President Mahinda Rajapakse hugs brother Gotabhaya Rajapakse soon after he narrowly escaped an attempt on his life
Stasseen crisis explodes over Vittachi's removal as DCSL chairman
Harry J accused of death threat by Stassen Chairman
By Sonali Samarasinghe
The crisis in the Stassen Group of companies exploded last week with the removal of Totsy Vittachi from the chairmanship of the subsidiary.....
Rock forwards evidence on child recruitment to President
> Disappointed Clinton skips farewell visit to Sri Lanka
> Indian PM vetoes photograph with Mahinda
> ICG calls for greater role
> Chikungunya plagues the north-east
Stasseen crisis explodes over Vittachi's removal as DCSL chairman
Harry J accused of death threat by Stassen Chairman
By Sonali Samarasinghe
The crisis in the Stassen Group of companies exploded last week with the removal of Totsy Vittachi from the chairmanship of the subsidiary Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka (DCSL) with business tycoon Harry Jayawardene accused of making a death threat against the former Chairman.
The crisis in the Stassen Group has being brewing for some time with Chairman V.P. Vittachi, Directors Raj Obeyesekere and Zaki Alif accusing Managing Director Harry Jayawardene of running the company dictatorially and making multi-million dollar investments without any consultations.
The Stassen Group is owned by Jayawardene who has a 50 percent stake, with Vittachi, Obeyesekere and Alif owning the balance 50 percent.
The Sunday Leader learns the crisis came to a head after negotiations between the parties to reach an amicable settlement failed and Jayawardene on November 29 moving to remove Vittachi as DCSL chairman on the eve of the Annual General Meeting (AGM) amidst protests by Obeyesekere. Vittachi was not present at the meeting.
Jayawardene was later appointed chairman, DCSL. Vittachi has charged that his removal was illegal since the board was improperly constituted and the removal made without notice under 'any other business.'
The Stassen dispute is now set to go to court.
The Vittachi-Obeyesekere-Alif combine has also accused Jayawardene of making multi-million dollar investments in Lanka Bell, Apollo Hospital, Asiri Hospital, Commercial Bank and other ventures without their approval as shareholder-directors or board approval.
It is learnt a specially convened meeting earlier to iron out the differences between Jayawardene and the Vittachi-Obeyesekere-Alif combine at a room in the Trans Asia Hotel turned ugly with Jayawardene threatening to shoot Vittachi dead.
Jayawardene had reportedly told Vittachi he would be shot if any of his (Jayawardene's) orders were countermanded. Vittachi had earlier written several letters questioning Jayawardene's business practices.
Vittachi, the Chairman of the Stassen Group, confirmed to The Sunday Leader the death threat issued by Jayawardene in front of two witnesses
"He threatened to shoot me. There are two witnesses", the 83-year-old Chairman charged.
He said plans were now afoot to take all the relevant issues to court.
Earlier senior Attorney Gomin Dayasri resigned from the Sri Lanka Insurance Board citing improper practices adopted by the company.
Jayawardene was not available for comment yesterday.
Disappointed Clinton skips farewell visit to Sri Lanka
The UN Special Amba-ssador for Tsunami Relief, former US President Bill Clinton has opted out of a visit to Sri Lanka due to disappointment over the current developments in the country.
Clinton, whose term ends on December 31, is to do a farewell visit to Indonesia, Thailand and India before his term ends.
It is learnt however that he has decided against visiting Sri Lanka due to the serious human rights allegations made against the government and the failure to handle the tsunami reconstruction effectively.
Informed sources said, Clinton had indicated there was no point in visiting a country where not much of a contribution can be made.
Stands by his report in writing
Rock forwards evidence on child recruitment to President
The UN Ambassador to Sri Lanka on Children and Armed Conflict, Allan Rock last week informed President Mahinda Rajapakse in writing that he stands by his findings that sections of the security forces were involved in child recruitment with the Karuna group.
The written response came after the government in writing requested the UN for the evidence on which Rock based his 'credible' findings.
In a letter dated November 27 to the President sent through the Sri Lankan mission in New York, Rock has accused the LTTE and the Karuna group with the active participation of a section of the security forces in engaging in child recruitment.
Rock in his response has also provided the evidence on which he arrived at his findings but refrains from giving the identities of the witnesses or their addresses to ensure their security.
It is learnt a comprehensive report with full disclosure is to be made to the UN Security Council by Rock in January.
