15th June,  2003, Volume 9, Issue 48

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Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe being congratulated at the end of the successful donor conference by Japanese Special Envoy, Yasushi Akashi while US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage looks on. In the background are Attorney General K.C. Kamalasabayson and Treasury Secretary, Charitha Ratwatte Photo by Sudath Silva


LTTE vessel sunk off Mullaitivu

By Frederica Jansz

An LTTE ship named Shioshin sunk off the coast of Mullaitvu yesterday following a mid sea confrontation with the Sri Lankan Navy.

At least twelve LTTE cadres reportedly on the vessel were missing after the ship exploded following an exchange of fire.

The Sri Lankan Navy said yesterday, the LTTE exploded the ship on being asked to stop for inspection while the LTTE claimed the Navy fired and sunk the vessel. There were no officials of the SLMM on board the Navy vessel when the drama unfolded at 4 a.m. Saturday morning.

However both the government and the LTTE were quick to point out that the latest incident will not lead to a resumption of war on the ground but that effective mechanisms would have to be put in place to ensure confrontations in the seas are averted.

The vessel with no flag was spotted by a Sri Lanka Naval gunboat 175 nautical miles to the East off Mullaitivu at around 3.30 a.m. yesterday. The SLN had first spied the ship on radar screens and noted that the ship was towing another boat laden with cargo and heading towards Point Pedro.

Challenging the vessel the SLN gunboat demanded to know the ships registration number and other official details. Having been given some details from the suspect ship, the gunboat informed the Naval base in Trincomalee who in turn sought clarification from SLN headquarters in Colombo.

Checking with Lloyds shipping register the SLN had found the details to be bogus.

The gunboat thereafter received instructions to apprehend and check the vessel and its cargo. Once more challenging the ship, the naval patrol boat demanded it to stop. Refusing to obey, the navy patrol boat had then witnessed the boat that was being towed full of cargo being released from the ship. Despite giving chase to this boat, the SLN gunboat could not apprehend its travellers and cargo as it disappeared beyond Sri Lanka’s territorial waters.

The ship meantime had continued to sail towards Point Pedro. Giving chase, the SLN gunboat fired some warning shots in the direction of the ship attempting to force it to stop. According to a senior naval officer, the LTTE ship had returned fired.

The Navy maintains that suddenly the tiger ship exploded in a ball of fire and slowly began to sink. The time was around 5 a.m.

Initial reports from the SLN gunboat stated they had seen some of the human cargo on board the ship jumping overboard seconds before the explosion.

Soon after the incident there was some confusion as it was believed the navy had taken 12 LTTE cadres from the ship into custody. Spokesman for the Navy, Captain Jayantha Perera however stated that this was not so. “We do not have any LTTE cadre in our custody from this vessel,” he said, explaining that the tigers had exploded themselves and the ship ‘Shioshin,’ before they could be apprehended.

Naval officers confided that they suspect the cargo on this ship, contained weapons and explosives but yet do not have any evidence to prove the tiger ship was gun smuggling.

Austin Fernando, Defence Secretary in Jaffna at the time of the incident said, there are two versions of what took place last morning. “The LTTE are claiming that the ship was shot at by the Navy and as a result sank. The Navy are saying they only fired warning shots for the ship to stop, but that the vessel suddenly exploded in a ball of fire.”

Asked if he believed this incident would preempt another war between the two sides, Fernando replied, “I don’t know. I cannot make any predictions.”

A mere twenty four hours before this incident, Thamilselvan, leader of the political wing of the LTTE told head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) General Tryggve Tellefsen that increasing interference with LTTE ships in tiger controlled areas, and harassment of sea tigers will finally lead to a serious confrontation between the two sides if not checked. Tellefsen was in Killinochchi on Friday June 13, together with a delegation from the SLMM.

Tellefsen when contacted by The Sunday Leader yesterday said, the SLMM are still in the process of gathering all information from both parties concerned and will only be in a position to make a clarifying statement thereafter. No SLMM monitors were present at the time of the confrontation.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Tilak Marapone was informed immediately of the confrontation and said he had telephoned Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and has briefed him on available details of the incident.

Former MP and member for the Tamil National Alliance, Joseph Pararajasingham, reiterated saying, “I don’t think this incident will precipitate another war. Whatever the provocation the LTTE will not go back to war.”

Pararajasingham added that the government should as soon as possible formulate a framework for a North-East interim administrative structure and submit it to the LTTE. “This is the only way this situation can be defused,” he said.


Japan awaiting LTTE green light

By Frederica Jansz

The Japanese government is awaiting the green light from the LTTE to confirm dates for high powered meetings both in Sri Lanka and the UK to brief the Tigers on the recently concluded aid donor conference with a view to luring them back to negotiations.

Press Secretary, Japanese Embassy in Colombo, Hideaki Matsuo said Ambassador Seiichiro Otsuka has requested a formal appointment with the LTTE in Kilinochchi in order that he may brief them on the results of the donor conference held in Tokyo last week. Matsuo confirmed that Japanese Special Envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi has also requested a closed door meeting with LTTE Chief Negotiator, Anton Balasingham in London.

Both diplomats are awaiting a reply in this context from the LTTE. Akashi last week said Otsuka would leave for Kilinochchi to brief the LTTE on the outcome of the donor conference with a copy of the Tokyo Declaration within 24 hours of the donor conference ending on Tuesday, June 10.

Despite furious lobbying by the international community before the aid donor meeting in Japan, the LTTE remained steadfast in its decision to avoid the conference.

The Japanese and Norwegian governments, however, are determined that the Tigers must not be isolated from details surrounding a massive US$ 4.5 billion pledged as aid to Sri Lanka over a four year period from 2003 to 2006. In addition, some countries and international organisations have offered technical support.

One of the chief objectives of the conference was to provide the international community with an opportunity to demonstrate its strong and unified commitment to the reconstruction and development of Sri Lanka and to encourage the parties to redouble their efforts to make further progress in the peace process.

