Friday, May 28, 2010

In Jaffna - One Year After The End Of War...

So here I am in Jaffna... For the first time in my life!

I got really ill, two days before the scheduled trip and couldn't even go to work for almost two days. Lucky for me I got well just in time and today is our second day in Jaffna town. I have loads of stories to tell and loads more pictures to show. Jaffna was far far from what I had expected. It was so "green" to the eye and fast developing. Except for the number of occasional buildings in ruins, you would not have guessed that the peninsula had been at war with the rest of the island for the past thirty years. Amazing! I think Srilankans are good at moving on...

The language barrier was evident when we attempted order food or to get what we want at a restaurant or a shop. However, one of our group members was a Tamil and his home-town is Jaffna so we got by thanks to his translation skills :) I myself can manage a little bit of Tamil and was making maximum use of it during the past two days, of course impressing a few in the group who had no idea I could speak a bit of Tamil.

We've been to see many places including the old Jaffna Fort, the Nallur Kovil and some other ancient ruins in the city. We also dropped in at the popular ice cream parlor in Jaffna called "Rio Ice Cream" which totally blew me and everyone else away. Though you cannot compare the "quality" of the ice cream to some of the favorite brands in Colombo, this place was easily the largest ice cream parlor I've seen in entire Sri Lanka. I just have to write about this place and many other places - but in a little while...

Now we're headed towards the beach. So catch you folks later with detailed info on what I have seen and heard so far in Jaffna.

If you have any questions that you want to ask, curious about anything...? You are welcome to ask in comments, so that I can try get answers for you before I leave this place. Sounds good? :) Catch you soon!!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Facebook goes ZERO

Facebook has made another fantastic launch! early morning on Wednesday (19th May 2010) – Sri Lanka time, Facebook announced the launch of – an imageless version of the standard site for their mobile users. And what’s most fantastic about this new site is that, those of us who login to Facebook through mobile phones can access it free of charge! 

According to Facebook, more than 100 million people actively use Facebook from their mobile devices and over 200 mobile operators in 80 countries offer “Facebook Mobile”. Initially, free browsing over is available only through 50 mobile operators in 45 countries and territories including all you lucky lucky Mobitel users in Sri Lanka – including me of course ;) 

Here is the list of all countries and territories along with mobile operators that currently offer free of charge. Click on image to view full list:

Facebook admits that most people do face certain challenges when using Facebook over their mobile device over, mainly being the speed and the cost. So, keeping these two main challenges in mind, the new has been developed to be faster and free.

Over the new site, Facebook says that you can access the key features of their standard mobile site; such as updating your status, viewing the News Feed, Liking and Commenting on posts, Sending and Replying to messages, Writing on a friend’s Wall, just as you would on completely free of charge from those mobile operators who offer this service.

However, to make your browsing experience faster, photos will be viewable only by clicking on them AND you will have to pay the normal data charges if you want to view photos. You will also be subjected to normal mobile browsing charges if you leave and go to another site. A notification page will appear, reminding you that you will be charged if you attempt to view a photo or leave the site.

And those of you who are not yet lucky enough to have this service in your country or offered through your mobile operators yet, keep your fingers crossed... Facebook says the service would be available through many other mobile operators soon. Some of the operators and regions that will have available worldwide have been listed by Facebook as :
  • Telstra in Australia
  • Movistar in El Salvador
  • SFR in France
  • XL in Indonesia
  • DiGi in Malaysia
  • Telecom NZ in New Zealand
  • SMART in the Philippines
  • Vodafone in Qatar
  • Digicel in Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago
  • 3 in the UK
  • MTN in Cameroon and Guinea Conakry

So, without much delay, I checked out this feature over my cheap Chinese mobile handset and true enough, the speed was worth smiling about :) How about you? How many of you have checked out the new or have it going in your country? What’s your opinion?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

U.S. Spokesperson Duguid says, "sometimes the struggle against violent extremism is violence"

