- Ministry for Ronnie?
- Baby jumbos reluctantly return to the wild
- Thai envoy assures Buddhist clergy
LTTE wont be allowed to use Thai soil for subversive activities
- Ministers wife snatches journalists tape recorder
- Colombo underworld acquire hi-tech arms and ammunition
- Sri Lankan Airlines improves its operational image
- "L" series not cancelled says Dy. Controller
- ADB to help fund eco-tourism project
- Kung-fu head complains of assault
Ministry for Ronnie?
By Franklin R. Satyapalan
Political circles were buzzing yesterday about the possibility of former finance minister Ronnie de Mel getting a portfolio and speculated that he may succeed the late Mr. C. V. Gooneratne as Minister of Industrial Development.
While there was no confirmation on such an appointment, de Mel himself ducked the question saying that he was leaving for England later on Saturday and that he would decide his political future only when he returned on July 23.
De Mel said that he was going abroad as his wife is to have a knee surgery in London to repair damage caused by jumping off jeeps on the campaign trail.
The outspoken de Mel predicted that the UNP will not win a single seat between Colombo and Kataragama at the next parliamentary election.
Political circles also speculated on the possibility of a few more crossovers from the UNP following de Mels defection.
Baby jumbos reluctantly return to the wild
by Sena Vidanagama
UDUAWALAWE: (AFP) - Jumbo-sized buckets of milk were laid out, and elephant keepers waited patiently to see whether the bait would tempt their thirsty charges aboard the eight- wheel articulated truck at the southern Sri Lankan wildlife park.
The aim was to entice five orphaned baby elephants to climb aboard, leaving behind human contact for a journey back to the wild.
Although they had watched over them for years, the keepers were eager to see the junior jumbos get on board and be returned, to join herds of wild elephants in the southern jungles.
The five elephants, tagged and specially scented with a cocktail of their own dung to remove traces of human odours, were among the pioneers of a unique experiment by Sri Lanka wildlife authorities.
The project aims to return rescued baby elephants back to the wild rather than domesticating them and sending them to an orphanage to become tourist attractions.
In the end four of the babies willingly entered the truck but the fifth known as Isuru by wildlife wardens was reluctant to leave behind the 25 other orphaned elephants at the Udawalawe "transit home."
Eventually Isurus objections were overcome manually, and dozens of mahouts pulled it onto the truck for the short journey.
National wildlife director A. P. A. Gunasekera said the experiment appeared to have worked well following the release of the first batch of four babies in March 1998.
The five freed on Saturday form the second group to be released, with this group having been fitted with radio collars to monitor their progress.
"We are no longer sending orphaned elephants to the Pinnawela Orphanage," Gunasekera said, referring to the orphanage at Kegalle district in central Sri Lanka, initiated some 27 years ago and now a major tourist draw.
In contrast to Pinnawela, at the "Elephant Transit Home" in Udawalawe, 170 kilometres (106 miles) southeast of the capital Colombo, the baby elephants have minimal contact with human beings.
Sri Lankas deputy wildlife director Nandana Atapattu said the animals, freed on Saturday, will be monitored for two years via their radio collars.
All the elephants at the transit home have been cared for after being found either abandoned or wounded.
Before the five Komali, Mattali, Sandamali, Isuru and Emalyn were finally allowed to go back to the wild and fend for themselves, special preparations were made, including giving them a bath made out of a cocktail of their own dung.
"This is done to erase any scent of humans from these animals," a keeper explained. "If other animals detect that they have had contact with people, then they run the risk of being rejected in the wild."
The five babies were also given jumbo injections to make them thirsty. "They will go looking for water and that is how they make the first contact with other herds," Atapattu said.
Dr. Atapattu explained that domesticating elephants was not a good way of conserving them and that was why they started on the Elephant Transit home.
"We are now trying to minimise the human contact when we rescue wounded animals so that they can go back to the wild," he explained.
