Play it right
As the general public of this country at times we wonder at the
seemingly inexplicable happenings in the international arena, where
relationships seem strained between Sri Lanka and certain nations. We
jump to conclusions on the progress of the reconciliation process and
discussions with the TNA. Sajin De Vass Gunawardena is the Monitoring
Member of Parliament to the Ministry of External Affairs, he dispels
urban myths in relation to foreign policy and engagement with other
nations, where positive achievements are failed to be highlighted in Sri
Lanka. He speaks about the progress made so far and agrees that there is
more to be done.
With regards to the TNA, he cautions that history should not be
repeated through the actions of the TNA, where the needs of the Tamil
people should be given priority and not the political aspirations of the
TNA. He says it is the last chance for the TNA to make the difference
for posterity. The ball is in their court, it is time for them to play
Q: Many things have happened over the past few months that
have been disturbing. However, there is no sense in dwelling on the
past, but to learn and move forward. Can you tell us what plans or
strategies have been made to maintain good relations with other
countries especially the West and India?
A: We have to look at this in the context of the US backed
human rights resolution that was passed against Sri Lanka in Geneva
Taking from there, I feel we have managed to maintain the fact of the
importance of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission and the
action that is emanating from that. Our relationship in terms of the
West and India must be viewed in that proper context.
If we look at our relationship with the West and India in a
generalised manner, then we have very cordial relations with these
countries because human rights is only one aspect of a relationship with
We have strong bi-lateral relations with all these countries. For
example, if we look at the UK; His Excellency President Mahinda
Rajapaksa attended the celebration of Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee,
where he met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and we as part of
His Excellencies delegation met with William Hague. We had a very
Prior to that the Minister of External Affairs, G L Pieris led a
delegation, which I was also part of, to meet US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton, where we discussed the progress we have made, what we
intent to do and the process of which the LLRC recommendations would be
implemented was discussed.
We are in a much better place in terms of our relationship with any
country, including India, where they also have recognised the good work
that we have done.
Q: From the outside it seems as if Sri Lanka is antagonising
A: It depends on the perspective that you look at it from;
friends of Sri Lanka would see it otherwise, enemies of Sri Lankan would
see it in another way. But, we need to look at it in an analytical way
at the contextual issues and on what our relationship has been based on.
Human rights is only just one aspect of the relationship. We have
bilateral trade and investment. Then we have other forums where we
engage with them but for those who have a negative perspective, they may
interpret the situation differently. But from our perspective and from
the perspective of those who value Sri Lanka and want to see the country
progressing towards development and reconciliation, we have moved
forward quite positively and effectively.
Q: Relations with India, USA and European countries were much
more cordial during the war than it is right now. What are your thoughts
A: If we look at the relationship between war-time and now, I
do not see much of a change. At that time there was one thing paramount,
that was the eradication of terrorism. Let us talk on the premise of
eradication of terrorism, the principle based on that. Having eradicated
terrorism, the grouse on some of these entities, especially the LTTE
diaspora - I will not say the Tamil diaspora as we need to differentiate
sections of the diaspora that are supportive of the aspirations of the
We see the propaganda that was propagated by them in the aftermath of
the war in terms of reconciliation and accountability. When you take the
aspect of accountability, the Ministry of Defence has clearly identified
the number of people who are actually missing. This amounts to
approximately 4,600. These figures have been provided to the respective
countries. We have to understand that certain countries, especially
Britain, are being forced to recognise certain aspects of the LTTE
diaspora as they make a large voting block in their respective
When you sit with these people (LTTE diaspora) and talk to them, you
realise that they do not speak on facts. They have a conceived
perception of what Sri Lanka should be and that's the ultimate goal of
Eelam. In that context, when you take the UK, there are about 300,000
Tamil residents in UK, of which approximately 140,000 are in the greater
London area, where there is a huge pressure by them on the members of
Parliament who represent their constituencies. Taking those into
consideration, certain governments have to give a little leverage in
terms of accommodating their requests. However, if we look at the
overall relationship - from a government to government perspective - we
have dialogue and interaction, between the West and Sri Lanka. That is
without compromising our stand. We have to maintain the stand that we
have taken, and we have been quite transparent in our view. Therefore in
that context our relationship is still the same and there is no setback
in that regard.
