all towns are one, all men our kin.
|Trans State Nation
Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
Kadirgamar's Snake Oil
15 November 2000
[see also Tamil Detainees Murdered in Custody, Yet Again ]
Bridge is a word used prominently as a metaphor by politicians. In the 1996 presidential election campaign, Bill Clinton used the phrase 'bridge to the 21st century' eloquently. Even before that, former Soviet Union leader Nikita Khruschev is credited with a humorous quip, "Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even when there is no river". Well, Sri Lankan politicians are no exception. They will promise to build a bridge even without knowing what a bridge is. Thus I wish to comment on Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar's spurious bridge-building exercise, which is nothing but snake oil.
The American Heritage Dictionary provides two definitions for snake oil. (1) a worthless preparation fraudulently peddled as a cure for many ills. (2) speech or writing intended to deceive; humbug.
Last month I received a package of snake oil in the form of an unsolicited document from the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Tokyo. The Counselor for Ambassador, in a communication insert dated October 2, had informed me -
This slick, slim, unpaginated brochure, published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka (August 2000) was 12 pages long. Since I received this brochure before the occurrence of sordid massacre of Tamil detainees at the Bindunuwewa-Bandarawela on Oct. 25, the descriptions of this document was very informative for me. In fact, this brochure highlighted the establishment and functioning of Bindunuwewa rehabilitation camp. Some features which I noticed about this brochure are as follows:
1. On page 3, there appears a close-up photo of Lakshman Kadirgamar, standing at a podium.
2. There is not a single photo of Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga. Instead, on page 7, photos of three prominent, telegenic women (Cherie Blair, Sonia Gandhi and Hillary Clinton) are featured, with incomplete or out-of-context short quotes from them. I wondered whether the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry received appropriate permission from these three women to use their photos, since none of them are Sri Lankan citizens. I'm also not sure whether these three have become voluntary spokespersons for the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry.
3. There also appears a photo of Graca Machel, on page 1, who was the widow of Mozambique's first President Samora Machel, and now the wife of Nelson Mandela.
4. Selected and biased quotes from news reports and features which appeared in Die Welt, Aftonbladet (Sweden), International Herald Tribune and The Independent are excerpted.
What I find repulsive in this slick brochure, is the finagling of the material presented to project a positive image of the foreign minister Kadirgamar. This includes -
(a) favorable shifting of quotes from Cherie Blair, Sonia Gandhi and Hillary Clinton.
(b) Convenient omissions relating to the pathetic plight of Tamil children who are victims of state-sponsored aggression in the North and East of Sri Lanka.
(c) Sheer distortions, such as the quote from Kadirgamar's 1997 lecture at the UN General Assembly, "the LTTE has conscripted thousands of teenage children to fight its war..."
Neutral observers have recorded that the fighting force of LTTE stands between 7,000 and 10,000. If "thousands" are conscripted teenage children, one wonders how weak and inept is the Sri Lankan army to be continually at the receiving end of such "conscripted teenage children"?
On pages 10 and 11 of this brochure, propaganda is splashed about the rehabilitation program instituted at the Bindunuwewa-Bandarawela camp (for male children) and Gangodawila-Boralasgamuwa camp (for female children).
In the aftermath of October 25 massacre of Tamil detainees in one of these camps, it is time now for Kadirgamar to release a revised version of this snake oil.
For balance, he could include at least the feature on the Bindunuwewa massacre by Ken Stier, entitled, 'Tiger Meat for our Dogs' which appeared in the Newsweek magazine (International edition) of November 13. For the record, I provide below excerpts of Ken Stier's coverage.
"The young Tamil boys made easy targets. Early on Oct.25, a bloodthirsty mob of several hundred ethnic Sinhalese stormed the gates of a Sri Lankan rehabilitation center in Bandarawela, a town some 140 miles east of the capital, Colombo. The center housed about 46 former child soldiers who had either surrendered or been captured on suspicion of involvement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a rebel group that's been fighting a long separatist war for its ethnic minority.
The government's idea was to use the camp to provide vocational training and psychological counseling for the Tamil detainees, then reintegrate them into society. But the Sinhalese attackers had a far different agenda. They cornered the boys inside the dormitories, then beat them with machetes, clubs and iron rods. Some of the detainees were set on fire. When the violence ended, 26 were dead. Police guarding the Tamils allegedly did nothing to stop the mob; and in fact, some victims have reportedly accused them of taking part in the gruesome rampage....
"It's not entirely clear what sparked the attack. In the days leading up to it, the Tamil prisoners had reportedly been protesting staff mistreatment and the length of their detainment. They got no sympathy from the Sinhalese in Bandarawela. Posters slapped up in the town declared TIGER MEAT FOR OUR DOGS.
On Oct.24 a shot was heard from inside the center - and word spread of a prison rebellion. A Sinhalese crowd began to gather - and then began pelting the inmates with stones. By the next morning the mob had grown large and angry. The Sinhalese pushed inside the camp as some 60 armed police officers stood by, according to a government-appointed human-rights commission.
"State-run media accused a detainee named Anthony James of instigating the unrest in a deliberate attempt to provoke an incident. They claimed he was planted, as a volunteer detainee, by the Tamil Tigers. James, in fact, was one of the prisoners killed by the mob. James's brother, Richard, who had negotiated a deal with government intelligence officers to bring him to the camp, angrily dismissed the media allegations as a 'lie'. Added Richard: 'Anthony knew he was taking a big risk, but he was sick and tired of war, and they said nothing would happen to him'.
"For some, the massacre bore a disturbing resemblance to the infamous 1983 killing of 53 Tamils held in Colombo's Welikade Prison. Government-supported gangs rampaged for three days, killing as many as 3,000 Tamils. The slaughter caused a cataclysmic rupture of trust between the two communities, fueling a 17-year civil war that has claimed 63,000 lives.
"This time the government is struggling to control events before they spiral out of control. President Chandrika Kumaratunga took to the airwaves to offer her 'deepest sorrow' for the incident, and promised legal action. That may be difficult: police rounded up 250 men suspected in the massacre, but they were freed after thousands of Sinhalese protesters surrounded the police station and demanded their release.
The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has already concluded that police guarding the camp are 'guilty of a grave dereliction of duty'. The commission described the accident as 'more consistent with a premeditated and planned attack' than a spontaneous eruption of mob violence. The question is: by whom and for what political purpose? Kumaratunga has started two high-level national police investigations to answer those questions. So far, however, she has ignored calls to appoint a commission independent of the government..."
May be, Minister Kadirgamar can answer the international audience, why President Kumaratunga has ignored calls to appoint a commission independent of the government. Has he even bothered to explain in depth, to Graca Machel and other three telegenic women featured in his brochure, why the October 25 massacre occurred in the first place?
I earnestly look forward for the next snake oil presentation from Minister Kadirgamar. He should produce something, which is more convincing and which will not be laughed at - outright.