Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tissainayagam case: Bail application put off for Monday

By S.S. Selvanayagam - Pending his appeal against the High Court judgment, the Appeal Court yesterday put off for Monday senior journalist J.S. Tissainayagam’s petition requesting bail filed.

The case came up before Justice Sisira de Abrew with counsel Anil Silva with M.A. Sumanthiran, Sharmaine Gunaratne and Suren Fernando appearing for Mr. Tissainayagam.

Mr. Tissainayagam was arrested on March 7, last year and on August 31 he was sentenced to 20 years hard labour on three counts -- conspiring to edit, print and distribute the publication of North Eastern Monthly magazine between June 1, 2006 and June 1, 2007; collecting money to publish the magazine supportive of terrorism and for inciting communal feelings through the articles in the magazine.

He pleaded not guilty at the High Court trial where a document purported to be a confession made by him was used as evidence but Mr. Tissainayagam in his bail application said he did not make such a confession. Mr. Tissainayagam in his bail application that during his youth, he met with an accident which necessitated surgery to his eye and had been diagnosed as having a serious eye ailment called ‘retinal detachment resulting in myopic degeneration’.

He said the physical stress he was undergoing could result in irreversible loss of sight and thus required constant medical care and close monitoring of his eye condition to prevent such a fate.

Mr. Tissainayagam said that although he had filed an appeal, it might not be taken up for hearing about two years due to the backlog of cases and unless he was released on bail pending appeal, any relief that might be granted to him thereafter would be negated in the event of losing his eye sight, due to prolonged incarceration, prolonged stress and inadequate medical facilities.

He also said that apart from this conviction, there had been no other blemish to his character; he has not been convicted of any crimes previously and had at all times acted as a law abiding citizen.

Mr. Tissainayagam said he had canvassed for the rights of many disadvantaged persons(without discrimination, and at times at serious risk to himself), and in these circumstances, there was no fear of his not being present to receive the decision of the appellate court in the case.

© Daily Mirror

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

'Crematorium & the King': Govt. employee penalized for telling a joke

A government servant was punished due to a joke regarding the President.

The Samurdhi Officer in Beliatta Divisional Secretarial Office, Mr. D. W. L. Disanayaka has been punished for a joke he had made. There has been a chat among officers in Divisional Secretarial Office regarding the forthcoming President’s arrival on the occasion of a Crematorium in Beliatta area to be declared open. At that moment Mr. Disanayaka has made a joke sstating “The President should be entered in to the Crematorium and it should be switched on in order it to be declared open”.

Based upon this statement the Director General Samurdhi has given him a punishment transfer to Monaragala stating the President has been insulted by the above quote. Mr. Disanayaka has complained about this unfair penalty to the Parliament Ombudsmen of Administrative activities.

The Ombudsmen Dr. Ranaraja has said, "We cannot accept there’s any possibility of harm to the President owing to a joke that has been uttered in a private chat like this," He had further stated ‘taking actions against such statements is very dangerous as we are going to need another ministry for prohibition of jokes adding one more to the list of more than 100 ministries we already have.’

© Lankatruth

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Holmes satisfied with resettlement of IDPs

By Romesh Madushanka -Sir John Holmes, the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, said yesterday he appreciated the Sri Lankan government’s efforts in resettling of a large portion of the earlier held 300,000 internally displaced people in the North.

He had made these comments after visiting the Menik Farm camp at Settikulam in Vavuniya this afternoon

Sir John also visited the Kadirgamar, Arunachalam and Ananada Coomaraswamy relief villages in the North and said he was satisfied with the facilities offered to the people by the government.

He was welcomed by Vavuniya Government Agent P.S.M. Charles and the Vanni Security Forces Commander Kamal Gunaratne.

© Daily Mirror

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Standoff with Sri Lankan asylum seekers ends

Dozens of Sri Lankan asylum seekers on Wednesday left an Australian customs vessel anchored off Indonesia after they were promised they would be resettled, ending a monthlong standoff.

