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Sri Lanka Technological Campus partners with 'EDEX 2019'

In a groundbreaking initiative, Sri Lanka Technological Campus (SLTC), Sri Lanka’s fastest growing university, has partnered as the Exclusive Platinum Plus sponsor of the EDEX Higher Education Expo 2019, the country’s largest education exhibition. 

The EDEX Expo is to be held from January 18 – 20 at the BMICH in Colombo and 25-26 at the Kandy City Centre. This partnership is indicative of the commitment SLTC has towards providing greater opportunities to a wider cross-section of post-secondary students of Sri Lanka to excel in their higher education and to meet the expectations of their future employers.

The official signing ceremony was held in the presence of Kumarasinghe Sirisena – Group Chairman Sri Lanka Telecom PLC, Eng. Ranjith G Rubasinghe – President/ CEO of SLTC, Eng. Ranjith Gunawardena - Director- Operations, SLTC, Mahesh De Silva - Head of Finance, SLTC and  Mithila Mendis - Secretary Royal College Union, Mahinda Galagedara - Chairman EDEX, Bimal Perera - Secretary EDEX, and other officials. 

“One of SLTC’s founding objectives was to produce globally employable graduates who are capable of uplifting the quality of life of their communities.EDEX Expo has also embarked on this initiative with a similar objective of empowering Sri Lankan youth to be globally competitive. Going forward, we are happy that with this partnership we could jointly foster these objectives," SLTC Chairman Kumarasinghe Sirisena said.

Since 2015, SLTC has striven to offer unparalleled higher education and research opportunities in the fields of Engineering, Technology and Business Management.

Through this partnership with EDEX, SLTC hopes to encourage students to visit their stall and avail themselves of the amazing offers and scholarships that are on offer. Aspiring and future students can also speak with SLTC’s faculty and student leaders for further information on what the Campus has to offer in Engineering, Technology, Professional Studies, Business and Graduate Studies.

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SL Navy top brass in “sinister plot” against investigators and witness

Details have emerged of senior Sri Lankan naval officers planning to harm the chief investigator and key witness in high profile cases of abduction, torture and extrajudicial killings.

Investigators of the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) have discovered the details following the arrest of two navy intelligence officers.

NMW Janaka and ASN Tony arrested at the Colombo Fort magistrate court premises on 20 December, for acting in a suspicious manner, have told CID investigators that they were sent by a chief naval intelligence official to spy on Inspector of Police Nishantha Silva and those who provided evidence against navy officers.

The two arrested naval intelligence officers have alleged that they were detailed by Director Naval Intelligence, Captain Sanjeewa Premaratne.

“This is a sinister plot to assassinate the investigator and key witness as credible evidence have emerged of those in top most places in the navy being involved in mass crimes,” said an official familiar with ongoing investigations.

Police Inspector Silva briefing Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake of the findings had told that the navy spies were involved in a plan to kill him.

The inspector is the lead investigator for several high-profile cases of serious crimes where senior military and navy officers have been named as suspects.

In one case of abducting, torturing and forcibly disappearing 11 males, the key suspects are high ranking navy officers.Many of them have been released on bail and reinstated by the navy with promotions.

The country’s top military officer Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne who allegedly assisted a suspect to avoid arrest and threatened a witness with death has also been released on bail.

A key witness speaking to JDS under strict condition of anonymity said that the admiral and several other officers who have access to sophisticated surveillance equipment and lethal weapons pose a grave threat.

“One suspect Sumith Ranasinghe was promoted to the post of commodore after his release. Although he is in charge of land operations, former navy commander Sirimevan Ranasinghe by a confidential letter has requested directors loyal to him to deploy Ranasinghe in intelligence. He is given an armed security and has the facility to spy on telephone conversations of navy officers who gave evidence against him.”

Top officer questioned

The CID had also questioned Director Naval Land Operations, Rear Admiral Udeni Indranatha Serasinghe on December 2 about giving promotions to suspect officers under bail conditions.

Investigators have learned that orders was given by Chief of Defence Staff Ravindra Wijegunaratne, Former Navy Commanders Wasantha Karannagoda and Sirimevan Ranasinghe.

