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Midweek Review

US promotes Mahesh, keeps Shavendra on blacklist



Kanag-Isvaran, PC, in GTF-TNA delegation for US talks

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Three years after his retirement, former Commander of the Army General Mahesh Senanayake has been inducted into the United States Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) International Hall of Fame at Fort Leavenworth, on Nov 16, 2021.

An ex-graduate of CGSC, Senanayake has been recognised for his ‘outstanding military leadership for the nation and commitment to preserving global peace.’ Senanayake received CGSC recognition as a joint Tamil National Alliance (TNA)-Global Tamil Forum (GTF) delegation commenced weeklong discussions with US officials in Washington and New York. The TNA delegation included Kanaganayagam Kanag-Isvaran, PC and Jaffna District lawmaker Mathiaparanan Abraham Sumanthiran PC.

Sumanthiran entered Parliament on the TNA National List following the 2010 general election and is widely believed to be the international face of the party whereas the inclusion of top lawyer Kanag-Isvaran, in the TNA delegation raised many an eyebrow. However, the GTF pointed out that Kanag-Isvaran, had represented the TNA at the All Party Representative Committee (APRC). In addition, Kanag-Isvaran represented in the TNA delegation, that held 18 rounds of talks with the then Mahinda Rajapaksa government in 2011.

Mrs. (Dr.) Anne Nirmala Vijayalakshmi Chandrahasan, who had been in the delegation, had served the ‘Experts Committee’ set up to advise the APRC on constitutional and legal matters connected with the peace process and resolution of the national question. She was among the 11 members who submitted the Majority Report of the Committee in December 2006. She has been a consultant (2015 – 2016) at the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) in Sri Lanka, during the term of office of the previous Government of Sri Lanka.

Obviously, the TNA-GTF combination is making an effort to build up a strong case for international intervention here. Kanag-Isvaran has appeared in high profile cases such as the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill (2021), impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake (2013) and de-merger of the Eastern Province from the North (2006).

Deputy Assistant Secretary, Ambassador Kelly Keiderling , Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, who was in Colombo recently (Nov 13-15) was among those involved in talks with the TNA-GTF delegation.

At the conclusion of talks, the GTF, in a statement issued from the UK, expressed its deep appreciation for the US leadership at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in promoting accountability, reconciliation, and human rights in Sri Lanka. While calling for continued leadership of the United States Government at the UNHRC and in light of Sri Lanka’s failure to make satisfactory progress on implementing UNHRC Resolution 46/1, the TNA-GTF combination urged the US to consider a multifaceted approach in addressing the many challenges in Sri Lanka. The TNA-GTF joint delegation called for a deeper US role in promoting human rights, accountability, political resolution, and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. The US remains one of the worst human rights violators, both at home and abroad, with the 2003 invasion of Iraq on the basis of bogus claims that the then Iraqi government was developing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs).

The TNA and the GTF reached consensus on a common approach in respect of Sri Lanka after the armed forces’ triumph over separatist terrorism in May 2009. In fact, the eradication of the LTTE has made their task easier. Had the Western powers managed to halt the Sri Lankan offensive, in early 2009, the LTTE wouldn’t have allowed the emergence of the GTF (the formal setting up of the organization took place in Feb 2010 at the British House of Commons) or freed the TNA from its grip (the TNA, having recognised the LTTE, in 2001, as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people, relinquished its political rights).

Perhaps the TNA backing General Sarath Fonseka’s candidature at the 2010 presidential election should be examined against the backdrop of the eradication of the LTTE through military means. In fact, the US, arranged the formation of a grand coalition that comprised the UNP, the JVP, the TNA, the SLMC and the ACMC in support of Fonseka. The US cannot deny its role in forming the political alliance thanks to Wikileaks specific information as regards the 2010 political project, is now in the public domain.

The Tamil Guardian

, in a report dated Nov 18 dealt with CGSC recognition of Senanayake. The report headlined “Accused Sri Lankan war criminal inducted into US military ‘International Hall of Fame” quoted Commandant of the CGSC Lt. General Theodore Martin as having said Senanayake has “actively contributed to all major military operations conducted in the North and East of Sri Lanka”.

