Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Foreign policy matters, India’s accountability et al (Part II)




by Shamindra Ferdinando

Today, the electorate is at a crossroad with twice-president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, launching a new movement to form a government, at the Aug 17 parliamentary polls. A confident Rajapaksa launched his parliamentary polls campaign at Anuradhapura where he vowed to overcome the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combination. The pledge was made at the largest ever gathering in the historic city, where Rajapaksa recalled ancient kings had defeated foreign invaders. The war-winning leader alleged that the present Yahapalana government had destroyed, within six months, what his administration had achieved since the conclusion of the war in May, 2009. The former President asked what would have happened if the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration had continued for five years. Since the change of government, in January consequent to Rajapaksa’s defeat, some of those, who had switched their allegiance to the then common presidential candidate, Maithripala Sirisena deserted the new administration. Having joined Yahapalana project, late last November, Liberal Party Leader and State Minister of Higher Education, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, quit the administration in March. The UPFA included Prof. Wijesinha, in its National List submitted to the Elections Secretariat on July 13, hence making him a key element in Rajapaksa’s team.

Continued from July 22

(Q) According to former Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, India had warned the previous government not to go ahead with $1.4 bn Chinese-funded Colombo Port City Project, on the basis of it being a ‘security threat’ to India. India also opposed the $ 46 bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) due to security concerns. In the 80s, India strongly objected to the then President JRJ’s evolving relationship with the US, Pakistan, China, as well as Israel. In fact, no less a person than, one-time Indian Foreign Secretary, J. N. Dixit, cited JRJ’s foreign policy primary reason for Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. In the backdrop of the India-US-Japan partnership to thwart China, South Korea, as well as the Philippines, are also in the US - led alliance Sri Lanka is coming under increased pressure to align with Western powers. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit underscored US interest in Colombo. As a spokesperson for the government – in-waiting, can you explain how UPFA can sustain its long standing relationship with China without displeasing the US-led block?

(A) I believe a fundamental element in our foreign policy should be sensitivity to Indian concerns. There are two reasons for this, one that I might term moral and the other practical. There is an obligation on neighbours not to create unnecessary problems for each other, and we are dealing here with a country that has many elements in common with us - cultural, religious and social.

If I might digress to an image I have used in papers I have written on various subjects, we should pay attention to the philosophical truth contained in the story about how Buddhism came to this land. We have not, I think, understood the significance of the question Mahinda Thero asked King Devanampiyatissa before deeming him fit to understand the Dhamma. He asked him if he saw the mango tree before him, and then asked him if there were other mango trees in the world. When the king said yes, he asked if there were other trees apart from those other mango trees. When the king said yes, he asked if there were any trees in the world apart from those other mango trees and those other trees that were not mango trees. The king had to think for a moment, and then he said that there was the original mango tree.

I have used this image to illustrate the need for an inclusive vision of society, rather than the oppositional approach favoured by Western philosophy. We need to appreciate what we have in common with others, first those around us, and then those more distant. But in the end the touchstone has to be ourselves.

In international relations this means that our first priority has to be the interests of the people of this country. But then we should think of our neighbours, beginning with the closest. This is what the President’s manifesto lays down, but the present government has ignored its stress on India and China and other Asian countries.

The practical reason for being sensitive to Indian concerns is that, if India feels threatened, it can damage us, and no one else is in a position to come to our defence. The Jayewardene government made the mistake of thinking the West would rescue us, and, in fact, tried to invoke the 1947 Defence Treaty with Britain against India, but was told in no uncertain terms that it was not possible. I think some elements in the last government thought China could be relied upon to see us through any hostility, but his was to ignore the very clear indications by China that we should maintain good relations with India.

And the advantage of India in this regard is that it does not want exclusive rights to anything. The Western approach is different, in line with the oppositional approach I have noted above, and they not only want friendship – which we must give – but hostility towards their enemies. This has led them into perpetrate great disasters on the world, as in their use of extremists – opposed to the Soviets in Afghanistan, to the Libyan and Syrian governments – to achieve their own ends, which are then nullified.

I believe, therefore, that keeping good relations with India as the cornerstone of our foreign policy, we should continue very positive relations with China, which has also been solidly supportive of this country – but we should make it clear to both countries that we do not wish to be drawn into hostilities with anyone else. And we should also use our good offices, as happened in the time of Mrs Bandaranaike, to bring our Asian neighbours close together, if possible. We should also encourage the West to think in terms of a Win-Win Situation, not continue to play the Zero Sum Games they have engaged in that have caused such suffering in the world in recent years. I believe there are very civilized people in the West who will understand this, so we must maintain continuous engagement with them, and in particular the think tanks that manage to continue with independent thinking. For that purpose, as I have often advised, we must develop our own think tanks, and maintain close links with their counterparts all over the world, as Mr tried to do.

(Q) You were one of those who had contributed to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report, though it lacked the mandate to conduct a cohesive inquiry. Please examine India’s accountability in Sri Lanka in the backdrop of one-time Indian Foreign Secretary J. N. Dixit admitting in his memoirs (Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun to Yashwant Sinha) released in 2004 that India intervened here to protect in domestic as well as in accordance with geo-political objectives.

(A) I do not think there is much point in going back that far with regard to accountability issues, since we all know what happened. While India too is aware of the mistakes it made then, we must remember that we ruined a very good relationship because of J R Jayewardene’s Cold War adventurism and his efforts to oppose India. This naturally led to worries, given also what was happening as an offshoot of the American support for extremists in Afghanistan. We must remember though that once India’s security concerns were addressed, through the Annexures to the Indo-Lanka Accord, they stood by us solidly, and despite pressures within the country helped us not only to deal firmly with the terrorists but also to withstand pressures from some countries to let them off the hook.

We must not forget that the Sri Lankan government entered freely into some commitments with India after the war ended, and there were other commitments later which were forgotten. That is no way to conduct a foreign policy, and even in 2012 we sacrificed Indian support because we did not answer a letter sent by the Indian Prime Minister. And then, after the vote, the destructive elements in the Foreign Ministry tried to create further animosity, which was only avoided by some quick work by the President’s Secretary. But he failed to look into the problem, and I believe there was further damage to the relationship over the years.

So I believe it is counter-productive to be resentful about the past unless we also examine the role of the Jayewardene government in dismantling the foreign policy that had served us so well previously. Instead we should concentrate on the future, which is what the LLRC was primarily about. It is about ensuring that the concerns of all those who suffered during the conflict in this country are addressed.

