Saturday, May 08, 2010

Sri Lanka: Muddle over media

Courtesy of YA TV

By Sumaiya Rizvi - Amid confusion and conflicting reports, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella assumed duties yesterday saying it was up to the President and not Deputy Media Minister Mervin Silva to decide whether he remained in his post or resigned from it.

“My friend Mervin cannot decide if he is to continue to be my Deputy. That is for the President to decide. You will know what happens in the next few days,” the minister said.

Earlier Minister Rambukwella had told Daily Mirror that Mr. Silva had on Wednesday resigned from his post as the deputy minister of mass media and communication and had been sworn in as Deputy

Mervyn moving out

Minister of highways. Mr. Silva was sworn in on Wednesday as Deputy Minister of Highways, the day that Mr. Rambukwella took oaths as the new Media Minister.

The president's office on Wednesday confirmed to Daily Mirror that Mr. Silva had handed over his resignation from his post as deputy media minister and it had been accepted by the president.

Mr. Silva denied he had resigned and said that as the deputy minister for media he planned to improve the media culture in Sri Lanka.

But Minister Rambukwella said there was nothing wrong with the media culture in Sri Lanka.

“We don’t have to change it. We can’t boss the media around with a ruler. The media are mature and responsible enough to judge for themselves on how they should act,” he said.

Meanwhile Mr. Silva telephoned the Daily Mirror office on Thursday to inquire about the condition of senior Daily Mirror journalist Sandun Jayasekara who had been assaulted while on an official assignment on Wednesday.

He said he was sorry about what had happened.

Giving up media portfolio

Deputy Minister Mervyn Silva, denying reports of a disagreement between the media minister and himself, said he had voluntarily resigned from the post of deputy media minister since his advisory committee of experts thought it was best he stuck to the highways ministry.

“I am ready to give up my chair at anytime if only the President asks me to. Not for anyone else. But my committee of experts deems fit that I focus on the highways ministry and therefore they decided that it’s best I resign,” Mr. Silva said adding that he had sent his resignation to the President last evening.

However, deputy minister Silva said he had no malice

Mervyn Silva says gave up media portfolio

against media minister Keheliya Rambuwella and said he took to the podium in support of the minister during the past elections.

He further said he was happy to be under the President than anyone else. He said it was easy for him to give up on his chair because he was not going to keep anything he was not going to perform well.

When the Daily Mirrror asked if Minister Keheliya Rambukwella had prior knowledge of his resignation since he told the Daily Mirror online that Silva handed over his resignation to the President on Wednesday as confirmed by the Presidential secretariat Mr. Silva denied the move. “I don’t have to answer all the questions that are directed at me,” he said.

Silva said last evening at the Media ministry that he was sad to leave the ministry since he had many plans and changes in store for the betterment of journalists.

© Daily Mirror

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

"Dispute but not insult " urges new Media Minister

The new media minister, Keheliya Rambukwella, has urged media to disagree with any point of view but not insult opposing points of view.

Speaking to journalists after assuming the new office, the minister said everybody has the right to disagree and disbelieve.

"We have the right to dispute; we have the right to disagree. We have the right to disbelieve but none of us have the right to insult each other," he said.

If a change in the "media culture" is needed, the minister said, it is the duty of the media to make the change.

"We cannot rule media by punishment and pressure," he said.

The former defence affairs spokesman during the height of the conflict with the Tamil Tigers was appointed as the new minister in charge of media and information by President Rajapaksa.

SB Dissanayake, Arumugam Thondaman and Prof. Tissa Vitharana were also appointed as new cabinet ministers in addition to the 37 ministers appointed earlier.

Controversial minister Mervyn Silva was earlier appointed as the deputy minister in charge of media. He was later appointed as the deputy minister of highways.

© BBC Sinhala

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Jaffna after the war: Observations by a visitor

by Leela Issac - Large crowds rush to Jaffna every day. Some of them have never been there before. The 30 years war is over and thanks to president Rajapakse, (General Fonseka is already forgotten), they are now at last free to visit those territories the Tigers once claimed as theirs. They are eager to visit the many places of worship including a few recently discovered ones. They are genuinely happy to be there, moving from Nallur to Mavattapuram, Keerimalai, Nagadeepa, Dambakola Pattuna and Kandarodai.

Dambakola Pattuna in Madagal is where Theri Sangamitha is said to have landed with the sacred Bo sapling. A new dagoba has been built there and a statue of bikkuni Sangamitha has been installed in December 2009, by the first lady herself. Kandarodai where the mini dagobas are found has acquired a new Sinhala name. In all these places name boards and notices are found in Sinhala. Therefore the visitors from the South feel very homely and comfortable. The forces are every where giving them a sense of security. The Keerimalai tank which is now being used as a swimming pool is also heavily guarded because it falls within the High Security Zone. In fact there is a police post adjoining one of the kovils. In Nallur and Nagadeepa people are not only free to worship but also to do a little shopping. The vendors who have put up their stalls in the Kovil vicinity and Nagadeepa are mainly Sinhalese and those who are not, speak in Sinhala anyway, for the convenience of the buyers.

Accommodation is a problem. The three big hotels in Jaffna, we were told are being occupied by the army and the police, Smaller hotels like Pillaiyar Inn are booked for months ahead. The cheap guest houses and lodges are also brimming with guests. Every week nearly four lakhs of people visit Jaffna it is reported, while the whole population of Jaffna only amounts to five lakhs. Some popular restaurants like “Cosy” put up their shutters by 6 or 7 p.m., unable to cope with the demand for food. But the people of Jaffna are making every possible effort to make the visitors comfortable. Even private homes are offering the extra rooms they have for a nominal amount, like the KR Inn on Palaly Road, Thirunelvely. Even the old Jaffna railway station is made available to those who fail to find lodging. The old platform is used as an open kitchen and toilet arrangements have also been made. Communication too is not a serious problem. Just as the Tamils in the South have learnt Sinhala for their own survival; the Tamils in the North too are learning Sinhala, perhaps to do business among the visitors from the south.

But the question we should be asking is whether this large influx of visitors to Jaffna will help in promoting peace and national reconciliation in our war torn country. According to the G.A. Jaffna, this vast crowd visiting the North is something positive. The people of the North and south can at least meet freely and begin to trust each other, which could later lead to building bridges between the two communities. Building trust should begin with people interacting with one another. At the moment one doesn’t see this interaction taking place. One major barrier being, that though both parties know enough of each other’s language to order and serve food, to ask and give directions, it is not sufficient to share each other’s experiences, feelings, deep rooted fears, hopes and aspirations. That requires a deeper understanding and one can only hope that this will happen in the course of time.

There is also the question of different attitudes and respect for each other’s religious sentiments. Nallur Kandasamy Kovil for example is treated with great reverence by the people of Jaffna. Today vendors from the South have put up stalls in the vicinity of the Kovil to sell trinkets, kotta kilangu and hakuru. It creates hurt feelings among the Hindus who will not enter the kovil without properly cleansing themselves, to see hundreds of visitors coming there as sight seers. One cannot blame the first time visitors but better awareness and understanding of the feelings of the local people is necessary, if reconciliation is to take place.

The local people feel that suddenly too many Buddha statues and shrines are coming up close to Kovils, Churches and Mosques. Recently when attempts were made to build a shrine under a Bo tree next to another place of worship, the people had intervened and stopped it. One irate young woman told us “wherever they see a Bo tree, they want to build a shrine, I simply dislike these beautiful Bo trees now”. Creating this kind of resentment wouldn’t be conducive to peace building.

