Govt. faces international pressure over HR
The government is heading towards a major crisis as far as
the human rights situation in the country is concerned. The
offensive in the East to capture Vakarai and the Air Force
bombing in Mannar have come into focus, where it is alleged that
civilians are targeted and the security forces are accused of
violating human rights.
Thousands of civilians have fled the Vakarai area where security
forces are steadily progressing. There were several accusations
that civilians had suffered badly in the confrontations between
the security forces and the LTTE. In Mannar, Air Force aerial
bombardment of a Sea Tiger base had also caused damage to the
nearby fishing village of Padahathurai. These human rights
concerns drew strong reactions from the international community
and particularly from the United Nations, with UN Assistant
Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Margareta Wahlstrom
issuing a strong statement urging both parties to resume peace
European Union and the World Community is apparently exerting
pressure on the government to put the record straight regarding
the human rights situation and India too is stealthily
supporting the stand of the international community.
Germany taking over the Chairmanship of the European Union would
not augur well for Sri Lanka. It was Germany’s Minister for
Overseas Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul who moved to
freeze aid to Sri Lanka while urging other European countries to
do the same. It is also expected that Germany would make matters
worse for the government as they take over the Chairmanship of
the European Union.
Economic sanctions against Sri Lanka are on the cards and the
European Union is likely to push this measure with the support
of India and Norway. It is no doubt India is angry with the Sri
Lankan government over its attitude regarding the delay in
presenting a document that would enable negations to commence
with the LTTE.
What India feels is that Sri Lanka should not engage in actions
that would create problems for the central government in New
Delhi. When the situation deteriorates in the North and the East
of Sri Lanka and refugees start fleeing to South India, it sets
off a chain reaction that reaches the upper echelons of power in
US diplomats based in Colombo have told most of their local
contacts that if the government continues with its present
policy, the co-chairs are seriously considering pulling out of
the peace process. Most Western diplomats have expressed concern
over the statement by Army Commander Sarath Fonseka that they
would clear the Jaffna peninsula, after clearing the entirety of
The India factor
When things go badly for Sri Lankan Tamils, the Tamil Nadu state
government raises severe objections and starts exerting pressure
on the Central Government to take action and raise concern with
the government of Sri Lanka. The Central Government is further
pressurised by the fact that the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s
party, the DMK is an important partner in the present coalition
government led by the Congress Party of India.
To keep things quiet in the South and maintain the equilibrium
in the centre, the Sri Lanka factor is important for India.
Unsettled conditions in the North and East of Sri Lanka would
certainly hamper the progress in Tamil Nadu which is competing
heavily with Bangalore and Hyderabad to become the Information
Technology hub of India. When reports of civilian deaths and
casualties due to the conflict in Sri Lanka reach Tamil Nadu, it
is strong enough to create ripples within the central government
which would react against the Sri Lankan government to maintain
its power base.
It appears that what India wants is a federal solution to the
North-East problem and they have placed faith in the Oslo
Declaration agreed upon during the UNP regime where the LTTE
agreed to a federal solution under a united Sri Lanka.
India’s position is that the LTTE will have to respect the Oslo
Declaration because it was witnessed by the international
community and facilitated by Norway who is accepted by both
parties. But now, India feels that the Sri Lankan government is
deliberately delaying presenting such a solution, since
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is strongly aligned with the Marxist
JVP and the chauvinist JHU, who are vehemently opposing a
solution to the ethnic crisis based on extensive devolution of
power. The two ultra nationalist parties are pushing the
government towards a military solution that would create more
problems for the Rajapaksa administration, as far as the
North-East problem is concerned.
The immediate problem faced by the Rajapaksa administration is
whether they would be able to clear the entirety of the East and
flush out the remaining LTTE pockets or whether India would
intervene stealthily and halt military offensives in the East to
appease the Tamil Nadu administration. The suspicion in Colombo
is that India might open a line to the LTTE via the TNA, since
the Indian leaders met a TNA delegation two weeks ago.
The UNP seems to be silent in the face of all these problems
after having signed the MoU with the government to co-operate on
several crucial areas and especially to bring about a solution
to the North-East problem. The UNP-SLFP MoU has failed to take
off the ground, even after several one-to-one meetings between
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Although there have been many discussions between the two
parties, the country has not gained anything so far from the MoU
which was signed on October 23.
