Monday, March 15, 2010

Realpolitik Rules in Sri Lanka

by Robert Harneis - The government is winning the civil war against the minority Tamils to a background of great power rivalry. China and the United States are competing for influence on this strategic island on the world's trade routes.

After over 20 years of civil war the West deliberately sabotaged peace and the separatist movement by labelling them terrorists. Now they are wringing their hands about human rights abuses.

By the year 2002 the Tigers or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam LTTE had fought their way to winning a de facto two state solution for the divided island. This was recognized by a truce sponsored by the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway. Now the government forces have almost entirely recovered the areas controlled by the rebels. It seems that in western eyes they have been a little too successful.

After studiously brushing this bloody civil war under the carpet whilst the issue was in doubt the United States and friends, supported by their media stalwarts, have suddenly woken up to the hundreds of thousands of refuges and thousands of dead in Sri Lanka.

The difference with the uproar over the 1400 dead in Gaza and the largely imaginary slaughter in Kosovo ten years earlier is startling. Nothing has changed on the ground but US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is now attempting to put the brakes on the Sri Lankan government after the United States has done everything in its power to help them to victory. The idea is for them to win but not too easily. Human rights are the excuse for a change of tack.

Despite the 2002 ceasefire agreement the US has brazenly supported the government against the Tamil separatists. A major factor has been the demonisation of the LTTE who were declared terrorists in 1997, in the now time honoured way, for independence movements that are not in favour. It is ironic that a year later the United States made the exact opposite decision in Serbia by taking the notorious Kosovan independence movement, the KLA, off their list of terrorist organisations to help them break the Serbian grip on Kosovo.

However the US government does not want to seem to be the sponsor of a drastic crushing of Tamil resistance. One Gaza is enough for this year.

In additon they want to make sure the Sinhalese government remains to a degree dependant on them. They are also concerned about the unrest spreading to neighbouring India with its large Tamil population.

They signed an Access and Cross Servicing agreement in March 2007 that allows US navy ships and air force planes to call on the island. In exchange for basing rights, the US government helped equip and train the Sri Lankan forces.

They provided them with the training and high tech tools to win the war.

The Americans have their eye on the strategic harbour of Trincomalee on the north east of the island, the best deep water harbour in the Indian Ocean and one of the best six in the world.

In 2004 the Bush administration invited the Sri Lankan government for talks but did not invite the LTTE. They then put pressure on the European Union to join them in labelling the Tigers as terrorists.

This had the effect of legitimising any action that the Sri Lanka government might take to crush the independence movement and at the same time made it difficult for them to raise money openly and promote their cause.

The then US ambassador, Jeffrey Lunstead, made the situation quite clear and warned the LTTE that if it did not quickly agree to a settlement on Colombo's terms it would face "a stronger, more capable and more determined Sri Lankan military."

He added "Through our military training and assistance programs, including efforts to help with counter-terrorism initiatives and block illegal financial transactions, we are helping to shape the ability of the Sri Lankan government to protect its people and defend its interests."

The result was exactly as expected, the Sri Lankan government restarted the war in July 2006 at great cost to the civilian population.

The Pentagon has admitted to having provided counter-insurgency training and sophisticated maritime radar used to cut supply links with Tamil sympathisers in India. With allies Pakistan and Israel they have greatly upgraded the government forces. Indeed the sudden and dramatic improvement in the performance of the government forces leads to the conclusion that at some point US special forces of some kind may have been involved.

Having successfully stoked up the war the Americans are trying to calm things down.

In March the United States seriously proposed landing a brigade of marines supposedly for the purpose of humanitarian aid. The Sri Lankan government declined the offer. India has sent military medical teams but with its large Tamil population and the memory of a previous disastrous intervention, is reluctant to do more. Secretary of State Clinton's latest statement accuses the Sri Lankan government of "causing such untold suffering" and urges a "political solution". It has taken her and her advisers a long time to notice.

