With the government facing continued pressure over asylum seekers, Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is in Colombo to seek a solution to what is a growing problem at home.
Foreign Minister Smith received assurances from the Sri Lankans that more would be done to crack down on people-smugglers and people movement from the minority Tamil community. But human rights advocates say the civil war has left the Tamils with little reason to remain in Sri Lanka, and unless something is done to improve the situation, Tamil asylum-seekers will continue to head for places like Australia.
Presenter: Michael Edwards
Speakers: Stephen Smith, Australian Foreign Minister; Jehan Perreira, executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka
MICHAEL EDWARDS: If the Government's biggest political problem of the moment is asylum seekers then the source of that angst centres on Sri Lanka.
Most of the current wave of those seeking asylum are Tamils, fleeing what they say is persecution following the end of the Sri Lankan civil war.
And it was Stephen Smith's job in Colombo to let the Sri Lankan Government know that it could be doing much more to stop the problem of people smuggling.
STEPHEN SMITH: In terms of capacity building and cooperation on prosecutions. We think there is more that we can do on information sharing which the Minister referred to.
So we face a heightened challenge from the criminal syndicates behind the people smuggling and we need to up our cooperation, up our efforts to combat that and that is what we have agreed to do today.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Stephen Smith and his Sri Lankan counterpart Rohitha Bogollagama signed an agreement to boost law enforcement cooperation on people smuggling.
Mr Smith says it's a big step forward in tackling the problem.
But he also agrees with many, particularly human rights advocates, that the issue is not entirely about law enforcement.
The Foreign Minister also says that helping Sri Lanka rebuild after its civil war is an important factor in reducing the demand for people smuggling and he's pledged Australian support to help it do so.
STEPHEN SMITH: Sri Lanka faces the great challenge of, in the aftermath of a civil conflict, a terrible civil conflict which lasted for 25 to 30 years, to rebuild, reconstruct and to reconcile and heal and in that respect Australia wants to give Sri Lanka as much assistance as it can.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Human rights advocates say the demand for people smuggling will continue unless something is done about the plight of Sri Lanka's Tamil community.
Jehan Perreira is the executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka.
JEHAN PERREIRA: Until I think the checkpoints are removed, Tamils feel that they are not specially, under special scrutiny by the military and until the Government comes up with the political solution, at least a political proposal that meets the aspirations of Tamils to be equal citizens, to have some power in the areas in which they are a majority, I think Tamils will want to leave Sri Lanka.
© ABC Radio Australia
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
By T. Farook Thajudeen - Colombo Chief Magistrate Nishantha Hapuarachchi relaxed bail conditions imposed on two Doctors who were alleged to have canvassed false information of an alleged genocide of Tamils by the Sri Lankan forces to the international community.
At the outset of yesterday’s magisterial inquiry the CID informed court that they were investigating as to whether the doctors had been actively involved in any unlawful activity or had any connections to the LTTE movement and moved for a date to file the report.
Counsel Poobalasingham appearing for the two doctors Dr. Thangamoorthi Satyamoorthy and Dr. Kathies submitted that his clients were finding it difficult to be present before the Vavuniya Police as per their bail requirements as their workload at the Vavuniya Hospital was extremely high and moved court to relax their bail conditions. The counsel further submitted that the doctors intended collecting their outstanding salaries for the period in which they were in detention and asked the court to allow them leave to collect the outstanding salaries.
The magistrate lifted bail conditions imposed on the suspects to appear in person before the police and said the court will not restrict the doctors’ right to claim their outstanding salaries. Further hearings were fixed for Feb. 8.
© Daily Mirror
Vanni doctors Bail conditions relaxed - BBC Sinhala
Save the Doctors Campaign
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The unions of the four main state institutes, Petroleum, Water, Electricity and Ports have decided to commence its planned work-to-rule campaign from next Wednesday as the talks they held with the Treasury Secretary failed to produce any compromise.
The union leaders this evening met with Treasury Secretary Dr. P. B. Jayasundara to discuss over their salary increment, but the talks has ended without any success, said Ananda Palitha, the committee member of Joint Forum for Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) unions.
According to him they will certainly go for the earlier announced union action with the support of Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), the Port Authority, and the Water Board from November 11th.
CPC union said that the government has one more day to prevent the general public from certain difficulties by announcing a salary hike.
The four unions are demanding a compulsory salary hike which is generally granted by the government every three years, but yet failed to grant this time.
