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Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts ban on Qatar Charity as it tries to secure fuel supply from Doha

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ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has lifted a ban on Qatar Charity, a top minister said, months after the government froze the charity’s accounts accusing it of funding Islamic terrorism together with a prominent lawyer

A former police minister and a close ally of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa Sarath Weerasekara told parliament on January 07 2021 that the ringleader of the Easter Sunday suicide bombers Zaharan Hashim had conducted lectures in an organisation maintained by Sri Lankan lawyer Hejaz Hisbullah. The organisation, named ‘Pearl of Unity’, and its local branc was funded by Qatar Charity which Weerasekara claimed was banned by the United Nations.

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) subsequently froze the accounts of Qatar Charity in Sri Lanka.

The move, along with President Rajapaksa’s flat refusal to honour Qatar’s request through the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) to stop cremating Sri Lanka’s minority Muslims who died of COVID-19, soured the Middle Eastern nation’s relations with Sri Lanka.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera who led a delegation to discuss possibilities of securing a fuel credit line to Sri Lanka said he met Qatar Charity officials in Doha on June 29.

“Met the Officials of the Qatar Charity yesterday. Conveyed the message that the Defense Ministry has informed the Attorney General its decision to lift the ban on the fund which was imposed in 2019,” Wijesekera tweeted.

He also discussed the Charity’s work in Sri Lanka and globally.

Wijesekera’s statement on lifting the ban comes at a time Sri Lanka is gradually coming to a standstill as it does not have any fuel imports until mid next month. Wijesekera on Sunday June 26 before leaving to Qatar told reporters that he was exploring possibilities of importing fuel from the oil-rich country.

During his visit, Wijesekera met Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi, the Qatar Minister of State for Energy Affairs and the President and CEO of Qatar Energy, and discussed the supply of petroleum products, liquid petroleum (LP) gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Sri Lanka to overcome the energy crisis with the assistance of Qatar Energy and the Qatar Development Fund.

The minister also met Deputy Director General of the Qatar Fund for Development and said that he “discussed a possible credit line facility for petroleum and gas supply” and was “informed that funds has been allocated for medical supplies and will consider the request for a credit facility [and] support the IMF program”.

Despite many leaders of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna (SLPP) approaching Middle Eastern countries for fuel, President Rajapaksa administration has hardly got a positive response, government officials told EconomyNext.

The legal case involved with Qatar Charity saw the arrest of Hejaz Hisbullah Hisbullah by the CID on April 14, 2020, who was placed under a detention order by President Rajapaksa, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for allegedly “aiding and abetting” the Easter Sunday bombers and for engaging in activities deemed “detrimental to religious harmony among communities.”

He was detained for a long time without being charged. However, amid mounting international pressure, the government charged him before a court released him on bail early this year.

Qatar is one of the top foreign employment providers for Sri Lanka along with the United Arab Emirates.

Sri Lankan diplomats in the Middle East have told EconomyNext that the governments there do not give as much priority to Sri Lankan issues as they did before the island nation’s political leaders’ action soured diplomatic relations. (Colombo/Jun30/2022)

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