(Q)While the vast majority of your colleagues, both representing the UPFA and the UNP as well as the TNA move in super luxury duty free vehicles, what prompted you to use a relatively old car? Political parties speak of a new political culture while members receive duty-free car permits for every five-year term. What is your stand?

(A) I have never owned a car, but used to hire one for long journeys which I did in terms of my various responsibilities for English programmes round the country. I then had an official car when I was appointed Head of the Peace Secretariat, and then in terms of my Human Rights and then Reconciliation responsibilities, and also while I was a State Minister. I did not have the money to buy a car on the duty free permit, and thought it wrong when colleagues offered to sell it for me. I continue therefore now to use the car which I used to hire before, though I am lucky to have friends who will lend me a car when the old car needs repair. Fortunately, I enjoy the heat and can manage without air conditioning.

With regard to duty free permits, I wrote to the Minister of Good Governance recently that they should be stopped. This was when I found that the vehicles I had returned to the Ministry were being plundered by Kabir Hashim’s coordinating secretaries and he said this was because the Prime Minister wanted vehicles for all his Members of Parliament. I could see the point of giving all MPs a vehicle while they serve in Parliament, but that should not be in addition to them getting a duty free permit. I said as much, but at the same time I sympathize with my colleagues, since I believe the practice was introduced to compensate them for the vast amounts they have to spend on elections on this mad system we have. I did not have to spend anything to get elected, being on the National List, so I cannot claim any special virtue about not having made money on my permit.

But all this makes crystal clear how appalling the present electoral system is. It encourages corruption as well as violence, and I am deeply sorry that the government cared little for the reforms we promised in this area. The failure to set up a committee immediately, as was promised in the manifesto, to reform the electoral system was a betrayal that will continue to have adverse effects on the country. And then, after the insistence of the UPFA on electoral reforms, and the President’s pledge that he would ensure that the 20th Amendment was carried in addition to the 19th, the UNP destroyed all efforts at compromise.

(Q) The electorate is largely divided into two groups, one lead by Premier Wickremesinghe and the other under former President Rajapaksa’s command. The JVP is certain to emerge as the third political force in predominately Sinhala districts, whereas the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) will comfortably regain the Northern and Eastern regions. In point form, mention seven key issues the next parliament will have to tackle.

1. Human resources development to much higher levels than our current education system allows. The last government did not work systematically towards this, and the present government continues to see education as a tool of politics, without ensuring that we look at best practice in other countries and adjust our systems to ensure excellence as well as equity.

2. Consolidation internationally of the victory over terrorism of 2009. The current government does not seem able or willing to acknowledge the importance of defeating terrorism and of ensuring that it is not revived. In this regard the President, who was in government and part of the determination to prevent the LTTE from recovering, knows he must ensure a shift of perspective.

3. Ensuring that the fruits of that victory go to all and in particular the minorities and those in the North and East who felt alienated from the State for so long. In this regard the last government did not do enough, and sadly the present government has not taken swift corrective action. The next government must ensure that all citizens have similar opportunities, and this means ensuring that there are equitable employment opportunities in government service, and in the security establishment, in particular the police.

4. Government must promote equitable development through greater concentration on the regions, with targeted investment based on people’s needs. The last government did much in infrastructure, and the present government seems at last to have realized the important of this, but the human resources to take advantage of this must also be developed systematically.

5. Greater autonomy to the regions and local bodies with regard to decision making, while developing better consultation mechanisms. We should in this regard build on the systems the Ministry of Public Administration was trying to develop last year, after study of the excellent report on Service Delivery in the Divisions which was prepared by UNDP.

6. A more effective public service through better training and greater responsibility and accountability mechanisms. We need to revise Financial and Administrative Regulations to increase efficiency whilst also ensuring systematic feedback to the public on matters that concern them.

7. Streamlining government to make it more cohesive and ensure continuity of process by a scientific allocation of departments into ministries without unnecessary overlap. This was pledged in the President’s manifesto but was ignored when the 19th Amendment was formulated. The present government keeps shuffling Departments around, sometimes it seems at the personal whim of Ministers, and this has an adverse impact on planning.

(Q) What is your message to the electorate?

(A) Vote for the UPFA for a secure, just and prosperous society, and select candidates who will press for transparency and remain accountable.

(Q) And my final question whether the UPFA regained power or lost at the forthcoming parliamentary election, the questioner believe you should be in the next parliament. Are you confident of securing a slot in spite of the tendency to disregard suitability of candidates or national interest to various other factors?

(A) I am not confident of anything. I was not sure until the last day or so whether I would be on the List. I am not very good at hanging around and asking for things, and I prefer to write, whereas I realize most people prefer not to have to read or respond. But I believe I have a lot to offer, and I think there is increasing recognition that at least a few people who have a lot to offer and nothing to gain should be in Parliament. I believe the President understands that I am deeply committed to the ideals that he has expressed through his manifesto and his personal conduct. On the other hand, the leaders of the campaign, the former President as well as UPFA and SLFP officials, know that I do what I say, and that this is what I believe are the interests of the country, not my own interests (concluded).

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

BBS, foreign policy matters et al (Part 1)




by Shamindra Ferdinando

Today, the electorate is at a crossroad with twice-president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, launching a new movement to form a government, at the Aug 17 parliamentary polls. A confident Rajapaksa launched his parliamentary polls campaign at Anuradhapura where he vowed to overcome the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combination. The pledge was made at the largest ever gathering in the historic city, where Rajapaksa recalled ancient kings had defeated foreign invaders. The war-winning leader alleged that the present Yahapalana government had destroyed, within six months, what his administration had achieved since the conclusion of the war in May, 2009. The former President asked what would have happened if the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration had continued for five years. Since the change of government, in January consequent to Rajapaksa’s defeat, some of those, who had switched their allegiance to the then common presidential candidate, Maithripala Sirisena deserted the new administration. Having joined Yahapalana project, late last November, Liberal Party Leader and State Education, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, quit the administration in March. The UPFA included Prof. Wijesinha, in its National List submitted to the Elections Secretariat on July 13, hence making him a key element in Rajapaksa’s team.

Full text of an interview with Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

(Q) What led you to join the Maithripala-Wickremesinghe combination last November?