He said the elephants were allowed to roam within a large but confined area of the jungle where trackers kept watch over them at a distance.
Food is not provided and the animals are only brought in for treatment if they are wounded, Atapattu said, with only vitamins and milk given when they were first brought in.
Most of the elephants are victims of the continuing war in the north and east against Tamil separatists or of the expansion of farmland which has destroyed their habitat.
Forests have been steadily shrinking due to irrigation and land development projects and the expansion of farms. The forest covered 27 percent of Sri Lanka in 1983, a figure now reduced to less than 20 percent.
Jayantha Jayewardene, a trustee of the Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust said 131 elephants had been killed in 1998 compared to 115 killings in the previous year.
"The trend is clearly an increase in the number of attacks on elephants."
Jayewardene said the rapid decline in the elephant population, down now to around 3,000, was partly due to the separatist war led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the islands northeast, and poaching, as well as angry farmers who lose their crops to marauding wild animals.
Thai envoy assures Buddhist clergy
LTTE wont be allowed to use Thai soil for subversive activities
by Himangi Jayasundere
Thailand is considering the banning of the LTTE, Thai Ambassador Thakur Phamit said last week. Addressing a conference organised at Sambodhi Viharaya he assured Sinhala activists and Buddhist clergy, that the Thai Government firmly stands against all forms of terrorism and would not allow any terrorist group to use Thai soil to wage its operations against any foreign government particularly Sri Lanka.
However he said that Thailand was unable to ban the LTTE immediately due to the long legal procedure involved in such a process. The ambassador was answering questions as to why the Thai government would not ban the LTTE when countries like the USA, Canada and India have already done so.
He further said that the Thai government was unable to take action against suspected Tiger terrorists because all activities they were directly involved in were "activities legal under the Thai law".
He said that in the past few months they have become "more vigilant". However all those suspected of being members or sympathisers of the LTTE are involved in occupations and businesses such as ship building, jewellery shops and restaurants.
"Some sell food and medicine and export them and the destinations are suspicious to us. But the export of food and medicine is legal in Thailand and anyone can do it" he said.
"We are trying to curb their activity but how can we do anything if what they are doing is within the legal framework?" he added.
Answering a question on a mini submarine alleged to have been built by an LTTE leader with a Norwegian passport, in a shipyard in Phuket, he replied that the Thai authorities have investigated the matter and found only an abandoned vessel at Sea Craft Company, a shipyard belonging to Christy Reginald Lawrence, a foreign national arrested by the Thai police on 9 April 2000. The said submersible was unfinished and could not be operated because it had been long abandoned. He said that the Thai media might have mistaken the discovery of the unfinished submersible found at Sea Craft Company to similar underwater transporting vessels currently developed at another company in Phuket, which are intended for tourist purposes. These vessels are still being constructed and have to obtain licenses prior to commencing operations, he said.
However in the questions addressed to the ambassador it was pointed out that, when the incident in question was exposed a second secretary of the embassy admitted that there appeared to be an LTTE connection and that the mini submarine was confiscated. Later the ambassador claimed that it was scrap and hence it was not confiscated.
Responding to a statement that terrorist leader Anton Balasingham sought refuge in Thailand on his way to London from Sri Lanka and that Thai authorities provided him with visa, the ambassador said that Balasingham has a foreign country passport, which does not require a Thai government visa to enter Thailand. " I would not mention the name of the country that issued the passport and our records in the embassy prove that no Anton Balasingham entered Thailand". He added that it was difficult for the authorities to do a thorough screening because about 8 million people enter the country every year.
Mr.Phamit further said that Thailand is giving serious consideration to joining the Convention for Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. During the last UN session the Thai delegation voted for the resolution on the "Measures to Eliminate Terrorism ". " However we are momentarily constrained by several developments at home. As it is we are in the midst of senatorial elections", he said.
