Connect with us

Midweek Review

Sri Lanka walking a diplomatic tightrope

Published

on

Oct 28, 2020: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa receives US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Presidebtial Secretariat (pic courtesy President’s Office)

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Among a spate of diplomatic appointments made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, none triggered opposition from those who had backed his presidential candidature as the appointment of Milinda Moragoda as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in New Delhi.

The one-time top UNP Minister, and a former close confidant of beleaguered UNP Chief Ranil Wickremesinghe, Moragoda, who had proved his negotiating skills, both here and abroad, received the appointment at a crucial time as Sri Lanka struggles to maintain a much required balance, in its foreign relations, in the wake of the rapidly evolving catastrophic US-China confrontation under Trump Presidency. Hopefully after President-elect Joe Biden assumes reins in Washington, things will be tackled more with brains by both sides than with military brawn, for the sake of survivability of all life on earth as the nature’s balance has already been badly damaged without nukes going off in the event of a future war, finishing the job in extra quick time.

The recent clear victory, secured by President-elect Joe Biden, may halt further deterioration of US-China relations. But, it is too early to reach a final conclusion as regards US-China relations or US-Iran dealings, badly damaged by outgoing US President Donald Trump’s bellicose actions.

Sri Lanka’s political leadership needs to keep (in mind that in spite of the incumbent Republican’s departure from the White House in January 2021), the policy adopted by the quartet led by the sole superpower US, also comprising Japan, Australia and India, vis-a-vis Sri Lanka, is expected to remain the same. The grouping’s policy will be primarily influenced by Sri Lanka’s relationship with China, especially against the backdrop of the much-deteriorated China-India relations.

Moragoda’s appointment received the approval of the Parliament, amidst a campaign directed at the former Minister, who played a significant role in Wickremesinghe’s disastrous efforts to settle the North-East issue, with the help of the Norwegians. Those who opposed Moragoda’s appointment found fault with him over his controversial role as an UNPer, as well as an opinion maker. They made representations to the Parliamentary High Posts Committee, chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, against Moragoda’s appointment. The Parliament obviously rejected criticisms of Moragoda’s conduct, as a politician, hence the unanimous approval.

In the wake of the attacks on Moragoda, as well as criticism of government decisions, as regards some other appointments, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa explained his position in this regard. The President resorted to the issuance of an unprecedented statement defending the appointments made by his government. Those backing the government, but strongly opposed to some of the appointments, extensively used social media to target the nominees. Moragoda was repeatedly attacked. National Freedom Front leader Wimal Weerawansa, who is also a member of the cabinet, publicly questioned Moragoda’s conduct and his brainchild, Pathfinder Organization. Weerawansa even categorized the Pathfinder Organization as a CIA front. Whatever the criticism, as regards the founder of the Pathfinder Oganisation, the new envoy to New Delhi can certainly articulate the President’s stand. Moragoda, both in and out of the Parliament, enjoyed excellent relations with influential countries.

 

Prez won’t succumb to pressure

 

In a statement headlined ‘No intention of changing appointments recently made after deep thought in the face of pressure’ the President urged distractors not to undermine those who had been chosen by the government. The President’s Office issued the following statement on Sept. 2, 2020: “Pressure is being mounted against certain appointments recently made by the President and the Government. All these appointments were made with the utmost consideration of our country’s sovereignty, national security and implementation of the Saubhagyaye Dekma policy statement. Also, the President emphasizes such appointments have been made after careful scrutiny of loyalty to the nation, qualifications and background of these individuals so that policies of the Government can move forward in a successful manner.

The President stressed that he had no intention of changing such appointments, made after deep thinking, or to replace them with different persons in the face of pressure. As such, the President politely requests everyone not to pressure him or the Government to change these appointments.

The President is of the view that expressing opinions against these appointments will not only make the appointees unable to carry out their duties and responsibilities, properly, but also will weaken the Government’s process, by underestimating them in the society.”

In addition to Moragoda’s appointment, the President picked veteran career diplomat Ravinatha Aryasinha, former career diplomat Palitha Kohona, and political commentator and author C.A. Chandraprema as Sri Lanka’s top envoys in Washington, Beijing and Geneva, respectively. Former Chief Justice Mohan Peiris is Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in New York.

The recent change, in the US administration, is unlikely to change their policy towards Sri Lanka as Washington’s growing dependence on New Delhi, to meet the Chinese challenge, remains a key push factor. Western powers and India are certain to respond to the growing China-Sri Lanka political relations, as highlighted by the recent statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo. The statement issued by the Embassy dealt with high level talks that had taken place close on the heels of US Secretary Mike Pompeo’s visit, just ahead of the US presidential election. The Donald Trump administration, without doubt, sought to influence the voters of Indian origin, by Pompeo’s two-day visit to New Delhi, before arriving in Colombo on Oct 27th. The US also participated in the high profile Malabar 2020 maritime exercise, involving India, Japan and Australia, in the Bay of Bengal, ahead of the US election. Trump’s rival Biden had Kamala Harris, of Tamil origin, as his running mate. She is the first immigrant and the first woman ever to become the US Vice President. She is also the first African-American woman, the first Indian-American, and the first Asian-American US Vice President.

