Sunday, August 29, 2010

Military men to head key Sri Lankan Missions

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema | The Sunday Leader

The appointment of military personnel as heads of key overseas missions of the country has caused doubts among members of the Foreign Service whether it is a move to militarise the service.

The government has decided to appoint former Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the UK, Major General Prasanna Silva as the defence attaché to the High Commission in the UK, Major General G.A. Chandrasiri as the Permanent Representative to the Sri Lankan Mission to the UN in New York, and Major General Shavendra Silva as the Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN in New York.

Diplomatic sources, who requested anonymity, told The Sunday Leader that the move to appoint military personnel to key foreign missions was mooted by senior members of the country’s defence establishment.

“The government feels that appointing military men to head the country’s overseas missions would help it respond to various questions posed by the international community, especially the Western world, about the final stages of the war last year,” a diplomatic source said, adding that these military personnel would also be able to show the world how the war was won.

Nevertheless, the question that looms among Foreign Service personnel in the country is how effective these individuals would be when carrying out multilateral diplomacy.

“Diplomacy is a different game and cannot be done by people with guns,” the source noted.

Commander Karannagoda was the chief of the Navy in the security forces’ final battle with the LTTE. Major General Silva during the war was the head of the 58th Brigade, which was instrumental in capturing several former LTTE strongholds including the Mannar Rice Bowl, Nachchikuda, Devil’s Point, Pooneryn, Kilinochchi, Elephant Pass, Vishvamadu and Puthukudirippu.

The appointment of Majors General Chandrasiri and Silva comes in the wake of allegations of human rights and rules of combat violations being leveled against the security forces and the LTTE by the UN.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed a panel of experts to inquire into these allegations and accountability during the final stages of the war last year.

According to External Affairs Ministry sources, the government is looking at breaking the LTTE’s international network while opening an avenue to respond to various questions raised about the final stages on the war by appointing military personnel to head Sri Lankan missions overseas.

However, the country is currently in need of cultivating a strong relationship with the diaspora through its foreign missions.

“A military person would not be able to build a successful relationship with the Tamil Diaspora. The diaspora is not free to build a dialogue with military personnel. Also, career diplomats have wider access while military personnel would have limited access,” a Foreign Service official said.

Explaining further, the official said the response to military personnel by other foreign officers is ‘lower’ than that received by a career diplomat.

“One can be a good military leader, but may not necessarily be a good diplomat,” the Foreign Service official said.

Nevertheless, Government Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the military personnel decided by the government to be posted into Sri Lankan missions overseas have a proven track record and have delivered the targets set out to them.

“Appointments to foreign missions are the prerogative of the President and military personnel have been appointed to foreign missions in the past as well,” he said.
He also said that other Asian countries have appointed military personnel to their diplomatic missions.

When asked if these military personnel who played a role in the security forces final war against the LTTE last year would respond directly to concerns raised about the conduct of the war by the Western nations, Rambukwella said it could be so.

Also, when queried if the appointment of Major General Silva to the UN would have an adverse impact on the inquiry by the UN’s panel of experts into Sri Lanka, the Minister said, “I would think otherwise, they could participate, contribute and make use of their expertise. If there are any allegations made, they could respond.”

According to Rambukwella, all these factors have contributed to the government’s decision to appoint military personnel to its key foreign missions despite the objections raised in some quarters.

Post-war Sri Lanka has now entered the crucial phase of mending relations with the Western world, who have now distanced themselves from the country. The massive task of building these relations based on Sri Lanka’s foreign policy while combating the LTTE’s international network now lies in the hands of military men in the country’s foreign missions.

© The Sunday Leader

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