Neo-colonialist interference takes many shapes and forms
Posted on June 14th, 2010

By Neville de Silva The Nation – ANN

 Briefing Bangkok-based diplomats at the height of the recent red- shirt protest and violence, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya warned foreign governments and NGOs not to interfere in Thailand’s internal affairs.Obviously irked by offers of mediation or attempts at interference by foreign governments, international bodies – governmental or non-governmental -Kasit was explicit that Thailand was quite capable of handling its problems without unsolicited advice and intervention.

“We are not a failed state,” was Kasit’s jibe at those who seemed to suggest that Thailand could not deal with the violent protest without the help of outside powers including those whose interventions elsewhere have resulted in chaos and killings.

If this is the first time in recent decades that Bangkok has had to ward off attempted interference, nearby Sri Lanka has for years suffered from similar attempts by Western powers and international NGOs to impose their will on the Colombo government.

Last year, India reminded the UK of its own past in Northern Ireland, when the then UK foreign secretary David Miliband alluded to the Kashmir issue. China too has often had to remind the West that Taiwan is a part of its sovereign territory and relations between the two sides is an internal matter.

Last week, Sri Lanka’s new external affairs minister, G L Peiris asked the United Nations to keep out of Sri Lankan affairs after Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon repeated at a New York press conference that he intends to go ahead with setting up an international panel of experts to advise him on Sri Lanka, especially the last months of the near 30-year war that ended a year ago with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which has been banned by over 30 countries as a foreign terrorist organisation.

Secretary-General Ban is being pressurised by several international NGOs including the International Crisis Group (ICG), once headed by former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, and more recently by Canadian Louise Arbour; Human Rights Watch; and Amnesty International among others, who are urging the UN to set up an international inquiry into alleged war crimes and violations of human rights.

Sri Lankans – who learned a bitter lesson after the government and the LTTE signed a peace pact in 2002 under Norwegian mediation, which helped the Tamil Tigers to rearm, regroup and travel the world making diplomatic contacts and propagating their cause of a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka – say enough is enough and want foreigners to stay away as they sort out their problems in the post-war era.

That peace agreement drafted and urged by Norway was so weighted in favour of the LTTE that the Tigers were able to violate its terms over 3,000 times while the government forces did so less than 300 times, as stated in the report of the international Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM).

But this is not all. It is a commonly held view that foreign governments and international and local NGOs were instrumental in helping the LTTE in numerous ways, including building its arsenal, carrying weapons in vehicles that had diplomatic clearance, and even using the 2004 tsunami to bring war materials illicitly into the country.

Sri Lankans have watched with increasing impatience and concern the growing nexus between the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora abroad, especially in the First World, where they have settled, many of them as asylum seekers and economic migrants, and the international NGOs and Western media.

While the Tamil diaspora in the West held huge protests against the Sri Lankan government’s offensive against the LTTE (which some Western military and strategic pundits claimed was undefeatable) in order to influence foreign governments, the NGOs and media carried out a vicious campaign against Sri Lanka.

Notorious in the anti-Sri Lanka campaign were sections of the UK media such as Channel 4, The Times and The Guardian, often citing unnamed and unknowable sources that seemed to exist more in the minds of the journalists concerned, if at all. Execrable levels to which once-respected media have sunk have been recorded in several scholarly studies.

As a correspondent for The Guardian in its heyday, I can think of no better description for the current state of its journalism than to say, like Maxim Gorky, it seems to be plumbing the lowest depths.

While working as a journalist in London, I had to take the Sunday Times to the UK Press Complaints Commission (PCC) for distorted and biased reporting on Sri Lanka by one of its award-winning journalists, Marie Colvin. The PCC, after much delay and procrastination by the Sunday Times, held in my favour on two counts including the paper’s refusal to give me the right of reply in keeping with its own code of conduct.

These are but a couple of examples of the malaise that affects British journalism in modern times, though plenty of others can be drawn from the coverage of other countries in the global South.

This newspaper has published several letters in recent weeks from irate readers complaining about the reporting by two leading international news oulets of the red-shirt protests. The readers were certainly not all Thais.

Under cover of the 2004 tsunami, container loads of war materials and other useful items reached the LTTE. A few were discovered while others slipped through because of the urgency with which supplies being were cleared without the usual probity. Searches conducted after the LTTE defeat unearthed a wide variety of these items. Today Sri Lanka is looking closely at the functioning of NGOs in order to tighten up procedures and laws relating to their operations.

The pressure to erode further the concept of national sovereignty and assume a universal jurisdiction continues apace. The danger to the global South has deepened because many Western donors now operate through NGOs. Such funding is not freely given, saying do what you will with it. They must have agendas and conditions attached to them such. He who pays the piper must surely call the tune. Neo-colonialism comes in many forms, sometimes covered with the fig leaf of humanitarian concern.

 Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist currently on a diplomatic assignment in Bangkok.

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