However the Sri Lankan government has insured against fickle US support by building a relationship with the Chinese government. In 2007 they were granted the right to build port facilities and an airfield in the south of the island. In exchange the Chinese have supplied military hardware. As important, with Russian backing, they have blocked the long delayed US initiatives in the United Security Council to discus the "humanitarian crisis". China rejected this approach, pointing out that it was "an internal matter" and not a threat to international security.

As the war winds down with a seemingly complete victory for the government forces the full gush of western humanitarian sentiment will be unleashed on the Sri Lankan government. They will treat this with the contempt it deserves. It took them 25 years to defeat the separatists and they do not intend to accept a political truce now. In addition they are likely to remember who their real friends were at the end.

© Global Research

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Monday, March 15, 2010

US reports rights violations in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka violated human rights last year as it dealt a final blow to Tamil Tiger insurgents and clamped down on media freedom, the US State Department said Thursday.

But in an annual report, the State Department also reported some signs of progress since May when Sri Lankan forces defeated the Tigers who had waged a 37-year war for a separate Tamil homeland.

"The government's respect for human rights declined as armed conflict reached its conclusion," the State Department said.

It said that young Tamil men accounted for an "overwhelming majority" of victims of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, even though Tamils only make up some 16 percent of the population.

The State Department said that "media freedom deteriorated" in much of Sri Lanka, with "most journalists" practicing self-censorship after threats and violence against them.

Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, a member of the Sinhalese majority who was critical of the war, was gunned down near Colombo in January 2009.

"Senior government officials repeatedly accused critical journalists of treason and often pressured editors and publishers to run stories that portrayed the government in a positive light," the State Department said.

"Statements by government and military officials contributed to an environment in which journalists who published articles critical of the government felt under threat," it said.

But the State Department also reported some improvements.

It said that the number of disappearances went down with the end of the war and found that Sri Lanka made "significant progress" in reducing the use of child soldiers by the pro-government Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal.

It also said that Sri Lanka improved conditions in detention camps for tens of thousands of Tamil civilians after an international outcry.

In December, Sri Lanka allowed civilians to leave the camps. The government said it had needed months to weed out Tiger partisans.


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Monday, March 15, 2010

Sri Lanka: Former Chief Justice calls Lanka undemocratic

Photo courtesy of Daily Mirror

By Gandhya Senanayake - Former Chief Justice Sarath N. Siva charged today that Sri Lanka had become an undemocratic country by betraying all its human rights principles which it had signed with the international community over the years.

Speaking to journalists a short while ago, Silva stressed that by arresting Sarath Fonseka the government had gone against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

He further maintained that the Army Act did not apply on Fonseka as Army Commanders were not commissioned officers or enlisted soldiers and if there were any complaints against Fonseka, then the government should try him under the civil law.

“If Fonseka had committed some offence, he should have been arrested under the civil law,” Silva said.

© Daily Mirror

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Sri Lanka's main Tamil party vows civil disobedience

Sri Lanka's main Tamil party on Saturday vowed to launch a Gandhi-style civil disobedience campaign to press a long-standing demand for regional autonomy for their ethnic minority.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in its manifesto for April parliamentary elections renewed its demand for extensive regional autonomy -- after Tamil Tiger rebels who fought in their name were crushed last year.

"If the Sri Lankan state continues its present style of governance without due regard to the rights of the Tamil-speaking peoples, the TNA will launch a peaceful, non-violent campaign of civil disobedience on the Gandhian model," the party said.

The TNA was a puppet of the Tamil Tiger rebels who were crushed by security forces in May last year after 37 years of fighting. The United Nations has said up to 100,000 people were killed in the conflict.

On Saturday the alliance said it would lobby neighbouring India and the international community to ensure the island's Tamil community -- 12.5 percent of the population -- gets a greater say in the administration.

The Tigers agreed to a federal state in December 2002 but Norwegian-brokered talks collapsed in 2006 leading to more fighting that eventually resulted in the Tigers' annihilation last year.

The TNA leadership has repeatedly distanced itself from hardliners who demanded outright independence for Tamils in the mainly Sinhalese country of 20 million people.

"Power sharing arrangements must be established... based on a federal structure in a manner also acceptable to the Tamil-speaking Muslim people," the TNA said in its latest manifesto.