Although the people had not achieved anything in general through
the MoU, the two leaders had benefited to quite an extent from
it. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been able to keep the main
opposition without allowing them to capitalise on the present
situation in the face of the sky rocketing cost of living and
negative social conditions that have engulfed the country over
the past few months. The downturn in the economy, the rampant
spread of disease and the unsettled conditions in the country
could have been used by the opposition to go back to the people
and arouse them to protest. But it did not happen.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was also able to push his budget
through parliament without any opposition from Wickremesinghe’s
UNP. The UNP without even knowing the contents of the budget,
decided to vote for it in parliament.
At the same time, Ranil Wickremesinghe was able to temporarily
stop the erosion in his party ranks by assuring the government
his party’s support. Wickremesinghe moved strategically to stop
the UNPers from crossing over to the government due to his
dwindling popularity among the party rank and file. Although the
two leaders have been able to strengthen their positions through
the MoU, the country is yet to see the benefits.
Problems regarding the Human Rights condition in the country are
likely to give more headaches to the government with
international attention being drawn to the report by the Special
Advisor to the UN Rappateur on Children and Conflict, Allan Rock
that the military was supporting the Karuna faction to recruit
children to their cadre. The problems that have arisen with the
Allan Rock report were discussed in the high echelons of the
government where several legal experts were also present.
Apparently one expert had advised the government to initiate an
inquiry into the Allan Rock report before the international
community takes the initiative. But this advice was opposed by
many and there had been an exchange of words as well.
In this backdrop, the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration has given
serious thought to whether Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera
would be able to mitigate the damage caused to the Sri Lankan
government based on what is emanating from the Western world.
The government believes that it is only through diplomacy that
they can douse the fury of the West regarding the Human Rights
violations in Sri Lanka.
A UNP heavyweight such as Milinda Moragoda was the government’s
first choice to take over the reigns of the Foreign Ministry.
But Moragoda would not comply unless the UNP comes to a power
sharing arrangement with the government as discussed during the
initial stages of the discussions between the two parties. But
now the government is not concerned with the SLFP-UNP MoU
anymore and indications are that the government would even break
away from the MoU to safeguard its own interests.
After having failed to get Moragoda to handle the Foreign
Ministry which is crucial in the present context, President
Mahinda Rajapaksa offered the job to the head of the Sri Lanka
delegation at the Geneva peace talks, Minister Nimal Siripala De
Minister De Silva had mentioned this to several of his close
friends, but had turned down the President’s offer. However he
had expressed his willingness to take over the Ministry of Ports
and Aviation instead. The President has very few options when it
comes to appointing a new Foreign Minister. They had also
discussed on a compromise nominee for the post of the now vacant
Foreign Ministry Secretary. Although government Peace
Secretariat Chief Dr. Palith Kohona and the Sri Lankan High
Commissioner to New Delhi, Romesh Jayasinghe were in the running
for the hotly contested post, now it might transpire that Sri
Lankan envoy in Israel Tissa Wijeratne will appointed as the
next secretary to the Foreign Ministry. Former Secretary Siri
Palihakkara resigned at the end of December. At the moment,
Geetha De Silva is co-coordinating the business between the
government and the Foreign Ministry. In the meantime, problems
within the UNP too have reached boiling point and it is likely
that a considerable number of influential UNPers would walk
across the floor of the House and support the government
The crossover talk got credence after President Mahinda
Rajapaksa addressing a function last week, said there was no
need to go for an election immediately since there are a large
number of baby elephants waiting to join the government. However
after the President’s remark, former UNP Chairman Malik
Samarawickrema had inquired from Ranil Wickremesinghe who was
abroad, whether to respond. Wickremesinghe had asked him to
remain quiet over it and hold back whoever was trying to cross
The President is most unlikely to go for an election at the
moment since a recent survey had indicated that the maximum
number of seats an SLFP alliance can secure is 107. The same
survey revealed that the JVP would get 18 seats.
The likely crossovers are a result of the crisis simmering
within the UNP since its defeat at the last Presidential
election. It is pertinent to question at this moment as to who
is responsible for this crisis within the single largest
political party in the country. Most would answer that the
situation has become irreversible due to Party Leader
Wickremesinghe failing to implement the crucial reforms needed
to rejuvenate the party at grassroots level.
