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Church welcomes Prez’s promise to move against those named in Easter Sunday PCoI

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Maithripala Sirisena, Nilantha J, two senior AG Department officials among the culprits

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Catholic Church yesterday (25) welcomed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s declaration that the government had the required 2/3 majority in Parliament to take action against those who had been named in the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) by introducing a new Act in Parliament.

Top spokesperson for the Church Rev Fr. Cyril Gamini Fernando told The Island that the Church had repeatedly asked for the full implementation of the recommendations made by the PCoI.

Rev. Fernando said that the Church launched a sustained campaign due to the inordinate delay on the part of the government to act on the PCoI recommendations.

The PCoI handed over its report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Feb 01 this year.

Having vested the newly built Kelani Bridge with the people, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa warned the Opposition not to push the government on the issue at hand as it enjoyed the parliamentary majority needed to enact necessary legislation to punish the culprits.

Rev. Fernando emphasised that the stand taken up by the Catholic Church in respect of the PCoI recommendations was clear. Responding to a query, Rev Fernando said that the Catholic Church quite clearly accepted the composition of the PCoI, appointed on Sept 21, 2019 by the then President Maithripala Sirisena. In spite of the change of government two months later, the Catholic Church accepted the composition of the PCoI, Rev Fernando said, adding that a team of lawyers represented the Catholic Church at the PCoI.

Now that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has assured that his administration would act on the recommendations, the Catholic Church hoped the government would go the whole hog.

The five-member PCoI consisted of Appellate Court Judge Janak de Silva (Chairman), Appeal Court Judge Nissanka Bandula Karunarathna, Retired Judge of the Court of Appeal Nihal Sunil Rajapaksa, Retired Judge of the High Court Bandula Kumara Atapattu and retired Ministry Secretary Ms. W.M.M. Adikari.

Asked whether the Catholic Church would give up its campaign both here and abroad to pressure the government over the delay in the judicial process, Rev. Fernando said the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had so far questioned him for three days –over a period of 15- 16 hours subsequent to a complaint lodged by State Intelligence Service (SIS) Chief Maj. Gen. Suresh Salley. “The Catholic Church had no option but to seek justice whatever the consequences as we felt efforts are being made to discard PCoI recommendations,” Rev. Fernando said.

Rev. Fernando pointed out that one of those who had been named by the PCoI, Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Maj. Gen. Salley’s predecessor was a key prosecution witness now.

The National Catholic Committee for Justice in July this year urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to implement the PCoI’s recommendations in respect of the then President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the leader of the SLFP and the then Prime Minister and the leader of the UNP Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The SLFP with 14-member group is the second biggest constituent in the government.

The Church released an 18-page report that had been sent to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The report dealt with specific alleged lapses on the part of the incumbent government.

Referring to the PCoI report (PCoI Final Report Vol. 1, p 265), the Church asked why the government had refrained from initiating criminal proceedings against Sirisena under suitable provisions in the Penal Code.

The Church also found fault with the PCoI for failing to make specific recommendations in respect of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, though it recognized his role in facilitating Islamic extremism. Referring to PCoI assessment of PM Wickremesinghe’s soft approach towards Islamic extremism that paved the way for the Easter Sunday carnage (P CoI Final Report Vol 1, p 276-277), the Church said that they couldn’t comprehend why specific recommendation was not made.

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith told a July media briefing that Wickremesinghe’s lax approach and irresponsible attitude should have been thoroughly investigated.

The Cardinal on behalf of the National Catholic Committee for Justice declared that unless the government addressed their grievances they would be compelled to resort to other means to obtain justice.

Noting that legal action had been initiated against the then Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando over his failure to thwart the Easter Sunday bombings, the Catholic Church asked why action hadn’t been taken in respect of the then Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and Director of State Intelligence Service Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena. The Church pointed out that the PCoI had recommended that the Attorney General should consider criminal proceedings against Mendis and Jayawardena under any suitable provision in the Penal Code.

The Church stressed that the P CoI made the recommendation on the basis that the available evidence indicated that there was criminal liability on the part of both Mendis and Jayewardena.

The following are the P CoI recommendations in respect of the then Senior DIG Western Province Nandana Munasinghe (criminal liability), DIG Colombo North Deshabandu Tennakoon (disciplinary inquiry), SP Colombo North Sanjeewa Bandara (criminal liability), SP Chandana Atukorale (criminal liability), Director Western Province Intelligence Division B.E.I. Prasanna (criminal liability), ASP S. Kumara (disciplinary inquiry), Acting OIC, Fort Chief Inspector R.M. Sarath Kumarasinghe (criminal liability), OIC Fort Chief Inspector Sagara Wilegoda Liyanage (criminal liability) and OIC Katana Chaminda Nawaratne (disciplinary inquiry).

