Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An underworld leader says abducted journalist's body was dumped in the sea


An underworld leader named 'Dematagoda Chaminda' has told the CID recently that a group of persons led by him had dumped the body of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda in the sea off the Negombo lagoon.

Demtagoda Chaminda was arrested on suspicion over the murder of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and four others and is currently in the custody of the CID.

He is a trusted lackey of parliamentarian Kudu Duminda.

Chaminda had said that he was not aware of whose body he had dumped in the sea until that evening when the boss (Duminda) had said it was a web journalist during a party at Jaic Hilton and that he had later found out that the dead person was Prageeth Eknaligoda.

Dematagoda Chaminda had observed that several bodies had been dumped in the sea on the boss’ orders. The bodies had been wrapped in gunny bags and tied to heavy granite stones.

He had added that on every occasion when the bodies were dumped, the boss had told him that they were orders by the big boss (Defence Secretary).

“Sir, these people are going to kill me anyway. It is true that we have killed and transported drugs, but none of these were done for personal reasons. They were done because boss asked us to do so. Please sir, go out and reveal these details. These details will be buried forever if they kill me in a few days,” Dematagoda Chaminda has told the police officers.

While Dematagoda Chaminda made such a statement, the former Attorney General Mohanm Peiris speaking during the Convention Against Torture in Geneva said that information has been received that Prageeth Eknaligoda was living in a foreign country after receiving political asylum.


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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sri Lanka's savage smokescreen

By Bob Dietz | Committee to Protect Journalists

Sri Lanka's former attorney general Mohan Peiris, who is now the senior legal adviser to the cabinet and who many Sri Lankans say is aiming to become the next Supreme Court Chief Justice, has made conflicting statements about missing journalist Prageeth Eknelygoda. The discrepancies do more than point up the government's indifference to Eknelygoda's fate and the mental anguish of his wife and two sons. Peiris's statements highlight the disregard with which the government views international opinion.

Eknelygoda has been missing since being abducted on the evening of January 24, 2010 after he left his home to work at the Lanka eNews offices, shortly before the presidential elections that kept President Mahinda Rajapaksa in power for another five-year term. (More recently, Lanka eNews has been shut down after an arson attack on its office in January of this year and the arrest and harassment of its Sri Lanka-based staff. The site continues to be run out of England by its publisher, Sandaruwan Senadheera. Access in Sri Lanka to five other websites has been shut down by government order in recent weeks.)

In Geneva on November 8, in a prepared response to questions about Sri Lanka's human rights record from the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights' Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Peiris said, "An investigation into the abduction of Prageeth Eknelygoda is being conducted by the Homagama police and by the CCD [Colombo Crimes Division]. Investigation is being continued. So far no one has been arrested in this connection." (See page 46 of that official document.)

But, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission, in a question and answer session after the presentation, Peiris said that, according to reliable information, Eknelygoda has taken refuge in a foreign country and that the campaign against his disappearance is a hoax. Peiris failed to provide detailed information about where Eknelygoda had fled, the AHRC correspondent said.

Well aware of Eknelygoda's case, some diplomatic sources in Colombo say Peiris's statements have caused concern, and a few missions have asked the police and the president's office for clarification. Peiris's statement that Eknelygoda "is living in a foreign country as a refugee -- going against the official written response and without stating where or based on what sources -- is just another smoke screen, I'm afraid," one diplomatic source told CPJ.

When CPJ asked Sandhya Eknelygoda about Peiris's claims, she was incredulous. In remarks translated from Sinhala by a family friend, she told CPJ:

"If my husband is hiding as was mentioned by Peiris he would never have stayed without contacting me. He loves our children and would not put us through such pain. Mohan Peiris says he knows where my husband is. I want him brought to me if his claims are true."

For almost two years, the family has been asking the Sri Lankan government for any information about Prageeth, who was a columnist and cartoonist. Not one government official has given them any information, and despite Peiris's claims that the case remains under investigation, other than to set new court dates there has been no movement in the case.

In March, CPJ and four other groups sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking to have the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNESCO, which oversees press freedom, to look into the case of Eknelygoda's, but there has been no apparent movement from within the UN. Sandhya Eknelygoda's personal appeal to the president's wife, Shiranthi Rajapaksa, has also gone unanswered.


Another note, not unrelated: The report on human rights abuses in the aftermath of the decades-long conflict with Tamil secessionists prepared by the government's Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) will be presented to Rajapaksa around November 22. The report will then be tabled in Parliament, but will probably not be taken up for discussion or acted on until next year. The national budget will be presented on November 21 and the ensuing debate will carry on through December, after which Parliament will recess. The timing of the tabling means its official release will be delayed for two months, though details are sure to start leaking as soon as Parliament gets the report.

The government organized the LLRC in the hopes of heading off an international investigation into the brutal conflict, despite calls from the U.N. for an international role in dealing with the aftermath. (It is worth noting that international media coverage of the eight-member commission was prohibited.) The government's international diplomatic offensive has already begun.

Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Palitha Kohona, told the U.N. last week of the LLRC's interim recommendations. Many of them have already been implemented by the government, Kohona said.

A March 2011 report by a panel of experts appointed by Secretary-General Ban called the LLRC "deeply flawed." It recommended that the government should end practices that limit freedom of movement and freedom of expression "or otherwise contribute to a climate of fear."

