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Ceylon Today interview 30 Dec 20141. In a series of articles entitled “Enemies of the President’s Promise: Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs”, you have chronicled the degeneration of the regime from its glorious days into an autocratic regime with no vision or direction for itself and for the nation it claims to protect from international conspiracies. How would you look back on the performance of the regime?

It has been extremely disappointing. Though talking to the President sometimes encouraged one to think he would move, there has been disappointment after disappointment.

2. Who are the key figures behind the powerful oligarchy within the Government that led to the birth of a system of sycophancy which virtually besieged President Mahinda Rajapaksa?

Of the seven dwarfs the worst influence was Basil, who thinks politics is about fooling people, which I don’t think was the President’s position before. He was also entrusted with all development work, but he cannot plan coherently, and thought pouring in cement would win hearts and minds. Then Namal was a destructive force, because the President does understand Basil’s shortcomings but he is incapable of checking Namal. In fact his reaction to criticism of his indulgence to the children is instructive, in trying to justify the helicopters – whereas Namal claimed they only had toy helicopters.

The two Peiris twins were sycophants of the highest order, but more to what they thought were Gotabhaya’s wishes than to the President, which led them to let down the President when he tried to do good. Gotabhaya I think more honest as a human being, but his recent political ambitions have spoiled him. Lalith Weeratunge I know regretted what was happening, but did not have the courage to set the President right, which is a pity because in his heart the President knows Lalith is the only person who can be trusted.

And finally there is Sajin, to whom the President is devoted, which beggars belief (and the nation too).

3. You were the head of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) from 2007 to 2007. How would you revisit the pivotal role played by Norwegians in the peace process in general and Norwegian politician Erik Solheim in particular?

I think the Norwegians in general behaved very well, and the ambassadors I dealt with stood up to the LTTE. In my time the Monitoring Mission was headed by a Norwegian who was balanced, and helped me overcome the prejudices of some of his staff. There had been some prejudice before against Sri Lanka and its unity, most obviously on the part of a Swedish General who had headed the SLMM – I failed to get the Foreign Ministry to register protests officially about this, though I did my best. Also I think the ambassador at the time of the Ceasefire Agreement being signed was indulgent to the LTTE because he had been here in the eighties and was influenced by the excesses against Tamils of the Jayewardenepura government. Finally, I found Solheim shifty, and have said so to those who approved of him, beginning with Mr Bogollagama. It was a great pity he had so much influence at the time, because I think his agenda was always a selfish one, a view shared by the Norwegian Liberals with whom I was in contact. Read the rest of this entry »

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qrcode.26559451One of the reasons I still continued to have hopes about Mahinda Rajapaksa was that his instincts have always been sound. This was exemplified when I called him to complain about what the Bodhu Bala Sena had been up to in Aluthgama. Instead of attempting to defend them, as I had feared, he promptly declared that they were involved in a conspiracy to bring his government into disrepute. He claimed that they were funded by the Americans and the Norwegians, and that they were determined to alienate him from the Muslims.

The story seemed to me implausible, even though I knew there was some basis for his allegations. What had been the precursor of the BBS had received funds from the Norwegians, and though I believe the Norwegian government as represented by its regular diplomats in Colombo acts in good faith, I have no similar confidence in Mr Solheim and his acolytes. One of them, who once boasted to me of his acquaintance with Mr Solheim, was Arne Fjiatoff, who had been the godfather of, if not the BBS, its principal lay spokesman Dilantha Withanage. I have little doubt, given that he has also recently been fishing in troubled waters in Burma, that he had a shrewd inkling of what they were up to.

With regard to the Americans, we have long known that they will recruit anyone to bring down what they are most worried about at any point, with no concern for possible consequences. At one stage I thought their sublime ignorance was to blame, but there is a certain callousness too, and a confidence in their own strength which leads them not to worry about catastrophes for other people. I find this wicked, and the fact that Americans claim that such behavior is only  response to (other) evil empires is no excuse.

Recently, at the Congress of Liberal International in Hong Kong, I voted against a resolution urging immediate action against ISIS, not because I do not acknowledge the danger it represents, but because there was no mention in the text of the American adventurism that had led to the rise of ISIS. Unless that is registered, the world is in grave danger of similar blunders that can lead only to anarchy. I am happy to say that the British Liberal Democrats whom I upbraided agreed with me about the responsibility of the Americans for what had occurred, beginning with the illegal invasion of Iraq. But unlike the Liberals in the days of my youth, who were able to call a spade, the modern generation is wrapped up in trying to achieve a European consensus, and that consensus is swept away by the American penchant for othering – which requires total devotion to the Americans, whether promoting democracy or anarchy. Read the rest of this entry »

When I wrote some weeks back about the supposed Norwegian involvement with the Bodhu Bala Sena, I had not seen the clarification which the Norwegian Embassy had put on its website about the allegations. Having read it, I am more than ever convinced that the Norwegian government and its embassy have not behaved badly, but also that they, and also the Sri Lankan government, must go more carefully into the matter and check on what exactly has been going on. If they can do this together, so much the better, though I fear that neither side will have the correct skills and attitudes to ensure fruitful and productive cooperation.

The reason I believe investigation would be useful is because of two names I noticed in the official Norwegian statement. One is that of the Worldview International Foundation, which is essentially run by a gentleman called Arne Fjiatoff, who has been in Sri Lanka now for several decades. During this period he has been involved in a range of projects with various Sri Lankan governments, which are in theory designed to benefit the Sri Lankan people, but which have also brought considerable benefits to Arne himself.

I was introduced to him initially by Dilantha Withanage, the other name I noticed in the statement. Dilantha has now emerged as the lay spokesman for the BBS, though I knew him earlier in another very positive incarnation, as running computer programmes for the Ministry of Education when I was Adviser there on English. Though I took on the position mainly to reintroduce the English medium option, given the paucity of capacity there at the time, I ended up involved in many other initiatives, ranging from curriculum revision to primary English materials.

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I have long had faith in the Norwegian government and its representatives in Sri Lanka, even though – as I have always made clear to them – I thought that Eric Solheim was a shifty character and should not have been trusted. However, though he was not I think an honest broker as far as the 2002 Cease Fire Agreement and the negotiations that followed were concerned, I believe the Norwegian Mission here more than made up for his lapses.

At least I believe that is true after the initial period, when Jon Westbord was Ambassador. He was unlike Solheim however in that his motives were misplaced idealism, rather than personal advancement. Westborg had after all been in Sri Lanka in the eighties, when elements in the Jayewardene government, led by Cyril Mathew, had encouraged and indeed participated in attacks on Tamils, and his mindset was governed therefore by total sympathy for the Tamil cause.

Even in the eighties he had been what might be termed an activist, in that he had supported a lot of colonization in the Vanni by Tamils of Indian origin. I don’t think he saw this as a deliberate attempt to influence the demographics of the area, but rather as providing solace to those who had been attacked in their homes. After all it was the Indian Tamils who suffered most in both 1977 and 1981, despite the fact that Mr Thondaman was solidly behind the government by the latter date.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

September 2019
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