Sunday, March 24, 2013

UN resolution an attempt to divide our country: Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, March 22, 2013
Sri Lankan Minister for Youth Affairs Dullas Alahapperuma on Friday criticized the United Nations resolution that calls on the island-nation to thoroughly investigate war crimes allegedly committed during its civil war, saying that it attempts to divide the country.
Mr. Alahapperuma’s comments came a day after the U.N. Human Rights Commission approved the U.S.-backed resolution. The resolution followed a U.N. report alleging Sri Lanka’s Government may be to blame for tens of thousands of civilian deaths during the military campaign to defeat the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.
Mr. Alahapperuma told reporters that the UNHRC was being misused by “imperialists” to divide Sri Lanka. He did not elaborate, but such comments usually refer to the creation of a separate State for the minority ethnic Tamils.
Rights groups and foreign governments have called for an international probe of the civil war, which ended in 2009 after Government troops crushed the rebels. The rebels fought for a separate State for the Tamils for more than a quarter century.
By a 25-13 vote and with eight abstentions, the 47-nation UNHRC urged the South Asian nation “to initiate credible and independent actions” to ensure justice and accountability in the aftermath of the war. Those in favour included India and Brazil, while those opposed included Pakistan, Venezuela and Indonesia.
A similar resolution in March 2012 called on Sri Lanka to probe allegations of summary executions, kidnappings and other abuses, but stopped short of calling for an international investigation.
Sri Lanka and its allies opposed both resolutions, saying they unduly interfered in the country’s domestic affairs and could hinder its reconciliation process.
The Sri Lankan Government has argued that its own investigation should suffice. A Sri Lankan commission report, released in December 2011, cleared government forces of wrong-doing.
Rights groups and government critics say Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration has ignored previous calls for accountability, including last year’s resolution, and that it has dragged its feet in implementing even the limited recommendations made by its own war panel.
Thursday’s U.N. resolution was watered down before it passed to add language praising Sri Lanka and to remove other passages, such as those calling on the Government to give unfettered access to U.N. special investigators and others. Backers of the resolution argued that credible probes into alleged crimes are an important step to heal the nation.

Ambassador Aryasinha thanks countries that stood by Sri Lanka

Permanent Representation of Sri Lanka to the UN, Geneva
Mar 23, 2013
Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha has said Thursdays vote on Sri Lanka in the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), had provided a rare moment of solidarity for countries that continued to believe in principle, to stand up and be counted, at a time the composition of the HRC is heavily weighted in favour of Western powers, and Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Jordan, Russia and Saudi Arabia who resisted action against Sri Lanka in 2012, were no longer members of the HRC. Ambassador Aryasinha said the Government of Sri Lanka was deeply grateful to the countries that stood by Sri Lanka this year - by voting against, abstaining and absenting themselves, and also helping in lobbying for support, thereby resisting this resolution, which was both deeply intrusive, as well as precedent setting.
With 13 countries opposing the resolution, 8 countries abstaining, and 1 country absenting itself, 22 out of a total of 47 members of the Human Rights Council, refrained from supporting the U.S. sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka which was taken up for debate and vote at the 22nd Session of the UNHRC in Geneva on Thursday (21 March 2013). This cross- regional group included Congo, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kuwait, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Thailand, UAE, Uganda, Venezuela (which opposed); and Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya and Malaysia (which abstained); and Gabon (which absented itself).
The resolution was supported by 25 countries, which included the US, 13 EU and EU aspirant member countries which vote as a block (Austria, Czech Rep., Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Spain, Rep. Moldova, Romania, Switzerland), as well as Argentina, Benin, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, India, Ivory Coast, Libya Peru, Republic of Korea, and Sierra Leone.
In March 2012 when the Sri Lanka resolution was taken up, 23 countries refrained from supporting the resolution - 15 opposing and 8 abstaining, while 24 countries supported it.

