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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksha cracks under US/India pressure

· War veteran General Sarath Fonseka to be granted presidential pardon before the end of the month
· An action plan with time frames to be established of implementing the LLRC recommendations on a priority basis
· Consent agreement to be signed between the TNA and the Government

The Obama administration threatened Rajapaksha regime with possible actions in international forums such as in the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that could result in international war crimes investigation into alleged breaches of international human rights and humanitarian laws by government forces.

Following on Secretary Clinton’s letter to external affairs minister G L Peiris, senior members of the administration who are currently visiting Sri Lanka have indicated to the regime that the administration is now very serious in pursuing action.

We can exclusively report that the war crimes division of the State Department has revealed the existence of a voice recording of a conversation between Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksha and field commanders in which instructions had been given to kill all senior members of the LTTE even if they carried a white flag at the end of the war in May 2009. Although the existence of such a recording was speculated earlier by various Tamil Diaspora groups, this is the first time this has been shared officially by the US.

The mounting evidence against the regime and particularly against the Rajapaksha brothers has made the President to agree to demands of the US.

It is now a known fact of the existence of mobile text messages between Basil Rajapaksha, Dr Palitha Kohona and various foreign ministry officials in Europe and UNSG’s Chief of Staff about a possible surrender of senior LTTE members. It is also a known fact that the former TNA Member of Parliament for Ampara, Mr Rohan Chandranehru gave evidence to the Expert Panel of the UN Secretary General where he has implicated Basil Rajapaksha as one of those senior government officials who gave clear instructions to be passed to the surrendering LTTE members.

This US/India plan of action was brewing before Mr Krishna, India’s external affairs minister arrived in Colombo during middle of January. India has asked the US for one last chance to be given to President Rajapaksha to see whether he has the political will to act on his own in resolving some of these international obligations. However in the de-briefing post Mr Krishna’s visit a decision was made to pressure the President to show the seriousness of the situation his government and him personally face, internationally. With India on board and working behind the scenes with the US this bold initiative of Secretary Clinton started to roll in the last few days and weeks.

Stephen Rapp’s calendar appointments were changed to include a rushed visit to Sri Lanka. Although Marie Otero, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights and Assistant Secretary Blake were due in South East Asia in the first quarter as a routine trip, they were asked to include Sri Lanka in this trip. They both had to cancel a few pre-arranged engagements in Nepal and Bangladesh to include this short trip to Colombo.

These trips were arranged in haste to convince the Rajapaksha brothers that matters have now gone beyond tolerance limits in Washington and Delhi.

Once the next steps were agreed between Delhi and Washington, straight after Mr Krishna left Colombo, the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka demanded a secret meeting between the TNA and the Government delegation including external affairs minister Peiris, Nimal Siripala de Silva and another senior minister to come to an agreement on the political devolution process and its implementation. Without Gotabaya Rajapaksha in the country, President refused to accept or sign any agreement that were reached at these talks.

A source disclosed the mood at this meeting was as serious and the Indian High Commissioner was in no mood for G L Peiris’s lengthy technical arguments. He was blunt and more assertive wanting a consent paper drafted on the day. However, Mr Sampanthan has gone for the rescue of G L Peiris and has offered to draft the paper in a day or two.

At this point the State Department machinery kicked in formally through the US political attaché informing the external affairs ministry of the likelihood of a letter from Secretary Clinton and the visits that may be forthcoming by senior members of the administration. In almost an instruction kind of written note, the US Embassy requested the external affairs ministry to instruct named key ministers from the government to restrict travel and be available to meet the visiting delegates. Even President Rajapaksha had to slightly adjust his travel plans to accommodate the visiting US delegates.

The main objective of the US/India initiative it seems to free General Fonseka in the hope of building a formidable opposition to the current regime. In their judgement, with all the internal problems faced by both the UNP and the JVP, there will never be a strong opposition in Sri Lanka in the foreseeable future.

The US has advised Fonseka and his wife late last year not to seek for presidential pardon and that before Easter they will be able to mount pressure for his release. This enabled Anoma Fonseka to even publicly state very confidently that her husband will never seek a presidential pardon.

Over many late nights with his brothers in the last two weeks, the president has now agreed to a time table on implementing some of the recommendations.

As Dr Kohona argued in the Geneva meeting recently with Professor Steve Ratner and others, “regarding protection of victims, Sri Lanka is a small island. We cannot do much to protect them. It is not realistic to theorise protection like what happens in the US. Regarding the number of civilians killed, the LLRC does not accept the number suggested by the Government of Sri Lanka. They still say that it is unverifiable. Nobody is able to say how numbers are obtained and verified. Government of Sri Lanka is disappointed that the Panel of Experts went for higher numbers. It is similar to the case in Libya where numbers post-Gaddafi were never confirmed.”

President’s plan on implementation of LLRC recommendations will have similar to the above qualifications and conditions attached. Some of the recommendations will be delayed due to lack of funds.

Mahinda Rajapaksha is to make a televised address to the people of Sri Lanka before the end of this month, before the UN Human Rights Council meeting which starts on 27 February to explain why he has finally decided to give the war veteran General Sarath Fonseka a presidential pardon. He will make it sound like he was only practicing grassroots democracy, justice and being a leader with Buddhist values he wants to strengthen what our motherland has been built upon since independence.

Next few days and weeks will be interesting to watch how the super power and the regional super power force the hands of the president to dig his own grave.


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