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Sri Lankan HR situation like 'elephant in room' “ Canada

2013 Dec 06

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Canadian Conservative Party MPs, Corneliu Chisu and Deepak Obhrai

SLAF Chief Air Marshal Harsha Abeywickrama yesterday rejected allegations that foreign delegates who were here to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) last month, had been deprived of the opportunity to fly to Jaffna citing security reasons.

Air Marshal Abeywickrama insisted that the government had ensured swift transportation of all those who sought to visit former operational areas. Among those who had availed themselves of the facility were the British delegation led by Premier David Cameron and a group of foreign journalists, he said.

MP Deepak Obhrai lays flowers for war dead  just south of Elephant Pass

The SLAF also flew a group of civil society representatives, who were here for people’s forum, to the Iranamadu airfield, formerly belonging to the ‘Air Tigers.’

Air Marshal Abeywickrama was responding to Deepak Obhrai, PC, MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights. Obhrai represented Canadian Premier Stephen Harper at the 22 CHOGM held in Colombo.

The SLAF Chief declined to say what may have motivated minister Obhrai to allege closure of Jaffna airspace.

The Canadian High Commission didn’t respond to The Island queries yesterday.

Obhrai made the allegation on Nov. 30 when he addressed a group of Tamils of Sri Lankan origin. The Conservative politician was joined by Corneliu Chisu, who represents Pickering—Scarborough East (Ontario). Obhrai represents Calgary east.

Addressing the group and some selected journalists, Obhrai alleged that due to the closure of airspace by the Sri Lankan government, he had been left with no alternative but to undertake an eight-hour journey overland to Jaffna, where he met the Bishop of Jaffna, Northern Province Chief Minister retired Justice C.V. Wigneswaran and the staff of the Jaffna based Uthayan newspaper.

The Canadian MP declined to divulge the identities of those who he had met in addition to the Bishop of Jaffna, Northern Province Governor and the proprietor of Uthayan, as their lives could be at stake. Obhrai alleged that there hadn’t been any progress on the ground even in the absence of war.

Obhrai quoted Justice Wigneswaran as having told him of the severe difficulties experienced by northerners due to overbearing state interference and the interventions made by Northern Province Governor G. A. Chandrasiri.

Obhrai said that on his way back he had placed a wreath at Elephant Pass in memory of all innocent Sri Lankan victims of violence. The minister said that he was thankful to the government for providing police escort to and from Jaffna. Obhrai described Elephant Pass as a neutral place.

The Defence Ministry told The Island that the Canadian politician had decided to go overland to Jaffna as he obviously wanted to lay a wreath at Elephant Pass. The ministry said that only minister Obhrai knew what he meant by describing Elephant Pass as a neutral place. A senior External Affairs Ministry official said that the Tamil version of the description of the act differed from Sinhala and English versions. It said: "To respect those minority ethnic civilians who died in the war."

Obhrai likened the human rights issue in Sri Lanka to that of an elephant in a room. He alleged that the people of all communities were scared of the government in spite of it coming into power with a big popular mandate.

Political as well as overseas Tamil sources said that Premier Harper’s Conservative government bending backwards to appease the Diaspora should be examined in the backdrop of those who had been with the LTTE and the World Tamil Movement (WTM) working closely with the ruling party. Responding to a query, sources pointed out that Nehru Gunaratnam, who had been deeply involved with the WTM, banned by the Conservative government of Canada several years ago was in touch with senior party leaders. Since the banning of the LTTE and the WTM, Gunaratnam had become quite influential with the National Council of Canadian Tamils, widely believed to be a close ally of the Conservatives, sources said.

One-time LTTE heavyweight was seen with Canadian Conservative politician Patrick Brown at a gathering opposite the Canadian parliament on Oct 28 held in support of the government boycott of the CHOGM. Sources said that Gunaratnam had been one of those key activists who were picked by LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran to represent the organization in two committees, one tasked with handling political affairs overseas and the other responsible for managing Diaspora operations.




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