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19th March, 2006  Volume 12, Issue 36

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                                    

News

"And with no language but a cry..." Tennyson would have said yet again, were he to see these employees - in this case of the Ports Authority - seeking a wage hike as prices soar almost every hour. This is just one of a tide of strikes the country has seen in almost all sectors over the past few weeks


Facilitator clears the air with Ranil

Norway says CFA was not amended in Geneva

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti and Kumudu Amarasingham

The government of Norway, facilitator of Sri Lanka's peace process, has determined that there was no amendment to the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) at the first round of talks in Geneva held in.....

More...


Top News 

> President considers national government

> LTTE scoffs at JVP's call for Norway's ouster

> Arjuna wants MR to join hands with Ranil, Chandrika

> Tahir's name surfaces in nuclear deal trial in Germany

> SLFP ex-co to decide on leadership

More News.......

Facilitator clears the air with Ranil

Norway says CFA was not amended in Geneva

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti and Kumudu Amarasingham

The government of Norway, facilitator of Sri Lanka's peace process, has determined that there was no amendment to the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) at the first round of talks in Geneva held in February.

The Norwegian determination was disclosed last week after UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who was on an official visit queried the factual situation following conflicting positions taken by the LTTE and the government on the issue.

The LTTE has maintained that the CFA was not amended while the government delegation upon returning to Colombo after the talks stated that the CFA was amended by imposing additional responsibilities on the LTTE, particularly in relation to child soldiers

However Norway responding to Wickremesinghe's query had said that no amendments were made to the CFA at the talks in Geneva.

Norwegian government representatives had said that absolutely no change or amendment was made to the CFA, and further stated that the peace talks had centered on preserving the CFA and furthering the peace process.

Though ending a bloody, decades-long war that had killed thousands was an extremely challenging task, with patience and perseverance a peaceful, political solution was possible, Wickremesinghe said during the visit.

Norway's International Development Minister and peace envoy Erik Solheim said that both his government and the Co-Chairs were committed to a political solution to the ethnic conflict that preserved the national integrity, protected democracy and was acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka. He added that discussions on the matter would be held with India.

Meanwhile Norwegian Special Envoy Erik Solheim had told Wickremesinghe that Norway was keen to discuss a final solution to the ethnic conflict with Sri Lanka's giant neighbour India.

The need to find a political solution within a united framework formed  the  basis of discussion when Wickremesinghe who was on a four day Norwegian tour met Norwegian leaders and peace facilitators.

The Sunday Leader learns that Wickremesinghe during his meeting with Solheim had stressed on the need to pursue peace with vigour and emphasised on the need to accept that such is possible only within a 'united' framework.

The duo had agreed that too much water had flowed under the bridge for the two parties in conflict to settle for a solution that excludes a united framework.

It is learned that Wickreme-singhe had emphasised on the need to strengthen CFA in a bid to move ahead with the ongoing Norwegian facilitated peace negotiations. It has been Wickremesinghe's view that though there may be some flaws, it was the CFA that made talks initially possible and actually provided the basis for discussions to the incumbent government.

Both parties, it is learned have agreed that the second round of peace talks, scheduled for April would prove successful if honest efforts are made by both parties to the conflict to strengthen the CFA as a  demonstration of sincerity.

Solheim had also reiterated Norway's commitment as well as the donor community's to a solution that is acceptable to all communities which would prevent war from breaking out once more.

Wickremesinghe's four day tour was concluded with a meeting with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store.

Wickremesinghe also held discussions with Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Bondevik.

UNP Deputy General Secretary Tissa Attanayake told The Sunday Leader that Norway had confirmed to the UNP Leader that the CFA was not amended.

Wickremesinghe returned to the island Friday afternoon.


President considers national government

President Mahinda Rajapakse is considering a national government or a snap general election to move the peace process forward, The Sunday Leader learns.

A final decision on the two options is to be taken by the President after the local authority polls on March 30.

The President's decision to consider the national government option first follows an ultimatum issued by the JVP to oust Norway as facilitator of the peace process before the next round of talks in Geneva, Switzerland scheduled to commence on April 19.

The President has decided to continue with Norwegian facilitation and informed the JVP of his decision.

The JVP in calling for Norway's ouster has accused the facilitator of helping the LTTE establish a state of Eelam and obtain for them international recognition for the separate state.

Informed sources said the President will discuss a working arrangement with the UNP at the bilateral talks between the two parties after the local polls to take the peace process forward in view of the ultimatum issued by the JVP.

