This is my Nation  


Govt steadily moving to neutralise hostility within UN

If the going got tough for the government this week, the tough also got going. A new controversy erupted over the screening of a video in Britain allegedly depicting war crimes being committed in Sri Lanka but there was a flurry of other diplomatic activity as well.
Before the hullabaloo over the video broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4 network hit the headlines, a high powered Indian delegation was in Colombo, headed by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, India’s former envoy in Sri Lanka.

Rao and her delegation held talks with President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself and although nothing sensational was announced, it was noteworthy that India has refrained from calling for drastic action against Sri Lanka - which is what its detractors have been demanding in recent times.
India’s refusal to commit itself to a collision course against Colombo is significant because it is facing pressure to do so from two quarters: the western lobby who are calling for action based on the Moon panel report and its own Chief Minister in Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa Jayaram.
Jayaram, perhaps euphoric in the first flush of victory at the state elections, called on New Delhi to impose economic sanctions on Sri Lanka and demanded that President Mahinda Rajapaksa be tried for alleged war crimes.

New Delhi’s response, though understated in the media, was firm. The Indian delegation to Colombo stopped en route to Colombo in Chennai, the Tamil Nadu state capital to appease and reassure Jayalalithaa. And in Colombo, they discussed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) as well, instead of calling for economic sanctions!
The Indian delegation did call for a speedy settlement of the political issues related to the devolution of power among Sri Lanka’s different communities and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was discussed at some length but again, New Delhi has been careful not to issue public recommendations, knowing only too well that this could have negative implications in Sri Lanka.

If New Delhi’s stance vis-à-vis Sri Lanka was not a diplomatic victory, it was at least a draw. And from an Indian perspective, it knows only too well that any deterioration of its relations with Sri Lanka will be eagerly exploited by its neighbouring rivals, China and Pakistan.
On another flank, the government was slowly but steadily moving to neutralise hostility within the United Nations (UN) as well. This came in the form of extending support to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki moon who is seeking a second term of office.

Ban was - and still remains - a much vilified person in Sri Lanka after he decided to appoint a ‘panel of experts’ to probe alleged war crimes in this country at the end of the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In fact, Minister Wimal Weerawansa staged a fast unto death to protest Moon’s actions.
Therefore, the government’s decision to support Moon may come as a surprise and in fact some opposition stalwarts were querying the decision. This however remains the prudent course of action for obvious reasons: while Moon is expected to be well disposed towards Sri Lanka as a result, his re-election as Secretary General is also a foregone conclusion.

Just as it was coming to grips with both with India and the UN, a new hurdle confronted Colombo this week: a video broadcast by Channel 4 in Britain. What heightened concerns in Sri Lanka was not so much the content of the video - the authenticity of which is in doubt - but the British government’s reaction to it.
That came in the form of a statement from British Foreign Office Minister for South Asia Alistair Burt who not only called on Sri Lanka to conduct a ‘thorough and credible’ investigation into the allegations in the video but also set a deadline to do so: by the end of the year.

In what amounted to a virtual threat couched in diplomatic language, Burt was saying that if Sri Lanka did not comply, Britain would do its utmost to haul Sri Lanka before an international inquiry into war crimes.
Whether a junior minister of one country can threaten another nation on the strength of a video footage was a subject for discussion in Colombo. However, it was clear that Burt was not speaking in a personal capacity. Obviously, he was chosen to do the dirty work and convey the message by the British government.
Colombo was quick to react. Its position was articulated in a statement which stated that “it regretted that British Foreign Office Minister for South Asia Alistair Burt has taken no account of the Sri Lankan Government’s strong refutation of the suggestion that the Government of Sri Lanka deliberately targeted its own civilians, as alleged in the video.”

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, known to speak his mind on occasion went further, accusing Channel 4 had been bribed by remnants of the LTTE. The Defence Secretary maintained that the Sri Lanka Army was a professional fighting force, and did not stoop to committing war crimes as alleged.
There is of course a curious paradox in all this that the western bloc of nations does not seem to comprehend and that is the attitude of the vast majority of Sri Lankans regarding the end of thirty years of war.
Having been at the receiving end of the conflict on a daily basis for almost thirty years, they are more than happy that the war has ended and are willing to make allowances for the manner in which it was done. Evidence of this comes from the election results that returned the government and the President to power with an overwhelming mandate.

Therefore, Sri Lanka is no Libya, Syria or Yemen - and in fact the Channel 4 video does compare Sri Lanka to Libya. What these allegations of war crimes will do is to make the government - and the President in particular-even more popular within the country, international opinion notwithstanding.
That is an asset that the President is certain to utilise in the coming months. July will see the remaining local government elections. It will also no doubt see a lot of sabre rattling over the war crimes allegations and Colombo will do well to deal with all the related issues, one step at a time.