Monday, February 21, 2011

British Foreign Office Minister visits Sri Lanka

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Office Minister for South Asia Alistair Burt arrived in Sri Lanka this morning as the first minister of the Coalition Government to visit Sri Lanka.

During his two-day visit, the Foreign Office Minister will meet with the Minister of External Affairs, the Secretary of Defence and the Minister of Economic Development among other key local political figures; representatives of civil society groups; important members of the business community. He will also be visiting Jaffna.


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Monday, February 21, 2011

Tamil Nadu fishermen vs SL navy: Encounters of worst kind

By A. Ganesh Nadar |

Tamil fishermen being attacked by the Sri Lankan navy has become a regular affair in Tamil Nadu. Most of these fishermen belong to two districts: Nagaipattinam and Ramanathapuram which includes the island of Rameswaram.

Recently 118 fishermen from Nagaipattinam were arrested by the Lankan navy and were produced in a court in Sri Lanka. They are reportedly remanded to judicial custody for 14 days.

They were allegedly fishing in the Sri Lankan waters. Only when they come back, we will know where they were actually fishing.

"In Rameswaram encounters with the Lankan navy are a regular affair," says a fisherman at Pamban. This village is near the famous Pamban bridge that connects Rameswaram with mainland India.

In January this year two fishermen were killed by the Lankan navy. Both belonged to Nagaipattinam.

Jesinda is a 47-year old widow. Her husband Penanzis was 42-years old when he was shot dead by the Lankan navy on January 5, 1995. Talking about her husband, she said, "My husband was a fisherman who had been going to the sea since the age of 13".

They had set out from Pamban -- five men and one young boy -- in a vallam (country boat). All of them were shot dead by the Lankan navy. This happened after they crossed the Katchathievu island. This island was given to Sri Lanka by India in 1974.

This team of fishermen usually set out on Thursdays and came back on Saturdays. When they did not come back on a Saturday, Jesinda enquired in the neighbouring fishing villages, but there was no news.

On Monday morning another vallam found an empty pot floating in the sea. It was a big pot in which they take food to eat at sea. The pot had the name of the boat-owner engraved on it. Other fishermen told them that the boat had been shot at and had sunk.

A massive search was undertaken and all the dead-bodies were recovered. The last body was recovered after 17 days.

Jesinda has four children, two boys and two girls. The government gave her Rs 50,000 and the fishermen's co-operative another Rs 25,000 as compensation.

She brought up her children with great difficulty. Now all of them are married and gone. She sells dry fish for a living. "All my sons are fishermen and they go to sea regularly. For many years I did not allow them to go fishing. But finally we did not have a choice as they don't know any other profession".

The fishermen's association is suing the Sri Lankan navy on her behalf and has filed a case in the Madurai bench of the Madras high court.

Jesu Arogyam, son of Balasingham, is 39-years old. He has been going fishing for the past 25 years. He has studied up to the sixth standard. He is now married with three kids.

He relates his experience with the Lankan navy in his own words:

"In 2003, my own vallam was captured by the Lankan navy near Katchthievu. Five of us were in my boat, and another five fishermen were in another vallam. It was peace time between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan government.

They kept us in a navy camp for one night and the next day handed us over to the Orathurai police station. We spent another night there. They gave us rotten food to eat at the police station. It was stinking. We were confined in a very small room.

The court there sent us to Yalpanam jail. We were there for six months. Over 100 fishermen were there. They released us six months later, but they did not release our boats. Their navy handed us over to the Indian Coast Guards who brought us ashore.

We were again interrogated at the Mandapam Coast Guard station in Ramanathapuram district and then released.

While we were in jail there, we could not get in touch with our families. Our local priest here, Father Amalraj, called a priest in Lanka. That priest came and visited us in the jail there. He told our whereabouts to Father Amalraj who informed our family.

After four months in custody we went on a fast unto death. This lasted for five days. The local media covered it well. Only then did an official from the Indian embassy there visit us.

I don't know his name. He said, "We will be released in two weeks with our boats." Nothing like that happened. We came back empty handed."

Relating another incident, he said:

Last year my vallam was attacked. I did not go that day. Five of my people were beaten up by the Lankan navy for crossing the international boundary line. Their GPS, mobile phones and fishing nets were confiscated. They came back empty-handed. Now I don't go fishing.

Raja, son of Complese, is 28-years old. He has studied up to the seventh standard and is married with two kids. He has been going to sea since he was a ten-year old.

He says, "There is no fish in our waters, we have to go there across the international boundary line. This morning I spotted the Lankan navy on the boundary line. Nothing happened but some people said that they attacked five other boats".

He talked about his earlier encounter with the Lankan navy.

"In December 2003 I was captured along with my vallam with five others. We were in the other boat that Jesu Arogyam mentioned. We too were arrested along with them by the Sri Lankan navy.

Jailed for six months we went on a fast unto death after four months. On the fifth day as I had not had even water, I was hospitalised. Seven others were also taken to hospital. Even when we were on a drip in the hospital, we were guarded by cops on either side.

Even now when I see Katchathievu I think of those days in jail. When the LTTE was around, the Sri Lankan navy wasn't so visible in these waters."

He recalled another encounter.

"Two years back I was fishing near Katchathievu. The Sri Lankan navy caught me and asked me for my GPS. When I did not give it they beat me up with iron pipes. I was in hospital for two days.

The Sri Lankan navy ships don't have any numbers or names. They are painted black. They don't even have Lankan navy mentioned on them nor the Lankan flag."

(Raja refused to be photographed saying that the Lankan navy would see his photograph on the internet and then single him out for punishment).

Arul Sahayam, son of Susairanjee, is 50-years old. He has studied up to the third standard. He has two sons and two daughters. He has been going to sea since he was eight years old.

He says, "If I go to the sea on four days, I see the Lankan navy on two days. When they see us they normally chase us, take away our nets and sometimes even our slippers."

Then he related an event that happened two years back.

"On May 25, 2008, my vallam went out on the sea with my two sons: Ignatius, who has done a course in shipping and is now 23-years old and Josephat, who is now 19 years old and has studied up to the eleventh standard. They took three others with them.

They were arrested by the Lankan navy with three other vallams near Katchathievu. In all 23 fishermen were arrested.

Ignatius replied to their questions in English. Thus he and his brother were singled out. They were accused of being LTTE cadres and were beaten up. They were threatened with a gun on their forehead. When they said they were Indians, they were accused of being suppliers to the LTTE.

The three other vallams along with 18 fishermen were arrested. The fishermen's co operative here informed us of their arrest.

We went and met the district collector and various other officials. I personally met Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and Governor Surjit Singh Barnala.

Three months later they were released as they were found innocent. The fishermen's co operative in Rameswaram contacted the fishermen's co operative in Sri Lanka. They arranged a lawyer there and got them released.

They were flown to Chennai. An official from the fisheries department came with us. We went to Chennai and brought them back. Our vallam was not returned.

For some days we stayed at home. Then we went to work on other vallams. Now we have our own vallam. We received no compensation from the government. Today both my sons have gone fishing. They will come back tomorrow.

I spent Rs 1.5 lakhs in those three months just going around meeting officials. Imagine our agony."

For the fishermen of Rameswaram, the Lankan navy is a part of their lives. A part that they do not like, but a part that they cannot deny.


