Sunday, November 22, 2009

In Haiti, UN's Sri Lankan Peacekeepers Shoot Live Ammo at Crowd

In Haiti on November 10, UN peacekeepers fired live ammunition resulting in injuries to civilians. Inner City Press asked spokesperson Michele Montas about the incident, and about UN peacekeepers using live ammunition instead of rubber bullets.

Ms. Montas replied that after an emergency landing, "some Haitians entered the helicopter." She said a person in the helicopter fired and a cartridge hit a civilian. She also said that "a person in the plane.. shot in the air." (This is reminiscent of the incident in 2008 during the Security Council's visit to Goma in the Congo, where a UN security official shot his weapon in the plane to try to show that it was empty, triggering an all night bus ride by Ambassador to Kigali, Rwanda.)

Inner City Press asked if it is UN protocol to shoot live ammunition in the air. Shooting in the air is the protocol, Ms. Montas answered.

Later on November 20, Inner City Press spoke with a senior UN peacekeeping official, who explained that UN Formed Police Units have rubber bullets, but that in this case is was "military people."

Reportedly, these were Sri Lankan soldiers, in all probability previously involved in the conflict in norther Sri Lanka in which the U.S. and others have found presumptive war crimes.
Meanwhile the UN has still refused to disclose the outcome of its repatriation from Haiti of over 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers on allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation. It's said that in the future, aggregate data will be reported, either by Peacekeeping Mission or Troop Contributing Country, but not both.

© Inner City Press

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sri Lanka Tamil refugee camps 'to be opened next month'

Sri Lanka says people held in special camps since the end of the conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels will be allowed out for short periods from next month.

An aide to the president also confirmed a pledge to close the facilities, which house more than 130,000 people.

They were set up in the country's north for Tamils fleeing the final stages of the civil war, which ended in May.

Sri Lanka has drawn strong international criticism for holding people in the camps against their will.

The latest government announcement was made by the special adviser to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brother Basil, on a visit to the largest camp, Menik Farm.

On Thursday UN humanitarian chief John Holmes urged Sri Lanka to allow them to leave, following a visit to the camp.

Denied access

Addressing a group of displaced people, Mr Rajapaksa said that from 1 December the camps would no longer be closed sites. People will now be free to leave them for a day or two at a time, to visit friends and relatives, for example.

Although they will not be able to leave permanently, he reiterated the government's pledge to resettle those displaced by the end of January.

About 300,000 Tamils fled the war zone during the government's final offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) earlier this year.

Those displaced - many of whom had been held as human shields by the rebels - were forced into hastily built camps.

Criticised for keeping them there against their will, the government insisted that incarceration was necessary while the refugees were being screened for possible links with the rebels.

It has also said that more than 1.5m mines must be cleared and basic infrastructure needs to be in place to allow people to return home.

The UN, diplomats and charities have criticised the screening process, saying it is not transparent.

'Not transparent'

The barbed-wire enclosures are run by the military, and many of those displaced had complained about poor food and sanitary conditions.

Opposition parliamentarians in Sri Lanka have also protested about not being allowed access to the camps.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says the government had been sensitive to the criticism, and within the past month has markedly stepped up the pace of releases.

Many people are returning to devastated villages in depopulated countryside, much of it mined, our correspondent adds.

In May the Sri Lankan army defeated the Tamil Tigers, who had been fighting since the mid-1970s to carve out a separate nation in the Sinhalese-majority island.

© BBC News

Related Links:
Sri Lanka to free war-displaced civilians - AFP
Sri Lanka to release 136,000 war-displaced Tamils - AP

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Amnesty International Chief Blasts Australia's 'Panic' Over Asylum Seekers

The head of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, says the Australian government should close its immigration detention center on Christmas Island. On a visit to Australia, Khan accuses the conservative opposition of exploiting voters' fears about asylum seekers for political gain.

Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan says that holding asylum seekers at the Christmas Island processing center will not deter the flow of boat people heading to Australia.

On a visit to Canberra this week, Khan urged the government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to close the camp in the Indian Ocean, about 2,600 kilometers northwest of Perth.

The facility opened last year and houses asylum seekers recently picked up by the Australian navy.

A surge of unauthorized arrivals by boat has put the issue of immigration back in the public spotlight in Australia. Khan says the debate here has often been xenophobic.

