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Disagreement on MCC won’t undermine US-Lanka relations – Pompeo

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US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has asserted that even if Sri Lanka didn’t accept the MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) agreement, it wouldn’t undermine bilateral relations between the two countries. Pompeo said so in an exclusive interview with Indeewari Amuwatte on ‘Hyde Park’, Ada Derana 24 on Wednesday (28). The interview:

Q: In terms of the MCC agreement, Sri Lanka missed the deadlines twice. The United States is still talking about it. What will happen if it is politically challenging for the Sri Lankan government to enter into the MCC agreement?

A:

It’s one of many things being proffered. If it doesn’t make sense for Sri Lanka, then Sri Lankans will choose not to accept that. The relationships, the strengths, the depths, and complexity of our relationship far exceed any one transaction and one opportunity. There will be plenty. We will work closely on them alongside the Sri Lankan government.

Q: Thank you for your time here with us Secretary Pompeo. Your visit here is termed crucial, seen as a rare one, and particularly? given the timing of the visit. What’s so important is that you had to communicate at this juncture?

A:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: Thanks for giving me the chance to be with you. It’s been wonderful to be here in Colombo. I’m in this region a lot, and I planned to come here earlier but the world just got in the way, and I had to delay it a bit so I managed to get here now. I’m thrilled to be here. It’s an important time in the history of the region. Great democracies like the one that we have here in Sri Lanka, and the one we have in the United States have a shared vision on how life ought to operate, there ought to be sovereign nations and free people who get the chance to live the lives they want, and thus?? here to share that message. The United States stands ready to do all that we can to recognise Sri Lanka’s sovereignty but to make sure that the people of Sri Lanka understand that the US is a friend and a partner in a democracy with a shared vision for how the world ought to operate.

Q: How would you term future relations of Sri Lanka and the United States will be, given this crucial visit in Sri Lanka and the comment made by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry for enhanced relations with the US?

A:

There are many opportunities and many things we can do. We talked a lot on private businesses investing here. Not only those who are here today investing more, but new opportunities in agricultural or renewable energy and technology, and lots of opportunities for the Sri Lankan people. Sri Lanka has to do its part, it’s got to be welcoming, have the rule of law and transparency so that American investors will want to come and invest here. But I’m confident that we will deliver on that, and when we do it will be good for American companies that will come here but it will be really good for the Sri Lankan people. There will be jobs and opportunities, and wealth creation, and all the things that democracies and the private sector can do in a way that authoritarian regimes simply can’t.

Q: Also Mr. Secretary, recent comments by Assistant Secretary Dean Thompson urging Sri Lankan to make difficult but necessary decisions to secure its economic independence for long term prosperity as Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner. What exactly are these difficult decisions or choices that the US expects Sri Lanka to take?

A:

I know precisely the things that Sri Lanka needs to do but more importantly the Sri Lankan people know, and the Sri Lankan leadership. This isn’t about America imposing its vision on Sri Lanka, quite the opposite. It is Sri Lanka sharing with America the things we can do to make life better for the Sri Lankan people here. Those are the choices we hope Sri Lanka’s government makes, when it does there will be opportunity, there will be good partnerships, not only with the United States but with the other democracies in the region. I travelled from India, I will travel from here today to the Maldives, I’ve been in Asia and South East Asia a great deal in my time as Secretary of State, whether it be South Korea, Australia or Japan. These democracies have the opportunity to work together, so I’m confident that Sri Lanka will want to be part of that. Part of what prospectively looks like real opportunity and real sovereignty. Those are the things that will make life better for the Sri Lankan people, not a history where you have other countries show up and put huge debt on the country and impose huge burdens on the country. And when they come here they don’t show up with the private sector and don’t hire Sri Lankans. The democratic countries including the United States have a very different vision.

The meetings today give me real hope that we will be able to close together on that shared vision.

Q: Does this mean the US will respect Sri Lanka’s wishes to remain a neutral country and not be entangled in a geopolitical power play?