The Diplomatic Reception Room of the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C. was a cozy little place. Over 30 of us – on a reporting tour on Social Media were chattering away on various topics and we had much to discuss. We just met Alec Ross, the Senior Adviser for Innovation in the Office of the Secretary of State. Now we are about to meet face to face with the Deputy Spokesperson for the U.S. State Department – Gordon Duguid. We were told that Duguid had a broad knowledge on all the countries that were represented by our group and we were pretty much anticipating the meeting, to ask many “country specific” questions, this time around. He was also the man behind our “Social Media Tour” - the one who was supposed to have made it all happen, well, according to our tour guides or the Media Relations Officers from the Foreign Press Centre. He’s also the one who does the press briefings for the U.S. State Department and if you watch foreign news regularly, chances are, you may have seen him on TV quite often.

I was representing Sri Lanka and was sent from the Independent Television Network. I was awaiting my turn to ask a couple of questions regarding my country. As we were all seated at our different tables casually helping ourselves to the entrée at the distinguished Diplomatic Reception Room, Duguid arrived and sat at our table, prompting some of us to seize the opportunity and ask him a few questions just before the meal and before the actual conference took place. In Sri Lanka, we had just ended a 30-year long war against terrorism. The current president who came into power, ended the war in just 4 years as the head of state and was re-elected in January for a second term. And there is a sort of a debate or a controversial idea among some, that the United States secretly supported the LTTE terrorists. So when it was my turn, I questioned Gordon Duguid on this, so that we have a clear answer to this long debated question.

I asked Duguid, how does the United States looked at the manner in which we eradicated terrorism from our country. Do they think our government’s efforts to accomplish this, violated human rights?

In response to this question, Duguid said that the United States have already released a document on human rights, which is a very public document, that gives the official position of the Department of State on this matter. But he also said that the United States certainly supported the government’s efforts to end the terrorist reign of the LTTE and they certainly had a number of discussions about terrorism in general and fighting terrorism with our government.

He further said “However, our struggles against terrorism do not release any of us from our responsibilities to conduct that struggle responsibly. And I would point to our own debates here in the United State over renditions and detentions in Guantanamo and how the trials go as evidence that we are looking at ourselves and not just at other countries. And therefore I would say that universal standards of human rights exist, they are very well understood by everyone.” Duguid also pointed out that “Everyone also understand that terrorism must be fought and that sometimes the struggle against violent extremism is violence. However, that doesn’t release any of our governments from a responsible approach, particularly when it comes to respecting civilians and non combatants.”

As soon as that question was over with, we were served one of the most scrumptious meals and a mouth watering dessert. Following lunch, was the actual conference where Duguid was to answer specific questions from the group. After a great deal of questions that were shot at him by journalists from 30 different countries, I asked mine. What is the U.S. government’s stance on the Presidential election in Sri Lanka and our efforts in development and resettlement process following the end of the war and the current situation in our country?

Duguid said that their position in general on the elections is that, the election should be as free and fair as possible and should reflect the will of the people. And if you accurately reflect the will of the people, that is then very often known, quite quickly. He further said “As far as our opinion on the general situation goes, actually there is a lot of work to be done. Sri Lanka has come through a very long and very bloody struggle against the most vicious terrorists group in the world. However, that battle has been won. And it is now in the interest of all, that the rights of the civilians be respected that the people who do need to have shelter, who do need access to clean water and food are allowed to try and receive those services as quickly as practical.”

Thinking through the words of Duguid, I was contemplating... So does the American government endorse upon violence against violence – at least sometimes? And how do they see other nations acting upon in a similar fashion? Are they being hypocritical, giving excuses for past behavior or are they coming into terms with the idea? Does that also mean, that the manner in which the terrorist leader in Sri Lanka was killed in the end was fair? Hmmm...

Duguid answered just two more very interesting questions from a Chinese journalist (there were 3 of them from China – such a massive country and they probably deserve it) and the Vietnamese journalist. Then we thanked him, took some interesting photographs right in front of the State Department building in very chilly weather, got into our tour-bus and were on our way to see the Foreign Press Centre, where it all began. That, my friends, is another story altogether!