Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Sunday Leader editors threatened with death

Once again editors at The Sunday Leader are under threat. Last Thursday, October 22, Frederica Jansz, Editor-in-Chief of this newspaper and Munza Mushtaq, News Editor were both sent two hand written death threats by post.

The two letters are identical — written in red ink and appear to have been posted on October 21, 2009. Coincidentally, the late Lasantha Wickrematunge, founder Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Leader was sent a similar missive — also written in red ink — in December last year, three weeks before he was murdered.

This newspaper has consistently in the entire 15 years of its existence come under attack. We have been burnt, bombed, sealed, harassed and threatened, culminating in January this year with the brutal killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Not satisfied with that assassination, The Sunday Leader has continued to come under attack. In May this year, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa brought a fresh case against the newspaper and its Editor, Frederica Jansz alleging we were in contempt of an ongoing case in court for having carried a profile on him days after he won the war.

Barely two weeks later after we were asked to show cause in Court, five lawyers who appeared for The Sunday Leader in this case of contempt of court were branded ‘traitors’ by the government’s very own Defence Ministry web site.

This was followed by another article also posted on the Defence Ministry web site by none other that the Defence Secretary himself Gotabaya Rajapaksa where he reiterated the position of the previous article on the Defence Ministry web site going a step further and accusing the five lawyers appearing for The Sunday Leader as running “to their Nanny” the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa’s defensive and angry rebuttal followed the BASL and the International Bar Association having issued statements on the incident condemning the actions of the Defence Ministry.

Thereafter, continuing this war against The Sunday Leader, in September, the web page of the Media Centre for National Security carried a slanderous article refuting certain statements made to al Jazeera by Frederica Jansz in relation to the infamous Channel 4 video. The article went so far as to even carry terminology such as “prostituting and prostitute.”

This was despite Frederica Jansz having clearly in her interview to al Jazeera stated that Channel 4 – UK should never have aired the controversial video unless and until it had checked the authenticity of the images.

However, to the credit of Director, Media Centre for National Security, Lakshman Hulugalle no sooner Frederica informed him of the scurrilous article he had it removed from the web site. Interestingly, though he told Frederica at the time she informed him of the article in question that he had absolutely no knowledge it was even on the site and she had to in fact walk him through the motions to even find it. The Media Centre for National Security functions under the purview of the Defence Ministry.

Last week’s death threat to both Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushtaq appears to follow a similar pattern. The Sunday Leader last week on October 18, carried a front page news item which said that in a controversial turn of events, a United States company specialising in forensic services has in a preliminary report maintained that no tampering or editing was carried out in either the video or audio portions of the controversial Channel 4 video clip which showed a man in Sri Lankan military uniform executing civilians. Our story merely reported extracts from the report as well as quoted Minister Keheliya Rambukwella who we spoke to in relation to its contents.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. The journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

© The Sunday Leader

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Publication of false reports using senior Army Officers’ Identities could be punished – military spokesman

It has been observed that certain individuals who intend to engage in political work continue to use names of serving senior Army Officers for baseless reports in some print media and websites, said Military Spokesman Brigadier V.U.B. Nanayakkara in a press release.

Section 120 Penal Code and Gazette Extraordinary of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and also in the Army Act and the Emergency Regulations states:

“Whoever by words, either spoken or intended to be read, or by sign; or by visible representations, or otherwise, excites or attempts to excite feelings of disaffection to the President or to the Government of the Republic, or excites or attempts to excite hatred to or contempt of the administration of justice, or excites or attempts to excite the People of Sri Lanka to procure, otherwise than by lawful means, the alteration of any matter by law established or attempts to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the People of Sri Lanka, or to promote feelings of ill – will and hostility between different classes of such People, shall be punished.”

Officers serving the Army are completely barred from political work and use of their names for personal political gains and agendas for such wrong reports is therefore illegal and liable for prosecution. The Government reiterates that those failing to do so are liable for prosecution.

The Defence Secretary has instructed the Police and the authorities to take action with immediate effect. Hence, publication of such false reports using names of those officers should be stopped forthwith

© Lanka Puwath

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

European parliament raps Sri Lanka government on Tamil civilians' condition

Click here to read the complete resolution

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Sri Lanka on Oct 22 deploring the fact "that over 250,000 Tamil civilians are still held in camps, contrary to undertakings given by the Colombo government."

The resolution asked that their return be organized and that humanitarian organizations be given free access to the camps in order to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance.

