YAHAPALANA AS A PUPPET REGIME Part 9
Posted on April 3rd, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Revised 6.4.19

This essay deals with the continuing story of USA, its allies and Yahapalana.   Activities are presented in inventory form.

 STATUS OF FORCES AGREEMENT

Sunday Times stated in January 2019 that Sri Lankans are blissfully unaware that agreements have been signed with an important foreign government without proper consultation or studying the implication involved.  One agreement gives the defence forces of that powerful country legitimate access to Sri Lanka. Parliament has not been told about these defense deals.  Only cursory cabinet approval has been granted.  Sunday Times has seen the lengthy renewed document signed on behalf of the country. If the previous agreement ran to a few pages this one is a thick volume, each section defines a particular arrangement. Its far reaching implication will be felt only as time goes by and the provisions take effect one by one.

The Sunday Times is obviously referring to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) Sri Lanka has signed with USA. In February 2019 JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake told Parliament that a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the USA   has been signed. This would have an adverse impact on the country’s sovereignty. 

He related the history of the agreement. On March 05th, 2007 the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) had been signed between the US and Sri Lanka allowing US forces to utilize various facilities in Sri Lanka such as ports, airports, communication facilities etc.”This agreement was signed by the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the US Ambassador Robert O. Blake. That pact, as far as we know, said Bimal, was never presented to the Cabinet or Parliament. To our knowledge it was secretly signed and both parties were US citizens. Thereafter, we brought up the issue in Parliament for months, asking the then government to reveal details of this agreement to Parliament. After six months in 2007, July a section of the agreement was tabled in Parliament but several of the annexes were not included.

The expiration of the term of the pact, Acquisition and Cross-Services Agreement” (ACSA) ended on  March 5, 2017,”  said the JVP . The Agreement says that it could be extended for a further ten year period by mutual consent of the two governments.We learnt that the government had already held many discussions with a focus to giving its consent to the Agreement’s continuation,” he said.We have reasons to believe that the present government too would follow the example of the previous regime and give its consent for the continuation of this Agreement secretly,” he stated.We seriously ask the government to stay away from this defence pact which was signed under the previous government without the approval of Parliament. It holds no advantage for the country. Nevertheless, it will bring harmful consequences to the country in the course of time,” he said.

According to the Agreement, both countries are bound to provide facilities such as logistics, land, fuel and other facilities to defence personnel, aircraft and vessels,” he said.Sri Lanka is unlikely to engage in wars, but the US is. Hence the Agreement has no impact in terms of Sri Lanka’s disposition. Should the US engage in a military mission in the region, we are bound to provide the US with land, fuelling, ammunition and other hardware,” he explained.We vehemently opposed this Agreement which was signed during the time of the previous government, because of its seriousness in terms of possibilities that could engender regional discord, said JVP in March 2017.

The JVP then moved on to the present agreement.  On 4 August 2017 they signed the ACSA agreement again, Bimal Ratnayake said. The President has signed this agreement without any time frame. The armed forces representatives warned that this agreement is inimical to the country, but the President as the head of defence, did not heed their opinion.  This treacherous agreement jeopardizes the country’s security and sovereignty. There is a clause in the agreement that either party can pull out, having given six months notice, but we all know that getting out of these agreements is not so easy, said Bimal.

“Now, the government is trying to sign a new agreement with the USA called Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Discussions are now underway, continued Bimal Ratnayake. “Reading out sections of the agreement Ratnayake said: “In terms of the proposed agreement prepared after a several rounds of talks between the representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the US mission in Colombo, it has been proposed that US personnel be accorded the privileges, exemptions and immunity equivalent to those accorded to the administrative and technical staff of a diplomatic missions under the Vienna Convention.

The US personnel may enter and exit Sri Lanka with US. identification and with collective movement or individual travel orders; that Sri Lanka shall accept as valid all professional licenses issued by the United States, its political subdivisions, or States thereof to US. “Further US military personnel would be allowed to wear the US military uniform Sri Lanka and carry their weapons, Ratnayake said.  

“The Government of Sri Lanka recognizes the particular importance of disciplinary control by US Armed Forces authorities over U.S. personnel and, therefore, authorizes the Government of the United States to exercise criminal jurisdiction over U.S. personnel while in Sri Lanka, Which means they will not come under the law of this country. So, no matter what they do here, we will not be able to take any action against them, Ratnayake said. Requesting that the full text of the ACSA agreement be presented to parliament, he called for a parliamentary debate on the SOFA agreement before it was inked. (Sunday Times 25.2.19)

LOGISTICS HUB”

The media reported in December 2018 that US has now has established a logistics hub in Sri Lanka to help provide supplies and services to ships at sea. The Logistics Hub, established on a temporary basis, provides logistics support to U.S. Navy ships operating in the Indian Ocean. It involves the use of a Sri Lanka airport and storage facilities for large-scale shipments.  Items will thereafter be sent out to ships at sea. The supplies will be sent first to aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Trincomalee, for distribution to the ships, said the US statement on the matter.

