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Environmentalists see dire picture evolving from road development work near Sinharaja

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Only 3% of the total land area of Sri Lanka is covered with rainforests, out of which only 65% have been declared protected areas, environmentalist Sajeewa Chamikara said yesterday speaking to The Island. The remaining 35% are under the control of the Land Reform Commission (LRC.)

Due to the rapidly shrinking forest cover, even the Sri Lanka’s wet zone had been affected by changes in annual rainfall patterns and water shortages, Chamikara said adding that it made protecting the remaining rain forests of paramount importance.

“This is why we are urging the government to declare all the rainforests, around the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, as protected areas. Road expansions should only take place after such a declaration. Otherwise such projects lead to the destruction of the unprotected forest areas. It is quite likely that tea cultivation and construction of hotels would follow the road expansion. This is how we view the expansion of the road leading to Lankagama. Given to misinforation being disseminated, some members of the public must be wondering whey we are opposing this road development project.”

Chamikara said that if the policymakers did not act carefully it was highly likely that the entire ecological system would collapse.

Under the Lankagama road development project, an 18-km-long and 15-foot-wide road through Madugete, Warukandeniya and Lankagama Grama Niladari divisions in the Neluwa DS area would be widened. Some parts of that road would go through forest areas that belonged to the LRC, private lands, state lands that belonged to the Forest Conservation Department and lands within the Sinharaja Forest Reserve/ National Heritage Wilderness Areas, Chamikara said.

“The road will run through several subsidiaries of the Gin Ganga. It has also been identified that 1,320 metres of the road would go through the Sinharaja Forest Reserve.”

Chamikara said that the road was being expanded in violation of several provisions of the National Heritage Wilderness Areas Act (No. 3 of 1988,) Soil Conservation Act (no 25 of 1951,) and the National Environmental Act (no 47 of 1980.)

“There are LRC lands adjoining the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area and a number of these lands have been cleared to plant tea. On August 04, 2004, the then Cabinet decided to claim and connect a 500 metre buffer zone to the Sinharaja forest. This decision was taken as the Land Reform Commission (LRC) under which most of the land falls, had been releasing lands to hoteliers, plantation companies and other investors, thus jeopardizing the future of the world heritage site. This has led to the loss of habitat of endemic species and catchment forests. The LRC land was to be taken on the basis of compensation being paid on later. It was expected to claim 2,490 hectares of forest land.”

The environmental activist said that President Maithripala Sirisena, who was the Minister of Environment under the previous government had signed a gazette calling for the annexation of 13 proposed forest reserves to the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area. With that the total land area of the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area would have encompassed 30, 000 hectares. The presidential order granted approval for connecting proposed Ayagama, Delgoda, Dellawa, Delmella-Yatagampitiya, Diyadawa, Kobahadukanda, Morapitiya-Runakanda-Neluketiya Mukalana, Warathalgoda, Silverkanda, Handapanella, Gongala and Paragala reserves to the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area. Although Sirisena signed the gazette almost a year ago, it has not yet been published.”

Chamikara also said that he had not alleged that there was a hotel owned by Yoshitha Rajapaksa in the Lankagama area and it was a statement attributed to him by several websites. “We held a press conference on this and I also posted a video on Facebook. Some websites, which had not even sent a representative to the press conference have run a story attributing a claim that I didn’t make.”



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Julie, Tiran discuss govt’s response to protest movement

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BASL fires letter to police chief

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Public Security Minister Tiran Alles yesterday (11) said that there was absolutely no issue with regard to the launch of peaceful political protests. “We haven’t interfered at all with such protests,” Minister Alles said. He however said law enforcement authorities have no option but to deal with violent situations accordingly.The SLPP National List MP said so when The Island sought his views on the current situation in the wake of US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung taking up issues relating to ongoing protests, police operations and related matters.

