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Some diplomats cross the line “ G.L Peiris

2014 Dec 27

The government insists that a conspiracy backed by the pro-LTTE diaspora is very much at play ahead of the Presidential election next month and a few notable incidents in recent times prove the conspiracy theory is not fake but real.

External Affairs Minister, Professor G.L Peiris, speaking to The Sunday Leader, also said that some foreign diplomats based in Sri Lanka cross the line through their actions.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q. The government, during this election campaign, has been saying that there is an “international conspiracy” against Sri Lanka and the opposition is being used as part of this conspiracy to topple the government. Is this a real and serious threat or just political talk?

A. The proof of it is that foreign leaders are objecting to the recent actions of representatives of the LTTE. You read the statement of Don Randall, an Australian Member of Parliament who says these activities are taking place. Then take the statement by the Canadian Minister. The Minister finds fault with Rathika Sitsabaiesan, a member of the diaspora in the Scarborough area with regards to a speech she made in the Canadian Parliament. The Minister wants her to apologise. Some of the countries concerned are also active to those matters. In some cases they have established contact with us. There are convictions of people who have been extorting.  Then there are other things which are happening which I have talked about. There is Anandi Sasithrana who had made a request that the investigations by team appointed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. So you can’t take one piece and asses it in isolation.  They are all interconnected. So the truth is this, with the end of the war the LTTE threat has not ceased. It is very much there. There is an effort to achieve by other means what they failed to achieve by military means. What are the other means? Action at the international level. What more do you need than the statement by Suren Surendiren (Global Tamil Forum spokesman). He says directly their objective is to defeat the President at the Presidential elections and have him hauled up before an international criminal court. There is now an attempt being made to collect information with regards to the command structure of the armed forces. So it all adds up to a complete and coherent picture. And connected with that is the plan to isolate the country economically. Some of the travel advisories are blatantly unfair. There has never been an election incident where a foreigner was injured. In one case I took up the issue with the Minister in the respective country and the advisory was changed. What we are saying is that the country needs to be vigilant to protect the hard won victories. The benefits are being enjoyed by our people. The one thing that is needed to protect that is a strong and stable government.   


Q. But some of these incidents and concerns had been there even before the Presidential election was announced. So how do you link the international conspiracy to the opposition and the election?

A. There is now a concerted effort to get rid of a strong government. It is the strength of the government which enabled terrorism to be defeated. If you have the kind of combination of incompatibles that the opposition is advocating would it ever been possible to take concerted action to end the war? Udaya Gamanpilla has said that within a matter of four hours the opposition candidate has made contradictory pledges to different people. The sole purposes is to defeat the President. After that it doesn’t matter what happens. If you have that kind of anarchy prevailing in the country then what these people are attempting to achieve will become possible. The only buffer against that is an effective administration, which is what they are trying to dislodge. There are opposition spokespersons who have called for international investigations. Even Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe had made a speech in Chennai which was reported in The Hindu newspaper and which I tabled in Parliament. In that speech he says there should be foreign intervention. So how can you say there is no connection? We believe in amicable relations with other countries but at the end of the day the responsibility for making decisions related to domestic issues belongs to the elected leadership of this country and it cannot be handed over to anyone else in the way that Ranil Wickremesinghe advocates in the speech that he made in Chennai.


Q. Is Sri Lanka’s relationship with some countries on the decline as a result of pro-LTTE activities in those countries or actions of some diplomats in Sri Lanka?

A. We think that diplomatic activity must be within certain parameters. We feel at times there is a tendency to cross the line. It is wrong for foreign missions to associate with criminal elements with people involved in criminal activity against the interest of this country. How would the receiving country feel if our Ambassadors or High Commissioners cohabited with people who are conspiring to destabilise those societies? They also need to be sensitive to the security concerns of the host government. The frequency of contact, the manner of contact, all of that is relevant. What should be avoided is a perception of political partisanship in the public mind. And it is because the line has been blurred in several instances that these problems have arisen and we have had frank discussions with the missions concerned about our own concerns regarding these matters.  G.L.Peiris1

We talk to everyone. We have not discontinued dialogue with any country. We are pointing out to them that this in unjust. And although it is dressed up as a moral or political issue, it is far from that.  It is to do with naked power. It is to do with money, power and influence. It is a far cry from what it is represented to be. There is also a tendency by some countries to issue harsh public statements in the drop of a hat. I have told representatives of those countries, not only in Colombo but overseas as well that it is blatantly counterproductive. Some statements are made even very rapidly, sometimes without checking the facts. They would not do this in some other countries because there will be repercussions.  The way to persuade a government to make a change where required or to adopt a different approach is to use the channels for diplomatic communication. Public statements would polarise the situation.