The ruling UPFA won 106 seats in the 225 member parliament at the 2004 general election, of which the JVP has 39 MPs.

The JVP politburo last week decided to launch agitational campaigns calling for Norway's ouster from April prompting the President to look at available options with several ministers keen on a working arrangement with the UNP to restore economic and political stability to the country.

Informed sources said the President believes an arrangement with the UNP will also strengthen the government's hand at the negotiating table.

The President had told confidants last week he is committed to taking the peace process forward and would not cave in to JVP pressure.

It is learnt, the President will discuss the possibility of a national government with the UNP in the current parliament or forming one after a snap poll which will also see the JVP's strength reduced in parliament.

A top source close to the President also said the international community too was in favour of a national government with the UNP in the current context.

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who was in Norway on an official visit was also impressed upon by the facilitator on the need for the two main parties in the south to work together on the peace process.

It is following the President's decision to explore the possibility of a national government that he decided to put on hold any moves to lure  more UNP members to the government fold.


LTTE scoffs at JVP's call for Norway's ouster

By Jamila Najmuddin and Arthur Wamanan

The LTTE last week dismissed the hard-line position recently adopted by the JVP calling for Norway's ouster saying that it was not too concerned about a party that constantly changes its position.

"The LTTE will not be alarmed by statements made from a most inconsistent political entity such as the JVP. We all know that this party has been holding divergent views on the peace process and the Norwegian facilitation with other parties of their calibre. This party can say something today and change their word tomorrow because they are well known for their changing attitudes," LTTE Political Wing Head, S.P. Tamilselvan told The Sunday Leader in an interview.

He added that the JVP which had appeared to adopt a slightly moderate stance on negotiations and Norway's role before the recent Geneva talks had now gone back to its hard-line position for political gain.

The LTTE also said they would not accept anyparty other than the Norwegians as facilitators and added that such a move would also be opposed by the international community.

"If Norway is removed as peace facilitator, not only the LTTE but no one else will accept this. This is a long period of hard, committed and sincere work put into a process with international support, which was begun with the help of Norway. In other words throwing away Norway is like throwing away the entire international community," Tamilselvan said.

He also lashed out at the government for not implementing the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) and assisting paramilitaries even though an agreement had been reached in Geneva that the government would disarm such groups.

He also expressed serious doubts and concerns over the second round of talks scheduled to take place in April following the conflicting and exaggerated comments by the government delegation onthe Geneva talks. (See pages 12 and 13 for full interview)


Arjuna wants MR to join hands with Ranil, Chandrika

A deputy minister of the government has called on President Mahinda Rajapa- kse, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to jointly find a solution to resolve the ethnic conflict.

Deputy Tourism Minister Arjuna Ranatunga in an interview with Irudina, the sister paper of The Sunday Leader, said that asolution to the ethnic conflict could be easily found if the three leaders joined hands. Ranatunga's statement came in the backdrop of reports that the President was considering the option of a national government to move forward the peace process in the wake of a JVP April ultimatum to oust Norway as facilitator.

Ranatunga also claimed that although a solution to the ethnic conflict could be easily found, it has been prevented by some who did not wish to see the issue being resolved.

He has also said that it was Kumaratunga who initiated the process of finding a political solution to the national issue and Wickremesinghe worked to push the process further.

Ranatunga has further observed that since Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe were well experienced in the whole process, their input would be ideal to resolve the issue.

"They could get together and see what went wrong in their efforts of finding a solution and correct them to find a lasting solution," Ranatunga has said.


Tahir's name surfaces in nuclear deal trial in Germany

A German man went to trial on Friday on charges he equipped Libya with atom bomb technology - the first trial of a suspected member of the "Khan network" which also supplied nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea, a reuter report from Germany said.

Gotthard Lerch, a 63-year-old engineer, is accused of helping Libya acquire atomic weapons technology in violation of German arms and export laws, an official at the state prosecutors office told Reuters according to the report.

Prosecutors say Lerch was a key figure in a black market run by the disgraced father of Pakistan's atom bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, which helped Libya, North Korea and Iran skirt international sanctions in their quest for nuclear technology, the report added.

Lerch has been held in a German jail since his extradition last summer. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

The prosecution accuses Lerch of taking around 28 million euros (19 million pounds) from Libya for special vacuum technology used in the process of enriching uranium. Lerch denies this the report further said.

