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DG National Security Studies warns: Hasty recognition of Taliban likely to send wrong signal to Tamil and Muslim communities here



Recommends nothing short of death penalty for terrorism

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Director General of Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) Prof. Rohan Gunaratne says hasty recognition of the illegitimate Taliban administration would be inimical to Sri Lanka.

Prof. Gunaratne asserts that consequences of such a move would be catastrophic and may result in domestic challenges to the government.

In an exclusive interview on ‘Hide Park’ on Derana 24×7 recently, Prof. Gunaratne, the author of ‘Afghanistan After the Western Drawdown’ explained how a wrong move on Sri Lanka’s part vis-a-vis Afghanistan could give a wrong signal to both Tamil and Muslim communities here as well as to the international community.

Pointing out that Taliban hadn’t regained power through an internationally accepted election, Prof. Gunaratne who earlier had the opportunity to interview senior Taliban figures emphasized the responsibility on the part of the current government to await the UN’s response to the developments in Afghanistan.

Gunaratne succeeded Asanga Abeygoonasekera as DG of INSSSL, which comes under the purview of the Defence Ministry. The change took place in the wake of the 2019 presidential election. Abeygoonasekera, who contested the Gampaha district at the 2015 general election on the UNP ticket had been the founding DG of the outfit established by then President Maithripala Sirisena and later became an advisor to Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa.

Declaring that Taliban hadn’t changed and essentially remained an extremely violent outfit among international coalition of terrorist organizations, Prof. Gunaratne advocated toughest possible measures against terrorism.

The academic emphasized; “Nothing short of death penalty for terrorism. The government should consider, at least at this stage, especially after developments in Afghanistan and the continuing presence of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, how to deal with the situation.”

Gunaratne asserted the importance of the government reaching consensus on what he called proper legal and policy framework to manage external threats.

Prof. Gunaratne appeared on Derana 24×7 before the Islamic State mounted a suicide attack just outside the Kabul airport compound. The single blast claimed the lives of nearly 180 persons, including 13 US personnel.

Prof. Gunaratne advised that Sri Lanka shouldn’t recognize any group that hadn’t gained power through constitutional means. The official stressed the importance of having a proper general election in Afghanistan, formation of an all-inclusive government followed by UN recognition before Sri Lanka decided on the issue at hand.

Gunaratne, who first cut his teeth as a journalist in the now defunct Sun newspaper in the early ‘80s emphasized the need to examine carefully what was going on there before Sri Lanka recognized the Taliban whom he categorized as new actors.

During the interview Prof. Guneratne made reference to the Islamic State as the party behind those who carried out the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage here blamed primarily on the NTJ (National Thowheed Jamaat) now a proscribed group.

About a week ago Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) member and Jaffna District TNA lawmaker S. Sridharan compared the Taliban’s triumphant return to Kabul and the Tamil community’s struggle here. The MP’s declaration didn’t receive the backing of his party.

Former Director General of Presidential Media Division (PMD) and the incumbent Director General of the Government Information Department Mohan Samaranayake told ITN yesterday (29) that recognition of a country by a particular government would depend on its agenda. Samaranayake was responding to the interviewer’s query regarding China quite clearly indicating its desire to work with the Taliban.

Samaranayake, formerly with the UN mission in Colombo said that recognition of Afghanistan would largely depend on five permanent members of the UN Security Council comprising the US, Russia, China, UK and France.

Both Prof. Gunaratne and Samaranayake found fault with US strategy vis-a-vis Afghanistan with the former alleging that the failure on the part of successive US political leaderships though the US military enjoyed superiority over any other military.

Samaranayake discussed the challenge experienced by China and Pakistan in the wake of rapid changes in Afghanistan. ITN interviewed Samaranayake close on the heels of a devastating Islamic State attack directed at Afghans seeking to leave the country and the withdrawing Americans.

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Kabul retired Navy Chief Admiral Piyal de Silva returned to Colombo before the fall of President Ghanis’s administration clearly kept afloat with the military muscle of US and its NATO allies. Admiral Silva succeeded retired Air Marshal Gagan Bulathsinhala following the 2019 presidential election.

Diplomatic sources say both Pakistan and China appeared to have adopted a sort of soft approach towards Taliban and are working with the new leadership. Recently, Afghanistan developments had been taken up when Pakistan High Commissioner in Colombo Maj. Gen. (retd) Muhammad Saad Khattak met newly appointed Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris at the Foreign Ministry, where the Pakistanis gave an assurance on the safety of Lankans in Afghanistan on behalf of Taliban according to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry.

