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Midweek Review

Predicament of war-winning Sri Lanka military

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Maj. Gen. Udaya Perera

By Shamindra Ferdinando

In spite of issuing a five-year multiple visa to retired Maj. Gen. Udaya Perera in Aug 2019, the US, in early Dec, 2021, barred him from entering the country. The US ordered Singapore Airlines not to permit the Gajaba Regiment veteran to board the Singapore-bound flight, from where he, his wife and a son were to continue their journey to the USA. Maj. Gen. Perera, who had retired in 2017 after having served the Army for 36 years, suddenly found himself categorised among war criminals. One-time Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner in Malaysia (2009-2011) Maj. Gen. Perera was about to board the flight (Colombo/Singapore/Los Angeles) with the final destination being California, to see his granddaughter. However his wife and son departed as planned, whereas the ex-top combat officer of the famed Gajaba regiment had to return home dejected at having been humiliated at the country’s main international airport by such crass behaviour of the self-appointed world policeman. We could forgive such behaviour as a mistake if it came from a country that has clean hands, but certainly not from one that has shed so much innocent blood around the world and continue to do so at will.

The highly embarrassing snub, in full view of the public, of Maj. Gen.Perera, who had received his Master’s Degree from the prestigious US Army War College, a couple of years after the successful conclusion of the war, didn’t attract the attention it deserved. The government and the Opposition conveniently refrained from at least issuing a statement as regards the development. Perhaps they felt there was no point in trying to complain against two members of the self-appointed international community, as the US and Australia imposed similar travel restrictions earlier on Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, General Shavendra Silva and Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage et al over unsubstantiated war crimes accusations and they, too, were left unanswered.

Maj Gen Perera received the prestigious United States Army War College Alumni Award for his academic performances and in recognition of his services as the International Fellows Class President at the US Army War College and is a lifetime member of the US Army War College Alumni Foundation.

During his tenure as the Deputy HC in Malaysia, Maj. Gen. Perera played a significant role in the extradition of Kumaran Pathmanathan alias ‘KP.’ It would be pertinent to mention that the Eelam War IV time Director Operations, received the diplomatic appointment in April 2009, a few weeks before the military eradicated the top LTTE leadership.

The incident involving Maj. Gen. Perera that happened on the night of Dec 5 at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) remained under wraps till Dec 26. Perhaps the incident could have gone unreported at all if not for some concerned party bringing it to the notice of The Island. But the issue failed to attract sufficient interest of the print and electronic media, including social media.

Need for US clarification

The Foreign Ministry should seek an explanation from the US Embassy, in Colombo, as regards the punitive measures taken against Maj. Gen. Perera. Only the US can explain why Maj. Gen. Perera, now a top employee of a prominent private sector enterprise, did during the Eelam War IV to be categorised as a war criminal. Eyebrows have been raised over the ex-officer’s predicament as he hadn’t been assigned to fighting formations on the Northern front (2007-2009) or involved in the Eastern campaign (2006-2007) or commanded the divisions after the war. Australia found fault with Maj. Gen. Gallage for commanding the 59 Division after the conclusion of the war.

What did the US find unacceptable about Maj. Gen. Perera’s conduct after the issuance of five-year multiple visa in August 2019? The US has issued the visa over two years after his retirement and eight years following the end of the war. Maybe, the US wants to expand the proscribed list as part of its overall strategy to intensify pressure on Sri Lanka to bring it to its knees for daring to get financial and other assistance from China that has helped us in numerous ways in the past, especially when the West attempted to throttle us on the military front by putting an arms embargo.

No doubt India, too, helped us at crucial times, but as we have said before what Beijing did by helping us to defeat the LTTE in actual fact was a favour done to Delhi because initially the ultimate goal of the Eelam project was the breakup of India, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union the equation changed with America also wanting to have a solid friend for Tel Aviv in India for increasingly arrogant and unpopular Israel among a sea of Arab masses.

