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Reporters sans frontières | Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka
In a few days, the family and colleagues of political cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda will be commemorating the first anniversary of his disappearance. He was kidnapped in the heavily-guarded capital, Colombo, on 24 January 2010, a few hours before the most recent presidential elections. The authorities have never given his wife any information about where he might be and the investigation is in limbo.
At the same time, writers from Asia and all over the world are planning to gather in the southern city of Galle for a literary festival co-sponsored by the country’s leading tourism promotion agencies (http://www.galleliteraryfestival.com). Reporters Without Borders and JDS find it highly disturbing that literature is being celebrated in this manner in a land where cartoonists, journalists, writers and dissident voices are so often victimized by the current government. The signatories of this appeal ask them to consider this grave situation before deciding to go to the Galle Festival.
Full version of the Galle Appeal
We believe this is not the right time for prominent international writers like you to give legitimacy to the Sri Lankan government’s suppression of free speech by attending a conference that does not in any way push for greater freedom of expression inside that country.
The second anniversary of journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda’s disappearance will be on 24 January 2011, just two days before the Galle Literary Festival begins. He went missing in the capital city after writing a column praising the opposition candidate in the presidential election. The police have failed to conduct a credible investigation into his disappearance. Today, because Prageeth chose to do what you do – express an opinion – his two young sons are without a father.
Another renowned journalist, Lasantha Wickremetunga, was gunned down in the capital on 8 January 2009. Although his murder took place in a high-security area where security forces personnel were manning roadblocks, his killers were allowed to escape. In a chilling editorial published posthumously, Mr. Wickremetunga said: “When I am finally killed, it will be the government who killed me.”
Fourteen journalists have been killed since 2006, three have disappeared, and more than 30 have fled the country. Journalists, writers and performers remaining in the country are constantly threatened, physically attacked or cowed by legislation under which they can be jailed them for up to 20 years simply for what they write.
The stifling of free expression has also had a negative impact on other freedoms in Sri Lanka. For instance, it was because journalists were not permitted to cover the war between the government and rebel LTTE that so many atrocities took place, including alleged war crimes. While mounting evidence of Sri Lanka’s war crimes is being shown around the world, journalists inside the country cannot talk about them or even visit the northern areas because they are afraid that they will disappear or be killed.
It is this environment that you will be legitimizing by your presence.
We ask you in the great tradition of solidarity that binds writers together everywhere, to stand with your brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka who are not allowed to speak out. We ask that by your actions you send a clear message that, unless and until the disappearance of Prageeth is investigated and there is a real improvement in the climate for free expression in Sri Lanka, you cannot celebrate writing and the arts in Galle.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema | The Sunday Leader
Civilians in Jaffna and many areas in the North are living in fear once again following an increase in the crime rate in the area. The crimes that have so far been reported from the North include abductions, murders and robberies.
The post war normalcy that prevailed in the North has now diminished with civilians returning to the state they were in during the period of the war. The robberies, abductions and murders that have taken place since last November has created a new fear psychosis among the Northerners.
Several Jaffna residents, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, said the people in Jaffna have once again restricted their movements during evening hours and are now compelled to shut their doors and switch off the lights in their houses by 6 p.m.
Civilians in Jaffna find it difficult to have a good night’s sleep since the escalation of crimes in the area.
“People in Jaffna are now scared to step out of their houses in the nights and to stay alone,” a resident said, adding that most often the thieves who have broken into houses have carried knives with them.
According to the residents, criminal activities continue even with the police and army patrolling the area.
An intellectual from Jaffna also speaking on condition of anonymity explained to The Sunday Leader that while there are many sentiments being expressed about the persons behind the increasing crime wave in the North, there has been no definite answer.
“At least during the period of the war, we knew what was going on. Now the war is over and with the increase in abductions, murders and robberies, no one knows exactly who is behind these acts,” she said.
While some suspect the crimes to be acts that have been politically motivated, others suspect the abductions and murders to be related to former LTTE members.
According to Jaffna residents, most of the former LTTE seniors and cadres have joined the EPDP since the defeat of the LTTE in 2009.
“Most of the former LTTE members who have returned to their homes in the North are now with the EPDP. Since the EPDP is a constituent party of the government, they are protected,” they said.
“When the situation is normal, certain political elements operating in the North fear they would lose their hold on the civilians and therefore feel that a sense of insecurity among the people would keep them under their supervision,” they added.
Residents allege that some of the robberies are being carried out by EPDP members.
