Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Australia follows up with big exercise in the wake of US setting up ‘logistical hub’



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Nearly a decade after Sri Lanka brought the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to a successful conclusion, Australia, a key member of the US-led ‘military alliance,’ has included Sri Lanka in a major Indian Ocean military exercise - the first of its kind involving the war-winning military.

Sri Lanka crushed the LTTE, in May 2009, following a nonstop two years and 10 months long combined security forces offensive, launched in Sept. 2006.

Australia will launch the exercise, involving seven countries, here, on Saturday (March 23). The exercise gets underway immediately after the conclusion of the Geneva Human Rights Council sessions where Sri Lanka received two more years to fulfill obligations it made in Oct 2015.

About 1,000 Australian personnel are expected to participate in the unprecedented exercise, covering Colombo and Trincomalee harbours, as well as the Chinese-funded Mattala airport.

The Australian deployment for the exercise, codenamed Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 (IPE-19), comprises several vessels, landing helicopter dock and flagship of the Australian Navy HMAS Canberra, Adelaide-class guided-missile frigate HMAS Newcastle, Anzac-class frigate HMAS Paramatta and Durance-class multi-product replenishment oiler HMAS Success.

Other countries involved in the exercise are India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore - currently engaged in exercises conducted by the US Pacific Command. IPE 19 is obviously part of the overall military-political initiatives to counter growing Chinese power.

The media was briefed last Friday (March 15) of the IPE 19, at the residence of Acting Australian High Commissioner in Colombo Jon Philp.

Ahead of the IPE 19, two Australian Navy, vessels which were here since March 11, moved to Trincomalee last Sunday (March 17) to locate an Australian warship sunk off Batticaloa during World War II. The vessels are expected to leave today (March 20).

Australia wouldn’t have dared even to contemplate military exercise in Sri Lankan waters a decade ago. The LTTE’s naval unit, called Sea Tigers, targeted all Sri Lankan ports, with a section of the Indian media claiming Sea Tiger ‘suicide packs’ were planning attacks on Sri Lankan ports. Western powers deprived Sri Lanka of much needed support though the US provided critical backing during Eelam War IV (2006-2009).

The Australian move should be examined against the backdrop of the US Navy announcement of the setting up of what it called logistic hub in Sri Lanka to secure support, supplies and services at sea and the ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ between Japan and Sri Lanka reached after the change of government in January 2015. The growing US-Japan-India cooperation, too, is a matter for serious consideration.

The US Navy announcement was made towards the end of the first week of December, 2018, though the US Navy first operated the air logistic hub in late August 2018.

Karannagoda at the helm

The Sri Lanka Navy played a significant role in the near three-yearlong combined security forces campaign that enabled the country to attract Western powers. Unfortunately, they had sought a relationship with Sri Lanka at the expense of China, an all-weather friend whose continuous military support helped the country to withstand the LTTE. Had the Navy failed in its efforts to destroy floating LTTE arsenals, on the high seas, during the 2006/2007 period, the war couldn’t have been brought to an end! Of the eight LTTE ships, loaded with a range of arms, ammunition and equipment, four were sent to the bottom of the seas, thanks to specific intelligence received by the then Navy Chief Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda (2005-2009) from the US. Karannagoda skillfully obtained, with the help of the then US Ambassador in Colombo, Robert Blake, the required information to enable the Navy to deploy its assets purposefully. Karannagoda terminated the long standing ‘Varuna Kirana’ operation, meant to intercept weapons-carrying LTTE approaching the Mulliativu-Chalai coast. Instead, the Navy successfully hunted down LTTE ships to eliminate the continuous sea supply routes - weapons transfers from ships to LTTE boats launched from the Northern Province as well as supplies moved, via Tamil Nadu.

A decade after the conclusion of the war, Karannagoda is under investigation for allegedly being part of a clandestine Navy unit responsible for the abduction and disappearance of 11 youth during the 2007/2008 period. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) questioned Karannagoda, on March 11 and 12, 2019, for hours following a directive issued by the Supreme Court, consequent to the former Navy Chief seeking the apex body’s intervention to prevent his arrest.

Karanngoda, through his lawyers, requested a national newspaper for space to contradict a news item published the day following the CID questioned him on March 11, 2019. In a letter, dated March 12, 2019, addressed to the Editor of the said newspaper, the lawyer for Karannagoda said: "I am instructed that you have published a news item in your Newspaper published yesterday, namely 12th March 2019, on front page, under the heading" Abduction and killing of 11 youth – Unit was under my command- Karannagoda "

I am instructed by my client to request from you as to who gave this information to the newspaper and/or who provided this information to the author of the news item. 

I am also instructed to inform you that by publishing this sort of news items you are interfering with the ongoing investigation. 

However, since you have published this, my client is compelled and thus I have been instructed to inform you that there was no questioning took place about this on 11th March at CID in the first place and therefore there was no occasion for my client to either admit or deny that there was such a unit under his command or under his direct supervision.

Therefore the information contained in the article is totally false. 

In the circumstances I am instructed to and I do hereby request you to publish a correction as stated in this letter stating that my client’s position that this news item is false and give the same prominence that was given to the article published yesterday.

Also let me know as to who provided this information to the newspaper and/or to the author of the article."

Karannagoda’s lawyer, under any circumstances, has no right to seek the identity of the person/persons who provided the information to the media though his right to clarify/contradict a matter ,on behalf of his client, cannot be challenged.

Karannagoda was again questioned by the CID yesterday (March 19).

Previous govt’s failure

The previous government owed an explanation as to why the disappearance case was not properly investigated, in spite of Karannagoda himself complaining to the police, way back in May 2009. Those who had repeatedly accused the UNP government and the CID of targeting Karannagoda should explain the failure on the part of the previous government to conclude the investigation. The previous government neglected its responsibilities until the disappearance case ended up in Geneva. As former Commander of the war-winning Army Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, MP, recently emphasized in parliament that the law of the land should apply to Karannagoda. Participating in the budget debate on March 8, 2019, the Sinha Regiment veteran said that though the government protected war heroes, criminals responsible for extra judicial killings should not be shielded. Fonseka said that if Karannagoda had been involved in wartime abductions he should be punished. No one can find fault with Fonseka for taking a principled stand that anyone responsible for crimes, if found guilty, should be punished.

However, many an eyebrow was raised when the much touted allegation that Vice Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne, in his capacity as the Commander of the Navy, helped a key suspect in the disappearances case, Lt. Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi, to leave the country in a Fast Attack Craft (FAC). This allegation was proved wrong when the CID arrested Hettiarachchi in Colombo after his return from overseas. The suspect repeatedly called ‘Navy Sampath,’ in a deliberate bid to deceive the public, had left the country by air and returned the same way. The CID admitted in the Fort Magistrate court that there was no basis for its earlier claim that Hettiarachchi left the country in a FAC. Close on the heels of Karannagoda moving the Supreme Court; the CID arrested retired Lt. Commander Sampath Munasinghe, the real ‘Navy Sampath’ allegedly responsible for the disappearances. One-time Navy spokesman Commodore D.K.P. Dassanayake, too, had been arrested in connection with this case, often referred to by UN officials, diplomats as well as the civil society. Dassanayake is on bail. Wijegunaratne’s case, too, is pending.

