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3rd December, 2006  Volume 13, Issue  21

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Issues

The unfair attack on Allan Rock

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj 

Allan Rock, former Canadian cabinet minister and envoy to the United Nations, has been at the receiving end of a vicious campaign of ....

More....


More Issues

 > How Mahinda sabotaged himself in India (....Pot Shots)

 > A country at cross roads

 > A journalist's agony at the hands of the law makers...

 > Sajin -  the Rs. 3616 billion man

 > Vadai seller confesses to raping and killing Nishadi Buddhika

 > Inside story of journalist Parameshwary

 > Hats off to Sashi Girl!

 > Gung-ho Middle East foreign policy loses steam

 > Cutting the grass under Mangala's feet


The unfair attack on Allan Rock

Allan Rock 

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj 

Allan Rock, former Canadian cabinet minister and envoy to the United Nations, has been at the receiving end of a vicious campaign of vilification in Sri Lanka.

The 'patriotic hawks' are attacking him in parliament and from political platforms. In typical Lankan style his effigy is being taken out in procession and burnt. One was seen hanging from a tree in front of a UN office in Colombo.Everybody who is somebody in the Sinhala far right love to hate him.

 The crimsonian national socialists and saffron clad ethno - fascists are systematically demonising him.

White Tiger target

Charging the suddha or white man of conspiring to harm Sri Lanka and help the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is nothing new. Norwegian Special Peace Envoy Erik Solheim who is now a cabinet minister was and still remains the favourite vellaip puli (white Tiger target).

If Solheim's fault was trying to facilitate a peaceful negotiated settlement the daggers are drawn against, Allan Rock for a different reason. The 59-year-old lawyer undertook a special mission for the UN to investigate the condition of children in an armed conflict situation. Rock held a press conference prior to his departure and placed the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the LTTE breakaway Karuna faction known as Tamil Makkal Viduthalaip Puligal (TMVP) in the dock.

The UN mission's initial findings revealed that the LTTE has not complied with its commitments to stop child recruitment and to release all children within its ranks. The mission also found that the Karuna faction, a group that broke away from the LTTE, is continuing to abduct and forcibly recruit children in government-controlled areas in eastern Sri Lanka.

Evidence

Furthermore, the mission found disturbing but credible evidence that certain elements of the government security forces are supporting and sometimes participating in those abductions.

Rock, who spent 10 days in Sri Lanka from November 8 to 14, stated that he will be submitting his final report to the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict in January next year. Rock had visited Sri Lanka in the capacity of Special Adviser to the SRSG or Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC).

In recent times the UN has been taking up the question of child soldiers very seriously. Acting on the recommendation of the SRSG, strictures have been issued and even sanctions implemented against offending parties.

The issue of the LTTE conscripting minors was nothing new and it was well-known that the Tigers would be criticised. It was also common knowledge that the Karuna faction was also forcibly recruiting children and that sections of the armed forces were aiding and abetting some cases.

Media frenzy

But when Rock wearing the stamp of UN legitimate credibility came out openly with the charge that security forces were allegedly guilty of helping Karuna faction conscription, the media went to town.

The LTTE was forgotten in the media frenzywith focus on the government's role in conscription. The excreta really collided with the oscillator. The armed forces took umbrage over the charges being leveled. The government found itself in a precarious situation and was forced to defend itself and the armed forces.

Instead of responding to the UN charges in a responsible manner and conducting an open inquiry into the allegations, the government sought to place the onus on Rock. It wanted him to supply the evidence to conduct an inquiry. The government could have unilaterally utilised the opportunity to prove its bona fides if it was really innocent. That it did not do so was by itself significant.

Government green light

The government itself gave the green light in tacitly declaring open season on Rock. Defence Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told The Morning Leader that President Mahinda Rajapakse had initiated an inquiry through the Foreign Ministry to ascertain whether Rock exceeded his mandate by accusing the government.

"The President has instructed the Foreign Ministry to inform all relevant authorities for a strong explanation into Rock's statement. The President has also called for an immediate inquiry into the allegations. However, such a serious statement accusing the government, was totally beyond Rock's mandate," Minister Rambukwella said.

Minister Rambukwella also criticised Rock by saying that if the UN official could make such a statement within hours of visiting the affected areas, then the government would willingly hand over the Raviraj investigation to the UN, rather than calling the Scotland Yard.

"If Rock is such an expert who could make these comments within hours of visiting the northeast, then he could solve the Raviraj assassination within days. We do not need the Scotland Yard then," Rambukwella said.

Raking up muck

As the campaign against Rock gathered steam, efforts were underway as usual to rake up muck against him. His Canadian political career was scrutinised. Either through ill-informed error or deliberate design, Rock was depicted as an LTTE supporter. He had been a liberal party MP and minister. The Canadian Liberals were accused of being soft on the LTTE. Rock was accused of being one too. There was a mad rush to accuse Rock of having attended a controversial fund-raiser dinner for the LTTE.

The facts however do not bear out the charges against Rock in this respect. The dinner in question was organised by the now defunct LTTE front, the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (FACT). The only two Liberal party MPs who attended it were Paul Martin and Maria Minna. Rock was nowhere near the place.

There is also no record of him having ever attended a pro-Tiger meeting or demonstration in Canada. In fact Rock was justice minister when Suresh Manickavasagam, the alleged head of the LTTE in Canada, was issued a national security certificate in 1995.

LTTE proscription

There is also no known evidence of Rock having played a part in the Liberal Party decision to put a proposed LTTE proscription on hold in Canada. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack on the New York twin towers there was an upsurge of anti-terrorism feelings in the West. Canada passed a harsh Anti Terrorism Law known as C-36 and began banning foreign terrorist organisations on a staggered basis.

When South Asia's turn came, only five organisations (two Sikh and two Kashmiri) were proscribed. The LTTE was let off the hook. The reason for this was that the LTTE was engaged in a peace process with the government. It was felt that an early proscription could affect the process.

Canada is home to the largest Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. Later when the Conservatives under Stephen Harper - described as being a George Bush sycophant - came to power the LTTE was banned.

Accusations are being made now that Rock was responsible for the Liberals soft-pedaling the LTTE proscription. Again the facts are contrary. Media reports of the time indicated that it was then Foreign Minister Bill Graham who pressed for a freeze on the proposed ban. The entire cabinet was reportedly guided by Graham on this as he was easily the most knowledgeable minister on Sri Lanka. He was also foreign minister.

In fairness to Graham the decision to put the Tiger ban on hold was a sound one at that time. It must be noted however that the Liberal government "barred" many people suspected of links to the LTTE (including MPs) from entering Canada though the LTTE was not banned.

Irony

Interestingly enough Paul Martin as prime minister visited Sri Lanka after the tsunami. Bill Graham visited Sri Lanka as foreign minister. Maria Minna who lost her ministerial portfolio for reasons unconnected with Sri Lanka has also visited Sri Lanka twice in her capacity as head of the Canada-Sri Lanka Committee in the House of Commons. She led a trade delegation and a parliamentary delegation. She also visited Kilinochchi.

The very same patriotic hawks screaming out for Rock's blood were docile kittens when all these trips by these Canadian MPs took place. I am certainly not saying that demonstrations should have been held against them. I am only pointing out the irony of demonstrations protesting Rock being held now whereas those personalities made trips to Sri Lanka without any problem.

Though Rock has clean hands vis-…-vis the LTTE, he is being tarnished as a Tiger supporter while others were exempt. This shows that the Tiger stick is only a convenient device used when suited and really carries no conviction.

Rock is being demonised and vilified not because of any real or imaginary Tiger link. His 'offence' in the eyes of the patriotic hawks is that of bringing disrepute to the armed forces through his disclosures. No effort is being made to ascertain the merits or otherwise of these charges. Rock is being beaten with the Tiger stick unjustly and unfairly.

Background

Rock was born in 1947 and raised in Ottawa, Canada's capital. He practised law in Toronto for about 20 years. After entering politics he served for many years in former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien's cabinet. Rock has been justice minister and attorney general, health minister and industries minister during different periods under Chretien. When Chretien was retiring, Rock too announced his candidacy in the inner-party race to replace the outgoing PM.

Rock changed his mind and opted out of the race. He also decided not to contest elections again after being MP for 10 years. He was then appointed as Canada's ambassador to the UN and went to New York in early 2004.After the Conservatives took office, Rock tendered his resignation in February this year. He was asked by Prime Minister Harper to remain in office until June 30 this year.

After winding up his UN career in New York , Allan Rock had reportedly decided to relocate to Windsor City bordering Detroit river instead of Ottawa or Toronto. His intention apparently is to practice law with an old friend, Harvey Strosberg. Rock's lawyer wife Debora Hanscombe has already joined Strosberg's firm, it is said. Rock is widely tipped to head the Windsor University soon.

Special assignments

Meanwhile he is ready, able and willing to undertake special assignments like the one he did in Sri Lanka for the UN. Rock excels at mediation and arbitration. One of his final acts as ambassador was being instrumental in negotiating a peace treaty between the Sudanese government and the main rebel group in Darfur.

During his UN stint as Canada's Envoy, Rock worked extensively on human rights issues and was actively involved in the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council and the Peace-building Commission. Peace and Human rights have been his passion from his youth.

While an undergraduate in 1970 he was host in Ottawa to John Lennon of the Beatles just after the famous Montreal 'bed in.' Rock also served as chair of the Group of Friends of the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

It was this which led to his Sri Lanka assignment. The UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict is Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan national herself. It is usual procedure in the UN for an official to refrain from getting directly involved in matters concerning his or her native country. Since Sri Lanka was way up on the radar on the question of children in armed conflict, a fact-finding mission had to be sent. Coomaraswamy's choice of Rock as her special adviser on Sri Lanka was widely hailed.

No objection

The choice of Rock was duly conveyed to Colombo through the Lankan mission to the UN. There was no objection. Coomaraswamy also met President Mahinda Rajapakse when he was in New York for the General Assembly meeting. He was very receptive to the idea of Rock being sent on a UN mission to Sri Lanka. In fairness to Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan President did provide required access and assistance to Ambassador Rock while in Sri Lanka.

Rock met Rajapakse and told him of his findings. He also told him of his impending press conference. It is usual practice for UN representatives on such missions to hold a press conference prior to their departure. Transparency and openness is the reason. The report will be sent directly to the UN. Copies would be provided to all parties concerned in the report.

