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Midweek Review

From meeting Pottu, Balraj and Soosai to being Sri Lanka’s top envoy in Canada



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Who could have imagined that the incumbent government would name wartime President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s one-time emissary for talks with the top LTTE leadership, as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Ottawa?

Prominent civil society activist Harsha Kumara Navaratne, on Dec 07, 2021 presented his credentials as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the Governor General of Canada Mary May Simon, at a ceremony held at the Rideau Hall in Ottawa. Having rejected the nomination of retired Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sumangala Dias, Ottawa swiftly accepted the appointment of Navaratne. Founding chairperson of the Sevalanka Foundation, Navaratne succeeded career diplomat Asoka Girigagama, who was unceremoniously recalled in the wake of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s triumph at the Nov 2019 presidential election.

Canada, a member of Sri Lanka Co-Chairs at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), ignored AM Dias receiving unanimous approval of the Parliamentary High Posts Committee, Chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, On Nov 09, 2020. Following the Nov 2019 presidential election, Navaratne received appointment as a member of the Human Rights Council of Sri Lanka (HRCSL). The HRCSL comprised former lawmaker Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, (Chairperson),– Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa. Under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the new Board of HRCSL was constituted on Dec 10, 2020. Balasuriya’s appointment drew flak from various quarters, especially from the NGO front. The former lawmaker quit on Oct 31, 2021. He was replaced by retired Supreme Court Judge Rohini Marasinghe. In place of Harsha Kumara Navaratne, the government brought in Ven. Kalupahana Piyarathana, a member of the civil society grouping, Sri Lanka Collective for Consensus (SLCC) engaged in a high profile dialogue with the Rajapaksa government.

However, the SLCC has failed to receive the much required support from other mainly Western-funded prominent civil society groups. The writer dealt with the simmering disputes among the civil society over the government-SLCC relationship in Midweek piece titled ‘Govt-civil society imbroglio’ published on the Dec 15 edition of The Island.

The decision to bring in Navaratne, in place of AM Dias, underscores the readiness on the part of the government to please the Western powers, despite the obvious snub, based on unverified allegations against the victorious Lankan security forces over “the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world” amidst all odds arrayed against them. Canada is behaving in this arrogant and crass manner at the behest of the US-led West, despite a wealth of fresh evidence against her over committing genocide against its native population. There are instances of, for example, members of its so-called famed Royal Canadian Mounted Police being used by oil and gas companies as a private militia to harass natives and their supporters standing in their way in what is left of their own traditional lands to this day. But bleeding heart prominent liberal outfits funded by the West see nothing of it even though they are ever ready to scream bloody murder in places like Sri Lanka, at the slightest digression.

During his short tenure as a member of the HRCSL, the writer had an opportunity to discuss the accountability issues with Navaratne. By then, t Parliament had confirmed his appointment as Sri Lanka’s top envoy to Ottawa, one of the countries vigorously pursuing accountability agenda against us. Navaratne’s appointment should be examined against the backdrop of the passage of Bill 104 in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in May 2021. The Bill designated May 18 each year as ‘Tamil Genocide Education Week.’ Sri Lanka couldn’t have sent a better person than Navaratne to convince the Canadians. The civil society activist is one of those who had been in touch with the Colombo-based diplomatic community and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Navaratne had access to the LTTE leaders as senior as the much-feared LTTE Intelligence Chief Shanmugalingam Sivashankar aka ‘Pottu Amman, Balasegaram Kandiah alias Balraj and Sea Tiger leader Thillaiyampalam Sivanesan aka Soosai. Asked whether he had met Velupillai Prabhakaran, Navaratne said: “No I haven’t talked to him though I saw him at well-attended media conferences in Kilinochchi in the wake of the Feb 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).

Clandestine meet with Pottu and Balraj

The LTTE triggered a major crisis by stopping the free flow of water from the Mavil-aru anicut. The Mavil-aru crisis gripped the country in the wake of an abortive bid to assassinate the then Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, on April 25, 2006. The country was rapidly hurtling towards Eelam War IV. In between the Mavil-aru crisis (July-August 2006) and the attempt on the life of the Army Chief (late April 2006), the LTTE mounted claymore mine attacks.

In spite of taking a bold public stand, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a desperate bid to prevent the resumption of fighting. The LTTE believed it had the wherewithal to bring large scale offensive operations, both in the Northern and Eastern Provinces,to a successful conclusion, simultaneously. On the other hand, the then political leadership felt the military lacked the sufficient firepower to meet the LTTE threat.

