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5th December, 2004  Volume 11, Issue  21

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                                    

Issues

How JVP is keeping Trinco on the boil

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema In Trincomalee 

Amid burning buses, deserted roads and missing bodies there was one thought uniting everyone - their disgust of the JVP in Trincomalee. Tamils, Sinhalese and even the Nordic monitors pointed the accusing finger at the red brethren, charging that it was the JVP's Trincomalee District MP Jayantha Wijesekera and co. who were responsible for igniting the communal tension which spread like wildfire and engulfed the whole of Trincomalee.

A soldier stands guards facing his back to a roadsign - Court Road - with the Tamil Eelam emblem and Cutout of the Tamil Eelam map 

"The Heroes Day commemorations and the Veera Keppetippola memorial day always coincided for years. The Tamils and the Sinhalese have co-existed, and being an MP, Wijesekara should have been more responsible and acted in a different manner," Trincomalee District Secretary, North-East Sinhala Movement, Ven. Dehiowita Piyatissa Thero said.  

The unrest which began during the LTTE's Heroes Week commemorations resulted in the killing of two people, with all parties vowing to take action against the other.

Sampath's funeral 

Unable to cope with the escalating level of violence in the area, police personnel from Polonnaruwa and army personnel from the Minneriya camp were deployed to assist the forces in Trincomalee.

Wijesekara's role

However, the present scenario at Trincomalee has been attributed to the tension created by a protest march organised by Wijesekara - the only Sinhalese MP from the area.

Although tension kept mounting on both sides as the LTTE's Maveerar Day and the ceremony to mark the birth anniversary of Vera Keppitapola organied by the North-East Sinhala Movement coincided, the foundation for the violence was laid when Wijesekara organised a protest march to stop the Tamil Eelam flag from being hoisted at a private building.

On November 25, the LTTE organised a vehicle parade from Thambalagamuwa to the Hindu Cultural Hall and the procession ended without any sort of violence.

Things began to heat up on November 26, when Wijesekara had assembled a crowd at the fourth milepost junction to march to the Trincomalee town to protest against the hoisting of the Tamil Eelam flag at the Hindu Cultural Hall (Kalyana Mandapam).

However, he was stopped at the Orrshill junction and the police notified him that he would not be allowed to proceed further.

Protest stopped

According to DIG, Eastern Range, Neville Wijesinghe, Wijesekara had when explained of the situation agreed to take his grievance to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) office in Trincomalee, situated at Lower Harbour Road.

With the clashes between the JVP supporters and the police, the procession could not proceed to the SLMM office as planned and the SLMM officials decided to keep away from the crowd and confined themselves to their offices.

The clash between the police and the protestors fizzled out with the latter being tear gassed and baton charged and ended with two protestors admitted to hospital with gunshot injuries.

JVP Propaganda Secretary, Wimal Weerawansa making a statement in parliament charged that a fellow JVP MP, namely Wijesekara and his supporters were attacked by the police and were shot at with  live bullets, when they merely wanted to go to the SLMM office and hand over their complaint regarding the hoisting of the Eelam flag in a public place.

The charge has been vehemently denied by the police. (See box)

On November 27, the day both the Tamils and the Sinhalese decided to commemorate their dead heroes, tension between the Tamils and Sinhalese continued.

Fateful day

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Secretary, Trincomalee District, North-East Sinhala Movement, Anura Bandara explained that they organised a three-wheeler parade from the Jayasumanarama temple to the fourth milepost and back.

The procession was to return through the village Sirimapura on Nilaveli Road. However, they were stopped by the police who said that they could not proceed through Padikkiya, the village adjoining Sirimapura as the Tamil inhabitants were ready to wage war in case the three wheelers entered their area.

After a heated argument with the police, the villagers stoned the police, and they in return baton charged the procession and fired tear gas to disburse the crowd.

According to the villagers of Sirimapura, the police specifically attacked the village folk apart from the participants of the procession as one of the police officers present had a personal grudge against the villagers.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader several villagers charged that the police even fired tear gas at houses and two children, among them one three month old infant had to be hospitalised due to difficulty in breathing.

They further said that the police had fired about 208 canisters of tear gas and they have collected over 100 empty  canisters of tear gas from houses in the village.

The village folk charge that the police was partial towards the Tamil community in the area as the police without taking action against the allegedly armed Tamils in the adjoining village, but resorted to attack the procession which was conducted to mark a Sinhalese national hero.

Hartal

According to the police, they resorted to the only possible action they could have taken given the fact that in the event the procession continued through Padikkiya, there would have been hundreds of dead bodies to deal with.

All these events led to the LTTE handing out leaflets on November 28 asking shops to be closed and buses to be kept off the roads the next day as a hartal to protest against the disruption of their Maveerar commemorations.

November 29 saw the killing of the first victim of the communal unrest in Trincomalee - Dilan Sampath - due to a grenade attack on the bus in which he was travelling. (See box)

The course of the day saw further violence as a tour guide from Kandy was abducted on the Nilaveli Road in an area called Sampalthivu.

His van was burnt and the body of the tour guide was found the following afternoon in a lagoon in the area.

The guide, identified as Sumith from Kandy after dropping two foreigners at the Nilaveli Beach Hotel had retreated to a hotel called Siva's, 15 km away from Nilaveli with the van driver.

OIC Uppuveli Police, Senaka Ratwatte explained that according to investigations, on that fateful day he was travelling in the van with two hotel workers when they were allegedly stopped by Tamils. The two accompanying him were chased away by the assailants as they were Tamil nationals and Sumith was taken away after they set fire to the van.

The two workers have then reported the incident to the Uppuveli police and the search for Sumith came to an end when they found his body on November 30 afternoon. He was assaulted to death and had not sustained any gunshot wounds.

According to Ratwatte, the police is faced with a problem - that of finding Sumith's identity and whereabouts.

The driver of the van and everybody else knew him as Sumith and identification papers were burnt along with the van.