 

Biden-Kamala Harris strategy

 

In spite of some sections of the Sri Lankan community expressing fears of Harris, being of Indian origin, she shouldn’t be a serious concern as the US policy on Sri Lanka is unlikely to be shaped by an individual. But the Democratic politics can be quite hostile, much more aggressive than the Republican response to Sri Lanka. How can Sri Lanka forget the US forcing Sri Lanka to co-sponsor the Geneva resolution in the wake of the then Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, Ravinatha Aryasinha, strongly objecting to the draft resolution, at the first informal session with the then US-led Core Group. Premier Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera overruled Aryasinha, who co-sponsored the resolution on Oct 1, 2015.

Sri Lanka, under whatever the circumstances, cannot forget that the previous yahapalana government co-sponsored an accountability resolution in the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Oct 2015 during Barack Obama’s Democratic administration. The Democrats are back. The US quit the UNHRC, in June 2018, at the behest of President Trump whose administration, while ridiculing the Geneva body, ensured the continuation of the process meant to debase Sri Lanka. US ally, the UK, now spearheads the US initiated project.

Sri Lanka should strongly push for re-examination of the Geneva resolution, adopted on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Contrary to claims, there is absolutely no change in the Geneva stand, vis-a-vis war crimes allegations directed at Sri Lanka. A statement issued by the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, on Feb 27, 2020, on behalf of the Core Group on Sri Lanka (Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK) underscored the need to expose Western lies.

 

Core Group repeats US stand

 

Let me reproduce Ambassador French’s statement verbatim: “In 2015, Sri Lanka co-sponsored resolution 30/1, which provided a framework to address the legacy of conflict and build the foundations for sustainable and inclusive peace. Sri Lanka committed to delivering progress on accountability, reconciliation and human rights with the support of the Council and reaffirmed those commitments through two further resolutions. As the High Commissioner’s report highlights, these resolutions have their origins in Sri Lanka’s domestic processes.

“These resolutions are hugely significant for Sri Lanka and for this Council. They marked the end of a period of confrontation with voted resolutions and an international investigation. They heralded the start of a partnership and a sense of common purpose between Sri Lanka and the Council.

“From 2015, important steps have been taken, as recognized in successive Council reports. We join the High Commissioner in welcoming the significant progress in institution building, including through the establishment of the Office of Reparations and the Office on Missing Persons. Fulfillment of the mandates of these offices would bring hope to those left behind, following tens of thousands of cases of enforced disappearances over many years.

“Following the resolution, human rights defenders, academics and journalists, have had more freedom and experienced less intimidation. However, we share the High Commissioner’s concern at the growing number of reports of harassment and surveillance of human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations. The protection of civil society, independent media and human rights institutions, from intimidation, remains critical to fulfill Sri Lanka’s commitment to a free and open democratic society, both in the build up to, and beyond the upcoming Parliamentary elections.

“We are deeply disappointed and concerned that the government has changed its approach to the resolution. We remain profoundly committed to resolution 30/1 and its principles of reconciliation, accountability, inter-communal harmony, and justice for victims of conflict.

“We urge the government of Sri Lanka to advance all of these principles and to ensure a prosperous and inclusive Sri Lanka for which the rule of law and ending impunity are a fundamental basis.

“We encourage the government of Sri Lanka to continue cooperation and dialogue with the Council, the OHCHR, and UN human rights mechanisms, to facilitate progress towards a lasting peace where the rights of all of Sri Lanka’s people can flourish.”

Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to counter the propaganda, has facilitated the high profile Western campaign, directed at the war-winning political and military leaderships, much to the disappointment of the vast majority of people. Negligence, on the part of successive administrations, facilitated the Western project, as the country continued to be categorized as a major human rights violator, and repeatedly demonized. One year after the last presidential election, Sri Lanka is yet to take tangible measures to challenge the Geneva resolution, though it announced the withdrawal from the Geneva resolution. Quitting the Geneva process is certainly not the answer to the Western propaganda project, directed at Sri Lanka. Instead, Sri Lanka should take appropriate measures to formulate a cohesive response to the Geneva resolution, based on lies. Successive governments had facilitated continuation of the anti-Sri Lanka project by conveniently holding back an efficient response to unsubstantiated war crime accusations.

 

TNA seeks to exploit Biden victory

 

One-time LTTE mouthpiece, the TNA, on Sunday (Nov. 8) congratulated US President-elect Joe Biden and his deputy Kamala Harris. The TNA is the first Sri Lankan party to applaud Biden and Harris for winning the US election. A much weaker TNA comprises Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) and three ex-terrorist groups, namely TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF, funded and armed by India, in the ’80s. The TNA will certainly go all out to win the sympathy of the new US administration. The TNA, in a statement issued on Sunday, said: “As the premier political party, representing the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, we congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on a momentous victory.”

The TNA worked closely with successive US administrations to undermine the Rajapaksas. TNA Chief R. Sampanthan backed war-,winning Army Commander the then General Sarath Fonseka’s presidential candidature at the January 2010 election, the first national poll after the successful conclusion of the war the year before. Sampanthan, in spite of initial reservations when the US asked for his backing for the UNP-led coalition, against President Mahinda Rajapaksa, joined the grouping. The TNA delivered all eight electoral districts, including Digamadulla, to Fonseka.

