Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sri Lanka: Arrested student leader remanded till November 12

Colombo Page

The Fort Magistrate ordered the Convener of the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF), Udul Premaratna be remanded till November 12 following his arrest on a warrant issued by the Colombo Magistrate.

Acting IUSF Convener, Sanjeewa Bandara told the media that the Federation could not be intimidated by Premaratna's arrest.

Bandara says that the IUSF was expecting Premaratna's arrest by the government as a way to disrupt the protest campaigns launched by the IUSF.

Premaratna was arrested yesterday (29) by the Nugegoda Police when he was returning from a discussion with the opposition United National Party (UNP) Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya at the UNP headquarters Sirikotha.

© Colombo Page

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Commission to probe killings, abuductions needed, C0lombo Bishop tells the Govt Commission

By Harischandra Gunaratna | The Island
The Bishop of Colombo Rt. Rev Duleep De Chickera making his submissions on behalf of the Church of Ceylon before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission yesterday, said that the public has a right to know who has been abducted or killed. He emphasized on the need appoint immediately another commission to investigate the numerous killings and abductions of civilians which occurred during the conflict and said that commission could also be mandated to trace and publish lists of persons missing or killed during the period of war and conflict. "There can be no deterrent to a resurgence of grievance and terrorism than the restoration of the democratic rights of the people, law and order and good governance," he said.

Rev Chickera said that a certain degree of scepticism and cynicism prevails among the masses on the prevailing political culture of the country and there has to be a proper mechanism of devolution. It is the responsibility of the political leadership of the country to see that it is implemented, he said.

"Many groups have been excluded or marginalized in the participation of the political process," he noted.

He said there must be a mechanism for the healing of memories and for building of trust within and amongst all communities and cross cultural education which will bring the children of different ethnic communities together in regions where there are cosmopolitan communities. An integrated teaching of history will enhance this process and lay foundation for trust and confidence, he said.

Bishop Chickera quoted Ireland as an example where this system has been successful. He said they started it in one school and now there are over 200 such schools.

He said that the emergency regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act needs to be reviewed as these have often been used to stifle legitimate democratic activities and intimidate political opposition. He warned that as long as such measures are in place they will pose a threat to normalcy and national reconciliation.

© The Island

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sri Lanka continues attack on jailed ex-general

By Rick Westhead | The Star

When Sarath Fonseka resigned as Sri Lanka’s top army general to run for president, supporters of President Mahinda Rajapaksa viewed the move as pure betrayal.

The president had helped Fonseka rise quickly through the ranks, choosing him as his top general ahead of more qualified candidates. It was shocking to many here when Fonseka on the stump alleged Rajapaksa’s government was guilty of widespread corruption, vote-rigging and nepotism.

“Democracy will be restored,” Fonseka bellowed at one rally. “Your children will have a bright future.”

But in January, Rajapaksa coasted to an easy victory in Sri Lanka’s national election winning by a two-to-one margin over Fonseka.

Weeks later, Fonseka was arrested at a political meeting, court-martialed and jailed for allegedly pursuing politics while still in uniform. He was eventually sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Fonseka had also filed a petition to nullify Rajapaksa’s election alleging widespread intimidation, bribery and misconduct but Sri Lanka’s supreme court dismissed the request Friday.

Time has mellowed many here. Public sentiment in Sri Lanka now seems to be in favour of Fonseka’s release. Some say the 59-year-old, who survived an assassination attempt in 2006 by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber disguised as a pregnant woman, remains a war hero.

The Sri Lankan government, apparently afraid the former four-star general will foment a coup, views him differently.

In a new case that has served as front-page news for weeks, Fonseka has been charged with making a false statement to the anti-government Sunday Leader newspaper, arousing communal feelings and arousing anti-government sentiment. If convicted, he could face an additional 13 years behind bars.

Political analysts and journalists say the case signals that the Sri Lankan government remains afraid of Fonseka, his election failure notwithstanding.

The charge stems from an interview Fonseka gave the newspaper in December. He alleged the president’s brothers conspired to have Tamil Tiger rebels executed in the waning days of the country’s long civil war — even those LTTE leaders who were trying to surrender with a white flag.

“If they could lock the door on this guy and throw the key away, they would,” said Dayan Jayatilleka, a diplomat and political analyst who was once Sri Lanka’s envoy to the United Nations.

“The fear is that he is someone who has a propensity to start some kind of putsch or coup d’etat.”

After announcing his retirement, Fonseka won the endorsement of a coalition of opposition parties. They hoped the former general, a member of Sir Lanka’s Sinhalese majority who ran under the campaign slogan “Believable Change,” would appeal to Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese voters. The president’s Freedom Party, by contrast, draws its support entirely from the Sinhalese majority.

After he was court-martialed for using “traitorous” words and failing “to obey garrison or other orders,” Fonseka was stripped of his rank, medals and decorations.

The government is hinging its case against Fonseka on a story that appeared in the Sunday Leader in December.

In the story, headlined, “Gota Ordered Them To Be Shot,”

Fonseka was quoted saying he learned Basil Rajapaksa, a member of parliament and advisor to the president, had instructed defence secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, also the president’s brother, to tell a senior army brigadier “not to accommodate any LTTE leaders attempting surrender and that they must all be killed.”

Fonseka told the newspaper that the orders helped to explain how three senior LTTE leaders trapped in the war zone were killed on May 17, 2009, even as they negotiated with Norwegian diplomats to arrange their own surrender.

Fonseka’s allegations came at an awkward time for the country. Sri Lanka is under attack from a host of international human-rights organizations for its conduct during the final days of its civil war.

Earlier this year, the International Crisis Group released a report charging that the government was mostly responsible for the allegedly unnecessary deaths of some 10,000 civilians caught in the crossfire between soldiers and the LTTE. Fonseka’s statement added fuel to the fire.

“What Fonseka said was basically alleging war crimes by the government,” said Eswarapatham Saravanapavan, a Tamil politician and newspaper publisher.

“The international community hears him and says, ‘we are saying all these things are happening in Sri Lanka and here it is coming right out of the horse’s mouth.’ I think this is a guy with a lot of secrets no one in government wants out.”

The government is also using Fonseka’s interview to lash back at the Sunday Leader, one of few media outlets in Sri Lanka that has dared to challenge the government.

At least seven journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2007, including the January 2009 murder of former Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickramatunga.

A government critic, Wickramatunga made international headlines when he predicted his own death in an editorial called “And Then They Came for Me.” The paper continues to feature Wickramatunga’s photo prominently and spotlight his still unsolved case.

© The Star

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 29, 2010


The Convenor of the Inter University Students' Federation (IUSF) Udul Premarathne was arrested by police today (29). An open warrant for the arrest of Premarathne was issued by the Colombo Magistrate this morning, the police said.

He was arrested when he returned after attending a discussion at the opposition United National Party's headquarters.

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sri Lanka Navy Chief visits India's Southern Naval Command

Colombo Page

Sri Lanka Navy Commander Vice Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe who is in India has visited the headquarters of India's Southern Naval Command in Kochi.

Southern Naval Command Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Shrikhande received the visiting Sri Lankan Navy Chief and his wife at the Naval Air Station INS Garuda, Indian media reported.

Reportedly, the Sri Lankan Navy Commander has received training at the Indian naval establishment in Kochi as a young Lieutenant in 1981.

According to Sri Lanka's Defence Ministry Vice Admiral Samarasinghe arrived in New Delhi on October 19 for an 8-day official visit on the invitation of the Indian Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma.

