• Solheim plea to Tamil diaspora
  • Ranil scoffs at ‘timid media’
  • Fonseka seeks justice
  • Bakeer Markar’s success tips

Erik Solheim also called upon the Tamil diaspora to look pragmatically at the changes taking place in Sri Lanka and how best these developments could be used for the benefit of the Tamil people

The focus this week is on the UN General Assembly in New York where President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressed its main sessions.
President Rajapaksa addressed the main UN sessions as a leader of a country that faced two major calamities in the first decade of the millennium.
Firstly, Sri Lanka though smaller in extent was plagued by a three-decade long terrorist problem unleashed by the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world, the LTTE.
Secondly, in the year 2004, an unexpected tsunami ravaged the coastal belt of the country causing an unprecedented damage to life and property.
Yet, Sri Lanka today has emerged as an amazingly resilient country with an economy recording a very satisfactory growth rate during the first two quarters of the year according to Central Bank data, which is encouraging.

As a leader committed to uplifting the living standards of all Sri Lankans without any discrimination, the President on the sidelines of the UNGA met a host of world leaders to apprise them on the progress the country had made since May 2009, from the period the Sri Lankan security forces vanquished the LTTE.
Addressing the session on Millennium Development Goals, the President called on the developed countries to relax regulations on protectionism for the developing world to achieve MDG targets. President Rajapaksa, among other leaders, met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Qatar Emir Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Iranian President Mahamoud Ahmadinejad and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.
He told the Norwegian Prime Minister that the ties between the countries should aspire to open a new phase putting the past behind them. Norway played a major role during the presidency of Chandrika Kumaratunga and subsequently when Ranil Wickremesinghe took over the reins as prime minister in 2001 in devising a peace formula to the troubled Sri Lanka.

The Norwegians continued their peace effort during the first half of the tenure of President Rajapaksa too, but failed in their endeavour to formulate a solution acceptable to both sides.
Though Norway played a key role in peace building and even devising a ceasefire agreement between the two warring sides, they made it a point to keep India informed of the developments implying that India controlled the Sri Lankan peace process from behind the scenes.
The Norwegian-sponsored peace process did not last for long since the LTTE backed out on several occasions putting the government negotiators on the lurch.

Following the breakdown of the ongoing negotiations and suspension of the peace process, which was carried forward by the Norwegians with the help of the world community, painstakingly, both sides indulged in a fully-fledged war leaving behind a trail of destruction, loss of life and property.
The government thereupon relied on a military solution to eradicate terrorism while promising the Tamils who are moderate in their disposition a fair deal.
What Sri Lanka is longing for now is to build a sound economy that would help all its citizens in the long-run without any discrimination.
To achieve this goal, the country inevitably needs the help of the global community.
President Rajapaksa’s task at the UNGA was exactly to tell the world community to have a fresh look at Sri Lanka putting behind the bitter past where the military had to put down the LTTE rebellion.

Sri Lanka once again is emerging as a country built on the principles of democratic ideals respecting human and fundamental freedoms of the people, following the three-decade-old conflict.
Erik Solheim, one-time special envoy for Sri Lanka and Norwegian Minister of International Development expressed his willingness to visit Sri Lanka to look at areas where the two countries could cooperate in the field of development.

Solheim also called upon the Tamil diaspora to look pragmatically at the changes taking place in Sri Lanka and how best these developments could be used for the benefit of the Tamil people.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa appeared to have made optimum use of his visit to the UNGA to address its 65th annual sessions by creating an impact among the world leaders on the progress the country had made following its victory over the LTTE known as the most dangerous terrorist outfit.
In New York, there had been demonstrations extending their support and opposition to the Sri Lankan delegation at the UNGA.

One group, especially the Sinhalese community and other Sri Lankans living in New York, welcomed and showered praise to a leader who crushed terrorism and liberated the country from the clutches of the LTTE, while another group identifying themselves as the American Tamils, demonstrated against the delegation on the ground that there had been a genocide in Sri Lanka against its Tamil populace, which finally led to the victory over the LTTE.

Besides these, there had been an uneasy situation persisting in Sri Lanka and amongst Sri Lankans elsewhere in the world where they had sought some sort of justice to former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka on whose head a three-year jail sentence is hanging like the sword of Damocles.
There is already a difference of opinion among the politicians and the political parties over the Military Court ruling on Sarath Fonseka.
The JVP accused the UNP for failing to prevent one of its senior members giving evidence against Fonseka.
However, the situation is inevitable as far as the UNP is concerned since they could not stop Lakshman Seneviratne from crossing over to the government benches and supporting what they termed as the most “obnoxious amendment” to the constitution.
The UNP’s position is that they condemn the action of its member and hopes to take disciplinary action against him for defying the party whip.

