Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Even I don't feel safe" - Former SL President

"There is an atmosphere of fear and lack of freedom in Sri Lanka even after the end of LTTE", the country's former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who survived an assassination attempt by the group, said today.

"Even I care for my life. It is a government of my party (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) that is in power. Still even I don't feel safe," Kumaratunga, who was on a personal visit to Kerala, told reporters here.

"Overall there is lack of freedom and an atmosphere of fear is prevailing in the country. Basic rights of the people and media freedom are restricted in Sri Lanka," she said.

Asked about human rights violations, she said it was not appropriate for her to comment on it. "Let the Government say," she said.

She was interacting with reporters before making a courtesy call on Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan.


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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tissa given "minimum" punishment under the law- Attorney General

Attorney General (AG) Mohan Pieris told the UN Human Rights Council today that journalist J.S Tissanayagam was given the minimum punishment that could have been imposed under the provision of law for the crimes he was found guilty of by the court recently.

The Attorney General noted that Tissanayagam made use of the facilities available under the law, faced his trial, called evidence on his behalf and was given panoply of rights in rebuttal of the prosecution case.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had in a statement yesterday made reference to the Tissanayagam case and said she was dismayed by the sentence of 20 years handed to him for critiquing Sri Lanka’s army in two articles which he published.

The Attorney General, in his speech at the 12th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council today, further urged the international community to cooperate with Sri Lanka in a true sense of partnership and desist from indulging in a consistent and systematic scheme of criticism intended to tarnish the image of the island which at this time would be counter productive to achieving development in a country which has emerged from a conflict that has plagued our people for more than 25 years.

© Daily Mirror

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sri Lanka lose 155,000 industrial jobs

(LBO) - Sri Lanka has lost 155,000 industrial jobs in the second quarter of 2009 from a year earlier, the services sector lost 99,000 but agriculture sector generated 118,000 jobs, while total unemployment rose slightly, a government survey showed.

The quarterly labour force survey by Sri Lanka's statistics office does not include the Northern province, which was wracked by a civil war till May.

But compared to the first quarter of 2009, there was a gain of 19,721 industrial jobs, though the services sector showed a loss of 34,155 and agriculture, showed a fall of 230,350 from a peak of 2.6 million jobs in the first quarter.

Overall unemployment also rose to 6.3 percent 5.5 percent from a year earlier and 5.2 percent from the first quarter. The data excludes both the Eastern and Northern provinces.

In the first quarter overall unemployment rose to 5.3 percent from 5.2 percent, which officials said was not statistically significant.

"We can consider this data as statistically significant but we can say for certain if unemployment is rising if the trend continues for the next two quarters," G Y L Fernando who heads the employment division of Sri Lanka's statistics office said.

"Unemployment is no longer going down."

According to official data Sri Lanka's unemployment has fallen from 8.1 percent in 2004 to 5.2 percent in the last quarter of 2008.

The data is based on a sample survey and is not an exact count.

A large number of Sri Lanka's employable people go abroad. But Sri Lanka's economy has been hit by a global slump and growth fell to 2.1 percent in the second quarter.

Exporters have also warned that Sri Lanka's rupee is overvalued due to high 20 percent plus inflation created by the Central Bank in recent years, which will result in industrial job losses.

But Sri Lanka's economy has been stabilized amid tight monetary policy over the past year, despite a balance of payments crisis and economic growth is expected to pick up over the next two quarters, along with a global recovery and post-war reconstruction.

Macroeconomic stability in the form of low inflation is necessary to prevent the entire population - including the already employed and old and sick retired persons from losing the value of their salaries, pensions and savings.

© Lanka Business Online

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

'As the shells fell, we tried to save lives with no blood or medicine'

Gethin Chamberlain - The young mother was standing by the side of the road, clutching her baby. The baby was dead.

Damilvany Gnanakumar watched as she tried to make a decision. Around them, thousands of people were picking their way between bodies strewn across the road, desperate to escape the fighting all around them.