The 46 men, five women and five children were taken from Australia's Oceanic Viking to a detention center on nearby Bintan island off Sumatra, said Sugiyo, the center's head. They joined 22 others who disembarked last week.

The Oceanic Viking rescued the Sri Lankans last month from a wooden boat with a broken engine as it drifted in international waters near Indonesia.

Sujatmiko, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry's director for diplomatic security, told The Associated Press that Australia promised to resettle the asylum seekers. Both Sugiyo and Sujatmiko use only one name, which is common in Indonesia.

Sugiyo said he didn't know how long they would be in the detention center.

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the asylum seekers were given no guarantee of resettlement in Australia, however. He said they could be resettled in Canada, New Zealand or a Scandinavian nation.

"They will be offered resettlement in resettlement countries," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Thursday. "There's no guarantee they will come to Australia — that was never part of the offer."

Indonesia has become a major transit point for an increasing number of asylum seekers from war-torn countries like Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq who slip through on their way to Australia.

Indonesia has limited resources and struggles to deal with new arrivals with the assistance of international organizations.

Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the United Nations convention on refugees, is considering deporting about 250 Sri Lankans who arrived on another boat in October. They too were trying to get to Australia.

© Associated Press

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sri Lanka shares down; poll concerns override rate cut

By Shihar Aneez - Sri Lanka's shares fell on Wednesday, as investors sold shares across the board due to pre-poll uncertainty despite the central bank cut key policy rates to multi-year lows early in the day.

The All-Share Price Index .CSE of the Colombo Stock Exchange closed 0.41 percent or 12.35 points weaker at 2970.90.

"Investors are concerned on the political front as election dates have not yet been announced," Hussain Gani, associate director at Asia Securities, told Reuters.

Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday dodged an expected announcement of dates for early presidential and parliamentary elections due by April without giving a reason. [ID:nCOL305387]

Sri Lanka's central bank on Wednesday cut its key policy rates for the sixth time this year to multi-year lows aiming to encourage private-sector borrowing and spur faltering economic growth. [ID:nCOL91110]

The benchmark 91-day treasury bill yield fell 48 basis points to an over five-year low of 7.25 percent at a weekly auction after the rate cut. [ID:nCOL387141]

"The rate cut was not taken by the market due to prevailing political situation," Gani said.

Investor confidence in the island nation's bourse, still one of this year's best-performers in the world with a 97.7 percent year-to-date return, has been on the decline after the government on Oct. 13 announced it will hold elections by April.

It has fallen over 5.1 percent since then.

Shares in Sri Lanka's private lender, Hatton National Bank HNB.CM closed 0.88 percent weaker at 168 rupees.

Turnover was 844.5 million rupees ($7.4 million), more than last year's daily average of 464 million rupees.

Analysts say investors are still wary of a likely loss of a European Union trade concession over a rights abuse probe, protests and trade actions and the arrest of one of Sri Lanka's main investors in a U.S. insider trading case in mid-October.


Sri Lanka rupee LKR= closed flat at 114.25/30 a dollar. It hit a fresh seven month high of 114.25/30 a dollar on Tuesday, from Monday's close of 114.35/40 as the central bank allowed a controlled rise in the currency. [ID:nCOL63988]

Sri Lanka's 2009 revenue is expected to decline by 13.5 percent or 115 billion rupees ($1 billion) due to the impact of global financial crisis, deputy finance minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said on Tuesday. [ID:nLH601202]

The interbank lending rate or call money rate CLIBOR edged down to 8.641 percent from Tuesday's 9.197 percent.

© Reuters India

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

SRI LANKA: Plans to Release Tamils ‘Nothing But a Political Ploy’

By Feizal Samath - What could be better news for thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils displaced by bloody fighting between government troops and separatist rebels, and huddled in crowded camps with no freedom to move out?

The government announced on Tuesday that it was speeding ahead to complete the process of resettling the displaced in two months. And that was all because of a radical change in the political firmament.

