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yajitha   yajitha Sanjana's TIGblog
Sanjana's profile

The persuasive power of numbers (Part 2): “54 per cent of Tamils live outside the North and East”

My earlier article (The persuasive power of numbers and the mystery “8.5%” figure) highlighted the dangers of using incomplete census data and how it has been manipulated to bolster political agendas.

Another persuasive number that is routinely cited is the figure of “54%”, used in connection with the proportion of ‘Tamils’ living outside of the North and East. Here is a recent example:

“At least, the West has realized that 54% of ethnic Tamils are now living harmoniously in the Sinhalese-majority districts in other parts of the country, but Jehan Perera is in a fantasy world.” (Sri Lanka Tamil Tiger spokesman Tamilselvan’s death a set back for peace laments Sri Lanka’s peacenik, 3 November 2007)

There are other commentators who have used the number in such a way as to seek to justify that since “54%” of Tamils now live amongst the Sinhalese, there is no ‘ethnic conflict’:

When an untruth is repeated over a period of time, it usually appears to end up as an unassailable truth…It appears that the Boston Globe is unaware that today, the majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka, (about 54%), lives outside the north and the east of the country, among the Sinhalese, Muslims and other communities that blend into Sri Lanka’s multi-ethnic social fabric. This demographic transition shows that Sri Lanka’s conflict is not an “ethnic conflict” as the world at large conveniently categorizes it. (Global media’s ignorance of Lanka’s complex issues, Rajmohan Gomez, 19 November 2007)

But it is not just Asian Tribune writers that propagate the number. Bernard Goonetilleke, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the US, in his attack on the Boston Globe article referred to above had this to say:

“[The Boston Globe] says Tamils “live mostly in the island nation’s north and east”. However, 54 percent of Sri Lanka’s Tamils now live outside the north and east, among Sinhalese, Muslims, and others. (Editorial misreads Sri Lankan government’s situation, Bernard Goonetilleke, 19 November 2007)

President Rajapakse has also referred to the “54%” figure in his various addresses to underscore the view that Tamils have “migrated” to the Western Province, where they reside “happily”. The following is an extract from a speech before the United Nations General Assembly:

“Today, the innocent Tamil people in Sri Lanka are migrating to the Western Province in large numbers. 54% of the total Tamil population is now living outside the North East. Especially in the Western Province they live and work happily. It is no secret to the world that the LTTE is a murderous outfit.” (Speech of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sixty-First Session of the United Nations General Assembly, 20th September 2006)

It is worth noting that in some instances the reference is simply to “Tamils”, but in other instances to “Sri Lanka’s Tamils” (Goonetilleke) or to “54% of ethnic Tamils”, as in this example:

“The life line is given to a terrorist movement which has no acceptance over a majority of the 12 percent Tamils. Those who are providing the life line in their acts, pronouncements, policy decisions and behaviors do not want to know that 54% of ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka now live with the majority Sinhalese in other provinces…” (A joint ‘life line’ to Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, Daya Gamage, 23 September 2007)

Interestingly, in the above example, Gamage cites both the correct figure of 12% from the DCS 2001 census estimate (see earlier article) and the “54%” figure, which of course makes his point all the more persuasive.

So where does the “54%” derive?

All references to the statement that “54% of Tamils live outside of the North and East” do not provide any supporting evidence. The recent report of the International Crisis Group in its study on Sinhala nationalism also highlights the lack of evidence for the “54%” claim and how it has been used to argue that devolution of power and federal solutions are irrelevant:

“More recently, the president and others have taken to claiming that 54 per cent of Tamils now live outside the north and east. That figure – for which no evidence is given – is used to argue that devolution is not relevant, since many Tamils no longer have a connection to their supposed homeland and in any case prefer to live in the south, where a federal solution would not benefit them. That so many Tamils live outside the north and east is also offered as proof they are well treated by the government and the Sinhala majority. “There is no ethnic conflict”, Gammanpila said. “If you come to Colombo, you see every ethnic community living in harmony….Outside of the north and east, all communities are living in peace and harmony”. (Sri Lanka: Sinhala nationalism and the elusive southern consensus, 7 November 2007)

Having previously explored the material surrounding the “8.5%” figure, I had a hunch that the “54%” figure that is cited by so many from the President down to mere Asian Tribune writers, actually stems from the same error: the source was the same flawed and incomplete CIA data highlighted in my earlier article.

When a colleague adept at numbers looked at the figures for me, he very quickly arrived at the same conclusion. Those not interested in the maths, can skip to the next paragraph. Perversely, the “54%” figure seems to be arrived at by ignoring the Sri Lankan Tamils living outside of the North East (where the 2001 census was able to capture their numbers - 3.9% according to the flawed CIA Factsheet) and solely take the percentage of Up Country Tamils (4.6%) as a percentage of 8.5%, giving the “54%” figure. In other words, or rather put as an equation, this would be 4.6 / 8.5 x 100 = 54%. Could our thinking behind this rather dubious approach to the calculation be right? I invite alternative explanations as to how the “54%” figure might have been calculated.

Some reflections

The use of the “54%” figure raises several important issues. It is in the first instance another example of misleading use of incomplete census data and journalists need to be be cautious when relying on this figure and its implications. But what is more interesting is to look at what underlines the thinking behind the “54%” number by its proponents.

The rationale behind the use of the figure is clearly to include data relating to so called ‘Up Country’ or ‘Indian Origin Tamils’. But it is clear that when dealing with issues directly pertaining to the North East, such as a discussion on the concept of a Tamil ‘homeland’, issues of devolution or federalism or as to whether there is even the existence of an ‘ethnic conflict’, using such data seriously lacks credibility. The International Crisis Group rightly points out that “including ‘Indian Tamils’ weakens the [president’s] point, since they have never been involved in the struggle for a Tamil homeland or autonomous region in the North and East”.

These challenges to the “54%” figure dismiss many arguments put forward by those pushing certain political agendas. Of course the figure is very persuasive. But replacing the figure of “54%” with the ‘true’ or truer figure for the number of Sri Lankan Tamils actually living outside the North and East, would give us a very different way of looking at the picture. The footnote to the above extract from the ICG report neatly sets out a rough estimate of the number of Sri Lankan Tamils living outside of the North and East, using data compiled by the Northeast Provincial Council from District Secretariats’ data and arrive at a figure of 27 per cent, not 54 per cent. Replacing the figure “54%” with the figure of “27%” does not really have the same impact does it?

But regardless of the numbers or their accuracy, these statistics linked to demographic changes in the country are being used to sidestep important issues that are at the heart of the conflict. The fact that a group of people may have moved away from a particular region - a region that is experiencing severe hardships as a result of cycles of sustained conflict - is being offered as an indicator of preference. This raises a number of questions. Have these people voted with their feet? And what have they voted for by moving? Have people of different ethnic groups who have moved out of areas prone to conflict done the same? And what are the political implications of the movement of other ethnic groups from conflict areas?

It is clear from the above observations that politicians and certain media organisations are cleverly using the “54%” as a particular political manipulation in such a way as to undermine a different political agenda. But then, that is the persuasive power of numbers.

[Editors Note: For more information on the evolution of conflict and peace in Sri Lanka visit PACT. PACT seeks to help those with an interest in the Sri Lankan conflict gain a deeper understanding of the conflict’s roots, manifestation and trajectory and to promote discussion around events, themes and experiences of peace and conflict related events.]


January 3, 2008 | 1:01 AM Comments  {num} comments



yajitha   yajitha Sanjana's TIGblog
Sanjana's profile

The origins of the Media Accreditation Card

By Niresh Eliatamby

(The writer is a journalist with 17 years in newspapers, radio, television, wire services and magazines. He was Correspondent for The Associated Press (AP) for 5 years, and has given lectures and written research papers on journalism in Sri Lanka at international forums)

I was rather surprised at the public statement by the Minister of Mass Media & Information that only those who have been granted Media Accreditation Cards by the Government Information Department are considered by the Government of Sri Lanka to be journalists.

I believe the Minister has been misled on the origin of this card. As one who was present at the time the decision was taken to begin issuing this card, I thought I would enlighten him on the reason for its existence.

In the year 1991, media freedom was under severe attack by the government of President R. Premadasa. A large number of journalists had fled the country following the brutal abduction, torture and murder of well-known journalist Richard De Soysa by persons who were positively identified as being members of the Presidential Security Division. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party, of which I believe Minister Yapa is a member, was in the forefront of protests on behalf of the media.

Hard on the heels of Richard’s killing, President Premadasa issued a directive to all government ministries and departments that no government official should speak to the media without the written permission of the President himself. I recall this well, since several Ministers of the then government and Secretaries of Ministries told me so when they turned down my requests for interviews. It was another hammer blow to media freedom.

This matter was raised at a Cabinet Media Briefing held at the Gramodaya Centre. The Cabinet Spokesman at the time, Hon. Ranil Wickremasinghe, denied that such a directive had been issued. Journalists present, who included members of the newly formed Free Media Movement, then raised the subject of access to government premises such as Ministries, complaining that they were being turned away by security guards at the gates to such institutions. The Hon. Wickremasinghe asked whether the business cards of journalists were not being accepted, and was told that very few journalists carried business cards, and that those who did found that they were not accepted.

The Hon. Wickremasinghe then asked what the media wanted done, and one journalist (I do not recall who it was) suggested that a Media Identity Card be issued. Another journalist suggested that it carry the government emblem. Yet another journalist suggested that it should be issued by the Government Information Department. This matter was then discussed by all present, and a consensus arrived at.

I recall that it was decided that applications for the card would be strictly voluntary. Journalists could apply only if they wanted to. There were a few older journalists who, having done without such a card for many decades, felt it would be a bit of a nuisance to have to apply for a card, and then carry it around.

