Thursday, February 11, 2010


At least two journalists were arrested and several others were brutally assaulted by the police in two separate incidents while covering anti-government demonstrations on Thursday (11) afternoon. The demonstrations were called by the opposition parties to protest against the arrest of former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka.

In Maharagama, several journalists came under attack when the police baton charged demonstrators and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd who were shouting anti government slogans.

In a similar incident in Dehiattakandiya, two television journalists attached to "Sirasa TV" and "Swarnavahini" were arrested and their camera equipments were taken into custody, when they tried to film the police violence unleashed on protesters.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sri Lanka police crack down on opposition protest

Sri Lanka's police used batons to disperse hundreds of supporters of losing presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka on Thursday, a Reuters witness said, in a second day of protests against his arrest.

Tensions have risen on the island since former army commander Fonseka was arrested on Monday by military police on charges of engaging in politics against his president while still in uniform.

"Police are beating the protesters with batons," said a Reuters photographer at the scene of the protest in a Colombo suburb.

On Wednesday, at least eight people were injured when opposition activists clashed with government supporters outside the island nation's Supreme Court, officials said. Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.

The street protests, strikes and labour unrest could have a ripple effect on Sri Lanka's $40 billion economy, which is poised to grow over 6 percent this year due to post-war economic optimism and high foreign investments, analysts say.

Fonseka and Rajapaksa worked together in ending the 25-year war against Tamil Tiger separatists last year, but fell out soon after. The government said Fonseka had conspired against the president and would face a court-martial.

Fonseka lost by an 18 percentage point margin to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the Jan. 26 poll, after which he accused his former commander-in-chief of rigging the vote.

Earlier this week, Rajapaksa dissolved parliament ahead of schedule and called elections in April, hoping to build on his own victory in the presidential poll last month.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed Fonseka's arrest with Rajapaksa in a telephone call and expressed concern about events in the Asian nation, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Ban also agreed with Rajapaksa that Lynn Pascoe, head of the U.N. political department, would visit the island soon after the presidential inauguration this month, a U.N. statement said.

© Reuters

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Arrested General Fonseka warned against speaking to international bodies on ‘war crimes’

PTI - Sri Lankan government has warned the detained ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka against providing “evidence to certain international organisations” on alleged war crimes during the final battle with LTTE as it took strong exception to his remarks that he would “reveal the truth“.

“He has reportedly spoken regarding certain things that took place during the war. He also said he is going to provide evidence,” Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene said.

“If he (Fonseka) is going to give evidence to certain international organisations regarding incidents that have taken place after the war was initiated then I believe that the army has the right to question such a military officer,” he told reporters, without naming the global bodies.

Wimal Weerawansa, the chief of the National Freedom Front, a partner of the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), also cautioned Gen. (Retd.) Fonseka on the issue.

“Why is a doubt being created in the world? He (Fonseka) was not the one who commanded all the forces,” Mr. Weerawansa said on Wednesday, implying that the General was only responsible for army that time as its head, and not for Air Force and Navy.

“The state leader or someone in the political arena can say this. If something has taken place and you are revealing it, then we will make inquires about it. However, for a former army commander, who was there during the war, to make these revelations, it is a betrayal,” he said.

Prior to his detention, Gen. (Retd.) Fonseka had said on Monday that he was “not going to save anyone who has committed war crimes,” according to BBC Sinhala service.

International human rights organisations as well as the U.S. State Department had alleged that Sri Lankan security forces committed war crimes during the final phase of the war against Tamil Tigers.

"I am definitely going to reveal what I know, what I was told and what I heard. Anyone who has committed war crimes should definitely be brought into courts," Gen. (Retd.) Fonseka, who was trounced by incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa in the January 26 Presidential polls, had said.

© The Hindu

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sri Lanka: President takes over Media Ministry

The Ministry of Mass Media and Information has been taken over by President Mahinda Rajapaksa with immediate effect following a request by the present Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.

The Minister said he made the request in order to focus on election propaganda at the upcoming General elections.

© Daily Mirror

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fonseka's trial soon, can be jailed for five years: SL Defence Secretary

Sri Lanka's former army chief Sarath Fonseka will face immediate court martial for treason and he can be jailed for up to five years, the country's Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in an interview published Thursday.

Rajapaksa, a brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, also told Singapore's Straits Times that Fonseka had planned to impose military rule and his candidature in the presidential election that he lost was backed by the US and Norway.

Speaking candidly but harshly about Fonseka, Gotabaya rubbished claims that Fonseka played a key role in the military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May last year. 'What he achieved we could have done with any other commander. There were better officers.'

Fonseka was arrested Monday after being charged with conspiring against the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, his former friend, and creating rifts in the army. Fonseka's supporters have denied the charge.

