Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Surround the UN office and take Sri Lankan staff hostage " : Govt minister urges public

By Lakna Paranamanna | Daily Mirror

Government Minister Wimal Weerawansa has urged the public to surround the UN office in Sri Lanka and trap the staff inside until a decision is taken by the UN Secretary General to dissolve the panel he appointed on Sri Lanka.

Weerawansa told reporters today that the appointment of the three-member advisory panel by UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon is the primary step that would prompt the Sri Lankan leaders to be produced to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“This appointment should not be perceived upon as a simple act because the next step of UN would be to appoint an investigative committee to look into the possible violations of human rights and war crimes. This would eventually lead to the leaders and war heroes of Sri Lanka to be produced to the ICJ,” Weerawansa, who is also the leader of the National Freedom Front, said.

Weerawansa who also spoke of Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Leader Sarath Fonseka’s agreement to talk with the UN panel, described of it as a revolting move towards betraying the country’s sovereignty.

© Daily Mirror

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Q+A: Sri Lanka's 2010 budget finally lands

By C. Bryson Hull | Reuters

Sri Lanka on Tuesday presented its long overdue 2010 budget, the first since the end of a quarter-century war last year and a major element of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's planned economic reforms.

The IMF released a delayed $408 million loan tranche right before the budget was presented, saying the spending plan would "significantly address past fiscal slippages" if executed.

Here are some questions and answers about the budget impact:


Not really, as long as the government is acting in the spirit of the reforms pledged under the $2.6 billion loan. The global lender has been accommodating to Sri Lanka, as it views it as a success story since the end of the war.

Sri Lanka's government recognises that is has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform the economy after nearly three decades of war, so it has greater incentive to act than nearly any other previous administration.


It's down 7.8 percent overall. Total domestic financing this year is forecast at 315.3 billion rupees, down from 392.5 in 2009, while foreign financing is estimated at 123.5 billion versus 83.9 billion last year.

Lower domestic financing means interest rates in Sri Lanka should remain low for the near term and help a nascent rebound in private sector credit growth. Foreign investors who want Sri Lankan government securities still face a 10 percent foreign holding limit that is all but topped out. [nSGE64H0F7]


Like the IMF said, it is all about execution. The budget speech announced the creation of a new Ministry of Management Reforms to make the public sector a revenue generator.

The ministry faces a tall order in creating efficiency and accountability in a bloated, notoriously slow-moving public sector that remains a major source of patronage. Many are sceptical Rajapaksa will resist the temptation to dole it out.


A number have been announced over the last month, so the budget had nothing new. But a presidential commission tasked with streamlining the tax structure is expected to announce its recommendations by August. Look for the panel to propose a simplified personal and corporate tax regime, replacing one that is a byzantine, costly mix of Sri Lanka's history as colonial trading outpost and a post-independence socialist state.

© Reuters

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

General Fonseka 'ready to talk' with UN panel

The detained former military commander in Sri Lanka says he is prepared to meet the special panel appointed to advice the UN chief on alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka.

Gen Sarath Fonseka told BBC Sandeshaya that even President Mahinda Rajapaksa has agreed with the UN to investigate alleged human rights violations during the last phase of the war.

The UN secretary general has set up a panel to look into alleged human rights abuses during the final stages of Sri Lanka's civil war in 2009.

Ban Ki-moon's spokesman said the three-man panel would advise on how to deal with alleged perpetrators.

Rights groups accuse both sides of war crimes - a claim which has been denied.

"I think this committee is a result of that agreement with President Rajapaksa," Gen Fonseka told

He stressed that any country should take steps to resolve issues with the international community if there are any question marks over the conduct of the said country.

Rejecting the appointment of the panel, the government said the panel members will not be allowed to visit the country.

In an interview with Times of India newspaper, President Rajapaksa has dismissed the panel.

"We should not try to get involved in a conflict with the UN," Gen Fonseka said.

"As a citizen of Sri Lanka, if I get an opportunity to support such an inquiry, I think we shouldn't hesitate to do that."

The former military commander who is facing two military trials says that the conditions imposed by the European Union to extend the GSP+ facility are fair.

"I don't think it is an intervention in internal affairs," he said.

"The EU has demanded the release of political prisoners which includes me," Gen Fonseka added.

© BBC Sinhala

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

No pay hike this year, revenue proposals dropped

By Saman Indrajith | The Island

Acting Minister of Finance and Planning Dr. Sarath Amunugama yesterday reiterated the UPFA’s commitment to education, health and assistance to vulnerable groups, rural community, traditional and small enterprises, public servants and the working population to improve their living conditions.

Presenting the 2010 budget on behalf of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who holds the finance portfolio, Dr. Amunugama said in the post-LTTE era, priority would be given to combating crime, the underworld, narcotics trade and the illicit liquor trade.

Categorising yesterday’s presentation as a medium-term road map, which outlined the entire range of on-going government programmes, Minister Amunugama said that it would be the basis for completing all preparatory work and finalising action plans to be implemented beginning next month.

As speculated in political and financial circles, the government did not present revenue proposals prompting a section of the Opposition to stage a boisterous protest. Led by UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekera, a group of MPs displayed placards targeting the government over rising cost of living and failure on the part the Rajapaksa administration to grant the promised Rs. 2,500 salary increase.

It was not clear how the MPs had managed to smuggle in placards into Parliament. Dr. Amunugama assured that the revenue proposals and other important issues, including a salary increase to the public sector, would be submitted in November 2010, when the government would present the 2011 budget.

The Opposition repeatedly interrupted Dr. Amunugama as he presented the budget speech.

© The Island

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tigers lurk in the shadows after 14 months of peace

By Mick O'Reilly | Gulf News

Elephant Pass: The military checkpoint here is sponsored by the Colonial Group, pipe and steel manufacturers based in Colombo. It's a well-built structure allowing soldiers to stand guard behind sandbags, neatly felled palm tree trunks and some steel railings.

A soldier with a whistle stops traffic on the A9 allowing visitors to cross the road.

Elephant Pass, 2.5 metres above sea level, as the sign on the A9 says, is now a tourist attraction.

Brightly painted Lanka Ashok Leyland buses are parked on a gravel parking lot which is replete with corrugated steel latrines for men and women. The latrines, however, are not sponsored by the Colonial Group of Colombo.

Sixteen months ago, this stretch of highway, a vital junction between north and south, and at a vital crossroads on the Jaffna Peninsula, was the scene of a bloody battle between LTTE forces and Sri Lankan army forces.

In May, President Mahinda Rajapakse unveiled a large monument here to commemorate that struggle. These words are carved into granite plinths at the base of the monument:

"Place where enormous strength, force, power and determination concentrated from four directions."

It continues: "With the objective of engarlanding the reconciled persons, the valiant, heroic and valorous troops of the 57th and 58th Divisions approached diligently, courageously with might and main and without a wink of sleep from the Southern direction and tranversed scrubs, impassable moats, quagmires and demolishing dreadful traps and the troops of the 53rd and 56th Divisions advanced from the Northern Direction, converged on this historical place of Elephant Pass and liberated the long path of brotherhood with a magnitude of force annihilating terrorism and social disparities on the 10th January 2009."

‘Important time'

It's also repeated in Sinhalese and Tamil, just in case there's any doubt.

For the majority of his 50 years, Bluda Awickermansanghe has lived with violence and war. A manager at a garment factory in Jaffna, Awickermansanghe is using this Friday afternoon holiday as an opportunity to visit the war memorials here and at nearby Kilinochchi and pay tribute to all who died in 37 years of civil war.