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Monday, February 21, 2011

Sri Lanka: Tamil priest hits out at arrest reports

UCA News

A Tamil Jesuit priest bailed after arrest in Sri Lanka claims local and international media have given distorted news about the incident and his meeting with a Chicago based aid group that runs programs for traumatized children.

Father Paul Satkunanayagam and five others were arrested at a hotel in the city of Dambulla. Local and international media reported he was accused of having had links with Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels and said they were in possession of CDs containing war songs that were sung by LTTE rebels.

“It is not a discussion about LTTE. It’s a total evaluation program about our relief programs for children, with the visiting Heartland Alliance aid group,” said Father Satkunanayagam.

“Heartland Alliance provides a wide array of services to children traumatized by war, the tsunami and natural disasters. They run a three year program for children of which two years is over,” explained Father Satkunanayagam.

According to the priest a group of Heartland Alliance came here to evaluate the program.

He said he and the five others must next appear in court on February 23.

© UCA News

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Sri Lanka: New land powers for Defence Ministry

Photo courtesy: Shantan Kumarasamy |

The Sunday Times

Developing or filling land in the districts of Colombo, Kalutara and Gampaha will henceforth require approval from a statutory body coming under the Ministry of Defence. New regulations to compel landowners to obtain the approval of the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLRDC) were gazetted last week.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his capacity as Minister of Defence, promulgated them. They have come in the form of a “Correction Paper” to regulations gazetted earlier by Dinesh Gunawardena, Minister of Urban Development and Sacred Areas Development.

A Planning Committee, subject to strict terms and conditions, will grant approval for development or filling of land in the three districts. The Committee will comprise officers of the Urban Development Authority, the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) and the Department of Agrarian Services. In addition, it will also comprise senior officers of the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLRDC).

Both the Sri Lanka Land Development and Construction Corporation (SLLRDC) and the Urban Development Authority come under the purview of the Ministry of Defence. If the land proposed to be developed is a paddy field, the new regulations stipulate that the approval of the Commissioner of Agrarian Services is sought on the basis of recommendations made by the SLLRDC.

Any individual authorised by the Chief Executive Officer of the SLLRDC shall have the power to access the declared area. Anyone who disturbs such access could be convicted under the provisions of the SLLRDC Act.

Those who fail to adhere to the new terms and conditions, the Gazette notification states, also "could be convicted guilty under the provisions" of the SLLRDC Act.

© The Sunday Times

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Norwegians to tap into Lankan fisheries and boat industry

Photo courtesy: Jon Clout

Daily Mirror

An eight member, high-powered Business Delegation dealing with Fisheries and the Boat industry from Norway will be visiting Colombo in February, 2011 to establish potential business contacts with the business community in Sri Lanka. In order to facilitate companies to interact with the delegates, the Sri Lanka-Norway Matchmaking Programme of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce will be organizing a Matchmaking Event on 23rd February, 2011 at the Cinnamon Lakeside, Colombo.

The delegates are mainly dealing in the designing of catamaran fishing vessels, discharge systems for deliveries for fish meal and fish meal plants, fish farm cages, anchor and mooring systems, fish farming pumps, long line equipment, supply of boats, deck machinery for oil & gas, marine and fishing industries and transfer of technology for aquaculture industry.

The fishing industry is the second largest export sector in Norway after oil and gas. The industry includes the traditional fishing, as well as fish farming and processing of all kinds of seafood at onshore facilities. Due to various factors, such as new technology and equipment, restructuring of the sector and international competition, the Norwegian fishing industry has improved tremendously during past the few years. The main reason for this is that Norway controls some of the world's richest fishing grounds. The North Sea, Norway's coastal waters, the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea polar front are all very productive, and there are important fish breeding grounds just off the coast. Norway's coastal districts also lend themselves to aquaculture, an industry which has developed rapidly in recent years and grown into a valuable coastal industry.

There are many opportunities for Sri Lankan companies dealing in fisheries and boat industry in Sri Lanka to learn the new technology introduced by the Norwegian companies said the spokesman of the Sri Lanka-Norway Matchmaking Programme. The Sri Lanka-Norway Industrial Co-operation (Matchmaking) Programme was initiated by the Sri Lanka-Nordic Business Councils in 1993. Its objective is to facilitate the transfer of Norwegian know-how, competence, technology and skills to Sri Lanka by way of a matchmaking process. The Programme is funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Co-operation (NORAD). The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce acts as the National Contact Point in Sri Lanka while NB Partner AS, an industrial consultancy firm in Norway acts as the National Contact Point in Norway. The programme has identified several sectors as having potential for co-operation agreements and investment possibilities on the basis of the availability of Norwegian industrial competence. These sectors include aquaculture technology and equipment, fishing gear, boat building and services, processed fish and shellfish products, power generation, environmental technology, and information technology among others. The programme also facilitates trading between Sri Lankan and Norwegian business enterprises.

© Daily Mirror

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Sri Lankan floods cause $50 million in damages to irrigation networks

By Amantha Perera | Alert Net

Gamhevage Dayananda, a Sri Lankan rice farmer, used to earn a decent living off his two acres of paddy rice. In January, however, floodwaters destroyed the irrigation network that fed his village’s rice fields, taking his livelihood with them.

Unusually heavy rains battered villages like Pansalgolla, about 250 kilometres east of the capital Colombo, in early January and again in February. During the January deluge, engineers were forced to open the sluice gates on water reservoirs used to irrigate paddy fields after the water in them rose to dangerous levels, threatening the structure of the tanks.

In Pansalgolla, the released water crashed into the village’s irrigation network and flooded paddy fields. A 40-feet-deep ditch, filled with muddy water, now stands in a triangular area where the irrigation channel, a dirt road and rice fields used to be.

Today villagers are forced to cross the ditch on an improvised ferry made of used tar barrels.

“The fields are gone and the water channel is gone. In their place we have a large tank,” said Dayananda, 37.

“I have no means to make an income for one year now,” he added. “The floods have taken away everything. No one warned us that rains would be this big. Usually we rejoice when the rains come, now it is like a mass funeral here.”

The damage to the irrigation network in the small village in Polonnaruwa District is indicative of the havoc wrought on a national scale by the two floods – a problem that could affect rice production and food costs in Sri Lanka, experts say.

Climate scientists and weather experts warn that more extreme weather, such as the heavy rains Sri Lanka received over the last two months – a year’s worth of rain fell between December and February – likely will become more common in the future.

“Global weather patterns are changing and we need to be mindful of them and perhaps take necessary precautions,” said Gunavi Samarasinghe, director of Sri Lanka’s meteorological department, as the floods raged in the country’s east in January.

The destruction of water channels – a lifeline for paddy rice farmers – has been felt hardest in Sri Lanka’s eastern districts of Ampara, Batticaloa, Polonnaruwa and Trincomalee, and north central Anuradhapura District. Referred to as the rice-bowl of the nation, together the districts account for over one fifth of the country’s total paddy land.

Worried about the threat to the country’s rice production, Sri Lanka’s government has said it will cover the estimated $50 million (5 billion rupees) in damage to the region’s reservoir and irrigation network.

Larger reservoirs and networks suffered $30 million in damages while smaller ones suffered around $20 million in damage, Irrigation and Water Resources Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said at a news conference.

