30th  June 2002, Volume 8, Issue 50

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This young female LTTE cadre approached a group of journalists visiting Wanni at the LTTE heroes cemetery at Visuvamadu to find out more about a professional TV camera. She knew the basics of the operations and took running lessons from the cameraman. She is part of a 150 member LTTE media unit — mostly female cadres — that film everything from official meetings to bloody battles. Photo by Amantha Perera

Air Force Chief asked to quit

 By Frederica Jansz

The government has requested Air force Commander Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody to step down or face an inquiry into the incident involving the motor accident opposite the D. S. Senanayake College on June 15.

Defence Minister Tilak Marapone told The Sunday Leader that he has asked the air force commander to step down or face an inquiry.  The minister had also told him if an inquiry is to be held it would have to be a credible inquiry and the government would have to act on the findings of the investigation.

Marapone when contacted by The Sunday Leader confirmed that he had discussed this matter with the air force commander and stated he (Weerakkody) would have to step down or face an inquiry.

Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody a little before 4 a.m. on Saturday, June 15, after attending an SLAF party at the ‘Officers Mess’ Friday night was travelling towards Welikada, Rajagiriya.

Approaching the colour lights near D. S. Senanayake College at Borella, Kanatte, Weerakkody tried to jump a red light and crashed into a lorry travelling from Kanatte towards Borella. Senior cops confided that even if the traffic lights had not been working (which they were) it was the lorry’s right of way and the air force chief should have stopped.

Weerakkody’s car, a Peugeot 406, bearing registration number GL1233 hit the front of the lorry (bearing registration number 43-5738).  This car is also officially registered with the SLAF bearing number AF 3493.

The force of the impact injured the air force chief, while the cleaner of the lorry was hurled out of the vehicle due to the massive blow.  The cleaner suffered serious wounds as a result of the crash.

Bleeding from one eyebrow, the air force chief identified himself to the inquiring police officer from the Borella police as the commander of the SLAF.

Weerakkody however was allowed to walk away from the accident without making a statement to police after Colombo DIG Bodhi Liyanage ordered the cops on duty to let him go.

Nearly five hours later, at around 8.30 a.m. the same day, June 15, W. Upali Jayakody presented himself to OIC Bandara of the Borella police and claimed that it was he and not the Commander of the SLAF who had been driving the car.  Making an official statement Jayakody claimed that he is a driver of the SLAF, and insisted that he alone had been involved in the accident.

The attempt by the air force commander to implicate a fellow officer and absolve himself from all blame prompted the premier to insist on accountability and call for a full scale inquiry into the incident.  

Defence Minister Tilak Marapone spoke to the air force commander after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe discussed the issue with the defence minister and requested him to inquire into  the allegation and take appropriate action.

The Sunday Leader learns the air force commander has requested a weeks time to consider his response to the defence minister.

According to SLAF officer Upali Jayakody’s official statement made to the Borella police, he claimed that he had been the sole occupant in the car at the time of the accident.  Jayakody has further stated that he had been on his way to Battaramulla, “on official work,” at the time the accident occurred.  

Yet when The Sunday Leader spoke to Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody he maintained that he had indeed been present at the scene of the accident. He said,  “it was my driver who was driving the vehicle. We were at a cross section of the traffic lights, he did not see the oncoming lorry and crashed into it.”  The air force commander also admitted that he had suffered minor injuries as a result of the accident.

DIG Bodhi Liyanage however last week categorically told The Sunday Leader, that while an air force officer had telephoned him at around 4 a.m. on June 15, “it was not the commander of the SLAF —Weerakkody was never at the scene of the accident,” he said.


Ministers call for PB’s ouster

A large number of ministers last week called for the removal of former Finance Secretary P.B. Jayasundera as chairman of the Public Enterprises Re-form Commission (PERC) at a pre cabinet meeting.

The call of the ministers came on Wednesday, June 26 at a Temple Trees meeting of ministers presided by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The initial call was made by Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake who said it was difficult for the government to blame the current economic crisis on the Peoples’ Alliance when the Treasury Secretary, P.B. Jayasundera, who was a principal cause behind the economic mismanagement, was still holding high office in the UNF government.

Economic Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda under whose purview PERC falls however defended the retention of Jayasundera stating no public official should be victimised on political grounds.

Moragoda said if there were charges of corruption, abuse of power or impropriety on the part of Jayasundera he was prepared to look into them and take action, provided there was tangible proof but will not victimise him for political reasons.

