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                                    

Editorial

September 2, 2007  Volume 14, Issue 11


Focus

Arts

Letters

Spotlight

Review

Fashion

Issues

News

 

         


Former President and SLFP Patron Chandrika Kumaratunga on Friday met the SLFP Mahajana Wing to discuss returning the SLFP towards a more moderate stance on key issues. Photo shows Kumaratunga with SLFP (M) Convenor Mangala Samaraweera, accompanied by Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi and Tiran Alles -- Photo by Asoka Fernando

Opposition to move No Confidence
motion on govt. this month

The UNP has decided to move a vote of No Confidence against the government this week.........

......More


  >

More armed Karuna cadres in Trinco warn SLMM

  > 20 dead in Mannar clashes
  > Disappearances on the rise charges AI
  > Prices of essentials rise in August

  >

CBK-SLFP(M) in pow-wow
  > Disappearances on the rise charges AI
  > People in landslide prone areas to be evacuated
  > Jaffna Hospital in need of 39 interns

  >

196,000 awaiting driving licences


 Opposition to move No Confidence motion on govt. this month

The UNP has decided to move a vote of No Confidence against the government this week.

The decision to move the No Confidence motion was taken unanimously at the party's Political Affairs Committee on Wednesday presided by Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The proposal to move the No Confidence motion was made by Colombo District MP, Ravi Karunanayake who had said the time was right to move against the government. He had said if the government is allowed to continue its present way, there would be nothing left to salvage in the country under a UNP led government.

Karunanayake confirmed to The Sunday Leader the Political Affairs Committee decided unanimously to move the No Confidence motion against the government in September.

The Political Affairs decision came just two hours after the Opposition Leader met  former President and SLFP Patron Chandrika Kumaratunga for a one to one meeting where the current political developments, the economic and human rights crisis  in addition to issues of corruption were discussed.

The Sunday Leader learns the UNP will give notice of the motion this week and call for it to be debated end September.

It is learned the motion will be based on corruption with focus on the COPE reports, MiG deal, Telecom deal, the appointment of 107 ministers, the US$ 500 million loan, in addition to the rising cost of living and the withdrawal of subsidies.

Meanwhile a SLFP(M) delegation led by Mangala Samaraweera which included Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi and Tiran Alles also met Kumaratunga Friday where the need for the SLFP to capture middle ground and the current political developments were discussed. The proposed No Confidence motion also figured in the discussion, it is learned.


20 dead in Mannar clashes

By Amantha Perera

At least 20 persons were killed in fighting in areas south of Mannar and north of Omanthai, Vavuniya in the last two days, the military and the Tigers said.

The Army had launched a fresh offensive in the Silvathurai area south of Mannar island with troops moving into Tiger held areas yesterday morning.

The Defence Ministry said that the humanitarian operation was launched after civilians fleeing the area had complained of LTTE harassment.

"The civilians who had braved to cross over to liberated areas have told the security forces that the civilians are regularly subjected to forced labour, torture, extortions and various other harassments in the hands of the LTTE," the Ministry said. At least 6,000 civilians are in the area, according to military sources.

Military spokesperson Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said that the operation was progressing successfully and that government troops had not suffered any casualties up until last afternoon. There was no information on Tiger casualties.

However, the Tigers said that at least three civilians fleeing the fighting in a van had been killed in a claymore attack carried out by a deep penetration unit of the security forces in the Silvathurai area yesterday morning.

Meanwhile, pro-Tiger Tamilnet said that eight civilians had been killed and six others including children were injured. The van with 14 occupants had been fleeing the fighting when it was caught in the explosion around 8.30 in the morning. Tamil net also said that hundreds of civilians had begun to flee towards the Arippu church compound north of Silvathurai.

Samarasinghe however rejected the claims that the attack was carried out by the security forces. "It may have been a mistaken identity and the Tigers themselves had triggered the claymore," he told The Sunday Leader.

