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International pressure mounts as victory nears

President receives British parliamentary delegation

Duminda, Thilanga appointed SLFP organisers in Colombo

Sajith defuses plot to appoint him senior deputy leader


Des Browne

Duminda Silva

Thilanga Sumathipala

Sajith Premadasa

Security forces carrying out military operations in the Wanni have nearly reached up to 900 metres of the no-fire zones at Puttumatalan. While military operations are coming to an end, the number of foreign representatives visiting Sri Lanka has started to increase. Political analysts believe that the intentions of these representatives is to force the government into a ceasefire in order to save Prabhakaran, Pottu Amman and the rest of the LTTE leadership. Diplomatic sources reveal that an Assistant Secretary of State of the United State, Mike Owens is currently taking measures to effect a ceasefire agreement between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE and in order to save the LTTE leaderships by effecting a surrender of these leaders to a third party. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa have firmly stated that the government will not agree to a cessation of hostilities at this time. In the meantime, Canadian Foreign Development Minister Beverly Jaorda met President Rajapaksa. She reiterated that her government was willing to support the humanitarian efforts in the north and would continue the LTTE ban in Canada. Japanese Special Envoy Yashushi Akashi also visited Sri Lanka last week. He visited the IDP camps in Vavuniya during his stay. Expressing his satisfaction over the facilities provided for the IDPs, he highlighted the necessity to reach a political settlement immediately after the conclusion of the war.

An all party British parliamentary delegation visited Sri Lanka upon an invitation extended to their Foreign Secretary David Milliband to President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently. The leader of the delegation was a former British Defence Secretary Des Browne. Earlier when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown attempted to name Browne as his government’s special envoy to Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan government flatly refused to allow this appointment to be made. Instead the British government was informed that Sri Lanka would be willing to accept Browne as a visiting member of larger delegation comprising Malcolm Grey, Edward Mcgrain, John Simon and Mohammed Sarwan in addition to Browne. This delegation met President Rajapaksa at the Temple Trees last Tuesday. The President who warmly welcomed the delegation explained the true situation in the North. The British delegation questioned the President regarding the harassment of the civilians in the Wanni. President Rajapaksa invited the delegation to visit Vavuniya and see the conditions of the civilians for themselves rather than accepting as gospel truth the pro-LTTE propaganda. The President also showed the delegation a series of pictures depicting how the LTTE had used sacks of rice distributed by the government and the World Food Programme to build bunkers. During this meeting, Browne and the rest of the delegation insisted on the necessity of a ceasefire. “Gentlemen, Sri Lanka is an independent country. It is no longer a colony of the British. The decision on declaring a ceasefire or continuing the war should be decided by the government. I am responsible only to the Sri Lankan people. Therefore do not interfere in our internal matters. We will take care of them. Thank you for coming to give us aid,” said President Rajapaksa. The President who hosted them for tea also presented the delegation with gifts of Sri Lankan tea. Later on the delegation headed to Vavuniya to visit the IDP camps.

UNP crisis continues

The first Working Committee meeting of the UNP since the Western Provincial Council elections was held at Sirikotha on May 5. A highlight of this meeting was the fact that UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe transferred some of his powers to his Deputy, Karu Jayasuriya. While Jayasuriya was made Chairman of the committees looking into the disciplinary, political, management and administration, he was also given decision making powers over the party’s political and election issues. This sudden transfer was to surprise and shock most members of the Working Committee. Some working committee members believe that this move by Wickremesinghe was a pre-emptive strike against a rebel group that was expected to agitate for a leadership change once more after the party’s defeat at the WPC election.

At a press conference recently, the UNP’s Puttlam District MP Range Bandara stated that the Army should not cease heavy artillery and air strikes in their operations to save the trapped civilians in the no-fire zone. This statement was given prominent publicity in the media. Subsequently, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardane severely criticised Range Bandara’s statement.

“I am vehemently against terrorism. It should completely annihilated. However, the lives of the civilians trapped within the no-fire zone are now in danger. I have always stood for these innocent displaced people. It is because of this that I distributed sirens among the Sinhala border villages. I have always spoken on behalf of the displaced and stood for their rights. Thus I am shocked by Range Bandara’s statement. Though he is a friend, I cannot condone what he has said and I vehemently oppose it,” Jayawardane told journalists. As a member of a party which has always fought against racism, extremism and religious fundamentalism, Jayawardane he said he greatly regrets this statement by a fellow party member.

Bandara’s statement came under heavy criticism at last week’s working committee meeting. One of the staunchest opponents of Bandara were D.M. Swaminathan. “Range Bandara’s statement has offended many Tamils,” Swaminathan said, further inquiring whether he had spoken with the sanction of the party leader. Bandara denied making such a statement accusing the media of fabricating what he had allegedly said. “What is this you’re saying? Your statement has been recorded. Do you think we’re idiots?” asked an emotional Swaminathan who vehemently criticised the statement while inquiring from Wickremesinghe as to the party’s position on this MP’s statement. Wickremesinghe who did not allow the issue to get out of hand, said that this was indeed not the position of the party and that Range Bandara had already denied making such a statement. He also instructed Range Bandara to issue a correction about the distorted reports in the media. Wickremesinghe also instructed the working committee members to refrain from making statements about the military operations without first consulting the party.

