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Friday February 23rd, 2024

Easter Attacks: Church calls off protests but will the victims get justice?

MOURNING FOR EASTER VICTIMS – Worshippers at St Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya on July 1st when the Church reopened after the Easter bombings/Pathum Dhananajana EconomyNext

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Roman Catholic Church has called off its month-long protest campaign to demand justice for the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks by Muslim extremists which killed nearly 270 people and plunged the country into a serious economic and political crisis.

Several weeks ago the Church asked the congregants to pray for Justice for the victims and last Sunday the faithful were asked to attend services dressed in Black a colour they wear only for funerals.

Normally the faithful will attend church dressed in their “Sunday best” and share a festive meal with their families, but the pain they have suffered in the Easter attacks and the callous indifference of successive governments over the horrific suicide blasts has motivated them to mourn publicly.

Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who openly endorsed Rajapaksa administrations in the past led these protests and voiced his own frustrations at the inactions of the current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to bring justice to the Catholic community.

However, earlier in the week the Bishops Conference was presented with the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the blasts which they accepted.

Catholics have been urged to continue to recite a special prayer for Justice.

BLACK SUNDAY – Last Sunday Catholics across the country staged protests after services

Cardinal Ranjith partial to the Rajapaksas

Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, has shown a distinct partiality to the Rajapaksa family and has exhorted his flock to accept life “under the Buddhist tent.”

Rajapaksa announced his candidature days after the Easter blasts, promising that “National Security” would be a priority. Be it by fortune or design, he found the best mood for the launch of his campaign.
Rajapaksa promised the Catholics justice leading them to wholeheartedly support his candidature.

A nation horrified that a new beast had entered their homes ten years after Vellupillai Prabhakaran had died in the Eastern Sands, rushed to follow this new pennant.

The shambolic and dysfunctional “Yahapalanaya” government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is certainly to be blamed for its lax attitude where proper actions were not taken even after intelligence from Indian agencies described the date, the form and the targets of the Easter attacks weeks before they occurred.

When the Supreme Court ruled against Sirisena’s Constitutional coup in October 2018, restoring Ranil Wickremesinghe back to the post of Prime Minister, the former did not convene the National Security Council for months.

Sirisena was also away from the country even though he had been informed, as witnesses say of the imminent attack. What’s more, despite being the President of the country, and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, he failed to immediately return to the country, when the country faced a national emergency.

Then-President Maithripala Sirisena visits the bombed-out Katuwapitiya Church days after the attack. The Presidential Commission has called for punitive action/PMD Photo

The Commission wants action against President Sirisena

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the blasts recommends that the former President be held responsible and legal action taken against him.

It faults Wickremesinghe for his attitude, but does not recommend punitive action against him, though I believe, he too must share the blame.

If he was not being briefed by the Intelligence Agencies, then he should have informed Parliament. His distant and unfeeling attitude towards his serious responsibilities should consign him to the bins of history.

Also, the behaviour of his Cabinet Ministers who addressed a Press Conference the morning after, gleefully placing the blame on Sirisena for the tragedy as a shaken nation mourned, was shocking beyond belief.

Former Army Commander and current Samagi Jana Balavegaya Member of Parliament, Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka made a key speech during last week’s debate in Parliament on the Easter Sunday massacre.

In his speech, Fonseka stated he disagrees with some members of the government who state that since Zaharan Hashim, the leader of the National Thowheed Jamaat which carried out the attacks is dead, the “chapter should be closed.”

But the government’s own Minister for Public Security, Retired Admiral Sarath Weerasekere is claiming that the mastermind behind the strikes was Maulvi Naufer, a Qatar-based Islamic teacher.

What is beyond doubt is that Zaharan and several of his operatives were on the government payroll, as Intelligence Agents after the LTTE conflict ended. Fonseka is one among others who have pointed out that these persons had been recruited to the undercover operative ranks of the previous Rajapaksa administration, after the elimination of the Tamil Tigers.

The Co-Cabinet Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have admitted that these men were on the Intelligence payrolls.

Prof Rajan Hoole in his book “When the Deep State Gets out of its Depth” published shortly after the Easter attacks, meticulously documents the numerous times Zaharan and others were arrested by Police and produced before Magistrates only to be released time and time again.

Fonseka also revealed details of Zaharan’s travels between 2013 and 2016, before the Sirisena administration took office, where he is alleged to have gone to Syria and established contacts with the Islamic State.

BUDDHIST FORCE – Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero leads a march in Kandy

Did the former Rajapaksa regime foster extremists on both sides?

Political Analyst Gamini Viyangoda writing in the Anidda Newspaper this week asks the question of whether the previous Rajapaksa administration actively fostered the Muslim extremist groups such as Zaharan’s as well as Sinhala-Buddhist supremacists such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) led by Galagodaththe Gnanasara Thero.

