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Bio-pirates threaten Customs officials

Sequel to foiling an attempted export of water plants:

The Sri Lanka Customs ‘BioDiversity Protection Unit head Samatha Gunasekera yesterday said , he and his Unit’s officers on duty at Air Cargo Export Terminal at at the Bandaranaike International Airport have been faced with threats to their lives after foiling an attempt to export a consignment of unauthorised water plants from Sri Lanka .

Gunasekera said, the threats have come to them after arresting a shipment of 1500 kilograms of endemic Keketiya plants, known as Aponogeton Crispus , which were set to have been brought for exportation under the name of a similar plant specie of the same family called the Aponogetaon Ulvaceu. He was speaking at a press conference held yesterday at the National Library and Documentation Services Board Auditorium to explain the outcome of the scenario behind the much publicized bio-piracy case involving illegal export of endemic keketiya plants.

This is a violation of Section 119 of Customs Ordinance that the plant Aponogetton Crispus had been falsely described as Aponogeton Ulvaceus with the intention of escaping.

The samples of the plants being forwarded to the National Botanical Gardens for identification, the authorities have confirmed that the plants were Aponogeton Crispus.

”The goods which were detained as plant they described on their cargo is not available in natural habitats of Sri Lanka,” he said. ”The plant is restricted to export under the Forest Ordinance,” explained Gunasekera.

”We held this press conference with the permission of the Director General of the Customs to apprise the public that the scenario after this detection of bio-piracy of keketiya plants since its occurrence on July 19 , 2002, has never made it easy on the Bio Diversity Protection Unit of the Customs,” he said.

”However, it has revealed that the bio pirates carry out these activities with the support of Universities and political influence.

A number of scientists and higher authorities are subtly connected to bio-piracy and gene- theft incidents in Sri Lanka,” he said.

The keketiya incident had gone to the extent that the Managing Director of the company has reportedly attemplted to assault the Customs’ Bio Diversity Protection Unit Chief Samantha Gunasekera.

Referring to what had happened, Gunasekera said , “I was also photographed by the suspect.”

”It came to a level where the commencement of the Customs Inquiry was postponed by the Inquiring Officer pending investigations. The shipment was exported with an added 2000 kilograms of the same item,” he said. However , the court cases filed by the suspect against the Customs at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court had been rejected.

Finally, the Customs inquiry on the issue was finalized by imposing Rs.703 303 and Rs.799 755 as penalties sighting Roger Ratnayaka as the the offender by the Innquiring Officer, he added.

”I am grateful to Envirionment Lawyer Ravi Algama who presented my case on behalf of the Customs without charging any fee,” said Gunasekera.



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