The Foreign Ministry should be mindful of the growing threat posed by the continuing Geneva agenda meant to weaken the country. Over two years after the last presidential election that brought wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa into power in Nov 2019, the incumbent dispensation is yet to properly address the accountability issues. Sri Lanka’s pathetic response has facilitated the despicable Geneva agenda intended to weaken the Sri Lankan State.

May be it is time that we raised such issues as justice for victims of West in places like, for example, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Palestine, etc., especially due to false flag operations like the one staged on entirely staged weapons of mass destruction that supposedly Saddam Hussein had. Then what about justice for victims of hundreds if not thousands of hell fire missiles that rained death and destruction on innocent wedding parties, funeral processions, etc., in those countries, in the guise of killing terrorists. Where are you UNHRC?

The political leadership needs to realize that humiliation of the military is part of the Western strategy. That is the undeniable truth. Geneva wants to tarnish the image of those who spearheaded the actual military campaign against the LTTE, service commanders and selected senior as well as junior security forces officers.

Both Canada and Italy snubbed Sri Lanka over the latter’s proposal to name retired Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sumangala Dias as High Commissioner. Regardless of AM’s clean war record, Canada rejected him. Having allowed the LTTE rump a free hand over a period of time and undermined the war-winning Sri Lanka at every turn, the Canadian rejection of AM Dias was meant to degrade the country.

Human rights crusader Canada, member of the Sri Lanka Core Group in Geneva recently attracted massive media attention following the shocking revelation of how thousands of indigenous children perished in government-run schools. These schools were meant to erode indigenous culture, language and family and community ties. Politically motivated racial project was notorious for the neglect and abuse of the children compelled to attend them. Thousands of Indigenous children died therein and had been interned in unmarked graves on grounds of such schools among other places, obviously hoping such dastardly deeds would never come to light.

An utterly contemptible Canadian decision to back Tamil Diaspora propaganda pertaining to genocide in Lanka by way of a Private Member Bill 104 on ‘Tamil Genocide Education Week’ in the Ontario Legislative Assembly should be examined against the backdrop of Ottawa’s rejection of AM Dias. Instead, Canada swiftly accepted prominent civil society activist Harsha Kumara Navaratne as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner. The writer recently dealt with the Navaratne’s appointment in an article titled ‘From meeting Pottu, Balraj and Soosai to being Sri Lanka’s top envoy in Canada’ in the Dec 22, 2021 issue of The Island.

Foreign Ministry bid to save precious dollars

Cash-strapped Sri Lanka on Dec 27, 2021, announced a long overdue decision to close down some missions. Declaring that the Sri Lanka High Commission in Abuja, Nigeria, the Consulate General of Sri Lanka in Frankfurt, Germany; and the Consulate General of Sri Lanka in Nicosia, Cyprus, would be closed down with effect from 31 December 2021, the Foreign Ministry announced that the Cabinet of Ministers approved the move. The Foreign Ministry asserted that foreign reserves could be saved by minimising expenditure on the maintenance of diplomatic missions. Perhaps, the Cabinet of Ministers should have considered closing down many more missions than those at Abuja, Frankfurt and Nicosia.

Over the years, Sri Lankan missions overseas have become a haven for political appointees. We also wonder whether many of our serving diplomats are rendering a worthy service to the country. Some of them have joined the service through the backdoor, thanks to influence. We can recall how our top career diplomat, in a leading capital in the East, gave a talk to a group of leading businessman in that country’s capital in the presence of our then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and repeatedly referred to the construction of the second RUNAWAY at BIA with valuable assistance from that country. At that moment we ourselves felt like running away from there!

Successive governments have shamelessly utilised diplomatic missions to accommodate associates, friends as well as some former parliamentarians. The incumbent dispensation is no exception.