The statement quoted HC Khattak as having told Prof. Peiris that Pakistan has received an assurance from the Taliban as regards the safety of foreign nationals in Afghanistan and also made a pledge that rights of women and children would be protected. The High Commissioner also said Pakistan hoped that Afghanistan would soon establish a peaceful government structure and integrate with the rest of the world.

Former Premier and the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has warned against hasty recognition of Taliban. Former PA National List lawmaker and Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador to Iran M.M. Zuhair, PC, strongly criticized the UNP’s stand.

The US led NATO forces evicted the Taliban from Kabul in late 2001 following 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks on the US. Foreign forces reached agreement with Taliban on the basis of Doha talks initiated during the previous Trump administration. Foreign forces are scheduled to complete their withdrawal on August 31.

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President instructs officials to vaccinate kids with Pfizer



Health Ministry still deliberating pros and cons

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed health officers to inoculate children between the age 15 to 19 with Pfizer vaccine, Army Commander General Shavendra Silva said yesterday.

General Silva added that the President had also instructed officials to inoculate children with special needs above the age of 12, with the Pfizer vaccines. He there are around 50,000 children with special needs.

General Silva said Sri Lanka would receive adequate Pfizer vaccine doses in the coming weeks. During the Presidential Task Force meeting, on Covid-19, it was decided to allow the Department of Motor Traffic, and the Land Registry to operate during the lockdown, which was extended until 01 October. However, a few hours before this statement was made, Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath told the media that no decision had been taken on vaccinating children.

He, however, said that discussions were ongoing about vaccinating children.

“There are a number of discussions on this because this is a serious matter. We have also decided that when we vaccinate the priority will be given to children with comorbidities. Then the rest will be vaccinated based on age groups. But we have not decided on anything else,” he said.

The dates, the brand and other details would be announced once the Health Ministry was done with consultations with experts. Once the decisions were taken the Ministry would prepare guidelines which would then be made available to the public, he said.

“So, I urge the parents not to worry or panic. They can vaccinate their children once we issue guidelines. We will ensure that this will be done safely and with virtually no side-effects or shortages,” Dr. Herath said.

The Deputy Director General of Health Services also urged people not to be misled by claims that those who had been double jabbed and being treated at home were dying in increasing numbers. Some people with serious underlying issues could die even if they were double jabbed, he said.

“However, as we vaccinate an increasing number of Sri Lankans, the deaths and those who need ICU treatment will decline rapidly. Don’t be fooled by various unscientific claims. We are a nation that has universal vaccine rates and we should maintain that tradition with COVID,” he said.

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Sumanthiran demands immediate due process against Lohan



Immediate legal action including arrest and prosecution must be taken against Lohan Ratwatte and others who were involved in the incidents at Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons, TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran said on Thursday. He said Ratwatte’s mere resignation from one portfolio would not do.

“The Presidential Secretariat has issued a statement that Lohan Ratwatte has taken responsibility for the incidents that transpired at Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons. Although Ratwatte is said to have resigned from his post as Minister for Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation, he continues to be a minister in charge of other subjects. This is not something we can accept,” he said.

The TNA MP said that the State Minister should be removed from all his positions immediately and the pistol he carried with him should be taken away from him.

“Otherwise, it’s a grave threat to the public at large,” Sumanthiran said. There had been other incidents where Ratwatte brandished his weapon in public spaces, he added.

The TNA MP said that an independent investigation should be held with regard to those incidents and Ratwatte and others involved in entering the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons should be arrested and charged.

“The police have still not taken any action in this regard. The question that must be posed is how he was able to carry his personal firearm inside the prison premises. Prison officials must answer these questions,” he said.

MP Sumanthiran said that given that the prisoners were wards of the state, their security was in the hands of the state.

“Therefore, this is a very serious incident. Action must be taken accordingly,” he said.

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Taking contradictory stand on 2015 Geneva Resolution



‘Govt. seeking credit for accountability mechanisms set up by previous administration

UNHRC 48th sessions:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena has alleged that the government’s stand on accountability issues at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council is contradictory to its much publicised opposition to the Geneva Resolution 30/1 co-sponsored by the previous administration.

Sri Lanka co-sponsored 30/1, on Oct 1, 2015. The then Foreign Minister the late Mangala Samaraweera is on record as having said that the UNP-led government had President Maithripala Sirisena’s consent to go ahead with the co-sponsorship.

Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s media spokesperson Gunawardena yesterday (17) pointed out that the government, at the ongoing 48th sessions of the UNHRC, has reiterated its commitment to key accountability mechanisms set up in terms of the Geneva Resolution.

