SL Enters into ‘Military Assistance Protocol’ With China Amidst Growing Concerns
By Gagani Weerakoon
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa wrote an official letter on 28 April to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing his empathy and solidarity with India as the country suffers from COVID-19.
President Rajapaksa wrote that he has been “observing with deep empathy and concern” the immense suffering faced by the people of India recently because of COVID-19. However, the President expressed his confidence that India will be able to overcome the pathogen under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi and with the support of dedicated experts and professionals.
In the letter, President Rajapaksa noted that exactly a century ago, the world faced a similar pandemic, but humanity survived through perseverance. He says that similarly, India also will be able to overcome this pandemic.
In addition to wishing India great strength and good health, the President also conveyed his gratitude to India for its initial donation of 500,000 doses of ‘Maithri Vaccines’ to Sri Lanka which facilitated Sri Lanka’s first vaccination programme.
The Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka, following the example of great teacher Gautama Buddha in Vaisala during a pestilence, plans to compassionately recite the Rathana Sutra to invoke blessings on the people of India, the letter went on to note.
As President Rajapaksa was writing to PM Modi, China’s Defence Minister also arrived in Sri Lanka. This was at a time Supreme Court is due to inform the decision on Colombo Port City Economic Development Bill is due to be informed to the Speaker.
Strengthening bilateral cooperation and overcoming the challenges posed by the pandemic were discussed in length when visiting Chinese State Councillor and Defence Minister, General Wei Fenghe called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The meeting between General Wei Fenghe, who is on a two-day official visit to Sri Lanka, and President Rajapaksa was held at the Presidential Secretariat.
The Chinese Defence Minister was received by Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and Foreign Secretary (Retired) Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage upon his arrival at the President’s Secretariat.
General Wei said bilateral discussions held with the President were extremely fruitful. He also said relations between the two nations were further strengthened by this visit.
Following this meeting the China’s Defence Minister called on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Temple Trees.
Welcoming him, PM Rajapaksa said the opportunity, through this visit, offers to further strengthen already strong and friendly bilateral relations.
Rajapaksa also extended warm wishes on the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party this year and for all its achievements stating it is indeed an important milestone.
He also congratulated China on its achievements in poverty alleviation.
“China has uplifted nearly 100 million rural residents out of absolute poverty. And you have accomplished this in 10 years in advance of the completion of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal in poverty alleviation. This is an impressive achievement,” he added.
It has now become very clear to the entire world that vaccines will be the only way to overcome this pandemic. On that front, on behalf of all Sri Lankans, I extend my sincere appreciation for the generous donation of 600,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines and Personal Protective Equipment since the outbreak of the pandemic. We look forward to China’s continued support in dealing with this crisis,” the PM asserted.
“Despite the increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, our Government has decided not to pursue country-wide lockdowns due to the impact such lockdowns have on our economy and society. I’m sure you’ll agree that there is still a lot that needs to be done for post-pandemic economic recovery. One of our main priorities in this effort is to attract investments from around the world. I look forward to your support in rebuilding investor confidence in Sri Lanka,” he added.
PM Rajapaksa also was hopeful working closely with Chinese Government to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic and further enhance bilateral cooperation.
General Fenghe signed the Book for Special Guests to mark the meeting with the President.
Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong, Deputy Chief of Staff of Joint Staff Department under China’s Central Military Commission, Lieutenant General Shao Yuanming and Major General Ci Guowei participated in the discussions.
Meanwhile, Defence Secretary retired General Kamal Gunaratne greatly appreciated the stance taken by China on behalf of Sri Lanka at the recently concluded 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), during talks with Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe.
The delegations led by Minister Fenghe and Defence Secretary Gunaratne met at the Shangri-La Hotel, Wednesday (28).
China and Sri Lanka also signed a ‘Military Assistance Protocol.’ The Defence Ministry in a statement quoted General Fenghe as having said: “We are looking forward to work together with Sri Lanka to enhance practical cooperation and to promote bilateral relations to a greater extent.” The Chinese Minister highlighted the existing military ties between the two countries. China remained a primary supplier of arms, ammunition and equipment to the Sri Lankan military throughout the war.
Chinese Ambassador in Colombo, Qi Zhenhong, Foreign Secretary Admiral (ret) Prof. Jayanath Colombage and Tri-Forces Commanders were also present at this meeting.
The Chinese delegation comprised Deputy Chief of Joint Staff Department of PLA Lt. Gen. Shao Yuanming, Director General of Office for International Military Cooperation of Central Military Commission (CMC) Maj. Gen. Ci Guowei, Deputy Director General of General Office CMC Maj. Gen. Shen Fangwu, Assistant Chief of Staff of Southern Theatre Command of PLA Maj. Gen. Hu Xianjun and Chinese Defence Attaché Senior Colonel Wan Dong.
