Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sri Lankan journalist threatened by a gang

Journalist Dileesha Abeysundera Tuesday lodged a complaint with the Borella Police that she was threatened by a group of unidentified persons around 11.45 p.m. on Monday night, according media reports in Colombo. Ms. Abeysundera works for Irudina, a sister newspaper of the Sunday leader. She is also the Deputy Secretary of the Free Media Movement (FMM), a media watchdog, and Secretary of the National Forum for Journalists (NFFJ).

"I got home after work around 10:00 p.m. on Monday night. At about 11.45 p.m, someone kept banging on my house gates, while calling out my name. I was woken up by the noise, and I opened the door slightly while the gate was still locked and inquired as to who it was. The person at the gate asked if Dileesha Abeysundera of the Sunday Leader lived here. I replied that there was no such person in this house and closed the door," the complaint lodged at the Borella Police, said.

"About this time it started raining. Subsequently, I heard a few persons talking outside. About ten minutes later they left in a vehicle," the complaint added.

Ms Abeysundera said she believed it was someone trying to frighten her, because she was involved in campaigning for media rights, the media reports said.

The night Ms. Abeysundera was threatened, she has returned home after organizing a meeting held at the J.R. Jayewardene Centre, which called for the abolition of the Press Councils Act, Ms Abeysundera further stated to media in Colombo.

© TamilNet

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

UN envoy Walter Kalin counters government statement

The Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kaelin said the restoration of freedom of movement for more than 250,000 internally displaced persons held in closed camps in Northern Sri Lanka is becoming a matter of urgency, and he remains very concerned about the very slow pace of releases.

In a statement today over his recent visit to Sri Lanka, including the IDP camps in Vavuniya, Kaelin said he continued to welcome the Government’s stated intention that 70–80% of the displaced shall be allowed to return by the end of the year and he was impressed by the Government’s massive demining and reconstruction efforts that he witnessed in the Mannar rice bowl.

“It is imperative to immediately take all measures necessary to decongest the overcrowded camps in Northern Sri Lanka with their difficult and risky living conditions. The IDPs should be allowed to leave these camps and return voluntarily and in freedom, safety and dignity to their homes. If this is not possible in the near future, the displaced must be allowed to stay with host families or in open transit sites”, the Representative said.

“This is particularly important as the monsoon season is approaching. The camps, which were set up to respond to an immediate emergency, are not equipped to deal with heavy rains. The expected flooding of low-lying areas in the upcoming weeks is likely to cause serious threats to health and life,” Kaelin added.

The comments countered a government statement released last week which quoted Kalin as expressing his full satisfaction about the facilities provided by the Sri Lankan Government for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) sheltered at the Welfare villages.

The Representative, in his statement yesterday, while appreciating that his interlocutors in the Government shared these goals, called upon the Government to translate its commitments into action without further delay.

“In this context an incident reported by the Sri Lankan Army on 26 September involving the use of firearms to control a group of internally displaced persons trying to move from one camp zone to another that resulted in injuries to two persons raises serious human rights issues. It also underscores how interning people in large and overcrowded camps not built for prolonged stays is in itself a factor detrimental to security,” he said.

According to international law, legitimate and imperative security concerns may justify the internment of civilians during the height of a conflict, but it must not last longer than absolutely necessary to respond to these security concerns. Internment decisions must further be made on an individual rather than a group basis. Those who are not released must be informed about the reasons on an individual basis and be given a genuine opportunity to have this decision reviewed by an independent body.

In light of these standards and the need to properly balance security concerns with the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), the Representative urged the Government again to take prompt action.

© Daily Mirror

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sri Lanka May Create Bitterness by Holding Refugees, Ban Says

By Paul Tighe - Sri Lanka risks creating bitterness if it fails to rapidly resettle Tamil refugees held in camps since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

Further suffering under harsh conditions in the camps may result in growing bitterness, Ban told Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake at a meeting yesterday in New York, according to the UN.

A shooting at the main center in the north at the weekend, in which two children were injured, is a “sign of growing frustrations” in the camps, the UN cited Ban as saying. Sri Lanka’s military said people in the camp threw a grenade at soldiers who fired in the air to disperse an unruly crowd.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government says the resettlement of more than 280,000 displaced people depends on ensuring security in the north and clearing mines from conflict areas. Sri Lanka earlier this month rejected an assertion by UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay that the Tamils are detained under “conditions of internment.”

The army defeated the last LTTE forces in a battle on the northeast coast in May that ended the group’s 26-year fight for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east of the South Asian island nation.

While Ban acknowledged the efforts being made by the government since the conflict ended, he said Sri Lanka must win the trust and confidence of the population in the mainly Tamil north to achieve reconciliation.

Camp Unrest

The unrest at the weekend occurred at the Menik Farm camp at Vavuniya in the north. Soldiers were forced to fire in the air when people threw stones, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said two days ago.

Two suspects were wounded when they tried to escape after throwing a grenade at soldiers, he said, adding they had links to Tamil Tiger terrorists.

In the past two weeks, Lynn Pascoe, UN’s political chief, and Walter Kalin, the under secretary-general for human rights, visited the country to assess the needs of displaced people. Pascoe said the pace of the release of refugees is “too slow” and people are growing impatient to leave the camps.

Wickremanayake told Ban, while the government is trying to meet its pledges to resettle all displaced people by January, it needs international aid, in particular for clearing mines, according to the UN.

The international community should support Sri Lanka’s efforts to rebuild after its defeat of terrorism, the prime minister said in a Sept. 26 address to the UN General Assembly.

Overseas Funds

The LTTE enjoyed financial assistance from outside Sri Lanka and remnants of the group are continuing efforts to raise funds, Wickremanayake said.

“Although we have been successful in defeating terrorism in Sri Lanka, we continue to urge our friends and partners in the international community to be vigilant and to continue to take action against the illegal acts of the LTTE on their soil,” he told the assembly.

Sri Lanka is facing a conspiracy to devalue its defeat of the Tamil Tigers, Rajapaksa said earlier this month. Western nations should help reconstruction and stop criticizing the country over its treatment of displaced people and human rights, the president said.

© Bloomberg

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

JVP members arrested for campaigning

Twenty seven members of the JVP who were involved in election campaign of the Southern PC election have been arrested by Morawaka Police.

Among the JVP members who were arrested are Lal Premanath and Priyanthe Ratnayake two candidates contesting the PC election. They have been arrested alleging they wee involved in an illegal election campaign.

While the arrested members of the JVP were being taken to the police station a large number of UPFA supporters with decorated vehicles had been going on a motorcade shouting slogans in Morawaka town. However, the police had not taken any action regarding the supporters of UPFA reports our correspondent at Morawaka.

© Lanka Truth

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Garment factories closing like ‘nine pins’

Half of the country's garment factories have been closed after the quota system ended in 2005, and garment factory owners fear that another set of factories will close if Sri Lank does not get the GSP+.

However, authorities are still unaware of the number of garment factories operating in the country.

UNP Parliamentarian Lakshman Kiriella said that out of the 789 garment factories that existed in the country, 589 have been closed and only 200 were functioning at present.

Media Minister Anura Yapa said that there are only 370 BOI registered factories in Sri Lanka. The Minister admitted that some companies have closed as usual in the business sector --- but many more have been earmarked for closure shortly

When LAKBIMAnEWS contacted the Apparel Exporters Association, Rohan Masakorala, general secretary, he said, "When the quota system came to an end in 2005 nearly 400 factories closed but after that I am not aware of recent figures." He added, "Though factories closed down the industry expanded. But with global recession, the sector shows a downward trend.’’