The donor meeting had noted the importance of urgent humanitarian assistance as well as medium to long-term assistance to rebuild the conflict affected areas in the north and east and to assist in the development of the entire country. International donors have in fact taken into account the delicate ethnic and geographical balance in the country when providing assistance.

Donors have reminded the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE of the importance of both parties making the utmost effort to further promote the peace process founded upon the principles reflected in the Oslo Declaration.

Donors have pointed out that commitment by both the government and the LTTE to further the peace process will be necessary for the provision of international assistance to the reconstruction and development of the conflict affected areas of the north and east.

In view of the linkage between donor support and progress in the peace process, the international community will monitor and review the progress in the peace process. In implementing its own assistance programmes, the donor community intends to take into careful consideration the results of these periodic reviews.

Prior to the conference getting underway, the preparatory work was done by Economic Reforms Minister, Milinda Moragoda who visited Japan a week in advance to ensure the Premier’s visit to Tokyo was successful. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is scheduled to leave for the UK early next week to meet with British Premier Tony Blair for a briefing on the latest developments.


Economy poised to take off

Sri Lanka is poised for  economic revival if the present consolidation process continues, financial analysts predicted last week.

The Central Bank predicted a GDP growth rate of 5.5% for 2003 last week. HNB Stockbrokers released a report titled The Lion Emerges and stated, “We project a 4.8% GDP growth rate in 2003, following the economic recovery witnessed in the second half of 2002.”

“The economy could chalk up annual growth rates of around 7% later in the decade, ranking it among the fastest-growing economies,” international research house JP Morgan said just prior to the aid group meeting. HNB upped its forecast for 2004 to 5.8%.  The US$ 4.5 billion pledged at the Tokyo meeting was taken as a sign of confidence in the government and the economy.

However, the reports noted that consolidation needed to continue for the country to reap the full benefits.

“While the peace process will be extremely positive for  the development of the country, we believe that the government still has to create a sustainable business environment for growth.

The economic recovery witnessed in 2002, although encouraging, is inadequate to create sustainable long term growth,” HNB said. The report advocated a radical change in attitudes in the southern political parties, the LTTE and the general public to allow the peace process to succeed.

The Central Bank said that industrial production had picked up during the first three months of 2003. However, agriculture output would take a hit due to the recent floods.

Both the Colombo Consumer Price Index and the Colombo District Consumer Price Index had recorded decreases in annual rates.

The Central Bank observed that the aid pledged at the donor meeting would allow the government to go ahead with fiscal reforms.


Docs to resume union action

By Shezna Shums

Medical doctors who suspended their union action Friday night in view of Poson, have vowed to recommence the strike action tomorrow (16).

The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) spokesman told The Sunday Leader the strike would be continued until the government makes a firm statement regarding their salary anomalies.

The Sunday Leader learns while all the doctors attached to the GMOA would be working during the weekend, doctors from Anuradhapura would be still on strike as both Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Health Minister P.Dayaratne were expected to visit this area. There are more than 8000 members attached to the GMOA.

GMOA Spokesman Dr.Susitha Perera said that they raised the issue regarding their salary anomalies last April and added to date nothing has been done.

The doctors are demanding that their salaries be increased. The other demand put forward by them are that doctors serving in the north and east must be paid special risk allowances as they are the only doctors who are sent from the south to those areas to serve.

Dr.Perera says the cabinet sub committee dealing with their issues had three months to come up with a solution however nothing has been done.

“This trade union action is our last weapon we had to use this for our demand to be met,” he said.

Meanwhile, speaking to The Sunday Leader Health Minister P. Dayaratne stated that when the GMOA’s demands were made known to the cabinet they were sent to the cabinet sub committee for further studies and approval.

He said when the sub committee studied the GMOA’s demands they decided that the salary anomalies and payment of arrears the doctors were demanding for was something that should be looked into by the Finance Minister K.N.Choksy.


Embassy in Japan commended

Sri Lanka’s mission in Japan, and Ambassador K. Amunugama were commended by the government delegation and the media group that participated at the donor conference for effectively organising the logistical support in Tokyo to ensure the smooth discharge of their duties.

Members of the delegation said they were impressed with the manner in which the ambassador and his team had organised the logistics during their stay in Tokyo.

“The ambassador has taken a lot of trouble to make the Tokyo conference a success,” members said.


PM to meet opposition members

Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe will this week brief opposition parties on the outcome of the Tokyo donor conference.

Wickremesinghe will discuss ways and means of disbursing the funds that were pledged at the meeting.

The Prime Minister told The Sunday Leader that funds were pledged for the whole country and as such the views of all political parties should be considered before actual disbursement takes place.

Parliament is due to take up the Special Election Provisions Bill this week. The Bill refers to the calling of fresh nominations for the postponed north east local government elections. Speaker Joseph Michael Perera is expected to convey the Supreme Court’s determination on the Bill before the debate commences.


Executive Housekeeper of Parliament suspended

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The new Secretary General of Parliament, Priyani Wijesekera has suspended the executive housekeeper of parliament for abusing her position and two former housekeeping assistants for engaging in outside work during working hours.

Over one and a half months ago, the two assistants have been reportedly sent to the housekeeper’s  Madiwela residence to clean up the house.

A messenger who was formerly employed in the housekeeping department had brought the matter to the Speaker’s notice. Speaker Joseph Michael Perera had quickly dispatched two of his security personnel to check the house and ordered parliament police to immediately take the two workers for questioning.

It has transpired that the excuse provided by the executive housekeeper to the Speaker was that the two employees were sent home to fetch some medicine to be sent to her mother and that they had duly obtained short leave.

Subsequently, the Secretary General instructed director administration to hold an inquiry, according to sources. When summoned for the inquiry, the executive housekeeper allegedly contradicted her earlier statement and stated that the practice was common as most senior officials obtained the services of her department staff in a similar manner, and furnished names of such officials. The two men were subsequently interdicted on June 6.

It is reliably learnt that the Secretary General has rejected the original findings for being biased and called for a fresh inquiry by another assistant director.

