The report of the UN Advisory Panel was finally released and the government moved into top gear to get the country behind the regime. The government informed the state media of a press conference on Thursday last week. The Ambassador for Russia in Sri Lanka was agreeable to grant an interview against the Ban panel report. Yet when media heads questioned as to why the Chinese Ambassador would not grant an interview, the government came out with a gem of an explanation. The excuse was that the lady ambassador could not speak English. The media heads were dumbfounded as to why a translator could not have been used.
The silence of the Chinese has disturbed a section within the government. However it is expected that the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations will be the body before which the panel report will be placed calling for ratification of an investigation into war crimes by end May 2011. This is in order to bypass the Security Council of the UN. The government is yet to find a way out of this move.
It was Basil Rajapaksa who was the lynch pin between the government and the international community and particularly so in Indo-Lanka relations in the past. But since the general elections of May 2010 he has strangely been silent in this sphere of activity. The reasons are unknown and is yet a closely guarded secret. An English daily had reported that Basil was against the signing of a joint statement between President Rajapaksa and Ban Ki-moon when the latter did visit Sri Lanka after the war had ended but the President ignored his views and went ahead. The news report further added that Ban had used this very statement to his advantage. The implication was that in ignoring Basil’s advice the government had got into deep trouble.
The Re-entry of Basil
Meanwhile, the international media at numerous times have drawn attention in their reports to the role played by Basil in the “white flag” drama. They had reported that the LTTE leaders wishing to surrender during the last stages of the war had been in touch with Basil as the conduit between the UN and the government.
Be that as it may, in a surprise move last week, Basil took over the campaign to handle the Ban panel report, under his wing. Many were surprised at this turn of events. Though it was the intention to use today’s May Day Rally to target Ban, as earlier decided by Mahinda Rajapaksa, the decision to call the report one authored by the UN, was vetoed by Basil. He has advised that this be called the “Darusman” report. The intention is to avoid getting into a conflict with the UN at this stage. The rally itself may show whether the target is yet going to be the UN or the shift suggested by Basil.
When Gotabaya met the Russian Ambassador recently the latter had stated that this report was one which was forwarded to the Secretary General of the UN to advise him, and therefore, not a report of the UN. He had stated that it would be embarrassing to such countries who would be likely to support Sri Lanka to do so, if indeed a war crimes investigation was to commence when Ban and the UN were constantly being attacked by the Government of Sri Lanka. It appears that India too is of the same opinion. Political analysts deduce Basil’s entry into the arena at this stage is at the behest of the Indians.
Though Basil advised the President to go beyond the 13th Amendment after the war, the President did not heed his advice. Observers feel that Basil has been out of favour since this suggestion.
India is between a rock and a hard place where war crimes allegations against Sri Lanka are concerned. The former head of the UN had hinted that other nations were involved indirectly with war crimes allegations in Sri Lanka, a reference believed to be aimed at India. The government did allow sections of the media from India into the theatre of war but they are deemed to have been selective in their reporting. Further to this, the Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee made a speech in the parliament of India, at the time the LTTE was cornered into a thin strip, explaining the situation of the civilians within the “no fire zone”, which was believed to be on information given by the Sri Lankan government. The UN panel report refers to this being a cover up by the Sri Lankan government. The international media questions whether the Government of Sri Lanka misled Mukherjee or on the other hand did he cover up for Sri Lanka?
Meanwhile, the opposition in India the BJP, together with the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi, his opponent Jayalalitha and some civil organisations have urged the Indian government to support the UN investigation. The American and British governments have given the nod for investigations into the report but the Indian Foreign Ministry is yet studying the report and has not made any statement. It appears that the Indian position is complex at present.
Sources within the UN state that the panel report was seen by the Indian permanent representative at the UN even prior to the Sri Lankan government setting eyes on it. Recall that Ban has Nambiar in his organisation. It is believed that Nambiar had stopped the report being published until the Tamil Nadu state elections were completed. An anonymous Sri Lankan government spokesperson had made an inspired leak that the Indians were playing Jekyll and Hyde where the panel report was concerned. The implication of the leak was that the Indians were supportive of the panel report covertly yet showing support for Sri Lanka on the surface. The Indian report suggests that they would in consultation with Sri Lanka initiate action on the suggestions made in the report. This seems to be the Indian position at present.
13 plus comes up
Other analysts opine that the Indians would use this opportunity to force the Sri Lankan government to go beyond the 13th Amendment which has been their recommendation for a long while. They have yet to state whether they accept or reject the panel recommendations. It could be interpreted that India has accepted the report when she states that they would discuss this with the Sri Lankan government. Yet another school of thought feels that India would study the report, get the acceptance of the Sri Lankan government and move to have the allegations investigated.
It appears that the government has placed too much faith in Ban’s statement where he said that he does not have the power to investigate the allegations made in the report, though he feels it should be. Ban’s statement coming in the immediate aftermath of his journey to Russia may have had some bearing on this response. This panel according to Ban was tasked with a specific mandate. It was to advise him. However it has now turned into a report by Ban Ki-moon to the UN.
