Friday, April 29, 2011

Sri Lanka gives UK firm £ 35 million steel bridge deal

Lanka Business Online

The United Kingdom's Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd has won a contract to build 210 permanent steel bridges in Si Lanka in a project partly funded with a loan of 35 million sterling pounds (6.2 billion rupees).

A government statement said the Cabinet of ministers approved a proposal made by the minister of economic development Basil Rajapaksa for the project to improve access to villages.

The government accepted a proposal by Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd to build steel bridges of 06 - 30 metre lengths around the island, it said.

The total cost of the project, to be completed in the next three years, is 15,860 million rupees with the balance cost of 9,647.50 million rupees to be funded by the Sri Lankan government,

It said 9,400 kilometres of rural access roads had been modernised under a government programme to improve the rural economy by connecting villages with better roads.

"But due to the absence of bridges over perennial water bodies these developments have met with some hurdles," it said.

© Lanka Business Online

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Post-war boost for Lanka - Israel relations

By Shamindra Ferdinando | The Island

Israeli Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Orit Noked is scheduled to arrive in Colombo on Tuesday night (May 3) on a brief visit, the first ministerial level call since establishment of full diplomatic ties in early 2002.

Ms Noked will be accompanied by Mark Sofer, the Israeli Ambassador in New Delhi, responsible for the Jewish State’s affairs with Sri Lanka.

Last January Ms Noked succeeded Shalon Simhon, who was earlier scheduled to visit Colombo in his capacity as the Agriculture Minister.

An Israeli spokesperson told "The Island" that the Minister and the Ambassador would be accompanied by a business delegation. The visiting delegation would meet Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne, External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Livestock and Rural Development Minister Arumugam Thondaman, Foreign Employment Minister Dilan Perera and Irrigation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva.

Ms Noked launched her political career after completing her service with the Israeli Army in the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Defence and External Affairs Ministry sources told The Island that there was scope for increased relations between the two countries in many other fields, in spite of a drastic drop in Sri Lanka’s need for arms, ammunition and equipment due to conclusion of the war in May two years ago. Israel remained a key supplier throughout the war by providing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Kfir fighters, Fast Attack Craft (FACs) et al.

Sources said that both countries could benefit from enhanced bilateral trade, while Sri Lanka could draw on Israeli expertise in many vital fields.

The Israeli embassy in New Delhi said that Ms Noked would reiterate Israel’s aim to become a fully-fledged partner in Sri Lanka’s development efforts.

Minister Noked and her Sri Lankan counterpart, Minister Abeywardena, will inaugurate an Agro-Business Seminar and sign an MoU to further augment the agricultural cooperation between the two countries and develop areas of mutual interest in the agriculture sector. The various topics of cooperation included in the MoU are: capacity building and transfer of know how; technology transfer; development of R&D Systems; exchange of scientific and agricultural technology information; promotion of Public Private Partnerships (PPP); water management and innovative irrigation technologies; rural development; land conservation and precision agricultural practices.

© The Island

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Sri Lankan carnage

Editorial | The Economic Times

A UN panel has indicted the Lankan army for killing tens of thousands of civlians towards the end of the civil war in 2009. It confirms the worst fears about war crimes having being committed. It is unlikely that Colombo will assent to any further international investigation , with President Mahinda Rajapaksa instead having issued a call to turn the upcoming May Day rally into a demonstration against a UN investigation. But the indictment of the panel's report warrants New Delhi taking a more proactive role on the issue.

The crimes listed are grisly enough — with most civilian lives having been lost due to indiscriminate shelling by Lankan troops during the months leading to the LTTE's defeat as well as the denial of aid and medical supplies to civilians in the conflict zone. Add the fact that these findings give the lie to Colombo's dismissal of video tapes aired late last year, which showed Lankan troops executing bound and stripped Tamils, as well as Lanka's insistence that it had not violated the 'No-Fire Zone' during the last stages of the war, and the scale of Colombo's tactic of denial while indulging in gross violations is manifest.

