Blake’s visit creates ripples

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O Blake is expected to visit Sri Lanka on Monday. Blake is no stranger to Sri Lanka having served his stint as the US Ambassador here and paid visits to this country several times earlier.
However, the US Assistant Secretary’s visit this time round has created an unprecedented stir in political circles here with political observers attaching much significance to it given several international events round the corner where Sri Lanka is expected to face threats to her image.

Coincides with UNHRC sessions
Incidentally, Blake’s visit to Sri Lanka coincides with the start of the United Nations Human Rights Council session in Geneva on September 12.
Earlier, US States Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a press release that Assistant Secretary of State Blake will visit India as well for talks on bilateral and regional matters. She said in the release: “In Sri Lanka, he intends to meet with government officials, civil society representatives, university students and political leaders.” Blake was earlier scheduled to come here on a three-day visit beginning August 29 and the visit had to be postponed due to the Hurricane Irene that struck the US east coast.
The US a few weeks earlier had warned Sri Lankan government that an international inquiry could be launched against it if it did not take adequate steps for ‘a credible to probe into charges of humanitarian crimes committed during the war on the LTTE.’
The US is pressing for a `credible probe’ because Blake himself had said that the LLRC is not adequately equipped to inquire into alleged war crimes.

Hillary’s visit to Tamil Nadu
According to some political sources, the timing of US Assistant Secretary Blake’s visit to coincide with the UNHRC sessions and the UN General Assembly sessions round the corner is suspect in the eyes of certain people given the US stand on the alleged war crimes committed by the security forces during the last phase of the Eelam War Four. Suspicions among the people here about the stand of the US in regard to allegations on human rights violations and war crimes Sri Lanka is facing, gained strength when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jeyalalithaa following a visit to Chennai last August. In fact, US Secretary of State Clinton was on a two-day visit to New Delhi for what was described as the Indo-US Strategic Dialogue when she undertook the brief visit to Chennai where she met the Chief Minister. However, many ordinary people in Sri Lanka had thought that the US high official had arrived in India especially for talks with the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.
A comment posted on a popular website by a Sri Lankan regarding Clinton’s visit to Tamil Nadu is a pointer to the suspicions entertained by the some sections of the people here. The writer said that Hillary Clinton’s visit to Tamil Nadu ‘has an undertone of ulterior motives”. He had added: “It was indeed to prepare the ground for sinister plans of the US State Department underway to further destabilise Sri Lanka.”

GL in Jordan
Press reports said that Blake is due to meet External Affairs Minister G.L.Peiris on Monday. However, Prof. Peiris at the moment is in Jordan holding talks with King of Jordan Abdullah II and Prof. Peiris’ counterpart in that country Nasser Judeh on Sri Lanka’s post-war situation. Reports also said that Minister Peiris will join the Sri Lankan delegation to UNHRC sessions from Jordan.
Government came in for praise from various quarters when it lifted the State of Emergency which had been in operation continuously for about six years. The EU and some countries in the West hailed the lifting of the Emergency as a step towards restoring the normalcy and strengthening democracy in the country. Opposition leader Ranil Wickrmesinghe too commended the government in Parliament. However, the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill that was presented in Parliament by Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem took the shine off the good act of doing away with the Emergency. The Bill sought to hold a suspect in custody for 48 hours without being produced before a magistrate instead 24 hours under the normal law.

Govt. withdraws Bill
The government decided to withdraw the piece of legislation when the Opposition challenged its validity.
This law was enacted in 2007 as a temporary provision valid for only two years to enable Police officers to hold suspects in custody beyond the 24 hour limit pending completion of preliminary inquiries in certain cases. This law had to be extended with approval from Parliament. It had lapsed when the government to failed to get the parliamentary approval in 2009.
The opposition argued that the proposed the provisions have no legal validity as the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill embodying them is now a dead letter. However, it is a happy augury that the government has now decided to re-introduce an amended Bill following a consensus reached at a meeting of party leaders. Addressing the weekly Cabinet news briefing on Friday that Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said that the government is ready to accommodate suggestions and amendments by the Opposition.