After many delays, the card was issued in 1992. I was one of the first recipients of the card. In fact, I still have that card with me at home, and dug it up to take a look at it. I look a lot younger then!

It can be clearly seen that the Media Accreditation Card was an instrument of inclusion to facilitate and assist the work of journalists. At no time was it proposed that the same card should be used as a method of exclusion. It is not a license. It is a tool to help journalists. The card has not been entirely successful, since many government officials still refuse to recognise it, notably members of the armed forces and police. However, as we Sri Lankans say, it is better than nothing.

I myself have been in the media field for 17 years. For most of those years, I have been granted a Media Accreditation Cards by the Government Information Department. However, in some years when I was not on the staff of any media institution, I did not receive a media accreditation card. This does not mean that I stopped being a journalist! I am presently a freelance journalist, a profession and designation that is accepted the world over.

I trust that the Minister will withdraw his statement on the Media Accreditation Card being the basis for defining who can and cannot be a journalist.

The Minister’s statement now disenfranchises my right to call myself a journalist, simply because I am not affiliated to one media organisation for the purposes of the Government Information Department. After 17 years in the media field, this comes as a rude shock.

I wonder what I should call myself now?


January 3, 2008 | 1:01 AM Comments  {num} comments



yajitha   yajitha Sanjana's TIGblog
Sanjana's profile

Looking back, looking forward: A brief chat with HRW Human Rights Defender Award winner Sunila Abeysekera on war and peace in Sri Lanka

Sunila Abeysekera, a recipient of the prestigious Human Rights Defender Awards by Human Rights Watch, speaks on the year that was and what lies ahead in 2008 .


In her interview, Sunila strikes a sombre note and says:

“I think [2007] is the worst year I’ve seen in Sri Lanka in terms of human rights… It’s very hard to have any sense of hope for 2008.”

“The old international community - Norway, Netherlands, Germany - is really seriously irrelevant.”

“No space for civil society.”

“Even if Prabhakaran is killed tomorrow and the LTTE is devastated the issues of discrimination against Tamil people in this country will continue to exist.”

“I don’t think equality is going to come about because we have a military victory against the LTTE - certainly not.”

For a related article on Sunila, please read A Romance with Rights.


January 2, 2008 | 9:01 AM Comments  {num} comments



ashroffali   ashroffali ashroff ali's TIGblog
ashroff ali's profile

Hope through respectful dialogue
Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

A highly praised book on my desk, "Journey into Islam:
The Crisis of Globalization" (Brookings Institution
Press 2007), by a former Pakistani civil servant,
Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies of the American
University's School of International Service, is
advertised as making "a powerful case for forming
bonds across religion, race, and tradition to create
lasting harmony between Islam and the West" and as
"essential reading in an era of mistrust, violence,
and misunderstanding."

Computer science professor Judea Pearl of the
University of California, Los Angeles, says, Ahmed's
book "provides a fresh, scholarly and invaluable
insight into the mindset of Muslim society in the post
9/11 era, a society that many in the West view as
unreasonable and most Muslims view as victimized," and
"a 'must' read for anyone concerned with the course of
this planet."

Pearl is the father of Daniel (Danny) Pearl, the Wall
Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped by
terrorists while investigating shoe bomber Richard
Reid and alleged links between al-Qaida and Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence. Danny was beheaded, after
uttering the final words, "I am Jewish," in February
2002 in Karachi.

I learned about the book, "Going beyond the usual
discussion of 'moderates vs. radicals,'" in the April
19, 2007 Christian Science Monitor article by Jane
Lampman, "Students tour Muslim world." Ahmed was
leading four young American researchers on a tour of
nine Muslim countries -- Egypt, India, Indonesia,
Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria and Turkey --
at a time when "the future of the United States and
the Muslim world is linked more closely (and
painfully) than ever."

Hope for the future

Ahmed, "a prominent voice promoting interfaith
dialogue," believes increased dialogue is "the only
hope for the future of Western-Islamic relations." "I
wouldn't waste time talking to Osama bin Laden," says
Ahmed, but would be "prepared to spend time and money"
to talk to "someone who knows little about America and
may never have traveled abroad and is open to
discussion."

Lampman wrote that Ahmed thinks the United States
"hasn't been doing any real talking to people U.S.
leaders need to talk with ... voices that speak for
large sections of Muslim society." Says Ahmed:
"America is the one nation that can change the course
of the planet, and so it has a leadership
responsibility."

I am not an Islamic scholar but I am a Muslim, albeit
secular, and have written in this space since 9/11
about Islam -- the Islam that I know and learned from
my parents. Lampman's reporting inspired me to write a
series of columns on Islam for the Pacific Daily News
at that time.

Thanks to my subscription to the Pew Forum on Religion
& Public Life, a project of the Pew Research Center, a
"fact tank" that provides information on issues,
attitudes and trends shaping America and the world, I
learned of the launching of Ahmed's book, read the
June 13 "Event Transcript," and, of course, ordered
the book, which seeks answers to 9/11, answers which,
the book claims, will not come "until Islam and the
West found a way past the hatred and mistrust
intensified by the war on terror and the forces of
globalization." The theme of the book is "dialogue."

In my Dec. 19 column in the PDN about the Oct. 13
Muslim open letter "A Common Word Between Us and You,"
the Nov. 18 "Christian Response" initiated by Yale
Divinity School, and the Vatican's Nov. 19 letter
expressing Pope Benedict XVI's appreciation and
invitation, I was hoping in my heart for a "dialogue."

Professor Tamara Sonn of College of William & Mary,
and former president of the American Council for the
Study of Islamic Societies, writes that readers of the
book "will be left with a sense of optimism that true
dialogue between civilizations is not only possible
but essential."

In unequivocally powerful words, the Rev. Canon John
L. Peterson, Director of the Center for Global Justice
and Reconciliation at the Washington National
Cathedral, writes: "I strongly urge anyone concerned
with the fate of this planet to not only read 'Journey
into Islam', but also heed it."

Ahmed spoke his feelings at Brookings when the book
was launched: "As a Muslim ... I am intrigued,
puzzled, and sometimes I despair ... when I hear the
words like Islamofascism. That, in a broad sense,
labels every Muslim ... the broad brush-stroke makes
every Muslim uncomfortable."

More than one-fifth of the people on planet Earth are
Muslim; one of the 57 Muslim nations is a nuclear
state, with a few others aspiring to become nuclear.
Branding them Islamofascists is a failure of human
thinking.

Friendship

Having written about critical, creative, and positive
thinking, I am kicking off my New Year writing for the
PDN about two grandfathers: Judea Pearl, a Jew who
"played (and) rode donkeys together" with Palestinian
kids, and Akbar Ahmed, a Muslim whose childhood
memories involved the killings of Muslims in India and
Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. They have learned from
one another and have created the "Daniel Pearl
Dialogues for Muslim-Jewish Understanding Featuring
Akbar Ahmed and Judea Pearl" to spread reconciliation
and friendship between their Abrahamic faiths "through
frank and respectful dialogue ... essential to the
future of humanity."

Pearl left his "math equations" behind "to defy
terrorists who murdered" his son.

"If they try to spread division among people, then we
ought to spread friendship." Ahmed says, "I am seeing
cause and effect," and joked, "The world must be in
worse shape than I thought, if just two old men
talking gives people hope."

January 2, 2008 | 4:46 AM Comments  {num} comments

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deane034   deane034 Deane's TIGblog
Deane's profile

Paul Beats Rudy Gulliani

That's what the headlines would be Tomorrow.

Well, its the big day today for the Paulites - Iowa primaries. The Des Moines Register poll has Ron Paul at 9% tied with Fred Thompson, trailing McCain at 13% and leading Gulliani who's stuck at 5%. The CNN poll has Paul tied with Rudy at 8%. I expect Paul to get 4th, that would be one hell of an achievement, even MSM (mainstream-media) is predicting good things from Paul with New Hampshire on the way Paul can look to get in the top 3 there.

There are reasons to believe he'll do well than the polls suggests, Paul unquestionably attracts first-time voters and Independents. Most of the polls are conducted by phoning previous Republican voters, which wouldn't include either of these camps.

Ron Paul's revolution raised close to $20 Million last quarter, most of it online and all of it from small donors. Including of course the two money bombs which brought in $4 Million and $6M respectively. The Campaign is completely grassroots and supporter-led.

If you haven't heard of Paul, Google him or search on you tube. His supporters call the whole thing a revolution. Here's a good video on his rise, Here's a nice one (a few months old). He's all over YouTube and Facebook. Here's the official site.

