Thursday, September 24, 2009

Major General Jagath Dias assigned to investigate into JDS organization

Diplomatic sources said the Defence Ministry has assigned Major General Jagath Dias to investigate into the organization called Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) that is said to have given the controversial video footage showing Army soldiers killing several Tamil civilians to Channel 4.

Major General Jagath Dias assumed duties as the deputy ambassador of the Sri Lankan embassy in Germany last week. The first duty assigned to him by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapkase is to investigate into the people connected to the JDS organization and report back.
A story published in the Lakbima newspaper on the 23rd under the headline “Assistance from German Police sought to investigate into journalists who manufactured the Channel 4 video,” states the Defence Ministry has requested for help from the German Police to investigate into members of JDS, which is said to have given the video showing Army soldiers shooting at several Tamil civilians to Britain’s Channel 4.

The news report further states that Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe has said that the security units have already identified several journalists who have fled to Germany and are active members of the organization.

The Minister had also said that UN Human Rights Commission Head, Navai Pillai had admitted to him during a discussion that the video footage shown on Channel 4 and subsequently on BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera was a fake.

Samarasinghe had further said that while Channel 4 had not yet tendered an apology or expressed its regret over telecasting the fake video, Attorney General Mohan Peiris has left for London to discuss with several law firms the legal steps to be instituted against the media institution.

© Lanka News Web

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

SL Defence ministry asks German police help to probe JDS - Human Rights Minister

The Defence Ministry has asked German Police for assistance to probe Journalists for Democracy (JDS) that had reportedly given to Britain’s Channel 4 the video that alleges executions by the Sri Lankan Army.

According to human rights minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, the defence ministry has found out that several Sri Lankan journalists who had fled to Germany are involved in JDS.

Other television channels like BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera had quoted Channel 4 and given publicity to the controversial video.

The minister said that UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillai had admitted the video to be false when he had met her.

As Channel 4 is yet to make an apology for airing the video without ascertaining its authenticity, attorney general Mohan Peiris is now in London holding talks with lawyers on the possibility of initiating legal action against the British TV channel, Mr. Samarasinghe added.


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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why peace seems elusive in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan military already is bigger than that of Britain and Israel. The planned further expansion would make the military in tiny Sri Lanka larger than the militaries of major powers like France, Japan and Germany, writes Professor Brahma Chellaney.

If war-scarred Sri Lanka is to re-emerge as a tropical paradise, it has to build enduring peace through genuine inter-ethnic equality and by making the transition from being a unitary State to being a federation that grants local autonomy. Yet even in victory, the Sri Lankan government seems unable to define peace or outline a political solution to the long-standing grievances of the Tamil minority.

A process of national reconciliation anchored in federalism and multi-culturalism indeed can succeed only if possible war crimes and other human-rights abuses by all parties are independently and credibly investigated.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has acknowledged civilian casualties were 'unacceptably high,' especially as the war built to a bloody crescendo earlier this year. The continuing air of martial triumph in Sri Lanka, though, is making it difficult to heal the wounds of war through three essential 'Rs': Relief, recovery and reconciliation.

In fact, the military victory bears a distinct family imprint: President Mahinda Rajapaksa was guided by two of his brothers, Gotabaya, the powerful defence secretary who fashioned the war plan, and Basil, the presidential special adviser who formulated the political strategy. Yet another brother, Chamal, is the ports and civil aviation minister who awarded China a contract to build the billion dollar Hambantotta port, on Sri Lanka's southeast.

In return, Beijing provided Colombo not only the weapon systems that decisively titled the military balance in its favour, but also the diplomatic cover to prosecute the war in defiance of international calls to cease offensive operations to help stanch rising civilian casualties.

Through such support, China has succeeded in extending its strategic reach to a critically located country in India's backyard that sits astride vital sea-lanes of communication in the Indian Ocean region.

India also is culpable for the Sri Lankan bloodbath. Having been outwitted by China, India was compelled to lend critical assistance to Colombo, lest it lose further ground in Sri Lanka.

From opening an unlimited line of credit for Sri Lanka to extending naval and intelligence cooperation, India provided war-relevant support in the face of a deteriorating humanitarian situation in that island-nation.

Sinhalese nationalists now portray President Rajapaksa as a modern-day incarnation of Dutugemunu, a Sinhalese ruler who, according to legend, vanquished an invading Tamil army led by Kind Elara more than 2,000 years ago. But months after the Tamil Tigers were crushed, it is clear the demands of peace extend far beyond the battlefield.

