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Sri Lanka News Bulletin 1 June - 14 June 2001

1. Peace process
==========
After blowing hot and cold on the issue of de-proscription of LTTE, Sri
Lanka formally announced that nearly two years of work by Norway
to broker peace in the country has reached a deadlock. Some government
ministers also expressed reservations about the performance of Erik
Solheim. A senior minister claimed that the Norwegian peace envoy
Solheim's initiative is a suspect among Sinhalese because of the
pro-LTTE statements he had made in the past. Sri Lankan Prime Minster
also indicated that Solheim, should now accept the fact that his
attempts had failed, and that he ought to give up. The President said
that her government will press on with constitutional reforms to confer
more rights on the Tamil minority regardless of the LTTE participating
in peace talks. She said the government will need the opposition's
cooperation for this.

In the meantime, an umbrella body grouping of about 30 peace and human
rights organisations issued a statement calling on the government to
drop the ban on LTTE.

As hopes faded two encouraging events unfloded. Firstly, two Roman
Catholic bishops from Sri Lanka, Malcolm Ranjith from the South and
Rayappu Joseph from the North went to Oslo and held talks with Solheim.
Before departing they met LTTE leaders and the President.

Secondly Norway Foreign Minister, Thorbjoern Jagland visited Colombo
accompanied by Solheim. Norwegian embassy spokesman in Colombo Tomas
Stangeland said that the President has asked Jagland to sum up the
status for the ongoing peace process. The two men arrived in Colombo on
June 7th, however, Solheim was dropped from the only meeting Jagland had
with the President. They left after a twelve hour visit to Colombo
without talking to the press about the results of the talks. Once in
Norway the Foreign Minister said that it is now time for stronger
political engagement by Norway, in order to make headway in the stalled
peace negotiations. Norway's Foreign Minister said he would now
schedule meetings with the LTTE guerillas, but that no venue or dates
had been set.

This was followed by intense media speculation that Erik Solheim has
been sidelined, by a high-level delegation as facilitators for peace
talks. Solheim strongly rejected this allegation. He said, "I can
confirm to you while the Foreign Minister and the deputy Minister
will be involved in high-level, myself and Sri Lanka's Norway envoy Mr.
Westborg will continue to act as the facilitating team".

In the meantime, LTTE issued a statement saying that the Sri Lankan
government was trying to marginalise the Solheim, because of his
impeccable neutrality. The statement also condemned Sri Lankan and
Norwegian governments for the unilateral changes in the facilitator's
role without consulting with them. They accused that this amounts to a
breach of the protocol.

Latest reports in the state run papers claim that Sri Lanka may be
willing to temporarily lift a ban on separatist Tamil Tiger
rebels to break the impasse.


2. Censorship
==========
The government suddenly announcement that it is lifting censorship on
war related news reports. No reason was given. Many organisations
welcomed this.

National Peace Council called for the lifting of self censorship also.
An NPC official said that the authorities should now prove their
genuineness by putting BBCs Sinhala and Tamil programmes, back in Sri
Lanka broadcasts. These programmes were banned after the Sri Lankan Army
was defeated by the LTTE in Elephant Pass, last year.

The Free Media Movement (FMM) of Sri Lanka said that it hopes the
censorship will not be re-imposed once the military situation
escalates again.

The Editors' Guild of Sri Lanka welcomed the lifting of a three year
military censorship as "long overdue," but urged the government to lift
a ban on travel to the island's embattled north-east. The Guild said it
wanted free access for all accredited journalists to the embattled
northern and eastern regions which are currently off-limits apart from
government tours.

New York based media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
welcomed the decision by the President to lift the censorship on war
coverage. The CPJ expressed its hope that the SL authorities will
now work to lift other obstacles that prevent reporting Sri Lanka's
civil war.


3. Progress in court cases
==========
The Criminal Investigations Department has handed over a report to the
Jaffna magistrate on their investigation into the killing of Jaffna
based journalist M. Nimalarajan last year. Contents of the report are
not known. Amnesty International in its 2001 annual report has noted the
suspicions on members of the only Tamil political party in the
government coalition, EPDP, for the murder of Nimalranjan.

