Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Sri Lanka: Defence tops 2010 budget

The expenditure for the Defence Ministry tops the proposed budget for 2010 with Rs. 201 Billion as against Rs. 60 Billion last year.

The Appropriation Bill presented to Parliament today also proposes Rs. 60 Billion for economic development.

© Daily Mirror

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Jaffna District Union for persons disappeared after arrest meets after 8 years

The Jaffna District Union for persons disappeared after being arrested by Sri Lanka Armed Forces which met in Jaffna town Monday after eight years extended an appeal to all political parties to forget their differences and cooperate with dedication to trace the youths and young women disappeared after arrest by the armed forces, sources in Jaffna said. Meanwhile, there were many participants in the meeting who said that Minister Douglas Devnananda had told them that their children are under detention by Army Intelligence Division, during his campaigns in the last parliamentary election meeting.

A mother from Ward 10 in Pungkudutheevu in the islets of Jaffna said that Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) soldiers had arrested and taken away her three sons from her house on 19 August 2006 and they have disappeared without any trace.

The mother, Ms. Vincent Mary Rosario, said that her sons, Vincent Satprasathan, 27, Vincent Naxsi, 23 and Vincent Jeyaprathaban, 17 had been arrested and taken by SLN.

She added that Minister Douglas Devananda who had come to Pungkudutheevu during last parliamentary election for campaign had told her that Army Intelligence Division had assured him that her sons are being held in detention.

Minister Douglas Devananda, however, had later refused to give her audience though she had tried to meet him several times and that she had lost all hopes finding her sons.

More than 2000 young men and women in Jaffna district had gone missing after arrest from 1996 to 2000, particularly on two separate occasions.

There were many attendees with similar stories about Minister Douglas Devananda’s information about the persons disappeared.

The Union, however, expressed hopes that Minister Douglas Devananda will cooperate with other political parties overlooking all differences to help trace the persons gone missing.

The Union had been formed in 1996/97 period to trace more than 800 young men and women who had disappeared after arrest and it had been active along with ‘Mothers’ Association’ which had also been formed for the same purpose until 2002. It had to stop its activities due to SLA harassment.

The families of persons arrested and disappeared since 2002 too had now joined in the efforts of Jaffna Union for persons disappeared after arrest.

The appeal to the political parties and others concerned to help trace the persons disappeared was made at the end of Monday meeting.

© Tamilnet

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

While on Gaza UN's Ban speaks of Terms of Reference, 3 month delay on Sri Lanka panel

By Matthew Russell Lee - Six days after Israel killed nine people on a ship headed to Gaza, the UN put out a note to the Press that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was conferring with the prime ministers of Israel and Turkey "to ensure that any investigation has the full cooperation of the countries most closely concerned. He is also developing possible terms of reference and logistical arrangements for such an effort."

What is Ban Ki-moon's recent track record on developing such terms of reference? It has now been over three months since Ban announced he would name a panel of experts about possible war crimes during the final phase of the conflict in Sri Lanka last year, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed.

And yet,on Sri Lanka Ban Ki-moon has yet to name a single member of the promised group of experts, nor to announce the terms of reference.

When asked by Inner City Press how the allegations of the International Crisis Group about the UN's own role in pulling out of civilians areas, ineffectually seeking a ceasefire and funding internment camps would be investigated, as well as issued concerning his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar's role in convincing to surrender rebel leaders who were then killed, Ban said he rejects all such allegations.

Nambiar has said the assurances of safety were provided to him by Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa and current Ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona.

Meanwhile, the UN has named Kohona to lead a separate investigation of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. Only at the UN.

Kohona will be out of New York on that ironic work from June 8 through 19. Given that Ban and Nambiar have given Kohona full access to the delayed process at every stage, does this mean that even after three months, Ban will wait at least another 12 days?

Footnote: Inner City Press on June 4 asked the UN's top humanitarian about ICG's charges, the pull out from Kilinochchi, the funding of internment camps, as well as OCHA's having stopped reporting the numbers of civilians killed following government complaints about the leaking of these figures to Inner City Press.

Holmes issued a rote defense and said an international inquiry is not required. Off camera, Holmes told Inner City Press he is leaving at the end of August, and that the UK's new government is not reducing aid, only wanting to measure its efficacy. But will the new government be satisfied with the OCHA post?

© Inner City Press

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Mass Graves: Nothing new to Sri Lanka

Photo courtesy of Tamilnet.com

by M.C.M.Iqbal - The recent discovery of mass graves at Ganeshapuram in Kilinochchi and at Nachchikuda in the Mannar Districts has been very much in the news during the past weeks. Such finds need not surprise anyone. Following an analysis of satellite images taken during the height of the war, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has already reported that on 19th April , 2009 the images showed the roads in the ‘Civilian Safe Zone’ to be mostly deserted. The images taken on the 24th April, 2009 showed a large grave yard in the same area. The report adds, that the analysis identified three different graveyards, counting a total of 1,346 likely graves. The satellite images can neither reveal if these graves contain civilians or Tamil Tiger fighters.