Vice Admiral Samarasinghe had earlier participated in the golden jubilee celebrations of the National Defence College at New Delhi.

Sri Lankan Navy Chief has called on India's Defence Minister A. K. Anthony and met other senior officials. He was accompanied by Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to India, Prasad Kariyawasam.

Vice Admiral Samarasinghe is due to return to Sri Lanka today.

© Colombo Page

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sri Lanka's moral policing: Rajapaksa's big cover-up

The Economist

Damage to Sri Lanka’s wondrous Sigiriya frescoes—5th-century depictions of lovely women with ample and mostly bare breasts—sent President Mahinda Rajapaksa clambering up to the rock fortress that houses them for an anxious look. Yet contemporary portraits of the barely-clad female form offend the eye of Mr Rajapaksa’s po-faced regime.

Since he was re-elected in a landslide in January, Mr Rajapaksa has sought to make good on a campaign promise to “create a society with good values and ethics”. In Colombo, this has meant police tearing down “indecent” posters and flyers. Citing a law against obscene publications, the officer who led that operation said he had ordered his men to remove any image of “women with their legs out”.

In a country whose textiles firms turn out thousands of racy bras and frilly knickers a year—including for Victoria’s Secret, an American apparel firm with longstanding ties to Sri Lanka—at least one lingerie company has stopped advertising. The crackdown will spread to other cities. But it has been delayed while Sri Lanka’s own vice-and-virtue squad launch another assault, on internet pornography.

Real-life lewdness is also out. In July police rounded up hundreds of red-faced couples caught holding hands, cuddling and kissing in public. In Kurunegala, a town near the centre of the island nation, they scoured hotel rooms for unmarried lovers. Similar crackdowns have been reported in many other places.

Prathiba Mahanama, a legal expert at the University of Colombo, says arresting consenting adult couples is illegal and suggests the victims could sue. But these efforts are popular. They are also backed by Sri Lanka’s powerful Buddhist clergy, whose support Mr Rajapaksa has carefully fostered. In March Sri Lanka denied a visa to Akon, a Senegalese-American singer, after he was pilloried by Buddhist monks for a pop video that showed women in bikinis dancing around a statue of the Buddha.

Victims of Mr Rajapaksa’s moral rage might wish to reach for a consolatory drink. But that is also frowned on. Advertising alcohol is banned to the extent that televised scenes that show drinking are pixellated. Oddly, parties flowing with free booze were a common feature of Mr Rajapaksa’s presidential campaign.

© The Economist

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rising bread prices expose trade vulnerabilities

By Amantha Perera | Inter Press Service

There was a time when being a breadseller here in Colombo enabled Charmindha to have modest dreams. But the teenager from Sri Lanka’s rural south has been seeing his daily earnings slide in the last two months, and indications are that’s not going to change anytime soon.

"My sales have dropped by about 20 percent," says Charmindha, who gets a two-rupee (2 cents) commission for every loaf he sells. In the past, he says, he would sell as much as 120 loaves each time he made his round on a motorbike through residential neighbourhoods here. "Now," he says, "if I do about 100 (loaves) it is a good run."

Major bakeries and bread manufacturers are having similar experiences. Bakery Owners’ Association President Newton Jayawardena tells IPS, "In the urban areas we have witnessed a drop in bread sales about 10 to 15 percent. In the rural areas its worse, we have witnessed a drop of about 25 percent."

For sure, the rising price of baked goods is largely to blame for their waning sales across the country. A month ago, a 450-gramme bread loaf cost 43 rupees (39 cents). Today its price is 46 rupees (41 cents).

Bakers say that they have had to raise prices for their products in part because of escalating world wheat prices. Jayawardena even says, "That is the only reason, there was nothing else."

But that may not an accurate statement. In fact, the government has imposed a tax of 10 rupees on every kilo of wheat imported in an effort to make locally produced rice more attractively priced in the market.

Sri Lanka’s latest rice harvest has been forecast to be a bumper crop of 2.54 metric tonnes.

In a country brief released earlier in October, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said, "The Government has re-imposed an import tax of 15 percent on imported wheat to reduce consumption of flour and support rice prices in anticipation of the bumper Yala (second half of the year) harvest. Farmers are provided with fertiliser subsidies, which resulted in increased rice production."

"(A) bumper harvest has led to significant drop in rice prices," the FAO also said. "On the other hand wheat prices have increased, mainly due to policy interventions on wheat imports."

Indeed, as wheat and bread prices increase, rice prices are going in the opposite direction. Some rice varieties now cost 20 percent less compared to just a year ago, and as bread disappears from dinner tables across Sri Lanka, there can only be more rice on the plates.

As in other Asian countries, rice is a staple in Sri Lanka. But since the 1970s, bread has been part of breakfast and dinner for many Sri Lankans as well.

According to the Census and Statistics Department, a typical Sri Lankan household consumes on average about nine kilogrammes of bread and other wheat products a month. That’s much lower than the monthly rice consumption of 36 kg per household, but data show that with the exception of rice, bread outranks other food items in a Sri Lankan home.

Yet even bakers and baked goods sellers themselves are pessimistic of bread holding that position for long.

Bakery Owners’ Association officials say that in the poorer areas of the country, people already appear to be scratching bread off their shopping lists.

"In the urban areas, where the richer communities are, we still see people buying bread and other bakery products because of the convenience," says association secretary Rohan Hettiarachchi. "In the poorer areas, I don’t think people can afford to pay almost 50 rupees per loaf."

And much as they may want to, producers of baked goods would be unable to lower their prices unless the government gives the industry a generous tax break.

According to the FAO, global wheat production forecasts were at 646 million tonnes for this year, a five-percent drop from 2009. It blames this on the low wheat production in Russia, which has been much larger than the increased wheat outputs of the United States and China.

Last August, Russia banned wheat exports and reports indicate that the ban is likely to be in place for some time. That only means world wheat prices will stay high.

Rough estimates have the annual sales of the baked goods industry in Sri Lanka as reaching as much as 150 billion rupees (1.34 billion dollars). But industry insiders now say they may lose about 20 percent in profit in 2010 year compared to the 2009 figure.

Sri Lanka’s baked goods industry provides direct employment to at least 120,000 people, even as it indirectly supports other sectors such as transport, poultry growing, and dairy, according to the Bakery Owners’ Association.

Just a few months ago, it also supported the dreams of a young man from the country of someday making it big in the city. But even Charmindha has realised that he will have to find a new job soon if he wants his dreams to come true, bread just does not sell like it used to.


Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sri Lanka: War widows left in poverty

By Subash Somachandran | World Socialist Web Site

Nearly three decades of communal war waged by successive Colombo governments against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) left tens of thousands of women as war widows. In the south of the island, many wives lost their husbands who were dragooned into the army as economic conscripts and used as cannon fodder in the fighting.

In the North and East, it was not only the wives of LTTE fighters who became war widows. Pro-government death squads “disappeared” or murdered hundreds of Tamil civilians, who were allegedly connected to the LTTE or critical of the war. Many thousands more civilians died in the murderous offensives waged by the military in the final months of the war that ended in the LTTE’s defeat in May 2009.

After the LTTE’s collapse, the army herded more than a quarter of a million Tamil civilians—men, women and children—into military-run detention camps. In addition, thousands of young people were interrogated and dragged off to unknown centres for “LTTE suspects”. Those who have been released have returned to war-ravaged towns and villages without basic services and little or no aid.

Deputy Minister for Womens Affairs and Child Development, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah announced late last month that he had a list of 89,000 war widows—49,000 in Eastern Province and 40,000 in Northern Province. Among them were 12,000 below the age of 40 and 8,000 who had at least three children. “We need help to look after the war widows and we are seeking help from abroad for this,” he said.

