Vol 9 - No. 4


SOUTH ASIA: SRI LANKA                                                                                                                       News Briefs


       (Afghanistan and Myanmar in the 
         map are not members of SAARC)

Cozying Up to New Friends 


COLOMBO - Disappointed with the lack of support from the west at a crucial time in its fight against terrorism, Sri Lanka has successfully bonded with new friends. Vital support from a range of countries including Iran, China and Libya has helped Sri Lanka scoff at the big stick wielded by western countries.

“Many European countries started cutting back on military assistance and development assistance to Sri Lanka,” said former foreign secretary Palitha Kohona who early Sept. assumed duties in his new post as Sri Lanka’s ambassador at the United Nations in New York. “The Millennium Challenge Account of the U.S. was summarily withdrawn from us. So, in the circumstances, either we had to succumb to acknowledge blackmail and compromise with terrorism, or look for other friends, which we did.”

Kohona made these comments during a wide-ranging interview at the foreign ministry in Colombo for 'Sri Lanka News Network' less than a week prior to his departure to New York to take up his new appointment as his country's permanent representative at the UN

After grappling with terrorism for more than thirty years, Sri Lanka was nearly held to ransom by western countries when crucial aid was withheld at a decisive stage in its battle with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by its reclusive leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

With Sri Lanka’s security forces making steady progress against the rebels, the voices from the international community, including LTTE sympathizers, grew strident as they accused the government and its forces of human rights violations.

As the LTTE steadily lost ground it controlled in the north and east of the country, organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch joined the chorus of accusations against Sri Lanka followed by some western governments expressing concern. During the last days of the conflict in May this year, several countries and international non-governmental organizations were actively working to negotiate a ceasefire and ensure the safety of rebel leaders.

However, in carefully crafted military manoeuvres, the Sri Lankan armed forces opened up avenues for the nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians, held hostage by the rebels on a small strip of beach, to escape to the safety of government controlled areas.

The large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), since housed in camps in Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka, has been the subject of more accusations against the government.


“When you talk of human rights, you have to talk about the totality of it,” said Kohona. “There is no country in the world, absolutely no country even in the developed world, where human rights or standards are complied with absolutely. Sri Lanka is doing well, and if you were to look at countries of the developed world, you can point out many lapses. But we are nowhere near the bottom, and it is absolutely unfair to criticize Sri Lanka for its lapses, when we have actually done extremely well.”

Even as western countries withdrew support based on these accusations, Sri Lanka found many other countries willing to lend a hand. Key among them is India, which has supported Sri Lanka during the crucial final phases of the conflict. Sri Lanka in turn has sought advice from India and kept it informed of key developments with top officials from both countries visiting each other and exchanging information. India continues to support Sri Lanka with medical and material assistance for IDPs as well as with assistance for infrastructure development.

Whether they are new or old, Sri Lanka’s non-traditional friends are generous according to Kohona. He said both Iran and China had provided billions of dollars (mainly as loans) while support from traditional donors such as India, Japan, and South Korea remained strong.

In making the decision to shift the focus from the west to the east, Kohona said the government exploited the fact that the economic focus also appeared to be shifting in that same direction. These “new and warmer relationships” are allowing Sri Lanka to continue to invest in development projects.

“We shifted our focus from our traditional contacts towards the east, and we were very successful,” Kohona said. “In fact, we hardly felt the pinch of the withdrawal of western development assistance.”

One prominent result of the relationships the government has cultivated with countries in the east is the arrest of Selavarajah Pathmanathan. Better known as KP, Pathmanathan was the chief procurer of arms and ammunition for the LTTE. He had evaded the law and widely traveled around the world despite being on Interpol’s wanted list. Less than three months after Sri Lankan forces decimated the LTTE and its leadership, Sri Lanka arrested Pathmanathan in a dramatic coup.

“Over the last two or three years, we have established extremely effective linkages with these countries [such as Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia] with exceptional results,” Kohona said. “Our success in capturing KP could be attributed to some of the contacts that were developed over the last two or three years.”


Sri Lanka’s western relations, however, remain significant in its continued fight against LTTE propaganda. Western countries’ crackdown on terrorism played a key role in this regime’s surprising success in defeating the LTTE and restraining its networks abroad. Kohona said that was one of the biggest challenges he faced when he took up his post as the foreign secretary.

“First and foremost, we had to ensure that the international community never compromised on the view that Sri Lanka was one entity,” said Kohona. “It was not two entities, and it will not be two entities. We succeeded in that.”

Western countries, including the United States, Canada, and Britain among others, were particularly helpful for the government when they chose to proscribe the LTTE. “Not only was the LTTE proscribed, through our efforts, – these are more recent achievements – LTTE front organizations were also proscribed,” Kohona explains citing The World Tamil Movement in Canada and the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization in the United States as examples.

In another strategic move, Kohona said the government targeted individual LTTE operatives in western countries.

“The United States prosecuted over 15, France has prosecuted over 20, Italy has taken in close to 30 and Canada is prosecuting others,” he said. “This is an area where the Foreign Service through incessant contact with western capitals succeeded in putting a clamp on the LTTE leadership overseas. And it worked.”

Even though few expect the LTTE to re-emerge to its former strength, many international supporters continue to advocate the LTTE cause – the fight for a separate state. Therefore, maintaining strong ties with powerful western countries will remain a crucial component of the government’s national security strategy. Furthermore, even though development assistance now comes mainly from eastern allies, the country’s trade links continue to be with the west, as Kohona explained.