"It's an important time for us all now in Sri Lanka," he says, looking out over the flat landscape and joining roads from the new memorial raised 50 metres above the army checkpoint.

"We have all endured so much suffering from all sides and we have to learn to work together and rebuild Sri Lanka. It has great potential for tourism up here in Jaffna but now there is nothing — only landmines. You are the first foreigner visitor I have met in Jaffna in years," he tells me.

He also looks at his 20-year-old daughter, Tajan.

"I never want her to have to live what we have lived through. Thankfully the government managed to defeat the LTTE and now that is behind us. We must look to the future but we must never forget the terrible war we all suffered through."

Little Sanduni, 11, a friend's daughter, also accompanies them on this pilgrimage.

"She is our hope for the future," Awickermansanghe says.

On one side of the road, the hulk of a rusting armoured bulldozer sits on a plinth, flower garlands hanging off twisted wire and gaping blast holes. A plaque marks that a young Sri Lankan soldier was posthumously awarded with a medal of honour for stopping the LTTE bulldozer at it tried to take an army bunker. On the other side of the road, behind the army checkpoint sponsored by the Colonial Group of Colombo, a topless Prado sits on bricks, its bodywork riddled with bullet holes. This was Prabhakaran's car, and some senior LTTE leaders were killed in it as they tried to flee the battle here at Elephant Pass.

At Kilinochchi, flattened buildings hem the A9. A 20-metre wide and 100-metre tall concrete tower lies toppled in a twisted mess of rusting rebar and rocks. A platoon of young soldiers clamber into a tractor-drawn trailer, balancing awkwardly as it fires into life and pulls away.

After 14 months of peace, there is little sign of reconstruction in this small city that was the headquarters of the LTTE for nearly 20 years.

Instead, newly constructed sandbag emplacements are located every 100 metres down the main street, soldiers and armed police patrol the shops and stalls that are hawking vegetables, coconuts and dried fish and shrimp.

Every vehicle passing north to Jaffna or south to Maankulam on the A9 are stopped, identities checked, contents searched.

The only new construction visible so far as a peace dividend for the people of Kilinochchi is another new war memorial, opened by President Mahinda Rajapaske in May. It's a huge grey-painted concrete cube with a large crack running through it, dissected by a protruding brass shell. On top, a bronze lotus moves awkwardly in the wind. The monument is supposed to symbolise the struggle of all Sri Lankans in overcoming the LTTE terrorists. I can't help but think that with the size of the crack running through the concrete cube, it represents an island forever divided.

Further up the A9 near Chavakachcheri, the electricity company is planning to replace the concrete pylons along the road. The original ones are long since gone, blown up, knocked down, out of commission. The company has left the new concrete poles every 20 metres by the side of the road, waiting to be erected. The poles, however, won't be going up anytime soon, not until the land mines are gone.

All along this road, for kilometres on end, yellow tape is strung, written in Sinhalese, Tamil and English warning: MINES! More ominous red signs with skull and crossbones also warn of the landmine danger.


I watch one young soldier move back gingerly from behind the yellow tape to the cleared roadside, wrestling with a large blast-proof shield as he does so. He pulls off a mask ever so much like that worn by a welder, only more Perspex than metal. He is covered in sweat — nerves not humidity. He sits and draws out a cigarette, a nicotine break well deserved.

It will be years before these paddy fields and palm groves are safe to use.

Demining programmes active on the Jaffna peninsula estimate that there are still some 25,000 antipersonnel mines to be located in this thin neck of land. Since they started demining programmes in earnest last year, the casualty rate has fallen to single digits per month.

Scrap metal recycling along this A9 is a risky business — the Sri Lankan army has organised one drop-off point. Mortar shell casings are in one pile, artillery shell casings in another, a third for bits of assorted shrapnel such as spent RPG rounds and rocket parts.

For all of this landscape scarred by nearly decades, there is every sign of the victor and none of the vanquished.

Every 150 metres along the A9, soldiers stand guard, with every village or town being home to a different battalion or detachment, welfare stores and rest stops being run by the military.

In Jaffna, a pokey and dirty bar sells beer in big bottles, cigarettes are stubbed underfoot, glasses are swirled in basins and arrak flows freely.

If you want to find LTTE fighters, this would be as good a place as any to start the hunt.

A wide-eyed off-duty police officer slurs his words; a driver hustles for fares, a jeweller smokes cigarettes too close to his yellowing fingers while a tall, quiet man with a steely stare listens a lot and says little.

I explain where I'm from, make small talk about different parts of the world, and try to explain what has taken me to this place where few foreigners venture.

"The LTTE are still here?" I ask quietly, out of earshot of the now drowsy and dosing off-duty policeman.

"Yes," the tall quiet one with the steely stare says. "We are. This is our home."

© Gulf News

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The failure of international journalism in Sri Lanka

By Basil Fernando | Asian Human Rights Commission

For many decades now, international journalists have interpreted every story that has emerged from Sri Lanka to be some kind of war story. Some journalists have proposed that Sri Lanka’s use of overwhelming force was able to eradicate terrorism in the country, and that other countries such as the United States, should follow suit. The pathetic failure of international journalism is demonstrated by these endeavors.

In recent years, Sri Lanka has undergone a systemic collapse, as the rule of law system and any semblance of democracy have crumbled. This is a story that has never been portrayed adequately by international journalists; instead, almost all journalists continue to refer to Sri Lanka as a democracy. Journalists focus on Sri Lanka as a war zone, and there is little reflection about the development of Sri Lanka outside of the discourse of war.

In the south, the Sri Lankan government carried out one of the most ruthless acts of repression in history, killing tens of thousands of civilians between the 1970s and 1990s. The official number of disappearances at the hands of Southern rebel group, Janatha Vimuksthi Peramuna (JVP) is estimated to be around the figure of 30,000. Numerous civil society organizations and international agencies believe that this figure does not fully represent the magnitude of this repression. In terms of statistics, the scale of disappearances that took place in Sri Lanka is similar to what took place in Argentina in the late 1970s. However, while the disappearances in Argentina gained international outrage, the references to similar occurrences which took place in Sri Lanka have been few and far between. The disappearances took place in the south, and the Sri Lankan police and military were mobilized to kill Southern rebels, most of whom were Sinhalese. Since this story did not conform to the ethnic war story that international journalists were constructing about Sri Lanka, it was discarded in favor of a story that was more appropriate for their cause.

In 1978, Sri Lanka adopted a Constitution wherein the Executive President was raised above the law. It was a staggering change; instead of the Constitution being used to bring checks and balances to the Sri Lankan government. It obliterated checks and balances for the Executive President and effectively dismantled Sri Lankan democracy. This experiment has survived, and there has begun a discussion of removing the two-term limit of the President in power and creating a possibility for political transformation equivalent to that which took place under Suharto in Indonesia and in several African countries. However, for international journalists, this issue still did not contest the importance of stories about the war.

The transformation of the Sri Lankan democratic government into an authoritarian system has made freedom of expression an almost impossible function. Media agencies bow to the pressure of this repression. Disappearances and other kinds of attack continue to remain a threat to anyone who exercises their right to oppose this political transformation in the country. The murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga and the brutal attack on several other journalists as well as the fleeing of journalists from Sri Lanka remains a symbol of this vicious repression. Even these stories have been only a passing fancy to international journalists. The story of Lasantha Wickramatunga would have been entirely forgotten had he not received international awards for his actions. Even so, no justice of any kind has been dealt to the perpetrators of this murder. In fact, the identity of those who killed Mr. Wickramatunga remains a mystery. There was no credible investigation into the murder of any kind, demonstrating that the once sclerotic justice system is now entirely incapacitated. The story of the collapse of the administration of justice in Sri Lanka has still not been covered by the international press.

