Daily Archives: February 3, 2007

PRESIDENT FLIES TO VAKARAI TO THANK TROOPS AND INVITE TIGERS FOR TALKS

By Walter Jayawardhana

DAY BEFORE THE COUNTRY’S INDEPENDENCE PRESIDENT FLIES TO VAKARAI, THANKS TROOPS AND INVITE TAMIL TIGERS FOR TALKS

Sri lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa flew to the newly captured Vakarai in the Eastern province of Sri Lanka one day before the country’s 59th independence day celebrations and told the Tamil Tigers who lost the area after ten years domination that it was time they lay down their arms and sit down for talks for a political solution.

"This is a big opportunity for the Tigers to return to the negotiating table.  I will offer them a political solution and they should come for talks," he told reporters who accompanied him on the trip.

When reporters asked him what he would do if the Tamil Tigers refused to come to talks he said in that case he will have to tame them.

President Rajapaksa said he would offer a political package but he asked the Tigers to decommission their arms. "They must begin surrendering weapons and come for talks," he said.

Rajapaksa said that he flew to Vakarai specially to thank the security forces for liberating the Tamil people from the LTTE dictatorship without harming the civilians. "What we have done is to liberate the people from terrorists," Rajapakse said. "I am here to thank the troops for their action without causing a single civilian casualty."  The Tamil rebels ruled from Vakarai a stretch of a beautiful coastal land 330 kilometers long for over a decade before the security forces defeated them few weeks ago. The President visited the new police station just opened and mingled with the soldiers and elite special troops who first entered the town.

The President said after 2004 Tsunami, that did a huge damage to the lives and property of the area, the people received a large amount of aid but very little is seen here. He said he would like foreign ambassadors to come and see how much aid they pumped in to the area had actually benefited the people.

Troops said they were clearing thousands of mines laid by the Tamil Tigers and the place will be ready for resettlement in few weeks. The top army commander in the area Brigadier Day Ratnayaka said some people have already come back and examined their homes and gone. Many houses have been damaged by long range artillery fire.

"First we must remove the mines," Rajapakse said. "Then we have to get equipment in and start a full programme (of development). As soon as that is done, we want to get on and build houses."

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Ranil on arrival says there is no crisis at all in his party

By Walter Jayawardhana

RANIL WICKREMESINGHE ON ARRIVAL AT KATUNAYAKA SAYS THERE IS NO CRISIS IN HIS PARTY AT ALL

The Leader of the United National Party (UNP) who personally preferred to stay away in Nepal rather than in Sri Lanka when history’s biggest exodus of his party parliamentarians occurred said at the Katunayaka International Airport on arrival there is no crisis in his party.

Speaking to the BBC’s Sinhala language Service the beleaguered party leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe said referring to the cross over of 18 UNP parliamentarians and his political ally the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress that it was no crisis at all.

The United National Party has faced bigger crisis in the past, said Wickremesinghe obviously underestimating the crisis since in the past only lesser number of parliamentarians have crossed over to the other side of the aisle in the parliament from his party. Even the late S. W. R.D. Bandaranaike who gave birth to the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and crossed over from the UNP could not take that many Members of parliament.

Like Bandaranaike, who was the deputy leader of the UNP then, Karu Jayasuriya who was the deputy leader under Ranil Wickremesinghe led the exodus this time. The handful of Ranil Wickremesinghe supporters who went to Katunayaka to push the spirits up of their leader carried placards personally attacking Karu Jayasuriya that depicted slogans with the word Karu rhyming with the word Horu (thieves). Although UNP Secretary General Tissa Attanayaka advertised a huge demonstration to greet the leader the outcome was very poor.

Still Ranil Wickremesinghe refused to answer whether the MOU signed by the UNP and the ruling SLFP was over. Reliable sources said Ranil sent UNP Chairman Rukman Senanayaka to request President Rajapaksa not to accept the UNP dissidents asking him to take the UNP as a whole into the government. But the President apparently refused the request. Thereafter Ruman Senanayaka who held a press conference tore the MOU in a public exhibition but fell short of telling it was over. Now Ranil Wickremesinghe himself has not said that it was over. He said he would make a statement after further discussions with his party.

