Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sri Lankan Government Must Reverse Anti-Media Actions - IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins press freedom defenders in Sri Lanka in calling on President Mahinda Rajapakse and the Government of Sri Lanka to put an immediate end to the climate of impunity that has allowed a long campaign of intimidation and violence against independent journalism in Sri Lanka.

The IFJ stands in solidarity with the movement of press freedom organisations and Sri Lankan civil society in demanding that the Government allow space for free public debate, for plurality of opinions and open discussion in Sri Lanka. These conditions are essential for Sri Lanka’s return to peace and democracy.

The IFJ urges Sri Lanka’s Government to revoke its decision in June to reactivate the 1973 Press Council Act and calls for the immediate release from jail of senior journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who was convicted on August 31 on charges accusing him of terrorism for the content of his reporting on human rights issues.

The IFJ is deeply worried that the Press Council Act re-introduces stringent provisions against press freedom. It allows for journalists to be prosecuted for contempt and sentenced to extended periods in prison, and prohibits publication of materials including government documents, matters related the armed services and national security and economic policy.

IFJ General Secretary Aidan White has condemned the reintroduction of the Act as “a worrying retreat from an agreed compact that the media is best served by self-regulation rather than a coercive imposition of the government’s will”.

The IFJ commends its affiliates, the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA) and the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Unions (FMETU), and fellow members of the “Sri Lanka Five” press freedom movement - the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) and the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) - for the unity and courage they have shown during the years-long crisis for the media in Sri Lanka.

The IFJ further supports the efforts of a broader coalition between these five organisations and the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka and the National Forum of Journalists to initiate broader civil action to meet the challenges of post-conflict reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

“Any country where journalists contend with murder, assault or imprisonment for independent reporting on matters of great public interest cannot boast of upholding democratic freedoms,” White said today.

“It is imperative that the Rajapakse Government take concrete steps now to overturn the measures it has implemented to gag free public dialogue and debate, including the immediate withdrawal of the Press Council Act and by ensuring that perpetrators of violence against journalists are brought to justice.”

The fresh efforts to defend media rights in Sri Lanka come as the Rajapakse Government shows little sign of relenting in its campaign of hostility against local and foreign media and journalists’ organisations, even after declaring victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 19.

After the murder of Sunday Leader editor-in-chief Lasantha Wickrematunga on January 8, 2009, many leading journalists and press freedom activists fled Sri Lanka in fear of their lives. No arrests have been made for the murder of Wickrematunga, and many activists remain in exile.

On February 26, Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, editor of the Tamil-language daily Sudar Oli, disappeared in a “white van” abduction. Police initially denied any involvement, but then claimed Vithyatharan was a “wanted person” and was being detained by police. He was held without charge until a court ordered his release on April 24.

On June 1, unknown persons viciously assaulted senior journalist activist Poddala Jayantha, who has since been elected President of the SLWJA. Jayantha’s injuries will likely leave him with lifelong disabilities. The assault was preceded by public statements by government spokesmen inciting violence against Jayantha. No arrests have been made and the government spokesmen have not been compelled to rescind their comments.

On August 31, Tissainayagam, who had been held in custody since March 2008, was sentenced to 20 years’ rigorous imprisonment under Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Regulations. He is one of few journalists to be convicted in a democratic country under terrorism-related charges on the basis of his or her professional work. The matter is under appeal.

Tissainayagam’s colleagues, N. Jesiharan and Valamarthi, continue to face trial on related charges.

The IFJ stands firmly with all journalists and press freedom defenders in Sri Lanka who, at great personal risk, continue to defy efforts by the war lobby to entrench a culture of silence in Sri Lanka.

© International Federation of Journalists

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Seminar against Press Council

A number of journalist organizations backed by civil society movements are to hold a major seminar today to educate and express its displeasure against the recently reactivated Press Council and to launch a programme to sign a petition against it.

The event organised by the National Forum of Journalists, Free Media Movement, Federation of Media Employees Trade Union, Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Alliances, Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum as well as The Editor’s Guild of Sri Lanka.

It is scheduled to start at 4.00pm at the Jayawardena Centre, Dharmapala Mawatha in Colombo 07. The organizing committee invites all interested parties to take part in this event.

