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17th December,  2006  Volume 13, Issue 23

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

News

He was described as the theoretician and ideologue of the LTTE and the Tiger chief negotiator,  but Anton Balasingham was a journalist to the last, regularly keeping in touch with his friends in the media providing ready copy. The above photo, taken at his home just a week before his death and probably his last, shows Balasingham with wife Adele and the Editor of the Jaffna based Uthayan newspaper, N. Vithyatharan. The Editor with whom Balasingham had a close relationship was invited to London to spend his last days reminiscing old times and the future course of the LTTE struggle. In parting, Balasingham was to tell Vithyatharan he would guide the newspaper from the skies above


No arms for Lanka, Sonia assures Karunanidhi

Congress Party President, Sonia Gandhi has in writing informed Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi that the policy....

More...


Top News 

> President paints gloomy picture of economy

> Vaiko says Eelam is the solution in Lanka

> CBK horrified at President's move to oust Anura from Visumpaya

> Ranil told in Washington US concerned over human rights situation

> Bala's last wish

More News.......

No arms for Lanka, Sonia assures Karunanidhi

Congress Party President, Sonia Gandhi has in writing informed Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi that the policy of the Indian government is not to provide Sri Lankan authorities with any arms or material that could be used against the civilian population, especially the Tamils.

Gandhi's letter to Karunanidhi follows reports of explosives being sent to the Sri Lankan armed forces, which triggered concern among political parties in Tamil Nadu.

"I have been assured by the central authorities that the policy of Government of India is not to provide the Sri Lankan authorities with any arms of materials that could be used against the civilian population, especially Tamil population," she said in the letter to Karunanidhi.

Replying to Karunanidhi's letter of December 1 about reports on interception of a vehicle carrying explosives, Gandhi had said she was told that a shipping agent was "claiming that the explosives were meant to be distributed to private explosives sellers through the Sri Lankan Navy for use in sea blasting, dredging and blasting of rocks."

"The circumstances under which and the authority under whom the detonators and explosives were set would, I am assured, be properly enquired into," she said.

Sonia Gandhi said the Congress Party's stand was that nothing should be done that would affect the lives of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, whose "welfare remains a matter of utmost concern."

In another letter to Karunanidhi, Gandhi said her party "strongly" believed that "the rights and privileges of Tamils citizens of Sri Lanka must be fully respected.

Sonia Gandhi said the incidents of violence in Sri Lanka in which many innocent lives, mainly Tamils, have been lost, "are a matter of utmost concern and sorrow."

She said her party had consistently pointed out that "there is no justification for such violence and that the killing of innocent people especially women and children, is not acceptable."

She said the UPA government has been taking this up with the Sri Lankan government at "all appropriate levels."

It has been reiterated to the Sri Lankan government that "there is an urgent need" to find a political solution through negotiations that would secure the legitimate rights of the country's Tamil citizens and avoid loss of lives, she said.

Sonia Gandhi said the incidents of violence in Sri Lanka in which many innocent lives, mainly Tamils, have been lost, "are a matter of utmost concern and sorrow." She said her party had consistently pointed out that "there is no justification for such violence and that the killing of innocent people especially women and children, is not acceptable." She said the UPA government has been taking this up with the Sri Lankan government at "all appropriate levels."

It has been reiterated to the Sri Lankan government that "there is an urgent need" to find a political solution through negotiations that would secure the legitimate rights of the country's Tamil citizens and avoid loss of lives, she said.


President paints gloomy picture of economy

President Mahinda Rajapakse on Friday painted a gloomy picture of the economy at an emergency cabinet meeting and revealed that foreign exchange pressures, rising inflation and high interest rates were taking its toll.

The emergency cabinet meeting was summoned for Friday afternoon to discuss the estate workers strike which was having a crippling impact on the tea trade and the economy. The estate workers strikewhich commenced on December 1 seeking a daily wage of between Rs 270 and Rs 300 continued into the sixteenth day yesterday. The President had also invited both Treasury Secretary P.B.Jayasundera and Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal to brief the Ministers on the state of the economy and the overall impact of the estate sector strike.

The Ministers were told that while foreign exchange reserves were getting depleted the estate sector strike was adding to the pressure due to the anticipated export revenue not forthcoming.

Ministerial sources told The Sunday Leader the cabinet was also informed that the drop in tourist arrivals and the slow rate of investments had also impacted sharply on the foreign exchange earnings.

