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Midweek Review

Sri Lanka walking a diplomatic tightrope

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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.



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Midweek Review

Closure of Norwegian Embassy in Colombo and other matters (Part II)

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Sept 22, 2022, Trincomalee: Norwegian Ambassador Trine Jøranli Eskedal at the closing ceremony of a Norwegian funded training programme conducted by the elite Special Boat Squadron (SBS). The UN-backed training programme meant to tackle a wide range of crimes taking place via sea routes got underway in early May 2016. Among the participants were 07 male and 01 female officers of the Maldivian Coast Guard as well as 01 male and 01 female officers of the Maldivian Ministry of Fisheries (pic courtesy SLN)

Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is one of those who strongly believed that the LTTE could be defeated. The Gajaba Regiment veteran didn’t mince his words when he met Norwegian officials on April 06, 2006 in the run-up to the closure of the Mavil-aru sluice gates in the third week of July 2006. According to a NorwegianForeign Ministry document in the public domain: “On April 06, 2006, Hanssen-Bauer and Brattskar had a tense meeting with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In response to a question about whether the ethnic and political problems in Sri Lanka could be solved by military means, Gotabaya answers, ‘yes’. The LTTE launched Eelam War IV in August 2006. Within two years and 10 months the Sri Lankan military brought the war to a successful end.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Colombo-based Norwegian diplomats burnt their fingers by seeking information from the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo as regards an Indian fishing craft (Sri Krishna) that had been commandeered by Sea Tigers and was intercepted and sunk by the Maldivian Coast Guard in May 2007.

The Norwegian Embassy reached the Maldivian HC soon after the Maldivians intercepted ‘Sri Krishna’ that was reported missing several days before while fishing in Indian waters.

The Island last week dealt with the Norwegian decision to close down its diplomatic mission in Colombo next year, two decades after Oslo arranged a highly controversial secret Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) (Not even the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga was aware of it till it had been signed) between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The US, EU, Japan and Norway functioned as Co-Chairs to the peace process.

The Norwegian effort received the backing of New Delhi though the Indians were skeptical. Nevertheless, they fully cooperated.

The LTTE quit the negotiating table in April 2003, one year and three months after the signing of the CFA. But, the Norwegians went out of their way to appease the LTTE regardless of the consequences. The diplomatic intervention made on behalf of the Tigers involved in the incident in the Maldivian waters is a case in point. In a way, the LTTE and its sidekick the Tamil National Alliance failed to utilize the Norwegian effort to advance the peace process, whether sincere or not. Instead, the LTTE exploited the Norwegian initiative so much that the negotiating process finally collapsed. Their strategy undermined the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, who meekly towed the Norwegian line. On the other hand, their actions bolstered the nationalist groups and those opposed to the Norwegian questionable initiatives.

Dissolution of Parliament and calling for fresh parliamentary elections in April 2004 should be examined against the backdrop of utterly irresponsible LTTE strategy and its appeasers. However, the elections allowed the TNA, with the LTTE openly stuffing ballot boxes in areas it controlled, to secure the lion’s share of seats in the then amalgamated Northern and Eastern Provinces. Peace Co-Chair EU in its Election Observation report declared that the TNA colluded with the LTTE. Unfortunately, Co-Chairs, including the EU didn’t take the report into consideration.

The incident in the Maldivian waters should be examined basically against the backdrop of the overall deterioration of the situation for want of clear guidelines to handle the peace process.

The Norwegians wouldn’t have intervened without being asked by the LTTE with a nod from a powerful Western interest. We must also note that Norwegian peacemaking efforts in Palestine with obvious American backing that brought about the Oslo Accord with much promise fared even worse with the Palestinians continuing to be humiliated and pasted by the Israelis almost on a daily basis. Where the hell is UNHRC? No war crimes there on your watch Michelle Bachelet? At least the UN should have given her a Nelsonian eye patch.