In reality, the Sri Lankan government has washed its hands of these victims of its war. Widows who can produce a death certificate for their husbands receive 50,000 rupees ($US442) in compensation. The remainder are given only 150 rupees a month. This sum is even not enough to cover food for one person for a day, let alone a family for a month.

Saroja Sivachandiran, director of the Centre of Womens Development, a voluntary organisation in northern Jaffna, provided the WSWS last week with its statistics for war widows in the North: 26,340 in Jaffna district; 5,403 in Kilinochchi, which was the LTTE’s administrative centre; 4,303 in Vavuniya and 3,994 in Mannar. The figures for the district of Mullaithivu, where the military’s final offensive took place, are not available.

The husbands of these widows were either killed in fighting or disappeared, Sivachandiran explained. In Jaffna district alone, 3,118 widows are under the age of 40, and 38 are under 20. The statistics also show that 1,042 women were widowed after their husbands committed suicide—victims of the economic and social crisis produced by decades of war.

Sivachandiran said: “Although their husbands were abducted before their eyes, the women had to keep silent as there was no guarantee for their lives. Even when a complaint was made to the police, the courts or the government-appointed Human Rights Commission, they did not receive proper decisions and are still waiting for their husbands.”

Most young widows live with their parents or relatives, while many of the middle-aged women live on their own. They survive with the aid of some voluntary groups or the meagre government assistance. Some widows earn a little income in casual jobs or by running small businesses. It is common to find women, including widows, working for businesses on low wages. Some have been traumatised and should receive medical help.

Sivachandiran added: “What is the situation of the abducted people? The government has the responsibility to make inquiries and find them. The wives saw their husbands taken away. Here everything is decided by the government. We don’t have any confidence that these women will get any justice.”

The WSWS spoke to several widows in the Jaffna area. All of them were very thin—a clear sign that they did not have proper meals. They were wearing old clothes and lived in makeshift accommodation.

Kamala, 30, explained: “My husband died at the age of 26. He produced Palmyra toddy [a type of alcohol]. He worked in the neighbouring village. As usual on May 15, 2006 my husband left for work at 7 a.m. He usually returned at 10 a.m., but he did not come back. We searched for him and finally found him dead that evening. His body was buried in the soil inside a deserted house. His legs had been tied, his head had been beaten and his neck had been cut. We have no doubt that it was done by the navy.

“I have been injured in a shell attack. I still have pieces of shell in my body. Now I am unable to walk properly. I have two children. My father cares for us. He is a fisherman and very poor. I would not be in such a situation if my husband were alive. The government gives me 150 rupees per month. My seven year old girl and six year old boy study at a local school. I don’t have a house and live in a shanty.”

Krishna, also 30, said her husband died in December 2000. He was asked to join the LTTE for training. He refused twice but the LTTE finally took him off by force. Her son and daughter are now 12 and 10. When WSWS reporters spoke to her in mid-October, she still had not received the government’s 150-rupee allowance for September.

Krishna was detained last year in the military’s detention camps and had only recently returned. She lives with her mother. When she was released she was given 25,000 rupees, 12 sheets of corrugated iron and six bags of cement to build a house. She has just finished building a small hut. “The war devastated our lives,” she said.

A widow, 50, from Akkarayan in the district of Kilinochchi said: “My husband was killed in a shell attack by the military in May last year at Mullivaikkal [in the Mullaithivu district]. I have two sons and two daughters. My elder daughter has finished the advanced level [university entrance] examination. The army arrested her when we entered the military-controlled area. I have still not found her. We were sent to the Ramanathan [detention] camp. We asked several military officers about my daughter, but they did not tell us anything.

“Three months have passed since we were resettled. Our house had been demolished. The military did not allow us to return to our land. Now we are living in a tent given to us by a non-government organisation. The tent will flood when the rain comes. I don’t have any income. I receive only the government’s relief. They said it would stop after six months. My three children are going to school. I am unable to afford their expenses.”

She expressed her anger at the government and all political parties, including the various Tamil parties. “None of the political parties has come to help us. They only arrive at election time,” she said. Referring to the government’s boasting about economic development, she added: “It is just for show when the government talks about ‘economic war’ and ‘nation building’ while it keeps us here in tents starving.”


Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 29, 2010

US to build super base to contain China's military build-up

Praveen Swami | Telegraph

The expansion will include a dock for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a missile defence system, live-fire training sites and the expansion of the island's airbase. It will be the largest investment in a military base in the western Pacific since the Second World War, and the biggest spend on naval infrastructure in decades.

However, Guam residents fear the build-up could hurt their ecosystem and tourism-dependent economy.

Estimates suggest that the island's population will rise by almost 50 per cent from its current 173,000 at the peak of construction. It will eventually house 19,000 Marines who will be relocated from the Japanese island of Okinawa, where the US force has become unpopular.

The US's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that this could trigger serious water shortages. The EPA said that dredging the harbour to allow an aircraft carrier to berth would damage 71 acres of pristine coral reefs.

The EPA's report said the build-up would "exacerbate existing substandard environmental conditions on Guam".

Local residents' concerns, however, have been sidelined by the US-China strategic competition. China has significantly expanded its fleet during the past decade, seeking to deter the US from intervening militarily in any future conflict over Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, and to project power across disputed territories in the gas and oil-rich South China Sea.

Beijing's naval build-up is also intended secure the sea lanes from the Middle East, from where China will import an estimated 70-80 per cent of its oil needs by 2035 supplies it fears US could choke in the event of a conflict.

China has therefore invested in what are called its "string of pearls" a network of bases strung along the Indian Ocean rim, like Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan and in developing a navy which can operate far from home.

Experts agree China does not currently have the capability to challenge US supremacy in the Pacific and Indian Ocean. "China has a large appetite", says Carl Ungerer, an analyst at Australian Strategic Policy Institute, "but it hasn't got enough teeth".

But China clearly intends to add bite to its naval arsenal. The country has acquired several modern Russian-made submarines and destroyers. Its shipyards are building new nuclear-powered submarines, as well as an aircraft carrier. There have also been reports that China is planning to test a new type of ballistic missile, the Dong Feng 21D, which would effectively render US carriers defenceless.

"China's charm offensive is over", says Ian Storey, an expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, "and its given way to what you might call an adolescent foreign policy. The country's flexing its muscles, letting us know it won't be pushed around".

The US is also investing another £126 million on upgrading infrastructure at the British-owned Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia, 700 miles south of Sri Lanka.

Key among the upgrades at Diego Garcia, which are due for completion in 2013, will be the capability to repair a nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine which can carry up to 154 cruise missiles striking power equivalent to that of an entire US aircraft carrier battle group.

Diego Garcia, which has served as a launch-pad for air strikes on Iraq and Afghanistan, is already home to one third of what the US navy calls its Afloat Prepositioned Force equipment kept on standby to support military deployment anywhere in the world.

© Telegraph

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 29, 2010

Activists remember those lost in civil war

UCA News

Activists and priests have joined with victims’ families to remember thousands of people who “disappeared” during Sri Lanka’s long civil war and insurgency.

“Forced disappearance is a crime against humanity. Let us not allow it to happen again,” rights activist Dr. P. Saravanamuttu told the 20th annnual commemoration ceremony organized by the Families of the Disappeared Movement in Colombo on Oct. 26.

“We all have a stake on this national issue. Now it is time to come together with concrete action and make it a matter of conscience of all citizens of this nation,” he added.