There has been a lot of senseless destruction. Apart from buildings and cemeteries that have been demolished, monuments of peace have also been wantonly broken like the one inside the Jaffna University premises. The statue of Thileepan has been destroyed very recently. (Thileepan was the LTTE political wing leader when the IPKF was in Jaffna. He started a fast and as his demands were not met, died fasting). These destructions do not help in healing and peace building.

Chatty beach is beautiful and no wonder visitors flock there. There‘s plenty of space for merry making. Busloads of picnickers from the South can be seen singing and dancing on the beach. Opposite the beach, on the other side of the road however, is a large cemetery that has been bulldozed. The broken tomb stones are found in heaps scattered over a large area. One sees life and death side by side. Those who make merry on the beach cannot be considered insensitive because they may not even be aware that they are facing a cemetery. A little awareness would help in understanding the feelings of the others.

A lot of building material (from China) has been unloaded on either side of the road between Murugandy and Mankulam. We stopped to ask one of the soldiers, whether there was a plan to build houses for the displaced. ‘No’ he said, it was China’s donation towards an army cantonment. The government plans to put up an army camp just like the one at Panagoda. One does feel sorry for the young, in fact very young soldiers living in small tents in those remote areas without the basic facilities. Their living conditions are no better than those of the returning IDPs in their makeshift homes. But the question is why are they being kept there after the war is over? There is no fear or danger of LTTE attacks now. So what is the need for this heavy military presence in the North? On the A9 road every hundred meters there is a bunker and every mile or so a major military base. It certainly does not promote peace and reconciliation.

While some people are happy with the army others are not. Those who are happy say “The solders are now friendly with us, they even speak Tamil”. Others say, “We are afraid of the army. They come and question our young boys and girls who have retuned from IDP camps. These young people are not admirers of the LTTE. They feared the LTTE would drag them away from their homes and make them fight. Today they are happy there is no LTTE. But the army suspects them and keeps harassing them. We spend sleepless nights because it is at night that they come.” Reconciliation cannot take place in this tense environment.

There is no enthusiasm among the people of the North about the general election. One senses a kind of apathy and indifference, but some feel people will still vote. A few of them told us “we voted for Gen. Sarath Fonseka because we wanted a change of government. But that did not happen, instead the man who won the war for the country is locked up in prison today. We are simply shocked and cannot help thinking – If this could happen to Sarath Fonseka, what’s going to be our fate? Is there any point in voting?”

If these people are to live with dignity and self esteem in the land of their birth there has to be power sharing at the periphery and at the centre. Today federalism and devolution of power have become dirty words. No political party in the South even talks about it. Building roads and army camps in the North is not the solution to the problems of the Jaffna people. The causes that led to the 30 years of war must be addressed at least now.

But as one newspaper columnist (MSM Ayub) points out “Though Perumal and most Tamil leaders still insist on the wider devolution of powers, it might take a long or infinite time for the Tamils and Sinhalese to arrive at a common point in the light of the present psychological division on ethnic lines”. It is possible for an enlightened democratic leadership to bring about this unity. But sadly after the Rajapakse regime introduces a new constitution we might have only a line of Sinhala Buddhist Kings, not democratic leaders who believe in a multi ethnic, multi religious society. Forces that support and control the present regime do not believe in a multi ethnic or multi religious Sri Lanka. What they envisage is a unitary Sinhala Buddhist state where the minorities should merge with the majority, forgetting and losing their identity.

Is that possible? Only time will tell.

© Groundviews

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Explaining China’s Growing Influence In Sri Lanka

By Dr. V. Suryanarayan - In the end, the current of Chinese expansion will meet the current of Hindu expansion over the submerged heads of the smaller and weaker and less efficient peoples in between who are fast going asunder. And after that has happened I surmise that the new frontier between China and India will tend, slowly but surely, to travel westward at India’s expense and in China’s favour. - Arnold Toynbee (Quoted in Tibor Mende, Southeast Asia between Two Worlds)

When the British Empire fades away, where will Ceylon go? She must associate herself economically at least, with larger groups and India is obviously indicated. Because of this it is unfortunate that many of the leaders of Ceylon should help in creating barriers between India and Ceylon. They do not seem to realize that while India can do well without Ceylon, in the future to come Ceylon may not be able to do without India. - Jawaharlal Nehru (Report to the Congress President, after a visit to Ceylon, 1939)

The future of the countries in South and Southeast Asia would depend on the impact that China and India would exert on them in the years to come. In this paper I have tried to analyse the rationale behind the growing influence of China in Sri Lanka. Few preliminary observations are in order.

The independence of India in August 1947 and the emergence of China as a united country in October 1949, in both cases after years of subjugation and relentless struggle, are momentous events in Asian history. And, as they develop, pursuing their own unique paths of development, the two countries are destined to play significant roles in international affairs. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), according to a publication of the Institute of Policy Studies, Singapore, is the second largest economy in terms of GDP at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), the world’s sixth largest merchandise trading nation, the twelfth largest global exporter of commercial services and the largest recipient of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) among the developing countries. India is catching up, but at a slower pace, it is ranked fourth largest in terms of GDP at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) and has been, according to World Bank estimates, one of the fast growing economies in the world. The two countries together number 2.4 billion, 40 per cent of the world’s population and given proper leadership and vision, can transform themselves from demographic giants to economic and political super powers. It was this common commitment which made Deng Xiaoping to tell Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that when India and China attain their full potential, the world will witness the “Asia-Pacific century”.

Broadly speaking, there are three ways in which Sino-Indian relations can fashion themselves and leave their imprint on the countries of South and Southeast Asia. The first perhaps the ideal situation where India and China co-operate in creating a positive external environment in our region rather than pursuing a foreign policy approach based on balance of power. This implies India and China working together towards the common goal of establishment of a new equitable world order, in the creation of which the two countries will adopt common approaches. Our common development goals will have positive influence not only on Sino-Indian relations, but also on the rest of the world. Those who subscribe to this point of view argue that developing Asia -Pacific region can easily accommodate the growing influence of both China and India. The concept of “Area of Peace” in Indo-China, which New Delhi advocated after the Geneva Accords in 1954, was based on possible convergence of interests. New Delhi was keen to keep both the United States and China out of the Indo-Chinese states, so that Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia could pursue their goals of development. India tried to make China and North Vietnam commit themselves repeatedly to the principles of co-existence and thus allay the fears of the non-communist governments in Southeast Asian countries. This was all the more necessary because of the establishment of SEATO whose primary aim was to prevent the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. The military approach embodied by the SEATO was fundamentally antagonistic to India’s policy of peaceful co-existence. The “Area of Peace” approach did not succeed. With the overthrow of the neutralist regime in Laos in mid-1958 by the CIA and the hardening of China’s stance, the Sino-Indian friendship froze in the snows of Himalayas. The rest is history.

The second possibility is that China will relentlessly pursue not only its goal of economic development and military modernization, but also fashion new relationships with the smaller countries of South and Southeast Asia so that the likelihood of United States, India, Australia and ASEAN coming together in a common front does not materialize. China will continue to pursue a foreign policy of winning friends and influencing people in the region and also provide legitimacy to the existing regimes through economic and military concessions. As is well known, during the Asian financial crisis and consequent economic meltdown in Southeast Asia, China’s principled decision not to devalue its currency was perceived as a benevolent gesture by Southeast Asian countries.

The third likely scenario is for India and China to find areas of convergence in certain spheres, while in certain other areas there will be conflict. From an Indian point of view, it is necessary to remind ourselves that China is one country which has resorted to the use of force to buttress its territorial claims against three neighbouring countries – India, Vietnam and the Soviet Union. I submit that as China steps up its “friendship diplomacy” in countries in India’s immediate neighbourhood, it will have adverse impact on India’s foreign policy objectives. Not only Sino-Indian relations, but also India’s relations with individual countries in South Asia, will be subjected to severe stresses and strains.

