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Tamils - a Trans State Nation : United Kingdom
Sri Lanka President's Dance with Some UK Tamils
Sonali Samarasinghe in Sri Lanka Sunday Leader
Even as British Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Lord Malloch-Brown told one group of London Tamils last Monday he had conveyed to both President Mahinda Rajapakse and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama that Britain did not find the political process credible or serious, another group of London Tamils specifically brought down to Colombo by the government was to unwittingly find themselves part of the general tomfoolery.
Nine members of the Tamil diaspora in the UK were gifted an all expenses paid trip to Sri Lanka courtesy the Foreign Ministry to meet President Rajapakse, prominent ministers and opposition parliamentarians and to visit the north and east.
They arrived in Sri Lanka in the afternoon of February 17 on Sri Lankan Airlines flight no. UL 502. The majority departed a week later on February 23. The group was led by R. Jayadevan.
However the useful purpose - if indeed there was a useful purpose - for such a visit was entirely lost as the Foreign Ministry and President's office traded charges of incompetence and sources accused EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda of sabotaging a scheduled meeting with the President and undermining the visit.
This had nothing to do with either the calibre of those who came nor a lack of effort on their part but rather an internal power squabble to be top dog in Tamil politics on the one hand and a serious lapse of communication between the Foreign Ministry and the Presidential Secretariat on the other.
Ironically even though the visit was initiated by the President the President's Office denied any knowledge of it though members in the group said they worked closely and amicably with the Sri Lankan High Commission in London.
Though an impressive itinerary was prepared by the protocol division of the Foreign Ministry which included meetings with Tamil political parties, members of civil society, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, President Rajapakse, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, Foreign Minister Bogollagama, and, two full day trips to Jaffna and the east, the itinerary collapsed with the eastern trip wiped out completely, no meeting with either the President or his brother, and hurried meetings arranged between Minister of Disaster Management Mahinda Samarasinghe and some others as alternatives.
Typically the mishandling of this trip though it may in the final analysis be a mere blip in the tortured politics of Lanka, unfortunately reflects the acrimony that exists within government. At least for their trouble the group was given five star comfort at the Galadari Hotel courtesy the Sri Lankan tax payer.
With Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama at loggerheads on the one hand and the Presidential Secretariat in constant clashes with the Minister on the other, the Rajapakse regime has been unable to speak with one voice in the international arena. On the local front the Rajapakse government is merely a loose conglomeration of warring tribes with the extremists controlling the Chief Executive.
Jayadevan has 15 minute chat
Meanwhile Jayadevan was able to speak to President Rajapakse for 15 minutes over the telephone last Sunday (24) following intense conversations with Douglas Devananda. Devananda spoke for over an hour to Jayadevan on Saturday (23). He was to try after much argument to connect Jayadevan to Rajapakse but it failed. On Sunday however Jayadevan had been able to talk to the President for 15 minutes.
And other than blaming the Foreign Minister for not informing him of the visit Rajapakse it is learnt, had no insight to offer on either a permanent solution to the ethnic conflict, the 13th Amendment, the APRC process, the human rights situation, the child soldiers still being recruited by the TMVP which is in electoral alliance with the government, or the aerial bombardments and the massacre of civilians.
Keeping to the superficial subject of the itinerary Rajapakse blamed Jayadevan for not calling his secretary to arrange a meeting and that, as is usually the case with Rajapakse, was that.
Jayadevan however said that such a response was unacceptable as there did not seem to be a collective response by the government.
"I have informed the British Home Office about this visit and they were very happy. Also there is an acceptance by the international community for a level of engagement by the diaspora because they are the only ones that have a free voice to speak."
"The credibility of the pronunciations made by the Tamils in Sri Lanka is doubted because they are not independent - they are aligned to the government. The EPDP is a part of the government. The TMVP, all those groups are part of the government. But all of them can't express themselves freely and speak on behalf of the Tamil people. What they are all saying is that their hands are tied. So only the diaspora can express even what the Tamil parties within government have to say and only they can come out and say it," Jayadevan had said.
Emerge as sole voice
It is obvious that within the Tamil diaspora itself there is a desire amongst various disparate groups to emerge as the foremost voice of the Tamil people abroad. The power struggle is informed ironically by the politics of the motherland rather than by the international considerations that could bring about a consensus.
