Thursday, April 29, 2010

Acting Media Minister calls for discipline in Sri Lankan media

Sri Lanka's newly appointed Deputy Media Minister Mervyn Silva today called on the Sri Lankan media to maintain discipline as a disciplined media is vital to the country's progress.

Addressing the media after participating in religious ceremonies before assuming duties, the deputy Minister said he would work with the media together and called on the media to maintain cooperation.

The country's media should work resolutely on behalf of the nation and the younger generation, he said adding that a proud nation can only be built through a disciplined media.

However, media watchdogs have raised eyebrows on the appointment of the controversial minister to the post.

"In what country do you appoint an arsonist to put out fires?" Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) asked today after learning of Minister Silva's appointment as the deputy minister of media and information.

The controversial Minister is notoriously known for his assault on the state-run Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation news director in December 2007.

"The Sri Lankan government has against distinguished itself by assigning key posts to very controversial figures implicated in attacks on press freedom," Reporters Without Borders said yesterday in a press statement.

The media watch dog called on the Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne to relieve Mervyn Silva of his ministerial post.

“The ruling party's victory in the parliamentary elections is being marred by this kind of appointment, which is casting serious doubt on its ability to carry out reconciliation and reconstruction," the RSF said.

© Colombo Page

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sri Lanka stock brokers enter former war zone

Six Sri Lankan stock brokers have opened offices in the former war zone of northern Jaffna with the setting up of a branch of the Colombo Stock Exchange there, a statement said.

The stock brokers will offer clients access to online trading, real-time market information, research reports and investment advice, the CSE statement said.

The six stock brokers are Bartleet Mallory Stockbrokers, Asha Phillip Securities, Lanka Securities, Capital TRUST Securities, SKM Lanka Holdings and SMB Securities.

The Colombo Stock Exchange Jaffna branch, its fifth branch, was opened Tuesday by CSE chairman Nihal Fonseka in the presence of the head of the regulator, Securities and Exchange Commission, Udayasiri Kariyawasam, senior SEC officials and chief executives of stock broking firms.

Fonseka said the government "is keen that the people of the northern province get the chance to share in the peace dividend which is already benefiting the country, with much more benefits expected to accrue in future," the statement said

The island's 30-year ethnic war ended last May, resulting in an economic revival and expectations of a boom as the resources of the war-ravaged north and east come into play.

The CSE branch will also do educational programmes to raise awareness about stock trading in the northern region where business is reviving and money from the minority Tamil diaspora, which fled the fighting, coming in.

The CSE statement said the market rose 125 percent during 2009 and that in 2010, so far the price indices have risen over 20 percent making the CSE the third best performing stock market in Asia this year.

© Lanka Business Online

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sri Lanka's war: time for accountability

Meenakshi Ganguly - Sri Lanka’s authorities have failed seriously to investigate the allegations of abuses committed during the first months of 2009 - the endgame of the twenty-six-year internal armed conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). An approach based on semi-private polite persuasion, often referred to as the “Asian way of diplomacy”, has been unable to convince President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Colombo government to respond to widespread international concern. What now needs to be done?

The Sri Lankan military’s final defeat of the Tamil Tigers in early 2009 was messy and bloody. The insurgents who had long fought for a separate Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka had already been condemned both by the international community and human-rights organisations for widespread abuses. Now, in this last period of the war, Human Rights Watch research found that both the military and the LTTE had violated international humanitarian law, including abuses amounting to war crimes (see “Sri Lanka’s hollow victory”, 20 August 2009).

The history of efforts to ensure accountability for such violations is not promising. For example, a Sri Lankan presidential commission of inquiry was established in 2006 to investigate sixteen important human-rights cases that implicated both sides); this was supplemented by an oversight body - an “International Independent Group of Eminent Persons”, headed by India’s former chief justice PN Bhagwati and including the leading Japanese professor Yozo Yokota. But the eminent-persons group quit in disappointment in March 2008, after the presidential commission was subjected to government interference; the commission failed to finish its job, and President Rajapaksa has never made public even its limited findings.

The pattern has continued in 2009-10. Soon after the war ended, Mahinda Rajapaksa signed a joint communiqué with United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. This expressed Sri Lanka’s “strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations”, and promised that “the government will take measures” to address allegations related to violations of international humanitarian and human-rights law.” Between the lines, it was clear that the Sri Lankan government wants the international community to trust it to address accountability issues without external intervention.

