Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rains delay Sri Lanka victory parade

Heavy rains forced the indefinite postponement of Sri Lanka's military parade marking the first anniversary of its defeat of Tamil rebels, officials said Monday as flash floods killed four people.

The victory celebrations scheduled for Thursday were put off as the military was unable to go ahead with rehearsals due to torrential monsoon rains, a defence official said.

Sri Lanka declared victory after the killing of the top leadership of the Tamil Tigers on May 18 last year following 37 years of bitter conflict which claimed more than 100,000 lives according to United Nations estimates.

The authorities had scheduled a military parade on Thursday to mark the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the ending of their campaign for an independent state for Sri Lanka's minority Tamils.

Officials said military preparations on Monday were washed out due to heavy rains which also killed at least four people and drove 200,000 people out of their flooded homes.

The Meteorological Department warned there could be landslides in some parts of the country.

Since Sunday, electricity supplies to main towns outside the capital have been disrupted due to trees falling on powerlines.

Sri Lanka depends on monsoon rains for irrigation and power generation but the seasonal downpours frequently cause loss of life and damage to property in low-lying areas.

The island's two main monsoon seasons run from May to September and December to February.


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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sri Lanka storms leave eight dead, 200,000 displaced

Torrential rains and lightning in Sri Lanka have caused the deaths of at least eight people and driven more than 200,000 from their homes, officials said Tuesday as the weather worsened.

At least four people have been killed in the flooding and another four by lightning since Saturday, government officials said.

More than 50 houses were damaged by the severe weather, which has affected the western, southern, central and north-western parts of the country.

Rail and road transport was also impacted with more than 20 vehicles damaged by falling trees.

Access to the international airport has been restricted by the floods, prompting the national airline to require that passengers check in four hours ahead of their departure times.

The government has postponed a military parade scheduled for Thursday, which was to commemorate the first anniversary of the end of the conflict with separatist Tamil rebels. (IANS)

© Sify News

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

SL Army threatenes journalists

Sri Lanka Army (SLA) has prevented the first commemoration events of Mu’l’livaaikkaal Massacre of May 2009 being observed in Jaffna Sunday in Nalloor and Jaffna town by chasing away the public from participating, threatening to death the reporters trying to cover the event and detaining Yarl Thinakural reporter who was present in the memorial event observed in Ilangkai Thamizh Arasu Kaddchi (ITAK) office on Martin Road, Jaffna.

Large number of SLA soldiers were deployed in around Nallai Aatheenam area who beat and chased away the public who came to attend the event besides blocking all roads to the place to public use. The reporters too were stopped midway, intimidated and their family particulars collected by SLA Intelligence wing officers.

Meanwhile, SLA had rounded up and searched the ITAK office and the residence of Mavai Senathirajah, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Jaffna district, from 10:00 a.m to 12:30 p.m Monday. The Thinakural reporter taken away in a Buffel Personnel Carrier and held by SLA Intelligence Wing officer Major Nisantha was released only after eliciting an assurance from Yarl Thinakural chief that nothing will be published about the event or reporters being intimidated.

The memorial event at Nalloor was to be held in Nalloor Aatheenam in which Jaffna Bishop Rt. Rev. Thomas Saundranayagam, Nallai Aatheenam Chief Priest, Srila Siri Somasuthanra Kurukkal and several others being invited to participate in.

The event, however, was observed only by the few religious dignitaries present.

Only around ten prominent ITAK persons including Mavai Senathirajah were able pay homage to the victims of Mu’l’livaaikkal Massacre as SLA soldiers had rounded up the ITAK office blocking anyone trying to attend the event.

Meanwhile, the memorial event organized by Jaffna Interreligious Committee that was to take place Tuesday at Jaffna Veerasingham Hall was cancelled the administrators of Veerasingaham Hall were threatened to death SLA intelligence wing officers.

The event relocated to another location nearby too had been abandoned due to death threats by the above officers.

© Tamil Net

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sri Lanka's Vindictive Peace

By Some Ilangovan - Last May, Sri Lankan soldiers captured the final piece of land held by the separatist Tamil Tigers, killing hundreds of rebel fighters, including the group's leader, and definitively ending a 26-year civil war that claimed as many as 100,000 lives.