The Parliamentary High Posts Committee, whoever chairs it, follows political directives. There cannot be a better example than the yahapalana administration granting an ambassadorial position to businessman A.S.P. Liyanage. The self-serving cunning businessman, who merely pretended to play the part of a stooge to those in power and served twice as head of mission, contested the presidential election on more than one occasion and at the last parliamentary election appeared on the Colombo District UNP list. Liyanage was on the same list with UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and its Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake at the disastrous August 2020 parliamentary election that reduced the former governing party to just one National List slot. Liyanage was so influential he received appointment as Sri Lanka top envoy in Nigeria during the previous Rajapaksa administration. President Maithripala Sirisena then made him Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Qatar.

Controversy over Embraer Legacy 600 jet

About a week before the New Year, an unexpected controversy erupted over Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, accompanied by wife, Shiranthi, and other members of the family, utilising a private jet to visit the famous hill shrine of Lord Venkateswara in Andhra Pradesh’s Tirumala where they offered prayers. Social media was dominated, their two-day visit. Rajapaksa visited the temple in February 2020, less than three months after the last presidential election, when a special puja was performed at the Devasthanam on the first anniversary of his current term.

Contradicting statements relating to the visit (departure Dec 23 morning and return De 24 evening) resulted in speculation that Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Uganda Velupillai Kananathan provided the Embraer Legacy 600 jet. Velupillai Kananathan had been among Premier Rajapaksa’s entourage and was pictured holding his hand as they walked away from the aircraft in question having landed at Renigunta airport in Andra Pradesh. Kananathan had moved to Uganda way back in 1987 and established therein before receiving the appointment as High Commissioner in 2013. Velupillai Kananathan has received the top posting back after the last presidential election.

Social media alleged that Velupillai Kananathan had been with the LTTE though well informed Tamil Diaspora as well as former intelligence officers emphasised there was absolutely no involvement with the terrorist organisation. Studied at S. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia, Velupillai Kananathan had been involved in the hospitality trade, having first served the Hatton National Bank.

The Divaina quoted Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa as having said that it was a private visit with no expenditure of public funds. The Premier’s Media Secretary Rohan Weliwita, too, declared that public funds hadn’t been utilised and expenses borne by the Premier himself. However, Pohottuwa lawmaker Milan Jayatilleke is on record as having said that a powerful Indian businessman provided the jet for the pilgrimage and the cost borne by the Indian. The lawmaker defended the Thirupathi visit in the wake of some sections of the Opposition accusing Premier Rajapaksa of squandering public funds at a time the country was reeling from severe economic difficulties. The controversy has taken a new turn after Premier Rajapaksa’s Chief of Staff Yoshitha Rajapaksa’s declaration that a friend of his father provided the jet though he didn’t know the identity of the benefactor.

Who owns the super luxury aircraft, believed to be registered in Europe? The Opposition is likely to pursue the jet story. In the January 02, 2022 edition of ‘Annida’, Aruna Jayawardena dealt with the issue at hand, comprehensively. The writer questioned the ownership of the super luxury aircraft against the backdrop of continuing controversy over High Commissioner Velupillai Kananathan’s role in the whole affair. The writer questioned the appropriateness of the Premier accepting such an expensive freebie. The government should set the record straight.

Paying homage to Tirupathi

Many Sri Lankan politicians annually visit Tirumalar. Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maithripala and Ranil Wickremasinghe are among them. Sirisena accompanied by wife, Jayanthi Pushpakumari and other family members prayed at Tirumalar on April 17, 2019, four days before the Easter Sunday carnage. Sirisena has been accused of leaving for Tirumalar and from there flying to Singapore on the second leg of a private visit, in spite of specific Indian intelligence warning of impending terrorist attack. Sirisena, who also served as the Defence Minister at that time paid a very heavy price for neglecting the Indian intelligence warnings pertaining to the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) plot, though he has repeatedly claimed he was not aware.