Today, what remains of democracy and the rule of law in Sri Lanka is no different to the dream that amputees have about the continued existence of their lost limbs. The phantom limb complex prevails, while in reality, justice is impossible for those who have been victims of political crimes, as well as those who have suffered serious crimes, such as murder or rape. One story which recently came to the surface was of a man traveling with his wife on a motorbike. The couple was stopped and the woman’s arm was cut off so that the thieves could steal her gold bangles, and her finger was cut off so they could take her gold ring. When her husband tried to resist, he was shot. Last week, a CID inspector who dumped the dead body of a murdered person into the sea was discovered. The magistrate had to issue a warrant to get the Deputy Inspector General arrested because he was avoiding court. Such difficulties which face ordinary Sri Lankans do not attract the attention of international journalists.

The collective failure of the international press has aided Sri Lankan authorities in consolidating an authoritarian regime in which the norms that were established to protect citizens have been broken down. Those journalists who believe in the importance of their role in disseminating information must question why the international media has failed to discuss and analyze the situation in Sri Lanka. There are many similar cases going on in other Asian countries and countries around the world. However, the issue remains that the international press has failed to reflect the depth of the crisis that ordinary Sri Lankan citizens continue to face.


Basil Fernando is executive director of the Asian Legal Resource Centre, based in Hong Kong. His early career included teaching and practicing law at the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. He has held several United Nations-related posts, including appeals counsel under the UNHCR for Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong, officer-in-charge of the Investigation Unit under the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia and chief of legal assistance at the Cambodia Office of the U.N. Center for Human Rights. He is the author of several books on human rights and legal reform issues. He was awarded the Kwangju Human Rights Prize in 2001 in South Korea.


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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Sri Lanka budget will maintain economic stability": IMF Representative

Sri Lanka’s latest budget should ensure the island maintains macro-economic stability that would help accelerate economic growth, the International Monetary Fund representative in the island said.

“The key element is in ensuring macro-economic conditions remain stable,” said Koshy Mathai.

“Inflation, interest rates and the exchange rate must remain stable to create the environment for growth, investment and creation of employment.”

He said the IMF was pleased with the government’s 2010 budget presented to parliament Tuesday with the deficit reduced to eight percent of gross domestic products from 9.9 percent last year.

“It is critical to make sure the fiscal balance is kept under control,” Mathai said.

The government’s forecast of eight percent annual growth was “attainable” and not based on unrealistic revenue or capital spending forecasts.

Mathai said the IMF board had completed their second and third reviews of the program with Sri Lanka and made two disbursements and extended the programme to take into account the government’s medium-term growth strategy.

“This means the disbursement of 408 million dollars coming either today or tomorrow,’ he said.

“We have a fundamentally optimistic view on Sri Lanka’s economic prospects. For 30 years the country has grown at five percent (annually) despite the war absorbing so much human and economic resources.

“Now the burden has been lifted it seems obvious the economy is poised for great growth. But it presupposes that macro-economic conditions are kept stable.”

Sri Lanka’s ethnic war ended in May 2009 resulting in an economic revival.

Foreign exchange reserves have increased “dramatically” to over five billion dollars and there was room to build it further but it is no longer a short-term priority.

“Now the country has the luxury of thinking more about the medium-term economic prospects,” said Mathai.

“Monetary policy is going quite well – we think the central bank policy is absolutely appropriate for the current moment.”

Mathai said fiscal policy was the only area the IMF had raised some concern about given the government’s deficit which led to a “pause” in the IMF programme for Sri Lanka.

The IMF’s 2.5 billion programme was suspended last year when Sri Lanka failed to meet budget deficit reduction targets.

“The 2010 budget and related policy package of the government represents major progress towards strengthening Sri Lanka’s public finances,” Mathai said.

“The government’s aim to reduce the budget deficit is being done in a sensible way, not in an unrealistic reduction in spending, not through artificial curtailment in capital spending.”

The compression in the deficit is being achieved through a reduction in recurrent spending relative to growth in gross domestic product with capital spending kept constant in nominal terms.

As the scope for compressing current spending next year is limited the government plans to boost revenues.

“It is a very important element in the policy package that’s given us a lot of encouragement.”

These include tax reforms to simplify and broad base the system, and increase total revenue collection.

Government plans to reform its investment regime with a new strategy to promote important sectors and do away with tax breaks and reduce red tape for investors were also important, Mathai said.

“There’s also a lot of emphasis on measures to improve the efficiency of state enterprises so they are less of a drain on public finances.”

The extension of the IMF programme means there will more disbursements over a longer period of time. Disbursements are likely to be around 200 million dollars each.

© Lanka Business Online

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sri Lanka proposes investment friendly budget

Sri Lanka’s delayed budget for the year 2010 presented in the Parliament today aims to cut the fiscal deficit and provide incentives for investments while targeting a double digit growth in the future.

Deputy Finance Minister Mr. Sarath Amunugama who was sworn in as the Acting Minister of Finance hours before presenting the budget proposals said that the country seeks faster growth after the end of three decade old war mainly in the tourism sector.

This year’s budget has been delayed by about seven months as presidential and parliamentary elections were called after the government defeated the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam Main features of the budget proposals are:

• Budget deficit will be reduced to 8% of GDB by next year with a final target of bringing down the deficit gap to 5% of the GDP while reducing debt limit to 70 % of the GDP from the current 80% by 2012.

• Completing the resettlement of remaining 25000 IDP by the end of the year and to provide livelihood facilities with other required infrastructure

• 40,000 hectares of Fallow paddy lands will be cultivated in the North.

• Northern infrastructure including the A-9 and A-32 highways will be developed at a cost of Rs2 billion US dollars

• Revenue from Tourism will be increased to US D 2.8 billion by 2016 with 2.5 million tourist arrivals. Five fold and 9 fold increases targeted in the tourist arrival and the revenue respectively.

• US D 3 billion investment is expected in the tourism development with FDI/private sector and the govt investments

• Seven tourism Zones have been identified for the development of tourism sector.

• Vision of the govt. is to increase the GDP growth to two digits from expected 8 percent growth next year.

• Tax reforms will be introduced as per the recommendation of the Tax Commission.

• Regulatory Framework will be introduced to regularize the Private universities as the Government recognizes the role played by them.

• Public sector salaries will be increased from 2011

• A pension Fund will be created

• Social Security process will be strengthened


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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sri Lanka seeks to end its cold war

By Joe Leahy | Financial Times

Sri Lanka can breathe a sigh of relief. After several months of delays, the International Monetary Fund Tuesday approved the third $400m tranche of a $2.5bn loan and agreed to extend the tenure of the programme.

The IMF had delayed disbursement of the tranche after Sri Lanka recorded a fiscal deficit of 9.9 per cent of gross domestic product in 2009, missing an earlier agreed target of 7 per cent. Sri Lanka, it appears, has come in from the cold. But it may take the country some time to fully thaw as allegations of rights abuse remain unaddressed.Announcing the budget for 2010 yesterday, the government said it expected a fiscal deficit this year of 8 per cent - still higher than the IMF target.

But the IMF seemed unfazed by this. “Despite the weaker-than-programmed 2009 fiscal performance, the government’s 2010 budget proposal, if carried out, would significantly address past fiscal slippages, mainly through comprehensive tax reforms and sizeable cuts in recurrent spending,” the IMF said in a statement.

The government said economic growth this year may be much as 7 per cent and predicted it could reach 8 per cent a year in the medium term.

The resumption of the IMF funding is good news for a government that is hoping to rebuild bridges with the international community after its conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam separatist rebel group.

