5th September, 2004  Volume 11, Issue  8

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    


SLMC will not jump

Notice and summons issued on Chalmways Propriety

Yala water holes to be filled

LTTE to reveal all

Police action to ensure public safety

SLMC dissidents still personae non gratae

Unclear lines of control contributing to killings - Military

Rabies on the rise

Who pays the repairman?

World Bank hails Lankan immunisation programme

Showers of blessing?

Crucial estate worker wage talks tomorrow

All's well? Not quite...

SLMC will not jump

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauf Hakeem said his party has no intention of following the Ceylon Workers Congress.

He told The Sunday Leader though the CWC is not directly affected by the ethnic conflict the SLMC is, and added it was possible for Thondaman to throw himself at the UPFA government, an act that is 'impossible' for the Muslim Congress.

"How can we be sure that we would be safe under the present government when we have still not been considered as one of the important stake holders of the peace talks," he asked.

He further said CWC's decision to support the government would not affect Arumugam Thondaman or his Grand Father but added every decision taken by the Muslim Congress should be carefully taken as the Muslims are directly affected by the war.

Meanwhile SLMC general secretary Hasan Ali also said that his party has no intention to join the government.

Notice and summons issued on Chalmways Propriety

Notice and summons were issued on Chalmways Propriety (Pte.) Ltd. of Australia, Roger Chalmens Darey, Byron Ko, James Cobie and Kevin Anthony of Victoria, Australia by the Court of Appeal last week, following the filing of an application for contempt of court by Ruhunu 2001 Multivision Private Limited.

The petitioner, Multivision Private Limited, complained to the Court of Appeal that the respondents had willfully and intentionally published an account of High Court proceedings in a national newspaper in a misleading manner, with regard to an assurance given by Multivision to the High Court, alleging that the advertisements damaged the good reputation of the petitioner as a television broadcasting station. The station is labeled 'Comet Cable.'

Multivision filed the contempt of court action under Article 105(3) of the Constitution. With its application, Multivision brought to the notice of the court that the misrepresentation of the proceedings of a court case amounts to an offence punishable for contempt of court.

The petitioner requested the issuance of notice and punishing of the respondents from the Court of Appeal for the contempt of court action by the respondents. The summons and notice issued are returnable on October 6.

Yala water holes to be filled

A programme to fill the dried out water holes in the Yala National Park will commence next week. This decision was taken by Director General, Wildlife and Conservation Department, Dayananda Kariyawasam.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Kariyawasam said the Yala National Park will remain closed from September 1 to October 15 and if the prevailing drought continues, a decision to extend these dates may have to be taken. However, despite the closure of the Yala National Park, bookings are still being accepted.

"Even though the Yala National Park was not badly affected by the drought as opposed to the Bundala and Kaudulla national parks, this decision was taken to prevent a serious water crisis in the coming weeks," explained Kariyawasam.

"Our concern at the moment is for the elephants who are affected by the drought, as an elephant needs 200 litres of water per day for drinking and bathing purposes," said Kariyawasam.

Apart from the animals, the six bungalows within the Yala National Park depend on the water supply from the tanks within the sanctuary.

"Water tanks that have a concrete bottom will be filled with water for the small animals such as leopards, deer and birds," said Kariyawasam.

LTTE to reveal all

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the first time have indicated willingness to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) to reveal the number of military installations established by the organisation.

The SLMM, describing this attitude of the LTTE as a 'significant turn of events' said this would create an environment for the LTTE to be transparent in their dealings. The LTTE has promised to hand over a list of installations it has constructed to the SLMM shortly.

Accusations have been levelled against the Tigers for establishing camps in the army controlled areas. The government condemned the LTTE and accused the Tigers of putting up some 40 camps in government controlled areas, a claim denied by the SLMM.

The latest accusation levelled against the Tigers is that camps have been built around the Trincomalee harbour.

SLMM spokesman Oskar Solnes told The Sunday Leader the willingness by the Tigers to hand over a list to the monitors of military installations was revealed when the SLMM met LTTE's Political Wing Leader S. P. Tamilselvan recently in Kilinochchi.

Last week, the SLMM also discussed with the Norwegian facilitators the government's allegations about the Tigers putting up camps in the government controlled areas.

Solnes said that the SLMM has initiated several inquiries into the government's accusation and found some fortifications of the LTTE in these areas mentioned by the government.

"We never could see 40 camps as claimed by the government. This figure is incorrect," he said.

However he admitted that the Tigers' change of mind to be transparent was welcome and added it was a positive signal towards achieving peace.

