WP bus men back on roads, SP strike drags on

by Harischandra Gunaratna
"The private bus strike will continue indefinitely in the Southern Province until the Southern Provincial Minister Gunaratne Weerakoon meets the demands put forward by us," warned D. Lankeswara, media spokesman of the Southern Province Private Bus Investors Company Federation said on Monday.

"At the discussions we had with him on Friday, the Minister assured us that all the demands we asked for will be granted. The provincial ministry has sent us a "letter" granting our demands. But the letter was not signed".

It is reported that the provincial minister will hold discussions again today.

The Southern private bus strike which was on its sixth day on Monday has spread to other areas in the country. The Southern Province Private Bus Investors Company Federation who initiated the strike received support from other private bus associations crippling the public transport system throughout the country. The most affected by the strike was Colombo and other business centers of the Western Province.

School children sitting the GCE O/Level Examination which commenced on Monday were the worst affected.

It is reported that at a leading school in Colombo 38 of 130 failed to turn up for the exam due to the strike.

The Minister of Transport Tilak Marapana on Monday afternoon met with the striking unions for 2 1/2 hours.

The Minister assured them he would take up the question of the removal of VAT, with the Minister of Finance and inform them in a monthís time.

He said ministry was willing to meet the other nine demands with certain amendments.

A. B. Talagune Chairman of the National Transport Commission said Nishantha Mutuhettigama, of the Southern Province Federation had given an assurance that the strike would be called off Monday night after discussions with the executive committee.

Gemunu Wijeratne, President of Lanka Private Bus Owners Association gave an assurance that the strike in the Western Province will be called off on Monday night.

He condemned the strike as a dastardly act accusing Mutuhettigama and his cohorts timing the strike to coincide with the O/Level Examination.

Asked why his association too joined the strike on Monday he said "It was a ploy adopted by our association to trap them into calling the strike at 2 p.m.on Monday. If we didnít join them they would have called the strike at 12 midnight on Sunday thus severely inconveniencing those who sat the exam, Wijeratne said.

"Mutuhettigama is responsible for attacking and damaging private buses which operated during the strike, abducting a conductor at gun point in a Matara-Gandara private bus on Saturday, setting fire to a bus in Matara and he alleged. He was also responsible for leading a mob and storming the office of the Southern Provincial Road Transport Authority in Galle right opposite the police station and holding its manager Mr. Namasena hostage", he accused.