Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Obama’s envoy meets Sri Lankan President

By Gandhya Senanayake - A special envoy to US President Barack Obama, Samantha Power, met President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees today to discuss the post war situation in Sri Lanka, sources said. Power is a special advisor President Obama and a senior Director of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of the National Security Council.

David Pressman, Director for war crimes atrocities and civilian protection of the US National Security Council, Ms. Patricia A Butenis Ambassador of the US Embassy in Sri Lanka Professor G.L. Peiris Minister of External Affairs and Secretary to the President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga also took part in the discussion.

When contacted by Daily Mirror online the President’s office said that the meeting was cordial and friendly and both sides discussed matters of mutual interest. Power is best known for her efforts to increase public awareness of genocide and human rights abuses, particularly in the Darfur conflict.

© Daily Mirror

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Produce evidence of war crimes" challenges Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's top defence official challenged international rights groups Tuesday to produce evidence of war crimes allegedly committed in the final months of the country's civil war.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse said those making the allegations should present evidence before Sri Lankan courts instead of talking to the international media.

"If there is evidence, it can be brought to the notice of the established Sri Lankan judicial system," Rajapakse told the Sinhalese-language Lankadeepa newspaper. "They can even go through lawyers and inform the police."

Sri Lanka has consistently resisted international calls to probe allegations that thousands of Tamil civilians were killed during the final months of fighting against the Tamil Tiger rebels last year.

"I challenge them to produce evidence (of war crimes). There is no point in giving photographs and videos to the media. We have an established legal system. Use it," Rajapakse added.

His remarks came ahead of visit to the island by UN chief Ban Ki-moon's top political adviser, Lynn Pascoe, and a top Japanese envoy, Yasushi Akashi.

Both envoys are expected to push Sri Lanka to swiftly move towards ethnic reconciliation a year after defeating the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) guerrillas, who were fighting for a Tamil homeland.

Ban is due to appoint a panel to advise him on accountability issues in Sri Lanka following wide-spread allegations by international rights groups and Western nations that both sides were responsible for crimes against humanity.

The top Sri Lankan army commander at the time, General Sarath Fonseka, has denied any wrongdoing, but has agreed to testify before any war crimes tribunal.

Fonseka fell out with the government and quit in November before unsuccessfully challenging President Mahinda Rajapakse's re-election at January polls.

Fonseka has since been arrested and faces two courts martial for alleged corrupt deals and dabbling in politics while in uniform.

Gotabhaya Rajapakse, who is the president's brother, told the BBC earlier this month that Fonseka would be executed as a traitor if he tried to expose alleged war crimes.

The United Nations estimated that 7,000 civilians were killed in fighting in the early months of last year before government troops overwhelmed the rebels and ended the decades-long separatist campaign.


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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Must give Sri Lanka another chance: US

Aziz Haniffa - The US and India are in sync with their foreign policy toward Sri Lanka particularly over the repatriation of the remaining 40,000 plus internally displaced persons after the government's victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the Tamil-populated northern province, said Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Robert O Blake.

In an interview with rediff.com, Blake, the Obama administration's pointman for the subcontinent, said, "The US and India have a very similar view of the situation in Sri Lanka and the steps that need to be taken.

"We have worked very closely throughout the last several years on the situation in Sri Lanka, and again we have a real convergence of view on how that situation has evolved," he said.

Blake noted that the US "has been the largest bilateral donor of food aid to the IDPs and we are already looking at other programmes that we can do to help with livelihoods".

"For example, (programmes for) those who have been released from the camps and to encourage new business development in the north, because that will be critical to enabling stability in that area that has been undeveloped and suffered so much after the LTTE rule of 30 years," he said.

Blake said the US would coordinate closely with India to resettle the displaced Tamils, to ensure that the power is devolved to new democratic institutions in the north, and "greater respect for the rights of all Sri Lankans".

Blake was circumspect when asked about the recent threat by Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse -- the brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse o hang former General Sarath Fonseka, who is under house arrest.

