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26th December, 2004  Volume 11, Issue  24

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

Indian moves in the politics of Eelam

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

In what appears to be a very puzzling development, eight high-ranking leaders of the pro-Indian Tamil militant group Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) including its Leader, Gnanapiragasam Gnanasegeram alias Paranthan Rajan have been arrested and detained in India since December 5.

What is perplexing about the incident is the fact that Paranthan Rajan and other ENDLF members have been living since 1990 in India without any problem as the group - originally created by the Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) - is regarded as being totally subservient to New Delhi.

Jayalalitha Jayalalitha, Karuna

Various explanations and assessments are currently circulating among knowledgeable circles in India about the reasons behind these developments though the media has virtually blacked out the story so far in India. The view currently gaining ground is that the ENDLF's recent tie up with former Tiger Eastern Commander, Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias Karuna is the primary factor in this confusing scenario.

It was also pointed out the arrests were carried out by the Tamil Nadu State Police acting under the orders of Chief Minister, Jayalalitha Jayaram and not by any central government agency. The arrested ENDLF men are housed at a special camp in Chengalpattu in what is termed as protective custody.

According to ENDLF sources, the intelligence division of the state police known as 'Q' branch had swooped down on the ENDLF office at Kodambakkam in the Tamil Nadu capital of Chennai on December 5 and arrested five top ENDLF leaderswho were staying there.

Simultaneously the 'Q' cops had raided Gnanasegeram alias Paranthan Rajan's house at Valasaravaakkam and arrested the ENDLF Leader and his three bodyguard aides. The police also went in search of Paranthan Rajan's brother Gnanarajah but he was not in his house at KK Nagar. He remains a free man still.

All eight were first taken to the police headquarters  where Director General, Police, Alexander, the newly appointed head of Tamil Nadu 'Q' branch "interviewed" them. They were informed that an assassination squad from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was now in India to bump off Paranthan Rajan and other important ENDLF leaders. They were being given special protection, the ENDLF was informed. The policemen also wanted them to answer some questions regarding future plans of the ENDLF.

Rajan's protests

Paranthan Rajan had protested vehemently and said neither his men nor he needed special protection. In any event, arresting them unceremoniously and hauling them off to the police station was not the correct procedure to provide protection. The ENDLF Chief and his men refused to answer any questions unless they were released. They also wanted to know under what right they were being detained and wanted to be released immediately . If not, they demanded a lawyer.

With the mood turning sour, all the Sri Lankan Tamils were put in a van and taken to Kanchipuram in the district adjacent to Chennai. They were informed that none of them had valid documents to stay in India as their visas had expired. They were all foreigners "overstaying" beyond the legally permissible period they were entitled to, it was charged.

Therefore, it was stated they were all being charged under the Indian Foreigners Act .The Indian Foreigners Act is a draconian piece of law under which a foreigner could be detained without recourse to bail for up to one year. Among those Sri Lankans detained under this law have been eminent educationist R.R. Sivalingam, Journalist S. Sivanatagam and EROS Leader, Shankar Raji.

Paranthan Rajan according to ENDLF sources had remonstrated saying all of them had valid documents with duly renewed visas. Paranthan Rajan wanted the police to contact certain officials in the RAW who would vouch for them.

The cops however refused and whisked them off first to the Chengalpattu sub jail. Two days later they were taken to the special camp housing Sri Lankan refugees at Chengalpattu. The eight ENDLFers were housed in a separate, well guarded house within camp premises. They were told they were being placed under special protective custody.

After being held incommunicado for a few days, the Tamil Nadu Police began relaxing restrictions gradually. A notable change was that family members were allowed to visit them for all hours of the day without restrictions. Moreover the police madetransport arrangements for the families to visit. They were allowed to bring in outside food and also cook at the place of detention. While there is friendly conversation between the ENDLF and their custodians, Paranthan Rajan has consistently refused to be questioned.

Relaxation of rules

One reason for the  relaxation of some rules could have been the arrival in India of ENDLF Leader, Veeraiya Ramaraj alias Mustapha from Britain. Ramaraj, who runs the Tamil Broadcasting Corporation Radio in London, was at one time the ENDLF general secretary. He is now a central committee member and virtually directs overseas operations of the ENDLF.