In a two hour long confidential testimony to the Fort magistrate on the same day, a key naval witness had provided details into the torture and disappearance of the 11 males abducted in the suburbs of Colombo.

Lieutenant Commander Krishan Welagedara had also told the magistrate of threats to him by suspects released on bail.

Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake had directed the CID to request court to withdraw the bail order if adequate evidence can be found of the suspect navy officers posing a threat to witness.

The president's hand

Earlier, efforts by President Maithripala Sirisena to remove Nishantha Silva from investigations on the request of Admiral Wijegunaratne failed due to an outcry by local and international rights activists.

Several navy, army and police officers including those of intelligence units have been named as suspects in the assassination of Sunday Leader Founding Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, abduction and torture of The Nation Former Deputy Editor Keith Noyahr, assault on 'Rivira' Former Editor Upali Tennakoon and his wife, abduction and disappearance of Journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda and the killing of rugby star Wasim Thajudeen.

Nishantha Silva is the chief investigator in most of those cases. (JDS Lanka)

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Elephants slaughtered by Sri Lankan trains a disturbing new trend

Blessed with wondrous natural beauty and exotic wildlife, Sri Lanka has quickly become one of the world's most popular tourist destinations.

But few tourists to the Indian Ocean island know that the massive development launched across the country to cater to their needs has contributed to a tragic outcome for Sri Lanka's endangered elephant population.

A growing number of elephants in Sri Lanka are being slaughtered by fast-moving trains, as the animal's natural habitat has rapidly shrunk over the past decade.

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A train is derailed after striking an number of elephants. (Supplied) 

Terrible and graphic images of pregnant female elephants and young calves killed by passenger trains have repeatedly emerged from Sri Lanka last year.

According to Department of Wildlife figures, 15 elephants were killed by trains in 2018, almost more than double the previous year. Total elephant deaths in 2018 numbered 273, up from 256 in 2017.

Leading wildlife experts are concerned the Sri Lankan government is not doing enough to protect elephants, which are a huge drawcard for millions of tourists who visit the country. 

Accusatory fingers are also being pointed at ill-disciplined train drivers failing to obey speed limits during the night, when elephants might be seeking warmth from the tracks.

"The incidents have grown in number in the last several years, it has become much more frequent," elephant welfare campaigner Srilal Miththapala told nine.com.au.

"Over the last decade there has been a lot of development, a lot of clearing of forest and a lot of villages being settled in areas which used to be elephant territory.
"This has disrupted the movements of elephants, especially the males who are much more mobile … now they must cross villages and tracks, and altercations take place.

Mr Miththapala, who also sits as vice president of the Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, fears mostly roaming males are being killed by trains, potentially affecting the male-female ratio of Sri Lanka's elephant population.

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Sri Lankans look at an elephant killed by a train. (Supplied) 

Trains travelling from Colombo and the west across central Sri Lanka towards the eastern coastal cities of Trincomolee and Batticaloa have been involved in a high number of elephant collisions.

Mr Miththapala has proposed the government builds an early warning signal track system of flashing lights and sirens in areas where elephants are known to move.

Experts believe that in recent times elephants have become too accustomed to humans, as wild and manmade environments become increasingly fused together.

"The elephants seem to be acclimatised to the train noise," Mr Miththapala said. "They try to scatter, but when there are babies and mothers they sometimes get hit."

In one of the worst recent incidents, four elephants including an 80-day-old unborn elephant died in October after they were run over by a night mail train.

Four elephants were mown down and killed a month earlier.

Despite the tourism boom in Sri Lanka since the country's 26-year civil war ended in 2009, Mr Miththapala said the government has not done enough to ensure elephants are protected for future generations.

"The appetite and will [from politicians] is not there to remedy this problem," he said. 

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A Sri Lankan elephant is dead and trapped under a train. (Supplied)

He said the Department of Wildlife and Department of Transport "don't see eye to eye" on trains killing elephants.

