Talk at the Cafe Spectator

The biggest buffet

There is a new record in Sri Lanka's hospitality industry. The largest buffet in the country has not been served in any of the five or lesser star hotels in Colombo.

That title goes to "Temple Trees," the official residence of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. This week, a buffet lunch was served to more than 3,000 police officers who were all told to come in uniform for the event.

No doctorate for Fonseka

At his inaugural rally in Kandy on Friday, the "common candidate" of main opposition parties, Gen. Fonseka, was to disclose that he was denied of an honorary doctorate from the University of Colombo.

The University had written to President Rajapaksa, expressing its decision to confer honorary doctorates on the three armed forces commanders. This was for militarily defeating the Tiger guerrillas.

However, he charged that the President did not respond favourably. Instead, he and Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (the President's brother) went ahead and received their honorary doctorates.

Ex-DIGs join President's polls force

Some retired Deputy Inspectors General of Police (DIGs) have received "new postings." President Mahinda Rajapaksa's campaign secretariat has assigned divisions for them to look after until the elections on January 26.

Among those assigned is retired DIG Rohan Abeywardena for Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts. He served a stint in Trincomalee and was also a former Deputy Commandant of the Police Special Task Force (STF).

Upali Hewage (retd. DIG) has been placed in charge of the Sabaragamuwa Province. He was in charge of that province as a serving officer.

Polls Chief's TV blunder

In any parliamentary democracy, the media are freely allowed to report on the conduct elections.
Not so in Sri Lanka. Elections Commssioner General Dayananda Dissanayake only allowed the State owned Rupavahini to provide live coverage of Thursday's nominations for the Presidential Elections. Other television broadcasters were compelled to hook their channels to Rupavahini to keep their viewers informed.

Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) complained to Mr. Dissanayake that Rupavahini had used this "honourable occasion in a very biased and partisan manner." It said although every Presidential candidate should get an equal amount of importance during the live telecast, only one candidate (Mahinda Rajapaksa) was given importance. Even names of other candidates were omitted when their pictures were screened, CaFFE said.

Bhoomi Putra chief's baby boom poser

The ugly question, believe it or not, came from a contestant at the 2005 Presidential Elections, Dr. Harischandra Wijetunga, leader of the Sinhale Maha Sammatha Bhoomi Putra Party.

It came when Major General Shavendra Silva, a distinguished officer and Director General of the Directorate of Operations at Army Headquarters had finished his talk. The subject - "The Battle of Nandikadal - Strategy and Tactics."

Dr. Harischandra said he had heard that more than 3,500 women crossed over from the LTTE controlled areas. Many of them were pregnant whilst others had children. He said there was a woman as young as 19 years with six children (meaning that every year the woman had a child).

He wanted to know whether Maj Gen Silva could enlighten the gathering as to who the fathers of these children were. He wanted to know whether this was a move to increase the strength of the Tiger guerrillas. Maj Gen Silva, the polite officer that he is, declared he could not answer that question.

He is right. He was not speaking on paternity or maternity. Evidently, the learned doctor did not seem to know.

Political diplomats play their real cards

Sri Lanka's non-career diplomats posted overseas -- more for stooging politicians than for competency or merit -- are being asked to pay their political debts in kind, come election time.

At least 10 diplomats are either in Colombo or expected in town shortly to join the presidential bandwagon to lobby for the incumbent. "It is something unprecedented in the history of our foreign service," says a Foreign Ministry source in Colombo.

The 10, mostly heads of missions overseas, include Newton Gunaratne (Myanmar). M.M. Zuhair (Iran), Udayannga Weeratunga (Russia), Chandrapala Liyanage (deputy in Italy), Lionel Fernando (France), T. Jayasinghe (Palestine), Asitha Perera (South Korea), A.W. Mohottala (Jordan), Jaliya Wickramasuriya (US) and Palitha Ganegoda (deputy in New Delhi).

All of them were told, mostly via phone calls, to concoct plausible excuses to be in town while extending their stay until the end of January-- presidential election time. The official excuses given by some of these ambassadors were hardly imaginative or innovative.

One of them has asked for leave as part of his "year-end vacation"; another head of mission has said he has a "wedding" to attend; a third diplomat wants to be in Colombo because of "illness" in his extended family. Still, one of the ambassadors, a political appointee in a European capital, is playing safe by protecting his rear end. He has said he is unable to come because of "heavy burden of work." But he has apparently told one of his confidants in Colombo he really wants to be "in a better position" to negotiate, in case the common candidate wins.

According to a Foreign Ministry source, there are also several career diplomats, mostly based in Europe, who are playing the political game. One of them, heading our embassy in a Scandinavian capital but due for retirement early next year, thinks his "contributions" to the presidential election campaign may help boost his chances for a 12-month extension at his retirement.

A second career diplomat, a deputy in a European capital, has not only been summoned to help canvass the minority vote but has also been accommodated in a five-star hotel in Colombo.

Mountain of money for politico

A leading opposition politician from the central hills has become the subject of a top-level inquiry over millions of rupees received by him from a Scandinavian country.

The man had disclosed the receipts to tax authorities and even paid tax on what he called "additional income." He found himself financially stable even to make soundings to buy over a newspaper. Sleuths now want to find out what the "additional income" was for and how it came in the form of foreign money.

Mystery cameramen

The talking point in media circles is about the news conferences held by UPFA leaders, most of them at the Mahaweli Centre.

There is a mystery camera operator filming those raising questions (See pic). Media personnel who were drawing the most attention were those raising "uncomfortable" or questions perceived as "hostile".