European lawmakers in the statement called “on the Sri Lankan authorities to grant humanitarian organizations free access to the camps in order to provide those detained with the necessary humanitarian assistance, particularly with the imminent arrival of monsoon rains in the north of the country.”

Welcoming the introduction of “the Victim and Witness Assistance and Protection Bill, which is currently at second reading in the Sri Lankan Parliament,” the resolution asked the government to respect human rights in the conduct of trials of LTTE members.

The resolution insisted that Sri Lankan Government is “under an obligation to apply international human right standards in judicial proceedings against members of the LTTE.”

The pan-European assembly urged Sri Lankan government to "stop the repression of the media under anti-terrorist legislation and to allow freedom of the press; and calls on it, now that the conflict has ended, to review its anti-terrorist legislation and to ensure that all alleged violations of media freedom are the subject of full, open and transparent investigations”

The European parliament asked the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU to “sponsor additional support for urgent mine-clearance work in Sri Lanka,” while asking Colombo to “take the very positive step of acceding to the Ottawa Treaty (Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction).”

Moreover, the lawmakers called on Tamil leaders to commit themselves to a political settlement and renounce terrorism and violence once and for all.


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Sunday, October 25, 2009

UN rights office backs Sri Lanka war probe

The office of the UN human rights chief renewed its call Friday for a probe into alleged war crimes committed by Sri Lankan troops and Tamil rebels during the final stages of the country's civil war.

"We still believe that something like the Gaza fact-finding mission is certainly warranted given the widespread concerns about the conduct of the war in Sri Lanka," said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

Colville was referring to the controversial probe by former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone into the recent conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Goldstone's fact-finding mission was set up by a vote in the 47 member state UN Human Rights Council, which has so far not taken up the Sri Lankan issue.

The United States on Thursday urged Sri Lanka to probe allegations of war crimes committed by government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels towards the of their decades-old conflict earlier this year.

The call followed publication of a US State Department report that contained claims of atrocities committed by both sides.

Colville underlined that the US report did not constitute the necessary full inquiry but he acknowledged that it "catalogues in quite some detail specific events that have been reported."

"It seems that more clarity is likely to emerge about who did what to whom and whether or not war crimes and crimes against humanity and other very serious war crimes were committed by one or both sides," he added.

The UN human rights office also urged the Sri Lankan government to honour pledges that it would allow displaced Tamils out of government-run camps and seek to reduce discrimination against the Tamil minority.

"The issue of some 240,000 - 250,000 displaced people living in what are in effect internment camps continues to be of great concern," said Colville.

"We hope the government takes serious actions to fulfill these commitments in the very near future," he added.

Sri Lanka's ultra-nationalist government has so far rejected calls for a war crimes probe.


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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tamils herded into disease-ridden camps seek any escape

Drew Warne-Smith - When Muthu Kumaran returned to Sri Lanka in February 2007, he had hoped, even expected, that his Tamil people were about to win independence.

An Australian citizen and civil engineer, he wanted to be there when a Tamil state was established, freed from majority Sinhalese rule, and he wanted to lend his expertise in water management, too.

Instead, the father of two from Sydney's west would endure the brutal reality of the Sri Lankan government's final push to wipe out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the militant Tamil Tigers.

Kumaran was not only swept up in the renewed hostilities of a 25-year civil war, he was also detained in one of the notorious internment camps that are still home to nearly 300,000 Tamils.

He returned to Australia in the first week of August this year, having managed to buy his way out of the largest military-run camp in Sri Lanka, at Manik Farm. And with so many Tamils still detained in their homeland, and the Rudd government wrestling with how best to cope with those who have escaped and are seeking asylum in Australia, Kumaran has decided to speak out about his experience and the plight of his people.

"People need to know, the international community needs to know, what it is happening in Sri Lanka," Kumaran tells Focus.

"The US, Britain, Australia, they talk about democracy and human rights. Well, they cannot keep their eyes closed to these things."

Fearing retribution here in Australia as well as for his extended family in Sri Lanka, Kumaran - not his real name - has requested his identity not be revealed. Having first left Sri Lanka 35 years ago, Kumaran had planned on staying for an extended period when he returned in early 2007, perhaps to retire there eventually. Basing himself in the northern city Kilinochchi, the de facto Tamil capital, he initially worked alongside non-government organisations Oxfam, Solidar, Forut and ZOA on water sanitation issues, as well as helping set up livelihood projects: teaching women how to dry banana leaves and make baskets for sale and setting up street stalls. He also taught English in schools.

