Monday, November 01, 2004

Prices soar as hotels flourish in peacetime by Amal Jayasinghe

COLOMBO, Nov 1 (AFP) - The truce with the LTTE has revived Sri Lanka’s once-tottering tourism trade to the point where de luxe hotel rooms, that once went for eight dollars a night, now cost more than 100.

With the number of tourists visiting the island expected to hit an all-time high this year as foreigners rediscover a lost paradise, hotels are for the first time posting "house full" signs and their prices are soaring.

"It is clear that we are running short of rooms," said the chairman of the Ceylon Tourist Board, Udaya Nanayakkara, who is pushing Sri Lanka as a destination "beyond the beaches" of this Indian Ocean island republic.

Sri Lanka welcomed just over half a million foreign holidaymakers last year and Nanayakkara expects the number to jump to about 570,000 this year.

At the end of May this year, some 217 hotels accounting for 13,133 rooms were registered with the tourist board.

Another 3,000 hotel rooms, which had remained shut for years when tourism hit rock bottom as fighting between government troops and Tigers peaked, would be back in operation within a year, he said.

Five-star hotel rooms went for as little as eight dollars a night in 1988 when the government faced a separatist war in the north of the island while Marxists rebels in the south tried to topple the administration.

Those Marxists are now in government and the LTTE have been observing a truce with security forces since February 2002, although Norwegian-backed peace talks have been on hold since April last year.

With the guns falling silent and bomb attacks in and around the capital ceasing, de luxe hotel room rates have shot up beyond 100 dollars.

Prices for middle-of-the-range tourists are also climbing steadily.

"Last year a tourist on average spent 64 dollars a night and we think it will go up to 78 or 80 dollars this year," Nanayakkara said. "We want the figure to go up to 155 dollars in the next five years."

From next year it becomes official policy that hotels cannot sell "all-inclusive" packages in a move expected to encourage foreign holidaymakers to spend more instead of being confined to pre-paid packages.

"The ceasefire is of paramount importance. Peace is the main ingredient of tourism," Nanayakkara said. "We are naturally concerned about the peace process."

Britain, Germany and India are the biggest generators of tourists for Sri Lanka, but the island is also making a new push in Scandinavia and China.

"Sri Lanka is becoming a trendy destination," said travel industry executive Nicoll Chome, here for a conference of travel agents at the southern resort of Bentota.

The tiny Colombo exchange has been going through the roof and setting new records thanks partly to the renewed interest in hotel shares, said Hasitha Premarathne, head of research at HNB stockbrokers.

Industry insiders say the top-end Sheraton and Hyatt want to set up hotels in the capital Colombo, which already has two Hilton properties, one owned by the Taj group of India and four other de luxe hotels.

There are however also concerns Sri Lanka could price itself out of the market unless there is a corresponding increase in the quality of the hotels and services offered.

Most of Sri Lanka’s top hotel executives left for more lucrative employment, particularly in the Maldives and the Middle East, when the hospitality trade was in the doldrums, and staff salaries have not seen appreciable increases. (AFP)

Search for all round peace and racial unity by R. M. A. B. Dassanayake

In these turbulent times, mass destruction of human life and inhuman massacre of innocent children have occurred in certain parts of this crime and violence ridden world.

There is no stopping and the massacres are yet going on.

In the context of this horrendous global situation, peace is the currently topical watchword - although ineffective in its implementation in most cases.

Our President too has pronounced at the Asian Group whilst at the recent UN conference that what should be relentlessly pursued is Peace through dialogue and waging war is anathema.

From as far back as the last decade or even earlier there have been and there are at present too — innumerable talks, lectures, sermons, discussions and conferences besides public meetings initiated and conducted by eminent persons, intellectuals, religious leaders, NGO delegates and most of all by politicians of all hues on the much trumpeted theme of ethnic unity and harmony so much so that it has become almost a public show.

There is also an avalanche of letters, articles and opinions expressing mixed thoughts suggestions and proposals - prominently displayed in both the print and electronic media in a feverish attempt to resolve the prevalent ethnic strife.

It is, however, unfortunate that we have failed to achieve any far reaching tangible results to the satisfaction of either party involved in the endeavour and search for peace in our country.

The problem has become so complicated that various interested parties including quite a number of NGOs - some of whose interests and ceredentials are palpably questionable in most instances, are pressing for a direct involvement of third — party foreign powers - Norwegians and others — to bring about a peace settlement which could sometimes be partisan and one-sided to the detriment of the larger populace.

