Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Parliament reacting differently to images from Vanni




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Video footage and images of villagers killing a leopard that mauled several people last week received the attention of parliament. Print, electronic media, as well as social media, carried the horrific images from the Vanni heartland. The animal that frequented the area to snatch cattle and goats had pounced on the villagers, leading to the it being hunted and killed.

Leader of the House, Lakshman Kiriella, assured an investigation into the killing of the beast at Ambalakulam, Kilinochchi. The UNPer was responding to JVP lawmakers, Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa and Bimal Ratnayake last Friday (June 22). The JVPers demanded to know what action the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government would take.

Jayatissa recollected the arrest of several persons after visuals of an eagle being killed in Habaraduwa, Galle, were circulated on Facebook in March 2016. Those arrested were dealt in accordance with the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (No.22) of 2009.

Parliament agreed that action should be taken against those responsible for the killing of the beast. It would be pertinent to stress that parliament, struggling to cope up with tainted lawmakers accused of receiving benefits from now-suspended primary dealer, Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL), was reacting to images from Ambalakulam in the Vanni.

Against that background, the failure on the part of parliament to take appropriate action in the wake of recent powerful images from another village, Vishvamadu, of villages carrying heavily garlanded Lt. Colonel Ratnapriya Bandu following his transfer out of the Vanni. Tamils of one-time LTTE stronghold, an area that had never been really brought under military control, during the entire conflict, until the very end in 2009, accorded the officer a reception not given to any other military, police, public servant or politician. Tamil women went to extent of garlanding the officer, an unprecedented development while the Tamil community is not known for carrying people, especially a person who served the armed forces.

Why did parliament not take up Vishvamadu, though it acted differently in the case of Vishvamadu? Can the public be happy the way parliament responded to Lord Naseby’s revelations in the House of Lords, in Oct, 2017, in support Sri Lanka?

The Island dealt with Ratnapriya Bandu’s story in last week’s Midweek Review piece titled ‘Vishvamadu images: BIG BOOST FOR NATIONAL RECONCILIATION.’

Ratnapriya Bandu won the hearts and minds of the Vishvamadu community for his untiring efforts to uplift the living standards of the community, since late 2012, in his capacity as the senior military officer in charge of the Civil Security Department (CSD) in the Northern region. Before proceeding further, let me correct an inadvertent mistake in the last week’s piece in which Ratnapriya’s Bandu’s battalion (1 Sinha Regiment) was referred to as a formation assigned to the 53 Division. It was not. 1 SR was with the 59 Division deployed on the other side of the lagoon. The formation was involved in the rescuing of civilians, fleeing the LTTE held area, during the final phase of offensive action carried out by the celebrated 58 Division and 53 Division.

The following are responses received from the writer to the query how did they view images from Vishvamadu:

Co-convenor of Purawesi Balaya and writer Gamini Viyangoda: Yes I have seen the video footage of the farewell given to the officer. In fact, it is an eye-opener to understand how much a single human being can accomplish in the midst of a community which was not too long ago considered to be an enemy. I am sure this officer must be an exceptional human being in the first place, and intelligent and prudent enough to understand that it was his foremost duty to serve a victim community in a way that their hearts could be won over, which I firmly believe would be linked to, among others, to many steps that he may have taken to uplift their well being, too. I am not sure how he has done that but he has proved beyond any doubt that he was a person to be worthy of emulation, not only for military personnel, but also for laymen like us.

Yes, I am looking forward to meeting this officer to have a glimpse of what he has done to earn such adoration. That experience would definitely enrich and enlighten our understanding towards post-war national reconciliation efforts, for sure.

Yahapalana proponent and prominent civil society Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon who played a critical role in the exposure of those involved in the treasury bond scam: "I didn’t hesitate a second to share Vishvamadu pictures. Of course, some felt, I shouldn’t have done so. They felt the military shouldn’t be promoted under any circumstances. But, I’m glad to have shared those images which proved post-war national reconciliation is possible."

A former Tamil colleague of mine who wished to remain anonymous: It is nice to see the affection displayed by local youth and residents in Vishvamadu. Whatever the right or wrong reasons, cited by some northern extremist politicians and academics, I feel these nice sentiments shown by the people to the army officer seem to be genuine. However, these photos do not give me much political hope though it proves the fact it was always (pre- and post 2009) possible for security forces to win the hearts and minds of people despite the language barrier, if any. But I would stress that Sri Lanka MPs, politicians and some public servants from the nine provinces continue to fail the voters and they keep people divided.

Much admired Lalith Weeratunga, former Secretary to war-winning President who played a critical role in the implementation of the LLRC recommendation: "Whatever policies that may be developed and look good on paper are as only good as those who implement such polices at the ground level. From what I saw, there was personal motivation on the part of the military officer and his team to make reconciliation a reality. This is one instance that has been highlighted and publicized. But there are many. Please check on many other initiatives; an authoritative source told me that the son of former commander Gen Wanasinghe, (I believe he is Brig Wanasinghe) also did a lot of work in Mullaitivu and some old ladies call him Putha. To that extent, they have won the hearts of those people.

The learning here is that the top command must pick the most honest officers whose public relations (in modern management jargon, some call it People’s Skills) are excellent and put them in charge of specific geographical areas with clear instructions to mend fences. The entire Brigade or Division must have this specific aim – country’s armed forces are there to ensure security of every person and also to lend a hand to those in need. Only the Armed forces can do it because they have discipline, they have high self confidence and they have proven systems to make things work.

Prominent civil society activist and National Peace Council spokesperson, Dr. Jehan Perera: As your well researched and heartfelt article points out the social welfare oriented work of Col. Ratnapriya has been exemplary, which explains the gratitude of the people including ex-LTTE cadres who carried him in process at his farewell. This shows that universal values of love, compassionate service and fairplay can override the divisions of ethnicity, race and religion.

Col. Ratnapriya’s achievement as a benefactor shows the need for political institutions that bring democracy and governance nearer to the disempowered Tamil people so that they are empowered. The issue of devolution of power and self determination have been long standing demands of the Tamil people. If there is justice in Sri Lanka, there is no need to fear Tamil separatism.

