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Midweek Review

Pompeo follows Jiechi to Colombo

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense chief Mark Esper meet Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval (pic courtesy Hindustan Times)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Yahapalana President Maithripala Sirisena and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe hadn’t been able to reach a consensus on almost all major issues – ranging from economic policy to making available tabs to undergraduates. In spite of forming an administration, on the basis of the 19th Amendment, enacted in early 2015, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe didn’t see eye to eye on many matters. On many occasions, the former President publicly criticized Wickremesinghe’s approach to the Treasury bond scam,s allegedly perpetrated by the then Central Bank Governor, Arjuna Majendran, handpicked by the then PM, being the primary bone of contention.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Austin Fernando, who had been Secretary to Sirisena (July 2017-July 2018), quite rightly pointed out that the unprecedented Treasury bond scams caused a major rift between the yahapalana leaders. Fernando endorsed the appointment of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) to probe the Treasury bond scams. What the one-time Defence Secretary Fernando didn’t say was that the appointment of the P CoI took place in January 2017- nine months after the second Treasury bond scam, and 22 months after the first.

Saman Ekanayake, who had served as Secretary to Wickremesinghe, in another interview, also published in the Oct 18, 2020 edition of the ST, asserted that the Treasury bond scams hadn’t been the major cause of the conflict between the yahapalana leaders.

Fernando and Ekanayake discussed a range of issues, and controversies, that led to the collapse of the much-touted yahapalana arrangement. As a result, the UNP ended up with one National List seat, whereas the SLFP managed to secure 13 seats on the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) ticket, and one on its own, at the last General Election.

The UNP parliamentary group consisted of 106 lawmakers, in the last parliament (2015-2020). In addition to the 106-member group, there was one elected on the SLMC ticket. The SLFP led UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance) commanded 95 lawmakers. The UPFA is no longer represented in parliament.

Fernando and Ekanayake, who enjoyed a ringside view, deliberated the yahapalana downfall. The discussions were quite useful and essential to understand the circumstances leading to Sirisena sacking Wickremesinghe, on Oct 26, 2018. Sirisena made his move, having failed to convince Wickremesinghe to give up the premiership, close on the heels of the debilitating setback the UNP and the SLFP suffered at the Feb 10, 2018 Local Government polls. However, the former officials failed to discuss the crucial and weighty US intervention here that facilitated Maithripala Sirisena’s emergence as the common candidate, at the 2015 presidential poll. The US intervention, both overt and covert, by way of the unpalatable Geneva accountability resolution, also contributed to the ultimate downfall of the yahapalana arrangement. Interestingly, there hadn’t been any reference to the Geneva resolution at all.

 

Pompeo here in the wake of Jiechi

 

Let us now discuss the US role here against the backdrop of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit this week, close on the heels of former Chinese Foreign Minister and the current Communist Party Politburo Member Yang Jiechi meeting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Earlier, Pompeo was scheduled to arrive in Colombo on June 27, 2019, on a short visit, during the yahapalana administration. Although the cancellation took place, amidst the SLPP and nationalist groups protesting against the finalization of SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) and MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) agreements, the US Embassy in Colombo, however, gave this excuse: “Due to unavoidable scheduling conflicts during his upcoming visit to the Indo-Pacific region that includes accompanying President Donald J. Trump to the G20 Summit in Japan, U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo is unable to visit Sri Lanka as previously announced.”

Ahead of Pompeo’s arrival, the US threatened Sri Lanka, struggling to cope up with the deadly coronavirus, over its close relationship with China. “We urge Sri Lanka to make difficult but necessary decisions to secure its economic independence for long-term prosperity,” attributed to Dean Thompson, the top diplomat in charge of South Asia, is nothing but a threat. The message is clear.

Obviously, in spite of the change of government, in Nov 2019, the US expects Sri Lanka to remain committed to a hidden agenda, reached with the previous yahapalana administration. With China quite stubbornly pursuing its strategies, at both regional, as well as global level, the US seems hell-bent on subverting Sri Lanka, now experiencing the worst ever financial crisis, since independence.

The US warning reminds us of the Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s demand, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term, that Sri Lanka terminate/take back all major Chinese-funded infrastructure projects, including the Colombo port city, as well as the Hambantota port. The US-India-Japan coalition is determined to thwart China’s growing strength, at both regional and global level.

Australia joining India, the US and Japan, in the Malabar naval exercises, in the Indian Ocean, in Nov 2020, should be examined in the context of the US-led confrontation with China.

Carried out annually, since 1992, the strategic manoeuvres have grown in size, and complexity, in recent years, to meet what the US Navy has termed as a “variety of shared threats to maritime security in the Indo-Asia Pacific.”

The participation of Australia means that all four members of the Quad aka Quadrilateral Security Dialogue will be participating in the exercises, amidst growing Indo-China and China-US tensions.

Pompeo is the second US Secretary of State to visit Colombo. in 50 years. John Kerry was here in the first week of May 2015. amidst the deepening turmoil over the first Treasury bond scam. Having called on Sirisena, at the Presidential Secretariat, Kerry held bilateral talks with the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Among those on Samaraweera’s team, at the talks, were the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake (embroiled in the first Treasury bond scam), Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, who was later sacked by Sirisena, at the behest of Wickremesinghe, and then Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington Prasad Kariyawasam, who, years later, turned up at the Parliament as Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s advisor, paid by the USAID. Kariyawasam served as the Foreign Secretary before taking up the USAID paid controversial appointment. Wickremesinghe hosted Kerry for lunch at Temple Trees.

