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Sunday July 14th, 2024

Channel 4 documentary “anti-Rajapaksa tirade”, says Sri Lanka former president

ECONOMYNEXT – The explosive documentary aired by the UK’s Channel 4 on Sri Lanka’s 2019 Easter Sunday bombings is “mostly an anti-Rajapaksa tirade”, former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa said, insisting that the film’s claims were absurd.

In a lengthy statement issued on the documentary on Thursday September 07, Rajapaksa said the documentary was aimed at “blackening the Rajapaksa legacy from 2005 onwards and is a tissue of lies just like the previous films broadcast by the same channel.”

He was likely referring to a highly controversial documentary released by Channel 4 in the aftermath of Sri Lankan government forces’ military victory against the separatist Tamil Tigers in 2009. That film had accused the then Sri Lankan government, of which Rajapaksa was a senior defence official, of human rights violations – an allegation that successive governments have denied.

“To claim that a group of Islamic extremists launched suicide attacks in order to make me President, is absurd,” said Rajapaksa, in his statement on Friday.

The latest documentary, aired Monday night, claimed that Sri Lanka’s current intelligence chief was complicit in the attack.

The documentary had cited a “whistleblower” identified as Azad Maulana, a former top aide of chief minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan.

Related:

Sri Lanka’s Suresh Sallay complicit in Easter bombings: report

Rajapaksa claimed that the intelligence officer in question had been removed from his position as Director Military Intelligence in 2016 and not been in Sri Lanka at a time a meeting was said to have taken place between the officer and the purported whistleblower.

“After leaving the position of Defence Secretary in 2015 and until I was elected President, Maj Gen Sallay and I had no contact at all,” said Rajapaksa.

“From January to November 2019, he was in India following the National Defence College course and during this entire period from 2016 to 2019 he was not operative within the defence or security structure of Sri Lanka. After Maj. Gen. Sallay was removed from Military Intelligence in 2016, he never served in that organisation again. It was only after I became President that he rejoined the intelligence apparatus as the head of the State Intelligence Service from December 2019 onwards,” he said.

“Hence this story about Maj Gen Sallay meeting the suicide bombers in February 2018 is clearly a fabrication,” he added.

Rajapaksa said that, in order to bolster the filmmakers’ claim that Military Intelligence was in league with the suicide bombers,the film alleges that when the police started investigating into to the Vavunativu incident of 30 November 2018 where two policemen were killed and their weapons stolen and the discovery of explosives at the Wanathawilluwa safe house on 16 January 2019, Military Intelligence had sabotaged the police investigations. Rajapaksa dismissed this assertion as plain nonsense.

“All Sri Lankans are aware that the government of 2015-2019 persecuted the intelligence services and particularly the Military Intelligence and that that quite a few of its members spent months and years in remand and in police custody during that period. Hence any claim that the Military Intelligence could sabotage police work during the 2015 – 2019 government, is plain nonsense,” he said.

The alleged persecution of military personnel was a popular slogan the Rajapaksa opposition had used against the then United National Party (UNP)-led Yahapalana (Good Governance) government under President Maithripala Sirisena, who had a few months prior to the Easter bombings had removed the UNP government and replaced it with a Rajapaksa cabinet for 52 days.

In his statement, Rajapaksa repeated another popular allegation against the Yahapalana government: that it had turned a blind eye to reports of rising Islamic extremism at the time. He also highlighted a number of incidents to substantiate the claim.

“The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday bombings has stated quite clearly that signs of a Muslim extremist build up were ignored by the government of 2015-2019. They stated that the revelation made by the then Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe on 18 November 2016 that 32 Sri Lankans had gone to Syria and joined the ISIS terrorist group and that foreign Islamic preachers were coming to Sri Lanka to propagate extremist teachings had been ignored. The Easter Sunday suicide bombers had held training camps from 23 to 25 March 2018 at a guest house in Lewella and more gatherings had been held in April and May 2018 at a guest house in Nuwara Eliya all of which had been reported to the police but had not been investigated.

