Wednesday, 17 July 2019

The Indian factor

Protecting ‘borders’ in the wake of Easter Sunday attacks:

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 279

 

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The then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Minister of Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison sign an agreement to pave the way for Australia to hand over two Bay Class patrol boats to Sri Lanka Navy. The deal was finalized during Rajapaksa’s visit to Canberra in April 2014. The then Sri Lanka High Commissioner in Australia Admiral Thisara and Austraoian High Commisioner in Colombo Robyn Mudie look on. In spite of change of governments, Sri Lanka – Australia closely cooperate to prevent human smuggling.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A high profile Australian strategy is being currently implemented in Sri Lanka to curb illegal migration. Australia cannot be faulted for trying to protect its borders. Sensible governments always take measures to defend their borders. Australia is proceeding with its controversial strategy in the face of criticism from various interested parties. Australia’s priority, obviously, is to block illegal migration, at any cost.

Australia is the only country to launch a propaganda campaign, in Sri Lanka, to discourage illegal migration. In fact, some countries encourage illegal migration by accepting those who propagate blatant lies to secure political asylum. The Australian stand on illegal migration differs from that of its allies, especially Canada and the UK.

Australia has recently warned again that illegal migration will not be tolerated. The Australian advertising campaign seeks to underscore the continuation of its tough border control policy.

A four-point Australian plan addresss a four specific issues in respect of existing border controls (1) Australian border control policy remains the same, in spite of change of government, in May, 2019 (II) All unauthorized boats, seeking to enter Australian waters, will be turned back (III) No basis for human smugglers claim that border controls are done away with and (IV) Those found to have violated Australian border controls will never be accepted again.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison formed a majority government, following the May 2019 election, though many expected a Labour Party win.

Unlike many other democracies, Australia has mandatory voting for people aged 18 and over – or they risk a fine.

Advocates say the mandatory system depolarises the vote and reduces the influence of lobby groups, though some disagree. Sri Lanka’s Election Commission should seriously discuss with political parties, both represented in parliament and outside, whether legislation can be introduced to make voting mandatory. Such a move is in line with Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya’s much-touted project to encourage voting.

Australia invests heavily in long-term plans to curb illegal migration. In accordance with its strategy to deter illegal migration, Australia liaises with countries including Sri Lanka and launched a joint project with Sri Lanka with the previous Rajapaksa administration to prevent Sri Lanka being used to launch boats carrying illegal immigrants. The Australian project continues even after the change of government, in January 2015.

During a recent interview with the Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Piyal de Silva, the writer sought his views on Sri Lanka’s relations with Australia. ‘A bigger Navy for post-war Sri Lanka’ published in the July 10, 2019 edition of The Island dealt with a range of issues. The following is The Island query and VA De Silva’s response regarding Australian efforts to curb illegal migration.

The Island: Sri Lanka’s relations with Australia, in the maritime domain, seem to be continuously improving. Can you explain the current status? VA De Silva: "We have collaborated with Australian efforts to curb human smuggling operations, originating in Sri Lanka. We have been able to neutralize several smuggling syndicates over the years. Australia included Sri Lanka in a large scale military exercise, ‘Indo-Pacific Endeavor 2019’. In recognition of our efforts to curb human smuggling, Australia, in 2014, gifted two Bay class patrol boats previously used by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS). They were commissioned as SLNS Mihikatha and SLNS Rathnadeepa. Early last year, Australia donated two main engines to replace those of SLNS Mihikatha. In January this year, Australia gifted three stabicraft. In addition, Sri Lanka also received 10 combat rubber raiding craft."

Despite criticism of the Sri Lankan military, at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, Australia continuously backed Sri Lanka, primarily due to the latter extending unrestrained support to the controversial Australian project to curb human smuggling. Human smuggling is a highly contentious political issue there with consensus on punitive measures to curb unauthorized entry. Australia regularly advertise both on print and electronic media as part of its overall measures to discourage would-be immigrants.

SLN’s Maritime Strategy 2025

‘A bigger Navy for post-war Sri Lanka’ received mixed reactions with some retired, as well as serving military officials, warning of dire consequences unless tangible measures were taken to prevent illegal boat movements between Sri Lanka and India across the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary.

One officer queried why The Island had ignored a vital security issue - perhaps the most important in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks. The officer underscored the pivotal importance of the government taking tangible measures to prevent unauthorized boat movements to and from Sri Lankan waters. Responding to a query, the officer asserted that our maritime strategy should be fully geared to effectively block sea routes, leading to and from the north of Kalpitiya, up to Pooneryn, and north of Pulmoddai, up to Nagarkovil. The official explained: "The Palk Straits, covering northwards from Kalpitiya, in the Western coast, and northwards from Mullaitivu, in the eastern coast. North Western Command headquartered at Mullikulam responsible for Kalpitiya to Mannar, North Central Command headquartered at Talaimannar covering Mannar to Devil’s Point, Northern Command based at Kankesanthurai taking care of the area from Devil’s Point to Chalai and finally Trincomalee headquartered Eastern Command responsible for Chalai-Mullaitivu sector."

Can Sri Lanka ignore threats posed by the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday attacks having access to India across the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary? While increasing the OPVs (Offshore Patrol Vessels/Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessels) and frigates up to 20, the Navy should adopt a tangible ‘hybrid’ strategy to cover high seas and ‘threats’ closer to the land. The Navy cannot be unaware of the continuing threat posed by unauthorised boat movements.

Did Zahran Hashim ever use an unauthorized sea route to reach his contacts in India? Hashim led suicide bombers tasked to target three churches and three hotels. Now there is controversy as to why the suicide bomber, assigned to target Taj Samudra, failed in his task. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera, MP, who is also President Maithripala Sirisena’s spokesperson, queried as to how the Taj escaped the blast. The issue came up last Wednesday (10) when the lawmaker appeared before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), inquiring into the Easter Sunday carnage.

Hashim perished in the suicide attack on Shangri-La. Political commentator Gevindu Kumaratunga recently queried as to why two suicide bombers targeted Shangri-La whereas all other targets were taken by a bomber each.

Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for not having the required assets to protect its seas. In spite of eradicating the LTTE, in May 2009, Sri Lanka remains vulnerable to attacks mounted by external parties, operating with or without the knowledge of foreign powers.

Close on the heels of the Easter Sunday attacks, a section of the media reported a Sri Lankan software engineer, suspected of having provided technical and logistical support to the Easter Sunday suicide bombers, was monitored by Indian intelligence agencies three years ago for links with Islamic State operatives, based in India. The media identified the suspect as Aadhil Ameez, a 24-year-old, under Indian scrutiny since 2016.

DMI on Zahran’s project

The National Security Council (NSC) should examine the naval strategy, currently in place, to detect boat movements across the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary. The possibility of local elements, working with foreigners taking advantage of organized Indian poaching in Sri Lankan territorial waters, cannot be ruled out. Brigadier Chula Kodituwakku, Director, Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) explained as to how Zahran developed contacts with the Islamic State during his stay in India. A selected group of journalists, including Colombo-based Indian correspondents and other representatives of international news agencies, received the briefing at the President’s House a couple days after the Easter Sunday carnage.

The DMI Chief didn’t indicate as to how Zahran reached India. Unfortunately, the writer neglected an opportunity to seek clarification as to how the leader of the National Thowheed Jamaat travelled to India.

Brig. Kodituwakku didn’t indicate whether the DMI was aware of Zahran’s return from India.

