The World Today for October 06, 2016


Not Over It Yet

Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, recently delivered a pleasant message to the people of New Zealand.

“It’s a very, very relaxed atmosphere there, it’s a quite open society today and fear is no longer a factor,” Wickremesinghe told Radio New Zealand about his island nation. “We hope by next March that we’ll have all this behind us.”

By “this,” Wickremesinghe was referring to the legacy of Sri Lanka’s civil war. More than 100,000 Sri Lankans perished in the conflict between Tamil separatists and government forces between 1983 and 2009. Government forces are alleged to have committed extrajudicial killings, abductions, unlawful arrests, torture and sexual violence in the war.

Some don’t think those memories can be forgotten so easily.

When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recently visited Sri Lanka for the first time since the war ended, he commended the government’s attempts to relieve tensions related to the conflict. The country off the tip of southern India has even begun to shift its focus to pressing matters like sustainable development and ridding the island of malaria.

But Ban also struck a note of caution. “There remains much hard work ahead, but you have moved with determination along a new path with great promise for all the country’s people,” he said, according to a UN statement.

Progress in rebuilding the economy and resolving human rights violations in Sri Lanka has been slow since nationalists squashed the last throes of the Tamil resistance in 2009.

Frustrated voters last year dumped Sri Lanka’s long-time former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, after he brokered myriad, ill-conceived development projects with China – such as an international airport that services only a few dozen people a day.

Rajapaksa’s successor since 2015, Maithripala Sirisena, hasn’t done much better, however. The East Asia Forum, an Australian think tank, described the Sri Lankan economy as suffering from “stasis and stagnation” under the president.

Since 2015, President Sirisena has also sought to mend the country’s ethnic divides and has pledged to hold the former regime responsible for alleged corruption and human rights violations during the war.

In a recent interview with the Sunday Times, President Sirisena optimistically proclaimed, “The loud cries of war crimes allegations have receded.”

Members of the former president’s cabinet – including Rajapaksa’s former defense secretary who was his brother – are currently standing trial. An official committee to locate missing-in-action Tamil separatists has been established. A semi-autonomous Tamil council is now also advocating the group’s interests.

Yet accusations of human rights violations carried out during the final fighting in 2009 also continue to plague the country.

The government’s bloody last assault against the Tamils’ northeastern stronghold reportedly doubled the death toll of the civil war. Government forces bombed civilian “safe zones” and targeted Red Cross relief vessels, according to a 2011 UN report obtained by the BBC. The report also accused the Tamils of using civilians as human shields.

The former regime dismissed the report’s claims, and calls for the current administration to allow international judges to investigate have fallen on deaf ears, the Guardian reported.

Meanwhile, Tamil asylum seekers in Australia and India are claiming they still face torture and brutal interrogations back home because of their links to the now-defunct separatist movement.

Is Sri Lanka moving forward? Undoubtedly. But, after a long civil war, change is slow.


A Rare Consensus

The US and Russia don’t agree on much these days. Still, both backed the same candidate to replace Ban Ki-Moon as secretary general of the United Nations – former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN announced the pick on Wednesday in the company of all 15 diplomats on the Security Council, and a confirmation vote is expected Thursday, the Daily Beast reported.

As the current head of the council, Russia had appeared to favor an Eastern European candidate for the post in the lead up to the decision, while the US and Europe were pushing for a woman, NPR noted.

However, during 10 years as UN high commissioner for refugees, he led worldwide efforts to ease the situation. That made him everyone’s compromise candidate in six straw polls.

Don’t Help, Please

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was issuing warnings this week.

On Wednesday, the leader warned Turkey that it was risking war by keeping its troops in Iraq.

Turkey’s parliament voted last week to extend its military presence in Iraq for another year to fight “terrorist organizations.” But it’s not part of the US-backed coalition fighting IS in Iraq, and its military presence there is largely geared toward containing Kurdish fighters of the Peshmerga – who are battling IS but are also seeking to carve an independent Kurdistan out of parts of Turkey.

For its part, Iraq’s parliament condemned the Turkish vote on Tuesday and called for Turkey to pull its estimated 2,000 troops out of northern Iraq.

Another Snowden?

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has arrested another National Security Agency contractor who may have stolen and disclosed computer code developed by the US to hack into the networks of foreign governments.

But Harold T. Martin III, 51, is not another Edward Snowden, even if he did also work for the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which is responsible for building and operating many of the agency’s most sensitive cyber operations, the New York Times said.

Though he allegedly stole software developed to hack the computer systems of countries like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, investigators believe he took it before Snowden’s 2013 theft of classified information and he is “not like a Snowden or someone who believes that what we were doing was illegal and wanted to publicize that,” according to an unnamed official.

Along with his motivations, it remains a mystery if Martin played any role in the leak of classified NSA code attributed to the so-called Shadow Brokers, or a series of leaks of NSA intercepts involving Japan, Germany and other countries that WikiLeaks has published since last year.


Communication Breakdown

To many an outsider, the UK’s regional accents – from London cockney to the Scottish brogue – are among the British Isles’ most bewildering features.

Now, scientists are looking into whether these variations in dialect extend to British marine life as well.

Researchers are investigating whether the Cornish cod – which are migrating northward toward Liverpool as a result of rising sea temperatures – will be comprehensible to their new Scouse neighbors.

“Recordings of American cod are very different to those from their European cousins, so there is a precedent,” the study’s lead researcher told the Guardian.

Because the fish use vocalizations to attract mates and induce female cod to release their eggs, their ability to breed might be threatened if male cod fail to “chat up” female counterparts who speak a different cod dialect.

The fish typically tend to stick to traditional spawning grounds, so populations have been isolated from each other when it comes to reproduction, said scientists.

Check out a video comparing American to European cod accents here.

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