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26th September 1999

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Volunteers given weapons, but residents leave Ampara villages

By Nilika de Silva

Villagers in the Ampara district have been issued with 2,500 firearms following the massacre of 54 civilians last week but many people are leaving their villages and seeking refuge in schools.

"We have issued weapons to volunteers in areas that face the LTTE threat. We have got reinforcements from other stations as well," Senior Superintenedent D.P.L. Dissanayake said.

He said 250 applications for homeguards had been received, and a crash programme would be held to train these persons. Until then, police personnel got down from other stations would provide security to these villages.

"We will have to depend on the homeguards because they are the only ones who know the terrain," the SSP said. Even when the attack took place, 59 people had been issued with weapons but they did not use them.

However, village officials said the security personnel had not heeded their warnings about attacks. They disregarded the clues given by the people, they said.

These officials said the people were tense in Ampara. Until last week's attack, the people in the town were not affected by the terror, but this time even government officials were leaving their houses and seeking refuge, they said.

"The people who are staying as refugees in the schools, following the attack, have refused to go back to their homes and villages unless adequate security is provided," one official said.

Dr. Deepika Udagama, a member of a Citizens Committee on the Border Villages, said: "The situation is appalling. I was in in Kebithigollewa in the North Central Province and other areas, where there are only homeguards. Whether they can provide sufficient security to the people is the question."

"I object to the term border village," S. L. Gunasekera, a founder member of the Ekiya Sanvidanaya said. "These are endangered villages," he said.

"The accent seems to be on strengthening the security of politicians, not of the civilians of the country," he said. "Now they are taking a travelling circus around the country. Take away security from these tamashas," he said.

The ministers do not need so much security, as the LTTE will guard some of them, he added.

Meanwhile, National Movement Against Terrorism spokesman Champika Ranawaka said the number of civilians killed in the border villages had risen to 3,000 in the 15-year-war, with the numbers forced to leave their homes rising to 90,000.

"In Ampara alone 26 attacks on civilians have resulted in the deaths of 617," Mr. Ranawaka said. "Ethnic cleansing is being carried out and an attempt to destabilise Ampara is being made."

Ampara Government Agent A. H. Wickramaratna told The Sunday Times that following Saturday's gruesome attack another 1,500 people from Gonagala, Dasaya Kolana and Galapitagala had fled their homes and sought refuge in schools in the Ampara district.

Mr. Wickramaratna said compensation was to be paid to the families of persons killed by the LTTE in the attack. He said Rs. 50,000 would be paid in respect of married persons, while Rs. 25,000 would be paid to the next of kin of unmarried persons above the age of 21, and Rs.15,000 to those below the age of 21.

Digamadulla UNP MP Yasendra Bakmeewewa said that during the previous regime on the stretch from Junction 69 in Mahaoya to Chenkaladi there were about ten military camps.

But these camps were dismantled and soldiers sent to the north while homeguards were entrusted with the difficult tast of providing security, he said.

Even on the night of the attack, the homeguards in the village had gone to protect other areas a task they willingly do as they are paid an additional Rs. 1,500 for duty outside the village, the MP said.. A homeguard is paid Rs. 3,000 a month.

The situation in Ampara is so bad that even if someone is critically ill he cannot be taken out of the village because no route is safe.

Till recently there was a police post on one of the three roads even at night and police patrol doing the rounds till morning. But after their three vehicles were taken away, even these measures stopped. The problem is a lack of police officers and vehicles, Mr. Bakmeewewa said.

Six shot dead in car near Nugegoda

Six persons were shot dead inside a car in the Delkanda area off Nugegoda last night, Mirihana Police said.

Police said they believed that the shooting was connected to a dispute between two gangs. The gunmen had opened fire and escaped immediately.

The identity of the victims were not known immediately.

The incident came a day after two persons were killed in a shooting incident at the Maradana Technical College junction.

Foreign Minister on CNN:

Govt. doing its best to achieve peace

Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has said achieving peace in Sri Lanka is elusive at this point, but it does not mean that the government is not bent on doing its best to achieve a negotiated settlement of the problem in due course.

Mr. Kadirgamar responding to questions in a CNN interview on Thursday said the LTTE was at the moment behaving in an absolutely intransigent manner and the recent events did not help at all when they indulged in massacres.

