What do Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and our yahapalanaya leaders have in common? A wall of silence that is what it is! When Myanmar’s military turned its guns on a community that has long been considered outcasts and denied any semblance of nationhood and went on a burning spree hand in [...]


Mangala did what others should have done


What do Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and our yahapalanaya leaders have in common? A wall of silence that is what it is! When Myanmar’s military turned its guns on a community that has long been considered outcasts and denied any semblance of nationhood and went on a burning spree hand in glove with Buddhist hardliners, tens of thousands of Rohingyas fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.

It is well known now that a major humanitarian crisis had developed on our doorstep. While the world was crying out for help as it did when thousands of fleeing refugees from North Africa were dying to reach safety on European shores, Aung San Suu Kyi, that angel of peace and compassion, remained silent for days over the plight of the people to whom she had promised reconciliation.

Rohingya refugees pouring into Bangladesh with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

For days nothing was heard from Myanmar’s civilian leader who the west had embraced for decades as the one who had the popular support to turn Myanmar around and establish democratic governance.  Eventually when she did speak there was no condemnation of the perpetrators of what the world was beginning to identify as brutal ethnic cleansing. Nor were there any words of compassion, sympathy and hope for the victims who were pouring into Bangladesh with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

While this tragic drama was unfolding to the Northeast of us, a sub plot was being played out in the outskirts of Colombo. Some 30-odd Rohingya asylum seekers, mainly women and children, accommodated in a safe-house by the UNHCR since April this year suddenly came under attack by a mob led by Buddhist monks (one presumes so as they were in saffron robes) who breached the gates and threatened the inmates with violence.

They had finally to be moved to the Boossa detention centre for their safety. Was our yahapalanaya government that is quick to preach ahimsa, metta and karuna moved to utter a few words of sympathy for the victims and prevail on the forces of law and order to act promptly? The silence of the government was deafening.

One must surely be thankful for Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera who swiftly stepped into the breach. It was not Minister Samaraweera’s call – the Media Minister has no real role in this – yet he did what others should have done.

In a video statement he said “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the attack against the Rohingya refugees who were under the care of the UNHRC in Mt. Lavinia by a group of ‘thugs in robes’. In fact, I condemn these actions not only as the Minister in charge of Media but also condemn as a Buddhist, a Buddhist who is very proud of the fact that Buddhism is a religion of non-violence and compassion.”

He said the group of refugees, 30 of them from Myanmar, were rescued at sea by the Sri Lankan Navy in April this year and they were under the care of the UNHRC waiting to be resettled elsewhere in the US or Canada.

“In fact this is not the first time Sri Lanka has given temporarily shelter to such refugees. Way back in March 2008, the Navy rescued survivors of a boat after they were found adrift in the high seas. They were kept here until 2012 the year they were resettled in the US,” he said.
The minister said in a separate incident in 2013, the navy rescued two boat loads of Rohingya survivors from a shipwreck in the Eastern coast of Sri Lanka.

Thirty two of these refugees were kept under the care of the UNHRC until they were settled in the US and Canada, he said.
Samaraweera, as a long time foreign minister knew the importance of reacting promptly before the indifference of the Sri Lanka Government and its seeming refusal to condemn the threats and violence against an innocent group of people awaiting settlement reached the international media already alerted to what was happening in our neighbourhood.

While Samaraweera must deserve our thanks for acting where others failed to recognise the importance of a quick condemnation before the spotlight turned on Sri Lanka’s indifference to the pitiful plight of a group of innocent people, he is still not the government.
Mangala Samaraweera is but an individual minister even though through years of experience in the international arena he took it upon himself to condemn the rowdy conduct of a group of thugs, particularly so when these asylum seekers were under the care and protection of a UN agency.

Sometime after Mangala Samaraweera’s unmitigated condemnation Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne also added his voice to condemn the attack by a hardline Sinhala group and some Buddhist monks: “This is not what the Buddha taught. We have to show compassion to these refugees. These monks who carried out the attacks are actually not monks, but animals.”

What sticks in the craw is the absence of word of condemnation for this unprovoked attacked from President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Surely it is the leaders of the government – its president or prime minister- who should have been the first to do so.
These 31 Rohingyas, mainly women and children, are not terrorists as the mob of civilians and monks tried to portray. They are victims of a regime in Myanmar that presents a civilian face but is in reality a military junta that has not fully abdicated its role as the overlords of a country that refuses to lift its military jackboot.

During the three and a half years I spent in Bangkok I had close contacts with diplomats, journalists and Burmese people who painted a different picture from the one usually displayed by some western nations and their political and diplomatic representatives keen to provide Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar a clean bill of health.

If Suu Kyi is trying to protect her flanks by not uttering a word of condemnation against the extremist Buddhist monks such as Ashin Wirathu who are armed with weapons of hate instead of the Dhammapada, and the military, one might see a similar enactment by the yahapalanaya leaders who take refuge in the Buddha, dhamma and the sangha but actually hover behind the soiled saffron robes of the discredited thugs and others in military uniform.

Did Sri Lanka and the world have to wait for a cabinet meeting to hear the government’s condemnation of the thugs and hoodlums who attacked the UNHCR safe house and utter a word of compassion for the victims when our leaders are ever ready to rush in with tokens of sorrow when terrorists attack European cities.

Some might well say that our leaders are ready to grovel in the dust, as it were, to ingratiate themselves to western politicians but cannot find the time to utter a few words of apology to victims of mob rule in the country they lead.

The way the GMOA treats our leaders even threatening to strike without warning shows the abject disregard in which they hold this government.
It is not just the GMOA that acts this way. Last Sunday I wrote about the shenanigans going on in our national carrier called SriLankan Airlines. A few days later the news broke that its chairman Ajith Dias had proposed that his CEO Suren Ratwatte be given a bonus of Rs.10 million.

Heaven only knows what prompted this though the chairman has tried to make a puerile case to justify it which has set others laughing like hyenas.  Does this chairman have nothing called shame to even propose granting such a sum as a bonus payment when the airline is on its last legs? Is he and his CEO so dumb that they cannot fathom the criticisms that have been following them like their own shadows at the way they manage the airline.

When such largesse is offered from within is it any wonder that Suren Ratwatte was suggesting that the airline’s board of directors be allowed to run it without any intervention from higher up?

Just the other day the chairman of COPE Sunil Handunneti said that there were 190 employees of SriLankan who were earning rupees one million or more a month and top officials earning Rs.4 million.

However battered and bruised they are by the public, SriLankan’s managers will continue on the merry way until the airline drops its fuselage on the heads of the yahapalanaya leaders. Such is the lackadaisical attitude of our leaders to a failing enterprise though they try to hoodwink the public by promising stern action such as reconstituting the board of directors.

President Sirisena and his prime minister are probably too busy studying the world map to see what countries they have not travelled to yet and probably making plans to do so. No wonder they have not much time for running the country.

So saffron-robed persons and civilian extremist thugs can do what they want and airline bosses can share the loot without a care in the world. Our leaders who said they would only serve one term are now preparing for a second. Why worry about those who call themselves Rohingyas. There are those in coloured robes to take care of them, no.

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