The Norwegian mission here definitely cleared its move with Oslo. However, by the time they got in touch with the Maldivian HC, Male had cleared Sri Lankan Navy intelligence to interrogate the apprehended LTTE cadres in the custody of the Maldivian. The Island reported the Norwegian intervention in its May 26, 2007 edition. The LTTE had used the ill-fated vessel to transfer weapons from its floating armories to Wanni and was on such a mission when the Maldivians intervened.

At the time the Maldivians sank Sri Krishna, Tamil Nadu had accused the Sri Lanka Navy of destroying that particular vessel. What Tamil Nadu as well as India never expected was another country intervening in the clandestine LTTE arms smuggling operation.

The Maldivian Coast Guard made the intervention on May 16, 2007. The Maldivian Coast Guard engaged a vessel carrying the Sri Lankan flag after the latter fired at a Maldivian fishing craft.

Following a 12-hour standoff, the Maldivians sank the craft flying the Sri Lankan flag.

Interestingly, there had been some Indian naval personnel onboard the Maldivian craft engaged in the operation against the Tiger commandeered vessel.

The LTTE would have never expected its cadres who commandeered the vessel to surrender as they are noted for biting their cyanide vials to prevent capture. The Maldivians however rescued five Tigers who jumped overboard from the sinking vessel, subsequently identified as Sri Krishna. The rescued men told the Maldivians and their Indian instructors (The Indians were helping the Maldivian Coast Guard personnel to familiarize with CG vessel Huravee, gifted by New Delhi to Male) the circumstances under which they were found in Maldivian waters, while engaged in transferring armaments from a floating warehouse.

Sri Krishna’s skipper, Simon Soza had been among the five rescued by the Maldivians. The Sea Tigers admitted that the remaining Indians were being held in a camp in the Vanni (Maldives sinks Indian craft hijacked by Sea Tigers – The Island May 18, 2007).

The sinking of the Sri Krishna was the second high profile incident involving an Indian trained terrorist group in the Maldivian territory. The raid on Male during the first week of November, 1988 by sea borne PLOTE (People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorists at the behest of a Colombo-based Maldivian businessman, Abdulla Luthufee was the first. Interestingly, the Indian Navy sank MV Progress Light commandeered by Luthufee’s mercenaries while trying to reach Sri Lankan waters.

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, who led the then UNP government’s negotiating team for talks with the LTTE in 2002-2003 period, appreciated the role played by the Scandinavian country.

GL, Palihakkara, Salter,Jehan comment

Mark Salter

Prof. Peiris, now a leading member in one of the SLPP rebel groups said: “The Norwegian government was significantly involved in the economic development of Sri Lanka, long before its association with the peace process. In particular, there had been substantial Norwegian support for infrastructure development, especially rural roads in the South of Sri Lanka, in addition to assistance in the fisheries sector, human resources development and community work of various kinds.

In the aftermath of its facilitation role in the peace process in the late 1990s and early in the present century, the government of Norway commissioned an independent evaluation of their role here with a view to ascertaining its strengths and weaknesses. I believe this study led to more useful insights.

We regret the decision to close down the embassy in Colombo for the time being, but understand that it is part of a worldwide evaluation process.

The government of Norway has announced its commitment to and support for the people of Sri Lanka will continue. We appreciate this assurance.”

In response to The Island query regarding the Norwegian pull out, Executive Director of the National Peace Council (NPC), Dr. Jehan Perera has sent us the following statement: “The departure of the Norwegian Embassy from Sri Lanka is a big loss to us. This is a time when we need all the assistance and friendship we can from the international community, especially those who have helped us in the past. The Ambassador has stated that Norway will continue to provide Sri Lanka with assistance and will engage in development activities. However, Sri Lanka will lose out because remote support is not the same as in-country support where Norwegian diplomats and embassy staff are in constant interaction with Sri Lankan people. We also need to acknowledge the huge investment Norway made to help us resolve our ethnic war through negotiations and a political solution. They supported organisations such as the National Peace Council to build bridges between the communities, which we continue to do. Norwegian support for peace-building work got reduced after the failure of the ceasefire agreement and peace process. NPC did not receive Norwegian financial support over the past decade. But the capacity for peace-building work that Norway supported us to achieve, and which continues to remain with us, is a cause for gratitude and we regret very much the closure of their embassy.”

