Friday, November 13, 2009

A protest in Colombo against Myamarese General

By Charles Haviland - There has been a demonstration in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, against the visit of the Burmese head of state, General Than Shwe.

Burmese monks living in Sri Lanka have also protested against the visit.

The general is on his first overseas trip for five years, and this is the first visit to the island by a Burmese leader for more than 40 years.

Sri Lanka and Burma have religious and cultural ties going back centuries. Many Burmese monks study in Sri Lanka.

Shouting that General Than Shwe should leave Sri Lanka, this small group of demonstrators held banners accusing the Burmese military government of grave human rights abuses and calling them "killers of Buddhist monks" - a message they hope will resonate in this country which is itself over 70% Buddhist.

"We are ashamed to see these kind of military leaders visiting our country. So we staged this protest to mark our sign of protest and our disgust for this kind of visit," lawyer Shiral Lakthileka said.

An association of Burmese monks in Sri Lanka has echoed these sentiments, criticising Than Shwe's visit.

In a statment they said they would refuse all offerings from Than Shwe and his delegation if they come to their temples - an action considered highly insulting.

Many Burmese monks studying in Sri Lanka have a large temple in the capital.

But monks from Sri Lanka itself are due to bestow blessings on the general before he leaves.

The official flags of welcome are out for Than Shwe on this rare foreign trip for him.

The Sri Lankan government, annoyed by Western criticism of its conduct of the war, has been moving closer to states that are out of favour in Western capitals.

Burma was President Rajapaksa's first foreign destination after the war victory earlier this year.

© BBC News

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Minister Threatens Petrolium Workers

By Nirmala Kannangara - A tense situation has developed at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) today following an alleged threat to petroleum employees by the Petroleum and Petroleum Resourses Minister A.H.M. Fowzie, according to Petroleum Joint Union Convener D.J. Rajakaruna.

The delay in filling bowsers at the Kolonnawa petroleum storage plant has irked Fowzie and led to the alleged threat on the workers.

“If the Minister could tell the print and electronic media that the work-to-rule campaign was unsuccessful and there is smooth functioning at the CPC, then why would he threaten the petroleum employees for the delay in filling the bowsers?” asked Rajakaruna.

© The Sunday Leader

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Monks decry Burma leader's SL visit

Burmese monks studying in Sri Lanka have publicly denounced a visit there by Burma's military leader Than Shwe.

Myanmar Student Monks Association (MSMA) of Sri Lanka in a statement issued on Thursday accused the generals ruling Myanmar of "actively establishing totalitarianism in the country, arresting, torturing, and killing politicians, dissidents, journalists, artists, union activists, and even Buddhist monks".

The statement by the MSMA said that they will continue the boycott of refusing all offerings from the ruling military.

SL President

A spokesperson for MSMA told BBC Sandeshaya that the Sri Lankan president is trying to associate with "bad rulers".

Ven. Gnanasiri said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has strained his relationship with many countries due to allegations of human rights violations in the war with Tamil Tigers.

Top penalty

Buddhist monks of Burma, boycotted the offerings from the military generals in 1990 and in 2007 against oppression by the government.

Refusal of offerings is the highest punishment that can be handed down to lay people according to Buddhist religious tradition.

The Burmese leader's trip is the first in more than forty years.

It follows a visit to Burma by the Sri Lankan president in June.

© BBC Sinhala

Related Links:
Mangala blasts Govt. for inviting ruthless military leader Shwe - Daily Mirror

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Myanmar junta leader 'thrilled' to be in Sri Lanka

Myanmar's junta leader General Than Shwe said he was "thrilled" to be in Sri Lanka, where he was given a 21-gun salute and an elaborate red-carpet welcome at the start of his four-day state visit Thursday.

"Sri Lanka and Myanmar have a history of close Buddhist ties," he said during a meeting with Sri Lanka's foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama in the central Buddhist pilgrim city of Kandy.

Than Shwe, who is on his first visit to the island and comes with a 26-member delegation, said he was looking forward to touring Buddhist shrines during his stay, before leaving on Sunday.

Speaking through a translator, the reclusive junta leader looked relaxed in a dark grey pin-striped suit and nodded when Bogollagama said he hoped the visit would also explore avenues for economic co-operation.

"We warmly welcome you, your excellency," Bogollagama said during the meeting in a heavily guarded deluxe hotel in Kandy, 115 kilometers (72 miles) northeast of Colombo.

Than Shwe was due to meet Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse later Thursday. Rajapakse welcomed him earlier at the Bandaranaike International Airport.

Sri Lanka and Myanmar both practise Theravada Buddhism and have had cultural and religious ties since the 11th century.

Myanmar monks living in Sri Lanka have warned Colombo that its increasingly close relations with Myanmar's military regime would further raise international concern over the island's rights record.