Rajapakse reportedly told Rock that action would be initiated if the charges were found to be true. Yet with the defence establishment and the ultra-right reacting harshly, the President's office too issued a convoluted press release. The UN coming out with a report indicting the Rajapakse regime of complicity in child soldier conscription is politically damning for the government. Hence the orchestrated response to Rock.

A man of Rock's background and stature would not rush hastily into making controversial disclosures. According to informed sources in diplomatic and human rights circles, the man had been preparing his brief earnestly. He had spent weeks prior to his Sri Lankan trip meeting knowledgeable people and reading material on the issue. He was also in possession of information gathered by reputed NGOs and HR agencies.

Sworn affidavits

Above all he directly met family members of victims and in some cases a few escaped conscripts. The Sri Lankan government has asked for proof. According to informed sources Rock has incontrovertible evidence in the form of sworn affidavits numbering over 50.

By all accounts Rock may send that 'evidence' to the government after 'sanitising' them. Given the tyranny of the Karuna faction and aligned security personnel people suspected of having provided information to Rock, they will certainly be victimised. So names. dates, places, etc., will have to be obliterated.

Furthermore, other agencies and institutions too have backed up Rock's findings. The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) issued a special report on June 7, which has details of Karuna faction conscription and security forces complicity. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) endorsed Rock's statement. UNICEF has issued a statement confirming it.

HRW stance

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) too has issued a preliminary statement on child conscription which tallies with Rock. The HRW final report will be out early January.

Given the overwhelming evidence about conscriptions and state complicity there seems to be no way in which the government can deny the charges. Yet there is a stubborn defiance and tendency to shoot the messenger.

Rock is no stranger to controversy having been the eye of many a storm as cabinet minister. It does seem unfair however for the man to be slandered so badly when he does not deserve to be attacked or seem to be at fault.

The final report to be submitted by Rock to the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict will no doubt seal the lips of most critics. The government will lose face internationally. The only way out is to exit the state of denial and do effective damage control.

Bashing Rock may seem an easy way out for an insular political and military class and their acolytes. In the final analysis this will turn counter-productive. Those who knock their heads against a rock will bleed but the rock will stand firm.


A country at cross roads

Blood shed reaches Defense Secretary Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse

By Amantha Perera 

Sri Lanka faces a monumental task of getting itself out of a very serious rot that has set in during the last 12 months. Within that year more 3500 have died in violence that appear to be on the rise once again.

"The hardliners are in the ascendancy on both sides. Until a way is found of altering political attitudes on both sides, the conflict is likely only to worsen," the International Crisis Group said the day after LTTE leader Vellupilai Prabhakaran delivered his Heroes' Day Speech with the grim warning that the almost five year old ceasefire was defunct.

As the country braced itself for the nasty predicament, observers poured into the speech, attempting to decipher the message. LTTE middle rungers in Kilinochchi said that the Tigers had not pulled out of the ceasefire but that it was at risk. They told The Sunday Leader that the A9 was the crucial issue, its continuing closure would prompt the Tigers to pull out.

It seems the message of the Tiger leader had been garbled in the interpretation, what Prabhakaran meant was that the government had broken the ceasefire and thus the ceasefire was defunct. According two LTTE spokesperson S Pulidevan and Rasiah Illantharoyan the LTTE leader had clearly laid it out in the Tamil text, the government had conducted the last rites on the CFA.

What lay next was clear four days after the speech, when the dreaded suicide bomber stuck again. This time it was at Greenpath when the convoy carrying Defence secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse was hit by a suicide cadre in a three wheeler. The Defence Secretary escaped unscathed. He drove straight to Temple Trees immediately after the attack and was greeted by a relieved President Mahinda Rajapakse.

President Rajapakse had immediately inquired after his brother when he heard the loud noise of the blast. The Defence Secretary was heading for the Security Council meeting when the attack took place.

Last week was the lowest ebb, what had started off an year ago with skirmishes and the occasional grenade attack has blown out to pre-2002 days.

Ironically it was exactly an year before the failed attempt on the Defence Secretary that the bloodshed began. On December 1, 2005, two Tamils heavily involved in organizing pro-LTTE events in Jaffna were killed. On December 4 and 6, 16 soldiers were killed in claymore attacks. On December 22 and 23 16 sailors were killed.

The list thereafter is littered with attacks, confrontations and bloodshed. 

"A new twin-track process emerged, in which a more hard-line military strategy mixed uncomfortably with a political strategy attempting to build a southern alliance, develop a

consensus around a political settlement and renew peace talks. But the political strategy seemed for the most part to be subordinate to the new military strategists, who were apparently convinced that a harsh counter-terrorist campaign, combined with aerial supremacy and conventional ground forces, could seriously weaken the LTTE," ICG said of the government strategy.

The Tigers fueled the fire, "The LTTE seemed intent on provoking the military into resuming the war. The army, which had been forced to show restraint in the face of LTTE provocations over the past three years, began to respond, often brutally. On December  25, 2005 unknown assassins - presumed to be linked to the state - killed Joseph Parajasingham, a parliamentarian from the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance  in a church in Batticaloa. This was followed in January 2006 by the killings of five Tamil students on the beach in Trincomalee. A new round of extrajudicial killings had begun. This low-intensity conflict, in which paramilitary forces, soldiers in civilian

clothing and sometimes simply criminals are involved, has continued throughout the year. Its characteristics are the brutality of mutual killings, the frequency with which civilians with little apparent connection to the conflict are targeted and the routine failure of any investigations."

After a year of bloodshed the civilians have paid dearly, over a million are depending on depleted supply lines to Jaffna. Approximately 200,000 still remain as refugees, of that more than 30,000 in Vaharai received food only last week after a three week absence.

The peace talks were destined to fail according to ICG report. Both sides  showed reluctance to head into substantive issues and as the situation deteriorated, the truce itself became limited to paper. The ICG said that it was now upto the international community to salvage the situation. Ironically, the same report admitted that Sri Lanka lacks the geo-political power to attract international interest.

"The international community has a key role to play in restraining both sides and pushing for serious discussion of a political settlement. However, rather than engendering a new level of engagement, the resumed fighting has led to frustration, with some donors and key players more reluctant to become involved. Sri Lanka more than ever before needs international engagement that is critical and sustained, focusing above all on immediate human rights and humanitarian concerns but with a longer-term political view that seeks to renew a peace process taking into account the full complexity of the conflict."

Sri Lanka facing the music in UN fora 

Sri Lanka's human rights record is under scrutiny in two UN fora currently in session. The UN Human Rights Council resumed its sittings in Geneva last week and human rights abuses here kept popping up in the discussions. The government for the time being has been successful in staving off a proposal by the European Union till March, but those advocating for interntional participation in monitoring the abuses here kept the pressure up.

The UN Security Council's Working Committee on Children in Armed conflict also was in session in New York  and Sri Lanka was among the countries listed for discussion. "Six country reports are to be examined in 2006 by the Security Council Working Group namely Burundi, Cote D'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. For the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, recommendations of concrete actions the Security Council can take to protect children have already been made to the Council," the Council said on the session that commenced on November 28 and would end on December 7.

 However, the much-awaited report of  Special Advisor to the UN General Secretary's Special Rapporteur for Children in Armed Conflict Allan Rock is unlikely to be presented to the ongoing sessions. Rock's conclusion at the end of the 10-day trip early last month have opened up can of worms that the government and its allies are trying their best to close up as fast as possible.

UN sources indicated that report was likely to be forwarded to Special Rapportteur Radhika Coomaraswamy in December and thereafter to the working group in January. In the report that has been presented to the on going session, there is no mention on complicity of government troops in recruiting underage children. Rock made the allegation just before departing Colombo and the government has reacted by seeking evidence from the UN. UN sources said that the Colombo office was yet to receive any communication from New York on whether there would a be response to the government before the Rock report is handed in.

Given the attention on the child recruitment and especially Rock's visit, the sessions and their conclusions are likely to set the tone for the near future. "The recommendations of the Security Council Working Group and the follow up action of the parties concerned are crucial," the Council said.

The government has tried to stem the rising tide of criticism on the human rights record by establishing the Special Presidential Commission with interntional observers. The setting up of the Commission, that would investigate 16 cases has been welcomed.

"I am pleased to note that fruitful corporation between the Government (of Sri Lanka) and my office with regard to the initiative and welcome the incorporation of the majority of High Commissioner's suggestions into the terms of reference. I hope the Commission of Inquiry will prove effective in bringing the perpetrators of serious human rights violations to justice," UN Human Rights Commissioner Louis Arbour said at the opening of the sessions. The comments were given wide publicity in the government media here.

But the other side of the story is that while welcoming the commission, Arbour and others have voiced concerns on its limitations and more importantly have not gone silent on calls for interntional human rights monitors.

"There is an urgent need for the international community to monitor the unfolding human rights situation as these are not merely ceasefire violations but grave breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law," she said.

As sessions continued the tone was set. The commission was welcomed but thereafter the criticism flowed.

Vesa Himaanen of the European Union  raised issues on the violators behaving with impunity. Interestingly Philip Alston, UN Secretary General's Special Rapportuer on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions had raised the same concern in October when he remarked - ""The parties feel that they are able to violate human rights and humanitarian law without losing international legitimacy so long as they commit abuses in a manner that permits them maximum deniability. Monitoring could foreclose the strategy of deniability and push the parties to show actual respect rather that simulated respect for human rights."

Sri Lanka's envoy Sarala Fernando  to the Commission was left to fend off questions on government complicity in child recruiting, blocking aid and continuing violations. As seen during the past three months she chose the recently set up Commission as her best defence.

And pressure was mounting on the Council to act on Sri Lanka. US based advocacy group Human Rights Watch, that has been on Sri Lanka's case for awhile wrote the Council before sessions got underway urging action.

"Human Rights Watch is writing to urge you to act at the Third Session of the Human Rights Council to help reverse the worsening human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Specifically, we hope that you and other concerned states will raise Sri Lanka during the session and work with the Sri Lankan government towards establishing a United Nations human rights monitoring mission in Sri Lanka," it said in the letter.

The Rock comments formed the basis of HRW's call for more assertive action in Sri Lanka. The interntional Commission of Jurists also lent its support for calls for wider interntional participation.

