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Amidst Fonseka furore MR faces vital issues

  • Much attention on today’s LLRC report and tomorrow's budget
  • Ranil gets showpiece post overseas, but faces showdown at home
By Our Political Editor

The fallout from the military defeat of Tiger guerrillas two and a half years ago reverberated many ways in this week's events. Main among them was Friday's majority High Court judgment where former General Sarath Fonseka was convicted and sentenced to three more years in jail and fined Rs 5,000. He was to serve a further six months if the fine was not paid.

Earlier in the week, a senior US defence official used the "Galle Dialogue," an annual event on international maritime security born in the aftermath of the war, to warn Sri Lanka over human rights issues. Today, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is handing over its much awaited final report to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Even a resurging crisis within the main opposition United National Party (UNP) has surfaced after the latest Fonseka conviction.

Some 48 hours before the war hero, applauded once as 'the best Army Commander in the world', was brought to the High Court in Hulftsdorp, there were hectic security preparations. Metal pipe barriers were placed outside the court premises. At the Welikade Prison where he is already serving a jail sentence, some 65 prison guards were drawn for special duty from other jails. A number of other security procedures including the vehicle to be used for his transport were finalised. The Keselwatte Police took the unusual step of asking the High Court to declare the area around the courts complex a High Security Zone. Officers responsible for this move did not seem to realise that it was not a matter for the court to decide, but the Ministry of Defence. Little wonder, it was turned down.

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and UNP National Organiser Ravi Karunanayake are seen with British Prime Minister David Cameroon at the International Democratic Union reception in London.

Friday morning, those walking to the High Court were frisked. Riot Squads and watercannon-mounted trucks were discreetly placed in the outer area. A group of wounded soldiers wearing black clothes who had come in support of the former Army Commander were stopped ahead of the barrier. If opposition parties had vied with each other to woo Fonseka, when he was a candidate for the January 2010 presidential election, there were only a handful present in court on Friday.

They included UNP deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya, Co-Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, party spokesperson Gayantha Karunatilleke, MPs Rosie Senanayake, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Palitha Range Bandara, Sujeeva Senasinghe and Palitha Thevarapperuma. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Somawansa Amerasinghe arrived late by which time Fonseka had been escorted out. Other than him, the only parliamentarian from the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) present was Tiran Alles. Most other prominent members of the UNP, considered loyalists of the leader Ranil Wickremesinghe were at a meeting with him. Days ahead of the judgment, some UNP parliamentarians backing the so called revisionist group had also met Fonseka in jail. They had even discussed issues within the UNP with Fonseka expressing some strong views about the leadership.

The DNA where the JVP is the predominant partner had none of its own parliamentarians present. This came as proof that the DNA was now politically dead. Those MPs, who had admitted to declaring that supporting Fonseka's candidature at the presidential election was one of four mistakes they had committed, had a message to deliver to their grassroots level members. That is the fact that they have little or nothing to do with Fonseka. It comes in the light of the party membership being wooed by the rival extremist group. The other three mistakes they say they committed were supporting Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa during their successive administrations and contesting under the Swan symbol instead of their symbol, the Bell.

When the three-member bench -- Deepani Wijesundera (presiding), with Zulficar Razeen and W.T.M.P.B. Warawewa -- convened at 11.30 a.m., Friday, Mudliyar Shaukat Ali Mohamed Nazli announced the highlights of the judgment. He said that two judges (Ms. Wijesundera and Razeen) had found Fonseka guilty of the first count -- violating the emergency regulations (since withdrawn) by telling Frederica Jansz, Editor of The Sunday Leader, that Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa had ordered (then) Brigadier Shavendra Silva not to let any Tiger rebels waving white flags "to surrender and kill them all." This was during the final stages of the war in May 2009. He said they had ruled that Fonseka was not guilty of the other two charges.

The second charge said, he had, by making those remarks "aroused communal feelings directly or indirectly." The third count accused him of "arousing anti-government feelings among the public and creating disputes among them." Mudliyar Nazli said there was a dissenting judgment by Warawewa who had ruled that Fonseka was not guilty of all three charges. Details of the separate judgments appear on Page 14.

