Friday, August 19, 2011

'War crimes push aimed at ousting Sri Lanka government' says SL Defence Secretary

By Ranga Sirilal | Reuters

A Western-led push for a war crimes probe into Sri Lanka's war to destroy the Tamil Tigers is motivated by a "hidden agenda" to oust President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government, the island nation's defence secretary said Thursday.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the architect of Sri Lanka's destruction of the separatist Tamil Tigers in 2009 and the president's younger brother, also expressed frustration that post-war rehabilitation efforts were being ignored.

Sri Lanka's military crushed the Tamil Tigers to decisively end one of Asia's longest-running modern wars in May 2009, but since the waning months of the conflict the government has been under increasing pressure over accusations of civilian deaths.

A panel commissioned by the U.N. secretary-general in April said it had "credible evidence" both sides had committed possible war crimes, and in particular alleged the government had killed thousands of civilians.

"There is a hidden agenda behind these allegations. Their main requirement is to change the president and the government who are not fulfilling their desires," Gotabaya Rajapaksa told a forum organised by the Federation of National Organizations.

The United States and Britain have been at the fore of a call for an independent probe into the allegations, which Sri Lanka says first emanated from the Tamil Tigers' well-funded overseas propaganda arms and are false.

"No matter what we do there is no end to these allegations," he said.

The defence secretary has since 2009 acknowledged civilian deaths occurred, but rejects claims that tens of thousands were killed.

Casualty figures were routinely inflated by the Tigers. At the end of the war, the separatists kept some 300,000 people as human shields and had in the past used the threat of civilian harm to win ceasefires when they were at a military disadvantage.

There has been no definitive independent count of civilian deaths. An internal U.N. tally of around 7,000 deaths in the final months was leaked to the media during the war, but the world body later disavowed the figure as unconfirmed.

"We have proved that these figures they are talking about are wrong and cannot be justified. After the conflict, we have attended to most of the post-war challenges," he said.

Rajapaksa said the government had resettled nearly 300,000 displaced people, carried out de-mining, rehabilitation of former Tamil Tiger fighters and held democratic elections in the former war zone, evidenced by the fact the government lost to a the Tamil Tigers' former political proxy in some areas.

The government earlier this month released its own analysis of the war, which challenged the U.N.-sponsored report's findings and argued the military used only the necessary force required to defeat a well-armed enemy.

Western rights groups, which gave information to the U.N. panel, rejected the government report as a whitewash.

© Reuters

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, August 19, 2011

Who killed Razeek?


Mr. Pattani Razeek’s case is a rare instance where the body of a disappeared person has been found, based on information given by arrested suspects. The arrest of key suspects is itself a rare occurrence in the thousands of disappearance cases in Sri Lanka. It is even more unusual that people connected to a Minister in the ruling regime would be arrested for a serious crime.

Razeek’s case had generated mass outrage in his home district of Puttalam. Since the disappearance, protests, signature campaigns, posters and leaflet campaigns were conducted. The family and local Muslim leaders played a prominent role in the campaign. Their efforts were supported at the national level by Razeek’s friends and colleagues, who monitored the investigation and court proceedings, the exhumation, post mortem process and the funeral. 62 Sri Lankan civil society activists including Buddhist and Christian clergy, senior lawyers, academics, media personnel and human rights defenders signed a statement calling for justice in this case.

Razeek’s case also generated international outrage and concern. Many regional and international human rights organizations such as the Asian Centre for Progress of People, Asian Federation Against Enforced Disappearances, Asian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, FORUM-ASIA, Frontline Defenders, Minority Rights Group and the Observatory to Protect Human Rights Defenders took up Razeek’s case. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva also made a public call for justice on the case.

On the day of the funeral, shops were closed in Razeek’s hometown Sameeragama and the district capital Puttalam and other nearby towns in protest. Black and white flags were displayed throughout the town as well as banners condemning the abduction and killing and calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. Media reports estimated that between 5000 – 7000 people attended the funeral. The outrage expressed at the funeral was particularly directed at Minister Rishard Bathiudeen and former Trustee General of CTF, Mr. Mustafa Nihamath, with thousands chanting slogans calling for their arrest.

Key concerns:

The unwillingness of the Police to question or arrest the chief suspect, Nowshaadh, who was identified by the Police as early as May-June 2010, has raised concerns about political interference in the case. This was fuelled also by statements by the chief suspect himself, admitting his close connections to Minister Bathiudeen. After a major local, national and international campaign marking 500 days since the disappearance of Razeek, Nowshaadh and another suspect Musdeen were arrested in July 2011 and the body was exhumed based on information provided by Musdeen.

However, it appears that the Police have made no further move to apprehend or question several others implicated in the case including;

* Mr. Irshard, Parliamentary Secretary to Minister Rishard Bathiudeen, who stated publicly, in October 2010, that Mr. Razeek was held by the Defense Ministry;

*Persons travelling in the vehicle with suspect Musdeen, in which according to the suspect, Mr. Razeek was abducted

* Persons travelling with suspect Nowshaadh, who admitted to meeting Mr. Razeek in Polonnaruwa on the day he disappeared. According to Nowshaadh, he and several others were travelling in a vehicle belonging to the Resettlement Ministry, headed by Minister Bathiudeen at the time.

* Minister Bathiudeen and Mustafa Nihamath, former CTF Trustee General and currently employed at the World Food Program in Colombo, whose involvement in key aspects of the case merits further inquiry.