The author of ‘To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka’ Mark Salter said: “The closure of the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo ends an important chapter in relations between the two countries. At the joint invitation of the government and the LTTE leadership, in 1999-2000 Oslo accepted the role of peace facilitator between the two parties. To their great credit, over the following decade the Norwegians stuck at their appointed ‘peace diplomacy’ task through thick and thin – possibly the most sustained instance of external engagement with a peace process to date. And this including when, in the aftermath of the return to war in autumn 2006 and the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) the Norwegians brokered in 2002 looked increasingly dead in the water, they became the subject of increasing domestic attacks, notably by both the government itself and Sinhala nationalists who tarred them with the brush of ‘White Tigers’.

As we know, theirs (and other) peace efforts ultimately failed. A messenger, however, is only as good as the message they carry – a fact that often seems completely lost on the legions of Lankan critics of the Norwegian’s ‘messenger’ role. As Erik Solheim and others have long since acknowledged, Oslo undoubtedly made mistakes along the way – notably the failure to foster an initial bipartisan Sinhala political consensus in support of the peace process. Ultimately, however, the failure of the peace process comes down to the failure in their different ways of both parties to continue to engage seriously with the process itself.”

For those who are genuinely interested in knowing the Norwegian-led process, perusal of Salter’s work is a must. Former BBC journalist and analyst, Mark Salter who launched ‘To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka’ in Colombo several years after Norway released ‘Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009)’ meticulously addressed the issues. Salter’s work help the readers to understand what really went wrong if the official Norwegian examination didn’t achieve what was expected. Chr. Michelsen Institute and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, jointly put out that report. The team responsible for the official version comprised Gunnar Sørbø, Jonathan Goodhand, Bart Klem, Ada Elisabeth Nissen and Hilde Selbervik. The Wikileaks revelations should be of pivotal importance for those keen to know the developments here.

One-time Foreign Secretary H.M.G.S. Palihakkara who served as the Governor of the Northern Province during the Yahapalana administration, has sent us the following statement in response to a query posed to him: “It does not look like a singular decision by one country, at least optics-wise, since both countries announced the intended closures within a space of a few months this year, Sri Lanka being the first in April and Norway following in September. Embassy closing of course is news one can hardly celebrate esp. in bilateral diplomacy. The notion that reciprocity is the first lesson in diplomacy still has some currency. And that factor may have weighed in at some stage of this decision-making process. However, speculating on that won’t help either side.

What is of promise is that both countries have been quick to emphasize that the decisions are derived from ‘structural’, rather than bilateral considerations and will not impinge on relations.

Sri Lanka has further qualified closure as ‘temporary’ while Norway has recommitted itself to ‘further the constructive and friendly relations’. It would be reasonable to say these relations have endured many decades and vicissitudes including a complicated and even controversial ‘peace process’ with the LTTE through a vain facilitation effort by Norway.

The Norwegian envoy in Colombo, Ambassador Trine Jøranli Eskedal in her media comments has quite professionally put these positives at a higher notch saying ‘ We will continue to maintain our warm bilateral relations with Sri Lanka and development assistance will also continue.’ So the ‘distancing’ signified by these closures at first glance, may be more apparent than real. The fact remains that SL has benefitted from several billions of NKR bilateral ODA for projects ranging from the well-known Cey-Nor in the North to extensive rural development in the South. Since modern diplomacy is often about building on what you have rather than imagining the ideal, it is up to both sides to do just that-build on the positives.”