The conflict between M.J.M. Muzammil who claimed to be the ‘No.01 UNPer’ during the elction and the former Deputy Mayor of Colombo, Azath Sally has intensified. Muzammil complained to the Working Committee that Sally has been complaining about him at mosques, by distributing leaflets. He further requested that a disciplinary inquiry be made about Sally. When Sally had requested for a nomination for the WPC election Muzammil reportedly lobbied parliamentary MP Mohammed Mahroof to prevent such a chance being given to the former Deputy Mayor. Mahroof had threatened to resign from all posts in the UNP, if Sally was given a nomination which resulted in Wickremesinghe deciding not to put Sally on the UNP ticket. To resolve this issue, Wickremesinghe promised Sally that he would be nominated the UNP’s mayoral candidate at a future local government election. Sirikotha sources reveal that it is the intention of Mahroof and Muzammil to pressure the party to hold a disciplinary inquiry against Sally in order to oust him from the party. These same sources claim that by doing so, their intention is to nominate someone else for the post of mayor of Colombo instead. The UNP decided last week to launch a protest campaign demanding CMC elections.

Meanwhile, an attempt by a group of UNP MPs to have Sajith Premadasa appointed as senior deputy leader by the working committee by Premadasa himself. A meeting on May 1 between Gayantha Karunathilaka, Ranjith Aluvihara and Dilip Wedarachchi resulted in a letter being handed over to Party Secretary Tissa Attanayake suggesting that such a position be created. This group of MPs reportedly asked Attanayake to present this letter at Wednesdays Working Committee meeting. The three MPs upon meeting Attanayake in the lobby of Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, made another request of the Secretary that the letter should be submitted at that evenings meeting. At this point Attanayake asked the MPs how he was supposed to present such a document at the Working Committee meeting when Premadasa was not agreeable to such a move. The Party Secretary added that he could not under any circumstances include the letter in the Working Committee agenda at that point. Karunatillake told the Party Secretary that he would then be compelled to submit the letter himself at the meeting if necessary.

At this point, Wedarachchi was to receive a phone call from Premadasa, ordering him to withdraw the letter that had been handed over to the secretary forthwith. Premadasa said that if Wedaarachchi failed to do so, he would be compelled to summon a press briefing and inform the public that there was an internal conspiracy being carried out against him and reveal the details of the plot. Soon after this phone call, Wedarachchi went back to Attanayake and retracted the controversial letter.

End of the chief minister saga

Following the UPFA’s phenomenal victory at the WPC election, the biggest question on everyone’s mind was the issue of who was to be appointed chief minister. The reason for this anticipation was the fact that there was intense competition between UPFA candidates for the post, leading to several tussles during the election campaign. Many of these candidates had also gone on record saying that they were ‘chief minister in waiting.’ However, President Rajapaksa in another strategic stroke that resulted in him being able once more to avert a crisis of personalities within his party, decided to appoint Prasanna Ranatunge as Chief Minister of the Western Province. This was a good choice, since Ranatunge had not only got the largest number of preferential votes between all three districts, but he was also a party strongman and a politician of significant experience. Many people believed that the choice for chief minister was between Reginald Cooray and the top two candidates in Colombo, Duminda Silva and Thilanga Sumathipala. It was also believed that Udaya Gammanpila, Ranjith Somawansa, Sunil Jayamini, Gamini Thilakasiri and Vidura Wickremanayake were being considered for provincial ministries.

All successful UPFA Western Provincial candidates had been summoned to the presidential secretariat on May 4 for the swearing in ceremony. Several members who were under the impression they were being considered for ministries had even gone to the extent of ordering new suits for the occasion. Some had brought their families for the ceremony and others had even planned reception parties following their swearing-in ceremony.

At the ceremony, those who were to be appointed ministers were seated in the front row but nobody paid too much attention to these details. Initially, Ranatunge received his appointment letter from President Mahinda Rajapaksa and was then sworn in before Western Province Governor Alawi Moulana. Soon afterwards, the names of Nimal Lansa, Jagath Angage, Udaya Gammanpila and Upali Kodikkara were called and they were sworn in as ministers. The appointments shocked all those gathered at the ceremony since they had never even heard these names mentioned in passing as prospective ministers.

Perhaps the reason Cooray, Silva and Sumathipala decided to remain unfazed by this development because the President had made a statement previously that those who would receive ministerial portfolios at the Western Provincial Council would not be given nominations at the next general elections.

Accordingly, last Wednesday President Rajapaksa appointed Thilanga Sumathipala and Duminda Silva as SLFP Borella and Kolonnawa organisers at the Temple Trees. Former Kolonnawa MP Nawalage Bennet Cooray has been appointed SLFP organiser for Colombo East and Colombo West. Former Borella organiser for the SLFP, Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra has also been appointed as the President’s Trade Union Affairs Director. .