The minister commenting on the business leaders' initiative to broker a peace deal said that it was an attempt by the business community to get the government and the opposition party together to see if there could be an accommodation or understanding with regard to the constitutional amendments to be brought in to facilitate the settlement of the question.

Mr. Kadirgamar explained the differences between the opposition and the government views on finding a solution to the conflict.

'The opposition does not want to change the unitary character of the state whereas the government is making very far reaching proposals for devolution of power from the centre to the regions, which does involved a basic change in the character of the state' , he said.

In response to a question about the Minister's address to the UN General Assembly calling on the world to stop funding the Tamil Tigers and whether it is a big problem, he said:

'Yes, because it is very clear that there isn't a single government in the world that extends any kind of support to the Tamil tigers and they have been declared to be a terrorist organisation by the USA and a number of other western governments are on their trail with regard to curbing fund raising'.

Pro and anti-peace groups intensify their campaigns

By Shelani de Silva

Amidst intense campaigns by pro-peace groups urging the government to pursue peace talks, anti-LTTE groups have also stepped up their campaign calling for the military defeat of the rebel group before starting any dialogue.

Last week the anti-peace groups took to the streets calling on the Government to abandon ideas of dialogue with the LTTE. The groups strongly feel that the Government is being pressurised by foreign parties to start talks with the LTTE.

At a demonstration organised by the National Movement Against Terrorism on Wednesday to protest against the attack on Sinhala villagers in Ampara, the group received support from more than five anti-peace groups.

The anti-peace groups have already begun a campaign to get the public involved.

NMAT spokesperson Champika Ranawake told The Sunday Times that the Government was interested in peace talks because it depended on foreign money. If the government resumed peace talks it had to take the responsibility for any attacks by the LTTE thereafter.

"We know what happened after the last talks. The government did not take any responsibility. Instead they are planning to send the clergy and businessmen for talks.

"All these people have to be responsible if anything goes wrong. The LTTE is waging a psychological war through all this," he said.

Mr. Ranawaka said the people were also coming to understand the government's motive behind such talks.

National Joint Committee Secretary Piyasena Dissanayake said the Government was under pressure from several foreign countries to begin peace talks.

"There are three parties involved in this, the Government, the UNP and the civil society.

"The Government and the UNP are interested in resuming peace talks, while the civil society is also divided - the pro-peace group and the anti-peace group. The NJC believes that the LTTE can be suppressed only by military means," he said.

Dr. Dissanayake charged that the Government was lethargic in pursuing a military solution. Another Sinhala group, the Sinhala Veera Vidahana, is also planning to take its campaign to parliamentarians and diplomats.

Meanwhile, pro-peace groups are determined to carry out the campaign for peace and bring the Government and the LTTE to the negotiating table.

National Alliance for Peace Convener Tissa Vitharana told The Sunday Times the group would not give up or get discouraged by anti-peace protests.

"It is a national problem and we have to deal with it. The Government and the UNP have to come to a consensus and then present it to the LTTE. We cannot ignore the problem. We are willing to even act as mediators to bring the two groups to the negotiating table," he said. Meanwhile, Ven. Kamburugamuwe Vajira Nayaka Thera who headed the peace group to the North a few months ago, told The Sunday Times his group was scheduled to meet President Kumaratunga and urge her to to resume talks.

"It is important the government resumes talks.

Even when we visited the LTTE the last time they showed interest in talks and we have to respond to this," he said.

Society ill-treats mental patients-doctors

By Faraza Farook

With the World Mental Health Day falling on October 10, it is a sorry state to see that many of the mentally ill patients who are curable being denied an equal place in society, Mental Health Director Dr. G. Sankaranarayana said.

While society has accepted and pities leprosy and cancer patients, it does not extend a similar sympathetic hand to mentally ill patients, he said.

"Even some family members refuse to treat or take home the mentally ill patient even after being cured," he said. "Even when these patients are dead, some relatives don't claim the body," Dr. Sankaranarayana said.

The social stigma surrounding these persons must be erased from society and people should begin to treat patients at home just like diabetic or cancer patients, Dr. Sankaranarayna said.

Acting Medical Superintendent Dr. B. Waidyasekera said the hospital received letters from family members, area residents and even politicians requesting them not to discharge these patients.

However he said, the hospital did not accede to these requests because the hospital was facing a problem of overcrowding.

He said, often there were readmissions when the householders were unable to cope with the patient.