"There is little neutral space left in Sri Lanka. Civilians are suffering the human rights and humanitarian consequences of a deepening conflict and unaccountable armed forces on all sides", said the ICJ.

"The Human Rights Council must not turn away. It can and should play a constructive role in helping to prevent and stop the continuing serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Sri Lanka and in helping to tackle systemic impunity", it said and blamed both sides for using civilians for political gains.

"The humanitarian crisis is being politicised by both sides to the conflict, with little consideration of the rights of the civilian population", said the ICJ.

"Experience around the world has shown that in such acute situations as in Sri Lanka, a professional, impartial and international human rights field presence can play a significant role in helping to protect lives and create a space in which diplomatic initiatives can take shape", said the ICJ.

"We believe discussions should be stepped up with the Sri Lanka Government about how to establish a suitable human rights operation in the country" it said.

The Council will meet again in March and by then the breathing space the government now has might turn into a suffocation box. Only action in the coming months can stave off more interntional scrutiny.  - Amantha Perera

Urgent need for international HR monitors - UN  

In Sri Lanka conflict has flared up again. In the past six months, the country has descended further into violence with the death toll climbing to include an increasing number of civilians. As the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings will report to this session, scores of extrajudicial and political killings, allegedly committed by Government security forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and other armed elements, continued. At present, several cases of killings and disappearances are reported each day in the Jaffna area. Since April 2006, some 240,000 people have been newly displaced from their homes, in addition to the hundreds of thousands who were forced to flee during earlier stages of the conflict as well as by the tsunami. Restrictions on humanitarian access have been imposed by both sides, worsening the vulnerability of these populations. The LTTE's persisting record of forced military recruitment, including children, is a major concern.

While LTTE abuses continue on a large scale, human rights violations by State security forces, and the failure of the Government to provide the protection of the rule of law to all its citizens also generate serious concerns. The Government's public commitment to investigate these crimes, including the killings of 17 humanitarian workers of Action Contre la Faim, is welcome. In too many cases, however, investigations have failed to produce results and victims have been denied justice and redress.

There is an urgent need for the international community to monitor the unfolding human rights situation as these are not merely ceasefire violations but grave breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law.

- Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Tigers say no to 400 food lorries to Jaffna

By Jamila Najmuddin 

The Tigers last week rejected a fresh proposal by the government to transport 400 lorries carrying 4000 metric tonnes of food and essential items to the north through the A9.

The proposal which was conveyed to the LTTE last week by the SLMM, saw a dead reaction as the Tigers continued to maintain their hardline stance of not negotiating on any issue than that of  opening the A9 permanently.

The proposal to transport the 400 lorries was conveyed to President Mahinda Rajapakse by the Essential Services Commissioner and Department early last week after which it was conveyed to the government Peace Secretariat. The latter had in turn informed the monitors who had conveyed the proposal to the LTTE.

Defence Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told The Sunday Leader that President Rajapakse had also approved to call for international donors and agencies to assist in transporting the lorries to the north and local companies willing to volunteer would also be granted permission. "There are many international donors who are talking about hunger affecting the civilians in the Peninsula. All these groups can now come forward in assisting the government to pressurise the LTTE and transport the lorries to the Peninsula," Minister Rambukwella said.

The Minister added that the Tigers rejection of  the government proposal clearly proved that the LTTE was not concerned about the plight of the civilians and continued to use civilians as human shields. "If they were concerned about the plight of the civilians they would have let the government move the lorries through the A9," said Minister Rambukwella.

The SLMM which conveyed the government proposal to the LTTE last week said that the monitors would continue to hold discussions with both the government and the LTTE till such time sufficient quantities of food was transported to the starving civilians in the Peninsula.

SLMM Spokesperson Thorfinnur Omarsson told The Sunday Leader they would continue to monitor the situation till such time a solution was reached by both parties. "While the government insists on  transporting  food convoys only  through the A9, the LTTE continues to insist for the A9 to be open permanently. A solution has to be sought soon," Omarsson said.

He added that the SLMM had also met LTTE Political Wing Head S.P. Tamilselvan in Killinochchi earlier last week where the Tiger Political Head had maintained a firm position in maintaining that the A9 would not be open for one off convoys. "If the A9 is open, it should be open for all," Tamilselvan had told the monitors during the discussion.

LTTE Spokesperson Daya Master confirmed that the SLMM had verbally conveyed the government proposal to the Tigers. However he said the LTTE had maintained that the A9 should be open for all as they would not grant permission for one off convoys only. "There are half a million people trapped in the Peninsula prison. We cannot open the A9 only for convoys. What about the civilians then?  asked Daya Master.

Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said last week that the government would be willing to open the A9 without conditions if four serious concerns are eased by the LTTE through guarantees from the donor community.

The four proposals according to Minister Rambukwella are that the LTTE should refrain from using civilians as human shields and building bunkers upto the Muhamalai Forward Defence Line, guarantee security to the civilians on the A9, extortion and refrain from training university students to create violence in the Peninsula. "Only if the Tigers and the co-Chairs give us this guarantee will we open the A9. We get no pleasure in keeping the A9 closed," Minister Rambukwella said.

The Tigers had also rejected a similar proposal by the government to allow a one off convoy of supplies to Jaffna three weeks ago. That proposal came straight from President Rajapakse who said that bad weather hampering sea transport and appeals by civic and humanitarian groups had influenced him to make the offer.

The SLMM had come forward to negotiate with the Tigers to reopen the Highway in order to allow the one off convoy through but the Tigers said that they had not heard of any such proposal from the monitors and said they were made aware of the government's  intentions only through the media.

The Tigers also maintained that the government was fooling itself by opening the A9 to transport only one convoy when a larger quantity was needed for the civilians. "We will not open the A9 at any cost, even if we are approached by the UN,' the Tigers said.

However while both the government and the LTTE continue to bicker and remain wilful in their stance, aid agencies warned last week that the humanitarian crisis in the Peninsula had only heightened in the past  month. " On one side we have the worsening situation in Vaharai and on the other side we have starving civilians in Jaffna. It is the civilians who are suffering," aid agencies said.

Meanwhile according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), the closure of the A9 road and the refusal of the LTTE to ensure security for shipping and flights into Jaffna have made life extremely difficult for the 600,000 residents of the Peninsula.

In a report titled Sri Lanka: The Failure of The Peace Process it stated that government shipments of food and fuel remain vulnerable to attack and the vagaries of the monsoon season. "Supplies to LTTE-controlled areas have been limited, as the government has restricted access along key routes. Both sides are cynically exploiting the situation. The LTTE uses civilians as a fundamental part of its guerrilla strategy; the government seems to be using humanitarian aid to limit supplies to the LTTE and persuade people to move from LTTE positions," the report said.

It added that the LTTE's Jaffna offensive brought a serious worsening of the humanitarian situation as Jaffna was cut off by land and air and became reliant on ships from Trincomalee for food.

"The LTTE refused to guarantee security for shipping or aircraft and tried to force the government to reopen the A9 Highway. The government refused, citing security concerns and the illegal taxation on vehicles collected by the LTTE. The closure of the A9 made access to LTTE controlled areas difficult for NGOs and international aid organisations," the report said.

The report further said that the government needs to begin a serious hearts and minds campaign among Tamils, but this requires promoting a serious political solution and a new approach to counter terrorism by the military.

"An embittered, impoverished population in the north-east has little power over its destiny in this conflict. Until the government makes a meaningful devolution proposal, the LTTE can argue it is not committed to a political solution," the report said.

Aid reaches Vaharai

By Jamila Najmuddin 

More than 30,000 refugees stuck in Vaharai received two weeks worth of supplies last week after a lapse of almost three weeks.

However, even as aid agencies tried to negotiate to get in more convoys, the military and the Tigers traded charges that each side was blocking supplies.

Relief agencies refrained from commenting on who was responsible for the blockade but said that they could only move into Vaharai if security guarantees were forthcoming from both sides. "If one party does not give us the security guarantee we will not go into the area. Security guarantees by both parties are a must." aid agencies said.

However, as violence continues to surround Vaharai, a glimmer of hope spread amongst the civilians last week as a convoy of 85 trucks reached the Vaharai town. The convoy brought in  250 metric tonnes of food, water and items such as tents, hygiene kits and medicines for distribution to more than 30,000 displaced civilians who have fled the fighting in the northern part of the Batticaloa District. "Many difficulties had to be overcome to organise this convoy but thanks to a meticulous preparation and the security guarantees provided by both parties to the conflict and the active involvement of many people, we finally succeeded in reaching the thousands of displaced people who are primarily in urgent need of food,"_ Head of the ICRC Delegation in Colombo, Toon Vandenhove said.

Tension between government forces and the Tigers was clear when soon after the convoy returned, the government said that three Tigers had tried to infiltrate government areas with the convoy. The Media Centre for National Security said that one was apprehended and the remaining two had escaped. A radio set and a list of secret codes too had been recovered, which according to MCNS confirmed the person was a Tiger cadre. However, sources with knowledge of the convoy said that one person who had tried to get into one of the vehicles that was returning had been handed over to the army.

Those who went with the convoy also dismissed fears of severe mining in the area and movement ofLTTE cadres as the convoy travelled through.

However aid agencies said that they were unsure when the next food convoy would be allowed to go into Vaharai and discussions with the government to allow access into the area were ongoing. "Although a convoy of 35 trucks has got in, we are unsure when we can send another convoy. We only hope it will be soon as there is an urgent need of food in Vaharai,"_ aid agencies said.

The UN and ICRC will also continue to negotiate with the government to get in another convoy this week. "We are hopeful that more convoys would go in and till such time we will continue to negotiate," UN Spokesperson in Colombo, Orla Clinton said.

The UN office in Colombo also reiterated its concern for all displaced persons in the Vaharai area and in particular for the health and nutritional status of children and pregnant women. "We urge the parties to ensure freedom of movement and to facilitate unimpeded and secure access for international humanitarian actors to this vulnerable population,"_ the UN office in Colombo said.

According to the UNHCR's Global Appeal for 2007: "With serious breaches of a four year old ceasefire, Sri Lanka has descended into conflict, resulting in over 217,000 internally displaced people, an unstable security situation for staff  and by September, more than 15,000 new refugees arriving in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. UNHCR is reinforcing its response capacity particularly in the north and east, and is appealing for some US$5 million to join the inter emergency response in protection and assistance."


