Friday, June 04, 2010

Indian film stars call for boycott of 'Bollywood Oscars' over Tamil deaths

Jason Burke in New Delhi - The Indian film industry's "Bollywood Oscars" started in Sri Lanka today despite calls for a boycott over alleged killings of ethnic Tamil civilians.

Actors and directors from India's southern states asked stars not to attend the three-day extravaganza because of the alleged deaths caused by Sri Lankan armed forces in the last days of the island's 25-year civil war last year.

The Tamil minority have deep family and cultural links with the tens of millions of Tamils living in India, particularly in the state of Tamil Nadu.

According to Indian media, Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan, his actor son Abhishek and daughter-in-law, former Miss World and actor Aishwarya Rai, have decided not to attend along with Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood actor who is best known internationally. All have cited work commitments.

L Suresh, head of the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce, said the call for a boycott was "about humanitarianism not politics". He said: "You can't have people performing over freshly dug graves. We are not in the era of Genghis Khan."

However Sabba Joseph, director of Wizcraft International, which owns the International Indian Film Academy, said the event was going ahead. "Frankly, the dates and location have been known for months and it is only the last few days that people have suddenly got interested."

Actor Vivek Oberoi said he was attending despite earlier concerns, citing a charity cricket match between stars and the Sri Lankan national side to raise funds to help former Tamil Tigers child soldiers as one reason. Sri Lanka has repeatedly denied that civilians were bombarded indiscriminately at the end of the war.

© Guardian

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Alston wants foreign probe on Sri Lanka

Philip Alston, Special UN Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in his annual report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (HRC), has said that there is a need for an independent international inquiry in Sri Lanka.

He was referring to the allegations that as many as 30,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka last year in the closing months of the conflict between Government forces and Tamil rebels and that grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law were committed.

“In this case also there is a need for an independent international inquiry,” he said. “While the Council rejected this proposal a year ago, there is now a great deal of new evidence which would warrant effective action.”

In many instances, domestic commissions of inquiry had only resulted in “comprehensive impunity,” Philip Alston said. “Overall, the track record of such inquiries is remarkably poor,” he added.

In such cases, the international community will often need to insist that an international inquiry takes place where particularly serious allegations are made and where domestic practice has been “unconvincing.”

To assert in such circumstances that matters should be left entirely to a domestic inquiry will generally be tantamount to an “abdication” on the part of the international community, said Mr. Alston, who cited the recent Israeli attack on the humanitarian flotilla headed for Gaza as one example of such a situation, the UN media unit reported.

© Daily Mirror Online

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Friday, June 04, 2010

SRI LANKA: New deadline for IDP resettlement

The Sri Lankan government has issued a new deadline to resettle tens of thousands of conflict-displaced still living in camps.

More than 60,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) continue to live in three government camps, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says.

The new Minister of Resettlement, Milroy Fernando, told IRIN an August deadline was “realistic” and that the process would be expedited to ensure people could return home as soon as possible.

“There was a previous deadline of April but that was not feasible,” Fernando said, describing the process as a “top priority” for the nation.

“A lot of work has been concluded post-elections, including reconstruction of homes and the introduction of several livelihood assistance programmes. The new deadline is therefore realistic,” he said.

Among his ministry’s top priorities was to go beyond resettlement and initiate livelihood support mechanisms for the displaced, he said.

“To facilitate resettlement, the de-mining process too is being expedited. People are so keen to return home. But as a responsible government, we simply cannot allow people to return to their original villages before the completion of the de-mining work. People are very eager to go back to their own villages but we prevent those wanting to return to areas that are still uncleared,” he said.

“We are currently making some plans to resettle and offer livelihood support in their original villages. To boost their livelihoods, the ministry now offers fishing gear and agricultural equipment for identified persons,” he said.

Under the World Food Programme (WFP), IDPs are provided with food relief for six months from the date of return, while UNHCR provides a shelter grant of US$220 paid in two instalments.

“A new livelihood support programme will soon be under way - especially catering to the agricultural and fishing requirements,” Fernando added.

More than 236,000 people have returned home or are staying with host families a year after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for more than two decades.

On 28 May, the Sri Lankan president issued instructions to shut down the remaining camps within the next three months, including Menik Farm - the largest of the three - outside the town of Vavuniya and two smaller camps in Jaffna.

