5th December 1999
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Monitoring groups sound alarm

Polls campaign taking bitter turn monitoring groups sound alarm

Two independent election monitoring groups yesterday expressed serious concern over the highly personalized tone of the two main candidates contesting the December 21 Presidential elections, and Imageadded that such a campaign was taking the two parties on a course of bitter confrontation.

"This, together with other ugly features of the ongoing campaign such as the type of posters displayed in public places and attacks on party offices can exacerbate party rivalries and endanger the peaceful and orderly conduct of the election," PAFFREL and MFFE warned this week. "Resolute and concerted action at this stage by all those involved in the election can prevent the situation from deteriorating further, and create the conditions that would ensure a free and fair elections," the two groups said in a statement.

PAFFREL and MFFE appealed to all religious leaders and all concerned citizens to take every opportunity to express their strong condemnation of speech and action that violate the basic discipline that is required in a civilized democratic contest.

The two groups also called on all the candidates to conduct their campaign with the dignity and restrain that the national leader demands, as such persons must be judged by the quality of their respective campaigns as well as the political will and the capacity they members and supporters to a code of conduct that ensures a free and fair election.

They also praised the decision taken by the Elections Commissioner to allow the freedom of the media and the removal of cutouts and other illegal displays. "We also welcome the decision to invite a team of international observers and likewise expect that a similar positive decision will be taken in regard to local observers as well," the two groups further stated.

PAFFREL and MFFE also drew attention to the North and East as it is the main focus of the campaign and warned that the Tamil people will lose confidence in the political system if special measures are not taken to prevent malpractices. "If this is allowed it would also hinder the peace process which the two main candidates have pledged to carry forward after the election."

The presence of polling agents is one of the best safeguards against malpractices, and the two monitoring groups urged all the candidates to exercise their right to be represented by polling agents to the fullest extent possible, they further stated.

Meanwhile the Centre For Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) has compiled a total of 307 complaints of election related violence since November 6.

The biggest culprit according to the CMEV findings is the ruling PA who are allegedly responsible for some 149 incidents, or 48 per cent of the total figure, with 82 incidents blamed on the UNP.

The worst affected area is the Central Province with 55 incidents. A total of 48 incidents were reported from the North Western, 42 from Sabaragamuwa, 38 each from the Uva and North Central, 19 from the Southern Province.

Long trudge to cast their vote

By Shelani de Silva
With the Elections Department deciding to cluster polling booths due to security reasons, most voters in the North and East will have to travel a long distance to cast their votes, residents said.

Political parties are making all attempts to woo the voters in the in the North and East but there are doubts as to whether the voters as to whether the voters will cast their vote to the distance.

According to Batticaloa Government Agent S Pathmanathan, 102 of the 314 polling booths in the district will be clustered with 16 polling stations being formed into one. "We are clustering the booths because they are in areas which are exposed to LTTE attacks," he said.

In Vavuniya of the 73 polling stations 21 will be clustered. One polling station will have nine clustered booths, another four polling booths and the third eight polling booths.

In Trincomalee 38 polling stations will be clustered out of a total of 219.

However the question is as to how the voters in the uncleared areas will be able to come to the cleared areas to vote.

An estimated 250,000 voters from the North and East living in the uncleared areas may not be able to cast their votes at the Presidential elections.

Theirty percent of the voters live in the uncleared areas of the Batticaloa District.

There are 11 polling divisions in Jaffna belonging to the uncleared areas with a total of 80% living there.

Vavuniya too has areas which are uncleared. An additional 8000 displaced persons from Jaffna have been registered as voters.


Debate: UNP wants them in one room

The UNP said yesterday it wanted a face -to-face live debate between President Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremasinghe instead of a debate from separate places as suggested by the Press Club.

In a statement the UNP said party leader Wickremasinghe had earlier proposed a face-to-face debate to thrash out vital issue and the party still stood by that position.

The UNP said it felt the debate should be in one room as the people would be a able to watch the reactions directly and the party also believed it should be a one-hour debate with many questions instead of one and a half debate on three main question as proposed by the Press Club.

The UNP has also proposed that all TV stations be allowed to telecast the debate. While President Kumaratunga has not responded directly, the PA Media Watch Group has asked why the Press Club is inviting only the two main candidates and not all 13.

Police still probing

By Leon Berenger
Police investigating a series of attacks on the main opposition UNP and other groups are yet to make any significant findings through their probe, as pre-election violence continued to rise in the capital and elsewhere.

Apart from the fatal Eppawela bombing where two persons have been charged in court, no significant breakthrough has been made in at least two other prominent incidents which occurred earlier this week.