The Sunday Leader last week reported the arrest of an EPDP member while trying to break into a house.
Commenting on the situation, Commander of the Army for Jaffna, Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe observed that certain elements were trying to disrupt the lives of civilians in the North by creating a fear psychosis.
Referring to the arrest of the EPDP member, the intellectual from Jaffna said, “Although the suspect has been identified as an EPDP member, EPDP seniors have claimed that he is a former LTTE member.”
“It is a clear indication that when a crime is committed everyone tries to place the blame on some one else,” she said.
Nevertheless, the Jaffna civilians are hopeful that the government would intervene and bring normalcy back to the North. “Everyone talks of the crimes and the law and order situation in the North, but the government that won the war can easily identify and take action against the culprits,” residents said.
The security situation in Jaffna figured prominently in parliament during its last sessions with Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe calling for a full debate on the matter and the Tamil politicians blaming the government for the situation.
The questions raised by EPDP Leader and Minister Douglas Devananda on the security situation have even created issues within the administration as well.
Housing and Construction Minister Wimal Weerawansa winding up the emergency debate in parliament on the 6th said, “If there are abductions and killings in the North the perpetrators should be punished according to the law. According to information received certain under-ground elements are working in coordination with Tiger terrorists not only in Jaffna but in other areas as well and hence it is necessary that the emergency regulations should prevail until these under-ground elements are eliminated.”
Given the statements made by government ministers, the onus is now with the administration to ensure that action is taken to curb the situation. Commenting on the situation in Jaffna, Bishop Rt. Rev. Thomas Saundranayagam noted that there was a lack of law and order in the area.
He also said that there was suspicion among people in Jaffna on whether the crimes that have taken place in the last two months have been politically motivated. He observed that while there is speculation over the persons behind the robberies, alleged abductions and murders, the police and the army have been unable to find the culprits.
Saundranayagam told The Sunday Leader that the number of incidents are on the decline from last week and that most of the incidents were related to law and order rather than crimes.
He explained that with normalcy returning to Jaffna, the number of police patrols in the area was reduced. “This has also helped various unruly elements in Jaffna to carry out robberies.”
However, one of the issues faced by the people in Jaffna is the inadequate number of police personnel serving in the area, Bishop Saundranayagam said. “There is a lack of adequate police officers in Jaffna to patrol the areas and provide security to the residents,” he said.
The Bishop observed that while the situation in the North has even been raised in parliament, the government has taken action as well.
“The IGP visited the area last week and held a meeting. After looking at the incidents, he said they were similar to those being reported in other areas in the country. The IGP said the police and army would work together to increase security in the North,” he noted.
Be that as it may, statements made and oral responses given in relation to the security situation in Jaffna are insufficient to create a sense of freedom in the Northerners’ minds. Civilians in the North seek action and justice regardless of who is behind the incidents that have created a fear psychosis among the people. It is now up to the government to take the initiative by way of action against the culprits in order to strengthen the confidence of the people of the North in the administration. A failure to do so would undoubtedly result in the civilians in the North distancing themselves from the Southern politicians.
"Jaffna is normal" – Jaffna OIC
HQI, Jaffna Police, OIC Saman Sigera says there is no deterioration of the security situation in Jaffna. He observed that the situation in Jaffna is similar to that in any other part in the country.
“It is false reports that have created an impression of a lack of security in Jaffna,” he said.
According to OIC Sigera, the crimes that have been recorded in Jaffna are similar to those that are reported from any other district in the country. “The only incidents of concern are two murders that have taken place and the police is conducting investigations into them,” he said.
Referring to abductions, he said that in one instance a wife who had claimed that her husband had been abducted in a white van called him at 11pm. “When I called the residence the following morning, the son answered the phone and said the father was back at home. The police had to then stop the inquiry,” he noted.
The OIC observed that in some instances people make complaints about abductions in order to seek asylum in European countries. “Therefore the so called abductions are not always abductions.”
OIC Sigera says that normalcy prevails in Jaffna with people moving about freely.
The OIC said following a directive by the IGP, the police and the STF now carry out joint patrolling of the streets in Jaffna. “Jaffna Army Commander Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe has also joined the move by assigning army personnel to carry out patrolling,” he said.
When asked if robberies and other crimes are being carried out by former LTTE members and EPDP members, OIC Sigera said, “There are a large number of former LTTE members who are now among the civilian community after they have returned home. In such a backdrop, if a person is arrested even for a minor issue, the fact that he was a former LTTE member is what receives prominence.”
