It was a politically stimulating interaction at New York's Asia Society last week. The discussion focused primarily on the economic and political future of post-conflict Sri Lanka. The two speakers were Robert Blake, former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and now Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, and Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
The arguments and counter-arguments -- on subjects ranging from Presidential term limits and suppression of the media to Tamil minority rights and charges of war crimes -- turned out to be more dispassionate and enlightening than political posturing. Both Mr. Blake and Dr. Kohona elevated the discussion to an intellectually high level.
The only sour note was the rude and vociferous interruptions from a couple of Sri Lankan expats who refused to accept the fact that the LTTE is clinically dead.
But Asia Society Vice President Jamie Metzl who moderated the meeting, could not resist the temptation to point out that Blake's two former stints at US embassies in Tunisia and Egypt were in countries swept by recent mass demonstrations and revolutions forcing two sitting Presidents to unceremoniously flee the country.
And the question lingering in the minds of the audience was: Will Sri Lanka, where Blake served as US envoy during 2006-2009, follow in the footsteps of the Facebook revolution that brought overnight radical changes to two Arab nations?
Blake however refused to accept the assertion that he was in the business of fomenting revolutions -- whether in Tunisia, Egypt or Sri Lanka. Countering the praise heaped on him by Metzl, Blake jokingly said he was one of the most vilified American envoys in Sri Lanka -- criticised by extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. "So, I must have been doing something right," he declared amidst laughter.
Ekneligoda issue at UN
Another issue that surfaced at the UN noon news briefing this week was the issue concerning Prageeth Ekneligoda, the Sri Lankan web-editor who went mysteriously missing on the eve of the Presidential Election last year, and is still missing. This is the verbatim account of the presser:
|Ekneligoda’s wife arriving at the UN office
in Colombo to hand over her petition
Question: There is a, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and IFJ said, among two other groups, have said that they have written a letter to the Secretary-General about this case of Prageeth [Eknelygoda], a journalist in Sri Lanka that disappeared about a year ago - their letter actually quotes you, from this briefing on 18 February, but they are saying the UN should get involved in finding out what happened to this journalist; they are saying that the letter was given to Neil Buhne (UN Resident Representative in Sri Lanka at the time) and they said no replacement has been named.
I guess I wanted to know, can you, you know, they are pretty, I would think they would know how to deliver the letter; has this letter been received and is the UN and actually as it's been asked now for some time by the wife of the journalist, going to get involved in looking into this matter, and who will replace Mr. Buhne?
Spokesperson: Well, I am sure that international non-governmental organizations with the strong track records as the ones you have mentioned know how to deliver a letter. The United Nations also knows how to receive a letter. And it may or may not be that that letter has been received yet; I am going to check. As for the need to intercede, I understand that this is something that is being actively looked at by colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
But this is not something that I think we would have further details on at the moment. As for the replacement, as and when a replacement is named, I am sure that we will say. I don't have anything on that at the moment.
Controversy over Lakshmi Puri
United Nations Secretary General's Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, has strongly defended India's Permanent Representative Hardip Singh Puri and his wife Lakshmi.
The couple served in Sri Lanka years earlier with Shri Puri being the Political Officer and Ms. Puri, a most helpful and cordial Third Secretary handling media.
The issue is over the appointment of Ms. Puri, a one-time career diplomat of the Indian Foreign Service, as an Under Secretary-General or an Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations while her husband, Mr. Puri serves as Indian's current Permanent Representative (Ambassador) to the United Nations.
Interestingly, the episode took place in the backdrop of a Western initiative to get a resolution passed against Libya. Now known as Resolution No. 1973, the UN Security Council voted for a 'No Fly Zone' over Libya in a move to check Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi from using his Air Force to bomb rebellious citizens demanding more democracy in the country. India, a member of the Security Council, interestingly, abstained from the vote.
Here is a Q & A that took place at a UN news briefing.
Question: Hi. On Friday when you announced the three USGs and the two ASGs, you were asked whether Lakshmi Puri is the spouse of the Indian Perm[anent] Rep[resentative], and you said, "I am not aware of the family relationship of the people I have just named". It's been confirmed since that she is the wife of Hardeep Singh Puri, and I just wonder, what can you, what would you, do you think that, does the Secretariat think that any rule should apply to the awarding of jobs to family members of people on the Security Council, who will vote on the Secretary-General's second term? Is that, do you see any need for rules in this circumstance?
Deputy Spokesperson Farhan haq: First of all, I believe when we read out the announcement, we pointed out the qualifications of each of the individuals, including of Lakshmi Puri, who has been an expert at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and it is in the context of that expertise that she was hired. The language is there in the announcement on Friday itself. I wouldn't infer any sort of linkage…
Question: They were not aware that she was the wife of the Indian Perm[anent] Rep[resentative] when they made the job announcement?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don't believe that that is regarded as a relevant criterion in terms of the employment process. Yes? Are we done? Thanks.
A once fiery socialist Cabinet Minister has hired his son as a consultant to his Ministry.
The son, a former university lecturer had recently returned to Sri Lanka to take up this appointment.
Relative merits, the socialist way, what.
High in the sky
Indo-Sri Lanka relations have their ups and downs but they are not limited to political leaders and external affairs ministry bureaucrats from the two countries.
Two intoxicated Indian nationals who were harassing the air stewardesses on a Sri Lankan Airlines bound from Dubai to Colombo were arrested when the flight landed in Colombo on Friday morning.
Officials said the men had started harassing the stewardesses midway by following them around the aisle of the plane.
The Valikamam East Banana Planters Association on Friday opened a branch in Colombo. Minister Douglas Devananda was the chief guest. He was asked by some of those present about the resounding victory that his bitter political opponents, the ITAK (the Tamil National Alliance) secured in Thursday's local polls.
His prompt reply was that the coalition of parties that contested the polls is a group of outdated politicians. They are like a bicycle without a stand which cannot stand on its own. The Minister asked a Tamil journalist who was also invited to the function what his opinion was about his comment.
He reminded the Minister that he (the Minister) too cannot survive without the support of other parties mentioning that during the recent polls in the north, he had tagged onto the UPFA for survival. The Minister seems to have been hoist with his own petard, remarked a senior scribe who was there.