You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2020.

I move now, in this account of travels in Sri Lanka while I was a government official, to 2009, an intense year when the forces finally achieved what many had thought impossible, the eradication of the LTTE within Sri Lanka. But the year began with the killing of Lasantha Wickramatunga which as I note the British suggested was under the aegis of Sarath Fonseka. The determination of the British government to hide some of its Defence Attache’s memos may be related to this.

The main work for the Ministry in these days was helping to coordinate aid for the refugees, as to which we were helped by the very positive approach of Amin Awad who headed the UN agency for refugees in Sri Lanka

18 The death of Lasantha Wickramatunga

I was back at work on Monday 5th January 2009, to face one of the worst days during the war, when Lasantha Wickramatunga was bludgeoned to death. I had recently written about how, after the dangers to journalists a couple of years earlier, mainly in the North when the different groups all took advantage of the chaos to deal with old scores, things were better. This murder was appalling, and affected our position badly, though I still find it difficult to believe the President or the Secretary of Defence was responsible.

Indeed the British Defence Attache Anton Gash called me to his room a couple of weeks later, when I was at the High Commission for a workshop for the forces about dealing with disasters, and gave me a slip of paper through which they had been informed that a hit squad reporting to the army commander was responsible. The paper added though that the Secretary of Defence knew about the squad. Both these allegations I found credible, for I knew Sarath Fonseka was a loose cannon that could not be controlled and also that the Secretary could not rein him in in these crucial stages of the war.

That Friday I went up to Kandy for the wedding of one of the officers stationed at Diyatalawa when I coordinated the degree programme and then stayed with Derrick till the Sunday morning when I went to the cottage. Next morning I went to pay my respects to Lasantha, whom I liked and with whom I had spoken at length when we were on a plane together the previous year. There followed a heavy day, including a meeting with the amiable Sudanese head of Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, Amin Awad, preparing for the refugees from the Tigers we were expecting.

The next day I had to go in for surgery for a hernia, leaving the hospital on the Thursday when I rather overdid things, with a Project Management seminar in the morning, and the Sabaragamuwa University Convocation in the afternoon, when my security gallantly carried me up in a chair. That weekend I could not get to the cottage for Basil had a meeting on the Saturday when he began explaining his grandiose plans for the refugees.

I move now to the last days of 2008 and the brilliant initiative of General Chandrasiri, Security Forces Commander in Jaffna, to have an exhibition there promote employment for the young. Civilians in government were not capable of such thought or planning, and I began to realize that it was the military rather than government that best understood the need to ensure productive economic activity after the war. Though Chandrasiri did not want politicians involved, and had asked only me to be Chief Guest, Douglas Devananda elbowed himself in, so Chandrasiri also asked the saintly Bishop of Jaffna to also be a chief guest to maintain a balance.

The pictures are of my visit to Jaffna on December 27th 2008, beginning with one of the Bishop of Jaffna at the Exhibition

17. Safety Day and the Future Minds Exhibition in Jaffna

But I had to leave early the next day, having breakfast at Derrick’s and then going to Dharmaraja College since it was World Safety day and the annual event our Ministry organized every year was there on this occasion. I had to make the Welcome Speech and then sit through many speeches and the distribution of awards, but I skipped lunch and hastened back to Colombo for some work at the office.

The next morning I had to fly to Jaffna, the airforce allowing me to go in the cockpit, since the Jaffna Commander, General Chandrasiri, had organized what he called a Future Minds Exhibition and has asked me to be Chief Guest. It was a great idea and showcased opportunities, in particular for the young, which he was keen to show would be available when peace was achieved.

He had not wanted politicians but Douglas Devananda, who had bravely resisted the LTTE over the years, had asked to be there and Chandrasiri could not refuse. So he also asked the Bishop of Jaffna to be a third Chief Guest and that worked out reasonably well for he was highly respected by all.

I had breakfast at the Commander’s Chalet in Palaly and then went into Jaffna in an armoured car, which I had also had to use in Mannar and on the road to Omanthai. The Exhibition was at the Vembadi and Jaffna Central schools and, though security was tight outside we were able to wander through the stalls and talk to participants. Many businesses from Colombo had got involved, and Chandrasiri had also arranged for a talent show which I gather proved enormously popular in the night. But I did not stay for this,  flying back to Colombo after lunch at his chalet, and going to the office to do some work.

