Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Why only PK being blamed for facilitating US projects



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, MP, and one-time Foreign Secretary, Prasad Kariyawasam, are under heavy fire for being involved in a high profile US project. Kariyawasam was replaced by another career diplomat Ravinatha Aryasinha, in Nov 2018. Soon after retirement, Kariyawasam received a lucrative assignment, courtesy the US.

 Former President and Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa and Joint Opposition (JO) Leader in Parliament, Dinesh Gunawardena, last week sought an explanation from Speaker Jayasuriya as to how US government employee Kariyawasam functioned as an advisor to Speaker Jayasuriya.

 The JO also sought an explanation from Speaker Jayasuriya as to why Brigadier Chula Seneviratne, Director, Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), was called in to brief a group of envoys, representing Islamic countries, as regards the post-Easter Sunday attacks situation. Speaker Jayasuriya defended his position in respect of both issues during an exchange with the JO in Parliament though no reference was made to the US company involved in the project.

Both Rajapaksa and Gunawardena strongly objected to Speaker Jayasuriya depending on a person, paid by the US.

 Kariyawasam earned the wrath of the JO/SLPP and various other interested parties. They accused him of promoting US interests, both in and outside parliament. The JO/SLPP reacted to Kariyawasam’s new role as if the US project got underway recently. They conveniently forgot the US role in the change of government, in January 2015. No less a person than the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who visited Colombo,, in May 2015, is on record as having said that the US funded restoration of democracy (read change of governments) in Nigeria, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, to the tune of USD 585 mn.

 The JO never really raised this issue with the ineffectual Election Commission and in Parliament.

 In response to the JO criticism in parliament, the Speaker revealed that as much as Rs. 2,000mn had been received to implement a programme to strengthen democracy. An investigation is certainly required to examine how funds, made available, were spent because four years after the change of government, the parliament is in a ‘dilapidated’ state with many members under a cloud over waste, corruption and irregularities. The President, Maithripala Sirisena ,himself, accused Parliament of deliberately delaying the debate on thePresidential Bond Commission report. Parliament received the report in January 2018.

The controversial Parliament project is implemented by Maryland headquartered Development Alternatives, Inc (DAI), to reform Sri Lanka’s public sector, in accordance with an agreement between Sri Lanka and the House Democracy Partnership of the US House of Representatives.

Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) worth Rs 1.92 bn (USD 13 mn) is first of its kind implemented in Sri Lanka. Parliament owed an explanation as to how this project benefited the country.

Speaker Jayasuriya recently declared his readiness to become their candidate at the 2019 presidential election. Therefore, the former UNP Deputy Leader should expect unrelenting attacks on him. Kariyawasam, now under a cloud over his role in expediting the controversial Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), finalized in Aug 2018, has been caught up in a heavy confrontation between the UNP and the JO, flexing their muscles in the run up tothe presidential election. Jayasuriya received the attention of the electorate, and the international community, for leading an unprecedented counter attack that reversed the UPFA project to take control of the government. Jayasuriya played a significant role in thwarting the Oct 2018 constitutional coup. The former UNP Deputy Leader’s role earned him an opportunity to come forward as the next presidential candidate. However, the party is still divided over its choice with incumbent Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa’s name, too, being increasingly mentioned as a likely candidate.

The battle over US influencing Sri Lanka’s Parliament is taking place in the run-up to the 2019 presidential election. A few weeks ago, a top Colombo based US diplomat told a selected group of journalists, representing both privately and state-owned media, the US expected Sri Lanka to remain committed to agreements between the two, regardless of the outcome of the poll. Leaders of our political parties seen unaware of this warning.

Kariyawasam cannot be faulted for pursuing UNP policy, since January 2015, for obvious reasons. Kariyawasam’s role in ACSA ,as well as taking up appointment as Speaker’s advisor, should be examined against the backdrop of the yahapalana foreign policy. President Maithripala Sirisena, cannot absolve himself of culpability, for the current crisis, as his UPFA remained in government till Oct 2018. Even after the UPFA (read as SLFP lawmakers loyal to President Sirisena) quit the government, President Sirisena, in his capacity as the President, remains the head of the cabinet. Therefore, there cannot be any dispute as regards the responsibility/culpability of the UNP and the UPFA. Failure on the part of the government to thwart the Easter Sunday attacks is a case in point. Instead of trying to blame each other, President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe should accept responsibility for the government failure to thwart theEaster attacks. Let us get back to the US project meant to influence Sri Lanka’s Parliament.

 The writer dealt the US project on several occasions and also discussed the issue at hand with Faraz Shauketaly both on ‘Hot Seat’ and ‘News Line.’ The JO/SLPP never felt the need to take up the US ,or any other project, involving foreign governments. The JO owed the public an explanation as to why the grouping never took up thehigh profile US project until now. Better late than never.

The following front-page story, headlined ‘Private US company chosen for public sector reform here,’ with strap line ‘USD 13 mn project in collaboration with Parliament’ published on January 02, 2017 dealt with the US project: The US has chosen Maryland headquartered Development Alternatives, Inc (DAI), to implement a mega project meant to reform Sri Lanka’s public sector, in accordance with an agreement between Sri Lanka and the House Democracy Partnership of the US House of Representatives.

Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) worth Rs 1.92 bn (USD 13 mn) is first of its kind implemented in Sri Lanka.

The US embassy in Colombo confirmed that DAI would work closely with the Parliament, Independent Commissions and related ministries.

DAI operates in Asia, the Pacific, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, West Asia, North Africa, as well as Sub-Saharan Africa.

The project has been finalized by a parliamentary delegation, led by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya during a visit to Washington in September 2016. The delegation comprised Ajith P. Perera, Deputy Minister of Power and Renewable Energy, Karunaratne Paranavithane, Deputy Minister of Parliament Reform and Mass Media, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, State Minister of City Planning and Water Supply, and Dhammika Dassanayake, Secretary General of Parliament. The delegation was joined by Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States of America, Prasad Kariyawasam.

According to the US embassy, the House Democracy Partnership of the U.S. House of Representatives was currently implementing projects in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Colombia, Georgia, Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Macedonia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, Timo-Leste and Ukraine.

The US embassy said that SDGAP was subject to the laws and regulations of the United States, with oversight from USAID’s Office of Inspector General. "The project is also subject to the bilateral agreement between the United States and Sri Lanka," the embassy said.

 The Island sought explanation from the US embassy as regards the USAID project.

 The Island: When will you be releasing the first tranche of Rs. 1.92 bn (USD 13 mn) allocated for three year Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) here?

 US embassy: USAID allocated the initial USD 3 million for the USD 13.7 million Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) in September of 2016 and the programme was launched in November of 2016. The project will help the Government of Sri Lanka to increase transparency and accountability, advance good governance reforms, and strengthen systems and processes for public accountability, financial management, policy development and implementation. The project also supports the government to strengthen communication with citizens, include the public in policy-making, and increase the participation of women in political processes.

 The Island: On behalf of GoSL who will receive the funds and be responsible for the utilization of funds?

 US embassy: SDGAP will be implemented by Development Alternatives, Inc., in close collaboration with the Sri Lanka Parliament, Independent Commissions, and other related Ministries.

The Island: Can you please name the other countries accommodated in United States’ House Democracy Partnership programme?

The US embassy: Sri Lanka is the 18th country to become a member of the House Democracy Partnership.  The Sri Lanka Parliament and the House Democracy Partnership of the U.S. House of Representatives launched a Collaboration Agreement to strengthen partnership between the two legislatures on September 14th, in Washington D.C.

The Island: Will the SDGAP project be subjected to Sri Lanka’s Auditor General’s purview?

US embassy: Since funding for SDGAP is provided from the United States Government, it is subject to the laws and regulations of the United States, with oversight from USAID’s Office of Inspector General. It is also subject to the bilateral agreement between the United States and Sri Lanka. Notably, USAID also has projects that work directly with the Auditor General’s Office on procurement reform, the Parliamentary Committees on Public Accounts and Public Enterprises, the National Procurement Commission, and others to support transparency, accountability, and capacity development.