Ramaraj is said to enjoy a close rapport with RAW and influential Indian politicians. He has been staying for weeks in India trying to contact leaders at central and state level to get the ENDLF men out.

As far as the central government and intelligence officials were concerned, they denied they were in any way responsible for the ENDLF predicament. The arrest and protective custody was done by the state police at the behest of the Chief Minister herself. Even the state level action had a "noble" motive it was asserted. The ENDLF men were being held for their own good as a Tiger squad was in India to bump them off it was said.

By linking up with Karuna, the ENDLF had complicated matters and endangered itself. Besides the state government did not want any "Eelam Tamil violence" to occur on Tamil Nadu soil. While the ENDLF would be given protection, they should not promote or provoke violence on Indian soil.

The origins of the ENDLF are quite interesting. Paranthan Rajan was initially in the PLOTE and underwent training in Lebanon. He was tipped to be PLOTE military commander but the Supreme Leader, Umamaheswaran preferred Jotheeswaran alias Kannan. Later a disgruntled Rajanleft the PLOTE with his loyalists. This group, along with splinter factions of the TELO and EPRLF, formed a motley group known as Three Stars. The three stars denoted the three original groups from which the dissidents broke off.

Later the PLOTE fragmented further with a faction under Eeswaran also breaking off. The EPRLF too split in two with one faction under Padmanabha and the other under Douglas Devananda. The RAW in 1987 got the three stars and the Douglas and Eeswaran factions to form a single outfit known as the ENDLF.

After the Indo-Lanka Accord, Douglas split with Paranthan Rajan and formed his own Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP). The ENDLF came under Paranthan Rajan's sole control.

Gnanasegeram alias Thangarajan alias Rajanhailed from Neduntheevu but was resident for long at Paranthan thereby earning the name Paranthan Rajan. He was originally a TULF Youth Wing member and had been jailed without trial for many months. Later he joined the LTTE and then left with Umamaheswaran to form the PLOTE.

He underwent training in the Middle East but was arrested after a shoot out at Periyathambanai. He survived the Welikade massacre of 1983 and then escaped during the Batticaloa jail break. After splitting from the PLOTE he went on to lead the ENDLF.

The ENDLF faithfully followed Indian guidance and participated at the 1988 North East Provincial Council elections. An ENDLF nominee, Ganeshalingam became a provincial minister. Packiyanathan Rajaratnam alias Mano master succeeded Ganeshalingam when the latter was assassinated by the LTTE. After the Indian army quit  Sri Lanka in 1990, the ENDLF too followed suit and went over. ENDLF cadre took up residence in Orissa, and various parts of Tamil Nadu and also Bangalore in Karnataka.

Expatriate donations

Paranthan Rajan himself went to Bangalore and started an orphanage cum school there. It was named Mother Indira Gandhi International Academy and is officially sanctioned in Karnataka. Rajiv Gandhi himself ceremonially opened it. It has about 300 students of whom around 50 are orphans. Almost everybody is of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. Though it has received Karnataka and Tamil Nadu assistance, the major part of finances are from Tamil expatriate donations.

The ENDLF had one MP - Srinivasagam in the 1989-1994 parliament. Thereafter it became virtually dormant in Sri Lanka. The ENDLF maintained a very low key political presence in India. In 1996, two ENDLF stalwarts Mano Master and Mustapha went to Kilinochchi and offered to link up with the LTTE. The Tigers suspected a RAW hand behind the move and rejected it. Gradually the ENDLF established offices in Chennai too but maintained a low profile.

The ENDLF hit the headlines again after the Karuna rebellion in the LTTE. The ENDLF established contact with the beleaguered Karuna and offered assistance. A desperate Karuna grasped it as a drowning man would clutch a straw. Soon a political party was announced with Karuna as president and Gnanarajah as secretary. The latter was Rajan's elder brother. Then a joint front comprising Karuna's party and ENDLF was formed. The joint leaders were Karuna and Rajan. The secretary was Gnanarajah and coordinator, Mano Master.