A journalist's agony at the hands of the law makers...

Asoka Fernando

By Ranee Mohamed

The Sunday Leader photo-journalist Asoka Fernando, a Buddhist, a vegetarian, with photography as the sole means of earning a livelihood was mercilessly assaulted allegedly by the Maharagama police on November 28. Fernando's body and limbs bear witness to gross police brutality and the question that is being asked is, if a journalist is kicked, baton-whacked and boxed this way, then what of the common man who has no ready access to the print and electronic media?

Fernando was on an assignment, poised with his camera waiting for the Fiscal authorities who were scheduled to arrive at the Depanama Anularamaya in Weera Mawatha, of which he was also a committee member. A telephone call from a priest on the previous day alerted him to cover this event, which comes as 'big news' in a country which professes to be an essentially Buddhist nation. Together with him stood Sirasa cameraman Imam.

Root of the issue

The root of the controversy goes back to 17 years when a villager named Atapattu had donated the premises to a temple. Thereafter, Atapattu with the help of the people of the village, had built the temple and brought a respected priest whom he was close to him to live in this temple. Investigations also revealed that thereafter Atapattu had fallen out with the Buddhist priest and that the priest had left the temple. Thereafter, in the temple lived Buddhist monks who imparted knowledge and education to the youth of the village. They were respected as much as the temple was revered.

But Atapattu seeking legal means had regained ownership of the temple premises and the day Fernando was waiting was the third day of the arrival of the Fiscal authorities to evict the Buddhist priests. "I learnt that the temple was to be bull-dozed and razed to the ground and early morning on November 28, I went there. There were about 400 people at the temple. The Sirasa cameraman received an urgent telephone call and had to leave, but he managed to get some shots of the crowd. He told me that he would be back and left," said Fernando.

Police storm premises

Very soon, the villagers saw a police team of about 250 to 300 in uniform storm their way to the temple premises. "As they reached the temple premises and towards the crowd, one officer said 'let us do this calmly, the ASP of Nugegoda also will be coming,'" said Fernando.

But when the ASP of Nugegoda arrived, things changed. "The ASP said that it was a court order and whoever went against the court order had to be dealt with. Then the Fiscal officers came in with the police. I was atop the bana maduwa. What was happening was indeed big news. The police officers were hitting out at the people, kicking them and shoving them violently aside. Everyone was mercilessly beaten, including Buddhist monks who tried to block their path," he said.

"Just as I was filming, the ASP saw me and gestured not to take photos. I saw that the police officers were getting ready to break the padlock of the temple and I went towards them to take the exclusive photographs. The ASP saw me again and asked me not to take photographs. I showed him my media accreditation card and was shocked when he snatched it and ordered his officers to grab my camera. He was surrounded by his men in uniform and they surrounded me on his orders and grabed my camera. Then the OIC of the Maharagama Police and OIC Crimes Soysa hit me in a way that I have never been beaten before," said Fernando who had earlier been assaulted in 1997 during the coverage of a protest involving the demand to abolish the executive presidency. There too Fernando was assaulted and his camera wrecked.

Police brutality

But this encounter with the police in the temple was sans all compassion, as police brutality in its worst form arose under the bo tree. "Then IP Piyadarshana, IP Ekanayake, and another policeman called Ramesh said 'mey inney moo thamai ona miniha' and they started kicking me with their heavy shoes and hitting my head, face neck and the side of my spine. The force of all these blows threw me to the ground. But they did not leave me alone, bending forward they baton charged me as I tried to cover my face with my injured arm. Thereafter, they began to pull me along the gravel, the dust rising, the gravel tearing my clothes and my skin," said Fernando in tears.

A frequent visitor to the temple on seeing the violence and the abuse that this honest journalist was being subjected to had shouted, "Don't hit him, he is a journalist," but it had been of no avail. "In desperation, he threw himself over me and covered me and we were both beaten. Thereafter the Maharagama police took us and put us in a cell," recalled Fernando, speaking about the agony he suffered at the hands of the law makers.

On the morning of November 29, the brutal assault on The Sunday Leader photo journalist was in every newspaper. But Fernando, locked up in the police cell by the Maharagama police, was far away from all news - the news of his assault and the police version of the assault.

"I was shocked to find out from people visiting me that the police were charging me with attempted murder of a Buddhist priest by pouring petrol over him and aiding him to set fire to himself. I also got subtle messages from the police officers and through my visitors that if I were to admit to this, and did not want an official recording of the case, then I would be released and the whole episode shoved under the carpet," said Fernando.

Fabricated charge

The bruises were hurting, every bone in his body seemed broken and even his organs seem to be gnawing into him, but Asoka Fernando, being the staunch Buddhist that he is, opted to remain in his cell and clear his name before getting out after accepting the fabricated charge that he had tried to set fire to a Buddhist priest.

"On that same morning at 11 a.m., I was taken into a room and a policeman told me there was a serious charge against me. He asked me whether I accepted it and I replied in the negative. He wrote down something and took me to the DMO and I showed my injuries. They dragged it all and it at 2 p.m. when they finished everything, court was almost adjourned," said Fernando.

Lawyers who spoke on behalf of photojournalist Asoka Fernando told court that Fernando was a journalist doing his job at the premises of the temple. Fernando left for the temple premises after recording this assignment in the photographer's assignment book. Fernando is a professional photographer and a multi-talented photographer who was almost paralysed by police brutality. Today, Fernando is not only bruised, but hurt and sans his Canon digital  camera, worth over Rs.170,000  which is in the possession of the Maharagama police.

Fernando has to also sign a book at the Maharagama police on Sundays and Wednesday between 9 a.m. and 12 p. m. He has been prohibited from going near the temple where he has down the years taken part in bodhi poojas and other homages to the Buddha.

Many misfortunes

Fernando has suffered many misfortunes this year. About a month ago there had been two repeated robberies at his house. "The first time they took our clothes away, the second time they took my handphone, jewellery and few other valuables that I possessed. I made a complaint to the Mahargama police. When the burglar was caught and he admitted to the robberies, the police did nothing. The burglar offered to take me to the place where he sold my valuables, yet the police were not interested. I do not know what happened to my things and what happened to the burglar either. I brought the acts of omission and commission to the notice of the higher police authorities and ever since they have been angry with me," recalled Fernando.

With over 400 people at the temple premises, what Fernando wonders is why only a journalist who was merely doing his duty and the man who tried to save him were kicked, baton charged and dragged through the dust and dirt and arrested, while everyone else remains free? The question is specially directed at the ASP and OIC of the Maharagama Police, Manoj Rupasinghe.

OIC Manoj Rupasinghe on holiday

When The Sunday Leader telephoned the Maharagama police to get their side of the story, we were told that OIC Manoj Rupasinghe was on leave from work for five days. ASP Liyanarachchi was not available for comment.


Sajin -  the Rs. 3616 billion man

Mangala reveals there is no cabinet approval

Advertiser says government making payments

BOI approval obtained in 24 hours

President does not disclose new airline in budget speech

 

By Sonali Samarasinghe

More shocking evidence of the government's total disregard for public money has come to light with Sajin de Vass Gunawardena's Budget airline Mihin Lanka Ltd. again taking centre stage.

Letter of approval from the BOI

More alarming is that the government has in writing stated to the Board of Investment in their application for BOI approval that there would be a Rs.3616 billion investment for the budget airline.

Given the pledge made by Sajin to get BOI approval within 24 hours, the question arises from where he is going to raise this money. Is it from next year's budget? Is it from some foreign borrowing or is the government going to print money to do so?

Funnily enough President Mahinda Rajapakse under whose authority Sajin de Vass Gunawardena lives and breathes did not think it fit to mention this huge investment in his budget speech of 2007. Not only that he did not deem it fit to mention that the government would be commencing a budget airline even though he did mention the Weerawila airport project and other aviation details.

This is even more curious as Mihin Lanka has commenced heavy advertising calling for logo designs that would encapsulate the spirit of the Mahinda Chinthana. Whether the spirit of the Chinthana is to bamboozle the people into using public funds for a private airline headed by Mahinda's man Friday is the question that begs an answer.

Sajin has even erected flags at the airport itself advertising Mihin Lanka which is due to commence operations on independence day February 4, 2007.

Incorporated company

However while on October 27 the company was in fact incorporated, no approvals have yet been obtained from the Aviation Authority.

On November 7 Sajin wrote to CAA Director General C. Nimalasiri and sought the Authority's full cooperation for Mihin Lanka Private Limited stating that it was a government owned venture. On Novermber 21 Sajin had a a pre-application meeting with the Civil Aviation Authority.

Nimalasiri told The Sunday Leader Mihin Lanka must make a formal application with all necessary documentation to be considered for a provisional certificate.

However Sajin has conned his way into setting up offices at the BMICH and has already started recruiting personnel and even offering huge salaries and perks.

Approval to operate

Meanwhile earlier on October 12, 2006 Sajin Vass Gunawardena as coordinating secretary to the President personally sent an application to the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka to obtain BOI approval to operate an international and local airline/ cargo service in collaboration with the Secretary Ministry of Defence, Commander Sri Lanka Air Force and the Secretary Ministry of Finance.

Chairman and Director General BOI Lakshaman Watawala as quickly as the next day that is on October 13 sends Sajin a letter approving the application subject to certain terms and conditions as follows:

A tax holiday for a period of 15 years subject to the following conditions

i) A minimum capital investment of US$ 100 Mn or its rupee equivalent should be invested in the project within a period of two years from the date of signing the agreement.

"However the board   has noted that you will be investing a sum of Rs. 3616 Bn as represented in the investment application," Watawala states.

ii) at least 70% of the inocme enterprise should be received in convertible foreign currency.

iii)A statement certified by the auditors of the enterprise should be submitted to the board for the purpose of ascertaining export income indicated in (ii) above. ...

4 (a) The shares of the enterprise may be allotted or transferred to residents or non residents with prior approval of the board.

(5) An annual fee of Sri Lanka rupee equivalent to US$ 2,000 is payable in respect of the enterprise.

However in clause 10 the letter of approval from the BOI states that the enterprise should obtain prior approval from the Civil Aviation Authority, Ministry of Defence and the Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd. And it also states that the airline is permitted to operate from Bandaranaike International airport with the approval of the Airport and Aviation Services.