It remains to be seen who actually abducted and killed Razeek, and importantly, who pulled the strings and masterminded the actual crime and the cover up.

It is extremely disturbing to note the delays and reluctance by the police, to question or arrest persons who it is reasonably believed, could shed some light on the abduction and killing of Mr. Razeek. Rumors that one or even both the suspects might be released due to political pressure, has renewed doubts that an independent investigation will proceed towards prosecutions and convictions.

Different views have been expressed about whether tensions between the displaced Northern Muslims and host community in Puttalam were a factor in Razeek’s killing. Key Muslim leaders from the host community, who led the campaign for justice despite threats and intimidations, have claimed that tensions between the communities are a factor in the case. Razeek is from the host community and was the only senior and prominent leader in CTF from the host community, while the chief suspect and others implicated as being involved in the case are all from the Northern Muslim community or known supporters. Northern Muslim leaders have however asserted that this case has nothing to do with the tensions between the two communities. Despite the polarization, it is our view that the present situation provides a unique opportunity for both communities to work together by joining hands to fight for justice for Razeek’s case in a proactive manner, particularly by calling for arrest and questioning of all those implicated or believed to have information. During the funeral, Mowlavi Abdulla stressed the importance of unity between the two communities and called on the Northern Muslims to help the struggle for justice regarding Razeek’s case. A positive and proactive response by Northern Muslim leaders and the community towards this call would be a key factor that could help reduce tensions between the two communities.

It is also not clear whether the takeover of CTF by the Ministry of Defense in June 2011, following complaints by Minister Bathiudeen, is linked to Razeek’s case. The many questions raised during the inquiry about Razeek’s disappearance, the timing and the fact that the inquiry conducted by the Ministry of Defense was based on a complaint by Minister Bathiudeen has led to speculation that there is indeed a link between the two.

After Razeek’s disappearance and even after his funeral, attempts have been made to divert attention from key issues related to the disappearance, killing and investigations, by a stream of anonymous emails and documents, sent to local and international groups concerned about Razeek’s case, alleging that Razeek and CTF were corrupt and questioning whether Razeek was indeed a human rights defender.

It is in this context that we feel that it is crucial for authorities and all concerned groups and individuals to focus on addressing the crucial and fundamental issue of who abducted and killed Razeek and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice through a speedy an independent investigation and judicial process.

Background facts on the case:

Mr. Pattani Razeek, born in January 1955, was a well known human rights defender in Sri Lanka and Asia. At the time of his disappearance, Mr. Razeek was the Managing Trustee of the Community Trust Fund (CTF) ( and was an Executive Committee Member of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) ( Mr. Razeek had also served as a Grama Seweka (Village Government Official) in the Puttalam district.

Description of Disappearance:

Mr. Razeek was last seen near the Jumma Mosque in Kaduruwela, Polonnaruwa (a town in the North‐Central Province of Sri Lanka) at around 3.30 pm on 11th February 2010. Mr. Razeek was travelling with CTF field staff, when he met a group of people in a van parked behind the Jumma Mosque in Polonnaruwa. Mr. Razeek approached the group and exchanged greetings in Arabic, indicating that they were Muslim. Mr. Razeek subsequently got into the van, with the group, having told his colleagues that he would be travelling to the Eastern town of Valaichchenai and that he would return to Polonnaruwa the following day.

Calls to Mr. Razeek’s Family, Trustees and Friends

Shortly after Mr. Razeeks’ disappearance, his family and CTF trustees began to receive repeated calls from the abductors using Mr. Razeek’s mobile phone number. The abductors ordered CTF to continue paying Mr. Razeek’s phone bill if they wished to maintain contact with him. Between February and June 2010 the family and trustees received many calls demanding;

* that Rs.20 million be paid as pocket money to the abductors;

* CTF be closed down immediately; and

* the family provide details of CTF assets and that the trustees transfer any properties held in their name to the ‘Nujoom Trust’ a trust set up by Mr. Nihamath (the former Trustee General of CTF) in 2009.

In March 2010, Ms. Rifana, a former CTF employee and close associate of Mr. Razeek, received a call demanding that CTF be asked to pay Rs. 1 million as pocket money to the abductors. Rifana filed a complaint regarding the call with the Puttalam police. The abductors also diverted calls made to Mr. Razeek’s phone from 18th – 24th February 2010 to Rifana’s phone number.

CTF and the family agreed to pay the abductors provided they were allowed to speak to or see Mr. Razeek. On 3rd April 2010, the family was asked to collect a parcel by the abductors. The parcel which was collected on 4th April 2010 from the Gunasinghapura Mosque in Colombo, contained Mr. Razeek’s spectacles, keys, watch, driving license, Grama Seveka identity card, bike license and insurance. These items were sent as proof that Mr. Razeek was being held by the abductors. On 5th April 2010, Mr. Razeek’s phone number was disconnected due to non-payment of the bill by CTF. On 11th April 2010 the family was asked to collect a parcel from the Wattala Mosque, which contained 2 SIM cards. The family was asked to keep one SIM to communicate with the abductors. The second SIM was to be given to former Trustee of CTF, Mr. Nihamath, who refused to accept it stating that he did not wish to be involved with CTF or Razeek’s disappearance.

