10th October 1999

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More harassment greets maids at BIA

When police earlier this week busted a six-member gang allegedly behind a spate of robberies, harassment and even rape of female workers returning from West Asia, they had only touched the tip of a major problem at the country's international airport at Katunayake.

Police acting on information raided a sleazy lodge in Dambulla and arrested the gang of six, along with four female Middle East returnees who had been tricked into staying the night at the lodge.

Police were later to learn that the gang was an outfit operating at the Bandaranaike International Airport who had offered the four unsuspecting female workers a ride to their destinations at a reduced fare.

The women were residents of far-off places such as Polonnaruwa and Nilaveli in the Trincomalee district.

Two women told police they were sexually assaulted by two members of the gang and also persuaded to give some cash and valuables, including jewellery.

The modus operandi of these gangs are rather simple, says Police Chief for the Central Province DIG Sirisena Herath.

First the victims are persuaded to hitch a ride on the vehicle provided by the gang for a reduced fare. Some of the younger operatives are known to switch on their charm and even go to the extent of saying that their long dead ancestors were in fact from the same village from where the women come from.

Soon a healthy conversation develops between the two groups, and the victims' confidence is soon won, he says.

Sometime during the ride, especially if dusk is around the corner, fake mechanical problems develop in the vehicle and the women are persuaded to put up the night at a nearby hotel.

It is here that everything takes place. A relationship that began with consent turns into a nightmare for the women as the so-called good Samaritans turn into vicious attackers. In some cases the victims are robbed and dropped at a lonely wayside place, even before they could reach a hotel, Mr. Herath said.

"These acts are committed by outsiders who gain access to the airport area with the help of corrupt law enforcement officials" a spokesman for the registered Transport Association at the airport said.

"Whenever reports of such incidents surface in the media it reflects badly on us. The people and the public in general must be made aware of the real culprits who continue to have a field day as long as they are protected," the spokesman who did not want to be named said.

The worsening situation at the airport prompted President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to order a security shake-up and now things have improved claims the Vice Chairman for Airport and Aviation Services, Maurice Fernando.

"The situation is now 90 per cent under control after the Civil Aviation security took charge of crowd and vehicle control. The police who were in charge of these duties were removed two weeks ago and are now confined only to the guard post", he said. This task was not properly carried out earlier, he added.

There are between a dozen to 15 officers on duty at all times of the day. In addition repeated announcements are made over loud speakers warning passengers against touts and other unauthorised persons in the area, he said.

He said there are also plans to request airlines to make a safety announcement to their passengers regarding the transport procedures shortly before landing.

Mr. Fernando would not be drawn in to comment as to who was responsible for allowing these persons to gain entry into the area, but added that some officers were not doing their job well enough.

Most of the victims are illiterate women from the outstations who are completely ignorant of procedures at the airport and easily fall prey to these shady operatives, the Working Director for the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) Upali Weerasinghe said.

The Bureau apart from taking other precautionary methods has also provided a special coach service for the returnees who are mainly from distant villages, he said.

In some cases women who had faced harassment during their overseas assignment return to the country centless and are stranded at the airport. These persons are later picked up by the Bureau's officers and provided shelter at a welfare centre in Seeduwa until a solution could be found to their problem, he said.

CJ responds to allegations

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

Chief Justice Sarath Silva has given his observations on the allegations of moral turpitude made against him by Ravaya Editor Victor Ivan to Supreme Court Justice Ameer Ismail, The Sunday Times learns.

Justice Ismail is expected to submit a report on the inquiry within two weeks, after calling for any other relevant documents arising from the CJ's observations.

The report is then expected to be submitted to the next senior most Supreme Court Judge Mark Fernando, who will submit it to another Supreme Court judge for observations.

Justice Shirani Bandaranayake who is looking into another complaint also alleging that the CJ is guilty of moral turpitude, from a petitioner who had cited the then Attorney General as a co-respondent in his divorce case, is also said to have received the records of the divorce case from the District Court.

Meanwhile dissident parliamentarian Vasudeva Nanayakkara said he would request all MPs to sign a motion questioning the Chief Justice's appointment and seeking to impeach him.