Retired Maj. Gen. Udaya Nanayakkara, wartime (Eelam war IV) military spokesman: Lt Col Ratnapriya Bandu has not done anything extra to win hearts and minds of the Tamil people in Jaffna peninsula. He has done his duty with utmost commitment and today he gets his reward for good work done. There are many hidden similar stories not highlighted in the media (Late Major General LAR Wijerathna served in Point Pedro is one good example). People of the North have not been allowed to felicitate their dear officers by LTTE and certain politicians in the North for their political agendas. The hatred built by the LTTE to make the general public in the North separated from the military. Now that the people of the North have the opportunity to associate with men in uniform closely and they have realized that they are also another lot of human who can be turned to in need. Lt Col Ratnapriya Bandu is a best example of a disciplined Military Officer of yesterday and today and lesson to those who are trying to prosecute the innocent men in uniform for War Crimes.

Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative in Geneva Ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam: Vishvamadu contradicts everything we’ve heard so far about the war – from separatists, communal politicians, the Sirisena – Ranil Wickremesinghe govt., their foreign backers, and mainstream media – that the armed forces had committed war crimes and genocide against Tamils. It is the tale that the US-led Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 presents as the ultimate truth, despite all evidence, because it provides the perfect alibi for illegal unilateral intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs in the name of the controversial ‘Responsibility to Protect’ or RtoP. Unfortunately what suits Washington suits the Yahapalana regime, hence the co-sponsorship and betrayal.

Vishvamadu has an exemplary character, because it conclusively contradicts the dominant version restoring to their rightful place in history the true heroes of the some 30-year war - the people and their armed forces. It was a peoples’ war against terror and separatism, because, first of all, a political victory in which all Sri Lankans – Tamil, Sinhala, and Muslim – participated in isolating the separatists. The soldiers were their soldiers, and Lt. Colonel Ratnapriya Bandu the symbol. The Vishvamadu epitomizes the unity between people and soldier without which the war could not have been fought, or won. It is hopefully the beginning of popular resistance against attempts to rewrite history and undermine popular sovereignty in all matters that concern their lives and destiny.

Vishvamadu demonstrates the unfounded character of the call to renegotiate HRC Resolution 30/1, a demand that implies compromise, an admission it is legitimate.

Former Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona: A major lesson from the Vishvamadu experience is that reconciliation is not something that could be orchestrated by foreign NGOs, Western missions based in Colombo with no real access to the thinking of the people or the expatriate Tamil groups who saw their massive investment in a Tamil Eelam evaporate into thin air on the muddy and unforgiving shores of the Nandikadal Lagoon. Reconciliation has to emerge from within through the building of trust and the establishment of hope in the future.

No amount of resolutions in the Human Rights Council will contribute to advancing reconciliation in Sri Lanka. They will only pave the way for more resentment, acrimony and disappointment. Perhaps even create the circumstances for the failed Eelam dream to become a reality through other means.

Lt. Colonel Ranapriya Bandu is a glowing example of what can be achieved through hard, dedicated and sensitive effort to realize the goal of reconciliation.

Now that the US has pulled out of the Human Rights Council, the US Ambassador, Nicky Hayley describing it as a "cesspool of political bias," and as a "hypocritical and self-serving" body ", Sri Lanka should extricate itself from from its self-imposed and pathetic cringe and deal with the body with pride and self respect. Reconciliation can be achieved, our own way.

Retired top career diplomat and one-time head of the Peace Secretariat that dealt with Norway and the LTTE, Ambassador Bernard Gunatilleke: "My opinion is that, out there, in the North and East, there are many senior officers who are doing a commendable job that help reconciliation. Regrettably, their good deeds do not reach the general public. Also, those officers may not be interested in seeking publicity. So what they do, generally speaking, are below the radar screen. Viswamadu affair is an exception, where the former LTTE cadres thought it desirable to highlight the good work done by the army officer.

Despite positive action during the post conflict period, we also have to acknowledge the fact that H R violations also took place in the heat of fighting. Civilians always suffer the most, whenever armed conflicts take place.

Sri Lanka’s failure was that when credible violations take place, failure of the authorities concerned to take action against individuals who failed to adhere to human rights norms. I recall instances when senior armed forces officers lamenting over breakdown of discipline, due to failure of authorities to take action against errant personnel.

This failure contributed to the Geneva fiasco. However, this acknowledgment does not mean that I support co-sponsoring the resolution by Sri Lanka, which was a folly.

A former Joint Operations Command spokesman: "The truth cannot be concealed. If "a picture is worth a thousand words" these pictures and a video clip of the Vishvamadu event send a powerful message and would prove invaluable in helping clear the names of the country and its defenders, unfairly allowed to be tarnished internationally. There have been similar instances which belied false propaganda spread by those with vested interests within and outside the country. These pictures provide the proof. Reconciliation would prove an elusive goal until all sides are treated fairly and be seen as such without fault lines. Minister Manoharan Ganesan’s comments say a lot.

Director General of Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) M.S. Jayasinghe : ONUR has noted, with optimism, the developments in Vishvamadu in relation to the news reports about Lt. Colonel Ratnapriya’s farewell event and his approach with local stakeholders. We will get in touch with Sri Lanka Army and seek any relevant inputs from the officer concerned as part of our efforts to understanding various perspectives and learning from experiences, to move forward. We already support initiatives to assist with livelihood, psycho social, development and similar needs of war affected communities including ex combatants, to bring normalcy to their lives.

Harim Peiris, former Chairman Resettlement Authority and Director General for Rehabilitation & Reconciliation: "The Sri Lanka Army has always well understood the post war need to treat DDR (Disarmament, De-mobilization and Reintegration) of former LTTE cadres professionally and in keeping with international best practices. It is some of the politicians, from both sides and especially from the South, who have obstructed reconciliation. This is true of even the issue of releasing private lands and resettlement of IDPs. The military want to do it, some cardboard hero politicians from the South, oppose it for political gain".

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, one-time head of Peace Secretariat and prominent critic of national reconciliation process as well as many other contentions issues: The work of the forces in Sri Lanka was generally fantastic, not only in war but also in the way they looked after civilians and also former combatants. Sadly, no one in authority was at all interested in telling this story. In the last few months we at the Peace Secretariat published a book called ‘We Support Ourselves’ with pictures of the great work of our soldiers plus the efforts made at the IDP Centres, but this was not distributed. Only the Central Bank Governor wanted copies, and one foreign mission abroad. The Foreign Ministry ignored it completely, and then the Peace Secretariat was closed down, and not turned into a Reconciliation Secretariat as I had proposed.