To signal India's dissappointment
Indian PM vetoes photograph with Mahinda
President Mahinda Rajapakse was denied a photo opportunity with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a directive by the Indian Premier.
The Sunday Leader learns, the Indian Prime Minister had issued instructions not to allow any cameramen or photographers for the meeting with President Rajapakse at his official residence to signal India's displeasure at the current developments in Sri Lanka, particularly in relation to the human rights situation.
The Indian government has come under pressure from the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi to take stringent action against Sri Lanka for alleged human rights violations against Tamil civilians in the north and east.
It is learnt, the Prime Minister's decision not to allow the customary photograph taken when two leaders meet was also to send a signal to Tamil Nadu he was taking the representations made seriously.
The visit also saw the customary joint statement issued after such meetings not materialising.
Informed sources said the Indian Prime Minister had urged Rajapakse to without delay submit a comprehensive power sharing formula to address the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil speaking people and ensure the human rights situation is brought under control without further delay.
India also turned down a request from the President for joint naval patrolling, proposing instead more coordination between the two countries.
ICG calls for greater role by international community
By Amantha Perera
All out war in the country can only be averted by more assertive international participation and a significant mind shift within the government and the LTTE, an international think tank warned last week.
"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," the International Crisis Group said last week in a report titled 'Sri Lanka: The Failure of the Peace Process.'
It was released a day after LTTE Leader Velupillai Pirapaharan delivered his annual speech.
The report that looked into the failures of the ceasefire said that in the last year hard-liners had gained the upper hand within the government and the LTTE - "The hard-liners 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 Brussels-based ICG headed by former EU Commissioner Chris Patten said that the peace process was destined for failure from the onset with both parties reluctant to deal with core issues.
"Neither side wanted to rush into substantive political issues: the government did not want the talks to meet an early impass; the LTTE wanted to use humanitarian aid and reconstruction to consolidate its political hold over the population and establish a nascent state structure," it said.
The ICG also focused on the humanitarian crisis in the north east and deteriorating human rights situation. It called for wider UN led international participation in monitoring abuses.
"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," it said adding, "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."
Chikungunya plagues the north-east
The crowded refugee camps in the north-east have been hit by the Chikungunya epidemic, risking the lives of thousands of civilians, an international medical aid agency said last week.
International Medical Corps (IMC) which is currently helping fight a fast spreading Chikungunya outbreak in the Ampara District said that already 10,000 to 15,000 refugees in Ampara were suspected to be affected with the disease and thousands more who are living in crowded camps due to their homes being destroyed in the 2004 tsunami were at
IMC said that new cases were being reported in the Trincomalee District,
"People are flooding clinics and hospitals, preventing health workers from providing routine, basic care. As tsunami survivors continue to struggle to piece together their lives, the added burden of the Chikungunya outbreak is disrupting already overstretched healthcare systems," the IMC said.
IMC's Country Director in Sri Lanka, Gareth Price-Jones told The Sunday Leader that an awareness campaign is now being conducted islandwide but warned that until such time the rains continued, the epidemic would continue.
More than 6,000 civilians in Jaffna are also suspected to be suffering from the disease. (JN)
Jaffna civilians face difficulties due to shifting of bus stand
By Arthur Wamanan
Civilians in the Jaffna peninsula are facing difficulties due to the shifting of the central bus stand in the Jaffna town.
N. Ananth, a civilian, said the new locatio near the Pannai Bridge did not have enough space to accommodate the buses and the commuters.
"The old bus stand has been in use for a long time and had all the facilities to accommodate many buses and passengers. But now there is heavy congestion in the area," he said.
He added the civilians were also affected, as the buses were not working on a schedule and added that school students were forced to depend on the private buses.
"The buses are not working according to a set time as before. Therefore, the civilians are suffering more," he said.
A Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) official in Jaffna said they were not informed about the shifting of the bus stand.
"We know that they are facing problems due to the change of place. But we have to carry out our daily work," he added.
The new SLTB bus stand is located three kilometres away from the previous place.
A senior official at the Jaffna SLTB told The Sunday Leader that none of the government officials in Jaffna were informed of the change of venue.
The SLTB said the military had asked them to vacate the former venue and go to Pannai Bridge without any prior information.
"The previous bus stand has been used for the last 100 years. Now we have been asked to shift to a place with less facilities," the official said.