The Rajapaksa regime, meanwhile, has been using Chinese and Russian support to ward off discussions on the issue at the UN Security Council while whipping up even more Sinhala-nationalistic passions at home. The latter, in fact, posits the larger problem that the Rajapaksa regime has so far paid mere lip service to the broader need to devolve political power to the minorities as a lasting solution to the conflict as it wallows in its chauvinist, militarist belief that winning the war has ended all issues . Denial of having committed war crimes, leave alone acknowledging the necessity of conducting an investigation , fixing culpability and then possible reparations to the affected Tamil population, is an indication of the lack of any real intent to address the disempowerment of the minorities. That is the message New Delhi must, however diplomatically, deliver to Colombo. International opinion must make it difficult for China to offer support for Lankan reluctance to devolve power.

© The Economic Times

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Truth and consequences

Banyan | The Economist

In recent years the default mode for Sri Lankan diplomats has been a posture of affronted national dignity beneath a mask of outraged, sanctimonious innocence. This week, after the publication of a report by a panel of experts for the United Nations on the final stages of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, some were recalled to Colombo for “consultations”. Maybe they are brushing up their indignant-repudiation skills.

The war culminated in May 2009 with the army’s crushing of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Its climax was marked by ruthlessness and callous disregard for human life. The panel concluded that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that large-scale violations of international humanitarian and human-rights law were committed by both sides”. Since hardly any of the Tigers’ leaders outlived the war, it is the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s president, that is in the dock.

It is probably too much to hope the government might adopt a fresh approach to these familiar allegations. There were always at least three ways to tackle them. It could, early on, have argued brazenly that the benefits of ending the war outweighed the cost in human life. The Tigers were as vicious and totalitarian a bunch of thugs as ever adopted terrorism as a national-liberation strategy. Or the government could have insisted that its army’s behaviour was largely honourable, but that some regrettable abuses may have occurred, which would be thoroughly investigated.

Instead, it chose a third path: to lie, and to lie big. It insisted that it pursued a policy of “zero civilian casualties”. Even as its forces shelled the shrinking “no-fire zone” in which the Tigers held some 330,000 civilians as human shields, it either denied it was doing so, or promised to stop and did not. It kept foreign observers out and bullied the local press into silence. The UN report found that “tens of thousands” were killed in January-May 2009, with most civilian casualties caused by government shelling.

The report relates little that has not appeared in accounts by human-rights groups. But it is unusually blunt, perhaps reflecting exasperation at the Sri Lankan government’s obstructive, aggressive tactics. The three-member panel is distinguished enough to shrug off Sri Lanka’s accusations of bias. The chair, Marzuki Darusman, is a former attorney-general of Indonesia. The report calls the conduct of the war “a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace”.

The government, however, is now too deeply wedded to its strategy of denial to back down even an inch. It lobbied hard against the publication of the UN report, arguing it would damage efforts at national reconciliation. Now that Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has ignored its objections, it has whipped up a frenzy of national resentment against the perceived calumnies. This goes down well at home. Standing up to foreign bullying only enhances Mr Rajapaksa’s popularity among the ethnic-Sinhalese majority. Responding to the report, the president has said he would be happy to sit in the electric chair on behalf of his country. A huge turnout is expected for May Day rallies at which he has asked for a show of support for his government.

If the report has brought Mr Rajapaksa short-term political benefits at home, he may also conclude that the diplomatic fallout is easily manageable. Sri Lanka is not without supporters. Just days after the end of the war in 2009, the UN’s Human Rights Council passed a resolution praising its victory, condemning Tiger war crimes and overlooking altogether allegations against the Sri Lankan army. Of its diplomatic allies back then, India is now less staunch. But China and Russia remain firm defenders of the rights of sovereign governments to quell secessionist movements, and do not seem squeamish about the means.

They may be even keener, after the UN-authorised intervention in Libya, to show that was the exception to a rule of non-interference. So Sri Lanka will continue to resist calls for any formal inquiry into the war beyond the “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC) it established. Though due to report soon, the commission has failed to earn credibility.