Meanwhile, the new trade union in parliament, the Parliamentary Workers Association, mostly consisting of minor staff has submitted a petition calling for the immediate stopping of continuing ‘slavery.’ The union has also criticised the decision to suspend the two messengers, and demanded justice by seeking the suspension of the executive housekeeper as well.

Authoritative sources said that thy have made representations to the Speaker and informed the secretary general that they would picket in front of parliament dung the next sessions, commencing Tuesday 17th.

The sources added that the Secretary General moved swiftly to quell the discontent and issued interdiction orders on all three on June 10.

Meanwhile, a fresh inquiry into this incident is to be initiated at the instance of the Speaker who is to get the services of a senior judicial officer for the matter.


Move to 10 digits delays directory

By Risidra Mendis

Rearranging the telephone directory after Sri Lanka Telecom decided to introduce a change in the existing number of digits is likely to cause subscribers inconvenience.

The telephone directory that should have been out by January 2003 has now been postponed to August/September 2003.

When The Sunday Leader contacted Sri Lanka Telecom Directory Section, L.P.M.P Balapitiya said the directory was supposed to be released in May. However due to a change that was introduced to the existing number of digits making all telephone numbers 10 digits, a decision was taken by SLT officials to print the directory in August/September 2003.

According to Balapitiya if the directory was printed before the 10 digit change, residents and businessmen would have thrown the book away.

Balapitiya said that the September 2003 directory like other directories will be valid for a year.

Commenting on the new subscribers to the directory after September 2003, Balapitiya said a decision is yet to be taken regarding the printing of a supplement. “I cannot comment now since the decision will depend on the number of customers and the decision that will taken by the Telecom Regulatory Commission.

“But despite the delay in the telecom directory, subscribers are finding it difficult to cope with the last directory as many numbers have changed or are out of order,” he explained.


 Nine months of toil bears fruit - Hakeem

By Wilson Gnanadass

Ports Minister and Leader, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Rauf Hakeem said the successful conclusion of the Tokyo aid group meeting was an effort of more than nine months of toil which has finally borne fruits.

“I must congratulate the entire government team, which resulted in an unprecedented sum of development assistance being pledged by the multilateral and bilateral donors,” he told The Sunday Leader shortly after he returned from Toyko.

Hakeem said the absence of the LTTE was disappointing. “In that regard, the LTTE disappointed many among the donor community. Whatever their reasons maybe, the people of this country belonging to all the communities should not be made to suffer for their intransigence,” he said, adding, “from their point of view, this may be a nasty comment. I am mindful of the fact that we have to understand their difficulties in this transitional phase, yet cannot sound complementary all the time.”

He said he is personally pleased that he was able to get the government and many influential players in the international scene both among the multilateral and bilateral donors to understand the imperative need to address the Muslim dimension properly, both with regard to the need for equity in the flow of development assistance and on the issue of a proper level of stakeholder recognition in the future sessions of peace talks.

“I must thank the Prime Minister for his understanding of these issues and in supporting me by including some of those concerns in his speech and then finally persuading the donors to reflect the idea in their final declaration,” he pointed out.

Commenting on the remarks made by the main opposition party with regard to the Tokyo conference, Hakeem said the opposition, as expected, has come up with sour grape stories of this massive development assistance increasing the debt of the country. He said though the exact percentages are yet to be calculated, the major portion may consist of long-term soft loans on concessionary rates of interest.

“But substantial amounts have been pledged by various donors as outright grants. For instance, the European Union’s US$ 250 million and Japan’s grant component of a further US$ 200 million.”

“During the PA regime too, a major portion of the development assistance came in this fashion. But the fact is that both in terms of concessionary loans and outright grants, there was a quantum leap this time. This goes to show the international community’s confidence in the macroeconomic policies of this government and their faith in the sustainability of the peace process,” he observed.

He said what is unique is that from the very outset nine months ago, starting from September 16, the government delegation has had its focus on this donor conference and added all of them worked as a team towards this.

“My perception was that the LTTE too understood the clear conviction of the government in this regard. We all knew very well that on every side there would be difficult situations to surmount. Constitutional impediments posed the major problem.

“The novel features of this donor conference were that for the first time, there was direct involvement of civil society to some extent including the NGOs. The fact that business and industry leaders were present in large numbers was also very encouraging. We also commend Japan, which took the onerous responsibility of organising this meeting. This was an experiment in a new role model to development assistance to promote peace. Their usual practice has always been to step in after the event,” he said.

He said what is now important is for Sri Lanka to find a way to put the peace process back on track, adding it is necessary to address the concerns of the President on the one side and the Muslims on the other.

He said he is eagerly looking forward to an opportunity to meet with the LTTE along with a Muslim delegation representing all shades of opinion in the north east and to continue to be involved in the peace process along with this delegation.

“As for the President’s concern, we have to have a new approach to cohabitation and let us look at the strengths rather than the weaknesses here. We should now forget about issues such as lack of consultation on the MoU and the DLB issue and the inner conviction of both national leaders, which certainly is very progressive though at times we find them to be somewhat opportunistic.”

“Here I must commend the Prime Minister for his extreme patience. I am sure that he understands that the President at least is a necessary evil. I am sure saner counsel will prevail on both of them so that we can capitalise on this enormous goodwill shown by the international community,” the Minister said.


Andra Pradesh CM pledges IT support for IT development

India’s Andra Pradesh Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu has pledged his support to develop Sri Lanka’s emerging IT sector.

Known as the CEO of Andra Pradesh Inc., Naidu met Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister, Ravi Karunanayake in Hyderabad recently and said that the expertise and experience of his province could be used as a role model for rest of the Asian countries to position themselves in the global IT development market.

The ministers discussed the possible impact of shifting the paradigm of the global economy to a knowledge based one emphasising the widening opportunities for the South Asian countries in the global software business.

Karunanayake briefed Naidu about the government’s initiative to strengthen intellectual property rights through the draft IP bill which is scheduled to be debated soon in parliament and also briefed about the success of the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) which is under his preview as a centre of excellence in IT education.

