Trade & Aid
By Paneetha Ameresekere – Business Editor
The avalanche of high profile visitors from the U.S.A., U.N. and Japan to the island last week was seemingly more than coincidental.
Those were visits made by the Special Assistant to the U.S. President and Senior Director for Multilateral and Human Rights of the National Security Council (N.S.C.) Ms. Samantha Power as well as by N.S.C.’s Director for War Crimes, Atrocities and Civilian Protection David Pressman; U.N. Under Secretary General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe and Yasushi Akashi, Japan’s peace envoy.
They coincide with allegations of war crimes committed by the Mahinda Rajapksa Government in the final days of the war and pressure by the international community on the Government to investigate such alleged atrocities.
The Government has seemingly yielded to those pressures by appointing a commission to investigate such, whilst rejecting an international probe over those charges.
Those missions may also have to be looked at in the context that the U.S.A. is among Sri Lanka’s top two export markets, the other being the E.U. which has threatened to withdraw the G.S.P.+ duty free concession by August unless Colombo initiates such a human rights probe-the E.U. is also Sri Lanka’s largest tourism generating market; while Japan has been Sri Lanka’s single biggest donor after 1977.
Those meetings have also been made in the backdrop of General Sarath Fonseka, the former Army Commander who led the forces to victory in its 26 year war with the terrorists, but has since being languishing in jail on court martial charges after being defeated by Rajapaksa in the January Presidential elections, much like Myanmar’s political prisoner Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who has also been incarcerated (for several years) by its military junta.
Myanmar has been declared a pariah nation by the international community because of this arrest and is thus facing international sanctions.
So the seriousness of such visits cannot be under-estimated. Colombo has to walk a tight rope, otherwise its lifeline of aid, trade and tourism may be under threat. It will have to produce credible results in the backdrop of those probe calls. Resisting such pressure does not solve the problem and the Government now knows that.
Brave words won’t get the country any concessions.
The possible way forward may be to give Fonseka a Presidential pardon. Such a move may place the international community which has been baying for Colombo’s blood on the backfoot.
Appeasing the international community on war crimes is the other matter. The other day British Premier David Cameron made a public apology in the House of Commons for the massacre of 13 peaceful Roman Catholic demonstrators in Londonderry, Northern Ireland by British troopers some 38 years ago in 1972.
Rajapaksa, if he is willing to come down from his pedestal and place his country first, even before his family or anyone else, and make a confession, that there may have had been civilian deaths in the final stages of the war, that may make a world of difference as far as the international community is concerned, without blaming such deaths on collateral damage, as the Americans are quick to say, when such atrocities are committed by their troopers in either Afghanistan or Iraq, or in other troubled spots in the world.
That takes the mind of this reporter back to some 23 years ago when late President J.R.Jayewardene was interviewed by B.B.C. over the Tamil problem, where he took the blame upon himself, and himself alone, and not on his Government, nor on anyone else, for the cause of this conflagration which raged over this island for 26 long years since 1983.
Leadership is not about being in the forefront in good times only. True leadership is where one is prepared to go to the fore even during those times when the going gets tough and being humble enough to be prepared to take the brickbats and criticism as well, even after the rest of your supporters have had deserted ship, and you have to stand all alone to take the blame.
Rata Perata was the slogan of Rajapaksa’s U.P.F.A. coalition of parties when facing the General Election in April 2004, to be superceded by the Mahinda Chinthana 1½ years later in the Presidential Elections of November 2005, with the promise of making the lot of the citizens of this country better if elected to power.
One goal has been achieved, i.e. the victory over the war on terrorism, the economic battle is the next, the victory of which lies in the hands of the President and of his Government, as to how it approaches the problem of accountability over alleged war crimes, charged by the economies of the country’s major trade, aid and tourism markets,seemingly being the solution. Country before self and family, or for that matter anyone else, should be Rajapaksa’s credo, in these difficult times.