January 2, 2008 | 2:01 AM Comments  {num} comments



ashroffali   ashroffali ashroff ali's TIGblog
ashroff ali's profile

Solidarity for Unity in Diversity
Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

Solidarity in a country is at its height when cultural values of diverse communities in society are shared and reciprocated. Stemming from politics it may be construed as a dictatorship from the top to bind a group of people together-comparable to containing a heap of sand with separable grains intact.
It can also arise from a societal psyche to act altruistically for the common good in recognition of each others’ human dignity-comparable to water contained in an invisible bond.
Solidarity is best exemplified in the attitude of members of a society to the plight of refugees who have fled the country of origin to new frontiers or are housed in camps in their own country, due to internal clashes.
Although International recognition for displaced persons commenced with sufferings of specifically persecuted escapees, now the concerns are intensified due to multitudes of them escaping.
Escapees are mainly from developing countries; this is attributed to poverty-imbalance in subsistence distribution-heavy indebtedness causing inflation-natural disasters-ethnic /religious discord and other rivalries.
In Sri Lanka the main causes for displaced persons are ethnic discord and natural disasters such as the tsunami victims still languishing in camps due to lack of solidarity for curious reasons; other discords too that may go the same way are being fermented in the country!
As long as rival political and other extremist forces together with politicized bureaucracies squash attempts to reach mutual acceptance of the aspirations of diverse communities with a sense of solidarity peace will never prevail.
The remedy for this in Sri Lanka will have to be constitutional reforms!
The phenomenon of political rivalry that brings about communal clashes and its consequent impact on solidarity are evident in countries where rival political forces and ideologies are struggling to capture power left by colonialists in the wake of independence!
Spiting and criticizing so-called colonialists without accepting the helping hand that they extend cannot bring easy peace to such countries; it will only contribute to further damage to solidarity.
Neither will victory in war solve conflicts as it will sow seeds of hatred that one day will have to be reaped by both sides; war can only bring ceaseless waves of ever escalating hatred which too will never cease!!
The cause for escapee flights is mainly the denial of human rights in its spirit in spite of laws pertaining to human rights etched on cold tablets of stone; this requires a change of heart in the body politic!
Hospitable solidarity is expected from host countries when escapees appear at their frontiers; it should not be merely a question of their national security and sovereignty-the latter being only a later development in human history.
Shouldn’t solidarity with refugees go with recognition of rights and duties that are inherent to the dignity and self respect of human beings-although frauds must be sifted out for punitive treatment?
Shouldn’t solidarity be extended in the long run from mere survival to education of children, medical assistance, cultivation of their cultures to express their own faith, in a manner acceptable to them?
All these being considerations that were perhaps denied to escapees in their country of origin; such solidarity with refugees is more in keeping with the image of a global village in a multicultural society as opposed to majority hegemony ethnic and religious wise?
It is obviously sans majority hegemony and upholding solidarity that most countries which commenced a journey together with Sri Lanka after gaining independence, have gone far ahead of Sri Lanka economically and politically!
There is always a burst of sympathy for refugees at the beginning but this often wanes off and the escapees are soon found languishing in camps (take the tsunami victims) that are for them like prisons with cold governmental regulations; Solidarity by the media and those concerned are needed at this very stage.
Solidarity is what persons in charitable institutions both local and international are all about-although they are dubbed ‘do-gooders with ulterior motives’ by those blissfully unaware of altruistic motives!
There is the clash of economic and political ideologies universally and it is the agents of one that are quick to criticize initiatives by the others for various reforms and charities; this is done to the very detriment of their ‘proletariat’ and this does not in any way serve the cause of solidarity!
Criticism by these agents extend to all activities of democratic forces and they would rather prop up a government with a mixed economy without supporting a government with a fully privatized economy on the presumption that the former would fail faster than the latter, for their ideology to prevail; this is a matter of serious concern for a developing country on a fast track towards a failing states with a fractured solidarity.
It is indeed a sad spectacle to see the genius of these agents being frittered away for a lost cause at the expense of solidarity of the country to which they too are undoubtedly patriotic!
Paradoxically today there are the people with feelings of unity, solidarity and mutual dependence and also people who bitterly oppose each other-the latter is the cause for refugee flights, for which international agencies are committed to assist; ironically these are the only institutions that come out boldly offering generous aid, even at the cost to their precious lives!
The way of solidarity demands that humans be less selfish, overcome the fear of others and be amenable to education on these grounds.
This is the education that those in authority in countries driven by narrow parochial conflicts due to petty mindedness-eventually climaxing to majority hegemonies, must provide.
Such educational expenditure to bring about solidarity as opposed to provision of expenditure that disintegrates it will certainly benefit the country!

January 1, 2008 | 6:45 AM Comments  {num} comments

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ashroffali   ashroffali ashroff ali's TIGblog
ashroff ali's profile

Airlines suspend Flights to Myanmar
Related to country: Myanmar

Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

Qatar Airways, one of only 15 foreign airlines operating in and out of Myanmar, is suspending its weekly four flights to the military-ruled former Burma in January, a company official said on Saturday.

"Our last flight on this route will be on 9th January 2008," a member of staff, told adding that the reasons for the route cancellation were "just commercial". However, one Yangon-based travel agent said the flights from Doha were nearly always full. "We don't think the true reason for their suspending is commercial viability. Seat occupancy on their flights is very good," said the travel agent, who asked not to be named.

"We think it could be due to the pressure from Western countries." Qatar Airways opened its Doha-Yangon-Doha route in December 2004. Since the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September, in which at least 31 people were killed, the United States and Europe have pushed for tighter international sanctions against Myanmar's ruling military junta. Besides tightening their own trade embargoes, analysts suspect Washington in particular is also bringing quiet a bit pressure to bear on other smaller countries, such as Singapore, that do business with Myanmar.

Myanmar Airways International (MAI), was forced in October to drop its Yangon-Bangkok and Yangon-Kuala Lumpur routes after its insurer refused to provide coverage for the leased MD-82 aircraft plying the route. However, the airline said on Saturday it had managed to find some different aircraft and would restart a daily service to Bangkok and a thrice a weekly service to the Malaysian capital.

Most Asian countries remain officially opposed to sanctions against the junta, arguing that pushing the generals even further into isolation would be counterproductive.


January 1, 2008 | 6:45 AM Comments  {num} comments

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ashroffali   ashroffali ashroff ali's TIGblog
ashroff ali's profile

Rajapakse government turns to new directions, gets good dividends
Related to country: Sri Lanka

Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

President Mahinda Rajapakse of Sri Lanka beseiged from many sides is unfazed. He has taken a bold and independent stance and is shifting away from old benefactors and in important financial partnerships is looking to Asia and West Asia. He is on the firing line of former colonizers, neo colonialists, media and multilateral bodies, sections of the UN, NGOs and INGOS, donors of aid, human rights watchers, advocates of peace talks, immediate political solutions, good governance, transparency and humanitarian issues.

The government of Sri Lanka is snowed down by fly-by-night meddlers, busy bodies, pundits, Arbours and Evans’s with dubious recipes and land-based dips overstepping protocol with windy sermons. The condemnations and criticisms are a multi-barreled onslaught. If words could kill there would have been a massacre. Nothing like that has happened. .Rajapakse is getting away with his nationalism and his war against terror. He smiles amiably, speaks politely and ignores all these admonitions and is going his own way.

And their weapons are ideologically replacing the old effete manipulative donor aid with heavily pressurized boring, sometimes threatening sermons and a new adjunct R2P [Responsibility to Protect]. Now this new diversion does not befuddle the emboldened and educated Sri Lankans to them it simply means ‘Right to Pounce’ as in Serbia and Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, East Timor etc. To the preachers it also means, teaming up with NGOs and INGOs and the Opposition to pull the LTTE and Prabhakaran out of the hole he has got himself into.

It is correct that Sri Lanka has a considerable human rights problem and humanitarian issues to be solved. The government has set up institutions and is taking measures to remedy this situation. This must be done with a firm hand. The very personages who make the accusations of killings, disappearances, dislocations refugees and breakdown of law and order, do admit that the situation does not amount to genocide nor is it as severe and widespread as in other parts of the world.

In the air are other possibilities like being called names- ‘a failed state’ or even a basket case. These new weapons are coming into vogue because they know that aid is a blunt weapon gone in the teeth. Cutting off aid means the violation of the very humanitarianism they are advocating and an admission that aid comes with secret agendas and ulterior motives. Not with the aim of alleviating poverty. Sri Lanka is not a low income country any more.. Her per capita income is US dollars 1500 [ however imperfect a measure] and donor aid has amounted to only US dollars 800 million last year, From Sri Lankan expatriates working abroad the country has received US dollars 1.4 billion in the same period.

Sri Lanka sorely needs aid from abroad for her developmental and infrastructure building activities which the government says will continue simultaneously with the war against terrorism. That is why Mahinda Rajapakse is looking elsewhere. The reality has to be faced. Just as in the fight against terrorism, in the formulation of a political solution, so also in the economic resurgence Sri Lanka has to stand on her own feet and devise her own strategies for survival..

The affable, smiling Mahinda Rajapakse has been going places. For assistance both military and developmental Rajapakse has turned to old friends with cultural religious and trade ties. He has sought the hand of friendship from four countries which have one thing in common. They do not have a large and strong Tamil diaspora of clustered communities, influential enough to tilt election results in favor of tame politicians, spread disinformation and pressurize legislators.

Japan has a long history of helping Sri Lanka after the war in massive amounts. Japanese overseas development aid accounts for 60 per cent of bilateral assistance and 40 per cent of total overseas development aid received by Sri Lanka. Japan gifted the modern Rupavahini complex, which is the national TV station.

Japanese aid has gone into telecommunications, ports, airports, highways, water supply schemes, irrigation, schools hospitals, the new Parliamentary complex, the national blood bank, the Uda Walawe development project, help for the uplifting of lagging regions and tsunami aid. Help is forthcoming from Japan for the four lane southern highway, for the multi-purpose Moragahakande project and Japan will be helping in the building of the Mannar Bridge. The Udawalawe irrigation project will be complete next year with a total investment of 9 billion yen. Since last year Japanese aid has exceeded US dollars 40 billion.

With a big highly publicized red carpet welcome, audience with the Emperor and Empress and hospitality usually accorded to VIPs from the world’s powerful nations, Rajapakse came home with pledges of 2000 million yen. Japan has not gone along with the other donors who threaten to cut aid. Japan takes the view that the poor would suffer as a result.

The finances will be channeled to a Liquefied Nitrogen Gas project, which is eco-friendly and will produce 300 mw of power. Other projects include financial and technical assistance for a coast guard department, a budget hospital for the working class, a modern training school for nurses and assistance towards Eastern development and small and medium enterprises. There would also be job opportunities in Japan for skilled workers and professionals. Japan has stepped up grants in aid from US dollars 320 million to Us dollars 400 million per year.

