Air Force funded Gotabaya’s escape to Maldives during protests By Rifthi Ali

A Right to Information (RTI) request has revealed that the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) funded the final departure of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as President of Sri Lanka, to the Maldives via an Air Force aircraft on 13 July 2022.

The former President fled to the Maldives a few days after protesters occupied both the President’s House and the Presidential Secretariat in Fort on 9 July 2022, following a mass public protest in Colombo.

“The movement was carried out using an aircraft of the SLAF, maintained by funds allocated to the Air Force, via the Ministry of Defence, through the Treasury,” the SLAF stated. However, when asked in the RTI request, the SLAF did not disclose the cost of this trip.

The SLAF explained that they facilitated the movement due to the President’s role as the Head of State, Head of the Executive, Government, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, at that time (as per Article 30(1) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka).

The SLAF noted that the movement was approved by the Ministry of Defence, but stated they could not disclose the details of the approval document due to the confidential nature of this air transit.

“As per existing practice, we do not calculate the fuel consumption for the air transport of the President, as he is the Head of State and falls under the VVIP category,” the SLAF said.

According to an SLAF press release on 13 July 2022, former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his wife and two bodyguards boarded an Air Force flight to the Maldives early that day.

Earlier in 2022, both the Information Officer and Designated Officer of the SLAF rejected the RTI application, stating the requested details could not be released under Section 5(1)(b)(i) of the Right to Information Act No. 12 of 2016.

Following the rejection, an appeal was filed with the RTI Commission. After three hearings, the Commission concluded that Section 5(1)(b)(i) did not apply to the information request and ordered the SLAF to release the information to the appellant by 4 July 2023.

However, the SLAF did not release the information and submitted 26 extension requests to the Commission. The RTI Act does not provide for extensions to implement the Commission’s order.

An affidavit was submitted to the Commission to initiate legal proceedings under Section 39 of the RTI Act. The Commission called both parties for a non-compliance inquiry on 16 May 2024 and ordered the SLAF to announce their decision on the matter at the next hearing on 7 August 2024. Finally, the SLAF released the information on 12 July 2024.

GR govt. made wrong decision to cremate COVID dead, RW govt. to apologize

-The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government made the wrong decision to forcefully cremate the COVID dead, after recent research found that the virus had not spread in the surface water.

In a cabinet paper released today, it stated that in July 2021, a study was commenced by the Ministry of Water Supply with the assistance of the University of Jayawardenapura to identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus in aquatic environments in Colombo and Kandy including the river water, the water released from the hospitals, other quarantine places and other potential places where the waste water was discharged. It was revealed in this studies that there is no virus in the surface water.

A second study was also completed in March 2024 by the China-Sri Lanka joint research and demonstration center for water technology under the Ministry of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure Development that investigated the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to water resources, including ground water, and it was confirmed that the faeces and urine were the primary sources of the transmission of the virus but not with safe burial.

Accordingly, the cabinet of ministers has approved the joint proposal presented by the Minister of Justice, Prison Affairs, and Constitution Reforms, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure Development to plead an apology on behalf of the government to all the communities effected as a consequence of the compulsory cremation policy enacted in Sri Lanka during the COVID-19 pandemic period.

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Presidential Election: Tamil Parties Agree to Field Common Presidential Candidate

Several Tamil political parties and a group of civil society representatives have reached an agreement to nominate a common candidate for the forthcoming Presidential Election.

Accordingly, seven Tamil political parties including the Tamil People’s Alliance and seven civil society representatives have signed this agreement in Jaffna this morning (22).

The signatories include C. V. Vigneswaran of Tamil People’s Alliance, Selvam Adaikkalanathan of Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), D. Siddharthan of People’s Liberation Organisation Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Srikantha of Tamil National Party and Suresh Premachandran of Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF).

Tamil civil society groups also signed the memorandum of understanding.

The Tamil parries and Tamil civil society noted that past Presidents had not met the expectations of the Tamils despite obtaining their support.

As a result it has been decided to put forward a candidate who will address the issues faced by the Tamils.

2024 Electoral List Officially Published

Chairman of the Elections Commission, R.M.A.L Ratnayake said the certified 2024 Electoral List is now published on the official website of the Elections Commission.

He added that if necessary, the Electoral List will be printed.

Meanwhile, the Elections Commission says the date of the Presidential Election will be announced before the end of this week.