The younger Rajapaksa, who as defence secretary oversaw the war against the Tigers, said Fonseka would be charged under the Army Act. 'Under the Army Act, any officer can be charged under military act within six months of leaving the military. There are other things we will do under civil code.'

He went on: 'The court martial will begin immediately after the assembling of the summary of evidence is done. I don't know how long it will take because that depends on lawyers. But we want to finish it soon. In less than six months maybe. The severity of the charges is very high. He can be put in jail for as long as five years.'

Rajapaksa said Fonseka worked with politicians and tried to win them over while holding the Chief of Defence Staff assignment. 'This was completely wrong because he was sitting in Security Council meetings. It amounts to treason.'

'He was planning military rule... He was completely trying to isolate the politics and take the country on a different path... In his very last stages as army commander he began bringing his people into Colombo and his regiment, positioning his senior regiment people all over... All these things were looking like a military coup,' said Rajapaksa.

The president's brother accused a section of the West of conspiring with Fonseka, who has accused the Rajapaksa brothers of war crimes in the military campaign against the LTTE.

'We are 100 percent convinced that Western countries with vested interests were backing him. Even the US, and countries like Norway, spent lots of money on his campaign.

'I have proof of the Norwegian government paying journalists to write against the government,' he said. 'They have vested interests and used to support the Tamil Tigers in various ways. They also supported Fonseka to try oust the government.'

Rajapaksa also linked Fonseka with the chilling January 2009 murder of Sri Lankan editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.

'We know there was no other person (involved). You have to see the circumstances. Some of the media people harmed had never criticized any other person except him or people close to him. Nothing happened to those who had been criticizing me or the president.

'We have a clue whom he has used (in the killing). We are very convinced. In fact, I know for sure. He was definitely responsible for five or six cases (of disappearances) where media people were involved. Now I am going after the people who did the executions. The truth will come out very soon.'

© Indo Asian News Service

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sri Lanka poll on April 8

B. Muralidhar Reddy - Even as people across Sri Lanka on Wednesday protested the detention of the former Army Chief, General Sarath Fonseka, it was announced that the snap parliamentary elections would be held on April 8.

The election schedule was announced after President Mahinda Rajapaksa dissolved Parliament on Tuesday night. The new Parliament is scheduled to meet on April 22.

Meanwhile, a fundamental rights violation petition, challenging the alleged arbitrary arrest of Gen. Fonseka, was filed before the Supreme Court by his wife Anoma and New Democratic Front secretary Shamila Perera.

The petition said the government had infringed on the General’s fundamental rights to the freedom of thought and conscience and the freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, right to equality and equal protection of the law, freedom from discrimination on grounds of political opinion, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, freedom of speech and expression and freedom of association guaranteed in the Constitution.

© The Hindu

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sri Lanka speaks to Pillai on Alston

The Sri Lankan government has expressed concerns to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanetham Pillay on the recent conduct of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston.

The government has said that the move by the Rapporteur, last month, to make public a technical note of the investigations on the controversial Channel 4 video by a UN panel had breached the principles and practices of the UN Human Rights Special Procedures and Mechanisms.

The concerns were expressed by Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, Mahinda Samarasinghe when he met the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, reports said.

© Daily Mirror

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Catholic and Anglican bishops say Sri Lankan elections broke laws

The recent presidential elections in Sri Lanka violated democratic boundaries through “willful violations” of election laws and did not address the concerns of the Tamil minority, Catholic and Anglican bishops in the country have said in a joint statement.

Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa won a landslide victory over former army chief Sarath Foneska in January’s “acrimonious” elections, according to Caritas. The election followed the government victory over the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels.

Since the elections, Foneska has been arrested, parliament has been dissolved and parliamentary elections have been called for April. Riots have occurred in the capital and a journalist has disappeared.

A letter from the country’s Catholic and Anglican bishops said the elections disregarded the norms of democratic debate by focusing on “personal slander” and through perpetrating “willful violation of electoral laws.”

“Our political leaders can still rectify these trends by setting self-imposed codes of conduct, especially as we approach a general election. A voter preference for those who demonstrate this change will result in a welcome transformation of our political culture,” the prelates wrote.

The bishops noted that a majority in some Tamil areas did not vote and blamed lack of transportation for depriving internally displaced people of the chance to participate.

Lack of participation among those who could vote, the bishops said, may indicate a “lack of confidence” in an electoral contest which “offered little in terms of the problems faced by Tamils.”

“Their silence may be seen as a clear message that their expectations were not being addressed.”

The bishops urged a response to “pressing priorities” including political devolution, good governance, media freedom, economic development, equal rights for the vulnerable, and the alleviation of poverty.

“We urge the President, the Cabinet and the Opposition to work towards these goals with purpose and commitment,” their letter said.