Referring to the spate of killings in the east, Solnes said the SLMM receives complaints from both the army and the LTTE. "Both parties seem to be blaming each other over killings. We have taken note of everything," he said.

Police action to ensure public safety

By Jamila Najmuddin

The slow progress in the peace process has prompted police to tighten security measures in order to maintain public safety.

Director, Colombo Crimes Division, SSP Sarath Lugoda said that although checkpoints islandwide would not be increased, the routine checking at the existing checkpoints would be tightened. "Other than the increase in security and the checking at checkpoints, there is nothing more that we could do," the SSP said.

Lugoda said that additional intelligence personnel would also be deployed in various parts of the city. "We have also increased police mobile units in order to minimise the existing high rate of crime in Colombo city," the SSP said.

ASP Crimes, Palitha Fernando told The Sunday Leader that police checkpoints would not be increased around the island in order to prevent the public being inconvenienced. "Even at the existing checkpoints security personnel will carry out the checking as quickly as possible. However, if the necessary documentation such as the vehicle licence and the drivers licence is not available, only then will there be a delay in the checking," ASP Fernando said.

He added that it was not necessary for the public to carry their national Identity Cards (ID) when travelling around the city as it was not a rule in this country that a person should forward their ID when checked. "Although security personnel request people to forward their ID when stopped at check points, it is not a big issue if the ID card is not presented," the ASP said.

The rate of crime in the city has risen alarmingly in the first six months of this year with more than 35 homicides reported, 88 vehicle thefts, 19 vehicle damages, 27 armed robberies, 16 kidnappings and 23 underworld killings. "These numbers are higher than the numbers reported in the first six months of last year," SSP Lugoda said.

SLMC dissidents still personae non gratae

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) has decided not to invite its three dissident MPs for any meetings, though a court order declared the manner in which the action was taken against the dissidents was wrong.

Rishard Badurdeen, Najeeb Majeed and Hussein Bhaila were suspended from the SLMC by the party's ex-co, but the recent Supreme Court ruling held that the expulsions were illegal.

According to General Secretary, SLMC, Hasan Ali though court has found fault with the manner in which the three dissidents were suspended, the court has not gone through the charges levelled against them.

"Well, the court says the expulsion procedure is wrong and adds that  natural justice has not been extended to these members. But the charges against them are grave," he said.

He also said the party's lawyers are looking into the matter and a decision would be taken soon with regard to the dissidents' membership in the SLMC.

"In future we will not invite them for any meetings. We have nothing to do with them. They are with the government," he said.

 Killings in govt. controlled areas

Unclear lines of control contributing to killings - Military

Nearly 80 per cent of the killings that take place in the government controlled areas in the east are due to the establishment of improper Forward Defence Lines (FDL) in the east, Military Spokesman Col. Sumedha Perera said.

According to him, the FDLs are well demarcated in an orderly manner in the north and in the Wanni, while in the east the lines separating the army and LTTE controlled areas are not clear.

Perera says within the controlled areas there are uncontrolled pockets and this leaves room for the LTTE to take advantage of the situation.

Citing Thoppigala as one good example the Spokesman said government troops are not in a position to contain the Tiger cadres to their territory because of this problem.

"In between Trincomalee and Batticaloa, Verugal and Vakarai are uncontrolled. So it is tough for the government forces to keep an eye on each and every Tiger cadre who crosses over," he explained.

He admits the LTTE has freedom to move around the controlled areas as no proper demarcation has been established in the east to separate the LTTE from the army.

"This is why the army is even unable to prevent killings in the city of Colombo - because the Tigers are free to roam about," he said.

He also said if the LTTE was truly committed to the ceasefire agreement and the Memorandum of Understanding it signed with the government, its cadres would not cross the border.

"The ceasefire agreement clearly states that to trespass into the government controlled area by LTTE members is a clear violation of the agreement. The agreement also states that the LTTE should not be roaming about in government controlled areas with weapons. But what happens is something completely different," he said.

Col. Perera further said the increasing crimes in the country cannot be attributed to army deserters alone. He said withdrawal of some of the powers of the army for the sake of the peace process has also contributed to the increase in crime.

He said the withdrawal of emergency regulations, not being able to carry out defensive operations and removal of some vital checking posts are some of the causes for the escalating crime rate.

"It is not only the army deserters who are carrying arms. But also underworld elements with the influence of politicians. LTTE and other armed groups are also selling weapons. So weapons are not only distributed by the army deserters," he said.

