GL Likely To Visit The US Empty Handed
- UNP takes to the streets against CoL
- SLFP goes back to the grassroots
The Mahinda Rajapaksa administration is unlikely to complete the Action Plan on the implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations before External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris’ visit to the US this week.
The government initially decided to prepare the LLRC Action Plan before Peiris’ visit to Washington DC.
Ironically, Peiris is to meet US government officials on the 18th when Sri Lanka would be conducting its third Victory Day parade to celebrate the third anniversary of ending the 30 year civil war.
President Rajapaksa called on the UPFA party leaders to submit the views of each coalition party to prepare the official stance of the government on the LLRC recommendations and its implementation.
However, several key political parties like the SLFP, JHU and SLMC have delayed handing in the views of the parties.
SLFP General Secretary Minister Maithripala Sirisena said the parties were given one month to hand in their recommendations and the SLFP would therefore hand in its proposals during the course of the week.
The UPFA coalition parties were to hand over the reports to the Presidential Secretariat, which would in turn give them to the External Affairs Ministry.
Once the External Affairs Ministry prepares a report based on the submissions of the coalition parties, it would be sent for Presidential approval.
The final Action Plan would be handed to a Committee headed by Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunge for implementation.
The US government however is now aware that Peiris would not have any document in place to highlight the government’s Action Plan for implementing the LLRC recommendations.
The US Mission in Colombo has not received a preview of the document that is being prepared, but has been briefed by the government on the sequencing of events.
However, the US government is looking at holding a frank dialogue with Peiris during his visit to Washington.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is likely to explain the US’ frustration at the Rajapaksa administration’s delay in dealing with its own Commission report.
Albeit failing to properly address accountability issues, the US government maintains that the LLRC report is a significant accomplishment for the government and the country.
The diplomatic community has continuously emphasized the fact that the Sri Lankan government has been given time as requested after the end of the war and that it was now time to deliver.
These sentiments would be clearly conveyed to the Rajapaksa administration during Peiris’ meeting with Clinton.
US-India Discuss Lanka
However, the biggest challenge posed to the government is the US-Indian alliance in dealing with regional politics, especially on Sri Lanka.
The importance of the Indian Ocean region for the US government has resulted in many bilateral dealings between the US and India.
The US is also looking at restructuring its State Department to give more prominence to the Indian Ocean region.
The fact that the US pays attention to politics in the Indian Ocean region is evident from Clinton’s two official visits to India.
In July 2011, Clinton paid a visit to meet the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha Jeyaram.
This time around, Clinton paid a visit to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
US government officials have not been known to visit heads of provincial states in a country. However, in the case of India, the US seems to have realized that a weak central government could not decide on foreign policy issues on its own without giving into pressure from the states.
As the regional power base, the US depends on India for input and support on issues pertaining to Sri Lanka.
While India prefers to engage with Sri Lanka at a bilateral level, certain areas of concern for both the US and India tend to overlap.Therefore, the US and India have opted to work closely when dealing with Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka was also among the topics discussed by US Secretary of State Clinton and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last Tuesday.
The Indian media reported that Clinton and Manmohan Singh had agreed to work closely in expediting the Sri Lankan peace process.
During the discussion while taking a common stance on expediting the Lankan peace process Clinton and Singh have also reportedly agreed to take steps towards bringing the Tamil political parties to the negotiating table.
Singh had also briefed Clinton on the recent visit and findings of the Indian All Party Parliamentary delegation to Sri Lanka led by Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj. Meanwhile, the Indian delegation had also met last week in New Delhi to make a detailed study on its findings in Sri Lanka. According to Indian media reports, the key issues taken up at the meeting yesterday were on Indian assistance in helping the stalled peace process, enhancing Indian humanitarian assistance to the war-affected people on the Island and the problems faced by fishermen on both sides of the Palk Strait.
The outcome of the meeting on Sri Lanka is to be conveyed to the Indian government leaders and to the leadership of the political parties represented in the delegation.
Anura replaces Namal
The government meanwhile has also made changes to its delegation that is to visit the US this week.
The Environment Minister who is also the head of the Sri Lanka-US Friendship Association, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa has been included in the delegation to Washington.
The delegation headed by Peiris would also include MP Sajin Vass Gunawardena and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunge.
The name of MP Namal Rajapaksa which was initially included, as a member of the delegation, has been dropped.
Government sources say that Namal’s presence in the delegation would have caused a stir among the government ranks.They said that questions had been raised as to why Namal’s name had been included in the Sri Lankan delegation.
The government is looking at making the US visit a fruitful one following the adoption of a US backed Resolution on Sri Lanka at the 19th UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva.
Apart from the US, Sri Lanka is likely to face similar encounters at several benchmark events.
The 58th sessions of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is to be held in Colombo in September, Sri Lanka’s human rights developments are to be taken up at the Universal Periodic Review at the UNHRC in November and the Commonwealth heads of governments are to meet next year.
Changes in Foreign Missions
The External Affairs Ministry last week became the focus of much attention following the decision to make key changes in several foreign missions.
The Sunday Leader on April 8, stated that the External Affairs Ministry was looking at making changes in several key missions following the adoption of a Resolution on Sri Lanka at the 19th UNHRC sessions in Geneva.