"The mother couldn't bring the dead body and she doesn't want to leave it as well. She was standing … holding the baby. She didn't know what to do … At the end, because of the shell bombing and people rushing – there were thousands and thousands of people, they were rushing in and pushing everyone – she just had to leave the baby at the side of the road, she had to leave the body there and come, she had no choice. And I was thinking in my mind 'What have the people done wrong? Why are they going through this, why is the international government not speaking up for them? I'm still asking."

Four months later and Gnanakumar is sitting on a cream leather sofa in the living room of the family home in Chingford, Essex, reliving the final days of Sri Lanka's brutal civil war.

For most of those four months, the 25-year-old British graduate was imprisoned behind razor wire inside the country's grim internment camps, home to nearly 300,000 people. She was released last week, partly as a result of pressure from this newspaper, and flew back into London on Sunday.

The last time she publicly spoke about the conflict was from the hospital where she was working inside the ever-shrinking war zone in Sri Lanka's north-east. Then, the national army had surrounded the small sliver of land where the remnants of the Tamil Tiger guerrillas held out and where hundreds of thousands of civilians had taken refuge. She had been in despair: a shell had just struck the hospital and dozens were dead. "At the moment, it is like hell," she said then.

Gnanakumar was one of a small group of medics treating the wounded and providing a running commentary to the outside world from behind the lines. For months she had managed to stay alive while around her thousands died. At night, she lived in bunkers dug in the sand. During the day, she helped in the makeshift hospitals, dodging the shells and the bullets, tending the wounded and the dying, as the doctors tried to operate with butchers' knives and watered-down anaesthetic.

Now her damning account provides a powerful rebuke to the claims of the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, that the defeat of the Tamil Tigers was achieved without the spilling of a drop of civilian blood.

Born in Jaffna in the Tamil-dominated north of Sri Lanka in 1984, Gnanakumar and her family moved to Britain in 1994. Until 28 February last year, she had not been back. She had just completed a biomedical degree at Greenwich University, but her short-lived marriage was on the rocks and she decided it was time to make a clean break. She left the house, telling no one where she was going.

Arriving in the capital, Colombo, she headed for Vanni, the Tamil heartland, to stay with a relative she calls her brother (her real brother is back in the UK, along with her two sisters). There seemed little sign of danger, but by June 2008 fighting was getting worse: the Tamil Tigers, or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), still thought they would be able to negotiate a ceasefire, as they had done in the past, but the government had other ideas. They were determined to destroy the LTTE once and for all. Gnanakumar decided to stay on to try to help those who were trapped by the advance.

Even before the arrival of the government's ground forces, there had been regular air raids by air force Kfir jets. But in early January artillery barrages began, forcing the population to move.

That was when the reality of the war hit Gnanakumar for the first time.

"It was raining and … you could see everywhere on the road the blood is running with the water and the bodies were left there because there was no-one to identify who was dead and who is alive, the bodies were just laid down on the floor and that's the first time I saw dead bodies and wounded people crying out, shouting."

Wherever they stopped, they built a bunker, digging down until they could stand up in the hole, cutting down palm branches and laying them across the top for a roof and packing sandbags on the top and around the sides.

As the frontline advanced, trapping as many as 300,000 people inside a shrinking enclave of LTTE-held land, Gnanakumar went to the makeshift government hospital, which had moved into a former primary school, and volunteered to help, dressing wounds and administering first aid.

Her laboratory training had not prepared her for anything like this, but she learned as she went along. As the fighting intensified, they were treating as many as 500 people every day in two rooms. "They had a shortage of medicine but they had to somehow save the people. The last two weeks or so there was a shortage of everything."

With replacement blood running out, she had to filter what she could from the patients through a cloth before feeding it back into their veins. When the anaesthetics ran short, they diluted them with distilled water. "I watched when there was a six-year-old boy," she said. "They had to take off the leg and also the arm, but they didn't have proper equipment, they just had a knife that the butchers use to cut the meat, and we have to use that to take off his leg and arm. He cried and cried."

