Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wars and disputed elections: The most dangerous stories for journalists - RSF

click here to read the full report

Two appalling events marked 2009: one was the largest ever massacre of journalists in a single day – a total of 30 killed – by the private militia of a governor in the southern Philippines and the other was an unprecedented wave of arrests and convictions of journalists and bloggers in Iran following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection.

A total of around 160 journalists in all continents were forced to go into exile to escape prison or death, often in very dangerous circumstances. The Iranian press photographers crossing the Turkish border to escape arrest or the Somali radio journalists fleeing to neighbouring countries to avoid certain death had all reported essential news and information that some people would go to any lengths to suppress.

Wars and elections constituted the chief threat to journalists in 2009. It is becoming more and more risky to cover wars as journalists themselves are being targeted and face the possibility of being murdered or kidnapped. But it can turn out to be just as dangerous to do your job as a reporter at election time and can lead directly to prison or hospital. Violence before and after elections was particularly prevalent in 2009 in countries with poor democratic credentials.

No one should be surprised that, as bloggers and websites continue to flourish, censorship and repression have surged proportionately. There is almost no country nowadays that has entirely escaped this phenomenon. As soon as the Internet or new media (social networking, mobile phones etc) start to play a leading role in the spread of news and information, a serious clampdown follows. Bloggers are now watched as closely as journalists from the traditional media.

Our major concern in 2009 has been the mass exodus of journalists from repressive countries such as Iran and Sri Lanka. The authorities in these countries have understood that by pushing journalists into exile, they can drastically reduce pluralism of ideas and the amount of criticism they attract. “This is a dangerous tendency and it must be very strongly condemned,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said as this review of 2009 was released.

Number of journalists killed up by 26 per cent

Almost every journalist killed in 2009 died in their own country. The exception was Franco-Spanish documentary film-maker Christian Poveda, who was murdered in El Salvador. “Less known to international public opinion than the foreign correspondents, it is these local journalists who pay the highest price every year to guarantee our right to be informed about wars, corruption or the destruction of the environment,” Julliard said.

The year began very badly with the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip. As well as refusing to allow foreign media into this territory, the Israeli government carried out military strikes against buildings housing media, in violation of international humanitarian law. Two reporters were killed in these attacks. Journalists and human rights defenders in the Russian Caucasus went through a terrifying year. The witnesses to the dirty war waged by Moscow and its local allies to be “eliminated” with complete impunity included Natalia Estemirova in Chechnya and Malik Akhmedilov in Dagestan.

Radical Islamist groups caused the death of at least 15 journalists worldwide. Nine reporters were killed in Somalia, where the Al-Shabaab militia carried out constant targeted killings and suicide attacks. Four of these journalists worked for Radio Shabelle, which does its best to provide news amidst the surrounding chaos. Reporters in Pakistan have increasingly been targeted by the Taliban in the northwest of the country.

Kidnappings have also continued to rise. Most cases are concentrated in Afghanistan, Mexico and Somalia. New York Times journalist David Rohde and his fixer managed to escape from the Taliban but Afghan reporter Sultan Munadi was killed in the military operation launched to rescue him.

“Three years have passed since the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1738 on the protection of journalists in conflict zones but governments still seem incapable of protecting reporters,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Other forms of violence, physical assaults and threats have gone up by a third (from 929 cases in 2008 to 1,456 in 2009). Journalists are most at risk in the Americas (501 cases), particularly when they expose drug-trafficking or local potentates. Asia comes next with 364 cases of this kind, chiefly in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. The number of censored media is escalating alarmingly with nearly 570 cases of newspapers, radio or TV stations banned from putting out news or forced to close. This happened to a satirical magazine in Malaysia, a score of reformist newspapers in Iran, Radio France Internationale in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the BBC World Service in Rwanda.

The number of journalists arrested fell slightly (from 673 in 2008 to 573 in 2009) above all because there were fewer cases in Asia. The largest number of cases was in the Middle East.

Election violence

The 30 journalists killed in the Mindanao Island bloodbath in Philippines had been covering an attempt by a local governor’s opponent to run as a candidate for regional elections in 2010. Tunisian journalist Taoufik Ben Brik was imprisoned in the days following President Ben Ali’s reelection, while his colleague, Slim Boukhdhir, was brutally assaulted. Several journalists were attacked and others received death threats in Gabon following President Ali Bongo’s reelection. Around six media were also temporarily shut down for reporting on the post-election violence and criticising members of the new government. Protests about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial reelection in Iran prompted a horrifying wave of repression against the media.

Pluralist elections that should be a symbol of democracy and free expression can turn into a nightmare for journalists. State media are too often prevented from giving fair and balanced coverage of all the candidates’ campaigns. Such was the case during the contentious Afghan elections and the travesty of an election in Equatorial Guinea. The most committed journalists can be exposed to reprisals from a rival camp. Media access is not always properly observed, as evidenced in provincial polling in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka.

The most serious problems arise when results are announced. Overwhelmed by an opposition movement that was relayed online and in the reformist press, Ahmadinejad’s supporters launched an ultra-violent crackdown on hundreds of journalists and bloggers, accusing them of being spies in the pay of foreigners or bent on destabilising the country.

The courage shown by journalists this year before and after elections earned them periods in custody, mistreatment and prison sentences that were in some cases extremely harsh. These post-election crackdowns should stimulate the international community to seek better ways of protecting the press after rigged election results are announced.

“This wave of violence bodes ill for 2010, when crucial elections are scheduled in Côte d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Burma, Iraq and the Palestinian Territories” said Reporters Without Borders, which often carries out media monitoring during election campaigns.

More than 100 bloggers and cyber-dissidents imprisoned

For the first time since the Internet’s emergence, Reporters Without Borders is aware of more than 100 bloggers and cyber-dissidents being imprisoned worldwide for posting their opinions online. This figure is indicative above all of the scale of the crackdown being carried out in around ten countries. Several countries have turned online expression into a criminal offence, dashing hopes of a censorship-free Internet.

The Internet has been the driving force for pro-democracy campaigns in Iran, China and elsewhere. It is above all for this reason that authoritarian governments have shown themselves so determined to severely punish Internet users. This is the case with two Azerbaijani bloggers, who were sentenced to two years in prison for making a film mocking the political elite.

Although China continued to be the leading Internet censor in 2009, Iran, Tunisia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Uzbekistan have also resorted to frequent blocking of websites and blogs and surveillance of online expression. The Turkmen Internet remains under total state control.

This year, bloggers and ordinary citizens expressing themselves online have been assaulted, threatened or arrested as the popularity of social-networking and interactive websites has soared. Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer is still in jail, while the famous Burmese comedian Zarganar still has 34 years of his prison sentence to serve. The approximately 120 victims of Internet policing also include such leading figures in the defence of online free expression as China’s Hu Jia and Liu Xiaobo and Vietnam’s Nguyen Trung and Dieu Cay.

The financial crisis has joined the list of subjects likely to provoke censorship, particularly online. In South Korea, a blogger was wrongfully detained for commenting on the country’s disastrous economic situation. Around six netizens in Thailand were arrested or harassed just for making a connection between the king’s health and a fall in the Bangkok stock exchange. Censorship was slapped on the media in Dubai when it came for them to report on the country’s debt repayment problems.