“His contributions towards resettlement of internally displaced persons and service towards the reconciliation process following a 27 years long civil war in his country are truly noteworthy,” declared Lt. Gen. Martin, adding that Senanayake was a “trusted and important partner in the bilateral military co-operation between our two countries which has contributed directly to a safer and more prosperous Indo-Pacific region”.

Did the Tamil Guardian oppose the TNA backing Fonseka? What is the GTF’s stand on the TNA backing for Fonseka, the war winning Army Commander?

The prestigious college has inducted altogether 285 international graduates from 75 different nations. Senanayake is the 286th, having studied at the college in 2000. The CGSC recognition of Senanayake should be examined taking into consideration the US categorisation of Commander of the Army Gen. Shavendra Silva as a war criminal.

The US found fault with General Silva for leading Task Force 1 (TF1) subsequently named 58 Division, the celebrated fighting formation that fought in both the west and the east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road.

Let us only pray that Gen. Senanayake will not become a brown Uncle Tom to serve the vile interests of US/Britain-led West against Sri Lanka in time to come.

Interestingly, close on the heels of the US recognition of retired Gen. Senanayake, some British MPs have launched a fresh campaign against Gen. Silva. Conservative Party lawmakers Theresa Anne Villiers and Elliot Colburn recently urged the UK to impose travel restrictions on Gen. Silva. They want Boris Johnson’s government to follow the US strategy in dealing with the Sri Lankan General.

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, declared on Feb 14, 2020: “I am designating Shavendra Silva making him ineligible for entry into the U.S. due to his involvement in extrajudicial killings during Sri Lanka’s Civil War. The U.S. will not waver in its pursuit of accountability for those who commit war crimes and violate human rights.”

Senanayake’s return

Senanayake served as the Commander of the Army from July 2017 to August 2019. He was succeeded by Silva in the run-up to the 2019 presidential election. Having received the command, Senanayake declared, in Kilinochchi those who retired from military service shouldn’t enter politics. Having said so, Senanayake contested the 2019 presidential election. The former Army Chief ended a distant fourth with less than 50,000 votes whereas Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who retired in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel back in 1991, polled 6.9 mn votes. Senanayake was the second Army Commander to contest a presidential election. War winning Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka was the first. Mahinda Rajapaksa routed Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election with the latter losing by a margin of 1.8mn votes.

Senanayake was among those who had been sent on compulsory leave in 2010 after Fonseka suffered defeat. The then government quite wrongly accused them of backing Fonseka, then accused of trying to stage a military coup against President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Within weeks after thwarting Mahinda Rajapaksa’s bid to secure a third term, Sirisena reinstated Maj. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, Brig. Bimal Dias, Brig. Duminda Keppetiwalana, Brig. Janaka Mohotti, Brig. Athula Hannedige, Brig. Wasantha Kumarapperuma, Colonel Tilak Ubayawardena, Lt. Colonel LJMCP Jayasundara, Captain RMR Ranaweera and Captain WADC Chrishantha. At the time of their reinstatement, Daya Ratnayake had been the Commander of the Army.

Having contested the presidential election on the National People’s Party ticket, Senanayake unceremoniously left the country contrary to his much repeated promise to contest the parliamentary elections. Senanayake declared that his defeat at the presidential poll was not the end of his career but the beginning. Obviously the former Army Chief did not mean what he said despite his bravado.

It would be pertinent to mention that the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage paved the way for Senanayake to enter politics at the highest level by contesting the presidential election. Senanayake received substantial media coverage as the media targeted the then government over the lapses that led to multiple suicide attacks by the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ). The Easter Sunday carnage gave Senanayake the much needed exposure.

The Media was also blind to the fact that Army Commander Senanayake’s Military Intelligence, one of the biggest spy outfits in the country, managed to claim total ignorance of what took place and got off scot free.