(A) I felt the last government had run out of steam, and was no longer acting in accordance with its manifesto. There was far less consultation than earlier, and the government seemed to support individuals who were acting in a silly manner while essential problems were not being addressed. The behaviour of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) worried me, as did the assault on the then Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner, in the UK, Chris Nonis, while we seemed to have lost the confidence of India, as was exemplified by it voting against us at the UN in 2012 and 2013. And then when India did not vote for the resolution against us in 2014, we failed to re-establish the sort of understanding that had held us in good stead in 2009.

I felt very much that more of the same government would be a disaster for the country, and also lead to massive problems on the international front. I would have preferred it if the President delayed the election and engaged in some promised reforms, and the Liberal Party wrote to him accordingly, but we got no response, only a brief acknowledgement. However, I made clear to Mr Wickremesinghe, we could not support him. Mr Sirisena seemed to us ideal, however, for there was continuity with regard to the achievements of the Rajapaksa government, with greater commitment to democratic governance.

(Q) Why did you switch allegiance to ‘bring-back-Mahinda’ campaign in March this year?

(A) I did not switch allegiance to the Bring Back Mahinda campaign, though I was sympathetic to his desire to come back since I believe he was very badly treated after the election. I had noted, at the time the need to treat him with respect, and I believe the readiness with which he gave up the leadership of the SLFP and the UPFA indicated that he would not have wanted to come back had he not felt threatened. The last straw for me was the hypocritical attempt to involve him in a bribery charge with regard to the Ministry for Tissa Attanayake, when Ranil Wickremesinghe claimed to have done the same and worse.

But I also felt that the ideals on which the campaign was being run were being traduced by Mr Wickremesinghe. Despite campaign pledges, he did not involve the SLFP in decision making, even though its leadership had made it clear in January that they would not try to topple the government. No proper SLFP representative was in the National Advisory Council, there was no consultation with regard to Electoral Reform, which was a key pledge. And when the government incorporated members of the SLFP, they left out the senior leadership, which meant that they were not in a position to put forward anyone else as a potential leader in any subsequent election.

Much of the blame for this goes, I think, to former President Kumaratunga who told me that she looked after the interests of the SLFP in forming the Cabinet, but she played completely into the hands of the UNP. I had, in fact, told her, in November, that, while she was energetic in adversity, she relaxed when her immediate objective was achieved. I think she understood what I meant, but said things would be different but I said I did not blame her, because I knew her heart was no longer in Sri Lanka. It was understandable that she wanted to spend much of her time in England and sure enough, soon after the election, she went off there for a month or so.

The problem was that she had no real interest in the SLFP or the UPFA and did not really have faith in its present leadership. She should have insisted on a higher proportion of non-UNP members, in the Cabinet, and she should have argued for meaningful portfolios for senior leaders when members of the SLFP were inducted into the Cabinet, in March. But she was concerned only with her own favourites, and was more intent on destroying Mahinda Rajapaksa, which is no way to look after the party which had given her a platform for so long.

In my own case, though I resigned from my portfolio, in February, because of broken promises and interference that made work difficult, I did not wish to leave the government side, but they simply ignored my resignation and the Prime Minister lied about this to the house about me. They did nothing about answering letters that came to the Ministry, and, in fact, sent me a whole load several weeks after I had vacated office. I did not want to be blamed for neglect so I thought it best to make the position crystal clear.

But that was in effect a good thing, for the Central Bank Bond Scam had then broken, and I realized that this government was both hypocritical and cunning in its corrupt practices. I continue to feel the President continued idealistic but, as is clear from the Prime Minister ignoring his wishes with regard to the Governor of the Central Bank, he was not able to assert his principles.

(Q) At the launch of Narrative III by Marga Institute, on August 29, 2014, in spite of being in the UPFA, you joined one-time Sri Lanka’s top envoy in Geneva, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka to roundly condemn the post-war conduct of the then Rajapaksa administration. Narrative III dealt with issues of truth and accountability during last stages of the war in Sri Lanka. The then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, too, came under heavy ‘fire’ at the book  launch with some of the speakers alleging the war veteran of influencing foreign policy matters. Do you really believe the Rajapaksas are ready to act sensibly after being in the Opposition for six months?

(A) I believe they must, because they have realized how disastrous was the negative approach adopted previously. I personally believe the former President had a more open approach, but some of those around him were dogmatic, and they were not prepared to discuss the implications of their actions and those of others with experts in the field – such as for instance Dr Jayatilleka or Ms Kunanayagam.

But the very emergence of the Third Narrative, which was encouraged by some of those in government, indicates that there were more practical people around, though they had little influence. I believe such people, such as Nivard Cabraal, who was, I think responsible for hiring Sir Desmond de Silva when others were belittling the possible threat to us, should have a greater role in any future UPFA administration, as should Dayan and Tamara. I think they will ensure a return to the thoughtful foreign policy that brought us successfully through the war. But it is clear that for the last couple of years foreign policy was in a mess, and more concerned with personal aggrandizement than benefits to the country at large and systematic consolidation of the achievements of the first Rajapaksa Presidency.

(Q) The UPFA is confident of returning to power in mid-August. The parliament will meet on the morning of September 1, ahead of the 29 sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). As perhaps the only critic (while being in the previous government) of the handling of the Geneva issue, what do you think of the ‘ground situation? Have you (read as UPFA) reached a consensus as regards Sri Lanka’s response at the next Geneva round?

(A) I have no idea what has been discussed with regard to Geneva, but I believe that if we win the election there should be an immediate brainstorming session, with reaching out to all stakeholders. I am confident that, after an electoral victory, provided we are not intransigent, we can satisfy legitimate concerns while also making sure that unwarranted criticism comes to a halt.

But there is need of a moral approach to the issue, which means standing by commitments we made, while at the same time making it clear that we are perfectly competent to look into allegations and deal with any abuses. We must ensure transparency about this, and involve those countries that stood by us, in 2009, but feel that we did not move forward as quickly on Reconciliation as we should have.

(Q) Many professionals and some politicians reacted angrily to the conduct of the then President Rajapaksa. Having strongly condemned the previous government, Dr. Jayatilleka switched his allegiance to Rajapaksa several weeks before the January 8 presidential poll. One-time Chief Justice, Sarath Nanda Silva, too, re-joined the Rajapaksa camp after having campaigned for his defeat. In act, Wimal Weerawansa fired the first salvo at the Rajapaksas by entering into a dialogue with Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha thero in July last year. Do you regret having contributed Rajapaksa’s defeat last January?

