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  News

Waiting for her man to come home: The wife of yet another abducted Tamil businessman, Sinniah Selliah and their two children face a bleak future of Sinniah joining the hundreds who have disappeared during the Rajapakse regime.  Selliah was however luckier than most and was released by his abductors Friday night.

 

Abductions on the rise again
says Mano

 

Killed journalist was a paid
military informant - CID
 

 

AI challenges Govt. to allow
human rights monitors

 

Mervyn for CC Sangaree
to Parliament

 

Army, Church trade charges over LTTE attack

 

Scholarship student
victimised due to race

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On fact finding mission

UN Sec Gen sends special envoy to Sri Lanka

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is to send a special envoy to Sri Lanka this week to report on the ground situation in the country in the wake of the escalating conflict which has taken a heavy civilian toll.

 The decision to send a special envoy follows a telephone discussion the Secretary General had with President Mahinda Rajapakse a few days back where the humanitarian crisis and the rising civilian casualties were discussed.

 The Sunday Leader learns the UN Secretary General (UNSG) had inquired from President Rajapakse whether he had any objection to a special envoy being sent to report on the country situation and was told by the President he had no objection.

 It is learned, the UNSG had informed the President he would be sending UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs, Angela Kane as his representative.

 Kane who is expected in Sri Lanka on February 24 is scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapakse and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse from the government side.

The UN Assistant Secretary General is expected to submit a report on her findings to Ban Ki-Moon on her report for follow up action.

 Germany's Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul last week in an interview to the respected Tages Speigel newspaper said while it would be encouraging for the UN Security Council to take up the Sri Lankan issue, what the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon can do without a formal decision of the Security Council is send a special envoy to Sri Lanka.

She said after the departure of the Norwegian monitors who were in place since the ceasefire agreement of 2002 there is nobody to document human rights violations. "The war is now again in full swing," she charged.


Mysore Cafe owner released

Abductions on the rise again says Mano

By Arthur Wamanan and Shezna Shums

The fear psychosis among the Tamils in Colombo and its suburbs is on the rise again following the recent incidents of abductions, Civil Monitoring Commission (CMC) Convener, Parliamentarian Mano Ganesan told The Sunday Leader.

He said that the recent incidents of businessmen being abducted were not rumours, and added that complaints to the CMC are on the rise again.

"I have noted that the abductions in and around Colombo has increased the fear among the Tamils again. I wish to question the police and the state as to what action they are going to take on this issue," he said.

Ganesan further said the recommencement of abductions would result in small timers also abducting persons for ransom.

"So far there have been complaints of three abductions. But, many have complained to us of threatening calls," Ganesan added.

Meanwhile the owner of the Mysore Cafe who was abducted earlier in the week was released Friday night after he was grilled for two days over a recent visit to the East.

Five to six armed men in police and STF uniform had abducted Sinniah Selliah, the manager of Mysore Caf in Wellawatte on Wednesday night.

A complaint was lodged at the Wellawatte police by his brother in law following the abduction and was asked to be present at the Colombo Crimes Division to go through the file of photographs to identify possible abductors.

"Everything happened in a very short time and we hardly saw the faces of the people who abducted Selliah," witnesses said.

According to the brother in law of Selliah, T. Sashikumar, he (Selliah) had not received threats beforehand nor had the family received any calls regarding ransom money for his release.

Workers who witnessed the incident explained to The Sunday Leader that the abductors were dressed in military uniform and had arrived in a small white van (254-7853).

The abductors although in uniform had not showed any identification or given any reason why they were taking Selliah away. The abduction had taken place at about 9.30 last Wednesday night, and the abductors had only said that they were from the (Galkissa) Mt Lavinia police.

OIC, Mt Lavinia, Mahesh Perera told The Sunday Leader that there was no one by the name of Sinniah Selliah in police custody nor a person arrested from the Mysore Caf.


Killed journalist was a paid military informant - CID

Sampath Lakmal de Silva, a freelance journalist and television reporter who was found shot dead in Dehiwela in July 2006 was a paid military informant, according to CID Head, DIG H.W. Prathapasinghe.