On the instructions of President Rajapaksa, Harsha Kumara Navaratne had accompanied the then Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga to meet Pottu Amman and Balraj in KIlinochchi. Navaratne, at that time, appeared to have enjoyed the confidence of the LTTE as his social service organisation Sevalanka was doing a great deal of work in that violent environment both in the North and the South, and received a prompt response despite the LTTE launching a spate of claymore mine attacks in the Jaffna peninsula and Mannar as well. Navaratne told the writer how they tried to convince the LTTE to ease pressure on the military in the North. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had summoned Navaratne for a meeting at his official residence and instructed him to arrange for an urgent meeting with the LTTE. However, they had to return empty handed as Pottu and Balraj ruled out giving up their renewed violent strategy.

However, C.A. Chandraprema, in his widely led ‘Gota’s war: The Crushing of Tamil Tiger Terrorism in Sri Lanka’ published in 2012, asserted that Weeratunga met an LTTE representative named Poovannam at Arippu, Mannar. Chandraprema, one time Sunday Island political correspondent now our Permanent Representative in Geneva, Chandraprema referred to Weeratunga reaching the destination in a Sevalanka vehicle though no reference was made to Navaratne. Now both Chandrapema and Navaratne hold key diplomatic appointments in Geneva and Ottawa, respectively. They cannot absolve themselves of their responsibility to set the record straight. But that depends on the incumbent government’s strategy.

Then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa sought Navaratne’s help once again when the LTTE triggered the Mavil-aru crisis in the East. On the instructions of President Rajapaksa, Navaratne had taken the then Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle for a clandestine meeting with the LTTE leadership. Soosai had represented the LTTE and the meeting had taken place in an extremely hostile environment in KIlinochchi. Navaratne told the writer that Jeyaraj couldn’t convince Soosai to de-escalate Mavil-aru. Obviously, the LTTE believed, at that time it had the wherewithal to overwhelm the military and force a stalemate, regardless of the consequences.

However, the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa thought otherwise. ‘Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009’ launched in Nov 2011 revealed the then Defence Secretary’s response. Let me reproduce the relevant section verbatim. “On April 06, 2006, Hanssen-Bauer and Brattskar had a tense meeting with Defene 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’”.

In the second week of August 2006, the LTTE mounted simultaneous offensives in the North and the East. Navaratne said that former editor of Ravaya, Victor Ivan, in a brief article following the assassination of Minister Fernandopulle quite appropriately dealt with the meetings in Kilinochchi, arranged by him on President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s request. The LTTE assassinated Fernandopulle on the morning of April 06, 2008 at Weliweriya. Victor Ivan’s article appeared in a book titled ‘Jeyaraj’ published by Cyril Ederamulla in 2011. Ivan made the revelation as regards secret talks sought by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the thebasis of a discussion TNA leader R. Sampanthan, then lawmakers, Mavai Senathiraja and Suresh Premachandran, Harsha Kumara Navaratne and himself had at the residence of Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe several months after Fernandopulle’s assassination.

Navaratne had revealed determined efforts made by President Rajapaksa to prevent war when one of the TNA lawmakers therein accused the President of not making an attempt to solve the conflict through negotiations. Ivan conveniently refrained from naming the TNA MP but obviously the accuser had been one among Sampanthan, Mavai Senathiraja or Suresh Premachandran.

Based on what Navaratne had told the gathering, Ivan asserted that Fernandopulle’s equally aggressive response to Soosai at the Kilinochchi meet had influenced the decision to assassinate the Minister. But by the time, the LTTE carried out the Weliweriya assassination, the LTTE was retreating on the Vanni front after having lost the battles in the Eastern Province. The military brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009, less than one and half years after Fernandopulle’s assassination.

It would be pertinent to mention that the LTTE operative, known as Morris, who played a significant role in Fernandopulle assassination, also planned the suicide attack on Lt. Gen. Fonseka. Fonseka recently declared in Parliament that Morris should be released along with others held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

According to Ivan, in his presence at the Finance Ministry, Fernandopulle, in 1994 requested the then Prime Minister Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to include him in the government delegation for talks with the LTTE. This was immediately after Kumaratunga took oaths as the Prime Minister following parliamentary polls in August 1994. In spite of Fernandopulle asserting himself a place in the delegation due to his ability to converse in three languages, in addition to his knowledge of the national issue, Kumaratunga rejected the proposal. Ivan said that Kumaratunga expressed the view that inclusion of Ministers weren’t suitable. Interestingly, Ivan revealed that following the 1995 peace negotiations and the resumption of war, Kumaratunga sent him to Jaffna to meet the LTTE, unofficially. This should be examined against the backdrop of Ivan’s claim that though he had been invited by Kumaratunga to be a member of her delegation for talks with the LTTE, he was not included.