What is needed is a fundamental shift in government's policies to help create greater inter-ethnic equality, regional autonomy and a reversal of the State-driven militarisation of society. But Rajapaksa, despite promising to address the root causes of conflict, has declared: 'Federalism is out of the question.'

How elusive the peace dividend remains can be seen from Sri Lanka's decision to press ahead with a further expansion of its military. Not content with increasing the military's size fivefold since the late 1980s to more than 200,000 troops today, Colombo is raising the strength further to 300,000, in the name of 'eternal vigilance.' Soon after the May 2008 victory, the government, for example, announced a drive to recruit 50,000 new troops to help control the northern areas captured from the rebels.

The Sri Lankan military already is bigger than that of Britain and Israel. The planned further expansion would make the military in tiny Sri Lanka larger than the militaries of major powers like France, Japan and Germany.

By citing a continuing danger of guerrilla remnants reviving the insurgency, Rajapaksa is determined to keep a hyper-militarised Sri Lanka on something of a war footing.

Yet another issue of concern is the manner the government still holds nearly 300,000 civilians in camps where, in the recent words of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, the 'internally displaced persons are effectively detained under conditions of internment.'

Such detention risks causing more resentment among the Tamils and sowing the seeds of future unrest. The internment was intended to help weed out rebels, many of whom already have been identified and transferred to military sites.

Those in the evacuee camps are the victims and survivors of the deadly war. To confine them in the camps against their will is to further victimise and traumatise them.

Sri Lanka's interests would be better served through greater transparency. It should grant the UN, International Red Cross and nongovernmental organisations at home and abroad unfettered access to care for and protect the civilians in these camps, allowing those who wish to leave the camps to stay with relatives and friends.

Then there is the issue of thousands of missing people, mostly Tamils. Given that many families are still searching for missing members, the government ought to publish a list of all those it is holding -- in evacuee camps, prisons, military sites and other security centres. Even suspected rebels in custody ought to be identified and not denied access to legal representation.

Bearing in mind that thousands of civilians were killed just in the final months of the war, the authorities should disclose the names of those they know to be dead -- civilians and insurgents -- and the possible circumstances of their death.

The way to fill the power vacuum in the Tamil-dominated north is not by dispatching additional army troops in tens of thousands, but by setting up a credible local administration to keep the peace and initiate rehabilitation and reconstruction after more than a quarter of a century of war. Yet there is a lurking danger that the government may seek to change demography by returning to its old policy of settling Sinhalese in Tamil areas.

More fundamentally, such have been the costs of victory that Sri Lankan civil society stands badly weakened. The wartime suppression of a free press and curtailment of fundamental rights continues in peacetime, undermining democratic freedoms and creating a fear psychosis.

Sweeping emergency regulations remain in place, arming the security forces with expansive powers of search, arrest and seizure of property. Public meetings cannot be held without government permission. Individuals can still be held in unacknowledged detention for up to 18 months.

For the process of reconciliation and healing to begin in earnest, it is essential the government give up wartime powers and accept, as the UN human rights commissioner has sought, 'an independent and credible international ascertain the occurrence, nature and scale of violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law' by all parties during the conflict.

According to Ms Pillay, 'A new future for the country, the prospect of meaningful reconciliation and lasting peace, where respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms can become a reality for all, hinges upon such an in-depth and comprehensive approach.'

Rather than begin a political dialogue on regional autonomy and a more level playing field for the Tamils in education and government jobs, the government has seen its space get constricted by the post-victory upsurge of Sinhalese chauvinism opposed to the devolution of powers to the minorities.

The hard-line constituency argues that the Tamils in defeat shouldn't get what they couldn't secure through three decades of unrest and violence.

Indeed, such chauvinism seeks to tar federalism as a potential forerunner to secession, although the Tamil insurgency sprang from the State's rejection of decentralisation and power-sharing. The looming parliamentary and presidential elections also make devolution difficult, even though the Opposition is splintered and Rajapaksa seems set to win a second term.

Add to the picture the absence of international pressure, despite the leverage provided by a cash-strapped Sri Lankan economy. The United States enjoys a one-country veto in the International Monetary Fund, yet it chose to abstain from the recent IMF vote approving a desperately needed $2.8 billion loan to Sri Lanka.

In the face of China's stonewalling in the UN, Ban Ki-moon has been unable to appoint a UN special envoy on Sri Lanka, let alone order a probe into possible war crimes there. By contrast, the UN carried out a recently concluded investigation into Israel's three-week military offensive in Gaza earlier this year.