Twenty four hours before yesterday’s fighting, the Defence Ministry said that troops had thwarted an attempt by the Tigers to breach the FDL north west of Omanthai on August 31 morning. Eleven Tigers were killed in the operation the Ministry said.

"Responding in defence against hostile threat in the FDLs, troops had retaliated causing heavy damages to LTTE elements, an area military official said," it said adding, "ground troops launched a multi pronged attack successfully dislodging LTTE attempts to mobilize artillery and mortar launching pads." Nine soldiers were injured in the operation, the Ministry said.

Meanwhile, the Tigers said that they had stopped an Army advance in the Vilataikulam area in the same morning and recovered the body of one soldier.

Residents in Mannar also said that there was heavy exchange of artillery by the two sides near Talladi, east of Mannar.

The line of control along the Vavuniya-Mannar border had witnessed increased fighting in the last fortnight with the conclusion of the Madhu feast on August 15. The feast had prompted a lull in fighting between August 10 and 16.

Since the conclusion of the feast fighting has erupted at Pereyatamapanai, Vilataikulam and Pokkaravani. With the casualties from the latest bouts of fighting at least 40 have died in clashes in the area since the feast. In July over 70 combatants died in the area after fighting erupted on July 14. However, the fighting near Silvathurai was the first time clashes erupted south of the main Vavuniya-Mannar road since the escalation of fighting in December 2006.


Disappearances on the rise charges AI

By Amantha Perera

Enforced disappearances had increased in the country, Amnesty International (AI) said last week.

"AI has documented a worrying increase in enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka in recent months, with at least 21 people reportedly disappearing in August in Jaffna district alone,

AI said in a statement to mark the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30 adding "the increase reflects a worsening pattern, with the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka reporting that hundreds of people have disappeared nationwide since January 2007, in addition to at least 1,000 in 2006."

AI said that rights abuse was common place in the country and that only a handful of cases had been resolved.

"Unlawful killings, abductions and enforced disappearance of civilians are now daily occurrences."

"An extremely small proportion of these human rights violations have proceeded to trial or conviction of perpetrators," it said.

AI said that the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) was currently looking into 5700 cases of enforced disappearances adding that cases implicate the involvement of armed forces, the Tigers and the Karuna Group.

Members of the AI in the US last week visited the Sri Lankan Missions in Washington, UN and Los Angeles to hand over a petition signed by 5000 persons raising concerns on the prevailing situation here.

Meanwhile the Mahanama Thilakaratne Commission that is looking into enforced disappearances has found that of the 1,992 cases reported since September 2006, 1,452 persons have been located.

The report of the commission has been handed over to President Mahinda Rajapakse but has not been made public. Last week a group of civic organisations wrote to Rajapakse urging him to make the report public.

"The publication of Justice Thilakaratne’s report will be a step towards addressing this great source of grief and we urge you to take immediate steps in this regard," they said.


More armed Karuna cadres in Trinco warn SLMM

By Amantha Perera

More armed Karuna cadres were seen in public in the last fortnight in Trincomalee, following an attack by the Tigers on the group, the SLMM reported last week.

The SLMM said that more armed Karuna cadres were in public places after a Tiger attack prevented the group from opening a new office at Sambaltivu, 8km north of Trincomalee town on August 23.

"The SLMM found that one TMVP member was killed and one injured (in the attack). The LTTE had been in the area for some time before the TMVP arrived trying to establish an office," the SLMM said in its latest situation report adding, "this incident revealed the presence of LTTE activity in an area where the LTTE was not believed to be operating. The SLMM registered an increased number of TMVP cadres moving with weapons in public in Trincomalee town."

The SLMM also reported that a Tamil village in Vavuniya had been attacked by army personnel and home guards after a Tiger attack had left four home guards, including three females dead in Vavuniya on August 20. A civilian bus driver was also killed in the attack.

Attackers from a moving vehicle had fired at the security post at Ulukullam and driven towards the Tamil village of Veerapuram.