It was subsequently pointed out by Karunanayake that Jayasundera was implicated in the multi million dollar vehicle purchases by President Chandrika Kumaratunga without cabinet approval, in addition to the sale of SriLankan shares to Emirates and the purchase of Airbuses among several other issues.

It is learnt Moragoda had asked the ministers to furnish whatever material they had on the understanding he will conduct the necessary inquiries.

The Sunday Leader learns, Ministers G.L. Pieris, S.B. Dissanayake, Tissa Attanayake, W.J.M. Loku-bandara, John Amaratunga, Rajitha Senaratne, M.H. Mohamed and A.R.M. Cader have all at the meeting called for Jayasundera’s ouster.


Fowzie, Richard to be charge sheeted

Two prominent ministers of the previous Peoples’ Alliance (PA) regime, former Education Minister Richard Pathirana and  former Transport Minister A. H. M. Fowzie are to be served with “show cause letters” by President Chandrika Kumaratunga this week, Peoples’ Alliance (PA) senior members said.

A Central Committee member of the PA confirmed to The Sunday Leader that President Kumaratunga had already prepared the letters. The member said the letters were to be issued to Pathirana and Fowzie last week but the president held them back due to pressure put on her. “But the president is likely to hand them the letters this week,” he said.

When contacted by The Sunday Leader, Fowzie said he has so far not received any letters from the president, adding that he was aware of such a rumour. He said he was not perturbed over the development. “I expected this,” he said.

He further said nobody could be sacked from the party and that only a  “show cause letter” could be served. He said once the letter is served, he would give his reasons for supporting the government in principle.

Meanwhile some PA senior members said that the president was unhappy with both Fowzie and Pathirana after they made statements to the press expressing their support to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and also propagating the concept of a national government.

They said, though both Fowzie and Pathirana made statements to the press, they however did not violate party norms and regulations.

Meanwhile Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse told The Sunday Leader he was not aware of such a development. “I have also heard about this story, but I am not sure whether President Kumaratunga is going to issue them these notices,” he added.

Last week Fowzie told The Sunday Leader that a coup was being engineered by the PA led by a former minister from the south to “push” him out of the party and also to divide the party. Fowzie also said all those who spoke of a national government and also those who supported the policies of Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse, were “targeted” and “cornered.” cloooooooo

also propagating the concept of a national government.

They said, though both Fowzie and Pathirana made statements to the press, they did not violate party norms and regulations.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse told The Sunday Leader he was not aware of such happenings. "I have also heard about this story, but I am not sure whether President Kumaratunga is going to issue them with these notices," he added.

Last week, Fowzie told The Sunday Leader that a coup was being engineered by the PA led by a former minister from the south to 'push' him out of the party and also to divide the party. Fowzie also said all those who spoke of a national government and also those who supported the policies of Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse were being 'targeted' and 'cornered'.


Summons on Agrekko International

The Avissawella Magistrate Court has issued summons to the Resident Manager of Agrekko International Projects Limited, John Judge to appear before court on July 5.

This follows a petition by residents of the area and the Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) alleging that the emergency power generating plant is violating environmental laws.

The Avissawella Magistrate's Court has in the meantime ordered that Agrekko shut down its operations at Kosgama until the court case is concluded.

Premadasa G. Punchihewa, Magistrate for Avissawella in a strongly worded order has warned that if Agrekko flouts the law and continues to conduct its operations out of Kosgama, the company will be punished for contempt of court under section 185 of the Penal Code. 

Punchihewa has also said that the judiciary will take action and even sell the machinery at the Kosgama plant if Agrekko does not comply with the law.

Agrekko generates 45 megawatts of power from the Kosgama plant.  The private power generating firm's battle with local residents and the EFL began last year when court determined that Agrekko is flouting maximum noise decimal stipulations, making it unbearable for residents to continue living in the area.

After closing the plant down last year following a court order, Agrekko however did not comply fully with the law and shift its machinery out of the site.  The plant was reactivated this year after the United National Front government signed fresh contracts with Agrekko to buy 200 megawatts of emergency power.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Leader learns that the Fiat Avio gas turbine plant at Kelanitissa is still producing high vibrations, even after Italian engineers were brought down by the government for the second time in two months to 'balance' the troublesome machine.

