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Pro-Tiger groups gang up against Lanka in Australia

  • Long-planned propaganda onslaught as President attends Commonwealth Summit in Perth
By Our Political Editor

The three-day summit of Presidents and Prime Ministers of 54 countries of the Commonwealth ends today in Western Australia and the focus shifts to Sri Lanka once more.

Attention will now centre not only on the next Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Hambantota in 2013. More importantly, it will also be on the final report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission due within the next two weeks. Western governments in particular await the report before they determine whether they should raise alleged war crime issues before the March 2012 sessions of the UN Human Rights Council. This is based on the report of the three-member UN Panel appointed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Should such a development take place, Sri Lanka will again make newspaper headlines and figure in prime time TV slots.

HR, War Crimes & CHOGM

It is in this backdrop that President Mahinda Rajapaksa, an official entourage and a team of business leaders arrived in Perth for the summit at the Convention and Exhibition Centre there. Besides the CHOGM, on the sidelines there were also meetings of business leaders and civil society groups. The Commonwealth Business Forum 2011 was organised by the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) in collaboration with the Australian and Western Australian Governments and the private sector. It was held from October 25 to 27 just prior to CHOGM as one of the associated events. That Hambantota would be the venue for the next summit was not in doubt and there was no move to shift it, at least officially. Nor is the next CHOGM in Mauritius in 2015.

Not even after Australia's 22nd Prime Minister, John Malcolm Fraser, joined the chorus of a few other voices to a public call that the event in Sri Lanka be deferred.

A matter of greater substance for discussion was the creation of a mechanism in the Commonwealth where human rights, rule of law and democracy -- the recommendations of a Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) -- came up for discussion. The formulation of such a report was decided during the CHOGM in Port of Spain in November 2009.

"It depends upon the heads ultimately as to what they would like to see on the ground," Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said at a pre-CHOGM curtain raiser news conference. With India, Sri Lanka and a few other countries strongly opposed to the move, it is unlikely to be adopted at the Perth summit. However, the CMAG report did attract questions from Australian Foreign Minister, one time Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd and Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma. Rudd set out his government's official position. Sharma added his own input. Edited excerpts:

Question: How important is it to have a human rights watch? Do you think and then also are you concerned about Sri Lanka's human rights record…?

Kevin Rudd: On the particular question of Sri Lanka that you raise the Australian national position. When it comes to human rights problems in Sri Lanka, it is well documented. We simply say very clearly to our friends in Sri Lanka that it is of fundamental importance that the upcoming reconciliation commission report deal with the various questions which have now been raised in the UN report on allegations of human rights abuses within Sri Lanka. Furthermore the Australian national position is that the UN Human Rights Council needs to revisit its earlier deliberations on this matter. These are generally the position of many governments across the world. When it comes to the Commonwealth agenda itself the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers' Meeting, Heads of Government Meeting provide opportunities also to raise these matters.

Kamalesh Sharma: We have offered our support to Sri Lanka in the past and remain available to assist if the Sri Lankan government so wishes. Sri Lanka is aware that the Commonwealth has considerable expertise in areas such as promoting reconciliation between communities, constitutional legal assistance, strengthening the capacity of national human rights organisations and advising on models of devolution in local government and indeed we are active in some of these areas.

The final outcome of the three-day Commonwealth Summit will be spelt out at a news conference today by Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Yesterday, the Commonwealth leaders were at their retreat in the State Reception Centre in Perth holding bi-lateral meetings. They were hosted for a "Sports Breakfast" by Premier Gillard and Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennel. Gillard also hosted them to lunch with Kamalesh Sharma and to dinner together with her partner Tim Mathieson.