CID investigations into the attacks on the UNP headquarters Sirikotha at Kotte and the office of Ravi Karunanayake in the same area appear to have slipped into limbo, as politicians from across the divide continue to trade charges against each other.

Police say they have questioned a dozen people in the Srikotha incident, mainly eye witnesses, and have traced two vehicles allegedly used in the attack, but apart from that no significant breakthrough has so far been made.

The UNP for their part did not waste time in blaming the attack on government-sponsored goons, and even alleged personnel from the Presidential Security Division (PSD) were also involved.

This charge was immediately denied by the Police Department which blamed sections of the independent media for, 'wilful' misrepresentation aimed at misleading the public. Investigations launched by the CID on a directive from President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga are still in progress, carried out by a special team under the DIG/Western Province (South), Police HQ said in a statement released on Thursday.

A gang, some of them armed with firearms attacked Siri Kotha causing considerable damage to the building, while at the same time threatening the civilian guards who were on duty at that time.

On the eve of Nomination Day the DUNF office of Mr. Ravi Karunanayake at Rajagiriya was also shot up by a group of armed persons and four vehicles parked in the premises were extensively damaged in the shooting.

Here too, the police have conducted the formal procedures of questioning eye witnesses and others, but are yet to make a firm arrest or breakthrough.

The fatal attack at Eppawela, close to a UNP meeting attended by Mr.. Wickremesinghe, is the bloodiest and most serious incident of pre-election violence to occur so far.

The police are on the verge of wrapping up the investigations saying that the chief culprits involved in the attack are now in remand custody. The evidence and the suspects are now before the courts, and we regard the matter almost closed," SP Nandana Munasinghe of the CID told The Sunday Times.

He added that it does not require more than two persons to hurl a grenade, and scoffed at opposition claims that a local government politician in the area was behind the attack. "Such charges are easily made immediately after such an incident, and it becomes more political especially when its election time," Mr. Munasinghe said.

He said the chief suspect in the attack described as an ex-soldier had apparently carried out the attack to prove that he is a strongman in the village. "Apart from that, there appears to be no other motive," he said.

Meanwhile the Police election desks in most parts of the country continued to receive more and more complaints of violence and other irregularities from various parties, with the bulk of them coming from the UNP and JVP.

Latest figures complied by police, puts the number of complaints at 320, most if it reported from Colombo and the suburbs. 

Sinhala groups want priority for refugees, armed forces

By Nilika de Silva 
Organisations working with more than 6,600 refugees in the North and East have made some suggestions to President Kumaratunga which they feel are of importance to the whole country.

The organisations which include Thavalama, Jayagrahanaya, the National Movement Against Terrorism, and the Jathika Sangha Sabha have played a big role in providing care to the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim people in the refugee camps in Welioya and other areas. 

Representatives of these groups who had visited some of the displaced people in the affected areas held a news conference after their visit.

They said they had requested that the Army and other security forces personnel should not be used for providing security to politicians during the forthcoming elections, and that the Army rather than politicians be allowed to run the war.

They had urged that the Army should not be demoralised by the anti-war propaganda, since at a point when it is important to gain public support, this anti-war propaganda was aborting that support.

They had requested that retired service personnel, former officials in the administrative service and other responsible officials be co-opted into a council to help and advice the Security Council, regarding logistics, financial aspects, procurement of weapons etc. as this would cut down unnecessary and irregular expenditure on weapons.

The final point in the letter was that no talks should be held with the Tigers. "It is totally unsuitable to talk with them at this point in time. Can we allow an underworld leader, a thug and an IRC to own a piece of our land?" Dr. Anula Wijesundera of the Jayagrahanaya organisation questioned.

"While at the Vavuniya refugee centres, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims don't have enough to eat, the PA and UNP are plastering the walls with posters." she said. "If we are to eradicate terrorism from this country, the people must support, and the politicians should provide moral support," she said. 

The flour being used to paste the posters can itself be used to feed hungry people. Not a single political party has spent a cent on behalf of these innocent people in the refugee camps. It's like fiddling while Rome burns, she said.

The members of the National Movement Against Terrorism spotlighted the plight of students in the refugee camps.

In the next four days, eight conferences will be held, organised by Jayawardenapura University students and the NMAT, for students in the refugee camps. Instrument boxes and other essential equipment will be provided to these students to facilitate them in their studies. 

School children at Padaviya are reportedly not in a position to sit for exams. They have requested a special exam to be held for them later or else a concession in marking to be made. The children of Parakramapura don't have any schooling though exams are close at hand.

Lawyer S. L Gunasekera who also works with these refugees said that the people of Welioya were used to the war. "They are a truly brave group of people, we should be thankful to them, as a race," he said.