Harsha Kumara Navaratne pictured with the Governor General of Canada, Mary May Simon at a ceremony held at the Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Dec 07, 2021, after the new HC, presented his credentials as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner(pic courtesy Foreign Ministry)

New HC’s responsibilities

There is no harm in the government seeking a consensus with the civil society as regards the post-war reconciliation process. However, the government cannot turn a blind eye to sharp differences among civil society members over the SLCC dialogue with the incumbent dispensation. In addition, the government should pay attention to the high profile joint Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and the Tamil National Alliance campaign meant to pressure Sri Lanka on the human rights front. For some strange reason, the government continues to refrain from setting the record straight in Geneva. There is absolutely no point in only educating the public by way of presentations, articles and statements. The newly set up Strategic Communication Unit (SCU) of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies has so far dealt with some issues at hand. Waruni Kumarasinghe and Dinithi Dharmapala countered lies in a well compiled article headlined ‘AI report on Sri Lanka: Far from the truth.’ Subsequently, attorney-at-law Dharshan Weerasekera, an SCU consultant, in an article titled ‘Ontario’s Bill 104: Tamil Genocide Education or Mis-education Week?’ discussed the absurdity in the Canadian action. But, would that be enough to overcome the challenge faced by Sri Lanka. Due to utterly irresponsible, sluggish and treacherous response on the part of the Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka, the Western powers had no difficulty in including the war-winning country on the Geneva agenda ON THE BASIS OF UNSUBSTANTIATED ALLEGATIONS.

The following are the issues that needed government attention without further delay. (1) Dismissal of war crimes accusations by war time US Defence Attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith in Colombo. Smith did so at the May-June 2011 first post-war defence seminar in Colombo. The State Department disputed the official’s right to represent the US at the forum though it refrained from challenging the statement. (2) Examine the US statement along with Lord Naseby’s Oct 2017 disclosure based on the then British Defence advisor here Lt. Colonel Anthony Gash’s cables to London during the war. (3) Wikileaks revelations that dealt with the Sri Lanka war. A high profile Norwegian study on its role in the Sri Lanka conflict examined some of these cables. However, the Norwegian process never strengthened Sri Lanka’s defence. Instead, Norway merely sought to disown its culpability in the events leading to the annihilation of the LTTE. One of the most important Wikileaks revelations disputed the oft-repeated narrative against Sri Lanka of deliberately targeting civilians. The cable proved that ground forces took heavy losses by taking the civilian factor into consideration. (4) Wide discrepancies in loss of civilian lives claimed by the UN and various other interested parties. The UN estimated the figure at 40,000 (March 2011) whereas Amnesty International (Sept 2011) placed the number at 10,000 and a member of the UK Parliament (Sept 2011) estimated the death toll at 100,000. (5) Disgraceful attempt made by Geneva to exploit so called Mannar mass graves during the Yahapalana administration. The Foreign Ministry remained silent as was often the case on the Mannar graves, while Western diplomats played politics only to be proved utterly wrong. Acting at the interest of those hell-bent on blaming Sri Lanka, Geneva too faulted Sri Lanka before the conclusion of the investigation. The then Northern Province Governor C.V. Wigneswaran rejected scientific findings of Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains sent from the Mannar mass grave site. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on the Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct 2015 to January 2019. We come to wonder whether she was actually a victim of Gen. Pinochet or a mere manufactured victim. (Now, Wigneswaran as the leader of a Northern Province political party representing the current Parliament continues to propagate war crimes accusations. Other political parties never properly challenged Wigneswaran’s lies. They should be ashamed and take remedial measures at least now.) Had the US lab issued a report to suit their strategy, would they have accepted fresh tests in case the government of Sri Lanka requested? The following is the relevant section bearing No 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office as an observer is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalise the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.”

(6) Wigneswaran, in his capacity as the then Northern Province Chief Minister in August 2016 accused the Army of killing over 100 LTTE cadres held in rehabilitation facilities. Wigneswaran claimed the detainees had been given poisonous injections resulting in deaths of 104 persons. The unprecedented accusation made by the retired Supreme Court judge had been timed to attract international attention. Wignewaran is on record as having said a US medical team visiting Jaffna at that time would examine the former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, who he alleged had fallen sick because they were injected with poisonous substances at government detention or rehabilitation centres.

Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for its pathetic failure to counter a web of lies fashioned by interested parties, both local and foreign and well-funded by the West to coerce the country to adopt a new Constitution to the liking of its long time agenda here. The previous government played a key part in this strategy. Their strategy remained simple. A new Constitution meant to do away with Sri Lanka’s unitary status to address STILL unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. The previous government reached agreement with Geneva regarding a new Constitution as part of the overall deal that could have been executed successfully if not for the UNP causing a massive crisis by way of Feb 27, 2015 Treasury bond scam at the onset of the yahapalana administration.

Over two years after the last presidential election, the government is yet to take tangible measures to counter specific lies. That should be a key part of overall strategy to convince the world and the Tamil speaking people here that eradication of the LTTE was certainly not a war waged against them though the group, almost 100 percent comprised Tamils.

