” Sri Lanka cannot do without IMF’s support. Having declared its inability to service its foreign debt, Sri Lanka is struggling to reach a consensus with lenders and the IMF. Two of Sri Lanka’s major creditors, India and China, locked horns over a port visit by a Chinese ship. Sri Lanka should be wary of these developments as they tend to influence other lenders as well.”
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Navy deployed SLNS Gajabahu (formerly USCG Sherman) to safely move then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, from Colombo to Trincomalee, in the wake of the massive public protests, apparently financed and instigated by hidden hands that brought the curtain down on his presidency. The President abandoned Janadhipathi Mandiraya, before 12 noon, on July 09.
The first couple disembarked at the Trincomalee harbour, on the morning of July 10, having left the Colombo port, on the evening of the previous day. First lady Iyoma like late first lady, JRJ’s spouse Elena, is a fine woman, the whole country can be rightfully proud of, under whatever adversity.
Sri Lanka took delivery of SLNS Gajabahu, formerly of the United States Coast Guard, in June 2019, during the tail end of Maithripala Sirisena’s presidency, a time of political turmoil and uncertainty. The Vietnam War era vessel is one of the largest vessels, acquired by the Navy since Sri Lanka’s triumph over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in May 2009. Sri Lanka paid for the upgrading of USCG Sherman, about 50 years old (the Vietnam war ended in 1975 with the last Americans fleeing Saigon, in helicopters, with their local dependents), along with the required spares and training for the Lankan crew.
Against the backdrop of controversy over the Chinese research and survey vessel Yuan Wang 5 docking at the Hambantota port, leased to China, it would be pertinent to discuss the transferring of vessels, and other equipment, as well as supply of fuel by the Quad grouping, comprising the US, India, Australia and Japan. In spite of China, and international shipping sites, recognizing the Yuan Wang 5 as a research and survey vessel, the Indian media referred to it as a dual-use spy ship.
The Chinese vessel, which was originally scheduled to reach Hambantota port, on August 11, and leave on August 17, finally docked therein on Tuesday (16). The Chinese Embassy invited former Public Security Minister and retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera to visit the vessel. The invitation was extended in the wake of lawmaker Weerasekera single handedly defending the right of the Chinese vessel to visit Sri Lanka, like vessels of other countries’ navies, at the government parliamentary group meeting, on August 08, to ensure the scheduled visit, while the other government MPs had kept mum.
Ambassador Julie Chung’s predecessor Alaina Teplitz, in a special message issued in 2019, to mark the 243rd Independence Day of the US, addressed several contentious issues, including the alleged setting up of an American base here, as well as transferring of the US vessel to Sri Lanka. Ambassador Teplitz is on record as having said: The sea lanes that pass beside Sri Lanka are important for many nations, which is why the United States is helping Sri Lanka’s capacity to protect its coast and waters. In June, I joined President Sirisena at the commissioning of SLNS Gajabahu, the Sri Lankan Navy’s largest vessel. A gift from the American people, the former US Coast Guard Cutter represents the United States’ commitment to strengthening Sri Lanka’s ability to protect its security and prosperity….Just like the gift of the USCG Cutter, our military cooperation is open and mutually beneficial. Every joint exercise, training in disaster response, is done at the invitation of our Sri Lankan hosts. The United States has no intention of building a base here. Instead, we are building relationships that help keep both our countries safe”.
In addition to the US vessel, Sri Lanka took delivery of two new advanced OPVs, namely SLNS Sayurala and SLNS Sindurala, built in India. Advanced OPVs were built at the Goa shipyard in terms of an agreement signed in Feb 2014. India built them at a cost of USD 66 mn and were commissioned in Aug 2017 and April 2018, respectively. Sri Lanka paid for them.
In late Oct 2021, Sri Lanka took delivery of another US Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro, the third such American vessel.
The first was USCG Courageous (SLNS Samudura P 621) acquired during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency, in early 2005. SLNS Samudura took part in the hunt for LTTE arms smuggling vessels (floating arsenals) in the high seas.
In July 2019, Sri Lanka also took delivery of the ‘Jangwei’ class missile frigate, previously called the ‘Tongling’ in the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy (PLAN) and served until 2015.
Controversial H’tota port visit
The controversial decision to suddenly rescind permission, granted on July 12 for the Chinese ship visit, due to lobbying by India and the US, caused turmoil in China-Sri Lanka relations. China questioned the very basis of Sri Lanka’s decision, at the behest of New Delhi. China rightfully asserted that the development was quite unacceptable and a hindrance to bilateral relations. The government group meeting, held at the Presidential Secretariat on August 08 evening ,revealed the failure on the part of the new administration to address the issue at hand, properly. One-time Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera didn’t mince his words when he strongly urged the government to go ahead with the already approved visit. The meeting, chaired by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, was attended by Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, MP.