Because of such callousness, we had to face unwarranted criticism, but even to that there was no reply. The document about the war that came out after the Darusman Report ignored that Report whereas what was necessary was a detailed refutation. I did prepare two but again apart from Mr Cabraal, who had started the process of refutation but was then sidelined, no one was interested.

Later, I would write about our positive actions when I was Adviser on Reconciliation, pointing out many positive things done by many members of the forces, for instance the officers in Mannar who tried to resist encroachments, the inclusive work of the area commanders in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, but again the ostrich approach of those in authority led to these not being given the prominence they deserved. I suppose it is understandable that the country takes notice when Tamil people make clear how much they have benefited, but it will be difficult to undo the neglect of the last nine years, and the deliberate distortions of the last three.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018






By Shamindra Ferdinando

Pictures posted on the internet and video footage of people carrying a person in uniform, recently, jolted the Tamil community.

The bespectacled man in uniform was quickly identified as Lieutenant Colonel Ratnapriya Bandu, originally of the elite Special Forces before being transferred to the Sinha Regiment. The pictures were taken in the morning of June 10, 2018 in one-time LTTE den, Vishvamadu, as the officer was felicitated by a grateful community. Ratnapriya Bandu was leaving Vishvamadu after completing an unenviable post-war task, winning hearts and minds of the people.

Ratnapriya Bandu served the Civil Security Department (CSD) for nearly six years in the Northern Province where a politically motivated campaign meant to discredit the military is underway.

Initially, some sections of the Tamil community expressed doubts regarding the circumstances under which the felicitation ceremony was organized. They were skeptical. The pictures were a quite a shock for those who had been demanding the withdrawal of the Army from the Northern Province. For those who depicted the man in uniform as the main obstacle to the post-war national reconciliation were dismayed and concerned. Some obviously felt threatened.

Mano on Vishvamadu


National Integration, Reconciliation and Official Languages Minister Akilan Manoharan Ganesan was one of those who reacted positively to Vishvamadhu Tamils expressing their true feelings. Thanks to a former Tamil colleague of mine, I was able to get a translation of what Ganesan posted on his Facebook. The outspoken politician said: ‘Should we see this (Lt. Col. Ratnapriya Bandu matter) as positive or negative? Is this reception, ‘open support’ also available to any politician in north?

Is northern Tamil leadership failing to live amidst the people and win their hearts?

Is this tendency only for Kilinochchi or Vanni or is it spreading to Jaffna peninsula as well?

Is the system wrong only in the North or is whole system wrong in whole country?

Ganesan, in his Facebook post also quoted the Lieutenant Colonel as having told him how he served the people without taking any weapon in his hand. The minister has phoned the officer on June 11, the day after his transfer. The minister revealed that former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had come to meet him a few months ago and tearfully pleaded with him to delay the transfer of the officer who had already served five years in the area. I have answers to many such issues. But if I publicly comment, some jokers in the North and South will get angry."

The outspoken politician has delayed the officer’s transfer by a few months following the intervention by a group of ex-LTTE cadres.

The Vishvamadhu felicitation took place on June 10, the day, 28 years ago, the LTTE resumed the war a few months after the departure of the Indian Army. Ratnapriya Bandu, having joined the Special Forces in January, 1990, during the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s honeymoon with LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, served in many areas before receiving appointment as Director, Training of the CSD, in 2006, at the onset of Eelam War IV. Ratnapriya Bandu played a significant role in the development of the CSD during 2006-2008 period before joining the First Battalion of the Sinha Regiment (1SR) in 2009 as its Second-in-Command. The battalion, attached to the 53 Division, fought on the Vanni east front.

Ratnapriya Bandu returned to CSD in late 2012 and served in Vishvamadhu, east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, until he was moved recently to Sinha Regiment Regimental headquarters in Ambepussa. In ‘Gamini’, directed by Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, the then Director General of the CSD, versatile actor Bimal Ratnayake played the real life experience of a Major under fire by villagers following the massacre of 57 men, women and children in an isolated Ampara village by the LTTE. Under pressure by the Sinhala community there the Major threw his weight behind CSD. ‘Gamini’ dealt with how the Army transformed the CSD finally to play a significant role in protecting vulnerable villages during Eelam War IV.

Post-war CSD

The previous government earned the wrath of an influential section of the Tamil community for trying to enlist former rehabilitated members of the LTTE to the CSD. The project was in addition to the recruitment of Tamil speaking youth to the Army. The northern political leadership quite rightly realized the danger in the government project and reacted strongly to former LTTE combatants joining the CSD where they served the Northern Province public with distinction.

Social media and private television coverage of Vishvamadu farewell revealed the truth whereas the state-run media conveniently turned a blind eye. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration lacked a strategic plan to bring the Vishvamadhu farewell to the widest possible audience to highlight the success of post-war national reconciliation process. Government websites refrained from using those incredible images. The writer received Vishvamadu pictures from several friends, including Tamils who realized the importance of the signal event. The images proved beyond doubt that the Tamil community is ready to move forward though some disruptive elements hell-bent on causing ethnic tensions constantly attempted to whip up animosity.

The CSD couldn’t have achieved success without the support extended by the Army. That is the undeniable truth. Ratnapriya Bandu is perhaps not perfect and certainly made mistakes in his career. But, what is important here is whatever the past blunders, a Lieutenant Colonel in the war-winning Army has now won the admiration and love of civilians and former LTTE cadres alike. That certainly is an achievement Sri Lanka can be proud of 10 years after the war while the likes of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan keeps on saying that a brand new Constitution is the panacea for all our ills.

Under Ratnapriya Bandu’s command, since late 2012, the CSD grew to a strong unit with its members receiving knowledge and expertise in various fields, ranging from agriculture to teaching. Although a section of the Tamil political leadership resented the post-war relationship between their community and the military-CSD, the majority of officers serving in the Northern and Eastern Provinces pursued people-friendly policies. Ratnapriya Bandu recently proved that his reconciliation model is perhaps the world’s best, one that can be used in any part of the world struggling to contain extremism.

