Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pakistan is willing to give anything Sri Lanka asks for...

"Whatever Sri Lankan military asks, we are willing to give it," said a Pakistani government spokesman.

He further said, "We will not forget to give back. Sri Lanka assisted us in 1971. We will never forget that."

According to Britain's Janes Defense magazine, Sri Lanka has requested military equipment worth about US$ 60 million from the Pakistani government. Out of which, US$ 38.1 million equipment are reportedly for Sri Lankan Air Force.

In the process, Pakistan has agreed to offer US$ 31 million to Sri Lanka.

Reporting by Keerthi Warnakulasuriya

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sri Lankan government wins fight for survival, declares victory in crucial budget vote

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government survived a crucial budget vote Friday, fighting off a strong challenge from the opposition that could have frozen the military offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels.

The outcome had remained in doubt until the vote Friday evening as lawmakers in the coalition and outside the government changed sides in a swirl of political gamesmanship. One powerful minister resigned his post and crossed to the opposition just minutes before the vote.

Had the government lost, it would have been forced to call new elections, which would have likely paralyzed political activity in the country for months. Instead, 114 lawmakers out of 225 approved the budget, parliamentary officials said.

Associated Press

Sri Lanka Parliament today (December 14) passed the third reading of the year 2008 Budget proposals with a majority of 47 votes. 114 votes were caste for the budget and 67 against while 38 MPs have abstained from voting.

MPs of UPFA, UNP democratic team, JHU, CWC, EPDP, Up Country Peoples' Front, MPs of SLMC and independent MPs Puthrasigamani, Venerable Uduwe Dhammaloka and Nandana Gunathilka, have extended their support to the Government on the Budget.

Only 67 MPs have opposed the 2008 budget. The MPs of UNP, TNA, SLFP (M) wing four MPs of SLMC, voted against the budget.

JVP MPs and Vijedasa Rajapaksa MP have abstained from voting while the latest dissident of SLFP Anura Bandaranayke and four TNA MP's were absent in today's Parliament session.

Report: North Korea May Have Aided Hezbollah and Tamil Tigers

A report prepared for U.S. lawmakers says North Korea may have provided arms and training to terrorist organizations in Lebanon and Sri Lanka.

The Congressional Research Service report, obtained by the Reuters and Yonhap news agencies Wednesday, casts doubt on what it says is the long-standing U.S. view that North Korea halted such activities in 1987.

CRS cited French and South Korean sources alleging North Korea has provided more recent support for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. The report also mentioned a Japanese newspaper report in September that Pyongyang sold arms to the Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka.

A U.S. State Department spokesman on Thursday said the department is aware of the report. But spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment on the report's sources.

North Korea claimed in September that the United States is prepared to remove it from a State Department list of state supporters of terrorism as part of a nuclear disarmament deal. U.S. officials have denied the claim.

The top negotiator in North Korean nuclear talks has said Pyongyang must prove that it is not engaged in terrorist activity before it can be removed from the list.

North Korea has been on the U.S. list since 1988 after a North Korean agent confessed to the 1987 bombing of a South Korean passenger jet that killed all 115 people on board.

The list prevents North Korea from buying arms or receiving economic aid from the United States, and from receiving loans from the World Bank and other multi-lateral bodies.

Voice of America
13 December 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

'Sri Lanka' the colorful land of sunshine

The most beautiful island on earth according to Marco Polo and one of the lands to be admired according to world-famous Arab Muslim traveler Muhammad Ibn Battuta al-Tanji, Sri Lanka has a coastline that extends 1,340 kilometers.

In the Sinhala language, Sri Lanka means "that which shines brightly." As its name implies, the sun always shines over the Sri Lankan land. The average temperature in the country is 28 degrees Celsius.

After reading these curiosity-awakening facts, we immediately set off and begin our visit with the commercial capital, Colombo. While walking in the streets of the capital, we come across many Buddhist temples and mosques on both sides of the road. The Sri Lankan population comes from different religions and races. This difference is reflected in the country's streets in all sort of cultural patterns. Sixty-nine percent of the population is Buddhist. Their biggest temple, Asokaramaya, is located in the city center. We walk into the temple. This 150-year-old temple has statues set in its walls. And what immediately draws our attention is that these statues mostly belong to Hindu gods. We understand that the Buddhism here has been influenced by Hinduism to a great extent, so much so that we can say that Buddhism and Hinduism are in a way mixed here. Another thing that catches our attention is that we are the temple's only visitors.

Colombo has an extremely long coastline that extends as far as the eye can see, and its streets are flanked with palm trees. In this country with a tropical climate, the cheapest way of cooling down is probably swimming -- so the beaches are always full of people. The streets are full of vendors. This street scene typical of poor countries may be quite interesting for Europeans, but it is perfectly normal for us Turks. Among the vendors, there is a group we come across that sells a local food called "issovadi," which is shrimp with a good deal of onion on top; it costs 12 rupees. It is a very spicy food. They insist that we give it a try, but to no avail. We wish "bon app├ętit" to those eating.