Beijing's bear hug for Colombo: Rajapaksa among Xi's first 5 calls

PranabDhalSamanta : New Delhi, Sat Mar 23 2013, 09:07 hrs
While India-Sri Lanka ties hit another low after New Delhi's proactive efforts to censure Colombo at the UN Human Rights Council, Chinese President Xi Jinping elevated the island nation's profile by including President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the first list of five phone calls he made after formally taking over from Hu Jintao last week.
In fact, Xi spoke with Rajapaksa on March 16, the same day he spoke to his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, which signalled that Beijing had put Colombo at par with Islamabad. This, sources said, is a significant leap because Pakistan is considered an "all-weather ally" and to place Sri Lanka in the same category clearly reflected the comfort levels achieved in the relationship.
Xi made his first set of calls on March 14, and predictably they were to the heads of three other P5 countries where a president is the executive head — Barack Obama in the US, Vladimir Putin in Russia and France's Francois Hollande.
The next day, new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, indicating the importance China attached to its relationship with India. The premier is the counterpart for countries where a PM is the executive head.
A day later, on March 16, Xi spoke to the presidents of Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Xi is said to have assured Rajapaksa of full support in his efforts to protect Sri Lanka's sovereignty and territorial integrity. There were indications of support at the UN Human Rights Council even though China is not a member this time. Pakistan, it may be noted, voted against the resolution on Thursday.
Sino-Lankan ties have witnessed an upswing in recent years with China even launching Sri Lanka's first satellite last November. Similarly, defence ties have been on the front-burner after Chinese defence minister Liang Guanglie's visit to Sri Lanka last year. Both sides reached a comprehensive agreement on training military personnel with the Chinese defence establishment offering a range of high-value courses besides upgrading counter-insurgency training.
Beijing has also agreed to look positively at Colombo's request for high-end electronic communication technology, particularly for purposes of maritime security. Sources further revealed that China has agreed to help significantly upgrade Sri Lankan cyber-warfare capabilities, which is crucial to Colombo to track and counter pro-LTTE elements abroad, who are largely dependent on the cyber platform.
Besides, talks are on to provide maintenance support to K-8, F-7 and Y-12 aircraft of the Sri Lankan Air Force and upgradation of the Sri Lankan Army's T-55 tanks. Defence, sources said, is the new sector added to an already growing presence in key infrastructure areas such as ports.
These fast-paced developments have occurred at a time India has focused its efforts to get the Rajapaksa government to work for greater political accommodation of the Tamil population. New Delhi has been pressing Colombo to not turn the defeat of the LTTE into a majority domination that would make the ethnic Tamil population more insecure. To this end, India has taken up humanitarian projects in Tamil-dominated areas.
Colombo has, however, not delivered on any key Indian demand, which further worsened relations that have now had ramifications in Tamil Nadu's politics. While Indian diplomats are against any country-specific human rights resolution, sources said the lack of cooperation from Sri Lanka, possibly strengthened by the China relationship, has reduced any scope of an understanding for the moment.

Lankan roulette

T E Narasimhan & Veenu Sandhu  |  New Delhi  March 22, 2013 Last Updated at 20:50 IST
An international airport, a strategic port, communication satellites, road and railway links - China is spreading its web in the island nation. India has to take decisive steps or else the tide could

In June 2009, when Sri Lanka officially celebrated the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam after a bloody war that lasted 25 years, the victory parade, which included tanks, fighter jets and artillery pieces, made India sit up: most of the military hardware on display was of Chinese make. China had played a key role in making that victory possible, and the Mahinda Rajapaksa government made no attempts to hide its gratitude. India has since watched with increasing concern, and some helplessness, China's growing presence in the island nation which sits barely 31 km across the Palk Strait from the southern tip of India. The wave of protests in Tamil Nadu against the Sri Lanka government's alleged atrocities on Tamils and India's vote in favour of the US resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday is further working towards China's advantage.
The sentiment is not limited to the country's leaders, who obviously know that gains can be made by playing one country against the other; it now runs deep. An assessment report of a political analyst to a company with business interests in Sri Lanka, which Business Standard has accessed, points that Lankan society is now vehemently arguing that it should lean towards China - a "friendly nation" - and not rely on India, particularly on the economic front. The speculation that India played a key role in watering down the resolution hasn't allayed the disgruntled sections of Lankan society, the report says.
Thus, Sri Lankan Airlines has cut its flights to Chennai by half, to 14, following the attacks on Sri Lankan tourists, including two monks. There are reports that Sri Lanka has decided to partially take over a strategic oil storage depot in Trincomalee from Indian Oil Corporation's Sri Lankan arm, Lanka IOC. India has denied the reports. A day before this news broke, Lanka IOC Chairman Makrand Nene had said that there was no competition from China "but we have no plans to expand in Sri Lanka at the moment."