A delegation for Geneva
A five-member delegation headed by Plantations Minister and government’s special peace envoy Mahinda Samarasinghe left for Geneva on Thursday to attend the 18th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The other members of the delegation are Prof. G.L.Peiris, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and government MP supervising the External Affairs Ministry Sajin de Vaas Gunawardena. Minister G.L.Peiris will join the delegation from Jordan where he is now on an official visit.
Prior to the sessions, Sri Lankan delegates will meet the President and member nations of the UNHRC and other members of the UNO as well as representatives of civil society organisations to brief them on the development programmes, and resettlement, rehabilitation and reconciliation efforts underway in the country. Delegation head Minister Samarasinghe said: “We hope to brief the international community of the post war development in the country in general and the giant strides underway to develop and restore normal life in the war torn North and East. By lifting the Emergency we have sent out a message to the world that we are not stuck in one place.”
The delegation is also planning to stage a show of the documentary `Lies Agreed Upon’ for the international community. This documentary is the government’s response to the Channel 4 video `Sri Lanka Killing Fields’.
Minister Samarasinghe said that the UNHRC session would provide them with an ideal forum to combat misinformation against Sri Lanka and to enlighten misinformed and misguided sections of the international community.

AI strikes again
The human rights outfit Amnesty International has struck another blow at Sri Lankan government on the eve of the UN Human Rights Council sessions, by releasing a report saying that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the President to inquire into the war-related matters is fundamentally flawed and provides no accountability for alleged atrocities committed by the security forces during the final phase of the war on terrorism. The report titled `When will they get justice?’ says that the LLRC has failed to properly pursue allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity leveled against both government forces and the LTTE.
Amnesty International’s Asia pacific Director Sam Zarifi has charged that the Sri Lankan government has for almost two years used the LLRC as its trump card in lobbying against an independent international organisation.
Government delegation to Geneva sessions will, no doubt, respond to criticisms by the Amnesty International and other human rights outfits.

Battle for Colombo MC
With the local government polls only less than one month away, electioneering in areas where contests are on, is fast gathering momentum, according to reports. However, incidents of election-related violence are sporadic, according to the Police. Attention of politicians, party activists as well as the ordinary people are so much focussed on the battle for Colombo, everyone appears to have forgotten that there are 22 other local bodies at stake.
Many observers say that there is a marked change in the style of electioneering in Colombo by almost all political parties in the fray at this poll and it is a change for the better. Electioneering-related noisy, rowdy scenes usually staged by party activists are almost absent and Mayoral candidates appear to be trying to reach the good sense of voters without resorting to histrionic, pyrotechnics and mud-slinging at rivals.
UPFA’s Mayoral candidate Milinda Moragoda says that he believes in a clean campaign. The theme of his campaign is `Colombo the Centre of Excellence’. Moragoda has grand plans for the city which he wants to make `the economic hub of Asia.”

He launched his 12-point policy statement at a ceremony held at Mahaweli Centre last week. This programme also includes `a 100-day crash programme’.
UNP candidate A.J.M. Muzammil has taken up the cause of shanty dwellers and holds out the promise to provide them with better housing and rise against any attempt to displace them in the name of development. He says that he has planned to address over 150 meetings in Colombo. Jeyalalithaa being pushed
The situation in geopolitics that has arisen due to the extremist Tamil political parties in Tamil Nadu pushing Chief Minister Jeyalalithaa towards an uncompromising stance against Sri Lanka figured prominently at the deliberations at the Cabinet meeting held last week with President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the chair. These pro-LTTE political leaders like Nedumaran, Vaiko, Seeman and Tirumavalan do not command a significant clout in the Tamil Nadu State Assembly. However, Jeyalalithaa has been compelled to dance according to the tune set by these leaders as they together threw their weight behind her bid to become the Chief Minister. Of late, the Indian Marxist political parties CP (I) and CP (M) have begun echoing the anti-Sri Lanka cry of the Tamil Nadu political leaders. These two Communist parties together hold about 20 seats in Indian Lok Sabha.
The CP (I) leaders too had taken Sri Lankan government to task during the recent debate on Sri Lanka in the Indian Parliament.

