Monday, January 18, 2010


The Sri Lanka government was found guilty of war crimes, a peoples tribunal in Ireland has said.

In its preliminary findings, the People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka (PTSL) that conducted hearings from 14 to 16 January in Dublin has also concluded that the Sri Lanka government is also guilty of crimes against humanity.

However, the-pro Tamil Tiger groups’ accusation that the government carried out Tamil genocide at the last phase of war between the security forces and the LTTE needs to be investigated.

“Harrowing evidence, including video footage, was submitted by eye-witnesses of the use of heavy artillery and phosphorous munitions, and of the continuous violation of human rights by military activity to a panel of ten international jurors over two days,” the PTSL said in a statement.

'Kangaroo court'

A member of the convening committee, Dr. Jude Lal Fernando told BBC Sandeshaya that even members of Sri Lanka military have provided the PTSL with evidence of war crimes.

The Sri Lanka government however has denied the findings of the PTSL.

Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, described it as a ‘Kangaroo court’.

Any substantial evidence found by the US State Department would be looked into by the Sri Lankan government, he said, but it has no desire to respond to the PTSL.

The PTSL is an initiative by the Ireland peace process supported by the University of Dublin and Dublin City University.

The hearings were conducted in public as well as in camera to protect the identity of key witnesses.

The PTSL, chaired by Francois Houtart, also accused the international community, UK and the USA in particular, of being instrumental in the break down of the peace process between the Sri Lanka government and the Tamil Tigers.

The Irish Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka has urged the government to allow the UN to conduct an inquiry into the war crimes and to release all internally displaced people and former combatants.

© BBC Sinhala

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Sri Lanka vote raises hopes in Washington

By Shaun Tandon - Sri Lanka's upcoming election is raising hopes in the United States for better relations after a chilly spell if the island turns the page on a bloody war that brought international opprobrium.

The January 26 election comes months after troops killed the top leadership of the Tamil Tigers, ending their ruthless decades-long separatist campaign but also triggering accusations of human rights abuses.

Asked if the election could change relations with Washington, a senior US official said: "It already has changed the dynamic in a positive way."

"A lot of the progress we've seen in the last two months or so is contributable at least in part to the election," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Sri Lanka has recently moved on key international concerns including releasing thousands of Tamil civilians who had been held for months in rudimentary displacement camps.

The US official was upbeat about pledges made by Fonseka including greater media freedom and independent commissions to oversee the judiciary and other key institutions.

"I'm hesitant to make predictions about the future, because candidates promise all sorts of things and then they don't deliver, but certainly General Fonseka has been making some good pronunciations," he said.

But the United States has strongly denied allegations made by one ruling party legislator that it is funding the opposition.

Some Sri Lanka watchers in the West -- and especially the Tamil diaspora, which has been instrumental in pressing for a harder line on Sri Lanka -- are deeply ambivalent about Fonseka.

Fonseka, who holds a US green card, escaped questioning by US authorities about possible war crimes during a November visit after Sri Lanka summoned the US ambassador to protest.

"Fonseka would not be the US's first choice as president but if he wins it would at least open the door for a better US relationship," said Robert Oberst, a Sri Lanka expert at Nebraska Wesleyan University.

"His whole association with the military is what tarnishes him in part. If there were war crimes committed, he obviously knew about them and was involved," Oberst said.

Sri Lanka increasingly distanced itself from the West as it came under fire for its human rights record. It has built ties with China and Iran and last year hosted Myanmar's reclusive military leader Than Shwe.

But Asoka Bandarage, an associate professor at Georgetown University and author of the book, "The Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka," doubted the former British colony would turn to Western rivals except out of economic necessity.

"I don't think that even ardent Sinhala nationalists would want Sri Lanka cut off from Western influence and that longstanding connection," she said.

The US official also believed Sri Lanka saw good US ties as a "long-term interest," noting that Western nations were the key market for its exports such as garments and tea.

Tamil diaspora activists have also seized on the economic dimension, launching a campaign urging a Western boycott of the island's products.

In one racy video under the slogan "No Blood for Panties," a muscle-ripped man undresses an impassioned young woman only to lose the mood when he discovers her underwear is made in Sri Lanka.

"There is really no fundamental choice between General Fonseka and Rajapakse because both were instrumental in launching this military offensive against the Tamil community," said Tasha Manoranjan, whose group, People for Equality and Relief in Sri Lanka, is running the boycott campaign.