Delegates from leading political parties, civil society organizations, churches and embassies attended the event along with representatives from the Asian Forum Against Disappearance (AFAD).

Anglican Bishop Kumara Elangasinghe of Kurunegala accused the government of failing to stop the disappearances. “The government has an undeniable moral responsibility to stop these vicious practices,” he said.

Families of the Disappeared Movement’s reports indicate that there were over 45,000 disappearances in Sri Lanka during the 1980s. Another 75,000 more people have disappeared since 2004.

“We approached all possible authorities, police, ministers and many other influential people for help,” a relative of one disappeared person told “Some politicians even misled us. Years have passed. Yet, not a single trace of them was found,” he said.

Oct. 27 is the Day of Commemoration of Forced Disappearances in Sri Lanka. A forced disappearance occurs when a person is secretly imprisoned or killed by agents of the state or by a criminal group.

© UCA News

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sri Lanka's Military tries to polish its' image on Reality TV

By Amantha Perera | TIME

During the last years of Sri Lanka's battle against the Tamil Tigers, the military hierarchy used to receive a regular — if somewhat unusual — request: members of the forces wanted to be on reality TV.

At the time, while the decades-long civil war was still being fought, requests were turned down, says Lakshman Hulugalle, the director general of the Media Centre for National Security. Not anymore. The war has been over for almost 20 months and now the soldiers, sailors and air-force personnel are getting a shot at their 15 minutes of fame in Ranaviru Real Star (War Hero Real Star), a new reality-television show that will be open only to members of the forces. Officials say the show, set to debut on Nov. 6, will give the service personnel a chance to showcase their talents off the battlefield.

Up until now, singing and dancing is not what members of Sri Lanka's three forces have been known for. The army, navy and air force were front and center in national headlines for over two and half decades in a bloody separatist war on the island that ended in May 2009. The war that cost more than 70,000 lives created a stereotype of the front-line fighters and their commanders as being hardened, emotionless armed soldiers.

Now that the nation is at peace, the military wants to break that mold. "When someone is holding a gun, there is always a certain image that people have of that person," Hulugalle says. "There is so much that people don't know [about the soldiers]. When we used to visit bunkers at the front, we saw some of them had written poems or drawn pictures." The talent contest is the latest effort by the Defense Ministry to humanize the government soldiers' image. At the show's kickoff press event earlier this month, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the country's Defense Secretary and the man credited with being one of the driving forces behind the defeat of the Tigers, said, "We want to emphasize the human behind the weapon."

It's not the first measure the Defense Ministry has taken to reinvent the image of the military since the end of the war. When Sri Lanka confronted a threatening dengue epidemic earlier this year, armed forces were used extensively to clean up mosquito breeding areas. Military units stationed in the country's former conflict zone in the north have used the large manpower at their disposal to build badly needed public trust that was ruptured during the war — distributing artificial limbs and wheelchairs to war-injured civilians, cleaning up and repairing hospital wards, preparing agriculture land for cultivation, building houses and even repairing Hindu temples damaged during the war.

For now, it appears that the acceptance of the sunshine campaign is still drawn along the same lines that split the country during its long war. The members of the three forces, predominantly from the majority Sinhala community, are hugely popular in the country's south. But a stiffer reception is afforded to them in the north, where most minority Tamils live and over which the Tigers fought for a separate country. Large numbers of troops are still stationed in the Vanni, a wide swath of land in the north that was under the control of Tigers for over a decade until the war's end last year. More than 300,000 Vanni civilians displaced by the last bout of fighting have left the welfare camps, where little over 26,000 remain now.

The returning civilians are trying to shake off the aftereffects of the war and build normal lives as best they can. This is where the new image the military is seeking will be tested. Kandaiah Ramakrishnan, whose name has been changed at his request, has lived in the Vanni for over three decades. He has seen it all: the Tigers, the government forces and even Indian peacekeepers who were stationed there over two decades back. He is willing to give the government and the military a clean slate for now. "I don't think anybody will regret the chance they got to return home and live peacefully," says the 60-year-old government education officer. "The sterner test would be how we get to live from now on."

There are signs that the military has succeeded to some extent in getting closer to the Tamil community, especially due to the construction and development work it has undertaken in the north. "In our research in the north, we found that there were mixed feelings toward the army," says Chris Chapman, head of Conflict Prevention at the London-based Minority Rights Group International. "In some instances, the army is seen to be helping people, building homes and transporting goods so that construction can happen." But the enduring overmilitarization of the Vanni — not to mention the horrific end of the conflict in which more than 330,000 people were displaced and, according to some U.N. reports, as many 7,000 civilians died — has left many residents deeply skeptical. "There is certainly a major issue of trust amongst Tamils. They not only associate the army with human-rights violations in the last stages of fighting, but there have been historical patterns of violations," Chapman says.

Outside Sri Lanka, the government and the military continue to face allegations of human-rights abuses during the final phases of the war. In a May report titled "War Crimes in Sri Lanka," the International Crisis Group said it had evidence of civilian casualties toward the end of the fighting, and that it would hand over the evidence to authorities that could protect witnesses. The government dismissed the report, saying that any investigation into alleged violations would be undertaken by a national body and that they were not open to international investigations, as the Crisis Group demanded in the report.

Last week, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris told a forum at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies that the government has since invited international rights groups to submit evidence of any allegations of crimes committed during the war to a commission it had set up. But Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Crisis Group, stating in a joint letter that the commission failed "to meet basic international standards for independent and impartial inquiries," have rejected the invitation. An advisory panel on Sri Lanka set up by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also sought public submissions along similar lines last week, but Crisis Group officials told TIME that the evidence they say they have is unlikely to be submitted to the U.N. panel at this time. "We are planning on submitting to the panel some of our public reports on Sri Lanka, including our May 2010 report 'War Crimes in Sri Lanka,' in which we lay out what we believe is widespread and credible evidence of war crimes committed by both the LTTE [Tigers] and the Sri Lankan military in the final months of the war," said Alan Keenan, the Crisis Group's Sri Lanka project director.

Meanwhile, the Global Tamil Forum, a body representing Tamils living outside Sri Lanka, released pictures last week of what it said were incidents of massacres committed by government forces during the last stages of the war. (The organization, however, said that it could not vouch for the authenticity of the pictures, which it said it obtained from a Tiger intelligence operative.) The government rejected the pictures as the latest attempt by the pro-Tiger lobby to discredit it.

That controversy, however, has done little to dampen Sri Lanka's anticipation of the first episode of Ranaviru Real Star. TV trailers are running regularly and weekend newspapers are publishing articles on the show, trumpeting it as the first reality talent show anywhere in the world wholly dedicated to members of the armed services. A helicopter has been modified to serve as the judges' podium and the winner's take is likely to be worth up to $89,000.


Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sri Lanka eases check points in capital

Agence France-Presse

Sri Lanka said Wednesday it would begin dismantling a dozen permanent military check points in the capital which are a legacy of decades of ethnic conflict on the island nation.

Two permanent road blocks on the southwestern edge of Colombo will be removed Wednesday and 10 other similar points will be gradually eased, the Government Information Department said.

"It has become possible to dismantle the permanent check points with the improved security situation. The permanent road blocks will be replaced with alternate surveillance such as snap road blocks," a department spokesman said.

It was not clear what will happen to dozens of other check points across the country, where troops armed with automatic assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades stand guard behind sand-filled bags or heavy metal barricades.

In a sign of the changing role of the check points and atmosphere in the country, some check points had started featuring advertising space targeting motorists who are routinely held up while their vehicles are searched.