“Rilwan, the brother of Zaharan Hashim [the ring leader of the suicide bombers], was seriously injured whilst experimenting with explosives in Kattankuddy in the early hours of 27 August 2018. Apart from the Vavunativu and Wanathavilluwa incidents referred to earlier, there had been the vandalizing of Buddha statues in Mawanella in late December 2018 as well. As the Presidential Commission observed, the proper investigation of any one of these early incidents would have led to the early apprehension of the terrorists and the prevention of the suicide bombings. It was the police and not Military Intelligence that was in charge of these investigations,” said Rajapaksa.

“Apart from the fact that I was not in power during this entire period, like many members of the intelligence services and armed forces, I too was going from one police unit to another and from one court house to another from 2015 till I became President in November 2019 as a result of relentless government persecution,” he added.

Rajapaksa also responded to allegations made in the film that he had “sabotaged” the investigation by transferring officers carrying out the investigation.

“I assume that this is a reference to the former Director of the CID Shani Abeysekera. Leaked telephone recordings had revealed that he had conspired with a politician to influence the outcome of an ongoing criminal case in the High Court, and he could not be kept in a position of responsibility in the CID under any circumstances by any government,” he said.

The police officers attached to the Presidential Commission to investigate the Easter Sunday attacks were not transferred after he came into power, said the former president. In any case, he said there was a gap of nearly seven months between the Easter Sunday attacks and his coming into power, and investigations should have been carried out during that period. SSP Abeysekera was also one of those responsible for the negligence between 2016 and 2019 mentioned in the Presidential Commission’s report, he said.

“Channel 4 states that when the report of the Presidential Commission to investigate the Easter Sunday Attacks published its report, that I refused to make it public. That is an outright lie. Everyone in Sri Lanka knows that it has even been tabled in Parliament. Last year, when some people started linking me to the Easter Sunday bombings, I instructed Ambassador Mahinda Samarasinghe in Washington to explore the possibility of obtaining FBI/CIA assistance in investigations into the Easter Sunday bombings.

“On 7 April 2022, Christopher A.Landberg of the Bureau of Counter terrorism, U.S. Department of State wrote to Ambassador Samarasinghe stating the following:

‘Thank you for raising with us Sri Lanka’s request for an independent investigation into the Easter Sunday attacks… In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, and continuing to the present day, the U.S. government provided assistance in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible – to the point that the Department of Justice filed a criminal complaint in January 2021 against those deemed responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens. In light of that, even as we stand ready to continue providing support to your government, it would not make sense for the United States to conduct an additional investigation into the attacks…In terms of our cooperation on this case, I would like to highlight that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has worked closely with Sri Lankan law enforcement, and in the week after the attack, deployed approximately 33 personnel to Colombo to assist Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department with all aspects of their investigation. These efforts included evidence collection, witness and victim interviews, and exploitation of digital devices…’”

In this letter, said Rajapaksa, Landberg had also stated that if any additional requests were made by the Sri Lankan Attorney General they would be able to provide support from the two US prosecutors, who were on the ground in Colombo at that time in April 2022.

Earlier on 8 January 2021, the US Department of Justice had issued a media release stating among other things, that:

“…three Sri Lankan citizens have been charged with terrorism offenses including conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organisation (ISIS)… The men were part of a group of ISIS supporters which called itself ‘ISIS in Sri Lanka’. That group is responsible for the 2019 Easter attacks in the South Asian nation of Sri Lanka, which killed 268 people including five U.S. citizens, and injured over 500 others… Two days after the attacks. ISIS claimed credit for the terrorist acts, attributing the murders to ‘Islamic State fighters’… The criminal case filed on Dec. 11, 2020, in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles is the result of a nearly two-year investigation by the FBI, which assisted Sri Lankan authorities in the wake of the suicide bombings that targeted Christian churches and luxury hotels frequented by Westerners.’”

Rajapaksa also commented on his relationship with Sri Lanka’s Catholic community including the head of the church Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who had been calling for justice and alleging that a “grand conspiracy” was behind the Easter attack.

