multi-media campaign was held to commemorate 50 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with the participation of the Kotmale Community Radio. A workshop, discussions, a street drama and a poster competition were held.

There were several requests from other areas to conduct similar programs. Maha Iluppallama Community Radio is also proposing a similar program to be held in July or August.

The hotline is one of many projects designed by the CSHR to increase awareness of human rights. The telephone nos. are 589118 / 503017 and 072263275 after office hours and on holidays.

The CSHR has held many outreach education programs both at schools and community centres to transmit the message at grassroots level, that human beings have many rights which as yet the people are unaware of. Screening of videos, a tri-monthly newsletter, a vast library of HR related books and other documents, and an internship program, are among the activities of the CSHR.

Each year 70 graduates are given the opportunity to work as interns for six months in various organizations which deal with HR affairs. Many of these graduates will be absorbed into the organisations after their internship period is over.

Nandimitra refuses to budge

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Resignations and the refusal to resign parliamentary or provincial council seats to make way for big wigs to take up top provincial posts have created a political pickle in provinces.

The situation is so confounded in the Central Province where Minister Nandimitra Ekanayake is refusing to resign, saying his brother Sarath Ekanayake was a man of experience and would do a fine job as chief minister.

During the election campaign, Nandimitra Ekanayake had promised he would resign from Parliament and take up the post of Chief Minister.

"There's hardly any difference in having me or my brother who has always played a supportive role to me. He also has political experience. He is equally capable of serving the people and the province," the Minister said.

Political observers say Nandimitra Ekanayake's refusal to resign has dashed the hopes of Bandula S. B. Yalegama to succeed him in parliament. Mr. Yalegama who was elected to the Central Provincial Council resigned to take up the parliamentary seat but was later sworn in again.

While the Central Province continues to be plagued by political uncertainties, Deputy Minister Samaraweera Weerawanni took over the chief miniterial post in the Uva after his wife Nalini stepped down.

PA sources said Minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake and Deputy Minister Athauda Seneviratne are expected to resign their parliamentary seats shortly to assume office as chief ministers of the North Central and Sabara-gamuwa provinces.

Punchi Bandage Dissana-yake from the Anuradhapura district, next in line to be elected to Parliament in place of Minister Dissanayake, has said he will not quit provincial politics. This will pave the way for Janak Mahendra Adhikari to enter parliament.

With Samaraweera Wee-rawanni resigning to take up the Uva's top post, J.W.M.W.L.B. Jayasundara will replace him in Parliament while H.R. Mithrapala from Kegalle will replace Athauda Seneviratne.

What are they trying to flush out?

By Chris Kamalendran

Residents of a highly populated area in Borella are fearing some stinking mess with the provision of a separate sewage line for one particular residence amid allegations of an abortion clinic being set up.

The residents have complained to the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) and the CMC Engineer about moves being made to give this residence a separate sewage line despite a common line being available.

They fear this would also pollute a common well which provides drinking water to the whole area in the event of a water cut.

The residents also allege that an abortion clinic earlier housed elsewhere and catering to a number of West Asian returnees was believed to be moving to this controversial spot.

Acting on the complaint of the residents, Public Health Inspector R. G.Seneviratna visited the area and was due to submit a report to the CMC.

Mr. Seneviratne said that according to normal procedure permission should not have been given for a separate sewage system where there already is a common sewage system to serve the houses on the particular lane.

He said that according to normal procedure the particular resident should have obtained the consent of others to lay a separate sewage line, but in this case no consent had been given by any of the residents.

Residents said they had seen unusually large pipe lines which had been brought to be laid and these were not normally used for a domestic sewage system.

Appeal for peace zone in Madhu

By Shelani de Silva

The religious delegation which visited the North last week, will make an appeal to the Government and the LTTE to make the Madhu church area a peace zone, fearing the church premises will be used by the Army and the LTTE cadres.

The delegation which comprised top Buddhist and Catholic prelates made their second visit to the North bringing medical supplies and other material.

Head of the delegation, Ven. Kamburugamuwe Vajira told The Sunday Times that the LTTE will be informed of the appeal within the course of this week .

'We also hope to meet the President and urge the government to remove the Army immediately. We want both parties to stay away from the church premises and 1 km. away from the boundaries' he said.

Ven. Vajira added that the delegation was unable to meet the LTTE as 'the atmosphere was not conducive for talks'.

'We did convey the message that we were interested in talking but I feel that with the new developments in the Madhu area the response was not positive. This is one reason for us to call for a peace zone. The Bishop of Mannar will relay the appeal to the LTTE', the thera said.

Although the delegation had no meeting with the LTTE, the visit had been successful. Many refugees had received medical attention. with more than 20 doctors in attendance, he said .

The doctors made arrangements for the patients to seek further treatment. School books were also distributed among the children, he said.

Ven Vajira added that arrangements were made to get a list of patients in the uncleared areas who need medical treatment.

'We hope to make another visit by the end of June when the patients in the uncleared areas will be treated. Most probably we will meet the LTTE on this visit. We will always reiterate the need for peace talks," he said.