Ghost town

The unrest in Trincomalee forced the police to declare curfew in the evening.

However, even with curfew the violence continued as three houses came under grenade attack in a Sinhalese village.

On November 30 from Kantale onwards, many houses had a white flag as a mark of respect to the late Sampath and armed personnel kept watch on both sides of the road.

The fourth milepost junction was heavily guarded and a few miles away, the Anuradhapura junction was guarded by armoured vehicles and armed personnel who said that they were deployed to defuse any violent activities in the area.

Trincomalee that day was like a ghost town with white flags hoisted everywhere.

Closed schools, shops - and people hurrying to buy some essential rations from a nearby shop, which had one open door to make brisk business were a common sight.

Although curfew was relaxed at 9 a.m., people were still hesitant to come out of their houses for the fear of being victims of communal violence.

The town too was deserted and the bus stand was filled with armed personnel instead of the usual buses.

The violence had definitely taken its toll on the people as restaurants and hotels that opened for business did not prepare any meals due to the fear of an emergency curfew being imposed. The few shops that opened for business closed by 1 p.m.

A visit to the LTTE's Trincomalee office gave the feeling of a place that was deathly calm in anticipation of a major storm.

With some of the decorations from the Heroes' Week still lying about, the main gate to the office was padlocked while it was the side gate that was kept open. Inside, a man peering from a half closed door said that the office was closed, adding that Trincomalee Political Wing Head, S. Elilan was in Sampur.

In a bid to arrest the unrest in Trincomalee, Chief of Defence Staff, Navy Admiral Daya Sandagiri and Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda visited Trincomalee and held discussions with police, armed forces and civil society representatives and religious leaders in the area.

The civil groups were asked to be calm and maintain law and order. They were further assured that the armed forces would increase the security in Trincomalee and had requested everyone to be extra cautious to prevent a communal riot similar to the riots in 1983.

According to Anura Bandara there would have been no communal unrest if JVP's Wijesekara had not decided to do things his way.

Bandara pointed out that if Wijesekara was so patriotic, he should have taken action against the Trincomalee courts, which does not even have the state emblem. Wijesekara who initially said that he was not aware of the situation in Trincomalee as he was in parliament could not be contacted for three days thereafter.

The LTTE and government forces finally sat across the table for discussions on Thursday at the SLMM office in Trincomalee and decided to make sure the events such as those that have been taking place since last week would not be repeated.

SLMM's mandate is to monitor only - Trinco head

SLMM's Trincomalee District Head, Dagfinn Adnanes explained that as a facilitator, they have no implementation mandate.

Adnanes noted that the SLMM could only point out the ceasefire violations and bring the parties together to reduce the tension.

He went on to say that the LTTE's Heroes' Week saw complaints coming in from the Sinhalese as well as the Tamils.

Although the SLMM has received about six or seven complaints, they are still in the process of assessing whether they really are CFA violations.

However, Adnanes observed that the hoisting of the Eelam flag at the Hindu Cultural Hall is a violation as the venue is a public place.

Adnanes said that although they discussed about the Heroes Week preparations the Sunday before the commemoration, Elilan had not mentioned plans to hoist the Eelam flag.

Adnanes noted that the clash between the police and the JVP protestors made the SLMM officials stay in their offices. He further pointed out that the SLMM has not requested any police escort as it would make it difficult to carry out its duties.

Adnanes said that the SLMM has maintained a balanced approach throughout.

SLMM could only issue a ruling of whether an action is a violation or not and it would be up to the respective parties to decide on the course of action, he said.


"We had nothing to do with it" - LTTE

LTTE Political Wing Leader in Trincomalee, S. Elilan was in Sampur as soon as communal tension began to escalate in Trincomalee.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Elilan said that the LTTE had nothing to do with the violent incidents as it was the sole fault of the JVP and the army.

"It is a third force that is behind this unrest," he said.

He went on to say that there were efforts by certain parties to disrupt the Maveerar Week commemorations earlier, but failed.

Explaining further, Elilan observed that this time round, the JVP decided to disrupt it and the army too had joined the extremists.

He noted that the peace loving people in Trincomalee have been disturbed and it was not the fault of the LTTE.

Saying that the SLMM should be allowed to proceed with their task without any hindrance, Elilan also warned that if the violence continues, the LTTE would have to take some sort of action to safeguard the Tamil people.

Speaking of the hoisting of the Tamil Eelam flag in the Hindu Cultural Hall even though the SLMM ruled it as a violation of the ceasefire agreement, Elilan said that although the police and the SLMM had stated it was a violation it is not so.

Explaining further, he observed that according to the CFA, it is not a violation as it clearly states that the Eelam flag should not be hoisted in government or army controlled areas which give provision to hoist in private places.

Although the SLMM said that the hoisting of the flag in any public area was a violation, he went on to say that public would mean a government building and since the Hindu Cultural Hall was not a government owned building, it did not qualify as a public area.

Elilan went on to say that other decorations of the LTTE were destroyed by the Sinhalese, adding that the LTTE did not disrupt any commemoration programmes organised by the Sinhalese.

He further noted that civilians have no right to take matters in to their hands as it is only the SLMM who could determine the CFA violations.

Elilan while saying that the LTTE was not against the Sinhalese, went on to say that they were only against opportunists like the JVP.


People hate us now -Wijeysinghe

DIG, Eastern Range, Neville Wijesinghe while saying that the hoisting of the Eelam flag is a violation of the CFA, went on to say that the people of Trincomalee have now developed hatred towards police personnel accusing them of being partial towards the Tamils.

He noted that it is the duty of the people to report any CFA violation to the SLMM who are the authorised personnel to rule on these matters.

Wijesinghe explained that people usually expect the police to react to their protests and act accordingly and when JVP's Jayantha Wijesekara protested against the hoisting of a Eelam flag, people expected the police to take it down.

"The police or any armed personnel has no authority to do so," he said.

