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Eighteen bystanders were injured when a bomb exploded yesterday in the rear section of a bus which had been emptied of people in Mount Lavinia. Picture shows the bus which was reduced to a charred tin hulk following the explosion. Inset: An injured person being rushed into hospital Photos by Thushara Dasanayaka

 

Bus bomb in Mt. Lavinia
injures 18

 

ICG blames LTTE for
resumption of fighting

 

PC poll in east in August

 

Mihin loses A-321 due to default

 

Business sector against
electricity hike

 

Gas going up again

 

 

 

 

 

 

JVP, Govt. trade corruption charges

The battle between the government and the JVP intensified last week with ministers and senior JVP members trading corruption charges and threatening to continue the fight to a finish.

The battle began when JVP Polonnaruwa District Parliamentarian S.K. Subasinghe accused Agriculture Minister Maithripala Sirisena and his brother of manipulating the price of rice in the market. He accused the Sirisena family of monopolising the rice market.

Minister Sirisena responded last week by accusing Subasinghe of collecting money from his businessmen brothers and accused the latter of also accepting bribes.

Sirisena made these accusations at a public meeting in Polonnaruwa.

Sirisena said that Subasinghe was in the habit of collecting money from his brothers and that the mud slinging campaign against him started when one of his brothers had refused to pay a sum of money requested by the JVP member.

He also said the JVPer had requested for a donation of dhal from Deputy Minister Siripala Gamlath, who is also being accused by the Marxists of manipulating the rice market.

According to Sirisena, Gamlath had asked Subasinghe to collect the dhal from a trader in Polonnaruwa and the JVP member had then taken five gunny bags (miti pahak).

He challenged the JVP to file a case against him if the charges were false.

"If anyone decides to attack us politically they would do well to remember that we too would retaliate," Sirisena said in Polonnaruwa.

Meanwhile JVP Politburo Member and Parliamentarian K.D. Lalkantha addressing a party rally in Anuradhapura last Monday hit back stating the JVP was ready for a face-to-face confrontation with the Minister who had accused Subasinghe of collecting money from businessmen.

"They have asked us to come for a face to face confrontation. We are ready. Who is saying this? It is that fellow, Bambuwa, who has said this," Lalkantha said.

The JVPer further said that they did not take notice of what some scum (haalparuwa) had to say.

Lalkantha said that when corruption within the government was being highlighted, their response has been to attack the messenger.

With the battle intensifying, JVP politburo member and Parliamentarian, Anura Kumara Dissanayake last Tuesday addressing a media briefing in Colombo accused the Agriculture Minister of trying to cover up losses incurred by the Fertiliser Corporation by sacking the chairman.

Dissanayake said that apart from sacking the chairman, there were irregularities that have cost the institute millions of rupees.

He said that the JVP had accepted the challenge to come for a confrontation and this was the first salvo.

Meanwhile, JVP Parliamentarian, Premasiri Manage opened another flank Friday, accusing Special Projects Minister, Mahinda Wijesekera and his wife of cheating the government by not making the stipulated payments when engaging in a business endeavour.

Manage said that Wijesekera's wife holds 50% of Bron Bridge Fisheries Private Limited and so far the company had not paid the stipulated 25% of each harvest to the Fisheries Corporation.

Hitting back, Minister Wijesekera accused Manage of earning his living by breaking into banks, giving contracts to kill people and lying to the people.

Manage observed that although the fish caught by Bron Bridge Fisheries Private Limited have to be off loaded in Modera, they are currently being off loaded in Galle, which was against the law.

The JVP member also said that since Bron Bridge Fisheries Private Limited was off loading their harvest in Galle, the local fishermen have been adversely affected since their fish was not being purchased by vendors.

Manage charged that the only intention of Wijesekara and his wife was to get the local fishermen out of the market and create a monopoly.

Responding to the allegation, Wijesekera said that the company had BoI approval and that his wife indeed held 50% of the shares of Bron Bridge Fisheries Private Limited.

However, he said that he was not cheating the government.

Wijesekera explained that the fish caught by Bron Bridge Fisheries Private Limited were not local fish as they are caught from international waters and was mainly for the export market.