On May 19, the first anniversary of the war's end, however, there is little to celebrate. As many as 93,000 Tamils remain in detention camps and transit centers, while 11,700 more (of which 550 are children) are being held as ex-combatants without charges, denied access to an attorney or their families. Conditions in the camps and prisons are appalling, with human rights groups documenting cases of torture and rape, in addition to poor housing, health, sanitation, and education facilities.

This is not what peace is supposed to look like. And the centers and camps are only the most visible symptom of the Sri Lankan government's apparent disinterest in genuine reconciliation. Far from ending the root conflict, the end of fighting has left the island as ethnically divided as ever, undermining the prospects for a durable peace and regional stability. In many ways, Sri Lanka has simply traded the horror of war for conflict of another, more tedious, continuous sort: a two-tiered society in which Tamils are kept at the bottom.

The evidence is everywhere. Outside the detention and transit centers, there has been little significant reconstruction or development in the Tamil regions of the country. Citizens believe that vital aid to rebuild war-torn communities is being siphoned by the government for its own budget priorities, including investment in tourist projects in the former warzone. More than 1.5 million landmines contaminate the north of the country. Few job programs have been launched, and infrastructure has been neglected, leaving many Tamils unable to return to communities where homes, schools, hospitals, businesses, and churches were destroyed. Land seized during the conflict has not been returned, and fishing rights have not been restored.

More ominously, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has made no headway in advancing the essential freedoms and political reforms necessary for true reconciliation, like political power-sharing and decentralization. Such changes could help eradicate the Tamil disenfranchisement that inspired the insurgency in the first place, for example by giving the Tamil-dominated north a stronger voice in the country's government.

But instead of launching those sorts of conciliatory programs, as Rajapaksa promised he would do in his successful reelection campaign in January, the government has done exactly the opposite. After the election, Rajapaksa's administration arrested his opponent and accused him of plotting a coup. The government continues to intimidate the press and restrict freedom of movement and speech. It is discouraging Tamils from returning to their homelands and instead pushing the resettlement of majority Sinhalese in the north and east. In short, the policy smacks of an official campaign to engineer the island's demographics and diminish the Tamil culture. Instead of ending discrimination, the government's actions too often institutionalize it.

What Rajapaksa doesn't seem to realize is that the quest for Tamil equality and dignity did not end with the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, as the rebel group was formally known. The government and the Tamils will only fully and finally resolve their differences when equality is promoted for all citizens, and when hope and prosperity are open to everyone. That opportunity is open to Rajapaksa today, but he shows few signs of taking it, or of amending the decades-long policies of marginalizing Tamils.

Take the Rajapaksa government's intention to establish a Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation, for example. This will only be worthwhile if it is independent, impartial, fully funded, and empowered to investigate war crimes. And the chances of that, in such a climate, are slim. It must have a mandate to uncover the truth and hold people accountable, or it risks being a whitewash commission.

In the meantime, it is urgent that the international community not write off Sri Lanka as a closed book. Its message instead to Rajapaksa must be clear: The time to act is now; he must rise above the ethnic divide and move to transform Sri Lanka, with power-sharing a key component. The United States and other democracies, along with international agencies and NGOs, can promote this by tying assistance to political progress and investing in much-needed infrastructure projects in predominantly Tamil areas.

The local population must also be involved in these efforts. That will help develop a skilled labor force and encourage Tamils to see the government as their ally in reconstruction and good government. The Tamil diaspora can contribute its energy, expertise, and resources to this effort, if just conditions are created on the island.

But as long as tens of thousands of Tamils are detained and hundreds of thousands more are neglected, there will only be rancor, not reconciliation. Many will believe that the government has gone from a shooting war against the rebels to a war of attrition against Tamil society at large. The world community needs to step up and seize the moment, showing people everywhere that wars are won by the peace they create, not by the battles that end them.

© Foreign Policy

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sri Lanka accused of war crimes in final onslaught

By Archie Bland - An investigation into the last months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war released yesterday claims that government forces were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands more civilians than previously estimated, and targeted hospitals and humanitarian operations as part of their final onslaught on the rebel Tamil Tigers.