Tigers on the offensive

However, for Sri Lanka, the Perth summit, sad enough, saw humiliating repetition of actions by the pro-Tiger lobby. It was similar to the Oxford Union cancelling a talk by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in December 2010 generating considerable adverse publicity and damage to the office of the Presidency. This is notwithstanding the government paying millions of dollars to public relations companies in Britain and the United States for image building exercises. In this instance, there was no public relations firm. In fact, neither the Ministry of External Affairs nor other state agencies were in the know that pro-Tiger lobbies had made months of preparations in Australia to unleash a propaganda blitz against the government. If they were aware, little or nothing was done to counter them. A chronology of how these events played out not only showed their magnitude but also reflected how the government was forced to get into a reactive or defensive mode. This is despite the wherewithal and the ability to present its own case.

Lionel Bopage with Father S.J. Emmanuel of the UK based Global Tamil Forum in Perth, Australia

The Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) and the British-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) organised a conference on "Accountability in Sri Lanka: Common Justice in the Commonwealth." It was held at the five-star Sheraton Hotel in Sydney. A former JVP activist Lionel Bopage, Professor Arjuna Aluvihare, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya and Easwarapatham Saravanapavan MP from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) were among those who were listed as representing Sri Lanka. Bopage, a onetime JVP General Secretary, now lives in Australia. Besides Australian politicians from Labour, Liberal and Green Party, there were also representatives from India, Britain, and Malaysia.

A former Australian Supreme Court Judge filed action with the Federal Police against the Sri Lankan High Commissioner Admiral Tisara Samarasinghe, President Rajapaksa and the former Foreign Secretary and Now Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, Palitha Kohona and John Dowd Q.C. was also present. The action against President Rajapaksa was an exercise to cause embarrassment and had no legal validity. Days after the action, Australia's Attorney General Robert McClelland ruled that no such action was being contemplated. Also present was Meena Krishnamoothy, who claimed she was an eyewitness from the "no fire zone" set up during the final stages of the military campaign against Tiger guerrillas.

Two days ahead of the conference, the ABC network, Australia's public national broadcaster ran during its prime time news programme the main story where Meena Krishnamoorthy claimed she was an eyewitness to alleged "massacre of people." The report was based on a complaint made to the Australian Federal Police by that country's branch of the International Commission of Jurists. They had claimed that Sri Lanka's High Commissioner, Admiral Tisara Samarasinghe, who was then Commander of the Navy, had "command responsibility over these allegations." Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was quoted as saying, "These allegations have come to us since the Sri Lanka High Commissioner has come to Australia. These allegations are now being looked at by the Australian Federal Police."

Govt. caught unawares

However, High Commissioner Samarasinghe strongly rejected the accusations and declared that there was "no basis" to them. He said his important action as Commander of the Navy during the final stages of the separatist war was to save civilians.

On October 24, the ABC network's Lateline programme brought in retired Sydney Water Board engineer, Jegan Waran who claimed he had filed two charges against Rajapaksa under Australia's Criminal Code Act. The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Herald Sun were among newspapers that ran reports on the claim. Here is a transcript of how the ABC reported:

"ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: As Commonwealth leaders arrive for CHOGM this week; an Australian citizen has filed war crimes charges against the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court.

"A 63-year-old retired engineer who was caught up in the fighting at the end of the civil war says he saw hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in both Tamil-held areas and no-fire zones being deliberately attacked by Sri Lankan forces.

"Thousands of civilians were killed in the three-decades-long civil war which came to an end when Sri Lankan forces defeated Tamil rebels in 2009.

"The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly denied war crimes accusations, but there are growing calls for stronger action to be taken.

"The federal Attorney-General will need to give final approval for the Australian indictments to proceed.
"Hamish Fitzsimmons reports.

"HAMISH FITZSIMMONS, REPORTER: Two years ago retired engineer Jegan Waran left Sri Lanka for Australia, but he's still haunted by what he saw in the hospitals and displaced persons camps at the end of that country's civil war.