According to Wijesinghe, the allegation made by the JVP that the police shot live bullets at the protestors is false. Explaining further, he said that when the police fired tear gas and batton charged, some of the crowd ran in to by lanes, some of which led to Tamil villages with LTTE supporters.

"There are witnesses who have seen the wounded being carried to the main road from by roads, which means it was not the police who shot them," he said.


Sampath's courage results in death

Travelling in a bus on day the LTTE declared a hartal brought about the death of Dilan Sampath.

On that fateful day, November 29, a friend approached him and asked Sampath to take him home as he was not feeling ill.

Sampath who agreed to do so, together with his friend got into a bus with two other passengers.

The roads were quite deserted as people preferred to say indoors expecting some trouble in lieu of the hartal.

The bus had only travelled a few miles, when suddenly two men on a motorbike hurled a grenade at the bus.

The grenade landed on the dash board and it was Sampath who quickly recognised that what everyone had presumed to be a big stone was actually a grenade.

It was then that Sampath took the bold step of picking up the grenade to throw it out the window in a bid to ensure the safety of the other passengers on board.

Unfortunately, the grenade exploded in Sampath's hand amd he succumbed to his injuries instantly.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Sampath's father, N. L. M. Piyasena said that the attackers had then sped off to Ganesh Road and then to LTTE areas.


Sigiri card deal that cost SLT US$ 9m

The houses that Sam (Seinthan) and Bob (Sangaran) lived in before the Sigiri J.V

By Frederica Jansz 

Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) has been cheated to the tune of nearly Rs. 1 billion due to corruption and/or mismanagement by former Chairman Thilanga Sumathipala and Chief Executive Officer, SLT, Shuhei Annan. Payment schedules prove that SLT has incurred a loss exceeding US$ 9 million by end November 2004 after having signed a joint agreement in 2002 with a small UK based company to market SLT calling cards in the UK and Europe.

We have evidence to prove that Sumathipala supported by the Japanese born Shuhei Annan arbitrarily forced SLT into signing a joint venture with a small UK based company called Premier Communications International Limited (PCI) that never even at the time of signing the agreement possessed the financial muscle to operate a partnership with SLT. The agreement was signed on behalf of SLT by Annan, minus board approval and sealed at the behest of Thilanga Sumathipala.

The former Chairman is now attempting to put the entire blame on Annan for the shady deal.

The deal

Sumathipala who is chums with directors of the UK based firm negotiated and sealed the deal, despite international credit rating firms having condemned PCI giving the financially rocky company a zero rating.

The Sigiri calling card operations financial report at the end of December 2003 shows an operating loss of US$ 4 million of which loss SLT has to bear half. This is in addition to an estimated US$ 9 million (Rs 900,000 million) debt they currently owe SLT.

Payment records prove that PCI in its venture with SLT on 'Project Sigiri' has been making only minimal payments towards their monthly bill which has resulted in arrears approaching US$ 9 million for SLT.

For the last three months the SLT Board has been requesting a bank guarantee from PCI, but so far no such guarantee has been given. The company has an alarmingly negative credit rating and would thus find it near impossible to access bank funds.

At the time, Sumathipala together with Annan initiated this deal with PCI, a high risk warning had been given by Experian, an international credit rating company. Experian, at the time stated that the balance sheets of PCI indicate a deficit in both capital employed and shareholders funds.

More recently, according to Dun and Bradstreet, the most reliable credit rating agency in the business, PCI have filed financial statements at the end of 2002, which display an operating loss of around Sterling pounds one million on a seven million revenue. The current liabilities of the company are in excess of sterling pounds 3.5 million.

When SLT signed the partnership with PCI, the company has been given a zero credit rating with a written warning that it is considered inadvisable to proceed with any "unsecured dealings" with this company. In view of the very serious nature of this information the company was relegated to the highest risk category.

Despite these warnings, Sumathipala went ahead and Annan signed the joint venture agreement with PCI in November 2002. In December 2003, PCI despite losses exceeding sterling pounds 1 million held an extravagantly expensive anniversary party at the House of Lords to celebrate the one year old joint venture with SLT.

Luxury homes

The directors of the company are Rajasundram Seinthan, Dr. Alan John Parsons and Balasundram Sangaran. Seinthan curiously serves as Company Secretary too. Even more curious is that Dr. Alan John Parsons was the previous company secretary.

More telling are the purchases of luxury homes in the UK by directors after having initiated this joint venture with SLT. (See box for details)

PCI was originally incorporated on May 19, 1999 with an issued share capital of only two pounds. Both Parsons and Seinthan as directors invested one sterling pound each.

PCI did not commence trading until December 1999 after which the principle activity of the company was that of the provision of telecommunication services. PCI however had comparatively little traffic to Sri Lanka at the time SLT under Sumathipala signed the agreement.

Seinthan, (Sam to his friends) and Sumathipala are known to share a close friendship with Seinthan even gracing international cricket matches, handing out prize money, where Sri Lanka's national team has been represented. At a recent international cricket tour Sam Seinthan was invited by Sumathipala to even grace the podium and hand out prize money to the equivalent of US$ 7,500. This money though handed out by Seinthan on behalf of PCI, was initially taken out of cricket board funds. PCI reimbursed the cash only two months later after many reminders were sent.

Destabilising market

Sumathipala even orchestrated a massive sponsorship campaign on behalf of PCI which was carried through the Sri Lanka/England cricket tour. PCI we reliably learn did not pay fees to Sri Lanka's cricket board for borderline tape advertising until months later. The issue took place during Sumathipala's tenure as President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka (BCCSL).

Marketing Director, BCCSL, Jayantha Kudahetti confirmed that PCI were granted borderline advertising at an international cricket tour. He said he could not immediately recall which tour it was for, but asserted that PCI had been granted credit and had met the bill. "It was not really that late," he said, when asked if PCI had delayed payment.

PCI meanwhile seems to have overcome its terrible financial problems with what appears to be some creative accounting. Firstly, to achieve traffic volumes, the company seems to have sold minutes in the UK market at below the standard SLT termination rates. Or else, the company seems to have obtained specially discounted rates from SLT not available to other service providers.