The fear of a formidable candidate in the form of army General Sarath Fonseka—widely credited with leading the army to a historic victory against the badly bruised Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam—pitted against his commander-in-chief, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is setting the stage for a public relations coup, including settling the displaced in their homes before the election.

A presidential poll is likely to be held in January followed by a parliamentary poll. Widespread media reports—neither denied nor confirmed by the General who retired on Monday—that Fonseka would contest the presidency have put the government on the back foot and feverish arrangements are underway for a poll.

"We were (earlier) told between 60 and 70 percent of the displaced would be resettled by January 2010. Now it appears all of them will be out of the camps by January," noted Firzan Hashim, deputy executive director of the Consortium for Humanitarian Agencies, an umbrella group of local and foreign humanitarian non-governmental organisations.

"But while we are happy that they are at last returning to their camps, our fear is they don’t have a livelihood and will be returning to villages where there is a huge military presence," he said. "This could lead to frustration and all kinds of problems."

On Tuesday, a group of Tamil Parliamentarians who visited camps housing more than 100,000 displaced people in northern Vavuniya was told by Basil Rajapaksa, advisor to the President and chair of a Special Task Force spearheading the reconstruction and rehabilitation on the war-torn northern region, that all the displaced would be back in their former homes by January.

"He informed us of this decision when we briefed him on our visit to the camps. We made our observations on the visit," said N. Sri Kanthan, parliamentarian from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which represents the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.

Kanthan and six of his TNA parliamentary colleagues were permitted to visit the displaced on Monday, the first time local parliamentarians were allowed into the camps, access to which had been severely restricted. Camp residents are also denied freedom of movement, including coming out of the camps guarded by the military.

Kanthan said of the more than 200,000 who fled fierce battles between government troops and the rebels who fought in the northern region and swarmed into temporary shelters in March to April 2009, 102,000 residents have been settled, with another 130,000 expected to return to their homes in the next two months.

"We have requested for a long time to visit these camps, and finally this was allowed. We were flown to the area in a government helicopter and also visited resettlement areas. We were impressed and found the military and officials committed to their task," he told IPS.

Government soldiers crushed the rebels in bruising battles in May, including killing the elusive rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his family, ending a 25-year-long armed revolt against the state to push for more autonomy for minority Tamils in areas where they mostly live.

Since then, human rights groups and the international community have accused the government of keeping civilians against their will in camps amidst difficult conditions. The media, however, continues to be shut out of these camps, with a few local and foreign journalists given ‘escorted’ tours.

Sivanathan Kishore, another TNA parliamentarian, who also visited the camps, said the situation has improved tremendously from before. "In May I went alone (because I live in the same area) into the camps, and conditions were appalling. Now there is a major change."

But another TNA parliamentarian, Sivashakthi Ananthan, said he turned down the invitation to visit the camps, as it was a conducted tour and not free access as claimed.

"We had informed the military that we would be driving in our own vehicles, but the government insisted that we go in a government helicopter to the camps. Why should we go in a government helicopter to visit our own people?" he asked in a telephone interview.

A Tamil journalist, who declined to be named, labeled Monday’s exercise a public relations one, since it was held a day before the United Nations top humanitarian official arrived in Colombo on Tuesday. He added that the planned quick release of the displaced was aimed at soothing the Tamils and winning back their support ahead of the polls.

U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator John Holmes, who has visited Sri Lanka thrice this year, the last being in May, is due to meet the President and visit the camps for the displaced.

The U.N. has repeatedly expressed concern over the continued "detention" of these residents. The government justified this on two grounds—clearing their former homes of mines in a huge de-mining operation and ferreting out suspected Tamil rebel cadres. Nearly 20,000 former rebels have been identified among the displaced and moved to another detention centre and processed for rehabilitation.

