Gota Has a Case
Posted on January 31st, 2014

By Bandu de Silva

“You have met our opponents”

That is what the Swiss President told me when I went to present Credentials as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in the Swiss capital in 1984. The President actually used was “enemies” but I have sanitized it thinking that in a democracy like Switzerland they could not be calling the single member in the Opposition in Bundes (Parliament) an “enemy”. I thought it was a problem with the use of the English language.

“We considered whether we should accept you as the new Ambassador but we decided in your favour because we have many crucial issues at this time to deliberate with your government.” The President continued.

I was unruffled by the remarks but his sending a bundle of newspapers through the Chief of Protocol who was present to be placed on my lap disturbed me. I felt that was an act inappropriate to an occasion like this. I had already made my speech presenting the Credentials which were accepted. The above remarks by the President were in response.

 Once again I offered greetings from my President following usual Protocol as if I was unconcerned by the remarks  but I thought I should meet the accusation not by explaining the circumstances, but by directly extolling the virtues of Swiss experience as a premier practicing democracy. My reply was: “Excellency, I thought I am in the Capital of the foremost democracy in the world. My country too which is a small country like Switzerland is a democracy and under our system the Leader of the opposition is held in highest esteem. He ranks next to the Prime Minister in the order of Precedence.” After that I said, if your Excellency was looking for an explanation, though it was not, I had the intention of meeting the member of the Opposition as a courtesy because he had written to me several times. That was courtesy on my part. My Secretary had gone to the extent of clearing it with the Foreign Office, again as a matter of courtesy. My Secretary was present with me when this conversation with the President took place. She is now a senior Foreign Office official who has been Ambassador to several countries.

 The President looked at the Foreign Minister and the Chief of Protocol whom I saw nodding. The matter was over then and there. But I went on to say that I had no intention of meeting the gentleman concerned at that time. I had just arrived in my hotel room and was waiting for my baggage. Instead of the baggage-porter who appeared after the knock were a gentleman who introduced himself to me as the opposition Councillor in the Bundes and a lady who accompanied as his Secretary.

 I told the President that under our culture we do not chase away even an enemy who calls at one’s door. I offered the gentleman and his female Secretary a cup of tea. My own female Secretary was present on the occasion. Little did I realize that the gentleman had come with the press corps who with their cameras and television crew who were waiting in the hotel lobby. That is how the news got into the media of my meeting with him.

 

 

Political Strategy

This might look like privileged conversation. No. as soon as the meeting took place with the President it was out in the Swiss media saying I had been reprimanded by the Swiss government. Obviously, the news had been leaked deliberately or not as a political strategy. I have, therefore, taken the liberty to refer to it several times in my writing in the local media. There was not any questioning by the Sri Lankan government. President JR Jayewardene himself had given an audience to this visiting Councillor later as the local newspapers reported.   

          Soon after, the top Foreign Office officials of Ambassador rank were advising me to ignore the remarks. These have no bearing on the country, they said. Newspapers live on this sort of thing. Back in Paris, a senior Foreign Ofiice man at Quay d’Orsay, sonically remarked: “Oh! You are speaking about that little village!”  

The Lesson

What is the lesson here? Right or wrong, the Swiss government had reason for questioning my meeting the opposition member whether it was intentional or not. He had been very critical of government policy of allowing refugees and asylum seekers from other countries into Switzerland. The objective behind his party was universally disowned. We could not look at it differently but he was saying some truth about the situation of Tamils in Sri Lanka, that they were not being persecuted and those who came there were either economic refugees or alleged criminals. He was trying to explain the real situation in Sri Lanka to the Swiss people. That was important. Even a criminal who was indicted for murder at Taha’s gambling den in Colombo, who happened to be a Tamil, had turned an asylum seeker in Switzerland. He was not extradited.

Report of Army shooting civilians

At the time I arrived, there was reporting in the Swiss media of armed forces shooting at civilians in Vavuniya. I did not say no to these  reports but asked the media to think how the news is made up ”the man on the street seeing men in uniform shooting, and the reporter getting it from the people and the correspondent in Colombo reporting accordingly through wire-service. No one ever asked who were the men in uniform were. It was my disclosing that Tamil terrorist groups were wearing camouflage fatigues and people could get caught in cross-fire that disturbed the Swiss media resulting their attack on me through over hundred media outlets that disturbed the media which has been planting unverified stories. They did not like someone had for the first time exposed that they were publishing unverified reporting. They wanted to discredit me. They were demanding action by the Swiss government against me raising issues of Protocol.            

Ambassador Sisson meeting with Ananathi

          Now on US Ambassador Sisson’s meeting in Jaffna with NCP Councillor, Ananathi Sasitharan, who is the wife of former leading LTTE Terrorist of Trincomalee, and who is carrying on anti-government propaganda, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya claiming that this was interference by the ambassador in internal affairs, presents some similarities to the case I have described above. Ananthi is not a member of the Parliament like the Swiss Councillor I spoke of, or not heading the opposition in the Parliament as he did. Though she got the most number of preferential votes after the Chief Minister, there are questions about her bona fides which are now coming into question as the wife of the former prominent LTTE terrorist and now from her actions.   