The Attorney General in Sri Lanka has ordered the acquittal of 11
people accused of killing young Tamil detainees in Bindunuwewa in
October 2000. Human rights activists say no reason was given for the
acquittal. They include three policemen and two security officers.

The Attorney General has so far refused to grant the bail applications
of six young Tamil plantation workers held for more than three years
under the country's Prevention of Terrorism (PTA) legislation. The
six have not been convicted of any crime.

The Mannar district judge M.H.M Ajmeer has told officers of the Special
Investigation Unit (SIU) of the Police that he would have to dismiss
about 200 cases filed by them as these have been pending for a almost
three years without the Attorney General instituting proceedings against
persons who have been charged under the PTA and the Emergency
Regulations.


4. Impeachment of supreme court judge
==========
A parliamentary opposition attempt to impeach Sri Lanka's supreme court
chief judge, Sarath Silva, on allegations of misconduct is triggering an
unprecedented conflict between the two institutions. Speaker Anura
Bandaranaike received a motion from the main opposition United
National Party (UNP) seeking the impeachment of the chief judge,
possibly paving the way for an inquiry by a select committee. The
Supreme Court has since ruled that the Speaker cannot appoint a
parliamentary select committee to investigate the chief judge as it will
be in violation of Article 78 (A) of the constitution.

According to the Asian Human Rights Commission's (AHRC) statement this
decision was made by a panel of three Supreme Court judges, appointed by
the chief judge himself. Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has also
praised the impeachment motion saying that the it was an opportunity to
address the crisis in the Justice system in Sri Lanka.


5. No confidence motion against the government
==========
The government will be facing a no-confidence motion which the
opposition United National Party proposes to move soon. The President's
ruling party has 107 seats in the 225 seat parliament. Her party is
governing through coalition with the main Muslim party, SLMC, which has
11 seats. The SLMC is reconsidering its support because it says that the
government has failed to fulfill its promise of creating a separate
administrative district for minority Muslims in the country's east.
(However, SLMC has decided to oppose impeachment motion against chief
judge Sarath Silva.) A call by senior government minister to the
opposition UNP party to form a national unity government was rejected by
UNP.


6. Other news
==========
Medical officers in Jaffna hospital who were going on a protest said
that the hospital has been used as a human shield since 1996. Request to
remove the Sri Lanka army camp near the Jaffna hospital and declare it
and its environs as a demilitarised zone under the supervision of the
ICRC has not been heeded until this day, they saud.

War related deaths according to government sources: 12 people killed on
June 1. On June 5, STF raid Tiger hideouts in the East kills 16 Tiger
cadres. On June 6 at least 29 killed after Sri Lanka troops, rebels
clash. On June 7, 13 killed in clashes in Sri Lanka's northern war zone.
On June 11 six combatants die in fighting. Government also claimed that
a plane ferrying troops to the northern Jaffna peninsula from south was
fired at by the LTTE but just missed getting hit.

The Sri Lankan navy is set to take delivery of the first fast attack
craft out of an order for four placed with Israel last year.

President Kumaratunge defended the IMF's $253 million standby
facility against opposition allegations that it was a sell-out and
would force the government to cut welfare and raise taxes."If the IMF
had not stepped in, we would have crashed in the same way
economies in east Asia crashed" she said.

The World Bank has allocated 100 million U.S. dollars for the
infrastructure development of Sri Lanka's state universities.

The World Bank said Wednesday that it plans to grant a loan of $30
million toward the recently initiated restructuring of Sri Lanka's
central bank.

On July 17 the first "nation wide" census in 20 years will be conducted.
Tamil parties have criticised that a valid census among Tamils is
impossible due to the massive displacements.

Sri Lanka has been granted 94 million rupees (about 1.04 million U.S.
dollars) for humanitarian assistance for the displaced and resettlers
in the northern Jaffna peninsula from the European Commission. The
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Action Contre La
Faim (ACF) will be partners in implementing the European Commission's
latest scheme of humanitarian assistance to the country.

A Frontline article on the IDPs (internally displaced people) can be
found at:
http://www.frontlineonline.com/fl1812/18120610.htm


contact:
Australia - Willie mailto:willie@apex.net.auwillie@apex.net.au
New Zealand - Malathy mailto:malathy@ihug.co.nzmalathy@ihug.co.nz


END

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