Govt. Continues To Stumble With Lessons Unlearnt
- US to discuss SL with India ahead of GL’s visit
- Sri Lanka votes against India
The Mahinda Rajapaksa administration it appears will never learn from its past mistakes, especially on the diplomatic front.
While scoring points on the one hand by showing some progress in post-war Sri Lanka to the EU parliamentary delegation that was in the country last week, the government has once again committed a diplomatic faux pas with the Indians.
Attempts by the government to keep its blunder under wraps failed and the Indian government is displeased with Sri Lanka’s actions.
The government is aware that annoying India at this juncture would not be a wise move given the impending visit of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to New Delhi and the eventual visit of External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris to Washington on May 18.
However, the government placed focus on the EU parliamentary delegation that visited the country and tried to show the progress made since the end of the war and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution in March this year.
The EU parliamentary delegation began a weeklong visit to Sri Lanka last Monday (April 30) till May 5 in order to assess the post- war developments in the country.
The delegation handling South Asian relations was headed by Jean Lambert (Britain) and included Inese Daidero (Latvia) and Fernando Lopez Aguilar (Spain).
The delegation met External Affairs Minister Peiris, Deputy External Affairs Minister Neomal Perera, Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem, Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
During the meetings the EU delegation expressed interest in the country’s path towards reconciliation using the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) as the base.
They had also inquired about the human rights situation in the country.
The government had informed the EU parliamentarians that whatever traces of cultural impunity in the country is now on the decline and assured that the Rule of Law would be established in the country.
The government ministers had spoken almost on the same lines when they had said that investigations are being carried out into human rights violations, disappearances and killings.
The EU delegates were also told that the government was implementing some of the LLRC recommendations and that it was keen to create an environment of better probity by introducing a Witness Protection Bill in parliament.
The government has expressed its willingness to discuss a lasting political solution.
During a discussion with Deputy External Affairs Minister Perera, the EU delegates were assured that the government was prepared to discuss any solution to the ethnic issue.
The EU delegation also traveled to the East to witness the rehabilitation and resettlement process in the area.
The delegation also expressed its satisfaction at the progress achieved by the government albeit some areas of concern.
The delegation is to submit a report to the EU parliament upon conclusion of the visit. A European Parliamentary delegation visited Sri Lanka last year and submitted a report to the EU parliament regarding the visit.
The Indian Factor
The government while showing progress to the EU parliamentary delegation does realize the importance of the Indian factor in its attempt to engage with the international community.
The main concern for the government is the affiliation between the US and India, especially in dealing with issues related to Sri Lanka.
The government last week decided to keep a close watch on US Secretary of State Clinton’s visit to Calcutta and New Delhi.
Clinton is to visit India and Bangladesh from May 5 to 8 on her way back to Washington after a visit to China.
During her visit to New Delhi Clinton is to meet with Indian government members including External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna and Ministry Secretary Ranjan Mathai.
The Rajapaksa government believes that Sri Lanka will figure prominently in the discussions between the Indian government members and Clinton when discussing regional issues.
Clinton undoubtedly will pay attention to developments in Sri Lanka since she is to meet Minister Peiris along with MPs Namal Rajapaksa, Sajin Vass Gunawardena and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunge in Washington 10 days later.
The US government moved a Resolution on Sri Lanka at the 19th UNHRC sessions in Geneva after consultation with India and the post resolution developments in Sri Lanka would also be determined through Indian participation.
The External Affairs Ministry is still in the process of finalizing the Action Plan on the implementation of the LLRC recommendations for Peiris to take to Washington.
However, the delay in the submission of proposals on the LLRC recommendations and implementation by several key coalition parties of the UPFA government has made it difficult for the Ministry to finalize the Action Plan.
Sources from the External Affairs Ministry told The Sunday Leader that the Action Plan would be ready before the Washington visit.
The Rajapaksa administration is fully aware that the visit to Washington is not going to be a rosy one considering the circumstances that surround it.
Peiris snubbed an earlier invite from Clinton to Washington in March to discuss the government’s plans on implementing the LLRC recommendations. The US then backed a Resolution at the UNHRC in Geneva in March calling on the government to implement the LLRC recommendations.
The government then decided to meet Clinton on another invitation from her stating the US government’s willingness to engage with the Sri Lankan government.
The US government however has indicated through diplomatic channels that it wished to see some progress made with regard to the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
The Sri Lankan delegation will have some crucial meetings during the Washington visit.
Apart from Clinton, they will meet with the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Susan E. Rice, and Senior Director and Special Assistant for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Samantha Power.
They will also meet with Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Maria Otero who first announced the US decision to back a Resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC during her visit to Sri Lanka in February this year.
Meanwhile, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Plans, Programs and Operations Walter D. Givhan who serves in the US Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and is responsible for providing executive leadership, management, and guidance for the US government’s global security assistance programmes and policies visited Sri Lanka last week.
Givhan during his visit met with Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya and Navy Commander Vice Admiral D.W.A.S. Dissanayake.
The main aim of Givhan’s visit was to discuss the military bilateral relationship between the US and Sri Lanka.
