Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Lanka a theater for US-led coalition ‘battle’ against China

A Japanese warning...




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera’s recently concluded visits to the China-run Hambantota port as well as the strategic Trincomalee port should be examined against the backdrop of growing US-Japan-India alliance meant to counter China.

Onodera arrived here following a two-day visit to New Delhi where two key US allies reiterated their commitment to further strengthen relations at all levels. Interestingly, as Onodera left New Delhi to begin his historic Sri Lanka visit, Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe arrived there for a critically important four-day visit.

The media raised Onodera’s impending visit to Sri Lanka immediately after the conclusion of talks with Indian leaders. Onodera’s briefing took place at the Taj Diplomatic Enclave. The media raised only one question as regards Japan-Sri Lanka relations.

Question: After this, you will travel to Sri Lanka and visit the Port of Hambantota. What is the purpose and significance of this visit by the Defense Minister of Japan to a port built and operated by China?

Minister: Actually, this will be the first time that the Defense Minister of Japan will be visiting Sri Lanka. Hence, as a defense minister, I think that it is very important to build a relationship with Sri Lanka, which is a particularly important location in the "free and open Indo-Pacific Strategy." In particular, since SDF (Self Defence Force) ships regularly enter the ports of Trincomalee and Hambantota, I would like to also to visit and inspect these locations as ports that SDF ships enter into.

 Having visited the Colombo, Trincomalee and Hambantota ports, Onodera declared that the Hambantota port, situated in the busy east-west shipping route, should be free of military activity. Obviously, Japan is seriously concerned about China exploiting its 99-year lease of the port secured under controversial circumstances. Having opposed the Chinese take-over of Hambantota during the previous Rajapaksa administration, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo had no option but to conclude an agreement with Beijing.

Onodera was certainly speaking on behalf of the strategic US-Japan-India alliance struggling to cope up with the growing Chinese influence, in spite of the change of the Rajapaksa government in January 2015.

 The strategic US-led alliance has adopted a common approach towards Sri Lanka vis-a-vis Colombo’s relationship with Beijing. Onodera’s unprecedented declaration that the Hambantota port shouldn’t be used for military activity surprised many. The Japanese defence chief wouldn’t have said so without specific consensus among members of the US-led coalition. India never made such a public declaration though New Delhi repeatedly urged Sri Lanka, over the years, to give up its relationship with China.

 Since the change of government, in January 2015, Japan enhanced defence sector cooperation with Sri Lanka, in accordance with the US-led overall strategy to hinder Chinese ‘operations’ here. Onodera’s visit followed the 3rd Sri Lanka–Japan Dialogue on Maritime Security, Safety and Oceanic Issues held in July at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Colombo.

The Dialogue forms an important pillar of cooperation, envisaged in the Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Partnership between the two countries, concluded during the official visit of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to Japan in 2015.

Onodera’s visits to the Colombo, Trincomalee and Hambantota ports, as well as China taking Sri Lanka’s newest facility, dominated the media conference given by SLFP spokesman and Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe last week. Samarasinghe stoutly defended Japanese interest in maritime matters with the focus on Hambantota port. Samarasinghe didn’t find fault with Onodera for unanticipated declaration that Hambantota should be free of military activity. Samarasinghe explained that in spite of China having Hambantota on a 99-year-lease, warships visits would be regulated through the government.

China enhances its influence

 Those opposed to Sri Lanka’s relationship with China had conveniently forgotten that China invested in Hanbantota at a time the Rajapaksa government was certainly not sure whether it could sustain the combined security forces offensive until the war could be brought to a successful conclusion. The Chinese threw its weight behind the Hambantota project though Western powers and India objected. Whether Western powers like it or not, obviously, Sri Lanka figures in overall Chinese strategy.

 Thanks to Wiki leaks, we are aware of the discussion in New Delhi, on the Hambantota port, even before the construction of the inland port got underway, in January 2008. Sri Lanka and China inaugurated the port’s first stage in Nov 2010.

The following is the relevant section of the US diplomatic cable that dealt with the April 26, 2007, meeting the New Delhi–based US diplomat had with the then Joint Secretary, at the External Affairs Ministry Mohan Kumar. Having functioned as the Desk Officer in charge of the Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (1990-1992), Kumar received the appointment as Deputy High Commissioner, in Colombo, in late 2001.  Kumar had taken up the Hambantota port issue with the US official, in his capacity as head of the division that handled relations with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Kumar has discussed stepped up Indian Navy patrols in the waters between India and Sri Lanka and expressed concern over Chinese involvement in the Hambantota port project. Kumar has also bitterly complained about Chinese taking advantage of the situation in Burma, at the expense of India.

The following is the section on the Hambantota port: "The situation in Sri Lanka is "bad, really bad – beyond bleak" in Kumar’s judgment. Characterizing the government and the LTTE as two sets of people with scant regard for the international community, Kumar was skeptical that political progress could be achieved anytime soon. He confirmed reports that the Indian Navy had stepped up patrols in the Palk Strait, and said that India and Sri Lanka were doing coordinated patrolling to prevent the smuggling of weapons from the Tamil Nadu coast. Kumar said it would be helpful to get the American assessment of the port being built in Hambantota, which he estimated China was willing to spend $500 million to help develop. He noted that China had increased its influence with President Rajapaksa, opining that Rajapaksa had a "soft spot" for China following his visit to Beijing on March 9." 

The US worked overtime to oust the Rajapaksas to break Sri Lanka’s relationship with China. Those who resented growing Chinese influence here appreciated the US initiative. The US project went awry, in 2010, with their choice, retired General Sarath Fonseka suffering a heavy defeat at the presidential poll. Having failed to oust Rajapaksa, in spite of ensuring that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) support to Fonseka, Western powers and their allies, including India, succeeded at the January 2015 presidential poll. However, they appeared to have failed to thwart major Chinese projects here.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has been compelled to defend and praise Chinese projects after having flayed China in the run up to the presidential and general elections, in January and August, 2015, respectively.

Interestingly, the Chinese made an abortive bid to win over former President Rajapaksa’s support for its Hambantota project. Although Rajapaksa Accompanied by former External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris visited Beijing, where they discussed the impending agreement, they failed to reach consensus with Rajapaksa declaring that he would extend his support only if China and yahapalana government followed the original agreement on Hambantota. India repeatedly pressed Sri Lanka to halt the Chinese projects.

After the change of government, wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa revealed how Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval pressed him to halt the major Chinese projects here. India wanted the USD 1.4 bn Chinese flagship project – Colombo Port City halted. India also demanded that Sri Lanka take over Colombo International Container Terminals Limited (CICT), a joint venture between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (CMPH) and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). CMPH holds 85% of the partnership whilst the balance 15% is being held by SLPA. India wanted all major Chinese-funded infrastructure projects stopped and for Sri Lanka to have full control of the Hambantota port.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told the writer that Doval once told him: "Sri Lanka is a small country, you don’t need such development projects."

The bottom line is that in spite of the US-led efforts meant to jeopardize the Beijing project, China remains entrenched in Colombo over three years after the change of government. Although, Sri Lanka antagonized China by turning down at least one submarine visit, the China mission remains on track.