The next day was Sunday but I did a lot of work at home, and then went to the SCOPP officer, where Gamini Hettiarachchi who headed the Disaster Management Centre dropped in for we were in the process of building a new office for them. And then I went to the airport for a week over the New Year with friends in Thailand.

This post deals with what were termed old refugee camps. While the West was complaining about the centres where the recently displaced were housed, they had done nothing for years about old centres because these were for people whom the LTTE had displaced many years previously. They included the Muslims the LTTE had expelled from the North and also the Tamils they drove out when evacuating the place when we regained control of the peninsula in 1995. Many of the latter had gone back but not the Indian Tamils who had gone North after the Jayewardene government pogroms but not established themselves so some of them stayed on in the camps where they had at least food and shelter.

The pictures are from my visit to Mannar, including the glorious view from the helicopter

16 Conditions in the old IDP centres

I was horrified at the conditions in what were termed the old IDP camps, where refugees from the LTTE takeover of the North had been housed for several years, with no one caring about them. The new camps were comparatively better, but it was these the West was complaining about to attack us. I blasted UNHCR about allowing this when they had done nothing earlier, and the comparatively decent lady with whom I liaised, Elizabeth Tan, granted that there had been much neglect earlier.

I met with military officials at headquarters then and had dinner with Jagath Jayasuriya the Vavuniya Commander, and I think stayed that night with him. Next morning I was taken by helicopter to Mannar, where I first met with the Bishop who was supposed to be a supporter of the LTTE. His public pronouncements were critical of the government, but he was now very critical of the LTTE too, and as I left held me by the hand and told me I should not cite him.

After the security briefing I went to the Kachcheri for civil society and then the business community and educationists after lunch, and then went to view two of the centres set up for the displaced, which seemed reasonably comfortable, After a discussion with the forces at headquarters, I had dinner with the Mannar commander and I think spent the night in his chalet before going to Anuradhapura by helicopter next morning after breakfast. I had taken Sujiva with me to Vavuniya, so dropped him off at Dambulla before getting back to Colombo. And then that night, Wednesday December 10th, I had to leave for Geneva getting back only on the 18th, though I had managed a night and two days in Lyons over the weekend in between.

I had a full weekend at the cottage after two days of work, and after three more I went on Wednesday the 24th to Aluvihare. Ena was entertaining Miles and his partner Lammy over Christmas, following our wonderful Christmas in China the previous year, and she had been keen I be there to help. The house was full because Shirley Perera was there too with his daughter and her children, her husband an air force officer having died in an accident recently.

Anjalan and I then went off to a hotel for the nights, and I also went back there to do some writing, but we had a wonderful time at the Walauwe on the 24th night, and at breakfast and lunch the next day, and then tea and champagne on the lawn before a grand Christmas dinner.

I begin the fifteenth account of SCOPP work with the insidious support provided to the LTTE by a group of NGOs headed by a man called Guy Rhodes who was obviously involved in intelligence work. He was part of the UN Security Committee which seemed to have a life of its own, leaving out the very helpful Resident Coordinator Neil Buhne.

I also move now to more intensive collaboration with the military, since as Secretary also of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights I had some responsibility for those in the refugee camps. There was much agitation by the West about conditions in these, though in fact the people were much better off than those the West had allowed to languish for decades for instance where Israel had dispossessed tens of thousands of Palestinians.

The pictures are of Guy Rhodes and Neil Buhne, of Omanthai, and of the home gardens Bindu and her team set up.

15. Working with the forces

I was back on Sunday November 23rd, and had to deal immediately with the slimy Guy Rhodes who had headed the organization which allowed the LTTE to make use of its heavy earthmoving equipment. They claimed coercion, but did not bother to report this to the Ministry, and much damage was done because of the delay in breaking through the high bulwarks they built. Guy wanted help in extending his visa but I told him direct that I could certainly not support him and my recommendation would be that he be told to leave. He was about the worst of the lot with whom we had to deal, but I fear there were others like him, working to a Western agenda which did not want to see the LTTE destroyed.