It is likely that the reformists who are crossing over would
join as a group from the UNP and would support the government as
members of the UNP. The reformists are of the view that there is
no point in joining as individuals and if they decide to support
the government, it would be as an alternate group of the UNP
parliamentary group. However, what many feel is that Karu
Jayasuriya should not go if he is not offered the Premiership,
since a recent survey conducted by the government had indicated
that Karu Jayasuriya is the alternate leader to President
Mahinda Rajapaksa. Therefore, taking Jayasuriya into its ranks
is advantageous to the government, since in any case, the
government wants Wickremesinghe to remain as Opposition Leader.
If Jayasuriya joins the government, the threat of an alternate
leader gets diminished and by nature, Jayasuriya is not arrogant
or bashful. He is also not an aggressive campaigner and would
not go against anyone in a harsh manner.
If Jaysuriya accepts the premiership what should his role be?
The main objective should be to instill discipline and some
sanity into government quarters which are currently in disarray.
Also he should give priority to improving the government’s Human
Rights record and the law and order situation, instilling
confidence in the people that they are living in a reasonable
country where law and order is maintained and not in an
An informal meeting between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Karu
Jayasuriya took place at Kataragama with the dawn of the New
Year. As a practice, Jayasuriya spends New Year’s eve at the
grounds of the Kataragama holy site. On January 1, he offered a
pooja to the Kirivehara Dagoba. President Mahinda Rajapaksa also
visited Kataragama accompanied by wife Shiranthi. The chief
incumbent of the Kirivehara Temple, Venerable Aluthwewa Soratha
Thera had organised a New Year table with kiribath and sweet
meats at the temple for the President and invited Jayasuriya
also to join in. It is here that the duo met and had an informal
chat that had also led to much speculation in UNP circles.
All this depends on the seriousness of the thought given by the
reformists to join the government. However nothing has been
finalised yet and the Wickremesinghe loyalists in the party are
doing their utmost to get rid of the reformers and drive them
towards joining the government. It is said that the UNP
leadership does not mind 10-12 people crossing over, but the
number could even be more. The government too is keen on forming
a government of national consensus which might materialise in
the near future.
With the UNP crossovers on the cards, President Mahinda Rajapksa
is also contemplating a cabinet reshuffle within the next two
weeks. The most likely changes that could happen are in the
portfolios of Foreign Affairs and Tourism. Both Ministers
Mangala Samaraweera and Anura Bandaranaike, who had not been in
the good books of the President of late, would probably get
While undercurrents are moving from the UNP towards the
government for key reformers to join government ranks, new
political alliances are also emerging of a different nature.
Political circles are buzzing on a nexus emerging between UNP
Leader Wickremesinghe, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga
and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. Several events that
took place recently indicate such an alliance and the
relationship between President Rajapaksa and Minister
Samaraweera is also at an all time low, with the latter
complaining to the President on the interference by the
President’s brother and Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabhaya
Rajapaksa in the affairs of the Foreign Ministry.
Also Minister Samaraweera, Deputy Minister Sripathi
Sooriyaarachchi and Minister Samaraweera’s close confidante and
Chairman of the Airport and Aviation Authority Tiran Alles paid
a visit to the Dalada Maligawa with the dawn of the New Year,
and paid call to the Mahanayaka Theras of the Malwatte and the
Asgiriya Chapters. Most people who know Minister Samaraweera are
of the view that this sort of visit is rather unusual for him to
undertake. At the same time, an unusual appointment had been
made to a media venture financed by Tiran Alles. A close
confidante of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and former
Chairman of Lake House during the UNP regime, Attorney-at-Law,
Nalin Ladduwahetty has been appointed as the Managing Director
of Standard Newspapers, the publishers of the Sunday Standard
and Maubima newspapers, which is partly owned by Tiran Alles. It
was no secret that the Standard Newspapers were launched just
before the Presidential election to prop up the image of Mahinda
Rajapaksa, and the new appointment, with the shifting of the
editorial policy of the newspapers published by the company, has
raised many an eyebrow. Soon after the appointment of
Ladduwahetty, Editor of the Sunday Standard Rohan Abeywardane
submitted his resignation over differences of opinion with the
new Managing Director.
