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21st  May, 2006  Volume 12, Issue 45

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

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera with Japanís Special Peace Envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi. Minister Samaraweera is in Japan ahead of the Tokyo Co-Chairs meeting on May 30 to blunt criticism against the governmentís human rights record (Photo: AFP)


President warns of infiltration by Tigers

Ministers banned from meeting LTTE

President Mahinda Rajapakse warned his cabinet of ministers on Wednesday not to make any direct contact with the LTTE without his.....

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Top News 

> Tamil group to charge Gothabaya for war crimes in US

> SLMM crippled by EU ban 

> MR gets cabinet bonanza

> India to keep out of Co-Chairs meeting

> 12 bullet proof  BMWs arrive

More News.......

 President warns of infiltration by Tigers

Ministers banned from meeting LTTE

President Mahinda Rajapakse warned his cabinet of ministers on Wednesday not to make any direct contact with the LTTE without his consent.

The warning came after he was informed by the security council on Monday that LTTE links established by a senior minister in the government were connected to the Tiger intelligence network.

The senior minister on Monday sought President Rajapakse's approval to make direct contact with the LTTE to revive the peace process claiming he had access to three senior members of the Tiger organisation.

The President, it is learnt had not agreed to the minister's proposal but had requested him to furnish the names of the three senior LTTE members for his consideration.

Informed sources said on Monday afternoon the President submitted the three names to the security council and requested their seniority in the organisation be verified.

The security council, it is learnt, informed the President, all three names submitted were from the LTTE's intelligence wing.

The President on Wednesday told the ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting to be wary of moves by the LTTE to infiltrate the government and ferret out information, citing the example of the senior minister and his proposal.

"Don't eat the LTTE's dead ropes," the President had said.

He said in future no member of the government should make any contact with the LTTE without his approval.

 


On the basis that Defence Secretary is a US citizen

Tamil group to charge Gothabaya for war crimes in US

Tamil civic organisations are preparing to file war crimes charges against Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse in the United States.

The move comes in the backdrop of government efforts to have the LTTE banned in several countries including the European Union (EU).

The war crimes charge against Rajapakse is to be filed on the basis that he is a citizen of the United States.

The Defence Secretary was living in the US for over a decade and returned to Sri Lanka after his brother Mahinda Rajapakse was appointed prime minister.

It is learnt the charges are to be filed against the Defence Secretary for his alleged role in the aerial bombardment of Sampur where civilians were reported killed and thousands displaced.

Informed sources said the charges will also deal with Rajapakse allegedly aiding and abetting  paramilitary groups to target civilians in the north east.

The charges are to be framed in terms of Title 18 Crimes Aid Criminal Procedure under Part 1 which deals with 'crimes' and Chapter 118 dealing with 'war crimes.'

Section 2441 dealing with 'war crimes' states - "whoever, whether inside or outside the United States commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b) shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the death penalty."

 


SLMM crippled by EU ban

The workings of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) are expected to be hampered with the European Union (EU) ban on the LTTE coming into force.

The ban is expected to come into force on May 30. The SLMM is currently constituted of citizens of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland.

SLMM Head Ulf Henricsson is a citizen of Sweden. Three of the five countries represented in the SLMM in Sri Lanka - namely Sweden, Finland and Denmark - are members of the EU.

With the ban coming into force, members from these countries will not be legally entitled to deal with the LTTE or work in LTTE-controlled areas.


Over a million bucks in back wages

MR gets cabinet bonanza

PRESIDENT Mahinda Rajapakse has received a million rupee windfall from the cabinet of ministers.

Cabinet has approved a backdated salary increase for Rajapakse to cover the tenure of his prime ministership.

The backdated bonanza is being given on the premise the Prime Minister should have been "ideally" higher than that of the Chief Justice.

A resolution under Article 68 (1) of the Constitution has been tabled in parliament for May 23 by the Parliamentary Affairs Minister seeking approval for the salary bonanza.