"I think the day after the election there will no longer be any concern for the Tamil people," she said.

Yet some in the Tamil diaspora, where Mahinda Rajapakse is a loathed figure, are willing to give Fonseka at least a chance.

"The Tamil diaspora wants Mahinda to be defeated," said David Poopalapillai, national spokesman for the Canadian Tamil Congress.

"The climate would change and the rays of hope would come. It would bring some change in the country in the political climate," he said.


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Monday, January 18, 2010

Sri Lanka: Tamil votes crucial in Sri Lanka poll

As campaigning heats up ahead of Sri Lanka's presidential elections, the two main candidates are competing for support from the Tamil community.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent, and Sarath Fonseka, the former army chief, are both promising the Tamils swift integration into the Sri Lankan society.

The Tamils make up only 12 per cent of the population, but with the majority Sinhalese believed to be split between the two leading contenders, the Tamils could hold Sri Lanka's political future in their hands.

Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay reports from the capital, Colombo.

© Al Jazeera

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Monday, January 18, 2010

SRI LANKA: Another polls related death

By Pushpa Weerasekara - A man who was pasting posters of Presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka in Wariyapola was killed early this morning when he was attacked by a group using clubs, DIG Elections Gamini Navaratna told Daily Mirror online.

A group of ten supporters of General Fonseka were pasting posters, when they came under attack by a gang on seven motorcycles. They ran away to escape the attack but one of them was killed in the incident.

The victim H.M.Dhammika Herath (33) was a businessman in the area a son of the former Principal of Amakadawara Vidyalaya. The body was to be referred to the Kurunegala teaching hospital. Police attested five suspects over the incident. This is the third pre-election related death reported.

© Daily Mirror

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Sri Lanka orders tighter security after shootings

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse ordered police to step up security ahead of presidential elections after a second political activist was shot dead this month, an official said yesterday.

The ruling party supporter was killed on Saturday in the northwestern Puttalam district where several others were injured when they clashed with opposition activists, police said.

Rajapakse expressed his sadness over the second campaign-related death and urged police to ensure a peaceful run-up to the Jan. 26 vote, his spokesman Chandrapala Liyanage said.

“The president is deeply concerned about the violence and has already ordered police to make sure that there is tighter security,” Liyanage said. “He is also appealing to all parties to ensure there is no violence.”

Opposition activist Kusuma Kuruppuarachchi, 60, was the first to be killed in the poll campaign when he was shot in the southern town of Hungama last week.

Police also fired tear gas to disperse thousands of party workers in the eastern town of Polonnaruwa after mobs destroyed vehicles and buildings.

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has accused Rajapakse’s People’s Alliance of inciting violence and using intimidation to swing voters.

The US embassy in Colombo has said it was “deeply concerned” over the unrest.

Rajapakse is facing a tough challenge from his former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who quit the army and entered politics in November.

Fonseka has said that ­Rajapakse accused him of trying to seize power after crushing the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels last year and ending decades of ethnic war on the island.

In previous election campaigns, the Tigers often used violence to stop voting and also carried out suicide bomb attacks and assassinations.
This story has been viewed 272 times.

© Taipei Times

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Deadly unrest flares in Sri Lanka ahead of vote

A Sri Lankan opposition supporter was killed on Monday as fresh unrest erupted ahead of next week's presidential election despite a security crackdown, police said.

The man was killed in a clash with ruling party activists in northwestern Sri Lanka, marking the third politically-related death in the run-up to the presidential vote on January 26.

Supporters of the main opposition candidate, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, were attacked in the town of Wariyapola while they were putting up election posters, police said.

"One man was killed and several others sustained injuries," a spokesman for the police election secretariat said.

Police say they have reports of nearly 600 poll-related incidents of violence already.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is running for re-election, has ordered a security crackdown to quell unrest, his spokesman Chandrapala Liyanage said.

"The president is deeply concerned about the violence and has already ordered police to make sure that there is tighter security," Liyanage told AFP on Sunday.

"He is also appealing to all parties to ensure there is no violence."

Opposition activist Kusuma Kuruppuarachchi, 60, was the first to be killed in the poll campaign when she was shot in the southern town of Hungama last week.