Sumanthiran’s comments

It would be pertinent to mention that the original accusation, with regard to Wijegunaratne helping Hettiarachchi to escape, was made at a meeting attended by several ministers and several others, including President’s Counsel J.C. Weliamuna. No less a person that TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran referred to the apprehension of the real ‘Navy Sampath’ in conversations with the writer on two different occasions. Sumanthiran during the debate in the expenditure heads of the President, the Prime Minister, Independent Commissions and the apex courts on March 13, 2019, underscored the need for foreign judges to inquire into war crimes and related cases on the basis of Karannagoda moving the Supreme Court.

Sumanthiran said: "The point I am trying to make is that even in a case where the abducted persons were not members of the LTTE, had nothing to do with the war, even so, because the suspects were members of an armed force – the Sri Lanka Navy - who were running an extortion racket they could not arrest the Navy Commander. This was abduction and extortion of money for ransom and it was revealed that the Navy Commander at that time knew about it and himself made a complaint to the police – the first complaint was by him. And because he was a war-time Commander, the petition was taken up in the SC that he is a war hero and that he should not be arrested. I wish to ask, if a person had been a Commander of the Armed Forces during the war, does that give him immunity from arrest? I did not see that happening in the case of Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka."

The high profile role played by the Navy during the conflict shouldn’t be an excuse for atrocities to be committed. Let there be proper investigations into all incidents, not directly related to the conflict, as well as war crimes. It would be pertinent to mention a statement issued by a top Japanese official as regards Karannagoda soon after he received appointment as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Tokyo. The following is The Island report, dated July 13, 2011: 

UN Law Commission: Karannagoda praised, western media criticized for post-Fukushima ‘conduct’

A Japanese member of the UN Law Commission, Shinya Murase, has paid a glowing tribute to newly appointed Sri Lankan Ambassador to Japan Admiral (Rtd) Wasantha Karannagoda for taking over the diplomatic mission in spite of radiation fears caused by the destruction of the Fukushima nuclear facility, on March 11, 2011.

Addressing the International Law Commission recently, regarding ways and means to tackle natural disasters in the aftermath of the Fukushima tragedy, Murase said that expression of solidarity could be as equally precious as material and financial support. Although Admiral Karannagoda hadn’t been named, Murase left no doubt as to which country he was referring to.

Former Navy Commander Karannagoda succeeded career diplomat Esala Weerakoon. The government is under heavy Opposition fire for appointing retired and serving military officers as heads of missions as well as to lesser diplomatic positions. External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris strongly defended the government decision in this regard in a response to a query raised by the Chief Opposition Whip, John Amaratunga, in Parliament.

During his illustrious career, Admiral Karannagoda supervised the destruction of eight LTTE ships on the high seas during Eelam war IV causing the rapid collapse of the enemy’s firepower.

Karannagoda’s action brought honour to Sri Lanka before national cricketer Kumar Sangakkara took advantage of the annual Sir Colin Cowdrey lecture to praise Sri Lanka’s military victory over LTTE terrorism in May 2009. Government sources told The Island that such praise couldn’t have come at a better time as a section of the international community targets the country on the human rights front.

While emphasizing the importance of international cooperation to tackle natural disasters, Murase told the UN Law Commission: "Just to mention one example without naming the country, there was a new Ambassador from a small Island country in Asia who had been appointed to serve in Japan from March. When the earthquake hit Japan, he was advised that he could postpone his assignment until the situation in Japan normalized. However, he arrived in Tokyo on schedule, because he thought it important to show his and his country’s solidarity with the Japanese people. His country itself was hit by a devastating tsunami in 2004. His arrival in Tokyo coincided with the week in March when so many embassy staff members of other countries were fleeing the city for fear of radioactive contamination (which, incidentally, had been largely exaggerated in the Western media). The mass exodus of foreign diplomats and business people had left the feeling among the Japanese, that they had been abandoned."

Murase went onto say: "But this ambassador was different. Right after his arrival, he visited the evacuation centers in the affected area with his fellow countrymen, cooking and serving hot food that was much appreciated by the evacuees who had been living under freezing temperatures without heat. His government donated the victims a huge amount of money for this small country, as well as 3 million bags of tea produced in his country. Furthermore, he led some 15 military personnel from his country to clean-up the debris in the tsunami-stricken area. These actions went well beyond his basic diplomatic duties, but his efforts were immensely appreciated."

Murase said Japan had received assistance from 161 countries and 43 international organizations following the tragedy. "We received immense quantities of relief supplies, substantial monetary donations, and hands-on assistance of a great number of relief teams from a great many countries, regions, and organizations, for all of which we are truly grateful. The Japanese people will never forget that the world stood by us when we were most in need."

The Rajapaksa government turned a blind eye to Sangakkara’s defence of the Sri Lankan military in London at a time the UK was busy formulating plans to haul up Sri Lanka before an international war crimes tribunal. Sangakkara’s was the best possible defence by a world renowned Sri Lankan, not influenced by the corrupt political setup here.

The writer is grateful to Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Wijegunaratne for reminding him of the Murase’s statement at the International Law Commission.

COMEAST under fire

During the second year of the Ceasefire Agreement, signed in Feb 2002, Karannagoda received the wrath of the then UNP government for warning of a large scale LTTE built-up against the strategic Trincomalee Navy base. The then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was accused of making up ‘stories’ on the basis of information provided by Karannagoda, the then COMEAST, the senior most security forces officer in the region. The military solidly backed Kadirgamar’s assertion. In spite of heavy political pressure, Navy headquarters strongly approved of Kadirgamar declaration that the LTTE posed a formidable threat to Trincomalee unless remedial measures were taken. The then Navy spokesman Captain Jayantha Perera (later Commander of the Navy) explained the circumstances how Kadirgamar reached the conclusion as regards the LTTE plans (Navy backs Kadir’s claims of LTTE Trinco threat-The Sunday Island, Sept 7, 2003).

A section of the state-owned media mercilessly targeted Karannagoda over his stand on Trincomalee. Karannagoda challenged a news programme aired on Sept. 05, 2003 asserting it was defamatory of him. The COMEAST described the coverage as distorted and politically motivated. The then government found fault with Karannagoda for taking a position that it felt undermined the Oslo-led peace process. In his letter of demand, Karannagoda underscored that he stood by the presentation made to Kadirgamar at the President’s House on Aug. 04, 2003. Karannagoda, the then No 03 of the Navy, counting 32 years of experience, emphasized that Kadirgamar was briefed on the basis of ‘all possible information and intelligence gathered by the Navy, Army and Air Force.’

The task of denying Karannagoda fell on the then top government spokesperson Prof. G.L. Peiris. Prof. Peiris denied Kadirgamar’s claim of a threat on Trincomalee while assuring the public of a contingency plan to meet a crisis in the East (COMET to sue on Trinco issue-The Sunday Island,  Sept. 14, 2003).