Five years later, Pompeo’s visit takes place against the backdrop of the political setup here undergoing an unprecedented change. The UNP is irrelevant in today’s political context with its leader Wickremesinghe failing, at least to regain his Colombo seat. Samaraweera and Karunanayake are no longer members of parliament either, with the latter under investigation by the CID over the Treasury bond scams. Sirisena and Wijeyadasa Rajapakse represent the SLPP and one-time US citizen, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. With the passage of the 20th Amendment, the way is now cleared for the President to assume duties as the Minister of Defence, properly.

 

US interventions in 2010 et al

 

In the wake of Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE in May 2009, the US feared the Rajapaksas forging closer ties with Beijing. The US pushed one-time LTTE mouthpiece, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to throw its weight behind the then common candidate, the war-winning Army Chief, General Sarath Fonseka, at the January 2010 presidential election. The Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK)-led TNA had been reluctant to participate in the high profile political project and was really embarrassed by what it was asked to do. But, the US insisted on the TNA participation. The US had no qualms in backing Fonseka, despite having accused him and his Army of war crimes.

Thanks to Wikileaks revelations, the US role in the formation of the UNP-led coalition, to back Sarath Fonseka, is in the public domain. A confidential cable from the US Embassy, in Colombo, dated January 1, 2010, leaked by Wikileaks, revealed how Samapanthan provided a copy of an agreement signed by Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the UNP leader and the common candidate Fonseka to implement, what the then US Ambassador here Patricia A. Butenis called, a genuine power sharing agreement acceptable to all communities. The JVP, as well as the SLMC, backed Sarath Foneka’s candidature. In spite of winning all predominantly Tamil and Muslim districts, in the Northern and Easter Provinces, comfortably, Fonseka suffered a humiliating defeat as a result of the majority Sinhala community rejecting him. The war hero lost by a staggering 1.8 mn votes.

Five years later, a very much similar US clandestine project, with the active participation of India, succeeded here. The same coalition successfully backed Sirisena’s candidature, at the 2015 presidential election. Having installed Sirisena, as the Executive President, the UNP implemented its programme. Former top aides to Sirisena and Wickremesinghe explained how Wickremesinghe pursued his objectives, though the Geneva issue didn’t receive attention at all.

In the run-up to the 2015 presidential election, the UNP-led coalition repeatedly warned that Sri Lanka faced international sanctions if Mahinda Rajapaksa secured a third term. The yahapalana coalition repeated, like a mantra, that Western powers would impose crippling sanctions over war crimes accusations, unless Sirisena’s victory paved the way for a negotiated settlement with the Tamil community. In the wake of Sirisena’s victory, the UNP moved swiftly and decisively to reach consensus with the US over accountability issues.

As a result of negotiations, Sri Lanka, on Oct 1, 2015, co-sponsored the despicable Geneva resolution against one’s own country, sponsored by the US and its pliant allies. The war-winning Rajapaksa government, in no uncertain terms, declined to co-sponsor a resolution against its own armed forces, regardless of the consequences. The yahapalana government finalized the Geneva resolution, just over a week after Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha strongly advised against the move at the first informal talks on the draft proposal in Geneva. The UNP dismissed his objections

Less than a year later, TNA heavyweight M.A. Sumanthiran revealed the existence of an understanding among Sri Lanka, the TNA and the US as regards the Geneva resolution, inclusive of foreign judges and other experts in a proposed war crimes court. The revelation was made in Washington, with the then Sri Lanka’s Ambassador there, Prasad Kariyawasam, by his side. Although the Sri Lankan mission, and the Foreign Ministry here, conveniently refrained from making any reference to Sumanthiran’s shocking disclosure, in their media statements, the TNA released the MP’s full speech.

A government appointed Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanism (CTFRM), too, recommended the participation of foreign judges in war crimes courts, to be established in accordance with the 30/1 Geneva Resolution, adopted in Oct 2015. The CTFRM, headed by Manouri Muttetuwegama ,comprised Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu (its Secretary), Gamini Viyangoda, Visaka Dharmadasa, Shantha Abhimanasingham PC, Prof Sitralega Maunaguru, K.W. Janaranjana, Prof. Daya Somasundaram, Dr. Farzana Haniffa, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe and Mirak Raheem.

 

Sirisena saves UNP

 

In spite of the bad blood, between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, over the first Treasury bond scam, blamed on the latter’s choice as Governor of the Central Bank (Arjuna Mahendran), the President went out of his way to save Wickremesinghe, and the UNP. Wickremesinghe quite easily forgot how Sirisena ensured the support of the UPFA parliamentary group, sans that of Sarath Weerasekera, for the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Wickremesinghe was able to secure over 200 votes for the 19th Amendment, though the UNP had less than 50 members in parliament at that time. This was in spite of the perpetration of the first Treasury bond scam, several weeks before the vote on the 19th Amendment.