Kodituwakku concluded his presentation by attributing the NTJ bombings to four specific factors (I) battlefield setbacks suffered by Islamic State in Syria (II) Islamic State influence (III) Massacre of Muslim worshipers in a New Zealand mosque and (IV) domestic reasons. Although, the media sought an explanation as to what the domestic reasons were, they didn’t receive a response.

The government should in fact, inquire as to why Sri Lanka’s premier intelligence service, the DMI, failed to identify the threat posed by the NTJ and its allies on its own. Sri Lanka’s failure to swiftly act on intelligence provided by India shouldn’t be mixed up with the DMI fiasco. Had there been proper DMI inquiry into the killing of two police constables at Vavunativu, Batticaloa, in late Nov 2018, the NTJ would have been most likely exposed. Unfortunately, the DMI neglected its responsibility. The Criminal Investigation Department(CID) and the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), too, were clueless as regards Vavunativu killings until Zahran’s driver revealed the NTJ’s direct involvement, following his arrest in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks.

Fifty-three-year-old Muhammad Sharif Adam Lebbe alias Gaffur, said to be Zahrans’ driver, was arrested by Kattankudy Police and later handed over to the CID. Lebbe is among those who had been detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

Sri Lanka should inquire into Zahran’s links in India. Did Zahran promote Islamic State in India during his stay there? Or did Islamic State get in touch with Zahran during his stay in India? Specific information as regards NTJ operation provided by Indian Intelligence to Sri Lanka on April 04, 2019, revealed the level of Indian infiltration into Zahran’s network. How come our own intelligence services failed to make a fresh threat assessment, even after receiving Indian warning?

Moneragala District MP Ananda Kumarasiri-led PSC inquiring into the Easter Sunday attacks is yet to ascertain as to why the then Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) retired DIG Sisira Mendis refrained from passing the Indian warning to the DMI.

It would be pertinent to mention that retired Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendavitharana who had been the predecessor of Mendis, played a pivotal role in overall intelligence apparatus during the conflict, and after, though the change of government brought far reaching changes in the security setup. Hendavitharana was replaced by respected investigator though he didn’t have required experience in intelligence operations.

Following the intelligence debacle, the government replaced Sisira Mendis with Maj. Gen. Ruwan Kulatunga, a serving officer. Wouldn’t it be necessary to find out as to why the first yahapalana CNI officially deprived the DMI of intelligence received from India. But, even if the DMI hadn’t received intelligence, courtesy the CNI, the former cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for its failure.

Local Intelligence Community should be ashamed of its failure, especially against the backdrop of sufficient warnings received from both foreign and local ‘sources.’ In fact, Zahran had come to the attention of law enforcement authorities as well as intelligence services a couple of years ago. Zahran had been also under Indian scrutiny, both here and there. New Delhi seems to be fully aware of Zahran’s setup. Although Muslim political parties tried to play down Zahran’s involvement with them, the NTJ leader wielded sufficient power to discuss political arrangements with them, both at the last presidential and parliamentary election in January 2015 and August 2015, respectively. Zahran had been active during the last Local Government poll, in February 2018, though political parties sought to distance themselves from the mass murderer.

Nearly three months after the Easter Sunday attacks, Zahran’s project remains a mystery. The PSC should make every effort to establish the circumstances leading to the April 21 attacks. The legal action, initiated against the former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and suspended IGP Pujith Jayasundera, fundamental rights action taken by Jayasundera against him being sent on compulsory leave and the PSC probe should help Sri Lanka to establish the truth. Continuing arrests made by the police of youth who had received weapons training with Zahran in Blackpool, Nuwara-Eliya and Hambantota, among other places, underscored the need for a no holds barred investigation.

Zahran backed common candidate Maithripala Sirisena at the January 2015 presidential election. Having switched his allegiance to the UNP, Sirisena received the backing of a powerful US backed political grouping comprising the UNP, TNA, JVP and SLMC. A large civil society grouping threw its weight behind Sirisena.

Hizbullah glad Zahran is dead

Hizbullah told the PSC: "I met Zahran Hashim in 2015. He was not a terrorist then. He was a leader of a religious group. He summoned all candidates, who contested in our district, for a meeting. There he sought our agreement with a list of demands prepared by him. The list contained demands with regard to use of loudspeakers, seating arrangements for women, etc. We all agreed with him. Even Sri Lanka Muslim Congress candidate, UNP and UPFA candidates were there. Because we needed his support we agreed to his demands. He could muster 2,000-3,000 votes. Our objective was only obtaining votes.

"At the general election, Zahran worked against me. I couldn’t get around 2,000 votes because of him. I failed to enter parliament as I was short of 121 votes. Then, I was able to secure a National List slot. But Zahran staged protests in the East so that I could not become an MP. I am happy that Zaharan is dead because I can now win the next election without any trouble from his group."

Hizbullah, who backed Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the last general election, in August 2015, was brought into parliament through the National List when he was defeated. President Sirisena, in his capacity as the leader of the SLFP and the SLFP-led UPFA, accommodated several defeated candidates. Hizbullah was among those who had been rejected by the electorate but was lucky enough to be chosen by the SLFP leader.

President Sirisena deprived a number of deserving UPFA seniors of the opportunity to enter Parliament via the National List. Among those deprived were Dew Gunasekara, General Secretary of the Communist Party, who earned the respect of parliament and the public for spearheading 2015 parliamentary inquiry into the first treasury bond scam perpetrated by the UNP in late Feb 2015.

In January this year, President named Hizbullah as the Governor of the Eastern Province. Hizbullah succeeded Rohitha Bogollagama, one-time External Affairs Minister whereas President named two others, Azath Salley and Maithri Gunaratne as the Governors of Western and Central Provinces, respectively. Both Hizbullah and Salley quit their posts following accusations over their alleged links with the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday attacks. During a recent live interview on Sirasa, the ‘Pathikada’ anchor Bandula Jayasekera sought an explanation from Central Province Governor and attorney-at-law Maithri Gunaratne as to why he appeared for Abdul Razak accused of being involved with the suicide bomber Atchchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hasthun from AFC Road Valachchenai who killed over 100 men, women and children at the Katuwapitiya church.

The National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) which backed the common candidate at the January 2015 presidential election, too, was accused of complicity in Zahran’s operation. NFGG leader Abdul Rahman denied the accusations at a special press conference while admitting that he, too, knew Zahran Hashim at the time of the last national election. Zahran seemed to have been involved with Batticaloa politics in a big way.

Maithri Gunaratne explained at that time he appeared for Razak the latter was not accused of any involvement with clandestine activities/terrorism. Razak appeared before the PSC where he was also questioned on his connections with the Katuwapitiya bomber. The inquiry seems to be far from over…...

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

A bigger Navy for post-war Sri Lanka!

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 278

 
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The latest addition to SLN’s fleet, a missile frigate, used by China, on arrival at the Colombo port on Monday (June 8).

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka is in the process of building a 20-ship Navy by 2025—a highly ambitious project crucial to ensure the nation’s maritime rights and interests. The navy is confident of achieving the daunting task though it seems beyond Sri Lanka’s reach. A decade after the successful conclusion of the war, Sri Lanka is pursuing ‘SLN’s maritime strategy 2025 ‘ a task gravely undermined by the unprecedented current turmoil.