In the long run, however, the semi-official status the UN report gives allegations of war crimes will haunt this government. The well-organised, far-flung Tamil diaspora will hound Sri Lanka’s leaders when they go abroad, and put pressure on foreign governments to demand accountability. Skilled at exploiting the rivalry between India and China, whose arms supplies helped win the war, Sri Lanka’s diplomats may argue that they no longer need the West. But, proud of Sri Lanka’s democratic traditions, they will smart at being seen as front men for a shoddy dictatorship, engaged in what now looks like a desperate cover-up.

After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

Though perceived foreign slights may enhance the government’s standing at home, it is there that the concealment of the truth about the war’s end will do most damage. It is not as if there were no witnesses. Some 300,000 people know first-hand parts of what happened. When the LLRC held hearings in the north, scene of the fighting, survivors told harrowing tales of loss and asked where missing loved ones were. Without answers, it is hard to see how they can be “reconciled”.

Nor does the government show any sign of moving towards a political settlement, to meet the grievances of the Tamil minority that fuelled the conflict. Gordon Weiss, the UN’s spokesman in Colombo during the end of the war, predicts in a forthcoming book (“The Cage”) that Tamil emigration will continue, “encouraged by political stagnation, a lack of rights and rule by fear”. And also by the government’s continued refusal to countenance any serious investigation into how it won the war.

© The Economist

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Sri Lanka: Tiger blood

By Gordon Weiss | Foreign Policy

At the end of May, a braided military gaggle will gather in Colombo's swank Galidari Hotel to extract lessons from Sri Lanka's thorough 2009 defeat of the Tamil Tiger guerrillas. The seminar on "Defeating Terrorism" will lead foreign military guests through a series of helpful how-to-do-it PowerPoint presentations. Perhaps out of this forum we can expect a more secure world, and fewer 30-year-long, ethnically driven wars on small islands. Or perhaps this outcome is unlikely on both counts.

Undoubtedly, the world is a better place without the Tamil Tigers. A fearsome and cultish adversary of Sri Lanka's always-struggling democracy, the insurgent organization very nearly brought the state to its knees over three decades of war. The Tigers blew up high-rise buildings, killed Sri Lankan President Premadasa, slew civilians, and wiped out a moderate Tamil opposition. They used children as fighters, recruited women as suicide bombers, and carved out a de facto "homeland" in the country's north. They deployed scuba divers, submarines, shallow-water attack craft, and even light planes in devastating raids. In 2001, they destroyed 26 Sri Lankan aircraft on Colombo's tarmac in front of startled holidaymakers. They decimated an Indian force sent to keep peace, and assassinated former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi in revenge at his interfering temerity.

In 2006, under the capable political leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a galvanized Sri Lankan state and army finally pushed back hard. None pushed harder than the president's brother. As defense secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa put steel in the gloves of the Sri Lankan defense forces. After years of hedging, and now under contract to build a billion dollar port in the island's south, China came to the party with cash, arms, expertise, and diplomatic cover in the U.N. Security Council. At Sri Lanka's request, Iran, Burma, and Libya followed up with varying packages of support. The gritty Gotabaya, a former Sri Lankan army colonel and U.S. passport-holder, shook up the officer corps, refined frontline tactics, and forged the defense forces into a unified fighting machine. Morale soared, and victory followed upon victory.

By January 2009 the army had bottled up the Tigers in a shrinking pocket on the northeast of the island, along with around 330,000 civilians. Foreign military observers I spoke with at the time continued to insist that the guerrillas were militarily unbeatable -- they were just too tough and resourceful to be defeated on the field of battle. Western leaders dutifully called for restraint and reminded the warring parties of their obligations under humanitarian law. Iran supplied oil, while China supplied easy credit, easing the Sri Lanka government's worries that material and cash-flow problems might collapse their strategy as they resisted diplomatic pressure. Sri Lanka cracked down on domestic opposition, gagged the press, and excluded foreign journalists and humanitarian workers. It assured U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that it was not using heavy weapons.

