5 December, 2020

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A “Troika” Without Credibility & A Merry-go-round For People

By Kusal Perera

Kusal Perara

Kusal Perara

The whole country doesn’t want (an international inquiry) because it is the feeling that it is insulting to the government that we cannot carry out our own investigation in a transparent manner” Chandrika B. Kumaratunga quoted by UK IBTimes as reported in DailyFT of 17 March, 2015.

“UN can give its probe. We’ll engage the UN on these issues. That’s the difference. We’re going to engage the UN Human Rights Council on these issues. All we’re saying is any criminal jurisdiction must be exercised in Sri Lanka. Any civil jurisdiction has to be exercised in Sri Lanka. Only the Sri Lankan courts can determine this issue.” PM Ranil Wickramesinghe with NDTV in Colombo on 19 January, 2015

On 12 March, 2015 Al Jazeera reported, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena plans to set up a domestic inquiry into alleged crimes committed during the country’s civil war. “….but outside investigators would not be necessary” Sirisena told Al Jazeera

In his (PM Wickremesinghe’s) first formal interaction with the media on 26 March, PM “referred to the setting up of an Office for National Unity headed by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga as well as retention of four international experts who were originally appointed to advice the Maxwell Paranagama-led Commission of Inquiry.” (DailyFT – 27 March)

Maithri-Ranil-ChandrikaWhat’s important in all these quotes are their inherent contradictions, ambiguity and deceptions in saying what should be told to the people, not being told straight and direct. PM Wickremesinghe tells NDTV’s Srinivasan Jain, the difference between Rajapaksa and his government is that, his government would engage the UN Human Rights Council. President Sirisena is quoted by Al Jazeera as saying there will not be any outside investigators. Does he then mean, not even UNHRC engagement as it would mean an insult to his government as explained by former president Kumaratunga? She has told a UK based media, the whole country is against any international inquiry into war related crimes. When she says “whole country”, she perhaps discounts the North that is openly agitating against any domestic investigation.

Two weeks after President Sirisena speaking to Al Jazeera, PM tells local media heads and editors, his government will be hiring the same 04 international experts the Rajapaksa government hired as advisers to avoid UNHRC investigations. He also says they would set up an “Office for National Unity” headed by former President CBK. Will her attitudes and popular Sinhala attributes on investigations, help “National Unity” she is tasked to deliver?

Far worst is who would be hired to help such domestic investigations and who decides on such advisers. Is it the cabinet, the ruling Troika or the PM alone that decided on these 04 international advisers ? The decision to retain those hired by the Rajapaksa regime as disclosed by PM Wickremesinghe, was not disclosed in cabinet briefings in the past weeks. It was the PM alone who knew it and it was he who said it.

The 04 Rajapaksa hired international experts to advice the Commission to Probe Missing Persons chaired by Maxwell Paranagama, Sir Desmond de Silva QC, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Rodney Dickson QC, all three from the UK and David M. Crane from the United States and those recruited by them to assist them were paid exorbitant consultancy fees, travelling and full board stay here by the Central Bank, without any cabinet approval. They had made just 03 visits to Sri Lanka within 07 months. The total paid to them as revealed by the Sunday Times of 15 February, 2015 is over 400 million rupees.

Let’s be aware the Commission to Probe Missing Persons, whose mandate was expanded along with its duration, still continues sittings even after Rajapaksa was defeated and ousted. They are officially advised by the same advisory panel chaired by Sir Desmond de Silva QC. What will be the offer by the Wickremesinghe government to have their expertise under a new mandate for another domestic investigation?

On 17 March in parliament, TNA parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran speaking on this government reintroducing the very bill it opposed 02 years ago when the Rajapaksa regime similarly sought 48 hour police custody said, “This is another one of those ironies that we are faced with of a Government that was established for good governance.” Dealing with the Missing Persons Commission and its international advisers, MP Sumanthiran said there was a serious conflict of attorney-client interests in Rajapaksa regime hiring the services of Sir Desmond de Silva QC.