It’s about choices. Every country makes choices. The choices will be do you want democracy and freedom? I’m confident that the Sri Lankan government does want exactly that. When you choose those things, you end up with different kinds of partners. You end up with partners who respect Sri Lanka’s decision-making as a sovereign entity, and when there needs to be security cooperation, we provided two coast guard cutters so the two can do good work on countering narcotics, and we show up here and ensure that the terror risk is reduced inside of Sri Lanka. These are the kind of things that democracies work on together. We have a shared vision and a shared goal, and I am very confident that the Sri Lankan people will end up in a place that ends up with a very close and very dynamic, powerful partnership that benefits both of our two countries.

 

A: Matters pertaining to accountability; you mentioned this during your joint press briefing. How will the United States work with Sri Lanka in order for Sri Lanka to work on its accountability commitments and also about Army Chief Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva who is banned from the United States? Have these come under discussion?

We talked about all of this today. Look we have a set of legal requirements in the United States and we apply them even handedly. We try to get the facts right, and we do that in every case. I talked with the President about this, and I talked to the Foreign Minister too. I’m confident that the Sri Lankan people want accountability and justice, and that these leaders are intent on delivering. We will help where we can. Ultimately we can provide some technical assistance. We can work with them in international fora to deliver on these ideas of reconciliation and accountability. But ultimately it will be the Sri Lankan leadership and the Sri Lankan people who will have to work on this. It’s important; we hope your country gets this right. It’s the right thing to make sure that part of Sri Lanka’s history is handled in a way that is appropriate and recognises what really transpired, but with an eye towards what is ahead – all the good things that can happen in the future.

Q: One last question Secretary Pompeo. China is playing an increased role in Sri Lanka, India too, and the US offers SOFA and MCC. What else is on the table?

A:

What America offers almost always is companies and private investment, partnerships and friendship. That’s how we roll in the United States. We won’t show up with state sponsored enterprises. We won’t show up with debt packages that a country can’t possibly repay. We won’t attempt to use that debt to extort actions by the government. We want what the Sri Lankan people want – a chance to thrive, a chance to have real opportunities, a chance to travel around the world, and make a better life for each of them and for their families. Those are two very different models. One is for democracy and freedom, the other is a tyrannical authoritarian model. We’re convinced that the Sri Lankan people will make the right choices for themselves, and as that has been for a very long time. Your foreign minister reminded me of it being the oldest democracy in Asia. I’m confident that tradition will be important and powerful and will mean an increasingly good relationship between the United States and Sri Lanka.



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GL: Colombo Port City Bill received AG’s sanction

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…SC scheduled to commence hearing petitions today

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris says that the proposed Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill is consistent with the Constitution. Prof. Peiris, who is also the Education Minister, insists the Bill received the sanction of the Attorney General.

Prof. Peiris explained to the media the circumstances under which the incumbent government had initiated the proposed Bill. He did so having briefed Ven. Dr. Ittapane Dhammalankara Thera as regards the current political developments, at the Sri Dharmaloka Maha Viharaya, Rukmale, Pannipitiya, on Saturday (17).

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently presented the Colombo Port City EC Bill to the Cabinet of ministers. The 76-page Bill provides for the establishment of an EC authorised to grant registrations, licences, authorisations, and other approvals to carry on businesses and other activities in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to be established within the Colombo Port City.

Responding to government member Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s bombshell accusations that the proposed Bill when enacted in parliament would transform newly reclaimed land adjacent to the Galle Face Green to sovereign Chinese territory, Prof. Peiris emphasized the responsibility on the part of the President in respect of the implementation of the project. Declaring that even an amendment couldn’t be moved without specific approval of the President, Prof. Peiris said all reports pertaining to financial matters, too, should be submitted to the President.

The former law professor also challenged those opposed to the proposed Bill claiming that the police and the military would be excluded from performing duties in the reclaimed land. One-time External Affairs Minister insisted that the police and the military enjoyed the right to exercise powers in terms of the country’s law in case of violations.