© Lakbima News

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

S.L. Govt. uses Israel to soften American pressure

Upul Joseph Fernando - The report on Sri Lanka’s (SL) war that was to be forwarded to the US Congress has been postponed indefinitely . According to sources in America , this postponement is engendered by the need to garner more information in connection with the report . However , some sources say ,this is the result of a successful ‘Diplomatic operation’ of SL. It is Israel which is being employed to execute this operation . Israel is playing a major role in the operation to soften the American pressure.

Use of Israel by the SL Govt. to ward off the pressures of America is not something new. According to knowledgeable sources , Israel helped SL to stave off the pressures brought to bear on SL by America to halt the war to protect the civil population during the final phase of the war.

There existed a divergence between the American political and the Defense Division opinions regarding the SL war because of Israel’s ability to exert pressure over the American Defense division’s opinions , sources said. When the American political Division tried to stop the war in SL , the Defense Division of America followed a policy of assisting SL to fight the war yielding to the intervention of Israel, it is argued.

The manner in which SL Govt. used America and Israel’s war weapons and equipment for the war was disclosed by an International website as follows :

“ The real assets of the SLAF driving Eelam war 1V were the new Spy planes. Several Cessna 421 , Golden Eagle and two ‘Beechcraft’ super King crafts were bought from the United States for maritime and ground surveillance . Close ground surveillance was carried out by Israeli IAI searcher MK 11 and EMIT Blue Horizon 2 unmanned aerial vehicles …..”

SL decided to seek Israel’s assistance somewhere in 2007. Even during that period,the SL Govt. apparently followed foreign policies which were favorable to anti -Israel States - Palestine and other Arab countries.

SL’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa was also the former President of the SL –Palestine friendship campaign. He had consistently voiced his concern over the Palestine issue. He had campaigned for the Palestinians from as far back as 1970 -1977 when he was the youngest Parliamentary member in the United Front Govt.

Even after his party was installed in power in 1994, he did not abandon this stance in respect of Palestine . When his party decided in the year 2000, to call back the Israel Embassy which was closed down during the tenure of office of the former President R. Premadasa, Mahinda Rajapaksa steadfastly raised objections to this at the Cabinet meeting. He also conducted a vigorous media campaign against this decision publicly. Yet , the Govt. went ahead and got down Israel again to SL as it needed assistance in regard to the war.

Many thought that after Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming President he would close down the Israel Embassy and send them packing. But that did not materialize.

In 2006, when the resolution in favour of Palestine was presented before the UN general assembly , SL walked out and abstained from voting . Many began questioning whether President Rajapaksa changed his stance regarding Palestine ? Sources close to the President reported that this action was taken by the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera independently without consulting the President. Later , the President has accused Samaraweera for this. Mangala on the other hand had declared that he took this step because the country needed American assistance for the war. Subsequently , when Mangala was dismissed from his portfolio in 2007 , one of the reasons cited by Mahinda for the dismissal was his abstaining from voting and walking out when the Palestine resolution was taken up ,which had therefore damaged the image of the President he has built with the Arab countries.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, since his becoming the President has been cultivating and maintaining cordial relations with Iran and the Arab countries..Hence, his action of dispatching the Prime Minister to Israel in March 2008 sprung a surprise among all. Following the Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake’s meeting with the Israel P.M. Ehud Olmert , the latter’s office issued a communiqué which stated thus …. “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told SL Prime Minister , do not give into terrorism because it will only bring destruction to your country . Terrorism must be fought , one must not capitulate to it ……”. Similarly, the whole world must be alerted and awakened against Iran’s nuclear power , the Israel Prime Minister has insisted.

It is evident , the SL Govt. while maintaining ties with Iran has obtained support of Israel. In the wake of SL Prime Minister’s tour of Israel , the ‘Sunday Leader’ reported , as Iran’s intelligence service is training SL ‘s intelligence service , Israel has declined to supply arms to SL. This is a consequence of the fear Israel entertained that the information regarding its weapons could leak to Iran through SL , the report added.

It is clear however SL used Israel not only to purchase arms , but also to subdue the antagonism of the Obama administration towards the war.Even today , it is the view of some that SL is enlisting the assistance of Israel to ward off America’s attempts to level war crime charges SL . They also claim that SL ‘s ties with Israel currently , is stronger than those with Arab countries.

Foreign media have reported that expulsion of former SL Ambassador in Geneva, Dayan Jayatileke was at the instigation of Israel which had applied pressure on SL Govt. to dismiss him because he roundly condemned Israel’s attacks on the Gaza strip at the UN human rights Commission, and was very critical of the Israel Army. The foreign media even went further to add that Israel has strongly protested to the SL Govt. against Dayan’s speech .

The Govt. which earlier removed its Foreign Minister from his Ministerial portfolio for walking out and abstaining from voting in favour of the resolution brought forth in favour of Palestine, in order to continue its cordial and friendly relations with Palestine , now deemed it right to expel the SL Ambassador who condemned Israel at the UN human rights Commission, in order for the Govt. to continue its friendly relations with Israel , thus demonstrating to the World , all what matters in its Diplomacy is sheer expediency and nothing else.

© Daily Mirror

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Media unite against re-establishment of Press Council

By Nizla Naizer - Re-establishing the Press Council will render the public blind, deaf and dumb, was the message sent out by a collective force of media organisations yesterday as they implemented a petition against the move.

The Conference organised by members of the Sri Lanka Editors Guild, Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Free Media Movement, Sri Lanka Muslim Journalists Guild, Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Guild, Association of Media Workers Unions and National Guild of Journalists brought together journalists, politicians and civilians concerned about media freedom to the Jayawardene Centre yesterday.

The petition signed by all gathered will be submitted to the President requesting the abolishment of the Press Council which is seen as a direct threat to media freedom in Sri Lanka and a step back in the democratic process.
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe speaking at the Conference said that the Press Council was an outdated and unnecessary legislation which would curb the voice of the people if implemented. He said that since 2002, they have been working towards abolishing the Press Council but due to changes in the Government it did not come through.

“Those who support the Press Council which will lead to media suppression and suppressing the right to expression are traitors to the state while those who oppose the Press Council and support media freedom are patriots.”

He said that a self regulatory media is the ideal model in a democratic country while the Press Complaints Legislation which has successfully dealt with 700 complaints since its inception, manages to deal with the media in terms of complaints.

However, he urged the media community to come together and stand unafraid in its opposition to the Press Council. “It is unfortunate, but within the media too there are those who stood firm and then changed their stand.”

Free Media Movement President Sunil Jayasekera said that in order to be implemented the Press Council requires two representatives from the media organisations. “The nine media organizations in Sri Lanka unanimously decided to refuse to nominate representatives from within our organisations.”

His views were echoed by other journalists including Lanka Prelis and Tissa Withanage who said that if the Press Council was implemented the media cannot report on any Ministry activity unless provided with written approval by the Ministry secretary, a task that would result in no information on wrong doing revealed to the public even if the Government officials had misappropriated public funds or misused resources.

“Members of the present Government including the President himself once fought to defeat the Press Council,” Prelis declared, “And we can’t believe that these same individuals are bringing it back.”

“The Government is legalising the terror of the media with this law,” Withanage added, “It cannot be allowed and as responsible citizens we must stand up against it.”