Amid a steady crackdown on any media critical of the government, that climate of fear not only continues for Sandhya Eknelygoda and the couple's two teenage sons, but has been exacerbated by Mohan Peiris' remarks at the hearings in Geneva, and his facile response to the questions that followed.


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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fear and Loathing in Post-War Sri Lanka

By Gibson Bateman | Foreign Policy in Focus

Sri Lanka’s bloody twenty-six year civil war is over. The Sri Lankan government, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, can rightfully claim a resounding military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (L.T.T.E.). It would be misleading, however, to call Sri Lanka a post-conflict society. There is no question that the underlying tensions of the conflict remain.

Sri Lanka is a diverse country with historical ties to five ethnic groups (the two largest being Sinhalese and Tamils) and four religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. Sinhala and Tamil-speaking people have occupied the island for more than two thousand years. Historically, political disagreements have been based on religion. The political marginalization of the Tamil people (Sri Lanka’s largest ethnic minority) lies at the heart of many conflicts.

While Sri Lanka gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, tension over ethnicity and the creation of an official language in the country began to fester decades before liberation. In the decades following independence, violence erupted sporadically and the perception (amongst Tamils) that the government favored the Sinhalese (the country’s ethnic majority).

The recent civil war between the country’s Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists was fought largely over questions of federalism, the devolution of power from the country’s central government to local governments, and the L.T.T.E.’s desire for a separate state. Most of the fighting occurred in the country’s North and East, although the L.T.T.E. also launched various attacks in Colombo, the nation’s capital in the south.

Post-War Politics

Today, the Sri Lankan government refuses to mention human rights. As such, the regime sees everything through the prism of “national security.” Talking about minority rights, human rights, documenting human rights violations (both past and present), and educating Sri Lankans about the basic principles of human rights are not priorities for President Rajapaksa and the United People’s Freedom Alliance (U.P.F.A.). (Rajapaksa was first elected in 2005 and then won reelection in 2010).

Even though the war ended, the country’s North and East remain heavily militarized. Because of the war, many families in the North are now female-headed households, making some families especially vulnerable; many women now have to worry about their more traditional domestic duties while also figuring out how to earn enough money to provide for their families. Furthermore, with development projects in the North currently focused on infrastructure (like road-building), few jobs are even suitable for women. Reports of violence against women, sexual harassment, and rape are not uncommon. In many cases, Sri Lankan soldiers are the alleged perpetrators.

In 2009, the government created the Presidential Task Force (P.T.F.). Ostensibly, the P.T.F. is supposed to coordinate all reconstruction and development in the North. According to the Sri Lankan government:

Mainly the Task Force is subjected to coordinate activities of the security agencies of the Government in support of resettlement, rehabilitation and development and to liaise with all organizations in the public and private sectors and civil society organizations for the proper implementation of programs and projects.

But what does the P.T.F. actually do?

Mostly it is through the P.T.F., which is run by the Ministry of Defense, that all humanitarian and reconstruction work in the North is approved. Since June of 2010, the N.G.O. Secretariat has also been run by the Ministry of Defense; it is the N.G.O. Secretariat that approves plans for development projects. While the P.T.F. is widely regarded as a more influential body, the P.T.F. and the N.G.O Secretariat both ensure that implementing development projects in northern Sri Lanka is difficult.

Essentially, the Sri Lankan government sees robust economic growth as the only way to address the long-term grievances of the Tamil people.6 Following the East Asian model of development, the government looks to previous successes of economic growth in places like South Korea and Taiwan for guidance. When it comes to reconstruction in post-war Sri Lanka, the military, rather than, say, technocrats, has its hands in practically everything, from infrastructure to tourism and even to Colombo’s “urban renewal” programs.7 Those involved in development, humanitarian, and human rights work have now grasped the distinction between “hardware” (building latrines, schools, infrastructure, and other initiatives, which produce tangible outputs, or are focused solely on income generation) and “software” (counseling, psychosocial efforts, human rights education). While hardware is frequently approved through this convoluted, burdensome, regulatory environment, software rarely gets passed. Consequently, many traumatized people are not getting the help they so desperately need.

In May of 2010, the Sri Lankan government established a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (L.L.R.C.), to look into allegations of war crimes and other human rights violations that occurred during the civil war from February 2002 to May 2009. But this is not good enough. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is not the only person who is “concerned” that Sri Lanka might have some human rights issues. Transparency International, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, and others have already exposed the L.L.R.C. for what it really is: a useless government-supported body that is anything but credible. President Rajapaksa, for one, handpicked all eight Commissioners. Even worse, some of the eight Commissioners used to be government employees that back the Sri Lanka government and deny that war crimes were committed by state security forces during the civil war.

To be clear, human rights violations were committed by both sides—government security forces and the L.T.T.E.—during a war that left up to 100,000 people dead. But Rajapaksa’s regime does not want to examine the past; he and his family members are too busy venerating themselves and others for defeating the “terrorists.” From May 31 to June 2, 2011 in Colombo, the government held its “Seminar on Defeating Terrorism: The Sri Lankan Experience. Fifty-four countries, including the United States and China, were invited to attend. The conference was intended to show other states how Sri Lanka defeated the L.T.T.E. and to teach counterinsurgency tactics learned from the experience.

