Monday, March 08, 2010

Military intelligence wrapped in controversy over Lasantha Wickramatunge killing

Photo courtesy of

By Ranga Jayasuriya - The investigation into the assassination of the Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga is set to cause ripples in intelligence circles.

Earlier reports indicated that former Director of the Directorate of Military Intelligence Major General Amal Karunasekara who was earlier dispatched to the West African nation of Eritria as Sri Lanka’s envoy had been recalled for questioning over the killing of Wickrematunga.

Now military spokesman Major General Prasad Samarasinghe says that Major General Karunasekara had not been questioned by the police.

The military spokesman, perturbed by reports of alleged involvement of the directorate of military intelligence in the assassination says that the reports are unsubstantiated and do injustice to the military.

“There is no grounds to accuse the military intelligence or the army for the killing. There is no evidence to substantiate those allegations,” he told Lakbimanews.
Last week, the Terrorist Investigation Division and the Criminal Investigation Department questioned 17 army personnel, of which 11 were later released. Six army personnel are still being questioned by the TID.

Denied reports

Police Spokesman SSP Prishantha Jayakody denied reports that police had questioned 60 odd officers and other ranks detailed at the headquarters of the Singha Regiment, Ambepussa over the killing of Wickrematunga.

The investigations took a new turn after investigators traced the owner of the national identity card which had been used to purchase the sim card allegedly used by the assassins.

Lasantha Wickrematunga was killed on January 8, last year while he was driving to work.

The owner of the NIC was a Tamil garage owner in Hatton. The garage owner had told investigators that a soldier attached to a military intelligence unit whom he befriended in a local liquor bar had demanded to see his NIC. The man had later discovered that his NIC was missing. This NIC has been used to purchase five sim cards which had been used by the alleged killers of Wickrematunga.

Lasantha Wickrematunga was shot dead by assassins who came in two Pulsar motorbikes. He was shot with a weapon fitted with a silencer in order to reduce the sound. Police alleged two members of the hit squad had followed the trail of the deceased editor in the morning of that fateful day.

Meanwhile, former Commander of the Army and the Chief of Defence Staff General Sarath Fonseka would stand a court martial, expected to be announced this week
The Commander of the Army, Lt General Jagath Jayasuriya, as the authority convening the court martial will appoint a three member panel of judges for the court martial. According to the Army Act, which spells out provisions for the court martial, the president of the court martial should not be the authority which convenes the court martial- in this instance the Commander of Army- or an officer below the rank of the accused officer.

However, provided that the authority which convenes the court martial certifies that a senior officer is unavailable, an officer junior in rank to the accused could be appointed to the court martial. Therefore, military sources say, Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshal Roshan Goonetilake and two senior military officials representing the army and navy would be appointed to the court martial. According to the provisions of the army act, a court martial shall have 3- 5 judges.

By the end of last week, 31 witnesses have given evidence before Army Chief of Staff Major General Daya Ratnayake, who is recording evidence. Twenty one witnesses were military officials. In addition, electronic evidence in the form of video cassettes and taped telephone conservations etc has been produced to Major General Ratnayake, who is expected to submit a report on the summary of evidence to the Commander of the Army, Lt General Jagath Jayasuriya, who would pass it onto the judge advocate of the army for legal advice.

Prima facie case

Lt Gen Jayasuriya would appoint the court martial after the judge advocate decides that there is a prima facie case against the former Commander of Army, Gen Fonseka.
Gen Fonseka, once the hero of military victory against the LTTE is now languishing in the custody of the military police. Last week, he wrote a letter to opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, urging him to form a broad national front to contest elections.

“...All forces which value democracy should rally together to face anti democratic forces which beset this country. The best strategy is to proceed with the united front agreed upon by all parties during the recent presidential election. Unless the parties promote unity among each other, it would be difficult to face future challenges. Democracy cannot be achieved by isolated action. Therefore, all who value democracy should unite together. It should be done not to protect me, but to rescue the people and the country from impending danger. Therefore needless to say that you as the leader of the opposition have a unique role in this monumental task,” Gen Fonseka said in the letter to the opposition leader.

© Lakbima News

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Sri Lanka: General Fonseka on hunger strike

Sri Lanka's detained opposition leader has begun a hunger strike after being barred from using a telephone, his party said Sunday.