A list of incidents
Following are a list of murders, abduction, robberies and sexual violence that have taken place in Jaffna during the last two months:
*On 11.11.2010 at Kudathanai in Vadamarachchi area two women who went to collect firewood have been subjected to sexual violence. The two women who were harassed were a 19-year-old student and a wife of a detainee who is still in the detention camp. The Manatkadu Police had inquired into the incident.
*On 13.11.2010 Pathmanathan Thusyanthan from Polikandy had disappeared and was later found dead on the beach. The police investigation has stated that the boy was a mental patient.
*On 13.11.2010 a mine clearance unit found a skeleton of a person in Nagarkovil. Point Pedro judge is investigating into the matter.
*On 06.12.2010 a 26-year-old boy had reportedly raped a 13-year-old child in Point Pedro. The injured child had been admitted to the Point Pedro base hospital and the suspect had been arrested.
*On 11.12.2010, 19-year-old Thulasy Ariyanayagam was found dead in an abandoned well in Puloly. The girl was reportedly missing on 29.11 .2010.
*On 12.12.2010 a young girl had been abducted by two persons on a motorbike in Udupity in front of MPCS at 6 p.m. Investigations are on going.
*On 12.12.2010 three members from a family of Hindu priests have been shot and armed men robbed their jewellery and cash in Chankanai in front of Murugamoorthy Temple. One of the injured Nithyanantha Sarma succumbed to his injuries later on. The others were admitted to hospital.
*On 25.12.2010 the Vavuniya police arrested a person on suspicion that he has sold some stolen jewellery. While investigations were ongoing, persons in civilian clothing have taken more jewels and sovereigns from the shop owners. The shop owners have complained to the Jaffna police but no information has been received.
*On 26.12.2010 Deputy Director of Education in Vallykamum, Markandu Sivalingam was shot dead by unknown gunmen. The incident had taken place at his residence in Urumpirai west. A police investigation is ongoing.
*On 27.12.2010 unknown armed men have entered a house in Point Pedro and caused injuries to the lady of the house, Thankavelautham Selvarany and robbed her Thali Koddy. She was admitted to hospital.
30.12.2010 one R. Chandrasiri had been found dead in an unoccupied house in Maniyanthoddam, Eechamoddai. His head had been covered and police investigations are ongoing.
*On 30.12.2010 one vehicle broker had been abducted by three unknown persons in Meesalai and later found at Vempirai cemetery with injuries. He has been admitted to hospital.
*On 31.12.2010 a young boy had been abducted in a white van near three temples in Urumpirai. The boy had been released from the rehabilitation camp recently.
*On 01.01.2011 on the 31st evening Thavarasa Ketheswaran (28) had been shot dead in Kudathanai. Unknown persons reportedly abducted him before he was found dead.
*On 01.01.2011 on 31st evening, a mother of six children, 48-year-old Pushpadevy Yoganathan, had been abducted in a white van in Alvai Vadamarachchi. Police investigations are ongoing.
*On 01.01.2011 Kopinath, a three-wheeler driver had been abducted in Urimpirai. His wife had lodged a complaint with the Kopay police.
*On 03.01.2011 a labourer and a father of five children, Mahalingam Amutharasa, was reported missing.
*On 04.01.2011 at about 11.30 a.m. thieves wearing masks have robbed jewellery from a house in Chankanai.
*On 5.01.2011 father of a child, S. Itayan had been killed by a group of unknown persons after slashing him with swords. He had returned to Thitunellvely recently from the Wanni.
© The Sunday Leader
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Mr. Rajapaksa’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunge and Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe were present during the discussion.
Mr. Armitage also paid a courtesy call on Rajapaksa at Temple Trees.
Armitage who was the second-in-command at the State Department from 2001 to 2005, now heads Armitage International, L.C., a firm that provides multinational clients with critical support in the areas of international business development, strategic planning and problem-solving.
© Tamil Net
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Minority Rights Group International
Nearly two years after the end of the war, minorities face daily repression and marginalisation in politics and development policies, particularly in the country's north and east, documents the report.(Read the full report)
The report titled ‘No war, no peace: the denial of minority rights and justice in Sri Lanka’ includes groundbreaking first-hand research from the north and east of the country, including areas that international and national media and NGOs have limited access to.
‘Despite the end of the war, many Tamil and Muslim minorities in Sri Lanka continue to live in fear, ’ says Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of MRG.
