Who prevents the arrest of Rajapaksas?

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A group of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and United National Party Members of Parliament (MPs) who came to meet President Maithripala Sirisena at his official chamber in Parliament had to wait in anticipation for almost half an hour as the latter was engaged in a discussion with a group of Joint Opposition members led by Dinesh Gunawardena.

Dinesh Gunawardena was flanked by MPs Bandula Gunawardene and Wimalaweera Dissanayake and the three MPs had apparently pointed out to the President that the sudden change of policies and recommendations when allocating finances for certain Districts, through the Decentralized Budget, had led to new problems.

President Maithri, it is said, had assured the JO MPs that he will look into the matter before sorting out any of the issues that had cropped up.

However, the JO Leader has sought a lengthy meeting with the President on a later date to discuss various other issues to which President Sirisena has given the green light.

The meeting took place the following day after the Joint Opposition and government clashed over allocation of time on the day of the debate on the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka leading Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to adjourn sittings for the day.

Jayasuriya in Parliament asserted that the President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe must mediate and find a solution to the issues concerning the Joint Opposition.

"The President and Prime Minister should talk to the relevant MPs as this issue pertaining to the Joint Opposition has become a headache," he said.

He then said the Joint Opposition should ideally resolve their grievances with the United People's Freedom Alliance leadership and its General Secretary.

Meanwhile, President Sirisena attending an event organized by the March 12 Movement, which is for creating a better political culture in the country, held at the BMICH last Friday (7) said that he hopes it will be possible to hold Local Government elections under the new electoral system this year.

President Sirisena did not hesitate to blame it on the previous Delimitation Commission for the present chaos and delays in the holding of the Local Government polls and said the main reason to postpone the elections is the inability to finalize the limitations of electorates independently and impartially.

"However, after the new government came to power steps were taken to re-appoint a delimitation committee. Regardless of various allegations and accusations this is a necessary initiative towards political and social reforms of this country," the President added saying that he considers this as a first step for a transformation of the country and society.

"With the 1978 Constitution individuals not political ideologies became prominent," he said adding that the present Local Government election system is a victory of the people. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution marks a revolutionary change.

Under the previous government the President remained the sole authority to appoint judges, the Solicitor General, Inspector General of Police and the Elections Commissioner. People voiced their concern against this and it paved the way for the 19th Amendment.

PM clashes

A Cabinet paper proposing to lease out 50 oil tanks built by the British in Trincomalee Harbour to India for 50 years, led to a heated argument between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the SLFP ministers.

Petroleum Minister Chandima Weerakkody pointed out that the IOC is already using oil the tanks at China Bay and Ceylon Petroleum Corporation unions are already agitating about it. Meanwhile, sharing the same sentiments Ministers Anura Yapa and Dayasiri Jayasekara pointed out that the government has already become unpopular over allegations of selling State properties to foreign countries.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was provoked by these continued remarks and said; "I say, we will look after what the public thinks and you need not worry or get involved." He also said that henchmen who are into deals with Rajapaksas should not be allowed to control things to which Dayasiri retorted saying that everyone knows who has entered into pacts with the Rajapaksas and who is preventing them from being arrested.

While the two parties argued with each other President Sirisena remained composed.

Indo-Lanka joint effort

The Indian Coast Guard threw its weight behind the Sri Lanka Navy to douse the fire on board container carrier 'MSC Daniela' off the Colombo Port.

The Indian Coast Guard ship 'Shoor', continued its firefighting efforts, assisting the Sri Lanka Navy for the third successive day.

In the eventuality of the fire spreading, the Sri Lanka Navy requested assistance from the Indian High Commission, as there was a Coast Guard vessel (ICGS 'Shoor') that was on a goodwill visit berthed at the Colombo Harbour. The Indian High Commission promptly responded to the request made by the Sri Lanka Navy, dispatching ICGS 'Shoor' to assist in extinguishing fire on board the distressed vessel.

The firefighting mission was also joined by SLNS 'Sagara' patrolling in the Southern Seas. Both 'Shoor' and 'Sagara' are equipped with firefighting equipment and have specialized firefighting personnel on board.

In addition, the Indian Navy had also directed two of their ships INS 'Darshak' and INS 'Garriel' to the location.

Thick white smoke could be seen rising through a few containers as the combined firefighting efforts continued and the Sri Lanka Air Force also despatched a Bell 212 helicopter in the dousing operations.

On Tuesday (4), the Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) Colombo, had received a fire distress call from the local agent of 'MSC Daniela' as the vessel was 120 Nm off Colombo.

Ranil's biography

A biography narrating the political life of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was launched at the BMICH last week in which the keynote speaker Indian MP and world-famous author Dr. Shashi Tharoor took every opportunity to voice India's concerns over the growing presence of Chinese in Sri Lanka and in the Indian Ocean as a whole.

Dr. Tharoor noted that the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils is an emotional and political subject in India.