There is the saying that nations do not have permanent friends, only national interests. But it is worth remembering that at the 1951/1952 Peace conference in San Francisco after the last war, it was J R Jayewardene, Sri Lanka‘s Finance Minister who stood up before that august assembly and pleaded for clemency for Japan and urged that Japan should not be punished by the allies.

In the course of a memorable speech he quoted from what the Buddha said about anger and hatred: ’Hatred never ceases through hatred in this world. Through love alone it ceases. This is an eternal law.’ And they paid heed to what was said. More practical is the strategic aspect that for Japan peace and stability in Sri Lanka is of critical importance as the island lies on the vital oil route.

From Iran Rajapakse returned with bags full of dollars. Eight MOUs were signed which includes financial and technical support and expertise amounting to US dollars 1.5 billion. This assistance includes the expansion of the Sapugaskakande oil refinery - stepping up its refining capacity from 50,000 barrels a day to 120,000 barrels a day. Laid down is co-operation in the areas of customs, shipping, tourism, business, trade and commerce. Iran has pledged a US dollars 450 million loan at low interest for the Uma Oya irrigation project and US dollars 1.5 million for the building of 500 houses.

With rising prices Sri Lanka’s economy is caught up in the oil crunch. OPEC countries do not usually give concessionary credit. But Iran has given Sri Lanka seven months credit, four of which will not carry interest. Sri Lanka buys US dollars 750 million worth of oil per year from Iran. Although Iran is a big importer of Sri Lankan tea, it leaves Sri Lanka with a deficit.

There was relentless lobbying by the members of the much criticized huge entourages [costing the tax payer a lot of money] of Ministers, bureaucrats and businessmen. Rajapakse has been a friend of the Palestinians and he has been President of the Sri Lanka-Palestine Friendship Association for many years. He advocates an independent Palestinian state.

With Pakistan Sri Lanka has had a long standing friendship and much military hardware has been sent to Sri Lanka during times of trouble and crisis. This is the other side of the assistance Sri Lanka seeks from friendly nations - military aid, arms and armaments, heavy weapons, tanks, ships planes military expertise and technology to eradicate terrorism.

It was India and Pakistan which came to the aid of Sri Lanka when the first Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna [JVP} insurrection broke out in 1971. In 2000 while Jaffna seemed about to fall into the hands of the LTTE, after the fall of Elephant Pass, and India faltered, but Pakistan was the stout friend who rushed the big guns and other military requirements and helped to save Jaffna. There has been a very long connection with Pakistan in military matters. Between 200-300 security services officers have been trained every year at the National Defence University of Pakistan.

There is no doubt that this defence connection displeases India and blunt and arrogant objections have been raised. For instance in June this year M K Narayanan India’s National Security Adviser threateningly said that India is a big power in the region and Sri Lanka should not go to Pakistan or China for weapons. Whatever their requirements they should come to us. But India will not provide Sri Lanka with weapons of offensive capability.

But Pakistan has pledged greater defence aid. Pakistan has added on a further US dollars 31 million apart from the already pledged US dollars 50 million. Janes Defence Weekly recently published a heavy list of military hardware that Sri Lanka was seeking from Pakistan. According to the magazine the lot would be worth US dollars 60 million and would include anti-tank guided weapons systems, warheads, training simulators and technical assistance.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minster Imam Ul Haque has said that his country will not be deterred by limitations imposed by other countries. He has also said that what Pakistan is doing for Sri Lanka is part of the global fight against terrorism and is no longer a bilateral issue. Suicide bombing started in Sri Lanka and has spread to Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan he has commented.

Sri Lanka a small powerless country has done what it can. During the war for the breakaway of Bangladesh from Pakistan Ms Sirimavo Bandaranaike the Prime Minister risking India’s displeasure gave Pakistan whose planes could not over fly India, the right of ‘technical’ stops in Sri Lanka during their flights to East Pakistan. More recently, this year at the Commonwealth conference in Kampala Sri Lanka stood up staunchly against the expulsion of Pakistan from the Commonwealth.

All these countries including China have pledged their maximum support for the eradication of terrorism. China has had very long religious ties with Sri Lanka. Going back to the fifth century it is reported that Sri Lankan bhikkunis [Buddhist nuns] traveled to China in order to restore the higher ordination ceremonies of nuns there. In the 1950s Sri Lanka did something very courageous and signed a rubber for rice deal with China. It angered America which cut off aid to Sri Lanka.

China in recent years has played a significant role in the procurement of arms by Sri Lanka. Several agreements have been signed for the supply of arms and ammunition, mortar shells, artillery shells, mortar bombs, rockets, naval guns, multipurpose machine guns radar etc. It is also reported that China will be one of the countries which will be entrusted with the exploration of oil in one or two blocks of the Mannar basin in the north west of Sri Lanka.


December 31, 2007 | 3:35 AM Comments  {num} comments

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Hilary Clinton gives terrorists a boost
Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

According to Ms Hilary Clinton frontrunner in the US Presidential election there are obviously good and bad terrorists, just as over the years the West has persisted in the view that there are ‘our’ terrorists and ‘your’ terrorists. This has enabled `Sri Lankan Tamil supporters of the LTTE to carry on huge criminal and illegal operations in the US, Canada, Britain and other EU countries the Nordic countries and Australia. Not much help was ever been extended to Sri Lanka to rid the country of this menace.

Her recent statement to Guardian Unlimited gave a huge boost to terrorists everywhere who would hope that they could fall into the same Tiger pet pool. If she does win the election and persists in this view it would let some terrorists off the leash and Sri Lanka has real reason to think that this is a danger signal
This is what she said: I believe that terrorism is a tool that has been used throughout history to achieve certain objectives. Some have been ideological, others territorial. There is personality driven terrorist objectives. The bottom line is that you cannot lump all terrorists together. And I think we’ve got to do a much better job of clarifying what are the motivations, the raison d’etre of terrorists.

And this is the crunch for Sri Lanka: I mean what the Tamil Tigers are fighting for in Sri Lanka or the Basque separatists in Spain or the insurgents in al Anbar province may only be connected by tactics……….I think one of our mistakes has been painting with such a broad brush which has not been particularly helpful in understanding what we are up against those who pursue terrorism for whichever ends they are seeking.

In one fell swoop she transforms some terrorists who could have mainly electoral benefits for her or her party into national liberation fighters with favored status and immunity from prosecution for crime, as has been happening for so long in the US Britain Canada and Norway. What she means is that some brands of terrorism can be justified, however gruesome their killing machine is, and however repressive their regimes are , if you approve of the motivation for their causes and goals.

This is the kind of sympathetic understanding that the LTTE yearns for especially at this moment when its fortunes are skidding downwards. We have no doubt that sympathizers, supporters and fund raisers of the LTTE have broad satisfied grins painted across their faces.

This clearly means that the end justifies the means, and the reasons why politicians go soft on even the criminal and inhuman tactics of terrorists is not hard to guess. Clinton’s stance means that she is rejecting the position taken by the United Nations and the postulates of the Geneva Convention.

Most terrorism experts lump Al Qaeda and the LTTE together, but in US thinking one can see another direction in which ‘our’ terrorists’ are moving. This is another twist in US interpretation not very different to Clinton’s views, which favor this favored status. Mr Robert O Blake US Ambassador in Sri Lanka had this clarification to make on national television Rupavahini at the end of last year. He said:

"It would be dangerous to make comparisons between one country and the next. The US is fighting stateless organizations like Al Qaeda. The Al Qaeda is out to kill as many Americans as possible all over the world and do not have any political objectives.’

On the LTTE he says: Though the LTTE surely is pursuing terrorist objectives it has the ultimate objective to establish some sort of framework where the rights of Tamils can be respected’.

It is incredible that the political and religious objectives of Al Qaeda to wipe out all Christians Jews and other sinners from Muslim lands and drive the Israelis out of Palestine has been overlooked by Blake who is expressing the US view. And the monstrous killers of the LTTE now running a dictatorial, repressive regime in two and half districts in the north, and strangling the unfortunate Tamil population into slavery, are believed to be able to transmogrify it overnight into a benign, democratic, enlightened, civilized benevolent outfit for the benefit of the Tamils.

It seems difficult to believe that the woman who is aspiring to be the future President of the world’s sole super power should say some strange things , like for instance that terrorism has been used throughout history. In past centuries mankind has been horrific in its cruelty to human beings.Whole populations have been driven out of towns and villages just like the ethnic cleansing practised by the LTTE; non-combatant civilians including children have been massacred as the LTTE has been doing in unprotected Sinhala villages and through the bombing of civilian centres; in the historic past that Clinton refers to so blithely in her own country indigenous populations have been decimated by newly-arrived alien conquerors.

In other countries whole communities have been massacred for their religious beliefs or forcibly converted. Religious wars have been fought in Europe and thousands massacred. In an older version of the clash of civilisations metal clad Crusaders have marched to war to save Christendom. Prisoners of war have been systematically killed. We need hardly mention the millions who have been shot or gassed for their ethnicity in the Europe from which the ancestors of Clinton’s people came.

Then, is this the kind of terrorism that Clinton has gone soft on? This is terrorism practiced in times of war turmoil and during clashes of ideology.

But out of that primitive bestiality we have evolved over the centuries into more humane, human beings. And especially for times of war we have fashioned international, legal civilized instruments for the protection of not only innocents and non-combatants but combatants as well.

This is the difference between terrorists and freedom fighters and that time and the present.

We come to objectives and motivations. The LTTE’s objective is Eelaam and nothing less, a separate state established in the north and east of Sri Lanka covering one third of the land area and two thirds of the coastline. Sri Lanka’s population is nineteen odd million. Of this two million are Tamils. But of this two million one million or a little more are living abroad or in the south of the country outside the north and east. In fact 54 per cent of Tamils living in Sri Lanka live in the south in peace with the Sinhalese and the Muslims.

