Monday, May 03, 2010

Sri Lanka's Anti Terror law to remain

By Sumaiya Rizvi - The government says while the Emergency regulations will be amended Anti Terrorism laws and the Terrorism Investigations Act will not be relaxed therefore unlike the Emergency regulations it did not need to be amended time to time.

The government declared that it wanted to amend the Emergency Regulations and were intending to debate it at parliament tomorrow, Minister of External Affairs, Prof. G.L. Peiris said.

“The Prime Minister will present the details that should remain in the Emergency regulations. And we (Government) propose that it be debated for two days unlike in previous occasions when the Emergency regulations were debated only a day,” Prof. Peiris said.

Prof. Peiris denied the decisions were a result of the foreign pressure and the EU’s recent comment to the Daily Mirror that it was concerned over the imprisonment of General Sarath Fonseka. “Government doesn’t give into the pressure of anybody,” he said. He said that the Sri Lankan delegation that met the EU officials most recently were not briefed on their concerns for the General Fonseka.

When queried on the Anti Terrorism and Terrorism Investigation Act he said that they were part of the law of this country and therefore unlike the Emergency regulations it did not need to be amended time to time.

According to him during yesterday’s informal cabinet meeting it was agreed upon that the Emergency regulations needed to be amended in the absence of terrorism with the view of encouraging socio economic development.

Meanwhile Prof. Peiris said the government was to discuss with Indian officials on India’s request to set up a consulate in the Jaffna peninsula and said that it was to be decided based on their future bilateral talks. “We have responded to it. We will discuss it at bilateral talks. We don’t make this decision overnight,” Prof. Peiris said. The Indian Government had expressed its intent in setting up a consulate office in Jaffna.

© Daily Mirror

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Sri Lanka 'pardons' jailed Tamil editor Tissainayagam

Sri Lanka on Monday pardoned a convicted Tamil editor whose 20-year prison term last year for supporting "terrorism" drew international criticism, the foreign minister said Monday.

J. S. Tissainayagam, who edited North Eastern Monthly magazine in Colombo, has been pardoned by President Mahinda Rajapakse to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris said.

"The president has decided to pardon J. S. Tissainayagam to mark international press freedom day today," foreign minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris told reporters in Colombo.

In January, Tissainayagam was freed on bail and was asked to surrender his passport, pending a full appeal hearing.

Tissainayagam had appealed his conviction in August on charges of raising money for terrorism and of causing racial hatred through his writings about Tamils affected by the country's 37-year separatist conflict.

The sentence of 20 years in jail with hard labour was condemned by the European Union, the United States and international press freedom groups.


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Monday, May 03, 2010

Sri Lanka: Police probe on missing journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda draws blank

Ninety nine days after the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, Police are yet to come up with any clues about his whereabouts, Police spokesman Prishantha Jayakoday said.

The disappointing news from the police came as journalists and media rights activists prepare to mark World Press Freedom Day, May 3.

Mr. Ekneligoda has been missing since January 24 and his wife Sandya Eknaligoda said she feared he was abducted. Alleging police inaction, she has written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and filed a habeus corpus case.

The Colombo Crimes Division which is carrying out the investigations has found no clues so far, the Sunday Times understands.

© The Sunday Time

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Sri Lanka: A record victory, poorly attended

By Tisaranee Gunasekara - Two portentous results emerged from the parliamentary election in Sri Lanka, results of which were announced on 21 April. First, the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), led by President Mahinda Rajapakse, won a resounding victory, just six seats short of the two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional change. And second, almost 40 percent of the electorate did not vote. The UPFA victory is unprecedented, and it took place despite a precipitous decline in the regime’s vote base between January and April 2010. (The UPFA’s total vote in the parliamentary election was nearly 1.2 million less than Rajapakse’s total vote in the presidential election, three months earlier.) In some districts, such as the Rajapakse bastion of Hambantota, the UPFA polled fewer votes in April than it did in the presidential election of 2005, and even the parliamentary election of 2004.

The proportional-representation system was introduced by President J R Jayewardene in 1989, partly to prevent any party from obtaining more than a simple majority. In a robust multiparty democracy, this system does indeed prevent victors from gaining huge majorities, as evidenced by the results of all Lankan elections from 1989. But huge majorities can happen when a multiparty democracy is eroded from within, when the main opposition party is debilitated by repeated defeats and is incapable of mounting an effective politico-electoral challenge to the government. Under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the opposition United National Party (UNP) has suffered serial defeats; and with each, its politico-electoral strength has haemorrhaged. It was the UNP’s debilitated state that enabled the UPFA to score a record victory in the recent polls, despite a sharp decline in its own support base.

With the latest debacle, Wickremesinghe has demonstrated, yet again, his inability to lead his party to electoral victory. The time is thus ripe for the UNP to try a new experiment: a leadership change. A few days after the election, Wickremesinghe announced that he would remain as the leader of the UNP. Though some attempts are being made to remove him from the leadership, their success is far from certain. In the past, all such attempts failed because Wickremesinghe’s determination to remain at the helm of the party was far stronger than his detractors’ determination to remove him. Whether the current efforts will end differently remains to be seen – though their progress will be closely watched by the Rajapakse regime, which has benefited immensely from Wickremesinghe’s lackadaisical leadership of the main opposition party.

In a significant development, the UNP’s manifesto for the parliamentary election made no mention of either the ethnic problem or the need for a political solution. This concession to Sinhalese supremacism notwithstanding, the UNP performed abysmally in Sinhalese-majority areas, indicating that, on the nationalist-patriotic axis, it cannot overtake the UPFA; instead, it should focus on areas where the regime is weak, such as the growing economic pains of the middle and lower classes. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which contested in alliance with the former head of the Sri Lanka Army and presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka, also suffered a disastrous defeat. The JVP, with just seven seats (the winners include Fonseka), is back to what it was during the period of 2000 and 2001. It too needs to shift its focus from the non-issue of its stance against devolution (the UPFA is strongly disinclined to devolve power away from the Centre) to other areas, and to work in conjunction with the UNP to impede the regime’s triumphant march towards a new constitution.