Sri Lankan troops wiped out the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May last year following a no-holds-barred military offensive.

Colombo, a city of 650,000 people, had been tightly guarded during the fighting which saw key economic and military targets, politicians and military commanders targeted by the rebels in the capital.

Since their defeat, the Tigers have not been able to stage any attacks anywhere on the island, but Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne told parliament this month that separatists living in the United States and Norway were trying to stage a comeback.

Sri Lanka is still under a state of emergency which gives police and security forces wide powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods without trial.

Shortly after the crushing of the Tigers, the government eased some of the provisions in the emergency laws, but many measures have been brought back recently under different legislation.

The United Nations estimates that up to 100,000 people died in the ethnic conflict which lasted from 1972 until 2009.

The opposition accuses the government of using emergency laws to stifle political dissent and the media, charges denied by the authorities.


Read More

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

SLA soldiers chase away resettled Tamil families in Jaffna

Tamil Net

Nearly a hundred Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers chased away Monday night more than fifty Tamil families who had returned after fifteen years to resettle in their lands in Vasanthapuram village in Ma’niam Thoaddam area located within Jaffna Municipal Council limits, sources in Jaffna said.

The Sinhala families from South who had recently come to Jaffna seeking resettlement demand to be settled in Ma’niam Thoaddam which they claim as the lands of ancient Sinhala people, the sources added. The uprooted Tamil families had come to their lands Saturday and begun constructing sheds to live in.

SLA in its offensives in 1995 to occupy Jaffna had driven away the Tamils living in Ma’niam Thoaddam.

The fifty Tamil families consisting 200 to 250 persons are again homeless being driven away from their own lands by occupying SLA.

SLA had erected big camps in Ma’niam Thoaddam when it invaded the area in 1995 and the Sinhala families claiming resettlement are encouraged and assisted to demand the lands around the camp to settle, the sources further said.

© Tamil Net

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

UN withdraws war probe Panel on Sri Lanka, asks for direct submissions before Dec.15

By K.T.Rajasingham | Asian Tribune

There will be no investigation by the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and no visit by the panel members to Sri Lanka, according to emerging reports.

When Asian Tribune contacted sources in the United Nations it was revealed that there will be no investigation by the three member panel appointed by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 22 June 2010.

A number of senior diplomats in New York also took to the view that the panel must stay within its mandate. It was also confirmed that, contrary to some circles in Colombo, the panel members have not been asked to visit Sri Lanka up to now by the UN Secretary General.

Diplomats have categorically pointed out that the said UN panel’s mandate was very vague and there was no mention about investigations.

The UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky when announcing about the appointment of the Panel said "The panel will advise the secretary-general on the implementation of the commitment on human rights accountability made in the join statement issued by president (Mahinda) Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and the secretary-general."

“The panel will look into the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience in regard to accountability processes taking into account the nature and scope of any alleged violations in Sri Lanka," Nesirky said.

The UN has made it very clear that the panel is not a fact finding or investigative body.

The Panel officially began its work on 16 September 2010.

In the meeting between President Rajapaksa and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on 24 September, which took place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly sessions in New York, Ban Ki-Moon explained to President Rajapaksa that the Committee appointed by him relating to Sri Lanka was in no way empowered to investigate charges against Sri Lanka, but was solely to advice him with matters relating to Sri Lanka.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa apprised the UNSG that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is fully transparent and has been established on the principles of accountability in keeping with Sri Lanka’s own method of searching for the truth regarding its prolonged conflict, and identifying ways of preventing such conflicts in the future.

Also Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Prof. GL Peiris on his first visit to the United Nations in September this year, asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to not to interfere in the internal matters of the country and allow Colombo to conduct ‘a domestic probe.’

In the meantime a contradictory report reveals that the UN Expert Panel has called for evidence on alleged violations in Sri-Lanka.

Accordingly, anyone wishing to make submissions in respect of the above may do so as follows:

1. Organizations and individuals may make one written submission not exceeding ten pages, and must include the contact details for the author(s) of the submission.

2. The Panel will receive submissions until 15 December 2010.

3. Submissions may be sent to:

4. Submissions made to the Panel of Experts will be treated as confidential.

Further information may be solicited from the Panel s Secretariat at the following address:

Earlier in June, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said that the UN panel would be chaired by former Indonesian attorney general Marzuki Darusman, who is also the UN special rights investigator to North Korea, and will submit its report within four months. He added that the other two members are South African human rights lawyer Yasmin Sooka who served on her country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Steven Ratner, a US international law expert who advised the UN on how to bring Cambodia's Khmer Rouge to justice.

Mr Nesirky said the panel "will advise him [Mr Ban] on the issue of accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka".

However, reports clearly revealed that three member panel on Sri Lanka is not an investigative body and its mandate is vague.

Sri Lankan government slammed the decision of the UN to set up a panel of experts to advice the secretary-general Ban-ki-Moon on human rights situation in Sri Lanka, saying it was "unwarranted" since Colombo has already formed a mechanism to address accountability issues.

In July, the Sri Lankan government set up the "Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission" with eight members that will report back in six months.

In the aftermath of the appointment of the panel, Russia and China in their capacity as two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council objected to such a panel appointment.

On 24th June Russian Foreign Ministry in a press release categorically rejected the appointment and said “Moscow has taken note of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s decision to appoint a UN panel of experts to investigate war crimes during the period of the campaign against the Tamil Tigers.

The press release added: “As follows from UN sources, this panel is not a fact finding or investigation mechanism, but is designed solely to advise him on accountability issues relating to alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. In doing so, the UN Secretary-General as chief administrative officer of the United Nations should apparently have asked the opinion of the Security Council or the General Assembly on this matter. But this has not happened. What also makes us cautious is the fact that this decision was taken without regard to the position of a sovereign state and a member of the UN – Sri Lanka. As is known, they in Sri Lanka have already begun their own investigation process at national level (the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation with a mandate to review all aspects of the conflict).”

“As follows from the statement made on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka by the External Affairs Ministry of that country, and the statement of its Minister of Information, Sri Lanka “regards the appointment of the Sri Lanka Panel of Experts as unwarranted and unnecessary and contrary to the position of a UN member state.” Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who visited Sri Lanka a few days ago, as we understand, was aware of this position of Colombo.

“We believe that the primary responsibility for investigating the events that occurred in the past in Sri Lanka lies with its Government and that the newly appointed UN panel of experts, which, as follows from UN Secretariat statements, does not intend to visit Sri Lanka, will not take any steps that would complicate the investigation being conducted by the authorities of Colombo.

“The Chinese government also criticized the appointment of a panel and expressed its support for Sri Lanka's stance against the Panel of Experts appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General to investigate alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka during the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

“China said that it believes Sri Lanka is capable of handling their own problems and urged the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and world community to help the Colombo stabilize its internal situation.

Responding to questions regarding the panel at a regular press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Sri Lanka has appointed its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to probe the violations of human rights during the war.

"China believes that the Sri Lankan government and its people are capable of handling various issues," the spokesman said.

© Asian Tribune

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sri Lanka raises defence spending by six percent

Agence France-Presse

Sri Lanka announced Tuesday it would raise defence spending by six percent in 2011 - broadly in line with annual hikes announced during the government's war with Tamil rebels.

The government allocated 215 billion rupees (1.92 billion dollars) for defence in calendar 2011, according to official figures tabled in parliament Tuesday -- about a fifth of the national budget.