He further said that according to Thai authorities at present the LTTE does not have an arsenal in Thai territory. Nor are they engaged in arms smuggling activities in Thailand. Two years ago some activities of arms smuggling believed to be linked to the LTTE occurred outside Thai territorial waters, he said.
The Ven. Athureliya Rathana Thera, Secy. of the National Sangha Council (NSC) voiced the misgivings of the Sangha. Many members from the National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT),The Sinhala Veera Vidahana, the Jathika Daham Guru Sabha (the National Association of Dhamma School Teachers) and the All Ceylon Womens Buddhist Congress (ACWBC) were associated with the national Sangha Sabha in seeking clarification about the LTTE activities in Thailand published in the Banghok Post, The Nation, Daily News and Asia week. The following are some of the issues raised by The National Movement Against Terrorism during this news conference with the Ambassador for Thailand:
Though Asia Week and Bangkok Post published a photograph of what they termed a mini-submarine being built in a shipyard in Phuket by an LTTE leader with a Norwagian passport. The LTTE shipping manager in Phuket, Reginald Roland was caught attempting to tranship a large quantity of LTTE uniforms, literature, videos and sophisticated equipment. He was arrested and bailed out. He and his wife are continuing their anti-Sri Lankan activities with impunity. Roland has not been deported to Norway for violating Thai law.
That International experts like Dr. Rohan Gunaratne and Prof. Peter Chauk have published that millions of dollars collected by the LTTE in USA, Canada and the UK are sent to Thai banks to be used for the purchase of weapons. Millions of dollars are reported to be remitted through the Thai military bank.
Though USA, Canada and India have banned the LTTE as an international terrorist organization which has committed serious crimes such as the murder of the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Thailand though a friendly Buddhist country has not banned the LTTE although a request was made by Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.
That Millions of pious Lankan Buddhists are dismayed by the cavalier attitude of the Thai authorities in this grave situation where the very existence of their country is at stake. These Buddhists say with deep sadness that no amount of gifts of Buddha images and golden railings to adorn Bothi trees can mitigate the culpability of the Thai authorities in permitting a ruthless facist terrorist group to undermine and destroy a friendly Buddhist country that has always had the warmest feelings of friendship for Thailand.
Ministers wife snatches journalists tape recorder
The tape recorder of a female Sunday Times journalist had been forcibly taken by Mrs. Kusum Wickremanayake, wife of Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, shortly after she gave an interview to the newspaper, its reported.
The journalist had interviewed Mrs. Wickremanayake on the raging Seva Vanitha controversy, at the Plantations Ministry last Friday, and after the 45-minute discussion she had wanted the tape played back. After listening to the recording she had demanded that the tape be erased and subsequently taken the machine into her custody, the journalist has complained.
Though I waited over an hour, Mrs. Wickremanayake refused to return my tape recorder and I had to return empty handed, the Sunday Times reporter said.
A senior journalist attached to the newspaper said that this was a violation of the rights of journalists and such insensible actions were an impediment to the noble ideal of a free media.
Colombo underworld acquire hi-tech arms and ammunition
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Wednesdays blast at the Gangodawila Magistrates court that killed one of Colombos most powerful underworld leaders, Weebadurachchige Asoka Upanitha Perera alias Pamankada Asoka has revealed the ability of gangs to acquire technology and explosives previously available only to the armed forces, the LTTE and some other Tamil groups, police officials said.
Colombos underworld gangs have never used high explosives before, the sources said adding that their ability to secure plastics explosives or some other type was frightening.
The bomb, apparently hidden in a toy car and kept between the ceiling and the roof of the court was detonated by remote control after Pamankada Asoka and other suspects were produced in connection with the killing of six people at Delkanda junction on the night of September 25, last year. Police believe that the bomb had been kept directly above the targets in a bid to inflict maximum damage.
Experts described the bomb as a "claymore mine type" device, first of its kind used within a building in the south and only the second reported from the entire country. Although claymores are widely used by the armed forces and the LTTE in the open in operational areas, they were never employed in the south until terrorists used them in the open in Colombo a few months ago during a confrontation with police and security forces at Ragagiriya along the road leading to the parliament.
