YAHAPALANA AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Part 7
Posted on July 30th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

ACQUISITION AND CROSS SERVICING AGREEMENT (ACSA)

The United States made an abortive bid, in 2002, to finalize an Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), formerly known as ‘NATO Mutual Support Act’, with Sri Lanka. The attempt was made after the Ceasefire Agreement was signed on Feb. 21. 2002.

Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreements are negotiated on a bilateral basis by the US for use in combined exercises, training, operations, or deployments and allow its forces to obtain food, fuel, transport, ammunition, and equipment, collectively termed logistical supplies. Reimbursement is in cash, or rarely, replacement in kind.

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage announced plans for ACSA after Premier Wickremesinghe met US President George W. Bush in Washington.  The ACSA was to be finalized in July 2002. Minister Milinda Moragoda, being close to the US, played a high profile role in the project. But when in Dec 2002, Ambassador Wills explored the possibility of using Sri Lankan ports and air space to invade Iraq, Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando explained the difficulty in giving into US request and ACSA was abandoned. Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, (2004-2005) on a   visit to Washington DC, ensured that the subject of ACSA not be listed on the agenda for his talks with senior leaders and officials there.

However, in the first week of March, 2007 Sri Lanka entered into ACSA with the US. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Ambassador Robert O. Blake signed on behalf of Sri Lanka and the US, respectively. Both were US nationals, but Gotabhaya Rajapaksa held dual citizenship. President Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Defence Minister, authorized ACSA. The Rajapaksas never bothered to inform Parliament of the Agreement, observed Shamindra Ferdinando. They dismissed calls from the left parties to table the agreement in Parliament.

The agreement allowed the United States and Sri Lanka to transfer and exchange logistics, supplies, support, and re-fueling services, either in kind or at cost, during peacekeeping missions, humanitarian operations or joint exercises.

Specifically excluded from its coverage were weapon systems such as guided missiles, naval mines and torpedoes, nuclear ammunition and items such as warheads, warhead sections, cartridge and air crew escape propulsion system components, chaff and chaff dispensers, guidance kits for bombs or other ammunition, chemical ammunition (other than riot-control agents), any other materials, subject to the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.

There was absolutely nothing special about the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which Gota signed, said Chandraprema. It was like so many other ACSA’s that the US had signed with other countries. The provisions of the Sri Lankan ACSA of 2007 are almost identical to those found in the ACSA signed between the US and Australia in April 2010. The difference being that in Australia, the ACSA is a public document whereas in Sri Lanka it is a top secret document. There was nothing in the 2007 ACSA that warranted the secrecy in which it was signed either.

It was the US that wanted it to be done secretly, said Chandraprema. A cable sent to the State Department by the then US Ambassador in Colombo Robert Blake, on 31 January 2007, (several weeks before the ACSA was signed) and released to the public by Wikileaks said, “On December 7, 2006, Ambassador and Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) Chief met with Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to provide background information on a Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) and a the draft ACSA proposed for signature. On January 25, 2007, Secretary Rajapaksa provided concurrence to ODC Chief on the proposed agreement. Secretary Rajapaksa stated that he was ready to sign the SIPDIS agreement at anytime convenient to the U.S.

 “The US Government faces some risk that the Government of Sri Lanka might seek to exploit the signing to convey the US Government’s support for possible ongoing offensive military operations. The Embassy therefore recommends the Ambassador sign the agreement in a low-key ceremony with Secretary Rajapaksa in late February. The Sri Lankan military is presently engaged in mop-up operations against the LTTE in eastern Sri Lanka. However, the Defense Secretary and other military leaders have hinted they are considering further offensive military operations in northern Sri Lanka.

“We recommend holding off on the signing ceremony until late February when we will have a clearer idea of the Sri Lankan military’s intentions. We also do not wish to detract attention from the Sri Lankan Commission of Inquiry (on human rights) and the work of the International Independent Group of Expert Persons who will arrive in Sri Lanka the second week of February to observe the work of the Commission. Since the ACSA benefits U.S. forces transiting through the region, and since the GSL might leak news of the signing, the Embassy proposes to have the Ambassador sign the ACSA with the Defense Secretary with a select number of photographers and no statements. The Embassy will then issue a press release following the ceremony explaining the purpose of the ACSA.”

United States, in its fierce opposition to the Eelam War had banned the sale of war items to Sri Lanka. As a result, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) could not use its US built C-130 Hercules troop transport aircraft or the Israeli built Kfir fighter jets. Israel, a strong US ally, followed Washington’s policy. Thus, the C-130 and the fighter jets were grounded for lack of spares. In 1993 when the Special (Boat) Squadron was created, the US helped and in 1996, the US military  engaged in exercises with Sri Lankan Special Forces, including the Navy’s elite Special Boat Squadron.

USA had helped Sri Lanka and Gota was right to give them a favour in return by signing the ACSA, observed Chandraprema. Ambassador Blake assured that that ACSA wouldn’t pave the way for US bases here. Having signed ACSA, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa reiterated Sri Lanka’s commitment to defeat the LTTE, militarily, in talks with top State Department official Stevan Mann, when the latter met him at the Defence Ministry.

After ACSA, Sri Lanka received valuable US support, particularly during Eelam War IV.  US provided specific intelligence on ‘floating LTTE arsenals’ to Sri Lanka on a request made by Navy Chief Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda. Karannagoda’s move enabled the destruction of four LTTE vessels on the high seas, thereby hastening the collapse of the LTTE. In addition to those vessels that had been hunted down on the basis of intelligence provided by the US, the Navy hit several other LTTE ships during Eelam War IV.