Q: The LTTE overseas propaganda machinery is working over time
creating a bad image for the country. How is the Ministry of External
Affairs addressing this?
A: It is a herculean task. The issue we have here is that, the
diaspora is entwined into the political system of these country. UK is a
perfect example. At the time the President was in London to celebrate
the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, we all know what actions the diaspora took.
They surrounded the Marlborough House, where the lunch in honour of the
Queen was being hosted by the Secretary General of the Commonwealth.
That was not our event. There were so many heads of states that were
visiting and the Police gave us a presentation the day before and showed
us how dangerous the LTTE diaspora can be for civil society in UK. That
is where we have to draw that reference from. They have been able to
congregate and to make themselves powerful within the constituencies. In
certain constituencies the balance of power, that is whether a certain
candidate wins or loses, is dependent on their vote.
This is the issue that the Ministry of External Affairs has, where we
cannot go down to the level of what the diaspora does, but we have to
counter their actions.
We have done that very effectively by working with the respective
institutions, by using other diaspora members, by visiting foreign
ministries and other civil peers. But at the end of the day what becomes
successful? Is it what we say, or is it what they say? What they say is
very clear, what we say is factual. We give factual evidence of what is
happening; whether it is development in the North or reconciliation.
Whatever we do it is transparent as a government.
However, at the end of the day all these governments succumb to one
thing, political power and votes. That is the problem that we face.
One thing I was very specific about after the recent fiasco in terms
of the LTTE diaspora protesting in London and surrounding the
Marlborough House, was that the threat today by such congregation, use
of violence and force is not to Sri Lanka. Today they, LTTE diaspora,
will take up Sri Lanka as an issue, but tomorrow when the British
government takes perhaps some action, which is detrimental to the Tamil
community - this is just a hypothetical situation - then you will see
how they will destroy British society. This is something the British
government must take into consideration. Deal with us on the issues that
they have to deal with us, but keep the diaspora aside. The LTTE
diaspora will never realise the ground-weariness, they will never come
to Sri Lanka and see for themselves. They have an agenda that they want
to take forward, but they also do not want to leave their homes and
luxurious lives in London and come back to Sri Lanka. There are so many
multi-faceted reasons as to why they would behave like that.
The Ministry of External Affairs of course has continuous engagement.
Anybody can come and visit. We have been giving our facts. It is a
continuous process that we undertake, but whether what we do is seen
objectively and positively is something others have to decide.
Q: Tamil Nadu has played a pivotal role in the decisions that
the Central Government of India has made. Sri Lanka needs to give
attention to these aspects.
A: In the context of Tamil Nadu, whatever they are asking for
is not something that we can concede to. Recently, Chief Minister
Karunanidhi had said that ‘they have to get Eelam'. One question I would
ask from the larger majority of the population of Tamils in Sri Lanka,
is whether they accept that? Tamil Nadu is in another country, Sri Lanka
is another country. Tamil Nadu is part of India. Rightfully, I remember
Secretary of Defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa saying in reply to that
statement, that they should start Eelam from there (Tamil Nadu), if it
is their desire to have Eelam. Eelam is a concept - it is not something
tangible, it is not something that is achievable - it was the vicious
aim of Prabakaran who is no more. He caused massive bloodshed for over
30 years to achieve that aim. Therefore if Karunanidhi or whoever in
Tamil Nadu wants to propagate that, the best place to start Eelam as
Secretary of Defence said is in Tamil Nadu, not in Sri Lanka. But let
the majority of the Tamils of this country speak for themselves. As far
as we are concerned irrespective of ethnicity or religion we will not
permit a separation of this country.
Sri Lanka does not need to take this very seriously. In terms of our
relationship as a country, our relationship is with India, it is not
with a part of it. If I am to say that our relationship is with Tamil
Nadu, that is wrong. We do not recognise Tamil Nadu as a separate state
or as a separate country. Our relationship is with entire India and in
that context I think we have an excellent relationship with the country.
To be continued
Courtesy: Business Today