Friday, September 25, 2009

India's power project in final stage: Sri Lanka

Press Trust Of India - Sri Lanka and India are giving final touches to the proposed $500-million thermal power plant at Sampur in Trincomalee, the island nation’s power minister W D J Seneviratne has said.

“We are giving finishing touches to the negotiations with India to construct jointly a coal power plant at Sampur in Trincomalee. This would be the country’s largest coal power plant with a capacity of 1,000 Mw,” the minister said.

An agreement on power purchasing of the new plant would be signed between India’s state-run power producer NTPC and the Ceylon Electricity Board after conclusion of the negotiations.

“The plant will be a joint venture between the Indian and Sri Lankan governments and the plant will be jointly owned by (the) two countries in equal shares,” the minister told the state-owned Daily News.

The minister said Sri Lanka would benefit from the project and that the power produced would be brought to Anuradhapura in North Central Sri Lanka and would be distributed to other areas.

Once the negotiations are complete, NTPC is expected to sign the commercial agreement with the Sri Lankan power authorities for construction of the power plant in eastern part of the island nation.

NTPC officials were holding discussions to this effect in the recent weeks. The project will consist of two phases and the first phase is expected to be completed by 2012.

The initial planning of the project has been completed and the commencement of the construction work is expected in November, according to officials.

The construction work of the plant would be undertaken by NTPC, while the Ceylon Electricity Board would monitor the engineering work of the project, it said.

According to officials, initially, both sides will invest $75 million each and later $350 million will be infused by both parties.

NTPC signed an agreement with the government of Sri Lanka and Ceylon Electricity Board in December 2006 for the development of a 2x250-Mw coal-based power project at Trincomalee in Sri Lanka.

According to the memorandum of understanding, the project would be developed through a joint venture company of NTPC and Ceylon Electricity Board.

© Business Standard

Related Links:
REGULATIONS made under Section 5 of the Public Security Ordinance
Trincomalee High Security Zone and Special Economic Zone - CPA
High Security Zones and the Rights to Return - COHRE

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Life as a Sri Lankan war refugee

By Charles Haviland - Tirumagal is sweeping the yard. The yard of an ordinary house in the palm trees.

She, her husband and their three-year-old daughter are back home in Trincomalee from their war-time suffering and from Menik Farm.

The largest and most controversial of Sri Lanka's refugee camps, Menik holds about a quarter of a million Tamils who fled the war zone in the final weeks as the government finally vanquished the Tamil Tigers or LTTE.

No-one is automatically allowed to leave the camp. But Tirumagal's family were among the first few hundred sent home by the authorities in early August to four districts in the east and north.

Like others at Menik, they had earlier been caught in the Tiger-held zone during the war's final spasms - a shrinking sliver of land between a lagoon and the sea.

Life in the zone of hostilities was a nightmare.

Hospital shelled

"One day I was getting ready to get some high-nutrition food for my daughter," she told me.

"Then I changed my mind and didn't go that day. But I saw people queuing up to get it from the clinic, several hundred of them.

"They were shelled. Just in that shelling 75 people were killed and many more injured. I only escaped because I'd changed my mind."

The UN says that the Tigers forcibly stopped people from leaving and that the army shelled civilian areas.

The dignified young woman says she does not know who did what. She did, however, hear stories of the Tigers shooting people and of a hospital being shelled.

She looks calm throughout our interview but her voice constantly breaks with emotion, betraying her trauma.

"Because of the fighting and shelling we moved into the no-fire zone. But we got shelled there.

"People got killed and injured. We wanted to get back to the place we'd come from. We just moved from place to place, taking nothing but the tent and a few utensils and some rice to cook, if possible.

"We started digging bunkers. But where the sand was too soft we couldn't."

Out on the beach near Trincomalee, Tamil fishermen prepare their nets for the day's outing, the sun's rays fierce even at 7am.

Their colourful boat is heaved into the water.

