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31st  October, 2004  Volume 11, Issue 16

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                                    

Politics

The revenge of Karuna

By Amantha Perera

On October 24 the Special Task Force made a startling discovery in Kathankudi when STF personnel stopped K. Ganeshan who was travelling on a motorbike. He was carrying night vision equipment with him. He was arrested and later handed over to the Kathankudi Police.

It was not the arrest, but what was discovered in his possession that sent alarm bells ringing. Ganeshan was later described as a Karuna supporter by sources in Batticaloa. The discovery of the equipment only added to the growing apprehension in the east that Karuna and his supporters have come back with a bang in recent weeks and it also meant his supporters too are well armed.

Becoming assertive

The last two weeks have seen the Karuna faction making a concerted effort to make its presence felt in Batticaloa. "These guys have become very assertive," observed sources in Batticaloa.

Two weeks ago Karuna supporters succeeded in distributing posters and leaflets in Batticaloa. The publicity blitz drove home the point that despite the overwhelming presence of the LTTE in the east, Karuna could still make his presence felt. Karuna is attempting to use the ENDLF as a springboard. It was senior ENDLF member P. Rajarathnam who released the letter from Chennai. The designated secretary of Karuna's party, N. Ganaraja too has connections to the ENDLF. Civilians in Batticaloa told The Sunday Leader that they were nervous and feared for the worst if the confrontations continue.

The poster campaign ran parallel to Karuna releasing a statement condemning the murder of former MP Kingley Rasanayagam and his supporters in India writing to the Norwegian Prime Minister asking the Norwegians to move out of the peace process. The letter was ignored by the peace facilitators.

Not deterred

Such disregard however was not deterring Karuna supporters in the east. On Sunday night, the same day the STF recovered the night vision goggles Kandasamy Wasanthan (18) and Sevathamby Rajadorai were attacked in Earvur at the latter's home. Army headquarters later said that Rajadorai was operating under the alias Kunam and was a former member of the LTTE political wing.

"An 18-year old youngster (Wasanthan) employed at a video centre in the general area of Eravur has been gunned down by three suspected LTTE men, believed to be from a breakaway LTTE group," a release by the Defence Ministry said.

However, army sources in the east had a different story to relate. They said that the two were responsible for organising various events on behalf of the LTTE and had even carried out recruitment and in fact had been gunned down by the rival faction.

The confusion was nothing new given the state of affairs in the east. Civilians in Batticaloa confided that they were not sure whom to trust. Two abductions were reported by the army from Batticaloa, one in Earvur and another in Kotamadu. Both were blamed on the LTTE.

Confusion reigned supreme when Swiss national Hans Ulrich was murdered on Monday, October 25 night. Ulrich had settled in Batticaloa two years back after marrying a Tamil widow he had met at a hotel. A grenade was thrown at him while he was in the bathroom. He died upon admission to the Batticaloa hospital. From the moment the attack was reported, security forces, police and ceasefire monitors all said that it appeared to be a private issue outside the on-going Karuna-Pirapaharan tussle for control.

However, the day after the murder reports, including one wire service report originating from Colombo signaled the Tigers were behind the murder. The reason being that Ulrich had refused to comply with the LTTE taxes.

"They (Tigers) cannot be that stupid to kill a foreigner for that," reasoned out sources in Batticaloa. The LTTE too reacted strongly to the allegations. "This killing gains more significance in view of the victim being a Swiss national. This has been planned in such a way to portray the LTTE in bad light," the Tiger release said.

The Tigers have been critical of reports originating from the south and missive was anticipated. Two weeks back Political Wing Head S. P. Tamilselvan reacted to a wire service report that said that Tigers had agreed to consider government proposals all the way from Belgium.

No sooner had the Tigers done so, reports appeared in Colombo based newspapers saying that Sea Tiger Leader Soosai and Trincomalee Head Suwarnam had reneged. Soosai was to later travel to Kilinochchi and from there to Singapore for medical treatment. He returned to the Tiger administrative capital Kilinochchi last week and was greeted by his wife and children upon arrival.

Reports had earlier said that Soosai was staying away from Kilinochchi and hardening his stance from his Sea Tiger Base in Chalai, Mullaitivu.

Tamilselvan who led the delegation during the European tour did not return with the group last week. He along with the head of the LTTE Peace Secretariat Pulidevan and his deputy Selvy Karthikeyan were expected back during the weekend.

Close monitoring

"Irresponsible media reporting has been a bane in the politics of Sri Lanka, in that partisan reporting based on information furnished by interested parties without recourse to investigation, a cardinal ethic in journalism has contributed its fare share in fuelling this decades old conflict," a visibly peeved LTTEer said.

The LTTE had also complained to the SLMM that the army was building new bunkers at Allannkulam, near Valachchenai. An SLMM team that visited the area however returned with no evidence to prove the claim.

The army has been closely monitoring the situation in Allannkulam that lies about 2 km from the Habarana-Valachchenai main highway. There had been intelligence to suggest that the LTTE might move into the area and build a transit camp. Due to the fear, the army has been deploying more men in the area.