Whatever the views expressed by interested parties regarding the planned Norwegian closure of its embassy here the fact remains the move is detrimental to Sri Lanka, especially at a time the country is experiencing its worst post-independence economic crisis. Norway spent lavishly on its Sri Lanka project. Civil society groups benefited immensely. A simmering dispute between the Norwegians and the late Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe, one of the largest beneficiaries of the Norwegian funding highlighted the controversial relationship between the embassy and the civil society. The Norwegians ended up squandering their taxpayers’ money even on the LTTE and its front organizations. That is the undeniable truth.

But, perhaps their biggest mistake that had been influenced by interested parties here was the assertion as acknowledged in ‘Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009)’ that the LTTE cannot be defeated.

The Norwegians as well as other Co- Chairs operated on the premise the Sri Lankan military couldn’t match the LTTE’s strategy or the fighting will. Those who benefited from the Norwegian largesse propagated that myth wherever possible like their Western pay masters. That assessment was proved wrong in May 2009 when a soldier shot Velupillai Prabhakaran on his head on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.­

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Midweek Review

The Isle on a High

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By Lynn Ockersz

At the Lotus Tower’s highest point,

Where the pain of living eases for a while,

And delirium takes over minds and hearts,

Sightseers look down and find nothing wrong,

With gold chain-grabbing turning a way of life,

Poor women calling at mushrooming spas,

And elders hitting the streets in despair;

All happening amid a rash of plush malls,

And palatial houses seeing steady demand,

Making up quite a skewed state-of-affairs,

Which serve to remind the few of clear mind,

That Lotus Towers and other lulling ploys,

Are aimed at silencing the revolting mind.

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Midweek Review

Oslo pullout, new Geneva resolution and origins of terrorism (part 1)

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Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo Trine Jøranli Eskedal

” Norway will never forget how LTTE influenced the worst ever act of terrorism on its soil. Far right Norwegian Andres Breivik, 32, responsible for the July 22, 2011 massacre of 77 persons, mostly teenagers in two successive attacks in Norway was inspired by the LTTE. A few hours before, Breivik went on the rampage, he made reference to the LTTE’s eviction of the Muslim community from the Northern Province in Oct/Nov 1990, in his so-called manifesto released online. The following are the references (1) Pro-Sri Lanka (supports the deportation of all Muslims from Sri Lanka) (Page 1235) and (2) Fourth Generation War is normally characterized by a ‘stateless’ entity fighting a state or regime (the EUSSR). Fighting can be physically such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to use a modern example. (Page 1479). Perhaps, Sri Lanka should ask for an international inquiry. One of Sri Lanka’s foremost diplomats Jayantha Dhanapala appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in 2010 stressed the accountability on the part of foreign governments. The then Mahinda Rajapaksa government probably blinded by unfathomable victory was not bothered. It only sought political advantage of the developments even at the expense of Sri Lanka.”

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Norway on Sept 09 announced that its diplomatic mission in Colombo will be closed at the end of July 2023. The Norwegian Embassy in Colombo declared that this would be among five diplomatic missions to be closed as part of the planned structural reforms in its network of diplomatic missions. The Embassy didn’t mention the other diplomatic missions facing closure.

Norway established a diplomatic mission here in 1996 during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency. The setting up of that mission was primarily to facilitate negotiations between Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The establishment of the Colombo mission took place in the wake of the military consolidating its position in the Jaffna peninsula. Jaffna town was brought under government control in early Dec 1995.

The signing of the one-sided Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in Feb 2002 can be considered the highpoint of the Norwegian intervention here that allowed the LTTE to expand its sphere of influence. Who really drafted the CFA? Did the then top Norwegian negotiator Erik Solheim draft it as he claimed in an interview with the late Kumar Rupesinghe? Whatever the circumstances, the CFA certainly didn’t take into consideration concerns of the military.

