Tuesday, 7 May 2019

UK, too, seeks a bigger role in the wake of Easter Sunday bombings


Kamal Bogoda captured UK Minister for Security and Economic Crimes, Ben Wallace, with the Parish Priest St. Anthony’s Church Kochchikade (Colombo) Rev Father Jude Raj Fernando on May 03 in front of the place of religious worship targeted by a suicide bomber on Easter Sunday, April 21. 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Have you ever heard of a British politician visiting Colombo in the immediate aftermath of an attack carried out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)?

During the Eelam War, terrorists mounted several major attacks in Colombo but the UK never felt the need to send a minister in charge of security or defence here. However, in the wake of the Easter Sunday carnage, the UK government sent its Minister for Security and Economic Crimes, Ben Wallace, to Colombo. Wallace arrived in Colombo, on May 02, 2019, days after the multiple bombings. Wallace was here on a two-day visit.

Wallace visited the Cinnamon Grand and Shangri-La hotels where eight British nationals perished, in addition to St. Anthony’s Church Kochchikade (Colombo).

At the conclusion of his visit, the British High Commission issued a statement that dealt with the developments here. According to the HC, Wallace, during his meetings with President Sirisena, Premier Wickremesinghe, ministers, military and religious leaders and tourism sector officials, discussed Easter Sunday attacks’ impact on Sri Lanka, how to address the security threat, and identify further UK support. The British Minister received update on the ongoing investigations.

In addition to UK police officers, its Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command has sent a team of specialists.

The UK statement, unlike in the past, didn’t call for talks between the government and those responsible for the Easter Sunday massacre, carried out at the behest of the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

Obviously, the UK responded to the latest security threat very much differently from its handling of LTTE terrorism that was militarily crushed a decade ago. The UK never backed military campaigns directed against the LTTE. Instead, the UK made every effort to throw a lifeline to the LTTE until the very end. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, on the morning of May 19, 2009.

US diplomatic cables, now in public domain, thanks to Wiki Leaks, and the world knows how the then UK government sought to save the LTTE for domestic political reasons. The UK played politics with terrorism here and, unfortunately, continues to do so. The UK’s role in Geneva Resolution, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, in Oct 2015, is a case in point.

The UK stand on the Easter Sunday carnage should be examined against the backdrop of high profile Western powers battle with the ISIS in different theaters. With Ben Wallace’s visit, Western powers had included Sri Lanka in their overall strategy meant to subdue ISIS. Most probably Sri Lanka didn’t even realize what was going on in the immediate aftermath of multiple bombings.

The BBC, including its Sinhala service, as usual, presented the story in a way detrimental to Sri Lanka. The BBC went to the extent of asserting that law enforcement authorities and the military killed the relatives of the Easter Sunday bombings whereas they committed suicide by detonating explosives. The BBC played its controversial role to the hilt. Essentially, the British media can’t stomach Sri Lanka’s victory over terrorism.

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and Ven Omalpe Sobitha thera expressed serious concern over the British response to the Easter Sunday carnage. Addressing the media at the Bishop’s House, Borella, they, in no uncertain terms, questioned the UK’s stand on terrorism. The Catholic Church here had never raised concerns over the UK role during the war waged by the LTTE. The UK provided refuge to hundreds if not thousands of ex-LTTE and members of other Sri Lankan terrorists groups. Theoretician of the LTTE, Anton Balasingham operated from the UK. One-time British High Commission employee here, Balasingham received British citizenship and was free to promote terrorism. The UK allowed Balasingham a free hand even after the LTTE assassinated the then Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, in Aug 2005. Balasingham’s Australian-born wife, Adele, in spite of her role in promoting terrorism, including suicide bombings continues to live in the UK. Views expressed by Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and Ven. Sobitha in respect of UK should be viewed against the UK approach towards terrorism.

The British High Commission issued a statement in the wake of the clergy voicing concern over UK response. The UK denied accusations.

Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in London Manisha Gunasekera had no option but to intervene in the wake of the BBC alleging Sinhala Buddhists carried out the Easter Sunday attacks. The BBC, on the basis of a deliberate lie propagated by a UK-based Tamil, alleged that Sinhala Buddhists mounted suicide attacks on churches and three leading hotels. The Sri Lankan High Commission in London effectively countered separatist Tamil propaganda.

Obviously, the BBC, including its Sinhala service, cannot bear up Sri Lanka overcoming terrorism.