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Anti-Sri Lanka project suffers setback as US report on ‘Mannar Sathosa mass grave site’ clears Army


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights obviously believed the lies propagated by the interested parties. The Commissioner went to the extent of referring to the Mannar mass grave site in her latest annual report (section 23) submitted to the UNHRC. The following is the relevant section: "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 operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured." Geneva never expected the US report on Mannar mass graves to go against its strategy.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A recent report by a reputed Miami-based laboratory, on the Mannar Sathosa mass grave samples, cleared, the war-winning Sri Lanka Army (SLA) of the responsibility for extra-judicial killings.

The remains of over 300 men, women and children were found, beginning early last year, at the site in the northern Mannar district, where terrorists fought the military during a 37-year war that ended in May 2009. In terms of the Indo-Lanka Accord, forced on then President JR Jayewardene, by New Delhi, the Indian Army, too, was deployed there during July 1987 to January 1990. During the Indian deployment, the Sri Lankan military was confined to barracks, not only in Mannar, but also the entire northern and eastern administrative districts.

The independent carbon testing report, from the internationally recognized US laboratory, concluded that the victims likely died up to 615 years ago — predating even the first European colonization of the country by the Portuguese.

Sri Lanka’s Office on Missing Persons (OMP) funded tests on the remains to determine whether the victims were killed during the conflict.

The LTTE and government forces held the Mannar district at different times during the conflict.

The mass grave, in the former war zone, was discovered by construction workers.

The US report, made available to the Mannar Magistrate court, undermined the ongoing project, undertaken by a section of the international community, to humiliate Sri Lanka. Among those really upset by the outcome of the US lab findings are members of the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), one time LTTE representatives in parliament.

On behalf of the TNA, a lawmaker, representing the Vanni region, has called for a fresh testing in another lab in some other country. Our Vavuniya correspondent Dinasena Ratugamage quoted Mullaitivu District MP Nirmalanathan Sivamohan as having said:" This is not to say that we do not accept the reports sent by a lab in Florida, US, but given the importance of the Mannar grave site we need to get a second opinion."

The MP insisted that the lab in Florida had not attempted to identify the victims that and further tests, to determine the identity of those in the graves, should be done.

"A lot of people went missing in Mannar during the war. We need to expand the excavations at the mass grave site. We must do further tests to identify the victims. The TNA insists that the excavations and testing should go on."

The OMP, established in accordance with the Human Rights Resolution 30/1 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, declared, in late Dec 2018, its intention to fund the US tests.

Chairperson of OMP Saliya Pieris, PC, in late Dec 2018, explained the circumstances how his outfit got involved in the Mannar investigation with the focus on the process of selecting six bone samples for radio carbon dating.

The process of selecting samples was carried out at the excavation site, under the supervision of the Mannar Magistrate, T. Saravanaraja. The team carrying out the sample selection included representatives from the Consultant Judicial Medical Officers, the Post Graduate Institute of Archeology from the University of Kelaniya, the Police Scene of Crime Officers (SOCO) and crime investigation branch), and the Government Analysts Department.

OMP Commissioners Mirak Raheem and K. Venthan were present as observers. Lawyers representing families of the disappeared and a member from the Citizens’ Committee were also present as observers.

The OMP was established under the Office on Missing Persons (Establishment, Administration and Discharge of Functions) Act No 14 of 2016, and has a primary mandate to search for and trace missing persons. Under its investigative powers, the OMP has the authority to apply to a Magistrate’s Court to act as an observer at excavations and exhumations of suspected grave sites [Section 12(d)]. The Mannar Magistrate on 4th June 2018 accepted the OMP’s application to act as an observer and it has been observing the process of excavation since.

Prior to the sampling process, the OMP recommended guidelines for selecting and recording the samples. The OMP emphasized the need to ensure representatives of families of the disappeared and missing were present at the time of selecting samples to ensure accountability and transparency of the process. Further, the OMP recommended measures to secure the chain of custody of samples.

The OMP also funded excavation team beginning July 2018.

The TNA and all those seeking a second opinion must be reminded how the bone samples were selected. It would be pertinent to ask the OMP whether it accepted the TNA’s recommendation. Would those members of the international community, hell bent on hauling Sri Lanka up before a hybrid war crimes investigating mechanism, too, throw their weight behind the TNA.

Obviously, the TNA, a prime mover in the ongoing campaign against the SLA, expected the US lab report to facilitate its project in Geneva. Had the report referred to a period less than 40 years, the SLA would have been in serious trouble, especially against the backdrop of the Geneva sessions taking place. The 40th sessions commenced on Feb 25, 2019 and will continue till March 22, 2019. A report favourable to the TNA and its Western masters would have caused a catastrophe in the absence of a proper mechanism to counter those propagating lies.

Int’l community interest in mass grave site

A section of local and foreign media spearheaded a high profile campaign, based on the Mannar Sathosa mass grave site. Some Colombo based diplomats, too, supported the project. German Ambassador in Colombo, Joern Rohde, visited the site on November 27, 2018. The German Ambassador’s visit was followed by a British delegation on Dec 11, 2018. The British visit took place close on the heels of the discovery of two pieces of human bones, bound by a cable, on Dec 7, 2018. The recovery prompted some ‘experts’, as well as those engaged in excavating the mass grave, speculate whether some of the people buried there had been tortured before being killed. Interests shown in the Mannar mass grave site by those countries, pushing for full implementation of the Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka in Oct 2015, strengthened the campaign directed at the Army. A section of the Catholic clergy, too, facilitated the project meant to blame the Army over the Mannar mass grave.

It would be pertinent to mention that both the UK and Germany play a bigger role in the Geneva project in the wake of the US quitting the UN body over policy differences. The US discontinued its involvement with the Geneva body, in June last year, calling it a cesspool of political bias.

In spite of foreign envoys visiting Mannar, and wide media coverage it received, the Foreign Ministry was not bothered. The FM never called a meeting of Colombo-based envoys to explain the government’s response. The Island recently raised the failure on the part of the FM to address this issue. The Defence Ministry and Army Headquarters, too, did nothing so far as regards the Mannar findings. Had the US carbon testing report referred to a period less than 40 years, it would have become a major issue in Geneva and further strengthened the call for full implementation of the Oct 2015 Resolution. Thanks to the independent US report, Sri Lanka is now in a much better position to face the contemptible project. It would be interesting to see how the government used the US report to Sri Lanka’s advantage in Geneva. But the question is whether the government would do so against the backdrop of its treacherous refusal to bring Lord Naseby’s disclosure the in House of Commons, in Oct 2017, to the notice of the Geneva body. Lord Naseby, on the basis of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) records obtained with the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office, challenged the very basis of the Oct 2015 Resolution. Sri Lanka refused to take advantage of the revelation that countered two major allegations (1) killing of 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front and (2) Sri Lanka political and military leaderships deliberately targeted the civilian community.