Catholic signatories to the letter were Bishops Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna; Kingsley Swampillai of Trincomalee and Batticaloa; Rayappu Joseph of Mannar; and Norbert Andradi of Anuradhapura. Anglican signatories included Bishop of Colombo Duleep de Chickera.

© Catholic News Agency

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

SRI LANKA : Danger signal

B. Muralidhar Reddy - The single largest negative fallout of former Sri Lanka Army (SLA) chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s decision to join the just-concluded presidential race is the politicisation of the nation’s military like never before. A series of developments – including what has been dubbed the biggest purge in the higher echelons of the military and the detention of a number of former military officers and soldiers – after the defeat of Fonseka, in the early hours of January 27, bear ample testimony to the sad state of affairs. A section of the media has quoted an unnamed military official as saying that it was the Army’s biggest-ever purge after the 1962 shake-up following a coup attempt by volunteer officers against Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike.

Even if one were to concede the opposition’s charge that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has launched a witch-hunt after registering a landslide victory, those who fuelled the presidential ambitions of the retired general cannot escape responsibility for the situation. The opposition has launched a high-pitched campaign against the government, obviously with an eye on the parliamentary elections scheduled for April, and it has done little by way of counselling Fonseka to exercise restraint.

That there was no love lost between the President and the general even before he became the rallying point for Rajapaksa’s political foes is well known. Fonseka himself went public with his much-publicised letter citing 16 reasons that prompted him to part company with the Sri Lanka Army after nearly four decades of association with it.

In his November 13 resignation letter, Fonseka claimed that on Rajapaksa’s request the Indian armed forces were put on high alert in mid-October on suspicion that elements loyal to him were plotting a coup against the President. According to him, the Sri Lankan establishment got in touch with New Delhi through the Indian High Commission in Colombo, conveyed its apprehensions, and sought help.

He complained in the letter that the government’s action tarnished the image of the Army. “… it was noted that the same Army which gained victory for the nation was suspected of staging a coup and thereby alerting the Government of India once again on the 15th of October, 2009, unnecessarily placing the Indian troops on high alert. This action did tarnish the image and reputation gained by the SLA… This suspicion would have been due to the loyalty of the SLA towards me as its past Commander who led the Army to the historic victory.” New Delhi denied the claim in a matter-of-fact fashion.

He alleged that various agencies misled Rajapaksa about “a possible coup immediately after the victory over the LTTE which obviously led to a change of command in spite of my request to be in command until the Army celebrated its 60th anniversary. This fear psychosis of a coup is well known among the defence circle.”

Hotel drama

It is against this backdrop that the current developments involving some military men and close associates of Fonseka have to be viewed and judged. The drama began within hours after the counting of ballot commenced on the night of January 26, and Fonseka, along with his security contingent and a number of prominent opposition leaders, moved to a five-star hotel in the heart of Colombo citing security reasons. Till date there is no cohesive explanation from either Fonseka or the opposition leaders as to what prompted them to hire the whole floor of a five-star hotel. Their account that it was meant to pre-empt an operation by the government to round up the general and all the other leaders either in their offices or in their homes only leads to more questions.

If the intelligence agencies were keeping vigil outside their offices and homes, how did the opposition leaders assume that they could move into a five-star hotel without being noticed? Their justification was that they were convinced of victory at the polls and they believed that their collective presence in the hotel would upset the plans of the Rajapaksa regime to stage a political coup and prevent a smooth transfer of power.

But this makes little sense. No political leader with a basic understanding of the ground realities could be expected to move to the luxurious environs of a hotel leaving the counting centres entirely to the charge of second- and third-rung leaders in an election that was considered a do-or-die battle for Rajapaksa.

Little wonder, then, that once the election results started trickling in, the opposition alleged that while the voting was a peaceful affair, there was massive fraud during counting. Fonseka charged that by a single click of the mouse on a computer, 1.4 million votes he had polled were transferred into the kitty of the President. The charge has been categorically denied by those connected closely with the counting process, including Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayaka.

This correspondent, who was one of the few journalists who met Fonseka in the wee hours of January 27, heard no such complaint from the general in the course of a 10-minute informal conversation. “So far, only the results of postal ballots from a few districts have been declared. They are no more than 40,000. Just wait and watch for the results. I am winning,” were his parting words.

Within hours after it became clear that Rajapaksa was headed for a thumping victory, hordes of reporters from the electronic and print media descended on the hotel premises for an audience with the general. Surfacing only after keeping them waiting for hours, he insisted that he was the choice of the people of Sri Lanka and that Rajapaksa had “stolen the verdict”.

The military surrounded the hotel with hundreds of heavily armed troops and police and checked everyone entering or leaving it. But there was no restriction on the entry or exit of people, and throughout the day the hotel had international and national media personnel seeking an audience with the general.