He theorizes that “fostering both Sinhala-Buddhist supremacists on the one hand and a reactive Muslim extremism on the other was the secret policy of the previous Rajapaksa administration.”

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry recommends that action be taken against the BBS for fostering a culture of communal hate enabling the growth of Islamic extremism.

Muslim leaders such as Hilmy Ahamed of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council have long held the belief that the current government’s irrational insistence on the enforced cremation of the remains of Muslims who perish of the Covid 19 virus was designed to push the youth of the community towards extremist violence.

“We are asking the Maulvis (Clerics) preaching in the mosques on Fridays to continue to exhort the youth not to take to violence but to continue to pray. They must understand that the government wants them to take to extreme measures,” he told EconomyNext.

Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Sabry, the most prominent Muslim Member of the government, has also warned of the rise of extremism over the burial issue.

The government continued to ignore World Health Organisation guidelines as well as a special Expert Committee tasked with making recommendations about burials and cremations and persisted with the practice of burning the bodies.

Pressure from the UNHRC

That changed just about a week ago, in the face of UNHRC targeted sanctions, which if passed could affect many high ranking officials in the country.

Cremation is abhorrent to all those who follow the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam who frequently pray “save us from the fires of Hell.”

The policy was changed in Sri Lanka after Muslim countries around the world baulked at opposing a resolution against Sri Lanka being proposed at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) currently ongoing in Geneva if the cremation policy remained unchanged.

On the first days of submissions earlier this month the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) spoke strongly against cremation and placed Sri Lanka’s Muslims alongside oppressed Islamic communities in countries such as Palestine.

The resolution championed by European and North American states and unchallenged by India and some Asian countries will enforce targeted sanctions against key personalities in Sri Lanka, but does not seek to punish the country as a whole.

Sri Lanka will need the Muslim countries’ support to prevent the resolution from going through.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

President Rajapaksa will not be able to implement the recommendations

But the Gotabaya administration will find it difficult to act on the recommendations of the Presidential Commission.

It is certainly not in a position to take any action against Sirisena, as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party led by the former President holds 14 seats in Parliament and may well withdraw support from the ruling Nidahas Podujana Peramuna coalition if such action is taken.

So, to further prolong acting on the recommendations, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed six members from his Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna to review the commission’s report. Various government Ministers too are urging further investigations into the attacks.

Catholic Human Rights activist Ruki Fernando in a column published on our website bemoans the lack of justice for the many victims of state terror, ranging from Ahimsa Wickrematunga daughter of slain journalist Lasantha to those who died in the Navaly Church bombing decades ago. He also questions why when the Colombo Archdiocese took no action over the Navaly church bombing, several missing clergy and other attacks which involved Catholics, the Cardinal has chosen to protest the Easter Sunday massacre.

Sri Lanka has become notorious for appointing Presidential Commissions, raising the hopes of victims, only to dash them all, when the reports are shelved to gather dust. When aggrieved victims then seek external assistance, they are labelled anti-patriotic.

It looks like Cardinal Ranjith’s quest too may end up on the same heap of scrap but how will he face his faithful flock? (Colombo, March 12, 2021)

By Arjuna Ranawana

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  1. Wannithantri says:

    Seems Cardinal has agreed to a Game of SOFT BALL with the Rajapakse
    Clan.

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  1. Wannithantri says:

    Seems Cardinal has agreed to a Game of SOFT BALL with the Rajapakse
    Clan.

Sri Lanka’s Grisly Recent History Goes Unpunished

ECONOMYNEXT – They lie buried in numerous mass graves, all evidence of Sri Lanka’s murderous recent past which has been punctuated by multiple civil conflicts.

Whatever remains is evidence of Sri Lanka’s grisly history of the extrajudicial executions of rebels in both Northern and Southern insurrections.

Most of the bodies remain in mass graves that stretch from Chemmani and Duraiappah Stadium in  Jaffna to burial sites in the Colombo and Matale Districts and the Southern and Central Provinces.

The dead could be anyone; captured rebels, those caught in crossfires and others who were deemed to be “inconvenient,” according to a report titled ‘Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s War Time Role’ released by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) on 17 January 2024.

A horrific record

Sri Lanka’s recent blood-soaked history is replete with mass killings and many “disappearances” from the various incidents during the insurgencies of the JVP as well as the Tamil separatist war.

The activist group Journalists for Democracy and affiliated organisations claim that at least 32 mass graves have been identified across the island. A report published in Groundviews in January said these graves “dotted across the country that hold the remains of not just the casualties of the civil war but also those who disappeared during the two JVP uprisings in 1971 and from 1988 to 1989.”