According to Wijesekera, the BoI agreement has permitted the company to off load its harvest in Galle. He also said that the company paid Rs.10 lakhs as VAT charges and the profit from exporting the fish is also paid back to the government.


Bus bomb in Mt. Lavinia injures 18

By Amantha Perera and Thushara Dasanayaka

Eighteen bystanders were injured when a powerful parcel bomb ripped apart an empty passenger bus in Mount Lavinia yesterday morning.

Vigilant commuters prevented high deaths and casualties in the fifth attack targeting a bus since January 16, when the bomb exploded around 10.55 am in the rear section of the bus which had been emptied of people.

Attentive passengers had earlier alerted the conductor of the bus of an unattended bag, kept under a seat on the driver’s side of the bus near the rear. It was traveling from Moratuwa to Colombo when the discovery was made.

“Once we realised that there was a bag and no owner, I asked the driver to stop, and told everybody to get off,” Ajith Peiris who was a traveling in the bus said. “We asked people to move  away from the parked bus and called 911 also,” Peiris who works in the Moratuwa municipal council said.

“The presence of the parcel was realised just before the Mount Lavinia Junction near the colour lights. The conductor was in front and a passenger told him,” Mervin Silva another passenger said. The conductor had thereafter inquired whether the mystery bag belonged to anyone but none of the passengers had claimed the bag. The female passenger who had first noticed the bag had then proceeded to get off. “The driver took the bus to the bus-stand at the junction and parked it just after the stand,” Silva said.  He said that the explosion took place less than 10 minutes after the bus was stopped and while the driver and the conductor waited for the Police to arrive.

The bomb had been inside a black briefcase like bag on the third seat from the rear according to the conductor of the bus Samptah Silva and it had been placed under the seat. The location of the explosion, just above the rear wheels corresponded with the location of the bag he said.

The bus bearing registration number WP NT-5665 had caught fire soon after the explosion. Damages to the vehicle were far greater than in the Dambulla blast and it had been reduced to a charred tin hulk. The rear of the bus, which took the bulk of the blast, was ripped open with metal sheeting on the roof pointing skywards. Parts of the roof had hit the electricity wires overhead and the area suffered a power interruption soon after the blast. Bystanders recovered the rear number plate of the bus from about 20 meters away after the blast.

Most of the injured were receiving treatment for shock. Ten males and seven females were injured in the attack along with an eighteen-month-old infant who was treated for shock at the Kalubowila Hospital.

Windows in buildings near the blast had been shattered and a motorcycle near the bus too had been severely damaged.

The government blamed the attack on the Tigers and said that it was another attempt at targeting civilians. “However, the terrorists’ beastly intention to commit carnage against civilians has been foiled due to the vigilance of the civilians themselves,” the Defence Ministry said.


ICG blames LTTE for resumption of fighting

By Amantha Perera

The Tigers should take the blame for the resumption of fighting with the government forces that has led to hundreds being killed within the first two months of this year, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report last week.

The ICG also faulted President Mahinda Rajapakse for allowing the extremist parties to dominate his policies.

"Much of the blame for the resumption in violence lies with the LTTE; its ceasefire violations and abuses of the population under its control pushed the government towards war," ICG said in a report titled Sri Lanka's Return To War: Limiting The Damage.

The Brussels based ICG said that the Tiger strategy to provoke the government into retaliatory strikes may have worked too well for their own good.

"The Tiger strategy was to shore up internal support by provoking a Sinhala nationalist reaction; it worked, although the insurgents may come to regret their approach."

The report also said that President Mahinda Rajapakse had allowed nationalists parties to dominate his policies. "President Mahinda Rajapakse has also overplayed his hand. Relying on support from Sinhala extremists, he has let them set an agenda that allows only for a military approach."

The report said that donors and the international community should move beyond limiting their criticism to statements. "Governments and multilateral organisations that have traditionally supported Sri Lanka should move beyond expressions of displeasure at the abrogation of the ceasefire agreement."

The ICG also warned that the current phase of the war was the worse ever with a brutal counter insurgency and the total militarisation of areas under Tiger control - "The current conflict is worse than what preceded the 2002 ceasefire. The government's counter-insurgency campaign is more brutal and indiscriminate, the terror and criminal activities of its Tamil proxy forces more extensive and blatant."

