A visit to the Law College in Hulftsdorp not only made President Mahinda Rajapaksa nostalgic but also recall his student days as a member of the 100th intake.
After a brief ceremony where he was conferred the title "Voharadithipathi," he took a walk around the College. At one point he turned to Kumar Ekaratne, Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, and remarked "this is the spot where I was ragged as a fresher." He said those who ragged him were led by a female student. "I was MP for Beliatte and the youngest MP in Parliament then," he said.
Ekaratne must have chuckled to himself as he was one of those seniors who was very much a rag master himself on that occasion.
The question of the young MP being ragged was an issue that had cropped up at the time, and it was resolved that there be no exceptions to the ragging. When the freshers were asked to dance as couples Rajapaksa was made to dance alone and eventually ended up with a bucket of water.
From there, Rajapaksa went to the Attorney General's Department. At the Department, he asked officials whether they had anything to say. There was stoic silence. Then Rajapaksa remarked that he had something to say.
He said there were complaints from the public that cases were being delayed. He wanted them to help expedite court cases so that the public suffering would be less.
Of course there was something, the President did not say as well. That is the utter contempt the public was having for the Department for moving to discharge those who broke the law, including alleged murderers, rapists and cooperative racketeers merely because they were MPs or organisers from Rajapaksa's political party.
China-bound flight saved in Chennai
A Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) AN-32 aircraft made an emergency landing at the Chennai International Airport this week.
The pilot made an emergency call to the Chennai Air Traffic Control Tower after his aircraft developed severe engine vibration.
The Russian-built troop transporter was on the first leg of a journey from Colombo to Dhaka. After a re-fuelling stop there, it was to proceed to Kunming in China for another re-fuelling stop before its final destination to Chongqing.
Chennai authorities provided full security to the aircraft whilst it was repaired under the supervision of a Flight Engineer on board.
An SLAF source said that the AN32 was to ferry to Colombo spares for the Chinese built F-7 supersonic jets and a stock of ammunition.
When HE speaks,
others have no place
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the chief guest at the Rajya Sangeetha Sammana Ulela (National Songs Awards) night held at Temple Trees.
He handed over awards to several artistes but did not make a speech.
Whilst on stage, he told Culture and Aesthetic Affairs Minister T.B. Ekanayake and actress-turned-MP Malini Fonseka that he had decided not to make speeches at such events.
The reason -- the media reports only his speech and not the Minister concerned with the event. He cited an instance where Minister Bandula Gunawardena had made a good speech. The media had merely said he thanked the invitees and only reported what the President said.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in a humorous mood at the 65th anniversary celebrations of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) held at Temple Trees on Friday.
The SLFP, he said, was like a barber saloon. "Anyone could walk in and out. Those who walked in are doing well. Those who walked out are suffering," he noted.
The powerful Mr. Hurry
Preparations for the 2012 budget are now under way. On Friday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was to chair a meeting where the votes of the Ministry of Power and Energy were discussed.
A corporation boss who was boasting that he is the largest tax payer in the private sector was strutting around. It irked a cabinet minister who remarked "it looks as if nothing can be done without him." The Minister is not alone. Even his bureaucrats were to remark that the man wants to do everything in a hurry.
Former Police Chief, Mahinda Balasuriya, who launches his book on terrorism in Sinhala at the Senior Officer's Mess tomorrow, has raised some eyebrows at the highest levels of the government.
This is after a seal that he uses bearing his name. Immediately after the name, it says that he is Grand Phd. Top educationists have told the UPFA leadership that there is no such title in the academic world. Who cares? Dr. Balasuriya likes to do anything the grand way.
A notable absentee at the Sri Lanka Freedom Party's 65th anniversary observances at 'Temple Trees' this week was Economic Development Minister, Basil Rajapaksa.
US envoy praises ST but criticizes columnist
Former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Jeffrey Lunstead pays a back-handed compliment to the Sunday Times in a cable sent to the US State Department many moons ago.
The confidential message, which is among the thousands of new cables hijacked by Wikileaks and published in the London Guardian last week, says the Wijeya Group is "among the most respected newspaper" group's in Sri Lanka.
But the cable singles out an article written by our UN-based columnist Thalif Deen as "a virulent attack on U.S. policy in Iraq."
Deen's article, titled "U.S. bogged down in Iraq, Crawls Back to U.N….." was published in the Sunday Times back in 2004 in the weekly column "Inside the Glasshouse". Lunstead, who forwarded the article verbatim to the State Department, says the piece is "resolutely anti-American."