This measure has resulted in the company boosting its share of the UK-Sri Lanka traffic at the expense of destabilising the market. This has also allowed PCI to establish itself as worthy of qualifying for the Sigiri project.

This tactic by itself would not be improper had PCI possessed the necessary finances to fund this exercise of selling below cost. As PCI very obviously lacks business credibility in the UK, the company seems to have sought assistance from SLT to fund its working capital.

SLT has obliged by extending over four months suppliers credit to PCI that is not available to other companies who work with SLT. There are companies who have been trading with SLT longer than PCI with credible financial means, but were not accorded any special facilities.

We reliably learn that SLT has been warned by other operators in April 2003 that PCI carried an estimated debt of US$ 5 million.

There is no available documentary explanation at SLT which details the criteria by which PCI was selected as the UK partner for the Sigiri project.

The "deal" currently between SLT and PCI is this. Sigiri is getting a termination rate of US$ 7.25 cents for a minute against other suppliers getting between US$ 10 and US$ 11.25 cents a minute.

Sumathipala's rationale for this discrepancy is that PCI is a joint venture partner of SLT and so is entitled to discounted rates. Our information is that there was no board paper or approval for the project either.

Bankrupt

PCI is currently sending around 10 million minutes a month to Sri Lanka gathered from UK and Europe at a reduced rate of only US$ 725,000. This, by itself is a huge saving and a terrific leverage against other call communication service provider who works with SLT.

Sigiri has made no payments to SLT since November 2003 for the minutes terminated, which is to the tune of more than US$ 10 million. Market reports show that Sigiri cannot make the payment of the dues if asked to pay. Our research shows little or no money owed to PCI by any of their distributors or partners they work with. They have collected most of their dues from the market. So the question is where has the US$ 9 million gone?

And while SLT was being effectively duped, Sumathipala had the gall to literally crow about the "lucrative projects" he had spearheaded at SLT. In his written address printed in the telephone directory for 2004 with his photograph, he boasts of a total communication solution initiated under him being, "the first ever prepaid card, Sigiri, which is being marketed globally and is a product development of existing products such as IDD, SLT Net etc.,"

Living in luxury

Our investigation found that two of the Directors of PCI, namely Rajasundram Seinthan (Sam) and Balasundram Sangaran invested in luxury homes in the UK after the Sigiri calling card project got underway.

Before the project, Seinthan lived at 6, Eldon Avenue, Borehamwood, Hearts. The value of his house was an estimated sterling pounds 150,000. After the joint venture with SLT Seinthan purchased a luxury flat next to the Lords Cricket stadium in the UK. The estimated value of the flat is 1.7 million sterling pounds. The flat is Seinthan's name on a 125 year old lease hold basis.  (See photos)

Balasundram Sangaran (Bob to friends) used to live in a semi detached house at 12, Dundela Gardens, Worcester Park, Surrey. The house is valued at sterling pounds 350,000. He continues to own this property having rented it out. Since the PCI joint venture with SLT, a new home in Surrey to the tune of two million sterling pounds was purchased.  This residence is situated at  8, Quillot Walton on Thames, Surrey, KT 12 5BY. It is registered in the names of Sam Sienthan and Bob Sangaran's wife. (See photos)

Top officers at SLT culpable?

Acting Chief Financial Officer, Nishan Fernando and Head of International, SLT, Mahinda Herath have been in weekly and sometimes daily contact with PCI. Visiting the UK since the agreement was signed three or four times, the two men, believed to have been handpicked by Thilanga Sumathipala, had overseen audited accounts in relation to the joint venture.

However, both Fernando and Herath amazingly did not call a halt on the venture despite the astounding financial losses clearly displayed by the UK based firm which were directly affecting millions by way of revenue to SLT.

When contacted, Mahinda Herath admitted that the joint venture with PCI "carries many aspects to a huge problem," he however said, "I have had no supervision over the financial matters - I am only handling the technical issues." Herath did not deny the fact that SLT has incurred a loss to the tune of nearly Rs. 1 billion as a result of the venture with PCI and the Sigiri calling card.

"The loss will be recovered"

A Director, SLT Board, President's Counsel Nigel Hatch commenting on the issue maintained the new board of directors would do all within the law to ensure the monies due by PCI are recovered to SLT. Hatch has been on the board of SLT since mid June this year.

"This was a transaction the previous board of directors entered into. To be honest I do not know if it had board approval, but one would assume that the former Chairman Thilanga Sumathipala and the board looked into the credit worthiness of this client," Hatch asserted.

Elaborating further, Hatch maintained that since taking office, "the new board was confronted with this staggering debt and whilst engaged in the process as a responsible board of negotiating with this entity to recover the outstanding, without any prior warning to us, and notwithstanding its undertaking to SLT to reduce the debt, PCI went into the commercial high court and obtained an ex parte enjoining order."

He said, "You would appreciate the matter is now sub-judice. But the board would use every legal strategy available to recover the monies due to SLT within the framework of the law."

Commenting on Annan's responsibility, Hatch said, "I think that the present CEO would be accountable to the board for this transaction. As I said this was inherited by the present board and now that PCI has gone into court you would appreciate I am under a constraint as regards to what more I could say about the merits of the transaction. But certainly this board would be far more scrupulous and vigilant as regards future contracts and agreements that we would be entering into."

Responding to the question if Thilanga Sumathipala would be held accountable too, Hatch asserted, "Our first interest at the moment is to use all avenues available within the law to recover the money due. No decision has been taken about the accountability of others who may have been involved in this transaction. But such accountability if it does lie would be within the legal framework and if necessary this board in the exercise of its public and fiduciary duties would examine all relevant aspects as well."


