Govt.’s Forked Tongue Diplomacy Takes Its Toll
- US shows continued focus on Sri Lanka
- Pressure on the Govt. with protests in UK and South India
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government, for all its bravado within the country about not bowing down to Western nations, continues to seek acceptance and recognition by the international community.
Sri Lanka’s dealings with neighboring India since 2005, External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris’ recent visit to Washington and the President’s visit to the UK last week are all examples of the country’s questionable conduct in the international arena.
The actions of the government during these occasions amply demonstrate the lack of a proper foreign policy and political maturity.
The Rajapaksa administration while pretending to snub the international community on the one hand has taken an extra step to pander to it on the other.
The lack of confidence towards the government among the international community due to the blatant lies uttered on continuous occasions has had a clear impact on the response received by the government internationally.
The request made by President Rajapaksa for a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron during his visit to the UK to attend Queen Elizabeth the II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations did not receive a confirmation until the last minute.
Rajapaksa met Cameron for a brief 10 minute meeting before the luncheon hosted by Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma at Marlborough House.
While details of the discussion between Rajapaksa and Cameron were not immediately known, it is learnt that the British Premier had also emphasized the need for the Sri Lankan government to address issues on accountability and reconciliation.
The President’s Media Unit said that Rajapaksa had briefed Cameron on the developments in Sri Lanka.
Rajapaksa met the Queen at Marlborough House where the President shook hands with the Queen as she met guests at the reception.
Rajapaksa, according to reports, had been seated at the table directly to the Queen’s left with Babli Sharma, wife of the Commonwealth Secretary General; the Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba and his wife; and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and his wife.
The President was jeered as he approached Marlborough House through the main gate in a Range Rover.
The President’s vehicle had not carried the national flag since British security (which had been provided on this occasion) had advised against it.
Meanwhile, Peiris, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunge and parliamentarian Sajin Vass Gunawardena met with British Foreign Secretary William Hague where issues related to Sri Lanka were subjected to a more lengthy discussion.
However, it was the cancellation of the keynote address that was to be delivered by the President at the special diamond jubilee meeting of the Commonwealth Economic Forum on Wednesday morning that became the focal point of the visit to London last week.
The Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) organized the forum and the event was to be held at Mansion House.
Following continuous protests in London since Rajapaksa’s arrival in the UK on Monday (4) morning, the CBC decided to cancel the morning session of the forum when the President was to make his address.
Members from the Tamil Diaspora commenced protests at Heathrow Airport last Sunday (3). The protests later continued outside the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane and outside Mansion House during Rajapaksa’s visit to London.
Pressure from the Diaspora and the protests resulted in the CBC canceling a session of the Economic Forum.
“After careful consideration the morning sessions of the Forum on Wednesday 6th of June have been cancelled and will not take place. The event will therefore commence with lunch at 1300 hrs followed by the originally planned afternoon sessions beginning at 1400 hrs,” the CBC said.
Tickets to the Economic Forum had cost £795 plus VAT.
The Guardian reported that a spokesman for Scotland Yard had said they had agreed to guarantee the President’s security but the CBC had “decided it was not in their interest to stage the event” because of the extent of the policing required and the likely disruption to the City of London.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visits to the UK since the end of the war have been marred by protests.
During the President’s last visit to the UK in December 2010 his planned address to the Oxford Union was cancelled due to the protests in London.
“Since the invitation was first accepted by Mr. Rajapaksa, the Union has consulted extensively with Thames Valley Police as well as the Sri Lankan High Commission in London on security arrangements for the President’s visit. Due to security concerns surrounding Mr. Rajapaksa’s visit which have recently been brought to our attention by the police, the Union has regretfully found that the talk is no longer practicable and has had to cancel his address,” the Oxford Union stated in 2010 after the cancellation.
In a statement at the time, Rajapaksa said, “I am very sorry this has had to be cancelled, but I will continue to seek venues in the UK and elsewhere where I can talk about my future vision for Sri Lanka.”
Playing to the media
Be that as it may, the President despite failures in handling foreign policy has mastered the art of public relations.
From his inception in politics, Rajapaksa was known for his PR and rapport with the media.
Even in the UK last week, Rajapaksa was seen trying to make the best of a bad situation when he walked among the protestors outside the Hilton Hotel where he was residing.
After being informed of the cancellation of his keynote address at the last minute, Rajapaksa (on the 6th) stepped out of the hotel and walked towards members of the Tamil Diaspora who were protesting against him and another group of Sri Lankans holding Sri Lanka flags along with his photographs.
The President undoubtedly was in an unenviable position where he had to face rejection while displaying a never say die attitude.
It was once again evident that the Rajapaksa government paid great emphasis on being accepted by the Western nations.
On the 6th evening, Rajapaksa and his entourage left for the Vatican where he had an audience with the Pope on Friday (8).
Rajapaksa is to leave on a tour to Latin America on the 13th.
Clearly last week was not the best for the Rajapaksa government before the international community.
While President Rajapaksa was facing protests in the UK, another member of his cabinet was faced with a similar situation in another part of the world.
Small Export Crops Development Minister Reginald Cooray had to cancel a function he was to attend in Coimbatore in India last Thursday (7) due to protests by supporters of Tamil Eelam in South India.
Cooray was advised by the police in Coimbatore to leave the city before the Tamil Eelam supporters staged the protest.
Cooray has then left for Chennai without attending the function at the Sugarcane Breeding Institute in Coimbatore.
The Indian media reported that members of MDMK, Periyar Dravida Kazhagam, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal and other outfits had held a protest in front of the hotel where Cooray had checked in on upon arrival on Wednesday night.
