Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Failed 2015 political project may have triggered Easter Sunday attacks

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 339

A statue of Jesus amidst debris at St Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, Negombo following the Easter Sunday bombing

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Brigadier Chula Kodituwakku, on April 26, 2019, attributed the Easter Sunday carnage to four specific reasons, namely (1) battlefield setbacks suffered by ISIS (2) ISIS directing Zahran Hashim’s outfit to carry out the high profile attacks (3) massacre of Muslim worshippers in New Zealand, in 2019, and (4) domestic reasons.

Kodituwakku, in his capacity as the Director of Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), addressed editors of national newspapers, and journalists, as well as representatives of television stations, on the invitation of the then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake.

Seated at the head table, were the then President Maithripala Sirisena, flanked by Lt. Gen. Senanayake, and the then Northern Province Governor Dr. Suren Raghavan, and the venue, the Janadhipathy Mandiraya. (Senanayake retired in the third week of Aug 2019.

The retired Army Chief exploited the crisis caused by the Easter carnage to launch a short-lived political career. His effort ended disastrously. Having failed to obtain at least 50,000 votes at Nov 16, 2019 presidential election, Senanayake left the country, subsequently, for employment overseas. Dr. Raghavan secured a slot on the SLPP National List.

Neither Brig. Koditiwakku, nor any other person, at the head table, responded, though the media sought a clarification as regards what these domestic reasons were. The writer was among those present at the meeting summoned by President Sirisena, his (President) first encounter with the media, following the Easter Sunday attacks. Much to the surprise of those who had been there President Sirisena, who had been in Singapore at the time of the attack, claimed that he got to know about the incident, through social media. Reference was made to a friend who showed the relevant post to him (Politicos’ links to terrorist grouping: Prez promises no holds barred probe with strapline ‘Terror mastermind influenced by India-based ISIS’ April 27, 2019 The Island) (Close on the heels of Shavendra Silva being appointed the Commander of the Army, Kodituwakku was replaced.)

But when Sirisena recently appeared before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI), in his capacity as the former President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, he claimed, on the day of the Easter attacks, he was hospitalized and, therefore, didn’t have access even to his Chief Security Officer. Obviously, P CoI hadn’t sought an explanation from the former President as regards the contradictory answers as it was probably not aware of the President’s initial claim of a friend alerting him. Let us also hope that he won’t be given kid-glove treatment, like the way then PM Ranil Wickremesinghe was treated when being questioned before the Treasury Bond Commission, despite him having been in the thick of it.

In addition to the on-going P CoI, there were two other investigations, (1) a three-member committee, headed by Supreme Court Judge, Vijith Kumara Malalagoda, and (2) eight-member Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), led by the then Deputy Speaker, Ananda Kumarasiri. In addition to them, PSC member, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, submitted a report, of his own, on the Easter attacks. However, concluded inquiries, as well as the ongoing PCoI and CID investigations, hadn’t really probed domestic reasons that may have contributed to the Easter attacks. Although Brig. Kodiruwakku included domestic reasons among four specific causes; there hadn’t been any genuine discussion/attempt to examine what these could be.

 

‘Deep State’ faulted

Dr. Rajan Hoole’s thought provoking ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth,’ discussed the circumstances leading to the Easter carnage – the worst single terror attack carried out, in Sri Lanka, against undefended targets. The author is the more even-handed brother of Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole, member of the Election Commission who caused quite a number of controversies, in the run up to the Presidential election. Ratnajeevan Hoole had always responded swiftly to whatever issues raised by the media, regardless of the accusation made and the origins of it.

The writer recently had an opportunity to peruse the Sinhala translation of Dr. Rajan Hoole’s ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth,’ launched several weeks before the last presidential election, in Nov 2019. Translated by Mahinda Hatthaka (Movement for Defense of Democratic Rights), the Sinhala translation is an immensely readable tome that the writer believes shed light on the complex web of secrets/situations/relationships that led to the Easter carnage. Dr. Hoole, who authored ‘The Arrogance of Power: Myths, decadence and murder,’ in January 2001, quite clearly blamed the State elements for the attack. A founder member of the daring and pioneering University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR) Jaffna, that stood up to the once mighty LTTE, albeit clandestinely, Dr. Hoole is explicit in his accusation that those who backed SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa created an environment to deprive the Muslims of an opportunity to vote at the Nov 2019 presidential election. The author asserted that attempt failed while making reference to the plantation Tamils being disenfranchised in 1949, consequent to the 1948 Citizenship Act.

Interestingly, the author conveniently desisted from recalling how the LTTE-TNA combine denied the Northern community the opportunity to vote at the Nov 2005 presidential election. The calculated move definitely cost UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe the election. Wickremesinghe lost by 186,000 votes.

Kumaran Pathmanathan, aka ‘KP,’ in an exclusive interview with the writer, in August 2010, asserted that the LTTE felt comfortable in having Mahinda Rajapaksa as the President as he could be dealt with much more easily than Wickremesinghe. The Rajapaksas proved Velupillai Prabhakaran wrong, four years after that decisive election. At the time of the interview, ‘KP’ was in the custody of the DMI.

Let me get back to Dr. Hoole’s work. In Chapter 4, the academic briefly discussed the possibility of the failure on the part of the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) to secure representation in parliament at the August 2015 general election. Had the NTJ succeeded in securing a foothold in parliament, the Easter Sunday carnage might not have happened, Dr. Hoole speculated, asserting that the NTJ adopted an aggressive strategy, in the wake of the electoral failure. Dr. Hoole based his quite controversial assessment on an electoral agreement, involving the NTJ, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah of the UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance) and Abdul Rahuman and Shibly Farook (both members of SLMC-Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, a constituent of the UNP-led coalition).

