Monday, August 30, 2010

Sri Lanka: Diplomatic postings to military men

By Ranga Jayasuriya | Lakbima News

There is nothing extraordinary, be it in the local or global context, in appointing military men to diplomatic postings—though the proposed appointment of Major General Shavendra Silva, former General Officer Command of the 58 Division, has caused ripples in some quarters, especially among those aligned to human rights lobbies and some articulate sections of the Tamil diaspora.

The proposed diplomatic appointments include former Navy Commander, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, Major General Prasanna Silva, who commanded the 55 Division during the final Eelam war as the Military Advisor to the Sri Lankan High Commission in UK and Major General Shavendra Silva as Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Major General Prasanna Silva will succeed former Special Force Commander Brigadier Nirmal Darmaratne, who is currently the Military Advisor of the Sri Lankan High Commission in London. Former military spokesman Major General Prasad Samarasinghe was Brigadier Darmaratne’s predecessor in London.

Meanwhile, the proposed appointment of Shavendra Silva has already been challenged by diaspora lobbies on the grounds of purported “war crimes.”

General Sarath Fonseka’s earlier remarks to the Sunday Leader - which he later retracted - that Gen Shavendra Silva received orders to shoot surrendering Tiger leaders is at the root of “war crimes” charges against Sri Lanka.

Activist website, Inner City Press, which increasingly echoes Tamil Diaspora sentiments, reported that it asked Martin Nesirky, spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, about the reported appointment of Shavendra Silva.

“While Nesirky said he wouldn’t comment on hypotheticals, when Inner City Press asked if Ban would have some discretion to not accept credentials when presented, Nesirky said he would look into it.”

“Shavendra Silva is clearly a witness to the war crime events about which Ban has appointed a (stalled) three member panel to advise him. Would appointing him an ambassador give him de facto or de jure diplomatic immunity?” the website asked.
Diplomatic postings to military men serves two purposes.

For some, especially for the outgoing military commanders, they are a farewell gift by their civilian political superiors, to spend their retirement in the luxury of diplomatic mansions at state expense. Lt General Rohan Daluwatta, who was the commander of the army from 1996- 1998, was appointed Sri Lankan Ambassador to Brazil after his retirement from military service. His successor Sri Lal Weerasuriya was appointed High Commissioner to Pakistan. Lt General Shantha Kottegoda, who was Gen Sarath Fonseka’s predecessor, succeeded Daluwatta as the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Brazil.

Army Chief of Staff, the late Major General Janaka Perera, who was overlooked by President Chandrika Kumaratunga at the behest of Deputy Defence Minister Anurudda Ratwatte to be promoted commander of the army, was later offered a consolation prize: the post of Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Australia. Janaka Perera’s appointment provoked protests by Diaspora Tamils over his alleged involvement in “war crimes.” Gen Perera however served his full term as the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Australia and was later appointed our man in Indonesia.

The second category of military men in diplomatic postings include military attaches posted in diplomatic missions to liaise with military agencies in host countries and engage in intelligence missions of suspected LTTE activities. Military Intelligence Officer Captain Nilam whose cover was blown after the millennium city raid was appointed as the military attache‚ in Indonesia. Nilam disappeared at the end of his term and, reportedly, sought asylum in the United States.

An increasing number of military men were posted in diplomatic missions in countries where the LTTE is active after the government decided to engage the overseas activities of the Tamil Tigers.

Military misadventures too

Major General Udaya Perera, the former director operations of the army, was sent to Malaysia as the Deputy Ambassador of the Sri Lankan mission. He had a specific mission: nab the new LTTE leader, Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP.

Former Head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, Major General Amal Karunasekara was appointed as the charge de affairs of the proposed Sri Lankan diplomatic mission in Eritrea. His mission was to hunt down LTTE assets in the East African country. Amal Karunasekara was later recalled as the military investigated the killing of the Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, who was assasinated when Major General Karunasekara was heading the Directorate of Military Intelligence.

The Eritrean adventure was a flop. Another, Major General Jagath Dias, who commanded the 57 Division during the fourth Eelam war, was appointed Sri Lanka’s Deputy Ambassador of Germany. Jagath Dias’s appointment has now been challenged by a plethora of Tamil Diaspora associations who have filed a petition at the European Court of Human Rights against the Federal Republic of Germany for accepting Gen Dias’s appointment.

Former Air Force Commander and Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera was, a few months back, appointed Sri Lanka’s maiden ambassador to Israel. Air Marshal Perera waded into troubled waters in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli newspaper, when he said: “We back Israel’s war on terror.”

He advised Israel how to tame Hamas, drawing lessons from Sri Lanka’s war against Tamil Tigers.

“In case the other side shows it is not interested in a compromise, (Israel) must move on to the military phase with full force. (The government) will have to explain to the citizens that (Israel) is headed for a long and difficult struggle that will exact a heavy price, but at the end of this struggle the country’s situation will be much better,” said the ambassador.

“Once you have the public’s support, you should fight relentlessly until all of the terror hubs are destroyed. There is no going back,” he added. Back home, Air Chief Marshal Perera’s remarks caused ripples in pro Palestinean lobbies. He later wrote to Yedioth Ahronoth to clarify the matter, outlining Sri Lanka’s support for the two-state solution.

Diplomats enjoy immunity from arrest and detention and are not susceptible to litigation and lawsuits under the laws of the host country, as guaranteed by international law and the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations of 1963. Therefore, it is a fair conjecture that the Diaspora orchestrated hullabaloo over the appointment of Shavendra Silva and other military men is intended to malign the Sri Lankan government and its war effort. But, if history is any guide, as the case of Gen Janaka Perera would tell, the protests would die down after a couple of futile attempts.

© Lakbima News

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