However, he had left by the time of the protest.
The protestors had shouted slogans against the Sri Lankan government over the alleged war crimes committed by the country during the final stages of the war.
The protests in the UK and India last week clearly demonstrate the consequences the Rajapaksa government has to face for its fork-tongued approach in foreign diplomacy.
The government launched diplomatic offensives whenever faced with a difficult spot before the international community.
Nevertheless, the Rajapaksa government has sought assistance from the US and India for military capacity building.
Minister Peiris and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa who visited Singapore last weekend to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue met with Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey and Indian Defence Minister A. K. Antony on the sidelines of the meeting.
Peiris gave an in depth account of implementing a locally formulated plan for national reconciliation, which also includes rehabilitation, reconstruction and socio-economic development of the conflict affected Northern and Eastern Provinces.
The Defence Secretary had called on the US and India as two key strategic partners of Sri Lanka for enhanced training opportunities for capacity building of defence personnel in reputed institutes in their respective countries. US and Indian officials had responded positively to the request, but had also emphasized the need for reconciliation in post-war Sri Lanka.
Peiris, similar to his stance in the US, had reiterated the government’s commitment to progressing on the path towards reconciliation according to an Action Plan being worked on by the government.
Meanwhile, the Task Force headed by Presidential Secretary Weeratunge charged with implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has met on several occasions to discuss the progress.
It is learnt that the committee comprising former Attorney General and Legal Advisor to the Cabinet, Mohan Peiris, Justice Ministry Secretary Kamilini de Silva, Technology and Research Ministry Secretary Dhara Wijethileka and Coordinating Secretary at the Presidential Secretariat Anura Dissanayake had met on three occasions prior to Weeratunge’s departure overseas with the President.
Peiris during his meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a general outline of the government’s plan on implementing the LLRC recommendations.
The government was last week questioned in Parliament by the JVP on the “secret” Action Plan given to Clinton by Peiris on implementing the LLRC recommendations.
Leader of the House, Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva denied giving any plan to the US saying the US was made aware that the Sri Lankan government has initiated the process of implementing the LLRC recommendations.
He had further stated that, even though the proceedings of the government’s actions were revealed to the US during the discussions between Peiris and Clinton, an effective plan had not been produced.
De Silva’s statement in usual form indicated the duplicitous nature of the government when dealing with affairs related to Sri Lanka with the international community.
During his speech, de Silva had even gone to the extent of saying that the US State Department Spokesperson had not mentioned any plan being given by Peiris during his meeting.
Be that as it may, the response given by Spokesperson for the US State Department, Victoria Nuland soon after Peiris’ meeting with Clinton bears that the government in usual form has made a failed attempt to fool the people, but in this instance the Parliament.
Nuland said on May 18th at a State Department press briefing, “The foreign minister presented a very serious and comprehensive approach to the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission’s implementation and the plans that the government has, including plans to make it more public and accessible both to Sri Lankans and to those outside Sri Lanka, what the government intends to do in the implementation realm.”
“The Secretary encouraged a really transparent, open, public process, not only on the LLRC specifically and its implementation, but also with regard to accountability; to strengthen reconciliation, public confidence inside and outside Sri Lanka in the process; and frankly, to speed the healing of the country. So she really said good plan, now you really need to make it public; now you really need to show your people, the world, the concrete implementation steps going forward,” she added.
US stance to continue
The US for its part is focused on its stance on Sri Lanka in relation to accountability and reconciliation.
The statement made by US Ambassador designate to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Michele Sison to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee indicated the US government’s continued focus on the key issues related to Sri Lanka.
Current US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Patricia Butenis’ term is to come to an end by August and if confirmed, Sison will take up the post afterwards.
Sison at the Senate hearing said, “The United States and other international partners have encouraged the Government of Sri Lanka to pursue the steps needed to foster genuine reconciliation and accountability. Although the Government of Sri Lanka defeated the terrorist organization Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, serious allegations of violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law committed by both sides at the end of the war remain to be investigated and have slowed reconciliation.”
She added that achieving genuine reconciliation would require Sri Lanka to take credible steps to ensure equality and justice for all Sri Lankans, particularly for those living in former conflict areas.
“Such steps include demilitarization of the former conflict zones, establishment of a mechanism to address cases of the missing and detained, and setting a date for provincial elections in the north,” she said.
Sison finally said, “If confirmed, I stand ready to lead our efforts to support Sri Lanka as it moves forward and to use US assistance strategically to promote reconciliation, strengthen democratic institutions and practices, and foster economic growth, particularly in the north and east.”
Waiting for a response
Meanwhile, the main opposition UNP that tried to play the role of mediator between the government and the TNA is still waiting for the government response to Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s proposals on forming the proposed parliamentary select committee (PSC) on finding a solution to the ethnic issue.
Wickremesinghe proposed the implementation of the 13th Amendment and the LLRC recommendations by the government as the first steps towards progressing on the path towards reconciliation.
The TNA has however expressed serious reservations on receiving a positive response from the government to Wickremesinghe’s proposals.
Nevertheless, the UNP seems adamant to get the TNA on board the PSC and last week said the UNP would not name representatives to the PSC until the government responds to the party’s proposals and a dialogue is initiated with the TNA.
The PSC has once again hit a stalemate since the President is overseas for the most part of the month and Wickremesinghe is also scheduled to travel to China this weekend on an official tour.
The country’s reconciliation process would therefore be at a standstill until the globe trotting political leaders return to the country.