Q. Is the government looking to reach out to the diaspora who are involved in ant-Sri Lanka propaganda to maybe persuade them to see things the way the government wants?

A. We have no wish to cut-off communications with them. The reality about the diaspora today is that it is not a monolith. There are different views within it. Infact there are some who are investing in the north. But there is also a section which is clinging to the goal of Eelam which has not changed. You can talk to a group of people who are open to persuasion, at least upto a point an open mind. But if people are committed to a political objective which has become in their minds obsessive then there is very little room for that kind of constructive engagement. But we are reaching out.  


Q.  What kind of foreign policy is Sri Lanka looking at with regards to China and India post 2015 elections?

A. Those countries are vital for Sri Lanka. We do not envisage a change after the election. What is important as far as we are concerned is continuity. We have a foreign policy which is not based on exclusivity. Both India and China have played an important role in the economic development of this country. But we have stressed that one is not at the expense of the other. We do not make choices between countries. Both countries have helped us, they have invested and participate in the development of infrastructure. The President is on record as saying Sri Lanka will not allow one country which has friendly relations with us to hurt another country using Sri Lanka. He has categorically stated that. We have excellent relations with both countries.

Q. Does the government have issues with India have direct talks with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)?

A. No we have no issues. We cannot object to the government of India talking to the TNA. We have never taken up the position that we oppose such a dialogue. On the contrary we welcome whoever is able to persuade the TNA to engage in some form of discussion with us. If the government of India is able to play a salutary role to persuade the TNA to engage in dialogue, we have no problem with that at all.

Q. Can the government win the support of the Tamils in the north at the Presidential election without the TNA, considering the influence the TNA has on the people in the north?

A. I don’t think the central government should work through a political party. The central government is delivering directly to the people of that area. Look at the vast infrastructure development in the Northern Province. The central government is delivering directly to the people. But it is a pity that the TNA has even boycotted the District Development Meeting in the north. That is to do with projects and not political. Also the Northern Provincial Council cannot deliver without the corporation of the centre. We want the needs of the people of the north to be meaningfully addressed.

Q. But are they getting the funds they need to get?

A. They are getting the funds but only a very insignificant amount is being spent. That can be established. There is much to be done. There are high expectations. People can have political differences. You have your political issues but that should not prevent you from engaging with the government in other sectors where such collaboration is absolutely essential for successful delivery.


Q. Are we prepared to face the inevitable next March at the UN Human Rights Council?

A. We are taking measures at various levels. We are in touch with some of the best lawyers in the world who are in touch with us in regards to the preparation for the legal strategy. But this is essentially a political matter. So we are having discussions with like-minded countries. There is a great deal of activity at that level. Many countries are now saying that they are greatly embarrassed about the degree of intensity at which Sri Lanka is being pursued.

Also don’t forget that the UN Human Rights Council came into existence after the UN General Assembly was dissatisfied with its predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission. The UN General Assembly felt the UN Human Rights Commission was politicised and they wanted instead a body that is issue based that would decide issues on their merit. Is that happening with the human rights council? It has actually become much more politicised.


Q. But the with regards to the UN led investigation on Sri Lanka, the government keeps saying it has nothing to hide. Then why not just allow the UN investigations team to come, investigate and go?

A. That argument is entirely fallacious. It is not because we have anything to hide that we are not subjecting this country to an international investigation. We know that this is not a proper investigation at all. It is political. It is biased. It is a situation where the conclusion has already arrived at before the investigation is over. An international investigation is not going to deliver justice.  

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