Sajin, GL cause of grave commotion in South Africa

By Our Diplomatic Editor

The names of Sajin Vass Gunawardena and G.L. Peiris were to cause some confusion at the Kingsmead Stadium in Durban, South Africa last Wednesday. A Protocol Officer of President Jacob Zuma was running helter skelter trying to find out who was the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka. It appeared that the confusion was whether it was Peiris or Gunawardena?

It was at the state funeral of Radakrishnan (Roy) Padayatchie, Minister of Public Administration. A South African Tamil, he died whilst on an official visit to Ethiopia. The “director” at the funeral was Trevor Manuel, the longest serving Finance Minister of South Africa and now Minister in charge of the Planning Commission.

He required the name since the Sri Lanka External Affairs Ministry had sent two condolence messages -- one from Minister Peiris and another from Mr. Gunawardena. When the Protocol Officer could not come up with the answer, Minister Manuel read out both messages during the funeral which was televised nationally.

Also read out was a condolence message from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Other than South African dignitaries including President Zuma and a Minister from Kenya, the only other person to pay tribute to Mr. Padayatchie “on behalf of the Tamils of Sri Lanka” was Suren Surendran. He is the spokesperson of the British-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF).

Minister Manuel was to say he “worked closely” with the late Minister “on Tamil issues in Sri Lanka.” Later, President Zuma was to hug the GTF spokesperson as TV cameras focused on him.

It is not clear how the confusion over the designations of both Dr. Peiris and Mr. Gunawardena occurred. However, what is clear is that the External Affairs Ministry is unable to speak in one voice when it comes to even an official funeral abroad. Not surprising when Sri Lanka’s envoys abroad have now developed another fine art of conducting business with the Ministry of External Affairs through the public domain. Their so-called woes have become stories for websites long before mandarins in the EAM receive their written missives.

The External Affairs Ministry is riddled with in-fighting among officials split into two camps, one heavily backed by Mr. Gunawardena. Recently, Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka’s envoy to Paris, was summoned to Colombo for consultation after he had written a column to local dailies critical of some senior officials of the Ministry. Government MP Rajiva Wijesinha had also written a column naming those officials who were creating rifts in the ministry.

Ambassador Jayatilleka, however, has denied that the President asked him not to write to newspapers during a luncheon meeting he had with him and Minister Peiris.

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