Fonseka was allowed to make a dock statement thereafter. He read out a three-page hand written note in Sinhala. Here is an English translation: "I am not surprised about this judgment. Honestly, it is not only me, a large section of the public and even lawyers present here had doubts that there would be justice done under the current system. I do not accept that this judgment was reasonable. Before Frederica Jansz published these lies which she claims I said, many in the country had heard about it. I believe even the judges would have heard about it. Even before Frederica Jansz wrote this, the Daily Mirror had reported this in the same manner. Even the Sunday Times has written this again over the last weekend. Will action be initiated against those who wrote about it and people who informed them about it? It is only under a rule of dictatorship and not under a rule of democracy where action is filed and a person is jailed for answering a question to the best of his knowledge in the capacity of an opposition presidential candidate.

"I am of the strong opinion that the Army which I commanded was not involved in war crimes during the military victory. They followed my instructions according to humanitarian laws protecting human rights during the fighting. They acted accordingly and protected as many as 12,000 terrorists in the battlefront. As a respected Commander of the Army I am of the view that if any one ordered that terrorists surrendering should be shot that person should be brought before the law. In the past there were serious crimes such as the Krishanthi Kumarasamy case, the massacre of Tamils in Bindunuwewa and the killing of students in Embilipitiya. But was action filed against those who made statements or expressed views? No. Only action was filed against those who committed the crime.

"Don't the people have the right to speak of anything taking place illegally? Don't the people have the right to speak? Is it that if the persons speak they are jailed? Is this the justice? What I told Frederica was that I too heard from two journalists about the incident. One of them is willing to make a statement that he said this. It is up to the judiciary to find out the truth of it. At the end of it is an unfair judgment. What has happened is that I am being kept away from my two children and wife. Even nature would not accept this injustice. The hopes of those who wanted to keep me away from politics and away from the public by bringing false allegations against me have been fulfilled, but the hopes of the people have been dashed. But this is a blessing in disguise to me as a person working to protect the rights of the people, their self-respect and to change the political culture. I am thankful to the panel of judges for that.

"Finally I wish to state that as a person who hated injustice I will take the same stand about this judgment as well. I reject this judgment with disgust. Only what applies to me is the opinion of the general public and just society. I believe that the public and the just society will correct this wrong decision one day. If not, this will create a black mark in the judicial history in this country. I wish to thank my wife and children, my supporters, my witnesses, my counsel (Nalin Ladduwahetty) and the panel of lawyers who worked with expectation to ensure that justice would be done for me.

"If the people accept that injustice was done to me, I call upon them to rise against injustice. I salute the judge who held that I was not guilty of the charges. His bravery is an honour to the judiciary. I think there is a need to see if there are shortcomings in the judicial system if the judiciary cannot reach a unanimous decision in a simple and open case such as this."

The departure of Fonseka from the courts was to cause some tense scenes. A supporter succeeded in placing a garland of orchids around his neck. However, a large posse of prison officials placed a strong human wall around him. He was bundled into a van and taken away to Welikade Prison where riots squads had been placed outside. Air Force personnel also stood guard outside. For moments until the prison van left the court complex, supporters of Fonseka and even a few lawyers clung on. Some banged on the van whilst others shouted slogans against UPFA leaders and the government. In the ensuing melee, a prison officer was seen hitting Fonseka on the head. Fonseka's counsel, Nalin Ladduwahetty said he would file papers in the Supreme Court appealing against the conviction. The sentence on Fonseka will run consecutively after he completes his present 30 month jail term.

In Galle, where an annual international maritime conference was held, a senior US official, Robert Scher, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defence, delivered a speech and also held bi-lateral talks with Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. On both occasions he is learnt to have re-iterated the Obama Administration's policy towards Sri Lanka stressing on the need to address human rights issues and speeding up the process of reconciliation. The US has been offering defence co-operation in the areas of de-mining, maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster response among others. However, such arrangements, Scher had pointed out, were on the basis of upholding human rights standards that applied to all countries. Associated at the two events was US Ambassador Patricia Butenis.

The significance of the US message lay in the fact that it was re-iterated to Sri Lanka barely a week ahead of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) handing over its final report to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. That too, at a conference which had little to do with human rights issues. Our front page report today deals with some of the key recommendations with regards to allegations of human rights violations the Commission, chaired by former Attorney General and President's Counsel C.R. de Silva is expected to make.

