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Another land grab about to take place at Flood Plains National Park today?



By Ifham Nizam

There was a plan to clear a swath of the Manampitiya-Yakkure forest for road development through the Flood Plains National Park and some local politicians were going all out to fell trees, a senior official of the Department of Wildlife Conservation said yesterday.

Senior environmentalists also told The Island that they hoped President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would intervene to prevent the destruction of the forest.

President Rajapaksa over the weekend refused to endorse the request for cleaning a three- kilometre stretch of forest to construct a road, saying he would consult a team of experts first.

Centre for Environmental Justice, Environmental Scientist, Hemantha Withanage alleged that with the introduction of 1/2020 circular nearly 700,000 acres of forests had become vulnerable.

“When Forest and Wildlife officers visit these areas, they are helpless. They have been forced not to enforce the laws and even remove long standing cases,” Withanage added.

“We got to know that the Secretary to the State Minister of Land Management, State Enterprises Land, and Property Development was to go for a site visit yesterday and a meeting would be held today (09) at Yakkure and a decision would be made to allow road development inside the National Park,” a senior environmentalist claimed.

Further, the lands belong to Flood Plains National Park at Weheragodayaya running to more than 2000 acres would be released for agriculture purposes, said Supun Lahiru Prakash, Convener, Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle of Sri Lanka.

He told The Island that “In addition Handapan villu, Manampitiya villu, Palle villu, Karapola villu, and Muthugala villu are to be released for agriculture purposes.”

Loss of huge amounts of land from the Flood Plains National Park and Fragmentation of the rest of the land by road construction would severely affect the flora and fauna of the park, Prakash said.

The flood plains are a unique ecosystem type found in downstream Mahaweli River; they will disappear, if the decision is made to expand agriculture, environmentalists warn.

“We kindly request the President to pay immediate attention to the matter and prevent the destruction of the forest.

According to environmental lawyer, Dr. Jagath Gunawardena, the area was declared a National Park under Section 2, subsection 1 of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO).

Therefore, nobody could make any forest clearings, clear or break up any land for cultivation, mining or any other purposes, fell, girdle, tap, burn or in any way damage or destroy any plant or take, collect or remove any plant, Gunawardena said.

There are clear violations set out in Sections 5 and 6. If Section 6 is violated, a perpetrator could be arrested without a warrant, and it was a non-bailable offence, he said.

Public Service Trade Union Federation, Chairman W. H. Piyadasa said that the Forest Department had taken over the land on court orders after reporting the construction of an illegal road from Manepitiya to Yakkure through the Polonnaruwa Flood Plain National Park and the illegal cultivation in the wildlife reserve.


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President Ranil Wickremasinghe calls upon chief prelates of Asgiriya and Malwatta chapters




(pic courtsey Divaina)

President Ranil Wickremasinghe called upon the chief prelates of the Asgiriya and Malwatta chapters on Thursday (02) morning to seek their blessings ahead of the 75th Independence day celebrations.

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Foreign News

US secures deal on bases to complete arc around China




US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (R) was in the Philippines to finalise the deal (picture BBC)

BBC reported that the United States has secured access to four additional military bases in the Philippines – a key bit of real estate which would offer a front seat to monitor the Chinese in the South China Sea and around Taiwan.

With this deal, Washington has stitched the gap in the arc of US alliances stretching from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south.

The missing link had been the Philippines, which borders two of the biggest potential flashpoints, Taiwan and the South China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea as Manila insists on calling it.

The US already had limited access to five sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) – the new additions and expanded access, according to a statement from Washington, will “allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges”, likely a veiled reference to countering China in the region.

The statement came after Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin met Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr in Manila on Thursday.

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Nuland accuses China of failing to help SL with ‘credible and specific assurances’ acceptable to IMF



Nuland addressing the media in Colombo (pic by Thushara Atapattu)

US hopes LG polls will be held in March

By Saman Indrajith

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, yesterday said China had not provided credible and specific assurances to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for Sri Lanka to overcome the current economic crisis.

Addressing the media in Colombo, Nuland said: “What China has offered so far is not enough. We need to see credible and specific assurances that they will meet the IMF standard of debt relief. We, the United States, are prepared to do our part. Our Paris Club partners are prepared to do their part. India has made strong commitments that it will provide the credible assurances the IMF is looking for.”

Nuland said that India and the Paris Club had given strong assurances to the IMF to help Sri Lanka to obtain a $2.9 billion bailout.

“We want to see an IMF program as quickly as possible. That is what Sri Lanka deserves; that is what Sri Lanka needs,” Nuland said.

Nuland said the US would give Sri Lanka an additional USD 30 million to provide 96,000 schoolchildren with food.

She said Sri Lankans had taken to the streets, last year, demanding cleaner, accountable and inclusive governance, with transparency, and the government was expected to hold the elections to enable people to enjoy their democratic rights.

Nuland said that the US was glad to see that consultation between the government and other parties towards reconciliation had commenced. She said that she had met with members of the Tamil political parties, earlier yesterday. “We hope that the dialogue will continue to achieve real results such as return of the lands to their rightful owners.”

Nuland said that the US hoped that local elections would be held in March, the dialogue commenced for reconciliation would continue, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act would be reformed to meet international standards.

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