The Island: Did US provide funds for a similar project to any previous GoSL?

 US embassy: Since 1956, the United States has provided over $2 billion in assistance in a wide range of sectors, including agriculture, small business development, environment, health, education, infrastructure, transportation, humanitarian assistance, civil society development, electoral reform, and good governance. Following the January 2015 elections, new programmes like SDGAP reflect the U.S. government’s promises to support the vision of the Sri Lankan people of a peaceful, democratic, and inclusive country. SDGAP follows on the successes of a previous programme that provided short-term technical assistance to the Sri Lanka Parliament.

 The Island: Is continuation of funding subjected to implementation of SDGAP as scheduled?

 US embassy: SDGAP has a total estimated cost of USD 13.7 million. Future obligations to the project will be done subject to the availability of funding and in accordance with the contract documents with Development Alternatives, Inc.

Kariyawasam received appointment as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador, in Washington, in July 2014. The posting was cleared by the Parliamentary High Post Committee, chaired by the then Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa. There couldn’t have been a better person for Washington. The experienced career diplomat succeeded political appointee Jaliya Wickremasuriya (2008-2014), close relative of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, now held in the US over alleged financial crimes. Wickremasuriya should never have been given such a long stint there under any circumstances. Kariyawasam took over the mission during an extremely delicate time with the US undermining the then government. President Rajapaksa’s relationship with China antagonized both the US and India. They worked overtime to bring an end to the Rajapaksa administration. They succeeded in 2015, though 2010 project failed. The US was desperate to get rid of Rajapaksa, and it thew its full weight behind General Sarath Fonseka, at the presidential poll, in spite of its own Ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis, naming the war-winning Army Chief as a war criminal. They went to the extent of forcing the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to campaign for Fonseka, in spite of having accused his army of killings thousands of civilians and battlefield executions of surrendered LTTE cadres.

With the change of government in Sri Lanka in 2015, foreign policy underwent a drastic change. Kariyawasam, though receiving appointment from the previous administration, had no option but to follow the treacherous yahapalana foreign policy. Having withheld support for the successful war effort that culminated with the eradication of the LTTE, in May 2009, the UNP fully cooperated with Western efforts to blame Sri Lanka for war crimes. The Foreign Service officers are duty bound to follow political directives or face the consequences. Kariyawasam followed directives from Colombo. All missions did the same. Those who head missions now do the same whatever they say in individual capacity.

During Kariyawasam’s tenure in Washington (July 2014-July 2017), Sri Lanka reached a controversial tripartite agreement with the US and the TNA on an accountability mechanism. The cabinet and the Parliament were never briefed of the proposed accountability mechanism. The accord remained secret until TNA heavyweight, Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran, revealed it. The revelation was made in June 2016, in Washington, at the ‘Congressional Caucus for Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka.’

Sumanthiran told the Washington gathering that the Geneva Resolution was adopted on Oct 01, 2015, following an understanding that the participation of foreigners, in an accountability mechanism, wouldn’t be contrary to Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Declaring that he had been personally involved in the negotiations with the US and also participated in that particular process, Sumanthiran said: "There were some doubts created, as to whether the Constitution of Sri Lanka would allow for foreign nationals to function as judges and we went into that question, clarified it, and said yes they can."

To Sumanthiran’s credit, he never contradicted his own statement like many other politicians. It is certainly a commendable trait.

Sumanthiran told the Congressional Caucus that the resolution accepted at Geneva had been negotiated by them (US, Sri Lanka and the TNA). Both Sumanthiran and UK-based spokesperson for the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), Suren Surendin, have said they settled for a hybrid model though they originally asked for an international inquiry.

In his brief remarks at the Washington event, Ambassador Kariyawasam provided an overview of the measures taken by Sri Lanka to promote its two-pronged policy of reconciliation and development, since the January 2015 election of the current government, and reiterated, in detail, measures taken by the government to vindicate its commitment to these processes and explained the several challenges that militate against government efforts. A statement issued by the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington regarding the event didn’t make any reference to Sumanthiran’s shocking disclosure.

Post 2010 & 2015 prez polls


The JO never took up this issue either though The Island repeatedly raised Sumanthiran’s revelation. The JO and the JVP neglected their responsibilities. They conveniently refrained from taking up the tripartite agreement. They never did.

The writer raised Sumanthiran’s Washington declaration with Tilak Marapana after the President’s Counsel addressed the media at the Foreign Ministry after succeeding Ravi Karunanayake. The UNP brought back Marapana to the cabinet, in Aug 2017, at the expense of UNP Assistant Leader in the wake of the treasury bond scam controversy. Standing next to Marapana was the then Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam, who had been Sri Lanka’s previous Ambassador in Washington. Kariyawasam sat next to Sumanthiran when the latter revealed the existence of a secret tripartite agreement on foreign participation in the accountability process.

In response to the writer’s query, Marapana declared that the 1978 Constitution wouldn’t permit the inclusion of foreign judges in the proposed domestic Judicial Mechanism under any circumstances.

A confident Marapana strongly disputed the writer’s assertion in respect of the inclusion of foreign judges in the proposed accountability mechanism in accordance with the Geneva Resolution 30/1.

 Marapana quite conveniently had forgotten that a government appointed body, in January, 2017, endorsed the Geneva Resolution. The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) called for full participation of foreign judges, and other personnel, including defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators, in transitional justice mechanism to address accountability issues.

The CTFRM released the controversial report on the eve of the third anniversary of President Maithripala Sirisena’s victory over his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa.

 The government faithfully followed the US strategy. It still follows.

 In accordance with US strategy, Sri Lanka entered into a ‘Comprehensive Partnership Agreement’ (CPA) with Japan soon after co-sponsoring the Geneva Resolution. The CPA was signed in Tokyo on Oct 06, 2015. Premier Wickremesinghe signed the CPA, on behalf of Sri Lanka, with his counterpart Abe. Japan, home for powerful US forces based there, since the end of World War II, is in a military alliance with the US and India meant to counter growing Chinese influence. Australia, too, is part of this US-led operation. The recent tripartite agreement among Sri Lanka, India and Japan on Eastern Terminal of the Colombo port should be examined taking into consideration Western powers seeking to dominate Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representatives, in Geneva, in 2015 (Ravinatha Aryasinha), and incumbent Ambassador, A.L. A Azeez, accepted Resolutions 30/1 and 40/1, respectively, though they were inimical to Sri Lanka. They followed government policy. Don’t forget Sri Lanka co-sponsored the despicable Resolution about 10 days after rejecting it at the first informal talks with those countries moving it. The government directed the Permanent Representative to go ahead soon after the US complained about Colombo’s stand. Ambassador Azeez did the same on instructions received from Mano Tittawella. Tittawella issued instructions in his capacity as the Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) – a cabinet appointed body answerable to Premier Wickremeisnghe’s Office.

 Sri Lanka remains in the US-initiated Geneva process though the global power quit the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), in June 2018, after accusing it of being ‘a cesspool of political bias.’

 Kariyawasam functions as an DAI (Development Alternatives Inc) employee. There are other beneficiaries. Thanks to US project and other related ‘operations’ our lawmakers received opportunity to visit India, China, US, UK, Germany, Nrway, EU, Iran, Canada, Oman and Switzerland. Groups of journalists covering parliament as well as the staff, too, received foreign trips at the expense of various countries. Parliament reached agreements with UNDP, USAID/DAI, International Republican Institure,Westminister Fondation, National Democratic Institute and Friedrich Naumann Foundation for basically improving standards of lawmakers. The entire country knows the status of parliament where lawmakers conduct is under scrutiny.