Resounding silence

A voter turnout exceeding 70 percent is the norm in Lankan national elections. Consequently, the very low voter rate is one of the most remarkable (and threatening) features of this parliamentary election. After all, none of the parties advocated a boycott. What transpired was a wholly spontaneous collective action of electoral non-corporation by the people, a massive vote of no-confidence in all parties, from the north to the south. Another related development is the high level of rejected votes island-wide, indicating a tendency to spoil the ballot papers as a mark of protest. Taken together, these figures indicate a degree of voter alienation and disassociation that bodes ill for Lankan democracy. Without interested and engaged voters, a democracy can be especially vulnerable to rulers who seek to weaken it from within, in order to enhance and perpetuate their power.

The polling percentage was particularly low in the north, indicating a lack of faith and interest in a Sri Lankan future, as well as a sense of disillusionment with existing Tamil parties. If left unattended, this mood of acute discontent could strengthen extremist elements in the north. Democratic Tamil parties need to develop a better understanding of the concerns and needs of their electorate in a post-war context, instead of acting as appendages of the Rajapakse regime or of the Tamil diaspora. The regime denies the existence of any specific Tamil problem (the term ‘ethnic problem’ has almost disappeared from the Lankan political lexicon), apart from such practical issues as reconstruction and resettlement. The diaspora, meanwhile, is totally out of touch with the grim reality of the north and east, and is still chasing the Eelam mirage. Democratic Tamil parties need to avoid both of these counter-factual extremes, and focus on the practical problems (ie, day-to-day survival) of the Tamils, without losing sight of the need for a political settlement within a united Sri Lanka.

The regime needs to take urgent measures to alleviate the sense of alienation felt by Tamils, a task that requires political action rather than infrastructure development. The current Rajapakse policy of treating the north as occupied enemy territory should end. There should be a significant reduction in army camps and army presence, as well as an end to what many Tamils seem to regard as a state-sponsored religio-cultural invasion of the north by Sinhalese Buddhists. (The erection of Buddha statues in areas devoid of Buddhist inhabitants clearly symbolises this process; if these statues come to represent Sinhalese domination in Tamil eyes, they could become targets, if apathetic inaction is someday replaced by angry action.) The abysmally low voter turnout in the north presages the possible danger of renewed separatism in some form.

Constitutional supremacism

President Rajapakse has claimed his party’s victory as a vote of confidence in himself and his policies. The new parliament will contain several of his close family members – a son, two brothers (one of whom is the new speaker) and a couple of cousins. Candidates identified as Rajapakse loyalists did outstandingly well in the election; many of them are also Sinhalese supremacists. Conversely, moderate candidates who are neither Rajapakse defenders nor Sinhalese supremacists lagged behind. This particular composition of the new parliament will have an impact on the future trajectory of Sri Lanka, since the results can be interpreted as a mandate for Sinhalese supremacism and familial rule.

Rajapakse has a reputation for striking while the iron is hot. According to state media, the new constitution might be presented to the country by the end of the year. The new document would prevent the compulsory retirement of President Rajapakse at the end of his second term, via the removal of presidential term limits or the institution of a powerful executive premiership without term limits. It is also likely to exclude some of the more democratic features of the old constitution, such as the 17th Amendment, mandating the setting-up of independent commissions and replacing province-level devolution with administrative decentralisation to smaller units. A new constitution aimed at perpetuating familial rule will also have to make significant concessions to Sinhalese supremacists, however, as they form the main power base of the Rajapakse project.

A recent interview given by the president’s brother, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, provides some pointers to the future trajectory of the regime. Gotabhaya Rajapakse is arguably the second most powerful man in Sri Lanka, and consequently attention must be paid when he stated, in a 17 April interview with The Island, that the main challenge before the new regime is to “thwart a fresh attempt by separatists operating abroad to throw a lifeline to the LTTE [backed by] a section of the international community … bent on reviving the LTTE and giving it recognition.” He further argued for a veritable political war: “The new government should go all out against any local element promoting separatist sentiments regardless of political consequences.”

The slogan of a political war against separatism can used to justify the retention of the state of emergency and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, as well as the promulgation of “new laws to meet security requirements”, as Gotabhaya Rajapakse stated. Such a slogan can also be used to compel the Lankan state to conform to the political agenda of the Rajapakses, by equating any manifestation of bureaucratic or judicial independence with treason. In his interview, the defence secretary expressed “concern that a section of officialdom could help the separatist cause by trying to appease foreign governments and some funding agencies,” and highlighted the “pivotal importance of the judiciary, particularly the Attorney-General’s Department, in supporting the government’s efforts to suppress terrorism.” He also sounded a word of warning to the polity: “Opposition political parties or constituent partners of the ruling coalition should not be allowed to engage in divisive politics.” If his pronouncements are any indication, post-war Sri Lanka is set to become a national-security state, instead of moving towards re-democratisation of the polity and devolution of power, as optimists had hoped.

The Rajapakse brothers are genuinely popular in the Sinhalese south. Many Sinhalese are grateful to them for restoring ‘national’ (read: racial) pride by defeating the Tamil Tigers and reclaiming the north and the east. The Rajapakse project of familial rule has become hegemonic by rejuvenating the Sinhalese ego, badly bruised by past Indian intervention and Tiger victories. Only a stagnant economy resulting in a drastic deterioration of southern living standards could now erode the Rajapakse hegemony. Repressive laws and a tame state, including a partisan judiciary, are needed partly as an insurance against such an eventuality.

As the trend of the recent election results became obvious, state television stations began airing songs hailing President Rajapakse as king and saviour. With the ideological state apparatuses turning unquestioning obedience to Rajapakse into a patriotic virtue, dissent will become tantamount to anti-patriotism. The UPFA’s massive recent win could thus mark the definitive beginning of a new journey for Sri Lanka – away from pluralist democracy, towards an authoritarian state that functions as a protective father to its supporters and a bitter enemy to its opponents.

Tisaranee Gunasekara is a writer based in Colombo.

© Himal

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Media and journalist conmen

By Ranga Jayasuriya - Four years ago, this correspondent happened to be in Male to cover the controversial hearing of Mohammed Nasheed, popularly known as Anni, the then Maldivian opposition leader who was facing charges of terrorism and was detained in house arrest. One sunny morning when his case was taken up, massive crowds thronged the court and the narrow driveways of Male. Protestors were peaceful, but Police simply didn’t like their presence. Police acted with impunity, baton charging, tear gassing and randomly picking up people, who were driven away in packed jeeps to the Maldives notorious Maafushi prison where they would be held in prolong detention under the draconian security laws of the atolls. The Maldives, those days, was a Kafkaesque nightmare.