The bulwark of the cultural and peaceful co-existence that prevailed in our country from the beginning of civilisation strengthened by years of experience gathered in a modestly advanced societal — complex needed no alien props to buttress our standing in social justice and fairplay and inter-communal amity.

What is really needed is a correct and justifiable evaluation of the social cultural and economic conditions obtaining amongst all ethnic sectors.

The core necessity in this regard is the adoption of a meaningful and constructive process of reconciliation with groups at logger heads by means of an acceptable policy of — "Live and let live" and "give and take" that would afford an allround participation in the government/polity of the entire island nation as an integrated one whole unit.

Sincerity and honesty of purpose from all sections is of paramount importance and that spirit of full involvement should not only be invited and given but fearlessly adhered to by all ethnic sectors as nationals of one nation.

No room should be given to extremist cantankerous anti-national power seeking sectarian leaders or as a matter of that, to any groups of extreme trouble makers to exploit the present indecisive stance of our vacillating policy—makers and scheming executives to drag down our country deeper into an inextricable morass.

What is also importantly and urgently required is the sincere and unflagging support and participation of all our people — the majority and minority groups — irrespective of any linguistic, religious, clan or class differences — to resolve the brutally destructive war situation in which thousands of lives have been sacrificed and are being continually sacrificed on both sides of the divide.

It is time our legislators shun their arrogant and imprudent divisive politics and put their heads together to evolve an acceptable broadbased system that would neither endanger the prevailing stability and status of the major community nor — indiscriminately jeopardise the rightful standing of the minority groups.

Our Tamil politicians and professionals too who are living in our midst and claim leadership and representative responsibility for their community should at least now — when they have grasped the pros and cons of the existing realities of the ethnic situation — be able to fearlessly condemn the atrocious and murderous campaigns of the LTTE and actively impress upon their people the necessity of a consensus for adapting, on their part, a conciliatory and pragmatically beneficial policy of co-existence with the majority community.

As reasonable and responsible citizens they should not always expect other ethnic groups to unduly pander to all of their whims and fancies in the context of a peaceful settlement of the ethnic problem.

It is only then that all of us could achieve the much longed for peace and harmony in our island’s nation.

Angry SLMC quits NACPR

COLOMBO, Nov 1 (AFP) - Sri Lanka’s main Muslim party Monday withdrew from a peace panel set up by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and declared "all out war" against her for allegedly trying to splinter the minority community.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) said it was staying away from the first official-level meeting of the National Advisory Council for Peace and Reconciliation, which Kumaratunga launched last month.

SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem said Kumaratunga had engineered the defection of three of his legislators over the weekend in an effort to change the constitution and that the move was prejudicial to minorities.

Three SLMC dissidents were sworn in by Kumaratunga at the weekend as non-cabinet ministers, boosting the strength of her coalition government in the 225-member assembly where it has a wafer thin margin.

"She wants to use our members and form a constituent assembly and resort to extra constitutional means to change the constitution and perpetuate herself in office," Hakeem told reporters.

He said the government was seeking to change the proportional representation system to reduce the number of legislators from minority parties and vowed to stage a campaign to resist the move.

"She is trying to destabilise the Muslims," Hakeem said. "We are taking her on. We are declaring all out war on her."

Muslims, who are the second largest minority after Tamils, form 7.5 percent of Sri Lanka’s 19 million population, but their block vote has considerable leverage as majority Sinhalese votes are split down the middle between two parties.

Tamils who account for 12.5 percent of the population also have a huge influence over national politics.

Hakeem, a member of the previous government’s peace negotiating team with Tamil Tiger rebels, warned that the country could head for more instability and unrest if Kumaratunga pressed ahead with changing the statute.

The government announced last week that Kumaratunga would remain in office until December 2006, a year longer than expected since she was sworn in for a six-year term in December 1999.

Government spokesman Mangala Samaraweera said Thursday that Kumaratunga’s term would end not in December 2005, six years after she was sworn in, but in December 2006.

Hakeem said the political crisis in the country was due to Kumaratunga’s desire to continue after her current term ends. The constitution allows a president a maximum of two six-year terms.

Attempts to revive talks with Tiger rebels have failed and Kumaratunga has been struggling to boost her support in parliament after narrowly winning the April parliamentary elections.

The United National Party, which was in power during talks with the Tamil Tigers and today heads the opposition, has also stayed away from the panel. Tamil Tiger proxies too boycott it.