 Yahapalana foreign policy ensured the continuation of the Geneva process even after Lord Naseby provided the much discussed wherewithal to reverse the US-led project. Kariyawasam played a significant role in continuation of the process as Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The continuing project to influenceParliament is all part of the overall strategy to bring Sri Lanka under permanent US domination. Can such a vast operation be blamed on Kariyawasam? The operation seems on track.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

IMPACT on 2019 Prez poll

Easter Sunday attacks


Pictures of Zahran Hashim (centre) and other members of the Easter Sunday suicide squad with their faces covered was released soon after the coordinated attacks.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Lawmaker Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka on Sunday (June 16, 2019) contradicted Defence Secretary Gen. (retd) Shantha Kottegoda as regards the status of the current threat posed by the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) and allied organizations.

President Maithripala Sirisena, in May, banned Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim (JMI) and Willayath As Seylani in addition to the NTJ.

Responding to media query following a public event, war-winning Army Commander Fonseka pointed out the sharp discrepancy in Kottegoda’s much publicized assertion before the controversial Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday attacks and the actual security situation.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, MP, has ignored President Maithripala Sirisena’s demand to halt the PSC proceedings.

The PSC consists of Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri, Chairman (UNP/Moneragala District), Sarath Fonseka (Democratic Party/UNP National List), Ravi Karunanayake (UNP/Colombo District), Dr. Rajitha Senaratne (UNP/Kalutara District), Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne (LSSP/UNP National List), Prof. Ashu Marasinghe (UNP National List), Rauff Hakeem (SLMC/UNP Kandy District), M.A. Sumanthiran (TNA/Jaffna District) and Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa (JVP/Kalutara District).

The country’s one and only Field Marshal questioned the credibility of Kottegoda’s claim that 99 per cent of the problem had been taken care of in the wake of the recent apprehension of seven persons trained to carry out suicide attacks. The ungrateful government however, so far denied the equal rank to wartime Air Force and Navy Commanders, Roshan Gunatilleke and Wasantha Karannagoda, respectively. PSC member Fonseka declared that five persons who had been brought to Colombo from Saudi Arabia last week, and two arrested in Mahanuwara, were trained suicide cadres. Fonseka strongly countered Kottegoda’s assessment of the security situation. Former Minister Fonseka painted an extremely bleak picture of the situation, warning the public of serious security threats, posed by terrorists.

Fonseka lashed out at the current dispensation for not taking tangible measures to neutralize the grave terrorist threat, even after he explained as to how the NTJ challenge could be addressed. Fonseka didn’t mince his words when he declared that the new Defence Secretary was incapable of tackling the issue. It would be pertinent to mention how Fonseka, of the Sinha Regiment (SR), was appointed Commander of the Army, replacing then military chief Kottegoda of the Sri Lanka Light Infantry (SLLI) by President Mahinda Rajapaksa as a result of the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intervention. The change took place soon after the Nov 2005 presidential election.

Having won the presidential election, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in spite of strong opposition from many, accepted Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recommendation in respect of Fonseka. Although Kottegoda assured Gotabaya Rajapaksa he was ready to accept whatever task the Rajapaksa administration wanted the Army to do, by then the Rajapaksas had already decided to accommodate Fonseka as the Commander of the Army. Fonseka received the appointment less than a month before he was due to retire as the Chief of Staff of the Army.

Kottegoda succeeded Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, on July 01, 2004, during the Oslo-managed Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).

Fonseka survived an LTTE suicide attack, in April 2006, in the run-up to the outbreak of the Eelam war IV.

Nearly two months after the Easter Sunday carnage, the UNP government is still struggling to cope up with the crisis, with no consensus how to neutralize the NTJ challenge. The UNP is of the view the government efforts have been badly hampered due to President Sirisena depriving it of the law and order portfolio. In accordance with the Constitution, the President holds the defence portfolio.

With countrywide national elections-presidential in Dec 2019 and parliamentary in mid next year - President Sirisena is unlikely to give-up the law and order portfolio for obvious reasons.

Tamil-Muslim alliance

The Easter Sunday attacks will have a huge impact on the forthcoming presidential election. Veteran UNPer Ranjith Madduma Bandara (Moneragala District) recently ruled out the possibility of the UNP fielding a common candidate under any circumstances. Madduma Bandara emphasized that the party would definitely field a UNP candidate. The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and those supportive of the TNA strategy, however is, expected to push for a common candidate, regardless of the consequences. In accordance with their strategy, they’ll explore ways and means of securing the support of the Muslim community in the run up to the presidential election. The crisis caused by the Easter attacks are being brazenly exploited to influence the Muslim community with the TNA and the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) turning a blind eye to the fact that the NTJ deliberately also targeted the Tamil community in the Easter Sunday carnage. The European Union, too, issued a statement meant to divert the attention.

The writer sought an explanation as to why the TNA refrained from commenting on the deaths of at least 60 Tamils in the NTJ suicide attacks which also caused injuries to over 100. The TNA is yet to respond to The Island query. Against the backdrop of the long delay in the TNA responding to The Island query, the writer received a statement from the UK-based GTF on the current situation. Interestingly, the GTF acknowledged that it had failed to secure the backing of the Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) to the statement. The GTF stated that the ATC ‘respectfully disagreed with some parts of this statement and chose to exclude from this particular statement.’

Let me reproduce the entire GTF statement, headlined ‘Global Tamil Forum condemns violence and intimidation against the Muslim community in Sri Lanka’

The GTF statement: "The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) express its strong condemnation of the anti-Muslim hatred and hysteria being whipped up by sections of Sinhala Buddhist community, and call on the Sri Lankan authorities to take immediate steps to arrest this dangerous development.

"Following the end of the decades-long civil war in 2009, the Muslim community became the prime target of the extremist, elements among the Sinhala Buddhist community, and this was aided and abetted by powerful forces within the majority community. The emerging trend was unmissable – well-planned violence in the Kalutara district, in June 2014, highly-coordinated riots in the Ampara and Kandy districts, during February-March 2018, and the death and destruction in several towns across the North-West region, in May 2019.

"Muslim civilians lost lives; their homes, businesses and mosques were ransacked and burnt; and tens of thousands were displaced. Many of these attacks were carried out under the patronage of Buddhist monks and in the presence of security forces. The hatred against Muslims was systematically ramped up over recent years and the community has been harassed and intimidated in a multitude of ways – deceit and false propaganda, calls to boycott Muslim professionals and their businesses, and imposing dress codes in violation of basic human rights. Actions of the extremist Sinhala Buddhist elements thus resulted in the creation of a fertile ground for extremist Islamic elements to exploit. This is undoubtedly one factor that contributed to the Easter Sunday violence.

"A notable crescendo was the recent hunger strike by the Monk-Parliamentarian, Athuraliye Rathana, calling for the resignation of Muslim Ministers and Governors by implicating them to Easter Sunday violence. GTF supports a thorough investigation into Easter Sunday attacks to identify all those directly or indirectly contributed to that carnage and bring them to face the full force of the law. Unfortunately, pre-empting such a process with vague allegations and a hunger strike helped build mass momentum around these demands and created a tinderbox with potential for serious violence against the Muslim community.

"Sri Lankan law enforcement officials and politicians have failed to show leadership in arresting this dangerous trend. Hundreds of Muslims continue to be detained in suspicion of involvement in the Easter Sunday violence, whereas key persons behind the recent anti-Muslim violence were released without regards for due process. Galagoda Gnanasara, an extremist monk known for inciting violence against Muslims, was pardoned within a year of serving his six-year jail sentence by President Sirisena, who did not have the moral fortitude to express public sympathy or support for the beleaguered Muslim community and its leaders.

"Amidst these tense inter-communal relations, a stand-out is the collective decision made by all nine Muslim Ministers and two Muslim Provincial Governors to resign from their positions. As articulated by Minister Rauff Hakeem, their actions were aimed at easing the fear of the Muslim population that was ‘terrified’ and ‘feared bloodbath’; he also called on the government to expedite investigations into all accusations related to the recent violent incidents.

