Friday, December 25, 2009

'Weapons were for Sri Lanka' says crew

A crew charged in Thailand with illegal arms possession say their plane was headed for Sri Lanka and not Iran, when it was seized in the Thai capital with a cache of North Korean weapons, media reports from Thailand reported on Wednesday (23).

Defense lawyer Somsak Saithong had told the media that the four Kazakhstan citizens and one from Belarus, as saying that their flight plan called for a refueling stop in Bangkok before flying to Sri Lanka.

But according to a flight plan seen by arms trafficking researchers, the aircraft was chartered by Hong Kong-based Union Top Management Ltd., or UTM, to fly oil industry spare parts from Pyongyang to Tehran, Iran, with several other stops, including in Azerbaijan and Ukraine.

"They always deny any involvement with the weapons or any charges they are accused of. They told me that their job was just to fly the cargo plane to its destination. They don't know about or had anything to do with the cargo itself" said Somsak.

The plane's papers described its cargo as oil-drilling machinery for delivery to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan authorities had earlier rejected reports that the plane was heading for Sri Lanka

In an interview with the BBC, Expert on International terrorism, Dr. Rohan Gunaratne said the weapon were not heading towards Sri Lanka.

"During the conflict, the Tamil Tigers got ninety percent of their weapons from North Korea but they came on ships." says Dr. Gunaratne.

© BBC Sinhala

Related Links:
Thais: US tip led to seizure of arms from NKorea -
Days after U.S. envoy's trip to N.Korea, U.N.banned weapons are seized - LA Times
North Korean Arms Transport Plane Part of CIA Sting Operation -
Plane crew denies knowledge of arms - Deccan Herald
Officials Seek Destination of North Korean Arms - The New York Times
Weapons-carrying cargo plane headed for Sri Lanka - Associated Press
North Korea weapons aircraft 'was heading to Iran' - Times Online
Iran denies involvement in arms-laden plane incident - RIA Novosti
Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan disavow arms flight from North Korea - Guardian
North Korean arms plane 'has links to New Zealand'- Times Online
New Zealand probes links to North Korea arms plane - The Nation
NZ Businessman: Unaware of North Korea Weapons - The Wall Street Journal

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Letter on U.N. queries withdrawn: Sri Lanka

B. Muralidhar Reddy - The Sri Lankan government on Thursday announced that the letter sent by Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights Rajiva Wijesinghe in response to questions raised by U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions Phillip Alston, on charges made by the former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka against Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa about the sequence of events in the last phase of Eelam War IV (May 16 to 19), should be treated as withdrawn.

The letter and its withdrawal have embarrassed the Mahinda Rajapaksa government as the ruling combine and the opposition were building it up as an issue for the January 26 presidential election where the retired General is pitted against President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

In his letter Prof. Wijesinghe had argued that since the retired General Fonseka had distanced himself from the comments attributed to him in the December 13 interview to the English weekly Sunday Leader, the questions raised by the U.N. were irrelevant.

“The Secretary had written the letter without consulting the Foreign Office and other relevant authorities in the Government. The Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva had been instructed to withhold the letter sent by the Secretary,” a senior official in the Presidential Secretariat told The Hindu.

Indications are that the government does not want to do anything which could allow the former Army Chief portray himself in public as a “victim”. Minister of Mass Media and Information Anura Priyadarshana Yapa told reporters at the weekly Cabinet briefing that the government would not take “political advantage” over the statement of General Fonseka.

He said the government did not wish to penalise any individual without a valid reason and added that the present administration was a democratic entity and urged journalists to ask General Fonseka why he made such a statement. “As a Government we are ready to face the statement of Fonseka because it cannot be ignored,” he noted.

© The Hindu

Related Links:
Letter sent by Rajiva to UN envoy Phillip Alston withheld - Daily Mirror
UN questions government on Fonseka’s allegations - Daily Mirror

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Sri Lanka among the world's "Top 10 Humanitarian Crises" - MSF Releases 12th Annual List

View the Top Ten Humanitarian Crises of 2009

Civilians attacked, bombed, and cut off from aid in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), along with stagnant funding for treating HIV/AIDS and ongoing neglect of other diseases, were among the worst emergencies in 2009, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported today in its annual list of the "Top Ten" humanitarian crises.

Continuing crises in north and south Sudan, along with the failure of the international community to finally combat childhood malnutrition were also included on this year’s list. The list is drawn from MSF’s operational activities in close to 70 countries, where the organization’s medical teams witnessed some of the worst humanitarian conditions.