DIG Prathapasinghe told The Sunday Leader on Friday that Lakmal was paid by the army for providing information, and that he had close contacts with military intelligence. Asked about the status of the investigation, the DIG said that no conclusion has been reached, and the case is still open.

Sampath Lakmal was shot three times in the head and once in the chest in the early hours of July 2, 2006, and his body was found on Jayawardena Place, Dehiwela. Police recovered four empty 9mm bullet casings in the vicinity of the body. He was 24 years old at the time of his killing.

The journalist had received calls from two Army Corporals, Warnakumara and Wijeyakumara, prompting him to leave his home at 10:30 pm the previous night, The Sunday Leader reliably learns.

The Sunday Leader learns the two army intelligence operatives' statements were recorded by the CID with investigations also carried out on their telephone records.

Media reports a month after the killing pointed out that police had recovered a log of SMS messages between Sampath Lakmal and his assassin, and that an arrest was imminent. No arrests have been made to date, although two second lieutenants of the Army's 112 Brigade, named Kuruppu and Niroshan Anthony were initially suspected of the murder, according to well informed sources. Both officers have since been promoted to the rank of captain.

Despite verifying that statements were recorded from "several military officers," the CID Chief was hesitant to name any of the officers by name. He did not confirm specifically whether statements were recorded from suspects Kuruppu and Niroshan Anthony, and declined to verify the names of any suspects, stating that this might impede the investigations.

The DIG said that he believes the killing was linked to Sampath Lakmal being an army informant, but refused to go so far as pointing a finger at the LTTE, stating that "there are other angles also to consider." He did not elaborate further.


AI challenges Govt. to allow human rights monitors

The Amnesty International has called on the Government to make human rights the priority by allowing the organisation into the country to make an impartial assessment of its and the LTTE's human rights record.

The AI challenge came following allegations by Defence Spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella that the organisation was biased against the Government.

" Amnesty International's role is to monitor and report on human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict. The organisation has repeatedly requested that the Government should facilitate this role by allowing us access to the country", Irene Khan, the AI Secretary General has said.

Rejecting Rambukwella's claim that the AI had failed 'to utter a single word' against recent bomb attacks, the organisation has pointed out that in the last month alone several statements were made condemning the targeting of civilians including one on February 4.

"The situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated and both the Government and the LTTE stand accused of serious human rights abuses. All parties should stop targeting civilians and uphold their commitment to international human rights law," Khan has also said.

The AI has further charged that the rule of law continues to be undermined while the culture of impunity persists.


Mervyn for CC Sangaree to Parliament

President Mahinda Rajapakse is expected to appoint TULF President V Anandasangaree as a UPFA national list MP following the impending resignation of Labour Minister Mervyn Silva.

Minister Silva announced yesterday that he would be resigning from Parliament shortly to take up the nomination to the Constitutional Council.

President Mahinda Rajapakse's nomination to the Constitutional Council is still pending and Silva hinted to the media he would be the President's nominee.

Informed sources said the President is expected to appoint Anandasangaree to the national list vacancy Silva's resignation will create to build up a Tamil base and counter the TNA in Parliament.

The President had earlier offered him the post of Northern Province Governor. Anandasangaree told the President at the last meeting he had with APRC representatives that the proposed 13th Amendment formula to resolve the ethnic conflict was an attempt to treat a cancer with medicine meant for a headache.

However Anandasangaree who is locked in a bitter battle with the LTTE and TNA has backed the President's attempts to crush the Tigers.

He has strongly criticised the LTTE's human rights track record and not accused the Government of any human rights abuse in the north.


Army, Church trade charges over LTTE attack

By Arthur Wamanan

The army on Friday insisted that there was a request by the Catholic priest to clean the Mannar church premises, following a denial by the priests that they had made any such request.

The Parish Priest of St. Sebastian's Cathedral, Mannar, Fr. S.K. Devarajah on Thursday denied military statements that the priests had requested the soldiers to do shramadana work at the church.

Military Spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told The Sunday Leader that the soldiers were in fact at the church premises for shramadana work.

"Otherwise, there was no requirement for them to be cleaning the church premises," he said.