"For the Tamil people it is a sense of déjà vu from the fifties to the eighties – when discrimination and high-handed actions against Tamil civilians; mob violence with collusion of security forces and elements of the government; total impunity for perpetrators; and harassment and intimidation of their Parliamentarians, all the while Sinhala national leaders appeased Sinhala extremism. Such appalling failure alienated the Tamil community, which ultimately led to civil war, the impact of which will take many more years to overcome. It will be tragic if the Muslim community is subjected to the same fate and made to feel as second-class citizens in their own country.

"The hard-line Buddhist forces have historically played an abominable role in preventing ethnic harmony, equality, and political power sharing among various communities. The latest events took this a step further which resulted in the resignation of Ministers and gave the agitators a pseudo-veto in deciding who could be in the government. This set a dangerous new precedent.

"Our strong conviction is that the numerically minority communities and their political leaders need to work together and in partnership with progressive forces from the majority community to regain their safety, rights and pride of place in the country. The political and religious leaders representing the majority community need to act beyond pandering to extremist elements, with a vision to create equality among all communities. The international community too should play its part in ensuring that Sri Lanka does not slide into another dark age of ethnic and religious intolerance and violence. This is essential for peace in Sri Lanka".

European powers in

political project

The EU too played politics with the issue. The following statement was issued by the EU in Colombo after it and representatives of other like-minded diplomatic missions met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last week.

The EU statement: "The Delegation of the European Union (EU) issues the following statement in agreement with the embassies of France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Romania and the UK High Commission, as well as the embassies of Norway and Switzerland.

"We are deeply concerned by political and religious pressure being directed at Sri Lanka’s Muslim community which is undermining peace and reconciliation in the country.  Prejudiced and unsubstantiated allegations repeatedly published by media serve only to fuel intolerance.

"We shared our views during a meeting today with the Prime Minister. On that occasion we welcomed the government’s commitment to address hate speech and to set up a religious reconciliation council.

"We stand by all Sri Lankans working to preserve the peaceful coexistence between all communities, and expect religious and other community leaders to support them and speak out against violence.

"We urge the President, Prime Minister, and all political leaders to reassert the state’s commitment to mutual respect, tolerance, and equal treatment under the law for all, irrespective of faith or ethnicity."

The EU had no qualms in backing Geneva Resolution on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations with the killing of 40,000 civilians being the primary accusation.

The GTF, too, conveniently forgot the suffering experienced by the Tamil community as a result of the Easter Sunday attacks for obvious reasons. Western powers and civil society realize the importance of retaining the support of the Muslim community for the candidate whom they expect to support at the 2019 presidential poll. Their overall strategy is geared to bring Tamil and Muslim electorates together. In spite of setbacks caused by the Easter Sunday attacks, the TNA, even at the expense of its own community, extended its support to the Muslim political leadership. The Muslim leadership, too, remained silent over deliberate attacks carried out on the Tamil community. Tamil and Muslim leaderships are resorting to despicable tactics for political reasons.

It would be certainly interesting to know why the Australian Tamil Congress declined to endorse the GTF statement. However, we should appreciate the public acknowledgment of the difference of opinion between the GTF and its Australian partner - an extremely healthy situation our political parties and civil society groups, too, should follow.

Perhaps the GTF wouldn’t have achieved its current status if the LTTE managed to survive the war on the Vanni east front and reached some sort of arrangement with international backing.

Common candidate still a reality

In spite of Minister Madduma Bandara vowing to field a UNP candidate, the top party leadership will do everything possible to retain the UNP-TNA-JVP-SLMC combine that ensured Maithripala Sirisena’s victory at the last presidential election, in January 2015. The Easter Sunday strike has caused a serious setback to efforts meant to save the UNP-led alliance. The UNP-TNA-JVP-SLMC combine, backed by a section of the international community and civil society failed at 2010 presidential election. The same grouping succeeded at the last presidential election. In fact, the then General Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena had never been part of the grouping though they were fielded in 2010 and 2015, respectively. Both Fonseka and Sirisena contested under the swan symbol belonging to British passport holder Shalila Moonesinghe, who later received appointment as the Chairman of state enterprise Litro Gas in return for services rendered to yahapalana movement.

Moonesinghe’s New Democratic Front (NDF) received special treatment from Wickremesinghe’s government for facilitating its project. In Oct 2017, Moonesinghe ended up in police custody after he was caught in a massive international scam. Moonesinghe lost his lucrative job over fraudulent transfer of a large sum of USD from Far Eastern International Bank in Taiwan to Sri Lanka. His accomplice was Janaka Chaminda Nammuni, son of one time Chief-of-Staff of the Army Maj. Gen. Jaliya Nammuni. The fraud ended Moonesinghe’s chances of a high profile political role. Even if the UNP and its allies somehow manage to reach a consensus on a common candidate, at the next presidential, they are unlikely to consider NDF as a platform for their candidate.

The UNP last fielded a candidate on the party ticket at the 2005 presidential election at the height of the LTTE power. Wickremesinghe could have comfortably won the election if not for the LTTE-TNA combine sabotaging the UNP leader’s bid. The LTTE-TNA combine deprived Wickremesinghe of the northern vote in spite of some UNPers and the late lawmaker Nadaraja Raviraj appealing to the LTTE. The LTTE and an influential section of the TNA believed a victory for Wickremesinghe could undermine their military project. They believed Rajapaksa’s victory would justify resumption of war. The LTTE resumed hostilities in early Dec 2005 with claymore mine attacks on the military, deployed in the Jaffna peninsula. In the following month, the LTTE blasted a Fast Attack Craft (FAC) off Trincomalee and an abortive bid to assassinate Army Chief Fonseka, three months later, proved their project was on track.

If the LTTE succeeded in assassinating Fonseka, in April 2006, and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in December, of the same year, the outcome of the Eelam War IV would have been different. Sri Lanka could have lost the war. But, the LTTE’s partner, the TNA, had no qualms in backing Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election, after having accused his Army of butchering thousands of Tamil civilians. Although the TNA hesitated, initially, the grouping played its role, beautifully. It ensured Fonseka received the highest vote in all northern and eastern electoral districts, including Digamadulla. The TNA project wouldn’t have succeeded if not for the Muslim political outfits being part of the operation backed by the US. Thanks to Wiki Leaks, the role played by the US in Fonseka’s bid is in the public domain.

With the US bent on somehow finalizing SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) in the run up to 2019 presidential election, having secured ACSA (Acquiring and Cross Servicing Agreement) in Aug 2018, the Trump administration, and its allies in Asia, will go all out to ensure the continuation of the current dispensation, regardless of possible changes at the top.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Fonseka questions credibility of CBK era Millennium City operation



UNP MP Mujibur Rahuman, one of the politicians accused of promoting extremists, share a light moment with members of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday attacks. From left: Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, M A Sumanthiran, Prof. Arsu Marasinghe, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka (partly covered) and Rauf Hakeem. Rahuman has categorically denied accusations directed at him when the writer sought an explanation from him as to why former Justice Minister Wijeyadsasa Rajapakse named him as a suspect (pic by Kamal Bogoda) 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow was raised recently when Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka cleared the then UNP government of the shocking exposure of a clandestine operation behind enemy lines, conducted by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) at the time of the Dec 5, 2001 parliamentary polls.

War-winning Army Chief Fonseka referred to what was widely dubbed the Millennium City affair in parliament on June 04, 2019, afternoon, on the second day of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probe on the Easter Sunday attacks. Responding to Joint Opposition accusations that the opening of PSC proceedings, to the media, would jeopardize security, the Sinha Regiment veteran declared there was absolutely no basis for such politically motivated claims.