However, in January last year the Sri Lankan government withdrew from a ceasefire arrangement with the LTTE and the military began moving north into Tigers-held terrain in a bid to wipe them out. By December Kilinochchi was being targeted in bombing raids and Kumaran had to flee with more than 100,000 residents.

The Sri Lankan government directed Tamils to evacuate to a designated safe zone at Visuwamadu about 10km away. For the next 5 1/2 months Kumaran remained on the road, herded south through seven safe zones alongside hundreds of thousands of other banished Tamils known as internally displaced persons, or IDPs.

At each stop, an impromptu camp would be established in the belting heat, tents erected, bunkers, ground wells and toilets dug out, hospitals set up. Then a few days later the bombs would resume and this mass of humanity would move again, the numbers swelling all the time.

"The roads would be chock-a-block. Lorries, tractors, bullock carts, pick-ups, motorbikes, push-cycles, people walking, everyone carrying bags. There were young children, pregnant ladies, babies, people on stretchers, you've never seen anything like it," he says.

Kumaran also says they regularly came under fire along the way from bombs dropped by the Sri Lankan air force, rockets from naval ships, long-distance shelling and rifle rounds from the jungle bordering the roadside. He says he saw people killed and many injured. He ferried the bodies, dead and alive, to the nearest hospital or cemetery in a four-wheel drive.

"Twice my pick-up got hit, but luckily not me. I think maybe I saw a dozen people killed, maybe another 20 injured, right in front of me," he says.

By the time he left Mullivaikal in the second week of May, Kumaran was on foot, as were almost all the 300,000 Tamils, his possessions reduced to just a plastic shopping bag containing clothes and his Australian passport.

Thirty-six hours later they came to a military screening point at Vavuniya, where everyone was frisked for weapons and directed to school grounds. There, the sprawling crowd was ordered to divide into two groups: those who were associated with the LTTE and those who were not. "We were told if we were LTTE, to declare it and there would be an amnesty. But they said, 'We know you, if we find out you have lied, you will be severely punished,"' Kumaran recalls.

He joined the non-Tigers. They were then ordered on to buses and driven six hours to an area called Chettikulam, and a large swath of cleared jungle off the Vavuniya-Mannar Road. He had come to the Manik Farm internment camp. Kumaran describes the camp as a series of blocks, separated from each other by a road and strip of jungle. The facility was ringed by razor wire and guarded by armed troops.

He estimates about 2500 people were held on each block, housed in 160 tents, with 16 people to each 4mx4m tent. Each block also had a community kitchen, a medical facility and four toilets each for men and women.

Conditions were primitive at best, Kumaran says. There were no plates or utensils, so meals of dhal curry and rice were eaten off plastic bags that were reused each day. Water was limited to two 1000-litre tanks a block. Disease was everywhere.

"I volunteered to be a translator for the Sinhalese doctors at the hospital. There was a lot of typhoid, chicken pox, fever, diarrhoea, malnutrition. People had large rashes because of the lack of bathing facilities, too," Kumaran says.

"Our block, four people died while I was there, and another elderly gentleman hanged himself."

In all, he would be there for eight days. In that time he wrote to the Australian High Commissioner and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Colombo about his detention, letters a camp official agreed to send.

But before he heard back, Kumaran says he discovered via "the bush telegraph" he could buy his freedom. He is reticent to reveal details of his escape or how much he paid, but he says he approached a local worker on his block who smuggled him out late at night two days later, hiding him in the back of a van. He presumes the camp guards knew what was happening. "The guards stopped us, but they didn't question (the driver) very much and they let us go," he says.

They were driven to another location, where they waited until the money was transferred into the required bank account.

But it would be another six weeks before he flew out of Colombo.

He lost 25kg during his ordeal, so much that airport officials were concerned he did not resemble his passport photo and it was arranged for Australian embassy officials to meet him in Bangkok to double-check his identity.

But Kumaran says there was no pleasure, or even relief, in setting foot in Sydney in early August. Instead he felt an overwhelming sense of guilt.

"As soon as I was in the air leaving Colombo, it was a bad feeling. My heart is still there," he says, tears welling in his eyes. "So many people made sacrifices, and yet still people are behind barbed wire, queuing to use the toilet and for food. They are not free. And I am here."