I visited the pro opposition newspaper, Minivan news and journalists narrated endless tales of intimidation and confinement at the hands of the regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. They lived in fear. The State controlled television , TV Maldives, was sarcastically called TV Maumoon, a term which better reflected the coverage of the channel.

Sri Lanka was never the ideal place for press freedom. But, despite our inadequacies, I had that strange thought, that I worked in a paradise.
I interviewed Anni languishing in house arrest. He had a vision for the future Maldives -- that it would not deal with military junta of Burma and that it would look to India and Sri Lanka for friendship -- but, he sounded hopeless about his immediate prospects. His sentencing, it was thought, was pre-determined.

But, pressure kept building on Gayoom’s regime. One fine day, the frail old dictator woke up to the popular call and agreed to hold multi party elections. That decision marked the end of Gayoom’s regime - it was voted out.

Anni was elected president.Within a year, the Maldives jumped 53 slots in the world press freedom index to 51, four slots behind Italy.

I do not mean RSF’s index is the ultimate authority on press freedom, but, as for the Maldives, its meteoric rise in media freedom could not be discounted-though one could have reasonable apprehensions whether the Maldives could sustain those initial gains as what it is basking in right now is the spring of its democracy.
But, nightmares of Male have visited Sri Lanka.

Twenty three media personnel had been killed since 2006. Newspaper offices were attacked and television studios of dissenting television channels were torched.
A pro-UNP newspaper editor was killed in broad daylight and another editor was attacked with knives. Keith Noyar, the respected journalist of the ‘Nation’ newspaper was abducted and assaulted. Poddala Jayantha was abducted, assaulted and forced in to exile. Namal Perera was assaulted.


Taraki, the editor of the pro LTTE Tamilnet website was abducted and murdered. Another journalist, Sameera Lakshan was killed and his body was dumped on the roadside.

Government Minister Mervyn Silva went on the rampage in state owned Rupavahini. After his inglorious escape, over a dozen media personnel met with mysterious attacks; he is now being appointed the deputy minister of media.
Certain quarters of the government and military thought that it was their prerogative to tell media what and how they should write. When media personnel declined to comply they were labeled as traitors. Dozens of journalists fled the country.

But, one needs to distance oneself from the popular narrative: It goes as, that there is no free media any longer in the isle and that all the independent journalists have fled the country. Therefore, Sri Lanka ranks at the bottom of the list of the press freedom index among the countries such as Saudi Arabia and Somalia, well below Kuwait, and Singapore. Sri Lanka surely has a serious problem with its media freedom, but these issues have been highlighted— unlike Singapore, which does not permit private televisions to operate in the country or Kuwait, where criticism of the Emir is prohibited by law — because Sri Lankan press speaks out. Sri Lanka, irrespective of attacks on media personnel, still have a vigorous press and a culture of open debate.

In fact, institutionalized restrictions on media freedom in this country has gradually given way since mid 1990s when the private media was permitted to telecast news. Even before that, we have an activist press during the reign of terror in 1989. The only significant remnant of the state control over media is Lakehouse, Rupavahini and ITN, their conduct an affront to journalism. It is the liberalizing of those state media institutions that media activists should demand, rather than harping on an obsolete press council act. The Lakehouse and state television channels do greater harm to the spirit of journalism more than any other institutionalized restriction on media freedom.

Suppression of media freedom in this country does not stem from laws, such as in Singapore or Kuwait, but from the arrogance and intolerance of the political and military leadership.

Tolerance is an important element for sustaining democracy, but that was sadly lacking in the cohort of our leaders. That Gen Sarath Fonseka, who during his hey days in power lambasted nonconforming media outlets, has became a victim of a witch hunt of his former allies, after he fell out with the ruling cohorts is an indication that media is not the only victim of the intolerance of the state.

There had not been any case in this country of a journalist being jailed for what he wrote-perhaps, with the exception of Tissainayagam. Instead, there are countless cases of assassination, abduction and assault of journalists for what they wrote and what they campaigned for.

The law of jungle took precedence over the rule of law during the bitterly fought war and the resultant decay of law and order. But, had one expected this impunity to end with the conclusion of the war, it would have be naive. Journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda disappeared eight months after the defeat of the LTTE and days after he allegedly penned a story critical, in fact, slanderous, of a government minister.

Mushrooming websites

But, one has to admit that so called journalists in those mushrooming websites, which provide a heavy dose of unverified and slanderous materials have made the case for journalists further difficult. In the first place, those who write for those websites, funded solely for their role in slandering the government are not journalists per se; they belong to a particular breed of parasites who depend on their political masters.

The root of the problem in journalism activism in Sri Lanka— including the Sri Lanka Working Journalist Association (SLWJA) of which this writer is a committee member - is its inability to distinguish journalists from those second variety. Therefore, protests conducted in the name of press freedom of Lankaenews or any other slanderous website is in vain for none of the practitioners in the first place did journalism.

Such protests only exhausted energy. They were also viewed by the dwarfed minds who ran those websites as an endorsement of their brand of journalism. What is most disturbing is their scant respect for the right of reply by the aggrieved parties. It does not take much effort to instil those basic journalistic ethics in an averagely educated individual. But, when those watered plants at party head offices, overnight are promoted as journalists of the state media and of those libelous websites, such an infusion of ethics would be rather difficult.

When an arrogant and intolerant government, which is law unto itself - not figuratively, but, literally - set themselves against some parroting scribes devoid of any intellectual or ethical merit, that is bound to be an ugly encounter. Lankaenews owner Sandaruwan fled to the US after election, but only after slanderous journalism of his website led to disappearance of Pradeep Ekneligoda.

The government stands condemned. But, those like Sandaruwan have their share of guilt. We stand condemned for we looked the other way as conmen like Sandaruwan, were masquerading as journalists.

© Lakbima News

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Sri Lanka: Meet the real Media Minister

By Frederica Jansz - Mervyn Silva is the quintessential coward. Your typical classroom bully. A thug, patronising with ease members of the underworld, drug dealers and gold smugglers.

