Secretary Amunugama welcomed the statement of his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd commending the LLRC recommendations adding that this should be the attitude of the members of the international community if they wished a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka.
He said, ”Some blame our embassies for not countering the adverse propaganda. But our missions do their best, it’s just that this ‘best’ is not good enough to reach out to millions of people and thousands of law makers all over the world.
About Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva’s appointment to UN Secretary General’s advisory panel on peacekeeping and the protest lodged by UN HR Chief, he said.
“It is not Ms. Pillai who decides but the representatives of the Governments, that who should represent Asia. The Asian group which represent a set of very powerful Ambassadors have decided that Maj. Gen. Silva is the best person to represent them at this particular committee.”
Q: Maldives is in turmoil for the past few weeks following the resignation of Mohammed Nasheed, former President. A Considerable population of Sri Lankans work in the Maldivian hospitality industry. What is being done to ensure safety of the Sri Lankans living and working there?
A: We are in touch with our High Commissioner in Male as well as the Maldivian HC in Colombo. So far there are no reports of Sri Lankans being affected. We have directed our high Commissioner to liaise with the Maldivian Government to ensure their safety.
The Maldivian Government has assured that they will provide protection to Sri Lankans to continue with their professions, in Maldivian establishments and hotels.
Q: Most of the Sri Lankans are in the hospitality industry and they are not based in the mainland?
A: There are Sri Lankans in the mainland working in hotels and factories but so far we have not received anything to indicate that they have been affected.
As I mentioned, we have informed the Maldivian HC here, we are constantly in touch with him. We receive updates from our mission in Male informing the developments taking place in the capital as well as the situation of Sri Lankans.
Q: Will there be an evacuation plan if the situation do not improve in Male?
A: No. We have not come to that stage yet. I think so far Maldives is a safe place. There are some disturbing incidents but I don’t think it has come to a stage to merit an evacuation.
Q: There were indications in the statements by visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake and US Under Secretary for Civilian Security for Democracy and Human Rights Maria Otero that a resolution may be moved against Sri Lanka at the forthcoming UN Human Rights Sessions in Geneva?
A: It will not be to the best of interests of Sri Lanka if such a thing materialises at the UNHRC sessions. We informed our friendly countries and our international partners that there are a lot of other forums, that we can discuss this issue.
The issues they talk about are purely internal matters and we have explained extensively to the International Community what has happened during the humanitarian operations and then about post war development, rehabilitation process and reconstruction. And how we have rehabilitated the LTTE combatants.
The International community including their Ambassadors based in Colombo and the visiting parliamentarians from many countries including Canada, Britain, EU and Australia, are happy with the progress and our achievements. In fact they were shocked at the disparity between what they heard in their respective countries and the actual situation here. They expressed delight and surprise. Many of them travelled to Jaffna and other parts in the North.
Many of them met the press and expressed their feelings and impression of what they saw before their departure and some held further press conferences in their respective countries to inform what they have seen and the ground situation in Sri Lanka.
We know LTTE’s disinformation and misinformation campaign is very strong. They are meeting members of INGOs, law makers and politicians and feed them with a lot of misinformation. We want everyone who speak critical of Sri Lanka to visit here and see for themselves the actual situation on the ground. They can come and see, and then make an assessment. But drawing inferences based on unverified and unsubstantiated information is highly unethical.
On our invitation Canadian, British, EU and Australian Parliamentarians toured the country recently.
The LTTE remnants and sympathisers claim that the Government is doing a tailor-made program for the visiting delegates. I want to emphasise that External Affairs Ministry does not arrange any tailor-made trips to North. Many of the programs are being arranged by the respective embassies and High Commissions here. What we do, is assist them. Whenever there is a request to facilitate a tour, we provide protocol assistance to facilitate meetings with Government officials and Ministers.
Recently, over 60 ambassadors and representatives from New Delhi came down to attend Independence Day celebrations. We arranged a program on their request to take them to Jaffna on February 5. They wanted to speak to senior officials. I accompanied them to Jaffna. They spoke freely to people on the street. Jaffna is a busy town now. They went to Nallur temple and had lunch at Gnanam Hotel.
They witnessed how people get about their daily chores and how the agriculture and paddy farming is picking up, now that the LTTE is no more to terrorise the people.
Some of the Ambassadors were very vocal and criticised certain Western governments and media for being biased and giving wrong interpretation to the situation here.
It is unfortunate that many of those who criticised the Government show little or no interest to come down to see the truth.
Some blame our embassies for not countering the adverse propaganda. But our missions do their best, it’s just that this ‘best’ is not good enough to reach out to millions of people and thousands of law makers all over the world, or to compete with the well funded LTTE propaganda network that is working full time on spreading anti-Sri Lanka propaganda.
Q: Amidst all these adverse developments, the Australian Government last week defeated a motion against Sri Lanka, that was brought in by a Greens member, calling for the establishment of an international mechanism. It is reported that 11 members voted in favour of the motion while 30 voted against. How do you view this positive outcome in the Australian Parliament?
A: This shows the progress Sri Lanka has made is getting world recognition.
The LLRC report is an independent report done by a commission of inquiry. It has nothing to do with the Government. But some sections of the international community was expecting this report to be kind of biased. When they saw the recommendations of the LLRC, they were taken by surprise. The commission came out with a strong concrete set of recommendations.
Even before the LLRC report was tabled there was a meeting by the Amnesty International to discredit it and question the credibility of the commissioners.
