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Stephen Sackur checkmated Defence Secretary on several occasions during “Hard Talk” BBC interview

Jun 26, 2010 3:36:26 PM- transcurrents.com

By S.V.Kirubaharan, France

The recent BBC series of hard talk programmes on Sri Lanka presented by Stephen Sackur was well-received globally. This telecasting has shown the good, bad and ugly sides of Sri Lanka

The true stories about the return of the internally displaced people – IDPs, the present feelings of the Tamils, the reporting on demining, views expressed by the Defence Secretary, including about detained General Sarath Fonseka, the pathetic situation of the free media and the interview with Sunday Leader editor Frederica Jansz; the rehabilitation of former Child soldiers, the work of the English Teacher Bernadine Anderson and all the rest are very interesting and informative documentary.

Generally, interviews on television and radio and in newspapers not only give the point of view expressed by the individual but also cover several other aspects – such as evaluation and revelation of the truth behind lies which attempt to hide weaknesses and worse. TV interviews are an effective means of seeking opinion using body language and psychology.

During the total of almost one and half hours broadcasting time, it is interesting to watch the interview with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa who has a difficult task, and being a member of the Rajapaksa family, has the additional task of defending his own family.

Anyone who watched this interview can’t deny the fact that Stephen Sackur checkmated the Defence Secretary on several occasions. There were many instances when the Defence Secretary was desperate to express particularly strong feelings : “I don’t know why people are harping on these things?; very unfair; bogus report; these are LTTE propaganda; propaganda by the people against the government; don’t go by these people who are writing against; political game; allegation purely for their personal gain” and so on.

At one stage the Defence Secretary made the mistake of challenging Stephen Sackur to show him where newspapers had written against the President of USA and the Prime Minister of UK. But the ultimate reply by Stephen Sackur was that “when I criticise the government of Britain, I do not end-up with a bullet in the head!”.

Interestingly, when Stephen Sackur put forward certain questions, the Defence Secretary was very emotional and angry – leading anyone who knows body language and the rudiments of psychology to understand what the answers deep within, might be. For instance, the questions on the subjects of: the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunga; the fact that seventy five percent of the budget is controlled by the Rajapaksa family; War crimes and questions about the detained Sarath Fonseka. All these are good examples. Those who know about body language might like to have another look at this programme.

When Stephen Sackur asked about the power enjoyed by Rajapaksa’s family, the Defence Secretary replied: “…… if the people gives that – President was elected by the people, Basil Rajapaksa was elected by the people with a highest majority in this country with the highest preferential vote, Namal Rajapaksa was elected by the people with the highest percentage of preferential vote, Chamal Rajapaksa was elected by the people, so what, if the people want, so it be!”

Then on another occasion, the Defence Secretary said: “People of this country over and over again they are electing the President and electing this government, why? They think that they are doing the right thing.”

Carefully considering these answers, I have a question not only to the Defence Secretary but to anyone who agrees with his reply.

“So what…, if the people want?”

In the 1977 general elections in Sri Lanka, the people in the North and East overwhelmingly voted in exercise of, and gave specific expression to, their “Right to self-determination”. They consecutively voted in every general election for their political rights. This is the wish of the people in the North and the East. But what progress has been made to fulfil this wish of the people in the North and East? Can’t the Defence Secretary agree that he and his government are being undemocratic? In the last general election the people of the North and East voted, or in his terms “wanted”, the merger of the North and East. What are your answers to these valid questions?

Now let me come to another point about ‘hanging Sarath Fonseka’ and the accusation about War Crimes. The Defence Secretary said that “…..we will hang him, if he do that”. Eventually he told Stephen Sackur “don’t talk about him (Fonseka)…….”.

If Sri Lanka is truly a democratic country, where does the Defence Secretary obtain this special power to make such statements in public?

My next point is that being the Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka and being an American citizen, he is not only threatening a person who is in detention that he will be hanged, he also openly admits that he has sued the “Sunday Leader” for a billion of rupees with the motivation of closing down this news paper! This shows a flagrant abuse of power, which surely is an eye opener to the world!

I am neither a supporter nor a fan of General Sarath Fonseka. But when it comes to the media, there is a huge difference between the ways in which he and the Defence Secretary come across. Fonseka may have committed all the sins under the Sun, but he appears in front of the journalists and public, as a softly spoken saint, whereas the Defence Secretary confirms doubts and creates further new doubts.

If the Defence Secretary can say the aforementioned threats in a TV interview, one can imagine how much worse the things must be, that are said, and that happen, behind closed doors and in meetings among officials, trusted friends and relatives – including giving orders to the security forces.

