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Chanaka Amaratunga 1958 - 1996

Extracts on the 15th Anniversary of his death
From Memoirs of the Eighties and Nineties

Chanaka in 1981 had set up a body called the Council for Liberal Democracy, which I was initially wary of, because he said he had established it with President J R Jayewardene’s blessings. Though he had been upset at the treatment of Mrs Bandaranaike, he thought my fears exaggerated, and expressed the belief that, though some elements in the UNP had authoritarian tendencies, J R himself was basically decent.

I found this ironic, because back in England, in 1978, which was his freshman year, he had been deeply critical of J R. I was impressed by the developments in Sri Lanka, and thought J R entirely responsible for the change, whereas Dudley Senanayake had seemed to me a leader without much initiative. Chanaka however was deeply critical. Though his loyalty to the UNP was absolute in those days, he saw Dudley as an utterly decent politician of deep convictions, while J R was essentially an ambitious intriguer.

By 1980 that had changed. He was less fond of Premadasa than he had been earlier, when he had told me that Premadasa had nearly joined the Dudley front. But his real bugbear was Lalith Athulathmudali, whom he saw as potentially a dictator. He claimed indeed that J R had encouraged the formation of the CLD so as to provide space for liberal thinkers such as Gamini Dissanayake, of whom he thought very highly.

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Ms Damilvany Gnanakumar

In writing about the various UN personnel from Britain who appeared to have other tasks to fulfil in addition to the ostensible one of contributing to humanitarian operations, I noted the fact that the way in which UN staff is sent to Sri Lanka is not always clear. Often we were not informed when particular positions were not in fact UN ones but had been specifically funded by the British for purposes that were not transparent.

In this shifting situation, with the UN being used with preconceptions and for purposes for which it was never intended, as I was first advised by a senior Indian diplomat, we need to be doubly careful, but unfortunately this shift seemed to have passed our Foreign Ministry by. I can only hope that now, with a much more thoughtful and experienced Secretary in place, we will begin to plan a bit more carefully for the challenges of the 21st century.

Lack of care seems to have contributed too to what happened with regard to Ms Damilvany Gnanakumar, about whom I first heard when I was negotiating the release of a New Zealand national, for whom I had been asked to liaise on behalf of the New Zealand embassy in Delhi. I think I spoke to the wrong person in the military, who failed to deal with the issue, but I did locate the lady with the help of UNHCR, and tried to expedite her release.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2011
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