In the circumstances, it is likely that more and more graves would be discovered, if free access to the area is available to the people and the security forces do not take any steps to obliterate the graves.

That is however only with regard to the graves alleged to be those of the victims of the last war in the Vanni. There could be many more such mass graves in other parts where the war was fought. Many may not know that during the period from 1st January, 1988 onwards, which period the former Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances of Persons appointed in 1994, had been mandated to conduct inquiries, evidence with regard to a large number of mass graves in several parts of the country came to light. These are graves of suspected Sinhala militant youth, who had chosen to rebel against the government of that time. I use the word ‘suspected’ because it was the finding of the said Commissions that most of those who had disappeared were youth or other persons who had been staunch supporters of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, who were suspected by the then government, to be members of the Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna. It is therefore no wonder President Rajapakse who was then, just a Member of Parliament, was in the fore front of the agitation of the parents and guardians of the disappeared youth in the Southern Province, to call for a full investigation into these incidents and the culprits brought to book ! It is estimated that nearly 60,000 Sinhala youth had disappeared during the relevant period. Hardly any of them were found. It is likely that many of their bodies are still in the several mass graves in respect of which evidence was made available to the Commissions of Inquiry. Let us see what one of the Reports of a Disappearances Commission has to say on these mass graves –

The phenomenon of mass graves is a macabre pointer to the clandestine nature of the counter-insurgency operations carried out in this period. Their very existence and the recoveries from them bear vivid witness to a complete disregard of the constitutionally guaranteed safe-guard of the physical security of persons in detention.

This Commission listed twelve mass graves about which evidence had been placed before it. Let us see some of the information available about these graves.

One may recall that during the Presidential Elections of 1994, President Chandrika Bandaranaike who was then one of the candidates at the elections, went around speaking about these graves in relation to the disappearances of persons which was a widespread occurrence during those days. She was present at the time the mass grave at Sooriyakanda was exhumed, in an unconventional manner, with much publicity. It was alleged that the bodies of the abducted school children from the Embilipitiya High School were buried there. It was said that over 300 bodies had been buried at this site. The government of the time conducted a forensic analysis but the investigations were said to be unsatisfactory.

The mass graves in Hokandara, Dikwella and Angkumbura had been located in pits carved out by bomb explosions. Some of these graves such as the ones at Wilpita, Akuressa, and others had been located near Army Camps. Others were in public places like highways, as in the case of Hokandara, in public schools as in Essella or a government farm as in Walpita.

The mass graves at Hokandara, Essella, Wavulkelle, Walpita Farm and Ankumbura had also been disinterred on a judicial order. It was in evidence that the people of the area knew the existence of these graves even though they are not known nationally. Yet they had not been acknowledged by the authorities. When some members of the public had made attempts to report on their existence to the Police at that time, the complaints had not been recorded. The disturbing piece of evidence in this regard was that some of the graves had been kept open for a period of time as in the case of the Hokandara Mass Grave. The Judicial Medical Officer who visited the mass grave at Vavulkelle had noted that he saw the fire blazing with logs and tyres which had been used to burn the bodies. There was evidence placed before the Commission indicating that a pile of burning bodies had been displayed at the junction near the Walpita Farm mass grave. It was the same with respect to the mass grave at Essella where bullet ridden bodies of several young men and women had been found lying lined up in a drain near the home of an army officer who had suffered attack by the subversives of the time.

It is interesting to note that several of these mass graves such as the one at Kotawakella, Yakkalumulla, Dickwella, Deniyaya and Akuressa are in the Southern Province, which is the area from which the present day rulers of Sri Lanka hail !

The Report of the Commission referring to these mass graves stated that - 'The phenomenon of Mass Graves bears a significant correlation to the massive number of disappearances that have taken place in the period under review, independent of any identification of a corpse disinterred to a particular person who has disappeared.'

The Commission appointed to inquire into disappearances of persons in the North and Eastern Province do not mention specifically of any mass graves. The security situation at that time in these Province was a deterrent to witnesses complaining or coming forward with evidence against security forces. However the report of that Commission speaks of mass killings at the Eastern University, at Sathurukondan and other places. A few years later, following a bomb explosion that killed a few army personnel at Kokaddicholai, almost all the villagers of Kokkaddicholai were killed and dumped into the pit created by the bomb.

This article will be incomplete if no mention is made of the mass graves found at Jaffna in Chemmani at the Duraiappah Stadium, in the not too distant past.

