Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sri Lankan minister confirms killing of top rebel leaders while in military custody?


A top Sri Lankan minister wittingly or otherwise has confirmed that some of the top Tamil Tiger leaders, including V. Balakumaran and Yogaratnam Yogi, who had surrendered to the government troops during the final days of the war in May 2009, have been killed while in protected military custody.

Minister of Rehabilitation and Prisons Reforms, Dew Gunasekera who undertook a visit to the north and met groups of war widows last week has told a Colombo-based newspaper on record that among the ‘widows’ whom he had met in Jaffna were wives of Balakumaran and Yogaratnam Yogi.

The Minister’s statement indirectly confirms that some of the top leaders of the Tamil Tiger rebels have been killed while in military custody by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which is already facing international war crime charges for allegedly executing top unarmed Tiger leaders when surrendering with white flags.

It is not immediately known whether Balakumaran and Yogi were killed in an execution-style murder or tortured to death.

Minister Gunasekera has also acknowledged that there had not been a detailed study on LTTE widows, though various NGOs and government officials from time to time had given different figures since the conclusion of the war in May last year.

He has said that his ministry had called for applications from people of the Northern Province before meeting them in three separate groups in Jaffna (July 10), Kilinochchi (11) and Vavuniya (12).

Minister Gunasekara has said that of the 8,000 who had responded to his ministry’s call, about 98 per cent were young women.

Yogaratnam Yogi was a member of the LTTE negotiating team which had series of talks with the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government.

Balakumaran was formerly the leader of the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS) and joined the LTTE in the early 1990s before coming one of its ideologues.

On May 31, 2009, Lankafirst.com website quoting Government Information Department sources, reported that some top Tiger leaders who were in the military hand, were going through series of serious investigation by the security forces.

“Former eastern province political wing leader and subsequently in charge of the economic division Karikalan, former spokesman of the LTTE Yogaratnam Yogi , former EROS MP turned advisor to the LTTE V. Balakumar , a former spokesman of the LTTE Lawrence Tilagar, former Deputy political section leader Thangan , former head of the political section for Jaffna district Ilamparithi , former Trincomalee political wing leader Elilan, former head of the LTTE sports division Papa , former head of the administrative division of the LTTE Puvannan and deputy international head Gnanam are in custody,” it said.

A report by the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) also said December last year that Balakumar and his son teenaged Sooriyatheepan surrendered to the 53 army Division near Irattaivaykkal, along the Nanthikadal lagoon on May 16.

“Like Balakumar, many top LTTE leaders reportedly surrendered in the last three days of the war, between May 16 and 19 (2009)”.

The UTHR-J report mentioned the following top leaders as having surrendered: Karikalan (former eastern province political wing leader and subsequently in charge of the economic disivion), Yogaratnam Yogi (former spokesman of the LTTE), Lawrence Tilagar (a former spokesman of the LTTE, a one time head of LTTE office in Paris and later in charge of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation), Thangan (former Deputy political section leader), Ilamparithi (former head of the political section for Jaffna district), Elilan (former Trincomalee political wing leader), Papa (former head of the LTTE sports division), Puvannan (former head of the administrative division of the LTTE), Gnanam (deputy international head) and Tamilini head of the Women’s political wing.

According to the government reports, over 11,000 LTTE detainees are kept in special camps. None of the international rights groups, even the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have been granted access to many of these camps to date.

Internation media reports said last week that former Tamil Tiger rebels detained in Sri Lanka say they have been tortured and ill-treated in government camps with no basic facilities.

In letters and phone calls to the BBC, the ex-militants have said that they had been "tortured and beaten" in the detention centres.

"Military officers often call us dogs - even if we don't shave for a day we are beaten up badly," the BBC report said quoting one of the detainees’ letters as saying.

One letter written by a woman from the eastern town of Trincomalee said some young detainees had been "beaten black and blue".

"Some are hanged upside down. Some are made to lie down in the floor and beaten with belts and sticks. They don't take the injured to hospital," the woman has told the BBC.

© Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

‘UN advisory panel an an attempt to put a foot in the door’ says Rajeeva Wijesinghe

Interviewed by Matt Abud | Radio Australia

So may be just for some background first. There has been a lot of discussion around the Panel that Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has set up to look at alleged war crimes or abuses in the last stages of the war. What’s the government’s response to that?

Well, I don’t think it is supposed to be for looking at war crimes, according to Ban Ki-moon at least, as opposed to all the hype. It’s not to look into abuses, it is to advise him on the best way of proceeding with regard to what he claims is his interpretation of the agreement he signed with the President. I think, if you look at it very carefully, you see Ban Ki-moon is in a bit of a bind, because there’s a lot of pressure on him obviously to make some sort of statement about Sri Lanka. And on the whole he’s been quite good about this, about not letting himself be carried away, but with all this pressure mounting he had to find a way of doing this within the legalities of the UN Charter.

Sorry, he couldn’t actually set up a panel himself but he can set up an advisory group, that’s what you are saying?

Well, he can’t even set up an advisory group which is tantamount to interference in internal affairs of a state, unless he can anchor it in some way on saying, well, he’s got the concurrence of the state, which he definitely doesn’t. So what he did is he claimed - have a look at the terms of reference - that he reached an agreement with the Sri Lanka President last May. There’s a statement, and I don’t know whether you have read it, it’s a joint statement. And the very clear interpretation of that is that there should be accountability, but this is for the Sri Lanka Government to pursue.

So, nevertheless there is an advisory panel that has been set up. What has been the reaction to that, given the context that you’ve just put?

Well, I think that the Government thinks it’s a wrong thing that has been done. In fact, I don’t think you could do better than look at what emerged in the main opposition party, the leader of the opposition thinks this panel is a good thing but the person who is likely to take over the leadership of the opposition said very clearly that he thought this was absolutely wrong.

So, you would say and the Government would say that this really is an interference in the sovereignty of Sri Lankan affairs?

Well, I would say that it’s an attempt to put a foot in the door which could be used by other interested parties to attempt to interfere. The reason I say this is that although the Secretary General has said is that the panel is to advise him and even his spokesman says that, for that reason, it doesn’t matter that they are not going to come to Sri Lanka, one member of the panel said that he regrets that he can’t come to Sri Lanka because he can’t do his job properly. So obviously some people in the panel don’t quite understand the limitations that the Secretary General has tried very legalistically to put on the panel, and part of the problem is that people misunderstand each other all the time. It’s a bit sad that the Secretary General’s agents are contradicting what the Secretary General’s people are saying, that they don’t need to come to Sri Lanka.

Now, the protests that have been taking place over the past few days in front of the UN Headquarters in Colombo, they’ve been described as I guess very boisterous and as having blockaded the UN staff in there for at least the first day in which they took place. Is this reaction in tune with the public reaction or is this really a much more I guess powerful or strong reaction to this issue?

I don’t quite know what happened yesterday. I read the reports in the papers today which said there had been demonstrations and the staff had not come out. But then it had been agreed obviously that they could leave and they had done so. I think the UN had decided not to call people into work today. I mean, the traffic was disrupted but as you know we don’t have laws against demonstrations in this country. I think the general sense, if you were listening into the Parliament today, and this is said by some people of the opposition as well, is people were quite sharp about the Secretary General. This number 2 figure in the opposition just read out the UN Act and said that, while he’s completely against the actions, the demonstration, the sense was that the Secretary General seems to have overstepped his limits. But of course the sort of people in the joint opposition who were backing General Fonseka, obviously they seem to think there’s nothing wrong with it.

Now the UN itself has protested against this demonstration that blockaded the office, they’ve protested in fairly strong terms saying that they are in favour obviously of the right to protest but are disturbed by the fact the staff may be put at risk or at least couldn’t leave their office. What is your response to that? Do you think these protests went too far?

Well, as I said, I don’t quite know what happened. The paper today seems to imply that everything had been amicably settled and that the UN staff had left, apparently 4 people stayed on but I didn’t read the government paper, I read the 2 independent papers, these indicated that they stayed on their own will and they left quietly later. The problem we all have is, we do believe in the right to demonstrate but each of us gets very upset if we get personally inconvenienced, I mean I was highly irritated because of the traffic block today. But I suppose if demonstrations are allowed you have to put up with such inconveniences. I think as I’ve said yesterday, on Sri Lankan radio, anything that happens has to be viewed within the law, and the law says clearly you shouldn’t be making life impossible for other people. As far as I know life hadn’t been impossible and everything’s ended well.

