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19th September 1999

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Peace talks likely in Northern Ireland

A business community leader who has been negotiating with the PA and the UNP to find a solution to the ethnic conflict is likely to make informal contacts with the LTTE on a mission to Northern Ireland next month, The Sunday Times learns.

Ceylinco Group chief Lalith Kotelawala, who heads the National Committee for Peace and Economic Development is scheduled to attend an international conference arranged by a Northern Ireland university with invited delegates including representatives of groups associated with the LTTE.

Four representatives have been invited from Sri Lanka. Besides, Mr. Kotelawala, a retired army officer, a Tamil businessman and another Tamil national based in United States and having close links with the government have been invited for the conference. The LTTE is likely to nominate its representatives within two weeks. The ongoing ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka is expected to figure prominently at the conference where provisions also have been made for personal dialogue on the sidelines.

Mr. Kotelawala was not available for comment. But during several rounds of talks with PA and UNP delegations, it was suggested that the if two major parties reached a consensus, it could be taken to the LTTE by the leaders of the business community. In a related development Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on a recent visit to London met a top official of Britain's Foreign and Commonwelath Office. The official under secretary Peter Heynes assured Britian's full support for a political solution to end Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict while Mr. Wickremsinghe outlined UNP's alterantive proposals based on a needs-based devolution of power to the provinces.

Torture still going on in Sri Lanka, says AI

By S. S. Selvanayagam

Amnesty International has expressed dismay that the members of the Tamil community in Colombo are at risk of arbitrary arrest and detention while torture has, for years, been one of the most widespread human rights violations in Sri Lanka.

It reported that Sri Ram, Anthonipillai Binoth Vimalraj and Sivagnanasunderam Sri Kanthan have been severely tortured in police custody in Colombo and all three may be in urgent need of medical attention.

Sri Ram, a final year student at the Open University was arrested on August 25 at Kotahena reportedly in connection with the killing of Dr Neelan Tiruchelvam. He has been severely assaulted by the Mirihana police, it is alleged

Vimalraj, originally from Mannar, was arrested on August 24 and during interrogation at Kotahena police station, he was allegedly beaten all over his body and had pins inserted under his fingernails and had an iron rod inserted into his anus.

Sri Kanthan of Kodikamam, Jaffna was arrested in August at Wellawatte and is detained at the CDB headquarters in Colombo. Relatives who were allowed to visit him a month after his arrest say his face was swollen and he had difficulty walking and appeared to have fever. Other sources claimed he had been hung by a rope and beaten all over his body, the AI reported.

They also claimed that they had obtained testimonies from victims of torture, and medical certificates corroborating these testimonies.

The prevalence of torture is also revealed in Supreme Court judgments awarding compensation to victims of torture and in recent reports from government inquiry commissions. The Commission to Inquire into Unlawful Arrests and Harassment recorded 47 complaints of torture between July and December 1998, it added.

Backbenchers want more

By Shelani de Silva

Eighteen PA back- benchers have requested an appointment with President Kumaratunga urgently to demand extra allocation for them to provide more jobs and other hand-outs in view of upcoming elections.

In a letter to the President the group has asked for an appointment, complaining that they had not been able to meet her for more than two months. They also point out that despite the president assuring an early appointment after she cancelled a meeting with them two weeks ago, the group is yet to meet her.

Parliamentarian Nandasena Herath told The Sunday Times it was important to get an appointment to discuss the issues specially with an election around the corner.

The backbenchers are to request the President to increase funds allocated to each MP for development work in the electorate, to create more jobs and to abandon moves to close the Paddy Marketing Board.

At present an MP receives Rs. 2.5 million a year for development work. But the backbenchers are asking for an increase of about 75 percent. Another demand by the backbenchers is to provide 100 job opportunities to each parliamentarian. The group feels these matters are vital with an early election due soon.

"There are plenty of vacancies in certain government institutions. Unemployment is one of the main problems in the rural areas. We cannot let down the people," he said.