Though guaranteed to produce 115 megawatts of power, the gas turbine plant even after being repaired by the Italians cannot be run at more than 25 megawatts as the vibration it generates is "very high," senior engineers said.The plant is still being test run as local engineers are trying valiantly to balance the workings of the machine and stop the heavy vibration. "We definitely cannot run it at maximum speed and generate 115 megawatts of power given the poor manner in which the plant is performing right now," they said.


Economy on the right track

Despite persistent woes, the Sri Lankan economy is on the right track, says Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, an economist attached to the International Centre for Ethnic Studies.

"With a historically pro-business political party in power and the peace process on track, there is a tremendous 'feel good factor' among the masses," Sarvananthan observed in a review of first quarter economic performance for the year.

He however warned that the recovery has a long way to go and would be painful. The GDP growth rate that fell to minus 3.4% in the last quarter of 2001 would only begin to recover substantially by mid-2002 according to the review.

The up and down trend witnessed in most of the sectors during the first three months of 2002 was an indication of an economy trying to come to terms with the dire circumstances. "The industrial sector experienced ups and downs during the first quarter of this year, reflecting the economic problems facing the country," states Sarvananthan. The same was true with the stock market and inflation rate that dipped in February to 8.5% only to record a 3% increase by March. Interest fortunately remained stable and below 2001 figures. " Interest rates are almost 40% lower, compared to the corresponding period last year," the review observed.

However inflation is expected to rise during the second quarter when cost-push factors introduced by the budget take effect.

The tourism industry also suffered an off-season during peak arrival months. In March arrivals were down by 31% compared with last year. A drop which Sarvananthan attributed to a depressed global market and a worldwide fear of air travel.

"The war economy seems to have turned for the better with the withdrawal of economic sanctions on LTTE held areas in the North East Province. However, despite the positive measures, there is a long way to go for the realisation of the peace dividend in Sri Lanka," was Sarvananthan's overall assessment of the economy.


 Special police post set up in Muttur

 Situation in the east under control

Interior Minister John Amaratunga on Friday (28) said the situation in Muttur and in other parts of the Eastern Province was under control.

The minister returned to Colombo after visiting the trouble torn areas on Friday. He visited these areas along with Ports and Shipping Minister Rauf Hakeem and Batticaloa Bishop Rt.Rev.Dr.Kingsly Swamipillai.

The minister said though the area is under tension, the government has been able to bring the previously volatile situation to normal.

He said he has given instructions to the IGP to set up police posts wherever necessary and in places where the civilians feel insecure. "We should not take this as a clash between two ethnic groups. The incident may have sparked off due to some misunderstanding," the minister told The Sunday Leader.

He also said that minister Hakeem who was present with him had appointed a committee to observe incidents and to report back to him with details.

Minister Amaratunga said clear instructions have been given to the police to take strict action against anyone violating laws of the land. He also said that the damaged places of religious worship would be repaired with government funds.

Meanwhile, sources from Batticaloa said that even yesterday some of the shops belonging to Tamils in Valaichenai were set on fire. Batticaloa District TULF MP, Joseph Pararajasingham, Batticaloa Government Agent and several other high-ranking officials visited Valaichenai on Friday to contain the incidents and the violence.

Earlier 12 people were injured and six shops were set on fire in Valaichenai in the clashes between rival groups. Eyewitnesses told The Sunday Leader that even hand grenades were used by the angry mobs. An indefinite police curfew was also imposed in Valaichenai following the clashes


Nine workers for 8000 students.

Education Minister Dr.Karunasena Kodituwakku last week said he was surprised to find out that a leading school in Colombo with nearly 8000 students had only nine sanitary workers.

The minister told The Sunday Leader that he has begun visiting schools to examine the hygienic conditions and the environment of the schools, especially because the outbreak of dengue has affected most schools in Colombo.

The minister said he was instructed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga to take action against a particular school principal, after the media highlighted that most students were suffering from dengue. The minister said that following the president's instructions he visited this particular school and found out that there were only nine sanitary workers. "I was surprised to see this. The school is also set up in a 40 acre land. How could nine workers keep the place clean?" the minister questioned.

He said he has plans to increase the provisions to schools that lack such provisions. He said it is up to the Education Department to provide necessary funds and human resources to keep schools clean. He also said that his ministry will in the future hold meetings with the students, parents and the past pupils on a regular basis, to discuss only about the environment and cleanliness.

"We have decided to do a survey to see how many schools are neglecting the environment in which they are situated," the minister added.


