A specially-chartered flight loaded with some 180 passengers, mostly government politicians and youth, left Colombo on Friday night to attend an international Marxist-oriented student/youth festival in the South African capital of Pretoria—but the JVP has slammed its jumbo delegation as a farce.
On board the chartered Sri Lankan airline flight were some 20 MPs, an equal number of provincial councillors and more than 40 local council members, the Sunday Times learns. The others were student or youth representatives and activists from all sides of the political divide, except the left-leaning JVP, which was not invited by the government. Tharunyata Hetak President Namal Rajapaksa MP is also in the group.
According to one source, local government councils had been asked to foot the bill for the air ticket and other travel related expenses for their members, while food and lodging was to be provided by the organizers of the event.
The anti-imperialist youth festival which is held once in four years is organized
by the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) comprising mainly Marxists student and youth groups throughout the world. Higher Education Minister S B. Dissanayake, chairperson of the Sri Lanka preparatory committee for the event, said he had extended invitations to individuals irrespective of political affiliations.
“There are representatives from some 19 different political parties and groupings for this festival except the JVP,” he said.
Apart from the students and other youth representatives, the others, would have to foot their individual bills for air travel and other expenses, he said adding that the Government was not providing a cent towards this end.
But a UPFA Western Provincial Councillor who declined the invitation said the provincial council was paying for members going on the trip. JVP Western Provincial Councillor Waruna Rajapakse said Sri Lanka’s jumbo delegation was a waste of public funds as most Sri Lanka delegates were representing a capitalist system which would be nowhere in the frame at Pretoria.
“The accommodation provided by the organisers are university hostels equipped with bunker beds and related student facilities which ‘obviously’ will not suit our VIP politicians,” Mr. Rajapakse said.
A six-member JVP delegation including two provincial councillors and a former MP left separately for Pretoria.
Also attending the festival is Inter-Students University Federation (ISUF) leader Udul Premaratne who was granted bail by the Colombo High Court on Friday.
The WFDY is also a strong advocate of student rights among other issues and has expressed its deep concern on the current developments in Sri Lanka.
It is also set to raise the issue of the jailing of scores of university students in the country over the recent weeks. In addition, at the top of the agenda for discussion in Pretoria is ‘No Privatization of Free Education’, currently an explosive issue between local student groups and the authorities.
Two other interesting participants at the Pretoria festival will be the young Lebanese couple who were booted out of the country late last month for showing solidarity with the JVP at a public protest outside the Colombo Fort Railway Station.
Mohamed Hotaite and his wife were enjoying their honeymoon in the country when they were arrested and deported on November 18, with the authorities claiming that their tourist visa did not give them a right to get involved in local politics.
They are friends of JVP MP Sunil Handunetti.