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New Geneva inquiry:



SJB backs govt. call for examining all available information, evidence

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The main Opposition party, the breakaway UNP faction, Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) yesterday (30) said that all available information and evidence relating to Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism should be made available to the proposed special unit to be formed for the implementation of an accountability resolution adopted at the recently concluded Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

SJB lawmaker Dr. Harsha de Silva said so when The Island asked him whether his party backed the government’s call for the UK to make available wartime (January-May 2009) dispatches from its High Commission in Colombo to the proposed special unit.

The former non-cabinet minister in the yahapalana administration, who led the country’s delegation to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UNHRC in 2017, said that he couldn’t comment specifically on the British dispatches. The Colombo District lawmaker said let the planned new unit receive access to all available information and evidence.

 Prof. Peiris, who served as the External Affairs Minister during 2010-2015 period on Monday (29) asked whether the UK, leader of Sri Lanka Core Group, in addition to being member of the UNHRC, would submit suppressed dispatches to the special Geneva unit estimated to cost the UN USD 2.8 mn. Prof. Peiris said that Geneva should request for dispatches from the British as well as from other countries with diplomatic missions in Colombo served either by defence advisors/attaches.

Prof. Peiris said that those genuinely interested in establishing the truth shouldn’t have any qualms in examining credible evidence.

MP de Silva asserted that there couldn’t be any dispute over new Geneva unit examining all available information and evidence.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office earlier in the day, Dr de Silva flayed the government for making a desperate attempt to depict the Geneva vote against Sri Lanka as a continuing battle between the West and the global south. The SJB MP pointed out that of those who voted for the resolution only seven represented the Western group.

The 47-member UNHRC is divided into five groups. The former UNPer explained how members of all groups either voted for the resolution or skipped the vote at Sri Lanka’s expense.

The SJB parliamentarian dismissed SLPP Chairman Prof. Peiris’ allegation that the Opposition was trying to portray an unfounded threat. Referring to The Sunday Times reportage of the issue at hand, lawmaker de Silva urged the government to be realistic in its assessment of the Geneva situation and take tangible measures to address the concerns of the international community.

Warning of dire consequences unless the government changed its strategy, lawmaker de Silva reiterated that the SJB’s commitment to throw its weight behind the country. The top SJB spokesman called for a consensus between the government and the Opposition in that regard.

Dr. de Silva emphasized that Geneva found fault with the incumbent government over a spate of issues ranging from threats to democracy and rapid militarization of the country. He also listed specific issues raised by the latest resolution that really focused on post-2019 presidential period rather than accountability issues during the war.

Declaring the SJB’s support for the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report commissioned by the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, MP de Silva said that ex-Attorney General C.R. de Silva’s dossier cleared the Sri Lankan military of deliberate slaughter of civilians. However, the government failed to act on other findings made by the report. Had the then government acted responsibly, international concerns could have been addressed, Dr de Silva said, demanding to know why one-time LTTE commander Karuna was offered high political status instead of punished for the massacre of 600 policemen in June 1990. The MP emphasized that the LLRC report especially called for probe into Karuna’s alleged role though he denied involvement.

The SJB declared support for a local accountability mechanism which could win the confidence of the international community. The SJB also assured its support for the full and meaningful implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution through which maximum possible devolution could be offered.

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Covishield recipients in dilemma over second jab



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) yesterday (11) said that the ‘health administration’ hadn’t been able to reach a consensus on the second jab for those who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine first dose.

The government, both in and out of Parliament has acknowledged a shortfall of over 600,000 Covishield doses.

Top GMOA spokesperson Dr Naveen de Zoysa told The Island contrary to various statements made over the past several days in that regard, health authorities hadn’t been able to take a decision, in case ongoing efforts at government level to procure a sufficient stock, failed. Responding to another query, the outspoken GMOA official said that they were in a quandary.

When The Island pointed out that the success of the vaccination programme, depended on the availability of the second dose within 12 to 16 weeks after the first, Dr. Zoysa said that some expressed the view it would be better to have the same in spite of a slight delay. Then others talked of a ‘vaccine mix’ or vaccine cocktail’ to meet the requirement, Dr. Zoysa said. However, at the moment, the issue at hand hadn’t been addressed, the GMOA spokesperson said.

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemic & Covid Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday afternoon assured that the government was trying hard to obtain the required number of Oxford-AstraZeneca doses for the second jab.

The government launched the second round on April 28. The first round launched on January 29 was brought to an end on April 6.

GMOF (Government Medical Officers’ Forum) President Dr. Rukshan Bellana emphasized that the government owed an explanation to the public how it intended to solve  the issue at hand. Responding to The Island queries, Dr. Bellana said that the very purpose of the vaccination programme would be jeopardized if over 600,000 people couldn’t receive the second jab.