Official sources say the state needs to keep defence spending high, despite the fact the ethnic war has ended, because of hefty installment payments on military hardware bought to fight the separatist Tamil Tigers.

Government forces crushed the rebels in May 2009, ending what had become Asia's longest-running ethnic conflict that claimed up to 100,000 lives over nearly four decades, according to UN estimates.

The highest portion of the defence budget next year in the island nation of 20 million people will go to the army.

The army will absorb just over half of the entire defence spending to maintain its 200,000 personnel, the figures show.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is also finance minister, is due to unveil the full 2011 budget on November 22, when he is expected to announce new revenue raising proposals to meet state expenses.

Sri Lanka's fiscal deficit shot up to 9.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, exceeding the seven percent target set by the International Monetary Fund when it released a 2.6-billion-dollar bailout package in 2009.


Read More

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sri Lanka 'pays PR firm £3m to boost post-war image'

By Saroj Pathirana | BBC Sinhala Service

The Sri Lankan government is paying a top British PR firm about £3m ($4.7m) a year to try to enhance the country's post-war image, the BBC understands.

Bell Pottinger Group was recently hired to lobby UK, UN and EU officials.

The government says it employs several PR companies but will not disclose their names or the amount paid. Bell Pottinger also refused to give details.

Sri Lanka's authorities strongly deny alleged human rights abuses in the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels last year.
Tourist arrivals

Bell Pottinger - whose motto on its website is "Better reputations, better results" - is believed to be lobbying on Sri Lanka's behalf in Brussels, following an EU decision to withdraw special tax concessions called GSP Plus.

The European Union decided in July to withdraw Sri Lanka's preferential trade access to EU markets, saying it had failed to improve its human rights record.

It is thought the firm was also employed in Sri Lanka's attempts to prevent the UN secretary general appointing an advisory panel on alleged war crimes committed during the civil war.

In the UK, the group's main focus is countering what the Sri Lankan government says is propaganda by pro-Tamil Tiger groups in the influential Tamil diaspora.

Last week the firm helped promote the UK visit of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Prof GL Peiris, who gave the keynote speech at London's International Institute of Strategic Studies.

Sri Lanka's Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal confirmed that the government had hired a few PR companies. But he refused to reveal the amounts paid.

"So many people are spending huge sums of money to tarnish our country's image. Media institutions are also involved in this. We will do everything possible to boost that image and I believe it is our duty," he told the BBC.

A Sri Lankan government source, who did not want to be named, confirmed to the BBC that the amount paid to Bell Pottinger was in the region of £3m this year.

Sri Lanka's image abroad - and in the UK in particular - has much resting on it. Britain is the main provider of tourists to the country from outside the South Asia region.

Sanjika Perera, the UK Director of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, said: "Arrivals from the UK are up 30% year on year and the market sentiments/forward bookings indicate that UK will pass the 100,000 mark in arrivals in 2010."

Tourism promotion in the UK is handled by two other PR firms, Representation Plus and Romanski.

When a request was made under the Freedom of Information act, the chairman of Bell Pottinger's parent company, Chime Communications, told the BBC Sinhala service that the act only covers UK government departments and certain contractors.

"Further I must tell you all our client contracts are commercially confidential - consequently we cannot supply the information you seek," Lord Bell said.

© BBC News

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Amid Sri Lanka's boom, life for Tamils remains bleak

Photo courtesy: Ross Tuttle

By Rick Westhead | The Star

The weathered wooden bench that serves as an open-air confessional booth at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church doesn’t enjoy much down time nowadays.

It’s not that more people are seeking forgiveness in this seaside chapel. Rather, parishioners have been flocking here just for the chance to sit with Father Cryton Outschoorn, to listen to his soothing assurance that their lives, clouded for so many years by fear and violence, are getting better.

“It seems like forever people here have been asking, ‘what can happen to us next?’ so it’s not easy to give condolences,” the 35-year-old priest said one recent morning. “Life still isn’t easy in Sri Lanka but it is better than it was. I remind them that for years they have been praying for peace and now they finally have that. It’s an answer to prayer.”

Outschoorn’s reminder notwithstanding, some Sri Lankans are struggling to be optimistic in the wake of the country’s civil war, a venomous stretch of history that lasted from 1975 until May of last year, splintering society and leaving an estimated 70,000 dead.

On one hand, news coming out of this island nation off India’s southern coast seems to be remarkably positive.

The government says foreign money is pouring into Sri Lanka now that suicide bombers and landmines are history. Economic growth is pegged at 8 per cent, unemployment is decreasing, inflation is in check, and a new International Monetary Fund-approved tax regime will bolster tax revenues.

“They have a once-in-a-generation-type story,” says Koshy Mathai, an American who is the IMF’s representative in Colombo.

Yet in many pockets of this palm-fringed nation, weary residents interviewed by the dozen tell a different tale. The prices of food, cooking oil and gas are at all-time highs, they say, and the government is failing to follow through on a promise to give provincial councils more power over local administration. Sri Lankan Pesident Mahinda Rajapaksa promises to repair roads and bridges and broken spirits, yet some say development remains largely limited to the western and southern regions of Sri Lanka, benefiting the country’s Sinhalese majority.

But conditions in Sri Lanka’s northern province, the Tamil heartland, remain bleak and still mostly undocumented because local journalists self-censor their news coverage and access for the foreign press is still tightly restricted.

That is where the bulk of the 492 refugee claimants who landed in Vancouver aboard the Sun Sea call home.

Jehan Perera, the executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka in Colombo, recently visited Jaffna province and saw how the government has resettled some Tamil families after their release from IDP camps. Close to 300,000 people were forced out of their homes in the final days of fighting between rebels and soldiers and the government now says just 20,000 remain in its so-called “welfare centres.”

Perera said he travelled up Sri Lanka’s A-9 Highway, cut off a side road and drove for many kilometres before he reached a settlement.

“They were basically living in huts with no electricity, no toilets, no hopes for jobs,” Perera said. “At night when it was pitch black, they talked about how poisonous snakes would come into their huts. For someone to say all these refugees in Canada should be returned here to be resettled like that, I just think, ‘can’t you give these people a break?’”

But a visitor to Sri Lanka doesn’t need to journey to the remote north to get a sense for how social issues still simmer.

A Colombo newspaper called Virakesari reported this month that police officials were demanding local Tamil residents register with their office, said Mano Ganesan, a Tamil politician. “It shows that mindset of mistrust by is still there more than a year after the war,” he said.

The report in Virakesari came only a few days after masked intruders burst into the offices of Siyatha, a TV and radio news broadcaster also based in the Sri Lankan capital. The media company upset government officials last year when it supported the failed presidential bid of former Sri Lankan general Sarath Fonseka. The intruders rampaged in the company’s offices for 15 minutes, assaulted staff and set fires. Yet in a high-security section of the city that still has a string of police checkpoints, the intruders inexplicably vanished afterwards.

“Either Colombo is not safe, despite the near hysterical hype on security and the ubiquitous presence of gun-toting servicemen; or the attack on Siyatha was carried out with the knowledge (if not at the behest) of powers-that-be,” the Asian Tribune newspaper wrote in an editorial about the break-in.

Other human-rights advocates point out The Economist magazine is routinely confiscated by customs agents when it dedicates coverage to current events here. And it has resolutely refused to cooperate with a UN commission studying atrocities committed in the final days of the war.

Perera said the absence of media freedom is only one of several reasons he’s anxious about Sri Lanka’s future.

Sri Lanka’s parliament last month passed an amendment to its constitution to remove presidential term limits, opening the door for Rajapaksa to run for a third term. The amendment also gives the president unfettered ability to both appoint and sack Supreme Court judges, members of the human rights and electoral commissions, and the country’s police chief.