The ICG also said, "The Tigers have fully militarised life in areas under their control and returned to brutal attacks on Sinhalese civilians, intent on provoking even worse retaliation."

The ICG added that the 2002 ceasefire had run its course and recommended a fresh approach to negotiations and possible dialogue. It said that, "The Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donors Conference (Norway, Japan, the US and the EU) no longer have, as such, a clear peacemaking role; and there needs to be deepened cooperation between India, the EU and the US, with the goal of eventually developing a more politically powerful contact group."

The report also sought international cooperation to close down the LTTE international financial network and to gather evidence for possible prosecution of Karuna in the UK.

ICG also called for target sanctions against the Tigers and the TMVP for continued child recruitment.


PC poll in east in August

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The government will hold a separate provincial council election to elect members to a newly established Eastern Provincial Council by August, Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister, Janaka Bandara Tennakoon said.

He told The Sunday Leader that holding the Batticaloa local election was only a precursor to 'test the waters' and promised to make all arrangements to hold a 'free' PC poll by August. "That will be a historic moment. It will also complete a process that we have just begun.

"It began with the liberation of the east. Next comes the election process. It will also be the first time in 21 years that a separate PC would be created in the east. It will be a separate entity that reflects the ethnic balance of the unique province," he said.

Minister Tennakoon added that all these years the northeast were amalgamated under the 13th Amendment and was considered a single entity, much against the wishes of the Sinhalese and Muslims. "The required referendum was never held in 21 years and now the Supreme Court has decided to separate the two provinces," he added.

The Minister further explained that fruits of economic development, long denied to the people of the east since war broke out would now become possible when power is devolved to the province.


Mihin loses A-321 due to default

Mihin Lanka has lost one of its aircraft due to non-payment of the lease.

Mihin has lost an A-321 aircraft taken on lease from Best Air, Turkey as the owners had taken back the aircraft for non-payment of the lease. Mihin Lanka leased the aircraft registered under I-TUB in Turkey on March 26, 2007.

Meanwhile, it is also learnt that the A-320 aircraft leased out by Mihin from Bulgaria registered under Z-BHB, is also to be taken back by its owners in April for the non-payment of dues.


Business sector against electricity hike

By Shezna Shums

The business community has warned of the adverse impact the proposed high electricity tariffs would have on the country's export and local markets.

Chairman, National Chamber of Commerce, D. Easwaran told The Sunday Leader that the increasing cost of electricity will affect the exports sector badly.

Sri Lanka being one of the leading exporters of tea bags will see its production costs go up steeply because the increase in electricity rates will increase the costs of tea processing, packing, printing and also packaging.

"If it is a 40% increase in electricity rates then the price of everything that depends on power will also increase in cost by that margin," explained Easwaran. The increase in electricity prices would have an impact on exports such as garments, tea and other items heavily dependent on electricity, he said.

"This in turn will make Sri Lankan tea more expensive and thus be in a difficult position in the world market," Easwaran added.

He explained that given the present high prices of materials, an increase in electricity costs would make local exports even more expensive.

"Sri Lanka is number one when it come to the exporting of tea bags, and this position will be vulnerable if production costs increase steeply," said Easwaran.

Chairman, Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Nawaz Rajabdeen said that people were finding it difficult to bear even the present electricity rates.

"If electricity is to be increased again, this will cause a series of increases and will affect the cost of almost everything. The government needs to find a solution or appoint experts to find a solution to provide cheaper electricity," he said.

"If electricity prices are to be increased, Sri Lankans may become the highest paying electricity users in the Asian region," highlighted Rajabdeen.

The increase in electricity tariffs will affect a cross section of people as even the prices of food will increase in price.

Rajabdeen urged the government to find a solution to bring the cost of electricity down, or to bring in experts from some of the neighbouring countries to help find ways of reducing the cost of electricity.

He added that the Ceylon Electricity Board should bring down experts to help revamp the institution as well as to help find a solution to reduce the increasing cost of electricity in the country.


Gas going up again

By Nirmala Kannangara

Despite the decline in world oil prices, domestic gas prices are to be increased once again in March, The Sunday Leader learns.