Bishop of Mannar Rev. Rayappu Joseph told The Sunday Times that the Catholic Church had always made it clear that the church premises should be a peace zone, and that the appeal by the delegation has come at an appropriate moment.

16 new SSPs

Sixteen SPs have been promoted to the rank of Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs), Police Head Quarters announced yesterday.

They are R.K. Dharmaratne, P.A.S Perera, R.S.P Siriwardene , K.D.VS.K. Sumanasekera, J.M.S.W Jayasekera, I .A Jayasinghe, M.K. Sugathadasa, V.A.S.P Nanayakkara, H.M.D. Herath, S Bandula Kumara,S.W.M.T.B Samarakoon,H.P. Kulasekera, A.A Wijesinghe,W.P. Dayaratne, N.B. Wagodepola and R.N. Weerasinghe.

Lunch pickets in hospitals

More than 10,000 minor employees of public hospitals in Colombo will launch a lunch hour picketing campaign from Tuesday in support of their demand for extra overtime payment and other facilities.

The action is being launched by a federation of 15 unions of minor employees, its spokesman Herbert Silva said.

He said they were also seeking permanent status for casual employees and would launch an all-out strike supported by other unions if the Ministry of Health did not respond positively.

LTTE kills Razik, puts Perumal in a spot

A suspected LTTE suicide bomber yesterday killed the leader of the National Auxiliary Force, a breakaway EPRLF group now functioning as a Tamil adjunct to the Sri Lankan army, in Batticaloa.

Ganesha Kumar alias Razik, along with some of his cadres, was getting into a van outside a popular motorcycle garage on the Batti-Trinco road at about 12.30 p.m, when the assassin, a boy on a bicylce, struck.

Police said four persons, including the 35-year-old Razik and the suicide bomber, were killed on the spot, and at least nine others, including some civilians, were injured.

Political observers say the killing is a signal that the Tigers are moving to meet the challenge from the likes of Razik, who fight alongside the Sri Lankan army.

Razik's "Desiya Thunai Padai" (National Auxiliary Force) has been fighting the Tigers as part of the Sri Lankan army in the Batticaloa and Amparai districts. A few days ago, Razik had boasted in a BBC interview, that his outfit had eliminated thirty Tigers for the loss of nine of its own men.

Razik is also closely associated with A. Varatharajaperumal, the EPRLF politburo member and former Chief Minister of North East Province.

Mr. Perumal, who is back here after an eight year exile in India, has been arguing with his partymen for the revival of the EPRLF's armed wing which was disbanded after he left the island in March 1990 along with the withdrawal of the IPKF.

Recently, in a written proposals to President Kumaratunga, Mr. Perumal advocated the recruitment of Tamils to the Sri Lankan army or some other means to associate the Tamils with the army, perhaps the replication of the Razik arrangement.

Razik, was an EPRLF military wing recruit and was trained in Uttar Pradesh in the eighties, when India was training Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Sources in Batticaloa say Razick grew up to be a much respected military leader, admired even by the LTTE.

But he fell out with the EPRLF leadership, after Suresh Premachandran who took over from Mr. Perumal, formally gave up violence and sought the disbanding of the armed wing.

According to Mr. Premachandran, Razik was expelled from the EPRLF, but he continued to consider himself a part of the EPRLF, as was evident in the recent BBC interview.

When Mr. Perumal came back to Sri Lanka early this year, and the existing leaderhship of the EPRLF kept its distance from him, sceptical as it was about his agenda for a comeback, it was Razik who gave him security. The killing of Razik will be a great blow both for Mr. Perumal and the Sri Lankan army, analysts say.

That the LTTE had set its eyes on Mr. Perumal and those of his persuasion was evident a few days ago, when the Tiger's committee for Batticaloa and Amparai district put up posters in Batticaloa deriding him.

The poster showed Mr. Perumal holding a Sri Lankan lion flag in one hand and a military helmet filled with skulls in the other hand. Razik was shown as a sidekick holding a military helmet filled with skulls.

The caption said: "varada Nee Pona Pokkenna, Vanda Varattu Enna", meaning, "Perumal we know how you went and how you came," referring to his escape to India after threatening to declare an independent Eelam and his susbsequent sheepish return, this time allegedly with the support of the Sri Lankan government.

The Tigers could be expected to exploit a popular Tamil revulsion for the EPRLF regime headed by Mr. Perumal, which is remembered for its forcible recruitment to the Tamil National Army, abductions, killings and extortion.

Immediately after the incident, the Batticaloa town was deserted and several Vesak programmes being conducted by the army were called off.

Lanka confident Indo-Pak tension won't escalate

BANGKOK, Saturday (Reuters) - Sri Lanka which presides over the South Asian regional grouping said yesterday it was confident high tension between India and Pakistan in the disputed Kashmir region this week would not escalate further.

Visiting Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar told Reuters there was an "enormous amount of good sense on both sides" that would prevail and they knew how to handle their disputes.

"For those of us who live in the region we are not all that alarmed. We are confident they know how to handle their dispute," he said.