President Sirisena’s reaction

The US report couldn’t have come at a better time for the Army, struggling to cope up with the Geneva challenge. It certainly brought relief to the military, unable to properly counter lies, propagated by interested parties, nearly a decade after the successful conclusion of the war, with the crushing of the LTTE militarily. The failure on the part of President Sirisena to intervene on behalf of the armed forces against the backdrop of the UNP government’s reiterating its commitment to the Oct 2015 Resolution has made matters worse for the military. President Sirisena’s March 06, 2019 declaration was that he would dispatch a three member team comprising Dr. Sarath Amunugama, MP, Mahinda Samarasinghe, MP and Dr. Suren Raghavan, Governor of the Northern Province to explore ways and means to reaching a consensus with Geneva as regards the Oct 2015 Resolution. President Sirisena assured the media that his team would seek a way out for Lanka to deviate from the current course of action based on the Oct 2015 Resolution. The issue came at President Sirisena’s regular meeting with senior representatives of both print and electronic media at the President’s House. The writer sought an explanation from President Sirisena as to what he expected to achieve by sending a delegation in the wake of the UNP government already accepting the latest Resolution. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, Ambassador A.L.A. Azeez, signed the document on the instructions of the government even before the formal discussion on the UK prepared document. The writer also pointed out to the President the failure on the part of his government (The President is head of the cabinet) to use Lord Naseby’s Oct 2017 disclosure in Geneva.

Two days after President Sirisena’s meet with media representatives, Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne, flanked by Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, Air Marshal Kapila Jayampathy and Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva, asserted that responding to the Geneva allegations wasn’t their (the military) responsibility. Admiral Wijegunaratne said so when the writer pointed out to the top brass that the military had neglected their responsibility in this regard for 10 years. The Island raised the contentious issue of the military conveniently forgetting its responsibility at a special media briefing called by the Defence Ministry at the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) to explain the role played by them in President Sirisena’s high profile battle against the lucrative narcotics trade.

Joint Opposition Leader in Parliament Dinesh Gunawardena, on behalf of the UPFA, raised the Geneva issue in parliament. But, by then, Azeez had already placed his signature on the latest resolution and the government is no longer in a position to change its stance.

UPFA MP Dayasiri Jayasekera, too, last Friday (March 08) raised the Geneva issue in parliament. Responding to Jayasekera, Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella assured parliament that the government had made it clear to the international community that Sri Lanka would not permit foreign judges to try war heroes or any other.

MP Jayasekara, claiming that the government had agreed to allow foreign judges by co-sponsoring the UNHRC resolution in 2015, questioned whether the administration was planning to co-sponsor another resolution in Geneva this year and whether its content had been revealed to the Cabinet or Parliament.

By the time, this question was posed to Minister Kiriella, as explained earlier, Ambassador Azeez’s signature had already been placed on the document. The writer brought this to the notice of MP Jayasekera last Monday (March 11).

Did Kiriella deliberately mislead the House when he claimed that the government was planning to get the consent of the international community to amend the Oct 2015 Resolution in favour of the country. Kiriella noted that discussions were going on with the international community in that regard. The minister stressed that the government had never agreed to permit international judges and the resolution only sought technical assistance from them.

But, a report presented to the 40th Geneva session, proved, beyond any doubt, that those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s victory over terrorism a decade ago, expected the full implementation of the Oct 2015 Resolution. There is no basis for Kiriella’s optimism that the original Resolution can be amended or President Sirisena’s belief that a consensus can be worked out with Western powers. Those responsible for foreign policy seem to have turned a blind eye to the situation there, much to the disappointment of the vast majority of people.

The report, titled ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’, by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that dealt with Sri Lanka from Oct 2015 to January 2019, told the government to ensure the full implementation of the agreed agenda. President Sirisena’s delegation cannot be expected to achieve anything in Geneva. Sri Lanka cannot be represented by two delegations in Geneva or any other forum. The UNP government has decided not to send a ministerial delegation to Geneva, thereby entrusted the task to Ambassador Azeez, a career diplomat who will carry out directives from Colombo. The Ambassador cannot disobey Colombo under any circumstances. Remember, Azeez’s predecessor, Ravinatha Aryasinha had no option but to accept the Oct 2015 Resolution at the behest of the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera about 10 days after he rejected the draft resolution at the first informal session with the Core Group led by the US. The UK dealt with Ambassador Azeez.

The latest report reflected the Western powers thinking as regards possible change of government in Colombo. Geneva realized that President Sirisena’s unprecedented intervention in Oct 2018 could have jeopardized the Western project meant to weaken the country by abolishing Sri Lanka’s unitary status. In a section headlined ‘Developments in Reconciliation and Accountability,’ the report dealt with the Oct 2018 constitutional coup. The report asserted that President Sirisena’s strategy implemented with the former President threatened to regress human rights, transitional justice, reconciliation agenda and mechanism agreed in the Oct 2015 Resolution.

Interestingly, the report alleged that due to constitutional coup (Oct 26, 2015 to Dec 15, 2018), the implementation of original Geneva Resolution endorsed again in March 2017 for a two-year period was further delayed and caused further problems.

If one goes by the latest Geneva report, Western powers are likely resist a change of government until the full implementation of the original Geneva Resolution.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Once proud No 12 MiG squadron is no more




No 12 squadron pilots during the Eelam War IV (Aug 2006-May 2009) Pic courtesy The Aerial Tribute

By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, awarded President’s Colour to No 07 helicopter and No 08 light transport squadrons at a spectacular parade held, at the Hingurakgoda SLAF base on March 02, 2019.

The President’s Colour is the highest accolade a military establishment/formation can receive once it completes 25 years of service to the nation.

The awarding of President’s Colour coincided with the 68th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF).

Since the successful conclusion of the conflict, in May 2009, several SLAF formations, including the celebrated No 10 Kfir squadron, received President’s Colour.

However, the No 12 squadron, formed in support of the No 10, is undoubtedly the most controversial SLAF unit. Nearly a decade after Sri Lanka’s triumph over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the No 12 squadron, that comprised Ukrainian MiG 27s, still attracts both print and electronic media. Acquisition of a section of MiG 27s, during the Rajapaksa presidency, has been widely claimed as one of the biggest frauds perpetrated by the war-winning administration. Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and political appointee, then Sri Lankan Ambassador in Moscow, Udayanga Weeratunga, have been blamed for what the critics called blatantly fraudulent MiG deal.

Some alleged the assassination of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, on the Attidiya Road, close to Bakery Junction, on the morning of January 08, 2009, was the direct result of that newspaper’s coverage of the MiG deal. Veteran The Sunday Times columnist, Iqbal Athas, dealt with the Rajapaksa era MiG deal, assassination of Wickrematunga and threats to his own life in the wake of explosive The Times revelations as regards the MiG deal, in a speech Athas delivered at the recent inauguration of the Sri Lanka Centre for Investigative Reporting (CIR).