China-Mahinda relationship

 One-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1997-2000) Shivshankar Menon in Oct, 2016 launched Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy, signaled that New Delhi had reason to want a change of government in Sri Lanka due to the then President Rajapaksa going back on his pledge in respect of Sri Lanka-China relations.

Menon accused former President Rajapaksa of breaking his solemn pledge, in May 2014, five years after the successful conclusion of the conflict. Obviously, the former President had earned the wrath of India for following a path which New Delhi believed threatened its security interests. Menon assertion that Sri Lanka is an aircraft carrier parked 14 miles off the Indian coast clearly showed New Delhi’s serious concerns regarding Sri Lanka being too close to China.

Menon, who had been India’s National Security Advisor, from January, 2011, to May, 2014, refrained from revealing a specific incident/or incidents which revealed Sri Lanka’s duplicity in May 2014. The incumbent Ajit Doval succeeded Menon.

Having commented on the conduct of former President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Menon accused Sri Lanka of reneging on bilateral understanding with India. Menon directly alleged that the former President received Chinese funds for his political campaigns, and projects. The veteran diplomat didn’t indicate when the war-winning President first received Chinese funding.

Let me report verbatim the relevant section from the Chapter on Sri Lanka, titled ‘Force works’: "I found that as Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya, had a clear view of Sri Lanka’s interests, one that was compatible with ours. Immediately after the war, he reassured the Indian troika (National Security Advisor M.K. Narayan, Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon) about the nature of Sri Lanka’s defence relationship with China, and helped Indian companies re-enter the reconstruction of Colombo. Security was Gotabhaya’s sole preoccupation, which made him sensitive to India’s concerns, while his brother Mahinda was much more compliant with Chinese demands, having built a political machine on Chinese money. The basic assurances that Gotabhaya and, more reluctantly, Mahinda Rajapaksa gave us were that India’s security interests would be respected and that there would be no surprises in Sri Lanka’s relations with China. In detailed conversations I was assured that there would be no permanent Chinese military presence in Sri Lanka and that Sri Lanka would look to India for most of its military training and intelligence needs. These assurances were respected, in practice, by the Sri Lankans, until May 2014. At no stage exclusivity sought or promised. And, realistically speaking, it would be unreasonable to expect exclusivity."

China woos Prez Sirisena

 A recent New York Times reportage of the handing over of the Hambantota port by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to the Chinese and the Rajapaksas reaction to the NYT captured media attention. The UNP took up the issue of China funding the Rajapaksa bid to secure a third term, in 2015, to the tune of USD 7.6 mn. In addition, the media reported the then SLFP strongman Economic Affairs Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s wife Pushpa securing Chinese funding way back in 2012. The UNP raised the Chinese funding issue in parliament. The Joint Opposition hit back by raising the US-funding political projects in 2015 to change governments in Myanmar, Nigeria and Sri Lanka. Former US Secretary of State John Kerry has revealed the utilization of US taxpayers’ money amounting to USD 585 mn to carry out those political projects. The amount spent in Sri Lanka remains confidential.

The Colombo International Container Terminals Limited (CICT) had no option but to accept that it made a donation of millions of rupees to a private fund linked to Rajapaksa family amid allegations that the Chinese funded the former President’s failed re-election bid.

The CICT acknowledged it paid nearly 20 million rupees to the Pushpa Rajapaksa Foundation as part of the company’s "corporate social responsibility."

Against a simmering row over Chinese funding of the Rajapaksa political campaign, President Sirisena, at the recent launch of the Moragahakanda-Kalu Ganga project revealed Chinese President Xi Jinping offering him Yuan 2 bn (Rs 48,000 mn or USD 300 mn) for a project of his choosing. The revelation was made in the presence of Chinese Ambassador Cheng Xueyuan and other members of the diplomatic community. The Island raised the issue at the SLFP briefing last week. SLFP spokesman Mahinda Samarasinghe responded that the Chinese funding can be utilized to improve the living standards of the people regardless of where they lived in. Samarasinghe acknowledged that perhaps it was the biggest such donation received by a foreign government. A smiling minister admitted that he hadn’t heard of a similar donation.

With the next presidential and parliamentary polls scheduled for 2019 and 2020, respectively, the utilization of mega Chinese funding can be crucial. Let me compare the funding made available by the UNP-led government to implement the ongoing Gamparaliya, enterprise Sri Lanka and related projects and the Chinese funding. State Finance and Media Media Minister Eran Wickremaratne last week explained how the government intended to spend Rs 8,000 mn for accelerated development projects over the next two years.  But, President Sirisena has a staggering Rs 48,000 mn at his command, courtesy China, for projects beneficial to the long suffering people.

The US-led combine and the Chinese had made available a range of specific concessions to Sri Lanka to enhance their influence. India funded a special village construction project in memory of yahapalana architect Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha on a request from Sri Lanka Parliament. The Rs 300 mn project is the first of its kind here whereas China funded about 150 lawmakers of current parliament visiting China in batches. China also provided computers to parliamentarians and lawmakers over a year ago.

China has faced opposition to a large scale post-war northern housing project promoted by UNP Minister D.M. Swaminathan. There is speculation that India may have influenced Tamil National Alliance (TNA) opposition to the project, now stuck at the Cabinet.

The TNA’s current role should be studied, having taken into consideration its deplorable past. The TNA is a combination of political parties (Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi and the Tamil United Liberation Front) and former India sponsored terrorist groups, TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF). The TULF subsequently quit the grouping ahead of the TNA throwing its weight behind war-winning Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka at the January 2010 presidential poll by joining the UNP-led coalition that included the JVP. The same coalition worked together for Maithripala Sirisena’s victory at the last presidential poll. On both occasions, that alliance, backed by the US, contested under the Swan symbol. The US, as part its overall strategy to weaken Chinese hold on Sri Lanka, is engaged in a costly project here.  As pointed out by the writer on many occasions, political alliances, political parties, NGOs, civil society as well as the media had benefited by US funding. The US and Sri Lanka owed taxpayers here and over there an explanation how USD 585 mn was spent in the run up to the last presidential polls in January 2015 as well as in Myanmar and Nigeria. Sri Lanka is also owed an explanation how USD 3.4 mn was spent here between presidential polls and parliamentary polls in January and February 2015.

Foreign powers influencing national polls and even national referendum are not isolated situations in global politics today. The last US presidential election, as well as the recently concluded US role in former Pakistani cricket great Imran’s Khan’s victory at the election, are example with Russia accused of facilitating Trump’s victory whereas the US is accused of throwing its weight behind Khan. Foreign powers will meddle in the forthcoming Sri Lanka national elections in a big way. Hope those struggling to cope up with Western and Indian interference remember, accountability issues are nothing but tools to undermine the Rajapaksas and the military and their MAIN concern China, now engaged in a trade war with the US. Sri Lanka is one of the theaters for US-led coalition’s strategic battle with China. That is the undeniable truth.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

A controversial post-war national reconciliation project



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobitha thera recently flayed the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) over the launch of a radio drama series meant to promote post-war national reconciliation. Alleging the radio drama series ridiculed and undermined Buddhist values, Ven. Sobitha blamed twice President (1994-2005) and Chairperson of ONUR Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga for the controversial initiative. The former leader of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and former JHU lawmaker referred to some of those controversial ONUR-sponsored radio programmes in the new drama series. Alleging such campaigns hurt the feelings of the Buddhists, the Ven thera asserted that national reconciliation could not be achieved by such vilifying projects.