© The Bottomline

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

374 Vanni IDP families remain in Trinco transit centres

Three hundred seventy four IDP families out of three hundred eight nine families brought to Trincomalee district from Vavuniyaa internment camps three weeks ago to be resettled in their villages are still held under detention in transit centres located in four schools under heavy security of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA), sources in Trincomalee said.

Only fifteen IDP families have been allowed to go back to their villages by the army.

Others would be allowed to leave the camps only after screening them to find out whether suspected LTTE cadres are among them, military and civil authority sources said.

350 members of 101 families are still held in transit centres in Thampalakamam Aathi Koneswara Maha Vidiyalayam, 268 members of 87 families in Sri Shenpaga Vidiyalayam in Verugal division, 272 members of 83 families in Kuchchaveli Vivekananda Maha Vidiyalayam and 329 members of 103 families in Allesgarden Mathumai Ambaal Vidiyalayam, sources said.

© TamilNet

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sri Lankan Government Must Reverse Anti-Media Actions - IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins press freedom defenders in Sri Lanka in calling on President Mahinda Rajapakse and the Government of Sri Lanka to put an immediate end to the climate of impunity that has allowed a long campaign of intimidation and violence against independent journalism in Sri Lanka.

The IFJ stands in solidarity with the movement of press freedom organisations and Sri Lankan civil society in demanding that the Government allow space for free public debate, for plurality of opinions and open discussion in Sri Lanka. These conditions are essential for Sri Lanka’s return to peace and democracy.

The IFJ urges Sri Lanka’s Government to revoke its decision in June to reactivate the 1973 Press Council Act and calls for the immediate release from jail of senior journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who was convicted on August 31 on charges accusing him of terrorism for the content of his reporting on human rights issues.

The IFJ is deeply worried that the Press Council Act re-introduces stringent provisions against press freedom. It allows for journalists to be prosecuted for contempt and sentenced to extended periods in prison, and prohibits publication of materials including government documents, matters related the armed services and national security and economic policy.

IFJ General Secretary Aidan White has condemned the reintroduction of the Act as “a worrying retreat from an agreed compact that the media is best served by self-regulation rather than a coercive imposition of the government’s will”.

The IFJ commends its affiliates, the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA) and the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Unions (FMETU), and fellow members of the “Sri Lanka Five” press freedom movement - the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) and the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) - for the unity and courage they have shown during the years-long crisis for the media in Sri Lanka.

The IFJ further supports the efforts of a broader coalition between these five organisations and the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka and the National Forum of Journalists to initiate broader civil action to meet the challenges of post-conflict reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

“Any country where journalists contend with murder, assault or imprisonment for independent reporting on matters of great public interest cannot boast of upholding democratic freedoms,” White said today.

“It is imperative that the Rajapakse Government take concrete steps now to overturn the measures it has implemented to gag free public dialogue and debate, including the immediate withdrawal of the Press Council Act and by ensuring that perpetrators of violence against journalists are brought to justice.”

The fresh efforts to defend media rights in Sri Lanka come as the Rajapakse Government shows little sign of relenting in its campaign of hostility against local and foreign media and journalists’ organisations, even after declaring victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 19.

After the murder of Sunday Leader editor-in-chief Lasantha Wickrematunga on January 8, 2009, many leading journalists and press freedom activists fled Sri Lanka in fear of their lives. No arrests have been made for the murder of Wickrematunga, and many activists remain in exile.

On February 26, Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, editor of the Tamil-language daily Sudar Oli, disappeared in a “white van” abduction. Police initially denied any involvement, but then claimed Vithyatharan was a “wanted person” and was being detained by police. He was held without charge until a court ordered his release on April 24.

On June 1, unknown persons viciously assaulted senior journalist activist Poddala Jayantha, who has since been elected President of the SLWJA. Jayantha’s injuries will likely leave him with lifelong disabilities. The assault was preceded by public statements by government spokesmen inciting violence against Jayantha. No arrests have been made and the government spokesmen have not been compelled to rescind their comments.

On August 31, Tissainayagam, who had been held in custody since March 2008, was sentenced to 20 years’ rigorous imprisonment under Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Regulations. He is one of few journalists to be convicted in a democratic country under terrorism-related charges on the basis of his or her professional work. The matter is under appeal.

Tissainayagam’s colleagues, N. Jesiharan and Valamarthi, continue to face trial on related charges.

The IFJ stands firmly with all journalists and press freedom defenders in Sri Lanka who, at great personal risk, continue to defy efforts by the war lobby to entrench a culture of silence in Sri Lanka.

© International Federation of Journalists

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Seminar against Press Council

A number of journalist organizations backed by civil society movements are to hold a major seminar today to educate and express its displeasure against the recently reactivated Press Council and to launch a programme to sign a petition against it.

The event organised by the National Forum of Journalists, Free Media Movement, Federation of Media Employees Trade Union, Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Alliances, Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum as well as The Editor’s Guild of Sri Lanka.

It is scheduled to start at 4.00pm at the Jayawardena Centre, Dharmapala Mawatha in Colombo 07. The organizing committee invites all interested parties to take part in this event.

© Daily Mirror

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lanka News Web obstructed in Sri Lanka again

The government has for the past few weeks obstructed access to the LNW website in Sri Lanka and the website has been completely blocked since midnight Sunday (27).

Although the government took steps to completely block viewers from accessing the LNW website for the past few months, LNW viewers from overseas did not have a problem.


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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

UN chief urges Sri Lanka to resettle hundreds of thousands displaced by war

Failure to rapidly resettle nearly 300,000 Sri Lankans displaced by the government's final onslaught against Tamil separatists and further suffering under harsh conditions in the camps could result in growing bitterness, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said here Monday.

When meeting with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Ban said in particular the need to resolve the problem in view of the approaching monsoon season, while acknowledging the government's efforts to address post-conflict challenges in Sri Lanka.

In May the government declared an end to its military operation against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), ending more than two decades of fighting.

Ban noted that he had repeatedly brought up the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs), the political process and reconciliation, and accountability for alleged violations during the long ethnic war in his various telephone conversations with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and messages conveyed through visits by senior UN officials.

The incident between IDPs and the army in Menik Farm two days ago resulting in gunshot injuries of two children was a sign of growing frustrations in the camps.

The prime minister assured Ban that the Sri Lankan Government was keen to implement earlier pledges to resettle all IDPs out of the camps by January, but he emphasized that much international aid was needed to facilitate these efforts, especially for de-mining.

Ban underlined the importance of winning the trust and confidence of the population in the North, especially those in the IDP camps, as failure to do so could undermine the prospects for reconciliation.

Wickramanayaka indicated that efforts toward an inclusive political framework were continuing, including through close engagement with minority representatives such as the Tamil National Alliance. Ban stressed the need to expedite a serious, independent and impartial accountability process to look into alleged violation of international law during the conflict as a critical part of moving forward and building peace in Sri Lanka.

The prime minister thanked Ban for UN support and appealed for the Organization to use its influence to facilitate international support for Sri Lanka's recovery efforts.

Both reaffirmed their commitment to continue close engagement in addressing common concerns during this critical transitional phase. The secretary-general welcomed the delegation's pledge to share with the UN the government's recovery and resettlement plans through regular exchanges in a comprehensive and transparent manner.

He highlighted that this would help the UN and others to support national post-conflict efforts more effectively.