Commentators in the country are fond of accusing international bodies, such as the United Nations, as being somehow sympathetic to the LTTE, which fought for an independent ethnic Tamil homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka until its defeat last May. Even countries, such as the UK and the US, which banned the LTTE as a terrorist organization and helped crack down on its international financial network, are often accused in Sri Lanka of supporting the rebels.

The country’s increasing alienation was underlined by moves by the UN to try to initiate an inquiry into alleged human rights abuses by both sides during the war. The investigation was thwarted after Sri Lanka martialed support from allies, such as China.

The European Union has also suspended trading privileges under its “GSP-plus” programme, citing human rights and civil liberties concerns.

Sri Lanka has hitherto thumbed its nose at such criticisms. But in recent days, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has begun reaching out, particularly to his giant neighbour, India. He has given reassurances that his country’s growing closeness with China - which is building major infrastructure projects on the island such as a new harbour - is not a threat to India.

The resumption of the IMF package will aid this idea that Colombo is gradually coming in from the cold.

But with accusations of rights abuses still pending and the government unlikely to hold any kind of inquiry that would satisfy its critics in the international community, a complete thaw still looks unlikely.

© Financial Times

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sri Lanka restrains state wages, presents policy budget

Sri Lanka presented a broad policy budget outlining a commitment to cut deficits over the medium term, bring down interest rates and inflation and also held a state salary hike until next year. Deputy finance minister Sarath Amunugama presenting a budget in parliament said a state salary hike would come in 2011.

The 2010 budget was delayed till June due to two elections in January and April.

Salaries, which cannot be delayed is usually the item that puts the greatest pressure on state cash flows and triggers money printing leading to inflation when enough taxes cannot be raised from the people.

Planned current expenditure would only go up 5.6 percent to 928.3 billion rupees.

The minister did not unveil new revenue proposals but said an upturn in the economy which was already expanding activity including imports would provide 817.7 billion rupees in revenue in 2010 up 16.9 percent from 2009.

The government cut taxes on cars and electronic good before the budget, which is expected boost revenues and also raised taxes on cigarettes and liquor.

The government is planning an 8.0 percent of gross domestic product budget gap (8.4 percent after grants) with a revenue deficit of 2.0 percent of GDP.

Sri Lanka has not had a surplus in the revenue account of the budget since 1987, but incredible claims of a revenue surplus had been made in recent years. A revenue deficit indicates state dis-saving which brings down that national savings rate.

Though the gap is high it is lower than the 9.9 percent (10.4 percent with grants) of GDP gap last year.

"We consider that the historically high budget deficit in this country must be phased out in order to reduce the debt burden and strengthen the financial situation so that our people will have better access to finance from our financial institutions," Amunugama said.

"We believe that such adjustment should be done through the improvement in the quality of government spending, by putting state assets to productive use and collecting revenue through a broad based and low tax regime."

Amunugama said they would not privatize state institutions or cut down public investments. Last year seven state entities lost more than 50 billion rupees or over one percent of gross domestic product.

He said ad hoc tax incentives given under the Board of Investment, the state investment promotion agency, would be phased out.

"The government also proposes in the medium term to bring down excessive tax rates on personal and corporate income as well as banking and financial institutions and do away with ad hoc and unproductive tax concessions offered by the Board of Investment and in terms of income tax laws," Amunugama said.

"The dichotomy between the BOI and non-BOI regimes will be corrected to create a level playing field."

He said some proposals from a presidential tax commission have already been implemented and a final report was due in August.

This year's budget gap of 438.8 billion rupees (without grants) would be plugged with 123.5 billion rupees in foreign financing (83.9 billion rupees in 2009) and 315.3 billion rupees in domestic financing (392.4 billion rupees in 2009).

The government would continue to invest in roads, post-war reconstruction and power.

Amunugama said the government wanted to push economic growth to over 8.0 percent a year and into double digits in the medium term by raising investments to 40 percent of GDP.

But the government also said it would 'protect' some sections of agriculture with heavy import duties as well as fertilizer subsidies, but would also reform and increase spending on education.

The government also hoped regulate and bring private sector into higher education, Amunugama said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund disbursed a 400 million US dollar tranche under a 2.4 billion US dollar bailout package signed in 2009 which was delayed pending the budget.

© Lanka Business Online

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

No drop in Sri Lanka defence spending in first peacetime budget

The Sri Lankan government on Tuesday was due to present its first budget since defeating Tamil separatist rebels last year but was not cutting defence expenditures, legislators said.

Estimates presented to Parliament showed the allocation for defence was expected to be 200 billion rupees (1.8 billion dollars), about the same as last year at the height of military operations.

Government ministers have said that payments were still outstanding on past military purchases.

The budget presentation coincides with a move by the International Monetary Fund to approve two more installments of 407.8 million dollars under its 2.6-billion-dollar credit line to the country.

The release of the budget has been delayed since February because of issues over budget targets.

The two loan installments had also been suspended pending a commitment by Sri Lanka to conform to government spending targets.

The national budget fell short last year because of the global financial crisis, election-related handouts and defence spending.

Sri Lanka is trying to revive its tourism sector as one of the measures to improve its economy It had been hard hit by the 26-year conflict, which ended with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which had been seeking a state for Sri Lanka's Tamil ethnic minority.

© Earth Times

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sri Lanka, India in joint navy training exercise

The Indian and Sri Lankan navies will hold a new joint exercise with the intention of strengthening the regional security. Matters pertaining to the joint-exercise were discussed at an official meeting held between Indian Admiral Nirmal Verma who’s on a three day visit to the island and Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne, at the Prime Minister’s Office premises yesterday evening (28). In addition, matters regarding the sharing of naval technology with respect to the maritime issues of the two countries were also discussed during the meeting.

During the discussion Prime Minister acknowledged the need to revive maritime public transport between India and Sri Lanka which would also upgrade the shipping facilities between the two countries. He pointed out that as a result the price of goods can be reduced considerably.

Secretary to the Prime Minister Mr. S. Amarasekara, Sri Lanka Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe and other high ranked Navy officers of the two countries were also present at the occasion.

© Lanka Puvath

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sri Lanka's new government to present first budget

Sri Lanka's new government is set to unveil its first budget on Tuesday that will seek to rein in the island's large deficit while maintaining defence spending, a legacy of the island's civil war.

Junior finance minister Sarath Amunugama is due to present the tax and spending plans for 2010 following presidential and parliamentary polls earlier this year.

"It will be an investor-friendly budget," Amunugama told reporters on Monday. "It will focus on ways to stimulate economic growth and reduce the budget deficit."

The fiscal deficit was 9.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2009 and the government is targeting a deficit of eight percent this year.

Sri Lanka is under pressure to balance its books from the International Monetary Fund which approved a 2.6-billion-dollar bailout package last July after the end of the island nation's 37-year conflict.

Government forces wiped out the leadership of the Tamil Tiger separatists in May 2009 after a massive offensive that has been dogged ever since by allegations of war crimes.

The IMF said released another tranche of the bailout worth 407.8 million dollars on Monday after receiving assurances on tax reforms and spending cuts.

The government is expected to maintain defence spending in 2010 at about 200 billion rupees (1.8 billion dollars), about the same level as 2008 when fighting with the Tamil Tiger rebels was at a peak.

President Mahinda Rajapakse and his party were resoundingly re-elected earlier this year largely due to their success at ending the civil war and their perceived competence at fostering economic development.

Ahead of the budget, Sri Lanka last week raised taxes on tobacco, alcohol, wheat and milk foods, after halving import duties on luxury vehicles and electronic goods to spur economic growth, targeted at seven percent this year.