In July, 1998 a former army corporal who was charged for the rape and murder of a school girl while he was on duty at the Chemmani check point, told a High Court Judge that he knew about a mass grave where about 400 bodies of Tamils were buried. He said that the bodies of those killed by the army were brought to Chemmani, along with people who were to be executed and then buried there.

A mass grave was found 1999 by municipal labourers at the Jaffna Stadium grounds while they were doing three excavations. On the first occasion 8 skeletons, on the next 16 and on the third 25 skeletons were found. It was suspected that those skeletons were those of Tamils killed and buried en masse during the occupation of the Northern Province by the Indian Peace Keeping Force in 1987.

It is not intended to go into the details of all these mass graves at this juncture as it is considered sufficient just to refer to them for the purposes of the theme of this article. One also needs to remember that in the late 1995 bodies of 17 Tamils living in and around Colombo who had been abducted, were found floating in the Bolgoda Lake, the Alawwa oya and the Diyawanna Oya. Following CID investigations into these cases, 21 Special Task Force police officers were arrested along with three civilians and produced before the Chief Magistrate in Colombo and remanded in 1996. But due to reasons better known to the authorities, all but three of these police officers were released subsequently. The three who were indicted before the High Court were also released later and the proceedings against them were suspended.

It should be noted that the mandates of the Commissions on Disappearances did not permit them to investigate into these mass graves that came to their knowledge. So they made the information about them available in their Reports and recommended that the government should investigate into them and bring those responsible to book. That recommendation was never implemented. Consequently the perpetrators became emboldened. Many of them still continue in service with impunity and they could very well be the ones responsible or at least for having played a part in the creation of the mass graves that are being discovered now.

It is significant to note that the graves the Disappearances Commissions mentioned were those of Sinhala youth who were suspected to be militants, while the evidence of graves that are just coming up are probably those of suspected Tamil militants from the Vanni. If the perpetrators of the killings of Sinhala youth could have dealt with members of their own community so brutally, how they would have treated the suspected Tamil militants could easily imagined. The recent history of Sri Lanka has so much evidence of mass graves that one need not be surprised when more and more graves are discovered in the future. Would Sri Lanka ever acknowledge such brutal incidents of mass graves and related killings and provide solace to the to the grieving family members of the victims by way of transitional justice?

M.C.M. Iqbal was secretary to two of Sri Lanka’s “truth commissions”, presidential inquiry panels into the 30,000 or more forced disappearances that took place in the late 1980s and early ’90s in the south, during a dirty war that many believe has yet to run its course. As the South China Morning Post noted in late-2009, Mr. Iqbal knows more than most about the skeletons that are locked away in the government’s closet – enough, he says, for him to no longer be safe in his home country.

© Groundviews

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Sri Lanka threatens to execute General Sarath Fonseka

By Stephen Sackur/Presenter, BBC HARDtalk - The Sri Lankan government has threatened to execute Sarath Fonseka, the army commander who delivered victory over the Tamil Tigers, if he continues to suggest top officials may have ordered war crimes during the final hours of the Tamil war.

The threat, issued by Sri Lanka's powerful defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is the latest sign of a bitter and intensifying feud within the Sri Lankan political establishment, little more than a year after the end of the Tamil war.

Mr Rajapaksa, who worked closely with General Fonseka on the aggressive military strategy which crushed the Tigers, told the BBC's HARDtalk programme that the general had proved himself to be a liar and a traitor.

Gen Fonseka quit the military soon after the final defeat of the Tigers. He was the main opposition candidate in last January's presidential election.

Within days of his defeat the former war hero was arrested and is currently in military detention facing a court martial on charges of corruption and politicking while in uniform.

Gen Fonseka roused the fury of the ruling Rajapaksa clan when he joined the opposition. The rift deepened when Gen Fonseka suggested there was eyewitness evidence of the defence secretary ordering army officers to shoot and kill surrendering Tamil Tiger leaders at the end of the war.

Government enemy

That eyewitness is said to be a Sri Lankan journalist who is now in hiding overseas.

The very fact that Gen Fonseka has heard the account and gives it credence makes him a dangerous enemy of the current government.

Gen Fonseka told me, in a clandestine telephone interview, that he would be prepared to testify before any independent investigation of alleged abuses during the Tamil war. "I will not hide anything," he said.

When I put this possibility to Mr Rajapaksa he responded with an extraordinary tirade. "He can't do that. He was the commander," he said. "That's a treason. We will hang him if he do that. I'm telling you… How can he betray the country? He is a liar, liar, liar."

Political fallout

The suggestion that Gen Fonseka could be executed is likely to cause a political storm in Sri Lanka. Fonseka is an elected MP and he garnered 40% of the vote in the presidential election. Capital punishment has not been used on the island for 34 years.

Defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa also ruled out any possibility of an independent, third-party investigation of alleged war crimes committed by both the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers in the final phase of the war.