Any political settlement with the Tamil Tigers would require re-writing of the constitution, a move that needs the support of two-thirds of the legislature.

Kumaratunga’s party has talked about forming a "constituent assembly" outside the present legal system and adopting a new statute under a "constitutional revolution."

'Govt. will do everything possible to secure release of Sri Lankan National'

The government will do everything possible to secure the release of the Sri Lankan national taken hostage by militants in Iraq.The assurance was given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the next of kin (NOK) of Dinesh Darmendra Rajaratnam, who was reportedly abducted by a militant group along with his Bangladeshi colleague.Dinesh Rajaratnam, a 37-year-old father of three, is a resident of Alabodawatta, Hendala, Wattala.The Foreign Ministry officials met with Rajaratnam's wife Doreen Rita Buljens, father K. Rajaratnam and a relative, Suresh on Sunday and discussed arrangements being made to secure Rajaratnam's release.Rajaratnam had left Sri Lanka for Kuwait on 09th June 2003, through a local agency in Grandpass. He was working for Jassim Transport Company in Kuwait as a heavy vehicle driver.Sri Lanka's Ambassador in Kuwait has met with the owner of the parent company, Transport and Warehousing Group of Companies in Kuwait on Saturday, in this regard. The company has assured that they are in the process of establishing contact with the militant group with a view to securing the release of the Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi nationals, said a Foreign Ministry press release.

Eleven Lankan refugees return from India

Eleven Sri Lankan refugees including five children have been rescued by naval troops in the general sea area of Urumalai in Talaimannar, a security source said yesterday.

The rescued returnees, with their belongings were handed over to Talaimannar police by the Navy on Saturday morning, the source said.

Those refugees had arrived in Sri Lanka after paying Rs. 2500 each to an Indian trawler. They were to be produced before Court yesterday, the source added.

New contingent of 309 Lankans arrive in Haiti to join UN Peacekeeping Force

Port-au-Prince, 31 October, ( Troops from Sri Lanka, Spain and Guatemala have arrived in Haiti to join the United Nations Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) currently working to maintain security and foster a democratic political transition in the strife-torn Caribbean country.

The forces, which arrived on Thursday, comprised 309 Sri Lankan soldiers who deployed immediately to Leogane, in the south of Haiti.

The second lot of the first batch, assigned for UN peacemaking missions in Haiti included 17 Officers and 292 Other Ranks of the Army, left for Haiti early on Thursday (28) morning amidst greetings and best wishes.

The first UN batch left for Haiti in September with 14 Officers and 114 Other Ranks, a historical phenomenon as far as the Sri Lanka Army is concerned.

Two hundred troops from Spain and 70 officers from Guatemala are being stationed in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The Spanish battalion will be joined next week by 160 Moroccan soldiers who will work jointly in Cap Ha`D4tien, located in northern Haiti.

This is the first time Spanish and Moroccan troops have formed a joint battalion in support of a UN peacekeeping operation.

Lankan hostage forced to go to Iraq by employer, says wife by Norman Palihawadane

The wife of the Sri Lankan truck driver abducted by the Islamic guerillas, says that her husband`EDs employers had threatened him to go to Iraq otherwise he would be deprived of his job and earnings.

`ECHe phoned me before leaving Kuwait to Iraq to transport food supplies to US soldiers. He told me that his employer had threatened that he would be removed from his job and he would have to fly back home on his own if he refused go to Iraq,`EE Doreen Buljans, wife of abducted Dinesh Dharmendra Rajaratnam (36) said.

"He wanted us to send a fax message to his employer saying that there was a very pressing need for him to return home immediately," she said. "He was not paid the salary that was promised."

Rajaratnam a father of three boys, resident of Elakanda Road, Hendala left for Kuwait June 9 last year. He was kidnapped by the Iraqi group `EBAnsarul Sunnah`ED last Thursday along with a Bangladeshi truck driver.

Doreen and her children came to know of the abductions after a television channel had reported the incident. They visited the local job agency and were told that they could do nothing. She said that her husband had told them that he was earning a pittance, compared to what he was promised when he had signed the contract.

The truckers were seized on Thursday by the Islamic Army in Iraq, which, according to Al-Jazeera television, released a statement saying "the two hostages were abducted before driving their trucks into a US base in Iraq".

A video with the name of the extremist group showed each of the presumed hostages separately and a number of identification documents, including a Kuwaiti driving license.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minster Vishwa Warnapala says the Sri Lankan government is taking every action and using all available diplomatic channels to secure the release of Rajaratnam.