The ministers were further told that the inflationary pressures had given rise to higher interest rates as well. The President, it is learnt, had appealed to Up Country Peoples Front leader, Minister P. Chandrasekeran to get the workers to accept a daily wage of Rs 250 and call off the strike.

The President also told Chandrasekeran,the failure to do so would result in the LTTE infiltrating the estates.

Minister Chandrasekeran however had explained the difficulties faced by the estate workers and urged the President to use his good offices with the Employers Federation and obtain for the workers the wage demanded. He had also told the President to get CWC leader, Minister Armugam Thondaman's approval also for the proposed settlement.

Minister Thondaman was not present at cabinet on Friday and President Rajapakse directed Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake to speak with Thondaman and obtain his approval for a Rs 250 daily wage.

CWC parliamentarian V Puthrasigamoney told The Sunday Leader yesterday the strike was continuing since no settlement was reached with the Employers Federation.

"The CWC,the UNP affiliated LJEWU and the JPTUC trade unions entered into a collective agreement for a Rs 270 daily wage. Some other unions including Chandrasekeran demanded Rs 300.The Employers Federation was offering Rs 240.We were prepared to tell the workers to accept the Rs 250 offer and get back to work on the understanding we will negotiate for the balance thereafter but the Employers federation has not agreed to go above Rs 240.Therefore the strike is continuing", he said.


Vaiko says Eelam is the solution in Lanka

MDMK General Secretary Vaiko accused both the union and the state governments of not taking any action to protect Tamils in Sri Lanka and said his party would "educate" students and youth in Tamil Nadu on the "genocide" in the island nation.

In the same vein, he said, "Nothing but an independent nation could bring peace to the lives of millions of people in Lanka."

Addressing 'Why Tamil Eelam?' - a meeting organised by the advocates' wing of the MDMK in Chennai on December 13 - Vaiko said he would tour the whole of Tamil Nadu to take the issue to the youth, and thereby propagate the need for Tamil Eelam.

Stating that agreements and assurances given to the Tamils by the "racist" Sri Lankan government were not respected in the past, Vaiko urged Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to send a delegation of MPs to the Tamil areas in Sri Lanka to learn about the pathetic situation there.

Referring to the union government's support to promote the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka, the MDMK Leader wanted to know how the center could do that.

"Who are you to dictate them? What right do you have to decide on their future? No one can stop the Tigers in getting their piece of land" was how he put it across to the centre.

However, Vaiko rejected the view that formation of a Tamil Eelam would lead to the creation of a greater Tamil nation including Tamil Nadu and said his party fully supported India's unity.

Vaiko urged the union government as well as the world community to support the war of the LTTE for a separate nation in Sri Lanka.

Reiterating the demand that India should not extend any kind of assistance to the 'racist' regime in Colombo, Vaiko said the Prime Minister was being misled by diplomats.

Earlier in his address, Lankan Tamil poet Kasi Anandan said Tamils were being chopped, killed and buried by the Sinhalese forces day after day.

Stating Sri Lankan Tamils as the 'national race of the country,'  Kasi Anandan said a separate nation would be formed at any cost.

Others who participated in the meeting included Sri Lankan MP Sivajilingam, MDMK Advocates' Wing President, G. Devadoss and Film Director Seeman.


CBK horrified at President's move to oust Anura from Visumpaya

Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga has expressed shock and dismay over the Presidential order for her brother, Tourism Minister Anura Bandaranaike to be evicted from his official residence, Visumpaya.

Kumaratunga said that she could not believe the Presidential directive following the meeting convened by Bandaranaike of the Attanagalla SLFP central organisation, which was attended by her.

President's Secretary Lalith Weeratunga on Monday called on Bandaranaike to vacate Visumpaya on the instructions of President Mahinda Rajapakse. The Tourism Minister has refused to do so.

The President had earlier informed Bandaranaike that he was under surveillance by the LTTE and should restrict his movements. The President had further told Bandaranaike that he should continue to reside at Visumpaya since it was easier to provide security at that location.

However, the Presidential order to vacate Visumpaya came after news that the former President had attended the Attanagalla central organi-

sation meeting and received a rousing welcome.

Kumaratunga told The Sunday Leader that she was horrified at the decision to compromise her brother's security by asking him to vacate Visumpaya.

She said when Anura Bandaranaike had offered to vacate Visumpaya after the presidential election it was President Mahinda Rajapakse himself who had advised him to stay on, citing security considerations.