I was able to stay from Friday night till Monday morning at the cottage on the following weekend, but the following Friday, after the wedding in Negombo of one of my earliest SLMA students, now attached to the President’s family for their security, I went to Sigiriya where Bindu was having a CBSM workshop. Chamil was there and the couple turned up the next night on their honeymoon, and the following day, after speaking to the Civil Military Liaison officers I went off to Vavuniya to meet others working there. I also met the chap who had topped that first batch, a Muslim now working in Military Intelligence, and my former liaison officer at the SLMA.

I have not recorded where I spent that night, but it may have been in the camp because I met the Commander next morning for a security briefing and then went to the Kachcheri to see the Divisional Secretaries and representatives of Civil Society. After lunch at the Thandikulam camp I went to see the Omanthai checkpoint, which I had managed to get opened six day in a week the previous year by dint of badgering the ICRC, and then, having met the business community and educationists I had a look at some of the IDP centres.

This continues with my southern trip, and then another to the north which involved work with Bindu and her team. I also relate here the difficulties I had with trying to ensure our own input into aid programmes which, before my taking over at the Ministry, the internationals had run pretty much as they wished. Though officials of other Ministries, in particular the Treasury, appreciated what I tried to do, none of them had been able to be firm in earlier years.

The pictures are all of my aunt’s house at Getamanna and the view of and beyond the garden. These I thought were more attractive than Rishard Bathiudeen and Zola Dowell, head of OCHA.

This will be the last post for a week, since I will be travelling for a few days and may not be in connectivity.

14 Different aid programmes

After Weligama I went to the family home at Getamanna where my aunt though well into her eighties still maintained at a beautiful garden. There I had my morning coffee on the verandah looking over Girlie’s lovely garden – about which my father always asked me when I got home – and the coconut trees beyond and the hills further on – and after breakfast and some marking went to my estate for lunch with the couple who looked after the place and my English projects. And then in Colombo I went to the SCOPP office for some work before getting home.

I could only get to the cottage that Saturday, to find the new house well on its way, getting back on Monday morning for another hectic week, at the end of which I went to Habarana to spend Friday night at the Resthouse. This was to attend a workshop next morning at Giritale, after which I went to Sigiriya to see the nature hotel run by Bindu’s friend Sujiva who was collaborating with her with enormous dedication on the CBSM project. I spent Saturday night with Derrick and then went via the cottage to Beruwela for another workshop before heading back to Colombo.

There was much discussion now about the aid programme for the final year, and I was beginning to make some headway in getting the donors and the NGOs to accept that they had to work to a government programme – though as I told the head of OCHA, who told me I should not be so hard with them since I had won, I had not won at all, for though they accepted the principle of government ownership of aid, as laid down in the Paris Principles, they still wanted to do their own thing.

The following weekend again it was just Saturday night I was at the cottage, and then the next morning I went up to Puttalam to speak at a commemoration meeting for the Muslims expelled from Jaffna by the LTTE. I had been invited by Rishard Bathiudeen, who had been one of them, and I much admired the work he had done for these neglected victim of the LTTE whose wrongdoings the West now played down.

I had to do a lot of work at this time with Rishard for he was Minister for Resettlement, but he did not interfere, leaving everything to his very able Secretary Mr Razik. It was only later that he got out of hand, largely because Basil Rajapaksa indulged him, provided he left all decision making to Basil.

The following weekend I was finally able to get to the cottage on Friday night and leave on Monday morning, and then on the Thursday I had to leave for Delhi for the Board meeting of the SAARC Disaster Management Centre.

This account is cursory about some work which was in fact very important, the efforts made by those I had put in charge of what were termed Confidence Building and Stabilization Measures. Bindu Urugodawatte, a most imaginative archaeologist, was in charge but had roped in some of her environmentalist friends who did a great job in promoting cottage gardens amongst those in refugee camps.

And I also describe an idyllic visit to the Weligama house of my friend Miles Young, with a lovely boat ride on the river.