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Midweek Review

Post-war foreign relations: A diplomatic quagmire for Lanka



President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flanked by PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chinese FM Wang Yi launch Sri Lanka China Friendship Sailing Cup at the Port City last Sunday.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chinese Ambassador to Colombo Qi Zhenhong seems quite confident of Sri Lanka’s capacity to overcome the current economic turmoil the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is experiencing.

 The top Chinese envoy, at an informal meeting with a selected group of print media journalists on Sunday (09), soon after the departure of Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, asserted that the crisis was temporary.  Ambassador Qi Zhenhong declared that as Sri Lanka had overcome far bigger challenges the country wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the current challenge in debt servicing. The meet took place at the King Emperor Suite of the Galle Face Hotel

 Wang departed following high level political talks with the Sri Lankan leadership. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chinese FM Wang inaugurated the Sri Lanka-China Sailing Cup 2022 at the Port City to celebrate the 65th anniversary of China and Sri Lanka diplomatic relations and the 70th anniversary of the Rubber-Rice pact. Interestingly, former Premier and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP, was among the invitees. Wickremesinghe, whose government delayed the Port City project by about one and half years, sat next to Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, who returned from an official visit to Seoul the previous day.

 Is Ambassador Qi Zhenhong right in his assessment? Had there been far bigger crises in the recent past that threatened to overwhelm Sri Lanka? Perhaps Ambassador Qi Zhenhong is right in his appraisal. Maybe, he is not. Having joined the Chinese Foreign Service in 1988, Ambassador Qi Zhenhong took over the Chinese diplomatic mission in Colombo about a year ago at the height of Covid-19 eruption.

 Amidst a simmering row with the Sri Lankan government over the rejection of an allegedly contaminated Chinese carbonic fertiliser consignment, Ambassador Qi Zhenhong undertook a three-day visit (Dec 15-17, 2021) to the Jaffna peninsula.

Colombo-based The Hindu correspondent, Meera Srinivasan, in a story dated Dec 26, 2021, headlined ‘Chinese Ambassador’s visit to Jaffna sparks concern, commentary in Sri Lanka’, described the visit as an intensification of geopolitical contest between India and China. Qi Zhenhong underscored China’s right to engage people in any part of Sri Lanka. Responding to media at the Emperor’s Suite, Qi Zhenhong pointed out: “Jaffna is in the northern part of Sri Lanka, not south of any other country.”

 Ambassador Qi visited the Jaffna public library and the Adam’s Bridge, a row of limestone shoals across the narrow Palk Strait between Mannar and Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu.

The Ambassador visited a seafood factory in Mannar district, built with Chinese investment, and a sea cucumber farm in Jaffna.

The Chinese entry into Sri Lanka and the gradual expansion of its role here should be examined against the backdrop of Indian-funded terrorism project that destabilised the entire country. The Sri Lanka Army couldn’t have withstood the terrorist firepower if not for military assistance provided by China, Pakistan, Russia and Israel during the early stages of the conflict. Having paid a heavy price for destabilising its smaller neighbour, India allowed the annihilation of separatist Tamil conventional military capability in 2009. The eradication of terrorism has paved the way for geopolitical contest between the two Asian nuclear powers here. Both China and India seemed confident in pursuing their agendas as the cash-strapped SLPP government struggled on multiple fronts. The deterioration of Sri Lanka’s economy as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic delivering a devastating blow to its once vibrant tourism industry and expatriate worker remittances, (both raked in huge amounts of foreign exchange), as well as waste, corruption and mismanagement at every level appeared to have facilitated anti-Sri Lanka foreign projects much to the dismay of the vast majority of people. Sri Lanka seems to be at the mercy of foreign powers.

Superpower politics

 Chinese and Indian investments as well as relations with political parties here cannot be discussed leaving out the ongoing battle between China and the US-led grouping. India is part of the latter. South Korea is also in that group though it has so far refrained from joining the four-nation ‘Quad’ comprising the US, India, Japan and Australia. Post-war Sri Lanka is in a dicey situation. In spite of overcoming terrorism 12 years ago, Sri Lanka is under tremendous pressure from both parties as each seeks investment opportunities advantageous to them.

 Recently, Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda expressed concerns over China and India seeking to invest in the Point Pedro fisheries harbour. Devananda, the leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), one of the smaller terrorist groups, that took to the democratic path long before the LTTE terror mechanism was annihilated and primarily active in the Northern region vowed not to allow China to exploit the Northern population. Obviously Devananda is playing politics. The Fisheries Minister cannot take a view contrary to that of the Rajapaksas.

Pathfinder, an organisation founded by Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, Milinda Moragoda, in its latest report titled ‘Sri Lanka has no room to maneuver’ carried in the January 10 edition of The Island warns of a catastrophe unless the government adopts remedial measures, immediately. While appreciating the arrangement Sri Lanka has reached with India to meet immediate challenges, Pathfinder recommended (i) restructuring of external debt (ii) an arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (iii) mobilisation of ‘bridging finance’ to meet the external financing gap up to June 2022.

