Top diplomat in Colombo has got ‘his wires crossed’?
The entire nation was saddened and silenced by the death of legendary music maestro W. D. Amaradeva, giving a fleeting break to all heated political battles and arguments that prevailed for the past few days.
Born as Albert Perera in the village of Koralawella in Moratuwa, this legend was given the name Amaradeva by another legend Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra. The recipient of several awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award (2001) and Padma Shri from India (2002), Pandit Amaradeva bid adios to the nation, yesterday, creating a void that cannot be filled forever.
For the first time, the remains of an artiste was kept at the Independence Hall for more than 24 hours for the public to pay their last respects, and in a rare move, the Head of State became a pallbearer, with President Maithripala Sirisena help carrying the coffin of Amaradeva to the Independence Hall which could be the ultimate last respect to a an icon.
Showing that he has touched everyone's soul through his songs, the majority of Tamil and Muslim fans were seen expressing their condolences on social media platforms. Meanwhile, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan said, "Having contributed to the advancement of the music field he played a prominent role as a vocalist, violinist and composer. His matchless talents enriched the Sinhalese Silver Screen and he had won many local and International key awards and honorary titles. The demise of Pandit W. D. Amaradeva, who left an indelible mark in the hearts of the thousands of music lovers, is an irreparable loss to the field of music in this country. I extend my heartfelt condolences to all his bereaved family members. May, he attain Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!"
Maithri breaks silence
Before the country started mourning the death of Amradeva, the political arena was completely hot of the Treasury bond issue with the Joint Opposition vouching to move a No-faith Motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
At last week's Cabinet meeting it was decided to stand by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe on the ground that he was not culpable for any irregularities in the Treasury Bonds transactions.
As the debate continued, President Sirisena breaking his silence on the matter said, the investigation into the Central Bank bond issue should be free from political interference, and that the investigation regarding this issue will be directed to an independent and impartial judicial process.
He was addressing the inauguration ceremony of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) membership promotion programme in Maharagama.
The President further emphasized that he left the previous government and established a new government with the support of all, in order to stop a section of the society from doing wrong while punishment was being meted out to a few.
"Even though the COPE fulfils their duties, respecting the laws of the Parliament and the Constitution, various opinions have been brought in this regard. Nevertheless, a precise response on this issue can be brought to the public through a proper judicial process," the President said.
President Sirisena added that many new parties had emerged, but no party had been able to challenge the SLFP in the country's history.
The President emphasized that the journey to form a SLFP Government in the future, while guiding the party towards a positive political future, will move forward regardless of any challenge faced during that journey.
The Chief Minister of the Western Province, Isura Devapriya presented a felicitation award to the President conveying the good wishes of SLFP members in the Maharagama electorate.
A new SLFP Membership Card was introduced for the new members of the Party and to mark its launch the President presented the new cards to the new members of the Party.
Ministers and MPs of the SLFP, including Secretary of the SLFP, Minister Duminda Dissanayake, United People's Freedom Alliance General Secretary, Mahinda Amaraweera and many others participated in this event.
In an unusual move, Chinese Ambassador in Colombo Yi Xianliang openly criticized Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake by referring to his name three times during a rare press conference held last Tuesday.
He said it was unfair for Sri Lanka to term loans given by China's EXIM Bank as 'expensive' and questioned the government as to why it had sought fresh loans from China if the interest rates were 'too high'.
"I know he has criticized this issue many times, publicly. All the Chinese business people complain to the Chinese Government as to why loans are given to other countries at 2.0 per cent. For them it is at least 5 per cent. So, this is really unfair for Sri Lanka to call these rates expensive," the Ambassador said.
The Ambassador also said Minister Karunanayake told him about securing a 50 million dollar loan from Europe last year at 5.8 per cent and was saying the 2.0 per cent Chinese loans were expensive.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Karunanayake, on Thursday night, when asked about these allegations said Chinese envoy may have got 'his wires crossed'.
He said the money Sri Lanka had raised through Bond sales could not be compared with project loans which come with many conditions that favour the lender.
"If China had given loans at 2.0 per cent, then Sri Lanka would only pay 2.0 per cent. If he says they have not given loans with an interest of more than 2.0%, we are happy because we will only have to pay 2.0% then," he said.
He further lashed out at the Ambassador stating, "I reject his statement. I am not the Chinese Finance Minister; I am the Sri Lankan Finance Minister."
