Saturday, October 17, 2009

Arrested journalist released!

Chief Editor of "Lanka Irida" Chandana Sirimalwatta, who was arrested by the CID on Saturday (17) afternoon for questioning was released around 10.30.p.m. According to the sources close to the newspaper, the CID had questioned Mr.Sirimalwatte over a headline suggesting a rift between the President and the former Army Commander.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

URGENT ALERT: "Lanka" Editor arrested in Colombo

A group claiming to be from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has arrested Chandana Sirimalwatta, the Chief Editor of the “Lanka Irida” newspaper, on Saturday (17) evening in Homagama, a suburb of Colombo. According to the initial reports coming from Colombo, Mr.Sirimalwatte, was arrested while he was at a playground, by a CID group led by SP Gajasingha, saying that he will be taken in for questioning.

Earlier on Friday (16) night, a CID group led by the same officer had raided the “Lanka Irida” office looking for Mr.Sirimalwatta, it was reported. He was asked to come to the office immediately by the group of CID officers for questioning, which he had refused on the grounds that such questioning should be done during the day time. The arrest of Mr.Sirimalwatta was reported within 24 hours from the above incident.

Please make urgent phone calls and send emails to:

The President of Sri Lanka - + 94 112447400/ email -

Secretary to the President - +94 112 2326309 / email -

Minister of Information Anura Yapa - + 94 0773 814470 (mobile) / +94 112596557 (Office)

(please send copies of your emails to

Executive Committee
Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

‘Lanka’ editor taken away by the CID

The Editor of the Sinhalese language weekly “Lanka” Chandana Sirmalwatte was arrested a short while ago over a headline suggesting a serious rift between President Mahinda Rajapakse and former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka, a spokesperson for the newspaper said yesterday.

Mr. Sirimalwatte was picked up by a team of CID officials accompanied by the Homagama police at a play ground in Homagama, the spokesperson said.

Director CID DIG Nandana Munasinghe told timesonline that investigators wish to know the source of information that amounted to this particular headline in the paper’s issue of October 16.

© Sunday Times Online

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

A gang claiming to be from CID breaks in to ‘Lanka Irida’

A gang claiming to be from the CID broke into the office of ‘Lanka Irida’ week end newspaper Friday at about 9.30 p.m. states Chief editor of the newspaper Chandana Sirimalwatta.

According to Mr. Sirimalwatta the gang of four was headed by a person calling himself Superintendent of Police Gajasinghe. Even though no outsiders are allowed to come into the ‘Lanka Irida’ office, this gang had threatened the security officers and entered the office.

They had told the ‘Lanka’ staff that they wanted to question the chief editor. However, Mr. Sirimalwatta had been away and Gajasinghe had telephoned Mr. Sirimalwatta and ordered him to come to the office immediately. Mr. Sirimalwatta had rejected the order saying if they wanted to question him to come during the day.

The gang had left the office then.

© Lanka Truth

Related Links:
Fonseka reporting triggers TID raid on JVP paper - TamilNet

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sri Lankan Refugees: Victims or Pawns?

by J.Sri Raman - They form the single biggest mass of refugees today, and they face an uncertain fate as a factor in a geopolitical game involving two Asian giants and allied players. For the about 400,000 fugitives from tiny Sri Lanka's Tamil-speaking areas of less than 18,000 square kilometers together, the outlook has only become more unsettling over the past few weeks.

The tide of Tamil refugees from the island-state's northern and eastern provinces represents a twin issue. About 100,000 of them are inmates of rather inhospitable refugee camps in India's southern State of Tamilnadu. They have been languishing there for varying lengths of time, with the influx starting way back in 1984. The population in the camps includes a generation of Sri Lankan Tamils who have known no home but India but are not made to feel quite at home in the country.

The rest - as many as 300,000 - have been held in camps behind barbed wires as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the war-ravaged parts of Sri Lanka for five months since Colombo declared total victory over Tamil rebels seeking a separate state. The inmates have been told to be prepared to stay put for a period of one to three years. The population of these camps consists of divided families, with mothers looking for separated children and women for lost husbands.

