Colombian rebels nearing deal on land reform

Updated 26 May 2013
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Colombian rebels nearing deal on land reform

HAVANA: Colombia’s leftist rebels said yesterday that they are close to a deal with the Bogota government on land reform, one of the most contentious items in their protracted peace negotiations.
“Yes, it should be finished tomorrow, and a joint document will be presented, signed by both sides,” the FARC’s Andres Paris told reporters, without revealing details of the agreement.
Paris made his remarks at the entrance of the Havana Convention Center, where months of negotiations so far have focused almost entirely on land reform — the first of five agenda items to be discussed.
Another delegate from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Laura Villa, read a communique declaring the rebel group welcomes “a partial agreement on the first item of the agenda.”
The struggle for land reform, Villa said, is among the “profound changes that the country needs to achieve the genuine democracy and social justice.”
Land distribution was one of the triggers of the decades-old conflict Colombia, where there is gaping inequality that divides wealthy landowners and poor peasants.
If they succeed in finishing up land reform talks this weekend, both delegations will take a break of several days, and then begin talks on political participation.


Sri Lanka in lockdown after deadly blasts leave scores dead

Updated 23 min 53 sec ago
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Sri Lanka in lockdown after deadly blasts leave scores dead

  • Eight blasts have ripped through churches and hotels
  • Social media blocked across the country in temporary ban

COLOMBO: An eight blasth has been reported in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, as the government announced an immediate curfew.

The curfew will begin on Sunday night at 6:00pm local time (1230 GMT) and run until 6:00am local time (0030 GMT), the Sri Lankan defense ministry said.

The attack took place just hours after a string of bombings ripped through churches and hotels on Sunday monrning, killing at least 160 people.

Access to major social media platforms and messaging services has been shut down by the Sri Lankan government.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the seventh blast hit a hotel in the southern Colombo suburb of Dehiwala, killing two people.

A hospital source said Americans, British and Dutch citizens were among those killed in the six blasts, which also injured hundreds of people.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the blasts as “cowardly” and said the government was working to “contain the situation.”

The public has been told to excercise caution in the following days, with emergency numbers being circulated for people who want to seek help.

The country’s police chief made a nationwide alert 10 days before the blasts that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches,” according to the warning seen by AFP.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” said the alert.

The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalization of Buddhist statues.

A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 42 people were killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit.

The first explosions were reported at St. Anthony’s Shrine — a church in Colombo — and St. Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital. Dozens of people injured in the St. Anthony’s blast flooded into the Colombo National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.

“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the Facebook page of the St. Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo.

Inside St. Anthony's Shrine where one of the bombings took place. (AFP)

Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in Batticaloa.

An official at one of the hotels, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, told AFP that the blast had ripped through the hotel restaurant. He said at least one person had been killed in the blast.

An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.

(Reuters)

“Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet on his verified account.

He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St. Anthony’s Shrine, and described “horrible scenes.” “I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners.”

“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added. Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast.

The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood. Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries. The images could not immediately be verified.

Only around six percent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the deadly string of Easter Sunday attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka as “truly appalling.”