The calls temporarily ceased between June and August 2010. On around 15th August 2010, the family began to receive calls demanding a ransom of Rs.10 million for Mr. Razeek’s release. On 6th September 2010, the family agreed to pay the ransom but asked to see or speak to Mr. Razeek before the money was paid. From 6th September 2010, the calls to Mr. Razeek’s family, friends and CTF trustees abruptly ceased.

Police Inquiry and Court Proceedings

Mr. Razeek’s family lodged complaints with the Police in Mundalama (place of Mr. Razeek’s residence) on February 13, 2010 (no.CIB 02 33/175). CTF lodged complaints with the police in Polonnaruwa on February 14, 2010 (no. MOIB 113/313) and in Puttalam on February 15, 2010 (no.CIB 01 389/187). On February 16 2010, the police filed a case bearing no BR177/10/P in the Puttalam Magistrate Court.

Since the initial complaint, Mr. Razeek’s family has filed several further complaints and statements to the Mundalama, Polonnaruwa and Puttalam police, regarding Mr. Razeek’s disappearance and the ransom calls and threats made against the family.

A Police B report submitted to the Puttalam Magistrates Court around May-July 2010 has identified Mr. Shahabdeen Nowshaadh, a former CTF employee, as the chief suspect in Mr. Razeek’s disappearance. The police have evidence linking Nowshaadh with Mr. Razeek’s disappearance including calls made to Mr. Razeek’s family, on Mr. Razeeks mobile phone number, after his disappearance. The police traced these calls, through the phone EMEI number to a phone registered to Nowshaadh. In his anticipatory bail application, Nowshaadh admits to meeting Mr. Razeek on 11th February 2010 and to being in the same area (Polonnaruwa) that Mr. Razeek disappeared.

Nowshaadh filed an anticipatory bail application to the Puttalam Magistrates Court on 15th June 2010. The court rejected his application on 23rd June 2010. Nowshaadh filed a revision petition in the Puttalam High Court on 20th October 2010, challenging the decision of the Magistrate denying him anticipatory bail. This case bearing no.HCR 08/10 was dragged before the High Court for 9 months until 28th July 2011, by which time Nowshaadh had been arrested and was in the custody of the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD).

Despite having identified the chief suspect as early as May/June 2010 the police made no real attempt to apprehend or question Nowshaadh for over a year. On 11th December 2010, the case was transferred from the Puttalam police to the CCD, following protests by Mr. Razeek’s family and community leaders in Puttalam. However there was no move to arrest Nowshaadh despite information provided by the family and community leaders to the police as to his whereabouts. During this time, Nowshaadh was reported to have moved around freely and has been seen at public events in the presence of Minister Bathiudeen. Mr. Razeek’s family and community leaders believe that the failure to arrest Nowshaadh was due to his close association with Minister Rishard Bathiudeen. In his anticipatory bail application to the Magistrate Court, Nowshaadh claimed to have close links with Minister Bathiudeen. Nowshaadh stated, in his affidavit to Court, that his arrest would cause irreparable harm to the Ministers’ reputation and work. At the High Court, Nowshaadh was represented by Mr. Saheed, General Secretary to the All Ceylon Muslim Congress (ACMC) of which Minister Bathiudeen is the President.

On 7th June 2011, Mr. Razeek’s son, Riskhan, received a letter from the Presidential Secretariat informing him that the investigation into Mr. Razeek’s disappearance has been handed over to the Inspector General of Police. On 14th June 2011 Mr. Riskhan and his relative, Mr. Umar Jaufer, were summoned to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Colombo for inquiry. They were informed that the CID would conduct a fresh investigation into the case and that no person would be arrested or any action taken, until the investigation was complete. The family was not given a timeline for the inquiry, which they were told could take up to a year.

Finally on 8th July 2011, Nowshaadh was arrested by the CCD in Killinochchi as a suspect in Mr. Razeek’s disappearance. Suspect Musdeen was arrested by the CCD shortly after. The remains of a body believed to be that of Mr. Razeek was exhumed in Kavathamunai, Oddamavadi on 28th July 2011, based on information given by Musdeen.

NHRC Inquiry

On 15th February 2010, Mr. Razeek’s family submitted a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) regarding Mr. Razeek’s disappearance. The complaint was recorded under case no HRC/619/10. Mr. Razeek’s son made a statement to the NHRC in Colombo on 17th March 2010. The family received no further communication from the NHRC until over a year later, on 4th July 2011, when Riskhan was summoned to an inquiry at the NHRC.

On 18th July 2011, responding to a specific request, the Chairman, Commissioners and senior staff of the NHRC met with the family, Mosque Committee, former CTF Trustees and concerned lawyers, civil society leaders in Colombo. The Commissioners assured that the NHRC would conduct its inquiry and ensure that the family would be kept informed of all developments in the police case, particularly when suspects are produced in courts. However, this has not always happened so far and the family has to depend on unofficial sources for information on the latest developments including the dates on which suspects are produced in courts.

Campaign by family, Mosque Committee and civil society groups

We believe that progress in Mr. Razeek’s case is mainly due to the sustained campaign carried out by the family, local community leaders and local, national and international civil society groups and activists calling for justice in this case.

Soon after Mr. Razeek’s disappearance, the family and local and national civil society groups were advised by Mr. Nihamath against carrying out any public campaigns and international appeals on the case. Several misleading e-mails were also sent to donors and other national and international organizations connected to CTF and Mr. Razeek. As a result, civil society groups at the national and international level did not campaign actively on Mr. Razeek’s case for over 8 months following his disappearance. It was only in the latter part of 2010, that a renewed campaign to search for Razeek was begun, when the family approached the Puttalam Grand Mosque and the Puttalam District organization of Muslim Theologians for help, and later several national and international human rights organizations.