The UPFA backed the UNP initiative, though, by then, on Sirisena’s directive, the SLFP had lodged a complaint regarding the first Treasury bond scam with the CIABOC (Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption). Sirisena dissolved parliament on the night of June 26, 2015 to deprive COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) Chairman Dew Gunasekera of an opportunity to present its devastating report on the first Treasury bond scam, though some blamed the President for not dissolving the parliament on the third week of April 2015 on the completion of the 100-day programme.

 

UNP-SLFP alliance

 

If not for the hasty dissolution, the COPE report would have been presented to parliament, ahead of the general election. Had that happened, the UNP would have suffered a major setback. Sirisena not only saved the UNP from an extremely difficult situation, but also delivered a stunning blow to his own party, the SLFP, a couple of weeks before the election. Sirisena declared that even if the SLFP-led UPFA won the general election, Mahinda Rajapaksa wouldn’t be appointed the Prime Minister, under any circumstances.

There had never been such a treacherous statement by a leader of a political party, in the post-independence era, though treachery and duplicity were all part of the game. But Sirisena did just that!

Sirisena and Wickremesinghe ensured that the 19th Amendment provided constitutional foundation for the UNP-SLFP coalition. They exploited the very law meant to restrict the number of ministers and non-cabinet ministers to 30 and 40, respectively, to authorize the expansion of the cabinet as well as non-cabinet positions. Member of the UNP-led coalition, R. Sampanthan, who had betrayed democracy by recognizing the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils, in late 2001, was chosen as the Opposition Leader, and accommodated on the Constitutional Council.

The US and its allies, who shout so much about transparency, conveniently turned a blind eye to what was happening in parliament. They wanted a situation in parliament, conducive for the implementation of their overall sinister strategy. By Sept 2016, the US had reached an agreement worth Rs 1.93 bn (USD 13 mn) to influence the decision-making process here, whereas Wickremesinghe pursued a new constitution making process as part of that strategy.

Parliament owed the public an explanation as to how the US-funded project was implemented and the benefits received by Sri Lanka. It would be pertinent to mention the UPFA Joint Opposition Group (now SLPP), too, cooperated with the UNP in the constitution making process. The National Freedom Front (NFF) quit the process, in mid-2017. However, its efforts to persuade the rest of the JO to discontinue its participation failed.

Having formed the government, with Sirisena’s help, following the August 2017 general election, the UNP perpetrated the second much bigger bond scam, in late March 2016. Still, the UNP pushed hard for the extension of term for the Singaporean as the Central Bank Governor, who was under heavy fire over the Treasury bond scams. At the time of the fraudulent transactions, the Central Bank was under the purview of UNP leader Wickremesinghe, who held the policy planning and economic affairs portfolios. Within two weeks, after the January 8, 2015 presidential election, Wickremesinghe, by way of a gazette, brought the Central Bank and the Securities and Exchange Commission under him. They had been under the Ministry of Finance, a portfolio held by UNP Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake at the time Wickremesinghe stepped in. The Public Utilities Commission, too, was brought under Wickremesinghe.

If not for the Treasury bond scams, perhaps Wickremesinghe could have succeeded in bringing the Geneva-backed constitution making process to a successful conclusion. Contrary to some disagreements, the yahapalana leaders basically agreed with the script written by the US.

Sirisena quietly allowed the finalization of the ACSA (Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement) in early August 2017. The ACSA, first signed by the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, during Mahinda Rajapakas’s first tenure as the President, received the President’s approval, though the President subsequently vowed he wouldn’t allow any agreement inimical to Sri Lanka as long as he enjoyed executive powers. This declaration was made at a meeting with editors of national newspapers and senior representatives of both print and electronic media at the Janadhipathi Mandiraya. When the writer sought a clarification regarding the ACSA, Sirisena acknowledged the finalization of the agreement, in the first week of August 2017. The UNP never found fault with Sirisena for giving the go ahead for the ACSA finalization. As far as the yahapalana policy, vis-à-vis the US, both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe took one stand though sometimes, Sirisena tried to distance himself from Wickremesinghe’s Geneva policy.

Don’t ever forget, the yahapalana government never took tangible measures to use Lord Nasby’s disclosure, in Oct 2017, in the House of Lords, to save the country from the Geneva trap. Sri Lanka did nothing even after the US, in June 2018, quit the Geneva body, alleging it was nothing but a cesspool of political bias. For some unknown reason, the SLPP administration, too, is yet to use Lord Naseby’s disclosure properly to clear its name. Now that Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has alleged that Army Chief Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva was black listed by the US, as a result of the Geneva resolution, the government should take appropriate measures to have the country cleared of war crimes. Lt. Gen. Silva cannot get out of the US listing as long as Sri Lanka didn’t successfully challenge the Geneva resolution, based on unsubstantiated allegations.

The incumbent government is yet to adopt comprehensive measures to deal with the Geneva resolution. In spite of various declarations, made by the government, the Geneva resolution remains active, with the UK in charge of the project. The US, though being out of the Geneva body, continues to back the Geneva process to pressure Sri Lanka to accept its combative proposals. The recent US State Department statement is a case in point. Pompeo’s visit further amplifies the danger Sri Lanka is in as already the economy is in a tailspin, due to the rampaging coronavirus. The possibility of those eyeing Sri Lanka, exploiting weaker economic conditions and creating further complexities, cannot be ruled out. It would be important to keep in mind how the yahapalana government made an attempt to cut off China, by halting the Port City project, in 2015, but ended up not only rescinding that directive but handing over the Hambantota port, on a 99-year-old lease, to Beijing.