Today, reversing the militarisation of society, ending the control of information as an instrument of State policy and promoting political and ethnic reconciliation are crucial to post-conflict peace-building and to furthering the interests of all Sri Lankans -- Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. So also is the need to discard the almost mono-ethnic character of the security forces.

Colombo has to stop dragging its feet, as it has done for long, on implementing the Constitution's 13th amendment, which requires the ceding of some powers at the provincial level. But these tasks are unlikely to be addressed without sustained international diplomatic intervention.

As world history attests, peace sought to be achieved through the suppression and humiliation of an ethnic community has proven elusive. It will be a double tragedy for Sri Lanka if making peace proves more difficult than making war.

Brahma Chellaney -
A professor of strategic studies at the independent, privately funded Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, is on the international advisory council of the Campaign for Peace and Justice in Sri Lanka.


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Thursday, September 24, 2009

"I was beaten and made to sign a confession": Journalist V. Jasiharan

By Susitha R. Fernando - Vetrivail Jashiharan facing charges of helping to print, publish and distribute the ‘North Eastern Monthly’ magazine in his evidence said he was beaten up by TID officers and was made to sign a document which was in Sinhala, a language he did not understand.

He said this during the preliminary inquiry to ascertain whether the confession alleged to have been made by Jashiharan to the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) was made voluntarily.

When cross-examined by prosecution counsel Rohanthe Abeysuriya, Mr. Jashiharan said he never made a statement or a confession to the TID but one day he was made to sign a document under duress.

He said he never met ASP Premasiri Kollure who claimed to have recorded Jashiharan’s statement at the TID.

“I have never seen that officer until he came to give evidence in this court and I never signed any document given by him,” he said.

When Mr. Abeysuriya showed Mr. Jashiharan the document and asked him whether he could read it, Mr. Jashiharan said he could not read Sinhala and only recognized his identity card number.

“It was a document written in Sinhala and by then I had been severely assaulted and could not even stand up. I asked a TID officer to explain what was in the document before signing but they continued to beat me,” Mr. Jashiharan said adding that he was shown where to sign the document.

“I did not give any statement voluntarily,” Mr. Jashiharan reiterated.

He denied giving a statement to ASP Kollure and also denied being produced before the ASP at anytime.

Mr. Jashiharan said he was examined by doctors last year on March 26 and May 10, 11 and 27 and that he had not complained about being assaulted due to fear that he would be further assaulted by the TID.

To a prosecution question Mr. Jashiharan said J. S. Tissainayagam was his friend and he was journalist and was a journalist in Batticaloa.

At this stage Mr. Jashiharan requested for a chair as he found it difficult to stand up.

He said Red Cross officials visited him several times.

Further trial was put off for October 1.

Mr. Jashiharan and his wife V. Madhimalar were indicted on four counts including the aiding and abetting to print, publish and distribute the magazine ‘North Eastern Monthly’ during the period June 1, 2006 to June 1, 2007. They were also charged under the Emergency Regulations for making payments or collecting funds from Non-Governmental Organisation to run the said magazine.

Senior State Counsel Rohantha Abeysuriya and State Counsel Shehan de Silva appeared for the prosecution while Saliya Peiris and K.V. Thavarasha appeared for the defence.

© Daily Mirror

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Abducted journalist chosen to head SLWJA

The new committee of 33 journalists of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association for the coming two year period of 2009/2011 was unanimously appointed yesterday (23).

The group of media personnel led by prominent journalist and media rights activist Poddala Jayantha, were elected as the new committee uncontested. Jayantha, who formerly held the post of General Secretary of SLWJA, was severely beaten up before being released by a group of armed men, who abducted him in last June.

The list of nominations of the new committee was submitted to the Acting Press Commissioner during the period granted submission for nomination from September 16 to 23.

The new committee: President -Poddala Jayantha (Lake House)

Vice Presidents -Prasanna Fonseka (Siyatha),Gnanasiri Koththigoda (Haraya)

General Secretary -Lasantha Ruhunage (Ravaya)

Assistant Secretaries -Kurulu Kariyakarawana (Daily Mirror),Upali Saram (Divaina)

Treasurer - Gamini Susantha (Silumina)

Assistant Treasurers - S. Kaneshan (Freelance),S. K. M. Ramzi (Thinakaran)

National Organizer - Kanchana Marasinghe (SLRC)

