Israel and Sri Lanka ink direct air service agreement

Ports, Shipping, and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva announced the signing of a direct air service agreement between Israel and Sri Lanka today (15).

Speaking at a press briefing themed “Collective Path to a Stable Country” at the President’s Media Centre, Minister de Silva highlighted the agreement’s focus on preventing delays in Sri Lankan workers’ migration abroad.

“The agreement, signed between the Israeli Ministry of Transport and our Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Aviation, marks the beginning of direct flights between Israel and Sri Lanka, aiming to enhance passenger convenience,” Minister de Silva stated.

He further elaborated on the agreement’s objective of facilitating prompt overseas employment for Sri Lankan workers and noted the interest of many Israelis in visiting Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, the minister also said, “Negotiations have commenced with Indigo Airlines to introduce an additional daily flight service to India via Palali Airport. Furthermore, an Expression of Interest (EOI) has been called for the development of Mattala Airport. Following the selection of an investor by the Tender Board, negotiations are nearing conclusion, with the possibility of reaching an agreement next week.

This endeavour, proposed as a joint Russian and Indian private project, holds the potential to render the airport profitable. In response to traffic congestion at Katunayake Airport, plans are underway to introduce 31 ticket windows and a new terminal building, with construction slated to begin within two weeks”, the minister explained.

Additionally, JICA’s Chairman has pledged funds for the construction of the second terminal building following discussions with President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The deadline for expressing interest in the restructuring of SriLankan Airlines has been extended to March 15th.

Moreover, Minister de Silva highlighted a significant 32% growth in shipping container volume, leading to the development of the Eastern Terminal with an investment of USD 580 million from the Port Authority, aimed at boosting container exchange and generating substantial income for the country.

–PMD–

ETCA, Indo-US strategy detrimental to Lanka’s independence – Pro China Wimal

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader and Pro China Wimal Weerawansa says the proposed Economic and Technology Co-operation Agreement (ETCA) with India should be examined in the context of India’s geopolitical strategy in respect of Sri Lanka.

Referring to a recent declaration by SLPP MP Rear Admiral (retd.) Sarath Weerasekera that the government parliamentary group hadn’t been consulted on the proposed agreement discussed at any level though Cabinet spokesman Bandula Gunawardena announced finalisation of the ETCA by March this year, dissident SLPP MP Weerawansa alleged that New Delhi was tightening its grip on Sri Lanka.

In a brief interview with The Island, following JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s visit to India, Weerawansa discussed a range of issues, including the IMF’s intervention, US-India strategy pertaining to post-war Sri Lanka and what he called a murderous tax regime meant to heap further burden on those struggling to make ends meet.

Pointing out that the ETCA would be an extension of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) the two countries signed during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure, MP Weerawansa warned of unprecedented catastrophe if President Ranil Wickremesinghe was allowed to go ahead with his agenda.

MP Weerawansa asked whether bankrupt Sri Lanka struggling to cope with rising unemployment could open the service sector to India, thereby further aggravating the problems here. The NFF parliamentary group consists of six MPs, including National List member Mohammed Muzammil.

Acknowledging the financial assistance to the tune of USD four billion provided in the wake of the economic-political-social crisis in 2022, MP Weerawansa questioned whether India was taking advantage of the situation here to rapidly advance its expansionist policy.

Responding to another query, MP Weerawansa said that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government should be held responsible for facilitating the Indian project.

Alleging that the Indian take-over of Sri Lanka was being blatantly carried out in the name of the much-touted India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and her maritime vision SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region), the former minister urged political parties to examine and compare the situation here and the developing situation in the Maldives following the election of China-backed Mohamed Muizzu as the new Maldivian President in last September.

Indian-backed Ibrahim Mohamed Solih suffered defeat at the presidential poll, thereby dealing a significant blow to the overall New Delhi’s strategy there, MP Weerawansa said, adding that some Sri Lankans had been deceived, perhaps willingly by Indian declaration that Indians should choose Sri Lanka as their next travel destination. Indian action was meant to undermine the tourism industry in the Maldives, MP Weerawansa said, New Delhi should never be allowed to pursue such corrosive strategies.

Commenting on the recent launch of Unified Payment Interface (UPI) services in Sri Lanka and Mauritius, the NFF leader alleged that in the name of strengthening financial connectivity India was taking over the smaller economy. If the incumbent government went ahead with ETCA, the consequences would be far reaching and the damage to the country’s independence, cherished for over two millennia, irreparable.

The former minister said that the IMF remedies wouldn’t help the country to regain economic stability though the government depicted the USD 2.9 bn bailout package as the panacea for all our ills. As a result of steep increase in electricity tariffs and unbearable tax regime the local industries couldn’t compete with foreign companies, MP Weerawansa said. The President backed by the SLPP seemed bent on undermining the national economy.

One-time JVP propaganda secretary said that the current JVP leadership contributed to the developing strategy. Their recent high profile visit to India close on the heels of their US tour late last year revealed the ugly truth. Those ex-members of the military and police who had pledged their support to the JVP should be mindful of the developments taking place on the political front as India sought to consolidate its regional supremacy.