The LTTE detonated a claymore mine concealed between the ceiling and the roof of the Kaliyana Mandapam building at Nallur on September 11, two years ago, killing the then Jaffna Mayor Ponnadurai Sivapalan and 12 other police and security forces officials including the then Jaffna Town Commandant Brigadier Susantha Mendis. It was the first reported claymore type explosion against targets in a building. Like, the Gangodawila bomb, the device used at Nallur too had been concealed above the victims and the explosion occurred downwards.
Initial investigations have indicated that an unidentified person had kept the explosive laden toy car, equipped to receive a radio signal with the knowledge of a Gangodawila court house employee on the previous day.
Government Analyst M. A. J. Mendis on Friday declined to comment on the type of the device but admitted it was a directional bomb. "It exploded downwards," he said adding that his officers had visited the scene of the lastest blast and initiated inquiries. He said he did not want to discuss the type of the bomb used or go into details at the moment.
However, experts say that claymores are directional bombs.
The blast killed Pamankada Asoka and Gamage Chandana Ajitha Kumara alias Sando Lal and wounded the remaining suspects detained in connection with the Delkanda slayings.
Police and other sources close to the Colombo underworld said that Pamankada Asoka was perhaps the only person who could have challenged Nihal Wickremasingha alias Nawala Nihal.
Although Nawala Nihal reportedly left the country some time ago, leaving his so called deputy Bandula alias Fiat to look after the organisation, he was believed to have been in touch with influential persons in Colombo. Police recently arrested Bandula but the gang, undoubtedly the most powerful in Colombo, continued to operate.
A person described as a VIP bodyguard whose name had been repeatedly mentioned in connection with several controversial cases including the attacks on a casino and on photographers covering a demonstration was believed to have been involved with the gang led by Nawala Nihal.
Police said that Wednesdays attack was in retaliation against the Delkanda killings. The six victims travelling by car were intercepted at Delkanda junction and fired at point blank range. All died on the spot. The gunmen who shot at least one T-56, one repeater shot gun and a .38 revolver at Nawala Nihals associates, fled prompting a major police inquiry.
The government, under fire for stepped up underworld activity ordered the Criminal Investigation Department to inquire into the killings. Interestingly, Pamankada Asoka and four of the gang who arrived at Kalutara Bodhiya on October 18 to fulfil a vow were captured by plainclothesmen led by an Inspector. Among the arrest was Meegel Julige Surantha Perera alias Mallai, an army deserter.
Some say Pamankada Asoka was a religious man and his involvement in regular killings and violence did not prevent him from regularly visiting Kalutara Bodhiya and other places of Buddhist worship to fulfil vows.
Under interrogation, Pamankada Asoka admitted his role in the Delkanda killings, the first major gangland attack where half a dozen men died in a single incident. He helped investigators to find the weapons, a T-56 Chinese manufactured assault rifle with 30 rounds of ammunition, one .38 revolver with five rounds of ammunition and one repeater shot gun with five cartridges.
Police said that the victims of Delkanda shooting too carried three revolvers and two pistols. These weapons were found in the bullet riddled car full of bodies. But, Pamankada Asoka and his henchmen succeeded in killing all of them even before they drew their weapons, investigations indicated.
It was not clear how the Gangodawila attackers managed to get at a directional bomb. However, the attackers, believed to be members of the Nawala Nihals organisation had been able to get at many items over the years.
Police investigating the Delkanda killings were shocked when they found a bullet proof jacket [body armour] from a shed adjoining a house belonging to one of Delkanda victims within a week after the incident. The jacket was not of the type issued to security forces deployed in operational areas but similar to those given to politicians under threat of assassination by the LTTE.
Although, police made inquiries, they failed to find out how body armour ended up with a gang. Ordinary people have no access to body armour as they are not permitted to import any type of body armour.
