10th October 1999

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Signed, sealed and buried this is the site where more than ten container-loads of possible hazardous material lie buried near the controversial VOA station. Pic by Lakshman Gunatillake


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VOA's poison dump uncovered

Iranawila controversy erupts again

By Chris Kamalendran and Shane Seneviratne

The Voice of America relay station which was set up in Iranawila amidst protest has run into controversy again over the dumping of suspected toxic waste in an area close to a village temple.

The waste matter, including chemicals, has been dumped few metres away from a temple and angry villagers say the health hazards are reaching dangerous proportions not only for people but also dogs and cattle which are reportedly dying due to related causes.

An investigation by The Sunday Times revealed that the waste matter brought in 10 large containers was first dumped early last month in the temple yard under a written agreement with the chief priest. The company disposing the waste had agreed to pay Rs. 3,000 for every container load.

The signatories were Marconi Communications Inc, the company involved in the construction of the VOA project and Ven. Wimalawansa thera, the chief monk of the Thinipiti Viharaya in Madampe.

The agreement says the monk has "consented wholeheartedly and independently to the disposal of" the waste matter in the temple area and also agrees the company will not be liable for any consequences.

But villagers are not taking things lying down. They are protesting against the move and demanding to know what is contained in the waste matter which has been dumped into huge pit 100 feet long, 40 feet wide and six feet deep.

In response to the protest, the monk had obtained a report from the company and given it to the angry villagers.

According to this report, the disposed waste contains small quantities of Arsenic, Barium, Cadmium, Chromium, Lead, Mercury and Selenium.

Villagers claimed they had consulted the Government Analyst's Department and found that though the chemicals were in small quantities, they could be harmful if the process continued.

The Sunday Times learns, the VOA was earlier to ship the waste material to the United States but later decided to dump it here after minimising the contamination level.

The PA-controlled Chilaw Pradeshiya Sabha's Chairman, Pradeep Soysa, who is spearheading the protest campaign said he believed the report did not tell the whole truth.

"VOA has more than 400 acres at its disposal. Why has it gone outside to dispose of the waste? We are having serious doubts about it," he said.

A US embassy spokesman told The Sunday Times the waste matter contained the charred remains from a fire that occurred at the relay station in 1996. He said the non- hazardous waste had been identified and disposed of immediately while possibly hazardous waste was handled according to international standards.

Since the VOA's Iranawila project was proposed in the early 1990s, it has run into a storm of protests by environmental and religious groups led by the Catholic Church and Chilaw's Bishop Frank Marcus Fernando. Several protest rallies were held around the site with demonstrators saying there could be serious environmental hazards. (See related story on P3).

Fort Magistrate interdiction politics or judicial?

The Judicial Service Commission has slapped down four charges against Colombo Fort Magistrate Mervyn Gamini Wijetunge whose interdiction on Friday has triggered off charges in some sections of the legal fraternity that the actions had political overtones.

JSC Secretary A.W.A. Salaam, told The Sunday Times last night the interdiction was a sequel to the Magistrate's "suspicious actions" in respect of two cases pending before him. "The reasons he gave for these actions were found to be unsatisfactory," he said. The interdiction came on the same day Mr. Wijetunge refused an application by the CID to discharge Jayatissa Tennekoon, who turned out to be a state witness in a case connected with the Channel 9 episode.

Mr. Tennekoon's lawyers had told Court that his client's life was in danger and that he could not be produced in Court. He moved that a warrant issued by the Magistrate to arrest him be withdrawn. Magistrate Wijetunge, however, refused the application and wanted the accused produced in Court.

Mr. Wijetunge had been earlier overlooked for promotion and had been superseded by other judges.

It was known that former Chief Justice G.P.S. de Silva had recommended on more than one occasion that he be promoted as a High Court judge.

The four charges brought by the JSC against Mr. Wijetunga are that in March 1999 he had issued a warrant to arrest two persons in contrary to the law; failed to remand an accused who had been produced at his official residence in connection with the same case and taking over two passports of two accused without making a formal legal order also in connection with the same case.

The fourth charge is that in a separate case in August this year Mr. Wijetunga is alleged to have made an order remanding an accused and later made another order allegedly after the intervention of a Court Officer.

Ashraff, Pathi row deepens

By Shelani de Silva

The government preparing for a Presidential election is caught in a dilemma over the dispute between Ministers Richard Pathirana and M.H.M. Ashraff with both taking a tough position on the issue.

Mr. Pathirana has vowed to stand by his original position that the PA can continue without the SLMC's support while the SLMC has decided to take the Pathirana issue to the PA executive committee presided over by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The controversy comes in the wake of pressure from two constituent parties of the PA the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Communist Party demanding that the devolution package be introduced in parliament as soon as possible.

Minister Pathirana told The Sunday Times that he would be meeting President Kumaratunga soon to explain his outburst in Parliament with minister Ashraff, but would not withdraw his comments.

SLMC Secretary Rauf Hakeem told The Sunday Times the party had decided to wait and see whether PA leaders supported or opposed the views of Minister Pathirana that the PA could go on without the SLMC.

The SLMC will decide on its support to the PA after clarifying matters with the PA Executive Committee.

The SLMC took this decision at Thursday's Politburo meeting as the controversy between the two ministers deepened.

Mr. Ashraff told The Sunday Times the SLMC was not calling for an apology from the Government but Mr. Pathirana's remarks should be corrected or clarified by the President or a senior government leader.

Meanwhile the LSSP and the CP have called on the Government to present the political package to parliament to abolish the executive presidency and achieve a political solution to the ongoing ethnic conflict through devolution of power.

The two constituent parties of the Government said the reaction from other political parties as to the two third majority could be determined only after the Government presented the proposals to parliament.

The parties expressed the view that the death of civilians in the recent military operation and the retaliation of the LTTE by massacring Sinhala villagers in Amparai were linked to a backtracking in the peace process.

'There certainly have been earlier misadventures in the operations of the Government security forces. Why was there no reaction of this nature by the LTTE in regard to those events? It is not that the LTTE had no opportunity then to act as they chose. The more credible reason is that at that time there was going on a peace process initiated by the PA Government and it had its bearing both on the actions of the security forces and on the conduct of the LTTE," the statement read.

The parties have expressed their concern by stating that they are perturbed over the course taken by the Government on what was its highly commendable peace package.

'We are aware of the pressure that is exerted on the PA by communalist and other forces to dissuade it from proceeding with the proposed Constitutional Amendment. But to take lead from these forces would disastrously affect the prospect of a political solution to the national question,' the parties claim.

Ranil for NE interim council

Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has suggested the formation of an interim council for the north and east as part of its party proposal to resolve the ethnic conflict.

Mr. Wickremesinghe making the proposal at the Institutional Fund Managers Forum held in Colombo said: "all interested parties have to be given an opportunity within a given time frame to administer the north and east to gain experience before an election."

He said when the UNP formed the next government he would obtain the assistance of the future opposition and hold talks with the LTTE.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said the UNP was of the view that lasting peace requires a political solution, involving all parties concerned, including the LTTE, but added that though military operations would most likely have to continue until there is a meeting of minds, both sides (army and LTTE) could de-escalate their military activities.

"I am prepared and I will implement the Liam Fox initiative. If it is necessary for me to ask the opposition representatives to join the government, I will do so for the sake of peace and development of this country', he said. 'But it has to be an act which is freely decided by the Government and the Opposition and the LTTE and is welcomed by a majority of others.'

Calling for third party facilitation is something that is possible, but does not in any way violate the sovereignty of this country, and is an option which we will have to think of very seriously," he said.


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