Lerch was first named in a Malaysian police report based on the questioning of Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, a Sri Lankan resident in Malaysia, who was detained there in 2004 and has admitted to helping Khan peddle nuclear technology.

Khan, who is a national hero in Pakistan for helping Islamabad counter India's nuclear arsenal, publicly confessed in 2004 to helping Iran and Libya get nuclear enrichment technology and has been under house arrest ever since, the report added.

Federal prosecutors are also in contact with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna as they investigate the involvement of more than half a dozen other Germans in the Khan network, German officials have told Reuters.

Some of the men who helped Iran get uranium enrichment technology could be charged with treason, the officials said.

Gerhard Wisser, a German living in South Africa, and his Swiss colleague Daniel Geiges were arrested in South Africa in 2004 after prosecutors there said they had evidence linking them to Khan's network. Prosecutors are still preparing that case.


SLFP ex-co to decide on leadership

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The SLFP executive committee will decide the fate of the party leadership after the local government elections.

SLFP Leader Chandrika Kumaratungaprior to leaving for London the previous week appointed Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake to be acting leader until her return.

Kumaratunga had in writing informedParty Secretary Maithripala Sirisena she would not be able to act as party leader for several months and was appointing Wickrem- anayake in terms of powers vested in her by the party constitution.

However, the central committee last week decided such powers were not vested in the leader under the party constitution.

Sirisena told The Sunday Leader that the decision on who should act for Kumaratunga would be taken up by the executive committee after the local government elections.

The decision to refer the matter to the party executive committee was taken by the central committee since it is only the executive committee that can decide on the party leadership, Sirisena said.


Upul for deputy president of  BASL

Former Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) General Secretary, Upul Jayasuriya is to contest for the post of deputy president of the association this year.

Elections are to take place on Saturday, March 25. Contacted by The Sunday Leader, Jaya-suriya confirmed contesting the position of deputy president.

Jayasuriya said he decided to contest the post on the requests made by several Presidents' Counsel and senior lawyers including members of different political persuasions in the Bar.

Jayasuriya has completed 30 years at the Bar.


New special envoy for  Sri Lanka's peace process

Jon Hanssen-Bauer has been engaged to act as Norway's special envoy for the peace process in Sri Lanka.

He will be responsible for Norway's day-to-day work as facilitator of the peace process in Sri Lanka.

Hanssen-Bauer will report to International Development Minister Erik Solheim, who will lead the work, visit Sri Lanka regularly and be responsible for Norway's role as facilitator of the peace process. Norway's Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Hans Brattskar will continue to be the parties' day-to-day point of contact in Sri Lanka. The parties to the peace process in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE  have been informed.


Shashendra wins uncontested

By Kumudu Amarasingham

The Kataragama Basnayake Nilame post was won uncontested by Shashendra Rajapakse, President Mahinda Rajapakse's nephew, yesterday.

Rajapakse, son of Agriculture Minister Chamal Rajapakse, a few weeks ago launched an all out, no expenses spared campaign for the Kataragama Basnayake  Nilame post. Among his pledges was the promise to improve the lives of those who depended on the temple for their subsistence. 

"I plan to give free lunch to all the pilgrims who come to the temple," Rajapakse said, adding that he hoped to extend the project to give breakfast and dinner eventually.

In a bid to improve the lives of the people in the area, Rajapakse said he would try to make people vow to do acts of social service, as opposed to offering things like fruits to the Gods in return for favours granted.

"To give merit to the gods people have to have merit, and I think the best way to collect it is for them to engage in something beneficial to society like painting a hospital, the upkeep of a poor school in the area, or even cleaning a temple, before seeking favours at the devalaya," Rajapakse said.

Rajapakse plans to assume official duties at the Kataragama Devalaya this week.


UPFA launches election campaign today

The UPFA will launch its election  campaign for the  local government bodies today (19) in Nuwara Eliya under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapakse.

The campaign will be carried out under the theme 'Mahinda Chinthana Dorin Dorata, Gamin Gamata.' Speaking of the party's campaign, SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena said that the vision of the founder of the party, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike would now be carried forward through the Mahinda Chinthana.

UPFA Secretary, Susil Premajayanth observed that after the launch of the campaign, it would be taken to the grassroots and would be at its peak till election activities end on March 28.

He also said that the UPFA had to be voted in to the pradeshiya sabhas in order to implement the Mahinda Chinthana at village level.

The second phase of the Maga Naguma programme will also be launched at the same venue.