On similar lines, many have earlier pointed out that if not for old JRJ’s greed and incessant political intrigue to retain absolute power, whether it be through a by-election, or even in the highly rigged referendum to postpone the general election, in the early 80s, and had the UNP instead allowed room for greater pluralism, in parliament, by allowing the likes of the JVP to enter the August assembly, in a more level playing field, there wouldn’t have been a second southern blood bath, in the late 80s.

Dr. Hoole, without hesitation, whatsoever, likened the attempt made by Kattankudy-born Zahran Hashim to have some of his nominees, in parliament, to that of Prabhakaran’s successful arrangement with R. Sampanthan of the TNA. In terms of the agreement, the TNA acknowledged the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils, two years after the high-profile assassination of TULF lawmaker, Neelan Thiruchelvam, in 1999.

The UNP secured 106 seats, whereas the UPFA managed 95, at the August 2015 general election. A section of the SLFP-led UPFA backed the UNP to form the government in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that facilitated the despicable political project.

President Sirisena, who is also the leader of the SLFP, had no qualms in accommodating defeated M.L.A.M. Hizbullah on the UPFA National List. Hizbullah was among over half a dozen defeated UPFA candidates, accommodated on the National List. National List MP Hizbullah functioned as the Batticaloa political lord until he resigned in January 2019 to pave the way for President Sirisena loyalist, Shantha Bandara, to enter parliament. Hizbullah was rewarded with the appointment as the Eastern Province Governor. At the time of the Easter attacks, Hizbullah served as the Eastern Province Governor and Chairman of the Batticaloa Campus (Pvt) Limited. In a report presented to the Parliament Sectoral Sub-Committee on Higher Education and Human Resources, the scandalous politician identified himself as Dr. M.L.A.M. Hizbullah. In spite of failing to get elected, did Hizbullah serve the interests of Zahran Hashim?

 

Nexus between political parties

and terrorists

Dr. Hoole dealt with complexities experienced by both Tamil and Muslim political parties represented in parliament, due to them having to deal with the LTTE and the NTJ, respectively. The author, in no uncertain terms, censured TNA leader R. Sampanthan for shielding the LTTE, accused of killing civilians trying to flee the area dominated by the group. The author, while acknowledging the inexcusable use of civilians as human shields, lambasted Sampanthan for misleading the media.

The particular media briefing, attended by journalists representing international media organizations, where Sampanthan alleged the government lied regarding the LTTE killing those trying to seek refuge in the government-held area, according to the author, took place on Feb 17, 2009. The military brought the war to a successful conclusion on the morning of May 19, 2009.

Dr. Hoole also referred to an alleged SLFP attempt to exploit the JVP, in the run-up to the Dec 19, 1988 presidential election and the Feb 15, 1989 general election. One cannot dispute Dr. Hoole’s contention that the SLFP remained silent on the JVP killings, while condemning extrajudicial operations carried out by security forces to justify claim the SLFP sought political power with the help of the JVP.

The author examined the gradual rise of the LTTE and the registration of the NTJ, in 2015, as well as basic differences between Tamil terrorism and the operation undertaken by Zahran Hashim, meant to be the Supreme Leader of the Sri Lankan Muslim community. How he expected to achieve such a feat by leading nearly simultaneous coordinated suicide attacks is still a mystery. Perhaps that mystery can be solved if Pulasthini Rajendran, alias Sarah, the wife of Achchi Mohammdu Mohammadu Hasthun, the suicide bomber who blew himself up at St. Sebastian’s Church, at Katuwapitiya, close to Negombo town, could be found. She most likely fled to India, by sea, in September 2019. In spite of claims Sarah is alive, the government is yet to establish the truth. The claim by some that she was the RAW mole in the Zahran’s terror camp might be the reason why she found ready refuge in India after being part of such a vicious carnage here.

Dr. Hoole ascertained that unlike Zahran Hashim, Prabhakaran’s violent career hadn’t been so meticulously planned, but the latter’s project lasted for more than three decades. However, the main thrust of ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth’ is to blame the heinous crime on what the author described as ‘Deep State’ comprising influential sections of political parties, civil administration and the military. The readiness of ‘Deep State’ to undertake operations at the expense of the rules of the land, regardless of political consequences, is certainly a frightening prospect. Perhaps, the P CoI should request Dr. Rajan Hoole to help in the examination of the Easter Sunday attacks.

Although, there hadn’t been a single NTJ-linked incident, following the Easter attacks, it would be of pivotal importance to verify Dr. Rajan Hoole’s assertions. Did Zahran Hashim decide to mark NTJ’s emergence with a suicide bombing campaign, in the wake of his abortive bid to get three parliamentary seats? Perhaps, Dr. Rajan Hoole is wrong. But, can P CoI disregard an opportunity to establish the truth.

There was reference to Pol Pot’s Cambodia in relation to the weakening of the judiciary, communal violence and annihilation of JVP-inspired insurgencies et al.

 

Did JRJ plan riots before Thinnaveli killings?

Dr. Rajan Hoole, in his latest work, repeated accusation levelled in ‘The Arrogance of Power: Myths, decadence and murder,’ that the July 1983 violence had been pre-planned and was unleashed immediately after the LTTE attack on an army patrol at Thinnaveli, Jaffna, on July 23, 1983. The first executive President had been accused of directing the power of the State and the UNP trade union setup (Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya) against the Tamil community. Reference was made to JRJ seeking US and Israeli assistance to establish a security apparatus.