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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

IMF grants third tranche of $2.6 bln Sri Lanka loan

By Ranga Sirilal | Reuters

The International Monetary Fund will pay out the delayed third tranche of a $2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka, saying the government was planning to tackle its weak finances in the 2010 budget to be announced on Tuesday.

The IMF in February had delayed the payment after the government missed its 2009 deficit reduction targets and said that domestic budget borrowing -- consistent with a deficit target of 7 percent of gross domestic product -- was exceeded by a substantial amount.

"Despite the weaker-than-programmed 2009 fiscal performance, the government's 2010 budget proposal, if carried out, would significantly address past fiscal slippages," Naoyuki Shinohara, IMF deputy managing director and acting chair, said in a statement after a review of Sri Lanka's economic performance.

"Overall economic conditions in Sri Lanka are improving and the economy is likely to show strong growth this year," he said.

The completion of the IMF review means that it can immediately pay an amount equivalent to 275.6 million in special drawing rights ($408 million).

The $42 billion economy grew 7.1 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, picking up from annual growth of 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter last year.

Both the central bank and the government expect 7 percent growth this year, up from an eight-year low of 3.5 percent in 2009, as low interest rates encourage business activity.

The central bank had earlier said the country had likely missed its 2009 budget deficit goal of 7 percent set by the IMF as a condition for the loan.

Sri Lanka's poll delayed the budget for 2010. A budget document showed Sri Lankan government expenditure for 2010 is estimated at 1.78 trillion rupees, up 1.9 percent from a year ago.

The global lender also said that its executive board had approved a request by the government to extend a stand-by arrangement by another year and break down future disbursements into seven equal amounts of SDR 137.8 million ($204 million) in the light of the recent delays.

The $2.6 billion loan was granted last July to avert a balance of payments crisis following the global economic crisis on condition that it get its spending under control.

The loan has helped to stabilise the rupee and boost investor confidence in government securities and the stock market.

© Reuters

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Defence ties of Indo-Lanka strengthened

By Hilwiah Roche

With a dual aim to strengthen the India-Sri Lanka defence ties and enhance Sri Lanka’s. Security in the Post- LTTE Era, the Indian Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma is presently in the island nation on a five-day official visit.

Welcoming the Navy Chief, the Indian High Commissioner said, “India and Sri Lanka Navy Chiefs have been engaged in wide ranging mutual interactions over the years. They have jointly participated in a number of prestigious maritime Defence Forums which include the 19th Sea Power Symposium held at the Naval war College in the USA and Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) held in UAE”.

It was only in April 2010 that the Sri Lankan Government improved the KSS harbour by modernizing jetties, deepening the harbour and accessing the roads.

Verma, would mainly visit the Kankesanthurai Harbour (KKS) in Jaffna to discuss the urgent need of repair and rehabilitation. To commence this project, ‘Nirupak’ the Indian Navy Survey Ship would arrive in Jaffna on 30 June to start the hydrographical survey of the harbour and begin the groundwork, such as dredging sea beds, repairing breakwaters and wreckage removal.

The KKS harbour which was abandoned for nearly 30 years during the civil war and severely damaged during Tsunami 2004, only served as transportation area for the Sri Lankan Navy and Government Ships for quite a long period.

Now that rapid developments in the sea transport system has started with Indian aid, the KSS Harbour is soon expected to operate as a * Peaceful modern commercial harbour* Sea-trade hub for the north and* play key role in passenger/cargo transportation.

Members of the Marine Industry in Sri Lanka, eagerly look forward to the once strategically important Kankesanthurai Harbour to play a key role in sea –operations of the island.

© All Voices

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sri Lanka: Tamils dispossession worsens

By Chris Slee

More than a year after its victory over the pro-independence Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) continues to hold large areas of land in the predominantly Tamil north and east of Sri Lanka as “high security zones” (HSZ).

Many of the Tamil inhabitants who were evicted from these areas to create the HSZs during the decades-long war are still unable to return to their homes.

The February 7 Colombo Sunday Leader said: “The HSZs have left 125,000-130,000 civilians displaced and unable to return to their homes in the north and east for the past 20 years.”

Many schools and other public buildings are also occupied by the army, as are large areas of agricultural land. On May 26, said agricultural organisations claimed the proportion of farmland under military occupation in Vanni and the Jaffna peninsula is as high as 80%.

In some of these areas, settlements for the majority Sinhalese ethnic group are being established. The Sri Lankan government has long had a policy of putting Sinhalese settlements in traditional Tamil areas. This is similar to the Israeli policy of putting Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Just as the Jewish settlements are intended to make an independent Palestinian state unviable, the Sinhalese settlements are intended to do the same for a Tamil state.

After the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, 300,000 Tamil civilians who had been living in LTTE-controlled areas were placed in concentration camps. They were forcibly detained for more than six months.

Most are now allowed to leave. However, many are unable to because their houses have been destroyed, they are in areas made unsafe by land mines, or they are in areas occupied by the SLA.

About 80,000 Tamils remain in the camps. Others are living in makeshift shelters or staying with relatives. More than 10,000 alleged LTTE members are detained in secret camps.

Even those able to return to their homes are not safe. They are subject to disappearances, sexual abuse and extortion by members of the SLA, said on June 12.

Despite the end of the war, a state of emergency is continually renewed by the government every month. It recently asked parliament for an increased military budget for the remainder of 2010 to help fund its continued occupation of Tamil areas.

Ever since Sri Lanka gained its independence from Britain in 1948, successive governments have used anti-Tamil racism to win the support of the Sinhalese masses. The two main capitalist parties, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party, competed to be the most racist.

In 1948, Tamil plantation workers who were born in Sri Lanka but whose ancestors had come from India during the nineteenth century were denied Sri Lankan citizenship.

In 1956, Sinhala was made the sole official language. This put Tamils at a disadvantage in getting government jobs and accessing government services.

In 1971, a process called “standardisation” meant that Tamils had to get higher examination marks than Sinhalese to get into university. The next year, a new constitution made Buddhism (the religion of most Sinhalese) the state religion.

Peaceful Tamil protests were met with violent repression, not only by the army and police, but also by mobs of Sinhalese racists stirred up by politicians and Buddhist monks.

There was a series of pogroms against the Tamils, beginning in 1956 and culminating in the massacre of an estimated 3000 Tamils in 1983.

The result of these policies was rising support among Tamils for an independent Tamil state. This was reflected in the 1977 Sri Lankan parliamentary elections, when the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) won 18 of the 22 seats it contested on a platform of self-determination.

Some Tamil youth, not satisfied with the TULF’s peaceful methods, took up arms to fight for independence. Support for the armed struggle grew after the 1983 pogrom.

The LTTE developed into a formidable military force. It drove the SLA out of large parts of the Tamil homeland and established an effective administration for the liberated zones.

The imperialist powers always opposed the LTTE. The United States declared it a terrorist organisation in 1997, as did Britain in 2000 and the European Union in 2006.

The US and its allies, including India and Israel, gave military aid to the Sri Lankan armed forces. The Sri Lankan navy received Israeli Dvora fast naval attack craft.

In November 2007, the US donated a radar-based maritime surveillance system and a set of new rigid-hulled inflatable boats to the Sri Lankan Navy.

This aid was crucial, allowing the navy to cut off contact between LTTE-controlled areas and the outside world. It also countered LTTE attacks on ships carrying troops and supplies to the SLA’s occupation force on the Jaffna peninsula.

In a triumphalist September 12 article on the Sri Lankan navy’s role in the defeat of the LTTE, the newspaper Island noted the importance of “much needed international support”.

