12th December 1999

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Let the People Return

By Shelani de Silva

Bishop of Mannar Rayappu Joseph has appealed to the Government to open the main route to the uncleared areas for stranded civilians to return to their homes in the cleared and uncleared areas.

Bishop Joseph told The Sunday Times that there are hundreds of civilians who were left stranded after the recent attack, and the Government should make arrangements to transfer them.

"In Madhu alone there are 400 people stranded. They are not refugees but are unable to cross over. There are also those who went from Madhu to Mannar for cultivation. These people are stranded in Mannar," he said.

The Bishop added that while the Government was concentrating on sending food to the uncleared areas, it had totally ignored the stranded civilians.

"I will officially appeal to the government first and if I get a reply I will appeal to the LTTE," he said.

Commenting on the food situation in the North, he said more than 15,000 people in the Madhu are without food.

'They received four lorry loads of food but that was over a few weeks back. It is the same in other areas," he lamented.

Meanwhile at a meeting with the Vavuniya Government Agent and military officials on Friday the Government decided to send food convoys from Monday to the uncleared areas, escorted by the ICRC.

Vavuniya GA K Ganesh told The Sunday Times that initially only Government food convoys would be sent. Later on relief agencies will be allowed to use the route.

"Both parties agreed on it a few weeks back. The problem was that certain issues had to be worked out," he said.

Meanwhile ICRC spokesperson Harsha Gunewardene said on Thursday four lorries containing medicine were sent to the Wanni.

"Forty two patients and 300 mail bags were also transferred. For the first time after November 1 when the route was closed, we transferred 30 mail bags out of the Wanni," he said.

He added that the ICRC will always escort food convoys to the people.

Meanwhile a spokesman for UNHCR said on Thursday it delivered 15,000 roofing sheets to the refugees and were awaiting permission to send food convoys to them.

FMM stages protest at police inaction

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

The Free Media Movement on Friday staged a demonstration outside the Police Headquarters in Fort protesting against the apparent bias of the Police towards the government under the guidance of the Inspector General of Police.

The local media watchdog FMM placed an effigy of the IGP outside Police Headquarters protesting against his incapability of conducting investigations into the official and unofficial gangs that receive the patronage of politicians and the political violence that is increasing daily.

Alleging that the IGP has mobilised the police to obstruct and harass media personnel the FMM cited several recently widely publicised cases of media harassment and intimidation and highlighted his failure to take any steps regarding the attack on members of the media by politically motivated thugs in the past.

Citing the abduction and assault in March this year of Lakbima journalist Srilal Priyantha, they pointed out that instead of working towards arresting those involved in the abduction and assault the police had instead arrested Srilal Priyantha and detained him for three months on charges of murder. Stating that it was clear that the arrest was a politically motivated one, they alleged that the IGP becomes a party to the politically motivated act.

They also highlighted the murder in September this year of Satana editor Rohana Kumara and said that amidst 'widespread public opinion that his death fulfilled the political needs of the government' and calls for investigations, 'the IGP has allowed this heinous crime to go uninvestigated.'

Citing an instance on December 1 this year where the editor and two others of the Irida Peramuna were summoned to the CID and questioned regarding obstructions they allegedly made to the Presidential election campaign of Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga the FMM said 'it is despicable that the IGP, who remains silent regarding the increasing level of election related violence and the attacks against Opposition political parties by armed thugs, should thus utilise the CID to intimidate media personnel'.

Mediamen are eyes of the people -Ranil

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has pledged that when his government comes to power, all Government Ministers and officials will not only be made accountable to the public but also be forced to pay damages if it is proved that they wilfully harmed citizens in any way.

Addressing a ceremony to mark the handing over of cameras to members whose equipment was damaged allegedly by members of the Presidential Security Division while covering the UNP demonstration on July 15, Mr. Wickremesinghe said his government would also launch a compensation scheme for journalists to protect them and their equipment against any attacks.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said that in a democratic society photographers and media personnel should be protected. "There is a tradition of safeguarding photographers even on a battle-field," Mr. Wickremesinghe said. "Journalists and photo-journalists are the eyes of the people," he said, adding that what was taking place on this day was the restoration of their lost eyes by the people. The Opposition Leader vowed that the UNP would implement the resolution he introduced in Parliament on Media Freedom, namely to abolish criminal defamation, introduce the Freedom of Information Act and replace the Press Council. Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, who also participated said it was significant that this occasion was taking place on December 9, on the eve of International Human Rights Day.

Speaking of the July 15 attack, Mr. Rajapakse said this was not the first instance when media personnel were attacked in this country. There have been several such instances before this, he said.

It is a democratic right we have gained, that a Government Minister is able to participate at an occasion where an assaulted media person is being granted some compensation, he said.

