Thursday, March 11, 2010

SL Govt. team going to Brussels for talks with EU

By Sandun A. Jayasekera - The Government is to send a high powered official delegation headed by Treasury Secretary P.B.Jayasundara to Brussels on Monday to discuss the GSP+ and other related matters to get a more active support from the European Union (EU) for the reconstruction and reconciliation in post conflict Sri Lanka, the Government announced yesterday.

Cabinet Spokesman, Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion Minister Prof. G.L.Peiris told the weekly Cabinet news briefing that the Government is sending the official delegation to Europe with good intentions and expects the EU to reciprocate.

“There was a concerted attempt by the office of the UN Secretary General and a section of the Tamil Diaspora in the US, EU and elsewhere, sympathetic to the LTTE, and led by Global Tamil Forum (GTF) to thwart the efforts to rebuild Sri Lanka after the war against terrorism was concluded successfully,” Prof. Peiris stressed.

The war against terrorism is over but the danger of a revival of the LTTE and its threats are still there mainly at the international level. Sri Lanka must never undervalue the attempts of certain sections of the international community to harm her, he said.

The GTF that held a conference in London on February 25 which was addressed by British Foreign Secretary David Milliband has three objectives. vis-√†-vis., to bring war crime charges against Sri Lanka’s military chiefs before an international tribunal, to boycott Sri Lanka’s exports to the EU, North America and other countries and to win the right of self determination for Sri Lankan Tamils, Minister Peiris said.

The LTTE oriented Tamil Diaspora wants to set up a state of Transnational Tamil Eelam and the actions of Milliband and UN Secretary General (UNSG) Ban ki Moon have given oxygen to that campaign, Prof. Peiris charged.

The decision of the UNSG to appoint an advisory committee to brief him on Sri Lanka’s so called war crimes is totally unwarranted and against the UN charter. Besides, the initiative to appoint this committee has taken personally by the office of the UNSG, he said.

“This is an unnecessary act and against the interests of Sri Lanka. The arbitrary decision of the office of the UNSG appointing a committee to probe a member state of the UN has deprived the opportunity to other members to protect Sri Lanka from war crime charges, he said.

“The allegations against Sri Lanka are a closed matter. There was an attempt to pass a resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March 2009. It was debated and defeated with a huge margin by Sri Lanka with the assistance of her friendly countries. The appointment of an advisory committee by the office of the UNSG is against the fundamental policies of the UN Charter adopted in 1946 and against the wishes of the member countries. Why the Secretary General wants to drag this issue once again, we do not understand?” Minister Peiris asked.

Sri Lanka is always ready to deal with the international community in a friendly and cooperative manner. In turn Sri Lanka also expects the international community to reciprocate in the same respected manner, he said.

“Sri Lanka is not a football to kick around by certain groups in the international community. Why a different treatment for Sri Lanka alone? The international community, the US, UK and the EU in particular must understand the ground realities of Sri Lanka and her efforts to reconstruct, reconciliate and reconsolidate. We expect only their empathy, understanding and cooperation,” Minister Peiris emphasized.

The countries where the Tamil Diaspora is strong must not use it for their political expediency and fuel anti-Sri Lanka feelings. The funds and votes of the Tamil Diaspora are not more precious than the sovereignty and peaceful existence of Sri Lanka, he said.

Other members of the official Sri Lankan delegation to the EU are Attorney General Mohan Peiris PC, Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe and Justice Ministry Secretary Suhada Gamlath.

© Daily Mirror

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

"End media, NGO witch hunt in Sri Lanka" urge rights groups

Photo courtesy of

The Sri Lankan government should end its harassment of journalists and activists and take steps against those making threats, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a joint statement.

Since the January 2010 presidential election, the government has engaged in a campaign to silence and discredit journalists and nongovernmental organizations. A recently leaked document, which appears to be a government surveillance list of more than 30 journalists and activists, significantly raises concerns about the safety of the people on the list, the organizations said.

“The Sri Lankan government is conducting a carefully coordinated witch hunt aimed at discrediting critics of the government,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This is extremely dangerous and irresponsible in a country where journalists and activists have often been threatened and killed.”

On March 4, the directors of two highly respected Sri Lankan organizations, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), wrote a joint letter (see link below) to President Mahinda Rajapaksa expressing their grave concern about a press report of the government’s apparent surveillance list. The list places the directors of the CPA and TISL among several people in the top category, presumably meaning that they are under particularly close surveillance.