The Ven thera attacked ONUR at a public event at Embilipitiya. Subsequently, ‘Derana’ which exclusively reported Ven thera’s original statement last Saturday (Aug. 18) on Sunday claimed the suspension of Kumaratunga’s initiative. ‘Derana’ reported Ven thera taking up the ONUR issue with Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC.

Before further discussing post-war national reconciliation efforts and other developments, let me reproduce a statement, headlined ‘New Radio Drama Series launched by ONUR’ posted on the ONUR website on Aug 14, 2018. Ven. Sobitha responded to the following ONUR statement: "The Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) has launched a radio drama series to help develop people reflect on issues related to national unity, empower them to be creative, and to encourage critical thinking of day-to-day issues faced in communities.

"The radio drama series, titled "Kanata Paharak", produced by ONUR, is directed by Award-Winning Script Writer and Director Malaka Dewapriya. Apart from the Saturday Night broadcasting of the radio dramas, through ITN radio, ONUR expects to broaden the coverage and promotion of the radio dramas by sharing the episodes with the listeners through CDs, Downloadable YouTube content and through Podcasts.

"At a time where it seems that with the advent of television and film, the trend of radio plays is lost, ONUR hopes that this initiative will contribute towards a positive dialogue in the society. People have come to believe that television and film is superior, that the power of visual language is superior and more powerful, but it is also a known fact that when it comes to developing imagination, creativity, critical thinking and aesthetic knowledge, radio plays have been identified as an influential medium.

The collection in ‘Kanata Parak’ includes twelve episodes including 10 Sinhala language and 2 Tamil language plays. The titles of the radio dramas are captioned in very engaging themes such as "Tharuwan Saranai (Blessed by Star)", ‘Nihon Sepalebewa’ (May you attend comfort worldly life in Nihon)", "Alayaka Damanaya (Love Tamed)", Nirabhishekana (Felicitation)", "Nirwasthran Paraman Sukhan (being Naked is the best policy)", "Funsalak", Roma Ruupana (Perform in Rome)", "Suwadena Agni (Soothing Fire)", "Rangadena Kapuwo (Trickster Matchmakers)", Ekathana Kerakuma (Stagnation)", "Nawanalu Dahama (Tele Actor)", and "Bashmaanthara (interaction)".

The high profile ONUR project coincided with the launch of the countrywide ‘Ahanna’ programme, launched by the Ministry of Finance and Mass Media and the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM). The ‘Ahanna’ project is meant to address tensions among communities. The project got underway with programmes at Dehiwela and Panadura on Aug 8 and 9 respectively and now available at the Finance and Mass Media Ministry’s Youtube channel.

There cannot be any dispute over special projects to promote national reconciliation and also address communal issues. Recent communal violence, at Digana and adjoining villages, in early March 2018, close on the heels of unprovoked attacks on Muslims, in Ampara, underscored the importance of special projects to promote harmony among communities. However, the recently launched government initiatives ‘Kanata Paharak’ and ‘Ahanna’ should be examined against the backdrop of yahapalana administration’s failure to take meaningful measures to convince the Tamil community that the previous government never deliberately targeted the Vanni population.

TNA’s ‘support’ to Mahinda R

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. Unfortunately, the war-winning government couldn’t secure the support of the Illankai Thamil Arusu Kadchi (ITAK) to address grievances of those directly affected by the war. Under R. Sampanthan’s leadership, the TNA played a significant role in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory at the Nov 2005 presidential election. In fact, both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its proxy, TNA, ensured Rajapaksa’s victory at the expense of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Had the northern electorate exercised its franchise freely, Wickremesinghe could have comfortably won the presidency. Whatever the hidden agenda, the monstrous LTTE-TNA combine pursued at that time; the grouping never envisaged a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Probably, the LTTE-TNA combine believed Rajapaksa lacked political skill and expertise required to face a massive military onslaught. Those who had claimed there had been a secret agreement between Rajapaksa and the LTTE to facilitate the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory at the 2005 presidential poll, should explain why Velupillai Prabhakaran resumed devastating claymore mine attacks in early Dec 2005. In January, 2006, the LTTE blew up a Fast Attack Craft (FAC) off Trincomalee. The LTTE gradually stepped up pressure on the military, leading to a suicide attempt on the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka within the Army Headquarters, in April 2006. In June, 2006, the LTTE blocked Mavil aru in the eastern Trincomalee district. An all-out war seemed inevitable. But, the TNA convinced of the LTTE’s military prowess and Western powers too remained silent, thereby allowing the situation to develop. The Rajapaksas’ however, remained convinced they could somehow reach a consensus with the LTTE to avoid war.

In the second week of Aug 2006, the LTTE launched the anticipated ground offensive, targeting the Jaffna frontline at Muhamalai. Having evicted the army from sections of the front line, the LTTE sustained a large scale offensive, expecting a rapid advance north of Muhamalai into the Jaffna heartland. Combined government offensive that was launched in early September 2006, having brought the Eastern Province under military control in mid-2007, continued till May 2009.

None of those pursuing expensive foreign-funded post-war national reconciliation projects today bothered to publicly urge the LTTE to give up its futile bid to halt the advancing Army. Instead of requesting the LTTE to cease fighting, they wanted the government to call off the offensive. Western powers demanded that President Rajapaksa stop the offensive. Quite rightly, President Rajapaksa rejected the call. The rest is history. Those who cannot stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism, nearly a decade ago, are pursuing foreign-funded Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) among communities.

A disgraceful Govt. policy

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government deliberately allowed unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, directed at Sri Lanka, to gain credence by depriving the country/armed forces a proper defence. The government refrained from exploiting credible evidence to convince the Tamil community that the previous government never deliberately targeted the Tamil community and the much-touted accusations regarding the massacre of 40,000 civilians in 2009 (January – May) were disputed in October 2017 in the House of Lords on the basis of wartime British High Commission dispatches. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo owed an explanation why such valuable evidence was not presented to the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The 39 sessions of the UNHRC are scheduled for next month and will be held from September 10 to 28, 2018, at the Palais des Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Human Rights Council holds three regular sessions a year, for a total of at least 10 weeks. They take place in March (four weeks), June (three weeks) and September (three weeks).

In spite of Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana PC and former Attorney General assuring parliament in Nov 2017 that the UK dispatches would be used at the appropriate time, the Foreign Ministry is yet to do so while the Geneva deadline to fulfill obligations, in accordance with Oct 2015 Resolution, is just six months away.