The plight of these uprooted people of both categories poses a humanitarian problem of huge proportions. That, however, would not appear to be how it is viewed in quarters which matter in India and could make a difference in the increasing distress of the displaced. New Delhi is under pressure to look upon the tragedy, if not as a trump card, at least as a useful lever in the Indian Ocean region where its influence is seen to be under threat from China with Pakistan in tow.

The debate rages in the media over the role India should play in this perspective, even as the refugees await an aggravation of their conditions in the camps. The north-eastern monsoon, which brings most of the rains for this region for about three months until December, is round the corner. The wet season threatens to prove a time of terrible woes, particularly for the IDPs in their tarpaulin tents in overcrowded camps.

The United Nations spokesperson in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss, makes no effort to put it elegantly. Says he: "Unless people are moved from these areas, ... an inundation of water ... will make it impossible to live.... The latrines will overflow, water supplies will be unusable and access by wheeled vehicles impossible. It will be pretty unbearable." More intolerable to some security analysts will be India's failure to use this fresh opportunity to counter the influence of China and allies allowed to grow in its own backyard over the past two decades.

India has had its share of refugee problems, but the spillover from Sri Lanka's civil war falls into a special category. The most politicized of the problems has been Bangladeshi immigrants, estimated at 10 million (against the country's population of about 1.15 billion). India's far right has always called them "infiltrators" and sought to fuel pseudo-religious hatred against them as Islamist fifth columnists. But this has remained an internal political issue, with rather poor returns for its inventors.

China figured once in the issue of Tibetan refugees, too, but it bears no comparison to the problem of their Sri Lankan counterparts. The island's refugees enjoy a measure of ethnic solidarity in Tamilnadu, and their cause has a certain constituency there. The State's ruling party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Party for Dravidian Progress) or the DMK, cannot ignore the issue. And the DMK is an important part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition in New Delhi, headed by his Congress Party.

Pressures of local politics have prompted the DMK-led State government recently to press for citizenship for the refugees in the camps under its less-than-adequate care. The demand has elicited opposition charges that it is designed to help the Sri Lankan government by keeping the refugees from returning to their homeland. New Delhi has not yet revealed its response to the demand. Nor is it known whether it is listening to lectures from experts about the role it should play in postwar Sri Lanka.

B. Raman, a security analyst formerly associated with India's external intelligence agency, for example, writes: "The time has come for India to once again play an activist role ... India should assume the leadership role in helping Sri Lanka in its relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction tasks." Spelling out India's "strategic interest" in the island, he says: "... the Sri Lankan Government has been cultivating China and Pakistan to keep India in check. It has good political and economic relations with China. It has invited China to construct a modern port in Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka. It has invited the Chinese to help it in gas exploration in areas which are closet to India. Similarly, there is a growing military-military relationship between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, which worries India."

Raman and others see the strategic conflict in Sri Lanka as part of a wider power struggle in South Asia. China, they say, has developed strategic assets like the Gwadar port in Pakistan, besides the Hambantota port. Sri Lanka, they note, sits next to shipping lanes that feed 80 percent of China's and 65 percent of India's oil needs.

Another strategic expert, Brahma Chellaney, says that "Beijing provided Colombo not only the weapon systems that decisively tilted the military balance in its favor, but also the diplomatic cover to prosecute the war in defiance of international calls to cease offensive operations to help stanch rising civilian casualties." He adds: "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."

Chellaney also wants India to intervene in the issue of refugee rehabilitation. But he, too, links this to the larger strategic objective of replacing China in Colombo's affections. If the end influences the means, the refugees must realistically curtail their expectations of India's intervention on their behalf.

A delegation of Indian members of Parliament from the Congress Party and the DMK has returned on October 14 after a five-day visit to Sri Lanka and the IDP camps. The delegation is claimed to have asked for an early release of the refugees from the camp so that they can return home. Earlier, Colombo had argued that it needed to screen the IDPs to "weed out" former Tamil militants. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, however, reportedly told the delegation that the inmates could not be released before the entire region was de-mined.