Even talking about the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunga is considered by the Defence Secretary to be propaganda! There is no logic in such view. The Editor of the Sunday Leader, Frederica Jansz presents a clear picture of what has happened to their newspaper, both before and after the assassination of Lasantha. Importantly, she also refers to courageous journalism.

It was good to see the programme about the rehabilitation of former child soldiers. The English Teacher Bernadine Anderson gives an informative picture about their training and lessons. Brigadier Sudantha Ranasinghe who is in charge of the rehabilitation is rather bizarre though! When Stephen Sackur commented to him that “these (are) children who never spoke a world of Singhalese are now singing the National Anthem in only Singhalese”. Immediately the Brigadier’s reply was that “we have never heard in any country which has National Anthem sung in different languages!”

Brigadier you are utterly mistaken! In Switzerland, as there are four official languages, the original National anthem in German was translated into three other languages – French, Italian and Romansh. Also consider South African National Anthem which is sung in the five most widely spoken of the country’s eleven official languages – Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotha, Africans and English – “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika” (God/Lord bless Africa)

Anyway, I still remember in the 60s, the government demanded that the people in the North and East sing the National Anthem in Tamil – “Namo Namo Namo Namo Thaaye, Nam Sri Lanka……”. If I remember correctly, the translation was done by Pandithar (Poet) M. Nallathamby. If so, why are these Tamil rehabilitees forced to sing the National anthem in a language which they don’t know and is not familiar to them? On the other hand, the government claims internationally that Tamil is an official language in Sri Lanka!

In the last (14th) session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Sri Lankan Ambassador Mrs. Kshenuka Senewiratne spoke in the Council on 14th June 2010. The official UN press report of that session stated : “Sri Lanka shared the deep concern expressed about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories. Sri Lanka firmly believed that only meaningful negotiations would achieve the two-state settlement that was envisaged by all, putting an end to the Israeli occupation and culminating in the establishment of a sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian State for the realization of Palestinian people’s inalienable rights.

Therefore, it was an urgent need to put an end to all unlawful settlement activities, including the continued campaign of colonization that fragmented the Palestinian territories. That had also led to the displacement of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, destroying the economic, social and cultural fabric of that society. Israel should heed the call of the international community to lift the blockade, open the crossings, and end the regime afflicting the entire population of the Gaza Strip. Those actions had jeopardized all efforts to initiate a meaningful dialogue for peace. Sri Lanka called upon all parties to intensify their efforts in forging an early solution based on the two-state settlement envisaged by all, to establish a sovereign and independent Palestinian State” (UN Press release)


I am sure the Sri Lankan representatives must be aware that, as far as the government of Israel is concerned, the present Palestinian issue is a “terrorist” problem, much in the way that Sri Lanka labels the Tamil issue as a “terrorist” problem. In such a scenario, Sri Lanka is not practising itself, what it preaches to Israel.

Let us be honest to ourselves about the recently appointed local Commission, “Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission”. Will this commission deliver justice to the Tamils? I have met and participated in a few discussions in the UN forums in Geneva with some of the appointed members to this Commission. For a long time these members have been justifying the atrocities committed against the Tamils and lobbying internationally on behalf of the government. In such circumstances, how can one expect justice from this Commission? In fact, this is yet another international eyewash.

The Sri Lanka government representatives including the Defence Secretary come out with the pretext that the thirty years of war cannot be rectified within months or years. Well and good. But the government has readymade funds, manpower and time, to carry out rapid colonisation, planting of Buddha statues and opening Buddhist temples and promoting Sinhalese business enterprises in the North and East. Are these are the outcomes of the military victory?

It has become a motto or a slogan for every government representative to murmur that there are more Tamils living in Colombo than any other community. This is a racist remark by the same people who want the Tamils to consider themselves as Sri Lankans.

To see this in a real comparison, take the United Kingdom as an example. The British never say that there are more Scottish, (or Irish and Welsh for the matter) people living in London, even though Scotland was granted a separate parliament and devolution of powers and the last Prime Minister of UK was a Scot.

I take this opportunity to mention that, many are well aware that, a so called “expert on terrorism” has taken a new role, replacing Norway – “walls have ears”!

My last comment is that when I was about to write this article, some of my friends told me that “I may be digging my own grave”. As far as truth and justice are concerned, I won’t hesitate to bring anything to the eyes of the world. Everyone who comes into this world has to die one day. William Shakespeare, once said, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once”.