Troops fought doggedly in what was by all accounts a dreadful fight through marshland, scrub, and jungle. Artillery units pounded the Tiger front lines. By May, squeezed into an area the size of a few city blocks, Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was dead, and the few remaining Tigers were in captivity. Sri Lanka regained complete control of its coastline for the first time in close to 30 years. Officials in Colombo proclaimed that their "humanitarian rescue" of Tamil civilians was complete, and that nary a drop of innocent blood had been shed. Alone among the nations of the world, Sri Lanka had succeeded in "defeating terrorism."

So far so good. But a panel of senior international judicial experts appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September 2010 has just come to a vastly different conclusion. In a report released this week, the U.N. panel has in effect outlined a prima facie case for war crimes. It alleges that both sides caused the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in just the last five months of the war. The government is blamed for a majority of the killing, as it shelled the Tigers with long-range artillery.

The report describes what it calls the "systematic shelling of hospitals" and says that the government also withheld life-saving humanitarian aid from civilians being held hostage en masse by the Tigers. It allegedly ordered the execution of most of the captured senior Tiger leadership as they surrendered. Trophy videos of the torture and killing of other battlefield captives began to leak shortly after the victory. It appears that alongside the government's much vaunted "hostage rescue," one of the larger war crimes of this century was discreetly committed.

That the government allowed itself to stray into unlawful warfare on the cusp of victory is something of a mystery. The Tamil Tigers were a spent force. For two years, the army had driven the Tigers' lines back steadily across the breadth of the island, without causing a grossly disproportionate loss of civilian life. It had synchronized bombardments that drove civilians away from the front lines with the dispatch of small commando teams that sowed disorder in enemy territory. Drones pinpointed Tiger artillery and hovered over columns of retreating civilians.

The Sri Lankan navy deployed new tactics to combat the Tigers' "brown-water" capability. India and the United States shared intelligence that enabled frigates to intercept and sink a dozen merchant vessels en route to re-supply the guerrilla army. The Defense Ministry buffed up its press briefings with drone video and slick target justification presentations. Against the backdrop of the "global war on terror," a majority of nations were quietly glad that the Tigers were defeated. In a post-9/11 world, their aggressive and ingenious use of terrorist tactics in the name of national liberation, quite simply, set a bad example.

So what went wrong? The army tried with leaflets and radio bulletins to convince civilians to escape. Families, however, continued to weigh their chances of survival in favor of moving away from the front lines, rather than toward and through them. This no-brainer was helped in no small measure by the Tigers, who coaxed, assisted, and then gradually enforced the retreat of all civilians as a buffer against outright attack by the Sri Lankan army. The army made a difficult tactical problem worse when it bombarded self-declared "No-Fire Zones," killing thousands.

From around February 2009, the besieged pocket shrank until there was simply no room left. The Tigers' lines converged, funneling hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians onto a sandspit the size of New York City's Central Park. The army continued to bombard the bedraggled guerrilla lines that now backed onto civilian tents. Army incursions clawed tens of thousands of civilians from the siege zone, but with many "hostages" killed.

Since the war ended in May 2009, life has improved immeasurably for a majority of Sri Lankans, predominantly Sinhalese Buddhists who support President Rajapaksa. The government delivered a decisive victory, but whether it has delivered a durable peace, let alone any measure of justice to its Tamil minority, is quite another question. The release of the U.N. report is a "Srebrenica moment" for Sri Lanka, as the pieces of the crime scene fall into place. The same is true for humankind at large. What really happened in 2009, and will there be a war crimes tribunal for Sri Lanka?

The Tamil Tigers and their quarter-century fight were a direct result of anti-Tamil pogroms in 1983 that killed thousands. Modern counterinsurgency doctrine tries to win over a contended population, and to separate guerrillas from their constituents by delivering meaningful security and a better deal. Sri Lanka did things rather differently, and is touting its model of counterinsurgency without factoring in the true cost to civilian life or acknowledging that such brutality is hardly a formula for long-term peace. It is unlikely that the real price of the "Sri Lanka solution" will be on the agenda of the meeting in Colombo this May. The opinion of the U.N. panel is that the sheer scale of alleged crimes constitutes "a grave assault on the entire regime of international law." Hardly a formula for success.