PAFFREL calls for postponement of local polls

By Shezna Shums

PEOPLE'S Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) has urged the government to postpone the local authority elections in the Northeastern Province of the country.

PAFFREL stated several reasons as to why the upcoming elections should be postponed, one of them being the fact that several pradeshiya sabhas and municipal councils are currently barred from conducting elections due to interim orders being issued by courts.

Ballot papers in respect of most  pradeshiya sabhas and municipal councils have already been printed, and postponement of elections may necessitate the printing of new ballot papers discarding those already printed.

"There are about 11 cases pending in the Supreme Court, while some councils have injunction orders as well. So there is already a mess," said PAFFREL Chief, Kinsley Rodrigo.

The other main issue is the fact that about one million people are yet to have an identity card or some form of identification. The Elections Commissioner has stated that an alternative by way of getting a certified letter with their photograph, from the Grama Niladhari is acceptable to vote.

"The election should be postponed for at least six months, whereby the government will be able to provide ID cards to the people who need them as well as make the necessary  amendments to the laws," stressed Rodrigo.

However, the main issue hindering a free and fair election according to Rodrigo was with regard to the problems associated in the north and east of the country.

According to the election laws, the ballot boxes have to be protected by the police; but under the ceasefire agreement armed policemen are not allowed into LTTE controlled areas.

This poses a problem in conducting elections in areas under LTTE control.

 "The commissioner has to postpone elections in the north and east," PAFFREL stressed.

Rodrigo also said that if elections were conducted in the north and east, it would not be free and fair.

Furthermore, the other issue is that of the violation of election laws.

Currently there are 22,000 candidates and they are violating election laws everyday by putting up posters, banners and cut outs.

Another reason for the proposed postponement of elections in certain areas is due to the need for amendments to the existing election laws.

Rodrigo also said that another issue which needed to be addressed before an election was the setting up of the Constitutional Council as the re-activation of several independent bodies depended on it.


Minister blames JVP for farmer unrest

By Chinthaka Fernando

Agriculture Minister Maithripala Sirisena blamed the JVP for the present farmer unrest claiming that the government's paddy purchasing mechanism was well in place.

Sirisena said that the government paddy-purchasing programme was working well without any problems adding that 131 purchasing outlets have already been opened in the Polonnaruwa District this time.

"We have bought One million kilos of paddy within this short period. At the moment the purchasing has halted due to bad weather experienced in the North Central Province," he said.

Commenting on the farmer unrest in the region he said that the JVP was the main force behind it.

"The JVP's request is to pay 75% of the value of the paddy to farmers right now and take the paddy later if they are unfit to be bought at the moment. This is absurd. How can a government spend money like that?" he asked.

Sirisena further said that a monk is staging a fast-unto-death demanding that paddy be bought at Rs.15 per kilo, which the government has planned to buy at Rs.16.50- 17.50 per kilo.

"They don't even know the basic facts. They are trying to gain political mileage out of anything," claimed Sirisena.

The Sunday Leader learns that some of the purchasing centres which had been put up, are not functioning at all, despite the Minister's assurances.

According to farmers in Polonnaruwa in, some places banners have come up as purchasing centres but no paddy is being purchased at these places. The farmers claim that officials at the centres have informed them that purchasing has not yet started.

The farmers also said that only 2,000 kilos of paddy will be bought from each farmer by the buying centres and farmers who have produced more than that amount will be forced to sell the extra produce to businessmen at a very low rate.

However, many farmers are compelled to sell their paddy to private businessmen at a cheap price because their produce had been rejected by the Co-operative shops due to excessive moisture.

Trade Ministry Secretary Dr. R. M. K. Ratnayake, who heads the paddy-purchasing programme, told The Sunday Leader that paddy that has more than 14% moisture will not be bought by the government. According to farmers the normal paddy has around 20% moisture at the moment.

The farmers in Polonnaruwa expressed their displeasure at the limited purchasing programme.

According to them they have to obtain two letters from the Govijana Seva office and from certain agricultural officials and have to go through long procedural work, including filling in forms and submitting photographs.

Even though there are allegations of government not having enough storage facilities, it was not completely true according to some farmers. They claim that there had been enough space in the stores such as the store in front of the Hingurakgoda police station.

The Sunday Leader also learns that the farmers who are desperate to sell their paddy, have laid the paddy in the sun, in front of purchasing centres and keep on checking for the moisture  level everyday.


JVP office demolished

By Kumudu Amarasingham

The JVP office in the Battaramulla town was totally demolished early Friday morning, with several people injured in the clash.