Recent US and Indian investments in the energy sector should be viewed against the backdrop of much economically weakened Sri Lanka. The controversial energy deals with US-based New Fortress Energy, and Indian Oil Corporation Limited finalised on Sept 17, 2021 and January 5, 2022, respectively, generated much public interest. The latter was finalised just days before the Chinese Foreign Minister’s visit. Both agreements have been challenged in the Supreme Court. The SC is in the process of hearing several petitions against the US energy deal whereas Ven. Wakmulle Uditha Thera of Nayigala Raja Mahaviharaya, Agrahara, Weeraketiya, filed a fundamental rights petition against the agreement on Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm. The Ven. Thera is believed to be acting on behalf of the JVP, the only party to move court against both the US and Indian investments.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, who along with Cabinet colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa moved SC against US energy deal that came through the backdoor, in a booklet titled ‘Regaining Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm’ declared that he gave the ‘strategic leadership’ to the project. In spite of accusations of a sellout and betrayal by many quarters, including the Federation of National Organisations, led by Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, which demanded a thorough investigation. Attorney-at-law Gammanpila defended the latest agreement. The booklet released by the Energy Ministry contained a letter dated July 29, 1987 signed by the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that dealt with the Trincomalee oil tank farm, President JRJ’s response, an agreement finalised on Feb 7, 2003, during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s premiership, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on economic projects signed in 2017 also during Wickremesinghe’s premiership. What really surprised the public was that though the Energy Ministry compared the 2017 MoU with the recently finalised agreement, the ministry quite conveniently left the January 5 agreement out of the booklet. The ministry may claim that the agreement couldn’t be included as at the time of the releasing of the booklet, it hadn’t been signed. Perhaps, the printing of the booklet should have been delayed till the finalisation of the agreement.

Declaring the project received political guidance from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Energy Ministry revealed the identities of the two negotiating teams. Accordingly, the Sri Lankan delegation comprised Lalith Vidanagamage, Advisor, Energy Ministry, Buddhika Madihahewa, Managing Director, CPC, Mrs. Hasitha Paragahagoda, Legal Officer, Energy Ministry and Nalin Beligaswatta, Research Officer, Energy Ministry.

The Energy Ministry also named the Indian negotiating team. Deputy High Commissioner Vinod K. Jacob has led the Indian delegation that included Dr. Rakesh Pandey, Head of Commerce, Indian HC, Ms Irina Thakur, First Secretary, Commerce and Cultural Affairs and Manoj Gupta, Managing Director, LIOC.

The Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm comprised two sections (i) Lower Tank Farm and (ii) Upper Tank Farm spread over 827 acres of land.

One cannot forget the circumstances India forced the Indo-Lanka Accord on the latter. That agreement finalised at the height of the US-Soviet cold war encompassed the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm. Today, US-India relations have reached zenith whereas at the time of the Indo-Lanka Accord India was seen as being much closer to the Soviet Union and constantly feared the US using Sri Lanka as a platform to destabilise the country. The letters exchanged between Rajiv Gandhi and JRJ agreed on the restoration and operation of the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm as a joint venture. With the latest agreement, India has consolidated its position in the strategic port city of Trincomalee close on the heels of politically influential Adani Group’s investment at the Colombo port. Gujarat-headquartered company signed a Build, Operate, Transfer (BOT) agreement with Sri Lanka’s largest listed company John Keells Holdings and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to jointly develop the Colombo West International Container Terminal (CWICT) at the Colombo Port, situated amidst one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. China has secured a terminal of its own during the previous Rajapaksa administration as the war was raging with hardly any other investor showing interest and during the Yahapalana administration won a 99-year lease on the Hambantota port. Controversy surrounds the Hambantota port deal, too. Arjuna Ranatunga, who had served as the Ports and Shipping Minister at that time had to give up the portfolio as he didn’t agree with the terms. The then President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe brought in SLFPer Mahinda Samarasinghe as the Ports and Shipping Minister to put the finishing touches to it. Having finalised the agreement in 2017, Samarasinghe switched his allegiance to the SLFP in the run-up to the last parliamentary election in August 2020. The one-time UNPer recently gave up his Kalutara District parliamentary seat to receive appointment as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington.