At a time when perhaps it is needed for the Tamil diaspora to speak as one, they speak instead as the mouthpieces for various local political parties with parochial interests...
Reiterating the fact that diaspora usually take their fears and prejudices with them, what also emerged during several discussions was the high level of animosity between the EPDP and the TMVP reflected even in the dealings of the Tamil diaspora.
So much so, the head of the group was to write an open appeal to Devananda which included a castigation as follows. Excerpts:
"A delegation assembled by me incorporating wider views of the Tamil diaspora visited Sri Lanka on the invitation of the President from 17th to 23rd February 2008.
"If not for your interference to undermine the programme, our visit would have given valuable insight into the situation prevailing in Sri Lanka. There are compelling and circumstantial evidence available to confirm your highhanded act to frustrate our visit. It is unimaginable that you were able to single handedly and remorselessly proceed through to wreck our visit.
"I have no hesitation in stating that you wanted this visit to come under your scope and management and when this failed, you proceeded on the wrecking path to frustrate the programme fermenting all sorts of excuses.
"It is regretted that warm heart and understanding shown by the government ministers, the Opposition Leader and the government officials was not forthcoming from you. During our conversations, I was able to establish that you wanted exclusive control on Tamil matters and wanting every issue involving the Tamils to be directed or handled through you.
"This attitude of excessive control of yours is no different to the 'control freak' mindset of the LTTE. Our experience proved that the Tamils are not only having difficulties in finding ways to release themselves from the clutches of the LTTE, but also have an uphill task to liberate them from the conditioned and controlling mindsets opposing the LTTE."
Ironically a common thread that seems to run through some sections of the Tamil diaspora despite their fight for supremacy within their own turf as so aptly articulated by Jayadevan himself is the distaste they have for Devananda.
Be that as it may, approximately a month ago, R. Jayadevan, a prominent member of the Tamil diaspora in London, and a man who has suffered at the hands of both the LTTE and the security forces was to receive a call from President Mahinda Rajapakse at 6 a.m. of a morning.
Rajapakse and Jayadevan were to discuss the need for engagement with the Tamil diaspora and President Rajapakse had suggested to Jayadevan that the Tamil diaspora work closely with the Sri Lanka High Commission to facilitate a trip to Sri Lanka to engage with local politicians.
Whatever the level of sincerity among the Tamil diaspora, to Rajapakse, this move, like everything else in his superficial leadership, was merely a PR building exercise. For him an anti LTTE lobby from among the Tamil diaspora was just the thing needed to stave off the flood of accusations regarding human rights and the renewed military offensives.
Rajapakse may tell the public of this country to tighten their belts, but when it comes to working his ill conceived and facile propaganda machine only the most extravagant will suffice.
Meanwhile back in London Jayadevan was to have extensive and profitable discussions with High Commissioner Kshenuka Seneviratne on two occasions and the Foreign Ministry accordingly took charge of the intended visit including air travel, airport transfers, accommodation and a comprehensive but tentative itinerary by the protocol division of the Foreign Ministry in the form of a stapled down booklet on three sheets of 60gsm A4 sheets horizontally folded.
The group of nine Tamil expatriates was headed by former Jaffna man R. Jayadevan, leader, Tamil Democratic Congress... Having lived some 30 years in the UK, Jayadevan is said to be actively involved in lobbying against LTTE funding and shutting down the LTTE financial pipeline.
The group also included N. Satchithananthan, a former resident of Jaffna and a former EPRLF member and president, Federation of Saiva Hindu Temples in the UK, political activist, journalist and writer originally from Batticaloa - Mrs. R Balasubramaniam, and Krishnan Suppiah, leader of the TMVP UK branch, one of the original founders of the Tiger movement who shifted to PLOTE and then joined the TMVP on the invitation of Karuna Amman...
A look at the other members of the group
K.Vivekanandan is a former Jaffna man and the trustee of the Eelapathiswara Hindu Temple in UK...
Arunasalam Muthukumarapillai, brother of TULF MP Thangathurai, assassinated in a suicide attack by the LTTE. He is a member of the Tamil Community Association in Denmark.