President Rajapaksa, a charismatic leader, frequently includes rhetorical flourishes related to the threat of terrorism in his speeches. At a speech delivered at the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, 2011, for example, he stated: “The most significant challenge to stability and progress in the modern world is posed by the menace of terrorism.” He went on to claim that “after three decades of pain and anguish, today, Sri Lankans of all ethnicities, living in all parts of Sri Lanka, are free from L.T.T.E. terror and no longer live in a state of fear.”President Rajapaksa went on to discuss economic development initiatives in the North, something he frequently likes to do.

Aside from all of this, the government is building a number of war memorials along the A-9 road, which runs from Vavuniya to Jaffna in Northern Sri Lanka. This is in addition to the large number of Buddhist temples, which are also being built in the North. It is unclear why Northern Sri Lanka (where the vast majority of people are Tamil and the predominant religion is Hindu), would need a large number of Buddhist temples. “Rubbing it in” does not begin to describe what is happening.

Nepotism within the Rajapaksa regime is notable as well. While not inherently pernicious, it is unlikely that such favoritism contributes to lively debate or a rigorous, balanced examination of policy at the highest levels of government. Several of the president’s brothers run significant government ministries, including the increasingly powerful Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Economic Development. Other political appointments and favors have been made for a number of other relatives.

The situation in post-war Sri Lanka becomes more complicated when analyzing things like material wealth and economic prosperity. Without question, a huge portion of the population is better off now than they were during the civil war, including ethnic minorities. In Sri Lanka, military employment is up. Remittances, mostly from the Middle East are flowing back into the country. Certain sectors, like industry and agriculture, are doing quite well. This will likely bring food prices down, which goes a long way toward helping the country’s poor. And tourism, an industry that Sri Lanka relies heavily upon, will probably continue to do well. And so, there are material reasons for ordinary people to back the current regime; the support is not all just propaganda.

Yet some of these shifts are just general trends, the natural result of peace finally settling over the land. In Colombo, people feel much safer traveling on buses than they have for thirty years. This “peace component” really matters. The problem is that all of the previously mentioned economic trends capture general, broad trends, which are not necessarily reflective of gains in human rights (which are a question of individual liberties). A majority of the country might be better off in post-war Sri Lanka, but if ten or twenty percent (or perhaps an even greater percentage) of a population of twenty million is much, much worse off than they were during the civil conflict, can people really claim that the situation in post-war Sri Lanka is getting better?

A History of Emergency

Few countries have more history with emergency laws than Sri Lanka. The country’s experience with such decrees goes back to 1947 when, during the final days of British rule, the fading colonial power passed the Pubic Security Ordinance (P.S.O.) in an attempt to suppress political dissent on the island. Since that time, the P.S.O. has given the president the authority to announce states of emergency whenever he sees fit. Over the years, some presidents have added to the original laws, widening the scope of executive power. In the event of a conflict, Emergency Regulations, which are passed by the president without need of parliamentary approval, supersede other existing laws.

Sri Lanka has been governed under Emergency Regulations for most of the past thirty years. The emergency laws facilitated the establishment of military checkpoints throughout the country, where governmental authorities were given sweeping powers to search and detain suspects. A suspect could remain in a detention center for up to 21 months without appearing in a court of law. The laws even allowed for people to be displaced from their land.

These laws have been controversial. According to Human Rights Watch:

Sri Lanka’s emergency regulations granted the authorities sweeping powers of search, arrest, and detention, which have led to serious human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions, torture, and enforced disappearances. Thousands of people have been detained over the years in official and unofficial detention centers under emergency regulations, many without charge for years, in violation of international law.

Recently, these regulations were lifted, which sounds like a step in the right direction. This is not necessarily the case.

Sri Lanka’s Attorney General Mohan Peiris has been quoted in numerous publications regarding the new regulations put in place under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Created in 1979, the P.T.A. became permanent law in 1982. Essentially, the P.T.A. curbs citizens’ civil and political freedoms under the auspices of fighting terrorism and combating political violence. Initially intended to be temporary, the P.T.A. has been anything but. The important thing to remember is that the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act have given the government two separate (although similar) legal frameworks to justify systematic human rights violations perpetrated against Sri Lankan citizens for decades.

The new laws the government introduced prove that nothing has really changed. Officially, these new laws were introduced on the 30th of August of this year, the very same day the State of Emergency was lifted. These news laws were most of the Emergency Regulations which, instead of being categorized as Emergency Regulations, now fall under the auspices of the P.T.A. Unfortunately, the government’s mandate to enforce such laws is, at best, ambiguous.

According to Section 27(2) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act:

Every regulation made by the Minister shall be published in the Gazette and shall come into operation on the date of such publication or on such later date as may be specified in the regulation.

Yet these new regulations were not gazetted for more than a week. Moreover, a later date was not specified in the legislation. The new laws were finally gazetted on September 8th, but these details matter little.

About 6,000 detainees surrendered in May of 2009, during the last weeks of the civil war, most of whom were sent to detention camps immediately after they surrendered. Many of them stayed there for four or five months, some closer to a year. After such time, military personnel usually decided that surrendees must be moved to rehabilitation centers, in order to prepare to be reintegrated into society. But once a surrendee entered a rehabilitation center, Emergency Regulation 22 was immediately enforced, meaning that they might be stuck “rehabilitating” themselves for as long as two years.