"Nobody can stop the Bandaranaikes from working for the people in Attanagalla," she said.

The former President also observed that neither the Bandaranaikes nor the Attanagalla electorate could be wiped out by anyone, adding that she would not allow anyone to do so.


Ranil told in Washington US concerned over human rights situation

By Kumuthu Amarasingham

The US has expressed deep concern over the human rights situation in Sri Lanka to Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and commended him on putting aside petty party politics to sign the MoU with the SLFP.

Wickremesinghe was told of the US thinking during his visit to Washington last week.

Assistant Secretary, Central and South Asian Affairs, Richard Boucher at a meeting with Wickremesinghe on Thursday stated the US was deeply disquieted by the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and added they were closely watching it.

Political Affairs Secretary, US State Department, Nicholas Burns speaking to Wickremesinghe, called on the two parties to seek a political solution to the ethnic issue.

He further urged that the opportunities for peace afforded by the MoU not be wasted and called on the two parties to come together to formulate a solution and present it to the LTTE without delay, paving the way for the recommencement of talks.

Wickremesinghe in response to Burns said that a solution based on the MoU, the Tokyo Declaration, the collective consensus of the six rounds of peace talks held so far and the Indian model would be successful. Former US Secretary of State Richard Armitage who also held discussions with Wickremesinghe on the ethnic crisis, while commending him on casting aside political gain and signing the MoU with the SLFP, added that both sides needed to be strongly committed to make it work.

Armitage further stated that it was mainly up to the government to make the required effort to get the peace process moving, adding that should Sri Lanka fail to make use of the historic MoU at this point, it would be cause for grave regret.


Bala's last wish

By Amantha Perera

LTTE Theoretician Anton Balasingham had made all arrangements for his funeral, 10 days before he passed away last week. Balasingham had instructed that no elaborate ceremonies should accompany his funeral and that his body should be cremated.

He had booked the funeral parlour in London and booked the Alexandra Hall, close to his residence to keep his remains for public display for a few hours.

Balasingham's instructions were that after the public paid their last respects, his remains should be taken straight to the parlour and cremated. "Put it in and put the switch on," he had told a friend during his final days.

Balasingham passed away on December 14 at the age of 68.


Jaffna plans white X'mas

By Jamila Najmuddin

Civilians in Jaffna are planning a white Christmas as a mark of protest against the prevalent security and the humanitarian situation in the peninsula.

Civilians are planning to dress in all white devoid of any fancy jewellery during Christmas celebrations as a mark of protest.

"How can we celebrate when there are people dying daily. Many of our loved ones have been killed and abducted. We do not know where our relatives are. We have all been separated," a civilian from Jaffna, Mary Theresa said.

Religious leaders in Jaffna have also advised the parishioners to halt all Christmas related celebrations and observe a sombre mood during the festive season.

"We have informed all the people that there should be no celebrations. There can be no celebrations amongst such suffering. There will only be the Christmas mass and no further celebrations," the Parish Priest from the St. Nicholas Church in Jaffna, Father M.V.E. Ravichandra said.

He added that they would also welcome the move by the civilians to dress in full white as a mark of respect for all those who have suffered and died in the past few months.

The situation in Jaffna has deteriorated since August 12 when the A9 Highway was closed. Foreign aid agencies have pulled out foreign staff from Jaffna and aid workers have warned that the situation has hit rock bottom in the last month.

The Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies in its latest monthly assessment report said that the reign of terror had retuned to Jaffna with unidentified gunmen and armed groups roaming the streets without any hindrance.

Abductions and revenge killings have also been on the increase. The CHA said that there was an urgent need for medicine and essential items.

Law enforcement authorities should act with responsibility and be on the alert to bring culprits to justice, the CHA said.

"The trauma of being trapped inside a war zone should be erased from the minds of the people," the CHA added.


 Two years after devastation

Only half of tsunami damaged houses reconstructed

By Amantha Perera

With the second year anniversary of the devastating tsunami just nine days away, less than half of the damaged houses have been constructed and aid agencies warned that the reconstruction effort has hit a major snag due to renewed violence in the northeast.

According to figures maintained by UN agencies, only 56,000 of an estimated 115,000 houses have been constructed. Of that figure the bulk, 43,000 is under the home owner driven programme under which owners look after the construction.