© Foreign Policy

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Friday, April 29, 2011

A Second chance to confront war crimes in Sri Lanka

By Armin Rosen | The Atlantic

In early 2009, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa faced an opportunity, and possibly a moral quandary. Since 1976, the country's Sinhalese majority had weathered a brutal campaign at the hands of one of the deadliest terrorist groups in modern history: the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, an ethnic Tamil separatist group that occupied parts of the country's northeast. For the previous two years, Rajapaksa's government had stepped up its fight against the Tigers, using means that were effective as well as morally dubious.

In 2007, the military waged a campaign in the country's northeast that was often restrained but also included, for example, extensively shelling the city of Vakarai, including its civilian hospital. Targeted killings became common: over sixty aid workers had been killed in Sri Lanka since 2007. In January 2009, masked gunmen murdered the editor of the Sunday Leader, a newspaper often critical of the government. But the Tigers were on the run, and months of shelling had confined them to the northern corner of the Vanni region. The endgame to the 26-year civil war came with civilians tightly clustered on a stretch of beach that the government had designated a "no fire zone." And although Rajapaksa seemed committed to exterminating the LTTE, it was not yet clear just how violent that endgame would be, according to Alan Keenan, the International Crisis Group's Sri Lanka. "No one was sure that the government was willing to use such brutal and indiscriminate fire power against areas so densely populated with civilians," he said.

Yet that is exactly what it did, according to a United Nations report released late Monday. By May 19th, the Tigers were defeated, and a panel of international legal experts appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon catalogues the cost of the government's victory. "Between September 2008 and 19 May 2009, the Sri Lanka Army advanced its military campaign ... using large-scale and widespread shelling, causing large numbers of civilian deaths," the report states. The government shelled three "No Fire Zones ... where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate." It shelled a "United Nations hub," as well as food distribution lines set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which was the only humanitarian organization the Sri Lankan government allowed in Vanni. "All hospitals in Vanni were hit by mortar and artillery," while the internally displaced were herded into squalid refugee camps.

It was the horrifying conclusion of a campaign that, in retrospect, Sri Lankan leaders had seldom waged with transparency or international law in mind: as early as 2006, the government had devised "measures to control information about and access to the combat zones," and had been providing "deep penetration units" comprised of former LTTE militants with heavy weaponry. The panel found that "white vans were used to abduct and often disappear critics of the Government or those suspected of links with the LTTE, and, more generally, to instill fear in the population." Faced with the prospect of ending a three-decade long civil war, the Sri Lankan government decided to ignore international legal norms, and expelled or otherwise silenced the journalists or activists who could hold them to account. The report puts the number of civilian dead at between 7,000 and 40,000 -- a wide variance attributable to the Sri Lankan government's expulsion of NGOs, journalists, and international observers from Vanni in September of 2008.

The report is detailed and even-handed, and it discusses the LTTE's use of human shields and forced conscription. But it is only a first step towards establishing accountability in Sri Lanka. The panel was not a formal investigation: the Sri Lankan government prevented panel members from touring the former conflict zone or interviewing LTTE prisoners or military officials, and the expert panel's mandate was limited to advising the Secretary General on how to proceed with investigating any possible war crimes. Ban could now urge the United Nations Security Council to set up a more formal commission of inquiry -- which is unlikely, given China's close political and economic ties with Sri Lanka, as well as China and Russia's general wariness of international investigations into how governments treat their own citizens. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva could authorize its own report, as it did after the Israeli assault on Gaza in January 2009. But this is even less likely. In May of 2009, a few days after the end of major hostilities, the UNHRC approved a measure congratulating Sri Lanka on its defeat of the LTTE, and ignoring allegations of war crimes. "Sri Lanka is a long-time player in the Non Aligned Movement," explains Hillel Neuer, director of the Geneva-based organization UN Watch, "and supports all Arab and Islamic initiatives. So in turn they all shielded Sri Lanka."

Ban could also order an investigation on his own initiative, as he did in 2009 after the killing of protestors in Guinea, according to James Ross, the legal and policy director for Human Rights Watch. But Ban could also choose to do nothing -- a possibility that would be drearily consistent with the UN's moral and political equivocation both during and immediately after the Sri Lankan government's final push against the LTTE.

