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Politics


President pushes for peace
  • MR wants guarantee from Prabha
  • Anura Bandaranaike censured
  • President writes to Karu

There appear to be fresh hopes for another round of talks between the government and the LTTE after President Rajapaksa’s meeting with representatives of the co-chairs.
The President had told the ambassadors of those countries that he was keen to have a fresh look at a peace initiative, provided that the LTTE reciprocates.
However the President told the co-chairs that the present ceasefire agreement has to be reviewed in light of the present situation. The President could not allow the status quo to remain on the ground, since Sampur has become a sore point after the LTTE directed artillery fire towards the Trincomalee naval base from Sampur.
It appears to the international community that both parties need a respite since they have suffered heavily owing to the recent clashes in the north and the east.
Maybe it was with this in mind that the President invited the former special envoy Erik Solheim to get involved in a fresh peace bid. The invitation to Solheim went through the co-chairs and he is reviewing it at the moment. The President told the co-chairs that he needs a guarantee from none other than Velupillai Prabhakaran that he was willing to sit down and talk with the government.
Until that was done, the President emphasised that he could not tell the armed forces to stop their operations which is mainly defensive to protect the people and government territory.
“Get a verifiable guarantee from Prabhakaran and not from second or third rung members,” the President said. He said that Mr. Solheim can travel up to Wanni and meet the LTTE Leader.
President Rajapaksa told the delegation representing the co-chairs that the government tolerated all the political killings in the south and other acts of terrorism perpetrated by the LTTE in Colombo and elsewhere until the attack on the Army Commander on April 25, after which the government engaged the LTTE in the Sampur area. “That was also a limited operation,” he added.
“It was after the Mavil Aru incident that we decided that necessary steps should be taken to safeguard the interests of the people,” the President emphasised that all the operations undertaken by the security forces were purely on a defensive basis and reiterated the fact that the government did not violate the CFA.
The President in the same breath said that the country’s security cannot be compromised and it takes precedence over everything. He told the ambassadors that the Trincomalee Naval base had to be protected and that he could not allow the LTTE to enact a hostage drama there.
The LTTE meanwhile, is to put forward and make it clear to the Rajapaksa administration that any peace move would only be possible if the government disarms the Karuna group, which they allege is operating from government controlled areas.
During discussions with the President, the co-chairs also brought up the issue of political killings allegedly carried out by the security forces in the north and the east. They probably expressed the LTTE’s sentiments that the security forces in an organised manner is in the process of liquidating the civil leadership which has links with the LTTE.
The President also wants to put a halt to all types of political killings carried out by the LTTE in the south. All these points were discussed at length and further discussions will also take place shortly.
SLFP solutions
It is learnt that there is a marked shift in government policy and that the SLFP as an individual party would submit proposals to the All Party Conference, a solution for the crisis based on the Indian model brushing aside any kind of JVP opposition.
The government thinking appears to be that the LTTE also should be serious on the government’s peace initiatives and should not take it for a ride as had happened on previous occasions. They are of the opinion that the LTTE should also come up with a proposal for a final solution.
EU Ambassador Julian Wilson told the President that the NGOs and INGOs feel insecure and that they feel that they are not wanted in the country anymore. The President replying said that a bulk of the NGOs and the INGOs are doing yeoman service to the country except for one or two bad eggs. The President said that there was no problem in facilitating them.
Subsequent to this discussion, a meeting with the NGOs and INGOs were held on the following day, presided over by Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunge and Presidential Advisor, Basil Rajapaksa, where the problems of these organisations were discussed at length.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe also briefed the co-chairs on peace initiatives and humanitarian assistance to the displaced people in the north.
Meeting diplomats
The meeting was attended by Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar, EU Ambassador Julian Wilson and representatives from US, Japan and Germany, which is holding the current local presidency of the EU bloc.
The President on Tuesday (25) had a separate meeting with the British envoy in Sri Lanka, Dominic Chilcott. At that meeting, President Rajapaksa appraised the British envoy on the current position of the country with regard to the conflict.
Meanwhile, Indian Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran, had also visited Norway for talks with the Norwegian government on the Sri Lankan issue. He also had talks with Norwegian Special Peace Envoy Jon Hanssen Bauer. India is facing a huge problem right now due to the influx of refugees from the north of Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu, which state is exerting pressure on the centre to get involved in the Sri Lankan issue on humanitarian grounds.
On Thursday, security at the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission in Chennai was strengthened following reports that groups supportive of the Tamil cause are trying to stage demonstrations there.
