Tuesday, 26 February 2019

The US factor

Mangala 30 years in politics:



By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time US Ambassador to the UN (2013-2017) Samantha Jane Power tweeted in early Nov. 2018: "The dangers of #SriLanka constitutional crisis are clear: violence is possible & Rajapaksa’s return to power will likely end flagging efforts at ethnic reconciliation. Where is US diplomacy? SL must know suspending aid, targeted sanctions on the table."

Power issued the warning in the wake of President Maithripala Sirisena quitting the UNP-led government. Having sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct. 26, 2018 to pave the way for war-winning twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa to secure premiership.

Power tweeted again on Nov. 05, 2018: "Hard to know what will get #SriLanka president’s attention as he defies constitution. But good that US, EU & Japan showing urgent need to restore democracy. $500 million in US aid, trade privileges w/ Europe, Japanese loan of $1.4 billion hang in balance."

Power played a crucial role in securing Sri Lanka’s consent to co-sponsor a Resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Oct. 2015. The then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera threw his full weight behind the Geneva Resolution. Samaraweera stood for the controversial Resolution. Unlike some of his colleagues, Samaraweera had the strength and the courage to support a course of action which he firmly believed was necessary to achieve post-war national reconciliation. Although President Sirisena repeatedly denied that he hadn’t been aware or briefed of the decision to co-sponsor the Geneva Resolution on Oct. 01, 2015, his government steadfastly remained committed to the resolution.

The 40th Geneva sessions commenced on Monday (Feb. 25). These will continue till March 22. In the absence of the US, the UK, together with Canada, Germany, Macedonia and Montenegro will move a new resolution seeking more time to fully implement the 2015 resolution.

Strategic US interests

US Indo-Pacific Command Chief Admiral Philip Davidson recently underscored the importance of continuing US engagement with the Sri Lankan military, particularly the Navy.

Davidson is on record as having said that increasing navy-to-navy engagement with Sri Lanka would be a US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) focus in 2019. The US Admiral asserted that a well trained Sri Lankan Navy could contribute to multi-lateral maritime interoperability in the Indian Ocean.

"The recent transfer of an excess US Coast Guard cutter to Sri Lanka in August 2018, along with additional platforms from Japan and India, provides the Sri Lankan Navy greater capabilities to contribute to regional maritime domain awareness initiatives. Despite the political upheaval in Sri Lanka, it is in America’s interests to continue military collaboration and cooperation with Sri Lankan Forces."

Admiral Davidson said so before the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee, during a Congressional hearing. The US called Sri Lanka a significant strategic opportunity in the Indian Ocean and military-to-military relationship continues to strengthen between the two nations.

Transferring of additional platforms from Japan and India according to Admiral Davidson is part of the over US-engagement with Sri Lanka to counter China. Since the change of government in January 2015, Japan has stepped up its efforts here with Kentaro Sonoura, M.P. and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Japan, recently visiting Colombo. The Special Advisor attended the Japan-Sri Lanka Navy-to-Navy staff talks for the first times last year.

The Embassy of Japan said it expected that this visit would help further consolidate the "Comprehensive Partnership" between Japan and Sri Lanka. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera visited Sri Lanka last August. It was the first time ever that a Japanese Defense Minister visited Sri Lanka.

The previous Rajapaksa administration, too, maintained close relationship with the US though some UPFA partners expressed concerns. The then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself signed a military cooperation agreement with the US in March 2007 at the height of the war. Thanks to the then Navy Chief Admiral Karannagoda’s intervention, Sri Lanka secured US intelligence to hunt down four LTTE floating arsenals. The US help gave Sri Lanka advantage over the LTTE.

JVP protest against US

Samantha Power is in Colombo to deliver the keynote address at an event at the BMICH tomorrow (Feb. 28) to mark Samaraweera’s 30 years in politics. Power was last here in late Nov. 2015 in her capacity as the US Ambassador to the UN. Her visit followed the US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit in May 2015 to reiterate Washington’s commitment to the new government which the US helped to install.

Having met the then Northern Province Governor H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, one-time Foreign Secretary, Power tweeted: "Met with Gov. Palihakkara in North #SriLanka. Agreed development, demilitarization in Jaffna cannot wait."

Samaraweera’s decision to invite Power drew criticism with some calling for a protest against her arrival. Samaraweera’s right to invite a guest speaker of his choice cannot be challenged under any circumstances by those opposed to the Geneva process. Let us hear what Power has to say specially against the backdrop of her strong opposition to President Sirisena’s constitutional coup.

Nimrata "Nikki" Haley succeeded Power as US Ambassador to the UN in 2017. Before leaving the post last year, Haley called the UNHRC a "cesspool of political bias." In spite of the US pull-out from the Geneva UN body, the Trump administration is still involved in the ‘Sri Lanka project’ now spearheaded by the UK.