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Midweek Review

15th anniversary of Lanka’s triumph over terrorism

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May 19, 2009: The body LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran being carried as frontline troops celebrate the eradication of separatist terrorism

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka brought the war against separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009 – fifteen years ago.

The New Delhi-sponsored group, that turned its guns on the Indian Army during the latter’s deployment in the Northern and Eastern regions here (July 1987 to March 1990) was once considered invincible by its covert and overt backers, until then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s Army brought back Kilinochchi under government control in the first week of January 2009.

The recapture and military consolidation of the Elephant Pass-Kilinochchi stretch of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, in a matter of days, effectively restricted the LTTE to the Mullaithivu district. Once highly mobile conventional LTTE units were trapped as several Army fighting formations closed in on them from all directions.

Within months what had been once considered to be impossible for the Sri Lankan military to defeat the conventional military power of the LTTE, was reduced to tatters. That wouldn’t have been possible if not for the unprecedented parallel success achieved by Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s Navy in the high seas, destroying much of the LTTE floating arsenal, while Air Marshal Roshan Goonetilleke’s Air Force, too, proved its superiority by speedily supplying urgent military needs, while evacuating casualties from whatever battlefront, as well as engaging LTTE targets from the air based on specific intelligence deep inside enemy run territory.

When a bullet was put through megalomaniac Velupillai Prabhakaran’s head on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon on the morning of May 19, 2009, the terrorist movement’s fate was sealed.

Unfortunately, as we are about to celebrate Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism 15 years ago, various interested parties continue to cause turmoil here. The issues at hand cannot be discussed without taking into consideration the presidential polls scheduled for later this year.

Never again

One-time Norwegian International Development Minister Erik Solheim, who previously spearheaded the catastrophic and sham Norwegian peace effort here, is back. The 69-year-old former politician is President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s advisor on climate change. Although we will not go to the extent of finding fault with the President for appointing Solheim as his climate advisor, but the latter shouldn’t be allowed to get involved in local politics ever again for the simple reason Norwegians were never the honest broker of peace here. Haven’t we learnt enough from their duplicitous behaviour in the recent past just as our naive forefathers learnt the hard way the vile ways of colonial powers after inviting one after another from Portuguese to Dutch and then the British?

And this country is certainly not the inheritance of President Wickremesinghe to do any more dangerous experiments with crafty pale faces the way he blindly signed a one sided peace agreement with the LTTE, prepared by the Norwegians.

Solheim himself couldn’t have forgotten, under any circumstances, what far right extremist Anders Breivik, who had been influenced by the LTTE, did in July 2011. The Norwegian diplomat’s son murdered 77 persons, mostly children in two attacks carried out within hours.

The writer dealt with Solheim’s recent declarations regarding post-war Sri Lanka ahead of Norwegian Ambassador May-Elin Stener’s visit to the North where she met Northern Province Governor P.S.M. Charles. Stener met Charles on May 6 whereas Solheim held talks with her on April 30 in Jaffna. It was Soheim’s second meet with Charles since he received appointment as President Wickremesinghe’s climate advisor renewing old friendship. In the fresh avatar they first met in Colombo on Nov 20, 2023.

Against the backdrop of Norwegian Ambassador Stener meeting JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa in Colombo, it would be pertinent to also discuss the possibility of Norway eyeing a larger role here once again. Those who represent the interests of Western powers sometimes operate in not so mysterious ways knowing how gullible some of our leaders are on seeing white skins. Perhaps, Solheim is an exception. The international news agencies reported how Solheim, in his capacity as the UN environmental chief, promoted the China-led Belt and Road initiative as well as Chinese investments in Africa. Solheim should be able to explain the circumstances he threw his weight behind China, when the West in general is so hostile to Beijing.

Amidst that controversy, the Norwegian was compelled to resign several years ago following serious allegations of him squandering funds on overseas travel. The UN found itself in an untenable situation when some countries withheld funds for the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) in a bid to pressure the global organization. So, Solheim’s latest project here seems somewhat surprising and questionable. What Solheim really wants or whom he is now working for are two issues that needed to be addressed by the powers that be.

An expert opinion

Solheim’s latest foray should be analysed meticulously taking into consideration the crucial presidential polls, the first national election after the change of government through unconstitutional means in 2022. Does Solheim still believe that he could play a role in consensus building among Tamil political parties?

Eyebrows were raised when Solheim recently met EPDP leader Douglas Devananda who is also the Fisheries Minister.

But let me repeat author of ‘To End a Civil War’ Mark Salter’s response to my last week’s piece ‘Solheim is back’ published on May 8, 2024, edition of The Island. Salter, who began as a radio journalist for the BBC, subsequently specialised in Central European, West African and most recently South Asian affairs. Salter launched ‘To End a Civil War’ – a detailed description of the Norwegian peace role here in Colombo in early March 2016. Salter’s narrative should be examined, taking into consideration ‘Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka (1997 -2009)’ produced by a team consisting of Gunnar M. Sørbø, Jonathan Goodhand, Bart Klem, Ada Elisabeth Nissen and Hilde Selbervik.

