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"Whether the LLRC report is good or not, we will get you in March" – US representative to the UNHRC in Geneva Elieen Donahoe

I was shocked last evening to be told that this was what the US Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva had told her Sri Lankan counterpart last in September 2011. The occasion was when she was trying to persuade the latter to accept an Interactive Dialogue on Sri Lanka, which I believe the Canadians were advancing at the time.

I suppose I should not have been surprised. The United States has been pursuing an extraordinary campaign against us, which has saddened me, because I remember the very positive approach that US officials evinced in the period in which others were resentful of us for having got rid of the LTTE from the East. The US Aid Director Rebecca Cohn, the Public Affairs Officer Jeff Anderson, led a team under then Ambassador Bob Blake which helped us considerably in rebuilding efforts.

In 2009 however something changed. Bob was supposed to have told a former American State Dept employee that the reason was he served a different government, but I suspect things went deeper. A clue was provided when, in August, Rebecca did something she should not have done, which she later told me she thought was unwise, but which her superiors had wanted.

This was to write on her own to Basil Rajapaksa, to say the same thing I had indicated, at a meeting with regard to the Displaced that was held at Minister Rishard Bathiudeen’s office. I thought, given what seemed to us delays, that I should suggest to Mr Rajapaksa that we needed to move more quickly on returning the displaced, and I did so the following morning.

I was called almost immediately by Mr Rajapaksa, who was uncharacteristically harsh and asked me what made me think he would not live up to his commitment. He said he had promised to return a large number of the displaced in six months, and he would do so, though it might take a couple of months longer. Six months did not mean half in three months, he said, noting what he had accomplished in the East, and that I should tell this to my friends.

I did not know what he meant by this last point, and asked, and he said he had received a similar letter from Rebecca. Naturally he had assumed we were acting in concert. I was shocked, and made it clear to him that I was quite capable of thinking and acting on my own, though I suspect that to this day he has a lingering doubt that I am influenced by external forces. When I called up Rebecca and reprimanded her, she was suitably contrite, but I realized then that not only does the United States want certain results that most of us would want, it requires desperately to take the credit for this. Read the rest of this entry »

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.. the first time we met properly, she sent me chocolate chip ice cream ..

The short answer, I suppose, is that I do not know. I would hate to think she was, for about the first time we met properly, she sent me chocolate chip ice cream, and someone of such sensitivity cannot be all bad. It was brought to me by one of the nicest people in her embassy, one who finally told me that the embassy did have some very peculiar people in it. Being a loyal and professional diplomat, that was the furthest he would go, but it brought home to me the systematic schizophrenia, not only of the American Embassy in Colombo, but of their foreign policy in general.

A few months later, the much publicized comment of the Defence Attache in Colombo, which led to him being in effect reprimanded by the State Department in Washington, provided the frosting as it were on that particular cake – and his assertion that he knew he would get into trouble when he spoke made clear that there are at least a few straight people left in those hallowed halls.

Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith .. reprimanded by the State Department in Washington

What then is the problem with Ms Butenis? I raise this question now publicly because the Secretary of Defence has finally brought into the open what I can only call disgusting behaviour by at least one American diplomat. I mentioned this some months back, which brought what purported to be the lady’s deep indignation on my head, duly reported in the newspaper group which also leaked another State Department barrage recently. The report about me then claimed that I was to be boycotted by two embassies, but this turned out to be false, though one possible suspect did tell me that the Americans may have made the claim on their behalf without actually keeping them informed.

And Ms Butenis indeed was gracious enough to say I could continue to speak to her staff, many of whom I believe belong to that idealistic school which lulls one into affection before the Ugly Americans so splendidly described by Graham Greene and John le Carre take over. But I don’t think she was pleased when, the last time we spoke – in fact in the office of the Defence Secretary, whom her colleagues seem determined to demonize – I told her that I thought her chief agent of wickedness was Pavlovian in his approach to Sri Lanka.

Paul Carter ... chief agent of wickedness

I was referring to Paul Carter, whom I would not describe as evil because I do not think he is actually capable of moral responsibility. Someone who tries to suborn the generals of a supposedly friendly country really is totally beyond the pale, though I suspect that is not the only reason he reminds me of the Anthony Perkins character in ‘Psycho’. On the occasion I was referring to, a party for those who had been on Visitor programmes to the United States, he had burst out into indignation about the treatment of his hero Sarath Fonseka, with concomitant insults about our judiciary, to a lady whose interests were in language training. The American Deputy Head of Mission had tactfully taken him away quickly, but I have no doubt something else would soon have triggered the same sort of reaction, in someone whose moral sense has deserted him, to be replaced simply by not entirely metaphorical foaming at the mouth.

His inordinate concern about Sarath Fonseka is what has convinced me that, towards the end of 2009, something very pernicious took place in Foggy Bottom, or wherever it is that the more devious American diplomats make policy. A short while previously, Carter himself had told me in very measured tones about a State Department report that I found fingered Fonseka as the most suspicious element in what were presented as potential war crimes, but put together in a very civilized manner that seemed to invite a civilized reply. Not for the first time, I must say that I believe we blundered in not responding immediately to that report, and I continue bemused at the continuing lethargy of those to whom the President entrusts crucial tasks.

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One factor that emerged during the recent seminar on Defeating Terrorism were the very different interpretations of the concept of surrender. David Kilcullen declared at one stage that the strategy adopted by our forces ‘gave the Tigers no opening to surrender’. Rohan Guneratne pointed out that this was not the case, and indeed early on, in February, when the Co-Chairs of the Peace Process called on the Tigers to surrender, the Government would have certainly accepted this. What Government was insistent on, having repeatedly requested the LTTE to return to Peace Talks, was that any surrender be unconditional.

"I have no idea myself what understanding the Tigers thought they had reached with Mr Solheim"

This reality the Co-Chairs seemed to recognize, and it led to great anger on the part of the Tigers. The Norwegian ambassador noted that their fury was directed primarily at the Norwegians, whom they accused of betrayal. I have no idea myself what understanding the Tigers thought they had reached with Mr Solheim, but certainly the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, as represented by both Mr Hattrem and his predecessor Mr Bratskar, had no illusions about the brutality of the Tigers.  

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The recent seminar on Countering Terrorism was a rich and enlightening experience. It helped me to understand further the deep sense of hurt that our military and political officials feel about the swarm of attacks they now have to face with regard to allegations of war crimes. I had known earlier from the statistics I collected from daily TamilNet reports that we had done our best to fight a clean and careful war. Until the end of 2008 we had succeeded, in the Eastern Province, and also during the whole operation to retake the Western part of the Wanni. Even then though, we had to face allegations that had no basis whatsoever in fact, as with the Human Rights Watch claim that we had engaged in indiscriminate attacks on civilians in the East.

The Report that accompanied this assertion, which hardly anyone read in full then, which has now been forgotten though the sensationalistic claim still reverberates, makes it clear that there had been only one incident in which civilians had died. That had been caused by mortar locating radar, with the LTTE having been proved to have been inside a refugee centre, bearing weapons and with bunkers having been prepared.

Human Rights Watch grants this but claims that there is no evidence that the LTTE used heavy weapons. Sadly, in their zeal to target the Sri Lankan government, they omitted to put on record the obvious demand, that the LTTE should not use refugee centres as places from which to fire. The stunning silence of the now hysterical international community seems to have encouraged the LTTE to use this tactic with impunity again and again.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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