Samaraweera called tomorrow’s event Khema’s boy, in memory of his mother, Khema, who passed away in March 2008. Before further discussing Samaraweera’s political life, it would be pertinent to talk about the recent JVP protest against the US in Colombo. Interestingly, having ignored repeated US interventions here and in spite of being part to US political projects, the JVP conducted a demonstration opposite the US embassy in Colombo on Feb.08, 2019 against the alleged US interference in Venezuela. In addition to JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva, the JVP’s National Organizer Bimal Ratnayake and Dr Nalinda Jayatissa, MP et al participated in the protest.

The US has stepped up its efforts to get rid of President Nicolas Maduro to pave the way for an administration acceptable to Washington. The following is the text of the letter the JVP handed over to the US embassy: The Government of the United States, Through: The Ambassador of the United States of America

The Embassy of the United States of America in Sri Lanka, Colombo.

We, the JVP, as the political party representing the progressive masses including intellectuals, professionals and artists in Sri Lanka, write this letter to raise our collective voice in condemnation of the arbitrary act by the US administration of interfering in the internal affairs of Venezuela.

We strongly condemn the act of attempting to topple the legally elected President in Venezuela and the attempt to arbitrarily install a puppet instead. We feel that the goal of the international community should be to help Venezuela without destructive meddling from outside its borders. Let Venezuelans resolve their own domestic political issues without foreign forces meddling in their internal affairs. It should be mentioned here that millions of people, including US security personnel and citizens have paid with their valuable lives within the last decades due to the interventionist policy of various US administrations including the present one. Dozens of countries have been driven to complete destruction due to the invasions, coups and various undemocratic actions lead by US governments. Guatemala, Cuba, Vietnam, Brazil, Argentina, Honduras, Haiti, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc., can be mentioned here for your retrospection. We believe no other invader or a colonizer in human history had created rivers of blood and sorrow to the people as the rivers of blood your administrations have created all over the world after the WW2. Enough is enough. This world and the people of Venezuela need Peace.

It is worthwhile to note what former US President Jimmy Carter had stated. He had said ‘of the 92 elections that they had monitored, the election process in Venezuela was the best in the world’. Venezuela’s voting technology is said to contain several security mechanisms for audits and verification of results, which have been accredited by national and international observers including the Carter Centre. We would also like to remind that the declaration of Juan Guaido as the interim president backed by the the USA has been rejected by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice in Venezuela. As such, we feel that the claim by the US government that the presidential election was rigged and corrupt has no basis.

We call upon the US administration to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Venezuela and let Venezuelans solve their own issues.

The JVP, as the principal political party of the progressive and left-oriented people in Sri Lanka, while advocating that the international community should help Venezuela to solve its economic and social problems, totally backs the progressive people’s struggle against foreign intervention and expresses its solidarity with the heroic resistance of the Venezuelan people to protect the sovereignty of their fatherland.

Long live sovereignty of Venezuela!

Long live Internationalism!

Political Bureau of the JVP 08.02.2019"

The JVP protests against the US intervention in Venezuela seemed ridiculous against the backdrop of growing US-Sri Lanka relationship.

Samaraweera warns the LTTE

Having backed Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Nov. 2005 presidential election, Samaraweera received the foreign ministry portfolio at the expense of the late Anura Bandaranaike. Samaraweera functioned as the foreign minister at the onset of hostilities between the Rajapaksa government and the LTTE. Samaraweera didn’t mince his words when he warned the group of catastrophic consequences unless it returned to the negotiating table. It would be interesting to know whether Power, in her keynote address discusses Samaraweera’s previous role as the foreign minister. It would be pertinent to mention Samaraweera’s declaration at a meeting with the Colombo-based diplomatic community in the second week of Sept 2006. Samaraweera said: "I must note here that while, the government would like to show the LTTE that any military aggression on their part, would entail military costs to them, the government remains committed to the ceasefire agreement and is vigorously continuing with the constitutional reforms process. The warning was given close on the heels of the military evicting the LTTE from Sampur in the Eastern theatre of operations and smashing LTTE fortifications across the Kilaly-Muhalamai line in the Jaffna peninsula (Forces seize Tigers’ Jaffna front-line with strap line...any military aggression on their part would entail military costs to them-Foreign Minister -The Island Sept 11, 2006)

Samaraweera, in an exclusive interview with veteran Indian commentator Padma Rao for Spiegel in June 2006 discussed the situation against the backdrop of the EU listing the LTTE as a terrorist organization. Let me reproduce Samaraweera’s answers to two of Rao’s questions included in the interview titled ‘Terrorism does not pay,’ posted on June 09, 2006.

SPIEGEL: Peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist LTTE, mediated by Norway since 2002, remain stalled. Violence is the order of the day in the island-state and Scandinavia monitors warn that the ceasefire agreement has deteriorated to the point that it’s little more than a "piece of paper." Even as the world continues to urge LTTE to return to peace talks, the EU last week listed LTTE as a terrorist organization. Was Brussels off in its timing?

Samaraweera: Not at all. LTTE is already proscribed in the United States, Britain, India and Australia; the EU should have done it earlier. LTTE has been escalating violence even before the EU ban; so we see the listing as a negative incentive for the LTTE to lay down their guns and start talking again. (LTTE’s) lifeline – the worldwide largest expatriate Tamil diaspora of Europe - has been cut off. Curtailing their funds will lead to a reduction of their violent activities and show them that terrorism does not pay.