The ENDLF became very active and visible. When Mano Master sent a letter to Norway, the Kodambakkam address was used openly. Much publicity was also given to a lobbying mission by the ENDLF in New Delhi. The ENDLF sought Indian support and pledged to raise 3,500 cadres to fight the Tigers, of which 500 were ENDLF cadres while the rest were supposedly Karuna's boys.

Mano Master, who played an important part in interacting with Indian officials, then went over to Colombo to do political work. He disappeared amid mysterious circumstances and all available evidence suggests that Mano is currently in the hands of the LTTE.

Karuna's speech

The ENDLF, now engaged in a strategic partnership with Karuna, went bonkers in the last week of November. A parallel great heroes show by Karuna was enacted. Karuna read an address to the people in a studio that was videoed. A puerile attempt was made to portray that Karuna was addressing his people in Batticaloa whereas most people knew the whole exercise was a fake. Karuna's speech was distributed worldwide via the anti-Tiger media.

In Tamil Nadu, the ENDLF made 150 video cassettes and printed 30 thousand copies of Karuna's speech. Derogatory posters of LTTE Leader, Velupillai Pirapaharandepicting him as a modern Hitler also appeared on the walls in Tamil Nadu urban areas where Sri Lankan Tamils resided in sufficient numbers.

The cassettes and leaflets were distributed widely including Sri Lankan Tamil refugee camps. These activities caused much tension as people sympathetic towards the LTTE resented this action and protested. This apparently led to loud arguments and even fisticuffs in some places.

The ENDLF had been foolishly provocative to the extent of distributing the Karuna leaflets at a MDMK rally addressed by Gopalaswamy or Vaiko. It is well known that Vaiko and his party are Tiger supporters. The ENDLF action had led to much friction between Tamil Nadu supporters of Vaiko and the followers of Rajan.

The next twist

The next twist was when three Sri Lankan Tamil youths were detained on suspicion in Tamil Nadu. They claimed to be Karuna loyalists and said they were going to join up with Paranthan Rajan. Indian officials felt something was wrong and interrogated them further. Suspicion was reinforced the trio was actually a Tiger hit squad to eliminate Paranthan Rajan and other ENDLF top men.

It was also felt that most details of ENDLF movements in Tamil Nadu would be revealed by Mano Master to the Tigers when Pottu Amman's minions tortured the ENDLF secretary. This sent alarm bells ringing.

According to a well-informed Indian journalist, there were enough reasons for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalitha and the police to be concerned. The people of Tamil Nadu were sick of Eelam Tamil militants and related violence on their soil after the brutal murder of Rajiv Gandhi and 18 others in Sriperumbhudoor in 1991.

They did not want any intra-Tamil violence to spill over as in the case of EPRLF leaders like Pathmanabha, Yogasangaree and Kirubaharan being killed by the Tigers in Chennai in 1990. It is felt in some circles that the laxity shown by then Chief Minister, Muttuvel Karunanidhi over Padmanabha's killing paved the way for Rajiv's killing later. Jayalalitha has made much political capital of this.

Thus, if violence occurred again on Tamil Nadu soil and the ENDLF men were gunned down by the LTTE, it would reflect badly on Jayalalitha's government. Further, the Tamil Nadu Police basking in the glory of having killed Veerappan would lose prestige.

Jayalalitha's arch rival, Karunanidh's DMK was now part of the central government. She fears he is looking for an excuse to get her government dismissed. Law and order is a subject under state government. So if intra-Tamil militant violence flares up, Karunanidhi could press for dismissal of government and dissolution of the state assembly on those grounds. It was imperative that Paranthan Rajan be protected.

While this concern is understandable, the question that arises is why Rajan and others who were placed under house arrest should be protected. Also, why the tough and high handed manner of arrest? It is no secret that Jayalalitha is no fan of Sri Lankan Tamils in the state let alone militants. They are looked down upon as undesirables.

If Jayalalitha had a free hand she would not have allowed the ENDLF to remain on Tamil Nadu soil. Since the ENDLF is sponsored by the RAW as part of a grand design she could not do so. Nevertheless, she seems to have exercised her prerogative and detained the ENDLF hierarchy.