Given our nationalist heritage, our consistent support to anti-colonial struggles, our principled opposition to racial discrimination, our efforts to buttress the non-communist, secular and democratic regimes in the region, the deep seated sympathy and support for democratic struggles, there is an ethical and moral dimension to our foreign policy. It is unfortunate that New Delhi, during recent years, on few occasions, turned a Nelson’s eye to this important facet of our foreign policy. Thus during the Fourth Eelam War, when the war against the Tigers degenerated into a war against Tamil civilians, New Delhi should have made efforts to work out a mechanism, acceptable to both Colombo and the Tigers, under which the Tamil civilians could have been escorted, under UN supervision, to “safe areas” within the island. It may be recalled that during the anti-Tamil riots in Colombo in 1958 under international pressure, including Indian pressure, the Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetileke requisitioned ships to transport approximately 10,000 men, women and children out of an estimated 12,000 housed in temporary refugee centres. In his lucidly written memoirs, Outside the Archives, Y D Gundevia, then Indian High Commissioner in Ceylon, mentions that the attack by the majority community was directed mainly against Sri Lankan Tamils permanently residing in Colombo. Some Indian property also suffered during looting and arson. To quote Gundevia, “there were hot words exchanged between the Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetileke and the Indian High Commissioner”. The refugees were transported from Colombo to Kankesenturai. Similarly 2000 Sinhalese were transported from Jaffna to Colombo. What happened in Nandikadal in May 2009 was worse than what happened in Jalianwala Bagh. We failed to raise our voice in support of the Tamils, in those horrendous days of agony and anguish. These shortcomings aside, there is a moral and ethical dimension in the pursuit of our foreign policy. For China this dimension is irrelevant. Beijing’s support to the genocidal Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and its support to the tyrannical regime in Myanmar are grim reminders that Beijing would go to any extent in the pursuit of its foreign policy goals. I submit that in the pursuance of our foreign policy, it is not only necessary to develop bilateral relations at the governmental level, it is also essential that we are not perceived as the up holders of the status quo. When the Marcos regime was overthrown in the Philippines and when the Suharto regime was swept away in Indonesia, the ASEAN governments were caught with pants down. Let not history judge us in the same way.

Situated at the southern tip of India, and separated by the narrow Palk Strait, the Island Republic of Sri Lanka, small in size, with a population of 19 million, has been mainly concerned with fashioning the right type of relationship with its northern neighbour. The asymmetrical power equation has made the Sinhalese leaders deeply suspicious of New Delhi’s foreign policy objectives. Late Prof. Shelton Kodikara underlined this point as follows: “Perceptions of threat are, indeed, intrinsic to a small power -.big power relationship, but India is Sri Lanka’s only neighbour and in historical times all invasions of the island, barring one, emanated from South India”. To harp only on invasions from South India, without referring to India’s seminal influences on all aspects of Sri Lankan life – demography, religion, art, language and culture – is partisan interpretation of history. The benign interaction between the two countries has witnessed “continuities and adaptation, debts and autonomy”. As Ananda Coomaraswamy puts it, “The true impulse to a wider and fuller life must come once more, as in Ceylon, it has always come from India”.

Be that as it may, the obsession with the colossus in the north, or what Ivor Jennings referred to as “a mountain, which might, at any time, send destructive avalanches” has created mental and psychological barriers between the two countries. According to Sir John Kotelawala, the former Prime Minister of Ceylon, “the day Ceylon dispensed with Englishmen completely, the island would go under India”. He regarded the membership of the Commonwealth, “as the first insurance against any possibility of aggression from quarters nearer home”. I would like to characterize the India- Sri Lanka equation as “love hate relations”. Few illustrations are given below to substantiate this point of view.

The first major challenge to the Sri Lankan political system came in April 1971, when the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP), reflecting the disenchantment and frustration of the Sinhalese educated youth and the under privileged, raised the banner of armed revolt. The Sri Lankan army could not cope with the security threat; Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike approached India, UK, USA, Yugoslavia, USSR and Pakistan for immediate help. But the country which immediately responded was India. According to an Indian diplomat, who was based in Colombo at that time, the JVP had cut off the telephone links between Sri Lanka and the outside world. The diplomat flew down from Colombo to Thiruvananthapuram by the next available plane, got in touch with Foreign Secretary TN Kaul and appraised him of the dangerous situation. New Delhi immediately airlifted Indian soldiers to save the beleagured island. There were five Indian frigates which sealed off approaches to Colombo. In addition, Indian assistance also included military equipment for 5000 troops, six helicopters with pilots for non-combat duties and 150 Indian troops to guard Katunayake airport. The revolt was crushed, and a large number of Sinhalese youth were detained. The armed forces had their first major experience in tackling an armed revolt. How did Colombo respond to Indian gestures of goodwill? Six months later, during the East Pakistan crisis, the Sri Lankan Government provided refueling facilities for Pakistani Air Force planes which were flying to East Pakistan to carry on savage reprisals against Bangladeshi nationalists. In more recent times, the induction of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), on the invitation of President Jayewardene under the provisions of the India-Sri Lanka Accord, enabled the Sri Lankan army to devote itself completely to counter the JVP threat. What is instructive for India is the fact that the military marginalization of the Tigers, accomplished at heavy cost of men and materials, did not earn for India the corresponding gratitude of the Sinhalese. On the contrary it gave a fillip to Sinhala chauvinism and provided justification for the argument that Sri Lanka would soon become the “client state” of its hegemonistic neighbour. What is more, it brought the two hitherto antagonistic forces, President Premadasa and Prabhakaran, together. According to informed sources, the Sri Lankan Government provided considerable weapons and money to the Tigers. But the honeymoon did not last long. President Premadasa himself became a victim to the cult of the bomb and the bullet perfected by the LTTE. The decimation of the Tigers, during 1987-89 was accompanied by gross violation of human rights. During this period, the Bishana Samaya or days of terror, as the Sinhalese refer to it, the two rivers of exquisite beauty in the southern parts of Sri Lanka, the Kelaniya Ganga and the Mahaveli Ganga, were clogged with dead bodies and foamed with blood. It is also necessary to remind ourselves that one Sinhalese politician, escaped from Sri Lanka, camped himself in Geneva and pleaded for UN Humanitarian intervention to save innocent Sinhalese lives. Strange as it may sound, that politician was none other than Mahinda Rajapakshe.

When the military crisis deepened again with the fall of the Elephant Pass to the Tigers in April 2000 and the Tigers were about to enter Jaffna town, not only the Sri Lankan Government, but also the extremist sections of the Sinhalese, represented by the JVP, pleaded for Indian intervention. While fashioning India’s response to unfolding events in Sri Lanka, we have to keep these realities, a byproduct of love –hate relations, in mind.

How does China fit into Sri Lanka’s foreign policy and security considerations? The promotion of national interests – ensuring security, promoting economic development, diversifying arms purchases, enhancing trade and investment – implies fruitful interaction with as many countries as possible. China, being the most populous country and a growing economic and military power, naturally has to be befriended. What is more relevant, in trying to erode Indian pre-eminence, Colombo wants to encourage the involvement of external powers, who for their own reasons, want to cut India to “size”. In this connection, it is worth quoting the statement of Mahinda Werake, a Sri Lankan academic, “From the point of view of small states of South Asia, a stronger presence of China as a countervailing force is a desirable phenomenon in view of the growing and unquestionable supremacy of India in the region”. Lin Liang Guang of the Beijing University echoes the same sentiments. According to him, the “short sighted policy pursued by successive Indian Governments to make India the sole dominant power in South Asia has vitiated the strategic environment in South Asia”. But playing into the hands of India’s adversaries has its own limitations and could make Sri Lanka more vulnerable to external manipulations.