Former PM Wickremesinghe, FM Prof. Peiris, Minister Namal Rajapaksa and Chinese Ambassador to Colombo Qi Zhenhong at the launch of Sri Lanka China Friendship Sailing Cup at the Port City last Sunday (pics courtesy PM Media)

Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note

 In spite of China and Sri Lanka enjoying excellent relations and the latter regularly referring to China as an all-weather friend, there had been a number of contentious issues. The Island had an opportunity to raise some of them with Ambassador Qi Zhenhong during last Sunday’s meeting. Reference was made to accusations made by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake as regards China taking advantage of Sri Lanka, dispute over contaminated carbonic fertiliser consignment that had to be settled by paying USD 6.7 mn to the Chinese firm concerned and SLPP lawmaker Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s fiery letter to the Chinese President Xi Jinping. There hadn’t been a previous instance of a lawmaker writing to the Chinese leader through its Ambassador in Colombo. Ambassador Qi Zhenhong dismissed Rajapakse’s concerns over China changing its strategy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka in the wake of the high profile ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) project meant to improving connectivity and cooperation among multiple countries spread across the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. One-time Justice Minister and former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) accused China of following an agenda intended to destroy Sri Lanka’s relations with the US, the UK, India, Japan, Korea, Australia and in time to come Russia.

Lawmaker Rajapakse’s stand cannot be examined without taking his call during the previous administration to rescind the Sri Lanka-China agreement on the Hambantota port through the intervention of the Parliament. That call was made in his capacity as a UNP Member of Parliament, whereas he wrote the January 3 dated letter as an SLPP lawmaker.

MP Rajapakse accused China of ruining Sri Lanka’s economy to facilitate their project. The former Justice Minister seemed to have no issue with Quad members, the UK and Korea. Quad members never stood by Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) whereas Western powers brazenly pursued a policy detriment to Sri Lanka. They either voted against Sri Lanka or skipped the vote as in the case of Japan regardless of the Comprehensive Partnership the two countries entered into in Oct 2015. Obviously, Japan lacked the political will to go against the US wishes at the Geneva HRC, whereas Seoul voted against Colombo. On the basis of the Geneva process, the Sri Lankan military is being targeted by the US and some of her allies as part of the overall campaign directed at Sri Lanka.

Regardless of Sri Lanka’s close relations with China, the accusations made by MP Rajapakse cannot be dismissed lightly. The MP issued a warning over possible Chinese investments under the ‘Selendiva’ project, having questioned the investments on the Colombo Port, South Terminal, Coal-fired power plant complex at Norochcholai, International Airport at Mattala, Lotus Tower (Nelum Kuluna) in Colombo, Lotus Theatre (Nelum Pokuna) in Colombo, International Cricket Stadium at Suriyawewa and International Conference Hall in Hambantota. Alleging China created a debt trap, lawmaker Rajapakse said that he lost his portfolio during the Yahapalana administration as he opposed the Hambantota port deal. The copies of MP Rajapakse’s explosive letter have been sent to the President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Most Venerable High Prelates, the Archbishop Colombo, Foreign Minister, Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka and Colombo-based High Commissioners and the Ambassadors of the other countries.

Can the SLPP government afford to ignore Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s actions, particularly against the backdrop of stripping Susil Premjayantha of his portfolio over criticism of the government? Similarly, can Ministers Vasudeva, Wimal and Udaya get away after having challenged their Cabinet colleagues over the US energy deal? The government needs to address these issues as the ruling coalition as well as other political parties represented in Parliament struggle to come to terms with a rapidly changing situation. Avoiding Chinese as well as Western moves and that of India seem a herculean task for Sri Lanka, trying to walk the diplomatic tightrope.

During the Yahapalana administration, the US pushed for three agreements, namely ACSA (Access and Cross Servicing Agreement), SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) and MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact. On the approval of President Sirisena, the government signed ACSA in August 2017 though the remaining agreements couldn’t be finalised. No one can forget how Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe authorised one-sided CFA (Ceasefire Agreement) or the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo allowed the Singapore Sri Lanka Free Trade Pact. If those in power and the Opposition are genuinely interested in protecting national assets, they’ll agree on a political mechanism to reach consensus on agreements with external powers/foreign parties.

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Midweek Review

What is so luring about John Steinbeck’s The Pearl: A translator’s view



Book: Dimuthuwa (A translation of The Pearl)
Translator: K. A. I Kalyanaratne
Publisher: Sarasavi

By K. A. I Kalyanaratne

Having studied Sinhala and English since my early schooling, I thought of rendering into Sinhala an English masterpiece. I knew that such an exercise would help not only test my comprehension in that contextual setting but also measure my capacity to reproduce the ideas in idiomatic Sinhala so that the reader would feel that the rendering was not foreign to him or her.

I did not want to estrange the local reader.

Translator’s responsibilities

I began my search for a read-worthy book for that purpose. I came across a book, not so voluminous, I had attempted several times to render into Sinhala, without much success. I had given up all my previous attempts halfway upon realisation that the time was not opportune for me to undertake such a responsible task, for any writer has a responsibility by the society to uplift it to the best of one’s ability, and retain the ingenuity of the original writer. I was also concerned about the sanctity of the language, the most sacred tool of its users. It means that any writer should be mindful of the correct idiomatic expressions of that language.