The resolution states,  parliament resolves under Article 68 (1) of the Constitution "that the monthly allowance payable to the Hon. Prime Minister shall be revised as follows:

(a) Pay a sum of Rs. 46,400 to the Hon Prime Minister with effect from 01.12.2004.

(b) Pay a sum of Rs. 37,400 from 22.04.2004 to 30.11.2004 and a monthly salary of Rs. 46,400 from 01.12.2004 to 18.11.2005 to His Excellency the President, the then Prime Minister.

(c) Pay a sum of Rs. 47,100 to the present Prime Minister with effect from 24.11.2005, as ideally - Prime Minister's salary should have been higher than that of the Chief Justice.

President Rajapakse was prime minister from April 2004 to November 2005 and a term of the resolution will be entitled to nearly Rs. 1.5 million as back wages and allowances.

Section (b) under the sub heading 'circumstances' states the circumstances referred to in sub section (a) are that the person committing such war crime or the victim of such war crime is a member of the armed forces of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).

A 'war crime' in terms of the US law means any conduct (1) defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva in August 1949 or any protocol to such convention to which the US is a party. It also deals with non-international armed conflict and deaths of civilians.

 


India to keep out of Co-Chairs meeting

India is not likely to attend the Co-Chairs meeting in Tokyo scheduled for May 30.

The Sunday Leader learns, India has neither been formally invited to participate at the Co-Chairs meeting as an observer to date nor is India inclined to accept an invitation given concerns over the human rights situation in the country.

Japan's Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi during his visit to Sri Lanka said India would be invited to attend the Co-Chairs meeting as an observer, later briefed Delhi following the outcome of his tour.

US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Donald Camp too briefed India in Delhi Wednesday, where the human rights situation again was discussed.

However, a diplomatic source told The Sunday Leader, India will in all probability not attend the Co-Chairs meeting.

 


12 bullet proof  BMWs arrive

Twelve bullet proof BMW vehicles, each costing Rs. 17 million (without taxes) were airlifted to Colombo last week to protect  VIPs in the country in the wake of increasing LTTE attacks.

    It is reliably learnt that the transport charge for airlifting each BMW is Rs. 1 million.

These super luxury vehicles are now being kept under strict security. A handful of close associates of the VIPs to whom these cars will be given however have been given access to these BMWs.

As these bullet proof BMWs are too sophisticated to be driven without familiarisation, small groups of individuals who will be handling these vehicles for their bosses are now being given 'familiarisation courses.'

 


Tour agents doubt arrivals target

By Jamila Najmuddin

The deteriorating security situation in the north and east is having a spill over effect on the country's tourism industry with tour agents now doubtful if the government can reach its target of 800,000 tourists by the end of the year.

Despite the government maintaining that the tourism industry was functioning as normal, tour agents have warned of a collapse in the country's tourism industry if urgent steps are not taken to restore peace. "The country cannot expect tourists amidst heavy violence. There has to be peace in the country to attract tourists," a tour operator told The Sunday Leader.

He added although the Sri Lanka Tourist Board (SLTB) was trying its best to revive the industry, the deteriorating situation in the north and east cast a cloud over safety. "No amount of advertising is going to attract tourists. The government cannot expect to achieve its target of 800,000 when killings and bombings continue in the north and east of the country," the tour operator said.

However despite warnings being issued by the private tour agents, the government remains optimistic in achieving its target, stating that the tourism industry was continuing to perform well. "We have suffered a 20 year war. Despite this, the country's tourism industry did not suffer. Tourists continue to arrive in the country which is a positive sign that we could achieve our target by the end of the year," Director General, SLTB, S. Kalaiselvam said.

Latest statistics on the number of tourist arrivals were unavailable.

 


1/3 share back to CPC

By Risidra Mendis

Petroleum and Petroleum Resource Development Minister A. H. M. Fowzie is in the process of preparing a cabinet paper, to hand over the remaining one third share of the petroleum sector presently with the Treasury back to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). 