Fonseka film and military politics

The cameras rolled as he paddled a canoe all by himself, walked the paddy fields and shared cake with the villagers. He was in a sarong and shirt and actor Kamal Addaraarachchi was making a film of a "President in the making." Helping him was an Indian crew.
The scene was a village in Ambalangoda, the home town of retired General Sarath Fonseka, the "common candidate" of main opposition parties,

The war hero's life from the village to four decades as a soldier is to be screened at public rallies and a shorter version played over television as an advertisement.

However, behind the scenes, it was a different story for Gen. Fonseka. Even whilst focusing on the campaign trail, he was talking to political backers about his role as a future President. The retired CDS has made it known that if he wins; he does not want to be a mere figurehead.

Gen. Fonseka told some of the opposition leaders that he still wanted to play a key role overseeing defence and security related matters. That is when the Executive Presidency is abolished. One request was to ensure that he was a member of the National Security Council (NSC). Naturally, he has to win the elections first.

In the course of campaigning and meeting people, one of his visitors, a Major General, was to become a casualty. The officer serving at the Office of the Chief of Defence Staff (OCDS) was stripped of his title - a Colonel of a known infantry regiment. The post was immediately suppressed but the man remains in the same office. The message that men in uniform visiting the retired General are being watched became clear.

Another casualty was the Colonel of the CCMP (Corps Ceylon Military Police), the policing arm of the Army, Brigadier Ashoka Weerasinghe. This comes in the wake of the inability of the Military Police (MP), despite two attempts, to seize a fleet of vehicles and arrest a group of Military Police personnel. He has been transferred to the Army's Volunteer Force headquarters in Battaramulla.

The vehicles were at General's House, the official residence of the Commander of the Army, then occupied by Gen. Fonseka. He has since shifted residence to a private house at Kollupitiya. The second episode involved Military Police personnel who served as Motor Cycle Outriders. When they were officially withdrawn, the men had promised to collect their personal belongings and report to work. They had not.

Brig. Weerasinghe was appointed Colonel of the CCMP by Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya. He has now appointed Brigadier Jagath Wijesiri as the new Colonel.

Brigadier Weerasinghe, who was also the Provost Marshal, replaced Brigadier Wimal Dias. It was during his term of office that the ADC (Aide de Camp) of Lt. Gen. (then Maj. Gen.) Jayasuriya was arrested and questioned by the Military Police. He was moved out after Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya assumed office as Commander of the Army.

In another development, some key retired Army officers turned up at "Temple Trees" this week to express solidarity with President Mahinda Rajapaksa. They include Gen. (retd.) Rohan de S Daluwatte, a former Army Commander and Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. Gen. (retd.) Shantha Kottegoda, a former Army Commander and Major General (retd.) Sharman Kulatunga, a former Chief of Staff.

Also turning up at the Ministry of Defence to "express solidarity" was a retired officer from a Commando Regiment. The man was widely known for "tipping off" then Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe, that a conspiracy was afoot to harm him and weapons were being collected for this purpose at a house in the Millennium City. It turned out to be a different story though he continued his hysteria raising alarm over it.. A raid thereafter at a house in the Millennium City showed that it was a forward cell used by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) for operations in the former battle areas. That came to be dubbed as the "great betrayal" of the Long Range Reconnaisance Patrol (LRRP) then operated by the DMI.

This retired officer, who abruptly ended a training course in the United States saying he had learnt what is being taught in the overseas courses whilst in Colombo, is opposed to Gen. (retd.) Fonseka contesting the Presidential Elections.

Many UNPers were relieved the "self appointed" military advisor and "intelligence gatherer" will not breathe down their necks now. One who could not hide his emotions shouted "Jayawewa, Jayawewa."

Kohuwala OIC jumps the gun

It was none other than Police Chief Mahinda Balasuriya who ordered that all cut-outs bearing images of political personalities are removed by his men. It follows orders from President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Mr. Balasuriya is perhaps unaware that some of his men have done just the opposite. There is a large poster pasted on the wall of the Kohuwala Police station in support of President Rajapaksa. One might say it could have failed to catch the attention of the Policemen at Kohuwala. However, that is not the case.

Printed at the bottom of the logo are the words "Sponsored by the OIC and Staff of the Kohuwala Police Station."

"He (the OIC) is sure to get a promotion soon," said a retired senior DIG who could not contain his laughter. "In our days, the chap would have been promptly moved out. But today, the Police are part of a political party," he lamented.

Say nothing Anoma

JVP's Anura Kumara Dissanayake, a co-spokesperson for "common candidate" Gen. Sarath Fonseka, had some advice to the latter's wife, Anoma.

He told her not to make any comment on the controversy her husband is now locked in. It is over remarks that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had asked then 58 Division Commander (then) Brigadier Shavendra Silva to shoot Tiger guerrillas who wanted to surrender.

The accusation by Gen. (retd.) Fonseka was reported in the front page lead story of last weeks The Sunday Leader. "Ewa Api Bala Gann Nam, (We will take care of them)," he told her.

Who went with whom for what

The snippet in these columns last week titled "Blue heiress brings TNA ace", I must confess, was a little off the mark.

It was more a case of mistaken identity based on a garbled communication. My deep regrets to the lady identified as "Blue", the heiress of an advertising group. No offence was meant at all. The reference was erroneous and the mistake was unintentional.

Having said that, however, insiders say that the person who accompanied TNA leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan for talks with Basil Rajapaksa (not President Mahinda Rajapaksa) at 'Temple Trees' last week was none other than her husband. He is a member with Mr. Sampanthan in 'Grassroots Foundation,' which claims it 'strives to eradicate poverty and uphold the democratic values of equality, justice and respect in Sri Lanka." Great and commendable ideals indeed.

While the discussions may have been entirely apolitical, the fact that Basil Rajapaksa is President Mahinda Rajapaksa's chief political adviser and point-man to get the TNA's support for his brother, and the grassroots vote at this crucial moment, is a matter of some conjecture.

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