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Pilleyan appointed co-chair of Batticaloa DCC ahead of vote on 20A

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

TMVP leader and MP, S. Chandrakanthan, has been appointed the Co-Chairman of the Batticaloa District Coordinating Committee in keeping with an understanding between his party and the SLPP.

Chandrakanthan aka Pilleyan received his letter of appointment from Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in Parliament on Tuesday (22).

One-time deputy to Karuna Amman following the 2003 split in the LTTE, Chandrakanthan is remanded at the Batticaloa prison since 2015 over his alleged involvement in Dec 2005 assassination of TNA lawmaker Joseph Pararajasingham. Karuna, who formed the TMVP later quit the party he founded to receive a National List slot courtesy the UPFA in 2010??. The former LTTE Eastern Commander contested Digamadulla district from the SLPP at the last general election. He was unsuccessful.

Premier Rajapaksa handed over the letter of appointment dated Aug 10 issued by the Office of the President to Chandrakanthan while the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) clashed with the SLPP over the latter presenting the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in parliament.

Eastern Province Governor Anuradha Yahampath serves as the Co-Chairperson of the Batticaloa District Coordinating Committee.

The TMVP backed the SLPP at the 2019 presidential and 2020 general elections after the two parties reached an agreement in the run up to the last year’s poll.

Political sources told The Island that the TMVP had assured its support for the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

The TMVP is among nine political parties which won one seat each at the recently concluded general election.

The SLPP requires five more votes for the passage of the 20th Amendment.

Political sources said that in addition to the TMVP vote, the SLPP was sure of two more votes-one each from the National Congress (Digamadulla MP A.L.M. Athaullah) and the SLFP (Jaffna District MP Angajan Ramanathan).

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage on Tuesday (22) claimed in parliament that 17 Samagi Jana Balavegaya lawmakers were engaged in secret negotiations to switch their allegiance to the SLPP. SJB leader Sajith Premadasa insisted in parliament that none of his members would do such a treacherous thing.



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Rare twin elephants born in Thailand ‘miracle’

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The mother, 36-year-old Chamchuri, was not expected to deliver twins [BBBC]

An Asian elephant in central Thailand has given birth to a rare set of twins, in what caretakers have described as a miracle.

The mother, 36-year-old Chamchuri, was not expected to deliver twins and when she gave birth to a male calf last Friday, staff at the Ayutthaya Elephant Palace and Royal Kraal, had thought the delivery was done.

But while cleaning up the first calf and helping it stand on its feet, they heard a loud thud and realised that Chamchuri had given birth to a second calf, a female.

The second birth sent the mother into a panic and caretakers had to restrain her to prevent her from stepping on the female calf. One caretaker was hurt in the melee.

Dramatic footage on social media showed a crowd of caretakers – known locally as mahouts – frantically separating the female calf from the mother, with blood from the birth still visible on her hind legs.

Twins occur in only one percent of elephant births and male-female are even more rare, according to Save the Elephants, a research organisation.

“Once we pulled the second baby elephant out, away from the mother, the baby stood up. We were all cheering because it’s a miracle,” veterinarian Lardthongtare Meepan told the BBC.

“We’ve always wanted to see elephant twins but not everyone can see this because it doesn’t happen a lot,” said Ms Meepan, who grew up at the elephant park, and is herself a mother of twins.

Charin Somwang, a 31-year-old mahout, broke his leg while restraining the mother.  “I was so happy, I couldn’t feel the pain,” he told the BBC, adding he felt the extent of the injuries only when he was brought to the hospital.

“It’s normal that the new mother will always try to kick or push the baby… I was afraid that she might break the baby elephant, so I put myself forward and tried to block the mother from the smaller one,” said Mr Somwang, who has been working at the park for 15 years.

Elephants are considered sacred in Thailand, where a majority of the population is Buddhist. They are also a national symbol.

Since the birth, the Ayutthaya Elephant Palace and Royal Kraal has featured the twins in live streams on social media.

Park visitors, including children, are also allowed to see the twins, but only after disinfecting their footwear and their hands.

A sign near the nursery reads: “Please don’t touch the elephant babies”.

They will be named seven days after birth in accordance with Thai custom.

At 55kg (121lb) the female calf is slightly smaller than usual and has to step on a stool during feeding with her mother. Her brother is heavier at 60kg.

BBC/Benjamin Begley Elephant feeding
The female calf is slightly smaller than usual and has to step on a stool during feeding [BBC]

The park claims its elephants were rescued from begging on the streets. In 1989, Thailand banned logging in natural forests, leaving mahouts who worked in that industry jobless.