At a meeting held with trade union members a few days ago, Fowzie assured the members  that the remaining one third share presently with the Treasury would be given back to the CPC,  and that CPC will not be privatised.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Fowzie said the government had no intention of selling the remaining  shares with the Treasury to private parties. "I hope to present the cabinet paper to parliament in 10 days and hand over the remaining one third of shares to the CPC as soon as possible," he said.

At present one third of the petroleum shares belong to the CPC while one third of shares was sold to the Indian Oil Company (IOC). 

CPC's JVP backed trade union head Ananda Lakshman commenting on the present situation on the one third share issue said, his trade union was very pleased with the decision taken by the Petroleum Resources Development Minister not to sell the shares to a private party.

"It is the UNP that violated the Offences Against the Public Property Act of 1987. We have confidence in the Minister and the CPC Chairman Jaliya Medagama. Five ministers have signed a Cabinet Sub Committee Report to the effect that the remaining  CPC shares will not be sold to a private party," Lakshman said.


New paddy purchasing mechanism

By Chinthaka Fernando

Government is to implement a new paddy purchasing mechanism to replace the present mechanism which they claim to be a failure.

Trade Secretary Dr. R. M. K. Ratnayake told The Sunday Leader that the new mechanism was currently under discussion and once implemented will eliminate a lot of weaknesses that currently exist in the paddy purchasing system.

According to Dr. Ratna-yake only the paddy from registered farmers will be purchased under the new mechanism. "In the last Maha season a lot of private traders purchased paddy from the farmers at a lower rate and then sold them to the government's paddy purchasing stores for Rs.17.50 posing as farmers," he said.

Next time, the farmers will have to present  documents, such as the documents presented to get the fertiliser subsidy to prove authenticity. "We will issue a cheque in favour of that farmer and then he will be able to get money. Only genuine farmers will be able to sell their paddy under this scheme," Dr. Ratnayake said.

He also said they will implement a new system to encash the cheques with the help of state banks. "Since farmers cannot go through a lot of paper work we will implement a system where they'll only have to show their ID card to get money," Dr. Ratnayake said.

 


Two army men killed in Vavuniya

An officer and a soldier were killed yesterday morning due to LTTE gunfire at the army forward defence line in Vavuniya.

The defence spokesperson's office said that the LTTE had opend fire at Maruthamadu, Ariyakirittakulam area in Omanthai around 9 a.m from Tiger lines. A corporal who was injured in the attack was admitted to hospital.

The LTTE said that the army personnel were on a reconnaissance mission in its areas.

There were other reports of an attack by the Karuna faction on the LTTE at Sampur, Trincomalee. But sources in the area said that there was no such attack. However TMVP spokesperson Thooyavan said that there was an attack in the area on May 18.

 


'LTTE, Karuna group resorting to extortion'

By Kumudu Amarasingham

SLMM Officials last week accused both the LTTE and Karuna faction of extorting money from local businessmen in the north and east.

The SLMM head of office in Vavuniya was reported as saying that both the LTTE and Karuna faction extorted money from civilians, particularly local businessmen in the north and east, but the tendency of the Karuna group to kill and resort to violence was higher.

While the SLMM stated that these were individual opinions, Spokesperson Helen Olafsdottir said that they had no reason to disbelieve the official who made the comment as he had worked in Vavuniya for a long time.

This also included the comments made by the SLMM Head of Office in Vavuniya, claiming he "firmly believed" that Karuna groups existed and were supported by the army in the area.

"These were his personal opinions, but we have no reason to doubt his grasp of the situation," Olafsdottir said.

Meanwhile when asked if the LTTE extorted money from businessmen in the area LTTE spokesman Daya Master denied the allegation, claiming they only taxed those who crossed the border into LTTE controlled areas. 

