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Fonseka: How they're rewriting history

It's no secret that there is a concerted effort to erase the name of the former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka from the various monuments put up in the wake of the war victory.

A visitor to the north recently made one such discovery at Mullaitivu. When he visited in June 2010 , there was a monument of two upright granite slabs, each about ten feet or so in height, one praising the men who fought in the war and another with the names of those who gave leadership to it.

One slab read," The victory memorial is a tribute to the glorious forces and to the state leadership by His excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa - Commander in Chief, who was born for the grace of the Nation, with the guidance and cooperation of the Secretary Defence Honourable Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the operational command and military leadership of the Commander of the Army Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka who led the military for the greatest victory through a humanitarian operation where terrorism was entirely eradicated...."

When the same visitor made the journey to the area recently, all he found was the base on which the granite slabs had been erected while the two slabs with the inscriptions were missing. Another case of attempting to re-write history.

Then: The slab with names
Now: Only the base, no slab

Sonia responsible for India's vote against Lanka

More details are emerging as to why India voted for the US-backed resolution on Sri Lanka in the United Nations Human Rights Council.

A blog on the Times of India website says Congress Party Chief Sonia Gandhi told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to vote against Sri Lanka after she was shaken by the latest Channel 4 video images, especially the one that showed the bullet-ridden body of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran's son.
This is what political analysts and blogger Jyoti Malhotra said in her report:

Two days after India voted against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council in Geneva last week, in favour of a US-sponsored resolution charging the Sri Lankan government with human rights violations, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa about how he had ordered his government to "introduce an element of balance in the language of the resolution."

Now it turns out that it was none other than Congress president Sonia Gandhi who told the Prime Minister that India should vote against Sri Lanka in Geneva.

According to sources in the Congress party, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Sonia seemed considerably disturbed by the gory photos of Tamil civilians, including LTTE leader Prabhakaran's 12-year-old son, shown on Channel 4, a few days before the Sri Lanka vote. The photos were splashed all over the Tamil media and created quite a storm. Clearly, the two main Tamil parties, the AIADMK and the DMK, were forced to take notice of the people's anger -- and once that happened, the Congress party couldn't have been left far behind.

What is interesting here is that only a few days before the vote in Geneva, on March 22, none other than Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and National Security Adviser Shiv Shanker Menon had been telling Congress party members that India had never voted on a "country-specific" resolution -- in this case, against Sri Lanka. Meaning, it would be nigh impossible for India to change its position this time as well.

Unimpressed, several Tamil MPs took their case to Sonia Gandhi. They showed her the photos of the dead Sri Lankan Tamils and told her, in no uncertain terms, that the people were extremely agitated that India was not seen to be taking any action against Rajapaksa's government. All India was seen to be doing, they said, was bailing him out.

The Congress president heard out her partymen. It seems she was particularly chilled by the photo of Prabhakaran's young son, shot in the chest, but looking like he was peacefully sleeping. Sonia assured the Tamil Nadu MPs that she would take action. Soon enough, she had told the PM that India could not be seen to be voting in favour of the Rajapaksa government.

Considering her husband, former rime Pinister Rajiv Gandhi, was killed on Prabhakaran's orders in May 1991, what Sonia did was a particularly brave and sensitive thing to do. Then again, it was Sonia who ordered the commutation of the sentence of one of Rajiv's assassins, Nalini, from death to life imprisonment.

The truth is that this time, the India-Sri Lanka relationship has turned on the death of a child. The irony is that he is Prabhakaran's son.

Tamara did not take chances in Geneva

There was speculation on Tuesday March 20th that the vote on the unprecedented draft resolution under Item Two on the UN Human Rights Council agenda -- would be taken up on Wednesday instead of Thursday.

The council operates under ten agenda items and Item Two refers to annual reports by the Human Rights Council. However, by Wednesday morning, the Sri Lankan delegation was prepared to face it and had decided that Plantations Minister and Human Rights Special Envoy Mahinda Samarasinghe would lead the delegation instead of External Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris.

Of course, there was some closed-door wrangling over who should lead the delegation although the strategic meetings in the control room on the mezzanine floor of Geneva's Intercontinental Hotel were co-chaired by the two ministers.

The Sri Lankan delegation came to the Palais des Nations on Wednesday and held crisis talks with envoys of like-minded-group nations. By mid-day, the Sri Lankan delegation got information that the vote would take place on Thursday as scheduled. Many of them then left the UN premises. But Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative Tamara Kunanayakam did not. Because she did not want to take a chance, especially when the presidency of the council is headed by a nation that had decided to vote for the draft resolution on Sri Lanka.

She said that on a previous occasion, a matter concerning Sri Lanka was taken up at the council though hours before UN officials had told the Sri Lanka mission that it would be taken up the following day.
Once-bitten, twice shy, Kunanayakam left the UN premises only after she received official confirmation around 3 p.m. on Wednesday from her affable and able media officer Natasha Maurice that the draft resolution on Sri Lanka would be taken up as scheduled on Thursday.

