Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Editor of the Lanka newspaper Chandana Sirimalwatta who was held in custody for more than two weeks was discharged without charges a short while ago, a spokesman for the newspaper said.

He was released by the Gangodawila Magistrate after the CID failed to file charges against him.

The wife of the journalist on Monday filed a Fundamental Rights petition claiming that her husband was illegally detained.

© Times Online

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

UN says Gordon Weiss's views does not represent the agency

The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator has received queries regarding recent comments made by former UN spokesman, Gordon Weiss, in an interview with Australian Television. These views, communicated to the media are his personal ones and do not represent those of the United Nations. The overall view of the UN on any particular situation comes from statements by the Secretary General or other senior UN figures.

A number of queries were made on Mr. Weiss' comments on civilian casualties. The UN repeatedly and publicly said there were unacceptably high civilian casualties from the fighting in the last months of the war, as a result of the LTTE forcibly preventing people leaving and the Government's use of heavy weapons in areas close to thousands of civilians.

While we maintained internal estimates of casualties, circumstances did not permit us to independently verify them on the ground, and therefore we do not have verifiable figures of how many casualties there were.

The UN remains committed to supporting the Government of Sri Lanka in its efforts to rebuild communities and support peaceful solutions.

Courtesy: Source: Office of the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sri Lanka

© Info Lanka

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

EU to cut Sri Lanka trade benefits over rights

Read the implementing regulation of the EU

European Union nations decided Monday to withdraw preferential trade benefits from Sri Lanka due to "significant shortcomings" on human rights issues, the EU Commission announced.

The decision came after an "exhaustive investigation... identified significant shortcomings in respect of Sri Lanka's implementation of three UN human rights conventions," the commission said in a statement.

The suspension of the GSP+ (Generalised System of Preferences plus) benefits will not take effect for six months "giving Sri Lanka extra time to address the problems identified," the EU executive added.

"I would like to emphasise that I hope Sri Lanka will sit with us over the next six months in order to agree upon a set of measures that will result in rapid, demonstrable and sustainable progress in relation to the human rights shortcomings we have identified," said new EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.

The European Union's GSP+ scheme gives 16 poor nations preferential access to the trading bloc in return for following strict commitments on a wide variety of social and rights issues.

Sri Lanka's hawkish government has faced almost constant criticism over the past several years because of the way it has conducted a war against Tamil Tiger rebels.

Government forces have been accused of a host of rights violations including the indiscriminate killing of thousands of Tamil civilians, the murder of aid workers and the execution of surrendering rebels.

Sri Lanka gains about 150 million dollars annually due to preferential tariffs, according to trade estimates.

The island's clothing industry is the main beneficiary, using the tax breaks to sell to high street retailers in Europe.


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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

India Worries as China Builds Ports in South Asia

By Vikas Bajaj - For years, ships from other countries, laden with oil, machinery, clothes and cargo, sped past this small town near India as part of the world’s brisk trade with China.

Now, China is investing millions to turn this fishing hamlet into a booming new port, furthering an ambitious trading strategy in South Asia that is reshaping the region and forcing India to rethink relations with its neighbors.

As trade in the region grows more lucrative, China has been developing port facilities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and it is planning to build railroad lines in Nepal. These projects, analysts say, are part of a concerted effort by Chinese leaders and companies to open and expand markets for their goods and services in a part of Asia that has lagged behind the rest of the continent in trade and economic development.

But these initiatives are irking India, whose government worries that China is expanding its sphere of regional influence by surrounding India with a “string of pearls” that could eventually undermine India’s pre-eminence and potentially rise to an economic and security threat.

“There is a method in the madness in terms of where they are locating their ports and staging points,” Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary who is now a member of the government’s National Security Advisory Board, said of China. “This kind of effort is aimed at counterbalancing and undermining India’s natural influence in these areas.”

India and China, the world’s two fastest-growing economies, have a history of tense relations. They share a contested Himalayan border over which they fought a war in 1962. India has given shelter to the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet as China exerted control over it. And China has close military ties with Pakistan, with which India has fought three wars.

But the two countries also do an increasingly booming business with each other. China recently became India’s largest trading partner, and both have worked together to advance similar positions in global trade and climate change negotiations.

