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.