The UNP leader said there was no crisis in the party since all party members are remaining although 18 parliamentarians have left. He did not tell the media how he came to the conclusion that all party members were still remaining.  But no opinion poll has been conducted since the departure of the 18 parliamentarians from his party including some of the most senior parliamentarians. But karu Jayasuriya has said the majority of his supporters favored a departure before they crossed over.

Ranil Wickremesinghe arrived at katunayaka international Airport on Friday and said he was thankful that party chairman Rukman Senanayaka and party General Secretary Tissa Attanayaka did not leave.

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India to step up its naval surveilance across common waters between India and Sri Lanka

By Walter Jayawardhana

SRI LANKA SAYS INDIA HAS AGREED TO STEP UP ITS NAVAL SURVEILANCE IN COMMON WATERS BETWEEN INDIA AND SRILANKA

Sri Lanka government’s media center for national security quoting the country’s Foreign minister said India has agreed to step up its naval surveillance in the common waters between the two countries.

Sri lanka’s foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama soon after he accepted the new ministry in President Rajapaksa’s reshuffled cabined met in his first official foreign trip to new Delhi Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukerjee.

The media center for national security in its website said, "India has agreed to step up its naval surveillance of common waters with Sri Lanka to check activities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), newly appointed Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said"

Before the meeting many sensational stories were headlined in the Indian press as to how the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) has started to smuggle from the very porous South Indian coast large quantities of explosives and other material like steel ball bearings to Sri Lanka in preparation for a long drawn out  war in the country. One report said LTTE agents on one occasion purchased six metric tons of steel balls in Mumbai  to be used in Improvised Explosive Devices the terrorist group extensively manufactures for attacks against civilians and military personnel.

The website quoting Indian agency reports said, "Bogollagama, who held talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee Wednesday, said his government was ready to give the LTTE a stake in the governmental processes if it shunned violence, but asserted that terrorism by the rebel group will be met with force."

"There is need for greater supervision and surveillance of the waters around Sri Lanka. India is our immediate neighbor and shares waters with us. It is imperative that we have cooperation on the naval front," said Bogollagama, who undertook a day-long visit here within 72 hours of becoming foreign minister.

"That (cooperation in naval surveillance) is getting further enhanced," he told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the situation in the island nation.

Highlighting the fact that he had chosen India as the first country he visited after getting the new assignment, he said it reflected the importance accorded to this country by his government.

He said he had come here to convey a message of "clarity" regarding Sri Lanka’s standpoint and looked forward to greater cooperation between the two countries in the months to come.

Bogollagama said Sri Lanka looked forward to enhanced cooperation with India in various fields, including trade, commerce, railways and power, while underlining the need for a time-bound and "business-like" approach to their partnership.

He said he had discussed the issue of Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Singh and talks on it were expected to be launched by the middle of this year.

The NTPC has been hauled in to set up a coal-based power plant in Sri Lanka and cooperation in the field of railways was also being looked upon, he said. Turning to Sunday’s reshuffle, he said that in view of the development "LTTE will get signals to be part of the (peace) process rather than be out of it."

The Sri Lankan minister also rejected allegations of human rights violations, saying there was a lot of misrepresentation of facts.

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Political foxes and ministerial grapes

A common ruse employed by a pickpocket in trying to escape a mob giving him the chase, calling for others’ help to catch him, is to deceive the onlookers by repeating the pursuers’ cry, ‘Pickpocket! Pickpocket!’, and run for dear life, holding on to the stolen wallet. Some government ministers seem to have taken a leaf out of pickpockets’ book in a bid to escape the public wrath over the jumbo cabinet.