Senanayake, who had never received media coverage during the conflict though CGSC declared Senanayake actively contributed to all major military operations conducted in the North and East of Sri Lanka, shamelessly exploited the Easter Sunday carnage to boost his ego. Senanayake steadfastly maintained that the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) hadn’t been aware of the warning received by the State Intelligence Service (SIS) from India on April 4, 2019.

The five-member Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) that probed the Easter Sunday carnage also never felt the need to examine the failure on the part of the DMI to thwart the NTJ terror project. In fact, so far, the DMI’s failure hadn’t been investigated at all. The Army should have at least conducted an internal probe to ascertain the DMI’s failure.

Had the DMI inquired into the Easter Sunday fiasco, it would realise a thorough inquiry into the execution-style killing of two policemen at Vavunativu, Batticaloa, on the night of Nov. 30, 2018, could have exposed the NTJ plot. It would be pertinent to ask the DMI whether the outfit initiated a fresh inquiry into Vavunativu killings after the recovery of explosives at Wanathawilluwa in January 2019. In between the Vavunativu killings and Wanathawilluwa, explosives recovery, the destruction of several Buddha statues took place in the Mawanella electorate. In early March 2019, Minister Kabir Hashim’s Coordinating Secretary Mohamed Naslim was shot at his home. The bottom line is that the then government should have been able to thwart the NTJ plot even without India passing specific information regarding the impending attack.

A humiliating failure

Over 12 years after the successful conclusion of the war, the country is still struggling to cope up with accountability issues. Sri Lanka suffered a debilitating setback in the third week of November when Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Mohan Peiris, PC, failed to secure a place at the international Law Commission (ILC) that consists of 34 persons. Although some have depicted Sri Lanka’s failure as a personal setback suffered by Peiris, the writer is of the view the situation underscored the fact that the country continued to be hounded by the West. In spite of bombastic statements here, the incumbent government hasn’t even bothered to bring all available information, evidence and data before the UNHRC as part of an overall effort to clear war crimes accusations directed at the country. The declaration of the Army Commander as a war criminal in Feb 2020 hasn’t prompted the political leadership to take up the daunting challenge on the diplomatic front. In an exclusive interview with the writer in Sept 2019 in Colombo, Lord Naseby, who had made available powerful ammunition to be used against the Geneva Resolution expressed deep displeasure over Sri Lanka’s failure to properly present its case therein. Over two years after the last presidential election, the information that had been announced in the House of Lords in Oct 2017 remained unused. Sri Lanka’s rejection at the ILC should be studied taking into consideration the pathetic situation the country is in due to yahapalana betrayal of the armed forces and the failure on the part of the incumbent lot to take remedial measures.

US, Lanka fail at ILC election

The former AG who served as the CJ in the wake of the moving of the questionable impeachment motion in Parliament against CJ, 43, Bandaranayake, is no stranger to controversy. One cannot easily forget how the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) withdrew a high profile case. The CIABOC earlier moved court against Supreme Court Judge A.H.M.D. Nawaz (he currently heads a presidential commission of inquiry), former Power Ministry Secretary M.M.C. Ferdinando, current CEB Chairman), and Former Chief Justice Mohan Peiris (Sri Lanka’s PR in New York), over committing an offense under the Bribery Act in respect of irregularities in the purchase of a land in December 2010 for the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).

Sri Lanka shouldn’t have contested the election for the LLC under any circumstances as defeat was inevitable. The election of the members of the Commission for a five-year term beginning on 1 January 2023 took place at the 76 th session of the General Assembly. Mohan Peiris had sought a place among the eight chosen from the Asia-Pacific region and was defeated badly. Let me reiterate that Sri Lanka should accept that the world has rejected the country, not the individual. Japan, China, South Korea, Thailand, Cyprus, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Lebanon, Mongolia and Bahrain contested for the Asia-Pacific slots. Mohan Peiris obtained 112 votes out of 192. The elected Asia-Pacific group comprised India (163 votes), Thailand (162 votes), Japan (154 votes), Vietnam (145 votes), China (142 votes), South Korea (140), Cyprus (139) and Mongolia (123).

