Monday, February 15, 2010

Sri Lanka: Chinese Military Intelligence helps for cyber censorship

By Bandula Sirimanna - Experts from China — which is embroiled in a battle with global search giant Google over allegations of web censorship — will help Sri Lanka to block “offensive” websites.

IT experts of China’s Military Intelligence Division will be here within the next two weeks to map out the modalities required for this process.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) will introduce necessary legislation to make registration with the institution compulsory for all news websites. These websites should obtain the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses from the TRC under new regulations that will be introduced shortly. In addition action will be taken to impose controls on the Google search engine as well in relation to these issues.

The four-member National Express Internet Service Advisory Committee which deals with IP addresses and related matters will also handle the proposed new rules, a senior official of the TRC said.
Newly appointed TRC Director General Anusha Pelpita, who is also the director of Government Information, said he has not received instructions from the President to impose such restrictions on news websites but he did not rule out the possibility of imposing sanctions and censorship.

The TRC has received a grant from the Institutional Development Fund (IDF) under the World Bank to develop its knowledge base and implementation capacity, enabling it to design and implement the second-generation of regulatory reforms in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector, official sources said.

The TRC intends to engage a consulting firm to assist it in the establishment of a policy and regulatory framework for Next Generation Networks (NGNs).

The overall objective of the consultancy is to establish a policy and regulatory framework with a view to facilitate efficient investments in NGN and other new comparable technologies and maintain effective competition among the infrastructure and service providers while safeguarding consumer interest. The Chinese IT experts will assist the TRC in the detailed consultation process in formulating the policy and regulatory framework on NGNs, the sources revealed.

The consultancy will also consider the issues relating to both the Internet Protocol (IP) based core networks and their interconnection with NGNs and the issues relating to the IP based Next Generation Access Networks (NGANs) connecting end users to the NGNs.

© The Sunday Times

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Finnish giant Pöyry awarded EUR 6.1 million hydropower scheme contract in Sri Lanka

Read the profile of the firm.

Finnish company Pöyry has been awarded a EUR 6.1 million contract for feasibility studies, tender design, detail design and construction supervision of the Uma Oya hydropower project in Sri Lanka. The EPC contractor for the whole project is FARAB International of Dubai(UAE).

The project comprises two dams and over 15 km of water conveyance tunnels, a 700 m deep shaft and an underground powerhouse with two Pelton turbines of totally 150 MW installed capacity. Pöyry will start the study work immediately and the design phase will be completed by end 2011. The main construction activities are scheduled to start in early 2011. The power station will be commissioned in early 2016.

The construction of the hydropower plant and the dams is part of a wider Uma Oya Multipurpose Development Project by the Ministry of Irrigation of Sri Lanka. The project combines the hydropower schemes and irrigation in a sustainable way. In the project water will be diverted from the wet central highlands into the dryer southern part of Sri Lanka for irrigation and human consumption and will use the available head of over 700 m for energy generation.

Pöyry has long experience of the study and design of dams, hydropower schemes and irrigation works in Sri Lanka. During the past 30 years Pöyry has made a major contribution to development of hydropower in Sri Lanka by engineering four major hydropower schemes.

© Pöyry

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Sri Lanka: Thousands of IDPs miss resettlement deadline

Sri Lankan government officials aim to resettle more than 100,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) by April after missing a self-imposed deadline to move everyone out of camps in the country’s north by end-January.

Rishad Bathiudeen, Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, said the delay was due in part to incomplete demining activities in northern areas. “It has impeded the resettlement process. The area needs to be completely safe for the people to resettle,” Bathiudeeen told IRIN.

“Administrative structures [in the areas] are now completely restored. They are also functional. Most schools, co-operatives and hospitals are now functioning,” he added.

A fortnight after re-electing incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa for another six years, Sri Lanka’s political focus is now on electing a new parliament, with the poll set for 8 April.

The secretary of the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, ULM Halaldeen, admitted there had been a delay in the resettlement process in the run-up to the presidential election on 26 January.

However, he said all the IDPs should be resettled by the time the parliamentary election is held, and insisted they would be able to vote.

“Come April, they all will be resettled in their own homes and leading more normal lives,” Halaldeen told IRIN. “This is a process and we are continuing to resettle people at our earliest,” he said.

As of 5 February, there were more than 106,000 IDPs remaining in camps in the districts of Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna, according to the UN, citing government agents. About 160,000 IDPs have been returned to their districts of origin, while 29,060 people have been released from temporary camps into host families and elders’ homes.

More than 280,000 were displaced in the fighting and living in government camps soon after the war ended in May 2009.

Funding warning

At the same time, the latest report issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns of funding shortfalls from February for agencies operating in Menik Farm, the largest IDP camp.

The lack of funding is expected to affect services, including the maintenance of sanitation facilities, provision of food and education, it says in the report to 29 January.