© Xinhua

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'Sri Lanka had put a "different spin" on what I said' -UN's Lynn Pascoe

Inner City Press asked the head of the UN's Department of Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe about the shooting incidents, whether the Sri Lankan Army's web site had misquoted him, and why the UN had not convened a meeting about Sri Lankan during the last week's General Debate.

Of the shooting, Pascoe attributed it to overcrowding in the Manik Farms camps, saying "they need to be thinning it out." He acknowledged that the Sri Lankan Army had put a "different spin" on what he said during his visit this month. Inner City Press asked about the headline "You have better story than is getting out today - Pascoe to President." Inner City Press asked this question ten days ago, without getting any answer.

Pascoe said he was only been referring to de-mining, that he was "surprised" he was quoted "for saying things quite in the way that [he] had said them." But why didn't the UN seek a correction then, as it has when for example Sudan characterized what the UN told them in a bilateral conversation?

Pascoe said that the meeting with Defense Secretary (and Presidential brother) Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama was attended not only by Ban Ki-moon, but also by John Holmes and Vijay Nambiar.

As Pascoe sought to turn to another questioner, Inner City Press reminded him of the unanswered question of why the UN had not set up a meeting during the General Debate, as it did on Myanmar, Somalia and other countries.

Pascoe said there had been some thought "early on" of convening such a meeting about Sri Lanka, but it didn't happen. He added that "it is important for the Security Council to discuss... in their rooms or in the basement." Well, the UN Charter provides for the Secretary General to convene a Security Council meeting, under Article 99.

© Inner City Press

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'You have better story than is getting out today': Pascoe to President -

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Do not interfere, Colombo tells U.N.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake has requested the United Nations not to interfere with the internal affairs of the island nation.

Addressing the 64th U.N. General Assembly in New York in Sinhala on Monday Mr. Wickremanayake said according to the U.N. charter 2(7) clause, no country or a force should interfere with the internal affairs of each and every country.

“The Prime Minister noted that Sri Lanka managed to defeat terrorism and the benefits of the victory would be shared with other countries in the world. He said the international community should extend support to the Sri Lankan government,” a statement issued here said.

It further quoted him as telling the U.N. General Assembly that the Sri Lankan government was committed to quickly resettling all displaced persons presently housed in welfare centres.

Over 2.85 lakh people were displaced in the war between the government forces and the LTTE which ended in the third week of May. Nearly 40,000 people have been resettled in the last few months and the government has committed to sending back at least 70 per cent of the remaining displaced, housed in relief camps in the north, by the end of January 2010.

“The government has given top priority to meeting the humanitarian needs of the displaced civilians. He took the opportunity to thank the countries and international organisations that gave a helping hand towards the welfare of displaced persons in the north,” the statement quoted Mr. Wickremanayake as saying.

Separately, the U.N. Development Programme has inked a pact with Haleys to support resettled communities in Ampara district in the eastern province.

Under the agreement, UNDP will supply 15,000 bushels of seed paddy to be marketed by the company. “This new partnership will not only help the company find new sources of agricultural inputs but at the same time help communities establish sustainable enterprises,” the UNDP said in a press release.

UNDP Country Director Douglas Keh described the initiative as a key to sustainable recovery in Sri Lanka. “From humanitarian needs like food and blankets, the requirements of the resettled communities are changing. The focus is now shifting to capacity building and training and physical infrastructure. The partnership with the private sector would help in building these capacities,” he said.

© The Hindu

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Sri Lanka asks UN not to interfere - Hindustan Times

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

President reappoints P.B. Jayasundara as the Treasury Secretary

President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday reappointed Dr. P.B. Jayasundara as the Treasury Secretary. Dr. Jayasundara had held this post since 2004 till he vacated it on a Supreme Court ruling on a fundamental rights petition.

The Supreme Court in its ruling held him responsible for fraud and corruption in the privatization of Lanka Marine Services Ltd., during the then UNP administration. At that time, Dr. Jayasundara held the post of Chairman of the Public Enterprise Reforms Commission (PERC).

In a judgement delivered by a bench headed by former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, Dr. Jayasundera was also found to have acted contrary to the law and fined Rs.500,000 to be paid as compensation to the State. He swore and affidavit undertaking to desist from holding any government office in the future.

Dr. Jayasundara later filed a motion in the Supreme Court after the present Chief Justice Asoka de Silva assumed office in June, seeking permission to be relieved from his own undertaking and to resume work in the public service. The SC granted him the requested relief last week.

Meanwhile Treasury Secretary Sumith Abeysinghe whose term of office was extended on the eve of the SC ruling was yesterday appointed as Cabinet Secretary.

The current Secretary to the Cabinet D. Wijesinghe has been appointed as Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to South Africa, by the President, the Government Information Department said.

Meanwhile, non cabinet Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said yesterday the government would discuss with Dr. Jayasundara whether the better option for 2010 would be a Budget or a Vote on Account.

“We hope to discuss this matter with the newly appointed Treasury Secretary. There are serious talks going on about the options available to us. However, a final decision is yet to be taken,” he said.

Consumer Affairs Minister Bandula Gunawardane said he too was in favour of a Vote on Account for next year.

“A budget is formulated for a year. The term of this parliament will expire in April. So, we have only a few months left. It is advisable for us to present a Vote on Account in November. After the next General Election, there could be a new set of Cabinet Ministers and they may come up with new budgetary proposals. As such a budget presented at this stage will not serve the desired purpose,” he said.

© Daily Mirror

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Indian developers set sights on Sri Lanka's realty market

For nearly three decades, politicians from Norway to New Delhi were flying to Colombo to facilitate peace in Sri Lanka. Now, corporate executives from Larsen & Toubro’s AM Naik to Omaxe’s Rohtas Goel may join author-investor Jim Rogers in flying to the once war-torn Indian Ocean island to share a pie of the future prosperity.

L&T, Omaxe and Puravankara Projects are among those lining up to build projects, anticipating an economic surge in Sri Lanka expected to happen after a bloody war. They are planning to build shopping complexes, residential homes and much more.

Sri Lanka, with hundreds of kilometres of beaches, hill-top plantations and a treasure of history from the ancient pandyas to portugals, is taking baby steps to revive its battered $40-billion economy. Delegates from the Sri Lanka board of investment met with executives from Omaxe in New Delhi and others seeking investments and have liberal rules governing businesses.

It aims to spend $20 million in promoting the nation once described where “history lies buried in its sands, and ghosts of romance lurk among its bastioned rocks” for global tourists.

“With the civil war over, we are seeing a huge demand for housing,” said Puravankara group MD Ravi Puravankara. The group is planning to launch a villa project in Colombo. “We have already initiated the land acquisition process,” he added. It is aimed at the Sri Lankan diaspora who may return to enjoy the long-desired peace. But, it will cost them around $2 lakh each.

The Sri Lankan government is targeting an FDI of $2 billion by 2010. According to government statistics, Sri Lanka received $889 million in FDI in 2008 and $400 million, so far, this year. The Board of Investment declined to comment on how much it expects the Indian real estate developers to invest.

It is not hot air. L&T has already laid the foundation stone for its commercial park in Colombo and is all set to invest around $150 million for its residential and commercial projects in country with a population of around 20 million, about a fifth of Maharashtra.

The commercial complex, a 51 storey building in Colombo city with 15 lakh square feet, will be called the Diamond Tower. “We plan to make this the tallest building in Sri Lanka,” said C Ignatius, director of the Sri Lanka board of investment. Larsen declined to comment for the story.