This forced them to make elephants perform tricks for tourists in exchange for money. This practice was outlawed in 2010 – though there are still rare cases of this happening.

In Ayutthaya, Thailand’s former capital, some elephants carry tourists on their backs to temples and historic ruins. Conservationists oppose elephant riding as they say this stresses the animals out and amounts to abuse.

An earlier report by the World Animal Protection (WAP) says that harsh methods are used to get a wild elephant to carry a human on its back. The process starts soon after it is captured. It is often referred to as “breaking-in” or “crush”.

Aside from Ayutthaya, elephants have also become tourist draws in highland villages in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai in the north, where tourists can feed them with bananas, go walking with them and bathe them with mud.

The Asian elephant is an endangered species due to poaching, illegal trade and habitat loss, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

More elephants are used for tourism in Thailand – over 3,000 – than anywhere else. Unlike other countries with captive populations, those in Thailand are nearly all privately owned.

BBC/Benjamin Begley The twin elephants and their money
Twins occur in only one percent of elephant births [BBC]
BBC/Benjamin Begley The baby elephant
Elephants are considered sacred in Thailand, where a majority of the population is Buddhist [BBC]

Compared to their African counterparts, Asian elephants have smaller ears round and hunched backs.

Meanwhile, visitors continue to flock to the park in Ayutthaya to see the twin babies, as they await their names.

They walk in a small pen covered with hay as they roll their trunks on their mother’s leg.  “I am always happy when I see elephant gives birth,” said Mr Somwang, their mahout who is recovering from injury.  “It doesn’t need to be twins. Elephant babies always bring joy,” he said.

[BBC]

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Constitutional error could give Ranil and Parliament another year

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ECONOMYNEXT –Sri Lanka’s constitution could allow President Ranil Wickremesinghe to extend his tenure by almost a year due to a mistake in the constitution that has been overlooked since the 19th Amendment in April 2015.

The sweeping 19th Amendment sought to establish democratic reforms, ensure good governance, and shorten the terms of both the president and parliament to five years. However, it neglected to ensure consistency regarding tenure.

While all references to the six-year terms of both the president and parliament were changed to five years in line with the 19th Amendment, Article 83(b) was overlooked and left unchanged, giving President Wickremesinghe a loophole to extend his term.

Any bill to extend the five-year term of the president or parliament requires approval in parliament with a two-thirds majority, followed by endorsement at a referendum.

However, under Article 83(b), such a referendum is required only if the bill extends the term to over six (6) years, not five (5) years as it should have been.

This means that, technically, Wickremesinghe could extend his own term and that of parliament by 11 months and 29 days without breaching the constitution.

Political analysts note that this must also be read in conjunction with feelers put out by UNP’s General Secretary Range Bandara that Wickremesinghe should be given more time at the helm and the country was not ready to hold a presidential election later this year.

Here is Article 83:

(83). Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the provisions of Article 82 –

(a) A Bill for the amendment or for the repeal and replacement of or which is inconsistent with any of the provisions of Articles 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 or of this Article; and

(b) A Bill for the amendment or for the repeal and replacement of or which is inconsistent with the provisions of paragraph (2) of Article 30 or of paragraph (2) of Article 62 which would extend the term of office of the President, or the duration of Parliament, as the case may be, to over six years, shall become law if the number of votes cast in favour thereof amounts to not less than two-thirds of the whole number of Members (including those not present), is approved by the People at a Referendum, and a certificate is endorsed thereon by the President in accordance with Article 80.

This is Article 30 in full:

30. (1) There shall be a President of the Republic of Sri Lanka, who is the Head of the State, the Head of the Executive and of the Government, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. (2) The President of the Republic shall be elected by the People and shall hold office for a term of five years.

This is Article 62 in full:

62. (1) There shall be a Parliament which shall consist of two hundred and twenty-five Members elected in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

(2) Unless Parliament is sooner dissolved, every Parliament shall continue for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting and no longer, and the expiry of the said period of five years shall operate as a dissolution of Parliament.

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The ‘duped’ Sri Lankans fighting in Russia’s Ukraine war

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Russian Ambassador to Sri Lanka Levan Dzhagaryan (L) with State Minister for Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya during a press conference in Colombo in May. Ishara S. Kodikara

by Amal JAYASINGHE

(AFP) When Sri Lanka’s economy crashed in 2022, people sought work abroad wherever they could find it — including ex-soldiers who joined forces fighting in Ukraine after Russia’s invasion.