News about the government surveillance list emerged amidst a government campaign in the media to discredit nongovernmental organizations. In several statements since February 20, government officials have made vague and unproven accusations against various groups, claiming that they have attempted to “destabilize democracy” in Sri Lanka.

Concerns about the safety of individuals on the alleged government surveillance list are heightened because of previous death threats and attacks, the organizations said. In September 2008 unknown persons threw two grenades at the TISL director’s house. In August 2009 the director of the CPA received an anonymous death threat by mail. The authorities have failed to hold anyone accountable for either of the incidents.

Both the CPA and TISL played a crucial role in monitoring the January presidential election, reporting on electoral violations and the government’s misuse of state resources to campaign in favor of the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“This smacks of retaliation for reporting on violations during the presidential election,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director. “Despite the elections and the end of the war against the Tamil Tigers, the government seems to have a hard time getting rid of the habit of repression.”

© One World Net

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sri Lankan Government Heightens Intimidation Campaign Against Voices of Dissent

With less than a month to go before parliamentary elections, Freedom House condemns the Sri Lankan government’s latest attempts to intimidate human rights defenders and journalists, including Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) director Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and the executive director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, J.C. Weliamuna.

The Sri Lankan intelligence service has reportedly compiled a list of 35 human rights defenders and journalists, assigning them numerical ratings based on their levels of dissent. According to CPA, Saravanamuttu and Weliamuna are “at the top” of the list due to “perceived or alleged political allegiances.” Media reports in the past three weeks have reported government allegations about allegedly “misused” funds at Transparency International, as well preposterous claims that local and international civil society organizations are working to destabilize Sri Lanka.

“In the run up to the legislative elections slated for April, the Sri Lankan government is clearly trying to divert criticism from itself after the egregious violations perpetrated against the press and other opposition candidates during the recent presidential election,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House. According to Windsor, “This is yet another example of the government acting with impunity and trying to discredit voices of dissent.”

Allegations of the misuse of state-run media were widely reported during the recent presidential election. Opposition candidate, and former army chief, Sarath Fonseka, continues to be imprisoned after being arrested and charged with sedition a month ago.

Additionally, in recent years, dozens of journalists and activists have fled the country due to a culture of impunity and intimidation that has worsened since the January presidential election. Journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda of Lanka eNews disappeared on January 24 and remains missing, despite calls for a timely and serious investigation into his case. On March 9, the parliament voted to extend emergency regulations, which have been widely used to target activists, until after next month’s legislative elections.

“These new threats by the Sri Lankan government clearly reflect the increasingly dangerous environment for journalists and other human rights activists,” said Karin Karlekar, managing editor of Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press survey. “Over the last three years, Sri Lanka’s rating has slipped from 121st to 155th place worldwide, reflecting a dramatic deterioration in the space for local media and activists to carry out their professional activities.”

Sri Lanka is ranked Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2009.

© Freedom House

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sri Lankan Attorney General assures exiled journalists

In a meeting with a CPJ delegation on Wednesday (10), Sri Lankan Attorney General Mohan Peiris said he was prepared to offer protection to any of the nation’s journalists who return to the country from exile.

"Speaking for myself, and I’m fairly sure the government will back me up on this, there is no question that the government needs our journalists,” Peiris told the delegation in his office. “They must come back and work with us and help set up the structures so that we can work together and we can respect each other. We must work with these institutions because we need them. We know if they stay outside and attack the government that is not useful.”

When asked if the government would ensure their safety, Peries said, “Of course, if they come back, there must be assurance on our part that they won’t come to any harm.”

Pereis made the statements to CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney and Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. The meeting came near the end of a series of discussions CPJ had with Sri Lankan journalists in Colombo and Jaffna to assess the situation for reporters following presidential elections in January and before April’s parliamentary voting.

The January voting resulted in a landslide victory for incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Post-election disputes saw the arrest of the chief opposition candidate, former general Sareth Fonseka, who is being held as the government prepares charges against him and many of his supporters.

“The attorney general’s appeal to journalists to return from exile is just a first step,” said Mahoney. “The government must go further by taking concrete action to address the climate of impunity and intimidation that prompted them to flee in the first place.”

Sri Lankan journalists told CPJ about growing harassment from the government. Sri Lankan journalism is noted for its high degree of partisanship, and most media sided clearly with either Rajapaksa or Fonseka. State media heavily favored the incumbent, and staff at some state-owned media protested the violation of neutrality. Independent media chose to back one candidate, with few remaining neutral.