How ONUR can benefit from Ratnapriya Bandu’s experience

The office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) is responsible for post-war national policy on reconciliation and coexistence. The policy drafted over a period of one year was launched at the film festival produced by ONUR. It premiered on February 27, 2018 at the Regal cinema. The writer was among those invited for the event that attracted members of the civil society, a section of the diplomatic community and artistes. Asoka Handagama, Vimukthi Jayasundara and Prasanna Vithanage, the directors of the omnibus film ‘Thundenek’, under the English title ‘Her. Him. The Other’ are on record as having said that the film promoted reconciliation.

‘Thundenek’ is of a genre Sri Lankan audiences are not frequently exposed to; anthology or omnibus film.

‘Thundenek’ is three short films in one. ‘Her’ directed by Vithanage, based on a true story is about a pro-LTTE videographer, Kesa, who travels from the North in search of ‘Her’, the woman in the photograph which Kesa finds in a wallet of a soldier killed in action. It’s a story about coming to terms with his own conscience. Jayasundara’s ‘Him’ is about a Sinhala teacher, who, while professing Buddhism tries, to deceive his own conscience by refusing to believe the re-birth of a Tamil terrorist into a Sinhala family. It is a film about identity. ‘The Other’ by Asoka Handagama is about a mother who comes to Colombo in search of his missing son, an LTTE cadre. She finds a Sinhala solder whom she considers her lost son – again a film about identity issues.

Ratnapriya Bandu’s experience with the Vishvamadu community can be certainly helpful to the ONUR and strengthen its mandate. The officer on secondment to CSD proved that with genuine support from Colombo, the ‘implementing arm’ in the Northern or the Eastern Province can overcome any challenge. Those who had reacted with skepticism at the onset of Ratnapriya Bandu’s second stint with the CSD pointed out to the difficulties that begin in the recruitment process in the post-war Vanni Tiger land. Vishvamadu had been an LTTE bastion considered impregnable until fighting formations converged on the Vanni east front in January 2009. The northerners wept as they realized Ratnapriya Bandu’s untiring and unselfish efforts to improve their lives.

Post-’Tamils Genocide Day’ developments

Ratnapriya Bandu’s effort can easily be called Sri Lanka’s triumph over vicious propaganda meant to deceive the global community. Vishvamadu community shocked the LTTE rump and its sponsors close on the heels of Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran declaration of a ‘Tamil Genocide Day.

Retired Supreme Court justice Wigneswaran on Friday (May 18, 2018) asked Tamils to observe May 18 as ‘Tamil Genocide day’ every year, and sought international support to set up a mechanism that ensures justice for the victims. Wigneswaran, having served the State for several decades, accused Sri Lanka of perpetrating what he called constitutional genocide.

"Though belated, we are positive that the clear conscience of the world community would open up to the reality of the situation and opt to find justice for the genocide practiced here," he said, speaking at the remembrance event held in Mullivaikkal, in Mullaitivu district, to commemorate the anniversary of the end of war.

In February 2015, the Northern Provincial Council passed a strongly-worded resolution accusing different governments at the centre of committing ‘genocide’ against Tamils. The resolution evoked sharp response from politicians in the country’s Sinhala-majority south.

Wigneswaran on Feb. 10, 2015 called for UN probe on genocide of Tamils since 1948 by both UNP and SLFP-led governments.

The Vishvamadu event should be examined against the backdrop of Wigneswaran and Sampanthan, in spite of their differences, stepping up their campaigns. But the people of Vishvamadu, obviously, had delivered them a knockout punch and proved the civilians and the ex-LTTE appreciated government post-war efforts to restore normalcy. The Vanni community underwent tremendous difficulties during the war. There is no point in denying that many civilians perished as a result of combined security forces action directed at the LTTE. The previous government’s ‘zero’ casualty meant that there was no deliberate policy to target civilians as Lord Naseby pointed out to the House of Lords on Oct 12, 2017. Lord Naseby, on the basis of wartime dispatches from the British High Commission in Colombo (January 2009-May 2009) convincingly challenged unsubstantiated UN accusations as regards 40,000 civilian deaths in the Sri Lankan military and a deliberate policy to harm civilians.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government continues to be silent on Lord Naseby’s revelations. For nearly 10 months, the government refrained from taking up the issue with the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) though there is provision for remedial action. Instead of taking advantage of the Vishvamadu event, the government acted as if nothing extraordinary took place on June 10, 2018.

President’s Office and the Foreign Ministry should re-examine the actual ground situation in the North without being guided by the TNA, Western embassies, foreign-funded NGO community and a section of the civil society - all with a biased agenda. Vishvamadu scenes captured and posted by Tamils underscored the success achieved by the military since the conclusion of the war in May 2009. So far (June 15, 2018), five days after the Vishvamadu event, not a single government website posted the images which brought honour to the Army.

Vishvamadu has given Sri Lanka a boost which previous government couldn’t achieve in spite of squandering millions of USD on an expensive US public relations firm. Controversy surrounds the payments made to such enterprises though some even bigger projects were blocked at the last moment due to differences between those promoting the projects and the Sri Lanka embassy in Washington.

Vishvamadu community has declared that it didn’t take lies propagated by some politicians. Those who had raised the possibility of gas attacks on Tamil civilians (former UNP MP Sri Ranga and UPFA National List nominee in 2015), deliberate targeting of hospitals and makeshift hospital facilities, battlefield executions, organized rape never bothered to verify such accusations.

Vishvamadu images have given Sri Lanka new hope to counter lies.

Let me end this piece by reporting what master batsman Kumar Sangakkara said in his hour long "Spirit of Cricket" talk at the July, 2011, Sir Colin Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s.

Having recollected terrorist attack experienced by the Sri Lankan team in Lahore on March 3, 2009, Sangakkara recounted an unforgettable experience he had with a Sri Lanka soldier back at home during the war. Sangakkara told the audience:

"A week after our arrival in Colombo, from Pakistan, I was driving about town and was stopped at a checkpoint. A soldier politely inquired as to my health after the attack. I said I was fine and added that what they as soldiers experience every day we only experienced for a few minutes, but managed to grab all the news headlines. That soldier looked me in the eye and replied: ‘It is OK if I die because it is my job and I am ready for it. But you are a hero and if you were to die it would be a great loss for our country.’ I was taken aback. How can this man value his life less than mine? His sincerity was overwhelming. I felt humbled.

"For them, avoiding bullets, shells, mines and grenades, was imperative for survival. This was an experience that I could not relate to. I had great sympathy and compassion for them, but had no real experience with which I could draw parallels. That was until we toured Pakistan in 2009.