A senior spokesperson said the Presidential Election date has been decided.

He further confirmed that the relevant date will be announced before the end of this week.

Meanwhile, the members of the National Elections Commission are scheduled to meet next Wednesday or Thursday for a special discussion on the Presidential Election.

Five days have passed since the Election Commission was vested with the power to proclaim the date for the Presidential Election.

After India, China helps Sri Lanka’s smart classroom concept ahead of polls

China has come forward to grant 1,000 smart boards to Sri Lankan schools across the country, Education Minister Susil Premajayantha said, two weeks after an Indian grant project distributed the digital equipment for establishing 200 smart classrooms with 2,200 smart tablets in the Southern Province.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government has fast tracked digitization of the education sector along with planned teacher training for the latest technology-based education system, amid opposition leader Sajith Premadasa’s move to grant smart classrooms for schools ahead of presidential polls later this year.

“Digitization of education sector is one of the reforms we have planned. We have already started it. Accordingly, there will be 1,250 clusters established. All the school systems will be included in these 1,250 clusters; one cluster will consist of 8-10 schools,” Minister Premajayantha told reporters at a news briefing in Colombo.

“We will be providing with 2,500 high-tech smart boards for all the key schools enabled with internet before September. We have taken initial steps for that. We are getting a grant for that from China.”

The Minister did not disclose the Chinese grant amount.

“The President through TRC (Telecommunication Regulatory Commission) from the Ministry of Technology will be providing 1,500 (smart boards) and 1,000 will be from the grant,” he said.

President Wickremesinghe is eyeing to contest in a grand independent coalition possibly with Premadasa as his main rival. The island nation’s Election Commission is expected to announce the date for the presidential poll before end-July.

President Wickremesinghe on July 8 distributed digital equipment under an Indian grant project worth 300 million Sri Lanka rupees ($1 million) for establishing 200 smart classrooms in Southern Province.

Premadasa, the leader of the main opposition center-right Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) has already distributed around 350 smart classrooms worth over 300 million rupees for schools across the country which his aides expect to win him more votes in the upcoming election.

President Wickremesinghe, the leader of center-right United National Party (UNP) which backs liberal policies, has yet to officially declare his candidature for the presidential poll which is likely to be scheduled between September 17 and October 16.

Minister Premajayantha said the government’s smart boards will be of high quality.

“The 1,250 schools will be connected to internet in the first phase. In the next phase, we will be connecting the rest of the schools. So within the next three years we will be completing the digitization. More than half (of the schools) are already given fiber optics. We have been planning with teacher training to prepare for this,” he said.

The establishment of Smart Classrooms in Southern Province is being implemented under the Indian bilateral High Impact Community Development Project framework which includes 18 grant projects cutting across sectors in all the 25 Districts of Sri Lanka with a total value of around 5.5 billion Sri Lankan rupees ($18.3 million).

Some informal and non-transparent surveys have suggested that Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, the leader of Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Power (NPP) and Premadasa are leading in terms of popularity followed by Wickremesinghe.

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SLPP leadership under pressure to back Ranil

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) leadership is being put under pressure by a number of SLPP MPs to back Ranil Wickremsinghe at the Presidential elections.

Wickremsinghe has had talks with the SLPP leadership in an attempt to reach a consensus ahead of the elections.

However, some SLPP MPs want their own candidate to be put forward instead of Wickremesinghe.

A number of SLPP MPs holding Cabinet or State Minister portfolios and some SLPP MPs have told the leadership to back Wickremesinghe at the polls, Colombo Gazette learns.

Ministers Kanchana Wijesekera, Prasanna Ranatunga and Shehan Semasinghe have already indicated they will back Wickremesinghe despite their party, the SLPP, not taking a formal decision.

SLPP MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage has also spoken in support of Wickremesinghe and called for the unconditional backing of the SLPP.

Wickremesinghe himself has not yet announced if he will contest at the elections as he is still gathering support before making a formal announcement.

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Court orders arrest of Minister Jeevan Thondaman

The Nuwara-Eliya Magistrate’s Court has ordered the arrest of Minister of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure Development Jeevan Thondaman over an incident at Kelani Valley Plantations PLC.

Lawyers representing Kelani Valley Plantations PLC said that the court had issued the order based on a case filed by the company.