Democratic countries have not lagged far behind. Several European countries are working on new steps to control the Internet in the name of the battle against child porn and illegal downloads. Australia has said it will set up a compulsory filtering system that poses a threat to freedom of expression. Turkey’s courts have increased the number of websites, including YouTube, that are blocked for criticising the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

“The number of countries affected by online censorship has doubled from one year to the next – a disturbing tendency that shows an increase in control over new media as millions of netizens get active online,” said Lucie Morillon, head of the Internet and Freedoms Desk. “That is why Reporters Without Borders will launch a new campaign against the Enemies of the Internet on 12 March.”

Media on trial

At least 167 journalists are in prison around the world at the end of 2009. One would need to go back to the 1990s to find so many of them in jail. Although the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression keeps reiterating that imprisonment is a disproportionate punishment for press offences, many governments keep laws that allow them to jail journalists, and continue to abuse these laws. The sentences given to journalists in Cuba, China, Sri Lanka and Iran are as harsh as those imposed for terrorism or violent crime.

Imprisonment and brutality are too often the only way authorities react to journalists. At least one journalist is assaulted or arrested every day in the Middle East. More than 60 journalists were physically attacked or arrested in Iraq in 2009. In the Palestinian Territories, more than 50 journalists were detained by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and by Fatah in the West Bank.

Africa and Asia were neck and neck in the numbers of journalists detained. More than 10 journalists were arrested in 2009 in Niger, Gambia and Somalia, while Eritrea maintained its dubious distinction of jailing the most journalists in Africa, with 32 of them behind bars. In Asia, arrests are thankfully down, but the Chinese and Pakistani security forces continue to arrest foreign or local journalists when they crossed the “red lines” they are supposed to observe.

The 28 June coup in Honduras, which was backed by the conservative press, resulted in the persecution of journalists suspected of sympathizing with the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, and the suspension or permanent closure of their media. Finally, Cuba drew attention to itself again this year with at least 24 arrests and two new long jail sentences, bringing to 25 the number of journalists in prison.

When the powerful are not arresting journalists, they are harassing them by constantly dragging them before the courts. One editor in Algeria, Omar Belhouchet, was summoned before judges 15 times in 2009. The opposition press in Turkey and Morocco have been bombarded with law suits, which almost always lead to convictions or closures because the courts are more inclined to favour the plaintiff than the media.

Choosing exile to stay Alive

For the first time, the Reporters Without Borders annual roundup includes figures for journalists who have been forced to leave their countries because of threats to their lives or liberty. A total of 157 journalists went into exile in the past year, often in very harsh conditions. Among the countries where the exodus of journalists and bloggers was particularly dramatic were Iran, with more than 50 fleeing, and Sri Lanka, with 29. In Africa, some 50 journalists fled the chaos in Somalia while scores of Eritreans sought refuge abroad for fear of being targeted for reprisals by the continent’s worst dictatorship. Journalists also fled Guinea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia and Ethiopia.

This new measure is an indication of the level of fear that exists within the media in some countries. Journalists encounter many hazards as they go into exile and seek an uncertain future. Some wait months, even years, to get protection and possible resettlement.

Press freedom in 2009

76 journalists killed (60 in 2008)
33 journalists kidnapped
573 journalists arrested
1456 physically assaulted
570 media censored
157 journalists fled their countries
1 blogger died in prison
151 bloggers and cyber-dissidents arrested
61 physically assaulted
60 countries affected by online censorship

© Reporters sans frontières

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Violence against media increased in 2009 : South Asia Media Commission

According to a report released on Tuesday, Pakistan topped the list of on-duty media persons’ deaths in South Asia, losing seven of 12 journalists in the conflict zones of eight South Asian states in 2009.

The figures were issued in a report prepared by the South Asia Media Commission (SAMC), indicating a worsened situation for the fourth pillar of the state.

The report stated that in Pakistan, “some zealots in the profession have used their new freedoms to scandalise and destabilise a fragile democracy, ignoring media norms quite frequently”. The report also points out that some leaders from the ruling party have lately opted to use threatening language against some journalists. The report underlines that there is a greater need now to have a shared discourse on media freedom. The year began with the detention of a journalist in a raid conducted by the Sindh Nationalist Front activists on January 3, 2009.

On January 4, Muhammad Imran, cameraman of a private TV channel and Saleem Tahir Awan, a freelance reporter, rushed to the site of a gas cylinder blast in Dera Ismail Khan only to be killed in a suicide attack along with seven others.

On January 24, Amir Wakeel, editor of a newspaper, was gunned down in Rawalpindi. Another TV channel’s employee Noor Hassan was abducted from Swat on February 8.

South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) Secretary General Imtiaz Alam was attacked with hockey sticks by four men when he was driving back home on February 18.

Another journalist Khawar Shafiq was abducted from Faisalabad by a state agency. Wasi Ahmed, a local journalist from Khuzdar, succumbed in Karachi after he was badly injured during an attack in his home district. Janullah Hashimzada, an Afghan journalist, was shot down in Khyber Agency on August 24.

The report said two journalists were killed in Afghanistan, one each in Nepal, India and Sri Lanka and seven in Pakistan.

Risky coverage: The report noted that the state authorities in these countries had failed to bring the murderers to justice. It also found that the on-going conflict in the frontier regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the surge of terrorism had brought tremendous pressure on journalists and reporting the truth had become “a hazardous affair”.

Poor handling: The report particularly noted that in most countries of the region, the regulatory environment had remained ill-defined, especially for the electronic media. “Newly emerging electronic media outlets employ no ethical and professional restraint on their conduct and standards fell with the induction of a non-professional breed of embedded amateurs.” The 180-page report throws light on country-wise events involving high-risk duties, casualties, threats and intimidations in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Maldives. About India, the report said that despite its long and well-established journalistic traditions, it remained seized with debates on ethics of news coverage in the print and electronic media, as the tendency to sell news space for trivia grew in the country’s boom.

Concerning Sri Lanka, it said journalists there have suffered the worst adversities of the lot, considerably more serious than the travails of their counterparts in Pakistan. The daylight murder of one of the country’s best-known editors, Lasantha Wickrematunga; the abduction-style arrest of N Vithyatharan and the 20-year jail term for JS Tissainayagam on charges of ‘terrorism’ represent a new low for the country.

The report on Nepal noted the environment for journalism there has deteriorated and the new rulers have provided no reward to the media for spearheading the movement against the monarchial rule and the restoration of democracy in 2006. In Afghanistan, the report found that the situation for journalism remains seriously muddied. “ [The] media has become an arena where armed groups contest fiercely for political space and the tussle took its toll, killing two journalists in 2009,” it said.

About Bangladesh, the report underlines that media has been facing the pangs of transition, which Bangladesh went through for the return to the democratic era. It noted that legislative work on media issues is needed there. The report stresses the need for fostering a responsible media culture while keeping professional and ethical standards above political agenda.

Speaking on the occasion, Imtiaz Alam said it is a pleasant and unique occasion that there is no authoritarian regime left in South Asia. However, he showed apprehensions that democracy in many countries of the region, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, faced serious threats and dangers.