(A) Not at all, because I think a change of approach was essential. To be honest, I expected President Rajapaksa to change his approach last year when he realized what problems he would face, and I was surprised that the results of the Uva Provincial Council election were not studied aright. But I think that by then those around him, who were benefiting from his Presidency were blinding him to what was going on in the world at large. Being a skilled politician though, I think by now he would have understood what needs to be done, and I am sure he will have mechanisms in place, if we win to avert the problems that were looming last year. But I think it will be important to have a dedicated agency for the purpose, and I hope we will have a Ministry of Human Rights and Reconciliation that will formulate policies, after consultation, and ensure their implementation. It is a shame that various initiatives the government took, the Human Rights Action Plan and the LLRC Action Plan, were not given priority, and I think we should also adopt, after due consultation, the National Reconciliation Policy and the Bill of Rights that I was responsible for formulating over the last several years.

(Q) General Secretary of the Communist Party veteran politician DEW Gunasekera strongly urged the then leader Rajapaksa not to call for early presidential. Gunasekera warned Rajapaksa of dire consequences if he went ahead with political project. The Island exclusively reported Gunasekera’s warning during the first week of Oct. 2014. Gunasekera had the backing of Messrs Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Prof. Tissa Vitharana. A confident Rajapaksa ignored their concerns. What was your position?

(A) We were of the same view, and we too wrote to him last October, though with less publicity. We had been talking to these left leaders and also other politicians, in the government, who were deeply unhappy. I should note though that, with one exception, there was almost no criticism of the President, but rather of those they thought were misusing his authority.

There were also worries that some elements close to the President, were supporting extreme movements such as the BBC, but in that regard I was heartened when the President expressed opposition to their actions. However, he should have been more firm with them and made clear his commitment to a pluralistic society. But that must be through listening to those genuinely representatives of those communities, not people chosen by those around him simply because they belong to minority communities. The failure of the government to win hearts and minds in the North, and increasingly the East too, was because it had no idea of what people really wanted, of which dignity is, perhaps, the most important element.

(Q) The questioner strongly believes the need to engage the Tamil Diaspora in spite of strong critics by some political parties and groups. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s efforts to reach an understanding with the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) as well as other influential groups are appreciated by many. Explain your stand on Diaspora and the LTTE rump?

(A) I have always argued for such engagement, and this is mentioned in the Draft National Reconciliation Policy I prepared with consultation of a range of stakeholders, way back in 2012. I have also drawn attention to the failure to address this even though it was recommended in the LLRC. I think the Foreign Ministry was much to blame in this regard, because this job was entrusted to them, not to the excellent team that did the bulk of work with regard to the LLRC. I am disappointed that work is not almost forgotten, and I think it was a mistake to put Chandrika Kumaratunga in charge of this area because, though I am sure her heart is in the right place, she cannot concentrate and is unwilling to build on what has already been done.

But I am glad the present Foreign Minister is talking to the diaspora, though I would wish it were done with better planning and in terms of the needs of Tamils in Sri Lanka as identified by government. I firmly believe that engagement with Tamils in this country is even more important than talking to the diaspora, as I made clear to the British Foreign Office in 2009 when they said we should be talking to Tamils. We knew that, I said, but I reprimanded them for saying we should talk to the TGTE, because our responsibility was the Tamils of Sri Lanka and not those who had been involved with terrorist activity in the past and still thought in terms of a separate state.

Unfortunately, except for a little I did in my regular visits to the North and East for meetings at Divisional Secretariats, we have not done enough about working with the Tamils, and, indeed, the Muslims and Sinhalese, who suffered because of the war. This government, too, has neglected them, and the unrest expressed by the Members of Parliament from the affected areas, which we heard about in April, reflects the problems that will arise if we think in terms only of elite needs and aspirations, whether those of the intellectuals of Jaffna or diaspora political theorists. So I think this government is in danger of allowing the Diaspora to speak for the Tamils. Though much of what came out in the joint communiqué was sensible, these were ideas government itself should have come out with, not allowing it to seem that it was the diaspora or Tamil politicians alone who could understand the problems of the Tamils. Ownership of Reconciliation must be with the government, though it should also involve consultation of all stakeholders.

(Q) Although some sections within the UPFA are critical of the role played by the US, the previous administration received critical support from the US to defeat the LTTE. With the US blessings, Israel remained a key weapons supplier, throughout the war, and the previous government expanded its relations with the US by entering into Access and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) in early 2007.What is your perspective of the future US role here, in case UPFA regained power?

(A) We have to understand that the US is a very confused country, often with different elements pulling in different directions. This will get worse in an election year, which is why we have to remain in constant consultation with those who make decisions, whilst also understanding the possible limitations of their decision making power.

I think we did a very silly thing late in 2009, when, despite the efforts against us in Geneva, in May, a committee, under John Kerry, issued a very positive report. They also asked us some questions about the war, but included assistance with the answers, and we were foolish not to answer and try to address concerns. I kept urging that we respond swiftly, but government appointed a committee which slept on the matter, and that letter was finally forgotten.

I believe part of the problem is a complete lack of planning capacity in the Foreign Ministry, while it was also dominated in recent years by one or two officials who did not have the interests of the country at heart. So proper briefing notes were not prepared, and any form of intellectual engagement was frowned upon. I hope very much that one of the first priorities of the new government will be the establishment of think tanks that will help to formulate and implement policy.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

LTTE-TNA nexus and emergence of GTF et al




by Shamindra Ferdinando

Global Tamil Forum (GTF) Director for Strategic Initiatives and spokesperson, Suren Surendiran, recently fired a broadside at war – winning former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. UK – based Surendiran declared that the Rajapaksas should be hauled up before, both local and international courts, for gross human rights violations during Eelam War IV. Commenting on the former President, contesting the forthcoming parliamentary polls, Surendiran asserted: "... the only people who may campaign and vote for his return are the ones who have a lot to lose personally," (Aug. 2006 to May 2009) and post-conflict period (Post-war national reconciliation: Diaspora factor-The Island, July 8, 2015).

Mahinda Rajapaksa gave resolute political leadership to bring the war to a successful conclusion, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, on the morning of May 19, 2009. A grateful nation can never deprive Mahinda Rajapaksa of the credit he quite rightly deserved for beating Prabhakaran in his own game.