"About 45 minutes after the incident, SLA soldiers, home guards and civilians went to Veerapuram village and retaliated against the population by assaulting them, looting their homes and stores and firing weapons. The village leader of Veerapuram was killed. Some civilians fled the village fearing for their safety. By  August 24 the Veerapuram area was generally calm, although locals still reported occasional harassment from home guards," the SLMM said.

A vehicle and workers attached to a telecommunications company too had been set upon soon after the attack.

Meanwhile the FDL on either side of LTTE controlled Wanni remained tense last week as well. Several confrontations were reported near the FDLs north of Vavuniya and on August 30 and 31, the Defence Ministry said that 14 Tigers had been killed in clashes in Vavuniya and south of Jaffna.


Prices of essentials rise in August

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The Census and Statistics Department on Friday said that while the cost of living index had declined by 43.3 index point or 0.8% from July to 5453.2 in August, the prices of several essential items have increased.

The price decline recorded in several consumer goods was mainly attributed to the increase in supply of consumer goods, especially vegetables to the main markets in Colombo City, due to seasonality and reduction of taxes on some consumer items such as sugar, potatoes, etc. by the government.

The Census and Statistics Department said that prices of rice, bread, wheat flour, rice and curry, bread and curry, Lactogen, milk tea, coconut oil, coconuts and eggs have increased during August. 

Meanwhile, the annual inflation rate for the month of August (12 months moving average) was registered at 17.3, higher by 6.5 percentage point compared to last year's August level of 10.8 percent.

Apart from the price hikes of essentials in August, Shell decided to increase the price of its domestic cylinders by Rs. 213 to Rs. 1298 from September 1. Laugfs however said it was awaiting the verdict of the Consumer Affairs Authority.


CBK-SLFP(M) in pow-wow

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

Members of the SLFP (M) Group on Friday met former President and SLFP Patron Chandrika Kumaratunga at her official residence to discuss getting the SLFP back to its middle ground policies.

SLFP (M) Group Convenor, Mangala Samaraweera, Coordinator Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi, Tiran Alles and SLFP Provincial Councillor Upulangani Malagamuwa participated at the discussion.

During the discussion, which lasted nearly three hours, the SLFP (M) Group members and Kumaratunga had discussed the prevailing political climate in the country and had also discussed getting the SLFP back to its middle path politics.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Samaraweera said, "The SLFP (M) Group met former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and discussed with her the present system and on bringing the SLFP back to the middle path."

However, Samaraweera refrained from stating any details discussed during the meeting.

When asked on Kumaratunga's reaction towards the present political crisis in the country and the effort to bring the SLFP back to its middle path politics, Samaraweera said, "you will have to wait and see."


Disappearances on the rise charges AI

By Amantha Perera

Enforced disappearances had increased in the country, Amnesty International (AI) said last week.

"AI has documented a worrying increase in enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka in recent months, with at least 21 people reportedly disappearing in August in Jaffna district alone,

AI said in a statement to mark the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30 adding "the increase reflects a worsening pattern, with the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka reporting that hundreds of people have disappeared nationwide since January 2007, in addition to at least 1,000 in 2006."

AI said that rights abuse was common place in the country and that only a handful of cases had been resolved.

"Unlawful killings, abductions and enforced disappearance of civilians are now daily occurrences."

"An extremely small proportion of these human rights violations have proceeded to trial or conviction of perpetrators," it said.

AI said that the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) was currently looking into 5700 cases of enforced disappearances adding that cases implicate the involvement of armed forces, the Tigers and the Karuna Group.

Members of the AI in the US last week visited the Sri Lankan Missions in Washington, UN and Los Angeles to hand over a petition signed by 5000 persons raising concerns on the prevailing situation here.

Meanwhile the Mahanama Thilakaratne Commission that is looking into enforced disappearances has found that of the 1,992 cases reported since September 2006, 1,452 persons have been located.

The report of the commission has been handed over to President Mahinda Rajapakse but has not been made public. Last week a group of civic organisations wrote to Rajapakse urging him to make the report public.