This is what V Anandasangaree, veteran politician, former MP and leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front who has put his life on the line and is on the hit list of the LTTE, has to say about Eelaam in an interview he gave the ‘Sunday Observer’ on Nov 4th 2007: The LTTE is back to zero. Forget about Eelaam. Eelaam is not a thing wanted by the Tamils of the north and east. Eelaam is never achievable and the Tamils will strongly oppose it. The international community is against it and India is much concerned. Tamils have lost all their rights and Kilinochchi is like a graveyard. It is impossible to have Eelaam with a thousand mile boundary and the need for southern markets.

Now for tactics which are glossed over. Assassination of heads of state like R Premadasa , President of Sri Lanka and Rajiv Gandhi Prime Minister of India. Attempted assassination of the President of Sri Lanka, the Commander of the Sri Lankan army, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. Assassination of Sinhala and Tamil top level politicians , too long a list to name and more Tamils than Sinhalese, Mayors of Jaffna, government agents and other public servants, school principals, businessmen, dissidents and other civilians. Most dastardly was the massacre of thirty one student bhikkus and their principal and of 678 police officers who surrendered to the LTTE on the stupid orders of President Premadasa.

The LTTE has carried out genocide carried out on a massive scale mainly through the use of suicide bombers, massacres of Sinhala peasants, pregnant mothers and babies by hacking them to death with machetes to save on bullets. Killing of Muslims praying in mosques and Buddhists worshipping at the Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura and bombing of economic and religious targets such as the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the oil installations, the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, airplanes, buses, trains and bus stands.

The underage children of Tamils reduced to slavery in LTTE controlled areas are recruited forcibly by the LTTE; it is demanded of each family that they offer one child to the LTTE and university students are not allowed to join their universities unless this is done. Middle aged adults are forcibly inducted into the LTTE forces for military training and they are seen marching in the sun in saris, sarongs and trousers. Ethnic cleansing drove out 70,000 Muslims and 23,000 Sinhalese from Jaffna.

The cynical international community and the Tigers supporters would say stop the war and go into negotiations. The LTTE has spurned six attempts at negotiations and walked out on them. On talks with the LTTE we are left with what Douglas Devananda leader of the EPDP and a Tamil Minister in the present government has to say: Even if one achieved such a feat as brushing the teeth of a cobra, ploughing the sea or squeezing an elephant through the eye of a needle one cannot make peace with the LTTE.

December 31, 2007 | 3:35 AM Comments  {num} comments

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High-quality thoughts
Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

"Critical & Creative Thinking"; "The Art of Asking
Essential Questions"; and "How to Write a Paragraph,
How to say something worth saying about something
worth saying something about" -- yes, you guessed it,
I put my finger on the word "something" mentioned
three times, to grasp the sentence. I must say, I am
very humbled by all that I read.

The Foundation defines its mission, to "seek to
promote essential change in education and society
through the cultivation of fair-minded critical
thinking."

Of course, because we're humans, we think, we form
opinions and ideas about anything or anybody. Any
person is capable of thinking. But as the Foundation
warns, "Much of our thinking, left to itself, is
biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright
prejudiced." The Foundation posits that "all thinking
is not of the same quality." So, while any person can
think, there is thinking and there is thinking.

High-quality thoughts

The Foundation asserts that humans, "are naturals at
aimless thinking," the thinking that "roams aimlessly
through half-formed images," or that "wander(s) into
an endless stream of unanalyzed associations from
one's unanalyzed past."

"High-quality thinking," however, "accomplishes the
purposes of thinking (which) requires both critical
and creative thinking."

"It is not possible to be a good thinker and a poor
questioner," says the Foundation. "To think through,"
we need to "ask essential questions" -- as opposed to
"peripheral" questions -- so that when we read, write,
speak or do anything, we ask essential questions to
enable us to deal with "what is necessary, relevant,
and indispensable to a matter at hand." Essential
questions "drive thinking forward. If your mind is not
actively generating (further) questions, you are not
engaged in substantive learning," the Foundation
points out, and insists, "A mind with no questions is
a mind that is not intellectually alive."

And this takes us full circle to the Foundation's
philosophy which I presented last Nov. 27: The
"quality of our life and that of what we produce,
make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our
thought," and "the quality of everything we do is
determined by the quality of our thinking."

So a good thinker who asks essential, rather than
peripheral, questions, should develop quality thinking
that contributes quality to anything he does, and
"Writing is essential to learning ... [and] Skilled
writers do not write blindly but purposely,"
translating "inner meanings into public words."

The Guide, "How to Write a Paragraph," distinguishes
the "impressionistic mind," that wanders "from
paragraph to paragraph" and "assumes its own point of
view to be insightful and justified" in spite of
competing points of view, "intermixed with prejudices,
biases, myths, and stereotypes"; and the "(purposeful)
reflective mind ... (that) assesses what it writes for
clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth,
breadth, logic, significance, and fairness, . . . is
open to new ways of thinking, ... values new ideas and
learns from what it writes."

"Writing is essential to learning," it says. "If
students are to learn, they must write."

Constantly learning

Learning being a constant in my life, one cold weekend
my wife and I rented a video, "Amazing Grace," to
watch. With the smell of firewood and its pretty
crackling sounds, we drank Korean hot tea, and hummed
along, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved
a wretch like me!"

The movie inspires me: Wilberforce, a 21-year-old
member of the British parliament, maneuvered the 18th
century backroom politics for two decades in the fight
to end the British Empire's slave trade. One of the
great English abolitionists, he died three days after
the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833.

Remember the Indian spiritual and political leader
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) who taught us: "A small
body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable
faith in their mission can alter the course of
history"?

King's wisdom

"If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die
for, he isn't fit to live," said Martin Luther King,
Jr., author of the famous 1963 "I Have a Dream"
speech, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, and a
leader of the American civil rights movement, who
advocated civil disobedience and non-violent means to
end segregation and racial discrimination in the
United States.

"An individual has not started living until he can
rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic
concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity,"
King said, "The time is always right to do what is
right."

King was shot and killed while standing on a
second-floor motel balcony in Memphis, a day after his
"I've been to the Mountaintop" speech's "I'm not
fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the
coming of the Lord!"

So I am learning and will continue to learn about
"critical and creative thinking" a la Foundation of
Creative Thinking, and about what some great men in
history have done for the world and for humanity, and
what lessons they have left for mankind to absorb.

December 30, 2007 | 5:51 AM Comments  {num} comments

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Muslims, Christians living in peace?
Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

As the year is drawing to a close, I am reminded of a
saying, "Learn from the past, but don't live there,"
as my thoughts are prodded by another maxim, "A
positive mind finds a way it can be done. A negative
mind looks for all the ways it can't be done."

The Christian Science Monitor editorial, "A
Muslim-Christian handshake, Positive Christian
response to recent Muslim outreach must be one of many
steps to peace," reports Pope Benedict XVI's praise of
a Muslim open letter's "positive spirit" and his
invitation to a Muslim delegation to come to the
Vatican for talks.

The editorial encourages, "the stirrings of dialogue
among the world's Muslim and Christian leaders must be
ongoing and reach down to their followers."

However, recent events are not positive: a 20-year-old
woman from Qatif, Saudi Arabia, raped by seven men who
abducted her, was found guilty by the Saudi court, and
sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes, for
"mingling" with a man unrelated by blood or marriage;
the Sudanese Islamic court found British teacher
Gillian Gibbons guilty of blasphemy for letting
7-year-old children in her class name a teddy bear
"Muhammad" in a class project.

Disheartening

More disheartening is the commentary, "Christianity
and Islam: How Common is the Ground?" on Dec. 5 by Bob
Burney of the WRFD-AM 880 in Columbus, Ohio, with its
negative comments on Islam.

In the post 9/11 world of 6.7 billion people -- a
third being Christian, and a fifth being Muslim -- a
lack of peaceful coexistence spells danger for
humanity.

The mortal clash within the Muslim world between the
majority traditional Muslims and the smaller numbers
of vocal radical Islamists has been troubling.

"All of humanity, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, is
threatened by the forces of Islamic extremism," writes
Abdurrahman Wahid, former president of the world's
largest Muslim nation, Indonesia. He calls on "people
of good will from every faith and nation" to confront
the "Wahhabi/Salafi ideology ... that underlies
fundamentalist terrorism and threatens the very
foundations of modern civilization."

In 2005, 200 Islamic scholars from 50 countries
adopted in Amman, Jordan, a document
(www.ammanmessage.com) that defines who is a Muslim,
forbids declaring someone an apostate, deviant,
non-Muslim, and exposes "ignorant and illegitimate
edicts" by radical fundamentalists and terrorists.

But Islam has no Pope to sanction decisions; a
person's relations with God need no intermediary.

Survival of the world

On Oct. 13, 138 Muslim clerics, scholars, and
intellectuals from all major schools of Islamic
thought, sent an open letter, "A Common Word Between
Us and You" (see www.acommonword.com), to Christian
leaders everywhere, asserting "If Muslims and
Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at
peace. ... The very survival of the world itself is
perhaps at stake."

It calls for a Christian-Muslim dialogue, "Let our
differences not cause hatred and strife between us.
Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and
good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just
and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony
and mutual goodwill."

"The basis for this peace and understanding already
exists," the letter says, and exposes passages in the
Koran and the Bible showing fundamental principles and
values shared in Islam and Christianity, "Love of the
One God, and love of the neighbor."

To "those who nevertheless relish conflict and
destruction ... we say that our very eternal souls are
also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every
effort to make peace and come together in harmony."

