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‘Diplolunacy’ in dealings with UN panel

Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative at the United Nations, Dr. Palitha Kohona, a former Foreign Secretary, wined and dined with the panel that probed alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. The panel hints that Dr. Kohona even agreed for them to visit Colombo to meet Government officials besides members of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

This is whilst the Government in Colombo berated UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for appointing the three-member team violating Sri Lanka's sovereignty and territorial integrity, but then, that probably is diplomacy, to wine and dine with your enemy. The three-members of the UN Panel are Maruzuki Darusman (Chairman), Jasmin Sooka and Steven Ratner.

Earlier, a Sri Lanka delegation led by Attorney General Mohan Peiris met the panel secretly on February 22. It has now become known that Dr. Kohona, who sought the meeting, had to ask Dr. Lyn Pascoe, Under Secretary General to keep him informed about this meeting. He feared he may not have been called upon to take part in the discussions. Our political commentary gives the details of this encounter.
With regard to the Panel's planned visit to Colombo, the sequence of events is given in an explanatory note. It is part of an Annexure to the panel's 196-page report. Here are edited excerpts:

The Panel first conveyed its interest in meeting with Sri Lankan officials shortly before the opening of the 65th session of the General Assembly. On September 17, last year, the Chair of the Panel, Marzuki Darusman wrote to the Sri Lankan Permanent Representative Dr. Palitha Kohona. He said that they have formally commenced work the preceding day and that it would be helpful to the Panel, "in the context of building sustainable peace", to engage with the Government, and especially members of the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission). After a tentative agreement by the Mission to a meeting between the Attorney General of Sri Lanka Mohan Peiris present in New York for the annual session of the General Assembly, and the Panel, the Mission later indicated that such a meeting would not take place.

On November 18, last year, Dr. Darusman sent another letter to Dr. Kohona referring to the earlier correspondence and expressing the interest of the Panel members to avail themselves of their presence in New York in early December 2010 to meet with Dr. Kohona. It was to discuss possible modes of engagement between the Panel and the Government, including the LLRC.

On November 23, last year, Dr. Kohona responded in writing inviting the Panel to lunch in early December to discuss the matters raised in Mr. Darusman's letter. Dr. Kohona informed the Panel orally at a meeting that the Government of Sri Lanka would be prepared to facilitate a visit to meet with the LLRC. When a member of the Panel noted that they would wish to meet "with a variety of Government officials in Sri Lanka to carry out its mandate," Dr. Kohona stated that he would convey that request to his Government. At a second brief meeting Dr. Kohona conveyed the "willingness of the Government to facilitate a visit, and it was agreed that the Panel would indicate the officials with whom it wished to meet, in addition to the LLRC, and the proposed dates for the mission."

Mr. Darusman sent a letter to Dr. Kohona in December last year noting that the lunch had been a good opportunity to exchange views and requesting "written confirmation of the offer to facilitate a visit and to engage with the LLRC, Government officials and others relevant to the Panel's work. That same day Dr. Kohona responded with a letter to Mr. Darusman stating that, following consultations his Government remained ready to facilitate a visit by the Panel. It was "for the purpose of making representations" to the LLRC.

Dr. Kohona replied to Mr. Darusman. He noted that the Panel was clear that its visit was in pursuant to its mandate as expressed in its Terms of Reference, rather than to make representations to the LLRC, and that the Panel looked forward to a mutual exchange of views with the LLRC. The letter further recalled that as discussed during the meeting of December 3 last year, the Panel wished to meet with LLRC as well as others from the Government and public sector. Enclosed in the letter was a list of named individuals in the Government of Sri Lanka with whom the Panel wanted to speak. It was the Panel's view that the responsibilities of the named persons were relevant to Sri Lanka's accountability mechanisms and processes.

The Panel did not receive a reply to this letter. Instead, on December 20, last year, Dr. Kohona sought a meeting with the Chief de Cabinet of the Secretary General, Vijay Nambiar at which he delivered a letter. It sought confirmation that the Panel would visit Sri Lanka only for the purpose of making representations to the LLRC. Mr. Nambiar said he could make no such commitment.

On January 7, 2011, the Panel, through Mr. Nambiar, sent an e-mail to Dr. Kohona noting that it was time for completing its report. It said that the Panel would be available for a visit to Sri Lanka in February. The same day Dr. Kohona sent a reply to Mr. Nambiar. He emphasised that the Panel was free to "make representations" to the LLRC "in terms of the Public Notice the Commission has issued on June 18, 2010. He said the Government does "not accept any mandates" or "terms of reference" which have not only been drawn up "unilaterally," but also constitute an infringement of the sovereignty of Sri Lanka."

