Saturday, 29 December 2018

Former Lanka Peace Co Chairs’ agenda back on track




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Five days after the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Japan welcomed, what it called, the recent development towards political stability in Sri Lanka. It was a direct reference to Rajapaksa’s resignation, following several weeks of intense political turmoil. The following is the full text of the statement, dated Dec 20, 2018 issued by Japan, titled ‘The recent political situation in Sri Lanka’: As a long-standing friend, Japan welcomes the recent development toward political stability in Sri Lanka, including the appointment of the new cabinet, through due process, in accordance with the law, and commends all the parties for their efforts.  Japan, in cooperation with the Government of Sri Lanka, commits to further strengthening our "Comprehensive Partnership" in order to achieve peace, stability and prosperity in Sri Lanka and the Indo-Pacific region.’’

 The European Union, in agreement with Norway, on Dec 17, 2018, issued the following statement:"As steady friends of Sri Lanka, we welcome the peaceful and democratic resolution of the political crisis, in accordance with the Constitution. We commend the resilience of Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions and will continue to support its efforts towards national reconciliation and prosperity for all."

 The US, too welcomed developments, subsequent to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation, which upheld Sri Lanka’s democratic and constitutional norms.

"Sri Lanka is a valued partner in the Indo Pacific and we look forward to continuing to develop our relationship with the government and people of this country." 

The US, EU and Japan and Norway functioned as Co-Chairs to Sri Lanka peace process in the aftermath of the Dec 05 2001 parliamentary polls, won by Ranil Wickremesinghe. The Co-Chairs guaranteed the Norway-led peace initiative, finalized on Feb 21, 2002. Japan, in addition to being a member of Co-Chairs, played a significant role in the peace process, with its own Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi pursuing an agenda of his own. 

Both Japan and the US, in their statements, underscored the importance of Sri Lanka in the overall Indo-Pacific strategy. The EU and Norway strategies, in respect of Indo-Pacific region, are certainly compatible with those of the US, Japan, as well as India.

 A three-day visit, undertaken by Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kazuyuki Nakane, in late August, 2018, underscored the pivotal importance of further consolidating the ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ between the two countries.

The first such post-World War II Japan-Sri Lanka agreement was reached in early Oct 2015, soon after the last parliamentary polls, in Aug 2015. The far reaching agreement came into being, following Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s three-day visit to Japan, beginning Oct 4, 2015, on the invitation extended by Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe.

The joint declaration, issued at the end of the visit, dealt with the Japan-Sri Lanka naval cooperation among other issues. Abe and Wickremesinghe agreed on close military cooperation between the two countries, particularly on maritime security, including port calls by the vessels of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF). Interestingly, Japan praised Sri Lanka for co-sponsoring the Oct 2015 Geneva Resolution. In fact, all Co-Chairs appreciate Sri Lanka co-sponsoring a Resolution against its own interests, at heavy political expense, back at home. Strange isn’t it?

 Japanese moves here cannot be examined without taking into consideration Tokyo’s post World War II defence pact with the US. Japan is a base for powerful US forces whose deployment there is a continuing concern for a section of the population. It would be pertinent to mention here that Norwegian and Japanese roles in Sri Lanka’s peace process, in 2002, were meant to give them international recognition. Obviously, both didn’t receive the desired results, due to the LTTE resuming war in August 2006. The rest is history.

Co-Chairs, though irrelevant in the wake of the annihilation of the LTTE, nearly a decade ago, are still pursuing their original agenda, in spite of setbacks. Before further comment on their strategy, it would be pertinent to mention the growing US-Japan-India military cooperation, to counter China, constantly named as Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political ally.

 One-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1997-2000) Shivshankar Menon, in his memoirs, Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy, launched in Oct 2016, indicated that New Delhi had reason to desire a change of government, in Sri Lanka, due to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa going back on his pledge in respect of Sri Lanka-China relations. Menon alleged that Rajapaksa received Chinese political funding - an extremely serious accusation coming from, former top official who once functioned as India’s National Security Advisor.

Western agenda back on track

The Midweek piece, dated Dec 19, 2018 extensively dealt with the US recognition of Sri Lanka as a military ‘supply point.’ Former Peace Co-Chairs moved swiftly and decisively in the immediate aftermath of President Maithripala Sirisena sacking his yahapalana partner Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Oct 26, 2018.

 In spite of intense speculation of an impending reunion, many, including the writer, felt President Sirisena wouldn’t undertake such a project as it wasn’t feasible. In the wake of President Sirisena’s move, Western powers and their allies threw their weight behind the ousted UNP leader Wickremesinghe. They played a significant role in the counter-attack in the wake of the Sirisena-Rajapaksa failing to secure the required simple majority in parliament.