The Minister was accused of storming Kelani Valley Plantations in May together with a group of others over an issue with regards to the daily wage of plantation workers.

Thondaman and the other accused were instructed to appear in court today but they failed to do so.

Accordingly, the Nuwara-Eliya Magistrate’s Court ordered the Police to arrest the suspects and produce them in court on 26th July.

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Hirunika Premachandra granted bail

Former Member of Parliament Hirunika Premachandra, who was sentenced to 3 years in jail in June, was granted bail, Monday.

The Colombo High Court granted the former MP bail after considering her bail application.

She was sentenced to three years in jail over the alleged abduction of a youth in 2015.

The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) member has been sentenced to 3 years rigorous imprisonment by the Colombo High Court on 28th June.

She was found guilty of being involved in the abduction of a youth in the Dematagoda area on December 21, 2015 using a Defender jeep and his wrongful detention.

According to reports, Premachandra was found guilty of 18 charges and was also imposed a fine of Rs. 20,000 for each charge.

The youth had alleged that when he was abducted while being employed at a textile shop in the Dematagoda area.

A sheikh revealed information about possible attacks: Ven. Gnanasara Thera

Considering their speeches on political stages about the Easter Sunday bomb attacks, all these political leaders should be in prison and have no moral right to preach or talk about the incident, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera said today.

The truth of this great earth has been killed by all these political gangs operating in the country, including the people who are ruling this country and demanding the ruling power of this country.

Addressing the media, he said that as Buddhist monks, they revealed all the details related to the Easter Sunday attacks to the responsible persons and parties in the country, not only to safeguard Sri Lankan Buddhists but for the sake of all the people in the country, including those of all religions, he added.

“We informed the details about the attacks before we came to know these politicians,” he said.

He further said that all details related to the attacks were provided by a sheikh in Dikwella on June 20, 2014, following a request from the sheikh to meet him in that area. The sheikh requested him to inform about the deadly attacks because they were unable to tell the country themselves, fearing they might be arrested as extremists.

“Due to the influence of global terrorist groups, the Sheikh asked us to inform Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa that Sri Lanka has been chosen for the most powerful and most dangerous terrorist attack in Asia by extremists in the name of Islam in a way that insults the religion of Islam. The Sheikh also said that they could not inform the then government because they would be arrested claiming that they were extremists,” he said.

The sheikh claimed that a deadly attack was planned to kill about 2,000 people, targeting major religious events in the country, including Buddhist, Muslim and Christian festivals. He claimed that all funds and facilities for launching the attack were organized and that there was also a plan to carry out another massacre targeting 50 villages across the country.

“We had no choice but to inform the Defense Secretary, despite the potential backlash. Consequently, many politicians and people blamed us, suspecting us of being extremists. The Defense Secretary took action to prevent the attack. The truth was that no Easter Sunday attack was reported during the Rajapaksa government. After revealing this, some politicians in the Rajapaksa government began attacking us, claiming that we were extremists and accusing us of inciting racism. They also claimed it was a Norwegian conspiracy and prevented us from speaking the truth.

“After revealing the names of more than 15 terrorist and extremist organizations, it was found that they were hidden among political leaders, including those from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the groups that supported the Yahapalanaya government and the National People’s Power (NPP). While providing shelter to extremist groups, they placed the blame on us, claiming that we were the extremists and that was the truth,” Ven. Gnanasara Thera said.

“Later, the extremist forces were armed during the Yahapalanaya government and I was sentenced to prison. I was sentenced to 19 years in prison for requesting the judge not to take actions that would paralyse the intelligence services in the country. I was sentenced for contempt of court by the Homagama Magistrate. If the Rajapaksa government and the Yahapalanaya government had listened to us, there would be no need to discuss the Easter Sunday bomb attacks now.

“I met the Colombo Archbishop, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, at Bishop’s House and was informed about a deadly attack, and he said that all details were revealed in 2014. I was informed about a person named Saharan in Kattankudy who was planning the attack. I also claimed that he was engaging in attacks on people and traditional Muslims with swords. I warned the Cardinal about the attack on the Christian community,” Ven. Gnanasara Thera said.

“The Cardinal told me that he knew about this attack, and to prevent that, we started making plans. That was his answer to me. Now the Cardinal, along with other priests, is requesting justice for the Easter Sunday bomb victims. Now he has nothing to say. He put the blame on all Sinhala Buddhist people and tried to wash their hands,” the thera said.