The project was launched during then Vice Admiral R.C. Wijegunaratne’s tenure as the Commander of the SLN (July 2015 - Aug 2017). Wijegunaratne now serves as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

The ongoing controversy over the Acquisition of Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) signed in early Aug 2017, and the proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) seem to be causing quite a problem, in addition to a range of other issues, particularly the Easter Sunday attacks, mounted by the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ). The country is still struggling to cope up with the coordinated bombing campaign that caused a debilitating setback to the current dispensation.

SLN’s maritime strategy 2025

Can a project, as big as ‘SLN’s Maritime Strategy 2025,’ be sustained in time of turmoil? It would be the responsibility of political parties, represented in parliament, to ensure continuation of projects vital to national security, political stability and prosperity. Having caused so much disruptions, since the last presidential election, in January 2015, and the subsequent parliamentary election, eight months later, it would be the collective responsibility of those political parties, represented in parliament, to work towards a consensus on at least matters of national importance.

Sri Lanka’s foreign relations appears to be in chaos with major domestic political powers pulling in different directions. Their disagreement is certainly not limited to ACSA in operation and planned SOFA and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact.

Sri Lanka first entered into ACSA in early March 2007 at a time the then government was yet to launch the Vanni offensive. Parliament wasn’t at least informed of the Rajapaksa administration’s decision until the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa signed it on Sri Lanka’s behalf. Ambassador Robert Blake signed for the US.

Amb. Teplitz assures no US

base in Lanka

In a special message issued by US Ambassador in Colombo, Alaina Teplitz, to mark the 243rd Independence Day of the US, the envoy addressed several contentious issues, including alleged setting up of a base here, as well as transferring of US vessel to Sri Lanka. Ambassador Teplitz is on record as having said: "The sea lanes that pass beside Sri Lanka are important for many nations, which is why the United States is helping Sri Lanka’s capacity to protect its coast and waters. In June, I joined President Sirisena at the commissioning of SLNS Gajabahu, the Sri Lankan Navy’s largest vessel. A gift from the American people, the former US Coast Guard Cutter represents the United States’ commitment to strengthening Sri Lanka’s ability to protect its security and prosperity....Just like the gifting of the USCG Cutter, our military cooperation is open and mutually beneficial. Every joint exercise, every training in disaster response, is done at the invitation of our Sri Lankan hosts. The United States has no intention of building a base here. Instead, we are building relationships that help keep both our countries safe."

Navy Chief Vice Admiral Piyal de Silva, in an exclusive interview with the writer, last weekend, discussed current developments, including the expansion of the service in line with the ‘SLN’s maritime strategy 2025.’ Having joined the ‘silent service’ in 1984 as an officer cadet, De Silva acquired expertise in explosive ordnance disposal diving during the war and received appointment as the Commander of the SLN on January 01, 2019.

VA De Silva said that Sri Lanka really got an opportunity to explore ways and means of building a larger fleet, capable of meeting maritime challenges after the end of the conflict. De Silva explained the difference in SLN’s priorities, during the conflict and after, as well as ongoing efforts to modernize the service, in line with ‘SLN’s Maritime Strategy 2025’

A case for a bigger Navy

The writer posed several questions as regards the post-war developments. The Island: How many Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) SLN acquired since the conclusion of the war, in May 2009? VA De Silva: "We took delivery of three - two new advanced OPVs namely SLNS Sayurala and SLNS Sindurala built in India, and one from US Coast Guard. Advanced OPVs were built in Goa shipyard in terms of an agreement signed in Feb 2014. Advanced OPVs SLNS Sayurala and SLNS Sindurala cost Sri Lanka taxpayer USD 66 mn and were commissioned in Aug 2017 and April 2018, respectively. In addition to Indian built OPVs, Sri Lanka, in June this year, commissioned High Endurance Cutter Sherman, taken delivery from the USCG. US Ambassador Teplitz referred to the commissioning of High Endurance Cutter Sherman as SLNS Gajabahu.

A vessel gifted to SLN, by China, reached the Colombo port, on July 08, though it was to come the previous day. The ‘Jangwei I’ class missile frigate was previously the ‘Tongling’ in the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy (PLAN) and served until 2015. The vessel acquired from China will be commissioned next month."

VA De Silva said that he headed the teams, tasked with inspecting Tongling and USCG Sherman in 2015 and 2017, respectively. The SLN chief said that China gifted the vessel whereas Sri Lanka paid for upgrading of USCG Sherman, required spares and training.

The Island: Why do you need a peacetime fleet bigger than one available during the conflict? VA De Silva: "We are pursuing a strategy meant to meet present and future maritime surveillance, patrolling as well as search-and-rescue needs. Port of Colombo is the best connectivity port in South Asia. Colombo port, currently holding the 13 slot in global best connectivity rankings, whereas it has been ranked as the world’s fastest growing port from among the top 30 container ports for the first half of 2018. We should be really proud that 20 mainline operators, currently use Colombo, and there cannot be any dispute over the need to maintain highest standards. Colombo is capable of serving what we call ‘Triple E’ class (Economy of scale, Energy efficient and Environmentally improved) ships – a facility not available at all ports. With transshipment trade continuing to grow with ship movements east to west and west to east as well as other challenges, such as smuggling narcotics, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, marine pollution, protecting fisheries industry, oil/chemical spills, human smuggling et al. There is consensus even in the absence of war, we need a larger fleet to guarantee our maritime rights and interests and also to meet our international obligations. Our SAR (Search and Rescue) region is nearly 27 times that of land area therefore an expanded fleet is necessary to meet the requirements."

VA De Silva said that more shipping means more shopping and more shipping demands a higher level of security of uninterrupted sea lanes of communications. He acknowledged that Sri Lanka found it difficult to concentrate on some issues during the conflict. However, since the end of the conflict, efforts were being made to pursue a naval strategy, though difficulties existed.

Many years ago, the Jane’s Fighting Ships quoted former President Chandrika Kumaratunga as having said "If we had upgraded our Navy earlier, the problem of Tamil separatist terrorism would not have taken the present form." Kumaratunga made this assertion at a time her Navy was struggling to block LTTE sea supply route. A costly operation, called ‘Varuna Kirana’, launched in May 2001, to detect LTTE movements towards Chalai and Mullaitivu, never succeeded in achieving its primary objectives though two LTTE vessels were sunk off Mullaitivu on March 10 and June 14, 2003. Having succeeded VA Daya Sandagiri, VA Wasantha Karannagoda terminated ‘Varuna Kirana’ and undertook an unprecedented operation to hunt down LTTE floating arsenals.

In the wake of wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa signing the first ACSA, VA Karannagoda, on a request made by him to then US Ambassador in Colombo, Robert Blake, the US provided the required intelligence to successfully hunt four enemy vessels – three in September 2007 and one in the following month. The vessels sunk on US intelligence were among eight floating arsenals destroyed during VA Karannagoda’s tenure (Sept 2005 to July 2009) as the Commander of the Navy. Karannagoda was followed by VA Tisara Samarasinghe (July 2009 to January 2011), Somathilake Dissanayake (January 2011 to Sept 2012), Jayanath Colombage (Sept 2012 to June 2014), Jayantha Perera (July 2014 to July 2015), Ravi Wijegunaratne (July 2015 to August 2017), Travis Sinniah (August 2017 to Oct 2017) and Sirimevan Ranasinghe (Oct 2017 to Dec 2018). Piyal de Silva received his appointment as the Commander of the Navy on January 01, 2019.

