Colombo, Feb 25 (DPA) Sri Lanka lodged a protest with Britain Wednesday over Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s decision to address a Tamil group that Colombo claims is a front for the former guerrilla army.
Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama summoned Mark Gooding, Britain’s acting high commissioner in Colombo, to protest Miliband’s planned address at the Global Tamil Forum in London.
‘We lodged our protest as the organisation is known to be a front of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam),’ Bogollagama told reporters in Colombo.
The LTTE was militarily defeated in a major offensive in May last year, but the government claims rebel front groups still operate.
‘In his speech to the Global Tamil Forum, the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband will re-emphasise that a peaceful, political solution is the only way to produce a lasting answer to Sri Lanka’s conflict,’ the British High Commission said in a statement.
‘It is for all Sri Lanka’s people to decide what that solution should look like,’ it said. ‘The UK will engage with all members of the Sri Lankan community who share this goal, whether overseas or in Sri Lanka.’
The forum’s annual meeting Wednesday was to be attended by the minority Tamil diaspora from various parts of the world.
In a statement posted on the website, it said the event is seen as an ‘opportunity to further discuss and draw action plans in areas such as humanitarian aid, human rights, reconstruction and development.’
More than 300,000 people were displaced in the final phase of the war, and some 100,000 still live in temporary camps, nearly nine months after the war.
The government claims that delay in clearing mines is one of the main reasons in postponing the resettlement.
Colombo, Feb 24 – The wife of Sri Lanka’s detained former army general and defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka will campaign in the forthcoming parliamentary election on behalf of her husband, Xinhua reported Tuesday.
Vijitha Herath, secretary of the newly formed Democratic National Alliance (DNA), told reporters that Fonseka will contest the April 8 election from Colombo district and his wife Anoma Fonseka would campaign on behalf of her husband.
‘My husband who is in custody for no fault was ready to do any sacrifice. He always puts the country before himself. The government is scared of him and that is why he was locked up. I invite women who consist 52 percent of the country’s population to rally around in my endeavor,’ Anoma said.
She also called the main opposition United National Party (UNP) to join the DNA led by the leftist party JVP or the People’s Liberation Front.
‘It is time to show the opposition is strong. We need to rally around a common goal – fight against the family rule and bring back democracy,’ Anoma said.
The UNP, the JVP and scores of other small parties formed an opposition alliance to support Fonseka’s presidential bid, but the former army commander was defeated by the incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential election Jan 26.
The opposition alliance fell apart when different parties failed to select a common symbol to contest the parliamentary elections April 8.
Fonseka was arrested Feb 8 based on claims that he committed military offence while in uniform.
The supreme court Tuesday refused to release Fonseka but permitted his immediate family members and lawyers to visit him.
Colombo, Feb 23 (DPA) The Supreme Court Tuesday rejected a plea for the release of former army commander General Sarath Fonseka in military custody for two weeks on charges of conspiracy against the government, officials said.
The high court agreed with the attorney general’s argument that General Sarath Fonseka should not be released because military proceedings were continuing against him.
The court did grant permission for Fonseka’s family and lawyers to visit him in custody, and to take measures to ensure his safety.
Fonseka led the final military offensive that defeated the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May last year.
Two weeks after the war ended, the commander was given the largely ceremonial post of chief of defence staff, leading to a fallout with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Fonseka decided to enter politics and contested the Jan 26 presidential elections as an opposition candidate. He received 40 percent of the vote against Rajapaksa, who won a second term with 58 percent.
Soldiers arrested Fonseka Feb 8, allegedly for having shared sensitive military information with the opposition while serving as army commander and chief of staff. His lawyers and relatives have denied the allegations on his behalf.
One of the key opposition parties in the country is also planning to field Fonseka as one of their candidates in the April 8 parliamentary elections.
But the opposition alliance which backed Fonseka presidential candidacy has crumbled, with other parties deciding to contest the legislative races on their own.