“Despite the politically motivated accusations being made against me by certain individuals, I have personally done everything possible to help the Roman Catholic community when I held government office. After the war ended, I helped in the restoration and reconstruction of the Madhu Church and the Church in Mullikulam. I also helped facilitate the arrangements to invite His Holiness the Pope to Sri Lanka and I headed the committee formed by the then government to organize the visit. I also played a key role in the construction of the Benedict XVI Catholic Institution of Higher Education in Bolawalana,” said Rajapaksa.

“I worked very closely with His Eminence the Cardinal during that period,” he added. (Colombo/Sep07/2023)

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UNESCO DG to discuss archaeological endeavours in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka: President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s president has said that he will discuss initiatives for long-term archaeological endeavours in the Anuradhapura city with visiting UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay.

Azoulay will visit Sri Lanka from July 16-19 and take part at the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Sri Lanka’s membership of UNESCO at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre in Colombo.

She will also travel to UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the island, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

“I have invited the Director General of UNESCO to visit Sri Lanka and discuss initiatives for long-term archaeological endeavours in the Anuradhapura city. Several universities overseas have shown interest in supporting us for these activities, and we are moving forward with their collaboration,” Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

“Anuradhapura boasts a rich history spanning over a millennium, once renowned as a hub of trade and economics. Preserving and exploring this ancient city’s archaeological treasures remains a significant endeavour.”

“New archaeological efforts in the Anuradhapura district are now imperative,” Wickremesinghe said during a ceremony to inaugurate a 150-kilowatt solar power system installed by the LTL Group at the Sri Maha Bodhiya premises in Anuradhapura on Saturday (13).

Wickremesinghe pointed out that UNESCO has undertaken extensive archaeological projects in Angkor Thom in Cambodia, and Luang Prabang in Laos.

“However, we have not taken the necessary steps to implement these activities in Anuradhapura city. Therefore, I have advised both the Department of Archaeology and the Cultural Triangle to undertake these initiatives.”

These efforts are part of a comprehensive program aimed at establishing Anuradhapura as a globally renowned city, Wickremesinghe said.

While Sigiriya has gained international fame, Sri Lanka has not adequately highlighted Anuradhapura’s historical significance as a major trade and economic center in the past, the president pointed out.

“Cities like Tanjore (Thanjavur), Madurai, and Sanchipuram are often discussed, yet Anuradhapura, the fourth city, has been overlooked. Therefore, it is crucial to develop Anuradhapura city.”

As part of these initiatives, preparations are underway to establish new hotels in Anuradhapura, which will contribute significantly to its development, Wickremesinghe said. (Colombo/Jul13/2024)

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Government committed to improving living conditions in Jaffna: Sri Lanka PM

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s prime minister, who is in Jaffna “to monitor the progress” and “get a little feedback” has said the government is committed to improving living conditions of the people in the northern peninsula.

“This government is dedicated to improving the living conditions of the Jaffna Peninsula,” Dinesh Gunawardena told a Jaffna District Coordinating Committee meeting on Friday, according to a statement by his media division.

“In order to increase the living conditions, we have embarked on an increase in most of the expenditure needed by the departments, and also special allocations for rural and urban development in the local government area.”

Nationalist Gunawardena met with Tamil politicians at the Jaffna Divisional Secretariat Office and participated in the distribution of rice and egg incubators for low income families.

“A special privilege to be with you all, in order to monitor the progress made by all of you, as well as to get a little feedback where we stand today in relation to the reports given.”

Gunawardena joins a string of leading political figures who have visited the north ahead of upcoming polls.

The government was, he said, “committed to improve the services and living conditions, therefore, to provide the necessary infrastructure for developments, which means much to your area.”

The prime minister said he appreciated the efforts of farmers because “farmers are all private sector, I would say. Let us not forget, farmers are all in the private sector, either in the ownership or in the tenancy. They are private contributors to the national development of the economy.”