It is a reassuring everyday scene, not very far down the coast from the former war zone where catastrophe reigned until May this year.


We meet another refugee who also left Menik Farm last month, 61-year-old Sadasivam.

He and his wife were trapped in Tiger-held land while visiting their children there back in 2006. As the war restarted, the rebels would not give the family a pass to leave.

"Life there was terrible," he recalls. "We had no idea what would happen."

From January onwards, constant shelling forced them to move their shelter five times.

"Wherever we dug bunkers, there was the smell of dead bodies."

In April their injured grandson and his mother were evacuated in a ship by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Then, on 9 May, Sadasivam was wounded.

"A shell landed. There was fire. My son-in-law's auto-rickshaw was parked and it caught fire.

"Then I saw the blood on my thighs. I was injured.

"I managed to come to the place called Mullivaikkal with the help of others. We started digging another L-shaped bunker and we put up a tent and stayed there.

"As we were putting up our tent, I saw dead bodies lying around. I saw the wounded people being loaded into a tractor and taken somewhere to be treated."

Extraordinary exodus

In mid-May the army arrived. It evacuated them in the endgame of the war.

Tirumagal had left a month earlier when the armed forces breached a Tiger rampart.

The extraordinary exodus of thousands across the lagoon was captured by cameras on unmanned air force planes, the images beamed around the world.

On the ground, outlandish rumours were swirling around, says Tirumagal.

"There was one story that men and women would have to walk naked for one kilometre before they got into the hands of the military. Hearing all this we were scared to cross over.

"But on 20 April we heard an announcement: 'Come to our area.' We weren't sure who was saying it but we decided to leave.

"There had been continuous shelling for two days. I wondered whether we would be able to cross the lagoon and get to the government area alive. We were lucky. Three of us managed to leave and cross the lagoon."

At the house in the coconut grove, Tirumagal's kindly elderly relatives - who themselves were war refugees earlier - give us tea.

Life is getting more normal. She tells the BBC about Menik Farm, the vast complex of camps to which she, Sadasivam and countless other Tamil refugees were taken.

'Things improved'

"When we came to Menik Farm there was no water. Then my daughter had diarrhoea and she and I both had flu for six weeks.

"I used to stand in the queue every day but there were thousands of people queuing up for the hospitals. I couldn't get a number for a doctor."

Tirumagal says that for the last two days in the war zone there was nothing to eat. At the camp, the army fed them but food remained in short supply at first.

"But later on we were given cooked food, then vegetables and rations to cook. So things improved."

Sadasivam agrees that is true, but only from a starting point where there were no basic facilities.

There have been uncorroborated accounts of some refugees being "disappeared" or abducted from the camps by shadowy paramilitaries. But he says he has not heard of any such thing happening.

I asked him about the screening process. The government says it has weeded out 10,000 former rebels and is still working on the exercise.

"When we all came to the big camp they made announcements, saying that if anyone had connections with the LTTE we should be separated and queue up separately," the elderly man says.

"They wanted to register those people and gave them numbers. They got separated."

Since July the Red Cross has had no access to these people, or indeed to Menik Farm. It is not clear how many of those detained are alleged fighters or those who, in the government's words, are simply "mentally" connected with them.

Tirumagal says it is a fact that many were entangled with the Tigers - but not necessarily through choice. For instance, her own husband was severely injured years ago in an LTTE bomb.

"So he's disabled. But we also had to pay money to the Tigers saying we couldn't take up arms or be part of their operations because he's disabled.

"When we all lived under their regime, you couldn't avoid having some kind of participation in their activities."

As screening continues, hundreds of thousands remain inside Menik Farm.

Many of those who have left still have close relatives inside and are not sure when they'll get out. They live in hope.

After years and months of indignity and trauma, Sadasivam and the other returned refugees display dignity above anything else.

They have returned to their homes in a still volatile corner of an unstable island.

At least the war is over, and they are no longer fugitives.