Mr. Nanayakkara said that the motion would not be calling for an impeachment but if signed by the required number of 75 parliamentarians, it could lead to impeachment proceedings. He said the motion would mean that parliamentarians would have to make a commitment and make clear their stance on the matter instead of hedging.

Mr. Nanayakkara said the motion would deal with the integrity and conduct of the Chief Justice and the standards required of the judiciary. He said the CJ needed to clarify charges relating to suppression of information, influencing the conduct of another judge and the subversion of justice.

The complaints against the present Chief Justice were made more than one and a half months ago to the then Chief Justice G.P.S. de Silva.

Mr. Ivan is accusing Mr. Silva of suppressing evidence in a case where Magistrate Lenin Ratnayake, said to be a relative of Justice Silva, was facing allegations of rape and misappropriation of funds.

Residents resist the 'Vice of America'

By Chris Kamalendran & Shane Seneviratne

The villagers felt suspicious that something harmful was being dumped in the backyard of the temple. After all, people were told to vacate the area before the waste was dumped and to keep away from the area.

This is how the villagers of Thaniwellagama, off Madampe close to the Voice of America Station (VOA) relay station in Iranawila began to feel suspicious that some thing dangerous was being disposed of at the site.

Mr. WeerakoonW.M.S.N. Weerakoon, 34, a businessman who resides close to the area where the suspected toxic waste material was being dumped had witnessed how the preparations to dump the waste were being made.

"It is usual that whenever waste material from the VOA is brought to the site, the people visit the area to collect some of the waste matter like planks, nails, nuts and bolts, sheeting and polythene. But on September 9 it was a different story," he said.

"At this site, behind the Thinipitiya Vihara, we saw an earth moving machine parked. When people gathered at the site a foreigner who was there told the people to vacate the area. Thereafter the digging of a massive pit took place. After the digging was completed the foreigner wearing a mask and an apron mixed a chemical and started spraying the area.

"The following day 10 container-loads of waste were brought one after the other, and dumped into the massive pit. Soon after that the foreigner started spraying the pit with another chemical and after it was covered with earth he again sprayed it with a chemical," Mr. Weerakoon said.

The waste was being dumped under an agreement reached with the chief monk of the temple.

Two days later at least 12 pet dogs living around the temple had died and later four cows which had drunk water from a location close to the pit had died.

People in the area have begun to feel the side effects of the suspected chemical waste disposed.

A.M. Ariyasena, 48, a grama niladhari living close to the site where the waste was dumped said several people in the area were complaining of throat irritation, swelling of joints, tearing and other complications.

In the centre of the controversy is the chief monk of the temple who had granted permission to dig pits in the temple land and allow the disposal of the waste.

"The VOA has been dumping the waste in the temple premises for the past two years. This is being done by a local agent and whenever they bring waste the villagers were in the habit of collecting material from the dump," chief monkVen. Wimalawansa Thera said.Ven. Wimalawansa Thera

He said he was not aware of any harmful matter was being disposed in the backyard of the temple.

He said he had obtained Rs. 30,000 for the dumping of the last 10 container loads.

He admitted that the villagers have begun a protest.

PA Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman, Pradeep Soysa who is leading a strong protest in the area said that he had complained to the Director of the Environmental Authority of the Provincial Council, Saman Senanayaka.

Mr. Senanayaka and PA MP, S.D.R. Jayaratna visited the scene and said that it would be a costly exercise to undertake the digging of the area.

Mr. Senanayaka said that they were unable to confirm whether the waste material was harmful until a proper test was done.

Over 3000 villages are demanding the government carry out a full scale inquiry into the matter and also are demanding the VOA authorities remove the waste matter from the area.

Mannar Bishop tells LTTE

'Don't attack civilians'

Following the recent attacks carried out by the LTTE in Ampara, Mannar Bishop Rayappu Joseph has appealed to the LTTE to stop attacking civilians in vulnerable villages.

A religious delegation including the Bishop, visited the villages in the Medawachchiya area to discuss the security of the people.

Bishop Joseph told The Sunday Times the LTTE was urged to desist from attacking the villages after the civilians expressed fear of possible attacks on them.

"The people are scared after the recent attacks in Amparai, They know that they are vulnerable to a similar attack. There is little guarantee of security for these people. We requested the people to form committees to safeguard the village," the Bishop said.