Fr. Devarajah stated that the army had occupied the church premises following the CFA abrogation and added that the priests had gone to the shrine to get permission from the officers at the church to have the Lenten service.

He stated that they did not make any request for help in cleaning the church from the army.

"In fact, we noticed that the place was very clean and fit for the divine services. However, it appears that our visit had been maliciously reported in some of the media as exposing the service personnel to danger by making them undertake shramadana work," he said. 

The church came under artillery fire from the Tigers and its front portico area was damaged. The military said that six soldiers who were engaging in the clean up work were killed and 10 others injured in the attack. Twenty five soldiers were engaged in the clean up, the military said.


Scholarship student victimised due to race

By Shezna Shums

Questions have been raised as to why a Tamil student who passed the year five scholarship exam with 192 marks was not allowed to enter Visakha Vidyalaya. 

Yogendra Nethmi passed the year five scholarship examination with 192 marks, making her the second highest in the Colombo District.

The cut off mark for the admission of students to Visakha College is 181.

However her choice of entering Visakha Vidylaya was not entertained by an order given by the Ministry of Education.

The Sunday Leader learns that the student is still without a school due to the decision taken by the Education Ministry.

The Sunday Leader asked the Minister of Education, Susil Premajayanth what he intends to do regarding this issue, and he said that "similar situations have arisen in other schools as well,"

The year five scholarships open the door for children from rural schools to gain access to reputed schools in Colombo and other major towns.  

"We will try to solve this problem," promised the Minister.


WFP aid curtailed

Relief items sent to the IDPs in Killinochchi have not been sent beyond the Medawachchiya check point, Kilinochchi Government Agent N. Vedhanayagam told The Sunday Leader.

He stated that the relief items were sent by the World Food Programme (WFP) via UN trucks. The relief items are to be distributed among the IDPs who were displaced after 2006 in Kilinochchi, Vedhanayagam said.

He stated that the relief items for January had not arrived due to transportation issues from Medawachchiya. Transportation of items to several parts in the north was restricted following restrictions in Medawachchiya. "The vehicles are not allowed to go beyond Medawachchiya," he added.


President ok's medical reps to visit hospitals

President Mahinda Rajapakse on Friday directed that Medical Representatives be permitted to visit Govt. Health Institutions. 

The President gave this directive to the Secretary of the Health Ministry Dr. H.A.P. Kahandaliyanage, on an appeal made by the Sri Lanka Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (SLCPI), states a communique issued by the organisation. 

 This directive the SLCPT states comes in the wake of the undertaking given by the Chamber to implement a Code of Conduct for Medical Representatives under the advice of the Minister of Healthcare & Nutrition Nimal Siripala de Silva.

Previously there was a Health Ministry directive issued preventing medical representatives from entering government hospitals.

President Mahinda Rajapakse's directive was made at a meeting held at Temple Trees with officials from both the Ministry of Healthcare & Nutrition and SLCPI present.   The Ministry was represented by Secretary Dr. H.A.P. Kahandaliyanage, The Director General of Health Services - Dr. U.A Mendis, Prof. of Pharmacology - Faculty of Medicine Colombo Prof. Lal Jayakody, Director Medical Supplies Division and Dr. Hemantha Beneragama, whilst the chamber officials consisted of the President - Adrian Basnayake, Vice President - Ananda Samarasinghe, Past President Nimal Dias Jayasinghe, Dr. Lucian Jayasuriya and Dr. Ramesh Pathirana.

The President also directed officials to take necessary measures to ensure that monopolistic situations are avoided when registering new drugs and to maintain good   competition in the pharmaceutical market as this has made it possible for Sri Lankans to enjoy some of the lowest prices for pharmaceuticals in the world as per studies done by WHO/Health Action International, the statement added.


Animals die in attempt to escape Deyata Kirula

By Risidra Mendis

Environmentalists have criticised authorities at the National Zoological Gardens for the death of six spotted deer at the zoo.

The six deer paid with their lives when zoo officials allegedly tried to catch and take them to the Deyata Kirula exhibition that concluded on February 11 at the BMICH. 