© IRIN Asia

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Sri Lanka ex-Tiger combatants in apparel jobs

Sri Lanka's Tri-Star Apparel Exporters group has recruited a batch of ex-Tamil Tiger combatants to work at its garment factories and has expressed willingness to employ more, a media report said.

The Sunday Island newspaper said the first batch of trainees would join the group's factory in Ratmalana, south of Colombo on Monday.

The reported quoted Tri-Star chairman Kumar Devapura as saying that he was willing to employ up to 1,500 ex-Tiger combatants in his factories.

The group which has 15 factories the report was planning to set up two new plants in Jaffna and Kilinochchi in the north of the country, the report said,

Sri Lanka has captured about 12,000 Tamil Tiger cadres in the last stages of the war.

Tri-Star had recently opened a factory in Polpithigama, employing 600 workers including 250 relatives of military personnel.

Another factory in Thambalagamuwa, Trincomalee in the north east had employed about 400 workers from the minority Tamil and Muslim communities and about 200 from the majority Sinhalese community, the report said.

Devapura had said he had orders for his factories including 15 million pieces from Asda and was going ahead with the new factories.

There had been fears of Sri Lanka losing competitiveness as well as loss of trade concessions from Europe later in the year over rights abuses.
In the first quarter of 2010 Sri Lanka's apparel exports fell 14.9 percent from a year earlier.

© Lanka Business Online

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Channel 4 coverage on Sri Lanka wins Amnesty Media Awards

Channel 4 News picked up both awards it was nominated for at last night’s Amnesty Media Awards. Our Sri Lanka coverage won the TV News Coverage and Somalia journalist Jamal Osman won the Gaby Rado award for new journalists.

The Amnesty Media Awards recognise "excellence in human rights reporting and acknowledge journalism's significant contribution to the UK public's awareness and understanding of human rights issues".

In the TV News Category, the team behind Channel 4 News' Sri Lanka coverage won against stiff competition from Sky's "Falujah Babies" report and another Channel 4 News piece – Nick Martin's report from Ciudad Juarez on child trafficking across the US border.

The Sri Lanka entry comprised a report into internment camps that saw Nick Paton Walsh deported from the country, the airing of a video purporting to show Tamil soldiers being executed, and the eventual UN verdict that authenticated that video. Deputy Foreign Editor Tim Lambon collected the award on behalf of the team and recognised the collective efforts of the Channel 4 News team, and fixers on the ground in making the coverage possible.

Channel 4 News Editor Jim Gray commented: "These awards remain incredibly important – and it is an honour to be recognised for highlighting human rights atrocities through our journalism. Our coverage of the end of Sri Lanka's war exemplified the values we hold dear – it was fearless, challenging and required tenacity, patience and courage from everyone involved- it's fantastic to see that effort rewarded.

"Likewise, in the short time he has been covering human rights stories for us Jamal has demonstrated a natural instinct for telling these untold stories around the world – so it's great that he has been recognised as an emerging new talent."

It was a good night for Channel 4 in general – More 4 and Channel 4 shared the award for "Television documentary and docudrama" for 'Burma VJ' and the Dispatches documentary on Afghanistan's Dirty War.

© Channel 4

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Friday, June 04, 2010

A visit to the devastated Sri Lankan town of Kilinochchi

By WSWS correspondents - One year after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan government claims that life is returning to normal in the war-ravaged Vanni region. But as our reporting team found during their recent visit to Kilinochchi, that is far from the case. Tens of thousands of civilians who lost everything during the fighting have been “resettled” in the area with little government assistance.

Kilinochchi was the LTTE’s administrative headquarters when its forces controlled most of the Vanni. It was the scene of months of bitter fighting in the final months of 2008 as the LTTE put up stiff resistance to repeated army offensives and sustained aerial and artillery bombardment. The entire civilian population had fled well before Sri Lankan troops finally entered what was a ghost town in early January 2009.

After the fall of Kilinochchi, the LTTE’s resistance rapidly collapsed. The army tightened its noose around the LTTE and confined it to a small pocket of land on the northeast coast, which was pounded relentlessly killing thousands of civilians. When the area was finally overrun in May 2009, the army rounded up more than a quarter of a million civilians, many of whom were injured, sick and famished, and herded them into detention camps.

The internees were only released from last December onwards in response to international and domestic pressure. In the meantime, the military had turned Kilinochchi into an army town with plans for a permanent occupation and the construction of major permanent bases. Former residents found the town devastated and have been forced to eke out an existence as best they can.