Ban Ki-moon the Diplomat
Similarly, he did promise the Government of Sri Lanka, that he would not publish the report of the panel. Yet, he has done so. It appears that he did try to please the government when he said that he had no power to investigate such report. The Americans and the British have supported the report. This is an indication that the necessary power to investigate too would be extended by them.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s next move appears to be to send a specially appointed team including members from the opposition to engage the UN in order to scuttle the report. Ranil, will not back the government in an overt fashion, though Rajapaksa has requested his support. He would not wish to rub the USA and the Western block the wrong way by doing so. He has benefited from non governmental organisations such as the International Democratic Union, including foreign junkets and aid for the party. Support for the government will not go down well within this group.
Recall, it was Wijayadasa Rajapaksa who was relied upon by Ranil to advise him to appoint a fresh working committee to the UNP and in doing so negate the interim committee that was in place. It was also his advise that gave Ranil a handle to avoid appointing Ranjith Madduma Bandara as the national organiser and thereby seemingly violate the party constitution.
And when Wijayadasa made a public statement against the Ban panel report whilst requesting a meeting with the Secretary General of the UN, party seniors felt that this was a ploy by Ranil. They also feel that it was on Ranil’s advice that Wijayadasa met with Mahinda Rajapaksa. When Wijayadasa said that he would be making a statement it was Rajapaksa who facilitated the support for this through the local media.
It would be natural to assume that Wijayadasa Rajapaksa would be included in an all party team, if and when Rajapaksa decides to send a delegation to meet with the UN. Yet, when the party seniors did question Ranil on the statement by Wijayadasa, it was the customary answer they received. He had informed them that Wijayadasa did send him a report of his statement in addition to informing him that he would meet with President Rajapaksa.
Be that as it may, it is reported that it is via Basil that Ranil is engaged in discussions with the government on this issue. Basil’s re-entry into the arena once again is due to this very reason. Basil in turn has kept the President informed of his discussions with Ranil. Basil has said that the advice given by Ranil was very useful. He has told Rajapaksa that Ranil’s advice was for the government to oppose the Ban panel report at all cost. The nexus between Basil and Ranil on the Ban panel report has been the reason to get the younger Rajapaksa back into the forefront of the government. It may even bring about a meeting between Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil in the near future. Watch this space. The President’s support to Ranil during the UNP leadership tussle has not been futile.
The UNP intra party squabble is far from over. It has now turned into a cat fight between two NGOs of German origin. It was during President Premadasa’s time that the German NGO Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), began extending support to the UNP. This organisation supports social democracy and is in line with the policies of the UNP. It was however during Ranil’s leadership and a subtle shift of the party to neo liberalism that the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung began supporting the UNP.
This organisation has a liberal view of religion and sexuality. The leader of the Free Democratic Party of this outfit is an outspoken member of the gay community. Though the seniors of the UNP had said that an association with this NGO is thereby not suitable, Ranil did not take much notice. Ranil used a party foundation in Deniyaya electorate where his close friend Sagala Ratnayake is the organiser, to channel funds from this NGO to MPs who were favoured by him. So, when Matara MP Buddhika Pathirana opposed Ranil during the leadership issue, the lady in charge of this organization in Sri Lanka had read the riot act and threatened to cut off support thus far extended to him. The party insiders suspect it was the same lady who nudged Manusha Nanayakkara to defect from the UNP.
Sajith had complained to the FES about this turn of events. He felt that the other German Foundation was extending support to those opposed to him. It was the view of the FES that their support extended to the UNP was on the basis of policies and not dependent on an individual who held the leadership. However the lady holding the reins at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation through Sagala Ratnayake advised that inspired leaks be initiated through the media against the FES on the basis that this arm was supporting the ouster of Ranil. Accordingly, at a discussion held between Ranil, Treasurer Kapukotuwa and Sagala Ratnayake, the issue of FES supporting the ouster of Ranil was viewed with alarm. This was duly reported in the press.
The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung responded, “We have been in Sri Lanka for many years and we are transparent. Anyone is free to check our finances. We have helped many parties depending on the programmes”. The head of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation has complained to the German Ambassador but yet advises Sagala to continue the fight against the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung has had to reply refuting these allegations.’’
Ranil – Sajith square off
Meanwhile Sajith met with members of the UNP reforms committee last Tuesday. Joseph Michael, Kabir Hashim and Lakshman Kiriella were present. He complained, “Appointing a new working committee outside democratic norms was only one flaw. But the party continuing to target the reformists will break the unity built at the early stages.’’ He appealed to them to take some action to safeguard the unity of the party. He went on further to state that since the day that Ranil secured his leadership he had done little to lift the party but spent all his energy to target the reformists.
This group took Sajith along with them to meet Ranil the very next day. The meeting was held at the Leader of the Opposition’s Office in the parliamentary complex. Sajith ticked off his fingers recounting each action by Ranil which was destabilising the party. Ranil was unmoved. Sajith suggested that the women’s arm of the party should be led by Thalatha Atukorale but Ranil was in favour of Shanthini Kongahage. Ranil said that he would meet the reformists individually prior to including them in the working committee. It was one reformist who said that Ranil was trying to bait them with this ploy.
Fresh battles seem inevitable when the new working committee meets on May 2. The national organiser’s post will spark this. This position is to be filled at this meeting. Politics within and without Sri Lanka is going to be on the boil during the coming weeks.