Now, the Sri Lanka Government has also established a commission and the correct name if I’m not mistaken is the commission for ‘Lessons Learned and Reconciliation’ which is looking, I understand, at the last period of the War as well. That’s being quite strongly criticized by some international Governments and advocacy organizations, given some of the past records of the commission of the inquiry which I understand didn’t actually fulfill or end up fulfilling its mandate. What do you say to the criticism of the latest commission?

Well, I think the criticisms actually ignore the fact that we did set up a commission, indeed several commissions, and many of them have functioned perfectly well. I think there’s some irritation about the fact that the proceedings of the last commission have not been publicized. I think one of the problems that happened with the last commission is that we allowed what’s called an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons to observe and unfortunately not the eminent persons themselves but some of their assistants thought that this was a vehicle for them to object to the current Sri Lanka Government. We had lots of problems because they countermanded the terms under which the IIGEP had been brought in and I’m sorry to say some of these guys were Australians, the assistants. And there were all sorts of problems because it was felt their activities were political., I mean you have this very sad thing today when in Parliament the Minister of External Affairs actually read out from the American State Department report in relation to Sri Lanka which was quite a good report, it said that the Leader of the Opposition was encouraging the US to put pressure on Sri Lanka. And that’s one of our sad things that sometimes not foreign Governments but young people allow themselves to be used to apply political pressures within Sri Lanka and I think these young Australians were very very pally with the opposition at the time and that really was a problem for the IIGEP, but the commission actually made its report which is with the President and action should be taken. I mean, my own view is, if Sri Lanka is guilty of something it’s just for being very slow but I’m someone who happens to think we should act very quickly and compared to other countries we are actually quite quick. As you know when you look at things like Abu Ghraib and the Bloody Sunday inquiries, I think our record is quite quick but for me the sooner you do anything the better.

Sorry to interrupt, do you think that there is a case to answer for a strong investigation into accusations that War Crimes or crimes against humanity did take place in the latter period of the war? Do you think there’s a case for this to be strongly investigated or do you think that this is not ok?

Any case brought before you with evidence must be investigated. I’ve said this before, for instance the US State Department produced a report last October in which it said we have come across the following allegations and we very much welcome a response and I have constantly said that was a very well put statement because they didn’t presume guilt or innocence or anything, they simply suggested that we should be providing explanations to these and I think very correctly the Government said yes, I mean you know we welcome any allegations that are not blind or generalized. We made a distinction between that and the Channel 4 allegations which have been completely fraudulent. And one of the things we said about Channel 4, we said this to Phillip Alston, I’m sorry another Australian, when he said ‘Please investigate’, we said ‘Are you asking us to investigate a video or are you asking us to investigate an incident? If it’s an incident, tell us when it happened, where it happened or at least give us some clue.’ And Phillip Alston has constantly refused to answer these questions. And we told him if he didn’t know the answers, to check with Channel 4 or whoever informed them, I think he actually failed to get an answer from Channel 4 because, if you look at his last report, Channel 4 seems to have refused to even give him the original of the video. So we have a situation where people make general allegations and we’re not into looking into generalizations that do not give specifics but we have consistently said that if you give us incidents, we will look into them.

And so you are saying that up to this point there have been no accusations that have sufficient evidence or sufficient details for you to feel that there’s a justification to launching an investigation?

No, I haven’t said that at all, I have told you that the American report contains details and I think we should respond to them. In fact, the last time I was discussing this, I said, ‘Haven’t we replied yet?’ and in fact I was told that the report was imminently due.