A 1999 United Nations study noted that Sri Lanka has the second-highest number of enforced disappearances in the world with around 12,000 people missing after being detained by government Security Forces. Figures vary with Amnesty International reporting that the number of disappeared persons could be as high as 60,000.

There is no official government figure.

Evidence against GR

Now, fifteen years after the separatist war in Sri Lanka ended, mounting evidence has emerged against former President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, for his pivotal role in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the civil war, say Human Rights lawyers in this new report.

Rajapaksa figures in two serious passages of time where suspected cadres of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna were killed at Matale in the 1988-89 period and LTTE cadres and civilians on the frontlines of Nandikadal which proved to be the final battle of the Eelam War.

The ITJP report quotes its Executive Director Yasmin Sooka as saying if Sri Lanka “is serious about dealing with its violent past, the litmus test is to hold (former President) Gotabaya Rajapaksa criminally accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The report presents detailed evidence connecting the former President when he was Secretary to the Ministry of Defence to numerous massacres of civilians. Although not the army commander, nor Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gotabaya had command and effective control of the security forces during the Civil War as the Defence Secretary and the younger brother of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The ITJP report says the then Defence Secretary Rajapaksa had “contemporaneous knowledge of the violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law being committed, and failed to take any steps to prevent them, or to hold those under his command accountable. He and successive Sri Lankan governments have had countless opportunities since the war ended to initiate credible investigations into allegations of gross human rights violations and to establish prosecutions. Instead of allowing the truth to come to light, Gotabaya and his successors have perpetuated denial of the complicity of the security forces in these violations, rewarding and protecting the alleged perpetrators.”

The 104-page document examines evidence of Rajapaksa’s involvement in and knowledge of attacks on the No Fire Zones set up to protect civilians, his failure to prevent and investigate summary executions, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detention and the denial of humanitarian aid to civilians.

Individual stories that were leaked at the time gave credence to these incidents.

One was the evidence of the killing of LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s younger son Balachandran. The boy, according to some reports, had been escorted to the Sri Lanka Army lines by an LTTE bodyguard at Mullivaikkal. Photos purported to have been taken at that stage show the boy wrapped in a Sri Lanka Army issue sarong eating a biscuit behind the Sri Lanka Army lines. A second photo shows him dead at the same location, his body riddled with bullets.

Another set of pictures was that of the LTTE’s TV icon Issapriya whose image was widely circulated. There were unconfirmed reports that she had been sexually assaulted along with other young women who had been captured as the LTTE unravelled. That is followed by another picture of her corpse shot at close range.

Eventually, the Sri Lankan government during President Maithripala Sirisena’s tenure acknowledged that some 65,000 persons were missing and granted close surviving relatives rights to manage their properties, the ITJP report states.

Matale Mass Grave

Rajapaksa was the military Coordinating Officer for the Matale District in 1989 when the area was rocked by the so-called Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya a JVP offshoot. He was a Lt. Colonel at the time.

In December 2012, reports emerged that a mass grave had been found in the grounds of the Matale Hospital.

Accusations were made at the time that the remains unearthed were that of JVP cadres who had been captured and allegedly killed during the insurrection, a claim the party repeatedly made.

No government however pursued an investigation into the discovery because politics got in the way; after all the UNP was in power when the killings were supposedly carried out and the officer responsible, Gotabaya, was the brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa at the time, a prominent leader in the SLFP.

The government of the day meanwhile claimed the bodies were of victims of a landslide in the 1950s.

However, there was no proper investigation to prove which theory was factual.

The ITJP report also contains the names of former Army Commander, Lt Gen Shavendra Silva and others who are seen as Gotabaya loyalists in the Army.  The report also claims that Army top brass, other than Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka, who was Commander of the Army at the time the civil war ended, had close personal connections to Rajapaksa.

These incidents, however, are not the only horrific events of our island nation’s history; abductions and disappearances of young men, allegedly by members of the armed forces, the massacre of a group of Buddhist monks at Aranthalawa, the killing of pilgrims at Anuradhapura, the latter two by the LTTE, random killings of public servants and others by rebel groups, and more recently the Easter Sunday bombings, the list goes on. And the powers that be, govern with impunity.

So, it is unlikely that the relatives of the victims will find closure until justice is served and those whose hands are bloodstained are held accountable for their actions.

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India has given “lot of offers” for Ramayana Trail, Sri Lanka state minister says

ECONOMYNEXT – India has given a lot of offers to establish Ramayana Trails in Sri Lanka, State Tourism Minister Diana Gamage said, as the island nation is focusing more on Indian tourists to boost the hospitality industry.