These 6,000 detainees appear to have entered a legal purgatory of sorts. As mentioned, Emergency Regulation 22, which was the only law applied to these people, says that surrendees may be held in “rehabilitation centers” for up to twelve months, with an option to extend detention for an additional year. This regulation falls under the P.T.A., under which the state is not even obligated to allow the defendant to appear in court until that individual has been detained for 18 months.

But that Emergency Regulation, along with all the others, had been annulled. For weeks, then, these detainees were held under forthcoming laws, which did not yet exist. It is important to understand exactly what the Sri Lankan government has done here. Officials have announced that the Emergency Regulations have been done away with permanently. At the same time, however, they have included most of those regulations under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act, which is still be being used to violate people’s fundamental human rights on a daily basis. The regime is hoping that people will ignore the obvious fact that, with regard to the protection of individual liberties and human rights, nothing has changed.

Brad Adams of Human Rights watch has noted that the end of the state of emergency is insignificant if the government retains the same authority it had during the civil war. Adams further asserts that, “The government should repeal all its abusive detention laws and make all laws and regulations related to detention public, instead of engaging in token measures for PR purposes.”

Again, the notion that the government thinks it wields the authority to interpret 27 (2) so widely is absurd. Arguing that these actions are okay because the new laws will be gazetted in the near future is insufficient and just plain wrong. Attorney General Peiris retired at the end of August, but the principles the he and others have espoused remain in place. The government has yet to address this issue candidly. They do not need to do so; Sri Lanka is a democracy in name only.

Sri Lankans (and the international community) now know that the lifting of the Emergency Regulations augured little but cosmetic change. As such, perhaps Rajapaksa’s regime was a little nervous about the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) meetings in Geneva, which commenced in mid-September.

Looking Ahead: Policy Options for the International Community

On September 1, the U.S. State Department encouraged the Sri Lankan government to do one of two things: either charge those 6,000 detainees or let them go. Mark Toner, State Department spokesman, also said that the U.S. government was still studying the recently announced legislation and declined to comment further. What remains unclear is how much the U.S. and other countries can castigate Sri Lanka about its shoddy human rights record. The U.S. government may not hold much sway, however, because it has not invested that much in Sri Lanka. (American aid has traditionally gone directly to N.G.O.s, not to the Sri Lankan government).

Besides, getting Russia and China to go along with a U.N. Security Council Resolution (about anything related to human rights in Sri Lanka) would be difficult. Perhaps the issue needs to be debated at the U.N’s general assembly. For that to happen, though, far more member countries must speak up. Thus far, that too seems unlikely—but that does not mean Sri Lanka will fall off the radar. The fact that the L.T.T.E. was declared a terrorist organization by the U.S., Canada, and the European Union, among other countries makes this situation especially tricky. (This designation occurred largely because of suicide attacks and other instances of indiscriminately targeting civilians). If the Tamil Tigers had played a little nicer during the war, Western countries would be far less reluctant to excoriate Rajapaksa’s regime on human rights. The U.S. and others may be waiting for the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to deliver its report before really putting the pressure on the Sri Lankan government. This means that a strong push for an international inquiry would not take place until December 2011, or the beginning of 2012 at the earliest. (The U.N. Human Rights Council’s 18th session ended on September 30th.)

While a strong push to hold Rajapaksa’s regime accountable for war crimes has not materialized, readers should not think that the issue is anywhere near over. The Sri Lankan government still has plenty to worry about. This was only round one; the UNHRC will reconvene in March of 2012. Critics of the regime will be more organized and, probably, more outspoken at that time.

The U.S.’ contradictory stance on human rights (and American foreign policy more generally) are well known. Nevertheless, the United States can get this one right: the U.S. should heed the calls of international human rights groups and come down hard on Sri Lanka. A credible body must look into allegations of war crimes. The Prevention of Terrorism Act needs to be repealed immediately. Military employment must come down; the war is over. On a more personal level, two of President Rajapaksa’s brothers, Basil and Gotabaya, are American citizens, so U.S. laws are applicable to them.

President Rajapaksa, Mohan Peiris, and others are fooling no one. But make no mistake: Sri Lanka is not China; many world powers are in no hurry to curry favor with the Rakapaksa regime. If the government continues to ignore human rights and to repress its own people, it is unlikely that the international community will look the other way. Sri Lanka will not placate the West with facile sleight of hand; it is naïve for those running the show in Colombo to think otherwise.

In short, genuine national reconciliation in Sri Lanka remains illusory. The L.L.R.C. is not an accountability mechanism. In spite of a few conciliatory statements, the Rakapaksa regime is not interested in collaborating with other political groups or minority parties. When it comes to the most intractable problems, a country loaded with ethnic tension is not making much progress.

What happens in Sri Lanka over the next five years might have a lot to do with the way the country looks for the next three decades. As mentioned, the current administration is still quite popular across broad swathes of society. And Sinhalese nationalism is on the rise; which is worrisome. The government maintains a firm grip on most media outlets, many people are afraid to speak out, land issues have not been resolved, parts of the judicial system are a mess, many formerly displaced people are still unemployed, the rule of law is not applied impartially, and minority rights are a big problem (and will continue to be for the foreseeable future). Sadly, for so many in Sri Lanka, things might get worse before they actually get better.