“Countries with whom we have had very close relations until recently may have quietly drifted away from us,” admitted Kohona. “It is our challenge now to bring them back to where they were because Sri Lanka is a non-aligned country. We do not believe in confrontational relationships with the rest of the world. We never have.”

That though could be a tough task even for a seasoned diplomat like Kohona as reports emerged of a spat with Colombo’s British High Commission over the issue of a visa for Kohona to travel via London, which may have delayed his departure for New York by a day.

In response to a request for comments on newspaper reports, Acting British High Commissioner Mark Gooding said the following in an emailed statement: “The suggestion that there is any political bias in our visa application process is completely unfounded. We never comment on individual visa applications, but many of the details of the various cases reported are incorrect.” 

(By arrangement with www.srilankanewsnetwork.com | IDN-InDepthNews/28.09.09)

Visit http://www.srilankanewsnetwork.com/?cat=4 to know more about Ambassador Palitha Kohona and for the full text of the interview.

Ranjit J. Perera is a freelance journalist and can be contacted at ranjit@srilankanewsnetwork.com .


News Briefs


LTTE communication system is still working, says Minister of Export Development and International Trade G.L. Peiris: The Minister of Export Development and International Trade G.L. Peiris at a press briefing held in Colombo on September 23 said that although the Sri Lankan Government is able to control all international activities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the LTTE communication system is still functioning and continuing acts against the country. The Minister said that the general public is always ready to support the Government in its war against terror but some political parties try to let down war heroes who crushed the LTTE terrorism in the country. "Pro-LTTE people still try to summon leaders of the humanitarian mission against the LTTE to the International Criminal Court," Peiris noted. Recently a proposal to bring war crime inquiries against Sri Lanka has been submitted to the United States Congress, the Minister disclosed. Peiris added that the Government plans to hold a national level election after the upcoming Southern Provincial Council election. Colombo Page, September 24, 2009.

LTTE proposed Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam will function as an organization of Tamil Diaspora, says US based LTTE leader: The New York, United Sates (US), based Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Vishuanadan Rudrakumaran has announced that the LTTE proposed Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (PTGTE) will function as an organization of the Tamil Diaspora. Vishuanadan Rudrakumaran has made this announcement in www.puthinam.com. The PTGTE will continue to lobby with Governments for the establishment of separate State in the North and East, the Website said.

In the United States, United Kingdom and Canada where there are large communities of Sri Lankan Tamils and where the LTTE as well as some of its front organizations is banned as a terrorist organization, the PTGTE will function as a front of the old LTTE carrying on activities aimed at separatism in Sri Lanka.

The PTGTE is a new front introduced after the killing of Velupillai Prabhakaran, by Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP, before he was arrested on August 6. There was no unanimity regarding the acceptance of the leadership of KP and another leader called Nadevan in Norway was challenging him. But the vast amount of LTTE wealth was in the KP’s hands. At the time the PTGTE was proposed there was no assurance that the LTTE remnant would give up violence completely and accept 'democracy. Though democracy was claimed, there had never been a framework or a constitution for any LTTE democracy to function. The PTGTE is a ploy by the LTTE to carry on its usual activities of extortion among the Tamil Diaspora and move forward with all its illegal businesses and use the money for the bifurcation of Sri Lanka. Daily News, September 19, 2009.

Threats to President Mahinda Rajapakse still exist, reveals Minister: Although the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was completely defeated, certain plots to assassinate President Mahinda Rajapakse are in the process, the Government said on September 10. Speaking at the emergency debate in Parliament, leader of the House, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said, as a result of those attempts, the Government needs to extend the emergency further. He pointed out that the recovery of several claymore mines near the place where the President's helicopter was kept grounded recently in Badulla, was the closest attempt to kill the President. He added further that some persons were indirectly assisting these attempts by demanding the lifting of the emergency.

Meanwhile, the Parliament extended the State of Emergency for another month with a majority of 87 votes. The bill received 100 votes for and just 13 against it. For the first time, Sri Lanka's Marxist party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, which has supported the Bill since August 2005, abstained from voting and walked out of Parliament. Colombo Page, September 11, 2009.

LTTE’s global network used vigorously against Sri Lanka, says Export Development and International Trade Minister G. L. Peiris: Even after the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Sri Lankan soil and the destruction of its leadership, the global network of this terrorist organisation continues to be used vigorously against Sri Lanka, Export Development and International Trade Minister G. L. Peiris said in London on August 31. The Minister was addressing a group of eminent British lawyers, including Queen’s Counsel, in London.

Peiris said the situation had changed with the arrest of senior LTTE personalities outside Sri Lanka, and the remaining activities of the terrorist organisation could be expected to wind down as a result of these developments. "It is important for the international community to be aware of the extent and tenacity of the misinformation campaign engaged in by groups of interests close to the terrorist organisation. The aim and objective of these interests was to ensure that foreign governments and multilateral organisations adopt hostile postures intended to stultify Sri Lankas development efforts at a particularly critical and sensitive time," Minister Peiris observed. "While exorbitant sums of money were being invested in this persistent effort to distort and misconstrue every aspect of the contemporary Sri Lankan scene, opinion leaders have a vital role to play in ensuring fairness and objectivity in assessing what is taking place in the country", he said. Daily Mirror, September 11, 2009.


[South Asia Intelligent Review]



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