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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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Cabraal: Prez appoints members to Port City Economic Commission

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatta

The President of the country would always appoint members to the Colombo Port City Economic Commission, entrusted with running of that city under the proposed CPCEC Bill, State Minister of Money & Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, yesterday, told the media, in Colombo.

State Minister Cabraal said that most critics of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill had not even read it.

“Sri Lankans don’t need to obtain a visa to enter the Port City as some claim. The Port City will be administered by the Colombo Port City Economic Commission and the Bill we have presented details how the area will be governed,” Cabraal said responding to a question posed by a journalist.

The State Minister said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had asked him to counter the misinformation and fake news that was being spread about the Bill. Once people have read and understood the Bill, most who criticise it would have to change their tune, the Minister said.

 

Journalists also questioned the State Minister on the allegations levelled by MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakse. The State Minister said that Rajapakse had not even asked a question about the Bill during the Parliamentary Group meetings.

“As I said earlier, the Port City will be administered by Colombo Port City Economic Commission. All members are appointed by the President. The Chairman of the Commission too is appointed by the President. The President can get rid of them anytime he wants,” Cabraal said.

The State Minister added that no one would be allowed to withdraw money or assets from Sri Lanka and invest in the Port City. “This is a special economic zone. We need to attract foreign direct investments. We need to have ease of doing business in this zone and we have to make it an important financial hub in the region.”

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Two hotels to be built obstructing elephant corridor in Sinharaja – MONLAR

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Forest land being cleared for the construction of a hotel

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Bowitiyatenna elephant corridor, used by elephants in Sinharaja to travel to Dellawa – Walankanda forest had been obstructed by two businessmen by clearing a section of the forest to build hotels, Sajeeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) said.

“One hotel is being constructed in the Dolekanda Grama Niladari area after clearing seven acres of forest land. The Kalawana Divisional Secretariat has approved the construction of the hotel ignoring environmental regulations. Right now, forests are being cleared, land is being prepared and buildings are being constructed using heavy equipment.”

Another hotel was being built at the Bowitiyatenna Elephant Corridor, situated in Godakawela Divisional Secretariat area by a businessman from Godakawela. He has cleared around eight acres of forest land, the environmentalist said.

The two hotels were obstructing the elephant corridors used by the remaining two elephants in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Now, the the people of Rambuka, Thanawela, Ellagama, Handiyekade, Kajugaswatte, Pothupitiya, Kopikella and Cypresswatte would have the elephans marauding their villages, the environmentalist said, adding that the residents of those villages would lose property and lives due to the hotels being constructed by obstructing the elephant corridors.

“Most of the forest areas surrounding the Sinharaja are to be annexed to the Forest Reserve because they are an important part of the forest network. These unscrupulous businessmen and politicians supporting them are attempting to carve out as much land as possible before these areas receive protected status. They are also doing their best to delay the declaration of these lands as protected areas.”

Chamikara said that the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) had the power to take action against those who carried out such illegal activities.

According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without environmental clearance, the CEA can produce such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty, a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both.

Chamikara said: “According to Article 27(14) of Chapter VI of the Sri Lankan constitution the state shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community.” However, the CEA seems to have no interest in taking action against those who are building these hotels illegally. This is CEA’s attitude to almost all major environmental destruction that seems to be taking place these days.

“The government is silent when the Sinharaja forest is degraded and elephant corridors are closed by businessmen. The right to land seems to be a right reserved only for businessmen. We have the right to oppose these under article 28. (f) of the Constitution which states that we have a fundamental duty ‘to protect nature and conserve its riches.’ Article 28. (e) states that we also have a fundamental duty ‘to respect the rights and freedoms of others.’ Thus, we, the citizens have the right to oppose the illegal use of natural resources by powerful businessmen. If we do not oppose these moves as citizens, powerful businessmen will take over all our natural assets like they are doing at Sinharaja.”

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RDHS predicts Coronavirus spike in Jaffna over the weekend

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

There might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna this weekend, A.

Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday. Dr. Kethiswaran made the prediction after 26 new cases were detected in Jaffna.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported from Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be locked down, he said.

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