"Both their mandate are different. The Department of Wildlife is there to protect animals, while [the Department of Transport] is there to ensure efficient travel and services."

Researchers estimate there are probably around 6500-7000 wild elephants in Sri Lanka. It is a "healthy" number, Mr Miththapala said, but it risks masking several serious issues that could have dire consequences.

"The current picture is rather gloomy. The numbers [of elephants] is always up for debate," Mr Miththapala said.

"Given the shrinking habitat of the elephants ... we feel the current capacity [of 7000] is too high, that the country can't sustain this level of development and that number of elephants."

Studies are also currently underway to better understand the male-female ratio in the elephant population, with fears the number of males is dangerously low.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) lists the Sri Lankan elephant as an endangered species.

The Sri Lankan elephant population has fallen almost 65 percent since the turn of the 19th century, according to WWF.

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Commander of the Navy pays homage to Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy

Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva after assuming office as the 23rd Commander of the Navy, visited Kandy and paid homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic at the Temple of the Tooth yesterday (05). Further, the new Navy Commander called on the Mahanayakes of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters to receive their blessings. 
 
The Navy Commander first called on the Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter, the Most Venerable Thibbotuwawa Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thera and the Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter, the Most Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thera to receive their blessings. The Mahanayake Theros invoked the blessings of the Triple Gem on the new Navy Commander and delivered a brief ‘Anushasana’ wishing him strength and courage to carry out the duties entrusted to him. Vice Admiral Silva, paying obeisance to the Mahanayake Theros, offered them ‘Atapirikara’ and expressed his heartfelt gratitude for their wise counsel.
 
Thereafter, he visited the Temple of the Tooth and met the Diyawadana Nilame, Mr. Pradeep Nilanga Dela Bandara. Vice Admiral Silva placed his signature in the visitors’ book and presented the Diyawadana Nilame a special memento, after sharing a light moment with the Chief Custodian of Sri Dalada Maligawa.

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Pohottuwa CMC member K.G Kulatissa arrested for CPC unrest

Pohottuwa politico and Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) member K.G Kulatissa has been arrested by the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) in connection to the unrest at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) on October 29. 

The Police arrested him for being part of an illegal gathering, acting in a disorderly manner and obstructing the duty of Police Officers. He will be presented to the Aluthkade No. 1 Magistrates Court today. 

On CPC staffer lost his life during the fracas after the group attacked the former Minister of Petroleum Arjuna Ranatunga, prompting one of his guards to fire at the crowd. CCTV footage later revealed the mob was led by several local government members of the SLPP.

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Final budget vote on April 4Final budget vote on April 4

The final vote for the 2019 National Budget will be on the April 4, the Ministry of Finance and Mass Media has announced.

The Ministry sources said the Appropriation Act for 2019 will be presented to the Cabinet of Ministers for approval following which it will be presented to the Parliament by Minister Finance and Mass Media Mangala Samaraweera on February 5.
 
The Ministry also said the second reading of the Budget will be held on March 5 while the third reading will be held on March 13.  The National Budget for 2019 will be presented as a Budget mainly based on performance, the Ministry further stated.

Capture

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Four new governors to be appointed today

Governors for four new provinces are to be appointed today (07). The appointment of new governors will be for Sabaragamuwa, Uva, Northern and Southern provinces. 
 
On December 31, President Maithripala Sirisena had instructed all governors to tender their resignations. It is believed the President had done so in order to appoint those loyal to him instead. 

New Governors appointed for five provinces were therefore sworn in before President Maithripala Sirisena at the Presidential Secretariat on January 4.

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Jaliya asked to spill beans on Rajapaksas in US plea deal?

Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador to the United States Jaliya Wickramasuriya is likely to be offered a proffer agreement by US federal prosecutors this week, to spill the beans on the Government run by his cousin Mahinda Rajapaksa between 2005-2015, in exchange for leniency in money laundering and immigration fraud cases filed against him in Washington DC.

Wickremasuriya is expected to be offered a deal known as ‘Queen for a Day” in legal parlance, a process of transactional immunity, where an accused individual agrees to disclose knowledge of crimes committed by himself or others, to authorities with an implied assurance that said knowledge will not be used against them in later proceedings.