Sarath Fonseka, the former army chief, was arrested a month ago after he lost a January presidential election to incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Officials have said he will face a court martial for various alleged offenses from before he gave up his army command last year, including conspiracy to overthrow the government and receiving kickbacks on arms deals.

He is detained in a naval complex in Colombo. Only his wife, lawyer and doctors are allowed to visit him.

Fonseka's office said in a statement Sunday that a court had permitted him to use phones brought by his wife.

But during her last visit Saturday, the army told her that the right to use phones had been withdrawn, the statement said. Fonseka has started fasting until he is given access to phones again, it said.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Prasad Samarasinghe said the right to use a phone was a concession allowed by army commander Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, not by a court.

Fonseka and Rajapaksa were hailed as heroes by most Sri Lankans for their role last year in defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels, ending a 25-year separatist war, but the two leaders subsequently fell out.

Fonseka's supporters claim his arrest was revenge for daring to challenge Rajapaksa in the election.

© Associated Press

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Monday, March 08, 2010

“India's help to Sri Lanka on resettlement of IDPs will continue” - Indian Foreign Secretary

B. Muralidhar Reddy - Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao called on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa here on Sunday and exchanged views on a whole range of issues of mutual interest to both the countries in general and the ongoing rehabilitation of war-displaced Tamil civilians in particular.

Ms. Rao is here on a three-day visit on the invitation of the Sri Lankan government to the island nation. Her visit comes a few days after the External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told the Rajya Sabha in a written answer that the war in the island nation was over but the search for a political settlement continued.

“The government [of India] is of the view that the conclusion of the military operations in Sri Lanka provides an opportunity to make a new beginning and pursue a lasting political settlement in Sri Lanka,” the Minister had said and added that “the necessity of reaching a political settlement has been stressed to the Sri Lankan government.”

This is Ms. Rao's first visit to Sri Lanka since she took charge as Foreign Secretary and it is the first visit of an Indian official of her stature since the re-election of Mr. Rajapaksa in the January 26 Presidential election.

A statement by the Sri Lanka Presidential Secretariat said Mr. Rajapaksa told Ms. Rao that there was considerable success in resettling internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the North and the East, with the number now standing at less than 70,000. This issue had now gone away from the attention of the international community, she said.

On the current political developments in Sri Lanka, she said the presence of more than 1,000 candidates for the coming general elections and the elections to the Northern and Eastern provinces showed the enthusiasm of the people for the democratic process, and the change that had taken place with the restoration of peace. “There is a great sense of hope and optimism in the air wherever I have been to,” she said.

Power project in Trincomalee

Ms. Rao conveyed to Mr. Rajapaksa India's willingness to continue assisting Sri Lanka in the resettlement of the IDPs.

“Similarly, India was also keen to assist in the complete restoration of the railway line in the North. Among other matters of mutual interest discussed were that of the problems faced by fisherman from both counties, the proposed coal powered power project in Trincomalee, and the necessity for understanding between India and Sri Lanka on the protection of the environment and the eco-systems,” a statement by the Presidential Secretariat said.

Colombo and Sri Lanka have been Ms. Rao's diplomatic home away from home beginning from the 1980s. She was India's High Commissioner in Colombo during the eventful years of 2004-2006, when governments changed and the Eelam War IV began. Against this backdrop, several constituencies within and outside the island nation have varied expectations from the visit.

The statement said Ms. Rao congratulated the President for his resounding victory in the recent Presidential election and observed that so much had taken place for the better in Sri Lanka since she was last here as High Commissioner.

Towards better ties

During the meeting, Ms. Rao said the victory of the President gave much cause for confidence and hope for bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka in the future, and the Indian Prime Minister looked forward to an early visit by Mr. Rajapaksa to India.

Among other matters of mutual interest discussed were the problems faced by fishermen from both countries, the proposed coal powered power project in Trincomalee, and the necessity for an understanding between India and Sri Lanka on the protection of the environment and the eco-systems.

© The Hindu

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Sri Lanka: Why is Govt extending emergency when there is no emergency situation?

by Namini Wijedasa - President Mahinda Rajapaksa has summoned parliament on Tuesday - a month after its dissolution - to allow for the extension of the state of emergency.