The Sri Lankan government is doing its best to attract overseas investors, especially from India, and has made the foreign direct investment
rules simple. For an Indian real estate company to build complexes, all it needs to invest is Rs 2 crore. Also, there is no lock-in period for the investors. They can cash out and repatriate the money to India anytime they want.

“We have carried out an extensive research in Sri Lanka and our research shows that the country has huge potential for the developers,” Omaxe chairman and MD Rohtas Goel told ET. But, the company is yet to finalise its plans.

Sri Lanka, with many plantations, beaches and a colonial past, could draw global hospitality and manufacturing companies. “Many multinationals could also enter the country which would again increase the demand for commercial and office space,” said Cushman & Wakefield executive director Kaustuv Roy.

But, some developers who suffered losses when the real estate market collapsed in the Middle East because of the global credit crisis, are cautious. “We have a huge exposure in Dubai,” a Mumbai-based developer said requesting anonymity.

“But, the properties are not selling, so we are trying to sell whatever we can and are exiting. We are saved just because we had huge margins, but now we are cautious and would wait for some other Indian developer to yield results in Sri Lanka,” the developer said.

© The Economic Times

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tamils shot by army after attempting to ‘escape’ from internment camp

Sri Lankan troops opened fire on dozens of Tamil civilians as they allegedly tried to escape from internment camps where they and 280,000 others have been held since the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels in May.

Police said that three of the civilians suffered gunshot wounds, but a pro-Tiger website put the number at six, and said that they had been out collecting firewood rather than attempting to escape.

The army said that the civilians had pelted soldiers with stones as they tried to break free from the Manik Farm camp in the northern district of Vavuniya on Saturday.

“The army fired in self defence,” said Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, an army spokesman. He said that 19 of the civilians had been arrested.

The incident is one of the first undisputed examples of the Sri Lankan Army firing on civilians in the camps. It highlights the controversial status of the camps, which the Government calls “welfare villages”, and appears to violate a pledge by the army not to shoot if prisoners tried to escape.

Brigadier S. Perera, who is in charge of the camps in Vavuniya, told reporters during a recent visit that guards would “tackle to the ground” anyone trying to escape instead of firing on them with live rounds.

It was impossible to contact people inside the camps or witnesses in the surrounding area as the Government has banned independent journalists from visiting except under tight supervision by the army.

A pro-Tiger website claimed that the guards opened fire on a group of prisoners who had gone to collect firewood in the area surrounding the camp. Tamilnet said that they were forced to hunt outside the camp because of a shortage of firewood, salt and other basic necessities.

The incident is likely to increase pressure on the Sri Lankan Government from human rights groups and Western countries to free the remaining prisoners in the camps.

Critics say that their detention is an illegal form of collective punishment and warn that imminent monsoon rains could create health crises in the low-lying and congested camps.

The Government says that it cannot release them all until it has finished screening them to weed out former Tigers and cleared mines and other unexploded ordnance from their villages.

President Rajapaksa promised a visiting UN envoy this month that they would all be allowed home by the end of January.

Repeated pledges to that effect have been undermined recently by revelations that of 10,000 prisoners recently released, many were transferred to other camps in their home districts for further screening.

Human Rights Watch, the US-based group, urged world leaders at the UN General Assembly and the G20 summit last week to press Sri Lanka to release everyone in the camps immediately.

“The civilians locked up in these detention camps have a right to liberty now, not when the Government gets around to it,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.

“Sadly, the Sri Lankan Government has a track record of lying, deceiving and breaking promises to civilians displaced by the conflict,” he said. “The UN, donors and bilateral partners should demand immediate, concrete progress and not let themselves be fooled again by empty Government promises.”

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about the fate of an estimated 10,000 former Tigers still being held in custody after the end of the 26-year Sri Lankan civil war, which claimed 80,000-100,000 lives.

The Government said yesterday that it was seeking advice from the United States on how to deal with the detained former Tigers.

Gamini Godakanda, spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said that Mohan Peiris, the Attorney-General, and the ministry secretary, Suhada Gamlath, had left for the US to study how it handled terrorist suspects.

They are expected to meet officials from the Pentagon, the State Department and the Justice Department, he said.

© Times Online

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sri Lanka plans special tribunals to try LTTE cadres

Sri Lanka plans to set up a Special Tribunal to try over 10,000 LTTE suspects who have been involved in various crimes and has even sought help from the US and UK in dealing with the former rebels.

“Our aim is to settle the cases against the LTTE cadres speedily as it could otherwise take years in the normal legal system in courts,” a top government official said.

More than 10,000 LTTE cadres are being held in various centres across Sri Lanka after the end of the 30-year-old civil war with the death of Velupillai Prabhakaran in May. The official said the Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms has mooted the proposal for a Special Tribunal for trying these cases and that it was under the consideration of the government.

He also said the Special Tribunals may be set up on the lines of the Special Commission set up to inquire into the JVP excesses in 1971. As part of the proposal, moves are on to classify the LTTE suspects into three groups namely, those involved in grave r crimes, those who could be rehabilitated and those not involved in grave crimes and can be released on conditional bail.

The country's Attorney General Mr Mohan Pereis and Justice Ministry Secretary Mr Suhada Gamlath will visit US and UK in this regard.

© Press Trust of India

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'Lankan Navy threatened to kill us' - Indian Fishermen

In what is a shocking story from Tamil Nadu, twenty-two fishermen from the Nagercoil area of Tamil Nadu allege Sri Lankan Navy assaulted and humiliated them. The fishermen who were fishing in the Kanniyaakumari seas were reported to have been brutally assaulted and cast naked in high seas by Sri Lanka Navy soldiers.

The incident occurred on Friday night. The soldiers beat the fishermen with ice blocks and threatened to open fire on them after they confiscated their clothes, fishing nets and outboard motors.

The ordeal of the fishermen ended when they were thrown into the sea. However, they managed to swim to safety.

After swimming in the rough seas for several hours, the fishermen were spotted by local fishermen off the Tamil Nadu coast and were rushed to the hospital on the mainland.

The Secretary of the Fishermen's Association said it was an ordeal that the fishermen have yet to recover from.

An associate said, "22 of us were made to sit and stripped naked. The Lankan Navy soldiers threatened to beat us with sticks if we did not remove our clothes. They also threatened us with guns."

According to a fisherman, "We went into the waters at 11 pm. 2 Lankan Navy boats surrounded our boats. They got onto our boats, stripped us and threw our clothes and all other equipments into the water."

Meanwhile, the government of Tamil Nadu has said the matter would be taken up with the Central government to ensure that this does not happen again.

DMK Spokesperson, TKS Elangovan, said, "Tamil Nadu government condemns this act. This is inhuman treatment meted out to our fishermen by the Lankan army. We have passed a resolution urging the UPA government to act immediately and stop this treatment."


Related Links:
Lankan govt rubbishes Indian fishermen claims -

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Lanka's decisive phase of ethnic war cost $2.8 billion

Sri Lanka's decisive phase of the war with the Tamil Tigers cost the government USD 2.8 billion, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
has said, as he expressed concern that the LTTE networks overseas continued to raise funds.

The Prime Minister expressed concern that the remnants of the "fast-diminishing LTTE networks" overseas continue efforts to raise funds through illegal means.

"Although we have been successful in defeating terrorism in Sri Lanka, we continue to urge our friends and partners in the international community to be vigilant, and to continue to take action against the illegal acts of the LTTE in their soil," he told the UN General Assembly yesterday.