As the Sri Lankan civil war reached its ugly culmination, the UN adopted a stance that probably made the conflict's endgame far bloodier than it otherwise would have been. The world body hastily acquiesced to the government's request that all humanitarian agencies (other than the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has a policy of confidentiality with respect to what it witnesses) pull out of Vanni in September of 2008. Although the government claimed humanitarian organizations were being expelled for their own safety, the move "paved the way for the ability of the government to sort of fight an absolutely no holds barred kind of war," Keenan says. If the UN was concerned about this possibility, it kept these concerns to itself. "The very least they could have done is objected publically," Keenan argues. "They could have said 'listen, we could operate there safely if you respected our safety' and made it clear that they're not simply going to leave and close their eyes."

They did neither, signaling the UN's accommodating policy towards the government of Sri Lanka. In the final stages of the conflict, Ban Ki Moon sent Vijay Nambiar, his chief of staff, to help negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict. While he was in Sri Lanka, Nambiar helped establish a line of communication between the government and LTTE officers, who were later killed while waving white flags in the no-man's land near the Sri Lankan army's front lines. Sree Tharan, an activist with the U.S.-based organization Tamils Against Genocide, says that Nambiar's role in the so-called "white flag killings" should be investigated. "We're not saying that anyone's faulted," says Tharan, "but there's enough evidence to know that he was part of the negotiating group." He also suggested that Nambiar, whose brother is a high-ranking Indian army officer who served as a consultant to the Sri Lankan government in 2002, "should never have been involved with anything having to do with Sri Lanka."

The UN also failed in treating the situation in northeast Sri Lanka like the humanitarian catastrophe that it was. Ross faulted the UN for refusing to publicize their casualty numbers during the closing months of the war. The report says that the UN's Sri Lanka country team estimated that 7,721 civilians had been killed before May 13 alone. Making those figures public could have brought much-needed global attention to the government's actions during the final months of the war. Keenan adds that the UN should have pressured the government into admitting that up to 300,000 civilians were living in Tiger-controlled areas in Vanni. The government claimed that only 75,000 to 100,000 civilians were caught in the conflict zone. But the UN could have shared their internal, more reliable population statistics with the public, perhaps forcing the government to allow more humanitarian aid into the northeast -- and making it more difficult for them to cover up the number of dead or missing after the war. But they did not, and the UN's refusal to publicize their casualty and population statistics during the conflict allowed the government to lie about the scope of the humanitarian emergency in Vanni.

Days after hostilities ended, Ban toured IDP camps with President Rajapaksa, in what some interpreted as a propaganda victory for the government, which used the visit to bolster its legitimacy. "What the UN never did was really grapple with the nature of the regime they were working with," says Keenan. "They never realized that these guys were willing to do anything to win."

This week's report offers a second chance for the UN to uphold its own vaunted standards of accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. The stakes are arguably as high as they were during the conflict itself: without a formal investigation, the Sri Lankan government's effective yet brutal counterinsurgency tactics could seem irresistible to countries with their own internal security issues. Already, 31 countries have agreed to send representatives to a seminar entitled "Defeating Terrorism: The Sri Lankan Experience," which the Sri Lankan government has scheduled for this May. The UN Security Council, Human Rights Council, or, if necessary, Ban Ki Moon himself now have an opportunity to do what they should have done in early 2009: expose "The Sri Lankan Experience" for the atrocity that it was.

© The Atlantic

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Editorial: Sri Lankan war crimes

The Peninsula

Wars are about death and destruction. So long after they end, its ripples haunt its perpetrators as justice has a way of catching up with those who have trampled on it.

A United Nations report published this week has put the spotlight back on the conflict in Sri Lanka where government troops crushed a Tamil separatist uprising in 2009. The report has said both the Lankan army and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam guerillas may have committed war crimes during the conflict. As expected, the publication of the report has led to international cries for an independent probe into the war to expose human rights violations and punish the guilty. The LTTE was decimated in the war, and as a non-existent group, has nothing to worry about charges of war crimes. But the government of Sri Lanka is finding itself in a precarious position and if the charges are proven, it will have serious consequences for them.