As the army closed in, it got worse.

"People were running and running to get them safe away from the shell bombing, but they couldn't and it came to a point where we thought we are all going to die, there is no way we can be safe anymore here, but we just have to take it. I mean, you can't get out of the shell-bombing. I didn't think that I would be alive and I would be here now. I said OK, I'm going to die, that is the end of it.

"One day I was inside the [operating] theatre and the next room was bombed. We had a lot of the treated people left in the room for the doctors to go and monitor and they all died in that shell bomb. And they [the Sri Lankan forces] again bombed the hospital and one of the doctors died in that."

Inside the hospital, there was no respite. Gnanakumar cannot forget the day a mother was brought in, injured, clutching her baby.

"She had the baby on her lap, the baby is dead and the mother didn't know and the doctor said: 'Don't tell her, because if we tell her now she will start crying out and shouting and … we have to save the mother first.' So we said: 'OK, give the baby to us, we'll look after her you go and get the treatment from the doctor,' and only after she got the treatment we told the truth, that your baby is dead. I can easily say it, but at that moment I was in so much pain, the innocent baby, the mother didn't know the baby was dead, she thought 'my baby is sleeping'.

"There were so many incidents. Another time the mother was dead and the baby was still suckling."

The fighting was getting closer. They ate what they could find and slept, those who could, in the occasional lulls.

"You have to be ready to run, you can't relax and go to sleep, any minute you just have to be ready," she said.

Gnanakumar could not take any more. On 13 May the hospital had been hit, killing about 50 people. "The bunker right next to ours had a shell on top of it and there were six people in the same family died and three were wounded.

"I saw them … suddenly I start hearing people are crying out and I thought, it has to be somewhere really close … I came out of my tent and I saw blood everywhere and the people – I couldn't even imagine that place, there was blood and then the bodies were into pieces everywhere and my brother said: 'Just pack up and let's get away from this place.'"

In the last five days, she says, she believes about 20,000 people died. It is a very high estimate, though the UN has acknowledged the true death toll may never be known. Tamil groups such as the Global Tamil Forum say her account corroborates their own figures drawn from interviews with survivors.

Over the course of the three-decade war, it is estimated that up to 100,000 people died. But independent confirmation of the death toll in the final days has been impossible. The Sri Lankan government has barred independent journalists from the war zone to this day, and has expelled UN officials and aid workers.

Meanwhile, the survivors of the final assault have been spirited away inside sprawling camps in a militarised zone.

It was to those camps, at Menik Farm, that Gnanakumar was taken. Following that last bombing, she joined thousands fleeing towards the government lines. "We start moving and after walking about one hour or so we saw the Sri Lankan army. They were saying: 'Come, you are safe now, food will be provided for you.' There were bodies everywhere, like into pieces. We had to just walk." That was when she saw the mother agonising over what to do with her dead baby. No one had time to bury the bodies, she says. Some pushed them into bunkers and covered them with a little sand. That was the best they could do.

That night, they slept in a school, then they were taken by bus to the town of Vavuniya. She called her mother: "I said, Mum, just get me out of here, I just want to get out of this place. And the phone got cut off."

The Sri Lankan government has built a series of camps to house the estimated 300,000 people who poured out of the war zone. It claims that it needs to hold the civilians until it can weed out the former Tamil Tiger fighters; its critics, including many UN organisations and independent aid groups, question why, even if that is true, it needs to imprison children and the elderly behind barbed wire, and why it has not more quickly identified the rebels. Despite pledges to start sending the internees back to their homes "at the earliest possible opportunity", the UN says only 2,000 have so far been released.

There was no food the first day Gnanakumar arrived, and she had lost contact with the people she had been with. She slept in a tent with strangers.

