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What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas but not

when in Colombo

OCT 21 2018

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas or President Maithripala Sirisena appeared
to have believed so when he made a comment to his Cabinet members of his
belief that Indian intelligence service may have a link to the alleged assassination
plot against him.
While it was not immediately clear whether the President referred to Indian
intelligence service being behind the assassination plot or the Indian national
arrested by the CID being a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent, his team by
Wednesday had to take several damage-control measures to avert the wrath of
Big Brother India as ‘The Hindu’ newspaper flashed a headline ‘President Sirisena
alleges that RAW is plotting his assassination’.
President Sirisena, his Media Unit, several Ministers and officials went into full
damage-control mode on Wednesday (17), after foreign and local Media outlets
reported that during Tuesday(16)’s Cabinet meeting, he had allegedly accused the
Indian Intelligence Service the RAW of plotting to kill him.

The denials of these reports came in a flurry of statements from various
Government bodies and phone calls from senior officials.

The President’s Media Division (PMD), in a statement clarified that in his remarks
the President had “not mentioned any involvement of an Indian Intelligence
Service in the alleged plot to assassinate him.”

The statement added that the President had “emphasized the need to conduct a
comprehensive investigation into the alleged assassination plot.”

President Sirisena met Indian High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu who
called on him at the Presidential Secretariat. Sandhu had been scheduled to fly to
New Delhi on Wednesday (17), to be present to welcome Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe who was to begin an official visit to India on Thursday (18), but
had postponed the trip to meet the President. After Sirisena and Sandhu met, the
PMD said “all matters were clarified and bilateral relations were reassured.”

Cabinet Secretary S. Abeysinghe released a Media statement also refuting the
story and asking reporters to check with the Co-Cabinet Spokesmen. The Ministry
of Foreign Affairs in its statement said “it is disappointing therefore that, matters
of this nature have become the subject of distorted and erroneous Media reports
which have taken the President’s remarks out of context.”

The PMD statement and the Cabinet statement also contradicted each other as
the Presidential Secretariat said the Cabinet had discussed the handing over of
the East Terminal of the Colombo Port to Indian interests, while the Cabinet
statement said that “the matter with regard to the Port was not on the Cabinet
Agenda.”

The remarks about RAW involvement was reportedly made after the President
emphatically opposed the idea put forward by the Prime Minister and Minister
Malik Samarawickrama that the East Container Terminal of Colombo Harbour be
handed over to India.

Meanwhile, Cabinet Spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne claimed the President’s
statement had been misinterpreted by the Media. At the weekly Cabinet briefing,
Senaratne said that the President had brought up the matter of the alleged
assassination plot against him and had noted that he remains uninformed of the
latest developments with regard to the investigations into the matter. According
to Senaratne, the President has spoken extensively about the various speculations
that had alleged a relationship between the Indian national arrested during the
investigation with the Indian secret service.

However, according to ‘The Hindu’, which quoted informed sources who were
present at the Cabinet meeting, President Sirisena alleged RAW’s hand in his
assassination plot, while also asserting that “PM Modi may be unaware of the
plan.”

Earlier last month, a so-called Social Activist known as Namal Kumara had alleged
that former director of the Terrorism Investigation Division of the Police, DIG
Nalaka De Silva was part of an assassination plot that targeted several high
ranking personalities of the country, including the President.

Kumara also led the CID to an Indian national from Kerala named Marcel Thomas,
who also claimed to have knowledge of the plot. Later the CID noted that the
Indian national had contacted Kumara in order to obtain more information with
regard to the plot.
During the Cabinet Media briefing, Senaratne labelled Kumara as a ‘Police
informant, glorified by the Media’ and went on to rebuke ‘The Hindu’ report
which had, according to him, misinterpreted President’s statement.

“The President spoke about how the arrested Indian National is being associated
with RAW. But on no occasion the President claimed that the RAW was involved
in the assassination attempt against him. He was inquiring as to why he has not
been informed on how the investigation was progressing.”

In response ‘The Hindu’ correspondent present at the briefing claimed that
information was confirmed by four Cabinet Ministers who were at the Cabinet
meeting causing Senaratne to retort: “Then those ministers most probably had an
ulterior motive behind giving that information.”

Interestingly, Ports and Shipping Minister and SLFP Spokesman Mahinda
Samarasinghe also alleged a deliberate attempt by a member or some members
of the Cabinet to cause unprecedented rift between President Maithripala
Sirisena and India.

Samarasinghe said there was absolutely no basis for reports which quoted
unidentified sources as having said that President Sirisena had accused the
Research and Analysis Wing of planning to assassinate him.