Amusingly, Dr. Hoole asserted that Indian intervention took place in the wake of JRJ inviting/seeking US and Israeli security cooperation following the anti-Tamil riots, where the President deceitfully blamed the JVP.

Nothing can be further from the truth than the assertion that the Indian intervention took place in 1987. India forced President JRJ to accept deployment of the Indian Army, in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, in July 1987, several years after New Delhi created an environment conducive for military occupation in the guise of restoring peace. In fact, the Thinnaveli ambush couldn’t have taken place, if not for India or some other party providing the expertise and the technology to half a dozen terrorist groups, including the LTTE, over a period of time.

Indian strategists obviously triggered violence by providing the LTTE the required expertise to take it to the next level. The LTTE proved its capacity and capability to exploit Indian training when Prabhakaran took on the Indian Army, in Oct 1987. By the time New Delhi was forced to call off its Sri Lanka mission, at the behest of Premadasa, 1,300 Indian officers, and men, were killed, and over 2,500 wounded. Indian trainers can be really happy about their success in training foreign terrorists. Perhaps, the Indian misadventure can be blamed on ‘Deep State’ in India.

Sri Lanka should be grateful to the late one-time India’s High Commissioner in Colombo, J.N. Dixit, for setting the record straight in his memoirs, ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’, published in 2004.

Dixit asserted that the decision to give active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants could be considered one of the two major foreign policy blunders made by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. But he strongly defended the Prime Minister’s action, while asserting Gandhi couldn’t have afforded the emergence of Tamil separatism, in India, by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils [Chapter 6:An Indocentric Practitioner of Realpolitik-Makers of India’s Foreign Policy].

However, Dixit failed to explain how the Prime Minister hoped to achieve her twin objectives by recruiting, training, arming and deploying thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil youth against an elected government. India cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for helping Sri Lankan terrorists establish contact with international terrorist groups. The Indian action caused irrevocable damage to Indo-Lanka relations. The Maldives, too, suffered due to Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Dixit totally ignored the Maldivian factor, though India was responsible for the coup attempt in the Maldives by way of providing training to those who mounted a sea-borne raid, in early Nov 1988. The raiders belonged to Indian-trained PLOTE, now represented in parliament.

Three years later, a Sea borne LTTE team executed a top secret plan that led to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, who ordered the deployment of the Indian Army in Sri Lanka.

 

Muslim extremism-military links

Dr. Hoole’s allegations, pertaining to the role played by Muslim youth in Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE, too, should be examined against the backdrop of allegations that renegade LTTE Commander, Karuna Amman, provided them weapons training. Can claims that Muslim youth, and those ex-LTTE cadres loyal to Karuna, fought in high-risk battles/took part in risky operations, during 2004-2007 period, be substantiated? No less a person than the wartime Army Commander, the then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, while acknowledging the support received from the breakaway LTTE faction, however, denied any high-profile role being played by them in crushing the LTTE militarily. In the absence of proper official account of the involvement of Tamil groups, as well as the LTTE breakaway faction, in ‘operations’ against the LTTE, the public can be easily deceived. Ex-members of Tamil groups ‘worked’ for the military in various capacities. That cannot be denied. There is no harm in acknowledging their contribution, though such open admission might not be acceptable to some.

The P CoI can inquire into Dr. Hoole’s findings as part of its overall efforts to unravel the mystery. Can there be any rational explanation for lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran to publicly justifying the Easter Sunday massacre, in spite of at least 70 of those perished being totally innocent Tamils. So, any price is not too high for political expediency?

Dr. Hoole made no reference to Sumanthiran’s declaration though he commented on various developments and the situation. The author indicated that he didn’t desire to respond to The Island queries as regards Sumanthiran’s shocking statement at an event organized by the Sinhala weekly Annidda to celebrate its first anniversary at the BMICH. The President’s Counsel, and then TNA mouthpiece, alleged that the Easter Sunday carnage was a result of Sri Lanka’s failure to ensure certain basic values. The TNA heavyweight warned of dire consequences, unless Sri Lanka addressed the grievances of the minorities.

Sumanthiran said that no conversation took place today without reference to the Easter Sunday attacks. The lawmaker said that the public was asking what was going to happen because the country was stunned by what happened on that day. Sumanthiran said: All of us were so complacent we lived in a fool’s paradise imagining that the country was in peace in the absence of violence. As there had been no fighting for 10 years, people assumed the country had attained peace. “

Such an attack would have happened some day because the country had not laid the foundation for peaceful co-existence in this country, the TNA heavyweight said. “What we saw was a false edifice. And we were quite happy to carry on with that. Three decades of violent conflict that emanated from the North and East kept us on our toes and those days we actually saw the need to address those issues in a very deep and meaningful way”.

Sumanthiran alleged that once the war was brought to a conclusion, in May 2009, those responsible assumed there was no requirement to address those issues. They continued to pay lip service, the lawmaker alleged, adding: “Whenever issues were raised, they say they must resolve those issues. But deep down, they didn’t feel those issues had to be addressed.”

Referring to the Easter Sunday carnage, Sumanthiran said it was most unfortunate that something like that had to happen for the country to reflect and realize that it necessarily had to go back to certain basic values by which all could live together as a country. Sumanthiran warned: “Unless we agree on those basic values we are doomed.”

Declaring that there wouldn’t be any future for the country unless consensus could be reached on what those basic values were, Sumanthiran called equality a key value.

The Easter Sunday carnage remains a mystery, though pathetic failure on the part of law enforcement and military, as well as the political leadership, to thwart the NTJ operation, has been established beyond doubt.

