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Church opposes government takeover of Muthurajawela wetlands



(Vatican News) In an official Gazette notification on October 07 by the government of Sri Lanka, the Western Province’s Urban Development Authority (UDA) has decided to take over a part of the land of the Muthurajawela wetlands, situated some 30 km north of the capital Colombo, near the western coastal city of Negombo.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, on Saturday filed a petition with the Sri Lankan Supreme Court against the appropriation, saying the project would affect the livelihoods of the people and various religious sites in the area.

On Sunday, the Archdiocese of Colombo, under whose jurisdiction comes Negombo and the marshlands, released brochures and leaflets explaining to the faithful about the possible damages the government’s move could cause.

On Tuesday, priests and nuns joined a street demonstration in Negombo in which hundreds of fishermen and women protested against the government’s move.  They also demanded justice for the families of the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday terrorist bomb attacks.

“The acquisition of the lands will be a great disaster for the people,” said Father Jayantha Nimal, parish priest of St. Nicholas Church in Bopitiya.  Addressing the demonstrators, he urged authorities not to deprive the people of their right to live freely. “We ask the government to listen to the voice of the people,” he said, adding the acquisition of land around the wetlands will cause great damage to the environment as well as the fishing community.

Father Ranjith Terry, the parish priest of St. Mary’s Church at Pitipana in Negombo, urged people to remain united in the fight for justice.

Romel Fernando, who participated in the demonstrations, said the government wanted to undermine the activities of the priests and rights activist

Human rights activist Brito Fernando said: “We took to the streets to tell the government that we would not remain silent while our lands and sea are being taken away.”

The government’s move and the protests come as the crucial COP26 United Nations climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, are trying to decide on a final agreement to rein in global warming by slashing greenhouse gases.

Among the several respondents mentioned in Cardinal Ranjith’s writ petition are Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, State Minister of Urban Development Nalaka Godahewa, Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, the UDA and the Environment department.

Cardinal Ranjith said that Catholics across the island nation were appalled by the Gazette notification which would also mean the acquiring of coastal Catholic churches by the UDA. According to him, the acquisition of the part of Muthurajawela “would severely affect the livelihoods of the people living in the area.” “There are a number of religious sites”, and “religious activities would also be adversely affected,” AsiaNews reported the cardinal as saying.

Known for its unique and highly diverse ecosystem, the Muthurajawela marshlands are listed as one of the 12 priority wetlands in Sri Lanka. Besides hosting over 190 species of flora and 200 species of fauna, the area is a major local and tourist attraction, which also supports the local economy.

Kavinda Jayawardena, a Catholic lawmaker from the Jaela Gampaha district, and fishermen from the Negombo area have challenged the UDA’s land acquisition, saying it is “a violation of the fundamental human rights enshrined in the Constitution.”

The government has said that it wants to protect Muthurajawela, but it is actually planning to build a power plant that would serve the city of Colombo.

Environmentalist Dinusha Nanayakkara spoke to AsiaNews about the rich flora and fauna of the wetland, adding it is also a stopping a reproducing ground for flocks of migratory birds. Most importantly, the benefits of the wetland are not limited to the environment but also to the economy and local communities.

Nanayakkara notes that according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, flood control by the wetlands saves the Sri Lankan government an equivalent of US$ 2.4 million with an additional economic benefit of US$ 3.6 million.  The environmentalist lamented that in recent years, Muthurajawela has been facing progressive degradation with animal remains from slaughterhouses and wastewaters from illegal liquor production dumped into its streams. It has also fallen prey to illegal buildings.

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



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



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



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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