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Foreign Secretary sounds ‘consensual resolution’ as pressure mounts in Geneva

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage on Monday (25) night revealed that the government was having discussions with the UK-led Sri Lanka Core Group in a bid to explore the possibility of reaching a consensus on what he described as a ‘consensual resolution’ ahead of the 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) scheduled for Feb-March this year.

Admiral Colombage acknowledged that an agreement on a consensual resolution was a politically challenging task. FS Colombage said so in conversation with Faraz Shauketaly on ‘News Line’ on TV 1.

Asked whether the government was under pressure to co-sponsor the new resolution or face a vote in case Sri Lanka rejected the UK-led move, the naval veteran said there was dialogue between the two parties in this regard. Talks have to be concluded today (27)

Prof. Colombage ruled out the possibility of Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the new resolution. The top Foreign Ministry official also dismissed the interviewer’s assertion the government was under pressure to accept the new resolution.

Admiral Colombage said they were also studying some suggestions made by the Core Group.

Asked whether the government would try to convince the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led political grouping that had demanded an international war crimes investigation in addition to a range of punitive measures to reverse its decision, FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka waged war against an internationally proscribed terrorist group.

The interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s assertion of retired justice C.V. Wigneswaran, MP, who signed Jan. 15 dated petition, in his capacity as the leader of Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK). Altogether, 13 lawmakers represented the three political parties that called for external intervention.

Declaring that serious war crimes hadn’t been committed during the war, FS Colombage questioned the motives of those continuing to harp on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Referring to the failure on the part of the Northern Provincial Council to spend the funds allocated for the benefit of the public, FS Colombage asked whether an agenda detrimental to post-war national reconciliation was being pursued.

In the wake of Sri Lanka quitting in Feb 2020 Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the previous government against one’s own country in Oct 2015, Geneva has warned Sri Lanka of serious consequences. In addition to freezing assets and travel bans slapped on those who had been ‘credibly accused of human rights violations,’ Geneva recommended the launch of criminal proceedings at the International Criminal Court and an international mechanism to gather evidence.

Referring to the US travel ban imposed on Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva in Feb 2020, the interviewer sought the Foreign Secretary’s opinion on the Geneva report. Refuting allegations, Admiral Colombage alleged serious shortcomings, including factual errors.

Asked whether the recent appointment of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI) chaired by Supreme Court Judge Nawaz to examine previous CoI reports et al wasn’t too late as well as insufficient just ahead of the 46th sessions, Admiral Colombage explained how eruption of first Covid-19 wave that resulted in the postponement of general elections scheduled for April 2020 caused serious setback to government efforts.

Commenting on simmering controversy over the Sri Lanka-India agreement on the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour, Admiral Colombage expressed confidence the issue could be resolved soon. The former Navy Chief categorically denied India’s valuable support to Sri Lanka at Geneva et al would be linked with agreement on ECT.

Responding to criticism directed at India over a spate of issues, including the forced imposition of the 13th Amendment thereby creating the Provincial Council system, Admiral Colombage pointed out the Tamil Nadu factor. Admiral Colombage, having reiterated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s foreign policy statement, assured Sri Lanka’s commitment to friendly ties with major powers.

FS Colombage emphasized that Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations wouldn’t be at the expense of another country.

Admiral Colombage regretted the recent mid-sea collision involving an SLN Fast Attack Craft and an Indian fishing trawler that resulted in the deaths of four fishermen. The FS emphasized that the incident happened well within Sri Lankan waters near Delft Island.

Navy headquarters last week alleged that the Indian vessel collided with FAC while trying to flee a naval cordon.

Admiral Colombage said that the SLN vessel would have suffered serious damage if the Indian trawler happened to be one with a steel hull.

Asked whether US, India, Japan and Australia would take a common stand vis a vis Sri Lanka in respect of accountability issues, Admiral Colombage asserted that wouldn’t be the case. “Sri Lanka is important to them” Admiral Colombage said, while describing them as the four pillars of the Quad-a security alliance.

Commenting on the disclosures made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017, Admiral Colombage appreciated the British politician’s efforts to set the record straight as regards war crimes accusations. The Foreign Secretary said that the revelations were made on the basis of genuine and accurate sources.

