Indians Get Tough With Sri Lanka
- Menon Invites Basil To Visit India
- Indian Govt’s Decision On SLAF Personnel Not Conveyed To SL
The Indian government is now getting tough with the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration by showing that it could not take for granted the relations between India and Sri Lanka.
India will play an important role come November when Sri Lanka would be taken up for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on human rights before the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in Geneva.
India is a member of the troika along with Spain and Benin that were selected by the UNHRC to oversee Sri Lanka’s UPR.
In this backdrop, the statement made by Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon on their stance on Sri Lanka cannot be taken lightly.
The Indian media last week stated that Menon has made it clear to the Sri Lankan top brass that New Delhi’s stance at the UPR of Sri Lanka’s human rights record at the UNHRC in November would depend entirely on what Colombo does to improve its human rights image.
Menon’s comments highlighted in the media are following the response by the senior Sri Lankan government members during his recent visit to Sri Lanka.
When Menon had raised the issue of reconciliation and a political settlement to the ethnic issues, the government had responded saying it was committed to finding a political settlement, but that it needed to find one that suits Sri Lanka and had refrained from giving a time frame.
Hence, India realizing Sri Lanka’s vulnerability at the UNHRC in November during the UPR has fired an early warning to the Rajapaksa administration that Sri Lanka could have its way in every aspect – be it the political settlements for the ethnic issue or facing the scrutiny from the international community.
The Rajapaksa government is currently preparing for the UPR and is in the process of overseeing the progress made in the implementation of voluntary pledges given by Sri Lanka at the UPR in 2008.
Neighboring India, who has kept tabs on Sri Lankan affairs, has a clear picture of what Sri Lanka has managed to achieve in the last four years since the last UPR and what is currently being implemented on the human rights front.
Be that as it may, Menon’s comment highlighted in the Indian media that the issues of ethnic reconciliation and political settlement of the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka are matters to be settled by Sri Lankans is interpreted to mean that Lanka cannot count on blind backing from India at the UNHRC.
However, given the relations between India and Sri Lanka since 2005, it was only a matter of time before India decided to adopt a tough stance on the Sri Lankan government.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa since assuming office first in November 2005 has continuously, on various occasions, given assurances to the Indian government about a political solution to the ethnic issue.
After discussing about the 13th Amendment, Rajapaksa has on many occasions gone to the extent of saying the government was prepared to look at a solution that goes beyond the 13th Amendment.
The first instance where confidence in the Rajapaksa government’s commitment to solving the ethnic issue was the inaction on the report submitted on the ethnic issue by the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) on an initiative by the President.
President Rajapaksa has now lost credibility in the face of the Indian government.
The Rajapaksa government also in 2009 had promised to effectively implement the devolution package contained in the 13th Amendment, but failed to honor it.
The continuous diplomatic faux pas by the Rajapaksa administration with India continued to be a strain on Indo-Sri Lanka relations.
Apart from the bald faced lies uttered by Colombo to the Indian government the humiliation suffered by senior Indian government members like External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna during his last visit to Sri Lanka earlier this year added to India’s frustrations.
The frustration finally manifested in the form of India deciding to vote in favor of the US backed resolution calling on Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations made by their own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
Soon after the vote, the Rajapaksa administration came out with various reasons for India’s decision to vote in favor of the resolution.
The government first believed that India’s vote was due to the pressure on the Central government from the Tamil Nadu state government.
The next thought was that India was displeased by the statement made by the head of the Sri Lankan delegation at the 19th session of the UNHRC in Geneva, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe that India was going to support Sri Lanka when the resolution would be taken up for a vote.
However, the fact is that New Delhi had different reasons for voting in favor of the resolution.
It was India’s Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj who nailed it right when she told the media in Colombo in April that India’s vote was not against Sri Lanka, but for the Sri Lankan government to take action to implement the LLRC recommendations.
“The LLRC is Sri Lanka’s baby,” she said adding that the LLRC was not formed by the international community.
India’s vote at the UNHRC this March expressed India’s frustration at Sri Lanka’s failure to honor its assurances given to India.
Angered by India’s move, the Sri Lankan government carried out a tit for tat action by voting against the Indian candidate at the election for an executive member to the International Court of Justice.
Later on, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunge engaged in an Indian bashing session in front of President Rajapaksa and Indian High Commissioner Ashok Kantha this May at the launch of the book, ‘Gota’s War’.
Nevertheless, the Indian government is still committed to engaging with Sri Lanka.
Menon during his recent visit had invited Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa to visit New Delhi.
Basil had accepted the invitation, but is yet to fix dates for the visit.
However, the Sri Lankan government is trying to find some solace in overcoming its anger over India’s vote at the UNHRC by saying that some members of the Indian government believed India’s decision to vote in support of the US resolution on Sri Lanka was a ‘bad move.’
