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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

South Africa’s envoy lies about meeting with Colombo-based diplomats amid secrecy and delay in Ramaphosa mission

Geoff Doidge

However, High Commissioner Doidge claimed that no such meeting had taken place and dodged questions posed to him by the Sunday Times. “We don’t discuss our initiatives with others. This is a matter between the Sri Lanka Government and the Government of South Africa. There is no reason for us to discuss such issues with the diplomatic community. We have no reasons at all to discuss them and there was no such meeting.”

What Doidge claims, to use diplomatic parlance, is a terminological inexactitude or in common terms, a blatant lie. High Commissioners do lie for their country when abroad but not so outrageously. He did brief the Colombo based diplomatic community on April 17. Why then is he denying it? Whatever the reason is, Pretoria’s envoy in Colombo does not want the Sri Lankans to know that President Jacob Zuma’s Government is pursuing a reconciliation initiative in Sri Lanka. Towards this end, they do not want Sri Lankans to know even the Colombo based diplomatic community is being briefed. Is that a secret agenda of the Pretoria Government or only that of High Commissioner Doidge? One need hardly say that previous initiatives were destined to doom because of the processes lacking sufficient transparency. Here is the High Commissioner of South Africa refusing to admit that he briefed Colombo-based envoys on his country’s peace and reconciliation process. He has thus begun an exercise which would lead to suspicions and conspiracy theories. And that does not, like the South African initiative for peace, help the Sri Lanka Government.
It is not only the Colombo-based envoys who took part in Doidge’s briefing. A delegation from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was also present. It was headed by TNA leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan. He is now away in India for medical reasons. M.A. Sumanthiran who took part in the event told the Sunday Times, “Yes, we did take part in a briefing on South Africa’s peace initiative at a private location. Besides our leader, others who took part were Selvam Adaikalanathan, Mavai Senathirajah and myself.” He said that Sampanthan also gave a briefing on the TNA’s position vis-à-vis the South African initiative. HC Doidge, he said, answered questions raised by envoys on his country’s initiative. The Sunday Times learns when the South African initiative gets under way, Pretoria will ask both the Government and the TNA to name their principal envoys to the dialogue.
According to Sumanthiran among the envoys who were present were those from the United States, France, Germany, Switzerland, India, Japan and Russia. He said that some 15 envoys took part and the event ended with a dinner hosted by Doidge. However, there were no representatives either from the UPFA Government or the main opposition United National Party (UNP).
Despite Doidge’s briefing, the planned Colombo visit by special envoy Ramaphosa, billed for later this month or early June, is likely to be further delayed, according to diplomatic sources in Colombo. This is not only in view of the South African elections on May 7 and its outcome. There is speculation whether Ramaphosa would end up as a cabinet minister. Added to that are some disturbing developments in South Sudan. Ramaphosa was also named special envoy to South Sudan by President Zuma. There were fears that the newly emerged nation was sliding into genocide amidst fears of hunger and malnutrition. The unrest broke out last year after President Salva Kiir foiled a coup attempt by his Vice President Rick Machar. The unrest took an ethnic turn after Machar was sacked. Kiir’s Dinka tribe is fighting Machar’s Nuer tribe.
The strife in South Sudan also saw a visit there by the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay. Back in Geneva now, she is reported to be busy with her officials who have returned after Easter vacation, to formulate matters relating to the international investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. According to diplomats in Geneva, an official announcement on such an investigation is not expected until late May. This has raised concerns among some of the countries that backed the resolution that matters have not moved forward for more than a month and may extend to a further month since the Human Rights Council resolution was adopted. Yet, diplomats in Geneva say Pillay had told officials that she wants to see the investigative mechanism in place and moving before she goes on leave prior to retirement sometime in July. They say Pillay is now consulting the “OHCHR family” and has said she had twin objectives. One was to have a transparent process and the other to get the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate.
However, President Rajapaksa is steadfast in his position that Sri Lanka would not extend any cooperation since it did not recognise such a process. Yet, a Government dignitary was in the United States last week making informal contacts with influential personalities there including a one-time senior defence official. The Government is under pressure from some friendly quarters overseas to initiate a domestic mechanism for a probe into alleged war crimes. These quarters hold the view that the Government should not treat the UNHRC move lightly in view of the many implications it portends. In fact a subtle advertising campaign towards this had got under way. The advertisements carried the views of US senators, who had been lobbied by a public relations firm on behalf of the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington, to move a joint resolution. In that, they called for a domestic inquiry among other matters.
This has found space in full page advertisements in the media, paid for by state backed concerns. They carry the portraits of the Senators and the calls they have made. However, influential sections in the UPFA Government are opposed to the move to begin a domestic inquiry. One of them pointed out that such an initiative would only place the Government in the dock for it could be argued it had not acted earlier. Moreover, he pointed out that such a move would also cast strong doubts on the military inquiries already initiated.
The Government’s official position now is that the Military Courts of Inquiry have conducted investigations into alleged war crimes. A UN official in Geneva said: “A strongly credible domestic inquiry will only help the international investigation.” The help of a friendly country has also been obtained to examine matters arising from some aspects of the US resolution. A final decision on the matter, one Government source said, would hinge on Pillay’s announcement about the international investigation.

From the Political Column of the Sunday Times


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