The president was acting well within the ambit of the constitution which states that he may summon parliament after dissolution if he is satisfied that “an emergency has arisen of such a nature that an earlier meeting of Parliament is necessary”. Parliament shall stand dissolved upon the termination of the emergency or the conclusion of the general election, whichever is earlier.

While the president is within his constitutional right (he is not always so), one question begs answering: With the LTTE defeated and the government otherwise keen to emphasise that normalcy has returned to the country, why do we need the state of emergency extended?

“Will the opposition have the courage to raise this fundamental question when parliament meets on March 9?” asked Rohan Edrisinha, who lectures in constitutional law at the Faculty of Law in the University of Colombo.

“Another question is whether all the members of the government who are now coming up for re-election believe that a state of emergency is necessary.

Also, is it desirable and appropriate to conduct an election campaign and an election under the state of emergency with all the draconian emergency regulations in place that are sometimes used to stifle legitimate democratic activity?”

Lifting emergency

In an interview conducted with this newspaper in December, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said there were “a lot of implications in straightaway lifting emergency”. “It can’t be lifted just like that,” he said, “because we are keeping certain detainees through that.”

But the state of emergency is not limited merely to the holding of detainees who should — and can — by now be dealt under normal law. For instance, would the Prevention of Terrorism Act not suffice? The emergency impinges on a host of civil liberties for which there does not appear to be a plausible excuse.

As observed in ‘Emergency Law 5: An Annotated List of Emergency Regulations’ published recently by The Nadesan Centre, legal basis that enables the president to make emergency regulations is found in the Public Security Ordinance (PSO) and in Articles 76 and 155 of the constitution.

This regulation-making power bypasses the normal legislative process which is parliament. Before the president can make emergency regulations, he must gazette a proclamation which in common parlance is called the declaration of a state of emergency.

Part II of the PSO provides that a proclamation may be made where, “in view of the existence or imminence of a state of public emergency the President is of opinion that it is expedient so to do in the interests of public security and the preservation of public order or for the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community”.

Once this is in operation, the president is empowered to make regulations “as appear to him to be necessary or expedient in the interests of public security and the preservation of public order and the suppression of mutiny, riot or civil commotion, or for the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community”.

It is difficult to imagine that the prevailing situation in Sri Lanka warrants the use of emergency regulations to deal with matters for which a host of ordinary laws would suffice.

As ‘Emergency Law 5’ points out, emergency regulations have the legal effect of overriding or amending all laws except the provisions of the constitution. However, the constitution permits emergency regulations to restrict certain constitutional provisions - that is, fundamental rights - in specified circumstances.

The question is, do ‘circumstances’ still prevail that warrant the derogation of something as vital as a citizen’s fundamental rights?

There are also constitutional guarantees which cannot be restricted under any circumstances, and these are those protecting freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to a fair trial; the prohibition of punishment by way of death or imprisonment except by an order of a competent court; and the right to a remedy for the violation of a fundamental right by executive or administrative action.


Is the emergency being extended because the government needs the security of extraordinary powers to deal with ordinary situations?

Is it being renewed so the state can arrest and detain people at will, often without reason, as it has done in the recent past?

Is it being done to give the government an advantage over opposition parties at the next election?

On the one hand, the state is on a massive drive to convince tourists to visit a Sri Lanka that is totally free of terrorism, of the violence and the turmoil of the past 30 years. On the other hand, the president feels there is a situation so urgent in this country that it requires the state of emergency to be extended; a status quo so chaotic that normal laws are not sufficient to deal with it.

It is not only civil rights that this impinges on; the negative psychological impact of an emergency being extended when there is clearly no emergency cannot be understated.

The emergency regulations...

What emergency regulations may be detrimental to the conduct of a free and fair election campaign and, thereafter, of a clean election?

Here are a few:

—Regulation 13 of the Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers) Regulation No.1 of 2005 published in Gazette Extraordinary No. 1405/14 of 13.08.2005 (EMPPR) - Empowers the President inter alia to prohibit the holding of any procession or meeting in any area, if he is of the opinion that such procession or meeting is likely to cause a disturbance of public order or promote disaffection.