DEW turns troubleshooter
During the discussion at the Cabinet meeting President Rajapaksa said: “People like Vaiko and Nedumaran have always been backing the Tigers. However, the Indian Communist parties harbouring misconceptions about us is a matter we should set right.”
Turning to Minister DEW Gunasekera the President added: “You are a leader of the Communist party in Sri Lanka. Can’t you explain things to the two Communist parties in India?”
Minister Gunasekera readily agreed to take up the `trouble- shooting’ mission and the President asked him to visit India following week itself. “Meet Indian PM Manmohan Singh as well to keep him posted on the latest developments here,” President Rajapaksa told the Minister.
Incidentally, External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris is currently visiting a number of countries including South Korea, United Kingdom and Switzerland.Deputy Minister Neomal Perera is also on a visit to several Latin American countries to lobby their support for Sri Lanka in the event of any move against the country is made at the upcoming UN General Assembly sessions.
Given the absence of both External Affairs Minister and his Deputy from the country, President Rajapaksa appointed DEW Gunasekera as the acting External Affairs Minister which position would facilitate the mission he is to carry out in India shortly.

Minister Gunasekera soon after getting the assignment from the President lost no time collecting necessary data to hold a brief for the government at the meetings with the Indian political leaders. He obtained the statistical data relating to the resettlement of the war-displaced people in the North and East and the release of LTTE suspects after being rehabilitated. He also made a study of the measures taken by the government to strengthen the civil administration in the North and the extent of relief resulting from the lifting of the Emergency law.
The Minister had also collected much information about `the devious plans’ being worked out by some countries in the West in a bid to destabilise the country.

DEW meets Indian CP leaders
Armed with facts and figures in support of his brief for the government, DEW Gunasekera left for New Delhi as acting External Affairs Minister last Wednesday afternoon.
Minister Gunasekera on Thursday called on General Secretary of the CP (I) D. Raja at the party headquarters in New Delhi, not as the acting External Affairs Minister, but in his capacity as the General Secretary of Sri Lanka Communist party. Raja had asked Minister Gunasekera how come that they, as a Communist party, are backing the chauvinist government in Sri Lanka. The Minister had explained that the government had never been racialist and those in India should come to terms with the ground realities in Sri Lanka.

The Minister had also pointed out that it is unfair to accept as credible the charge made by the Tamil Diaspora that the people in the North are being persecuted by the government.
Minister Gunasekera later met General Secretary of the CP (M) Prakash Karat and briefed him on the situation here.

The Minister on the Thursday night held talks with the politburo members of both CP(I) and CP(M) at a joint conference The two Indian Communist parties functioning as two separate political entities normally do not sit at the same table together for a discussion. But as a gesture of goodwill towards Minister Gunasekera they accepted the latter’s invitation to talk with him at the same table.
The participants of the conference had discussed the role that the Communist parties in Asian countries should play in the context of the current global geopolitical imperatives. Minister Gunasekera had later explained to them the measures taken by the government to provide immediate relief to the people in the North and East in the post-war situation.

DEW slams West
Minister Gunasekera after making a reference to` the political agenda being pursued by the powerful countries in West like the United States and Great Britain,’ explained that these powers in the West have turned against Sri Lanka for defeating terrorism without heeding their calls for a ceasefire. He charged that the countries in the West are trying to destabilise the Sri Lankan government out of spite.
Minister Gunasekera the following day (Friday) called on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and handed him a message from President Rajapaksa. He also briefed the Indian Prime Minister on the measures taken by the Sri Lankan government to solve the pressing problems of the Tamils in the North-East and on the progress made in resettling the war-displaced in their original homes.

Minister Dew Gunasekera returned to the island on Friday afternoon following his successful three day visit.
Incidentally, Dew Gunasekera is the first non-SLFP Minister to have been appointed as acting External Affairs Minister of an SLFP-led government in the country. He is also the first non-SLFP Minister to have been chosen for a special goodwill mission by a head of State of a SLFP-led government.