openSecurity

Sri Lankan president re-elected

Mahinda Rajapakse claims Sri Lanka election victory. North and South Korea trade fire. Taliban moderates taken off UN blacklist. Russia says US arms treaty to be ready in weeks. British court overturns freezing of terrorism assets. US blames Nigeria for extremism. All this and more in today’s security briefing.
Rukeyya Khan
27 January 2010

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has won a second term in office, defeating former army chief Sarath Fonseka with 57.9% of the popular vote, according to the country's elections commissioner on Wednesday. President Rajapakse has reportedly received 6.01 million votes, 1.84 million more than his main rival General Fonseka.

In a move that appears to lend weight to fears of reprisals following Rajapakse's victory, government troops surrounded the hotel of General Fonseka. A Sri Lankan army spokesman said that the troops had been deployed at the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel in Colombo following information that army deserters were among about 400 people inside. The government has said there are no plans to arrest the General, who led the campaign that defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in May, before falling out with President Rajapakse and joining the opposition. However, officials said the General would face consequences for allegations he had made during the election campaign.

The opposition maintains that there are no deserters inside the hotel and that the presence of so many soldiers is intimidating and contributing to a tense atmosphere.

General Fonseka has reportedly rejected the results of the election, adding that he would petition the courts against it. Transparency International Sri Lanka however said it was satisfied the country's sixth presidential elections were ‘in general, peaceful,’ although it pointed to widespread abuse of the state media by the government during the campaign and on election day.

The openSecurity verdict: The presidential election is the first since government forces defeated a 26-year insurgency by Tamil Tiger rebels. Both Fonseka and President Rajapakse were the architects of a final assault on Tamil Tiger separatists last year that the UN says killed 7,000 civilians in Tamil areas. After the end of the conflict, which prompted allegations of war crimes, an estimated 300,000 displaced Tamils were detained in camps that were closed to the media and humanitarian groups. An estimated 80,000 people remain in such camps.

President Rajapakse now faces the challenge of providing resources to the displaced civilian population to rebuild their homes and livelihood to ensure long term security and prosperity in Sri Lanka. Rajapakse has promised to rekindle Sri Lanka's crippled economy by repairing the countries existing infrastructure and improving communication by building roads, particularly in the war-torn north. He ran under the slogan 'A Brighter Future'.

The run-up to the Sri Lankan elections has experienced spurts of violence and electoral violations. An independent election monitoring group, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections, said there had been two bombings, four killings, twelve shootings and 137 injured in the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote. Early Tuesday morning, there were reports of explosions in the northern Sri Lankan city Jaffna.

In spite of such threats however, some 70 percent of Sri Lanka's 14 million-strong electorate turned out to vote. Turnout in the northern Tamil areas, where the fiercest fighting occurred during the conflict, was around 20 percent however. Many Tamils in the north did not vote because they were afraid of violence, unable to register, or had no transport to reach polling stations. In the Sinhalese majority south however, an 80 percent voter-turnout rate was reported. This boded well for the Rajapaksa camp as most of his supporters were from the rural south.

Yesterday, top Sri Lankan politicians vowed to block Fonseka from taking office if he won, as he was not registered to vote. The government argued that General Fonseka was therefore ineligible for the presidency, despite a strong statement to the contrary from the independent election commissioner. The general is a newcomer to party politics who quit the army in November amid suspicions that he had been plotting a coup d’etat.

Fonseka’s supporters included a group of Tamil parties known as the Tamil National Alliance, which was once seen as a front for the Tamil Tigers. Among the Tamil population however, there appeared to be little love for either candidate. According to reports from Tamil camps, it seemed, rather, that people calculated that a vote for Fonseka, who has said he will speed up the resettlement of the last of the refugees, was their best chance of a return to normality.

