Talks with Indian leaders yield results
  • India stands by SL
  • No strings attached to aid package
  • South India happy
  • Milinda’s gesture

The Indian government has set apart Indian Rs. 500 crore (SL Rs. 11.9 billion) for North East reconstruction and resettlement of IDPs in the annual Budget, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee unveiled in Indian Parliament recently.

This was another outcome of talks that President’s Senior Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga held with the Indian leaders in New Delhi last month.

Minister Mukherjee in his Budget speech reiterated his government’s commitment to help Sri Lankan Tamils secure their democratic rights and fulfill their legitimate aspirations within the parameters of the country’s sovereignty and the Constitution. “Our External Affairs Ministry is closely working with the Sri Lankan Government towards this end,” Mukherjee who himself was a former External Affairs Minister told Parliament.

The government was facing an acute foreign reserve problem due to the inordinate delay in receiving the much anticipated Rs.1.9 billion loan facility from the IMF, at the time the three member delegation visited New Delhi. India’s move to rescue Sri Lanka from the impending crisis by extending financial assistance speaks volumes for the success of the Basil Rajapaksa-led delegation.

The most noteworthy feature of this Indian aid package is that there are no strings attached to it as to how it should be utilised.

South Indian factor in ethnic equation

South Indian political parties in general for the last few months had been raising a hue and cry that the Centre was not taking sufficient interest in the problems faced by the Sri Lankan Tamils.
The fact that usually articulate India’s Opposition raised no objection to allocating a massive amount in aid to Sri Lanka is noteworthy, say political analysts.

Some Indian Opposition Parliamentarians, however, told the government to urge Sri Lanka to restrict the spending of the Indian funds only to carry out reconstruction and rehabilitation in the North and East and to provide housing, clothing and food to the displaced people.

Former BJP Minister S. Tirunavukkashor had said the Indian government should guarantee that their funds would not be utilised to further strengthen the military might of the Rajapaksa administration.

Meanwhile, Tamilnadu Chief Minister Mutuvel Karunanidhi has thanked Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the Indian Rs. 500 crore aid package extended to Sri Lanka.

Mahinda refuses to buckle under pressure

During the last days of the Wanni battle when the LTTE was on the brink of annihilation and its Supreme leader Prabhakaran and other frontliners were being cornered for the final kill, countries like the United States, UK, the European Union and Germany brought immense pressure on Sri Lanka to halt the fighting. However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa carried on the battle to victory regardless, thereby incurring the displeasure of these countries which have now begun hurting the government in various ways.

These countries are now trying to prevent Sri Lanka getting the IMF loan which is a facility meant for all countries badly hit by the global economic meltdown, just to spite the government. It is an open secret that LTTE sympathisers had contributed massive amounts to the election fund of Hillary Clinton when she contested the last American Presidential poll as a Democratic Party candidate. Clinton now the US Secretary of State has said that granting the IMF loan facility to Sri Lanka should be re-considered given the country’s human rights record.
India’s magnanimous gesture in extending a massive aid package particularly in the context of some countries in the West bent on spiting Sri Lankan government is highly commendable.

Attempt to drive a wedge between Sri Lanka and India fails

It is well known that certain opposition politicians here blew out of proportion the news that the government is procuring military hardware from Pakistan and China with the ulterior motive of souring the relations between India and Sri Lanka. India’s generous gesture despite all efforts to damage the goodwill and understanding between the two countries, can be hailed as a gift bestowed on the government for eliminating terrorism which had been a headache to that country as well.

Meanwhile, an interview with President Rajapaksa prominently carried in India’s mass circulation national English daily The Hindu has become a moot point in the public domain here and in India..A summarised version of the 2 1/2 hour interview The Hindu’s chief editor N.Ram had with the President at Temple Trees was carried in The Hindu as Page One lead on July 6, while a verbatim coverage was carried inside the same day. Two installments of the same interview were later carried on July 7 and 8.

N. Ram is no ordinary journalist. He is known to be maintaining a close rapport with political leaders both here and in India. The fact that Ram had played a leading `behind the scene’ role in getting up the Indo- Lanka Peace Pact signed between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President the late J.R. Jayewardene is well known in political circles.

Ram during his sojourn in Sri Lanka paid a visit to the IDP camps at Menik Farm in Vavuniya and later published a special feature dressed up with pictures. This feature is an ideal reply to international media stories that paint a gloomy picture of these IDP camps saying that they lack the basic amenities and occupants are victims of raging contagious diseases. Several local newspapers had reproduced this feature article by Ram.

The Hindu is the national English daily with the largest circulation in Tamilnadu, home to 40 million Tamils. People there are sure to get a correct picture of the displaced people here and the work being done by the government to ameliorate their conditions thanks to newspapers articles and stories by journalists like Ram.