Following a Presidential directive given during the meeting with the co-chairs, Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga and Presidential Advisor, Basil Rajapaksa, held a meeting with the NGOs where many issues were discussed and sorted out.
The NGO officials were pleased with the disposition of both Weeratunge and Basil Rajapaksa and told others later that it was a very useful meeting.
At the meeting, NGO officials spoke of the inconveniences they were facing due to a new directive issued by the Defence Ministry that they should possess a letter issued by the ministry on their registration as an NGO.
They told the Secretary and Rajapaksa that the security establishment had demanded this letter of registration where ever they went.
Both the Secretary and Basil Rajapaksa explained to the NGO officials that some sort of registration is necessary and it could help the government give their locations to the security forces who could give them necessary protection when needed and that it would also help the government forces to identify them as people involved in community service.
They also said that there was no proper registration of NGOs carried out after the tsunami and hence it was necessary.
Access to NGOs
Basil Rajapaksa explained that even military trainers could come under the guise of NGO officials to give training to the LTTE. Rajapaksa cited an example from a recent FBI discovery of an attempt to procure missiles for the LTTE and where they had asked the undercover agent whether they could provide training to the cadres and as to how they should handle them.
However the government agreed to give the NGOs access to the refugee camps and expressed their willingness to meet them in two weeks to review the progress and to determine whether they need more facilities to carry out their humanitarian relief work without any hindrance.
As the country steps into the third week after bloody clashes against the LTTE to secure the Mavil Aru area, the President has expressed his concern over the general security of the country.
President Rajapaksa addressing the government parliamentary group last week told his Parliamentarians to be mindful of their security when they move about freely in Colombo and elsewhere.
Unlike late President J.R. Jayewardene who called upon fellow countrymen to look after their own security, President Rajapaksa told his parliamentarians to exercise caution and take adequate measures to ensure their security and safety. In other words he told them to strengthen their security but the members were not aware whether instructions had trickled down to the security agencies to provide them with additional men and material.
“If something happens to you I cannot face your families and the country,” the President said urging his parliamentarians to take precautions.
Thereafter, the President apprised the members of the current security situation and emphasised that all the members should participate in these meetings since it was important to get their views also on what was going on in the country.
Having observed that many members were absent, he directed General Secretary Maitripala Sirisena to call for explanation from members who were not present without giving a proper excuse.
The President also referred to an issue were it was said that former President Chandrika Kumaratunga had not been invited to take part in the SLFP convention scheduled for September 1. This is the first convention that will be held under the patronage of President Rajapaksa as Party Leader.
The President inquired from General Secretary Maitripala Sirisena whether Kumaratunga had not been invited to the convention. Sirisena said he had sent two invitations by post and the third had been hand delivered and the signature of the officer who undertook to deliver the invitation to the her is on record.
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake at this stage said that he had received the invitation by post. Then the President said he had not received his invitation so far.
AB’s antics
Being satisfied with the reply given by party General Secretary, the President thought that Minister Anura Bandaranaike, his erstwhile friend, had been for a long time trying to undermine the President’s political career by creating dissension in the party when he wrote a letter to the general secretary deploring his action of not inviting former President Chandrika Kumaratunga to the convention.
An angry President inquired as to what the purpose of Mr. Bandaranaike’s letter was. The President immediately directed his office to recall Mr. Bandaranaike from Nepal since he found that Mr. Bandaranaike had left without permission his permission. The office of the President later sent a message through Deputy Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna to Mr. Bandaranaike, asking him to return immediately on a Presidential directive.
Bandaranaike had to go to Nepal to attend a conference on tourism and wrote a letter to President Rajapaksa seeking permission for the same. But before the President gave him the green light, Bandaranaike left for Bangkok on a private holiday, hoping to go to Nepal from there.
In the meantime, Bandaranaike wrote a letter to the general secretary of the party blaming him for not inviting Kumaratunga to the party convention. Mahinda loyalists in the SLFP are of the opinion that this has been purposely orchestrated by Bandaranaike to create dissension within the party.
They say that it was a cover up for President Chandrika Kumaratunga not to attend the convention, as she is now holidaying in Peru. The letter would also serve to build opinion that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is undermining her position, thereby making things uncomfortable for Rajapaksa within the party.
The Presidential directive stunned Anura Bandaranaike because he never expected Rajapaksa to react so aggressively. He made a couple of calls to friends in Colombo to ascertain this position and on certain occasions denied that Alagiyawanna was in fact contacting him to convey the President’s message.