Election results show that only in districts in the northern and eastern parts of the country, where Tamils are more populous, did Fonseka claim substantial victories. Whilst Rajapakse courted the Tamil vote with promises of aid, the burning question will now be how the president will treat the Tamils who have been defeated militarily and now electorally. President Rajapksa may not feel inclined to reach out to those he has defeated, though for the sake of long term stability he would be wise to do so.

North and South Korea trade fire

North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire near their disputed sea border on Wednesday, highlighting the instability gripping the heavily armed frontier that divides the two countries. The South Korean media reported that the North twice fired artillery shells into the sea off the South's western coast. South Korean coastal bases responded to the first volley with warning shots, but no injuries were reported. The North said the firing had been part of an annual military drill, but Seoul said the action was 'provocative' and that the consequences of their response rest with the Northern side.

The latest clash is being seen as an attempt by Pyongyang to press home its demand for a peace deal that would open the way to international aid for its ruined economy.

Taliban moderates taken off UN sanctions list

The United Nations said on Tuesday that a Security Council committee has removed five senior Taliban officials from its sanctions list. The UN said that the decision made on Monday meant the five would no longer be subject to international travel bans and asset freezes. All were previously high-ranking members of the former Taliban government. They include the former foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, former deputy minister of commerce Fazal Muhammad, former Taliban press officer Shams-us-Safa Aminzai and former deputy minister of planning Muhammad Musa Hottak. The fifth, former deputy minister of frontier affairs Abdul Hakim, renounced the Taliban three years ago and is now serving as governor of the Uruzgan province. All five men were put on the UN blacklist in 2001.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai hopes to win international support at the London conference for a plan to offer money and jobs to persuade Taliban fighters to lay down their arms. The move is part of a wider effort to reintegrate moderate Taliban in to Afghan society. According to Al Jazeera, a meeting between representatives of the Afghan government and members of the Hezb-e-Islami group took place on the Maldives Islands on January 23-24. It is believed the aim of the talks was to set up delegations to mediate between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Russia says US arms reduction treaty could be ready in weeks

Russian and US negotiators are likely to agree on a landmark nuclear arms reduction treaty within weeks, according to a Russian foreign ministry spokesman on Wednesday. Russia and the US have been negotiating a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, that expired last month. They had hoped to reach a deal before the end of 2009 but were prevented by ongoing differences. Forging a new pact with Russia is a key element of US President Barack Obama's efforts to mend ties between Russia and the US, which plunged to post-Cold War lows after Russia's war with Georgia in August 2008.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Sunday that negotiations were going well, with the two sides in agreement on '95 per cent of the issues.’ Both countries have set a goal of reducing their nuclear warheads stockpile to between 1,500 and 1,675 respectively. They have also agreed that the number of 'carriers' capable of delivering the warheads should be limited to between 500 and 1,100.

British court overturns freezing of suspect terrorists' assets

The British Supreme Court has ruled that special Treasury orders that freeze the assets of terrorist suspects are unlawful. The court allowed a challenge by five men who have had all their assets frozen under an order brought in by current Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor without a vote in Parliament. The judges at the highest court in Britain said the British government had exceeded its power by controlling the finances of the five suspects. The court said the government should have sought Parliament's approval for asset freezing measures.

Lord Phillips, president of the court, said Wednesday's ruling did not constitute a judicial interference with the will of parliament, but rather upheld the supremacy of the parliament in deciding whether or not such measures should be imposed. He added that 'we must be ... careful to guard against unrestrained encroachments on personal liberty.' A spokesman for the Treasury said that it would abide by the ruling but introduce fast-track legislation to ensure that there is no disruption to the government's asset-freezing powers.

US blames Nigeria for extremism

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has blamed failings by Nigerian leaders for increasing 'radicalisation' and alienation among young Nigerians. Responding to a question at a forum with state department employees, Clinton said that Nigeria's key indicators such as literacy were going in the wrong direction and that corruption in the country was 'unbelievable.' She also said she believed that the Christmas day bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab was 'disturbed by his father's wealth.’ The Nigerian government has not responded to Clinton’s criticism.

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