Arms dealer in police net

Police were trying to ascertain how an unemployed youth, arrested on Saturday with arms and ammunition, had earned millions of rupees over a short period. Inquiries revealed the suspect received huge amounts of money to his bank account on a regular basis. Under interrogation, the suspect claimed that a foreigner based in the UK regularly transferred money to his account. "But what we want to know is why?" a police spokesman said.

The arrest was made on Saturday evening by the Anti-Vice Strike Force.

Police found a T-56 assault rifle, a Chinese air rifle, four T-56 magazines and an assortment of rifle, light machine gun and pistol ammunition. Police also found a gajamuthu believed to be worth approximately Rs 1.2 million.

Police said the arms and ammunition was hidden in a secret compartment on the third floor of the suspect's luxury house at Duwamodera, Kosgoda.

The 27-year-old suspect dubbed Kosgoda Ayu is believed to be in touch with persons engaged in the lucrative underworld arms market. (SF)

ISGA inconsistent with constitution — Anandasangaree by Cyril Wimalasurendre

KANDY: The LTTE does not truly represent the Tamils of North East. The LTTE demand of an Internal Self Governing Authority (ISGA) also is inconsistent with the country's Constitution Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Leader Anandasangaree told the Most Ven. Tibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Maha Nayake Thero of Malwatte on Sunday.

Anandasangaree paid a courtesy call on the Maha Nayake Thera on Sunday.

Anandasangaree expressed his vehement opposition to any agreement or attempt to grant the ISGA to the LTTE.

He said the LTTE at first agreed to a federal system of administration for the North East. Now their demand has changed to self-governing authority, he said.

Even the so-called members of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) should not be given a hearing. The TNA members numbering 22 have entered the Parliament in an undemocratic way, Anandasangaree claimed. This has been accepted not only in Sri Lanka but also by the foreign agencies he noted.

As a senior member of the Parliament, he said he was aware of the feelings and the needs of the Tamils in the North and East.

Most Ven. Sri Sumangala Mahanayake told the TULF leader the best solution to the major issue could be found by supporting the Peace Advisory Council appointed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The prelate advised all those interested in the crisis should attend the Advisory Council.

SL Terrorists should not be legitimised – Delhi declaration

New Delhi, 31 October, ( The Delhi Declaration proclaimed a solution to the current problem of linguistic divide in Sri Lanka should not be so structured as to reward terrorism or permit any terrorist outfit on either side of the divide to gain in legitimacy or in access to authority of the state.

The conference on ‘India’s Sri Lanka’s policy objectives, priorities and strategy was held on Saturday, in New Delhi presided over by Dr. Subramanian Swamy, a former Law and Commerce Minister of India.

More than 40 academics, political leaders, and speakers participated in the one-day conference. The conference got underway with a call by Dr. Subramanian Swamy, that the conference should focus, among other things, on a possible option for India to intervene at the invitation of the Sri Lankan government.

The conference adopted the ‘Delhi Declaration’ and accordingly, part of it urged that, whatever solution is found, India should ensure that the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is not forgotten, but that those accused in the proceedings before the court conducting the trial, and declared to be proclaimed offenders are brought to book under the law.

India should not endorse any solution unless this minimum condition is met.

The full text of the unanimously adopted Delhi Declarations are as follows:

1. This Conference declares that a solution to the current problem of linguistic divide in Sri Lanka should not be so structured as to reward terrorism or permit any terrorist outfit on either side of the divide to gain in legitimacy or in access to authority of the state.

Hence, this Conference rejects the concept that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) can be sole spokesperson agency of the minority Tamils of the island nation. To that extent, this Conference calls upon the concerned international community to ensure that any peace talks in the Sri Lanka is broad based and inclusive, and that in finding a solution take all interests and parties in the divide into account.

Furthermore, whatever solution is found, India should ensure that the assassination of former Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi is not forgotten, but that those accused in the proceedings before the court conducting the trial, and declared to be proclaimed offenders are brought to book under the law. India should not endorse any solution unless this minimum condition is met.

2. This Conference declares that the clear and appropriate solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka arising out of a linguistic divide is a properly safeguarded federal constitution. The safeguards are to ensure that basic federal structure of the said constitution cannot be amended in the future by a parliamentary majority vote and that the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka is sanctified beyond challenge.

Since such a solution has universal appeal as also acceptance of the peace loving and democratic people on both sides of the linguistic divide, and wide international applicability, hence the Sri Lanka government should obtain the necessary parliamentary approval and declare its intention to replace the present unitary constitution with such a federal constitution when peace in the country prevails.