Continuing his well articulated criticism Sumanthiran said, “This is the most perversion of justice and I demand that the new Government immediately constitute an investigation into the conduct of Sir Desmond de Silva and the previous Government, in conspiring to undermine the independence of the Commission of Inquiry. I also demand that His Excellency the President immediately rescind Sir Desmond de Silva’s appointment to the Advisory Council as a matter of urgency in order to secure the Rule of Law and Good Governance.” He said, he does not know why this government continues with this Paranagama commission. Sumanthiran then demanded “that the new Government of Sri Lanka, not only immediately rescind Sir Desmond de Silva’s appointment but also forward a complaint to the Bar Standards Board of the United Kingdom against Sir Desmond de Silva’s patent professional misconduct.”

All that would suffice to prove there isn’t any difference between Rajapaksas and the Wickremesinghes in how they go about avoiding and dealing with very serious issues. Perhaps the difference is in the rhetoric, some new faces here and there and a claim there’s no “white-vanning” now. But there is also no credible governance, no credible investigations and inquiries against crimes, enforced disappearances and mega corruption and no justice for those who have been demanding justice for endless number of years.

This is not all about this government and its political will in establishing an accountable government, that can promise good governance. All issues of mega corruption, drug trafficking and money laundering don’t seem to get serious attention, other than media publicity. Nor is there any more news about investigations into the alleged January 09 conspiracy at Temple Trees. What’s now happening to the complaint lodged by FM Mangala Samaraweera on the conspiracy? Any news about any inquiry into Gotabaya Rajapaksa operating a special account with BoC for money that should have gone to the Consolidated Fund of the Treasury? Good governance is not about making media statements contradicting each other. It’s about making informed decisions and about engaging people on such decisions. If the decision is to drop investigations, then that has to be justified in public.

There cannot be selective openness in transparency and good governance. There cannot be almost total silence on mega projects like “Nelum Kuluna” – Lotus Tower – while Colombo Port City is being used for compromising on Chinese investments and loans. Lotus Tower is being constructed at a staggering amount of US 104 million dollars as revealed at a media briefing in August 2013 by Secretary to President Weeratunge. His calculations of cost in rupee terms at the same media briefing was over 14 billion. This he said, is a loan from the Chinese Exim bank. We will have to pay back 85% of this loan with interest. What’s this tallest tower in whole of Asia and considered the fifth tallest in the world, constructed on over 10 acres of prime Colombo land going to give us in return for all that money we have to pay back? Weeratunge says, “it is a telecommunication tower”. The question that is not asked and not answered is, “will China have any strategic interest here, with advanced technology in telecommunications?” Overlooking a Port City that gives China 28 hectares on free hold and with their interests in the Hambantota harbour, will this new telecom facility constructed with Chinese expertise add strategic value for Chinese presence in Sri Lanka ?

There are loads of such issues that are now slowly and gradually swept out of public gaze. There are also other issues that are being crudely covered up or in the process of being covered up like the CBSL Bond deal under Governor Mahendran, an exclusive pick by PM Wickremesinghe. No media is investigating the appointment of DIG Waidyalankara as head of the newly created Financial Crimes Investigation Division that comes under the recently established Anti Corruption Secretariat, directly under the PM. He, DIG Waidyalankara is accused of playing silent accomplice of a woman who is known to have cheated millions from unsuspecting citizens, an accusation that should be probed if anti corruption investigations are to move positively forward and with credibility.

Credibility is no character that can be compromised on. What credibility can PM Wickremesinghe talk of, with CBSL Bond issue becoming controversial with his long time politico business ally Samarawickrema appointed chairman of the party also getting glued to allegations of insider trading, holding RW responsible ? What credibility can he claim for good governance and accountability under him, with Corruption Secretariat manned by people of suspect track records? And more after him accused of amending the already gazetted draft of the 19 Amendment, before including it in the Order Book of parliament?