The former Navy Chief of Staff challenged the very basis of cancelling the ship visit as a result of pressure exerted by India. Weerasekera didn’t receive any support from his colleagues. The Colombo district lawmaker was quite clear that Sri Lanka’s relations with the West and India shouldn’t be at the expense of all-weather friend China. Weerasekera reminded the gathering that Sri Lanka, over the years, conducted military exercises with the US, and India as well. However, the most pertinent question that had been raised by the naval veteran was the cancellation of approval given by the previous administration.
Sri Lankan ports, including Hambantota, receive warships from major powers. In spite of Hambantota port being leased to China, the port received warships, even from the US. Destroyer USS Spruance and large transport vessel USNS Millinocket had been at the Hambantota port at the time of the April 2019 Easter Sunday massacre. The 7th Fleet vessels were here for Cooperation Afloat and Readiness Training (CARAT) exercise. The attacks compelled the US to cancel the planned exercise. According to US Navy statement, issued ahead of the suicide blasts, during CARAT’s Sri Lanka phase, the Navy and Marine Corps planned to work with Sri Lankan armed forces at sea, to test communication, coordinate and respond to scenarios, at sea, to include maritime patrol operations, maneuvering exercises, surface gunnery drills, visit, board, search and seizure drills, vertical replenishments operations, flight operations and search and rescue swimmer exercises.
There had never been opposition to US and Indian warships’ visit to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka even received Indian aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, at the Colombo port, during the yahapalana administration. The visit, undertaken in late January 2019, marked a higher status in Indo-Lanka relations. INS Vikramaditya, one of the two aircraft carriers operated by the Indian Navy, was accompanied by missile destroyer INS Mysore.
In August 2017, President Maithripala Sirisena renewed the ACSA (Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement) with the US that paved the way for unhindered access here to US forces. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration first signed the ACSA, in March 2007, that facilitated specific US intelligence on LTTE arms smuggling ships on the high seas. The US-Sri Lanka relationship cannot be examined without taking into consideration the solid US-India partnership meant to counter China. Obviously, vis- a-vis Sri Lanka, Indian and the US stands appear to be the same. Both countries are deeply resentful of China securing the Hambantota port for commercial purposes, on a 99-year-lease, in 2017.
Contrary to concerns expressed by various interested parties, even commercial vessels cannot be berthed at the Hambantota port, without the approval of the Harbour Master of SLPA and the Sri Lanka Navy. In addition, a naval vessel cannot be berthed at the Hambantota port, without the approval of the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).
In fact, two Indian navy vessels visited the Hambantota port for replenishments, in March this year. Naval vessels from Japan, Indonesia, Russia and the USA have called at the port of Hambantota. But, the recent Chinese ship visit has caused such an uproar by the unfair intervention of India, egged on by the US to block it, that the public may tend to think that navies of other countries are not allowed to visit Hambantota.
Speaking on the occasion, High Commissioner Gopal Baglay emphasized
that induction of the aircraft would help in creating a peaceful environment for progress and prosperity of the people of India and Sri
Lanka. Gifting of Dornier aircraft underscored the cooperation
between the two maritime neighbours in the defence and security
spheres, Baglay declared, adding such cooperation is envisaged to add further capability and capacity to Sri Lanka and is in line with the
vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)
In keeping with India’s much-touted ‘Neighbourhood First Policy,’ New Delhi has provided critical financial and material support in the wake of the economic fallout. Although the Covid-19, and the war in Ukraine, contributed to the crisis, Sri Lanka must accept responsibility for her plight caused by years of financial mismanagement, waste, corruption and irregularities coupled with the failure of our intelligence to prevent outsiders from exacerbating matters here, like how the Galle Face protests were well financed from outside our shores and how it was allowed to be projected as a non-partisan and non-violent indigenous movement. All we can say is that all the masterminds there were very good paid actors.
Amidst controversy over the Chinese ship visit, President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday (15) accepted a maritime surveillance Dornier aircraft from India. Vice Chief of the Indian Navy, Vice Admiral S. N. Ghormade, handed over the aircraft. Interestingly, Sri Lanka received the Dornier from the inventory of the Indian Navy while the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is in the process of building two Dornier aircraft for Sri Lanka. Once India delivered them, the aircraft Sri Lanka took delivery on Monday would be returned.
There had never been a previous instance of China and India publicly commenting on a situation involving their assets visiting Sri Lanka. India has rejected Chinese accusations that New Delhi pressured Colombo against the visit by Yuan Wang 5 to the Hambantota port. India declared that it would take decisions based on its security concerns.
External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi (former Indian Deputy High Commissioner) is on record as having said that Sri Lanka, as a sovereign country, made its own independent decisions and noted that India would make its judgment on its security concerns, based on the prevailing situation in the 1region.
Sri Lanka must be mindful of India’s security concerns but that shouldn’t be at the expense of her relations with China. Former General Secretary of the Communist Party D.E.W. Gunasekera told the writer that there had never been a similar interference by a third party in Sri Lanka’s bilateral relations with any country.
Wikileaks, in the past, disclosed a range of classified diplomatic cables pertaining to Sri Lanka. One quite interesting cable, that originated from the US mission, in New Delhi, dealt with India’s concerns over the planned Chinese building of an international port at Hambantota. The project got underway in January 2008 as the military was clearly gaining the upper hand as it battled the LTTE on the Vanni front.