Only 10,000 houses have been completed under the donor driven programme. The figures becoming even more alarming when the north east is compared to the rest of the country. Only 10% of the post tsunami housing reconstruction has been completed in the north east according to targets maintained by CARE International.

It said that the rate has been nearly 90% in the south. More than 60% of the tsunami needs were from the north and east according to figures released by the government and the funding partners soon after the tragedy. Officials from Reconstruction and Re-development Agency said that the figure could not be as low as suggested by CARE but somewhere around 60% for the north east.

"Not only are we desperately keen to fulfill the commitments we have made to the communities who were affected by the tsunami but we are also witnessing the dire humanitarian consequences of the on going hostilities. Safety and reliable access to all parts of the island are critical for us to move ahead with reconstruction and humanitarian relief," Sally Austin of CARE said.

The agencies said the 210,000 persons displaced by fighting in the last seven months was almost half the number displaced by the tsunami that left 38,000 dead, initially displacing a million and a damage bill of US $ 2 billion (Rs. 200 billion). Between 23 to 33% of the population was affected by the devastation according to the UN.

The housing construction component was initially delayed by the imposition of the buffer zone. "Reconstruction of houses in the tsunami affected coastal areas, which was delayed due to the imposition of the buffer zone, has begun as the government has decided to relax the 100 meter and 200 meter buffer zone (no build zone) for the western, southern, northern and eastern coast, respectively, on the advice given by the Committee on Coast Conservation," the main government reconstruction agency RADA said in June.

The zoning regulations were relaxed and the housing policy revamped in an effort to expedite the reconstruction effort. The government said mid this year that all the houses could be completed by the end of the year.

"The Revised Tsunami Housing Policy was released in May 2006. This policy is designed to address special needs of the affected population (a 'house for a house' regardless of land ownership), thereby pushing the total housing needs to approximately 120,000. The new policy aims to provide home to all affected population by the end of 2006," RADA said in its mid-year review.


Tourist hotels to lay off staff

By Nirmala Kannangara

The country's tourism industry is in a downward spiral due to the prevailing security situation, and hotels in a bid to reduce costs have adopted cost reduction measures which include  the laying off of staff.

All the resorts and city hotels have recorded a very low bookings for the next three months in the peak winter season claims the Vice President, Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) Srilal Mithapala.

The THASL has carried out a survey in all its member hotels and the highest occupancy forecast  is currently in the range of 40-50% according to Mithapala. "This is a devastating situation particularly considering the fact that from December to March is the peak season where very high arrivals are experienced but the adverse publicity the country received in the last few months was very badly timed as October and November was the peak booking period for the winter 2006/ 2007 season. Hence bulk of the prospective bookings have gone to other destinations," Mithapala said.

According to Mithapala, as a direct result of this downturn all hotel companies in an effort to minimise their losses are implementing  cost reduction methods,  which include laying off staff as well.

"This would lead to a sizeable number of staff being unemployed and in addition the service charge which is an important component of the overall remuneration package  coming down sharply thereby affecting those who are employed resulting  in a radical reduction in their monthly earnings. Apart from this those who are indirectly involved in the leisure sector too will have to suffer," he added.

Mithapala further stated that it was from mid 2006 that the industry started to fully recover from the 2004 tsunami.

"This is evident from the arrival figures up to September 2006 which is 443,972 in comparison to the same period in 2005 which was 405,585 which is a 9.5% increase. Revenue increased from US$ 241.1M to US$ 349.8M for the same period which is a 45.1% increase. However  from late October the country's security started deteriorating and occupancy levels dropped dramatically with cancellations. Currently hotels are discounting heavily to try and attract whatever business is available," Mithapala said.


Uthayan newspaper shortlisted

The Uthayan newspaper has been shortlisted for the Reporters Without Borders - Foundation de France Prize for 2006 under the Media Category, as a news media that embodies the struggle for the right to inform and be informed.

Other contenders in the same category include the Democratic Voice of Burma, Burma, An-Nahar, Lebanon and Novaya Gazeta, Russia.

Other categories for which prizes are awarded are Journalist of the Year for "a journalist who has demonstrated a commitment to press freedom in his or her work, in the views he or she has expressed publicly, or in the stance he or she has taken," Cyber-dissident Category for a "cyber-dissident who has been prevented from providing news and information on the internet" and Defender of Press Freedom Category.

The Journalist of the Year  and the winners in the three other categories are chosen by a 35-member international jury.

   


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