The ministers further discussed the impact of the Indo Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement in bilateral trade where Karunanayake pointed out that exporters and manufacturers in Andra Pradesh could use Sri Lanka as a logistics hub to channel their products globally as well as to other parts of India. Karunanayake invited Naidu to visit Sri Lanka at his earliest convenience.


“Killing is chilling,” says Colombo Mayor

Colombo Mayor Prasanna Gunewardena has appealed to residents not to encourage stray dogs in the city of Colombo.

According to Gunewardena, residents of Colombo are in the habit of throwing leftover food packets onto the side of the roads for the strays. “The residents put this food for the strays out of the goodness of their hearts. However, this results in the strays remaining in these places. Eventually the strays start breeding and the numbers increase within a short period of time,” Gunewardena said.

According to him, his main concern is the spread of rabies. However, he believes killing of dogs by gassing is not the solution to the problem. “Killing is chilling,” says Gunewardena, and the present staff at the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) is not sufficient to conduct sterilisation programmes. “However, we have many NGOs coming forward to extend their support,” he said.

According to the Mayor, they have conducted a number of sterilisation programmes together with private sector support and hope to conduct many more in the future.

“I can say there is a positive response towards these programmes. On the fifth day of Vesak, the CMC extended their kindness towards animals by conducting a sterilisation programme with private sector participation at a temple in Mattakkuliya. There were 200 dogs brought that day and I consider this a positive sign,” Gunawardena said.


Presentation of Rathna Bhoomi deeds

Presentation of Rathna Bhoomi deeds for the first time will take place at the Cooperative hall in Matara at on June 19.

The Rathna Bhoomi concept was introduced by the UNF government to ease the burden of the landless poor, a Lands Ministry release stated.

An estimated 225 families who occupied state lands by squatting illegally would benefit firstly when the new scheme is launched by Lands Minister, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne. The Land Reform Commission is instrumental in legalising this unauthorised land ownership by introducing the Rathna Bhoomi deed presentation.

Lands in Kamburupitiya, Matara, Devinuwara, Dickwella, Mulatiyana, Thihagoda, Kotapola, Pitabeddara, Akuressa in Matara District and also Tangalle, Beliatta and Walasmulla in the Hambantota District have been chosen. Residents who occupy state lands for housing and agriculture purposes will be granted the deeds for the first time, the release stated.

According to the current land policy, a person who does not own an inch of land could get a maximum of 20 perches for housing purposes and two acres for an agricultural project, the release stated.


 

 Over 20,000 people missing - ICRC

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has revealed that around 20,000 people have disappeared since the beginning of the Eelam war.

Resident Representative, Batticaloa District, ICRC, Filipa Nato Marques has told the press both protagonists are responsible for these disappearances

The ICRC came forward to provide assistance in investigating into the disappearances of people after the conflict between the government and the LTTE began after an appeal was made at the fifth round of talks between the government and the LTTE at the Norwegian Embassy in Berlin on February 7 and 8.

She had also said that both the government and the LTTE have not contacted the ICRC after the initial request that was made in Berlin. She says the ICRC would be able to expedite the whole process if both parties extended their cooperation.

Measles immunisation programme

A national measles immunisation programme was scheduled to be inaugurated in the North East Province last week. Phase one of the programme is expected to target all children in the 10-14 years age group and it would be conducted for a period of six to eight weeks from July to August according to Provincial Health Ministry officials.

Phase two of the national measles programme would be conducted in the country in 2004 targeting the age group between 16 and 20, sources said. The specific objectives of the immunisation are to provide an opportunity for vaccination against measles for those who have never received a single dose of the vaccine, to prevent measles outbreaks and interrupt the transmission of the measles virus by vaccinating the most susceptible children, and to provide a second opportunity for immunisation for those who have already received a dose of measles vaccine, provincial health officials said.

Despite low incidents of measles during the past decade, an outbreak of the disease occurred in Sri Lanka in September 1999. Over 15,000 suspected cases of measles were notified to the Epidemiological Unit of the Department of Health Services from September 1999 to the end of June 2001, according to health reports.

Six-year-old dies of dengue in Trinco

A six-year-old girl last week died of dengue fever in the Trincomalee District. According to Health Department sources, this is the first such death that has been reported in this area. The girl had died in the Trincomalee hospital. The health authorities in Trincomalee have already taken preventive measures against the spread of dengue.

Meanwhile, a five-year-old boy in Kantalai town suffering from dengue fever has also been admitted at the area government hospital, medical sources said. Dengue is spread through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. The mosquito gets the virus by biting an infected person. The first symptom of the disease occurs about five to seven days after the bite.

Amnesties to army deserters an “utter failure”

Interior Minister John Amaratunga says repeated amnesties granted to army deserters have been an “utter” failure. He added that new plans have been drawn to apprehend them, especially to obtain their weapons. He said the crime rate in the country is on the increase because such army deserters were in possession of weapons and the government is not in a position to confiscate the weapons.

Amaratunga said the army deserters have virtually ignored all amnesties granted to them and added the only option available for the government is to conduct surprise raids. “Now that they have ignored our amnesty, if they are caught by the special police unit that is set up to apprehend them, we will punish them severely,” he said.

Corea to speak at Kensington Temple

Dr. Vijaya Corea, who has many times in the past travelled to Australia, USA, Canada, UAE, India, Pakistan, Singapore and Malaysia with the message of the love and compassion of the Lord Jesus Christ, has been invited to speak and minister at Kensington Temple (London City Church) in England next Saturday, June 21 at 7 p.m. Reports indicate that the Asian community in London is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Sri Lanka’s apostle and evangelist who will minister the healing love of the Lord Jesus Christ and bring to them a spiritual message anointed of God.


Green light for SL-India ferry service

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The Indian Cabinet has finally sanctioned the proposed ferry service between South India’s port of Tuticorin and Colombo, ending months of indecision on the matter.

The service, originally scheduled to start in November last year strengthening trade links and offering a cheaper mode of travel to those wishing to commute between the two countries was put on hold until the Indian government gave the green light.