Nevertheless, the Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter Venerable Thibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thera had pledged to intervene in the matter, on behalf of the former Army Chief, after a discussion with other Buddhist prelates to obtain some sort of redress from the authorities concerned. The Mahanayake Thera said there could have been some slip on the part of Sarath Fonseka too and queried from Anoma Fonseka whether she did not attempt to talk to the President on the matter.
It was, however, revealed that the position taken by the Fonsekas is that Fonseka had not committed any offence as such, to go begging for a pardon from the authorities.
Subsequently, the prelate also took up the position that Fonseka had not committed a grave offence that entails such a drastic step.

As it stands today, it is up to the President as the Commander-in-Chief to either affirm the sentence or reject it.
This may happen once he returns to Sri Lanka after his fruitful visit to the UNGA.
Meanwhile, the UNP and more particularly, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe recorded his vehement opposition to the sentence handed down by the Military Court on the ground that the alleged offence is of a civil nature rather than a military one.
His position was that a Military Court was not competent, determining on such offences even if Fonseka had allegedly committed an offence of the nature described in the charge sheet. Instead, the state should have charged him under the bribery law, if there are any charges after an inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament or by the Auditor-General.

Wickremesinghe, addressing a meeting in Kurunegala, declared that the charge sheet by present Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya is illegal unacceptable and violates Parliamentary privileges. On this occasion, he said there is no other alternative other than tearing it off.
Has he been jailed for not having revealed the link between the Hi-Corp and his son-in-law, Wickremesinghe queried adding that it was the responsibility of parliament to control the public finance and that it was parliament that approved the funds for military procurement in terms of Article 148 of the Constitution.
Wickremesinghe also said that deciding contrary to Cabinet tender procedures is therefore not a matter for a Military Court to decide.

Elsewhere, lawyers were busy analysing the possible legal implications of the sentence handed down by the Military Court.
The pertinent question that arose is as to whether Sarath Fonseka would lose his seat in Parliament as a result of the ruling by the Military Court.
The opinion expressed by most of the eminent lawyers is that he would not lose his seat in Parliament ipso facto the ruling by the Military Court.
Their argument is that a Military Court is not recognised by the constitution and the constitution had not been designed to give that legal effect through a Military Court.
Many lawyers, however, admit that this is a grey area in the constitution by being silent on sentences passed down by a Military Court.

At the same time they point out that the sentences passed by a Military Court has not been recognised by relevant sections of Chapter 89 that deals with disqualifications of a Parliamentarian.
It states that no person shall be qualified to be an elector at an election of the President, or of the Members of Parliament or to vote at any Referendum, if he is subject to any of the following disqualifications, namely:
(a) if he is not a citizen of Sri Lanka ;
(b) if he has not attained the age of eighteen years on the qualifying date specified by law under the provisions of Article 101;
(c) if he is under any law in force in Sri Lanka found or declared to be of unsound mind ;
(d) if he is serving or has during the period of seven years immediately preceding completed serving of a sentence of imprisonment (by whatever name called) for a term not less than six months imposed after conviction by any court for an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term not less than two years or is under sentence of death or is serving or has during the period of seven years immediately preceding completed the serving of a sentence of imprisonment for a term not less than six months awarded in lieu of execution of such sentence:

Provided that if any person disqualified under this paragraph is granted a free pardon such disqualification shall cease from the date on which the pardon is granted;
A competent court has to be presided over by a judicial officer within the meaning of the Constitution, which would be determined by the Judicial Service Commission.
The Courts operating under the constitution are prescribed under relevant sections of article 105 of the Constitution:
It states that subject to the provisions of the constitution, the institutions for the administration of justice which protect, vindicate and enforce the rights of the People shall be –
(a) the Supreme Court of the Republic of Sri Lanka,
(b) the Court of Appeal of the Republic of Sri Lanka,
(c) the High Court of the Republic of Sri Lanka and such other Courts of First Instance, tribunals or such institutions as Parliament may from time to time ordain and establish.

Accordingly, in line with their argument a Military Court is only an institution within the meaning of the law.
If it is a court of law, the basic argument is that there should be a right of appeal and in this instance an order of a Military Court could only be challenged by a writ which means it is an administrative body within the meaning of the law.
The lawyers, who are looking into the legal implications, have also cited Article 13 of the constitution that deals with fundamental freedoms of the citizens.
Nevertheless, there is a counter argument to establish the fact that the Military Court is a court of first instance.
They dwell on the fact that a court of law established by the constitution or any other law has legitimate rights to decide on cases within the ambit of such law. In that sense the Military Court could be considered as a court of law set up under the Military Act. Hence, they also argue that the Military Court is a competent court of law.
There are, however, doubts whether the law would be interpreted in the same spirit as was stated earlier raising reasonable doubts about Fonseka’s future as a Member of Parliament.

