US, Japan seek stronger ties with Sri Lanka

• Japan pressures Lanka to expedite ethnic solution
• UN’s Lynn Pascoe assesses IDPs in Wanni, Mullaitivu
• UNP, SLMC at loggerheads
• Stand-off between EP Gov. PC Education Minister

The arrival of several foreign envoys in the country saw the External Affairs Ministry turning into a hive of activity last week. Japan’s special envoy Yasushi Akashi, UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe, Special advisor to US President Barack Obama - Samantha Power, who is also the Director of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of the US National Security Council and Director for War Crimes, Atrocities and Protection and David Pressman were among the visiting foreign VIPs.

Now ‘aid envoy’
Japanese special envoy Yasushi Akashi is no stranger to Sri Lanka. A livewire in shuttle diplomacy, before and after the signing of the Norway-brokered ceasefire agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, he became a frequent visitor to Sri Lanka. Akashi, who held several rounds of talks with the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government in a bid to restore peace in Sri Lanka, took the initiative to hold a Sri Lanka aid donors’ conference in Tokyo in April 2003 at which the co-chairs decided to grant an aid package of US $ 4.5 billion to Sri Lanka on the return of durable peace to the country.
Yasushi Akashi came in for strong flak from the Jatika Hela Urumaya, JVP and a number of Sinhala organisations for his peace bid in Sri Lanka. Akashi detractors charged that Japan was promoting separatism in Sri Lanka by helping the LTTE. At that time the image of Japan in the eyes of the people here was as low as that of Norway.

However, since the ending of the war in May last year, Japan has been following a policy of winning back the goodwill and friendship of the people here. Akashi, who paid his 20th visit to this country last week, told a media briefing that the Sri Lankan Government has made commendable efforts aimed at promoting national reconciliation and improving the country’s human rights record and that there was no justification for foreign interference in the affairs of this country. He praised the government for setting up the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. Akashi also referred to the need to work out a solution to the ethnic problem acceptable to all communities in the country, adding that Japan was willing to extend her unstinted support to Sri Lanka to help her gain her objectives. He pointed out that Sri Lanka could profit from the experiences of other countries and seek the co-operation from the United Nations as well in wrapping up a durable solution to the problem.

Japan snubs INGOs
The INGOs such as the Human Rights Watch in the recent past pressurised Japan not to provide aid to Sri Lanka as a punitive measure for her bad human rights record. However, Japan took up the position that the people of a country should not be punished for the wrongs committed by that country’s leaders. Akashi also disclosed that Japan has so far provided aid amounting to yen 39 billion to Sri Lanka. He also emphasised the need to restore the ethnic peace and expedite the process of working out a durable solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka.
Political analysts feel that Japan herself is exerting pressure on Sri Lanka by asking the Sri Lankan Government to expedite a solution to the ethnic problem, while advocating a ‘hands off Sri Lanka’ policy in the same breath.

Top US officials here
Two top officials from the US National Security Council Samantha Power and David Pressman were here on a five-day official visit beginning June 14 as a follow up on External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L.Peiris’ talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held recently in Washington.
A press release issued by the US embassy in Colombo in connection with the visit of the two US officials stated: “The visit aims to continue last month’s productive dialogue between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and External Affairs Minister G.L.Peiris in which both leaders discussed Sri Lanka’s path through economic renewal, accountability and reconciliation to greater peace, prosperity and a stronger partnership with the United States.”

Pascoe in Wanni, Mullaitivu
UN Under-Secretary General for Political affairs Lynn Pascoe, who was on a visit to the island, toured Wanni and Mullaitivu areas to study at first hand the process of resettling the displaced persons now underway. Pascoe later expressed his satisfaction over the amenities provided to the resettled families and the facilities made available to them for agricultural pursuits and fishing.

EPC crisis exacerbates
The stand-off between the Eastern PC and Eastern province governor Mohan Wijewickrama that began with the latter refusing to implement certain decisions taken by the council has now developed into a crisis, informed sources said.

Provincial Minister of Education Wimalaweera Dissanayake says that he would not accept responsibility for any duties and functions relating to his ministry as long as the present governor remains in office. The governor’s action in suspending all teacher appointments, promotions and transfers ordered by him as the minister has incurred Dissanayake’s ire. Governor Wijewickrama says that he would not implement appointments, promotions and transfers ordered for political reasons and he would act only on the recommendations of the provincial PSC. Both the PC and the governor are now planning to complain to President Rajapaksa against each other on this issue.