Search operations

The police and the army also carried out a cordon and search operation in Puttur, near Valachchenai on October 24. The operation was carried out after obtaining a court order and was aimed at locating LTTE safe-houses. The village had been identified as a nucleus for LTTE cadres operating in government held areas without the knowledge of the security forces or the SLMM. Security forces sources said they had information to indicate that the dreaded LTTE pistol gang was operating out of the village.

The operation in which around 100 police officers and an equal number of army troops took part however did not yield any suspects or weapons.

When senior LTTE leaders including Eastern Political Head Kaushalyan andJudicial Administration Head, E. Pararajasingham were crossing over from government held areas to Tiger held areas in Vavuniya, the army wanted to check the vehicles. The LTTEers refused and the refusal ensued a one hour delay. Ultimately, the LTTEers were allowed to pass without any checking.

Special visitor

The Human Right Commission office in Jaffna has also been informed by civilians that army officers at check points sometimes unnecessarily delay civilians in an effort to garner information about Kilinochchi and the LTTE.

This week however, Jaffna and Kilinochchi is expecting a special visitor, far removed from the diplomats who keep scurrying back and forth. Sri Lankan cricket star and UN ambassador Muttiah Muralitharan is expected to visit the north in a UN sponsored trip.


Waiting for budgetary relief

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

Sri Lankans who are trying to adjust to the high cost of living are now waiting for the presentation of the UPFA’s maiden budget, which is now in its finalisation stage, in anticipation of some relief from economic hardship.

The government for its part too has raised the hopes of people, promising the forthcoming budget would be a sunshine budget, which would be based on a national poverty alleviation and growth strategy providing relief for everyone.

What with "impressive" salary hikes for the public sector and relief for the poor through its "pro-poor" economic policy, the masses are waiting to reap the benefits of voting for a government which promised to bring down the cost of living.

Although the forthcoming budget is expected to provide relief to the masses at large, it is interesting to note that since assuming power in April, the government has increased various taxes, duties, prices of essential items and imposed tariffs.

Blaming it on oil

The increases however, have been attributed to the escalating global fuel prices, which it is claimed has resulted in a drain on the country’s foreign reserves and the depreciation of the rupee.

In a bid to arrest the situation and to increase the country’s revenue, the government while amending certain tax laws has also imposed new taxes.

Amendments to the Value Added Tax and the Inland Revenue (Regulation for Amnesty) are expected to increase the country’s revenue collection.

The increase in excise taxes pertaining to tobacco and liquor was imposed several weeks back and little or no time was wasted when the latest addition to the list, the excise (special provisions) duty for private cars and vans was introduced on October 15.

The duty, which was imposed on a sudden decision by the Treasury was formulated and imposed within a short period of three hours.

At the recent meeting between Treasury officials and donors, Treasury Secretary, Dr. P. B. Jayasundera noted that the government plans to transfer subsidies from the rich to the poor and taxes from poor to the rich to make it pro-poor, exercise a high tax effort to create fiscal space to finance development and reduce domestic borrowings to channel funds for the private sector as the needs of small and medium enterprises are equally important for pro-poor growth.

He further pointed out that the challenges faced by the country include a legacy of high fiscal deficits, which in turn has made little room for fiscal stimulus in the economy, medium term deficit correction strategy based on higher taxation effort, set back to growth and price stability by the drought and the difficulties in balance of payments due to the oil price hike.

Further price revisions

The government’s response to these as pointed out by Dr. Jayasundera, was the 30% price adjustment of domestic fuel prices, a sharp increase in motor vehicle duties, fare increases in transport and the electricity tariff increase.

As for price adjustments, postal, water and railway fare adjustments are in the pipeline and while the government is on an intensified revenue drive, restraint would also be practiced on operational expenditure including defence.

Be that as it may, the government in the forthcoming budget is expected to curb budgetary allocations for subsidies in its maiden budget. The government’s present subsidy scheme has come under fire from several parties, including the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) stating it is of no proper use as it benefits the needy as well as the affluent.

However, Sri Lanka is one rare country which functions on a dual subsidy.

People pay to the government what is in turn used to subsidise goods provided for them. While the masses pay taxes, the money in turn is used to pay for the increasing subsidy bills.

The JVP has also voiced concern over the country’s tax regime, which they say is also unfair as it applies to the rich and the poor alike.

As for the fuel subsidy, the government is expected to look at more strategic measures. However, it is also said that the public transport sector would not be subject to sudden price hikes in keeping with the increasing fuel prices, adding that the government would look at ways to minimise the impact of future fuel hikes in the sector.

Explaining the matter, Dr. Jayasundera told The Sunday Leader recently that where fuel subsidies are concerned, unlike the present system, the government through the next budget would look at providing relief for targeted sectors like the public transport sector.

As for the mechanism behind implementing a scheme to provide relief for the public transport sector, Dr. Jayasundera maintained the government would come up with the necessary measures in due course.


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