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Politics


Mahinda wonders if the April prophesies had come true
 

  • President speaks to Mangala at the airport
  • UNP to keep Mangala-Sripathi issue alive
  • President likely to suspend CMC
  • Mahroof under fire from the UNP

The LTTE’s air attack on the Air Force base at Katunayake adjacent to the Bandaranaike International Airport jolted the country early in the week. The air attack was the talking point in the discussions of the military as well as in the political circles throughout the week.
The country woke up on Monday morning to the shocking news of the LTTE’s air capability demonstrated for the first time although there were intelligence reports and speculation in the media that the LTTE was in the process of building an air capability using small-lightweight aircraft.
By strange coincidence several VIPs were also present at the Airport on the day of the attack. Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe arrived in the country from Bangkok after celebrating his 58th birthday in Phuket with wife Maitree and several other close friends. The Opposition Leader arrived in a Cathay Pacific flight sometime before the LTTE attack. However, Wickremesinghe had left the Airport by the time the attack took place. An Editor of a newspaper and a well known female journalist, close to the Opposition Leader, who were also in Phucket to celebrate Wickremesinghe’s birthday, arrived at Katunayake shortly after Wickremesinghe left. The explosion at the Katunayake Air Force base took place a few minutes later.
When UNP’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Ravi Karunanayake telephoned Mr. Wickremesinghe, in the dead of the night to inform him of the attack at Katunayake SLAF base, Mr Wickremesinghe was alarmed and told him that he had just returned from the airport. However, Karunanayake explained to Mr. Wickremesinghe that the alleged attack by the ‘Air Tigers’ had taken place after Mr. Wickremesinghe left the air port.
It was a rare coincidence that some important people were at the Bandaranaike International Air Port that night including Minister A.H.M. Fowzie and deposed Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
Petroleum Minister A.H.M. Fowzie was expected to leave for Egypt for an Islamic conference. But the person who was most affected due to the uneasy situation that arose following the attack was non other than former minister Mangala Samaraweera. The former minister is under the political spotlight at the moment. Samaraweera was leaving to Singapore with his mother Khema Samaraweera who was expected to receive medical treatment. Samaraweera who is used to traveling through the VIP gates was seen pushing his mother on a wheel chair and proceeding through normal channels this time around.
Samaraweera and his mother had almost boarded the flight to Singapore when the incident took place and the entire airport was in panic. Passengers were immediately instructed to lie on the ground and brace themselves. Samaraweera accompanying his elderly mother had to first move her wheelchair near a wall for safety and thereafter take precautionary measures.
Expected to board the same flight as Samaraweera was a close friend of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Rohan Welivita. He phoned the President as the events were unfolding and informed him that Mangala Samaraweera was also there with his mother. The President who was unable to get through to Samaraweera’s phone had asked Welivita to hand over his phone to Samaraweera. The President spoke with Samaraweera for some time and inquired after his safety and how he was. Thereafter the President spoke to Mrs. Khema Samaraweera as well.
The President was also in contact with Airport authorities instructing them to bring the situation back to normal. After the initial flights arriving to the country were diverted to airports in India, authorities were able to commence operations at the airport by 3 am.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa also contacted JVP parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa soon after he heard of the LTTE attack on the Katunayake Air force Base.
“Wimal, did you hear of the attack,” the President asked
The JVP leaders were already discussing about the incident. JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe, Parliamentarians Tilvin Silva, Wimal Weerawansa, and Anura Kumara Dissanayake were at the meeting.
“But the air force has not suffered a big damage” the president went on to say.
“What matters is how they returned to Killinochchi after the attack” said Wimal Weerawansa.
“It is just the matter that concerns me. I will take stern action on this. However, I want to meet the party leaders and explain to them about the situation,” the President said.
Wimal Weerawansa said it was a welcome move.
The President had also spoken to Jeyaraj Fernandopulle who briefed him from his residence in Welihena, Kochchikade of what was going on at Katunayake. He said that he had heard the sound of guns but there was silence shortly afterwards.
