Columns - Talk at the Cafe Spectator

Full probe on Fonseka photo

A top level investigation is now under way to ascertain how photographs of former General Sarath Fonseka in his prison jumpers came to be taken.

The photographs appeared in the media and websites. This was after media personnel were allowed access into the prisons where Independence Day ceremonies were under way.

Around that time, the former General's wife, Anoma Fonseka, had visited him. Some photographs showed Fonseka in his white prison jumpers waving. In others, he was ahead of a group of prisoners, all in jumpers.

Nutty figures to cover-up BIMSTEC failure

Deputy External Affairs Minister Neomal Perera was in Myanmar (in the absence of Minister G.L. Peiris who preferred to accompany the President on his 'private visit' to the US) to represent Sri Lanka at the BIMSTEC ministerial meeting, one where Sri Lanka failed to secure Colombo as the venue for their secretariat.

Having lost the vote to Bangladesh, the Deputy Minister's aides felt they should quickly do some damage control to show that Perera's visit to Myanmar was not all in vain. On that occasion, he had a meeting with the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in that country. Returning to Colombo, his officials lost no time in issuing a news release about "the broad range of issues" their boss discussed for "the promotion of private sector bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

The news release, among other matters said, "The Deputy Minister re-iterated that the tourism sector in Sri Lanka is booming and it will rise 300 times within the next three years. With the celebration of the 2600th Buddha Jayanthi in May 2011 Myanmar and Sri Lanka together can promote pilgrim tourism between the two countries. Further, he said Sri Lanka will grow into an industrial and tourist hub. The private sector businessmen highlighted the importance of initiating direct air links and welcomed the move to further develop the existing bilateral trade ties."

Insiders say when some level-headed EAM oldie intervened to 'check the statement,' a self proclaimed PR expert had butted in, "I say, mayka ikmanata arala daanawa" (I say, send this out soon)
Tourism will "rise 300 times within the next 3 years", only means Sri Lanka should receive about 200 million tourists in three years. (That is last year's 650,000 multiplied by 300). After all, even France, the country that receives the highest number of tourists gets only 78.9 million annually (in 2010); followed by United State a total of 60.8 million. Sri Lanka will have, by 2014 ten times its total population filled with tourists!

As the EAM oldie remarked in frustration, tourist arrivals cannot be counted like coconuts falling from trees. Nowadays, even that is not happening.

VIPs wooing Alles

Democratic National Alliance (DNA) MP Tiran Alles last month received a call from President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The call was, Mr. Alles says to inquire about the health of his father, R.I.T Alles, the former principal of D.S.Senanayake Vidyalaya, Colombo.

"He told me that he would drop in one day to see my father. Accordingly, he came home and spent nearly one and half hours", he said. Mr. Alles says the discussions were on what his father had done for the school, how the college was set up and other non-political matters.

He says nothing on the current political situation was discussed or invitations extended to him (the son) to join the government.

Mr. Alles also had another secret meeting with a VIP opposition personality on Friday night. A lady now in the forefront of campaigns, insiders say, was the third person present. However, what they discussed remains a top secret.

Who voted against Lanka?

The defeat for Sri Lanka at the BIMSTEC vote set in motion the guessing game as to which two countries voted for Sri Lanka and which three voted against Sri Lanka in the secret ballot. (The contenders Sri Lanka and Bangladesh agreed to refrain from voting).

India, which is not having the best of relations with Bangladesh, and Myanmar, whose Head of State was welcomed in Sri Lanka when all others were not willing to pay host to him are the likely countries that voted with Sri Lanka, say diplomats.

Then, if that be the case, who voted against Sri Lanka - it had to be Buddhist Thailand, Buddhist Bhutan and Hindu-Buddhist Nepal. "What a shame," said a South Asia expert. "Had Dr. Peiris not antagonized Nepal by making a silly statement about that country recently, Sri Lanka may still have got its vote, defeated Bangladesh and had the BIMSTEC secretariat in Colombo". What price, loose talk.

Diplomatic ‘stretch’ exercise

According to sources in the External Affairs Ministry, the agonizing effort to put square pegs in round holes continues. Most new ambassadorial appointments have been put on hold. The reason: the current envoys, specifically in Asia, Europe and West Asia (the Middle East), have requested for extensions though they have completed their customary three-year terms and are due back in Colombo.

One of them is seeking a one-year extension purely to facilitate his son's education (even though the government has not allowed such extensions for educational purposes before). An ambassador based in a West Asian country, and who retired from the foreign service back in September 2001, wants to remain in office until the end of this year.

He has cited as precedent the case of another career foreign service officer who continues as an ambassador in a European capital despite his retirement in January last year. Virtually every one of these extension-seekers has either a politician or an MP doing the lobbying for him or her. Still, officers in the ministry are blaming the minister himself for being weak, lackadaisical and unable or unwilling to take the tough decisions while sulking that these matters are beyond his control, anyway.

Puzzle over the visit of UN Panel

At least officially, the visit to Sri Lanka by the United Nations Panel on accountability issues lingers on.
The latest position was reported by the New York based Inner City Press. This is what it

"After the UN has repeatedly said that travel to Sri Lanka by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Panel on Accountability is "not essential," Ban answered a question amid protests after his speech at Oxford by saying that his Panel "has not yet been able to complete its mission. They are still negotiating with the Sri Lankan Government."

"On February 4, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesperson's office in writing and in person to explain this statement (as well as Ban's statement that he had been in Sri Lanka twice since May 2009).

"The UN did not answer the written question, so at the February 4 noon briefing Inner City Press asked how Ban's statement squares with the previous statement that travel to Sri Lanka, which has been blocked by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is "not essential."

"Ban's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq answered that Ban's Panel 'has been discussing the proper arrangements to see if they can have such arrangements made.' "Haq said that of the Panel that 'they do believe it is desirable to travel to Sri Lanka, but not essential.' UN officials have already told Inner City Press, and then more formally confirmed, that Ban's Panel is unable to talk, that Sri Lanka will only talk to the Executive Office of the Secretary General."

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