It said: “President Mahinda Rajapksa has publicly appreciated the support given by the US in this regard.”

The Sri Lankan air force used Israeli Kfir jets to bomb LTTE-controlled areas. The Sri Lankan army also received training and other assistance from the US and Israeli armed forces.

The solid imperialist support for the Sri Lankan government was thinly disguised by occasional expressions of mild concern about Sri Lanka’s human rights record.

The US Senate passed a motion in December 2007 that imposed some restrictions on the sale of military equipment to Sri Lanka, though equipment for the purpose of “maritime and air surveillance and communications” (i.e. the most important form of US aid at that time) was excluded.

In addition to the strong support it recieved from the imperialist powers, the Sri Lankan government also received military aid from China. Sri Lanka takes advantage of the rivalry between the US, China and India for influence in the Indian Ocean region to get aid from all three countries.

When seeking aid from the imperialist governments to fight the LTTE, successive Sri Lankan governments have put its fight in the framework of the “war on terror”. But the government of President Mahinda Rajapksa is also capable of using “anti-imperialist” rhetoric to attack Western critics.

If a Western NGO or government makes even mild criticisms of Sri Lanka’s human rights record, the government complains of “outside interference”.

In reality, the military aid by Western powers to the Sri Lankan government is a much greater form of “outside interference”. As New Socialist Party (NSSP) leader Wickramabahu Karunaratne wrote at “Mahinda is using bogus anti west campaigns to cover up his chauvinist regime and his brutal repressions.

“A man who is completely dependent on the handouts of Americans, Indians and other powers, from time to time deploys his adjutants to make noises outside western embassies.”

The situation is grim for Tamils in Sri Lanka, but one bright spot is the growing organisation and mobilisation of Tamils in the diaspora.

Tamils in the US, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and elsewhere protested on the streets in large numbers during the final stages of the war. They have recently reaffirmed their support for an independent Tamil homeland in referenda held amongst Tamils in many countries.

They are acting as the voice for the Tamil struggle, which for the time being has been suppressed in Sri Lanka itself.

© Green Left Weekly

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Sri Lankan monks protest UN panel

By Eranga Jayawrdane (AP)

Clerics and lay members of a Buddhist nationalist party protested on Monday against a United Nations' panel tasked with investigating alleged human rights violations during Sri Lanka's civil war.

The National Heritage Party consisting largely of monks said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's appointment of the three-member panel last week was interfering in Sri Lanka's domestic affairs and helping terrorism.

Dozens of monks, laymen and laywomen marched to the U.N. office in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, chanting slogans against the world body.

"The U.N. has no right, authority or mandate to appoint a committee. It's an interference with Sri Lankan affairs," party leader Rev. Omalpe Sobitha told the gathering. "The U.N. is acting as an agent of terrorism."

Sri Lankan military forces last year defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels, ending 25 years of civil war.

The rebels — designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union — fought for an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils, mostly Hindus, after decades of marginalization by successive governments controlled by majority ethnic Sinhalese, most of them Buddhists.

According to the U.N., more than 7,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the last five months of the war that ended in May 2009. Human rights groups have accused both government forces and the now-vanquished Tamil Tiger rebels of deliberate targeting of civilians.

Ban's committee led by former Indonesian Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman, also the U.N.'s special rights investigator for North Korea, has been asked to advise him on the alleged abuses during the war's final stages.

The Sri Lankan government has already opposed the move as "an unwarranted and unnecessary interference with a sovereign nation."

Buddhist monks here are considered protectors of the nation and wield big influence in the country's social and political affairs.

© Brandon Sun

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Monday, June 28, 2010

'India's views matter, don't care about the world' - Sri Lankan President

Interviewed by K Venkataramanan

Clearly upbeat over the outcome of his recent visit to New Delhi, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently spoke to 'Times of India' in an exclusive interview about India and its concerns, his troubled ties with the internationacommunity, especially the United Nations, and the constitutionachanges he proposed.

Rajapaksa presented the post-war rehabilitation of Tamil refugees as one that was actually unbelievably fast rather than the tardy exercise the world says it is. "We have sent back most people to their homes, about 80-90%," he said. In the course of a two-hour-long conversation with K Venkataramanan at his Temple Trees residence in Colombo, he also hinted at giving himself an opportunity for more terms in office by amending the present Constitution which limits a president's tenure to two terms. Rajapaksa described the incarceration of his political rival, ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka, as something that was not of concern to him as it was a judicial matter, and spoke candidly about his support for an ethnically mixed population in the north, where traditionally Tamils constitute an overwhelming majority and his belief that Tamils and Muslims should choose to be part of a national parties instead of limiting themselves to regional or communal identities.


Your popularity in the country is at its height. But aren't you worried about the international image of the country and your own personal image abroad?

Why should I worry about others? If India and neighbours are good with me, that is enough for me.

The UN has made adverse remarks about the human rights situation and many have called for an international investigation into war crimes in the last phase of the war.

They should understand the country's situation. Earlier, they said Prabhakaran was the world's most ruthless terrorist. But now, suddenly, when I defeated him, they are talking differently. I wonder if they would say the same if bin Laden were to be defeated. They can advise us, but they can't force us. No one can force us to do this and that.

The international community, including EU, even India, frequently asks you to speed up the process of finding a political solution. Where do you stand on that?

We will take our own time and the solution, you can't ask for an instant solution like instant noodles. Constitutions are not for one or two days. It is not a magazine which is published weekly or monthly. We can't change the Constitution frequently. We will have to take our own time. We will certainly change all this. My commitment remains.

The European Union has threatened to suspend GSP Plus tariff concessions for Sri Lanka.

I am not bothered. These concessions were offered soon after the tsunami. Now the tsunami (rehabilitation) is over, it helped us at that time. Now we must find new markets. Our people must know this: when I called the elections, they (EU) immediately called for suspension of tariff concessions. It was a politically motivated decision. If the EU doesn't want to give it (concessions), let them keep it. I don't want it. We have gone and explained what we have done. Now we have appointed it (an inquiry commission), not because someone wanted me to, but because I am committed to that.

The commission is about the lessons learnt and what should be done for national reconciliation. You must have your own view on this. What will you say are the lessons learnt from this conflict and what are your suggestions for national reconciliation?

The people must trust each other. We have to build that trust. In Colombo, about 30 years ago, Sinhalese were the majority. Today, they are a minority, about 27%. There are more Tamils and Muslims now. But I don't see this as a problem. I believe in mixed population. Earlier, there was and they had no problem like this. Only politicians make althese issues for their own ends.

There are fears of complete Sinhalisation of the north and east. Will the Sinhalese people be settled in those areas in large numbers?

They were there, you know. They were chased by Prabhakaran, so, if anybody wants to go there, yes, they can. What if somebody were to say that in Colombo, the Tamils have come in large numbers?

Is it true there are 25,000 Chinese workers in Sri Lanka?

How can it be 25,000? Must be the Chinese who work here as dental technicians. They have been here for such a long time. I remember during the time of the Sirimavo Bandaranaike regime, the opposition started a campaign saying Bandaranaike had sold this country to China. And they came out with photos of these dental technicians. They took their photos and were publishing it saying China, China. I feel it is the same cry of China, China now. Others are saying India, India. Now they are saying we are selling this country to India. The JVP has declared we are selling this country to India.

Between all these developments, where do you see your relations with China?