President Rajapaksa, who attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, Australia, last month told the media that the LLRC's final report would be presented to Parliament. However, what is not immediately clear is whether the entire report would be tabled or only segments dealing with findings and recommendations related to key issues. Highly placed government sources hinted yesterday that the latter was likely. This is particularly in view of the over 400 page report containing what is being described as "sensitive information" which should not be brought into the public domain. The outcome of the report awaits responses from several western governments that want to raise issue in March next year when the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meets.

If the two deputies of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe -- Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa -- attended the Colombo High Court where the verdict was delivered in the Fonseka case, they were notable absentees at a 'party event.' It was the return to Colombo of Wickremesinghe from London on Thursday morning. He had gone there to take part in the annual sessions of the International Democratic Union (IDU) where he had been re-elected Vice President for the Asian Region. He has continued to hold this position. The International Democrat Union is a grouping of right-wing political parties around the world, and they include the Republican Party in the United States, the Conservative Party in Britain, the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan and the Christian Democratic Union in Germany.

The European parties are also joined in the EDU, i.e. European Democrat Union, and in the European Union Parliament.

The UNP headquarters had asked all Western Province Provincial Councillors of the party and MPs to be at the Bandaranaike International Airport to greet Wickremesinghe who was returning after being re-elected to the IDU post. There were 13 UNP parliamentarians present together with supporters of the party. They waited at the VIP lounge until Wickremesinghe arrived to garland him. Later, they cheered him until he was driven away to Colombo.

Barely 48 hours later, both Premadasa and Jayasuriya wrote two separate letters to Wickremesinghe though both had the same request -- fill the vacancies to the remaining positions in the Working Committee, the party's main policy-making body. Though the requests were separate, the objective was the same and showed that the two deputies had joined together to raise issue with Wickremesinghe, again. Though the UNP leader has not reacted yet, it is known that he is contemplating a strong response.

This would naturally trigger off another crisis within the party where the widening divide between Wickremesinghe on the one hand and the so-called revisionists on the other is becoming irreconciliable. The latest move to irk his rivals was Wickremesinghe's decision to ask Chief Opposition Whip John Ameratunga to deputise for him instead of calling upon Jayasuriya to do so as has been the recent practice. On a previous occasion, however, Jayasuriya had met the revisionist group headed by Premadasa and offered to challenge Wickremesinghe for the leadership post. This earned Jayasuriya some criticism for stabbing his leader in the back while he was deputising for him. UNP insiders say that the crisis may come to a head sooner than later.

For President Rajapaksa the tasks in the coming weeks are many. Tomorrow, he presents the budget in Parliament. Thereafter, he has to study the LLRC report and decide in what form it should be presented in Parliament. More importantly, he has to decide on the follow-up action. In fact, some Commission members are irked that action has not been taken on some of the recommendations made in their interim report. One was the disarming of paramilitary or armed groups.

This recommendation had not only been aimed at the Douglas Devananda elements in Jaffna, but at all those in unlawful possession of weapons. "If this was done, the October 8 shooting incident in Kolonnawa would not have taken place," a source associated with the Commission said yesterday. The question remained, if the government was dragging its feet in implementing the recommendations of the interim report made in January this year, would it really be interested in implementing its final recommendations even though the President is on record saying he would.

Multi-million extravaganza by Lanka in the Caribbean

  • How public money was wasted in a spirit of 'win or lose we booze'

Barely an hour after a Sri Lankan Airlines A-340 airbus dropped its wheels on the Robert L Bradshaw International Airport in the Carribean island of St Kitts, an entourage of 160 checked into their rooms at the four-star Marriot Resort and Royal Beach Casino.

The journey from Colombo, with a stop-over in London for re-fuelling took the air of a family picnic. All 160 had to apply and obtain transit visas for Britain. Spirits were high and there were sing song sessions en route. At the hotel that boasts of luxury which is not available at home for some, they settled in to start a five day battle -- from November 7 to 11 -- with Australia over where the 2018 Commonwealth Games should be staged. There were in-room CD players, television, cable/satellite channels, premium television channels, climate control, clock radio, internet, tea and coffee maker among others.