Rajapaksa, in his first informal interaction with the media outside the Election Commission office on the evening of January 27, dismissed the opposition’s claims as ridiculous. “What is the problem of the general? If he has any issues relating to his security, he can always contact me directly. After all, he was my former Army chief,” he told Frontline.

The general soon moved to a “safe house” in one of the posh localities of the national capital. For the next 48 hours, the house became the hub of opposition parleys.

Addressing a news conference there, Fonseka claimed that the Department of Immigration and Emigration had been instructed to prevent him, his son-in-law Danuna Tillekeratne and several other people from leaving the country. He argued that there was a move to assassinate him and that the security accorded to him had been reduced from 90 soldiers to one police inspector and three constables. He said there were no democratic rights in the country: “You can’t go to the police or the courts. You can be arrested at any time. There’s no media freedom.”

Fonseka warned that if he were killed the government’s “secrets would be exposed through an affidavit prepared by him, which would be made public on his death. He added that Brigadier Duminda Keppetiwalana had been arrested on charges that he had a role in the murder of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in January last year. Keppetiwalana, the current Commandant of the Army Training School in Ampara, served as Fonseka’s military assistant when he was Army chief. Wickrematunga, a critic of the Rajapaksa government, was killed in broad daylight while he was driving to work.

Major-General Daya Ratnayake, who served as Commissioner General (Rehabilitation) under the Ministry of Defence, has been appointed the new Chief of Staff, the second most important position in the military after the post of the Army commander. He replaces Major-General Mendaka Samarasinghe, who has been shunted to an administrative post as Director General (Joint Plans).

On January 30, the Director General of the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS), Lakshman Hulugalle, came up with a startling disclosure. He said Fonseka and some Army deserters with him had hatched a conspiracy to stage a military coup and assassinate Rajapaksa and his brothers, including Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa and Senior Presidential Adviser Basil Rajapaksa.

Simultaneously, a massive raid was conducted on the election office of Fonseka and over 15 former military officers and the general’s aides were taken into custody in connection with the alleged conspiracy. Moreover, a major reshuffle was carried out in the top ranks of the military and all those suspected of being close to Fonseka were transferred.

As of February 4, at least 37 people were held in Sri Lanka in connection with the alleged plot to assassinate the President. The state-owned English newspaper Daily News reported that most of those detained under emergency regulations were military officers.

A day earlier, 14 officers, including five holding the rank of major-general, were sent on compulsory retirement on the grounds that they had dabbled in politics.

Daily News said the police were also holding two Tamils, who had allegedly supplied the arms found in a central Colombo temple. An opposition politician, Jayalath Jayawardena, told the BBC the charge was a fabricated one and that the weapons were planted by government supporters to harass the chief monk of the temple who had supported Fonseka. Reports say the monk is among those arrested.

The first official acknowledgement of the military purge came in the form of a brief statement from the MCNS. It said: “Officers who served as political party members during the presidential election, breaching military discipline will be sent on mandatory retirement.”

The MCNS claimed that there was confirmation that several military officers had been involved in the activities of political parties during and after the election. “Retaining the officers who had interfered in political activities during their service period will have a direct impact on the country’s security,” it said. A crackdown on the non-government media is continuing. On January 30, the police detained Chandana Sirimalwatta, editor of the Sinhalese newspaper Lanka Irida, reportedly to investigate his involvement in the “coup” attempt. The offices and printing press of the newspaper were sealed.

Some prominent journalists considered to be pro-Fonseka were also at the receiving end. The BBC reported: “It is now 10 days since a writer with an outspoken website, Prageeth Eknaligoda, disappeared, and there has been no indication of his whereabouts.”

Amid international criticism, the government on February 2 reversed its decision to expel Karin Wenger, the South Asia correspondent for the Swiss radio DRS. Karin Wenger said the decision to expel her was probably because she had been asking “inconvenient questions”.

All these developments do not augur well for the nearly 21 million people of the island nation. A 2006 study by the Mumbai-based think tank Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) reiterated that Sri Lanka was one of the most militarised societies in South Asia.

The study, titled the “Cost of conflict in Sri Lanka”, said the island nation had 8,000 military personnel per one million people. Even Pakistan – of which it is said that while every country has an army, the Pakistan Army has a country – has only half that number. The corresponding figures for other South Asian countries are: Nepal 2,700; India 1,300; and Bangladesh 1,000.

In terms of military expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) too, Sri Lanka spent the most – 4.1 per cent. For Pakistan it is 3.5 per cent, India and Nepal 2.5 per cent, and Bangladesh 1.5 per cent.

The SFG researchers say: “The possibility of it [Sri Lanka] becoming less militarised lies only after 2011, conditional on the resolution of internal conflict before 2006-07.” Hopefully, both the parties in power and those in the opposition will realise the dangers of needlessly dragging the military into politics.

© Frontline

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