The threat to the country’s sovereignty and the political implications arising from the existence of an LTTE air capability have seen political parties airing various views blaming each other for letting the LTTE build up such a force. The government holding a press conference on the very afternoon of the attack was quick to blame the UNP and the Ceasefire Agreement for the LTTE’s air capability. The UNP too refuting the allegations and citing intelligence reports pointed out that the LTTE had acquired parts of the airplane and built the runaway during the previous People’s Alliance regime. The UNP also called on the President and the government to resign on the inability to prevent the air attack
Thirteen political parties met with the President for a discussion on Monday evening regarding the attack and the future action the government should take to face the LTTE’s air threat. The JVP was critical of the government and the Air Force for failing to prevent the LTTE from attacking the Air Force base and thereafter letting the LTTE aircraft to escape. JVP leader Somawansa Ameresinghe posed many questions regarding the military misadventure. UNP dissidents, Public administration and Home Affairs Minister Karu Jayasuriya and Tourism Minister Milinda Moragoda wanted clarifications made on the matter when former Air Force Commander and Chief of Defence Staff Donald Perera said that they did not have enough equipment to monitor the movement.
He said that the radar system acquired by the Air Force from India was not sufficient to detect low flying aircraft. The President more or less defended the armed forces in the face of the JVP criticism. The President said that the terrorists were not able to fulfill their targets because of the diligence of the Air Force and the security forces. “Everyone should pay attention to those who are trying to give false interpretations to the effort in defeating terrorism. By now we have done a lot to rid people of terrorism and usher in peace. We believe that all of us should work in unison to bring a solution to this problem. Criticizing the security forces is an obstacle to this task,” the President said.
The President also met Editors of national newspapers to explain the present situation, particularly in the light of the LTTE air attack. The President who was speaking freely with the Editors said with a smile on his face that when he heard about an explosion at the airbase early Monday morning, he had wondered for a moment whether the April prophesies that many politicians were expecting had come true. “There are April Queens,” he said with a laugh and added: “Lets see what happens.” The President was referring to certain astrological beliefs that have come to take precedence among many politicians in the country of late that several vital political changes are going to take place after a planetary change in mid-April.
Addressing the Editors he said that the Air Force has enough air power to neutralize LTTE’s air capability. “This LTTE air capability is a new phenomenon. It is a new phenomenon in international terrorism as well and brings about a new aspect to terrorism,” he said.
Speaking about how the international media reported on the incident President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that that CNN and BBC had said that the Airport had been attacked when in fact it was the Air Force base that had been attacked by the LTTE. The President had called the local correspondent of CNN early in the morning and requested him to correct the report. But the same report had been used in the news bulletin at eight o’clock as well.
The President asked the editors to give a fair and balanced view of what is taking place. He made a request not to discourage the security forces since things have reached a critical stage. “Anyone is free to criticise me and my brothers. But when criticising the security forces it should be done with care,” he said.
On the arrest and release of Maubima journalist Munisami Parameswari, the President said that it had been done on the information available at the time. “We did not know who Parameswari was. But when her accomplice was a suicide bomber it was natural for the police investigators to arrest her,” he said and added that both Sinha Ratnatunga and Victor Ivan had called him regarding the issue and queried whether there was any evidence available against her. The President went on to say that there were no threats against the journalists but the government has to check on situations arising from security issues. “If I don’t take precaution then you would question me,” he noted.
The President also said that he had called Mangala Samaraweera on the day of the attack since he heard from the airport that Samaraweera was waiting to board a flight that day. He said that he spoke with Samaraweera’s mother too.
President Rajapaksa said that he did not have any problem with Samaraweera but that Samaraweera should withdraw the statement he made that an abduction takes place every five hours in the country. “I do not have anything against Samaraweera but as the foreign minister he should defend the country and not create more problems,” he noted. The President also noted that there is no truth in what Samaraweera had said referring to abductions and disappearances.
