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Editorial

June 10, 2007  Volume 13, Issue 51


Focus

Arts

Letters

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Politics

           

The threat of UN intervention and President’s battle to keep a lid on Tiger deal

Tony Blair, Tiran Alles, Nirj Deva and Mahinda Rajapakse   

Mahinda wants IGP to say he was not
behind arrest of Alles

Rajapakses ignore Indian security concerns

Tony Blair tells President war is unwinnablea

International pressure for US-EU-India
backed UN resolution against SL

Nirj Deva runs with the hare and 
hunts with the hound

While the human rights situation in the country continued to deteriorate at break-neck speed amidst cries of ethnic cleansing practised by the state, President Mahinda Rajapakse was busy taking damage control measures on the political front following the startling revelations former Airport Chief Tiran Alles made to the Terrorism Investigation Division on the pre-presidential election deal with the LTTE.

For the Rajapakse administration, the week could not have been worse with the military suffering heavy casualties in the north, the economic picture becoming even gloomier, the abductions in Colombo and subsequent murder of two local Red Cross workers receiving worldwide condemnation followed by a severe beating at the public hearing in the European Parliament. And UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe topped it off by personally calling for the arrest of Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapakse over the Tiger deal.

Abductions

And hardly had the dust settled on these issues, the UNP dropped another bombshell in parliament accusing the Defence Secretary of handling the abduction team, which Badulla District MP, Lakshman Seneviratne charged was operating from the Holiday Inn Hotel unknown to its management whilst also proceeding to name the team members.

And the very morning that story reached the public, police started an ethnic cleansing campaign in the city by rounding up Tamil people living in lodges and herding them into buses for transportation to God-knows-where.

Upon hearing this news, a panic stricken Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe was to call the police Thursday morning and appeal for the madness to be stopped albeit with little success.

No doubt, realising the government would have to face accusations that it was approaching the Tamils just as Hitler did the Jews, Minister Samarasinghe told the police if a single person transported forcibly goes missing the state would be held responsible and should therefore rethink its strategy, but his was a voice in the wilderness.

Ethnic cleansing

And with news of the ethnic cleansing spreading like wildfire several foreign missions too made representations to the highest levels of the government to no avail. Even on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Berlin, this issue was discussed unofficially. Not realising the government was setting the stage for a separate state by its actions, the absurd response was that adequate notice was given to the Tamil people living in lodges.

It is this don’t-care attitude of the government and politically motivated arrests that had the international community looking askance even as calls for United Nations intervention in Sri Lanka to prevent a human catastrophe grew as reflected by an internal document the British Government no less circulated to all its members in the European Parliament last week (see page 10 for full document).

While the US and the EU, not to mention India, for several months now used quiet diplomacy to impress upon President Rajapakse the need for a political solution and respect for international humanitarian law, they found to their increasing dismay such efforts had no effect, resulting in a more public display of those concerns.

India’s displeasure

India in particular was disappointed with the Rajapakse government not only because of the failure to honour undertakings given with regard to a political solution and the human rights situation but also insensitivity on the security co-operation extended.

Just as much as Rajapakse showed a tendency to use people in the domestic political front and discard them as evident in the Tiran Alles case, it was a similar style he adopted in dealing with his international friends too, which India learned the hard way at great cost, prompting a more public display of its displeasure.

And predictably, the government came out shooting from the lip on the right of a sovereign nation to buy weapons from wherever it pleases, completely ignoring the fact, there was an understanding between the two countries on that issue based on Indian support for Sri Lanka’s military.

In the past, Sri Lanka had kept India informed of security developments, especially when it came to the purchase of sophisticated military equipment given her own concerns, and in exchange, the giant neighbour helped not only train Sri Lankan personnel but also with intelligence and military hardware.

Elder brother

Furthermore, India played the role of elder brother in the international arena to stave off hostile resolutions against Sri Lanka on issues such as human rights but all that counted for nothing with the Rajapakse brothers who made it clear they would not hesitate to purchase military equipment from China and Pakistan, which only helped earn India’s ire.