Golf course deal

Legal action against govt. and APGCL

Chandrika Kumaratunga, Ronnie Peiris and Mangala Samaraweera

By  Frederica Jansz 

The original owners of land acquired by the government and leased to private investors for the purpose of building a golf course, luxury villas and service apartments at Battaramulla, Kotte, are continuing with legal action against government authorities and the private investor Asia Pacific Golf Course Limited (APGCL). They are charging that they were offered a pittance as compensation for land the government took over asserting it was required for public use but later leased to private investors who marketed the properties for Rs. 600,000 a perch.

The litigants maintain that these lands originally belonged to them as residents of Kotte and Battaramulla but that the UDA from 1982 onwards began to acquire the land, maintaining it was necessary for the purpose of the parliament, administrative offices and water retention. They did so after offering owners compensation in the range of Rs. 312 per perch. By 2003 however APGCL was marketing these same lands for Rs. 600,000 a perch.

Fraudulently acquired

The company blocked off 105 blocks of 20 perch areas which it marketed for Rs. 12 million per block for the purpose of constructing individual luxury houses.

The super luxury villas were earmarked for completion within a period of five years even before the completion of the golf course which was originally why this company was given the land. The land situated at Battaramulla lies in close proximity to the parliament and includes 100 hectares of low lying lands designated as flood detention areas. The land extent falls within the purview of the Kotte Municipal Council and the Kaduwela Pradeshiya Sabha stretching northwards of the Diyawanna Oya where it adjoins the Colombo-Battaramulla highway just before the turnoff to parliament.

Ninety six petitioners in the Court of Appeal assert that the said lands acquired from them for the purpose of construction of a golf course, apartments, villas, resorts and clubs houses is contrary to law, ultra vires and against the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act as well as against Public Policy. The case came up for hearing again in the Court of Appeal on Friday, December 3, charging APGCL together with government state institutions.

The petitioners state the lands were fraudulently acquired by misleading owners telling them it was needed for public purpose when in actual fact the land had been earmarked to use for private commercial gain.

Petitioner Kankanige Mahinda Perera, together with his brother and sister inherited 54 perches each in this area following the demise of their parents. They were forced however to relinquish ownership of the lands following a government directive that their land extent including surrounding areas were being acquired for the purpose of the parliament and other public requirements.

Perera maintains he was completely unaware that the land acquired from him was to be used for construction of a golf course until he visited the sales office of APGCL at Battaramulla on August 21, 2003 and obtained a brochure.

He says he visited the offices of APGCL after having learnt the company was planning to fill the lands acquired from him and sell it at the rate of Rs. 600,000 per perch.

It was only when he made additional inquires from the UDA, Perera learnt that the Lands Ministry had entered into an agreement No. 758/760 in September 2000 with APGCL and agreed to lease an allotment of land including the land acquired from him on a 99 year lease for the purpose of setting up a golf course.

Perera together with other litigants was paid compensation at the rate of a mere Rs. 312 per perch under the Land Acquisition Act. He states in his petition that since this same land was later marketed for Rs. 600,000 a perch that the conduct of the government of Sri Lanka is grossly unfair and is against the purpose of acquisition of his property.

He maintains that if the said property is not required for the public purpose for which he was told it was acquired, it is the duty of the government to divest the property back to him. The government he charges has no right in law to give such property to a private person to be sold at such an exorbitant price.

The original investors of this land Siva and Suwaneetha Selvaratnam together with Shantha and Susan Wijesinghe who fronted for President Kumaratunga's friend Ronnie Peiris in January 2002 sold their Rs. 15 million worth shares for a 853% profit at Rs. 143 million to Access Holdings strongman and Chairman Sumal Perera.

Compensation

The 96 applicants are also charging that since the former PA government and the UDA leased 233 acres of land to APGCL and the project has been monitored so poorly that there are no guarantees environmental standards would be maintained. Nor, if the issue of rain water drainage to prevent flooding in Colombo and the areas around parliament would not be compromised.

The UDA maintains that compensation to the original land owners was offered based on a valuation prepared by the chief valuer and that government procedures were adopted for acquisition of the lands.

But the issue at hand is this. Why such a negligible sum of compensation was offered for lands which the government had every intention of turning over to private investors who in turn have turned the land into a lucrative money spinner.

At the time the government acquired these lands, owners were told that it was being taken over for public purposes. Land Acquisition officers had maintained that the land would be acquired for the purpose of the Parliament, an administrative complex and for water retention as a low lying area.

Deviation

While the UDA was able to obtain only Rs. 62 million from APGCL for the leasing of 135 acres of land (another 98 acres were given to the company by the PA government free of charge) the company was well set to rake in profits that would far exceed its investment.

The company was initially granted a 99 year lease to construct an 18-hole golf course and multi-storey housing apartments.

But APGCL deviated from its original pledge with the government where the proposed project initially outlined a project to construct a landscaped monument dedicated to the memory of innocent youth who lost their lives in recent years in an area of 0.2 hectares, the golf course in an area of 56 hectares (of which approximately 30 hectares was earmarked to be filled for a playground) with a golf club and leisure centre, access roads, approximately 70 housing apartments in two building blocks of six and eight storeys, a rowing lake and rowing club, athletics playground cum football pitch additionally nature park areas including both marsh and ponds and ancillary facilities such as toilets and a boat terminal. There was also to be nature cum fitness trails and jogging tracks running though the nature parks and the golf course.

When the former PA government approved this project there was a public outcry and the UNP which was at the time in opposition described the alienation of land in Kotte for a golf cub as a corrupt transaction of the PA government.

The UNP however when it took office in 2001 were advised against canceling the agreement with APGCL having been warned the matter would bear serious legal repercussions.

Been "cheated"

President Chandrika Kumaratunga and former Housing and Construction Minister Mangala Samaraweera stand responsible for having pushed through necessary approvals granting 233 acres of land to APGCL for a pittance.

From the very inception it is the President who personally mooted and pushed the proposal through by way of a cabinet memorandum in 1998. Controversy even then raged as charges were made that Ronnie Peiris, a close confidant and friend of the president, had picked up a commission of Rs. 30 million from investors. A charge Peiris never denied.

