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Govt.-backed racketeers run riot: 3,000 acres grabbed in Somawathiya National Park within two days

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By Ifham Nizam

Another 1,000 acres of the Somawathiya National Park were been grabbed yesterday by an organised group who removed boundary posts put up by Department of Wildlife, and placed them further inside the National Park, thus bringing the extent of the sanctuary land encroached in two days to 3,000 acres.

Environmentalists said government supporters were responsible for the land grab.

Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle of Sri Lanka, Convener, Supun Lahiru Prakash told The Island yesterday that a group led by a high-ranking official of the Medirigiriya Divisional Secretariat had entered the Park on Wednesday had encroached on 2,000 acres of forest land.

“This land grab took place in the Palliyagodella area. We strongly condemn the behaviour of the Divisional Secretary and request the relevant authorities to protect the Somawathiya National Park. If not, it can lead to encroachment of Wildlife protected areas in the country and current deforestation will worsen.”

Defence Secretary retired General Kamal Gunaratne earlier said that he had found that some Divisional Secretaries were issuing licences to clear forest lands and the practice had to be stopped.

Prakash said the officials of the Medirigiriya Divisional Secretariat were acting in clear violation of the Fauna and Flora Protection (Amendment) Act No. 22 of 2009 and the National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980.

Our sources in the Forest Department confirmed the land grab.

Our efforts to contact the Medirigiriya Divisional Secretary were in vain.

The Somawathiya National Park is one of the main protected areas located in the Mahaweli wildlife region and plays a key role as an important elephant home range.

Prakash, who is also a specialist on the country’s elephants, said that 30% of the free range elephant population in Sri Lanka lived in the Mahaweli Wildlife Region and if they lost part of their home range, it would increase the human- elephant conflict and elephant conservation would be badly affected.

The Polonnaruwa District has reported the second highest number of incidents of the human-elephant conflict, and encroachments will lead to further escalation of the problem in the district, environmentalists say.

There was a similar attempt to encroach on 2,000 acres of land from flood plains in the National Park in Polonnaruwa recently.



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Southern MP warns that Russian & Ukranian tourists working here are at risk

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“They may be knifed or their lives threatened”

ECONOMYNEXT – Tourists from Russia and Ukraine who are staying in houses in Sri Lanka for long periods are engaging in business activities and should be taxed to prevent them being knifed by competitors, SLPP MP Chandima Weerakkody told parliament on Friday.

“There are many tourists who are staying long term in houses,” he said. “Though they come here they cannot use their credit cards – especially Russian and Ukrainian tourists who cannot use their money through their cards. As a result they have been forced to work and earn something in Sri Lanka.”

He called on the government to have a system where they can use their money.

“In our areas many tourists are cutting hair, some are doing tinkering work, some are setting up pizza shops, some are selling cannabis – I think there is a new name now *for ganja),” Weerakkody said. “If we send the immigration behind the tourists who are coming, even those that are coming will not come.”

“No taxes are being charged from any of these tourists who are doing business. Our (local people’s) taxes are raised. I am asking at least to have a system for the government to collect some taxes

“I want to say in Parliament that in our areas, a knifing (pihi anumak), or some other threat to life (jeewitha tharjanayak) may happen if this situation continues.”

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Kidney sale racket unearthed in Colombo

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Five duped to sell their kidneys at Rs. 15 million each

By Norman Palihawadane

The Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) has informed the Colombo Additional Magistrate Ranjindra Jayasuriya that an investigation has been launched to arrest the suspects involved in the organized racket of obtaining kidneys from poor people promising big money and selling them to local and foreign people.The CCD told the court on Thursday that four men and one woman have parted with their kidneys, and despite promising to pay Rs.15 million per kidney nothing was paid.

CCD reported to court that the victims were operated at a Hospital on Cotta Road in Borella and no money was paid. A mother who was nursing a one-and-a-half-year-old infant was among those cheated.

The police told court that a person from the Bloemendhal area had referred these people through another man and a woman. Required medical tests had been conducted at three private hospitals.

Evidence has been obtained that kidney surgeries had been performed at a private hospital in Borella and the CCD stated in court that this racket was organized targeting poor families in Colombo.

It informed court that they have already launched investigations and will arrest the suspects and produce them before court.After considering the relevant submissions, the Magistrate ordered the CCD to conduct investigations and arrest the suspects and present them to court.

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Record highest number of school students visit Parliament

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School children wave during their visit to Parliament on Thursday (1). Serjeant-at Arms Narendra Fernando said that the largest number of school students in the history of the Parliament visited the Parliament on Dec 1. Over 5,000 students from 32 schools from different provinces visited the Parliament on that day, he said. More than 25,000 students representing schools in different parts of the country had visited to observe the Parliamentary debates after the Public Gallery was reopened for school students from Sept 19.

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