 


Economists wary of revised growth rate

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) forecast which was revised to 6.9% from the earlier 6% by the Central Bank last week will heavily depend on internal and external issues states a World Bank economist.

Economist Sarvananda Muttukrishna told The Sunday Leader that if there are no major problems,  it is possible for the country to reach the  forecasted level of development. "The threat of war and also the increase in oil prices need to be factored in if the government wants to achieve this target," he said.

The expected growth rate for 2006 which was raised from 6 percent to 6.9 percent is due to the good results shown in the agriculture and construction  sectors in 2005  as well as the first quarter of this year. However, escalating violence in the north and east as well as the recent price hike in fuel have not been taken into consideration, it is learnt.

"The public will not necessarily be affected if the government does not reach its targeted growth rate. However war will definitely have a bearing on the forecasted growth rate. because prices will increase and more money will be directed towards the war expenditure," Muttukrishna said.

However, Central Bank Deputy Governor Dr. Anila Dias Bandaranaike  said, "We are watching the oil prices and the security situation because they will definitely influence the figures for the next quarter. Policy planning and infrastructure are also very important if we want to improve the living standards of this country."

The agricultural sector has improved due to favourable weather conditions and the momentum is expected to continue throughout the year. Tsunami reconstruction work  is causing growth in the construction sector with more people joining in the rebuilding of homes as well as infrastructure. The agriculture sector grew by 4.2 percent while the construction sector showed a growth figure of 9.5 percent for the year according to the Central Bank fourth quarter 2005 monetary review.

Bandaranaike added that effects of the current situation will only be reflected in the next quarterly report of the Central Bank.


NCPA to protect children affected by clashes in NE

By Jamila Najmuddin

 DISCUSSIONS are to be held shortly between the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) and the government in order to save hundreds of children who have been affected by the recent violence in the north and east.

Humanitarian agencies are  in the process of assessing the extent of damage and identifying the number of people displaced by the clashes between the security forces and the LTTE.   The NCPA says that immediate steps need to be taken to save the children from falling victim to further violence.

 "A lot of children have been affected and urgent steps need to be taken to save these children. Violence affects  children the most," an NCPA official told The Sunday Leader.

He added that while they are yet to confirm the number of children affected by the clashes, steps would be taken to provide immediate assistance to the displaced children.

Meanwhile, the Resettlement Ministry has begun offering immediate assistance to mothers and children affected by the clashes by shifting them to resettlement camps with the help of the security forces. Resettlement Minister, Rishard Bathiudeen told The Sunday Leader that although thousands of civilians had been affected by the attacks, they were being offered aid and assistance by the government. "Our aim is to look after the innocent civilians. All necessary steps have been taken," Minister Bathiudeen said. 

 


Fruits to be grown locally

The Agriculture Ministry has allocated Rs.1.5 million to develop fruit farms in the North Central Province.

Among the fruits to be cultivated are varieties of avocado, pears, apples, oranges, grapes, lemons and many others. The fruits had been grown and tested by the research and development arm of the Agriculture Ministry.

Ministry sources said the move was aimed at reducing the amount spent on importing fruits. Sri Lanka currently spends over Rs.400 million on fruit imports each year, which can be saved if they were grown here.                                                                  (KA)

 


CEB union determined to carry out protest

By Dilini Perera

The Ceylon Electricity Board Employees' Union (CEEU) is determined to stage an islandwide protest on May 23 against the proposed Electricity Reforms Bill that was tabled in parliament on May 9, despite the government's decision to postpone the matter till early next month.

The Electricity Reforms Bill has come under fire for its plan to allegedly sell out the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to eight private companies.

"The government says it is going to restructure the CEB, but in reality they want to privatise it. This is not going to solve the financial or energy problem. Building new power stations will help the situation but privatising it won't help matters," Leader, CEEU, Ranjan Jayalal told The Sunday Leader.