UNP-SLMC conflict
The dispute that has arisen between the UNP and the SLMC over the appointment of Daya Gamage of the UNP as the opposition leader of the Eastern PC is continuing with no settlement in sight. The office of opposition leader in the Eastern PC fell vacant when Baseer Zegudawood of the SLMC who contested on the UNP ticket at the last PC elections was elected an MP at the April 8 general election.

The SLMC asserts that it is entitled to the post of opposition leader in the Eastern PC as it has nine members in the council. Daya Gamage had liberally spent his personal funds on the UNP propaganda at the last Eastern PC election and the general election. He successfully contested the PC election, but he could not win a seat at the Parliamentary election. However, the UNP offered a National List seat from the party to Daya Gamage’s wife Anoma Gamage. SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem and party General Secretary Hassan Ali last week held a discussion with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya in a bid to sort out this issue. Hakeem had been adamant that the office of the opposition leader in the Eastern PC be conceded to the SLMC. The UNP leader had assured the SLMC leaders that he would shortly resolve the matter. According to UNP inside sources, Wickremesinghe is planning to ask Anoma Gamage to resign to make way for Daya Gamage to enter Parliament through the UNP National List as the way out of the problem.

JVP on the rocks
The JVP, which suffered a severe setback at the April 8 general parliamentary election, saw an exodus of party cadres and supporters in the wake of the electoral defeat. The emasculated party is now being wracked by dissention among the top leaders, according to reliable resources.

The JVP which commanded 39 seats was the second largest political party in the previous Parliament. The defection of 12 MPs led by Wimal Weerawnasa to form the splinter grouping Jatika Nidahas Peramuna weakened the party to a certain extent. It was when the party’s Parliamentary strength was reduced to seven members at the last general election which they contested in alliance with the group led by General Sarath Fonseka that the party received a real telling blow. Of these seven MPs, General Fonseka and Sunil Handunnetti were returned from the Colombo District, Ajith Kumara from Galle, Vijitha Herath from Gampaha and Arjuna Ranatunga from Kalutara. General Fonseka, Arjuna Ranatunga and Tiran Alles are neither JVP members nor do they subscribe to the JVP ideology. Therefore, the de facto JVP has really four seats in Parliament now.

Dwindling party funds
The JVP has been meeting its financial commitments with donations direct from the salaries of party MPs, and the contributions made by the party’s foreign branches. However, with their Parliamentary strength reduced to four members and some of the foreign branches joining the Jatika Nidahas Peramuna founded by Wimal Weerawansa, the flow of funds to the party has reduced to a trickle. As a result, the JVP is finding it difficult to pay the salaries of some 2,000 full-timers of the party, party sources say.

The women’s, students’, and youth organisations and trade unions affiliated to the JVP overtaken by the ramifications of the crisis are reportedly on the verge of collapse, they say.
The party has reportedly suspended the publication of its political organ, `Seenuwa’, Rathu Lanka of the Samajavadi Kamkaru Sangamaya, `Ginisiluwa’. of the Samajavadi Shishya Sangamaya, and the `Navoda’ of the Samajavadi Kantha Sangamaya affiliated to the party. Apart from the difficulty in raising necessary funds, the party had found marketing the newspapers too a problem owing to the exodus of party cadres. Now the JVP Politburo has decided to publish only its official newspaper, ‘Niyamuwa’.
The members of JVP-affiliated trade unions too have begun defecting to other trade unions in droves. For instance about 350 members of the Samastha Lanka Waraya Podu Sevaka Samitiya, which is the main trade union of the JVP in the Ports Authority, last week quit the union and joined the trade union affiliated to the SLFP. The members of several other JVP trade unions too have followed suit causing the party coffers to dry up.

‘Anthare’ under siege
Meanwhile, JVP’s student organisation, Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) often referred to as ‘Anthare’, which has been holding sway in the country’s university system is fast losing its grip on the student population. The IUSF, which had taken the control of student councils in all universities in the country at one stage, currently holds only the Student Councils at the Ruhuna and Sri Jayewardenepura Universities.. Most university students have developed an antipathy towards the IUSF as its leaders have made it a habit to stage protests, demonstrations and boycotts over trivial issues. It has never held an election to pick the office bearers. Its office bearers are full time activists of the JVP. The convener of the IUSF, 35-year old Udul Premaratane, once an undergraduate of Peradeniya University had his name struck off the roll of students due to his failure to sit the examinations held by the university. The main purpose of the IUSF is to distance the member students from their studies so that they could be used as party’s full timers and leaders of protests and demonstrations to be staged against the government.