—Regulation 15 of the EMPPR - Empowers the President to appoint a ‘Competent Authority’ who may, inter alia, exercise pre-censorship of publications which might be prejudicial, inter alia, to the preservation of public order

—Regulation 18 of the EMPPR - Empowers the Defence Secretary (includes an Additional Defence Secretary) to restrict the movement of a person including confining a person to ‘house arrest’, to prevent such person inter alia from acting in a manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order.

—Regulation 19 of the EMPPR - Empowers the Defence Secretary (including an Additional Defence Secretary) to detain a person in executive custody (eg. police custody) to prevent such person, inter alia, from acting in a manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order.

—Regulation 20 of the EMPPR - Empowers any public officer, member of the armed forces, or a person authorized by the President, inter alia, to arrest any person or search any premises, vehicle etc without a warrant on suspicion that such person has been concerned in the commission of an offence under any emergency regulation or that such premises vehicle etc has been used in connection with any offence under any emergency regulation.

—Regulation 27 of the EMPPR - Prohibits the affixing in a public place or distribution among the public, posters, leaflets etc, which are prejudicial to public order.

—Regulation 28 of the EMPPR - Prohibits communicating false statements likely to cause public alarm or public disorder.

—Regulation 29 of the EMPPR - Prohibits, inter alia, commenting about any matter likely, directly or indirectly, to create communal tension.

—Regulation 67(1)(b) of the EMPPR - Empowers a police officer not below the rank of Sergeant and members of the armed forces not below Corporal in the Army and Air Force, and not below Leading Seaman in the Navy, to order any person or persons on or about any public place to remove himself or themselves from that place

—Emergency (Colombo High Security Zone) Regulations No.3 of 2006 published in Gazette Extraordinary No. 1452/28 of 08.07.2006 (see Emergency Law 5: NC Ref 46) prohibits the holding of public meetings, political or otherwise, within the Zone (as described), without the prior approval of the Inspector General of Police (includes a Deputy Inspector General of Police). Comment: This would also prevent the holding of a public meeting in a private building/premises within the Zone.

—Emergency (Sri Dalada Maligawa High Security Zone) Regulations No.3 of 2007 published in Gazette Extraordinary No. 1504/10 of 04.07.2007 (see Emergency Law 5: NC Ref 102) prohibits the holding of public meetings, political or otherwise within the environs of the Sri Dalada Maligawa (as described), without the prior approval of the Inspector General of Police (includes a Deputy Inspector General of Police). Comment: This would also prevent the holding of a public meeting in a private building/premises within the environs of the Sri Dalada Maligawa.

—Emergency (Katunayake Airport High Security Zone) Regulations No.4 of 2007 published in Gazette Extraordinary No. 1504/11 of 04.07.2007 (see Emergency Law 5: NC Ref 104) prohibits the holding of public meetings, political or otherwise within the Zone (as described), without the prior approval of the Inspector General of Police (includes a Deputy Inspector General of Police). Comment: This would also prevent the holding of a public meeting in a private building/premises within the Zone

© Lakbima News

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Monday, March 08, 2010

The sins of the present and of the past

Photo courtesy of Darshana Thilakawardana

By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene - There are people who question from me as to why the individual anger on the part of some and the collective fury of many others is directed in good conscience against the rights violations of the current administration when surely, there have been comparable (or as some would argue, even worse) sinners in the past.

This question is easy to answer. In the first instance, it is worth pointing out that previous regimes were subjected to equally harsh criticisms when writers, activists and innocents were killed. The case of Richard de Zoysa is one good example. This was one case in which bitter animadversions were directed against the Department of the Attorney General for its clear complicity in covering up the brutal killing of a man who dissented by his pen alone.

Harsh criticisms of the past

Foremost among these accusers was the Liberal Party which went so far as to say in one reflection as follows; 'An all too clear impression has been created of the obstructionism of the police. In addition, the suspicions of partisanship and lack of commitment to an impartial pursuit of justice by the Attorney General's Department gravely undermine the credibility of what should be, in a functioning democracy, impartial institutions of the State. The unhelpful attitude adopted in this case by the relevant agencies of the police and by the Attorney General's Department only serves to confirm the recent deplorable trend in Sri Lankan public affairs that the distinction between the armed forces and the administrators has all but disappeared (see Statement on the Murder of Richard de Zoysa,' in 'The Liberal Party Replies to the UNP' in The Liberal Review, February 1991, at p.30.)