“Around 500 tanks have been affected,” he said. The country’s treasury has agreed to release the funds needed for repairs, the minister said.

Irrigation engineers were only beginning to assess the damages to irrigation tanks from the January flooding when the new wave of floods hit this month.

Egalla Sumandasa, regional director of irrigation for Polonnaruwa district, said engineers were left with no choice but to release water in order to save the over-filled reservoirs.

“If a tank (embankment) breaks, it will be a catastrophe. (It would put) thousands of lives at risk and towns and villages too,” he told AlertNet in a phone interview. “When the spill levels were reached, we opened the gates. We had to secure the tanks, sacrificing the irrigation channels.”

The district’s largest reservoir, the Parkarama Samudraya (Parkarama Sea), for instance, covers an area of 20 square kilometres – one indication of the potential size of the problem if a reservoir was breached, he said.

“If we did not release water from the tank, there would be no Polonnaruwa town left by now,” he said.

As water was released from both large and small reservoirs in the region, connecting channels – like the one in Pansalgolla – suffered, he said.

In the small coastal village of Verugal, in Trincomalee district, January floods destroyed over 9 kilometres (5.6 miles) of irrigation channels, according to the government divisional secretariat there. As in other areas of the four districts Verugal suffered even more extensive – but as yet unspecified – damage during repeat floods in February.

Given the ferocity of the floods, the decision to save the reservoirs was the right one, Sumandasa said.

“The (irrigation) channels can be repaired. The cost may look high, but if a (reservoir embankment) was to rupture, the costs would be a hundred times more,” he said.

Repairing the channels and getting the irrigation network back in workable order should now be a priority, experts say.

Nimal Dissanayake, director of the Rice Research and Development Institute of Sri Lanka, says that the over 1 million metric tonnes of rice harvest likely lost to the floods could be made up in part if the irrigation network is quickly put back in working order and the extra water now available used to boost production of the next crop.

“The secondary harvesting season is cultivated using irrigated water between April and September. If we can provide the water then we can get a better harvest because there is enough water in the reservoirs,” he said in a phone interview.

So far the government has not announced any time frame for the repair work. But Dissanayake feels lost time would prove costly.

“We probably can stall the knock-on effects of the floods like price hikes and rice shortages by doing (the repairs quickly),” he said.

© Alert Net

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Petition against Rajapaksa in US

By Sutirtho Patranobis | Hindustan Times

The murder of five young Tamil students and the execution of 17 aid workers feature prominently in a petition filed against President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an US court. In January, three Sri Lankan Tamils filed the case in a Washington court alleging Rajapaksa, as the supreme commander of the forces, was responsible for these and other cases of torture and extrajudicial killings. They have demanded $30 million in damages from him.

The petition, an emailed copy of which is with HT, gives examples of unresolved killings including murder of Tamil lawmakers. Among the petitioners, affiliated to Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), is the father of a 20-year-old student who, along with four friends, was allegedly murdered by the Special Task Force in January 2006 in Trincomalee. The subsequent investigation ended without resolving the infamous case.

The cold-blooded execution of 17 local aid workers from Paris-based Action Against Hunger in Muttur in eastern Sri Lanka the same year grabbed world headlines. The government blamed the LTTE but under international pressure constituted a futile investigation. The petitioner, wife of a deceased, claims the government troops murdered the workers.

The last petitioner claimed four family members were killed in shelling by the Lankan navy in Mullaitivu in May, 2009 days before the civil war ended.

The government has maintained it did not target civilians. But rights groups have called for international investigation amid claims that there were thousands of casualties.

Officials dismissed the lawsuit as an effort of surviving Tamil Tiger front groups to tarnish the country’s image.

“What we are seeing now is that the same individuals or relatives of these individuals were part of these proscribed LTTE front organisations have started new groups. They continue to spread propaganda against the Government and carry out publicity stunts like this baseless law suit,’’ Lanka’s US ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya said in a statement.

© Hindustan Times

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Friday, February 18, 2011

"Freedom of expression key to democracy and human rights" - Christopher Warren

Photo courtesy: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai | Passion Parade

International Federation of Journalists

Christopher Warren, immediate past President, International Federation of Journalists, and Federal Secretary, Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance to the Lasantha Wickrematunge commemoration, Colombo, Sri Lanka, February 15, 2011.

These last few weeks have been exhilarating for those of us who believe in democracy, human rights, freedom of speech and the press.

First Tunisia and now Egypt have embarked on the exciting, tumultuous journey to free and democratic societies. There can be no doubt that the most difficult part of that journey is still to come and those countries – and the dominos that will inevitably follow them – will require all the support possible from the international community of friends and supporters of democracy.

And there can be no doubt that there will be stumbles and disappointments along the way. But there can be no doubt that the end result will be a freer, more open – more normal – society.

The events in north Africa are exhilarating not just for their own sake. They are a beacon to the world.

Partly this is due to the significance of Egypt as a central player in Africa and the middle East. It will force every country in the region to confront this question: If Egypt, why not us?

But it is significant beyond its own borders and its own region. It is significant because it marks the renewal of the global march to democracy and human rights.

Over the past decade, this march has stumbled due to two influences. First, the ill-named Global War on Terror came to justify restrictions on human rights in the name of security, to encourage the democratic world to compromise with authoritarian regimes in the name of fighting terror and conflated the spread of democracy with the use of armed force in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These restrictions came although as that great journalist Benjamin Franklin warned us over two centuries ago: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Yet the sacrifices made in traditional democracies acted not only to set back human rights in those countries. It sent a message to authoritarian regimes around the world that human rights was no longer the central concern that it should be for all democratic nations.

At the same time, the economic growth of China within the strict authoritarian rule of the Communist Party gave new life to the chimera beloved of leaders with authoritarian tendencies everywhere that economic growth occurs best when coupled with strong man rule despite the corruption that goes with it.

Yet we know from within our own region how false that is. All authoritarian regimes sooner or later hit a wall of economic growth that only genuine democracies can break through. We saw it in Korea and Taiwan in 1988 and in Indonesia in 1998. In all those cases, the crisis of authoritarianism could only be resolved through democratisation.

And now, the risings in Tunisia and Egypt have again put a full stop to both these lies. They reopen the understanding that you can only fight terror through democracy and only a democracy built on respect for human rights can guarantee a strong and vibrant economy that eliminates corruption.

There’s a further development that makes the examples of Tunisia and Egypt so exciting. They’ve been driven by the same groups that have been working for democracy throughout the world – human rights and press freedom NGOs, independent trade unions and working journalists.

They have not been driven by the traditional political or oppositional groups but from broad based networks reflecting the frustrations of the people.

For me – as I suspect it would have been for Lasantha - the example of journalists is particularly exciting.

We need to be honest – many journalists do well out of authoritarian regimes, particularly in cases like Egypt where so much of the media is state-owned. They get the perks of status and public recognition. They get to pontificate on national television about the inevitability of strong man rule. They get to hobnob with political heavyweights and get invited to drinks with the president. They are relatively well paid. Too many of our colleagues fall into the trap of comfort and compromise.

Yet, as in case after case of democratic revolution around the world, individual working journalists – particularly the rising generation - have rushed to place themselves at the centre of the north African risings.

