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President-Nuland meeting: FNO asks if govt. took up issue of US vilifying Army Chief

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‘Travel ban on Shavendra insult to entire country’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top spokesperson for the Federation of National Organisations (FNO), Dr.Wasantha Bandara, has asked whether the government raised during Under Secretary for Political Affairs, US Department of State, Victoria Nuland’s high profile visit to Colombo, the categorisation by the US of Army Chief General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), as a war criminal

The government certainly owed an explanation, Dr. Bandara said.

Referring to the statement issued by the President’s Media Division (PMD), and the joint communiqué issued by the Foreign Ministry and the US Embassy, which dealt with the so-called fourth Partnership Dialogue, Dr. Bandara pointed out there hadn’t been any reference to humiliation of Sri Lanka on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.

“How could Sri Lanka engage in partnership dialogue with the US when its war-winning armed forces are vilified in this manner?” Dr. Bandara asked.

Dr. Bandara said that Sri Lanka should be ashamed of failing at least to make its position clear when the US delegation raised a range of concerns, as well as those of the European Union (EU).

Shavendra Silva commanded the celebrated 58 Division that played a pivotal role during Sri Lanka’s biggest offensive (2007-2009) on the Vanni front.

The Joint Statement dealt with the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and cooperation on maritime security in the Indian Ocean, and other concerns, Dr. Bandara said. “Sri Lanka cannot be silent on the war crimes issue,” the civil society activist said, adding that those who wielded political power today should realise that the labeling of General Silva as a war criminal was an affront to the entire country.

The previous US administration announced the travel ban on Gen. Silva, in early Feb 2020, soon after the last presidential election.

Dr. Bandara said that the government should be concerned about some members of the British Parliament pushing for punitive measures against Gen. Silva on the basis of the US travel ban on the Sri Lankan military leader.

The FNO spokesperson said that Lord Naseby, who provided Sri Lanka ‘ammunition’ to counter war crimes accusations, way back in 2017, must have been quite disappointed that the country never used available information to counter the US-led war crimes campaign against Sri Lanka. Dr. Bandara said that he expected Lord Naseby, who is here to launch ‘Sri Lanka: Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained’ tomorrow (29) at the BMICH, to comment on the failure on the part of successive governments to exploit information provided by him.

Dr. Bandara said that since the Yahapalana administration co-sponsored an accountability resolution at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Oct 2015, Western powers had acted on unsubstantiated allegations against the military. In addition to General Silva, several others, including Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, and Maj. Gen. Udaya Perera, had been denied visas by the US, whereas Australia had refused visa to Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage, Dr. Bandara said.

Dr. Bandara said that those who repeatedly promised to take up false war crimes accusations with Western powers, in the run-up to the last presidential and parliamentary polls, in Nov 2019 and Aug 2020, respectively, had been conveniently silent.

The FNO official said that those who had voted against Sri Lanka, at the UNHRC, wanted the government to back the US stand on the ongoing war in Ukraine. The government seemed unable to cope up with the US-led coalition undermining Sri Lanka as the country struggled on the economic front, he added.



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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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