On Tuesday, Britain-based Amnesty International said it had launched a week of action from Monday, highlighting the continued detention of thousands of displaced civilians in government camps. In a statement, it said activists in more than 10 countries would take part in the ‘Unlock the Camps’ campaign. Events include a ‘Circle of Hope’ in Canada, a street march and signature campaign in Nepal, a poetry reading in Switzerland and solidarity actions in France, Germany, Mauritius and the United States.

Another opposition legislator, Dr Jayalath Jayawardene, pooh-poohed the attempt to open the camps to parliamentarians. "We have filed an action in the Supreme Court seeking a declaration that our fundamental rights have been violated by not allowing us free and unimpeded access to the camps.

"If the government is allowing member of Parliament access, then why can’t they come and inform the Court?" he asked. "This is just a farce," he said. "Furthermore, they are relaxing these rules now when half the population in the camps have been returned to their homes." "We need free access … not conducted tours," said the Parliament member from the main opposition United National Party.

© Inter Press Service

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sri Lankan refugee camp: pressure and a privilege

Michael Edwards - As with life, sometimes in journalism you have to be careful what you wish for.

I had been wishing, and pushing, for a trip to Sri Lanka's notorious Manik Farm internal refugee camp for months.

And at about 7pm sitting in my hotel room in Colombo the Australian High Commission rang - I was booked on a military plane leaving early the next morning.

The news was a big relief, but also a big burden for what I perceive to be my journalistically narrow shoulders.

It was a pressing story. A clue as to why so many Tamils might be risking life and limb to come to Australia illegally. And a story I'd have to cover for television and radio, completely on my own.

I have been sent to South Asia to be a video-journalist. The J side of it isn't the problem; the V side, yes.

I was on a big story and I wasn't sure I had the skills to see it through.

The eventual product you see on your nightly news may only run a few minutes. But the production involved will take hours - filming, interviewing, scripting, editing. Usually, this is done with a reporter working in combination with a highly skilled cameraman.

But I wasn't going to have this luxury. I was going to be in northern Sri Lanka for a matter of hours and I had to get the story.

How I longed to have the ABC's South Asia cameraman Wayne McAllister with me at that time.

Journalists tend to think about the words. A skilled camera operator thinks with his eyes - how what is in front of them can be translated onto a television screen.

I lack this ability. It was a massive frustration during my trip to Manik Farm.

Because the scale and the squalor of the camp is just something my small camera couldn't fully capture.

130,000 Tamils still live at Manik Farm. They do so in makeshift tents without access to proper power, running water and with access to only basic medical care.

The few sequences I was able to capture in our short military escorted tour can't fully tell the tale.

Nor will this blog.

But each of the residents had their own tale of survival from Sri Lanka's war.

Some had lost children, many had husbands who had been taken away by the Sri Lankan military and most faced an uncertain future once they were returned to their home villages.

Their smiles took nothing away from the potency of their stories.

Many had been at Manik Farm for as long as six months. Six months pretty much exposed to the elements. Six months with no income. Six months of little or no education for their children.

Six months under the watchful eye of Sri Lankan soldiers.

And this is on top of a three decades long civil war.

Fairfax Newspaper's South Asia Correspondent Matt Wade was on the trip with me. He had visited northern Sri Lanka earlier in the year.

On his return, what struck him was that the countryside still remained so battle scarred.

It's almost with guilt that I look and realise it is impossible to capture the full extent of this.

As a VJ, when you are capturing images your mind is focused on, well, focus and exposure of the shots.

The story can get swallowed in the process of capturing it.

It's not intentional. It's just the way it is. It's a conundrum every journalist faces. We're privileged to face it.

© ABC News

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Will Bonapartist Foneska outgrow Sri Lankan democracy?

M K Bhadrakumar - When a tea sapling was brought into Ceylon -- present-day Sri Lanka in 1824 from China and planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens, the British had no commercial interests in mind. It took another forty years before a plucky Scotsman planted the first seedling, which blossomed into the famous Ceylon Tea and became today's unshakeable pillar of Sri Lanka's economy.