Looking at the episode I have described above, the way the Swiss government expressed concern over a legitimate meeting by an Ambassador with the leader of the opposition in Swiss Parliament, and how the Swiss media, in one voice defended the action of the Swiss government and even said the Sri Lankan Ambassador was reprimanded, the government of Sri Lanka is well within its bounds in pointing out that the US Ambassador’s action meant interference in internal affairs. Discretion is very much a matter in diplomacy unless a country considers trouble-shooting is the best option.  

I am not going into the question whether or not Ambassador Sisson actually sought out to meet Ananthi, the wife of a leader of terrorist group her country had officially banned, and had a separate meeting with her, or if she happened to be at a dinner where Ananathi was present. It is for a senior diplomat to use his/her discretion about placing him/her in such a circumstance. At least, there should have been some explanation considering the sensitivities of the host government. If the US representatives do not believe in such diplomatic nuances, but are, perforce, inclined to apply hegemonic over-lordism when it comes to dealings with small nations, it is another matter. The point is that recent US Ambassadors starting with Sisson’s immediate have been showing predecessor, Butenis,  have been showing a deficit in diplomatic finesse. Even the later hardliner, Robert Blake, as Assistant Secretary in the State Department showed much reserve in dealing publicly with matters relating to the government of Sri Lanka and its problems when he was Ambassador here.

Speaking of Protocol, it is our custom to protest when one is drawn into circumstances one does not expect. For Example, a former Hon. Speaker of Parliament publicly protested when the former British High Commissioner Gladstone had invited a person who had jumped bail in London to a receptions given by the High commissioner to which the Hon. Speaker himself and other government leaders had been invited. It was a different matter that the High Commissioner had developed a personal relationship with this Sri Lankan film director and was often found visiting Hambegamuwa jungles with his wife for the ostensible purpose of making a film. Later, the High Commissioner had to be recalled home when during the Presidency of R.Premadasa, he was found committing the indiscretion of visiting a polling booth during General Elections and trying to interfere with the election process.   

 The US Ambassador could be making use of the present circumstances in which the government of Sri Lanka is disadvantageously placed, to make statements, to present Tweets with impunity, to embarrass the host government.  It could also be part of the high ”handed way the Obama administration, from the time of State Secretary Hillary Clinton has decided to deal with Sri Lanka.

Position of Power

Clinton, like many US State Secretaries, spoke from position of power when dealing with Japan’s controversy over Senkaku island (Diayou) and that of some ASEAN countries with China despite paying lip service to declared positions of growing relations with China and earned China’s full wrath over this issue of China’s claimed sovereignty over the island. That was not an issue over which China would yield though over other issues like the blind activist Chen Guencheng seeking refuge in the US Embassy in Beijing a week before the official visit of Hillary Clinton to China nearly placed an obstacle to growing relations between the two countries but China kept it under wraps during the visit of State Secretary until it was satisfactorily resolved. Earlier, China had agreed to solve the more important bilateral friction which arose from a US spy plane colliding with a Chinese jet fighter plane in which the Chinese pilot lost his life. So, even with a great country like China which is prepared to settle even major bi-lateral issues, certain sensitive issues evoke harsh responses.

For Sri Lanka, a country which suffered for near three decades under terrorism sponsored by certain Tamil groups, originally supported by India, any issue to deal with personnel involved with terrorism and still espousing their cause is a sensitive matter.   

Despite declarations that relations between the United States and Sri Lanka are based on mutual interests and a shared commitment to the ideals of democratic governance and  U.S. policy toward Sri Lanka is characterized by respect for its independence, sovereignty, and moderate nonaligned foreign policy; support for the country’s unity, territorial integrity, and democratic institutions; and encouragement of its social and economic development, and also it is a strong supporter of ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka following the 2009 end of decades of civil conflict, as the US State Department Fact Sheet notes,  (note the absence of reference to terrorism), at a practical level, US’s relations with Sri Lanka seems to be governed also by other extraneous factors. Among these is the US’s view of China as Hillary Clinton’s defiant stand on matters affecting China’s relations with her neighbours, Japan and South East Asian countries points to. US policy under Hillary Clinton, as observed above, was to  encourage Japan to take a defiant stand on the disputed Senkuku island and encourage ASEAN countries to take a united stand on China’s South Sea claims.  

In South Asia her policy has been to establish security cooperation with India which has a running problems with China over border issues, including use of river water. Sri Lanka is seen moving away from the US orbit of influence after it was resumed under the JR Jayewardene regime. She is also seen moving away from the India orbit after the good relations established during the days of Prime Minister Mrs.Bandaranaike, and later the enforced relations under President J.R.Jayewardene to somewhat shifting relations under the present regime.

Relations with China

Against this, Sri Lanka’s relations with China which has been on the increase since late has come into focus in both US and Indian relations with the island.  A real barometer of US policy on the island which taken in the regional context, then seems to be the way Sri Lanka has responded to Chinese offers of engagement. All the pressures which the US is bringing on Sri Lanka calling for accountability and in the field of human rights can then be seen in the light of the Chinese equation.