The Island: What were SLN priorities after the end of the conflict? VA De Silva: In accordance with overall post-war government objectives, the SLN played a significant role in meeting the civilian needs in war torn areas. Infrastructure development, such as construction of jetties in Jaffna islands, were part of the initiative.

We took measures to curb attempts to bring in narcotics into Sri Lanka, human smuggling, IUU fishing and also concentrated on humanitarian assistance, search-and-rescue, as well as transferring sick sailors sea to shore. The SLN is also continuously engaged in capacity building and maintaining available assets, in addition to enhancement of power to meet combat requirements.

VA De Silva emphasized even at the height of the war in spite of severe constraints, the Navy always committed its precious assets to fulfill tasks outside military missions/purposes. The SLN Chief underscored the pivotal importance of introducing upgraded training modules to meet present and future requirements. The naval veteran said that regardless of the environment, the military operated, the significance of ensuring welfare and well being of officers and men were paramount.

The Island: Against the backdrop of controversy over ACSA and SOFA, can you explain the SLN relationship with US-led US-Japan-India alliance? VA De Silva: "We maintain cordial relations with all countries. Throughout the war, Sri Lanka received armaments, training and support from various countries. We continue to receive foreign support. Sri Lanka receiving USCG Sherman and Chinese frigate proved continuing international support to our endeavours."

Chinese Ambassador, in Colombo Cheng Xueyuan with Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva at a ceremony to mark the arrival of the vessel. China provided a range of arms, ammunition and equipment throughout the war.

The Island: Sri Lanka’s relations with Australia in the maritime domain seem to be continuously improving. Can you explain the current status? VA De Silva: "We have collaborated with Australian efforts to curb human smuggling operations, originating from Sri Lanka. We have been able to neutralize several smuggling syndicates over the years. Australia included Sri Lanka in a large scale military exercise ‘Indo-Pacific Endeavor 2019’ this year. In recognition of our efforts to curb human smuggling, Australia in 2014, gifted two Bay class patrol boats previously used by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS). They were commissioned as SLNS Mihikatha and SLNS Rathnadeepa. Early last year, Australia donated two main engines to replace those of SLNS Mihikatha. In January this year, Australia gifted three stabicraft. In addition to Sri Lanka received 10 combat rubber raiding craft."

In spite of criticism of Sri Lankan military, at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, Australia continuously backed Sri Lanka, primarily due to the latter extending unrestrained support to the controversial Australian project to curb human smuggling. Human smuggling is a highly contentious political issue there with consensus on punitive measures to curb unauthorized entry. Australia regularly advertise, both on print and electronic media, as part of its overall measures to discourage would be immigrants.

The Island: Since the end of the war in May 2009, the SLN took delivery of four vessels - two from India, one US and one China. Will you be acquiring more vessels of similar types within the next couple of years? VA De Silva: Certainly, we need to acquire more ships in accordance with the SLN’s Maritime Strategy 2025. We have received proposal from Colombo Dockyard PLC, an experienced ship builder, to build two OPVs. However, contract in this regard is yet to be finalized.

CDL is a Board of Investment of Sri Lanka registered, Colombo Stock exchange listed company operating in collaboration with Onomichi Dockyard Co. Ltd Japan. CDL supplied Fast Attack Craft (FACs) to the Navy though the CDL built craft couldn’t match those procured from Israel or the US.

VA De Silva said that the SLN was also examining the possibility of acquiring a new floating dock to carry out maintenance of OPVs.

The Island also sought an explanation as regards the deployment of Fast Attack Craft (FACs) in time of peace. During the war, the FACs played a significant role in eradicating Sea Tiger power. VA De Silva: In spite of the absence of hostile craft out at sea, we need FACs to respond swiftly and decisively in case of an emergency. FACs continue to engage in anti-human smuggling operations, surveillance IUU fishing as well as search-and-rescue operations. There is no requirement to enhance FACs. However, we intend to maintain FAC existing units.

VA De Silva also discussed the difficulties caused by large groups of Indian fishing craft crossing the maritime boundary, regardless of the presence of Indian and Sri Lankan naval as well as Coast Guard. Although a range of measures had been discussed at different levels over the past several decades to tackle poaching, the relevant parties were yet to reach consensus on an action plan. "We take tangible measures to discourage poaching, particularly by large multi day fishing trawlers".

The Island: The SLN undertook Inshore Patrol Craft (IPC) building project a long time ago. Ten years after the successful conclusion of the war, what is the status of this particular project? VA De Silva: We are continuing to build IPCs for our own use as well as other agencies, both local and abroad. In Feb 2019, Sri Lanka gifted two 14.85 m long IPCs to Seychelles at the Sri Lankan Navy shipyard Rangala Institute in the Colombo Port. President Sirisena participated at the event. The construction of two IPCs were undertaken following President Sirisena’s official visit to Seychelles in Oct 2018.

VA De Silva said that Seychelles, subsequently ordered two IPCs on payment. The Navy Chief revealed plan to build a 20-meter long vessel for SLN duties.Commenting on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) projects undertaken by the SLN, VA De Silva said that the SLN was in the process of installing water treatment plants (Reverse Osmosis plants) in areas badly affected by the kidney disease. The SLN’s Research and Development Unit launched this project in Dec 2015 during the then Navy Commander VA Wijegunaratne’s tenure. Since the commencement of the project, the SLN provided approximately 650 RO plants.

VA De Silva also explained the other major project undertaken by Research and Development Unit to provide Thalassemia Infusion Systems to patients. The medical equipment were provided free of charge.

The Navy’s Research and Development Unit invented the device in 2010. Further improvements were made to improve the standard and it is now being used in line with the Health Ministry guidelines at Government hospitals. In 2012 the system won the Engineering Excellence Award from the Institution of Engineers of Sri Lanka for its manufacturing excellence.

VA De Silva said that the SLN also engaged in beach cleaning and tree planting as part of its efforts to protect the environment.

An overwhelming task

The wartime Navy struggled, almost on a daily basis, to keep open treacherous sea supply routes to Kankesanthurai, in the absence of Overland Main Supply Route (MSR). The Army lost MSR way back in June 1990. The MSR was restored in early 2009 following the liberation of Elephant Pass and Kilinochchi in quick succession. Regular suicide attacks on convoys between Trincomalee and Kankesanthurai couldn’t break the supply route though Sea Tigers managed to cause severe disruptions. The SLN sustained regular movements to enable off duty personnel to leave the Jaffna peninsula and also return to their northern bases. The SLAF couldn’t have, under any circumstances, maintained sufficient flights between Ratmalana/Katunayake and Palaly to meet the demand. At the height of the war, the Jaffna deployment comprised at least 50,000 officers and men. During the early stages of the war, the Navy conducted large scale amphibious assaults on enemy-held beaches to enable large scale rescue operations. Operation Balavegaya is a case in point. Balavegaya troops saved those trapped in the Elephant Pass base during the Eelam War II. Towards the end of the Eelam War IV, the Navy mounted the largest ever blockade of the Mullaitivu seas to prevent LTTE leaders and their families trying to reach India. The then VA Karannagoda’s successful blockade achieved desired results - the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran perished on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, on the morning of May 19, 2009.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Prez in quandary over US diktat, defence pacts

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 277

 

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A smiling President Sirisena at the recent commissioning of SLNS Gajabahu at the Colombo harbour. Sri Lanka acquired the vessel from the US. Navy Commander Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva and US Ambassador Ms. Alaina B. Teplitz are pictured with the President. The commissioning took place amidst continuing controversy over the proposed finalization of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The UNP and President Sirisena are at loggerheads over SOFA.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador – designate to the United States of America, Rodney Perera assumed duties in Washington DC on 17th June 2019- two days before President Maithripala Sirisena bitterly complained about a stark US warning received by his government against dealing with selected Russian companies.

