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In Today’s news

October 12, 2009

BBC – Jakarta holds S Lanka ‘migrants’

Indonesia has detained nearly 260 Sri Lankans suspected of trying to sail illegally to Australia, an Indonesian navy spokesman says.

He said a cargo ship holding the would-be migrants had been intercepted by the navy in the Sunda Strait – between Java and Sumatra islands.

The Sri Lankans will now be taken to an immigration office for questioning.

Migrants from war-torn countries often sail through Indonesian waters to try to get to Australia.

An Indonesian Navy spokesman told the BBC that women and children were among the group.

Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils have left the country as a result of the fighting between the Tamil Tigers and the government forces.

It is not clear if the captured Sri Lankans in Indonesia were Tamils or Sinhalese.

In May, the Sri Lankan government announced the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers.

BBC – Sri Lanka medics allowed to work

Four Tamil doctors have been allowed back to work after being detained and accused by Sri Lanka’s government of exaggerating civilian casualties.

The doctors treated Tamil civilians throughout the final phase of Sri Lanka’s bitter war against Tamil Tiger rebels earlier this year.

After the government declared victory, the doctors were arrested. They later recanted their claims, saying they came under pressure from the rebels.

They were released on bail recently.

Three doctors have now been posted to the northern and eastern provinces. Another one has been allowed to pursue higher studies in Colombo.

A fifth doctor, Dr Sivabalan, who the government claimed was working for the rebels, was also detained. He has not been released.

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BBC – Sri Lanka leader wins local poll

ri Lanka’s ruling coalition has swept to victory in a provincial poll that some commentators say will pave the way for an early presidential election.

The vote in the Southern Province, home of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, saw his coalition take 68% of the vote.

The BBC correspondent in Colombo says Mr Rajapaksa was boosted by the recent victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels.

However, an election monitoring body said the campaign was the “worst ever” in terms of violations of the law.

The Campaign for Free and Fair Elections said there were hundreds of reports of violence and intimidation in the run up to the vote.

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Sri Lanka’s military budget raised

The Sri Lankan parliament has approved an additional 20% budget for the country’s military for the remainder of this year.

The government says the cash boost is necessary despite the end of the long-running war in May because the security forces still need strengthening.

That was the government’s argument as it pushed for an additional $300m to be added to the military budget.

The extra cash is on top of the record $1.6bn already allocated this year.

The money was approved by parliament which also extended by a further month the country’s state of emergency, nearly five months after the end of the war.

The extra revenue is to fund the armed forces’ fuel and medical supplies and provide compensation for those who were injured or died.

The army, navy and air force will all benefit.

An opposition politician, speaking in parliament, asked why the extra military budget was needed given the end of the conflict.

Parts of the island remain heavily fortified.

The authorities say they must prevent any resurgence of the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.

There are plans to set up two major new military bases in areas captured from the Tigers and to increase military surveillance of the north which will last long after the planned resettlement of Tamil displaced people currently interned in camps.

The country is plastered with posters glorifying the armed forces, most of them in the majority Sinhalese language whose speakers constitute the vast bulk of the military.

Saturday is the 60th birthday of the army.

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AFP – Tamil refugees should move freely in Sri Lanka: US

WASHINGTON — The United States on Friday called on the Sri Lankan government to allow Tamil refugees displaced by recent fighting to move freely around the country.

Assistant US Secretary of State Robert Blake, who is focussed on US relations with central and southern Asia, “emphasized the importance of the government allowing freedom of movement for IDPs,” or internally displaced people, read a State Department statement.

While the Sri Lankan government “has made some progress easing camp congestion, registering IDPs, and expanding access by humanitarian organizations, much remains to be done,” Blake said.

Blake also “underscored the importance of political reconciliation” in Sri Lanka, where some 250,000 people who were displaced by fighting between troops and Tamil Tiger separatists have remained in the state-run camps since the rebels were defeated in May.

In order to reach a lasting peace, the Sri Lankan government must “promote justice and political reconciliation for all parties and dialogue with all parties, including Tamils inside and outside Sri Lanka, on new mechanisms for devolving power.”

Sri Lanka “must also seek to improve human rights and accountability,” he said.

Blake met Friday with Sri Lankan-Americans, and urged them to “seek opportunities to channel their resources and expertise toward supporting national reconciliation and the reconstruction of Sri Lanka.”

The Sri Lankan government has been widely criticized for holding refugees indefinitely, but it insists it needs time to weed out Tiger fighters hidden among the displaced civilians.

Some 12.6 percent of the island’s 20 million inhabitants are of Tamil descent.

The United Nations has said that up to 7,000 civilians may have perished in the first few months of this year when government troops escalated their offensive against the remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Blake “reviewed the long friendship between the US and Sri Lanka, noting that the United States has provided over 56 million dollars in humanitarian assistance in 2009, including 6.6 million dollars in de-mining assistance,” the statement read.

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