The minister said that the government was keen to create an environment conducive for foreign direct investment. However, those who now decried the Colombo Port City EC Bill conveniently forgot the formation of the ‘Greater Colombo Economic Commission’ (GCEC) under a new draconian Bill introduced by the then President J.R. Jayewardene.

Prof. Peiris said unlike JRJ’s Bill, the one proposed by the incumbent government adhered to the Constitution hence the approval from the Attorney General.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the JRJ’s Act paved the way for GCEC to take decisions pertaining to newly formed Export processing Zones (EPZ) and basically conduct its affairs outside the purview of the parliament. Claiming that those who exercised the required powers could transfer funds to and from accounts and anyone violating the secrecy faced jail terms, Prof. Peiris stressed that even the judiciary couldn’t intervene in some matters pertaining to this particular Act introduced in 1978.

According to Prof. Peiris, in 1992, the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa further strengthened the law by depriving the public an opportunity to obtain a restraining order from a court in respect of the all-powerful Commission.

Prof. Peiris accused the UNP and its breakaway faction, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and other interested parties of propagating lies against the project as part of their overall political strategy. The minister acknowledged that the UNP was among those who moved the Supreme Court against the proposed Bill.

Since former Justice Minister Rajapakse strongly condemned the proposed Bill at a hastily arranged media briefing at Abayaramaya under the auspices of Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda thera, several Ministers and State Ministers, Keheliya Ranbukwelle, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Prof. G. L. Peiris, Namal Rajapaksa, Ajith Nivard Cabraal responded to their colleague on behalf of the government.

A five-member bench of the Supreme Court will begin hearing the petitions today (19).

Among those who filed cases against the proposed Bill were President of the Bar Association Saliya Pieris, PC, former lawmaker Wasantha Samarasinghe on behalf of the JVP, civil society activists, Gamini Viyangoda and K.W. Janaranjana on behalf of Purawesi  Balaya and the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA).

Viyangoda questioned the government’s motive in depriving the public ample time and space to challenge the constitutionality of the Bill.

Purawesi Balaya spokesperson said that the disputed Bill had been placed on the Order Paper of Parliament on the 8th of April 2021, at a time when the sittings of the Supreme Court were suspended for the vacation. In terms of the Constitution any citizen seeking to challenge a Bill on the grounds that it is inconsistent with the Constitution has to do so within one week of being placed on the Order Paper of Parliament, which in this instance is the 15 th of April 2021. The petitioner said between the 8 th April 2021 and 15 th April 2021, there were the weekend and three public holidays intervening, thereby giving any citizen seeking to challenge the Bill, only two working days to obtain legal advice and representation.

Those who complained bitterly over urgent Bills exercised the same strategy as regards the controversial Bill, the civil society activist said. Responding to another query, Viyangoda said that if the government was confident the Bill didn’t violate the Constitution, it could have been properly discussed at their parliamentary group meeting before being presented to the cabinet of ministers.

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Wijeyadasa, under heavy flak over opposition to China project, says ready to face consequences

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, yesterday (18) told The Island that he stood by the accusations he made in respect of the proposed Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill.

The former Justice Minister emphasised that he had expressed concerns publicly regarding the planned project after carefully examining the proposed Bill.

“In spite of a spate of statements issued by various government spokespersons, I’m confident of the legal process scheduled to begin today (19). The entire country should be concerned over the government move made at the behest of China.”

Responding to another query, the Colombo district MP urged political parties represented in Parliament to study the Bill with an open mind. The proposed law should be examined taking into consideration the previous UNP-led government transferring control of the strategic Hambantota port to China on a 99-year-lease and China is also in control of a terminal in the Colombo port for 35 years.

The MP said that he was ready to face the consequences of his decision to take a contrary view as regards the Chinese project. Those who had been benefited by the mega China funded project would shamelessly back it, lawmaker Dr. Rajapakse maintained, recollecting how members of parliament backed the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement brokered by Norway, shielded Treasury bond thieves et al.

Those who moved the Supreme Court against the proposed Bill included the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, MP Rajapakse said. The former Minister claimed that unprecedented tax exemptions provided to the businesses coming up in the newly reclaimed land adjacent to the Galle Face Green would pose a severe threat to the national economy.