The book, ‘A Powderkeg in Paradise’, is not a historical account of the Tamil separatist campaign that bled Sri Lanka for a quarter century before the military finally decimated the Tamil Tigers in May 2009. In nearly 250 crisp and easy to read pages, Jon Oskar Solnes delves into his rich and intimate knowledge of the conflict, gained as an official of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), to tell the world why and how the once seemingly indestructible Tamil Tigers lost it so badly.
On that score, the book is an invaluable story of the Norwegian-sponsored and internationally backed peace process that took the most dramatic twists and turns before collapsing amid bloodshed.
Unlike many Westerners, Jon does not hesitate to apportion most of the blame for the fracture of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of 2002 on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its anarchist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. This is the result of the intimate opportunities he got to study the LTTE closely on behalf of the SLMM, the Nordic body whose mandate was to oversee the truce. But he shows no bias for Colombo. He details the vanity of different interlocutors, the many terrible incidents that derailed peace, and ‘the appalling and often cynical lack of concern for civilian casualties on both sides of the (ethnic) divide’.
Yet, it is Prabhakaran whom he calls ‘a very difficult interlocutor in (the) quest for peace’. Referring to the resumption of hostilities after Mahinda Rajapaksa became president in November 2005, the author is clear that ‘the return to more heavy-handed search operations was to a large extent sparked by and was a consequence of the tactics of the LTTE’. These included the killings of senior Sri Lankan military and civilian figures, including Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, ‘which made the peace facilitation of Norway even more difficult’.
International actors seeking to end the conflict became frustrated because the LTTE ‘basically wanted administrative powers for the whole of the north and the east to be handed over to them on a silver plate and without significant limitations’. This was akin to asking for Tamil Eelam from Colombo!
In the process, the LTTE came to be seen as ‘a fundamentalist organization lacking the will of problem-solving through compromise, led by a deeply reclusive autocratic leader’.
Like everyone, Jon says the LTTE hugely blundered by cutting off irrigation water supply at Mawil Aaru in the eastern province, starving the farms of thousands of mainly Sinhalese farmers. The military grabbed the opportunity to launch a punishing offensive – led by army chief Sarath Fonseka, ‘a very determined and gifted military man’ – that led, first, to the loss of the east and, later, the whole of the north, burying one of the world’s most ruthless insurgent groups. Prabhakaran ‘bore a large responsibility for the suffering of thousands of Tamil civilians who were being killed and maimed in the fighting’.
Jon makes only passing references to India, which played an overt and covert – as well as controversial — role in Sri Lanka right through the blood-soaked conflict. He strangely remarks that the ‘LTTE was not well understood by the outside world’. I disagree. Both in and outside of Sri Lanka, many have always known what the LTTE stood for. The author feels that Colombo should ‘invite international human rights commissions and monitors to bring Sri Lanka back into the fold of civilized democracies’.
Jon may be well meaning but it is such recurring homilies that pushed Colombo to reject the CFA and the SLMM. And it is this western worldview that led countries as diverse as India, Pakistan, Cuba and China to back Sri Lanka when it came under western attack on the human rights issue. Ultimately, no outside power can mould Sri Lanka; only its people can do that. If there is a will, there has to be a way.
Book: ‘A Powderkeg in Paradise’; Publisher: Konark Publishers, New Delhi; Author: Jon Oskar Solnes; Price: Rs. 750
Colombo, Feb 22 – Sri Lanka’s main opposition party United National Party (UNP) said Monday that the door is still open for the defeated presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka to join it in the parliamentary elections April 8.
UNP general secretary Tissa Attanayaka told reporters that the UNP’s invitation is not only for Fonseka but also for the JVP and any other party interested in bringing democracy back to the country, Xinhua reported.
‘At this crucial juncture, the opposition needs to be strong and stand together as one to fight against the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. There is no respect for law of the country. Party headquarters are being searched and media freedom is a mere word,’ Attanayaka said.