Of average intellect, the thuggish Silva — a product of Mahinda Rajapaksa — was quick to assess that his inbred qualities of crass, crude displays of verbose abuse was in fact a step on the ladder to political notoriety, which Mervyn Silva in similar vein to every politician in this country embraces.

Any publicity is good publicity and it is by that adage that Mervyn functions. Which is why a man who polled a mere 2,500 votes in the general election of 2004 this time polled a massive 150,000 preferential votes – Silva had perfected the art of publicity and the local media bit the bait he threw each time. Silva was further given an added bonus after having been asked and appearing weekly on a local reality television show as a judge! Where he performs like a circus clown – but the ratings of this particular show are at an all time high – not because of the gracious Ms. Rosy Senanayake who is also on the panel of judges but because Mervyn Silva – sits there holding television audiences spellbound with his antics.

Any publicity is good publicity and it is by that adage that Mervyn functions. Which is why a man who polled a mere 2,500 votes in the general election of 2004 this time polled a massive 150,000 preferential votes – Silva had perfected the art of publicity and the local media bit the bait he threw each time. Silva was further given an added bonus after having been asked and appearing weekly on a local reality television show as a judge! Where he performs like a circus clown – but the ratings of this particular show are at an all time high – not because of the gracious Ms. Rosy Senanayake who is also on the panel of judges but because Mervyn Silva – sits there holding television audiences spellbound with his antics.

And that in a nutshell is the essence that is Mervyn Silva. The man if taken on — as he was in the fiasco enacted at the state owned Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation will run with his tail between his legs.

But, the foul-mouthed Silva has proved invaluable to political leaders in a country where politics hits mud everyday – all the time – acting the court jester, Mervyn provides valuable, violent, verbose service to control those who attempt to overstep the President or anyone in the bad books of the President.

Silva’s allegiance to Mahinda Rajapaksa will however be thrown out the window the day Rajapaksa is no longer President of Sri Lanka — that too is Mervyn’s style.
Silva entered politics under the patronage of Mahinda Rajapaksa in Hambantota District. Later he left the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and joined the United National Party (UNP). Silva at one time was a strong critic of Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga. He slandered her repeatedly. However, after Mrs. Kumaratunga became president in 1994, Mervyn Silva got back the membership of SLFP asking forgiveness from her in public.

There was even a time when Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe used Mervyn Silva to slander Hambantota District MP Sajith Premadasa. As one wag told this newspaper – Right now, if Mervyn were to approach Wickremesinghe for a crossover “Ranil would grab him with both hands.” The man is a vital commodity for Sri Lanka’s political leaders.

In this issue, we detail Silva’s colourful background, both political and personal. The man would be a laugh if not that he can be deadly. Closely associated with members of the underworld, Mervyn Silva has proved on more than one occasion he is no joke.
Silva’s ludicrous claims of lineage to Sinhala kings is all but a figment of his puerile imagination. President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself will be able to graphically detail the beginnings of Mervyn Silva.

For, it is Rajapaksa who opened a window of opportunity for Silva, who, at the time of the 1970 general election was the president of the youth wing of the SLFP in Beliatta. This was the time Mahinda Rajapaksa himself entered parliament for the first time having won the Beliatta seat.

Silva hailed from a poor village family. Certainly this is nothing to be ashamed of. Except that Silva is now professing he inherited ‘family wealth’ from his father.
Mervyn Silva worked closely with Rajapaksa during the 1970 election campaign. After his victory, Rajapaksa felt obliged to give Silva a job as the latter was unemployed at the time.

Thus, he was employed at Sathosa as a ‘badu kiranna.’ A man who measured vegetables, sugar, rice, dhal, etc. on a weighing scale at the Sathosa Jathika Pola, which was visited by almost anybody and everybody in those days.

This is how Mervyn Silva came to Colombo. During that period of the ration book, most items were sold only through CWE outlets. Everything was rationed. From red chillies to sugar to milk powder, rice, etc.

Even the wives of government ministers were compelled to do their grocery shopping at the CWE. This way, not only wives of government ministers but even those from the so-called ‘upper classes’ visited the Sathosa Jathika Pola to do their marketing.

Hot favourite

Mervyn was gracious to all, bowing and scraping, and on many occasions giving them in excess of the rationed amount. Sometimes he would have some items of grocery even delivered to ladies whose social standing was high. Thus, Mervyn was a hot favourite and so began his climb up the social and political ladder.

Subsequently, Silva contested the post of president, Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya at Sathosa and won. He then used his influence as union president to secure ‘office space’ for himself at the main head office of the CWE, which at the time was situated at Union Place.

From there, Mervyn transformed himself into a mini dynamo. If there was any item needed out of any Sathosa outlet that could not be easily secured, Silva was the man to contact.

Gradually, while building up his influence within the SLFP, Mervyn worked his way into the confidence of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Not just with her, but Mervyn became a close cohort of the entire Bandaranaike family. The Bandaranaikes, from Sirimavo, to Chandrika and then Anura on subsequent occasions used Mervyn as their point man to insult each other. And Silva willingly obliged that fractious family.

Each time he returned from his village situated in the deep south at Beliatta he would carry the best curd and honey for Sirimavo Bandaranaike. His fidelity to her continued even during the tumultuous political period of 1982 when the SLFP split with Hector Kobbekaduwa on one side, Anura Bandaranaike, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Senanayake on another and Sirimavo Bandaranaike cracking the whip in the middle.


And such was Mervyn’s influence with her that he even discussed with her the candidature of his mentor, Mahinda Rajapaksa to the extent that Rajapaksa was overheard bitterly recounting to some, “The …… that I brought to Colombo is today deciding on my nomination.”

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was an ardent believer in astrology, numerology, charms, and all things spiritual and unknown. Like a hawk, Silva moved in for the kill. At the drop of a hat, or a single word in this instance from Sirimavo Bandaranaike, he would summon astrologers of varying breeds to Rosmead Place. Thovils, poojas and horoscope readings became a regular feature.

One night, a huge thovil had been organised by Silva at the request of Sirimavo Bandaranaike at Tintagel. During the course of the proceedings, former Deputy Defence Minister, Lakshman Jayakody had walked in and spied a man clad in priest like clothing officiating at the ceremony.

As Jayakody watched, from time to time this man would don a human skull and spreading an ash like substance would profess to dispel from the midst of Rosmead Place all evil eye and presence. Mervyn Silva was ‘Master of Ceremonies.’