In a statement on Wednesday, the monks said Rajapakse was "foolish" to become associated with Than Shwe.

A spokesman for the monks said they were not demonstrating against Than Shwe's visit due to safety fears.

"The Sri Lankan government has very good relations with the junta and if we demonstrate they could use force against us," a monk, who identified himself as Nyanasyri, told AFP.

Than Shwe is to spend two days in Kandy and then travel to the ancient site of Anuradhapura to visit more Buddhist sites.

The junta leader is due to receive blessings from Buddhist monks at a temple outside the capital Colombo on Sunday before he leaves.

Rajapakse visited Myanmar in June and thanked the junta for providing relief supplies for Sri Lankan civilians displaced earlier this year during the final stages of fighting between troops and separatist Tamil rebels.


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Friday, November 13, 2009

Unions threaten to launch general strike

by Saman Indrajith - The petroleum, electricity and water board unionists yesterday said that their three day work to rule would come to an end at noon today, while port employees would continue demanding justice against the attack on one of their leaders. They said that upto last evening, the government had not responded positively to their collective demand of a salary increment. They said that they would give time till Monday to come up with an acceptable solution, otherwise the next course of action would be taken.

"It could be anything between work-to-rule and a general strike by all public sector workers. Now, we could estimate the number of workers who would participate during our next action. The government too was now in a position to guess the lowest figures. So we are ready to fight," Operational Committee Member of the Petroleum, Electricity, Ports, Water Union Alliance (PEPWA), Ananda Palitha (CPC) said. He was addressing a press briefing held at Hotel Nippon in Colombo.

The Petroleum, electricity and water board unions have been invited for talks by their administrations and ministers, but there could not be any hope the authorities would consider the demands of workers seriously, Operational Member of the PEPWA, Ranjan Jayalal (CEB) said. The Water Board union leaders’ meeting with their authorities was in progress at the time of the conference, he said.

"We are not just fighting or demanding an increment. According to agreements with our employers, we are entitled for an increment every three years. Now the increment has been delayed for eight months and Treasury Secretary P. B. Jayasundara openly said that giving an increment every three years should be stopped. We are now fighting to safeguard our rights," he said, adding that according to the agreement, the workers had agreed not to demand increments annually or whenever the cost of living increases. We have done our part. Now it was upto the authorities to do theirs.

Udena Kalutanthri, JSS President of the Ports Authority, said that the attack on trade unionist and its consequences had caused them to continue with the go-slow campaign demanding the attackers be brought to book. While all other sectors of the alliance have been given appointments by their authorities, the Ports Authority administration had unleashed violence on the employees who were exercising their right to union action.

The unionists said that although the Government claimed through its media that the go-slow was a failure and the institutions had functioned smoothly, not a single electricity bill had been issued or any meter been read since the 11th of this month. The Ports Authority had sought the assistance of the Navy to unload cargo, but failed, ports unionists said. Petroleum unionists said that the country had not faced any shortage yet, but shortages would be felt only after Saturday afternoon.

© The Island

Related Links:
Fuel shortage in country imminent, says unionists - The Island

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Friday, November 13, 2009

A Tamil female undergraduate abducted in Kandy

A female Tamil student had been abducted by a group claimed to be from the Criminal Investigation Department who entered the university premises in Peradeniya on Thursday around noon.

Rasaiah Thwaraka, (Student Number A/05/493) who was a resident of Kalmadunagar, Ramanathapuram in Kilinochchi was taken away by her abductors in broad day light. The police and the university authorities have denied any knowledge of the reported abduction.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Sri Lanka says emergency rule needed for ‘Shadows of Terrorism’

By Paul Tighe - Sri Lanka will retain emergency rule as it faces the “shadows of terrorism” after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May ended a 26-year civil war, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake said.

The state of emergency and the presence of security checkpoints are “absolutely necessary as the shadows of terrorism haunt in the background,” Wickramanayake said, according to the government’s Web site. Security forces will have to study whether some of the measures may be relaxed, he said.

The government has cited the need to establish security and clear mines from the conflict zone in the north as a reason for delays in settling more than 280,000 displaced civilians housed in transit camps after the war ended.

The United Nations and U.S. have led international calls for Sri Lanka to swiftly release the mainly Tamil refugees. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government said yesterday more than half of the displaced people have now left the camps.

“We must preserve the freedom and victory gained over terrorism,” Wickramanayake said, adding that some security controls in place during the conflict have been eased. The prime minister was speaking at a ceremony yesterday for war heroes, according to the government.

The number of displaced people in camps has been reduced to 140,087, said Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, the government spokesman and minister of mass media and information. As many as 160,000 displaced people have been returned to their places of origin, he said yesterday, according to the Information Department.