Just like its climate, Sri Lanka's people are very warm and they always smile at you. The smells of spices enchant us while touring the back streets, and the scents we are not used to in Turkey immediately remind us that we are on a different continent. The West and the East met through these spices centuries ago. While walking the streets today, you are likely to be pulled into a spice shop by its owner. Some tourists try to shake off their tiredness by having a massage done with special oils made of spices and herbs.

The Sri Lankan capital has remarkably different styles of architecture, which remind us that it went through three different colonial periods, under Portugal, Holland and England.

The motor rickshaws we frequently see in India are widely used also here. They play an important role in local transportation. Those returning from downtown with their hands full of plastic bags get on the motor rickshaws one by one.

After visiting Colombo, we set off toward Kandy. The road to Kandy passes through rice fields. Sri Lanka is a green country and we find ourselves in all tones of this color again on the way to Kandy. We stop by a garden to rest a little and have a glass of tea. When we enter the garden, we understand that it is a garden where herbal medications are made. We cannot drink the tea we expected, but they offer a spice tea to us, which they say is very good for sore throat, stomachache and the flu. Although there is no sugar in the tea, vanilla meets our need for sugar. It really helps relieve our weariness. After the brief time-out for tea, we get back to our travel. This time, we are advancing toward the old capital which, as we later learn, is famous for tea cultivation. Sri Lanka is one of the biggest tea producers in the world. Tea plantations cover the entire area. People work in the fields despite the scorching heat. Someone tells us that it is mostly the Tamils who work in the tea plantations. Most of them are tired and some have difficulty walking up the road. We sit by one of the fields and speak to some of the workers. They feel neither their tiredness nor the heat with their happiness of knowing that they will be able to take some food home this evening. The tea leaves they collect in the fields are taken to nearby tea factories to be processed. We follow one of these workers who takes the collected leaves to the factory, where the leaves are immediately processed. While this is going on, we drink a glass of tea. The factory and its surroundings are heavily scented with the fragrance of the tea. We learn that this brand is mostly sold to Middle Eastern countries. The factory is open for tourists to visit, and they offer free glasses of tea. We have a chance to drink the tea that cannot be drunk by the residents of Kandy, as all of it is exported. Although it tastes different than the tea we are used to, it is still delicious, and better than the classic heavy Ceylon tea.

Sri Lanka is a poor country. It is one of the countries that took the brunt of the tsunami that happened in December 2004. Everybody is hard put to earn a living. While some work in the fields and gardens, some work in precious stone mines. To see how these stones are processed, we visit a very famous jeweler, "Zem Gems." Its owner is Muhammad Rufai, a very humble jeweler who shows us different kinds of stones with prices ranging from $1,000 to $1 million. The one priced at $1 million is described by Rufai as "a piece worth displaying in a museum." This expensive piece, whose price sounds really absurd considering its size, looks green in natural light, but turns red in artificial illumination. He has had many celebrity customers, including Hillary Clinton and the wives of the Pakistani president and Chinese prime minister.

As we continue our journey, we move a bit away from the urban areas. A herd of elephants slowly advances in the Sri Lankan forest and we learn that this area is an elephant orphanage. We are very excited and surprised to see 100 elephants together. We start following the herd and it turns out that it's their bathing time in the River Maha Oya. We suddenly realize that both sides of the river are teeming with tourists. Hundreds of tourists watch them bathe and roll in the mud. The elephants seem to be enjoying themselves. They occupy an important place in the history of Sri Lanka. Humans have tamed and used these animals, particularly in transporting tree trunks and during wars. The entrance fee per person is $5. But if you want to film or photograph the elephants, you should be ready to pay a little more. Sri Lanka has recently realized the importance of tourism, and they are now making efforts to increase their tourism revenue. It is a very cheap country for European tourists and one can bump into people from all European nations here.

We take our leave of the elephant orphanage to find out under what sort of conditions Muslims, who comprise 8 percent of the population, live. We discover that a majority of the Muslim population here deal in trade. There is a relatively large number of mosques in the capital and in the other cities. The mosques in Colombo are particularly visible on the city's skyline. We enter one of the mosques, where we learn that until the recently the Friday sermons were delivered in the name of Ottoman sultans. The Sri Lankan Muslims continue to love the Ottomans. One of the Muslims we speak to describes to us the house of the grandson of Sir Muhammad Macan Markar, a former consul general of the Ottoman Empire in Sri Lanka. When we finish our conversation in the mosque, we make our way to Muhammad Faruk's house. When we tell him just outside his door that we have come from Turkey, the doors are opened wide and he welcomes us. We are really happy to have found a trace of the Ottoman thousands of kilometers from home. His grandfather, Markar, was the consul general of the Ottoman state in Sri Lanka from 1909-1914. Faruk shows us his grandfather's photographs, which tell us many things about those days. The building where he used to live was the consulate, and a Turkish flag used to fly on its roof, he recounts.