It was highlighted last week that the Government has not yet stepped up security for the vulnerable villages despite the Gonagala attack.

The delegation which met people from all the vulnerable villages had assured them that all support would be extended to them. The delegation had made arrangements for priests and monks to visit the people in their areas regularly.

Although the LTTE has not replied to the Bishops' appeal the delegation strongly feels that they will abide by the appeal.

"We communicated with the LTTE as we thought it was essential after meeting with the civilians. We are not expecting a reply but only hope that there will be no more attacks," he said. The delegation has also informed the Government forces to be extra careful when retaliating to an attack.

Media motion moves at last

After weeks of feet dragging and delaying tactics by the government, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday moved an all-party motion in parliament calling for progressive and liberal media law reforms, and proposed to be taken up for debate on December 13.

The motion among other things proposes the repeal of criminal defamation laws, and certain sections of the Press Council Law that the Press Council be replaced, the laws of sub-judice and contempt of court be codified and an Access to Information Act be passed.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said the resolution was not a law but a motion whereby members of both sides of the House defined media freedom in Sri Lanka in the light of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The motion was seconded by LSSP MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara.

(Please also see -Media-)

PA backbenchers gunning for Vasu

By Shelani de Silva

Government backbenchers have written to Parliamentary Affairs Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle requesting that Parliamentarian Vasudeva Nanayakkara be removed from the Government because they feel he is acting contrary to People's Alliance policies.

The letter which has been signed by more than 15 members was sent to Minister Fernandopulle after Mr. Nanayakkara decided to move a motion against the newly elected Chief Justice.

Backbencher Thilak Bandara Mahalekam told The Sunday Times that the members decided to call for his removal after Mr. Nanayakkara came out against government's policy on many issues.

Mr. Fernandopulle said that he would take up the matter with the hierarchy.

However Mr. Nanayakkara said he would not stop expressing his views against Government policy.

"I was not officially informed of any move to remove me from the government but I did get to know about it. For the first time I voted against the emergency on Thursday. It is something I wanted to do for a long time," he said.


Rare ray of unity lights up House at Diyawanna

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Corespondent

Rare is it to see even a temporary truce in parliamentary debates, especially when debating the extension of the emergency with members hell bent on trading insults. In this sense, the house by the Diyawanna on Thursday was almost exemplary with PA members turning a veritable mine- field into an arena for conciliatory speeches.

The verbal guns fell silent- with most PA members lobbying for a bipartisan approach to resolve the ethnic conflict, while the UNP, unenviably thrust to the opposition benches seized the opportunity to rub in the fact that the UNP's support was vital in curbing terrorism.

And the tears and fears of Gonagala became real, with members lavish with their sympathies and proposing remedies to counter such attacks.

And the PA's cup was full to the brim- what with the government conducting backstage brokering with dissident SLMCers, Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle refusing to explain a saucy remark he made on Sanath Gunethileke, and Minister Mahinda Rajapakse slipping out of the country despite warnings.

If the political milieu of the PA left much to be desired so was its cup of misery with repeated military debacles and few explanations. And Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe thought it fit to turn the tables on the PA on Thursday morning by scoffing at the PA for 'gloating over bloated victories'.

" Foolhardy comments that the UNP handed the North on a platter to the LTTE have boomeranged on you. Today, you have made the East more vulnerable with increasing threats to villages, a fact clearly established by the Gonagala massacre," he charged.

He said the gaping security lapses were due to stretching the forces to maximum. Military operations were conducted according to a political agenda. Before elections, it was necessary for the PA to stage an eyewash and Ranagosa 5 was launched for political reasons he charged.

He claimed that the operation was launched although the ground command had warned that it would be an impossible military feat.

Commenting on the aerial bombing in Padikudurippu, he said Padikudurippu was situated outside operational areas and there should be explanations as to why it was bombed.

Minister Ratwatte hit back recollecting an instance where the ICRC blamed the Airforce for bombing the Navali church in Jaffna. "It was a bluff. Similarly, these charges could also be mere LTTE propaganda," he countered.

At this point, an errant Mano Wijeratne waving a map in the minister's face claimed that according to Defence Ministry reports, the bombed area was under government control, so why bomb it at all, he queried. And up jumped the minister who thundered that Mr. Wijeratne required geography lessons, to which Mr. Wijeratne said it would take more than that to rectify the damage caused by false reports!