Dr. Bellana urged the government to reveal its response to the crisis without further delay. “We know, Sri Lanka received approximately 1,264,000 covishield doses from India in three separate consignments. Of them, half a million were a donation. Having used 927,000 for the first dose, the country had about 330,000 at the time the government launched the second round. We are now faced with over 600,000 shortfall. That is the undeniable truth,” Dr. Bellana said.

Appreciating the introduction of Chinese and Russian vaccines and efforts to procure US vaccine, too, Dr. Bellana said that those who had received covishield were really anxious whether the second dose could be received within the stipulated time.

The GMOF Chief said that the deepening health emergency in India shouldn’t be an excuse for those who turned a blind eye to the developing situation here. If the government made timely intervention, the situation wouldn’t have deteriorated so rapidly, Dr. Bellana said adding that the country was now paying a huge price for the government not taking tangible measures ahead of Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera didn’t answer his hand phone.

Dr. Bellana alleged that influential persons had jumped the queue to secure the second covishield jab. The GMOF urged the government to look into that matter and ensure transparency in the process.

The Island also sought an explanation from Chief of Vaccination Plan Lalith Weeratunga, who is also President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s principal advisor regarding how the government intended to ensure the second jab. Weeratunga said that the government was in touch with three countries in that regard. “We are quite confident the required stock could be secured to meet the shortfall,” Weeratunga said, adding that in addition to 600,000 Sinopharm vaccines received from China free of charge, the country could get as much as 3 mn doses from Beijing. Referring to consensus with Russia to procure 13 mn doses, Weeratunga emphasized that Chinese and Russian vaccines were going to be Sri Lanka’s mainstay against the backdrop of the situation in India.

Weeratunga said that in spite of on and off setbacks, the government pursued a proper vaccination strategy. He said that the government was quite confident that by August-Sept a substantial percentage of people could be vaccinated.


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Johnston: Country will become a metropolis with efficient interconnected expressways



Chairman of the RDA Chaminda Athaluwage handing over the contracts to the construction companies to develop the Pasyala to Kadugannawa section of the Colombo – Kandy road (A001), as per the instructions of Minister Johnston Fernando.

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando says that with a highly networked system of expressways covering important cities of the country making transport and travelling efficient Sri Lanka could be like one big metropolis in the  foreseeable future.

 Speaking to the media after a meeting with his Ministry officials to review the tender awarding process to private companies for the widening of the Kadugannawa to Pasyala section of the Colombo-Kandy road on Monday, Minister Fernando said plans had been completed to develop the particular stretch of 55.7 km in four phases with funds from the Asian Development Bank.

 The first phase of the project from Pasyala to Ambepussa covering 14.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,603 million. The estimated cost for the second section from Ambepussa to Kegalle covering 12.9 km is Rs 1,507 million. The third phase from Kegalle to Mawanella covering 13.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,345 million while the cost of developing 14 kilometers in the fourth phase from Mawanella to Kadugannawa is estimated at Rs 1,630 million.

 Minister Fernando said that he had instructed the Secretary to the Ministry R.W.R. Pemasiri, and the Chairman of the Road Development Authority Chaminda Athaluwage to get the construction companies to complete the entire project within 18 months. A stretch covering 44.3 km from Colombo to Pasyala on the A001 Road has been widened and carpeted as of now.

 Minister Fernando said that infrastructure including the road development was continuing at an unprecedented speed as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour programme to provide people with better roads and boost the country’s economic development. “There is no economic development without infrastructure development and in that regard a highly developed road network is a must,” the Minister said.

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Illegal withdrawal of Rs 43 mn, using forged cheques:



Another suspect arrested, CID looking for three more persons

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Another person wanted in connection with an ongoing inquiry into the fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 43 mn from the account of a leading steel manufacturer at the Sampath Bank has been arrested.

With the latest arrest, altogether five persons have been taken into custody. Police spokesman DIG (Legal) Ajith Rohana said that among the arrested was a bank employee, who masterminded the ‘operation.’

Asked whether the money had been recovered, DIG Rohana said that investigators recovered a part of it. “We are looking for three more persons who withdrew money, using forged cheques,” DIG Rohana said.

The Police Spokesman said the three remaining persons too had been identified. According to the DIG, five persons had withdrawn money from six branches of the same bank at the behest of  the bank employee, and the person who printed counterfeit cheques, to withdraw money amounting to Rs 43 mn belonging to steel manufacturer Melwa. The police identified the counterfeit cheque printer as a resident of Hanwella.

DIG Rohana said that those who had been sent to the different branches of the same bank wore clothes identifying them as Melwa employees.

Though the large sum was withdrawn fraudulently on April 12, the day before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, the company remained unaware of the heist until the re-opening of  its main office after the April holidays, he said.

 The Police Spokesman said that a wider investigation was required to ascertain printing of counterfeit cheques and the role played by the bank employee. DIG Rohana said that against the backdrop of the counterfeit cheque case, both state and private sector banks would have to take tangible measures to prevent similar frauds.

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