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US Embassy: Pompeo’s visit not confirmed yet

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Indian HC Baglay meets PM following visit by top Chinese delegation

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Close on the heels of China reiterating its commitment to Sri Lanka’s development goals and backing for Colombo at International forums, the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Gopal Baglay met Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday (15) evening to discuss ongoing Indian projects as well as cooperation on new projects.

A top level Chinese delegation, led by senior Chinese leader and top foreign policy official Yang Jiechi, who is also a member of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo and the Director of the Central Committee’s Foreign Affairs Commission met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa on Oct 8. Then the delegation also visited UAE, Algeria and Serbia.

Immediately after the high powered Chinese visit, a section of the media reported that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also expected to visit Colombo later this month. Asked whether the US embassy had issued a statement as regards Pompeo’s impending visit, an embassy official told The Island such statements had been issued by the State Department. Subsequently, the official said: “No official travel has been confirmed at this time. Notice of any high level travel would be announced by the Department of State once a trip is officially confirmed.”

Sri Lankan officials said that Pompeo was scheduled to visit Colombo in June 2019 for talks with the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. During bilateral talks, he was hoping to discuss issues relating to counter terrorism, freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific region, and the use of $480 million American Millennium Challenge Corporation Fund with then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe. However, the visit which was to take place ahead of the US presidential visit to G-20 summit in Osaka was cancelled amidst media furore over the US seeking to finalize MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) Compact and SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement).

However, the US embassy in Colombo cited ‘scheduling issues’ over cancellation of the June 27, 2019 visit that was aimed at showing solidarity with victims of Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Pompeo was to travel to Colombo on a brief visit, scheduled between his New Delhi trip and a visit to Osaka accompanying President Donald Trump for the June 28-29 G20 Summit.

The Sri Lanka Prime Minister’s Office said HC Baglay followed on the virtual summit between Premier Rajapaksa and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month.

The PM’s Office said: “One priority sector for Prime Minister Rajapaksa is water and sanitation. The High Commissioner noted several areas on which the two countries could collaborate, including water requirements in schools, sanitation needs, rainwater harvesting, building of toilets for deprived areas, and a project that could convert sewage into fertilizer.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa indicated that the lack of safe drinking water in certain parts of the country is the main concern, including the role it plays in chronic kidney disease. This is now a key priority for the Sri Lankan Government.

High Commissioner Baglay spoke of the possibility to collaborate with Prime Minister Modi’s “Jal Jeevan Mission” (Water for Life Mission), which is the Indian Government’s program that aims to provide potable water for every household.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa noted that the lack of drinking water is a particularly serious problem in the dry zone region of Sri Lanka and requested the High Commissioner to look into any assistance that can be provided towards that end.

The Prime Minister also requested India to look at the pharmaceutical sector and encourage Indian investors to establish research and manufacturing facilities in Sri Lanka to help the country meet its medicinal drug required.”

In the wake of the high profile Chinese visit, the media sought an explanation from cabinet spokesman Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella whether Sri Lanka was getting closer to China at the expense of its long standing relationship with Japan. Asked whether the government’s controversial decision to terminate proposed Light Railway System that was to be built with Japanese financial assistance in Colombo and its suburbs prompted by growing relationship with China, Minister Rambukwella pointed out that recently there was media furore over Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage’s comment on Sri Lanka’s relationship with India. But, Sri Lanka would continue to follow non-aligned foreign policy, the minister said.

Sri Lanka attributed the decision to cancel the Japanese funded project to many houses and business premises that would have to be destroyed during construction, important wetlands would be severely damaged, the cost of constructing the railway track on towers would be immense, and operating costs too would be excessive.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency signed a concessionary loan agreement with Sri Lanka worth about 30 billion yen ($284 million) in March 2019 for the project, the total cost of which would be about 246.6 billion yen.

According to foreign media reports the US, Japan and India are working together to counter growing Chinese regional and global influence.

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PSC action could cripple health services, warns GMOA Secretary

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There were vacancies for 89 specialist doctors in government teaching hospitals due to certain actions taken by the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

GMOA secretary Dr. Senal Fernando yesterday told The Island those vacancies had the potential to cripple the state health service, as the service was stressed due to COVID-19.