“Many journalists with whom we met in Colombo are very open about their fears of retribution from the government after the presidential elections, and they worry about what will come after the parliamentary elections in April,” Dietz said. “Attacks, threats, and disappearances have led many of them to consider leaving the country, and many others already have. Attorney General Peiris should extend a promise of protection to those who are still in the country as well as those who are in exile.”

The January 24 disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda, a political reporter for Lanka eNews, an opposition, pro-Fonseka Web site, remains unresolved. Ekneligoda’s wife, Sandhya, has repeatedly written to authorities, including President Rajapaksa, pleading for news of her husband’s whereabouts. The Sinhala-language opposition weekly Lanka’s editor, Chandana Sirimalwatte, was arrested on January 29, held for 19 days, and released with no charges brought against him. Earlier this week, Sandurwan Senadeera, Lanka eNews’ owner and editor, left the country after repeated threats on his life. CPJ estimates there are more than 15 Sri Lankan journalists who are now in exile, having fled to country in fear of their safety.

Sri Lanka ranks fourth, behind Iraq, Somalia, and Sierra Leone, on CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, a ranking of countries where journalists are murdered regularly and the killers go free. The country ranks 13th on CPJ’s database of journalists killed. A 2009 CPJ report, “Failure to Investigate,” reported on the history of attacks on journalists and the government’s failure to bring any prosecutions or convictions in any of the cases.

© Committee to Protect Journalists

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Israel to bolster ties with SL

Israel supported Sri Lanka throughout in its war against terrorism and now that the war is over the Israeli Government is determined to go for a robust economic co-operation agreement with Sri Lanka, Israel’s Ambassador to Delhi and Colombo Mark Sofer told the Daily Mirror yesterday.

He said this would further bolster the ties between the two countries.

Mr. Sofer who was the former policy advisor to Premier Shimon Peres met President Rajapaksa on Tuesday to discuss as to how the two countries should carry forward bi-lateral ties.

During the discussion it has been agreed to explore possibilities of collaboration in several areas including agriculture, employment opportunities, technology sharing and tourism.

“Though the narrative is different, in both Sri Lanka and Israel we believe in the defeat of extremism and terrorism. As one country which never criticized Sri Lanka during its entire period of war against terrorism we are happy for its victory over terrorism and now look forward to further promote ties especially in the area of economic co-operation” said Mr. Sofer.

Commenting on the peace prospects in the Middle East he emphasized that the challenge that awaits both Israel and Palestine today is ensuring the triumph of moderates over extremists and conceded both countries have extremist elements jeopardizing peace.

© Daily Mirror

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sri Lanka looks east to China for funding and support

Feizal Samath - The Sri Lankan president’s decision to shift foreign policy “eastward” after persistent and damaging human-rights abuse allegations from the West was confirmed last week when China emerged as the island’s biggest financial donor in 2009.

Europe, Japan and the United States have been the biggest donors until a few years back when the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was compelled to rely on China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Libya for support after intensive battles between government troops and Tamil rebels triggered civilian deaths and strong protests from the West.

Since then Mr Rajapaksa has chosen to reject western concerns on human rights and instead build new alliances with other countries.

“I have little doubt that there is a shift in foreign policy and an-anti West attitude since the last stages of the war,” said a veteran Sri Lankan economist, who declined to be named. He said the government believes the West is not of much significance as long as Sri Lanka has “other friends, most notably India and China”.

Rohan Gunaratna, a specialist on Sri Lankan affairs and a professor of security studies at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, also agreed foreign policy is aligned more towards Asia and other countries against the West, a traditional friend. “However, engagement with the West is most crucial,” he said, arguing that Asia is still a decade away from becoming the dominant global power.

Last week, the treasury department at Sri Lanka’s ministry of finance said China was the biggest donor to Sri Lanka in 2009 with US$1.2 billion (Dh4.4bn) worth of assistance in the form of grants, loans and credit representing 54 per cent of the total $2.2bn committed by foreign countries and multilateral agencies. The next highest contributors were the Asian Development Bank with $423m and the World Bank with $241m.

China’s contribution is essentially for two major projects – a huge port in the south and a coal power plant on the north-western coast.

Japan, once Sri Lanka’s biggest donor, made a commitment of just $19.5m last year, compared to an average of $250-$300 million in previous years.