According to zoo officials many animals were injured when zoo keepers tried to capture them prior to the exhibition. "Four animals died on February 7 and another two of the injured died on February 8.

Environmentalists have accused zoo keepers of negligence when capturing the animals and questioned zoo authorities as to why the carcasses were burnt without a proper post mortem been conducted.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader President, Sathva Mithra, Sargarica Rajakarunanayake said she had read a news item where three deer died when they were been noosed to be taken to the Deyata Kirula exhibition. According to this news item zoo authorities say they were not aware of the incident. If permission was granted for the release of these animals for the Deyata Kirula exhibition how can zoo authorities say they were not aware of the incident," Sargarica asked.

She added that is it bad enough that these innocent animals are confined to cages and criticised zoo authorities for giving permission for the animals to be taken for the exhibition.


Low level of violence in eastern polls so far

The low level of violence in the run up to the March 10 local government elections in the Batticaloa District is in itself not a guarantee of a free and fair poll  or that violence would not spike  nearer to polling day, a fact finding mission by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)  said.

"The low-level of violence is a positive development, reported in both the Tamil majority and Muslim majority areas," the report said but warned that the district was still tense.

"The local government elections in Batticaloa are not free from violence. It also is clear that election-related incidents of violence by themselves are not an effective measure of how free and fair an election is. There is a need to take into account the overall context of threat and intimidation, fear and insecurity. Unfortunately, due to the deteriorating security situation there are limited numbers of violations reported to the authorities, and even less investigated," it said.

 "The reasons for this low-level of violence are not clear. One reason reported to CPA was that the main armed factions operating in government-controlled areas are themselves constrained by the security situation," the CPA report said.

It said that the TMVP was wary of factional fighting between cadres loyal to Pillayan and those stilled aligned with Karuna. "This is especially relevant for the various TMVP cadres, who due to the Karuna-Pillayan factional struggle are wary of moving about."

The report also said that cases of child recruitment had fallen to three in January from 14 in December.

The report said that low level of violence was also due to under reporting and that high levels of intimidation was reported prior to nominations. "The various incidents reported to CPA suggest that this is by no means an election that is free of violence. The process of nomination itself involved intimidation and violence."


WFP US $ 54 mn short to feed IDPs

By Amantha Perera

The World Food Programme (WFP) is facing a critical shortfall of US $ 54 million in funds for its relief operations that assist one million people in the country including 400,000 newly displaced and affected by the conflict, the UN agency said last week.

"To date, the operation has suffered from the slow arrival of donor funds, with a critical shortage of cash contributions that can be used for local procurement," it said and added that it was urgently in need of US $ 11 million to pre-position stocks in Vavuniya and Jaffna as contingency measures.

"WFP is facing a shortfall of US$54 million for its relief and recovery operation for the period until the end of December 2008 in line with the Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP). WFP requires US$11 million immediately to pre-position food in the north - Vavuniya and Jaffna - and to build buffer stocks as a contingency measure," WFP said.

Germany last week donated rice stocks worth of US $ 1.1 million to be distributed in the northern Jaffna Peninsula to meet critical food assistance needs.

"We are extremely grateful for this German contribution. This has come at a truly appropriate time when humanitarian needs for basic food rations are particularly urgent, as that is the primary source of livelihood for the civilian population which is experiencing increased suffering due to the recent upsurge of the conflict in the northern districts," WFP Country Director Mohamed Saleheen said at the handing over ceremony.

The hand-over of the 2000 metric tonnes of rice was made by German Ambassador Jrgen Weerth, to W.K.K. Kumarasiri, Secretary of the Ministry of Nation Building and Estate Infrastructure Development in Colombo on February 14.

Last month the WFP was accused of transporting high protein biscuits to Kilinochchi to be used by the Tigers. The stock, detained by the Medawachciiya police at the Medawachchiya check point later turned out be a stock provided by UNICEF to be used in a feeding programme under the aegis of the Health Ministry.


IFJ backs journos' freedom march

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has strongly supported the thousand strong protest march for press freedom in Colombo on February 14 and has urged the Government of Sri Lanka to hear their demands.

