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Written by Amali Dissanayaka
Published on Sunday, 14 July 2013 11:15

Sunday Pol logo*India’s firm message shakes Rajapaksa govt
*JVP to release proposals on national issue on the 24th

Sunday Politics
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The Mahinda Rajapaksa government has now taken several steps back in its initial agenda for the next few months.
The first step was to put on hold the planned 19th Amendment to the Constitution that was aimed at diluting the 13th Amendment. The next was to delay the proceedings of the parliamentary select committee (PSC) to discuss amendments to the 13th Amendment.
However, one of the main issues was to call for the Northern Provincial Council election before the planned dilution of some powers vested with the provincial councils.
The Rajapaksa government’s decision to reduce the speed in carrying out its plans was mainly due to pressure exerted by the Indians.
President Rajapaksa’s envoy to India, Minister Basil Rajapaksa was informed by India during his recent visit to New Delhi that Colombo has to honour its commitments to the international community.
The Indians had in fact reminded Basil that it was President Rajapaksa who had assured a 13A Plus solution to address the national issue. Rajapaksa continued to make this pledge to members of the Indian government and members of parliament whom he met in the past few years.
The Indian’s call for the honouring of the Indo-Lanka Accord that resulted in the formation of the 13th Amendment was made during Basil’s visit to New Delhi and India’s National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon’s visit to Colombo.
Menon during his breakfast meeting with President Rajapaksa last week conveyed a strong message from Indian Premier Manmohan Singh. The message indeed was hard for the Rajapaksa administration digest, at least in these initial stages.
Menon had informed the President that the Sri Lankan government should honour the Indo-Lanka Accord and fully implement the 13th Amendment.
The usually mild mannered diplomat had also noted to the President that India’s support towards Sri Lanka in the international arena would depend on the actions of the Rajapaksa government in relation to the issue of reconciliation and the devolution of power.
The Rajapaksa government at that time realized that the Medamulana doctrine on foreign policy that has resulted in souring relations between India and Sri Lanka would not address India’s concerns and build faith.
President Rajapaksa for the first time informed India through Menon that the 13th Amendment needed some changes.
After making veiled promises of a 13A Plus, the President finally told Menon last week that the Rajapaksa government was looking at solution that was likely to be 13A Minus.
Be that as it may, India’s threat that Sri Lanka could lose its support when facing pressure before the international community is discomforting idea to the Rajapaksas.
It is a well known secret that India played a key role in getting last year’s US sponsored resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva, watered down. It was New Delhi that also used its good offices to help Sri Lanka secure the post of playing host for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this November.
Therefore, any move by India to show its displeasure during CHOGM or even a boycott would deal a severe blow to the Rajapaksa government.

Sudden progress
Given that Sri Lanka is yet to make steady progress in implementing the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations and the UNHRC resolution, the government would undoubtedly need New Delhi’s assistance at the UNHRC sessions in September as well as at the CHOGM in November.
All these have resulted in the Rajapaksa government showing steady progress in some key areas of concern. In the last few weeks, the Cabinet approved 53 more LLRC recommendations to be added to the Action Plan to implement them, persons involved in the Trincomalee murder in 2006 were apprehended and investigations into the murder of aid workers in Muttur have also intensified.
Also, elections are to be held for the Northern Provincial Council in September.
The government that has according to Wikileaks cables expressed knowledge of the culprits behind the Trincomalee murders in 2006 has finally managed to make arrests in connection to it.
In October 2006, a senior presidential advisor at the time had told former US Ambassador Robert O. Blake that the Government knew STF personnel had been behind the killings. “We know the STF did it, but the bullet and gun evidence shows that they did not. They must have separate guns when they want to kill someone. We need forensic experts. We know who did it, but we can’t proceed in prosecuting them,” Ambassador Blake had filed in a report to Washington that was later revealed in a Wikileaks cable.
The Indians it seems have managed to exert some pressure on the Rajapaksa government that was almost uncontrollable until now. Even the governing party allies who have been waxing eloquent against the provincial councils and the 13th Amendment are silent.
The President meanwhile met TNA Leader, R Sampanthan. The President had extended an invitation to the Tamil party leader.
External Affairs Minister Prof G.L Peiris and the Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga were also present.
At the meeting the President has expressed his desire to solve all outstanding issues relating to the national question.
Sampanthan has reiterated the TNA’s commitment to the evolution of an acceptable, workable and durable political solution within the framework of a united undivided country.
Amongst other matters discussed were issues pertaining to land, the need for people to resettle on all land earlier occupied by them, the need to minimize the military presence and confine the armed forces to the barracks, release of political prisoners and the conduct of a free and fair polls for the Northern Provincial Council.