This shows the prejudiced thinking and mindset of some these INGOs and certain members of the international community. When finally the recommendations were put out almost all the countries appreciated and commended the recommendations.
The latest one we got from Australia, The Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has made a special statement in Parliament. Two thirds of that statement is positive towards LLRC recommendations and the report. He has requested a time line and modalities of implementation.
LLRC commissioners did not limit their work to Colombo. They travelled around the country, listening to testimonies of people who were affected and caught up in the conflict.
Q: The LLRC report is submitted after an in depth and a transparent process in comparison to the report by the Darusman Panel?
A: The difference between Darusman report and the LLRC report is that Darusman report don’t reveal their sources and how they gathered information. There is no proof of evidence. They say it will remain closed for many years. It is like a fairy tale.
If the evidence is there, we could check if this information is true or not. That is very vital for the credibility of a report of this nature.
The LLRC report in contrast is based on direct witness statements and submissions of the people. The Commissioners have said, if someone wants to verify information, they are free to do so. It was a transparent process.
The fundamentals of the LLRC report is very strong but on the contrary the fundamentals of Darusman Report is very weak. The bottom line is that many countries have welcomed the LLRC report on a positive note.
Q: So do you think Sri Lanka will be supported by this positive thinking block of International community at the UNHRC if an attempt is made to bring in an adverse resolution against the country, just like they did in May 2009?
A: We are confident. Our effort is to convince the international community on what we have done. It has been two months since the LLRC report was tabled. We have done so much after the end of the war to make the lives of the affected people better. We have asked time to progress more. We will be able find ways and means to implement some of the LLRC recommendations.
No country has been able to implement a set of recommendations within two months. We are a democratic country.
The fundamentals of democracy is consultation. We have a strong Parliament. We have to discuss and consult the parties concerned on how best we could implement these recommendations. To identify the agencies that needs to be ‘muscled up’.
We don’t want to rush through implementation and then declare we have to retract due to certain impediments.
The first step towards implementation has been taken today (Feb 15). The Army Commander has appointed a Court of Inquiry to probe the observations made in the LLRC report. This is the thing that the critics cannot understand. We need time and space to continue with our domestic process. We want to work together with the International community in our goal to achieve a peaceful and prosperous country. This is our objective and the objective of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
This is what we have told our American friends. Sri Lanka and the USA have been old friends and good friends. We have our own differences but we share friendly relations.
Bringing in a resolution or supporting a resolution at the UNHRC is not the way of working together. If we have issues we must sit together and discuss ways to resolve them. This is the message that we have conveyed to them.
Q: UN Human Rights Chief Navaneetham Pillai has written to the UN Secretary General Ban ki moon about the appointment of Sri Lanka’s Deputy Chief of Mission in New York Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva to his peacekeeping advisory panel. I understand Maj. Gen. Silva was nominated by the group of Asian countries. In this backdrop what was the purpose of her protest?
A: I don’t want to draw inferences. She has different views for many things, particularly when it comes to things related to Sri Lanka. Appointment of Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva was not done by the Government of Sri Lanka.
Those who criticize it must understand that.
He is our Deputy Representative with Ambassador rank working at the Permanent Representative’s office in New York. He has been nominated by the Asian group. It is not Ms. Pillai who decides but the representatives of the Governments, that who should represent Asia.
The Asian group which represent a set of very powerful Ambassadors have decided that Maj. Gen. Silva is the best person to represent them at this particular committee.
Q: Many LTTE sympathisers and LTTE fronts/INGOs are going to join forces against Sri Lanka at the HR sessions in Geneva. Can’t Sri Lanka expose these LTTE figures so that state delegations will stop patronizing their agendas at the sessions to penalise Lanka?
A: Membership or observer status at the HRC cannot be taken at anyone’s behest. There is a clearly defined process. We have seen on many previous occasions, the LTTE sympathisers protest in front of the UN headquarters. This has little impact.
I think the international community is now aware of the LTTE tactics. You cannot fool them. They are quite aware of the true Sri Lankan situation. Many countries have commended the LLRC recommendations. Their representatives have visited Sri Lanka and seen the ground reality.
What the LTTE remnants are engaged in, is a business. It is really unfortunate that some innocent Tamils contribute to this. They spend so much of money on propaganda activities, but have they ever spent a penny to build a house, a school or a library for their kith and kin in the North and East – the worst affected, Pudumathalan?
Q: Deviating from the UN front to Iran. I read in the papers that Iran is prepared to continue supply of crude oil to Sri Lanka despite the US sanctions. India, one of the biggest buyers, has said they were going to continue oil imports. What is the policy of the Sri Lankan Government?
A: There are two types of sanctions against Iran. Economic sanctions by US and some specific sanctions by the UN. Sri Lanka has not taken a decision to change our policy towards Iran. But, in case if US sanctions affected Iranian exports, we are discussing ways and means to face the situation, drawing up contingency plans.
I am not updated on the decisions of the Petroleum Resources Ministry but we have not taken a decision to cut our oil imports from Iran.
Q: A series of offensive stamps with LTTE images surfaced in several countries ; France, UK, Germany and Norway. The respective countries have apologised but the damage is already done?
A: Just like they have been doing for many years, the LTTE is misusing democratic establishments and the freedom enjoyed in those countries to further their ideologies.
The governments have apologized and they will be compelled to be on the alert for such LTTE gimmicks in the future.
By Manjula FERNANDO