The Mosque Committee organized discussions with the Divisional Secretary of Puttalam, lawyers, religious leaders, civil society groups, CTF trustees, local politicians, the Puttalam police and Mr. Nihamath. The Mosque Committee also held discussions with Nowshaadh’s family and the Northern Muslim community on the request of Minister Bathiudeen.

On 26th October 2010, the Mosque Committee submitted appeals to the Attorney General, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Secretary to the Ministry of Defense and the Presidential Secretariat regarding the lack of any investigation into Mr. Razeek’s case. The letter from the Presidential Secretariat on 7th June 2011 is believed to be in response to the complaint submitted in October last year.

25th June 2011 marked 500 days since Mr. Razeeks’ disappearance. In the 17 months following the disappearance, protests and poster campaigns have been held by community leaders and civil society organizations in Mr. Razeek’s hometown and in the Puttalam District. The campaign for justice in this case has been sustained despite attempts to threaten, intimidate and silence Mr. Razeek’s family and individual and groups organizing or participating in such events. On 24th June 2011 the Mosque Committee and family organized a signature campaign in Puttalam and distributed handbills appealing to Minister Bathiudeen and the police to surrender Nowshaadh and find Mr. Razeek.

Internationally, appeals relating to Mr. Razeek’s disappearance and killing and the lack of any credible investigation by the local police have been made by several international human rights groups, including at the sessions of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2011. Formal complaints have also been lodged with the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also called for justice in the case immediately after the exhumation of the body.

Obstructions and threats against the family, CTF Trustees and the Mosque Committee

Mr. Razeek’s family and those campaigning for justice in his case have been threatened and intimidated on several occasions. Mr. Razeek’s son, Riskhan and his son-in-law Azam received threatening calls in May 2010. On 15th May 2010 the abductors threatened Azam’s mother that he would be killed if he did not agree to the abductors demands. A police complaint regarding the threats was filed with the Mundalama police on 16th May 2010. Also in May 2010, CTF Trustee Mr. Nafeel was threatened that he would be shot dead in Puttalam if he continued to campaign in Mr. Razeek’s case.

In October 2010, Mowlavi Abdullah, a member of the Mosque Committee, was threatened by Mr. Saheed, Nowshaadh’s lawyer in the anticipatory bail case and Secretary of the ACMC, that he would report Mowlavi Abdullah to the Defence Secretary Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapakse and that he will be shot dead in Puttalam if he continued to intervene in Mr. Razeek’s case.

Rifana, civil society member and former CTF employee received threats in February 2010 that she would suffer the same fate as Razeek if she did not provide information on CTF assets and her relationship with Razeek. In July 2010 the abductors threatened to harm Rifana’s son if she did not comply with their demands.

Members of the Mosque Committee received fresh threats in July 2011 during the campaign to mark 500 days since Mr. Razeek’s disappearance. From 24th June 2011, Mr. Razeek’s family and the Mosque Committee conducted a signature campaign and distributed handbills in Puttalam and nearby towns and villages. Members of the Mosque Committee have received threats and been accused of misusing Mosque property for the campaign.

On 3rd July 2011, at around 10.56 pm, Mr. Ajmail, secretary to the Mosque Committee, received a missed call on his mobile phone from no. +94729122269. At around 11 pm he received a message from the same number threatening to destroy him if he continued to campaign for Razeek’s case. Mr. Ajmail filed a complaint with the Puttalam police on 4th July 2011. He received several more missed calls from the same number on 5th July 2011. A few days prior to Mr. Ajmail had been summoned to the office of Minister Bathiudeen, after an event organized by the Northern Muslims was cancelled due to protests by the Mosque Committee.

Shortly after Mr. Razeek disappeared, leaflets were distributed in Puttalam, accusing Mr. Razeek of being a CIA agent and a womanizer who was having an affair with a female trustee of CTF. One leaflet, appealed to Minister Bathiutheen to intervene and punish CTF trustees for their involvement with Mr. Razeek.

More recently, while Muslim leaders were trying to organize the closure of shops on the day of Razeek’s funeral, a group calling itself the ‘Puttalam Traders Association’ distributed a leaflet dated 1st August 2011, stating that shops can remain open. However, in the end, all shop owners abided by the request of the Grand Mosque Committee and shops were closed in Sameeragama, Puttlam and nearby towns on the funeral day.

In the days leading up to the funeral, there were several rumours alleging that the Mosque Committee was plotting a campaign against the Northern Muslim community in Puttalam, resulting in a police inquiry against the Mosque Committee. There were rumours that the Puttalam Grand Mosque had issued a notice asking displaced Northern Muslims to vacate Puttalam, and based on which, some shops owned by this community, located along the Puttalam – Colombo highway in the village of Erukilampitty, were vacated. “Navamani” a Tamil newspaper, on 31st July (Sunday) carried the headline “Tension in Puttalam and Valachchenai”. The Grand Mosque assured all concerned that the rumours were baseless, and as it turned out, the funeral ceremony was conducted peacefully with no cause for unrest between the host community and the Northern Muslims. During the funeral, Moulawi Abdulla called on the Northern Muslims community to join hands to fight for justice for Razeek.