Some days later, Jayakody was in Galle attending a court case and at around mid day the bench adjourned for lunch. Jayakody also wandered off, ate something and returned to the court house. On his return he spied a crowd gathered around a tree. Mildly curious, he strolled over and saw a man wearing dirty yellow robes, sporting a long beard matted with dirt, sitting beneath the tree chanting mantras, professing to work lucky charms. The man’s physical condition was filthy. Yet, Jayakody was struck by his features and was convinced he had seen the man someplace else.

Suddenly it struck him. This was the same man who had been conducting the thovil at Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s residence. Later, when Jayakody happened to meet Mervyn, he chided him saying, “You are a hell of a fellow. When I went to Galle courts I saw the same man you brought to Mrs. B’s professing to be a top class astrologer sitting beneath a tree, poorly dressed and very dirty, collecting 25 and 50 cents like a beggar.”

To this Mervyn had replied, “Aiyooo… Don’t say anything to Mrs. B. What can I do? The way these Bandaranaikes want astrologers, I cannot produce. So I picked up this bu…., gave him a good bath, dipped some pu nula in saffron water and took him to Mrs. B.”

And it is this conman Jayakody had witnessed Sirimavo Bandaranaike herself worshipping in respect.

Hand to mouth existence

Silva during this period lived a hand to mouth existence. Each time he was short of cash he would convince Sirimavo Bandaranaike to hold another thovil or pooja claiming bad luck was in the air and thus pick up half or more of the cash doled out to host these events.

Thus, he was badly in need of cash one day and so he arrived at her Rosmead Place residence with some ash wrapped in a yellow cloth, which he surreptitiously flung into a patch of bushes in the garden as he scurried through.

He then went inside and told her that some of the astrologers he frequented had said that an evil charm had been cast on Mrs B. by members of the UNP by way of human ash concealed in a yellow cloth hidden in some bushes in the garden.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was duly convinced and no sooner she had Rosmead Place to herself with the exception of a few house servants, she searched the area of garden detailed by Mervyn and indeed found a yellow cloth which carried what they believed was human ash.

She immediately summoned Silva and urgently requested him to organise a thovil pronto to dispel from her midst the presence of evil. This Silva gladly did, picking up a couple of thousands as expense money.

Such was her trust in the man she would summon him at all times all the way from Hambantota to come and get her horoscope read immediately. And Mervyn never refused.

But despite this relationship, Silva had a fall-out with the great dame and joined forces with Anura Bandaranaike who at the time was persona non grata with his own family.

Despite having bared his buttocks to Anura (May his good soul rest in peace) some time back, all was forgiven as Mervyn fitted in with ease into Anura’s lavish lifestyle of eternal parties, filled with booze and song.

‘Fixing’ a court hearing

And in the same manner, Mervyn professed to ‘fix’ a court hearing that appeared to be going against Anura Bandaranaike. The UNP was in power at the time and a case against Bandaranaike had been filed by R. Premadasa.

Bandaranaike was extremely upset over this case and he conveyed his misgivings to Mervyn. The latter of course had a solution. He promised Bandaranaike an excellent astrologer. Before doing so, Mervyn did his homework and found that the chances of Bandaranaike getting an acquittal were high.

On the day the judgment was due, Mervyn produced a man claiming he was a top notch astrologer, who then chanted mantras while seated on a chair with Bandaranaike seated at his feet on a mat on the floor. Water was splattered on Bandaranaike and the man pronounced that Anura would be acquitted that day.

Anura was indeed acquitted from the case. Bandaranaike was over the moon and expressed undying loyalty to the ‘astrologer,’ plying him with good food and money. Much of the cash of course was redirected to Mervyn.

Thereafter, one day, Anura and President Mahinda Rajapaksa were traveling together from Hambantota when a man standing on the wayside suddenly waved furiously at the car, having recognised it to be Anura’s. Bandaranaike rolled down his window and energetically waved back.

Puzzled at this very overt display of affection Rajapaksa asked Anura, “Do you know that man?” to which Anura replied, “Yes of course. He is a great astrologer. He is the man who predicted I would be acquitted from my case.”

Rajapaksa was stupefied saying, “How can that bu…. have done that? He runs a bicycle repair shop at Hambantota and I know him well.”

But Anura would have none of it, continuing to argue with Rajapaksa that it could not be. It was then that he told Rajapaksa how the man had been introduced to him via Mervyn Silva and with that Rajapaksa, knowing Silva only too well, did not have to put two and two together to determine what exactly had happened.

This is how Silva has survived in the game of politics. Later, when Sirimavo Bandaranaike attempted to sack Anura from the party and cancel his membership, it is Silva together with Anura Bandaranaike’s Coordinating Secretary, Lal Perera, who organised a massive protest campaign outside the gates of Tintagel at Rosmead Place, blocking also Chandrika Kumaratunga’s entrance.

Both mother and daughter were due to attend the central committee meeting of the SLFP which was to be held at the opposition leader’s house that day, then situated next to Shravasti at Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 7. At the time Anuruddha Ratwatte was in occupation having been given the house to reside in by Sirimavo Bandaranaike as he had little money on him then and no place else to live.

Protest campaign

The boisterous crowd tried to prevent Sirimavo Bandaranaike from leaving her residence to attend the central committee meeting, which was to take a final decision on Anura’s membership.

Screaming slogans in raw Sinhala filth, the crowd did manage to prevent Sirimavo Bandaranaike from leaving her residence. Even the police did not use enough muscle to quell the disturbance as it was a UNP government then in power.

Mervyn Silva in fact laid himself at the wheel of Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s vehicle when she did attempt to move out of her gates shouting they would have to run over his body in order to leave.

She gave up and went back in but Chandrika Kumaratunga managed to get out from the adjoining house where she lived during the time the crowd was concentrating on preventing her mother from leaving. They however stoned her car.

As a result she went to the Cinnamon Gardens Police Station and lodged an entry naming Mervyn Silva as the chief miscreant. Thus, Silva was summoned to the police station to make a statement.

He went and in graphic detail began claiming that Kumaratunga was “his keep” and in that context he had every right to stone her car, which he also said belonged to him. He told police the whole ugly incident had been “a family brawl.”