The bonds of law

The Sri Lankan president declared victory in the long war on 19 May 2009. Almost a year on, Colombo has done nothing to fulfil its promises, and there has still been no accountability for the actions undertaken in the war’s prolonged and destructive climax (see Luther Uthayakumaran, “Sri Lanka: after war, justice”, 21 May 2009). As a result, Ban Ki-moon announced on 5 March 2010 that the secretary-general had decided to establish a panel of experts to advise President Rajapaksa on accountability in Sri Lanka.

The Rajapaksa administration reacted with characteristic venom. Since the end of the long war, it had repeatedly insisted that - against overwhelming evidence to the contrary - there had been no violations by the armed forces. In the same spirit, it described the proposed panel as “intrusive” and “unwarranted”. Sri Lanka’s foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama even warned that it “has the potential to dent or sour the excellent partnership” with the United Nations.

Sri Lanka also convinced a few of its allies to intervene on its behalf. The non-aligned movement’s ambassador and permanent representative to the UN in New York, Maged A Abdelaziz, sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon in March 2010 warning that he “strongly condemns selective targeting of individual countries, which it deems contrary to the founding principles of the movement and the United Nations charter.”

Such criticism is wholly unjustified. Ban’s initiative can in no way be considered interference in Sri Lanka’s domestic affairs. The panel’s mandate will be limited to advising Ban on next steps to facilitate accountability in Sri Lanka. As the secretary-general has said, it is well within his power to “ask such a body to furnish me with their advice.”

Furthermore, Sri Lanka is bound by international humanitarian law, according to which states are obligated to investigate allegations of war crimes committed by their citizens or on their territory and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted. The Geneva conventions make clear that justice for war crimes is not solely a matter of a country’s “internal affairs”.

Asian way, western way, human way

In this situation, India and Japan - two Asian countries that can in principle influence Colombo - should support a United Nations initiative to examine options for accountability in Sri Lanka.

India has considerable influence with the Sri Lankan government. It has provided humanitarian relief and assistance for those displaced by the war, including the hundreds of thousands of people interned in military camps for months before their recent release. An Indian field-hospital provided emergency care to over 50,000 people harmed during the fighting or otherwise in need of medical assistance. India is also providing de-mining assistance, and has provided equipment to repair and rebuild homes.

Japan’s voice too carries influence. Its foreign minister Katsuya Okada said on 29 January 2010 that he “strongly expects [that] Sri Lanka will steadily and swiftly carry forward political processes for national reconciliation” and pledged to “support efforts by the government of Sri Lanka.” Japan has since provided Y36,664 million (around $390m) to Sri Lanka under its official development assistance (ODA) loan scheme to finance infrastructure projects, including building roads and water-supply facilities.

However, these large-scale building projects can contribute to long-term national reconciliation only if accompanied by a process of ensuring accountability for abuses that have inflicted deaths on thousands of civilians. For a long time, India and Japan have tried to engage with Sri Lanka, rightly pushing for reconciliation between its ethnic communities, government reform and the return home of those displaced by the armed conflict (see "Sri Lanka's displaced: the political vice", 8 April 2009). That process will be severely hampered if there is no accountability and the minority Tamils believe they are being treated as second-class citizens and a defeated population.

Both New Delhi and Tokyo often contend that their efforts at polite persuasion are more effective than the public condemnation they describe as the “western way”. There is a time and place for private diplomacy, but for years now the Sri Lankan government has ignored such behind-the-scenes advice. In any case, private diplomacy should never become an excuse for inaction in the face of grave human-rights violations. Ban Ki-moon’s panel of experts, although modest, could yet prove to be an important step toward accountability for wartime abuses in Sri Lanka. India and Japan should publicly and wholeheartedly support his initiative.

© Open Democracy

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

All IDPs will be resettled within six months - SL Govt

The new minister of resettlement Milroy Fernando says that all displaced families will be resettled within the next six months.

The minister said in Vavuniya that more than 80,000 displaced people living in resettlement camps would be resettled.

Minister Milroy Fernando who made his first visit to the resettlement camps was told by Premaratna Sumathipala, the former co-ordinator of the Resettlement Ministry that the officials of the ministry of resettlement were not efficient enough in delivering the expected outcome.

Mr.Sumathipala said that such officials who he believed were associates of the former minister in charge of resettlement need to be replaced.

A number of displaced people said that they had not been adequately compensated.

Minister Fernando promised to look in to all compensation claims and adequately address their grievances.