Miscreant confesses his fault

A member of the Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya (JSS) who circulated a malicious letter written against the Tea Small Holdings Development Authority (TSHDA) Chairman Ratna Gamage, last week confessed that he was forced into writing such letters by politicians.

During an inquiry that was held last week, M.Somasiripala, acting assistant internal auditor of the JSS attached to the TSHDA, pledged to withdraw the statement he made earlier. He also said that he was asked to write this letter under duress, but refused to divulge the name of the politicians.

The letter had been addressed to the cabinet of ministers. In this letter he has mentioned that the cabinet sub committee to appoint chairmen of corporations, which also appointed Gamage as the chairman of TSHDA, should remove Gamage with immediate effect.

He has further stated that Gamage had abused the workers and indulged in corruption, resulting in the TSHDA facing a crisis situation.On June 1, Gamage's house was partly bombed after he initiated inquiries into the misappropriation of TSHDA and Tea Shakthi funds. Since then, Gamage has been faced with death threats.


  •  Climate not conducive

 Returnees not encouraged

Tens and thousands of refugees who fled the country after the war broke out between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the government, are not being encouraged to return as a conducive environment has not yet been created, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Ministry officials said last week.

Officials attached to the ministry said they were not promoting any large scale repatriation as the situation here in the country is still not normal.

"The time is not right for large scale, organised return of refugees" United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Information Officer Micheal Di Sisti told The Sunday Leader.

There are more than 100,000 refugees in India, of this 66,000 live in government camps and 35,000 live outside these camps.

"600 of the refugees living in these camps have approached the UNHCR for them to come back to Sri Lanka but so far the organisation has agreed to help only 85 of them. Out of this, three people have already come down, and another 13 will be coming within two or three weeks which consist of three families,"Di Sisti said.

The UNHCR says at the moment it is involved in a small scale way to bring down refugees.

The UNHCR officials said that there are a lot of problems that the repatriates had to face if they were to be returned to the island. He said the principal one is the landmines which are yet to be cleared from the peninsula.

He further said other issues such as health and education should be available to the people once they come back. Besides, he said clean water should be available and jobs should be available for these people. "Otherwise, they would suffer after coming back to Sri Lanka," he added.

He further said that the main problem that they may have to face is regarding the properties they had left behind. He said most of the properties left behind by those that fled the country, may not be able to be traced due to the war. He also said some others who have been living here may have occupied the places of those who fled the country.

"The returnees are bound to face these problems on their return. This is why we do not want to promote their return,"

"The movements of the returnees should not be controlled. If they were to come back, they should know the situation that they face once they come back," he told The Sunday Leader.

He further said that the organisation and the government of Sri Lanka may have to face a huge problem with the internally displaced people as the government may not know where to settle them. He said the displaced people themselves might not know where they want to settle down.

He said it is difficult to predict a time frame for both the refugees and the internally displaced people to return to their native places.

An estimated 16,000 children have been born in the refugee camps in South India.

Minister of Rehabilitation and Resettlement Dr.Jayalath Jayawardene who is currently on a visit to Tamil Nadu is holding discussions with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jeyaram Jayalalitha to finalise the birth certificates of the newly born.

The minister according to Rehabilitation Ministry officials is to also hold discussions with the Indian education minister to find out how these children could be enrolled in to the schools in India, at least to get their basic education, until they return to the island.

The minister, the officials said would also discuss how the refugees who have lost their passports could be helped and also how they could be transported to their destinations in Sri Lankaonce they arrive at the Katunayake Airport.


CWC, DWC join hands

The political wings of the Democratic Workers Congress (DWC) and the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) are to form an alliance in order to look into the welfare of the Tamils living outside the north and east, party sources said.

Sources said discussions aimed at coalescing with each other even to contest future elections are at present taking place in Colombo.

A four-member committee has also been appointed to hold talks. The committee comprises two representatives from the DWC and two from CWC. Vadivel Suresh and V.Sathithiyanathan have been nominated from the CWC while T. Jayaratnarajah and Braba Ganason have been nominated by the DWC to hold discussions.

Both the leaders of CWC and DWC, Arumugam Thondaman and Mano Ganeson agreed that there are moves to form a grand alliance to safeguard the welfare of the Tamils living outside the north and east.

Party sources told The Sunday Leader that the Tamils out side the north and east have not had any proper representation in the past and hence, these parties have now come forward to give voice to the people who are non-residents of both the north-east and the hill country.

Party officials also said that this would not lead the merger of both parties but however they will continue to work in alliance with each other, maintaining their own political and social identity.