It also says that most returnees have expressed satisfaction at restarting their lives in their areas of origin but notes several challenges, including insufficient basic services, transport limitations and damaged or destroyed property and shelters.

“Indications of tensions among communities arriving at different stages of the return process had surfaced, with the civil administration indicating that it would [be] strengthening its role to support resolution of disputes,” it says.

Legislators representing Sri Lanka’s northeastern provinces also expressed concern over the practicality of resettlement initiatives.

As a result of these, IDPs would be grappling with “uninhabitable homes without the necessary facilities to help them lead a normal life”, said Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian, Suresh Premachandran. “It will take at least two years to resettle people properly with their infrastructure needs being met.”


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Monday, February 15, 2010

Free Fonseka, Lanka monks appeal to Rajapaksa

Sri Lanka’s powerful Buddhist clergy has appealed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to release former army chief Sarath Fonseka from custody, saying it was “unacceptable” to arrest a “gallant officer”, who played a key role in defeating LTTE, due to “petty political differences”.

In a letter addressed to the president, the ‘Mahanayakes’ or the Buddhist religious leaders said the monks’ grouping ‘Maha Sangha’ has throughout its long history come forward to help resolve grave national issues, including conflicts among the rulers.

They said it is unacceptable to arrest a gallant officer “due to petty political differences.”

“The government has embraced individuals such as Karuna Amman (Eastern Province chief minister, who was once part of LTTE) and Pilleyan who mercilessly attacked civilians and military personnel.

And so it surely can overlook the alleged offences committed by a man who made enormous sacrifices to unite and safeguard the territorial integrity of the country,” they said in the letter.

© The Times of India

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Sri Lanka budget deficit hit 8.5-pct of GDP for 10-months

Sri Lanka's budget deficit has hit an estimated 8.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the first ten months of the year, despite a recovery in revenues as expenses grew at a faster pace, the latest data showed.

Revenues from January to October grew 8.1 percent to 506.1 billion rupees, while expenditure rocketed at a much faster 27.1 percent driving the overall deficit to 416.3 billion rupees.

The deficit is about 8.5 percent of the 4,900 billion rupee GDP estimated at the time a deal with the International Monetary Fund was signed in July.

The overall deficit was expected to be 346 billion rupees for 2009, or about 7.0 percent of gross domestic product under the IMF deal. But the overall deficit had hit 416.4 billion rupees by October, exceeding the full year target.

The deficit in the current account of the budget, or the gap between revenue and recurrent expenditure overtook the full year target much earlier. It has now hit a record of 173.6 billion rupees or 3.5 percent of GDP.

Up to September 2009, total revenues lagged behind that of the previous year, as the economy slowed and import taxes in particular slumped amid a collapse in international trade.

Based on trends so far the budget is on track for an 11.3 percent of GDP deficit, though higher nominal growth in the economy and a faster pick up in revenues can moderated teh number.

The November numbers came after a long delay.

An International Monetary Fund mission due this month however will look at December numbers. Under the IMF deal, Sri Lanka has to provide preliminary data for assessment six weeks after a test date.

The IMF deal sought to cut the deficit so that the private sector would not be crowded out by government domestic borrowing and the economy would not be de-stabilized by money printing.

Up to October the government was able to borrow domestically without disrupting the domestic economy too much amid 'flight to treasuries' behaviour among banks, but in the past few week, the central bank has started to monetize debt.

In the first four months of the year, the government is running a temporary budget, broadly extrapolating the 2009 budget, with parliamentary polls due on April 08.

© Lanka Business Online

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Sri Lanka's president tightens his grip on power

By Kshama Ranawana - While Sri Lanka's presidential election victor, Mahinda Rajapakse, was awarded a doctorate for his efforts towards world peace by the Peoples' Friendship University, of Moscow on Feb. 5, his defeated political rival, retired General Sarath Fonseka, was unceremoniously arrested by the military police in Colombo on Feb. 8.

Fonseka, detained in a navy facility, is being accused of violating the Military Act while being army commander, and is expected to face a court martial. On the morning of his arrest, Fonseka told a media conference that he was unafraid to reveal evidence of alleged war crimes that took place early in 2009, when government forces militarily crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The arrest of a once revered war hero, who garnered 40.15 per cent of the national vote on Jan. 26, as opposed to Rajapakse's 57.88 per cent, triggered protests in some Sri Lankan cities.

The protestors were met by police teargas and water cannons. In Hulftsdorp, where the country's supreme court is located, government supporters attacked them while the police initially looked on and then arrested the protestors.

In a country that has steadily seen politicization of government agencies, and dissenters branded as traitors who bed with the LTTE, a flicker of light prevailed when Colombo's chief magistrate, Champa Janaki Rajaratne, rapped the arresting officers for letting armed thugs who attacked peaceful protestors go free.