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

‘Brandix eruption’ close on the heels of Matara corona scare

  SPECIAL REPORT : Part 338

Colombo Municipal Council Public Health Department personnel conducted random PCR tests at the Fort Railway Station, Monday, Oct 12. Pic by Kamal Bogoda

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 

Over a week before the coronavirus eruption at the Brandix apparel manufacturing facility, in Minuwangoda, a 52-year-old foreigner was tested positive, in Matara. He had been among the crew of an aircraft that arrived at the Mattala airport on Sept 13 and was moving freely, in Matara, before being quarantined at the Amaloh boutique resort, in Polhena, a popular tourist destination, minutes away from the town. The flight had touched down in India before flying to Mattala.

The President of the Public Health Inspectors’ Union of Sri Lanka, Upul Rohana, is on record as having said that local Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) or Medical Officers of Health (MOHs) were not told the crew was to be quarantined at Amaloh hotel. Rohana declared that the crew hadn’t been supervised by any PHI or MOH officers, in the area, since they were sent to the hotel, without alerting the relevant health officials.

The foreigner was tested positive, on Sept. 23, during the required second RT PCR test carried out by health authorities, before the departure of the crew. On arrival, airline crews are tested at the airport before being moved to a private hotel, until they leave. Before the day of their departure, they are subjected to RT PCR tests.

From that group of airline crew, two had taken a three-wheeler to an Arpico supermarket, on Sept 20, and to a Keells Super on or about the same day.

A subsequent RT PCR test, conducted at the Hambantota hospital, hadn’t shown the crew member to be infected with coronavirus. The first test on the foreigner had been carried out by a private hospital.

Although the foreigner had been later cleared, the Matara incident revealed the shortcomings in the system. How did those supposed to be staying indoors visit supermarkets? Did anyone bother to inquire into Public Health Inspectors’ allegations that they weren’t informed of the decision to move the airline crew to Amaloh hotel?

Russian Ambassador in Colombo, Yuri Borissovich Materiy, inquired from the writer about the Matara incident in the wake of the Sept 25th edition of The Island report, headlined ‘Covid-19 scare grips Matara as Russian crew member tests positive’ by Priyan de Silva. With the world battling coronavirus, a relevant foreign mission being interested in even an isolated case is not surprising.

 

Brandix crisis far worse than

Welisara cluster

The Matara scare was quickly forgotten. The Minuwangoda eruption, within days of that false scare, is continuing to cause quite a crisis. It is certainly far worse than what was called the Welisara Navy cluster that threatened to overwhelm the system during the first corona wave. While 950 officers and men, attached to the Welisara base, had been infected with the highly contagious virus, during a period of six weeks, beginning the third week of April 2020, the Brandix cluster has so far infected more than 1,200 within a week. The Gampaha hospital made the first detection on Oct 2 as a result of a routine RT PCR test done on 39-year-old supervisor, Pradeepa Sudarshini Ratnayake, when she was leaving the hospital. The mother of four was faulted for the crisis though quickly health authorities established the truth. She was not the first Brandix employee infected.

Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi, on Oct 4, told the media that the Brandix employee, tested positive at the Gampaha hospital, had been detected, thanks to a decision to test persons with fever/fever symptoms randomly at government hospitals. The government on Oct 4 imposed curfew in the Minuwangoda and Divulapitiya (Bomugammana) police areas, where the Brandix employee resides.

Later, it was revealed she had received medical treatment at a dispensary, near her home, at Bomugammana, on Sept. 28, after she fell ill at the factory. In an interview with Mawbima (Oct 11, 2020 edition) over the phone, the woman, who had been with Brandix for nine years, maintained over a dozen workers, attached to her section, fell sick on Sept 19-20 before she too got affected, a couple of days later. Those attached to her section, CM 23, had received treatment at the medical centre at Brandix before Pradeepa, too, received treatment at the same medical centre, on Sept. 27. On the following day, she received medical treatment at a dispensary, near her home. Mawbima quoted her as having said that in spite of the developing situation within the facility, none of them were directed to a government hospital until she demanded that she be taken to Gampaha, on September 30. She had even worked on September 30 though she was receiving treatment.

She was taken from the Brandix facility, to Gampaha hospital, on September 30, and released from hospital on the following day. By then, a substantial number of workers had been affected. Brandix, in its first statement, issued on Oct 4, placed the number of affected at 45, in addition to the person first tested positive. It meant at the time the first detection was made there were at least 45 others affected, within the facility.

Authorities haven’t been able yet to establish how the coronavirus eruption took place in Brandix. For nearly two weeks, the cause of the Brandix eruption remains a mystery. The Brandix eruption delivered a massive blow to the country’s struggling economy.

The Brandix crisis will further undermine Sri Lanka’s economy. There is no dispute over the contribution made by Brandix over the years to the national economy.

 

Indian HC, Brandix respond

to accusations

The writer, on Oct 7, morning raised growing accusations, with the Indian High Commission in Colombo, that Indian workers, employed by Brandix, at its Minuwangoda manufacturing facility, caused the crisis.

The Island asked whether the IHC had been aware of the number of Indian workers at Minuwangoda and whether they had arrived there this year. The IHC spokesperson, Neha Singh, said: “As far as our understanding goes all international arrivals are subjected to health protocols and procedures stipulated by the government of Sri Lanka in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. Any question in this regard may be directed to concerned authorities.”

Due to the rapid deterioration of the situation, police headquarters on Oct 7 extended the curfew to over a dozen police areas in the Gampaha administrative district. The police brought Ganemulla, Kiridiwela,

Dompe, Malwathuhiripitiya, Mirigama, Nittambuwa, Pugoda, Weeragula, Weliweriya, Pallewala, Yakkala, Kandana, Ja–Ela and Seeduwa under curfew, in addition to the curfew imposed on Minuwangoda and Divulapitiya.