Police also fired tear gas to disperse thousands of party workers in the eastern town of Polonnaruwa after mobs destroyed vehicles and buildings on Wednesday.

The US embassy in Colombo said it was concerned about the escalating violence in Sri Lanka, where the government last May crushed the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels last year and ended decades of ethnic war on the island.

"Those who lost their lives are not the only victims of these brutal attacks -- democracy is also a victim," the embassy said in a statement. "Such violence undermines the democratic rights and traditions of Sri Lanka."

The United States was recently accused by a ruling party legislator of funding the main opposition to oust Rajapakse. The allegations were denied by the embassy.

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has accused Rajapakse's People's Alliance of inciting violence and using intimidation to swing voters.

Rajapakse is facing a tough challenge from Fonseka, who quit the army and entered politics in November.


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Monday, January 18, 2010

"I only wanted a credible, independent investigation" - Philip Alston

By Namini Wijedasa - UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston raised a hornet’s nest recently by resurrecting the controversial Channel 4 ‘execution’ video and deeming it to be authentic on the basis of a report produced by three independent experts. The government immediately rejected the findings, accused him of being politically motivated and refused to heed his call for an inquiry. LAKBIMA NEWS interviewed Alston on some of the niggling questions his investigation had raised.

Ln: The government has repeatedly rejected any suggestion that the Channel 4 video is authentic. Why did you initiate an investigation on this?

PA: On the face of it there was nothing to indicate that the video was a fake. It therefore constitutes evidence of serious HR violations if the events depicted were as they were alleged to be. In such circumstances, there is always an obligation for a government and thus a special rapporteur to investigate.

Ln: Did you time the release of the independent experts’ report to coincide with the election campaign and thus cause embarrassment or difficulty to the president, as is being alleged?

PA: The timing of the report was dictated exclusively by the time it took the three experts to complete their analyses. Once they were done, I released the report. It would have been political manipulation on my part to withhold the report, or otherwise interfere with the natural timing for political reasons.

Ln: Why did you release this so early to the media? The foreign ministry says the space between the receipt of the technical note in Colombo and the scheduling of the Public Statement in New York in the morning hours of the next day hardly afforded a reasonable amount of time for a considered response from the Government of Sri Lanka.

PA: The Government was given a full day to review the report and they did this. The purpose of that time lag was not to give the government an opportunity to respond in detail, but to know in advance the content of what I was planning to say. This was not a case in which the government was expected to provide an explanation or to gather its own facts. The government had already comprehensively dismissed the video as a fake. It has repeated the same response to this new report.

Ln: When you call for an independent inquiry, who do you have in mind for conducting such a probe? What kind of process do you recommend should be adopted?

PA: The details are not for me to prescribe. That is up to the government in conjunction with the international community. The only limitations are to ensure that the inquiry is credible by virtue of its impartiality and independence and its access to the relevant persons etc.

Ln: Has Ban Ki-moon reacted to your report in any concrete sense?

PA: I am an independent expert. I have not been in contact with the S-G or with anyone from his office.

Ln: What benefit would there be to Sri Lanka in acceding to such a probe?

PA: Sri Lanka has been consistently criticized in a series of reports which allege that serious violations were committed in the crucial final months. The government has consistently denied that any such violations occurred. Under these circumstances it is in the best interests of the government to put the allegations to rest by permitting an inquiry which, ideally, will vindicate its position.

Ln: What consequences would Sri Lanka have to bear if she keeps rejecting an inquiry?

That is not for me to comment.

Ln: If Sri Lanka continues to reject an inquiry, would this matter die a natural death?

PA: Likewise.

Ln: The vast majority of Sri Lankans are elated at the defeat of one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations in the world. When it appears that much of the world has moved on, why are a few Europeans - including you - obsessed with war crimes investigations?

PA: Americans would say the same about the War on Terror, but the issues of rendition, of Guantanamo, of Abu Ghraib, etc, are not wiped away by the existence of a larger cause in which a war is being fought. I was very critical of the LTTE in my UN mission report. I called for actions to prevent diaspora support from developing countries etc. But none of this means that we must not look at any serious human rights violations which occur in the process of defeating armed groups or terrorists.

Ln: Are you picking on small countries like Sri Lanka because they are easier prey than powerful nations?

PA: I have done a major report on the United States and raised many controversial issues. Other reports have been on Israel (in the Lebanon war), on Brazil, Colombia, Kenya and a range of other relatively powerful nations.