On Tuesday, Minister and General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Maithripala Sirisena said he was ashamed of the over-sized cabinet of President Mahinda Rajapakse. In our editorial on Wednesday, Masses aren’t asses, Mr. Sirisena!, we dwelt on his hypocrisy and asked him to resign from the cabinet, if he was really ashamed of being a member thereof.

Now we hear that another minister—a state minister, to be exact—has adopted the pickpockets’ ruse. Minister Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi has said the jumbo cabinet is disgraceful. We couldn’t agree with him more on what he has said. But, many a pair of shoes is worn out between what a politician says and what he really does—the distance between them being so great. He is obviously trying to run with the people and hunt with the government. Had he been offered a cabinet post, would he have refused it? We don’t think so. For, he who has accepted a state minister post would definitely have grabbed a cabinet portfolio, if offered. He, we believe, is being like the proverbial fox that found a bunch of grapes too sour, as it was not within its reach.

Mr. Sooriaarachchi must go the whole hog in his protest against the jumbo cabinet, which he says he is ashamed of. He must register his protest with the President himself by resigning from his post and calling on the cabinet ministers to follow suit.

President Rajapakse has done two wrongs. Firstly, he has burdened the public with a huge cabinet to fortify his political future. There are only a few non-ministers in the government group and they, too, might have to be appointed ministers, if they threaten to cross over to the Opposition. Secondly, he has put some of his party men to shame by appointing them ministers. He must be fair by Messrs Sirisena and Sooriaarachchi. Our hearts are bleeding for those two honourable men who are greatly embarrassed by the President’s arbitrary act.

Poor Sooriaarachchi must be thinking that the President has deliberately subjected him to ridicule by appointing him a minister, as he has ruffled the presidential feathers by siding with the dissident group of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party which is said to have the blessings of former President Kumaratunga. The President must be magnanimous enough to relieve Mr. Sooriaarachchi of the burden of being a minister.

Come on, Mr. Sooriaarachchi, you have made the same mistake as Minister Sirisena! You have taken the masses for asses or a herd of water buffaloes. Those who returned you and Minister Sirisena to Parliament may fall into that category but the people are, by and large, not foolish enough to believe your protestations! "Much of what men paint themselves," said Edwin A. Robinson, "would blister in the light of what they are." How true!

The elephantine cabinet, no doubt, cannot be justified on any grounds. Its sheer size is a monument to the greed of politicians who want to aggrandise themselves and feather their nests, to hell with the people. The late President Premadasa, who found himself in the impeachment soup, sought a way out by making every Tom, Dick and Harry a minister. President Kumaratunga made every Tom, Dick, Harry and Sirisena a minister and President Rajapakse has gone a step further and appointed every Tom, Dick, Harry, Sirisena and Sooriaarchchi a minister. A future President with a fragile government might have to appoint a Parliament of ministers. However, it is unbecoming of any leader to seek solutions to his or her political problems at public expense.

It is not only the size of the cabinet that has become a problem. The size of Parliament and the number of all elected representatives in the country—over 4,000 of them in Parliament, the Provincial Councils and the Local Government bodies—are also a massive burden on a mendicant state like this. The country can well afford to shed a lot of political waste fat. If the fact that the House is frequently without quorum is any indication, then most Parliamentarians are doing nothing but helping themselves to heavily subsidised food and pocketing the sitting allowance. Why should the people suffer to maintain such a large number of them? Messrs Sirisena and Sooriaarachchi, the knights in shining armour fighting for the people, ought to advocate that Parliament be downsized.

The duo should also demand that the pay hikes for MPs, ministers and the President (165 per cent, 110 per cent and 300 per cent respectively) be scrapped with immediate effect. Since they are ashamed of the jumbo cabinet, they must also be ashamed of jumbo pay hikes, if we are to take them seriously.

Hannah Arendt (German-born American Political Philosopher) may have had the people like Sirisena and Sooriarachchi in mind, when he said four decades ago:

What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core. via … The Island

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