Brandix issued its first statement, as regards the corona attack, on Oct 4. The statement, headlined ‘Early detection of COVID-19 positive patient at Brandix facility in Minuwangoda declared: “The rigorous protocol implemented across Brandix, and the immediate response and support received from the PHI and relevant health authorities of Sri Lanka enabled the early detection of the patient, ensuring her timely transfer to IDH for immediate treatment and mitigation of any further spread of the virus.”

At the time of the issuance of the first statement, the number of Brandix affected was placed at 45, in addition to the first detected.

The media received the second Brandix statement on Oct 6. The company said that 1,394 Brandix employees at its Minuwangoda facility had been tested by Oct 5 and of them 567 confirmed as corona positive.

 

Three chartered flights,

341 persons return

The writer raised continuing concerns as regards developments at the Minuwangoda facility with Assad Omar, of Brandix, on Oct 7. Omar responded to issues raised by The Island while assuring a comprehensive statement would be issued during the day. It dealt with a number of issues, including accusations regarding the arrival of Indians, at the Brandix facility at Minuwangoda, in the run-up to the devastating corona eruption. Brandix denied allegations that foreigners, including Indians, had been to its Minuwangoda facility, under any circumstances. Brandix also denied claims that fabric, required by Brandix, had been brought from India, or accepted orders from its facility in India.

As regards those Sri Lankans employed in the Brandix facility, at Visakhapatnam, Andhara Pradesh, and their families returning to Sri Lanka in the recent past, the leading apparel manufacturer revealed that there had been three chartered flights from Visakhapatnam. Brandix assured all of them followed government stipulated procedures, including RT PCR testing and a 14-day mandatory quarantine at a government regulated quarantine facility, as well as the 14-day self-quarantine process, supervised by respective PHIs. Brandix further emphasized that none of those, who had returned from Andhra Pradesh, visited the Minuwangoda manufacturing facility.

The writer sought clarification from Brandix, on Oct 11, regarding a number of issues. The Island submitted the following questions to Brandix: “We received three media statements from you regarding the Covid-19 eruption. In the third statement, you mentioned the arrival of three flights from India carrying Sri Lankans and their families. Can you please provide (1) the dates flights arrived at the Mattala airport (2) the number of passengers on each flight (3) where were they quarantined for two weeks and (4) who supervised the remaining 14-day self-quarantine period? Brandix, in a statement issued the same day, while reiterating all protocols were followed, revealed that altogether 341 Sri Lankans, both workers and their families, returned on three chartered flights on June 25, August 8 and Sept.22. The flight that is causing a puzzle is UL 1159 that was expected to bring in 60 persons though only 48 arrived aboard it.

Brandix, in its fourth statement, said: “Upon completion of the 14-day mandatory period at a government regulated quarantine facility, a certification, signed by the Head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 and the Director General of Health Services has been issued to each individual confirming the same. The passengers of the first two flights then underwent the 14-day self-quarantine process under the supervision of the respective PHIs. A certificate confirming the completion of the self-quarantine process has been issued to each passenger of these two flights by the Office of the Medical Officer of Health for the respective area, which is signed off by the respective Public Health Inspector and the Medical Officer of Health. The 48 passengers that travelled to Sri Lanka on 22nd September 2020 are currently undergoing the 14-day self-quarantine process, under the supervision of the respective PHIs, and will be issued the same certificate upon completion of the process. The certificates regarding all passengers can be produced for verification to any Government authority investigating the matter.”

Brandix also said that the company continues to operate a quarantine centre provided by them in Punani, Batticaloa, during the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year, which also presently houses employees, family members, and any others affected.

However, when Chathura Alwis interviewed Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, who heads the National Operation Centre for the Prevention of Covid-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), the Derana anchor said that the third contingent was accommodated at Sheraton hotel, Waskaduwa, where Durdens Hospital staff subjected them to RT PCR. Lt. Gen. Silva pointed out that contrary to reports that 60 returned on the Sept 22 flight, there were only 48. Did those who returned on June 25 and Aug 8, too, stay at Sheraton? Wouldn’t it be relevant to ask whether any of those who had returned from India were accommodated at the Punani facility before the corona eruption?

Perhaps, the most important line in the fourth Brandix statement is the following. The relevant section verbatim: “We are also thoroughly investigating any lapses in this regard and will share our learning and take the necessary action in the event of any violation.”

Subsequently, Brandix told The Island on Oct 12 (Monday) that those who had returned from India (three contingents) were accommodated at Sheraton Hotel, Kosgoda, and TI, Wadduwa, Long Beach Hotel, Koggala, and again Sheraton Hotel, Kosgoda, respectively.

 

Welisara Navy cluster

The second, far worse wave couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Sri Lanka, struggling to cope up with the unprecedented economic fallout. The government, too, should inquire into possible lapses on its part in line with overall measures meant to prevent further outbreaks. The Welisara corona cluster was caused by congestion, within the Navy base there, though it was conveniently blamed on heroin addicts of Suduwella. Those responsible suppressed severe congestion within the vital base that compelled the Navy to evacuate the base in the third week of May 2020, a month after the detection of the first infected sailor. Well over 2,000 officers and men had to be shifted to bases in various parts of the country, including the north. This was done in terms of instructions issued by the health authorities.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa categorized the Welisara cluster as a mistake when he addressed a group of officials. The coronavirus outbreak revealed the pathetic situation, within the base, where sailors were denied even basic facilities. They lacked sufficient bathroom and toilet facilities in addition to proper sleeping quarters. Even today, residents of Suduwella are blamed for what befell on the Welisara Navy base.