The US, too, failed to secure a place among the ILC. The world’s solitary superpower polled just 114 seats just two more votes than Sri Lanka. Among those unsuccessful contestants for the Western European and other States grouping are Spain, the US and Israel. Those who had sought to humiliate Sri Lanka over its failure to secure a place at the ILC conveniently ignored how the world looked at the US rights record. Norway, Portugal, Italy, the UK, Austria, New Zealand, France and Turkey comprised the Western European and Other States.

Sri Lanka represented the ILC (1992-1996 /John de Saram) and Rohan Perera (2007-2011). Perhaps, the TNA-GTF combination does not care about the US human rights record but merely expects the world power to exert pressure on Sri Lanka. The TNA-GTF combination is obviously exploiting the ongoing ‘battle’ between China and the US-led coalition to its advantage. Unfortunately, the incumbent government seems ensnared in political games having caused irreparable damage by waste, corruption and mismanagement at a time the country is facing a grave balance of payments crisis.

The latest debacle suffered at the ILC should prompt Sri Lanka to review the overall situation without further delay. The government should seek an opportunity to present Lord Naseby’s disclosure, relevant Wikileaks cables, the US embassy statement made in June 2011 in Colombo and all other related information before the UNHRC. Utterly irresponsible Sri Lankan bureaucracy since the sponsorship of an accountability resolution against the country in 2015 conveniently failed at least to mention how the UN shielded the LTTE at the commencement of the Vanni offensive. Sri Lanka’s continuing failure to set the record straight is quite astonishing as no person less than the Commander of the Army General Shavendra Silva remains blacklisted. While Sri Lanka bungles the defence of her own armed forces, the UNHRC that perpetrated a massive blunder by falsely accusing the Army of Mannar mass graves keeps its agenda on track.

We wonder whether our Foreign Ministry lacks officers of calibre to mount a fight back or are its talented officers held back due to internal politics? May be it is time the Foreign Minister takes remedial measures.

Let me finish this piece by reproducing verbatim what Michelle Bachelet told the UNHRC in March 2019.

The following is the relevant section bearing No 23: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office as an observer is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalise the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.” The Bachelet report dealt with the situation here from Oct 2015 to January 2019.

But a radiocarbon dating analysis by the Beta Analytic Testing Laboratory in Florida, US, in respect of six skeletal samples sent there in January 2019 with the intervention of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) established in accordance with Oct 2015 Geneva Resolution, determined them to be from the colonial era.

President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris, who gave leadership to that effort, is the head of the Sri Lanka Bar Association (BASL) now.

The US lab tests revealed that the skeletons belonged to a period that covered the Portuguese and the Dutch rule. Having repeatedly vowed to reverse the Geneva process, the SLPP, two years after the last presidential election, is yet to present Sri Lanka’s case before the international community. The SLPP government’s failure in Geneva at least to refer to the US lab tests contradicting Bachelet is nothing but treachery and negligence at the highest levels.

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Midweek Review

Post-war foreign relations: A diplomatic quagmire for Lanka



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

By Shamindra Ferdinando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superpower politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Midweek Review

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



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

By K. A. I Kalyanaratne

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

I did not want to estrange the local reader.

Translator’s responsibilities

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


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

In his inimitable style Steinbeck says

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

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


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

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

Dramatic End of The Pearl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Steinbeck’ background

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

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Midweek Review

The Mod-Con Tea Party



By Lynn Ockersz

They sure are ‘talking’,

But tongue-tied all the same,

And though at the same table,

Flushed with the thrill of partying,

There’s no mind-to-mind bonhomie,

And the only sounds to be heard,

Are the endless thumping of cell phones,

And the ritualistic rendering of courtesies;

A pantomime of voiceless souls it seems,

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

For, the land groans under a rash of pains,

With depression emerging a chief dread,

And the need for quality talk is dire;

But the crisis is not beyond repair,

For, a defrosting of hearts and tongues,

And the sensible use of mod cons,

Could some of this longsuffering help end.

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