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GTF extends cooperation to newcomers, reiterates commitment to partnership with TNA



By Shamindra Ferdinando


The UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) is ready to extend cooperation to Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress (AITC) and Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK) led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and C.V. Wigneswaran, respectively.

AITC won two seats, including one National List whereas the TMTK secured one.

GTF spokesperson Suren Surendiran told The Island that the grouping would continue to work with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as in the past but would very much like to extend cooperation to the new parties as well.

Both AITC and TMTK hadn’t been represented in parliament before though Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and Selvarasa Gajenthiran elected and appointed on the AITC National List, respectively, represented the TNA in parliament twice in 2001 and 2004.

Retired Supreme Court justice Wigneswaran, who served as the first Chief Minister of the Northern Province in the TNA run administration, hadn’t been a parliamentarian before.

The GTF officially formed after the end of the war in May 2009, has been working closely with the TNA. Surendiran said that among the issues they worked closely on was the accountability issue leading to the previous Sri Lanka government co-sponsoring a controversial resolution in Oct 2015 at the UNHRC.

Surendiran appreciated Wigneswaran and Gajendrakumar taking a strong stand in respect of 13th Amendment as well as the accountability issue in parliament during debate on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policy statement.

Asked whether there was any likelihood of GTF reaching consensus with the AITC and the TMTK, in addition to the existing GTF-TNA cooperation?

Surendiran said: “GTF is a diaspora based organization consisting of member organizations and members who live overseas. One of our mission statements is to collaborate and work with elected representatives of our people in Sri Lanka, to progress the Tamil cause, be it seeking justice for the wrongs of the past, economic development or finding a political solution for the Tamils’ grievances and aspirations. As GTF, we have met Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and others from his party many times in the past and we will be ready to work with both him and Wigneswaran in the future, just as we will continue to work with TNA.

Pointing out Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam challenged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s mandates (received at the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls) in respect of the North-East and a number of other issues, including war crimes, The Island sought the GTF’s stand on AITC tough position vis-a-vis the President’s policy statement.

Surendiran said: “As you have described, indeed, it really was a powerful speech! I think he made a few factual statements, very eloquently. The point about, the people of North and East unanimously voting on points of principle, be it for different parties and candidates, the fact that sovereignty cannot be a defence to avoid investigating and delivering justice to victims of heinous crimes and that it was the State in fact which should have protected these people who were alleged to have committed these breaches of international laws against them, were made very effectively.”

In addition to newcomers, AITC and TMTK, the SLFP won a seat in the Jaffna peninsula. Angajan Ramanathan yesterday told The Island that he was the first Tamil to successfully contest Jaffna on the SLFP ticket ever. Responding to a query, Ramanathan said that he gained entry into Northern Provincial Council in 2013 on the SLFP ticket. Ramanathan was accommodated on the UPFA National List in the previous parliament. The UNP failed to retain its Jaffna seat at the Aug 5 poll.

Ramanathan said that Vijayakala Maheswaran represented the UNP in Jaffna following the assassination of her husband.

Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) won two. In the previous parliament, Douglas Devananda’s EPDP had only secured one seat at present.

Batticaloa-based Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) won one seat (Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pilleyan) whereas the TNA secured ten seats, the highest number obtained by any Tamil political party though in the previous parliament the coalition was represented by 16. The TNA’s ten included one National List slot. In the previous parliament, the TNA had two National List slots.

At the height of its political power, the TNA parliamentary group comprised 22 lawmakers.

Surendiran said that the Tamil community expected their representatives at all levels to take up issues whatever the party they represented in parliament. Surendiran noted that the AITC leader emphasized the pivotal importance of those elected working together regardless of being elected or appointed from different political parties.

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COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk



Top medical man in North threatens lockdown

Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area

20% of IDH patients need oxygen

By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita

Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.

Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.

“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”

He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.


Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.

One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.

On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.

Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.

Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.

PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.

“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.

Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.

All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.

Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.

Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.

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Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country



By Rathindra Kuruwita

The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.

President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”

The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.

“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”

Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.

“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”

Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.

“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”

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CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest



By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.

Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.

“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said

About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.

“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”

Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.

“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”



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