I had actually pointed out earlier that I had answers to about half those allegations, because you know one of the reasons why we get a bit irritated is that, as Head of the Peace Secretariat, I used to monitor Tamilnet every day and get down any allegations that seemed to me to indicate inappropriate behaviour and I would get reports from the military at the time. And I have to tell you this, I still remember this statistic, the air force used to come out with very precise statistics, for obvious reasons any bombing raid was very carefully recorded, and for instance in a certain period there had been 458 raids and even Tamilnet only alleged civilian casualties in 29 of them. And of those 29 instances, 22 were instances in which only 1 or 2 civilians were alleged to have died. Now, 1 or 2 civilians dying is 1 or 2 too many, but it is certainly obviously not a case of either deliberate targeting of civilians, obviously not, nor is it prima facie evidence of carelessness. I mean you just compare that record – I’m afraid you guys are in Afghanistan as well – with what you people have been doing in Afghanistan, and the collateral damage is colossal compared to us. And I’m not talking now of government, I’m talking of what I used to look at in Tamilnet and I used to monitor this. So I do think it’s a bit highhanded of people to suggest they are concerned about human rights and we are not. We were, because these are our people.


Rajeeva Wijesinghe, who belongs to the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka, is an appointed Member of Parliament on the National List of the governing ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance. Previously he was the Secretary-General of the Sri Lankan Government Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), and in June 2008 he also became concurrently the Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights.

© The Island

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sri Lanka panel holds 1st meeting in New York

By Matthew Russell Lee | Inner City Press

The UN Panel on Accountability in Sri Lanka began to meet on July 19, Inner City Press can report. This starts the four month time line for them to produce a report, at least on the compliance of Sri Lanka's “Lessons Learnt” panel with international standards for inquiries into war crimes.

At 1:30 pm on July 19, panel members Marzuki Darusman, Yasmin Sooka and Steven Ratner met in the UN's North Lawn building. At that moment, at latest, the four month clock began.

Along with chit chatting about what hotels they are staying in and where to go to dinner, Ratner noted that since UN Spokesman Martin Nesirky said it would be up to the panel whether to seek to visit Sri Lanka, “we don't have to ask the UN's permission.”

The Rajapaksa government has already said it will deny visas, which Darusman called “unfortunate.”

As Inner City Press has previously reported, and has now further confirmed with colleagues in Colombo, Sri Lankan government sources are pitching the tale of Darusman bickering about fees for his prior position on a Sri Lankan panel when it disbanded.

While the motives of such pitches are clear, less clear is why the Ban Ki-moon administration or one of its advisers would have given the Rajapaksas such an easy issue to work with. We will have more on this.

On July 19, Darusman said he was just in from Jakarta. Ratner, in from Ann Arbor, Michigan, noted that the UN listed hotels, that the UN will pay for, don't in fact have a UN rate. The Bentley, he said, is still not too expensive.

There was a discussion of the more expensive Millennium Hotel, and of meeting over dinner in the Italian restaurant across the street.

It is Padre Figlio; inquiry by Inner City Press mid-day Monday found $86 Porterhouse steak on the menu. (In fairness, it is for two. A single portion of Chilean sea bass costs $32).

Having met with the Department of Political Affairs of Lynn Pascoe, the panel was set to meet with Nicholas “Fink” Haysom at 2 pm. They were then observed, at 3:17 p.m., leaving the UN campus and entering the DC-1 building, with the Millennium Hotel, at 3:20 pm. The four month time clock, and expense accounts, have begun.

© Inner City Press

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sri Lanka: Jus Ad Bellum ?

By Chandi Sinnathurai | Counter Currents

The dirty war against the Tamil Tigers went ahead with the co-operation of the international community - that is to say, with a subtle nod and a wink, some 13 months ago. The agreed purpose was that this is part of the global WAT ["War Against Terror"] project. The Rajapaksha regime had and still has the full-backing of the whole region. The UN played most part a silent, yet an active role in the 'success' of this initiative. Even when thousands of starving Tamil civilians were trapped between the tigers and the Sri Lankan Armed forces, the UN was only issuing token statements. The West wanted the scourge of terrorism to be completely eradicated from Lanka.