However  both Chairman of the Airport and Aviation Services Tiran Alles and Director Shalitha Wijesundera told The Sunday Leader last week that  no approach has been made to them on this matter.

Fraud Bureau investigations

Be that as it may, for Sajin Vass whose only claim to fame is a string of Fraud Bureau investigations, the idea of heading a national budget airline would be particularly thrilling. Last week Minister of Aviation Mangala Samaraweera confirmed in parliament that no cabinet approval has been obtained for the government owned airline and admitted that neither he nor his Ministry were aware of even who the directors of the company were or whether it had been incorporated.

Responding to a series of questions put to him by UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake last Thursday (November 30), Samaraweera obviously in a face saving exercise said that eventually there was a plan to put forward a cabinet memorandum jointly together with the Ministry of Finance and his own ministry.

On November 28 Karunanayake informed the Secretary General of Parliament he would be bringing an adjournment motion to get an explanation from the Minister of Aviation on the present aviation policy.

"Today the aviation industry is not only turbulent but very competitive and profitability is a big question mark. Sri Lankan airlines was privatised by the People's Alliance administration on March 30, 1998. With that today the 10 year exclusive period is coming to an end on March 30, 2008. The government has not confirmed the way forward for Sri Lankan airlines.

In the meantime we are informed that a second budget airline in the name of Mihin Lanka has been incorporated. Is this with state funds. If so is this with cabinet approval? If not how has the government expenditure (sic) been expended without cabinet approval. Would the Minister of Aviation please inform this house on that and aviation policy that is being implemented at this moment."

Advertising and refurbishment

While Sajin Vass has by passed Minister Samaraweera, he has also started to splash money on advertising and refurbishment of offices at the BMICH (Please see The Sunday Leader of November 26). That this money is coming from the government coffers was confirmed by Sajin's advertising agency Triad Advertising. Proprietors of the Agency confirmed to The Sunday Leader that the agency was paid for its services by the government.

How Sajin is able to misuse public funds with impunity when there is not even Cabinet approval for the project is a matter that may fall within the Bribery and Corruption laws of this country and it is the duty of the Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe whose favourite catch word is good governance to take this matter up at the highest levels.

However  Sajin  on November 7  wrote to CAA Director General C. Nimalasiri and sought the Authority's full cooperation for his budget airline Mihin Lanka Private Limited stating that it was a government owned venture. Riding high by dropping the name of President  Rajapakse everywhere, Sajin has so far conned his way into setting up the airline office even though approval and licences are a long way off.

Much to be done 

Director General, Civil Aviation Authority, H.M.C. Nimalasiri confirmed a pre-application meeting was held with Sajin Vaas and others last Tuesday(21) but told The Sunday Leader  there was much to be done before approval or licences were granted.

The directors of the Private company are Defence Secretary Nandasena Gotabhaya Rajapakse, Treasury Secretary Punchi Banda Jayasundera, Airforce Commander  Wellarachchiage Don Roshan Mahes James Goonetileke and Sajin De Vass Gunawardena.

With Minister Samaraweera now publicly stating in Parliament no cabinet approval was granted yet for this airline, it will do well for the President to answer the people on what authority Sajin has obtained BOI approval to launch a budget airline for the government pledging an investment of Rs. 3616 billion.Is this money coming from Sajin's pocket or the Helping Hambantota fund?


Released on bail over another rape case 48 hours earlier

Vadai seller confesses to raping and killing Nishadi Buddhika

Nishadi udhika and Samantha Thilakasiri

By Ranee Mohamed 

On November 27, 24 days after Nishadi Buddhika (26) was found raped and killed under a bullock cart in a shed situated in the middle of a paddy field in Wilwatte, Purana Mirigama, police have taken into custody a vadai seller named Wanasinghe Arachchige Samantha Thilakasiri also known as Sudu. The suspect was netted in from Gampaha town.

According to police sources in Gamapaha, suspect Samantha had been in prison for raping a woman from Bemulla. Having spent about six months in prison, he had been released on bail two days before he raped and killed Nishadi Buddhika,

Desire

According to police sources, the suspect had desired her from the time he saw her and had spent time following her. The suspect had also confessed to police of having plucked coconuts for a fee from the trees in the vicinity of the home of young Nishadi Buddhika, in Girualla Road, Purana Mirigama, Mirigama before he was arrested for the Bemulla rape case.

Giving two addresses - one as Keenadeniya, Ambepussa and the other as Gonagala Uduthuthiripitiya - the suspect has also, according to police sources, made a confession, giving details of how the dark deed was done. Police have also found one of the slippers belonging to the suspect in the vicinity of the scene of the crime.

The suspect, vadai seller Samantha, a resident of Ambepussa, in a confession to police has said that he has two jobs, one is selling vadai, the other is begging on trains, pleading poverty and the suffering of a brother suffering from epilepsy.

Confession

"Around 5:30 on November 3, I came to the Wilwatte Station from my home in Ambepussa. It was raining hard. I tried to go to the old shed in the middle of the paddy field. Later I thought of drinking some arrack. Then a bus going towards Mirigama came my way. I boarded the bus and went to Mirigama town and bought a quarter bottle of arrack. I shoved the bottle in my pocket and came to the shed in the middle of the paddy field. It was getting quite dark all around and there was a power failure too and because of this the whole area was in darkness. I went to the shed and drank the quarter bottle of arrack," the suspect had told police.

Continuing his confession, the suspect told police that at that time the rain began a cease and that the Rambukkana train had come to a halt in the Willawatte station nearby.

"As it was dark, no one walked across this shortcut along the paddy field at that time. I saw this girl walking along this pathway. I hid behind a tree near the shed and jumped on her at once. She screamed and struggled and hit me with her umbrella. During the struggle, she fell down and knocked her head and she fainted. I tore her clothes away and raped her. Then I removed her earrings and necklace.

Gruesome act

"There was a canal near the shed. I dragged the girl along the road to this canal and immersed her head in the water and held it for a long time. After about five minutes, I took her out and dragged her to the corner of the shed. There were two large empty cones of thread atop the edges of the Bullock cart, I took those two large thread cones and inserted it into the girl's vagina. Thereafter, I walked along the paddy field to the railway track and walked all the way to Ambepussa," suspect Samatha in the custody of the Gampaha police said in his confession.

Wanasinghe Arachige Samatha Thilakasiri is the father of a one-month-old infant. The mother and child are residents of Ambepussa.

Meanwhile Gamapaha police are now tracking two others who are found to have aided and abetted suspect Samantha.

Police have also unearthed from the garden of the suspect's home, the earrings and the necklace worn by young Nishadi Buddhika at the time of her death.

Parents in agony

Nishadi Buddhika was returning after work, on November 3, when she went missing somewhere on the way. Her agonised parents, Sumithra Serasinghe and S.K.D. Somaweera had combed the entire neighbourhood looking for their daughter after witnesses told them that they had seen Nishadi Buddhika walking away from the railway station. Her naked body, placed in a degrading and gruesome manner was found by her brother and boyfriend around 11 p.m.

Daughter of Sergeant Major S.K.D. Somaweera (rtd) of the Sri Lanka Army, she was an avid reader and a literary success. With plans to marry her long time boyfriend Kasun, Buddhika had booked the venue of her wedding reception for January 17, next year.


Inside story of journalist Parameshwary

Mawbima's crime reporter: a target?

By Ranee Mohamed 

Journalist Parameshwary Munusamy and roommate Susanthi Thambirajah were arrested by the Terrorism Investigations Department (TID) on Thursday, November 23 in Wellawatte in the vicinity of the Savoy Cinema.

They were arrested on suspicion of being suicide bombers.

Information is now surfacing that the 24-year-old journalist working for the Mawbima newspaper and her roommate, whom she met by chance on a decision made by her house-owner to have another boarder, were not as dangerous as she were purported to be.

Though initial reports published that they had explosives with them, investigations reveal that no claymores, mines or such other explosives were found in the possession of these young women or in their boarding house.

Questions are being asked whether the Mawbima newspaper itself is being targeted, with this arrest of their crime reporter by the authorities for having published an article critical of the government that irked the authorities and caused a furore at the highest circles just two weeks back.

The newspaper at that time was personally warned by the powers that be to refrain from publishing articles critical of key players in the government in general and the Defence Ministry in particular.

Meanwhile, Journalist Parameshwary Munusamy and Susanthi Thambirajah are being held at the Terrorist Investigations Division (TID) on  suspicion of being suicide bombers. Investigations into the sequence of events in the life of Parameshwary Munusamy casts doubt on these allegations.

Parents of Parameshwary Munusamy who visited the offices of The Sunday Leader related in anguish the story of their wrecked lives during the war in Kilinochchi and their difficult advent thereafter to Mawathurai in Ulapane, living in a rented shack, then proceeding to buy a small house in Gampola in search of better times..

"We lived in this small house together happily," cried Raman Valiamma (44) mother of four. "My son is Munusamy Muthukuramar (26), Parameshwary comes next,  and Munusamy Kamaleswary (21) and Moganeswary (17). Now I have lost one of my daughters, think of it happening to one of your daughters - being taken away this way. I as her mother, come to you, come to the authorities to tell you that my daughter is innocent. We are innocent people and we make a living with jasmine flowers. We also have two shops in Mayura Place to which we send our flowers. Most often when Parameshwary did not have money, she used to telephone us and tell us to send her some money for her daily living to the shop in Colombo. I cannot believe what has happened to her," cried the mother in anguish.

"Parameshwary was very ambitious. She wanted to work as a journalist, wanted to be a success in life. She has followed several educational courses, among them a course in broadcasting techniques as the Mass Media Institute of Ceylon. We are so poor, the war gave us such hard times. Only God and I know with what difficulties I have brought up these children. My son could not continue his education. He could study only upto grade eight because he had to work as a labourer to fend for his sisters," recalled Valiamma.

Her aged husband, sitting next to her, Selliah Munusamy was too shaken and too feeble to cry. "Please help us to get back our daughter," he sobbed.

Meanwhile, the fianc‚ of the other suspected suicide bomber Susanthi Thambirajah said, "Whatever anyone may say, I believe her. She came here to get married to me and I will always love here. There is no truth in this suicide bomber story because I know her so well." He said his fiancee Susanthi arrived in Colombo with her brother from Ampara. A resident of Colombo 5, and a company executive, he said he had been postponing the wedding because of his personal commitments.

