Monday, November 02, 2009

Crowd watch as police beat man to death

By Sandun A. Jayasekera and Supun Dias - A police constable attached to the Bambalapitiya police station wanted in connection with Thursday’s forced drowning of a youth at the Bambalapitiya beach was taken into custody by the Colombo Crime Division last evening after he surrendered himself to police yesterday afternoon, police said.

Police spokesman Nimal Mediwaka said the Police and Army personnel who had allegedly assaulted the 26 year old youth in the shallow sea near the Bambalapitiya Railway Station and caused him to drown on Thursday afternoon had been identified and would be arrested.

The body of Balawarnam Sivakumar of No. 19, Indrajothi Mawatha, Ratmalana was washed ashore near the Kollupitiya Railway station at around noon yesterday. His body had been identified by his elder brother Balawarnam Kadirgamanathan (32).

The entire country watched in horror, as a group of heavily built men attacked the mentally unstable youth with wooden poles while he pleaded for mercy, when it was telecast on several news bulletins on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, Colombo Crime Division (CCD) director SP Ravidra Karawita said the policemen should not have assaulted the youth in the first place.

“They should have thrown him a rope and pulled him ashore without hitting him with poles,” he said.

Senior DIG Mediwaka said investigations into the incident had been handed over to the CCD, keeping the Bambalapitiya Police out of the scene.

The body of Sivakumar had been taken to the Police Morgue. The postmortem was to be held last afternoon, according to Mr Karawita.

The Daily Mirror reliably learns that Police personnel seen hitting the youth in the video footage had gone missing from the Bambalapitiya Police station.

Kadirgamanathan, speaking to the Daily Mirror yesterday, said that his brother had been mentally unstable for about two years, following a love affair.

“He was heartbroken after his girlfriend dumped him suddenly in the latter part of 2006. Soon after the incident he was extremely depressed and had to be treated at the Angoda Mental Hospital for about 10 days in 2007,” said Kadirgamanathan.

“After treatment at the hospital he seemed steady and even worked at a motor spare parts shop in Panchikawatte as he was a good mechanic. He worked there for about six months. Then he got sick once again as he had stopped taking the drugs prescribed by the doctors at the hospital. He was taken once again to Angoda and was there for six months. He was discharged in March this year and did not show any signs of mental illness until a few days before the tragedy, he said.

“On October 26th he began to show signs of depression and became aggressive. He was missing from home on the 27th. Last Wednesday he took back his national ID from me and went out early in the morning. Later in the day I heard that he was with some of his friends,” he said.

On the following day, at about 1.00 a.m., he had gone to the house of his former boss and attempted to start his vehicle. Then he had alerted the nearby army checkpoint. The Army personnel had released him after questioning. On Thursday Kadirgamanathan had received a call at his office and informed that his brother had created a scene at Ratmalana and was going towards Colombo and told to take him home.

“That was the last time I heard about him. My uncle and friends had not been able to locate him. I learnt about his fate through Sirasa News First at 10.00 p.m.,” a grieving Kadirgamanathan said.

Tarith Ramesh 20, of No. 8, Ransivi Lane, Bambalapitiya, an Airline Ticketing agent, said Balawarnam was hurling stones at trains and vehicles driven along the Marine Drive from about 10.00 a.m. on Thursday. He attempted to draw the attention of the people in the vehicles by dancing on the highway and threatening to attack them with stones. When the drivers did not pay attention he threw stones at them damaging several vehicles. Then he threw stones to a moving train and hit the engine driver, wounding him. The driver had lodged a complaint with the Bambalapitiya Station Master.

Another train had come to halt when he threw stones at it and the passengers had got down. There was a confrontation with the passengers when they tried to apprehend him. The 119 was alerted and the Bambalapitiya Police were said to be on their way to the scene.

“When the policemen and some army personnel arrived he jumped into the sea as was his habit. He threw stones he had collected at the people and security personnel. One army officer was injured. When they attempted to get near him he went further into the sea and threw sand at them.

By this time Balawarnam was a threat to the people and security personnel. Some passengers threw two poles which were drifting on the sea to the policemen.

Confirming Charith’s narrative, Sandun Dahanayaka (19) of 39, Asoka Gardens, Bambalapitiya said the passengers who had gathered near the scene had even asked the soldiers to shoot at Balawarnam.

“He was a threat to all. He warned them not get near him or he would hit them with stones and poles. Once he got injured himself after falling onto the boulders on the beach and was bleeding heavily at the time he went down,” said Dahanayaka.