In an apparent move to further tighten the screws on Fonseka, presidential sibling and Sri Lanka's defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, accused the United States and Norway of funding Fonseka's election campaign, a claim both countries were quick to deny.

India, Sri Lanka's geographically closest neighbour, in a fait accompli, urged for a fair trial for Fonseka, but in the Indian parliament, the leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj demanded Fonseka's release, stating "we cannot allow this to happen in our backyard."

Last week, more events unfold than there were days. President Rajapakse dissolved parliament,throwing an already fragile joint opposition into further disarray. Fonseka, who fell out with the Rajapakse regime late last year over who should be credited for the war victory, was the presidential candidate of an opposition cobbled together of unlikely political allies, including the capitalist United National Party, the Marxist Janatha Vimuthi Peramuna, several ethnic minority parties and the Tamil National Alliance, considered closest to the LTTE.

Incidents of violence and harassment against supporters of both main contenders marred the run-up to election day. Both contestants accused each other of assassination plots. Fonseka and his close associates were surrounded by government troops at a hotel in Colombo where they spent the day awaiting the result.

Rajapakse's unprecedented margin of victory was rejected by Fonseka. Sri Lanka's elections commissioner, Dayananda Dissanayake, refuting allegations of computer manipulations in the final tally, advised the opposition to seek legal redress. He did, however, fault the government for failing to ensure fair media coverage of the campaign despite directives by him and the supreme court. With Fonseka's hands being tied, it is anyone's guess whether an election petition would be filed by Feb. 17, the end of the three-week period to seek legal redress.

As expected, Rajapakse won the mostly Sinhala Buddhist rural and many urban areas comfortably, but was not so lucky in the eastern electorates dominated by Muslims and Tamils. Election day morning saw several grenade explosions in the north of the country, which is inhabited by the Tamils, and who were reported to be more supportive of Fonseka. It was not surprising then, that only a mere 20 per cent of that population voted, and mostly in favour of the general, whom they seem to consider the lesser of two evils.

On February 3rd, the joint opposition backing Fonseka led a massive rally to protest the election results.

Almost 24 hours following the election result being known, the government embarked on a witch-hunt of suspected Fonseka supporters amongst the army. Serving and retired officers, reportedly more than 20, including majors, general, brigadiers and colonels, have been arrested or dismissed. Several others have been transferred to less responsible positions, while many other senior officers have been sent on compulsory retirement citing a "a threat to national security" by defence authorities.

Their action was justified by the head of the Media Centre for National Security, Lakshman Hulugalle, as being "involved in party politics," adding that the officers had been dismissed to maintain the discipline and impartiality of the armed forces. He dismissed the actions of Rajapakse's son, a naval officer who campaigned for his father, as being irrelevant.

A week later saw a major upheaval in the police force too.

One of the arrested, Brigadier Duminda Keppitiwalana, is now being accused of the Jan. 8, 2009 murder of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramatunge, according to General Fonseka. If that is the reason for the arrest it is an interesting development. Keppetiwalana had been the military assistant to General Fonseka, who led the army when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was defeated in May last year.

The investigation into Wikramatunge's murder, like all other investigations into the intimidation of journalists, never progressed, until this arrest. Suddenly, the government, which has dragged its feet over this murder, has a suspect, and that a member of the military which Rajapakse has time and again vowed to protect against allegations of human rights violations.

In a continued pattern of media intimidation which has lasted throughout the past four years, an editor of the Lanka E News website went missing a day before the election. To date, there has been no information of his whereabouts.

Also arrested was the editor of the Lanka newspaper, the official organ of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. Though its press was sealed by the Criminal Investigation Department, that action was revoked by a court order. Several employees of the state-run media who have been critical of bias in coverage of the election are reported to have been suspended, too, and the privately owned Sunday Times reported that a private radio and TV channel which has strived to be more critical may lose its operating license.

Access to several news websites from within the country are reported to be blocked by the local internet provider, a government-owned company. On Thursday, Feb. 11, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, who heads the ministries of defence and finance took over the media ministry as well, a move described by the previous minister, as the position was being handed over, as being necessary so he could concentrate on working his electorate for the forthcoming parliamentary election.

The president of Sri Lanka already has enormous power and is immune before the law. However he is limited in the number of terms he can serve. But with two-thirds of parliament supporting him, Rajapakse could now extend his term indefinitely. What he appears to be doing is to crush all opposition so that this future can become a possibility.

Kshama Ranawana is a freelance writer, media ethics trainer and activist.


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Monday, February 15, 2010

Sri Lanka's endless wars

For Sri Lanka, 2009 was its Year of Living Dangerously. Now, 2010 is shaping up as the country's Year of Living Dictatorially.

After first vanquishing his Tamil Tiger enemies on the battlefield last year, and then trouncing his main electoral opponent last month, President Mahinda Rajapaksa might have been expected to show a measure of magnanimity. Yet his post-election impulses have tended toward revenge, not reconciliation.