The dispute over the symbol of the opposition alliance has resulted in the main allies of the opposition – the UNP and the JVP (People’s Liberation Front) – to depart and contest the parliamentary polls separately.
The UNP-led political parties have decided to contest under the symbol of elephant, while the JVP and Fonseka have decided to contest under a new symbol ‘trophy’ at the parliamentary polls.
The symbol of ‘swan’ used by the opposition alliance at the presidential election has been dropped by both the UNP and the JVP.
According to Attanayake, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Democratic People’s Front had agreed to contest the polls under the UNP symbol of elephant.
He said the alliance has informed Fonseka about the decision and also invited him to join the opposition alliance through his lawyers.
‘We hope he will answer our request positively,’ Attanayake said.
Meanwhile, the JVP-led new alliance National Democratic Front ( NDF) has invited all political parties to come together to get majority at the parliamentary elections.
Vijitha Herath, the secretary of the NDF said Fonseka will contest from Colombo representing the NDF.
Despite the UNP, JVP and 15 other smaller parties backing Fonseka’s presidential bid, the incumbent President Mahida Rajapaksa recorded a massive victory over Fonseka in the Jan. 26 election.
Fonseka is now under military custody with accusations of military offense while in uniform.
Colombo, Feb 21 (DPA) Sri Lanka is investigating whether foreign sources funded the campaign of defeated opposition presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka, a newspaper reported Sunday.
The former Army commander is already in military custody facing charges of conspiracy against the government.
The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) began investigating after $527,000 in cash were found in the bank locker of a close relative of Fonseka last week, the Sunday Times in Colombo reported.
Sri Lankan law limits the possession of US bank notes to $2,000 without government permission, it said.
The report said the CID sought the help of Interpol in France to try to determine the source of the currency.
Detectives were also interviewing officials of the Central Bank and local banks, the report said.
The money was found in one of safety deposit boxes in the name of Asoka Tillekeratne, whose son Danuna is married to a daughter of Fonseka, it said.
Detectives said Danuna Tillekeratne is wanted in connection with alleged fraudulent activity in supplying military items to the army, and is evading arrest. They were also investigating reports that he had fled Sri Lanka under a false name, the paper said.
Fonseka was the army commander for four years and led it to the final military victory over the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May 2009.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa demoted Fonseka to a ceremonial post, prompting the general to challenge him in the Jan 26 election.
He was arrested Feb 8 on allegation that he had shared sensitive information with the political opposition while serving as the commander. His lawyers denied the charges.
Colombo, Feb 20 – The Sri Lankan government said Saturday it will set up community villages to rehabilitate former Tamil Tiger rebels.
Over 11,000 former cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are now sheltered in 18 state-run rehabilitation centers. The majority of them surrendered to the military during the last stages of the battle in May last year and the rest were arrested.
The newly appointed commissioner general of rehabilitation, Brigadier Sudantha Ranasinghe, told reporters that the proposal to establish community villages is in the process of administrative cleareance before being sent for final approval.
‘Initially we want to shelter 200 families of those under rehabilitation. We have already selected the location with 200 houses,’ Ranasinghe said, adding that there are over 3,000 married members under rehabilitation.
‘When those under rehabilitation are living with their families it is easy to rehabilitate them. This is a novel concept that we are going to try out,’ Xinhua quoted Ranasinghe as saying.
He said the ex-LTTE cadres are given vocational training in areas like house wiring and carpentry.
Berlin, Feb 20 (IANS/EFE) Colombian director Oscar Ruiz de Navia has been awarded an international critics’ prize at the 60th edition of the Berlin International Film Festival for his debut work ‘El vuelco del cangrejo’ (Crab Trap).
After receiving the International Federation of Film Critics (Fipresci) award Friday, the 27-year-old director dedicated it ‘to the whole community of La Barra’, a village on Colombia’s northern coast where the filming took place.