Alam said that Pakistan currently faces the serious issue of nation-centric chauvinism, which is a cause of lack of resumption of the Indo-Pak dialogue. He said that after the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistani media went into a self-denial mood and the Indian media got involved in war mongering. He said the media in Pakistan should play its positive role and keep in mind that the country’s fragile democracy could not bear any blows.

Free Media Association President Munnu Bhai declared that the report should be published in Urdu as well. Senior journalist Arif Nizami stressed the need for monitoring and taking care of the families of journalists who got killed in the line of duty.

© Daily Times

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Former Thai PM Thaksin to advise Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, an island country in South Asia, is in preparing to appoint former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra its economic adviser, former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat revealed on Wednesday.

Mr Somchai, Thaksin's brother-in-law, said the government should not worry because Thaksin's role as adviser to Sri Lanka, as well as to Cambodia, would do no harm to Thailand.

Thaksin has already been appointed economic adviser to the Cambodian government and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Sri Lanka is one of the countries where Thaksin was reported to have frequently visited while on the run after being sentenced to a two-year jail term in the Ratchadapisek land case.

© Bangkok Post

Related Links:
Lanka denies reports Thaksin to be appointed as an adviser - Daily Mirror

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

India-Sri Lanka power link by 2013

Sudheer Pal Singh - The government's initiative to set up a high-capacity power transmission link between India and Sri Lanka is likely to be completed by 2013.

The 285-kilometre power link, including submarine cables over a stretch of 50 km, will enable the two countries to trade their surplus power, thereby offering a cheaper option to bridge their power generation deficit and also manage their peak demand.

The transmission link will pave the way for future trading of electricity between the two countries.

Powergrid Corporation of India Ltd, the country's largest electricity transmission company and the implementing agency from the Indian side, hopes that a memorandum of understanding for developing the Rs 2,300-crore project would be signed with the Ceylon Electricity Board, the largest electricity company of Sri Lanka, shortly. "The work on the project should begin by February-March next year after the MoU is signed. It will take us two-and-a-half to three years to complete this project," said S K Chaturvedi, chairman and managing director of Powergrid.

The link will also help Sri Lanka reduce its use of expensive fuels and import cheaper power from India's surplus. For India, the link will help open up a new market for its projected surplus of power. India currently faces an over 12 per cent power deficit, with a peak demand of 109,000 Mw annually. The government hopes it can add at least 62,000 Mw of generation capacity in the current Five-Year Plan period, ending March 2012, with additional capacities being set up by private investors through captive and merchant power plants. This, along with the power from ultra mega power projects has fuelled hopes for tradable surplus.

The subsea line would initially have a capacity of 500 Mw, according to Powergrid's feasibility report. Later, the power flow could be ramped up to 1,000 Mw by 2016 when the power generation capacities in the two countries improve, with surplus availability especially in India's southern grid.

The proposed undersea transmission link could also be useful for transfer of electricity from the 500-Mw imported coal-based power project being planned to be set up by NTPC Ltd , India's largest power generator, at Trincomalee in Sri Lanka. The island nation currently has a capacity of 2,500 Mw.

Powergrid had carried out a feasibility study of the project last year and had found the installing of the transmission lines to be feasible. "We have already received an approval from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Now a detailed project report will be prepared," said Chaturvedi. The Sri Lankan government had given its approval to the transnational power link in July last year.

Globally, transnational undersea power transmission lines have been laid so far only between the UK and France for transmission of 2,000 Mw of electricity. In addition, Philippines is also planning to set up similar transmission links currently to connect its islands through undersea electricity network.

The Route

Powergrid and the Ceylon Electricity Board will lay down cables under the Gulf of Mannar between Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu and Talaimannar in Mannar islands in Sri Lanka.

On the Indian side, the cable will be connected to the southern grid in Madurai through an overhead transmission line. On the Sri Lankan side, the underwater cable will be linked to the country's power network at Anuradhapura through an overhead line, Chaturvedi informed.

© Business Standard

Related Links:
Indian company to set up power transmission link to Sri Lanka - Colombo Page

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The vested interests behind the Sri Lankan regime

Manny Thain - The reality is that Sri Lanka is in demand. One of the reasons that quiet, diplomatic appeals to establishment governments and political parties have practically no impact is that all of these governments have their fingers in the Sri Lankan pie. They want a piece of the action.

So, they cannot be too critical for fear of being frozen out of lucrative economic and strategic deals. The only time governments act in the interests of workers and poor people is when they are put under massive pressure.

The major regional powers, China and India, are jostling for position in the Indian Ocean, where the US administration also has strategic economic and military interests. There can be no doubt that the provision of weapons by the Chinese regime, streaming into Sri Lanka from 2007, played a big part in the defeat of the LTTE. China increased its bilateral aid fivefold in a year to $1bn in 2008 to become Sri Lanka’s biggest donor. In return, it has been awarded the project to develop the important deep-sea port of Hambantota. This fits with China’s ‘string of pearls’ policy, whereby it seeks to control the Indian Ocean seaway, which carries nearly half of all global seaborne trade.

The Indian government opened up unlimited military credit for Sri Lanka. It also extended naval and intelligence cooperation and other support. The Malaysian operator, Dialog Telecom, is moving in to profit out of the war-ravaged north and east.

Australia has pledged $1bn, its representatives say, to help with Tamil resettlement. But one of the main concerns of the Australian government is to stop Tamil refugees leaving Sri Lanka for Australia. This money will go to Rajapaksa’s administration and will be used to control Tamil-speaking people. Aid should be in the hands of those it is intended to help. It should be administered by elected representatives accountable to the communities they serve.

As for the western powers, they are playing a particularly hypocritical role. At one time or another they have all issued statements mildly critical of the Rajapaska regime. But trade and military links are more important to these powers than the rights of workers and poor people.

The US, for example, uses Sri Lankan ports as naval bases. The US is the only country with a veto in the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yet, in July, the US abstained in the vote to agree a $2.8bn loan. If the US administration really cared about the Tamil-speaking people it could have stopped the money going through. The IMF loan is supposed to go towards the post-war ‘reconstruction effort’. One of the developments under way is for a string of luxury hotels along the east coast near Nilaveli – luxury hotels for the rich, prison camps with open sewers for the Tamil-speaking people.

Meanwhile, the British government – having supplied military equipment to Sri Lanka throughout the war – turns its back on the hundreds of thousands in the camps. It, too, is more worried about contracts for British companies, including military goods. So Des Browne, Britain’s special envoy to Sri Lanka, said: “We take the view that it is safe to return people, including Tamils, to Sri Lanka”. This was said in connection with the Tamil boat people stranded off the coast of Indonesia who have been refused entry into Australia. These powers stick together when they see it is in their own vested interests – and humanitarian concerns are quickly dropped.

Rajapaksa seems able to act with impunity. Last year, John Holmes, UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, was accused of being in the pay of the LTTE after he stated the simple fact that Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers. The UN Children’s Fund communications chief was ordered to leave Sri Lanka after he raised the plight of children caught up in the conflict. Sadly, it matters little how well-meaning many in agencies such as the United Nations are, there is, in reality, little they can do when blocked by the major powers.

On top of this, the clampdown on reporting in Sri Lanka continues. Around 20 journalists have been murdered there over the last few years. Lawyers taking up sensitive cases have been threatened, public meetings cannot be held without advance government permission, and emergency regulations remain in place, including wide-ranging powers of search, arrest and seizure of property. Individuals can be arrested and held in unacknowledged detention for up to 18 months.