According to the SLTB, the previous bus stand contained various facilities for the employees as well as the commuters.
"There were various facilities such as a fuel shed, rest rooms for drivers and conductors and toilet facilities. But the new place has no such facilities," the official added.
The employees complained they are facing difficulties due to the lack of facilities in the new place.
"The new place is very close to a lake. The place is flooded due to the prevalent bad weather. There are no toilet facilities there either. The buses are only allowed to go there to pump fuel," an employee said.
However, SLTB officials said they had already written to the Transport Minister to look into this issue.
"We will be meeting with the Jaffna Government Agent and other officials and discuss this issue. We have urged the government to take the necessary steps to rectify the issue as soon as possible," the official said.
LIOC suffers heavy losses
Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC) last week said it was suffering heavy losses due to the reduction in fuel prices.
Managing Director, LIOC, K. Ramakrishnan told The Sunday Leader the company recorded losses amounting to Rs. 1.2 billion so far upto November this year.
He said LIOC has to repay huge amounts to the mother company, Indian Oil Company (IOC) for selling fuel at lesser prices.
Ramakrishnan further said that the company shareholders were the most affected due to the losses incurred.
"Shareholders have been severely affected due to this occurrence," he said.
Attempt on Gothabaya Rajapakse's life at Greenpath
By Shezna Shums
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse last Friday escaped an attack on his life by a suspected suicide cadre at Greenpath, Colombo.
The suicide attack took place before the traffic lights at Dharmapala Mawatha, Piththala Junction, last Friday morning at around 10:30.
The explosives had been rigged to a three wheeler that had tried to ram into the Defence Secretary's vehicle. Its path was blocked by one of the escort jeeps.
After the attack only the front cover of the trishaw remained, the explosion had blown up the rest the trishaw.
The Defence Secretary's vehicle had been pushed forward by one of his convoy jeeps in order to shield it from the blast.
Rajapakse survived and was immediately rushed to President's House. He had thereafter attended a meeting of the Security Council.
Five damaged cars and a body with severe head injuries on top of a double cab were at the scene. Eyewitnesses said that soon after the blast, at least one car had caught fire and the security personnel had opened fire. Residents in the area said the gunfire lasted for at least 10 minutes.
"There was a body there, but it is most probably that of the suicide cadre," Military Spokesperson Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe told The Sunday Leader.
SSP Sarath Lugoda told The Sunday Leader that they could not confirm any details until the government analyst completes his investigation, however he did say that they suspect the attack was carried out by a suicide cadre.
Army jeeps, military bikes as well as two public buses were damaged in the explosion.
The Defence Secretary's bullet proof vehicle was dented by the pellets but escaped severe damage.
Immediately after the explosions, fire engines were called to put out fires since some vehicles were on fire, while the injured were rushed to the Colombo National Hospital.
One person died, while 14 others were admitted to hospital with one soldier in critical condition.
Seven of the injured are civilians while the other seven are military personnel.
Civilians in Kebethigollewa begin farming activity despite fear
By Arthur Wamanan
Civilians in Kebithigollewa still want the proposed security fence to feel safe within their villages.
The Kebithigollewa Divisional Secretary, H.M.J.M. Herath told The Sunday Leader the fences bordering the threatened villages are yet to be completed.
"However, civilians are carrying out their day to day activities," he said.
He however said the security forces were doing their maximum to ensure the safety of the civilians in the area,
He said the people were getting ready for the Maha season and were cultivating their land. "Most of the civilians are farmers. The Maha season is about to start and they are preparing for it," he said.
Herath added some of the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) had donated hand tractors and paddy seeds to farmers in Kanugahawewa in order to start farming work.
"The people were scared to continue farming as they feared that future attacks might affect the cultivation. They feared that the money they spend would be in vain. Therefore, a NGO had donated four hand tractors and a few bags of paddy seeds to start working for the forthcoming paddy season," Herath said.
He said the season would end in April next year, and added that he had requested aid organisations to supply similar items to farmers in other villages in Kebithigollewa.
"I have already requested some aid organisations to provide help the farmers in other villages. I have not got any response from any of them. But I am hopeful they will extend their support," he said.
"The civilians in the camps did not do any work due to fear. However, even they are going to their farmlands from the camps to work," he said.
He also said nearly 350 civilians had gone back to their villages.
Police should set example - Fowzie
Police officers should set an example of first abiding by traffic regulations before penalising errant drivers, Transport Minister A. H. M. Fowzie said.
