Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bharti Airtel in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO: Indian telecom giant Bharti Airtel is looking to establish itself as a major player in the Island nation's mobile telephony space as it prepares to launch its $200-million operation here early next year.

Mobile penetration in Sri Lanka is pegged at around 30 per cent, with approximately 2 million mobile users being added each year.

"The Airtel philosophy is to stay beside the consumer and strive to find fresh and innovative ways to add value to their lives", CEO of Airtel Sri Lanka Amali Nanayakkara said in a statement.

Bharti Airtel Lanka Private Limited, a subsidiary of Bharti Airtel Limited, has already announced plans to launch 2G and 3G services in Sri Lanka by the end of the current financial year (2007-08).

Bharti Airtel has already signed a 150-million-dollar deal with China's Huawei Technologies to set up a mobile phone network in Sri Lanka.

"We see substantial growth in Sri Lanka, where the current mobile phone subscriber base is over six million users," Bharti Airtel's Executive Director Sanjay Nandrajog had said here last month.

Bharti plans to roll out the network in Sri Lanka over the next three years, covering 70 per cent of the tropical island, where it sees substantial room for growth.

Sri Lanka is estimated to have about 7.3 million fixed-line and mobile phone users. About 60 per cent of Sri Lanka's mobile market is controlled by Dialog Telekom, a unit of Telecom Malaysia.

The rest is shared between Mobitel, a unit of Sri Lanka Telecom, Tigo, part of Millicom International Cellular, and Hutchison Telecom.

India Times

Friday, December 28, 2007

China hands over tsunami projects to Sri Lanka

Three fishery harbors affected by the 2004 tsunami and reconstructed by the Chinese government were handed over to the Sri Lankan government on Friday.

In a simple ceremony held in Colombo, Chinese Ambassador Ye Dabo said he was very happy to see the completion of reconstruction of the Panadura, Beruwela and Kudawela fishery harbors located in Sri Lanka's western and southern coasts.

He said although China is a developing country and its aid is limited, the Chinese people are sincere and the Chinese government has always honored its commitments.

"We are always ready to provide assistance for the economic and social development of Sri Lanka, a time-honored fried of China, to the best of our abilities," said the ambassador.

Sri Lankan Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Felix Perera expressed his government's gratitude to the aid provided by China.

"Without the help of China and other friendly countries, it's impossible to imagine how Sri Lanka can stand up from the catastrophe," said Perera.

Commencing in early 2005, the three projects were completed ahead of schedule with sound quality, said representatives from the builder, China Harbor Engineering Company.

Fishery was among the major industries devastated by the 2004 tsunami, which killed nearly 40,000 people and left about one million people homeless in the island.

By Mu Xuequan, Xinhua

Al-Qaida claims Bhutto assassination

An Al-Qaida leader based in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility for the assassination of former Pakistan Premier Benazir Bhutto, whom he described as ''the most precious American asset.''

''We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat (the) 'mujahadeen','' al-Qaida Commander and spokesman Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid told the Italian news agency Adnkronos International (AKI) in a phone call from an unknown location.

Al-Yazid was described by AKI as the ''main al-Qaida commander in Afghanistan''. It reported that the decision to kill Bhutto was made by al-Qaida No. two, Ayman al-Zawahiri in October.

The report said death squads were allegedly constituted for the mission and one cell comprising a ''Punjabi volunteer'' of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi killed Bhutto.

Bhutto died after being shot by a suicide attacker, who later blew himself up near her armoured vehicles just after she had addressed an election rally at Rawalpindi near here.

The blast killed nearly 30 people.

During her campaign to drum up support for her Pakistan People's Party, Bhutto had repeatedly attacked elements who were fomenting extremism and militancy in northwestern region of the country and vowed to crack down on militant groups.

Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan from exile two months ago, had earlier survived a suicide attack on her homecoming procession in Karachi on October 18 that killed 140 people and injured hundreds more.

Baitullah Mehsud, a militant leader who was recently made head of Tekrik Taliban-e-Pakistan - a coalition of Pakistani Taliban groups, had reportedly issued threats that he would send suicide bombers to target Bhutto.

Agence France-Presse

Benazir Bhutto timeline

Picture: Benazir Bhutto's wedding day

Jun 21, 1953: Born in Karachi

1976: After spending her childhood in Pakistan and embarking on her higher eduction at Harvard, she is elected president of the Oxford Union while reading PPE at Lady Margaret Hall.