In any case, if, Fonseka loses his seat, the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) is planning to nominate Anoma Fonseka to parliament in place of Sarath Fonseka.
This means the members of the Colombo District list contested under the DNA banner who qualify to be Parliamentarians after Sarath Fonseka would be compelled to tender their resignations to pave the way for Anoma Fonseka.
There is, however, a doubt as to whether the members on the list would resign to facilitate Ms Fonseka if the need arises.

Sarath Fonseka’s issue is likely to cause ripples in the body polity of Sri Lanka since the Buddhist clergy including the prelates are now trying to exert some pressure on the government to mete out justice to the man who led the army to a monumental victory over the LTTE.
Besides, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is determined to take his fight against the 18th amendment to the Constitution to the grassroots level to muster some support and educate them on its implications.
The UNP, up to date, had held a series of meetings to educate its rank and file on the issue including the youth organisations.

Wickremesinghe vowed to take disciplinary action against those who left the opposition benches to join hands with the government to vote for the 18th Amendment to the constitution.
At a wedding held the previous Saturday at Hotel Ramada Colombo, Wickremesinghe met some senior journalists with whom he had a cordial chat about the current political developments in the country.
Wickremesinghe emphatically said that the whole objective behind appointing TNA member M A Sumanthiran to the Parliamentary Council was to sabotage the 18th Amendment that was passed without following proper procedure as laid down in the constitution.
He said it is imperative that the amendment goes before every Provincial Council for a debate before being presented in Parliament.
“The government is expected to adhere to the provisions of the 13th Amendment and that had not been heeded to,” he said.

When said that the 17th Amendment was passed contrary to this procedure without going before the PCs he said that the 18th Amendment particularly spoke about the Provincial Public Service Commission and therefore it is nothing but mandatory that it goes before every PC for a debate.
He also said parliament one day could declare the 18th amendment null and void since it had been passed illegally and in violation of the provisions of the constitution and parliamentary standing orders.
Thereafter, the discussion centred round the defections, where former CEO of the Rivira Media Corporation, Krishantha Cooray, posed a pointed question as to why he was treating Sri Ranga and Digamabaram differently to that of Rauff Hakeem.

Wickremesinghe said in his response that it was because the SLMC is a constituent party of the United National Front and whereas Ranga and Diganbabram had separate agreements with the UNP. Wickremesinghe said that they have to wait and see as to what the SLMC would do at the local government elections.
During the ensuing discussion, Wickremesinghe accused the ‘Sirasa” media network for trying to drive nails into him; it was more of a political connotation than the literal meaning of driving nails, at which Krishantha Cooray said Wickremesinghe made a bad situation worse by linking ‘Sirasa’ with Mervyn Silva during a debate in Parliament.

Wickremesinghe then said that supporting the government is one thing and attacking him in a relentless manner another and accused all round that they were attacking him because he was one who always respected freedom of expression and queried why the media could not do the same thing with the present government. He himself replied saying that the journalists are mortally scared of the present regime and pinpoint their faults.

For Wickremesinghe, it is a two-pronged battle firstly with the ruling party which encouraged defection to government benches in order go through the 18th Amendment to the Constitution and secondly with his own party men who are asking for a pound of flesh through party reforms.
However, both Wickremesinghe and party secretary Tissa Attanayake are appear to be firm on the UNP members who are threatening to sit in Parliament as independent members.
Attanayake says that the party would not tolerate such action and Wickremesinghe is of the view that the UNP is a party that had risen from scratch after its crushing defeat in 1956.

The UNP history records similar episodes during its existence of nearly 65 years in the Sri Lankan political arena. At one stage when Dudley Senanayake was at the helm of the party and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka former minister and veteran politician, A C S Hameed formed a ginger group in Parliament with the blessings of late J R Jayewardene, but it was frowned at by other seniors from time to time. Since Hameed wanted to clarify matters with the prime minister, he requested the PM for an appointment with others in the group, which was granted. The invitation was to have tea with the Prime Minister at ‘Temple Trees’. Soon after the ‘tea’, Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake told the group in no uncertain terms that there could not be a party with in a party and ended the meeting which also signified the end of the ginger group.