The TNA backed Maithripala Sirisena and Sajith Premadasa at the 2015 and 2019 presidential elections, too, though the latter project went awry. Premadasa, though backed by minority political parties, represented in Parliament, suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose candidature, at the presidential poll, seemed so unlikely, due to the unprecedented legal challenge, that a jittery SLPP leadership got Chamal Rajapaksa to pay the required deposit to contest as an independent. The judiciary ruled in favour of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In the wake of Premadasa’s defeat, the TNA suffered a major setback in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, at the parliamentary election, last August. The TNA was reduced to just 10 seats, whereas its rivals increased their tally there. In the previous Parliament, the TNA had 16 seats, though two deserted the coalition later. At the height of the LTTE-TNA project, when the combine enjoyed exclusive power in the Northern and Eastern regions, the grouping had 22 seats. In spite of being significantly weakened, both in and out of Parliament, the TNA remained a force to be reckoned with, due to its cozy relationship with Colombo’s Western diplomatic community. Regardless of waning of the TNA’s clout, in the current Parliament, the grouping’s stand has been strengthened by the entry of former Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran (2013-2018) and Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, from different parties.

The TNA wielded so much power, during the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration (Jan 2015- Nov 2019), on behalf of the party, its Jaffna district MP M.A. Sumanthiran revealed in Washington the existence of an agreement for the inclusion of foreign judges in a hybrid war crimes court, constituted in terms of the Geneva Resolution. The declaration was made in June 2016 in the presence of the then Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington Prasad Kariyawasam. An utterly inept parliament never even bothered to at least to raise President’s Counsel Sumanthiran’s explosive revelation. Interestingly, the Sri Lankan Embassy, in Washington, issued a statement regarding the event where Sumanthiran made the revelation, in the presence of the Ambassador, but conveniently refrained from making reference to TNA heavyweight’s comment on foreign judges.

Sumanthiran declared that his party reached a tripartite consensus in respect of foreign judges, defence attorneys, investigators, etc., in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, before the Geneva Council unanimously adopted Resolution 30/1.

The MP told the 2016 American ‘Congressional Caucus for Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka’, in Washington, that the government of Sri Lanka, the TNA and the US negotiated the agreement.

MP Sumanthiran stressed that the 2015 resolution was moved in Geneva following an understanding that the participation of foreigners wouldn’t be contrary to Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Declaring that he had been personally involved in the negotiations, with the United States of America also participating in that particular process, Sumanthiran said: “There were some doubts created, as to whether the Constitution of Sri Lanka would allow for foreign nationals to function as judges and we went into that question, clarified it, and said yes they can”.

Sumanthiran told the Congressional Caucus that the resolution adopted in Geneva, had been negotiated and they settled for a hybrid model, though they originally asked for an international inquiry.

As long as Sri Lanka fails to prove war crimes accusations are wrong, the project will continue, regardless of the change of administrations in the US.

In the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary polls, in January and August, 2015, respectively, the country was told that the threat of war crimes probe would end with the ouster of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The yahapalana leaders proudly declared that as they would restore faith in the judiciary, the issue of foreign judges was irrelevant. Over five years later, Sri Lanka remains accused of committing war crimes, in spite of having the wherewithal to successfully counter them. Vital information that can be used to set the record straight, gather dust as the parties hell bent on dividing the country on ethnic lines, advance their strategy.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Midweek Review

Rajavarothiam Sampanthan’s legacy

Published

on

Air Force personnel carry TNA leader R. Sampanthan’s coffin from a Y 12 transport aircraft to a waiting hearse at the Palaly air base. On the government directive, the SLAF deployed the Y 12 on July 4 morning to move the coffin from the Ratmalana air base to Palaly. On the following day, the Y 12 took the coffin from Palaly to China Bay, for the conduct of the last rites in Trincomalee on Sunday (07), after public veneration in his home electorate.

The TNA (Parliament recognizes TNA as ITAK [Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi]) won 22 seats in the Northern and Eastern Provinces under Rajavarothiam Sampanthan’s leadership at the April 2004 General Election. It was their best performance. That achievement was made at the height of the LTTE’s conventional military power. By the time the TNA contested the next general election, the LTTE didn’t exist, hence the drop in their performance. The TNA only managed to secure 14 seats at the April 2010 General Election as the Tigers were no longer there to stuff ballot boxes on its behalf. At the August 2015 General Election, the TNA obtained 16 seats but suffered quite a setback at the last parliamentary poll when it was reduced to 10 seats. What would be their fate at the next general election scheduled for 2025? Against the backdrop of Sampanthan’s demise, would TNA think afresh and formulate new strategy or continue on the same path.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Just a few weeks before the 2015 presidential election, the late Rajavarothiam Sampanthan admitted that the annihilation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) freed his political party – the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) – from the clutches of the ruthless Tigers.

The lawyer-turned-politician wouldn’t have said so willingly under any circumstances. Never. Sampanthan, who led the alliance during a turbulent 23 years, had no option but to acknowledge the truth as the writer raised the issue at a special press conference called by the TNA at Hotel Janaki, Fife Road, Colombo 05 to announce its decision to back Maithripala Sirisena’s candidature at the 2015 presidential election (Declaring backing for MS, Sampanthan admits: War freed TNA from clutches of ruthless Tigers, The Island, Dec 31, 2014).