Recalling his role as Security Forces, Commander, Jaffna, at that time, the war veteran ridiculed the Sergeant-in-Charge of the Millennium City safe house. Fonseka mocked how could the pot-bellied Sergeant, unable to climb a couple of steps, engaged in LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) operations deep behind the enemy lines.

The comments were made during interdicted DIG Nalaka Silva’s appearance before the PSC, chaired by Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, PC.

The PSC comprised Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri (UNP/Moneragala), Rauff Hakeem (UNP/Mahanuwara), Ravi Karunanayake (UNP/Colombo), Dr. Rajitha Senaratne (UNP/Kalutara), Prof. Ashu Marasinghe (UNP National List), Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne (UNP National List), Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa (JVP/Kalutara) and M. A. Sumanthiran (TNA/Jaffna). SLMC leader Hakeem contested the last parliamentary election, on the UNP ticket, whereas the LSSP stalwart Dr. Wickremaratne, one of the key architects of the 19thAmendment, was accommodated on the UNP National List.

Last Friday, June 07, 2019, President Maithripala Sirisena moved to sabotage the PSC by depriving it of the opportunity to summon serving intelligence officers. President Sirisena made his controversial move in the wake of suspended IGP Pujith Jayasundera and former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando blaming the Commander-in-Chief for the shocking failure to thwart the Easter Sunday attacks. Sirisena suffered a debilitating setback. Of the five witnesses, so far before the PSC, four, namely Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) DIG, Retd, Sisira Mendis, interdicted DIG Nalaka Silva, suspended IGP Pujith Jayasundera and former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando embarrassed the President quite badly. Hemasiri Fernando’s successor Gen. (retd) Shantha Kottegoda was certainly cautious in his approach.

Interestingly, members of the PSC conveniently refrained from asking as to why those privy to the Indian intelligence warning, made available on April 04, 2019, refrained from bringing the information to the notice of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and Commander of the Army Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake as well as the Director, Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) Brig. Chula Kodituwakku. Can there be any justification in withholding such valuable intelligence warning from the military?

The bottom line is that the CNI, the IGP and Defence Secretary can never absolve themselves of the responsibility for the grave lapse/negligence on their part to thwart the coordinated suicide bomb attacks. They certainly didn’t require the approval of President Sirisena to quietly alert the Catholic Church and depending on the situation, make a public announcement. The shameless trio did nothing.

It would be pertinent to revisit the Millennium City affair, a contentious issue that figured prominently in political debates over the years. Scrutiny of the 2002 incident and subsequent developments can be quite useful to those interested in knowing the truth about the police raid on the DMI safe house in Millennium City, soon after the Dec 5, 2001 general election.

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga called very early general election, after having dissolved parliament, on Oct 10, 2001, amidst political turmoil. Kumaratunga had no option but to dissolve parliament in the wake of some of her parliamentary group members switching their allegiance to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, beginning with 11 SLMC members (June 20, 2001), Bandula Gunawardena (Oct 09, 2001), eight PA MPs, including S.B. Dissanayake and Prof. G.L. Peiris (Oct 10, 2001) and four CWC MPs (Oct 10, 2001). The PA secured 107 seats at the previous general election, held on Oct 10, 2000. The UNP managed to secure only 89 seats, though a section of Kumaratunga’s PA brought down the government by betraying Kumaratunga. Having won the Dec 05, 2001 general election, the UNP moved swiftly to finalize a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Feb. 21, 2002 literally through the back door.

At the time of the CFA, the LTTE had the upper hand in the northern theater of operations, after having inflicted the worst single loss on the Army, in early 2000. The LTTE decisively defeated a Division plus troops, deployed at Elephant Pass following a series of battles south of the base.

Let me examine Fonseka’s comparison of allegations directed at the PSC, probing the Easter attacks, in April 2019, and the raid on the DMI safe house, in Jan 2002.

The CFA made direct reference to operations, undertaken by the DMI, though Fonseka ridiculed the Aturugiriya project. In respect of ‘Military Operations,’ the CFA stated neither party shall engage in any offensive military operation. This requires the total cessation of all military action and includes, but is not limited to, such acts as: (a) The firing of direct and indirect weapons, armed raids, ambushes, assassinations, abductions, destruction of military or civilian property, sabotage, suicide missions and activities by deep penetration units (emphasis mine) (b) Aerial bombardment and (c) Offensive naval operations.

The LTTE called for suspension of deep penetration units as it posed quite a challenge to the terror outfit. The then UNP government never bothered to consult the military, regarding the CFA. Instead, Norway prepared controversial document that was meant to recognize an area under the LTTE administrative control. The CFA arrangement undermined the military. The CFA also ensured movement of LTTE cadres across military-held areas, much to the disappointment of the security forces top brass. The government turned a blind eye to security concerns. The then Norwegian Minister of International Development Erik Solheim, in an interview with NGO guru Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe, explained the circumstances under which the CFA came into being.

The following is the relevant question and answer:

(Question) To come back to the CFA, how did it happen? Was there a clear text that you took to the two parties? How did the actual CFA itself come about?

(Answer) I had long discussions with Anton Balasingham in London, then with government leaders like G.L. Peiris, Milinda Moragoda and others in Colombo about the main requirements. We spent tens of hours discussing issues and concerns and then looking at the text. Two parties made a lot of changes and brought it back to us and it was discussed orally. Then again I drafted a new proposal, which took about two months. It was signed on the 22nd of February. A period of 6-8 weeks were spent in discussion and writing the agreement," (Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures and Lessons, Volume II). Edited by Dr. Rupesinghe, it was launched in Feb 2006 as the country was rapidly moving towards an all-out war.

UNP targets DMI

Lionel Balagalle, one-time head of the DMI and the Commander of the Army at the time of the signing of the CFA, told the writer several years ago, that the exposure of some of those involved in the DMI operations, due to the police raid on a ‘safe house’ at Millennium City, Athurugiriya, operated by the DMI, facilitated LTTE operations. Those at the helm of the decision-making process, at that time, had not realized the LTTE’s strategy of using the CFA to further its cause, Lt. Gen. Balagalle said.

In the run-up to the Dec 5, 2001 parliamentary polls, UNP leader Wickremesinghe alleged that the DMI was planning to assassinate him. He claimed that the DMI was training Tamil terrorists at the Panaluwa Army Testing Range to mount an attack on his campaign bus, as well as his political rallies. The unprecedented allegation caused chaos with the army placed in an extremely embarrassing position.

On a directive of Wickremesinghe, the then UNP Chairman Charitha Ratwatte and Deputy Chairman Daya Palpola wrote a hard-hitting letter to Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle warning that he would be held responsible ‘in the event of an unfortunate incident’. The UNP duo accused the Army Chief of training personnel to carry out a destabilization campaign against the UNP.

Having consulted the then administration, an irate Lt. Gen. Balagalle addressed a letter to Ratwatte and Palpola dismissing their accusations. The Island, in a front-page exclusive headlined ‘Army chief says no truth in UNP claims,’ in its Nov 11, 2001 issue revealed the exchange between army headquarters and UNP headquarters, Sirikotha. The report was based on what Lt. Gen. Balagalle told this writer the previous evening. The Army Chief, himself, a one-time head of the DMI, said that there was absolutely no basis for the UNP claim that a hit squad was undergoing training in the use of high explosives and thermobaric weapons.

The UNP ignored the army chief’s letter. The allegation was repeated throughout the campaign.

The UNP-led United National Front (UNF) emerged victorious with 109 seats, while the defeated PA secured 77. The remaining seats were shared by the JVP (16), TNA (15), SLMC (5), EPDP (2) and the DPLF (1). It was one of the bloodiest elections. During the five-week long campaign almost 50 people were killed, with the Dec. 5 massacre of a group of SLMC supporters at Udathalawinna being the single worst incident. This massacre, allegedly carried out by troops attached to the Vijayaba Infantry Regiment (VIR) caused a vindictive UNP leadership to order a raid on a safe house used by the DMI, situated at Millennium City, Aturugiriya, in January 2002, which changed the course of the conflict. The UNF cited intelligence reports that Anuruddha Ratwatte’s sons, wanted in connection with the Udathalawinna massacre, were taking refuge at Aturugiriya.