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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

LLRC witness summoned by Sri Lankan CID

Tamil Guardian

A Tamil war widow who gave evidence before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has been summoned by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Colombo.

The CID have allegedly asked the widow and mother of four, Ratnam Poongoothai from Amparai, to report to Colombo for further questioning, regarding the evidence she gave to the LLRC.

She testified before the LLRC, and pleaded with them to help locate her sister, also a widow and a mother of three who had been abducted by Iniyapaarathi, a cadre of the Karuna paramilitary group. Iniyapaarathi now holds the post of Ampaarai district coordinating officer of Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Poongoothai told the commission that she was also abducted and tortured with her sister, but managed to escape after 10 days, and how her sister was gang raped.

Despite Sri Lanka’s assurances that witnesses would be protected, her details were passed on to the law enforcement authorities.

“LLRC told me to attend the interview. I am afraid to attend it alone as I am fear of my security, people who gave me a hard time after testifying in front of LLRC are there”,Poongoothai said.

The LLRC come under criticism for being deeply “flawed”, not having the mandate to investigate human rights abuses and for not providing adequate witness protection. Commissioners were composed of Sri Lankan Government supporters and some even fell asleep while witnesses gave evidence.

The report from the LLRC will be submitted to Parliament and made public on Novermber 19th, according to President Rajapakse.

© Tamil Guardian

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sri Lankans ponder peace

By Arjuna Ranawana | New Straits Times

In the thirty-something years that Sri Lanka fought with itself, profound changes were wreaked on the country. Its institutions have been greatly weakened and some of the best achievements since independence frittered away.

In the 1960s, East Asian countries such as Singapore and South Korea visited Sri Lanka to study its social support system that provided free healthcare to all and free education up to a first degree.

While those countries went ahead and implemented similar systems, reaping considerable rewards, Sri Lanka's health and education systems have suffered.

Today, parents with means flock to privately run schools as the quality of education in government schools has slumped alarmingly.

There is constant political intervention in universities affecting administration and academics gravely.

But the most serious deterioration has been in the democratic institutions of the country.

For decades held up as a multicultural, multi-religious, model democracy, Sri Lanka is now a country with few democratic freedoms, where citizens have little faith in the justice system and minorities feel aggrieved.

The erosion of the once noble police force, for example, began in the 1970s with the institutionalisation of political interference. Police officers seeking promotions need to get letters of recommendation from government party politicians to be successful.

Sri Lanka's civil war pitted the state against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

In order that his "nation" could fight the state, Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran turned the regions under his control into a mono-cultural, highly militarised, rigidly controlled "state" where every citizen had to support his directives or perish.

There was also no option to leave. Eventually, this dreaded organisation was defeated on the battlefield. But what has followed is troubling.

Every government that came to power and fought the LTTE had the option of negotiating peace or fighting the Tigers. In almost every instance where peace deals were being made, it was the Tigers who found ways of torpedoing them.

But the current administration of President Mahinda Rajapakse made scant attempts at peacemaking -- they went to war and successfully crushed the Tigers.

While the war was on, media freedoms were curtailed and everybody exhorted to support the war effort. All dissenters -- whether they were critical of the government's economic policies or exposed corruption -- were painted as traitors and Sinhala supremacist elements who were on the fringes of politics in Sri Lanka occupied the centre stage.

Now the war is over, but the repression of the media continues and there is no open political discourse. The security forces, which are nearly 400,000 strong -- one person under arms for every 50 people -- remain enormous for a country now ostensibly at peace.

The country is awash with weapons, with underworld figures controlling armed groups of men, many of them deserters from the armed forces.

The Tamil people who were "liberated" by the government forces languish in devastated lands bereft of a political solution that addresses the grievances that gave birth to their rebellion.

The breakdown of institutions is being brought into sharp relief by a recent violent incident.

Sri Lankans are now watching bemusedly as the state tries to deal with the murder of leading pro-government trade unionist and presidential adviser Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, allegedly by a bodyguard of a ruling party member of parliament, Duminda Silva.

The two men allegedly clashed in public as the police watched during last month's municipal elections and their bodyguards exchanged fire. The police -- used to automatically taking the government side in such incidents -- were bewildered, unable to decide whether to arrest the surviving government politician or not. Silva, who apparently has a bullet lodged in his head, was reportedly flown to Singapore for treatment.

Sad, angry and worried, Sri Lankans are looking back at the last four decades and wondering what could bring that state back.

Perhaps it is time for a Lankan Spring.

© New Straits Times

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sri Lanka: Did Google assist the banning of websites?

JDS News

The Sri Lankan government has banned ten websites with the assistance of the Google search engine.

Google says that it is the first time that it has received requests from Sri Lankan authorities to block websites.

'For the first time, we received one or more content removal requests' from Sri Lanka, says Google.

Link to Google Transparency Report

With this unprecedented move, readers in Sri Lanka will not be able to access websites blocked by Google.

Neither the Sri Lankan government or Google has revealed the names of sites removed.

Although the Webby Award winning search engine has published that it fully acceded to the Sri Lankan government request, reasons for its decision has not been made public. Webby Awards are the leading creative honours for digital media where nominees and winners are chosen by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.

Google's revelation of the blocking follows the Sri Lankan government's controversial announcement on the 5th of November calling for all all websites reporting on Sri Lanka to be registered with the country's media ministry.