Recent popular media comments show that it has even been suggested that striking a policy of re-alignment with US could save the island the embarrassment now caused by US initiative on resolutions brought up in Geneva on accountability and human rights issues. Analogies have been offered. Such things are possible in diplomacy as Indo-US alignment after the earlier Indo-Soviet alignment, and Indo-Israeli-cooperation after India denouncing Israel for long years  demonstrate.

          The question now is, can the government of Sri Lanka, as a country with self-respect, allow foreign diplomats to act high-handedly in the host country, however, pressing the issues are for Sri Lanka in the global scene. One should take note how seriously the Indian government took the case of treatment of its female Deputy Consul-General in New York, who was hand-cuffed and stripped searched by US Marshals at the air[port and had to face a law suit. The Indian government was not slow in applying reciprocal action like expelling a US diplomat in New Delhi of equal rank, withdrawing duty free facilities enjoyed by US non ”diplomatic personnel in New Delhi.  Indian authorities have been keeping a watch on the US embassy’s activities and used them when the time came. Even withdrawal of security barricades placed in front of the US Embassy was alleged to be part of the process though the Indian government denied it. External Affairs Minister Kurshid went on to say that everything possible would be done to safeguard India’s honour.  

          The time has come for Sri Lankan government to take a firm stand on where foreign representatives stand in respect of their terms of accreditation and any attempts to over ”step these be snipped in the bud. In the case of Ananthi, as I see the problem is not that of the dinner that Ambassador Sisson attended where she participated, but a case seems to be in making to resist any attempts by the government to bring her to a process of rehabilitation considering her past associations and present demeanour in the event there is reason for such action from the point of security considerations. If today’s news is correct even the TNA seems to be having reservations about associating with her in  Geneva and asked her to make it a private affair if she wants.        

29/1/2014

8 Responses to “Gota Has a Case”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    But Ananthi, Sambanthan, etc. visit foreign countries and DISCREDIT SL at taxpayer expense. That too has to stop.

    Ananthi MUST be rehabilitated. Weren’t the small time NAZIs rehabilitated?

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    As expected Endia will vote against SL this time too!! Only FOOLS thought otherwise.

    “NEW DELHI: To avoid hurting Tamil sentiment ahead of elections, the government has refused to commit Sri Lanka any support against a US-sponsored UN resolution accusing its military of committing war crimes in the final assault on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009.”

    GIVE UP on Endia. Court China.

  3. Nanda Says:

    Ananthi should be arrested and persecuted, not “rehabilitated”.
    US woman should be reprimanded.

  4. Nanda Says:

    Ask the US woman Nishi Biswal to visit north Central province to meet relatives of people killed by US Monsanto.
    Threaten complete BANNING of ALL Mossanto products.

    They will STOP the US resolution immediately. This trick is as good as ROUNDUP (ග්ලයිපොසේට්‌ ).

  5. Chancy Says:

    The meeting Sisson had with the terrorist wife is like the US ambassador in Pakistan meeting for tea with Bin Laden’s wives. This is exactly the kind of nonsense Sisson was doing in Lebanon which earned her the tongue in cheek title,”Governor of Beirut”.

  6. Sri Rohana Says:

    Mr Bandu Silva has written a very interesting article and it is really a good lecture for Montessori kids in External affairs ministry.
    With his vast experience he gives many hints how to tackle foreign diplomats and delegates.
    Now at this moment U.S assistant secretary (an Indian origin as tamil origin Navinathan pillai) is coming to Sri Lanka for a visit. But now itself media gave a high publicity to this assistant secretary’s visit. Today it is main news in a Sinhala daily paper.
    If an assistant secretary of a country is similar to assistant secretary of our external affairs ministry. So why she wants to meet our President, Opposition Leader, Minister of External affairs and Secretary of Defence. Real protocol is an assistant secretary of ministry of external affairs in Sri Lanka should meet her and discuss her agenda. But now this Indian woman behaves like a maharani and gives orders to us. What a shame! Where are the back bones of Sri Lankans? Why external affairs ministry is shivering to an assistant secretary.
    Even when tamil tribal Navinathan Pillai’s visit some government officials went for her meeting with their wedding suits and one of our ambassador was carrying her bag like a caddie boy in a golf course? We knew why she came to Sri Lanka so why we laid red carpets to an enemy.
    At least we can learn from India what is protocol and how to act reciprocate.

  7. Nanda Says:

    “Indian woman behaves like a maharani and gives orders to us. ”

    Actually Maha Ranee behaves like an Indian woman, sometimes. That is the MAIN problem.

  8. aloy Says:

    We are ashamed to be Sri Lankans. Look at low grade women from our enemy country lecturing us and even threatening us on our own TV channels here in SL. Don’t we have people with backbones. Getting defeated at UNHCR is another matter. We will then know which are the countries that do the boot licking of the so called ‘International Community’ that is confined only to the west and some Africans. But let us not get humiliated from a Philipena woman and an Indian dirt on our own soil just because an insignificant minority tried to divide this country and got defeated.

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