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Friday, September 25, 2009

Sri Lankan leader skips meeting in US

Feizal Samath - When world leaders met at the opening of the annual United Nations General Assembly yesterday, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president, was a notable absentee.

The president instead sent his deputy, prime minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, to lead the country’s delegation at the UN’s 2009 session in what is widely see as a reluctance to meet western leaders critical of the government over human rights issues, according to analysts.

The president has attended all three previous sessions since his election in late 2005.

Lakshman Kiriella, a Sri Lankan opposition MP, told reporters on Tuesday that Mr Rajapaksa should have gone to the UN to defend his administration against allegations of human rights violations during the country’s defeat of Tamil separatists last May. He pointed out that the general assembly has traditionally been a platform for developing world leaders to respond to western criticism.

“While serious allegations are being levelled against Sri Lanka, the president has failed in his duty to defend the country,” Mr Kiriella said at a press conference of the main opposition United National Party (UNP).

The UNP parliamentarian said the president speaks of an international conspiracy against the government but has evaded taking the issue up with world leaders at the UN.

Mr Rajapaksa and other government officials, at various public meetings, have spoken of an international Tamil-Tiger-led conspiracy – through media, international bodies and rights groups – against the Sri Lankan government.

Dullus Allahapperuma, the transport minister, told a press conference in Colombo on September 10 that the government had thwarted a plot to assassinate the president and the defence secretary in March.

Mr Allahapperuma said the “huge conspiracy” was the joint work of the Tamil Tigers – based in Sri Lanka and around the world – and both local and international sympathisers, though he did not give further details.

“We will [soon] reveal to the country and to the international community those who are responsible,” he said, the first time the public has been told of a plot to kill the president.

Mr Rajapaksa has resolutely defended allegations by human rights groups and western leaders that the military used brute force against civilians in the last stages of the battle against Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

World leaders have also criticised the government for keeping some 250,000 Tamil residents who fled the fighting in camps whose perimeters are patrolled by the military. The government says the refugees will be allowed home once de-mining of their towns in the war torn north are completed.

“It would have been embarrassing for the president to face up – at the UN – to world leaders like Barack Obama, the US president, or British prime minister Gordon Brown, who, among others, have been concerned about the Sri Lankan situation,” said a former Sri Lankan diplomat in Colombo, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The government last week announced that Mr Wickramanayake would lead the Sri Lankan delegation to the 64th UN General Assembly, where he is also scheduled to meet UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon. A government statement said Mr Wickramanayake will address the assembly on September 26 on the “strengthening of multilateralism and dialogue among civilisations for international peace, security and development”.

There has been no official explanation as to why Mr Rajapaksa is skipping the UN session except for a brief statement from the president’s spokesman, Lucian Rajakarunanayake, earlier this month, to The Sunday Times that reported that Mr Rajapaksa was travelling to New York for the session, saying he would not be attending this year.

However, according to other sources, there were other reasons for the president’s absence, which are related to a problem securing US visas for some members of his delegation.

The Times, which reported that the UN had named Mr Rajapaksa on the list of speakers for the opening day yesterday, also printed a list of the 50-member delegation, which included Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, a former rebel turned minister who is known by one name, Karuna, and MP Wimal Weerawansa, who has been critical of the US and other western nations. According to analysts the pair would have had trouble attaining visas for the assembly. A statement from the president’s office said no such list had been delivered to them by the UN.

Mr Muralitharan, a former Tamil rebel commander, was arrested in the UK in early 2007 and detained for some six months on charges of possessing a forged passport, before being sent back to Colombo. Mr Weerawansa, a former member of the Marxist People’s Liberation Front, heads a small party that backs the president.

Mr Rajapaksa is also busy with local government elections and preparations for parliamentary and presidential polls, which can be called any time after November.

Opposition parties are discussing selecting a common candidate for the presidential election, and former army commander General Sarath Fonseka, who was instrumental in winning the battle against Tamil rebels, has been tipped as a possible choice, according to several reports in local newspapers.