© Daily Mirror

Related Links:
Bambalapitiya incident : Police to consult Attorney General - Sunday Observer
Bishop of Colombo urges probe into Bambalapitiya incident - Sri Lanka Guardian

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Asylum seekers threaten suicide

Some of the 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers onboard Australian Customs ship the Oceanic Viking have threatened to kill themselves rather than go to Indonesia.

Speaking to the ABC from a phone hidden from customs officers, the asylum seekers pleaded with Australia to give them a new home.

They say conditions onboard the ship are tough, especially for a nine-month-old baby who is not getting enough milk.

The asylum seekers confirmed that they had already been living in Indonesia for years, and that they would rather end their lives in the ocean than go back there.

One asylum seeker said over the phone that if they cannot go to Australia: "We'd like to go to another resettlement country, otherwise we can't live in the world".

The asylum seekers have been on the Oceanic Viking now for more than two weeks, but say they have been in limbo for years, waiting in Indonesia to be resettled by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

The men say it is that frustration which pushed them to take a boat to Australia.

They paid a people smuggler more than $US5,000 to make the journey but are now stuck onboard the Customs ship with no sign Australia is willing to take them.

They claim it is like being in detention and accuse customs officers on board of mistreating them.

"He pushed me to go back. He said always like this and also using bad words like 'f**k'," said one asylum seeker.

But Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor says the asylum seekers are being treated well.

Mr O'Connor says he's aware of the swearing claims but says they are being looked after.

"I've heard media reports and claims but can I say that the advice I've received is that the well-being of the passengers is the priority of the personnel on board and indeed the monitoring by the doctor," he said.

"Other personnel have ensured that the passengers are being treated well."

The men who spoke to the ABC would not give their names because they feared they would get in trouble from Australian authorities.

Asked why they left Sri Lanka they said they had been fleeing the turmoil there.

"We are not Tamil Tigers. I suppose we are Tamil people but we are not Tamil Tigers," said one person.

A 29-year-old man who has a wife and daughter in Sri Lanka said the group is united in refusing to go to Indonesia.

He said conditions on the Oceanic Viking are tough, especially for the five women and five children.

A nine-month-old baby on board is apparently crying constantly because of a shortage of milk.

The man says he cannot understand why Australia will not accept them as refugees.

The country's peak union body has weighed into the debate, saying the 78 asylum seekers should be brought to Australia.

The ACTU has bought a half page advertisement in a national newspaper, saying it is time to show humanity and allow the asylum seekers into Australian territory.

Let them in

ACTU president Sharan Burrow says Indonesia should have taken them but if they refuse, Australia should demonstrate its humanity.

"Clearly those people are worried about going to Indonesia when Indonesia has been very reluctant about actually accepting them and supporting them in regards to providing a safe home for genuine refugees," she said.

"We can do that job here. We can process those people. This is just one piece of the puzzle.

In regard to the issue more broadly, first and foremost, 1700-odd people this year compared to those who arrived by plane but more importantly compared to those who other nations are dealing with both, have a look at Greece and Morocco and Spain and more recently Algeria and Tunisia.

"People are flooding into those countries through Europe because they are desperate to find better lives."

© ABC News

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Monday, November 02, 2009

US tries to frame Gotabhaya

As officers from the US Department of Homeland Security are preparing to quiz Chief of Defence Staff General Sarath Fonseka on November 04 regarding alleged war crimes that had taken place in the country, the government of Sri Lanka had officially objected and protested such moves and the Foreign Ministry had already summoned the US ambassador in Sri Lanka for an urgent meeting today morning.

A senior government official told Daily Mirror that General Sarath Fonseka was on an official visit to the USA and carried a diplomatic passport.

Therefore the US government has no right to quiz General Fonseka.

The high ranking official who did not want to be identified said that the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington and the Foreign Ministry are actively engaged in preventing such a move by the US and would do anything to stop it

Meanwhile, Chief of Defence Staff Sarath Fonseka in a letter to the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington said he had been asked by United States officials to be a ‘source’ against Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, a highly placed diplomatic source said yesterday.

Two US officials from the powerful Department of Homeland Security had reportedly made the request from General Fonseka on his son-in-law’s telephone line. General Fonseka is currently on a private visit to US, had said in his letter.

General Fonseka said one of the officials had asked him whether he was prepared to be a ‘source’ against the ‘Defence Minister’ of Sri Lanka. General Fonseka had responded by asking him whether whom he meant was the President, who is the Defence Minister.

The official had then told him he had meant Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

General Fonseka had said he was the Defence Secretary and not the Defence Minister.