The poverty numbers are “fairly managed” in the country. Gunawardena said, pointing out that poverty was a key problems in any economy. “Any country, you would agree with me, the richest country, in the United States even, food stamps have been given. So all economies the world are going through difficult situations in relation to the poor.

“We have to look after the poor especially in these remote villages of the Northern Province…”

Minister Douglas Devanada, MPs M A Sumanthiran, Angajan Ramanathan, C Vigneshwaran, Dharmalingam Siddharthan, and other officials participated in the meeting. (Colombo/Jul13/2024)

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Sri Lanka leader’s presidential campaign faces dilemma over coalition: sources

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s presidential election campaign is facing a dilemma over coalition due to rivalry parties with different political ideologies, sources said.

President Wickremesinghe is yet to announce his candidacy for the presidential poll which is expected to be declared by the island nation’s Election Commission after July 17.

However, his close allies and some ministers in the current coalition government have already started a campaign to promote him assuming that President Wickremesinghe will declare his candidacy.

Three sources who spoke to EconomyNext said legislators from the main opposition center-right Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) are ready to join, but they do not want to be in coalition with the ruling Sri Lanka Podujna Peramuna (SLPP).

“SJB members who want to join Wickremesinghe are bit nervous because people wanted to oust SLPP in 2022 for their past sins including corruption and wrong economic policies,” on source who is in a member in the core campaign strategy group told EconomyNext.

Another source said majority of nationalist party SLPP are with the president, but a few key SLPP leaders do not want to back Wickremesinghe because of his market-led economic policies.

“SLPP does not want to be seen as backing Wickremesinghe’s privatization moves. So a few leaders are worried to join the campaign and have different idea of fielding their own campaign,” the second source who is indirectly involved with facilitating meeting between Wickremesinghe and legislators said.

The SJB is leaned towards somewhat liberal economic policies and has ensured to treat all ethnic people equally, while SLPP has backed a state-controlled economy and has given priority for ethnic majority Sinhala Buddhists.

UNDECIDED VOTERS

There is no formal and transparent survey to assess the popularity of possible presidential candidates.

However, an informal survey shows Opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa is leading followed by Marxists Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna leader Anura Kumara Dissanayaka.

The same survey has shown a gradual gain for Wickremesinghe in the last three months.

“He is confident of winning, but he has to win most of the undecided voters for that,” a third source, who is in the campaign planning team, said.

“Still things are very fluid. Majority of the people still don’t understand the benefits of economic recovery and the country getting out of the debt default under the current president. We will have a clear picture by end of next month.”

Wickremesinghe was elected as the president in July 2022 by the parliament after his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country in fear of his life amid mass protests and outside the presidential palace.

Wickremesinghe has implemented some tough economic reforms including raising taxes, imposing new taxes, freezing recruitments to state-owned companies, and privatizing loss making government-owned entities in line with commitments agreed with the IMF.

UNPOPULOUR REFORMS

Those reforms have made him unpopulour mainly among government employees and lower income groups.

He has raised the salaries of government employees from April this year while has introduced a new transfer payment called Aswesuma for lower income and vulnerable groups.

Sri Lanka faced an unprecedented economic crisis with a sovereign debt default in 2022. But it has recovered faster than expected under Wickremesinghe administration with difficult and unpopulour reforms.

People protested against the SLPP-led government in 2022 and ousted then leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa and all his relatives from the key ministerial positions for their alleged involvement in corruption and wrong economic policies.

The SLPP which had more than two-third majority in the parliament after 2020 general election, is worried about its perception and electoral performance after the economic crisis.

Analysts say Wickremesinghe has a greater chance to win if he join with SJB than SLPP because of the SLPP’s negative perception.

Sources, however, said they are in discussions with both SLPP and SJB legislators to agree on a common programme for Wickremesinghe’s presidency.

Presidential election is likely to be held either in October first week or second week, Election Commission officials say.

Wickremesinghe lost the parliamentary election in 2020, but entered the parliament in 2021 using the solo seat his party won through the national list.  (Colombo/July 13/2024)

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