"The publication of Justice Thilakaratne's report will be a step towards addressing this great source of grief and we urge you to take immediate steps in this regard," they said.


People in landslide prone areas to be evacuated

By Shezna Shums

Geologists have warned that immediate evacuation will be necessary if areas prone to landslides and earthquakes in the districts of Matara, Kalutara and Ratnapura, continue to experience heavy showers.

The heavy showers experienced during the last few days in the districts of Kalutara, Matara and Ratnapura have compelled the authorities to issue this warning

Geologists have also warned against travelling on certain roads due to the prevailing heavy showers.

The roads to be avoided in the Matara District are the Deniyaya-Rakwana road, the Morawaka-Deniyaya road, the Deniyaya-Urubukka road as well as the Kotabala-Galdola road.

"There is a possibility of these roads being affected by land slides  and it is better to avoid them," said Geologist, National Building Research Organisation, Kumari Weerasinghe.

In the Ratnapura District the Kalawana-Rakwana road is under construction and  geologists advised the public to use an alternative route.

"There may be cutting failures because the road is under construction," explained Weerasinghe.

The National Center for Disaster Management stated that the relevant Divisional Secretariats have been given the authority to provide  relief services and rations to the affected persons for three days.

Meanwhile a mother and her young daughter were reported to have died following a cutting failure on the Akuressa Pradeshiya Sabha road last Thursday.

Geologist Weerasinghe told The Sunday Leader that there were also minor soil problems in Palida Nuwara.

Rocks had also fallen on the roofs of houses in the affected area.  But neither damage to houses nor injuries to persons have been reported.

An official from the NCDMS said that no one had been displaced  although floodwaters had come into their homes.  However despite the flood waters people in these houses continue to live there, he said.

The Divisional Secretariats have been advised to immediately evacuate persons in the event of  heavy showers persisting in the coming days.


Jaffna Hospital in need of 39 interns

The Jaffna Hospital is in need of 39 interns, the hospital director said.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader the director, who did not wish to be quoted, said that he had requested the government to take steps to address this issue.

"We need at least 39 interns for the hospital to function," he said.

When asked about  government's plan to make the medical students work at the hospitals in the north and east, the director said he had no idea about this matter.

"We had only asked the government to make sure we get the adequate number of interns," he said and denied reports that he had requested the government to appoint the medical students passing out from the Jaffna campus to the north and east.

"I have no authority to ask any of these. It is their decision," he added.

The Medical Students' Union (MSU) and Teachers' Association of the Medical Faculty last week protested against the proposed method adopted by the Health Ministry in allocating internships.

They said that the rights of the Jaffna students were being violated as the Ministry had proposed a method to get the Jaffna students to work at the hospitals in the north and east.

The MSU said the government was violating the merit based system, which had been functioning for the last 36 years in the country.

"The medical students were put into hospitals based on merit. Now the government plans to restrict the Jaffna students to the north and east. This will also affect the students in other areas as time goes on and there will be no systems prevailing to allocate hospitals for the students to follow their internships," the member of the union said. (AW)


196,000 awaiting driving licences

The Department of Motor Traffic has a backlog of 196,000 applications for driving licences in Sri Lanka, it is learned.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Commissioner of Motor Traffic, B. Wijeyaratne said, "I am using additional computers and cadre to fix this problem. We receive nearly 40,000 applications for licences a month from all parts of the country and we process about 2000 applications a day. These applications come from all parts of the country with Kegalle, Kurunegala, Kandy and Galle sending in the highest number," Wijayaratne explained.

He added that the Ministry had a capacity to process and print 24,000 licences a month. Due to the backlog the department has increased this figure to 57,000 a month.

"We have processed 57,000 applications on average during the months of June, July and August. Due to this speeding up process there has been a delay in posting these licences to the relevant applicants. The delay is in the manual work of writing the correct names and addresses and posting the completed licences," said Wijeyaratne. Of the printed licences there were 50,000 licences yet to be posted.