Within days of Rajapaksa's re-election, the security forces swooped in on his defeated rival, former army forces chief Sarath Fonseka. He was hauled out of a planning session with opposition politicians and thrown in detention on allegations of conspiracy. The very next day, Rajapaksa dissolved parliament and called fresh elections.

It would be hard to miss the signal he was sending to anyone who dared defy him as the campaign for an April vote got underway. Journalists have also been targeted for intimidation, with critical reporters going missing or detained in recent days.

And so Sri Lanka, a country of seemingly limitless natural and human endowments, a place that seemed destined for a postwar era of peaceful prosperity, once again seems to be veering off course. It is rapidly moving from a state of war to a police state.

Sri Lanka already faces daunting challenges, a legacy of the decades-long civil war pitting the ethnic Sinhalese majority against the embattled Tamil minority. The fighting claimed some 100,000 lives, and nearly a year after the war's end, more than 100,000 Tamil civilians remain in displaced person's camps.

Now, with Sinhalese political factions at each other's throats, there is nary a thought for the plight of the Tamils, many of whom have close family connections to a large émigré community that has settled in Canada and is watching from afar with dismay. The time had come for a productive political dialogue that would address legitimate Tamil grievances while respecting Sri Lanka's territorial integrity.

Yet instead of harnessing his new mandate to seek a long overdue federalist solution, the president reverts to populist shibboleths. He has ruled out a serious decentralization of power that history shows Sri Lanka needs – and which the country's friends in India and Canada have been urging upon it for so long.

Instead, Sri Lanka is spiralling once again into a crisis. Black-robed lawyers are marching in the streets, conjuring up images of the protests that swept Pakistan when another dictator undermined the rule of law. The Supreme Court is now intervening. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged Rajapaksa to "respect the due process of law."

Flush with victory, Rajapaksa has overreached. But there is still time to pull back and bask in the glow of his triumphs, without rooting out every last opponent.

© The Star

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Sri Lanka lawyers criticise government over crackdown

Lawyers in Sri Lanka accused the government Monday of illegally suppressing protests at the arrest of former army chief Sarath Fonseka.

Thousands of people taking part in peaceful protests have been attacked by pro-government supporters despite the presence of armed police, the independent Lawyers for Democracy said in a statement.

"We were shocked to witness that protesters were first attacked by hooligans and thugs who were provided protection by the police. Subsequently the same peaceful protesters were beaten by the police," the lawyers said.

Thousands took to the streets to protest against the arrest of Fonseka, who lost a January 26 presidential election to the incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse.

Smaller protests were continuing on Monday.

Two weeks after the election, Fonseka was arrested for plotting a coup when he was army chief.

The lawyers said peoples' right to protest and expression guaranteed by the constitution were "severely undermined by the law enforcement authorities and supporters of the government".

On Sunday, the heads of Sri Lanka's influential Buddhist clergy backed opposition demands for the immediate release of Fonseka, a decorated war hero who helped crush Tamil Tiger rebels and their 37-year separatist campaign in May.


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Monday, February 15, 2010

Sri Lanka's grand opposition coalition cracking

By Krishan Francis - The main partner in Sri Lanka's grand opposition coalition will contest the next election independently, coalition officials said Monday, the first split since its defeated presidential candidate was arrested on sedition charges.

United National Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told reporters Sunday that his party had decided to go it alone but also empowered him to summon its executive committee to consider alternatives.

Another opposition official, Mano Ganeshan, told The Associated Press on Monday that the party's consideration of alternatives is the "only silver lining," because otherwise the opposition would have no chance to counter the president's control of parliament.

"I believe that the grand alliance that took shape during the presidential election is falling apart due to the very rigid position taken by the UNP," Ganeshan said. "I am afraid it may not continue."

In the presidential vote last month, a motley crew of liberals, ultra-nationalist Marxists and former Tamil separatists fielded former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who had been a close ally of the president until a falling-out after the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels ended last year.

After President Mahinda Rajapaksa secured his landslide victory, the military arrested Fonseka on unspecified sedition charges. No formal charges have been filed, and the opposition has described Fonseka's arrest as revenge for daring to challenge Rajapaksa.

Opposition officials and rights groups say that since Rajapaksa's re-election the government has started retribution against political opponents, harassing, attacking and arresting some.

Shortly after the poll, Rajapaksa dissolved the parliament, setting the stage for April 8 general elections, where the ruling coalition hopes to deepen its grip on power.

The Tamil National Alliance, the largest party for ethnic Tamils, also is splitting from the coalition to contest the election independently.

But another partner, the Marxist People's Liberation Front, said it wants to keep the coalition intact and keep Fonseka as its figurehead in their contest for parliament seats.

© Associated Press

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