"We all realized what some of our fellow Sri Lankans experienced every day for nearly 30 years. There was a new respect and awe for their courage and selflessness."

Shame on successive governments which failed to take advantage of such statements to justify Sri Lanka’s war against terrorists.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Keshap recalls ‘checking into Colombo very much caught in the teeth of war’



Indeewari Amuwatte interviewing outgoing US Ambassador Keshap. He’ll be replaced by Alaina-B-Teplitz, currently US Ambassador in Kathmandu. The change takes place amidst high profile project to move US court against wartime Sri Lankan Ambassador in Washington, Jaliya Wickremasuriya. Keshap secured Sri Lanka’s consent to US action recently by obtaining an assurance that Wickremasuriya would be deprived of diplomatic immunity. Wickremasuriya is in the US unable to return to Colombo.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

US career Foreign Service Officer, Ambassador Atul Keshap, who oversaw a high-profile project to secure Sri Lanka’s consent to a resolution seen by many here as anti-Sri Lankan on ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ within two months after 2015 August parliamentary election is leaving Colombo, with the operation in the balance.

The whole exercise is in jeopardy due to treasury bond scams involving tainted primary dealer Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) allegedly perpetrated in Feb 2015 and March 2016.

In a record interview @ Hyde Park with Indeewari Amuwatte, shown on Derana 24/7 recently, Keshap, at the onset of the discussion recalled his first visit to Colombo in 2006 though he didn’t indicate the exact month but it was most likely to be after Aug. 2006. In his response to the opening question, Keshap recalled the grim situation in Colombo as the then Rajapaksa administration battled the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Colombo was under siege then.

The LTTE made an abortive bid in Dec 2006 to assassinate wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, now front runner for Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) candidature for the 2020 presidential poll.

Family visit during war

South Asia specialist Indian-American Keshap said: "I had a great time. There were so many memories. I first came here in 2006. And I was here for a very short stay for a conference. I remember landing in Colombo, (read Bandaranaike International Airport) late at night, all the flights come at late at night and it was very dark. There were a lot of checkpoints on the streets on the way into the capital. And checking into the city very much caught in the teeth of war. I remember it was an incredibly beautiful city. In fact, I brought my family back in 2007 for a very brief vacation."

We should be glad the then New Delhi-based diplomat felt comfortable in bringing in his family here during the war.

At the time of his first visit, Keshap had been based in New Delhi as deputy political counselor (2005-2008) and certainly knew what was going on here following the Norwegian failure to prevent the LTTE resuming war.

The LTTE launched eelam war IV with large scale simultaneous assaults in the northern and eastern theaters in the second week of Aug 2006.

Keshap acknowledged that he never thought at that time he would return to Colombo as the US Ambassador. Keshap would also not have envisaged the UNP perpetrating treasury bond scams, thereby jeopardizing a meticulously worked out plan to punish Sri Lanka for crushing the LTTE militarily against the wishes of the West. Keshap leaves Colombo with the UNP in a massive political crisis with some of its lawmakers accused of financially benefiting from those who had been involved in the treasury bond scams. Last week’s revelation of State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe and disgraced CB Governor Arjuna Mahendran receiving Rs 3 mn and 3.2 mn, respectively, embarrassed the yahapalana party.

The US announced Keshap’s appointment on March 26, 2015 in the wake of Michele J. Sison completing her term in Colombo in Dec 2014 ahead of the January 2015 presidential poll. The US played a significant role in the project that brought the Rajapaksa government to an end. The operation was almost similar to the one in support of war-winning Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the January 2010 presidential poll. Fonseka lost the poll badly.

Geneva move

Keshap presented his credentials to President Maithrpala Sirisena on Aug. 21, 2015. Exactly a month later, Keshap was at the informal talks in Geneva where Sri Lanka rejected the draft resolution. The session called by the Core Group pursuing the matter obviously didn’t go as panned. The group comprised the US, the UK, Montenegro and Macedonia.

The then Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha didn’t mince his words when he quite rightly rejected the draft resolution. Sri Lanka accepted an amended resolution though it was essentially the same. The amended resolution was dated Sept. 24, 2015.

Let me reproduce verbatim the sections relating to judicial mechanism in the two draft resolutions: (September 21, 2015 draft resolution) Welcomes the government’s recognition that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, takes note with appreciation of the government of Sri Lanka’s proposal to establish a Judicial Mechanism, with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; and affirms that credible transitional justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for integrity and impartiality; and calls upon the government of Sri Lanka, to involve international investigators, prosecutors and judges in Sri Lanka’s justice processes.

(September 24, 2015 draft resolution) Welcomes the government’s recognition that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, takes note with appreciation of the Government of Sri Lanka’s proposal to establish a Judicial Mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; and affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for integrity and impartiality; and further affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the Special Counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators.

The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, on October 1, 2015, adopted, what it called, a consensus resolution on accountability for the alleged human rights violations during the war.

The 47-member body is divided into five regional groupings. Members are chosen for three-year periods.

Western powers moved three resolutions, targeting Sri Lanka, in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The third resolution demanded an external inquiry into accountability issues. The draft resolution finally adopted in 2015 is largely based on the findings and recommendations made in a report prepared in accordance with the 2014 resolution. The report was prepared by UN staffer, Ms Sandra Beidas, formerly of the Amnesty International.

Having caused terrorism, in Sri Lanka, in the 80s, leading to massive death and destruction, India continues to play the overt role of friendly neighbour. Sri Lanka lacked the courage at least to make a reference to India’s despicable role during the Geneva sessions since the contentious issue of Sri Lanka’s accountability was included in the UNHRC’s agenda.

Post-war treachery

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government fully cooperated with the US and its allies hell-bent on proving the previous administration guilty on unsubstantiated war crimes charges. The US State Department ignored what its wartime Defence attache Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith said in Colombo in early June 2011. Smith is on record as having denied specific allegation pertaining to the execution of surrendering LTTE cadres and their families in May 2009 a.k.a ‘white flag case.’

Keshap did well in his first ambassadorial appointment. He ensured that Lt. Col. Smith’s explosive was never ever taken up and the Geneva Resolution proposed on allegations never examined at any level and protected by confidentiality clause until 2031, adopted without a vote.

It is certainly not fare to find fault with Keshap for in doing his job of pursuing US objectives regardless of consequences for the host country.