The announcement seen as a step towards web censorship drew anger from media rights organisations around the world.

Several websites critical of the government as well as those reporting on war crimes allegations have been already blocked from reaching the public in Sri Lanka.

Lankawaynews, the official website of the main opposition UNP, Sri Lanka Guardian, Paparasi news and Sri Lanka Mirror were blocked on the same day that the call for registration was made.

Earlier, Tamilnet, LankaeNews and Lankanewsweb was banned by the Sri Lankan government.


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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sri Lankan bourse at 14-month low

Reuters | Business Recorder

Sri Lanka's stock market hit a 14-month low on Tuesday, falling 2.4 percent led by blue chips although state funds bought shares to boost confidence, which was dented due to an assets acquisition bill ahead of next week's budget presentation.

The main share index fell 2.36 percent or 147.22 points weaker at 6,092.30, the lowest since September 9, 2010.

It saw its highest percentage fall since February 15.

The day's turnover was 808.8 million Sri Lanka rupees ($7.3 million), highest since November 3 but well below last year's average of 2.4 billion and this year's 2.5 billion.

"Market turnover increased...which can be attributed to government institutions buying in as an attempt to instil investor confidence in the market," TKS securities said in an investor note.

The bourse on Tuesday suspended the dealings of Pelwatte Sugar Industries and Hotel Developers Lanka Plc, which were listed in the take-over bill.

Shares in Pelwatte Sugar have fallen 15.5 percent and those of Hotel Developers Lanka have dropped 27.1 percent since the market first got wind of the proposed bill on November 1.

Analysts said investors were confused about the legislation which they said would further hurt long-term institutional investor sentiment.

Moody's Investors Service on Monday said the law was potentially credit-negative.

Total volume was 47.7 million shares, against a five-day average of 31.4 million.

The 30-day and 90-day average trading volumes were 60.4 million and 102 million.

Last year's daily average was 67.9 million.

The bourse has fallen 10.2 percent since October 1.

It has fallen to Asia's 11th-best performer with a year-to-date loss of 8.2 percent after being on the top for most of 2011 and in 2009 and 2010.

The bourse saw a net foreign outflow of 16.6 million rupees on Tuesday, but thus far in 2011, offshore investors have sold 16.6 billion, and a record 26.4 billion in 2010.

Losers outnumbered gainers by 188 to 29 on Tuesday, Thomson Reuters data showed.

© Business Recorder

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Indian Ocean maritime cooperation and the strategic significance of Sri Lanka

"The lack of a coordinated international effort to uphold maritime security not only affects ocean-going vessels, but also the national security of coastal nations", stated Sri Lanka's Secretary Defence Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He expressed these view on Monday (14)delivering the inaugural speech at the 'Galle Dialogue'- Maritime symposium at the Light House Hotel in Galle.

"The Sri Lankan experience in combating the terrorist organisation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the LTTE, is instructive in this regard. During the period of the conflict in Sri Lanka, the LTTE smuggled in a formidable arsenal of weapons through its procurement and delivery network", he further said.

Full text of the speech delivered at the inaugural secession of the Galle Dialogue- 2011:

Minister of External Affairs, Excellencies, Secretary to the President, Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs, Secretary to the Ministry of Ports and Highways, Secretary to the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Chief of Defence Staff, Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force, Distinguished delegates and invitees Ladies and Gentlemen.

I consider it a pleasure and a privilege to address you at the opening session of the "Galle Dialogue" Maritime Conference organised by the Ministry of Defence of Sri Lanka.

The Galle Dialogue was initiated in 2010 to facilitate increased cooperation between the nations interested in the security of the Indian Ocean region. During the first Galle Dialogue, the participants held fruitful discussions on the topic "Charting the Course for Sustainable Maritime Cooperation". Building on that theme, this year's Conference deliberates on "Challenges and Strategic Cooperation for Indian Ocean Maritime Concerns".

The Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean in the world, and borders over thirty nations. It is a resource rich ocean, with enormous reserves of oil, natural gas, minerals and a wealth of biological resources. It is estimated that approximately 60,000 ships cross the Indian Ocean each year, including nearly half of the world's containerised cargo. Only twenty per cent of the cargo transported through the Indian Ocean is traded within the region; the remaining eighty per cent is extra regional.

The energy security of many nations also depends on the Indian Ocean, as the fuel requirements of many industrialising nations is met through the energy resources transported through it. For all these reasons and more, the Indian Ocean's importance in the global context is very great. At the same time, it must be noted that the stability and maritime security of Indian Ocean is vulnerable to external threat.

Perhaps the most eye-catching of these threats is the piracy originating from Somalia, which has steadily become more dangerous during the last decade. Starting as a fairly localised activity in the Gulf of Aden, this piracy has grown to become a threat to ships plying routes far beyond the Somali coast. This is amply illustrated in the fact that more than thirty Somali pirates were apprehended in Maldivian waters not long ago. The Sri Lanka Navy too arrested some Somalis who were suspected of looking to engage in piracy and had drifted towards Sri Lanka. It is clear that the activities of the pirates are spreading at a rapid pace. Thousands of people have been affected by their attacks over the last several years. The total economic cost of piracy, when considering the costs of insurance, naval support, re-routing of ocean traffic and all other steps taken to protect vessels from this threat, has been estimated at close to 10 billion US Dollars per annum.