“The separation of powers and checks and balances are all breaking down,” Perera said.

At the same time, there are growing concerns over the lack of progress toward a political resolution with the country’s Tamil minority. Instead of salving wounds, some critics say the government is exacerbating them.

In Jaffna, a city of bullet-scarred and dilapidated buildings in Sri Lanka’s north that was the de facto capital of The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the cold-blooded separatist group that paralyzed the country’s progress for so many years, Sri Lanka’s military has bulldozed L.T.T.E. cemeteries and erected a monument to the country’s fallen soldiers.

Neil Buhne, a Canadian and the Chief of the United Nations mission here, said the 1 million residents of Sri Lanka’s northern province Jaffna remain emotionally fragile and wondered why the government didn’t instead erect something to commemorate the country’s collective losses.

“They’ve gone through hell,” Buhne said. “The bulldozing of cemeteries and building a war memorial to soldiers is not a confidence-building measure. They don’t need to do it.”

In the eastern cities of Trincomalee and Batticaloa, cities that were hard hit by the tsunami in December 2004, Sri Lanka’s war continues to claim victims. The main hospital in Batticaloa, for instance, is admitting a record number of battered women.

“We have at least 10 new cases a day and many have husbands who are turning to alcohol or drugs because they can’t cope with feelings of isolation and loneliness after the war,” said Jayatheepa Pathasri, a mental-health care worker.

Pathasri herself is a casualty of Sri Lanka’s conflict.

Fourteen months ago—more than a month after the war’s official conclusion—the 26-year-old’s husband, a taxi cab driver, walked out of their home and looked back over his shoulder, hollering he’d see his wife and son later that night after work. He never came home.

“His brother was L.T.T.E. but not him,” said Pathasri, wearing a mustard-coloured sari with her hair pulled back neatly and held by a brown pin. “I think the government soldiers took him, but there are lots of stories like this.”

Even though Pathasri said some residents are struggling to cope following the end of the civil war, other locals insist they’re anxious to move on and rebuild, something they literally couldn’t afford to do for years. In L.T.T.E.-controlled swaths of the country, even renovating a modest home would bring a visit from L.T.T.E. brass demanding a contribution to the cause.

“If you had money to fix the bullet holes in your house, they figured you had money to help the cause,” a restaurant owner in Batticaloa said with a sigh.

But now, there are tangible signs of optimism in Sri Lanka’s beleaguered east, which until 2006 was controlled by the rebel group.

Travellers who brave the jarring nine-hour train ride from Colombo see roads lined with cement bags and sheets of steel. Repairs to the road linking Batticaloa and Trincomalee should be completed in months, cutting the driving time to two hours from the current eight.

Businesses, meantime, like the Indian cellphone company Airtel are gradually moving into the east and helping spur the local economy.

In a riverfront hotel in Batticaloa on a recent evening, executives with Unilever held a celebratory party for 20 local distributors.

The consumer-goods giant sells about $500,000 worth of products in the city each month, said Basil Fernando, a Unilever territory manager. When he arrived here two years ago, monthly sales were about $280,000.

As his customers munched on chicken wings and sipped arak, a local spirit made from fermented coconuts, a young woman wearing a green dress and ankle bangles danced to traditional Tamil music. Signboards taped on the walls promoted Unilever’s 10 rupee Astra margarine — you don’t need to put it in a cooler” — and its new Lux soap brand, which Fernando was sure would be a fast seller. “It’s an expensive party but it’s worth it,” he said, smiling. “The market is booming.”

There is similarly positive news further north up the coast in Trincomalee, a city of 350,000 where cement and flour factories and a flurry of fishing trawlers are the largest local employers.

While soldiers still patrol city streets, locals say they are relieved to be rid of the military checkpoints that until recently dotted the roads like 10-yard lines on a football field. Local fishermen are now allowed to take their boats out at night, something that was impossible to do during the war.

The military also seems to be trying to repair its image with locals. In coming weeks, a new reality TV show will debut in Sri Lanka that will be styled after America’s Got Talent. Members of the military will compete against one another in competitions of dancing, singing and juggling. The show’s underlying message: soldiers are people, too.

As a young woman in a pink sari and a yellow reflective vest swept garbage from a stretch of beach in Trincomalee, Thussi Ponnampala, the 28-year-old manager of a small 10-room seaside guest house here that charges 1,500 rupees ($13.50 Canadian) a night showed a visitor his vision of an expanded hotel with an all-day barbecue pit and surf shop.

“How long are we going to have fighting? There’s no future in that,” he said.

In 1990, Ponnampala said his father was stopped by Sri Lankan soldiers at a checkpoint.

“He wasn’t doing anything wrong but because he didn’t have money to pay off the soldier he was shot in the head,” Ponnampala said matter-of-factly. “But it’s all politics and we can either keep worrying about that and living in the past or move on. I choose to move on.”

Others seem to be willing to following suit.

While Sri Lanka’s northern province will contribute a mere 3.3 per cent to the country’s GDP this year, according to government estimates, money is beginning to flow into the region. The U.S. government is investing in a plant near Jaffna to make high-end blue jeans for customers such as Levi’s and J.C. Penney. New restaurants and hotels opening along the A9 are mostly owned by local Tamils, according to an August report in Time magazine.

India is promising $800 million in low-interest loans to help redevelop the north and east and is building 50,000 new homes in the once war-hobbled zone — nearly one-third of the 160,000 new homes the U.N. says are required.

China, similarly, is also vying for the affection of Sri Lanka’s government and has promised $500 million to build new seaports, a power grid, and a new highway in the east.

Despite the increased foreign investment and the steady flow of “good news” stories that salt the front-pages of Sri Lanka’s several English newspapers, some Sri Lankans say they worry that Rajapaksa’s government show no signs of being willing to loosen its grip on power.

In the east, for instance, a civilian government elected by locals is now in place, headed by a 34-year-old former child soldier named Pillayan, who was an L.T.T.E. before bolting to join the government. Yet the government has also established a governor in the east, a former military general, who can veto any legislation passed by Pillayan’s elected officials.

In 2008, the governor nixed a new law that would have introduced motor vehicle licensing fees, a venture that could have raised as much as 1 billion rupees ($100 million) a year for the province, said Dr. K. Vigneswaran, a former member of Sri Lanka’s parliament who is now an adviser to Pillayan. More recently, the governor killed an effort to pass a bill that would have allowed the provincial government to formally collect contributions from the Sri Lankan diaspora.

“They want us tied down,” Vigneswaran said in an interview. “They don’t want the north or the east princes to be financially sound.”

In Trincomalee, like other areas of the north and east, there are concerns now that the government is colonizing the region with Singhalese migrants from the south by offering them inducements to accept good jobs and cheap land. Recently, the federal government offered 50 prime beachfront plots in Trincomalee to be developed into new hotels. The plots were virtually free, Vigneswaran said, yet no Tamils bid for them, even after he attended a December meeting in Vienna with a group of Tamil expats and pleaded with them to invest.

“They asked what promises we could offer that the government wouldn’t take their money,” Vigneswaran said. “I said, ‘well what promises did the L.T.T.E. give you when you were giving them money?’ They didn’t answer. And they didn’t invest.”

As dusk settled on Trincomalee, a group of teenagers jumped on a small blue and white boat used by divers to catch clown fish from a nearby reef. Ponnampala, with a head of thick curly black hair and a wide smile, navigated his way past a herd of cows lazing on the beach and grinned and waved at a Russian air force pilot who was staying at his small guest house.