A treacherous government is engaged in costly public relations projects instead of swiftly and decisively using all available information to convince the Tamil people that Sri Lanka never deliberately targeted them. ONUR, Finance and Media Ministry and the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms totally ignored the recent images from the one-time LTTE bastion Vishvamadu where ex-LTTE cadres, their families and the ordinary Tamils expressed unprecedented love and affection to outgoingmilitary officer Lt. Colonel Ratnapriya Bandu. There had never been a previous instance of such affection showed by the Tamils to a military officer in the war zone. Had those who received massive amounts of foreign funding are genuine in their much publicized efforts, the ‘Vishvamadu story’ should have been used. The former Special Forces officer should have been invited for live television and radio shows along with ex-LTTE cadres from Vishvamadu to discuss their experience. They could have had the Lt Colonel with Minister Mano Ganesan, the only minister to appreciate the officer’s role in Vishvamadu (2012-2018). The ‘Vishvamadu story’ could have been used to promote and strengthen reconciliation. The government ensured that the ‘Vishmamadu story’ never received proper coverage. The images from the former battlefield could have achieved what our foreign service could not have over the past decade. Obviously, the government, the civil society and Non-Governmental Organizations realized the danger the Vishvamadu images posed to their despicable project. They couldn’t have allowed such rapprochement to undermine their lucrative projects. The EU and the US had pledged Rs. 5.3 bn for national reconciliation projects implemented since 2017, in addition to large scale funding made available by various other sources, including Norway.

NPC response to RTI query

Recently, The Island, in accordance with the Right to Information (RTI) Law, raised the funding received by the National Peace Council (NPC) for reconciliation projects since 2009. One of the major recipients of Norwegian funding, NPC played a significant role in the abortive 2002 bid to negotiate a peace agreement between the Wickremesinghe government and the LTTE. Perhaps, Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe the then darling of the Norwegian government received a staggering USD 6 mn over a five-year period (2004-2008) to promote the Oslo initiative. Dr. Rupesinghe got into trouble years later after he switched his allegiance to President Rajapaksa at the onset of the war. The Norwegians deprived him of funding and in 2011, two years after the conclusion of the war, revealed the amount of funding specifically made available to Dr. Rupesinghe. The other funding recipients however though named, were saved from the embarrassment of being exposed as to the exact amounts that were given.

In line with the RTI Law, recipients of foreign funding are liable to answer questions. The writer submitted the following questions to the NPC: Recently, the US and EU revealed that substantial funds were made available to civil society organizations to facilitate post-war reconciliation process. In line with the RTI law enacted by the yahapalana government, The Island would like to know (1) The total amount of US funding received by you after the conclusion of the war in May 2009 (2) The amount received after the change of government in 2015 (3) Total amount of funds received from the EU after the conclusion of the war in May 2009 (4) Total amount of funds received after the change of government in 2015 (5) Funds granted by Norway since May 2009 (6) Grants received from international NGOs/civil society organizations since the end of the conflict in May 2009 (7) Did you engage in any other projects in addition to post-war reconciliation initiatives and finally (8) If so, can you please name those projects and your local partners?

The writer received the following response from the NPC: "We acknowledge your request for information about our funding sources and partners. We are happy to provide you with our annual reports from 2009 to 2016, which are on the NPC website and are public information.

"This is our web-link: http://www.peace-srilanka.org/about/auunalreports

"These contain the information you seek about funds received from individual donors, activities and the total amount received. The annual report for 2017 has not yet been finalized and we will make it available as soon as possible.

"We would require the permission of our partners to give information about them. The work that we do is reported in our website and NPC takes full responsibility for the work that it does with the public.

"Kindly note that NPC’s work is devoted to peace-building and national reconciliation and it does not conduct any non-reconciliation projects."

Those interested in knowing more about the work undertaken by the NPC can access the NPC web-link. It would be pertinent to mention that in spite of peace- building and various reconciliation projects undertaken by the civil society organizations, the LTTE (sole representative of the Sri Lankan Tamil speaking people as recognized by Sampanthan’s TNA) remained committed to battlefield victory. The LTTE firmly believed its tactics were far superior to that of the Sri Lankan military therefore the military could be overwhelmed. The LTTE had faith in its suicide squads and assassinations to give it the advantage over the military. The LTTE pursued its strategies with a single objective - a separate state in the northern and eastern province which at the onset of the eelam war IV was legally constituted as one administrative unit comprising eight districts.

The Norwegian project was meant to convince the country that a military victory was never realistic over the LTTE hence a negotiated solution even at the expense of our sovereignty and territorial integrity. The funds made available by Oslo at the onset of its initiative would give the reader an understanding of the enormity of the operation.

In Sept 2011, Norway revealed the releasing of USD 28 mn (2001 to 2004) period to its Sri Lankan partners engaged in peace building, rehabilitation and reconciliation. Norway identified NPC as one of the recipients. Nowegians obviously lacked a sense of responsibility, hence the controversial decision to provide funds to the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) affiliated to the LTTE.

Dr. Rupesinghe’s Foundation for Co-Existence received NOR 35 mn (about 6 mn USD) during 2004-2008 period as a gradual low intensity conflict gradually developed to a massive war by 2008 with the military poised to strike at Kilinochchi.

Foreign governments operating through civil society and NGOs ‘targeted’ lawmakers as well as the media. An overwhelming majority believed the LTTE could not be defeated under any circumstances therefore the government had no option but to talk peace and reach consensus at any cost. The LTTE, brazenly influenced outcome of the presidential elections while the civil society promoted foreign funded agendas. On May 01, 1993, the LTTE assassinated Ranasinghe Premadasa to pave the way for the 1994 presidential poll. Then, the LTTE assassinated UNP candidate Gamini Dissanayake to ensure Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s victory. In Dec 1999, the LTTE made an abortive bid on the life of Kumaratunga. The operation was meant to facilitate UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s victory. The LTTE strategy failed. In Nov 2005, the LTTE/TNA helped the then PM Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the presidency by depriving UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe of the northern Tamil vote. In January, 2010, the TNA surprised the world by backing war-winning Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka and at the last presidential poll the powerful Tamil grouping threw its weight behind Maithripala Sirisena, the longtime General Secretary of the SLFP.

At the 2010 and 2015 presidential polls, the TNA represented UNP led coalition that received the blessings of the US, other Western powers and an influential section of civil society and NGOs.

The post–war role of the NGOs and civil society as well as their ‘operations’ during the conflict needed to be examined closely. But, their right to operate in Sri Lanka should be accepted whatever the differences between administration and civil society, NGOs. There cannot be any dispute over their existence.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Sri Lanka’s treacherous failure to counter Geneva project

...from Nanthikadal to Colombo defense seminar 2018



By Shamindra Ferdinando

For nearly a decade Sri Lanka neglected its responsibility to counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations directed at its Army. War-winning Army, too, cannot under any circumstances absolve itself of its failure to address accountability issues. Having defeated the LTTE, in May 2009, the government and the Army never really bothered to examine war crimes accusations. Today, Sri Lanka accused of deliberately targeting the Vanni civilian population, with the Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran alleging genocide.