BOI squeezing workers in pre-poll stunt

By Ayesha R. Rafiq
Free Trade Zone employees are protesting against a set of guidelines drawn up by the Board of Investment which they claim would rob them of their independence and affect their interests. They claim the guidelines which they feel are more investor friendly is a pre-election stunt. They also charge that these guidelines have replaced the previous ones which were more worker friendly.

Director Industrial Relations of the BOI, D.Wansapura says the guidelines have not been changed but that only the important guidelines on Employees Councils have been included as the entire set was too long to include in the guidelines. He said the new handbook should be read together with the 1994 guidelines.

A spokesman for Cosmos Mackie, a manufacturer of sportswear in the Free Trade Zone however said they had received the new set of guidelines and had already begun implementing it, and had not been told that the new guidelines had to be read together with the old ones.

One of the differences between the guidelines issued in 1994 and the new ones is the removal of the provision for secret ballot in elections.Workers charge that this would lead to the management appointing compliant employees councils which may not represent worker interests. The old guidelines also stated that elections shall be conducted by an electoral board of the BOI and Labour Dept. representatives whereas the new handbook does not specify Labour department representation. The role of the Commissioner of Labour as the legitimate third party in resolving matters which cannot be resolved by the council or the BOI is also not mentioned in the new handbook.

Anton Marcus, patron of the Joint Association of Workers and Workers Councils of the FTZ however said that contrary to Mr. Wansapura's claims new regulations had in fact been added to the handbook together with the old ones, while certain important facts with regard to the workers had been conveniently left out.

Meanwhile BOI chief Thilan Wijesinghe said that he had yet not seen the new handbook but that in the larger interests of the economy the BOI drew up certain regulations within the FTZ which may not be applicable outside and that it had been drawing up investor guidelines in relation to the workers for the past 20 years.

Workers claim that such moves by the BOI are aimed at robbing them of their independence and their right to address their grievances to any independent forum as they are not allowed trade union representation within the BOI.

School head summoned for shot in the ear

By Saman Jayawickrema
A principal of a school in Wellawatte has been issued summons by the Colombo Additional Magistrate to make a statement in court with regard to an incident where a teacher of the school is alleged to have hit a student, forcing him to seek medical treatment.

Magistrate K. Kanapathipillai issued summons on a request made by the Bureau for the Prevention of Abuse Against Women, Children and Youth, which had filed the plaint.

The teacher had allegedly hit the Year 13 student on his left year on learning that the boy had attended a Science Day programme of another school without getting permission. The court was told that the boy was receiving treatment and that his hearing had been affected.

Leave to proceed in rights case against censorship

The Supreme Court on Friday granted human rights activist Sunila Abeysekara leave to proceed with her fundamental rights application against Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte and the Competent Authority Ariya Rubesinghe asking that the ongoing censorship on military news be declared null and void.

The petitioner had stated that in her position as the President of a Human Rights Organisation and member of the Executive Committee of the Movement for Free and Fair Elections (MFFE) and member of Sri Lanka Information Monitor (INFORM) she is required to have a comprehensive and informed opinion about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka particularly in relation to the ongoing ethnic conflict.

Submitting that an arbitrary censorship of the media prevented a free discussion of public matters, essential during elections, and that if people are to fully monitor the conduct of their government and participate in the democratic process which is one of the most potent restraints on misgovernment, they should be politically informed, she said that the censorship had been arbitrarily imposed..

While acknowledging that the rights to freedom of speech, expression and publication can be restricted by the constitution in the interests of national security, Ms. Abeysekera pointed out that there is also a provision in the constitution that there should be a limitation on the executive to make regulations inconsistent with fundamental rights.

The case is to be taken up again on February 25, 2000.

Death of veteran journalist Elmo

Veteran journalist Elmo Benedict who was the chief sub editor of the old Daily Mirror when that popular tabloid made a stunning impact on the local newspaper scene in the 1960s, passed away on Friday after a brief illness. He was 66.

During more than three decades of service in two major newspaper groups, Elmo Benedict brought into mainstream journalism the highest values and principles he had learnt in his youth as a seminarian. He might have received little in terms of material rewards or positions but he worked with selfless dedication and sacrifice in a spirit of humility and honesty. 

Moulded in the wisdom and discipline of a priestly life, Elmo began his journalistic career in the early 1960s with Reggie Michael's powerful Daily Mirror team that rocked conservative journalism and the political establishment. 

He also worked for the old Times of Ceylon with well-known veterans such as Victor Gunewardene and Ben Alwis the unsung heroes who played the key role in the last line of defence to produce good newspapers and foster highly professional journalism.

From the old Times group, Elmo moved to Lake House where he worked on both the Daily News and the Observer, contributing much by way of late night or pre-dawn shifts. He was also a prolific writer, a reader of the classics, pianist and singer. 