Even within the state-owned media, journalists have been fighting for – and winning - a free media, for the right to report in the interests of the people, not of the State and the ruling elite. Some have walked out, rather than compromise their journalist principles.

And now we are seeing their battles paying off with the likely break-up and democratisation of State-owned media built on the principles of independent public service broadcasting and publishing and the strengthening of independent and private media.

It will be these reforms, more than any others, that will ensure that Egyptian and Tunisian democracy continues to surge forward. And it is these battles that must lie at the heart of the campaigning commitment of journalist communities.

It is clear from this, that there are many lessons to be learnt from north Africa, not least here in Sri Lanka.

As I said, in most of the world, democracy has marked time over the past decade.

Would that were the case here in Sri Lanka. Instead it has gone backwards. And the murder of Sivaram in 2005, of Lasantha Wickrematunge two years ago, the trial of Tissa, Jesiharan and Valamarty, the effective exiling of friends like Poddala, Sanath and Sunanda, and the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda last year all stand as chilling monuments to that deterioration.

Each of these marked a different phase of that deterioration. The murder of Sivaram and the treason trials of Tissa, Jesiharan and Valamarthy all in their own way marked a common goal of both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE – the elimination of any independent, questioning space in the Tamil community.

The bashing of Poddala Jayantha and others and forcing into exile so many other friends marked the attempt to eliminate the sort of independent network of journalists, human rights NGOs and independent unions in the media that, as Egypt and Tunisia shows, can be so challenging to an increasingly authoritarian ruling elite.

And the murder of Lasantha and the subsequent disappearance of Prageeth marked the attempt to eliminate a questioning and challenging media. I doubt there is a journalist in the country that didn’t hear and understand the message that these two events sent.

Lasantha’s powerful message from the grave And Then They Came for Me indicates how well he understood that the attacks on free and independent journalism did not come in a vacuum – they came as part of a concerted push against democracy and human rights.

He also well understood that, in being attacked, he was not being singled out. As he said, he did not travel the journey alone: “Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most of them are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands.”

And yet, though his murder was only one of many, his standing in our craft meant his killing was more shocking than most. Here was one of this country’s most senior journalists, a fiercely independent editor of one of its leading independent papers, publisher of critical investigative exposes of corruption and wrong doing.

And yet, if his standing could not protect him, how should the rest of the craft stand up?

And yet journalists do. And that’s because, as the actions of many of our colleagues in north Africa have reminded us this year, free and independent journalism can only exist in a free and democratic society built on human rights.

We are like fish who cannot live without the sea of freedom of expression surrounding us.

An independent Sri Lanka is about the same age as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so it is no surprise that the challenge of human rights has been intertwined in the history of an independent Sri Lanka from the very beginning.

It has been a history punctuated with human rights abuses from the denial of citizenship to the upcountry Tamils in its very early days through to the murder of Lasantha and the disappearance of Prageeth. It has included some of the world’s most terrible events from the anti-Tamil Colombo pogrom in 1983 to the presentation of suicide bombings as the LTTE’s most enduring gift to the world

Balancing these human rights abuses have been an enduring democracy, flawed and inadequate as it has been at times. A simulacrum of an independent judiciary has survived. Civil society has grown.

What intertwines human rights so deeply in the history of Sri Lanka is not that it has been the worst of societies, any more than it has been the best. It is that from the very beginning of the country’s independence, human rights have always been the central contested terrain of struggle.

I have long believed that the history of Sri Lanka can only really be written and understood as a history of the struggle for human rights.

With the murder of Lasantha, the disappearance of Prageeth, freedom of expression has become the centre of the struggle because you cannot have a society founded on human rights without the right of freedom of expression. And, you cannot have freedom of expression without a society founded on human rights.

Freedom of expression underpins some other rights directly – the right to practice your religion freely, the right to peaceful assembly as well as freedom of speech or, narrowest of all, freedom of the media. None of these rights exists without the right to freely express.

It’s integral to the rights of women, minority groups and disadvantaged groups. They cannot be empowered without being empowered through their own freedom to express themselves. That’s why I have no truck with those who argue that freedom of expression is marginal to the struggles of the disadvantaged. Those struggles cannot even have the words to express themselves if they are not empowered to speak.

It’s bundled up in the right to a fair trial – part of a fair trial is to be tried in the open.

And it underpins all other rights – rights of security, rights against arbitrary arrest, rights to citizenship, rights against torture because it – along with an independent judiciary – is the means for enforcing these rights. It’s the means for exposing abuse and by exposing end them

Freedom of expression is the catalyst that enables every other right to be freely exercised.

While freedom of the press is really only a subset of the broader right of freedom expression, traditionally, it’s been through journalists like Lasantha and Prageeth bravely exercising our craft here in Sri Lanka that the struggle for human rights has been reported and made known.

And that’s why they and so many other journalists have become the target.

Like every other person, a journalist has a right against abduction, against illegal imprisonment, against torture and against murder. Yet now, for reporting, for analysing, for questioning, for – in short – doing their job, too many journalists have found themselves in the vortex of spiralling human rights abuse in Sri Lanka.

And so Lasantha was murdered and Prageeth disappeared.

It is easy in this environment to think things will never get better.

But Tunisia and Egypt show the decade of marking time is over.

Yet again, authoritarian rule has failed the people – even the sort of soft authoritarianism that uses the veneer of elections to conceal the abuse of human rights.

And it will be up to journalists to make a difference – but it will not be up to us alone. We need to learn the lessons that our friends and colleagues in Tunisia and Egypt have taught us all over again.

First, we cannot compromise our craft. Journalism in the service of an authoritarian state is not journalism at all. It is merely words on a page or voices in the airwaves. Journalism must stand, as it always has, for respect for the truth and respect for the public’s right to know.

Second, we must continue to stand together. The solidarity of the organised media community in Sri Lanka – reflected in the coming together of the six organisations – is a model for the island. The media community – the journalists community - is the only community that appears to be capable of transcending the divisions that cause so much havoc in Sri Lanka.

I know that solidarity has been tested over the past two or so years. It is understandable that under the unbearable pressure that journalists have been under, that tensions have broken out. We all know some friends and colleagues have felt abandoned as a result.

Yet that support and solidarity has largely endured and made bearable the pressures that journalists have faced. And now, it lays the basis for renewing the struggle for a genuinely free and democratic media.

And third, emerging information technologies are shattering the monopoly we used to enjoy as the sole conduit of information to our communities.

Now, newspapers, radio and TV are no longer the sole source of information. Social media like Twitter and Facebook and Web 2.0 like bloggers, citizen journalists and news web sites all add immeasurably to the mix, although none of them are a substitute for independent journalism. We can see the challenge they pose to elites with the recent burning of LankaENews.

But they do more than simply add to the total volume of information.

The potential of these technologies shatters the paradigm that successive Sri Lankan governments have followed. They cannot shut off the faucet of news and information by political appointments to run state-owned media, pressuring advertisers to abandon independent media and threatening, abusing and murdering journalists.

Finally, we need to remember that the risings in Tunisia and Egypt were driven as much by the economic failings of authoritarian rule – and this is the blow it strikes against the so called “China model”.

The people in Tahrir Square in Cairo know what every economist knows: authoritarian rule – soft or hard – inevitably acts to conceal corruption and corruption is the major impediment to genuine economic growth and decent living standards for ordinary people.

