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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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Special COVID-19 probe crippled by infections among CCD sleuths: AG calls for new police team

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Brandix Apparel Limited yesterday (29) said that the company would fully cooperate with relevant authorities in the investigation ordered by the Attorney General (AG). A spokesperson for the company said so when The Island sought a clarification with regard to AG Dappula de Livera, PC, directing the police to launch a criminal investigation into the alleged lapses on the part of the company as well as those officials leading to the devastating COVID-19 outbreak.

The Minuwangoda eruption, which happened in the first week of October is widely believed to be the cause of the fast expanding Peliyagoda cluster.

Asked whether the police had contacted the Brandix management as regards the investigation and sought access to Brandix management and workers at its Minuwangoda apparel manufacturing facility as well as records at the Minuwangoda facility, the spokesperson said: “We will work with the relevant authorities in this regard”.

The Colombo Crime Division (CCD) tasked with the probe has suffered a serious setback due to a section of its officers being tested positive for COVID-19. Authoritative sources said that the CCD lacked sufficient strength to carry out the investigation.

AG de Livera early this week told DIG Ajith Rohana that a progress report should be submitted to him by or before Nov. 13.

Sources said that the badly depleted CCD was not in a position to conduct the high-profile investigation, in addition to other ongoing inquiries. The AG has directed the Acting IGP to constitute a special team of law enforcement officers to conduct the investigation. Sources acknowledged the urgent need for a thorough inquiry into the far worse second corona wave. Sources said that the AG issued fresh instructions in that regard after the crisis in the CCD was brought to his notice.

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Most garment workers under self-quarantine left to fend for themselves

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of garment workers who were undergoing self-quarantine in Minuwangoda did not receive any assistance, Chamila Thushari of the Dabindu Collective, a labour organisation that works with garment workers, told The Island yesterday.

She said that those who were under self-quarantine did not have money to purchase food and even those who were willing to help could not reach them.

“Some of them have received food parcels from their work places but that is not adequate. Most others have not received any assistance. Matters will only get worse after curfew is imposed throughout the Western Province,” Thushari said.

Most of these workers are undergoing self-quarantine at their boarding places, which also house individuals who still work in garment factories. “Although there is a curfew, they can go to work. These are perfect incubators for the virus,” she said.

Thushari said that every day between 20-30 workers under self-quarantine, tested positive for COVID-19.

There were no public health inspectors to monitor the boarding houses of garment workers to ensure that COVID-19 prevention measures were being followed, she said.

“Not even Grama Niladaris visit them,” Chamila said.

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SJB requests separate seats for its dissidents

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Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella has written to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena requesting him to make arrangements to provide separate seats to the nine MPs who had voted with the government for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution recently.

The letter dated yesterday said that the SJB parliamentary group had decided to expel MPs Diana Gamage, A. Aravind Kumar, Ishak Rahuman, Faisal Cassim, H. M. M. Haris, M.S. Thowfeeq, Nazeer Ahmed, A.A.S.M. Raheem and S.M.M. Musharaf and it requests the Speaker to make separate seating arrangements for these MPs in the Chamber.

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