Organised by the Movement Against Media Suppression, hundreds of journalists were joined on the march by a cross section of Sri Lankan society including many from the trade union movement, human rights activists, civil society and the women's movement.

The Movement against Media Suppression is convened by IFJ affiliates the Free Media Movement, the Working Journalists Association and the Media Employees Trade Union together with other media rights groups.

In the strongest show of solidarity for media freedom in recent times, media groups and civil society pledged to work together to defend and promote freedom of expression;

Protesters demanded a quick and transparent investigation into killings and attacks against journalists, an end to intimidation and harassment of media, a termination of unofficial censorship, and the right for the media to report the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from all sides.

This protest comes after an escalation of violence and threats towards journalists and continued restrictions on reporting the war. On January 25, the producer in the news division of the state controlled Sri Lanka, Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC), Lal Hemantha Mawalage, was the victim of a knife attack, while on his way home in Athurugiriya.

In a similar incident, the Free Media Movement (FMM) reported that five intruders forced entry into the home of another journalist working for state-controlled Thinakaran, Suhaib M. Kasim, on January 28 and stabbed him.

So far in 2008, there have been eight reported cases of violence and threats towards journalists in Sri Lanka. In 2007, seven journalists and media workers were killed, making Sri Lanka one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world.

"These protests show a deep desire among Sri Lankans to safeguard their right to access reliable and timely information both on the conflict and matters generally. We hope the Government of Sri Lanka will hear these demands and understand that freedom of expression is the key to democracy," said IFJ Asia Pacific Director, Jacqueline Park.

The IFJ strongly urges Sri Lanka's Government to enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolution to Protect Journalists Reporting in War Zones and Crisis Areas, adopted by the UN Security Council in 2006.

The resolution stipulates "that all parties to an armed conflict comply fully with the obligations applicable to them under international law related to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including journalists, media professionals and associated personnel."


CPA condemns civilian killings

By Kshanika Argent

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has condemned the recent attacks on civilians.

In a statement issued Friday the CPA said that innocent civilians throughout the island, including infants, women and school children have been made the victims of armed attacks in the ethnic conflict.

It went on to say that attacks on helpless civilians have increased following the intensification of hostilities in the new year and after the abrogation of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) and the removal of the presence on the ground of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), in particular.

The statement further said that the most recent examples of the violence are the explosions in the Perriyamadu area of Mannnar and the Fort Railway Station, in which the lives of school children were brutally snuffed out.   

The CPA statement echo's the sentiments of the International Committee of the Red Cross which recently stated that Sri Lanka's civilian casualties in the conflict with the LTTE have reached 'appalling levels' with 180 people killed since January.

The ICRC statement read, 'The ICRC strongly condemns any attacks on civilians and urgently calls on all concerned to put a stop to violence against civilians,' and added 'Many of the victims have been children on their way to and from school.' The statement also mentioned that the deaths have occurred in a six week period since the start of the year in attacks on buses, railway stations and individuals, with as many as 270 people injured.'

Meanwhile the CPA has called for the recognition by both sides of the overarching importance of minimising civilian tragedy and suffering in the context of the conflict and in its conduct and stressed that it is incumbent on all combatants to respect the principles and standards of international humanitarian and human rights laws and norms pertaining to the situation of civilians caught up in armed conflict and called upon them to publicly pledge that they will not target civilians as well as agree to the designation and protection of peace zones as places of civilian refuge.


Tobacco sales up in smoke

By Kshanika Argent

The newest victim of the high cost of living in Sri Lanka is the tobacco industry, which has seen a 20 to 40% decline in sales according to recent reports.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Ceylon Tobacco Company (CTC) sources stated that the figure is total of the three major tobacco industries, which are CTC, Beedi and white cigarettes, and is not a total decline in sales of the CTC brand.

However, CTC sources added that the company has seen a decline in sales in the recent past and attributed this to the regulations which were implemented in December 2006, that included a ban on public smoking. CTC sources also stated that the cost of living factor plays a major role in the sales drop. One CTC source said, "With the rise in cost of living so has the prices in cigarettes so people have changed their lifestyles." Despite this, profits have not suffered much according to CTC sources. 


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