Rising prices, unemployment and underemployment, corruption – only a democracy built on human rights can confront these challenges.

Despite all this, when it comes to human rights and freedom of expression, the Sri Lankan government is like a general fighting the last war, using the tactics that worked so well in the 1980s and at a loss to understand why they do not work this time around.

And as they have struggled to understand, the government and their military and paramilitary allies, lashed out ever more wildly and ever more journalists fell victim to their failure to understand the world in which we all live.

And, in the short term, they prevailed.

But now, the challenge for us as journalists, as believers in democracy and human rights, is to seize the historic turning that north Africa has illuminated.

We have to reassert the fundamental right of all the peoples of the world and of Sri Lanka. The right to have real meaning put into democratic structures and to have them leavened with human rights, including the right to safety and the right to freedom of expression.

Like Sri Lanka, my country is an island. But as the global march of democracy and human rights resumes, no countries will be islands for long.


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Friday, February 18, 2011

UN denies getting petition on disappeared journalist in Sri Lanka

By Matthew Russell Lee | Inner City Press

Two weeks after the UN acknowledged that a petition about a journalist's disappearance was transmitted to New York by its office in Sri Lanka, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky on Tuesday claimed “we here did not receive a petition yet. If there is such a petition.. we haven't seen it yet.”

The UN of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is accused of not doing enough for press freedom, by the Committee to Protect Journalists and others. On February 15, CPJ's Bob Dietz told the Press that the UN has done “nothing” on the case of Lanka e-News journalist Prageeth Eknelygoda, whose wife has petitioned for Ban's involvement through the UN in Sri Lanka.

When Inner City Press then asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky to respond, he claimed for the second time in two weeks that the UN had not yet received the petition. There is a problem: after Inner City Press got this answer on January 31, the UN in Sri Lanka publicly confirmed it had received the petition. How could it not yet have reached New York?

On January 31, as transcribed by the UN itself, Inner City Press asked Nesirky:

Inner City Press: recently there is a burning down of a publication, Lanka eNews, and various people said this is a crackdown on freedom of speech. There is also a petition that was delivered, I believe, to Mr. [Neil] Buhne in Colombo, seeking UN help to look into the case of a disappeared journalist for a year, Prageeth Ekneligoda, and I am wondering, that one has been sort of pending for a while, is there some… What is the UN’s response to what seems to many to be a crackdown or certainly increase of danger for journalists in Sri Lanka?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, both of those, again, are questions that you sent by e-mail and should we have anything further, then we’ll let you know. But what I can tell you, the key point is that, freedom of the media is vital and journalists should be able to carry out their work without fear of attack or being harassed to do the work that they need to do.

Inner City Press On this petition [about] Prageeth, turned in by his wife, has it yet been confirmed that it was received by the UN in Colombo, and what happens with such petitions for UN assistance?

Spokesperson: Look, we checked. We’re not aware of a petition having been handed in. We’ll check again, but the latest that I had was that we are not aware of a petition having been handed in.

After that, with no correction being provided to Inner City Press by Nesirky or anyone else in the UN, the UN in Colombo told a publication there that,

"A letter addressed to the Secretary General has been received by the Resident Coordinator Neil Buhne and is being forwarded to the Secretary Generals office,” the UN office in Colombo told the Daily Mirror. The UN in New York revealed earlier that it was unaware of the petition handed over by Sandya Eknaligoda on January 24. “We’re not aware of a petition having been handed in”, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Martin Nesirky had told a press briefing.

The next day February 1 Nesirky's acting deputy Farhan Haq said at the UN noon briefing that

I have some answers to questions that were asked at yesterday’s Noon Briefing.We were asked about a letter concerning the treatment of a Sri Lankan journalist. I can confirm that we have now received the letter to the Secretary-General, which was transmitted to New York by the UN Resident Coordinator in Colombo. It was also channelled to colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The letter is now being reviewed.

Then two weeks after Haq said publicly that the letter “was transmitted to New York by the UN Resident Coordinator in Colombo” and “ is now being reviewed,” Ban's spokesman Nesirky again denied that the petitioning letter was ever received.

Inner City Press asked, what has Ban or the UN done about the petition about Prageeth?

Nesirky answered that the UN is not just the Secretary General and that would check with UNESCO. He then said, “As I mentioned, we here did not receive a petition yet. If there is such a petition... we haven't seen it yet.”

In the rest of his noon briefing, Nesirky parried and dodged questions about criticism of Ban's lack of action on press freedom. Nesirky said, among other things, the Ban is “well briefed” on such issues, “not least by me.”

But Nesirky wasn't even aware what his own deputy said about a petition about a disappeared journalist, and instead insisted that the petition was not received. Some briefing.

© Inner City Press

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Six state entities to be leased out for 30 years

By Prasanna C. Rodrigo | The Bottom Line


The government is planning to lease out six state entities to potential investors on a thirty year term to redevelop and revive out of which some are operating and some are defunct.

Among the earmarked entities rank the Ambilipitiya Paper Mill, Kantale Sugar Factory, Ceramic Corporation, Mawanella Rubber Factory, BCC Lanka and the Lanka Salusala.

Secretary to the Ministry of Public Resources and Enterprise Development Willie Gamage said, they have already informed this plan to the Cabinet of Ministers.
He further added, “This is the only option we have to revive those loss making entities”.

According to him, the Kantale Sugar Factory has not been operating for last nine years while Ceramic Corporation is only making ‘Bricks’ and ‘Tiles’ despite high potential to produce other varieties.

“Mawanella Rubber Factory is only producing crepe rubber”, added Gamage.

The Secretary said, the BCC which manufactures coconut oil and the Lanka Salusala which is engaged in retail business of textiles are making profits.

However, he said those two firms also will be leased out owing to strategic reasons.
Commenting on Salusala Gamage said, “There is no logic in government engaging in retail business in areas such as textiles”.

The Ministry of State Resources and Enterprise Development is planning to utilise the money expected to be generated by leasing out above firms, to settle liabilities of those enterprises.

Gamage disclosed, the Ambilipitiya Paper Mill for which the ‘Expression of Interest’ has already been called to be leased out, has a liability of around Rs. 350 million.
He revealed, “The entity has not settled EPF and ETF of its employees for a long period of time”.

Part of the money is expected to be utilised to launch a ‘Voluntary Retirement Scheme’ for the employees working in the mill.

Gamage revealed “Already two foreign parties have shown interest in Ambilipitiya Paper Mill”.

The ‘Expression of Interest’ for Kantale Sugar will be called on within two weeks.

© The Bottom Line

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Sri Lanka India coal project hit by legal queries: report

Photo courtesy:

Lanka Business Online

A state joint venture coal power plant between India and Sri Lanka which has been negotiated for several years has been hit by further delays following legal queries from the island nation, a media report said.

India's National Thermal Power Corporation and Sri Lanka's Ceylon Electricity Board has been talking on a 500 MegaWatt 50:50 joint venture coal plant in the Eastern coastal town on Trincomalee from 2006.

The Times of India newspaper quoting an unnamed source said Sri Lanka's attorney general had raised 70 queries "on basic issues at the nick of time" delaying the signing of the deal.

India's foreign ministry had "advised NTPC against responding to the queries for the time being," the report said.