JVP proposals

With all the talk on the 13th Amendment other key issues faced by the country have conveniently been pushed into the back burner.
Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in fact noted that before harping on the 13th Amendment, attention should be focussed on implementing the 17th Amendment as it would address some key concerns in the country.
He observed that the combined opposition together with intellectuals, civil society and trade unions need to act swiftly in forming a campaign to address the key issues faced by the country.
The JVP meanwhile is to release a set of proposals that would address the issues faced by the Tamil people and solve the long standing national question.
JVP leaders are currently in the process of finalizing the document and are to release it at a ceremony at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) on July 24th.
The JVP central committee has decided to launch the proposals to coincide with Black July on the 23rd.
JVP sources said that the party would present a set of short term proposals to address the immediate issues faced by the Tamil people in the country and provide another set of proposals that would solve the national issue.
“There have been many discussions, but a proper alternative proposal needs to be released,” a senior JVP member said.
However, the JVP is also in the process of preparing for the provincial council elections and is looking at carrying out a campaign in the North as well.

PC polls

Meanwhile, governing party allies like the JHU and NFF are now considering contesting at the forthcoming provincial council elections.
The two parties have carried out campaigns demanding the abolition of the provincial council system in the country.
The JHU in fact has even presented a 21st Amendment to the Constitution in the form of a private member’s motion in parliament calling for the abolition of the provincial council system in the country.

It is learnt that the JHU has decided to contest the North Western and Central Provincial Council elections13-011 under the UPFA banner.
The forthcoming provincial council elections are to see many veteran politicians and their off spring entering the fray.
It is learnt that DPF Leader Mano Ganeshan and Azath Salley are to contest under the UNP banner for the Central Provincial Council.
The UPFA is also looking at putting forward some popular figures in order to claim resounding victories in the elections.
While elections are to be held in some provinces, the President has now had to intervene in solving issues in the Eastern Provincial Council.
Government coalition members of the Eastern Provincial Council were told to head to Kandy for a meeting with President Rajapaksa on Saturday.
The meeting reportedly comes amidst strong opposition among several Council members, including coalition members of the government, to the Eastern Province Governor Rear Admiral Mohan Wijewickrama.

Media freedom

Soon after elections for the Northern Provincial Council were proclaimed, a journalist attached to the Jaffna based Uthayan newspaper came under attack last week.
Journalist Kunalan Dileep was assaulted by an unidentified group who had come in a three wheeler when he was on his way home from work on a motorbike.
Dileep was assaulted and pushed into a ditch by the side of the road. He was later admitted to hospital and a police complaint lodged.
The journalist a few days earlier had given wide publicity in one of his articles to the incident in Mailitty in Jaffna where residents displaced from the area due to the high security zone was prevented from participating in the festival at the Mailitty kovil.
A few days prior to the festival, EPDP Leader, Minister Douglas Devananda had assured residents of Mailitty that he would get permission for them to attend the festival at the kovil in the high security zone.
However, when thousands of residents had tried to enter the area, they were prevented by the military resulting in Devandna being summoned to address the issue.
Devananda had failed to get permission for all of the persons gathered to enter the area resulting in the displaced residents loudly expressing their dissatisfaction.
Dileep had written this report and was engaged in covering the Northern provincial Council election when he was attacked.
Letters were sent to Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and the IGP by journalists’ associations demanding justice.
However, continuous attacks on the Uthayan and its staff are yet to be effectively addressed by the government.
The Rajapaksa government’s attitude towards the media was also criticized by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
CPJ Executive Director, Joel Simon has drawn attention of the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma to press reports from Colombo which have indicated that the “Sri Lankan government intends to enforce stringent background checks on any foreign journalists covering the meeting, with the apparent intention of denying them permission to enter the country.”
The Executive Director has noted that journalists will be issued accreditation by a task force, which is a division of the Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry has said that that credentials may be “withdrawn, suspended, or deactivated for any reason at any time.”
The CPJ has asked the Secretary General to ensure that the Sri Lankan Government, “which is widely known for its aggressive anti-press stance,” does not prohibit access to foreign and local journalists seeking to cover the events surrounding the CHOGM.
The Commonwealth Secretariat in London has in response said it is working with the CHOGM 2013 task force in Sri Lanka on concerns raised over media accreditation for the November summit.
Official spokesperson and Director of Communications and Public Affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Richard Uku has said the Commonwealth Secretariat welcomes applications from all journalists seeking media accreditation to the summit in Sri Lanka.
He has said that all media participating in CHOGM 2013 must be accredited in order to access and use the media facilities within the Media Centre, located at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) complex.
“As is customary, the Commonwealth Secretariat is the final authority for all international media accreditation for CHOGM. The accreditation process will be carried out in collaboration with the host country authorities, who are responsible for processing and approving visa applications by accredited media,” he has added.
However, the Rajapaksa government would have a lot of confidence building to do where the media is concerned and the CHOGM could provide an excellent platform for such an endveour.

Last Updated on Sunday, 14 July 2013 11:15