"Do you know that Sultan Abdulhamid II is still admired here? Friday sermons used to be delivered in his name in the mosques here. The relations between Sri Lanka and Turkey were this strong and close," Faruk also tells us. The Muslim countries in the East, particularly Sri Lanka, saw the Ottoman country as a role model in practicing Islam in their daily lives. Faruk tells us that the Ottoman fez is still worn in Sri Lanka, especially by grooms during weddings. We bid our farewell to our valuable host and we head for the airport as the departing time approaches with thousands of Sri Lankan pictures on our mind…

This lovely country, exploited for centuries by Portugal, Holland and England, has only some pictures that prove the Ottoman existence here. The only thing by which they now remember Turkey is the fez they wear during weddings. They no longer recognize our country, flag or language. Sri Lanka leaves an indelible print on our memory with its elephant herds, precious stones, vast tea plantations and rice fields…

Saim Orhan - Today's Zaman

Sri Lanka's all party panel makes progress on ethnic issue

Sri Lanka's all political party panel appointed to work out a political solution to the island's separatist armed conflict has made progress, its chairman said here Wednesday.

Tissa Vitharana, minister of science and technology, told reporters that the All Party Representative's Committee (APRC) has finalized the powers that should be retained with the central government in the proposed political package to be unveiled.

"We have finalized the central government's powers and next we have to get down to agreeing on the provincial level powers," Vitharana said.

He said once full agreement is reached on other contentious areas, the final document of the APRC will be unveiled.

The APRC came as a result of the All Party Conference (APC) convened by President Mahinda Rajapakse to formulate southern consensus by way of a political package on the island country's long drawn-out ethnic problems.

The APC has come under criticism for its slow pace ever since it was convened at the beginning of 2006.

The main Tamil party, Tamil National Alliance, was not a participant at the APC while the main opposition United National Party and the main left party, the JVP or the People's Liberation Front, are also staying out of it.

Claiming discrimination at the hands of the Sinhala majority, Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers have been fighting the government since the mid-1980s to establish a separate homeland for the minority Tamils in the north and east.

More than 5,000 people have been killed in the new wave of violence since the end of 2005, making the Norwegian brokered ceasefire agreement exist only on paper.

by Jiang Yuxia

Monday, December 10, 2007

President urges Lankan expats to support anti-terror drive

President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday urged all Sri Lankan expatriates, in Japan and the world, to join the island’s battle against terrorism.

Addressing a large gathering of Lankans at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Tokyo, President Rajapaksa said many sinister moves are afoot at various levels to halt the Government’s battle against terrorism.

“I know all of you expect from me to protect our Motherland. We have to beat all odds in doing so. But I would like to assure you that my battle will continue until we completely eradicate terrorism in Sri Lanka,” the President said.

The President said various stories are being fabricated by interested parties in order to stop the Government’s battle against terrorism. “But I would like to assure you that none of those interested parties can put the brakes on Sri Lanka’s determined battle against ruthless terrorism,” he continued.

He said even the news on Sri Lanka which goes to people around the world is distorted. “It’s indeed a pity that a section of media and some international media groups try to paint a gloomy picture of Sri Lanka.

Some of them wilfully distort the facts to discredit Sri Lanka. This is the time that we must show our unity and voice strongly against terrorism. We must put our petty political and social differences aside and hold hands to make sure of the end of terrorism in Sri Lanka.”

President Rajapaksa said protecting Mother Lanka should be the utmost duty and obligation of every citizen. He said nobody should teach Sri Lanka on the protection of human rights as the island has a rich history of caring for all human beings.

“We are a Nation which has a rich culture and heritage. We have a proud history of caring for people and protecting the rights of all humans at all times, even during the World Wars,” he added.

Recalling the bitter experience Japan had had due to the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, President Rajapaksa said the same people who make a big hue and cry over human rights now, were responsible for those inhuman acts during the World Wars.

He recalled the strong cultural and social relationship between Sri Lanka and Japan. “Japan has maintained extremely good relationship with Sri Lanka and its people. Over the years, it has genuinely helped Sri Lanka in various fields. Especially during the 2004 Tsunami calamity, Japan played a huge role,” he observed.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, who arrived in Tokyo on Sunday morning from Colombo, said it was President Rajapaksa who could put a permanent end to terrorism in Sri Lanka. “During the past 24 months, he has given able leadership for a determined battle against terrorism.

It has now been proved. We have liberated thousands of people in the North and East from the LTTE terror rule,” Minister Bogollagama said.

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Japan, Ranjith Uyangoda said the dream off all Lankans living in Japan is a peaceful country without terrorism. He thanked Sri Lankan expatriates for their contributions towards the motherland.

A passenger transport bus for disabled soldiers, an ambulance, a first brigade truck and three double cabs were donated to the President by several Sri Lankan businessmen in Japan.

Despite a more than a two-hour long bullet train journey from Kyoto, President Rajapaksa looked cheerful as he arrived at Tokyo Stadium, where he was received by Foreign Minister Bogollagama and officials of the Sri Lankan Embassy.

Earlier on Sunday evening, President reached the capital Tokyo by Shinkansen the Japanese bullet train, from Kyoto, ending the first leg of his four-day official visit.

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