The US simply ignored revelations made in the British House of Lords in Oct 2017 on the basis of wartime dispatches of Lt. Col. Anton Gash, British counterpart of Lt. Col. Smith. In fact, the assertions made by Colombo-based British and US military attaches seemed to be alike and Amb. Keshap description of Colombo at the onset of the eelam war IV highlighted the LTTE threat on the city, a city under siege.

South Korean experience

Recently, it transpired that Colombo was so much under threat that South Korea seriously considered closing down its mission here during the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency. Current South Korean Ambassador Heon LEE had been here at the time the LTTE stormed the BIA and made an abortive bid to assassinate Kumaratunga at the final 1999 presidential polls campaign rally at the Town Hall grounds. On the same day, at Ja-Ela, north of Colombo, the LTTE assassinated retired Maj. Gen. Lucky Algama, who was campaigning for the UNP. Heon LEE was a junior diplomat at that time.

Keshap couldn’t have been unaware of the LTTE-Tamil National Alliance (TNA) partnership as he was based in New Delhi and how the latter unashamedly represented LTTE interests, both in and outside parliament. Having stood by the LTTE until the very end, the TNA emerged as the first Northern Province administration in Sept. 2013 under the leadership of retired Supreme Court judge C.V. Wigneswaran. The LTTE and the TNA reached a consensus in late 2001 and they pursued a common agenda until the previous government annihilated the former on the Vanni front.

It would be pertinent to discuss a tripartite understanding involving Sri Lanka, the US and the TNA reached ahead of Keshap presenting his credentials to President Sirisena on Aug 21, 2015. The public wouldn’t have known about this agreement if not for TNA Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran’s declaration at a Congressional caucus briefing on June 14, 2016.

The event was moderated by Sadanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank. The Caucus is an initiative launched by United States Congressmen Bill Johnson of Ohio and Democratic Danny Davis of Illinois, in November, 2013.

On behalf of the TNA, its spokesperson and Jaffna District parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran told a ‘Congressional Caucus for Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka’ in Washington that the government of Sri Lanka, the TNA and the US had been involved in the negotiations leading to the agreement.

Sumanthiran in Washington

Let me reproduce the section of Sumanthiran’s speech verbatim that specifically dealt with the US intervention. That part was headlined ‘On the role of the US.’ Sumanthiran said: "I think the US has played a very significant role already in the resolutions that it mooted in the UN Human Rights Council encouraging changes, and therefore must continue to play that role. It is true that there has been a significant change, a monumental change as described by the Ambassador, but the foot must not be taken off the pedal too early. For the simple reason that we have seen change, as a result of some pressure, some encouragement, some nudging and those must continue. Our plea to the US government would be don’t express satisfaction too early as there is still a lot to do during that phase."

Sumanthiran was there referring to a statement made by the then Sri Lankan Ambassador to Washington Prasad Kariyawasam (currently Foreign Secretary). For want of a cohesive strategy Sri Lanka pathetically failed to present its case, thereby allowing the Tamil Diaspora to exploit the US system for their advantage. Sirisena-Wickremesinghe simply ignored the circumstances leading to the formation of the Congressional caucus in Nov 2013, four years after the conclusion of the war in Sri Lanka. The Diaspora never ever examined the possibility of the LTTE being defeated on the northern front though they suffered some setbacks on that front. However, following their defeat, the Diaspora worked overtime to win US public sympathy. They felt the need to secure the support of the public, lawmakers and interest groups to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It would be pertinent to mention that the UK and Europe based Diaspora by then had formed the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and were pursuing a well funded campaign against Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, the foolish Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government did nothing to counter anti-Sri Lanka propaganda projects, both here and overseas. The government was busy humiliating the previous administration responsible for unparallelled victory over terrorism.

Congressman visits Kilinochchi

The Diaspora had a way with politicians. They used selected British and Canadian politicians as well as US Congressman Danny Davies, who had been involved in the formation of the Congressional Caucus for Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka’was one of those tainted politicos to visit LTTE held Vanni in the run-up to the eelam war. Davies visited Kilinochchi in April 2005, ahead of the parliamentary and presidential polls. The late TNA MP Joseph Pararajasingham accompanied Davies when the US citizen visited Kilinochchi-Mullaitivu region. Davies met the then head of Tamileelam police P. Nadesan in Kilinochchi where preparations were being made to overwhelm Sri Lanka, at both political and military fronts.

Outgoing US Ambassador Keahap, in his interview with Derana 24/7 discussed a range of issues, including the Geneva Resolution and post 2015 January developments.

Sri Lanka, during Keshap’s tenure created history by being the only country to co-sponsor a Resolution against its own armed forces on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Sri Lanka received Keshap’s praise for its treacherous act. In responding to Amuwatte, Keshap praised what he called leadership given by the government in 2015 and 2017 ‘in joining hands with the US and with well intending international partners, including the UN, to co-sponsor a resolution that talked about the bright vision of the voters of the country for a reconciled, peaceful and happy Sri Lanka.’

However, there was absolutely no reference to significant US investments here in support of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration. US investments, ranging from post-January 2015 presidential poll USD 3.4 mn to far bigger ‘donations’ made in support of high profile project to bring the Rajapaksa administration to an end as revealed by the US State Department. The US categorized Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Burma as ‘democracy projects’ that received USD 585 mn during 2015.

The US embassy ignored The Island request to reveal the exact amount allocated for Sri Lanka. In addition to that during Keshap’s tenure US finalized a three-year project in late 2016 with parliament to strengthen democratic reforms et al. Sri Lanka ignored US efforts to weaken Sri Lanka by promoting those who sought to divide the country on ethnic lines by bringing in a new Constitution or at least diluting executive powers. Having enacted 19th Amendment to the Constitution in April 2015, the US is working overtime to assist the TNA efforts. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka lacked vision to counter these projects meant to destabilize the country.

Ongoing controversy over US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell’s strategy never received the attention of our political parties struggling to cope up with treasury bond scam revelations and other projects near and dear to them.

The international media reported demands that German leader Angela Merkel expel the American top diplomat in the country, who was recently quoted as having said that he was working to "strengthen" right-wing political movements in Europe.

The German foreign ministry has said it had "asked the US side for clarification" after the card-carrying Republican indicated readiness to intervene in European politics – a massive breach of diplomatic protocol.

