I had written about good ambassadors being dismissed well before Dayan having to come back to Sri Lanka to deal with audit queries, though in fact he survived because the President intervened and called a halt to the persecution. Asitha was not so lucky, and Chris Nonis in London told me that he had to put up with constant complaints, even though he was a good communicator and managed to deal with at least some of the propaganda against us, of which England was the main source. But Chris too had his problems, for as he was appointed he had displayed deep animosity to his excellent Deputy, Pakeer Amza, who had had to act as High Commissioner for a long period – given the absurd neglect of this vital position by the Ministry, at a time when Britain got a new government. It is likely that Chris was warned against Amza, who had stood up against Kshenuka and Sajin over the disastrous 2010 visit of the President to Britain.
But the suspicions that had been sowed had a permanent effect. Amza was swiftly transferred, as Deputy to Berlin, which was not commensurate with his abilities, though he was relieved to find a positive ambassador in the person of Sarath Kongahage, himself not a career diplomat. Along with Amza went the Political Officer, a Tamil officer of considerable capacity. So, at a time when relations with the diaspora were of the essence, the London office was without a senior official who was, or even spoke, Tamil. Chris meanwhile had been sent a very capable Ministry official called Lenagala, but he soon fell out with him, and asked for a non-career replacement. He was sent Neville de Silva, who had previously served in Bangkok, a journalist and the brother of the more famous journalist Mervyn de Silva, who was Dayan Jayatilleka’s father. But by then the suspicions Chris had developed were entrenched, and soon Neville too found himself sidelined and soon enough removed.
There was confusion elsewhere too, as has been noted for instance with regard to Canada, another post where good diplomacy was essential, given the influence of the diaspora and what seemed unremitting hostility from the Canadian government. In India there were constant changes to our representative in Chennai, and the Tamil diplomat who had been well thought of was suddenly dismissed. He had got me over in 2012 to talk to academics and journalists, and I gathered then that I was the first such visitor he had had, because the Foreign Ministry treated Tamilnadu with contempt and was then surprised when it expressed vehement criticism which Delhi then had perforce to take up.
But the Foreign Ministry was not the only place where Sajin’s destructive influence reigned. He had also been appointed as Secretary to the Committee to negotiate with the Tamil National Alliance, but he saw himself as a full member of the team, and was treated as such by GL. It should be noted though that GL had no strong principles about this, and he astonished me soon after I joined the team by bringing a young student who was the son of a former student of his (and who happened to be related to me) who he said was interested in politics, and asking if he could sit in on the discussions. The TNA did not object, but I could well understand why they found it difficult to take the negotiations seriously.
Sajin did not take his secretarial duties seriously, and there were no minutes of the meetings, save for brief records prepared by Mr Sumanthiran. We had no agenda, and my suggestion that our team should meet before any meeting was completely ignored. In contrast, the TNA always came in well prepared.
Sajin was supposed to prepare a communiqué after each meeting, but this was inevitably delayed. He also took it upon himself to comment on what transpired, and once was extremely rude about Mr Sambandan, the leader of the TNA. There was also no effort to ensure continuity by fixing meetings on a regular basis and indeed, at the time I joined the team, I found that they had had only three meetings in a period of well over three months.
In short, it was evident that the government team, or at least Sajin, had no intention that the talks should succeed. I managed to make some change initially, and meetings were held at fortnightly intervals for a short time, while some of my suggestions were put forward as proposals of the government. Previously only the TNA had made suggestions, to which government failed to respond.
When we decided that Mr Sumanthiran and I should jointly prepare suggestions with regard to land issues, which was supposedly a bone of contention, and when we swiftly agreed on a compromise, Sajin decided that enough was enough. Before that meeting I was called by the President and told that I should not give too much away, which was ironic because in fact the TNA team thought Sumanthiran had yielded too much and suggested some amendments. But instead of discussing these, and reverting to the original draft which would I think have satisfied all fears, both Sambandan and GL began to grandstand and make long speeches about the historical record.
We did not then fix another meeting, and I then found that a meeting had been fixed without my being informed. I was in fact in the North but, having been told about the meeting by Sumanthiran, I tore down, and was only slightly late. A short while before I reached Colombo, Sajin rang to apologize for having failed to keep me informed. By then he had begun to call me the TNA member on our team and, though he kept saying it was a joke, it was obviously a joke he intended that those he repeated it to often enough would take seriously.
Meetings became desultory after that, with the President insisting that a solution had to come through a Parliamentary Select Committee, and the TNA refusing to be part of that until the government at least produced proposals based on the discussions that had been held. The government indeed agreed to this, but nothing was done in this regard so the TNA refused to nominate members to the PSC. In fact government had by then made the negative role of the PSC clear in that it nominated known hardliners and left out even party leaders who were known as advocates of reform. These included the leader of the Trotskyist LSSP, Prof Tissa Vitharna, and the leader of the Muslim Congress, Rauff Hakeem. I was also omitted, though I had been on the negotiating team and been asked to sign the request for a PSC, which I did happily given the agreement that had been reached with the TNA concerning its participation.
When the agreement was not fulfilled and the TNA refused to participate, the President invited the leader of the TNA for a private meeting, and there agreed to place on the table not just what had been agreed at the negotiations but also earlier proposals of various governments. This seemed to me silly, because they included even the excessive concessions suggested by President Kumaratunga which had led to the main opposition UNP burning the document on the floor of the House. But with the President not having been properly briefed, or perhaps because he thought the hardliners he had put on the PSC would stall any progress, he agreed to what would have prompted endless confrontation in the PSC had it met. And in the end that commitment too was not met, so with no other opposition parties participating either, in the absence of the TNA, it was left to just a few government Members to attend meetings.
Ironically the hardliners hardly attended and were missing when the Liberal Party presented its proposals, or when the thoughtful leader of the Young Parliamentary Leaders Forum, Vasantha Senanayake, presented his. These were based initially on discussions the Forum had held with the diaspora when its members had been taken to Britain to meet with various groups. Unfortunately the document they produced, full of sensible suggestions, was ignored by the President, but Vasantha had fleshed some of the ideas out together with the assistance of a group of professional youngsters, and he put them to the PSC.
Significantly, Vasantha and several members of the group he headed had been invited not only by the British but also by the Americans on study tours. This recognition of their capacities however found no parallel in government, and when the President finally appointed Ministers from new entrants to Parliament, he chose those who were not especially good at thinking or communication.
Meanwhile the government also closed the doors to discussions of the sort the YPLF had had by proscribing several international Tamil groups, plus a host of individuals. They did this soon after the Human Rights Council in Geneva had voted to set up an international investigation, and it was clear that it was trying to convince the world that many of those who might give evidence against the government were supporters of terrorism. But instead of concentrating on a few groups which might have had substantial links with the LTTE, they made themselves ridiculous by casting the net too wide. Characteristically, the representative of the security establishment, who met me to explain the situation when I criticized the move, accepted that only 7% of the diaspora was involved in what had been the LTTE agenda. But he could not explain why government had done nothing to win over the rest, except lamely to grant that the Ministry of External Affairs was not doing its job.