The primary purpose of the Logistics Hub is to provide mission-critical supplies and services to U.S. Navy ships operating in the Indian Ocean.  The Hub would also be used to provide logistics support during humanitarian and disaster relief missions (HADR). The US statement also noted that this logistics hub in Sri Lanka will demonstrate the U.S. Navy’s ability to establish a temporary logistics hub in a country which did not have a previous connection to the U.S. Navy.

The U.S. Navy has begun a temporary cargo transfer initiative that promotes Sri Lanka’s efforts to become a regional hub for logistics and commerce, reported the media in January 2019.  The first two transfers were in August 2018 at Bandaranaike International Airport and Trincomalee and in December 2018 at Bandaranaike International Airport.” The third was in January 2019.

US announced that “From January 21 to 29, 2019 the U.S. Navy will perform a transfer operation to move cargo between planes at Bandaranaike International Airport .This is part of a larger temporary cargo transfer initiative that promotes Sri Lanka’s efforts to become a regional hub for logistics and commerce.  The January transfers will contribute approximately 25 million Sri Lankan Rupees to the country’s economy. 

“Under the initiative, several U.S. naval aircraft are scheduled to land and depart from the commercial airport, bringing in a variety of non-lethal supplies.  The supplies will be transferred between planes and then flown to the ship U.S.S. John C. Stennis” at sea.  Supplies may include personal mail for sailors, paper goods, spare parts and tools, and other items.  No cargo, military equipment, or personnel associated with this initiative will remain in Sri Lanka after the completion of the cargo transfer.”

The January transfer was photographed by the media. Our pictures show supplies being loaded to a US aircraft to be taken from the Bandaranaike International Airport to the aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis which is in International waters off Sri Lanka, said Sunday Times. The cargo was brought to the BIA by a US military cargo plane from Bahrain. 

Lasanda Kurukulasuriya commented at length on the matter. In December, 2018 the world’s superpower pulled off a heist in terms of extending its military footprint in Sri Lanka and, by extension, in the Indian Ocean, she said.

Between 24– 29 January, the US Navy’s 7th Fleet for a second time carried out what it called a ‘temporary cargo transfer initiative’ in Sri Lanka using the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), to move supplies on to the US aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis, located off Sri Lankan waters.

 During the previous December operation involving the same aircraft carrier, the US had set up what it called a ‘logistics hub’ in Sri Lanka “to receive support, supplies and services” for US Navy ships operating in the Indian Ocean. The BIA was used for US military planes to bring in supplies, and for aircraft aboard the John C Stennis to fly in, load, and ferry them back.

The planes that gained entry to Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), which is a commercial airport, were military craft. They do not come under Sri Lanka’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). It remains unclear whose jurisdiction these military craft would come under, while in Sri Lankan airspace and on Sri Lankan soil. Asked if the CAA had any role in the operation, Director General of Civil Aviation said “The Defence Ministry informed us that they had granted approval for the operation.” The CAA had nothing to do with military craft and has no control in this regard. Military related matters were totally under government control and public accountability too was government’s responsibility, he said.

Sri Lanka Customs, Police and Military have no power to inspect the cargo, observed Lasanda. There is no information on whether duties or charges are levied for services. A US embassy statement says “Supplies may include personal mail for sailors, paper goods, spare parts and tools, and other items,” which sounds innocuous enough. But the next sentence says: “No cargo, military equipment, or personnel associated with this initiative will remain in Sri Lanka after the completion of the cargo transfer.” Why would military equipment or personnel be mentioned here, unless there is a possibility that they could be part of such transfers. Also who would adjudicate if an accident or crime involving US aircraft or personnel takes place causing death or injury to Sri Lankans, or damage to property, asked Lasanda.

Lasanda noted that the embassy tried to present this activity as a series of commercial transactions” that promotes Sri Lanka’s efforts to become a regional hub for logistics and commerce” (embassy news release). In a statement on the Sri Lanka cargo transfer operation the 7th Fleet’s Logistics Readiness Cell chief Lt. Austin Gage hinted at such an approach when he said: “We are generating standard operating procedures to optimize our supply chain to be more agile and mobile and utilize strategic locations in the Indian Ocean.”