The plight of the trapped Tamil civilians was an open secret. But no international player called for the war to halt in order for civilians to be evacuated. Why? Because the international intelligence community knew, in this strategic push, the Tiger leadership, including V Prabaharan and his family were getting cornered. The submarine-escape of the tiger leader/s was not worth trying as the Indian naval force was on high alert. Total neutralisation of the leadership was part of the plan. Hence, no one - not even the UN wanted to miss this 'golden opportunity.' And the war ended as it did.

Even the so-called 'White flag' incident of some Tiger political leaders organised by the UN officials were seriously flawed. All of them were shot and killed.

The global WAT project, gave Lanka the cover of Jus Ad Bellum - "Right to wage war." There was an international consensus, particularly among powerful nations, that Colombo entering into war or the push into the "Nascent state of Tamil Eelam" is justifiable. This is not a war against the Tamil people, it was declared. But this is a war against terror. The argument of a just war did not enter in, but to all the international actors, the war was certainly justifiable - even when the trapped Tamils were getting massacred as human shields!

But now, when the spoils of war and the pie of development contracts, and multi-billion dollar deals are getting distributed - particularly between India and China, suddenly there is a change of direction in the international trade winds.

Once the blood is shed, people are maimed, massacred, scarred and traumatised for the rest of their lives, and mass burials have occurred in the heat of the war...Now that the mission is accomplished, and the war is over...The accusing finger is pointed. War crimes? Crimes against humanity? War in its very intrinsic nature is a crime. No one wanted to halt the war and rescue the civilians - that is a terrible crime. How many are responsible on the international stage for such a horrendous war crime?

The international community never once admitted that there is a genocide happening in Sri Lanka.

The retired General Fonseka was leading the crime against the Tamils and now he is pretending to be whiter than white!? Yes, invoking Jus Cogens could also mean that, Sarath Fonseka can claim the non-applicability of the defense of "obedience to superior order." Rajapaksha regime wanted to wipe out the tigers, and they did it with the support of the international community. The UN very well knew then, as it does now that, this was war conducted without any witness. So were the war in Iraq, and now in Afghanistan. What we hear in the corporate media about these wars is about what we need to hear. Not much is said about the plight of civilians. So now, what's all this kicking up the dirt? What a lot of hypocrisy!

In all this finger pointing, politicking and big money legal wrangling, sadly the spirit of the law is buried. The tears and pain of the poor and destitute Tamils continues in IDP camps and else where. What crime did these innocent women, men and children commit to deserve such squalid and shabby treatment?

That is truly a crime against a sea of "living" humanity. That ought to be the priority of the global Tamils. The rest can play with high brow Latin words.

© Counter Currents

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sri Lanka: New tremors, old nightmares

By Amantha Perera | Inter Press Service

Janoshini Maurasini shakes like a leaf each time the sea belches a thunderous roar. And the 29-year-old mother of two has good reason to be nervous: Maurasini only narrowly escaped with her life in the Indian Ocean tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004, which killed over 35,000 of her fellow Sri Lankans within minutes.

As giant waves battered the village of Dutch Bar, some 300 kilometres from the capital Colombo along Sri Lanka’s eastern coast, Maurasini had run for her life. But the waves caught up with her. Her husband could only watch helplessly as the monstrous waves dragged her away and tossed her around like a rag doll.

Maurasini does not remember much of the ordeal, except that it felt like being caught in a vicious whirlpool. She had tried desperately to grab on to anything as the current swept her along. Finally, she managed to cling on to the walls of a well, and fell into it after the waves receded. She later climbed – miraculously – to safety, with the help of a fallen coconut tree.

"It’s a nightmare that I don’t want to go back to; I don’t even want to think about what happened. I have tried to erase the memory all these years," she says. Her greatest fear is having to experience that again.

But on the morning of Jun. 13, Maurasini’s heart skipped a beat as the tsunami warning alarm went off, triggered by fears of deadly waves caused by an undersea earthquake off Indonesia.

The large red tower crowned with loudhailers pointed in four directions, erected in the heart of Dutch Bar following the 2004 tragedy, wailed its incessant siren: the cue for villagers to evacuate immediately. Or else.

As the alarm sounded, Dutch Bar residents poured out from their homes – many still in their night clothes – to escape any possible killer waves. Amid the chaos, police jeeps from nearby stations roamed the deserted villages to protect the vacant houses from looters, and make sure no one remained on the beach.

