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Beijing bares it in Jaffna, warms up to Tamils in Sri Lanka

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Taking off their shirts and wearing traditional white veshtis, the bare-chested men, carrying trays laden with fruit and puja offerings, entered the temple. Nothing unusual because that’s the practice at the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, a temple near Jaffna in Sri Lanka. But the man who dressed as a devotee and led the others into the temple Thursday stood out — Qi Zenhong, China’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka.

Days after announcing on Twitter that a Chinese solar company had found a new client in the Maldives because security concerns” of a “third party” had led to the suspension of its project on three islands off Jaffna peninsula, Ambassador Qi is touring Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated Northern Province, wooing an ethnic minority that has traditionally been close to India.

His visit to Jaffna peninsula on Wednesday and Thursday and his outreach to a community that remains cold to the Sinhalese south 12 years after the end of the ethnic war also came amid a bitter, public rough patch in Sri Lanka-China relations over Colombo’s cancellation of a fertiliser import.

In conversations with Jaffna’s civil society representatives, Qi responded to questions on the China-India rivalry in Sri Lanka, saying there was more geographical distance between India and Sri Lanka than between India and China since both countries share a border.

Dismissing the rivalry, he said both countries were continuously engaged in resolving their problems. He even said that talk of “third party” pressure on Sri Lanka to cancel the solar farm on three islands off Jaffna was “fake news”.

While this is not the first time that a Chinese diplomat has visited the Northern Province, it may be the first time that any Chinese ambassador has stayed overnight and engaged in such extensive public diplomacy in the peninsula where India takes its diplomatic and political influence for granted because of the ties of history, language, culture that have remained strong despite Delhi distancing itself from the Tamil separatist cause.

Chinese interests and its infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka have been largely focussed on the Sinhala south, particularly due to the snug relations that Beijing has with the Rajapaksas. While the Chinese have constructed roads and houses in the war-ravaged Tamil areas, Qi’s visit, which included a tour of Vavuniya and Mannar districts too, indicate a desire to expand the engagement on turf where political and people-to-people ties with India are strong.

Among his stops in the peninsula was the historic Jaffna Library which was burnt down by a mob led by Sinhalese politicians in 1983. There, he donated laptops and computers and offered assistance in the digitisation of the library. After its restoration in the 1990s, both Delhi and the Tamil Nadu government have donated thousands of books to rebuild the collection. In 2015, an “India Corner” was inaugurated in the library.

The main livelihood of people in Jaffna is fishing, and their rivalry with Tamil Nadu fishermen for scarce marine resources has eluded resolution. On Wednesday, the Chinese envoy’s outreach included donations of fishing nets and dry rations worth $100,000 to members of the Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Union Federation. Sri Lankan Minister for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Douglas Devananda, who is also a parliamentarian from Jaffna, accompanied Qi during the visit.

“So far, Tamil people have not had much rapport with the Chinese. The visit might have been to improve relations with the Tamils,” said Dharmalingam Sithadthan, a member of Parliament from Jaffna and leader of the former militant group PLOTE.

In recent months, Tamils have questioned signage in Sri Lanka that includes Mandarin but has left out Tamil, even though it has the status of an official language. Official sources said the Chinese wanted to be seen as making amends for this. The visit is being viewed as a message to the Tamils that they should consider China as a friend.

Some also see the visit as a signal to the Sri Lankan leadership during a downturn in ties after Colombo cancelled the import of an organic fertiliser which did not pass local tests. In retaliation, China blacklisted the Sri Lankan state-owned People’s Bank for a payment “default” which the Chinese Embassy described in a tweet as “vicious”. China’s Ministry of Commerce said the default on the Letter of Credit had caused huge losses to Chinese companies.

Sritharan Thirunavakkarasu, a former member of the EPRLF and a Jaffna resident, said Qi’s visit was “unprecedented” by a Chinese diplomat for the time the envoy spent on the peninsula, and for the range of people he met during the visit.

Qi held discussions with government officials and civil society members on how China could contribute to increasing employment opportunities in the Northern Province. Shrimp farming was among the ideas that figured in the discussions. (Indian Express)



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Wimal asks for PSC probe into top officials’ complicity in violence

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Colombo HC lawyers concerned over shocking developments

By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, says a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) should be appointed to investigate the role played by IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Public Security Ministry Secretary Maj. Gen. (retd.) Jagath Alwis in the recent SLPP hothead attack on those demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Cabinet of Ministers, including Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Weerawansa yesterday (18) told The Island that Parliament should inquire into the unprovoked attack that triggered an extremely violent response by the public as well as those awaiting an opportunity to unleash violence on selected group of lawmakers on 09 May.

The former Industries Minister said he was confident that Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, would look into the issues at hand.

Responding to another query, Weerawansa said that Senior DIG Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon’s claim that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary had interfered with his (Tennakoon’s) plan to disperse the SLPP mobs couldn’t be easily dismissed.

MP Weerawansa declared, in Parliament on Tuesday (17), that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry dissuaded the Senior DIG from performing his duties although he had received specific instructions from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to stop the march on Galle Face. The former JVPer questioned whether those conspirators wanted to show the world the failure on the part of the police and the armed forces to maintain law and order.