Wisdom behind silence

The Sri Lankan mission in Geneva hosted India's new Permanent Representative to dinner on Tuesday in what appears to be a desperate attempt to convince New Delhi to at least abstain from voting when the draft resolution on Sri Lanka was taken up at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The new PR, Dilip Sinha, who was his country's additional secretary to the External Affairs Ministry until he took up his new posting, said at the dinner that India was unable to come to Sri Lanka's rescue because the matter had become an internal political issue in India, after a Sri Lankan minister went public that New Delhi would vote against the US-sponsored resolution.

He was apparently referring to a statement made by Minister and Human Rights Special Envoy Mahinda Samarasinghe a few weeks ago. So every time, someone says India's position changed Sri Lanka's fortunes at the council, Samarasinghe stands accused. However, when the remarks are made often, as the case has been, one wonders whether it is part of a vilification campaign against Samarasinghe.

It was no surprise that during the last days of the Geneva battle the seven ministers, two deputy ministers and two parliamentarians cum Presidential Advisors remained tightlipped. It was in contrast to the first leg of their Geneva mission during which they held daily media briefings at the Intercontinental Hotel.

Machines can't cope with currency changes

Seven new automated machines were installed at the arrival and departure lounges of the Bandaranaike International Airport recently.

These are meant to help passengers to get information they need about the country at the touch of a button. However many passengers who used it soon found that the currency rates that appear on the screen were not updated and hence complaints were made to the Tourist Board desk at the airport.

The machines were not in operation for a week and then reinstalled but this time they came without the currency information page.

After Geneva, US relaxes embargo on Lanka; more weapons from Russia, China

It is now clear that the United States is adopting a carrot-and-stick policy on Sri Lanka. Otherwise, how can one explain the US decision to ease an embargo on the sale of military surveillance equipment to Sri Lanka on the very day it had got the resolution on Sri Lanka passed at the United Nations Human Rights Council?

The US State Department this week said Washington had eased its embargo on Sri Lanka to allow exports of surveillance-related defence equipment.

However, the relaxation only applies to surveillance equipment and does not extend to other military hardware and military aid, a Jane's Defence Industry report said adding that the suspension on military aid would continue until Sri Lanka introduces a range of human rights reforms.

Data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that the US transferred a range of platforms to Sri Lanka between 2000 and 2007 - most of which was paid for using military aid -- including AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder radars, Bell 412 helicopters, a refurbished Reliance-class offshore patrol vessel and a Raytheon SWR-series sea search radar.

The Jane's Defence Industry journalist Jon Grevatt in an analysis notes Sri Lanka's defence acquisition ambitions have been assisted by Russia and China while aid from Washington has been held back.
"In February 2010 Sri Lanka signed a deal with Moscow that provided Colombo with credit valued at US$300 million to purchase Russian-made military equipment and technologies.

These funds are thought to have paid for 14 Mil Mi-17 helicopters. Sri Lanka is also thought to have secured other Russian credit to support purchases of six MiG-27Ms during the past decade and six Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter aircraft in 2008.

"China, meanwhile, has provided credit to support Sri Lanka's recent acquisitions of MA 60 twin-engine turboprop aircraft, Y-8 medium transport aircraft and K-8 Karakorum jet trainer/light attack aircraft. In 2012 Sri Lanka's defence budget reached LKR 230 billion (US$2.1 billion), an increase of nearly 7 per cent on spending in 2011," the Jane's journalist says.

Butenis says accountability not important for Tamils in Lanka

Accountability is not the number one priority for the Tamils of Sri Lanka. One would wonder whether this statement was made by a hardline Sri Lankan minister. No, it was what the outgoing US ambassador Patricia Butenis wrote in a diplomatic cable to the State Department in Washington way back in 2010. The cable was one of hundreds of thousands released by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
This was what the cable said:

"Butenis believed that there was a difference of opinion between the Sri Lankan Tamils living in Sri Lanka and those in the diaspora as to how to pursue the accountability issue. For the diaspora accountability was a "top-priority" but Tamils in Sri Lanka were more "pragmatic in what they can expect". The Sri Lankan Tamils were more concerned with improving their rights, freedoms and economic prospects.

They believed pushing for accountability was unrealistic and counter-productive. They were fearful of the repercussions if the war crimes issue was pursued aggressively but they hoped that the issue would be dealt with some time in the future."

Ceylon tea for corruption

Foreign nationals coming to Sri Lanka are being given a questionnaire at the arrival lounge of the airport. One of the questions is, "Is there anything negative about Sri Lanka?"

A Britisher who is a frequent visitor had written, "Corrupt government" as the answer. This had perturbed some officials. They begged him to cut off his reply and write something else. After much persuasion, he decided to remove his remarks and as a reward he was gifted a packet of "Ceylon tea"

Golden Key takes jocular turn

The never ending line of depositors of Golden Key was in court the other day. Lawyers for the company were not present and the judge also appeared to be exasperated. He called upon the in-house attorney to take on the case saying the depositors cannot wait any longer for justice.

Taken aback, the lawyer had to do the honours at short notice. "Did you know", the hapless legal eagle asked the helpless depositor, "that the global economic recession caused this company to collapse?"