For sure, there wasn’t this load of allegations on corruptions, frauds and cover ups during the first few years of Rajapaksa rule. What was more seriously talked of then was its rule under “white vans” and Sinhala racist supremacy. All mega deals that we have been spotlighting are mostly of recent past. Perhaps after the war was concluded in May 2009 and more during his second term begun after the 2010 January elections. Here we are, hardly over with 75 days of the promised 100 Days of good governance. Good governance labelled “Yahapalanaya”, was the major plank on which the anti Rajapaksa election campaign was launched. Good governance is all about credibility of people handling responsibility.

Where could we end up this way? There certainly is going to be a heavy let down of the Tamil people, with Sinhala politics given the right to decide how war related investigations should finally conclude. There is also a gradual let down of the Southern democratic campaigners still too shy to admit in public they are also being taken on a right “Royal” ride. That the 100 Day programme is being manipulated and curbed for Wickremesinghe and his group to stay in power. As someone told me a few days ago, we would not be heading anywhere. How can we? We are still on the same Merry-go-Round the Rajapaksas left for the MS – RW – CBK troika to take us round and round. It’s the same merry circle, of course with different music. And that perhaps is what “Changed” for the better in the South.

[Emphasis in all above quotes, added]

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  • 10
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    Thanks Kusal, for this and your previous article on CT.

    • 6
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      Dev

      Please remember those reports produced by three Commissions that CBK appointed to investigate human rights violations from late December 1987 to early 1990s have been gathering dusts at the National Archives. What is the point in producing more reports which would be destined to National Archive in few months time with out any action being taken against the war criminals?

      Here is an article published by Sri Lanka Guardian:

      A thankless task
      As a truth commission secretary MCM Iqbal helped gathered evidence on thousands of forced disappearances in Sri Lanka, only to see it disappear itself

      By Jo Baker

      (August 27, 2007 Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) As President Mahinda Rajapaksa speaks of ushering Sri Lankans into a new era of peace, a slight, bespectacled man in his sixties watches him from across an ocean, with the weariness of a man who has tried and failed to call his bluff.

      MCM Iqbal was secretary to two of Sri Lanka’s ‘truth commissions’, presidential commissions of inquiry into the 30,000 or more forced disappearances that took place in the late eighties and early nineties in the south, during a dirty war that many believe has yet to run its course. He knows more than most about the skeletons that are locked away in the governmental closet; enough, he believes, for him to no longer be safe in his home country.

      “I still remember when Rajapaksa was on the way to a UN session with photos of torture victims and was caught going through customs,” he recalls, during a recent visit to the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong. “You know as a minister he used to be at the front of the struggle against these incidents. Now I would consider his regime as one of the world’s worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances.”

      Back in 1994 Iqbal was working as a senior government administrator when he was asked aboard. It was the first commission of its kind – the result of an election pledge by new president, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga – and was split up to cover three zones. Iqbal’s job at the central zone inquiry force meant setting up a system that could allow a handful of officers to document thousands of possible atrocities across four provinces. The team , made up of him, the chairman and some of their two dozen support staff, would travel around the country setting up shop for open questioning sessions. The idea was that they would compile a report for the president on the number and circumstances of the disappearances, who was responsible for them and how they should be charged, with a final analysis of how, legally, things had been allowed to get so bad. It was expected that the report would lead to legal action against the alleged killers; the public had been promised as much.
      ________________

      “When Rajapaksa came to power he had the option of doing something. He was a minister at the time of all this, he knew the contents of these reports and that nothing was being done,” he says. “He knew who was involved in all the killings, and yet he has put all those people around him, given them positions.”

      But the set up was grueling. For two years the small panel would spend two-week stretches in back-to-back interviews, and at night, away from their families they would dictate and record the cases they’d heard that day. “I had worked in public service for forty years, twenty of them in courts, so this procedure of listening to complaints was not new to me, but it was harder in the sense that some of them touched me,” Iqbal admits. “Sometimes I felt like sobbing . But my task at the time was to lead the evidence: what happened, who came, was there enough light for you to identify them, did you try to stop them?”