This conversation had been followed with a formal request by the Department of Homeland Security for a ‘voluntary meeting’ with General Fonseka and later Sri Lanka’s ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya had retained lawyers from the Patton Boggs firm to assist the General.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka yesterday strongly condemned the US move to put pressure on its highest ranking military official by requesting him to give evidence against a top public official.

© Daily Mirror

Related Links:
US seeks info on Gota from Fonseka - The Island
US wants Fonseka 'to testify against Gotabhaya' - BBC Sinhala

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Over 20 feared dead as boat sinks off Australia

More than 20 people were feared dead on Monday after a boat carrying about 40 sank in rough seas far off northwest Australia, sparking frantic rescue efforts by a passing merchant ship and fishing vessel.

Australian officials said 17 people had been rescued by scrambling aboard life-rafts thrown out by the LNG Pioneer oil tanker, as it combed the area off the Cocos Islands before dawn along with a Taiwanese fishing boat.

It was not confirmed whether the boat was one of dozens of people-smuggling vessels which have headed to Australia this year carrying more than 1,700 asylum-seekers, many of them from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

"We obviously have grave concerns about the safety of those who are still in the water, given they've been in there for some time now," a spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority told AFP.

The boat got into trouble late on Sunday, prompting a plea for help by Australian authorities which was answered by the LNG tanker and Taiwanese fishing craft.

"The LNG Pioneer (merchant ship) is still conducting search and rescue now," the spokeswoman said. "It's throwing out its life-rafts in the hope of recovering more people from the water."

Home Minister Brendan O'Connor said an air force surveillance plane would be at the scene in a matter of hours, while an Australian rescue ship was still more than a day away.

The accident happened off the Cocos Islands, a tiny Australian territory in the Indian Ocean some 2,000 kilometres (about 1,000 nautical miles) from the mainland.

O'Connor said authorities did not know whether the sunken vessel was carrying asylum-seekers, who are the subject of fierce domestic debate as the government struggles to deal with the influx.

"The purpose of the voyage has yet to be determined. At this stage efforts are being made to rescue those at sea," O'Connor told Sky News.

"We want to make sure that the safety and well-being of these passengers are the first and only matter that is of concern at this point. Once we've done that we can start to work through those other issues."

Australia has been forced to nearly double the capacity at its main refugee centre on Christmas Island and is involved in an ongoing stand-off over the fate of 78 rescued Sri Lankans who refuse to disembark in Indonesia


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Monday, November 02, 2009

Sri Lanka in talks to avoid war-crimes quiz in US

Sri Lanka called on US authorities to drop plans to interview the island's military commander over allegations of war crimes against ethnic Tamil rebels, an official said Sunday.

The Colombo government held "very high-level" talks to prevent General Sarath Fonseka, currently visiting Oklahoma, from being quizzed over his conduct during the conflict against the Tamil Tigers, the official said.

The privately-run Sunday Times newspaper here said Fonseka had been asked to present himself for an interview with the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday.

The move "prompted fears in Colombo that Washington is asserting its legal authority over the 'war crimes' report" released last month, the paper said referring to a State Department dossier on alleged war crimes.

The report outlined excesses by security forces and Tiger rebels during the final stages of fighting earlier this year. The report, submitted to the US Congress, refers to Fonseka's having overstepped his brief.

The Sunday Times said the Sri Lankan diplomatic mission there was already providing legal assistance to Fonseka.

Fonseka is a US Green Card holder and travelled to the US last week to visit his two daughters. He also addressed a group of Sri Lankans in Washington last week and took credit for leading the battle to crush the Tigers.

The US embassy in Colombo declined comment.

The State Department report cited allegations that Tamil rebels recruited children and that government forces broke a ceasefire as well as killed rebels who surrendered.

It also cited reports in which it was claimed government troops or government-backed paramilitaries "abducted and in some instances then killed Tamil civilians, particularly children and young men."

The report covered the period from January -- when fighting intensified -- until the end of May, when Sri Lankan troops defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at the end of a decades-old separatist conflict.

Sri Lanka last week announced it was appointing a panel to investigate the allegations after initially dismissing the report as "unsubstantiated."

The island's government managed to stave off a UN human rights council debate on alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity thanks to the backing of veto-holders China and Russia.

The UN has said that up to 7,000 civilians perished during the last four months of fighting and accused both the military and the Tigers of not doing enough to protect civilians.