Speaking about Sripathi Sooriyarachchi, President Rajapaksa said that he was in the possession of a letter sent by a person with an article published in the Sunday Leader newspaper sometime ago with serious allegations leveled against Sooriyarachchi. “I have put it aside as the person who sent the letter had also sent it to the CID. I do not have to do anything since the person who sent it had done the needful by sending it to the CID,” he said.
The newspaper article referred to by the President was written by Fredrika Jansz titled “Sripathi’s dirty secrets” and appeared on June 5 (Sunday)2005. In the newspaper article the wife of one of Sooriyarachchi’s slain bodyguards, had made serious allegations against him in connection with the death of her husband.
The President also told the editors that although there were several attacks on the airport and the SLAF base in 2001 when Chandrika Kumaratunga was president there was nobody at that time who called for her resignation as well as the resignation of the Defense Ministry Secretary.
The magnitude of the damage was huge but the opposition was “mum” the President said.
He said it was Lakshman Kadirgamar, the former minister of Foreign Affairs, who brought to the notice of the international community of LTTE’s air capability and told the whole world that it was a dangerous phenomenon.
But when someone queried from the President why Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama down played the whole issue when he met with the foreign correspondents, the President said that this was untrue and added that Bogollagama had chosen his words carefully.
Besides all these, the President was preoccupied with the idea of resolving the ethnic crisis in the country once and for all. The government is under obligation to the international community to put forward its proposals for a peaceful resolution to the ethnic crisis before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year festival which will be celebrated on April 13 and 14. The government’s proposals are likely to come in the form of SLFP proposals and are likely to be tabled at the All Party Representative Committee.
The President’s view on a resolution to the ethnic conflict is that despite him being elected on the vote of the Sinhala people he would put forward a reasonable solution. He was of the opinion that almost all Tamils other than a few friends had preferred the UNP to the PA. His thinking is that in the future too even if he grants a solution to the ethnic problem the Tamils would not vote for him.
The President had told some of his friends that if he provides a solution it might not be popular with those who voted for him and as a result he would lose some votes. However, he had also said that he would be committed to the pledge he made to offer a reasonable solution to the ethnic problem as President of the country. He had said that the SLFP’s proposals to the All Party Representative Committee will be presented shortly.
Meanwhile the UNP Political Affairs Committee met on Thursday. The UNP was basically in a jubilant mood since the thinking of most of the members was that their strategy to capture power is in motion. The Political Affairs Committee discussed the current political situation in the country and the Mangala Samaraweera, - Sripathi Sooriyarachchi issue. The committee decided that it should keep the issue etched in the minds of the people since some feared that it would be eclipsed by the approaching Avurudu season. Thinking that the issue would sink into oblivion with the upcoming festive season they decided to appoint a committee to keep the issue in the news as it has paid political dividends to the UNP.
It was seen at the meeting that the party’s recently appointed Colombo district leader Ravi Karunanayake is playing a major role in all these issues and is closer to party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe more than before. Karunanayake raised the issue of Mohammed Mahroof leaking information about money from the Lafarge Cement Company being channeled to the Ports Ministry.
The CID last week filed action in the Colombo Magistrate Courts on the misappropriation of twelve million rupees given by Lafarge Cement Company to the Ports Authority for using a land belonging to the authority. The CID also sought the court’s permission to check with the banks as to who had deposited the cheque and in which account and what had happened to the money. The courts had given due permission to proceed on the matter.
Speaking at the Political Affairs Committee Ravi Karunanayake raised the issue and asked why Mohamed Mahroof, who is the local agent for Lafarge, was raising such issues when Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathi Sooriyarachchi are helpful to the UNP.
It seems now as if Mahroof has been discarded by the UNP given his connections with Milinda Moragoda.
Meanwhile it is learnt that the Milroy Perera committee report on the UNP’s CMC debacle, which has been kept under wraps for several months, is to be made public. It was alleged in the report that the UNP nomination papers for the Colombo Municipal Council were tampered with by Mahroof on the instructions of Milinda Moragoda who has now joined the government and is holding the Tourism portfolio. The Elections Commissioner rejected the UNP’s nomination list since there was a discrepancy with the election laws where the person whose name was newly inserted was under-aged.