The Minister made this comment after it was brought to his notice that some traffic cops engage in breaking the law when they stop private buses between two bus halts.
Traffic cops from the Mount Lavinia police station stopping private buses between two halts and getting off exactly opposite the Mount Lavinia police station has become a common sight on Galle Road these days.
"The bus drivers stop for these traffic cops because they are afraid of them. Bus drivers should abide by the traffic laws that are common for all citizens," Fowzie said.
Commenting on traffic cops breaking the rules, regular commuters said if they stopped a bus between two bus halts, the traffic cops would be the first to charge the bus drivers.
"Bus drivers should not be afraid of traffic cops and break the road rules," commuters said. (RM)
Sri Lanka's many woes and tourism
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti Our Lobby Correspondent
If one were to say that the legislature has gone to the dogs, the dogs would surely bark in protest.
However, at a time when the country's appropriation bill is being taken up for discussion, the House remains depleted, and the few who are there are little more than mummies, silent and lacking expression.
There is no informed debate today and even ministers themselves are defeating the purpose of having a committee stage debate except a few old school types like Anura Bandaranaiake and Mangala Samaraweera who believe in making a complete speech answering all the issues raised.
Making a fervent appeal to bury the hatchet and work towards peace was Tourism Minister Anura Bandaranaike who said the best chance for peace emerged when the UNP and the SLFP decided to treat some issues as common and signed a MoU. "Take this path and we shall be paradise,' he
He sounded hassled by the many travel advisories that cast Sri Lanka in a bad light and affected tourism, which he said he was striving to promote by making representations to diplomatic missions to be gentle with Sri Lanka.
On Tuesday (27) morning, Bandaranaike said that the fourth largest foreign exchange earner that contributed to 3% of the GDP was suffering boundlessly.
"Whether it is violence or tsunami, my ministry suffers. It does not help when the BBC says that tourists are being attacked by terrorists which has never happened. Be it in Habarana or Galle, tourists were safe and we can do without this bad publicity," breathed
Besides, there were travel advisories that work against Sri Lanka's intention to increase tourists from winter countries, he lamented, adding that France has coloured the northeast and Anuradhapura in red in their advisory and painted the rest of the island in dark orange. "This
means, the entire country is unsafe. What logic is there?" he demanded.
Earlier during the day, it was Ven. Athuraliye Rathana thero who appealed to crush sex tourism in Sri Lanka and to infuse eco and spiritual tourism. "That would not make this a haven for cheap sex and paedophiles."
Referring to India, the thero said that India thrived on spiritual, religious and cultural tourism unlike the neighboring island, which is known for the sand, surf and cheap sex.
The monk's fears were real that Sri Lanka would end up becoming another Thailand which earns her money on sex tourism and having to spend 3% of revenue on AIDS prevention.
"Increase the quality and ensure there is infrastructure. We had a great system, Ayurveda and erudite monks. This is why foreign tourists visited the island to further religious studies. We will improve the quality of tourism, there would be spiritual and cultural enhancement and foreign exchange programme could be invented," he
CWC's V. Putrasigamoney had a concern of his own. Hailing from Little England, the MP grumbled that there was no infrastructure or coherent plans to attract tourists to Nuwara Eliya.
"It is a heavenly place. But it is dirty and polluted. Both local and foreign tourists come there to enjoy the salubrious climes, drink from dusk to dawn, play gold and go away. We have not explored trekking and hiking, boating and nature tourism in one of the most picturesque areas in the island. What's more, we don't even have a tea
museum despite producing the finest tea in the world," he noted, all of which Minister Bandaranaike held to be valid, and pledged action.
Bandaranaike's earlier remarks should ring true to the bickering legislators that unless and until there is peace and political stability, the losses of tourism to this country would only benefit other more peaceful destinations. Like all industries, growth would become possible only if the country drags itself up from the depths it has sunk
A move to issue permanent passes to the regular lobby correspondents died a natural death due to a sensible
intervention by the Secretary General.
It is learned that some have proposed a permanent pass system for security reasons and only those on a 'safe list" to be allowed to cover the proceedings.
Mercifully sanity has prevailed that this is not the most practical thing to do, given the fact that no media institution could subscribe to such a scheme.
Jamming the chats
Time and again, the Speaker had cautioned legislators to refrain from having conversations on their mobile telephones inside the chamber. Many used to flout the rule until the devices were banned altogether inside the premises.