Samarasinghe said there was a determined bid to undermine Indo-Lanka relations
and sabotage personal friendship between President Sirisena and Indian leader
Modi.

He stressed the pivotal importance of identifying those involved in the highly
dangerous project as soon as possible. Acknowledging that there hadn’t been a
similar treacherous initiative since the change of Government in January 2015, he
noted that the responsibility on the part of the National Unity Government to
defeat the sinister moves.

However, N. Ram, Chairman, ‘The Hindu’ Publishing Group (THG) former Editor-
in-Chief, ‘The Hindu’ Group of Publications; Trustee, Asian College of Journalism,
Chennai who generally does not take public stances on such matters did not
hesitate to take to tweet criticizing Government’s denial.
“Another case of saying something wild and bizarre, expecting it to remain within
a closed room, and then blaming the media for the furore caused. ‘The Hindu’ did
its job - truth-telling,” Ram tweeted referring to President Sirisena’s denial.

He also added: “Our Sri Lanka Correspondent verified what she had learnt with
multiple independent sources before publishing her report. Let them issue their
lame denials, try to wriggle out of what was said - but we stand by our
Correspondent’s meticulously fact-checked story.”

Things did not settle as soon as it was expected, but President Sirisena and Indian
PM Modi had a telephone conversation on Wednesday evening.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Office responded to reports, on the
statement made by Sri Lanka’s President, that India is involved in the
assassination plot targeting him.
Modi’s office, in a release stated that the President of Sri Lanka had called the
Prime Minister of India over the phone on Wednesday (17).

It added that the malignant reports are utterly baseless and false and seemed to
create misunderstanding between the two leaders as well as the cordial
relationship between the two countries.

The release said, that the President had said that he regards Prime Minister Modi
as a true friend of Sri Lanka as well as a close personal friend. The report also said
that PM Modi appreciated the prompt actions taken by the Government of Sri
Lanka to publicly clarify matters regarding the false reports.

Plot to hide assassination plot

It was in the midst of this that the Joint Opposition (JO) said the Indian national,
who claimed of a plot to assassinate President Maithripala Sirisena, former
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family members, was identified as an India’s
RAW member bearing the RAW identity card number of RB317217/VJ.
JO member MP Wimal Weerawansa told a news conference that they had
investigated on this issue and had found out that the Indian national who was
arrested in Sri Lanka was named Rajendra Kumar and he was working for the
RAW.

He said the suspect had come to Sri Lanka before the election held in 2015 and
had continued working for the RAW during his stay.

“The Indian national has tried to meet me on two instances but has failed because
I was not available at my residence and office at that time. Right after his arrest,
the Indian High Commission announced that the arrested person was
psychologically imbalanced. It is the easiest way to tackle such incidents,” he said.

“Even the RAW is active in Sri Lanka but President Sirisena is still maintaining a
silent policy. It is evident that the RAW and the Tamil Diaspora are engaging in
some conspiracies in Sri Lanka. The situation has turned quite dangerous,” he
added.

It was not only the Joint Opposition that accused the existence of certain
elements to sweep the assassination plot under the carpet, but those who are
close to President Sirisena too expressed the same sentiments.

A major political conspiracy is currently being hatched to sweep under the carpet,
the allegations levelled against former Head of the Terrorism Investigation
Division, Deputy Inspector General of Police Nalaka Silva, over a plot to
assassinate President Maithripala Sirisena, Senior Presidential Adviser, Attorney-
at-Law Shiral Lakthilaka emphasized.

Addressing the media in Colombo, he said that the matter “is too serious to be
ignored.”
He said that the Criminal Investigation Department was currently carrying out a
detailed investigation into the alleged plot by de Silva to assassinate the
President.

When a reporter questioned Lakthilaka as to what had been the response from
the President regarding a possible plot to assassinate him, he replied, “We are
serious, that is why we are here.”

Lakthilaka was flanked by Attorney-at-law Sarath Kongahage during the Media
briefing held in Colombo.

Kongahage said that there were clear signs that the alleged plot to bump off the
President had been mooted by a top Police Officer in the Police Department.

He affirmed that with the alleged assassination plot coming to light, the security
provided to the President had been further tightened and that necessary
measures had also been taken in that regard.

Lakthilaka, speaking further, dismissed media reports that the President had at
last Tuesday’s (16) Cabinet meeting, claimed that the Indian Research and
Analysis Wing intelligence service was planning to allegedly murder him.

He pointed out that what the President had uttered during the Cabinet meeting
had been distorted by certain members of the Cabinet and that distorted version
had been given to the Indian press.