Historians say, according to Hindu mythology, Sri Lanka was the kingdom of Ravana, the ten-headed demon king who abducted Sita, the wife of Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, a smriti text from ancient India, one of the two important epics of Hinduism known as the Itihasas, the other being the Mahabharata.

The epic narrates the life of Rama, a prince of Ayodhya in the kingdom of Kosala.

With the opening of Ram Mandhir in Ayodhya, Sri Lanka has renewed the establishment of Ramayana Trails, which includes all the places believed to be associated with Ramayana.

The places include Sigiriya, Ashok Vatika, a garden in the city of Nuwara Eliya, which is believed to be the place where Ravana kept Sita captive, Ravana Ella Falls, Koneswaram Temple in Trincomalee and Divurumpola Temple in Bandarawela which is believed to be the place where Sita underwent a trial by fire to prove her purity among many other places.

“I think India is even willing to invest in it. They have given proposals that they are willing to invest in it. They will build hotels even around where they can have accommodation for the people who are visiting these areas,” Diana Gamage told reporters in Colombo.

“They (Indians) have given a lot of offers. If we do this in the right way, we can bring 5 million tourists from India alone.”

Indians topped the list of tourists to Sri Lanka last year with over 300,000 visitors.

“At the moment I am having discussions with some of them, and they are in touch with me,” Gamage said.

“If you look at Seetha Eliya, Seetha Temple is one of the main areas in this Trail. So that area also will be developed, specially.”

“I don’t know if you have seen how many millions visited the Ayodhya temple. There are so many millions from around the world. So, there is an interest in this and we have to grab that opportunity being in the country that it actually has taken place.”

“It is so unfortunate that why it has not been done so far. This should have been done a long long time ago. So now I am thinking that we should do it at least now.” (Colombo/Feb 22/2024)

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Sri Lanka offers fresh debt plan to bondholders amid Hamilton case extension hopes: Sources

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka offered a revised restructuring proposal to sovereign bond holders sources said, as the country tries to wrap up debt restructuring by the middle of the year and a holdout investor sues to force payment on one series of bonds.

A US court had stayed proceedings of case by holdout investor Hamilton Reserve for six months, which has the required volumes of bond with a ‘single series’ collective action clause to file action following request which was supported by the US, UK and France.

The deadline runs out on February 29.

An extension of at least three months may be sought to help wrap up the debt restructuring, sources said.

Sri Lanka is expecting to sign memoranda of understanding with Paris Club, within weeks, according to official sources.

Courts had earlier granted the stay saying Hamilton had the option of renewing case for summary judgement once it is lifted.

Sri Lanka rejected a proposal by bondholders to exchange a ‘downside’ bond linked to gross domestic product which will have a 20 percent hair cut with additional haircuts if GDP growth is low as forecasted by the International Monetary Fund.

Bondholders believe that the growth projections in an IMF debt sustainable analysis is too pessimistic

However bondholders are very keen on the structure, and it may be tough to convince them to accept a ‘plain vanilla’ type of solution, according to sources familiar with their thinking.

Bondholders also do not want a value recovery instrument detached from the underlying bond which is not ‘index eligible’. Earlier VRI’s used in debt re-structures have been upside instruments.

Bondholders had earlier expressed their unhappiness at what they said was “no progress” in negotiations.

Some bondholders were also of the view that the first ask by Sri Lanka from bondholders was deeper than the in-principle re-structure given by bilateral creditors. (Colombo/Feb22/2024)

A US court had stayed proceedings of case by holdout investor Hamilton Reserve for six months, which has the required volumes of bond with a ‘single series’ collective action clause to file action following a request from the US government among others.

The deadline runs out at the end of the month.

An extension of at least three months may be sought to help wrap up the bond restructuring, sources said. It is not clear whether courts will grant the extension.

Sri Lanka rejected a proposal by bondholders to exchange a ‘downside’ bond linked to gross domestic product which will have a 20 percent hair cut with additional haircuts if GDP growth is low as forecasted by the International Monetary Fund.

Bondholders believe that the growth projections in an IMF debt sustainable analysis is too pessimistic

However bondholders are very keen on the structure, and it may be tough to convince them to accept a ‘plain vanilla’ type of solution, according to sources familiar with their thinking.

Bondholders also do not want a value recovery instrument detached from the underlying bond which is not ‘index eligible’. Earlier VRI’s used in debt re-structures have been upside instruments.

Bondholders had earlier expressed their unhappiness at what they said was “no progress” in negotiations.

Some bondholders were also of the view that the first ask by Sri Lanka from bondholders was deeper than the in-principle re-structure given by bilateral creditors. (Colombo/Feb22/2024)

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