On Nov. 18, the New York Times published a "Christian
Response," drafted by Yale Divinity School, now signed
by more than 300 leading Christian scholars worldwide
(see www.yale.edu/faith). It extends "our own
Christian hand in return, so that together with all
other human beings we may live in peace and justice as
we seek to love God and our neighbors"; notes, Muslims
and Christians "have not always shaken hands in
friendship"; and quotes Jesus Christ, "First take the
log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly
to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye" (Matthew
7:5).

The statement notes, "Peaceful relations between
Muslims and Christians stand as one of the central
challenges of this century, and perhaps of the whole
present epoch." It shares the "dual common ground"
between Christians and Muslims, "love of God and love
of neighbor."

It quotes Prophet Muhammad, "None of you has faith
until you love for your neighbor what you love for
yourself." It quotes the New Testament, "whoever does
not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God
whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20).

It quotes Jesus Christ, "Love your enemies and pray
for those who persecute you, so that you may be
children of your Father in heaven ... (Matthew
5:44-45), and at the end of his life, Christ prayed
for his enemies, "Forgive them; for they do not know
what they are doing" (Luke 23:24). And it quotes
Muhammad when he was rejected and stoned at Ta'if,
"The most virtuous behavior is to engage those who
sever relations, to give to those who withhold from
you, and to forgive those who wrong you."

Dialogue

"We must engage in interfaith dialogue ... work
diligently together," reads the Christian response,
which urges that "our leaders at every level ... begin
the earnest work of determining how God would have us
fulfill the requirement that we love God and one
another."

"Fly with the eagles, don't scratch with the turkeys,"
someone wrote, somewhat less elegantly.

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Japan Donates Relief Items for sri lankan Flood Victims
Related to country: Sri Lanka

Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

The Government of Japan being one of the closest friends of Sri Lanka has swiftly responded to the emergency needs of the flood affected people in Sri Lanka, donating emergency relief items worth Japanese Yen 14.3 million (approximately Rs.13.6 million), a statement issued by the Embassy of Japan in Sri Lanka states.

The assistance comes courtesy of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)


The will be immediately distributed among flood affected people in
the districts of Ampara, Badulla, Batticaloa, Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Polonnaruwa, Rathnapura, Anuradhapura, Kurunegala and Matale.

This emergency relief assistance includes 20 tents, 20 plastic sheets, 150 sleeping pads, 600 Portable Jerry Cans, 10 water purification systems and 10 water tanks.

Considering the scale of the disaster, the Japanese Government has provided these relief items to complement the Government’s activities to bring immediate relief to the affected communities.

The People and the Government of Japan sincerely hope that these relief items will help to relieve the difficulty and the suffering of the affected people in these districts, the media release added.

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Beyond terrorism: Sri Lanka’s road map for peace
Related to country: Sri Lanka

Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

Sri Lanka continues to be confronted by, what terrorism expert and Chief Scientist at the Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College, Dr. Magnus Ranstorp has described as, “[LTTE is] probably the most sophisticated terrorist organization in the world.”


Only two weeks ago the Sri Lankan Navy assisted by the Air Force was able to detect and destroy 03 large LTTE ships carrying arms and ammunition in the high-seas about 1200 km (600 nautical miles southeast of Sri Lanka’s southern most tip of Dondra) thus foiling the LTTE’s latest attempt to smuggle lethal weapons into the country.

The full magnitude of the danger posed by the LTTE, which is proscribed throughout the European Union, in India, the US, the UK and Canada and has restrictions placed on it in Australia, is most vividly detailed in the September 2007 issue of the leading London based intelligence magazine Jane’s Intelligence Review.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Rohitha Bogollagama
A special report by John Solomon and B.C. Tan titled “Feeding the Tiger - how Sri Lankan insurgents fund their way”, makes several important revelations to the world, about the operatives, their modus operandi, and the current level of threat posed by the LTTE, both to the territorial integrity and security of Sri Lanka, and to the security of the international community.
The report states and I quote;
- “The Tamil Tiger’ financial and procurement structure is well organised and strategically positioned around the globe. Unlike the decentralised jihadist movement, the LTTE is a centralised, hierarchical organisation commanded and controlled by its founding leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran”.

- “Irrespective of the correlation between the LTTE’s financial situation and the longevity that has cost more than 60,000 lives, the activities of the LTTE abroad- including extortion, narcotics trafficking and credit card fraud- have a negative impact on the countries and societies that host its presence”.

- “the Tamil Tigers generate an estimated US$ 200 to 300 million per year”, and “after accounting for its estimated US$ 8 million per year of costs within LTTE-administered Sri Lanka, the profit margin of its operating budget would likely be the envy of any multinational corporation.”
You would agree that the implication of these comments is that the international community should take tough action against the LTTE and its global terror network as it would amount to be an act of self interest by members of the international community, to eradicate terrorism.
2. Significance of US support to Sri Lanka in meeting this challenge
In our struggle against LTTE terrorism, Sri Lanka has considered the U.S. to be a steadfast friend.
I speak to an audience of a country which:
* Besides India, which proscribed the LTTE in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, the U.S. was the first western country to recognize the potential threat that could be posed by the LTTE and took steps to proscribe the organisation in 1997.
* The U.S. has supported Sri Lanka in many ways in its effort to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country at crucial points. Over the years in its fight against terrorism Sri Lanka has sought and has received military assistance from the U.S. in many forms.

The U.S. administration has supported Sri Lanka considerably, enhancing the capability of the Sri Lanka Navy in defending our territorial waters, and the exclusive Economic Zone (of 1.2 million square miles 21 times the size of the country) particularly to prevent smuggling of weapons and ammunition by making available a coast guard cutter USS “Courageous”, which plays a pivotal role in help protect the maritime security of our vast exclusive economic zone. Given the significance of the Colombo Port as a major transhipment point the U.S. has also contributed significantly toward enhancing surveillance of our waters through support to modalities under multilateral initiatives such as the Container Security Initiative, the Mega Ports Initiative and the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, and in supporting Sri Lanka’s entry to the ASEAN Regional Forum.

* Among our military purchases to fight terrorism, U.S. companies have been important suppliers. At present Sri Lankan armed forces receive training in the U.S. your facilities, and let me add that Sri Lanka has contributed to the UN Peacekeeping operations in Haiti.
* The U.S. administration was also the first to pro-actively take tangible action to thwart the macabre designs of the LTTE to harm ? Sri Lanka, when in a sting operation launched by the FBI in August 2006 not only nabbed a number of key LTTE activists, but also has unearthed a wealth of information regarding the modus operandi of the organization in that country.

Thirteen persons with close links to the LTTE, including “Waterloo” Suresh alias Suresh Skandarajah, from Buffalo, New York, San Jose, California, Seattle, Washington and Connecticut were arrested following the Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RCMP) and FBI probe into the allegations that LTTE sympathizers in North America for seeking to purchase surface to air missiles, missile launchers, AK-47s, and other weapons to be used by the LTTE against the Sri Lankan military missiles and move terror funds.

They are also accused of attempting to use LTTE front organizations, including the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) to bribe State Department officials for obtaining classified documents containing information relating to the organizations.
Among those arrested was a British doctor, Murugesu Vinayagamoorthy alias Dr. Moorthy, a senior LTTE intermediary, was also arrested in New York for aiding the LTTE. They are currently awaiting trial.

* At the same time in a case filed by the US Government in Baltimore, four LTTE agents, including three foreign nationals, were arrested for seeking to provide material support to the LTTE, a designated foreign terrorist organization in the US.

Of them, on 5th April 2007, a Singapore national, Haniffa Bin Osman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to the LTTE, while Haji Subandi and Erick Wotulo, both Indonesian citizens, pleaded guilty to attempting to illegally export arms for the LTTE.
On 10th May 2007 Thirunavukarasu Varatharasa, a Sri Lankan citizen, pleaded guilty in a US court for conspiring to provide material support to the LTTE and attempt export of arms and ammunition.

According to the plea, from April to September 29, 2006, Varatharasa conspired with Haji Subandi, Haniffa Osman and Erick Wotulo to export state-of-the-art firearms, machine guns and ammunition, surface to air missiles, night vision goggles and other military weapons to the LTTE not only conducted but has convicted four persons in Baltimore.

* On 25 April 2007, the US based leader of the LTTE, Karunakaran Kandasamay alias Karuna, and four others were arrested by the Joint Terrorist Task Force of the federal law enforcement agency, in the New York suburb of Jamaica, Queens on the charge of providing material support for the LTTE by fund raising. The process of preparation for trial we understand is currently underway.

* Earlier this year US based INTELSAT took action to terminate the illegal use of one of its satellites by the LTTE to illegally broadcast the LTTE’s so called official TV channel, ‘National Television of Tamil Eelam’ (NTT) launched in 2005 and originating from northern Sri Lanka and beamed across Europe and Asia.
3. Sri Lanka’s road map to peace
Sri Lanka does have a road map to peace.
On our part, it is the firm conviction of the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa that the present conflict in Sri Lanka cannot be solved through military means. The government is fully committed to finding a lasting negotiated political settlement to the conflict.
Upon assumption of office in November 2005, President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his very first address offered to meet the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, face to face.
Consistent with his view that building a ‘southern consensus’ among the political parties in the south was pivotal to arriving at any negotiated political settlement, the President also convened the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) in January 2006.
Since then the APRC has gone through a painstaking process aimed at developing a set of proposals to resolve the present conflict that would have broad acceptability. The APRC is now reaching the final stages of its deliberations.

Our Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, together with the party leaders, is participating in the APRC process. The APRC is currently in the process of finalizing the proposals and President Rajapaksa is on record stating that he would accept whatever the consensus that emerges from the APRC.
I trust you are aware, that within two months after assuming office, President Rajapaksa revived the process of negotiations with the LTTE that had broken down since April 2003, and participated in talks with the LTTE arranged through the Norwegian facilitators on three occasions during 2000.