Sri Lanka is building a 900 MegaWatt fully CEB-owned coal plant with Chinese finance in the West coast reducing the urgency for a additional capacity. The first 300 MW stage is almost complete and is being tested now.

The Times of India report said queries on 'basic issues' included Sri Lanka's government budgetary support for CEB's part of the investment, government guarantees, laws governing the joint venture and place of arbitration.

But analysts say power purchase agreements, a key component of power deals in particular are complex documents running into several hundred pages and Sri Lanka's power officials have earlier expressed unhappiness at some of the clauses in earlier deals.

The CEB is running massive losses partly due to its inability to pass on the costs paid to independent power producers.

Sri Lanka's attorney general is also battling two cases of arbitration and court proceedings in three countries relating to a disputed energy deal relating to the island's state run petroleum utility.


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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Food shortage looms for flood-hit Sri Lanka

By Hellene Hoffman | ABC News

A major food shortage is looming on Sri Lanka's east coast after heavy flooding.

Thousands of hectares of farmland, 75,000 cattle and several thousand more chickens have been lost to this year's flooding.

In the costal districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa the season's rice crop has been destroyed.

Surrounding areas are already reporting major increases in the prices of fresh produce, while some of the worst affected villages are surviving on dry rations.

The government has just released 25,000 metric tonnes of rice from its buffer stocks to keep prices stable.

© ABC News

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Violence still plagues my Sri Lankan homeland

By Emil Van Der Poorten | Edmonton Journal

If anyone told me 10 years ago that I would be sitting down at a keyboard to produce a piece such as this, I would have said they were nuts.

I was born before the Second World War in Sri Lanka and lived the first 35 years of my life in an affluent, landowning family. As a consequence, I was saved the usual challenges that most citizens faced in a developing country in southern Asia.

The imposition of land reform that severely restricted the extent of land I was permitted to own had a serious negative impact on my ability to earn a livelihood because the division of plantation land into a maximum of 50-acre parcels did not provide an economical agricultural unit. In addition, there was the clear and present danger of that 50 acres being appropriated by a government that saw anyone who had opposed it in the previous election as being fair game for victimization.

Off to Canada I went, with a wife, a young daughter and an infant son, at the end of 1973.

While the travails of integration into a new society and economy did present challenges, we had those challenges significantly cushioned by family already established in Ontario and by English being our first language. After two years in Toronto, we moved west; first to southern Alberta and then to the north-central part of the province.

When we first arrived in Ontario on a snowy December night, questions about culture shock were more than relevant, and they were asked. We answered, quite honestly then, that it wasn't an issue. A part of it "not being an issue" could well have been the fact that grappling with the challenges of a new life in a new country -- inclusive of earning a living -- consumed whatever energy we could muster.

However, when we moved, in 1981, from Claresholm to Slave Lake, there was need for acculturation and adaptation to a different life. Here, in the isolated communities of northern Alberta, getting water from a hole in a frozen lake to one's home before the pail froze over constituted "running water." I do exaggerate, but not too much.

Despite the often desperate conditions of the Cree of the North, with whom I worked in a preventive social services program, I count the six years I spent among them and the white folks of the area as the greatest of my 32 years in Canada. My lasting impression of the northern aboriginal people was of their warmth and great sense of humour, a very necessary attribute if one was to survive in often desperate circumstances.

In 1989, we moved, after 15 years in small-town Alberta, to Edmonton.

A political junkie from early in life, it wasn't long before I became active in the New Democratic Party. Beginning with presiding over a constituency association in Slave Lake in the heady days of the mid-to late-'80s when the NDP's popularity peaked, I went on to employment as an organizer for the provincial party and then to manage provincial, federal and territorial election campaigns in several parts of Western Canada.

Then, for a variety of personal reasons, I decided a few years ago to return to the land of my birth and, specifically, to my ancestral home. Despite protests, particularly from a new partner in life, I was soon contributing articles with political content to four of Sri Lanka's Englishlanguage Sunday papers.

As anyone who has been politically active in Canada will vouch, getting a rude reception at the door or over a phone line when canvassing for a candidate is a disconcerting experience until one puts things in perspective and realizes that such hostility comes only from a small percentage of the Canadian electorate.

While I had also experienced the mild violence of Sri Lankan politics in the '60s and '70s, I certainly wasn't prepared for what I encountered in terms of murder and mayhem when I returned.

The Mahinda Rajapaksa government ran a superb public relations campaign when they had the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on the run and in the last year of "Eelam War IV." This included demonizing any and all "peaceniks" and declaring open season on anyone having the temerity to criticize them. This continued after the war ended and, in fact, its pace has accelerated.

"Human rights" has become a term of opprobrium and anyone championing the concept, in even its mildest form, is immediately branded an anti-national traitor and in the pay of the "western, imperialist, capitalist powers of the international community."

The founding editor of the Sunday Leader (the last independent English-language paper standing) was gunned down by assassins, widely believed to be from the security services, within sight of an armed services roadblock, and the killers have not been apprehended yet, despite two years having elapsed.

An additional chilling fact is that the government continues to maintain the same level of armed personnel -- estimates range from 350,000 to 500,000 -- despite the war being over.

Under the circumstances, "going home again," in its fullest sense, really is problematic.

Emil van der Poorten is a former Edmontonian struggling with the political strife in his homeland of Sri Lanka.

© Edmonton Journal

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Sri Lanka expects a billion dollars of FDI in 2011" says BoI Chief

Lanka Business Online

Sri Lanka is expecting more than a billion US dollars in foreign direct investments in 2011 led by a booming leisure sector, after the end of a three decade war made the country more attractive, an official said.

"Our expectations (for 2011) are well over a billion (US dollars)," Board of Investment chief Jayampathy Bandaranayake said.

A three decade war ended in 2010 but actual FDI disbursements were 'very close to' 2009, he said. In 2009 when the intensity of the conflict reached its height foreign direct investments fell to 384 million dollars.

In the first quarter of 2010 there was a 30 percent drop in FDI due to a series of elections in the island, Bandaranayake said.

The International Monetary Fund earlier forecast at least 725 million US dollars of FDI this year.

On Friday Bandaranayake signed a 150 million US dollar investment agreement with Dialog Axiata which is expected to invest the money in expanding its network over the next two years.

Dialog had become the top foreign investor in the country clocking up a billion US dollars by December 30, and the latest investment will push it to 1.2 billion dollars, officials said.

BOI director Duminda Ariyasinghe said most of the cash would come into leisure and infrastructure.

Though information technology and business process outsourcing was generating high quality jobs and attracting a lot of interest the actual dollar values were smaller, he said.

Several high profile foreign leisure and property investments have already been announced, including 500 million dollar projects by Hong Kong based Shangri La and a CATIC, a Chinese state firm.

The two firms also will spend 500 million US dollars to buy state land.


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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sri Lanka: Will developmental projects solve political problems?

By Gulbin Sultana | The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

Much water has flown down the Mahaveli since President Rajapaksa made his swearing-in speech, on November 19, 2010, wherein he indicated that he would adopt a developmental approach to ‘enhance Sri Lanka’s greatness in the world’, and his first task would be to ensure lasting national unity and sustainable, permanent peace in Sri Lanka. After a brief exhortation to ‘move towards a future that is trilingual’, he returned to the theme of ‘development’ and inferred that his government had “carried out development work in the North and East as never before in the history” and this process had led to “a closure of the highways to terrorism”.