© The National

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Sri Lankan army clashes with detainees

A detainee was seriously injured and had to be hospitalized as a clash broke out between the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and detainees being held at a school in Vavuniya in north-eastern Sri Lanka on Tuesday.

The detainee, Sri Chandramorgan from Kanahapuram, Kilinochchi, was initially reported to have been killed by the army when he tried to escape from the Poonthotham Teachers Training College, which serves as an unofficial detention centre. The rumour sparked unrest in the camp and the road to the facility was closed by authorities.

“The danger of serious human rights violations, including torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings increases substantially when detainees are held in locations that are not officially acknowledged places of detention and lack proper legal procedures and safeguards”, said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia Director.

Detention centres such as the Poonthotham Teachers Training College are irregular places of detention. Since May 2009, an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 individuals suspected of ties to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) have been detained in irregular detention facilities operated by the Sri Lankan security forces and affiliated paramilitary groups.

Several such groups are active in Vavuniya and have been implicated in human rights violations, including People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and both factions of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP).

On 25 May, just a week after the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the Tamil Tigers, Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka announced that 9,000 Tamil Tigers cadres had surrendered to the army.

Since then, there have been regular reports of arrests. Some have been officially acknowledged and reported in the Sri Lankan press and others reported by relatives of detainees in displacement camps.

Many of these detainees are being held incommunicado, meaning they have not had access to family members or legal counsel and have not appeared in court.

Amnesty International has confirmed the location of at least 10 such facilities in school buildings and hostels originally designated as displacement camps in the north. There have also been frequent reports of other unofficial places of detention elsewhere in the country.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has no access to these detainees and there is no transparency about their registration and treatment.

Incommunicado detention of suspects in irregular places of detention (i.e. places other than police stations, officially designated detention centres or prisons) has been a persistent practice in Sri Lanka associated with torture, killings and enforced disappearances.

Amnesty International has called on the Sri Lankan government to ensure that the screening process for suspected combatants is carried out in ways that guarantee the human rights and dignity of all those involved.

Arrangements should be made for independent monitoring of screening processes. Tamil Tigers suspects must be held only in recognised places of detention and be brought before a judicial authority without delay after being taken into custody.

© Amnesty International

Related links:
'Clashes' in Sri Lankan centre - BBC

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Government moves to silence Thamilvani

The government in response to the damning and controversial interview given to the London Guardian by Thamilvani Gnanakumar after returning to London following her release from the “illegal detention camp” in Vavuniya, has arrested members of the family that provided lodging to her while she was in Vavuniya, Lanka News Web reliably learns.

Damilvani has stopped revealing details to the media following this incident. Although Thamilvani has told the media that she was unable to speak due to mental stress, the real reason for her silence is the arrests made in Sri Lanka. She has decided to revert from her initial decision of informing the international community about the real situation in the displaced camps through media interviews in order to protect the relatives who provided her with shelter back in Sri Lanka.

Lanka News Web further learns that the government has decided to delay the release of Tamil nationals who are citizens of Australia and Canada from the displaced camps in order to prevent the Sri Lankan government from facing a similar situation.

© Lanka News Web

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Rs. 142 mn for 2009 war expenditure

The Government had allocated Rs. 142,141 million for war expenses in the year 2009, Chief Government Whip Urban Development and Sacred Area Development Minister Dinesh Gunawardene informed Parliament yesterday.

A document tabled by Minister Gunawardene in response to a question raised by JVP MP Premasiri Manage said that there was no separate classification as war expenditure of government and the recently concluded operations were humanitarian operations.

Asked to inform the House the main sources from which the the money is expected to be obtained, the Minister said it would be from domestic funds.

The amount of expected revenue through the Nation Building Tax for Defence affairs for this year was Rs. 32,000 million, the document said.

© The Island

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