In July this year, when Kumaratunga suddenly decided to cancel the lease to APGCL after the company had invested over Rs. 1 billion there has been speculation that an additional commission not paid to Ronnie Peiris by the new Chairman, APGCL, Sumal Perera is the result of Kumaratunga's volt-face.

Peiris has been heard publicly complaining of having been "cheated" by Access Holdings. This is despite the fact he was never at any stage a Director or Shareholder of APGCL before or after Access Holdings took control and ownership of the company.


The mystery of the missing Mano Master

Packianathan Rajaratnam alias Mano Master

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj 

The reported disappearance under mysterious circumstances in Colombo of a senior anti-Tiger Tamil politician has aroused strong suspicion of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) being involved in the act.

Suspicion

Packianathan Rajaratnam alias Mano Master went missing from his temporary residence in Maligawatte since November 21. There is no conclusive evidenceof Tiger involvement in the matter at this juncture but the information available so far plus the track record of the Tigers in cases like these helps point the finger of suspicion in that direction.

Fifty-year-old Mano Master was at one time a minister in the North-East Provincial administration led by Annamalai Varatharajapperumal.

He was living in Kodambakkam, Chennai and functioned as the Secretary of the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) led by Gnapiragasam Gnanasegeram alias Paranthan Rajan. He was a founder member of the ENDLF. Mano Master however shot into the limelightwhen appointed recently as coordinator and chief spokesperson of the newly formed Tamil Eelam United Liberation Front. (Tamil Eelam Ikkiya Viduthalai Munnani).

The new front comprised the ENDLF and the political party - Tamil Eelam Peoples Liberation Tigers (Tamil Eelam Makkal Viduthalai Puligal) - launched by former Eastern Tiger Commander, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias "Col" Karuna. While Karuna and Paranthan Rajan were the joint leaders, Rajaratnam alias Mano Master as coordinator became the active and visible functionary of the new party. Gnanasegaram's brother Gnanarajah was the secretary of both Karuna's party as well as the new joint front.

The ENDLF had virtually become defunct in Sri Lanka from the mid 90's. The Leader, Paranthan Rajan was in Bangalore with some stalwarts running a school and orphanage. Other ENDLF cadres were living in camps in the state of Orissa and in Salem District of Tamil Nadu. Many ENDLF members scattered and were living in various parts of Tamil Nadu and in different countries of the world. Former ENDLF Secretary, Veeraiya Ramaraj alias Mustapha for instance is in London running the Tamil broadcasting corporation radio station.

After the tie-up with Karuna, the ENDLF decided to re-enter active politics in Sri Lanka and set about reactivating and reorganising the party. Mano Master arrived in Colombo some weeks ago with a group of 10 senior ENDLF members from India. The group dispersed in Sri Lanka and began party work establishing contact with former ENDLF members as well as those Eastern Tigers supporting Karuna. Mano apparently wasresiding temporarily at Maligawatte.

While in Colombo, Mano Master was in close touch with his friend and comrade Rangappa. Forty nine-year-old Rangappa whose real name was Anneston Ellison Ockersz hailed from the tiny Burgher community in Batticaloa. He was popularly known as "Sonnaboy" in the land of the singing fish.

Rangappah or Sonnaboy joined the Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) in 1983. He joined the Eeswaran faction of Batticaloa that rebelled against Umamaheswaran's leadership in 1986 and went to India. Later this faction teamed up with another PLOTE splinter group led by Paranthan Rajan and formed together the ENDLF. Rangappah had been staying in Chennai with Mano Master.

Sonnaboy or Rangappa was directed by the ENDLF hierarchy to go to Sri Lanka and establish contact with Karuna about three months ago. He arrived in Colombo and stayed with his sister at Dematagoda. His interaction with Karuna was successful and the fruits of his mission became visible when the Paranthan Rajan-Karuna merger took place. Rangappa remained in Colombo liaising between the ENDLF and Karuna's group. After Mano Master arrived in Colombo Rangappa moved closely with him.

Mano and PLOTE

Rajaratnam alias Mano Master too was formerly of the PLOTE. He is from Kilinochchi adjacent to Paranthan where the ENDLF Leader, Gnasegeram alias Rajan is from. Mano joined the PLOTE in 1981 after the Praba-Uma split in the LTTE. When Paranthan Rajan broke away in 1987 he too followed suit. They grouped themselves as the ENDLF and took a strident pro-Indian stance after the Indo-Lanka accord.

The ENDLF along with the EPRLF (Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front) was propped up by India in the late 80's. The new N-E administration under Perumal had three EPRLF and one ENDLF ministers. When Ganeshalingam of the ENDLF was killed by the LTTE Rajaratnam alias Mano Master succeeded him and became AgricultureMinister. He fled to India after the Indian Army quit Sri Lanka in March 1990.

Mano stayed in Orissa, Salem, Bangalore at different times and finally ended up at Kodambakkam with his family. His children are studying in India. Incidently Mano is a kinsman of Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan, the LTTE political wing chief.

After the Karuna-Rajan tie-up Mano became politically active again. He went up to New Delhi personally and handed over a memorandum to the Norwegian envoy to India demanding that Oslo quit the Sri Lankan peace process. He then spent several days lobbying Indian officials to obtain support for the new Karuna-Rajan front.

Once Mano Master's link with Karuna became known, the LTTE went to his aged mother's house in Jaffna. The Tigers went to 96/6 Station Lane, Jaffna and threatened Rasamani Packiyanathan on October 3o. They wanted her to reveal details about her son's whereabouts. They also warned her of dire consequences befallingMano Master. Rajaratnam sent a formal letter on November 4 complaining about the harassment of his mother and threats issued to the Norway led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission.

Mano Master had by then arrived in Colombo to begin his political activity. He participated at a seminar organised by the JVP at the BMICH and spoke out against Norway and the LTTE. He was also scheduled to attend the Lipton Circus protest demonstration but failed to turn up. It was only when Mano failed to turn up for the protest that ENDLF circles became fully aware of his disappearance.