Ven. Gnanasara Thera finally said that extremist terrorist groups are still operational in the country and have already acquired certain land areas. Some Muslim individuals have claimed that there are ongoing training sessions underway.

“We are not creating racism in the country. As Sinhala Buddhists, we are committed to protecting all the people in the country. We cannot allow anyone to attack people under the guise of any religious community,” the thera said.

Failure to find a political solution to the Tamil question, a bigger shame than Black July

After the death of veteran Tamil political leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan recently, a senior leftist politician friend from Tami Nadu contacted me and asked me what was the role the late leader played in Sri Lankan Tamil politics.

I began by recounting Sampanthan’s contributions to the negotiations that led the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord after 1983 Black July anti-Tamil pogrom. He immediately interrupted and asked me what happened in 1983 July. I was very much disappointed that there was a leftist stalwart in the neighbouring Tamil Nadu who did not know that the brutal ethnic violence against Tamils all over the country led to the civil war that lasted almost three decades.

He is not too young to know what happened in Sri Lanka at that time.I wondered if he had not even considered why Sri Lankan Tamil refugees had been staying in Tamil Nadu camps for more than four decades.

Sampanthan’s demise and this Tamil Nadu politician’s question three weeks ahead of the 41st anniversary of Black July, though coincidental, have provided me with an opportunity to write about the ethnic violence that marked a watershed in ethnic relations in Sri Lanka.

Incidentally, it was the illustrious editor and political analyst of international fame, late Mervyn de Silva, who coined the term ‘ Black July’ in his now defunct ‘ Lanka Guardian’. As mentioned earlier, anti- Tamil riots that spread all over the island 41years ago this week had become a watershed in the history of our country’s politics and in the relations between the Sinhalese majority community and the largest minority community, the Tamils.

It was not the enormity of the violence that astonished everybody, but the fact that it had really happened. The number of those who were killed in the violence that spread over more than a week was estimated to be in the region of 3,000. There was no proper estimation of damage to property, but thousands of Tamils lost their houses and property. Most Tamils lost hope that they could ever peacefully live among the Sinhalese as equals.

Thousands upon thousands of Tamils left the shores of Sri Lanka as refugees to India, and thousands pf others fled to Western Europe, North America and Australia and took the citizenship of these lands. As a result of the exodus, the Sri Lankan Tamils seem to have become new Jews wondering all over the world eventually becoming a politically influential Diaspora. It is not an exaggeration to call them ‘modern Jews’.

The violence unleashed against the Tamils by President J.R.Jeyawardene led United National Party(UNP) government had changed the trajectory of Sri Lankan politics. A guerrilla attack launched by Tamil Tigers in Jaffna on the night of July 22 killed 13 army men on a patrol. This incident served as a convenient ruse for the racist political forces within the government to set off violence which was pre-planned with the overt help of the state machinery.

The government did not take immediate action to control the mob violence against the Tamils. It took one week for President Jeyawardene to appear on state television and make an appeal to stop the violence. He did not utter word to console the Tamils who were badly affected by the communal carnage and lost lives and property as never before. Instead he declared unabashedly that the violence was a natural reaction of the Sinhala people towards the demand for separation by the Tamil political leadership.

Apart from the loss of lives and destruction of property, the agony and mental trauma experienced by the Tamils as a result of the pogrom was immeasurable and insurmountable. Although the loss of lives and property of the Tamils during the civil war that lasted almost three decades was far greater than the suffering in Black July the latter proved to be high symbolic in the history of Tamils in Sri Lanka. It propelled the Tamil militancy and armed struggle and plunged the country into a destructive ethnic war.

Not only the Jeyawardene government but all other governments that came to power after Black July, while parroting promises about finding a political settlement to the national problem concentrated on pursuing a military solution. Every President spoke about finding a political solution only to hoodwink the international community.

Instead of helping to find a viable political solution India and other powerful nations had, by their approach and actions, eventually ensured the intensification of the pursuit of a military solution. In the end we saw that dramatic changes in the geopolitical arena enabling the government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to defeat the Tamil Tigers in the Wanni and end the war in May 2009 without any regard for civilian casualties and sufferings.