Sampanthan was flanked by the then Northern Provincial Councillor Dharmalingham Siddarthan (PLOTE leader), Vanni District MP Nadeshu Sivashakthi Annamalai (EPRLF), Vanni District MP Selvam Adaikkalanathan (TELO leader), Jaffna District MP Mavai Senathirajah (Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi leader) and its National List MP, M.A. Sumanthiran.

Sampanthan earlier declined to answer that question when the writer contacted him over the phone several weeks after the combined armed forces brought the war to an end on May 19, 2009. The Island raised the same issue again in January 2010 after Sampanthan declared the TNA’s support for the then General Sarath Fonseka’s candidature at the 2010 presidential poll. The veteran politician side-stepped the issue but he couldn’t have declined to answer pointed questions at a major media briefing.

Canada-based D.B.S. Jeyaraj, perhaps the foremost Tamil political commentator, despite some grave blunders like openly claiming that the Tigers would turn the tide of war against the Army almost till the eleventh hour, posted The Island report on dbsjeyaraj.com on Dec 30, 2014, even before the print edition was available. He headlined the story ‘Sampanthan Admits that TNA has been Freed from the Clutches of the Ruthless Military Organization LTTE.’

Why did Sampanthan take so long to appreciate the armed forces’ victory over the LTTE? Interestingly, no other local print or electronic media reported Sampanthan’s much belated declaration on the LTTE.

At the time the TNA declared its support for Maithripala Sirisena, its parliamentary group consisted of 14 MPs. The TNA was the third largest group in Parliament. The first, second and fourth places were held by the UPFA (SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance), UNF (UNP-led United National Front) and DNA (JVP-led Democratic National Alliance), respectively.

The Island sought explanation from Sampanthan as regards the following issues: (1) Did the TNA probe its own conduct as a political party, particularly its 2001 controversial decision to recognise the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people (2) Why did the TNA ask the Tamil electorate to boycott the Nov 2005 presidential election (3) Circumstances leading to the TNA backing retired General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election.

Sampanthan sort of hesitated before he compared the situation before and after May 2009, when the war was brought to a successful conclusion.

The Trincomalee District lawmaker declared that both the government and the Opposition had the freedom because the LTTE no longer existed. Sampanthan stressed that the LTTE had been a ruthless militant organization. The MP grudgingly admitted that the TNA, too, had been freed from the clutches of the LTTE.

The TNA leader justified the recognition of the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people on the basis that both the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s government and the UNP wanting to have talks with the group. That was a blatant lie. The LTTE had been on the offensive after taking the upper hand in fighting in the northern theatre.

Commenting on the Nov 2005 polls boycott, Sampanthan claimed that the Tamil electorate had no option but to abide by the LTTE directive. Sampanthan didn’t comment on the TNA having to issue that directive on behalf of the LTTE.

Without elaborating, Sampanthan referred to allegations regarding the UPFA engineering the LTTE’s decision.

The TNA Chief said that the Tamil community had to move on. People living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces as well as other areas had faith in the TNA. Therefore, the party received the right to decide on their behalf.

Prez Polls boycott

In the wake of a joint declaration made by the LTTE-TNA combine to ensure Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat at the 2005 presidential polls, the writer contacted Sampanthan on the night of Nov 15, 2005. Sampanthan’s reaction was sought immediately after Batticaloa-based TNA lawmaker Joseph Pararajasingham confirmed the decision taken in consultation with the LTTE in Kilinochchi to call on Tamil voters to boycott the poll.

Sampanthan declared that there hadn’t been any developments after the Kilinochchi announcement. “Nothing worthwhile would be achieved by supporting either of the two leading candidates, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe.” Both Pararajasingham and Sampanthan declared that the Tamil speaking people were not interested in the election (CBK calls off last Cabinet meeting: TNA refuses to change poll boycott stance, The Island, Nov 16, 2005).

The LTTE-TNA decision was meant to engineer Wickremesinghe’s defeat. There cannot be any doubt about that. Those who had accused the Rajapaksas of bribing the LTTE to influence the polls boycott in mid-Nov 2005 should explain why the group resumed landmine attacks less than three weeks later. When the writer interviewed Kumaran Pathmanathan, or ‘KP’ as he was widely known, in late 2009, one-time the LTTE’s international weapons procurer declared the LTTE was sure of taking the upper hand in the north within two years. Pathmanathan, who had been in the custody of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) at that time he shed light on the LTTE’s thinking in the run-up to all-out war in August 2006.

The late Sampanthan knew what he was doing. He fully realized that the LTTE was dragging the Tamil community to a destructive war but went along with the despicable strategy. Lawmaker Sumanthiran, who had been seated with Sampanthan at the Janaki Hotel media briefing on Dec 30, 2014, recently commented on the 2005 polls boycott. The comment was made in the presence of President Ranil Wickremesinghe in Jaffna. The Presidential Media Division (PMD) quoted Sumanthiran as having told the gathering: “It is possible that the challenges in the North may have impeded your journey in 2005, a fact that I believe is now regretfully acknowledged by the people of the region.”

