Govt. Shows No Progress While The US Stands Firm
- MR wishes Indian HC for B’day to diffuse tension
- Fonseka takes center stage while MR leaves for Qatar
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government had failed to show much progress in its post-war reconciliation process during last week’s visit by a delegation led by External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris to the US.
Peiris accompanied by Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, MP Sajin Vass Gunawardena and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga met a host of US policy makers including key decision makers of the Barack Obama administration. However, the government delegation had failed to show any impressive progress in post-war activities in the country.
The US officials felt the Sri Lankan delegation’s visit did not help build their confidence towards the progress in Sri Lanka. Peiris, at his meetings with the US officials, did not have any new developments to speak of other than the same details he had discussed at his previous meetings in Washington.
During his discussions, Peiris elaborated on the resettlement, rehabilitation and development projects undertaken by the government in post-war Sri Lanka.
However, key US officials, Samantha Power and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had both impressed upon Peiris the need to move forward with the reconciliation process.
One of the decisive meetings Peiris had during the visit apart from Clinton was with Power, Special Assistant to President Obama. She is also the Senior Director of the US National Security Council handling multilateral affairs and human rights and the head of the Atrocities Prevention Board.
Power, during her meeting, concentrated on the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). She called for Peiris’ explanation on how the LLRC recommendations were being implemented. Power also observed the need to increase the political process in the North and the need to de-militarize the area. Peiris had extended an invitation to Power to visit the country to determine the progress achieved in post-war Sri Lanka.
Speaking at a meeting with US Senators, Peiris said the government is conscious of the opportunity that has now presented itself and that it also realized the process should be a domestic one. “It can’t be donor-driven or foreign-owned. That will be unhelpful in implementing the reforms that are required at this moment in history. At the end of the day, the solution that everyone wants has got to have a home-grown element to it,” the Minister said.
Peiris noted that Sri Lanka is already implementing the LLRC recommendations. He also said that the government was working out an Action Plan on the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. The LLRC Action Plan was to be taken to the US by Peiris, but he was unable to do so due to the failure on the part of the governing UPFA to formulate its official stance on the LLRC recommendations and its implementation.
The Rajapaksa government while trying to strengthen links with the US is yet to fully forgive and re-build its relations with neighboring India after the passage of the US backed Resolution on Sri Lanka at the 19th UNHRC sessions in Geneva in March.
The government, since the end of the Geneva session on March 23rd, has through several actions indicated its frustrations with the Indian government.
The first anti-Indian move post-Geneva was witnessed when the government decided to vote against the Indian candidate at an election in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
While Sri Lanka voted for the Filipino judge, it was the Indian candidate who won the election.
The latest anti-Indian sentiment was witnessed last Monday at the launch of the book titled, “Gota’s War” at Water’s Edge in Battaramulla. The audience was taken by surprise at the speech delivered by Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga where India was accused of aiding Tiger terrorism in the country. Weeratunga said the Sri Lankan leader had refused to give in to international pressure, adding that the role played by India should be intensively discussed. Quoting from the book, Weeratunga said the Indian intelligence agencies had a hand in planning and executing terrorist strikes in Colombo in the mid-eighties. He had described the events that had been noted in the book as “home truths”.
Weeratunga observed that when the CID had arrested the key suspect in the CTO bomb blast, his release had been secured by India. It was also commented that the government could have crushed terrorism years ago if not for Indian interference.
The Vadamarachchi Operation was cited as an example where it was said that while the operation was on, then Indian Envoy J. N. Dixit met then President J. R. Jayewardene and told him that India would not stand by idly and allow Jaffna to fall into the hands of the army and if the military operation continued, there could be unforeseen consequences.
In the same vein the President’s Secretary recalled how an Indian team, led by then National Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan, had arrived in Colombo in April 2009 to force the Sri Lankan government to go for a ceasefire with the LTTE soon after a visit by then UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French External Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner.
Weeratunga’s India-bashing at the book launch took place in the presence of the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka H. E. Ashok Kantha.
Many senior government members attending the function were shocked at the outburst against India and discussed the impact it would have on the now fragile relations between India and Sri Lanka.
Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who is known to have strong relations with the Indian government, remained silent. Basil played a key role in building Indo-Sri Lanka ties and managed to get the Indian government’s support to finally crush the LTTE. However, Basil has remained silent since of late and had stayed away from India during the government’s heavy lobbying effort to get India’s support towards Sri Lanka during the 19th UNHRC sessions.