The 'Emerald Island' has obscure tales to tell. That is why when a swash-buckling army chief by the improbable name Gardihewa Sarath Chandralal Fonseka abruptly discards the uniform and plunges into the country's steamy politics, it becomes no simple matter. Sri Lankan democracy may never be the same again.

Bonapartism isn't altogether new to the region. Pakistan's Ayub Khan showed the way back in the 1950s. Bangladesh followed twenty years later. Now Sri Lanka, an entrenched democracy, seems fatally attracted to it.

There is nothing necessarily fatal if a soldier develops a passion for politics. An Indian commentator pointed out that, after all, there is the precedent of Dwight Eisenhower. But then, the nagging worry remains whether in the South Asian clime, like the sapling brought in from distant China, Fonseka, a US Green Card holder, may blossom and outgrow the botanical garden that Sri Lankan democracy used to be.

On the face of it, there is nothing ingenious in the choice by the Sri Lankan Opposition parties led by the United National Party to field Fonseka as their common candidate against Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse [ Images ] who will be contesting the election for a second term for the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance.

Tapping into Sinhala nationalism

The Opposition is blatantly tapping into the reservoir of Sinhala chauvanism and triumphalism and contesting Rajapakse's monopoly claim about vanquishing the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the recently concluded war.

Actually, there is no fundamental difference between the UNP and the ruling alliance in their approach toward the Tamil problem. The UNP was never lagging behind in supporting the war against the LTTE or the draconian emergency regulations prevailing in the country. The UNP sees it primarily as tactical that Rajapakse can be possibly trumped if a 'war hero' is pitted against him.

Fonseka, former chief of the Sri Lankan armed forces's defence staff, fits the bill. He has no qualms about stoking the fires of Sinhala nationalism and is easily recognisable in local folklore as the warrior who hunted down the Tamil Tigers.

Unsurprisingly, Fonseka is a man of many parts. He hails from the Karava community, which dominates economic activities and comprises the new bourgeosie and is estimated to account for over one-third of the Sinhala population. Although caste controversy is never explicitly expressed in Sinhalese politics, there has been dialectic at work involving the land owning Goyigamas (who account for half the Sinhala population) and the merchant capitalist Karavas.

Though milder than its Indian counterpart and lacking in the stratifying ideology, caste organisations or caste endogamy of Hinduism, the Sinhalese caste system plays a role in politics, as most Sinhala people see caste as a positive principle of affiliation -- although like Hindus in neighbouring India, they fight shy of admitting it.

An achievement-oriented national elite based on education (knowledge of English) has accrued over time, but local elites continue to be dominated by powerful castes like the Goyigama and Karava.

Karavas are concentrated in the southern coastal towns like Moratuwa, Panadura, Ambalangoda (Fonseka's hometown), Kalutara, Galle, etc. Therefore, Rajapakse (who hails from Hambantota to the east of Galle) can no longer hope to trade on southern provincialism.

Fonseka brings into the Opposition presidential ticket a formidable caste combination insofar as the UNP already enjoys a strong Goyigama base. To boot it, Rajapakse hails from the upper caste landed gentry and is not part of the English-educated elite of Colombo, the capital.

With the mounting economic crisis in Sri Lanka, the support for the Rajapakse government has been fading as the recent provincial council elections signaled. Many factors -- Rajapakse's autocratic methods, austerity measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund, unrest among salaried class and wage earners, price of cash crops -- have generated fluidity in the public mood that may result in a political backlash as the economic and social crisis deepens.

Meanwhile, the Tamil problem festers. No worthwhile initiative has been taken to address the root problems leading to Tamil separatism. Tamil detainees herded into camps ('welfare villages') -- numbering 255,551 according to the United Nations -- live in appalling conditions. Entry into the camps is barred to the media and aid organisations operate under severe restrictions.