Senior DWC officials said that they agreed to enter into this alliance with the CWC with a condition that the leadership of the DWC in the Western Province must be honoured.


Sri Lankan in Queen's honours list

Dr. Pearl Hettiaratchy made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her services to old age psychiatry, by Queen Elizebeth in her Jubilee Birthday honours.

The announcement regarding this was made on June 15.

Dr. Pearl Hettiaratchy qualified in Sri Lanka in 1965 and went to the UK in 1968. She was appointed a consultant in psychiatry in Portsmouth in 1975. Following her appointment she set up innovative services in Portsmouth and Winchester developing a model of service focussing on the concept of the "Travelling day hospital". This concept has been adopted by other parts of the UK and internationally.

Dr. Hettiaratchy was the first Sri Lankan to be elected to the General Medical Council, the Regulatory Body governing the registration of doctors. She has served on the council since 1994. She has served on many committees and was the first overseas-qualified doctor to act as a screener for complaints. As a member of GMC, she serves on the Review Board for Overseas Qualified Doctors, Race Equality and Diversity Committee and Committee of Professional Performance.

Dr.Hett-iaratchy was asked to serve as the vice president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1995. This was a unique honour as she was the first Asian to hold this office. Her work with the college has spanned 20 years covering the care of the elderly, nursing issues, psychiatric practice in a British multi ethnic society and the Committee on Unethical Psychiatrist Practice.

She served as a commissioner with the Mental Health Act commission from 1989 to 1998. She works as a member of the Mental Health Tribunal Services since 1994.

She is married to Dr. Sidney Hettiaratchy, consultant psychiatrist. They have three children and five grand children.

Dr. Hettiaratchy is the daughter of the late Soloman and Manonmanie Muttiah. She was educated at Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya. She qualified from the Faculty of Medicine, Colombo.

She comes from a long line of medical practitioners that included her brother Dr. Clarence Muttiah and sister the late Dr.Sugi Canagaretna. The other members of her family include Sister Ranee Savundranayagam and brothers the late Tyrell Muttiah and Sam Muttiah.

She has recently retired from the NHS and will continue to work to influence health care policy at a national level. She hopes to participate actively in the work of Sri Lankan organisations in their work in a similar capacity on an advisory basis.


New study programmes

The INGRIN Institute of Printing and Graphics Sri Lanka Ltd, (IIPGSL) has introduced new study programmes to be commenced in mid July in addition to its existing study programmes in printing and graphics.

The career development path introduced by INGRIN Sri Lanka will help the industry personnel and the new comers to obtain internationally recognised qualifications for employment in Sri Lanka and abroad.

The study programmes at INGRIN are based on more practical sessions to train and educate the participants to anticipate effective and efficient results, a press release from the IIPGSL said.

The IIPGSL has also organised a seminar in printing and technology in Kandy from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. at Riveradale Hotel, Aniwatte, Kandy on Sunday, July 7.


Ceylon remains official

By  Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

It was not so long ago that many looking at Sri Lanka's snail pace development said that the country would have done much better if it remained  a British colony. Ironically, Sri Lankan representatives abroad it seems, share the same view and put it to action as well.

The Sunday Leader recently received a copy of a visit visa to Sri Lanka issued by an honorary consular in Hong Kong appointed by the government of Sri Lanka to represent it in that  country - under a Ceylon stamp.

Three decades ago in 1972, the name Sri Lanka replaced Ceylon. Not so, by the look of things at the consulate.

 A source from the Foreign Ministry when questioned about this stated that the country is known as Sri Lanka and not Ceylon in other countries. Even the European countries recognise the country as Sri Lanka and not as Ceylon, he said.

When the issue of the Ceylon stamp was raised he stated that it could be an old Ceylon stamp. When questioned as to the validity of the visa issued under an 'old Ceylon' stamp, the Foreign Ministry source merely stated that he was not sure.

How could a Sri Lankan consulate in a foreign country use a Ceylon stamp when they are not even used in Sri Lanka? Here again, the Foreign Ministry source could not give a definite answer and said that there is a problem there and that he had to look into the matter. The visa was not questioned at the airport, meaning that the immigration officers were quite used to the stamp.

Meanwhile, the Immigration and Emigration office confirmed that they are using old Ceylon stamps in foreign consulates and that they are planning to change the stamp in the future, the Foreign Ministry source added. He further said that the issue of the usage of old Ceylon stamps does not come under the purview of the Foreign Ministry but the Immigration and Emigration Department.