However, the Norwegian Embassy made available the Norwegian Foreign Ministry press release that dealt with the proposed closure of some diplomatic missions. Accordingly, the diplomatic missions in Slovakia, Kosovo and Sri Lanka and the Embassy office in Madagascar and the Consulate General in Houston, Texas, are to be closed. It would be pertinent to mention that Norway established a diplomatic mission in Slovakia in Sept. 2004, just a year after Slovakia moved out of the Czechoslovakian Federation and in Kosovo four years later. NATO member Norway participated in large scale air offensive to drive out Serbian forces from Kosovo-Norway set up Embassy office in Madagascar in 2004 and the Houston ‘mission’ back in 1977.

The closure of the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo should be also examined against the backdrop of cash- strapped Sri Lanka closing down our missions in Norway and Iraq and the Consulate General in Sydney, Australia, early this year.

Norway has thrown its weight behind a new six-page draft resolution before the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, (UNHRC) handed in by the UK. The UK leads Sri Lanka Core Chairs and the resolution is widely regarded as the strongest since the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE in May 2009.

A vote on this new resolution is due before the sessions end on October 7. Sessions commenced on Sept 12.

The resolution is co-sponsored by the United States, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. Sri Lanka’s rejection of the latest resolution is irrelevant. Therefore, another heavy defeat at the UNHRC is quite possible. But, Sri Lanka conveniently failed so far to set the record straight in Geneva and at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Successive governments allowed Geneva to dictate terms by failing to present Sri Lanka’s case. The incumbent government is no exception.

Oslo has announced the termination of its mission here over a decade after the eradication of the LTTE’s conventional military capability. Had the Western sinister project succeeded, Sri Lanka would have been divided on ethnic lines. The CFA allowed the LTTE freedom to operate in the Northern and Eastern Province as it did away with restrictions placed on Tiger armed cadres entering government-held areas. The Norwegian led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) that was empowered to oversee the Ceasefire Agreement, continued to mollycoddle the LTTE in spite of a spate of blatant CFA violations by the Tigers.

In the wake of the then treacherous UNP government exposing the covert intelligence operation carried out by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) behind enemy lines, the LTTE went after its operatives with a vengeance. The Norwegians went to the extent of providing funding to the LTTE and its front organizations, much to the dismay of those who really believed in a genuine effort to bring peace.

The Norwegian funding continued even after the LTTE quit the negotiating table in late April 2003. There had never been a proper examination of the Norwegian intervention here though Norway funded the costly joint study undertaken by Gunnar Sorbo of the Chr. Michelsens Institute (CMI) and Jonathan Goodhand of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Their report titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009, released in September 2011 made specific reference to the SLMM, having accessibility to best possible intelligence.

High profile Oslo project

According to the report, the SLMM received intelligence from both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

Thanks to NATO and India, those running the peace process couldn’t have been unaware of the LTTE’s rapid preparations for war. Norway received NATO support as a member of the military alliance (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009, page 100).

The Norwegian study quoted the then SLMM head as having said that RAW only reached them through informal channels, therefore they couldn’t be fully trusted. “They weren’t giving it to us to be nice. We would always ask ourselves why they want us to know this. Intelligence provided by NATO only confirmed what they already knew”, the SLMM chief was quoted as having said.

The RAW destabilized Sri Lanka to such an extent, beginning with the election of J.R. Jayewardene, because of his overt tilt to the West, Sri Lanka was compelled to transform its ceremonial army into a lethal fighting force.

But, those who had been pursuing hostile agenda against us in Geneva quite conveniently forget how major powers ruined Sri Lanka by sponsoring, particularly the LTTE terrorism, and also giving them a free hand. Can the so-called leader of the Core Group, the UK, absolve itself of the responsibility for promoting terrorism here? The UK allowed LTTE’s International Secretariat to propagate the war against a Commonwealth country from London, granted citizenship to the late Anton Balasingham who advised Prabhakaran on terror project and even allowed secret talks therein between the LTTE theoretician and top Norwegian diplomats in the wake of the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination by the Tigers. The UK has also given refuge to his wife Adele despite her having nourished Tamil young girls to take up violence. She was photographed donning cyanide capsules around the necks of such girls as they passed out after training.