A visionary army general

In short, Fonseka's candidature can gain traction. For a fleeting moment, it seems Sri Lankan democracy may be the gainer. However, Fonseka introduces a dangerous streak. Consider his resignation letter dated November 12 addressed to Rajapakse. He wrote:

"I would not be exaggerating to state that I was instrumental in leading the Army to this historic victory (over the LTTE), of course, with Your Excellency's political support, which helped to materialise this heroic action. Though the field commanders, men and all members of the Army worked towards this common goal, it is with my vision, command and leadership that this yeoman task was achieved.'

Fonseka went on to allege that Rajapakse dishonoured the Sri Lankan army's reputation by encouraging cronyism, which has 'already led to a deterioration of the high standards I (Fonseka) was capable of introducing to the army.' With an eye on the growing disaffection within the officer corps, Fonseka taunted Rajapakse:

'Your Excellency has commenced mistrusting your own loyal Army which attained the unimaginable victory just a week ago... the same army which gained victory for the Nation was suspected of staging a coup and thereby alerting the Government of India once again on the 15th of October 2009, unnecessarily placing the Indian troops on high alert. This action did tarnish the image and reputation gained by the Sri Lanka Army as a competent and professional organisation... in the eyes of the World. This suspicion would have been due to the loyalty of the Sri Lanka Army towards me as its past Commander who led the Army to the historic victory.'

'(The) Army which I toiled to transform into a highly professional outfit is now losing its way. Increased desertions…disciplinary problems... indicate an unprofessional organization in the offing. During the last two months, the members (who) deserted are higher than the recruitment.'

Surely, he didn't fail to accuse the president of gross all-round misgovernance -- neglecting the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Tamil refugees displaced during the war; mismanaging the economy, promoting 'waste and corruption', curtailing 'media freedom and other democratic rights', etc.

What explains it all? Fonseka only recently derided Indian politicians as 'a bunch of jokers'. Temperamentally and by reputation, he is not cut out for politics. In his resignation letter, Fonseka listed out his post-retirement benefits:

'Your Excellency would be kind enough to grant me sufficient security which includes trained combat soldiers, a suitable vehicle with sufficient protection (bullet proof) and escort vehicles for my conveyances... I wish to bring to Your Excellency's kind notice that over 100 men, six escort vehicles and a bullet proof vehicle have been placed at the convenience of the former Commander of the Navy... I presume that such arrangements would be made available to me...'

Indian Ocean geopolitics

No aspiring politician ever likes to be seen as self-seeking. Indeed, what prompts someone like Fonseka to dive into the dangerous depths of politics? Is he acting on own volition? If so, what is his agenda? If not, who is promoting him?

The geopolitics of the Indian Ocean region does seem to provide the backdrop to the engrossing power play. The UNP, which props him up, is traditionally right-leaning and favors neo-liberal market-oriented policies. It consistently toed a pro-Western (pro-US) orientation in foreign policy. UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe enjoyed close equations with the George W Bush administration.

The US has been stepping up pressure on the ruling circles in Colombo, especially on Defence Minister Gotabhaya Rajapaske, the president's brother (who is a US citizen), as to any involvement in policy matters that constituted human rights violations in the conduct of the war against the LTTE.

The Rajapakse government is deeply concerned that Fonseka, who is a US Green Card holder, has darkly hinted he is privy to 'very highly sensitive' issues related to the final stages of the war that are known only to a handful in the top echelons of the defence establishment. Indeed, the last phase of a brutal war can never stand the scrutiny of covenants regarding Prisoner Of Wars.

The US agenda goes beyond concerns over war crimes and human rights abuses. Washington has been feeling uneasy about Rajapakse's growing economic and political ties with China. A malleable power structure in Colombo is crucial for US geo-strategic interests in the Indian Ocean that connects the Persian Gulf with the South China Sea.

A Bonapartist may just be the crowbar Washington needs to rudely tear apart the social contract on which Rajapakse based his political fortunes brilliantly so far.

M K Bhadrakumar is a former diplomat.


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