But the promise by Rajapaksa to the Sinhalese workers and poor that the declared end of the war will bring some kind of peace dividend is a rotten lie. Military spending in Sri Lanka swallows 5% of gross domestic product – one of the largest in the world. The regular army is five times bigger than it was in the late 1980s – now 200,000 strong, larger than the British (with three times the population) and Israeli armed forces. The Sri Lankan regime plans further increases to 300,000 – more troops than France, Japan or Germany.

Having crushed the Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan government has set up militarised zones throughout the north and east. It now occupies that area and will proceed to subjugate a whole people. This humanitarian catastrophe for Tamil-speaking people will also prove to be a massive financial drain. The living standards of all working class and poor people will be driven down even further. In time, this will lead to increasing resistance from Sinhalese workers. The oppression and poverty will also provide fertile ground for a new generation of Tamils raised on bitterness and hatred.

The Rajapaksa regime is not in the interests of the workers and poor in Sri Lanka, including the Sinhalese majority. It is a defender of the rich and powerful, aiming to keep itself in power as long as possible. That is why Tamil Solidarity supports united struggle by and in the interests of the working class and poor against this vicious regime, regardless of ethnic or religious background.


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Thursday, December 31, 2009

'Sri Lanka cannot escape war crime charges'

PK Balachandran - Although Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Rome Convention which set up the International Criminal Court (ICC), the island nation can still be dragged before the ICC without its consent, senior cabinet minister and a former Professor of Law, G.L.Peiris, has said.

He told The Sunday Island on December 20, that the UN Security Council had the right to request the Chief Prosecuting Officer (CPO) of the ICC to embark on an investigation of the complaints it had received with a view to prosecution. The CPO could, on his own, seek the approval of the Pre-Trial chamber of the ICC to conduct investigations.

In the Sri Lankan case, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Extrajuicial Killings and Arbitrarty Executiuons, Philip Alston, had called for clarifications on the allegation that the Sri Lankan army had killed three top leaders of the LTTE and their families when they had come to surrender waving white flags as per a prior arrangement between them and the Lankan government. The allegation had been made by no less a person than Gen.Sarath Fonseka, a former Army Commander who is now a candidate in the January 26 Presidential election.

It is felt that Alston’s letter could well be the first step in a UN bid to get key Sri Lankan decision makers and officials to appear before the ICC.


According to former diplomat Bandu de Silva, Sri Lanka might be able to block a Security Council initiative with the help of a Russian or a Chinese veto, but it should be borne in mind that the CPO could act independently. The CPO was already thinking of bringing the US before the court for war crimes, he said.

In an article in The Sunday Island on December 27, Kalana Senaratne, said that the CPO could on his own make a case for prosecution by analyzing the seriousness of the charges made and seeking further material from UN organisations, rights bodies and inter-governmental bodies.

“The statements made by Sarath Fonseka can only add to the evidence that is piling up in the CPO’s office right now.”

“If the prosecutor comes up with a serious case, the Security Council would need to take note of it, which could result, not in the setting up of a special tribunal, but in approving and directing the ICC to initiate an inquiry – which is possible under Art 13 (b) of the Statute,” Senaratne said.

Additionally, the ICC could come into the picture legitimately under the Rome Treaty on the grounds that Sri Lanka had failed to investigate the complaints on its own, and that external investigation was therefore necessary. Denial of Fonseka’s allegations would, therefore, not do. Colombo would have to investigate, Senaratne said.


Minister Peiris hinted at the possibility of other countries asserting jurisdiction on war crimes.

A Spanish court heard a case against Israeli Generals under the “universal jurisdiction theory under a private plaint by relatives of the affected parties (Geneva Convention).”

The District Court of Colombia heard the case against Israeli Lt.Gen.Moshe Ya’alon under a private plaint.


Peiris had also said that there was a “real danger” of Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa or the former commander of the 58 Army Division, Maj.Gen.Shavendra Silva, being questioned, if not arrested, when being abroad.

According to Kalana Senaratne, the Westminster Magistrate’s Court had issued an arrest warrant against Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, for alleged war crimes committed by Israel during the operations in Gaza in December 2008.


That the international community is not too pleased with Sri Lanka even now, six months after the end of the war against the LTTE, is evident from the fact that the European Council has recommended the denial of EU trade concesssions under the GSP Plus scheme on the grounds that Colombo has not kept its promise to safeguard human rights and work towards ethnic reconciliation.

© Express Buzz

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

War crimes probe request 'referred'

The Sri Lankan government says it is seeking advice on a request by the United Nations for a war crimes probe.

Sri Lanka's defence ministry said on Tuesday that a letter by UN Special Rapporteur on Extra- judicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston has been referred "for advice on the cause of action to be taken on the issues".

UN has requested Sri Lanka government to send its observations over media reports that senior LTTE leaders who tried to surrender were killed in cold blood.

The Defence Ministry in a statement said that the request has been referred by the president to a special committee.

'Sunday Leader' report

The committee, chaired by DS Wijesinghe PC, was earlier appointed by president Rajapaksa to study a report by the US Department of State in October on incidents during the final days of the war in Sri Lanka.

Time given to the Committee to study and report on the US State Department Report has been extended up to April 2009, by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, says the defence ministry.

War crimes allegedly committed by the Sri Lankan military once again came to prominence after an interview with Sunday Leader newspaper by main opposition candidate, Gen (retd.) Sarath Fonseka.

Sunday Leader on the 13th of December reported that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has ordered field commanders to kill all LTTE cadres including those who wished to surrender.

Among those tried to surrender at the last stage of the conflict were LTTE political wing head, B Nadesan and head of peace secretariat S Pulithevan.

Denying having accused the forces of killing those came to surrender, Gen Fonseka later said he takes responsibility for everything happened during the last stages of war.

However, Sunday Leader Editor Frederica Jansz earlier told BBC Sandeshaya that she stood by the story and is in possession of the voice recording of the interview.

Gen Fonseka has, meanwhile, sent a letter of demand to Sunday Leader on Monday, seeking Rs. 500 million as compensation.

© BBC Sinhala

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Government now says no deadline to resettle IDPs

Olindhi Jayasundara - The government, despite earlier giving a pledge to resettle al the displaced people by the end of next month, now says there is no deadline for the resettlement of the Internally Displaced People (IDP) who are in camps in Vavuniya.

“We did not promise to complete the resettling process on a particular date. However, the Government is working hard towards completing the process as soon as possible,” he said.

He said that 100,000 IDPs still remain in the camps whilst 20,000 have been granted freedom of movement from the camps. The Minister said that the Government has organized ‘go and see visits’ for the IDPs to enable them to visit their homes and allow them to decide if they wish to remain in their home towns or otherwise.

“If they want to return to their homes, then they may. However, if they wish otherwise we will make other arrangement for them,” he said.

Minister Samarasinghe said that he could not comment on what would happen to the camps once all the IDPs are resettled in their homes, but said that the permanent structures once vacant will most likely be utilized for some purpose.