Let me reproduce the relevant section of the US diplomatic cable that dealt with the April 26, 2007, meeting a New Delhi-based US diplomat had with the then Joint Secretary, at the External Affairs Ministry Mohan Kumar. Having functioned as the Desk Officer in charge of the Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (1990-1992), Kumar received the appointment as Deputy High Commissioner, in Colombo, in late 2001. At the time Kumar had taken up the Hambantota port issue, with the US, as revealed in the Wikileaks cable, he had been head of the division that handled relations with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Kumar has discussed the Indian Navy stepping up patrols in the waters, between India and Sri Lanka, while expressing concern over the Chinese role in the Hambantota port project. Kumar has also bitterly complained about Chinese taking advantage of the situation in Burma, at the expense of India, and warned that the US pressure on New Delhi to take up democracy and human rights issues with the Burmese military leadership facilitated the Chinese project there. The US diplomat quoted Kumar as having told him “We’re getting screwed on gas”.
“The situation in Sri Lanka is bad, really bad – beyond bleak” in Kumar’s judgment. Characterizing the government and the LTTE as two sets of people with scant regard for the international community,
Kumar was skeptical that political progress could be achieved anytime soon. He confirmed reports that the Indian Navy has stepped up patrols in the Palk Strait, and said that India and Sri Lanka are doing coordinated patrolling to prevent the smuggling of weapons from the Tamil Nadu coast. Kumar said it would be helpful to get the American assessment of the port being built in Hambantota, which he estimated China was willing to spend $500 million to help develop. He noted that China has increased its influence with President Rajapaksa, opinioning that Rajapaksa had a ‘soft spot’ for China, following his visit to Beijing on March 9″.
India worked overtime to thwart Chinese projects here. Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa once alleged that Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval asked him to cancel the USD 1.4 bn Chinese flagship project, the Colombo Port City. Declaring that demand shouldn’t have been made, Gotabaya Rajapaksa also quoted Doval as having called for the taking over of the highly successful Colombo International Container Terminals Limited (CICT), a joint venture between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (CMPH) and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). CMPH holds 85% of the partnership whilst the balance 15% is held by SLPA.
Rajapaksa further quoted Doval as having told him that India wanted all Chinese-funded infrastructure projects stopped and for Sri Lanka to have full control of the Hambantota port. Rajapaksa quoted Doval as having said: Sri Lanka is a small country; you don’t need such development projects.
The Quad has dealt with Sri Lanka in a systematic way. Australia donated two large patrol vessels years ago and recently has been providing fuel for both the Navy and the Air Force as part of the overall support to ensure ongoing operations meant to thwart would-be asylum seekers. In spite of a change of governments, Australia has maintained strong links with Sri Lanka to derail would-be asylum seekers’ plans to smuggle themselves there in multi-day fishing craft, despite so many such odysseys being thwarted.
The other Quad member Japan entered into a comprehensive partnership with Sri Lanka in Oct 2015. The then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe signed the agreement on behalf of Sri Lanka whereas the late Shinzo Abe endorsed it for Japan. Japanese warships frequently visit Sri Lanka. Consequent to the signing of the comprehensive partnership agreement, the Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera even visited the Hambantota port.
Sri Lanka will have to deal carefully with Quad as well as China. The unprecedented economic crisis has weakened the country and exposed it to external interventions, in different forms. The failure on the part of those political parties, represented in Parliament, to reach a consensus on a far reaching political arrangement to restore public confidence as well as secure international backing for recovery efforts, might be all part of the overall plot by the West to destabilize us for being friendly with China.
As for New Delhi she must remind herself that going by history China never had any evil intentions against her unlike the West that plundered and enslaved much of the world, including India.
Closure of Norwegian Embassy in Colombo and other matters (Part II)
Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is one of those who strongly believed that the LTTE could be defeated. The Gajaba Regiment veteran didn’t mince his words when he met Norwegian officials on April 06, 2006 in the run-up to the closure of the Mavil-aru sluice gates in the third week of July 2006. According to a NorwegianForeign Ministry document in the public domain: “On April 06, 2006, Hanssen-Bauer and Brattskar had a tense meeting with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In response to a question about whether the ethnic and political problems in Sri Lanka could be solved by military means, Gotabaya answers, ‘yes’. The LTTE launched Eelam War IV in August 2006. Within two years and 10 months the Sri Lankan military brought the war to a successful end.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Colombo-based Norwegian diplomats burnt their fingers by seeking information from the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo as regards an Indian fishing craft (Sri Krishna) that had been commandeered by Sea Tigers and was intercepted and sunk by the Maldivian Coast Guard in May 2007.
The Norwegian Embassy reached the Maldivian HC soon after the Maldivians intercepted ‘Sri Krishna’ that was reported missing several days before while fishing in Indian waters.