Mine Clearing

An estimated 1.5 million mines and unexploded ordnance contaminated 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) of the north when the war ended, Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka’s army commander, said Oct. 27.

Civilians are returning to areas around Kilinochchi, the town in the north where the LTTE had its headquarters. A program has begun to settle more than 16,000 people in the Mullaitivu district in the northeast, the government said.

The army defeated the last Tamil Tiger forces in a battle at Mullaitivu in May, killing leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his commanders and ending their fight for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east of the South Asian island nation. Thousands of civilians were caught between the opposing forces in the final weeks of the conflict.

Tamils are being kept in “conditions of internment” in the camps, Navi Pillay, the UN human rights commissioner, said in September, a comment rejected by the government in Colombo.

John Holmes, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, will visit Sri Lanka Nov. 17-19 to assess progress settling the displaced people, the UN said yesterday. Holmes visited the country in February, April and May.

Fonseka Resigns

General Sarath Fonseka, Sri Lanka’s chief of defense staff, resigned yesterday amid speculation he will challenge Rajapaksa in presidential elections scheduled to take place before April next year. Fonseka was head of the army during the operations that led to the defeat of the LTTE.

The war against the Tamil Tigers was won by the ground forces though some others tried to take the credit for the victory, the country’s Island daily newspaper cited Fonseka as saying yesterday on its Web site.

Boasting about the military victory serves no purpose as security forces need to stop any attempt to revive the LTTE, Fonseka said. It would be a “grave mistake” to assume the killing of Prabhakaran ended the threat of separatism, he said.

Rajapaksa, in a speech in June marking the victory over the LTTE, said he won’t allow the “shadow of separatism” to remain, as he pledged to build a united Sri Lanka.

Tamils make up almost 12 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million people. Sinhalese account for 74 percent, according to a 2001 census.

© Bloomberg

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Human Rights activist released on bail

Mr. Santha Fernando, the executive secretary for justice and peace of the National Christian Council who was arrested by the NIB and at the airport on 27th March and detained by the TID was released on bail by the Colombo Additional Magistrate Ayesha Abdeen. He had been on his way to India for a meeting and arrested after finding documents in his luggage concerning the humanitarian crisis in the Vanni region. He had been arrested under the provisions of the prevention of terrorism act and under the provisions of the emergency regulations.

On Wednesday's court hearing consideration was given to granting bail by the judge based on short oral submission by the defense and consent of the attorney general.

In the morning the defense council asked for bail and stated that previously, Mr. Fernando’s bail application had been rejected by courts, with the reason that the consent of the attorney general is needed in order for a suspect arrested under PTA / ER to get bail, despite the fact that the defense had a different position on the matter. However, now the attorney general had consented to give bail.

According to Mr. Fernando the material in the CD based on which he was arrested and detained, had been downloaded from the Internet. There were no materials that he had produced. However, it was stated that this was a matter to be discussed before courts.

By considering the facts that the suspect doesn’t face any other charges at present or in past, no previous convictions and also that he is 64 years old

The judge stated that she could grant Mr. Fernando bail if the AG doesn’t have any issues regarding it. The state council too didn’t object to this as the attorney general has given permission to grant bail. But bail wasn’t granted and the court was again schedule to be commenced at 12’olock as the document Emergency regulations were missing for the judge to refer to.

The evening session was delayed and commenced at around 1pm after the defense council produced a copy of the emergency regulations. At that point the judge asked the state council as to whether the attorney general had given his consent in written form and the state council stated that she doesn’t have it at the moment but that she can obtain it and present it to the courts on another day.

The judge granted Mr. Fernando bail on following conditions:

* Two sureties of 200,000 each

* That Mr. Fernando has to give the court his passport number and this will be transmitted to Dept of Immigration

* That he has to notify the courts if he wants to leave the country and get the permission from the court

* That he has to report to the TID office between 9-12 in the morning on the last Sunday of every month

State Counsel and TID officers were present in the courts. Family members, church leaders and human rights defenders were present in courts to show support to Mr.Fernando.

The judge also asked TID officers whether detention orders had been obtained as stipulated by law. It appeared that only one detention order had been produced to courts just after his arrest on 27th March. TID officers mentioned Santha Fernando was remanded based on his confession and that detention orders after the initial one were filed with the attorney general.

The next day for the case will be February 24th 2010 and the judge asked Mr.Fernando to be present on that day.

Related Links:
Executive Sec. of NCB released on bail - Daily Mirror
Christian leaders demand human rights activist's release - UCANews

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Friday, November 13, 2009

UN humanitarian chief to visit Sri Lanka next week

The United Nations humanitarian chief will undertake a mission to Sri Lanka next week, the world body announced today.

The 17 to 19 November visit will be the fourth this year for Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, who previously travelled there in February, April and May.