“It will create a great window of opportunity for bilateral trade,” said Ports Minister Rauf Hakeem who initiated the move.

The two countries, separated only by 26 km would greatly benefit from the reintroduction of the ferry service. Both governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) last year and are now eager to finalise operational strategy, he said.

The ferry service will provide an ideal opportunity for tourists, pilgrims, and others to travel to Sri Lanka without the usual constraints associated with air travel.

Tuticorin Port according to officials here is strategically placed and is close to many international sea routes. It is also well connected to other trade centers scattered around the state of Tamil Nadu and the neighbouring states of Kerala, Andra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Officials also said the ferry service would ensure more sea traffic from India, and this would be a welcome step in forging more links with the island’s giant neighbour. “We will explore possibilities of expanding the ferry service and look at other Indian ports afterwards,” they said.

Each ferry, to be operated by the private sector, could accommodate 300 passengers on board.

The service was abandoned 20 years ago when civil war broke out in Sri Lanka as it caused much security concerns. With the signing of the truce on February 24 last year, Minister Rauf Hakeem met Indian authorities and pursued the prospect of resuming the service.

Tuticorin Port Trust Chairman, N. K. Ragupathy and Director Operations, Merchant Shipping of India, N.K. Java have already visited Sri Lanka to finalise operational aspects.

The Colombo Port was recently upgraded with special amenities being provided at the passenger terminal and new features being introduced to expedite clearance and immigration of passengers.

The thrice a week, six hour sea journey will cost only one third of the regular airfare from Chennai to Colombo, and includes a baggage allowance of 75 kgs.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is keen to expand the ferry service to reach other ports of India as well. Both countries are to shortly set up a joint committee for efficient implementation of the agreement, which will remain in force for five years.


 • Lalith Ambanwela

The true face of courage

By Marianne David

In Lalith Ambanwela’s life there is a ritual. Every three days his wife takes out his eye and washes it. And every time she does that, she cries.

Lalith’s plastic eye needs to be washed every three days for medical reasons. He cannot do it himself and that is why his wife has to help him. But each time the eye rests on her palm, amidst tears she asks, “Why did this have to happen to you?”

Lalith and his family have to undergo the ordeal because of his own actions, because he was courageous enough to lead a battle against corruption and risk his life.

Vicious acid attack

The victim of a vicious acid attack after he tried to expose the fraudulent acts that were taking place in the sub office of the Education Department in Kandy, Lalith is now a man who cannot even see clearly, who breaks down when he tells you his story.

But that does not mean he is a broken man. His courage and his strength shine through the scars when you look beyond the surface and see the man inside — a humbling experience.

Huge amounts of Central Provincial Council funds, central government funds and foreign-funded project funds were being embezzled at the sub office in Kandy — about Rs. 250 million in total. Having been assigned to investigate into the matter, Lalith saw no reason to hush it up.

Not the type of man to back down and turn a blind eye where corruption and malpractice were rampant, Lalith went out of his way to ensure those responsible were exposed. “It was my responsibility not just as an auditor but also as a civilian. I feel that as civilians, we have a responsibility towards society,” said Lalith.

An auditor in the Auditor General’s Department, Lalith was transferred from Matale to Kandy and assigned by the Auditor General to investigate the case along with his subordinates.

Lalith had randomly checked some vouchers and says he understood at a glance that “malpractice and corrupt acts were taking place.” He then informed the Auditor General, who sent a special investigation officer to help in the investigation as well.

In the course of Lalith’s investigations, he found that about Rs. 8.5 million had been allocated for seminars alone but these seminars had never been held and large amounts had been allocated for computer purchases. Huge commissions had also been paid when purchasing.

Having called for the quotations for the computer purchases, Lalith had then checked if the places that were listed on the three tenders existed. However, only one of them, College of Computer Studies, existed.

Purchases worth millions of rupees had been made violating standard procedure, says Lalith, who then stopped the payments.

Lalith reported his findings to parliament, after which the public accounts committee had made some recommendations. However, the Central Provincial Council public officer had not implemented these recommendations and though there was a transfer order issued, a court order had been obtained against it.

The chief accountant, another accountant and the deputy director of the commerce division were found to be responsible for the fraud and were interdicted in this regard, said Lalith.

The chief accountant had then called Lalith one day asking him to do something to help him and attempted to bribe him, says Lalith. “I said no and that I would not do it even if it was for my own brother.”

Having been in service for over 18 years, Lalith says he has never done such things because he always did his duty and lived according to his principles.

“These three people were handling public money, they were accountable to the public. Unfortunately, these public officers neglected their responsibility.”

Did his best

Lalith is sad that corruption is rampant. He says he felt he should do his best to “stop these corrupt acts,” which is why he relentlessly tried to bring the culprits to book. “It’s very easy to commit a crime, that’s a sad thing,” he says, shaking his head, the regret in his voice obvious.

Not a man to shirk his duty, Lalith says that what happened to him, happened for a reason, because he did his duty. “I wanted to stop what I saw as a national waste.”

On May 20, 2002, Lalith followed his usual routine, not knowing that on that fateful day, his life would take a drastic turn.

Leaving office at five, Lalith took his daily route home. He was driving alone in his car, with the shutters down, when near the Asgiriya cricket stadium a three-wheeler had tried to overtake him. Lalith had then moved to allow it to pass.

But this three-wheeler did not pass and overtake him as Lalith presumed it would. Someone in the three-wheeler threw acid at Lalith, burning him, scarring him for life.

“I was threatened over the phone previously that acid would be thrown on me so I knew it was acid as soon as it happened,” said Lalith.

The threatening phone call had been made on June 21, 2001, just one day before the public accounts committee meeting that was to be held in parliament. The acid attack took place on May 20, 2002.

As a result of the attack, his face is burnt and scarred beyond recognition. His right eye has been replaced with a plastic eye, while he cannot open his left eye wide enough for one to be able to see it. He can barely see.

Face to face with the auditor is a numbing experience. Expressionless, except for the scars, the words echo as if in an empty, deep, dark well.