This was largely because India has in the last three years helped Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism including intelligence gathering, intercepting ships carrying weapons for the LTTE and training, just to mention some areas, only to see the Rajapakse administration repaying her by withholding sensitive information which are of concern to India such as radar purchases.

Given its strategic assets located in the south, India was particularly concerned that sensitive equipment be not purchased from China or Pakistan and set up in the north east, manned by nationals from those countries whereby information could be gathered listening in through the radars and it is these concerns which the Rajapakse brothers were not receptive to, leading to tension between the two countries.

As far as India was concerned, given her overall support to Sri Lanka, if other players were brought into the security equation, it would compromise not only their input but also security, matters the Rajapakses were not sensitive to, the consequences of which will undoubtedly be felt sooner than later.

International community

It is this ostrich-like approach to international relations by the Medamulane Rajapakses that had the US also losing confidence in the administration and prompting several Congressmen to write hard-hitting letters on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka with the Millennium Challenge Account funds also put on hold.

If that was bad enough, the British Government was even tougher with Prime Minister Tony Blair putting pen to paper and telling President Rajapakse in no uncertain terms, the war is unwinnable and that he needs to win hearts and minds and ensure the protection of human rights. Blair was to also tell Rajapakse the importance of having a credible constitutional framework to resolve the ethnic conflict.

Having failed to convince the government to address the issues raised, the British Government decided to withhold 50 per cent of the £41,000,000 post-tsunami assistance, that too only after another effort was made by Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn, who is tipped to be the deputy leader of the ruling Labour Party after the ascendancy of Chancellor Gordon Brown to the leadership in July.

Benn wrote to the Rajapakse government and asked what steps would be taken to ensure it will not instigate hostilities, not have an unjustifiable increase in military spending, not be in significant violation of international obligations and not have a breakdown in the government’s accountability systems.

The Sri Lankan response to these queries however did not satisfy the British government, resulting in 50 per cent of the assistance being withheld until such time Rajapakse satisfies them on the concerns raised.

Damning note

What made a bad situation worse was the SLFP proposals to the All Party Representative Committee which fell far below not only their expectations but also India’s and the British Government was to make a point of it in the special briefing note sent to the members in the European Parliament.

This step Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) took on the eve of the public hearing at the European Parliament where Sri Lanka’s human rights record was to come under a microscope.

The damning note under the legend "HMG Briefing Note For UK MEPs: Sri Lanka And The Human Rights," was sent to the members under the hand of Paul Valente, the senior parliamentary officer in the office of the UK Permanent Representative to the EU. Those members of the European Parliament who received the ‘note’ were Glenys Kinnock, John Bowis, Fiona Hall, Elizabeth Lynne, Linda Mcavan, Chris Beazley, Emma Nicholson, Charles Tannock, Geoffrey Van Orden, Gerard Batten, Nirj Deva, Andrew Duff, James Elles, Jonathan Evans, Glyn Ford, Sarab Ludford, Edward McMIllan-Scott, Sajjad Karim, Michael Cashman, Philip Bushill-Matthews, Robert Evans, Jean Lambert and Sharon Bowles.

And it is this note which gives an insight into the international efforts to push for a UN led mission to Sri Lanka, which will be all the more probable now with the ethnic cleansing campaign that was launched last week.

The note had this to say inter alia on the issue of the UN led mission; "An international attempt to push for an UN-led mission seems likely. It would probably see Sri Lanka retreat to the hard line group of the like-minded. It is not clear who might lead such an effort."

Resolution against Sri Lanka

The British government also had this to say on the UN Human Rights Council resolution sponsored by the EU. "The fifth session of the HRC in June will have little time for country specific issues. In the likely event that the situation in Sri Lanka continues to deteriorate, support for the resolution may increase. Various NGO groups are lobbying for an EU-US and possibly India co-sponsored resolution."