Solheim and al-Hussein on

Sri Lanka bombings

It would be pertinent to mention that immediately after the suicide bombings, some interested parties sought to blame the dastardly acts on the majority community. One-time Norwegian minister who spearheaded Oslo initiative here, as their peace negotiator, Erik Solheim tweeted: "When we watch the horrific pictures from Sri Lanka, it is important to remember that Muslims and Christians are small minorities. Muslims historically were moderate and peaceful. They have been victims of violence in Sri Lanka, not orchestrating it."

Former UN Human Rights Commissioner Jordanian Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein tweeted on April 22, 2019: "Sri Lanka-a beautiful country with a tortured plan and now these appalling bombings against a Christian community hitherto un-targeted. While awaiting the evidence, can’t help but wonder: who benefits from such wickedness? Do the upcoming elections have anything to do with it"

The previous Rajapaksa administration earned the wrath of Western powers for co-operating with China. Western powers and India sought a change of government at the last presidential election in January 2015. They succeeded though the January 2010 bid to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa failed. At both instances, the projects involved the US hell bent on removing President Rajapaksa. The Rajapaksas earned the wrath of the US and its allies, India included, for being too close to China.

Why did ISIS launch operations in Sri Lanka? ISIS simply picked the Sri Lankan terrorist group active in the Eastern Province. Was it part of overall ISIS strategy influenced by some interested influential party? Close on the heels of the Easter Sunday slaughter, both the US and the UK intervened here. Many an eyebrow was raised over the swift and decisive US and UK intervention.

President Maithripala Sirisena on more than one occasion reassured that foreign troops wouldn’t be called in under any circumstances. President Sirisena, also in his capacity as the Commander-in-Chief, repeatedly expressed confidence that his law enforcement authorities and armed forces had the wherewithal to neutralize the threat. In spite of that, speculation is rife of intensified foreign intelligence interventions paving the way for a wider Western role here.

The US is obviously aware of growing concerns in Sri Lanka over its role here. Alleged detection of two US nationals at Jaic Hilton with hi-tech equipment used to detect explosives, which were stumbled upon by our sniffer dogs, caused serious concerns among the people.

First US statement issued

on April 27

Let me reproduce a brief statement issued by the US in the wake of accusations in respect of American intervention here. The following is the text of US embassy statement headlined ‘United States Provides Support to Sri Lanka in Wake of Attacks’ dated April 27, 2019: "Following the tragic Easter Sunday attacks, President Trump immediately extended an offer of comprehensive support to Sri Lanka to support investigation and recovery efforts. The Sri Lankan government accepted this offer and U.S. teams are already working closely with their Sri Lankan partners on efforts including explosives detection, crime scene investigation, and forensics analysis. All activities are at the request of and closely coordinated with Sri Lankan authorities. This cooperation is short term, temporary, and specific to the recent attacks and bringing the perpetrators to justice."

The US embassy also issued the same statement in Sinhala and Tamil as well.

Second US statement issued

on April 27

The three statements issued in the afternoon were followed by a second communiqué headlined ‘U.S. Cooperation to Enhance Safety in Sri Lanka.’ It was also issued in both Sinhala and Tamil.

The communiqué issued on the same day (on the night of April 27) expanded on the original statement released earlier in the day. The following is the text of the statement: "The United States Government continues to assist Sri Lankan authorities in the aftermath of the horrific attacks that occurred in the country on Easter Sunday. At the request of the Sri Lankan Government, U.S. experts are already working closely with their Sri Lankan partners on fulfilling short term, specific objectives related to the recent attacks and to bringing the perpetrators to justice. This cooperation does not indicate a larger, long term presence of US security teams in the country.

"As Sri Lanka looks to the future and to implementing changes in security and communications procedures to prevent future atrocities, the United States stands ready to assist with lessons learned from our own past tragedies and through our ongoing cooperation with local authorities.

"In realizing and applying improved safety mechanisms to protect Sri Lanka’s citizens from new threats, it is imperative that the Sri Lanka Government do so in ways that also protect rule of law and that do not infringe upon the human rights of individuals or groups, or limit their ability to worship, communicate and to live together in peace".

U.S. Ambassador Teplitz stated in her call for unity on April 25: "These terrible attacks are the work of a few individuals and not of an entire community. Sri Lankans of all backgrounds and faiths have come together to condemn these atrocities. Unity is the most powerful answer to terrorism."