Rabies on the rise

By Shezna Shums 

Protests and criticism levelled against the government's efforts to eliminate stray dogs has resulted in rabies becoming a huge threat to society, medical experts say.

The increasing number of victims of dog bites has alarmed the authorities as they are prevented from carrying out their duties by animal rights activitsts.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Consultant Epidemiologist, Epidemiology Unit, Ministry of Health, Dr Ananda Abeysinghe explained that the government spends Rs. 300 million annually for treating rabies victims.

"Thousands of people are bitten by rabid animals but less than 100 develop rabies" he stated. However he added that of the people who develop rabies, the fatality rate was 100 percent.

Abeysinghe stressed that rabies is a public health problem because of the fact that it is "a fatal disease and that there is no cure for it."

He said the cost incurred to treat rabies victims is a huge burden on the health budget, Dr. Abeysinghe said.

"Rabies is an animal disease (zoonotic disease) and people are the accidental victims when a rabid dog, monkey or mongoose bites them," he said.

He said prior to 1975 more than 300 rabies cases were reported annually. However, he added the government had managed to reduce the number to less than 100. "But now the increase is alarming," he added.

"The main carrier of rabies are dogs who constitute more than 80 percent of the carriers of rabies while other animals constitute the remaining 20 percent," Dr Abeysinghe said.

He said the stray dog population in Sri Lanka is one of the largest in the world. "This has become uncontrollable and to vaccinate all those stray dogs is not practical," he pointed out.

"Earlier we used to carry out the elimination of dogs but this has been stopped by the so-called animal lovers," he said.

He said that because animal activists carry out a powerful lobby against any harassment to animals, the local authorities find it difficult to take necessary action to eliminate the dogs in cities and towns.

He said this has resulted in the stray dog population increasing faster than ever before in Sri Lanka. "The options the animal rights activists put forward to us such as using dog pounds are impractical because of the cost and accountability," he said.

He also pointed out the dearth of veterinary surgeons in the country to carry out sterilisation, even though this method is widely encouraged.  "Sri Lanka being a Buddhist country, we sometimes have to take unpleasant steps to rectify the problem.," he said.

Who pays the repairman? 

By Dharishan Bastians 

Sri Lanka Telecom last week remained clueless about whether it would have to bear the US$ 5 million damage to its international undersea cable. The question of who is to foot the bill remains fairly ambiguous since there is no suspect in sight, with SLT officials saying they would have to wait for a verdict from the consortium of 34 countries that share the SEA-ME-WE III undersea cable.

Head of Division, Tariffs and Interconnections, SLT, S.R. Kanaharaarachi told The Sunday Leader last week that once the cable repair ship from Mumbai which arrived in Sri Lanka last week had returned to its port and filed a report on the damage to the cable, the position would be clearer. "Once the ship files its report, the consortium will then have to decide whether it is going to share the cost of the damage or whether SLT will have to do so alone," Kanaharaarachi said.

Asked whether SLT would have to consider a tariff revision if the company had to incur the cost of the damages, Kanaharaarachi maintained that it was too soon to tell. He said SLT's senior management would have to reach a decision on whether the cost could be absorbed by the company or whether they would be compelled to place part of the burden on its 800,000 fixed line subscribers.

SLT suffered major disruptions to its main internet and international call link for over five days when the SEA-ME-WE III cable was allegedly damaged by an Indian state owned vessel off the Mount Lavinia coast on August 22. SLT which had initially commenced legal proceedings against the vessel in question, MV State of Nagaland and obtained a court order to have the ship's local agents produced in court, dropped the case citing a lack of evidence. MV State of Nagaland is owned and operated by the Shipping Corporation of India, controlled by the Indian government.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Chief Marketing Officer, SLT, Kapila Chandrasena said that the cable had finally been repaired by early Monday (30) morning, soon after the conclusion of the Athens Olympics the previous evening.

"All our services were fully restored by 3 A.M. on August 30 and we have also put contingency measures in place by way of satellite and microwave links to ensure that in the event of such an emergency there will be no disruption at all," Chandrasena confirmed. By August 27, four days after the disruption, SLT managed to use six such satellite links and a wire tap from India to reconnect its 50,000 strong internet base which had been incommunicado till then. Voice call links however remained unstable until the cable damage was rectified last Monday.

According to court action filed by SLT, the damage to its main undersea cable had resulted in losses upto US$ 5 million in repair costs and loss of revenue. According to reports, several SLT internet users to whom web connectivity was of paramount importance for business or personal matters switched internet service providers (ISP) during the disruption period. Hospitality sources indicated that their companies had last week decided to tie up with different ISPs with links outside the island's perimetres in order to prevent similar situations resulting from damage to the wiring capacities of local providers.