"JEGAN WARAN: Everybody who's alive today, it's a miracle that they have escaped death or injury..
"HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Mr Waran is an ethnic Tamil and sympathised with the Tamil tigers, or LTTE, which fought for a Tamil nation for decades until their defeat in 2009 by Sri Lanka's military forces.
"In 2007, the Australian citizen returned to Sri Lanka to offer what assistance he could, volunteering in Tamil hospitals, schools and displaced persons camps. It was here he says he witnessed Sri Lankan military forces deliberately attacking clearly-marked civilian infrastructure such as hospitals.

"JEGAN WARAN: Patients were killed and patients who were in the hospital were killed and there were other patients waiting for treatment, they were killed. And there was a medical store where they kept the medicines, those were destroyed, scattered all over the place, you can see. Ambulances were destroyed. So I have seen that personally.

"JEGAN WARAN: This and other incidents have led him to issue summonses for three war crimes charges against Sri Lanka's president, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
"HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Jegan Waran says that on Christmas Day 2008 drones circled another hospital before Sri Lankan Airforce planes attacked.
"JEGAN WARAN: The hospital, clearly a big red cross sign was marked on the roof, and drones usually take surveillance, so I'm very positive that they know where the hospital is and they know it'll be damaged. So, that's what I can tell at this stage.
"HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Could there have been LTTE infrastructure near the hospitals that they were targeting?
"JEGAN WARAN: No, I can positively say there was nothing whatsoever in that vicinity.
"HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Why bring these charges against president Rajapaksa?
"JEGAN WARAN: Because I feel that he's the commander-in-chief and nothing would have happened without his knowledge or his directions, and ultimately, he should be answerable to what was happening.
"HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Sri Lanka's government has repeatedly denied allegations of war crimes.
"THISARA SAMARASINGHE, SRI LANKAN HIGH COMMISSIONER (Oct. 18): I would categorically say it is not the learning of Sri Lankan military to fire at a hospital. That has never happened in our military.
"HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Last week, Sri Lanka's high commissioner to Australia, Thisara Samarasinghe, who led the Navy in the north of the country, was named in a brief by the International Commission of Jurists. It suggested he be investigated for war crimes. The Australian Federal Police is examining the allegations.
"THISARA SAMARASINGHE: Such allegations are baseless and unsubstantiated. In the contrary, I have been commended for my role during the period of my career.
"HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Claims that Sri Lankan armed forces deliberately attacked civilians are not new, but this is the first time charges have been brought by an Australian citizen in an Australian court.
"Lawyers in the case have asked the federal Attorney-General to become involved, but a spokesman for Robert McClelland says the Attorney-General hasn't been informed of any criminal matter or charges relating to Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa.
"ROB STARY, LAWYER FOR COMPLAINANT: We've written to the commissioner of the AFP and we've written to the Commonwealth Attorney saying here's your opportunity, Mr Rajapaksa will be in Australia, it's appropriate to conduct those investigations.

"HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Last Thursday Victoria's chief magistrate authorised the charges brought by Jegan Waran to proceed, noting that they satisfied Victoria's Criminal Procedure Act. It now needs the approval of the federal Attorney-General to go ahead.

"ROB STARY: These are not frivolous or vexatious complaints, they are bona fide credible complaints.
"HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: In April this year, a United Nations panel of experts appointed by Ban Ki-Moon found credible reports that both government forces and Tamil rebels committed war crimes towards the end of the civil war.

"Bruce Haigh is a former diplomat who served in Sri Lanka and has long been critical of what he says is inaction on war crimes committed there.

"BRUCE HAIGH, FORMER AUSTRALIAN DIPLOMAT: I think just because the Sri Lankan government won the PR battle. The Tamils lost that a long time ago. They've had three decades of being ground under by the Sinhalese. That's why the Tamils wanted a separate state.

"HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: High commissioner Samarasinge says Tamil groups in Australia are manipulating human rights groups and pro-Tamil campaigners. This evening the Sri Lankan government declined Lateline's offer of an on-camera interview and issued a statement, which said in part:

"JACKSON MCDONALD LAWYERS STATEMENT (male voiceover): "The issue of the proceedings which are apparently to be the subject of your story are plainly a violation of Australia's obligations under public international law. Furthermore the purported proceedings are incompetent under Australian law.
"HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: President Rajapaksa arrives for CHOGM on Tuesday."

Damage control

The response to these reports which came the day President Rajapaksa arrived in Perth, did not emanate in Australia. Instead, the Ministry of Defence in Colombo exposed the identities of both Meena Krishnamoorthy and Jegan Warran or Arunachalam Jeghatheeswaran in its website A video posted on the website shows one time LTTE cadres describing her as "Meena Akka" or "Eelanadi." She had come to Sri Lanka to attend a seminar organised by the then head of the International Division of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Castro. The footage was interspersed with pictures of Meena in uniform. One of the former LTTE cadres said she returned to Sri Lanka again in 2005 and served as an armed cadre in the Sodiyar Unit. She had married Kuberan, an LTTE cadre in 2008. Group photographs of armed guerrilla cadres with Meena's face circled in red are shown on the video footage.

Arunachalam Jegatheeswaran alias "Jeyan Uncle," the video footage said, came to northern Sri Lanka in 2003. Thereafter, he came again in 2004 and remained until May 2009 when the Tiger guerrillas were militarily defeated. He is described as the brother of Shanthan, the LTTE leader in the UK. He had been a member of the LTTE unit that was responsible for the construction of bunkers and safe houses for their slain leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. Jegatheeswaran's son Arun had also come to Sri Lanka in 2004 and undergone weapons training. What the video footage did not reveal and intelligence sources said yesterday was another key role played by Jegatheeswaran. He had personally designed the underground network of bunkers in addition to planning and constructing the swimming pool for Prabhakaran.

President Rajapaksa told the Sri Lankan community in Australia during a meeting at the Winthrop Hall of the University of Western Australia that the truth about his government's "humanitarian operation" in the north would be known when the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission was released. He said the report would be tabled in Parliament. The LLRC Chairman, former Attorney General C.R. de Silva told the Sunday Times, "we are putting the finishing touches to the report. We have to give the report by November 15. We will keep to the deadline."

Like the Oxford fiasco in December last year, the propaganda blitz by pro-Tiger lobbies in Australia this week, caught the government off guard. If there was advance knowledge, counter-measures could have been easily taken. Even as the propaganda blitz was unfolding, either due to lack of communication or foresight, prompt action was not forthcoming. Otherwise, a news conference in Perth with the disclosures made in the Ministry of Defence website containing photographic evidence would have clearly told the story of the government of Sri Lanka.

An eager media corps was on hand at the CHOGM venue in Perth to give ear to Sri Lanka's point of view. Alas, the only statements were confined to mere rebuttals of what the pro-Tiger lobby had to say. Those lapses continue under a government whilst a Tiger guerrilla lobby, with no External Affairs Ministry or other state agencies, continues to hijack all the attention. This is no doubt a damning indictment. If no measures are adopted to make a change so that the government could play a proactive role, it will continue to be a reactive one. For a government with so many spokespersons, such a situation could be totally counterproductive.

Ranil gets tough with Govt. and party dissidents

The country's main opposition United National Party (UNP) wants an independent commission to probe the local polls day Kolonnawa shooting incident that left Presidential Advisor Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra dead and parliamentarian Duminda Silva badly injured.

A resolution moved by UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was unanimously adopted by the Working Committee, the party's main policy making body on Thursday. The resolution said:

"Today while the law of the land is decaying, public security is being devalued while corruption, fraud, and malpractices are taking place on a large scale while under the 18th Amendment to the constitution, the independence that existed within the state apparatus is under challenge. While the Police Department is unable to function in a free and independent manner, the entire democratic framework is coming under severe challenge as was illustrated by the brutal murder and clashes that took place in Kolonnawa on October 8 on the day of the Local Government elections.