“I think our country has had enough of the fighting,” Ponnampala said. “We know that the government doesn’t believe in us. The sad thing is some people here don’t believe in themselves either. But with no war now anything is possible. We have to hold that close.”

© The Star

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Widows struggle to put life back together again

By Adithya Alles | Inter Press Service

Having to take care of eight teenage children is not an easy task for 70-year-old Yamunadevi (not her real name).

But these youngsters are her grandchildren, orphaned by Sri Lanka’s civil war of more than two decades. "I have no option. I have to take care of them, otherwise they don’t have anyone else," said Yamunadevi, who hails from Alampiddi, Mullaithivu district in the north.

Four of her grandchildren lost their parents during the last phase of this South Asian country’s bloody war, which ended in 2009 with a military victory by the government. The other four are left with only their father, who is now the sole breadwinner.

"I am not sure how long I can keep sending all of them to school," Yamunadevi remarked.

Her story is all too common in Sri Lanka’s former war zones. Women young and old are left to fend for themselves and their families because their male relatives have been killed or went missing during the last battles of the war, which was waged by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in its search for a separate homeland for minority Tamils.

Almost 300,000 people were forced to flee their homes during the last bout of fighting alone, between August 2006 and May 2009. Over 290,000 war- displaced citizens have since returned to their villages or live with host families. Their troubles, however, are far from over.

There are more than 89,000 widows in their early twenties and mid-thirties in the former conflict zones, government officials say.

The deputy minister of child development and women’s affairs, M A M Hizbullah, told a seminar here that some 49,000 widows -- majority of whom are wives of Tiger rebels killed in action – live in the country’s east, and another 40,000 in the north.

In his native Batticaloa district, the deputy minister said, there are some 25,000 widows, of which 8,000 had three children each.

Hizbullah said that he had approached the Indian government – India has always kept a close watch on developments in its neighbouring country -- for assistance to help the widows. But in some areas, programmes targeted toward their needs have already begun.

"We have plans to start a garment factory here," said Roopavathi Ketheeswaran, a government official in Kilinochchi district, adding that women often find it hard to find regular work unless programmes are designed with their needs in mind.

Even when they find work, the pay is sometimes a pittance. Seventeen year- old Ravindranathan Valarmadu, who hails from Pillumalai village in eastern Batticaloa district, for example, earns about 17 U.S. dollars a month from working as a milk collector six days a week.

This kind of situation, when many expected the end of the conflict to bring about better lives, can make widows feel helpless.

"When you don’t have a husband, when you don’t have family and you are alone, it can be tough," Rasanayagam Rahulanayani, the government agent for Vaharai division in eastern Sri Lanka, told IPS. "When assistance also slows down, the women can feel very vulnerable," said the official, who revealed that she had lost her father in the conflict.

Even as Rahulanayani was speaking with IPS, more than half a dozen widows and women whose husbands had gone missing during the war waited patiently outside her office to apply for help in matters ranging from obtaining lost identity papers to documentation on deeds.

"Widows and single mothers still find it hard within a very male-dominated social system," Rahulanayani explained. Traditionally, Tamil society dictates that men take the lead, and women are expected to follow, so that widows who now have to make all decisions, including taking care of the family business and dealing with private and public officials, may not always be fully comfortable with their new role.

Saroja Devi, a 27-year-old mother of two who was waiting to meet Rahulanayani, says her husband went missing while the family escaped the war in the north. "I don’t know where he is, or even if he is alive," Devi said.

Subsequently, Devi moved back to the east, where she hails from and where she has some family near Vaharai. "He was detained by the Tigers for awhile when he refused to help," Devi said. "We were running thorough shell fire when he went missing. There was shell fire all day and I don’t how we escaped."

At this point, Devi’s search for her husband is one that is more hope than anything else. Meanwhile, she has to eke out a living for her family.

There are hardly any jobs available in Vaharai, which lies deep in the interior of Batticaloa district, and where the key occupations are fishing and farming.

"I’m not doing anything right now. I help out my family members in the fields and they give me some money," Devi said, adding that she had no choice but to sell all her gold jewellery -- or starve.

Standing next to Devi in the queue, 29-year-old Navunad Sudha no longer has jewellery -- they had been long sold. Sudha's story is similar to Devi's. She hails from the Vaharai, married a man from the north, and was separated from her husband while fleeing the fighting.

But unlike Devi, Sudha believes that her husband, who disappeared in April 2009, is in government custody. "I will look for him till I get some proof," Sudha said.

Meanwhile, the challenges of day-to-day existence press on Sudha, who is seeking help from government officials to buy a sewing machine. "I stitch clothes at home to make some money," she said.


Read More

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Killing of Nimalarajan: A decade with no justice

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) remember and honour the ultimate sacrifice Nimalarajan made for freedom of expression. Ten years ago today, Nimalarajan was shot dead in the middle of a High Security Zone in the Northern Jaffna peninsula during curfew hours.

Nimalarajan was a freelance journalist who worked for many media outlets, including the BBC Sinhala and Tamil services, the Tamil-language newspaper,Virakesari, and the Sinhala-language weeklies Haraya and Ravaya. He was killed by an armed group on 19 October 2000, in his home. In the absence of any independent media in war torn Jaffna, Nimalarajan stood out as the lone, courageous correspondent who exposed state repression, human rights violations and the undemocratic acts of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and politicians.

Nimalarajan was brutally murdered solely because he reported the truth as a professional journalist. He was killed while listening to the BBC on the radio in his family home in the evening. The killers not only shot him, but also tossed a hand grenade in the sitting room, injuring a child and his mother. The gunmen acted as if they were sure they would not be apprehended even though Nimalarajan lived in a highly secure militarized area with many check points. The Sri Lankan army never made any attempt to interview the men on duty at those checkpoints that night, who must have witnessed the killers moving in and out of the area. Indeed the family took over an hour to transport the dead and injured to the hospital, waving a lantern at every checkpoint to be searched on route – a sign of how heavily secure the location was.

Although ten years have passed since the murder of Nimalarajan, consecutive governments of Sri Lanka have not taken any significant steps to bring the culprits to justice. International pressure has also failed in bringing about any prosecutions.

Since Nimalarajan’s killing, scores more media workers have been killed and many have fled the country. It does not come as a surprise that almost all of them were journalists who exposed government misdoings and the horror of war.

JDS views the killing of Nimalarajan as one of the first killings aimed at suppressing news of the atrocities committed in the Sri Lankan conflict. The killers of Nimalarajan have enjoyed impunity. Nine years after his death, the Tamil community that he was a part of, suffered massive bloodshed as the Sri Lankan military declared victory over the Tamil Tigers.

Today, there are statements calling for reconciliation in Sri Lanka. We believe that genuine reconciliation cannot take place if victims like the Nimalarajan family are denied justice.

While the call for justice and respect for human rights in Sri Lanka has become louder than ever, with the UN Secretary General appointing a panel to advise him on Sri Lanka, it is regrettable that institutions as such as the International Monetary Fund, which are part of the UN, have granted financial assistance with no questions asked. If the global community calling for the upkeep of human rights also supports a government that has acted with impunity, we believe a decade from now Nimalarajan’s family will still be waiting for justice.

We believe Nimalarajan’s name is a symbol of the tens of thousands of Sri Lankans now denied basic justice.

Executive Committee
Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka
19 October 2010


Read More

Bookmark and Share
© 2009 - 2014 Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  © Blogger template 'Fly Away' by 2008

Back to TOP