Apr 4, 1979: Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, is executed for the murder of a political opponent, two years after he was ousted as prime minister in a military coup.

Apr 10, 1986: Miss Bhutto returns from exile in London to lead the Pakistan People’s Party that her father founded.

Dec 1, 1988: Aged 35, she becomes the first woman prime minister of a Muslim nation after winning parliamentary elections.

Aug 6, 1990: Her government is dismissed on grounds of corruption and a failure to control ethnic violence.

Oct 19, 1993: Miss Bhutto takes the oath for a second term as prime minister.

Nov 5, 1996: Second administration is dismissed amid accusations of nepotism and undermining the justice system.

April 14, 1999: A court finds Miss Bhutto guilty of corruption while she is out of the country. The conviction was later quashed, but Ms Bhutto remains in self-imposed exile, living in Britain and Dubai.

Oct 5, 2007: President Pervez Musharraf signs a corruption amnesty covering other cases against Miss Bhutto, opening the way for her return and a possible power-sharing agreement.

Oct 18: Miss Bhutto flies in to Karachi and her welcoming parade is hit by a suicide attack, killing 136. She later accused the government of a cover-up in the investigation.

Oct 22: She receives a death threat from a “friend of al-Qa’eda” in a letter which says she could be stabbed, attacked in her car or in her bedroom.

Oct 27: Miss Bhutto leaves Karachi for the first time since the attack and is greeted by 4,000 jubilant supporters chanting “Long live Bhutto” in her ancestral village of Garhi Khuda Baksh in Sindh province. She is pictured standing up through the sun roof of her bullet proof car.

Nov 3: President Musharraf announces emergency rule. Miss Bhutto said it was Pakistan’s “blackest day” and threatens to bring her supporters on to the streets in mass demonstrations.

Nov 9: Miss Bhutto is put under house arrest in Lahore to prevent her leading a pro-democracy rally and security forces round up thousands of her supporters.

Nov 13: Authorities put her under house arrest for a second time in a week. Miss Bhutto calls for the first time for President Musharraf to quit and bring an end to his “contaminated’’ rule of Pakistan. She says she would no longer pursue power-sharing talks with a “dictator”. She also indicates a desire to build an alliance with other opposition leaders, including Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister.

Nov 30: She launches her campaign manifesto, promising jobs, housing and healthcare. The move defies an all-opposition party election boycott. The politician and former cricketer Imran Khan accuses her of “betrayal”.

Dec 8: Three supporters of Miss Bhutto are killed when gunmen attack one of her party’s regional offices in Naseerabad.

Dec 10: Mr Sharif’s party announces it will participate in Pakistan’s parliamentary elections after failing to persuade Miss Bhutto to join a boycott.

Dec 15: President Musharraf lifts emergency rule.

Dec 25: Miss Bhutto accuses President Musharraf of failing to stop the spread of Islamic militants and promises to crack down on groups if she wins parliamentary elections.

Dec 27: Assassinated in Rawalpindi.

(By Richard Edwards)

Pictures: Just before Benazir Bhutto's assassination


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mervin Silva held hostage by Journalists

Sri Lankan commandos have rescued a government minister from a television station where he was being held hostage after he apparently tried to storm it.

Journalists locked up Labour Minister Mervin Silva after one of his aides allegedly assaulted a news director.

Furious journalists refused to let the minister leave until he had apologised.

Mr Silva was splattered with red paint. He also needed treatment for a minor head wound apparently caused by a fall as he was escorted from the building.

Mr Silva had gone to the state-run Rupavahini television to complain that it had not covered a speech he gave on Wednesday marking the re-opening of a bridge destroyed by the 2004 tsunami.

"A henchman of the minister forcefully pulled the news director and all employees are protesting demanding an apology," Rupavahini's director-general said.

The news director's shirt was ripped open, reports said.

In a statement interrupting regular scheduling the TV said the minister was being held in an office by the staff - and pictures showed Mr Silva in a small room flanked by police.

Dozens of staff could be seen protesting in the corridors, refusing to let him leave pending an apology.

Commandos and police with tear-gas were deployed around the television station as the stand-off continued.

"If my action is considered as a wrong act, I would like to apologise to the employees," the minister said, in front of a battery of cameras.

Journalists jeered as the security forces led him out of the building.

The Sri Lankan media minister, Lakshma Yapa, criticised Mr Silva's storming of the station, calling it "unfortunate".