Police privately admit that the killing of Pamankada Asoka would shield many people. He knew many people and many secrets and there was talk that he was also aware of the events leading to the last years killing of Rohana Kumara, editor of Satana.
He had been engaged in big time crime for over a dozen years but managed to outwit on and off police operations against the underworld.
Pamankada Asoka lived well and spent lavishly. He was believed to have been involved in many shootings and armed robberies. He had also helped election work. He had killed many people, sources said adding that he was not a person to just give orders and wait. He took part in actual shootings and believed to have been responsible for the killings of Narahenpita Mohan at Moratuwa in April 1998, Tudor and two associates at Peliyagoda in December 1989, Podi Rambo in 1997, Gorin Suda at Kohuwela in March 1998 and the abortive attempt to kill Sarada at Siebel Avenue, Kirulapone in December 1998.
There have been many cases against him where open warrants had been issued in connection with several incidents including the killing of Kohuwala Pumal at Pepiliyana in 1997 and Rattaran Raja at Gothami road, Borella in April 1988.
Police said that over a dozen underworld figures had been killed in the past few months as a result of police operations and fights among gangs. Priyankara Jayamanne alias Sudu Mahattaya and Kotte Sunil were among the dead while two top leaders, Ambiga and Fiat had been put behind bars.
Sri Lankan Airlines improves its operational image
COLOMBO, July 8 (UNI) - Sri Lankan Airlines, the national carrier of Sri Lanka, has improved its operational image and financial credibility over the past one year, thanks to Emirates strategic partnership.
With the fleet expansion and modernisation programme, Sri Lankan Airlines is now operating to several global destinations, the latest being to Milan and Dhaka. By October, the airline is planning to operate flights to Berlin via Dubai.
Top management sources told UNI that the airlines is ready to start flights to Kochi, Bangalore and Hyderabad. But it is up to the Indian civil aviation ministry to give its nod to increase the seating capacity in order to start services to these centres.
"We cant start operations until the Indian government gives a green signal," the sources said.
With the acquisition of six latest model A330 Airbuses, Sri Lankan Airlines has increased its frequency on the Colombo-London Sector from the weekly 7 to 9 flights. It is already operating services to Zurich, Sydney and Singapore.
The recently introduced Milan-Colombo flights has become very popular as an estimated 50,000 Sri Lankans are working in Italy, the airline sources said.
Sri Lankan Airlines has also started Colombo-Dhaka non stop services with effect from July 1. The frequency to Delhi, Mumbai and Trichy has also been increased recently due to heavy passenger demand.
Early this year, the Indian authorities had given permission to operate flights to Calcutta and Varannasi, but Sri Lankan Airlines has not started services to these centres due to poor seat demand. Recently, Kochi Airport authorities had come here to discuss the possibility of Sri Lankan Airlines operating flights to the Kerala port city. It is a long-standing demand of the people of Kerala origin living in Sri Lanka to operate flights to Kochi as the present flights to Thiruvanthapuram is not convenient for passengers of central and north Kerala. There are a considerable number of Kerala a people in Sri Lanka and it is their dream the airlines to start flights to Kochi at least three time in a week even by pulling out from Thiruvanthapuram. At present, Emirates, owns 28 per cent of Sri Lankan Airlines which cater upto 40 per cent.
"L" series not cancelled says Dy. Controller
By Franklin R. Satyapalan
The Department of Immigration and Emigration has not cancelled the 1.2 million "L" series passports it issued in 1992, Deputy Controller S. Singhappuli said.
Though these L series passports are in circulation and accepted by other embassies including US, German and Australians the Indian High Commission and some Middle Eastern countries demand that visa applicants forward the latest M series red passport which are tamper proof he said.
We started issuing the M series in 1996 and if anyone holding E or K series issued before L wants the new M series we request them to call over with old passport and national identity card and pay rupees 2000 for a Middle Eastern Passport and rupees 5000 for an all countries, passport to be issued on same day, Singhappuli said.