Susanthi Thambirajah, according to him, had been working for Sarvodaya and also for the Sunera Foundation that helps lift the lives of the differently abled. The foundation confirmed her work with them.

Meanwhile, investigations revealed that M. Parameshwary had earlier worked as a journalist for the Sigaram newspaper for two years and the Virakesari newspaper in addition to the SLBC. She had also participated in sports competitions and won several prizes.

"Though we bought a house in Gampola, Parameshwary barely lived there. She did not even know the postal address. Her attraction was towards Colombo. At one time she wanted to join the police," said her mother. And while working for the Mawbima newspaper, as its crime reporter,  Parameshwary had lived in a house down Ramakrishna Road.

The owner of the house in which the two 'suspected terrorists' lived,  speaking to The Sunday Leader said that Susanthi Thambirajah had arrived in Colombo with her brother who was following a course in engineering studies. Susanthi had stayed at the Ramakrishna Mission on a recommendation letter given by the Sarvodaya movement, he said. The Sarvodaya Movement speaking to The Sunday Leader said that they could not recollect giving such a letter.

Be that as it may, since she could live in the mission on a short term basis, Susanthi had been looking out for accommodation. "It was then that she came to me. Parameshwary was living in my house as a paid boarder at that time. When I asked her whether she would mind if someone else shares her room, she said that she had no objections," explained the owner of the house in which Parameshwary lived.

Parameshwary had lived in this house as a boarder since June 2005, having secured such lodging after answering to an advertisement in the national newspapers. "In 2005 when Parameshwary answered the advertisement I had paid for and published, I asked her what reference she had and she gave me some police contacts. They told me that she was a journalist and that there was nothing to fear," explained the owner of the house.

Then, Susanthi Thambirajah had moved in to live with Parameshwary. Thambirajah had left the Ramakrishna Mission on October 29. According to her fianc‚, Thambirajah had also gone to the airport to bid good-bye to some relatives leaving for Canada around November 10.

The situation that led to their arrest began with Susanthi receiving information that her brother had been arrested. "She had been very disturbed that morning and was crying. However when she received a telephone call from her brother telling her that he had lost the way and that she ought to come near the Savoy, she was so happy," said the house owner.

Her immediate reaction on hearing her brother's voice was to ask Parameshwary to come with her. When the two had arrived in a three-wheeler, they had been arrested. Some newspapers published reports that they had bombs and claymore mines with them, but information now surfaces that the crime reporter and her roommate had not carried such explosives.

"They were brought to this house after they were arrested and they searched their room, yet found nothing. They took away some of Parameshwary's journalistic scribbles and told me that they were taking those papers," said the house owner.

The next morning, Parameshwary's parents had visitors to their house in Gampola. "They arrived at our house and said that they were from the TID. They were very nice to us and did not scold us, hit us or cause us any harm. They said that they were searching the house and they searched and searched," said Parameshwary's mother. "But they did not find anything."

In Colombo, at The Sunday Leader office, the tear-struck parents were pleading with us to save their daughter. "We wanted to see our daughter badly and went to see her on Thursday to the TID.

The people there were very nice to us. But they said that they cannot let us see our daughter. We begged them to let us see her because we have come from far, but we were asked to come back on Saturday. We do not know much about these places. We do not know the processes and the authorities," said Valiamma.

But Susanthi's fianc‚ said that he had been able to see Susanthi Thambirajah and that she had appeared shocked and frightened. "I was not allowed to talk to her, only allowed to see her," he said.

"I am a mother, what if it happens to your child. This is Parameshwary's father," she said holding the quivering hand of her husband. "We are poor innocent people. Ask anyone about Mal Mudalali (flower merchant) and they will be able to tell you who we are. This is a great shame, a serious, yet sad allegation," she cried.

"I am very sorry to tell you that the Virakesari newspaper for which my daughter Parameshwary worked for, published her name and all these false allegations. Some newspapers have been humane enough not to publish these allegations and her name without first verifying its veracity," explained the mother.

For the poor parents of crime reporter Parameshwary Munusamy, it is a long way back home to Gampola. Yet this time, they are leaving their hearts and their tears behind, as they sigh at the fate that befell their ambitious daughter turned multilingual reporter.


Hats off to Sashi Girl!

Sashi Weerawansa and Wimal Weerawansa

By The Deshapremi 

Unlike the dour Bolshevik element of his party, the JVP's Wimal Weerawansa knows how to have a good time. While Tilvin Silva and Anura Kumara Dissanayake go about their business looking grim and po-faced, as if the burdens of the working class are weighing heavily on their shoulders, our Wimal cuts a chirpy figure: nothing if not always smiling, dapper, well groomed, well-styled, manicured, pedicured and crisply starched. After all, those Rs. 5 coins the JVP's minions collect from the masses must add up.

But poor Wimal, as much as he likes to indulge in la dolce vita, party rules are party rules, and must toe the line, giving unto Trotsky what is Trotsky's. All he is permitted by way of indulgence is an occasional multi-function cell phone and a seat in business class.

A brave new world

Not so the Love of his Life, the demure and ever-charming Sashi. Even as her husband goes about singing praises of traditional values and espousing the emancipation of the toiling masses, our Sashi has charted a course to a brave new world of her own.

For all the traditional values hubby boy screams about from the rooftops, she chooses to wear her hair short, a la Audrey Hepburn, her saree not just Indian-style but oh so low about her hips (and what comely hips, too: not an ounce of surplus fat), and paint her face with just about everything Max Factor chooses to put on the menu.

No sign on her of the pot belly that recent prosperity has bestowed on Hubby: Sashi steers clear of fatty foods and clearly resists the temptation to indulge in too much pudding. 'A moment on the lips,' goes her motto, 'But forever on the hips.' With a missus as glamorous as our Sashi, no wonder young Wimal feels the need to spruce up and look his Sunday best at all times.

And even as her husband sulked at home, prevented by the party rules from indulging in a spot of merriment, our Sashi recently packed her bags and with the brats in tow, set off on an overseas holiday. And whither did she voyage? Was it to North Korea, the land Hubsy-Bubsy thinks should be the model for sunny Sri Lanka? No way, Jos‚.

Off to the City of Angels

It was to the City of Angels, for a quick splash in Water World, taking in the thrills and spills of Disneyland while she was about it. No doubt those roller-coaster rides reminded her of her beloved's fortunes, while The Pirates of the Caribbean brought to mind his chums in the politburo.

But, dear reader, if you think it was those Rs. 5 coins the proletariat dutifully drop into the party till that paid for Sashi's junket, banish the thought. Our Sashi, it seems, has a fairy godmother (or at any rate, a sister), toiling away in Los Angeles, sufficiently well-heeled to foot the bill for her down-and-out sis, offspring and all, who sent her some spare change to come over and soak up a spot of Californian sunshine. Bless her generous little heart!

Now, dear reader, no doubt there are those of you who aver that sis's donation, rather than being wasted on a few days of fun and frolic on the Western Seaboard, might have been put to better use if quietly deposited in one of those collection tills the party faithful go about with. You might say the money might have been given to the families of those highland sons of toil who were recently buried under tons of soil. In our opinion, you'd be wrong.

We doff our hat to young Sashi for casting hypocrisy aside and doing what all those proletarian moms would love to do. 'The working class can kiss my ass,' she might have sung under her breath, to the tune of O Christmas Tree, even as she penned a quick picture postcard of Golden Gate Bridge to the politburo, 'Being Wimmie's wife is such as gas.'

Bless you, Sashi, for standing up for your rights and setting an example to all those Menikas in the Sri Lankan hinterland who faithfully hang on Hubsy-Bubsy's every word in the hope that soon the Red Dawn will come. You have shown them the true way. If only they save up those Rs. 5 coins, they too, can soon wing their way to Disneyland for a spot of slap and tickle (from Mickey, that is).


Gung-ho Middle East foreign 
policy loses steam

 by gamini weerakoon

 The gung- ho Middle East foreign policy of American President George Bush appears to have lost much of its stridency after the mid- term American congressional elections and so has the British Middle East foreign policy of Prime Minister Tony Blair, which has closely followed that of the Americans.

Even before the mid-term elections, both American and British leaders toned down their rhetoric on the Middle East as opinion polls indicated their popularity ratings were plunging both at home and abroad.

Last Thursday, Bush appeared to have toned down very much when he addressed the media on a visit to Jordon. It was not the same tough-talking confident American President vowing to accomplish his objectives that came on TV. In subdued tones he was referring to reports in Washington which speculated that the US troops will be pulled out of Iraq soon and denied them. US troops will remain in America until "the job is done" and "as long as they are wanted," he said.

Baker report

The American President was referring to a bi-partisan congressional report on Iraq, one of whose co-chair was former Secretary of State James Baker in the administration of George Bush Snr. This commentary is being written before the official release of the report but leaked out reports said that a gradual pull-out of US troops has been recommended.

There is no time table recommended for the pull-out but it is most likely that US troops would evolve from combat to support troops and advisors, reports said. Some in the 10-member study group had maintained that it would be a grave strategic mistake to pull out troops on a set time table. President Bush has also said that he would consult military leaders both in the Pentagon and on the ground on the issue of a pull-out of troops.

The President is not under legal compulsion to accept the recommendations of the report but political analysts have said that he would be under great pressure to accept the recommendation of the group co-chaired by James Baker.

Blair's proposal

With British and American plans misfiring in the Middle East, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair last month has been talking of a holistic Middle East policy. He has maintained that unless the West recognises that all problems of the region are interrelated the issue of Iraq cannot be solved. He also says that a whole military strategy is needed to combat global terrorism.

A major answer to Iraq lies not in Iraq but outside it in the whole region where roots of global terrorism are to be found and where extremism flourishes, he had said. Blair has identified the core of the problem to be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and thereafter progress was needed in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.

Indeed for over half a century the Palestinian issue has been the vortex of conflicts and no other issue generates so much emotion as it does not only in the Middle East but also among Muslims living in other regions such as Asia. But this solution is yet intractable. It does appear that the West is pushing the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert towards resolving the problem.

Last Sunday a Ceasefire Agreement was reached between the Israelis and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mohmoud Abbas to end the bitter fighting that has been going on between the Palestinian militants and the Israelis. Israeli troops had withdrawn from the Gaza. But on Monday it was reported that the Palestinians had fired rockets into Israeli townships while Israel had launched attacks on the West Bank which is also a part of Palestine.