Finally, I selected ‘THE PEARL’ by the American novelist and Nobel prize-winner John Steinbeck. Having read it a couple of times, I was familiar with its content. Considering the number of characters and the span of time involving the narration, many a writer treats The Pearl as a ‘novella’ or a ‘novelette’. As the story is full of dramatic episodes, it is also referred to as a ‘chilling-novella’. As Steibeck has himself expressed in his epigraph to the Pearl, he has re-told a Mexican folktale which relates a series of tragic events that unraveled with a scorpion biting Kino’s son Coyotito.

In his inimitable style Steinbeck says

“In the town they tell the story of the great pearl – how it was found, and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man’s mind. And, as with all retold tales that are in people’s hearts, there are only good and bad things and black and white things and good and evil things and no in-between anywhere.

If the story is a parable, perhaps everyone reads his or her own life into it. In any case, they say in the town that…”


” මෙ වෙසෙයි දිමුතුව ලද සැටිත්, ඒ යළි නැති වුණු සැටිත් පිළිබඳ පවත ඒ නියැරියෝ පවසති. එ මෙන් ම, ධීවර කීනෝත්, ඔහු ගේ බිරිය ජුවානාත්, ඔවුන් ගේ පුත් කොයෝතිතෝත් පිළිබඳ ව ඔවුහු පවසති. තව ද, මෙ පවත නෙ වර පවසනු ලැබ ඇති හෙයින්, ඒ සෑම අයකු ගේ ම සිත්හි මුල් බැස ගෙන ඇත. මිනිස් සිත්හි එල්බ ගත්, එ මෙන් ම, යළි යළිත් පැවැසුණු පවත්හි රඳා පවතිනුයේ යහඅයහ දේ පමණි. ක`ථ-සුදු දේ පමණි. සිරි-දුසිරි දේ පමණි. මෙ අතරැ වූ කිසිවක් කවර තැනෙක හෝ තිබෙනු නො හැකි යි.

මෙ පවත උපමා කතාවක් සේ සැලැකෙන්නේ නම්, සෑම අයකු ම ඔහුට සීමා වූ අරුතක් ඉන් උකහා ගනු ඇත. තමන් ගේ ම දිවි පෙවෙත ඊට කාවද්දනු ඇත. මෙ කවර අයුරු වුව ද එ නුවර වැසියෝ මෙ සේ පවසත්”

Dramatic End of The Pearl

The Kino’s pearl of the world, incomparable in its beauty, radiance and size, around which Steinbeck spins the whole story with a few characters who in their peculiar contexts behave in self-centred ambitions and aspirations, ultimately meets its own playground, the big blue sea, in whose womb it was born. At last, when Kino realises that the pearl is evil, he throws it back to the sea. The humour, sarcasm and pathos, which Steinbeck aims to generate, is the last of such incidents he narrates when he writes:

“And Kino drew back his arm and flung the pearl with all his might. Kino and Juana watched it go, winking and glimmering under the setting sun. They saw the little splash in the distance, and they stood side by side watching the place for a long time.

“And the pearl settled into the lovely green water and dropped towards the bottom.

The waving branches of the algae called to it and beckoned to it. The lights on its surface were green and lovely. It settled down to the sand bottom among the fern-like plants. Above, the surface of water was a green mirror. And the pearl lay on the floor of the sea. A crab scampering over the bottom raised a little cloud of sand, and when it settled the pearl was gone.

And the music of the pearl drifted to a whisper and disappeared.”

යළි තමා වෙත ඇදගත් අතින්, කිනෝ මු`ථ වැර යොදා, දිමුතුව මුහුදට විසි කෙළේ ය. අවරට යන හිරු ගේ හෙළියෙන් දිලෙමින් ද බැබැළෙමින් ද, එය ඈතට විසි වී යන අයුරු කිනෝ ද, ජුවානා ද හොඳින් බලා සිටියහ. එ ඈතින් දියට වැටී හට ගත් දිය කැළැඹුම දෙස ද බලා සිටි ඔවුහු, දිගු වේලාවක් එහි රැඳී සිටියහ.

දිමුතුව ද, ප‍්‍රසන්න නිල් පැහැති මුහුදුු දියෙහි තැන්පත් ව, මුහුදු පතුළට කිඳා බැස්සේ ය. එ විට මුහුදු පතුළෙහි වූ මුහුදු පැළෑටිවල
සසල වූ අතු පත් අත් වනමින් දිමුතුව කඳවා ගෙන ගියා සේ යි. මතු පිටට පතිත වූ ආලෝකයෙන් ඒ කොළ පැහැ ගැන් වී, ප‍්‍රසන්න වී තිබිණි. මීවන වන් පැළෑටි අතරින් ගොස්, පතුළේ වූ වැලි මත එය තැන්පත් විය. එ මත්තෙහි වූ මතුපිට දිය කඳ කොළ පැහැති කැටපතක් බඳු විය. එ දිමුතුව දැන් මුහුදු පතුළෙහි රැුඳී ඇත. එ පතුළෙහි ම, දුව පැන යමින් සිටි කකු`ථවකු නිසා කුඩා වැලි වළාවෙකින් නැ`ගුණු වැලි යළි තැන්පත් වත් ම, එ දිමුතුව දැක්මෙන් ඔබ්බට ගොස් තිබිණි.