Salter found fault with the writer for not paying sufficient attention to what he called factual details. Pointing out the failure on the part of the writer to properly deal with the process leading up to the CFA, its aims and objective, etc., Salter countered the following assertions:

(a) “There is no doubt Solheim was one of those ill-advised diplomats or a deliberate hatchet man, who repeated their mantra that the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated.”

Simply not true – and in fact tendentious in its description of Solheim, whose views on the military balance at this point were derived chiefly from discussions with Delhi at this early point. Multiple evidence from the time indicates that the view that ‘the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated’ was essentially the view of, for example, both the Sri Lankan and Indian governments (Later is a different matter). This conclusion being chiefly based on readings of the prevailing military situation in the Vanni.

Adherence to this reading of the situation was a key factor in bringing the GoSL – in particular CBK and Kadirgamar – around to the idea of seeking facilitated talks with the LTTE.

(b) “The CFA was meant to create a separate region under LTTE control in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.”

There’s a straight confusion here. The CFA was not intended to create anything in a territorial sense. It simply sought to provide an agreed territorial basis for the ceasefire. LTTE control over the N&E was achieved via earlier LTTE military gains – not the CFA.

(c) The LTTE always had its way until President Mahinda Rajapaksa decided to put an end to the separatist terrorism.

Evidence to back this claim? The Lankan military retaking Jaffna 1995, for example: is that an example of the LTTE ‘always having its way’? Overall – and as often – these are the kinds of loose generalizations that I feel skew your whole approach.

Let me explain my stand on the above matters towards the end of this piece.

On May 2, the media received an email from the EPDP Office. Titled an urgent meet, the two-page statement in Sinhala, sent by EPDP leader Douglas Devananda’s longstanding Media Secretary, Nelson Edirisinghe, disclosed the Fisheries Minister meeting Solheim at the Colombo Hilton.

Edirisinghe, who had been with Devananda in the days he carried weapons, without hesitation revealed that the meeting was meant to discuss the current political situation. Why on earth the leader of a political party discuss current political situation with the President’s climate advisor?

The EPDP contested the last parliamentary polls, conducted in August 2020, on its own. It won two seats – one in Jaffna and another in Vanni. However, the EPDP accepted Cabinet portfolio from ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The EPDP continues to retain the Fisheries portfolio and recently declared its support to President Wickremesinghe’s candidature at the next presidential poll.

Devananda-Solheim meet

The EPDP statement declared its decision to go with President Wickremesinghe at the presidential poll.

This was the day after Devananda appeared with war-winning President and SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa on their May Day stage at the Campbell Park. Interesting. Isn’t it?

Let me stress in point form what Devananda told President Wickremesinhe’s advisor Solheim:

(1) President Wickremesinghe is the only leader capable of successfully overcoming political and economic challenges experienced by Sri Lanka (2) Wickremesinghe has received international recognition (3) The incumbent President is committed to properly addressing problems faced by the Tamil speaking people (4) reminded Solheim how he (DD) warned the then Norwegian International Development Minister, 28 years ago, that peace couldn’t be achieved through violence (5) Wickremesinghe’s continuation as President would be beneficial to the Tamil speaking community as well as all other communities (6) Under Wickremesinghe’s leadership, the country could achieve rapid development.

Finally, Minister Devananda asked Solheim’s intervention with the Norwegian government on behalf of the fishing community here. MP Himanshu Gulati (Progress Party), son of Indian migrants, accompanied Solheim.

It would be pertinent to ask Solheim whether he in anyway represented the government of Norway.

During the Norwegian-spearheaded peace talks, the LTTE never accepted the right of other Tamil political parties to engage in politics. By then, the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK)-led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been compelled to recognize the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. In addition to Norway, peace co-chairs consisting of the US, Japan, EU, as well as Norway, accepted the LTTE’s status. Otherwise, the LTTE wouldn’t have accepted none of them as co-chairs. That was the reality.

The LTTE hold on the TNA was such, its candidates for the 2004 General Election and its National List had to be cleared by the LTTE. By then, the LTTE had been divided with its Eastern cadre (Batticaloa-Ampara sector), led by Vinayagamoorty Muralitharan alias Karuna, switching allegiance to the government.

The post-2004 General Election report, issued by the European Union Election Observation Mission, in no uncertain terms disclosed the sordid relationship between the LTTE and the TNA. The EU asserted that the TNA secured 22 seats in the Northern and Easter Provinces, with the direct backing of the LTTE that resorted to violence and stuffing of ballot boxes in support of R. Sampanthan’s grouping.

One shouldn’t forget that by the time the LTTE declared Eelam War IV in August 2006, the Northern Province has been exclusively inhabited by Tamils as Muslims were driven away in Oct/Nov 1990 during Ranasinghe Premadasa’s tenure as the President and the Sinhalese much earlier. That had been one of the key factors that influenced the young Norwegian to go on the rampage in Norway in 2011.

A war that can’t be won…

Having held talks with the LTTE in February (Oslo) June (Oslo) and October (Geneva) under Norwegian facilitation without any success, the Rajapaksa government decided to go ahead with an all-out combined security forces campaign. The LTTE adopted an extremely hard and uncompromising stand as it quite confidently believed the military could be overwhelmed. (The Directorate of Military Intelligence gave the writer access to Kumaran Pathmanathan alias ‘KP’ a few months after the conclusion of the war in May 2009.