 Having failed to engineer the required number of crossovers, President Sirisena, in consultation with the then Premier Rajapaksa, dissolved parliament on the night of Nov 09, 2018. President Sirisena called parliamentary polls on January 5, 2019. The Sirisena-Rajapaksa project went awry on Nov 14, 2018, when the UNP succeeded in proving its majority in parliament, even under controversial circumstances. Heavy presence of Colombo-based diplomatic community, in the Speaker’s gallery, considerably strengthened the UNP’s position. The diplomatic community remained committed to the Opposition’s cause until the war-winning President had no option but to quit the premiership on Dec 15, 2018, soon after the Supreme Court delivered him a knockout blow.

The apex court’s refusal to abolish the Court of Appeal suspension on the cabinet of ministers left the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine with no alternative but to give up their project. The failed project has paved the way for a UNP government, under Wickremesinghe, though still unable to secure a simple majority it can always depend on the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in case of an emergency. The UNP-TNA-JVP has functioned as a team at the 2010 and 2015 presidential elections in support of General Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena, respectively.

In addition to the former Peace Co-Chairs, India, Canada and Australia, as well as the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, welcomed the return of Wickremesinghe. During the last day (Dec 21) of the legislature for 2018, the UNP and the TNA voted 102 to six to approve an interim budget for January-April, 2019 period. The UNP and the TNA voted together whereas the JVP voted against.

During the Oct 26, 2018-Dec 15,2018 power struggle, three international credit rating agencies downgraded the country, thereby making foreign borrowings far more expensive. Their thinking, too, is in line with Western strategy meant to make it difficult for the Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine to consolidate its position. The Western strategy worked.

 The new administration is certainly not the one that existed prior to the Oct 26, 2018 sacking of Wickremesinghe. Rajapaksa’s ouster has paved the way for a UNP government hell-bent on implementing neo-liberal policies, regardless of the consequences.

 The Sirisena-Rajapaksa combine received humiliating treatment in the hands of a section of the international community. A case in point was Foreign Secretary Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha recently having to represent the government at a reception held at the Japanese Ambassador’s residence to mark the Emperor’s birthday. The Foreign Secretary had to do the honours as Japan refrained from recognizing Rajapaksa as Wickremesinghe’s successor.

Co-Chairs reaction to Kadirgamar’s assassination

Following the conclusion of the conflict, in May 2009, Western powers worked overtime to bring the Rajapaksa administration to an end. The Rajapaksas earned the wrath of foreign powers for not heeding their call to halt the combined security forces offensive, on the Vanni east front, in early 2009.

 The US, EU, Japan and Norway worked out a four-point plan to bring the offensive to a halt. (A) Amnesty for the fighting cadre (B) The UN to accept LTTE arms, ammunition and equipment (C) The UN or the ICRC to take charge of hardcore LTTE leaders and (D) A role for Co-Chairs in political negotiations.

The operation involved the deployment of USN for evacuation of LTTE cadres, trapped in the Vanni east theater, to Trincomalee, whereas an international presence in the Vanni by way of the UN envisaged strategy obviously at the behest of the West.

Now that the LTTE had been militarily eradicated, once and for all, Co-Chairs are engaged in deliberations with the LTTE’s cat’s paw - the TNA-seeking a federal structure in the Northern and Eastern Provinces at the expense of Sri Lanka’s unitary status. In other words, those who represented Co-Chairs still believe plan D can be successfully implemented as recommended by the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in June 2016.

Obviously the US, EU, Japan and Norway felt betrayed by President Sirisena’s dismissal of Wickremesinghe. They feared the return of Rajapaksa could jeopardize a meticulously planned high profile expensive project that brought about a change of government, in January 2015. No less a person than former US Secretary of State John Kerry is on record as having said that in addition to Nigeria and Myanmar, the US invested in Sri Lanka to restore democracy. 

It would be pertinent to examine the Co-Chairs stand on Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination on the night of Aug 12, 2005, vis-a-vis Wickremesinghe’s dismissal. The LTTE, probably assassinated Kadirgamar as it felt confident in facing a major military challenge in the North, in spite of the devastating split caused by one-time its top commander Karuna the previous year. The assassination was meant to create maximum turmoil in the run up to the Presidential poll, three months later. Co-Chairs, the UN and others continued to mollycoddle the LTTE though they realized Velupillai Prabhakaran had perpetrated an unpardonable treacherous act. 