Having met Minister Alles at the Public Security Ministry on August 10, Ambassador Chung tweeted: “Good meeting with Security Minister Tiran Alles today. I reiterated that respect for rule of law and due process are at the heart of any secure democracy. Those basic tenets protect both citizens and their leaders, and ensure security for all.”

The meeting at the Public Security Ministry took place close on the heels of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) warning Inspector General of Police C.D Wickremaratne over the operations undertaken by law enforcement authorities targeting protesters.Minister Alles said the meeting had been very cordial. He warned that threats would be dealt with appropriately whereas peaceful protests were acceptable in any part of the country.

BASL President Saliya Pieris, PC, and BASL Secretary Isuru Balapatabendi in a letter dated 09 Aug urged the police chief to ensure his officers and men adhere to Sri Lanka’s international obligations as regards preventive enforced disappearances.Some lawyers have challenged the BASL stand on measures adopted by the government to control protests.

The Public Security Ministry Spokesperson said that the discussion covered several pertinent issues namely the pivotal importance of protecting human rights, duties and responsibilities of law enforcement authorities, ongoing political protest campaign and the need for the government and the NGOs to work together. The spokesperson said that the US Ambassador expressed satisfaction that contrary to claims incidents didn’t take place on August 09.

The following is the text of the BASL’s letter to the IGP: We draw your attention to complaints received by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) from its members relating to arrests and detentions being carried out without adherence to due process in a manner akin to abductions.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has received complaints from its members and the Colombo Magistrate’s Court Lawyers’ Association on the arrests of persons by police officers dressed in civilian clothing and without possessing any identification.

It is alleged that persons so arrested have been taken away in unidentifiable vehicles and kept for several hours at undisclosed locations. On these occasions no receipts of arrest have been issued nor an opportunity given to the persons arrested to inform relatives, friends or lawyers of their whereabouts. On these occasions they have been deprived of access to Attorneys-at-Law or the Human Rights Commission for a few hours.

In one such instance a suspect named Anthony Veranga Pushpika de Silva had been taken away by persons in civilian clothing and his whereabouts were unknown for six hours. He was eventually found by Attorneys-at-Law to be in police custody. In another instance a suspect named Mangala Maddumage had been taken into custody by two persons in civilian clothing and his whereabouts known only a few hours later. In a third instance a student studying at the Kelaniya University had been abducted and questioned for nearly three hours before being released.

We are also informed that on several occasions Attorneys-at-Law appearing for suspects were not properly informed or given misleading information on suspects in custody and on the time that they will be produced in Courts. These have resulted in them being deprived of legal representation and due process especially when they were produced at the residence of a Magistrate during late hours.

We draw your attention to some of the provisions of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance Act, No. 5 of 2018. Section 15 of the said Act provides as follows:

15. (1) No person shall be held in secret detention.

(2) Any person deprived of liberty shall have the right to communicate with and be visited by his relatives, attorney-at-law or any other person of his choice, subject only to the conditions established by written law.

(3) Law enforcement authorities, and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, shall have access to the places where persons are deprived of liberty.

Section 16 of the said Act states as follows:

16. (1) Any relative of a person deprived of liberty, the representative of a person deprived of liberty or

an attorney-at-law of a person deprived of liberty shall have the right to access the following

information:-

(a) the person or authority that ordered the deprivation of liberty;

(b) the date, time and place where the person was deprived of liberty and admitted to the place of

deprivation of liberty;

(c) the authority responsible for supervising the deprivation of liberty;

(d) the whereabouts of the person deprived of liberty, including, in the event of a transfer to another place of deprivation of liberty, the destination and the authority responsible for the transfer;

(e) the date, time and place of release;

(f) information relating to the state of health of the person deprived of liberty; and It is therefore of utmost importance that police officers carrying out arrests identify themselves at the time of arrest and afford persons so arrested an immediate opportunity to communicate with their relatives, friends or their Attorneys-at-Law of their whereabouts. We request you to ensure that adequate access is given to Attorneys-at-Law and the relatives of such suspects without delay.