Executive Committee - Vinitha M. Gamage (Lankadeepa),Sampath Deshapriya (Lakbima),Sampath Wilegoda (SLBC),Shanika Sriyananda (Sunday Observer),Prageeth Perera (Swarnavahini) ,Wasanthi Nanayakkara Derana),Mihiri Fonseka (Lakbima),Ditto Kugan (Thinakkural) ,Taha Muzzamil (Navamanni) ,Manoj Ratnayake (Daily Mirror) ,Kamani Hettiarachchi (Lakbima) ,Duminda Sampath (Lake House),Gamini Pushpakumara (SLRC) ,T. Nadarasa (Ravaya) ,Indunil Weeraratne (Silumina),K. W. Janaranjana (Ravaya) ,Dileesha Abeysundera (Irudina),Rukmal Gamage (Lake House) ,Hemali Wijeratne (Silumina) ,S. Thevadiran (Virakesari) ,Ranga Jayasuriya (Lakbima News) ,Thushari Hemamali (Swarnavahini),Shantha Wijesuriya (Lanka-E-News)

The new committee will assume duties on Oct. 14.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sri Lanka IMF document suppressed by government decision: official

Detailed International Monetary Fund documents showing the underlying basis for a stand-by loan to Sri Lanka have not been released by a decision of the island's government, an official said.

Sri Lanka at first only released the memorandum of economic policies governing a 2.6 billion US dollar standby loan to the island. Later a technical memorandum of understanding was also released.

But the staff report which gives the rationale for the loan was not released.

"Publishing that report is the prerogative of the government," IMF mission chief Brian Aitken told reporters in Colombo.

"You have to direct that question to the government, because it is their decision to publish. It is not our decision."

Annual country reports, prepared by the IMF as part of its annual 'Article IV" consultations have also been suppressed from last year.

The IMF staff reports contain independent technical analysis of the underlying economy and a high level of disclosure has been made by Sri Lanka from the 1990s.

Countries in the region, including Pakistan, have also made full disclosure of all IMF documents displaying a higher standard of transparency than Sri Lanka.

Ironically the reports are available to representatives of foreign governments that form the executive board of the multilateral lender, though they are withheld from the people of Sri Lanka.

Following the review mission, the government will sing a revised letter of intent with new foreign reserve and deficit targets with indicative targets in the original letter being hardened to performance criteria.

A storm has brewing in Sri Lanka over the suppression of IMF documents.

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, from the Point Pedro Institute of Development, a private research body, has said the 2008 IMF staff report was suppressed at the request of Sri Lankan authorities.

In Sri Lanka debate on economics by political parties is mostly confined to ideology and not evidence.

Sri Lanka signed a series of agreements with the IMF during the 1980s, but there was little public scrutiny of state economic activity.

The then governments continued to deficit spend and create high levels of inflation and public had no access to independent evaluations of macro-economic management.

© Lanka Business Online

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

"30 to 40 persons are abducted on a daily basis from IDP camps" : Ex - Foreign Minister

By Gihan de Chickera and Kelum Bandara - About 30 to 40 persons are abducted on a daily basis from IDP camps in the North, SLFP (M) Leader Mangala Samaraweera charged in Parliament yesterday.

“Certain reports indicate that 30 to 40 persons are abducted or disappear on a daily basis from IDP camps,” Mr. Samaraweera charged.

However, Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardane denied this allegation and asked where such statistics of abducted persons were found.

In response Mr. Samaraweera said that if such reports are to be denied the government must be transparent to the manner it deals with the IDP issue.

“If the government allows Opposition MPs to form a committee and visit the camps then such claims can be verified. The government should act in a transparent manner,” Mr. Samaraweera said.

Mr. Samaraweera said that in Orwellian terms the so called ‘welfare’ camps were virtual prisons for the IDPs.

“In George Orwells 1984, the Ministry of Peace dealt with war, and the Ministry of Love with torture. Likewise we witnessed in Sri Lanka how the Peace Secretariat justified excesses carried out in the name of war against terrorism. And the so-called welfare camps are virtual prisons,” Mr. Samaraweera said.

He added that most of the 280,000 IDPs had kith and kin around the country who are willing to have them until the de-mining process to the Vanni was complete.

“They are not economic refugees. They have opened 21,000 bank accounts and deposited Rs. 500 million in banks after coming out of LTTE areas. They are government servants, teachers and farmers. All they want is to go home,” Mr. Samaraweera said.

The MP also charged that the IDPs were being resettled from one camp into another. “The government is denying these people the right to speech, choice, movement and livelihood,” Mr. Samaraweera said.

© Daily Mirror

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