"It is becoming evident that no proper independent investigation is being held into the causes for the clash between slain presidential advisor Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and MP and Monitoring MP for Defence Ministry Duminda Silva.

"At a time when the supremacy of the law is under challenge, the United National Party (UNP) requests the government to appoint an independent commission to look into this incident and bring those found guilty before the law."

Even if the UPFA leaders choose to ignore the UNP demand, the fact that Wickremesinghe is raising issue with the government over an issue with the Ministry of Defence is unexpected and surprised many in the party. Only last Monday he chided President Mahinda Rajapaksa for visiting Western Provincial Council Minister Nimal Lanza at his Negombo residence after the STF conducted a raid on his premises.

"The Police Special Task Force entered Lanza's compound reportedly to search for 'budded' vehicles. Later our President, who is the Minister of Defence, who is in charge of the STF visits Lanza at the very premises and fondly embraces him. Now they say they are conducting investigations. If the STF officers have intruded the house of Lanza without authority of the Ministry of Defence, they should be immediately interdicted," said Wickremesinghe.

Emboldened by his party's victory at the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) elections, Wickremesinghe is not only taking on the government. He also issued a four-point "decree" to his own party members. He asked General Secretary Tissa Attanayake to circulate it among all members. He said he was acting under powers vested in him as leader of the UNP under Article 8.9 of the party constitution. Here are the four points:

"1. All statements should be in the direction of party unity. No person in the party shall make public statements creating controversy within the party, critical of the party, on the leadership and officials. They should not act contrary to decisions taken by the Working Committee. All members should act according to the decisions taken by the Working Committee. Prior approval is needed from the Party General Secretary or the Chairman of the media committee for all media statements.

"2. Party members should act regarding responsibilities of the party in accordance with the party constitution and regulations to ensure that objectives of the relevant section are achieved. The respective Committee members should act according to the range of responsibilities delegated to them. Members cannot act in groups or meet with groups which have not been approved by the leadership or the Working Committee or act as a separate team or group.

"3. Only the General Secretary, Chairman of the Media Committee, Media Spokesperson or persons authorized by the leader can make statements to the media about party activities.

"4. Committee meetings can be summoned only by persons authorized to do so and only for the purpose of committee work."

The "decree," no doubt, is a clear warning to the so called reformist group led by the party's co-deputy leader Sajith Premadasa ( MP -Hambantota District). Strictly applied, even UNP deputy leader, Karu Jayasuriya, is not exempt unless Wickremesinghe authorises him. Others so-authorised are Tissa Attanayake (General Secretary), Mangala Samaraweera (Chairman of the Media Committee) and Media Spokesperson Gayantha Karunatilleke.

The move comes in the backdrop of the suspension of Matara District MP Buddhika Pathirana and Western Provincial Councillor Shiral Laktilleke. Both were served with notices and have pleaded not guilty to charges preferred against them. The main charge is that they backed independent groups instead of the party candidates. A complaint in respect of Pathirana has been made by Samaraweera whilst a similar complaint against Laktilleke has been made by Harsha de Silva. The latter has succeeded Laktilleke as the UNP organiser for Kotte.

The "decree" on those authorised to speak came just two days after a news conference addressed by former UNP Chairman, Rukman Senanayake and one time MP Imtiaz Bakeer Markar. Senanayake said the two deputy leaders Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa should call for an emergency convention of the UNP to remove the current leader and appoint a new leader.

Senanayake said: "It is due to the weakness of the leader that the party has been losing so many elections. It is not only the Parliamentary and presidential elections the party has been losing. Even the provincial and local government elections have been lost by the UNP due to weaknesses of the leader. At least 60 representatives of the people have left the party. Any person who shows some talent does not have a place in the party. The party is being ruined. If there are allegations against a person there is a way they could be investigated. The role of the leader of the party should be to improve the party and not to see that the party deteriorates. If the party leader cannot go, we should send him. The leader does not think about any one. We have to tell the membership that he should be sent off."