Against the backdrop of the recent Brandix eruption, some of those who had been accommodated at the Welisara Navy base were moved to other bases.

 

Indian poaching, smuggling

across Palk Straits

In spite of regular naval patrols, smuggling continues across the Palk Straits. Contacts between the Indians and Sri Lankan smugglers posed quite a threat against the backdrop of India reeling from corona cases. With over 7 mn cases reported so far, and the death toll at 109,150, by Oct 12, India is really struggling to bring the situation under control. Globally, the infections topped 37.3 million. Sri Lanka also placed some restrictions on its fishing community to prevent contacts with the Indians.

Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda announced restrictions following discussions at cabinet level, in this regard. The Navy continues to make regular detections in the seas off the northwestern province and northern districts. During recent talks between Indian leader Modi and Sri Lankan Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, the contentious issue of Indian poaching, too, has been taken up.

Amidst the corona crisis, a high level Chinese visit took place with the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) questioning the corona counter measures in place to check the visiting delegation. China provided some much needed relief with additional loans though the Sri Lanka economy remained at a critical point due to serious difficulties in meeting the country’s financial obligations. The Brandix eruption caused further deterioration, rather rapidly, with no end in sight. By Monday, Oct 12, the police had no option but to further expand restrictions as more cases were reported from various districts. Police headquarters placed several villages in Gampaha and Mannar under lockdown conditions. The crisis could have been avoided if basic protocols were followed. Brandix facility at Minuwangoda owed an explanation as regards the claim that workers began to fall sick as early as Sept. 19 -20 and Pradeepa Sudarshini Ratnayake received medical treatment on Sept. 27 within the factory premises. Explanation is also required whether those who had fallen sick reported to work from September 19-20 to Oct 4, when the government declared curfew in Minuwangoda and Divulapitiya areas, over 24 hours after Pradeepa Sudarshini Ratnayake was tested positive. If authorities talked to Pradeepa Sudarshini Ratnayake, 45 other workers tested positive (first Brandix statement issued on Oct 4) as well as the person in charge of the Brandix medical centre, they can easily establish when workers first complained of difficulties. When did Brandix Minuwangoda bring the situation to the notice of the MoH and PHIs? If supervisor Pradeepa Sudarshini Ratnayake’s still undisputed assertion that workers, in her section, fell sick on Sept 19-20, how can the failure on the part of those responsible to bring it, immediately to the notice of, health authorities be explained. According to Pradeepa Sudarshini Ratnayake even on Oct 30 she was taken to Gampaha hospital on her insistence.

Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), confirmed Pradeepa Sudarshini Ratnayake’s assertion that workers showed symptoms about a week before she was affected by it.

Appearing on Derana ‘360’, Monday night, the Army Chief told anchor Dilka Samanmali that about 10 workers had been infected before a worker was tested positive at the Gampaha hospital. Lt. Gen. Silva said that even if they disregarded a worker showing symptoms on Sept 15, now it was clear infections took place between Sept 10 and 20 with several cases reported on 20th. The Army Chief’s declaration brought to an end the despicable attempt made by some interested parties to blame the corona eruption on Pradeepa Sudarshini Ratnayake, on the basis of her having an illicit affair.

The primary question, the government needs a clear answer is exactly when the workers complained of fever and showed other symptoms? The answer will establish the culpability of those responsible for the devastating corona eruption.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Focus on Swiss role in Garnier ‘abduction’ as Furgler succeeds Mock

 SPECIAL REPORT : Part 337

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The new Swiss Ambassador, Dominik Furgler, presented his credentials to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Sept 30. Furgler, who succeedes Hanspeter Mock, steps in close on the heels of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), on political victimization, raising the issue of Inspector Nishantha Silva taking refuge in Switzerland. The PCoI directed the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to inquire into the whereabouts of the policeman. The PCoI wants him brought back to Sri Lanka.

Having comfortably won the 2019 Nov 16 presidential poll, Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed the PCoI to investigate allegations of political victimization, as well as interference and undue influence on the judiciary, and police, during the previous government. The PCoI consists of retired Supreme Court Justice Upali Abeyratne (Chairman), retired Appeal Court Justice Daya Chandrasiri Jayathilaka and retired IGP Chandra Fernando.

Furgler’s appointment took place amidst the on-going 45th session (Sept.14 to Oct 7) of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council where the UN, as well as UK-led Core Group raised accountability issues. They focused on the war and post-conflict issues, including a suspect arrested in connection with the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks.

At the onset of the Geneva sessions, the Core Group rather surprisingly accused the government of stepping up harassment, intimidation and surveillance, targeting civil society, since the change of regime, in Nov. 2019. It could well be part of the old Western tactic to go on the attack, no sooner the Rajapaksas were re-elected by the masses, with an overwhelming majority.

The Rajapaksas are, no doubt, the bête noir of the self-appointed international community, led by the West, due to them not being servile as in the case of our ‘right to defend ourselves’ when threatened by terrorists.

We are not for a moment saying that everything is hunky dory here, far from it. We do have a long way to go. But we are definitely not the cannibals that the West would like to paint us.

A spokesperson for the BHC reiterated the allegation in response to several questions raised by The Island as regards the recent statement by the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French.

The BHC spokesperson has sent The Island the following response, on Sept 26: “The statement from the Core Group, in Geneva, agreed among Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK, reflects recent reporting, discussions and analysis by a range of sources on the operating environment for civil society in Sri Lanka. Concerns have been publically raised and documented about increased harassment, intimidation and surveillance by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and several international NGOs. The UK has regular and wide-ranging conversations on these issues with civil society, as well as the Government of Sri Lanka”.