The Consultant Editor, Defence Correspondent and Political Editor Athas told the gathering at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute: "There was more disturbing news just two weeks before Lasantha Wickrematunga was murdered. A very highly placed source asked me to get out of the house that very night. I flew to Thailand. I had spent long stints there living in an apartment cooking food, washing clothes and working online. The next morning, my driver who was alerted, saw a man with an oversized bush shirt moving outside my house in a motorcycle. When there was strong blowing, the bottom part of the shirt went up. There was a pistol on his waist. The driver noted the registration number. I checked it on a secure phone from Bangkok. The registration plate belonged to a lorry. When the so-called Yahapalana government came to power, they set up the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID). I made a statement to them in early 2015 and investigations began."

The media quoted CIR Executive Director Dilrukshi Handunetti, a former colleague of the writer, as having said: "The Centre is a collective effort of a group of journalists and media trainers who wish to raise the bar in Sri Lankan journalism. The Centre is conceptualized and driven by Sri Lankan journalists for journalists here."

In spite of the Fort Magistrate issuing a warrant for Udayanga Weeratunga’s arrest over his alleged involvement in the MiG deal, the suspect continues to evade court. It would be pertinent to mention that in the wake of explosive The Sunday Times revelations, the then SLFP heavyweight Mangala Samaraweera, in March 2007, lodged a complaint with the CIABOC (Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption) as regards what he called corrupt MiG deal. The incumbent government cannot neglect its duty to bring judicial proceedings into Lasantha Wickrematunga’s assassination as well as the MiG deal to successful conclusions. In addition to Lasantha Wickrematunga’s assassination, and the MiG deal, several other high profile cases, including the abduction and brutal assault on The Nation Deputy Editor Keith Noyahr allegedly by members of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (May 22, 2008),attempt on the life of ‘Rivira’ editor Upali Tennakoon (January 23, 2009), disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda on the eve of the January 26, 2010, presidential election, and alleged abduction and murder of 11 Tamil youth in the period, 2008-2009 remained to be dealt with.

Those who had been at the helm of the previous government, too, certainly owed an explanation to the people as regards the accusations made against them. The SLAF, too, should come clean with the public regarding the MiG deal if it did play a role in a clandestine project. The issue here is whether Sri Lanka acquired MiG from a third party whereas the public were told it was a government to government transaction. In a country, where the Central Bank was ‘robbed’ twice in 2015 and 2016 large scale misappropriation of public funds, relating to military procurement, cannot be ruled out; hence the need for proper investigation and verification procedures, though the entire deal amounted to only several million dollars, and those aircraft did play a pivotal role in the final phase of the war.

Against the backdrop of corruption charges directed at those responsible for the MiG deal, it would be pertinent to discuss jet operations with the focus on MiGs.

An additional jet squadron

Let me examine the circumstances under which the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga acquired MiG 27s in 2000 in the wake of LTTE rapidly increasing its conventional military power in the northern theatre. SLAF acquired six MiG 27s and a MiG trainer. The newly acquired aircraft were assigned to the No 05 squadron consisting of Chinese F7s. All jet squadrons throughout the war were based at Katunayake, the only genuine facility capable of handling of jet operations. But, towards the end of the combined security forces campaign on the Vanni east front, the SLAF deployed two MiG 27s at the China Bay air base to thwart possible attempt to rescue LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The pair of MiGs was there for six weeks.

MiGs were acquired four years after Sri Lanka took delivery of Kfirs, a renowned Israeli product. Both Kfirs and MiG 27s were acquired during Kumaratunga’s presidency. SLAF resumed jet operations in 1991 after a lapse of a decade, with the acquisition of two Chinese FT5 jet trainers, one FT7 jet trainer and four F7B basic single-seater jets.

Much earlier the SLAF acquired MiG 15 and MiG 17 from the then Soviet Union in the wake of the first JVP inspired insurgency in 1971. They were phased out in 1981 – two years before the war erupted in the north with the elimination of a lightly armed mobile patrol at Thinnaveli, Jaffna.

At the time the SLAF took delivery of six MiG 27s and one MiG trainer, in 1999, the No 10 squadron comprised 12 Kfirs. However, SLAF couldn’t fully exploit jet power though they were used in both northern and eastern theaters of operations.

Later, the No 05 squadron comprised exclusively Chinese jets whereas No 12 squadron consisted of MiGs.

In the wake of the change of the Kumaratunga administration, in Dec 2001, the US stepped in with vital advice in respect of overall deployment of armed forces against the LTTE. An unprecedented US assessment of the Sri Lankan military followed a meeting the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe had with President Bush in Washington. The US made several recommendations in respect of No 10 and No 12 squadrons, in addition to No 09 attack helicopter squadron that comprised Mi 24 gunships. Interestingly, Mi 24s were initially attached to the Hingurakgoda based 401 squadron, subsequently named No 07 squadron which received President’s Colour on March 02, 2019.

The US found fault with both No 10 and No 12 squadrons. The US report seen by The Island pointed out a spate of shortcomings as regards operations undertaken by them. The report revealed that in spite of having Kfirs and MiGs, the government and the SLAF top brass never bothered to procure the required weapons systems/ammunition for them. On the basis of testimony of both Army and SLAF personnel, the US pointed out the failure on the part of No 10 and No 12 squadrons to destroy targets. The US also asserted that unguided high explosive or ‘dumb’ iron bombs used by jets couldn’t achieve the desired results. The US recommended acquisition of cluster bombs as well as guided weapons for both No 09 and then No 10 squadron. The US stressed that guided weapons systems for No 09 squadron was high priority as Mi 24s were tasked to take targets close to ground forces. The US also recommended expansion of arsenal available to the jet squadrons.

In spite of the US advice, the then UNP led United National Front (UNF) government did nothing to enhance the firepower or capabilities of the military. The UNF engaged in six rounds of peace talks under the auspices of the Norwegians until the LTTE quit the negotiating table in April 2003. The UNP endangered vital national security interests. The UNP leadership conveniently forgot the armed forces’ requests for various armaments, including additional jets.

The government blindly reiterated its commitment to the Norway-led peace talks. The LTTE assassinated the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on the night of Aug 12, 2005, at his Bullers Lane residence in Colombo. The Kumaratunga government assured Western powers that it would remain in the peace process. The Norwegians continued their efforts. The LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, on the afternoon of April 25, 2006, within the Army Headquarters premises. After a lapse of several years, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in consultation with his brother Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, authorized the SLAF to launch Kfirs and Chinese F7s against selected LTTE targets situated in Sampur.

The Rajapaksa administration felt the need to enhance jet squadrons in the wake of large scale fresh hostilities in 2006.

Ukrainian boost for SLAF

The SLAF never managed to secure major armaments from Western governments due to embargoes placed against the country. Italian built Sia Marchetti SF 260s and Sia Marchetti SF 260 W were acquired in 1985 and 1990, respectively. Such aircraft couldn’t meet the SLAF’s requirements in the wake of the LTTE resuming hostilities in June 1990. Argentine built Pucara acquired in 1993 were discarded immediately after the LTTE deployed shoulder-fired heat seeking missiles in April 1995 in the Jaffna peninsula. Having acquired F7 and FT7s in 1991, Kfirs in 1996 and MiG 27 in 2000, the SLAF, at the onset of Eelam War IV, felt the requirement for MiG 27s at that time in service with India and Kazakh forces.