Rajapaksa also stated that he “strongly believe(d) that this infrastructure to banish poverty [was] major part of a political solution”. Will it really work? Or will it alienate the Tamils further?

The President intends to expand roadways, install power projects, modernize all areas of employment, and turn Sri Lanka “into a hub of development” in the fivefold areas of maritime capability, aviation, commerce and trade, power and energy and knowledge. Sri Lanka, under Rajapaksa, is aiming to become one of the top thirty countries most attractive for doing business by 2014.1

In this regard, Rajapaksa’s entire team is busy strengthening relations with old friends (India, China, Japan, Pakistan, UK, South Korea) and cultivating new ones. During his visit to New York in September 2010 to attend the 65th UN General Assembly session, he met the leaders of Iran, Qatar, Turkey, Germany, Norway, Hungary, Portugal, Malaysia, Jamaica and Spain and sought assistance in the field of energy, infrastructure development and investment in housing and tourism. Sri Lanka is also trying to improve trade and economic relations with Kuwait, Serbia, Ukraine, Egypt, Brazil, South Africa, Oman and Singapore.

President Rajapaksa received a positive response from these countries because Sri Lanka is considered one of the best places to do business with in the post-LTTE period. Sri Lanka’s economy is growing at a considerable rate and in the year 2010, the economy grew at 8 per cent, the unemployment rate fell to 4.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2010.2 UNDP’s Human Development Report 2010 placed Sri Lanka at 91 in the human development index among 169 countries surveyed. According to the New York Times it is among the top ten growth economies in the world. An additional attraction for FDI in Sri Lanka is its Free Trade Agreement with India and Pakistan whereby the investing countries can avail of the Indian and Pakistani markets.

In his first term Rajapaksa vowed to end terrorism and achieved that objective. Going by that record, he should be able to achieve his stated objectives for the second term as well. Numerous development activities have been already initiated in the entire country with assistance of India, China and Japan. Some of the important development projects in the North and the East under Uthuru Wasanthaya program (Northern Spring), Nagenahira Navodaya (the Eastern Awakening) are: Iranamadu (development of road and irrigation projects), Maga Neguma (road development), NECORD, TARRP etc.

Undoubtedly, these development activities will solve many of Sri Lanka’s socio-economic problems. But the question needs to be asked whether these developmental projects are good enough to resolve all the problems the country is facing today?

President Rajapaksa does not seem to focus on solving the Tamil problem, which has shattered the country for thirty years and has the potential to revive yet another militant movement if the root causes are not addressed soon. Earlier on May 19, 2009, in his address to the nation Rajapaksa had promised to come up with a political solution if he was elected for a second term. However, the fact that he chose not to touch on this issue during his second swearing-in ceremony indicates that he does not accord enough importance to this issue any longer.

Let us briefly dwell on the issues raised by the Tamils for a long time. One of the major causes of Tamil resentment was the government’s language policy. Rajapaksa had indeed recognized it and tried to address it with his trilingual policy. His government apparently started working on it with Indian help. It was hoped that he would take this up seriously and implement it soon. Some efforts have been taken in this regard but the pace of progress seems to be too slow to convince the targeted audience of the sincerity of his intentions. Moreover, it is still unknown how the radical parties like JHU and JVP would react to this issue. Even if Tamil language has been given official status since the 1990s, the progress on this front has been very poor. The ten year master plan announced by the government will require lot of devotion and commitment for its successful implementation.

There are other factors which need to be addressed as well, such as, the lack of Tamil representation in the military and police. Reportedly, 500–600 Tamil police officers have been recruited from Jaffna peninsula for the first time this year since 1978.3 This is commendable, but no Tamils have been recruited yet into the armed forces. Another sensitive issue for the Tamils was the case of state sponsored colonization of the Tamil areas by the Sinhalese population. It seems similar kind of feeling is again coming to the fore among the Tamils. According to a recent TamilNet report, civil society circles in Jaffna feel, “Sri Lanka government is using Sri Lankan Army to grab lands in the North with the view of colonizing them with Buddhist Sinhala families”.4

Development activities in the Tamil majority areas should aim at winning the hearts and minds of the Tamil people. Sri Lanka does need development, but development has to be people-centred, driven by the people themselves. However, the people in these areas seem to be alienated from the developmental activities. In fact, the representatives of the Tamil Political Parties Forum (TPPF), during their meeting with President, registered their grievance that the people of the North and East were being ignored in the many developmental projects. A section of Sri Lankan Civil Society also echoes the same view.

There is a widespread belief among the people of Sri Lanka that the Tamils need to have equal access to education and employment opportunities for their children which will enable them to lead their lives with dignity and without fear. The development of the North and East is important but mere emphasis on “infrastructure development to banish poverty” cannot be a “major part of a political solution”, as has been pronounced by Rajapksa. Apart from economic development, the Tamils also require social and political rights. Emphasizing on economic rights alone will not solve the problem.

There is a view in Sri Lanka that “assessing Sri Lanka through the lens of the Tamil question is misleading”. However, assessing Sri Lanka’s overall development without laying due emphasis on the problems faced by a sizable section of the people will not lead to the results desired.


1. “Sri Lanka Pursues Nation-Wide Agenda of Renewal”, President's Address at the 65th UNGA, UN Headquarters in New York, September 23, 2010 at

2. Central Bank, “Roadmap: Economic and Financial Sector Policies for 2011 and Beyond”, January 4, 2011 at

3. Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe, “Tamil Perspectives on Post-war Sri Lanka, the LTTE and the Future”, November 12, 2010 at

4. “SLA Active in Grabbing Strategic Lands in North”, TamilNet, November 23, 2010 at


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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sri Lanka: HSZ lands in Jaffna sold to Sinhala businessmen

Tamil Net

Large stretches of lands in Jaffna Peninsula in the so-called High Security Zones and in other areas where people are not permitted to resettle in the guise of landmines are hurriedly sold to Sinhala businessmen ostensibly to start ‘industrial estates’. 100 acres of land near Ezhuthumadduvaa’l railway station along the A9 Highway has been recently sold to an influential Sinhala businessman. Another Sinhalese attempted buying 80 acres between Ki’laali and Puloappazhai. Occupying military officials are also said to be interested in buying lands. Industrial estates are a smokescreen, but Sinhala colonisation in that stretch to completely seal off the people of Jaffna within their own peninsula is the strategy, political circles in Jaffna said. Meanwhile, in Valikaamam HSZ, a Sinhalese is said to be running a farm at Vasaavi’laan and another indiscriminately quarry limestone near Keerimalai.

Occupying Sri Lanka is aiming at creating an Israeli model situation as fast as possible. This is going to prolong the crisis indefinitely for the entire region, commented a diaspora Tamil academic in Canada.

The stretch of land under question at Thenmaraadchi in the Jaffna Peninsula was earlier the frontline of occupying SL military during the war, and was a ‘High Security Zone’.

People were removed from that part and only military camps existed.

387 families were recently permitted to resettle the northern part of Ezhtuhu-madduvaa’l after claiming that the landmines were removed. But they were again chased out saying the landmines still exist, with promises that they would be permitted resettle within a month.