This could be due to another reason. Even the RAW must be appalled at the ENDLF blunder of flaunting their links with Karuna. The connection was one that should have been played down till an opportune time. The ENDLF's provocative action of inciting friction in Tamil Nadu with pro-Tiger elements was unwelcome even to the central government.

Besides, India does not want to encourage Sri Lankan Tamil militant activity on Indian soil in any way. Affording protection was one thing for the political refugees but doing open politics was intolerable. So it may well be that the central agencies too approved of state action in detaining Rajan and Co. With this move pro-Karuna ENDLF activity too has ceased in Tamil Nadu.

Harbouring Karuna

There is also the Karuna factor. Indian intelligence may be interested in protecting Karuna from the LTTE's wrath at present and keep him safe for future use if and when necessary. It is doubtful that India would like to draw attention to this and give credence to charges of New Delhi harbouring Karuna. The ENDLF's unnecessary pro-Karuna campaign in Tamil Nadu places India in an unfavourable light.

Also, even if India shelters Karuna, it would not like large numbers of pro-Karuna Tigers to arrive in Tamil Nadu. Furthermore, given the comparative ease with which LTTE intelligence seems to impersonate, infiltrate or convert Karuna's followers, there is much potential danger in allowing cadres to come over. Restricting the ENDLF scope for action could in turn help check this phenomenon.

It could be assumed therefore that the Tamil Nadu Police action has the sanction of both the centre and state though law and order is under the Tamil Nadu government. The ENDLF seems to have brought this upon itself by the unnecessary publicity it sought to gain and due to its ill advised provocative stance.

This stems from gravely miscalculating the parameters of Indian support to it as well as misjudging India's current policies. The ENDLF hierarchy has breached norms of acceptable political etiquette in India. It is now beginning to pay the price. Penance is required for redemption.


Christians spend Christmas in fear

By Easwaran Rutnam 

Christians islandwide are once again forced to celebrate the Christmas season in fear following attacks on churches.

The latest of these attacks occurred in Katuwana, Homagama last Sunday where a Catholic church was burnt to the ground. Last Sunday's attack follows a similar attack on the same church which occurred last year.

Last December, churches were facing severe threats after some groups led by Buddhist monks charged that Buddhists were being converted and started a hate campaign that also led to several churches coming under attack. A number of Christian churches were burnt while pastors were assaulted. Buddhist monks even walked into Christian organisations and abused and harassed Christian employees.

Christians around the country were compelled to celebrate the birth of Christ under tight security.

Apart from the church in Katuwana, a number of other churches were also attacked or threatened forcing worshipers to skip Christmas and New Year services. The series of attacks on churches in particular and Christians in general culminated in Buddhist groups demanding for an Anti Conversion Bill to be passed in parliament.

The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) lobbied for the bill to be passed in parliament. The issue was even brought up by JHU MP, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero during the Shah Rukh Khan protest at Town Hall on December 11. The Thero while attempting to calm the rampaging protesters said that the JHU will keep pushing for the bill to be passed in parliament.

Meanwhile, the attacks on the Churches have now raised doubts whether the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government has the ability to put an end to this. Christian Affairs Minister, Milroy Fernando condemning the attack on the church in Katuwana said that certain destructive elements are attempting to create chaos in the south at a time there is a crisis in the north. He noted that the main goal of these elements is to tarnish the image of the government. What needs to be taken into consideration is that these so called "destructive elements" have not been identified or named by the government.

Meanwhile, the Minister who visited the site of the pre dawn attack in Katuwana last Sunday said that he had discussed the repercussions of the attack with President Chandrika Kumratunga. Minister Fernando said that President Kumaratunga has decided to use government funds to rebuild the Katuwana church and called on the Catholics of this country to remain calm.

However, the scars caused by the attack and the fear in the minds of Christians in Sri Lanka will not be easily rebuilt.