Relating the cultural and political connectivity running back to Ramayanaya and even farther Dr. Tharoor's efforts to make Sri Lanka aware of the weight of having such a powerful neighbour was as follows:

It is presumptuous for a second-term MP to congratulate a fourth-term PM, but I am emboldened by Ranil Wickremesinghe's own graciousness and generosity to me. At one level, it can be claimed that nothing could be easier than speaking about India-Sri Lanka relations. After all, Sri Lanka is India's closest neighbour, and the relationship between our two countries is more than 2,500 years old. Indeed, both sides have built, and built upon, a long legacy of intellectual, cultural, religious and linguistic exchange.

Lanka features centrally in our sacred epic the Ramayana and, for that reason, is probably the one foreign country that has always had a place in our popular imagination. Then there are the old Sinhalese legends of Sri Lanka's links to Orissa in India, which are of course manifest in the striking similarities of the Kandyan and Odissi dance forms. Add to this, the fact that a significant Tamil minority on the island enjoys ties of kinship and cultural affiliation with India's southern State of Tamil Nadu, and the historical bonds only grow stronger. In more recent years, our relationship has been marked by frequent and close contact at the highest political level, growing trade and investment, cooperation in the fields of education, culture and defence, frequent cricket matches, as well as a broad understanding on major issues of international interest.

And then there's of course tea. Today you export twice as much as we do, largely because we drink 90% of what we grow.

As an Indian, I can tell you that we value all this greatly, not least because Sri Lanka has lessons from which we too in India can learn. It is now, for instance, economically South Asia's most successful State in GDP terms, with a per capita income that is double India's and property values in Colombo that outstrip Mumbai's.

The end of the conflict with the LTTE has brought about a greater possibility for peace and stability in Sri Lanka and presented the island an opportunity to heal wounds, make a new beginning and to build a better future for its people, also opening up greater options for us to cooperate bilaterally and in areas of engagement.

The conclusion of the armed conflict saw the emergence of a major humanitarian challenge, for instance, with nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians housed in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). India is working actively in assisting in the 'four Rs' of relief, rehabilitation, resettlement and reconciliation in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, from financial contribution and hospital services to providing seven Indian demining teams to help expedite resettlement. Take, for instance, the housing project for 50,000 IDPs that is underway with Indian support valued at $270 million; add the railway plans to which we have committed Lines of Credit of $1.1 billion to reconnect the North of the island to the South.

India has also openly expressed the need for national reconciliation through a political settlement of ethnic issues at the highest levels and our consistent position is in favour of a negotiated political settlement, which is acceptable to all communities and is consistent with democracy, pluralism and respect for human rights – a stand that is in keeping with the values enshrined in our own Constitution framed by India's founding fathers who too, in their time, had to grapple with blood, violence, and mass displacement.

In other words, India has remained engaged with Sri Lanka to return displaced people to their homes to resume their lives which had so cruelly been interrupted by conflict. This is not a case of New Delhi interfering gratuitously in the internal affairs of its southern neighbour. India cannot help but be involved, both because it is Sri Lanka's closest neighbour geographically and because its own Tamil population – some 70 million people in the politically important southern state of Tamil Nadu –remains greatly concerned about the well-being of their ethnic cousins across the Palk Strait. Our mutual engagement is in the fraternal spirit that characterizes our friendship and history and in light of the values our nations celebrate and aspire to always uphold and reinforce.

On the other hand, however, there have been concerns. Some wonder whether China's interest in the Indian Ocean region undermines our own historical links and cultural networks built over generations and centuries. China's new 'Maritime Silk Road' is also, of course, anchored in history: the ancient Maritime Silk Road of the 15th century started from Southeast China and traversed the South China Sea, through the Straits of Malacca, to Sri Lanka and India, crossing the Arabian Sea to reach the Gulf countries and East Africa. Its revival now, however, is a facet of contemporary Chinese foreign policy. President Xi Jinping addressed the Indonesian Parliament and called for the re-establishment of the old sea networks and Prime Minister Li Keqiang repeated this call at the APEC and East Asian summits.

India regards this with interest but it must be proactive too, not least because of those existing links to which I alluded earlier.

But it would also be worth remembering that the Silk Roads, even in their earlier avatar, caused serious geopolitical concerns.

The celebrated Admiral Zheng He, in the fifteenth century, erected a stone tablet – translated into Chinese, Persian, and Tamil – near the Sri Lankan coastal town of Galle, with an inscription appealing to the Hindu gods to bless his efforts to build a peaceful world based on trade and commerce.

In reality, though, Zheng's expeditions involved the use of military force in present-day Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India to install friendly rulers and control strategic choke points across the Indian Ocean. He intervened in the dynastic politics of Sri Lanka and Indonesia, abducting and executing local rulers in Kandy and elsewhere. He even seized the Relic of the Tooth of Buddha, a symbol of Sri Lankan political and cultural sovereignty. The countries along Zheng's route, therefore, recall his adventures not just as initiatives to promote trade and establish commercial links, but also as direct military intervention in their affairs, under the pretext of ushering in a harmonious world order under China's emperor. Those who seek to revive historical links might also wish to remember historical iniquities.




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