The Island last week dealt with the Norwegian decision to close down its diplomatic mission in Colombo next year, two decades after Oslo arranged a highly controversial secret Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) (Not even the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga was aware of it till it had been signed) between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The US, EU, Japan and Norway functioned as Co-Chairs to the peace process.
The Norwegian effort received the backing of New Delhi though the Indians were skeptical. Nevertheless, they fully cooperated.
The LTTE quit the negotiating table in April 2003, one year and three months after the signing of the CFA. But, the Norwegians went out of their way to appease the LTTE regardless of the consequences. The diplomatic intervention made on behalf of the Tigers involved in the incident in the Maldivian waters is a case in point. In a way, the LTTE and its sidekick the Tamil National Alliance failed to utilize the Norwegian effort to advance the peace process, whether sincere or not. Instead, the LTTE exploited the Norwegian initiative so much that the negotiating process finally collapsed. Their strategy undermined the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, who meekly towed the Norwegian line. On the other hand, their actions bolstered the nationalist groups and those opposed to the Norwegian questionable initiatives.
Dissolution of Parliament and calling for fresh parliamentary elections in April 2004 should be examined against the backdrop of utterly irresponsible LTTE strategy and its appeasers. However, the elections allowed the TNA, with the LTTE openly stuffing ballot boxes in areas it controlled, to secure the lion’s share of seats in the then amalgamated Northern and Eastern Provinces. Peace Co-Chair EU in its Election Observation report declared that the TNA colluded with the LTTE. Unfortunately, Co-Chairs, including the EU didn’t take the report into consideration.
The incident in the Maldivian waters should be examined basically against the backdrop of the overall deterioration of the situation for want of clear guidelines to handle the peace process.
The Norwegians wouldn’t have intervened without being asked by the LTTE with a nod from a powerful Western interest. We must also note that Norwegian peacemaking efforts in Palestine with obvious American backing that brought about the Oslo Accord with much promise fared even worse with the Palestinians continuing to be humiliated and pasted by the Israelis almost on a daily basis. Where the hell is UNHRC? No war crimes there on your watch Michelle Bachelet? At least the UN should have given her a Nelsonian eye patch.
The Norwegian mission here definitely cleared its move with Oslo. However, by the time they got in touch with the Maldivian HC, Male had cleared Sri Lankan Navy intelligence to interrogate the apprehended LTTE cadres in the custody of the Maldivian. The Island reported the Norwegian intervention in its May 26, 2007 edition. The LTTE had used the ill-fated vessel to transfer weapons from its floating armories to Wanni and was on such a mission when the Maldivians intervened.
At the time the Maldivians sank Sri Krishna, Tamil Nadu had accused the Sri Lanka Navy of destroying that particular vessel. What Tamil Nadu as well as India never expected was another country intervening in the clandestine LTTE arms smuggling operation.
The Maldivian Coast Guard made the intervention on May 16, 2007. The Maldivian Coast Guard engaged a vessel carrying the Sri Lankan flag after the latter fired at a Maldivian fishing craft.
Following a 12-hour standoff, the Maldivians sank the craft flying the Sri Lankan flag.
Interestingly, there had been some Indian naval personnel onboard the Maldivian craft engaged in the operation against the Tiger commandeered vessel.
The LTTE would have never expected its cadres who commandeered the vessel to surrender as they are noted for biting their cyanide vials to prevent capture. The Maldivians however rescued five Tigers who jumped overboard from the sinking vessel, subsequently identified as Sri Krishna. The rescued men told the Maldivians and their Indian instructors (The Indians were helping the Maldivian Coast Guard personnel to familiarize with CG vessel Huravee, gifted by New Delhi to Male) the circumstances under which they were found in Maldivian waters, while engaged in transferring armaments from a floating warehouse.
Sri Krishna’s skipper, Simon Soza had been among the five rescued by the Maldivians. The Sea Tigers admitted that the remaining Indians were being held in a camp in the Vanni (Maldives sinks Indian craft hijacked by Sea Tigers – The Island May 18, 2007).
The sinking of the Sri Krishna was the second high profile incident involving an Indian trained terrorist group in the Maldivian territory. The raid on Male during the first week of November, 1988 by sea borne PLOTE (People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorists at the behest of a Colombo-based Maldivian businessman, Abdulla Luthufee was the first. Interestingly, the Indian Navy sank MV Progress Light commandeered by Luthufee’s mercenaries while trying to reach Sri Lankan waters.
Former Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, who led the then UNP government’s negotiating team for talks with the LTTE in 2002-2003 period, appreciated the role played by the Scandinavian country.
GL, Palihakkara, Salter,Jehan comment
Prof. Peiris, now a leading member in one of the SLPP rebel groups said: “The Norwegian government was significantly involved in the economic development of Sri Lanka, long before its association with the peace process. In particular, there had been substantial Norwegian support for infrastructure development, especially rural roads in the South of Sri Lanka, in addition to assistance in the fisheries sector, human resources development and community work of various kinds.
In the aftermath of its facilitation role in the peace process in the late 1990s and early in the present century, the government of Norway commissioned an independent evaluation of their role here with a view to ascertaining its strengths and weaknesses. I believe this study led to more useful insights.