The Sunday Observer is said to have obtained emails exchanged between Wickramasuriya’s attorneys in the US and his counsel in Sri Lanka, revealing that US federal prosecutors were offering the former Ambassador a plea deal in exchange for information on the ‘Rajapaksa regime’. “They seem to want to use Mr. Wickramasuriya to initiate investigations into many others in the Sri Lankan Government, both former and current,” the email from an attorney of US based law firm Schertler & Onorato, calling itself a “first-tier law firm in Washington for white-collar and non-white-collar criminal defense states.”

Wickremasuriya’s lawyer in the US, claims in the email seen by Sunday Observer that he ‘would not go to jail’ in the US and believes the former Sri Lankan Ambassador would “benefit greatly” if he were to cooperate with US prosecutors against other high ranking and low ranking officials in Sri Lanka.

“Specifically, they wanted information what they called the Rajapaksa Regime and said they believed that this information was highly sensitive. They seem to want to use Mr. Wickramasuriya as a means to initiate investigation of many others in Sri Lankan government, both former and current,” the email from the US defense counsel to his Sri Lanka counterpart said.

Wickremasuriya’s lawyer in the US urges his client’s local counsel to “be discrete” on the matter, so the former diplomat “has an opportunity to provide information to the US authorities in exchange for leniency.” In his email, the Schertler & Onorato lawyer said he believed the US prosecutors would treat Wickramasuriya fairly if he were to cooperate.

Wickramasuriya is currently a fugitive from justice both in Sri Lanka and the US, where he holds residency status. He served as Sri Lanka’s Envoy to the US between 2008-2014.

He was indicted by the US District Court in the District of Columbia (Washington DC) on five counts, specifically two counts of money-laundering and two counts of wire fraud and one count of visa fraud violation by making false declarations in official US Government documentation.

In an unprecedented move in November 2018, US Government attorneys moved a motion in the District Court of DC to unseal the indictments against Jaliya Wickremasuriya, citing ‘recent change’ in the Government of Sri Lanka, following the controversial appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister on October 26, 2018. The motion to unseal Wickremasuriya’s indictment was filed in Washington DC, “in order to share the fact that the defendant has been indicted and the charges he faces with the Sri Lankan Government.”

In October 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka formally waived the immunity Wickremasuriya held as Ambassador to the US until 2014, to facilitate the US Government investigation into the former Sri Lankan Envoy for embezzlement and laundering of public funds in connection with a controversial 2013 Sri Lankan Embassy purchase. In March 2018, Wickremasuriya challenged the Ministry’s right to waive his immunity, in the Court of Appeal which dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

US authorities appeared to have been concerned that the dubious transfer of power in Sri Lanka in October last year could result in a re-assertion of Wickremasuriya’s diplomatic immunity by his cousin, the controversially installed new Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, their fears were ultimately unfounded, as neither President Sirisena nor then Prime Minister Rajapaksa made any attempt to interfere with the diplomatic immunity affair.

Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam had informed the court that the decision to withdraw diplomatic immunity was taken by President Sirisena, which tied the hands of the appellate court, since decisions of the President in his official capacity may only be contested in the Supreme Court. A further appeal is currently pending at the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.

The former ambassador’s assertion of diplomatic immunity was rendered moot, according to officials briefed on the matter, when Wickramasuriya himself signed a form waiving his own immunities as a condition for reactivating his green card. (Sunday Observer)

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QRCS sets up residential village in Sri Lanka

Qatar Red Crescent Society (QRCS) has completed a project to establish a residential village for 800 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Sri Lanka.

At a total cost of $486,619 (nearly QR1.8mn), donated by a Qatari benevolent person who requested anonymity, the new village is located in Riditenna, Valaichchenai Province, eastern Sri Lanka

The project comprised 56 2-BHK housing units, each with a 250-litre water tank, a mosque, public school, health unit, and two shops. An artesian water well was dug and equipped with a solar-powered pump and a 10,000-litre tank. 

