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Incident involving Police and Army goes viral: Gen Silva questions conduct of police, demands inquiry

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Police spokesperson SSP Nihal Thalduwa says an inquiry has been initiated into an incident involving the police and a group of soldiers near a police road block, on the main road, leading to Parliament, on the evening of Tuesday (05). Attorney-at-Law Thalduwa said that Police Headquarters had received a complaint from Army Commander General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), regarding the incident. Video footage of the police confronting a four-member team of Army riders, at the road block, amidst a noisy protest, has gone viral on social media, with private television stations, too, telecasting the unprecedented incident.

Although earlier reports said the Army motorcycles had no number plates, yesterday Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, who is no friend of the government, told Parliament they did have number plates and called for an impartial inquiry.

In an urgent missive to IGP C.D. Wickremaratne, General Silva asked for an inquiry into what he called the ‘unethical and ill-mannered behaviour’ of two Assistant Superintendents of Police. Calling for disciplinary action against them, the Army Chief said that the Army riders arrived at the scene on the directions of the Director Operations, Army HQ.

Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne, too, has taken up the issue with the IGP as well as the Secretary, Law and Order Ministry, Maj. Gen. Jagath Alwis. Gen. Gunarathe has declared that the police officers’ conduct wasn’t acceptable at all. The two ASPs have intervened and at one point another policeman has been captured switching off the ignition of one of the motorbikes. The police contingent deployed at the checkpoint had told their superiors they intervened to prevent a possible flare-up that may have triggered violence.

Since the eruption of public protests at the Pengiriwatte Road, Mirihana residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, last Thursday (March 31), Army Commander who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) shifted the Air Mobile Brigade of the 53 Division to Colombo. In addition to the Army, both Army and Air Force have been directed to deploy personnel in support of law enforcement authorities. The Special Task Force (STF), too, has been deployed at selected areas as protesters stepped up pressure on ruling party politicians. Both serving and retired military officers yesterday told The Island that the Office of the CDS should ensure smooth coordination among the armed forces and the police especially against the backdrop of coordinated protests and mob violence directed at the residences of Ministers and State Ministers.

The police said that in spite of repeated provocations they had responded patiently. Five policemen received injuries during violent protests outside Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella’s Kandy residence. They said the possibility of mobs returning to the previously targeted residences couldn’t be ruled out, hence the need to provide security.

State Minister Roshan Ranasinghe alleged in Parliament on Tuesday (05) in spite of him alerting the IGP to an imminent threat posed to his Polonnaruwa residence, the police failed to thwart the attack. Marauding mob caused damages, lawmaker Ranasinghe said, alleging that the Jathika Jana Balavegaya, the Frontline Socialist Party and SLFPers carried out the attack.

SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena, who was present in Parliament at the time, denied the rival’s accusation totally. Former Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera said that he couldn’t comment on the incident involving the police and army personnel or the current situation, in an official capacity. The Colombo District lawmaker said that such incidents could be quite detrimental to current efforts to curtail violence.

Police and political sources said that Anuradhapura district had been one of the worst affected, where mobs targeted houses and offices of Pohottuwa, SLFP and even Jathika Nidahas Peramuna (JNP) early this week. Protesters also targeted soothsayer Gnana akka’s luxurious home prompting the police deployed there to summon army backup. Sources said that for nearly eight hours protesters targeted homes and offices of five Ministers, State Ministers and an MP. The targeted politicians included State Ministers, Dr. Prof. Channa Jayasumana and Shehan Semasinghe as well as Duminda Dissanayake and Cabinet Minister S.M. Chandrasena and Uddika Premaratne. Sources said that Gnana Akka’s home received much better protection than those of the Members of Parliament.



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Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI

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Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.

Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.

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Unions predict end of energy sovereignty

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.

“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”

Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.

“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.

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Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue

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The Narendra Modi government is mulling restoring the traditional rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 285 acres, sandwiched between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay, with the BJP hoping the move could lift its political fortunes in the southern state.The government will push Sri Lanka to implement “in letter and spirit” the 1974 agreement reached between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka, on the island.This will have to be done by withdrawing the “Executive Instructions” issued in 1976 without questioning Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty” over Katchatheevu, sources aware of the internal discussions in the BJP told the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald.

Sources added that the discussions were “ongoing” at “various levels” including reaching out to Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent visit of TN BJP chief K Annamalai to Sri Lanka is also part of the outreach. Many feel the instructions issued in 1976 “superseded the provisions of the legally valid” pact between India and Sri Lanka, thus making Katchatheevu a subject of dispute in the Palk Bay.While the 1974 agreement gave away Katchatheevu, which was part of the territory ruled by the Rajah of Ramanathapuram, to Sri Lanka, the 1976 pact drew the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal.

“We cannot disturb the agreement signed in 1974. We are now finding ways and means to implement the agreement in letter and spirit. All we plan is to ask Sri Lanka to invoke Article 6 of the Katchatheevu pact. If Sri Lanka agrees, the issue can be sorted through Exchange of Letters between foreign secretaries of both countries,” a source in the know said.Another source said the time is “ripe” to push forward on the issue. “With fast-changing geopolitical situation in the region, we believe Sri Lanka will slowly come around and accept the rights of our fishermen,” the source said.

“The opinion within the party is that time is ripe to push this cause, with Sri Lanka beginning to realise that India can always be relied upon, given PM Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is pro-India.”

Articles 5 and 6 of the 1974 agreement categorically assert the right to access of the Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Katchatheevu and state that the “vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein”.

However, fishermen from India were prohibited from fishing in the Sri Lankan territorial waters around Katchatheevu in 1976 following the signing of an agreement on the maritime boundary. The battle for fish in the Palk Bay has often ended in Indian fishermen being attacked by Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into their waters.The BJP, which is yet to make major inroads in Tamil Nadu, feels a “solution” to the long-standing issue will give the party the much-needed momentum ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and provide a chance to get into the Tamil psyche. Political analysts feel that it might also allow the BJP to needle the DMK and the Congress by pointing out that it has restored the rights “surrendered by them,” to Tamil fishermen

Senior journalist and Lanka expert R Bhagwan Singh said: “If BJP succeeds in its efforts, it will certainly help the saffron party in the coming elections.”

But a source said the move will “take time”. “We don’t want to rush and create an impression we are forcing Sri Lanka. We will take it slow. We will take every stakeholder into confidence and reach an amicable settlement with Sri Lanka. All we want to do is restore traditional rights of our fishermen,” the source said.CM Stalin also raised the issue at an event on Thursday, telling Modi that this is the “right time” to retrieve Katchatheevu.

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