Saturday, March 06, 2010

'Govt. responsible' for Prageeth's abduction


The Sri Lanka government is directly responsible for the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, his wife has claimed.

Sandhya Ekneligoda told BBC's Outlook programme that she could not think of anybody else, "especially because what happened before and after his disappearance".

Mr. Eknaligoda, a journalist, cartoonist and a film maker, who last worked for Lankaenews website is missing since 24th January.

Listen to the interview

Both Lankaenews and Mr. Ekneligoda supported Gen Sarath Fonseka at the 26 January presidential election.

Either the government is directly behind the abduction, Sandhya Ekneligoda said, or a group with government's blessing is responsible.

Meeting the president

"I have written to the president seeking his help to find my husband but I am yet to get a response," she said.

The mother of two sons says her attempts to meet Shiranthi Rajapaksa, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's wife, has been unsuccessful as her telephone calls were not directed to Mrs. Rajapaksa despite repeated attempts.

"I also tried to secure an appointment to meet President Rajapaksa through a person who works in the president's office," she told the BBC.

"Initially that person said he didn't know who Prageeth was but after my repeated persuasion, he has said that there is no point for the president to meet me as Prageeth has written so much against the president."

These reactions and the behaviour of media minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene only confirms her suspicions that the government is behind the disappearance, according to Sandhya Ekneligoda.

Malwatta Mahanayake thero

She said the minister made a public announcement after Malwatta Mahanayake thero strongly criticised the conduct of the politicians.

"Mahanayake thero said he wondered whether to allow politicians to come and meet him as a result of their public behaviour," she said.

Minister Yapa, according to Sandhya Eknaligoda, has said that Prageeth was hiding to seek publicity and would come home within a week.

"It has been more than three weeks since he made that statement and I'm still waiting for Prageeth," she said.

The government has previously rejected accusations that it is behind the disappearance of the journalist.

BBC Sandeshaya could not get the response from the minister despite repeated attempts.

© BBC Sinhala

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Ex-Army Inteligence Chief to be quizzed over Lasantha Wickramatunge 's murder

By Indika Ramanayake - The Terrorist Investigation Unit said the former Army Intelligence Chief would be quizzed in connection with the killing of Lasantha Wickramatunga, within the course of the coming week.

It is reported that the former Chief of Army Intelligence is to be quizzed in connection with the information gathered from the Army Intelligence Operatives quizzed so far. Already 15 members of the Army Intelligence have been taken into custody for questioning.

Meanwhile CID told Court yesterday it was trying to find out whether there were calls taken from the confiscated mobile phone number to the mobile phone of slain Sunday Leader editor-in-chief Lasantha Wickrematunga.

Detectives told the Mount Lavinia Magistrate that the suspect in police custody had made contradictory statements to the CID and to the Mirihana police.

The Counsel who appeared for the Wickrametunge family asked the detectives about media reports on the arrest of 15 people in connection with the killing of Mr. Wickremetunga but Inspector Chandraratne said he was not aware of any such arrests.

The suspect who is alleged to have stolen Mr. Wickremetunga’s mobile phone was remanded till March 18.

© Daily Mirror

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Sri Lanka's former war zone highlighted in travel guide

Two British travel writers have published a guide book on tourist attractions in Sri Lanka's former war zone in the north and east, now accessible to the visitors after 30 years of conflict.

Juliet Coombe, a photojournalist for the BBC Lonely Planet guide book, and her co-writer Daisy Perry spent six months roaming through areas which were once strongholds of Tamil Tiger separatist rebels.

The region became accessible after government forces crushed the Tigers in May 2009, ending three decades of war and resulting in a revival in travel to the island.

The guide book, which also covers the island's central hills, famous for its tea plantations, highlights the beaches, ruins and wildlife parks that for long were out of bounds for visitors.

Coombe says she traveled with her one month old baby as her 'chief negotiator' in gaining access to the north and the east where the security was still tight even after the end of the war.

Starting from the busy capital Colombo, and on to the ancient cities in central Sri Lanka and the former war zone the book covers a wide array of information with words and photographs by Coombe.

Dileep Mudadeniya, Managing Director of the Tourism Promotions Bureau, said the guide book has new content and a new approach to Sri Lankan tourism.

“After a 30-year conflict the entire country is open for tourism. When the country is open, it is very important for us to have material to know where to go and how to get there."

Coombe says her fascination with Sri Lanka’s North and East, began with an interest in the northern Jaffna library, which was destroyed during the war.