Chinese officials deny ulterior motives for their projects in South Asia. And top Indian leaders have tried to play down talk of a rivalry with China, saying there is enough room in the world for both economies to rise simultaneously.

As recently as the 1990s, China’s and India’s trade with four South Asian nations — Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan — was roughly equal. But over the last decade, China has outpaced India in deepening ties.

For China, these countries provide both new markets and alternative routes to the Indian Ocean, which its ships now reach through a narrow channel between Indonesia and Malaysia known as the Strait of Malacca. India, for its part, needs to improve economic ties with its neighbors to broaden its growth and to help foster peace in the region. Some of the shift in trade toward China comes from heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, which has hampered trade between the two countries. But China has also made inroads in nations that have been more friendly with India, including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Moreover, protectionist sentiments have marred India’s relationships with its neighbors. South Asia has a free-trade agreement, but countries that are part of the pact get few benefits, economists say, because India and its neighbors refuse to lower tariffs on many goods and services to protect their own businesses. By contrast, the countries of Southeast Asia have minimal or no duties on most goods and services that they import from one another.

India has had some success in establishing closer ties with Sri Lanka, with which it has a strong bilateral trade agreement. But China has become a partner of choice for big projects here like the Hambantota port. China’s Export-Import Bank is financing 85 percent of the cost of the $1 billion project, and China Harbour Engineering, which is part of a state-owned company, is building it. Similar arrangements have been struck for an international airport being built nearby.

Sri Lankan officials want to turn Hambantota, which was devastated by the 2004 tsunami and is the home constituency for President Mahinda Rajapaksa, into the second-largest urban area in the country after the capital, Colombo. (It is the ninth-biggest today.) The government is also building a convention center, a government complex and a cricket stadium.

Sri Lanka needs foreign assistance to make those dreams a reality, because the government’s finances are stretched by a large debt it accumulated in paying for a 25-year civil war that ended in May. In 2009, the country borrowed $2.6 billion from the International Monetary Fund.

Mr. Rajapaksa has said he offered the Hambantota port project first to India, but officials there turned it down. In an interview, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United States, said the country looked for investors in America and around the world, but China offered the best terms. “We don’t have favorites,” he said.

Still, Sri Lankan officials have refused to disclose information that would allow analysts to compare China’s proposals with those submitted by other bidders. The country has also kept private details about other projects that are being financed and built by China, including a power plant, an arts center and a special economic zone.

The Sunday Times, a Sri Lankan newspaper, recently estimated that China was involved in projects totaling $6 billion — more than any other country, including India and Japan, which have historically been big donors and investors in Sri Lanka.

Harsha de Silva, a prominent economist in Colombo and an adviser to the country’s main opposition party, said the Sri Lankan government appeared to prefer awarding projects to China because it did not impose “conditions for reform, transparency and competitive bidding” that would be part of contracts with countries like India and the United States or organizations like the World Bank.

Other analysts say China is winning big projects here and elsewhere in the region because its companies offer lower costs. Chinese companies are also competitive because they have acquired a lot of expertise in building large infrastructure projects in China, said Jerry Lou, Morgan Stanley’s China strategist.

In 10 years, Chinese companies have become the biggest suppliers to ports of cranes used to move shipping containers, displacing South Korean and Japanese companies, he said. “They are running at very high efficiency and at the lowest costs,” Mr. Lou said. “China is a game-changer, rather than a new player in the world’s construction industry.”

India is starting to respond to China’s growing influence by becoming more aggressive in courting trade partners. India recently signed a free-trade deal with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and South Korea. Officials have even begun talking about signing a trade deal with China to bolster exports.

India’s chief trade negotiator, D. K. Mittal, acknowledged that the country’s economic ties with its neighbors were not as strong as they should be and blamed political distrust between the countries. But he said leaders were now determined to improve economic relations, something he said was highlighted in a recent agreement with Bangladesh.

In that deal, India agreed to sell electricity to Bangladesh, provide it with a $1 billion line of credit for infrastructure projects and reduce tariffs on imports. Bangladesh agreed to allow Indian ships to use a port that is being redeveloped by China. “The political leaders have to rise above and say, ‘I want this to happen,’ ” Mr. Mittal said in an interview. “That’s what the leaders are realizing.”

© The New York Times

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