The numbers game showed how serious the Sri Lankan side was to win the bid. The size of the delegation or costs did not matter. Thus, it turned out that among the 400 who had turned up from 70 sports federations from Commonwealth countries, 160 were from Sri Lanka. Only a mere 20 had arrived from Australia, a country, which is over 117 times larger than Sri Lanka, but has about the same population.

Actress turned politician Anarkali Akarsha dances with Hans Lawaetz, a US Virgin Islander at Sri Lanka's grand show in St Kitts

For months before the delegation left; billboards had come up in several parts of the City of Colombo about Sri Lanka's bid. Livery on the Sri Lankan airlines fleet carried the message raising hopes that a gala sports event was to be held in Sri Lanka. There were several parties in Colombo where those who mattered were wined and dined.

Among the Sri Lankan entourage was Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa, Anarkali Akarsha, Palitha Fernando (Military Liaison Officer of the Ministry of Defence), Dr. Ranee Jayamaha, Advisor to the President, National Olympics Committee President Hemasiri Fernando, Vice President Prema Pinnawala, Secretary General Maxwell de Silva, Cricketers Aravinda de Silva, Mutthuiah Muralitharan, athlete Damayanthi Darsha, Miss Sri Lanka Stephanie Siriwardena, Nimal Perera and Anura Fernando.

Some of the senior members of the delegation made a courtesy call on Prime Minister, Dr Denzil L. Douglas. Cabraal called on the Governor of the East Carribean Central Bank Sir K. Dwight Venner at the latter's headquarters. The VIPs in the Caribbean were showered with expensive gifts. That was whilst campaigning went on at various levels for a decision that was to be made by secret ballot on November 11 and announced at 6 p.m. local time there. Ahead of the voting, there was a draw where each country received a number for which electronic voting would take place.

The piece de resistance of the Sri Lankan side was a gala cultural show and a dinner. A team of expert chefs from the Cinnamon Grand Hotel who went in the special flight with local spices put on a culinary spread. No doubt, they won praise from those who partook in the meals. A special feature was a much patronised palm thatched hut which bore the name 'Teberuma' or Tavern. To hell with the government's 'Mathata Thitha' (Stop to Intoxicants) policy at home; there was an election to be won. There was an unending flow of local arrack and toddy at this bar.

Traditional Sri Lankan 'sesatha's were placed in the canopies where the delegates were seated watching performances by Kulasiri Budawatte's dance troupe. They had also boarded the special flight with their costumes, drums and other equipment. There was also dancing to western music with another Carribean group titled 'Doctor' performing. Anarkali Aakarsha, the tele-drama actress turned UPFA Provincial Councillor danced with Hans Lawaetz, a US Virgin Islander.

The four expert chefs from Cinnamon Grand, all specializing in Sri Lankan cuisine were able to deliver a series of dishes to about 400 delegates. Little huts with roofs as palm leaves, clay pots filled with Sri Lankan mutton curry, fish curry, Seeni Sambol, Pittu, String Hoppers, Wadey and pol sambol. They were thoughtful enough to carry with them coconut shell ladles for serving instead of using large silver spoons. Fried Sri Lankan favourites such as sprats and hurulla, curd and treacle, Halape, Talaguli and Toddy were some Sri Lankan favourites at the buffet. So were Kottu of all varieties and hoppers.

Anarkali later held the microphone to give a running commentary. She read out the variety of Sri Lankan cuisine set for the delegates. The 'Team Hambantota' headed by MP Namal Rajapaksa, Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal walked from one dinner table to another talking to participants, mostly those who were going to cast their votes in two days.
In a brief speech at the dinner, cricketer Aravinda de Silva said hosting the games in Sri Lanka would be a big inspiration to future sports stars.

He recalled his cricketing days and pointed out how he drew inspiration from Sir Vivian Richards, the legendary West Indian batsman from Antigua. That was not all. Around 75 out of the 160 Sri Lankan delegates could not stop savouring the food prepared by the expert Sri Lankan chefs. After the gala dinner there was no rest to the exhausted chefs as they were preparing lunch for about 75 Sri Lankan VIPs for the few days they stayed there. Others from the Sri Lanka entourage also joined in every now and then.