Had the UNP leadership been a little cautious, it would never have publicly accused the Army of an assassination plot, Gen. Balagalle told the writer.

Operating hit squads behind enemy lines had been a key element in the Army’s strategy, Lt. Gen. Balagalle said, alleging the then Opposition had failed to grasp what was going on. Balagalle said: "Had they quietly raised the issue with us and sought a clarification, without playing politics with national security, the Aturugiriya fiasco could have been averted. Even ex-LTTE cadres were brought in for operations, along with valuable inputs from civilian informants. We were successful due to many reasons such as training received from Pakistani instructors. We also accommodated troops from other fighting battalions to engage in operations behind the enemy lines, though the Special Forces and Army Commandos spearheaded the campaign."

The Aturugiriya raid ruptured relations between the UNP and the Army. It caused irreparable damage to national security and gave the PA an opportunity to undermine the UNF government.

At the behest of the UNP, a section of the media, including the Colombo-based correspondents working for international news agencies, highlighted the Aturugiriya raid, speculating the Army’s alleged involvement in anti-government activities. Investigating officers alleged that those based at Aturugiriya had been involved in the alleged attempt to assassinate Wickremesinghe in the run-up to the Dec 5 polls. Subsequently, they were accused of planning attacks in the city and suburbs to sabotage the Norwegian-led peace process.

The UNP allegations had the desired impact in the wake of state television showing recovered items, which included 66 sets of LTTE uniforms, four thermobaric weapons, seven claymore mines, each weighing 10 kgs, 10 claymore mines, each weighing one kg, three T-56 assault rifles along with 400 rounds of ammunition, 10 anti-tank weapons, detonators, cyanide capsules, exploders, remote controlled devices and wire rolls. While a section of the media lashed out at the Army, in a front-page exclusive headlined ‘Controversy over police raid on army officer’s Millennium City residence,’ on Jan 4, 2002, The Island revealed that the police team from Kandy, led by UNP loyalist, Kulasiri Udugampola, had raided an Army safe house. In a separate story headlined ‘...were involved in Army duties’ also published on Jan 04, 2002, The Island reported Defence Ministry assurance that the duties performed by the arrested personnel were not beyond the official duties of the services.

The police team was backed by a team of CCMP (Ceylon Corps of Military Police). In spite of the Army strongly objecting to the police action, with both Lt. Gen. Balagalle and the then Director of DMI, Brigadier Kapila Hendarawithana (now retired) reassuring the government of the legitimacy of operations undertaken by the DMI, the police was let loose on covert operatives. In spite of Lt. Gen. Balagalle rushing Hendarawithana, who later figured in many controversies, to the scene, SP Udugampola went ahead with the raid. He had obtained permission from courts to search the premises. Udugampola had the backing of the then Interior Minister, John Amaratunga. IGP Lucky Kodituwakku, though being convinced of the legitimacy of the DMI operation, was helpless.

The Kandy police raided the safe house, shortly after the officer-in-charge of the DMI operation had handed over part of their arsenal to authorities. Those involved in the hit-and-run operations, in LTTE held-areas, had returned to Colombo, on Dec 27, 2001, in the wake of the Wickremesinghe administration declaring its readiness to go ahead with a Norwegian initiative to bring about a truce. The Kandy police also accused the Army of planting two claymore mines targeting a UNP candidate along the Wattegama-Panwila road, in the run-up to the Dec 5, 2001 polls.

The then security forces spokesman, Brig. Sanath Karunaratne emphasised that those operating from Aturugiriya were involved in ‘army duties’. Regardless of protests by the Army, those arrested were taken away to the Narahenpita CMP headquarters before being transferred to Kandy. They were treated like criminals and held under humiliating conditions. Six of them, including an officer, were held in one room. For two weeks, the media reported all sorts of conspiracy theories.

Those arrested were held for almost two weeks before being released. The police raid would never have been possible without an influential section, within the Army, cooperating with the political establishment to undermine a vital operation meant to destabilize the LTTE.

The UNP and the police justified Udugampola’s raid. Asked whether he had used the safe house to accommodate his sons, one-time Defence Chief, Anuruddha Ratwatte, candidly acknowledged that he wasn’t even among those who knew of the existence of that particular rear base, though the Army kept him informed of operations undertaken by the DMI. (Anuruddha  praises Marapana  for skilful handling of Athurugiriya crisis-The Island, Feb 01, 2002)

The then Defence Minister, Tilak Marapana, one-time Attorney General, to his credit, thwarted an attempt by the Kandy police to prolong the detention of DMI operatives using the provisions of the PTA.

The UNP realised the importance of clandestine operations undertaken by the DMI when the CFA declared that ACTIVITIES BY DEEP PENETRATION UNITS should be ceased along with the cessation of all military action. The LTTE wouldn’t have demanded a ban on DMI operations unless it had been vulnerable to those hunting them in their own backyard.

Retired Senior DIG Merril Gunaratne, who was Defence Advisor to Wickremesinghe during the CFA, exposed the UNP leadership in his ‘COP IN THE CROSSFIRE,’ launched a few years ago. The first book of its kind, written by one-time Director General of Intelligence, revealed how the top UNP leadership had taken security issues lightly at the expense of the country, as well as the party. Asked whether he had been involved in the operation to move the Kandy police against the DMI, Gunaratne told The Island that he categorically opposed the move. "I was convinced the PA government wouldn’t have targeted Wickremesinghe, thereby allowing the UNP to benefit from the sympathy vote. Unfortunately, Wickremesinghe and his top advisors felt the Army was hell bent on destroying the UNP."

‘COP IN THE CROSSFIRE’ revealed how the then Interior Minister John Amaratunga’s son-in-law (Dinesh Weerakkody), did a weekly piece on military/intelligence matters after he turned down a directive to do a newspaper column in support of the peace effort. 

The Aturugiriya raid had a catastrophic impact on the armed forces, which experienced untold hardships due to miscalculations on the part of political and military leaders. Following the betrayal of the DMI, the LTTE unleashed a series of operations in the city, its suburbs and in the Eastern Province. Altogether, about 50 military personnel, Tamil informants as well as ex-LTTE cadres were killed. Their identities were revealed due to the raid on the DMI safe house and subsequent investigations.

The dead included two senior military officers, both killed in Colombo. Although the two military officials, holding the rank of Major and Colonel, could have been on a hit list, regardless of the Aturugiriya fiasco, the LTTE exploited the situation to demoralise the Army. Daring operations, directed at the DMI and police intelligence, helped boost the LTTE’s image. The military was placed in an unenviable position as the suspension of the PTA effectively neutralised counter-measures directed at LTTE hit squads.