Even after the privations of the war zone, conditions in the camp still came as a shock.

"Wherever you go there are big queues, whatever you want you have to queue. The toilets are terrible, I can't describe how disgusting. Flies everywhere, mosquitoes, unhygienic … People had all sorts of illnesses.

"People have lost their family members, they are separated from their families … and they are going through depression."

Accounts circulated of rapes and murders, of people disappearing. Some people committed suicide: a teacher was found hanging from a tree.

Military intelligence officers were roaming the camps, looking for former Tamil Tigers, she said. "It is an open prison, you are free to walk but you are inside a prison, you are not allowed to step out. You can't. There were guards everywhere and checkpoints."

A couple of days after she arrived, the British high commission made contact through the UNHCR. An appeal from her parents in the Guardian brought fresh hope and a flurry of activity: she was moved from the overcrowded zone two to zone one, the part of the camp the authorities show to visitors.

"I was there when the UN secretary Ban Ki-moon came in … He stayed there for about 10 minutes and just went. Why didn't he go into the camp and talk to the people and spend some time asking them what their problems were? I thought he has a responsibility and people were expecting something from him. They expected much from him and he just spent 10 minutes and that's it."

The officials told Gnanakumar she would be staying for a couple of days and would then be released. "And then the 48 hours turned into three days and then it turned into weeks and months and I thought OK, now I understand it is not going to happen." She was interrogated five times – what was she doing there? Why had she been in the hospitals?

The call to say she was going home came last week. She was taken to Colombo to meet the president's brother, Basil Rajapaksa.

"He said OK, you went through so much in the country and now you are released you can go and join your family and be happy. He wasn't sorry about it." She was then handed over to British officials.

She speaks in a matter-of-fact way, rarely betraying emotion. Her hair has been tied back tightly – she had beautiful hair before she left, she says, but lost most of it in the camps. She is not sure what she will do now, maybe something in the field of medicine.

"I'm happy and proud of myself that I was able to help the people. I still think it is unreal that I am in the UK … I never thought I would be alive and coming back, even in the camp.

"After looking at the people dying and dead bodies everywhere, it is like nothing threatens me any more, it is like I have had the hard time in my life and I think I am prepared to take up whatever happens in life now.

"I'm not that old Vany that sits down and cries for little things. I'm stronger now after going through and seeing all that problem. My mind is clear now."

© Guardian

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Sri Lanka may release British medic held in internment camp - Guardian

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fears for human rights in Sri Lanka

By Joe Leahy - The UN sent a senior envoy to Sri Lanka on Tuesday amid international concern over alleged human rights violations on the island in spite of the end of its 26-year civil war.

Lynn Pascoe, the UN’s senior political official and head of its political affairs department, was sent to Colombo after a telephone conversation this week between Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, and Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president.

Mr Pascoe said the pair discussed resettling civilians displaced in the fighting and government promises to investigate any rights abuses and launch a dialogue with the Tamils, made during Mr Ban’s visit to the country in May.

“We are very concerned about the pace of progress,” Mr Pascoe said. “We’re particularly concerned about the [refugees].”

Mr Rajapaksa staged a 34-month military campaign to eradicate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which had fought for an independent Tamil homeland in the island’s north and east. Velupillai Prabhakaran, the group’s leader, was killed in the fighting, leading the government to announce an end to the war on May 18.

The victory won the president enormous popularity among Sri Lanka’s ethnic Sinhalese majority but claims of human rights violations have sparked opprobrium overseas.

Alleged atrocities include the shelling of thousands of civilians in the final stages of the war; the execution of prisoners, as shown on a video: and the detention of nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians in inhumane conditions in camps in the north.

The government vigorously denies all the charges, saying it did not shell civilians, the video is fake and the camps are necessary to protect civilians from remaining Tamil Tiger operatives and mines. Critics also accuse the government of a brutal crackdown on critics. It jailed JS Tissainayagam, a senior Tamil journalist, for 20 years and expelled James Elder, spokesman for the UN Children’s Fund, for allegedly spreading Tamil Tiger propaganda.It has also detained two local UN workers.