The Amnesty International chief blames conservative politicians for whipping up public hysteria.

"I think it is unscrupulous politicians and populist media," Khan said. "There has been a lot of fuss being made about the boat arrivals when actually the numbers arriving by air are much higher. There seems to be a sense of panic when what is really needed here is to handle a humanitarian problem with regard to international standards."

She says the number of boat arrivals in Australia is small compared those arriving in Europe.

Khan, however, calls the Rudd government's immigration policies an improvement on those of the previous conservative administration. She points out Mr. Rudd's decision to grant permanent residency rather than temporary protection visas to those deemed to be genuine refugees and the closure of the outback Woomera detention center and offshore processing facilities in the South Pacific.

Amnesty International says a multilateral approach is needed to deal with the asylum problem.

The Australian government says the surge of migrants arriving by boat is the result of conflicts in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan as well as the global economic crisis.

Australia accepts more than 10,000 refugees a year who are processed through non-governmental agencies in other countries.

© Voice of America

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sri Lanka slips in corruption index

Sri Lanka has slipped five places to 97 in the annual corruption perceptions index in an annual perception survey conducted among 180 countries, by Transparency International, a corruption watchdog.

"What we see is a clear indictment on Sri Lanka and the urgent need for major systemic changes to wipe out corruption," J C Weliamuna, executive director of Transparency International's Sri Lanka chapter said.

"The lesson to learn from the CPI reading this year is that anti corruption should be nothing less than a national priority."

Though the index is based on perceptions, Weliamuna says it is widely watched and quoted.

It ranks countries in terms of the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians.

Sri Lanka's score of the corruption perceptions index (CPI) fell to 3.1 (from 3.2 last year) which "a serious corruption problem in the public sector in the country," Transparency International Sri Lanka said.

The CPI places the least corrupt countries on a score of 0 and the most highly corrupt on a scale of 10.

India had a score of 3.4 while Maldives 2.5, Bangladesh 2.4, Pakistan 2.4, Nepal 2.3 and Bhutan 5.0.

Transparency International cheifl Hugette Labelle says that corruption requires oversight by parliaments, a well performing judiciary, independent and properly resourced audit and anti-corruption agencies, vigorous law enforcement, transparency in public budgets, revenue and aid flows, as well as space for independent media and a vibrant civil society.

© Lanka Business Online

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Q+A-: Sri Lanka's top general signals bid for presidency

Sarath Fonseka, who quit as Sri Lanka's top general after the end of a 25-year war, has said he plans now to fight for democracy and human rights, fuelling speculation he will soon announce his candidacy for the presidency.

He said on Monday he would announce his decision on entering politics this week.

Here are some questions and answers on Fonseka:


A soldier from 1970, Fonseka was the army commander who spearheaded victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels. Known for his volatile temper and win-at-all-costs attitude on the battlefield, Fonseka was nearly killed in April 2006 by a Tiger suicide bomber, but returned three months later to launch a 34-month campaign that defeated the rebels.


Fonseka in his resignation letter accused President Mahinda Rajapaksa of sidelining him despite his contribution to the victory, and of sullying the army's reputation by falsely alerting India that a coup plot was afoot in October.


He has recently spoken out on democracy, human rights, and media freedom, areas in which the opposition and Western nations say the administration of Rajapaksa has done too little. Both the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peremuna and pro-business United National Party have said they have spoken to him and are ready to adopt him as their common candidate to defeat Rajapaksa. Fonseka has not responded to this yet.


Analysts say Fonseka wants Rajapaksa first to announce the date of a presidential poll which the government has said is due by April. The president on Sunday dodged the date announcement, in what analysts saw as a tactic to buy time until the Fonseka flap settles down.


Fonseka has at least as much claim as Rajapaksa to credit for victory in the war, a key factor in the incumbent's popularity.


If Fonseka enters the presidential race, economists expect Rajapaksa to spend more to woo voters with public-sector wage hikes, subsidies and new state jobs. Rajapaksa has already promised public sector pay increases from January. But implementing this will be very difficult due to strings attached to a $2.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). If Rajapaksa decides to cancel the IMF loan, investor confidence in the $40 billion economy will be badly dented.

© Reuters

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