However, Chandrasena said that to his knowledge, SLT had not suffered an erosion of its customer base during the cable crisis. "We have not really had time to investigate into that matter since all our energies over the last week have been focused on the restoration of services and repairing the damaged wire,"Chandrasena maintained.

Despite the heavy media play SLT's damaged cable received initially, with letters having been exchanged between the company and the Ports Authority offering to detain the Nagaland and the subsequent issuing of a High Court order to detain the ship, 14 days later, the incident appears to have disappeared from the media landscape. Also conspicuous is the lack of interest on the part of both SLT and the government to conduct thorough investigations into the incident in order to discover and prosecute the perpetrator of the damage.

World Bank hails Lankan immunisation programme

By Marianne David 

A total of Rs. 280 million is spent each year on vaccines, syringes and needles used in the government immunisation programme, which protects children against a prioritised set of diseases.

"The major components of direct expenditure on the programme are the vaccines, syringes and needles. The vaccines cost Rs. 250 million a year, while Rs. 30 million is spent on syringes and needles," said Epidemiologist, Epidemiological Unit, Health Ministry, Dr. Sudath Peiris.

The immunisation programme - termed the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) - is reviewed according to country needs and updated accordingly and the vaccinations are given free of charge to the general public.

"A national control programme is done with specific objectives: the global objectives and the national position. We try to control diseases that are public health problems through this programme. The EPI gives children all the required vaccinations," Dr. Peiris said.

Under the EPI programme, children are given BCG, DPT, Hep B, Polio, Measles, MR, DT, Japanese Encephalitis and aDT vaccines. While most of these diseases have been eliminated, the vaccines are still given in order to eradicate these diseases from the world.

A vaccination programme has three steps: bringing the problem under control, the elimination stage and finally, the eradication stage, where not only the disease but also the cause active organism is eradicated so that the disease does not occur again.

"Eradication is always a global process and not country specific," asserted Dr. Peiris.

"For example, Diphtheria has not been reported in Sri Lanka for the last several years but the cause active organism is existent. If the vaccination is stopped, the disease will reappear. The vaccinations must be given until the disease is eradicated from the world."

Presently, the world in involved in the polio eradication programme, started in 1974. The disease has been eliminated in Sri Lanka since 1993.

According to Dr. Peiris, independent global reviews have found that the EPI programme in Sri Lanka is one of the best immunisation programmes.

"Sri Lanka's immunisation programme is not only one of the strongest performers in the region, but also one of the finest in the world. The government has effectively controlled most traditional vaccine-preventable diseases through superior levels of sustained coverage," states a report by the World Bank.

The World Bank has also given a Rs. 150 million grant to be utilised to further improve the quality of the programme in order to sustain its success, said Dr. Peiris.

The World Bank report further states, "Studies undertaken by the Health Ministry's Epidemiological Unit indicate that rates of vaccine-preventable disease incidence and coverage in areas with historically unequal access to immunisation are now approaching those in the rest of the country. This remarkable achievement in balancing effectiveness with equity is threatened, however, by recent findings of disparities in the quality of immunisation services provided. A loss of confidence in the programme could undermine the achievements to date and impede progress towards consolidation of these gains. Consequently, World Bank support for immunisation will focus on improving quality."

"There are over 5,000 immunisation clinics around the country and some of them do not have electricity, water and other vital facilities. This grant will be used in order to improve the facilities in the clinics. That is the only issue with regard to the programme, all other aspects are successful," said Dr. Peiris.

In order to overcome the burden of Hemophilus Influenza Type B, the Epidemiological Unit is presently carrying out an elaborate study to ascertain what percentage of diseases is due to this particular organism. "The study is nearing completion and the results indicate the prevalence of this disease is very low," said Dr. Peiris.

Showers of blessing?

By Jamila Najmuddin 

Miraculous thundershowers doused Sri Lanka's drought stricken areas last week, at least according to Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) MP, Ven. Kotapola Amarakitti Thero.

The Thero, a representative of a Buddhist voluntary organisation, the Shanthi Foundation told The Sunday Leader that several Buddhist monks performed three days of special poojas, commencing from August 29, the Nikini Full Moon Poya day to September 1.

According to the Thero, special poojas were performed on 12 vessels containing water and as soon as the poojas concluded in the early hours of September 1, one of the sacred vessels was handed over to the Sri Maha Bodhiya. "After the blessings of the Sri Maha Bodhi, the sacred water from this vessel was poured into the remaining 11 vessels," the Thero said.