One place that both Mano as well as Rangappa frequented often was a barber saloon on Borella Road in Maradana. This was "managed"by Mano Master's cousin brother. Another employee at the saloon became Mano Master's trusted guide and confidante in Colombo. He was highly recommended as trustworthy by Mano's cousin brother.

On November 24 Mano Master left with this trusted youth to inspect a house in Colombo 7. The party wanted to set up an office in Colombo. He never returned. Neither did the man who accompanied him. Intriguingly Mano Master did not take his confidante Rangappa with him on that mission.

According to ENDLF sources, Mano Master's cousin was none other than the son of Ganesh alias "Vellai" (Whitey) the well-known barber saloon owner in Kilinochchi. Vellai is considered very influential with the LTTE. Several Tamil expatriates had used him as a middleman to negotiate with the LTTE and get their seized property back. Ganesh's wife and Mano Master's mother were sisters.

Mano's cousin

Both Vellai's twin sons were in the LTTE. One of these came to Colombo some years ago to Colombo saying that he had left the movement . After working for a while at the Maradana saloon he soon acquired a controlling interest in the saloon and became its manager. He had been immensely helpful to Mano Master upon the latter's arrival in Colombo. Despite the Tiger past, Mano Master got along well with his cousin and apparently had no cause to mistrust him.

Meanwhile the other twin brother was an active member of the LTTE and acknowledged to be a member of Pottu Amman's dreaded intelligence wing. This person had subsequently visited this saloon andmet Mano Master. He had also quietly gathered information about his ENDLF cousin.

Strange are the ways of Tamil militancy. There are instances of family ties and caste affiliations transcending political loyalties. Likewise political loyalties have been paramount to personal relationships too. It is now felt that both Mano Master's cousins were operatives of Pottu Amman.

One was openly known while the other seems to have been a secret agent. With the wisdom of hindsight Mano Master seems to have erred grievously in trusting his cousins. Blood has certainly not been as thick as water.

While in Colombo Mano Master had also been sent a "feeler" by the Tigers through the cousin that LTTE supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan wanted to meet him personally over an important matter. Mano was guaranteed personal safety. When he contacted the ENDLF in India, the Bangalore hierarchy suspected a trap. Mano was asked to return to India. Thereafter Mano made arrangements to go back and according to ENDLF sources was expected to take flight to India on November 25.

Rangappa murdered

After Mano Master went missing, his friend Rangappa was murdered in Colombo on the 25. According to ENDLF sources, the LTTE killer squad known as the Akhilan group had gone to Rangappa's sister's house and were waiting for Rangappa. The sisters family too were held at gunpoint. The killers had then taken Rangappa out and shot him dead.

ENDLF sources now suspect that once the LTTE realised that Mano was unwilling to travel to Kilinochchi and had decided to return to India, the Tigers were compelled to strike. Rangappa's murder and Mano's disappearance suggests that the LTTE wanted the new party's coordinator alive. Had the Tigers wanted to kill Mano gunning him downlike in the case of Sonnaboy would have been simple. Mano Master was extremely valuable to the LTTE alive because of the wealth of information in his possession.

Being a senior ENDLF hand and long resident in India Mano will be suspected of having intimate relations with India's RAW. He will also know everything about the ENDLF. Moreover he may also be knowledgeable about Karuna's men and whereabouts. The LTTE's primary obsession is about Karuna. The ENDLF and Mano Master became vulnerable on account of the tie-up with the Eastern Tiger renegade. The conjecture therefore is that Mano was drugged and taken alive to the Wanni via the Negombo sea route or the Cheddikulam land route.

Some have doubts. There is one school of thought which believes that Mano went willingly to Kilinochchi. Rangappa is cited in support of this contention. This viewpoint is that Mano went to Kilinochchi willingly to meet the LTTE supremo and Rangappa knew about it. Hence his business as usual attitude.

No witness

Later Rangappa may have been killed due to two reasons. Mano Master may not have been cooperative as expected in Kilinochchi and so his confidante had to be silenced to cover up tracks. With Rangappa's death there is no credible witness capable of testifying the exact truth about what befell Mano Master. Secondly, a Tiger hit squad acting independently may have discovered Rangappa's presence in Colombo and eliminated him.

Meanwhile the well-oiled LTTE propaganda machine went into full gear. Tiger propagandists have in recent times embarked on a campaign to blame "others" for their killings. The murders of EPDP stalwarts like Sinna Bala, Bawan, Singham etc are being depicted as "internal" killings. The Tamil media in Sri Lanka collaborate in this disinformation campaign through acts of omission and commission.

While ENDLF circles were trying to trace what had happened to Mano Master, the Tigers planted an identical story in some Tamil newspapers. This story charged that Karuna and Mano Master had fallen out over an alleged EPDP connection. So it was Karuna's men who had abducted Mano Master it was alleged. Once these news stories appeared Mano Master's aged mother in Jaffna was "pressurised" to complain to the Human Rights Commission to investigate her son's alleged abduction at the hands of Karuna's men.

This prompted ENDLF Leader, Paranthan Rajan to write to Norway and the Colombo government alleging that Mano had been abducted by the Tigers. He urged that the matter be urgently investigated and that Mano be rescued from Tiger clutches.

Later Gnanarajah the secretary of Karuna's party also issued a statement refuting LTTE propaganda. He too urged that action be taken to secure the release of Mano Master .

According to ENDLF circles, the man who accompanied Mano Master on a house hunting mission has been taken into custody by the police. He claims that he and Mano returned safely after inspecting the house and that he is not aware of what had happened to Mano thereafter. ENDLF sources also said that the Maradana saloon was temporarily closed and people employed had disappeared. It is obvious that only a genuine, efficient and speedy investigation could ascertain the truth about Mano Master's disappearance.

Mano all alone

So Mano Master is all alone now. The absence of firm proof that he has indeed been abducted by the LTTE is likely to mute protests. Charging the LTTE with abduction is only a conjecture at present. So like many others before him who were taken by the LTTE and merely vanished from the face of the earth, Mano Master too could disappear without a trace. Only a miracle could save him.