“Sri Lanka’s current Permanent Representative to Geneva, Tamara Kunanayakam is expected to be reappointed as the Head of the Sri Lankan Mission in Cuba.
Sri Lanka’s Mission Chief in Brussels, Ravinatha Ariyasinghe is tipped to be appointed to Kunanayakam’s post,” The Sunday Leader stated in April this year.
Kunanayakam was last week sent an official fax from the External Affairs Ministry Secretary Karunathilleke Amunugama that she was being transferred as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Cuba.
The fax dated May 7, 2012 has informed Kunanayakam that she should take up duties in Cuba with effect from July 1, 2012.
External Affairs Minister Peiris first requested Kunanayakam to accept the post of mission head in either Cuba or Brazil over the telephone saying that it was in order to expand Sri Lanka’s presence in the Latin American region.
However, it was shocking to learn that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had in fact approved Kunanayakam’s transfer to Cuba from Geneva last year, where she is now expected to return to, on the instructions of the President after considering her experience in the diplomatic field and the fact that she is of Tamil origin.
The government tried to prevent the Resolution from being presented at the sessions through Kunanayakam’s expertise in the field. However, after failing in that attempt, the next one was to try and get the Resolution deferred.
Of which the government is now looking at dealing with the international community post-resolution.
The transfer therefore was difficult for Kunanayakam to accept and she objected. She then requested to be appointed as the Mission Chief of Sri Lanka’s proposed mission in Caracas, Venezuela.
The Caracas Mission according to External Affairs Ministry sources is yet to commence operations since there was a long procedure to be followed before opening the Mission.
It is in this backdrop that it was decided to transfer Kunanayakam as the Mission Head to Cuba until the Venezuelan Mission is opened.
Head of Sri Lanka’s Mission in Brussels, Ravinatha Ariyasinghe is to take up duties in Geneva on July 1, 2012.
Sri Lanka’s Former Deputy High Commissioner to the UK, P. M. Amza has been appointed as the head of the Sri Lankan Mission in Brussels.
Be that as it may, even at the time of going to press, Kunanayakam had not officially responded to the External Affairs Ministry directive on her transfer.
The changes in diplomatic missions is part of the External Affairs Ministry’s activities to re-organize the country’s overseas Missions and to gear up to meet the challenges the country would have to face following the adoption of the Resolution in March this year.
As explained by an official at the External Affairs Ministry, the change in Geneva had to be made for the country to move forward in dealing with the Resolution.
The External Affairs Ministry has determined that the lack of teamwork at the Geneva Mission and Kunanayakam’s actions on certain occasions when dealing with the international community have had a negative impact on the country’s diplomatic efforts.
Ariyasinghe is believed to be able to address this need while Kunanayakam’s expertise is believed to be useful in expanding the Sri Lankan Missions in Latin America.
Ministry not aware
However, the External Affairs Ministry was also caught by surprise last week when the media reported that Sri Lanka was to officially register its protest with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, over the role she and her staff had played in adopting a Resolution against Sri Lanka in March.
The External Affairs Ministry was unaware of any such move since the Ministry had not issued such a directive.
In the event a foreign mission is looking at initiating such action, the Mission is required to engage the External Affairs Ministry on the matter and proceed with its approval.
Soon after hearing this news External Affairs Ministry Secretary Amunugama had inquired whether such a directive had been issued by the Ministry and if so by whom.
SLFP back to the “Hand”
While dealing with the international community, the SLFP has decided to re-build its lost identity.The “hand” symbol that has been long gone since the formation of the People’s Alliance in 1994 and the UPFA in 2004 is to make a comeback at least for a period of six months.
The continuous requests made by the SLFP seniors have finally resulted in the SLFP launching a six-month party re-organizing programme at district level.
The SLFP membership felt that the party formed by the late S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was being dissolved through the political alliances and the large number of UNP defectors over the past few years.
The prominence given to the UNP defectors who have recently joined the SLFP irked many of the SLFP old guard and seeing the growing dissention within the SLFP, the President who is also the leader of the SLFP decided to appoint party Secretary Minister Maithripala Sirisena to plan a re-organization programme.
The senior SLFPers have commended Sirisena’s move and have expressed the need to safeguard the party from being dissolved by an invasion of Rajapaksa loyalists.
This year’s May Day rally also gave prominence to MP Namal Rajapaksa’s Nil Balakaya instead of the SLFP’s Youth Wing.
The re-organizing programme that is to commence from the Anuradhapura District is to be carried out in all districts under the leadership of the President.
SLFP MPs, Provincial Councilors and Local Government members are to engage in a house-to-house campaign to meet the people and explain the current political situation in the country and the SLFP’s policies.
UNP against CoL
The main Opposition UNP meanwhile has decided to launch an islandwide campaign through the combined Opposition against the rising cost of living (CoL).
The UNP says that the party together with the combined Opposition would take to the streets to win relief for the people.
As a first step in the UNP’s campaign, Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe last week walked with and talked to traders and consumers in the Keselwatte area about the CoL and the issues faced by the people.
He assured the people that the combined Opposition would fight to win relief for them from a government that burdens the masses while the First Family enjoyed all the perks and privileges.
Wickremesinghe meanwhile has instructed that all party members have to participate in the massive combined Opposition campaign.
He has noted that strict action would be initiated against any member who avoids the campaign.