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3rd October 1999
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Two elderly persons with shot guns in Maha Oya in the 
Ampara district.
Pic by M.A. Pushpa Kumara
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Ampara villagers still in jaws of death

No adequate security even after Gonagala attack 

Nilika de Silva and Faraza Farook reporting from Ampara
Villagers in the Ampara district are living in anguish day and night fearing that terrorists would strike again and again with no indication of the government moving into provide them with adequate security.

Despite strong assurances that immediate steps would be taken to protect the villages after the massacre at Gonagala in Ampara, the security situation remains almost as bleak two weeks later.

Over thousand refugees including women and children who sought refuge at the Uhana Primary school following the LTTE massacre at Gonagala are refusing to return to their homes until an army camp is established in the area.

Despite repeated requests by the police and security forces to return to their homes, these villagers from Suhandagama South, Suhandagama North and Sanghanandapura have remained adamant in their demand for adequate security before they return.

A visit around the villages vulnerable to LTTE attacks revealed that security in a border village is left in the hands of just a few untrained homeguards who are not able to operate even the shotguns given to them.

The massacre at Gonagala a fortnight ago was a direct result of the inadequate security provided to the most vulnerable areas exposed to the LTTE.

However, a senior police officer at Uhana claimed that sufficient security had been provided to the villages, but on the contrary the security situation had not changed.

"Unless a permanent security solution is reached, the villagers will gradually leave these areas," Ven. Ransegoda Mettasiri Thera of the Gonagala temple said. He said often security was withdrawn when incidents were forgotten, exposing the villagers once again to LTTE threats.

Security personnel based in the area said the National Intelligence Bureau had said the terrorists were creating fear in the people to gain access to other villages and their objective was to chase the villagers to expand their domain.

Meanwhile, schools have been interrupted following the series of incidents in these areas. At Uhana refugee camp alone there were more than 300 school children who are not attending schools.

Although the villagers were receiving adequate food and medical care, while at the refugee camps, they were unanimous that they wished to go back to their homes. But with the present level of security they just could not think of going back.

"Security personnel are asking us to return home. But this is like sending us into the jaws of death," a farmer said. 

EPDP offers hug if SLMC pulls rug

By M. Ismeth
EPDP leader Douglas Devananda has stepped in to back the government in the event Minister and SLMC leader M.H.M. Ashraff withdraws his support to the government over the dispute with Education Minister Richard Pathirana.

Mr. Devananda told The Sunday Times the EPDP would support the government from outside in the event Mr. Ashraff's party which holds seven seats in Parliament an equal number held by the EPDP stops supporting the PA.

Mr. Devananda said he did not feel that the SLMC's withdrawal would affect the government.

The EPDP leader's comments came in the wake of Mr. Ashraff call for President Chandrika Kumaratunga or a senior government leader to officially retract the comments made by Minister Pathirana in the Parliament lobby recently.

Mr. Pathirana recently criticised Mr. Ashraff and the SLMC saying that the government could continue without their support and that the PA government could have been formed in 1994 even without the support of the SLMC.

The Sunday Times learns that Mr. Pathirana is adamant against any retraction of his remarks. He is currently on a visit to Britain and is due only next week.

Mr. Devananda said he also believed that Tamil parties including Minister S. Thondaman's CWC, would also support the government.

The EPDP recently ended a boycott of parliamentary sessions after the government agreed to certain demands, including the increase of food supplies to the north.

Mr. Ashraff has repeatedly accused the EPDP of discriminating against Muslims by not providing the decentralised budget funds to SLMC's Jaffna district Parliamentarian, M.M. Illiyas. 

"The allegation of Dr. Illiyas that the decentralised money was not given to him is not correct, as todate we have disbursed Rs 2 million to the displaced Jaffna Muslims in Puttalam from the decentralised funds," Mr. Devananda said.

He said the EPDP had reservations about giving more funds to Dr. Illiyas because there were allegations that the money was not being properly used.

Clamour to serve in gold mine

By Frederica Jansz
The government is considering restricting the service period at the Customs Department for a maximum of three years amidst several requests from public servants to serve in that vital money-making department.

The Sunday Times learns that the Customs Department has been among the top priority list for public servants, but they have not been able to enter the department as it is a closed service.

One of the main reasons for the high demand to work in the Customs has been the additional benefits which officers there are entitled to when detections are made.

Meanwhile, Customs Chief S. M. J. Senaratne has been promoted to the post of secretary to the Ministry of Media, Posts and Telecommunications.

Mr. Senaratne said no particular reason was given for this move, except that his promotion was due, being the senior most civil servant.

Mr. Senaratne said W.D.Lakshman Perera, Controller of Immigration and Emigration, was tipped to take over as Customs Chief.

FMM calls for support

The Free Media Movement has appealed to all Parliamentarians to support the motion on media law reforms during the debate on Friday.

In a media release, the FMM says: "Freedom of Speech and of the Media is a fundamental requirement in a democratic society. The media have to play an independent and responsible role in disseminating information without fear or favour, on issues of public interest. It has been acknowledged that media laws in the country are in need of reformation. A Government Committee headed by R.K.W. Goonesekera called for changes in the law in keeping with international obligations imposed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Ranil to go ahead with media debate

The parliamentary debate on a motion calling for progressive and liberal media law reforms, will take place on Friday. 

This followed a meeting Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, the chief proponent of the all-party motion, had with Speaker K.B. Ratnayake last Thursday. 

The debate on Friday was earlier agreed by the Government on August 6, but the then Attorney General Sarath N. Silva when solicited by Government for his advice, said such a debate could be sub-judice. 

The Sunday Times learns that the Opposition Leader has informed the Speaker that pending criminal defamation cases there are cases against five editors will not be raised during the debate.

The Speaker is reported to have suggested that the Parliamentary Select Committee on Media Law reform chaired by Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera be given time to conclude its deliberations. But it is now learnt, that Mr. Wickremesinghe will go ahead with the motion on Friday.

Minister Samaraweera has now promised to give its recommendations by the end of this year, and introduce new laws by January next year.

The private member motion signed by members of the UNP, ULF, PLOTE, TULF, EPDP, CWC, TELO and LSSP's Vasudeva Nanayakkara has the support of other PA constituent Parties and Ministers.

The motion urges the Government to abolish existing criminal defamation laws, codify laws on sub-judice and contempt of court, replace the Press Council, and introduce a modern Freedom of Information Act. 

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