Ln: Isn’t it natural that combatants from both sides die during war? Is there any “acceptable” way to kill your enemy?

PA: The Geneva Conventions and the other laws of armed conflict spell all this out in detail. What is never acceptable, and has not been for centuries, is to kill detainees in cold blood.

Ln: The government maintains that there are inconsistencies in the report you presented, things that the experts could not explain - for instance, the movement of certain victims, 17 frames at the end of the video and the fact that the date encoded in the video — July 17, 2009 — is a month after war ended. Doesn’t this still leave the possibility that the video is not authentic?

PA: The three inconsistencies that you cite are those that I myself identified. I made clear in my report that none of these undermine the authenticity of the videotape. The best way to pursue these matters is to hold a credible and independent investigation. That is all I have requested.

Ln: Is there an international conspiracy to embarrass Sri Lanka behind your insistence for an independent investigation?

PA: There are many instances in relation to a wide range of countries in which I have called for such investigations.

Ln: Why is it important to investigate what happened during the government’s final battle with the LTTE? Has not the end justified the means? Thousands more lives have been saved as a result of the LTTE’s defeat.

PA: It would be a sad reflection if the assumption is that without gratuitous brutality the war could not have been won. That is not a position I accept. It is a view which could be used to justify all sorts of atrocities and completely contradicts the human rights and humanitarian law obligations and constitutional values of Sri Lanka.

© Lakbima News

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Opp says Sri Lanka lied to UN over heavy weapons

Sri Lanka’s opposition Friday accused the government of misleading the UN over the use of heavy weapons during the final stages of fighting against Tamil rebels last year.

Sri Lanka is under pressure from the United Nations and Western nations to submit to a war crimes investigation after a host of allegations about the killing of prisoners and the use of weapons.

A top aide to President Mahinda Rajapakse disclosed on Thursday that Colombo ordered a halt to the use of heavy weapons only in April, two months after a UN envoy was promised that such armaments would not be used.

Former foreign minister and key opposition leader Mangala Samaraweera seized on the disclosure by the aide, Lalith Weeratunga, who said the use of heavy weapons was eventually stopped as part of a political deal with the Indian government.

The statement “indicates that despite claims to the contrary, both to the public of this country and to (the) UN... in February 2009, in fact the government had sanctioned the use of heavy weapons until April, when the Indian general election was in full swing,” Samaraweera said in a statement.

© Daily Times

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Intel chief slams media disclosure

National Intelligence Chief Major General Kapila Hendawitharana, speaking to reporters this morning, said that the disclosure by the media of LTTE assets was the “third betrayal” of the nation as it was hampering efforts by the government to aquire LTTE property.

The intelligence chief said that only one LTTE ship had been taken over by the government so far and that acquiring LTTE assets was a time consuming and difficult process and the media disclosure on LTTE assets has led the government to face some problems.

He also charged that the disclosure was another great betrayal similar to the Millennium city episode where several intelligence officers were killed after their whereabouts was disclosed in the media and the alleged claims that some senior LTTE officials who had surrendered were killed by the military during the last stages of the war.

© Daily Mirror

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Monday, January 18, 2010

SRI LANKA: Media Face Uncertainties in the Run-up to Elections

Adithya Alles - The string of events involving the Sri Lankan press over the past week has once again brought the embattled Fourth Estate into the limelight. This comes into sharp focus as the country eagerly awaits the upcoming presidential elections.

On Jan. 8, the media community held vigils to commemorate the first death anniversary of pioneering editor Lasantha Wickremathunge, killed by still unidentified assassins in 2009.

Four days later, on Tuesday, Dayaseelle Liynagee, a senior reporter at the Lankadeepa, one of the country’s widely circulated, privately owned vernacular newspapers, resigned, reportedly under pressure from some political forces over a controversial report she wrote.

Then on Jan. 13, two journalists at ‘The Sunday Leader’ reported getting mailed death threats, after which the weekly newspaper’s premises were searched by police. On this day, too, albeit on a positive note, Jayaprakash Tissainayagam, a Tamil journalist, incarcerated since March 2008, was released on bail. He had been found guilty of endangering national security and sentenced to 20 years in jail in August 2009.

If the Tissainayagam bailout was cause to celebrate, the other incidents were not.