According to official figures, 10,593 people had returned to their homes and another 22,668 had been released from the camps. The vast majority, thus, continues to live in conditions of internment.

Hope for the refugees has not been heightened, meanwhile, with the announcement on October 14 that Sri Lanka will hold both its presidential and parliamentary elections before April 2010, two years ahead of schedule. The president is taking the plunge to cash in politically on the military victory over the Tamil rebels.

Rajapaksa, say observers, hopes to reap a two-thirds parliamentary majority that would enable him to change the country's constitution. The speculation is that the statute will be amended to give him more than two successive presidential terms. Few expect him to undertake the exercise in order to make Sri Lanka more federal and find a political solution to the ethnic problem. Fewer still expect his electoral victory to spell early relief for the refugees.

© Truth Out

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Case against journalist: CID says all reports given

By Ananda Weerasinghe - CID yesterday informed the Mt. Lavinia Court that a final report had been forwarded to the Attorney General with regard to the demand for a ransom of five million rupees for not publishing a news report on Minister Mano Wijeratne by Arthur Wamanan, the Sunday Leader journalist.

CID informed court when the case was called yesterday (16) before the Chief Magistrate.

Investigations had followed a complaint made to the Wellawatte Police by Minister Mano Wijeratne that the journalist Arthur Wamanan on or around 21.10.2007 informed him that a sum of five million rupees was required for not publishing a news item regarding the minister in the Leader newspaper.

On the orders by the CID, investigations were held, and Arthur Wamanan was taken into custody and released on bail.

When the case was called yesterday, CID informed court that all reports had been submitted to the Attorney General pending prosecution instructions.

Magistrate postponed the trial for January 15, 2010.

© Daily Mirror

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

EU probe slams Sri Lanka on human rights

By Darren Ennis - A European Union probe has found Sri Lanka in breach of international human rights laws, meaning the South Asian country is likely to lose concessions worth over $100 million for its top exports to Europe, EU sources said.

Brussels is expected to publish on Monday the findings of its investigation into Sri Lanka launched a year ago to probe allegations of human rights violations and torture, stemming from a 25-year war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

"The assessment report says Sri Lanka does not fulfil the requirements of GSP plus," one EU source said on Friday in reference to the system of preferential tariffs for the world's poorest countries.

"The evidence is very clear that Sri Lanka does not fulfil the basic human rights conditions of GSP plus," the source said, citing the report.

Brussels has consistently warned Sri Lanka it must meet 27 international human rights conventions to retain its Generalised System of Preference Plus trade scheme.

"GSP plus is not an instrument used for short-term political crisis, but is meant to provide long-term stability," a European Commission official said.

"This is not a trade sanction. There are rules for GSP plus and if you break the rules, then unfortunately there are consequences. They will keep basic GSP either way."

Colombo came under heavy pressure from Western nations, including those in Europe with large Tamil populations, because of civilian deaths in the final phase of the war against the Tigers, which ended with the separatists' defeat in May.

Last year, the government said it would not cooperate with the European Union's investigation nor allow investigators to come to the island nation.

EU sources said the report shows evidence of police violence, torture and breaches of labour laws, notably the use of underage children.


In 2008, the European Union was Sri Lanka's largest export market, accounting for 36 percent of all exports, followed by the United States with 24 percent.

Suspending the preferential tariffs -- which can go as low as zero -- would hit Sri Lanka's lucrative textile industry hard.

Garments netted the country a record $3.47 billion from EU markets last year, and were the country's top source of foreign exchange, followed by remittances of $3 billion and tea exports of $1.2 billion.

Many fear the loss of the trade terms would force job cuts from a workforce of a million people, most from poor rural areas.

Major European importers, notably large British retailers such as Marks & Spencer, are concerned about possible increases in the cost of importing from one of their major hubs in the midst of the worst economic downturn in decades.