Another US statement however has reportedly described the facility as a “military logistics hub,”   showing that Sri Lanka is being used for military purposes. Washington-based Daya Gamage in an Asian Tribune report of 31.01.19 quotes a  Jan. 23rd statement issued by the US mission in Colombo saying: “The United States Navy is doing a cargo transfer operation at Sri Lanka’s main international airport under a plan to use the island’s location to make it a MILITARY LOGISTICS HUB” (emphasis added).The US statements have been careful to avoid mentioning where, off Sri  Lanka  waters, the aircraft carrier was anchored, and where the military logistics hub is physically located. But local media reports point to Trincomalee. This new arrangement between the US and Sri Lanka is military in its stated objective of servicing US naval craft in the Indian Ocean.

Nowadays the US strategy is not to establish full-blown, costly military bases overseas but to use the ‘Lily-pad’ concept, whereby it increases its force deployment globally, but with a smaller footprint, observed Lasanda. Lily pad” is more nimble when it comes to moving equipment and personnel to where they are required in a contingency. The Lily-pad approach involves bilateral arrangements with strategically located states, sometimes called ‘Status of Forces Agreements.’

The rights sought to be secured through such ‘Status of Forces agreements usually include, access to facilities free of charge, right to own and operate telecommunication systems and use radio spectrum, waiver of claims for damages and losses including death to personnel both military and civilian, disputes to be settled by consultation between parties and not through referral to any national or international court. The Maldives refused to sign such an agreement with the US, concluded Lasanda.

ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY’S INDO-PACIFIC ENDEAVOUR 2019  

Australia and her allies Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom have increased their military-to-military cooperation with Sri Lanka after 2015, reported the media. Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper acknowledged Sri Lanka’s location on a vital maritime corridor in the Indian Ocean,

Sri Lanka was an important strategic node in the Indian Ocean region, a major area of interest for the Royal Australian Navy. Sri Lanka’s location on a vital maritime corridor in the Indian Ocean has seen Australia gradually increase defence cooperation,” the White Paper noted. High profile Australian Defence Force officers have attended a string of Sri Lankan defence seminars and discussions in the last few years.

The Royal Australian Navy annually conducts a multilateral defence cooperation exercise,  known as Indo-Pacific Endeavour with the objective of helping regional security and stability. In 2019,  for Indo-Pacific Endeavour1,000 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel  participated in a series of  activities and military training exercises during port visits in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam  in Sri Lanka both Colombo and Trincomalee harbors were included in the exercise.

A Joint task force of 1,000 Australian Defence Forces (ADF) personnel consisting of Army, Navy and Air Force personnel arrived for this program in Sri Lanka. Four Royal Australian Navy ships HMAS Canberra, Success, Newcastle, and Parramatta arrived. HMAS Success was a replenishment oil tanker, HMAS Parramatta was a frigate. HMAS Canberra and HMAS Newcastle arrived at the port of Colombo while HMAS Success and HMAS Parramatta entered the port of Trincomalee. A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) was also scheduled to visit Mattala International Airport as part of the joint exercise.

The 230.9m long and 7.9m wide HMAS Canberra, has a displacement of 27500 tons and a crew of 483 officers and sailors onboard. HMAS Newcastle  has a displacement of 4200 tons and a crew of 205 officers and sailors onboard, is 138.1m long and 7.9m in width. HMAS Success, is 157.2m in length and 8.4m in width and has a displacement of 17900 tons with a crew of 178 officers and sailors onboard. HMAS Parramatta which has a displacement of 3900 tons and a crew of 190 officers and sailors onboard, is 118m long and 6.2m in width.

ADF personnel and their Sri Lankan counterparts engaged in several training exercises and activities aimed at improving cooperation and familiarity between the armed forces of the two nations and exploring opportunities to further promote regional stability.  Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) and Maritime Surveillance were key areas.  Other areas included helicopter exchange operations, Maritime domain awareness activities. In Trincomalee  the  activity  focused on Navy-to-Navy engagement between the two countries,” concentrating  on inter-operability. The ADF  delegation also visited several Sri Lankan military training establishments  including the Kukule Ganga Peace Operations Training Centre.  There were o Sports events between  the two groups and  a Tri Forces Band performance with Australian Defense Force Band.

This is our first stop in the IPE 2019 mission. it is an important stop given the history Sri Lanka holds in the Indian Ocean in the present time and, I believe, the future,” said Commander of the Joint Task Force. He expressed Australia’s desire to be part of Sri Lanka’s involvement in the Indian Ocean. . We would like Sri Lanka to have us as a strategic partner in the Indian Ocean,” he stated.

JAPAN-SRI  LANKA PARTNERSHIP

Both Japan and the US,  saw Sri Lanka as of great importance in the overall Indo-Pacific strategy, after Yahapalana government took power. Kentaro Sonoura,  Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Japan, visited  Sri Lanka in  February 2019.”  Before that, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera visited  in August 2018, the first Japanese defense minister to visit Sri Lanka.