Perversely, however, Kumaran believes the turmoil of past year, including the defeat of LTTE, may bring an independent Tamil state closer to reality. The Sri Lankan government's treatment of the IDPs demonstrates that the Sinhalese and Tamils cannot live peacefully side by side, he says.

"It will happen. I am confident still," Kumaran says. "Maybe they have done us a favour. They have created a bigger problem by what they have done and it will force the world to act. And they have only strengthened Tamil nationalism. They have not killed it."

© The Australian

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Media freedom before GSP Plus: Media groups tell Govt.

Five media rights groups yesterday called on the government to take immediate steps to ensure media freedom and respond positively to other issues raised by the European Union (EU) as a prerequisite for retaining the GSP + preferential trade facility.

In a statement, the five media groups said they wished to draw the attention of the people of the country to the fact that the EU has along with several other issues raised its concern regarding media freedom in the country as well as laws that impede media freedom and threats to media personnel. The EU has said this would figure prominently when the EU decides on November 7 whether to extend the GSP facility or withdraw it.

“If the GSP facility is lost, the garment sector in the country could effectively collapse and in turn thousands of people will be economically deprived. If such a situation takes place, we say the government will be held responsible for their predicament.”

The five media organisations that signed the statement are: the Free Media Movement, the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance, the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association.

© Sunday Times

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

US war crimes report adds to pressure on Sri Lanka

MATT WADE - Thousands of Tamil refugees held in camps since May have been released amid growing international pressure on the Sri Lankan Government over its human rights record.

About 5700 refugees left the huge camp at Menik Farm, in the country's north, on Thursday to be resettled, the Government said. A further 36,000 were due to leave the camps and be resettled "over the coming weeks''.

The Government's final victory over the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, and its subsequent treatment of Tamil refugees, has been under intense international scrutiny, with government forces and the rebels accused of indiscriminate shelling of civilians.

On Thursday, the US State Department released a report of possible war crimes committed during the final months of the civil war, citing actions by government forces and the Tigers between January and May 2009.

Internal US embassy reports from Colombo, satellite images and information from relief agencies and media were used to compile the report. The report included harm to civilians caught up in conflict, killing of captured combatants and disappearances "which may constitute violations of international humanitarian law or crimes against humanity and related harms".

The Government has vehemently rejected the report, saying the allegations against it were "unsubstantiated and devoid of corroborative evidence".

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that vested interests wanted to "fan the flames of secessionism" and undermine the Government's rehabilitation and reconciliation efforts.

The US State Department's ambassador at large for war crimes issues, Stephen Rapp, told The Washington Post: ''We are calling on the Government, as part of the reconciliation process, to develop an accountability process …''

Sri Lankan authorities insisted they could conduct a credible internal investigation into alleged abuses, Mr Rapp said. ''We are going to take them at their word and follow that process.''

The 68-page US report does not reach a conclusion on whether the incidents add up to violations of international law.

''We wanted to lay out all of these credible allegations of human rights violations,'' a US State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, said in Washington. ''The report doesn't attempt to verify all the claims, but we believe that the claims, which are based mostly on reporting, are credible.''

In New York, Human Rights Watch said the report showed the need for an independent international investigation.

"The US State Department report should dispel any doubts that serious abuses were committed during the conflict's final months," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Given Sri Lanka's failure to investigate possible war crimes, the only hope for justice is an independent, international investigation."

Since the end of the bloody civil war in May, more than 250,000 mostly Tamil refugees have been held in the guarded camps, mostly at Menik Farm, near the town of Vavuniya.

The Government has been criticised for slow progress in resettling the displaced people and for restricting their movement for so long. Before Thursday only about 15,000 people had been released from the camp.

© Sydney Morning Herald

Related Links:
Reports Press Sri Lanka on Possible War Atrocities - The New York Times
US: 170 alleged ‘war crimes’ between May 2 and 18 - Sunday Times

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sri Lanka faces fuel shortage in oil union protest

Long lines have formed at gas stations in Sri Lanka's capital as workers of the state-owned oil corporation continue a strike to push for a pay increase.

The four-day strike has paralyzed fuel distribution in the capital, Colombo, but authorities say panic buying has aggravated the situation. The strike ends Sunday.

Petroleum minister A.H.M. Fowzie told Parliament on Friday that the government would hold talks with unions Monday.

Trade union spokesman D.J. Rajakaruna has urged the government to give workers at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation an interim allowance of 5000 rupees ($44) per month until salaries are increased.

Such strikes are common in Sri Lanka's state-owned companies.

© The Associated Press

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