Three distinct patterns dominated in 2009: governments blocked lifesaving assistance to trapped populations, including in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Sudan, where aid groups—including some MSF teams—were expelled from Darfur; respect for civilian safety and neutral humanitarian action further eroded, such as in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, DRC, and Somalia, where people—and in some cases aid workers—were either indiscriminately or directly attacked; people suffering from a host of largely ignored diseases were again neglected by the international community, and those living with HIV/AIDS saw their chances of receiving life extending therapy further diminished.

“There is no question that civilians are increasingly victimized in conflicts and further cut off from lifesaving assistance, often deliberately,” said MSF International Council President Dr. Christophe Fournier. “In places like Sri Lanka and Yemen, where armed conflicts raged in 2009, aid groups were either blocked from accessing those in need or forced out because they too came under fire. This unacceptable dynamic is becoming the norm. Our teams on the ground are witnessing the very tangible human consequences of these crises directly, either in war zones or in the AIDS and nutrition clinics in which they work,” he said. We’re therefore compelled and obligated to speak out.”

In Sri Lanka, tens of thousands of civilians were trapped with no aid and limited medical care as government forces battled Tamil Tiger rebels in the spring. Aid groups, including MSF, were banned from entering the conflict zone. In Somalia, civilians continued to bear the brunt of a vicious civil war. More than 200,000 people fled the capital, Mogadishu, in just the first few months of 2009 and aid workers were increasingly targeted – at least 42 relief workers have been killed since 2008, including three MSF staff.

In Yemen, civilians and hospitals were heavily affected by fighting in the Saada region in the north of the country as government forces fought rebels. The fighting forced tens of thousands of people from their homes and compelled MSF to close the only hospital serving an entire district after it was shelled. And in a glaring case of abuse of humanitarian action for military gain, civilians gathered with their children at MSF vaccination sites in North Kivu, DRC in October, came under attack by government forces. The attack threatened to severely undermine the trust necessary to carry out independent medical humanitarian work in conflict settings.

In Pakistan, where tens of thousands fled fighting, hospitals were struck by mortar fire and two MSF workers were killed in Swat Valley, where the organization ultimately suspended its operations due to the violence there.

On the medical front, years of success in increasing treatment for the numbers of people living with HIV/AIDS was threatened with punishment in 2009. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) announced plans to reduce or limit funding.

“Just when more and more people were accessing crucial medicines and medical experts were acknowledging the need to put people on treatment sooner, patients will be turned away from clinics because the funding just won’t be there,” said Dr. Fournier. “The timing could not be worse.”

The neglect also extends to childhood malnutrition, a treatable disease that is the underlying cause of up to half of the annual ten million preventable deaths of children under five each year. Global leaders gathered at the World Food Summit in Rome in 2009 failed to commit to combating the disease, which groups like MSF have shown can be prevented and treated by providing growing children with proper foods that meet their nutritional requirements.

Right now, international assistance to fight malnutrition amounts $350 million dollars, while the World Bank estimates $11.8 billion is required to adequately combat the disease in 36 high burden countries. Additionally, most food assistance is made up of costly and inefficient in-kind donations containing products of poor nutritional value that must be shipped overseas. Resources could be better spent on obtaining nutritionally appropriated foods closer to their source.

Other diseases, such as Chagas, kala azar, sleeping sickness, and Buruli ulcer continue to be neglected, with very few new commitments to expanding access to available treatment or carrying out research for much needed newer and more effective drugs.

“The tremendous resources devoted to the H1N1 pandemic in developed countries illustrates the response capacity for global health threats when the political will exists,” said Dr. Fournier. “Regrettably, we fail to see the same commitments made to combat diseases claiming millions of more lives each year.”

MSF began producing the "Top Ten" list in 1998, when a devastating famine in southern Sudan went largely unreported in U.S. media. Drawing on MSF’s emergency medical work, the list seeks to generate greater awareness of the magnitude and severity of crises that may or may not be reflected in media accounts.

© Médecins Sans Frontières

Related Links:
Thousands Injured during the Final Stage of Sri Lanka's Decades-long War - MSF

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Friday, December 25, 2009

A nasty, cruel war followed by a nasty, dirty election

by Dr. Packiyasothy Saravanamuttu - Philip Alston the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions has asked the Government of Sri Lanka for explanations regarding the deaths of three senior LTTE leaders and members of their families in the final stages of the war.

He wants in particular information pertaining to the the “circumstances of the death of three representatives of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Balasingham Nadesan, Seevaratnam Pulidevan and Ramesh, as well as members of their families in the night of 17 to 18 May, 2009”.

Alston’s inquiry follows the allegations made by presidential candidate Fonseka in an interview with the editor in chief of a Sunday paper. Fonseka claims that he was misquoted and the editor stands by her story.