On top of being the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) as well as the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), President Sirisena is head of the cabinet and the government.

President Sirisena didn’t mince his words when he explained the difficulties caused by what he described as unfair US actions. The embattled President said so at a media briefing at the President’s House.

Career diplomat Perera succeeded Prasad Kariyawasam, nearly two years after the latter was brought back to Colombo as Secretary to the Foreign Ministry. Kariyawasam is now under a cloud over his relationship with the US during his tenure as the Sri Lankan ambassador (July 2014-Aug 2017) and Foreign Secretary (Aug 2017-Oct 2019) and subsequently as an advisor to parliament paid by the US government. The writer dealt with the issue at hand in last week’s Midweek piece titled ‘Why only PK being blamed for facilitating US projects?’

Interestingly, both Kariyawasam and Perera received their previous foreign postings from the last Rajapaksa administration to Washington and the European Union, respectively. Career diplomat Kariyawasam succeeded political appointee Jaliya Wickremasuriya in July 2014 while Perera took over the EU mission in Aug 2014. Perera succeeded another career diplomat P.M. Amza. Amza got into serious trouble subsequent to him being transferred out of the key mission in the wake of the damaging revelation of his emails.

Former UNP Gampaha District MP the late Paul Perera’s son Rodney joined the Foreign service in the 80s. His brother Ronald is the Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon (BoC) and a member of the decision making UNP Working Committee.

Rodney Perera took over the Washington mission at a time the US-Sri Lanka relations are under severe strain with President Sirisena and the UNP administration pulling in different directions. Since the change of government following the last presidential election in August 2015, the foreign ministry portfolio was held by Mangala Samaraweera (January 2015-May 2017), Ravi Karunanayake (May 2017-August 2017), Tilak Marapana, PC (August 2017-Oct 2018), Dr. Sarath Amunugama (Oct/Nov 2018 – Dec 2018) and Tilak Marapana regained the foreign portfolio in Dec 2018. Dr. Amunugama functioned as FM during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s premiership during the unsuccessful President Sirisena led abortive bid to take control of parliament.

In spite of removing Samaraweera for co-sponsoring Geneva Resolution in Oct 2015 – a move that paved the way for foreign judges to hear accountability cases, President Sirisena’s government remained uncommitted to the Geneva process. The US quit Geneva council calling it a cesspit of political bias though the solitary superpower wanted Sri Lanka to subject itself to the same sewage pit.

Last Wednesday, President Sirisena quite unexpectedly revealed about the US warning as regards doing business with Russia at his regular meeting with print and electronic media. The writer was among those present. Colombo based foreign correspondents and local journalists representing foreign news agencies were also invited to the briefing-the second since Easter Sunday attacks.

President Sirisena explained how he raised the US directive with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 15 on the sidelines of the Fifth Summit of Heads of State of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Sri Lanka is certainly not the only country troubled by the controversial Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) introduced in July 2017. CAATSA scared away financial institutions from processing transactions. In line with the tough Federal Law, the US imposed sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia.

President Sirisena, also at the same briefing declared his opposition to the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Bill (ACSA) which he himself presented to the cabinet in mid 2017 and the proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Although no reference was made with regard to the proposed Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement, President Sirisena, has previously expressed serious concern over that pact, too. President Sirisena believes ACSA, SOFA and MCC are inimical to Sri Lanka’s national interests.

The writer sought an explanation from President Sirisena as to who would take the responsibility for signing ACSA against the backdrop of Prasad Kariyawasam being blamed for the finalization of the pact. President Sirisena asserted that someone should accept the responsibility.

Ambassador Perera faces the daunting task of handling SOFA and MCC as well as accountability issues.

Both Turkey and India declined to abandon major defence deals with Russia in spite of the US strongly opposing their decision to procure state-of-the-art defence equipment from Moscow. In terms of the CAATSA, the US can take punitive action against those procuring Russian equipment and services. However, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member Turkey and Asian giant India have ruled out cancellation of strategic defence deals with Moscow. Turkey wants to acquire the S-400 anti-aircraft missile defence system whereas India also intends to procure a range of Russian hardware, including the S-400 system. Russia-India deals seem far bigger than the one between Turkey and Russia, with New Delhi among a range of hardware, planning to take delivery of four frigates and another Russian built nuclear powered attack submarine-its third underwater fighting machine-all of Russian origin.

Sri Lanka, being a small country is certainly not in a position to challenge US sanctions. In spite of rhetoric, Washington is unable to jeopardize its defense-political-economic relations with Turkey and India. The latter is crucial to Washington’s plans to counter aggressive Chinese expansion and domination.

President Sirisena cannot be unaware that current US policy towards Sri Lanka is fashioned jointly with India and Japan. However, President Sirisena, claimed credit for bringing in Japan and India together to develop East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo port though he strongly resisted Premier Wickremesinghe’s bid to finalize agreement on ECT.

The President and the Prime Minister clashed in cabinet over the ECT in the run up to sacking of the latter.

Mangala approves US

agreements

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera called a special media briefing on the following day to counter all those opposed to signing of ACSA and proposed finalization of SOFA and MCC. Addressing the media at his ministry adjoining the old parliament, Samaraweera declared US agreements certainly didn’t pose a threat to the country. Samaraweera dismissed what he called unsubstantiated accusations propagated by the likes of lawmakers Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila hell bent on undermining the government.

President Sirisena’s comments regarding the US didn’t receive sufficient coverage at all. In fact, an influential section of media conveniently ignored it.

Newsin.asia reported the following under the subhead ‘China’: "The Lankan President spoke warmly about his interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He told Putin about the difficulties in buying defense equipment from Russia due to US sanctions but recalled that the three MIGs given by the Soviets in 1972 to fight an insurgency are still in service in the Lankan air force." The report by Colombo based veteran Indian journalist P.K. Balachandran was headlined ‘Sirisena wants 19th Constitutional amendment scrapped before next presidential poll’.

Those MiGs were discarded before the outbreak of Eelam war in July 1983. Sri Lanka acquired a jet capability with the introduction of Chinese fighters in 1991. Kfirs joined Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) in 1996 followed by MiG 27s from Ukraine and again Chinese jets in 2007/2008.

Samaraweera should be commended for taking up a clear stand on the US issue. The Matara District MP, unlike his cabinet colleagues, had the strength to take a stand publicly regardless of political consequences. Samaraweera backed the Geneva Resolution as well as ACSA and proposed SOFA and MCC though the government struggled to cope up with allegations directed at the current dispensation over military-to-military ties.

One time outspoken SLFPer Samaraweera functioned as Sri Lanka’s Foreign Affairs Minister at the time eelam war IV erupted in 2006. The then President sacked Samaraweera in early 2007 following differences in opinion with the Rajapaksas.

It would be interesting to know whether ACSA, SOFA and MCC had been subjected to discussion at the cabinet as well as at parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committees handling foreign and defence issues.

Samaraweera lashed out at those who opposed ACSA extended by current dispensation while justifying the original agreement signed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in March 2007, in his capacity as the Secretary, Ministry of Defence.