© Daily Mirror

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lanka News Web obstructed in Sri Lanka again

The government has for the past few weeks obstructed access to the LNW website in Sri Lanka and the website has been completely blocked since midnight Sunday (27).

Although the government took steps to completely block viewers from accessing the LNW website for the past few months, LNW viewers from overseas did not have a problem.

© Lankanewsweb.com

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

UN chief urges Sri Lanka to resettle hundreds of thousands displaced by war

Failure to rapidly resettle nearly 300,000 Sri Lankans displaced by the government's final onslaught against Tamil separatists and further suffering under harsh conditions in the camps could result in growing bitterness, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said here Monday.

When meeting with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Ban said in particular the need to resolve the problem in view of the approaching monsoon season, while acknowledging the government's efforts to address post-conflict challenges in Sri Lanka.

In May the government declared an end to its military operation against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), ending more than two decades of fighting.

Ban noted that he had repeatedly brought up the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs), the political process and reconciliation, and accountability for alleged violations during the long ethnic war in his various telephone conversations with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and messages conveyed through visits by senior UN officials.

The incident between IDPs and the army in Menik Farm two days ago resulting in gunshot injuries of two children was a sign of growing frustrations in the camps.

The prime minister assured Ban that the Sri Lankan Government was keen to implement earlier pledges to resettle all IDPs out of the camps by January, but he emphasized that much international aid was needed to facilitate these efforts, especially for de-mining.

Ban underlined the importance of winning the trust and confidence of the population in the North, especially those in the IDP camps, as failure to do so could undermine the prospects for reconciliation.

Wickramanayaka indicated that efforts toward an inclusive political framework were continuing, including through close engagement with minority representatives such as the Tamil National Alliance. Ban stressed the need to expedite a serious, independent and impartial accountability process to look into alleged violation of international law during the conflict as a critical part of moving forward and building peace in Sri Lanka.

The prime minister thanked Ban for UN support and appealed for the Organization to use its influence to facilitate international support for Sri Lanka's recovery efforts.

Both reaffirmed their commitment to continue close engagement in addressing common concerns during this critical transitional phase. The secretary-general welcomed the delegation's pledge to share with the UN the government's recovery and resettlement plans through regular exchanges in a comprehensive and transparent manner.

He highlighted that this would help the UN and others to support national post-conflict efforts more effectively.

© Xinhua

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'Sri Lanka had put a "different spin" on what I said' -UN's Lynn Pascoe

Inner City Press asked the head of the UN's Department of Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe about the shooting incidents, whether the Sri Lankan Army's web site had misquoted him, and why the UN had not convened a meeting about Sri Lankan during the last week's General Debate.

Of the shooting, Pascoe attributed it to overcrowding in the Manik Farms camps, saying "they need to be thinning it out." He acknowledged that the Sri Lankan Army had put a "different spin" on what he said during his visit this month. Inner City Press asked about the headline "You have better story than is getting out today - Pascoe to President." Inner City Press asked this question ten days ago, without getting any answer.

Pascoe said he was only been referring to de-mining, that he was "surprised" he was quoted "for saying things quite in the way that [he] had said them." But why didn't the UN seek a correction then, as it has when for example Sudan characterized what the UN told them in a bilateral conversation?

Pascoe said that the meeting with Defense Secretary (and Presidential brother) Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama was attended not only by Ban Ki-moon, but also by John Holmes and Vijay Nambiar.

As Pascoe sought to turn to another questioner, Inner City Press reminded him of the unanswered question of why the UN had not set up a meeting during the General Debate, as it did on Myanmar, Somalia and other countries.

Pascoe said there had been some thought "early on" of convening such a meeting about Sri Lanka, but it didn't happen. He added that "it is important for the Security Council to discuss... in their rooms or in the basement." Well, the UN Charter provides for the Secretary General to convene a Security Council meeting, under Article 99.

© Inner City Press

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'You have better story than is getting out today': Pascoe to President - Defence.lk

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Do not interfere, Colombo tells U.N.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake has requested the United Nations not to interfere with the internal affairs of the island nation.

Addressing the 64th U.N. General Assembly in New York in Sinhala on Monday Mr. Wickremanayake said according to the U.N. charter 2(7) clause, no country or a force should interfere with the internal affairs of each and every country.