* * *

Recent events show how close China and Sri Lanka have become. A few days ago, Rajapaksa inaugurated the country's second international airport, the $206-million Rajapaksa International Airport in Mattala built with money from China's Export-Import Bank. Some Chinese officials were present at the function. Some 40 km to the south is the China-funded $1 billion Hambantota Port. Why not India? "It's not that China is getting preference; it was always India first. We invited India first to build our ports, including the Hambantota port, but it rejected it saying it's not viable, so we invited China," Rajapaksa had said earlier. A senior official from the shipping industry in India says the port project "is really a great miss and India will regret it on all fronts, be it security or trade".
The Hambantota Port is located on a key shipping route which sees around 300 ships, mostly oil tankers, passing through every day. Ironically, when the deep-water port formally opened for international shipping in June last year, the first consignment it moved was 1,000 Hyundai cars from Chennai, outbound for Algeria. If you look at it from the commercial point of view, then the port is meant to provide docking and refuelling facilities to the thousands of ships that ferry oil and raw materials from Africa and the Persian Gulf to China every year. But, this also happens to be a geo-strategically convenient location. It is a crucial link in the "string of pearls" which China is building in the region through a network of ports to consolidate its economic and military influence in the Indian Ocean: Sittwe in Myanmar, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Gwadar in Pakistan and Marao in the Maldives.

Chinese money is pouring into Sri Lanka. From 2007 to 2011, while India extended aid of $298.1 million to Sri Lanka, China gave $2.126 billion to become the largest foreign aid provider to the country. While Indian aid has been for "soft" purposes like healthcare and education, the Chinese have funded highly-visible infrastructure projects. As on today, reports say, China has pledged more than $3 billion for infrastructure development in Sri Lanka. Some industry watchers have expressed concern that China might even be getting contracts for mega projects by bypassing tender procedures.
Its engineers are building roads, railway lines, telecommunication links, dams, hospitals, expressways like the one between Colombo and Katunayake, stadiums, schools, hotels and power plants. Last year, Sri Lanka launched its first communications satellite with the help of China Great Wall Industry Corp, China's state-owned space technology firm. It has since signed a string of satellite deals with Sri Lanka. It's also helping build a space academy. Deals are being struck between the two countries to build telecommunication and information technology networks. The two have also pledged to improve their defence ties.
Two years ago, China had gifted Sri Lanka Nelum Pokuna, a state-of-the art theatre and convention hall in the heart of Colombo. And now, Lotus Tower, a 350-meter multi-functional telecommunication tower and entertainment centre, is being constructed in Peliyagoda, near Colombo, with financial assistance from the Export-Import Bank of China. Sri Lanka's defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has justified China's increasing presence in the Indian Ocean saying that "the safety and stability of the Indian Ocean is critical for China's energy security and its increasing interest and increasing naval presence in this region is quite understandable."
Some of the gains to China are clearly at India's expense. Last year, a plot of land in the heart of Colombo earmarked for an Indian cultural centre (the Indian High Commission had completed all formalities) was sold to Chinese aircraft manufacturer, China National Aero Technology Import and Export Corporation, at the eleventh hour. The incident brought an uneasy feeling of being elbowed out to make way for China. M Rafeeque Ahmed, president of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations, fears that India is missing opportunities which are now favouring China and this "will make Sri Lanka economically colonised". India's national security agencies have expressed concern over these developments. But it is not clear what the government is doing to consolidate India's economic position in Sri Lanka. All that Foreign Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin is willing to say is: "When we have to, we will issue a press release."
But companies with business interests in Sri Lanka want to hear more than that. Sri Lanka says there is no threat to Indian investments. Sam Wijesekara, counsellor (Commercial), Sri Lanka Deputy High Commission, says: "It is wrong to say India does not have any role to play in the Sri Lankan economy. Today India is on top of the list when it comes to private investments." Official data shows that in 2011, investment worth $98 million came to Sri Lanka from India as compared to $3.5 million from China. Leading Indian companies in Sri Lanka include the Tata group, Ceat, Nicholas Piramal, Ashok Leyland, SBI, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank and LIC. Somi Hazari, managing director of the Shosova group of companies, who trades in textiles with Sri Lanka, however says business has come down drastically. "Business is moving towards China, and it's not just because trade with China is cheaper. The Tamil issue is playing out in China's favour." From 2001 to 2011, India's textile exports (mainly from the southern districts of Tamil Nadu and Punjab) to Sri Lanka have increased about three-folds. But China has during the same period increased its textile exports to Sri Lanka by almost eight times. In the cement market, too, India is losing share to China and Pakistan. India-Sri Lanka trade has increased by one per cent per annum on an average from 2007 to 2011. On the other hand, average growth of China-Sri Lanka trade has been 32 per cent annually.

