Who ordered the suspension of Brigadier Priyanka Fernando from his post at the Sri Lanka High Commission in London last week? The order came from the foreign ministry which under the yahapalanaya government has often acted in strange ways. Did the foreign ministry act on its own volition or did a political hand move expeditiously [...]


Another faux pas and bow to hypocrisy


Who ordered the suspension of Brigadier Priyanka Fernando from his post at the Sri Lanka High Commission in London last week? The order came from the foreign ministry which under the yahapalanaya government has often acted in strange ways. Did the foreign ministry act on its own volition or did a political hand move expeditiously in this matter adding to the diplomatic mess created in the last three years?

Brigadier Priyanka Fernando

Without a political shove, the ministry’s officialdom would have hesitated to take the step it took before an initial explanation from the mission in London and the person identified as the ‘offender’ was obtained.

This is particularly so since Brigadier Fernando, though coming under the purview of the head of mission here, serves a different authority – the defence ministry. When I was serving in our embassy in Bangkok, the defence attaché attached to the mission reported to his superiors and his requirements were met by the defence ministry.

This column has previously asked a question to which no credible answer has been offered. Who really makes policy decisions at the foreign ministry? Surely, the country has a right to know whether there is a shadowy figure behind the formal hand-shaking with foreign visitors undertaken by the minister in charge.

The answer to this question would explain many curious happenings taking place in the name of the ministry. The more one digs into the activities and policies of the foreign ministry the more one tends to agree with the shrewd observations of the minister of state for foreign affairs Vasantha Senanayake who, after a few months at his job sensed that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy appears to be made outside by foreign powers to satisfy their geopolitical interests.

This comes as no surprise since the foreign ministry has been in the hands of the UNP in the last three years. The UNP’s pro-western proclivities have been known since the first days of independence under the D.S. Senanayake premiership. It took the SLFP led by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike to strike out to carve a new foreign policy of neutrality that eventually took the SLFP on the road to non-alignment which has remained its traditional foreign policy bulwark.

While Brigadier Fernando has become the victim of an unexpected and over blown incident, we seem to have missed a salient point.
Trace back the behaviour of the Tamil diaspora in the UK and in some other countries where the Tamil community is concentrated. Before any important international meeting where Sri Lanka is a participant or the subject of discussion – the UNHRC in Geneva or a Commonwealth conference or any other international gathering that provides a major audience- extremist Tamil groups and their acolytes in the western media somehow unearth video footage critical of Sri Lanka or write interviews of hitherto unheard of persons who claim to have been tortured by the security forces.

This happened a number of times during my two-year stint at the London High Commission when even the great British media which flaunts credentials of a “free press” refused to carry contradictions or corrections sent to them. This is a regular occurrence which the foreign ministry’s division handling UK or European affairs should have anticipated.

Look at the most recent event. After Lord Naseby’s challenge of the civilian casualty figures in the last months of the anti- separatist war which punctured the canard of 40,000 or more deaths, the pro-Tamil lobby in the western media unearthed four or five persons who claimed to have been tortured. No faces are shown, only shadowy figures in a darkened room.

All this time the so-called victims seemed to have been in a deep freeze to be resurrected at an opportune moment. That was an opportune time. It was intended to divert attention from the Naseby disclosure which was damaging to those who touted the highly inflated figure of 40,000 or more.
Sri Lanka’s progress in implementing its commitments agreed to under the 2015 Resolution will be up for discussion when the UN Human Rights Council meets in Geneva later in February and March. The unexpected ho-ha over the independence day incident has now provided propaganda fodder for the pro-LTTE lobby.

The foreign ministry by its unnecessary and certainly unusual haste in initially acting against Brigadier Fernando and saying so in a press release has only contributed to the elation of those who want to see Sri Lanka drawn and quartered in Geneva and later mount a demonstration at the Commonwealth summit in London in April.

The statement addressed to the British authorities released by a group of Tamil diaspora organisations and others is an illustration of the propagandist use they are going to make of this. It is definitely to flare up in Geneva. A London demo could be expected because it was President Sirisena who rescinded the order to take action against the brigadier.

Why did the foreign ministry and whoever inspired such precipitous punishment act the way it did? The story I have heard is that the British High Commissioner James Dauris who I have commented on some weeks earlier, made a dash for the foreign ministry to lodge the British Government’s protest.

So did Sri Lanka bow obsequiously to its former colonial master who gave us independence 70 years ago. While the country celebrated that independence did the foreign ministry faithfully satisfy his master’s voice.

While another soap opera was being staged at the high commission sections of the Tamil diaspora activated its own ventriloquist’s dummies such as MPs Joan Ryan and Siobhain McDonagh who will mouth the most atrociously fabricated stories fed to them by the diaspora propagandist.

The call made by the ‘terrible twins’ to foreign secretary Boris Johnson to withdraw Brigadier Fernando’s diplomatic status and tell Sri Lanka to recall its officer, has a deeper significance than cancelling his stay here.

What obviously moved them to ask for Fernando’s recall was more than for making a gesture which has been variously interpreted, was to make an application to a British court or to a court in another country to have him arrested under universal jurisdiction.

Readers will recall that some Tamil groups were hoping to have Major General Shavendra de Silva arrested when he was serving in New York. Some human rights activists were also trying to have former army chief Jagath Jayasuriya indicted when he was ending his term as Sri Lankan ambassador in Brazil.

Some years earlier Chagi Gallage who accompanied President Rajapaksa to London was almost subject to similar legal treatment except that Gallage had quickly exited the UK. Since President Sirisena had declared that he would not allow Sri Lankan military personnel to be tried in foreign courts or by foreign prosecutors, Sri Lanka’s critics are determined to use other means to have them arrested on foreign soil and prosecuted.

It is estimated that there were about 200 protestors from different diaspora groups last Sunday. It has been claimed that much work was done to reconcile different ethnic and religious groups and sow the seeds of reconciliation. If last Sunday’s protests are any sign of the reconciliation efforts then it was just a hollow boast. There is more to be said but space constraints have intervened.

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