Soon a code of conduct for private buses

By Shezna Shums

With the sudden increase in the number of road deaths owing to reckless bus drivers, the Ministry of Public and State Transportation has finally decided that there should be a code of conduct for  private bus drivers.

With road deaths reported almost daily from many parts of the island, the Minister of Public Transportation, Upali Piyasoma held a meeting last Thursday (27), with Transport Ministry officials and provincial authorities to discuss issues that will help curb the problem.

"Careless driving, by the drivers is the main cause of these road accidents" said Piyasoma, in the wake of these accidents. According to him the ministry is planning to hold programmes in every province, specially for the bus drivers to be taught how to drive safely and the rules and regulations of driving.

The police has been ordered to  be extra careful and stern with regard to road offences committed by all drivers. With many of the drivers taking a 'don't care' attitude to road rules they seem to have forgotten what they have learnt, in the rush to reach the next bus stop before anyone else. All they concentrate on is getting as many passengers aboard as possible.

The minister says that these bus drivers have only the 'highway code' as their guideline with no special training or regulations on road and passenger safety.

Even with the knowledge of how bad these drivers are, many people in the country still use this service as they are totally dependant on public transportation. With buses packed to the limit with people and many barely able to hold on, some standing on the edge of the  foot-boards, the bus drivers however still stop, to take on more passengers not realising the dangers of an over crowded bus toppling or the consequences if an accident were to take place.

Inspector of Police, City Traffic, K. L. S. Thilakaratne observed that most of the drivers are not qualified as it is the conductors, who sometimes, become drivers with hardly any training in driving the vehicle. Or else temporary drivers are employed who have not been taught to drive with caution. Sometimes they don't even have a licence as the private bus owners are only interested in short term benefit and may not want to waste time training their staff, according to the senior cop.

"The majority of them don't even know the basic rules such as signalling before stopping the vehicle        or stopping properly at bus stops. And also they have no regard when talking to passengers" said Inspector Thilakaratne

"However the police do  take action and have sent some drivers to courts for road offences. The important point is that they be taught to be more careful when driving and the people who employ them should train them and check their licences properly to see if they are qualified to drive a bus. I believe the main problem lies in employing under qualified drivers who have had little training and hardly any experience" Thilakaratne pointed out.

With the sudden leap in the number of road accidents Thilakaratne said the police is now more vigilant. During the past fortnight there has been 15 deaths caused by driver carelessness. The most unfortunate  was when two children were knocked down by a speeding private bus in Wariyapola.

He also mentioned that the public should be more patient and stop damaging vehicles when an accident take place, which often makes the situation worse. 

President, Private Bus Owners Association, Gemunu Wijeratne said, "Out of more than the  17000 bus drivers in the country, there are around 4000 drivers who are not properly trained to drive a bus. This makes out to almost 25% of buses being driven by unqualified drivers".

He further said that private bus owners plan to start a training programm for these new drivers who have not had any training. The training program will be conducted by qualified driving instructors.

On the issue  of speeding  bus drivers, Wijeratne said that  when the speed limit is 45 k / hrs, some of the new drivers drive above  60 k/hrs. "The new drivers don't have any speed control".

Wijeratne opined that private bus owners have very little choice when it comes to employing bus drivers, because at the moment there is a severe shortage of good drivers.

Most of the qualified drivers are leaving the country for greener pastures, and when the local employees want drivers, there are hardly any experienced and qualified drivers, making the employees take in either unqualified or new drivers. Wijeratne met with the Transport Minister Tilak Marapone last Friday to  discuss issues faced by the private bus owners.

Some of the issues brought up were the implementation of the 15% bus fare hike, which will now be effective from tomorrow, and the issue of having special training for the drivers. The other important issue is to change the times buses are in operation to stop stagnation and the overcrowding of buses.

If buses were operating from only eight in the morning to four or five in the evening that would help reduce the traffic jams. The private bus drivers association discussed with the transport minister, ways they can change this so that drivers can work from 8 am to 4 pm and others can take over, and start at 10 am and finish at 6 pm and so on to help reduce the congestion.


At the threshold of history

By Nichol A. Hanson

An Irish American family uses their knowledge of land and farming to provide for their own family while struggling to keep up with their Italian American neighbours and their way of life.