He added that the UPFA as a policy decision  agreed to the unions that they would not privatise the CEB when they came into power.

"The government never intended to privatise the CEB so I don't see the point of their protest," said Power and Energy Minister John Seneviratne.

"They don't need to protest because we have postponed the date and we were going to have a consultative committee meeting next month before we made our decision," he added.

Seneviratne further noted that the government does not need a contingency plan in the event the country was to face an islandwide black out if the unions carried out their protest campaign because they were confident that the protest would not take place.

"They (the government) may say that they have postponed the matter but that will be decided only on the 23rd. If the result is unfavourable, we are ready to strike," Jayalal said.

This year, the CEEU is joined by the JVP and other public sector trade unions in their effort to thwart this controversial bill.

This restructuring scheme first emerged and was met with opposition by the CEEU in May 2004 forcing then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse to call a special meeting resulting in the forming of a committee on power sector reforms. Their research into the matter showed the reasons for the CEB's dismal performance.

Financial issues and inability to increase tariffs in order to match the price hikes in fuel were all cited in the 13-page report handed over to the then Power and Energy Minister Susil Premajayanth in July 2004.

 


Mega power project for NE

By Dilrukshi Fernando

The government is to implement a jointly funded project of approximately Rs. 2575 million to rehabilitate the electricity supply from Kilinochchi to Jaffna.

Through this project, the government plans to reconstruct a double circuit 132 kv transmission line between the grid substations of Kilinochchi and Chunnakam using Zebra conductors.

Transformers and protection schemes in the area, which come under the purview of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), will also be upgraded and reconstructed through this project.

The estimated cost of the project is Rs. 2575.1 million and the funds are to be provided by the Kfw German Development Bank and the CEB.

The Nation Building and Development Ministry is to de-mine the project area to enable the CEB to begin construction.

The government is optimistic of carrying out the project even with the current escalation of hostilities and parts of the project winding its way through uncleared areas.

"We will go ahead with this project for this will be greatly beneficial to the civilians," Government Spokesperson and Media Minister Anura Priyadarshna Yapa said, adding that the government has already decided on the time of completion.

When questioned on the practical issues that would crop up when entering uncleared areas, Yapa said that the CEB would carry out the project with the cooperation of the people in the respective areas and if the CEB was faced with any problem, it could then be reported to the government.

"No one can oppose this as it is good for the people. If anyone opposes it, we will inform the people of the north and east that the government has been prevented from providing services to them," he said.

Cabinet approval was granted for the project last week.

Officials from CEB told The Sunday Leader that the first phase of this project  began last year. The de-mining and route clearance of the project area has progressed and if all goes well the work can be finished within another year.

The officials further said that it is vital that this project continues for the CEB to achieve its goal of providing permanent electricity to the Jaffna District, and restore  equipment which have been severely damaged during the war. 


Govt. to take legal action against Prima

By Chinthaka Fernando

The Labour Ministry is to take  legal action against  Prima Ceylon Limited for violating the agreement reached with the government on reinstating 1,600 sacked workers from the institution.

"I have instructed the Labour Commissioner to take legal action against Prima as they have violated all the conditions in the agreement reached after the talks we held with Prima officials in Singapore and local trade unions," Labour Minister Athauda Senevirathne told The Sunday Leader.

Two months earlier, Prima sacked 1,600 workers for going on  strike demanding a salary hike. The sacked workers, backed by the Inter Company Trade Union Federation (ICTUF) launched a fast unto death campaign demanding the workers be reinstated and the Labour Commissioner under the guidance of the Labour Minister also intervened to solve the matter.

The Labour Minister ruled that sacking  workers in that manner was a violation of  International labour laws and ordered the company to reinstate them.

Subsequently an agreement was reached between the Labour Commissioner and Prima officials from Singapore to reinstate the workers.

General Secretary, ICTUF, parliamentarian Wasantha Samarasinghe told The Sunday Leader that the company has  cut down the number of employees when reinstating, which was a violation of the  agreement reached.