MR’s B’day Wishes
President Rajapaksa who was the chief guest at the launch of “Gota’s War,” had made his way towards Indian High Commissioner Kantha after Secretary Weeratunga’s speech.
The President had first worshiped the Buddhist monks and then turned towards Kantha and remembering that the High Commissioner’s birthday was that day, Rajapaksa had immediately wished him.
Everyone around them at the time had wondered what was going on. The President then informed the other government ministers that it was Kantha’s birthday and everyone gathered around to wish the High Commissioner. However, Rajapaksa’s swift move to wish the High Commissioner soon after his Secretary’s speech lambasting India for Sri Lanka’s ethnic war was seen as a means to diffuse any tension at the event.
There is no doubt that the President was well aware that Weeratunga’s speech would be a hard hit on the Indians and government ministers believe that the architect behind Weeratunga’s speech was none other than the President himself. They say that given the sensitive nature of Indo-Sri Lanka relations at present, the President’s Secretary would not have made such a speech without the knowledge of the President.
Be that as it may, the Rajapaksa administration while venting out its anger against India for its vote in support of the UNHRC Resolution would have to realize the importance of India when dealing with the international community. Given the strengthening of ties between the US and India and their agreement to work together when dealing with Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process, it would only be wise for the Rajapaksa administration to stop incensing neighboring India. After all, the US Resolution on Sri Lanka presented to the UNHRC in March was done in consultation with India and it was also India that managed to water down the Resolution at the eleventh hour.
Amidst focus on Minister Peiris’ visit to the US and Weeratunga’s India-bashing speech, the government’s move to release former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka has taken center stage since last week.
The US has continuously expressed interest in Fonseka’s release and has spoken on his behalf. The irony is that the US which has continuously pushed for accountability during the final stages of the war in 2009 had been supporting the commander of the army during the period of the war. The US maintains that its interest in the Fonseka matter is because he has been identified as a political prisoner and that the equilibrium could change after his release.
Following months of speculation with DNA MP Tiran Alles negotiating Fonseka’s release with the President, it was only last week that the government finally officially decided to release Fonseka.
The President, at last Monday’s book launch, told a journalist from The Hindu newspaper that Fonseka would be released soon after Alles, who was overseas at the time, returned to the country. Alles met the President soon after his return to the country on Wednesday (16) morning. The President informed Alles that the decision to release Fonseka had been finalized. He had however pointed out that several technical issues needed to be dealt with.
That same evening, the President met Anoma Fonseka at Alles’ residence. Speculation was that the President would discuss certain conditions to Fonseka’s release that would be kept secret by all parties concerned. However, when contacted by the media, Anoma Fonseka said that there would be no conditions attached to Fonseka’s release.
The government had to deal with several technicalities like looking at ways of dealing with the ongoing case against Fonseka for harboring Army deserters. Presidential Secretary Weeratunga’s signature was also needed for the release documents. Nevertheless, at the time of going to press, The Sunday Leader has learnt that Fonseka will be released soon after the Victory Day celebrations during the weekend. Interestingly, the Defence Secretary had finally consented to the decision to release Fonseka.
A senior government minister told The Sunday Leader that Fonseka’s release is purely a political decision. He explained that the government considered the guilty verdict on Fonseka by a civil court had proven the allegations leveled against him. “One judge who heard the case gave a dissenting verdict, if the other two judges had also prescribed to the same feeling, they would have ruled that Fonseka was not guilty,” he observed.
The government therefore is trying to find some solace through such a justification after releasing Fonseka. Another belief of the Rajapaksa administration is that Fonseka would be a spent force by the time another key election comes around.
President Rajapaksa is unlikely to be in the country after Fonseka’s release if it takes place during the weekend. The President, it is learnt, is to travel to Qatar on a state visit today (20) until the 22nd. Peiris is to fly directly to Doha, Qatar from Washington.
Govt. Meets The UNP
The UNP delegation led by Opposition and party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe that met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday (14) morning was also informed that Fonseka would be released after Alles’ return. The meeting took place ahead of Peiris’ visit to the US and the focus of the discussion was on the national question and the proposed parliamentary select committee (PSC) to formulate a solution to the ethnic issue.