A Sri Lankan delegation had, earlier this month, assured India that it would resettle all internally displaced persons (IDPs) of Tamil origin by the end of January. The three-member delegation consisted of Senior Adviser to the President, Basil Rajapaksa; Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga, and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

© Daily Mirror

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Tamils refugees in SL to be resettled by Jan 2010 - PTI

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sri Lanka: Minority dilemma

B. Muralidhar Reddy - The Tamil and Muslim minorities, who account for almost 18 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population, are in a dilemma on the options before them for the January 26 presidential election. They have three distinct choices: cast their lot with President Mahinda Rajapaksa; vote General Sarath Fonseka, the recently retired former Army chief who is backed by prominent opposition parties; or field their own nominee.

Their predicament is understandable as it was their decision to stay away from the last election, albeit under orders from Velupillai Prabakaran, the slain chief of the Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), that placed Rajapaksa in the saddle. Once again, they are being coaxed and courted to take a call and be the kingmakers.

However, there is one fundamental difference between now and November 2005. Unlike during the previous election, today the minorities are theoretically agents of their own will. But, in reality it is a myth despite the best efforts of the parties that claim to represent them.

For the first time since the country’s independence 48 years ago, representatives of the Tamil and Muslim parties, including the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA), met (between November 20 and 22) in Zurich, Switzerland, to take stock of the situation.

Although there was no fixed agenda, the objective of the conference was to arrive at a “common ground” and decide the future course of action. But it took place on an inauspicious note. The pro-LTTE TamilNet did not take kindly to the conference and denounced it as yet another conspiracy. In a feature titled “Tamil, Muslim political parties find their table in Zurich”, the website said: “The move is said to be for ‘extracting’ a joint proclamation of them necessary for further power manoeuvres in the island. A couple of years ago it was such a behind-the-scenes move of some powers that made most of these parties, except the TNA, rally behind Mahinda Rajapaksa and pledge support to him in the war that brought in disaster to the Tamils.”

It mattered little to TamilNet that it was an extraordinary development. It is unfortunate given the unprecedented consensus arrived at in Zurich to develop an effective common programme to hold the government accountable for the protection of minorities and to act as a serious and dependable negotiating party representing the demands of the minorities in the development of meaningful proposals for reform in the island nation.

This has to be seen against the reality that the three minority communities (ethnic Tamils, Tamils of Indian origin and Muslims) have nursed grudges against the majority Sinhala community, the political establishment of the day, as well as between themselves. Political parties representing these groups are divided on many lines, and their affiliations vis-a-vis the majority parties are varied. Some are with the government, some with the opposition and others in-between.

Of the three communities, Muslims believe that they are the victims of majority as well as minority politics and for good reason. The minority Muslim community constitutes the oldest category of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka.

About 90,000 Muslim IDPs have been languishing in temporary government-run welfare centres in Puttalam since 1990. They were evicted forcibly from the North by the LTTE weeks after the last soldier of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) left Sri Lankan shores. Suspecting their loyalties, the Tigers robbed them of their land and valuables. An outfit championing the cause of the minorities treated a minority community living in the territory under its control in a callous manner.

The Puttalam refugees, who number one-third of those displaced in Eelam War IV, have so far figured as a footnote in the ongoing debate on post-Prabakaran Sri Lanka. The Tamil diaspora is silent on the subject and the international community behaves as if they do not exist.

Weeks after the Norway-brokered 2002 Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) between the Ranil Wickremesinghe government and the LTTE, the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Rauf Hakeem, signed a pact with Prabakaran that guaranteed the right of return for Muslims to LTTE-controlled areas. It remained on paper.

In its 2007 report titled “Sri Lanka’s Muslims: Caught in the Crossfire”, the International Crisis Group (ICG), a non-governmental organisation think tank, said that immediate steps should be taken to ensure the security and political involvement of Muslims if a lasting peace settlement was to be achieved.

Developments thus far suggest that the spirit of Zurich evaporated even before the ink on the joint statement had dried. The joint statement said: “We.., Affirm the historic meeting enabling an exchange of views, and express a full commitment to a common forum among representatives of all Tamil-speaking peoples;

“Recognise ‘Tamil-speaking peoples’ comprises three distinct peoples: Tamils, Muslims, and Tamils of Indian origin; Respect the distinct and separate identities, interests and positions of the parties;

“Recognise and affirm the need for unity and consensus among the Tamil-speaking peoples while acknowledging differences with regard to some issues and the paths to pursue them….” A press release said the parties agreed to a “just and durable political solution” in the island through a dignified, respectful and peaceful process and agreed to continue the discussions.

That the minorities are caught in a catch-22 situation became all the more evident when Mano Ganeshan, leader of Sri Lanka’s Western People’s Front (WPF) and Member of Parliament from Colombo district, disclosed in a write-up on Groundviews, a Sri Lankan citizen journalism initiative, that his party had sent a questionnaire to General Fonseka and was awaiting his response. He said that as a party representing the oppressed Tamil minorities, the WPF maintained dialogue with all sources. “We will be wiped off if we refuse to answer all the calls we receive. We cannot be another LTTE. We value engagements.”

For right or wrong reasons, Ganeshan was the first to line up behind Fonseka and, of course, with adequate reasoning and safeguards, such as the decision of his party to keep the line of communication open with the TNA. He went a step further and beseeched the Tamils in the North and East to cast their second preferential vote to Fonseka.

Kumar David, an expatriate Sri Lankan, wondered in an article titled “Rewriting history at breakneck speed”:

“It comes as no surprise that feral dogs have been unleashed to tear out throats and gouge out eyes; the surprise is that it has happened so quickly. Six months ago portraits of the heroic troika were carried through the nation’s streets in glorious victory pageants. After three years of murders, abductions, impunity in the criminal abuse of state power, and a civil war, the insanity has reached its apogee in the events of the last few weeks. Sri Lanka has become surreal; pinch yourself, wake-up, is all this really happening?”

© Frontline

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Epoch Making Year for Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka ushered in a new era of peace in 2009 with the annihilation of LTTE and the death of its megalomaniac chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, whose pursuit for 'Tamil Eelam' claimed the lives of over 70,000 people in three decades.

For India, it was a tight rope walk as it quickly stepped in after the end of the civil war by announcing a Rs 500 crore package to Sri Lanka for rehabilitation and resettlement of nearly 3 lakh displaced Tamil civilians.

New Delhi also told Colombo to quickly follow up the military victory with a political solution to integrate the Tamil minority into the mainstream.

The military win over LTTE came as a shot in the arm for President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who gave a free run to the Army to take on the terror group after he came to power in 2005, when one-third of Lankan land was held by the Tigers.

The victory prompted Rajapaksa to call Presidential polls nearly two years ahead of schedule apparently to cash in on the sentiments.

But, it will not be a cake walk for Rajapaksa as he is being challenged by another 'war hero' and former Army Chief Gen Sarath Fonseka, who is contesting as the common opposition candidate.

Fonseka resigned as Chief of Defence Staff, a ceremonial post to which he was appointed after the war, in November and jumped into the Presidential poll foray.

Votes of over three million Tamils and Tamil speaking Muslims are considered crucial for Rajapaksa to continue in office for another six years.

The Tamil National Alliance, which has a considerable influence among Tamils, has not yet decided on its stand in the polls.

Though Sri Lanka has resettled nearly 2 lakh people in their towns and villages in the former LTTE-held areas in the island's north, reconstruction of the areas and rehabilitation of people are yet to begin.