The government has promised a salary hike to all state workers in January of next year.
The unions of the CPC had staged a four-day work to rule campaign earlier immensely inconveniencing the general public.
© Colombo Page
Grant salary demand before 11th of November - Unions.lk
Plantation unions resume campaign - Daily Mirror
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
By Paul Tighe - Sri Lanka said 164,000 civilians displaced by the civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels remain in camps in the north and the government intends to reduce the number to less than 50,000 by the end of January.
“We are now moving with incremental swiftness” to settle people from the camps, Rajiva Wijesinha, the secretary at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, said late yesterday, according to the government’s Web site.
More than 280,000 mainly Tamil civilians have been held in the camps since the army defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May, ending the group’s 26-year fight for a separate Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka’s north and east. The U.S. and United Nations are leading international calls for the swift release of the displaced people.
The need to ensure security in the north, the slow pace of clearing mines from former conflict zones and a lack of infrastructure as a result of the war are delaying the program to settle the civilians, Wijesinha said.
“The pressure from the West was quite extensive” to get people out of the camps, he said, adding that countries such as India, Pakistan and China understood the security concerns of the government in Colombo.
“These countries also had questions about the refugees and their rehabilitation, and a political map for the devolution process, but they did not pressure us,” Wijesinha said.
Caught in Fighting
The army defeated the last LTTE forces in a battle on the northeastern coast in May. Tens of thousands of civilians were caught between the rebels and army units.
Sri Lanka rejected comments in September by Navi Pillay, the UN Human Rights commissioner, that the Tamils are being held in “conditions of internment.”
Last month, more than 10,000 people were resettled around Kilinochchi, the northern town where the LTTE had its headquarters. The area was heavily mined and had to be cleared, the government said at the time.
An estimated 1.5 million mines and unexploded ordnance contaminated 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) of the north when the war ended, Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka’s army commander, said Oct. 27.
While army units in the north will be reduced in time, they “cannot be removed” because of the danger of the LTTE’s possible resurgence, Wijesinha said. The group’s revival is unlikely without foreign intervention, he said.
The conflict left about 90,000 people dead between 1983 and this year, the secretary said.
Sri Lanka is still threatened by separatist forces, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a speech Oct. 19. The government’s war on terrorism was based on achieving an “undivided country, a national consensus and an honorable peace,” he said.
Tamils make up almost 12 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million people. Sinhalese account for 74 percent, according to a 2001 census.
While the government is committed to devolving some power to minorities, federalism is ruled out, Wijesinha.
“There is a danger of legitimization of separatism” in a federal structure in a country like Sri Lanka, he said.
Rajapaksa last week named a five-member committee that will investigate a U.S. State Department report on alleged human rights violations in the last weeks of the war, including the shelling of civilians by the army and the LTTE using civilians as hostages. The team consists of lawyers and a university chancellor, the government said at the time.
Sri Lanka has already responded to 99.9 percent of the allegations, Mahinda Samarasinghe, the minister for disaster management and human rights, said last week. The government has described the U.S. report as “unsubstantiated.”
The State Department said last week the abuses listed in the report are based mostly on reporting by the U.S. embassy in Sri Lanka, international organizations and the media and are “credible.”
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Sri Lankan migrant workers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia say they have been living under a bridge seeking help from the authorities to come back home.
One Sri Lankan worker who wished to be anonymous told BBC Sinhala service that nearly 3000 migrant workers, including Sri Lankans, have been living under the Sharafiya bridge in the Saudi capital for months.
"We all have been house maids or in factory workers and were forced to leave the workplace due to various harassments or as a result of not being paid by the employers. Now we are stranded here having no means to go back home," he said.
Many stranded workers neither have money nor food, unless some passers by offer something to eat, he added.
"There are some who have been living under this bridge for over one year," he said.
He accused the Sri Lankan authorities of not taking efforts to send them home.
Rejecting the accusation, the Sri Lankan authorities say the workers, who have overstayed their visa in Saudi Arabia, are using the bridge as a tactical move to leave the country without paying a penalty fee.
Kingsly Ranawaka, chairman of Foreign Employment Bureau, told BBC Sandeshaya that Sri Lanka has repatriated nearly 5000 similar workers over the last 17 months.
"When migrants come to this place the Saudi government offer them free air tickets and send them home," he said.
He added that the government will take steps to bring the workers home but warned that another group will replace the current migrants as soon as they were removed.
© BBC Sinhala
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