Now Bandaranaike is trying to accuse Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism Dr. Ramunjan for not getting him covering approval to participate in the Bimsteck Conference in Nepal. Ranmujan has conveyed to confidants that while he had nothing to do with the incident, Bandaranaike had sent the President a letter explaining his position, accusing Ranmujan for the bungling.
Sowing discord
Just before he left for Bangkok, he summoned all his supporters to Horagolla and told the organisers in Attanagalla to boycott the party convention since the SLFP had conveniently forgotten to invite Kumaratunga.
He told them that the party had been ungrateful towards the former leader who gave life to the SLFP after the party had been in political oblivion for 17 years. Mahinda loyalists in the party are mocking Bandaranaike saying that though he had attended a tourism parley in Nepal, he never sighted his ministerial office in Colombo. They question why the President was tolerating him by giving him a luxurious house such as Visumpaya and a huge security outfit at state expense.
He has not gone to his ministerial office even once over the last three months, one SLFP stalwart told this columnist, adding that it was unfair of Bandaranaike to send stinkers of that nature to the general secretary of the party without clarifying matters.
They say that while Bandaranaike is globe-trotting his Chairman is also running amok creating problems for the tourist industry. The industry people are lamenting that the amendments to the Tourism Act to create a Tourism Authority has not been gazetted so far, although the matter had been finalised some time ago.
In this backdrop, the UNP group also met under the chairmanship of Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya. Jayasuriya mentioned a few things to the UNP parliamentarians which he discussed with the President. UNP Assistant General Secretary, Tissa Attanayake told the group that although the press has carried reports about the meeting the UNP delegation had with the President, it was a lopsided version of what had really taken place. “Everything has not been told to the press. Under the circumstances, the UNP group thought that it would be better to issue a press release giving details of what transpired at the meeting.”
Jayasuriya told the group that he inquired from President Rajapaksa about the fighting that is taking place in the North and the East. He had told the President that even if the government had taken a decision to fight the LTTE, the country should be told the truth. “There are hundreds of bodies in the battle field and they are not coming to their relatives,” Jayasuriya had said and emphasised that the truth should be told to the people and not supressed.
The general feeling among UNPers is that the government is trying to keep things from the opposition and the people of the country.
Jayasuriya appraising the UNP group said that he had told the President that the voter base of the UNP would not shift if one or two UNPers crossed over. He also told the group that he had told the President that he would not get the support of the UNP by taking one or two UNPers occasionally.
“If you want to get the full support of the UNP, the best thing to do is to come clean,” Jayasuriya has told the President.
The UNP had questioned the sudden closure of schools and the government asking for help from India etc. to which the government had not replied directly. The question posed by the UNP on whether there are foreign pilots operating along with the Air Force went unanswered, the UNP delegation who met the President told the group meeting.
TV fiascos
Besides this, the UNP group had discussed the TV talk shows telecast by the state run Rupavahini, ITN and the private electronic media. UNP parliamentarian T. Maheswaran, had told former Minister Bandula Gunawardena to exercise caution when he participated in TV talk shows. Maheswaran told Gunawardena to protect the party and the individual concerned when participating in TV debates. Gunawardena in response told the group that when he was invited to participate he had been told something to which he was agreeable but when he went there he had found that the show was completely different to what he had been led to believe earlier.
Maheswaran was referring to a television debate telecast over state run Rupavahini, where Wimal Weerawansa and Deputy Minister Sripathi Sooriyarachchi launched a scathing attack on the UNP. Bandula Gunawardena, the sole representative of the UNP was helpless in the face of the barrage. Maheswaran told Gunawardena “We are there to face these sort of attackers. We know how to deal with them and speak the language they understand. If you are unable to face them you should not go. We are there to face them.”
At this stage, former Minister Ravi Karunanayake chipped in to say that irrespective of the subject of debate, the person participating in TV shows should protect the UNP and the individuals concerned. He said most of these debates are orchestrated to sling mud at the UNP and they should not get caught in this kind of government trap.
In the meantime, it is learnt that UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who is now in Europe has sent two emissaries to talk and settle matters with UNP National Organiser S.B. Dissanayake. The emissaries were Dinesh Weerakkody and Mihira de Alwis who requested Dissanayake to work along with Wickremesinghe in party matters.
Dissanayake replying said “We have differences. We thrash it out within the precincts of the party and we respect him as the leader. We do not do anything detrimental to him outside party forums and there is no problem working with him.” However Dissanayake said that whatever that transpires at party forums appeared in newspapers. “I don’t disclose them to outsiders. I don’t know how these have been leaked out to newspapers,” Dissanayake said.