Our reporters visited Kilinochchi town and the villages of Poonahari, 26 kilometres to the west, and Vattakachchi, 15 kilometres to the east. They conducted their work under difficult circumstances, as the media generally cannot operate freely in the town. The photos are taken from a bus, but give an indication of the makeshift conditions under which people are living in the Vanni.


The first thing that strikes you about the situation in Kilinochchi is that you find more soldiers than civilians in the town. They are in uniform and civvies, carrying weapons or just moving here and there. People can only travel to Kilinochchi, either from Jaffna to the north or from Vavuniya to the south, by passing through military camps, checkpoints and patrolling soldiers.

Soldiers might not question you as they would have six months ago but they keep a close eye on everyone’s movements. Just after one of our correspondents went to a relative’s house in a village, soldiers arrived at the house and asked why he was there. When he said he was visiting a relative, they went away. But the same thing happens whenever a new person comes to a house.

The buildings in Kilinochchi town were destroyed last year. Heaps of debris have since been removed about 50 metres from the main road. The traders who have returned are renovating or rebuilding their shops, which were damaged during the war, at their own expense. These are small shops and there are only a few customers. Most of the eating houses are run by the army, catering for people travelling through the town.

People’s land and buildings that were previously occupied by the LTTE are now occupied by the military. A vast area in the southern section of the town has been fenced with barbed wire. Residents think it will be used to erect a military complex. Meanwhile, the Kilinochchi bus stand still has no any shelter. Passengers must wait for buses, sometimes for hours, under trees in the hot sun or rain. No buses are running to some places still.

Former detainees have been sent here almost without any assistance. The government’s attitude is one expression of its communal discrimination. Displaced people spoke angrily about the government’s policy. One person explained: “We are living here abandoned by all. The government said it would provide us with houses, employment and other facilities. It has not even given us clean drinking water, apart from what the relief agencies have supplied. Nobody has come to see our plight. There is no difference between staying in the detention camps and living here. The conditions are the same in both places.”

Many of the resettled people live in 10-by-10 feet huts with tin sheets provided by some non-government organisations. Other people are living in tents that are the same size. There are no separate rooms for sleeping or getting dressed. The floors have been leveled with mud. As there are no toilet facilities, people are using open spaces. Some families have used tin sheets to make roofs for their damaged houses.

People have been able to survive without going hungry only because the World Food Program (WFP) is providing food. Many people don’t have even instruments like knives, equipment to clean their hands, or lamps for daily use. They have to look for bottles to make kerosene oil lamps, and search for water because the wells are not cleaned.

The Kilinochchi district was famous for agriculture and fishing. The large Iranaimadu tank (artificial lake) mainly supplied irrigation for several thousand acres of agricultural land. The tank is now under the military’s control. Water has not yet been fully released for farmers. A few farmers have begun cultivation but they do not have tractors or other basic equipment. Many do not have even a mammoty (a type of spade). Fishermen are not allowed to fish in the tank.

Poonahari village has been devastated, like other areas in the Vanni. The debris from destroyed houses, such as bricks and wood, has been used to erect military checkpoints that monitor the local coastline. One resident commented: “The military checkpoints are made out of the wood and sheets from our homes.”

Students are generally attending schools but there is a serious lack of teachers and equipment. Teachers have to travel a long distance from Jaffna or Vavuniya. At Poonahari, the Vikneswara School, which previously conducted classes up to the advanced level, is now occupied by the military, so students must walk to another school five kilometres away.

The military has also occupied Poonahari’s government hospital. As there are no longer any hospital facilities, people have to beg someone in the army camps to take any seriously ill patients to Kilinochchi in a military vehicle for treatment. Patients with minor illnesses simply have to suffer.

In Vattakachchi village there is no hospital and no school, and the people live in tents. The houses were destroyed during the war. The local Vattakachchi and Ramanathapuram schools remain occupied by the military.

Many women have lost their husbands. They are struggling to survive, facing numerous difficulties, without proper clothes and education for their children. One woman explained: “The government did not give us any help. I don’t have the money to search for my disappeared husband. Others like me face the same problems.”

Billions of rupees are urgently needed to rebuild the Kilinochchi district for proper human habitation. But the Colombo government is not interested in rebuilding the conditions of ordinary people. Its treatment of war-devastated people is a continuation of decades of discrimination against Tamils.

© World Socialist Web Site

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