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Sri Lanka braces for Channel 4's new storm

2014 Mar 18

 By  Deepal Warnakulasuriya

Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga (extreme left) came under heavy criticism last week regarding a statement she made to the media at a recent meeting with the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe that she wanted to promote interfaith co-existence Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga (extreme left) came under heavy criticism last week regarding a statement she made to the media at a recent meeting with the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe that she wanted to promote interfaith co-existence (Pic by Rukshan Abeywansha)

The past seven days were full of political incidents. The highlight was the latest production by the infamous media institute Channel 4; a video filmed with the intention of putting Sri Lanka in trouble just two weeks before voting begins for a US sponsored resolution begins against Sri Lanka at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions. A six-minute-clip captured on a mobile phone where there is footage of soldiers speaking in Sinhala. It’s a production by Callum Macrae who also did “The Killing Fields” and “No Fire Zone”.

Sri Lanka categorically rejected the video footage and said that the motive behind the production is very clear. The island’s authorities maintain that video has been made to tarnish the country’s image internationally and also take some petty advantages at the UNHRC. Macrae in the footage says that he was not sure when the scenes were captures, but acknowledges it was during the war by a soldier using a mobile phone camera. According to foreign media reports the video footage came from the British Tamil Forum, in the UK.

The Army Media Spokesperson Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya rejected the allegations. He said there was no need to panic as Channel 4’s intention is clear to them (Sri Lanka). He questioned what else can Sri Lanka expect from the Channel 4 as it is aligned with pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora? Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s High Commission in the UK said the video is a continuation of Channel 4’s efforts to defame Sri Lanka and to undermine the ongoing process of reconciliation and healing, following a three-decade long war.

External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris as leader of the Sri Lanka delegation to the 25th UN Human Rights Council complained during sessions that Sri Lanka’s efforts for the reconciliation process have been hampered by a few countries and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Delivering a hard hitting speech Peiris said that it was unfortunate that Sri Lanka has become a “political football” in the electoral fortunes in some countries.

Bad precedent  

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, during the commencement of the first informal meeting called by the sponsors of the draft resolution on Sri Lanka and held in Geneva on March 7 said, “the draft resolution on Sri Lanka deposited with the Human Rights Council by a core group comprising - the USA, UK, Mauritius, Montenegro and Macedonia, violates the constitutional provisions of Sri Lanka, is highly intrusive in nature and is in breach of the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan people and the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka”. He also warned that the resolution has already set a bad precedent, and can in the medium to long term have an adverse impact on all developing countries in the Council., Special Envoy of the President on Human Rights, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe addressing a Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) session in Geneva also followed the same policy. He said Sri Lanka’s opposition to the Resolution being moved by the US, UK and a few other countries against amounts to a fight on a matter of principle.  He said that Sri Lanka would not make a compromise. He also warned that what is happening to Sri Lanka today, could happen to any other NAM country tomorrow.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa participated in a Janapathi Jana Hamuwa live online program to answer questions from the general public on March 07. However, the program had been limited to two provinces where provincial Council elections are scheduled in two weeks. Election monitors as well as Opposition politicians are not happy with the move and they also lodged a complaint with the Commissioner of Elections Mahinda Deshapriya. United National Party MP R Yogarajan asked for the same opportunity for the Opposition.  On Thursday, Commissioner Deshapriya had forwarded the same letter to President’s Secretary Lalith Weerathunga as he had no other option.
The complaints from election monitors; PAFFREL, CaFFE and IHR NEM stressed undue publicity was given to ruling party candidates who are contesting for the elections.

GL slams TNA

Meanwhile, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which was battling internal issues over the registration of the alliance as a party had to encounter criticism. This came in the form of a statement by External Affairs Minister Prof. GL Peiris at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva. External Affairs Minister Prof. GL Peiris addressing the sessions said that the TNA had become a hindrance to the process of finding a durable solution to the national issue. Minister Peiris said at the sessions on March 05 that the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) which was appointed for this purpose was neglected by the TNA. TNA Leader R Sampanthan replied the government in a lengthy statement (written on March 12 and released on March 13) rejecting the allegation by Minister Peiris regarding the PSC.

However, The Nation learnt that the TNA, before releasing its reply in response to the Minister’s statement, had met the US and British envoys here and had discussed the resolution submitted to the UNHRC on Sri Lanka. Accordingly, Mavai Senathirajah and M.A Sumanthiran had met British High Commissioner John Rankin and US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires William Weinstein separately. The sources closed to the TNA said that they had conveyed that they were not satisfied with the resolution as it is inadequate in addressing their issues.

Chandrika criticized

Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga came under heavy criticism last week regarding a statement she made to the media at a recent meeting with the Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. President Kumaratunga is the Head of South Asia Policy and Research Institute (SAPRI), a Non-Governmental Organization. She was meeting political parties and other groups to promote interfaith coexistence in keeping with the policies of her organization. Among many other issues, she had also raised the need to promote religious harmony in the country. Bodu Bala Sena as well as Sihala Urumaya called  press briefings and criticized the statement by the former President.

President Rajapaksa at a public meeting questioned why “some persons’ are showing a sudden urge to promote religious harmony. President Rajapaksa said, “All the religions are represented here on this stage and what else are they going to do?” However, according to SAPRI, they have asked for an appointment from President Rajapaksa to discuss the same issues they discussed with the Opposition Leader and other groups. Although the Opposition leader has promised to support the former President’s initiative and efforts, President Rajapaksa has not yet reserved a time for the SAPRI.

 JVP complains  

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Chief Ministerial candidate for the Western Provincial Council, K.D. Lalkantha Thursday complained to the Elections Commissioner about the many election law violations by political parties.  His complaint was mainly against violations  made by candidates of the  United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). His main concern is a 10-day long signature campaign scheduled to begin from Tangalle and proceed to Gampaha covering the six districts, areas which will be conducting elections. He told The Nation that the Commissioner took the issue seriously.

Meanwhile, a street drama troupe, comprising JVPers, was assaulted at the Panadura bus stand on Thursday. Both parties have complained to the police. Five from the JVP’s Arts Society have been admitted to the hospital while two attackers have also been admitted to hospital. However, Police by Friday have arrested 8 persons suspected of attacking the street drama crew.

United National Party launched its manifesto of “A Green light to topple power” (“Bala Peraliyata Kola Eliyak”) for the forthcoming Western and Southern Provincial Council elections on Wednesday at the party headquarters Sirikotha. The manifesto which has been penned the party’s Leadership Council was introduced again as the “first salvo against the government” at the provincial council elections. They also challenged the government to go for a general election next year.
Just two weeks after the Democratic Party’s media coordinator Sanjeewa Samarasinghe departed, another team has left the party and had visited Temple Trees to inform the President Rajapaksa regarding the democracy in the Democratic Party. Samarasinghe who worked very closely with former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka said that he has no intention to engage in politics again. He also said that he has been offered an employment opportunity by one of the businessman who supported the DP and he most probably will take it.

DP officials called a press briefing give details of the team which joined the ruling party and said that they had been removed from the party. DP officials even stated that those who left held no designations as they claimed.

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