He said the "anti-terrorist operations cost us only USD 2.8 billion in all, compared with other anti-terrorist operations elsewhere which are costing much more".

The Prime Minister said his country remained committed to international obligations on human rights and humanitarian standards. Underlining that valuable lessons had been learnt from past experiences, he expressed the government's firm resolve to resettle the IDPs expeditiously, in co-operation with our international partners.

"Sri Lanka is committed to complying with its international obligations in the field of human rights and humanitarian standards," the Prime Minister said.

For the first time in over a decade, local government elections were held in the North completely free of any violence and intimidation, he said.

© Times of India

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Sri Lanka seeks US lessons over rebel suspects

The Sri Lankan government said on Sunday it would study the United States' treatment of suspected Islamic militants to learn how to deal with thousands of alleged former Tamil Tiger rebels.

Sri Lanka's attorney general Mohan Peiris was set to arrive in Washington on Monday for talks with his US counterpart and with officials in the US defence establishment, justice ministry spokesman Gamini Godakanda said.

"We want to study how the US handled terrorist suspects, particularly hundreds of them from the Al-Qaeda network, after the 9/11 attacks in New York," Godakanda told AFP.

Sri Lankan officials estimate 15,000 former rebels are detained in camps alongside hundreds of thousands of war-displaced civilians.

The Tamil Tigers, who fought for a separate homeland from 1972, were defeated by Sri Lankan troops in May when the military killed their leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

"Some of the former fighters will face prosecution for their crimes, depending on the evidence. Others will be sent for rehabilitation," Godakanda said.

Sri Lanka has sought foreign cash for an ambitious plan to rehabilitate many former rebels and has already collected 23 million dollars towards the project.

Britain, Japan and the US have donated money and 3,000 ex-rebels have already begun training in plumbing, masonry, carpentry and electrical work.


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Monday, September 28, 2009

Military compelled to disperse unruly crowd - Brig. Nanayakkara

The military was forced to open fire at an unruly crowd in the Menik Farm area when they aimed stones and threw a hand grenade at security forces men providing security to the displaced persons in the camp, Military spokesman,Brigadier,Udaya Nanayakkara told

The military was compelled to take action to disperse the unruly crowd and was forced to fire in the air.

He said the elements who threw a grenade at troops had attempted to flee.Troops managed to open fire wounding two suspects, he added.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the wounded suspects and the crowd had links with the terrorists.


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Monday, September 28, 2009

Sri Lanka vows anew to resettle displaced Tamils

Sri Lanka's prime minister vowed anew here that Colombo would quickly resettle civilians still in state-run camps after being displaced by the government rout of Tamil separatists.

Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka told the UN General Assembly yesterday that a key priority for his government was to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of the roughly 290,000 Tamil civilians who "were liberated from the decades-long hold" of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

He said the resettlement would be carried out in cooperation with international partners.

He however warned that "the stability and security that we have restored at great human cost cannot and must not be compromised, particularly when a large number of self-confessed ex-LTTE cadres continue to mix with the IDPs (internally displaced persons).

© Press Trust of India

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Sri Lanka wounds 2 trying to flee refugee camp

By Bharatha Mallawarachi - Sri Lankan soldiers fired on a group of war refugees trying to flee a camp in the north of the island, wounding two, the military said Sunday.

The foiled escape bid happened late Saturday in the district of Vavuniya, near a former battle zone. The civil war between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels ended in May, but nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians are still held in military-run camps.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said residents had thrown stones at soldiers guarding the Manik Farm camp and tried to flee. He said the troops had to open fire in self-defense and to disperse the violent crowd.

Two people were wounded and another 19 inmates were put in police custody, he said, adding that the situation was under control.

Sri Lanka's government has come under intense pressure from human rights groups and other countries to free the hundreds of thousands of camp detainees. Rights groups say the detentions are an illegal form of collective punishment and warn that imminent monsoon rains could create health crises in the low-lying and congested camps.

Authorities say they are screening the camp inmates to arrest former guerrillas, and are clearing land mines from the Tamils' villages. President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently promised a visiting U.N. envoy that all displaced people would be returned home by the end of January.

Sri Lanka declared victory over the Tamil Tigers in May, ending their 25-year fight for an independent state. The displaced civilians fled the last phase of fighting.

The U.N. estimates that 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed in the civil war.

Meanwhile, the government said Sunday it was seeking advice from the United States in its efforts to deal with more than 10,000 former rebel fighters held in custody.

Gamini Godakanda, spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said attorney general Mohan Peiris and ministry secretary Suhada Gamlath have left for U.S. to study how it handled terrorist suspects.

They are expected to meet officials from the Pentagon, the State Department and the Justice Department, he said.

© Associated Press

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

'Home grown solution' for conflict

The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka will be resolved through a home grown solution, the Sri Lankan prime minister says.

Addressing the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Rathnasiri Wikramanayake said, "the solution that evolves through this process, and which we will offer to all communities must be a home-grown product".

Reiterating the government commitment to resettle the internally displaced people he said Sri Lanka has learnt valuable lessons.

'Not to be forced'

However, "the pace of resettlement must not be forced if it is to be truly safe and sustainable in the long term".

"A total in excess of 54 agencies are actively engaged with us in these welfare villages" he added.

Prime Minister said that the United Nations should not interfere in the internal affairs of States.


"Multilateralism is not about the UN agenda responding only to the demands of a minority of powerful States, but also defending the interest of the powerless majority" he added.

Urging the friends and partners in the international community to be vigilant and continue to take action against the illegal acts of the LTTE in their soil, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wikramanayaka said a global problem such as terrorism requires an effective global response.

He said Sri Lanka is committed to complying with its international obligations in the field of human rights.

© BBC Sinhala

Related Links:
General Debate of the 64th Session - UN
Address by SL Prime Minister

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Election violence on the increase

By Rathindra Kuruwita - The lukewarm attitude taken by the political party big wigs and the Police towards the brazen violations of election law has created a lawless situation in the Southern Province, claims election monitoring bodies.

“Candidates are openly violating the election law and they are encouraged by the fact that there seem to be no consequences for their actions,” said National Polls Observation Centre Convener, Prasanna Adikari. “If the election law is to be properly upheld three parties, the party bosses, the Police and the Department of Elections, should play a very active role. But so far, the party bosses and the police have turned a blind eye to the open violation of the election law,” he added.

He added that so far 23 instances of election law violations have been reported in the three districts. “Ten incidents have been reported from the Galle District, while nine and four have been reported from the Hambanthota and Matara Districts respectively,” he said. “Galle is still the hot spot for violence and some candidates are getting a lot of media coverage for all the wrong reasons,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Free and Fair Election (CaFFE) claimed that they have received 37 complaints, 15 from Galle, 12 from Hambanthota and 10 from Matara. “We see that things are hotting up as Election Day grows near. And there is a systematic campaign against the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Some of their offices have been attacked even yesterday and some party sympathisers have been arrested,” said CaFFE Spokesman, Keerthi Tennakoon.

© The Nation

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

SLA shoots 6 including women, children in Cheddiku'lam camp

Sri Lanka Army (SLA) on Saturday around 6:00 p.m. opened fire and injured six civilians including two women and three children in Cheddiku'lam internment camp, according to initial reports reaching from Vavuniyaa. One 8-year-old child, seriously wounded in the episode, was transferred to Anuradhapura hospital from Vavuniyaa hospital, medical sources in Vavuniyaa said.

