The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Friday, 4 July 2008

Karuna back in Sri Lanka

The rebel LTTE leader, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias ‘Colonel’ Karuna, returned here after completing his jail term in Britain on charges of violation of immigration laws. He fled to London in November 2007 using an alleged forged diplomatic passport.

Karuna left Sri Lanka after a split in the political party he founded, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP). Later, his deputy, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan, took control of the party.

According to diplomatic sources, Karuna had applied for political asylum in the U.K. on the plea that his life was under threat from the LTTE. However, after being sent to prison, he withdrew the plea and moved an application for “voluntary repatriation.”

Human rights groups had urged the U.K. to try Karuna for his alleged rights violations as an LTTE commander in the east, and subsequently as TMVP’s leader. However, the British government chose not to proceed against him as there was no sufficient evidence.

Source: Hindu

Seized boats were sailing towards LTTE area

The Indian trawlers that were seized on Wednesday had been sailing towards the LTTE-controlled Vidattaltivu area in northwestern Mannar district, says Sri Lanka.

“The trawlers were surrounded by naval craft between the Delft and Thalaimannar islands and taken into custody. After investigation, we released 299 trawlers by 10 in the night and the remaining one trawler was released on Thursday morning,” said the Navy spokesman, Commander D.K.P. Dassanayake.

The Indian High Commission intervened to aid in their release.

Fisherfolk from India and Sri Lanka routinely stray into each other’s territorial waters. In recent weeks, both countries have stepped up vigil to ensure that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam does not take advantage of the situation in the guise of fisher folk.

Source: Hindu

Sri Lanka to focus on maritime security

Sri Lanka is contemplating setting up a national strategy for maritime security to address issues related to its strategic and commercial interests in the Indian Ocean. The suggestion has been mooted by a high-level committee appointed by Foreign Affairs Minister Rohitha Bogollagama. On receipt of a concept paper, Mr. Bogollagama has underlined the need for Sri Lanka to adopt a strategy for maritime security, given her geo-strategic location in the Indian Ocean.

A Foreign Ministry statement said the concept paper on maritime security, the first ever comprehensive study conducted in Sri Lanka, covered a wide range of aspects. Having researched and identified the threats, objectives and the strategic plan of action, the paper suggested Sri Lanka should formulate a well-defined national maritime security strategy for the protection of marine resources from unlawful exploitation, prevention of damage or harm to vital assets from acts of subversion, terrorism or sabotage, it said.

The committee has proposed many plans such as maritime domain awareness and intelligence integration, integrated threat response, a regional and global coordination strategy, infrastructure recovery, transportation and commercial security.

The paper also proposed the establishment of an Inter-Ministerial Council and a National Maritime Coordinating Authority through the enactment of legislations. The establishment of a Net-Centric Communication Network linking various units has also been suggested. This would facilitate real-time information, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Separately, the military claimed at least 14 LTTE cadres were killed and 12 injured in battles in the north. The LTTE, in a report posted on its website, claimed hundreds of government employees from the secretariat, hospital, schools and zonal education office marched down the A9 Road to the Kilinochchi District Secretariat on Wednesday to request the government to ensure their safety in Kilinochchi.

Source: Hindu

‘SAARC co-operation key to eliminating regional terrorism’

President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday urged member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) to enhance co-operation to eliminate terrorism and extremism in the region.

He was speaking to Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama at President's Camp Office in Rawalpindi.

Musharraf said SAARC countries would have to devise a joint strategy to overcome the challenges faced by the region.

During the meeting, various issues of national interest, war on terror, the region’s situation and international affairs were discussed. The president stressed the need of close co-operation in various fields between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Bogollagama said the economic and trade co-operation between Pakistan and Sri Lanka were being enhanced while both countries were collaborating in the war on terror.

Bogollagama also met Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani at Prime Minister's House on Thursday.

Gilani said Pakistan and Sri Lanka should play an active role in energising SAARC into a more active group to promote regional co-operation. He noted significant progress by SAARC in a number of areas like poverty alleviation, but said there still was need of strengthening this regional forum, especially in the fields of regional co-operation, environment, agriculture and food, water and energy security. He expressed his government's desire to consolidate ties with Sri Lanka in various fields, particularly diplomatic, political, economic, defence and security. The prime minister said the signing of Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Pakistan and Sri Lanka had boosted economic ties between the two countries.

Source: dailytimes

Sri Lanka journalists demand protection

The BBC's Roland Buerk in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, looks at why journalists and human rights activists there are so angry.

The police dragged barricades across the road, blocking the route to President Mahinda Rajapaksa's office.

Wearing black armbands, journalists and human rights activists said the freedom of the press had been undermined as the war continues between the government and the separatist Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).

"Media workers are continually being harassed, they are being tortured, they are being hammered," said one man who was holding a placard. "So we have been complaining to the authorities but nothing is happening."

"Perhaps, there are individuals within the heart of the government who feel that any kind of dissent is to be taken personally and squashed, because the end justifies the means," said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, from the think-tank the Centre for Policy Alternatives, who had joined the protestors.

"And the end for them may well be their notion of defeating terrorism, but they are destroying everything this country stands for if it is to be a functioning democracy," Mr Saravanamuttu said.

The World Association of Newspapers ranked Sri Lanka the third most dangerous country in the world for media workers in 2007 based on the number who were killed.

Victim's story

Unarmed police officers watched the demonstration from behind the barricades but took no action.

After marching around one of the capital's main roundabouts, severely disrupting traffic, the protesters dispersed.

There have been a series of abductions and assaults against journalists in Sri Lanka, the latest on Monday.