According to the International Crisis Group study, many thousands more people may have died in the operation than UN figures have suggested, with as many as 75,000 citizens unaccounted for, and almost all of the deaths in the so-called "No-Fire Zone" due to government fire.

The study also claims that the government shelled hospitals where it knew international NGO staff and civilians to be working or receiving treatment. "The Sri Lankan government committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible," it says. "An international inquiry into alleged crimes is essential."

The Sri Lankan government has refused to comment on the report, the most comprehensive account of the violence that ended a year ago today. Senior officials have insisted in the past that there were no civilian casualties in the last months of the war.

At the weekend the Sunday Observer newspaper, widely considered a government mouthpiece, claimed that the report was part of a plot to promote former army head Sarath Fonseka at the expense of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Fonseka was imprisoned after he lost the post-war election to Rajapaksa, accused of participating in political activity while still in uniform.

Yesterday the government gave details of its own proposed 'reconciliation commission', which would suggest methods for promoting national unity and determine compensation for those affected by the war with the Tamil Tigers, or Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE).

The proposals stop short of any investigation into violations of humanitarian law. "The only chance of credible scrutiny is by outsiders," said Alan Keenan, Crisis Group's Sri Lanka project director. "There has never been a credible internal process."

Although the US Permanent Representative to the UN, Susan Rice, last week welcomed Sri Lanka's planned reconciliation commission, she cautioned that it did need "to probe violations of international standards during the final stages of the conflict", and there has long been scepticism about the Colombo government's willingness to sanction a full investigation. One foreign diplomat based in Colombo is quoted in the Crisis Group report as saying in November last year: "The regime isn't going to disembowel itself."

The long-running civil war in Sri Lanka reached its zenith in the early months of 2009, when the government pinned the rebels down in an ever-shrinking "No-Fire Zone" (NFZ) on the country's northern coast. The death toll has always been murky because reporters and independent observers were barred from the area. The UN put the toll before the final period of fighting at around 7,000, while Crisis Group points out that around 365,000 civilians were known to be alive in the NFZ in February last year – and only 290,000 survivors registered in government-run camps three months later.

Slim hopes of a UN-led inquiry now rest with the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, since both the Security Council and Human Rights Council have declined opportunities to take Sri Lanka to task.

According to Crisis Group's president Louise Arbour, the lack of consequences for President Rajapaksa makes it more likely that other conflicts will be conducted in similar style in future, and provides no incentive for the draconian Sri Lankan regime to change its approach. "The means are so attractive," she said. "Why would you restrict yourself to doing it just once?"

Crisis Group also suggested that India and the United States failed to do enough to discourage Rajapaksa at the time of the conflict.

© The Independent

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sri Lanka: UN can't say how many died, nor if Ban called for ceasefire

With the UN accused in Sri Lanka of funding prison camps, ineffectual efforts at a ceasefire and leaving civilians to fend for themselves, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky faced and dodged questions on Monday. He did not say how much the UN spent on the internment camps, nor explain the UN's silence after its estimate of civilians deaths was leaked to Inner City Press in March 2009.

Nesirky said that Ban "made energetic efforts" to protect civilians. Inner City Press asked if that included calling for a ceasefire, and if not, why not. Nesirky simply repeated the line about energetic efforts.

Asked another question about establishing an inquiry as he did after the killing of 150 people in Guinea, Nesirky insisted that Ban has been pursuing accountability since his trip to Sri Lanka, and will "soon" named a panel to advise him. But the trip was a full year ago. Only on March 5, 2010 did Ban say he would name a panel "without delay -- and ten and a half weeks later, he has not done so.

Nesirky repeatedly insisted there is no way to know how many civilians were killed. But Inner City Press reported, and reminded Nesirky, that a leaked Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs document counted 2,684 civilians deathly only between January 20 and March 7, 2009.

Inner City Press asked if the UN has other similar documents in its possession, if so why they have not been released and will they be released? Nesirky said he would look into it, but insisted that body counts are almost impossible.

Inner City Press asked, if the UN produces casualty figures in for example Sudan and the Congo, why not Sri Lanka?

Nesirky said you cannot compare, it "depends on the circumstances." One wanted to ask, depends on the political circumstances?