“It burns,” he says, “it burns when you swallow acid, but I had to. I had to do it so that I could breathe.” Lalith’s lungs were seared as well as a result, but he says that they healed soon.

Lalith goes for treatment to Apollo Hospital in Colombo regularly, while his doctor in Kandy treats his left eye. So far he has had four surgeries done and another is scheduled for July 3.

According to him, it was his mental strength that kept him alive after the attack. “That is why I was able to stop the car and get out and even swallow acid,” he said.

Shock

The acid attack on him was a big shock to his two daughters, aged 13 and 8. His wife was abroad at the time of the attack and his children were at home when it happened. They found out about the attack through television coverage and a phone call. Neighbours had rushed to their house to comfort them.

“My daughters suffered a lot because of this... They ask why this happened to their father.”

His family was “very supportive all throughout,” he says. “My family, the President, the Prime Minister and the public all stood by me.”

The acid attack was not the first time that attempts had been made to get rid of Lalith’s threatening presence. There had been several attempts to kill him previously, which he found out later.

His office was broken into in June 2002, highlighting the danger that Lalith was in. The intruders had taken all the documents that were in the office but did not get the most important ones. “As a habit, I had left most of the important documents with another officer.”

There was a clear element of danger when he probed further into the case, says Lalith, but he never thought of backing down. “Even though I knew I was in danger, I did my best and I would do it again,” he says with pride and absolute confidence, while his ravaged face tells the tale of what this man goes through today as a result of his commitment to expose corruption.

“People told me that I was in danger when my office was broken into but I have to do my job. I did not do this expecting praise. I just did my duty,” he says.

“Money is not everything”

Lalith is now on medical leave. He still gets his salary and the President’s Fund pays for his medical expenses. However, “money is not everything,” he says, adding, “there are values too.”

And what keeps him going, he says, is the knowledge that “my job and duties as a man I have done.” He has no regrets either, not this man. “We are happy because we are not materialistic,” so life goes on...

“What is beautiful and what is ugly?” he asks, with a shrug. “These things are just in people’s minds.” But why then, the plastic surgery? Simply because facial hair gets stuck between skin and his wounds start to bleed again when that happens, he said.

Lalith hopes to go back to work, even in an advisory capacity as soon as he can. That is the hope that keeps him going and the goal he has set for himself. He wants to help even in a small way and is determined to use his skills for the benefit of the people.

“That is my main ambition, to go back to work. What is the point in stagnating? It is pointless. If I am unable to work, I will resign but at least I have to try, so I will try. I think positive...”

No regrets

Lalith is satisfied with his life because he did everything that he could against corruption. “I have done my best against corruption all my life, so I am happy,” he says.

“It’s very rare that someone in society would do something like this now. As a habit, if I see a fault, I say so. In Western countries the public is very powerful. People should be the same here as well. It’s easy to talk but hard to do something.”

Lalith is a deeply religious man. A firm Buddhist, he believes that if someone does something wrong, either the law or nature will punish him or her. Because of this, Lalith says that he does not drink alcohol or smoke and lives according to certain principles. “Everyone dies someday,” he says, but, “as long as you live, you have to do your duty.”

His sacrifice is worth it, says Lalith, adding that he is not sorry about what happened. “There were good results because of my sacrifice. Changes have been made throughout the island in the education field as a result, so it is worth it,” he says firmly.

“It is worth it because I also gained something for society as a part of that sacrifice,” he adds, not with obvious pride, but with the confidence that he did what he thought was right and therefore, has no time for regret.

Lalith Ambanwela’s face is the face of courage in Sri Lanka. His scars and his pain are symbols of courage, of standing up to bloodhounds who would go to any extent for a cheap extra buck.

Thank God that there is at least one such face in this country.


Abductions controversy persists

By Hemamala Wickramage

Internal rivalries within Tamil political parties in the north east have further compounded the controversy of missing members of certain Tamil political parties who have been allegedly abducted and murdered by the LTTE.

EPRLF’s Varadarajah Perumal faction based in Batticaloa, claims that LTTE killings of rival political party members of the north east have increased since the signing of the ceasefire agreement.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Rasiah Thurairatnam who is in charge of the EPRLF in Batticaloa and Ampara, said 12 people from Tamil political parties are reported as missing, while 14 others have been abducted and murdered by the LTTE.

“The LTTE’s violence against rival party members still continues. Regardless of the ceasefire, they even come to government controlled areas and kidnap these people,” he said.  He accuses the LTTE of increased levels of violence against other party members in view of the forthcoming local government elections in the north east to be held on July 26.

“The LTTE does not seem to have any respect for democracy or human rights. Its leadership is showing clear signs of a dictatorship,” said Thurairatnam.

Meanwhile, the second splinter group of EPRLF, known as the Premachandra group, is led by Secretary General, Suresh Premachandran, who told The Sunday Leader that he is not aware of any abductions or killings of their party members after the signing of the ceasefire agreement. He was puzzled as to why the rival faction of the EPRLF was claiming there had been abductions and killings by the LTTE.

President, TELO and Wanni District MP, Selvam Adaikalanadan has a similar view of the criminal activities the LTTE is accused of. “Nobody from our party has been killed. I don’t believe these accusations against the LTTE,” said Adaikalanadan.

Thurairatnam, however, said the pro-LTTE stand taken by the EPRLF’s Premachandra group is the prime reason for their ‘ignorance’ of LTTE atrocities. “Basically, their pro-LTTE stand has got them covered. The LTTE’s policy is to destroy their opponents,” said Thurairatnam, adding that Party Leader Varadarajah Perumal’s life as well as his own are also under great threat.

“We could be killed any time just like our other members who have already suffered at the hands of the Tigers,” he said.

Meanwhile, army sources indicate that the LTTE might be having a hand in these reported abductions and killings. They confirmed that the individuals listed in EPRLF’s missing person’s list — copies of which have been sent to the President, Prime Minister, a number of foreign missions and the media — as correct.

“We have been informed that these persons are currently missing and their whereabouts are not known,” said the source. However, army sources could not confirm the allegation that they have actually been killed by the LTTE.