In the specific context of India-Sri Lanka relations, it is essential to keep in mind the fact that the Sri Lankan foreign policy establishment has tried to create a big wedge between Tamil Nadu and New Delhi and exploit the differences to its advantage. Their argument could be summarized as follows: While Sri Lanka continues to look upon North India as the cradle of its religion, it perceives its contacts with South India, as a source of perennial concern to its integrity as a nation state. Therefore, the foreign policy makers cultivated New Delhi in order to checkmate Tamil Nadu. What is more, they believed that they were successful in attaining their objectives.

The perception of the Sri Lankan foreign policy establishment can be better understood from the writings of two astute Sri Lankan diplomats, Bernard Tilakaratne, who was Sri Lankan High Commissioner in India for many years and who later became the Foreign Secretary of Sri Lankan Government and Nanda Godage, who has served Colombo with great distinction in several world capitals. Dealing with the inputs made by G Parthasarathy in the making of India’s Sri Lanka policy during the Indira-Gandhi era, Bernard Tilakaratne wrote: “Soon after Jayewardene became President, he was keen to cultivate closer relations with Indira Gandhi and particularly to update her on our ethnic problem. He sought my advice as High Commissioner, whether he should come himself or send an emissary and I proposed that Minister Athulathmudali be sent in the first instance and that I would try to arrange a closed meeting. I was particularly gratified that GP (G Parthasarathy) was away for a while, there were no other advisor other than myself accompanying the Minister. We had a fantastic meeting at which Mrs Gandhi was so very sympathetic and understanding until GP joined us during the tea break and whispered to her in Hindi, a language I well understand having spent so many years in India, and the rest of the meeting was a disaster. The Minister asked me in Sinhala what caused the abrupt change and I said the voice of South India has spoken” (Emphasis added).

Indirectly making the point that enhanced relations with China will help Colombo in checkmating Tamil Nadu, Amb Godage in a recent article in The Island has written, “We were able to end the LTTE insurrection because China threw its weight behind us and sent us the required arms. Chinese aid to Sri Lanka is very many times more than the aid of countries such as the US…Why I flag these facts is to make the point that we are not without real friends and we do not need to be at the mercy of any group of countries which seek to destabilize this country to please their domestic constituencies” (Emphasis added). It needs to be pointed out that the only Sri Lankan political leader who wanted to build bridges of understanding with South India, especially Tamil Nadu, was Ranil Wikramasinghe, when he became the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.

A synoptic view of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, with special reference to Sri Lanka-China relations, is attempted here before analyzing the current situation. The triangular relations among Colombo, New Delhi and Beijing were naturally influenced by the cross currents of international politics, the ideological orientation of the ruling classes and critical issues of ethnic politics. As a general proposition, it could be stated that during the initial years of independence the SLFP Governments pursued a more vigorous non-aligned foreign policy, while the UNP Governments were more inward looking and were more pro-West in their foreign policy orientation. But with the end of the Cold War the ideological differences between the UNP and the SLFP have blurred and there is certain amount of continuity in their foreign policy objectives.

From a chronological perspective, Sri Lanka – China relations, during the last six decades, could be broadly divided into few periods.

First Phase

During the first period, which spanned from 1948 to 1956, when the right wing UNP was in power, Colombo was aligned to the West and was hostile to the communist countries. Kept out of the United Nations till the end of 1955 due to Cold War rivalry, Ceylon viewed the Commonwealth connection, especially the Defence Agreement with Britain as the “best insurance” against external threat. What is more, on several occasions, the UNP leaders spelt out that the external threat could emanate only from India. The only exception to the general policy of anti-communism was the Rubber-Rice Agreement of 1952 with the Peoples Republic of China, despite a US embargo on the sale of strategic materials to China. Economically it was a boon for Colombo, for it not only provided a ready market for surplus rubber, but also enabled it to import the much needed rice at prices below the world market prices. YD Gundevia, who was India’s High Commissioner in Ceylon in the late 1950’s, has written: “Practically all the rubber, raw rubber, was exported to China, and China, in return, supplied eighty per cent of the country’s rice requirements”. Whatever be the nature of the Government, the Agreement has been renewed every five years.

Second Phase

The second phase, which commenced with the SLFP assuming power in 1956, continued till 1965. SWRD Bandaranaike and Sirimavo Bandaranaike brought about a definite shift in Colombo’s foreign policy. Sri Lanka and China established full diplomatic relations on February 7, 1957 and exchanged resident embassies in each other’s capitals. Politically Colombo supported the “One China“policy and lent its support to the seating of the PRC in the United Nations. As an assertion of genuine independence and non-alignment, the British bases in Katunayake and Trincomalee were closed down in 1957, though the Defence Agreement itself was not abrogated. It may be mentioned in this connection, that in 1984 President Jayewardene maintained that Britain could come to Sri Lanka’s assistance, under the terms of the Agreement, in case its freedom and territorial integrity were threatened. Diplomatic relations with socialist countries, including China, were established and political, cultural and trade relations were expanded. Prime Minister Chou En Lai visited Sri Lanka in 1958 and 1964. When the Sino-Indian conflict took place in October-November 1962, Sirimavo Bandaranaike took the initiative to summon the Colombo Conference of a few non-aligned countries to mediate in the India-China dispute. The Sri Lankan Prime Minister visited Beijing in 1963 to explain the Colombo proposals. The opposition stance, especially that of the UNP, was definitely more pro-India, The UNP leaders criticized the Government for not branding China as the aggressor. Similarly the Maritime Agreement signed between the two countries in July 1963, which gave Most Favoured Nation Status (MFN) to the contracting parties, also became a serious issue in Sri Lankan domestic politics. The UNP cited it as evidence of the Government’s pro-China tilt; and since most of the China trade passed through Trincomalee, there were also accusations that Trincomalee had been handed over to China.

Third Phase

When Dudley Senanayake became the Prime Minister in 1965, there was a slide back in Sri Lanka-China relations. In the preceding election campaign, foreign policy issues had figured prominently. The UNP Government, being pro-West, it was but natural that relations with China should take a nose dive. What is more, China was in the throes of the Cultural Revolution, and the domestic compulsions had their inevitable fall out on the foreign policy. Beijing expressed its displeasure with Colombo, by keeping the post of Ambassador vacant throughout Dudley Senanayake’s five year term. In 1967, when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was formed, Colombo seriously considered joining the new regional organization. The Vietnam War was escalating and the member states of ASEAN were in varying degrees aligned to the United States. All of them were anti-China and many observers considered the ASEAN as an instrument to stem the tide of Chinese expansionism in Southeast Asia. The matter did not proceed further, one consideration of Colombo being it would have jeopardized the Rice-Rubber Agreement.

