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qrcode.Doc 2In 2011 I had personal experience of how diffident Lalith could be. After the Darusman Report came out, with its excessive attack on the manner in which Sri Lanka had dealt with LTTE terrorism, I thought it necessary to warn the President about what was going on. I saw him in his office and said we had done nothing to fulfil our own commitments. When he asked me what I meant, I cited two clear examples.

The first was the negotiations with the TNA, which had shown no progress. He understood immediately what I meant, and acquiesced straight away with the suggestion that I be put on the negotiating team. Ordinarily I would have been wary of putting myself forward, but there seemed to be no alternative, and the President seemed to agree.

The second point I made was that there had been no progress whatsoever on implementing the interim recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. He evinced surprise when I said this, and declared that he had appointed a Committee which was doing its job. But I told him I thought that Committee had never met, and that he should put me on it.

He agreed again, and immediately rang Lalith and told him to appoint me to both positions. He also told the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs, who he thought knew about the work of the Committee, to send me all relevant papers, since I told him that I should see the minutes of meetings and find out what had been going on, if I were to contribute.

Lalith rang me in the car as I was leaving. He told me that the letter putting me on the negotiating team would be sent straight away, and added that he had spoken to Mohan Pieris, who chaired the Committee to implement the LLRC interim recommendations, and he had no objection to my appointment.

I only understood the implications of this after I had put down the phone. I realized that, when the President made a decision, there was no reason for Lalith to consult anyone else. Keeping Mohan informed as a courtesy that there would be a new member of his Committee was one thing, seeking his acquiescence was quite another.

I had every reason to worry. Lalith told me a few days later that it was felt inappropriate for me to be on the Committee since I was a Parliamentarian, and the other members of the Committee were officials. I called the President about this, but he told me he had been told it would not be proper. By then I had been told by the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs that there were no minutes of meetings. The only papers he had were those prepared when the Committee was first appointed, and a report was made to Geneva. Like me, he too suspected that the Committee had not done very much.

I told this to the President, who thereupon agreed that amongst my duties as his adviser on Reconciliation would be monitoring the work of the Committee and reporting to him on what was happening. Fortunately Lalith had failed for six months to send me my terms of reference (having it seems lost the original draft I had sent him, and then delayed further when I sent him a copy). So now he made no objection when I told him the President had agreed that this should be added.

I therefore duly got a fairly comprehensive list of duties. But I then found, as noted previously, that Mohan, having first admitted that the Committee had never met, but claimed he was waiting for a date from the Secretary of Defence, finally confessed six months later that the Secretary did not want there to be any meetings. There had certainly been some progress in matters pertaining to the work of the Ministry of Defence, but no measures had been taken to expedite action on other matters of urgency, such as restoration of lands, which the LLRC had highlighted. Read the rest of this entry »

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qrcode.26820116So too it was individuals associated with Gotabhaya who made the Indian government feel it had been betrayed, which contributed to India supporting the American resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2012. After a meeting with the President, the Indians issued a statement to the effect that a commitment had been made to proceed with devolution in terms of the 13th Amendment, but a Presidential spokesman denied this. There was no effort by the Foreign Ministry to reassure the Indians, and a letter sent by the Indian Prime Minister seeking clarification went unanswered – or, rather, the Minister of External Affairs, having sent an answer, then withdrew it, with a lack of professionalism that would have been startling had this not by then become endemic in that Ministry (which, as a shrewd observer put it, was territory occupied by the Ministry of Defence, which in turn was territory occupied by the Israelis).

Gotabhaya’s fatal misunderstanding of the way the world functions became apparent when, in 2009, he was instrumental in having our Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva removed. Dayan Jayatilleka, handpicked by the President for the job, had initially been close to Gotabhaya, and indeed helped him with procuring arms from different sources at a time when some Western nations were trying to impose an embargo of sorts. But it soon became clear that they had very different perspectives on the purpose of winning the war, and Gotabhaya proved the decisive factor in enabling the then Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, to have Dayan unceremoniously dismissed. This was in July 2009, just a couple of months after he had staved off a forceful attack on Sri Lanka in the form of a Special Session requisitioned by the West.