During the long interview, ‘KP’ asserted that the LTTE, at the time the war began, believed the military could be overwhelmed in the North within two years).

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa hadn’t been hesitant when he told a top Norwegian delegation that the conflict could be settled through military means. Gotabaya Rajapaksa made that declaration during quite an early stage of the war. Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts-in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009 acknowledged that statement.

Retired Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne in his ‘Ranamaga Osse Nanthikadal’ (Road to Nanthikadal) revealed that Army Commander Lionel Balagalle during Norway arranged CFA said that the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated.

Dr. Rohan Gunaratne, too, during quite an early stage declared that the LTTE couldn’t be defeated. The writer had highlighted Dr. Gunaratne’s assertion on several occasions. On March 22, 2007, the Bloomberg news agency quoted Gunaratne as having said that Sri Lanka’s war couldn’t be won by either side. A story headlined ‘Sri Lanka, Tamil Tiger Rebels Fight a War That Can’t be Won,’ by Colombo-based Anusha Ondaatjie, quoted head of terrorism research at Singapore’s Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Gunaratna as having asserted: “Continuing the current spate of violence is not going to bring about a different outcome, or change the status quo. Both parties have developed significant support to be able to recover from losses, but this type of warfare is protracted.” Gunaratna declared: “What is needed is a negotiated settlement to the conflict.”

Just three months after Dr. Gunaratne stressed the need for a negotiated settlement, the military liberated the entire Eastern Province.

The then Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store, who had been involved in the Sri Lankan initiative, in May, 2007, asserted that all observers believed that the conflict couldn’t be won by military means, and the majority was of the opinion that the government wouldn’t be able to defeat the LTTE militarily.

Veteran Canada-based political and defence analyst, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, in late Dec. 2008, declared that the LTTE had the wherewithal to roll back the Army on the Vanni east front. In an article titled WAR IN WANNI: WHY THE TIGERS ARE DOWN BUT NOT OUT, Jeyaraj maintained the circumstances under which the LTTE could inflict massive defeat on the Army on the Vanni east front.

Less than two weeks later, the Army captured Kilinochchi. The liberation of Kilinochchi, on January 1, 2009, effectively ended the possibility of an LTTE fight back. The capture of Kilinochchi and the A9 road, northwards up to Elephant Pass, sealed the fate of the LTTE, with several fighting formations rapidly surrounding the remaining LTTE units operating in the Vanni east.

In fact, the UNP, as well as the JVP, too, believed the LTTE would ultimately strike back and roll-back the Army. The media, too, propagated that the LTTE tactics were far superior to that of the military

Gen. Sarath Fonseka declared during drinks and dinner at his Baudhaloka Mawatha official residence of the Army Commander in January 2008 that he wouldn’t leave the war unfinished. A smiling Army Chief with a drink in his hand declared:

“My term of office is coming to an end this year and I will not leave this war to the succeeding Army commander”.

So unlike all the self-proclaimed experts who generally toed the Western lies by wooing for Tigers, while pretending to be independent analysts, only to be proved wrong soon before the whole world, Fonseka’s words were far more prophetic. Have we not seen a similar repeat in Ukraine where all the Western military experts on mainstream media were predicting a Russian defeat there and even a dismemberment of Russia while the opposite is happening.

The writer was present on this occasion when the Sri Lankan Army Commander made that almost prophetic pronouncement and no doubt when it came to prosecuting a war he certainly had a sixth sense, whether it be during fighting the ruthless Tigers or even JVP terrorists. Though Fonseka’s Army couldn’t finish off the LTTE before the end of 2008 it achieved the most unexpected just five months later. The rest is history.

At the time Eelam War IV erupted in 2006, the entire Northern and Eastern Provinces hadn’t been under its control. The Jaffna peninsula and neighbouring islands had been under military control whereas a large section of Vanni remained under LTTE. In the Eastern Province, the military controlled major towns though there were frequent attacks. The LTTE never managed to secure total control of the two provinces through military means.

The LTTE pursued Eelam dream regardless of consequences. In a way, it always had its way regardless of the consequences though from time to time it suffered setbacks. The LTTE adopted a similar style when it dealt with India. When the LTTE realized that Indian strategy didn’t facilitate its own, it declared war on the Indian Army, then secured financial and military support from the then Premadasa government to wage war against the Indian Army and then ultimately assassinated former Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991. Gandhi’s crime was deploying his Army in Sri Lanka.

When the relentless Sri Lankan military drive forced the LTTE to retreat in all fronts, it dragged the civilian population to the Vanni east as a human shield where it made its last stand. Let me finish this by reproducing a letter written by wartime Norwegian Ambassador here. It explains the mindset of the LTTE.

Ambassador Hattrem’s note, dated Feb 16, 2009, to Basil Rajapaksa, revealed Norway’s serious concern over the LTTE’s refusal to release the civilians. The Norwegian note, headlined ‘Offer/Proposal to the LTTE’, personally signed by Ambassador Hattrem, underscored the developing crisis on the Vanni east front. The following is the text of Ambassador Hattrem’s letter, addressed to Basil Rajapaksa:

“I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE on how to release the civilian population, now trapped in the LTTE controlled area, has been transmitted to the LTTE through several channels. So far, there has been, regrettably, no response from the LTTE and it does not seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree with this in the near future.”