Footnote: the UN and Ban backed down, in the view of many, in the face of push back by Sri Lanka and certain of its allies which have a say in Ban Ki-moon's second term. Recently Sri Lanka's Mission to the UN has taken to trying to intimidate journalists, e-mailing abusive letters even during the middle of the UN's noon briefings.

One wonders if the Mission will do the same to all those journalists who asked about Sri Lanka killing civilians during Monday's briefing: from France, Lebanon (comparing Sri Lanka to Sudan) and the Balkans (comparing Sri Lanka to Srebrenica). We'll see.

© Inner City Press

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sri Lanka faces new calls for Tamil inquiry

Simon Tisdall - A year after Sri Lanka's Sinhalese nationalist leadership finished off the Tamil Tigers in a bloody showdown that killed unknown thousands of civilians, calls have been renewed for an independent, UN-led international inquiry into allegations that war crimes were committed during the conflict. But rather than be penalised for its actions, the Sri Lankan government appears to be getting off lightly so far – and to have created a model other repressive regimes may follow.

In a report coinciding with the end of the fighting, the International Crisis Group, a non-partisan NGO, said it had uncovered new credible evidence suggesting that between January and May last year "tens of thousands of Tamil civilian men, women, children and the elderly [were] killed, countless more wounded, and hundreds of thousands deprived of adequate food and medical care, resulting in more deaths".

The report goes on: "The evidence also provides reasonable grounds to believe Sri Lankan security forces committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible. There is evidence of war crimes committed by the LTTE [the Tigers] and its leaders as well, but most of them were killed and will never face justice.

"An international inquiry into alleged crimes is essential given the absence of political will or capacity for genuine domestic investigations, the need for an accounting to address the grievances that drive conflict in Sri Lanka, and the potential of other governments adopting the Sri Lankan model of counterinsurgency in their own internal conflicts."

Citing eyewitness testimony, photographs, video, satellite images, electronic communications and documents "from multiple credible sources", the ICG report highlights the alleged shelling by government forces of civilians concentrated in so-called no-fire zones, the "intentional shelling" of hospitals and humanitarian relief operations, similar smaller-scale actions against civilians by the Tigers, and "the execution by security forces of those who had laid down their arms and were trying to surrender".

The Sri Lankan government has strongly denied all allegations of wrongdoing during the denouement of the war, and maintains no civilians were killed. Responding in part to international protests, including a critical US state department report and the threat of punitive EU measures, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed an advisory panel of "local experts" to look into war crimes allegations. But the move was widely seen as window dressing, a view reinforced when the panel's secretary, SM Samarakoon, complained it lacked legal powers to investigate fully.

In an apparent bid to pre-empt the ICG and another congressionally mandated US report next month, Sri Lanka announced today it would allow another inquiry by a newly formed "lessons learnt and reconciliation commission".

Speaking in London, Louise Arbour, ICG president and a former chief prosecutor of the international tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, held out little hope that the new inquiry would be adequate or impartial. "This is not a substitute for the incapacity of that government to put its own conduct under independent scrutiny," she said. Arbour dismissed out of hand the government's assertion that no civilians had been killed, and said only an independent outside investigation would suffice.

Given the almost total absence of effective international action to curb or punish the Sri Lankan government, either during the conflict or since it ended, Arbour warned that countries facing violent internal opponents such as Israel, Burma, Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Colombia and the Philippines may be increasingly interested in copying the Sri Lankan "force works" model.

Arbour said the model's "ingredients" were deliberate refusal to differentiate between combatants and noncombatants, in defiance of the Geneva conventions; a policy of "keeping the world out" by excluding the media, humanitarian organisations, and foreign officials from the combat zone, so no one could bear witness to what happened; going on the attack as rapidly as possible, employing "absolute scorched earth" tactics; then subsequently denying forcibly and consistently that anything untoward has occurred. By failing to allow an accounting from which reconciliation might flow, Sri Lanka risked renewed conflict in the future, she added.

The ICG report gives one other reason why Sri Lanka's government seems to have got away with it so far: "Sri Lanka co-opted the language of the 'war on terror' from the Bush administration and took it to its limits by insisting there should be no restraints in its fight against the Tigers. A complex political issue was reduced to a problem of terrorism."

© Guardian

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