BY S VENKAT NARAYAN
Our Special Correspondent
Roughly a dozen ousted Myanmar lawmakers, who fled to India after the February 1 military coup, are now busy plotting to dethrone the generals.
In a spartan hillside room in India furnished only with a thin sleeping mat, one of the Myanmar Members of Parliament (MPs) spends much of his days attentively listening to Zoom conference calls and tapping away messages on his smartphone.
The short, soft-spoken man is among the handful of ousted Myanmar MPs who have fled across the border to India’s remote north-eastern region after the military coup and the lethal crackdown on dissent.
Two of the lawmakers and a Myanmar politician spoke to a Reuters reporter. They are involved with the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw or CRPH, a body of ousted lawmakers that is attempting to re-establish the civilian government and displace the military.
The three said the group is supporting demonstrations, helping distribute funds to supporters and holding negotiations with multiple entities to quickly form a civilian administration nationwide. They asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against their families back home.
Most of the ousted lawmakers are from deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) that overwhelmingly won a November 2020 election, which the military has annulled.
The coup has been met with a fierce pro-democracy movement and tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across the country, despite the crackdown.
Security forces have killed over 700 people, and more than 3,000 have been detained, including more than 150 lawmakers and members of the former government. Mobile and wireless internet services have been shut down.
The fear of detention and inability to rebuild a civilian government without internet connectivity has driven some Myanmar lawmakers involved in the resistance to work from India, the two MPs elected to Myanmar’s Parliament said.
“There is no time,” one of them, who is from the country’s western Chin state, told Reuters. “People are dying in our country.”
A spokesman for Myanmar’s military did not answer calls seeking comment. The junta has accused the CRPH of treason. The group is working to set up a national unity government to challenge the military’s authority.
Since fleeing to India around two weeks ago, the lawmaker said he had been holding regular discussions with colleagues to set up a parallel administration in Chin state, under directions from the CRPH.
The process is complex, involving building consensus between elected representatives, political parties, ethnic armed groups, civil society bodies and civil disobedience movement leaders, the two lawmakers and the politician said.
The CRPH is also keen on opening communications with India, where at least 1,800 people from Myanmar are already sheltering. It will seek New Delhi’s blessings for the parallel government it is attempting to form, the politician said.
“We can’t rely on China, Thailand and other neighbouring countries,” he said. “The only country where refugees are being welcomed is India”.
India’s External Affairs Ministry did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.
This week, NLD lawmakers from Myanmar’s northern Sagaing region held an online conference call, but only 26 out of 49 representatives dialled in, according to the second MP who attended the meeting from India.
“We don’t know where the rest are,” the federal lawmaker said. Two party officials were now trying to track down their missing colleagues.
Some of the fiercest resistance to the junta has come from Sagaing. In the last two months, around 2,000 families involved in the civil disobedience movement in one part of the region have been given financial assistance of around 17 million Kyat ($12,143), the lawmaker from Sagaing said.
The presence and activities of escapee Myanmar lawmakers could pose a diplomatic quandary to India, particularly given New Delhi’s close ties with the Myanmar military rulers.
But India’s position on the Myanmar crisis itself appears to have somewhat shifted in recent weeks. This has also been acknowledged by some CRPH representatives.
At an United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on April 10, Indian diplomat K. Nagaraj Naidu said New Delhi is pushing for a return to democracy in Myanmar. “The first, and most immediate step, in this regard is the release of detained leaders,” Naidu said.
However, India is concerned around internal divisions within the CRPH that could hobble its functioning, a source with knowledge of New Delhi’s thinking said.
The politician involved with the CRPH said he is hopeful that India will engage with the group.
“If democracy wins in Myanmar, it is also a win for India,” he said.
CAA reverses decision to file legal action against Litro Gas
For introducing controversial hybrid LPG cylinder
by Suresh Perera
The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has backtracked on moves to file legal action against Litro Gas Lanka for launching 18-litre premium hybrid domestic LPG cylinders in contravention of consumer laws.
The Chairman was not in favor of moving court on the matter due to political pressure, a senior CAA official said.
The move to desist from legally challenging Litro’s launch of the new hybrid cylinder to the market without the regulator’s approval comes in the backdrop of State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna’s intervention to allow the controversial product to be sold to consumers at its introductory price of Rs. 1,395.
“What’s the purpose of a regulatory body if politicians can interfere with CAA’s legally mandated functions to protect the interests of consumers?”, the official asked.
The selective application of the law will boil down to seeking approval from politicians on whether legal action should be instituted when even a grocery store is raided for violating regulations, he said.
“The law is the same, and if are to take punitive action by favor, then the CAA will be a dead duck bowing down to political dictates”, he opined.