Now in the backdrop of the elapse of 41 years since Black July and more than 15 years after the end of the war, it is disturbing and disheartening to note a bizarre situation regarding attempts to find a political solution to the national problem.

Sri Lankan politics is changing in a worrisome direction ahead of the Presidential election. It is very difficult to take an objective view regarding the national problem.

It must be recounted to the benefit of the younger generation that in the aftermath of Black July, our big neighbour India was compelled to interfere in the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict and offer its services to mediate between the two warring factions. This was an important milestone in Indo-Sri Lanka relations and eventually paved the way for the signing of the 1987 Indo-Lanka Peace Accord in Colombo between the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President Jeyawardene.

Immediately after the Accord, in order to introduce the Provincial Councils, the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution was passed in Parliament amid intense opposition led by former Prime Minister Srimao Bandaranaike.These developments were the catalyst for the second JVP uprising in the latter part of the 1980s.

The period saw one of the eventual episodes in the recent history of Sri Lanka, an attempt on Rajiv Gandhi’s life by a naval rating during the guard of honour in front of President’s House on the day following the signing of the accord, the attempt to assassinate Jeyawardene on August 18,1987 during a meeting of the UNP Parliamentary group and the large scale but senseless destruction of property in the South following the signing of the accord, were testimonies to the deep feeling that had been stirred up among sections of the Sinhalese.

Many politicians on both sides of the ethnic divide who supported the accord were cold bloodedly assassinated by both the Tamil and Sinhalese militants.

But politically speaking, the accord had brought many desirable changes. President Jeyawardene reversed his stand on a number of issues on which he had held strong views. The man, who in 1944 in the second state Council, voted against S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s resolution calling for the replacement of English as the official language with both Sinhala and Tamil, instead demanded that only Sinhala should be the national language. He organised a March to Kandy against the 1957 Bandaranaike – Chelvanayagam Pact and helped to tear it up the signed agreement granting Tamil and English an equal place with Sinhala as official languages.

The man who swore that a merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces could only take place over his dead body, now signed an agreement permitting the merger, subject to a referendum in the Easter province.

A former Tamil United Liberation Front ( TULF) Parliamentarian and renowned constitutional expert, late Neelan Thiruchelvam in a newspaper article almost three decades ago quoted former Indian foreign secretary and the first envoy to handle the Sri Lankan ethnic issue Gopalaswamy Parthasarathy ( famously known as GP ) as saying that it was with great difficulty that he convinced President Jeyawardene on the desirability of devolution of power to the provinces.

Despite the fact the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Council system have been in the existence for more than three decades the Tamil problem has not come to an end. While the Tamils and the main political parties that represented them have been saying that neither the 13th Amendment nor Provincial Councils could be considered a durable solution to their problem, the Sinhala polity has been tolerating the Provincial Councils saying that they had been set up under duress.

The Tamils and Indians have been unable to persuade or pressurize Sri Lankan governments to make improvements to the powers of the Provincial Councils or at least implement the 13th Amendment fully so far.

Following the tragic developments after the Peace Accord India is no longer interested in the Sri Lankan ethnic imbroglio despite constant requests from the Tamil parties of the North and East. One cannot expect any change in the attitude of India in the foreseeable future in the context of current geopolitical realities except intermittent requests to implement the 13th Amendment and hold elections to the Provincial Councils.

It is unfortunate that the main Sri Lankan political forces are still debating the very fundamental issues as if the ethnic problem had emerged only recently.

As such our national problem is certainly going to fester without any meaningful political solution that would address the legitimate political aspirations and grievances of the minority communities.

The three would- be main candidates in the Presidential election to be held in two months, President Ranil Wickramasinghe, opposition leader Sajith Premadasa and National People’s Power leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake have promised to implement the 13th amendment. But they frequently express confused positions on the powers of the provincial administration . They do not speak in a manner that would clear the doubts of the Tamil people on the issue.

On the other hand, the Tamil parties are divided and unable to act with political prudence and maturity to present a unified stand. To the best of our knowledge, we are not aware of any other country in the world experiencing such confusion in the implementation of a constitutional provision which has been the part or the constitution for more than three decades, as seen in Sri Lanka.

Taking all this into consideration, it is a shame that our political class is yet to learn from the tragedies of the past and find a solution to the national problem. This is a bigger shame than Black July.

By Veeragathy Thanabalasingham

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