Fourth Phase

The SLFP’s return to power in 1970 (as a major partner in the United Front Government) once again brought about a reversal in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. Sirimavo Bandaranaike began to play a leading role in the Non – Aligned movement; Colombo hosted the fifth non-aligned summit in 1976. A major Sri Lankan initiative during this period was the proposal to convert the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace, so that the littoral states could be insulated from the adverse effects of cold war rivalry. Relations with China improved rapidly, except during the JVP insurrection during 1971, when Colombo suspected Chinese machinations behind the revolt. Beijing’s failure to respond to Colombo’s desperate appeal for military assistance and the presence of a Chinese ship in the Colombo harbour, carrying arms to Tanzania, lent credence to the suspicion of China’s complicity. However, it turned out to be a storm in the tea cup. Sri Lanka-China relations began to expand in a big way. In 1972, Sirimavo Bandaraniake made a successful, highly publicized visit to China, when she had an audience with Mao Tse Tung. She characterized the relations between the two countries as a “model of inter-state relations”. By the end of 1976, China had become Sri Lanka’s major trading partner. Colombo received from China an interest free loan of Rs 265 million to finance agro-based industries and a further interest free loan of Rs 48 million to finance an integrated textile mill. Beijing also gifted five high speed naval boats to Sri Lanka. In addition, China constructed the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, at an estimated cost of Rs. 35 million, a show piece of Chinese good will to Sri Lanka. Unfortunately despite New Delhi’s sincere gestures of good will, India-Sri Lanka relations underwent stresses and strains. As mentioned earlier, New Delhi’s timely assistance to Colombo enabled the Government to put down the JVP revolt; however, during the Bangladesh crisis Colombo provided landing facilities to Pakistani Air Force planes and military personnel in civilian garb, on their way to East Pakistan. Sri Lanka also did not accord immediate diplomatic recognition to the newly independent Bangladesh. The recognition came only in 1972. Equally disconcerting for India was Colombo’s changing stance on Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace. With the Pokhran explosion in 1974, Colombo became concerned about India’s intentions and capabilities. In addition to broad concerns about super power rivalry, the India factor began to loom large in Sri Lankan thinking. In November 1976, Shirley Amarasinghe remarked, “We do not want any great power here. By the same token, we do not intend that we should drive out Satan by Beelzebub and allow some other powers within the group of littoral and hinterland states to take up the place of super powers”. To the dismay of India, Colombo also extended its support to the Pakistani proposal for the establishment of South Asia as a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. A situation was slowly emerging when the neighbouring countries in South Asia were ganging up against New Delhi

An important factor that contributed to the improvement of Sino-Sri Lankan relations should be highlighted. By the mid-1970’s China no longer projected itself as the “citadel of revolution”. “Support to revolutionary struggles” was no longer an important facet of China’s foreign policy. The left parties in Sri Lanka, which hitherto had played an important role in Sri Lankan politics, fell into disarray and could not wield much influence. Added to this was the strange spectacle, that in Sri Lanka the Trotskyist Party, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) was polling more votes than the traditional communist parties. The Sino-Soviet dispute had its inevitable fall out on the communist movement. While majority of the members remained with the parent organization, the pro-Moscow Communist Party led by Pieter Keuneman, a vocal minority led by Shanmugathsan formed the Communist Party of Ceylon, which supported China in the ideological struggle. The net result was the decline of the left movement in Sri Lanka.

China successfully rallied from the temporary setback suffered during the first JVP struggle, when Beijing adopted an ambivalent stance. For few weeks, there was a studied silence on the part of Beijing. It was strange because CCP never missed an opportunity to involve itself in diatribes against Moscow and New Delhi. China naturally did not want to miss an important foothold in South Asia. This fact compelled Beijing to make amends. In a letter to Sirimavo Bandaranaike in May 1971, Chou En Lai condemned the “self styled Che Guevarists”. He added that China was opposed to both “ultra leftism and right opportunism” in revolutionary struggles. In his view, the JVP revolt was plotted by the “reactionaries” in Ceylon and abroad.

Fifth Phase

The decisive victory of the UNP and the virtual rout of the SLFP in the 1977 elections brought about a radical transformation in Sri Lankan political system. Despite pious commitment to the principles of Non-Alignment, there was a definite pro-American tilt in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. The economic policies of Colombo, modeled on the experience of Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea made it more and more dependent on Western bilateral and multilateral assistance. The dependency syndrome naturally resulted in major deviations in foreign policy. On the issue of Grenada, Sri Lanka voted with Britain in the United Nations; in the 1983 Non-Aligned Summit in New Delhi, President Jayewardene soft pedaled the issue of Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace; he also did not condemn the US Naval presence in Diego Garcia. On Afghanistan and Kampuchea, Colombo toed the line of the West, China and ASEAN. Sri Lanka vehemently criticized the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and upheld the ASEAN point of view on the Cambodian question. Speaking on Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea, the Sri Lankan Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahul Hameed pointed that military intervention to bring about change in the political system of a neighbouring country was to invite “a breakdown of orderly conduct in inter-state relations”. During this period, Sri Lanka once again tried to become a member of ASEAN; however, it could not make much headway in this direction.

Sixth Phase

The sixth phase began in July 1983. With the escalation of the ethnic conflict, Sri Lanka was at war with itself. The internal security compulsions, the wider question of grappling with the external ramifications of the ethnic conflict and the problem of dealing with the critical India factor became matters of overriding concern for the Sri Lankan Foreign Office. The internationalization of the ethnic conflict in the post 1983 period resulted not only in Colombo moving closer to the West, but it had also adverse repercussions on India’s geo-political and strategic environment. Colombo’s enthusiastic attempts to cultivate Islamabad and Beijing, its shopping spree around the world capitals for building up armed strength, the induction of the notorious Israeli counter insurgency set up Mossad, the arrangements with British mercenaries to train the Sri Lankan armed forces - all these had serious bilateral and regional implications. The increasing US interest was evident from the Voice of America Deal. Under this agreement, a transmitter was supposed to have been installed ostensibly for the use of Voice of America. It was the most powerful transmitter outside the United States and Colombo was to have no editorial control over it. The Sri Lanka watchers in India felt that the whole arrangement was intended to be a communication relay facility between Diego Garcia and Pina Gap communication in Australia. It could also be used for jamming Indian communication systems. It should, however, be underlined that if President Jayewardene hoped that the West will bail him out of his domestic problem, he was sadly mistaken. On the contrary, the United States advised Colombo to use India’s good offices to solve the ethnic imbroglio.

India’s policy towards Sri Lanka during this period was full of contradictions. The mediatory-militant supportive policy did not earn for India the good will of either the government or the militants. But one thing was clear. India was determined not to allow Colombo to have a military solution to a domestic problem; finally Colombo had to sign an agreement with New Delhi to resolve the problem peacefully. The India Sri Lanka Accord, July 1987 not only represented a commitment on the part of New Delhi to the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, it also accommodated New Delhi’s security concerns vis-à-vis the island. In sum the relevant provisions implied an adherence to the policy of Non-Alignment from which Colombo had made fatal and costly deviations. It must, however, be mentioned that the provisions in the Exchange of Letters represented statements of intentions as opposed to binding legal obligations.

While the Indian involvement in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict provides ample testimony to the pangs of proximity, the long distance which separates China from Sri Lanka has not provided any enchantment either. India’s mediatory role and the IPKF operations are pointers to the inherently limited role that an external power can play in resolving a domestic conflict in a neighbouring country. At the same time, attempts made by Sri Lanka to internationalise the ethnic conflict and encourage the involvement of external powers is an example of cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face. Finally when the moment of reckoning came in June-July 1987, no external power even lifted a finger against India.