The British government rubbishing the Presidential Commissions of Inquiry were equally damning.

It is in this backdrop the public hearing of the European Parliament got underway in Brussels on Tuesday with the government downgrading its delegation following reports a resolution on Sri Lanka maybe adopted at the sessions.

President Rajapakse who personally directed Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Attorney General C.R. De Silva and Deputy Solicitors General Shavindra Fernando and Yasantha Kodagoda to present the government’s case at the hearing later panicked on hearing what was in store and downgraded the delegation.

Thus, Minister Samarasinghe suddenly got the fever and it was left to diplomat Aruni Devaraj Wijewardene to present the government’s case together with a representative from the Attorney General’s Department, where the pitch was on LTTE’s atrocities.

European Mervyn

But it was a bad case they had to defend though there was some assistance given by Sri Lankan born European Parliamentarian Nirj Deva, who has wide business interests in Sri Lanka. He is also identified in Sri Lankan political circles as the Mervyn Silva of the European Parliament.

Deva who was once described as a ‘banquet beggar’ by the Sunday Times for soliciting invitations from late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, also dabbles in the liquor business and was handpicked by business tycoon, Harry Jayewardena to serve in the Distilleries Company board and with these facts not unknown to his colleagues, his support was not necessarily helpful.

Furthermore, known to push business deals using his political clout, Deva canvassed for an advisor post under Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNF government of 2002 and used his office to lobby various projects including a housing project in Kotte. That he tried to use his good offices albeit unsuccessfully to get President Rajapakse’s son to Oxford was also known.

But what the other EU members found ironic was that this very Deva just two months back not only arranged a series of meetings for UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in the European Parliament to trash Sri Lanka’s human rights record but boasted he drafted that speech as well. That he runs with the hare and hunts with the hound was therefore well known to the European members.

Therefore his defence of the government at the public hearing was not necessarily helpful given the damning presentation made by Human Rights Watch and that was evident, when at the conclusion, the President of the European Parliament, Joseph Borrell Fontelles said a resolution would have to be moved on the human rights situation.

Resolution

Taken by surprise, Deva was to put his hands on his head no sooner Fontelles made reference to a resolution and in the presence of the entire audience, bellowed, "Oh! my God!"

Deva then proceeded to ask why there was a necessity for a resolution, and found support from another member in the form of Geoffrey Van Orden but not the majority, with Fontelles, stating they have to consider a resolution.

Thus in all likelihood a resolution will be forwarded shortly and more so now in the backdrop of the ethnic cleansing campaign which has since got underway.

And to keep up this international momentum the British Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Kim Howells is expected to visit Sri Lanka this month to ascertain the steps taken by the government to address the concerns raised in their letters.

This visit is to be followed in July by Parliamentarian Paul Murphy, who was formerly the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and is currently chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. He is credited as being responsible for negotiating the "North-South" or "The Island of Ireland" arrangements agreed to in the Good Friday Agreement. Murphy’s visit is to share UK’s experience of the Northern Ireland peace process and devolution.

Devastating revelations

But what was of primary concern to the President last week was the Tiran Alles revelations and how he can extricate himself and brother Basil from it, given the fact it could well come back to haunt them at a future date. Moreso, after UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe called for the arrest of Basil Rajapakse over the deal.

Alles, as exclusively reported in this column last week, told the TID in his statement it was Mahinda Rajapakse as prime minister who wanted him to set up a link with the LTTE to coordinate the presidential election campaign in the north-east, and that he said he would try to establish a link through a business contact.

The former Airport Chief went on to say, thereafter it was Basil Rajapakse who dealt with the suspected LTTE member, Emil Kanthan whilst he was only the facilitator of the meetings. Alles also said President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga and Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera also dealt with Emil Kanthan on the agreements reached.

Opposition Leader’s concern

That Mahinda Rajapakse pushed the deal as prime minister and it does not give him the cover of immunity, Wickremesinghe was quick to seize upon and the very day proceeded to visit Alles at the Merchant’s Ward of the National Hospital with Colombo District MP, Ravi Karunanayake. Also present was JHU Member Udaya Gammanpila.