This Conference declares that the international community and India in particular, should assist the Sri Lanka government to ensure that the essential peaceful environment prevails to implement such a federal constitution. Hence, any outfit or organization that seeks to block the implementation of such a constitution or disrupt the peaceful environment should be treated as a terrorist organization and dealt as such by the international community within the framework of the UN Resolution on Terrorism.

Wanted posters out for 6 Karuna cadres by Norman Palihawadane

Six field commanders of the Karuna group have been put on the ‘Most Wanted Persons’ list by the LTTE Vanni faction, whose group in the east had distributed leaflets to that effect, sources said yesterday.

The leaflets carried the names and photographs of the six outlawed Tigers, who have been branded as traitors and criminals by the Vanni group.

The leaflet released by the political division of the Batticalao - Amparai districts, has sought the details of those six members of the Karuna group including Sinnathambi, Marakkan, Mangalan, Imiya Bharathi, Uruththirai and Pillaiaiyan who were heads of the lowest rungs of Karuna’s military machinery, sources added.

The leaflets requested the public to come forward with information on the whereabouts of these wanted cadres to enable the Vanni forces to arrest or eliminate them.

Posters too had been put up on the same lines but with the addition of the message "We will soon identify other Tamil traitors too, who are surreptitiously works against us," sources added.

Foreign Minister tells Danish Parliament - Denmark to ensure LTTE ban on all lists

Denmark’s Minister of Foreign Per Stig Moller had told the Danish Parliament (Folketing ) that the government would take necessary action to ensure that the terrorist lists of America and the European Union would not differ on the inclusion of the LTTE, the Asian Tribune reported yesterday.

It added that the Foreign Minister’s statement was made in reply to a written question raised by Denmark People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti) Member of Parliament Peter Skarup on October 7, over the visit to Denmark of Balakumar a leader of the LTTE and why the Tigers had not been included in the European Union’s list of terrorist organisations..

The Asian Tribune report, datelined Copenhagen November 1 reads: " The Government of Denmark would take necessary action to see that both the terrorists list of United States of America and European Union as one and the same. This assurance was given in the floor of the Danish Parliament (Folketing ) by Per Stig Moller, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

While replying to written question raised Denmark People’s Party’s (Dansk Folkeparti) Member of Parliament Mr. Peter Skarup, who is also the second chairman of the Party, Foreign Minister said "Government of Denmark would take appropriate action to include the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the terrorists list."

The written question and the answer appeared in the Denmark parliament Document list is given below:

Foreign Affairs Ministry October 004.10.31

Denmark People’s Party’s (Dansk Folkeparti) Member of Parliament Mr. Peter Skarup asked Minister of Foreign Affairs, on 2004 October 07 in the Parliament (Folketing) the written the question.

Question No: S 143

An important leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Mr. Balakumar came to Denmark and remained here and visited several places. Will the Foreign Minister tells us the reason why he was here? Furthermore, why Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was not included so far in the "Terrorists list of the European Union"? Further more the Tigers have an Army under their control and a suicide squad and were involved in series of bloody attacks on civilian population and in 1991 they attacked the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and killed him and whether the Foreign Minister is aware these facts.? Therefore they have to be included in the European Union’s Terrorists list. Furthermore, will the Minister take appropriate actions to ensure the terrorists list maintained by the United States of America as well as the European Union’s one to be one and the same? If such measures failed, will the Minister ban the Tamil Tigers entering Denmark?

Reply by Per Stig Moller - Foreign Minister

Balakumar was in Denmark on a private visit. His arrival was not brought to the notice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In February 2002 a ceasefire agreement was reached between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamill Eelam with the facilitation of the Government of Norway. Ceasefire is being so far adhered. Meanwhile, so far numerous rounds of talks were held to find solutions to the problems. Denmark as well as the European Union gave our concrete support. But for the last so many months, there was no progress at all. Norway continues in it facilitation efforts reconvene the peace talks.

To prepare the terrorists list of the European Union, opinions of the member states would be sought and after arriving at a consensus only, the list would be prepared.

Government of Denmark would take necessary action to see that both the terrorists list of United States of America and European Union as one and the same.

Government of Denmark would take appropriate action to include the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the terrorists list.

Presently, European Union has not taken any decision regarding the inclusion of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the terrorists list. Reason for this is some of the countries have kept themselves away from the present peace process that is taking place in Sri Lanka."