එ අනුයමින් ම, දිමුතුවේ සංගීතය අවසනැ හුදු මිමිනීමක් පමණක් බවට පත් ව අතුරුදන් විය

Here, one remembers a line from T. S. Elliot’s Little Gidding: “Dust in the air suspended, Marks the place where a story ended”.

“Language is the Dress of Thought.” — Samuel Johnson

The language of The Pearl is one of the enticing aspects which lured me to undertake this exercise to render it into Sinhala. I questioned myself on several occasions whether my Sinhala diction was rich enough to express, with the same efficacy, the nuances of human feelings and sentiments that Steinbeck conveys in The Pearl.

In his retelling of a Mexican folktale, Steinbeck relates the tale of Kino, fisherman, who finds the pearl of the world during one of his dives. Showing how money is the root of all evil, Steinbeck delivers a poignant tale. Fish and pearls are usually the common source of the livelihood of fisherfolk. However, the story tells how each member of the village desires part of Kino’s newfound wealth. Hence, rather than being pleased with and sharing the happiness of this prized discovery, each villager offers his/her unique suggestion as to how Kino should spend his winnings. Steinbeck thus not only exposes human nature but also through a few characters like the doctor who later came in to treat Coyotito, Kino’s son, the priest, and the pearl brokers who attempt to swindle Kino, tells how greed erodes the cherished values, and how people who come upon sudden wealth are affected. This story also teaches us how disastrous it is to take on its face-value and acts mindlessly. The Pearl is, thus, a tale of greed, exposing how people would act and react, if pitted against the circumstances as revealed in the story. In short, The Pearl is a true representation of the secrets of man’s nature, irrespective of time or clime, and the ‘darkest depths of evil”.

An Attempt to Add Depth to the Translation of ‘The Pearl’

I strove to make ‘Dimuthuwa’ go beyond a mere translation of Steinbeck’s novelette and presume that the reader should know the background of the story as well if he or she is to enjoy the translation to the fullest. Hence, the following additional pages have been added to the translation:

i. Background – which provides the geographical setting and the novelist’s objective of turning out a folktale to a novel.

ii. The historical setting revealing the discrimination and injustice that prevailed in society, which became the crux of the story.

iii. Specialty in John Steinbeck’s style of writing and his use of the figurative language especially in describing incidents and the surroundings.

iv. The Pearl Quotes – The products of famous writers contain sayings that will live have their value beyond times and climes. They become eternal truths, and therefore, they become universal truth that are of eternal value. Some describe these sayings as ‘Distilled Wisdom’. One such quote by Steinbeck is appended below:

“For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. And this is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have.”

All these quotes have been rendered into Sinhala in this special section.

John Steinbeck’ background

The Pearl is a novella, a seemingly simple book, woven around a story of classic simplicity, based on a Mexican folk tale. John Steinbeck was an American writer. He was the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, published in 1939 and the novella ‘Of Mice and Men’, published in 1937. He wrote 25 books, including sixteen novels,6 non-fiction books and several collections of short stories. In 1962, Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature. It so happened that after I completed translating ‘The Pearl’, I was presented a voluminous publication by a friend of mine, which contained five of his novels written before The Pearl, running to over 950 pages. Published in the UK by Octopus Books Limited, its introduction ends with a quote of H. G. Wells: “Steinbeck’s robustness was always mirrored by delicacy of feelings; his pride was always matched by modesty, humility even. He saw himself as a craftsman.” But his readers concur H. G. Wells on his assessment of Steinbeck – ‘THAT TREMENDOUS GENIUS’.

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Midweek Review

The Mod-Con Tea Party



By Lynn Ockersz

They sure are ‘talking’,

But tongue-tied all the same,

And though at the same table,

Flushed with the thrill of partying,

There’s no mind-to-mind bonhomie,

And the only sounds to be heard,

Are the endless thumping of cell phones,

And the ritualistic rendering of courtesies;

A pantomime of voiceless souls it seems,

But let not this be seen as an ICT Age freak,

For, the land groans under a rash of pains,

With depression emerging a chief dread,

And the need for quality talk is dire;

But the crisis is not beyond repair,

For, a defrosting of hearts and tongues,

And the sensible use of mod cons,

Could some of this longsuffering help end.

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