When contacted, LTTE sources denied all allegations levelled against them concerning political killings in the north and east. “The LTTE is not involved in any of these violent incidents. Our Political Wing Chief, Tamilselvan has already issued a statement  in support of this,” said the LTTE source.

The LTTE is of the view that the killings are a result of internal problems within certain Tamil political parties. “These happen due to political rivalries amongst their own. When something violent happens, what they try to do is put the blame on us,” said the LTTE source.


Exploitation of children increasing

Measures to curb exploitation of children

By Shezna Shums

Increasing exploitation of children under 18 years has prompted the government to take stringent action against those involved in ill-treating children.

The Sunday Leader learns that Labour Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe is to introduce new legislation with adequate powers to curb or prevent any form of child labour in Sri Lanka.

According to senior ministers of the United National Front (UNF), the government is concerned about the growing number of children under the age of 18 being forced into labour.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Police Sub Inspector, Women and Children Bureau, Manoj Kumara said that there are many cases reported to this division in regard to child labour but exact figures could not be given as there are cases also reported to the police headquarters.

"However, we have only the reported figures. There are a number of cases that go unreported," added Kumara.

Interior Minister John Amaratunga says the special police unit is "ever ready" to take action on any resident or employer who he says has violated the rights of children.

Sarath W. Amarasinghe, author of The Commercial Sexual Exploitation Of Children says that according to the child activity survey (1999-2000) conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics, the child population under 18 years was estimated at 4,344,770.

This, he states in his survey, reveals that 2.9% of the children in the age group from five to 14 years and 29.3% in the age group of 15 to 17 years are not engaged in education.

His survey further states that among children below 18 years of age, 5.3% were involved in economic activities and another 7.1% were involved in housekeeping and were not attending school. "Child population in Sri Lanka is estimated to be 27% of the total population," he states.

Meanwhile, the National Programme Manager, ILO, Shyama Salgado pointed out that there is an increasing number of students dropping out of school.

She told The Sunday Leader that upon receiving information regarding child exploitation, immediate intervention is made in order to arrest the guardian, parents or even employers.

According to the Department of Census and Statistics survey carried out in 1998/1999, of a total child population of 926,039, some 69,064 are involved in economic activities only. A total of 165,554 are involved in economic activity and housekeeping; 69,715 are involved in economic activity and also going to schools and 621,704 involved in economic activity, along with housekeeping and are also schooling.

CRC expresses serious concern

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) said it is concerned that under Sri Lanka’s legal system, societal discrimination persists against vulnerable groups of children, including children with disabilities, adopted children, children displaced by conflict, children infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS, and children of ethnic groups and religions.

In its second report on Sri Lanka released on June 6, the CRC reiterated serious concern that the minimum age of criminal responsibility, set at eight years, is too low and that children between the age of 16 and 18 are considered by penal law as adults. Human rights lawyers say the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) under which hundreds of Tamil children were arrested and detained remains a serious threat to child rights in the north east.


Showboat in stormy waters- court battle on

By Frederica Jansz

A ROW involving the popular karaoke bar and restaurant, Showboat, at Reid Avenue, Colombo 4, has ended up in courts as the owners of the property are seeking legal redress, claiming to have suffered a multi million rupee loss.

The tenants are also seeking damages through court asserting the legal tussle will incur a multi million rupee business loss for them as well.

A BOI approved project, the building for Showboat was leased from Preethi Ilva to Owner and Managing Director, Showboat, Carol Swee in September 1995 until end August 1999.

Showboat had thereafter requested an extension, which Ilva had refused. She says she refused an extension of the lease because the lessee had destroyed the entire garden by constructing an unauthorised building, without written consent from either her or that of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC).

Swee refuted this charge asserting, "We had full approval from the CMC for this building. Preethi Ilva too gave her consent." Swee explained that Ilva used to regularly visit the construction site. "This is not something that came up overnight — how can she say it did not have her consent?" Swee asked angrily.

According to Ilva, this unauthorised building caused an increase in municipality rates in June 1999 from Rs. 12,565 to 19,250.

Although there is a clause in the lease agreement that the enhanced rates will be paid by the occupant, such payments ceased from the second quarter of the year 2000, she told The Sunday Leader.

Ilva charges that the rates for the year 2003 has been further increased to Rs. 38,500 per quarter and nothing has been paid up to date. The last payment received as damages, Ilva said was in May 2000.

This payment she explained was issued by cheque in court. The monies, however, were never received as the drawer stopped payment and thus, the money never realised. Thereafter, Ilva filed a contempt of court action in March 2002.

Showboat, Ilva says, continued to occupy the premises and business went on as usual and as a result of this "forced occupation" Showboat will conclude four years by August this year.

In November 1999, Ilva filed action in the District Court of Colombo. In February 2002, the court had delivered judgement in the owner’s favour granting damages and ordering eviction. Showboat was required to pay Rs. 10,000 per day from the date of expiry of the original lease. They were also ordered by court to handover the premises to Preethi Ilva.

Showboat had appealed against this judgement in April 2002. Ilva says she went back to court asking for eviction pending this appeal case. At this point, Showboat had requested a settlement to which Ilva had agreed. A document to this effect was signed in court, but Ilva says Showboat hid the fact that the Ceylon Electricity Board had already disconnected the electricity supply in October 2002, owing to arrears amounting to Rs. 4 million.

Apart from this, additional arrears Preethi Ilva said to date amounts to Rs. 3.8 million as unpaid rent and municipal rates of Rs. 214, 200. The first default in respect of the settlement in court was made on May 22 this year, when Showboat failed to pay the monthly rental of Rs. 185,625. Ilva bitterly related how these so called BOI projects leave locals "high and dry" in many instances as after approval is granted, the BOI "has no control of what happens thereafter."

Swee vehemently denied these allegations. "This is all completely wrong" she said, adding that Preethi Ilva is making this up "because she lost the court case." Swee maintains that she won a counter case she filed in the Appeal Court.