Meanwhile, the police is providing tight security for Christian churches around the island following the attack on the Catholic church in Katuwana last Sunday. Inspector General of Police (IGP) Chandra Fernando told The Sunday Leader that the police are not taking any chances with the security considering the attacks on churches that took place during the Christmas and New Year season last year. He says the police will be deployed mainly to churches in isolated areas in Nugegoda, Homagama, Anuradhapura, Chilaw and Wennapuwa where a few came under attack last year. However, the IGP noted that to his knowledge there has not been a request from any church for special security during the season.

Police mobile units have been deployed to roam the streets and keep an eye on the other churches in populated areas.

Anglican Bishop of Colombo, Rev Duleep Chickera speaking to The Sunday Leader condemned the attack on the church in Katuwana and the sporadic attacks on a few other places of Christian worship in Wadduwa, Mattugama and elsewhere that took place over the last few months.

Bishop Chickera called on the authorities to inquire fully into the attacks and bring the perpetrators to justice and establish law and order and social trust. The Bishop noted that he was confident that the vast majority of people of all faiths in Sri Lanka want a peaceful environment where everyone can worship and practice the religion of his or her choice freely and without intimidation from any source. He appealed to all Christians to remain calm and affirmative.  

The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka has also condemned the attack on the Catholic church in Katuwana.

"It is with sadness that we note this metamorphosis of this nation to a society marked by intolerance; where human life and dignity are not valued, and there is scant respect for the rights of others" said the Evangelical Alliance in a press release. The Evangelical Alliance noted that differences between individuals and in society are dealt with extreme reactions like murder, arson, assault, suicide and death fasts; which are destructive and violent towards others and to self.

It said there is a systematic attempt to breed religious tensions and incite religious hatred particularly during the Christmas season reminiscent of last December. The Alliance said it strongly condemns and deplores the violent attacks or intimidation of Christian citizens of this country.

The Evangelical Alliance said such acts would only serve to further de-fragment the society along religious lines while the nation still heals the wounds created by the ethnic conflict. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance called upon the government, political parties and individuals in Sri Lanka to work towards fostering a nation where human life is valued irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliations. 

It is indeed sad to note that at a time when Christians around the world are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ who is seen as an icon for peace that the word "PEACE" itself should be tarnished by individuals who prefer to practice hatred and violence.

In the line of fire

In 2003, 39 churches were attacked in and around the city.

There were 91 recorded incidents of arson, demolition and desecration of churches, physical attacks, threats, forced closure of churches and intimidation against Christians or threats that forced churches to close.

In 2004, 78 similar incidents have taken place. 


Killer disease still a mystery

The Embilipitiya Base Hospital, Security guards and attendants wearing protective masks at the entrance to the hospital, A suspected virus case in the children's ward at the hospital and A salesman in the Embilipitiya town wears a hanky to protect himself from the virus

By Risidra Mendis In Embilipitiya 

The unidentified virus that has caused eight deaths up to now in the Southern Province, though identified as Influenza B is yet under investigation. Even though post-mortems have been conducted on the deceased, there is no evidence to say these people died of Influenza B.

At present there are five positive cases while another 50 people are suspected of having contracted the virus as reported by the Epidemiological Unit (EU). The EU has now issued a set of guidelines that should be followed by the Embilipitiya, Matara and Matale hospitals.

Mysterious disease

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Dr. Sinha Wickremesekera of the EU said the post-mortems conducted on the deceased state death was due to pneumonia. "Pneumonia can be caused due to a bacteria or a virus. We think this could be a viral pneumonia due to the absence of pus in the lung tissue. However, we can definitely say that this virus spreads from the respiratory tract," explained Dr. Wickremesekera.

On December 10 when the death of a 44-year-old male patient was reported from the Embilipitiya Base Hospital, the doctors had no reason to suspect that this patient could be the start of an epidemic that would create panic and chaos among people in the Southern Province.

The death of a second patient, a 16 year old male, on December 12 from Beliatta (died in Matara) and the death of a third patient, a 19 year old male, at Beliatta was still no cause for concern. Patients reporting to these hospitals with similar symptoms as that of the deceased were treated without being isolated.

However, when the fourth patient, a 46 year old male, from Embilipitiya died on December 14 doctors attending to the patient had found out that the dead man was a cousin of the first patient who died.

