By Dushy Ranetunge
Wimal Weerawansa, who survived a fast on to death outside the UN compound in Buller’s Road, amidst voodoo style devil dancing, has accused the Sri Lankan High Commission in London of failing in their duty to warn President Rajapakse of the security risks of his recent trip to London.
The Sri Lankan High Commissioner to London is a political appointee, hand picked by the President and a former judge of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. Weerawansa is in effect raising questions about the Presidents judgement in selecting suitable personnel for these appointments.
London and the press in Colombo had widely raised the possibility of litigation in respect of alleged war crimes charges during a trip by Rajapakse to London.
After much deliberation and assurances from London, Rajapakse left for London as the considered opinion of the Sri Lankan state was that legal action by Tamil activists for war crimes could be successfully defended using the legal principle of sovereign immunity. The most that legal action by Tamil activists could achieve is to cause embarrassment.
The assessment of the security aspect of the visit is the responsibility of the Sri Lankan Defense Attaché in London, Brigadier Nirmal Dharmaratne, the former commander of the Special Forces. He would have submitted his assessment to the Defense Ministry under Gothabaya Rajapakse, before the Presidents departure.
Amongst the Presidents considerable entourage was Mrs. Kshenuka Seneviratne, who was shown on Channel 4 news, making a tactical withdrawal at the airport away from the gaze of the TV cameras. She was a former Sri Lankan High Commissioner to London and is presently assigned to the UN in Geneva. She would have also briefed the Sri Lankan government as well as the President of the risks that he would have been exposed to in London.
But incidents that took place from the moment that the President landed in London exposed the fact that they were all taken completely by surprise.
The combined knowledge base of the Sri Lankan establishment failed to assess the strength of protest that they would face.
A large hostile group of Tamils had gathered at Heathrow airport to give the Sri Lankan President a reception that he is not accustomed to.
The waving of the LTTE flag at Heathrow Airport by Tamil activists was a clear violation of Terrorism laws in Britain, where the LTTE remains a listed Terrorist organisation. The British police are mostly unfamiliar with the flag to take any action, and in some cases they chose to ignore it in order to manage the crowd. During May 2009, the LTTE flag was displayed openly opposite the British Parliament and the police chose to ignore it in order not to incense the volatile crowd.
On that occasion, the Tamil nationalist equivalent of Wimal Weerawansa conducted a death fast for their tribe outside the British House of Commons. Weerawansa’s death fast was for the Sinhala tribe, outside the UN offices in Colombo.
These are the parallel worlds in which the two tribes of Lanka agitate, one accused of being terrorists and the other accused of being war criminals. Both however, try to convince themselves and others that their leader is like Nelson Mandela or like the Americans and the British in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Both are equally ridiculous and are living in their parallel worlds.
This week, these parallel worlds short circuited, and the famous Oxford Union acted as the trip switch.
Other than the Presidential reception at London Heathrow, the respected Channel 4 news programme broadcast more horrendous footage alleging war crimes and this time the faces of soldiers as well as some of the victims were recognisable and a female partially naked victim was identified as a Tamil reporter.
Channel 4 News is respected in the West. In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala tribe does not like it as it has exposed things that they don’t want the world to see. The Tamil tribe likes it as they are more or less, silenced, as they feel “vulnerable” in Sri Lanka, as mentioned by the American Ambassador in Wiki leaks.
The Ambassador had also expressed an opinion that the Sri Lankan President and Sarath Fonseka are responsible for alleged war crimes.
Similar to the Tamil tribe, which ignored terrorism emanating from their society because they felt that it was for their greater good, Sinhala society ignores alleged war crimes. They want to shoot the messengers who publicise war crimes incidences, be it Channel 4, BBC, Al Jazeera, UN or anyone else. The strategy used is, if it is a local, he/she is branded a traitor, and if it is foreign, it must be pro-LTTE.
Then there are those Sri Lankan “experts” who said the first channel 4 tape broadcast was false, when the UN experts said that the tape was legitimate. Now that more of the tape has been broadcast and a victim has been indentified, the Sri Lankan “experts” stand somewhat exposed.
Those sitting on the LLRC may find the same fate of credibility in time to come, with their reputations exposed.
The Sinhalese want to forget the past and march on to a perceived glorious future filled with riches.
But the past has a habit of catching up with you. Incidents in London were a reality call, to wake up and smell the air.
Other than friends in China, Burma, Iran etc. the Rajapakse’s are globally isolated. Any politeness and hospitality that they receive internationally is due to the office that they hold.
The Sinhalese tribe has not yet realised, that unlike past Sri Lankan leaderships, loss of office would have serious implications to the present leadership. This has serious consequences on Sri Lanka’s democracy.
Rajapakse is trying hard to overcome his problem. The visits to NY and now London were charged with strategies to bring dissidents into the fold and unite, to overcome the unfortunate “status” his administration has acquired.
It can be done. But eloquent (Sinhalese opinion) speeches to an empty UN, or equally eloquent (Sinhalese opinion) speeches at the Oxford Union, now cancelled, is not going to take him to the Promised Land.
On Thursday, the Sri Lankan foreign Minister complained that the President had effectively been silenced, with the cancelling of the Oxford Union event. He was complaining that the Presidents eloquent (Sinhalese opinion) speech could not be delivered.
Eloquent (Sinhalese opinion) words have no value, especially when they come from those who seriously lack credibility.
To overcome his problem, which was in the first place created by him, Rajapakse needs to rise above politician and become statesman. He needs to seriously address the Tamil issue, he needs to restore democracy and more importantly credibility for Sri Lanka and for himself. Like what Mrs Bandaranayake did of the Manamperi case, he needs to ensure that those who committed war crimes are investigated and brought to trial. He needs to do so with international involvement and assistance (similar to the investigation of Chemmani mass graves) with great transparency to restore legitimacy and credibility in his regime.
Unfortunately for him, the first piece of serious legislation that he passed was the controversial 18th amendment, which was an erosion of democracy. Rajapakse has already kicked off his second term, on the wrong foot.
As the US Ambassador had correctly assessed, Democracy in Sri Lanka is a mirage in the horizon