President MahindaRajapaksa is known for his excellent public relations skills, unmatched by any other politician in Sri Lanka. This is why some call him Asia's most people-friendly leader.
When he returned early last Tuesday, after attending the UN General Assembly in New York, what he did at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) showed his mettle again.
When he was greeted by Civil Aviation Minister Priyankara Jayaratne, Rajapaksa wished him "happy birthday."
That was not all. The President had arranged for a cake to be kept at the VIP Lounge. So the birthday was celebrated within minutes of his arrival.
Little wonder, even opposition politicians praise him for remembering their birthdays.
Attanayake book for Fonseka
A four member team of UNP Parliamentarians headed by General Secretary Tissa Attanayake visited former General Sarath Fonseka at the Welikade Prison this week.
Attanayake was to hand over to the one time Army Commander a copy of his autobiography. "I was hoping to buy one. Thank you for gifting one to me," Fonseka remarked.
UNP's Palitha Thevarapperuma and Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Parliamentarian Jayantha Ketagoda (who succeeded Fonseka) were to join in. Jayalath Jayawardena, one of those present, said "we now have enough people to lift Fonseka from here."
Norway: From killing field to killing field
The airing of the controversial UK Channel 4 video titled Sri Lanka's Killing Fields in the state run TV-NKK has drawn an angry response from Sri Lanka's Ambassador to Norway, Rodney Perera. A day before the film was screened, he wrote a five page letter to Arne Helsingen, Chief of the TV-NRK.
The letter went as the Channel 4 video was also screened last Wednesday in the Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada. It was organized by Conservative MP Patrick Brown and co-hosted by MP Rathika Sitsabaisen, a Tamil politician of Sri Lankan descent. Mr. Perera has said that the programme "is completely biased and contains unsubstantiated allegations against the Government of Sri Lanka."
Among other matters, the letter states: "In the aftermath of the terrible terror attacks in Norway on 22nd July, Sri Lanka has drawn the attention of the Norwegian authorities to the fact that Anders Behring Brevik has closely followed the modus operandi of the terror tactics of the LTTE. Therefore, the Sri Lanka Embassy in Oslo is of the strong opinion that these facts be brought to the attention of the Norwegian public as they directly concern the safety and security of the Norwegian people."
Another cock-up on British TV
If Britain's Channel 4 aired the video titled Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, there were also other channels which were finding themselves in great embarrassment for airing fictitious videos to make their viewers believe it is the truth.
Here is one instance: "It was the most dramatic of footage with which to launch ITV1's new current affairs show -- pictures of the IRA supposedly shooting down a helicopter with weapons supplied by Muammar Gaddafi. But the broadcaster on Tuesday admitted that the images used in the first episode of its new ITV1 series Exposure was in fact a sequence from a computer game, Arma 2.
"ITV blamed a cock-up rather than a conspiracy for the mistake, which was first spotted by eagle-eyed games fans after the programme was broadcast on ITV on Monday night.The incident will be seen as a huge embarrassment for ITV, which said it did have actual footage of the incident but the wrong footage was included because of "human error".
An ITV spokesman said: "The events featured in Exposure: Gaddafi and the IRA were genuine but it would appear that during the editing process the correct clip of the 1988 incident was not selected and other footage was mistakenly included in the film by producers.
"This was an unfortunate case of human error for which we apologise."
"The first episode of Exposure, which was watched by 1.3 million viewers, examined the relationship between the former Libyan dictator and the IRA.
"The shaky camera footage, captioned "IRA film 1988" showed a helicopter being shot down accompanied by a voiceover: "With Gaddafi's heavy machine guns it was possible to shoot down a helicopter as the terrorists' own footage of 1988 shows."
"This was what the security forces feared most," said the voiceover. "It may have been a lucky hit, but for the army and crew once was enough. No one died in this attack."
"In fact, no one died because it was footage from a 2009 "tactical shooter" game called Arma 2 set in the fictional East European nation of Chernarus.
"ITV removed the programme from its online video-on-demand service, the ITV Player, on Tuesday.
"A clip from the game similar to that used by ITV is still on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJDeipvpjGQ" title="], captioned "[Provisional] IRA ambush British helicopter. Silverbridge ?South Armagh, 23 June 1988."