I used to think that this was mainly because Dayan had articulated forcefully the need to proceed with devolution immediately after the war, and got involved in protracted argument in newspaper columns with journalists close to Gotabhaya. But it transpired later that the Israelis had long been pressurizing Gotabhaya to have Dayan dismissed, given the leadership he provided in Geneva to the Palestinian cause. Once there seemed no further need for Dayan, since he had prevented interventions that might have stopped the war and let the Tigers off the hook, Gotabhaya obliged his patrons.

That Dayan’s dismissal upset the Indians, and indeed the vast majority of countries that had been in the forefront of support for Sri Lanka during the war, meant nothing to Gotabhaya. In fairness to him, what amounted to adherence to an ultimately Western agenda may have seemed to him sensible, since he had also obtained support for the war from the United States Defence Department, during the hawkish days of George Bush. Certainly, even as late as 2013, he was expressing confidence that the United States would not press a case against Sri Lanka, since he felt the Defence Department was fundamentally on his side. He seems not to have understood that the Defence Department in the United States carried much less influence on government than he himself did in Sri Lanka. And he certainly did not understand that Israel’s primary motive was self-preservation, and that they had no worries about the consequences for Sri Lanka of Dayan’s dismissal, provided they got rid of a potential threat to their own power. Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.26820002So his attitude seemed to harden with the passing years. Also, sadly, even though he might not have been ambitious himself, he seemed to see himself as the principal guardian of the victory the forces had won, with an obligation therefore to block the way of those who were anxious to give more political powers to Tamil politicians. Though, under threat from the LTTE, some of these had seemed to subscribe to the LTTE ideology, in fact most Tamil politicians were moderates who were relieved that the LTTE had been vanquished. They were prepared to disavow terrorism as well as separatism, but they were anxious to exercise political power in predominantly Tamil regions, at least in terms of the Provincial Councils Act of 1987. But those who were opposed to even that limited devolution, on the grounds that it would inevitably lead to separatism, saw Gotabhaya as their champion, and he came in time to articulate their views with increasing assertiveness.

An extreme example of this came when, in 2013, with the President making preparations to have the long delayed Provincial Council election in the North, he declared publicly that it should not be held. Ironically, according to the President, he had been in favour of holding those elections a few years earlier, soon after the war ended, which would have been a sensible move, and would have led to a better result for the government. It was Basil then who had insisted on delay, on the grounds that his building programme would ensure more and more support for the government. But by 2013, more perceptive perhaps than Basil about political realities in the area, perhaps realizing too how he had contributed to increasing unpopularity, he came out strongly against having a poll. And typically this occurred while one of the more extreme coalition partners of the government, which was seen as close to Gotabhaya, had introduced a Bill to amend the Provincial Councils Act so as to water down their powers. So powerful did this combination seem, even though the evidence of elections had made it clear they had minimal popular support, that it was feared the President would back down.

But he went ahead and elections were held. The TNA won handsomely, with the determination of the Tamils to vote against government increased perhaps by what seemed strong arm tactics on the part of the forces against a candidate who was identified closely with the LTTE. She did remarkably well, which might well have been predicted.

This makes one wonder why the forces should have got involved, and indeed it was so foolish an action, were they the perpetrators, that one wonders whether she herself had arranged the attack, given that only she could benefit. However there had been previous instances of such folly on the part of the forces, as when a meeting of the TNA had been attacked some months previously.

That incident was bizarre, because by the time the violence occurred the TNA representatives had finished speaking and left, and until then, they said, what were clearly soldiers in mufti had behaved with restraint. When I asked the Jaffna District Forces Commander what had happened, he said that his orders to behave correctly had been disobeyed, as a result of provocation by one of the later speakers, a Sinhalese member of a small radical party. But I could not understand why he did not then take forceful disciplinary action. Apart from the fact that soldiers should under no circumstances react violently against civilians unless they are themselves in grave danger, it was possible that there were members of the forces who had no affection for the government, nor for Tamils (following the approach of Sarath Fonseka before his conversion), and they had no qualms therefore about aggression that could bring the government into disrepute. Government was only playing into their hands by refraining from disciplining them. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2019
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