Although these two families come from two very different places and have very different cultures and traditions, they are alike in more ways than they themselves even realise. Both families hold strong values and have a growing desire to not only provide for their own family, but to contribute to a society growing and changing all around them. This is a scene from a typical American community around the year 1950.

Today in Sri Lanka the cultural climate may be similar in the way that a diverse population is attempting to work together in order to build a stronger more unified nation.

Each race of people yearns to hold on to their cultural identity and the threat of losing that sense of identity is much like the threat many American immigrants felt as a democratic dynamo was being built.

Like other nations in the South Asian region, Sri Lanka has a diverse population. Various communities profess four of the world's major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. The major ethnic groups include not only the Sinhalese and the Tamils, but also Moors, Muslims, Burghers and other people of mixed European and Sri Lankan descent, Malays, and tiny percentages of others including the aboriginal Veddhas, who are considered to be the island's original inhabitants. As signs of peace are near for Sri Lankan people, more opportunities to pursue higher standards of living are on the horizon.

As the United States began a period of rebuilding, restructuring, and advancement of urban development in the 1950's, Sri Lanka was beginning their tug-of-war over a pro national society. In order to provide work for lower income citizens, projects to build better roads, bridges, and dams were underway in the States, creating pride among citizens for their beloved nation.

Environmental competence began to make way for new ideas on tougher air, water, and even noise pollution policies. A nation of people from all over the world were finally starting to recognise the negative effects of racial, religious, and sexual discrimination. Development of rights for women and minorities were creating a new feeling of liberation. With a lack of a caste system, people from all backgrounds were able to pursue leadership roles, and they did. The lack of religion in politics created a new perspective on economics and geopolitics. President Chandrika Kuma-ratunga said in her 1998 Independence Day speech, "We have meandered and faltered along the path, whilst our neighbours in Asia and many other countries have forged strong and united nations in which peoples of various communities of race, religion, and language live in harmony."

This is an exciting time in Sri Lankan history, with all types of ideas and perspectives on the direction that Sri Lanka should take as it enters a globalised world.

In a society as diverse as Sri Lanka's, social divisions have had a direct and weighty impact on politics. In the late 1980's, the ethnically, linguistically, and religiously based antagonism of the Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils overs- hadowed all other social divisions: the civil war that resulted, especially since mid-1983, seemed to bode a permanent division of the country.

The past 50 years have brought access to new international markets. With these integrated markets, each individual has different access to new markets, which creates a defining economic tool that allows everyone to either be directly or indirectly affected by them. While people in developing countries may still be ploughing barefoot behind a wild buffalo, living on a dollar a day, and carrying timber to their homes on their heads, another individual in that same country may be working at a high tech company and taking part in the global communication that we call the year 2002.

Technology is exposing every corner of the globe and there is no room or tolerance for discrimination or separation of people's ideas. As Sri Lankan people look back over the way that other countries have developed over the past 50 years they will come face to face with atrocities as well as bold revelations. A minute in 2002 is equivalent to a decade in the year 1950. If there was ever a time that opportunity and change could happen at a cyclone speed, this period in history is it.


A9 Toddy

By Amantha Perera

About 2km from the entry point to Jaffna at Muhamalai, a slightly built man sells his wares under a tree on the roadside.

'Drink Toddy' the hastily put up sign advertises. Anton Charles, hailing from LTTE controlled Kilinochchi is cashing in on the MoU. He is selling toddy on the roadside.

"I do good business, at least 60 bottles go a day," he said adding that the figure breached the 100 bottle mark when there was a deluge of visitors. Business is brisk enough -  even on ordinary days he was willing to give me a discount on the usual Rs 14 price per bottle. The simmering mid-day heat persuaded me otherwise.

Sinhalese visiting Jaffna from the south are the best customers according to Charles who bicycles to Muhamalai from Kilinochchi every day carrying his brew in big cans. "They drink a lot," he observed scanning the road for prosp- ective customers.

Those seeking the brew made from Palmyrah have to navigate a footpath, criss-crossing mine infested terrain before they can enjoy the A9 toddy.

Ironically, the area where the brew is sold witnessed some of the fiercest fighting in the ethnic war in 2000 when the LTTE over ran the Elephant Pass defence complex. The army units that were falling back, retreated through the area now being used as an open-air tavern by their southern brethren.


Controversy over gallantry medals

By Frederica Jansz

Senior army officers are crying foul over the awarding of gallantry medals to soldiers and junior officers.