War-winning Army Chief, the then Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s entry into politics, in late 2009, caused chaos with him accusing his troops of executing surrendering LTTE cadres on the Vanni east front. Fonseka’s explosive declaration, made in an exclusive interview with the then Sunday Leader editor Fredrica Jansz, in Dec 2009, exposed Sri Lanka to war crimes charges. Fonseka repeated the accusations at a propaganda rally in Ratnapura.

The then Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was accused of issuing execution orders to the then General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the celebrated 58 Division Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva.

Sri Lanka never succeeded in countering allegations with a section of the local and international media propagating war crimes accusations. Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), appointed in 2010, was not really intended to address specific accountability issues.

In March 2011, UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) comprising the US, South African and Indonesian accused the Army of indiscriminate indirect heavy artillery fire on civilians, attacks on hospitals and makeshift medical facilities and deliberate denial of basic supplies, both food and medicine, to treat the war wounded. Sri Lanka’s decision not to cooperate with the PoE resulted in the UN producing a one-sided report with the inclusion of a strict confidentiality clause that prevented the examination of evidence until 2031. Even then, the lifting of the confidentiality clause is subjected to fresh UN examination.

Having faulted the Army on three major counts, the PoE accused Sri Lanka of massacring at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing no 137, verbatim: "In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths."

Just two months after the releasing of the PoE report, the US unexpectedly provided the required ‘ammunition’ to undermine the very basis of war crimes accusations. The US assertion disputed. The Sunday Leader report pertaining to the execution of surrendering LTTE cadres on the Vanni east battlefield.

The government and the Army, struggling to cope up with the PoE report against the backdrop of the LTTE rump demanding international judicial mechanism to probe Sri Lanka, turned a blind eye to the US statement.

The Island dealt exclusively with the revelation made by the US (Sri Lanka Defense symposium: Now, US suspects credibility of LTTE surrender offer-The Island, June 3, 2011) The then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, failed to take advantage of the US statement. Jayasuriya did absolutely nothing even after he received appointment as Chief of Defence Staff. Subsequently, he was rewarded with a top diplomatic posting. Jayasuriya served as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Brazil till mid-2017.

The Army never exploited the bombshell statement made by the then US Defense attaché in Colombo, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith.

The Defense Attaché intervened after an Indian delegate, Major General (retd) Ashok Mehta, who had served the Indian Army, deployed in Sri Lanka in the 80s, queried about the alleged surrender moves made by LTTE cadres. This is what Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith had to say in response to Metha’s question, directed at Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, whose troops fought their way from North of Mannar, brought Pooneryn under their control, then turned eastwards, captured Paranthan, before seizing Elephant Pass to the North and Kilinochchi in the South. The celebrated Division then proceeded across the eastern part of the Vanni to the eastern coast.

This is what the American had to say: "Hello, may I say something to a couple of questions raised. I’ve been the Defense Ataché here, at the US Embassy, since June 2008. Regarding the various versions of events that came out in the final hours and days of the conflict – from what I was privileged to hear and to see, the offers to surrender that, I am aware of, seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE – Nadesan, KP – people who weren’t and never had really demonstrated any control over the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE.

"So their offers were a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content, hour by hour, day by day. I think we need to examine the credibility of those offers before we leap to conclusions that such offers were in fact real.

"And I think the same is true for the version of events. It’s not so uncommon in combat operations, in the fog of war, as we all get our reports second, third and fourth hand from various commanders, at various levels, that the stories don’t seem to all quite match up.

"But, I can say that the version presented here so far in this is what I heard as I was here during that time. And I think I better leave it at that before I get into trouble. "

The embarrassed US State Department tried to disassociate itself with Lt. Col. Smith’s statement. State Department’s Deputy Spokesman Mark C. Toner responded to questions based on The Island report.

QUESTION: I have one on Sri Lanka. The senior Defense Attaché at the U.S. Mission in Sri Lanka went public in the newspapers (inaudible) that he questioned the credibility of surrender offers made by senior LTTE leaders who was the head of the (inaudible) last year. Does this reflect any change in the U.S. position on the war crime victims?

TONER: Right. You’re talking about remarks that were made at a conference in Colombo?

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah.

TONER: Well, just to clarify, the U.S. did decline invitations to participate in that conference as either a conference speaker or panelist. My understanding is that the defense attaché was there as an observer and a note taker. His comments reflected his personal opinions. There’s no change in the policy of the United States, and his remarks do not reflect any change in our policy.

QUESTION: So that was a personal opinion?

TONER: Personal opinion. The United States – and just to reiterate that policy – remains deeply concerned by the allegations in the panel of experts report, and we’re committed to seeing a credible accounting of and accountability for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. And we believe that the Sri Lankan Government must act quickly and credibly to address these allegations.

QUESTION: Who was the attaché?

TONER: I don’t have his name.

QUESTION: Is he still the attaché? (Laughter.) Was there any discussion —?

TONER: I believe he’s still there, but I’ll try to get an update.

The Army conveniently forgot the 2011 defense seminar. The second edition of the series was held in August 2012 under Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya’s leadership. The two-day event was titled: Towards lasting peace and stability. There was no reference to the US statement at the previous year’s seminar. In fact, Lt. Colonel Smith’s statement remains the most important so far made at subsequent defense seminars. Unfortunately, the Army NEVER examined the US official’s statement though many issues were discussed in 2013 (Post conflict Sri Lanka: Challenges and Regional Stability), 2014 (Sri Lanka: Challenges to a Rising Nation), 2015 (National Security in the Context of Emerging Global Threats), 2016 (Soft Power and its Influence on Global Issues), 2017 (Countering Violent Extremism: Global Trends). Jayasuriya’s successor, Lt. Gen. Daya Ratnayake and Lt Gen Crishanthe de Silva who succeeded Ratnayake, too, failed to capitalize on the US statement. Ratnayake and De Silva gave leadership to defense seminars in 2013 and 2014 and 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Incumbent Army Chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, too, missed a golden opportunity, at last year’s defense seminar to address accountability issues. Would it be the same at this year’s seminar, titled ‘Security’, in an era of global disruptions too?

Against the backdrop of the PoE report, followed by another investigation undertaken by Geneva, Sri Lanka was told to implement far reaching reforms in the security sector. Geneva dictates also caused severe problems for overseas Sri Lankan military deployments under UN command. The government and the Army, for some reason, hesitated to defend Sri Lanka’s position. Political and Army leaderships struggled to cope up with evidence favourable to the country. The Foreign Ministry simply ignored Naseby’s revelations, though the importance of British conservative politician’s statement was repeatedly highlighted, since Oct 2017.