Within that time, the sales of the 100 acres of land, from a Tamil to the ‘influential’ Sinhala businessman has been ‘arranged.’

After the purchase was over, the SL military now hurriedly declares that landmines have been removed from the 100 acres of land.

The Sinhala businessman has announced that he would start a mega industrial estate there. But all expect a Sinhala colonisation.

In the stretch from Ki’laali to Puloappazhai, the occupying military doesn’t permit people to even visit their houses and lands, saying that the landmines have not been removed. But there was an attempt to ‘arrange’ sales of 80 acres of land to another Sinhala businessman through a Tamil businessman.

Even this purchase attempt was in the name of ‘industrial estate’. But as news leaked, the attempt was foiled.

From the eastern coast of the peninsula to the western coast, by settling Sinhala fishermen in Veththilikkea’ni, by industrial settlement of Sinhalese at Ki’laali- Ezhuthumadduvaa’l and by settlements at Naavatkuzhi- Ariyaalai East, a ribbon of land within the peninsula is going to seal the densely populated parts of the peninsula. Even the peninsula is not going to belong to the Tamils soon.

This is not ‘development’ strategy, but naked military strategy against an unarmed nation of people, aiming at their genocide, political observers in Jaffna said.

Stretches of land in this part of the peninsula are coconut palm groves.

Many of their Tamil owners are away, and many of them are not aware of the strategic significance of their lands.

In an organized way many Sinhala traders have been brought in recent times to purchase the lands after terrorising the people of the land.

In a systematic way, people are psychologically made to feel that they could never get back to their lands or there is no point in them going back to their lands, to facilitate the sales.

People who are hopeless of the situation come forward to sell the lands

The occupying military is effectively used in achieving this psyche. This is why the Sinhala military has come to stay, political observers say.

The entire process of making the people of a nation to lose the sense of belongingness, participation and enthusiasm and then making them the slaves for the development of the ‘conquerors’ is what claimed loudly as the ‘post-war development’ by Colombo and the abetting establishments in New Delhi, Washington and elsewhere, political observers in Jaffna further said, adding that this is why New Delhi and Washington neither recognize the need for Tamil independence nor see what is taking place as genocide.

© Tamil Net

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Sri Lanka: ‘Archaeology’ unearths skeletons in Jaffna fort

Photo courtesy: Tamil Net

Tamil Net


As a trench excavated for archaeological research near the main entrance of the Jaffna fort brought out a group of skeletons, the SL Archaeology Department has requested the police to pursue investigation in the locality. On an earlier occasion many skeletons, including the ones of women and children were found in an adjacent locality where now a stadium building stands. At that time, they were suspected to be the skeletons of the ‘missing’ people of IPKF times. Investigation on them was sabotaged and the burial pits were sealed by ‘development’ work of the Municipality of Jaffna. As finding many more skeletons are expected now in the other side of the road to the stadium and the fort entrance, the SL Archaeology Department has stopped its excavation in the locality.

26 skeletons were found between March and April 1999 in the stadium named after Alfred Thuraiappah, built in the esplanade of the fort.

Mr. Ekanathan, the magistrate of Jaffna at that time expressed his disappointment over the inaction of police in investigating that.

Two of the skeletons were that of children.

In April 1999, the Judicial Medical Officer of Jaffna Dr.Sri Rajeswaran in a report submitted to the additional magistrate said that the site of the burials could be quite extensive.

The magistrate requested the help of forensic, soil and chemical experts from Colombo, but they didn’t come for the investigations.

Even though for centuries the Jaffna fort was a symbol of oppression, it was acutely felt by the people of Jaffna only after the so-called independence, when it was first the centre of police and later the SL military.

The fort was the scene of a brutal war especially when the Dutch captured it from the Portuguese in 1658 CE. The next major war the fort witnessed was its capture by the LTTE in the 1990s.

The archaeological renovation of the Dutch fort is now being carried out with the aid of the Netherlands government. The SL Archaeology Department is undertaking the job and there is participation by the students and faculty of the Department of History of the University of Jaffna, led by Prof. P. Pushparatnam.

Pre-colonial artefacts such as stones from destroyed temples and early as well as medieval pottery were also found in the fort, according to reports of Prof. Pushparatnam appeared in the local media.

Romans coins were reported from the site by colonial researchers, indicating that the site was of importance even in early times.

Decades ago, a Chola inscription, probably came from a destroyed temple, was discovered in the fort by Prof K. Indrapala.

While digging the present trenches, pottery of late medieval and colonial period were found in the disturbed layers. But with the unfolding developments the digging couldn’t be continued deeper.

© Tamil Net

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Sri Lanka: Students Federation Convener arrested

By Supun Dias and Sumaiya Rizvi | Daily Mirror

Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) Convener Sanjeewa Bandara was arrested on Wednesday by the Thihagoda Police while he was returning after attending a function at the Agrarian Faculty of the Ruhuna University, Kelaniya University Students Union President Rasika Ekanayaka said yesterday.

“Sanjeewa was arrested on suspicion of possessing a firearm but now they are trying to connect him with an incident where two Ruhunu University students who were stabbed by members of a rival group,” Ekanayaka said.

Meanwhile the students of the University of Ruhuna held a protest against the arrest of the IUSF convener, Ekanayaka said.

However Southern Province DIG Kingsley Ekanayake said the Convener was arrested along with another member of the IUSF by the Thihagoda police early last morning following two complaints lodged by the public for damaging property and instigating clashes amongst students.

He said the two students have been transferred to the Matara Headquarters Police for further investigations. “We didn’t arrest them for possessing weapons”, DIG Ekanayake said.

© Daily Mirror

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Friday, February 04, 2011

IMF commends Sri Lanka's performance and approves loan

By Charles Haviland | BBC Business

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has strongly praised Sri Lanka's macro-economic performance.

The lending institution says the economy appears to have fundamental strengths.

It has also approved another tranche of a $2.6bn (£1.6bn) loan.

The organisation backed the latest instalment of the loan - nearly $200m dollars - intending it to help the country recover from its war and from the world financial crisis.

This is despite Sri Lanka falling short on its budget deficit target for the second year in succession.

The IMF has also been impressed by tax reform plans announced in the budget two months ago.

It praised Colombo's performance on inflation and especially economic growth, which the IMF's Sri Lanka representative, Koshy Mathai, said had remained impressive despite 30 years of war.

"What was miraculous was that the economy somehow was able to manage 5 to 6% growth during these past three decades," Mr Koshy said.

"Coming at it as an outsider, I would have expected that with a conflict that was absorbing so much, that growth would have been far diminished below that. But it wasn't.

"I think it speaks to some fundamental strengths in the economy - a good labour force, natural endowments."

Military expenditure

Many Sri Lankans have been badly hit by steep recent rises in the cost of basic foods.

Dr Mathai admitted these were a problem, but said they were caused by sudden external shortages and that overall inflation was under control.

Shortly after the loan was approved in 2009, the IMF's managing director said it was contingent on Sri Lanka considerably reducing its military expenditure and creating a social safety net for war-displaced people.

Some humanitarian workers say their resettlement grants are too low and the defence budget has in fact continued to climb.

However, the government argues that much of this is now going on civilian development projects.

© BBC Business

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