Today, hardly anyone can remember the extreme difficulties experienced by the SLAF in securing spare components for Kfirs’ US-built engine as Israeli sales were subjected to US State Department approval. One-time Air Force Commander Air Marshal Harsha Abeywickrama following his retirement, in an exclusive interview, explained the difficulties in securing vital spares at the height of the war. Abeywickrama, a former jet pilot, functioned as Director Operations/Air Operations during the Eelam War IV and deeply appreciated the role played by No 10, No 12 and No 05 jet squadrons.

The SLAF acquired MiG 27 as it needed fast ground attack aircraft capable of operating in ‘missile environment.’ The SLAF needed MiGs carrying a heavy payload to perform low level bombing role.

Having examined both MiG 29s and MiG 27s, the SLAF took delivery of four MiG 27s, in June 2000. The Army was struggling on the Northern front in the wake of the humiliating Elephant Pass debacle, in late April 2000. The MiGs carried out their first sortie in early August 2000. During the assault involving three MiGs, the LTTE anti-aircraft fire caused damages to one though it managed to return to Katunayake base. In Oct, the same year, the SLAF took delivery of two more MiG 27s and one dual-seat MiG 23 UB trainer. Ukrainians carried out attacks on the LTTE until the SLAF could gradually takeover the operation. Some Sri Lankans received training in Ukraine.

Ukrainians engaged LTTE targets alongside their Sri Lankan counterparts. They served the SLAF until the UNP signed the controversial Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in Feb 2002. The writer visited the scene of the MiG crash, on Aug 18, 2001 about a mile away from his home at Kurana, Negombo, where the ill-fated aircraft crashed onto a luxury house situated close to the lagoon. The house located less than 100 meters off the Colombo-Negombo road between the 18th milepost (Airport junction) and 20 milepost (Katunayake SLAF base junction) was destroyed. Later, the SLAF admitted Ukrainian Captain L Valeric died while flying very low across the Bandaranaike International Airport runaway and was levelling off and turning towards the Negombo lagoon. He was celebrating the Ukrainian Aviation Day.

An LTTE commando-type raid on the Katunayake airbase, in July 2001, destroyed one MiG 27. Two other aircraft crashed in Dec 2001 and January 2004. The remaining three aircraft were grounded in mid-2004 due to mechanical faults. The political leadership lacked interest in resuming MiG operations. In fact, Sri Lanka neglected urgent military requirements until it was too late. The LTTE resumed Eelam War IV in the second week of August 2006 with simultaneous attacks on northern and eastern fronts.

A failed bid to secure MiGs from India

The SLAF swiftly sought to secure MiGs as it had trained pilots, ground crew and the fighting machine was capable of carrying 3,000 munitions at a time as well as the cost factor. The SLAF needed to enhance jet capability immediately. The LTTE posed a formidable military challenge on the northern front. Sri Lanka requested India for a couple of MiGs. The request was made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he visited New Delhi. When India turned down Sri Lanka’s plea, the government, struggling on the war front, had no option but to seek Ukrainian help. Ukraine came to Sri Lanka’s rescue. As the manufacture of MiGs ceased by 1991, there was no alternative but to secure some of the available aircraft as soon as possible and an agreement to overhaul three grounded MiG 27s and MiG 23 UB trainer was reached. Sri Lanka took delivery of MiG 27s in late 2006 and in Dec 2007 the No 12 squadron was formed.

India provided much required pilot training for those assigned for MiGs. Sri Lanka should be grateful for Indian assistance. What would have happened if the SLAF could not enhance its jet capability at the crucial time of military action in the North-East region? None of those who had been preaching Sri Lanka post-war national reconciliation bothered to ask Sri Lanka whether it required urgent military assistance to meet the terrorist threat.

During the Eelam War IV, the SLAF deployed seven MiG 27s, each capable of carrying 3,000 kegs payload. It was the most formidable ground attack aircraft in the SLAF inventory. The Rajapaksa government provided a range of ammunition to enable the jets to achieve targets.

A high profile targeted killing

Soon after the conclusion of the war, the then Air Force Commander, the then Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke authorized the writer to do a series of articles on various SLAF formations. Thanks to Goonetileke, The Island was able to record some of their achievements. His authorization gave The Island access to many senior officers well versed with operations. One of the best was the reportage of a pair of Kfir and MiG carrying out target killing of LTTE Political Wing Leader S.P. Thamilselvam in early Nov 2007.

The then Commanding Officer of No 12 squadron Group Captain Sajeewa Hendawitharane and Commanding Officer of No 10 squadron Wing Commander Shehan Fernando of the No 10 squadron discussed the attack on Thailselvam. Hendawitharane, who led the attack on Thamilselvam, in Kilinochchi, said that the rising sun gave him the much needed ‘cover’ to zero-in on the hideout. "I flew a MiG 27 with Shehan at the controls of a Kfir. We took off at 5.55 a.m. and carried out the bombing 25 minutes later, taking advantage of the sun rise, which gave perfect cover for our mission," he said. Hendawitharane said that they flew on a westerly direction from Iranamadu, east of A 9 and targeted the hideout with a heavy load of bombs.

Then Director of Operations, Air Commodore Harsha Abeywickrema had been confident of Thamilselvam’s presence there on that day, he said, adding that Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonetillike had been a tower of strength.

Hendawitharane said that he dived and manually directed four 500 kg bombs at Thamilselvam’s bunker from a height of 1850 feet before the Kfir CO targeted the hideout with four 250 kg bombs. According to him, it was one of three locations identified by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). After a careful study of the terrain with the help of satellite imagery and pictures obtained from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), a pair of jets flying in what Hendawitharane called Panther formation had pulverized the LTTE hideout.

Hendawitharane said that during eelam war IV, his squadron carried out 854 sorties. He estimated the weight of ammunition used by his squadron against the LTTE during this period at 1071 tonnes.

He said that though they used general purpose ammunition against targets, particularly buildings, special ammunition (deep penetration bombs), had been directed at runways. To target runways, the MiGs had dived and bombed from a height of about 100 metres flying at a speed of 1000 kmph, he said, adding that each bomb released at that height had been fitted with a parachute to ensure flying shrapnel wouldn’t hit the bomber.

Wing Commander Fernando said the strike on Thamilselvam was one among many successful operations undertaken by the squadron. He said that he delivered his bomb load at Thamilselvam’s hideout seconds after Hendawitharane did.

The once proud No 12 squadron is no more

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

The US factor

Mangala 30 years in politics:



By Shamindra Ferdinando

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 flagging efforts at ethnic reconciliation. Where is US diplomacy? SL must know suspending aid, targeted sanctions on the table."

Power issued the warning in the wake of President Maithripala Sirisena quitting the UNP-led government. Having sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct. 26, 2018 to pave the way for war-winning twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa to secure premiership.

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."