Current realities and recurring deep stains

Let us take this criticism from that age and that time, to the present. Can we say that anything has changed except, of course, for the fact that the Liberal Party is not inclined in any way to make such damning criticisms any longer? This is a moot point. In 2006, two highly respected senior justices of the Supreme Court, (now retired), issued a legal opinion in which they affirmed that the involvement of a senior state lawyer of the Attorney General's Department as lead counsel for the 2006 Udalagama Commission of Inquiry led to a conflict of interest as that same state lawyer had been involved in the initial investigation or inquiry into the very same incident of gross human rights violation being looked into by the 2006 Commission on the basis that the initial investigations/inquiry were unsatisfactory.

This opinion cannot, in any way, be construed as partisan, not purely because of the stature of the judicial personalities involved but primarily due to the thorough examination of relevant legal principles and precedents applied to the factual context of the situation in issue.

Indeed, there may well be those (including in the media) who would unpleasantly, unwisely and hysterically if not slanderously defend this compromised Commission of Inquiry against its critics. Yet its deeply flawed functioning which culminated in the Commission being ignominiously wound up with several cases still remaining to be inquired into is apparent for all the world to see. Unpalatable truths in this context cannot be bypassed as much as the truth could not be ignored in the Richard de Zoysa assassination.

As history recorded later, what occurred during that time became a deep stain on the independent functioning of the country's state law office. Similarly, what happened in relation to the 2006 Commission of Inquiry will also be reflected upon in the years to come. This will certainly not be to the credit of those involved in that farcical exercise as well as those springing to equally farcical defences. Let us not fight shy of saying that in all honesty.

Difference in the context of the past and of the present

But to return to our original question, there is a pertinent issue at hand which is relevant even more than our initial premise that the sins of the past attracted as much ferocious criticisms as the sins of the present. This is precisely that, the sins of the past were committed during times in which the State itself was under threat from tremendously effective subversive attacks whether originating from the North or from the South (broadly speaking).

This is not to say at all that the context justified the responses of successive governments of different political colours but who were one in using brutal counter terror tactics to quell these threats. I hasten to add that, (lest hysterical abuse may be again leveled on the basis that I am trying to whitewash the past), this is also not to say that governments of the past were less sinful in some way than the government of the present. However, it is without dispute that the context in which violations occurred in the past and the context of current violations hold out a very different flavour.

'Normalisation' of state terror?

In the aftermath of quelling one of the most bloody terrorist threats known in the modern world, we are now in a situation where there is deep public suspicion regarding the subversion of the electoral processes, a presidential candidate remains incarcerated under military law without proper charges still being brought, emergency law continues, a journalist remains 'disappeared', peaceful protestors are set upon by thugs with the connivance of the police and the media remains cowed. In other words, have we now unquestioningly accepted the 'normalisation' of state terror?

So what pray is this truly schizophrenic environment where, on the one hand, websites that carry inconvenient news are being blocked and on the other side, we are supposed to believe that this country will soon have a right to information law? While a substantial critique of the present developments in this respect belongs to a different column space, it must be affirmed that the very basis of a right to information law is that information on financial dealings of the government must be open and transparent. Are we supposed to believe that this right, in the very minimum would be secured to us?

At a general level, the problem remains the same as one year back. In the face of a government that is progressing deeper and deeper into a morass of severe rule of law contradictions, (despite what learned professors of law try hard to tell us), what is the viable political alternative that is on offer for the people?

Heading for the abyss

Paradoxically perhaps, I know of many who voted for the now incarcerated common opposition candidate, not in expectation of elevating him to power given the uneasy mix of combative political parties and highly problematic legal personalities supposedly drafting his Constitution. Rather it was in the hope that, faced with a cogent threat to his rule, President Mahinda Rajapaksa will pull back from the abyss.

Yet as post election developments have shown us, this has become a most forlorn hope. We brace ourselves for what will come in the future.

© The Sunday Times

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Monday, March 08, 2010

From Richard De Zoysa to Ekneligoda: The Slide

Dr.Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu - The 24th of February marked the first month anniversary of the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda, the Lanka E-News journalist. Two special Police teams are said to be on the case. They have however, not come up with any information as to Ekneligoda’s whereabouts.