This time, the Panel wrote to the Deputy Permanent Representative for Sri Lanka, Major General Shavendra Silva on January 13. It gave a set of topics on which the Panel would welcome an exchange of views with the LLRC and other Governmental officials in the course of the proposed visit. There was no reply. Mr. Nambiar wrote again to Dr. Kohona saying that the Panel remained committed to visit Sri Lanka or "engage in other ways with the relevant Sri Lankan authorities, and sharing a list of questions for discussion or response within three weeks. Mr. Nambiar also spoke on the telephone to Dr. Kohona to remind him of the Panel's deadline for completion of its work.

On Februry 16, 2011, following discussions between the Sri Lanka Mission, on the one hand, and the United Nations Department of Political Affairs, on the other, Dr. Kohona delivered to the UN a note confirming the visit of a delegation from Colombo to meet with senior Secretariat staff along with members of the Panel. The note also enclosed a communication from External Affairs Minister, Prof. Peiris.

The Sunday Times learnt that facilitating this exercise was a string of telephone calls and contacts Dr. Peiris had with Mr. Pascoe, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs.

On February 22, the Panel joined Secretariat officials for a meeting with "the Sri Lankan high-level delegation that consisted of Attorney-General Mohan Peiris, Foreign Secretary Chrysantha Romesh Jayasinghe, Dr. Kohona, Major General Shavendra Silva and an advisor to the Ministry of External Affairs."
That is how a top Sri Lanka delegation met with the Panel after declaring that its mandate violated the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

One is not sure whether to laugh or cry!! That is how foreign policy is conducted the Sri Lankan way these days.

Sajith playing safe

United National Party (UNP) co-deputy leader Sajith Premadasa dropped his close supporters when he chose to accept the new office as the main opposition's line of second rungers. He exclaimed he did so to ensure there was party unity. Of course, the question many in the UNP ask is whether he did not know that reality earlier.

Now he is weeping and wailing over his cronies being left out of the party's Working Committee by leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Party insiders ask whether the new courage for Premadasa has come from a secret letter UNP parliamentarian Rosy Senanayake wrote. She had asked Sajith to protest strongly at the next Working Committee.

If the protests do not work, she has said that all Premadasa loyalists should send in their resignations from the Working Committee. The moot point is whether Premadasa is in a mood to resign just weeks after being made co-deputy leader.

However, the young MP from Hambantota is said to be in a jubilant mood these days. This is after he made a telephone call to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to express his support and solidarity with the Government over the UN Panel's report on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka.

Naturally, the President was all smiles too, as many top UNPers are jostling to rally round him, some privately and others publicly.

Karu, Tissa to sort out UNP's London feud

The leadership tussle in the UNP is over. Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe handled it deftly. Whilst remaining leader, he helped Sajith Premadasa become a co-deputy leader. However, the division in the UNP branches overseas has not been resolved. In Britain, factions supportive of Wickremsinghe are still fighting the Premadasa faction. This is despite complaints by the Wickremesinghe group that they were not able to meet their leader when he made a stop over in Britain en route to Sri Lanka from Spain.

Now, UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake, who went to Panama for the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) meeting is stopping over in London. Together with UNP deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya, who is now on holiday in Britain, the duo are trying to meet the two groups and patch up their differences.

Fiery salvoes at meeting with diplomats

External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris summoned the Colombo-based diplomatic community on Thursday to brief them on matters relating to the UN Panel report on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka.

During the meeting, Attorney-General Mohan Peiris, who in addition to his duties is playing the role of Sri Lanka's diplomat-at-large, said the Panel's findings will be investigated by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

The remarks drew quick fire from the US Ambassador Patricia Butenis. She fired a volley of questions.
Dr. Peiris was soon on the back foot. He said it was up to the LLRC to decide what it wants to do and that the Government would not interfere. Dr. Peiris, no doubt, has his way with words, and managed to save the day!!.

Douglas woos the police

Minister Douglas Devananda had thrown a party for all Officers in Charge (OICs) of Police Stations in the Jaffna district last week. This was ahead of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's scheduled visit to the peninsula in the first week of May.

The price tag for the event, insiders say, is Rs 3,000 per head. The Minister used the opportunity to ask them to inform him in writing the grievances they face so that he could take them up with the President during his visit.

Many say that the move is a public relations drive. It is to win support for his party when the elections to the remaining local government bodies in the peninsula are held.

Key envoy did not get copy

Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative at the United Nations in Geneva, Kshenuka Senevirante, breathed fire and brimstone at the new Foreign Secretary Karunatilleke Amunugama.

It was all over her not receiving a copy of the UN Panel report on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. She lamented that copies had been sent to some other missions, but not hers. She had a point though, as Geneva is the nerve centre for any possible future human rights investigations against the country.

From No. 4 to nowhere

Despite all the hullabaloo in the state media and state-run and pro-government websites about President Mahinda Rajapaksa being the fourth most influential person in a Time Magazine poll, when the final list was released last Thursday, his name was not there. While the President led in the poll which was based on votes cast by on line viewers of the magazine's website, the final list as compiled by the editors of Time magazine made no reference to the President.

"An international conspiracy," said a muttering government official who spearheaded the campaign for his President. It was just another foreign affairs fiasco after all.

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