State Response

For over a year, State authorities including the police and NHRC failed to respond effectively to Mr. Razeek’s disappearance. The police were unwilling to arrest the chief suspect Nowshaadh despite clear evidence linking him to the disappearance. Statements and responses by Government ministers, their aids and the State media during this period appear to have been aimed at undermining or preventing an effective investigation into the case.

On 13th October 2010, at a meeting at Puttalam Zahira Primary School, the Parliamentary Secretary to Minister Bathiudeen, Mr. S. R. M. Irshad, made a public statement, accusing Mr. Razeek of being an intermediary through whom funds were transferred from the CIA to the LTTE during the war. He also announced that Mr. Razeek was being held in the custody of the Ministry of Defense. This claim was not investigated to the best of our knowledge.

The media supportive to the state, have also published misinformation regarding the case including an article in the Lankadeepa, a Sinhala newspaper, on 2nd July 2010, which quoted police sources as saying that Mr. Razeek had been kidnapped by an extremist Muslim group.

In November 2010, Minister Bathiudeen speaking at a public meeting organized by the Mosque Committee, promised to write to the IGP asking for action to be taken in Mr. Razeek’s case. The Minister also said that if the IGP failed to act within 2 weeks, he would take the matter up with the Defence Secretary. Minister Bathiudeen submitted a letter to the IGP on November 12, calling on the police to take necessary action in the Razeek case. However no action was taken based on this letter and the Minister took no further steps until 27th June 2011 when he again offered to arrange a meeting with the Defence Secretary regarding the case.

On 25th June 2011 an event organized by the Northern Muslim community, which Minister Bathiudeen was due to attend, was cancelled due to protests by the Mosque Committee. Following this incident, on 27th June, Mr. Ajmail, Secretary to the Mosque Committee was summoned by Minister Bathiudeen who accused the Mosque Committee of tarnishing his reputation by linking him to the Razeek case. At this meeting the Minister challenged the Mosque Committee to take up the case with the Defence Ministry and offered to set up a meeting with the Defence Secretary if the Mosque Committee wanted it. Several days after this meeting Mr. Ajmail received threatening calls and messages on his phone. The Mosque Committee also received letters from Mr. Irshaad, Mr. Bathiudeens’ parliamentary secretary and from the organizer of the event that was cancelled on 25th June 2011. Irshaad in his letter dated 1st July 2011, accused the Mosque Committee of defaming Minister Bathiudeen and of misusing Mosque resources for Mr. Razeek’s campaign.

Despite the delays, there have been significant developments in the Razeek case since the June 2011 campaign marking 500 days since Razeek’s disaperance. The NHRC inquiry appears to have been re-commenced and two suspects, Nowshaadh and Musdeen were arrested by the CCD on 8th and 13th July respectively. Mr. Razeek’s body was exhumed on 28th July based on information given by Musdeen and the post mortem was held on 2nd August.

Takeover of CTF management by the Ministry of Defense:

In a parallel development, the Community Trust Fund was taken over by the Defence Ministry in June 2011. CTF has been under investigation by the NGO Secretariat since shortly after Mr. Razeek’s disappearance. The inquiry is based on a petition submitted by Minister Bathiudeen to the NGO Secretariat alleging financial mismanagement and malpractice against CTF and its trustees.

On 9th June 2011, CTF received a fax copy of a letter by the Defence Ministry appointing the Chairman of an Interim Board of Management which will take over the management of CTF for a period of two years or until the completion of an inquiry by an Investigation Board appointed by the Defence Ministry. CTF received no other communication regarding the takeover and there is no clear indication of the basis or grounds for such action against the organization. Although CTF asked time till 20th June to comply with the request to handover documents, records etc., the Interim Board went to CTF on 16th June 2011. The day to day management of CTF, including the disbursement of funds for projects and staff, travel of staff out of the office etc. is strictly controlled by the Interim Board which includes a senior military officer and two government officials.

The NGO Secretariat initiated an inquiry into CTF in December 2010. The Inquiry Board comprising of Mr. D.W. Abeywickrema, M. Meththapala and Mr. T.G. Ariyadasa conducted two hearings with CTF trustees and directors on 6th and 14th December 2010. CTF trustees, Mr. Firdhaous and Ms. Jensila Majeed, CTF Executive Director, Mr. Fawas and CTF Program Director, Mr. Suhuri were present at the inquiry. Minutes of the Inquiry Board state that the inquiry was based on a petition submitted by Minister Rishad Bathiudeen and Mr. Hunais Farook M.P. to the NGO Secretariat on 12th November 2010 alleging several points of mismanagement against CTF. Several of the issues raised at the inquiry related to Mr. Razeek’s disappearance and the actions of CTF directors and trustees in the aftermath.

On 27th December 2010 CTF submitted an official letter to the NGO Secretariat, objecting to the manner in which the inquiry was conducted and asked that Minister Bathiudeen and former Trustee General Mr. M. Nihmath be present at the inquiry. CTF did not receive a response to this letter.

