Colombo unveils new restrictions on foreign aid workers; Sri Lankan forces regain Vidathalthivu; HRW expresses concerns about arbitrary detentions; Karunanidhi calls on central government to take back Katchathivu
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  • The Sri Lankan government unveiled new restrictions on the UN and other foreign aid staff who would be allowed to work in the country. Under the new rules released by the foreign ministry, foreign nationals would not be allowed to stay for more than four years in a single place, while experts and advisers would only be allowed into the country for a year1. The new regulations came amidst mounting tensions between the government and the UN and key member states, which have been highly critical of the war being conducted against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

    Sri Lankan forces meanwhile regained the north western coastal town of Vidathalthivu, site of the biggest Sea Tiger base, for the first time since the early 1990’s. Troops of the 58 Division under the command of Brig. Shavendra Silva took control of the area during the week2.

    Reports noted that the Sri Lankan government issued notices to around 350 occupants of lands close to key defence establishments in the Kompannaveediya area to vacate the lands on security considerations as well as due to the construction of un-authorised structures3. Reports also pointed out that the Defence Ministry had issued notices to some 160 occupants to vacate the land belonging to the Ministry, located along Sir Chittanpalam A. Gardinar Mawatha and Uttarananda Mawatha, due to security concerns4.

    Colombo meanwhile continued to maintain silence on Human Rights Watch (HRW) allegations regarding the arbitrary detention of more than 400 displaced civilians. HRW had also expressed concerns about the daily pass system that restricted to 30 the number of people who could leave a newly-established camp in Kalimoddai, Mannar District5.

    Sri Lanka’s Commissioner of Elections Dayananda Dissanayake faulted the present electoral system as the root cause for the prevalence of violence and mal-practices, which were a part and parcel of every Sri Lankan election. Addressing the media ahead of the upcoming Provincial Council polls, Dissanayake observed that the tug-of-war for preferential votes along with virulent inter-party rivalry began with the advent of the proportional system in 1981. He called for a balance between the first-past-the-post system and the proportional system, which would give better representation to the aspirations of the people6.

    India on its part committed $109.2 million as aid to Sri Lanka during the first five months of 2008. Iran however emerged as the largest donor, having contributed $450 million in the same period7.

    DMK Chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi called on the central government to take back Katchathivu as Tamil Nadu fisherman continued to face problems in the Palk Straits. He pointed out that the DMK government had in 1974 itself opposed the granting of Katchathivu to Sri Lanka, a plea which was ignored by the centre. He however stressed that the state government would take up the issue with New Delhi again8. The DMK also held demonstrations in the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu in order to seek the attention of the central government.

    While refuting allegations of Sri Lankan Navy involvement in the alleged killing of two Indian fishermen on July 11, Colombo promised to continue its inquiries into the incident. The Foreign Ministry, citing its preliminary findings, had noted that no naval units were operating on the Sri Lankan side of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) in the area off Point Calimere on the day of the incident. It added that there was a possibility of the involvement of LTTE in the episode as it hoped “to derive a double advantage by staging such attacks. Firstly, it seeks to place pressure on innocent fishermen to associate themselves with the nefarious activities of the Tigers. Secondly, it endeavours to falsely implicate the Sri Lanka Navy, with a view to damaging the excellent bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka9.”