He also monitored the country’s demining programme and extended the US government’s support towards demining.
Tit for Tat
The government’s diplomatic faux pas with the Indians continued last week when a decision by Sri Lanka to vote against India at an international body affected the Indo-Sri Lankan ties that are being rebuilt after the Geneva Resolution.
Sri Lanka voted against India during a ballot for a key International Court of Justice (ICJ) post a few days back.
The two contenders for the post were Indian Supreme Court Judge Dalveer Bhandari and Filipino Judge Florentino Feliciano.
Sri Lanka had exercised its vote in favor of the Filipino judge against India’s Bhandari.
However, Bhandari had emerged victorious in the vote with 129 votes while the Filipino candidate had received 59 votes including that of Sri Lanka.
India believes that Sri Lanka’s decision to vote against its candidate was due to India’s vote in support of the US backed Resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions in March.
The Philippines was among the 15 countries that voted against the Resolution on Sri Lanka when the Resolution was taken up for a vote.
However, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Palitha Kohona has refrained from commenting about the matter saying it could not be determined since it was a secret ballot.
The ICJ includes 15 judges who discuss international law and advise countries. The Court has had its seat in the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands) since 1946.
Eelam Through Non Violence
While the Indian government was trying to address the diplomatic issue over Sri Lanka’s shift from supporting India, South India continued with its agenda of getting a Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.
DMK leader and Tamil Eelam Supporters Organization (TESO) head M. Karunanidhi has noted that Tamil Eelam alone will offer a permanent solution for the Sri Lankan Tamils, who have been subjected to the “biggest ethnic cleansing of the century”.
Karunanidhi last week revived the TESO formed by him in 1985 to win a Tamil Eelam for the Sri Lankan Tamils.
The South Indian politician has said that even if the LTTE resurfaced to resume its struggle, the TESO would urge it to follow the path of non-violence.
The Indian media reported that when asked if he had no faith in the armed struggle of the LTTE, Karunanidhi had said, “Anyone committed to a cause and pursuing it with a pure heart and uncompromising fighting spirit will get our respect”.
Referring to LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, he had added that there is no death for warriors.
Karunanidhi had said that the armed struggle launched by militant groups in the wake of the suppression of Tamils failed owing to various reasons and led to the downfall of Tamils as a race.
“As we are keen on arresting the fall further, we want to change the method of the struggle and suggest democratic ways accepted by countries across the world. We seek the support of the Indian government for this democratic struggle.”
Karunanidhi believes that the United Nations will soon take a stand and leave it to the Tamils to decide the question through a referendum.
“Already, a referendum is being conducted among the Diaspora. This will create the conditions for recognition of the basic concept of Tamil Eelam adopted at the Vaddukottai conference in 1977.”
East in the Limelight
Amidst South India’s attempts to revive its call for a Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, the Rajapksa administration is yet to decide on holding provincial council elections for the North.
Government sources however told The Sunday Leader that with the decision to hold provincial council elections on a staggered basis, the Northern Provincial Council elections were likely to be held in the latter part of this year.
EPDP Leader Minister Douglas Devananda has already expressed his decision to contest for the post of Chief Minister.
Devananda has continuously been requesting the President since the end of the war for elections to be held for the Northern Provincial Council.
However, the government is more focused on holding elections to the Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils.
Although President Rajapksa would not have any issue in dissolving the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils, the Eastern Provincial Council would need some working on.
Since the 13th Amendment to the Constitution requires approval from the Chief Minister of the respective provincial council to approve the early dissolution of the council, the President would have to discuss the issue with Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan.
Although finality in the matter is yet to be reached, the decision by the SLMC, which is a coalition partner of the government, to prepare for an election to the Eastern Provincial Council this year is evidence of the government’s move.
The SLMC High Command had discussed the possibility of elections being held to the Eastern Provincial Council this year and decided on several steps to be taken to build the party base in the Eastern Province in preparation.
A decision has been made to establish the party’s electoral committees in some areas of the East that are now defunct.
The SLMC is to hold a national convention in the Ampara District within the next three months and also hold district conventions in the Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts.
The party is to start building its bases in the East for the elections from now on.
However, President Rajapaksa is looking at holding a Presidential election by 2014 after holding the Provincial Council elections on a staggered basis during 2012 and 2013.
Fonseka and Sajith
Former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka seems to have joined UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa and Co.
Anoma Fonseka participated in the ceremony held on May 1 to commemorate the late Ranasinghe Premadasa’s death anniversary along with DNA MP Jayantha Ketagoda. Premadasa’s pro-reformists have continuously supported Fonseka and spoken on his behalf while the UNP has distanced itself from Fonseka.
However, the UNP has called for Fonseka’s release and has also called for the release of all political prisoners.
The pro-reformists have also invited Fonseka to join the UNP promising him support to make him a senior office bearer in the party. Being the shrewd manipulator he is,
Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has kept silent and not opposed any moves by the pro-reformists to get Fonseka into the UNP’s fold. In this backdrop, Fonseka’s group now seems to have joined the Premadasa led pro-reformists instead of the main opposition UNP.