"No one stayed, no one," says Ano Sujeetha, 45, a Dutch Bar villager who lost her mother and several relatives in the 2004 tsunami.

Dutch Bar was not the only place where an evacuation occurred. The scene was replicated in several other coastal villages that June morning, as thousands of Sri Lankans fled to safer areas to wait until the tsunami warning was lifted. The warnings were also issued in more remote locations like Panichchankerni some 30 km north of Dutch Bar, to make sure that people had ample time to get away.

Dominic Silva, a fisherman who lives in a hut on the beach in Panichchankerni, was awakened by the knock of police officers warning him to leave. "The last time a tsunami wave came, we only knew about it when 20-foot (6- metre) high waves had already started rolling in," Silva says. During the 2004 tsunami, he was walking out from church after mass, only to find fishermen and families running helter-skelter as waves smashed through the roofs of huts just 30 m away.

While the undersea earthquake off Indonesia, which triggered the alarm, did not result in a tsunami, experts say it is better to be safe than to sorry.

Local seismic expert C B Dissanayake observes that Sri Lanka is prone to occasional earthquakes, several of which have been reported inland since the 2004 tsunami. "More than 25 years ago, people hardly talked of earthquakes in Sri Lanka. Now, as everyone knows, earth tremors occur quite frequently in Sri Lanka and the trend is more marked than ever before," he wrote in a recent research article.

"Indeed many people would have laughed if some said, prior to 2004, that a tsunami would strike Sri Lanka and that thousands would perish," Dissanayake says. But he warns that seismic activity suggests the possibility of another tsunami striking Sri Lanka is very real.

Since 2004, Sri Lanka has worked to improve on its disaster response and early warning capabilities. A Disaster Management Centre to issue early warnings and communicate with public authorities and police has been set up. While the system is still in its infancy, citizens are grateful that they now receive at least some warning. Authorities have also installed signposts along the coast, indicating directions to safer, elevated areas.

"In 2004, we did not know what to do. Now at least we know that we have to get to higher ground," Sujeetha says.

Authorities also conducted a island-wide tsunami evacuation drill in 14 coastal villages this month.

The fear of the next big wave of terror is never far away from the eastern coast, which suffered the most deaths and damage six years ago. In Sainathimaruthu, a village 30 km south of Dutch Bar, over 3,000 people are believed to have died. The death toll here in Dutch Bar runs high into the hundreds. At least three tsunami memorials dot the narrow, residential stretch of its beaches.

As she sat near one such memorial, its lights creating a bright halo against the approaching night skies, Maurasini says she wishes she could go back to the pre-tsunami days. Back then, the sea was never a vicious monster hiding beneath the blue and white waves. "Now we know what it can do," she sighs. "At least next time, we will get a good headstart and run before it can catch us."

© Inter Press Service

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

National Trade Union Centre kick starts its series of islandwide protests

By Dasun Edirisinghe | The Island

Trade unions attached to the National Trade Union Centre protested at the National Hospital Colombo yesterday, as their first in a series of protests demanding a Rs. 8,000 salary hike immediately.

Convener of the NTUC, an umbrella association of comprising 364 state sector trade unions, Samantha Koralearachchi, addressing the workers at the National Hospital premises in Colombo, said the series of protests which began yesterday would go around the country till July 30.

"President Rajapaksa promised to increase the salaries of public sector employees by Rs. 2500 in the run - up to the Presidential election in January, but did not honour his pledge even through the 2010 budget which was passed by parliament a week ago," Koralearachchi said.

He said as the prices of almost all essential goods have increased, government employees expected at least a Rs. 8,000 pay hike.

This being the first protest of a series of islandwide protest campaigns employees from the education, transport and local administrative sectors would join the next protest, Koralearachchi said.

Meanwhile, Public Service Trade Union Alliance will sign a petition demanding the promised Rs. 2,500 pay hike at the Eye Hospital premises today.

Convener of the PSTUA Saman Rathnapriya, said the petition was to be handed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa shortly.

© The Island

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