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Showdown in Geneva: Hate Campaign in LankaSalem-News.com
A U.S. decision to go after Sri Lanka for war crimes comes at a time when oil prices are skyrocketing.
(CHENNAI Times India) - The special SriLankan Airlines flight had rolled off the runway at Bandaranaike International Airport in the morning of Friday, February 10. On board were President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his entourage on an official visit to Pakistan.
He was still in the air, somewhere between Colombo and Islamabad, when a crucial meeting of a Cabinet Sub Committee was under way in Colombo. It was discussing costs of fuel imports and how the new pricing structure should be formulated. Taking part were Petroleum Industries Minister Susil Premajayantha, Senior Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ratnasiri Wickremenayake and Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa. In attendance was Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the Ministry of Finance and Planning.
It was taking place in the backdrop of a Cabinet Paper circulated to ministers at the weekly meeting just two days earlier, on February 8. In the absence of Rajapaksa, it has been signed by acting Finance and Planning Minister Geetanjana Gunawardena.
As our front page story today reveals, it painted a dismal picture of the financial situation in the country. In essence, more loans were being raised to pay for those or interest on loans obtained earlier. It was a case of the proverbial borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Other than that, there was no indication to ministers that a major decision that would adversely affect the lives of practically every Sri Lankan was round the corner. Yet, it seemed a trivial issue for the cabinet to deliberate on or it was too "sensitive a secret" for ministers to know in advance……………………..
The spontaneous protest by the fishermen in Chilaw clearly outdid the UNP's own one in Colombo. Yet, an angry Rajapaksa told a public meeting in Kadawatha last Sunday that parties with vested interests were trying to take advantage of the prevailing situation to create a volatile environment internally. This was with the intention of putting Sri Lanka to difficulty at tomorrow's 19th sessions of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). He said fuel prices had to be increased due to the rise in world oil prices. It had caused a heavy burden on the economy. The next day, he visited a fish market in his ancestral town of Tangalle and was photographed with the day's catch. The message was clear - the fishing industry in the Deep South was functioning normal though it was not so in the coastal belt north of Colombo.
Last Wednesday evening, Rajapaksa was to go into action again. Besides Ministers and MPs, he summoned electoral organisers and party district representatives for a meeting at "Temple Trees." There, he delayed the weekly cabinet meeting, to put in place a programme of action not only to cope with public criticism over the fuel price increase but also on issues which were coming up at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva tomorrow. This was despite the pain from an ankle he sprained after a fall at 'Temple Trees'. The cabinet meeting that evening began at 9.30 p.m. Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal spoke of the economic situation in the country. He painted a rosy picture and forecast that despite rises in fuel prices, the country's economic growth was on course. Cabraal was to also tell the media that neither the fuel price increase nor the rise in electricity tariffs would have a major shock on consumers. Not surprisingly, not one cabinet minister or government parliamentarian agreed with the Central Bank Governor's logic. Even if they did not speak out openly, privately they were irritated. They exchanged views among themselves.
Petroleum Minister Premajayantha explained the world market price trends for crude oil and how increases had impacted on Sri Lanka. As our front page story today reveals, the US has turned down a request for concessionary terms after it imposed sanctions on Iran, which provides 93 per cent of Sri Lanka's fuel requirements. Power and Energy Minister Ranawaka followed with an explanation on the power supply position in the country. He explained the recent increase in surcharges were inevitable. When the three speeches were over, Construction Minister Wimal Weerawansa spoke on political issues, particularly the US-backed resolution that was coming up before the UNHRC. Widely regarded as the government's point man when it came to key issues, Weerawansa stressed the need to muster large crowds on the streets both in Colombo and the outstations to protest the US-backed resolution before the UNHRC. Later, he made his presence at the weekly news briefing that follows cabinet meetings. Weerawansa said:
"The forces against the government are at work again. This time, they are trying to bring a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva. We were expecting that some country will raise some objection, but we now understand that it is the US which is bringing the resolution. They are reported to be bringing serious allegations against Sri Lanka. We understand that the resolution is being discussed with various countries and it is being adjusted accordingly. Our question is, Are we a country where there are coups and conspiracies or governed by a military regime to take such action against us? If we are acting against democracy or do not have elections you can understand such action. But in this case it is the vengeance for defeating the LTTE. There is an NGO funded western conspiracy. Their aim is to prosecute President Rajapaksa and the 'war heroes' in the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. As a mark of protest against these moves we are calling the public to come out to hold a protest campaign on Monday, February 27.
Minister Premajayantha added: "The government has decided that the demonstrations will be held throughout the country including the main towns. After the end of the war we will demonstrate to the international community that the people have rallied round the President. Ministers too will organise protest campaigns where they will rally the people at Grama Sevaka division level. Also we should be careful of the protests which are being held in the country as some of them are organized by interested parties to show there is instability in the country. But we will demonstrate that there is no instability in the country."