Sumanthiran may not have at least considered entering politics at the time the LTTE-TNA ordered the polls boycott. Sumanthiran, in a statement issued to coincide with the Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day this year, shamelessly contradicted Sampanthan’s stand on the LTTE announced on Dec 30, 2014.

The truth is the annihilation of the LTTE paved the way for the TNA to resume political activity. The late Sampanthan, in spite of being under tremendous pressure by the LTTE at that time, must be held accountable for utterly irresponsible decisions.

Unfortunately, the other political parties represented in Parliament never bothered to take up the TNA’s despicable anti-democratic actions. They conveniently turned a blind eye even after the European Election Observation Mission declared the partnership between the LTTE and the TNA resulted in the former openly stuffing ballot boxes on behalf of the latter. The EU made the disclosure in its report on the 2004 general election. The bombshell EU report on the general election conducted on April 02, 2004, released in Colombo on June 17, 2004, declared in no uncertain terms that the group secured 22 seats with the direct involvement of the LTTE. Leader of now defunct TULF V. Anandasangaree was the only politician to comment on the EU report (TULF leader applauds EU for unmasking LTTE proxy, The Island, June 23, 2004). All others remained silent. Actually, the Parliament should have taken up this issue. The media, too, ignored the EU comments on the despicable LTTE-TNA partnership. The late Sampanthan led the TNA at that time. Later, Sangaree told the writer that the LTTE engaged in large scale and systematic vote rigging to such an extent, the TNA’s 22 MPs had absolutely no moral right to serve as parliamentarians (Monitors should have called for fresh poll in North and East – TULF, The Island, June 26). Actually, the TNA should have been summoned by the Committee on Ethics and Privileges.

TNA’s role in ISGA initiative

Indian Premier Narendra Modi has condoled the demise of. Sampanthan. In an X post, the Prime Minister said: “My deepest condolences to the family and friends of veteran TNA leader R. Sampanthan. Will always cherish fond memories of meetings with him. He relentlessly pursued a life of peace, security, equality, justice and dignity for the Tamil nationals of Sri Lanka. He will be deeply missed by his friends and followers in Sri Lanka and India.”

In the post-LTTE era, the TNA should have examined its own conduct to identify its role in the destructive Eelam War IV (August 2006 to May 2009) that only led to unnecessary further suffering by innocent people. India, where terrorism originated, should have studied the TNA role in the LTTE’s overall strategy.

The TNA at the behest of the LTTE, undermined the India-backed Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) arranged by Norway in February 2002. The TNA relentlessly supported the LTTE’s call for the institutionalization of the Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) to facilitate the resumption of talks. The TNA took up ISGA with the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga on LTTE’s behalf. The LTTE proxy went to the extent of threatening the government that the LTTE wouldn’t return to the negotiating table unless President Kumaratunga accepted the ISGA with powers to raise taxes, maintain law and order, control internal and external trade, negotiate foreign loans and the absolute control over marine and offshore resources of the adjacent seas and the undisputed power to regulate access.

The LTTE quit the negotiating table in April 2003 following six rounds of talks with the government. That move, perhaps taken in consultation with the TNA, set the stage for the final war. The TNA can never disassociate itself from the LTTE’s murderous actions that corralled ordinary people as a human shield as part of its overall war strategy when it was being pursued by the security forces.

The TNA, until the very end, remained committed to the LTTE’s despicable strategy. Having granted the LTTE unprecedented status of sole representative of the Tamil speaking people, that party remained mum as the people were forced to retreat towards Mullivaikkal with the depleted LTTE fighting cadre. The TNA never publicly asked the LTTE to let the people go. The Tiger proxy TNA did not utter a word to the LTTE on behalf of horror struck people held as its human shield.

When the relentless Sri Lankan military drive forced the LTTE to retreat from all fronts, Velupillai Prabhakaran dragged the civilian population to the Vanni east where they were deployed as a human shield. Let me reproduce a letter written by the 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 steadfast 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 any positive LTTE response and the military went ahead with the final phase of the operation which was completed 15 years ago this month. Perhaps, the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), inquiring into wartime and post-conflict accountability issues, should try to identify several channels through which Ambassador Hattrem tried to convince the LTTE. Did Ambassador Hattrem seek the late Sampanthan’s help to convince Prabhakaran? Did the Norwegian seek the intervention of any other TNA MP? If not, the Norwegians believed that there was no point in even getting in touch with the TNA regarding this particular matter.

The diabolical LTTE-TNA partnership, finalized in late 2001, cannot be examined without taking into consideration the elimination of top Tamil political leadership by the LTTE. At least two ex-parliamentarians were killed in Sept 1985 by TELO at the behest of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

The LTTE assassinated Appapillai Amirthalingam in July 1989. Along with the foremost Sri Lankan Tamil political leader and former Opposition leader, the LTTE killer squad shot dead ex-Jaffna MP Vettivelu Yogeswaran. Ex-Nallur MP Murugesu Sivasithamparam was shot and wounded at 342/2, Bauddhaloka Mawatha/Bullers Road in Colombo 7.