The previous Rajapaksa government shirked its responsibility. Instead of using all available information to defend the country, the previous government squandered USD millions on worthless propaganda projects. Hiring expensive US PR firms did not help Sri Lanka in any way. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, having co-sponsored Resolution 30/1, targeting its own military, in Oct. 2015, continues to evade its responsibility to bring in British dispatches (January-May 2009) which contradicted the main allegation, pertaining to the massacre of 40,000 civilians, to the notice of Geneva. The dispatches authored by the then British Defence Advisor Lt. Colonel Anthony Gash who served in Colombo at the time Lt. Colonel Smith was stationed here could have helped Sri Lanka to counter lies. In spite of Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, one time Attorney General, assuring parliament in Nov. 2017 that the government would use British dispatches at the appropriate time, such promises have failed to materialise. Lord Naseby presented heavily censored British dispatches in the House of Lords, pertaining to the final days of conflict, in Sri Lanka, in Oct. 2017.

According to army.lk posting, this year’s Colombo defense seminar too wouldn’t discuss what matters most to Sri Lanka.

According to the Army, the objectives of the seminar are (a) To create a forum for local and international scholars to discuss ‘Security in an Era of Global Disruptions’, focusing on the importance of security, remedial action and application of the concept in creating a wider discourse in international affairs.

(b) To promote intellectual connectivity amongst those who seek strategic, sub-regional, regional, and global partnerships through discussions by and with prominent and renowned national and international scholars, think tanks, and diplomats.

(c) To provide an opportunity for exchange of views, experiences and knowledge acquired by experienced nations on various aspects of the topic.

(d) To develop awareness of learning strategies on how to improve the mechanisms of security to deter global disruptions by means of statecraft.

(e) To offer challenging academic content that promotes, engaged learning and critical thinking on means of developing and sustaining the peace-building processes the world over through UN peacekeeping and peace-building missions.

(f) To initiate analytical dialogue on the vital need for stretching the influence of a country to be concern over security in an era of global disruptions through its initiatives as applicable to root causes of respective nations especially in the age of the return of geopolitics, and create a distinct mode of legitimacy and acceptance that may not be possible otherwise.

The writer examined the brochure issued by the Army at the defense seminar last year. The Army had gone into extraordinary length to prevent inclusion of a picture of one-time Commanding Officer of the celebrated First Battalion of the Gajaba Regiment (1GR) Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who played a pivotal role in the government strategy leading to the annihilation of the LTTE in the booklet. Rajapaksa was not even in a group photograph.

For want of a cohesive strategy to address accountability issues, senior military officers received degrading treatment at foreign missions. In spite of backing Fonseka’s presidential bid in 2010, the US has denied a visa to General/Field Marshal Fonseka. Strategist Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage was denied an Australian visa on the basis of UN allegations. Gallage was found guilty by Australians for commanding the 59 Division at the final phase of Vanni conflict on the Vanni east front. Gajaba veteran Gallage, one of the finest officers to serve the Army, retired recently. Although, President Maithripala Sirisena promised, in Nov 2017, to take up the issue with Western missions, the government has done nothing so far. Reference to the visa matter was made in the presence of Lt. Gen Senanayake and Defense Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne, formerly of the Attorney General’s Department.

President Sirisena referred to some Western powers refusing to issue visas to both retired and serving officers on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. President Sirisena emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the situation. The Commander-in-Chief called for tangible measures to change Western governments’ decision.

President owes an explanation as to why absolutely no action has been taken since his well-received speech delivered at the military hospital, Narahenpita.

Field Marshal Fonseka, in September, 2017, alleged that he had been denied a visa to attend the UNGA 2017 because of unresolved war crime allegations against the Army. Sri Lanka’s most successful Army Commander, who is now a Minister, said he was due to travel to New York but he was the only one in the Sri Lankan delegation, not issued a visa by the US. Fonseka said he could not accompany President Sirisena to the UNGA.

Field Marshal Fonseka has repeatedly underscored the pivotal importance of a comprehensive investigation into accountability issues to clear Sri Lanka’s name.

Political and Army leadership pathetically failed to exploit leaked US diplomatic cables to counter lies. Nearly a decade after the successful conclusion of the war, the government and the Army are yet to properly record evidence provided by various parties, including those countries who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism. The UK went out of its way to prevent the disclosure of wartime dispatches from Colombo only for that reason. The UK knew its dispatches would contradict two primary accusations - the massacre of 40,000 civilians and the political leadership deliberately targeted those trapped on the Vanni front.

Had the Army studied Wikileaks cables, originating from Colombo, New Delhi, London, Geneva et al, it would have found the following cable, perhaps the most important one that could have been the basis for Sri Lanka’s defense. The Army never bothered to examine them.

The cable dated July 15, 2009 signed by the then Geneva based US Ambassador Clint Williamson cleared the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) of crimes against humanity during the Vanni offensive. The cable addressed to the US State Department was based on a confidential conversation Ambassador Williamson had with the then ICRC head of operations for South Asia, Jacque de Maio, on July 9, 2009. Ambassador Williamson wrote: "The army was determined not to let the LTTE escape from its shrinking territory, even though this meant the civilians being kept hostage by the LTTE were at an increasing risk. So, de Maio said, while one could safely say that there were ‘serious, widespread violations of international humanitarian law,’ by the Sri Lankan forces, it didn’t amount to genocide. He could cite examples of where the army had stopped shelling when the ICRC informed them it was killing civilians. In fact, the army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths. He concluded, however, by asserting that the GoSL failed to recognize its obligation to protect civilians, despite the approach leading to higher military casualties."

The Kotelawala Defence University and the Navy, too, could have played a significant role in addressing accountability issues. Unfortunately they never did. In addition to them Army organized defense seminar series, the Galle Dialogue, conducted by the Navy, as well as the annual research conference, organized by the General Sir John Kotelawela Defence University, too, failed to focus on real challenges faced by Sri Lanka. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka never wanted to set the record straight. Even the much touted Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was denied the required mandate to conduct a comprehensive inquiry. The Kadirgamar Institute and the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, too, avoided the issue. For nearly a decade, the Parliament and various other institutes, responsible for countering massive propaganda project against Sri Lanka, NEVER took up the real challenge. Experts invited by them for various forums discussed everything except what really affected Sri Lanka.

All those involved in Sri Lanka appeared to have extensively examined Wikileaks, except us.

Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) commissioned by the Norwegian government largely dealt with Eelam war IV. The report, officially released in September 2011 by Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) examined a series of classified US diplomatic cables that shed light on the situation here. The evaluation team which commenced data collection in September 2010 included Gunnar M. Sørbø (Social anthropologist, team leader), Jonathan Goodhand (Development studies, deputy team leader), Bart Klem (Geographer, conflict analysis, monitoring and mediation), Ada Elisabeth Nissen (Historian, archival studies) and Hilde Beate Selbervik (Historian, overview of Norwegian aid to Sri Lanka).

The evaluation team, in its final report, acknowledged that the examination of confidential US diplomatic cables, relating to Sri Lanka, had been useful. However, the team admitted that Wiki Leaks released what it called new material of relevance to assess the situation in Sri Lanka and that such information couldn’t be evaluated. Sri Lanka never properly examined Wikileaks. Shame on those responsible for the obvious deliberate negligence. But nothing could have shamed the government and the Army than their shocking decision not to exploit the unprecedented salutation received by Lt. Colonel Ratnapriya Bandu, the senior officer who had been in charge of rehabilitated LTTE cadres in the northern region, since 2012, until recently. Outgoing DIG Vavuniya Deshabandu Tennakoon, too, recently received a similar reception. The reception received by Lt. Col Bandu is an honour for the institution but unfortunately those responsible for Sri Lanka’s defense in Geneva ignored the images from Vishvamadu. There couldn’t have been a better picture to adorn the defense seminar 2018 than those of ex-LTTE cadres and their families carrying the former Special Forces officer.