      Iqbal remembers many of the stories, but he gives one example; not one of the worst, he adds. According to a woman they heard from in Badulla in the nineties, local police had arrived at her house in the night and taken away two of her three sons; she remembers running, screaming after the jeep. At the police station the following morning the officers denied having arrested the boys, but the woman made such a commotion that her sons heard and started shouting. She waited all day on the verandah, hoping for access. Yet when the night shift officers arrived, they invited her back into the police station, and they gang raped her.

      Iqbal says that the women said she could hear her sons shouting throughout the ordeal. “I can still remember, she narrated what the five did to her, and after that she was almost dead from exhaustion,” he recalls. “But she went home and she complained to the elders who couldn’t help her, and then finally she came to us.”

      This act cost her. A few days after her testimony the same officers picked up her remaining son for a robbery. Little could be done for her two older boys – by then almost certainly dead – but the commission chairman was able to contact the magistrate and help prove that the police were framing the 17-year-old for theft. “She came running to the commission with her son, crying, and laying on the floor shouting thank you,” he remembers. “All we could tell her was that she better take her son and get out of the area“.

      This was one of the more rewarding outcomes. After two years in the central zone and more work with a follow-up commission, Iqbal helped write the report, and says that though some of the cases were clear cut, it was not made public (parts of it would be published in 2002, but without the names of those implicated). “We thought we had enough materials, we thought that this will at least send a signal to prevent this sort of thing happening in the future; that all victims would get compensation and at least some perpetrators would be punished,” says Iqbal. “But the compensation paid was a pittance for most: 15,000 rupees for a young boy ranging to 150,000 for a public servant. Hardly any of the perpetrators were punished.”

      Not yet disheartened, Iqbal took a job with the National Human Rights Commission and the US-based Asia Foundation, logging the same cases in a database and lecturing on human rights. Still, many of those implicated continued to hold high profile positions. The biggest blow then came when members of the National Human Rights Commission, considered relatively independent, were replaced. The new staff were appointed by the Rajapaksa’s government, and according to Iqbal they had different priorities; the moved was also criticized in international press. “It had become a political commission,” he remembers. “I still remember the chairman, the late Justice Ramanathan, telling me to abandon [our work]. To use the exact words, he said: ‘why are you raking up all the muck?’”

      At this point Iqbal resigned. But he would still receive calls from the families of the disappeared, telling him that they saw one perpetrator getting into a car, or that another was still officer in charge of the local police station. It appeared that the files had simply been put aside. “I believe the president did not implement our recommendations because she would have alienated the military and police on whom she depended – terrorism was at its height then and they protected her,” he says.

      With no legal reforms made and very few held to account, disappearances continued in Sri Lanka. In 2006 17 locals working for a French NGO were notoriously massacred in a tightly controlled military zone. Scandinavian monitors pointed the finger at security forces but no one was charged. Iqbal refused the invitation to join another such inquiry.

      However in 2007 when a group of international observers (the International Group of Eminent Persons) arrived to monitor the new commission’s work, the UN office in Sri Lanka suggested that they take on Iqbal as an adviser. He remembers dusting off his old files and indulging in a bit of straight talking. “I said, look at this list of perpetrators: So-and-so is now commander in chief there, So-and-so is minister of this district and the president knows and he keeps them there. Now he wants you to start making recommendations?” Three months later, when the observer’s released their support for these earlier, buried recommendations (not long before resigning), Iqbal remembers the shock and displeasure from the Attorney General and the higher ups. At that point the death threats started again.

      “I’d had such calls in the past, but I didn’t take them very seriously, but these were too frequent and sounded a little more genuine, ” says Iqbal. “They came to me and my wife, and to me they would say you’ll be killed if you keep working there (with the monitors). Finally the observers’ security services monitored the calls and they said you need to leave immediately”. Late in 2007, without a word to anyone, the Iqbals locked up their house and left the country.