Dr. Neil Fernando, Consultant Psychiatrist who explained about 'ageing and mental health' the theme of this year's mental health day said, elders were more prone to suffer psychologically due to factors such as loneliness. The more commonly seen mental illnesses with ageing are depression, delirium, -which is acute confusional stage-and dimentia, the deterioration of brain cells also known as 'brain death'.

Dr. Fernando emphasised the need for more care for the aged which will eventually lead to a healthy ageing.

The Mental Hospital in Angoda will open a Psycho Geriatric Assessment Unit on Mental Health Day for patients over 65 years. At this unit, elderly patients will be treated for one month and then discharged for treatment at home.

The hospital lacks a well-equipped laboratory. Often specimens are sent to Colombo and this impedes speedy treatment, hospital officials said.

Unhealthy trend in health schols

Foreign scholarships offered to the Health Ministry are often denied to the Health Education Bureau officials, sources said, They alleged scholarships and fellowships given annually were often not responded to on time or were given to unqualified officers.

Citing a recent case, they charged that two AIDS Control Coordinators at the Health Education Bureau (HEB) were denied an opportunity to go for a World Bank training programme because top Health Ministry officials bypassed them and named two other officers who were not involved in training activities.

An HEB official said favouritism played a dominant role in selecting persons for the scholarship. On another occasion, a letter of approval sent to the Ministry by the HEB received a response two months later with names of two other officers who were not involved in training programmes being suggested. The response had been received just a week before the the programme in Australia began. The Australian fellowship given under a World Bank scheme went down the drain, as ultimately even the nominees suggested were unable to make it due to the delay on the part of the Ministry.

"This is deliberately done," said the official adding that despite repeated requests the Ministry did not give an opportunity to those who need such training.

The ministry selects or nominates the people for the programmes, therefore there is little chance that those nominated by the HEB were approved, he said. This has been the case throughout, the official said.

Lanka will do what its neighbours do

Sri Lanka may not ratify the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) immediately and is awaiting neighbouring countries to decide on it first.

Sri Lanka failed to ratify the treaty by last Friday and as a result would now remain an observer at the international nuclear disarmament conference from October 6 to 8 in the Australian capital.

'The Sunday Times' learns that with three other SAARC members Bhutan, India and Pakistan are yet to sign the treaty Sri Lanka too has delayed ratifying it.

A foreign ministry spokesman when contacted said one of the reasons for Sri Lanka's delay in ratification was that it was not among the 44 countries whose ratification was considered essential for the CTBT to come into force.

He said, though Sri Lanka signed the treaty on October 24, 1996, no policy decision has yet been taken.

Analysts said the ratification by Sri Lanka, which in May last year backed India's right to conduct nuclear tests, would have had a significant impact on other SAARC countries who are yet to ratify it.

UN Secretary General Koffi Annan and Foreign Ministers of the member states are expected to attend the October conference.

Anura: Not for me, but I'm not too young for it either

Anura Bandaranaike the one time crown prince, heir apparent of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party who stepped into other shoes as leader of the Opposition, but couldn't make it as Prime Minister has rejected any thoughts of the hot seat.

Responding to a call earlier this week from Muslim Congress Leader M. H. M. Ashraff to join the newly formed National United Alliance and contest the Presidential elections as its candidate, Mr. Bandaranaike told The Sunday Times: "At the moment I have no Presidential aspirations whatsoever."

To a second remark by Mr. Ashraff that Mr. Bandaranaike may be 'too young' for the job yet, the 50 year old UNP MP disagreed.

"Dudley Senanayake became Prime Minister at the age of 42. My mother became Prime Minister at the age of 43 and my sister became Prime Minister and President at the age of 49. They were all younger than I am now. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP Presidential candidate is the same age as I am. Bill Clinton, President of the most powerful country in the world, became President at 47 years. Though all these are factually correct, age is not the criteria. What matters is the talent, dedication and acceptance by the people."

UNFPA commends Sri Lanka

By Faraza Farook

Sri Lanka has been commended for making considerable progress in meeting the UN target on quality of reproductive health care, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report stated.

Sri Lanka had made considerable progress to provide high quality, client-centred-integrated services on reproductive health care, the report titled 'The State of the World Population Report, "Six billion : A time for choices'," said. The theme for this year's report based on 'a time for choices' giving options for a better health care, widely emphasised meeting reproductive health needs. The report focussed on the choices made by this generation which will determine the population size in the next millennium.

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