"We feel very confident that they will never allow, particularly now that they are both nuclear-armed, a border problem like this to escalate into something serious," he added.

India and Pakistan are embroiled in their worst direct confrontation in nearly three decades after Indian forces began attacking what they say are Pakistani-backed infiltrators in the Indian side of Kashmir.

Pakistan said it shot down two Indian jets on Thursday and said they had been downed after they violated its air space. Sri Lanka is the current chairman of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which groups India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Maldives.

Mr. Kadirgamar said SAARC conventionally would not comment as a grouping on contentious issues affecting member countries.

"India and Pakistan have been embroiled in conflict for 50 years now. We would certainly wish that the day will come soon... we all hope and pray...when the problem between them will be resolved," Mr. Kadirgamar said.

The Lahore Declaration signed recently between the two countries when the Indian premier Atal Behari Vajpayee went to Pakistan should be the basis for rapprochment between them.

"We believe that it (the declaration) is not a flash in the pan and is a deliberate step boldly taken by both parties to be on the road to rapproachment and peace," Mr. Kadirgamar added.

"I am very optimistic of the outcome of negotiations between India and Pakistan," he said.

Pakistan said on Saturday that its foreign minister would travel to India early next week in an effort to ease tensions in the disputed Kashmir area.

Vesak giant still behind bars

A giant Vesak lantern in the shape of the Sri Dalada Maligawa was made by remand prisoners in Kandy but it could not be taken out of the prison as the makers had misjudged the size.

Last night desperate efforts were being made to remove parts of the ceiling of the remand prison to bail out the lantern. Till then smaller lanterns were hurriedly brought in to the special tent where the outsized giant was to be displayed.

In Kandy, Colombo and other parts of the country, the heavy monsoon rains severely restricted the number of Vesak devotees and sightseers.

The carefully planned Vesak decorations, pandals , lanterns and even bhakthi gee and dansal were badly affected by the rains. In many households where children had built large lanterns, rough winds brought them down, even as they were being put up.

CBK in 'Power 50'

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has been placed 43rd on a 'Power 50' list of Asia's most powerful people based on a survey conducted by the Asiaweek magazine.

Ms. Kumaratunga has been chosen on the basis that she is the most trusted of all the political leaders in the country. Also in her favour are factors such as the army making further gains in the war against the LTTE and the economic growth rates averaging about 5%.

On the negative side, however, the survey acknowledges that her overall approval rating has slipped somewhat and that the government has been criticised by the Central Bank for 'living beyond its means'.

On top of the list is South Korea's prime minister Kim Dae Jung, while the prime ministers of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are also on the list ahead of Ms. Kumaratunga.

Alleged sexual attack on monk

By H.P.P. Perera

An employee of the Nagoda, Kalutara Base hospital has been remanded on charges of engaging in homosexual activity with a fifteen-year-old Samanera who had been admitted to the hospital.

The 39-year-old suspect, a father of two, was produced before the Kalutara Magistrate and remanded till June 7.

Police told courts that the young bhikku had injured his leg and was admitted to the hospital.

Police told court that the alleged offence had been seen by the Nayake thera when he visited the young monk in hospital.

Bank strike killing businesses

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

Small businesses and others are suffering major losses and inconvenience due to the continuing strike by employees of private banks.

National Chamber of Commerce Secretary N. Seneviratne told The Sunday Times that many people had been put to a lot of inconvenience by the strike, and that in some instances cheques were delayed for more than two weeks and such bottlenecks were squeezing lots of small firms out of business.

Douglas Wijesinghe, proprietor of Grip Engineering Pvt. Ltd said their customers were demanding cash payment as cheques were taking too long to be realised.

Importers complaint they were being forced to pay by way of demurrhage charges because of the go-slow inthe banks.

The tea sector was also badly affected by the strike. Many factory owners said they were unable to draw money to pay the small holders and things were made difficult as the borrowing capacity in the tea sector was stretched to the limit.

LTTE help sought

By Feizal Samath

A Sri Lankan group associated with the families of fishermen who are believed to have been abducted by the LTTE has appealed to the rebels to release them.

"We have written to their offices in London, appealing for the release of the fishermen," said Saranapala Silva, general secretary of the United Fishermen's and Fishworkers' Congress (UFFC).

He told the Sunday Times that a fresh appeal was made to the LTTE last week, in a written communication to their Geneva office.

Mr. Silva said at least 80 Sinhalese fishermen, of whom about 35 are believed to be held by the LTTE, are missing since 1997 from Gandara and the nearby fishing village of Devinuwara. But Gandara residents say many more have disappeared at sea since the early 1990s.

Last month, P.H Maduka wrote to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva seeking its assistance in securing the release of her husband and her sister's husband - both fishermen from Trincomalee - from rebel custody.

Niluka's two sisters and their families live in Trincomalee. The ICRC in an April 20 response has asked Maduka to provide any evidence to its Trincomalee office of the two men being held by the rebels so that it could proceed to take up the matter with the LTTE..

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