Ambassador Teplitz further underscored that "while we work together to bring the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice, we must remain vigilant in defending the democratic ideals that form the pillars of a strong society.  And we must do so without destroying communities of peaceful, innocent people who share the faith of the attackers, but not their warped ideology.  We must always respect the wonderful diversity of Sri Lanka and fortify the culture of unity that the country needs to thrive."

Sri Lanka-US relations have reached a higher level with extended military-to-military cooperation since the change of government. Obviously President Sirisena is not officially aware of these developments. The parliament seems to be blind to the situation.

William Blum’s best seller ‘Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower,’ quoted by Osama bin Laden in an audiotape dated January 19, 2006, should be made available to lawmakers to help understand ground realities. Blum’s work explains as to how longstanding US foreign policy contributed to the current deterioration of security world over. Blum expertly dealt with how US heavily used terrorism as a tool to achieve its political and military objectives.

Let me just reproduce a brief paragraph from Blum’s introduction: "More than 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, America is still saving countries and peoples from one danger or another. The scorecard reads as follows: Between 1945 and 2005 the United States has attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the US has caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair."

One-time State Department employee Blum has authored several books. They painted a frightening picture of American style of ‘governance’ and interventions. Post-war treatment of those who had fought for the US in different conflicts, including in Iraq, is shocking. Perhaps, parliament can make available ‘Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower,’ to lawmakers.

Appearing on Sirasa Pathikada, former Navy Commander Admiral Dr. Jayanath Colombage, who also earned title of Professor on Monday (May 06) discussed the situation with Bandula Jayasekera. Colombage dealt with how Indo-Pacific strategy could influence the developments in the region, including Sri Lanka. The writer sought Admiral Colombage’s response to a high profile ongoing project undertaken by the US-Japan-India combine in the region and how it could bear on Sri Lanka. The query was posed through Pathikada anchor Jayasekera.

The Director of the Centre for Indo-Lanka relations of the Pathfinder Foundation explained the circumstances under which the grouping consisting of the US, Japan, India and Australia engaged in a strategic project to counter growing Chinese power. Colombage discussed how the US led project could affect strategically located Sri Lanka. Colombage rationally explained the operation of the Indo-Pacific strategy vis-a-vis China.

Unfortunately, those enjoying political authority today seemed quite blind to rapid developments taking place in the wake of the ISIS backed bombing campaign here. Or perhaps, they have deliberately turned a blind eye to facilitate the despicable project.

Shouldn’t we at least meticulously analyze Sri Lanka’s failure to act on specific intelligence provided by New Delhi, on April 04, 2019, in respect of the Easter Sunday bombings carried out on April 21, 2019.

India couldn’t be unaware of vital intelligence passed on to Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) here was disregarded. A section of the Indian media revealed that New Delhi warned Colombo thrice - on April 04, April 20 and about one hour before the human bombs started exploding in Colombo, Katuwapitiya (Negombo) and Batticaloa on April 21. Did India make an effort to warn its nationals here during this period? At least a dozen Indians perished in the bombings.

Sri Lanka, and those countries assisting Colombo, cannot ignore explosive revelation that Saudi Arabia knew of the Easter Sunday bombings hence advised its mission in Colombo five days before the actual strike. The revelation was made by Lebanese Al-ahed news agency. Instructions, dated April 16, 2019 issued from Riyadh exposed shocking possibility of possible Saudi connection-an unprecedented situation Sri Lanka find extremely difficult to cope up with. Saudi embassy in Colombo on April 30-09 days after the massacre advised its nationals to leave the country.

"Due to the current security situation in the Republic of Sri Lanka, the embassy advises citizens in Sri Lanka to leave," the Saudi embassy said in a tweet.

Perhaps, the US and the UK can help Sri Lanka establish the truth. Sri Lanka cannot ignore its responsibility to raise the issue with Riyadh without further delay. The writer sought a clarification as regards Riyadh warning its mission here with a senior official who couldn’t have been unaware. However, the Saudi diplomat insisted he wasn’t aware.

Now that law enforcement authorities have established the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday carnage carried out their first attack at Vavnativu, Batticaloa, on Nov 30, 2018, it would be easy to establish they exploited political turmoil to cause chaos. With political parties represented in parliament pulling in different directions even after the Easter Sunday bombings the country is certainly open for clandestine foreign actions. Those at the helm of political parties seemed to be unwilling or pathetically incapable of addressing daunting security-political-foreign policy challenge.