‘I hope this helps us distribute the film and also promotes Colombian cinema in Europe,’ the director, who worked five years on the project, told EFE.
‘El vuelco del cangrejo’ tells the story of a man named Daniel who is on the run following a crisis in his home city and becomes stranded in a small Afro-Colombian village, where a struggle involving local residents and a developer is brewing.
The film focuses on the daily lives of the Afro-Colombian community in La Barra, where Daniel has come in hopes of finding a boat to take him out of the country.
The Fipresci prizes were announced Friday, a day before the main awards of this year’s Berlinale – the Golden Bear for best film in competition and Silver Bears for categories including best actor, best actress and best director – are handed out at the festival’s closing ceremony Saturday.
This year’s international jury, which will award the Golden and Silver Bears, is presided over by renowned German filmmaker Werner Herzog.
Bogota, Feb 18 (IANS/EFE) Swarm of ants made of fibreglass carved on the facade, pillars and windows of Colombian Congress building depicts the impact of migration and displacement across the world, says prominent sculptor Rafael Gomexbarros.
Hundreds of large black- and brown-coloured ants covering the Colombian Congress symbolise human migration. The sculpture represents the impact of ‘immigration, globalisation and displacement’, Gomezbarros said.
‘I’m trying to force a reflection on what we experience and see on a daily basis, and also to raise awareness about our monuments,’ the artist said.
A total of 1,300 ants, each measuring 95 centimetres in length, have been mounted on the facade of the legislative headquarters. The sculpture titled ‘Casatomada’ (House Occupied) was carved with the help of special resin and fibreglass.
The creation ‘does not go beyond artistic expression, and in a sense is more social than political because it seeks to call attention to monuments’, said 37-year-old Gomezbarros who studied plastic arts in Bogota.
The art will be displayed at the Congress building through March 26 and then it will be installed at a monument of Los Heroes in northern part of the Colombian capital.
Gomezbarros said that in June ‘Casatomada’ will be exhibited in the US, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Canada, Spain and Germany.
The artist told EFE that one of his dreams is for his work to ‘invade’ Madrid’s Puerta de Alcala and other monuments in the Spanish capital.
Colombo, Feb 16 (DPA) A decision by the European Union to withdraw preferential trade agreements from Sri Lanka has caused concern among the country’s export-oriented garment sector.
The EU mission in Colombo said the Union decided Monday to temporarily withdraw the preferential tariff treatment, known as its Generalised System of Preferences, which grants preferential access to its markets to countries that pursue good governance and sustainable development.
‘This decision follows an exhaustive investigation by the European Commission, which identified significant shortcomings in respect of Sri Lanka’s implementation of three UN human rights conventions relevant for benefits under the scheme,’ the statement said.
‘The suspension will only take effect in six months’ time, giving Sri Lanka extra time to address the problems identified,’ the statement added.
While there was no immediate official reaction, garment sector representatives said the apparel industry would be the worst affected.
‘The decision is likely to affect the 170,000-strong workforce in the garment industry which is compelled to compete with other countries,’ said Anton Marcus, general secretary of the Free Trade Zone Workers Union.
He said the decision was clearly linked to the government’s failure to protect human rights and workers’ rights.
‘We will be talking with the government to see that sufficient steps are taken during the temporary suspension so that we continue to gain the concessions,’ said Rohan Masakorale, head of the Joint Apparel Association Forum.
‘The garment exporters have already been affected by the global recession and they fear that their orders would be further reduced in the upcoming season,’ he said.
Other sectors likely to be affected are exporters of tuna, fresh fruit and vegetable, porcelain items and leather products.
The EU investigation relied heavily on reports and statements by the UN and human rights groups which identified significant shortcomings in respect of Sri Lanka’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the EU said.
Sri Lankan ambassador to the EU, Ravinatha Aryasinha, said his government was addressing human rights concerns, such as resettling persons displaced by the country’s civil war, allowing access to refugee camps and releasing former Tamil rebel combatants.