But when pressed, Blake said, "We have expressed our interest in ensuring that General Fonseka is treated fairly and in accordance with Sri Lankan law."

"We were pleased to hear that whatever decisions are made by the military courts, which are now considering the two different charges against General Fonseka, will be reviewed by higher Sri Lankan civilian courts that that will be done in a public manner, so that there will be an assurance of due process," he said.

"So, now we'll have to just see. We have not had access to the charges against General Fonseka. So, we are really not in a position to comment on those," he added.

Blake said the recent meeting of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Laskhman Peiris with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington was "very successful".

He said US had welcomed the steps taken by the Sri Lankan government including the forming of a Reconciliation Commission, "now that its two elections (presidential and parliamentary) are behind it and now that the President has a two-thirds majority in parliament".

He said US has asked Sri Lanka also to work with the UN since the UN had a "great deal of experience in these matters".

"This Commission should now be given a chance to do its work and we have laid out a series of parameters that were described by Ambassador (Susan) Rice (US envoy to the UN) in a statement a few months ago about the experience that we and the UN and others have had with such commissions in the past."

Blake said the administration was pleased that Peiris had "said that the commission that Sri Lanka has established will meet the criteria that Ambassador Rice laid out".

When pointed out that critics have slammed the Reconciliation Commission as a sham, Blake acknowledged that "it's a government appointed commission but it does have independent experts on the commission -- not everybody on the Commission is a government employee".

"In fact, very few of them are."

"We always believe that it's best to have domestic answers to these very serious problems that exist because those in the long run -- if they are credible and independent and really get to the bottom of whatever the issue is -- will be much more acceptable domestically and that's particularly true in a country like Sri Lanka, where there is still some polarisation," he said.

However, Blake noted that groups like International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch and others have been skeptical because "Sri Lanka's record with such commissions in the past has been rather poor and nothing has really ever come of such commissions".

"So it's really incumbent upon the Sri Lankans to show that this is going to be different and Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Peiris went to great length to explain that this is going to be different and that this will produce concrete, serious results," he said.

© Rediff

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Power play between China and India puts Sri Lanka on strategic map

Jason Burke - India and Sri Lanka have signed a series of aid, economic and diplomatic deals, the latest move in an increasingly intense struggle between New Delhi and Beijing for influence over the island nation.

The signing took place on the first day of a visit to the Indian capital by the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The deals range from loans for big infrastructure projects, including the building of railways, to agreements to share electricity and boost cultural exchanges.

Dubbed ''the new Great Game'', in reference to the strategic rivalry between Russia and Britain in Central Asia during the 19th century, the battle between China and India for primacy in the Indian Ocean is set to be one of the big themes of the coming decades, analysts say.

Sri Lanka's geographic position is its main draw.

''China wants to be the pre-eminent power in Asia, and whether Asia ends up multipolar or unipolar will be determined by what happens in the Indian Ocean, '' said Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

Most Indian assistance is focused on the north of Sri Lanka, dominated by ethnic Tamils and devastated by years of civil war between the government and Tamil separatists.

New Delhi also announced the opening of consulates in the Tamil-dominated city of Jaffna and, significantly, in the southern town of Hambantota, where Chinese contractors are building a vast deep-water port in a project largely financed by Beijing's lending arm, the Export-Import Bank.

Indian strategists believe the port is a key link in a chain of such projects from Burma to Pakistan, the so-called string of pearls, which seeks to extend China's maritime influence.

Beijing has already embarked on a road-building program north of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, and is helping build a power station. A $US190 million ($225 million) loan to build an international airport in the south has also been agreed. In March, Sri Lanka said China was supplying more than half its construction and development loans.

India's plans in Sri Lanka are complicated by its own sizeable Tamil population, many of whom blame Mr Rajapaksa for high levels of Tamil civilian casualties in the final days of the civil war last year.

© Sydney Morning Herald

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sri Lanka: Military mass wedding for LTTE suspects

Photo courtesy of Indika Samarajeewa

The Sri Lankan military has organised a mass wedding of more than fifty couples suspected to be from the Tamil Tiger rebel group at a ceremony in Vavunia.