Crime is low in Jaffna; fewer men

By Leon Berenger

Despite the high presence of security forces and police personnel in the battle-scarred northern city of Jaffna, the peninsula is nonetheless, not without its own domestic crime as recent statistics show.

Although serious crime such as murder, rape, abduction and highway robbery has been contained to the minimum when compared with other areas of the country, the law enforcement agencies however are called upon to deal with various other offences, such as cattle theft.

Officials believe that the chief contributing factor that helps keep the crime rate in check is the low male population in Jaffna.

While most males have left the peninsula for greener pastures in the south of the country and overseas, a large number have perished in the war, Jaffna's Police Chief Senior Superintendent Nimal Mediwake said.

One encouraging factor is that the murder rate of civilians had dropped significantly from 100 in 1998 to 60 for the current year. There were just three cases of rape reported last year and seven in 1999, according to statistics.

The most common crime, according to the figures made available to The Sunday Times, appears to be theft and house breaking, although there has been a decline of this offence during the first ten months of the current year.


Diplomats visit mass graves

Two foreign diplomats and a representative of another embassy in Colombo visited the Chemmani grave site as excavations in the area by Friday unearthed 15 skeletal remains, reports from Jaffna said.

French Ambassador Elizabeth Dahan and the Swedish embassy's Second Secretary Stina Karitun visited the grave sites along with Pathmini Rajadurai of the US embassy political section.

On Friday one more skeleton was unearthed.

Meanwhile Jaffna's Additional Magistrate Elancheliyan has ordered that convict Somaratne Rajapakse be brought to the grave site again as they have not been able to excavate skeletal remains from the sites pointed out by him.

All skeletons had been found at sites away from what Rajapakse had pointed out.

Kalutara detainess fast, call for trial

By S.S.Selvanayagam

Scores of Tamil detainees in the Kalutara prison are on a fast to death from Tuesday, demanding cases against them be expedited, sources said.

They said the condition of three of the inmates was serious but so far no senior prison official had visited to them to hear their grievance. A human rights lawyer looking after the interest of the detainees said indictment had been served on some of them but the cases were not yet completed while no cases had been filed against other detainess.

PLOTE's Haribabu held for conspiracy

The Deputy leader of PLOTE's military wing, Haribabu, has been arrested for allegedly conspiring to kill warring leaders of the groups.

He was reportedly summoned to the Army headquarters in Wanni and then arrested by the CID.

Detectives are on the trail of more suspected conspirators who are believed to have planned to get rid of PLOTE's political wing leader D.Siddharthan and others.

The simmering rift between the military wing and political wing of the former militant group triggered when its military wing leader N.Manikkadasan was slain in a blast recently.

Meanwhile, Security Forces raided the PLOTE office at Iraimpaikulam on Friday noon and recovered a cache of weapons, reports said.

Millennium OPD block for the National hospital

By Faraza Farook

The Ministry of Health has appointed a committee to oversee a project to refurbish the Out patients Department (OPD) of the Colombo National Hospital, into an Ambulatory Care Centre, to expedite work in the department.

The foundation for the 'Millennium Block' project will be laid before year 2000 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2001.

The OPD would be refurbished on funds collected by the National Hospital Development Fund (NHDF). The Committee would be headed by the Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Health.

Director of the National Hospital Terrence de Silva said the refurbishment is aimed at improving the present system by providing additional features and improved services.

The present OPD has a general OPD section, clinics, an emergency treatment unit with six beds, drug counters to supply drugs to about 4000 patients daily and an admission counter which is in operation 24 hours a day admitting around 600 patients daily.

A brochure stated the deficiencies in the present OPD.

The lack of facilities for screening, observation and out-door investigation before admission has resulted in patients who do not require admission being admitted. This has contributed to the overcrowding of wards and wastage of time.

The OPD is unable to cater to emergencies due to this congestion.