Given the numerous instances in the past of persons being subject to arbitrary arrests, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances and in consideration of Sri Lanka’s international obligations on preventing enforced disappearances, we call upon you as Head of the Police Department to immediately ensure that all arrests are carried out strictly according to procedures established by law and that instructions are given to all police officers in respect of the above.”

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Sirisena critical of Foreign Ministry for the way it handled Chinese vessel issue

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

If Sri Lanka does not act with caution and professionalism, it will lose China as an ally, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) leader, MP Maithripala Sirisena said yesterday in Colombo.Speaking about the controversy surrounding the Chinese research vessel, Yuan Wang 5, Sirisena said that the government must resolve the crisis as soon as possible.

“The Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration lost the support of Japan as well. We need to be on good terms with all nations. Our foreign policy has been all over the place,” he said.

Sirisena said that the current foreign minister, Ali Sabry was an educated individual. However, the foreign ministry had to be streamlined, he said.

“It is obvious that decisions on the research vessel were taken without any consideration. We have to understand that this is a sensitive topic to both China and India. We really should not make an enemy out of either of them,” he said.

Sirisena said that the government needed to understand that social media was powerful and played a pivotal role in forming and shaping public opinion.

“Social media helped me a great deal when I contested against Mahinda Rajapaksa. It also completely undermined my presidency as well towards the end. We must learn lessons,” he said.

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India begins trial run for trans-shipment of goods to its NorthEast via Bangladesh port

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN
Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, August 9: India on Tuesday began trial runs for the trans-shipment of goods to its own states in the NorthEast using two key ports in Bangladesh, with a vessel arriving at Mongla port with two containers of transit cargo.

The land route between Kolkata and key cities in the northeastern states is more than 1,200km. The use of Chattogram (Chittagong) and Mongla ports in neighbouring Bangladesh for trans-shipment will cut the distance and cost to almost half. The trans-shipment arrangement will facilitate the movement of heavier cargo at a lower cost.

The trial runs were initially scheduled for July, but were pushed to August in order to enable Bangladeshi authorities to complete certain arrangements, including customs procedures.The development comes ahead of a planned visit to India by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the first week of September.

Announcing the start of trial runs for operationalising a bilateral agreement signed in October 2018 for the transit of goods from India via Chattogram and Mongla ports in Bangladesh, the Indian high commission in Dhaka said the vessel carrying two Indian transit containers had arrived at Mongla port on Monday.The vessel MV Rishad Raihan with cargo bound for the northeastern states was subsequently flagged off by Mongla Port Authority Chairman Mohammed Musa, and India’s assistant high commissioner in Khulna, Inderjit Sagar.

The trial runs are being undertaken by Maersk India Ltd, and will be done on two routes – Mongla-Tamabil-Dawki and Mongla-Bibir Bazar-Srimantapur. After being transported by riverine routes in Bangladesh, the goods will enter India through border checkpoints at Dawki in Meghalaya and Srimantapur in West Bengal. These two routes are among eight approved routes for transit of goods under the 2018 agreement.

India had earlier carried out a trial trans-shipment of goods from Kolkata to Tripura via Chattogram port in southeastern Bangladesh in July 2020. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic delayed plans for further trial runs.

The Indian high commission in Dhaka said the transit and trans-shipment of goods under the 2018 agreement will reduce both time and cost for transporting cargo to the northeastern states. It will also create economic gains for the logistics and services industry of Bangladesh as only Bangladeshi trucks will be used for moving freight.

The trial runs will help iron out any rough spots and align the immigration and customs set-ups in both countries, people familiar with the matter said. The two sides are looking at several land routes leading to the northeastern states of Meghalaya and Tripura for movement of goods, they said.Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had reiterated her country’s offer to use Chattogram port for trans-shipment of goods to India’s northeastern states and to increase connectivity at a meeting with External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in Dhaka on April 28.

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