This whole episode obviously ruffled PA feathers. New entrant H.R. Mithrapala known to be a specialist in the art of putting both his feet firmly in the mouth come up some foxy arguments about foreign intervention in the ethnic conflict.

Paying glowing tributes to Minister Kadiragarmar's stance on UN intervention, he pointed out that the UN did not possess a flawless record as peace keepers as it was studded with human rights violations. Hence it was best to work out modalities among us, he said.

The provincial lawyer in his usual UNP bashing mood then launched a zealous attack on the Opposition- and on what he saw as a lack of coherent UNP foreign policy.

"Here was a party, which had forfeited its right to represent the people by forcing the IPKF on the people. Even today, the UNP hangs on to Liam Fox's tail and calls for foreign intervention whereas the President has refused to include foreigners in the peace process, he charged. The UNPers happy to find a deviation, jumped to their feet in stoic defence of the Fox initiative which they claimed was binding on both the government and the opposition.

But the UNPs Anura Bandaranaike decided to steal the show as usual with his brilliant thrust and parry.

Mr. Bandaranaike, after months of conspicuous absence tore Mithrapala's speech to smithereens saying he placed his faith on an impartial mediator.

Recalling his opposition days when demo after demo had to be organized in protest against the IPKF's presence here, he reminded the SLFPers of teargas attacks and assaults by his current friends in the UNP.

The SLFP had then represented the masses by opposing the IPKF's presence here, whereas the SLMP led by Vijaya Kumaratunga and wife Chandrika did all in their power to justify the IPKF presence by assisting President Jayewardene, he charged.

Beaming at Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte and insisting on calling him 'my dear uncle' Mr. Bandaranaike was in his element as he observed that the war was unwinnable and Jaffna ungovernable.

"You are doing your best militarily, barring your mad predictions" he said, flashing a mischievous grin. By way of illustration, he noted that none of the Northern Pradeshiya Sabhas were functional with mayors being repeatedly killed and others living in perpetual fear of the LTTE.

"The LTTE was able to strike anywhere, anyone, at any time. It was their decision whereas we have miserably failed to protect the people. So there was no light at the end of the tunnel, only pitch darkness. In this scenario, it didn't help to have a smartly attired foreign minister rejecting offers to help the conflict," he charged.

Comparing the government's efforts to arm villagers, to shutting stable doors after the horses have bolted, he scoffed saying these were people who couldn't even handle water pistols, leave alone genuine guns.

"Given the present scenario and the unwinnable situation which the Sri Lankan Army and the IPKF together couldn't control years ago, Kadirgarmar has caused irreparable damage to the foreign policy of the land by rejecting help and earning the wrath of the European press.

"People weren't selling 'Chandrika bangles' anymore, the fad when people harboured the hope of peace is no more. Peace proposals were in cold storage while suicide bombers were wreaking havoc on the community. And it was useless talking to other Tamil parties in the absence of the LTTE- a bit like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.

And yes, the PA had blundered brilliantly. Had Shakespeare been alive, he would have definitely written a sequel to "The Comedy of Errors" in dedication to the PA!," he thundered.

Defending Mr. Kadiragarmar in full measure was Dixon J. Perera who held that internal matters were best settled internally by the involved parties.

"The minister represented the sentiments of the people when he refused UN assistance "he noted, embellishing his remarks with examples from various countries where UN troops have been deployed. Instead of looking Westwards every time, the best option was to form an all party committee to achieve peace. "Foxes may hunt, but rabbits should be mindful"he said.

Next was new deputy minister of Transport H.M. Weerasinghe who gave graphic details of the Gonagala massacre warning that people should not try to gain political mileage at a time of a national crisis.

"Aranthalawa broke our hearts, and Gonagala drove home the point that unless we adopt a common approach, there would be no way out."

Revealing the true nature of Sri Lankan politics the UNPs R.A. Sirisena couldn't resist the opportunity to rub in the fact that the PA extended olive branches to the UNP only when it was unable 'to lay certain eggs', like the political package.

With dissension growing within PA ranks, Mr. Sirisena called first on the constituent members to rally together and then work together with the UNP to give the country a better deal.

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