He then went onto describe his alleged sexual relations with Kumaratunga in such graphic detail, the policeman recording his statement stopped and refused to write anymore. But Silva insisted saying if they wanted a statement from him they had to record what he had to say in his defense.

Slandering Kumaratunga

A superior police officer was called by the desk sergeant but Silva was adamant and continued to slander Kumaratunga, describing even which sexual positions she preferred. The entire Cinnamon Gardens Police Station stood by and listened with mouths agape as Silva lied through his teeth to escape prosecution.

When the police informed Kumaratunga of the contents of Silva’s statement and what he had said, she merely told the cops to drop the charges.

At some stage during this period Silva established ties with Gamini Dissanayake. It was suspected in SLFP circles that Silva leaked party information to Dissanayake. Whatever the truth of this assumption may have been, Dissanayake did buy Silva a Pajero and also financed him from time to time.

In 1993, Silva together with Anura Bandaranaike crossed over to the ranks of the UNP. Later at the southern provincial council election he became close friends with former President, D. B. Wijetunge.

The latter was amused by Silva’s antics and for the short time that D.B. was President, Silva was a regular visitor to President’s House – more as a court jester than anything else. He however never resorted to the Sinhala filth which is commonplace with him, in D.B.’s presence.

As a result of this relationship, Wijetunge acceded to Silva’s request when he sought nomination. Silva won his seat in Hambantota in the 1994 general election and thus entered parliament.

In the run-up to the election, Silva character-assassinated Chandrika Kumaratunga describing even alleged birth marks on various parts of her body which he claimed to have seen as a result of an intimate relationship he shared with her.

Many at the time thought Kumaratunga would sue him for libel but she did not. His profanities continued in parliament too. So much so, much of what he said had to be expunged from the Hansard.

Meanwhile, Silva became a close cohort of the underworld. He embraced the likes of Nawala Nihal, Kudu Noor and Potta Naufer. It is Silva who personally drove to the airport to pick up Nawala Nihal when he returned from Italy and used his influence as a deputy minister to prevent the underworld thug from being arrested at the airport.

Drug Dealing

Kudu Noor in a statement he has made to police has named Mervyn Silva as a key figure in Sri Lanka’s drug ring, claiming Deputy Minister Silva would travel regularly to Bangkok and India using VIP channels to smuggle drugs and gold into the country. But the truth of the matter is Mervyn Silva never touched leave alone smuggle drugs or gold.

President Kumaratunga was forced to contend with the likes of Silva after he crossed back again from the UNP in the year 2000 when she was desperately in need of numbers to push through a new constitution.

It is Mervyn Silva who took Potta Naufer to meet then President Chandrika Kumaratunga. They met at her ancestral home at Horogolla Walawwa in Attanagalle where Naufer donated Rs. 10 million towards the President’s last election campaign. He also paid for 200 ’savans’ (bowls of biryani) to feed 1,200 PA supporters. Naufer later was found guilty of the murder of High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya.

A police source confided that Silva is a weekly visitor to Shiyam, another underworld figure who is currently in Prison Hospital. Shiyam too has admitted to the fact in his police statement.

Silva meanwhile amassed a huge amount of wealth as a result of his deals. Currently he loans money at a monthly 6% interest rate and survives on the millions he accrues as a result.

Yet, Silva rarely has cash on his person. When he travels south various mudalalis pick up his food and accommodation bills.

Unable to control his son Malaka, he sent him to the United States for higher studies but the boy returned in a matter of months unable to survive without his bodyguards, guns, unlimited liquor, drugs and nightclubs.

By 2004 Mervyn had become so invaluable for Chandrika that she brought him into parliament from the National List.

In the General Election 2004, Mervyn Silva contested in Colombo District and ended up becoming the last in the list with less than 3000 votes from the entire district! He had however by that time convinced Kumaratunga to nominate his wife from the National List. Later, Mervyn entered parliament using this National List seat which had been allocated to his wife.

And it is as a result of Kumaratunga’s personal agenda in politics that this country today is saddled with the breed that is Mervyn Silva.

Added to which we now have Mahinda Rajapaksa as President, who is also intent on promoting the likes of Silva.

© The Sunday Leader

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Sri Lanka: Nearly 50,000 widows in the east

By P Sivaramakrishnan - The Government of Sri Lanka says that around 50,000 widows are living in the eastern province alone.

Deputy Minister for Women and Child welfare MLAM Hizbullah told the BBC Tamil Service that nearly forty percent of those were widowed as a result of the decades-long war between the government forces and the LTTE.

Many of these widows are less than 40 years of age according to the statistical survey done by the government says the minister.

"This is a matter of great concern" says Minister Hizbullah, who was the women's affairs minister in the provincial government until recently.

The government of Sri Lanka has claimed that the eastern province was liberated from the clutches of the now militarily defeated LTTE by mid 2007 during the first phase of the final war against the Tamil Tigers.

Lack of funds

War widows in thousands are also living in other parts of Sri Lanka as well, according to the deputy minister of women and child welfare.

An expert group from India recently visited the eastern province to understand the issues faced by the war widows and apprised them of the efforts taken in India regarding similar issues.

India has assured to immediately help 1000 war widows at the first instance offering them training in possible self employment schemes, according to the minister.

The government of Sri Lanka would also be interacting and seeking help from other countries and Non Governmental Organisations in this regard to take forward the rehabilitation and welfare of the war widows says Minister Hizbullah.

"Lack of funds from the central government" to the eastern provincial council government was an impediment in taking forward the welfare and rehabilitation schemes of these widows in the past, he said.

The efforts taken by the government now, is only a small beginning in rehabilitating the war widows and many things need to be done on a fast pace to ensure a decent livelihood for these destitutes opines the junior minister in charge of such activities.

"Rehabilitating the war widows financially and socially will be a mammoth task for the government," agrees Minister Hizbullah.

The government of Sri Lanka has not planned any special recruitment drive or educational plans for these war widows at present.

However “efforts on war footing will be taken to rehabilitate the war widows” says the deputy minister for women and child welfare of Sri Lanka MLAM Hizbullah.

© BBC Sinhala

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Sri Lanka: Garment woes dampen labour day

By Feizal Samath - Though the global economic crisis has eased in most of Asia, latest reports about falling demand for garments in markets like Europe and the United States have become a new source of concern to Sri Lanka’s troubled garment labour force.