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The health facility will later be handed over to the government to ensure its sustainability

Done in co-operation with Serendib Foundation for Relief and Development, the project provides a convenient environment for the populations that were displaced due to armed conflict. Now, they can return to their home villages after years of displacement.

In February 2018, a delegation from QRCS held the groundbreaking ceremony for the project, which was attended by the Minister of Rehabilitation and Resettlement, Mayor of Batticaloa, head of municipality, local community leaders, and the project's manager.

Under a public tender, the contract was awarded to the winning construction company. To ensure more transparency, onsite supervisors were appointed and weekly follow-up visits were made by QRCS personnel and the partners.

The houses, the mosque, and the school were fully furnished, and the health unit has all the needed medical equipment. After the end of operation, the health facility will be handed over to the government to ensure its sustainability.

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The project included a park and play area for children

Sri Lanka suffered an armed conflict that displaced thousands of people to neighbouring provinces, where they lived in makeshift shelters.

As the conflict came to an end, they started returning home just to find totally destroyed houses and public utilities.

An integrated repatriation scheme was adopted by the government to reconstruct the damaged areas, rehabilitate infrastructure, and support livelihoods.

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All aboard to Beliatta!! All aboard to Beliatta!! 

The first test run on the newly constructed Matara - Beliatta train took place today. (06) The train was set off on its journey at 10am from Matara to Beliatta by Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Arjuna Ranatunga.
 
The track is the first phase of the railway track that is being constructed from Matara to Kataragama. Matara to Kataragama track is 26 km long and is the first phase of the new railway track.

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Government to pay compensation for crop losses due to Armyworm infestation 

The government has taken measures to provide relief to the farmers for the crop damage caused by the fall Armyworm. 
 
The Minister of Agriculture, P. Harrison said the Ministry of Agriculture has allocated a sum of Rs 50 million to compensate for the damage caused by the caterpillar infestation.
 
The maize and sugar cane cultivation in Anuradhapura, Ampara and Monaragala has been badly damaged by due to the caterpillar infestation.
 
Minister P. Harrison engaged in a tour of the Nachchaduwa area in Anuradhapura yesterday to firsthand observe the infestation and evaluate the damage to the crops, especially paddy fields.
 
Speaking to media following the tour, the Minister said the Agriculture Ministry has taken steps to control the fall armyworm infestation by natural as well as chemical methods and has introduced three types of chemicals.
 
Secretary to the Agriculture Ministry KDS Ruwanchandra said Sri Lanka, as well as other countries, has not been able to completely eliminate the fall armyworm infestation but the insect can be controlled with the chemicals introduced by the Ministry and the Ministry is taking the maximum effort to prevent the caterpillar infestation.
 
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in the larval stage, the FAW causes damage to crops, feeding on more than 80 plant species. Although the caterpillar primarily attacks maize, it can also destroy rice and sorghum as well as cotton and some vegetables and up to 1000 acres in one day.
 
The moth can fly up to 100 km per night and the female moth can lay up to 200 eggs at one time. The suppression of the insect was a challenge to every country they were reported, due to their ability to quickly adapt to insecticides.
 
The Agriculture Department recommends a combined application of chemical and natural methods as soon as the caterpillar infestation is observed. (Colombo Page)

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President pressurises National Police Commission!

President Maithripala Sirisena is said to have forced the National Police Commission to cancel transfers of 72 OIC’s made recently. The transfers were made to replace 72 OIC’s that were promoted to the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police on October 25. 
 
While the NPC is in charge of ordering the transfers in the Police (Other than that of the IGP) the President nor the Secretary to the Minister has no power to influence the decisions made by the authority. 
 
The NPC is an independent commission and therefore the President’s arbitrary action has jeopardized the independence and impartiality of the commission. Sources say this action would once again constitute of the President acting in an unconstitutional manner. It is believed the President may be attempting to appoint those loyal to him within the Police force to the vacant positions. 
 
It must be noted that Sirisena earlier attempted to transfer one of the lead investigators IP Nishantha Silva of the CID in an illegal manner but was only prevented when the NPC reversed the illegal action.

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