At the hospital Wickremesinghe was to ask Alles whether the report in The Sunday Leader on his statement was correct and it is after receiving an answer in the affirmative that he called for the arrest of Basil Rajapakse, P.B. Jayasundera and Lalith Weeratunga, which caused panic from Temple Trees to Los Angeles.

Calling Weeratunga from Los Angeles, Basil Rajapakse wanted a lid put on the whole issue and accused the police of bungling the entire case by arresting Alles.

And on Tuesday, the President called a meeting at Temple Trees to discuss the issue where Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka, Central Environment Authority Chairman Udaya Gammanpila, IGP Victor Perera, CID DIG, Prathapasinghe, SP Wakishta and two other officers of the CID were present.

At the outset, the President was to say that the people were asking him whether he had fallen out with Gammanpila because of the support the JHU member was extending to Alles.

A long time family friend, the JHU member was by the side of Alles when the arrest was made as well as when a bodhi pooja was held to invoke blessings on the Maubima owner, and Gammanpila told Rajapakse as much.

"Tiran and the entire family are very close to me and nothing will change that," Gammanpila said.

President’s denial

Responded the President — "That is OK but the people are asking whether we are angry with each other because you have been seen with Mangala at every event."

Shot back Gammanpila — "My association is with the Alles family and I will not stop that."

Not getting anywhere on that front, the President turned to the IGP, Victor Perera and said it should be made clear he (Rajapakse) had nothing to do with the arrest of Alles.

"Tell them I had nothing to do with the arrest. How can anyone say orders came from the top. Tell them it did not come from me," the President thundered.

Replied Prathapasinghe obediently so that Gammanpila would communicate the message to the Alles family — "No, you did not tell us to make the arrest, Sir."

Pat came Rajapakse’s response — "Then tell them what happened."

Benz to Kilinochchi

Said Prathapasinghe — "There is nothing personal but there is a problem with the accounts. Alles has financed the purchase of 10 Benz cars and sent it to Kilinochchi."

That of course is not grounded on fact but such was the reason given and Minister Ranawaka was to ask sarcastically whether roads in Kilinochchi were so good for Benz cars to travel.

Embarrassed, Prathapasinghe flew another kite claiming that Dushyantha Basnayake had said that on Tiran’s advise, money was given to Emil Kanthan to build a home.

"Money has come from abroad and Tiran said under the Amnesty Act, he does not have to say where it came from," Prathapasinghe added.

Once again what the DIG CID did not say is that Alles had made a full disclosure of that money to the Inland Revenue Department. Prathapasinghe then went on to say Alles has committed an offence under the Terrorism Financing Act of 2005, completely oblivious to the fact, the transactions referred to in any event were in 2002.

Pupils of Alles

At this point Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga walked in and said he was a student of Tiran Alles’ father as did Gammanpila which prompted IGP Perera to say his children too attended D.S. Senanayake College.

Feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the situation, the President was to tell the IGP that he had to act within the law and no orders to the contrary should be followed.

Almost on cue came Prathapasinghe stating bail for Alles was opposed because they had not concluded recording his statement, which again was being economical with the truth because Dushyantha Basnayake’s additional statement was recorded after he was bailed out.

And testing the pulse in a lighter vein was Minister Ranawaka who also referred to Wickremesinghe’s statement and asked whether Basil Rajapakse too would have to be arrested.

Replied the President — "If Basil has committed a wrong, he too must be arrested. Now that the situation has gone over my nose, what difference does it make if it goes over my head?"

True, and Rajapakse will do well to realise that his government has just begun to drown and unless someone throws him a lifeline, the entire administration will be sunk.

And that lifeline can only come from the international community, provided he stops acting like Idi Amin and conducts himself more like a Nelson Mandela.

But that from Rajapakse is asking way too much.

 


 


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