IUSF focus on Jaffna
Now that the IUSF has begun losing its hold on students in universities in the South, it has turned its attention to the Jaffna University. The IUSF, which once turned a blind eye to the problems faced by the Tamil and Muslim university students, toeing a chauvinistic line, are now demonstrating much concern over the plight of students in the North who have been displaced and disabled. A delegation from the IUSF had recently visited Jaffna with an assortment of orthopedic supports like wheel chairs and crutches. However, the university management had not allowed the IUSF delegates to enter the university premises.
The LTTE earlier controlled the student organisations in the Jaffna university. Now that the LTTE is no longer on the scene, the IUSF has stepped in to fill the vacuum. When the LTTE was in control of the Jaffna university student organisations, there were no boycotts, protests and demonstrations that disrupted their studies. Teachers and parents now express fears that the studies of students would suffer if the JVP-led protests and boycotts were to begin at the Jaffna University.

UNP reforms
Chairman of the UNP Reforms Committee, Joseph Michael Perera says that 90 percent of their work is over and soon after the proposals from the party’s Pradeshiya Sabha members are received, they would finalise the report and submit it to party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Ravi slams committee
Meanwhile, addressing media personnel recently, Ravi Karunanayake said that he had no faith in the reforms committee except in one member. Explaining why he had no faith in the committee, Karunanayake said that among the committee members there is one person who failed to attend Parliament on an occasion in 2008 when the opposition had an opportunity to topple the government and there is another person who avoided attending Parliament on the same occasion saying that he had to attend courts.
Ravi Karunanayake also slammed the committee members for calling at the residence of Bodhi Ranasinghe for a tryst with Sajith Premadasa. He said there was no need for the committee to visit residences of members to hear representations and any member could easily call on the committee at Sirikotha.

Sajith’s faith in committee
However, Sajith Premadasa has expressed his confidence in the reforms committee. With Sajith and Ravi attacking each other through the media, the reforms committee has now paved the way for another crisis in the UNP. The enthusiasm that the party rank and file had evinced in the party reforms too is now fast waning. Meanwhile, the feud between Sajith Premadasa and Ranil Wickremesinghe over the party leadership which has taken a backseat for the time being could flare up like cinders hidden under ashes. Those backing Sajith Premadasa are holding group discussions at various places to organise themselves to successfully face the D-day, while Ranil loyalists have begun attacking Sajith at every turn. The situation being so dicey, Ranil Wickremesinghe has cancelled a planned visit to Europe, according to Sirikotha sources.

Milroy in Batticaloa
Resettlement Minister, Milroy Fernando paid a visit to Batticaloa last week with a view to drawing up a programme for resettling Tamil and Muslim civilians who were either displaced or had fled their homes due to hostilities. Deputy Minister for Resettlement, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharana alias Karuna Amman also participated in an official conference held at the District Secretariat in Batticaloa. However, no Muslim representative – not even Chairman, Batticaloa District Development Committee, M.A.L.M.Hisbullah had been invited to this conference. Muslim residents of 33 villages in Kattankudy were driven away during the war. This makes a strong case for hearing the voice of Muslim representatives at this conference. But unfortunately, the conference organisers had overlooked the need of the presence of Muslim representatives,” a Muslim leader from the East said. The Muslims in the Batticaloa district, according to reports, had expressed their concern and displeasure over the callous disregard for their interests shown by the authorities responsible.

Akashi snubbed Hakeem?
Japanese envoy Yasushi Akashi had always made it a point during his past visits to this country to meet all party leaders including the President, the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition. During his recent visit too he met the government leaders, the opposition leader and several party leaders. However, Akashi failed to meet SLMC leader. Rauff Hakeem had asked for an opportunity to meet the Japanese envoy, but the Japanese embassy in Colombo had made no arrangement for him to meet Akashi. Meanwhile, on June 16 UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe hosted Akashi to dinner and he had invited several front-liners of the UNP and leaders of other opposition parties to this dinner. SLMC leader Hakeem too attended the dinner as an invitee.
At this dinner the Japanese ambassador here had told Hakeem that he (the latter) could take advantage of the occasion to hold talks with Akashi. However, Hakeem had rejected the offer. “I had occasion to meet Akashi during all his previous 19 visits to this country. Why was I denied an opportunity to meet him during this visit?,” he had asked the Japanese ambassador. Hakeem has also sent a letter to the Japanese embassy in Colombo expressing his deep displeasure over this lapse on the part of the embassy officials.