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US Embassy: Pompeo’s visit not confirmed yet

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Indian HC Baglay meets PM following visit by top Chinese delegation

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Close on the heels of China reiterating its commitment to Sri Lanka’s development goals and backing for Colombo at International forums, the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Gopal Baglay met Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday (15) evening to discuss ongoing Indian projects as well as cooperation on new projects.

A top level Chinese delegation, led by senior Chinese leader and top foreign policy official Yang Jiechi, who is also a member of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo and the Director of the Central Committee’s Foreign Affairs Commission met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa on Oct 8. Then the delegation also visited UAE, Algeria and Serbia.

Immediately after the high powered Chinese visit, a section of the media reported that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also expected to visit Colombo later this month. Asked whether the US embassy had issued a statement as regards Pompeo’s impending visit, an embassy official told The Island such statements had been issued by the State Department. Subsequently, the official said: “No official travel has been confirmed at this time. Notice of any high level travel would be announced by the Department of State once a trip is officially confirmed.”

Sri Lankan officials said that Pompeo was scheduled to visit Colombo in June 2019 for talks with the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. During bilateral talks, he was hoping to discuss issues relating to counter terrorism, freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific region, and the use of $480 million American Millennium Challenge Corporation Fund with then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe. However, the visit which was to take place ahead of the US presidential visit to G-20 summit in Osaka was cancelled amidst media furore over the US seeking to finalize MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) Compact and SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement).

However, the US embassy in Colombo cited ‘scheduling issues’ over cancellation of the June 27, 2019 visit that was aimed at showing solidarity with victims of Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Pompeo was to travel to Colombo on a brief visit, scheduled between his New Delhi trip and a visit to Osaka accompanying President Donald Trump for the June 28-29 G20 Summit.

The Sri Lanka Prime Minister’s Office said HC Baglay followed on the virtual summit between Premier Rajapaksa and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month.

The PM’s Office said: “One priority sector for Prime Minister Rajapaksa is water and sanitation. The High Commissioner noted several areas on which the two countries could collaborate, including water requirements in schools, sanitation needs, rainwater harvesting, building of toilets for deprived areas, and a project that could convert sewage into fertilizer.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa indicated that the lack of safe drinking water in certain parts of the country is the main concern, including the role it plays in chronic kidney disease. This is now a key priority for the Sri Lankan Government.

High Commissioner Baglay spoke of the possibility to collaborate with Prime Minister Modi’s “Jal Jeevan Mission” (Water for Life Mission), which is the Indian Government’s program that aims to provide potable water for every household.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa noted that the lack of drinking water is a particularly serious problem in the dry zone region of Sri Lanka and requested the High Commissioner to look into any assistance that can be provided towards that end.

The Prime Minister also requested India to look at the pharmaceutical sector and encourage Indian investors to establish research and manufacturing facilities in Sri Lanka to help the country meet its medicinal drug required.”

In the wake of the high profile Chinese visit, the media sought an explanation from cabinet spokesman Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella whether Sri Lanka was getting closer to China at the expense of its long standing relationship with Japan. Asked whether the government’s controversial decision to terminate proposed Light Railway System that was to be built with Japanese financial assistance in Colombo and its suburbs prompted by growing relationship with China, Minister Rambukwella pointed out that recently there was media furore over Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage’s comment on Sri Lanka’s relationship with India. But, Sri Lanka would continue to follow non-aligned foreign policy, the minister said.

Sri Lanka attributed the decision to cancel the Japanese funded project to many houses and business premises that would have to be destroyed during construction, important wetlands would be severely damaged, the cost of constructing the railway track on towers would be immense, and operating costs too would be excessive.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency signed a concessionary loan agreement with Sri Lanka worth about 30 billion yen ($284 million) in March 2019 for the project, the total cost of which would be about 246.6 billion yen.

According to foreign media reports the US, Japan and India are working together to counter growing Chinese regional and global influence.


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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report

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PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.

They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.

Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.

With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.

 

Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.

Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.

The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.

Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.

Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.

The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.

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JVP picks holes in PCoI report

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By Saman Indrajith

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.

“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”

Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.

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TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin

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By Saman Indrajith

It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.

 The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.

 MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.

 MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.

Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.

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