Monday's report will be discussed by the EU's executive European Commission -- which oversees trade policy for the 27-nation bloc -- who must then decide by the end of November whether to propose to member states to temporarily suspend Sri Lanka's GSP plus status.

Any decision would take effect six months from the vote by EU member states.

"It would most likely take effect around June next year," a Commission official said.

© Reuters

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Legacy of Abuse in Sri Lanka

Anna Neistat - For several months during and after the end-game of the decades-long civil war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka's government brushed off Western criticism of its abusive practices. It has relied instead on moral and financial support from states less concerned with such matters, such as China and Pakistan. Countries with similar problems and equally questionable human rights records are paying close attention — has Sri Lanka discovered the magic formula for brazenly ignoring meddlesome Western countries and getting away with it?

Sri Lanka's policy of complete dismissal was initially successful. But now the government seems to have discovered that ignoring the strongly held opinions of powerful Western partners has consequences that might not be in the long-term interest of the country or its ruling elite after all.

Atrocities and Cover-up

On May 19, 2009, the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the LTTE. This marked an end to a 26-year-long civil war that killed tens of thousands of people. Human Rights Watch's continuous research in the country established that during the final phase of the conflict, both the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) and the LTTE repeatedly violated the laws of war, causing numerous civilian casualties.

Forced to retreat by SLA offensive operations, the LTTE drove civilians into a narrow strip of land on the northeastern coast of Sri Lanka. They effectively used several hundred thousand people as human shields. On at least several occasions, the Tamil Tigers shot at those trying to flee to government-held territory. LTTE forces also deployed near densely populated areas, placing civilians in greater danger from government attacks. As the fighting intensified, the LTTE stepped up its practice of forcibly recruiting civilians, including children, into its ranks and into hazardous forced labor on the battlefield.

The government, in turn, used the LTTE's grim practices to justify its own atrocities. Sri Lankan forces repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled areas densely populated with civilians, sometimes using area weapons incapable of distinguishing between civilians and combatants. As the LTTE-controlled area shrank, the government unilaterally declared "no-fire zones" or "safe zones" on three different occasions, telling civilians to seek shelter there. Nevertheless, government forces continued attacking these areas. In blatant disregard of the laws of war, government forces also fired artillery that directly struck or landed near hospitals on at least 30 occasions.

Sri Lanka claimed that in the last days of the war, it carried out "the largest hostage-rescue operation" that liberated thousands of Tamils from the oppressive rule of the LTTE. Yet in reality, to this day the "rescued" Tamil population has seen neither freedom nor relief. From March 2008 until the present, the government has confined virtually all civilians displaced by the war in military-controlled detention camps, euphemistically called "welfare centers." In violation of international law, the government denied the displaced their rights to liberty and freedom of movement. The camp residents are kept in the dark regarding their own future and the fate of their missing relatives. More than four months after the end of hostilities, the government continues to hold more than 250,000 civilians in illegal detention.

The full extent of the crimes committed by both sides to the conflict is still unknown. The Sri Lankan government spared no effort to prevent independent coverage of its military operations and the plight of displaced civilians. It has kept out both international and local media as well as human rights organizations, has made sure that witnesses to its abuses are securely locked up in camps, and has harassed and persecuted those who dared to speak out — doctors, activists and journalists. It has even deported outspoken UN officials.

Turning East

Despite mounting evidence of abuses in Sri Lanka, the response from Western countries was initially weak, though eventually several governments, including the United States, the United Kingdom and France, raised their voices. They strongly condemned indiscriminate attacks and urged a humanitarian corridor for civilians trapped in the war zone. After the war, they called for an independent investigation and continued to advocate against indefinite detention of the displaced. In a show of disapproval of Sri Lanka's human rights violations, these countries, along with Germany and Argentina, also made the unprecedented move of abstaining from the vote on the International Monetary Fund's $2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka. The loan, delayed for several months because of these concerns, was eventually approved in July 2009. But each quarterly installment will need a separate vote of approval by the IMF's board of governors.