The LTTE assassinated Kadirgamar on Aug 12, 2005, while the CFA, supervised by Scandinavian countries, was in operation. On April 25, 2006, the LTTE almost succeeded in assassinating Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the Army headquarters. On Oct 01, 2006, the LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa near Piththala junction, Kollupitiya. The Norwegians and Peace Co-Chairs comprising the US, Japan and the EU remained inactive. The LTTE continued to advance its project. The CFA didn’t prevent the LTTE from unloading ship loads of armaments or carrying out high profile assassinations.

The Norwegian role should be examined taking into consideration the Japanese involvement in the peace initiative.

Dr. John Gooneratne, who had been with the government Peace Secretariat from its inception in January 2002 to May 2006, explained serious shortcomings in the CFA over a year after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. Appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on September 15, 2010, Dr. Gooneratne revealed that four key matters proposed by the government weren’t included in the CFA. (A) There had been no reference to the requirement to use the CFA to pave the way for talks to find a negotiated settlement. (B) Specific reference to the prohibition of unlawful importation of arms, ammunition and equipment was not included. (C) Although the LTTE was allowed to engage in ‘political work’ in government controlled areas, other political parties weren’t given access to areas under the LTTE control (D) Forcible conscription of personnel to the LTTE’s fighting cadre, too, was not added to the list of prohibited activities.

Dr. Gooneratne, a veteran career diplomat, faulted the then UNP government as well as the Norwegians for being hasty in their approach. Dr. Gooneratne said: “What lessons can we learn from this experience? Firstly, negotiating on such security and military matters should have been a more inclusive format than by just the party in power. Secondly, in negotiating documents, such as the CFA, thoroughness should be the standard, and not just the speed.”

The CFA created an environment that allowed the LTTE to exploit the situation. Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne in his book ‘Road to Nanthikadal’ launched in 2016 dealt with the CFA and how the LTTE abused and misused it. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, former The Island columnist and prolific writer C.A. Chandraprema, in his book ‘Gota’s War’, too, dealt with the Norwegian role here. But, those who really desired to know about the Norwegian project should definitely peruse ‘Peaceful Intervention in Intra-State Conflicts: Norwegian Involvement in the Sri Lankan Peace Process.’

Career diplomat Dr. Chanaka Thalpahewa had dared to go the whole hog and lucidly explain the Oslo initiative harmful to Sri Lanka.

The Norwegians had been careless, extremely reckless. There cannot be a better example than importing radio equipment in agreement with the then government that bent backwards to appease the LTTE. The then Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg earned the wrath of some Opposition political parties as well as Sinhala nationalist groups for directly playing a role. The political leadership tried to underscore the importation of state-of-the-art radio equipment by the Norwegian Embassy in agreement with the Peace Secretariat though all knew it was a political decision. CFA time Defence Secretary and one of those who negotiated with the LTTE Austin Fernando’s ‘My Belly is White’ launched in January 2008 at the height of the war, too, is a must read.

UNHRC, GTF silent on India’s accountability

The Island in its Sept 19, 2022 edition (both print and online) carried a statement issued by the UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF). The TNA’s partner called for a strong new resolution on Sri Lanka that reflected the recommendations of the High Commissioner’s Report. Having demanded punitive action against Sri Lanka, the GTF thanked India for backing their cause at the UNHRC. The GTF and the UNHRC owed an explanation whether they wanted to leave India out of the proposed investigations.

Can accountability pertaining to the Sri Lanka conflict be examined by turning a blind eye to Indian intervention here, ranging from sponsoring of terrorist groups, atrocities perpetrated by the Indian Army that prompted the LTTE to assassinate former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi and the sea borne raid on the Maldives carried out by Indian trained PLOTE terrorists and the killing of TULF’s Jaffna MPs by TELO at the behest of RAW?