What the Newspaper reported was that according to Fonseka who had obtained this information from journalists “embedded” with the 58th Brigade of the Sri Lanka Army, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had instructed the Brigade Commander Major General Shavendra Silva to shoot and kill the above named LTTE leaders as they came out carrying a white flag to surrender. Fonseka has subsequently insisted that these orders were not carried out and that he as the then Army Commander takes full responsibility for the conduct of the troops. He also maintains that he was in full command, even when he was out of the country in China in the last days of the war.

These allegations are self evidently serious. Every school boy and girl knows that a white flag means surrender and every soldier surely knows the basic rules of war – people carrying white flags are not to be shot at and killed. The fall out from them, generating more heat than light, underscores the challenge of the choice before us in this presidential election and the prospects for democracy, peace, reconciliation and unity. One thing seems clear, there are questions, serious, unanswered questions about the way in which the war was won and what happened in its final stages.

Allegations of human rights violations and war crimes persist. They are not going away, notwithstanding the belief of the main political formations that the credentials of their candidates must reside in their indubitable claim to responsibility for military victory.

In the context of the presidential election and prevailing political culture it is not surprising that Rajapaksa supporters have all screamed betrayal at candidate Fonseka. Supporters of candidate Fonseka, on the other hand, have resorted to a number of responses.

They range from accusations of partisanship against the Leader to commending his courage in spilling the beans on the heart of darkness of the regime to even those who believe that whatever may have been retracted, the allegation will garner votes for him amongst the Tamil community which according to the conventional wisdom will have a decisive say in the choice of the next president. No doubt there are those who will buy the argument about betrayal and Fonseka’s handlers may hope that the damage having being done in the relatively early stages of the campaign may be undone, subsequently.

What they do need to take note of are the costs of their candidate going solo and expressing his visceral hatred of the Rajapaksas. This if let out often will obscure whatever other qualities and attributes his supporters and handlers believe he brings to his quest for the presidency and undermine it.

Betrayal suggests that whatever is alleged in the newspaper interview, happened. It certainly constitutes grounds for reasonable speculation. There is a presidential panel mandated to respond to the US State Department report to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Incidents During the Recent Conflict in Sri Lanka, commonly referred to as the War Crimes Report. Fonseka’s Ambalangoda speech is cited in the State Department report as well as the killing of LTTE surrendees. Will the recent controversy be looked into as well and when will the findings of the panel be made public? Or is all of this irrelevant because there will always be doubts about the independence and impartiality of any commission or panel in this country and in any event, the allegations are such that neither side of the political divide in the current election is exempt from suspicion and culpability? Is the regime interested in investigating these allegations? In a response to Alston, Prof Wijesinghe, Secretary of the Human Rights Ministry states:

Since your letter was based on a report of allegations by General Fonseka which he has clarified in a manner that negates the story, I assume you will now withdraw your letter.

At the same time, the Daily News headline referring to the Fonseka allegations and Alston letter reads in bold letters – Great Betrayal. Now it may be argued that the betrayal referred to is of the troops he commanded irrespective of whether the allegation is true or not. In his overwhelming desire to throw muck at the Rajapaksas, Fonseka does not, it is argued, give a damn about muck sticking to the soldiers who were under his command, now commonly referred to as the heroic troops.

There must be an occasion on which he states clearly and unequivocally as to what he knows of what happened. More than just his presidency or that of the current incumbent depends on it. Accountability, reconciliation and unity do. On this score, there is hardly any difference between the incumbent and his principal challenger. Each one has publicly, loudly and proudly proclaimed that he alone will bear responsibility, if any, for war crimes.

We need to know what happened and yes, it has a bearing on who we choose to be our president.Voters who want to be better informed should read the latest Special Report No 34 by the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) titled Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri Lanka’s Victims of War.

This report by the internationally recognized UTHR whose reports have been quoted by successive Sri Lankan governments should be made mandatory reading for all Sri Lankans and for generations to come.

Chilling and harrowing it records the experience of the civilians who were targeted by both sides in the war. The UTHR report alone surely must constitute grounds for an investigation of the allegations and incidents that marked and marred this war, if nothing else. The report states that:

What these survivors’ stories make clear is that for both parties, the key to military dominance lay not in brilliant strategies, but in an utter disregard for the lives of civilians and combatants alike, driven by their leader’s single -minded pursuit of personal power.

A nasty and cruel war is being followed by a nasty, dirty election. We must vote and thereafter ensure as best we can that whoever becomes president sheds as much light on this nastiness and cruelty and commits to ensuring that it is never repeated.

Even if peace, reconciliation are not accorded the prominence they demand in this election campaign, they must be acknowledged as the imperatives for government and governance thereafter.