Existing international maritime laws and practices have proven ineffective in combatting the activities of the Somali pirates. Because merchant vessels were traditionally forbidden to carry weapons, the protective measures adopted by them were often too weak to withstand the escalating sophistication of the pirates. In response to this situation, some countries such as the United States have adjusted their maritime laws to enable private security personnel to travel on board merchant vessels. Sri Lanka, too, provides such security services.

A few countries have even expressed an interest in sending personnel from their national militaries on board merchant vessels to provide protection for those ships, and have requested Sri Lanka's assistance during transit.

While the steps taken by ship owners have been seen to be largely ineffective, interventions made by individual nations in providing greater protection for merchant vessels have not been uniform. It is our belief that the lasting solution to threats of this nature cannot be undertaken by individual nations in isolation, but only through greater international cooperation.

The multilateral efforts undertaken through International Task Forces to contain Somali piracy are laudable in this context. However, it is not enough. The risk posed by the Somali pirates is only one example of the threats facing maritime security. There are others. The best solution to all of them is greater cooperation between the maritime powers.

The lack of a coordinated international effort to uphold maritime security not only affects oceangoing vessels, but also the national security of coastal nations. The Sri Lankan experience in combatting the terrorist organisation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the LTTE, is instructive in this regard. During the period of the conflict in Sri Lanka, the LTTE smuggled in a formidable arsenal of weapons through its procurement and delivery network. At its peak, the LTTE had an arsenal that included mortar, artillery, anti-aircraft guns, surface to air missiles, armoured vehicles and even light aircraft.

None of these items were made in Sri Lanka. They were manufactured in various parts of the world, illegally procured through the LTTE's many front organisations and operatives, and smuggled to Sri Lanka through the sea. Using over twenty large vessels and a considerable number of trawlers registered under different flags, the LTTE shipped this equipment to Sri Lanka through international waters. Its large vessels lay anchored in international waters more than a thousand nautical miles away from Sri Lanka. Smaller vessels were dispatched to smuggle the items they carried to the coast. During the Humanitarian Operation to defeat LTTE terrorism, which took place between 2006 and 2009, the Sri Lanka Navy went into deep seas on five occasions to destroy eight of these floating warehouses.

The most disturbing implication of the Sri Lankan experience is that the brand of arms smuggling undertaken by the LTTE can be replicated by any terrorist organisation anywhere in the world. Far-reaching measures are needed at the highest level to address this threat in a coordinated fashion. All coastal nations are vulnerable to threats from the sea, and terrorists will exploit the weak points in our defences to their advantage. To combat this threat, it is vital that the maritime powers cooperate by sharing intelligence, and enhance maritime domain awareness through joint and coordinated patrols as well as exercises to enhance interoperability. Providing assistance to improve the resources and capabilities of less advanced naval powers will also enhance overall maritime security.

Another threat facing nations through the sea is the trafficking of persons. After the military defeat of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the remaining vessels that operated in that group's international supply network began engaging in this illegal enterprise. Charging many thousands of dollars per illegal immigrant, these vessels transported hundreds of people through international waters to western countries such as Canada and Australia. This human trafficking operation carried out by the rump of the LTTE is especially dangerous as it allows trained terrorists to enter other nations in the guise of refugees. Seeking asylum under false pretences, these terrorists not only intermingle with economic migrants and try to escape justice, but they often involve themselves in criminal activities in the countries that accept them and pose a threat to domestic security.

Human trafficking benefits from a legal framework that does not have proper mechanisms to deal with such vessels in international waters. However, nations can work together to minimise this threat effectively. In this regard, I am pleased to note that Sri Lanka has worked closely with the Australian government in the recent past to minimise the incidents of human trafficking originating from Sri Lanka. Through enhancing coastal surveillance, augmenting patrols and putting in place an effective intelligence network between the two countries, this problem has been curtailed to a satisfactory level. However, we know that there are still Sri Lankans, joining together with other nationals, who travel illegally to Australia through third countries particularly in the South East Asian region. More needs to be done regarding this problem, especially through better coordination among the relevant countries.

Drug trafficking is another issue that can affect any nation. Apart from the immediate harms caused through drug smuggling, this racket provides a lucrative source of income for terrorists, insurgents and large criminal networks. Drug cartels maintain a symbiotic relationship with such groups. The LTTE, for example, generated enormous sums of money through their illegal drugs network that operated in Europe, South Asia and South East Asia. The drug infested Golden Crescent was a lucrative source for the LTTE, just as it is for other criminal networks. These networks smuggle drugs using the same modus operandi used by arms smugglers, using fishing boats and specially modified craft to conceal the cargo. The Sri Lanka Navy has come across many fishing boats transporting drugs across borders. Drugs are also sometimes smuggled in the midst of legal containerised cargo that is processed through the ports. Combating this problem requires greater information sharing, better screening practices and better coordination among nations.

Apart from these threats to nations, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing poses a risk to oceanic resources. Fishing is an important livelihood to many who live in coastal regions. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing threatens this livelihood. It is estimated that the total economic cost of pirate fishing runs into billions of dollars per annum. The environmental impact of such practices is also devastating. Many species of fish have already been over exploited, and the sustainability of fish stocks is increasingly at risk through overfishing. Use of destructive fishing gear and methods also has severe consequences. Monitoring the problem of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, is difficult. Acting against it is even more so. This is yet another area in which a concerted regional effort is necessary to mitigate the problem.