Had the Army and the Foreign Ministry made a genuine effort, they could have shed light on the culpability of the UN in the unprecedented Vanni hostage crisis. For want of cohesive strategy, and negligence on the part of the previous government, and treacherous incumbent administration, Sri Lanka was denied proper defense in Geneva.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Near disintegration of a Commonwealth country



British HC in Colombo James Dauris looks on as former lawmaker and Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland addresses representatives of Australia, Canada, South Africa and the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry. India wasn’t represented while the Maldives remained out of the Commonwealth. Canadian HC David McKinnon sits next to Dauris (pic courtesy BHC)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Close on the heels of Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) member Ian Paisley being suspended from the House of Commons for two undeclared free luxury family visits to Sri Lanka, in 2013, courtesy the war, winning Rajapaksa government, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government received Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who once provided costly legal advice to the Maldives, another Commonwealth country. Controversy surrounded Scotland’s involvement with the Maldivian government. She threw her weight behind the Maldives to cope up with the pressure exerted on her by Commonwealth powers for committing anti-democratic acts.

One time Maldives High Commissioner, to the UK, Dr Farahanaz Faizal, is on record having described the Maldives hiring of Scotland as ‘absolutely shocking. If the government wanted legal advice to support the Attorney General’s Office, the proper way is to request the UK government bilaterally.

"To think that someone of her caliber would undertake an assignment to check if Foreign Ministers of Australia, Canada, Bangladesh, Jamaica, and others of CMAG had acted against their mandate is disgraceful," Dr Faizal said.

Scotland has been previously probed by the UK media, in 2009, after she was found to have been employing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper in her posh London home.

The first woman to secure the prestigious post, Scotland, in April 2016, succeeded Indian Kamalesh Sharma, who held the privileged position since 2008. Obviously, the Commonwealth didn’t find fault with Scotland for professional examination of CMAG decision.

Scotland was here as part of an 11-day visit to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Brunei.

Paisley’s sojourns-two visits (altogether 17 days) cost hapless Sri Lanka a staggering Rs 22 mn, though the British lawmaker couldn’t help Sri Lanka’s efforts to influence the then Premier David Cameron. Cameron was hell-bent on backing politically motivated resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and finally succeeded in October 2015 with the support of the US.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government created history by sponsoring a resolution against Sri Lanka, in respect of accountability issues. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

Paisley’s party affiliation has been changed on the British Parliament website from being a member of the DUP to ‘Independent’.

The North Antrim MP is set to serve a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons. The lawmaker has also been suspended from the DUP pending the outcome of a further investigation. The British media quoted a spokeswoman for the House of Commons as having said the change in his status on their website was standard procedure.

She said: "If an MP is suspended by their party, they are classed as an independent MP."

It would be pertinent to examine Scotland’s involvement with the Maldives, several years ago, at a time that country was under tremendous Western pressure following accusations by the then President Mohamed Nasheed, who quit under duress on February 7, 2012 as a result of military and police intervention.

Maldivian Attorney General’s 2012 audit report revealed that the former UK Attorney General and member of the House of Lords, Baroness Patricia Scotland receiving £50,000 extra in addition to an agreed fee for legal advice following their suspension from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). The controversial payment was in addition to 75,000 Sterling Pounds the lawmaker received in accordance with Terms of Reference (ToR). The staggering extra payment was 66 percent of the consultancy fee.

The audit report also reveals that the Maldives spent US$7,062 on plane tickets and accommodation for Scotland and her assistant for a visit to the Maldives.

Before further examining the UK’s role as well as that of the Commonwealth here and also in the India-dominated region, let me reproduce verbatim a contentious issue raised by the British media during UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher first visit to Sri Lanka.

Thanks to Margaret Thatcher Foundation the full text of her question and answer session with Sri Lankan and the British media at the President’s House in Kandy on April 12, 1985, can be accessed on its website. The media took up the issue of the UK turning a blind eye to Indian-sponsored Tamil terrorists using the UK to procure arms, ammunition and equipment. This was two years before India forced Sri Lanka to accept the deployment of its Army in northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka.

The Times correspondent Michael Hamlin: "Sri Lankan government officials have indicated their concern about the activities of Tamil extremists based in London, particularly in buying arms and military supplies to support the terrorism in the north of the island here. I wondered whether there was anything that you felt the UK Government could do to clamp down on this activity."

Prime Minister Thatcher: "We do everything possible to stop the purchase of arms for such a purpose and that will not surprise you, because as you know, I asked the United States Government to do everything possible to prevent the purchase of arms for the IRA through NORAID, and we do everything possible to see that no such arms are purchased."

In response to another query, Thatcher said: "The matter of the Tamils is a matter for the Sri Lankan Government. With regard to my own view about terrorism, it has not varied and will not vary. Terrorism must never be seen to win. If it does, it is the end of democracy. There is a democracy in Sri Lanka and I believe that, as in Britain, the problems must be solved through democracy—at any rate by all who believe in democracy."

Thatcher was here for the ceremonial commissioning of the Victoria Dam under the JR Jayewardene government’s flagship accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme. The UK provided 130 mn Sterling Pounds for the construction of the dam by the British joint venture Balfour Beatty and Edmund Nuttall Ltd.

At the State banquet, later in the day, the then President JR Jayewardene told Thatcher: "I am against violence. I said so at the Commonwealth Conference presided over by Mrs. Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, at Delhi, in November 1983, at which you were present, Madam Prime Minister. The Goa Declaration accepted my idea and included Non-violence."

But, the UK and Commonwealth did absolutely nothing to prevent Commonwealth giant India from destabilizing Sri Lanka to such an extent the country almost disintegrated. Commonwealth powers, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand turned a blind eye to what was going on here with Indian trained terrorists causing mayhem. In early Nov. 1988, Indian trained People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) raided the Maldives. The then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom escaped the PLOTE assassination attempt made at the behest of Abdullah Luthufee. This writer is the only journalist so far to interview Luthufee following his release from the Maldivian custody several years ago. Although the Maldives earned the wrath of the Commonwealth and was suspended from CMAG – the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm – and placed on its formal agenda following Nasheed’s allegation that he resigned "under duress" on February 7, 2012 amid a violent mutiny by sections of the police and military, the Commonwealth never found fault with India for sponsoring terrorism. Even after the raid on the Maldives carried out by Indian trained and equipped Sri Lankan terrorists, the Commonwealth never bothered to take meaningful measures to discourage /discontinue the New Delhi project. Western powers never referred to Indian culpability in Sri Lanka destabilization project resulting in an assassination attempt on the Maldivian President. India unashamedly claimed credit for its forces coming to the rescue of Gayoom. What they didn’t want to admit was two trawlers carrying PLOTE terrorists quietly left Sri Lanka’s Mannar under the very nose of the Indian Navy and reached the Maldives undetected.