Power played a crucial role in securing Sri Lanka’s consent to co-sponsor a Resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Oct. 2015. The then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera threw his full weight behind the Geneva Resolution. Samaraweera stood for the controversial Resolution. Unlike some of his colleagues, Samaraweera had the strength and the courage to support a course of action which he firmly believed was necessary to achieve post-war national reconciliation. Although President Sirisena repeatedly denied that he hadn’t been aware or briefed of the decision to co-sponsor the Geneva Resolution on Oct. 01, 2015, his government steadfastly remained committed to the resolution.

The 40th Geneva sessions commenced on Monday (Feb. 25). These will continue till March 22. In the absence of the US, the UK, together with Canada, Germany, Macedonia and Montenegro will move a new resolution seeking more time to fully implement the 2015 resolution.

Strategic US interests

US Indo-Pacific Command Chief Admiral Philip Davidson recently underscored the importance of continuing US engagement with the Sri Lankan military, particularly the Navy.

Davidson is on record as having said that increasing navy-to-navy engagement with Sri Lanka would be a US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) focus in 2019. The US Admiral asserted that a well trained Sri Lankan Navy could contribute to multi-lateral maritime interoperability in the Indian Ocean.

"The recent transfer of an excess US Coast Guard cutter to Sri Lanka in August 2018, along with additional platforms from Japan and India, provides the Sri Lankan Navy greater capabilities to contribute to regional maritime domain awareness initiatives. Despite the political upheaval in Sri Lanka, it is in America’s interests to continue military collaboration and cooperation with Sri Lankan Forces."

Admiral Davidson said so before the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee, during a Congressional hearing. The US called Sri Lanka a significant strategic opportunity in the Indian Ocean and military-to-military relationship continues to strengthen between the two nations.

Transferring of additional platforms from Japan and India according to Admiral Davidson is part of the over US-engagement with Sri Lanka to counter China. Since the change of government in January 2015, Japan has stepped up its efforts here with Kentaro Sonoura, M.P. and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Japan, recently visiting Colombo. The Special Advisor attended the Japan-Sri Lanka Navy-to-Navy staff talks for the first times last year.

The Embassy of Japan said it expected that this visit would help further consolidate the "Comprehensive Partnership" between Japan and Sri Lanka. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera visited Sri Lanka last August. It was the first time ever that a Japanese Defense Minister visited Sri Lanka.

The previous Rajapaksa administration, too, maintained close relationship with the US though some UPFA partners expressed concerns. The then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself signed a military cooperation agreement with the US in March 2007 at the height of the war. Thanks to the then Navy Chief Admiral Karannagoda’s intervention, Sri Lanka secured US intelligence to hunt down four LTTE floating arsenals. The US help gave Sri Lanka advantage over the LTTE.

JVP protest against US

Samantha Power is in Colombo to deliver the keynote address at an event at the BMICH tomorrow (Feb. 28) to mark Samaraweera’s 30 years in politics. Power was last here in late Nov. 2015 in her capacity as the US Ambassador to the UN. Her visit followed the US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit in May 2015 to reiterate Washington’s commitment to the new government which the US helped to install.

Having met the then Northern Province Governor H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, one-time Foreign Secretary, Power tweeted: "Met with Gov. Palihakkara in North #SriLanka. Agreed development, demilitarization in Jaffna cannot wait."

Samaraweera’s decision to invite Power drew criticism with some calling for a protest against her arrival. Samaraweera’s right to invite a guest speaker of his choice cannot be challenged under any circumstances by those opposed to the Geneva process. Let us hear what Power has to say specially against the backdrop of her strong opposition to President Sirisena’s constitutional coup.

Nimrata "Nikki" Haley succeeded Power as US Ambassador to the UN in 2017. Before leaving the post last year, Haley called the UNHRC a "cesspool of political bias." In spite of the US pull-out from the Geneva UN body, the Trump administration is still involved in the ‘Sri Lanka project’ now spearheaded by the UK.

Samaraweera called tomorrow’s event Khema’s boy, in memory of his mother, Khema, who passed away in March 2008. Before further discussing Samaraweera’s political life, it would be pertinent to talk about the recent JVP protest against the US in Colombo. Interestingly, having ignored repeated US interventions here and in spite of being part to US political projects, the JVP conducted a demonstration opposite the US embassy in Colombo on Feb.08, 2019 against the alleged US interference in Venezuela. In addition to JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva, the JVP’s National Organizer Bimal Ratnayake and Dr Nalinda Jayatissa, MP et al participated in the protest.

The US has stepped up its efforts to get rid of President Nicolas Maduro to pave the way for an administration acceptable to Washington. The following is the text of the letter the JVP handed over to the US embassy: The Government of the United States, Through: The Ambassador of the United States of America

The Embassy of the United States of America in Sri Lanka, Colombo.

We, the JVP, as the political party representing the progressive masses including intellectuals, professionals and artists in Sri Lanka, write this letter to raise our collective voice in condemnation of the arbitrary act by the US administration of interfering in the internal affairs of Venezuela.

We strongly condemn the act of attempting to topple the legally elected President in Venezuela and the attempt to arbitrarily install a puppet instead. We feel that the goal of the international community should be to help Venezuela without destructive meddling from outside its borders. Let Venezuelans resolve their own domestic political issues without foreign forces meddling in their internal affairs. It should be mentioned here that millions of people, including US security personnel and citizens have paid with their valuable lives within the last decades due to the interventionist policy of various US administrations including the present one. Dozens of countries have been driven to complete destruction due to the invasions, coups and various undemocratic actions lead by US governments. Guatemala, Cuba, Vietnam, Brazil, Argentina, Honduras, Haiti, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc., can be mentioned here for your retrospection. We believe no other invader or a colonizer in human history had created rivers of blood and sorrow to the people as the rivers of blood your administrations have created all over the world after the WW2. Enough is enough. This world and the people of Venezuela need Peace.

It is worthwhile to note what former US President Jimmy Carter had stated. He had said ‘of the 92 elections that they had monitored, the election process in Venezuela was the best in the world’. Venezuela’s voting technology is said to contain several security mechanisms for audits and verification of results, which have been accredited by national and international observers including the Carter Centre. We would also like to remind that the declaration of Juan Guaido as the interim president backed by the the USA has been rejected by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice in Venezuela. As such, we feel that the claim by the US government that the presidential election was rigged and corrupt has no basis.

We call upon the US administration to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Venezuela and let Venezuelans solve their own issues.

The JVP, as the principal political party of the progressive and left-oriented people in Sri Lanka, while advocating that the international community should help Venezuela to solve its economic and social problems, totally backs the progressive people’s struggle against foreign intervention and expresses its solidarity with the heroic resistance of the Venezuelan people to protect the sovereignty of their fatherland.

Long live sovereignty of Venezuela!

Long live Internationalism!

Political Bureau of the JVP 08.02.2019"

The JVP protests against the US intervention in Venezuela seemed ridiculous against the backdrop of growing US-Sri Lanka relationship.