We regret the decision to close down the embassy in Colombo for the time being, but understand that it is part of a worldwide evaluation process.
The government of Norway has announced its commitment to and support for the people of Sri Lanka will continue. We appreciate this assurance.”
In response to The Island query regarding the Norwegian pull out, Executive Director of the National Peace Council (NPC), Dr. Jehan Perera has sent us the following statement: “The departure of the Norwegian Embassy from Sri Lanka is a big loss to us. This is a time when we need all the assistance and friendship we can from the international community, especially those who have helped us in the past. The Ambassador has stated that Norway will continue to provide Sri Lanka with assistance and will engage in development activities. However, Sri Lanka will lose out because remote support is not the same as in-country support where Norwegian diplomats and embassy staff are in constant interaction with Sri Lankan people. We also need to acknowledge the huge investment Norway made to help us resolve our ethnic war through negotiations and a political solution. They supported organisations such as the National Peace Council to build bridges between the communities, which we continue to do. Norwegian support for peace-building work got reduced after the failure of the ceasefire agreement and peace process. NPC did not receive Norwegian financial support over the past decade. But the capacity for peace-building work that Norway supported us to achieve, and which continues to remain with us, is a cause for gratitude and we regret very much the closure of their embassy.”
The author of ‘To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka’ Mark Salter said: “The closure of the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo ends an important chapter in relations between the two countries. At the joint invitation of the government and the LTTE leadership, in 1999-2000 Oslo accepted the role of peace facilitator between the two parties. To their great credit, over the following decade the Norwegians stuck at their appointed ‘peace diplomacy’ task through thick and thin – possibly the most sustained instance of external engagement with a peace process to date. And this including when, in the aftermath of the return to war in autumn 2006 and the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) the Norwegians brokered in 2002 looked increasingly dead in the water, they became the subject of increasing domestic attacks, notably by both the government itself and Sinhala nationalists who tarred them with the brush of ‘White Tigers’.
As we know, theirs (and other) peace efforts ultimately failed. A messenger, however, is only as good as the message they carry – a fact that often seems completely lost on the legions of Lankan critics of the Norwegian’s ‘messenger’ role. As Erik Solheim and others have long since acknowledged, Oslo undoubtedly made mistakes along the way – notably the failure to foster an initial bipartisan Sinhala political consensus in support of the peace process. Ultimately, however, the failure of the peace process comes down to the failure in their different ways of both parties to continue to engage seriously with the process itself.”
For those who are genuinely interested in knowing the Norwegian-led process, perusal of Salter’s work is a must. Former BBC journalist and analyst, Mark Salter who launched ‘To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka’ in Colombo several years after Norway released ‘Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009)’ meticulously addressed the issues. Salter’s work help the readers to understand what really went wrong if the official Norwegian examination didn’t achieve what was expected. Chr. Michelsen Institute and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, jointly put out that report. The team responsible for the official version comprised Gunnar Sørbø, Jonathan Goodhand, Bart Klem, Ada Elisabeth Nissen and Hilde Selbervik. The Wikileaks revelations should be of pivotal importance for those keen to know the developments here.
One-time Foreign Secretary H.M.G.S. Palihakkara who served as the Governor of the Northern Province during the Yahapalana administration, has sent us the following statement in response to a query posed to him: “It does not look like a singular decision by one country, at least optics-wise, since both countries announced the intended closures within a space of a few months this year, Sri Lanka being the first in April and Norway following in September. Embassy closing of course is news one can hardly celebrate esp. in bilateral diplomacy. The notion that reciprocity is the first lesson in diplomacy still has some currency. And that factor may have weighed in at some stage of this decision-making process. However, speculating on that won’t help either side.
What is of promise is that both countries have been quick to emphasize that the decisions are derived from ‘structural’, rather than bilateral considerations and will not impinge on relations.
Sri Lanka has further qualified closure as ‘temporary’ while Norway has recommitted itself to ‘further the constructive and friendly relations’. It would be reasonable to say these relations have endured many decades and vicissitudes including a complicated and even controversial ‘peace process’ with the LTTE through a vain facilitation effort by Norway.
The Norwegian envoy in Colombo, Ambassador Trine Jøranli Eskedal in her media comments has quite professionally put these positives at a higher notch saying ‘ We will continue to maintain our warm bilateral relations with Sri Lanka and development assistance will also continue.’ So the ‘distancing’ signified by these closures at first glance, may be more apparent than real. The fact remains that SL has benefitted from several billions of NKR bilateral ODA for projects ranging from the well-known Cey-Nor in the North to extensive rural development in the South. Since modern diplomacy is often about building on what you have rather than imagining the ideal, it is up to both sides to do just that-build on the positives.”
Whatever the views expressed by interested parties regarding the planned Norwegian closure of its embassy here the fact remains the move is detrimental to Sri Lanka, especially at a time the country is experiencing its worst post-independence economic crisis. Norway spent lavishly on its Sri Lanka project. Civil society groups benefited immensely. A simmering dispute between the Norwegians and the late Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe, one of the largest beneficiaries of the Norwegian funding highlighted the controversial relationship between the embassy and the civil society. The Norwegians ended up squandering their taxpayers’ money even on the LTTE and its front organizations. That is the undeniable truth.