The concern over human rights in Sri Lanka has prompted speculation that the European Union might cancel the country’s duty-free access to its markets. This would hurt Sri Lanka’s $3.2bn (€2.2bn, £1.9bn) textile and garment export industry. Sri Lanka’s economy has staged a recovery since the end of hostilities, aided by a $2.6bn International Monetary Fund loan. The Colombo stock exchange has soared nearly 50 per cent since May and tourist numbers in August were the highest for eight months.

Mr Pascoe plans to spend several days in Sri Lanka, visiting refugee camps and meeting Mr Rajapaksa.

© Financial Times

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tamil refugees going home to an open prison

Photo:Mahamuni Subramaniyam

By Melani Manel Perera - The government had promised them homes, land to farm and a life back to normal after years of war, but people who fled villages in northern Sri Lanka’s Mannar district found something quite different when they got home after the fleeing the area in 2007 amid heavy fighting between the Sri Lankan military and Tamil Tiger rebels. Their homes are broken, fields cannot be farmed, and the soldiers are everywhere. There are no basic services and the situation is such that in villages like Kokkupadayan primary school children, all 80 of them, have no chairs or desks to study with.

After successfully ending the 30-year old war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the government launched a ‘Northern Reawakening’ programme (Uthuru Wasanthaya). It promised a new life for the residents of one the most war-torn area in the country.

Back on 30 April 2009, the first 122 families went home, joined on 9 June by many more, all eager to repopulate the villages of Aripputhurai, Silawaturai, Bandaraweli, Pokkarni and many other small hamlets in the district of Mannar.

“We are happy to be home even if our houses are broken. But we have no reason to rejoice even if they say we are free,” a fisherman in Aripputhurai told AsiaNews.

“We were told that we would get projects that would support us, projects for reconstruction and development, but they only fixed bridges and roads,’ a villager said.

Instead, the authorities are monitoring residents and fishermen are allowed to work only between 6 am and 6 pm.

“The 4,000 acres we used to farm before we fled are now under military control,” a farmer said.

“We are living in an open prison,” said Fr Seemanpillai Jayabalan, parish priest in Aripputhurai. “People have no hope for development. They have lost their property and many homes are a total write-off.” NGOs are not allowed in the area and “all aid must go through the government’s Rehabilitation Task Force,” the clergyman said.

Checkpoints are everywhere, so that human movement is under tight control. “The military say that the LTTE does not constitute any danger anymore,” Father Jayabalan; yet “people cannot freely go the jungle to fetch the wood they need to repair their homes. There is a ban on fires and there are still mines in some areas.”

Anyone who needs help to repair a roof or rebuild a wall in his home can only get government handouts. Wood, roof-tiles, plastic sheets and even branches from coconut trees can be obtained only through the Rehabilitation Task Force; no one has the right to get anything any other way.

According to local sources, that security forces seized 50 acres belonging to the Church of Holy Mary in Mullikulam in order to build a naval base, another 100 are going to be taken over by the Musali Division to build a police station.

Father Jayabalan is troubled by what is happening. “What is purpose of all this, if the authorities do not take care of the people? We are powerless and increasingly concerned about what our brothers and sisters are going through in the camps,” he said.

“The heavy rains of November and December will come soon. We have lived in refugee camps and know that no one can survive in places like that.”

© Asia News

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How Sri Lanka governs through detentions

By Maura R. O'Connor - When the Sri Lankan government declared that the country's 25-year civil war was over in May, thousands of civilians took to the streets in celebration. The threat of the Tamil Tigers was gone for the first time in decades and the fears of violence that had held a nation in their clutch on a daily basis seemed to dissipate. But for many Sri Lankans things have only become worse since the war ended.