Dissent is being voiced after the army finalised a list of selected officers and soldiers to be the recipients of gallantry medals for having purportedly performed acts of extreme bravery in the face of the enemy.

Senior field commanders and brigadiers are accusing the special 'Medals Board' which sat to evaluate the nominations, of favouring some and ousting others who deserve  medals for bravery. These officers have also expressed anger that fellow colleagues, who died in the face of battle at Elephant Pass in April 2000, are not to be posthumously honoured. No medals are to be given to honour dead heros who died trying to save embattled troops at Elephant Pass when the army camp came under siege from the LTTE on April 21 and 22, 2000.

Brigadier Percy Fernando, Colonel Bhathiya Jayatilleke and Colonel Neil Akmeemana who were among those who laid down their lives that fateful month will not be awarded any gallantry medals  posthumously.

Senior officers angrily allege that these men have been forgotten when the army decided to award medals as a token of appreciation and recognition to officers and soldiers who have surpassed military expectations when serving during battle.

Military Spokesman, Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne reiterated however that "death is not a qualification to get a gallantry award unless the officer died fighting. In this instance both Colonel Neil Akmeemana and Colonel Bhathiya Jayatilleke died of dehydration - that is not a prerequisite or qualification to get a gallantry award," Karunaratne said.

Brigadier Percy Fernando, he pointed out, was killed by sniper fire and did not exactly die fighting. Army officers allege that Major General Anton Wijendra, who presided over the 'Army Medals Board' and Army Commander, Lt. General Lionel Balagalle have both acted in a biased manner when making the final choices. Citations written by field commanders and brigadiers they assert, have been ignored.

The names of the winners are sent to a Tri Service Board for final recommendation. However no changes are made at this juncture as this board merely authorises the selection made by the army, navy and airforce medal boards. The Tri Service Board comprises of the army's chief of staff (on this occasion it was Major General Lohan Gunewardena), the navy chief of staff, and the director operations Sri Lanka Air Force. The army officers who say they cannot be named as they are still serving, allege that both Wijendra and Balagalle have handed out most of the medals to soldiers and officers who served under their command during 'Operation Rivikirana.' One medal in particular, the second highest in the army for bravery, the Weera Wickrema Vibushanaya (WWV) has been given to Colonel Daya Ratnayake against whom, officers say there are various allegations made with regard to his lack of bravery. Ratnayake is being awarded the WWV medal for the capture of Kaiththady Island in Jaffna. Commanding officers who fought for this territory say that Ratnayake only entered the islands two days after it was captured as he had allegedly been too afraid of the barrage of mortar fire by the LTTE. The Sunday Leader learns that late last week Ratnayake's name was deleted from the medal winners' list following the allegations levelled by fellow officers.

Officers claim that both Anton Wijendra and Army Chief, Lionel Balagalle are merely trying to boost their own image by handing out the majority of the medals to officers and soldiers who served under them during 'Operation Rivikirana.'

Meanwhile, both Major General Janaka Perera and Major General Sarath Fonseka have not been selected for a medal for the role they played in defending Jaffna following the fall of Elephant Pass to the LTTE.

Brigadier Sanath Karuna- ratne, speaking on behalf of the army refuted some of these claims explaining that if the citation had not been written properly or projected adequately by a commanding officer the nominee "would get knocked off."

He said that once this obstacle is cleared the citation is sent to the Tri Service Board. When told that some senior commanding officers are unhappy and angry with this year's selection he said, "it is true - sometimes people who do not deserve a gallantry medal get it - while others who do, don't get it. This is human nature anywhere in the world and is not unique to the Sri Lanka Army."

He asserted that he doubted senior officers of the calibre of Major General Anton Wijendra would favour any individual in the army to hand out these medals. Brigadier Karunaratne however admitted that there have been occasions when such favouritism or bias appears to have prevailed with regard to awarding these medals. "I do not rule that out," he said honestly.

Karunaratne pointed out that the bottom line is, at the end of the day the winner "must be proud of wearing his medal and when questioned be able to say exactly for what deed of bravery he was awarded the gallantry medal.

"If a soldier stumbles in his explanation you will be able to judge if he has been awarded the medal for a meritorious deed or is merely faking an act of bravery," the brigadier further said.

Asked why Major General Janaka Perera and Major General Sarath Fonseka have been side-lined for a gallantry medal given the role they both played to prevent the fall of Jaffna to the LTTE in the year 2000, Brigadier Karunaratne replied, "I do not know."

 

 

 

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