On 22nd February 2011 a meeting was held at the Temple Trees with Mr. Douglas Nanayakkara, Director of the NGO Secretariat and CTF Trustees Mr. Riskhan, Mr. Firdhaous and Mr. Rafeek and the CTF Executive Director, Program Director and Finance Director. The meeting was organized by Mr. Nimal Weerasekara, private secretary to Mr. Namal Rajapakse M.P. (son of president Rajapakse). At the meeting it was agreed that CTF would continue to function as usual within the ambit of the program plan given to the NGO Secretariat. With regard to the CTF inquiry, Mr. Nanayakkara told the trustees and directors present that the matter had been taken up at the highest level and that CTF would be informed of the final decision. CTF has had no further contact with the NGO Secretariat until the letter from the Defence Ministry on 9th June 2011.

It appears that the CTF inquiry and subsequent takeover are not independent of Mr. Razeek’s case particularly since the petition which led to the initial inquiry was sent by Minister Bathiudeen shortly after Mr. Razeek disappeared.

© Groundviews

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, August 19, 2011

Post-war Sri Lanka buys 14 military helicopters from Russia

By Bryson Hull-Reuters - Reuters | Aviation Week

Sri Lanka, two years after winning a three-decade war against separatists, has bought 14 Russian military Mi-17 helicopters in the latest deal between the two allies, Russia’s state-run arms exporter said Aug. 17.

The announcement comes as Sri Lanka this week discussed exploration and purchasing of natural gas with Russia’s natural gas monopoly Gazprom , in what may herald the return of Russian oil explorers to the island’s waters.

Anatoly Isaykin, the general director at Russia’s state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport, told Reuters that there had been “delivery of the helicopters to Sri Lanka. It is a good transport vehicle and it fulfills its function.”

Spokesmen for Sri Lanka’s defense ministry and air force both said they were unaware of the deal for the Mi-171s. But air force spokesman Group Captain Andrew Wijesuriya said the military was aiming to expand its foray into civilian tourism.

“We are looking to contribute for civil air transportation industry through the expansion of our Helitours operations,” Wijesuriya said, referring to the military’s post-war repurposing of aircraft for tourism.

Sri Lanka, which has a $50 billion economy, forecast a 6.3 percent increase in defense spending to 215.2 billion rupees ($1.9 billion) in 2011 and its high military spending since the end of the war has drawn opposition criticism.

Russia’s Ulan-Ude Aviation Works built the choppers and makes four variants, including military and V.I.P. transport versions, Russia’s state-run news agency ITAR-TASS said.

“A corresponding contract for supplying the helicopters will be carried out on account of the Russian state credit given to Sri Lanka by Russia in 2010 for purchasing Russian armaments,” ITAR-TASS said, without mentioning the total deal cost.

Since the end of the war with Tamil Tigers separatists in May 2009, Russia, China and India have been increasing cooperation with Sri Lanka’s government and are among its biggest benefactors in terms of global political capital.

Russia and China, both with U.N. Security Council vetoes, take a general stand that states have a right to police internal conflicts without outside interference. They have been Sri Lanka’s bulwarks against Western pressure to probe allegations of war crimes from the final months of the conflict.

© Reuters

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, August 19, 2011

Chinese box game for Sri Lanka

Port Strategy

The Chinese presence in Sri Lanka has grown further with a US$500m deal to create the largest box facility yet. But it might not wear the crown for long.

China Merchants Holdings International (CMHI), one of China's biggest state-owned conglomerates, is to construct the 2.4m teu Colombo South Container Terminal (CST) in two phases using the China Harbour Engineering Company and the Sinohydro Corporation, the same contractors used for Sri Lanka’s other major box port at Hambantota. Operations are due to start in early 2013, and the whole project is due for completion by the end of 2016.

CST will be constructed with 18 metres of deepwater, and is to possess a total quay length of 1.2km with a landside storage facility of 58 hectares. CMHI has a 55% stake in the project while Sri Lankan conglomerate Aitken Spence’s share is 30%: the Sri Lankan port authority is to hold the remaining 15% stake.

CMHI said that the new facility is looking toward business in both South Asia and East Africa, “which will anchor the port of Colombo's position as a transhipment hub".

However, the Hambantota facility is also expanding: the Sri Lankan Ports authority has inked a US$810-million contract with China Communications Construction Company to build its second phase, which will mean it again outstrips Columbo.

Despite this, there still may be plenty of room in the economy: according to port authorities the volume in Sri Lanka surged by 22% in 2010 to 4.16 million teu.

© Port Strategy

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, August 19, 2011

India leery of neighbor's new squeeze

By Sudha Ramachandran | Asia Times

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa would have returned from China a relieved man. The Chinese promised Sri Lanka more investment in infrastructure projects and to enhance two-way trade and strengthen cultural and personnel exchanges.

More important for Rajapaksa was Beijing's assurance of "fullest support in all necessary situations to Sri Lanka in international forums".

It means that the Sri Lankan president can count on the Chinese to come to his rescue should allegations of war crimes against his regime come up for consideration in international bodies like the United Nations Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). He can expect Beijing to use its clout to dilute resolutions unfavorable to Colombo or veto any possible UN security council resolution referring Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court.

The Sri Lankan civil war came to an end in May 2009, when the Sri Lankan armed forces inflicted a comprehensive defeat on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Although both sides committed atrocities throughout the 25-year-long war, the period from January 2009 till the war's culmination was particularly brutal.
While allegations of war crimes by the Rajapaksa regime were leveled by the Tamil Diaspora and international human rights groups within weeks of the war's end, it was the findings of a report by a panel appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that has provided renewed momentum to the international campaign for trial of key persons in Sri Lanka's political and defense decision-making structures on war crimes charges.