* * *

There are other areas of concern too. Sri Lanka is believed to hold sizeable deposits of natural gas and fossil fuels. For India's energy security, the country is extremely important. As of now, Cairn Lanka, a subsidiary of Cairn India, is the only company from outside Sri Lanka which is actively involved in hydrocarbon exploration here. It has so far drilled four exploration wells in the block in the Mannar basin. This has resulted in two discoveries: natural gas deposits in Dorado and Baraccuda. But there could be competition soon. "I understand that China is also looking at exploration opportunities in Sri Lanka," says R S Sharma, former chairman and managing director of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and ONGC Videsh Ltd.
Sri Lanka has already announced the second round of bidding for licences for the remaining blocks in the Mannar basin. China, it is believed, will be a major contender and a strong competitor in the bidding. Industry watchers say India's position has become shaky after the recent incidents in Tamil Nadu. If China wins the bid to drill in the Mannar basin, it will be positioned right under the nose of Tamil Nadu, a few kilometers away from the Indian coast.

The way things are going, it won't come as a surprise if China bags several of these blocks. Colombo's leading newspaper, Sunday Times, has reported that the Lankan government has decided not to consider international companies and their "key shareholders" who have "known alignment in world politics" when offers are invited to assess its offshore petroleum data. The decision, it said, was taken on a recommendation by Rajapaksa who also looks after the petroleum resources development secretariat which handles the country's hydrocarbon exploration. This was after the Sri Lankan government ran into trouble with the Norway-based TGS Nopec to analyse Sri Lanka's offshore petroleum data. The decision could impact Indian companies too, given that the Cabinet, as reported by Sunday Times, has also decided that companies should not in any way impair Sri Lanka's national interest.

Recently, India's National Thermal Power Corporation also faced hurdles and considered pulling out of Sri Lanka, its maiden overseas venture, following fresh terms set by the Ceylon Electricity Board. The board wanted downward revision of operations and maintenance cost to Rs 20.5 lakh per MW each year from the current Rs 38.92 lakh. Officials at NTPC now say the issue has been resolved and the 500-MW coal power project at Sampur in the Trincomalee district is on track.
China, meanwhile, is sending just the right feelers to Sri Lanka on the Tamil issue. Last week, the newly-elected Chinese president, Xi Jinping, telephoned Rajapaksa to say that China supports Sri Lanka's efforts to protect its national sovereignty and would continue to offer assistance. In Tamil Nadu, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is, meanwhile, determined to wrench back its core issue - of the rights of the Tamils - which it feels is being hijacked by fringe elements. With the Lok Sabha elections just a year away, DMK's chief, M Karunanidhi, is going all out on this. And in doing so, the man who turns 90 next year is pushing Sri Lanka deeper into the arms of China.