But, perhaps their biggest mistake that had been influenced by interested parties here was the assertion as acknowledged in ‘Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009)’ that the LTTE cannot be defeated.
The Norwegians as well as other Co- Chairs operated on the premise the Sri Lankan military couldn’t match the LTTE’s strategy or the fighting will. Those who benefited from the Norwegian largesse propagated that myth wherever possible like their Western pay masters. That assessment was proved wrong in May 2009 when a soldier shot Velupillai Prabhakaran on his head on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.
The Isle on a High
By Lynn Ockersz
At the Lotus Tower’s highest point,
Where the pain of living eases for a while,
And delirium takes over minds and hearts,
Sightseers look down and find nothing wrong,
With gold chain-grabbing turning a way of life,
Poor women calling at mushrooming spas,
And elders hitting the streets in despair;
All happening amid a rash of plush malls,
And palatial houses seeing steady demand,
Making up quite a skewed state-of-affairs,
Which serve to remind the few of clear mind,
That Lotus Towers and other lulling ploys,
Are aimed at silencing the revolting mind.
Oslo pullout, new Geneva resolution and origins of terrorism (part 1)
” Norway will never forget how LTTE influenced the worst ever act of terrorism on its soil. Far right Norwegian Andres Breivik, 32, responsible for the July 22, 2011 massacre of 77 persons, mostly teenagers in two successive attacks in Norway was inspired by the LTTE. A few hours before, Breivik went on the rampage, he made reference to the LTTE’s eviction of the Muslim community from the Northern Province in Oct/Nov 1990, in his so-called manifesto released online. The following are the references (1) Pro-Sri Lanka (supports the deportation of all Muslims from Sri Lanka) (Page 1235) and (2) Fourth Generation War is normally characterized by a ‘stateless’ entity fighting a state or regime (the EUSSR). Fighting can be physically such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to use a modern example. (Page 1479). Perhaps, Sri Lanka should ask for an international inquiry. One of Sri Lanka’s foremost diplomats Jayantha Dhanapala appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in 2010 stressed the accountability on the part of foreign governments. The then Mahinda Rajapaksa government probably blinded by unfathomable victory was not bothered. It only sought political advantage of the developments even at the expense of Sri Lanka.”
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Norway on Sept 09 announced that its diplomatic mission in Colombo will be closed at the end of July 2023. The Norwegian Embassy in Colombo declared that this would be among five diplomatic missions to be closed as part of the planned structural reforms in its network of diplomatic missions. The Embassy didn’t mention the other diplomatic missions facing closure.
Norway established a diplomatic mission here in 1996 during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency. The setting up of that mission was primarily to facilitate negotiations between Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The establishment of the Colombo mission took place in the wake of the military consolidating its position in the Jaffna peninsula. Jaffna town was brought under government control in early Dec 1995.
The signing of the one-sided Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in Feb 2002 can be considered the highpoint of the Norwegian intervention here that allowed the LTTE to expand its sphere of influence. Who really drafted the CFA? Did the then top Norwegian negotiator Erik Solheim draft it as he claimed in an interview with the late Kumar Rupesinghe? Whatever the circumstances, the CFA certainly didn’t take into consideration concerns of the military.
However, the Norwegian Embassy made available the Norwegian Foreign Ministry press release that dealt with the proposed closure of some diplomatic missions. Accordingly, the diplomatic missions in Slovakia, Kosovo and Sri Lanka and the Embassy office in Madagascar and the Consulate General in Houston, Texas, are to be closed. It would be pertinent to mention that Norway established a diplomatic mission in Slovakia in Sept. 2004, just a year after Slovakia moved out of the Czechoslovakian Federation and in Kosovo four years later. NATO member Norway participated in large scale air offensive to drive out Serbian forces from Kosovo-Norway set up Embassy office in Madagascar in 2004 and the Houston ‘mission’ back in 1977.
The closure of the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo should be also examined against the backdrop of cash- strapped Sri Lanka closing down our missions in Norway and Iraq and the Consulate General in Sydney, Australia, early this year.
Norway has thrown its weight behind a new six-page draft resolution before the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, (UNHRC) handed in by the UK. The UK leads Sri Lanka Core Chairs and the resolution is widely regarded as the strongest since the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE in May 2009.
A vote on this new resolution is due before the sessions end on October 7. Sessions commenced on Sept 12.
The resolution is co-sponsored by the United States, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. Sri Lanka’s rejection of the latest resolution is irrelevant. Therefore, another heavy defeat at the UNHRC is quite possible. But, Sri Lanka conveniently failed so far to set the record straight in Geneva and at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Successive governments allowed Geneva to dictate terms by failing to present Sri Lanka’s case. The incumbent government is no exception.