As seven-year-old child and an avid reader, she had read about the library and since then been fascinated with coming to Sri Lanka in order to immerse herself in the many books the library offered.

'Sri Lanka's other half; a guide to the Central, Eastern and Northern Provinces' is now available to the public from the Ministry of Tourism and bookshops in the country.

© Lanka Business Online

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Sri Lanka, Britain spar again over Tigers

By Amantha Perera - Tensions between Sri Lanka and Britain may have calmed down somewhat after the civil conflict ended in this South Asian country last year, but are rising again after the government accused London of aiding the defeated Tamil Tigers to regroup internationally.

The latest tensions were sparked by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s attendance at the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), held on Feb. 24 in London.

The Sri Lankan government did not take lightly the fact that Miliband spoke to the forum, which is considered a grouping of support networks and sympathisers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as the Tamil Tiger rebels are called.

For about two years before the Sri Lankan government militarily defeated the Tamil rebels in May 2009, ties had been strained between Britain and its former colony. The government had seen Britain as one of the staunchest critics of the conduct of the war, which had drawn international concern.

At one point, pro-nationalist groups supporting President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s drive against the separatist LTTE, which fought for decades for a homeland for minority Tamils in this majority Sinhalese nation, accused the British government of having a colonialist-era attitude and worse, of using diplomatic arm-twisting tactics.

On Mar. 1, protesters gathered near the British High Commission, located in one of Colombo’s most expensive neighbourhoods, to vent their anger on what they saw as continued meddling by the British on Sri Lanka’s internal affairs.

About 200 protesters aligned with the National Freedom Front (NFF) shouted anti-Miliband slogans and derided Prime Minister Brown. They were led by former member of parliament Wimal Weeravansha, a key supporter of Rajapaksa.

"What the British government is trying to do (by its support to the GTF) is to revive Tiger terrorism, and by extension, it is supporting the division of this nation," Weeravansha told the protesters.

He handed over a petition signed by the protesters to the High Commission. "This is not a democratic act, supporting the division of a country," Weeravansha said. "We ask the British public not to support such moves."

Hours before the GTF meeting, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama summoned Mark Gooding the Acting British High Commissioner in Colombo to the Foreign Ministry to convey the message that Miliband should not go ahead with attending the event.

"The Foreign Minister in this context emphasised that Foreign Secretary Miliband, by participating at today’s GTF Meeting in London, would unfortunately lend credibility to an organisation which is propagating the separatist agenda of the LTTE, and would be acting in a manner inimical to the national interest of Sri Lanka and its legitimate government," the Foreign Ministry later said of Bogollagama’s meeting with the British diplomat.

In his address to the GTF delegates, Miliband said that "the foundation of the Global Tamil Forum, the inauguration of its international work, is an important moment for politics and above all politics in Sri Lanka, because there is no substitute for political voice in asserting political rights."

The GTF delegates also met with British Prime Minister Brown.

The British government has tried to show that Miliband’s address was part of its wide-ranging efforts to foster national reconciliation in this South Asian island nation at the end of decades of a sectarian war that cost over 70,000 lives.

The British High Commission in Colombo said that Miliband emphasised the need for national unity in Sri Lanka in his speech. "It is for all Sri Lanka’s people to decide what that solution should look like. The United Kingdom firmly believes that the only way to achieve lasting and equitable peace in Sri Lanka is through genuine national reconciliation,’’ it said in a Feb. 24 statement.

But these have not gone far to allay fears that the British are moving behind the scenes to undermine the Rajapaksa government, which faces elections for the parliament on Apr. 8.

The NFF leader Weeravansha also warned that the protests would spread across the country. "If the British government wants to maintain cordial relations with Sri Lanka, it should respect our sovereignty and stop these kinds of vicious acts," he argued.

This week’s protests come during a politically charged atmosphere in Colombo. The island went through a bruising presidential election in January where Rajapaksa successfully staved off a challenge by his former army commander, Sarath Fonseka.

Two weeks after the Jan. 26 election, Fonseka was arrested by military police. The arrest initially sparked off protests by pro-Fonseka groups that later died down.

But the political climate is unlikely to stay calm as the country heads for a parliamentary election on Apr. 8.

Even before the allegations against Miliband and the British government, complaints have been rising against ‘foreign powers’ trying to influence national politics. The Fonseka campaign, for instance, was accused of receiving funds from foreign donors, although no substantive evidence has been presented.

Before the latest spat between Sri Lanka and Britain, the former reacted angrily in February when the European Union decided to suspend a concessionary tariff scheme that gave imports from Sri Lanka an annual tax break of over 100 million U.S. dollars.