Inspector Dale Gunaratne, the then President of the Police Inspectors’ Association, was perhaps the only official publicly critical of the UNP’s response to the LTTE threat. Although his superiors reacted angrily, Gunaratne lashed out at the government for allowing the LTTE to exploit the CFA to its advantage. Citing the killing of Inspector Thabrew, at the Dehiwela police station, IP Gunaratne alleged that the suspension of the PTA, in keeping with the CFA, was nothing but a grievous threat to those fighting terrorism. He lambasted the UNP and his own superiors for not taking action to neutralise the LTTE threat. But, the UNP was determined to salvage the crumbling peace process at any cost. For those at the helm of the government, the lives of security forces and police didn’t matter, as long as they believed the LTTE would remain in the negotiating process. Politicians felt whatever the provocations, the peace process should continue. That thinking changed only in 2006 August after the LTTE declared all-out war. The Rajapaksa administration launched a counter offensive in early Sept 2006. The offensive lasted almost three years until the LTTE was eradicated on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in May 2009.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

ACSA, SOFA and 2019 prez poll



Vietnam era US warship USCG Sherman is Sri Lanka’s largest platform. The vessel is pictured off Colombo harbour on the morning of May 12, 2019. President Sirisena will commission the vessel, P 626 tomorrow (June 06) at the Colombo harbour. Sherman is the second US vessel acquired by Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka acquired USCG Courageous in 2004. P 621 (SLNS Samudura) was part of task force responsible for the destruction of LTTE floating arsenals, beginning with the 2006 Sept. destruction of a vessel off Kalmunai (pic courtesy Navy)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United States made an abortive bid, in 2002, to finalize an Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), formerly known as ‘NATO Mutual Support Act’, with Sri Lanka. The attempt was made close on the heels of a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) signed by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, on Feb. 21. 2002. NATO member Norway arranged the CFA. Years later, Norway revealed its operation here had the backing of NATO by way of intelligence provided by the world’s most powerful military alliance (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka).

The US, too, played a significant role in the Norway-led process as a member of the Sri Lanka Peace Co-Chairs. Peace Co-Chairs comprised the US, EU, Norway and Japan. At that time, India was on its way to become a fully-fledged member of the US-led club.

Today, nuclear capable, India is a key member of the US-led grouping taking on the Chinese challenge.

The US-Japan-Australia-India alliance wants Sri Lanka to be part of the team. Sri Lanka’s inclusion in Australian military exercise Indo Pacific Endeavour 2019 (IPE-19) and ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ between Japan and Sri Lanka, finalized in early Oct 2015, underscored their determination to bring Sri Lanka under their domain.

Having won the 2015 January presidential election, with the UNP’s backing, President Maithripala Sirisena endorsed ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ with Japan. The finalization of ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ took place less than a week after President Sirisena’s government co-sponsored a resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at the expense of the country’s own interest. A joint declaration issued in the immediate aftermath of Wickremesinghe’s four-day official visit (Oct 4-7, 2015) to Tokyo on the invitation of Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe, dealt with (1) promotion of investment and trade (2) co-operation on the national development plan in Sri Lanka (3) national reconciliation and peace building (4) political consultation and maritime cooperation (5) human resource development and people-to-people exchange (6) Co-operation in the international arena.

Political consultation and maritime cooperation were especially meant to enhance defence cooperation. Japan eyeing a permanent seat in the UN Security Council also expects Sri Lanka’s backing for that endeavour.

Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, on August 22, 2018, visited strategically located Trincomalee and Hambantota ports. Unprecedented visits took place while a Japanese Destroyer ‘Ikazuchi’ was docked at the Trincomalee port. Onodera flew in to Colombo where he met President Sirisena, Premier Wickremesinghe and State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene on the previous day after having visited New Delhi. Onodera raised Sri Lanka’s leasing of the Hambantota port to China with President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe.

Sri Lanka and China entered into a 99-year lease of the Hambantota port, in 2018, under controversial circumstances.

Onodera declared that Japan wants Hambantota port ‘free of military activities.’ Obviously, Onodera’s declaration was on behalf of the US-led group.

Onodera’s visit was followed by JS Kaga, the biggest warship built since the end of World War II. The visit took place ahead of Tokyo’s announcement that JS Kaga and sister ship Isumo would be transformed to enable them to launch US made F-35 B stealth fighters. Acquisition of such huge strike capability should be studied against the backdrop of Japan’s Constitution expressly forbids the use of offensive weapons following its defeat in World War II.

Japan, home for powerful US forces, plans to acquire 105 fighters - a big boost for the US defence industry.

US President Donald Trump, during last week’s state visit to Japan, was invited to tour JS Kaga. International media quoted Trump as having said on board the vessel: "And soon, this very ship will be upgraded to carry that cutting-edge aircraft. With this extraordinary new equipment, the JS Kaga will help our nations defend against a range of complex threats in the region and far beyond."

Those backing a bigger Japanese role in US military project are working overtime to play down the significance of Tokyo acquiring a far reaching strike capability - a first for Japan since its formal surrender on Sept 02, 1945, months after Germany succumbed. Germany surrendered on May 07, 1945.

Interestingly, Kaga was the name of one of the aircraft carriers that launched planes to bomb US Pearl Harbour on Dec 07, 1941, which led to Washington’s entry into the conflict.

The developing Japanese military role should be examined taking into consideration the rapid expansion of her military capabilities. Japan recently intervened to save an understanding between Sri Lanka and India regarding the development of the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo port. Japan facilitated the agreement on ECT by becoming one of its joint venture partners last week. Sri Lanka, Japan and India finalized an agreement to jointly develop the ECT. The joint initiative is estimated to cost between $500 min and $700 mn.

The agreement followed months long battle between President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe over the ECT with the former strongly resisting a joint venture with India. President Sirisena seems to have no objection to joint venture involving India and Japan, having ‘openly’ clashed with Wickremesinghe in Oct 2018. President Sirisena perpetrated a constitutional coup on Oct 26, 2018, in the wake of his bitter battle with Wickremesinghe over ECT. President Sirisena sacked Premier Wickremesinghe in the wake of the arrest of an Indian national Marceli Thomas over his alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate him (Sirisena) and wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The US and its allies are seeking to further their interests with the world solitary super power, having successfully negotiated ACSA in Aug 2017, planning to enter in to far reaching SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement).

With Sri Lanka in deepening political turmoil, following the Easter Sunday carnage, blamed on the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ), the government is being exploited. The US seems to be hell-bent on securing an agreement on SOFA regardless of consequences. The NTJ operation, backed by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) obviously facilitated their operations here. Indian High Commissioner Taranjith Singh Sandhu offered India’s full support to Sri Lanka in dealing with the common threat of Jihadi terrorism in the third week of May. The assurance was given, separately, to Mahanayakes of Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters. US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz followed Sandhu. She was there to reassure the Mahanayakes that SOFA was not meant to take advantage of Sri Lanka. There hadn’t been a previous instance of a US Ambassador, or any other foreign envoy for that matter, making representations to Mahanayakes as regards security-political issues.

Armitage on ACSA

The Joint Opposition, the JVP and civil society organization ‘Yuthukama’, strongly protested against the signing of the ACSA. They revealed how the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration approved ACSA in Aug 2017. The UNP pointed out that the previous Rajapaksa administration entered into ACSA in March 2007. Therefore, what really happened in Aug 2017 was extending the agreement. Leader of the House, Senior Minister Lakshman Kiriella explained the UNP government’s stand, both in parliament and outside, in respect of the ACSA and SOFA. However, Kiriella made no reference to the first US attempt to negotiate ACSA, way back in 2002.

The US publicly revealed its desire to secure ACSA on Aug 22, 2002, in Colombo. The then US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, having visited Jaffna earlier in the day, followed by meetings with the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s envoy, Lakshman Kadirgamar, and Premier Wickremesinghe, declared the US intention to finalize the agreement. The writer was among those journalists presented when Vietnam veteran Armitage addressed the media. Armitage asserted that there was no problem in negotiating the agreement meant to formalize required facilities for US military (US-SL to finalize Access and Cross Servicing Agreement-The Island, Aug 23, 2002).

Earlier, in the day, Armitage, accompanied by US Ambassador Ashley Wills, flew in to Palaly airbase where he was welcomed by the then Jaffna Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. The CFA was in place at that time. Otherwise, Armitage wouldn’t have risked flying in an AN 32 transport plane due to threat posed by the LTTE. Fonseka accompanied the US duo to army front-line at Muhamalai. Jaffna front-line extended from Kilali to Nagarkovil on the Vadamaratchchy east coast via Muhamalai. The attempt was made amidst political chaos caused by the CFA. The UNP finalized the agreement sans President Kumaratunga’s consent. The push to establish North-East Interim Council further deteriorated the ground situation. Following his meeting with Armitage, Kadirgamar told a selected group of journalists, at his heavily guarded Wijerama Mawatha residence, that the proposed administrative body should be deeply rooted in the Constitution. "It must not be allowed to have a life of its own," Kadirgamar told the media. The writer was among the group of journalists present (N-E Interim Council ‘must be deeply rooted in Constitution’, says Kadirgamar-The Island, August 23, 2002)

Armitage was the senior most US official to visit Colombo since Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’ visit five decades ago. The LTTE assassinated Kadirgamar in August three years later.