A system has been devised, where each member of the allocated staff in the department is given a special task, where they take home 500 printed licences and write the necessary details and post them to the applicants. Hence there is no tracking system or filing of postal registration numbers. "This is partly my fault," admitted Wijeyaratne, "but due to the accumulation of applications in the system and the directive given by the Minister, I have no other option." 

The Transport Ministry had issued a directive that the backlog of licences should be cleared by the end of the year, he went on to explain.

There are nearly 200 people who turn up at the department to collect their licences on a daily basis. "Unfortunately due to the postage issue they cannot give any answers to most people and since most of our staff are busy due to the double work load, these people are sent away without proper information,"  he added.

"This chaotic situation will be solved by early next year," promised Wijeyaratne.


Sri Lankans fleeing to India on the increase

By Shezna Shums

The number of Sri Lankans fleeing  to Tamil Nadu in India has seen an increase, government officials said. They however were unable to produce accurate figures.

Although  Sri Lankans fleeing the island is not an everyday occurrence,  they do leave for India in large numbers seeking refuge because of the ongoing conflict.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of August 19 this year there have been 19,649 Sri Lankans  (6,154 families) arriving in Tamil Nadu since January 2006.

Meanwhile the  Government Agent, Mannar, M.S. De Mel told The Sunday Leader that his office does not have a record of the number of families fleeing the island.

However the Government Agent did highlight that since January this year, they had recorded a total of 42 families who returned from India.

She also stated that in the Mannar area there were many people from the Eastern Province as well as Batticaloa and Trincomalee who were now living there.

The main factors forcing these families especially the fisher folk to leave the country is because they want better security for themselves and their children and the need to  restart their lost means of livelihood.

Meanwhile a report put out by the South Asian Human Rights Organisation stated that the Muttur Hospital was seriously handicapped by a shortage of health care professionals. Many appointees did not report for duty and the hospital had only four medical officers and 13 nurses out of a complement of 175, and two public health midwives out of the required 11 making for overworked and overstretched medical staff.  

The conflict situation in the east has put pressure on the local economy with restriction of  movement and livelihood activity. Fishing was particularly affected with the imposition of high security zones and time bound bans on fishing.  This has severely weakened the once prosperous economy of Muttur, which depended on transporting a large percentage of its produce for sale in Kantale, Dambulla and Colombo. This has led to high levels of unemployment, youth frustration and unrest said the report.


Bhutan to follow Sri Lankan health care system

By Sunalie Ratnayake

The Bhutan government has decided to follow the health care system prevalent in Sri Lanka following a recommendation made by the World Health Organisation (WHO), promoting the health system of the island.

Healthcare and Nutrition Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and Ministry Secretary Dr. Athula Kahandaliyanage joined the health sector authorities in Bhutan for a round of special discussions with regards to the matter, as well as to work out a system to give effect to the proposal.

Healthcare and Nutrition Ministry Spokesperson W.M.D. Wanninayake told The Sunday Leader that the WHO South East Asian Regional Country Director Dr. Shamlee Flienbangchang recommended Sri Lanka's health system to be followed by other countries, insisting that the health administration and curative care standards are best conducted in Sri Lanka, which resulted in Bhutan becoming interested in incorporating the local health system in their country as well.


Workshop on radiological emergency preparedness

By Sunalie Ratnayake

Science and Technology Minister Professor Tissa Vitharana, who inaugurated the three-day National Workshop on Radiological Emergency Preparedness, said that as developed countries are engaged in nuclear arms testing,  Sri Lanka too had to be prepared for radiological emergencies in order to shield its people.

The workshop was jointly organised by the Atomic Energy Authority and Disaster Management Centre.

Further speaking at the event, Vitharana said, "We have heard about the nuclear accidents that occurred at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and it is vital that deterrent measures are taken in this regard. Our medical officers, police, armed forces and media personnel have to be educated on how to respond in such a situation."