Related Links:
US makes cynical overture to Sri Lanka over war crimes - WSWS
US to quiz Gen. Fonseka - Sunday Times

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Youth remanded over web comments on Sri Lankan President

The Matale Magistrate Courts today ordered to remand a youth who had made offensive comments on the President and the Secretary of Defense through the Internet.

The suspect was remanded until the 6th of this month by the Courts following his arrest by the Criminal Investigations Department.

According to the CID sources, the suspect, Gayan Rajapakse, a resident of Alauwa area, has made offensive comments on the President and Defence Secretary in a web site recently.

© Colombo Page

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Sri Lanka Army to combat strikes

All the 27 major unions which form the Alliance of the United Unions of the CEB, and the workers of the CEB will arrive at a major trade union agreement at the unions summit meeting which will be held today at the Vihara Maha Devi Park, and their joint decision will be revealed to the country shortly. Unions are agitating for Rs.5,000 interim allowance, as the government had granted such to state banks employees —- but declined to grant same to others citing financial difficulties.

Ranjan Jayalal, a member of the operations committee of the CEB Alliance of United Unions said that the CEB unions have decided to launch a joint strike with the support of Harbour, Petroleum and Water Supply unions —- instead of the three day strike they had initially decided upon.

The Petroleum workers worked to rule and refrained from working overtime on 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th of October, demanding their delayed salary increments and the fulfillment of the promise of an allowance of Rs 5000, until the salary increment of 2009 is granted. The convener of the Petroleum United Unions, D.J. Rajakaruna said that the president hasn’t called them for any discussion, although the workers stalled union action as the president promised to initiate discussions with workers.

Convener of the National Trade Unions Congress K.D. Lal Kantha said that the government ministers, terrified by this prospective strike, are boasting that the government will use Army soldiers to replace strikers. Lal Kantha said that there’s nothing the Army can do in a joint strike situation and challenged the government to do whatever they are capable of.


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Monday, November 02, 2009

US 'to quiz Sri Lanka army chief'

Sri Lanka says its army chief faces questioning by the US government, over alleged war crimes committed during the war with the Tamil Tigers.

The Sri Lankan government has told the BBC that it objects to American plans to interview General Sarath Fonseka, who is currently on a visit to the US.

The American State Department published a recent report outlining allegations of human rights abuses during the war.

The UN has previously said an inquiry is needed to determine culpability.

General Fonseka is visiting his daughters in Oklahoma, and has been asked to present himself for an interview with the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday, reports say.

A senior Sri Lankan government source told the BBC that the US department wants him to testify against Sri Lanka's powerful defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

US officials have declined to confirm reports of the putative interview.

The US state department submitted its report to Congress in mid-October, outlining serious violations allegedly committed by Sri Lanka's army, as well as rebels of the Tamil Tigers.

At the time, Sri Lanka said it would appoint a high-ranking independent committee to probe US claims of human rights abuses during the final phase of its civil war.

The Sri Lankan military had blamed reports of civilian deaths on the Tigers - with UN estimates of up to 6,500 killed - saying they used people as human shields.

The Sri Lankan army was accused by many at the time of indiscriminate bombardment, and using heavy weaponry in areas where civilians were present.


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Monday, November 02, 2009

India Denies Visas to Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned to learn that journalists from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, assigned to participate in a workshop on environmental journalism in the Indian port city of Tuticorin, were denied visas by the Indian Government.

According to information from IFJ partner organisations, four journalists from each of these countries had to cancel their participation in the workshop at the last minute after being told that they would not be granted visas to travel to India.

The workshop was scheduled to be conducted between October 26 and November 6 in the Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute (SDMRI) in Tuticorin, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The Institute for the Continuing Education of Journalists (known by its acronym, FOJO) – a body promoted by journalists’ unions and associations in Sweden – had committed funding for the workshop.

The SDMRI is a centre for advanced research which, according to its website, is accredited with a publicly-funded university in Tamil Nadu. It has been recognised by the University Grants Commission which oversees all higher education in India, and has been appointed to an expert panel of the Government of India to monitor the environmental impact of a major coastal shipping project.

Inquiries by the IFJ with India’s Ministry of External Affairs have not provided any clarity on the reasons for the visa refusal for the Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi journalists, except the remote possibility that they may have been in breach of the norms laid down for foreign participants attending conferences and seminars in India.

“The IFJ is very disappointed at this incident and calls upon the Indian authorities to rethink their visa policy for journalists from neighbouring countries,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

“As the pivotal country in South Asia, with the best developed media and highly-diversified training institutions, we expect India to be more transparent and magnanimous in its attitude toward journalists from neighbouring countries.”


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