It is in the midst of this that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who is in Hong Kong announced that a Chinese Merchant Group will be given 50 square kilometres of land in the South for industrialization.
Addressing the 15th Asia Pacific Conference of German Business held at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre, he said this is exactly what Japan did in Thailand and in Malaysia.
The Prime Minister expressed similar sentiments at the working breakfast with German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. "The China-Japan-Korea Trade agreement and the economic agreement of ASEAN countries are on the cards while Australia and New Zealand are also integrating more with Asia," he said and added that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had pioneered trade agreements with countries in the Bay of Bengal region. Premier Wickremesinghe said these developments were taking place amid unrest in the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea. "What is important for Sri Lanka are Asian trade agreements and trade agreements with other parts of the world," he said and added that the Sri Lankan Government was focusing on the manufacturing sector as well.
The Aava factor
Cabinet Spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said the underworld gang " Aava " active in the North, was a creation of former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and certain top military officers.
He said though there may be some rationale to use them against the LTTE during the war, in the peace time they are only a bunch of criminals and thugs who should be apprehended at once and brought before the law.
Minister Senaratne said it was obvious that the same officials who fed and bred them were once again active and instructed the terror group to create trouble and disrupt peace in the North for their political advantage.
"For a moment you can justify the action taken by former Defence Secretary and military officers to form this underworld group because the LTTE was also an illegal terror group. But why it is active in the peace time? What do they expect by creating a fear psychosis among the civilians in the North?" he questioned and added all members of the AAVA group were Tamils.
Minister Senaratne dismissed the suggestion that this underworld group was a creation of the Tamil Diaspora and said Aava was active in the North during the war and the armed forces were aware of that and added he could even reveal the name of the Brigadier who acted as the godfather of the 'Aava group' during the war.
However, this seemed to have provoked many factions as Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray refuted Minster Senaratne's claim that Aava Group was created by former Defence Secretary Rajapksa using military intelligence.
He emphasized that the military has nothing to do with Aava Group and the so called Aava Group has been in the news for harassing people in the North of Sri Lanka for some time now.
The Governor has said as of the information he has received, it was clear the Army was not behind the Aava Group
Criticizing Senaratne for his remarks, the Governor said the Minister before going public with that comment should have communicated any such information he has with relevant authorities.
"Rather than saying it to the media, it is better if the minister had communicated it first to the Cabinet, State Defence Minister, Defence Secretary, President or the Prime Minister," he noted.
Meanwhile, seeking a clarification on Minister Senaratne's claim that the 'Aava Gangsters' in the North were operating with the knowledge of former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa" Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) has urged the Minister to release the name of the Brigadier who leads the notorious armed group called 'Aava' that is terrorizing Tamils and acting as a branch of the Sri Lankan Security Forces.
However, as the politicians engaged in a verbal battle on the creation of Aava group, Brigadier M.D.U.V. Gunatilake was appointed last week as new Director of Military Intelligence (DMI) of the Sri Lanka Army with immediate effect.
Brigadier Suresh Sallay, who was the previous DMI, has been transferred to the Intelligence Regiment.
Brigadier Shantha Iswaran from the 653 battalion has been appointed as the staff head official of the Sri Lanka Army's War Services Secretariat, said media spokesman of the SL Army, Brigadier Roshan Seneviratne.
He added that these appointments were made on the recommendations of Army Commander Chrishantha de Silva.
It was not long ago civil society activists demanded President Sirisena should replace top Army Intelligence officers and the Defence Secretary.
Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya told reporters in Colombo that President Sirisena, whom they backed at the January 2015 Elections, had become a hostage of Army Intelligence Chief, Brigadier Tuan Suresh Sallay, and accused him of causing tensions within the unity government.
Wijesuriya was of the opinion that Brigadier Sallay has planted a tale that the entire armed forces are against the President. "He (Brig. Sallay) is a person who has to be arrested," Wijesuriya said.
If the President wants to end this criminal activity of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), this person (Brig. Sallay) must be removed, he added.
Military Intelligence officials have been implicated in the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga in January 2009 and the abduction of cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda in January 2010.
Prof. Wijesuriya also said the current Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi was also creating obstacles and was blocking the on-going investigations and that he too should be removed.
"The Defence Secretary also faces corruption charges.
He won't allow those investigations to proceed because he has become a hostage of defeated forces. If you are committed to a decent administration, you (the President) should remove these two (Brig. Sallay and Hettiarachchi)," Wijesuriya said.
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