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20th June 1999

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Capturing the elusive peace: Maha Kumbabishekam
of the Sri Ponnambalavaneshvarar Temple, Kotahena has
started. As part of the observations Sooryagni
Sangrahanam - lighting of the yaga flames using the
sun rays - was held yesterday. The yagam is done
to bring peace and prosperity to the country.
A large group of Indian priests have come
here for this ceremony.
Pic. by Lakshman Gunathilleke.
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Health Ministry calls on retired medical officers to help tackle crisis

Dentists give teeth to docs' strike

By Faraza Farook

Government last night sought the assistance of retired doctors to overcome the crisis in public hospitals as the dental surgeons also joined the continuing indefinite trade union action by doctors.

The striking Government Medical Officers' Association members reported to their work places, but defied the emergency regulations and kept away from attending to their duties for the third consecutive day as the authorities were placed in a tight position unable to take action against the doctors.

Tens of thousands of patients went through another agonising day yesterday with OPDs and clinics paralysed and all but emergency operations put off while the GMOA stuck to its demand that all top appointments to provincial health services must be handled by the Central government and not by the provincial administration.

The Government Dental Surgeons Association which staged a token strike yesterday, later decided to continue the strike in support of the GMOA's demands, its spokesman Dr. Nalin Jayathilaka said.

Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said last night he had no powers to take any action against the doctors on strike. "The Attorney General and the police should take action against them for continuing the strike despite it being declared an essential service," he said.

The minister said the GMOA had a moral duty to maintain emergency services and he hoped they would not fail in it.

But GMOA President Dr Ananda Samarasekera said they would stop providing even emergency services if the government provoked them by resorting to rough tactics.

Minister de Silva claimed that 80 percent of the doctors who were on strike had returned to work after the government declared health an essential service last Thursday.

But a GMOA sources said that although doctors were reporting to work they were not carrying out their duties and this amounted to a strike.

In a statement last night, the Health Ministry reiterated the leave for all medical officers stood cancelled under the essential services order.

It said that in a move to reduce the suffering caused to thousands of patients, the Ministry had sought the assistance of retired doctors to serve in clinics to be held outside hospitals.

Retired doctors who wished to serve again have been requested to contact the Secretary to the Ministry as soon as possible.

The Health Ministry also said it had Registered Medical Officers and municipal medical officers to attend to patients at OPD clinics.

The CMC's chief medical officer, Dr Tissa Senevirathne, said only those who were not members of the GMOA could be sent for these emergency work.

He said the Health Ministry was also setting up special medical centres which would operate from tomorrow at Darley Road, Deans Road, Campbell Park and other places.

Dr. K.M. Zahir, President of the Society of Registered and Assistant Medical Officers (SRAMO), said their members were attending to clinic or OPD work and doing the ward rounds in some public hospitals.

Dr. Zahir said the GMOA's demands for central government control over top medical appointments in the provinces were not justifiable.

Health Ministry Secretary C. Abeygunewardena said hospital authorities had been told to make arrangements for RMOs, AMOs and Municipal medial officers to work in the OPDs and clinics.

They will however not handle emergency cases which government doctors had promised to look after despite the strike.

GMOA President, however, warned yesterday that they would withdraw even emergency services if the government used provocative or rough tactics.

He said their demand for central control over provincial medical posts was in the long-term interest of patients who would suffer if top posts were given to unsuitable persons on political ground.

Dr. Samarasekera said the GMOA would call off the strike if the health minister gave a written undertaking that an earlier cabinet decision on central control over provincial medical posts would be implemented.

The GMOA president said Minister de Silva had earlier agreed to favourably consider the GMOA's demand but some of his advisors had apparently blocked any agreement.

Cricket crisis spills over to ICC

By Annesly Fereira

The crisis which has thrown the Sri Lanka Cricket Board into legal and political turmoil for the past three months, has spilled over to international levels with a dispute over who will represent the country at the annual meeting of the world cricket ruling body in London on Wednesday.

An interim committee appointed by the government to administer the Cricket Board has sent one of its members S. Skandakumar to represent Sri Lanka at the annual meeting of the International Cricket Council.

But The Sunday Times learns that over the weekend someone in the Cricket Board has allegedly sent a fax to the ICC saying Mr. Skandakumar has no right to represent the Sri Lanka Cricket Board.

