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Sri-Lanka News Bulletin - 26 July to 9 Aug 2001

A news bulletin on Sri Lanka produced by Australian and New Zealand activists working for peace in Sri Lanka. contact: Australia - Willie mailto:willie@apex.net.auwillie@apex.net.au New Zealand - Malathy mailto:malathy@ihug.co.nz

1. Referendum ==========


The proposed referendum announced by the President, initially scheduled for August 21, was keeping the country and the politicians hotly debating the "Yes" and "No" vote. The referendum was to ask the people, "Does Sri Lanka needs a new constitution?". It will not be spelling out any further details. On August 6, President announced that the referendum is postponed for Oct 18. The combined opposition claimed victory for their campaign against the referendum and continued to press for its cancellation and resummoning of parliament.

There was mounting pressure from the opposition politicians, civil society, religious leaders, and business leaders to call off the referendum. The Bishop Rev. Nicolas Marcus Fernando's comment reflects the country's mood on the proposed referendum. He said "the sudden announcement of a referendum by the government has confused the general public in this country. Though seeking the opinion of people seem to be like true democracy, in a situation where the purpose of the referendum remains a mystery, it is no better than trying to make people swallow the hook hidden inside a morsel of bait. We do not want to be stupid fish who take that sort of bait".

President called the leaders of main opposition parties to discuss the crisis following the air port attack. Opposition leaders rejected her call which they said had no true purpose. However, the Sinhala nationalist, Sihala Urumaya party, is reported to be brokering a deal between the two main parties to form a national unity government. Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe also confirmed that the PA leaders had proposed the formation of a government of national unity.

A notable exception to the opposition to the referendum is the support given to it by NSSP, a left wing party that supports Tamil self determination. A press statement released by NSSP following the postponement of the referendum said that the postponement is a gain to the national unity government campaign and appealed to the masses to make use of the available time to: campaign for a democratic constitution with autonomy for Tamil speaking people, and to mobilize against the national unity government threat.

2. Airport Attack ==========

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement where he is said to be dismayed by the LTTE attack on the Sri Lankan Air Force base and the adjoining International airport. He called on all sectors of Sri Lankan society to make every effort to initiate and sustain a viable peace process.

Actual numbers of air crafts damaged by the LTTE's airport attack is still being debated. The estimate ranges from 12 air crafts to 28 eight crafts. The Sri Lankan Airlines chief in an interview with BBC stated that a claim of US $500 million will be lodged with the insurers. Aviation sources said that all airlines flying to Sri Lanka will face sharply increased insurance premiums. The attack could set the Sri Lankan economy back several years.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Airlines announced that it will temporarily shift its operational base to Singapore and Dubai as a part of its attempt to clear the backlog resulting from the attack. Following on from the attack trade union officials claimed that the airline has decided to shed more than 1,500 jobs which is nearly 50% of the staff.

The Air force appointed a special committee to investigate the attack. It was reported that eleven air force personnel in positions of responsibility for security of both the military airport and the adjoining international airport are to be court marshalled.

Australia, Canada, Britain and USA among other countries have advised their citizens to avoid travelling to Sri Lanka following on from the attack. Tour operators have lobbied the diplomatic missions to assist them in rebuilding tourism.

According to defense ministry officials, the Sri Lankan air force has continued to bomb suspected Tamil Tiger rebel base in Jaffna and Trincomalee in the island's north, for the last fortnight, that is since the airport attack.

3. Restrictions on journalist ==========

The Sri Lankan government reimposed restrictions on journalists covering the war in the northern areas held by Tamil Tiger rebels. This comes just three months after withdrawing the tough regulations. Journalists travelling to the war front will now be required to get written permission. New York Times article by a journalist who visited Jaffna prior to this reintroduction of restrictions can be read at the URL below. The article is about the ruined town of Chavakkachcheri. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/06/international/asia/06LANK.html

In the mean time, Tamil journalist Sivaram Dharmeratnam (also know as Taraki) in a recent interview with The South Asia Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) claimed that the war will soon reach a hurting stalemate for both sides. (http://www.csis.org/saprog/010702dharmeratnam.htm).

4. War related news ==========

War casualties as reported by defense ministry sources: On July 27, eight Tamil Tiger rebels and three government soldiers were killed in renewed fighting in Sri Lanka's northern war zone. On July 29, two Tamil Tiger rebels preparing to launch an attack on navy personnel were accidently blown to pieces in northwestern Sri Lanka when explosives strapped to their bodies went off prematurely. On July 29th four LTTE militants, one soldier and two civilians have been killed in different parts of Sri Lanka in increased fighting. On July 31, Tamil guerrillas attacked a police post and killed five constables in the east. In another incident a member of a rival Tamil group was shot dead while he lay in hospital. On August 1, Sri Lankan troops killed four LTTE rebels in northern Sri Lanka. Tigers shot dead five home guards in east.

5. Other News ==========

Amnesty International plans to single out the leaders of Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Sri Lanka over alleged human rights abuses when they attend a Commonwealth leaders' meeting in the Australian city of Brisbane in October. Amnesty said that about half of the 50 leaders who will attend the October 6-9 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting(CHOGM) are either personally accountable for human rights abuses or come from countries where abuses are widespread.

Paul Harris, writer to the Janes Intelligence magazine, and a frequent writer on Sri Lankan defense matters launched his photographic book on Sri Lanka called "Fractured Paradise" in Colombo. At the launch he said, "Major change in strategy is required as there is no doubt that the LTTE is winning. The Sri Lanka Army has to increase its size and commitment as the crisis will become grave in two to three years time."

Batch of 212 Tamil families, consisting of 1,415 men, women and children, has been settled in new homes in northern Sri Lanka under a government project to relocate people who are displaced.

Sri Lanka's Supreme Court Thursday ordered the state to pay compensation to the makers of an award-winning anti-war film which was effectively banned by the government last year. The screening of the film "Death on a Full Moon Day", directed by famous director Prasanna Vithanage, was blocked in July 2000.

UNP Parliamentarian Jayalath Jayawardena, requested the police to probe into the campaign by the state controlled media that is accusing him of having connections with the LTTE. Jayawardene claimed that photographs of him and LTTE members that were published were generated by electronic manipulation.

A special government gazette announcement made on the 30th of July issued by the President, has named 350 places all over the Island as detention centers, which was originally created under the Emergency Regulation(ER). ER was not extended by the parliament. Therefore the new gazette announcement reestablished the detention centres under the 9th Chapter of Prevention of Terrorism Act which allows for Temporary directives.

Strike at Sri Lanka's main sea port ended on Sun Aug 4 after a five day work stoppage which caused massive losses to shippers and foreign vessel owners already reeling under high war-risk insurance charges. Workers at the Jaya Container Terminal of the Colombo Harbour called off their trade union action following the withdrawal of a new shift system which the authorities tried to introduce this month.

END

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