The Sri Lankan government, however, gambled on the idea that no matter how upset the West may be, nobody would judge the "winners." It dismissed all criticism out of hand. It attacked Western governments for their own human rights practices, calling the pleas for civilian protection "hypocrisy and sanctimony." And it accused critical governments and international institutions of being LTTE sympathizers.

Sri Lanka's confidence in the face of criticism was also boosted by a gradual re-orientation of its foreign policy toward the East. According to some defense experts, Chinese military ordnance was decisive in the final stages of the war against the LTTE. Pakistan has boosted its annual military assistance loans to Sri Lanka to nearly $100 million. Iran granted $450 million for a hydropower project and provided a seven-month credit facility so that Sri Lanka's entire crude oil requirement could be sourced from there; it also reportedly provided low-interest credit so that Sri Lanka could purchase military equipment from Pakistan and China. Libya pledged $500 million as a financial co-operation package for development projects. Even Burma donated $50,000 to the Sri Lankan government.

In addition to substantial financial support, Sri Lanka's new friends also stood up to defend Sri Lanka against accountability at the UN Security Council. In the Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka received wholehearted support from countries like Cuba, Pakistan, Venezuela, Iran, and others who ensured the adoption of a deeply flawed resolution that largely commended the Sri Lankan government for its current policies. In June, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — an intergovernmental mutual-security organization founded by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan — granted Sri Lanka the status of Dialogue Partner.

While the support for Sri Lanka was largely driven by each country's political and economic motives, some common factors were also clearly in play — an effort to counterbalance India's influence in the region (in the case of China and Pakistan), similar problems with separatist groups and abusive counterinsurgency campaigns, and an overall tendency to jointly oppose Western criticism and challenge Western domination in the international arena.

Reality Bites

Sri Lanka's hardnosed response to its Western critics may have worked in the short term but it may not be, after all, sustainable.

The first reality check came with the European Union's threat to withdraw significant trading privileges granted to Sri Lanka under a trading scheme called the Generalized System of Preferences plus (GSP+). Since 2005, the privileges allowed Sri Lanka to export goods and products duty-free to EU countries. According to an EU estimate, the agreement was worth €900 million and employment of over 100,000 people in the apparel sector in Sri Lanka.

In September this year, the EU presented the Sri Lankan government with the results of a year-long investigation of Sri Lanka's compliance with human rights requirements for continued GSP+ status. The Sri Lankan government refused to cooperate with the investigation. However, upon realizing that the threat of withdrawal was real and could become politically costly if the government calls early presidential elections, authorities launched an aggressive campaign, spearheaded by a president-appointed ministerial task force, to ensure the continuation of the trade concessions. Through it all, the government insisted at home that it wouldn't bend under Western pressure.

In the meantime, the U.S. State Department has been preparing a congressionally mandated investigative report into allegations of war crimes committed by both sides during the final phase of the conflict. Around September 21, when the investigation was due to be presented in Congress, pro-government Sri Lankan media published dismissals of the report, saying that it was based on hearsay and "violates Sri Lanka's rights and sovereignty." The critics admitted they hadn't seen the text — which wasn't surprising, given that the presentation of the report had been postponed and the whole campaign proved to be a false start. It did indicate, however, how anxious Sri Lanka is about the report's possible conclusions. Some of the top officials must be particularly concerned about being accused of war crimes by a country where they hold citizenship or permanent residency status.

Sri Lanka's nervousness about its international standing has not yet triggered any significant improvement on human rights matters, and there is no indication that the government is genuinely rethinking its policies. The changing discourse, however, implies that the government may be more susceptible to pressure than the international community previously believed. And the international community should use this moment to ensure progress on some of the burning human rights issues — freedom for thousands of displaced Tamil civilians, the end of persecution of journalists and civil society activists, and accountability for violations committed during the conflict.