“The Prime Minister noted that Sri Lanka managed to defeat terrorism and the benefits of the victory would be shared with other countries in the world. He said the international community should extend support to the Sri Lankan government,” a statement issued here said.

It further quoted him as telling the U.N. General Assembly that the Sri Lankan government was committed to quickly resettling all displaced persons presently housed in welfare centres.

Over 2.85 lakh people were displaced in the war between the government forces and the LTTE which ended in the third week of May. Nearly 40,000 people have been resettled in the last few months and the government has committed to sending back at least 70 per cent of the remaining displaced, housed in relief camps in the north, by the end of January 2010.

“The government has given top priority to meeting the humanitarian needs of the displaced civilians. He took the opportunity to thank the countries and international organisations that gave a helping hand towards the welfare of displaced persons in the north,” the statement quoted Mr. Wickremanayake as saying.

Separately, the U.N. Development Programme has inked a pact with Haleys to support resettled communities in Ampara district in the eastern province.

Under the agreement, UNDP will supply 15,000 bushels of seed paddy to be marketed by the company. “This new partnership will not only help the company find new sources of agricultural inputs but at the same time help communities establish sustainable enterprises,” the UNDP said in a press release.

UNDP Country Director Douglas Keh described the initiative as a key to sustainable recovery in Sri Lanka. “From humanitarian needs like food and blankets, the requirements of the resettled communities are changing. The focus is now shifting to capacity building and training and physical infrastructure. The partnership with the private sector would help in building these capacities,” he said.

© The Hindu

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Sri Lanka asks UN not to interfere - Hindustan Times

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

President reappoints P.B. Jayasundara as the Treasury Secretary

President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday reappointed Dr. P.B. Jayasundara as the Treasury Secretary. Dr. Jayasundara had held this post since 2004 till he vacated it on a Supreme Court ruling on a fundamental rights petition.

The Supreme Court in its ruling held him responsible for fraud and corruption in the privatization of Lanka Marine Services Ltd., during the then UNP administration. At that time, Dr. Jayasundara held the post of Chairman of the Public Enterprise Reforms Commission (PERC).

In a judgement delivered by a bench headed by former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, Dr. Jayasundera was also found to have acted contrary to the law and fined Rs.500,000 to be paid as compensation to the State. He swore and affidavit undertaking to desist from holding any government office in the future.

Dr. Jayasundara later filed a motion in the Supreme Court after the present Chief Justice Asoka de Silva assumed office in June, seeking permission to be relieved from his own undertaking and to resume work in the public service. The SC granted him the requested relief last week.

Meanwhile Treasury Secretary Sumith Abeysinghe whose term of office was extended on the eve of the SC ruling was yesterday appointed as Cabinet Secretary.

The current Secretary to the Cabinet D. Wijesinghe has been appointed as Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to South Africa, by the President, the Government Information Department said.

Meanwhile, non cabinet Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said yesterday the government would discuss with Dr. Jayasundara whether the better option for 2010 would be a Budget or a Vote on Account.

“We hope to discuss this matter with the newly appointed Treasury Secretary. There are serious talks going on about the options available to us. However, a final decision is yet to be taken,” he said.

Consumer Affairs Minister Bandula Gunawardane said he too was in favour of a Vote on Account for next year.

“A budget is formulated for a year. The term of this parliament will expire in April. So, we have only a few months left. It is advisable for us to present a Vote on Account in November. After the next General Election, there could be a new set of Cabinet Ministers and they may come up with new budgetary proposals. As such a budget presented at this stage will not serve the desired purpose,” he said.

© Daily Mirror

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Indian developers set sights on Sri Lanka's realty market

For nearly three decades, politicians from Norway to New Delhi were flying to Colombo to facilitate peace in Sri Lanka. Now, corporate executives from Larsen & Toubro’s AM Naik to Omaxe’s Rohtas Goel may join author-investor Jim Rogers in flying to the once war-torn Indian Ocean island to share a pie of the future prosperity.

L&T, Omaxe and Puravankara Projects are among those lining up to build projects, anticipating an economic surge in Sri Lanka expected to happen after a bloody war. They are planning to build shopping complexes, residential homes and much more.