Here, foreign envoys can get away with anything.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018





Dharmasena Welipitiya captured Gotabhaya Rajapaksa leaving the podium after addressing Viyathmaga Convention 2018 on May 13, 2018 at Shangri-la, Colombo.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Ravaya and Annida (Day After Tomorrow) edited by attorney-at-law K. W. Janaranjana, former editor of Ravaya, recently dealt with the possibility of war-winning Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa contesting the 2020 presidential election. In fact, both Ravaya and Annida allocated significant space to the contentious issue of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa entering the presidential race, following the Viyathmaga Convention 2018 at Colombo’s latest five-star hotel Shangri-La on the evening of May 13, 2018.

Civil society activist Janaranjana, co-convenor of Purawesi Balaya launched the new publication after having quit Ravaya over personal differences with the founder editor Victor Ivan, a former senior active member of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) during its first attempt to overthrow the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s government in April, 1971. In spite of the break-up, Ravaya and the breakaway faction are continuing courageous journalism with no holds barred on their criticism of the government and the Joint Opposition (JO).

The possibility of Gajaba Regiment veteran Rajapaksa securing the nomination from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) seemed to have aroused many. With former External Affairs Minister and SLPP Chairman, Prof. G.L. Peiris, repeatedly declaring that it would contest the next parliamentary and presidential poll under its symbol, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa appeared to be the front runner though the breakaway SLFP-led UPFA faction (read JO) is still struggling to comprehend the reality.

Civil society activist, Sunanda Deshapriya, in his latest piece titled Gotabhaya Perahera (Procession of Gotabhaya) in the June 3, 2018, edition of Ravaya, lucidly discussed the former Defence Secretary’s strategy. Before proceeding, it would be pertinent to mention that Sunanda is the brother of Mahinda Deshapriya, outspoken Chairman of the National Election Commission (NEC), who is full brave talk, but short on action by his NEC when it comes to holding polls on time. 

Alleging that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had been backed by retired military top brass (Sunanda named retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera and retired Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne as key supporters, in addition to Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila), the civil society activist asserted that the Rajapaksa Group believed (1) the national issue did not require a political settlement based on the devolution of power (II) economic development is the panacea for the country’s problems and that war crimes weren’t perpetrated during the war (Aug 2006-May 2009) (III) continuation of waste, corruption and irregularities in the public sector.

Referring to President Maithripala Sirisena’s May 30, 2018 declaration that he wasn’t even aware of the much touted 100-day yahapalana programme, Sunanda alleged the SLFP leader was facilitating the Rajapaksa project.

He alleged that the treasury bond scams, involving tainted primary dealer Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) in 2015 and 2016, had led to the current political crisis, with President Sirisena flaying the UNP. 

Declaring Wickremesinghe would suffer a heavy defeat in case he contested the 2020 presidential poll, the long standing NGO lobbyist insisted that whatever the issues caused by Wickremesinghe and his henchmen, President Sirisena had no right to cause political mayhem. Sunanda Deshapriya strongly criticized President Sirisena for distancing himself from the 100-day programme. But, what really captured the attention of the reader was Sunanda’s assessment on Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s presidential bid. 

Claiming that the JO rejection of the JVP proposed 20th Amendment, meant to further weaken the executive presidency, indicated the breakaway SLFP-led UPFA faction was ready to throw its weight behind the younger Rajapaksa, Sunanda asserted: "Whether Mahinda Rajapaksa liked it or not Gotabhaya will be the SLPP presidential candidate. The US is the main factor that can thwart Gotabhaya. If the US bureaucracy delayed decision on Gotabhaya’s request to rescind his US citizenship, his presidential dream cannot be realized. In the final analysis, Gotabhaya’s political fate will be in the hands of US imperialists to decide whether to allow Gotabhaya to proceed."

In accordance with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in April 2015, those with dual citizenship cannot contest either presidential or parliamentary polls. Interestingly, those loyal to twice President and Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, voted for that Amendment. The only exception was Digamadulla MP Sarath Weerasekera.

Newly appointed SLFP National Organizer Duminda Dissanayake and UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam on Monday (June 4) declared President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe as their presidential candidates, respectively, at the 2020 poll. Cabinet spokesman Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, too, have declared their readiness to contest on the UNP ticket.

A crucial US visit amidst fresh crisis

 An irate President Sirisena couldn’t have carried out such a venomous assault on Wickremesinghe at a worse time. Although, there had been public criticism of the UNP and its top leadership since nominations for the Feb 10, 2018 Local Government polls, President Sirisena advanced his strategy to a new level. Angry over alleged UNP strategy to humiliate him vis-a-vis the statesmanship of re-elected Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamed and deliberately leaving him out of a commemorative event to mark the birth anniversary of yahapalana architect the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, President Sirisena went all out against Wickremesinghe.

Earlier in the day, President Sirisena received a bipartisan delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives led by Congressman Mac Thornberry (Republican – Texas), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

The visit highlighted the broad bipartisan support for Sri Lanka in the U.S. Congress. The powerful Committee is responsible for the supervision of the Department of Defence and the armed forces and sections of the Department of Energy.

During the visit, the delegation met President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya, Leader of the Opposition and Tamil National Alliance R. Sampanthan, State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene, Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam, Defense Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne, members of Parliament, and civil society.

The high level US visit took place in the wake of unprecedented simmering crisis over some members of parliament receiving money from Walt and Row Associates, affiliated to the disgraced PTL in the run-up to the 2015 Aug parliamentary polls. The US obviously realizes high profile project undertaken by the international community (read as US and its allies, including India) to change the 1978 Constitution is in jeopardy due to continuing crisis caused by the treasury bond scams. The US wouldn’t have envisaged for a moment, the UNP ‘storming’ the Central Bank, twice, over a year apart, thereby undermined the meticulously planned project.

Having galvanized the electorate, on the basis of alleged massive corruption, during the Rajapaksa era, the US is in a deeply embarrassing position as the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government struggles to cope up with the treasury bond scam revelations. With civil society activist Keerthi Tennakoon, executive director Human Rights and Research Sri Lanka, vowing to reveal the names of all PTL beneficiaries, including religious leaders, the yahapalana government is in disarray. Another high profile US project to promote good governance and accountability in Sri Lanka, finalised in Nov 2016, should be re-examined against the backdrop of corruption charges directed at lawmakers representing various political parties. The US declaration that the three-year Strengthening of Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) would improve strategic planning and communication within the government and Parliament, enhance public outreach, develop more effective policy reform and implementation processes, and increase political participation of women and under-represented groups in Parliament and at local levels seemed hallow in the wake of recent revelations.