As part of the government's continued efforts to weed out possible terrorists and sympathizers, the military has begun detaining large numbers of people it suspects of collaborating with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In the majority of cases, the arrest and detainment is shrouded in secrecy under provisions of "emergency regulations," a set of vague but sweeping laws that give the government in effect unlimited powers.

Since the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was passed 30 years ago, Sri Lanka has operated nearly every year under emergency regulations ordered by the executive branch. Under the most current regulations issued by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, suspects can be arrested without warrants and held for 18 months without formal charges or access to legal representation. Few details of alleged crimes are ever released and trials, when they occur, are rarely publicized.

“No one can tell you what's in them," said James Ross, the legal and policy director for Human Rights Watch, of the country's anti-terrorism laws. "That’s part of the problem. It’s getting worse for journalists, it’s getting worse for human rights activists. Where restrictions should be lessening, they are actually getting tighter.”

The recent spate of detentions appear to resemble the United States government’s actions after Sept. 11, 2001, when Guantanamo Bay was filled with suspected terrorists who could be held indefinitely under an executive order issued by President George W. Bush in 2002.

But the use of unchecked detentions as a counter-terrorism strategy in Sri Lanka pre-dates 9/11, according to Nagaioh Manoharan, a senior fellow at the Center for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi. “What is new now,” said Manoharan of post-war Sri Lanka, “is detentions in large numbers. The PTA and emergency regulations are used without much hesitation. The rule of law has not been abided by even approximately.”

Arguably the biggest difference between terrorism suspects detained by the United States government at Guantanamo Bay and Sri Lanka’s current detainment policies is that of citizenship: Detainees in Sri Lanka are citizens held in their own country. In many recent cases, they are the government’s own employees.

On Aug. 1, Nagalingam Vedhanayagam, a government bureaucrat, was arrested by the government's Terrorist Investigation Division which was reportedly given a tip by a detained LTTE cadre. Vedhanayagam worked in Kilinochchi when the area was under LTTE control. When fighting overwhelmed the region last January, he moved to the government-controlled area but continued to make frequent trips into the conflict zone to ensure that humanitarian assistance was being provided. Since his arrest, defense officials have not released any information about his whereabouts or what the accusations against him are.

In May, five government doctors were detained by the Terrorist Investigation Division and held for 100 days without access to legal representation. The doctors had worked inside the war zone during heavy fighting for months and communicated information via telephone and email reporting often desperate conditions facing civilians. One of the doctors remains in prison while the others are on parole, awaiting a court hearing in November for spreading "false information to the international community."

On Aug. 31, the Tamil journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor under Sri Lanka's Prevention of Terrorism Act. Tissanayagam was the editor of a Tamil language magazine and the government accused him of accepting money from the Tamil Tigers and fomenting "communal disharmony" through his coverage of the war.

Even NGO workers are not immune from the government's far reaching efforts to prosecute suspected terrorists. Two United Nations employees, Charles Raveendran Navaratnam and Kanthasamy Sounthararajan, were arrested on June 11 and, according to a U.N. official in Sri Lanka, are accused of collaborating with the Tigers. Similar to the case of Vedhanayagam, the U.N. staff were originally reported as “missing” or “disappeared” and only later was it revealed that they were in government custody. Both of their lawyers have filed complaints in Sri Lanka claiming torture by security forces following their arrest.

Since Sri Lanka regained independence in 1948, the country has operated more often than not under an official state of emergency, allowing the repeated implementation of emergency regulations. The actual content of the regulations are difficult to obtain and cannot be challenged in court. In 2005, regulations were passed that allow the use of confessions made to police in a trial. Contrary to normal standards of criminal law, in Sri Lanka it is up to the defendant to prove that a confession was coerced, according to the International Crisis Group.