"Justice has been served, after so long," Sunil Jayasekera of the Free Media Movement, a national media rights body, told IPS. The Tissainayagam case had gained international attention, as he was the first journalist to be tried under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The PTA provides wide powers to law enforcements officers to detain and question suspects without charges. It was enacted to curb activities by Tamil separatists, but rights groups have continuously charged that its draconian provisions are prone to abuse.

"It was the first time that the PTA had been used to try someone on what he had expressed," Jayasekera said. "It was a really dangerous precedent." Amnesty International (AI), which has been agitating against the conviction, also welcomed the release.

"We are thrilled that Tissa is finally free to rejoin his family, but he should have never been jailed in the first place," Yolanda Foster, the human rights lobby group’s Sri Lanka researcher, said in a statement. "His sentence was a gross miscarriage of justice and a violation of his human rights."

AI has urged the Sri Lankan government to squash the conviction all together.

Tissainayagam’s lawyer expressed confidence that a pending appeal against his conviction would be decided in his client’s favour. "He left prison with his moral strengthened. And as we have good grounds for the appeal, I am fairly optimistic," counsel Mathiyabaranam Sumanthiran told the media rights group ‘Reporters Without Borders’ soon after Tissainayagam’s release.

Investigation into the murder of Wickremathunge, the editor of The ‘Sunday Leader’ who was shot while on his way to work, has not progressed beyond the recovery of his mobile phone and the arrest of the man who had it. It had gone missing after the editor was brought to a hospital with fatal head injuries.

"After a 10-month investigation, the case was transferred to the criminal investigation department, but since then they have not taken any serious statements," Lal Wickremathunge, the brother of the slain editor who assumed the leadership of the newspaper, said on the murder anniversary.

"They called me once, but not again. The examination of the case before the courts has been postponed 24 times. Each time, the police said they did not have enough evidence. And the only eye witness has been missing for months," he recounted.

‘The Sunday Leader’, on the other hand, generated controversy following publication last Dec. 13 of an interview with the opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka, alleging that he heard reports of top government officials giving orders to shoot senior members of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam trying to surrender during the last phase of the war.

The Tigers were defeated in May last year. Fonseka, as commander of the Army, was credited with leading it to victory along with the President in his capacity as commander in chief of the armed forces.

The opposition presidential candidate, who had since fallen out with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, denied the newspaper report, which created a political furore in the run-up to what is dubbed the closest presidential contest in Sri Lanka’s history.

Following police search of ‘The Sunday Leader’ premises on Wednesday, police officials said that they had received information that political posters were being printed at the press. None were found during the search. Liyangee’s resignation was widely believed to have been triggered by a story she wrote on the rumoured agreement between Fonseka and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the largest Tamil party in parliament.

The article, which sparked a political fireball, claimed that Fonseka had agreed to several controversial and politically sensitive demands by the TNA. The Fonseka camp promptly denied the story.

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe, a key backer of the Fonseka campaign, complained to the Lankadeepa management over the article. After the conduct of an internal inquiry, the reporter tendered her resignation. Now the government is accusing the opposition of high-handed intimidation tactics against the media. The reporter said she also received threats over the phone.

Amid heightened political tensions, on the same day, a local reporter for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Sinhala service, Sandeshaya, Thakshila Dilrukshi Jayasena suffered head injuries when she was attacked by a mob in the north central town of Polonaruwa, about 215 kilometres from the capital, Colombo, as opposition and government supporters clashed. The incident left five others injured and four vehicles damaged.

As the country gears up for the crucial election on Jan. 26, the media landscape appears to be lurching toward uncertainties.

Media activists and observers had initially felt that the reporting climate in Sri Lanka had improved. Reporters, after all, had begun travelling to some areas that used to be restricted during the war, and filing stories. But recent events have cast a pall of gloom over the fate of the media.

"The reporting climate has improved in the past few months, but there is still a lot of tension," Lakshman Gunesekera, the president of the Sri Lanka chapter of the South Asia Free Media Association, told IPS.

Tissainayagam, free after almost two years behind bars, declined to comment on anything else but his relief. "I want to thank the media colleagues and others who helped me," he said as he left the court.

Only time will tell whether the sense of calm that appeared to have descended on the media was a mere façade or the tide has turned for the newshounds after a temporary relief.

© Inter Press Service

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