Civil society activist Gunawardena, who also functioned as the Director General, Information Department during the previous administration said that the assurance given by Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris last Tuesday (14) should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from 30/1 resolution.

Prof. Peiris’ predecessor, Dinesh Gunawardena announced Sri Lanka’s withdrawal at the Feb-March 2020 sessions.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) owed an explanation, Gunawardena stressed, urging the government to take the public into confidence. “Stop playing politics at the expense of our international relations,” Gunawardena said, underscoring the need for what he called a national consensus on the post-war reconciliation process.

Responding to another query, Gunawardena said that FM Prof. Peiris in his address to the Geneva sessions discussed the progress in what he described as a domestic process in respect of accountability issues. Reference was made to the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), the Office for Reparations (OR) and the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR). However, the FM conveniently failed to acknowledge that the OMP, OR and ONUR had been established in keeping with the 2015 Geneva Resolution that covered broader understanding of transitional justice.

The SLPP, while taking credit for the ongoing transitional justice process, continued to publicly reject 30/1, the very basis of the solution, Gunawardena said. “In other words, the SLPP’s actions are very different from their pledges before the electorate in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary polls in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Referring to the assurance given by Prof. Peiris at the UNHRC that Sri Lanka Human Rights Council was carrying on its mandate, Gunawardena challenged the government to prove its sincerity by allowing no holds barred investigation into SLPP lawmaker Lohan Ratwatte’s raids on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons on Sept 6 and 12, respectively.

The announcement made by the HRCSL regarding its decision to initiate an inquiry of its own in the absence of police investigation received public attention and appreciation, Gunawardena said.

Commenting on the declaration that Sri Lanka was engaged in an integrated process to bring the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in line with international norms and best practices, lawyer Gunawardena urged the government to study the work done by the previous government in that regard. Referring to statements made by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in that regard, Gunawardena said that the then Joint

Opposition quite maliciously rejected the move. “They should be ashamed of theirconduct,” relevant ministers and the Attorney General Department couldn’t be unaware of the agreement on new anti-terrorism law.

Gunawardena said that the SLPP administration shouldn’t hesitate to appreciate the previous government’s achievements. “We are quite pleased that mechanisms accepted by the previous government continue to be in operation even though the progress seems slow. However, the SLPP cannot deprive the UNP-led administration of the credit it deserved,” lawyer Gunawardena said.

Gunawardena urged the government to examine the report of the Committee appointed by then Premier Wickremesinghe to develop what he called the policy and legal framework of the proposed Counter Terrorism Act of Sri Lanka. He said that a politically motivated campaign derailed that effort whereas the Opposition propagated the lie the yahapalana government intended to deprive Sri Lanka of anti-terrorism law.

Asked to comment on the revelation of the SLPP government having talks with a group of civil society activists to explore ways and means to strengthening the reconciliation process, Gunawardena said that a 13-page Foreign Ministry note dated Aug. 31, 2021 addressed to Colombo-based diplomatic missions acknowledged the pivotal role played by the civil society. Having always accused the civil society of being part of a Western strategy, the same lot exposed their duplicity by meeting a group of civil society activists.

Gunawardena was referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Ministers, Basil Rakapaksa, Prof. Peiris, Dinesh Gunawardena, Ali Sabry, PC, and Namal Rajapaksa having separate meetings with SLCC (Sri Lanka Collective for Consensus) in the run-up to the Geneva confab. SLCC comprises 16 individuals.

Gunawardena noted the Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, too, in her hard-hitting Sept 13 statement on Sri Lanka referred to President Rajapaksa’s meeting with the SLCC.

Gunawardena said that in addition to the SLCC, another group styled itself as the Civil Society Platform (CSP) in a statement issued on Sept. 13 made its position clear on a range of accountability issues as well as stepped up pressure on the civil society. CSP consists of 30 organizations and 36 individuals.

Responding to declarations by FM Prof Peiris and Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage that external investigations wouldn’t be acceptable, lawyer Gunawardena said that instead of rejecting the investigation the government should furbish whatever information in its hands or had access to the new investigative mechanism. The government couldn’t ignore the fact that the UNHRC authorized the fresh investigative mechanism at the 46th session with an overwhelming majority with 22 countries voting for the resolution, 11 against and 14 missing the vote.

Gunawardena urged the government to take a realistic view as Sri Lanka didn’t have time and space to engage in silly maneuvers. The bottom line was that the March 2020 announcement that Sri Lanka withdrew from 30/1 was nothing but a farce, Gunawardena said.

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