Japan was a facilitator along with Norway of the 2002 peace talks between the government and Tamil fighters which broke down two years later. The rebels were finally defeated in May 2009, ending a near 30-year secessionist movement.

The foreign policy shift comes at a time when Sri Lanka desperately needs billions of rupees to fund post-war infrastructure development in the war-ravaged northern and eastern regions.

However Dayan Jayatillake, Sri Lanka’s former ambassador in Geneva and a commentator on foreign policy issues, said the West does not seem interested in development aid and infrastructure development. “Rather it seems more interested in post conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction especially in the former conflict areas,” he said.

Mr Jayatillake said in the fields of development aid and infrastructure, it is the rising economic powers – China and India – that are the most interested, together with Japan. “In the development field partnerships have shifted ‘Asiawards or Eastward’, which is in keeping with the new global economic trends,” he added.

Though Sri Lanka resents interference – so far only verbally from the West – in its internal affairs, it continues the process of engagement with the West. Britain, another critic of Sri Lanka’s human rights record, was sending Sir Peter Ricketts, the permanent under-secretary of the British foreign office to Colombo on a two-day visit to discuss various issues starting yesterday.

In another development, a government delegation will head to Brussels next week for talks with the European Union (EU) on suspended trade concessions, the government spokesman and minister GL Pieris said. The team includes the foreign secretary and the treasury secretary, both high-level government officials.

The EU last month said duty-free imports into Europe benefiting mostly Sri Lanka’s clothing exports will be withdrawn from June after the government failed to meet obligations outlined in the UN human and labour rights conventions. However, the EU has said it is willing to reconsider the decision if the government prepares a workable road map on enforcing the conventions.

© The National

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sri Lanka gets US$250mn in loans from Japan for power, roads

Sri Lanka will get 22.5 billion yen in loans (250 million US dollars) from Japan for hydro power, water supply and provincial road development in former war torn areas in the east, a government minister said.

The Japan International Co-operation (JICA) will loan 5,522 million yen (50 million US dollars) for the second stage of a hydro power complex in Upper Kotmale in Sri Lanka's central hills, minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris told reporters.

The cabinet of ministers had given the nod to borrow the money at 0.2 percent annual interest. The loan is repayable in 40 years with 10 years of grace.

JICA is also loaning 4,950 million yet (54.9 million US dollars) for a water supply project and 3,965 million yen (43.9 million US dollars) for provincial and rural roads in the former war torn areas in the Eastern province.

The loan will carry an interest rate of 0.65 percent and will be repayable in 40 years with a 10 year grace period.

JICA will also loan 9,156 million yen (101 million US dollars) for 0rovincial and rural roads in the Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces. The loans will carry an interests rate of 1.4 percent a year and have a 30-year repayment period with 10-year grace.

© Lanka Business Online

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

China to build new international airport in Sri Lanka

China is to lend Sri Lanka about $200m (£133m) to build a second international airport in the south of the island.

Another $100m from Beijing will help boost the island's railway network, Sri Lanka's foreign ministry said.

The new airport will be near a vast sea port which is being largely funded with Chinese money.

China is financing a growing number of such projects in Sri Lanka, which some see as an attempt to undermine Indian influence in the region.

The two countries are vying for contracts in Sri Lanka following the end of more than 20 years of civil war.

'Best terms'

Last week, the Sri Lankan government said China was supplying more than half of all the construction and development loans it was receiving.

Work has already started on the airport.

It is close to the massive sea port under construction at Hambantota, which is largely being funded by the Chinese government's lending arm, the Export-Import Bank.

Both projects have the same Chinese state-owned company as contractor, says the BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo.

The projects Beijing is financing include a host of road improvements in the formerly war-torn north, a huge theatre in the capital and coal power plants, our correspondent says.

They are built by Chinese contractors and use large numbers of Chinese workers.

Analysts in Sri Lanka say there is some unhappiness among Sri Lankan companies and workers who feel they are missing out.

They say Chinese interest rates are higher than those levied by Japan or the Asian Development Bank - but that Chinese projects happen more quickly and with fewer advance studies.

The government, however, says China is simply offering the best terms.

Some officials in India, Sri Lanka's neighbour and China's rival, have said they fear Beijing is trying to undermine Delhi's influence in the region through its economic assistance.

India, for its part, has just announced a credit of $70m to help upgrade Sri Lanka's southern railway line.

© BBC News

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