The UN has been closely monitoring the situation in Sri Lanka, where more than 270,000 people were staying in closed camps after hostilities between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in May.

In recent months senior UN humanitarian and human rights officials have voiced concern over the safety of these internally displaced persons (IDPs), which according to recent estimates by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) now number about 163,000.

© UN News Centre

Related Links:
Holmes here to inspect IDP resettlement - Daily Mirror

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Top Sri Lankan general resigns and may challenge for presidency

Randeep Ramesh, South Asia correspondent - Sri Lanka's top general, who masterminded the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam after a 25-year civil war, has resigned from his post to enter politics as the head of a coalition against the country's president.

Senior Sri Lankan officials told the Guardian that General Sarath Fonseka met President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday to hand in his resignation, which was accepted immediately. The split appears to have been triggered by the president's efforts to take sole credit for wiping out the Tamil Tigers.

The last straw was when Fonseka was "promoted" to a new, largely ceremonial role last summer. That slight planted the seeds of rebellion. Fonseka is now considering challenging the president in an election to be held before April.

Polls for the country's parliament have to be held by May and it had been expected that the presidential election would take place at the same time. Analysts said Fonseka would become the face of a disparate opposition united by a loathing of Rajapaksa and his three brothers, who run the country as president, ministers and advisers.

"The opposition desperately needs a charismatic leader and the possibility of the general joining has electrified them," said Jehan Perera, a political columnist. "[Fonseka] has been openly saying it was the army that won the war. He is a nationalist … much more forthright perhaps than the Rajapaksa brothers."

Opposition parties talked up Fonseka's potential candidacy to unsettle the ruling alliance and help find any issue that can help them erode the incumbent's post-war popularity. If he did stand for office, Fonseka would be likely to cut deep into Rajapaksa's core vote.

The general is considered even more nationalistic than Rajapaksa. He told a reporter last year that Sri Lanka belonged to the Sinhalese majority and that minorities could not on the "pretext of being a minority demand undue things".

The desire to unseat Rajapaksa has brought about an unlikely alliance of Tamil parties, Sinhalese Marxists and the traditional ruling party. "These people have not tasted power for more than a decade. Fonseka is their last chance. So even the Tamil politicians will back him," said Perera.

The price of that support, says Perera, will be the dismantling of the powerful executive presidency. Many elected representatives fear Fonseka could entrench an autocracy.

"There's a fear that the general as president could become autocratic … that is why the politicians want a pre-poll pact with Fonseka promising good governance, fresh elections and a pledge to get rid of the executive presidency."

Such manoeuvring has not gone unnoticed in Colombo. In recent weeks the president's allies have been openly critical of the general, calling on him not to take "personal credit" for the victory. The army chief was said to have been angered by the offer of a job in the cabinet as "sports minister".

Rajapaksa, say some, overplayed his hand after the defeat of the Tigers in May. He annoyed the deeply conservative but powerful legal fraternity in Colombo by dismissing the then chief justice's criticism of the treatment of Tamil refugees after the war.

The president infuriated opposition parties by luring MPs over to his party with the promise of ministerial jobs. He is also accused of entrenching his power with a cult of personality – among the many titles bestowed on him by supporters are "Sri Lanka's Saviour, the Glorious Overlord of the Sinhalese and the Monarchical Emperor of the Glorious Land of Buddhism".

© Guardian

Related Links:
Sri Lankan general behind Tigers defeat may stand for president - Times Online
General who beat Tamil Tigers quits to challenge the President - The Independent
Sri Lanka top general retires, may run for president - Reuters

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Union action in Sri Lanka enters third day

The work-to-rule campaign launched by the workers of four state institutes, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, Ceylon Electricity Board, Water Board and Sri Lanka Ports Authority entered the third consecutive day today.

The four unions said that most of the daily activities of these institutes have been completely disrupted due to the union action launched by them from Wednesday morning.

D.J Karunaratna, the convener of the Joint Forum for CPC unions said that today will be a crucial day as their oil socks at Muthurajawela and Kolonnawa have already finished.

He expects long queues at the filling stations all around the country today.

Meanwhile according to the sources of the Ports Authority it has incurred a massive loss during the first two days due to the work-to- rule campaign launched by its workers. They fear further losses as the shipping companies may chose other ports in the region.

A discussion between Minister and Water Board has ended yesterday evening without any success and the workers of the Water Board has decided to continue it further, said Udani Kaluthanthri, the convener of the joint union for Water Board.

Ranjan Jayalal, the convener of the joint forum for CEB said that their work-to-rule campaign is also 100% successful as its workers are not engaging in over time duties.

However, all the heads of the four state institutes said the daily activities are smoothly underway amid the union action.

The military also pledged to maintain essential services if the union action disrupt the normalcy in the country.

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