The UNP delegation included MPs Tissa Attanayake, Lakshman Kiriella, John Amaratunge, Joseph Michael Perera and Ravi Karunanayake. Wickremesinghe told the President and the government delegation that included Ministers Maithripala Sirisena, Susil Premajayantha, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Basil Rajapaksa and Dullas Alahapperuma that the government needed to show sincerity in the reconciliation process. He said it is through sincerity that the TNA could be convinced to participate in the government’s reconciliation process. Wickremesinghe noted that the PSC could be a success only with the input of all political parties represented in parliament, especially the TNA which is the largest Tamil political party.
During the discussion, the UNP proposed that the government comes up with a “plan” to get the TNA to participate in the PSC. Wickremesinghe proposed that the government show its sincerity in the reconciliation process by implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) with the support of the opposition political parties. He added that the areas agreed upon by the government and the TNA during talks between both parties should be taken to the PSC.
The UNP had also asked the government to hold discussions with the TNA to reach an agreement in order to move forward with the reconciliation process. The UNP delegation had been informed that talks with the TNA had not been held with the government, but with the SLFP. The government explained that the talks were between the TNA and the SLFP – a claim, which the TNA later vehemently denied. The discussion ended on cordial terms with the government asking the UNP for its support to continue with the reconciliation process.
After meeting the President and members of the government, Wickremesinghe on Monday evening met TNA Leader R. Sampanthan and parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran to brief them on the discussion that took place between the UNP and the government earlier in the day. Wickremesinghe had communicated to the TNA members that the party had not held talks with the government but with the SLFP, according to what was said at the meeting.
The TNA members had denied the statement saying they were never informed that the talks were between the TNA and the SLFP. Sampanthan and Sumanthiran had said that they possessed the letter sent by the government about the talks naming the members of the delegation who would represent the “government of Sri Lanka.” The TNA members have expressed displeasure at the government’s statement.
The TNA has however maintained its initial stance that the party would participate in the PSC only after reaching an agreement with regard to the political solution in a dialogue with the government and if discussions in the PSC are based on the consensus reached between the both sides. Sampanthan has said the TNA was not opposed to participating in the PSC, but wanted it to be carried out properly.
No More Eelam
Meanwhile, Sumanthiran last Sunday at a seminar in Jaffna stated that the TNA did not stand for a Tamil Eelam. Addressing a seminar titled, “Creating awareness to win the rights of the Tamils through Democratic means,” Sumanthiran had said the Tamil people did not want a separate Tamil Eelam as a solution to fulfill their political aspirations.
He had observed that the TNA did not include the demand for a separate state in its manifesto at the last general election.
However, he had said the party is looking forward to winning the rights of the Tamil people in the country through democratic means. “We expect a genuine political solution from this Government. If the Government fails to address the grievances of the Tamils, the international community will intervene to protect the rights of the Tamil community,” Sumanthiran had said.
The TNA member had noted that the UNHRC Resolution passed in Geneva had highlighted that the international community stood by the Tamil people. “The international community also recognizes the North and East as the traditional homeland of the Tamil people,” he had said. Sumanthiran’s statement indicates that although the demand for a Tamil Eelam no longer exists amongst the Tamil political circles, they were looking for a political solution based on a federal solution.
Another TNA parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran addressing a seminar at the Norwegian Parliament auditorium last week said there was no improvement in the talks between the TNA and the government. The Labour Party of Norway had organized the seminar titled, “Sri Lanka three years after war”. Premachandran had noted that there is hardly any improvement in addressing the post-war grievances of Tamils on the island.
He had observed that the military installations were still in place in the North and East.
Premachandran called on the international community to come forward in assisting the peace moves.
Objections to Visit
The Tamil Diaspora has commenced a campaign in the UK to object to the invitation extended to President Rajapaksa to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s anniversary celebrations to mark the completion of 60 years of her coronation. The President is set to visit the UK on June 4th on a four-day visit. Rajapaksa last visited the UK in 2010 amidst protests from pro-LTTE groups and his address to the Oxford Union had to be cancelled due to security concerns over the protests.
The Sri Lankan government after hearing about petitions being sent to Buckingham Palace against the invitation extended to the President has called on the UK authorities to ensure Rajapaksa would be provided adequate security during his visit.