Garments, the island state's biggest industrial export, are suffering a double whammy: the economic recession and uncertainty over tax-free trade to Europe. The sector employs close to 300,000 people with another 200,000 dependent on it.

According to T.M.R. Raseedeen, general-secretary of the National Association for Trade Union Research and Education (NATURE), more than 50,000 workers lost their jobs in the 2008-09 period as some 50 mostly garment factories closed due to loss of orders.

"These are official figures. I think the situation is much worse," he said, adding that the plight of the garment workers would be one of the many slogans of unions at May Day rallies across Sri Lanka.

Rohan Masakorala, secretary-general of the Joint Apparel Association Forum, an umbrella group representing associations involved in the garment industry, says that what is worrying is that garment exports fell by 20 percent in February 2010 and by a similar percentage in January.

"We are watching March figures and hope there is some pick-up, or we will have a crisis on our hands," he said, adding that retail markets, particularly in Europe and the United States have not recovered from the crisis and consumer buying has not picked up as anticipated.

With a trade pact providing tax-free imports into the European Union (EU) suspended over the failure of Sri Lanka to adhere to the United Nations conventions on labour and human rights, buyers are putting pricing pressure on suppliers in Sri Lanka.

"Pressure is mounting on pricing (and for local companies to slash margins) as buyers are uncertain whether the tax breaks would continue," Masakorala says, adding that if this continues, labour will face the brunt of the impact.

Sri Lanka has for many years enjoyed tax-free imports to the EU for a number of items, which are mostly garments. The EU and the United States account for the bulk of Sri Lanka’s garment exports.

Over the past year authorities from both sides have had disagreements over an EU regulation to implement a number of conventions ensuring adherence to labour and human rights, a condition that countries entitled to these benefited must observe. In December, the EU said it would withdraw the concessions from July 2010 if Sri Lanka failed to present a roadmap to implement these conventions.

Masakorala says it is mostly small and medium-scale factories that have suffered the brunt of the economic crisis. Last year the number of garment factories fell to 250 from 300 in 2008.

The crisis in the garment sector is one of the biggest labour issues today. A leading trade union on Thursday said the challenges faced by workers were enormous owing to the "ramifications of the global economic crisis and the anti-worker measures of the authorities to bail out capitalist employers".

The leftist Ceylon Federation of Labour in a statement said Sri Lankan authorities were placating business interests and capitalist employers by implementing a series of measures to create a flexible labour market. "Labour flexibility in essence means turning workers into dispensable commodities," it said.

Last year, the government said it planned to introduce a five-day week, nine- hour work day, with Saturday off, as employers said they were struggling to keep loss-making factories open due to falling orders. Unions protested over the move but had no objection if workers agreed to such a move.

Another step was to allow failed companies to close under an Unemployment Benefits Insurance Scheme. Yet both steps are yet to be enforced due to disagreements between unions, employers and government authorities.

In the bigger firms, though not as badly affected as the smaller factories, top-level staff have been offered voluntary retirement packages and in some cases workers have also been retrenched, says Ravi Peiris, secretary-general of the Employers Federation, which represents a number of employers.

NATURE’S Raseedeen says that while the May Day was born as a result of workers succeeding in demands for an eight-hour working day, which became the very first International Labour Organization convention adopted in 1919, Sri Lankan authorities are working against these fundamentals.

"The other danger is that if the nine-hour working day is enforced, it could be a permanent feature rather than a temporary measure to tide over a crisis," he says.

Unions say if workers are to work an extra hour a day, they should be paid overtime or adequately compensated.

Workers are also furious with the government for failing to fulfill a promise made during the January 2010 presidential poll to increase wages.

"The cost of living is rising sharply and workers are struggling. We are yet to see this promise being implemented and we intend to raise this issue vociferously during May Day rallies," said Anton Marcus, leader of another prominent union in the garment industry.

© Inter Press Service

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Sri Lanka: New government threat against the media

By W.A. Sunil - In his first press conference yesterday, Sri Lanka’s newly installed deputy media minister, Mervin Silva, warned the media to toe the government’s line. Coming from a man who has been closely associated with the government’s intimidation of the media, the comments amount to another threat against journalists and news organizations.

Silva told the assembled media that the United Peoples Freedom Alliance’s (UPFA) victory in this month’s parliamentary election demonstrated that voters overwhelmingly approved President Mahinda Rajapakse and his Mahinda Chinthanaya (Mahinda Vision) program. “I suggest we [the media] should work and join with Mahinda vision,” he said.

While declaring he would “protect journalists and media leaders,” Silva warned: “Please stop [any] work against the progress of the people, stop the work of provoking people, introducing hatred among them, derailing the society and backing terrorism.” In other words, the media should drop any criticism of the government’s agenda and its record, or face the consequences of being branded as “pro-terrorist” and creating chaos.

Silva was speaking to an already subservient Colombo media, which fully backed Rajapakse’s war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam that ended with the LTTE’s defeat last May. Despite the media’s complicity, the government denounced even limited criticisms of the manner in which the war was conducted, as well as calls for a political solution to the conflict, as tantamount to betrayal. Journalists were murdered and media offices attacked by pro-government thugs.

Silva singled out the “mistakes” made by Sirasa/MTV, a popular private TV channel, in its reporting of the final months of the war when more than a quarter of a million civilians were trapped in the small remaining pocket of LTTE-held territory. The government insisted, against mounting evidence to the contrary, that it was conducting a “humanitarian operation” to “liberate” the people. In reality, the military mercilessly bombarded the area and, according to UN estimates, killed at least 7,000 civilians. Sirasa/MTV’s “mistake” was to cautiously raise questions about the government’s repeated lies.

After disingenuously saying he pardoned the mistakes, Silva warned the TV station not to repeat them. This is not an empty threat—as underlined by repeated attacks on Sirasa/MTV. In January 2009, pro-government thugs ransacked its main offices, causing extensive damage. As recently as March, its headquarters was attacked by pro-government protesters, denouncing the TV station for sponsoring a planned concert in Colombo by US-based rap singer Akon.

Silva was personally involved in an attack on employees of the state-owned television network, the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Co-operation (SLRC), in December 2007. He and his thugs burst into its offices and physically assaulted a news editor over his failure to broadcast one of Silva’s provocative speeches. Unidentified thugs, suspected of being loyal to Silva, later set upon several Rupavahini employees.