ADB to help fund eco-tourism project
by Chittaranjan de Silva
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has agreed to provide the Sri Lankan government a soft loan worth 45 million US dollars to fund a nature reserve conservation and eco-tourism project, Deputy Director of the Wildlife Department, Dr. Nandana Atapattu said yesterday.
The project was planned in one and a half years by ministries such as the Environment and Fisheries and Departments such as Wildlife Conservation and Coast Conservation with others. It is expected to be implemented soon, Dr. Atapattu said.
He said that the projects funds will be used to uplift the living conditions of the inhabitants within the "buffer zones" of national parks and obtain their co-operation in preserving the nature reserves. Buffer zones are areas situated outside the one mile radius from the perimeters of the national parks, he explained.
He said the project is immensely important in protecting nature reserves and will also help in promoting eco-tourism, he added.
The project, according to Dr.Atappatu, would assist Wildlife Dept. Officials and nature enthusiasts, who are battling to protect the reserves and its animals from poachers and illicit tree fellers.
Tourism Minister, Dharmasiri Senanayake had earlier highlighted the importance of nature reserves and especially elephants by categorising them as Sri Lankas main tourist attractions, while expressing the need to protect them.
"If the people inhabiting the buffer zones of nature reserves stop poaching and encroaching then this itself will protect national parks," Dr. Atapattu said.
"Most of the damage is caused to trees and the wild animals within nature reserves by the inhabitants of the buffer zones" he said.
The inhabitants in the buffer zones will be encouraged to start cottage industries. Plans have been made on how these people could be assisted further.
Another goal of the project will be to boost eco-tourism. Permission will not be given to build large hotels, but small inns will be allowed, he said.
"Normally, those travelling to national parks go to see the animals and come back.
But after the buffer zones are developed, the local as well as the foreign tourists could visit the buffer zones and also other places of scenic beauty, which they are permitted to visit" Dr. Atapattu said.
He said that this will promote eco-tourism while further uplifting the living standards of the buffer zone inhabitants and will help to preserve the nature reserves in the long run.
The DWLC is involved in the central planning and implementation of the project. But a special project office will be set up to co-ordinate and implement the project.
"When the buffer zone inhabitants reap the benefits from tourism and when their cottage industries develop, they will understand the need to preserve national parks," he added.
Dr. Atapattu also said that DWLCs work force will be strengthened in order to implement the project.
He said that ADB will release funds in stages. The projects first phase will last for seven years, and the second phase is for another seven years, he added.
Kung-fu head complains of assault
From Cyril Wimalasurendre
The principal of the Sri Lanka Chinese Kung-fu School, Kandy, martial arts expert, A. P. Anil Galappathie has complained to the Inspector General of Police that he was attacked by a group of thugs armed with pistols on Adikarigama Road, Hanguranketha on the night of June 28.
Galappathie told the Sunday Island that he identified at least one of the members of the gang as a family member of a powerful politician of the area.
He was injured in the attack and had to be hospitalised in Kandy. He made a written complaint to the IGP on his discharge.
The written complaint stated; "It was about 11.15 p.m. that I was walking down Adikarigama when I was attacked by this group who arrived in a vehicle. I was admitted to the Kandy hospital and was examined by the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO). On June 30 Kandy hospital post police officers recorded a statement from me.
"On July 02, I handed over my blood stained clothes to the Kandy police station, and also made a statement, he has said in the complaint .
However, Galappathie has requested the IGP to instruct Kandy police to inquire into the complaint and not the Hanguranketha police because it was a risk to go to Hanguranketha police station.
He has identified himself to the IGP as one who contested the 1994 General Elections for Kandy District from the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) and subsequently in 1997 he contested Kandy Municipal Council elections from the UNP. At present he is the organiser for the UNP of the Lewella ward of the Kandy MC.
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