There wasn’t been any positive LTTE response and the military went ahead with the final phase of the operation which was completed 15 years ago this month.

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Midweek Review

Sri Lanka’s digital ID project: Implications, risks, and safeguards

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by Prof. Amarasiri de Silva

The government of Sri Lanka is waiting for clearance from the Public Security Ministry to go ahead with an India-funded Unique ID card project, according to a report published in The Island, quoting State Technology Minister Kanaka Herath. It is akin to seeking approval from the father to hand over control of the family’s personal details to the next-door neighbour! The state of affairs concerning the issuance and upkeep of ID cards in Sri Lanka, coupled with the prospect of outsourcing their management and execution to an Indian company, is undeniably a matter of serious concern. It is disheartening that there is a lack of capability within Sri Lanka to handle this crucial task, leading to the consideration of outsourcing the responsibility to an agency in another country. However, entrusting such a sensitive task to an external agency, particularly one based in India, comes with a myriad of challenges, foremost among them being data security issues.

India’s offer to provide advanced aid of 450 million Indian rupees to President Wickremesinghe’s government for funding the digital ID project undoubtedly presents an opportunity for financial support. However, this offer raises questions about the underlying motivations and implications for the countries involved, particularly for Sri Lanka. From a political perspective, the decision to introduce a project involving the outsourcing of national data to an Indian company, particularly under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe, is likely to face scrutiny and questions regarding its legitimacy and mandate. This scrutiny can stem from several factors, including concerns about transparency, accountability, and national sovereignty.

Critics may question whether Ranil Wickremasinghe, as the leader of the government or a relevant authority, has the proper mandate to initiate such a project without sufficient consultation or approval from people, the Opposition, and other branches of government, such as parliament or relevant oversight committees. They may argue that such a significant decision, involving the collection and management of sensitive national data, should be subject to broader scrutiny and debate to ensure democratic accountability.

There may be concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding the decision-making process and the extent of public consultation undertaken before committing to the project. Citizens and civil society organisations may demand clarity on the rationale behind outsourcing sensitive data to an Indian company and seek assurances regarding data privacy, security, and potential risks associated with foreign involvement.

Outsourcing the management of national data, including biometric and personal information, to a foreign company raises questions about national sovereignty and security. Critics may argue that such a move compromises Sri Lanka’s ability to control and protect its citizens’ data, potentially exposing it to risks such as unauthorised access, misuse, or exploitation by foreign entities. There may be concerns about the implications for national security, particularly if the outsourced data falls into the wrong hands or is subject to foreign influence or interference.

Beyond political considerations, there may also be concerns about the economic implications of outsourcing such a project to an Indian company. Critics may question whether sufficient efforts were made to explore domestic alternatives or support local expertise and industries in developing and implementing the project. They may raise concerns about the potential loss of revenue, jobs, or technological capabilities that could result from relying on foreign assistance for critical infrastructure projects.

In response to these concerns, proponents of the project, including the government and supporters of Ranil Wickremesinghe, may argue that it is necessary to leverage external expertise and resources to address capacity constraints and accelerate the implementation of essential projects, such as digital identity systems. They may emphasise the potential benefits of collaboration with India, such as access to advanced technology, financial assistance, and opportunities for bilateral cooperation and knowledge exchange, but the advantages may outweigh the benefits.

However, the government must address legitimate concerns about transparency, accountability, data privacy, and national sovereignty through open dialogue, robust oversight mechanisms, and clear communication with the public and relevant stakeholders. Building trust and confidence in the project’s integrity and objectives will be essential to mitigate political opposition and ensure its successful implementation in the long run.

The digital ID project, as described, aims to collect biographic and biometric information, including facial, iris, and fingerprint data. While this endeavor may offer certain advantages to the Indian government, such as potentially enhancing bilateral relations or fostering technological cooperation, it also raises concerns regarding data privacy and sovereignty for Sri Lanka. India could utilise the biodata from Sri Lanka’s ID cards to influence the Sri Lankan economy, potentially crafting programs to facilitate Indian trade and expand technology initiatives.

First and foremost, the issue of data security looms large. Entrusting the collection and management of sensitive biometric and personal information to an external agency, particularly one based in another country, introduces significant risks. The use of national ID data of the Sri Lankan population by a foreign country like India raises significant concerns about data privacy, security, and national sovereignty. While it’s essential to acknowledge that any speculation about specific intentions should be approached cautiously, it’s crucial to understand the potential risks and implications associated with such scenarios:

Data Access and Control: If India has access to the national ID data of the Sri Lankan population, there is a risk that it could be used for various purposes, including surveillance, intelligence gathering, or profiling. This could infringe upon the privacy and civil liberties of Sri Lankan citizens, as their personal information may be subject to monitoring or exploitation without their consent.

Political Influence: Access to sensitive data about the Sri Lankan population could provide India with leverage or influence over Sri Lanka’s political decisions or policies. By leveraging this information, India could potentially exert pressure or manipulate decision-making processes to align with its interests, compromising Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and autonomy.