According to Dr. Wickremesekera, the physician made a note of the two cases and called the Matara hospital. "The physician at the Matara hospital had confirmed that there were two deaths at Beliatta. When the physicians compared the symptoms of the dead persons it was revealed that the deceased had the same or similar symptoms before they died," says Dr. Wickremesekera.

However, Dr. Wickremesekera said it was only on December 14 that the Embilipitiya hospital staff notified them of this mysterious disease.

Influenza B

Due to the death of the first case at the Embilipitiya hospital, instructions were issued by the EU to shut down the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) until further notice. The ICU that was shut down on December 15 is yet to be opened. "We are waiting for instructions from the EU as to when we can reopen the ICU. At present serious operations such as snake bite victims, patients with poison in their systems and heart patients cannot be operated. If the ICU was open we would be conducting at least 10 to 12 operations per day," hospital officials said.

On December 16, Dr. Nihal Abeysinghe met with the hospital staff at Embilipitiya. On December 17, Deputy Director General, Public Health Services, Dr. Manil Fernando and Dr. Hasitha Tissera went to Embilipitiya to meet with the Embilipitiya hospital staff.

"The EU then sent two virologists on December 18 to Embiliptiya to take blood samples from the suspected cases. According to the test results received on December 19, three blood samples tested positive for Influenza B," explained Dr. Wickremesekera.

Similar symptoms

According to Dr. Wickremesekera, at this stage the EU could not issue any guidelines to the Embilipitiya hospital staff as they had still not identified the virus.

Meanwhile, officials from the Embilipitiya Action Committee Members (EACM) said they knew this was a type of virus similar to the common flu. Patients had symptoms of constant coughing, a slight fever, body aches and pains and difficulty in breathing. "Since the EU was silent we decided to take our own precautionary measures to prevent the virus from rapidly spreading to others. The Public Health Inspectors (PHI) are working round the clock to make a note of all the suspected cases in the area. The PHIs are not given masks. But when the EU team came to conduct their research they had masks, gloves and aprons. We are trying to prevent this virus from spreading to the best of our ability. But we are not getting any help from the EU," the EACM said.

Hospital staff that were in constant contact with suspected virus cases started wearing masks and gloves to protect themselves. "We only knew that this virus can spread through the air," says the EACM.

But while the EU were conducting further tests to determine the cause of the virus, people continued to die from the same symptoms as reported earlier.

Allegations

The fifth case was a 17 year old female from Tissamaharama, the sixth case a 26 year old male from Rakwana, the seventh case a 24 year old female from Pallebedda and the eighth a three year old child who died at the Embilipitiya hospital.

According to EACM members, the EU visited the hospital only when the first suspected cases were reported. "The EU officials should have been visiting us on a regular basis to take blood samples. They tested eight suspected cases and found two to be Influenza B positive. From these two cases the EU has come to the conclusion that this virus is Influenza B. Influenza B is not a serious virus. If so many people are dying the EU should act fast and try to prevent these deaths," say the EACM.

Hospital sources say due to suspected virus cases being treated at the Embiliptiya hospital other patients are not coming there. "If the suspected cases are tested positive we immediately send them to the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) in Colombo, since we don't have the proper facilities to treat patients here. Once the patients are sent to the IDH we don't get any news on their condition from the EU," says the EACM.

Commenting on the allegations made against the EU, Dr. Wickremesekera said it is true that a team from the EU visited the hospital only once at the initial stages. It is not practical for the EU team to keep visiting the hospital on a regular basis. "The virologist trained five officials at the Embilipitiya hospital on how they should take the blood samples from suspected cases," Dr. Wickremesekera said.

Prevention

According to Dr. Wickremesekera, all blood samples that tested negative are being tested by the EU for other diseases.

Hospital officials have further criticised the EU by accusing them of not communicating with them on the present situation of the virus. "Instead of keeping us informed they give the media all the details. We have to go through the papers to find out what is happening," they charged. Dr. Wickremesekera however denies these allegations. "If the media asks me for details on the virus I have to give it to them. Sometimes before news of the virus is conveyed to the hospital the media contacts us. This situation cannot be prevented," added Dr. Wickremesekera.