The then Opposition refused to back the war against terrorism. The so-called civil society, at the behest of their foreign sponsors, worked overtime against the Rajapaksa administration, while an influential section of the media, and various experts, asserted that the war can never be won, through military means. Dr. Rohan Gunaratne was one, though he subsequently switched his allegiance to the Rajapaksa administration. Canada based veteran journalist, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, as late as Dec. 2008, predicted of an LTTE counter, on the Vanni front, leading to collapse of the offensive. Despicable attempts were made to defeat the budget, during the war. Such moves, if succeeded, would have derailed the offensive. But wily Rajapaksa kept the offensive on track. The former President went to the extent of personally intervening to ensure weapon supplies. A victory would never have been possible if not for the former President authorizing doubling of the army’s strength, a far reaching political decision no previous ruler was prepared to take.

Rajapaksa earned the wrath of the LTTE rump, the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a section of the international community, as well as an influential segment of the Tamil Diaspora, for defeating terrorism. The former President sustained Sri Lanka’s largest combined offensive on track in spite of heavy international pressure. That wouldn’t have been possible without the unstinted support extended by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the then army chief, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s leadership qualities, as well as an unwavering then Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda. The SLAF, under the then Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke, played a pivotal role in bringing Prabhakaran to his knees. The elite STF threw its full weight behind the overall offensive, with DIG Nimal Lewke playing a crucial role. The Intelligence Services provided unprecedented support.

The writer regret the inability to mention names of those senior security and police officers who made Sri Lanka’s triumph, over terrorism, possible.

In fact, the GTF came into being during late Feb 2010, nearly a year after the eradication of the LTTE leadership. It would be pertinent to examine the setting up of the GTF, as well as various other outfits, including the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), also after the successful conclusion of the war. Had the LTTE survived the military onslaught, it wouldn’t have probably seen a requirement for either the GTF or the TGTE, though the British Tamil Forum (BTF) came into existence, in 2006. The Diaspora organizations rapidly grew in the wake of Prabhakaran’s defeat and the realization that the LTTE was no longer in a position, at least to wage a hit and run campaign.

At the end of the Vanni offensive, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had in place a comprehensive security apparatus to meet any eventuality. Sarath Fonseka played a critical role until he quit Mahinda Rajapaksa’s team, in late 2009, to challenge him at the January, 2010, presidential election.

The GTF spokesperson had conveniently forgotten the TNA campaigning for Sarath Fonseka at the January, 2010, presidential election. The TNA had no qualms about throwing its weight behind the war veteran whom, it repeatedly accused, of deliberately killing thousands of Tamils on the Vanni front. The TNA delivered northern and eastern electoral districts to Fonseka.

The TNA comprised the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) and three political parties, namely EPRLF, TELO and PLOTE. The original outfit included the TULF.

At the November, 2005, presidential election, the TNA, at the behest of the LTTE, ordered Tamil – speaking people not to exercise their franchise in support of either Mahinda Rajapaksa or Ranil Wickremesinghe. The LTTE-TNA directive was meant to ensure Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory as they felt the overwhelming inexperienced SLFPer would be much more easier than confronting Wickremesinghe. The UNP leader has accused Mahinda Rajapaksa of bribing the LTTE to engineer his defeat. TNA leader, R. Sampanthan, too, expressed a similar opinion in the run-up to the January 8 presidential election.

However, a fearful UNP refrained from commenting on the despicable LTTE-TNA act at that time.

Did Prabhakaran receive a bribe to dig his own grave?

A Norwegian – funded study (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts, 1997-2009) briefly commented on Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory at the November, 2005, presidential election. Launched in September, 2011, the report asserted that Mahinda Rajapaksa had been willing to resume negotiations with the LTTE on his terms, whereas Ranil Wickremesinghe secured the UNP block vote and made overtures to Muslim and Tamil electorates. "Ironically, Wickremesinghe’s defeat is determined in the Vanni. The LTTE decides to enforce a boycott among Tamil voters, thus tipping the balance to Rajapaksa, who wins with a margin of less than two per cent."

Would the GTF and other Diaspora organizations care to comment on the LTTE-TNA strategy that was meant to ensure Wickremesinghe’s defeat?

Since its inception, the TNA had no option but to promote the LTTE or face the consequences. Having recognized the LTTE, as the sole representative of Tamil – speaking people, the TNA represented the LTTE in parliament. Regardless of the overwhelming evidence of LTTE-TNA collusion, the then government couldn’t do anything about it. The government remained silent, even after the EU Observation Mission in Sri Lanka alleged that the LTTE engaged in systematic violence, in support of its proxy. The EU, in no uncertain terms, rejected the LTTE’s claim that it was the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people. In fact, the TNA nomination lists had to be cleared with the LTTE before being submitted to the Election Secretariat. The EU released its full report, in Colombo, on June, 17, much to the embarrassment of the TNA. The outspoken TULF leader, V. Anandasangaree, was the only Tamil politician to commend the EU report (TULF leader applauds EU for unmasking LTTE proxy-The Island, June 23, 2004). The major political parties remained silent while the Election Secretariat wasn’t bothered. Anandasangaree asserted that the Election Secretariat should have called for fresh polls, in the Northern and Eastern districts, as the April, 2004, parliamentary election didn’t reflect what he called genuine people’s mandate.

The TNA couldn’t absolve itself from atrocities committed by the LTTE. The TNA worked closely with the LTTE to achieve their overall objectives. They remained together until the very end.

*In 2001, the TNA recognized the LTTE as the sole representatives of Tamil speaking people. The announcement was made in Colombo. The move was made amidst secret negotiations between Norway and the government of Sri Lanka, leading to the signing of a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), in February, 2002. Although the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had initiated the process, the actual agreement was signed by the then Premier, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

*In April 2003, the LTTE quit the negotiating table, thus paving the way for Mrs. Kumaratunga to call fresh election, in April, 2004. The TNA backed the LTTE’s decision to suspend Norwegian facilitated peace talks. The LTTE made its move after the successful conclusion of six rounds of negotiations, at overseas venues.

* In April, 2004, the TNA received the direct backing of the LTTE to consolidate its position in the then temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provinces.

*In August, the LTTE assassinated the then Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, in Colombo. The Norwegian – funded National Peace Council (NPC) promptly issued a statement justifying the assassination. The NP declared the killing was tragic but inevitable. The TNA remained silent.

*In November 2005, At the behest of the LTTE, the TNA ordered Tamil speaking people to boycott the presidential election. They ignored the UNP’s secret pleas not to interfere with the electoral process.

*Less than three weeks after the presidential election, the LTTE resumed high profile attacks in Jaffna. The TNA remained silent.