It was also learnt that Sri Lanka's closest neighbour, India is having nuclear power plants for electricity generation and is also in the process of trying to set up two more plants,  about 200 kilometres away from Sri Lanka. India has also worked out an arrangement with the US to ensure that India is supplied radioactive material and the other requirements for peaceful application of nuclear energy. At present, India is getting 3% of its energy needs from nuclear sources and they are planning to increase it considerably in the near future.

The workshop further revealed that Sri Lanka is using radioactive materials, both in diagnosis and in treatment and also in investigative procedures through the Atomic Energy Authority.

It was further revealed that there could be improper disposal of radioactive material and hazards, which will be of a localised nature and may risk small population groups in the country. This matter was  discussed at the workshop  and it was agreed that the island will have to be alert to take adequate precautionary measures in the use of radioactive material.


PAC to solve internship problem

The Parliamentary Advisory Committee (PAC) is to meet tomorrow (3), together with the Jaffna medical students, Jaffna General Hospital Director, MPs of the TNA, UNP and JVP in order to bring about a settlement to the request made to the Jaffna medical students to serve their internship in hospitals in Jaffna, at least for a period of one year.

Healthcare and Nutrition Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva recently said that the suggestion was not made according to his personal agenda, but it was a decision taken by the PAC, with the objective of bringing a solution to the severe shortage of physicians in hospitals in the north and east, especially in the Jaffna peninsula.

"Tomorrow's (3) meeting is to further discuss the matter in the presence of all parties involved.  If the PAC agrees and an alternative is brought forward, the initial request could be withdrawn," the Healthcare and Nutrition Minister told The Sunday Leader.


AGM of People's Movement for Rights of Patients

The People's Movement for the Rights of Patients (PMRP), a volunteer movement working to restore a health service for the well-being of patients held its Annual General Meeting last week.

The National Executive Committee of the PMRP for 2007-2008 was appointed at the meeting.

Louis Benedict was appointed president while M.K.P. Chandralal and Vincent Bulathsinhala were appointed as senior vice president and vice president respectively.

Christobel Saverimuttu and K.V. Kanthaverl were appointed joint secretaries.

The committee members include Christine Perera, S. Weerapriya, R. Ehamparam, J.M. Ashraff, Milton Perera, U.J. Rodrigo, D.P.B.M Fernando, Allenson de Silva, T.K. Jamalon, Marie Benedict, O. Ramachandran (Satyodaya Movement), Yasas Sakalasooriya, Lalith Wasantha, Sunil Fonseka and M.A. Prasanna.

PMRP has been working on goals such as implementation of a National Medicinal Drugs Policy based on the Senaka Bibile principles of rational drug use and to make quality drugs available to all the people at affordable prices.

It also works on educating people on this issue, aspects such as the formulation and implementation of a National Food and Nutrition Policy, implementation of a comprehensive Patient's Charter and the amendment of the Constitution of Sri Lanka to declare health as a fundamental right.


Estate workers want wage hike

By Rozanne Moraes

A wage hike has been requested by the plantation workers.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Commissioner of Labour, D. S. Edirisinghe said "Due to the rising cost of living in the country, the estate workers have requested a wage hike."

A salary increase was granted to them last year as well.

"Currently the trade unions and the 21 plantation companies are in discussion with regard to this matter, hence there are no proper proposals yet" he explained.


Harold Herath no more

One time Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Harold Herath passed away on Friday after a brief illness.

A senior UNP member representing the Puttalam District,Herathhad a long and distinguished career in politics.Besides being appointedminister of foreign affairs from 1990-1993, he has held several portfolios including coconut development, one of Herath's keen areas of interest.


SL world's 25th weakest state

Sri Lanka has been ranked No. 25 in the list of the world's weakest states, which is headed by Sudan.

The Fund for Peace, an independent research organisation, and the Washington based Foreign Policy, which put out their third annual Failed States Index this year, ranks Sri Lanka at number 25 in the world's weakest states.