"I do not know", answered the nonplussed witness. An audible titter surfaced in court and then laughter.
But then, this is no laughing matter. The Golden Boss and his Deputy are enlarged on bail, the lady fair absconding, and thousands of depositors languishing almost in vain.

Cacophony of voices in Lanka's delegation

The large Sri Lankan delegation that pitched camp in Geneva for its battle against the United States, which sponsored a resolution on Sri Lanka - was a motley group of people.

Apart from ministers, deputy ministers, parliamentarians and their support staff, there were officials from the External Affairs Ministry, the Attorney General's Department, the private bar and civil society members.
It is this last group which attracted Jamis Banda's attention, for it comprised people with conflicting view points. International Buddhist Forum President Douglas Wickremaratne who is known for his Sinhala-Buddhist views exercised restraint when he spoke in public because the government's task at hand was one of reconciliation. So did Ira Wanigasekera, a Canada-based Sri Lankan activist.

Joining them were SLFP's Batticaloa District organiser Arun Thambimuttu, son of former Tamil parliamentarian Sam Thambimuttu, who was killed by the LTTE in 1990, and Rajeshwari Balasubramaniam of Diaspora Dialogue, an overseas group that works for the welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils. Balasubramaniam, well known in the Diaspora circles as Rajeshwari Akka, however, expressed displeasure at ultranationalist politics and viewpoints. Thambimuttu says he welcomes Sinhala opinion that calls for national unity.

Pro-LTTE websites labelled the Tamil duo traitors. But they said they did not mind as their cause was to bring about a Sri Lanka where all communities would live like brothers and sisters.

Also in the team were Catholic Priest Fr. Kurukulasuriya, who works with Tamil fishermen in the north, and two top Muslim theologians - Jamiathul Ulama Chief Sheikh Rizwe Mufthi and the deputy, Sheikh Agar Mohamed. The trio were seen explaining Sri Lanka's case to diplomats of UNHRC member countries in the corridors of the UN.

Mayor bypassed, project fails, commissioner grumbles

Colombo's Mayor A.J.M. Muzammil is highly perturbed that he has been bypassed by Municipal Commissioner Badrani Jayewardene in calling a meeting with members of the armed forces to canvass financial support from several private companies to beautify the Galle Road stretch between Temple Trees at Kollupitiya and the President’s House in Colombo Fort.

At the meeting, the Commissioner had estimated the cost for flower pots and other landscaping material at around Rs. 1.2 million. Six companies are to be selected as sponsors for this project which is to be undertaken by the security forces.

The Mayor said a proper procedure should have followed with the council holding a meeting with the companies concerned. It is now learnt that most companies have turned down the request.

Meanwhile the Commissioner has written to the Mayor asking that the water and electricity bills at her official residence be settled by the council. In a letter she has asked that she be given the same concessions as given to the Mayor whose water and electricity bill are paid by the CMC. She says there are six employees, including two security personnel, who work in rotation at her residence. One employee looks after maintenance and another cleans drains. There are also two drivers. She has said she has been settling the utility bills from her private funds.

She adds that the water bills are high due to water being used for gardening work while due to security reasons the lights are on all night and hence the electricity bills are also high. The Commissioner says there are four members of her family as well and she is unable to settle the soaring bills anymore.

Washington was sure of 24

Minutes before statements, friendly and hostile alike, were made ahead of the vote on the draft resolution on Sri Lanka on March 22 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, a member of the US delegation told a local scribe flown to the Swiss city, courtesy Sri Lankan taxpayers, that the final result would be 24-15 in favour of the resolution.

The prediction came during a conversation between the two at the main assembly hall while the crest-fallen-yet-optimistic Sri Lankan delegation members were hoping against hope for a close finish so that they could find solace even in defeat.

The Sri Lankan delegation members were seen talking to Permanent Representatives of countries that were on the fence just before the day's proceedings began while the US officials remained calm though they were seen discussing the matter in a hush-hush tone.

The US delegation was confident the draft resolution would find its passage through the council. During the conversation with the US official, the Sri Lankan scribe wanted to know the strength of the US team that had come to Geneva to ensure that the draft resolution was adopted. He said they laughed at Sri Lankan media reports which claimed that some 50 to 100 US officials were in Geneva to lobby support for the motion. He said their strength was around 11 and admitted they also did intense lobbying like the Sri Lankans had been doing during the run-up to the vote.

The short conversation ended with the council's president, Laura Dupuy Lasserre, from Uruguay, a pro-US country, beginning the day's proceedings and inviting the United States, which sponsored the draft resolution, to make its statement. This was followed by statements from Belgium, as a co-sponsor of the draft resolution, and Cuba, which opposed the resolution.

After Sri Lanka's response to these statements and a number of countries spoke in favour of and against the draft resolution, the chair called on the 47 members of the council to cast their votes. Within seconds, the result was on the two giant screens at the main assembly hall. She told them to double check whether they had pressed the right button before she announced the result: 24 for the resolution and 15 against while eight abstained.

The US official patted on the shoulder of the Sri Lankan scribe seated next to him and said: "Didn't I predict the results correct?" In hindsight, it appeared that the US was in control of the events and was assured of the numbers. Even the countries that abstained during the voting did so apparently after intimating their decision to the United States.

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