*The TNA remained silent even after the LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate army chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka.

*The TNA turned its back on Mahinda Rajapaksa’s efforts, throughout 2006, to kick start the peace process, under Norwegian auspices. Rajapaksa sent delegates for meetings overseas though his political partners strongly objected to succumbing to LTTE-Norway pressure. The international community, the TNA and Diaspora never appreciated Mahinda Rajapaksa going ahead with Norwegian – facilitated talks even after the attempt to assassinate the army chief.

*The TNA solidly stood with the LTTE, until the very end, in May 2009. The grouping refrained from at least urging the LTTE not to use human shields, or throw children, into high intensity battles.

*In January, 2010, the TNA backed Sarath Fonseka’s candidature at the presidential election.

*In January, 2015 presidential election, the TNA delivered the northern and eastern electoral districts to Maithripala Sirisena.

*At the forthcoming, August 2015, parliamentary polls, the TNA will go it alone. However, the grouping will work with the UNP-led coalition, depending on the outcome of the result.

The TNA should be grateful to both Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka for eradicating the LTTE. Whatever their public pronouncements, the entire TNA leadership would have heaved a sigh of relief when Prabhakaran’s body was shown on Television, on May 19, 2009. That was the undeniable truth. The Sinha Regiment veteran Sarath Fonseka’s army achieved what his predecessors couldn’t for over three decades. Over 10,000 LTTE cadres, including thousands of experienced cadres, surrendered to frontline fighting troops. Of about 12,000 in government custody at the end of the war in May 2009, less then 275 LTTEers remained in custody, including those undergoing rehabilitation.

The Norwegian study also revealed that the then Oslo administration underestimated Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Norwegian team, assigned for Sri Lanka peace effort, appeared to have mislead the government, unintentionally. Obviously, the team was acting on information received from those who had been confident in the LTTE’s wherewithal. Let me reproduce the relevant part verbatim. "During an internal strategy session, with the Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store, in May, 2007, the mediation team reiterates that: ‘All observers think that this is a conflict that cannot be won by military means and most believe that the government cannot beat the LTTE, militarily.’ Moreover, the group concludes: International pressure does not seem to have any positive influence, but rather to contribute to locking the military strategies of the parties. Strategic thinking thus tends to hinge on the premise that at some point a new stalemate may emerge, either because the LTTE rolls back the frontline as it did several times in the past, or resorts to guerrilla – style tactics to avert defeat. In hindsight, the Norwegian team underestimates the Sri Lankan government’s strength, both militarily and politically. The team considers a wide range of likely, and less likely, scenarios, but, like most observers at that time, it does not reckon with the sequence of events that is to follow: a strong SLFP-led government and a military victory.

Sri Lanka’s triumph, over terrorism, brought immense relief to the TNA and Diaspora groups. Sri Lanka also set an exemplary example by defeating the LTTE, a major terrorist group on the proscribed lists of India, US, UK and Canada.

The Gajaba Regiment veteran Gotabhaya Rajapaksa always believed that the LTTE could be defeated and he never minced his words. In fact, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa asserted that the LTTE had to be militarily dealt with, following the assassination of Kadirgamar. Rajapaksa resented efforts to appease the LTTE by providing various facilities, including free SLAF flights. The Norwegian report referred to a meeting Norwegians, Hanssen Bauer and Brattskar, had with Rajapaksa, on April 6, 2006, about three weeks before the attempt on Sarath Fonseka’s life. "On 6 April, 2006, Hanssen Bauer and Brattskar have a tense meeting with Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. In response to a question about whether the ethnic and political problems in Sri Lanka could be solved by military means, Gotabhaya answers, ‘yes.’

*In May, 2009, the TNA regained its right to function freely without being dictated by the LTTE. Subsequently, the military gave up some public and private land, held over the years, in accordance with overall defensive and offensive strategies in the ‘war zone.’ The previous government also substantially reduced military presence. The TNA, nor the Diaspora, acknowledged significant progress made on the ground.

*In September, 2013, the TNA comfortably secured the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) at a free and fair election conducted by the previous government. The first election for the then temporarily merged Northern-Eastern Provincial Council was conducted in November, 1988, under the auspices of the Indian Army. The Indian Army exercise was meant to install EPRLF administration.

*The TNA received an opportunity to deal directly with Western powers, and India, without having to pursue Prabhakaran’s strategy. Unfortunately, the TNA squandered that opportunity. Instead of seeking an understanding, with the war winning government, the TNA and Diaspora launched a hostile campaign to avenge the LTTE defeat. They couldn’t stomach the LTTE’s debacle. They pushed for regime change in Sri Lanka with the UK taking the lead. The British went to the extent of calling for regime change in Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The Diaspora-led effort culminated, in March, 2014 with the US moving a resolution, in Geneva calling for an external investigation into accountability issues.

The British never got over with Mahinda Rajapaksa turning down a joint UK-French appeal made, in April, 2009 to halt the offensive. Although the GTF hadn’t been in existence, at that time, the UK intervened on behalf of the Diaspora community. The exercise was purely political. The whistle-blowing website, Wiki Leaks, subsequently exposed the then British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, intervening in Sri Lanka with an eye on British voters of Sri Lankan origin.

Those wanting to have the previous government hauled up before an international war crimes tribunal should seriously examine the circumstances leading to Eelam war IV, in August, 2006. Although many asserted that Mahinda Rajapaksa declared war because of the closure of sluice gates of Mavil-aru in July, 2006 the fact is the real offensive commenced during the second week of August, 2006. Those shedding crocodile tears for the loss of life turned a blind eye to what was going on, as long as they felt the LTTE could meet its military objectives. The August offensive was meant to overrun Jaffna peninsula in a lightning offensive. The Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission quite rightly identified the LTTE strategy. The SLMM said: "...considering the preparation level of the operations it seems to have been a well prepared LTTE initiative."

Had Mahinda Rajapaksa lacked guts to fight back and bring the war to a successful conclusion, within three years, the country would have been divided on ethnic lines. In his first exclusive interview with the writer, Prabhakaran successor, Kumaran Pathmanathan, aka ‘KP’, asserted that the LTTE believed it had the wherewithal to defeat the army in two years.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Post-war national reconciliation: Diaspora factor



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF) had been ‘in the thick of things’ when the US moved a resolution, against Sri Lanka, at the 19th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), in March, 2012.