As deputy media minister, Silva will operate directly under President Rajapakse, who has taken on the media portfolio as well as defence, finance, ports, aviation and highways. His appointment has provoked concern among Sri Lankan journalists and condemnation from several media organisations.

Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) asked: “In what country do you appoint an arsonist to put out fires?… The Sri Lankan government has again distinguished itself by assigning key posts to very controversial figures implicated in attacks on press freedom.” The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) commented that Silva’s appointment was “an indicator of what comes next for the Sri Lankan media”.

The Island wrote in its April 26 editorial: “Friday president Rajapakse added insult to injury. He appointed, of all his MPs, Mervin Silva deputy media minister! He certainly could not have found a worse person for the job!” The comment is significant as this right-wing newspaper has been a consistent supporter of the Rajapakse regime and its regressive policies.

The government is notorious for its attacks on the media. During the war, pro-government death squads killed 14 journalists and media persons. In January 2009, Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was murdered in broad daylight as he drove to work in Colombo. None of the killers has been arrested, let alone prosecuted and convicted. Yesterday, the CPJ ranked Sri Lanka as the fourth worst place in the world for journalists being murdered and their killers going free.

This January, the government stepped up its anti-media activities as part of a broader crackdown on political opposition. The Criminal Investigation Department sealed the offices and detained the editor of Lanka, the newspaper of the opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Just two days before the presidential election on January 26, Prageeth Eknaligoda, a journalist with the Lankaenews web site, “disappeared” and has not been seen since.

During the presidential and parliamentary elections, the ruling UPFA shamelessly monopolised the state-owned media as its propaganda tool. Rajapakse took over the post of media minister in February and, with Chinese technical assistance, began preparations to impose Internet censorship. Several web sites, including Lankaenews, were subsequently blocked.

Silva’s installation as Rajapakse’s deputy media minister is a warning that the government is preparing further draconian measures against the media. Far from demonstrating support for the government, the parliamentary election highlighted the immense gulf between working people and the political establishment as a whole. The lowest turnout in 60 years meant that the UPFA achieved its majority with the support of about one third of registered voters.

Rajapakse is well aware that his planned austerity measures will provoke widespread opposition from workers, young people and the poor, who already have had to endure more than two decades of civil war. Having promised “peace and prosperity” after the LTTE’s defeat, the government now has to impose the International Monetary Fund’s dictates to slash public spending, increase taxes and sell off state-owned enterprises. Rajapakse has installed Silva to threaten and bully the media into dropping its previous limited criticisms of government policy.

© World Socialist Web Site

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Nothing on “Democracy & HR” in SAARC Summit that vows to eradicate “Terrorism”

Leaders of SAARC countries on Wednesday, April 28 vowed to collectively combat the scourge of terrorism, extremism and insurgency plaguing the region with Pakistan and Bangladesh rejecting claims of those who justified violence in the name of Islam. This therefore leaves all forms of armed conflict in all SAARC member countries, as those that need to be eliminated.

“Terrorism” thus understood as war against the State, was high on the agenda at the two-day Summit of SAARC Heads of States, with the Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley elected as its new Chairman, asserting that no cause could be enhanced or served through acts of terror, nor was it in any degree deserving of sympathy and support.

“Those who are responsible for the perpetration of such heinous crimes against humanity must know that they will be brought to justice in a world where nations are acting together and their individual and collective capacity to apprehend the guilty is growing,” The Bhutanese PM said.

Voicing concerns over terrorism, extremism and radicalism, Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh asked the SAARC countries to “revive the South Asia of our dreams that is once again a source of new ideas, new knowledge and new opportunities”.

India’s strong push for the SAARC Convention on “Suppression of Terrorism and ratification of the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters” received the backing of SAARC leaders.

PM Dr. Manmohan Singh also said, “The challenge before us is to translate institutions into activities, conventions into programmes, official statements into popular sentiments. Declarations at summits and official level meetings do not amount to regional co-operation or integration.”

In his speech, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said terrorism was like a “toxic brew” under the garb of different ideologies and underscored the need for the SAARC countries to join hands individually and collectively.

He hoped the meeting of the SAARC Home Ministers in Islamabad in June this year, would help in synergising their positions to effectively fight the menace of terrorism.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said her country was firmly opposed to terrorism, insurgency, organised crimes and religious extremism. “We categorically reject claims of those who cloak themselves in the rhetoric of Islam, or any other faith to justify violence. We are also committed against the use of Bangladesh territory for launching terrorism elsewhere,” the PM said, in clear terms.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa also spoke of the threat posed by terrorism and made a strong pitch for collective action to defeat it.

He said, “We must also resolve in this ‘Decade of Intra-regional Connectivity in SAARC’, to work diligently to strengthen both the physical and soft connectivity between our countries and peoples. We must find, as well, the best and the most practical means to implement the provisions of existing SAARC Conventions, especially against Terrorism.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said all SAARC members without exception or reservation should commit, not to allow their territories to be used directly or indirectly to train or shelter terrorist networks.

He said the terrorist attacks in the last two years in Kabul, Islamabad and Mumbai and elsewhere, were yet again gruesome reminders that terrorism continues to find a place in the region.

Terrorist attacks have become audacious and its reach and spread, aimed at destabilising societies, he said, “The most challenging threats we all face are that of terrorism, extremism, narcotics, and organized crime. I believe that SAARC is a platform for us to join our forces to combat these threats together.”

With all such eloquence and commitment in eradicating “terrorism”, none of the SAARC leaders had spoken about establishing and or improving democracy in the region, as a necessary process for development, at this 16 SAARC Summit of Heads of States. None had spoken on respecting Human Rights in the region and supporting each other in institutionalising a regional mechanism to monitor violation of human rights.

Most recently, the New York based organisation, the CPJ indexed 06 of the 08 member countries in the SAARC among the top 12 countries in the world for impunity against journalists in year 2009.

It has not been even acknowledged at this SAARC Summit that the South Asian region has very many cases of violations of human rights and that in most countries, extra judicial killings and that of custodial killings are on the increase. Even in India custodial killings have been on the increase, with extra judicial killings by State sponsored para military groups like the Salwa Judum resorting to such means, in the name of eliminating “terrorism”.

© South Asia Speaks

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