Ahead of Thursday's Working Committee meeting, the UNP Advisory Committee met -- with Wickremesinghe in the chair. Those taking part were members Karu Jayasuriya, Tissa Attanayake and Gamini Jayawickrema Perera. Joining in late was Sajith Premadasa. Another member, Ravi Karunanayake was absent since he is part of a UNP delegation now touring South Africa. There were also other UNPers present. They were Malik Samarawickrema, John Ameratunga and Joseph Michael Perera. The subject of discussion was the suspension of Pathirana and Laktilleke. Both Jayasuriya and Premadasa made a strong plea on their behalf. Jayasuriya was to point out that he was all for discipline but held the view that such action at the present juncture would weaken the party. Premadasa wanted another chance given to the two though he always held the view discipline was essential for the party. He pleaded that the suspension be lifted whilst the inquiry was under way.

Wickremesinghe said action against the duo had been taken under powers vested with the leader in terms of the UNP constitution. That too was after the General Secretary had forwarded his report together with the complaints he had received. He was not trying to oust the MP and the Provincial Councillor but was acting in the interests of party discipline. "Why don't we get the Disciplinary Committee to go into the matter and finish this soon," asked Ameratunga. There was consensus on the matter.

From the eight members of the UNP Disciplinary Committee headed by one time Attorney General Tilak Marapana, a group is expected to be picked to go into the two disciplinary inquiries. Others in this Committee are Asendra Siriwardena, S.J. Mohideen, Nissanka Nanayakkara and Gowri Thavarasa, all attorneys at law. Also in the Committee are Shane Diulwewa, Upali Perera and Azmi Thassim.

When the Working Committee met, a condolence vote was passed on the death of Rupa Karunatilleke, former UNP Cabinet Minister. After the minutes of the previous meeting were adopted, the Working Committee unanimously endorsed a resolution moved by Wickremesinghe to call for a Commission of Inquiry to probe the local polls day Kolonnawa shooting incident. Then Wickremesinghe re-iterated the measures he was adopting under Article 8.9 of the UNP constitution to ensure discipline is maintained in the party. That was a clear signal he would come down hard on those who criticise his leadership or make adverse comments on the party.

Many speakers were to join in thereafter to talk on the disciplinary action on Pathirana and Laktilleke. Kabir Hashim (MP - Kegalle District) spoke of the need to maintain party unity. He said deputy leader Jayasuriya had expressed his reservations over the action in a letter but had chosen not to publicise it. That augured well for the party. Dayasiri Jayasekera (UNP - Kegalle District) said the way disciplinary action had been taken had made newspaper headlines when it should really be the story relating to the Kolonnawa shooting incident. He appealed that the suspension be lifted. Jayasuriya said he was receiving representations from grassroots level organisations and party supporters to ensure unity is maintained within the party. He said the party could not afford to lose an MP and a Provincial Councillor at a time when it had several issues to raise with the government.

Premadasa was to charge that different rules were being applied to different persons in the party. In Anuradhapura, an independent candidate who did not receive UNP nomination had won the local polls. He had contested violating the party rules. He now wants to join the UNP and is being welcomed. Talatha Athukorale (UNP-Ratnapura District) traced the erosion in the ranks of the UNP parliamentarians with cross overs to the government. She urged Wickremesinghe to talk to co-deputy leaders of the party and decide on a course of action.

There were others who were strongly in favour of the disciplinary action against the duo. Chamal Senarath, Leader of the Opposition of the North Western Provincial Council, said that the duo had done a lot of damage to the party and action was absolutely necessary. Lakshman Wijemanne (member, Western Provincial Council), who was strongly critical of Pathirana, also said it was correct to take disciplinary action. He said there should be stern punishment. If the stern punishment he expected for Pathirana was expulsion from the party, the next to succeed as MP for Matara District would be Sagala Ratnayake. He is now international affairs secretary of the UNP.