We are a non-aligned country. Our neighbours are Indians. I always say, Indians are our relations. From the time of Emperor Asoka, we have had that culture. The whole culture, irrigation, architecture has been built up over the last 2,500 years. You can't break that. But that doesn't mean we won't get commercial benefits from others. From China, or Japan, or whoever. They will come here, they will build, they will go back. India comes here, they will build and they will stay. This is the difference. In simple terms, whenever our relationship is stronger and we get close to India, this campaign begins. They start to say India has started to rule, and they know India is very sensitive about Pakistan or China. So they will use these factors to upset the Indian public. Well, I think even the LTTE used this point.

How do you see your recent visit to India and the joint statement that spoke of cooperation in various fields?

I think it was a very successful visit. The agreements that we signed, in fact most of them, are concerned with development work, especially in the north, infrastructure development, railways, housing projects (50,000 houses in the north and east), power plant project in Sampur. All those things are necessary for development of this country.

Some of these ideas have been around for 2-3 years. However, not much progress has been made. Do you think work will speed up now?

I very much hope so. We need to have targets. Earlier, we could say the delay was due to the terrorist problem or something. Now we cannot say all those things. We agreed that all projects will be started by 2010.

How do you foresee Indo-Sri Lankan relations over the next five years?

It will be very strong. We had certain things in the past, but now it is very good, we understand them, they understand us. This is the best time we have had at all levels. Even the people-to-people contacts, business, politicians.

Do you think India has something to contribute to resolution of ethnic and political issues in Lanka?

I think a solution must come from among ourselves. It must be a homegrown solution. You can't bring something from outside and implement here. We must know what it is and people must accept it. If the majority rejects it, we can't ignore that. So, any solution must be acceptable to all communities. And 13th amendment (to devolve power), India's proposal, with that we introduced provincial councils (in the north and east). From there, of course, we have to develop it.

So the 13th amendment plus (for more decentralisation) is a reality.

That plus is mine (Laughs). Yes, it is a reality. I want to go and discuss first with the Tamil parties. We want to see that the provinces are able to share the powers at the Centre. This is very important.

That's where the idea of the Upper House (Senate with members nominated by provincial councils) comes?


Do you think the situation is more conducive for a solution, with the consent of the Tamil National Alliance?

Yes, but they must also realize our difficulties, and the concerns of the majority. We have a saying in Sinhala: "Someone burnt by fire, will be scared of even fireflies."

You mean fears of the majority?

I mean the fears of all. They also must realize all this. Without the majority, you can't implement it. This is what happened to the 13th amendment. It is only the diaspora who want to keep these issues, the conflict, alive. The younger generation has moved on. Now, there are younger Tamil leaders emerging.

What is your total vision for the Tamil people who had suffered during the war?

If the south gets gold, you can't give iron to the north and the east; I want to give them gold too. This is the simple answer. For the last 30 years, they didn't get all this. They must feel that there is no discrimination.

What about the rehabilitation process? Is there an overall architecture for the entire process of resettlement and rehabilitation to include economic activities and livelihood opportunities?

Yes, we have a programme, we have a plan. I have appointed a Presidential Task Force which undertook the entire planning process with government agencies to implement. We are slowly implementing it. The first stage is demining and the second stage is to send the people there. When you are resettling them, they must have roads, hospitals, schools, the village headman's office, divisional secretary's office, in short the basic infrastructure. We have all the officials in place. Now, we have to resettle nearly 47,000 displaced people. Of these, some 19,000 are with their relatives. Even the people who are in camps who have no houses will soon be resettled.

In this process, do you think it would be better to have locally elected representatives? Is there a plan to hold the Northern Province elections?

Yes. They need pradesiya sabhas (local councils). The next step is holding the provincial council elections. But we need some time, as we have had enough elections.

There are complaints that the Eastern Province CM does not have any power and that implementation is centralized.

He has all the powers. Now he (Eastern Province chief minister Pillaiyan) has gone abroad. He has taken 27 members or so abroad. They have gone on a study tour! I thought that money could have been used to build some roads. These are not controlled by us.

In the last parliamentary election, Tamil and Muslim parties that contested as part of the UPFA did not use their own party names or symbols. Do you want them to be seen as only a part of national parties, or should they have their own independent parties?

It depends. The main political parties will also put up their own candidates. I would like to see that all these people do not stick only to those areas. When you have political parties which stick to only to those areas, they could get communal. It is much better that they join the national parties. They should join the majority, the whole country. Whether they are Tamil, Sinhala or Muslim, they are citizens of the country. They are not separate citizens.

Do you plan to change the powers of the president?

There are some ideas. I want to go to the parliament. I do go to meet people and for functions. I miss parliament.

Is it merely about attending Parliament, or about making the office accountable to Parliament?

Now, under the proposed Constitution, the president should attend Parliament once in three months. There are proposals that there should be an executive PM and a ceremonial president. These are ideas of those who want to destabilize the whole country. They don't want a strong leader.

What is your vision for the country, covering the political and development questions and all the challenges faced by your presidency?

Without development, there is no peace, and without peace, there is no development. If peace is there, development will come. The development should be people-centric. You can't remain isolated in the world. You have to win over all these people: neighbours, Asians, European Union or the US. As a non-aligned country, I believe in being closer to all the countries. But we must do this in our independent ways. Unfortunately in the past, our foreign policy was wrong. We antagonized neighbours. I will never do that. I know the consequences.

What about the future of Sarath Fonseka, who remains in custody?

I am not interested to know. There is a case. If he is freed also, I am not concerned. The matter is with the judiciary. I will not interfere with the case. After the victory, he wanted to raise another 200,000 soldiers. When I asked him why, he said he wanted small army camps everywhere. I said he couldn't do that as it was the job of the police to maintain law and order. And he said there was an external threat also. I wanted to know from where and he said, from India! I told him I will handle that. That was his mentality. He wanted to fight the whole world.

He has made statements that war crimes were committed.

When he is in Parliament, he goes there very early and stays there throughout the day until the staff tell him that they have to go home. He gets all the freedom there and speaks to people.

Will you get a third term? There are rumours that you are going to amend the Constitution to remove the two-term restriction for anyone to hold the president's office.

For that you have to wait and see. It is only after six years. I prefer to be in Parliament, but after six years I might also decide to retire. So, what I always say is, it is a democratic right of a person or citizen to contest. Let the people decide. By the Constitution, you can't restrict it. It is the people's right to elect their leaders. The losing candidate has no restriction, and can keep contesting, but the winner is not allowed to contest more than two times.

© The Times of India

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Indian Navy chief in Sri Lanka, to talk defence ties

By Sutirtho Patranobis

In the first such high-profile visit since 2004, Indian navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma arrived in Colombo on Sunday for five-day official tour. A guided missile destroyer of the Indian navy, INS Delhi, one of the largest warships built in India, also reached Colombo port.

The last visit of an Indian navy chief was in September 2004 when Admiral Arun Prakash had come to Sri Lanka

Verma would be meeting President Mahinda Rajapaksa besides being the chief guest at the Commissioning Parade of the new batch of Sri Lanka Navy Officers at the Naval and Maritime Academy in Trincomalee in eastern Sri Lanka.

Verma is expected to pay his respects at the memorial for the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) soldiers, killed during operations here between 1987 and 1990, constructed by the Sri Lanka Navy in Colombo.

During his visit to Colombo for the 2008 SAARC summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was expected to open the memorial. However, the memorial was never officially unveiled.

Verma will visit the Kankesanthurai Harbour in Jaffna to discuss its repair and rehabilitation. To initiate the project, Indian Navy Survey Ship ‘Nirupak’ would be commencing hydrographical survey of KKS harbour from June 30.

Verma's tour is being seen here as part of efforts to strengthen Indo-Lanka defence ties in post-LTTE era. "The visit will promote bilateral relations and mutual cooperation between the two countries and help Sri Lanka to enhance security in a post LTTE era," the Sunday Island newspaper quoted a Naval officer as saying.