Managing Director, Laugfs Holdings Limited, Thilak de Silva told The Sunday Leader that although the global oil prices have been on the decline, another price hike in domestic gas cylinders was inevitable.

"Although the fuel prices in the world market is declining since the end of January, Laugfs made an application to the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) requesting for another price hike from March according to the pricing formula. The gas price revision takes place once in two months and the January price revision was based on the October and November fuel prices in the world market," de Silva said.

According to de Silva, although the fuel prices started declining since end January the price of a domestic gas cylinder still has to be increased in line with the December and January prices in the world market.

"In December and January the prices of fuel reached its peak and hence our request for another price increase. The CAA would give their approval during the course of this week," de Silva further stated.  

However, de Silva said that the impending price hikes would be much lesser than that of the January price revision.

Meanwhile, Director Finance, Shell Gas Company, Rimoe Saldin told The Sunday Leader that Shell Gas too has made an application to the CAA according to the pricing formula but declined to comment on the decision.

 "Since Shell does not know the CAA decision I am not in a position to comment on domestic gas prices. I  could comment by the end of this week, once we hear from  CAA," added Saldin.


Appeal for Help

Naleen Jayawickrama is in need of financial assistance to undergo an operation for a kidney transplant. He had a kidney transplant six years ago and since then he is being undergoing medical treatment from doctors in India. After the surgery he was in good health for three years and the discovery of the rejection of the transplanted kidney was diagnosed in the year 2004.

He does not have adequate savings nor is he able to take a large enough loan to prepare for the unexpected second kidney transplantation which has now become imminent and should be done within a month according to doctors' advice in order to avoid any further health complications. He has just started the dialysis. He has received the promise of a kidney by a generous donor.

The important step next is to collect a sum of Rs 2 million which is the cost of a kidney re-plantation in India including the cost of the surgery, air travel, medical and hospital, and accommodation expenses in Chennai for a month. He may get around Rs. 300,000 and Rs.100,000 from the President's Fund of Sri Lanka and ETF Board, respectively.

Those who wish to help can contact him on +94 (0)714-022 9449 (mobile), +94 (0)112716017 (residence) or email him on Naleen.jayawickrama@gmail.com

 Residence address: 33/1, Dhammadhara Road, Ratmalana, Sri Lanka.


Escalation of violence could effect half a million people in 2008 - UN

By Amantha Perera

The escalation of attacks and clashes between government forces and the Tigers could effect as much as half a million people within this year, the latest assessment report prepared by the UN country team in Colombo said.

"The document calls for a preparedness level for up to 500,000 conflict-affected individuals comprising IDPs, returnees and economically-affected persons," the Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP) report compiled by the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) country team and released on February 22 said.

The report said that the UN and other agencies require an additional US$ 145 million for projects proposed in consultation with the government. "The funding requirements for 105 projects (proposed by 25 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), 12 UN agencies, and the International Organisation for Migration [IOM]) total US$ 175.4 million, out of which $29.2 million has already been committed." A fortnight back the World Food Programme said that it required US$ 44 million to keep its Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO) that provides food to close to a million in the north east functioning without a breakdown. The CHAP report said that fighting in 2007 had displaced 308,000 and said that there were fears of similar displacements this year.

"While it is hoped that a political settlement can be found to end the conflict in the coming months, the CHAP is based on the planning assumption that there will be significant returns during 2008, alongside displacements similar in scale to those in 2007," it said.

"In the latter part of 2007, as the conflict affected more of Sri Lanka's northern districts, the risks increased for IDPs and other conflict-affected groups in those areas. The CHAP is based on the assumption that as the Government acts on its stated intention to disarm the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the conflict in Sri Lanka will continue and intensify, and even if it were to slow down or end during the year, there would remain very significant humanitarian needs to be met in the areas of conflict," the report added.

Areas of assistance includes assistance for displaced and return communities in the areas of protection, shelter, food, water and environmental sanitation, food aid, nutrition, health, education, food security (including agriculture and fisheries), economic recovery and infrastructure, and logistics. There are over 170,000 IDPs, displaced after January 2006 in the north east of the country, while an additional 83,000 displaced before December 2005 also remain in Jaffna. 


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