Let me reproduce verbatim statements issued by key players in the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination to prove their determination to continue with the Norway-led process-whatever the consequences. They never had Sri Lanka’s interests in mind. Had they been genuine in their much-touted concerns and took tangible measures to rein in the LTTE, Eelam War IV could have been certainly avoided. Unfortunately, Western powers erroneously believed a weakened LTTE could allow Sri Lanka to adopt a far stronger stand at the negotiating table. They believed the Norway-arranged CFA, underwritten by them, should proceed, regardless of Kadirgamar’s assassination.

The then US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, on behalf of peace Co-Chair, said: "We must honour Kadirgamar’s memory by re-dedicating ourselves to peace and ensuring the CFA remains in force." 

The then European Union Commissioner, Ferrero-Waldner, said on behalf of peace Co-Chair EU: "We must all honour the passing of Foreign Minister Kadirgamar by continuing his work for peace and maintaining the CFA."

Peace Co-Chair Japan issued the following statement, through its Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura: "I strongly hope for calm response by all parties at this moment so that the move towards the peace process will not be hindered."

In the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination, peace facilitator and Co-Chair Norway declared: "… It is now of great importance that both parties to the conflict do their utmost to fully fulfill their obligations according to the CFA."

Thanks to Wikileaks, the world is aware how Norway had talks, in London, with top LTTE representative, Anton Balasingham, to explore ways and means of tackling the fallout of Kadirgamar’s assassination.

 Balasingham passed away, in Dec 2006, in the UK. The British national, of Sri Lankan origin, departed the world as the LTTE was fighting in the East. The LTTE remained confident of its military prowess even after the combined forces brought the Eastern Province under their control in mid-2007. By then, the Vanni campaign was underway with one newly raised Division fighting west of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road.

The LTTE quit the negotiating table, in April 2003. The LTTE launched Eelam War IV in the second week of Aug 2006 with simultaneous large scale attacks on the northern and eastern theaters. Although, the LTTE made swift progress on the northern front, initially, the military halted the advance and gradually turned around the situation. The LTTE lost the Eastern Province, by mid-2007. By January 2009, the LTTE faced defeat on the northern front with remaining units surrounded. 

Nevertheless Peace Co-Chairs never made a real attempt to force the LTTE to surrender. Instead, they sought to arrange a face-saving arrangement for the LTTE to bring the war to an end. Such an arrangement would have been acceptable to the Rajapaksa government if the LTTE gave up its battle immediately after losing Kilinochchi. In late Feb 2009, Co-Chairs, on behalf of the LTTE, requested the government for a ceasefire on the basis of a letter dated Feb 24, 2009 received from Velupillai Prabhakaran. In spite of a heavy beating, on the Vanni east front, the LTTE command and control structure remained intact to a certain extent. Co-Chairs continued to pursue its foolish strategy meant to arrange a respectable surrender. The TNA remained silent. In the first week of April 2009, the LTTE suffered irreparable losses in Puthukudirippu east which destroyed its conventional fighting capacity.

It was the first classical encirclement operation carried out by the Army, under extremely difficult circumstances, on the Vanni East front, though it had overwhelming firepower as well as unlimited ground forces. The defeat of the LTTE formations at Anandapuram made the outcome of the conflict a foregone conclusion, in spite of a section of the international community trying to throw a fresh lifeline to the LTTE.

The then Brig. Shavendra Silva’s celebrated 58 Division carried out the operation, which involved Brig. Kamal Gunaratne’s 53 Division, though at that time the Gajaba Regiment veteran was away. Brig. Chagi Gallage had been in charge of the 53 Division.

 A section of the international community caused mayhem in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka never really examined how foreign powers contributed to Sri Lanka’s misery.

 Let me reproduce what former Ambassador and one-time head of Peace Secretariat, Jayantha Dhanapala, told the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in late 2010: "Now I think it is important for us to expand that concept to bring in the culpability of those members of the international community who have subscribed to the situation that has caused injury to the civilians of a nation. I talk about the way in which terrorist groups are given sanctuary; are harboured; are supplied with arms and training by some countries with regard to their neighbours or with regard to other countries. We know that in our case this happened, and I don’t want to name countries, but even countries who have allowed their financial procedures and systems to be abused in such a way that money can flow from their countries in order to buy the arms and ammunition that cause the deaths, the maiming and the destruction of property in Sri Lanka are to blame and there is therefore a responsibility to protect our civilians and the civilians of other nation States from that kind of behavior on the part of members of the international community, and I think this is something that will echo with many countries in the Non-Aligned Movement where Sri Lanka has a very respected position and where I hope we will be able to raise this issue."