The UN panel gives a very different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained by the Government of Sri Lanka. The government maintains it pursued a humanitarian rescue operation with a policy of zero civilian casualties. In stark contrast, the panel found credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed, the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace.

The Government systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines. All hospitals in the Vanni were hit by mortars and artillery and some of them were hit repeatedly despite the fact that their locations were well-known to the Government. At the same time, despite grave danger in the conflict zone, the LTTE refused civilians permission to leave, using them as hostages, at times even using their presence as a human buffer between themselves and the advancing Lankan army.

The Sri Lankan government has a duty to come clean on the war crimes charges leveled against it. For this, the government must agree to an independent international probe. Any probe conducted by the government will not be acceptable to the outside world as it’s a party to the war. The government even distrusts the UN and at one point organised demonstrations against UN staff in Colombo.

The responsibility for establishing the truth now lies with the UN. It has to finish the work it has started and the government has a duty to cooperate.

© The Peninsula

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Sri Lanka website LankaeNews is suspended

Photo courtesy:

BBC News

A magistrate's court in Sri Lanka has suspended the operation of the pro-opposition LankaeNews website.

The court ordered the closure because a contempt case was still pending against journalist Shantha Wijesooriya, who has been remanded in custody until 12 May.

The case relates to an article about a magistrate, which was regarded as slanderous.

The court ordered Sri Lanka's telecoms regulator to suspend the website until court proceedings are over.

The website published three apologies before Mr Wijesooriya was arrested on Monday.

The site is currently not available inside Sri Lanka but is accessible outside of the country.

LankaeNews has been facing attacks, threats and intimidation since the presidential election of January 2010.

Its editor has been in exile since then.

In January 2011 the website's premises came under arson attack and two months later its news editor Bennett Rupasinghe was arrested for allegedly threatening a suspect in the arson attack.

Mr Rupasinghe was later released on bail.

Correspondents say that the recent publication of a report by a UN panel - which said that government forces were responsible for killing tens of thousands of civilians in the final stages of the war against Tamil Tiger rebels, means that it is likely there will be a significant hardening of the already tough approach of the authorities towards freedom of speech.

© BBC News

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Sri Lanka: Authorities continue drive to stamp out opposition news media

Reporters sans frontières

Reporters Without Borders condemns yesterday’s refusal by a court in the Colombo suburb of Pugoda to release Shantha Wijesuriya, a journalist with the Lanka E-news online newspaper, on bail pending trial on a contempt of court charge for an erroneous news report. Access to the website was also blocked on an order from the court pending the outcome of the trial.

Wijesuriya has held in Mahara prison since 25 April for wrongly reporting on 19 April that the Pugoda court ignored a directive from the attorney-general’s office when it released two police officers accused of murder. Lanka E-News posteda correction and apology three days after the original report.

“It is unacceptable that Wijesuriya is being detained and is facing a possible jail sentence over an error in a news report,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “Any journalist in the world can make this kind of mistake. Wijesuriya acted according to professional ethics by publishing a correction and apologizing to the court. There are absolutely no grounds for either the jail sentence he is facing or the order banning the website from publishing any more articles. By blocking the site, Judge Aravinda Perera has assumed powers that until now were reserved for the ministry of mass media and information.”

Julliard added: “Lanka E-news is one of the last opposition news media to keep going in Sri Lanka despite the harassment and threats. Their criticism of the government is now resulting in an unprecedented degree of harassment. We may be witnessing this online newspaper’s final days. Journalists in Sri Lanka are gagged by the entire state apparatus. We appeal to the United Nations to put pressure on the government to end this policy of suppressing opposition media, which are entirely legitimate in a democracy.”

Wijesuriya’s lawyer, Manjula Pathiraja, reiterated the online newspaper’s apology yesterday to the court, which adjourned the case until 12 May and ordered the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission to block access to the website within Sri Lanka until the end of the trial.

© Reporters sans frontières

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