The pictures are of that visit, and also of Rene Klaff and John Alderdice

13 Confidence Building

The following weekend I could only get to the cottage on Saturday August 30th for my Confidence Building and Stabilization Measures team were having a workshop at the Foundation Institute in Colombo which I wanted to monitor for I was relying on them for some productive innovations in our work with the displaced. I had much writing to do the next day and then got back to Colombo on Monday morning for hectic meetings over the next two days before going off to Geneva on the Tuesday night, September 2nd. I was only able to get back to Colombo on the 20th, though at weekends in between, and on one holiday, I got to Budapest and Marseilles, and also Annecy for a look at the College Chalet in the Alps above the nearby St. Gervais.

After meeting Chamil and my CBSM Coordinator and the Additional Secretary to the Ministry, who was now able to look after much routine work – and would always remark later how much he had learned from me about administration – I went to the cottage for more sleep than work the next day, Sunday, before heading back to the grind in Colombo on the 22nd.

That week I realized how insidious were the forces ranged against us, for the FNS, in celebrating its 25th anniversary, completely airbrushed Chanaka Amaratunga and the Council for Liberal Democracy from the record. It obviously saw its collaboration with Ravi Karunanayake as more important, and the condign criticism to which Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, former Vice-President of the Liberal Party, subjected the government. I did not stay to dinner but was curt with Rene Klaff with whom I had done good work earlier after his myopic speech, and had a stiff altercation next morning with Lord Alderdice who had delivered the Dudley Senanayake oration the previous day with no mention at all of Chanaka who had resurrected him when the Jayawardena UNP had no time for his liberal approach to politics.

That Friday I was able to get to Aluwihare for dinner, and spend much time with Ena, on the rock and the lawn next day, staying till after lunch on the Sunday. The following Friday I went down to the Syrian Castle Miles had built in Weligama, taking Chamil with me. Miles was affable as always but he was able to hold his own with an artist friend Miles had staying as well as Anjalan and Ena.

The terrace faced west as did the drawing and dining rooms, which were great for drinks and dinner, and early next morning – having been put in the smallest room with no view – Chamil and I joined Ena on her east facing balcony for sunrise with our coffee. We then had a swim in the pool in the courtyard before breakfast, and after breakfast we went to the house on the lagoon rented by Miles’ friends Sue and Simon who took us for a wonderful boatride on the river.

After a quick look at the Cinnamon Museum Miles had set up, for which some of my Sabaragamuwa students had done research for him, we had drinks and then lunch, but then I had to leave, to get to Getamanna for a night with my aunt Girlie at my father’s old home, while Chamil took a bus back from Weligama.

This continues with journeys for pleasure with old friends and also lunch at home for an actor I had met years ago through the British Council. The pictures are of Ena with the Kalsia children and of Frank Barry.

12 Wasgamuwa, the Perahera and lunch at the river

The following Friday I went to Alu where I was joined by my old Oxford friend Christine Pemberton and her family. This was to take them to Wasgomuwa the following day, Ena having done all the catering, including for my security detail. But I was only able to stay one night, at the Kaduripitiya Bungalow in the park, and Christine was quite happy with the three herds we saw that evening in addition to a couple of lone elephants.

We were back at Alu for lunch, and had tea and then champagne on the lawn, before another grand dinner, and then I went back to Colombo so I could work the next morning. I sent Christine and her family to tour the country in a car hired from Kithsiti’s former boss, Jerome Codipilly, had another night during the week at the cottage to check on the building, and then went to Kandy on the Friday where Derrick and Ayra kindly put up Christine and her family too, for the Perahera which we went to the following night. We saw it from the Hatton National Bank, from which Christine had also seen it way back in 1975 when she visited with her first boyfriend Andrew Ferguson Smith. Ayra too came with us and the Bank kindly accommodated both my drivers and the security too.

My diary records much writing on all these days, and many interviews, for attacks on us were increasing internationally as our forces were making headway against the LTTE. I was fortunate in that I wrote easily, but it was at the cottage that I wrote most swiftly, and I pride myself on the detailed rebuttals I made during this time of the many allegations against us.