The common symptoms for contracting Influenza B as identified by the EU include cough, difficulty in breathing, coughing up blood and general body aches and pains. The incubation period for the virus as indicated by the EU is one to three days, with a maximum of five days.

According to Dr. Wickremesekera, the best way to prevent this disease from spreading rapidly is to avoid areas where a large number of people congregate. "Closed up areas with less ventilation are the places you should avoid," explained Dr. Wickremesekera.

Not enough masks

Due to the fear of the virus spreading in the Southern Province, hospital staff and people of the area have taken precautionary measures by wearing masks. This has resulted in a severe shortage of masks at the hospital and the pharmacies close by. According to Embilipitiya hospital sources the required amount of masks are not being sent from Colombo. "We are making numerous requests since some members of our staff are still risking their lives by working at the hospital without masks. But we have no choice but to manage in the best way we can," the hospital staff said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Wickremesekera said in order to prevent contracting the virus you must use a N95 mask. "The next best option is to use a surgical mask with a few extra layers. So far doctors and hospital staff who are closely attending to suspected cases have not contracted the virus," Dr. Wickremesekera said.


JVP cuts line on DM

The usual cabinet meeting set for Wednesday was advanced to Tuesday as President Chandrika Kumaratunga was to leave for the UK on a private visit. Nevertheless she turned up at the meeting late.

There were close to 90 proposals on the table. One of them was by Telecommunications Minister, D. M. Jayaratne on the sale of shares of Sri Lanka Telecom to a Chinese bidder. The cabinet paper was marked 'urgent' and Jayaratne sought immediate ratification. The proposal was to sell all the remaining shares to the Chinese bidder.

However, opposition to the proposal came from Agriculture Minister, Anura Dissanayake who claimed that given the size of the deal it lacked any transparency. He said no one company should be given that amount of shares.

Jayaratne retorted that there was no underhand deal, that the bid was the highest and since the sale was to generate a huge amount of foreign exchange it had to be dealt with without any delay.

Dissanayake replied that the sale would violate government policy on privatisation and cannot be given the ok. An angry Jayaratne retorted, "Do you have transparency? When questions were raised about the 1000 tanks project, there were no answers," he said.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse intervened and suggested that the proposal should be taken up when Kumaratunga was present. The President walked in when almost 70 proposals had been ratified. She wished everyone a Happy Christmas and New Year and served cake. She said that her children had requested her to spend Christmas with them. She said that any questions could be referred to her through her secretary. The next cabinet meeting for the new year is set for January 5.  

 

Solheim's deadly message

Norwegian Envoy, Erik Solheim brought back some alarming news from his talks in Kilinochchi with the LTTE leadership. The usual meetings between the President and Solheim last about one hour but the last meeting went for almost two and a half hours.

Solheim conveyed that S. P. Tamilselvan had said that even if the LTTE were to recommence talks, it would be fruitless without a proper reaction from Kumaratunga.

The LTTE had said that only the President's word on talks was not enough and that the Tigers would only come back to the table if the government as a whole including the JVP states it position clearly stating that the Tiger proposals would be respected.

Kumaratunga replied that according to the constitution she was the head of state and as such the LTTE should take her view as the position of the government. Solheim had to interject that the Tigers were not playing ball on those rules. He pointed out that the LTTE harboured doubts that the JVP would remain silent but pull out of the government when the ISGA is implemented. At such a juncture, the people of the north east would lose faith in the Tigers.

Kumaratunga said that she felt that the LTTE was not keen on resuming talks and that it was playing politics like the rest of the parties. She asked Solheim whether he could not realise that she was being pushed against the wall by the LTTE. A shaken Solheim said that his role was that of a facilitator taking messages back and forth.

The President said that she unlike the JVP was not going to lay the whole blame on the Norwegians and that she was willing to face the challenge posed by the LTTE. She elaborated that the JVP had matured as a party and that there were two groups within the party on the ISGA, one for talks based on it and the other opposing it. She said that this was a good sign for the future.

