Asia in Review Archive 2021

Sri Lanka

Date of AiR edition

News summary

12 January 2021

Sri Lanka: Authorities promise to rebuild war memorial, just two days after demolishing it

(lm) Sri Lankan authorities decided to rebuild a war memorial commemorating the Mullivaikkal massacre, just two days after they had ordered its demolition. The decision to bulldoze the statue had sparked outrage among locals, students, and politicians, who gathered late on January 9, protesting the demolition of the war memorial. [EconomyNext] [The Hindu]

During the closing stages of the Sri Lankan Civil War, the government under then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa between January and May 2009 in phases designated three No Fire Zones (NFZs) within territory controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Each of these NFZs was smaller than the previous, and further east towards the coast as the LTTE retreated further and further back, ultimately ending in a tiny strip of land in Mullivaikkal, a small village at the country’s northeastern coast. Even though the government had assured it would not fire in government-declared NFZs, military troops heavily shelled the area, including hospitals, UN centers and Red Cross ships, while the LTTE held hostage much of the civilian population for cover, and enforced this by shooting escaping Tamil civilians. [The Print]

12 January 2021

Sri Lanka: Government to continue cremating COVID-19 victims, despite opposition from religious minorities

(lm) The Sri Lankan government will continue to cremate those dying from COVID-19 as per the recommendation by an experts panel appointed last November [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4], the country’s health minister said on January 7, despite strong opposition from the minority Muslim community. [Outlook India]

Ignoring the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines which permit both burials and cremations, Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka amended its rules on burials and cremations last April, making cremations of COVID-19 victims mandatory [see AiR No. 20, May/2020, 3]. Human and religious rights groups, as well as local Muslim associations have since raised concerns over the policy, saying authorities use it to purposely hurt the country’s Muslim and Christian minorities.

12 January 2021

United States charges 3 Sri Lankan nationals for role in 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings

(lm) A recent example of Washington’s resolve to prosecute international terrorists, three Sri Lankan nationals are facing charges in the United States for supporting an Islamic State (IS) cell. The local group, called ISIS in Sri Lanka, has been blamed for a coordinated series of suicide bombings in three Christian churches and four hotels in three Sri Lankan cities on April 21, 2019, killing more than 260 people, including five US citizens [see AiR (4/4/2019)]. [United States Department of Justice] [Colombo Gazette]

All three defendants are being held by authorities in Sri Lanka. However, it is not clear whether they will be brought to the US for trial and whether the government of Sri Lanka would agree to send them. [Voice of America]

5 January 2021

Sri Lanka: Government decides to postpone provincial council elections, citing COVID-19

(lm) After meeting with party leaders representing the ruling Sri Lanka People’s Freedom Alliance (SLPFA), the government has decided to postpone the provincial council election, citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Elections are due in eight out of Sri Lanka’s nine provincial councils. [ColomboPage]

The National Elections Commission, meanwhile, announced that the voting mechanism would be decided on only once the Provincial Council Elections Act is passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The previous government under then-President Maithripala Sirisena enacted a piece of legislation demarcating provincial boundaries in 2017 but failed to get the recommendations of the report adopted by Parliament [see AiR (3/8/2018)]. In 2019, then, the Supreme Court held unanimously that it was not lawful for provincial council elections to be held in the absence of a redrawing of the boundaries of electoral districts, thereby effectively postponing the polls until after the presidential elections. The incumbent government is yet to introduce legislation that demarcates the provincial boundaries. [Daily News] [The Hindu]

5 January 2021

Sri Lanka signs currency swap agreements with China and India

(lm) To boost its foreign currency reserves and maintain short-term foreign exchange liquidity, Sri Lanka is seeking currency swap facilities with the respective central banks of China and India combined worth $2.5 billion. The negotiations come at a time when Colombo is gearing up to repay a daunting $4.5 billion of its outstanding foreign loans this year. The government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, that is, desperately needs cash to service its multibillion-dollar international debts and to run a current account deficit estimated at $1.1 billion annually. [South Asia Monitor]

Colombo’s financial vulnerability is providing a fresh opportunity for both Beijing and New Delhi to deepen their influence in the island nation as they engage in a growing contest to gain the upper hand in the strategic Indian Ocean. China, which styles itself as an all-weather friend to Sri Lanka, already provided $500 million ‘urgent financial assistance’ last year, to help cope with the economic knock-on effects of the pandemic [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3]. India, in turn, provided a $400m currency swap facility last year through the Reserve Bank of India, its central bank, helping to boost the island’s reserves [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4].

5 January 2021

Indian External Affairs Minister to visit Sri Lanka between January 5 and 7

(lm) Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar will pay an official visit to Sri Lanka from January 5-7 at the invitation of his Sri Lankan counterpart Dinesh Gunawardena. Scheduled to hold discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Jaishankar is also expected to take up the release of Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu, who had been arrested last December on charges of poaching. [Hindustan Times]

The latest in a series of effort’s by New Delhi to further smoothen bilateral relations, Jaishankar’s visit marks the second high-profile trip to Colombo in two months. India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval made a three-day visit to Colombo last November, meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to discuss trade, new investments, and security amid plans to bolster bilateral ties between the two countries [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1].