He added that after  this, a special request was made by the members of the Shanti Foundation to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse for a helicopter so that the monks could sprinkle the sacred water over the drought struck districts. "The Prime Minister responded immediately and at 12 noon on September 1, a group of monks and other members of the Foundation took off from the Anuradhapura airforce camp with the 11 vessels," the Thero said.

According to the Thero, the holy water was sprinkled over the dry lands of Puttalam, Kurunegala, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa. "As soon as the water was sprinkled on the dry lands of these districts, heavy thundershowers ensued," the Thero said adding that there were such heavy rains that it was difficult for the helicopter to land at the Minneriya Airforce camp. However, the Thero added that after much difficulty, they were finally able to land the helicopter in the Minneriya airforce camp and later took another helicopter to travel to Hambantota. "As we were about to take off, we were informed that due to heavy rains in the Hambantota District, we could not go there and later went to Weerawila camp," the Thero said.

According to the monk, the Foundation had decided against sprinkling water over the Batticaloa area because of security concerns.

The Thero went on to explain that although they had to land in the Minneriya airforce camp since a vehicle awaited them there to take them back to Colombo, they could not land due to heavy rains. "We then landed in Ampara and had to stay there for a few hours as we were informed that heavy showers had broken out in all drought struck districts," the Thero added.

Meanwhile, when The Sunday Leader contacted the Meteorology Department, officials from the Forecast Department however were of the view that these rains were not unusual. They added that "slight" rains were experienced in Vavuniya, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Puttalam, Kurunegala and Kandy last week.

Officials also added that these rains were not enough to end drought conditions and added that more thundershowers were expected in the Uva, Eastern, Northern, North East, North Central and Wayamba provinces in the next few weeks as well.

Officials were also of the view that heavy thundershowers were expected in the beginning of October due to the inter monsoon season.

Crucial estate worker wage talks tomorrow

A crucial meeting between three giant plantation trade unions and the Employers' Federation is to take place regarding a possible wage increase for the plantation workers tomorrow (6).

The Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union (LJEWU) and the Joint Plantation Trade Union Committee (JPTUC) will discuss a possible wage increase with the Federation representatives.

At present the workers earn Rs. 147/= per day and with the cost of living escalating fast the unions have decided to bring pressure on the government and private companies managing estates to increase the daily wage of workers.

CWC Deputy President and Member of Parliament, M.S.Sellasamy told The Sunday Leader he was positive the Federation would look at their demands positively given the escalating cost of living.

All's well? Not quite...

HAVING mulled over the decision for many moons now, the Ceylon Workers Congress last week finally decided to jump ship. That is to say, to support the UPFA government "unconditionally" according to its leader, Arumugam Thondaman. In an apparent magnanimous gesture, the party has decided not to accept any ministerial portfolios or government positions for the nonce at least. Instead Thondaman claims he is merely attempting to strengthen the President's hand to carry the peace process forward. Such noble intent!

In a letter to his ol' chum the President, Thondaman says;

"It is with great pleasure I inform you that the CWC has decided to support Your Excellency's government and we look forward to a cordial relationship as in the past placing confidence in Your Excellency and Hon. Mangala Samaraweera."

Technically all should be well in UPFA -land since it has after four long months and much deal brokering finally managed to secure a parliamentary majority - but apparently there is a hitch. No really. It seems that when the CWC says "unconditional support" the party means of course, barring their somewhat obtuse positions on the LTTE's ISGA proposals. As reported elsewhere in this issue, Thondaman told The Sunday Leader that their support would be on the basis that the government commences negotiations with the LTTE on the ISGA. A pretty pickle indeed since this position in particular will make the JVP extremely antsy - and when it comes down to it, what is the CWC's five seats in parliament, in comparison to the Marxists' 39?

"We are not crossing over but supporting the government unconditionally. Where we sit in parliament is irrelevant because in any case there aren't enough seats on the government side. We have informed the government of this and are awaiting a favourable response. I have not discussed ministerial portfolios or made any demands. It is only that we have been carefully studying the government's track record over the past few months and have come to realise that the President needs our support to continue with the peace process. However the government MUST negotiate on the ISGA proposals. My grandfather always believed that the LTTE should be given an interim administration and that remains the CWC's position even today."

-CWC Leader, Arumugam Thondaman at Friday's press briefing

Such honourable intentions in this day and age of corrupt, self-seeking politics. Excuse us while we wipe away a tear.

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