The unfortunate group of six is said to have gone for collecting firewood in the surroundings of the camp.

World Food Programme (WFP) has stopped supplying cooked meals from 17 September. The inmates are dependent on dry rations (rice, sugar and dahl), but they lack proper facilities to cook the meals.

Civilians inside the camps are forced to get other materials, firewood, salt, tamarind etc., from external sources.

The civilians who tried to cross over the camps to get firewood were shot by the SLA.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan military officials in Colombo said the SLA opened fire when civilians who tried to 'escape' started to stone the SLA soldiers when they were blocked from leaving the camp. The military officials put the number of wounded civilians at three.

© TamilNet

Related Links:
Menik Farm shooting: 3 wounded - The Sunday Times

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Minister’s secretary abducted in Vavuniya

By Chris Kamalendran - A Coordinating Secretary to a minister was abducted by an unidentified group in Vavuniya on Friday night, police said yesterday. Arumugam Sriranjan served as Coordinating Secretary in Trincomalee’s pre-dominant Tamil areas for Nation Building Minister Susantha Punchinilame.

He was earlier the Jaffna district’s organizer of Sri TELO, a breakaway TELO group. Mr. Sriranjan joined the UPFA in August this year. According to police, the abductors had come in a white van and taken him at gun point while he was at his wife’s residence in the Urban Council quarters.

The abductors had posed off as CID officers, and sped off from the scene after threatening the other members of the household, police said. The police have put out an all-island alert to trace the van and the abductors.

© The Sunday Times

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sri Lankan PM at Asia Society Faces Pre-Screened Softball Questions

By Matthew Russell Lee - Sri Lanka's prime minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake spoke Thursday night at the Asia Society on Park Avenue in Manhattan, facing pre-screened softball questions gently raising the internment camps and freedom of the press. Even so, Wickramanayake responded testily, drawing partisan applause from the otherwise silenced auditorium.

Several facts were plainly misrepresented. The Asia Society's questioner -- who multiple times and accurately said, "I am by no means an expert on Sri Lanka" -- asked if the International Committee of the Red Cross has access to all the IDPs. Yes, Wickramanayake replied. But the ICRC has complained of no access to at least 10,000 people.

Then Wickramanayake said that two ICRC staffers were found to have "direct" ties to the LTTE and were arrested. Presumably he was referring to the two UN system staff, a question that Inner City Press wrote on a note card that was never read out by the moderator. Nor was a question about the GSP Plus tax benefit in Europe, which Sri Lanka stands to lose for human rights violations.

The evening got off to a surreal start with the present of the Asia Society, Ms. Vishakha N. Desai, saying without qualification that the Sri Lankan government means well. Then Wickramanayake delivered a sort of speech. He said "our country is nourished by Buddhism." He spoke of opportunities for investors, tourism on Eastern beaches.

Then the Asia Society's Executive Vice President Jaime Metzl took a seat and began lobbing softball questions. He said, let's turn back to Sri Lankan independence, to 1948. Wickramanayake became testy, and not for the last time. "Let us forget the past," he snapped. We want to look to the future.

EVP Metzl ever so gently raised the issue of the IDPs. Wickramanayake said the only problem is demining. "We were going it manually," he said, "until quite recently." He said now some machines have arrived. "It would have taken years," he said.

So what did Mahinda Rajapaksa's commitment to Ban Ki-moon in May, to resettle 80% of the IDPs by the end of the year, mean? One of the two is dissembling.

Metzl read out a question submitted only, "anonymously," he pointed out. took issue with why anyone would be anonymous. He said there are no problems of freedom of the press. When an audience member shouted out, "twenty years of hard labor," they were shouted down by a person sitting up in the front, in the reserved seat. Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN was observed up there. In front of the Asia Society, a fleet of blank four by fours were parked, with the Sri Lankan flag on their windshield. Entourage!

As Wickramanayake pontificated, about former LTTE supporters put in charge in the East, EVP Metzl nodded and said, as if involuntarily, uh huh, uh huh, while nodding his head. He let slip that he had just returned from Afghanistan, and that his father was an IDP for ten years after World War II. He named El Salvador as a country with a past of ethnic conflict. (Actually, there it is social class, we'll cite Roque Dalton.) Metzl's high point, he let the audience know, was getting an empty commitment from Wickramanayake that the Red Cross could contact his office. "And the Ministry of Defense," Wickramanayake quickly added. Of course.

The questions got more and more lame, culminating with "what do you pray for every night?" Wickramanayake answered, testy to the end, "I don't want to disclose that." Then the Asia Society whisked him and his entourage through a door, presumably to a reception, and the audience filed out.

Inner City Press felt a duty to come and hear, even paid to do it. In other circumstances, a refund would be in order given the weakness of the questions, and not allowing the audience or Press to ask any questions. The Asia Society created it own protest free General Assembly, and changed twenty dollars a seat for it.

© Inner City Press

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sri Lanka promises to resettle war refugees

Click 'play' to listen to the report

A UN human rights official arrived in Sri Lanka today, where some 300,000 civilians displaced by the war are currently detained. Most of them belong to the Tamil ethnic minority.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has promised the UN that his government will resettle these refugees within the next four months, following criticisms from the UN and human rights organizations about their treatment. The government says it has to detain people until it is certain none of them have any connections to the Tamil rebels. FSRN´s Ponniah Manikavasagam has the story.

© Free Speech Radio News

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sri Lanka: 120 attempted suicides a day

By Raisa Wickrematunge - An average of 12 people commit suicide a day in Sri Lanka, and there are 10 times more attempted suicides, according to Director of Sumithrayo Sri Lanka, Surangi Gunawardena.

However Gunawardena said that the suicide rate has actually declined since 1995.

In 1995 Sri Lanka had one of the highest suicide rates, with around 47 suicides per 100,000 persons. Now, Gunawardena estimated the rate at about 20 suicides per 100,000 persons.

“The rate has declined, but it is still too high.” Gunawardena said.

Gunawardena said the highest suicide rates were among the younger age groups, particularly tho

se between the ages of 18 and 30. The rate also increased after the age of 60, according to the Director.

Gunawardena added that it was usually a combination of psychological and social reasons, which lead to a suicidal situation. The three main factors, she noted were “inability to cope with difficult situations, mental health problems, and drug or alcohol abuse.”

It was noted that social and peer pressures were leading factors for teen suicides. However, even children as young as seven or eight have been known to attempt suicide.

There are also differences according to gender. More women than men say they have contemplated suicide, although more men have taken their own lives.

Gunawardena noted that media reports, which sensationalised suicide and gave details about the methods used often lead to “copycat suicides.”

Gunawardena noted that the current rate of 120 attempted suicides a day was worrying.

Meanwhile, Sumithrayo Sri Lanka, in a press release recently said that as attempted suicide was no longer considered a criminal offence, the majority of attempts were unrecorded. Gunawardena attributed the rising number of attempts to a lack of knowledge about resources available to the depressed.

Sumithrayo Sri Lanka has been operating for around 35 years, as a suicide prevention organisation. Their services are offered free of charge. They claim to “provide emotional support to people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those that may lead to suicide.”

Globally, one person commits suicide every 40 seconds, while there is an attempted suicide every three seconds.