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Friday, December 25, 2009

Sri Lanka war-displaced struggle to resume lives

By Shihar Aneez - Thousands of ethnic Tamils displaced during Sri Lanka's war have gone home again, but are finding basic services and infrastructure lacking despite a massive government post-war resettlement programme.

The government has gradually been resettling around 300,000 ethnic minority Tamil people, most displaced in the final phase of the army offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended with the Tiger's defeat in May after a 25-year war.

Various foreign aid and human rights groups, as well as U.N. officials, have criticised conditions in the camps and have urged the government, which needs foreign help and investment to boost Sri Lanka's post-war economy, to resettle the Tamils quickly. According to government data, it had resettled 127,352 people in their areas of origin as of Wednesday. Over 140,000 are yet to be resettled.

At one point over 280,000 displaced people were being kept under guard in northern Vavuniya, 260 km (161 miles) away from Colombo, inside cramped military-run camps.

Many have now been resettled in their original home areas, after the government determined there was not a threat of land mines. But those Reuters spoke to say the conditions leave much to be desired.

"We don't have drinking water or toilet facilities," said Muttaiah Sivayoganathan, a 53-year-old father of three in the colony of Parannattakal, 10 km north from Vavuniya town.

"Backside forest has been used as our toilet." he said, referring to woods behind his house.

"I don't have any money to resume farming. But still we were asked by the government to build a house on our own land temporarily before proper resettlement."

His wife and three children had gone to have a bath in one of his relative's house in Vavuniya town, where they also cook their food due to lack of clean water around his newly built house.

Walls of the 9 square-meter, one-room house are made of coconut fronds and the roof of galvanised tin sheets. The dirt floor was wet due to pouring monsoonal rain outside. Along with some dry rations, the government gave him 16 galvanised tin sheets, 5,000 rupees ($43.7) in cash, and some farming equipment to rebuild his house and resume his livelihood.


Many others in the resettlement area complained about conditions as well. Some had been bitten by poisonous snakes when they were using forests for lavatory purposes.

"The government should punish those who were involved in terrorism, not all ethnic Tamils," a dejected old man in the colony told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Two weeks ago, his wife was bitten by a snake, but luckily survived after a four-day treatment in a nearby hospital.

"They promised us (the government would) provide everything. But so far nothing has happened in the last two months since we resettled here."

Some said they stay in the area only in the daylight hours, going to relatives' house at night due to the presence of snakes and lack of facilities.

The Sri Lankan government gave freedom of movement from Dec. 1 to the displaced persons housed in military-run camps, after facing pressure to speed up resettlement not just internationally, but locally ahead of a presidential election Jan. 26.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's administration promised the United Nations to resettle between 70 and 80 percent of those in the camps by the end of the year and all by end-January.

However, many remain in the camps because their home areas have not yet been opened up as mine clearance operations are still going on.

That is the situation for tens of thousands of Tamils from the former rebel-held districts of Mullateevu and Kilinochchi.

"I won't feel freedom, until I go to my own home," said M. Iruthayanyahi in Vavuniya town while waiting for a bus to return to Manik Farm camp, the largest, after staying 15 days at a relative's house.

She had lost her eldest son on Jan. 10 in Puthukkudiyiruppu in Mullaitivu district by a shell attack and her second son is in army custody over suspicious LTTE links.

Which candidate most of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority chooses to support could be an important factor in the presidential election, with the resettlement process one of the issues.

Rajapaksa's main challenger General Sarath Fonseka, who led the military to defeat the LTTE as the then-commander of the army, says the government has resettled the displaced persons without proper planning.

© Reuters

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Chinese aid for Sri Lanka

B. Muralidhar Reddy - Sri Lanka and China have signed three framework agreements amounting to $410 million under which Beijing will provide concessional funding for several projects in Sri Lanka, including the second international airport at Mattala.

A Sri Lankan team led by Secretary to the Treasury Jayasundera is on a three-day official visit to China.

The statement said an annual granting agreement was also signed with the Commerce Ministry of China to the value of $7 million.

As per the release, Dr. Jayasundera apprised Chinese Vice-Minister Chen Jian of the progress achieved in the fields of power, ports and highways as well as construction and development initiatives, particularly in the northern and eastern regions.

“He further briefed Chinese officials that it is the intention of the government of President Rajapaksa to speed up reconstruction efforts, especially the construction of roads and railroads, to link the North and South which would contribute to improving the living conditions and livelihoods of the people in those provinces.

Mr. Chen indicated further development assistance to improve the general living standards as well as to achieve a higher growth rate in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan delegation also held discussions with the Finance Ministry of China, and assessed the progress of ongoing projects with Chinese Contractors,” it said.

© The Hindu

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