In a separate development, Deputy Education Minister Nirmala
Kotalawala had written to President Mahinda Rajapksa requesting
him to appoint a special Presidential committee of inquiry into
the allegations levelled against former President Chandrika
Kumaratunga by various parties on what had happened during her
tenure in office. Deputy Minister Kotalawala had handed over the
letter to the President on January 2. He had also mentioned the
allegations levelled against Kumaratunga in the book published
by Ravaya Editor Victor Ivan. Kotalawala had requested the
President to clear former President Kumaratunga’s name by
appointing this commission of inquiry, since he says that the
country’s reputation too had suffered after the UNESCO suspended
her posting with them.
However many suspect whether this letter is a ploy to further
humiliate former President Kumaratunga by appointing a committee
of inquiry. The theory being floated is that the letter would
have originated from the Rajapaksa camp itself, and is not a
spontaneous action on the part of Kotalawala. Deputy Minister
Kotalawala on a previous occasion during the last Presidential
Election, fired a letter to Minister Anura Bandaranaike
questioning him as to why he was not actively supporting the
candidature of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Saddam’s execution and
revealing is the fact that it took Saddam
Hussein’s death to unite our
parliamentarians. Sri Lanka and its politicians did not speak in
one voice when
Kadiragamar was murdered. Nor did they protest in unison when Nadarajah
Raviraj was gunned down. But when a
another country, they holler with a holier-than-thou attitude.
Last week saw a rare moment of political unity in this
country. Ironically though, the issue at stake had little
relevance to Sri Lanka: the execution of former Iraqi President
A joint news conference saw unlikely political allies such as
stalwarts from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the
United National Party (UNP) speaking in a single voice,
condemning the execution. Even Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera was
present representing the Communist Party and it could be readily
assumed the government was of the same view, as Foreign Minister
Mangala Samaraweera had earlier issued a statement expressing
his “dismay” at “this unfortunate turn of events.”
Diplomatic niceties were thrown to the winds as JVP firebrand
Wimal Weerawansa questioned as to who will execute United States
President George Bush for “executing 2.5 per cent of the Iraqi
population.” The joint protest from the major political parties
must have touched a nerve because a day later, the United States
envoy in Colombo was vehemently denying the charges against his
country, saying it never ventured into Iraq for its oil.
This discussion will not attempt to delve into the merits and
de-merits of the Saddam execution. Already, there is a furore
about how the former President was mocked at his execution and
how its gory proceedings were filmed and broadcast. Much has
been said and much more will inevitably be said about this
What is more pertinent is the conduct of western powers when it
deals with human rights issues, with gold standards being set,
for example for Sri Lanka, to follow. When it suits these
countries, however, they waive the rules because they rule the
Consider, for instance, the recent request from Britain when
President Mahinda Rajapaksa appealed for assistance from
Scotland Yard to probe the killing of Tamil National Alliance (TNA)
Parliamentarian Nadarajah Raviraj. The assistance would be
forthcoming, the President was told, but if anyone was found
guilty as a result of such an exercise, they should not be
accorded the death penalty!
It does not take a Supreme Court judge to discern that this was
most unreasonable. Surely, the remit of Scotland Yard was to
assist in apprehending the murderers. They were invited not
because they are best sleuths in the world but because the
investigation needed a degree of transparency and credibility.
But for Britain, or Scotland Yard, to dictate terms about
penalties would amount to interference with the judicial process
of a sovereign nation.
And what did Britain have to say about the death penalty being
meted out to Saddam Hussein? At a media conference, British
Prime Minister Tony Blair was pressed for condemnation of the
execution but he stalled and stopped short of that saying, “We
are against the death penalty, whether it is Saddam or anybody
else,” and adding for good measure that “Saddam’s trial had
given a very clear reminder of the total and barbaric brutality
of that regime.”
Someone once coined the phrase ‘geopolitical realities’ to
describe such inconsistencies in policies and principles in
statecraft. There are ample examples of this in recent history
itself. When the US attempts to take moral high ground on Iraq,
saying Saddam was a tyrant who deprived and oppressed his
people, it chooses to forget that it has supported rulers
against whom similar charges have been made: the Shah of Iran
and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines are ready examples in
recent times. The difference of course was that while both the
Shah and Marcos were staunch allies of the US, Saddam was not!