Dr. Fernando said: “Specialist doctors are appointed and transfered according to procedures established by the Health Service Minute. The Ministry of Health is responsible for the transfers and the PSC should oversee the transfering process to ensure that they are made in a proper manner.”

“The PSC has ordered the appointment of a committee to look into the matter but there is no mention of such a committee in the Health Service Minute. Instead of following the process, the PSC has tried to intervene in the process and 89 posts remain vacant during the time of COVID-19,” he said.

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Hizbullah denies links with Zahran

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But signed agreement for Zahran’s help in 2015 GE

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former Governor of the Eastern Province, M. L. A. M. Hizbullah on Monday night told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing Easter Sunday attacks, that he had not had any links to National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim. The NTJ members had assaulted his supporters at Kattankudy in March 2017, he said.

Hizbullah said so when the Commissioners asked him about his links with Zahran.

Hizbullah was also asked about billions of rupees he had received from foreign organisations since 2016. Earlier in the day, it was revealed that close to Rs. 4 billion had been deposited by foreign individuals and institutions in two accounts Hizbullah operated at the Bank of Ceylon Colpetty Branch from 2016 to 2019.

The witness said the Sri Lanka Hira Foundation, a social service institution run by him, had received money from foreign countries after March 2016.

“Ali Abdullah al-Juffali of Saudi Arabia gave Rs. 308 million and Siddique and Diana Osmond of London gave Rs. 5.5 million,” he said.

Hizbullah added that he knew al-Juffali and some other Saudi philanthropists. Al Juffali family was one of the richest Saudis with an estimated worth USD 19.8 billion, he said.

Then, a video of a discussion Zahran had with Sibli Farooq of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was played at the PCoI.

The video showed Zahran and Farooq talking about a sum of one million riyals that Hizbullah had allegedly received from Saudi Arabia. In the video, Zahran says that he had no problem with Hizbullah receiving money from Saudi Arabia.

In response, Hizbullah said that by the 2015 Presidential election, Farooq and Zahran had been against him. A member of the Commission then asked why Hizbullah had entered into an agreement with Zahran during an election if he had acted against him.

Hizbullah said Zahran had told, on social media, that he would support politicians who agreed to some of his proposals.” All the parties joined him. I also went along,” he said. Earlier, it was revealed that representatives for the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC,) Democratic Party, UNP, UPFA and National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) had signed agreements with Zahran in exchange for the support of NTJ in 2015.

Hizbullah was also questioned on the Aliyar clash between NTJ and Sunnath Wal Jamaat, a group that supported Hizbullah, on 10 March, 2017.

“Did you ask Zahran to surrender to the court through his mother?” a member of the Commission questioned.

“I made no such comment. I do not know if anyone in my party did so,” he said.

The Commissioners also asked Hizbullah about growing date palms in the Kattankudy area and placing Arabic billboards.

The witness replied that he had grown date palms because of the high temperatures in the area. Nameplates with Arabic letters had been put up to attract Arabic students as they were largely visiting the area, he said.

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CA annuls summons issued on President

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The Court of Appeal yesterday annulled the summons issued on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the disappearance of two persons in Jaffna in 2011.

Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan went missing in 2011. Last year, Jaffna Magistrate’s Court issued summons on Rajapaksa over a habeas corpus petition filed by the relatives of the two missing activists. They had named Rajapaksa one of the respondents since he was the Defence Secretary at the time of the disappearances.

Earlier, Rajapaksa had submitted a writ application stating that he found it difficult to appear before the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court due to security reasons. The Court of Appeal issued an injunction preventing Rajapaksa being summoned by the Magistrate.

President of the Court of Appeal A. H. M. D. Nawaz, declaring their decision, said that a Magistrate’s Court could only issue summons over a specific reason. However the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court had issued the summons based on a motion of a lawyer and that there was no legal basis for the summons. Thus, the Court of Appeal issued a writ notification declaring the summons issued by the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court void.

 

 

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