Sri Lanka, with hundreds of kilometres of beaches, hill-top plantations and a treasure of history from the ancient pandyas to portugals, is taking baby steps to revive its battered $40-billion economy. Delegates from the Sri Lanka board of investment met with executives from Omaxe in New Delhi and others seeking investments and have liberal rules governing businesses.

It aims to spend $20 million in promoting the nation once described where “history lies buried in its sands, and ghosts of romance lurk among its bastioned rocks” for global tourists.

“With the civil war over, we are seeing a huge demand for housing,” said Puravankara group MD Ravi Puravankara. The group is planning to launch a villa project in Colombo. “We have already initiated the land acquisition process,” he added. It is aimed at the Sri Lankan diaspora who may return to enjoy the long-desired peace. But, it will cost them around $2 lakh each.

The Sri Lankan government is targeting an FDI of $2 billion by 2010. According to government statistics, Sri Lanka received $889 million in FDI in 2008 and $400 million, so far, this year. The Board of Investment declined to comment on how much it expects the Indian real estate developers to invest.

It is not hot air. L&T has already laid the foundation stone for its commercial park in Colombo and is all set to invest around $150 million for its residential and commercial projects in country with a population of around 20 million, about a fifth of Maharashtra.

The commercial complex, a 51 storey building in Colombo city with 15 lakh square feet, will be called the Diamond Tower. “We plan to make this the tallest building in Sri Lanka,” said C Ignatius, director of the Sri Lanka board of investment. Larsen declined to comment for the story.

The Sri Lankan government is doing its best to attract overseas investors, especially from India, and has made the foreign direct investment
rules simple. For an Indian real estate company to build complexes, all it needs to invest is Rs 2 crore. Also, there is no lock-in period for the investors. They can cash out and repatriate the money to India anytime they want.

“We have carried out an extensive research in Sri Lanka and our research shows that the country has huge potential for the developers,” Omaxe chairman and MD Rohtas Goel told ET. But, the company is yet to finalise its plans.

Sri Lanka, with many plantations, beaches and a colonial past, could draw global hospitality and manufacturing companies. “Many multinationals could also enter the country which would again increase the demand for commercial and office space,” said Cushman & Wakefield executive director Kaustuv Roy.

But, some developers who suffered losses when the real estate market collapsed in the Middle East because of the global credit crisis, are cautious. “We have a huge exposure in Dubai,” a Mumbai-based developer said requesting anonymity.

“But, the properties are not selling, so we are trying to sell whatever we can and are exiting. We are saved just because we had huge margins, but now we are cautious and would wait for some other Indian developer to yield results in Sri Lanka,” the developer said.

© The Economic Times

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tamils shot by army after attempting to ‘escape’ from internment camp

Sri Lankan troops opened fire on dozens of Tamil civilians as they allegedly tried to escape from internment camps where they and 280,000 others have been held since the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels in May.

Police said that three of the civilians suffered gunshot wounds, but a pro-Tiger website put the number at six, and said that they had been out collecting firewood rather than attempting to escape.

The army said that the civilians had pelted soldiers with stones as they tried to break free from the Manik Farm camp in the northern district of Vavuniya on Saturday.

“The army fired in self defence,” said Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, an army spokesman. He said that 19 of the civilians had been arrested.

The incident is one of the first undisputed examples of the Sri Lankan Army firing on civilians in the camps. It highlights the controversial status of the camps, which the Government calls “welfare villages”, and appears to violate a pledge by the army not to shoot if prisoners tried to escape.

Brigadier S. Perera, who is in charge of the camps in Vavuniya, told reporters during a recent visit that guards would “tackle to the ground” anyone trying to escape instead of firing on them with live rounds.

It was impossible to contact people inside the camps or witnesses in the surrounding area as the Government has banned independent journalists from visiting except under tight supervision by the army.

A pro-Tiger website claimed that the guards opened fire on a group of prisoners who had gone to collect firewood in the area surrounding the camp. Tamilnet said that they were forced to hunt outside the camp because of a shortage of firewood, salt and other basic necessities.

The incident is likely to increase pressure on the Sri Lankan Government from human rights groups and Western countries to free the remaining prisoners in the camps.

Critics say that their detention is an illegal form of collective punishment and warn that imminent monsoon rains could create health crises in the low-lying and congested camps.