Elmo leaves his wife Loourdslin and their four children Francis, Rose, Michael and Paul. The funeral will take place today at the Nayakakanda cemetery, cortege leaving his residence, No 115, Kerawalapitiya Road Hendala.

Throughout his career, Elmo served humbly and honestly in an unassuming and understanding way. As he rests with the God whom he loved and trusted he would certainly hear his Master's voice gently saying, "Well done."

May his soul rest in the peace of God.

Minister to pay for day's cost

Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera who is suing The Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickramatunga for alleged defamation was unable to show up in courts this week due to being ill with a virus flu and was therefore ordered to pay that day's legal costs to the defendant.

The minister is suing the editor for Rs. 60 million for allegedly defaming him by publishing stories relating to a credit card scandal.

The case was put off for March 15. 

Scholars in partnership

The India-Sri Lanka Foundation established in Colombo last month will hold its next meeting at New Delhi in February 2000.

The first meeting of the Board of Directors of the Foundation was held in Colombo, where they identified areas of interest between the two nations.

The Board of Directors yesterday decided that a researcher from the CISIR be sent to India for post-harvest research work in agriculture, the services of a Karnatic music teacher from India be obtained, a professor from India be invited to conduct a nine month course on political science at the Peradeniya University and publication of research work related to Indo-Lanka treaties and exchange of letters be assisted.

Both countries have agreed to contribute 40 million Indian rupees each for the activities of the foundation.

Two more solidiers released by LTTE

By Shelani de Silva
The LTTE which released seven soldiers last week is releasing two more today through the ICRC, a spokesman said.

The ICRC spokesman said soldiers William Wickremesinhe and Guneratne Bandara would be handed over to Army in Vauvniya. They had been captured during last month's LTTE attacks. 

Call to review criminal libel 

Three international media freedom watchdogs which met for the first time in London last month have urged countries to review their laws such as criminal defamation which unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression who was in Sri Lanka in October to attend an international seminar on Criminal Defamation, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation and Europe's Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve and the Organisation of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Santiago Canton, issued a joint declaration calling on governments to guarantee the right to freedom of expression, opinion and information.

While stating that an independent media is essential to a free and open society and accountable government, they expressed concern that 'certain states have continued to exert and allow impermissible pressure on the media in their respective countries. 

The levels of harassment might be different but the general aim is the same: to suppress pluralism and open debate on issues of concern to citizens'.

The declaration also recognized the media's corrective function in drawing public attention to corruption and inequitable practices and stating that the freedom of expression has ramifications for economic development, it noted that the absence of a free media can lead to economic stagnation and improper practices by both governments and businesses.

Pointing out that the media should refrain from inciting national, racial or religious hatred, it however recognized that implicit in freedom of expression is the public's right to open access to information and to know what governments are doing on their behalf and that without it truth would languish and people's participation in government would be fragmented.

While urging states to review laws which unduly restrict the freedom of expression and bring them in line with international obligations, the declaration affirmed that states 'must ensure an effective, serious and impartial judicial process, based on the rule of law, in order to combat impunity of perpetrators of attacks against freedom of expression'.

Docs air tickets still in the air

By Faraza Farook
Jaffna doctors slammed claims by the Ministry of Health that medical officers in the North have already received air tickets to travel to and from Jaffna.

Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva at a news conference said his ministry had begun to issue air tickets to doctors working in Jaffna. 

"Some doctors have already used their tickets and made their trips home," he said.

Three sets of air tickets are issued each year while the travelling days are considered as duty leave, the minister said. 

However some doctors working in Jaffna told The Sunday Times they have yet not received any tickets though the ministry had promised to do so..

That poem: Ashraff says sorry

Minister M.H.M. Ashraff has apologised for any pain of mind that may have been caused to Buddhists by his controversial poem 'Lord Buddha and the Poet.' 

In a statement, Mr. Ashraff said the poem needed to be looked at in a poetic way and not literally. "If anyone wants to understand a poem according to its ordinary language, every poem may become controversial," he said.

He admitted that the last stanza of the poem where Lord Buddha says he will be reborn was a mistake. The poem was intended to bring out shortcomings in governmental policies in relation to the Buddha Dhamma, he said. He referred to a poem he had written about Prophet Mohammed asking the prophet to rise again to solve the problems in the Muslim community.

"I hope my Buddhist brothers and sisters will understand the contextual content of this poem," he said.

Meanwhile Buddha Sasana Minister Lakshman Jayakody said he did not intend to ban Minister Ashraff's book but would request him to remove sections which mentioned the Buddha. Minister Ashraff's cabinet rival, Minister A. H. M. Fowzie has condemned the poem, saying it was an unwarranted interference in the religion of other people.


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