“We do not know who is behind this plot and the conspiracy. But, this concerns
the life of the country’s President. Hence, we cannot allow this allegation to be
either suppressed or swept under the carpet. The Minister of Law and Order has
already recommended to the National Police Commission (NPC) to interdict de
Silva in this regard. If this was merely a joke, then there would be no need for that
Minister to make such a recommendation to the NPC.
Furthermore, the Government Analyst has already stated that the voice samples
obtained from de Silva had matched. Thirdly, an Indian national has been
apprehended in connection with this allegation. Hence the evidence provided for
this investigation by Director Operations of the Anti-Corruption Front, Namal
Kumara must be further verified by the Police and it has also to be approved by
the Judiciary,” explained Lakthilaka.

He stressed that as there was a connection between power politics and political
murders and if someone is of the view that terrorism could be used as a form of
transferring power such views had to be defeated.

Kongahage added that a detailed inquiry has to be conducted on whether the
underworld or some private or business dealer was behind the alleged
assassination plot.

PM’s visit to India

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe left Colombo to undertake official visit to
India in an extremely chaotic political environment.

His visit comes at a time Sri Lanka, predominantly President Sirisena, has
protested giving East Container Terminal of Colombo Harbour to India.

President Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe had bit of a showdown on
Tuesday as the two leaders embroiled themselves in a heated exchange of words
at the weekly Cabinet meeting.
Drama began after Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe presented
a Cabinet memorandum seeking approval to develop the East Container Terminal
of Colombo Port by Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).

The Prime Minister, however, opined that that it should be done under an Indian
investment. Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik
Samarawickrama had also stressed the need to hand over the terminal for
development to India.

The suggestion infuriated the President. The President charged that the country
would compromise its sovereignty by alienating its seaports to external parties in
this manner.
While rapping the Government for leasing out of the Hambantota Port to a
Chinese company, he said it would spell more doom in the event of alienation of a
stake of the Colombo Port to another country in the same way. “If we act like
this, we will not be able to berth our own ship in our own port,” he said.
The Prime Minister defended his position saying that a bulk of transshipment
business at Colombo Port was done with India. He cited it as justification for
handing over the East Container Terminal for development to India. But, the
President, at this point, referred to his meeting with Indian Prime Minister
Narendra Modi on the sidelines of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral and
Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Summit in Kathmandu, Nepal last month.

Development Strategies and Internal Trade Ministry, which had submitted
observations over the new proposal, had said that the Government to
Government deliberations held between Sri Lanka, Japan and India should be
considered when developing the East Container Terminal ECT.

“In the circumstances, it is considered important to consider the decision on ECT
development in the light of the discussions held at the highest level, while
ensuring a commercially viable development model,” Ministry said.

The ECT development had been planned to take place in three stages; the first
stage with Indian assistance, second stage with Japanese assistance and the third
stage by Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had highlighted at the Cabinet meeting that 80
percent of transshipments handling at the Colombo Port was from India and
therefore, it would affect Sri Lanka if the signed MoU was rescinded.

The East Container Terminal (ECT) is the second-deepest container terminal in the
Port of Colombo and after the work is completed, that terminal will be equipped
with a jetty 18 metres in depth and 1,200 metres in length. It is expected to make
the annual container operating capacity of this terminal, 204 million TEUs. At
present, Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has taken steps to lengthen the jetty by
440m and develop the facilities relevant to the ECT and the adjoining yard.

Through a proposal submitted by Minister of Ports and Shipping Mahinda
Samarasinghe to the National Economic Council (NEC) chaired by President
Maithripala Sirisena on 16 March 2018 developing and operating of the East
Container Terminal (ECT) is emphasized.
The Minister in the document has well proposed that it was of immense
importance to develop and operate the terminal by Sri Lanka Ports Authority
(SLPA) as a vibrant Government entity capable of supporting major investments in
the port sector in order to cater the rising demand of the industry and ensure the
sustainability of this public sector institution.

The Cabinet has extended concurrence on 31 May 2018, for these actions and
recommendations recognized in the meeting of the National Economic Council
(NEC) of Sri Lanka on 15 May, 2018. Accordingly, the NEC has given the decision to
present a Cabinet Memorandum on the development of the East Container
Terminal (ECT) by Sri Lanka Ports Authority. The Cabinet has also requested the
Secretary of the Minister of Ports and Shipping to take necessary action.

Accordingly, a Board Memorandum was tabled for the approval of the Board of
Directors of Sri Lanka Ports Authority on 26 June 2018, recommending for the
approval of the Board of Directors to submit a Cabinet Memorandum, indicating
the required developments.
Posted by Thavam

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