General Fenghe also launched the official website of the Chinese National Defence University Alumni Association of Sri Lanka at the invitation of Gen. Gunaratne and the Director General of Sri Lanka Customs and the Chairman and founding member of the Alumni Association Maj. Gen. Vijitha Ravipriya (Ret).
Parliamentary debate on Colombo Port City Economic Development Bill will take place on 5 May from 10.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m.
It was decided on Friday (30 April) at the Committee on Parliamentary Business chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to hold next week’s Parliament sittings only on 4 and 5 May.
Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake said that an adjournment debate on the current situation in the country in the face of the COVID-19 would be held on 4 May from 11.00 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.
The Secretary General also said that no time would be allotted for oral questions of MPs on both sitting days and for questions under Standing Order 27(2).
The party leaders agreed to pass an order under the Sri Lanka Export Development Act, 4 notifications under the Excise Ordinance, the Value Added Tax (VAT) (Amendment) Bill and the Inland Revenue (Amendment) Bill on 4 May after debating same from 10.00 a.m. to 11.00 a.m.
Thereafter, the adjournment debate on the current situation in the country will be held from 11.00 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. without adjournment for lunch, the Secretary General said.
Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando, Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella, Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva and Prof. G.L. Peiris, Dallas Alahapperuma, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Prasanna Ranatunga, MPs Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Gayantha Karunatilake, Dilan Perera and Mano Ganeshan were present at the meeting.
Bathiudeen brothers and the Easter attacks
The CID sought a 90-day detention order from the Ministry of Defence to interrogate former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen and his brother Riyaj Bathiudeen, in connection with aiding and abetting those who carried out the terror attacks on Easter Sunday in 2019.
They were arrested on 24 April and detained for a period of 72 hours for interrogation as per the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.
“The CID sought a 90 -day detention order pursuant to Article 9(1) of the PTA, which allows the suspects to be detained for a period not exceeding three months in the first instance,” he noted.
Addressing the Media, DIG Rohana said that the arrests were made on 24 April considering witness statements, material evidence, circumstantial evidence, scientific evidence, as well as technical evidence, including financial statements that were recovered, when conducting the investigations to identify those who aided the suicide bombers.
The former Minister was taken into custody at his residence in Bauddhaloka Mawatha in Colombo while his brother Riyaj Bathiudeen was apprehended in the Wellawatte area.
Speaking further, the Police Spokesman stressed that the arrests were made on the grounds of aiding and abetting after carefully analysing the evidence material.
“The investigation into the matter focused on the funding received by the suicide bombers and it revealed that certain individuals were identified to have aided and abetted the suicide bombers. The investigations conducted by the CID and Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) were not only based on the 21 April 2019 attacks, but also on the events that led to the attacks,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Rishad Bathiudeen tweeted about his arrest just prior to his arrest on 24 April stating that, “The CID has been standing outside my house in Bauddhaloka Mawatha since 1.30 a.m. today attempting to arrest me without a charge. They have already arrested my brother. I have been in Parliament, and have cooperated with all lawful authorities until now. This is unjust.”
Meanwhile, Minister of Public Security, Rear Admiral (Rtd) Dr. Sarath Weerasekera said the CID has obtained the Speaker’s written approval to arrest MP Rishard Bathiudeen in connection with the ongoing Easter attacks investigations.
“It has been revealed that they had links with the suicide bombers who carried out the terrorist attack and aided and abetted them to earn money for their illegal activities. Eight extracted files related to the eight incidents of the Easter attacks have already been submitted to the Attorney General. As a result of the ongoing investigations, those involved in the attacks will be arrested from time to time,” added Weerasekera.
Opposition political parties claimed the Government is attempting to hoodwink people by staging political arrests in a bid to douse the raging public wrath against it for continuous failures.
Minister of Mass Media, Cabinet Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said it was the Attorney General’s Department and other institutions carrying out investigations including the Police which had decided to take MP Rishad Bathiudeen into custody. It was not the President nor was it the Cabinet.
Rambukwella said unlike during the tenure of the last Government, where decisions of whom to arrest was taken at Temple Trees, the present Government had no hand in these decisions. It is at the sole discretion of the Police and teams carrying out investigations into crimes.
He was speaking at a Media briefing in Kandy recently. He further said although several months ago the arrest of Rishad, Hakeem, Rishad’s brother and a doctor from Kurunegala was spoken of, the Government did not take the law into its hands and make arrest unlike the system that earlier prevailed at Temple Trees.