'Lay down arms' before talks - President to Tamil Tigers

MATARA, Sri Lanka (AFP) - Sri Lanka's president used a tsunami mourning ceremony to repeat a vow to crush Tamil rebels before conducting peace talks to end Asia's longest-running ethnic conflict.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, addressing a public rally in this southern heartland of the majority Sinhalese, said the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) may not resume peace talks without first being militarily defeated.

"We are for a political settlement. But there is no point in talking about a political settlement without first defeating terrorism," the president said during a ceremony marking the third anniversary of the Asian tsunami.

The tsunami claimed an estimated 31,000 lives in Sri Lanka, where over 60,000 people have been killed in the LTTE's demand for a separate state for minority Tamils since 1972.

"The LTTE is not interested in negotiations. They must be made to realise that problems cannot be solved through the barrel of a gun," he said, adding that the Tigers must be forced to lay down arms.

He said security forces had already scored major victories against the guerrillas in the past year and hoped to build on them.

"Like we overcame the tsunami tragedy, we will face the threat of terrorism and overcome it soon," he said at the tightly guarded Sanath Jayasuriya grounds in this coastal town 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of Colombo.

Rajapakse's comments came as Sri Lanka's navy said Wednesday that at least 40 rebels were killed in a sea clash with suspected Tamil Tiger vessels off the island's northern coast of Jaffna.

The military did not give its own casualty figures but said one naval craft was damaged during the explosion when two rebel boats were destroyed.

However, the rebels claimed they had sunk a navy fast attack craft and damaged two naval boats during the sea battle, the pro-rebel web site reported.

The president, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, said the military wrested control over the eastern province from the Tigers in July after heavy fighting and there would be no let up in the military drive.

Rajapakse's brother Gotabhaya, who is the country's defence secretary, had earlier announced that security forces will move to dismantle the mini state of the Tigers in the north of the island.

Heavy fighting in the north of the island has claimed a high death toll among combatants since a Norwegian-arranged truce began to unravel since December 2005, according to both sides.

"We have recorded unprecedented military gains and they, no doubt, will pave the way for a political solution," Rajapakse said.

"There is no point in talking about a political solution without militarily crushing terrorism."

Rajapakse observed two minutes of silence at 9:25 am local time when the first giant waves lashed the coastline in a disaster that also displaced a million people and also followed three school bands across a six-lane bridge, the widest in the country, that was damaged during the tsunami.

The wall of water created by the massive earthquake off Indonesia on December 26, 2004, killed about 220,000 people in a dozen countries on the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka's post-tsunami reconstruction work has been dogged by graft and renewed fighting between Tamil rebels and troops.

Foreign aid pledges for rebuilding topped 3.2 billion dollars, but Sri Lanka says it has received only 1.2 billion dollars.

And out of that, 634 million dollars -- less than 20 percent of the original amount pledged -- had been spent by the end of November, according to Transparency International, an international watchdog on corruption.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sri Lanka's cinnamon farmers seek divine help to spice up trade

SEENIGAMA, Sri Lanka (AFP) — Sri Lanka at the weekend revived an ancient ritual of offering the first cinnamon harvest to the gods, three years after a devastating tsunami wiped out centuries-old plantations here.

In a pageant involving traditional dancers and elephants, farmers resplendent in white walked three kilometres (two miles) in bright sunshine, carrying 90 kilos (41 pounds) of their precious virgin harvest to a shrine.

Sri Lanka is the world's leading cinnamon supplier but waves of sea water gushed inland and destroyed lush plantations when the 2004 Boxing Day tragedy left 31,000 people dead and a million homeless across the country.

Saturday's ritual to bless the industry saw some producers carry their cinnamon in wicker baskets, while others took unprocessed bark, leaves and oil, leaving a trail of the strong aroma.

They moved with piety at the southern temple town of Seenigama, which suffered one of the highest death tolls from the tsunami as well as seeing most of its crop wiped out.

"I brought along two bottles of cinnamon oil as part of my offering," Kingsly Mendis, 39, told AFP as he walked with more than 1,500 growers and workers to the Seenigama Temple, 96 kilometres south of Colombo.

For centuries, nearly half of Sri Lanka's cinnamon trees grew along the southern coastal line, which was also a magnet for European colonists and Arab traders to the southern seaport town of Galle, a former capital of the island.

Before that, Sri Lanka's Sinhalese kings were known to have used cinnamon, whose Latin botanical name cinnamomum zeylanicum is derived from the island's former name, Ceylon, to pay mercenaries for protection.