Ekneligoda’s disappearance is yet another statistic of shame in the long list of disappearances, abductions and extra-judicial killings that have targeted the media in particular over the last four years.

His disappearance, it should be noted, took place in the course of a presidential election campaign the first post –war island-wide electoral contest in this country for two decades.

The war – the one that is between the GOSL and the LTTE is over and cannot be cited as it has been in the past and continues to be cited, shamelessly and unthinkingly by some as an alibi, justification or explanation for human rights violations.

There appears to be another war, a persisting, menacing violence that perpetuates human rights abuses with impunity.

Should the Ekneligoda disappearance be treated as a clear sign along with others of a sure and steady slide into authoritarianism?

The arrest of Fonseka – no paragon of virtue for sure, its motivation and manner, indicates that either fear and paranoia or seething revenge have replaced respect for the rule of law and the norms and procedures of democratic governance. The charges to be framed against him notwithstanding, Fonseka’s fate, probably hinges on what he has, might or will reveal on the issue of war crimes.

Whilst the debate may rage about whether justice is being done and seen to be done, assurance will be made doubly sure to deny him any opportunity to make such allegations again or elaborate on those he has made already.

Add to the Fonseka arrest and impending court martial the attempt to seal the Lanka newspaper, the arrest and subsequent release of its editor Chandana Sirimalwatte, the allegations of moves afoot to block access to certain websites and the suspension of the Tissamaharama Pradeshiya Sabha.

Most alarming in this series of events must surely be the convening and subsequent postponement of the meeting of the Sangha Council to discuss the state of governance in the land. That such an event was to take place was in itself an unprecedented and historic move by the clergy who have been conspicuous by their silence over the treatment of IDPs and the state of human rights in general. That the momentous event was postponed on the grounds of the security of the monks and of the Tooth Relic is nothing short of shocking.

Whose responsibility is it to provide security? How come if security could have been provided for the Independence Day celebrations in Kandy, it was not forthcoming for the Sangha Convention? We are in a post-war situation after all. According to our constitution Buddhism has the foremost place and there is a cabinet ministry to deal with these affairs. Is the state admitting, conceding that it cannot provide security to the venerable monks? Who would dare threaten them and even begin to hope that they could get away with it?

The answer is the regime itself as reported by some of the monks involved in convening the Council. It has been reported that monks supportive of the regime were dispatched to warn that if the Council went ahead the Sangha would be further divided and that bombs could even be exploded in the vicinity of the Temple of the Tooth!

A clear triumph of unfettered secular thuggery!

What is the regime after? – the steam rolling of all dissent and criticism? And what use will the two third’s majority sought be put to? Do we not have a right to know and what better occasion than the general election?

There is the danger as some have warned of further unrest, even violent unrest outside of the north and east if the regime persists with these tactics. It is time it took comfort and security from its electoral majorities and got on with the task of seizing upon the opportunity provided by its defeat of the LTTE to move the country from a post –war to a post conflict situation in which the challenges of peace, reconciliation and unity are addressed in earnest. This is essential for good governance and economic take off.

The 18th of February was the 20th anniversary of the murder of Richard de Zoysa. There was a theatrical tribute to mark the event comprising entirely of the work of Nobel Prize winning playwright, essayist and political activist Harold Pinter. This columnist took part in the proceedings as the Minister of Culture in Pinter’s short 2002 sketch entitled The Press Conference. At the press conference, the Minister has this to say:

“Let me make myself clear. We need critical dissent because it keeps us on our toes. We do not want to see it in the marketplace or on the avenues and piazzas of our great cities. We do not want to see it in the houses of our great institutions. We are happy for it to be kept at home so that we can drop in at any time, read what is under the bed, discuss it with the writer, pat him on the head and shake him by his hand. By this method we keep our society free of infection. There is always, however, room for confession, retraction and redemption.”

Have we come or are we coming to this?

The Bar Association election was a glimmer of hope. Not every professional association and civil society body will succumb to the dispensation of the day. The general election offers all of us an opportunity to play our part in ensuring that the bases for good governance and economic take off are firmly laid within a solid democratic framework of effective checks and balances on the exercise of executive power. It must not be yet another exercise of going back to the future.