When D-day -- Friday November 11 arrived -- there was frantic activity both by the Sri Lankan and the Australian sides. Parliamentarian Rajapaksa cited Malaysia as a classic example. It had the identical socio economic indicators like Sri Lanka before hosting the 1998 Commonwealth Games. He said Sri Lanka too could make a giant leap if Hambantota was allowed to host the games in 2018.

Mark Peters, Chief Executive Officer of the Gold Coast Bid Team, said the last time the Commonwealth Games was hosted in Australia was in 2006. He declared "The key thing for us is the World Games. It is one of the biggest multi-sport games there are, so you need to put it in safe hands. You need to put her with countries that have proven they can actually run major events. Hambantota put a very good bid together; it was very emotional bid about them not doing it before.

And it was very visual bit with their planning of a city. It was very difficult for delegates because it was a virtual bid verses a bid where 80 per cent of the facilities are there….". That was the knife the Aussies drove in; that Brisbane and the Gold Coast were already a reality, there to see, while Hambantota was a virtual reality, not there to see.

So, when the official results were announced, Sri Lanka had won 27 votes as against Australia's 43. Whether it is war, political battles or sports, victory has many fathers and defeat is an orphan. No one knew where Sri Lanka had gone wrong after spending not Rs 100 million as reported last week but well over Rs 500 million for the campaign according to sources close to the organisers. Different delegates gave different reasons for what was clearly a vulgar display of opulence at the public's expense that could only be likened to wealthy Arab sheiks entertaining special guests.

Central Bank Governor Cabraal told a news conference in Colombo last Tuesday that he did not agree that the bid for the Commonwealth Games 2018 was a waste of money. He claimed that one million US dollars was spent by the government of the total expenditure of eight million US dollars. Though the figure is controversial, even his admission that Sri Lanka's extravaganza had cost a million dollars is bad enough.

"Though we lost the opportunity to host the Commonwealth Games in 2018, we had other benefits by offering a bid to host the event. We gained recognition among other countries," he said. Even if that arguable one million dollars had been spent, the question that begs answer is whether Sri Lanka was not known to the world before that money was spent to gain "recognition." What recognition at a cost of even one million US dollars was achieved, Governor Cabral did not explain.

"There were no flaws in our plan, for if we had such flaws, we could have overcome them. It is natural that in a vote there is a winner and a loser. We lost because Australia received more votes than us," Cabraal said with simple logic. The profound statement is as good as saying, like the Pink Panther, "whoever threw a stone is only a stone's throw away". It does not take a wizard to say it except that it is coming from the Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka after he claimed that only a million dollars has been spent.
He said the main reasons to bid for the event for 2018 instead of waiting for the 2022 opportunity was that it would bring in funds as investment and improve the economy. Sports Minister Aluthgamage said that of the Rs. 100 million provided for the Commonwealth Games campaign, Rs 40 million was used for the beach sports festival in Hambantota recently. He said Sri Lanka had the opportunity of holding the 2016 Asian Games.

Either wittingly or unwittingly, Cabraal also thanked the United National Party (UNP) for its support to the campaign efforts. It was only after his revelations that the cat was out of the bag. Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has assured in writing to the Commonwealth Games authorities that in the event of a change of regime, and his party is in power, he would continue with the project to host the games. Needless to say this was to come as an acute embarrassment to other UNP stalwarts who publicly criticised the UPFA government for the colossal waste of funds over the Commonwealth Games bid.

This, they pointed out, was at a time when the government's priority attention was required in a number of areas. “Today, there will be a ‘thank you’ party at a five-star Colombo hotel, for all those who took part in the failed efforts in St Kitts.” During the return charter flight to Colombo, did the bar go dry? Some in the entourage say it was the case since sorrows had to be drowned. It was a "win or loose - we booze" policy. Even if the government's expensive global tamasha did not pay dividends, it has little to worry.

Not when the main opposition had pledged its support to the principle of hosting the games-not necessary the extravaganza . Who else is there to care for the colossal sums that have been wasted? No questions will be asked and no answers will be given. All would then seem hunky dory with the main opposition also on board.

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