Solheim also said that the LTTE leadership had indicated two possibilities. If the JVP is reluctant to recommence talks on the ISGA, then the support of the main opposition UNP should be sought and talks recommenced. He said that the LTTE believes that the choice lay with Kumaratunga.

Kumaratunga's reply was that since the JVP helped to form the government she would first talk with the Marxists. When Solheim sought guarantees on the success of such an endeavour, Kumaratunga said that as head of cabinet she can control the four JVP ministers and up to now she had not said anything critical of the four.

Once again she pointed out that the JVP was now split in the middle on the ISGA. She requested a month's time to talk to the JVP. Kumaratunga pointed out that as of late the JVPers had limited their criticism of the ISGA on the National Patriotic Front platforms. She appeared self assured that she could recommence talks with the support of the JVP.

She requested that Solheim brief the Indians and Anton Balasingham and if he could wait for a few days more she could convey some special news. Solheim due to depart on Thursday, delayed it till Saturday. On Friday Solheim was handed over the paper stating the government's position on recommencement of talksunder signature of the Director General, Government Peace Secretariat, Jayantha Dhanapala. 

 

CBK's clarion call to Dilan

Three days after she met Norwegian Special Envoy, Erik Solheim, President Chandrika Kumaratunga invited Deputy Minister and Convener, Deputy Ministers' Forum, Dilan Perera to President's House for a discussion on the ISGA.

Kumaratunga said that the deputy ministers should take the lead in briefing the voters on the ISGA. The SLFP was agreeable to discuss the ISGA and that once she negotiates with the JVP and gets them amenable towards the ISGA, talks will resume, she said. She told Perera that she would be holding talks with the JVP once she returns from her foreign trip.

All financial assistance to launch a publicity effort on the party's stand was in place and Kumaratunga added that the campaign should be launched without delay. 

 

Thilanga bats for SB

The UNP was a hive of activity last week preparing the battle ground for the campaign to get S. B Dissanayake released.

Interestingly former Cricket Board Chairman, Thilanga Sumathipala too had offered his services and had in fact spoken to the businessman in the middle of the controversy, Prabath Nanayakkara about the issue.

Nanayakkara who persuaded Dissanayake to drop his legal defence while allegedly acting as emissary of the Chief Justice had been told by Sumathipala to do everything in his power to secure the release of Dissanayake. Nanayakkara himself had spoken about Thilanga's concern with UNP MPs.

Sumathipala had even spoken with Prisons Commissioner, Rumy Marzook days earlier and inquired whether he could visit Dissanayake in prison.

Equally supportive was President's Counsel, Gamini Marapone, the brother of former Defence Minister, Thilak Marapone. Gamini Marapone also happens to be Sumathipala's legal counsel in the ongoing trial at the Colombo Magistrate's Court.

He had last week telephoned UNP MP Gamini Lokuge and suggested that the UNP have a select committee appointed to go into the Dissanayake issue. Marapone had said that the SLFP had adopted a similar strategy when Sirimavo Bandaranaike's civic rights issue came up.

At the time Marapone's telephone call came, Lokuge was at the Mayor's Centre with fellow MPs Karu Jayasuriya, Rajitha Senaratne, Ravi Karunanayake, Mahinda Wijeysekera and Bodhi Ranasinghe. Lokuge was to tell the other members present of the suggestions made by Marapone, and it was decided to discuss the issue with Party Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

In the meantime Nanayakkara has been doing the rounds pleading his innocence claiming that he was a bona-fide emissary of the Chief Justice and should not be singled out for attack. Meeting with Senaratne the wheeler-dealer businessman had related the whole saga of his involvement including several alleged discussions he had with the Chief Justice on the Dissanayake case.

Nanayakkara had said that it was through UNP MP Susantha Punchinilame that he had approached Dissanayake and started negotiating with the Chief Justice. It has been further revealed that Speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara had also told Dissanayake to trust Nanayakkara.

Senaratne is to now swear an affidavit setting out the details alleged by Nanayakkara and annex it to the complaint to be made to the police and the Supreme Court by a family member of Dissanayake.

 


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