On Sunday after the Perahera I left Kandy after lunch for the cottage and next morning went to Kalutara to the GA’s office to deal with the church attacks, finding the authorities and the police very cooperative which was not the impression the international media was giving out. It was difficult for them to deal firmly with aggressive Buddhist monks but they did so and the problem soon died down.

The following Friday night I went again to the cottage to host my old Oxford friend John Hicklin for lunch there on the Saturday with his wife and three children. He was married to the sister of Mohan Cooray whom I had known through the Gooneratnes when I was an undergraduate in England, and they both worked for the IMF, but were more frequent visitors to Sri Lanka now since her parents had retired from the Philippines where they had been with the ADB and were back in Colombo. After they left Christine and her family came for dinner, which was most enjoyable except that I had had far too much to drink over the day and got back to Colombo in a state of collapse that night.

Christine and the Kalsia family stayed at Lakmahal for their last couple of days, and I hosted lunch for them there the next day, Sunday August 24th. I also had Frank Barrie and his wife, having first met the actor when he toured Sri Lanka for the British Council with a One-Man show about the 19th century actor Charles Macready. His wife worked at Goldsmith’s College where Tony Firth, who had been a great friend while a don at Oxford, had gone as Vice-Principal though that had not been a success. I had subsequently seen him in a show at the West End and had dinner with him afterwards, and now when Nirmali told me he was in Colombo for some examining I thought it would be fun to have them over with Nirmali and her daughter and the Kalsias, as well as Chamil and my father and Sharmini the Tamil girl who had lived with us for many years after her parents in Jaffna died and she had to flee the Tigers.

This eleventh account of travel in Sri Lanka during my Peace Secretariat days is really about light relief, the only official travel mentioned being to Kalutara with regard to religious tension. In those days it was attacks on Christian churches, fundamentalist ones, and we found the police balanced and keen to maintain order though sometimes aggressive monks were supported by silly politicians.

The pictures are of Scott Richards making the Richard de Zoysa film, of Richard in his heyday and of Shirani Goonetilleke, one of my most dependable Directors at SCOPP.

11 Calm before the storm

By the end of June, as the war hotted up, I was spending more nights at the Galle Face Hotel, which was both enjoyable and facilitated meetings after work with Scott Richards and Roger Elsgood who were planning a film about Richard de Zoysa.

By now I had a new Coordinating Secretary at the Ministry, Chamil Prasad who had been a cadet in the first intake I had taught at the SLMA. He had left the army in high dudgeon after a row with a senior officer who had ragged him, but he had been taken back because, as Sudantha Ranasinghe the SLMA Commanding Officer who was in the same regiment put it, he was not going to lose his best opening bat. But now he had decided to resign, since the army high command had decided that officers who had deserted, even if taken back, would not be promoted. He lived around Pannipitiya, between the cottage and Colombo, and I would drop him on Friday evening and pick him up again early on the Monday.

I was back at the cottage on the Tuesday night next for the next morning I had to go to the Kalutara Police to talk to the probationary sub inspectors with regard to attacks on churches, and I then went to the concluding session of a workshop at the nearby Hotel Ocean View before getting back to Colombo for a long day’s work, ending with a dinner I gave at the Galle Face for my Director Legal, Shirani Goonetilleke, who was moving on to a job at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The next weekend I had to get back from the cottage on Sunday, and then the following Friday I flew to Thailand for a break with friends for ten days. Monday, the day after I got back, I went to the cottage after work to check on the building I had started there for my security had recommended building a garage instead of keeping my vehicles out on the road all night.

I continue here with my visit to the East and note memories of earlier visits to Mutur, when Siron Rajaratnam the redoubtable Director of the Trincomalee Affiliated University College twice organized teacher training workshops for me there. Those were dangerous times and once we heard gunfire nearby in the night, but there was no question of refusing her request, for the area was truly deprived. I had an extraordinary sense of time passing in the midst of my other work when when one of the students I had met then turned up for our meetings, now a prosperous government official.