Day care and day surgery will also be introduced considering the need for quick treatment and the value of time. Clinic facilities too are to be improved.

It has also been planned to provide the patient with adequate information with early diagnosis and treatment, with the new project being implemented.

Government responsible for Ranagosa debacle-UNP

The UNP has charged that the so-called military strategists who launched the "Ranagosa V" operation have quietly left the shores leaving nobody to accept responsibility for the disastrous offensive which killed 80 soldiers and wounded more tha 700.

General Secretary Gamini Atukorale told a media conference that in addition to the number of lives lost and those permanently maimed, they would curse the strategists behind the operation who were guided not by military but by political strategies.

"The government must explain for whose benefit the particular offensive was launched and accept responsibility for the waste of human lives in this manner. With the operation becoming a disaster, there was no President who is also the commander in chief, Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, JOC chief Rohan Daluwatte, the three service commanders or any others willing to accept the blame" he said.

He also noted that none of the reports of the probes on the Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi debacles was presented in Parliament for debate, in keeping with the government practice of shirking duties and responsibilities.

Mr. Atukorale said there was intense speculation about the killing of Satana editor Rohana Kumara and called on the police to arrest the suspects immediately.

New building blocked by heartless lengthy red tape

Frequent changes suggested for the new building which is to be the Cardiothoracic Unit of the National Hospital have resulted in the construction dragging on from 1992, officials said.

The construction of the building which has been given to a private contractor by the Ministry of Health, has been badly planned, he said.

"For instance, the operating theatre which should be free from frequent public movement, has an elevator close to it.

Therefore, the relocation of the elevator or the theatre is essential," the official said.

Another factor is the air conditioning. Instead of central airconditioning, the contractors have installed a different system.

Usually the contractor is given particulars such as the number of wards, theatres, clinics etc. required and details such as where the lift shaft should be positioned, is decided by the contractor, accordingly.

But in this instance, due to changes made from time to time, the consultants have identified erroneous construction that needs to be corrected.

Red tape has also contributed to the delay in getting the approval for changes.

"This being a government project it is a lengthy procedure if changes are to be made. The whole thing has to go through the tender board," he said.

He also said that once tendered, they are unable to effect changes because it would cost a lot.

Apart from poor construction, the hospital is also faced with a shortage of staff. Even if the construction of the building is completed, the Cardiothoracic Unit will find it difficult to function as the required nursing staff is not available.

The saddest thing about this whole issue is that thousands of patients suffering from cardiac ailments are awaiting their turn for surgery, but due to the long delay, they are dying.

Ashraff's mission 2012: unity in diversity

By Roshan Peiris

Often derided by his opponents as a communalist, Minister and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader M. H. M. Ashraff is one of the most misunderstood politicians. Dismissing charges of communalism thrown at him by some members of his own community and also from communal elements from other quarters, Mr. Ashraff has now formed a new political party which aims at creating a united Sri Lanka by 2012. Registered as National Unity Alliance, the new party is not only his brainchild but also his cherished political dream, he said in an interview with The Sunday Times. Excerpts:

Q: Is the National Unity Alliance a political party?

A: Yes. The Election Commissioner registered it as a political party on August 23.

Q: What motivated you to form this alliance?

A: We want to introduce a new political culture. Everyone is glibly talking about national unity but nobody knows how to bring it about. Many people feel that if the ethnic problem is solved national unity will come. I don't agree. The NUA will focus on fundamental problems that block the emergence of national unity.

Q: What are those?

A: Our political system keeps people permanently disunited. A system based on Westminster model has divided the people more and more. The Westminster model cannot function without an institutionalised opposition. So the division between the people has also become institutionalised. The main concern of the opposition party in Sri Lanka is to formulate strategies to defeat the government. When the ruling party becomes the oppsoition party, it does the same. As a result our Parliament has become devalued. MPs no longer debate issues objectively. On the other hand today parliament has become a place where we continually wash dirty linen of others.