Incompetent political parties

Controversial ACSA, SOFA and MCC designed to facilitate US projects both at regional and global level, should be examined taking into consideration the high profile agreement between the US and Sri Lanka parliament signed in September 2016 in Washington. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and Chairman, House Democracy Partnership of the U.S. House of Representatives J.Roskam signed the agreement on Sept 14, 2016 on behalf of Sri Lanka and the US, respectively.

Controversy also surrounds the high profile US funded project to strengthen Sri Lankan judiciary. Recently Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader MP Udaya Gammanpila and Joint Opposition lawmaker Shehan Semasinghe expressed concern in parliament over the ongoing US project. They alleged that an attempt was being made to influence the judiciary. Many an eyebrow was raised when Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale, while contradicting Gammanpila’s statement in parliament on May 08, 2019, confirmed that two batches of senior judges had been to the US in August 2018 and April 2019 at the US taxpayers’ expense in addition to a workshop conducted for High Court judges at the Taj Samudra, Colombo in Dec 2018. Minister Atukorale said so in the second week of May 2019. According to her statement, a group of Attorney General’s Department officials, too, is to attend a workshop in the US soon.

Although, some Opposition members of parliament raised some contentious issues such as US training for Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court judges, there had never been a cohesive effort to examine the overall US project. In addition to that, India, Japan and Australia, too, pursue policies via-a- vis Sri Lanka in line with those of the US. It would be interesting to know whether the parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on foreign relations and defence (national security) headed by Mayantha Dissanayake and Malith Jayatilleke, respectively, discussed ACSA, SOFA and MCC or related matters before decisions were made. Jayatilleke’s role as the Chairman of Sectoral Oversight Committee on defence is significant as President Sirisena accommodated him on the UPFA National List.

The US project was essentially meant to enhance good governance and accountability. By the time, Sri Lanka and the US inked the Washington agreement, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka had been robbed twice in late Feb 2015 and late March 2016. The US and its allies never publicly expressed concern over the bond scams though they realized how the government complicity in the massive fraud jeopardized meticulously planned Sri Lanka operation.

However, in spite of continuing battles between President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe since the first treasury bond scam allegedly perpetrated by Singaporean Governor Arjuna Mahendran and rapid deterioration of the situation, the US project seems still on track. In a way, Easter Sunday attacks facilitated the US project here to a certain extent. But overall, those who had backed Maithripala Sirisena’s candidature at 2015 presidential election would never have anticipated Central Bank treasury bond scams twice. President Sirisena dissolved parliament in June 2015 to save the UNP from the first treasury bond scam thereby paved the way for much bigger second fraud in March 2016. President Sirisena waited till January 2017 to appoint a committee. By the time parliament received the report in the following year, Governor Mahendran had been allowed to slip out of the country. The parliament is yet to debate the report. US funded good governance project obviously didn’t have any impact on parliament as far as treasury bond scams were concerned. Wouldn’t it be the responsibility of Prasad Kariyawasam to inquire into this matter if he was paid by US taxpayer to ensure proper implementation of the project?

Although President Sirisena recently squarely blamed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution for the current political crisis, the writer is of the view that mega treasury bond scams ruined the yahapalana arrangement. The 19th Amendment enacted in April 2015 wouldn’t have been an issue if those in power had not raided the Central Bank. Their efforts to manipulate investigations and use parliament for the cover up of the heinous financial crime as well as the delaying the local government polls till Feb 2018 further worsened the situation.

President Sirisena couldn’t have absolved himself of the responsibility for the second treasury bond scam involving disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited perpetrated in 2016. President made an abortive bid to overcome the situation by blaming it all on Premier Wickremesinghe in April 2018. The UNP leader convincingly defeated a No Confidence Motion (NCM) moved by the Joint Opposition due to failure on the part of President Sirisena to secure the backing of UNP lawmakers. Wickremesinghe consolidated his position in the wake of key UNPers, namely Karu Jayasuriya, Sajith Premadasa and Ranjith Madduma Bandara declining to accept premiership. President Sirisena, struggling to thwart Wickremesinghe’s moves, sacked the UNPer in late Oct 2018 along with the entire cabinet, dissolved parliament on Nov 09, 2018 and called for early general election on January 05, 2019. Parliament had to be dissolved since twice President Rajapaksa who received the premiership at the expense of Wickremesinghe couldn’t prove required simple majority in parliament.

The judiciary swiftly and decisively ruled against the Sirisena-Rajapaksa constitutional coup.

One-time US Ambassador to the UN (2013-2017) Samantha Jane Power tweeted in early Nov. 2018: "The dangers of #SriLanka constitutional crisis are clear: violence is possible & Rajapaksa’s return to power will likely end the flagging efforts at ethnic reconciliation. Where is US diplomacy? SL must know that suspending aid, and targeted sanctions on the table."

Power tweeted again on Nov. 05, 2018: "Hard to know what will get #SriLanka president’s attention as he defies constitution. But good that US, EU & Japan showing urgent need to restore democracy. $500 million in US aid, trade privileges w/ Europe, Japanese loan of $1.4 billion hang in balance."

Western powers played a crucial role during the battle with diplomatic representatives visiting parliament during sessions and openly pledging support to the government. The international community cannot be blamed the failure on the part of President Sirisena and Premier Rajapaksa to engineer crossovers in sufficient numbers. President Sirisena declared that the project failed due to some lawmakers demanding as much as Rs 500 mn. Transparency International Sri Lanka lodged a complaint with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) regarding UPFA bid to bribe UNP Puttalam District lawmaker Palitha Range Bandara. CIABOC is powerless to inquire into lawmakers. Former lawmaker Prof. Rajiva Wijesinhe told the writer how the CIABOC sat on his complaint regarding a large scale operation to bribe People’s Alliance lawmakers during Mrs Kumaratunga’s presidency. It would be pertinent to mention that the CIABOC, too, received substantial US funding under the countrywide project in addition to British support.

The US seems to be funding all types of clandestine operations. The US funding of Sirisena campaign in 2014/2015 is not a secret though identities of recipients remained confidential.

No less a person than former US Secretary of State John Kerry is on record as having said a massive USD 585 mn was spent in Nigeria, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to restore democracy.

Forthcoming 2019 presidential poll will not be an exception. But the independent US media is endlessly griping about alleged meddling by Russians in the last US presidential election, while it completely ignored Washington’s meddling in internal affairs of other countries like nobody’s business.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Why only PK being blamed for facilitating US projects

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 276

 

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, MP, and one-time Foreign Secretary, Prasad Kariyawasam, are under heavy fire for being involved in a high profile US project. Kariyawasam was replaced by another career diplomat Ravinatha Aryasinha, in Nov 2018. Soon after retirement, Kariyawasam received a lucrative assignment, courtesy the US.

 Former President and Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa and Joint Opposition (JO) Leader in Parliament, Dinesh Gunawardena, last week sought an explanation from Speaker Jayasuriya as to how US government employee Kariyawasam functioned as an advisor to Speaker Jayasuriya.

 The JO also sought an explanation from Speaker Jayasuriya as to why Brigadier Chula Seneviratne, Director, Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), was called in to brief a group of envoys, representing Islamic countries, as regards the post-Easter Sunday attacks situation. Speaker Jayasuriya defended his position in respect of both issues during an exchange with the JO in Parliament though no reference was made to the US company involved in the project.

Both Rajapaksa and Gunawardena strongly objected to Speaker Jayasuriya depending on a person, paid by the US.