With the yahapalana administration in shambles, the US spearheaded political project is in serious trouble though the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) seems to be still confident it can be pulled off. 

It would be prudent to examine the US response to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s possible entry into active politics. Another Ravaya article, carried in its June 3 edition, by Tiran Kumara Bangamaarachchi, also discussed the former Defence Secretary’s strategy as well as that of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Bangamaarachchi explained the circumstances under which Gotabhaya Rajapaksa recently visited the predominately Muslim Beruwela and Wickremesinghe toured the Jaffna peninsula and Kilinochchi. In spite of being severely critical of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s role during the Rajapaksa administration, the writer acknowledged that at the moment he was the most popular person in Sri Lankan politics. Bangamaarachchi asserted that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was surpassing Mahinda Rajapaksa’s popularity and a specific strategy was being implemented to achieve that status.

The US response to the rapidly developing political situation should be examined, keeping in mind how the solitary super power threw its weight behind retired General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 January presidential poll. Thanks to Wiki Leaks, the US role in getting R. Sampanthan’s TNA to back Fonseka, after having accused his army of war crimes on the Vanni east front in 2009, is in the public domain. However, Fonseka suffered a heavy defeat against Mahinda Rajapaksa, who secured 57.8 per cent of the vote against Sarath Fonseka’s 40 per cent.

At the time of the 2010 January contest, Sarath Fonseka hadn’t even registered himself as a voter and was unable to vote. The state-run media exploited Fonseka’s lapse during the last phase of the voting when it emerged the former Army Commander could not vote at the crucial poll. Recently, Fonseka declared in Kandy his readiness to contest the 2020 presidential election if his party (read as UNP) chose him. Having contested the last parliamentary poll on the Democratic Party (DP) ticket, Fonseka entered parliament through the UNP National List in early 2016, following the vacancy created by the demise of M.K.D.S. Gunawardena on January 19, 2016. Fonseka’s declaration should be examined against the backdrop of several key Uppers such as Mangala Samaraweera and Akila Viraj Kariyawasam naming Wickremesinghe as their presidential candidate. However, the civil society seemed to have written Wickremesinghe off. In an interview with Ravaya carried in its April 29 edition, Fonseka when asked whether he would be the one to face Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in case the former Defence Secretary contested 2020 presidential poll, said: "Gotabhaya will contest, if he was not arrested for wrongs committed by him. In case he came forward, the best person to face him must emerge from the people and the party. It’ll happen. I’m not saying that should be me. We’ll have to see what is happening."

TNA-US agenda  

Regardless of the political upheaval, the TNA and the US reiterated their commitment for a new Constitution. They seemed to be still confident of their project though the ground situation is deteriorating with President Sirisena taking on Premier Wickremesinghe. Why did Ambassador Keshap arrange a meeting between the visiting House Armed Services Committee representatives and the TNA as the former cannot be involved in the post-war political situation here. Although, brief US embassy statement didn’t say what they discussed, the TNA issued a detailed report on the deliberations. 

The TNA statement revealed how Sampanthan had conveniently turned a blind eye to the rapidly deteriorating relationship between President Sirisena and Wickremesinghe and the growing challenge to his position as the Opposition Leader by the Joint Opposition.

"Sampanthan briefed the US delegation on the current political situation and emphasized the importance of both the President and Prime Minister working together in order to find solutions to fundamental issues and taking this country forward. We are unhappy about the way the country is progressing," the statement quoted Sampanthan as having told the delegation.

The veteran leader was also quoted as having said: "the majority of the people in this country are willing to address the national issue once and for all. What is lacking is that the courage from the Sinhala leaders to go out to the people and explicitly tell them on the need for a new Constitution and the benefits of framing a new Constitution, he said. "Some Sinhala political leaders are trying to satisfy the hardliners than being just and equal to all people in this country, they cannot go on this path forever, it will only end up in history being repeated," Sampanthan warned.

Sampanthan said: "Especially the President and the Prime Minister must go to the Sinhala people and genuinely explain the need for a new Constitution. Since 1988 every successive government and President have made several attempts to change the present Constitution, therefore, this should not be a difficult task for the majority of Sinhala people to understand.

 "We want a solution within a united undivided and indivisible country. The power-sharing arrangements should be in accordance with the international covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Expressing his concerns on the stalled process of drafting a new Constitution, Sampanthan said that a New Constitution would pave the way to solve many issues that this country had faced including the heavy debt and economic crisis, and therefore this effort could not be abandoned.

Sampanthan told the US delegation that the legitimate demands of the Tamil people in finding a lasting solution to the national question could only be addressed through adopting a new Constitution. 

Sampanthan highlighted that his party was confident that if the Constitution was passed in Parliament with a two-thirds majority it would be approved by the people at a referendum, which was necessary for a new Constitution he said.

"We may have to rethink and our people will be forced to rethink our position if things do not go well and if things are not achieved within a certain time frame."

Sampanthan reminded the delegation that the Government of Sri Lanka has given a Commitment to fully implement the UNHRC resolution adopted in 2015 before March 2019. They must fast-track their process to achieve those commitments.

Sampanthan urged the delegation that the role of the International community with regard to Sri Lanka must be defined in relation to the UNHRC recommendations. The International community must ensure that the promises and the commitments given by the Sri Lankan Government are adhered to and implemented. The International community cannot be a spectator anymore with regard to Sri Lanka, if the government of Sri Lanka continues to fail in their commitments the international community must clearly state their position on their follow up mechanisms to safeguard the victims and ensure the non-recurrence of the past.

Although, the US embassy statement did refer to Mac Thornberry’s delegation meeting with civil society, the discussions are not in the public domain. But, it is not too hard to fathom at least one issue that had come up in the discussion and possible remedial action. As always, US strategy here will be primarily based on its permanent interests.

In early March, 2007, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa faciliated the Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement (ACSA) between the US and Sri Lanka which provides for among other things logistics supplies and re-fuelling facilities though a section of the Rajapaksa administration opposed it. The 2007 agreement, finalized at the onset of the Vanni campaign that brought an end to terrorism here, highlighted the importance of bilateral relations between the two countries.