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I referred last week to the manner in which Chandrika and her cohorts were promoting Reconciliation. In the nineties she and Mangala had embarked on the Sudu Nelum movement, which did not win hearts and minds but at least that functioned in areas which were supposed to have a majority mindset that was to be changed.

In time however the idea of Reconciliation through cultural activity became the preserve of the elite. As I noted when I took over the Peace Secretariat, vast amounts of money were given to those with good connections to produce propaganda supposed to promote peace. I used to call this the Dancing Butterflies syndrome, different coloured youngsters moving together so as, in theory at any rate, to encourage ethnic binding. Not entirely coincidentally, those who governed the funds awarded money to each other, Uyangoda being a principal culprit in this regard through the Social Scientists’ Association, while Young Asia Television was by far the largest beneficiary.  No one bothered to measure the impact of all this work, or rather of all this money for very little work.

Now the practice has begun again, and the elite have produced what is termed ‘A Conversation across Generations’, targeted at ‘bridging a gap between the generations – a gap of comprehension, a gap of empathy, of knowledge or perspective’. The technique employed was, it seems, to interview older people and create monologues from their memoirs.

I was invited to a performance of four monologues, and am very glad I went, since a couple were most entertaining. The most entertaining told us little about the past though, one being a wryly amusing account of an old lady trying to cope with the modern technology through which her children, now living abroad, try to maintain contact. Pia Hatch, daughter of two memorable stage stars of the seventies, Graham and Michelle Leembruggen, was delightful as an old lady not sure what buttons to push or how to deal with a Skype call.

The second lively performance was in fact a dialogue, between a lady who had been great friends with those who plotted the 1962 coup and her devoted manservant. His asides were most amusing, while Ranmali Mirchandani captured superbly the cocooned life of ladies of leisure in those distant days. I suspect nothing much has changed, except that they now have to jostle with those whose wealth is more recent to exercise influence with decision makers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Razia Iqbal: Why (did) the Govt of Sri Lanka want the UN to go? Was it because you couldn’t protect them or did you have another reason?

Rajiva Wijesinha: Well in fact we didn’t want them to go.  In Sept we asked the NGOs to leave, one of them had actually been supplying vehicles to the Tigers.

We specifically asked, and that letter is available, UNFPA and UNHCR to stay along with the Red Cross.  I’m afraid the then UNDP rep was galvanised by some people who wanted almost to blackmail us to say “No no, if we can’t all stay them we are going to leave”. So the Sec Defence said then leave. But the ICRC stayed right through and we have got all the details of the ICRC interventions during that period.  We also have the UN interventions …

RI: We’re not talking about the ICRC Sir, if I, if you wouldn’t mind …

RW: Hold on let me finish. The UN was there through convoys right through January(2009), and its nonsense to say the UNDP rep didn’t bother – they were very concerned.  I remember my Minister (Mahinda Samarasinghe) being rung up one morning and told that the people in the No-Fire Zone were being fired on, but in the evening they sent us an sms saying their information was that the firing came from the Tigers – I don’t think they were lying, but unfortunately junior members of the UN have complained about their bosses and lied about them

RI: Sir, this internal report of the UN says that under intense pressure from the Sri Lankan Govt the UN did not make clear that a large majority of deaths were caused by govt shelling, and that you put the UN under that pressure

RW: The panels of inquiries have not been transparent. We have got the letters through which the UN dealt with us and I think this is an attempt to undermine senior members of the UN.  I am sorry you can’t share the leaked report with me, but recently I saw something by a Britisher Julian Vigo which quoted young people in the UN – they are liers – for instance I checked with IOM about the person called Suzanne – they said there was no such person called Suzanne …. I’m afraid these people are not only determined to push a political agenda, but they are not truthful – I mean I don’t mind people being anonymous but don’t claim to have a name which turns out to be false.  Why don’t you check with the senior leadership of the UN? I have to say that the Sri Lankan govt has failed because when the Darusman report came out I personally checked – Sir John Holmes had not been contacted, except very briefly initially, Neil Buhne was the UNDP head and worked very well with the Sri Lankans, was not contacted. He can testify that the Tigers did not allow something like 600 Sri Lankan (UN) workers to leave, but at the end of the war all of them were safe – so this is hardly indiscriminate attacks.

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The day after I wrote about the suspicious nature of the attack on Dr Fox, I found greater reason for worry in the fuel Channel 4 was adding to the fire. Jon Snow had tweeted ‘Amid morass of Fox/Werrity: the Sri Lankan aspect builds’. He claimed too that ‘we shall have more today from the same high up SL source’. The other principal suspect as to undue influence of the Tiger rump on British media, Jonathan Miller, said tweeted ‘Sri Lankan sources tell C4 news Werritty discussed arms deals in Colombo’.

Needless to say Channel 4 itself got in on the act with ‘Channel 4 sources say Adam Werritty’s many Sri Lankan visits were connected with arms deals. Jonathan Miller reports’. Needless to say this was taken up, for instance by a Sinthu Vijayakumar who ‘Commend CH4’s continuing coverage on SL – Liam Fox friend accused over Sri Lanka ‘arms deal’. The comparatively civilized but nevertheless anti Sri Lankan MP Mike Gapes had noted a question ‘to get PM assurance Fox and Werrity did not benefit financially from Sri Lanka Development Trust’.

Liam Fox (centre) with Adam Werritty (right) and Colombo politician Ravi Karunanayake pictured in Sri Lanka in 2009

The next day however all this seemed to have died down, perhaps because Snow did not get what he wanted from his ‘high up’ Sri Lanka source. We did see a picture in the ‘Independent’ of Ravi Karunanayake, described as a diplomat, with Fox and Werrity, and I would presume that had been provided by Ravi himself, since I would be surprised if the ‘Independent’ kept a bank of pictures of him with the several politicians he has been photographed with over the years. But by and large the press seemed to have moved to other matters with regard to Liam Fox, and Sri Lanka did not loom large as Channel 4 had predicted the day before. That does not mean they will abandon their Fox Hunt, and I am sure the Sri Lankan connection will be recycled again before long.

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Gethin Chamberlain who claimed in the ‘Guardian’ (UK) that thirteen women had been found with their throats cut, on a tip-off from a UN source he later confessed was unreliable. No correction was published.

In a pamphlet on ‘The Parliamentary System of Government’ that was published during the Second World War, the British academic Sir Ernest Barker wrote that ‘One of the great principles which the genius of France has contributed to civilization is the principle of national sovereignty’. The last few years have taught us much about this principle, and the need to be perpetually vigilant about those who seek to erode it.

In this regard I had assumed during the last couple of years that I would someday write an account of the manner in which Sri Lanka managed to maintain both its sovereignty and its unity, against all odds as it now seems. I had thought there was plenty of time to do this but, given the recent pronouncements of the Secretary General of the United Nations, who seems to feel that, provided he is talking only about his own personal predilections, he does not need to abide strictly by the UN Charter, it may be useful now to run through the various threats we have recently overcome. We need to be aware that these threats may continue in the short term, and it would help to be aware of the various directions from which efforts to control us may arise.

There are in essence five sources of threats to our sovereignty, apart of course from the major threat from terrorism. Sadly the rump of the terrorist forces will do their best in the next few months to rouse those sources, so we need to bring into the public domain the ways in which they have operated. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

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