      And now from a colder climate, with six months in a refugee camp behind him, a schedule of seminars and workshops ahead and his name carefully removed from the phone book, this reluctant keeper of grisly secrets watches the latest Sri Lankan leader with a weary, wary eye. He has no regrets about the path he took, though it essentially led to exile; but he doubts he can say the same for the president.

      “When Rajapaksa came to power he had the option of doing something. He was a minister at the time of all this, he knew the contents of these reports and that nothing was being done,” he says. “He knew who was involved in all the killings, and yet he has put all those people around him, given them positions.”

      Last month the president made a speech. In it, he declared that he only wants to look to the future now, that the past, essentially, is dead and buried. This, to MCM Iqbal, is eerily close to the truth. -Sri Lanka Guardian

      http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2009/08/thankless-task.html

      • 6
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        NV,

        This is a good report on Commissions
        http://www.sangam.org/2011/04/Track_Record.pdf.crdownload

        • 4
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          Anpu

          Thanks

          I have a copy of this report however I haven’t got around to reading it.

      • 6
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        Powerful testimony ! When will we ever learn?

        I don’t give any credence to SL commissions, even the one the troika have promised the UN given their past performance.

        • 5
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          Dev

          This has been “One Nation’s” culture for many many years.

          If people need to know truth its out there and they need only to look for it, listen to it and think about it.

          Many sad stories, no one care to listen to the real life stories from North, East, West and South.

  • 10
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    Kusal Perera,

    Thank you for summing up the reality of the sorry state of supposedly good governance promised during the election of the new presidency.

    The whole Sri Lankan (Sinhala) political elite is corrupt to the core: There is nobody with integrity to talk about amongst them.

    So, we are in a situation back to square one: How to bell the cat of – injustice, lack of credibility and rampant corruption.

    The society is corrupt in many respects as you yourself pointed out some time ago: It is a sorry state of affairs we have descended into in 67 years after independence.

    This can only be rectified from outside by some international body with god intention.

  • 3
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    The problem is the demise of conviction politics in the country. CBK was, her son included apparently, ashamed of Sri Lanka Army’s conduct of the war when McCrae’s premier was shown on Channel 4 in the UK. Such comment directly invited international criticism of the war effort and with that an international investigation. Now she is in power, an international investigation would be an insult in her politically corrected new view. If McCrae and the clan wants an investigation imposed upon the country, as they have been trying all these years, the best is to make her lose power again, she has no shame, will criticise the war again. She is a weasel. When she won the election in 1994, in addition to all the other broken promises, she appointed Arjun Mahendran to lead the SEC. When she came back again 20 years later, it is only the same Arjun Mahendran she had to head the CB. She had two close friends when she was in hiding in London in 1980s, Tara de Mel and Kshenuka Seneviratne. In 1994, she made Tara (just a British doctor, not an educator) the Sectretary to the ministry of Education and Kshenuka was made an ambassador with no qualification required for the job. This time, despite all the alegations she drew, Kshenuka has been posted to Thailand, and she is safe.Porr Ranil now has to defend CBK’s daft actions. This CBK must be lonely and have no association of other people. Only sticking with the same handful of friends for decades..

  • 5
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    Kusal has put everything correctly.
    He has called the bluff of CBK, Ranil and Sirisena about the so-called domestic probe, which is sure to be a whitewash as planned earlier by Mahinda Rajapakse when he appointed the extended Paranagama Commission.

  • 4
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    Excellent Kusal.
    Please keep up the GOOD work. Thank you.

  • 3
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    Kusal thanks for your thoughts of concern . Only active peoples participation can help the merry go round while going round and round can be lifted and make it a spiral round and round moving upwards. Change of music only way to encourage people to participate in that process. If they remain passive, wind can blow it in any direction. Unfortunately media in srilanka don’t represent people’s voice. Many genuine people sucked up by NGOs to write repots. They act like commissions which bring about repots without any action. I hope more people like you can give the lift.