USAID to rebuild tsunami damaged vocational centres

Reconstruction work has begun at 11 tsunami damaged centers belonging to the Vocational Training Authority (VTA)  with the assistance of  USAID  and the  Vocational and Technical Training Ministry.

These centers are located along the southern and eastern coastal belt. The project is estimated to cost U.S. $ 35 million.

The centers belonging to the southern coastal belt include Ahangama, Hikkaduwa, Weligama, Koggala, Tallala and Tangalle, while the centers on the eastern coastal belt are in Ampara, Ninthavur,  Kalavanchikudi and Trincomalee.

The main guidelines of the project will include equitable distribution of resources and will serve all ethnic groups as well as public-private partnership for sustenance. Also, new state of the art LEED certified model-training centers will be developed at Ahangama and Ampara.


Study of earth  movement  in Matale delayed

Investigation of the cracks appearing on the ground in Matale leading all the way to Trincomalee by the National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) is being delayed due to the unavailability of personnel.

Phase one of the investigations where immediate studies and recommendations  were to be made has been delayed, as geological faculty students are unavailable in the coming weeks.

According to the NBRO branch in Kandy, the students from the Peradeniya University are unavailable to carry out the studies as they are sitting for examinations.

The preliminary studies are currently being carried out.

"The crack formation is a very slow process, and we are still trying to find out the root cause of this problem," an official from NBRO said.

He also added that the problem was most evident in Matale, and urged the public to report  any sighting of new cracks or cavities in the surface.

The NBRO hopes to commence their phase one work this week.

Phase one would include security measures; mapping out the layout of cracks and the houses affected and how they are affected, and the hazard levels.

"This will be a big project and is being assisted by the Disaster Management  Ministry," the official added.

The NBRO predicts that phase one will take approximately three months to complete where mainly fieldwork will  be done.


Health authorities warn of dengue outbreak

By Nirmala Kannangara

Warnings have been issued by the health authorities regarding an out break of the dengue epidemic as there    has been an alarming rise in the number of reported cases  in the country.

According to Medical Officer, Epidemiology Unit, Dr. Devika Mendis, the number of dengue cases reported up to May 17  are two fold higher than the previous year and if  precautionary measures are not taken the country would face  an  epidemic in the next two months. 

"The country faced a severe outbreak in 2004 but according to the statistics the reported number of dengue  cases so far indicates that another outbreak which could be more severe than  the epidemic in 2004 is imminent if precautions are not taken immediately. So far this year 3525 dengue virus infected patients and 12 deaths have been reported which is an all time high when compared to previous years. With the onset of the south west monsoon  the number of suspected cases could rise further" claimed Dr.  Mendis.

Dr. Mendis told The Sunday Leader that  50% of the reported cases are from the Western Province followed by Kandy, Ratnapura, Matara and Kurunegala districts.

"Forty eight high risk MOH areas from 12 districts  have been identified as high case load areas and regular review meetings are held at these places to combat the menace," added Dr. Mendis.

According to Dr. Mendis the masses should be educated as some people in rural areas do not know the deadly consequences of dengue.  

"As June to July is the high risk period people should clean their own premises and keep them free of  mosquito breeding places," said Dr. Mendis.


Motorbikes for Vidatha Resource Centres

The Science and Technology Ministry is to provide motorbikes to all Vidatha Resource Centres, which are currently functioning at divisional secretariat level.

Ten motorbikes will be distributed today (21) to the Vidatha Centres, which are already established in Dodangoda, Beruwela, Hambantota, Matara, Karandeniya, Bulathsinhala, Tangalle, Weligama, Suriyawewa and Thihagoda.

Fifty bikes are  to be distributed among the centers by the Science and Technology Minister Professor Tissa Vitarana  to mark the opening of the100th Vidatha Resource Centre at Balapitiya.


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