Cybersecurity Risks: Storing or transmitting national ID data across international borders introduces cybersecurity risks, as it increases the potential attack surface for malicious actors, including hackers, cybercriminals, or hostile state actors. Any breach or compromise of the data could have severe consequences, including identity theft, fraud, or espionage.

Geopolitical Considerations: The collection and control of national ID data by a foreign country like India could have broader geopolitical implications, particularly in the context of regional power dynamics and strategic competition. It may exacerbate tensions or mistrust between countries and undermine efforts to foster cooperation and trust.

Economic Exploitation: Access to national ID data could also enable economic exploitation, such as targeted marketing or commercial profiling, by Indian companies or entities with vested interests. This could disadvantage Sri Lankan businesses and consumers, as their personal information may be used for commercial gain without adequate safeguards or consent.

Diplomatic Fallout: Revelations of foreign interference or exploitation of national ID data could strain diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and India, leading to diplomatic tensions, public outcry, or calls for accountability. It could undermine trust and cooperation between the two countries on other bilateral or regional issues.

Sri Lanka must carefully consider the implications of sharing its citizens’ data with a foreign entity and ensure that robust safeguards are in place to protect against data breaches, unauthorised access, or misuse.

Furthermore, the reliance on foreign aid for such a critical project raises questions about national sovereignty and self-reliance. While external support can be beneficial, Sri Lanka needs to maintain control over its identity management infrastructure and ensure that decisions regarding data collection, storage, and usage align with its national interests and values.

Additionally, there may be concerns about the long-term implications of dependence on foreign assistance for essential infrastructure projects. Sri Lanka must weigh the short-term benefits of financial aid against the potential risks and dependencies created by outsourcing critical functions to external entities.

“ID card projects” typically refer to initiatives or programmes aimed at issuing identification cards to individuals within a certain population. These cards serve as official documents that verify a person’s identity and may contain information such as their name, photograph, date of birth, and sometimes biometric data like fingerprints or iris scans. Usually, National ID Cards are issued by Governments that may implement national ID card projects to provide citizens with a standardised form of identification for various purposes, such as voting, accessing government services, and proving eligibility for employment or benefits.

Outsourcing an ID card project to an outside agency can raise several security concerns, including:

Data Privacy and Protection: Providing personal information to an external organisation raises the risk of data breaches or unauthorised access. The outside agency must adhere to strict data protection regulations and implement robust security measures to safeguard sensitive information.

Identity Theft: If the external agency does not adequately secure the data collected for the ID card project, it could be vulnerable to identity theft or fraud. Criminals could exploit weaknesses in the system to obtain and misuse individuals’ personal information.

Counterfeiting and Fraud: Outsourcing the production of ID cards increases the risk of counterfeit cards entering circulation. Without stringent controls and security features, criminals may replicate or alter the cards for fraudulent purposes, such as gaining unauthorised access or committing identity theft.

Vendor Reliability: Depending on an external agency for the implementation of the project introduces dependencies and risks associated with the reliability and integrity of the vendor. Issues such as delays, miscommunication, or vendor misconduct could compromise the project’s security and effectiveness.

Lack of Oversight and Control: Entrusting the entire ID card project to an outside agency may result in reduced visibility and control over the process. Government agencies or organisations must maintain sufficient oversight to ensure compliance with security standards and regulatory requirements.

Supply Chain Risks: The supply chain involved in producing ID cards, including materials, equipment, and personnel, may introduce vulnerabilities if not properly managed. External vendors and subcontractors should be vetted thoroughly to mitigate supply chain risks.

To address these security issues, organisations should conduct thorough risk assessments, establish clear contractual agreements with the external agency, implement robust security controls, regularly monitor compliance, and ensure transparency and accountability throughout the project lifecycle. Additionally, ongoing communication and collaboration between the outsourcing organisation and the external agency are essential to address security concerns effectively.

In light of the risks associated with accepting external assistance for Sri Lanka’s digital ID project, the protection of citizens’ data sovereignty, privacy, and security must be paramount. This necessitates the implementation of robust safeguards, regulatory frameworks, and oversight mechanisms to mitigate the potential for unauthorised access or misuse of national ID data by foreign entities.

Furthermore, fostering greater transparency, accountability, and public awareness regarding the collection, storage, and use of personal information is imperative. By engaging in open dialogue and providing clear information to the public, trust can be built, and responsible governance in the digital age can be ensured.

In summary, while India’s offer of financial support presents opportunities for expediting the project’s implementation, careful consideration of concerns surrounding data security, national sovereignty, and long-term sustainability is essential. Sri Lanka must conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to weigh the potential benefits against the risks associated with external assistance. Proactive measures should be taken to safeguard citizens’ privacy and uphold the integrity of identity management systems through transparent decision-making and robust oversight. Ultimately, prioritising the interests of the Sri Lankan population is paramount in navigating the complexities of such partnerships.

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Midweek Review

Climbing to a High

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By Lynn Ockersz

There it gawkily stands,

First among skyscrapers,

Rising over teeming slums,

Inspiring not a sense of awe,

But speaking volumes,

Of the Arrogance of Power,

And giving thwarted humans,

An opening to an opiate,

That injects a fleeting sense,

Of rising above mortal wants.

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