Referring to an Indian submarine visiting Colombo port on the day before Independence Day this year, MP Weerawansa said that a section of the influential India media declared that it was a huge diplomatic victory for India over China in Sri Lanka as it happened in the aftermath of Sri Lanka imposing one-year moratorium on Chinese research vessels visiting her ports.

In spite of continuing turmoil in every sector, the government sought to protect the interests of the affluent. Quoting a recent UNDP survey, MP Weerawansa pointed out that just 10% of the rich shared 64% of the gross national income. According to the UNDP, 50% of the population, struggling to make ends meet, shared just four percent of the gross national income.

It would be a grave mistake on the part of the down-trodden to believe the ruling class, having learnt a bitter lesson in the wake of unconstitutional change of power in 2022, was likely to look at issues at hand in a humane manner.

The ex-minister also dealt with issuing of freehold titles to farmers by an utterly irresponsible and scheming government. Alleging that a significant number of farmers would mortgage their land because of wide scale poverty/indebtedness, MP Weerawansa said that the rising cost in paddy production also due to VAT (Value-Added Tax) on tools and other essentials would cause farmers to give up cultivation.

“We would end up importing rice to meet the growing paddy shortfall,” MP Weerawansa said, adding that a strategic rethinking was necessary to identify challenges and reach consensus on a common programme to stabilize the country. The IMF package wouldn’t save us, the NFF leader said, reminding Sri Lanka sought such interventions on 16 previous occasions.

The former firebrand JVPer said that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena was yet to respond to his specific allegation that US Ambassador Julie Chung, during the violent protest campaign in Colombo on July 09, 2022, asked him to take over the presidency, regardless of Constitutional provision that deemed the Premier should be the successor.

Posted in Uncategorized

There is no constitutional provision to postpone Presidential election: CBK

There is no constitutional provision to postpone Presidential elections, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga told journalists yesterday.

Ms. Kumaratunga said this in response to a question raised by journalists after an event organized by the United Republic Front in Colombo last evening.

However, she did declined to elaborate to a question raised by journalists on the assurance given by the President’s office recently that Presidential elections will be held despite speculation that the Executive Presidency is to be scrapped.

“All I can say is that Presidential elections cannot be postponed at all,” she added.

Better to abolish executive presidency; I have already enjoyed it: Mahinda

Former President and MP Mahinda Rajapaksa expressed the opinion that it will be preferable to abolish the Executive Presidency and said that he had enjoyed having held the position.

Answering a question raised by a journalist about the political situation in the country, he said the country’s political situation is good and that it is better to abolish the Executive Presidency.

“It should be abolished because the whole country is requesting to abolish it.

“Attempting to postpone the Presidential election might be a trap for the opposition. We know President Ranil Wickremesinghe well,” he said.

“Whatever the election, our candidate will be victorious. Our candidate will come to the stage at the correct time. Wait for that,” he said.

While commenting on the official visit of National People’s Power (NPP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake to India, he said that he is glad that the NPP has finally realized the importance of forging bilateral relations with countries like India.

Posted in Uncategorized

Kumarapuram massacre: 26 killed and 28 years on and no justice for Tamils

They were killed almost three decades and the Tamils are yet to get justice even as the alleged perpetrators were found ‘not guilty’ by a court and released.

The ‘Kumarapuram massacre’ is yet another classical example of the Sri Lankan government’s unwillingness to ensure accountability.

Amidst their longing for justice for 28 years, the families of those killed remembered them on Sunday (11) and paid solemn tributes to those killed.

Families of the victims paid floral tributes to their portraits and lit lamps along with the public and civil society activists.

As the sun just started setting on February 11 in 1996, the Sri Lankan Army, along with some paramilitary men, entered the Kiliveddy-Kumarapuram village under the Muttur Divisional Secretary in Trincomalee district and indiscriminately fired upon innocent Tamils and attacked with machetes killing 26 in cold blood.

A 15-year-old girl was also sexually assaulted by the military and the paramilitary persons who perpetrated the heinous crime and subsequently died.

A leading Human Rights group during the wartime University Teachers for Human Rights in Jaffna (UTHR) has documented this massacre.

“Between 5.30 and 7.30 PM on Sunday, February 11, armed men in military uniform ran amok in the village of Kumarapuram, Killivetti, killing 24 (Tamil) civilians and injuring many more. Among those killed were seven children under the age of 12, the youngest being 3 years old. Some young women were raped, including one who was raped and killed. The death toll would have been much higher had not the people run out and sought shelter in the fields and graveyard”.

In a judicial inquiry at the Muttur Magistrate’s Court in 1996, eight military persons at the Dehiwatte Military camp were identified as the perpetrators, and a charge sheet was filed against them.

Subsequently, this case was transferred to the Trincomalee High Court and then to the Anuradhapura High Court, where the trial was held.

After 20 years, on 27 July 2016, whilst 2 of the suspects had died, the remaining 6 former military men were released by the Anuradhapura High Court and dropped all charges against them.

And, the victims are still waiting for justice to be rendered for this massacre even after 28 years.

