government was this week once again grappling with
the prospect of combating western influences in the
international community demanding a war crimes probe
against Sri Lanka for alleged atrocities committed
during the final phase of the Eelam war.
The bad news came from several regions. In
Australia, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd expressed
concern over the now infamous ‘Channel 4
documentary’ broadcast in Britain and said that an
independent inquiry into the issue was warranted.
In neighbouring India, Foreign Secretary Nirupama
Rao, fresh from her recent journey to Colombo, was
saying that India will always be sensitive to the
concerns of the state of Tamil Nadu in determining
policy vis-à-vis Sri Lanka.
The Australian Foreign
Minister’s statement, though not having a major
impact, will be a disappointment for Colombo.
Australia was until now one of the few developed
nations that had maintained a stoic silence on the
Sri Lankan issue and that has changed.
Canberra’s ‘hands off’ policy was largely due to the
influences of Former Foreign Minister Alexander
Downer who had a close personal friendship with our
own late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and
therefore had an in-depth understanding of the
nuances of Sri Lanka’s war.
Downer is now out of office and out of Parliament
and as a result his influences in Canberra have
waned. Correspondingly, the Tamil Diaspora in the
major Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne has
been active and now, the Australian government has
officially voiced its sentiments.
Of more concern to Colombo though would be Indian
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s remarks. Of course,
there are no startling revelations therein; it is
always understood that New Delhi has to be sensitive
to issues in Tamil Nadu before deciding on their
policy towards Sri Lanka.
What is important though is the context in which the
remarks were made. Jayalalitha Jayaram has just been
sworn in as the Chief Minister of the state and has
been instrumental in passing a resolution against
Sri Lanka which calls for economic sanctions against
With her public statement Rao was attempting to kill
two birds with one stone: she was trying to appease
Jayaram whose party now wields a massive majority in
the Tamil Nadu State Assembly and at the same time
trying to send a thinly veiled message to Colombo.
That latter is because, during her recent visit
to Sri Lanka, Rao was told in no uncertain terms by
President Mahinda Rajapaksa no less that any
political solution to redress the grievances of all
communities in Sri Lanka will be ‘home grown’, via a
Parliamentary Select Committee.
That was effectively Colombo’s way of rejecting the
‘13th Amendment plus’ proposal forwarded by New
Delhi which would have liked to see the 13th
Amendment being implemented in full with police and
land powers being granted to the regions.
Sri Lanka, it was understood, was not keen on
this concept and hence the proposal to constitute a
Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) emerged,
although both the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and
the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) were quick to
denounce it as simply a delaying tactic.
However, Colombo is also keen to have India on its
side and towards this end, there are indications
that a dialogue will be initiated with Tamil Nadu
Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram as well.
Colombo’s envoy to New Delhi, Prasad Kariyawasam has
been entrusted with this task.
The government is also intensifying its efforts to
counter the ‘war crimes’ propaganda elsewhere.
Government MP Rajiva Wijesinha has been dispatched
to London to specifically address the Channel 4
documentary issue and performed commendably in the
BBC’s ‘Hard Talk’ programme.
Colombo also announced that more than twenty
Non-Aligned nations had dismissed the Darusman
report commissioned by United Nations Secretary
General Ban Ki-moon, a welcome sign that not all
countries were susceptible to the machinations of
the pro-Tiger western bloc of nations.
More good news came in the form of an invitation
from Pakistan to President Rajapaksa to visit that
country. In the normal course of events this would
hardly merit a mention as such invitations are
routine but in the present scenario this has added
It is well known that India is quite concerned about
Sri Lanka’s close ties with its own neighbours with
which it has a less than cordial relationship:
Pakistan and China. It is already suspicious about
the massive amounts of Chinese investments in Sri
Pakistan on the other hand has always been an
ally of Sri Lanka and was one of a handful of
countries that consented to provide the military
with the required hardware for the final phase of
the Eelam war at short notice.
India has always had a thorny relationship with
Pakistan and it will not want Colombo to tilt its
allegiances towards Islamabad in a hurry. Any visit
by President Rajapaksa to Pakistan therefore will
carry more significance than a state visit that is a
mere courtesy call.
Also on the international stage this week,
Opposition and United National Party (UNP) leader
Ranil Wickremesinghe was in New York meeting with
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. That
meeting too will be watched with interest by policy
makers in Colombo.
Moon is not the most popular man in Sri Lanka
these days and nor is Wickremesinghe. The former was
publicly vilified in Sri Lanka after he called for
the appointment of a commission to probe the war
crimes allegations. Wickremesinghe has also been
branded locally as a ‘traitor’.
In this scenario, the UNP leader, also fighting to
retain the leadership of his own party, is unlikely
to endorse the calls for an international probe on
the alleged atrocities with Moon. That would further
jeopardise his own standing vis-à-vis the Sri Lankan
Therefore, what he is likely to raise are matters
such as the detention of former Army Commander
Sarath Fonseka and the issue of media freedom in Sri
Lanka. Indeed, it is a political tightrope that
Wickremesinghe too is walking!
The coming week though would also see the government
focus on the domestic arena as well. That is because
of local government elections to three score local
authorities around the country. The results though
appear to be a foregone conclusion; hence the lack
of great enthusiasm for that contest!