Oslo has announced the termination of its mission here over a decade after the eradication of the LTTE’s conventional military capability. Had the Western sinister project succeeded, Sri Lanka would have been divided on ethnic lines. The CFA allowed the LTTE freedom to operate in the Northern and Eastern Province as it did away with restrictions placed on Tiger armed cadres entering government-held areas. The Norwegian led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) that was empowered to oversee the Ceasefire Agreement, continued to mollycoddle the LTTE in spite of a spate of blatant CFA violations by the Tigers.
In the wake of the then treacherous UNP government exposing the covert intelligence operation carried out by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) behind enemy lines, the LTTE went after its operatives with a vengeance. The Norwegians went to the extent of providing funding to the LTTE and its front organizations, much to the dismay of those who really believed in a genuine effort to bring peace.
The Norwegian funding continued even after the LTTE quit the negotiating table in late April 2003. There had never been a proper examination of the Norwegian intervention here though Norway funded the costly joint study undertaken by Gunnar Sorbo of the Chr. Michelsens Institute (CMI) and Jonathan Goodhand of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Their report titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009, released in September 2011 made specific reference to the SLMM, having accessibility to best possible intelligence.
High profile Oslo project
According to the report, the SLMM received intelligence from both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
Thanks to NATO and India, those running the peace process couldn’t have been unaware of the LTTE’s rapid preparations for war. Norway received NATO support as a member of the military alliance (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009, page 100).
The Norwegian study quoted the then SLMM head as having said that RAW only reached them through informal channels, therefore they couldn’t be fully trusted. “They weren’t giving it to us to be nice. We would always ask ourselves why they want us to know this. Intelligence provided by NATO only confirmed what they already knew”, the SLMM chief was quoted as having said.
The RAW destabilized Sri Lanka to such an extent, beginning with the election of J.R. Jayewardene, because of his overt tilt to the West, Sri Lanka was compelled to transform its ceremonial army into a lethal fighting force.
But, those who had been pursuing hostile agenda against us in Geneva quite conveniently forget how major powers ruined Sri Lanka by sponsoring, particularly the LTTE terrorism, and also giving them a free hand. Can the so-called leader of the Core Group, the UK, absolve itself of the responsibility for promoting terrorism here? The UK allowed LTTE’s International Secretariat to propagate the war against a Commonwealth country from London, granted citizenship to the late Anton Balasingham who advised Prabhakaran on terror project and even allowed secret talks therein between the LTTE theoretician and top Norwegian diplomats in the wake of the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination by the Tigers. The UK has also given refuge to his wife Adele despite her having nourished Tamil young girls to take up violence. She was photographed donning cyanide capsules around the necks of such girls as they passed out after training.
The LTTE assassinated Kadirgamar on Aug 12, 2005, while the CFA, supervised by Scandinavian countries, was in operation. On April 25, 2006, the LTTE almost succeeded in assassinating Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the Army headquarters. On Oct 01, 2006, the LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa near Piththala junction, Kollupitiya. The Norwegians and Peace Co-Chairs comprising the US, Japan and the EU remained inactive. The LTTE continued to advance its project. The CFA didn’t prevent the LTTE from unloading ship loads of armaments or carrying out high profile assassinations.
The Norwegian role should be examined taking into consideration the Japanese involvement in the peace initiative.
Dr. John Gooneratne, who had been with the government Peace Secretariat from its inception in January 2002 to May 2006, explained serious shortcomings in the CFA over a year after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. Appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on September 15, 2010, Dr. Gooneratne revealed that four key matters proposed by the government weren’t included in the CFA. (A) There had been no reference to the requirement to use the CFA to pave the way for talks to find a negotiated settlement. (B) Specific reference to the prohibition of unlawful importation of arms, ammunition and equipment was not included. (C) Although the LTTE was allowed to engage in ‘political work’ in government controlled areas, other political parties weren’t given access to areas under the LTTE control (D) Forcible conscription of personnel to the LTTE’s fighting cadre, too, was not added to the list of prohibited activities.
Dr. Gooneratne, a veteran career diplomat, faulted the then UNP government as well as the Norwegians for being hasty in their approach. Dr. Gooneratne said: “What lessons can we learn from this experience? Firstly, negotiating on such security and military matters should have been a more inclusive format than by just the party in power. Secondly, in negotiating documents, such as the CFA, thoroughness should be the standard, and not just the speed.”
The CFA created an environment that allowed the LTTE to exploit the situation. Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne in his book ‘Road to Nanthikadal’ launched in 2016 dealt with the CFA and how the LTTE abused and misused it. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, former The Island columnist and prolific writer C.A. Chandraprema, in his book ‘Gota’s War’, too, dealt with the Norwegian role here. But, those who really desired to know about the Norwegian project should definitely peruse ‘Peaceful Intervention in Intra-State Conflicts: Norwegian Involvement in the Sri Lankan Peace Process.’
Career diplomat Dr. Chanaka Thalpahewa had dared to go the whole hog and lucidly explain the Oslo initiative harmful to Sri Lanka.