Another area of great concern is the marine pollution caused by various methods, including the dumping of industrial and other waste into the sea from shore. The discharge of waste from oceangoing vessels is also a serious problem. Monitoring marine pollution is a difficult undertaking, but even more disturbingly, it is an issue that is not often even addressed by coastal nations. More attention needs to be paid to tackling these common issues, which have a harmful long-term impact on the marine environment.

Given the nature of the common security and environmental threats facing the oceans, it is clear that individual nations acting in isolation will not be able to effect comprehensive or long lasting solutions. In the present era, the increasing sophistication of criminal networks and non-state actors makes it difficult for individual nations to withstand the threats posed by them if they stand alone. That is why Sri Lanka, as one of the smaller naval powers in the Indian Ocean, hopes to see greater cooperation within the region. In particular, the major powers in the region should work together with all affected nations to ensure that the seas are free of hindrance. At the start of this address, I elaborated on the vast importance of the Indian Ocean not only for the regional nations, but also for the world economy. It is in everybody's interest to work together to ensure its safety and stability.

In this context, it is also important to realise that most of the maritime security problems we presently face could have been mitigated at an earlier stage if sufficient cooperation had existed between the naval powers. The piracy originating from Somalia had the space to grow from a small, localised problem into a major maritime threat largely as a result of international inaction. Much the same can be said about the sophisticated criminal networks that engage in drug trafficking. It is imperative that the international community acts with sufficient speed to address future threats before they develop into severe problems. In particular, coastal nations have an important responsibility in ensuring maritime security, and we must not shirk our duty.

As the largest naval power in South Asia, India plays a major role in upholding the maritime security of this region. Sri Lanka too has a part to play, as it enjoys a very strategically significant geographic position in the Indian Ocean. Many major international shipping lanes pass the south of Sri Lanka, only a few nautical miles away from the newly developed Hambantota Port. With sufficient cooperation from the major naval powers in the region, Sri Lanka can play an active and significant role in upholding the safety of these critical sea lines of communication.

Towards this end, Sri Lanka has recently revamped and expanded its Coast Guard Department whilst further strengthening its vastly experienced Navy. If, with the assistance of friendly nations, Sri Lanka can obtain naval assets capable of operating in deep seas, our overall capabilities will be greatly increased. Considering also the warm relationships this country enjoys with the major naval powers in the region, I am certain that Sri Lanka will be able to play a greater role in upholding the maritime safety of the entire Indian Ocean region. This will be to the benefit not only of the regional nations, but to the world.

In concluding, I would like to thank all the delegates for their invaluable presence at this Conference, and express my utmost confidence that the Galle Dialogue will serve its purpose in facilitating and enhancing Strategic Cooperation in the Indian Ocean region.

Thank you.


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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

'India concerned about China's defence infrastructure' - Indian Defence Minister

PTI | Outlook India

Expressing concern over Chinese military infrastructure buildup, Indian Defence Minister A K Antony said on Tuesday (15) India was working to match it to protect the country's territory and build an effective deterrence.

"China is expanding its military capabilities and their infrastructure in the border area is also increasing substantially and we are concerned about that," he said.

The Minister made these remarks when asked about India's response to Chinese military modernization in the Eastern and Northern sectors.

"We have been improving our infrastructure and military capabilities in the eastern sector. We are strengthening our military capability and infrastructure not for confrontation, but to protect our territory and also to build an effective deterrence...So that we can protect every inch of Indian territory," Antony said.

India has been deploying its frontline fighter aircraft Sukhoi-30 MKIs on its airbases along the Chinese border in the North-East and has raised two Mountain Divisions there.

Ultra light howitzers and tanks under new armoured formations are also planned to be deployed in the region.

Asked about the existing defence ties with China, Antony said the Defence Secretary-level talks between the two sides will be held next year.

"Defence exchanges with China are again resuming. I hope the defence dialogue (between the two nations) at the Defence Secretary-level will again resume next years," Antony told reporters here on the sidelines of Fifth South Asia Conference here.

India and China will hold the Annual Defence Dialogue (ADD) in January next year during which the two sides are expected to discuss resumption of their joint army exercise and the pending border issues between them.

Replying to queries on improving defence exchanges with China, he said, "That discussions including the one on border management are going on. India and China agreed to set up a new mechanism (for border management) and that mechanism may also take place very soon, may be towards the end of this year."

After a freeze in defence ties over denial of visa to the then Northern Army Commander last year, India resumed defence exchanges with China by sending a military delegation headed by a Major General in June this year.

Earlier this month, China also sent a delegation headed by a Lieutenant General to visit Defence installations in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai.

To a query on China establishing diplomatic relations with Maldives, Antony said, "How can you prevent any country from establishing an embassy or furthering relations with any other country in the world."

Terming it as a natural process to establish relations with other countries, he said, "We are also establishing embassies and building relations with every country. It is a natural process."

Expanding its presence in the Indian Ocean region, China recently opened its embassy in Maldives and sought an observer status in the SAARC grouping.

So far only India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh have an established diplomatic presence in the Maldives.

© Outlook India

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