Ranjit Madduma Bandara (UNP - Moneragala District) replying to criticism that no disciplinary action was taken against him said party leader Wickremesinghe had publicly asked voters not to vote for him. He also criticised Samaraweera for doing what he called a lot of damage to him. He said some referred to Pathirana as a newcomer. If that was the case, even Samaraweera was a new comer, he argued.
Besides the tough measures taken by Wickremesinghe at the Working Committee, changes have also been made in the party's Bhikku Front.

A statement issued by Eksath Bhikku Federation and signed by President of the Federation Ven Malabe Seelaratna Thera, Committee member of the Kalyani Samagri Dharma Maha Sabhawa of the Siyam Nikaya and Ven Marapana Hemananda Thera, Secretary of the Federation, states:

"A statement has been issued by Ven Meetiyagoda Gunaratana claiming to be the official Bhikku front affiliated to the UNP. He says that the activists (Pathirana and Laktilleke) should not be chased out from the party but instead retained. Already a special Interim Committee has been appointed to the Eksath Bikku Peramuna. Accordingly some of the members of the previous interim committee - Ven Meetiyagoda Gunaratana Thera, Ven Wattegama JinaratnaThera, Bopitiye Dhammassira Thera, Ven Ulapane Sumangala Thera were suspended.

"The reason for the suspension was that Ven Gunaratana Thera, without the permission of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe or the Working Committee set up an organisation showing that it was the UNP's official Bhikku Front.This was a dangerous situation as they were misusing the name of the UNP. Action was taken to prevent such situation. It is only the new Interim Committee that has been given the authority to function as the UNP's Bhikku Front. The members mentioned above are not members of the new Interim Committee.

"We will be initiating legal action against them in the future. If there is a Bhikku Front of a particular party they should function in keeping with the policies of the particular party in order to improve the Buddha Sasanaya. Instead they should not be acting against the policies of the party and giving points to non-Buddhist organistions.

"When the membership of UNP MP Buddhika Pathirana and Provincial council member Shiral Lakthilaka was suspended pending a disciplinary inquiry the government said that Wickremesinghe was taking revenge from party members. The stand taken by Ven Meetiyagoda Gunaratna is that they should not be removed from the party and they should be retained in the party. Buddhika Pathirana and Shiral Lakthilaka were suspended as they backed two independent groups in Kotte and Matara against the advice of the party General Secretary Tissa Attanayake. When Buddhika Pathirana and Shiral Lakthilaka held demonstrations and held 'devil dancing' ceremonies criticizing the leader Ven Gunaratana did not speak. He kept silent at that moment.

"Ven Gunaratna and the government say that the victory in Colombo is nothing to boast about. He also says that statements by Mr. Tissa Attanayaka that this victory could be turned into a victory island wide are hilarious. He goes on to say that the UNP has been defeated again. The same is said by the government. According to what they say if there is resentment against Wickremesinge island wide it should be reflected in Colombo too and the UNP should have been defeated in Colombo. Ven Meetiyagoda who speaks of the defeats in Nuwara Eliya and Kandy does not speak about the defeat in Hambantota Municipal Council and the Pradeshiya Shabawa and the Akuressa Pradeshiya Sabhawa. If Ven Gunaratna says the UNP was defeated because of the leadership of Wickremesinghe what about the victory achieved in Colombo."

Renuka Herath, a onetime UNP parliamentarian has been tasked to recommend ways and means of re-organising the organisation made up of all former party parliamentarians.

When the two hour long meeting of the Working Committee ended, Wickemesinghe has taken on twin challenges. On the one hand he wants to take on the government. On the other he wants to silence his critics in his own party and ensure they accept his leadership. Both tasks are enormously difficult. Only time will tell where the UNP is headed.

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