An analysis of Beijing’s reactions to the ethnic conflict makes it clear that China’s support to Sri Lanka was on a low key. There was a pragmatic realization that a high profile policy would adversely affect the ongoing process of normalization of Sino-Indian relations. When Harry Jayewardene, the special envoy of President Jayewardene, visited China towards the end of 1983, Chinese Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian extended China’s support to Sri Lanka’s efforts to safeguard its sovereignty and oppose foreign interference in its internal affairs. The same position was reiterated by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Gong Dafei in November 1984 in Colombo; he stated “big should not bully the small”. In November 1985, a 3000 ton Guided Missile Destroyer and supply ship made a “friendly visit” to Colombo after a similar visit to Karachi. This was the first goodwill visit of a Chinese naval ship since the founding of the PRC in 1949. In March 1986, President Li visited Colombo as part of a five nation tour and reaffirmed the traditional friendship between the two countries. However, in private Li advised Colombo to seek a political solution to the ethnic problem. When India-Sri Lanka confrontation escalated in the summer of 1987, Ranil Wikramsinghe visited Beijing to mobilize Chinese support. Beijing again preferred a political solution to the problem. However, it continued to pump arms to Sri Lanka. In one official statement, without naming India, China expressed its disapproval of the bullying actions of the big powers and “interference in internal affairs of other nations” President Jayewardene summed China’s attitude towards Sri Lanka as follows: “They were good friends and gave us military equipments, guns etc, at reasonable terms. But what could they do? I could not ask them to start a border war in the north to keep the Indians busy. Even if I had, I doubt, if they would have done it”.

An important fallout of the escalation of the ethnic conflict had been the rapid expansion and modernization of the Sri Lankan armed forces. In the fifties and the sixties, the Sri Lankan army was a ceremonial one, providing guard of honour to the visiting dignitaries and holding march pasts on independence days. In 1978 Sri Lanka allocated only 3.1 per cent of its national income to defence, by 1992 it was spending as much as 12.0 per cent on defence. After 1983, thanks mainly to the US, Israel, Pakistan and China, the Sri Lankan army had developed as a professional group, vastly more in numbers and equipped with sophisticated weapons. China has emerged as a major arms supplier to Sri Lanka in terms of value, quantity and quality. The military equipment supplied by China for use against the Tigers include Jian-7 fighter jets, anti-aircraft guns and JY-11 3 D air surveillance radars. China’s military assistance to Sri Lanka is estimated to be around US Dollars 100 million per year.

The odds were completely against the Tigers when the Fourth Eelam War commenced in 2006. The LTTE’s attempts to procure arms were thwarted by the Sri Lankan Government. With inputs from Indian Intelligence agencies, the Sri Lankan armed forces successfully destroyed LTTE ships bringing arms into the island. With the supply lines cut and Sea Tigers destroyed the Tigers were like fish out of water. The armed forces were not only enlarged, they became also highly professional, especially at the officers’ level. President Mahinda Rjapakshe gave complete freedom to the Chiefs of the Armed Forces to determine the war strategy. Unlike the Third Eelam War, there was absolutely no political interference. As President Mahinda Rajapakshe stated in an interview with N Ram, editor-in-chief of the Hindu group of publications, “From the beginning I had the feeling that if you gave the forces (the Sri Lankan armed forces) proper instructions and whatever they wanted, our people could defeat them”. The most efficient wing was the Air Force, which resorted to savage bombing of the Tamil areas. And the attempts made by the LTTE emissaries to acquire the much needed anti-aircraft missiles from the United States was nipped in the bud by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the words of an Indian scholar, the Sri Lankan security forces “were better equipped and trained than ever before” They were using superior artillery, recently inducted Kifirs, MIG 27, MIG 29 and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, a newly acquired US Beechcraft and advanced radars. The ascendancy of the Sri Lankan Air Forces led to the initiative slipping out of the hands of the Tigers. Kilinochi, Elephant Pass, Mullaithivu and finally Nandi Kadal – a series of dismal defeats – culminated in the decimation of the entire Tiger leadership, including Prabhakaran.

Given the nature of coalition politics in India, especially the role played by the alliance partners from Tamil Nadu, New Delhi’s maneuverability in strategic co-operation was limited. The suggestion made by Prime Minister Ranil Wikramasinghe that India and Sri Lanka should enter into a Defence Co-operation Agreement could not make much headway. However, India continued to provide non-lethal weapons like radars, stepped up training of the Sri Lankan armed forces, especially the Sri Lankan Navy, modernized the Palaly Airport, kept vigil in the Palk Bay, and above all did not succumb to the demands made by the political forces in Tamil Nadu to follow an activist policy in support of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. A Sri Lankan academic informed the author that the greatest contribution of New Delhi during the Fourth Eelam War was “to keep Karunanidhi in check” so that the war could continue till the final goal was accomplished. The astute Sri Lankan defence and foreign policy establishment knew the constraints on the Central Government in New Delhi; to gain maximum leverage from such a situation, they first approached New Delhi with the list of defence equipment they required, knowing fully well that New Delhi will give a negative answer, then they approached Pakistan and China for the same weapons and perhaps more. The “careful management” of relations with India was left to Basil Rajapakshe, Gotabhaya Rajapakshe and Lalith Weeratunga. In characteristic understatement, Amb Godage has written that this policy “resulted in the Indian Government playing a quiet but effective role to enable us to finish of the war”. For China, its ties with Colombo gave it a foothold near the critical sea lanes and also entry into what India considers to be its backyard.

Colombo was also extremely happy that when the issue of human rights violations figured in the UN organizations, China and Russia extended their whole hearted support to Sri Lanka. In a recent article in The Island, reference to which has been made earlier, Amb Godage highlights this point. After describing the munificent armed assistance received by Sri Lanka from several international quarters, Godage added, “This is not to forget the military assistance we received from Russia and the tremendous help Russia extended, along with China, in the Security Council to counter the hostile West which was determined to save the LTTE”. Unfortunately India also went along with Russia and China in the United Nations. I submit that India should not have adopted the same cynical attitude which Moscow and Beijing displayed in the United Nations. These two countries have number of skeletons in their cupboard to hide. From an Indian point of view what must be highlighted is the fact that during the last stages of the Fourth Eelam War, the war against the LTTE had degenerated into an inhuman war against the Tamil civilian population. Even the innocent Tamils who were holding aloft the white flag of surrender were brutally killed. What happened in Nandi Kadal, to say the least, was one of the worst crimes against humanity. The least New Delhi could have done was to make efforts, with the assistance of like minded countries and international organizations, to rescue the Tamil civilians trapped between the “Sinhalese Lions and the Tamil Tigers”. That would also have been in conformity with the noble traditions of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Like Banquo’s Ghost these tragic realities will continue to haunt us for a long, long time.

From China’s point of view, aid and trade have been important instruments of fostering better relations with Third World countries, especially in South Asia. From 1956 to 1973, nearly 20 per cent pf China’s aid was targeted to South Asia, with Pakistan receiving 13.1 per cent, Sri Lanka 3.5 per cent and Nepal 2.9 per cent. During recent years, China has expanded its economic assistance to Sri Lanka many times more. President Mahinda Rajapakshe has visited China three times since he became the President to strengthen bilateral relations. Sri Lanka has recently opened a Consulate in Chengdu, where Pakistan has already an active Consulate. In a recent seminar in Chennai, B. Raman, the strategic specialist, pointed out that Chengdu military region coordinates China’s military strategy in South Asia.

From an Indian point of view it needs to be underlined that China is not part of South Asia, but through systematic efforts, Beijing has made its presence felt in a big way in India’s neighbourhood – in Myanmar, in Nepal, in Pakistan, in Sri Lanka and in Maldives. China is not a littoral state of the Indian Ocean, but it is making its presence felt through expanding and deepening relations with Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. From an Indian point of view the possibility of China and Pakistan working in tandem to reduce India’s influence in its immediate neighbourhood should be a matter of great concern. One cannot escape the conclusion that China’s diplomacy is aimed at counterbalancing and checkmating India’s pre-eminent influence in its immediate neighbourhood.

The bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and China has doubled during the last five years from US dollars 660 million to US Dollars 1.13 billion, making China the second largest exporter to Sri Lanka. Colombo is conscious of the fact that during the early years of independence, efforts were made to capture US markets, but the time has come to reduce its over dependence on the West by diversifying its trade with East Asian countries. In addition to coconut fibre products, natural rubber, tea, precious and semi-precious stones and ready made garments, during recent years, Sri Lanka had been exporting mineral sands (Zirconium ores and concentrates). The imports from China include machinery and machine parts, cotton, textiles, vehicles and parts, fertilizers, iron and steel and plastic parts. Explaining expanding relations with East Asian countries, especially China, Palitha Kohona, Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary, remarked, “Sri Lanka’s traditional donors, namely, the United States, Canada and the European Union, had receded into a very distant corner to be replaced by countries in the East. The new donors are neighbours; they are rich; and they conduct themselves differently. Asians don’t go around teaching each other how to behave. There are ways we deal with each other – perhaps a quiet chat, but not wagging the finger. Chinese assistance has grown five fold in the last year to nearly US Dollars 1 billion, eclipsing Sri Lanka’s long time big donor Japan”.

China’s assistance to specific projects includes development of Hambantota port in southern Sri Lanka, the constituency which Mahinda Rajapakshe formerly represented in the Parliament. During the first stage, China will construct a 1000-metre jetty, which will enable the harbour to import and export several items. When completed the Hambantota port will serve as a safe haven for bunkering and refueling. 85 per cent of the estimated expenditure will be given by China at concessional interest, the balance will be contributed by Colombo. China’s Export-Import Bank is financing 85 per cent of the cost of this one billion dollar project and China Harbour Engineering, which is part of a state owned company, is building it. It may be recalled that initially Sri Lanka approached India for assistance in the development of Hambantota, but New Delhi dragged its feet.

China is also assisting Sri Lanka in the construction of the following: an international airport at Maththala in Hambantota district, at a cost of US Dollars 190 million. The Government hopes to commission the airport by the end of 2011. China has also offered its assistance in the construction of a Colombo-Katunayake Express Way; improvement of the existing railway network; a coal power plant in Norochcholai; flood protection system for the suburbs of Colombo; a National Theatre for Performing Arts in Colombo and a special economic zone in Mirigama, meant for investment by Chinese businessmen. It must be pointed out that 50 per cent of the funding received by Sri Lanka since Mahinda Rajapakshe became the President has come from China. The work in these projects would entail the stationing of large number of Chinese technicians in Sri Lanka. And, what is more, all these projects are located in Sinhalese areas. In addition, China has offered its assistance for the rehabilitation of the Internally Displaced Persons and technical assistance for demining operations in the North and the East. In addition, China has also offered to rebuild part of the railway line connecting Vavuniya with Jaffna.

The high profile policy pursued by China in India’s neighbourhood will have profound consequences for India. Unfortunately, except for the scholars associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the Center for Asia Studies, Chennai there is no serious debate about the rapidly unfolding events in Sri Lanka and the changing nature of its foreign relations. India cannot afford to be complacent and a re-appraisal of our vital stakes is the need of the hour.

Though the war against the Tigers has been won, the return of peace and stability and ethnic reconciliation still remain to be achieved. The victory in the Presidential and Parliamentary elections was achieved by pandering to the majoritarian desire for Sinhala domination. An alienated Tamil minority, in the short and long run, is not to India’s advantage. We in Tamil Nadu and the North Eastern parts of Sri Lanka are like Siamese twins, what afflicts one will affect the other. And, therefore, we cannot afford to adopt the policy of cynicism which Beijing and Moscow displayed during the last days of the Fourth Eelam War. The Doctor in Albert Camus’s book, The Plague, has the following advice: “All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it is up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences”.

Dr. V. Suryanarayan was Senior Professor and Director, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow in the Center for Asia Studies, Chennai. This essay is partly based on author’s earlier writings on the subject. This paper was presented in a national seminar on China and South Asia organized by the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi on April 29 and 30, 2010.


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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Sri Lanka : Government proposal won’t address war crimes - Human Rights Watch

The Sri Lankan government's suggestion that a newly announced commission will provide accountability for laws-of-war violations during the armed conflict with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is yet another attempt to deflect an independent international investigation, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch urged United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to take steps to ensure accountability through an independent international investigation into the alleged laws-of-war violations.

The announcement of a commission on "lessons learnt and reconciliation" came after a months-long campaign by the Sri Lankan government to prevent Ban from establishing a panel of experts to advise him on accountability in Sri Lanka. In May 2009, after the war ended, President Mahinda Rajapaksa signed a joint communiqué with Ban promising that "the government will take measures to address allegations related to violations of international humanitarian and human-rights law." But no substantive steps have been taken.

"Every time the international community raises the issue of accountability, Sri Lanka establishes a commission that takes a long time to achieve nothing," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Ban should put an end to this game of smoke and mirrors and begin a process that would ensure justice for all the victims of Sri Lanka's war."

The government has yet to publish the findings from a committee established in November 2009 to examine allegations of laws-of-war violations, despite an April 2010 deadline. When the committee was announced, Human Rights Watch warned that it was just a smokescreen to avoid accountability.

According to conservative UN estimates, 7,000 civilians were killed and more than 13,000 injured from January to May, 2009. Other estimates suggest that as many as 20,000 were killed. Government officials, including the president, have repeatedly insisted that no violations by government forces took place, and the government has taken no meaningful steps to ensure accountability.

On May 6, 2010, the Sri Lankan government announced that it will establish a commission to report on the lessons learned from the conflict and reconciliation efforts. In a statement posted on the government's website, the government announced that "there will be the [sic] search for any violations of internationally accepted norms of conduct in such conflict situations, and the circumstances that may have led to such actions, and identify any persons or groups responsible for such acts." The statement said nothing about holding such persons accountable under Sri Lankan criminal law or what other steps would be taken against those found to have been acting in violation of Sri Lankan or international law.

According to the government statement, the committee will consist of seven Sri Lankans, located in Sri Lanka and abroad, but will have no international involvement.

"Genuine government efforts with broad participation to promote reconciliation should be supported," Adams said. "But this cannot succeed without genuine and good faith efforts at accountability."

Sri Lanka has a long history of establishing ad hoc commissions to deflect international criticism over its poor human rights record and widespread impunity, Human Rights Watch said. Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has established at least 10 such commissions, none of which have produced any significant results.

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry appointed in November 2006 to investigate serious cases of alleged human rights abuses by both sides was a complete failure. A group of international experts, appointed to ensure the investigation was being conducted according to international norms and standards, resigned in 2008 because it had "not been able to conclude...that the proceedings of the Commission have been transparent or have satisfied basic international norms and standards."

In June 2009, Rajapaksa dissolved the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, even though it had conducted investigations in just 7 of its 16 mandated major human rights cases. The president has not published its report.

This week's announcement of a new commission came after weeks of attempts by the Sri Lankan government to prevent Ban from establishing a panel of experts. After Ban informed Rajapaksa on March 5 that the secretary-general intended to establish an expert panel to advise him on accountability in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan government fiercely protested the decision, denouncing it as "uncalled for" and "unwarranted."

Ban has yet to appoint any members to the panel or announce its terms of reference.

"Secretary-General Ban should not let Sri Lanka bully and manipulate him into abandoning justice for Sri Lanka's war victims," Adams said. "It is time for him to demonstrate that he is squarely on the side of the victims of Sri Lanka's long war."

© Human Rights Watch

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Rebuilding Sri Lanka's north: Winners and losers

Trampling weeds underfoot, a group of people bound excitedly into an abandoned cemetery for Tamil Tiger rebels, hack bricks off the once pristine tombs and throw them into a waiting van. They are, sighs a local Tamil autorickshaw driver resignedly, “Sinhala tourists”—members of Sri Lanka’s ethnic majority, collecting souvenirs to take back home in the south.