Having been a member of the delegation of these talks, I can say with authority that the LTTE did not demonstrate the slightest inclination to resolve any substantive issue, but were merely intent on extending the opportunity opened to them since signing of the Ceasefire Agreement to re-arm, re-group and to try to restore its badly tarnished image in the West, which in the post 9/11 context saw the LTTE for what they were - a group of terrorists.

The LTTE’s position is nothing new, since 1985, when the Government of Sri Lanka held its first negotiations with groups dominated by the LTTE, successive Sri Lankan administrations have also engaged in talks in 1987, 1989, 1994, and 2002.
The LTTE has exploited those periods to bolster its armed capability and single handedly torpedoed the efforts at peace and walked away from the negotiating table.

Despite all these efforts at peace, less than two weeks after the President’s assumption of office, the LTTE unleashed a brutal killing spree against the security forces installations and personnel- including a failed attacked by a LTTE female suicide bomber on the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army and carried out the assassination of his third in command Major Gen. Parami Kulatunga, followed by attacks against civilians.

The government desisted from taking any significant retaliatory action despite these provocations.
However, in July 2006, when it became clear that the LTTE was intent on disrupting civilian life in the Eastern Province, through cutting off water supply to a large area, and subsequently targeting the strategic naval port of Trincomalee, the government was compelled to clear the LTTE from the Eastern province.

The objective of our effort over the past year in militarily engaging the LTTE in the Eastern Province, was to convince the group that it cannot expect to achieve a military victory and that a solution to the conflict needs to be found at the negotiating table.
Today, the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, which was until recently terrorized by the LTTE, has been rid of that menace. The security forces and other agencies of the Government of Sri Lanka have worked hard to secure the area, to restore normalcy and to resettle people, who had been temporarily displaced from their homes.

I am sure, those of you, who are familiar with the difficulties faced in carrying out military as well as ‘hearts and mind’ operations in areas dominated by terrorists, would appreciate the magnitude of the challenge, which has been successfully completed by the Sri Lankan security forces.

Having done so, today, with the assistance from the international community, the UN agencies as well as international and local NGOs, the government has embarked on a programme to bring about sustainable development in the Eastern Province and to hold elections at an early date.
It is our hope that this exercise will serve as a model in post conflict development and I urge the cooperation of those, who are in a capacity to do so to help make this process a success.

Through the Nagenahira Navodaya Programme (Reawakening of the East) the humanitarian situation in the conflict affected areas has improved, especially after gaining full control of the areas in the Eastern Province, which have been under LTTE dominance.
This has also contributed to a sharp de-escalation of the conflict in the Eastern Province, which would facilitate a comprehensive programme in infrastructure development and the conduct of local and provincial level elections in the near future..

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have recently acknowledged that the voluntary resettlement of IDPs in the East has been undertaken in keeping with international standards. In the Eastern Province, most IDPs have returned to their homes and the remainder will be resettled, after clearing the remaining areas of landmines.

Arrangements for improvement of the law and order situation are underway. New police stations have been established while existing stations are being strengthened to provide a better service to the community. 2000 Tamil speaking police officers are being recruited to serve the province. Restoration and strengthening of the civil administration is underway with the provision of office buildings and recruitment of new staff.

Majority of the displaced persons have been resettled and measures are currently underway to resettle the remaining displaced persons as early as possible. Resettlement is being carried out with the support and cooperation of UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies. The Government, with the assistance of the World Food Programme, provides food rations to the displaced families and returnees.

Livelihood assistance programmes to the local populations are underway with the collaboration of UN Agencies and INGOS. A major challenge the Government is facing in the Eastern Province is rebuilding the damaged infrastructure for which we have requested assistance from the international community
At present there is a vibrant debate in Sri Lanka as to the nature and extent of devolution of power that should be offered as a solution to solve the present conflict.

In a statement issued last week, the Chairman of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) Prof. Tissa Vitarana on “present status of APRC” stated “following the understanding reached at the discussions of the Government Party Leaders held under the Chairmanship of the President, and thereafter the Prime Minister, the APRC has been meeting every week in a cordial manner. Subject areas, which had not been discussed previously, are now being covered and a common position is being worked out.”

At the moment agreement has been reached on most of the areas. Discussion is going on at the moment on the devolution of powers and is focused on the National List, Provincial List and the Local Government List. I am happy to say that with the cooperation of the representatives of the SLFP, JHU, MEP, EPDP, SLMC, CMC, NUA, National Congress, CWC, UPF, CP, WPF and the LSSP steady progress is being made and we hope to finalize the common document as early as possible.”

It is also noteworthy that it appears that the United National Party (UNP) has in a statement issued through a spokesperson indicated that there would be a change in party policy with respect to devolution of power and that “our solution is broad devolution not federalism”.
We appreciate the recent sentiments expressed by the U.S. Ambassador Robert Blake at an event in Colombo on 21st September 2007, where he noted “the Government of Sri Lanka has achieved some important victories in the last several months.

The expulsion of the LTTE from the east and the recent sinking of several LTTE ships carrying arms and other provisions mark important military successes, but these tactical successes should not tempt the government to reconsider whether Sri Lanka’s conflict can be won by military means. It cannot”.
At the same time, Ambassador Blake, while urging the government to ensure a successful APRC outcome has noted that “we hope that all parties in the APRC will frame the final APRC proposals in a manner that avoids the use of divisive, emotive terms like “federalism” and “unitary”.

I can assure you that the Sri Lanka government’s intentions are not at all at variance with the views expressed by the U.S. Ambassador in Colombo. In fact, I would say that we share the same view.
4. Recent developments in U.S. Congress
It is in this context that Sri Lanka finds the recent amendment proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy to the Department of State Appropriation Bill for FY 2008 that introduces restrictions on defence co-operation with Sri Lanka on account of alleged human rights related issues, unreasonable.
I wish to focus on each of the three issues Senator Leahy wants Sri Lanka to satisfy, if it is to avail of U.S. funds appropriated under the heading “Foreign Military Financing Programme”.
i. The Sri Lankan military suspends and brings to justice members, who had been credibly alleged to have gross violations of human rights including extra-judicial executions and recruitment of child soldiers.
ii. That the Sri Lankan Government has provided unimpeded access to humanitarian organizations and journalists to the Tamil areas of the country.
iii. The Sri Lankan Government has agreed to the establishment of a field presence of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka.
But before that I want to make two broad observations:
First, unfortunately the information on which the amendment was based is a result of dis-information and mis-information. Some of it is wrong, while much of it is based on dated information.
Second, the amendment in its totality seems to ignore the context in which successive governments in Sri Lanka have faced, as do all democracies grappling with the scourge of terrorism.
It ignores the fact that if Sri Lanka is to fail in containing and finally defeating the terrorism of the LTTE, given the LTTE’s well known links to other terrorist organizations such as ULFA, the Afghan Mujihideen. the PKK, the Maoists Abu Sayaf, MNLF and to Al-Qaida, its contribution to ‘copy cat’ terrorism through suicide bombing technology, maritime capability, nascent air-strike capability, that the LTTE could offers its services to other groups should not be discounted.

Over the past four days, in meetings with members of the Congress, as well as leading INGOs - Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group etc. I have explained in detail the developments in Sri Lanka, and why the stipulations made in the amendment are not reasonable. At this point, when the budget is yet to be finalized, I thought it is incumbent upon me to share with you our perspective on the specific issues raised.

A) Alleged Human Rights Violations, Child Soldiers and the question of impunity.
As noted by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the UNGA on 25 September, “Sri Lanka believes, as one of the founder members of the Human Rights Council, that human rights are too important to be used as a tool to victimize States for political advantage. It is essential that international action to facilitate compliance with human rights standards is fair and even handed. Human rights have to be protected and advanced for their own sake, not for political gain,”

Alleged human rights violations
- Sri Lanka is a country that has a Ministry of Human Rights. It is an acknowledgement of the significance we associate with promoting and protecting human rights. Sri Lanka is party to almost all core UN human rights conventions.
- The work of the Commission of Inquiry (COI), which has been investigating into a number of high profile cases of violations of human rights, is being observed by an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), which is a unique structure that has not been found anywhere else in the world, where there is an ongoing conflict with one of the ruthless terrorist organizations in the world.

- The speed of work of the COI compares very well with the speed with which the Yugoslav Tribunal or the Cambodian Tribunal began their work with millions of Dollars of UN funding.
- A Witness Protection Bill is to be introduced to the Parliament in the next two months. Recommendations made by the IIGEP have been taken on board. in drafting the bill.
- Critical information relating to the deaths of the 17 ACF workers has been unearthed through tracking of cellular phones used by the victims.

- According to the latest ICRC figures, there has been a significant reduction in the number of alleged disappearances and abductions in Sri Lanka, especially during quarter (April - June, 2007). The Government has aggressively mounted operations against a number of groups operating in Colombo arresting mainly who had been responsible for abductions and extortions.