The day after the visit to Mutur as head of SCOPP I had a wonderful time when, after inspection of the dockyard and the ship in which the navy had ferried passengers to and from Jaffna at the height of the war, in the face of LTTE threats and attacks, we were given a wonderful day on the beach, with fabulous hospitality. Attached here then are pictures of that day, including the only one I have of the forces contingent at SCOPP, including also my personal security detail.

That day too brought back memories of an earlier stay at Trincomalee, when I had gone to inspect a British Council project, along with the then British High Commissioner, David Gladstone. The navy had again looked after us superbly, with an early morning swim at perhaps the same beach, though I cannot be sure.

10 Past memories and new pleasures

I visited the site of the killing and then met Civil Society at the office of the Divisional Secretary, delighted to meet one of the youngsters I had met way back in the nineties when the then head of the Trinco Affiliated University College persuaded me to conduct workshops for English teachers there. Some of the AUC students were keen I should visit their homes, and I found them mere huts where the boys had studied by torchlight. One of their friends, brighter then them clearly for he had got into Colombo university, was now in government service but I was sad that the handsome boy I remembered had grown prosperous and fat. But that I suppose was what had been aimed for through education.

Back at the guesthouse I had drinks on the lawn before dinner, and then coffee there next morning before a wonderful treat. It was Sunday and the navy first took us round the Dockyard to visit the academy, the counterpart of the SLMA, and the Museum, and the Jetliner which had transported civilians from Jaffna in the face of LTTE threats. Then we went to Coral Beach for drinks and a swim and a lavish lunch. Later my air force liaison officer took me to the point to see the guns that protected the harbour, which would have been under threat had the LTTE taken Mutur.

I had drinks and dinner that evening with Janaka and then studied the ACF material, to fine tune my analysis next morning over coffee on the verandah. I then went to breakfast with the Governor, paid the minuscule amount I had been charged for the stay, and then wrote various rebuttals before lunch and heading off to the airport to fly back to Colombo.

I continue with the visit to the East, including an account of how my encouragement to deal firmly with abductions led to them stopping in the area. However I regret that government did not move straight away, on the lines of the Sarvodaya programme we visited, to the training necessary to promote employment and economic activity.

It helped that I saw the scene of the killing of ACF workers at Mutur, for it confirmed what I had felt when studying what had happened earlier, namely that the attacks in August 2006 were the final push of the LTTE to take over both East and North, and it was only the concerted work of the forces that saved us.  

9 A range of work in the East

We went back to Batticaloa for the night and next morning visited a camp for displaced persons, pleased to note that there were few left for government had managed to resettle most of those who had suffered from the conflict which had ended less than a year earlier. We also went to the Sarvodaya Centre which had a training programme for youngsters in the area and spoke to the students. It was a model which I urged government to replicate but the capacity and will for that were lacking.

We then went via the Senapura campt to Welikanda for lunch, and then saw the Minneriya Camp Commander and his Civil Affairs Officer before going to Trinco where I stayed at the army guest house overlooking the bay. I had tea there with the Trinco Commanding Officer Janaka Walgama whom I knew well from his stints at the SLMA as both Chief Instructor and later Commandant. I was able to talk to him about abductions which were attributed to the army, but he said as far as he knew his men were not at all responsible.

This strengthened my hand when I talked to the police for I realized they were wary of full investigations in case they proved embarrassing. I told them it was their duty to pursue all leads and they should only worry about army involvement if there were clear evidence, in which case they could consult the Commanding Officer. But otherwise they should proceed without fear or favour. They did so, and soon identified two gangs, in one of which was a member of a militant group supportive of the government. What had happened was those responsible for petty crime gave out that they were working with government and the police were nervous, but after my clear instructions the police acted and the abductions stopped.

The next morning, Friday 27th, we met religious leaders and university and education department staff at the kachcheri, and after lunch there representatives of Civil Society and other groups. The next day I was taken across the harbour by the navy to visit Mutur, where workers of the French aid organization Action Contre La Faim had been killed when the LTTE tried to take the place in 2006. That was an incident widely used to attack our forces, but I had been able to argue the point forcefully after I took over at SCOPP and draw attention to the bad faith of the ACF leadership in sending their workers into Mutur against their will when other agencies were withdrawing.

Rajiva Wijesinha

September 2020
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