By Kalana Senaratne
Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, President of the Patriotic National Movement (PNM), recently leveled a serious accusation against the LLRC. In an unexpected manner, this has caused some embarrassment, I believe, to both Dr. Amarasekera and Prof. GL Peiris, Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs. The reason for this embarrassment is a peculiar one; for it is not only the nature of the accusation, but the inability of Dr. Amarasekera to clarify the real name which he dropped during the course of PNM’s now controversial press briefing, which has caused much embarrassment.
It is the name ‘GL Peiris’ that the BBC-Sandeshaya heard being used by Dr. Amarasekera; hence the report titled "Sri Lanka war panel ‘pro-LTTE’" (dated 24 December, 2010). The report states the following: "Sri Lanka’s foreign minister has accused some members of the presidential panel investigating the war of being pro-Tamil Tigers, a Sinhala nationalist organisation affiliated to the government claims. Chairman of the Patriotic National Movement (PNM) Dr Gunadasa Amarasekara said Foreign Minister Prof GL Peiris advised him not to appear before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)."
The report goes on to point out that Dr. Amarasekera, in the course of the press conference, said the following: "I told Prof GL Peiris that we would testify before the LLRC. Then the minister asked me why you should testify, there are some members who are against us …"
If one listens to the precise words used by Dr. Amarasekera, one would note that Dr. Amarasekera did make the accusation that there are some within the LLRC who are sympathetic towards the LTTE (Koti hithawaadeen). Yet, having stated so, the name that he drops does not seem to be that of Prof. GL Peiris (as the BBC-Sandeshaya reported), but rather that of Prof. GH Peiris, the well known academic and leading social scientist. What is also clear is that Dr. Amarasekera, does not use the word Emethi thuma (i.e. ‘then the minister asked me…’ as stated in the BBC-Sandeshaya report above). Instead, the word used is mahathmaya.
The controversy has led to the issuance of a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs. In that, the Ministry points out that Minister Prof. GL Peiris "had not had any conversation with Dr. Amarasekera within the last year." (Media release, dated 27 December, 2010). Dr. Amarasekera, in response to the BBC-Sandeshaya report points out in a media release that the report is a "fabricated news item" and that "Prof. GL Peiris neither made any claims on the matter nor has had any conversation with me in the recent past." Interestingly, or rather unfortunately, he does not clarify or state as to which ‘Peiris’ (GL or GH?) he referred to during the press conference. This, he could have easily done.
Yet, the more important or critical issue is not that. The critical issue is the accusation leveled by Dr. Amarasekera, that the LLRC is comprised of ‘pro-LTTE’ elements; which unfortunately is both amusing, and serious.
It is ludicrous, or even amusing, in that what certain international human rights organizations have been stating for quite sometime is precisely the opposite: that the LLRC is largely made up of those who defended the activities of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces during the last stages of the armed conflict. So, while groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group have shown concern because they feel that there are members in the LLRC who are ‘anti-LTTE’, Dr. Amarasekera’s PNM is worried that the same LLRC contains some who are ‘pro-LTTE’.
In a curious way, the LLRC has suddenly emerged (going by the statements made by these respective groups) as one which has a very healthy balance of anti-LTTE and pro-LTTE members! Dr. Amarasekera should have substantiated his accusation, for it is a serious one.
Moreover, on a more serious note, the attack leveled by the PNM and Dr. Amarasekera suggests other things too. If the name referred to by Dr. Amarasekera during the press conference is that of Prof. GH Peiris (as this columnist tends to believe), and if the views expressed by Dr. Amarasekera are views which are endorsed by Ministers such as Wimal Weerawansa since the PNM is an organization ‘affiliated to’ Minister Weerawansa (as the BBC-Sandeshaya report states), the accusation leveled by Dr. Amarasekera suggests that a significant and influential segment of the government has strong reservations about Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister, Prof. GL Peiris.
In fact, certain statements made by Dr. Amarasekera during the press briefing can be interpreted in a way that strengthens this assertion (i.e. about there being elements sympathetic towards the LTTE even within the Ministry of External Affairs, about the recent appointment of the ‘Monitoring MP’, and the skeptical tone in which the meeting between Minister Peiris and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is referred to).
This is also clear if one goes through the very important and illuminating study of Prof GH Peiris, titled Twilight of the Tigers: Peace Efforts and Power Struggles in Sri Lanka. In that, Prof. GH Peiris engages in an excellent and constructive critique of the administration of former PM Ranil Wickremasinghe and the peace negotiations carried out by his administration.
The author points out, for instance: "The general impression conveyed by the entire exercise in direct negotiation was that GL Peiris, the head of the government delegation, despite his scholarly erudition and extraordinary communication skills, was no match to the overbearing personality and polemical skills of his counterpart, Anton Balasingham, who, as it turned out, was amply aided in his antics by the lax approach adopted by the Norwegian facilitators of the talks. Minister Peiris was handicapped by his prim persona and his preoccupation with protocol, and was seldom agile enough to pre-empt or counter Balasingham’s carefully calculated manoeuvres" (at p. 98-99). But, today, the question is: does the past of Prof. GL Peiris still haunt certain influential figures within the government?
If it does, what will be the future of Minister Peiris as Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister?
Another unfortunate outcome of the accusation leveled by Dr. Amarasekera is the following and obvious one. Dr. Amarasekera and the PNM seem to have reminded the people, beforehand, that the final report of the LLRC will be rejected and be termed one which furthers the interests of the LTTE, if it contains any serious recommendations which run contrary to the views of the PNM. For instance, how would certain sections within the government (attached to the PNM) respond if the final report of the LLRC contains very important and useful recommendations concerning the improvement of Sri Lanka’s human rights investigation and inquiry mechanisms?
Was Dr. Amarasekera’s allegation a pre-emptive attack, intended to send the above message to the LLRC?
The year 2011, which has just arrived, will shed more light on these matters.