According to reports from London last night Mr. Skandakumar was invited to an ICC dinner for delegates attending the meeting but he did not attend because of uncertainty over his position at next Wednesday's meeting.

Meanwhile Thilanga Sumathipala who was debarred by a court order from carrying out his functions as Cricket Board president is expected to file a petition in the Court of Appeal tomorrow, challenging the injunction issued against him by the District Court. Mr. Sumathipala is also likely to seek an interim go ahead from the Court of Appeal for him to attend the ICC meeting in London. Observers said that if Mr. Sumathipala produced a court order in his favour the ICC would be in a dilemma as to who should be allowed to represent Sri Lanka at the meeting.

The Cricket Board's Chief Executive Officer Dhammika Ranatunga, who was not included in the restraining order of the court, is also reported to be in London to attend the ICC meeting. Adding to the legal muddle eight members of the Cricket Board Executive Committee who were not restrained by the District Court order have filed another case challenging the government's appointment of a five member interim committee for cricket administration.

The eight non restrained members say they are still elected members of the Cricket Board executive committee and in that context they believe the appointment of another committee was illegal, especially because the Cricket Board had not been dissolved.

On Friday, the ICC's chief Executive, Dave Richard sent a fax to the Sri Lanka Board's Chief Executive Dhammika Ranatunga saying the world body would need a direction from a Sri Lankan court as to who should represent the country at the ICC meeting.

He said different parties were making different claims and since the whole case was now before courts, any comment or move by the ICC could be subjudice unless there was a clear directive from the court.

With cricket in turmoil after the World Cup disaster, and a continuing uproar over the fate of supersprinter Susanthika Jayasinghe, the UNP is moving a motion of no-confidence against Sports Minister S. B. Dissanayake.

The motion, handed over to the Secretary General of Parliament accuses Mr. Dissanayake of ill-conduct and mismanagement of sports.

The motion alleges that the conduct, management style and interference by the minister in sports bodies has led to a serious deterioration of standards, especially in cricket, while one of Sri Lanka's greatest athletes has been driven away and may be forced to run under a foreign flag.

Grave report next month

By Chris Kamalendran

The report on the findings of the Chemmani grave excavations is due to be handed over to the Magistrate on July 15 as the first phase ended on Friday with the positive identification of two skeletons unearthed from the grave.

The Government will also set up a laboratory in Jaffna to expedite inquiries as forensic medicine experts would regularly need the facilities for testing purposes.

The report on the first phase based on the investigations carried out by the forensic medicine experts, the soil scientist and the Government Analyst, is due to be handed over to Magistrate M. Illanchelian.

The two skeletons unearthed were identified as that of Mahendra Babu (30) of Nallur and Rasiaha Sathis Kumar (29) of Meesalai. Both of them were working in a grage at Ariyalai and had gone missing on August 19, 1996.

In the second phase of the excavation process the forensic science experts are to simultaneously carry out excavations in the grave sites.

Army rejects body armour

The Sri Lanka Army will reject the 3,000 pieces of body armour supplied by a British company on the grounds that random checks had failed quality tests.

The move follows The Sunday Times expose on May 30. The Situation Report revealed how an almost two year long effort by the Army to procure 3,000 pieces of body armour ended in a fiasco.

Army experts carried out tests on eight randomly selected pieces. Three failed the test.

The move earlier prompted Army Headquarters to send a fax to the local agents of the supplier demanding, among other things, a guarantee that compensation would be paid in the event of "an injury to a soldier due to the failure of the body armour." Some senior Army officials vested with the responsibility of procurements had insisted on this condition for the consignment..

However, an embarrassed Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya, has frowned on this unusual demand and has held that such requests could not be made. This is despite unsuccessful efforts by some of the officials involved to have a television station broadcast a report that the consignment would be accepted if a guarantee for compensation is given by the supplier - a move which even the suppliers have dismissed as nonsense.

The British firm has already written to Defence Secretary Chandrananda de Silva that it would take legal action if their product is not accepted. They argue that they had fulfilled all the specifications laid down by the Army and have taken exception to the way in which tests had been carried out.

They allege that findings are unfair and have tainted their company and their products.

They contend that their products are "upto the job required" and conformed to all requirements set out. The firm has also sought the intervention of the British High Commission in Colombo over the matter.

It is immediately not clear what will be the fate of the consignment which is now in an Army depot. Although an Acceptance Certificate is learnt to have been issued, no payment has been made for the consignment.

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