In addition to pushing publicly and privately for the release of the displaced, the United States has a particularly important role to play on the issue of accountability. It should use its influence at the UN to help launch an international independent investigation into violations of humanitarian law. Washington should also make clear that future development aid to Colombo will depend on concrete progress on these key issues. Abstaining from the vote on the second tranche of Sri Lanka's IMF loan would be an appropriate way to convey the message.

Foreign Policy In Focus contributor Anna Neistat is a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch's emergencies division and is a specialist in humanitarian crises.

© Foreign Policy In Focus

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

“We’re ready to give further aid to Sri Lanka” says India

B. Muralidhar Reddy - India on Thursday expressed its readiness to provide further humanitarian assistance, on the request of Colombo, for the welfare of nearly 2.5 lakh war-displaced people housed in the refugee camps of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.

The assurance was conveyed by visiting Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama in a meeting on the sidelines of the 8th Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) Ministerial Meeting here.

Ms. Kaur told Mr. Bogollogama that New Delhi was aware of the difficulties faced in the de-mining and resettlement process and is ready to discuss the possibility of increasing assistance to Sri Lanka.

She referred to the offer of assistance for rebuilding the Duraiappa Stadium and establishing a cultural centre in Jaffna. Mr. Bogollogama said that though de-mining work carried out by the Sri Lanka Army and the Indian de-mining teams was progressing expeditiously, more assistance was required to complete the process.
IDP resettlement

India is already committed to give Rs.500 crore to meet requirements for the welfare and resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Mr. Bogollogama told Ms. Kaur that from the perspective of his Government, everything possible was being done to improve conditions in the IDP welfare villages. He briefed her on the Sri Lankan Government’s initiatives in resettling the IDPs and explained the difficulties encountered in the progress.

Sri Lanka, as Chair of the 8th Ministerial Meeting, convened the Coordinating Group Consultations of the ACD to discuss matters pertaining to the 8th ACD Ministerial Meeting.

A statement by the Foreign Ministry said the Group Consultations highlighted, among others, the need to renew the mandate of the High Level Study Group — comprising representatives of all 31 member states — to review the progress of projects under the identified 20 areas of cooperation, such as Poverty Alleviation, Environment Education, E-education, Energy, Small and Medium Enterprises, Information Technology, etc, and to strengthen cooperation to facilitate the clusters of Trade, Tourism and Transport.

In his key-note address at the meeting, Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajpaksa again assured the international community of his Government’s commitment to a speedy resettlement of the war-affected displaced Tamil civilians. However, he said that de-mining activity may take some time.

Mr. Rajapaksa told the delegates that the military defeat of the LTTE was achieved mainly through Sri Lanka’s own efforts, and that Asia can rebuild itself through greater reliance on its own people. He added that Asian economies are facing hardships caused by others who should share the burdens of recovery.
Postal services resume

Meanwhile, postal transportation to Jaffna via a land route recommenced on Thursday and mail bags will be sent up to Vavuniya by train. “These would be taken to Jaffna on the A-9 route by a Sri Lanka Transport Board bus from Vavuniya,” said Post Master M.K.B. Dissanayake.

The Government is in the process of normalising the public administration system in the north to cater to the public. “Public affairs in the north were hindered as a result of LTTE terrorism over the past three decades,” a Government statement said.

Further, a programme to register the marriages of internally displaced couples living in the welfare villages of Vavuniya has been launched.
Marriage registration

Under the programme by the Equal Access to Justice Project of the United Nations Development Programme, with the guidance of the Uthuru Wasanthaya Task Force, 27 couples in the Zone Kadirgamar Nagar welfare village who had not registered their marriages exchanged vows and received marriage certificates.

“The majority of them had been prevented from entering into wedlock due to the LTTE’s ban on marriage in 2008. The documentation process relevant to marriage registration done with the participation of Ananthi Jeyarathnam, Assistant Registrar-General of Vavuniya, was accompanied by Hindu and Catholic customary marriage ceremonies providing couples the opportunity to solemnise their marriages,” the Government said.

© The Hindu

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