In spite of initial reluctance, those who represented the TNA had no qualms in working with the top LTTE leadership responsible for the assassination of Amirthalingham. The killing took place during the LTTE-Premadasa honeymoon, 11 months before the eruption of Eelam War IV. The truth is the LTTE wanted Amirthalingham eliminated as Prabhakaran knew his monstrous group would never receive recognition as sole representative of Tamil speaking people as long as the political veteran lived.

Continue Reading

Midweek Review

The Common Pet

Published

on

By Lynn Ockersz

There he sits obediently,

The cynosure of all eyes,

Contemplative and sad,

Yet upright, ready to spring,

At the prey that strays,

And within him burn urges,

That ‘Culture’ cannot tame,

Which define his essence,

And these contending pulls,

Bring silent, lingering agony,

That petting can’t lay at rest.

Continue Reading

Midweek Review

Field Marshal in penetrating post-Aragalaya move

Published

on

President Wickremesinghe receiving a copy of FM Fonseka’s memoir at Nelum Pokuna (pic courtesy PMD)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka has switched sides again. Fonseka, MP, threw his weight behind UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Presidential Polls campaign as the latter strengthened his position, politically, with the finalisation of debt restructuring pacts with the Official Creditor Committee (OCC) and the Exim Bank of China for USD 5.8 bn and USD 4.2 bn, respectively.

Japan-led OCC includes France, India, the United States, Canada and several European nations. However, Sri Lanka is yet to reach an agreement with private creditors. That remains a challenge.

But, on the political front, President Wickremesinghe continued to make substantial progress with the gradual disintegration of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Would Gampaha District lawmaker Fonseka’s betrayal of the main Opposition party the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) at a crucial stage of the Presidential Polls campaign undermine Sajith Premadasa drive, with more than a dozen others from the SJB also having behind the scene negotiations with the UNP Leader to back him at the crucial poll, foremost being Rajitha Senaratne?

To be fair by Rajitha he has gone on record telling interviewer Chamuditha Samarawickrema, without naming the co-conspirators, that his plan is to, at the same time, have Sajith Premadasa as the PM candidate in a definite future tie up with Ranil. It is a clear cut challenge to the JVP. According to the one-time Health Minister Dr. Senaratne the SJB rebels had their first meeting at the residence of Eran Wickramaratne, MP, and, according to him, other rebels are cozying up to Ranil more than him.

The launch of FM Fonseka’s memoir “The Army Commander’s Promise to the Nation – I will not leave this war to the next Army Commander,” at Nelum Pokuna, with the participation of President Wickremesinghe last Friday (28) marked the end of Fonseka’s relationship with the SJB, officially.

Fonseka’s move is unlikely to undermine the SJB’s campaign at any level, unless the current internal rebellion, urging Wickremesinghe and Premadasa getting together for the greater good of everyone, gain greater support. In fact, in spite of MP Fonseka being Chairman of the party, he never played a role in Sajith Premadasa’s campaign. But Sajith has to be cognizant of the fact that his MPs do not want to be at the mercy of the JVP knowing its bloody past during two unsuccessful uprisings against elected governments in 1971 and the 1987 to ’89 period. His own late father President Ranasinghe Premadasa and his supporters faced the brunt of the JVP violence in the second uprising. By Sajith Premadasa’s own admission he was the target of an attack when he went to visit the Aragalaya camp site at Galle Face in 2022. He escaped any bodily harm, or even death, thanks to his alert driver who managed to whisk him away to safety in the nick of time. A similar visit to the site by JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake went off without any incident!

Field Marshal Fonseka, the war-winning Army Commander (2005-2009), had been among those UNPers who joined the SJB at its inception. in 2020. close on the heels of the Grand Old Party’s heavy defeat at the 2019 presidential election. The formation of the SJB, at the expense of the UNP, led to the total annihilation of the latter at the 2020 Parliamentary Polls, if not for a single National List (NL) slot.

The SJB secured 54 seats, including seven National List slots, whereas the UNP was reduced to just one NL slot. Now, MP Fonseka has returned to the UNP. Of the 54-member parliamentary group, fiery Fonseka is actually the third SJBer to go back to the UNP since Wickremesinghe joined the Rajapaksas in April 2022. SJBers Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando switched their allegiance to Wickremesinghe immediately after the latter accepted the premiership from Gotabaya Rajapaksa. (Former SJB NL member and State Minister Diana Gamage’s ouster from Parliament should be dealt with separately).

The SJB also lost Patali Champika Ranawaka, who registered Eksath Janaraja Peramuna (EJP) and declared his intention to contest the 2024 Presidential Poll. Unfortunately, the former JHU stalwart lacked the required backing to join the fray. Would Ranawaka, too, join Wickremesinghe? If that happened, what would be MP Ranawaka’s terms as he recently declared that he wouldn’t accept ministerial portfolios.

What really prompted MP Fonseka to join Wickremesinghe? The former Sinha Regiment veteran desperately wanted to contest the 2024 presidential election though he lacked political platform. In fact, Fonseka felt he should have had the opportunity to take on Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the 2019 presidential election. Fonseka obviously had no option but to join Wickremesinghe as the SJB publicly rejected him.

The FM’s relationship with Wickremesinghe cannot be examined without taking into consideration the latter’s dependence on the ruling SLPP in Parliament. However, the SLPP has been fragmented, sharply, with a significant number of MPs declaring their support for Wickremesinghe’s candidature.