Litro Gas has come under fire for introducing new hybrid domestic cylinders for Rs. 1,395 in spite of the weight being reduced by three kilograms in comparison to the regular 12.5 kilogram cylinders priced at Rs. 1,493.
“We have already received hundreds of complaints about a shortage of 12.5kg cylinders in the market as Litro is trying to push its new hybrid cylinders”, the official said.
“This is unethical”.
A resident of Kirillawala in the Gampaha district complained that only hybrid LPG cylinders were available over the past few days.
“I was told by the Litro dealer in the area that stocks of 12.5kg regular cylinders will not be received for some time”, he said.
However, Litro Gas Chairman/CEO, Anil Koswatte assured that there was no dearth of LPG in the marketplace.
When told that technically there may be no shortage of cooking gas, but on whether regular 12.5kg regular cylinders were also available apart from the new 18-litre premium hybrid product, he said that there may be delays in deliveries due to the prevailing situation, but both domestic cylinders are freely available.
Consumers can also order online or by calling 1311 for delivery, he said.
The LPG production process is continuing uninterrupted despite many challenges posed by the pandemic. Workers adhere to health safety regulations and are regularly screened and provided accommodation to prevent contact with outsiders who may be infected, he continued.
With ballooning global LPG prices, Litro Gas Lanka incurs Rs. 300 to 400 million in losses per day as the government has turned down an appeal for a Rs. 700 price increase on domestic cylinders.
The new hybrid 18-litre domestic cylinder was introduced to the market to cut losses as LPG is now sold below procurement cost.
Asked about the claim in a YouTube video shared on social media that he draws a remuneration of Rs. 3 million per month at a time Litro is facing a financial crunch, Koswatte declined to comment on what he termed as “gossip to sling mud at him”.
The presenter of the YouTube program, Chapa Bandara, claimed that Koswatte draws a monthly salary of Rs. 2 million from Litro Gas Lanka Limited and Rs. 1 million from Litro Gas Terminal Lanka Ltd.
“I am not paid with government funds”, he noted, while pointing out that both are private companies.
“My salary is a matter for the shareholders to decide on”, he stressed, while adding that his salary should not be of concern to anybody as it’s purely a private matter.
The Chairman said that if he responds to tittle-tattle, it will create the impression that he also thrives on gossip.
Presenter Bandara also asserted that a woman who served as the General Manager at the time Koswatte was Chairman of Laksala has been appointed Director (Human Resources) of Litro Gas.
Allied Security Services to reward officer who foiled Rs. 10.7mn robbery
Timely action by a security officer on duty at a private bank in the Anuradhapura New Town thwarted the robbery of Rs. 10.7 million by a two-member gang on Thursday morning.
The officer risked his life to prevent the gangsters from escaping with the cash during the heist, an official said.
An officer of a different security agency had alighted from the vehicle and walked towards the ATM with a representative of the bank to reload cash into the machine when two persons lurking in the vicinity had thrown chilli powder and grappled with them in an attempt to grab the bag containing the cash, he said.
They had, however, fought back, and in the melee, the bag had slipped to the ground. The security officer, who was near the entrance to the bank, had promptly run across, picked up the bag and taken it into the premises, he noted.
Sensing they had lost the chance of robbing the money, the gangsters had escaped on a motorcycle before the police arrived, the official said.
A security officer of the company entrusted with reloading cash to the bank’s ATMs was injured when his gun went off by accident during the confusion, he said. “He was admitted to the Anuradhapura General Hospital”.
The brave security officer, whose resourcefulness prevented the money from being snatched, was identified as S. R. K. Somarathne of Allied Security Services (Pvt) Limited. He is a resident of Hidogama in Anuradhapura.
“We will be rewarding this valiant officer who foiled the robbery in spite of the grave risk to his life”, a senior official of Allied Security Services, said. (SP)
Police round up unmasked persons in public spaces in Colombo
With the alarming spike in Covid-19 infections across the country, Police on Friday launched an operation in Colombo to round up unmasked persons in public spaces.
Police said that 85 people taken into custody were initially taken to the Bo-tree junction in Pettah, where DIG (Colombo Division) Jagath Chandrakumara, gave them a brief lecture on the risk of not adhering to health safety guidelines.
They are not only placing their lives on the line by ignoring corona preventive guidelines such as wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance, but also jeopardizing others by spreading the virus, he said.
Police said that 85 persons taken into custody were later transported in buses to the Pettah police station, where they were granted police bail. They will have to appear in court when notified.
The operation was conducted under the supervision of DIG Jagath Chandrakumara, SSP (Colombo Central) Nishantha Chandrasekara, SSP (Colombo Central 1) Samarakoon Banda, Pettah Acting OIC Chief Inspector Abeyratne and Dam Street OIC Chief Inspector A. P. Paduruarachchi on the direction of senior DIG (Western Province) Deshabandu Tennakoon.
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