The UN panel said it found "credible allegations, which if proven indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law was committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity".

Since the publication of the UN panel report, several other reports and documentaries, such as "Sri Lanka's Killing Fields" by Channel Four of the UK, have revealed in graphic detail the execution of LTTE's political leaders and their families when they surrendered to the Sri Lankan armed forces and the horrific rape, torture and killing of Tamil civilians. These have evoked widespread outrage and clamor for a credible international probe into the final stages of the war, for a trial of the Rajapaksa regime over war crimes and for the imposition of economic sanctions on Sri Lanka.

Responding to calls for an inquiry into allegations of war crimes, the Sri Lankan government set up a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in May 2010. The UN panel rejected its credibility saying it "fails to satisfy key international standards of independence and impartiality."

The United States has stepped up pressure on Sri Lanka in recent months. If Colombo failed to put in place a credible internal inquiry into allegations of war crimes expeditiously, "Then we reserve the right to discuss international mechanisms," US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland warned last week.

It does seem that Sri Lanka will figure on the agenda of the upcoming session of the UNHRC.

Washington is reported to have issued Colombo a demarche to place the findings of the LLRC before the UNHRC. Sri Lankan newspaper the Sunday Times, reported concern in the Sri Lankan government that such a step would open the door to discussions on the UN panel report's allegation of war crimes, the Channel Four documentary and so on.

However, Sri Lankan diplomats are said to have warned their Ministry of External Affairs that there is the possibility of "a more damaging" resolution being tabled by a US ally if Colombo fails to place the LLRC findings before the UNHRC. According to the Sunday Times, "There are fears there could be calls for an ‘international investigation', sanctions and travel bans on those identified in the UN Panel report."

It is in the context of these developments that Rajapaksa's recent visit to China, his second in a year, should be seen.

In May 2009, deft Sri Lankan diplomacy resulted in the UNHRC dropping a Swiss-EU draft resolution calling for an investigation into possible war crimes and adopting instead another resolution that praised Sri Lanka for its victory over the LTTE. China, Russia, India and Pakistan were among the countries that supported Colombo then.

It is not clear this time around just how much support Sri Lanka will be able to rally as evidence of war crimes has mounted since the 2009 vote and is far too damning.

It is uncertain what position India will take. Delhi has run out of patience trying to get the Sri Lankan President to implement the 13th amendment to the Constitution in the North and East. Besides, horrific details laid bare in the Channel Four documentary of the violence perpetrated in the final stages of the war has stirred unrest in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and calls for a tough Indian response, including economic sanctions on Sri Lanka.

That India's stance could be hardening vis-a-vis Colombo was evident early this month when its External Affairs Minister S M Krishna told parliament that he had stressed to his Sri Lankan counterpart the need for "investigations into allegations of human rights violations".

Yet there is concern in India over how a tough new approach will play out in terms of regional strategic equations.

Sri Lanka's rapidly expanding cooperation with China is of mounting concern to India. Beijing is Sri Lanka's largest aid donor and investor. It is involved in infrastructure building on the island in a big way. Among the projects it is executing in Sri Lanka is a giant port project in Hambantota. It is also constructing an airport in Hambantota, a coal-fired power plant at Norochcholai, an oil bunkering facility and a performing arts center in Colombo.

There are parallels between India's troubles in Myanmar today and those that are emerging in Sri Lanka.

It was China's generous extension of military and economic assistance and the protection it gave Myanmar's junta as a veto-wielding member of the UN security council that drew Myanmar firmly into Beijing's orbit. That evoked acute anxiety in India as China's heightened influence and presence in neighboring Myanmar made India's eastern flank vulnerable.

Some Indian analysts have warned that Myanmar's dependence on China could result in it conceding to Chinese demand for naval bases in Myanmar, providing Beijing with presence in the Indian Ocean.

With its location on India's doorstep, Sri Lanka holds similar attractions for India as Myanmar does for China.

Should Sri Lanka's international isolation increase, its dependence on China will grow especially since Beijing, unlike Delhi, holds a security council veto. Will the Chinese demand a naval presence in Hambantota as quid pro quo for bailing out Rajapaksa in international forums?

Much of the international community turned a blind eye when Sri Lanka brazenly violated its obligations under the Geneva conventions and other international laws post-2006. Some countries like India issued statements calling for restraint but did not do enough to stop Colombo's aerial bombing of Tamil civilians. Many, including the US and the European Union, had banned the LTTE and quietly watched its elimination.

India is in a dilemma over an international probe of allegations of Sri Lanka's war crimes. Like China, it is opposed to international interference in domestic issues and sees this as a violation of sovereignty. It is deeply aware of the West's selective use of the war crimes weapon.

This is a weapon that the West uses only against unfriendly regimes. India is conscious too that it is because Sri Lanka's growing proximity to China is problematic for the West that it is now expressing anguish over war crimes.

If Delhi joins the West in putting pressure on Rajapaksa in order to rein him in from his excessive pro-Chinese tilt, it could just end up pushing a defiant and isolated Colombo into a closer embrace of China.

Between 1988 and 1993, India joined the West in its vociferous criticism of the Myanmar junta. In December 1992, it even sponsored a UN resolution calling on the military to respect the will of the people expressed in the 1990 election and to take all necessary steps towards the restoration of democracy. Two decades on, Delhi is still unable to break China's stranglehold over its neighbor.