Rev. Fernando stressed that contrary to claims the Church hadn’t been given access to the full report. The Church spokesperson pointed out that the PCoI recommended the Public Service Commission take disciplinary action against State Counsel Malik Azeez and Deputy Solicitor General Azad Navani for their failure that may have contributed to the Easter Sunday carnage.

The PCoI also made reference to ACMC leader Rishad Bathiudeen, his brother, Riyaj Bathiudeen, Dr. Muhamad Zulyan Muhamad Zafras, Ahamed Lukman Thalib and M.L.A.M. Hizbullah.



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GL explains to UN Special Rapporteur Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare

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Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has explained to UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences, Tomoya Obokata, Sri Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare and the constructive steps taken by the government to eradicate child labour.

The Minister also elaborated on steps taken to bring our labour laws in line with international standards in a number of areas, including child labour, migrant workers and debt bondage. The Special Rapporteur commended Sri Lanka on the progress made with regard to making Sri Lanka a ‘child labour free zone’.

The UN official called on Prof. Peiris on Friday, 26 November, at the Foreign Ministry.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur includes but is not limited to issues such as: traditional slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, children in slavery and slavery-like conditions, sexual slavery, forced and early marriages as well as issues faced by migrant workers and foreign labour.

The Foreign Minister outlined that Sri Lanka was conscious of protecting vulnerable labour groups and emphasized that Sri Lanka will continue to cooperate with the United Nations system. He stated that visits by Special Procedures Mandate Holders have been helpful in enhancing understanding of the specificities of Sri Lanka’s experiences in related fields as well as in improving domestic processes to be in line with our international commitments.

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More gas explosions

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Two women injured

By Rathindra Kuruwita

There were 11 new explosions related to domestic gas cylinders in the 24 hours that ended at 12 noon yesterday. Among the areas these explosions were reported are Agama, Karana, Hungnam, Walasmulla, Kundasale, Katugastota, Dimbula and Giriulla.

Two women have been injured in these latest explosions. In some instances, the gas cooker wasn’t even on when the explosions happened.

Meanwhile, Litro has introduced the hotline, 1311, for the public to make any complaints with regard to their gas cylinders. Once a complaint is received, a team of technicians will arrive and check the cylinder, the company said.

Litro also urged the public not to try any experiments to see if the cylinders are safe.

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Countries tighten travel rules to slow Omicron spread

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Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Norway, Ghana confirm first cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant as countries tighten travel rules.

The United States, Japan and Malaysia have announced tighter travel restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries confirmed their first cases.

Japan and Hong Kong said on Wednesday they would expand travel curbs, and Malaysia temporarily banned travellers from countries deemed at risk, news agencies reported.

Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions while Uzbekistan said it would suspend flights with Hong Kong as well as South Africa. Japan, which had already barred all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant and said it would expand its entry ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries.

Malaysia temporarily barred travellers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list.

In North America, air travellers to the US were set to face tougher COVID-19 testing rules.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday that the US would require all air travellers entering the country to show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure.

Currently, vaccinated international travellers can present a negative result obtained within three days from their point of departure. The new one-day testing requirement would apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Global spread

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said it recorded the Gulf’s first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a citizen returning from North Africa.

Nigeria said it had confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant among travellers who had arrived from South Africa in the past week. Ghana and Norway also reported their first cases of the new variant on Wednesday.

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said late on Tuesday that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron strain, the first reported cases in Latin America. A traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not travelled, had tested positive.

Germany, which is battling a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, reported that four fully vaccinated people had tested positive for Omicron in the south of the country but had moderate symptoms.

It also reported the highest number of deaths from coronavirus since mid-February on Wednesday, as hospitals warned that the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, above the peak of last winter.

Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said an infected person had taken part in a large concert.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”, while advising those unwell, vulnerable or 60 years or over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.

Global health officials have offered reassurances and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated.

BioNTech’s CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

European Medicines Agency Executive Director Emer Cooke earlier said that laboratory analyses should indicate over the next couple of weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.

The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine distribution programme for five-to-11-year-old children by a week to December 13.

Britain, the US and European countries have expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant.

First reported in South Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between substantial vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

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