The report quotes minority political leaders and activists who express serious fear of a state based on Sinhala hegemony. It documents cases of land in traditional Tamil and Muslim areas being seized by military and civilian authorities and used for the construction of everything from military encampments and a power plant to hotels and leisure facilities. The report also expresses concerns by minority activists at the sudden proliferation of Buddhist temples and religious symbols in Tamil and Muslim areas, which they argue is politically sponsored.
In 2009 the Sri Lankan government declared that the country’s 30 year conflict was over after it successfully defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels who had been fighting for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils. In the immediate aftermath of the war the country faced a huge humanitarian crisis with more than 250,000 people displaced and interned in camps for months.
The report says that while many of those displaced in the last stages of fighting have been moved out of the camps, the resettlement process has not taken place according to international standards. It also stresses the need for the government to provide for the return and resettlement of over 200,000 ‘old displaced’, who lost their homes in earlier stages of fighting. This includes a substantial number of Muslims who were forcibly displaced by the Tigers from the north in 1990.
‘The situation in the resettlement areas in the north and east is very worrying, particularly as international and national media and NGOs have restricted access. There is a high level of militarisation and state control over freedom of movement and association, with local women vulnerable to sexual abuse and harassment,’ says Lattimer.
The report argues that the government is doing little to resolve some of the original minority grievances that led to the conflict, such as violations of physical integrity including torture and enforced disappearances, lack of political autonomy and denial of language rights.
‘The government has made little mention of greater political autonomy for minorities which has always been a key demand of Tamils and Muslims. In fact, the government is now proposing legislation to change the electoral system in a way that threatens to decrease their political representation,’ Lattimer adds.
The report makes a series of recommendations to the Sri Lankan government including asking for a published policy to address minority rights issues, the resumption of all-party negotiations aimed at reaching an agreement on political representation and governance for minorities, and the development of an impartial and credible mechanism for justice and reconciliation in the country.
‘We urge the Sri Lankan government not to lose the opportunity to bring in a lasting peace that can be enjoyed by all communities in Sri Lanka. Justice, reconciliation and human rights protection are essential for peace to become a reality for all,’ Lattimer says.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
He was received at the Bandaranaike International Airport Colombo by Army Commander Lt Gen Jagath Jayasuriya and his spouse.
The visit of Pakistan’s Army Chief is highly significant as it is the first visit of Pakistan’s Army Chief to Sri Lanka following the defeat of LTTE in 2009. During his visit General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is expected to meet the top leadership of the country including the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Secretary Defence, Chief of Defence Staff and the three Services Commanders. General Kayani is also expected to address the student officers at the Sri Lankan Defence Services Command and Staff College, the media release said.
“General Kayani will also be formally inaugurating the Sri Lanka Chapter of The Quetta Association which comprises the Sri Lankan graduate officers of the Command and Staff College Quetta Pakistan. The Command and Staff College Quetta is the oldest training institution of Pakistan Army and it was established in 1905. Sri Lanka will have the privilege of being the first country in the world where Quetta Association will be launched. The total member of the Quetta Association in Sri Lanka is 42, who hold highly significant assignments in their respective institutions.
“The Quetta Association is a non-governmental, non-political, non-religious, non-ethnic, non racial and non-profitable organization. It provides a platform of interaction to the Graduates of the Command and Staff College Quetta and provides them an opportunity for intellectual exchange of current developments in the region with particular focus on Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
“The Quetta Association will operate as a dynamic forum for both the Defence forces to identify common threats and evolve common strategies to face current regional and global threats and challenges. The scope of the Quetta Association will be gradually enhanced to also engage Ex graduates of the other premier Defence institution of Pakistan like National Defence University, School of Infantry and Tactics, Air War College, Naval Staff College, etc.”
© Daily Mirror
Thursday, January 20, 2011
By Herman Kumara | The Sunday Leader
There was a series of field studies carried out by NAFSO, Praja Abhilasha network (PA), People to People Dialogue on Peace and Sustainable Development (PPD) and Puttalam District Fisheries Solidarity (PDFS) on the land issues in the islands of Kalpitiya peninsula during the last two months, and it was found that the grievances of fisher people as well as the others are justifiable and have valid reasons.
The following are some of the dangers, difficulties and threats that people expressed at Mohoththuvarama island, north of Kalpitiya.
As Aibu, a community leader at the island explained:
“I can highlight three major issues we face due to tourism projects here. We cannot operate our beach seines (Madal Padu), as we did earlier. Tourism developers have encroached our lands and have erected barbed wire fences. We can’t enter our own beach seine and they say we are illegally trespassing on the land and they are the owners. We have no right to enter our own place now.