© The Sunday Leader

Related Links:
Watch for signs: Depressed teenagers turning to suicide - The Sunday Times

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tissainayagam: A travesty of justice?

By Michael Hardy - Seventeen months after being arrested, and almost three years after writing two articles the government claims were meant to incite “communal disharmony,” journalist J.S. Tissainayagam was sentenced to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment on August 30 by the Colombo High Court.

Tissainayagam’s conviction drew worldwide condemnation, with Amnesty International declaring him a “prisoner of conscience,” and Reporters Without Borders calling the sentence “shameful.” Almost overnight, Tissainayagam became a symbol of government repression and a martyr for freedom of the press. To many observers, Tissainayagam’s treatment cemented Sri Lanka’s reputation as a totalitarian state in the making.

How did Tissainayagam go from being a humble columnist for The Sunday Times to being mentioned by American President Barack Obama as an “emblematic example” of persecuted journalists?

The story began in February of 2008, when he wrote an article about child recruitment for The Sunday Times. Soon afterward, Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) officers were dispatched to arrest Tissainayagam’s publisher, N. Jasikaran, and his wife Valamarthi. When Tissainayagam inquired about Jasikaran’s whereabouts on March 8, he too was arrested, along with the staff of his website, (The staff members were later released).

The only problem was that the TID had neither a detention order nor anything to charge Tissainayagam with. Fortunately for the government, a search of Tissainayagam’s house turned up about 50 back issues of Northeastern Monthly, a now-defunct magazine with a small circulation that Tissainayagam then edited. Although they couldn’t read English, as was revealed during Tissainayagam’s trial, the TID officers confiscated these magazines, and the TID later used them as a convenient pretext for Tissainayagam’s arrest and prosecution.

Strange delays

Tissainayagam’s imprisonment was a travesty of justice from beginning to end. When he was finally allowed to see a lawyer, two weeks after first being arrested, he could only do so in the presence of the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the TID. The same condition held for meetings with his wife; Tissainayagam has never met his wife in private since his arrest. Since he never received an explanation for his imprisonment, Tissainayagam quickly filed a Fundamental Rights petition challenging his incarceration.

On March 27, 2008, during Tissainayagam’s first court hearing, the state counsel said they didn’t have the detention order in their possession, so High Court Judge Deepali Wijesundara ordered it to be produced. Later that afternoon, the order was delivered to Tissainayagam, backdated to March 7th. Strangely enough, the detention order was signed by Wijesundara’s sister. Although this is not technically illegal, the defense could have asked the judge to recuse herself from the case given this incident’s strong appearance of impropriety. (Wijesundara’s sister was later promoted to the High Court.)

On May 8, 2008, Tissainayagam’s lawyers finally received the OIC affidavit and a copy of Tissainayagam’s statement translated into Sinhalese. Crucially, however, the state withheld Tissainayagam’s original statement, which he wrote in Tamil. The defense would only get a look at the original confession during the cross-examination of the superintendent of police, who witnessed Tissainayagam writing it. According to the Emergency Regulations of 2005, detainees must be produced before court every 30 days to ensure that they haven’t been tortured, but the state disregarded this law time and again for Tissainayagam.

On May 12, 23, and 26 of 2008 Tissainayagam was scheduled to be produced at the Magistrates Court, but mysteriously failed to turn up. He was finally produced on the 27th, when the TID legal officer told the court that he needed more time to investigate. The magistrate ordered Tissainayagam to be produced on June 6, after his 90th day of detention.

Unsurprisingly, the state was unable to produce him on that day either, managing to delay his court appearance until June 13.

Tissainayagam charged

Ultimately, Tissainayagam would have to wait for over five months before he was charged, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), for inciting racial violence and communal disharmony by writing two editorials in 2006 for Northeastern Monthly. The first article, published in July 2006, criticized the government for failing to protect the northeastern Tamils, who Tissainayagam argued were being forced to seek protection from the LTTE.

The second article, published in December of the same year, accused the army of deliberately bombing and starving Tamil civilians in Vaharai in an attempt to clear the area for military operations. In a statement to the court, Tissainayagam defended his writings: “I was and am still an advocate against terrorism,” he said. “I have criticized terrorism in whatever objective was to generate non violent means of resolving the conflict.”

The indictment consisted of three charges: (1) that Tissainayagam printed and distributed the Northeastern Monthly with the intention to “cause the commission of acts of violence or racial or communal disharmony and bring the government into disrepute”; (2) that Tissainayagam wrote the two above-mentioned articles, excerpts from which were reproduced in the indictment; and (3) that to fund the Northeastern Monthly, Tissainayagam collected money “for the purpose of terrorism.”

The state claimed during the trial that Tissainayagam had confessed to accepting funding from the LTTE. Tissainayagam has always maintained that the “confession” was dictated to him and that he was forced to sign it under threat of torture. He believed the TID’s threats because he had heard his publisher, Jasikaran, being tortured in a nearby room. (Jasikaran recently testified about his torture during his own trial, which is ongoing.)

Despite the dubious circumstances surrounding Tissainayagam’s “confession,” Judge Wijesundara ruled on December 5, 2008 that it was given voluntarily. The defense chose not to challenge this ruling, not knowing what was in Tissainayagam’s original statement.

Mysterious alteration

When the defense finally got a look at the original document, during cross-examination of the superintendent of police, it quickly became apparent that the statement had been doctored. In the statement, Tissainayagam admits that LTTE officials contacted him three times in 2006 to offer money to the Northeastern Monthly, but that each time he had refused. “However,” he wrote in Tamil, “I later discovered that Rs. 100,000 had been deposited in my bank account from an anonymous donor.”

But where Tissainyagam had written that he said “no” to the LTTE for the third time, his words had been crossed out and replaced with “I said yes,” making it sound like he had accepted the LTTE’s money. The change to the statement was made in a different colour of ink and in different handwriting than the original statement. Unlike the many other changes to the statement, Tissainayagam had not signed in the margin to approve this alteration.

As the defense pointed out, after the alteration the statement no longer made sense. Why would Tissainayagam, after admitting he had agreed to receive the money, then be surprised to find it in his account? Why use the word “however,” which implies that he had turned down the offer? When the defense brought these irregularities to Wijesundara’s attention, she said that she had already ruled the statement voluntary, and therefore couldn’t throw it out.

She also disputed the defense’s claim that the document was altered. This decision paved the way for Tissainayagam’s ultimate conviction. As Wijesundara notes in her judgement, “once the confession is voluntary, the accused could be convicted on the confession alone.”

In her judgement, Wijesundara also mentions that one of the defense’s witnesses, Kulasiri Hemantha Silva of the Human Rights Commission, contradicted what Tissainayagam wrote in his second article. On cross-examination, Silva stated that he had not seen the bombing and starvation of civilians in Vaharai. However, the defense later got Silva to admit that he had traveled to Vaharai two months before the article was written, and therefore wasn’t able to say what was happening at the later time. Silva also admitted that he had heard news of a Vaharai hospital being bombed by government forces around the time Tissainayagam was writing.

In his statement to the court, Tissainayagam said that he grew up in Colombo with friends from every ethnic group, and that throughout his career as a journalist and human rights activist he has “always agitated for justice for the oppressed.” He concluded his statement by saying that by writing the two controversial articles he “never intended to cause violence or communal disharmony and no such thing ever occurred as a result of those articles.” The whole world, with the obvious exception of the Colombo High Court, now stands with Tissainayagam in agreement and solidarity.

© The Sunday Leader

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