 Kariyawasam earned the wrath of the JO/SLPP and various other interested parties. They accused him of promoting US interests, both in and outside parliament. The JO/SLPP reacted to Kariyawasam’s new role as if the US project got underway recently. They conveniently forgot the US role in the change of government, in January 2015. No less a person than the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who visited Colombo,, in May 2015, is on record as having said that the US funded restoration of democracy (read change of governments) in Nigeria, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, to the tune of USD 585 mn.

 The JO never really raised this issue with the ineffectual Election Commission and in Parliament.

 In response to the JO criticism in parliament, the Speaker revealed that as much as Rs. 2,000mn had been received to implement a programme to strengthen democracy. An investigation is certainly required to examine how funds, made available, were spent because four years after the change of government, the parliament is in a ‘dilapidated’ state with many members under a cloud over waste, corruption and irregularities. The President, Maithripala Sirisena ,himself, accused Parliament of deliberately delaying the debate on thePresidential Bond Commission report. Parliament received the report in January 2018.

The controversial Parliament project is implemented by Maryland headquartered Development Alternatives, Inc (DAI), to reform Sri Lanka’s public sector, in accordance with an agreement between Sri Lanka and the House Democracy Partnership of the US House of Representatives.

Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) worth Rs 1.92 bn (USD 13 mn) is first of its kind implemented in Sri Lanka. Parliament owed an explanation as to how this project benefited the country.

Speaker Jayasuriya recently declared his readiness to become their candidate at the 2019 presidential election. Therefore, the former UNP Deputy Leader should expect unrelenting attacks on him. Kariyawasam, now under a cloud over his role in expediting the controversial Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), finalized in Aug 2018, has been caught up in a heavy confrontation between the UNP and the JO, flexing their muscles in the run up tothe presidential election. Jayasuriya received the attention of the electorate, and the international community, for leading an unprecedented counter attack that reversed the UPFA project to take control of the government. Jayasuriya played a significant role in thwarting the Oct 2018 constitutional coup. The former UNP Deputy Leader’s role earned him an opportunity to come forward as the next presidential candidate. However, the party is still divided over its choice with incumbent Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa’s name, too, being increasingly mentioned as a likely candidate.

The battle over US influencing Sri Lanka’s Parliament is taking place in the run-up to the 2019 presidential election. A few weeks ago, a top Colombo based US diplomat told a selected group of journalists, representing both privately and state-owned media, the US expected Sri Lanka to remain committed to agreements between the two, regardless of the outcome of the poll. Leaders of our political parties seen unaware of this warning.

Kariyawasam cannot be faulted for pursuing UNP policy, since January 2015, for obvious reasons. Kariyawasam’s role in ACSA ,as well as taking up appointment as Speaker’s advisor, should be examined against the backdrop of the yahapalana foreign policy. President Maithripala Sirisena, cannot absolve himself of culpability, for the current crisis, as his UPFA remained in government till Oct 2018. Even after the UPFA (read as SLFP lawmakers loyal to President Sirisena) quit the government, President Sirisena, in his capacity as the President, remains the head of the cabinet. Therefore, there cannot be any dispute as regards the responsibility/culpability of the UNP and the UPFA. Failure on the part of the government to thwart the Easter Sunday attacks is a case in point. Instead of trying to blame each other, President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe should accept responsibility for the government failure to thwart theEaster attacks. Let us get back to the US project meant to influence Sri Lanka’s Parliament.

 The writer dealt the US project on several occasions and also discussed the issue at hand with Faraz Shauketaly both on ‘Hot Seat’ and ‘News Line.’ The JO/SLPP never felt the need to take up the US ,or any other project, involving foreign governments. The JO owed the public an explanation as to why the grouping never took up thehigh profile US project until now. Better late than never.

The following front-page story, headlined ‘Private US company chosen for public sector reform here,’ with strap line ‘USD 13 mn project in collaboration with Parliament’ published on January 02, 2017 dealt with the US project: The US has chosen Maryland headquartered Development Alternatives, Inc (DAI), to implement a mega project meant to reform Sri Lanka’s public sector, in accordance with an agreement between Sri Lanka and the House Democracy Partnership of the US House of Representatives.

Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) worth Rs 1.92 bn (USD 13 mn) is first of its kind implemented in Sri Lanka.

The US embassy in Colombo confirmed that DAI would work closely with the Parliament, Independent Commissions and related ministries.

DAI operates in Asia, the Pacific, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, West Asia, North Africa, as well as Sub-Saharan Africa.

The project has been finalized by a parliamentary delegation, led by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya during a visit to Washington in September 2016. The delegation comprised Ajith P. Perera, Deputy Minister of Power and Renewable Energy, Karunaratne Paranavithane, Deputy Minister of Parliament Reform and Mass Media, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, State Minister of City Planning and Water Supply, and Dhammika Dassanayake, Secretary General of Parliament. The delegation was joined by Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States of America, Prasad Kariyawasam.

According to the US embassy, the House Democracy Partnership of the U.S. House of Representatives was currently implementing projects in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Colombia, Georgia, Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Macedonia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, Timo-Leste and Ukraine.

The US embassy said that SDGAP was subject to the laws and regulations of the United States, with oversight from USAID’s Office of Inspector General. "The project is also subject to the bilateral agreement between the United States and Sri Lanka," the embassy said.

 The Island sought explanation from the US embassy as regards the USAID project.

 The Island: When will you be releasing the first tranche of Rs. 1.92 bn (USD 13 mn) allocated for three year Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) here?

 US embassy: USAID allocated the initial USD 3 million for the USD 13.7 million Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) in September of 2016 and the programme was launched in November of 2016. The project will help the Government of Sri Lanka to increase transparency and accountability, advance good governance reforms, and strengthen systems and processes for public accountability, financial management, policy development and implementation. The project also supports the government to strengthen communication with citizens, include the public in policy-making, and increase the participation of women in political processes.

 The Island: On behalf of GoSL who will receive the funds and be responsible for the utilization of funds?

 US embassy: SDGAP will be implemented by Development Alternatives, Inc., in close collaboration with the Sri Lanka Parliament, Independent Commissions, and other related Ministries.

The Island: Can you please name the other countries accommodated in United States’ House Democracy Partnership programme?

The US embassy: Sri Lanka is the 18th country to become a member of the House Democracy Partnership.  The Sri Lanka Parliament and the House Democracy Partnership of the U.S. House of Representatives launched a Collaboration Agreement to strengthen partnership between the two legislatures on September 14th, in Washington D.C.

The Island: Will the SDGAP project be subjected to Sri Lanka’s Auditor General’s purview?

US embassy: Since funding for SDGAP is provided from the United States Government, it is subject to the laws and regulations of the United States, with oversight from USAID’s Office of Inspector General. It is also subject to the bilateral agreement between the United States and Sri Lanka. Notably, USAID also has projects that work directly with the Auditor General’s Office on procurement reform, the Parliamentary Committees on Public Accounts and Public Enterprises, the National Procurement Commission, and others to support transparency, accountability, and capacity development.

The Island: Did US provide funds for a similar project to any previous GoSL?

 US embassy: Since 1956, the United States has provided over $2 billion in assistance in a wide range of sectors, including agriculture, small business development, environment, health, education, infrastructure, transportation, humanitarian assistance, civil society development, electoral reform, and good governance. Following the January 2015 elections, new programmes like SDGAP reflect the U.S. government’s promises to support the vision of the Sri Lankan people of a peaceful, democratic, and inclusive country. SDGAP follows on the successes of a previous programme that provided short-term technical assistance to the Sri Lanka Parliament.