The year gone-by was fruitful for Sri Lanka, which was grappling with the menace of terrorism since late 70s, as the troops began the year with the capture of Kilinochchi, the de-facto capital of the Tamil Tigers, on January 2.

This was the beginning of the end of the LTTE as it lost all its strongholds in the north-east in the next few months culminating in the death of all top leaders of the outfit, including Prabhakaran on May 18.

It ended the 30-year-old civil war that claimed the lives of 70,000 people and annihilated the LTTE, which had eliminated a number of high-profile Sri Lankan Sinhala and Tamil politicians, besides Rajiv Gandhi.

Just two days after the war ended, India sent two of its top officials -- National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and the then Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon -- to Colombo to assure Sri Lanka of its support in resettlement and rehabilitation process.

New Delhi has also impressed upon Sri Lanka a number of times to quickly follow up the military victory with a political solution that is acceptable to the minority Tamil community.

India has also promised help for Sri Lanka in railway projects and reviving agriculture in the former war zones.

A high-level Sri Lankan team consisting of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Presidential Adviser Basil Rajapaksa was in New Delhi twice to discuss the relief and rehabilitation process.

India also opposed a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva demanding a probe against Sri Lanka into alleged human rights violation during the last phase of war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has assured that the government will make every effort to resettle all Tamil IDPS by January 31.

India has indicated more funds for rehabilitation of the IDPs. It a had sent 2.5 lakh family packs consisting of dry ration, clothing, utensils and footwear from Tamil Nadu to displaced civilians since October 2008.

India will be sending three more de-mining teams even as four such teams are already there, as per the recommendation of the parliamentary delegation from Tamil Nadu which visited Sri Lanka in October.

© Outlook India

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sri Lanka takes more time to study war crime charges

Sri Lanka's president has given legal experts four more months to study a US State Department report cataloging alleged war crimes on the island, the presidency said in a statement Monday.

President Mahinda Rajapakse extended the December 31 deadline of the panel he appointed in November to formulate a response to the US report, which accused Sri Lankan forces of war crimes while battling Tamil separatists.

"The president has... extended by four months the period given to the committee to study and report on the US State Department Report," the president's office said in a statement.

A recent query by the United Nations over remarks by the country's former army chief Sarath Fonseka that some surrendering rebels were killed in cold blood was also being referred to the panel for study, the statement said.

Sri Lanka's foreign ministry has already dismissed the US report as "unsubstantiated and devoid of corroborative evidence."

Sri Lanka has been under international pressure to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and war crimes during the final stages of its battle against the Tamil Tiger rebels, who were defeated in May.

Among claims detailed in the US report was the accusation that Tiger leaders were executed after reaching a surrender agreement with government forces.

Fonseka, who is challenging Rajapakse in a January 26 election, has said he was given information about the alleged killing of the surrendering rebels by an unnamed state media reporter embedded with troops.

Fonseka said he himself was away in China at the time of the incident.

Sri Lanka's then foreign secretary Palitha Kohona had earlier said the rebel leaders were killed by their own men while they tried to surrender during the final days of fighting.


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Monday, December 28, 2009

Indian companies plan to make huge investments in Sri Lanka

S.Venkat Narayan - Seven months after the bloody civil war ended in Sri Lanka, Indian companies that are already working in the island are now busy making plans to make huge investments to expand their business there.

They appear eager to participate in the anticipated post-war reconstruction boom, especially in core sectors, such as energy and information technology.

According to information available here, at least six such companies have finalized their plans.

They are: Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (PGCIL), National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), Lanka India Oil Corporation (Lanka IOC), Cairn Lanka Pvt Ltd, Lanka Ashok Leyland, and Mphasis.

India is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner. It is now the island’s largest source of imports, and the fourth largest export destination. Bilateral trade witnessed a boom after the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade agreement came into force on 1 March 2000. In 2008, the two-way trade shot up to $3,265 million or LKRs 3,72,210 million, from just $658 million or LKRs 75,012 million in 2000.

Nearly a hundred Indian companies are currently doing business in Sri Lanka. So far, they have invested $400 million , or LKRs 45,600 million. An additional investment of about $300 million or LKRs 34,200 million, is involved in projects that are in various stages of implementation after receiving due approvals from the Sri Lankan Board of Investment (BOI).

The proposed investment plans of the NTPC and PGCIL alone amount to a staggering one billion US dollars, or LKRs 114,000 million.

PGCIL plans to install power transmission lines between India and Sri Lanka to pave the way for eventual trading of electricity between the two countries. The proposed 285km line includes submarine cables over a stretch of 50km. Once ready, it will enable the two neighbours to trade their surplus power with each other, thereby offering a cheaper option to bridge a power generating deficit.

The project, estimated to cost US$500 million, or LKRs 57,000 million, will link the power grid in Tamil Nadu to the transmission system in Sri Lanka. Initially, the line will have a capacity of 500 Mw, and is proposed to be doubled later.

NTPC, India’s biggest power company, is in the process of signing a joint venture agreement with the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to set up a 1,000-Mw coal-based power unit with an investment of $500 million.

The project got delayed due to differences over where to locate the plant. All issues have now been sorted out, and the joint venture is likely to be signed soon. Now that the security concerns have vanished, NTPC has agreed to set up the plant in Eastern Trincomalee.

Indian Oil, too, is looking to diversifying into the bitumen business in the island. SV Narasimhan, IOC’s Director (Finance) and Chairman of Lanka IOC, told "Business Standard" newspaper: "The Sri Lankan economy will be on a growth trajectory. We already have a presence in lubes, bunker and fuel retailing. Now, we are trying to get into bitumen business and also exploring other avenues. In the lube business, we are tying up with other parties for utilizing our surplus capacity."

Since the end of the civil war, Lanka Ashok Leyland, a joint venture company between Ashok Leyland and the Sri Lankan government, has been experience in demand. The company hopes to sell 1,300 vehicles in the next four months.

Says Lanka Ashok Leyland’s CEO Umesh Gautam: " We have witnessed a boom in the local economy during the past three months. The government is opening all the highways and there will be a demand for commercial vehicles to transport construction equipment for rehabilitation work (in the North and East). We are gearing up to be a part in all this."

Cairn India Pvt Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cairn India, has already started a 3D seismic survey in the Mannar Basin. Drilling will follow in the first half of 2011.

Last fortnight, Indian IT services company Mphasis announced plans to set up a facility in Sri Lanka that will be operational by the middle of 2010. It plans to hire 2,000 professionals over the next three years.

In 2008, Sri Lanka attracted $889 million or LKRs 1,01,346 million in foreign direct investment (FDI). Of this, $126 million or LKRs 14,364 million came from India.

A recent study by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) said that upcoming investments in Sri Lanka are likely to be in core sectors such as oil exploration and production, power, telecom, IT and real estate.

© The Island

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Sri Lankan aid projects investigated

Nearly $537 million in tsunami aid for Sri Lanka is unaccounted for and more than $686m has been spent on projects unrelated to the disaster, an anti-corruption watchdog says.

Berlin-based Transparency International has demanded an audit of the money received by the Sri Lankan government to help victims of the Asian tsunami that hit the island on December 26, 2004, killing 31,000 people.