He further said not only those who have been displaced by fighting would be resettled but also those who braved the war in their villages would also be benefited.

© BBC Sinhala

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Long Reach of Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa Dynasty

By Amantha Perera - He won his first presidential election in 2005 by a razor thin margin of 180,000 votes. Five years later, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected, by a victory margin of over 1.8 million votes.

Since then, the man hailing from the deep south of the country has proved countless detracters and arm-chair critics wrong. There were doubters who did not think he could get his own party's candidacy for the 2005 presidential race to replace Chandrika Kumaratunga. Ever fewer gave him any chance of victory when he launched military operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2005 to end the island's long years of bloody civil war.

But during his career in politics spanning over four decades, Rajapaksa has always been known as a gritty fighter and a survivor. He is famous for taking his fight on to the streets — in 1992 he led a 170 mile (275 km) protest march against then administration of President Ranasinghe Premadasa from the capital Colombo to the southern town of Kataragama in eight days. In the last five years, he has not only survived, but has cemented his legacy without a single serious challenger in sight. Today, his popularity is at an all-time high, stemming largely from his unwavering political leadership during the Sri Lankan military's stunning assault on the Tamil Tigers that destroyed the separatist group between June 2006 and May 2009. His second victory in this year's presidential election was even more significant given that his main challenger was Sarath Fonseka, the man who led the military to the Tigers' crushing defeat. In April, he led his United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) coalition to another huge victory. The coalition's 144 seat haul in general elections was just six seats short of two-thirds majority in the 225 member parliament.

Throughout his career, one of Rajapksa's main traits has been his reliance on close family members. Immediate family members who hold top and influential positions in his government have steadily risen, despite complaints from the opposition of nepotism. But the Rajapaksa family has long been one of the most politically influential in the nation. His father D.A. Rajapaksa was a member of the first Sri Lankan parliament after the island gained independence from the British in 1947. President Rajapaksa first entered parliament in 1970, succeeding his father from the family electorate of Beliatte in the south in 1970.

But at no time has the family been this influential in national politics. TIME takes a look at the long reach of this powerful family.

Mahinda Rajapaksa

The 65-year-old political pro has built on his slim victory in the 2005 presidential election and now enjoys unassailable levels of popularity, especially among the rural voters from the majority Sinhala community. He staked his political career and the presidency on the military defeat of the Tigers when the war erupted in 2006 after a four year hiatus. By May 2009, the war was over, the Tigers were destroyed and Mahinda Rajapksa's legacy was made.

Even though he was the second eldest in the family, Mahinda was the first to enter parliament in 1970. He has been an active member of the leftist Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), and, as president, has taken efforts to revive the party.

Chamal Rajapaksa

The eldest of Mahinda's nine siblings, Chamal entered parliament in 1985 after stints in the police force and public sector. The quietest member of the family, he does not court controversy or criticism as his three other brothers in the administration do. In April, he was elected speaker of the new parliament.

Basil Rajapaksa

His entry into the limelight of Sri Lankan politics came after his brother was elected president in 2005; he had settled in the U.S. before he returned to coordinate the presidential campaign in 2005. Soon afterwards, Basil was appointed as a presidential adviser and then to parliament through the national list — seats that appointed by the party. He is believed by many to be the main political strategist in the government, trusted completely by his brother. President Rajapaksa entrusted the important task of spearheading rebuilding the war-ravaged northeast to Basil, and he now also holds the cabinet portfolio of Economic Development in the new government.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Like his brother Basil, Gotabaya was living in the U.S. before he returned to Sri Lanka to assume the powerful post of Defense Secretary when his brother was elected president in 2005. He had been a career military officer for two decades, involved in battles against the Tigers till he retired in 1991. His no-nonsense approach to wiping out the Tigers when the war heated up again in 2006 drew wide international criticism but proved successful in the end. He is widely popular in the country and is credited by many with being a key architect of the successful counterinsurgency strategy that ended over two and half decades of bloodshed.

Namal Rajapaksa

The newest member of the Rajapaksa clan to enter the political arena, Namal, 24, is the eldest son of the President. He is an unknown political entity, but topped the votes from his native Hambantota District when he stood for election at the last general election, even out-gunning Uncle Chamal. In a symbolic gesture of handing over the family's political legacy, President Rajapaksa draped an earth brown shawl — a symbol of the family's rural roots — around his eldest son's neck as he left his first parliamentary sittings in Colombo. Namal has two brothers: Yoshita, 23, who is in the navy, and Rohitha, 21.


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