The MP said that he didn’t personally have anything against China or any other country, but strongly believed in political and economic independence of the country. Therefore, the right-thinking lawmakers couldn’t under any circumstances vote for the proposed Bill as it was, the former Minister said.

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Hiding in obscure corner of India, Myanmar’s ousted lawmakers plotting to dethrone military junta

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI:

Roughly a dozen ousted Myanmar lawmakers, who fled to India after the February 1 military coup, are now busy plotting to dethrone the generals.

In a spartan hillside room in India furnished only with a thin sleeping mat, one of the Myanmar Members of Parliament (MPs) spends much of his days attentively listening to Zoom conference calls and tapping away messages on his smartphone.

The short, soft-spoken man is among the handful of ousted Myanmar MPs who have fled across the border to India’s remote north-eastern region after the military coup and the lethal crackdown on dissent.

Two of the lawmakers and a Myanmar politician spoke to a Reuters reporter. They are involved with the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw or CRPH, a body of ousted lawmakers that is attempting to re-establish the civilian government and displace the military.

The three said the group is supporting demonstrations, helping distribute funds to supporters and holding negotiations with multiple entities to quickly form a civilian administration nationwide. They asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against their families back home.

Most of the ousted lawmakers are from deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) that overwhelmingly won a November 2020 election, which the military has annulled.

The coup has been met with a fierce pro-democracy movement and tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across the country, despite the crackdown.

Security forces have killed over 700 people, and more than 3,000 have been detained, including more than 150 lawmakers and members of the former government. Mobile and wireless internet services have been shut down.

The fear of detention and inability to rebuild a civilian government without internet connectivity has driven some Myanmar lawmakers involved in the resistance to work from India, the two MPs elected to Myanmar’s Parliament said.

“There is no time,” one of them, who is from the country’s western Chin state, told Reuters. “People are dying in our country.”

A spokesman for Myanmar’s military did not answer calls seeking comment. The junta has accused the CRPH of treason. The group is working to set up a national unity government to challenge the military’s authority.

Since fleeing to India around two weeks ago, the lawmaker said he had been holding regular discussions with colleagues to set up a parallel administration in Chin state, under directions from the CRPH.

The process is complex, involving building consensus between elected representatives, political parties, ethnic armed groups, civil society bodies and civil disobedience movement leaders, the two lawmakers and the politician said.

The CRPH is also keen on opening communications with India, where at least 1,800 people from Myanmar are already sheltering. It will seek New Delhi’s blessings for the parallel government it is attempting to form, the politician said.

“We can’t rely on China, Thailand and other neighbouring countries,” he said. “The only country where refugees are being welcomed is India”.

India’s External Affairs Ministry did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.

This week, NLD lawmakers from Myanmar’s northern Sagaing region held an online conference call, but only 26 out of 49 representatives dialled in, according to the second MP who attended the meeting from India.

“We don’t know where the rest are,” the federal lawmaker said. Two party officials were now trying to track down their missing colleagues.

Some of the fiercest resistance to the junta has come from Sagaing. In the last two months, around 2,000 families involved in the civil disobedience movement in one part of the region have been given financial assistance of around 17 million Kyat ($12,143), the lawmaker from Sagaing said.

The presence and activities of escapee Myanmar lawmakers could pose a diplomatic quandary to India, particularly given New Delhi’s close ties with the Myanmar military rulers.

But India’s position on the Myanmar crisis itself appears to have somewhat shifted in recent weeks. This has also been acknowledged by some CRPH representatives.

At an United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on April 10, Indian diplomat K. Nagaraj Naidu said New Delhi is pushing for a return to democracy in Myanmar. “The first, and most immediate step, in this regard is the release of detained leaders,” Naidu said.

However, India is concerned around internal divisions within the CRPH that could hobble its functioning, a source with knowledge of New Delhi’s thinking said.

The politician involved with the CRPH said he is hopeful that India will engage with the group.

“If democracy wins in Myanmar, it is also a win for India,” he said.

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