Even during the 70s former President R Premadasa did not go behind positions but worked for the victory of the party along with J R Jayewardene. It was after the victory and Jayewardene assumed office as the President effecting an amendment to the 1972 Constitution that Premadasa became the deputy leader of the party and Prime Minister through a vote in the Parliamentary group.
It is time for the young Turks of the party to take leaf from the Premadasa era before taking hasty decisions to sit as an independent group in the opposition.

The newly-appointed media spokesman of the party Mangala Samaraweera put it right when he said that such action would only help the government to fortify itself.
As one political analyst put it, what the dissidents or the young Turks should realise is that conflicts within the party would further weaken the opposition.
It will only leave rancour among the feuding factions while the opponents reap the dividends of such action. However, the UNP’s young Turks too are determined to take their fight forward while Wickremesinghe is more obsessed with taking on the government on the 18th Amendment to the Constitution and on the issue relating to Sarath Fonseka.

It was the position taken by the Sajith Premadsa group that the party leader should be elected by a vote that is similar to that of electoral colleges.
Simultaneously, he wants to include at least 10% of members selected from local councils into this voting process, but it appears that Wickremesinghe who is averse to this proposal had determined to fight the dissidents and consolidate his position in the party.
In spite of all these, it is sort of a consolation for the party leader Wickremesinghe to learn that Sajith Premadasa was not yet willing to take over the party leadership.
This was implied at a meeting held to discuss the modalities of a settlement in the presence of Kabir Hashim, the chief negotiator.

When the dissidents were talking about the creation of a new position called the ‘senior leader’ Malick Samarawickrma, who pooh-poohed the idea, offered the leadership to Sajith Premadasa.
“I will get the leader to resign,” he said but Sajith Premadasa was not ready to take over yet.
Yet, in another development, former Minister Imtiaz Bakeer Markar insisted that the UNP should now look for young blood, if the party is to be revamped and brought back to the former glory.
Delivering the keynote address at the launch of the volume titled ‘The History of the UNP’ authored by Keerthi Tennekoon, Bakeer Markar drew an example from Britain where the Labour Party faced consecutive defeats in the hands of Margaret Thatcher and subsequently how it reformed itself to register a convincing electoral victory.

Bakeer Markar said that there is no magic but sheer hard work and dedication coupled with wisdom to learn and analyse the needs of the people.
He said that Peter Mendelson was the architect of the Labour Party victory in 1997 after he re-branded the party as new labour and replaced the age-old hammer and sickle with a red rose.
He did one more thing, Bakeer Markar said, though Gordon Brown was Mendelson’s close friend and senior most party man he backed Tony Blair to take the mantle because he knew, new face and change could do wonders.

Tracing the history of the Grand Old Party, Bakeer Markar added that the UNP came into being at a time the Sri Lankan society was being divided on ethnic politics and the Left took directives straight from the Kremlin.
He also said the UNP was built on three strong pillars; they are democracy, social justice and national unity. The first leader of the UNP and the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, D S Senanayake, taking over the leadership pronounced that the prime task ahead is to build a country where all communities could live together.
Bakeer Markar also said that changes are necessary based on ground realities though he doesn’t advocate changes similar to Britain, he said the UNP should change according to times and the needs.

As many old-timers in the UNP insisted and exerted pressure that there should be some visible change in the UNP structure, Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe seems to have softened his stand on the rebels. Accordingly, he sent a message to Ranjith Madduma Bandara who took a principled stand to remain in the party when some of the rebels opted to crossover to the government benches, to meet him. Madduma Bandara, however, took an exception and decided to go along with Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and Secretary Tissa Attanayake.
There, the leader told him that the disciplinary inquiry against him over the “tipex” issue which caused ripples in the party during the Parliamentary General elections has been called off.
At this point of time Madduma Bandara emphatically told him that he was not instrumental in doing that, but take responsibility as the district leader.

He also told that the real culprit’s name would become known shortly.
Wickremesinghe then told him to talk to Mangala Samaraweera so that he would take necessary steps to withdraw the court case filed by Ananda Tissakuttiarachchi of the then SLFP (M) against Madduma Bandara.
However, Madduma Bandara refused and said that he would deal with the party instead.
The task of talking to Mangala Samaraweera and resolving the matter was later assigned to Tissa Attanayake.
UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya earlier promised that he would look into the grievances of Madduma bandara and moved that the party should treat him with respect as a member who stood by the party during the time of despair.

Vanni hearing brings out problems and thinking

The hearings of the Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) held in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts had brought out the real problems of the war affected people and their thinking about the future.
The main problem the people face was about their missing family members.
For three days beginning last Saturday hundreds of women gathered opposite the premises where the hearing was held carrying photographs of their missing husbands, sons and daughters and pleaded for information about them.