The 60 most vulnerable states are listed in the rankings and for the second year in a row, Sudan tops the rankings as the state most at risk of failure. Two vulnerable giants, China and Russia, however improved their scores sufficiently to move out of the 60 worst states.

According to the index, this is because 31 additional countries were assessed this year. However, credit was paid to China's economic engine that continues to propel the country forward at breakneck pace and Russia's growing economy and a lull in the violence in Chechnya that have had stabilising effects.

According to the index, the vast majority of the states listed have not yet failed; they exhibit severe weaknesses that leave them vulnerable, especially to shocks such as natural disasters, war, and economic deprivation.

The index is published in order to provide a clearer picture of the world's weakest states and uses 12 social, economic, political, and military indicators, to rank 177 states in order of their vulnerability to violent internal conflict and societal deterioration. The index scores are based on data from more than 12,000 publicly available sources collected from May to December 2006. (KA)


Union threatens to criple railway sector

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The JVP affiliated All Ceylon Railway Employees' General Union (ACREGU) has threatened to resort to a strike that would cripple the railway sector if the Transport Ministry did not pay attention to the grievances of the railway employees as well as the commuters.

ACREGU Secretary, Sumathipala Manawadu told The Sunday Leader that the trade union action taken by them last Monday was a success as the Transport Minister and rest of the authorities' attention was diverted to the issues highlighted by the union.

"Our main concern was to divert the attention of the authorities to the problems, and the strike action was secondary. However, we managed to get what we wanted. We had no intension of crippling the sector as claimed by some," he said.

Manawadu said that if the government did not pay attention to the issues raised by them, then they would resort to organising a massive strike that would cripple the railway sector.

"If we needed to cripple the sector last Monday,  we would have all signed out at midnight and not reported to work the following day, which was not the case this time," he said.

Manawadu also dismissed allegations levelled against the union by the Transport Minister that several members of the trade union had tried to sabotage the system by vandalising property owned by the railway and even assaulting two railway employees who had come for work.

"Our unions did not engage in any such activity. Obviously, it was done by some faction trying to tarnish our image," he said.

The main issues highlighted by the ACREGU, which they claim need the immediate attention of the minister are the delays in the train service, salary anomalies, nonpayment of the distress loan, making employees permanent, the non activation of internal promotions and the 5,333 vacancies in 193 grades to be filled in the railway sector.

"Before the government speaks of providing electric trains by 2010, it needs to address the issues faced by the sector," Manawadu said.


Improvement in tourist arrivals

By Rozanne Moraes

There is a steady increase in tourist arrivals to the country, the Sri Lanka Tourist Board said.

"When comparing with the previous year's figures, there was a 40 percent drop in tourist arrivals in May, a 30 percent drop in June and a 23 percent drop in July," said Chairman, Sri Lanka Tourist Board, Renton De Alwis.

This improvement could be attributed to the various international conferences held in Sri Lanka in the last few months. This was also the reason most Colombo hotels had high occupancy rates De Alwis explained. Due to the International AIDS conference held here in August, that month too would show a higher arrival rate, he said.

"A tourist is defined as a person who enters a country in which he is non-domiciled and stays there for more than 24 hours. Hence all the conference delegates would fall into this category.

 "There is a Tourism Cess Fund at the airport, two thirds of which goes to the Airport and Aviation Authority and the rest of the money comes to the Tourist Board," said De Alwis. 

He further added "Under the new act signed by the Tourism Minister, a Tourism Development Authority, a Tourism Promotion Bureau, an Institute of Hotel and Tourism Management and a Sri Lanka Convention Centre will also be set up."


Karuna's silent admission

Responding to our story last week "Govt. hand in abductions exposed," TMVP Leader Karuna Amman has denied his relationship to Hemantha Deshapriya as stated in the article. 

However it is noteworthy that Karuna has chosen to remain silent on the revelation that his group was involved with a security forces team in the abduction for extortion racket.

 

 

 


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