However, other serious human rights abuses were reported during the last stage of the fight against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which ended last year with the rebels’ defeat.
The UN said more than 7,500 civilians were killed in the last months of the civil war, a claim denied by the government.
The country gains an estimated $150 million annually due to preferential tariffs.
Colombo, Feb 15 (DPA) A Sri Lankan court Monday issued a warrant for the arrest of the son-in-law of Sri Lanka’s former army commander General Sarath Fonseka, who is already in detention on charges of conspiring against the government.
The order was issued by magistrate Lanka Jayaratna after the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) informed the courts that there were attempts by Fonseka’s son-in-law, Danunna Thilakaratne, to leave the country illegally or that he had already left on a false passport.
He could be arrested overseas if he has already fled the country.
The CID said he was wanted in connection with an ongoing case in which his company allegedly provided military hardware to the army when General Fonseka was serving as the commander.
In a related development the CID carried out a search on a bank deposit box held by Thilakaratne’s mother and claimed they found 70 million rupees ($614,000). She may be called to explain the source of the money, though holding the money is not illegal.
Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has already accused the US and Norway of funding Fonseka’s presidential election campaign, a claim strongly denied by the two countries.
Fonseka contested the presidential elections on January 26, but was defeated.
Sri Lanka’s Buddhist clergy was reportedly divided Monday over the arrest and detention of Fonseka.
The split appeared to surface after some of the most prominent Buddhist monks issued a statement calling for Fonseka’s release, while others reportedly defended the Feb 8 arrest.
However, state media claimed that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had the strong backing of the Buddhist monks.
State television said one of the most prominent monks who earlier had urged the release of Fonseka later called President Rajapaksa to pledge his support.
The arrest of Fonseka after he lost an electoral challenge to Rajapaksa led to several opposition protests in various parts of the country.
Fonseka was demoted from his command two weeks after leading the military victory that ended the civil war in May 2009.
The president appointed him to a ceremonial post, but Fonseka decided instead to contest the January 26 election as an opposition candidate. Rajapaksa won re-election to a second term with 58 percent of the vote, to the retired general’s 40 percent.
The government said Fonseka would be tried by a military court, but no formal charges have been brought.
The government earlier claimed that he conspired to assassinate the president and to overthrow the government.
Fonseka’s wife has filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the arrest.
At the time of his arrest, he was planning to contest the parliamentary elections scheduled for April 8.
Colombo, Feb 12 (DPA) Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court Friday allowed the hearing of a petition seeking the release of General Sarath Fonseka, the former army chief, who is being held on allegations of conspiracy against the government.
The petition was filed by Anoma Fonseka, his wife, on behalf of her husband, who is being held at navy headquarters.
‘The preliminary step of the hearing of the petition known as ‘leave to proceed’ was granted by a bench comprising Chief Justice Ashoka de Silva and two other judges,’ one of Fonseka’s lawyers said.
As the hearing opened, more than 2,000 army and police personnel ringed the court complex and checked those entering.
General Fonseka, who lost last month’s presidential elections against the incumbent, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was arrested Monday on allegations that during his time in office he leaked sensitive military information to the opposition and conspired against the government.
The court overruled an objection by the counsel representing the state that the petition should not be taken up as it had been filed not be by aggrieved person but by his wife and allowed Fonseka’s lawyers to make submissions on his behalf.
A subsequent hearing was scheduled for Feb 23.
Granting permission to proceed with the petition amounts to a preliminary acceptance of the case’s facts by the court, the general’s legal counsel said.
Street protests demanding Fonseka’s release have taken place around the country.
Fonseka, who ran as the opposition candidate in the Jan 26 elections, led the final phase of the military offensive against the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who were defeated last year.
Soon afterwards he was transferred to the ceremonial post of chief of defence staff, a development which led to a rift with the president.