What is more, there are jamming devices fixed inside to prevent the errant few from using their telephones, even if they smuggle the instruments in, which they certainly do!
Budget in absentia
The committee stage budget debate may not require a quorum, but it sure requires enlightened debate and the common decency to be present when each ministry is taken up for debate.
Not only has the quality of debate dwindled, MPs do not even sight the house unless they have to speak or attend to some other chore which makes the entire system a mockery and an absolute waste of public funds.
The much- traveled minister
Investment promotions Minister Rohitha Bogollagama may have many credentials, among them being his extravagant life-style and his lavish spending of public funds.
But JVP's Anuruddha Polgampola said that Bogollagama has managed to put the foreign minister to shame with his many travels.
During Bogollagama's ministry votes, a stunned MP noted that while Mangala Samaraweera has traveled sparingly, despite being assigned to travel, here was the one minister who was most travelled after the President though investment in the country remained quite low.
Queries flying high over airlines
Politics sure makes strange bedfellows but it is not always that the legislature experiences the UNP and JVP sponsoring adjournment motions. What is more, certainly not the likes of Ravi Karunanayke and Anura Dissanayake.
It inspired mirth but also some hope that at least when the issue is significant, legislators could occasionally bury the hatchet. Dissanayake himself found it funny but strange times called for stranger action, and his estimation, the controversial budget airline "Mihin Air" was good enough reason for them to collectively beat a
"group" in government.
Karunanayake who moved the motion on Thursday eve (30) wanted first to know what Sri Lanka's aviation policy was. Whether it was open skies, closed to some and opened only to some or changed at will.
What's more, the Sri Lankan - Emirates deal which he insisted was an absolute sell out was coming up for review on March 30, 2008. "Were we ready to renegotiate? If we wish to take over our own airline which is a prudent course of action, there was no need for a government
sponsored budget airline," he opined.
Surely, despite all the ambitious plans to develop the aviation industry, the government has made allocations for only two projects - BIA Development Phase II and the second international airport at Weerawila. There was no mention of a pet budget airline project.
The director board of the so called government budget airline included presidential co-ordinator Sajin Vass Gunawardene, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Air Force Commander, Roshan Gunethilleke and Treasury Secretary, Dr. P B Jayasundera.
"Who are they? If this is a government airline, where is the Cabinet paper, did the minister appoint these people to head the airline? Whose funds have been allocated for the advertising blitz? Has the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) granted approval for the project?" demanded Karunanayake.
Taking a cue from Karunanayake, Anura Dissanayake demanded that the cabinet paper approving the setting up of a budget airline be tabled in parliament along with the feasibility study.
"An airline won't be launched like the opening of a toilet? Also, we want to know under which organization Mihin Air has obtained its BOI registration? If this is a government concern, then there cannot be a registration for an individual," he thundered.
Perhaps never in the aviation history of Sri Lanka was a minister this cornered, and that too for no fault of his own. As he chose words carefully, Minister Mangala Samaraweera trod gently, reiterating the island's commitment to renegotiating the Emirates deal with the same company and the desire to pursue an open skies policy.
As for Mihin Air, he strained to say that no cabinet approval was signified but said a joint cabinet paper would be passed between finance and aviation ministries.
As for the rest, he assured that CAA had no clue about the new airline and promised, "It will be processed at a future time" and the matters would be addressed " when they came up". And that from a man like Mangala Samaraweera who loves to launch himself into exhaustive defence of his government when on solid political
ground, was like budgeting his own speech!
Double standards questioned
Speaking on the votes on the Ministry of Women's' Affairs, UNP' Renuka Herath raised a pertinent issue concerning the rights of women.
Though not a women's libber, she spoke sense as she questioned as to why woman divisional secretaries cannot vote at the election of a Diyawadana Nilame.
She noted it could not be a Buddhist practice as women were allowed to enter the order which meant there was equality in religious treatment. She wanted to know how this unequal treatment continues to persist in a more enlightened day which was a terrible infringement of women's' rights. What was worse, the male divisional secretaries voted
at the all-important election with no procedural blockades.
What adds a tragic note to the issue is that it was a woman who securely brought the Sacred Tooth to Sri Lanka. Princess Hemamala hid the Tooth among her long tresses to transport the precious religious relic, which was later enshrined in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Herath noted.