 The Island: Is continuation of funding subjected to implementation of SDGAP as scheduled?

 US embassy: SDGAP has a total estimated cost of USD 13.7 million. Future obligations to the project will be done subject to the availability of funding and in accordance with the contract documents with Development Alternatives, Inc.

Kariyawasam received appointment as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador, in Washington, in July 2014. The posting was cleared by the Parliamentary High Post Committee, chaired by the then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa. There couldn’t have been a better person for Washington. The experienced career diplomat succeeded political appointee Jaliya Wickremasuriya (2008-2014), close relative of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, now held in the US over alleged financial crimes. Wickremasuriya should never have been given such a long stint there under any circumstances. Kariyawasam took over the mission during an extremely delicate time with the US undermining the then government. President Rajapaksa’s relationship with China antagonized both the US and India. They worked overtime to bring an end to the Rajapaksa administration. They succeeded in 2015, though 2010 project failed. The US was desperate to get rid of Rajapaksa, and it thew its full weight behind General Sarath Fonseka, at the presidential poll, in spite of its own Ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis, naming the war-winning Army Chief as a war criminal. They went to the extent of forcing the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to campaign for Fonseka, in spite of having accused his army of killings thousands of civilians and battlefield executions of surrendered LTTE cadres.

With the change of government in Sri Lanka in 2015, foreign policy underwent a drastic change. Kariyawasam, though receiving appointment from the previous administration, had no option but to follow the treacherous yahapalana foreign policy. Having withheld support for the successful war effort that culminated with the eradication of the LTTE, in May 2009, the UNP fully cooperated with Western efforts to blame Sri Lanka for war crimes. The Foreign Service officers are duty bound to follow political directives or face the consequences. Kariyawasam followed directives from Colombo. All missions did the same. Those who head missions now do the same whatever they say in individual capacity.

During Kariyawasam’s tenure in Washington (July 2014-July 2017), Sri Lanka reached a controversial tripartite agreement with the US and the TNA on an accountability mechanism. The cabinet and the Parliament were never briefed of the proposed accountability mechanism. The accord remained secret until TNA heavyweight, Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran, revealed it. The revelation was made in June 2016, in Washington, at the ‘Congressional Caucus for Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka.’

Sumanthiran told the Washington gathering that the Geneva Resolution was adopted on Oct 01, 2015, following an understanding that the participation of foreigners, in an accountability mechanism, wouldn’t be contrary to Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Declaring that he had been personally involved in the negotiations with the US and also participated 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."

To Sumanthiran’s credit, he never contradicted his own statement like many other politicians. It is certainly a commendable trait.

Sumanthiran told the Congressional Caucus that the resolution accepted at Geneva had been negotiated by them (US, Sri Lanka and the TNA). Both Sumanthiran and UK-based spokesperson for the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), Suren Surendin, have said they settled for a hybrid model though they originally asked for an international inquiry.

In his brief remarks at the Washington event, Ambassador Kariyawasam provided an overview of the measures taken by Sri Lanka to promote its two-pronged policy of reconciliation and development, since the January 2015 election of the current government, and reiterated, in detail, measures taken by the government to vindicate its commitment to these processes and explained the several challenges that militate against government efforts. A statement issued by the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington regarding the event didn’t make any reference to Sumanthiran’s shocking disclosure.

Post 2010 & 2015 prez polls

developments

The JO never took up this issue either though The Island repeatedly raised Sumanthiran’s revelation. The JO and the JVP neglected their responsibilities. They conveniently refrained from taking up the tripartite agreement. They never did.

The writer raised Sumanthiran’s Washington declaration with Tilak Marapana after the President’s Counsel addressed the media at the Foreign Ministry after succeeding Ravi Karunanayake. The UNP brought back Marapana to the cabinet, in Aug 2017, at the expense of UNP Assistant Leader in the wake of the treasury bond scam controversy. Standing next to Marapana was the then Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam, who had been Sri Lanka’s previous Ambassador in Washington. Kariyawasam sat next to Sumanthiran when the latter revealed the existence of a secret tripartite agreement on foreign participation in the accountability process.

In response to the writer’s query, Marapana declared that the 1978 Constitution wouldn’t permit the inclusion of foreign judges in the proposed domestic Judicial Mechanism under any circumstances.

A confident Marapana strongly disputed the writer’s assertion in respect of the inclusion of foreign judges in the proposed accountability mechanism in accordance with the Geneva Resolution 30/1.

 Marapana quite conveniently had forgotten that a government appointed body, in January, 2017, endorsed the Geneva Resolution. The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) called for full participation of foreign judges, and other personnel, including defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators, in transitional justice mechanism to address accountability issues.

The CTFRM released the controversial report on the eve of the third anniversary of President Maithripala Sirisena’s victory over his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa.

 The government faithfully followed the US strategy. It still follows.

 In accordance with US strategy, Sri Lanka entered into a ‘Comprehensive Partnership Agreement’ (CPA) with Japan soon after co-sponsoring the Geneva Resolution. The CPA was signed in Tokyo on Oct 06, 2015. Premier Wickremesinghe signed the CPA, on behalf of Sri Lanka, with his counterpart Abe. Japan, home for powerful US forces based there, since the end of World War II, is in a military alliance with the US and India meant to counter growing Chinese influence. Australia, too, is part of this US-led operation. The recent tripartite agreement among Sri Lanka, India and Japan on Eastern Terminal of the Colombo port should be examined taking into consideration Western powers seeking to dominate Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representatives, in Geneva, in 2015 (Ravinatha Aryasinha), and incumbent Ambassador, A.L. A Azeez, accepted Resolutions 30/1 and 40/1, respectively, though they were inimical to Sri Lanka. They followed government policy. Don’t forget Sri Lanka co-sponsored the despicable Resolution about 10 days after rejecting it at the first informal talks with those countries moving it. The government directed the Permanent Representative to go ahead soon after the US complained about Colombo’s stand. Ambassador Azeez did the same on instructions received from Mano Tittawella. Tittawella issued instructions in his capacity as the Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) – a cabinet appointed body answerable to Premier Wickremeisnghe’s Office.

 Sri Lanka remains in the US-initiated Geneva process though the global power quit the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), in June 2018, after accusing it of being ‘a cesspool of political bias.’

 Kariyawasam functions as an DAI (Development Alternatives Inc) employee. There are other beneficiaries. Thanks to US project and other related ‘operations’ our lawmakers received opportunity to visit India, China, US, UK, Germany, Nrway, EU, Iran, Canada, Oman and Switzerland. Groups of journalists covering parliament as well as the staff, too, received foreign trips at the expense of various countries. Parliament reached agreements with UNDP, USAID/DAI, International Republican Institure,Westminister Fondation, National Democratic Institute and Friedrich Naumann Foundation for basically improving standards of lawmakers. The entire country knows the status of parliament where lawmakers conduct is under scrutiny.

 Yahapalana foreign policy ensured the continuation of the Geneva process even after Lord Naseby provided the much discussed wherewithal to reverse the US-led project. Kariyawasam played a significant role in continuation of the process as Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The continuing project to influenceParliament is all part of the overall strategy to bring Sri Lanka under permanent US domination. Can such a vast operation be blamed on Kariyawasam? The operation seems on track.