The British Lord used classified wartime British HC cables (Jan – May 2009) obtained following a legal battle to counter Geneva accusations. Sri Lanka is yet to officially request Geneva to revisit the 2015 resolution on the basis of Lord Naseby’s revelations.



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An alleged bid to replace SLFP leader Sirisena thwarted

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The SLFP parliamentary group has been divided over an abortive bid to replace the Chairman of the party, Maithripala Sirisena, MP, and its General Secretary State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, MP.

Sources said that several lawmakers had been involved in the alleged conspiracy, apparently taking into consideration the fact that the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks was likely to affect the political future of Sirisena.

The SLFP parliamentary group consists of 14 members.

The SLFP is on a collision course with the SLPP over the PCoI report on the Easter Sunday carnage. Sources said that the party had swiftly responded to the threat posed by conspirators by having the Executive Committee re-electing the incumbent Chairman and the General Secretary. However, those seeking to oust Sirisena and Dayasiri were still active, they added.

The SLFP, the second largest party in the ruling coalition, is determined to retain its identity though its offshoot, the SLPP emerged as the leading party with its impressive performance at the 2018 local government election, the 2019 presidential and the 2020 parliamentary polls.

Contacted for comment, one of the SLFP rebels said Sirisena had himself brought about the virtual downfall of the SLFP, whilst being its long serving General Secretary, by joining forces with the UNP to contest the presidential election in January 2015 and reclaiming the party leadership after securing the presidency.

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Electricity for all: Rambukwella urges all officials, politicians not to slap roadblocks

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BY CYRIL WIMALASURENDRE

 KANDY – Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said last Friday (5) at a meeting of the Thumpane Pradeshiya Sabha at Galagedara, that every Sri Lankan household will have electricity come next Sinhala and Tamil New Year, 

 Minister Rambukwella said that everyone in Galagedara would also have electricity for the Sinahala and Tamil New Year celebrations.

The government hoped that the relevant public sector officials would do their best to supply power connections to every house in the Galagedara Pradeshiya Sabha Division without any delay, the Minister said.

At the meeting held to discuss the implementation of the development plans of the Pradeshiya Sabha for the year, Rambukwella stressed that the people’s representatives and the public servants should not try to prevent implementation of the development plans under the policies of the government.

The people’s representatives and the government servants should work together when development programmes were being implemented. If not, the people would not benefit from the plans for development drawn up by the government.

 Chairman of the Galagedara Pradeshiya Sabha S.M.R.B. Sanarakoon also spoke.

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Rescue plan will enable US to outcompete rest of the world, especially China – Biden

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US President Joe Biden, on Saturday, said he was happy about the Senate passage of his American Rescue Plan (1.9 trillion dollars). He said it would reinvigorate the US economy and put it in a potion to outcompete the rest of the world, especially China. “This plan puts us on the path to beating the virus.  This plan gives those families who are struggling the most the help and the breathing room they need to get through this moment.  This plan gives small businesses in this country a fighting chance to survive.”

Excerpts of President Biden’s speech:

For over a year, the American people were told they were on their own.  They were seeing — we’ve seen how hard that has been on so many Americans.  As of last night, 519,064 lives lost to the virus.  That many empty chairs this morning — the breakfast table — gone.  More than four hundred [thousand] small businesses closed unnecessarily.  Millions of people out of work through no fault of their own.  I want to emphasize that: through no fault of their own.  Food bank lines stretching for miles.  Did any of you ever you’d see that in America, in cities all across this country?  Families facing the threat of eviction.

This nation has suffered too much for much too long.  And everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation and put us in a better position to prevail, starting with beating this virus and vaccinating the country. 

The resources in this plan will be used to expand and speed up manufacturing and distribution of vaccines so we can get every single American vaccinated sooner than later.  I believe by — we’ll have enough by the end of — by the middle of May to vaccinate.  It’s going to take longer to take longer to get it in their arm, but that’s how much vaccine we’ll have.

Because of all the funding, we’ll be able to hire more vaccinators, set up more vaccination sites to get the country in a place to get back to normal.  This plan will get checks out the door, starting this month, to the American people who so desperately need the help, many of whom are lying in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering, “Will I lose my job, if I haven’t already?  Will I lose my insurance?  Will I lose my home?”