MPs cannot act according to their conscience. Invariably all the good ideas of the government are being scoffed at without reason. Equally the government is seldom in a mood to listen to constructive criticism from the opposition. Thus parliamentary debate itself has lost its purpose. One is expected to take a decision at the end of a debate whereas in our country we begin the debate after taking a decision.

I have been in Parliament for ten years and have analysed the causes for this and come to the conclusion that the reason for the destructive role played by the opposition is pure frustration. Executive powers as such are shared under the present system only by the ruling party MPs. In other words the opposition members are put into refrigeration for that term of parliament. Allegiance to political parties has almost become like a rule of religion. Instead of making political parties our servants we have become servants of political parties. Therefore the NUA is advocating a new democracy.

Q: Does this mean, the NUA version of democracy has no opposition party?

A: Yes. I advocate this through the NUA.

Q: There won't be any debate, give and take and spice in this whole operation in your new system. Don't you think so?

A: I agree that the opposition gives spice to parliamentary debate. The question is at what cost have we enjoyed this spice?. We do not want this spice at the cost of national unity or at the cost of a bloody war. We should not be unmindful of the hatred, acrimony and jealousy that this spice has brought upon the people.

Q: Who is in the NUA?

A: NUA will serve as an umbrella to accommodate all communities and all shades of political opinion.

Q: Who are the leaders?

A: Even before the NUA was recognised as a political party, it had begun to spread its roots. We have more than 10,000 dedicated members. Several trade unions have also joined us. We are enrolling members who are genuine and willing to make sacrifices to realise the vision of the NUA by 2012.

Q: Why 2012?

A: Because we want to plant NUA concepts in the minds of young people. Those who are six years and above today will become the voters in 2012. If a sustained effort is made from now onwards, we could with the blessings of God have a united Sri Lanka. By that time we will hopefully have a new democracy without an opposition.

Q: Will the NUA contest the Presidential elections as a party or support one of the two major parties?

A: Right now the NUA is in alliance with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Sri Lanka Progressive Front. We believe many other political parties, organisations and individuals may join our party before the Presidential elections. At the time of the Presidential elections we will decide on whom to support. This does not prevent us from fielding our own candidate. Our support for any major party will depend on how these parties will support certain demands which if implemented will hasten the process of national unity and integration.

Q: What are these demands?

A: One of the main causes of the national disunity is the deplorable lack of communication among the people. Except for the elite in all communities who know English there is a vast communication gap among our people. Although we have had Sinhala as the official language for 40 years, we have not started teaching Sinhala to Tamil students. And although Tamil is also an official language for the past ten years Sinhala students are not taught Tamil.

The NUA will insist that Sinhala and Tamil students learn common subjects such as English, Tamil, Sinhala, Sports and Aesthetic studies together in one calssroom.

The NUA will insist on teaching English to every student since English is a global language and the language of science and technology. This will give Sri Lankans a total personality because in our view a person with only one language is only one third of a citizen and a person conversant in two languages is two thirds of a person. To be a complete citizen a person must know all three languages.

Q: Who are the leaders of the NUA?

A: We have kept the key positions vacant. We don't want to declare somebody as a leader at present. Then there will be suspicion in the minds of the membership. Once we have identified the right persons who have concern for human suffering and the plight of our nation, we will gladly hand over NUA to these people.

Q: What is the NUA symbol?

A: The descending pigeon which is a symbol of peace. But if it is an ascending pigeon it may seem that peace is taken away from us. A descending pigeon will instil peace in the minds of every citizen Insha Allah.

Q: Do you think NUA will help solve the ethnic problem?

A: By 2012, I believe the ethnic problem would have died a natural death on account of the understanding and respect people are going to have for each other.

Q: What is you role in this whole thing? Is this is your brain child?

A: Yes it is not only my brainchild but one of my cherished dreams as well.

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