Earlier, on Tuesday, Rajapaksa also had a one-on-one meeting with Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan at "Temple Trees". During the discussion, at least on three different occasions, Rajapaksa asked Sampanthan to nominate TNA's representatives to the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) that was to formulate proposals to address Tamil grievances. Sampanthan was to politely explain that the TNA would do so only when its delegation resumes talks with the government and a "set of proposals" are formulated. Rajapaksa was keen to have the PSC going so the Sri Lanka delegation to Geneva could say that discussions towards reconciliation had begun. A call for reconciliation is one of the issues in Geneva. Rajapaksa had also referred to tomorrow's UNHRC sessions during his discussions with Sampanthan.
The dichotomy in the government's position lays bare a strong sense of inequality. On the one hand, it has stifled the opposition and prevented groups from holding any protests with the use of batons, tear gas and even bullets. Minister Premajayantha has dubbed these protests as those "organised by interested parties to show there is instability in the country." In the same breath, he says, people are being rallied around to protest against the United States and its western allies among others. His rationale seems that if one is organised by the government, it was to protest "against the international community." If it was done by the opposition, it was to cause "instability." Thus, he unashamedly admits that the government had one rule for itself and another for the opposition. Would not the move by the government have a destabilising effect?
Would it not be an invitation for Washington to issue an adverse travel advisory to its nationals at a time when the Sri Lanka Embassy in the US capital boasts of 'heavy' US investment in Sri Lanka with more to come? A more important question is whether the public at large, particularly those hit by the steep increases in fuel prices, would join such protests. Nevertheless, the government will undoubtedly be able to muster its own trade unions, Samurdhi recipients and supporters for the protests.
The question remains whether it could stall the resolution that will come before the UNHRC. That seems a doubtful proposition despite External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris now backtracking. He told reporters in Geneva that the proposed resolution should be delayed until October when Sri Lanka's case would be reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). If indeed that was Sri Lanka's position, why the country's chief diplomat Peiris could not work towards that goal in the past weeks remains a relevant question. The eleventh hour appeal for a postponement sends a wrong diplomatic signal that Colombo is making the plea after being cornered.
A Sri Lanka delegation of 56 members has flown to Geneva for the sessions. No doubt, their travel and lodging expenses would constitute a neat amount in foreign exchange. Not all of them could be accommodated in seats allotted to Sri Lanka delegation at the Palais des Nationes at Avenue de la Pais in Geneva. In the past two days, External Affairs MinisterPeiris, has been wining and dining heads of delegations. In the coming week, he is off to Botswana for a meeting with his counterpart Phandu Skelemani. Peiris had tried unsuccessfully to meet him earlier this month.
Mahinda Samarasinghe, who is leading the Sri Lanka delegation, is scheduled to make an opening statement tomorrow. In a bid to forestall the US backed resolution, he is to list out a number of measures that the government had taken following recommendations made in the final report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). He is also to caution that a passage of the resolution would only lead to the strengthening of extremist groups in Sri Lanka's political firmament.
Ahead of tomorrow's UNHRC sessions, the House of Commons in Britain held a debate on Sri Lanka. The Conservative government's position was spelt out by Alastair Burt, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He said: "Our policy towards Sri Lanka is built on the United Kingdom's values and on British interests. It will balance the future of the people in Sri Lanka, who must get on with their lives after terrible years of conflict, with the need for a sense of justice about the events of the past. We express again our abhorrence at some of the events that concluded the conflict, which still leave questions for the Sri Lankan Government to answer, just as we do at the campaign of violence, suicide bombings, the use of child soldiers and terrorism practised by the LTTE during the conflict-a conflict that, after decades, has left recent scars that still need to be healed.
"Our policy is not starry-eyed about allegations against the Sri Lankan Government or unaware of concerns about current human rights issues. However, we acknowledge open statements from the Sri Lankan Government about what needs to happen to reconcile and move forward, and we recognise the sovereign Government's ability to make things happen through implementing measures set out by the LLRC and through addressing issues that were not dealt with satisfactorily in the report……" Burt has said the UK government will support the resolution.
Norway has also expressed support for the resolution. Erik Solheim, Norway's International Aid Minister and special envoy for peace talks in Sri Lanka during the ceasefire, has told his country's media Sri Lankan government won the war "but now needs to win the peace." Besides the United States, among the other countries known to be backing the resolution are Austria, Botswana, Guatemala, Libya, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Romania, Uganda, Cameroon and Nigeria.
Continue reading this report, here is Part Two
Articles for February 25, 2012 | Articles for February 26, 2012 | Articles for February 27, 2012