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25th July 1999

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UNP to listen to what 500,000 families have to say

Advanced communication exercise starts today

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The UNP will today launch a listening campaign described as an advanced communication exercise to work out a people-friendly manifesto based on the views expressed by some 500,000 families.

The novel exercise will be set in motion by party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe today.

Mr. Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Times that the selected families from all socio-ethnic and religious groups and even those known to be supporting other parties would be given data forms with nine questions on important issues.

He said that based on the result of the survey, the UNP would map out the strategy and priority policies to be implemented when it came to office.

The projects's coordinator Irwin Weerakkody, an advertising expert, said the listening process was an advanced communication exercise and would involve even others besides the 500,000 selected families.

"This is a novel programme of action for a new society in a new millennium. Various organizations, political parties and individuals are all welcome to exchange views with the UNP and contribute to the formulation of its the policy framework," he explained.

Several committees headed by senior MPs to gather and study information on special subjects will also be set up along with some 25 national consultation groups.

They will be expected to generate wide-ranging discussions on policy alternatives.

"This can even go up to national level discussions with other political groups where a collective force could be formed when the national need arises," Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

The programme which will go on till the end of the year also provides for a dialogue between UNP leaders and people at the grassroots.

Crack-down looms over bus strike

By Vimarshini Jayaweera

A private bus owners cooperative union in Colombo is threatening to go on strike from tomorrow if they are not allowed to increase bus fares but Transport Minister A. H. M. Fowzies has warned he would cancel the route licences of the strikers and put 500 state buses on the roads.

A tough Mr. Fowzie told The Sunday Times he wanted the bus operators to improve services befor he agreed to an increase in fares and pledged he would put not just 500 but even 1000 buses in service to help commuters.

Western Province Transport Authority Chairman Wijesiri Soyza also warned that other tough measures would be taken against private bus operators who tried to cripple services and cause problems for commuters.

One private bus operators' union is demanding a fare increase ranging upto 50 percent but another federation has said it would not join any strike from tomorrow.

Police deny blunder in jungle operation

Senior police officers based in the eastern province have their own story about the widely-publicised operation concluded early this month in the Ampara area.

This follows an LTTE attack, and the officers claim that only minor errors occurred due to failure in the communication sets.

The Sunday Times learns that a senior police officer based in the area had submitted a report on the combing-out operation which was carried out to track down the LTTE cadres after they killed a van driver and three others and also burnt two vehicles along the Bibile-Ampara road on July 5.

The operation was carried out by 350 police personnel including 14 women constables beginning on July 7. They were divided into 17 groups led by an IP or SI.

Contrary to reports that the police party was stranded in the jungle in the night, the officers claimed that a few teams involved in the operation had to stay overnight as the operation had not been completed.

The following morning only one team had not reported to the destination.

According to the police, the particular group had been wrongly guided by an Air Force helicopter to take a route along a stream which had led them back into the jungle, but later on they were airlifted by the same helicopter to their destination.

The police party had denied that they had sought any air support or any other assistance from other security forces.

The police also claim that no foodstuffs or water was dropped for them by air and they were carrying sufficient food and water.

However minor errors had occurred due to the failure of the communication sets. During the operation, communication with the base had ceased, but communication with the other teams involved in the operation continued and they were guided with the help of a compass and map.

An area of 60 square kilometers had been combed during the operation and one LTTE camp had been observed in the area.

Committee okays docs' main demand

By Faraza Farook

A high-powered committee appointed to probe and settle the main issue in the recent medical crisis is to recommend that the powers of appointments, transfers and disciplinary controls be retained with the central government, a committee member said.

He said the Committee had however, not discussed the legal aspects of these controversial issue over which the GMOA last month struck work for more than two weeks and crippled health services all over the country. The GMOA wants administrative powers to be with the central government though one provincial chief minister has gone to courts, insisting that such powers should be with the provinces.

The Committee member said they would meet again tomorrow and Thursday in a bid to meet their one month deadline for recommendations.

Meanwhile, representatives of the GMOA and other health sector trade unions met President Kumaratunga on Wednesday to discuss controversial proposals made by the health task force. Union leaders said the president had assured there would be no privatisation of public health services.

Call to probe Mannar rape

Thirty human rights and women's organisations have called on the government to carry out an investigation into the alleged rape and murder of a young woman in Mannar.

