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Tuesday May 28th, 2024

Amid sex slavery claims Pakistan envoy tells Sri Lanka: Taliban pledged to protect women’s rights

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry quoting Pakistan envoy Major General Muhammad Saad Khattak said Taliban has pledged to protect women’s rights amid reports that girls above 15 and widows below 45 years had been demanded as ‘wives’ for Taliban fighters.

The statement came following a meeting with Sri Lanka Foreign Minister G L Pieris Pakistan High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Major General Muhammad Saad Khattak.

“The Pakistan High Commissioner briefed him (Sri Lanka foreign minister) on the situation in Afghanistan,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“He emphasized that the Taliban has assured the safety of foreign nationals in Afghanistan and has also made a pledge that rights of women and children would be protected.”

Media reports however said the Taliban was beginning its assault against women as it took territory.

“In early July, as Taliban fighters were seizing territory from government forces across Afghanistan, some of them walked into the offices of Azizi Bank in Kandahar and ordered nine women working there to leave,” Qatar based Al Jazeera reported.

“The gunmen escorted them to their homes and told them not to return to their jobs. Instead, they explained that male relatives could take their place…”

Other reports said Taliban are demanding girls aged above 15 and 12 in some cases, and widows below 45 years as ‘wives’ from village leaders which amounted sex slavery.

“Now the Taliban are going door-to-door in some areas, compiling lists of women and girls aged between 12 and 45 years for their fighters to forcibly marry,” US-based Bloomberg Newswires said in a commentary.

“Women are again being told they cannot leave the house without a male escort, they cannot work, study or dress as they please. Schools and colleges are being shut and businesses destroyed. The exodus of those who can afford to flee the country is growing by the day.”

The Sri Lankan foreign ministry has already welcomed pledges given by the Taliban which had previously flogged women in public for being teachers, beheaded alleged criminals and banned girls from schools and cut off ears of anyone who listened to music.

The Taliban group notoriously bombed and destroyed the 6th century Bamiyan Buddha statues in March 2001 when they controlled the land-locked nation from 1996 till about the end of 2001.

The group had earned universal condemnation for reducing the imposing Buddha statues to rubble in an act regarded as a crime against humanity.

Pakistan hoped that Afghanistan would soon establish a peaceful government structure and integrate with the rest of the world and had also pledged to assist Sri Lanka in bringing back nationals.

“Minister Peiris also sought assistance from the Government of Pakistan to evacuate Sri Lankan nationals from Afghanistan, to which High Commissioner Khattak responded by assuring that the fullest support would be extended by his government in that context,” the ministry said.

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Sri Lanka president’s UNP proposes postponing elections by two years

The UNP party headquarters in Pitakotte/EconomyNext

ECONOMYNEXT — Sri Lanka’s United National Party (UNP) has called for a referendum to postpone both presidential and parliamentary elections by two years to extend President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s term to continue ongoing economic reforms.

UNP general secretary Palitha Range Bandara called on the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and the leftist opposition formation National People’s Power (NPP) to support the move.

At a press conference on Tuesday May 28, Bandara said postponing the two elections would not be undemocratic as it would be the result of elected representatives in parliament passing a motion, followed by a referendum.

Defending the proposal, he recalled the controversial decision by then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to postpone elections in the 1970s, which resulted in the decimation of her Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)-led alliance.

Bandara said that all parties must understand that now is not the time for elections as the economy has yet to emerge from bankruptcy and that President Wickremesinghe must be permitted to carry out his reforms which have already brought stability.

The UNP’s latest statement is a far cry from its pronouncements as recently as last weekend that the presidential election would definitely be held between September 17 and October 18 this year, followed by the parliamentary elections in early 2025.

UNP spokesmen also boasted that Wickremesinghe would not only contest the presidential poll but would also win it.

Tourism and Sports Minister Harin Fernando told reporters that Wickremesinghe would definitely contest the election, in response to some speculation that the president may opt to sit out.

“I think President Wickremesinghewill himself reveal his plans next week or one of these days,” said Fernando.

“He will definitely contest. I said he would for sure. Not only will he contest, he will also win,” he added.

Labour Minister Manusha Nanayakkara concurred.

“President Wickremesinghe will definitely win the election,” he said, adding that the president has provided much relief and that the economy continues to recover having fallen to its lowest point. (Colombo/May28/2024)

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Sri Lanka reforms have started to yield positive outcomes: State minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s State Minister of Finance Shehan Semasinghe says reforms have lead to positive incomes, including an increase in reserves.

“The reforms have started to yield positive outcomes, reflecting significant progress in multiple areas. Sri Lanka’s gross official reserves have seen a significant increase, reaching USD 5.5 billion by the end of April 2024,” Semasinghe said on social media platform X (twitter).

“Additionally, the Sri Lankan rupee has appreciated by approximately 8 % against the US dollar so far in 2024. This will boosts investor confidence and enhances the country’s ability to manage external shocks and meet international obligations and enhance confidence on the economy.

“The appreciation of the rupee can help lower inflation and reduce the overall cost of living and make it easier for the government and businesses to service foreign debt, thereby improving our financial reputation globally. Further, will improve the trade balance by potentially reducing the trade deficit.”

Sri Lanka’s inflation was 1.5 percent in the 12-months to April 2024, measured by the widely watched Colombo Consumer Price Index, data from the state debt office showed.

The CCPI Index fell 0.8 percent, to 195.2 points in the month of April after falling 1.9 percent in March.

Sri Lanka’s central bank has been operating largely deflationary policy, since September 2022, except perhaps in December 2023, and also allowed the rupee to appreciate in the balance of payments surplus it created.(Colombo/May28/2024)

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Sri Lanka risks foreign retaliation over VFS visa deal

ECONOMYNEXT – The Maldives could take reciprocal action after Sri Lanka’s new system of outsourcing its visas, which requires the payment of “processing” and “convenience” charges of 26 dollars, even though the government does not collect any fees.

Maldivian authorities have reminded Sri Lanka of the long-standing bilateral agreement under which their citizens could travel freely between the two neighbours without any charges or bureaucratic barriers.

A one month stay is available without a fee.

Maldivians, who consider Sri Lanka their second home, often spend more than a month in the larger country, but are now required to pay 26 dollars to VFS Global, which has controversially been contracted to handle Sri Lankan visas.

“The Sri Lankan government will not charge a fee, but Maldivians still have to pay VFS after applying online for a visa,” a Maldivian government official said in the capital, Male. “This violates the spirit of our agreement.”

He said the new administration of President Mohamed Muizzu was taking up the issue with Sri Lankan authorities in both Male and Colombo.

In a worst-case scenario, the Maldives will be compelled to reciprocate the new cost of a Sri Lankan visa and charge Sri Lankans traveling to the archipelago. There are also expat Sri Lankans in the Maldives.

There are only a handful of countries to which Sri Lankan passport holders can travel without any visa restrictions.

Singapore is another country which could take action against Sri Lanka if the bilateral deal is found to be violated, according a source said.

Opposition parties have said in parliament that outsourcing the visa handling to VFS Global and their partners was a bigger corruption scandal than the bond scam of 2015 and 2016, when billions of rupees were stolen through insider deals. (COLOMBO/May 28, 2024)

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