Some of them who got the opportunity to give evidence begged the Commission to find out what happened to their dear ones. They said they were only seeking their safe return and were not interested in land or property.
Those who failed to make representation provided information about their missing relatives in the printed forms distributed to them.

Their requests varied. Susilavathy Devaruban of Kandavalai asked the commission to find her son and return him. Aiyakooku from Malayalapuram wanted the commission to find out whether his son is living. Mathivannan Mathusha pleaded for help to release her husband detained in the Omanthai camp.
Susilavathy told the eight-member commission, headed by former Attorney General C R de Silva that her 19-year-old son was forcibly recruited by the LTTE in March 2009.

Although he escaped and returned home twice they took him away a third time.
“Today,” she said, “I don’t know where my son is. Please find my son and return him to me.”
Elderly Aiyakooku said he had three sons. The eldest joined the LTTE when he was17 and is dead.
The second was taken away by the LTTE.
The third son and his wife were taken away 18 days after their wedding. Both of them are dead.
“My wife and I are grief stricken. We ask you to find out and tell us whether our second son is alive or dead,” they pleaded.

Mathusha who was from Vivekananda Nagar said her husband Mathivannan was employed in an LTTE establishment from 2004 to 2006. They were in an IDP camp in Vavuniya when some people had informed the security forces about Mathivannan former LTTE connection. He was arrested and detained.
“I have no means of livelihood- not even money to buy milk powder for the children,” and wept begging for help from the commission to get him released.

Commission chairman C R de Silva readily agreed to discuss with the CID officers Mathusha’s problem and find a solution. He assured Susilavathy and Aiyakooku that the commission would find out the whereabouts of the missing persons. Similar assurance were given to others too.
The chairman told the witnesses that their approach was to inquire into the problems and past grievances of the affected people who are equal citizens of Sri Lanka, and resolve ethnic, religious and community differences.
He said finding solutions to the problems faced by the people was an important issue that merited attention.
A variety of other problems also came up before the commission.
One women said they went into the welfare camps with the clothes they were wearing. “One year has passed. We are still in those clothes.”

Another said, “We lived in a comfortable house. Now we are living in a tin sheet shed”.
Some complained that they were not being allowed to return to their land.
People from Ponnagar said they were prevented from returning to their lands.
The commissioners explained that they could not claim rights over land distributed by the LTTE or its affiliated organisations as they had no authority to distribute land.
The commissioners assured them that alternate housing in other areas would be provided to them before the end of the year.
There were also complaints of extortion and bribery.
One witness said some men who posed as CID officers had demanded huge sum of money to get her relative released.

She said she had made complaints to the police and the army but they were asking her to identify the men concerned.
Most of the people who gathered to give evidence were women. Human rights activists said women were the most affected by the war.
Several families in Vanni are headed by women.
The hearing also brought out that in many cases the LTTE had taken away young males and females by force.
Many said their husbands and sons were taken away by the LTTE.
It also came out that the LTTE had prevented civilians from leaving the area controlled by them. Susilavathy said, “The LTTE prevented us from leaving. Although I told them that my child had suffered a spinal injury they refused to let us leave”.

The thinking of the people about the future also came out.
Most of the witnesses said that they are against any future armed struggle.
They wanted a permanent solution for their basic needs and the ethnic conflict.
Witnesses said the armed conflict was the result of accumulated grievances of the Tamil people.
The feeling of discrimination and the repeated riots and violence in which the Tamils suffered were the primary causes. They said a permanent solution to the ethnic problem is necessary to prevent peace to prevail in the long run.

On the Indian scene the Kashmir agitation is continuing.
All the separatist leaders have told the Indian All Party delegation headed by Home Minister P Chidamparam that their agitation would continue unless their main demands were met.
Their demands were: Indian government should declare Kashmir an international dispute; withdraw troops from Kashmir; revoke the emergency powers given to the security forces and release all political prisoners.
They told the Indian parliamentarians: We demand our rights and not an economic development package.
In Tamil Nadu, a massive celebration to mark the 1000 years of the building of the Thanjavur Periya Kovil began on Thursday with 1000 dances dancing in all the main streets of the Thanjavur city.
The event glorifies the Chola period of Tamil history.
The temple, one of the wonders of the world, was built by Raja Raja Cholan to mark his victory in the wars against Pandiya, Chera and Sinhala kings.
It was built soon after he conquered Anuradhapura and moved the capital to Polonnaruwa.