A former Sri Lankan diplomat points out that Lunstead's speciality was Sanskrit -- and hence his posting in Sri Lanka. "And when you specialize in a dead language you cannot appreciate a live column," he says.
Incidentally, a couple of years ago, two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) routinely checked Deen's credentials by visiting his neighbours in New York.
According to one of the neighbours, the FBI agents asked whether they saw any "unusual activities" going on in Deen's household and "whether there were many cars parked outside his home." The FBI probably thought Deen was a car salesman?
The only consolation for Lunstead is that maybe the FBI investigation was prompted by his confidential cable to the State Department. Perhaps it was one of many such cables singling out other Sri Lankan newspapermen as well.
Fortunately, it didn't come to pass for Deen to plead the 1st Amendment in this instance.
President gallops ahead
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's popularity has soared and Sri Lankans are less enamoured with other countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and China, says a writer at Gallup, the organisation known worldwide for its polls.
Here are excerpts from an account by Gallup's Peter Cynkar:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's decision last week to lift the country's 28-year-old state of emergency will likely further endear him to a public that almost universally supports him. It may also potentially ease some of the international pressure the country is under over its human rights record. More than 9 in 10 Sri Lankans surveyed in April 2011 say they approve of Rajapaksa's job performance, as they have since the civil war ended in 2009.
Rajapaksa's move comes a few weeks before the Sri Lankan government is expected to face off against Western governments at a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting. The country faces increasing pressure from Western governments and human rights groups to conduct an independent probe into alleged war crimes separate from its own ongoing internal investigation.
Sri Lankans are less enamored with other countries' leadership, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, and China, although many don't know enough about them to offer an opinion. U.S. leadership, which has been one of the more vocal critics of the Sri Lankan government's efforts to investigate alleged rights violations in the final stages of the war, has lost favour. Twenty-four percent of Sri Lankans say they approve of U.S. leadership, down 12 percentage points from 36% in 2008 and 2009.
More Sri Lankans approve of China's leadership than that of the U.S., and, while they are more divided about some Western countries' leadership, they are still more likely to approve than disapprove of China's. Rajapaksa recently returned from a trip to China, during which he sought support against a war crimes investigation.
Sri Lankans' approval of their president's job performance likely reflects their happiness to finally have peace in their country and a vision for the rebuilding of their nation. The government's lifting of emergency laws has earned praise from the U.S. and other Western nations and suggests Sri Lanka is trying to leave its violent past behind. It will be imperative for the Sri Lankan government to use this political capital as it works to resolve conflicts within the country and reintegrate disenfranchised portions of the population.
Lanka caught up in Indo-China spy drama
Barring a one-liner denial by a Navy spokesperson in Colombo and an official in the Chinese Embassy, there has been no official comment on an Indian TV channel report that a Beijing spy ship entered the port of Colombo.
Jin Wei, Spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Colombo declined to make any comment on the report aired by NDTV, a network that can be viewed through cable channels in Sri Lanka. This is what the report said:
"India detected a Chinese spy ship disguised as a fishing trawler in the Indian Ocean a few months ago. By the time the ship figured in the Indian radars, it had operated already for about 22 days and was positioned off the cost of Little Anadaman -- an area which is considered sensitive and crucial in the ongoing battle for supremacy over the Indian Ocean region between India and China.
"Immediately after detection an Indian Navy ship was sent after it. However, since the Chinese ship was in international waters, no punitive action could be taken against it. The Indian Naval ship, instead, tailed the Chinese ship sending out a clear message that India was aware of its actual mission. In order to avoid the Indian Navy tail, the Chinese Ship moved towards Sri Lanka and docked at Colombo. Inquiries by the Indian security agencies revealed that ship has as many as 22 Laboratories on board.
"A report sent up to government, which NDTV has access to, claims that the Chinese ship was mapping the Indian Ocean and picking up crucial Bathymetric data. Other Laboratories on board the ship were designed to collect data on the currents of the Indian Ocean, the temperature at various depths and also very crucially, underwater obstructions and obstacles. "Bathymetric data is crucial for submarine and Carrier based operations. Information about ocean currents, on the other hand, is crucial if torpedoes are to be used.
"Why does China need these data?
"India's assessment is China will be able to carry out aircraft carrier based operations by 2017. China doesn't have an operational aircraft carrier yet. The collection of data from the Indian Ocean is designed towards this. Once the Chinese Carrier Battle Group is ready for operations the Indian Ocean region will be one of the main focus areas of China. This will not help China secure the shipping lanes that carry its exports towards Europe and North America but protect oil and coal imports. However, the presence of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean region cannot be altogether benign for India.