Over 85 percent of American households will get direct payments of $1,400 per person.  For a typical middle-class family of four — husband and wife working, making $100,000 a year total, with three kids — they’ll get $5,600 — I mean, with two kids — will get $5,600, and it’ll be on the way soon.

That means the mortgage can get paid.  That means the child can stay in community college.  That means maintaining the health insurance you have.  It’s going to make a big difference in so many of lives in this country.

     Unemployment benefits will be extended for 11 million Americans who have lost their jobs and who, last night, again were lying in bed, just thinking, “My lord, I’m going to lose my unemployment insurance in a week or so.”  It was about to expire.

     Schools are going to have the resources they need to open safely.  States and local governments that have lost tens of thousands of essential workers will be — have the resources they need available to them, to those laid-off police officers, firefighters, teachers, and nurses they can rehire.  These are essential personnel.

Look, the American Rescue Plan lowers healthcare premiums.  Food and nutrition assistance.  It’s hard to believe that 24 million adults and 11 million children, as I speak, in the United States suffer from food insecurity.  That means, simply, they don’t have enough food to eat.  Did you ever imagine in the United States of America, you’d see lines, literally miles long — kids — folks in their automobiles, waiting for a box of food to be put in their trunk.  I stood in line, handing out food.  The people coming up never, ever, ever thought they’d be in that position. 

This helps families who are behind on their rent and their mortgage payments so they aren’t thrown out of their homes. 

Look, the bottom line is this:  This plan puts us on the path to beating the virus.  This plan gives those families who are struggling the most the help and the breathing room they need to get through this moment.  This plan gives small businesses in this country a fighting chance to survive.

And one more thing: This plan is historic.  Taken altogether, this plan is going to make it possible to cut child poverty in half.  Let me say that again — it’s significant, historic: It will cut child poverty in half.

There’s much more to this bill, but, for now, let me make one final point.  When I was elected, I said we were going to get the government out of the business of battling on Twitter and back in the business of delivering for the American people, of making a difference in their lives, giving everyone a chance — a fighting chance, of showing the American people that their government can work for them.  And passing the American Rescue Plan will do that.

And, you know, it may sound strange, but a lot of senators and congressmen I want to thank, but I really want to thank the American people for making all of this possible.  You say, “Well, how do they make it possible?”  Well, quite frankly, without the overwhelming bipartisan support of the American people, this would not have happened.  Your elected officials heard you.  Overwhelming public support — every public opinion poll shows overwhelming support for this plan.  And for the last weeks, it’s shown that.  Every public opinion poll shows the people want this, they believe it’s needed, and they believe it’s urgent. 

And now this bill returns to the House of Representatives, which has done a great job from the beginning, where I hope it will find quick passage so it can be sent to my desk to be signed into law.

By passing the American Rescue Plan, we’ll have heeded the voice of the American people, not ignored their voices.  By passing this plan, we will have delivered real, tangible results for the American people and their families, and they’ll be able to see and know and feel the change in their own lives.  And by passing this plan, we’ll have proved that this government, this democracy can still work.  What has to be done — it’ll improve people’s lives.  

And one more thing: The vast majority of economists — left, right, and center — from Wall Street to the — to the private — private economic polling initiatives — the economists — as I’ve said, left, right, and center — say, “In addition to the needs the people have, we need this to grow the economy.”  That if we haven’t spent this money and recreated the kind of incentive for people to be able to make a good living, that we’d be in real trouble. 

This will create millions of new jobs — it’s estimated over 6 million new jobs by itself; increase the Gross Domestic Product by a trillion dollars; put our nation in a position to out-compete the rest of the world — because the rest of the world is moving, particularly China; and to know that as tough as this moment is, there are brighter days ahead.  There really are. 

As I’ve said before, it’s never a good bet to bet against America.  It’s never been a good bet to bet against the American people.  We are America.  We’re going to get there.  We’re going to remain the leading economy in the world and going to be the most successful economy in the world because of you, the American people.

Thank you, and God bless you all.  May God protect our troops. 

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