The EU decided to suspend Generalised System of Preference (GSP) Plus scheme based on its findings that Sri Lanka was in contravention of human rights conventions. The Sri Lankan government’s response was that it appreciated the benefits derived from the concessions, but was not ready to compromise its sovereignty.

© Inter Press Service

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

China's 'pearls' spook Indian observers

China is weaving a web of trade and maritime agreements around its old rival India, encircling the country with strategically placed construction projects and schemes to enlarge port facilities. In the days of the Bush administration, US analysts hatched a theory that has since become accepted wisdom: China is putting together a “string of pearls” in India’s home ­waters.

“The ‘string’ is part of an indirect strategy, which ... aims to trap India in a spider’s web, reducing its options in the event of crisis,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Beijing claims it is pursuing exclusively commercial goals, but the ­Indian Ocean is China’s main route for importing energy supplies, increasing the likelihood that these facilities could be used for military purposes should a regional conflict erupt, observers say.

The project giving India most cause for concern is a Chinese-funded port being built at Gwadar on the coast of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.

In Burma, another Chinese ally, Beijing is involved in the construction of ports at Sittwe, Mergui and Dawei. China is also extremely active in Sri Lanka, where it is busy developing the port of Hambantota. China Eximbank is funding 85% of the work on port facilities, worth an estimated $1bn. Beijing also helped fund part of the war effort against the Tamil separatist movement quelled last year.

In Bangladesh China is contributing to the modernisation of the deep-water port at Chittagong, slated to become a major container hub.

The last pearl on the string, Nepal, is a landlocked country but one that occupies a strategic position for Beijing. Since the unrest in Lhasa, the capital of neighbouring Tibet, in 2008, the Nepalese have come under pressure from China to tighten Tibetan border controls and suppress demonstrations by Buddhist monks in Kathmandu.

Last month the Nepalese prime minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal, led a visit to Beijing that, according to the Chinese media, resulted in an agreement on Sino-Nepali border security.

But an editorial published last month on the Chinese Global Times website sought to reassure. “Worry about China competing for dominance of the Indian Ocean runs deep inside India,” it explained. “Such worries are unnecessary. China watches closely over the Indian Ocean because oil imported from the Middle East and Africa has to go through it.”

So is the military threat posed by an increasingly tight string of pearls exaggerated? “The ports could serve as logistical bases should China’s navy need to evacuate its nationals from an emergency somewhere in Africa or the Middle East. But things could be much more complicated if there was a war on,” Cabestan said

© The Guardian Weekly

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

How Lankans pay for war against LTTE

Premier Ratnasiri Wickremanayake has attributed the high cost of living in Sri Lanka to large payments being made to other countries for weapons purchased to fight the recently-concluded war with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The final phase of the Eelam IV war had concluded in May last year, with the killing of LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran.

"We are yet to complete payment of the bill on certain things that were provided to us by other countries as assistance for the humanitarian operations," Wickremanayake said, adding it is not proper to expect the government will have enough money immediately after such a protracted war.

"The people should be made aware of this. Some think that since this is now over, the money will be saved. They also think the prices of goods can be reduced and various other forms of relief can be granted," he said.

But we still have to pay many bills, the Prime Minister insisted.

"Therefore, we cannot reduce the prices of goods very drastically in line with world market prices. But we can provide concessions. We have even provided tax concessions on
certain goods," he told a recent meeting in Horana in Western Sri Lanka.

However, economists have argued that the government could have reduced prices of certain commodities
when prices remained weak in the international market last year.

Wickremanayake also stressed that the government hoped to implement a rapid development programme after the April 8 general election to fulfil the aspirations of the public.

Meanwhile, the state radio quoted the Prime Minister as saying that the argument that cost of living should come down soon after the war was over, was not correct.

He explained that it is not practical to reduce cost of living immediately as the government has to pay large amount of money for weapons that were bought during the war time, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Sri Lanka has exceeded the 2009 budget deficit target of 7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) provided for under an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme as it rose to 9.7 per cent during the period, according to an official report.

"While the short term economic stabilisation aspect of the IMF programme has been achieved, the government continues to remain engaged with the Fund to address medium term economic recovery in the context of post-war economic prospects and global economic recovery," said the Sri Lankan Ministry of Finance and Planning in its 'Pre-Election Budgetary Position Report' released recently.

Accordingly, the release of the third tranche of IMF loan amounting to USD 326 million will be delayed till the review is completed, as at this stage there is no urgent requirement to further strengthen external finances, it said.


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