Sri Lanka Photo-Journalists Association Chairman, Sri Lal Gomes expressed gratitude to the government and opposition leaders, the various international organisations and Sri Lankans here and abroad for sending donations to buy cameras for the photo-journalists.

Bankers contract strike fever from docs

By M.Ismeth

Hard on the heels of the GMOA deciding to go on strike from Monday, the Bank Officers Federation of Sri Lanka too has decided to stage an islandwide walkout on December 14 and 16 at 3.15pm.

Federation President S.Kariyawasam told The Sunday Times that at the general meeting on 17 they will decide what further action they will take on December 20, the day before the elections. The federation has a membership of over 4000 members from the People's Bank, Bank of Ceylon and the National Savings Bank.

He said that their campaign would be supported by other trade unions as well.

'This govt. weak at taking decisions'

By Premakeerthi Ranatunga

Chairman of Ceylinco Group Lalith Kotelawala has said that a strong Parliament with responsible people would help to build a strong economy.

Mr. Kotelawala in an interview with our sister paper "Sunday Lankadipa" said that in Sri Lanka even an uneducated person could become the President in contrast to Singapore where an uneducated person cannot contest.

Mr. Kotelawala was responding to a question as to what action should be taken to prevent the downfall of the economy due to politicisation.

"In Sri Lanka a person even without O/L qualifications can become a President whereas a bus driver should have passed the O/L exam and if he kills a person in an accident he is jailed. He should retire in 55 years. But for the Presidency there is no retirement age, no cases and no responsibility. Isn't it a wonder?", he questioned.

Following are excerpts of the interview.

Q: Why don't you influence a change in this stance?

A: We have no such power, and if we do attempt to talk about these things our heads won't be safe. You think they would allow us to carry out our work without having any animosity against us if we make such an attempt?

Q: Some say that the economy went down during the past five years while others say there has been an improvement. Which is the correct situation?

A: Both. It is difficult for a government to fiddle about in an open economy. It can guide but not control it. But I believe that in Sri Lanka all governments misled the economy.

Q: What is the co-operation you received from this government for your businesses in the recent past?

A: Very little.

Q: Why is that?

A: I always tried to stand on my own. The government only guided us by giving tax relief, not only to me but to all businessmen.

Q: What did the businessmen really get?

A: We were provided with investment regulations and relief. These have not changed and were as good as those given by the previous government.

Q: What are your comments about the fall of share values of Seylan Bank from Rs 140 last year to Rs.14.50?

A: We are not alone in that all banks suffered. There is a big difference between the share market and companies. But there is no truth in the belief that when the market falls it affects business. It is a gamble. I never buy shares and sell them.

Q: Is there a fall in the share market and if so since when?

A: Yes there is. I think it happened with the arrival of this government. During the last regime it increased and there were reasons for it.

Q. What is that?

A: In a war torn country foreign investment is rare.

Q: But even during the time of the UNP there was this war?

A: Yes, but they managed the economy well.

Q: What shortcomings do you see in our politicians?

A: Leaders like Ho Chi Mins, Mandela, Martin Luther King and Mao were charismatic leaders. They were iron fisted. Wasn't Mandela offered bribes? He did not accept and we need leaders like that. I insist that it is the politicians who should develop this isle and they should ask for our help. I am prepared to extend such help.

Q. Why did you attempt to figure in peace talks?

A: We are Sinhalese and we were told tales of Dutugemunu, in our childhood days. How long are we to drag on this war? We need to make a Sri Lankan community. Prabhakaran tried to destroy the Ceylinco building and many were killed but we need to shed our differences and unite to love one another. I tried to achieve that.

Q: Did you succeed?

A: To some extent. I was able to unite the PA and UNP to some extent. Now we are trying to talk peace with the LTTE. I thought I must speak to Ranil and Chandrika and get permission to talk with the LTTE. Once the election is over I will start on that.

Q: Do you like to compare the economy under the two regimes and comment on any difference?

A: The last regime was strong. Within 24 hours they could say yes or no to any question of a business nature. The UNP helped me to open up 90 branches of the Seylan Bank and any suggestion of ours was replied within two or three days.

Q: When was that?

A: During the time of President Premadasa. Even the times of JR, or Wijetunga or Ranil were not bad. Not that I mean to slight this regime, but it is their weakness.

Q: What you mean is that when you send a letter a reply is delayed?

A: Yes this government is weak in arriving at decisions. There is a lot of red tape. When a reply comes in after a month, we write again only to be asked if we wrote earlier. These have to be addressed.

Q: What is your political stance?

A: It is difficult to say. Both leaders are genuine, but we have to see to their partymen's credentials. Both leaders are an asset to us. The weakness is in the lower ranks. I feel the two leaders can overcome this.

Q: People are of the opinion that during those days there was more money in circulation. What do you say on that?

A: The government does not agree. The people will decide on the veracity of that at the polls.

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