Given Mano Master's relationship with Thamilselvan and Vellai, some feel that Mano will not be harmed in Kilinochchi. If he is indeed in Tiger clutches and cooperates well, the possibility of his surfacing safely at some time is not ruled out by these circles. Others however doubt it.

Relationship will not count they say and point to Mano's own cousin being the decoy. Also the ENDLF may not get off lightly as the Tigers are furious with anyone perceived as having helped Karuna. Mano's high profile visibility as Karuna-Rajan front spokesperson will doom him it is felt.

If Mano is really abducted by the LTTE and is in Tiger custody, the chances of his ever being released seem highly unlikely. The LTTE will not want international pressure on them to get him released and so will keep mum. Norway is unlikely to lift a finger to help a man who wants the Scandinavians out. After all we are all witnesses to the blatant partisanship displayed by Norway towards the LTTE in the Karuna affair. India will not want to be accused of any "clandestine" activity in Sri Lanka and so will keep aloof from this matter.

There is a tragic element of pathos in all this. Here are two old warhorses one 50 years of age and the other 49 leaving the comfortable safety of Chennai and returning to the land of their birth to do what they believe was their duty. They arrive in Colombo and within weeks one goes missing and the other is killed. Nobody seems bothered and both will soon become two statistics in the endlessly increasing lists of the disappeared and executed.

Another man whose organisation is suspected of being responsible for these acts is also in the age group of his victims. Happily for him he is in the right place at the right time. Even as the loved ones of Mano Master and Sonnaboy worry and lament over the fate of these men, Velupillai Pirapaharan celebrates his 50th birthday.

Thousands of sycophants heap obsequeisies in a unseen manner praising his life and wishing him a long life. While poojas and functions are held all over the globe highlighting the "life" of Pirapaharan, others who dared to hold different political opinion are being mercilessly deprived of life.

An overwhelming sense of sadness envelopes one as idealistic Tamils who once took up arms to liberate their people are destroyed in the name of that very liberation. The greatest of all human rights is being crushed ruthlessly and ceaselessly. With drums of war threatening to reach a crescendo again the endless procession of coffins can onlygo on and on.


Complaints about JVP

 

President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Premier Mahinda Rajapakse

President Chandrika Kumaratunga last week had to deal with the security situation in Trincomalee after violence erupted between two communities there. Her security chiefs had informed her that the situation in Trincomalee was serious and steps needed to be taken to neutralise tensions.

They also warned the President that if the tension continued, the LTTE would also get what they want. The security chiefs reported that the JVP was busy in Trincomalee inflaming communal sentiment. They told the President that they were finding it especially hard to contain the situation because the JVP was also a partner in the government.

"Why don't you summon the JVP leaders and warn them severely?" one official attending the discussion asked the President. He received an unexpected response from the President however. "I do not meet them. They see me as a bibikkama apparently," she said.

Venting her frustrations further, Kumaratunga said, "from morning till night they are sending me letters saying that they want to meet me. But they go out and say something completely different. I have no intention of meeting them at all!"

The President had also decided to respond to Pirapaharan's speech. However, it was finally agreed that the response would not be directly from her, but from the government information department.


Premier opposes 72 hour plan 

A special cabinet meeting was held last Saturday (27). The President sent orders to set up this meeting form Iran and everyone thought it was in order to make an important decision about the LTTE Leader's speech.

But Premier Mahinda Rajapakse who presided over the meeting, brought up a completely different matter altogether. He raised the issue of Senior High Court Judge, Sarath Ambepitiya's murder and the rapidly increasing crime wave in the country and the steps that needed to be taken to curb the wave of violence.

Justice Minister, John Seneviratne had put forward several proposals in a cabinet paper about the steps that needed to be taken, and mentioned that the President had also been sent a detailed report on what action had been suggested.

The proposals included the need to amend laws pertaining to detention of suspects in police custody allowing for a longer period and the transfer of certain cases directly to the High Court. Seneviratne said that he had made these suggestions because the President had asked him what action could be taken as swiftly as possible to curb the wave of crime.

The recommendations included increasing the permitted hours of detention of a suspect from 24 to 72 and assigning all rape and murder cases to the High Court. According to the proposals, non-summary cases would no longer be taken up in Magistrate Courts. When the Justice Minister listed out these proposals, a deafening silence prevailed over the cabinet members. It was the Premier who first broke the silence.

"I am not in complete agreement," Rajapakse said, adding "I have a problem of principles on this issue. We do not know how these amendments will affect other people. But you have an issue about these non-summary cases."

Rajapakse pointed out that if cases were transferred from Magistrate Courts to High Courts, it would affect about 1500 lawyers currently serving in magistrate courts. He said that ministers who were also lawyers could well understand this problem. The Premier said that such an amendment to the law would result in lawyers rising in protest.

Rajapakse went on to say that when the UNF government brought in an amendment to extend the detention period to 72 hours, he had opposed the moves as leader of the opposition. "We can't change the law according to what the police wants. It is because of their shortcomings that this situation has arisen in the first place. They are asking us to cover these flaws up and take alternative steps to curb crime. When suspects are detained for prolonged periods, all kind of inhumane things take place," he said.

The Prime Minister went on to say that when the UNF brought this proposal forward, he met with then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and voiced his opposition to the move. The UNF accordingly suspended the plans, he said. "The same police officials that advised the UNF then are now giving us the same advice," Rajapakse added.

The rest of the ministers started to chip in after the Premier's statements. The JVP ministers who did not appear to understand much about the issue began to voice their opposition to the moves, having comprehended it better after Rajapakse's explanation. They said that they had opposed the emergency regulations in the past as well, and these proposals seemed like bringing in those same restrictions in a different guise.

Also speaking up at this juncture was Health Minister, Nimal Siripala De Silva who said that such moves were also introduced during Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike's time and lawyers had opposed the moves then too.


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