At the same time there is a move by some top rung UNP members to make Rukman Senanayake UNP Chairman Tissa Attanayake, General Secretary. Present Party Chairman Mallik Samarawickrema is the prime mover behind this. Samarawickrema had recently hosted Tissa Attanayake and former Minister Lakshman Seneviratne to dinner at the Trans Asia Hotel to map out the strategy to appoint Rukman Senanayake chairman and Attanayake, the general secretary. But it appears now that there is going to be vehement opposition to this move since it was originally agreed to appoint Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya as the Executive Chairman of the Party. Party seniors prefer Karu Jayasuriya to hold this post while they insist that Jayawickrema Perera should be appointed the General Secretary of the party.
Besides the two group meetings, the parliamentary committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) also met last week to discuss the issue of privatising the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation. Minister Anura Yapa was in the Chair when PERC Chairman Nihal Amarasekera appeared before COPE.
Stifled
Amarasekera told COPE that the government was deprived of Rs. 3,100 million when the Insurance Corporation deal was sealed by the former UNP government. He told COPE that he was stifled by Finance Ministry Secretary P.B. Jayasundera and Attorney General K.C. Kamalasabayson and he had written to Ernst and Young and personally to Deva Rodrigo who was the senior partner of Cooper and Lybrand, but there was no response.
He told COPE that this was done by moving current assets to fixed assets. Deputy Minister Sripathi Sooriyarachchi who was also present at the meeting told COPE that he had also submitted a report to cabinet on the matter but there was no response.
Anura Yapa took the Chair at this meeting in place of Wijedasa Rajapakse who was late to come. But the UNP now feels that there is an organised attempt on the side of the government to attack business tycoon Harry Jayawardena.
COPE also went into the activities of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and seismic studies done by them to explore oil in the coast around Sri Lanka.
At the meeting, Secretary to the Ministry of Petroleum and Petroleum Resources Development A.P.A. Gunasekara said that it would be difficult to work with the SEMA (Strategic Enterprises Management Agency) which he said was interfering with the ministry without proper authority. “How can I work independently, SEMA is interfering in our work in an unprecedented manner. What is SEMA? It is a non-incorporated body; they are telling us to cancel this tender and that tender which is beyond their mandate.”
“In the circumstances what are we to do?” he questioned.
There appears to be an ongoing battle between the Secretary to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources Development and the Chairman of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation Jaliya Medagama, who says that he was working according to the directives given by the SEMA.
CPC profits
Ravi Karunanayake of the UNP who was present at the meeting told the Secretary and the Chairman that the people of this country are suffering while the Corporation is making thumping profits mainly because of the corruption in the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation.
The JVP also was taken by surprise when they saw the balance sheet for 2005, where the petroleum corporation had made profits amounting to 7000 million rupees. All were of the opinion that there was no justification in government raising oil prices. However the Chairman of the Petroleum Corporation told COPE that petrol prices had to be raised by seven rupees in the coming weeks because it was a main revenue earner for the government of Sri Lanka.
The Committee on Public Enterprises once again perused the agreement reached between the government of Sri Lanka and the Norwegian Oil Company on oil exploration in the sea basin around Sri Lanka. The argument of the JVP that the agreement was signed a day before the UNP sponsored ceasefire was nullified by UNP’s Ravi Karunanayake, who pointed out that it was signed during the tenure of the People’s Alliance government before Ranil Wickremesinghe took office as the Prime Minister under President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
SEMA which is now proposing to cancel the agreement is facing problems with the ministry secretary who has pointed out any cancellation would cost the government at least US $7 million, which he pointed out was waste of public money.
On the submissions made by the Secretary to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and Development, COPE has ordered an immediate report on the matter for further examination
COPE Chairman Wijedasa Rajapakse wanted to get in to the bottom of the problems relating to SEMA and the relevant ministry and on numerous occasions posed the question as to why the ministry succumbed to the pressure of SEMA when it was not an incorporated body.
Rajapakse may not have realised that SEMA was directly under the President and that those directives are trickling down from Presidential authority.
It appears now that there is a chain reaction to what he is doing as the Chairman of COPE Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena of the UNP is posing a verbal question in Parliament as to whether Rajapakse is working as a legal consultant to the government institutions and the fees he is getting from these institutions.
Some UNPers and members of government think that this has a direct bearing to the questions and clarifications he wanted from the Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal on financial institutions.