When Ravi Karunanayake raised the issue about Mahroof, Lakshman Kiriella queried whether Karunanayake is trying to rid Mahroof also from the party. Ravi Karunanayake is undoubtedly working hard to bring the UNP back into power and weed out all undesirable elements.
Ravi Karunanayake also made it a point to congratulate Akila Viraj Kariyawasam who was invited by Ranil Wickremesinghe to attend the Political Affairs Committee meeting. Karunanayake commended Kariyawasam for carrying out a poster campaign saying “Dhooshanaya Bheeshanaya Saha Rajapaksa Poshanaya (Corruption, Terror and nurturing the Rajapaksas).
There are also cracks appearing in the UNP with a cold war breaking out amongst most of its prominent members. One such case is in connection with the new UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake. Some party seniors complain that Attanayake is inaccessible and they have to go through a conduit to reach him. One such conduit they say is former Airport Authority Chairman Gamini Abeyratne or “Taxi Abey.”
The political affairs committee also decided to hold mammoth rallies in the electorates of the 18 dissidents who joined the government. Meanwhile a meeting to be held by the UNP on April 4 at Kosgashandiya was discussed at a meeting chaired by party chairman Rukman Senanayake. Mohamed Mahroof and several local government UNP representatives were also present at the meeting. To show the party’s strength they proposed that a procession should be held from the Khettarama Stadium to Kosgashandiya to disapprove the party critics.
Be that as it may the crisis ridden Colombo Municipal Council is now facing a multitude of problems with regard to its functions including the garbage and mosquito menace that is bound to arise with the onset of the Monsoon rains. There should be a concerted effort to combat Dengue and Chikungunya when the rainy season arrives.
The President met with all Colombo Municipal Council members last week. The President was not impressed although the councilors said that they had discharged their functions efficiently.
It is likely that the President would suspend the Colombo Municipal Council shortly and appoint a city administrator as the person in charge. Opposition Leader of the CMC Vasudeva Nanayakkara is also backing the move as he feels that nothing had been done by the council finance committees. It was the other day that Public Administration Minister Karu Jayasuriya, who himself is a former Mayor of Colombo, supported the appointment of another former Mayor Omar Kamil as the Chief Administrator of the city.
It is now likely that Sirisena Cooray, who was originally earmarked for the post, will be appointed to a substantial position. Earlier the UNP nominated Sirisena Cooray as their Mayoral candidate with the backing of powerful politicians such as Milinda Moragoda and Mohamed Mahroof. It was this list that was rejected by the Elections Commissioner.
The JVP Politburo met at the party headquarters on Wednesday. They discussed at length on the situation that had surfaced in the aftermath of the LTTE attack on the Air Force base.
“The government is responsible for the country’s security and we as a political party must support it. We must also compel the government to take right decisions,” said the JVP leader. The members of the politburo agreed with him.
They decided to hold the JVP’s May Day rally on April 30 against separatism, privatization of state assets and corruption.
The politburo also decided to hold the general meeting of party branch organizations at 3pm on April 3 at the Henry Pedris Park in Thimbirigasyaya.
Meanwhile the European Union resolution at the UN Human Rights Council sessions, which concluded in Geneva on Friday, had been differed. The EU resolution on Sri Lanka was presented in June last year but had not been taken up. Before the commencement of the sessions Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe discussed with the EU representative in Geneva and with almost 20 other representatives from EU countries about what was said in the resolution. At this discussion, also attended by Solicitor General C.R. De Silva and Deputy Solicitors General Yasantha Kodagoda and Shavindra Fernando, the Sri Lankan delegation had taken the resolution section by section and explained what the government had done. However, several NGO representatives had lobbied strongly with the EU to get the resolution taken up at the sessions but their effort had failed.
It was also speculated that Home Affairs and Public Administration Minister Karu Jayasuriya had also played a part in getting the resolution differed by holding extensive discussions on the matter with the German Ambassador in India.