Indian policymakers see that as a mistake and will be keen to avoid repeating it in Sri Lanka. They would not want another neighbor to slip into the Chinese sphere of influence.

Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.

© Asia Times

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sri Lanka, Gazprom discuss oil exploration


Sri Lanka and the international arm of Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom have discussed oil exploration off the island's north-western coast and purchase of liquid natural gas, the country's External Affairs Ministry said on Tuesday.

The discussion were held as Cairn India , majority held by Cairn Energy , is preparing to drill for oil in one of the eight blocks in Sri Lanka's north-western Mannar basin this month.

Sri Lanka's External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris held talks in Colombo with a Gazprom International delegation, led by managing director Valery Gulev.

"Peiris discussed ... issues connected with Russian cooperation in such fields as oil exploration in the Mannar basin and the Cauvery basin, the procurement of liquid natural gas and technical expertise in respect of refineries," the ministry said in a statement.

"The visiting delegation said that Gazprom would be happy to bear the expenses of training a team of Sri Lankans in one of Russia's leading institutions in the field of oil and gas technology."

The ministry did not elaborate on any other details of oil exploration.

Sri Lanka's government has said seismic data shows the potential for more than 1 billion barrels of oil under the sea in a 30,000 sq km area of the Mannar Basin, located further south along the western coast.

American and Russian companies from the mid-1960s to 1984 undertook exploration in the north-western Cauvery basin, but no commercial oil was produced and Sri Lanka's civil war ended the work.

With the end of the 25-year war in May 2009, revival plans for the $50 billion economy have focused on oil and gas exploration.

© Reuters

Read More

Bookmark and Share

Friday, August 19, 2011

Not so hidden dragon

By Ashok Kumar Mehta | Hindustan Times

The forthcoming debate in Parliament will focus on the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils but the more important issue about the diminution of India's strategic leverage to China in Sri Lanka is likely to be lost. Hambantota rings the bell. Famous for salt flats and arid and hot weather, the sleepy environs of Hambantota district are destined to become the primary port of call in Sri Lanka. Reason? As the political constituency of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, it is central to his Vision Document 2025. It has the world's first inbuilt harbour carved out of land, strategically located astride the busiest East-West shipping lane and poised to challenge the primacy of Singapore's port.

The port, of course, was made in China at friendship prices. Last month, just one ship was berthed in the harbour.

So how did India let China spread its wings over much of the country including Hambantota? Much of it owes to Rajapaksa's strategic decision to reduce dependence on India, a process that has accelerated after the defeat of the LTTE, ironically an outcome in which New Delhi played a key role. Rajapaksa says he wants to reposition Sri Lanka as the ‘pearl of the old Silk Route', doubtless an unintended congruence of China's string of pearls concept that envisions a necklace of bases across the Indian Ocean to challenge Indian and American trade and diplomacy. In August 2009, Rajapaksa clarified: "India need not fear China's role in Sri Lanka. The Chinese will come and go. But Indians will stay.”

But the Hambantota episode has an Indian twist. The first offer was made to India when Nirupama Rao was the high commissioner there. Rejection was dictated by cost and utility of the port facility. At Port Blair recently, national security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon said that 70% of India's shipping is handled by Colombo port which is also being modernised with Chinese assistance.

Speaking about the Indian Ocean Region in 2009, Menon was equivocal about Hambantota becoming a part of China's ‘string of pearls'. Publicly, the Indian foreign office expresses no concern about China's enlarging footprint in Sri Lanka though according to WikiLeaks, in November 2007, Mohan Kumar, the joint secretary dealing with Sri Lanka, had told US embassy official Ted Osius in New Delhi that "we are concerned over China's access to Hambantota.”

In May 2011 in Beijing, Sri Lankan foreign minister GL Peiris said Hambantota will never be a military port. Yet, Gwadar and Chittagong ports, both constructed and modernised by China, are commercially and militarily ‘off the beat' and less attractive than Hambantota which requires just a five-mile deviation from the shipping lane.

At the Shangrila Dialogue in Singapore in May 2011, Chinese defence minister Gen Liang said he was unaware of any plan to use Gwadar as a naval base and he had not heard about any base in Sri Lanka.

Many Sri Lankans are happy at the turn of events. "We are now in a position to juggle India and China but we are closer to China which has no strings attached," noted a diplomat. Another diplomat said China will have storage and fuelling facilities at Hambantota. "So can India," he quipped.

China has become Sri Lanka's biggest benefactor, with its activities increasing dramatically since Rajapaksa took command in 2005. Beijing's substantive political and military assistance during and after the war in tandem with Islamabad has undermined India's supply of defensive weapons. China's assistance now stands at $3.2 billion, overtaking Japan as Sri Lanka's biggest donor. It is Sri Lanka's biggest exporter after India with China-Sri Lanka trade doubling in the last five years to $1.13 billion. China was the biggest foreign investor in 2009. The yuan, not the rupee, has joined the authorised currency list for international transactions.

India's visibility is confined to the northeastern part of Sri Lanka. Still, India holds the ace: the clause in the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 that "Trincomalee or any other port in Sri Lanka would not be made available for military use to any country in a manner which is prejudicial to India's interest." India, though, should now go by Colombo's deeds, not words.

Ashok Mehta is former commander of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka. The views expressed by the author are personal.

© Hindustan Times

Read More

Bookmark and Share
© 2009 - 2014 Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  © Blogger template 'Fly Away' by 2008

Back to TOP