"ITV said the programme would be returned to the ITV Player once it had been re-edited with the correct footage. "Marek Spanel, chief executive of the game's developer Bohemia Interactive Studio, said: "I am not sure how they could make such [an] obvious mistake."
"The programme contained a second error when it described footage of riots in Belfast as being from July this year when in fact the clip was six years old.The programme was a co-production between ITV's in-house production house, ITV Studios, and independent producers Sylvia Jones and Clive Maltby."
The programme can be viewed on the website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/sep/27/ira-footage-video-game-itv
Who says British TV does not embroil itself in cock ups?
LTTE youth leader now rejects violence
A Canadian of Sri Lankan descent who was engaged in weapons procurement for Tiger guerrillas, now serving a jail sentence, has expressed regret and remorse over his conduct. Here is what Canada's National Post has to say:
"A former Canadian Tamil activist who was caught brokering a $1-million arms deal for a Sri Lankan rebel group five years ago has written an open letter urging youths not to repeat his mistakes.
"Writing from prison in New York, SathajhanSarachandran acknowledged for the first time the Tamil youth organization he once ran in Toronto was 'part of the LTTE,' the separatist rebels also known as the Tamil Tigers.
|Photo Credit: US Courts production
"But the 31-year-old software engineer blamed 'so-called' leaders of the Tamil community whom he said misled him, fuelled his anger and hatred, promoted violence and silenced advocates of non-violence.
" 'I only ask that you be vigilant of these people. I ask that none of you choose a path where violence is encouraged. Please don't be a catalyst for promoting any form of violence or hate,' he wrote in the two-page letter.
"The jailhouse letter, dated Aug. 9, was posted this week on the website of Mercy for Tamil Prisoners, a Markham, Ont.-based non-profit founded by families of prisoners detained on charges related to Sri Lanka's civil war.
"The war ended in 2009 after government forces defeated the rebels, but Sri Lanka remains a hot topic in Canada, home to one of the world's largest populations of ethnic Tamils, many of whom fled the war. The letter encourages them to abandon the Tamil rebels.
" 'LTTE is no more. We must accept the fact and move on with the reality. I ask that all you brothers and sisters to refrain from LTTE ideology,' Sarachandran wrote. " 'As Tamils we must reject violence and embrace peace. … I beg you not to get trapped in the extremist ideologies.'
"The letter does not indicate why, five years after his arrest, he decided to come out against violence.
"Mercy for Tamil Prisoners said it was working with lawyers and officials in Canada, the United States and Sri Lanka 'to exercise any potential treaty transfers' available to prisoners detained over wartime conduct.
" 'It's a general letter addressed to the Tamil people of Toronto,' said Sarachandran Shunmugan, a spokesman for Mercy for Tamil Prisoners and the letter writer's father. He said it was written with the help of his son's New York lawyer, Lee Ginsberg.
" 'He is pleading with Tamil youths not to follow paths that suggest violence and to help the people whom are affected by this war.' "Sarachandran was Toronto chapter president of the Tamil Youth Organization from 2003 to 2005. He visited Sri Lanka twice and was photographed at an LTTE camp wielding a machine gun.
"In 2006, he was arrested in Long Island, N.Y., while he and two other Canadians were trying to buy shoulder-launched missiles and AK-47 assault rifles for the Tigers. All pleaded guilty to terrorism and conspiracy. Sarachandran was sentenced to 26 years in prison.
"Two more Canadians were arrested in Toronto in a related investigation and are awaiting extradition. A sixth goes on trial in November.
" 'For the past five years, I along with other fellow youths am serving sentences in New York. To add to the suffering, my family has been banned from visiting us under certain sections of the law,' Sarachandran wrote.
" 'I have not seen my parents for the past three years or any members of my family. I have had no visitor at all for the past three years. I write to you to explain my suffering for the path I had chosen. I regret many of my past activities. Meetings after meetings, campaign after campaign, all injecting hate into me and other fellow students.'
"David Poopalapillai, a Canadian Tamil Congress spokesman, said while Sarachandran and his associates face another two decades of imprisonment in the U.S., actual rebel fighters who took up arms and fought in the war have already been set free.