The Government says that it cannot release them all until it has finished screening them to weed out former Tigers and cleared mines and other unexploded ordnance from their villages.

President Rajapaksa promised a visiting UN envoy this month that they would all be allowed home by the end of January.

Repeated pledges to that effect have been undermined recently by revelations that of 10,000 prisoners recently released, many were transferred to other camps in their home districts for further screening.

Human Rights Watch, the US-based group, urged world leaders at the UN General Assembly and the G20 summit last week to press Sri Lanka to release everyone in the camps immediately.

“The civilians locked up in these detention camps have a right to liberty now, not when the Government gets around to it,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.

“Sadly, the Sri Lankan Government has a track record of lying, deceiving and breaking promises to civilians displaced by the conflict,” he said. “The UN, donors and bilateral partners should demand immediate, concrete progress and not let themselves be fooled again by empty Government promises.”

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about the fate of an estimated 10,000 former Tigers still being held in custody after the end of the 26-year Sri Lankan civil war, which claimed 80,000-100,000 lives.

The Government said yesterday that it was seeking advice from the United States on how to deal with the detained former Tigers.

Gamini Godakanda, spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said that Mohan Peiris, the Attorney-General, and the ministry secretary, Suhada Gamlath, had left for the US to study how it handled terrorist suspects.

They are expected to meet officials from the Pentagon, the State Department and the Justice Department, he said.

© Times Online

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sri Lanka plans special tribunals to try LTTE cadres

Sri Lanka plans to set up a Special Tribunal to try over 10,000 LTTE suspects who have been involved in various crimes and has even sought help from the US and UK in dealing with the former rebels.

“Our aim is to settle the cases against the LTTE cadres speedily as it could otherwise take years in the normal legal system in courts,” a top government official said.

More than 10,000 LTTE cadres are being held in various centres across Sri Lanka after the end of the 30-year-old civil war with the death of Velupillai Prabhakaran in May. The official said the Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms has mooted the proposal for a Special Tribunal for trying these cases and that it was under the consideration of the government.

He also said the Special Tribunals may be set up on the lines of the Special Commission set up to inquire into the JVP excesses in 1971. As part of the proposal, moves are on to classify the LTTE suspects into three groups namely, those involved in grave r crimes, those who could be rehabilitated and those not involved in grave crimes and can be released on conditional bail.

The country's Attorney General Mr Mohan Pereis and Justice Ministry Secretary Mr Suhada Gamlath will visit US and UK in this regard.

© Press Trust of India

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'Lankan Navy threatened to kill us' - Indian Fishermen

In what is a shocking story from Tamil Nadu, twenty-two fishermen from the Nagercoil area of Tamil Nadu allege Sri Lankan Navy assaulted and humiliated them. The fishermen who were fishing in the Kanniyaakumari seas were reported to have been brutally assaulted and cast naked in high seas by Sri Lanka Navy soldiers.

The incident occurred on Friday night. The soldiers beat the fishermen with ice blocks and threatened to open fire on them after they confiscated their clothes, fishing nets and outboard motors.

The ordeal of the fishermen ended when they were thrown into the sea. However, they managed to swim to safety.

After swimming in the rough seas for several hours, the fishermen were spotted by local fishermen off the Tamil Nadu coast and were rushed to the hospital on the mainland.

The Secretary of the Fishermen's Association said it was an ordeal that the fishermen have yet to recover from.

An associate said, "22 of us were made to sit and stripped naked. The Lankan Navy soldiers threatened to beat us with sticks if we did not remove our clothes. They also threatened us with guns."

According to a fisherman, "We went into the waters at 11 pm. 2 Lankan Navy boats surrounded our boats. They got onto our boats, stripped us and threw our clothes and all other equipments into the water."

Meanwhile, the government of Tamil Nadu has said the matter would be taken up with the Central government to ensure that this does not happen again.

DMK Spokesperson, TKS Elangovan, said, "Tamil Nadu government condemns this act. This is inhuman treatment meted out to our fishermen by the Lankan army. We have passed a resolution urging the UPA government to act immediately and stop this treatment."

© Timesnow.tv

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Lankan govt rubbishes Indian fishermen claims - Timesnow.tv

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