In late February this year, Fonseka, in an exclusive interview with the writer, declared that he wouldn’t leave the party, hence the decision to title that article ‘Field Marshal won’t quit SJB’. (https://island.lk/field-marshal-wont-quit-sjb/). But, he has done so. In fact, The Island, during that interview at his Thalahena, Malabe office, raised the possibility of him joining Wickremesinghe against the backdrop of meeting the President in Parliament. The FM claimed that he met Wickremesinghe not as the President but the Minister in charge of the Finance portfolio regarding some of his funds held by the government. According to Fonseka, his February meeting, on the day the President delivered his latest policy speech, was the third. “There were two other previous meetings regarding the same matter,” Fonseka said, adding that the other officials who dealt with the issue at hand were the Governor, CBSL, Treasury Secretary and the Attorney General.

Disclosing the February meeting lasted just 10 minutes, Fonseka appreciated the fact that the President didn’t discuss politics at all on all occasions. “Perhaps, regarding the same matter, I may have to meet the President again.”

The funds held by the government are widely believed to be received by Fonseka in the run-up to the 2010 Presidential Polls. Perhaps, the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government must have released the funds that had been held for over a decade. The June 28 book launch proved switching allegiance is all part of the game.

But if Wickremesinghe opts out of the race, as some believe, in favour of Fonseka, as happened in 2010, 2015 and 2019, then most of the JVP bravado about the election being a cake walk as there is no real challenger may turn out to be plain bravado. The writer, however doesn’t think so.

A place in Yahapalana Cabinet

In February 2016, Yahapalana Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe threw a political lifeline to Fonseka who had been in a desperate situation in the wake of the massive 2015 General Election defeat. Having contested the 2015 General Election under the symbol of the Democratic Party (DP), Sri Lanka’s most successful Army Chief failed to secure a single seat. That defeat demoralised and disappointed him. Obviously, Fonseka had absolutely no opportunity to strike a deal with President Sirisena or Premier Wickremesinghe as DP’s showing at the parliamentary poll was so poor and he faced political oblivion.

But, the sudden death of UNP NL MP M.K.D. S. Gunawardena, a SLFPer who switched allegiance to Wickremesinghe, in February 2016, created a vacancy that gave an opportunity to Wickremesinghe. Fonseka was swiftly named Minister of Regional Development and, thereafter, as Minister of Wildlife and Sustainable Development until the Oct 2018 constitutional crisis.

If not for Wickremesinghe, Fonseka wouldn’t have received an opportunity to serve in the Cabinet of Ministers. In the wake of the constitutional crisis triggered by President Sirisena and the Easter Sunday attacks several months later, interested parties called for Fonseka’s appointment as the Minister in charge of police. President Sirisena, who had been at loggerheads with the then Minister Fonseka, declined to do so.

At the time of the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) mounted Easter Sunday attacks Sirisena served as both Defence and Public Security minister.

Regardless of the opportunity granted by Wickremesinghe, in Feb 2016, Fonseka deserted him in 2020 when Sajith Premadasa formed the SJB. About five months after the General Election, MP Fonseka received the appointment as Chairman of the party. Now, after four years in political wilderness, lawmaker Fonseka had again received media attention by way of a book launch but could he sustain public interest?

When Fonseka’s relations deteriorated with the SJB at an early stage, as a member of Sajith Premadasa’s team, he got involved with a group of senior citizens who genuinely promoted him as an independent presidential candidate. They organized a mega event at a five-star hotel in Colombo several months ago to promote Fonseka’s candidature. But, when Fonseka made his latest move, that group simply abandoned him. One of them admitted quite candidly that they were duped.

Now FM is ready to follow SLPP dissidents who switched allegiance to Wickremesinghe at the expense of the party they were elected.

Having given up post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in July 2009 to enter politics, Fonseka contested the 2010 presidential election but suffered heavy defeat at the hands of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The UNP-led coalition that included the JVP and the TNA, lost interest in Fonseka ahead of the parliamentary polls. The celebrated ex-Army Chief ended up with the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) and the grouping, led by the JVP, secured seven seats at the General Elections. Fonseka was among the group that included Arjuna Ranatunga, Titan Alles and Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

The arrest of Fonseka in early February 2010 in a despicable manner and subsequent legal action/ court martial and his release in May 2012 with a presidential pardon demonstrated a pathetic state of affairs.

Fonseka-TNA relations

Fonseka comfortably won all electorates in the Northern and Eastern Provinces at the 2010 presidential election. After having accused his Army of butchering Tamil civilians on the Vanni east front, the TNA (one-time-LTTE ally), backed his candidature, thanks to Washington’s machinations here to defeat Rajapaksas at any cost for defying the West and wiping out the Tigers militarily. The TNA backing for Fonseka had been in line with the overall US-led strategy to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2010 Presidential Poll. The US strategy, however, failed that time till Sirisena’s betrayal five years later, again with the US backing. Fonseka ended-up losing by a staggering 1.8 mn votes though he handsomely won all the North and East electoral districts with mainly Tamil votes.

MP Fonseka, in May 2021, explained why the Tamil electorate voted for him at the January 26, 2010, presidential election. The explanation given in Parliament coincided with the low-key 12th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE. Fonseka declared: THE PEOPLE OF THE NORTH AND EAST VOTED FOR HIM WITHOUT HATRED BECAUSE OF THE RESTORATION OF PEACE IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY.