The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report called on Sri Lanka to ‘re-launch a comprehensive, victim-centred strategy on Transitional Justice and accountability, to establish credible truth seeking mechanism and ad hoc special court’. Obviously, UNHRC and GTF are in a dilemma. India lost well over 1,000 officers and men here while approximately 3,000 others received injuries, some maimed for life.

Instead of opposing Geneva led investigations, Sri Lanka should request for a wider probe to establish how foreign support allowed the LTTE to wage war for nearly three decades and to ascertain the origins of terrorism.

The incumbent government should publicly ask those demanding accountability on Sri Lanka’s part to explain why the predominantly Tamil speaking northern and eastern electorates overwhelmingly voted for General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential poll after repeatedly accusing he and his Army of committing war crimes and how the TNA should be dealt with for recognizing the LTTE in late 2001 as the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people. Those who are skeptical about alleged TNA-LTTE links should peruse the European Union Election Observation Mission report on the April 2004 general election. The EU explained how the TNA secured 22 seats at that poll with the direct help from the LTTE by stuffing ballot boxes in areas controlled by it. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka never bothered to raise these issues thereby allowed those pursuing extremely hostile agenda to humiliate the country.

Should the TNA be accountable for atrocities committed by the LTTE after their recognition of the organization as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people? Perhaps, the TNA and the very vociferous Tamil Diaspora should be asked to prove that they at least requested the LTTE not to take cover behind civilians and hold them as a human shield after the combined armed forces pushed the LTTE fighting forces across the A9 to the Mullaitivu coast by April- May 2009.

The role of the Sri Lankan Church, too, should be probed. There cannot be any justification in leaving the Church out if Geneva wants to establish the truth.

Can the proposed Truth Seeking Mechanism refrain from inquiring into the deaths of Sri Lankan Tamils in the hands of Indian law enforcement authorities in the aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination? How many died? What were their identities? Do they still remain in the missing persons lists? Perhaps, the female LTTE cadre who committed suicide in the process of blowing up Gandhi may still be categorized as a missing person. Would it be possible to identify those PLOTE cadres killed by the Indian Navy on the high seas as they fled the Maldives in early Nov 1989 following the abortive bid to assassinate the then President of that island nation?

However, the writer has no dispute with the GTF’s call for thorough investigation into corruption accusations and action against all those responsible regardless of their standing in society.

Foreign passport holders

For want of Western governments’ support, thousands of people, categorized as dead/missing, live abroad under assumed identities. Sri Lanka never succeeded in securing their cooperation as they hid the real identities of thousands of Sri Lankans issued with new passports. How many Sri Lankans have received foreign passports over the past 30 years, particularly since 2009? The missing persons issue must be examined taking into consideration the rapid expansion of the Tamil Diaspora and their capacity to influence major political parties in Western countries, where they now reside.

Take the case of newly elected Norwegian lawmaker of Sri Lankan origin Khamshajiny (Kamzy) Gunaratnam, who reached Norway in 1991. Her family fled Sri Lanka in the wake of the Indian Army withdrawal and was lucky to end up in Norway. India ended itse military mission in March 1990 with then President Ranasinghe Premadasa showing them the door. The LTTE assassinated Gandhi just over a year later. Another high profile case is the ex-LTTE terrorist Antonythasan Jesuthasan receiving an opportunity to play the lead role in notable French Director Jacques Audiard’s award-winning Dheepan (2015). Jesuthasan, too, may be on some missing persons list.

The much-touted Geneva investigation should ascertain the actual number of Sri Lankans living abroad under assumed names. No less a person than Ranil Wickremesinghe when he served as the Premier of a previous government denied the state holding any Tamils in any secret location other than those held officially in jails.

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