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert made a conciliatory speech and said that the Ceasefire Agreement had brought the Palestinians to crossroads of history and said, "I hold out my hands in peace." This was much in contrast to the belligerent speeches he made when Israel attacked the Hezbollah troops in Lebanon. The US does appear to be pushing for a settlement in the Gaza strip with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice flying out to Palestine and holding talks with their leaders.

Palestinian problem

But Palestinians have their own problems with the revolutionary Hamas group that captured power in the elections refusing to recognise Israel while the Fatah Section of President Abbas are having relations with Israel.

The Palestinians are virtually nearing starvation with Israel and the West applying sanctions on the Gaza. Israeli intransigence may be one cause of the plight of the Palestinians but Arab disunity is the other.

Tony Blair wants to apply pressure on both Iran and Syria to stop fermenting sectarian violence in Iraq. These two countries may be guilty of the accusations made but to control them is quite another issue. It was only two weeks ago that there was turmoil in Lebanon when Lebanese Christian Minister Pierre Gemayel was assassinated and indications are that Syria was behind it.

Western foreign policies in the Middle East, particularly those of the US and Britain, appear to be undergoing transformation which could result in less interference in these sovereign states.  But peace  to these people appear to be a very far off cry.


Cutting the grass under Mangala's feet

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

President Mahinda Rajapakse has by Gazette Extraordinary transferred lands belonging to the Ports Authority in Trincomalee and those surrounding the said lands to the Board of Investment (BOI) coming under the Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion Ministry.

The land transfer was given effect by Gazette Extraordinary No. 1467/3 of October 16, thereby bringing in approximately 675 square kilometres of land under a different ministry for the alleged purpose of creating a Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

The land transfer, according to highly placed sources, took place by keeping Foreign Affairs, Ports and Aviation  Minister Mangala Samaraweera in the dark.

Special Economic Zone

Through the new gazette, President Rajapakse has designated the specific land as a licensed zone coming under the BoI. The said area is to be developed as a SEZ.

The new gazette declares lands coming within several divisions in the Eastern Province including Muttur, Kinniya, Thampalakamam South, Trincomalee Town Gravets, parts of Kuchchaveli and Kantalai.

In addition, lands situated in Puthukudiyiripu, Kovil Kudiyaruppu, Pokkuruni, Siranjnagar, Meeranagar, Mullipothana North and East, Palampaddaru and all areas west of the centre line of the Colombo-Trincomalee Road falling within one kilometre of the Galametiyawa South would be acquired under this gazette.

Further, lands in Periyakulam, Irankkandy, Valaiyoothu, Gopalapuram, Nilaveli, Iqbalnagar and Veloor have also been brought under the BOI's designated eastern SEZ area.

The other areas include lands in Ganthalawa, Raja Ela, and Vendaraspura, Peraru East and West, Kantalai south and all areas east of the centerline of the Colombo-Trincomalee Road.

When the controversial land transfer was raised in parliament a week ago, on Saturday (November 25), Minister Samaraweera appeared unaware of the land transfer and offered no reply to two of the parliamentarians who demanded a response.

Parliamentarians Anura Dissanayake and Ravi Karunanayake both questioned the government under what circumstances the lands in Trincomalee have been transferred from one ministry to another, but received no reply.

"Nothing suspicious"

When contacted,  Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said there was nothing that should lead to suspicion in the land transfer.

"We intend commencing a SEZ in the Trincomalee District for which we require around 600 m. It is a BoI initiative," he said.

Minister Bogollagama said that this country was full of idle assets that should be put to good use for the benefit of the community.

"This is exactly what we are doing. We have not made maximum use of our resources including the land. We have a project planned for Trincomalee and we will go ahead," he added.

 


How Mahinda sabotaged himself in India

 Big brother India has always played a pivotal role in Sri Lanka and every state leader has sought Indian intervention in solving many political crises.

In keeping with tradition, President Mahinda Rajapakse too has now sought Indian intervention in solving the conflict in the north and east.

Rajapakse's recent visit to India was decisive to the country in many aspects. On the other hand, it was the first time several Indians have protested against the visit of a Sri Lankan head of state. The protests began even before Rajapakse set foot on Indian soil. The protests that began in South Indian reached the north soon after Rajapakse arrived in the country's capital.

Protest

The protest, which was orchestrated by Vaiko, soon spread like wildfire in the south and Chief Minister Karunanidhi and even AIDMK joined to protest Rajapakse's visit.

The southern polity began to exert pressure on the central government claiming they did not approve of the way Tamils were treated in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to send Defence Advisor N. K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon to Tamil Nadu several times to resolve the crisis that erupted in the south over Rajapakse's visit to India.

However, the day Rajapakse set foot on Indian soil, Vaiko together with thousands of his supporters launched a fast outside Raspathi Bhavan in New Delhi. Soon after the protests began in New Delhi, Karunanidhi's daughter launched another protest campaign in Chennai. With protests taking centre stage, the central government was facing a serious crisis.

The crisis took a turn to the worse following a comment made by Rajapakse to the Indian press. The statement was on a request he planned to make from Singh on having combined Indian and Sri Lankan navy patrols in the Sri Lankan seas.

The protests intensified following this remark. The southern polity began to pressurise the central government that Singh should not agree to any such request if Rajapakse made it during their meeting.

However, this was not the only slip by Rajapakse. He also said that Menon during his recent visit to Sri Lanka had told him that most of the Tamils he associated during his tenure as Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka have been assassinated by the LTTE.

With Rajapakse making this statement, which Menon had told him in strict confidence, the protests took a new turn and attacks commenced on high officials of the government as well.

Fuel to the fire

The southern political leaders claimed that Menon as well as Narayanan harboured anti-Tamil sentiments and they were in fact working against the Tamil people and helping the Sri Lankan government.

Tamil Nadu politicians also called on Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee to call for an explanation from Menon on the so-called statement he had made to Rajapakse.

The two comments made by Rajapakse only added fuel to the fire that was burning in the south.

It was in this backdrop that Rajapakse met with Singh in New Delhi. The meeting was not as cordial as anticipated by Rajapakse. Usually, meetings between the Sri Lankan Head of State and the Indian Premier are always cordial.

At the outset of the meeting, Singh observed that India respected Sri Lanka's independence and said his government had drawn a conclusion on the LTTE after closely studying its actions.

Singh also noted that there have been no changes to the decisions arrived at by the Indian government with regard to the LTTE. What Rajapakse failed to realise was that the Indian Premier who usually castigated the LTTE as a terrorist organisation has revised his sentiments and made a much mild reference to the organisation.

After briefing Singh on the country's latest situation, Rajapakse observed that his government was keen on proceeding with the peace process, but was not being allowed to do so by the LTTE. Rajapakse went on to tell Singh that a close look at the one year period between November 19, 2005 and 2006, would show that Velupillai Pirapaharan had not allowed any breathing space for Rajapakse and his government and was pushing the country towards war.

Singh who interrupted Rajapakse at this point said the reason for the present situation was the delay on the part of the government to present any formula that looked at maximum power devolution. He went on to propose to Rajapakse to get together with the UNP and draw out a framework that would look at maximum power devolution.

Rajapakse's stance

Rajapakse on the other hand said that although he was agreeable to it, he could not go ahead with it as he did not enjoy a majority in parliament, hence, any opposition by other parties would mean the proposal would be defeated.

He explained that it was this very same reason that prompted him to call for an all party conference to arrive at a consensus on drafting a maximum devolution proposal.

Singh quipped that it was not prudent for the government to drag this issue any further than it has already done. He said such a delay would only increase the pressure faced by the Indian central government from Tamil Nadu.

Explaining his plight, Singh requested Rajapakse not to delay any further the proposals on power devolution.

Rajapakse agreed with Singh and said his government was in the process of finalising a final draft on maximum power devolution. He noted the draft would be ready this month and added that he did not like to publicise it earlier as it would then give extremist elements in Sri Lanka's south to commence protests against the draft.

The conversation then took a different turn and focus was laid on the plight of the Tamil civilians in the north and east, including extra judicial killings, abductions and harassment.

Singh observed that the Tamil civilians were being trapped in between the attacks carried out by the government troops against the LTTE. He said that New Delhi was receiving serious reports on such issues. Singh told the President that steps should be taken to provide relief to the innocent Tamil civilians trapped in the north and east.

Rajapakse responded saying that the LTTE was using civilians as human shields and as a result, mishaps do happen in the process. Singh did not agree with the President response and queried as to how abductions were carried out in areas outside the north and east and how Tamil politicians were killed as well.

Rajapakse said that the matter had puzzled even him, but observed that it would be resolved following the final investigations by the independent commission to investigate them.

Singh also highlighted that due to the harassment of Tamil civilians by security forces, many civilians have made their way to Tamil Nadu as refugees. He said close to 16,000 civilians had made their way to Tamil Nadu this year alone as refugees.

Singh explained that this situation has further aggravated the issues in the south and pointed out the importance of formulating a maximum power devolution package and the recommencement of discussions based on it.

Serious message

The discussion between the two state leaders ended with a serious message by Singh. The message was on the Supreme Court verdict on the de-merger of the north and east. Singh observed that the Indian government did not agree with the Supreme Court verdict as the north and east was merged following the Indo-Lanka Agreement signed in 1987. He further noted that his government did not agree to the de-merger of the North and East Provinces.

Singh also noted that the decision on the de-merger of the north and east should be decided by the people in the area through a referendum. However, he said that such a referendum should be held under a peaceful backdrop where the people in the area could democratically exercise their franchise to decide on the issue.

Singh reiterated that until such a time, the north and the east should remain merged. Singh pointed out that the de-merger of the north and east would result in the breach of the Indo-Lanka Agreement, which was signed according to international laws and laws that govern the two countries and also result in hampering the good relations between the two countries.

Rajapakse who listened carefully to the Indian Premier's message observed that he would take a decision on the matter after closely studying the matter upon his return to the island.

Soon after the discussion, Singh invited Rajapakse for  lunch. Even during the lunch, the two heads of state exchanged information. The most important piece of information exchanged between the two leaders was on the President's statement on the role of Norway.