"We are an independent country, we have the ability to investigate all these things," he said.

Colombo insists that no civilians were killed by the army during their final assault on the Tiger's last redoubt, despite evidence from the UN and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which points to thousands of civilian deaths.

With a strong electoral mandate and a big majority in Parliament President Mahinda Rajapaksa seems intent on ruling post-war Sri Lanka without heed to critics at home or abroad.

Powerful family

He has turned his administration into something of a family business. As well as his brother who is the defence secretary, another brother is minister of economic development, another is speaker of the parliament, and his son is a newly elected MP.

In all, the Rajapaksas are responsible for spending more than two-thirds of the state budget.

The dominance of the family is "dangerous and unsustainable," says Vijayadasa Rajapaksa (no relation), a leading Sinhalese barrister and the president's former friend and personal lawyer.

He joined the opposition after becoming disillusioned with the president's failure to act on repeated warnings about corruption and waste in the public sector.

Sri Lanka's budget deficit, at some 8% of GDP is significantly above targets set by the IMF in return for a $2.6bn (£1.79bn) loan package, but the Rajapaksa government is committed to a massive programme of post-war spending.

In and around Kilinochchi, the former capital of the Tamil Tiger northern fiefdom it is easy to see where the money should be going.

Houses are destroyed, farmland is lost to jungle and still swathes of territory are off-limits to civilians as the Sri Lankan army continues to clear mines.

At least the de facto internment camp at Menic Farm, which was filled with almost 300,000 Tamil civilians a year ago is now emptying fast. Every day families line up for hours in the sticky heat for buses heading to their home villages across the northern Vanni region.

But they wait with precious little sense of anticipation.

Farmer and father of three, Thambirasa Karunamurthy, told me: "We came here with one plastic bag of belongings and we're going home with no money, no assets, nothing. We have to start life again in a barren land. We don't know what we are going to do."

On every road and around every settlement Sri Lankan soldiers man guard posts and checkpoints. The government has promised to fully integrate the north into the national economy. It has ruled out significant Tamil autonomy.

"If there is no political solution the conclusion will be that the government wants to impose military victory on the Tamil people, and that the Tamils will never accept," says veteran leader of the Tamil National Alliance Rajavarothiam Sampanthan.

He talks of "organising and resisting through non-violent means".

But Sampanthan speaks from a comfortable office in Colombo. In the ruined villages of the north resistance of any sort seems like a thing of the past.

New struggle

The Tamil Tigers, for years the brutal masters of the Vanni, appear to have been finished for good. Those that were not killed in the war's brutal end-game were rounded up and detained. Just a handful of fighters managed to escape. I spoke to one man now in hiding who was a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) bomb-maker for more than a decade.

This ex-combatant, who was badly wounded earlier in the war, was twitchy with nerves and deep in denial. He denied reports that Tiger cadres forcibly held Tamil civilians in their last redoubt.

He denied the irrefutable evidence that the Tigers conscripted child soldiers and ruthlessly silenced Tamil dissent. And he denied that the war was over.

"You will see, within the next two or three years these very same Tamil people will begin a new armed struggle," he told me. "A new war led by a new leadership."

But before he hobbled away from our covert encounter - he added something else. "I am not afraid to die, but my only worry is that the Tamil people will slowly disappear."

Sri Lankans still live under a state of emergency. The war is over but the government insists Sri Lanka's security is still at risk, whether it be from Tamil "terrorist organisations" overseas, or "traitors" at home.

"We want to bring normalcy to this country, but we have suffered from terrorism for 30 years, so it has to happen gradually," says Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Too gradually, it seems, for his former friend Sarath Fonseka.

© BBC News

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Sunday Leader editor ordered to produce note book

By T. Farook Thajudeen - Colombo Chief Magistrate Ms. Champa Janaki Rajaratna yesterday ordered the Sunday Leader Editor to appear before court in person on June 21 to produce the note book of the interview.

Deputy Solicitor General Wasanth Nawaratna Bandara in his submissions stated that the Sunday Leader Editor Ms.Frdrica Jansz had given photo copies of the note book on the alleged statement made by General Sarath Fonsek to the CID.

He said when the CID asked her to hand over the note book as a production in the case, The Editor had refused tp do so.

Senior Counsel Nalin Ladduwahetti pointed out that the alleged notes taken during the said interview could be made in a note book subsequent to the interview.Therefore to notice the editor to appear before court in person to produce it.

The Director of the Commercial Crime Unit of the Criminal Investigation Department complained to court that General (Rtd) Sarath Fonseka had committed the offence by his offensive statements to the Sunday leader editor against the forces and the government during the interview which was published under the headline “Gota orders to shoot”

Gen. Fonseka was further detained in the custody of the Army till June 21.

© Daily Mirror

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