Namal Perera, a defence correspondent and a campaigner, was in a car with a Sri Lankan official from the British High Commission, when they were ambushed.

"I saw the people coming with clubs," Mr Perera said from his bed in hospital.

"They first attacked our windscreen, then they tried to grab me for my shirt. The other persons tried to poke me with the stick. That's how I got these injuries.

"They said in Sinhalese: 'We need to grab you, we need to grab you', something like that. They definitely tried to abduct me," Mr Perera said.

The assailants fled in a white van when other cars began hooting their horns and a crowd gathered.

No-one has been brought to court for attacks like this on journalists and there are accusations the government has been turning a blind eye, if not encouraging them.

'Sense of responsibility'

The ministry of defence, in particular, objects to what it sees as biased and irresponsible reporting of the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Articles which have questioned official casualty figures, some military promotions or which have alleged corruption in arms deals have led to some writers being labelled traitors or enemies of the state.

"This concerns the security of the nation," said Sri Lanka's army commander, Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka.

"People can't play the fool when it comes to security of a nation. Whatever they write, they have to also be responsible. They have to write with a sense of responsibility."

Lt Gen Fonseka said newspapers, published by the Tamil Tigers and found in captured bunkers on the frontlines in the north, show how such reporting helps the enemy.

"They have repeated a lot of articles written here in the south by various defence correspondents. That is because they like that kind of article, they know that kind of article is constructive for their war effort, destructive for our war effort. We will publicise that so people will know which articles have become popular with the LTTE," he said.

'Doing their job'

But some have said such actions make journalists potential targets, and have led to self-censorship and a lack of independent reporting.

"The ministry of defence seems to think this demoralises the troops," said Kumar Nadesan, publisher of the Express group of newspapers.

"I don't think they are demoralising the troops. I think the people are solidly behind the president in whatever he is doing, and this is inconsequential, what the journalists are saying.

"But they do need to report on the truth of what is happening. That is their job, that's their function, their duty, their obligation as journalists, nothing more," Mr Nadesan said.

The government has said it is keen to stop attacks on journalists. It has not imposed formal censorship, as has been used intermittently in earlier phases of the long war.

A cabinet sub-committee of ministers has been set up to look into reporters' grievances, and the police have been directed to carry out a full investigation into Monday's attack.

The protesting journalists in Colombo said results would be the proof of the government's sincerity.

Public opinion remains an important battleground in Sri Lanka's civil war.

Source: bbc

HRW: UK: Abusive Ex-Commander Allowed to Return to Sri Lanka

The British government today regrettably allowed an abusive former Tamil Tiger leader who had been in its custody to return to Sri Lanka as a free man, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on the Sri Lankan government to investigate and prosecute Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, known as Colonel Karuna Amman, for war crimes committed as a commander of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and later as head of an anti-LTTE armed group.

Karuna was the top commander of the LTTE in eastern Sri Lanka, and the reputed number two in the LTTE hierarchy until he left to form his own armed group in March 2004. Tamil Tiger forces under Karuna’s command were directly involved in some of the worst crimes of Sri Lanka’s ongoing civil war, including torture, summary execution, and use of children as soldiers. Because his armed group fought against the LTTE in recent years, the Sri Lankan government did not prosecute him.

“The British government had an alleged war criminal in custody for six months and couldn’t manage to file charges,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This was a rare opportunity to hold a leader of the Tamil Tigers accountable for horrific human rights abuses, and the British government blew it.”

Immigration authorities in the UK arrested Karuna on November 2, 2007. After a criminal conviction, he served half of a nine-month term for possessing illegal documents. Despite assistance from nongovernmental organizations and others, the government on May 9, 2008 announced that the Crown Prosecution Service found there was insufficient evidence to convict Karuna for any criminal offenses in the UK.

The British government has frequently raised concerns about Sri Lanka’s deteriorating human rights situation with Colombo and has long criticized the LTTE for serious human rights abuses. British law permits the prosecution of individuals for serious violations of international law, including torture and war crimes, committed abroad. For example, in 2005, UK courts convicted a former Afghan warlord, Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, for acts of torture and hostage-taking in Afghanistan.

Tamil Tiger forces under Karuna’s command were directly involved in some of the worst crimes of Sri Lanka’s ongoing civil war. In June 1990, some 400 to 600 police officers who surrendered to the LTTE were bound, gagged, and beaten. The Tamil Tigers, including forces under Karuna’s control, then executed the Sinhalese and Muslims among them. In July 1990, Karuna’s forces stopped a convoy of Muslims traveling in Batticaloa district and executed about 75 people, including women and children. In August 1990, Karuna’s forces killed more than 200 civilians in two incidents in Batticaloa district.

In 2004, Human Rights Watch investigated the Tamil Tigers’ recruitment and use of children as soldiers. Karuna’s forces played a prominent role, routinely visiting Tamil homes to tell parents to provide a child for the “movement.” The LTTE harassed and threatened families that resisted, and children were abducted from their homes at night or while walking to school.

After Karuna broke away from the Tamil Tigers, his armed group operated with the complicity of the Sri Lankan security forces. The Karuna group, as it was known, engaged in abduction of children for use as soldiers in Sri Lanka’s eastern districts, taking boys from their homes, work places, temples, playgrounds, public roads, camps for the internally displaced, and even a wedding. These abuses are documented in the Human Rights Watch report, “Complicit in Crime: State Collusion in Abductions and Child Recruitment by the Karuna Group,” published in January 2007.

“Karuna’s escape from justice in the UK is a failure for international justice,” Adams said. “Now that Karuna is back in Colombo, the spotlight is on the Sri Lanka government to do the right thing or be deemed complicit in his crimes.”

Source: hrw