© Daily Mirror

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Six military ‘suspects’ detained over Lasantha’s killing

By Shamindra Ferdinando - Police spokesman SSP Prishantha Jayakody yesterday (March 6) said that it was too early to say whether former Army Chief Gen. (retd) Sarath Fonseka would be questioned in connection with the ongoing investigation into the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunga, the editor of The Sunday Leader.

He didn’t rule out the possibility of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) seeking a statement from Fonseka now held on conspiracy charges at navy headquarters.

He was responding to a Sunday Island query raised at a hastily called press conference at the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS),

Jayakody said that six army personnel had been detained in connection with the investigation. According to him, they were among 17 army personnel questioned by the CID recently regarding the killing. He stressed that the detained personnel were only suspects.

Wickremetunga was killed by an armed gang on January 8 last year as he drove to work. He died in hospital after nearly three hours of emergency surgery having suffered critical head wounds.

Gangs also attacked the then Rivira Editor, Upali Tennakoon and Keith Noyhar, Deputy Editor of The Nation as well as Namal Perera of the Sri Lanka Press Institute who was a freelance journalist.

The Opposition and the media rights groups had directly accused the UPFA government of targeting media personalities critical of the administration.

Asked whether the police could reveal whether those who had been so far questioned by the CID belonged to the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), the police spokesman said that they belonged to different units. He declined to identify the six personnel held by investigators or reveal other details but expressed confidence that a breakthrough could be made.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Prasad Samarasinghe denied reports that Maj. Gen. Amal Karunasekera, former head of the DMI, had been recalled from an overseas assignment and placed under house arrest. Samarasinghe said that a section of the media had reported that dozens of DMI personnel were held.

"Some said 30 and other 50 DMI personnel detained. They also reported that former DMI head was to be questioned," he said. Samarasinghe however acknowledged that Karunasekera was back in Colombo.

He said that during the war, the DMI played a vital role to eradicate the LTTE. Emphasizing the importance of the country’s premier intelligence gathering service, he said that the Army would cooperate with the investigators, though DMI could not be targeted as an institution.

Authoritative sources told The Sunday Island that Karunasekera had been asked to meet investigators to give them an opinion regarding ‘DMI activity.’ The bottom line is that he was here to assist the investigation not as a suspect, sources said.

They said that the government would not hesitate to take punitive action against security forces personnel found guilty of offences pointing out that during the war many officers and men, including some attached to intelligence services of the armed forces, were taken into custody over criminal offences.

MCNS Director General Lakshman Hulugalle urged the media to contact him or relevant spokesmen of the police and armed forces before they published any sensitive news item.

© The Island

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Sri Lanka rejects call for war crimes investigation by the U.N.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa rejected a proposed U.N. war crimes advisory panel on Sri Lanka as "totally uncalled for and unwarranted," his office said Saturday.

Rajapaksa's press office said the president and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon discussed over the phone a Feb. 25 letter from Ban indicating his intention to set up a panel of experts to advise Ban on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa was "emphatic" in his objections and said the appointment of the intended panel "would compel Sri Lanka to take necessary and appropriate action in that regard."

"Sri Lanka looked forward to treatment as per the U.N. Charter that provides equal treatment to all members of the U.N. while respecting the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of states," Rajapaksa said.

"No such action has been taken about other states with continuing armed conflicts on a large scale, involving major human catastrophes and causing the deaths of large numbers of civilians due to military action," Rajapaksa added.

Senior officials in Colombo said on condition of anonymity that Rajapaksa hinted the United Nations had caved into pressure by some international nongovernmental organizations and the British government in considering setting up an advisory panel.

He alleged Britain's Labour government was looking for Tamil votes in the forthcoming British election, but a British High Commission official in Colombo said Britain has consistently supported the U.N. secretary general's call for an "accountability process" into allegations of violations of International Humanitarian Law during the final phase of the war in Sri Lanka's Vanni district last May.

"This has been our consistent position since May last year when the U.N. secretary general discussed the issue with the Sri Lankan government," the official said on condition of anonymity.

The United Nations, which has consistently accused the Tamil Tiger rebels of using civilians as a human shield during the final phase of the war, has estimated at least 7,000 civilians were killed in the last four months of the fighting.

The Sri Lanka government described the final phase of the 26-year war as a "humanitarian operation" to free civilian hostages held by the Tamil Tigers.

© Associated Press

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