The Commonwealth has suspended several countries, including Pakistan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Fiji. Although no country has been formally expelled some quit, including Zimbabwe (2003), Gambia (2013) and Maldives (2016).

But, large scale destabilization projects carried out by India never received the attention of the Commonwealth. In fact, the Commonwealth rewarded India by naming senior diplomat Kamalesh Sharma as the Commonwealth Secretary General. Sharma, who had been New Delhi’s Permanent Representative to the UN (1997-2002) before being appointed High Commissioner to the UK (2004-2008) received top Commonwealth appointment on April 1, 2008. Sharma enjoyed the perks of the Office for eight years. Commonwealth refrained from at least urging the LTTE proxy, the Tamil National Alliance to request the LTTE to give up human shields ‘employed’ on the Vanni east front. The Commonwealth failure should be examined against the backdrop of Scotland recently meeting TNA leader and the leader of the Opposition during the recently concluded visit to Colombo.

Scotland, who once represented the Maldives, in her new capacity as the Commonwealth Secretary-General issued the following statement in the wake of the Commonwealth member announcing her decision to quit the organization: "I have received news that the Maldives Government has today decided to leave the Commonwealth.

"The Commonwealth family at large – its member governments and its peoples worldwide – will share my sadness and disappointment at this decision.

"The Commonwealth Charter reflects the commitment of our member states to democracy and human rights, development and growth, and diversity. We will continue to champion these values and to support all member states, especially small and developing states, in upholding and advancing these practically for the enduring benefit of their citizens.

"Therefore, we hope that this will be a temporary separation and that the Maldives will feel able to return to the Commonwealth family and all that it represents in due course."

India’s military, particularly its navy, claimed credit for saving the Maldives from PLOTE mercenaries. The Indian media, too, talked in glowing terms of the operation code-named ‘Operation Cactus’ to save Gayoom. The Indian navy even mentioned it in an anniversary publication, ‘The Indian Navy: A nautical tryst’ alongside ‘Operation Pawan’ launched to liberate the Jaffna peninsula, in October 1987. The Indian navy also pointed out that success of ‘Operation Cactus’ promoted TIME magazine to feature the Indian Navy on its cover, hailing it as the ‘the Next Military Power.’

TIME magazine didn’t even bother to point out that the PLOTE was one of the Indian trained groups, which had operated alongside the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force), deployed in the then temporarily merged Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. The PLOTE also maintained offices in India and worked closely with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

Today, the PLOTE is represented in Parliament through the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA). During the war the TNA represented the interests of the LTTE, both in and outside parliament until the very end. The unprecedented TNA-LTTE relationship or working partnership since late 2001 automatically resulted in all other Tamil political parties/groups being marginalized. The TNA cannot absolve itself of the death and destruction that had been caused by the LTTE after its parliamentary group unanimously accepted terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s leadership. The TNA really believed the LTTE conventional military capability could somehow overwhelm the Sri Lankan military. Soon after the parliamentary polls in April 2004, the European Union in no uncertain terms condemned the TNA’s partnership that allowed the grouping to enhance its parliamentary representation with the LTTE stuffing ballot boxes on its behalf. In spite of the UK being in the EU, Commonwealth wasn’t bothered at all. While the UN, Commonwealth et al looked the other away, the TNA on behalf the LTTE engineered Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat at November 2005 presidential polls by depriving the Tamil vote to the UNP leader. The LTTE-TNA action helped Mahinda Rajapaksa to secure the presidency and set the stage for all-out war. Those who repeatedly accuse the Rajapaksas of bribing the LTTE to engineer Wickremesinghe’s defeat never bothered to seek an explanation from Sampanthan. Parliament definitely owed an explanation to the public as to why the issue was never raised with the TNA over the past 13 years. Having served the LTTE from 2001 to 2009, the TNA threw its weight behind war-winning Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election. In spite of accusing the Sri Lankan military of massacring Tamils on the Vanni east front, the TNA, at the behest of the United States, joined the UNP-led coalition in Fonseka’s abortive presidential bid. Commonwealth should at least now examine its failure in Sri Lanka.

Let me reproduce a statement issued by Sampanthan’s Office soon after Scotland met the Opposition Leader, who is now under pressure to step down as the Joint Opposition group in parliament consists of nearly 70 against his 16. The following is the text of the TNA statement: "Sampanthan pointed out that even though the war has come to an end, we still don’t have complete peace and harmony among the people. Speaking further Sampanthan said, "People had a great deal of hope with the change of Government particularly the minorities. They expected the government to deliver on the promises it made both locally and internationally. A new Constitution which will alter the structure of the governance and give more powers to the regions, ascertainment of truth and justice, reparation, dealing with missing persons, return of civilians lands occupied by the armed forces, release of people held in custody under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act are some of those promises but the delivery on these matters has been slow and inadequate, said Sampanthan.

Sampanthan highlighted that there is a commitment to make a new Constitution, "a unanimous resolution was adopted in Parliament in this regard, on account of political factors there is a delay on the part of the Government in pursuing this matter.

The TNA Leader said "there were reasons why this country faced a war, one cannot address these reasons by not being firm, one cannot abandon these issues being addressed because of extreme elements. The Government must take a firm stand and lead the country in the right direction. Adopting a new Constitution will be a big step in taking the country forward", said Sampanthan.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General briefed the Opposition Leader on the continuous support provided by it to Sri Lanka to promote Democracy, Rule of Law, Good Governance and Environmental related issues and said that the Commonwealth would continue to support the new Constitution making processes. Further, the Secretary-General appreciated Sampanthan for his moderation and for being an ambassador for peace.

Assuring his continuous support Sampanthan said, "We will extend our fullest support to achieve true peace and harmony in this country". Sampanthan also urged that the International community including the Commonwealth has a role to play in achieving harmony amongst the people."

Following her meeting with Sampanthan, Scotland tweeted: "Delighted to have the opportunity to hear from the Leader of the Opposition of #SriLanka, Hon R. Sampathan, on efforts for strengthening good #governance and enhancing post-conflict reconciliation."

The Island learns that none of the Sri Lankan politicians and officials briefed Scotland regarding the need to review accountability issues against the emergence of evidence that disputed the original accusations leading to Geneva Resolution 30/1 in Oct 2015.

Interestingly, Indian High Commission wasn’t represented when British High Commissioner James Dauris hosted Scotland and representatives of Commonwealth countries, based in Colombo, at his residence on Aug. 3. Perhaps, India High Commission wasn’t bothered about Commonwealth. The meeting was attended by representatives from the High Commissions of Australia, Canada, Pakistan and South Africa, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka.

The British High Commission issued a statement that dealt with Dauris meet with Scotland and other Commonwealth representatives. The statement acknowledged the absence of Indian representatives at the meeting. Perhaps, the Commonwealth is irrelevant to the regional power….