A government minister said that members of the Indian government and several Indian diplomats serving in Europe have conveyed to Deputy External Affairs Minister Neomal Perera that
India should not have voted in favor of the resolution.
The Indian officials had informed Perera that India, by voting in favor of a US backed resolution, has given the impression to the region that it was now being influenced by the US.
These Indian officials have expressed their belief that the resolution should in fact have been presented by India.
They have said that India should have abstained from voting when the US sponsored the resolution.
“India is the leader in the South Asian region and should never have voted against another country in the region, especially on a resolution that was backed by the US,” the officials have said.
Although the Indian pressure on the Central government from Tamil Nadu was intense, voting against Sri Lanka was not the answer, according to information received by Perera.
The Tamil Nadu factor has nevertheless played a key role in Indo-Sri Lankan relations.
Ranging from allegations of supporting the LTTE to pressuring the government on reconciliation issues, Tamil Nadu continues to play a key role in Sri Lanka’s affairs.
The constant briefings to the Tamil Nadu political leaders by the Central government of its dealings with the Sri Lankan government is indicative of the importance of the South Indian region in India’s dealings with Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after returning to India from attending the Rio+20 conference in Brazil had in writing briefed DMK chief M. Karunanidhi on the matters discussed by him with President Rajapaksa in Rio de Janeiro.
Singh had said that he discussed the steps required for rehabilitation of the Tamils Sri Lanka.
In his letter to Karunanidhi, Singh has also said that the controversy over a statement made by a Sri Lankan minister relating to Tamils was also taken up with Rajapaksa.
Karunanidhi has earlier written to Prime Minister Singh objecting to the ‘highly provocative’ remarks reportedly made by Minister Champika Ranawaka warning of a violent backlash against the Tamils in the island.
Singh in his letter to Karunanidhi has said, “The issue, and the need for the Sri Lankan government to take steps to rehabilitate the Sri Lankan Tamils were raised by me when I met the President of Sri Lanka on 21 June in Rio de Janeiro.“I have also stressed the need for appropriate political and other arrangements within Sri Lanka which will enable the Sri Lankan Tamils to live a life of dignity and to feel at home in Sri Lanka.”
Another key objection raised by the Tamil Nadu politicians was Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jeyaram’s objection to the training of Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) personnel in Chennai.
She called on the Central government to cancel the training and send the SLAF personnel immediately back to Sri Lanka.
“At a time when there are demands for sanctions against those charged of war crimes, reports about Sri Lankan Air Force personnel receiving training in India was against interests of Tamil people,” the Chief Minister has said in a statement that was published by the Indian media.
“It’s inappropriate when countries are demanding action against Lanka for violations during the war,” she has said.
“This is anti-Tamil. I condemn it,” she has added.
“This (the training) should be withdrawn and they should be sent back to Sri Lanka immediately,” she has urged.
SLAF Personnel Transferred
Nine SLAF personnel had arrived in the Tambaram Air Force station in Chennai for a nine month-long training, as part of a bilateral agreement between the two countries.
However, following protest by Jeyaram, the Indian Defence Ministry on Friday decided to send the SLAF personnel to another air force base in India to continue the training programme.
“All Sri Lankan trainees are being sent off today from this station as per instruction of the ministry of defence,” an Indian Defence Ministry statement has said.
Union shipping minister G. K. Vasan has also said on Friday that the ongoing training of Sri Lankan troops at the Tambaram air base is a matter of concern.
“It is a matter of concern, considering the cruelties faced by Tamils in Lanka,” Vasan has been quoted as saying.
He has said he strongly disagreed with the decision to train Sri Lankan personnel and that he has taken up the matter with Union ministers concerned.
The Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president B. S. Gnanadesikan will officially convey the state Congress unit’s protest against the training, Vasan has said.
The Indian Defence Ministry’s decision to transfer the SLAF personnel from Chennai was known to many members of the Rajapaksa administration when it appeared in the Indian media.
Most senior members of the External Affairs Ministry were en route to Diyathalawa to participate in the two-day workshop for heads of Sri Lankan missions overseas on government policies and the current situation with the international community.
On Friday afternoon, Cabinet Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that the Indian government had not intimated to the Sri Lankan government the decision transfer the SLAF personnel from the Chennai air force base.
He said that India is one of the main training hubs for Sri Lankan military personnel and that annually between 1,500-2,000 security personnel are trained at Indian bases.
“This is not a major issue and we can resolve it by discussing with the Indian authorities,” he said.
He added that the Indian government might have transferred the SLAF personnel due to the protests in Tamil Nadu after considering their safety as well.
However, he maintained that relations between Sri Lanka and India were good.