Suspected former rebels are being held at a military-run camp following their defeat by government forces in May last year.

Sri Lankan army says many of the couples had been unable to marry earlier because they were fighting in the civil war.

"Freedom when?"

A BBC correspondent who attended the event says many now want to know when they will be freed from military custody.

The mass wedding was held under heavy military presence.

The director general in charge of rehabilitation, Brigadier Sudantha Ranasinghe said that the newly weds will be housed in a designated village.

"Arrangements have been made for their relatives to visit them," added Brigadier Ranasinghe.

More than ten-thousand Tamil Tiger rebels, who surrendered following the defeat of Tamil Tigers in May last year, are under military custody in northern Sri Lanka.

© BBC Sinhala

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A new (cultural) campaign against Tamils in Northern Sri Lanka

Photo courtesy of Tamilnet.com

by Melani Manel Perera - The provinces of northern Sri Lanka “are undergoing a different kind of attack, not military, but cultural and religious this time. They are faced with the ‘Sinhalisation’ of the area,” Rukshan Fernando told AsiaNews. The human rights activist and director of the Law and Society Trust just completed a tour of the provinces of Vanni and Killinochchi.

“A first example and one that might appear trivial but isn’t so is road signs. Tamil language signs have disappeared; everything now is in Sinhalese. The military claim that Tamil terms are too long and complicated and that’s that. Place names are in both languages, but the one in Sinhalese comes first. What is more, beside the usual and accepted Sinhalese names, signs also mention older Sinhalese names in an attempt to show that these lands are Sinhalese lands,” a Tamil priest told me.

The attempt to change local history and society “also involves religion. In the city of Killinochi, for example, a large arch was put up, saying ‘May Buddhism shine’.” Yet, most people in the area are either Hindus or Christians.”

“Buddhist temples have been rebuilt and are spotless, whereas the places of worship of other religions are not allowed to do the same. And the difference is clearly visible since soldiers are involved in the work at Buddhist sites.”

Lastly, this campaign includes monument building. “Soldiers are building all sorts of monument hailing the victory of the government and the army over the Tamil Tigers. For locals, they are a symbol of their domination, also because no one is allowed to build anything to commemorate Tamil war dead.”

© Asia News

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sri Lanka: NGO Secretariat under Defence Ministry now

By Dianne Silva - The NGO Secretariat which was previously operated under the Social Services Ministry and thereafter the Internal Affairs Ministry now comes under the purview of the Defence Ministry, following the new Parliament taking office.

“The NGO Secretariat is now under the Ministry of Defence, and the Defence Ministry will be working with them,” Media Centre for National Security Director Laxman Hullugalle told the Daily Mirror. He reiterated that this was by no means a measure taken to monitor NGOs but a simple change in administration.

Earlier the Passport office, the Immigration and Emigration Department and the NGO Secretariat were under the purview of the Ministry of Internal Affairs headed by the then Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka.

© Daily Mirror

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

UN political head to visit Sri Lanka

The U.N. political chief will visit Sri Lanka this week, the United Nations said on Monday, amid a dispute between the world body and Colombo over who should investigate alleged human rights abuses.

Lynn Pascoe will discuss with Sri Lankan leaders the aftermath of last year's government victory over Tamil rebels, including political reconciliation, resettlement of refugees and human rights, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said.

During his visit on Wednesday and Thursday, Pascoe will meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa, other government officials and opposition figures including Tamil leaders, Haq said.

Rights groups have said the Sri Lankan government should be investigated for potential war crimes at the end of its 25-year struggle against Tamil Tiger separatists. Colombo has denied charges that tens of thousands of civilians died.

Last month, however, Rajapaksa named an eight-person Sri Lankan "commission on lessons learned and reconciliation" to look into the last seven years of the war.

Colombo has told the United Nations that for that reason, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should not proceed with a plan he announced in March to appoint his own panel to advise him on accountability issues in Sri Lanka.

Haq said Ban nevertheless planned to go ahead with his panel, whose members would be named "in the coming days."

© Reuters

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