The successful US resolution was the first of three moved since the conclusion of the war, in May, 2009. The US stepped-in after a Canadian attempt to garner support for an anti-Sri Lanka resolution in Geneva, in the previous year, flopped.

GTF’s Suren Surendiran had been among those Diaspora activists, especially sent to Geneva, during that period. The writer, accompanying the government delegation, first met Surendiran at a side-event, at the UNHRC, where the two sides traded accusations over accountability issues et al. Slain EPRLF MP Sam Thambimuttu’s son, Arun, SLFP organiser for Batticaloa, spearheaded the government ‘offensive’ at the event, presided over by the then Human Rights Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe (Arun humiliates Diaspora during Geneva confrontation-The Island, March 6, 2012).

In spite of sharp differences, over accountability issues and related matters, The Island established contact with the GTF, paving the way for The Sunday Island to carry a hard-hitting statement, issued by Surendiran (GTF proposes two pronged strategy for reconciliation - The Sunday Island, March 4, 2012). Since the GTF has received uninterrupted coverage though The Island on numerous occasions, countered the GTF. The GTF was launched on Feb 24, 2010, in the UK House of Commons, with the participation of the British Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and Liberal Democrats Shadow Foreign Secretary, Ed Davey, as well as delegates from 14 countries. The writer had an opportunity to meet GTF leader, Rev Father S. J. Emmanuel and the GTF’s Director for Strategic Initiatives & Spokesperson, Surendiran during a recent visit to London, where the GTF duo explained their stand on post-war national reconciliation process, consequent to them having met a high level government delegation, including President Maithripala Sirisena, and Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera.

Deputy Foreign Minister, Ajith P. Perera, recently acknowledged the government delegation in London, on the invitation of the UK government, meeting with the GTF in early March. The following are the excerpts of an interview with Surendiran last week:

(Q) General elections will be held on 17/8. As a concerned non-resident Sri Lankan, what are the issues do you believe should be the concern of a voting Sri Lankan?

(A) As Sri Lankans collectively: The economy, the budget deficit, controlling public expenditure, fiscal policies, creating a conducive investment friendly environment to encourage foreign investment.

Policies that will help social, economic and technological advancement for all people of all regions. Policies that will aid great health care and education which is fundamental to all people.

Foreign policy that will see Sri Lanka, in the best light, by countries from the west to east and from north to south, by developed and developing countries. Policies that will enable Sri Lanka to practice and demonstrate that Sri Lanka abides by international laws, covenants and conventions. Policies that will encourage people to visit Sri Lanka without second thought.

Policies that will create equal opportunities for women and less abled people.

Judicial system that is independent, just and impartial.

As Tamils from North and East, who are sometimes identified as ‘Eelam Tamils’: In addition to all of the above, policies that will enable resolutions to specific needs and demands of our people. For example:

= Arriving at a negotiated political settlement that will resolve the long overdue Tamil National question

= Investigating and serving justice to our people upon whom a barrage of human rights abuses, including breaches of international human rights and humanitarian laws, that amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity

= Large swathes of private land that are still illegally occupied by the military

= Disproportionate number of military personnel that still remain in the North and East

= Intimidation and arbitrary arrests still continue

= Military remains engaged in day to day life of Tamils in North and East

= Sexual violence continue against the tens of thousands of war widows and others

= Tamil men and women still live in fear even more so in the Northern and Eastern provinces

= Several hundreds of political prisoners still remain in custody without being charged

= The Prevention of Terrorism Act is still not repealed

With some or all of the above, people from religious minorities including the Hindus, Muslims and Christians:

= Be able to practice their religious faith without fear and without being intimidated or discriminated

= Be part of a secular state as equals

(Q) Mahinda Rajapaksa wants to be the Prime Minister of this country. Your opinion?

Mahinda Rajapaksa is an overwhelmingly rejected leader, as recently as on 8 January, this year, not even six months ago. While the majority of the minority communities in Sri Lanka, be it Tamil, Muslim or Christian overwhelmingly rejected him and in some electoral districts by over 80%, the majority Sinhala Buddhist community also rejected him as he only mustered 47% of the overall vote in a historical turnout of 81.5%. This abysmal performance was even after illegally deploying the entire state apparatus including the state media in support of his own campaign. Although alleged before the election, since his defeat in January, a lot more information on the widespread corruption and the magnitude of it has started appearing. Allegedly, his family and he have literally robbed the state. That is depriving Sinhala, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Tamil future generations of this country.

Mahinda Rajapaksa may have won the war but lost the people. He may have united the land but divided the people.

Sri Lanka, under Mahinda, was one of the most dangerous places for journalists, one of the highest in corruption index, we made history by appointing a female Chief Justice and removing her in record time by a politically motivated decision, several resolutions passed against Sri Lanka at an international institution like the UNHRC for the mistakes of a few, the country was internationally isolated, incompetent unqualified persons represented us at our embassies and international institutions, carrying a Sri Lankan passport felt embarrassing, lost the GSP plus preferential export facility from the European Union, Nearly ran out of foreign currency reserves, the highest budget deficit on record, at the worst position since independence for interest bearing loans, lack of governance and financial control that enabled in failed state ventures like Mattala Airport, Mihin Air, Hambantota Harbour which resulted in multimillion dollar losses for the state to bear, above all created a dysfunctional society with religious hatred and communal tension between communities that has never existed to the level that it did, during his tenor.

With this devastating track record, the only people who may campaign and vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s return are the ones who have a lot to lose, personally, in the absence of such a failed state.

(Q) What is your assessment of President Maithripala Sirisena and the UNP lead minority government since 8 January?

(A) Passage of the 19th amendment, along with other steps taken to democratise the state and its institutions have significantly altered the unfortunate political culture and practices adopted in Sri Lanka, in the recent past. These newly adopted progressive changes annul the trend set by the previous regime, and effectively place the country back in the right course to work towards more meaningful and democratic constitutional changes in the future. The spirit of change and the new political atmosphere involving consultations and compromises are breathtakingly fresh in the context of Sri Lanka and give hope that such conditions, if further developed, will be conducive to resolve other pressing issues faced by the people.

We also recognise the positive steps the government has taken to address certain immediate concerns of the Tamil people. These include removing of military Governors and appointing civilians as Governors for the Northern and Eastern Provinces, transferring of small sections of land back to the rightful owners, releasing of a few Tamil political detainees and the review of the proscription of Tamil diaspora individuals and entities. Though limited in scope they are still significant.