Many argue that the country's deeply unstable history — insurgencies include the separatist LTTE and the leftist People's Liberation Front, or JVP — since independence requires extreme measures. "The legal system here cannot cope with the breakdown of law and order, like two insurgencies by the JVP in 1971 and 1987-89 and a separatist insurgency by the LTTE the last thirty years," said Sinha Ratnatunga, a lawyer and president of the Editor’s Guild of Sri Lanka. "Does it lead to abuses? Of course it does. But, if the strict application of the 'rule of law' applied in both letter and spirit the JVP might well be running a 'Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat,’ and the LTTE might have their own Eelam.”

Ratnatunga argued that striking a balance between quelling armed uprisings and upholding the standard of innocent until proven guilty is easier said than done when violence overwhelms the system. In the last 25 years, at least 80,000 Sri Lankans have died due to the civil conflicts. “That does not mean that civil liberties must be given a complete holiday,” he said.

Since the end of the war in May, the Sri Lankan government has continued to operate under an official state of emergency. In a special debate held Sept. 10 in parliament, Leader of the House Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva argued that because “certain groups” were plotting to assassinate President Rajapaksa, upholding emergency laws was critical, according to the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. The motion received 87 out of 100 votes in favor.

Secretary to the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights Rajiva Wijesinhe said that the threat of terrorism is still a reality in Sri Lanka and that emergency regulations should continue because, “we also owe it to our friends who supported us against terrorism to ensure that information pertaining to possible attacks on them, as part of the globalization of terror, will also be prevented.”

“Overall, regimes in Colombo have gotten used to 'rule by emergency,'” said Manoharan at the Center for Land Warfare Studies. “It is an exceptional case among democracies. By some pretext or the other, they are imposed and extended.”

© Global Post

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

UN holds 'urgent' Sri Lanka talks

By Charles Haviland - A senior United Nations official, Lynn Pascoe, is due to arrive in Sri Lanka for two days of talks on urgent matters.

The world body has been expressing concern at the slow pace of release of Tamil refugees.

Many are still detained in government-run camps four months after the end of the war.

The UN is sounding a note of urgency on Sri Lanka and these meetings may be well be tense.

Mr Pascoe, the UN's head of political affairs, will hold talks on "critical issues", the UN said.

"We're very concerned about the pace of progress," Mr Pascoe said in New York before leaving.

In the same breath he referred to agreements made by the government when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon visited in May, including ones on accountability for possible violation of human rights laws, and on the movement of Tamil refugees out of their camps.

The government is now letting more people return home but still detains many others.

It has also just rejected the idea of a European Union investigation into its rights record, saying: "We do not have human rights issues."

Mr Pascoe says he will also discuss Sri Lanka's decision to expel the spokesman for the UN Children's Fund for allegedly parroting Tamil Tiger propaganda, and will raise the continued detention of two Sri Lankan UN staff.

Last week a UN spokeswoman said they had initially been "disappeared" by the government in June and there were allegations that the authorities had mistreated them.

© BBC News

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sri Lanka demands EU trade concessions without rights probe

Sri Lanka will not submit to an investigation into its rights record to qualify for extended trade concessions from the European Union, a government minister said today.

The deputy minister of state revenue, finance and planning, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, said Colombo wanted an extension of the EU generalised system of preferences (GSP Plus), but would not agree to pre-conditions.

The EU had given a list of questions on rights issues and had wanted to send a mission to the island to investigate allegations of abuses following the end of nearly four decades of ethnic conflict with Tamil rebels.

"We didn&apost allow them (EU investigators) to come,"the minister told reporters here."We do not have human rights issues."

Sri Lanka has been exporting to EU-member states under GSP Plus for over four years and import taxes will kick in unless tariff concessions are extended at the end of this year.

The EU has insisted that an extension would depend on Colombo cleaning up its rights record and its handling of some 300,000 ethnic Tamils who were displaced by the fighting and are now housed in interment camps.

An official close to the negotiations said the EU may phase out the trade concession by the middle of next year, unless there was a breakthrough in the current negotiations.


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