As the tropical nation marked the fifth anniversary of the tsunami, the group alleged that out of $US2.2 billion ($2.5bn) received for relief, $US603.4m was spent on projects unrelated to the disaster. Another $US471.9m is missing, the group said.

"There is no precise evidence to explain the missing sum of $US471.9m," the TI statement issued in Colombo added. An "audit should be done by the government to explain the utilisation of the money received and the challenges faced", the group said.

A government official declined to comment on the allegations, but Colombo has rejected such accusations in the past.

The claims added to corruption concerns as the reconstruction effort winds down.

UN Under-Secretary General Noeleen Heyzer also voiced fears about early-warning system. Countries in the region had been working with international partners to strengthen systems but "significant gaps" needed to be addressed, he said.

The 2004 tsunami was triggered by a 9.3-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sumatra and seismologists agree another event of that magnitude is almost certain to strike the quake-prone region.

But former US president Bill Clinton, who helped raise millions of dollars in aid for tsunami-hit nations, said Asia had "built back better" since the disaster.

"We will never forget the stories of those who lost their loved ones and all their worldly possessions in one of the worst natural disasters of our time," he said.

"Nor will we forget the tremendous international response from governments, businesses, NGOs, and private citizens who sent money, aid, and prayers in unprecedented volume to the affected regions. We did more than just build back; we built back better."

People across Asia paused over the weekend to remember the day five years ago when an undersea earthquake unleashed the devastating wave that killed more than 220,000 people.

A solemn day of prayers and remembrance to mark one of the world's worst natural disasters was held in Indonesia's Aceh province, which lost almost 170,000 people in the Asian tsunami.

At the site of one of the graves, where more than 14,000 unidentified victims are buried, an elderly woman sat on the ground weeping and reciting Koranic verses for the 40 members of her family who died.

"None of my family members survived in the tsunami. My children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, they all have gone and left me alone here," Siti Aminah, 72, said.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse led remembrance ceremonies by observing two minutes of silence for tsunami victims.

Low-key commemorations marked the anniversary in southern India, which bore the brunt of the disaster in that country, with an estimated 6500 deaths.

On Marina beach in Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu state, women from fishing hamlets poured milk into the sea and showered flower petals over the water as a mark of respect for those who died.

In Thailand, where 5395 people died, according to the official toll, ceremonies were held on the beach in Phang Nga on the west coast, which was worst hit, and on the southern island of Phuket.

© The Australian

Related Links:
5 Years Later, Questions Over Tsunami Aid -

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sri Lanka tsunami aid misappropriated: watchdog

Nearly half a billion dollars in tsunami aid for Sri Lanka is unaccounted for and over 600 million dollars has been spent on projects unrelated to the disaster, an anti-corruption watchdog said Saturday.

Berlin-based Transparency International demanded an audit of the money received by the Sri Lankan government to help victims of the Asian tsunami which hit the island on December 26, 2004, killing 31,000 people.

The group's Sri Lankan chapter said the public have a right to know how the aid money was spent as the tropical nation marked the fifth anniversary of the tsunami.

The group alleged that out of 2.2 billion dollars received for relief, 603.4 million dollars was spent on projects unrelated to the disaster.

Another half a billion dollars was missing, the group said.

"There is no precise evidence to explain the missing sum of 471.9 million dollars," the Transparency International statement issued in Colombo added.

An "audit should be done by the government to explain the utilisation of the money received and the challenges faced," the group said.

An government official declined comment Saturday on the allegations but Colombo has consistently rejected such accusations in the past.

An initial government audit in 2005 found that less than 13 percent of the aid had been spent, but there has been no formal examination since, Transparency International said.


Related Links:
Lessons to be learnt from Tsunami Reconstruction - Transparency International
Lost and found: Recovering from Sri Lanka's tsunami - BBC

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sri Lankans want to know where tsunami aid has gone

Feizal Samath - Five years after the tsunami swept over the shores of Sri Lanka destroying everything in its path, victims are continuing to rebuild their lives. But their efforts have been plagued by nagging questions over widespread corruption in programmes expected to provide thousands of houses worth billions of rupees.

More than 35,000 people in Sri Lanka were killed and more than a half million displaced when an earthquake off the Indonesian coast on December 26, 2004 triggered a series of tsunamis along coastlines in the Indian Ocean. Nearly 100,000 houses in Sri Lanka were destroyed by the deadly waves.

A drive down to Galle or Matara in the south and Batticaloa or Ampara in the east reveals numerous tsunami victims who have yet to receive promised houses or compensation, while the houses built for many others were constructed so shoddily that they need to be replaced.

Elsy Priyadharshi, a tsunami survivor from Wattala, a coastal town about 10km north of Colombo, was quoted in a statement issued on Tuesday by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) as saying that soon after the tsunami struck, she and her family found refuge in a nearby church and then moved to a camp for the displaced and thereafter to transitional shelters.

“After five years we are finally moving to permanent houses, which are 100,000 times better than the camp where we stayed before and this has helped us get our lives back to normality,” Ms Priyadharshi, who has been a leading advocate for permanent housing, said in the statement.

Her new home is part of the IOM tsunami recovery programme that has built about 8,570 emergency transitional shelters and permanent homes for tsunami-affected communities along the southern and eastern coasts of the island nation. Takuya Ono, the head of IOM Sri Lanka’s engineering services, said in the statement that without a permanent home, it is difficult for people to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

Ms Priyadharshi and others are now asking why it took so long for them to get a home to call their own.

Transparency International Sri Lanka in March 2007 found that funds pledged by donors for post-tsunami work totalled 241.5 billion rupees (Dh18.9bn), of which 122 billion rupees were disbursed to various implementing agencies. Out of this, only 68.5 billion rupees were spent on projects.

“There is no precise evidence to explain the missing sum of 53.5 billion rupees [of money disbursed],” TI said at the time. Rukshana Nanayakkara, TI Sri Lanka’s deputy executive director, said no proper audit of funds used in post-tsunami work has been done. “An audit was done by the government’s auditor general in 2005 [soon after the money came in from donors] but nothing after that,” he said in a recent interview.

“There were serious issues about how the money was being spent and by whom,” said Firzan Hashim, the deputy executive director of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, which acts as a co-ordinating body for many non-governmental organisation’s relief efforts, including Save the Children and Oxfam.

Mr Hashim pointed out that after numerous NGOs swarmed into the country after the tsunami hit, local authorities struggled to keep track of their movements. Citing one example of the attempts to misuse donor funds, Mr Hashim explained how one foreign couple wanted pictures of tsunami housing projects to send abroad to a donor and claim it was done by them. “We chased them away,” he said.

Jayaweerabaduge Nimal, a 43-year-old fisherman from Ussangoda village near the southern town of Hambantota, said he’s lucky to be alive after the tsunami almost swept him away. While his house was not destroyed, as it was some distance from the sea, he said several new houses meant for the victims went to others who were unaffected.

“If you were friendly with a local politician or prepared to pay a small bribe to a local official, you could get a house on false pretences,” he said.

Mr Nimal’s sister and four other relatives died in the tragedy. His parents, whose house was near the beach at Ussangoda, survived the tragedy but their house was washed away.

Mr Nimal does recall one short-term benefit left in the tsunami’s wake. While many fishermen didn’t return to the sea for nearly three months, he took his catamaran out to sea in early January 2005 and was blessed with a large catch. “There was an overflow of fish as no fishing had taken place for several days and we had plenty to eat and sell,” he recalled.