However, large swathes of private land are still illegally occupied by the military, disproportionate number of military personnel still remain in the North and East, intimidation and arbitrary arrests still continue, military remains engaged in day to day life of Tamils in North and East, sexual violence continue against the tens of thousands of war widows and others, Tamil men and women still live in fear even more so in the Northern and Eastern provinces, several hundreds of political prisoners still remain in custody without being charged, the Prevention of Terrorism Act still not repealed, above all the Tamil National Question remains unresolved.

Momentum developed by passing of the 19th amendment and other positive initiatives taken to provide limited relief for the Tamil people, should be developed further to be stepping stones, to resolve the long standing Tamil national problem in Sri Lanka. In this context, it is important that the government accelerates implementing these initiatives and also takes meaningful steps to comprehensively address the issues related to alleged war crimes, serving of justice, political resolution and reconciliation.

(Q) TNA has won many elections in the North and East. In your opinion will that success story continue?

(A) Undoubtedly! Our people have made history in the recent past by turning out in larger numbers than ever before to practice and effect their democratic right. In Jaffna electoral district, there was a percentage increase in the turnout at the recent Presidential election compared to the Northern Provincial Council election, in 2013. Although ranging between 66% in Jaffna and 77% in Trincomalee electoral districts, at the recent election, it has still been lower than the national average of 81.5%.

I am sure the people in North and East will come in vast numbers breaking records at this forthcoming general election to elect representatives who will serve our people without discriminating, on the basis of religion, caste or social status, but as responsible leaders.

TNA should, and will, I am sure, place a precise, unambiguous and practical set of principles and policies as their manifesto commitments that our people can trust and depend upon. TNA has a great selection of experienced members who have effectively served at the Parliament conscientiously under the tremendous leadership of Mr R Sampanthan. Mr Sampanthan has navigated the Tamil cause with reasonableness which in turn has been acknowledged by leaders of the south and in the international community.

I am sure our people will acknowledge and recognise this and vote in vast numbers to strengthen the hands of the TNA at the negotiating table in the future.

(Q) Among all Diaspora organisations, GTF has gained recognition within Sri Lanka and internationally, in a relatively short time since the end of the war. How did that come about?

(A) If that status you have described is an accurate reflection, then it didn’t come easily. Sheer hard and committed work by many brought it to this status. As an organisation, we also followed certain basic code of conduct to discipline ourselves. For example, we committed ourselves not to comment or contradict in public of statements, actions or activities of another fellow Tamil organisation - be it from Sri Lanka or in the Diaspora. As an organisation, from our formal inauguration, at the UK Parliament, in February, 2010, we also committed that we will not issue statements for the sake of it, or to play it to the gallery. As a responsible organisation largely working in international diplomacy and lobbying, we pride ourselves for maintaining discretion, which is fundamental. Some of these behaviours and actions earned respect amongst various media and rights organisations as well as within governments of adopted countries. GTF has always acted honourably and reasonably when articulating grievances of our people, in Sri Lanka at international forums. This earned respect from organisations and like-minded people of all ethnicities and religions of Sri Lanka. We have a clear and transparent strategy in how we want to deal with issues and grievances of our people in the island, which we generally refer to as the ‘Four Pillar Programme’. They are:

= Agreeing between Tamil representatives, based in Sri Lanka, and in the Diaspora, a Common Framework Agreement (CFA).

= Engaging the civil society, political and non-political representatives of the South, without discriminating on language, religion, social status or party affiliation to communicate and engage to explain our grievances and understand from them their own grievances and why resolving the political issues including the Tamil National Question is seen or felt as a threat to them. Explain the possible mutual benefits that will be gained by all communities as peace dividends if a durable political solution could be negotiated to the Tamil National Question.

These types of cross community engagements, at different levels of the society, can also be a way to bridge the trust deficiency that exists between communities that have been promoted over the past nine years of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s reign.

= Actively lobby and create awareness, within the international community, international institutions and governments regarding the injustices and alleged breaches of international laws, including international human rights and humanitarian laws that amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Lobby for international independent investigation of both sides to establish the truth and obtain justice to enable the people who lost their loved ones to be able to move on, which may allow sustainable reconciliation between communities in the future.

= To work to resolve the socio economic needs of the people in the war affected areas with international help.

We intend to do all of the above with the help of the people in Sri Lanka, in the diaspora and the international community, including India.

Obviously, everyone can see that none of these are against the State of Sri Lanka, or its sovereignty, or any group or particular community of Sri Lanka or promotes violence or terrorism. This enabled GTF to work with like-minded people, groups, organisations, media and political and non-political parties within Sri Lanka.

GTF prides itself as one of the most effective and efficient groups that partners with the elected representatives of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

(Q) As a spokesperson, you seem to have been on most recognised international media be - it television, radio or print media. How do you assess the Sri Lankan media?

(A) As mentioned above, the GTF’s position and its strategy helped earn friends, not just within the international media, but also within Sri Lanka, in all three languages. At first, it was impossible to break into the Sri Lankan media with the iron fist of Gotabaya Rajapaksa who had created a culture of fear. Initially, we were very grateful for the coverages that were given to us by some of the web - based exiled journalists, particularly the likes of Lanka News Web, Colombo Telegraph, etc.

The Island newspaper was the first Sri Lanka - based daily newspaper to give space and coverage under extremely difficult circumstances, I am sure. We salute some of the brave journalists of Sri Lanka, of all languages of many who have perished in the line of duty.

As representing a diaspora organisation, we believe our effectiveness will be at best only when our activities, actions and statements have a profound impact in the discourse and political and democratic processes in Sri Lanka and within the international community, which in turn should create positive impact for our people in Sri Lanka.

If, as you described, GTF is a successful organisation, that success so far was not possible without the bravery of the journalists who have covered some of our activities and statements at different junctures over the past five years, under extreme circumstances, that sometimes even threatened their own lives. We will always remain very grateful.

(Q) Now that MR has been assured nominations, from the UPFA, to contest the general election, would you like to comment on the ground situation?

(A) As I’ve mentioned earlier, for all the crimes that Rajapaksa, and his friends, and family have committed, against the State, and the all communities, including the Buddhist Sinhala community, he shouldn’t be given nomination. He and his family should all be tried in a court of law and put behind bars.

(Q) What is GTF’s post-election strategy?

(A) GTF’s core strategy will remain the same as explained above, within the ‘Four Pillars’. However, we intend being proactive in engaging with all communities as a priority, next step.