Norway issue

Rajapakse observed that the reason for the statement was the action of Norway as the peace facilitator. He said that he did not personally agree with Norway's conduct, adding that majority of Sri Lankans believed that Norway was biased towards the LTTE.

Singh responded with a smile. "Aren't they working amidst many difficulties?" he asked. Singh's response indicated that he did not agree with the President's statement.

The two heads of state were joined for lunch by Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Minister Douglas Devananda, Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary H. Palihakkara, Indian Foreign Secretary Menon and Narayanan

UNP  'reformists' agitate for positions 

The UNP, which is trying hard to resolve the conflict that has arisen over the introduction of party reforms, held another round of talks to resolve the issue at Sirikotha last Monday.

The discussion, which commenced at 3 p.m. was mainly focused on resolving the issues that have arisen with regard to the party's working committee membership.

Party meeting

Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was represented by Party Secretary Tissa Attanayake, parliamentarians Lakshman Seneviratne, John Amaratunga, Vajira Abeywardena, Johnston Fernando, Jayalath Jayewardena and Sarath Ranawaka. Former Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya was represented by parliamentarians G.L. Peiris, S.B. Dissanayake, Hemakumara Nanayakkara, Mano Wijeratne, Ranjith Madduma Bandara and Gamini Lokuge.

After discussing several proposals forwarded by the ginger group, Dissanayake said at the end of the discussion that before a final issue is presented to Wickremesinghe, the two sides present at the discussion should arrive at a consensus on it.

It was Abeywardena who opposed it first. Abeywardena observed that he was a member of the party's working committee and that he has already distributed a letter to all other members of his opposition to the proposals forwarded by Dissanayake.

He went on to say that every political party in the country had its constitution, adding that he would not agree to any amendments to the party's constitution that would limit the power vested in the party and its leadership.

Wijeratne who spoke on behalf of the ginger group said that he too could not agree with some of the new proposals. Fernando, Amaratunga, Jayewardena and Ranawaka also agreed with Wijeratne.

When statements were being made against the proposals, it was Lokuge who said that it was futile discussing the proposals if most of members present were antagonistic and said the matter should be taken up for discussion after the Party Leader returned to the island.

Dissanayake in a threatening tone told the members at this point, "Then we will take the matter to the village." Seneviratne responded that Dissanayake should not make such statements since they too could go to their constituencies and educate their supporters about the present situation.

Deputy leader post

The next topic discussed was the post of deputy party leader. Moneragala District MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara said that the post should be filled by Jayasuriya, a move supported by Lokuge.

It was Abeywardena who responded, "The deputy leader is not appointed by you, me or the monk. It is done by Ranil hamuduruwo and it cannot be changed even by the Lord Buddha. So Ranil hamuduruwo and Seevali hamuduruwo will look after that matter. Let us look into our matters."

Everyone laughed at Abeywardena's comment and the discussion ended on a laughing note. But it is Jayasuriya who is now reduced to having the so-called reformists to agitate on behalf of him for the deputy leader's post.

Whether Jayasuriya would continue to do so or redeem some credibility and political dignity by refusing to accept the deputy leader's post even if offered in these circumstances remains to be seen.

 

CBK avoids MR in India 

President Mahinda Rajapakse's recent visit to India was to bring about an interesting development in Sri Lankan politics with the President, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga scheduled to meet at the wedding of Indian Minister Manishankar Aiyer's daughter.

The meeting of the trio would have paved the way to resolve many issues faced by the country.

Wedding invites

Doubts have also been cast as to whether Aiyer sent special invitations for the trio in order to pave the way for them to meet at a venue out of the island.

Kumaratunga and Rajapakse informed of their participation at the function as soon as they received the invitations.

Wickremesinghe received his invitation after the agenda was set for his Indian visit and had to regrettably state that he would not be attending the wedding.

Hearing that Kumaratunga was to attend the wedding, Rajapakse set the stage for a political game.

He informed his photographers that they should somehow take a photograph of Kumaratunga and him in discussion and give it as much prominence in the press as possible.

Rajapakse believed that a photograph of Kumaratunga and him together would send a strong political message among SLFPers as well as the anti-Rajapakse elements in the government that all was well between the duo. This photo opportunity game he did with his meeting with US President George W. Bush as well earlier which in reality lasted but only several seconds.

However, unlike Sri Lankan weddings, a wedding of a VIP family in India is attended by over 1,500 guests.

Kumaratunga who knew in time Rajapakse's plan decided to respond to the situation accordingly.

Since she has attended several weddings of Indian VIPs, Kumaratunga made arrangements to sit in an area away from Rajapakse.

CBK's plan

She even went to the extent of arranging matters in such a way that Rajapakse would not be in a position to get up from his seat and move towards her in any way.

Rajapakse who attended the function looked in all directions to see where Kumaratunga was seated, but to no avail. He then hoped that Kumaratunga would make her way to him, which too did not happen.

Kumaratunga on the other hand took the chance to exchange pleasantries with Indian VIPs. The Bandaranaikes have had close relations with India and Kumaratunga's tactics in avoiding Rajapakse at the wedding was indeed an indication of her close ties with the Indian polity.

Mangala battles the enemy within as President clips his wings 

Before his Indian visit, President Mahinda Rajapakse took several important political decisions in secret.

Although they had a very mild look, the appointments made before his departure were indicative of a silent revolution taking place within the government.

All this revolves around Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who was instrumental in ensuring Rajapakse's victory during the last presidential election.

Samaraweera is known to be politically savvy. A one time Kumaratunga-loyalist, it was he who worked hard to make Rajapakse the presidential candidate of the SLFP knowing well that Rajapakse was be the only candidate who stood a chance of defeating Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Sudden change

It was Samaraweera who garnered the support of the JVP to further strengthen Rajapakse's political campaign.

However, all this changed soon after Rajapakse assumed duties as the President and it took only several hours after assuming office for the first signs of a strained relationship between the two to surface.

Rajapakse who wanted to show his gratitude to Samaraweera for his services during the election campaign sent his brother Basil Rajapakse to inquire as to what portfolio he preferred in the new cabinet. Samaraweera stated that he would prefer to be appointed as the prime minister.

Basil who informed the President of Samaraweera's request also explained the positive and negative sides of appointing him prime minister. However, it was finally decided not to appoint Samaraweera as the prime minister. Since then, the Rajapakse camp and the Samaraweera camp have been at constant loggerheads.

Attacking Samaraweera

With Kumaratunga's return to the island and flexing her political muscles within the SLFP made the President realise that Samaraweera would once again join forces with her,  forming a force to reckon with. The best way to face the situation a la Rajapakse was to put down Samaraweera before he became too powerful.

The President then made a serious decision. That was to transfer several sections under Samaraweera's ministry to another ministry through a special gazette notification without informing Samaraweera.

Although it is common practice to discuss the matter with the relevant ministers beforehand, Rajapakse made this move without consulting Samaraweera. The President chose Minister Rohitha Bogollagama in order to fire his first salvo at Samaraweera.

Rajapakse accordingly issued a special gazette notification ordering the transfer of land belonging to the Trincomalee port under Samaraweera's ministry to Bogollagama's ministry. Samaraweera was made aware of the President's move only by his ministry secretary.

The secretary who called Samaraweera when he was preparing to leave for India inquired from him if he had any knowledge that land belonging to the Ports Ministry have been transferred to Bogollagama's ministry.

Secret transaction

Samaraweera who was unaware of any such decision asked the secretary from where he heard such a thing. The secretary responded that it was BOI Chief Lakshman R. Watawala who informed him of the move and the need to complete the transaction as soon as possible.

Samaraweera then inquired from the secretary how such a decision was made. The secretary responded that the transfer has been made through a gazette notification and that according to Watawala details of the transfer would be sent to him during the next few days.

Shocked by the news, Samaraweera inquired further into the matter, only to realise that the President has made yet another political move.

Samaraweera faced a similar situation earlier as well. That was when President's Secretary Lalith Weeratunga wrote to the Ports Ministry secretary when Samaraweera was overseas calling for an immediate halt to filling vacancies that existed in the ports authority. By then, all measures were taken following government procedure to fill the existing vacancies.

Soon after his return to the island, Samaraweera discussed the issue with the President and Weeratunga was asked to rectify the situation  immediately. However, the President is yet to rectify the situation, which he pledged to do months ago to Samaraweera.

While the President was sending strong political messages to Samaraweera, a deputy minister in government also took a swipe at Samaraweera. It was none other than Dilan Perera who attacked Samaraweera in public.

Perera who read the undercurrents between the President and Rajapakse took his chance and took a swipe at Samaraweera through an English weekly newspaper for his excessive expenditure on an office at his ministry.

Perera did not stop at Samaraweera. He went on to take a swipe at Kumaratunga as well and said that it was time for Kumaratunga to retire from politics.

Political message

According to Perera, sentiments expressed by Kumaratunga through the media were a matter for laughter. He said that Kumaratunga should not engage in such activities but retire from politics.

Perera's actions along with the President's move seem to be well synchronised to send a political message to Samaraweera.

Samaraweera also had to face another issue with regard to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). That was when Presidential advisor, Sajin Vass Gunewardena decided to launch a budget airline, Mihin Air.

It is common practice for such a move to be taken with the knowledge of the Aviation Minister as well as the ministry secretary. However, it did not happen in this instance and Vass Gunewardena using his high office has managed to finalise all matters pertaining to the launch of the airline.

Through these actions, Vass Gunewardena has also sent an underlying message to the cabinet ministers - 'no matter who holds the portfolio, I do what I want.'

However, what Vass Gunewardena has forgotten is that he is dealing with no meek personality and it would only be a matter of time before Samaraweera responds to all of Vass Gunewardena's actions.

Prima angle

The other issue was why the President transferred the land in Trincomalee which came under Samaraweera's  ministry to Bogollagama's. The reason given was of course to set up an industrial zone. But political circles are buzzing that the Prima factory being located in the area could also be a point to ponder given their expansion plans.

Primus, the owner of Prima, was never in the good books of the SLFP but all that changed with Bogollagama who prior to the presidential election ensured Rajapakse had a good relationship with the owner and the company. Bogollagama himself is buddy-buddy with Primus.

Then again Rajapakse is also close to the new entrants to the Sri Lankan flour industry, Serendib. No doubt, the likes of Samaraweera will in this situation be closely monitoring how the land that was transferred will be put to use by Bogollagama.


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