SPIEGEL: For more than two decades, Europe sheltered Tamil refugees in the name of human rights. In doing so, however, the EU also turned a blind eye to money transfer made by the Tamils living here to the militant LTTE back home. But now, in the name of the international war on terror, the EU has declared LTTE to be a terrorist organization. That completes the international isolation of the Tamil Tigers, and observers say they can only return to war. Indeed, the Tigers are now demanding the departure of all EU-members participating in the Scandinavian monitoring mission, which would leave only the Norwegians and Finns.

Samaraweera: There is no magic wand to wish away LTTE terror. Their funding may not totally dry up, but the EU ban will certainly make things more difficult. But at least there won’t be an open European checkbook now. We have to realize the sad truth: members of the LTTE do not want a negotiated settlement for the Tamil people at all, they are fighting only for their own survival.

Samaraweera unhesitatingly acknowledged that the LTTE didn’t want a negotiated settlement. Although, Samaraweera publicly endorsed the military campaign, differences with the Rajapaksas persisted.

Formation of SLFP Mahajana Wing

Subsequently, President Rajapaksa dismissed Samaraweera from the cabinet in early 2007 over simmering differences. Political turncoat Rohitha Bogollagama was rewarded with the vital foreign ministry portfolio and accommodated in the cabinet. Samaraweera waged a lone battle with the Rajapaksas before joining the UNP in early Aug 2010. Samaraweera had no option but to take UNP membership after his efforts to entice a group of SLFPers failed. Samaraweera formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (Mahajana Wing) in a bid to engineer crossovers. The project failed primarily due to President Rajapaksa consolidating his position thanks to successive battlefield victories achieved by the military. As Samaraweera predicted in Sept 2006, the LTTE paid a huge price for not returning to the negotiating table. Over a year after the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE, Samaraweera dissolved the SLFP (M) and joined the UNP in spite of him being one of the strongest critics of that party since his entry into parliamentary politics in 1989.

Samaraweera entered active politics on a request by the then SLFP leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Samaraweera played a significant role in ‘Mother’s Front’ a civil society organization that opposed the UNP resorting to indiscriminate strategies to counter the second JVP inspired insurgency. The writer interviewed Samaraweera in 1989 as regards his role in the ‘Mother’s Front’ and his joint efforts with Hambantota District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa. Samaraweera remained at the forefront of SLFP campaigns till President Rajapaksa sacked him in early 2007. Samaraweera waged a campaign targeting the Rajapaksa administration with the focus on the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, with whom the SLFPer clashed over the conduct of the armed forces. Samaraweera disagreed with Rajapaksa’s stand that overland route to and from the Jaffna peninsula via Muhamalai wouldn’t be restored until the war was brought to an end. The military closed the Muhamalai entry/exit point in the second week of August 2006. The road remained closed until the military cleared the entire Jaffna-Kandy road by early January 2009.

Samaraweera played a significant role in the campaign against the Rajapaksas, at both presidential elections in 2010 and 2015. Thanks to Wiki Leaks and US Statement Department 2016 report, the US role in the 2010 abortive bid to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa and the 2015 successful project that brought Maithripala Sirisena into power is known. Interestingly, both the TNA and the JVP joined the US backed UNP project to defeat Rajapaksa. The US, inadvertently ended up revealing its hand in both national elections. The US three years ago revealed that it spent as much as USD 585 mn in Nigeria, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to restore democracy. The US also revealed making available USD 3.4 mn soon after January 2015 presidential election. The US has also publicly acknowledged the role played by India in the Sri Lanka project, Having installed, a new UNP-led government, the US and its allies, including India got Colombo to co-sponsor a resolution in Geneva in Oct 2015 against its own political leadership and armed forces. President Sirisena later found fault with Samaraweera for co-sponsoring the resolution. Ravi Karunanayake replaced Samaraweera in May 2017. During Samaraweera’s tenure as the Foreign Minister, Sri Lanka-US-TNA agreed on foreign judges and other foreign experts in judicial mechanism set up in terms of the Geneva resolution. That agreement still stands. In Aug. 2017, one-time AG Tilak Marapana, PC, was brought in as the Foreign Minister in the wake of Karunanayake having to give up his portfolio over shocking connection with Arjun Aloysious, the owner of the disgraced primary dealer, Perpetual Treasuries Limited involved in treasury bond scams. Marapana lost the foreign portfolio for 50 days in Oct.-Dec. 2018 as a result of the Sirisena-Rajapaksa constitutional coup. Marapana regained the lost ministry in Dec. 2018. In spite of losing the foreign ministry in May 2017, Samaraweera still remains firmly involved in the post-war national reconciliation process as revealed by UK Human Rights Minister Lord Ahmad recently.

The inordinate delay in appointing an Ambassador to Washington since Aug. 2017 seems to have no detrimental impact on Sri Lanka-US relations.