India’s High Commissioner in Colombo Alok Prasad too toured Jaffna last Tuesday and Wednesday. He met Jaffna Bishop Thomas Savundranayagam, and also Tamil political leaders and public officials during this visit.
Indian High Commissioner visits Jaffna

High Commissioner Prasad during his visit made it a point to meet the candidates from various political parties contesting the upcoming the election to the Jaffna Municipal Council. He later visited Jaffna General Hospital and promised the authorities to assist the development work there.
The Indian envoy concluded his two day-tour in the Peninsula with a visit to Hindu Kovils at Nallur and at several other places

The five doctors confess

Government medical officers Shanmugarajah, Sivapalan, Vardharajah, Satyamurti and Elanchilian who had been serving in the medical institutions in the LTTE- held areas too had joined the exodus of civilians seeking the safety of the government territory. Thus they found themselves in the custody of security forces.

Of these five doctors, Shanmugarajah ,Vardharajah and Satyamurti, at the height of hostilities had been in constant touch over their satellite phones with international media such as the BBC, CNN, Aljazeera and the London Times serving as conduits for misinformation. For example, these doctors had been telling the international media that civilians in large numbers were being killed, maimed and wounded in shell attacks and artillery fire indiscriminately directed by security forces. Going by the casualty figures given by these doctors, the UN Agencies, Amnesty International and other such organisations in the West announced in their communiqués that over 7000 civilians had been killed in attacks launched by government forces from January 2009 to May 2009.

The Tamil Diaspora which was quick to take advantage of this propaganda blitz began pressuring countries such as the United States, France, Great Britain, Germany, Canada and Norway to impose sanctions on Sri Lanka.
However, anti-Sri Lanka propaganda campaign mounted by these organisations lost its flavour and momentum soon after the elimination of the LTTE and its leadership.

Meanwhile, the five doctors Shanmugarajah, Sivapalan, Vardharajah, Satyamurti and Elanchelian who participated in a Press briefing held at the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS), confessed that the LTTE leaders exploited them to carry out a misinformation campaign against the government and security forces.
“The LTTE leaders gave us the telephone numbers of media personnel and media organisations sympathetic to them. The casualty figures we supplied to international media were those given to us by the LTTE. They also sourced to us the casualty figures and the pictures they had posted on their websites,” Shanmugarajah told the Press briefing. During the escalation of hostilities from January to May 2009 about 350 casualties were killed and 600-700 wounded in cross fire. However, they supplied greatly exaggerated figures on the orders of LTTE leaders, they confessed.
The statements made by these doctors were carried by international media. However, Head of UN office in Colombo, Gordon Weiss had told a local newspaper that he saw no reason why he should retract the statement they had earlier issued saying that 7,000 civilians were killed in the course of hostilities from January to May 2009.

Need to counter misinformation

Meanwhile, The London Times reported last week that an average of 1400 civilians in the IDP camps at Menik Farm, Vavuniya die every week. The writer of this story attributed this (mis) information to a senior official of an international organisation.

UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, during his recent visit to Sri Lanka had occasion to fly about over the area where the Wanni battle raged for an aerial survey. A British woman journalist who accompanied the UN Secretary General on this helicopter ride had filed a report dressed up with pictures taken from air making a sensational reference to a mass grave where over 20,000 victims of the war lay buried.

The Hindu chief editor N. Ram who observed the situation in the IDP camps on a visit to Vavuniya had published in his paper a lengthy feature article on the IDPs there. But no where in his comprehensive article has he made any reference to a mass grave which the British woman journalist is supposed to have observed from air! Nor has he said anything about 1400 people in the camps dying from diseases every week! This shows that the British media is still having an inimical attitude towards Sri Lanka. It is high time that the Foreign Ministry and Sri Lanka’s High Commission in London took steps to contradict such misleading reports and also to prevent misinformation getting into public domain through media.

Two new Ministers

Two National Freedom Front Parliamentarians Nandana Gunatillake and Piyasiri Wijenayake were sworn in as Ministers last week. Gunatillake is now the Cabinet Minister of Tourism and Wijenayake the non-Cabinet Minister of Cultural Affairs.
The NFF led by Wimal Weerawansa, given the choice to pick one Cabinet Ministerial portfolio asked for either Rural Industrial Development, Irrigation and Agrarian Services or Tourism. When certain Ministers declined to give up their portfolios to accommodate the two new colleagues, President Rajapaksa had contacted Minister Milinda Moragoda.

Moragoda had not only expressed his willingness to give up the Ministry he was holding, but also informed the President that he was prepared to function as a backbencher. When Milinda told the President that he was busy these days with organisational work in his electorate, the President had reportedly said,” Aren’t you at a disadvantage when you have to do organisational work without a Ministerial portfolio? I wish to offer you the Justice Ministry.”

Thus Milinda succeeded the late Amarasiri Dodangoda as the Minister of Justice and Legal reforms. Later some sections of the local media described this switch over of portfolios as a demotion to Milinda. The President who saw the media reports asked Media spokesman Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena to correct this piece of misinformation.

Accordingly Lakshman Yapa at the last week’s Cabinet Press briefing made it a point to set the record straight. “Justice is among the five most vital Cabinet portfolios. The President is keen on bringing about some important reforms in the system of Administration of Justice in the country in the post-war scenario. The proposed reforms had to be held back for time due to Minister Dodangoda being sick. The President wanted Milinda to expedite the process, “ Minister Abeywardena explained.
Meanwhile, Minister Moragoda , soon after taking oaths, met Chief Justice Asoka de Silva and several legal luminaries to discuss the reasons for law’s delays, among other things.