Rita French alleged that civil society and human rights groups, in Sri Lanka, experienced an increasingly hostile operating environment. French alleged “Instances of intimidation, harassment and surveillance continue, including threats to families of disappeared persons. Individuals are detained indefinitely without appearance before court, such as lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah.”

Rita French conveniently refrained from mentioning why Attorney-at-law Hejaaz Hizbullah is in custody. The Attorney General compared Hejaaz Hizbullah’s conduct to that of the late British passport holder Anton Balasingham, the LTTE’s theoretician. Balasingham was buried in the UK, in Dec 2006. Nor did she mention the fact that Hejaaz’s case is before the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, the highest court in the land.

Though the West talks so much about human rights, their own record, even now, is appalling to say the least.

If the high profile project spearheaded by the Swiss mission in Colombo meant to humiliate the new Sri Lanka administration, in Nov. 2019, succeeded, the obviously staged abduction of Swiss Embassy employee Garnier Banister Francis, too, would have been put on Sri Lanka’s account with much glee in Rita French’s statement. The trumped up victim was formerly known as Sriyalatha Perera. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa thwarted the operation by rejecting the controversial Swiss proposal to evacuate Francis, along with members of her family.

Had the President succumbed to intense pressure, the Francis issue, too, would have ended up in the Geneva agenda. That is the undeniable truth. There hadn’t been a previous instance of a Western embassy employee being abducted and sexually abused by government agents. They cooked up unprecedented allegations to tarnish President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, both locally and internationally. Even before the Swiss Embassy brought the alleged incident to the notice of the government, New York Times reported, what later a section of the media called the Francis affair. However, a hasty NYT report dated on Nov 27, 2019, and the update, two days later, revealed the status of the operation, targeting Sri Lanka.

Switzerland Ambassador Hanspeter Mock presents his credentials to President Maihripala Sirisena on Sept.6, 2018, at the President’s House. Mock succeeded Heinz Walker-Nederkoorn.

 

Fugitive inspector Nishantha-Francis link

The report headlined ‘Sri Lankan Critics Fear a Crackdown Is Underway, and Some Flee’ with strapline ‘A Swiss Embassy employee was abducted and asked about asylum applications and investigators were banned from leaving just days after Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected’ by Maria Abi-Habib and Sameer Yasir dealt with how government agents sought information from Francis on Nov. 25, 2019, regarding Nishantha Silva, who left the country for Switzerland on the previous day. NYT quoted a spokesman for the Swiss Foreign Ministry, Pierre-Alain Eltschinger, as having said: “We can confirm that a local employee of the Embassy was detained against her will on the street and threatened at length by unidentified men in order to force her to disclose Embassy-related information.”

“Switzerland regards this incident as a very serious and unacceptable attack,” he said, adding that the Swiss government was “demanding an immediate and complete investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident.”

The NYT asserted those who had carried out the abduction tried to find information regarding Inspector Silva investigating Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The detective fled to Switzerland, with his family, on Sunday, Nov. 24.

Hanspeter Mock wouldn’t have undertaken such a high profile operation without consulting political authorities in Bern. The accusations, as regards Francis‘ abduction were meant to justify Nishantha Silva fleeing the country. NYT claimed Nishantha Silva fled because Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidential election. The Swiss operation went awry primarily because the President thwarted a bold bid to hastily evacuate Francis in a special flight brought exclusively for that. Had that happened, the Swiss could have denied Sri Lanka an opportunity to examine Francis, who claimed she was sexually abused. Luckily the Swiss bid failed. Subsequently, one-time Swiss Ambassador in Colombo, Jörg Frieden, was sent to inquire into the incident. Sending Frieden was nothing but a face-saving measure taken by the Swiss in the wake of the exposure of the clandestine operation.

Sustained media coverage humiliated the Swiss, though they received initial propaganda advantage thanks, to a NYT report. The Swiss debacle coincided with the exposure of a propaganda operation undertaken by the then Minister Rajitha Senaratne in the run-up to the Nov 2019 presidential election. Dr. Senaratne’s project was meant to propagate the lie that Gotabaya Rajapaksa operated death squads. Obviously, Dr. Senaratne’s project and the Swiss operation contributed to Western efforts to demean Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

 

Swiss eat humble pie

The Swiss made a desperate effort to pressure Sri Lanka to admit wrongdoing on her part. The Swiss backed by their Western allies, like a pack of hounds, sought to bring the case to an end by evacuating the woman, along with her family, in a special air ambulance, kept waiting at the BIA. In sheer desperation, Hanspeter Mock met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Dec 16, 2019 to bring negotiations, regarding the alleged abduction to a conclusion, in a manner favourable to them.

Alleging that the whole thing was nothing but total fabrication, the President told Mock that there was irrefutable evidence such as Uber reports, telephone conversations and CCTV footage that point to that fact. “The Embassy official must have been compelled by some interested parties to bring myself and my government into disrepute. It is not clear why the alleged victims acted in such a manner”, the President told the Swiss Ambassador.

By then, they had been fully exposed with Francis surrendering to the CID, on Dec 16, 2019. In spite of that, the Swiss accused Sri Lanka of violating the rule of law, in respect of Francis.

Investigations revealed Francis blatantly lied. Did the Embassy employee take such a course of action in consultation with some other interested parties? Did she receive the backing of the Embassy? And, most importantly, why did the Swiss consider Nishantha Silva’s life at risk and, therefore, felt the need to provide him political asylum, while cooking up this extravagant drama?