“They have blocked access to the beach seines, cemetery, church, and to the anchorage point we traditionally used. The tourism developers who got the permits and arrived here recently claim they are the owners of the land — they have letters from the CCD, MOD, Tourist Board and also from the AGA at Kalpitiya. So, who we are? Are we from some other country? Or citizens of Sri Lanka?”
The third point Aibu explained was the leasing out of lands in certain islands.
“Periya Arichchal, Sinna Arichchal and Illuppanthivu islands are seriously affected. All the fishermen were driven out from the lands as those lands were also leased out to some companies. Some say, those islands have been given to Indian fishermen. But we do not have any proof of that. Fishermen from the Anevasala community are facing this threat.”
“We have 16 beach seines operating here. We have land permits issued by the AGA, Kalpitiya for building our temporary shelters at the coast. We pay Rs. 4200 annually for the permit and we have been practising this for years now. We have approached the Fisheries Department to get the operational permits on several occasions and failed. Based on this, tourism developers say we have only six permitted beach seines and all others are illegal. Now they claim the lands we have permits for are their lands that they received for tourism development.”
“As we are not ready to leave this place, one tourist resort developer, one Hassan Gate has approached Kennedy and requested his beach seine for Rs. 9 million.”
“The other danger we are facing is from the navy. The navy wants to get 40 perches from my beach seine. But, I am reluctant to give it as that will be the end of my livelihood. Now, I am facing a threat to my life too. I do not know if I will survive for long. Anybody who speaks out against these things is in danger. So, people are reluctant to come out and protest. This is a serious issue as we are isolated.”
According to him, some of the catamaran fishermen are also facing a threat to their livelihoods. Catamaran fishermen use the lagoon for their fishing during monsoon season as they cannot operate their fishing gear at sea. However, one tourist resort owner, Niel De Silva of Dutch Bay Resort (Pvt) Ltd. has bought the lagoon side too and chased the catamaran operators from their anchorage point at the lagoon.
Kennedy Jayamanne, the chairperson of the Beach Seine Society in the Kalpitiya area and, articulate as he is, is leading the struggle against harassment meted out to the fisher communities by tourism developers.
“The catamaran operators are the poorest among the fisher community and we will loose our livelihood due to these restrictions. We operate our catamarans at the lagoon during the monsoon season. But, we cannot go to the lagoon this year due to restrictions. There are more than 30 families that have been forced to remove their temporary shelters at the lagoon side as tourist resort owners claim they need the land to develop their resorts.
“Who will look into all these issues and help the people? We do not know who could help us as all are running behind the money and power. We are poor and powerless. All we are able to do now is give up our livelihoods and become jobless. Who cares about our customary rights?” P. Sylvester, a catamaran operator at Kakadiya community lamented, sharing with us the difficulties they face due to the tourism development projects in the area.
Ajith Susantha is a beach seine owner and living on an island. He owns, beach seine number 93 which Hassan Gate, the tourism developer says is within his land. “I cannot go to my beach seine as the tourist developer says it is within his territory. We have been here for generations. My father and forefathers were engaged here for beach seine fishing. These new comers says this land belongs to them, so we can’t drag our beach seine as we practised earlier. Hassan Gate has fenced the land with barbed wires within the high tide region of the sea. This has totally disturbed our occupation. How can he do so? There should be a 300 meter area as the coastal zone, as regulated by the CCD. Why this special treatment to the Hassan Gate company?” Susantha asked.
However, there is a serious issue behind this. The Kalpitiya AGA had given a permit for the beach seine to 93 owner Ajith Susantha as well as to the tourism developer Hassan Gate to the same plot of land.
“We got the land permit from AGA and Hassan Gate says, it belongs to him. How can we solve this? They have covered the land with barbed wire. We need to enter our own land with their permission. Where is the justice?” asks Mahathun, brother of Ajith Susantha.
National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) organises fishermen to lobby the government to defend their rights and to bring about good environmental practice in coastal areas. NAFSO has helped a fishing community to take legal action against a proposal to build a five-star hotel on a mangrove where fish spawn. “We are not against hotels, because they bring tourism and income. But 3000 families and 15,000 fishermen use this lagoon and all of them could be affected by the developments.
Only 200 would be employed by the hotel. The lagoon is our mother, and we must protect her,” local fisherman Jude Preman Fernando said. “At the present situation we are continuing our campaign with small scale fishermen to urge the government to take legal action against destructive fishing practices around the coastal areas of Sri Lanka,” he added.
© The Sunday Leader
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