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China to figure prominently in Pompeo’s talks with Gotabaya, Mahinda

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, October 23:

China will figure prominently in the confabulations United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will have with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa during his brief visit to Colombo next week.

This was indicated by senior US Administration officials during a teleconference on Friday.

Pompeo arrives in Colombo from New Delhi on Wednesday. He will meet with President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena. He will “emphasize the US commitment to a strong, independent, and democratic Sri Lanka.  We want to partner with Sri Lanka on our shared goals of sustainable economic development and a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the officials said.

“In the interest of strengthening our longstanding partnership with Sri Lanka and reinforcing our long-term commitment to the region, we encourage Sri Lanka to review the options we offer for transparent and sustainable economic development in contrast to discriminatory and opaque practices,” they added. 

The officials further said: “We urge Sri Lanka to make difficult but necessary decisions to secure its economic independence for long-term prosperity, and we stand ready to partner with Sri Lanka for its economic development and growth.

 

“The Secretary will also emphasize the ties between our people, our shared commitment to democracy, and the importance of our ongoing regional maritime security cooperation.  We’ll continue to urge Sri Lanka to advance democratic governance, human rights, reconciliation, religious freedom, and justice, which promote the country’s long-term stability and prosperity and ensure the dignity and equality of all Sri Lanka’s diverse communities.”

Question:  The Sri Lankan Parliament gave new powers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There’s been some criticism in Parliament that this marks an authoritarian turn.  To what extent are you concerned about the trajectory of human rights and democracy in Sri Lanka? 

Answer:  Obviously, we watch closely developments in Sri Lanka on these fronts, and the Secretary will, of course, be raising issues related to human rights, reconciliation, and our common commitment to democracy. Our partnership with Sri Lanka goes back a long way, through a lot of different eras, and right now, we think they’re at a point to make some choices about where they head.

Question: To what extent do you think the Rajapaksas’ relationship with China might abet this trajectory? To what extent do you think the warm relationship that the Rajapaksas have with China might allow them to take less democratic moves? 

Answer: I think we’re looking to frame a discussion with them about a more positive trajectory. So, definitely we’ll be discussing where they’re headed and looking for ways to strengthen their commitment to human rights, rule of law, and democracy.

Pompeo will arrive in Colombo on Wednesday from New Delhi after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He and US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper arrive here on Monday for the third round of 2+2 talks with their Indian counterparts External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

From Colombo, Pompeo and his team will travel to Male in Maldives. The officials said the US has enjoyed an increasingly close relationship with Maldives since establishing diplomatic ties over 50 years ago. Pompeo will meet with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, “who’ve been instrumental to Maldives’ strengthened democratic institutions and civil society.”

The officials said: “We’re proud to have supported these efforts over many years. We’re also proud of our partnership with Maldives on regional security issues and to combat terrorism. We look forward to additional opportunities to advance our relationship, including a significant milestone in the US-Maldives relationship that Secretary Pompeo will announce during his trip.”

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PSC action could cripple health services, warns GMOA Secretary

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There were vacancies for 89 specialist doctors in government teaching hospitals due to certain actions taken by the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

GMOA secretary Dr. Senal Fernando yesterday told The Island those vacancies had the potential to cripple the state health service, as the service was stressed due to COVID-19.

Dr. Fernando said: “Specialist doctors are appointed and transfered according to procedures established by the Health Service Minute. The Ministry of Health is responsible for the transfers and the PSC should oversee the transfering process to ensure that they are made in a proper manner.”

“The PSC has ordered the appointment of a committee to look into the matter but there is no mention of such a committee in the Health Service Minute. Instead of following the process, the PSC has tried to intervene in the process and 89 posts remain vacant during the time of COVID-19,” he said.

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Hizbullah denies links with Zahran

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But signed agreement for Zahran’s help in 2015 GE

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former Governor of the Eastern Province, M. L. A. M. Hizbullah on Monday night told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing Easter Sunday attacks, that he had not had any links to National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim. The NTJ members had assaulted his supporters at Kattankudy in March 2017, he said.

Hizbullah said so when the Commissioners asked him about his links with Zahran.

Hizbullah was also asked about billions of rupees he had received from foreign organisations since 2016. Earlier in the day, it was revealed that close to Rs. 4 billion had been deposited by foreign individuals and institutions in two accounts Hizbullah operated at the Bank of Ceylon Colpetty Branch from 2016 to 2019.

The witness said the Sri Lanka Hira Foundation, a social service institution run by him, had received money from foreign countries after March 2016.

“Ali Abdullah al-Juffali of Saudi Arabia gave Rs. 308 million and Siddique and Diana Osmond of London gave Rs. 5.5 million,” he said.

Hizbullah added that he knew al-Juffali and some other Saudi philanthropists. Al Juffali family was one of the richest Saudis with an estimated worth USD 19.8 billion, he said.

Then, a video of a discussion Zahran had with Sibli Farooq of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was played at the PCoI.

The video showed Zahran and Farooq talking about a sum of one million riyals that Hizbullah had allegedly received from Saudi Arabia. In the video, Zahran says that he had no problem with Hizbullah receiving money from Saudi Arabia.

In response, Hizbullah said that by the 2015 Presidential election, Farooq and Zahran had been against him. A member of the Commission then asked why Hizbullah had entered into an agreement with Zahran during an election if he had acted against him.

Hizbullah said Zahran had told, on social media, that he would support politicians who agreed to some of his proposals.” All the parties joined him. I also went along,” he said. Earlier, it was revealed that representatives for the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC,) Democratic Party, UNP, UPFA and National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) had signed agreements with Zahran in exchange for the support of NTJ in 2015.

Hizbullah was also questioned on the Aliyar clash between NTJ and Sunnath Wal Jamaat, a group that supported Hizbullah, on 10 March, 2017.

“Did you ask Zahran to surrender to the court through his mother?” a member of the Commission questioned.

“I made no such comment. I do not know if anyone in my party did so,” he said.

The Commissioners also asked Hizbullah about growing date palms in the Kattankudy area and placing Arabic billboards.

The witness replied that he had grown date palms because of the high temperatures in the area. Nameplates with Arabic letters had been put up to attract Arabic students as they were largely visiting the area, he said.

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CA annuls summons issued on President

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The Court of Appeal yesterday annulled the summons issued on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the disappearance of two persons in Jaffna in 2011.

Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan went missing in 2011. Last year, Jaffna Magistrate’s Court issued summons on Rajapaksa over a habeas corpus petition filed by the relatives of the two missing activists. They had named Rajapaksa one of the respondents since he was the Defence Secretary at the time of the disappearances.

Earlier, Rajapaksa had submitted a writ application stating that he found it difficult to appear before the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court due to security reasons. The Court of Appeal issued an injunction preventing Rajapaksa being summoned by the Magistrate.

President of the Court of Appeal A. H. M. D. Nawaz, declaring their decision, said that a Magistrate’s Court could only issue summons over a specific reason. However the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court had issued the summons based on a motion of a lawyer and that there was no legal basis for the summons. Thus, the Court of Appeal issued a writ notification declaring the summons issued by the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court void.

 

 

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