Now the veterans — some of whom swapped their life savings for what they thought would be lucrative, non-combat jobs — are desperate to come back home.

“What we ask is to help bring back our husbands,” said Renuka Karunaratne, 49, who said her husband was duped into going to Russia by a devious agent.

Colombo’s parliament set up an inquiry last month to track at least 2,000 battle-hardened Sri Lankans who reportedly enlisted on both sides of the Ukraine war, including in the regular armed forces and mercenary groups.

With no communication for months, and reports of at least 16 Sri Lankans killed and 37 wounded, distraught families are pleading with politicians for help.

The government says around a dozen Sri Lankans are being held prisoners of war in Ukraine, after being lured there in pursuit of work.

Advertisements shared on WhatsApp groups of retired military personnel promised monthly salaries of more than $2,100, 13 times the average income in Sri Lanka.

Promises were also made of plots of land in Russia, where foreign fighters and their families could settle.

Karunaratne said she and her husband paid $10,000 to an employment agent to get the job.

“We have sold everything we owned, including jewellery,” she said while demonstrating outside the Russian embassy in Colombo last week.

“We have mortgaged a part of our house too.”

An unprecedented economic crisis in early 2022 saw Sri Lanka run out of foreign exchange to import food, fuel and other essentials — and ultimately default on its external debt.

Nilmini Chandima Dissanayake, 41, said hardship stemming from the downturn pushed her ex-soldier husband to go to Russia, more than 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) away.

“My husband was in the commando regiment for 22 years,” Dissanayake told AFP. “He had retired, he did some odd jobs, but found it was not enough to manage.”

She has not heard from him since May 1, one month after he arrived in Moscow to take up what he thought was a non-combatant role.

“His last call was to plead to get him back home, to save his life,” she said.

“Every passing day they lose hope of surviving.”

The war in Ukraine has taken a heavy toll on Russian troops, and Moscow has been on a global quest for more forces to fight.

Sri Lanka has maintained a large military relative to its 22-million population since the end of a decades-long civil war against the separatist Tamil Tigers in 2009.

Moscow is believed to have hired thousands of foreign combatants, many of them from South Asia.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine will say how many foreigners are serving in their militaries or how many they are holding as prisoners of war.

In parliament, Sri Lankan deputy defence minister Premitha Tennakoon did not specify how many citizens were fighting on each side of the conflict.

Colombo has remained neutral in the Ukraine war, but reports that Russian authorities supported the recruitment of ex-soldiers from Sri Lanka have sparked tensions.

Police have arrested two retired Sri Lankan generals for illegally acting as recruiting agents for Russian mercenary firms, as well as six people who allegedly helped them with logistics.

tate minister for foreign affairs Tharaka Balasuriya said Sri Lanka was pushing Ukraine to release prisoners of war, and would send a delegation to Moscow.

“If Sri Lankans are in a dangerous situation, it’s the duty of the government… to ensure that they are safely returned,” Balasuriya said.

The Sri Lankan foreign ministry said Tuesday that Moscow agreed not to recruit anymore Sri Lankans to their military.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry raised the issue with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the BRICS ministerial meeting in Moscow on Monday, the ministry said.

“It was also agreed that no further recruitment from Sri Lanka will be done,” the ministry said.

Moscow will accept a delegation from Sri Lanka on June 26 to “review these issues in detail and take suitable action to arrest the situation”, the ministry statement said.

Russian ambassador Levan S. Dzhagaryan said “a lot” of visas had been issued to Sri Lankans, but insisted that they had not told the embassy why they wanted to go to Moscow.

“Why are you talking only about Russia?” the ambassador challenged reporters last month in Colombo. “Why don’t you talk about Ukraine?”

At least 22 Sri Lankans who joined Russian forces have managed to desert, escape and return home, defence officials said.

“They were duped,” defence ministry spokesman Nalin Herath told AFP.

Hotel driver Anil Madusanka, 37, is one of them.

“Many people have (economic) problems,” said Madusanka, now recovering at his home outside Colombo after seven terrifying weeks in Russia. “That’s why they go to Russia or Ukraine.”

He thought he would swap driving tourists for a promised job driving in Russia — but was handed an assault rifle instead and sent to the battlefront to face Ukrainian forces.

He was wounded by shrapnel that tore into both his legs.

From a hospital, he fled to the Sri Lankan embassy in Moscow, which arranged his repatriation last month.

“I am lucky to have escaped,” he said.

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