Posted in Uncategorized

Sri Lanka committed to reconciliation through domestic institutions: Minister

Sri Lanka’s is committed to pursuing progress on reconciliation and human rights through domestic institutions, its Minister of Foreign Affairs has said.

“I emphasized Sri Lanka’s commitment to pursuing tangible progress on reconciliation and Human Rights through domestic institutions while maintaining its constructive engagement with the United Nations,” Minister of Foreign Affairs M U M Ali Sabry said on social media platform X (twitter).

Sabry chaired the inaugural session of the Inter-Ministerial Standing Committee on Human Rights at the Ministry pf Foreign Affairs on Tuesday (13).

Foreign Secretary Aruni Wijewardane, Sabri said, “explained the structure of the Committee as a permanent national framework to ensure efficient coordination and reporting on Sri Lanka’s voluntary international commitments regarding human rights and reconciliation.

Posted in Uncategorized

Anura and EU discuss current political situation

National People’s Power (NPP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake had talks with the Ambassador of the European Union (EU) in Sri Lanka Mrs. Carmen Moreno and discussed the current political situation in Sri Lanka.

The meeting took place at the head office of the JVP, Tuesday, the JVP said.

“Sri Lanka’s economic crisis and the current political situation were discussed. Also, the protection of human rights in Sri Lanka, the protection of democracy, and the postponement of elections received attention,” the JVP said.

The JVP also said that the Online Safety Act was also discussed while strengthening relations between Sri Lanka and the EU was also looked into.

Lars Bredal, the Deputy Head of the delegation of the European Union in Sri Lanka, and Comrade Vijitha Herath, the National Executive Member of the National People’s Power, were also present.

Posted in Uncategorized

SriLankan Airlines Flight Makes Emergency Landing in Melbourne

SriLankan Airlines has confirmed that flight UL 605, traveling from Melbourne to Colombo, experienced a technical issue and returned safely to Melbourne Airport shortly after takeoff on Monday (12).

The flight departed Melbourne at 6:16 PM local time but encountered an technical issue, prompting the pilot to return to the airport.

All passengers onboard disembarked safely, and no injuries were reported.

Australian media reported that the airbus returned to Melbourne Airport shortly before 7:30pm after the emergency squawk code of 7700 was sounded.

The emergency call meant the flight quickly became the most tracked flight, with nearly 10,000 people across the world tracking it on FlightRadar24.com.

Australian media reported that the Airbus A330 was forced to turn back shortly after take-off when passengers began seeing and smelling smoke.

SriLankan Airlines has also confirmed that all passengers were accommodated in hotels until the flight can be rescheduled for departure.

Aviation YouTuber and UL605 passenger Dennis Bunnik praised the crew’s handling of the in air emergency.

“All safe and sound. 30 minutes out of MEL on the way to Sri Lanka we turned around,” he wrote on Twitter.

Govt. issues special announcement on Presidential and General elections

The President’s Media Division (PMD) on Tuesday made a special announcement on the upcoming Presidential Election and the General Election.

According to the communiqué, the Presidential Election is slated to be held within the mandated period.

However, the General Election is planned to be conducted in 2025 as per the current timeline, the PMD said further, noting that financial provisions for the General Election will be made in the 2025 budget.

Emphasizing that the Election Commission is responsible for conducting the polls, the PMD asserted the government will be communicating with the election body “as and when required”.

GL faction vetoes supporting ‘dishonest/opportunistic’ Prez

Attributing President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s call for opposition political parties to support the Government’s programme to an opportunistic and dishonest invitation, Opposition Parliamentarian, Prof. G.L. Peiris said that they would never be a part of a programme under this President or this Government.

Speaking at a media briefing yesterday (12), he said that while the President is always inviting the opposition to support the Government’s programme, there is however a doubt regarding the motive behind it. “The President’s theme is ‘let’s get together as there’s no need for divisions’. He openly invites us to get together with him and work. However, a doubt arises as to whether this is an honest invitation or an opportunistic attempt.” Although Wickremesinghe is now inviting the opposition to present their proposals with regard to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme, he charged that the Government had discarded their proposals when the staff level agreement was being reached with the IMF. “The President now says that he is ready to invite the top leadership of the IMF to Sri Lanka, and invites the opposition to participate in those discussions. However, the Government did not consider the proposals made by us and academics and trade unions when the staff level agreement was being reached.” Speaking further, Prof. Peiris said that there is a risk of the Government’s programme to stabilise the economy collapsing due to large-scale corruption including the provision of tax relief to tycoons who are loyal to the Government, adding that Wickremesinghe is inviting the opposition to join him in sharing that failure. “The Government has to date not achieved any progress. Instead, the entire programme is at risk of collapsing. It is to overcome that and share that failure that he invites us. There is no honest motive behind it, and it is completely an opportunistic invitation. We will not fall prey to it at all.”

Wickremesinghe, who was elected to the Presidency after former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned amid massive public protests in 2022, has been maintaining the stance that his primary objective is to alleviate the economic crisis which has arisen in the country. For that, he is constantly calling on the opposition led by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya to join him regardless of party affiliations and the most recent invitation was made during his speech when the fifth session of the ninth Parliament was inaugurated on 7 February.

Posted in Uncategorized