There are lessons for Sri Lanka in this. Countries such as ours
have near-zero value as far as superpowers are concerned. Does
that mean we should be subservient to them at all cost? Most
certainly not, even if protests in Colombo will hardly be heard
amidst the cacophony emanating from the Arab world in this
has, in the past, demonstrated that it can stand up for what it
believes is right. The incident where then British High
Commissioner David Gladstone was declared persona-non-grata is a
case in point. However, in the recent past, such diplomatic
stand-offs have been rare, with Colombo agreeing to whatever the
western and regional powers demand.
Perhaps more revealing is the fact that it took Saddam Hussein’s
death to unite our fractioned parliamentarians. Sri Lanka and
its politicians did not speak in one voice when Lakshman
Kadiragamar was murdered. Nor did they protest in unison when
Nadarajah Raviraj was gunned down. But when a dictator is
executed in another country, they holler with a holier-
Protesting the Saddam killing is perhaps to be commended for it
takes courage to even voice dismay against the world’s solitary
superpower and its allied regimes. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t
mask the fact that Sri Lanka should look at its own
executions-judicial or otherwise-and learn to condemn them first
with a single refrain.
All parties unite to protest Saddam’s
The execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, which
was a sensational issue that rocked the world, echoed and
reechoed in Sri Lanka’s political arena and created history,
with all political parties in the country reaching a consensus
to stage protests to condemn the execution.
They first invited General Secretary of the SLFP, Minister
Maitripala Sirisena, whose choice was Minister Hussein Baila, to
represent the party. UNP Parliamentarian Rajitha Senaratne, JVP
Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa, New Left Front Leader
Wickremabahu Karunaratne and Sirithunga Jayasuriya of the United
Socialist Party, were among other invitees. They decided to call
a media conference in this regard. However, Champika Ranawaka of
the JHU did not join them.
The media conference was held at Municipal Council Member Azad
Sally’s office. The representatives of all political parties
condemned the assassination.
“We should have invited Tamilselvan as well,” Wickremabahu
“You could have done it, couldn’t you?” retorted Weerawansa.
Then looking at Sirithunga Jayasuriya, Weerawansa said, “there,
you see the people with underhand dealings, don’t you”
Later, all of them got down to discuss on the main issue.
As the media conference was going on, Rajitha, whispered in
Wimal’s ear and said - “the LTTE has jammed the telephones in
Kilinochchi. They may have done so to avoid any problem for
The media conference was held in a cordial atmosphere with
Rajitha even inviting Wimal to commence the conference. Media
personnel were pleased to see the arch enemies in the political
arena, join hands in this manner. The JVP politburo met at the
party headquarters in Pelawatte on last Tuesday (2) and the
possibility of the government going for a snap election was
among the main issues discussed.
“At the last meeting, we discussed this issue and decided to
prepare for a general election. The government has taken it so
seriously, that the President even mentioned about it at the
ceremony to hand over appointment letters to RDA labourers. They
need not take things seriously if we are wrong. They try to
insult us because they know that we are right,” said General
Secretary Tilvin Silva.
“Yes, the President’s tight schedule is a clear indication that
he is preparing for a general election. So let’s go ahead with
our plans to organise the party. After meetings of electoral
level organisations, a general meeting of party representatives
should be held somewhere in March,” said JVP Leader Somawansa
Amarasinghe. The politburo agreed to his plan.
The JVP’s Red Star Relief Worker Brigade left for Valachchainai
to provide relief to the displaced families from Vakarai. They
distributed more than Rs.1 million worth of essential consumer
goods, drugs and school requisites among the displaced families.
The team was led by Anuradhapura District JVP parliamentarians
K.D. Lalkantha. The JVP representatives requested the displaced
persons to return to their villages as soon as the security
forces provided protection to the area.
When the JVP representatives including Deputy Chairman of
Committees, Ramalaingam Chandrasekaran, Parliamentarian Sunil
Handunnetti, Laxman Nipunarachchi were making arrangements to
load the relief supplies into lorries parked in front of the
party headquarters, a Pajero jeep came and stopped outside. A
person who alighted from the Jeep wanted to make a contribution.
However, when the JVP representatives explained to him that they
were not in a position to accept any contribution in kind as
they had already packed them for dispatch, the good Samaritan
pocketed out Rs. 16,000 and handed it over to the JVP
representatives. Later he introduced himself to the JVP
parliamentarians, who knew him by name as a leading businessman
in the garment industry.