Asked whether police headquarters and the Public Security Ministry had responded to his accusations, Weerawansa said he hadn’t been contacted by them so far.

Pointing out that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), inquiring into 09 May turmoil had recorded Senior DIG’s statement, Weerawansa said that the outfit could issue an interim statement on the matter.

The Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association said that the shocking revelation, made in Parliament, should be expeditiously inquired into.

The Association’s President Attorney-at-Law Lakshman Perera said that the ongoing investigations had taken an unexpected turn in the wake of high profile specific allegations pertaining to the conduct of the IGP, as well as the Public Security Ministry Secretary. Pointing out that the HRCSL and the CID had already recorded DIG Tennakoon’s statement, pertaining to the incidents, and the officer was among a group of 22 persons slapped with a travel ban by the Fort Magistrate, lawyer Perera said that the CID couldn’t turn a blind eye to accusations directed at the head of the department as well as Secretary to the relevant ministry.

Lawyer Perera said that investigations couldn’t be completed without verifying accusations made in Parliament.

Lawmaker Weerawansa said that the question was on whose behalf the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary intervened at a time the country was under emergency and after the Senior DIG in charge of Colombo received specific instructions from the President himself.

Although the SLPP goons did not shed any blood or cause any serious injuries, unlike the well-organized mobs that caused havoc across the country thereafter, MP Weerawansa said that he couldn’t comprehend why the police and the armed forces allowed the situation to develop to an extremely dangerous level.

The HRCSL in its initial reaction to the unprovoked attacks on those who had been demanding the resignation of the government condemned the violence caused by a group of people who made it very clear that violence was their intention.

HRCSL Chairperson retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe said: “The failure of the police to prepare for this eventuality and prevent and manage the violence and destruction is a gross failure of public order. There must be an immediate inquiry into this matter. The inaction of the police to prevent the clash is condemned.”

The Island brought the latest developments to the notice of the HRCSL yesterday as MP Weerawansa said that those who conspired and planned the project that involved those at the helm of Temple Trees then and the SLPP should be arrested. The conspirators shouldn’t be allowed to escape justice while the CID arrested those who carried out the actual attacks.

Police spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said that the department couldn’t respond to what transpired in Parliament. Acknowledging that he was aware of the allegations made in Parliament, Attorney-at-Law Thalduwa said in case their response was sought through proper channels, whatever the queries would be answered.

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Dr. Pathirana says IGP, Public Security Ministry Secy. allowed goon attacks

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Galle District parliamentarian Dr. Ramesh Pathirana has reiterated that IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Secretary to the Public Security Ministry, Maj. General (retd) Jagath Alwis had facilitated the 09 May unprovoked attack on anti-government protesters.

The former Minister Pathirana declared in Parliament yesterday (18) that National Freedom Front (NFF) leader MP Wimal Weerawansa’s allegation, pertaining to the origins of the violence, was true.

Dr. Pathirana said that he was among those who had brought supporters to attend a meeting chaired by the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The vast majority of those who attended the Temple Trees meet on May 09 wanted to thank the war-winning President as he gave up active politics, the MP said. However, some unscrupulous members had instigated the participants there.

Dr. Pathirana said he had been at Temple Trees at that time and as he feared violence could erupt due inflammatory speeches, contact was made with Senior DIG in charge of Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon. Dr. Pathirana said that the senior police officer had assured him that the police were ready to face the situation and confident of preventing those who attended the Temple Trees function from reaching Galle Face.

“Thereafter, I left Temple Trees for a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There were several other members. When trouble erupted, President Rajapaksa immediately got in touch with Senior DIG Tennakoon, who revealed he had been asked not to use force by the IGP himself.”

Dr. Pathirana said the President had asked the senior law enforcement officer why he didn’t carry out instructions issued by him (the President).

The Galle District MP emphasised that the IGP and the Secretary to the Public Security Ministry were responsible for the violence at Kollupitiya and Fort police areas which triggered violence in many parts of the country. (SF)

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New Deputy Speaker not from Rajapaksa political dynasty

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Newly-elected Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa said that he was not a member of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s clan.

The Hambantota District Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmaker said so when The Island asked him whether he, too, was a member of the Rajapaksa family now under fire over the continuing political-economic-social turmoil.

Rajapaksa polled 109 votes at a secret vote held in Parliament on Tuesday (17) to secure the Deputy Speaker’s post. MP Rajapaksa defeated Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Kaviratne, who polled 78 votes.

The SLPP rebel group members refrained from voting for Rajapaksa after the top SLPP leadership ignored their appeal to fill the vacancy through consultations with the SJB.

Rajapaksa succeeded SLFP’s Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who quit the post twice, the second occasion after beating SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar at a secret vote.

Deputy Speaker Rajapaksha said that he had served as the Chairman of the Ambalanthota Pradeshiya Sabha in 1997. Subsequently, he became a member of the Southern Provincial Council.

Asked whether he was a resident of the Rajapaksas’ home base, Deputy Speaker said that he was from Pallerotta, Ambalantota. (SF)

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