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Suspicion cast over Seychelles 35; JVP demands explanation

ECONOMYNEXT – The government must explain on whose directive 35 Seychelles nationals were brought to Sri Lanka and why they were allegedly prioritised over thousands of Sri Lankans stranded abroad, the opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) said.

Former JVP MP Sunil Handunneththi said in a statement yesterday that there is a cloud of suspicion hanging over the sudden decision, given the African nation’s reputation as an investment destination for “Sri Lankan politicians’ black money”.

Foreign Relations Ministry DG/East Asia Kandeepan Balasupramaniam told reporters on Sunday (24) that the Seychelles nationals were flown in to Sri Lanka the previous day (23) following a request made by them to utilise medical facilities in the South Asian nation.

According to Balasupramaniam, the visitors had highlighted Sri Lanka’s “superior healthcare sector” as a reason for seeking entry to the country.

The decision to fly in the foreigners was made against a backdrop of some 40,000 Sri Lankans abroad who have requested repatriation. According to Handunneththi, there are over 300 Sri Lankan nationals currently stranded in Seychelles itself.

“Instead of prioritising the repatriation of Sri Lankans, why this urgency to bring in foreign nationals to the country? The government and the Foreign Relations Ministry must explain who these individuals, on whose request they were flown in and who approved the decision,” he said.

Balasupramaniam claimed on Sunday that the decision was made solely on humanitarian grounds, taking into account the “healthy bilateral relations” between the two countries.

Meanwhile, a statement from the High Commission of Seychelles thanked Sri Lanka for its assistance.

“We wish to place on record our gratitude to the Government of Sri Lanka, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Health, for enabling the visit of a group of 35 citizens of Seychelles, 24 of whom require urgent medical care, of which 11 critical patients are being accompanied by their relatives, for coronary angiography and angioplasty, tetralogy fallout corrective surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, retinal detachment repair and many other high end surgery and interventions,” it said.

According to the High Commission’s statement, the Air Seychelles flight that flew in the purported medical tourists had on its turnaround flight taken back 14 Seychelles nationals who had found themselves stranded in Sri Lanka owing to the COVID-19 lockdown.

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The High Commission claimed that 35 patients had “fulfilled all precautionary measures including the PCR tests in Seychelles and were cleared for foreign travel.”

“On arrival, they were transferred to a hotel in Wadduwa for paid quarantine and were under the watchful eyes of the Sri Lankan Army and Ministry of Health, thereby complying fully with the quarantine protocol of the Government of Sri Lanka,” it added.

Hemas hospital, the statement went on to say, had conducted PCR tests on the 35 patients, all of which turned out negative. EconomyNext could not independently verify this claim.

On completion of the quarantine period and clearance obtained after a second round of PCR testing for COVID-19, the Seychelles High Commission said, the patients will be admitted to Hemas Hospitals in Thalawathugoda and Wattala to continue their treatment and procedures.

Ex-MP Handunneththi, however, is demanding that the government provide an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the decision.

“Seychelles have been a political hot topic in the recent past. There were moves to establish diplomatic relations and even open a Bank of Ceylon (Boc) branch there. Allegations have been made repeatedly that it’s a country where Sri Lankan politicians hide or invest their black money,” he said.

BoC’s Seychelles branch was declared open in January 2014. In April 2016, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) called for a report on the performance of the branch.

“What is the relationship between the government and these foreigners? There is suspicion that they were providing protection for their chums. We demand that the government explain on whose directive this decision was made,” Handuneththi added.

Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena could not be reached for comment. (Colombo/May26/2020)

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