"Indian and Sri Lankan Navy Chiefs have been engaged in wide ranging mutual interactions over the years. They have jointly participated in a number of prestigious maritime defence forums which include the 19th Sea Power Symposium held at the Naval War College in the USA and Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) held in UAE," the High Commission of India said in a statement.

The Indo-Lanka joint statement issued in New Delhi after Rajapaksa's visit earlier this month had also mentioned strengthening of bilateral defence ties.

© Hindustan Times

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Tarzie Vittachi’s “Emergency ’58” re-visited

By Emil van der Pootan

Having first read Tarzie Vittachi’s seminal description of the anti-Tamil riots shortly after it was published and smuggled into what was then Ceylon, I was curious to see whether my original impressions of that book would hold true a half-century later and whether there were any lessons for 21st Century Sri Lanka in that slim volume.

I spent most of the most violent of those days in Colombo as a student, just leaving his teens, at Aquinas University College which I thought, at the time to be the most arch-conservative of post-secondary institutions because of (and not despite) the likes of Fr. Tissa Balasuriya who was one of my teachers and who appears to have gone through a significant metamorphosis (for the better!) in the intervening years.

My political leanings were towards the Trotskyist left which then (and for decades after) contained my two older siblings in the various configurations of the “British Section of the Fourth International.”

People of my political inclinations saw the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s (SLFP’s) chauvinist horde and their leftist “Sinhala only” allies of Philip Gunewardene’s Viplavikari Sama Samaja Party (VLSSP) as the generators of that mini-Holocaust, ably assisted by communalist Tamil political elements from the other side of the great divide that was developing. I did then, as it seems the vast majority of non-Tamil Ceylonese still do, equate Federalism with separatism. This misconception I carried for many years until a long sojourn in Canada in which country, despite very strong separatist tendencies — that occasionally wane — in the province of Quebec, I realised by ground-level observation and active involvement in the political processes of that country that a Federal state of some kind can come closest to being the ideal arrangement for two solitudes to live in tolerance and understanding if not absolute peace and harmony.

The foregoing should provide the reader with an adequate idea of where I am coming from with regard to the subject.

When the book was hot off the presses it didn’t seem to capture the violence and excitement of that time and, therefore, left something to be desired. Today, however, with the benefit of sober hindsight and reflection it does seem to do justice to the events of that troubled time in a historically accurate and objective manner.

What is particularly eerie and troubling about the narrative is that one is left with the distinct impression that 1958 has already repeated itself once and promises to do so again thanks to this country’s politicians who, while screaming their loyalty to the nation, proceed to act in a manner that is sending Sri Lanka down the road of destruction and despair again. All in the cause of self-aggrandisement and short-term political gain.

For the last year, we have had a situation where the armed forces of this country, having doused a conflagration of significant proportions, the government of the day was afforded the opportunity to do those things that could have ensured that there would be no recurrence of that horror at a later time. But, it seems that the politicians of this land didn’t learn anything then and aren’t giving any signs of doing so now

After 1958, politicians of every stripe proceeded to re-ignite the fires of racism despite their experience of the terrible destruction that would ensue. They are doing that again, seeking to provide “respectability” to that effort by talking about a homogenised society where the obvious language, religious and other specificities that are the historical reality of this country are to be ignored.

That suggests that Sinhala Buddhist society is indivisible from the Sri Lankan nation and all other ethnicities, belief systems and cultures are marginalised to the extent that they cease, for all practical purposes, to exist. I find this just as stupid, ignorant and nasty as the comments that Vittachi quotes out of Hansard in the post-Emergency ’58 debate when, among other racist comments, one MP’s solution to the problem was “Destroy them!” (the Tamils). As a hint, this MP came from the deep south and his last name is only too familiar as far as absolute power in this country is concerned right at the moment.

I am no Cassandra but it is very obvious to anyone with even half a brain that the road that is being cleared is one that will lead to a situation where, even if there isn’t any LTTE-type uprising there will be continuing grief and the attendant malaise among a significant proportion of Sri Lanka’s population who have already been disenfranchised, in practical terms, and know it only too well. This is certainly not a recipe for engendering the kind of vibrant development, with or without high growth rates, that can and must make Sri Lanka a land of peace and tranquillity where all of its communities can lead decent lives. I am not talking here of a Mercedes in every garage but rather a chicken in every pot a few times a year. I am talking about a life of dignity and decency for all of its citizens, not just Lamborghinis for a chosen few.

But no, just as we had the outbursts of racist rhetoric after the cataclysmic events of 1958, we are seeing a repeat of that performance by the descendants of those merchants of malice and hoarders of hatred. The additional legions now at their command are those with the sophistication to make that exercise a covert rather than an overt one. I have described and named them often enough that I think a repeat would be redundant.

There are a few voices of sanity, compassion and intelligence which one hopes are being heard over the noise issuing from our Sri Lankan Tower of Babel. Chief among these is that of the Anglican Bishop of Colombo, the Right Reverend Duleep de Chickera. The responses to his periodic statements has not been as abusive and raucous as those directed at many other people who have had the temerity to voice a sentiment that might not be in sync with that of those spouting the current orthodoxies. However, it seems that, increasingly, his is very much a voice in the wilderness.

The others are the “peaceniks” as described by the hallelujah chorus of the Rajapaksa Sycophancy led by such as Malinda Seneviratne who don’t miss an opportunity to revile them, knowing very well that the level of abuse and insult they level at these individuals will only serve to elevate them further in the eyes of those they serve so well. Fortunately, their target group is expanding and that should make it a tad more difficult to direct white vans in their direction, if nothing else!

The alienation of the Tamils from 1956 onwards was accelerated by policies such as “quotas” being imposed to curtail their entry into the upper echelons of formal education and employment. Now the exclusion is de facto and not de jure and therefore that much more difficult to combat through exposure in the few forums still available to the dissenting voice.

The prime example of the continuing discrimination with enormous practical implications is the fact that, despite the law of the land requiring it, government services are not available in their mother tongue to Tamil citizens of this country, even when they live in areas where there is a preponderance of Tamil-speakers. Whenever this anomaly is pointed out, the government’s apologists are only too ready to deny that there is anything resembling discrimination in the matter, pointing out that the law provides for the provision of services in Tamil to those requiring it and, therefore, everything is tickety-boo! This epitomises what is happening in this country in the matter of the application of the most absurd semantics and which needs to stop if we are not going to be at the bottom of the Asian civilizational barrel which, goodness knows, already has a scummy enough population.

The alternative to the sea change that is required is not going to be an armed uprising such as that which the Tigers conducted so successfully for so many years and, before them, the JVP in 1971 and the late ’80s. It is going to be a descent into the kind of oligarchical hell that has distinguished the histories of places such as Haiti and the Congo. Significantly enough, in both those instances the good old Excited States of Amnesia tut-tutted around the injustice and brutality that occurred (and continues to occur) while making noises about “engaging the ruling regime in dialogue” etc. etc. Sound familiar?

We might still have the time and opportunity to change course but I doubt that, as long as we have a regime bent on imposing mediaeval governance on this country, that the required change will be affected. More important yet, as long as we have a rural population only too ready to accept that mediaeval governance and a middle class urban elite believing that they are not ever going to be the victims of the injustice and violence that comes with such an arrangement, the forces of despotism will not only survive but thrive.

Apropos of that reality let me close by quoting something I haven’t seen in print recently:

In Germany they first came for the Communists,
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist

Then they came for the Catholics
And I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

And then they came for me –
And by that time no one was left to speak up.

— Pastor Henry Niemoller

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