The incident took place at around 2.30 am in the morning, according to the Thalangama Police.

Eyewitnesses said a group of suspected SLFP activists had demolished the office in the middle  of the night.

The temporary office was set up in the heart of the Battaramulla town for propaganda work for the upcoming local government elections. This is one of several clashes between the different factions since the elections were announced.

Debris lay scattered everywhere on the side of the Pannipitiya road, and the remains of the red cardboard office were seen piled up on the roadside.


UNP-SLFP deal is a piece of cake !

The Battle of the Blues has always been more than just cricket, but this story takes the cake!

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was just walking into the grounds last Saturday afternoon to enjoy the Royal Thomian clash. And who should greet him but First Lady Shiranthi Rajapakse, whom, he jokingly observed, seemed to be a more ardent fan than he! In the midst was   Warden, St. Thomas'  College, Dr. David Ponniah,who invited Wickremesinghe as chief guest to the Old Thomian Swimming Club tent where their 50th anniversary celebrations were taking place.

Wickremesinghe was asked to cut the cake, at which point he in a show of chivalry invited Shiranthi to do the honours. The First Lady obliged cutting one side of the cake with Wickremesinghe following suit. The drama did not end there with Wickremesinghe proceeding to offer the first piece of cake to Shiranthi. Amidst cheers and loud whistling Shiranthi demurely returned the gesture. Is this a harbinger for a political marriage in the offing?


JVP wants K-Port deal scrapped

The JVP-led Port Workers' Union will go on strike next week if the  government  goes ahead with the controversial K-Port project to set up Sri Lanka's  first  ever dry port at Orugodawatte.

President, Port Workers' Union, Chandrasiri Mahagamage told The Sunday  Leader  that it was improper to hand over the Full Container Load (FCL)  function  entirely to a private company rendering over 100 SLPA workers  unemployed.

He alleged that an estimated Rs. 1241 million would be lost to the SLPA with  the implementation of this project that had been launched in violation  of  the stipulated tender procedures in addition to lacking cabinet approval.

"There would be a 15%  reduction of SLPA revenue as it would  directly go to K-Port," Mahagamage said adding that the union's letter of  protest  sent on January 15, to Minister of Ports, Mangala Samaraweera went  unacknowledged.  "We also wrote to President Mahinda Rajapakse on March 1, but  received  no reply,"  Mahagamage said.

A dry port is created upon dry land away from the immediate wharf area  of  the port to make the maximum use of the available land.  K-Port will be Sri  Lanka's first.

However, Chairman, K-Port Pvt. Ltd, Kamil Kuthubdeen said that the  K-Port  construction would be soon completed despite protests and become  operational  by April. "Nobody would lose their job, " he assured.  A special SLPA committee that conducted a feasibility study on the K-Port  project in  November 2005 submitted that the SLPA would not stand to gain from the  project.

The report stated, "The team debated the true value of these benefits  to  SLPA, which seemed somewhat risky. Prior to a formal agreement being drafted and signed, SLPA must assess all other risks, legal, financial, operational  etc., that would be associated with this joint venture."

One of the largest projects undertaken by BoI with an initial capital  commitment of Rs. 550 million, K-Port Pvt. Ltd. has already utilised over  Rs. 700 million on the first phase.

Meanwhile, the SLPA board of directors last month observed that K-Port  should guarantee compensation for the revenue in loss to the SLPA.

They  also  recommended that the SLPA conduct further discussions and negotiate on  receiving additional new business, ensure compliance with relevant  legal  requirements and find suitable means of eliminating any financial  deficits that SLPA might face.

They further recommended that SLPA should ensure that K-Port  must  refrain  from entering into any other agreements or joint ventures with any other  party without SLPA's consent.  


Minister not involved in VC appointment

By Chinthaka Fernando

The  Education Minister has denied any involvement in appointing a new vice chancellor to the Jaffna University.

Minister Susil Premajayanth said he did not have any hand in appointing the VC  to the campus.  He said that the three nominations have been done by the university senate and the final decision would be taken by the President.

Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole was nominated for the post and was to assume duties on March 15, but there were agitations, especially among the undergraduates over his appointment. President, Student's Union, S. Vijayaruban said that Prof. Hoole would not even be allowed to step in to Jaffna.  Prof. Hoole they claimed was against the Tamils.

Meanwhile, Prof. Hoole did not assume duties on March 15  as scheduled and Prof. S. Mohandas has been appointed as the acting VC.


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