    So far president have shown resilience and some determination with courage. with constructive suggestions people could help him to move the merry go round slowly but surely move spirally upwards. Hope CBK and RW won’t let people down. Breakdown bound to occur. Repairs have to be made. If spiral upward movement is impossible another change of music may be necessary. No other way to make progress in history. Regards

  • 3
    0

    Sri Lankan politics is so riven with corruption that it is difficult to talk in terms of good governance. Within 100 days, it is business as before. If one set of crooks goes away, it is replaced with a new set of crooks. The Bandit Queen is back in the saddle.

    The only part of the country which has administration that is not corrupt is the North. Why not let is be free from a pack of Sinhalese chauvinists who have lived out their lives by outdoing each other in the spewing of hatred? If not for the unexplained money he is supposed to have got from Rajapakse, even Prabhakaran was not corrupt.

    As regards war crimes, it is but obvious that there will be different views. The Bandit Queen was President when the Navaly Church was bombed. She has command responsibility for many massacres. Obviously, she wants to be immune to these charges. She wants to hide behind the repetition of the view that only Sri Lanka can inquire into the violations. It is interesting that the wolf is now in charge of the lambs and is looking after Tamil affairs The other two do not understand the implications of what the international community has the power to do. They assume that they can ward off an inquiry. This will be kept as a Damocles sword hanging over Rajapakse and co, as well as Mythri and Ranil. They will be made to dance to the tune of the international community.

  • 4
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    Thank you Kusal for highlighting and exposing the utterances and intentions of our so called leaders and also the contradictions involved, all of which exposes their insincerity.
    CBK dictates Ranil approves and My3 nods his head. This is what is happening,.look at the picture.
    Yahapalalanaya ?
    Bull S…T.

  • 4
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    As far as the Tamils are concerned, SL Politics trickery will end with the TAMILS
    reaching their goal in the distant future. The trend is being overlooked for want
    of short-term Sinhala political winnings and its intelligentsia knows it is written
    on the walls. RW is marking time and he thinks he can fumble through before retiring
    at no cost to him. He does not have any initiatve and acts only when it comes to the
    push.

  • 3
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    People like this author give hope for a united future for Sri Lanka. Good article.

  • 3
    0

    Excellent article. Well done Sir.

  • 3
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    Presentation at Geneva –
    Srilanka War Documentary Film – Gowthaman
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIe2vqOEAPc

    Ranil viewing Rajapakse palace at KKS. Ranil has asked the navy to continue the work http://www.tamilwin.com/show-RUmtyDRcSUlw2I.html . This has text in Tamil and also has pictures.

  • 3
    0

    (1)
    Colombo continues to block uprooted Tamils from resettling in Poththuvil, Ampaa’rai
    [TamilNet, Saturday, 28 March 2015, 23:49 GMT] http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=37710
    The occupying Sinhala military and Sinhala officials belonging to SL Forest Department and SL Archaeology department continue to block hundreds of uprooted Tamil families from resettling in their own villages situated along the border of Poththuvil Divisional Secretariat in Ampaa’rai district. Mr T. Kaliaiyarasan, a councillor of the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) told TamilNet on Saturday that 485 families have been blocked from resettling in their residential and agricultural lands. The new regime in Colombo is also blocking the people from accessing these lands, he said.

    (2)
    New regime should demonstrate attitudinal change, says Bishop of Batticaloa
    [TamilNet, Thursday, 26 March 2015, 23:16 GMT] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OORh5tnSOnU
    Whatever the step the new president of Sri Lanka is taking, seems to be too slow and is beyond the expectations of the affected people in the North and East, the Bishop of Batticaloa Rev. Dr. Joseph Ponniah told TamilNet in an interview this week. The new government should demonstrate that it possesses the ability to take bold steps such as the appointment of non-military governors. What is mostly needed now is an attitudinal change on the part of the Colombo government. Even today, whenever someone raises the issues of the affected people in the North and East, the government leaders in Colombo seem to brush off the critiques as coming from ethno-nationalists. This attitude is one of the main problems, the Bishop of Batticaloa said.

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