The Norwegians had been careless, extremely reckless. There cannot be a better example than importing radio equipment in agreement with the then government that bent backwards to appease the LTTE. The then Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg earned the wrath of some Opposition political parties as well as Sinhala nationalist groups for directly playing a role. The political leadership tried to underscore the importation of state-of-the-art radio equipment by the Norwegian Embassy in agreement with the Peace Secretariat though all knew it was a political decision. CFA time Defence Secretary and one of those who negotiated with the LTTE Austin Fernando’s ‘My Belly is White’ launched in January 2008 at the height of the war, too, is a must read.
UNHRC, GTF silent on India’s accountability
The Island in its Sept 19, 2022 edition (both print and online) carried a statement issued by the UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF). The TNA’s partner called for a strong new resolution on Sri Lanka that reflected the recommendations of the High Commissioner’s Report. Having demanded punitive action against Sri Lanka, the GTF thanked India for backing their cause at the UNHRC. The GTF and the UNHRC owed an explanation whether they wanted to leave India out of the proposed investigations.
Can accountability pertaining to the Sri Lanka conflict be examined by turning a blind eye to Indian intervention here, ranging from sponsoring of terrorist groups, atrocities perpetrated by the Indian Army that prompted the LTTE to assassinate former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi and the sea borne raid on the Maldives carried out by Indian trained PLOTE terrorists and the killing of TULF’s Jaffna MPs by TELO at the behest of RAW?
The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report called on Sri Lanka to ‘re-launch a comprehensive, victim-centred strategy on Transitional Justice and accountability, to establish credible truth seeking mechanism and ad hoc special court’. Obviously, UNHRC and GTF are in a dilemma. India lost well over 1,000 officers and men here while approximately 3,000 others received injuries, some maimed for life.
Instead of opposing Geneva led investigations, Sri Lanka should request for a wider probe to establish how foreign support allowed the LTTE to wage war for nearly three decades and to ascertain the origins of terrorism.
The incumbent government should publicly ask those demanding accountability on Sri Lanka’s part to explain why the predominantly Tamil speaking northern and eastern electorates overwhelmingly voted for General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential poll after repeatedly accusing he and his Army of committing war crimes and how the TNA should be dealt with for recognizing the LTTE in late 2001 as the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people. Those who are skeptical about alleged TNA-LTTE links should peruse the European Union Election Observation Mission report on the April 2004 general election. The EU explained how the TNA secured 22 seats at that poll with the direct help from the LTTE by stuffing ballot boxes in areas controlled by it. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka never bothered to raise these issues thereby allowed those pursuing extremely hostile agenda to humiliate the country.
Should the TNA be accountable for atrocities committed by the LTTE after their recognition of the organization as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people? Perhaps, the TNA and the very vociferous Tamil Diaspora should be asked to prove that they at least requested the LTTE not to take cover behind civilians and hold them as a human shield after the combined armed forces pushed the LTTE fighting forces across the A9 to the Mullaitivu coast by April- May 2009.
The role of the Sri Lankan Church, too, should be probed. There cannot be any justification in leaving the Church out if Geneva wants to establish the truth.
Can the proposed Truth Seeking Mechanism refrain from inquiring into the deaths of Sri Lankan Tamils in the hands of Indian law enforcement authorities in the aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination? How many died? What were their identities? Do they still remain in the missing persons lists? Perhaps, the female LTTE cadre who committed suicide in the process of blowing up Gandhi may still be categorized as a missing person. Would it be possible to identify those PLOTE cadres killed by the Indian Navy on the high seas as they fled the Maldives in early Nov 1989 following the abortive bid to assassinate the then President of that island nation?
However, the writer has no dispute with the GTF’s call for thorough investigation into corruption accusations and action against all those responsible regardless of their standing in society.
Foreign passport holders
For want of Western governments’ support, thousands of people, categorized as dead/missing, live abroad under assumed identities. Sri Lanka never succeeded in securing their cooperation as they hid the real identities of thousands of Sri Lankans issued with new passports. How many Sri Lankans have received foreign passports over the past 30 years, particularly since 2009? The missing persons issue must be examined taking into consideration the rapid expansion of the Tamil Diaspora and their capacity to influence major political parties in Western countries, where they now reside.
Take the case of newly elected Norwegian lawmaker of Sri Lankan origin Khamshajiny (Kamzy) Gunaratnam, who reached Norway in 1991. Her family fled Sri Lanka in the wake of the Indian Army withdrawal and was lucky to end up in Norway. India ended itse military mission in March 1990 with then President Ranasinghe Premadasa showing them the door. The LTTE assassinated Gandhi just over a year later. Another high profile case is the ex-LTTE terrorist Antonythasan Jesuthasan receiving an opportunity to play the lead role in notable French Director Jacques Audiard’s award-winning Dheepan (2015). Jesuthasan, too, may be on some missing persons list.
The much-touted Geneva investigation should ascertain the actual number of Sri Lankans living abroad under assumed names. No less a person than Ranil Wickremesinghe when he served as the Premier of a previous government denied the state holding any Tamils in any secret location other than those held officially in jails.
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