S.M.M. Bazeer, head of the Sri Lanka Muslim Information Centre originally hailing from Batticaloa.
N.Mohamed, president, Sri Lanka Islamic Forum UK, a man from up country Sri Lanka and M.M. Cassim, a Muslim from Jaffna attached to the Association of Displaced Muslims of the Northern Province, Norway.
Dr. A. Nicholaspillai, president of the TULF UK Branch was in the original group to come but was later struck off the list.
The composition of the group not withstanding, it was important for Rajapakse and surely this was the original plan, to play up the visit as a Tamil feather in his hawkish pocket.
With the international community pressing for action on the grave human rights situation, in order to continue with the violence but quell international displeasure Rajapakse needs to keep up a prolonged negotiating process and an appearance of rule of law. He also needs to showcase a smattering of support from and engagement with the Tamil diaspora.
Be that as it may perhaps it was to this end that the government again abused the public trust and forced the Sri Lankan tax payer to pick up the tab for the week long visit by nine members of the British Tamil diaspora despite the fact the tour turned out to be a non event.
Rajapakse has been steadily losing international credibility, as abductions and disappearances increase and IDPs are expected to hit the 500,000 mark mid year. Neither the Co-Chairs nor India are buying Mahinda Rajapakse's red herring as UN agencies and governments condemn the ruling regime for its failure to address human rights issues and its deliberate dilly dallying on a lasting solution to the conflict.
However head of the group, R. Jayadevan was to praise the efforts of the government, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London and the Foreign Ministry to bring about wider engagement with the Tamil diaspora. This said, little if anything was achieved in spite of the colossal sum of money the Foreign Ministry forked out of its funds to facilitate the visit.
Meanwhile Jayadevan voicing the Indian stand is adamant that even the 13th Amendment must be implemented in full as a first step to a wider, lasting solution. Blaming the LTTE for violating all the peace processes in the last 30 years, he accused the LTTE of thinking they are bigger than the Tamil people.
"We know the Tamil community in Sri Lanka will not accept a 20 year old solution when the problems have intensified over the years but it is a place to start. We don't want to place obstacles; the UNP also says implement it." Jayadevan said.
The group also met JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe on two occasions in his office. While a consummate host, and insisting he prepare a Tamil meal just for them, Amarasinghe was however to relate the JVP history from birth to inevitable death rather than discuss the issues facing the country.
Cutting an unimpressive and shallow figure, Somawansa had no answer to give when it was put to him that despite their vehement objection to the 13th Amendment the JVP has contested the provincial councils, control them together with the government and has benefited from them.
Interestingly enough however while sabotaging every effort to a peaceful solution the JVP Leader was to profer examples of its nexus with the Tamil cause. A nexus as one knows went so far as propagating self determination as per Rohana Wijeweera's bible for the local JVPer.
Nonetheless Amarasinghe was to tell the group, of a man called Subramanium who was coming down to Colombo through Kandy and had to pass a JVP terror stop in 1971. However Amarasinghe had told the Tamil diaspora they were only targeting Sinhalese not Tamils so they let him go. This of course was a shining example of a non racist group a la Somawansa.
Meanwhile Jayadevan is hopeful for the future but reflects with sadness at the past. "What they did during the presidential election was unacceptable. When I met Erik Solheim one and half years ago in Norway he said anything I say he will have to pass on to both the LTTE and government in the capacity of a facilitator. He said that Ranil Wickremesinghe had pledged to bring a lasting peace to Sri Lanka if he became president. Wickremesinghe had already campaigned extensively within the international community and he had their support. This discussion with Erik was conveyed to the LTTE, to the ruling SLFP and to former President Chandrika in his capacity as a facilitator."
"As we see it" Jayadevan said, "it had become obvious that if Wickremesinghe came into power he would force a settlement on the LTTE and engage the international community. This would create problems for the LTTE. This is the real issue.
"There were serious concerns that the LTTE has undermined a democratic process. And the opportunity was not given for Wickremesinghe to become the president. LTTE contributed to promoting MR for war," Jayadevan said.
And the end result was both Rajapakse and
Pirapaharan having their way and the country having no say.