The Foreign Ministry plays a vital role in the overall national defence. The Foreign Ministry should play a leading role in national defence. One cannot easily forget how that Ministry has been used over the years to appease foreign powers or provide employment opportunities to those the government wanted to get rid of. Disgraced IGP Pujitha Jayasundera’s claim is a case in point that he was offered a diplomatic positing if he accepted the responsibility for 2019 Easter carnage cannot be ignored. Jayasundera, indicted before the three-judge bench of the Colombo High Court Trial at Bar hearing the Easter Sunday carnage is on record as having said that the then President Maithripala Sisisena offered him the diplomatic posting.

In the case of the treacherous 2015 Geneva resolution, the Foreign Ministry at the behest of political directive betrayed the country’s war-wining armed forces. The late Mangala Samaraweera served as the Foreign Minister at that time. Following the Geneva betrayal, President Sirisena, in consultations with Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, brought in Ravi Karanunayake as the Foreign Minister. Samaraweera received the finance portfolio. The late minister handled the finance portfolio quite well with government revenue topping Rs 1,900 bn mark on two consecutive years.

In spite of the change, the Foreign Ministry didn’t change its line. The Foreign Ministry quite unashamedly allowed Western embassies to exploit the so-called Mannar mass graves. Those responsible turned a blind eye to foreign diplomats propagating the lie that Army during the Vanni offensive killed and buried hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians. The despicable project continued until a US lab declared the skeleton remains belonged to the colonial era. Based on unsubstantiated claims made by Colombo-based Western embassies, the Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet blamed the Sri Lankan military for mass graves. Even after the Geneva project went awry, the Foreign Ministry lacked the will to at least refer to the extremely unfair position taken by the former Chilean UNHRC President in her capacity as the global human rights chief.

The Foreign Ministry showed its true colours when The Island sought the government response to the disclosure made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017. The Foreign Ministry simply rejected Lord Naseby’s intervention. The disclosure unsettled the then government. The then Foreign Ministry spokesperson, an experienced career diplomat, ridiculed Lord Naseby’s statement. The official wouldn’t have done so without consulting the higher-ups. The yahapalana Foreign Ministry would have probably remained quiet if The Island didn’t raise the issue. For want of a Foreign Ministry response to Lord Naseby’s very important statement, even a week after it was made, the writer, on Oct 20, 2017, sought an explanation from the Foreign Ministry.

The Foreign Ministry response really disappointed a vast majority of people, who expected the government to use the House of Lords disclosure to counter lies that had been propagated by various interested parties. Instead of taking advantage of Lord Naseby’s statement, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mahishini Colonne declared: “The Government of Sri Lanka remains committed to the national processes, aimed at realizing the vision of a reconciled, stable, peaceful and prosperous nation. Engaging in arguments and debates in the international domain over the number of civilians who may have died at a particular time in the country will not help resolve any issues, in a meaningful manner, locally, except a feel good factor for a few individuals who may think that they have won a debate or scored points over someone or the other.”

Two years later, Tilak Marapana, PC, in his capacity as the Foreign Minister made reference to Lord Naseby’s disclosure when he addressed the Geneva sessions. One-time Attorney General Marapana, who succeeded disgraced Ravi Karunanayake as Foreign Minister in the wake of explosive revelations in the Presidential Treasury Bond Commission, emphasized the importance of Lord Naseby’s disclosure based on wartime Colombo based UK Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Anthony’s Gash dispatches to London. But, his government refrained from pursuing the matter. The current dispensation, too, never officially submitted British records to Geneva though during the tenure of Prof. G.L. Peiris’ predecessor, Dinesh Gunawardena, the Foreign Ministry did raise the issue with the British. The UK continues to suppress wartime dispatches from Sri Lanka. In fact, Sri Lanka never pursued the declaration made by wartime US Defence Attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith in 2011. Basically, both British and American embassy officials said the same. They denied the Sri Lankan military perpetrated war crimes. Their statements/declarations should be examined against the backdrop of the US and the UK pursuing an anti-Sri Lanka agenda.



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Midweek Review

Post-war foreign relations: A diplomatic quagmire for Lanka

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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

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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.

‘THE PEARL’

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

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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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