"I have also claimed damages," she said, adding, "I have spent US$ 8 million for interior construction and renovations and another Rs. 10 million for karaoke equipment, etc." Altogether, Swee says she has invested Rs. 20 million on the premises at Reid Avenue.

Swee is now demanding Rs. 40 million as compensation from Ilva and denied that she has forcefully occupied the premises, maintaining that she paid her rental to courts for the first two years but that Ilva refused to accept the payments as rent and instead claimed damages.

Swee claimed that the High Court has given her three years to find another location for Showboat and to continue paying her lease to Ilva until the year 2005.

"Preethi Ilva is not happy with this decision, which is why she is now engaging in a mudslinging campaign against me," Swee said.


Shortage of vets

By Risidra Mendis

The Wildlife Department presently has only three veterinary surgeons to overlook the entire wildlife population in the country. Dr. Taraka Prasad is in charge of Anuradhapura and the Department, Dr. Suhada Jayawardena is in charge of the Uda Walawe National Park, Ath Athu Sevana and the southern and eastern region, and Dr. Wijitha Perera is in charge of the Wilgamuwa, Polonnaruwa, Trinco and central region areas.

However, attempts by the Wildlife Department to upgrade the ranks of the veterinary cadres has been blocked by the Public Service Commission (PSC). Based on cabinet approval, a decision was taken by the Wildlife Department to recruit seven veterinary surgeons.

However, due to a shortage of funds, only three appointments were approved. But even these letters of appointment are yet to be released by the PSC while the Department undergoes severe hardship. While the need to increase the number of vets has become necessary due to the rising human-elephant conflict in the country, the PSC is yet to give reasons for their delay.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Environment Minister Rukman Senanayake said the Treasury had approved the recruitment of vets around a year ago. However, Department officials are awaiting clearance from the PSC to go ahead with their approval.

Meanwhile, Wildlife Director H.S.B.C. Herath said that even though the Department has chosen three veterinary surgeons, this is not a sufficient number.

Having selected the three vets out of a number of applications six or seven months ago, the Department had forwarded the applications to the Environment Ministry which in turn submitted the letters to the PSC for approval.

According to senior wildlife officials, a vet is paid an average of Rs 10,000 per month. However, the Treasury has informed the Department officials of a shortage of funds. According to Herath, even though the three most qualified applicants were chosen, these vets need to be specially trained in handling elephants.

Meanwhile, Trustee, Bio Diversity and Elephant Conservation, Jayantha Jayawardena has organised a training programme for the Department vets in medical care of elephants.

This programme is to be conducted by Vice Director, Zoologist, Vienna Zoo, Dr. Harald Schwammer.

This programme, aimed at upgrading the present standard of the Department vets, will be in the form of a two day workshop and is scheduled to be held at the Dehiwala zoo in July. According to Jayawardena, vets from the Wildlife Department, the zoo and the Department of Animal Protection and Health will participate.

"Dr. Schwammer will cover aspects and methods of elephant management and care in zoos and elephant orphanages," he said. In the case of captive breeding Dr. Schwammer will demonstrate how elephants could be trained for reproductive assessment procedures, basic body and health care for the animals, aspects for veterinary supervision and the advanced requirements for sedation and medication.

Dr. Schwammer will also address the vets on how to treat special diseases like herpes and TB in an emergency.


Journalist assaulted in station commotion

The station master of the Maradana Railway Station has been accused of assaulting a journalist of the Daily Mirror.

Susitha Fernando was allegedly assaulted by the railway station master when he had inquired why the Chilaw train was getting delayed.

The incident happened last Monday at around 8:20 p.m.

According to fellow travellers, Fernando had patiently waited for the train till 9:00 p.m. There had not been any announcement regarding the delay, they said.

On inquiring from the station master as to why the train was getting late, he had snapped at Fernando saying, "I don’t know."

This, according to Fernando, resulted in both of them getting involved in an argument.

He said that while the argument was going on between the two of them, the other passengers were also agitated and tried to argue with the station master.

"At this time the acting station master who was clad in a sarong and a banyan arrived at the spot and started to hit me and other passengers.

"Another person who was waiting for the train was also taken into the station master’s room and was beaten up. His ID card was also taken away," Fernando claimed.

Fernando and 50 other males were injured in the assault and some of them were bleeding profusely, while some chairs and windows were also damaged.

By this time the police was called and Fernando had wanted to make a verbal complaint. However, the cops had told him that they had come to arrest him.

"After this threat they arrested me and the others, and we were kept in police custody."

At the time of being assaulted Fernando had produced his media accreditation card to the police and the railway staff but they had disregarded it.

Meanwhile, Operations Superintendent, Sri Lanka Railway, Chandratilleke denied these charges and said the railway staff did not assault passengers.


CMC for reintroduction of death penalty

The Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) last week voted in favour of Interior Minister John Amaratunga’s plan to reintroduce the death penalty in Sri Lanka in view of the escalating crime rate.

Only two members from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) voted against while all other members in the council, including the main opposition People’s Alliance (PA) voted for the motion.

Two motions were tabled during last week’s general council meeting. The first motion was about the reintroduction of the death penalty while the second was regarding the increasing cost of living.

The second motion was tabled by the JVP.

Deputy Mayor Azath Sally stated that the death penalty is the ultimate answer to the growing crimes in the country and further added the entire country should extend the fullest support with one aim to reduce crimes in Sri Lanka.

Hakeem wants separate arrangement for Muslims

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader and Ports Minister Rauf Hakeem says that if the LTTE is insisting on an interim council based on a politico-administrative structure, then there should be a separate arrangement for the Muslims in the north and east as well.

While agreeing to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s suggestion of appointing a committee rather than a council in the north led by the LTTE, Hakeem says as the Prime Minister has suggested that with some innovative thinking, a devise can be formulated for a method to make the whole exercise workable.

"But it appears the LTTE is now talking about a politico administrative structure," he said. "In that case there should be a separate arrangement for the Muslim areas since the LTTE obviously does not have any mandate from the Muslim people to be put in charge of that sort of a structure," he added.

 

 

 

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