While the Swiss had been fighting a desperate battle to save face, the mother of Francis, and her three children, left for Singapore. This was revealed before Colombo Chief Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne on Dec 30, 2019, during the proceedings that led to Francis receiving bail. The UNP, too, had a hand in Garnier’s defence with Ranil Wickremesinghe and Dr Rajitha making statements, whereas an aide to Wickremesinghe, and a friend of the writer, Attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena, too, played a role. Gunawardena’s right, however, to assist the defence, as an attorney, cannot be disputed in any way.

When Senior State Counsel Janaka Bandara alleged that Francis could receive political asylum in Switzerland as her mother and her three children had already left for Switzerland, Defence Attorney Upul Kumarapperuma said they were in Singapore.

In a piece titled ‘The alleged abduction of Garnier Banister Francis’ posted on Dec 13, 2019, a writer declared the victim had been hunted. Examination of hand phone data revealed the Swiss Embassy employee was in touch with the then Director CID, Shani Abeysekera, Inspector Nishantha Silva, Observer Editor Darisha Bastian et al. Bastian had been a regular contributor to NYT. The sim card used by Francis had been issued to journalist Lakna Paranamana, the recipient of the Denzil Pieris Young Reporter of the Year award at the 2011 Editors’ Guild awards and a junior to Bastian at the now defunct The Nation newspaper. Investigations revealed that Inspector Nishantha Silva had been in touch with SSP Abeysekera, before the former left for Singapore.

Dharisha Bastian, too, left the country, in November 2019, amidst the investigation. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a statement datelined New York condemned the Lankan police probe, especially the seizure of Bastian’s laptop. The statement quoted Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher as having said: “CPJ strongly objects to the seizure of journalist Dharisha Bastian’s laptop and is concerned it could further endanger her sources. Sri Lankan authorities should immediately end this intimidation campaign against Bastian, which is clearly a retaliation for her critical reporting.”

The Swiss project ended up in disaster for those who planned the Blitzkrieg against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

 

Hanspeter Mock’s successor, Dominik Furgler, presents his credentials to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Sept. 30, 2020 at the President’s House.

A Swiss statement dated Nov 29, 2019

At the onset of the operation, the Swiss remained confident of bringing it to a successful conclusion. In spite of a section of the local media taking a hostile view, Mock, as part of his overall strategy, issued the following statement: “On 25 November 2019, a serious security incident, involving a local employee of the Embassy of Switzerland, in Colombo, occurred. The employee was detained against her will in the street, forced to get into a car, seriously threatened at length by unidentified men and forced in order to disclose Embassy-related information.

Several false pieces of information are circulating in the reporting of this incident. The Swiss Embassy in Colombo is issuing the following clarifications:

1.

The Swiss Embassy immediately lodged a formal complaint and is fully cooperating with the Sri Lanka authorities in order to support police investigation and initiate an inquiry over the case, while duly considering the health condition of the victim and their relatives.

2.

Due to a deteriorating health condition, the victim is currently not in a state to testify.

3.

It has been alleged that the Swiss government rejected a request for the extradition of an employee of the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and his family. No such request has been submitted.

The Swiss denied receiving a formal request from Sri Lanka for the extradition of Nishantha Silva. There is absolutely no dispute over that. The Swiss statement, issued in less than a week after Nishantha Silva reached Switzerland, stated the obvious. But, strangely, Sri Lanka hadn’t made a formal request for the fugitive policeman’s extradition, 11 months after he left the country. The PCoI taking up the disappearance should prompt police headquarters to take tangible measures in this regard. Wouldn’t it be the responsibility of Foreign and Defence Ministries to take up this matter at the highest level? Ideally, the issue should have been taken up at cabinet level, as well, as the National Security Council (NSC). Foreign and Defence Ministries owed an explanation as regards the failure on their part to address Nishantha Silva’s issue till PCoI raised it recently.

Having played politics with Sri Lanka, Switzerland demanded Sri Lankan judicial authorities ensured that the personal rights of Embassy employees were better protected and that national law and international standards complied with in the further proceedings.

The government never made an attempt to establish why the Swiss accommodated Nishantha Silva on its political asylum programme. The government lacked the will to inquire into the circumstances leading to Nishantha Silva ending up in Switzerland. Francis, too, would have ended up there if not for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intervention. Now that the PCoI issued directions to secure Nishantha Silva’s repatriation, it would be interesting to see how those responsible proceed with the task.

The government unnecessarily getting embroiled in ‘20 A’ fiasco may neglect the missing CID officer’s case or Francis inquiry. The cases should be considered together and also examined against the backdrop of overall accountability accusations arising out of the 2015 Geneva Resolution. British Human Rights Ambassador French’s statement as well as other statements delivered/reports submitted at the on-going Geneva session underscored Sri Lanka’s responsibility to defend her armed forces.

Western powers continue to repeat the same accusations regardless of constant denials by Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s Acting Permanent Representative in Geneva Dayani Mendis during ongoing sessions pointed out the UN strategy.

Over a decade after the conclusion of the war successfully against the LTTE, despite numerous odds, Sri Lanka is still struggling to answer war crimes allegations. Sri Lanka’s failure to properly exploit Lord Naseby’s Oct 2017 bombshell disclosure is a mystery. Can it be deliberate? Or sheer negligence on the part of successful political leaderships? How can one justify such ignorance from those elected representatives? Handling of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations as well as the contentious Swiss matter is certainly not satisfactory. In spite of Sri Lanka withdrawing from the Geneva Resolution, the process continues as underscored by UN/Core Group statements made during the ongoing sessions and Sri Lanka’s response. Sri Lanka cannot ignore the threat posed by the Geneva process et al. Handling of the Swiss Embassy matter would indicate the incumbent government’s readiness to address overall threat on the human rights front.