Armitage announced plans for ACSA over a month after Premier Wickremesinghe met US President George W. Bush in Washington. In fact, the ACSA was to be finalized in July 2002. Following their meetings, the US undertook a comprehensive study of Sri Lankan military as well as economic institutions. The project was meant to strengthen the military though the UNP never expected the LTTE to leave the negotiating table. The LTTE quit the negotiating table in April 2003.

It would be pertinent to mention that the US accommodated Sri Lanka in various military exercises following Kumaratunga’s election as the president in Nov 1994. Even at the time Armitage visited Colombo the US military was engaged in exercises with Sri Lankan Special Forces, including the Navy’s elite SBS (Special Boat Squadron).

Then Minister Milinda Moragoda, being close to the US, played a high profile role in the project.

In Dec 2002, Ambassador Wills revealed the possibility of the US seeking Sri Lankan ports and air space to invade Iraq. US-UK led forces invaded Iraq in March 2003 on false intelligence claims of Saddam Hussein having what the Western media dubbed Weapons of Mass destruction (WMDs). Then Foreign Minister the late Tyronne Fernando explained the difficulty in giving into US request (SL in dilemma over help for US-The Island, Dec 22, 2002). At the end, the US didn’t request for Sri Lankan bases (No request for Lankan bases-The Island, March 23, 2003).

During Fernando’s tenure as the Foreign Minister, Sri Lanka entered into an agreement with the US not to surrender each other’s nationals to the International Criminal Court (ICC) without the consent of each other. The US secured the same agreements with India, Pakistan and Nepal.

Lanka enters into ACSA

The US could have secured ACSA if not for the LTTE destabilizing the UNP government by undermining the CFA. The UNP lacked the political will to go ahead with ACSA. The LTTE strategy paved the way for President Kumaratunga to take over several key portfolios, including defence in the following year and then sack Wickremesinghe’s administration. Kumaratunga called early general election. Her move enabled the People’s Alliance she led to win the April 2004 parliamentary polls. The PA also won the Nov 2005 presidential polls. The LTTE resumed large scale offensive operations in the second week of August 2006 a few months after making an abortive bid to assassinate the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Fonseka. Had the LTTE succeeded in assassinating Fonseka in late April 2006, Sri Lanka could have succumbed to LTTE pressure. Sri Lanka launched a counter offensive in the first week of Sept 2006 and by March 2007 was in a commanding position in the Eastern theater of operations though LTTE combat formations remained intact in the Northern region. The LTTE suffered a second major setback when Gotabaya Rajapaksa survived suicide attack on Dec 01, 2006. By March, 2007, the LTTE was retreating in the Eastern Province. In the first week of March, 2007 Sri Lanka entered in to ACSA with the US. Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Ambassador Robert O. Blake signed on behalf of Sri Lanka and the US, respectively. President Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Defence Minister, authorized ACSA. The Rajapaksas never bothered to inform parliament of the agreement. Having signed ACSA, Gotabaya Rajapaksa reiterated Sri Lanka’s commitment to defeat the LTTE, militarily, in talks with top State Department official Stevan Mann, when the latter met him at the Defence Ministry. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s move eased US pressure as the Army opened a new front on the Vanni east front (No halt on offensive against LTTE: Lanka seeks more US support to stop arms flow-The Island, March 11, 2007).

The Rajapaksa government ignored the left parties’ call to table the agreement in parliament. The government dismissed their concerns (LSSP wants military agreement with US published-The Island, March 11, 2007).

Interestingly, Kiriella, who strongly defended Sri Lanka signing ACSA and negotiating SOFA, lambasted the Rajapaksa when Gotabaya Rajapaksa signed the original agreement. In the wake of the original agreement, finalized on March 05, 2007, Ambassador Blake went to the extent of personally meeting JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe to reassure the US didn’t pursue a hidden agenda here. Blake assured that ACSA wouldn’t pave the way for US bases here. They also discussed the ethnic issue and ongoing efforts to militarily defeat the LTTE. Amarasinghe reiterated his party’s belief that LTTE terrorism should be defeated militarily (Somawansa-Bake pow-wow-The Island, April 06, 2007).

US changes course of war

Sri Lanka received valuable US support, particularly during Eelam War IV that enabled the Rajapaksa government to gradually overcome the LTTE. At the onset of the Eelam War IV, the US thwarted an LTTE bid to procure SA 18 missiles. Subsequently, the US provided specific intelligence on ‘floating LTTE arsenals’ to Sri Lanka on a request made by wartime Navy Chief Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda. Karannagoda move enabled the destruction of four LTTE vessels on the high seas, thereby hastened the collapse of the LTTE. In addition to those vessels that had been hunted down on the basis of intelligence provided by the US, the Navy hit several other LTTE ships during Eelam War IV.

Those interested in knowing it all should peruse Karannagoda’s memoirs titled Adistanaya released in Nov 2014, just two months before the change of government. Although Karannagoda, made no reference to ACSA, it would be pertinent to stress that the US, perhaps reluctantly, provided critically important intelligence following the finalization of the agreement on March 05, 2007. Several weeks after the signing of the agreement, Karannagoda had sought a meeting with the then US defence attaché in Colombo. Karannagoda has requested for US assistance to track down the remaining LTTE vessels as the superpower was engaged in worldwide campaign against terrorism. That meeting at Karannagda’s office led to a meeting with Ambassador Blake, also at the same venue in late May 2007. In late August 2007, the US provided the required information secured from a satellite to the Navy. The US verified the positioning of four vessels about two weeks later. They had been at the same position as two weeks before. In fact, the US had queried whether Karannagoda’s Navy had the wherewithal to destroy four ships so far away from Sri Lanka. Karannagoda dispatched naval task force comprising six vessels on Sept 2007 from Colombo, Trincomalee and Galle. Karannagoda, in his memoirs revealed how an Indian diplomat based at its High Commission in Colombo made a despicable attempt to misdirect the Navy by providing information contrary to that of the Americans. Karannagoda unhesitatingly named the Indian as a representative of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Subsequently, the Indian had been exposed as a Chinese agent. Acting on US intelligence, the Navy destroyed three out of four LTTE vessels in the second week of Sept. 2007. The US again provided specific intelligence in late Sept. 2007 regarding the LTTE vessel that escaped during Sept. 2007 operation. The fourth vessel was destroyed on Oct 7, 2007.

At an earlier stage of the Eelam War IV, the US provided 30 mm Bushmaster cannon to upgrade the Fast Attack Craft (FAC) flotilla. The replacement of 23 mm with 30 mm US weapon transformed the FAC flotilla. Having helped Sri Lanka to defeat the LTTE, the US later moved against the Rajapaksa administration as part of its strategy to counter China. The US hell-bent on depriving China overseas bases, worked overtime to facilitate a change of government. Current developments should be examined against the backdrop of the US backing Gen. Fonseka’s candidature at the 2010 presidential poll and Sirisena’s at the last presidential election. The forthcoming presidential election, scheduled for later this year, will surely attract US interests as it battled Chinese moves. Sri Lanka shouldn’t forget what former US Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited Colombo after the change of government in January 2015 later revealed the US funding made available to influence ‘regime change’ in Myanmar, Nigeria and Sri Lanka. Kerry revealed the US taxpayer spending as much as USD 585 mn in the above mentioned countries. How much did the US spend here? Who received the money?…..