Mohamed Rushdi, also from Hambantota, has no such positive memories of the effects of the tsunami. “We were on the second floor of our house and heard this loud noise. With my father and mother, I rushed downstairs and then saw the place flooded. We then rushed upstairs only to be washed away as the waters swelled and rose,” he said.

Moments later Mr Rushdi found himself 500 metres away from his home with a broken leg and debris all over. The bodies of his parents were never recovered. Mr Rushdi now lives in Canada. He recently returned to Sri Lanka for his sister’s wedding. “That was a traumatic experience,” he said, recalling the tsunami and its aftermath.

But the wave of sympathy for the affected, irrespective of race or religion, in those early days, lifted some hopes that the majority Sinhalese would patch up their differences with minority Tamils who were complaining of discrimination in state education and jobs.

“Unfortunately that didn’t happen. We lost a great opportunity for unity after the tsunami. We have another chance now that the conflict is over,” said Renton de Alwis, the former head of Sri Lanka’s state agency responsible for tourism, who is now a social activist.

Today the government says it is better prepared should another tsunami hit. Gamini Hettiarachchi, the director general of the Disaster Management Centre, said 55 tsunami warning towers have been placed across the island with sirens and speaker systems that are operated at the press of a button from the Colombo-based centre.

“We get global alerts on earthquakes and did an evacuation on a tsunami warning in July 2007,” he said, adding that creating awareness on disasters such as the tsunami and setting up district committees on early warning, search and rescue, and camp management have been going on in the past few years.

The Disaster Management Centre was organising a tsunami-alert rehearsal at 3pm on Saturday in 11 districts in which 400 to 500 families will be evacuated to safer ground after warnings are sounded.

“We need to maintain a state of preparedness,” Mr Hettiarachchi said.

© The National

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

In Sri Lanka, Tsunami Anniversary Inspires Mixed Reactions

By Amantha Perera - They were the iconic images of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami from Sri Lanka — the twisted hulks of eight carriages and a locomotive swept aside and tossed around like matchboxes by the killer waves. The train was packed with passengers and others who had sought refuge in them when the first wave hit Sri Lanka's southern shore. When the larger and deadlier swell struck them on the tracks, villagers estimate that as many as 1500 died inside.

The drowned train in Peraliya, about 60 miles (95 km) south of Colombo, soon became the most sought after camera opportunity for visiting media that followed the catastrophic tsunami five years ago this week. Hundreds came each day to look at the empty carriages, three of which were left standing on the side of the track for months while parts of the train were salvaged.

Today, the village of Peraliya is serene. The carriages are gone, and the few visitors who stop by come to see a large Buddha statue, or the memorial for those who died, located close to the wreckage site. The carriages themselves, once tagged to be the showcase of a national tsunami memorial, are now rusting at a yard in Colombo, and will likely be sold for scrap metal unless they decay before that. The dents where the waves hit are more pronounced now, and rusting has left gaping holes caving in the roofs and walls. The carriages' guts are a mess of ripped seats, metal poles, dirt and clothing, diaries and shoes. No one at the yard is sure who they belong to. Some could be from curious visitors who got into the carriages; others could of those doomed inside them. "After the initial rush to see them, they were soon forgotten," says Lalith Gamhewa, the station master at Hikkaduwa, where the three carriages remained from December 2005 until mid-2008 before they were moved to Colombo."Like the tsunami."

The approaching five year anniversary of tsunami in Sri Lanka inspired mixed reactions among the survivors along the southern coast. The waves left over 35,000 dead here, displaced over a million people, destroyed 100,0000 houses and left 150,000 without jobs. The reconstruction bill was $3.5 billion. But for many who faced the waves directly, it seems the country has moved on and all but forgotten the details. "I am not sure whether many know of the five year commemorations. It seems like it is something from the past and gone," says Ajantha Smarawickrema, a television cameraman who shot images of four women being dragged by the waves in Galle, a town three miles (5 km) from the train wreck.

But the waves still dictate the daily life of 22-year-old Aniseya Sulthan, a young Muslim woman living in a temporary shelter for the tsunami displaced on the east coast. Over 1300 families in the town of Kalmunai continue to wait for houses five years after their homes were swept away. Now, with no house to put up as a dowry, Aniseya's parents are having difficulty finding a suitable groom for her. "I built a nice house near the coast for her. Nothing was left of it after the tsunami," Nafrath Sulthan, her father, tells TIME. He sits in front of one of dozens of dimly lit, tin-sheet roofed shelters, with clothes, suitcases, extra furniture, garbage and even domestic chickens littered out front. Thick electrical wires coil near the top of the doors of some of the structures; their occupants fear that power outages could end up engulfing their homes. It's happened before.

Aniseya hides behind the front door, peeping out occasionally as her father speaks, her face covered with a head scarf. "Our tradition is that girls have to get married when they are 21, 22. Time is running out for her," the nervous father said.

Lack of housing is a problem for young Muslim women like Anesiya still living in the shelters, admits Ismail Thawfiek, the top government official in the area. He says the delay in construction has been forced by the 213-foot (65m) no-build buffer zone implemented along the coast in Kalmunai after the tsunami. Authorities have been forced to reclaim land formerly used for paddy cultivation to build the new homes to replace those that fell in the buffer zone. "Land is a big issue here, but we have located them. We think we can give all these people the houses by early next year," says Thawfiek.

In Hambantota, another town on the south coast, the houses have been built too fast, some say. In Siribopura, a massive tsunami rehousing scheme spanning over nearly 600 acres (240 hectares). Over 1500 houses have sprung up in an area where elephants used to walk. Businessmen complain that the development's new market and business complex is too far out from the former city center, and some residents working in the fishing industry who found it too difficult to commute between between the new housing in Siribopura and the beach have already sublet their new units to move closer to the shore. Another lot of houses rapidly constructed through public donations from Hungary started losing rafters, beams and windows even before the first tenants arrived. "Some of the houses were so bad, that no one could live in them," says Charles Rathnayake, a resident who moved in after extensive repairs. Around him many of the houses at Hungama, or 'Hungarian Village,' were being overtaken by shrub.

Not everyone, however, is complaining. The very first class of students from Siribopura's new school will take the main government exam in December. "We are very happy. We have a new school, new friends, and the sea is far away," says one beaming student, Thilini Sara. (The school still runs a special counseling program for its students to get over the trauma caused by the waves.) Ajith Priyantha, a fishing boat operator tending his nets on the Hambantota fishing harbor, is also grateful for the help. "We got boats and nets. It was easy for us to get back to fishing," he says.

But for all who fell victim to the deadly waves, the memories of December 26, 2004 are not as easy to shrug off. There are still houses and buildings left untouched after the waves receded, standing like skeletal ghosts with long shadows amidst the newly constructed buildings. Small blue signs dot the coast, indicating where to run in case of a tsunami warning. Sri Lankan authorities recently tested a multi-million dollar early warning system along the beaches. In Sainathimaruthu, where villagers say at least 3500 died, a large red tower stands on the beach equipped with a public address system — a constant reminder that, despite the rhythms of life having returned to some kind of normalcy, it could happen again.


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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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