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Govt.-backed racketeers run riot: 3,000 acres grabbed in Somawathiya National Park within two days



By Ifham Nizam

Another 1,000 acres of the Somawathiya National Park were been grabbed yesterday by an organised group who removed boundary posts put up by Department of Wildlife, and placed them further inside the National Park, thus bringing the extent of the sanctuary land encroached in two days to 3,000 acres.

Environmentalists said government supporters were responsible for the land grab.

Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle of Sri Lanka, Convener, Supun Lahiru Prakash told The Island yesterday that a group led by a high-ranking official of the Medirigiriya Divisional Secretariat had entered the Park on Wednesday had encroached on 2,000 acres of forest land.

“This land grab took place in the Palliyagodella area. We strongly condemn the behaviour of the Divisional Secretary and request the relevant authorities to protect the Somawathiya National Park. If not, it can lead to encroachment of Wildlife protected areas in the country and current deforestation will worsen.”

Defence Secretary retired General Kamal Gunaratne earlier said that he had found that some Divisional Secretaries were issuing licences to clear forest lands and the practice had to be stopped.

Prakash said the officials of the Medirigiriya Divisional Secretariat were acting in clear violation of the Fauna and Flora Protection (Amendment) Act No. 22 of 2009 and the National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980.

Our sources in the Forest Department confirmed the land grab.

Our efforts to contact the Medirigiriya Divisional Secretary were in vain.

The Somawathiya National Park is one of the main protected areas located in the Mahaweli wildlife region and plays a key role as an important elephant home range.

Prakash, who is also a specialist on the country’s elephants, said that 30% of the free range elephant population in Sri Lanka lived in the Mahaweli Wildlife Region and if they lost part of their home range, it would increase the human- elephant conflict and elephant conservation would be badly affected.

The Polonnaruwa District has reported the second highest number of incidents of the human-elephant conflict, and encroachments will lead to further escalation of the problem in the district, environmentalists say.

There was a similar attempt to encroach on 2,000 acres of land from flood plains in the National Park in Polonnaruwa recently.


Cardinal: Was there any link between passage of 20A and Easter Sunday probe outcome?



… stands by his claim of foreign involvement

By Norman Palihawadana

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday said that there could be a connection between the outcome of the probe into the Easter Sunday attacks and the enlisting of Muslim MPs’ support for the passage of the 20th Amendment.

The Cardinal said: “The leader of a Muslim political party voted against the 2Oth Amendment. But his MPs voted for it. The brother of Rishad Bathiudeen too was released around the same time. These are questionable developments. These events could be part of a deal.”

The Cardinal reiterated that international forces were behind the Easter Sunday attacks and that he did not believe that there had been any local political group directly involved in the Easter attacks.

Addressing the media yesterday, the Cardinal said that the remarks he made on Sunday had been misunderstood. He stood by his claim that international forces had been behind the attacks, he said.

“However, some people claim that I said a local political group was behind the attack. I have always maintained that there are international forces that use religious and ethnic extremists such as Wahabists to create conflicts. I was referring to such groups.”

The Cardinal added that only a small group of Muslims was involved in extremism.

The Archbishop also said that former President Maithripala Sirisena believed that taking action against extremists like NTJ leader Zahran Hashim would create unnecessary issues.

“Something along these lines is also in the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks. The report also implies that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was lenient in dealing with growing extremism in Sri Lanka.”

The Cardinal urged the government to protect the country and ensure that there would be no repeats of incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Archbishop of Colombo requested all religious leaders to work on rebuilding trust among all communities.



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AG appeals to Supreme Court against granting of bail to Ravi, others



The Attorney General yesterday appealed to the Supreme Court against bail for former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and seven others indicted in the bond case by the Colombo Special High Court Trial-at-Bar.

The eight accused were arrested and remanded over the bond scams. Later, they were released on bail.

The court warned that if the accused attempted to exert influence on the witnesses, by any means, bail would be revoked and they would be placed on remand until the end of the trial.



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26 more coronavirus cases detected in Jaffna Tirunelveli market area



Another 26 COVID-19 cases had been detected on Sunday, from the Tirunelveli Market in Jaffna, which was the epicentre of the recent outbreak in the town, Dr. A. Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday.

The market and its surroundings had been reopened on April 11 following a 19-day lockdown. However, 378 PCR tests were conducted after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and 26 of them proved positive.

Dr. Kethiswaran warned last week that there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna after the New Year celebrations.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported in Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be lockdown, he warned.

“It’s too early to say whether we have to close the area down. We are monitoring the situation,” DR. Kethiswaran said.

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