The TNA, a coalition of moderate Tamil parties, has 22 seats in the outgoing parliament, but the various elements have split following the crushing of the Tigers, weakening their bargaining position.


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Monday, March 15, 2010

Lawyers alarmed over 'rights abuse' in Sri Lanka

By Saroj Pathirana - A panel of international lawyers says it is alarmed over reports that human rights activists and reporters are being intimidated in Sri Lanka.

The International Bar Association (IBA) also voiced concern over the possibility of bringing in criminal charges against activists by Colombo.

It says that 35 activists critical of the government have been listed according "to their level of dissent".

Sri Lanka maintains there is no intimidation against rights activists.

The IBA, which represents the legal professionals worldwide, says that prominent Sri Lankan human rights lawyer JC Weliamuna and rights activist Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu are "understood to have been placed at the top of a list", to be targeted by the authorities.

The IBA says 35 activists, lawyers and journalists who have been critical of the government have been listed.

The government has not officially commented on the alleged list.

'Witch hunt'

The IBA says it is "deeply concerned" for the safety of Mr Weliamuna and Mr Saravanamuttu "who have previously been subject to serious coercion, including physical attacks and death threats".

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Transparency International Sri Lanka of which Mr Weliamuna is the executive director, the Centre for Policy Alternatives headed by Dr Saravanamuttu, and the Asian Human Rights Commission have also urged the Sri Lanka authorities to end their "witch hunt".

In recent weeks, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and ministers have warned that international and domestic groups found to be "conspiring against the government" will be banned.

A recent report by the US state department has raised concern over threats against human rights activists in Sri Lanka.

Alex Wilks of the IBA told the BBC Sinhala service that it had been approached by international organisations expressing concern.

"We are worried that these criminal charges are being brought against Mr Weliamuna with a view to intimidating him and preventing further activities," Mr Wilks said.

Juan Mendez, another IBA member, urged the Sri Lankan government to demonstrate its commitment to democratic principles "by ensuring that freedom of expression and accountability are made a reality for all its citizens".

© BBC News

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Foreigners stay away from Colombo stocks

By Duruthu Edirimuni Chandrasekera - Amidst a backdrop of the recently concluded Presidential election, the upcoming general election, human rights concerns and the GSP + withdrawal by the European Union, the Colombo stock market has seen foreigners as net sellers since the start of this year, analysts said.

They said that this may be due to their individual and customized investment policies which prevent them from looking at Sri Lanka in a more favourable light, or it could also be a mixture of all the above reasons.

Upto end February, the foreign buying in the market was at Rs 11.4 billion with selling amounting to Rs. 16.5 billion. Srimal Liyanage, a research analyst based in the Gulf with interests in local equities, noted in an e-mail that the foreign selling is mainly due to various investment policies of the (foreign) investors. “They stick to their investment policies and manage their portfolios. It doesn't mean that they don't see a potential in our market,” he said.

However he said that the situation is not that positive to encourage foreigners to Sri Lanka .
“Factors like human rights allegations, high taxation and political issues will act as a deterrent. The other factor to consider is, that now that the local investors have made lot of money in the market, they will be in a more strong position to take risks to invest in short to medium term, (which may not hamper investor sentiment when foreigners are not investing),” he explained.

Jaliya Wijeratne, Director SMB Securities noted that there was a trend of foreign selling exceeding foreign buying seen over the past few weeks, but that fluctuations in foreign participation are quite normal. Charuka Suchendra, Research analyst Asha Phillip said that currently foreigners are the net sellers in the market.

“It is not a good indication for future market behaviour but the current low interest rates in the financial system will direct more funds towards the share market - especially from pension funds,” he added. Sarath Rajapakse, Director Capital Trust said there is foreign selling in the market as the ‘news propaganda’ about Sri Lanka is not as positive.

“This is mainly due to misinformation and the authorities (the government) need to do something about it. Right now the country is in a better footing than ever and this message need to be ‘strongly’ passed onto the foreign investors,” he added.

© The Sunday Times

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