Since the main north-south highway reopened to civilian traffic in December 2009, thousands of such visitors have been streaming to Sri Lanka’s northern peninsula, eager to make up for lost time. Alas, reconstruction and ethnic reconciliation are not following in their wake as quickly as people had hoped.

For much of the past three decades the Tigers were locked in conflict with the government and inessential travel to the north was neither sought nor encouraged. Today, visitors are so numerous that owners of wedding and reception venues are turning their halls into dormitories on days when they are not booked for parties.

Jaffna is bustling. Banks and mobile-phone companies are rushing into a market that one sales manager describes as bursting with potential. A spokesman for an international bank that set up a local branch four months ago says its short-term targets have already been met—perhaps not surprising given that many families are supported by remittances from relatives who fled the fighting and settled abroad. Land prices have spiralled.

Around 35,000 people visited a recent trade fair, says Kanagasabai Poornachandran, president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industries of Yalpanam. More than 200 companies, 12 of them Indian, rented stalls, selling everything from spices, seeds, cosmetics and disco lights to loans, mobile-phone packages, construction equipment and tractors. After years of blackouts and rationing, Jaffna at last has a stable power supply. Still, in a reminder of the debilitating effect of the war, fewer than 20 stalls were selling native Jaffna fare. With no manufacturing to speak of, fishing and farming keep the peninsula going.

A year after the war, reconstruction in Jaffna is marred by the perception that the benefits are being reaped by the government and distant companies. Chinese firms are rebuilding the north’s main road network. A state-owned bank is financing Jaffna’s first three-star hotel. Young people lack the training employers want; joblessness remains a problem.

Nor has the end of fighting brought the lifting of military restrictions. Foreigners need defence-ministry permission to visit the peninsula. So do vehicles with commercial cargo. Far from the city centre, a local-government official, whose older brother—a senior rebel leader—was killed during the final days of the war, laments the dashed hopes of those who had expected development to take off. The war may be over but mindsets, it seems, are slow to change.

© The Economist

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Bail chance for detained journalist

by Chitra Weerarathne - The Attorney General told the Supreme Court yesterday that he sanctioned the granting of bail to freelance journalist Ruwan Weerakoon of the ‘Bottom Line’ newspaper and Associated Press.

Senior State Counsel Riyaz Hamza appeared for the Attorney-General, made a respondent in the fundamental rights violation application filed on behalf of Ruwan Weerakoon.

The petitioner had said that he was subjected to an illegal arrest and illegal detention, on the allegation of having facilitated Laxman Seneviratne to speak to General Sarath Fonseka on the phone.

The arrest was made by the CID on March 17, 2010.

Saliya Pieris appeared for the petitioner.

The Bench comprised Justice Shirani Tilakawardene, Justice K. Sripavan and Justice S. I. Imam.

The rights violation application will be called before the Court again on July 7.

© The Island

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Sri Lanka ex-army chief vows to expose war crimes

by Amal Jayasinghe - Sri Lanka's ex-army chief on Thursday vowed to "expose" any war crimes committed at the end of the country's civil war, raising pressure on the government, which has resisted calls for a probe.

The United Nations estimated that 7,000 civilians perished in fighting in the early months of last year when government troops overwhelmed Tamil Tiger rebels and ended their 37-year separatist campaign.

General Sarath Fonseka, who fell out with President Mahinda Rajapakse and quit after successfully crushing the Tamil rebels, said there were allegations that should be thoroughly and independently investigated.

"I will go out of my way to expose anyone who has committed war crimes," Fonseka told reporters. "I will not protect anyone, from the very top to the bottom."

Fonseka, who was taken into military custody in February, spoke with reporters inside parliament after being escorted to attend Thursday's session as an opposition MP. He won a seat at April parliamentary polls.

Fonseka said the government was afraid that he would expose anyone found guilty of rights abuses and was "hell bent" on silencing him.

"It is not patriotic to protect anyone who has caused injustices to Tamil youth," Fonseka said, adding that he himself was not personally aware of any instances of abuses but wanted all charges investigated.

Even as he spoke, the president announced plans to review the final phase of the battle against Tamil Tiger rebels, but stopped short of calling it a war crimes probe.

The president in a statement said he would appoint a commission to assess the lessons from the last stages of fighting and recommend measures to prevent a return to conflict.

"In assessing the lessons learnt from the recent conflict phase there will be the search for any violations of internationally accepted norms of conduct in such conflict situations, and the circumstances that may have led to such actions, and identify any persons or groups responsible for such acts."

It did not specifically refer to rights abuses and allegations that surrendering rebels were killed while thousands perished in the crossfire or were deliberately targeted.

Fonseka has accused the president's brother, defence secretary Gotabhaya, of ordering the execution of surrendering rebels, a charge he has vehemently rejected.

In an interview published Thursday, Gotabhaya said Fonseka was planning to use his parliamentary position to "fast track" and force an international war crimes investigation against Sri Lanka.

"Any Sri Lankan promoting an agenda which is detrimental to the country is nothing but a traitor...," said Gotabhaya.

"Traitors deserve capital punishment and no one should shed crocodile tears for them," he told the privately-run Island newspaper.

"Those bent on destabilising the country would now exploit Fonseka's parliamentary privileges to fast track their sinister campaign (for a war crimes probe)."

Fonseka was arrested shortly after contesting presidential elections in January and faces court martial proceedings for allegedly dabbling in politics before he quit as army chief in November.

"There were a lot of things said at the time (of the final offensive)," Fonseka said.

"If there is any international investigation, I will fully support that."

Sri Lanka has strongly resisted calls for an international probe, saying no civilians were harmed by government forces in its battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Sri Lanka insists it carried out a "humanitarian operation" to free Tamil civilians from rebel control, but the UN and Western nations, including the United States and EU member states, have insisted on accountability.


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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Sri Lanka to probe final war

A Commission to be appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa will probe violations if any, of internationally accepted norms of conduct during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka and the circumstances that may have led to such actions, and identify any persons or groups responsible for such acts.

The President’s media unit said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa will shortly appoint a Commission to report on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation with regard to the difficulties and troubled times that Sri Lanka had to undergo due to the terrorist inspired, manoeuvred and created conflict situation in recent years.

The President is of the view that the situation today provides an opportune moment to reflect on the recent conflict phase and the sufferings the country has gone through, in keeping with the common aspirations of all people in their resolve to have an assured era of peace, harmony and prosperity.

This inquiry stems from the President’s overriding interest in the need for restorative justice by the Sri Lankan people. Its findings will seek to take the Sri Lankan nation towards the common goals of a multi-ethnic polity, in a spirit of cooperation, partnership and friendship, learning the lessons from recent history to ensure that there will be no recurrence of such tragic conflict in the future.

In assessing the lessons learnt from the recent conflict phase there will be the search for any violations of internationally accepted norms of conduct in such conflict situations, and the circumstances that may have led to such actions, and identify any persons or groups responsible for such acts.

It is also expected that recommendations would be sought on the nature of compensation to be granted to the victims or their dependents who have suffered in this conflict situation, as well as the institutional, administrative and welfare measures already taken in the post-conflict phase, and should be further taken in order to effect reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation.

The legislative and administrative measures that may be necessary in order to prevent such situations in the future, and to promote national unity and reconciliation among all communities will also be part of the mandate given by the President.

The Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation will comprise seven eminent Sri Lankans from here and abroad and its Terms of Reference are to be Gazetted in the next few days, the President’s media unit said.

© Daily Mirror

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