In fact the presence of a Carrier Battle Group in Indian Ocean region is a serious military threat for India. Chinese ground forces already have an edge over their Indian counterparts along the land borders. Chinese naval presence in Indian Ocean region is, therefore, a cause of serious concern for India. "China monitors Indian missile programme"What is also worrying Indian security agencies is the presence of several Chinese fishing trawlers along Wheeler Island off the Orissa coast during test launches of missiles. All Indian missiles are tested from Wheeler Islands. Security agencies have told the government that fishing trawlers are most likely monitoring the Indian missile test launches and colleting telemetric data of the missile. Telemetric data is crucial to build effective counter measure against missiles."
Questions over 'Lies Agreed Upon'
The UN-based Inner City Press is not in favour of screening the Ministry of Defence video that counters the one put out by Britain's Channel 4.
Here is what it says in its latest news bulletin: "UNITED NATIONS, September 2 -- After the bloody final stage of conflict in Sri Lanka in 2009, alongside stalled action at the UN and its Human Rights Council, a documentary was made. This "Killing Fields" film about Sri Laka has apparently not been seen by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Nor was it ever screened inside the UN, but rather across First Avenue in what's called the Church Center.
"But tellingly, this notice reached Inner City Press on September 1 "inviting all UN Correspondents to attend the screening of the documentary 'Lies Agreed Upon,' on Tuesday, September 6th at 2:00pm in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium. Ambassador Palitha Kohona and Ambassador Shavendra Silva of the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka will be present for a Q&A session following the screening. Sri Lankan Authorities state 'This video directly challenges the assertions contained in the CH-4 video, Sri Lanka's Killing Fields. "While there is more to report on this strange screening, what most obviously jumps out is that a screening inside the UN is being given to a response film which "directly challenges the assertions contained in" another film which was never shown inside the UN.
"This might be seen as propaganda, or as indicative of Ban Ki-moon's UN. Inner City Press has five times asked if Ban had taken the time to see "Killing Fields," which is critical of the performance of the UN and Ban himself in the final stages of the Sri Lanka conflict.
"Ban's now departed deputy spokesman Farhan Haq belatedly replied that Ban had been given a DVD copy which he could watch when he had time. But this has apparently still not occurred, by contrast to a screening for Ban, his family and staff of the film "The Whistleblower" which criticizes the UN under Ban's predecessor Kofi Annan.
"The Whistleblower was shown in the UN, unlike "Killing Fields," which because the request conflicted with Ban Ki-moon's re-appointment in the General Assembly was not screened inside the UN, and moved across the street. In fairness Ban is now away from New York, headed to Australia -- where he may hear Sri Lanka concerns -- New Zealand and Kiribati. So those who unilaterally scheduled for a screening in the UN of the Rajapaksa government's rebuttal to a film that itself was never shown in the US may wish to explain themselves."
CIA plane in Colombo to take al-Qaeda suspect
The French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) reported in a Washington-datelined story that a private jet hired by the CIA touched down in Colombo in 2003 on a rendition mission. However, it gave no other details.
Insiders say that it was to pick up an al Qaeda suspect — a Malaysian who was later transferred to the Guantanamo Prison. The man was sedated and taken in a stretcher to the aircraft. The handful who saw it thought it was a rich patient being wheeled in a trolley for medical care abroad. As for the local sleuths who helped in the exercise, they say, there were very attractive rewards.
Political food for thought
President Rajapaksa's charm offensive on opposition parliamentarians continues.
This week he telephoned Ranjit Madduma Bandara (UNP - Moneragala District), one of the frontline dissidents within the UNP, and wished him for his birthday.
Later, when he was walking inside the Parliament complex, he saw Madduma Bandara and invited him to lunch. The UNP MP readily obliged.
They were eating when Minister Wimal Weerawansa, the National Freedom Front (NFF) leader, walked in. "What is happening to your party," he asked in Sinhala from Madduma Bandara. The latter turned to Rajapaksa and said "Sir api keranney Sirta awaasi wena weda (Sir we are doing things that are not advantageous to you). Weerawansa was to say "Samadaama oka thamai karanna. Training nehe (That is being done every day. There is no training).
Not to be outdone, Madduma Bandara responded "Oyath Balaagena inney apey paththeta paninna (You are also waiting to jump to our side). Rajapaksa nodded his head as he chewed his food. Later, he burst into laughter.