At that time, Ranil, Champika, Anura, Rajitha et al arrived at Temple Trees, get an official of the Attorney General’s Department to attend the meeting and discuss who is to be arrested on that day. Rambukwella said the present Government does not act in that manner. He also said the Government does not influence Police investigations and that the judicial system was independent now.
Parliament or the President does not influence any person to be arrested and go above the law and although there was a cry some time back that Rishad Bathiudeen should be taken into custody, it was not done without the legal requirements. The Minister said if Rishad Bathiudeen was arrested without informing the Speaker that responsibility lies with the relevant institutions, which made the arrest.
Ranil visits Harin in hospital
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe cancelled all of his engagements set for last week due to the revelation that the country’s daily detection of COVID-19 cases had exceeded the 1,000 mark.
The weekly party activists’ meeting that was slated to be held at Sirikotha last Tuesday (27 April) was also deferred by him due to this situation. On the same day the leader decided to visit a private hospital in Colombo in order to look into the well-being of former UNP Minister Harin Fernando who was being treated there. The duo exchanged views for about an hour and the details of their discussion were confined to them. The UNP Leader before departing told Harin to let him know immediately if he wants any assistance and wished him a speedy recovery from his illness. Harin then expressed his gratitude to his former leader for having visited him. Having come out of the hospital the leader told waiting Media crews that he would urge the Government to reveal to the nation if there are any new developments concerning the ongoing probe into the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks.
The UNP Leader at the start of last week gave interviews to a few social media activists before releasing a live statement through social media platforms with regards to the Colombo Port City Complex.
Last Thursday (29 April) a few party activists had arrived at the UNP Leader’s residence to discuss the present political situation and it was held in keeping with health guidelines. Ruwan Wijewardene set the ball rolling claiming that the pandemic situation had begun to worsen in India and hence there was a serious threat of it spreading to Sri Lanka as well. Chairman Vajira Abeywardena said that the situation had become aggravated in Northern India and that places such as Delhi, Mumbai and Gujarati had been battered by the virus.
He said even the vaccines that were manufactured in India had not been given to 50 per cent of the population. He remarked that providing oxygen to patients has become an issue not only in India but in Sri Lanka as well.
The UNP Leader responding to it said that the situation had become unbearable in India for want of the production of sufficient vaccines.
General Secretary Range Bandara said that though Minister Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle had advised the Government to impose lockdown restrictions during the New Year period, they had not consented to it leading to the present crisis in the country. He said even the health authorities had urged the Government to impose lockdown restrictions for at least 21-days to effectively curtail the spread of the third wave of the pandemic.
But, Range Bandara lamented that the Government has shown that they are unwilling to listen to advice even from the health experts. Ashu Marasinghe said that the President had claimed that the only solution to combat the spread of the virus is to continue with the vaccination programme. But, he lamented that majority of those who had received the first dose of the vaccine had not received its second dose. He said only those in the health sector and those in the security forces could be given the dose as the jabs available are insufficient to cater to the massive demand.
The leader stated that no country is willing to hand over vaccines produced by them to other nations before their own people are inoculated. He said even the production of vaccines in India had come to a standstill because they presently have not sufficient stocks to cater to their own demand as they had provided massive stocks to other countries. He mentioned that even the remaining stock that Sri Lanka is entitled to as part of the COVAX Programme will be received around June.
A party activist who had visited SJB MP Harin Fernando who is convalescing in hospital stated that the MP had bemoaned the fact that his own party leader had not briefed the foreign envoys here on the continued harassment meted out to him by the present regime in connection to the 2019 Easter Sunday blasts. Vajira then said that during the arrival of the Chinese Defence Minister there had been a massive traffic jam due to the closure of roads. He said most of the vehicles had tooted their horns and even hooted to express their vehement disgust at the closure of roads. Ruwan explained that there is a strong tendency of this regime to veer towards Beijing in a big way and warned that such diplomatic measures could anger other nations to the utter detriment of Sri Lanka. He said what is needed is a non-aligned policy concerning all countries and urged the Government to reconsider its foreign policies urgently and seriously. General Secretary Range said that the JSS was planning to mark the May Day with around 100 trade union activists in keeping with the health and quarantine regulations. The leader noted that restricting the number of participants should be the order of the day and observed that all major political parties would not opt to mark the May Day on a grand scale unlike in the previous years due to the COVID-19 situation and would only look to commemorate it in a symbolic way. Vajira said the Government had started to initiate a travel bubble with India. Responding to Vajira’s remarks all agreed that the Government was dragging the country into a dangerous situation with no concrete programme in sight to tackle the spread of the illness here.