- The killer of the two Red Cross workers has been identified and a reward of Rs. 1 million has been offered for information leading to his arrest.
Child Soldiers
The Government of Sri Lanka does not recruit anyone under 18 years to its armed forces. According to UNICEF, the LTTE has recruited 5800 child soldiers since the CFA in 2002.
With regard to recruitment of child soldiers, in view of the allegations that certain members of the armed forces had colluded with the Karuna Group, in August 2007, Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, in keeping with a commitment given to the U.N. Security Council Working Group on Children in Armed Conflict, appointed a committee to inquire into the allegations of abductions and recruitment of children for use in armed conflict headed by the Secretary to the Ministry of Justice & Law Reforms and included the Secretaries to the Ministries of Justice & Law Reforms, Child Development and Women Empowerment, Foreign Affairs, Disaster Management and Human Rights, Representatives of the Attorney General’s Department, the three armed services and police, the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process and the Chairman of the Child Protection authority to examine the charges and report on measures to be taken.
Impunity

- 55 indictments have been served against 95 members of the Sri Lanka Police since 2004 for human rights violations committed prior to 2004. Their crimes include abduction, abduction and disappearance, murder and illegal detention.
- 28 members of the Sri Lanka Police have been arrested since 2004 and pending arraignments for conspiracy to murder, torture and murder.
- 14 members of the Sri Lanka Police have been indicted since 2004 for torture.
- 04 members of the Sri Lanka Navy have been indicted on charges of torture and murder of two persons in March and April 2001.
- 03 members of the Sri Lanka Army have been indicted for abduction and murder of one individual on April 11, 2004, which case has been referred to High Court. (One of the accused committed suicide while in custody).
- Six members of the armed forces and police personnel (both retired and currently serving) were arrested in June 2007, for a series of abductions for ransom, and murder. The Attorney General of Sri Lanka will be consulted on completion of investigations to file indictments against the suspects who are still in custody. Sri Lanka has sought the support of the Interpol to arrest a Chief Inspector of Police (Special Task Force), who is wanted for the same crime.
- Two suspects, an army corporal and a police constable, have been arrested and are currently in remand custody pending indictment in the High Court of Vavuniya, having being charged for murdering five students in Thandikulam on November 18, 2006.
- A wing commander and a flight lieutenant of the Sri Lanka Air Force were charged in the High Court of Colombo for violation of human rights of a prominent journalist, Mr. Iqbal Athas and after a lengthy trial, both suspects were convicted on February 7, 2002 and sentenced to 7 years of rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs.10,000/- each.
- The National Police Commission, which is empowered to entertain and investigate public complaints against a police officer or the police service, has established a Public Complaints and Investigations Division (PCID, with the aim to discipline the police force and to punish wrongdoers. The PCID has received a total of 1216 complaints from January to July 2007.
The majority of the complaints received relates to police inaction followed by misuse of power and partiality. The PCID has already completed 382 of the 1216 complaints. Allegations of torture represent 4% of total allegations, unlawful arrest and detention 7% and death in custody 1%.
The information provided above, helps to establish that when there was credible evidence against errant members of the armed forces and the police for engaging in human rights violations, such as extra judicial executions, disappearances, torture etc., action has been taken consistently over the years to bring the offenders to justice.
B) Unimpeded access to humanitarian organizations and journalists to the Tamil areas of the country.
As to clause 2 of the Leahy amendment, once again the facts on the ground are very much at variance with the stipulation made. It is unfortunate that the Bill uses language such as “Tamil areas of the country”. For, 54% of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population now lives in areas outside the northern and the eastern provinces of the country, among the Sinhalese and other communities.
But that apart, with respect to “access to humanitarian organizations and journalists”, I can assure that there are no restrictions of access other than on occasions when military operations are being carried out in specific locations.
Humanitarian organizations
As for humanitarian organizations, the Government of Sri Lanka recognizes and has continued to commend the good work done by a majority of the NGOs, INGOs and international humanitarian agencies.
However, as in all situations of foreign presence, in Sri Lanka too, from time to time, we have had issues with regard to the conduct of certain individuals attached to some organizations, which have been resolved after discussion.
The UN has submitted a list of 21 INGOs, who are preferential partners in carrying out humanitarian assistance in uncleared areas. These INGOs have been given approval to work with the UN and ICRC to provide assistance to IDPs and to carry out projects related to tsunami and development.

1. Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTD)
2. Action Contre La Faim (ACF)
3. Caritas Sri Lanka (CARITAS)
4. Care International Sri Lanka (CARE)
5. Christian Children’s Fund (CCF)
6. Danish Refugee Council (DRC)
7. Campaign for Development and Solidarity (FORUT)
8. German Agro Action (GAA)
9. Handicap International (HI)
10. Medecins Sans Frontieres - France, Holland and Spain (MSF)
11. MERLIN - Sri Lanka (MERLIN)
12. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
13. OXFAM Great Britain, Australia (OXFAM)
14. Save the Children in Sri Lanka (SCISL)
15. SOLIDAR INGO Consortium ( SOLIDAR, Norwegian Peoples Aid, Swiss Labour Assistance, Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund)- (SOLIDAR)
16. Samaritans Purse International (SPI)
17. Terre Des Homme (TDH)
18. UMCOR Sri Lanka (UMCOR)
19. World University Services Canada (WUSC )
20. World Vision Lanka (WVL)
21. ZOA Refugee Care (ZOA)
The above INGOs have been provided access to the uncleared areas in November 2006, in order to carry out humanitarian operations. There are instances, when these agencies may not be able to work in certain areas due to security advisories issued by the local military commanders, not only to such groups, but also to UN, ICRC etc., as well as civilians. However, you will agree that this does not constitute a denial of access.
Media
On the question of providing “unimpeded access” to journalists, the Leahy amendment appears to be badly misinformed.
From time to time, upon receipt of requests to visit the operational areas, members of media have been provided access to the areas of conflict in the north and the east. The most recent was a five-day visit undertaken by a group of journalists belonging to the BBC, Reuters, Reuters TV, AP, APTV, Al Jazeera, as well as the Daily Telegraph. They visited Kilinochchi and had direct access to the LTTE.
It is interesting to note that during their visit, while the LTTE publicly claimed that an Air Force attack on a Sea Tiger base was in fact affected innocent civilians, this group of independent journalists who were already in the Vanni at the time, were not taken to the location of the alleged bombing, the most obvious action one would have expected from the LTTE, had that allegation been true.
Similarly, I trust those of you, who watch the developments in Sri Lanka should know the freedom with which these media personnel reported from the Vanni. On the first day, we saw statements being made by the so-called head of the political wing of the LTTE, S.P. Thamil Chelvam claiming in the immediate aftermath of the security forces clearing of the LTTE in the East, that they would attack economic targets to weaken the Sri Lankan government.
The journalists were shown female LTTE suicide cadres preparing to carry out attacks against economic targets. In their reports we also saw the yearning for peace among the common citizens they met in the market place.
There were also reports by the same journalists on how youths living in the Vanni are living in hiding to avoid being forcibly recruited by the LTTE and sent to fight in a war they don’t believe in.
Reuter report of 20th July 2007 titled “Sri Lanka rebels forcing Tamils to join war efforts” had this to say “Families received letters from the Tigers with names of members who must join underlined. Most international aid agencies are having to keep some local staff indoor, some of them have not been able to leave their compounds for months”.
“All the NGOs in the area have great concern towards recruitment policy.
We do experience that staff of all the different NGOs are getting abducted or have tremendous pressure towards them because they want to recruit them”.
In the circumstances it should be clear that other than in instances where there is an actual security threat, the media have access to the operational areas and have reported freely and did not have to face any ramifications as a result, at least from the Government.
C) The establishment of a field presence of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka.
- Sri Lanka has been maintaining a policy of open and constructive engagement with all UN human rights mechanisms, even under difficult circumstances, due to LTTE terrorism and provocations.
-Besides the considerably high representation of the diplomatic community, many UN agencies including the OHCHR and INGOs are already resident in Sri Lanka and many of them have field offices in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces.
-GOSL also has regular dialogue with the facilitator Norway, the other three Co-Chairs- the EU, Japan and the USA, as well as with India.
-The Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA), which meets as an apex body on a monthly basis, is chaired by the Minister of Human Rights and Disaster Management.
- Our policy of openness and transparency has encouraged us to invitee the high level UN officials to Sri Lanka. Visiting foreign dignitaries such as Sir John Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Humanitarian Coordinator who visited Sri Lanka in August, acknowledged that “the situation which had gone through a bad period, was getting better”.
It is also noteworthy that Mr. Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, is currently visiting Sri Lanka, while Ms. Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be visiting from 9-13 October and Mr. Walter Kaelin, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on the Human Rights of the IDPs, will visit Sri Lanka from 13 - 21 December.
The very fact that GOSL has invited these high level UN human rights officials to undertake visits demonstrates Sri Lanka to be engaged with UN mechanisms. GOSL hopes that constructive and implementable recommendations will emanate from these visits.
With regard to strengthening of the presence of the Senior Human Rights Adviser to the UN Country Team in Sri Lanka and her assistant, the GOSL is ready to listen to the representations that will be made by the High Commissioner on the subject during her visit to Sri Lanka.
OHCHR has sent a number of officials to Sri Lanka from time to time to assist the Senior Human Rights Adviser on many issues, such as witness protection and treaty body reporting. The Ministry of Human Rights has already entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the OHCHR on the capacity-building of the Ministry as well as other relevant national institutions. The GOSL looks forward to working closely with the OHCHR in the area of capacity-building of national institutions.
In view of the above, it is the position of the GOSL that at a time when Sri Lanka has been cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms, and there is a multiplicity of international mechanisms and missions, we do not see the rationale for a field presence by the OHCHR in Sri Lanka.
Conclusion
Thus, what we ask of the international community is:
a) To understand us, rather than being deceived by the propaganda spread by the LTTE and others with vested interests. You should bear mind that Sri Lanka is a democracy which has an independent judiciary to maintain the rule of law where citizens individually or collectively could seek intervention of the Supreme Court.
b) To be critical by all means when we do something which you might perceive or might in fact be wrong. But please try to understand the challenge we had to face over two decades due to LTTE terrorism.
c) To be aware that proposals for devolution are in its final stage and GOSL should be encouraged to bring that to a speedy conclusion rather than placing restrictions against it, which may be used by interested parties to hinder that process.