Japanese State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kazuyuki Nakane, also visited in August 2018, and further consolidated  the ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ between the two countries. The first such post-World War II Japan-Sri Lanka agreement was reached in early October 2015,. The far reaching agreement came into being, following Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s three-day visit to Japan, in October 2015, on the invitation extended by Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe. The joint declaration, issued at the end of the visit, dealt with the Japan-Sri Lanka naval cooperation among other issues. Abe and Wickremesinghe agreed on close military cooperation between the two countries, particularly on maritime security, including port calls by the vessels of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF).

Japan has  singled out Trincomalee as one of three in the Indian Ocean to be developed as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy.” The other two are Myanmar’s Dawei and Bangladesh’s Matarbari. Interestingly, Japan praised Sri Lanka for co-sponsoring the Oct 2015 Geneva Resolution. In fact, all Co-Chairs appreciate Sri Lanka co-sponsoring a Resolution against its own interests, at heavy political expense, back at home, observed Shamindra Ferdinando. 

OFFICE OF RESIDENT DEFENCE ADVISOR, BRITISH HIGH COMMISSION, COLOMBO 

The UK has again set up an Office of Resident Defence Advisor at the British High Commission, Colombo after a lapse of ten years, reported the media in 2019. The UK suspended defence relations with Sri Lanka during the tail end of the second term of Rajapaksa administration over accountability issues.

Since we announced the re-establishment of defence relations in 2015, a Non-Resident Defence Advisor based in New Delhi has managed our defence relationship with Sri Lanka, said  the  High Commission in January 2019. Changing this to a resident position enables us to work more closely with Sri Lanka on defence issues as a Commonwealth partner and friend; to support the Sri Lankan armed forces as they work towards modernization and reform; and help them to play a positive role in fulfilling Sri Lanka’s commitments to the UN Human Rights Council.”

MODERNISING LEGAL  SYSTEM.

USAID is   working with the Justice Ministry, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), the Legal Aid Commission (LAC), provincial bar associations, educational and research institutions, and key NGOs towards  modernizing Sri Lanka’s judicial system, said USAID in 2018.   This  will  improve the quality of the profession and deliver a justice system fit for the future”.  This is handled by the USAID Coherent, Open, Responsive, And Effective Justice Programme (CORE Justice. USAID  is  funding several   other projects, to the tune of more than Rs. 4.5 billion  for youth employment, rule of law and reconciliation.

TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE, MISSING PERSONS

In 2018   Washington,  decided to  allocate USD 35 million to Sri Lanka , exclusively  for programmes relating to the identification and resolution of cases of missing persons  and certain transitional justice mechanisms.

These include repealing laws that do not comply with international standards for arrest and detention by security forces, investigating allegations of arbitrary arrest and torture, supporting a justice mechanism as identified by the United Nations Human Rights Council, and returning military-occupied lands in war-affected areas to their original owners. In addition, the US government called for substantially reducing the presence of the armed forces in former conflict zones” and restructuring the military for a peacetime role that aids in reconciliation. The bill also states that USD 500,000 in military assistance can only be used in humanitarian and disaster response preparedness and maritime security.

AMERICAN CORNER

The US embassy has launched a new American Corner at the Matara Chamber of Commerce and Industry   in March 2019. This Corner fulfills a longtime dream to offer Southern Province youth more connections to U.S. culture said the ambassador. The Centre offers courses in entrepreneurship, coding, English  also  a3D printing service.  We have a wonderful library of books that will help students who want to study in the USA. We also offer educational advice services for Sri  Lanka  students who might want to pursue a degree in America.  We hope they will also learn about the United States, America and the American people at this centre.  Membership, programs, and courses are all free of charge.

RENOVATION OF SCHOOLS IN NORTH AND EAST

 U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) renovated  schools in north and east. They  renovated two schools in Nintavur and Soodaikkudah.   Al Mazhar Girls High School  got 12 classrooms, a 35,000-liter rainwater harvesting system, and 17 additional bathroom stalls.  Soodaikkudah School,  got five new classrooms and a 35,000-liter rainwater harvesting system. The classroom building incorporates an emergency shelter on the top floor, providing a safe location for local families in the event of a natural disaster. There was also a new handicap-accessible toilet block with ten stalls. INDOPACOM also  gave Hindu Ladies’ College, Jaffna a newly refurbished building

NDOPACOM  renovated two schools in the Eastern Province. Kavathamunai al-Ameen school saw the renovation of a classroom building and the construction of an emergency kitchen, 10,000 liter rainwater harvesting system, and ahandicap-accessible bathroom.  Abdul Cader school  project renovated a classroom building and constructed an emergency kitchen, 10,000 liter rainwater harvesting system, and a handicap-accessible bathroom.  ( Continued)

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