The organisations in a letter to President Kumaratunga, has stated that the tragedy of Juda Kamalita, a 21-year-old in Mannar on July 12 is yet another incidence of rape, sexual violence and murder.

The groups have called on the President to hold an impartial investigation. They also called on the government to ensure that armed forces personnel and police do not act as if they are above the law.

The letter states that the Mannar Magistrate had ordered the body to be exhumed for further investigation. At an identification parade held the family members had been able to identify two Army personnel.

It is reported that on July 12 two armed men in black masks had come into the home, tied and locked up the family members and raped Kamalita.

War expert Mark dies pleading for dialogue

Wing Commander Mark Seneviratne, an expert in anti-guerrilla and psychological warfare passed away on Friday night, repeating his plea for the war to end and for a dialogue to begin.

Wing Commander Seneviratne had served the Sri Lanka Air Force for 22 years after he was initially trained in Jersey, Isle of Man in the United Kingdom and passed out as a pilot officer.

He has trained hundreds of young men, both officers and other ranks and had the reputation of being a strict and stern disciplinarian giving and demanding a high standard of dedication, commitment and loyalty to the country and the force.

After his retirement in 1980 he worked in travel and tourism but volunteered to return to service again after the civil war broke out in 1983.

Wing Commander Seneviratne was attached to the National Armed Reserve (NAR) as Commandant from 1984 to 1987, training officers and men in counter-guerrilla warfare in which he was an expert.

From 1990 to 1995 he served with the Joint Operations Command and the Defence Ministry mainly in the area of psy-war, of which he also had an expert knowledge. From 1995 he worked as a security consultant and contributed of his knowledge and experience of the ongoing war to several newspapers both local and foreign.

He was a regular contributor to The Sunday Times also.

He was a member of an international peace making programme (USA).

He leaves behind his wife, Maureen and step-sons, Shane and Kevin Balthazaar and four grand-children Stefan, Warren, Natasha and Jayani.

Editors hail call for repeal of archaic laws

The Editors' Guild of Sri Lanka has hailed signatories to a parliamentary motion in an all-party effort to repeal archaic laws that impede media freedom in Sri Lanka and introduce a freedom of information act.

The motion signed by both the government and opposition MPs was placed in the Order Book, calling for the repeal of laws relating to criminal defamation, the repeal of the Press Council Law as it exists today, and for the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act. The Guild in a statement said it has been campaigning for some time against archaic laws in our country. "We thank most sincerely those signatories from both the Government and Opposition who have sponsored this motion and calls upon all democratic minded MPs to support the motion during the debate in the House," it said.

The Guild also calls upon the Parliamentary Select Committee headed by the Media Minister not to delay moves to introduce legislation governing the media, bringing the country in line with modern liberal democracies. The Guild says that being mindful of its own responsibilities that go together with demands for greater liberalisation of draconian media-related laws in this country, steps are being taken to establish a Press Complaints Commission that would act as a body receiving public complaints against the media.

Ranil seeks debate

Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has called for a parliamentary debate on the need for a Freedom of Information Act.

At the party leader's meeting on July 22, Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake representing the government, said he had no objections in agreeing to a debate but he would have to discuss the matter in the cabinet.

Mr. Wickremesinghe in a letter to Speaker K. B. Ratnayake said the UNP wanted the debate on August 6.

World press freedom groups call for joint effort

The International Centre Against Censorship, well known as the Article XIX group, and the Commonwealth Press Union have jointly urged the government and the opposition to work together to end censorship and repeal repressive media laws.

The call was made in a statement issued in support of a parliamentary motion which calls for urgent reform of the country's media laws.

Andrew Puddephatt of Article XIX and Lindsay Ross of the CPU, in the statement identify censorship as a principal cause of the ethnic conflict and division in Sri Lanka.

"Successive governments, including the People's Alliance today and previous United National Party governments have kept tight control over the media and have prevented freedom of debate about the country's problems and how they might be resolved. All too often, partisan politics have been given precedence over the public interest," they say.

The two press freedom groups have applauded the call by MPs for the repeal of criminal defamation laws, under which several editors and journalists are being prosecuted and face possible prison sentences, and for the introduction of a freedom of information act.

"These changes, and others which were proposed by the government-appointed Goonesekera committee, would greatly enhance media freedom and strengthen democracy in Sri Lanka. But the government must also go further and remove direct censorship of the conflict and divest itself of ownership of Lake House, the main newspaper publishing group," they say.

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