Samaraweera warns the LTTE

Having backed Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Nov. 2005 presidential election, Samaraweera received the foreign ministry portfolio at the expense of the late Anura Bandaranaike. Samaraweera functioned as the foreign minister at the onset of hostilities between the Rajapaksa government and the LTTE. Samaraweera didn’t mince his words when he warned the group of catastrophic consequences unless it returned to the negotiating table. It would be interesting to know whether Power, in her keynote address discusses Samaraweera’s previous role as the foreign minister. It would be pertinent to mention Samaraweera’s declaration at a meeting with the Colombo-based diplomatic community in the second week of Sept 2006. Samaraweera said: "I must note here that while, the government would like to show the LTTE that any military aggression on their part, would entail military costs to them, the government remains committed to the ceasefire agreement and is vigorously continuing with the constitutional reforms process. The warning was given close on the heels of the military evicting the LTTE from Sampur in the Eastern theatre of operations and smashing LTTE fortifications across the Kilaly-Muhalamai line in the Jaffna peninsula (Forces seize Tigers’ Jaffna front-line with strap line...any military aggression on their part would entail military costs to them-Foreign Minister -The Island Sept 11, 2006)

Samaraweera, in an exclusive interview with veteran Indian commentator Padma Rao for Spiegel in June 2006 discussed the situation against the backdrop of the EU listing the LTTE as a terrorist organization. Let me reproduce Samaraweera’s answers to two of Rao’s questions included in the interview titled ‘Terrorism does not pay,’ posted on June 09, 2006.

SPIEGEL: Peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist LTTE, mediated by Norway since 2002, remain stalled. Violence is the order of the day in the island-state and Scandinavia monitors warn that the ceasefire agreement has deteriorated to the point that it’s little more than a "piece of paper." Even as the world continues to urge LTTE to return to peace talks, the EU last week listed LTTE as a terrorist organization. Was Brussels off in its timing?

Samaraweera: Not at all. LTTE is already proscribed in the United States, Britain, India and Australia; the EU should have done it earlier. LTTE has been escalating violence even before the EU ban; so we see the listing as a negative incentive for the LTTE to lay down their guns and start talking again. (LTTE’s) lifeline – the worldwide largest expatriate Tamil diaspora of Europe - has been cut off. Curtailing their funds will lead to a reduction of their violent activities and show them that terrorism does not pay.

SPIEGEL: For more than two decades, Europe sheltered Tamil refugees in the name of human rights. In doing so, however, the EU also turned a blind eye to money transfer made by the Tamils living here to the militant LTTE back home. But now, in the name of the international war on terror, the EU has declared LTTE to be a terrorist organization. That completes the international isolation of the Tamil Tigers, and observers say they can only return to war. Indeed, the Tigers are now demanding the departure of all EU-members participating in the Scandinavian monitoring mission, which would leave only the Norwegians and Finns.

Samaraweera: There is no magic wand to wish away LTTE terror. Their funding may not totally dry up, but the EU ban will certainly make things more difficult. But at least there won’t be an open European checkbook now. We have to realize the sad truth: members of the LTTE do not want a negotiated settlement for the Tamil people at all, they are fighting only for their own survival.

Samaraweera unhesitatingly acknowledged that the LTTE didn’t want a negotiated settlement. Although, Samaraweera publicly endorsed the military campaign, differences with the Rajapaksas persisted.

Formation of SLFP Mahajana Wing

Subsequently, President Rajapaksa dismissed Samaraweera from the cabinet in early 2007 over simmering differences. Political turncoat Rohitha Bogollagama was rewarded with the vital foreign ministry portfolio and accommodated in the cabinet. Samaraweera waged a lone battle with the Rajapaksas before joining the UNP in early Aug 2010. Samaraweera had no option but to take UNP membership after his efforts to entice a group of SLFPers failed. Samaraweera formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (Mahajana Wing) in a bid to engineer crossovers. The project failed primarily due to President Rajapaksa consolidating his position thanks to successive battlefield victories achieved by the military. As Samaraweera predicted in Sept 2006, the LTTE paid a huge price for not returning to the negotiating table. Over a year after the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE, Samaraweera dissolved the SLFP (M) and joined the UNP in spite of him being one of the strongest critics of that party since his entry into parliamentary politics in 1989.

Samaraweera entered active politics on a request by the then SLFP leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Samaraweera played a significant role in ‘Mother’s Front’ a civil society organization that opposed the UNP resorting to indiscriminate strategies to counter the second JVP inspired insurgency. The writer interviewed Samaraweera in 1989 as regards his role in the ‘Mother’s Front’ and his joint efforts with Hambantota District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa. Samaraweera remained at the forefront of SLFP campaigns till President Rajapaksa sacked him in early 2007. Samaraweera waged a campaign targeting the Rajapaksa administration with the focus on the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, with whom the SLFPer clashed over the conduct of the armed forces. Samaraweera disagreed with Rajapaksa’s stand that overland route to and from the Jaffna peninsula via Muhamalai wouldn’t be restored until the war was brought to an end. The military closed the Muhamalai entry/exit point in the second week of August 2006. The road remained closed until the military cleared the entire Jaffna-Kandy road by early January 2009.

Samaraweera played a significant role in the campaign against the Rajapaksas, at both presidential elections in 2010 and 2015. Thanks to Wiki Leaks and US Statement Department 2016 report, the US role in the 2010 abortive bid to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa and the 2015 successful project that brought Maithripala Sirisena into power is known. Interestingly, both the TNA and the JVP joined the US backed UNP project to defeat Rajapaksa. The US, inadvertently ended up revealing its hand in both national elections. The US three years ago revealed that it spent as much as USD 585 mn in Nigeria, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to restore democracy. The US also revealed making available USD 3.4 mn soon after January 2015 presidential election. The US has also publicly acknowledged the role played by India in the Sri Lanka project, Having installed, a new UNP-led government, the US and its allies, including India got Colombo to co-sponsor a resolution in Geneva in Oct 2015 against its own political leadership and armed forces. President Sirisena later found fault with Samaraweera for co-sponsoring the resolution. Ravi Karunanayake replaced Samaraweera in May 2017. During Samaraweera’s tenure as the Foreign Minister, Sri Lanka-US-TNA agreed on foreign judges and other foreign experts in judicial mechanism set up in terms of the Geneva resolution. That agreement still stands. In Aug. 2017, one-time AG Tilak Marapana, PC, was brought in as the Foreign Minister in the wake of Karunanayake having to give up his portfolio over shocking connection with Arjun Aloysious, the owner of the disgraced primary dealer, Perpetual Treasuries Limited involved in treasury bond scams. Marapana lost the foreign portfolio for 50 days in Oct.-Dec. 2018 as a result of the Sirisena-Rajapaksa constitutional coup. Marapana regained the lost ministry in Dec. 2018. In spite of losing the foreign ministry in May 2017, Samaraweera still remains firmly involved in the post-war national reconciliation process as revealed by UK Human Rights Minister Lord Ahmad recently.

The inordinate delay in appointing an Ambassador to Washington since Aug. 2017 seems to have no detrimental impact on Sri Lanka-US relations.