Why did MP Fonseka make such an assertion 12 years after the war? What prompted him to say so? Most importantly, was he telling the truth? Did the Tamil electorate really vote for him because of his role in the eradication of the LTTE? No one has responded to Fonseka so far. The civil society, too, has remained mum.

Actually, why did the UNP pick Fonseka as the common candidate? In the aftermath of the eradication of the LTTE, in 2009, the UNP had no option but to accept Fonseka as the common candidate, particularly against the backdrop of the war-winning General making covert moves in their direction. The UNP-led Opposition strategy was primarily meant to deprive President Mahinda Rajapaksa the advantage of the unbelievable (in the eyes of the powerful West that insisted on the invincibility of the Tigers in battle) war triumph. There couldn’t have been a better choice than Fonseka though the Opposition leadership quite correctly realised how the inclusion of the LTTE’s sidekick Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in the grouping distanced the Southern electorate.

Fonseka didn’t mince his words when the media, on July 15th 2009, raised the possibility of his entry into active politics. The writer was among those who had been present at the media briefing called by General Fonseka, in his new capacity as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) at the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH) within the Army Headquarters premises.

Fonseka declared he would never seek a political career. The war veteran said that he wouldn’t want to lose his popularity within 24 hours by taking to politics. The former Army Chief recalled the fate of his senior colleagues, Major General Lakshman Algama and Major General Janaka Perera, both of whom perished in LTTE suicide attacks on election platforms.

The LTTE assassinated Gemunu Watch veteran Algama on Dec 18, 1999, at an election rally in Ja-Ela held in support of UNP Presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe, whereas Commando veteran Perera perished on Oct 06, 2008 in Anuradhapura at an event related with PC polls in which he contested as the Chief Ministerial candidate of the North Central Province.

Nothing could be further from the truth than Fonseka’s declaration in Parliament that those living in the northern and eastern regions voted for him because of the restoration of peace therein? The Tamil electorate never accepted Fonseka’s role as the Commander of the Army and repeatedly accused him and his Army of genocide, especially after the crushing defeat of the LTTE.

Having recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people, way back in 2001, the TNA wouldn’t have accepted Fonseka if the outfit hadn’t been convinced that only the former Army Commander could have challenged the immensely popular Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2010 Presidential Poll.

The plan received the wholehearted backing of the West and especially the US, though the then US Ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis, in a confidential dispatch from Colombo, subsequently exposed by Wikileaks, categorized Fonseka as a war criminal along with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and lawmaker Basil Rajapaksa.

The diplomatic missive, dated January 15, 2009, held the above-mentioned leaders responsible for war crimes. In spite of that, the US threw its weight behind Fonseka, perhaps initiating the move itself as the only viable political strategy to defeat the hugely popular war-winning Mahinda Rajapaksa securing a second term.

Now Fonseka is back again with Wickremesinghe as the latter builds-up large alliance in preparation for the 2024 Presidential Poll.

Why Fonseka accepted the TNA’s backing against the backdrop of its close relationship with the LTTE is still a mystery. Having recalled the killing of Majors General Algama and Perera when he assumed duties as the CDS in July 2009, Fonseka quite conveniently forgot the TNA’s endorsement of the LTTE bid to assassinate Fonseka. If the LTTE succeeded in eliminating Fonseka in April 2006 and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Oct 2006, the war would have definitely taken a different turn as we have often been reminded.

Post-Aragalaya politics

Field Marshal Fonseka was one of the few lawmakers to publicly endorse Aragalaya that forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa out of office. Aragalaya accepted him. The war veteran was the only lawmaker to address the crowds near the Janadhipathi Mandiraya a couple of hours before they stormed the place. After the SLPP elected Wickremesinghe, in late July 2022, as the President, MP Fonseka called for fresh Aragalaya to oust the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa administration. Addressing Parliament, Fonseka urged people to gather in Colombo on Nov 09, 2022. The war veteran wanted to launch a continuous protest campaign until the government was forced out. The SJB quickly distanced itself from Fonseka’s plans. The August 09 project collapsed. Fonseka suffered an irreparable setback.

Perhaps, Fonseka’s latest move should be discussed in the context of the retired military being largely divided among the SJB and JJB/JVP. Fonseka is the only top level retired officer to throw his weight behind Wickremesinghe.

Among those who had been present at the book launch was retired General Mahesh Senanayake, who recently joined the SJB. But that hadn’t discouraged Fonseka from inviting Senanayake, who was recalled from retirement to serve as Yahapalana Army commander. That was due to Fonseka’s intervention. But, the SJB’s decision to accommodate retired General Daya Ratnayake angered Fonseka, who lashed out at Sajith Premadasa for doing so.

The leader and Chairman hadn’t agreed on many things. Actually, there hadn’t been consensus on key issues. They disagreed on the move to back Dullas Alahapperuma as the Opposition candidate against Ranil Wickremesinghe when Parliament voted to elect an MP to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term. Finally, having tried to utilise Aragalaya against Wickremesinghe, Fonseka ended up in the President’s camp.

Continue Reading

Trending