With replanting already under way, farmers in Balapitiya, Hikkaduwa and Ambalangoda, all towns in the Galle district, are hoping for a better crop to lift prices, to keep the centuries-old industry afloat.

K. P. Mahinda, a 51-year-old farmer who lost all but two cinnamon trees to the tsunami in his modest plot, offered a sapling from his nursery.

Survivors of the tsunami are finding that contrary to their initial fears, the soil is richer and cinnamon is growing rapidly.

The salinity of the soil is hit by regular monsoon rains but salt levels are still higher than they were before the 2004 tragedy, according to agricultural experts.

"The soil is so rich that the small cinnamon plants are growing fast," said D. Kusumawathi, 54, a third-generation farmer, who is among hundreds of small-time growers.

Sri Lanka, which controls nearly 90 percent of the world's cinnamon market, exported around 12,000 tonnes last year, earning in excess of 60 million dollars, according to the spice council here.

Cinnamon trees, which can grow as high as 30 feet (nine metres), are ready for harvest after three years. The quills, which look like Havana cigars, are rolled from the bark of the cinnamon tree.

The slimmest quills fetch high prices, and this year the going rate was around 890 rupees (8.10 dollars) a kilo, producers said.

"Prices were extremely good this year in the overseas market," Mendis said.

About 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of land in Sri Lanka is under cinnamon cultivation. Some 30,000 people are employed in chopping off cinnamon branches and turning out quills.

Security Forces conduct medical clinic for civilians in Jaffna

The Commander of the Security Forces, Jaffna , Major General G.A.Chandrasiri organized and conducted a medical clinic consisting of an Army Medical Corps team for civilians in the 511 Brigade area on Sunday (23) December 2007.These civilians were residents from the villages of Neerveli, Karandan and Kopay, in Jaffna.

The Medical clinic held in the Neerveli Athiyar Hindu Vidyalaya was well attended with over 300 patients seeking medical attention. Army doctors and staff not only attended on the patients but also provided the required drugs and other medical requirements .Most of the patients were 'displaced' persons with low income levels. These economic as well as the living conditions were often reflected in not only adults but also their children being easily susceptible to common ailments due to malnutrition . These ailments were in the form of colds, cough, 'flu, bowel diseases, dental disorders and afflictions etc as a result of their being deprived of the accepted nourishment levels . They also needed immunization and vaccinations against typhoid and other diseases due to poor sanitary and living conditions. Thereafter, everyone who attended the clinic were provided with lunch while 300 food parcels were also distributed among them .

All those who attended the clinic voiced their appreciation for the medical facilities provided by the Army and the arrangements made by the Commander of the Security Forces to make the medical clinic a great success.


Sri Lanka family reunited with abducted baby on Christmas Eve

COLOMBO (AFP) — The abduction of a newborn boy from a Sri Lankan hospital ended happily on Christmas Eve with police finding the baby after a search that kept the nation on tenterhooks.

"We are Buddhists but prayers from everyone helped. Yes, this is our Christmas baby," the child's father Wasantha Fernando told reporters after he and his wife were reunited with the baby at a police station here.

A round-the-clock search by police led them to a woman who allegedly grabbed the boy, named Gavishra, hours after he was born last week while his mother was in the restroom of a Colombo hospital.

President Mahinda Rajapakse thanked the police for their efforts in quickly solving the case and spoke with the officers to convey his gratitude, spokesman Chandrapala Liyanage said.

"The president was very pleased to hear that the baby had been found," Liyanage said. "This was a case which attracted attention of everyone and the president is very happy with the work of the investigators."

The parents thanked police and the media for keeping the story in the public eye.

Thousands of people had called in with information that led authorities early Monday to Gavishra and the alleged kidnapper, police said.

Fernando and his wife Shamalee, 29, sobbing with relief, said they were overjoyed their nightmare had ended.

"We had not done any harm to anyone so we knew we would find the baby," Fernando said.

Tears ran down the parents' cheeks while week-old Gavishra, dressed in a blue shirt, slept cradled in his mother's arms as photographers mobbed them.

Two more newborns were abducted from the same Colombo South hospital in the past two years and police said they were questioning the same woman in connection with those cases.

"We want to see if there has been an organised racket in selling stolen babies," police deputy-inspector general N. K. Illangakoon said, adding that hospital staff were under investigation for possible collusion.