"He said the era of violence was over and he hoped the letter would send the right message to youths.
" 'It's an undeniable fact: Some of the elements in Canada and outside Canada pushed these people into this present life. I think he is targeting that element,' he said.
"The Tamil Tigers fought a lengthy war for independence for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority. Its tactics included suicide bombings, attacks on civilians and assassinations of senior politicians. The LTTE, which had a major fundraising operation in Toronto and Montreal, was added to Canada's list of banned terrorist organizations in 2006.
"Since the war ended, several international agencies have alleged both sides committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the final months of the conflict. A panel appointed by Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, has called for an independent investigation. The Sri Lankan government has denied the allegations and refused to co-operate with investigators.
"Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, recently supported the UN call for an international probe, and said he would boycott next year's Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka unless the country made progress on human rights."
Hakeem's clarification adds to confusion
Our report last week titled "DOUBLE STAND ON KYRGYSZTAN AND PAKISTAN" has drawn a response from Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem. He states:
"Obviously this report is based on a news item which appeared in one of your sister newspapers the previous week. I categorically deny that I made any assurance to the effect that our government would support Kyrgyzstan's bid for a non permanent seat in the UN Security Council. As a matter of fact I was briefed on this issue by His Excellency Jayalath Weerakkody, our Ambassador accredited to Kyrgyzstan and currently serving as our Ambassador in Islamabad, who accompanied me to the meeting at the External Affairs Ministry of Kyrgyzstan.
"On my return, I informed H.E. the President about the cordial meetings we had and the content of the discussions. "Although the matter of our support for the non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council, did surface at our discussions, we politely explained our position that an assurance in this regard had already been given to Islamabad and as such we regretted our inability to support Kyrgyzstan's bid at this time.
"Your news item appears to presume that we have committed a diplomatic faux pas whereas I had prior knowledge of this issue and was sufficiently briefed as to the position we should take."
Note by Jamis Banda: Mr. Hakeem has taken great pains to explain the good things he had done and to say there was no faux pas. Alarm bells did ring at the External Affairs Ministry in Colombo after inquiries were made over what Mr. Hakeem had said. True, he said it to our sister paper. To use his own words "he said that Sri Lanka pledged its support for Kyrgyzstan in its lobbying for a non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council"....
Since then, Mr. Hakeem had neither contested it nor did our sister paper say he has taken issue over what he has not said. All this hoop la is only after his remarks stirred diplomatic clouds in Colombo and Islamabad. More so when Colombo has given an assurance to Pakistan. As for other matters Mr. Hakeem has referred to, there is no dispute. He has made out that he had done a good job by representing Sri Lanka and placing its case and later briefing the President. He has to be commended for that.
GL ignores Canada's concerns
The Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry's website (http://www.international.gc.ca/media/aff/photos/2011/73.aspx?lang=eng&view&view=d) had the following account after their Minister, John Baird, met External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris:
"Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird meets with G.L. Peiris, Minister of External Affairs of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, at the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on September 22, 2011.
"This was the two ministers' first formal bilateral meeting. They discussed a broad range of subjects, including the Commonwealth, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
"Minister Baird urged Sri Lanka to advance a process of reconciliation and expressed concerns over lack of accountability and a growing trend toward authoritarianism in that country.
"He also reiterated Prime Minister Stephen Harper's concerns about Sri Lanka hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2013.
"Minister Baird supports calls for an independent investigation into credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights committed by both sides of the conflict in Sri Lanka."
In Colombo, however, Dr. Peiris, who drafts his own media statements made no mention of the event.
Next time a Sinhala song from Pillayan
It was the annual conference of Chief Ministers. This time it was held at the Centurial Hotel in Embilipitiya.
Ahead of the event, the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council which played hosts was entertaining the participants to a dinner. Spirits were high as old favourites of the late C.T. Fernando including Punsanda Hina Henne, Mee Vadayakee Jeevithey were played. Spirits were high and there were loud shouts of "one more, "one more" as the late night party continued.
Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan was asked to sing a song. "I don't know any Sinhala song. When I come for the next conference, I will be prepared to sing a Sinhala song," he told the audience, drawing laughter.