Several weeks after the signing of the agreement, Karannagoda had sought a meeting with the then US defence attaché in Colombo. Karannagoda has requested for US assistance to track down the remaining LTTE vessels as the superpower was engaged in worldwide campaign against terrorism. That meeting at Karannagoda’s office led to a meeting with Ambassador Blake, also at the same venue in late May 2007.

 In late August 2007, the US provided the required information secured from a satellite to the Navy. The US verified the positioning of four vessels about two weeks later. They had been at the same position as two weeks before. In fact, the US had queried whether Karannagoda’s Navy had the wherewithal to destroy four ships so far away from Sri Lanka. Karannagoda dispatched naval task force comprising six vessels on Sept 2007 from Colombo, Trincomalee and Galle.

 Karannagoda, in his memoirs revealed how an Indian diplomat based at its High Commission in Colombo made a despicable attempt to misdirect the Navy by providing information contrary to that of the Americans. Acting on US intelligence, the Navy destroyed three out of four LTTE vessels in the second week of Sept. 2007. The US again provided specific intelligence in late Sept. 2007 regarding the LTTE vessel that escaped during Sept. 2007 operation. The fourth vessel was destroyed on Oct 7, 2007. Although Karannagoda, made no reference to ACSA, it would be pertinent to stress that the US, perhaps reluctantly, provided critically important intelligence following the finalization of the agreement on March 05, 2007, said Shamindra.

The 2007 ACSA ended in March 2017. USA and Yahapalana entered into another ACSA signed on August 4, 2017. Analysts have compared the 2007 and 2017 ACSAs. The 2007 ACSA was only eight pages including the cover. The 2017 ACSA was 83 pages and had over 50 annexures. The annexure gave the lists of US commands and military establishments which will be allowed the use of Sri Lanka’s airports and sea ports. These voluminous annexures carried the names and addresses of almost all US military establishments that could have a foot print or boots on the ground in Sri Lanka. The list was exclusively revealed in the Sunday Times of May 19. 

The Sunday Times said it has seen the ACSA agreement between by the US Defence Department and the Ministry of Defence. the agreement begins with a preamble which says This Agreement is designed to facilitate reciprocal logistic support between the parties (US and Sri Lanka) to be used during combined exercises, training, deployments, port calls, operations, or other co-operative efforts, or for unforeseen circumstances or exigencies in which one of the parties may have a need for Logistic Support, Supplies and Services.

 This Agreement applies to the provision of Logistic Support, Supplies, and Services from the military forces of one party to the military forces of the other Party in return either for cash payment or reciprocal provision of Logistic Support, Supplies, and Services to the military forces of the Supplying Party. For the purpose of this Agreement, the Sri Lanka Coast Guard is considered part of the military forces of the Ministry of Defence of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

Significantly, it allows every single security or military apparatus in the United States access to Sri Lanka. All those security commands are listed one by one and the Point of Contact (POC) defined. .Though the agreement provides reciprocity, Sri Lanka’s Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard simply have no resources to pay and use a military facility in the US. It is not required either.

The 2007 agreement was only for a period of seven years. The  2017 agreement is open ended, It says, This agreement shall remain in force unless terminated by mutual written consent of the Parties or by either Party giving not less than 180 days’ notice in writing to the other Party of its intention to terminate. While the 2007 ACSA permitted US military vessels to enter Sri Lanka ports on a ‘one-off’ basis, the 2017 ACSA appears to be “open ended”.

Ambassador Hettiaratchchi told President Sirisena that during the negotiations for the renewal of ACSA in 2017, he was under constant pressure from Prasad Kariyawasam, Sri Lanka’s then ambassador in the US, to expedite the passage of the ACSA. Kariyawasam had made many calls to ensure the draft ACSA be concluded and placed before the Cabinet of Ministers immediately, he said. Also telephoning Hettiaratchchi periodically over the same matter, was then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

Kariyawasam and Samaraweera had pressured him at a time when the Defence Ministry had sought the observations of the Armed Forces Commanders on the ACSA deal. . The draft ACSA was rushed for approval by the Cabinet because of this pressure. It had been hurried through before a thorough study had been done by the armed forces commanders or officials well versed in the matter. Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne had expressed serious reservations over some of the provisions in the ACSA. The Cabinet approved ACSA 2017.

Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne, a former Additional Solicitor General said that he had been compelled to sign the document since the Cabinet had approved it. He was simply implementing a Cabinet decision. His predecessor, Hettiaratchchi, negotiated the ACSA but was forced to rush it through the Cabinet, even before all armed forces commanders could send in their observations. This, he said, was due to pressure from the then Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera and former Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam.

ACSA  was signed without careful examination. When told that the service chief’s responses were being awaited  before sending the ACSA to the Cabinet , President Sirisena had said ‘Ekeng mata vedak nehe. Vahaama assang karanna lesthi karanna’ .   ACSA hadn’t been discussed at the Cabinet or  in Parliament. ACSA was not presented to Parliament, said Dayasiri Jayasekera.

President Sirisena’s Cabinet memorandum of June 30, 2017  in Sinhala had only a brief nine pages and no annexures. The Sinhala version of the ACSA  presented to the Cabinet,  did not contain translations of  the annexures. Due to delay in translations,  the  agreement has been sent to Cabinet without the annexures. The English version, however, had 83 pages that included the annexures.

When the ACSA with Sri Lanka was renewed in 2017, it was once again shrouded in secrecy. The Sunday Times  said that the  US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Atul Keshap, directed that there be no media coverage or any publicity regarding the signing event. This was why there was no news release from the US Embassy in Colombo. Keshap signed on behalf of the US Department of Defence. Even for the US, therefore, the matter was one of utmost secrecy. The renewed document  has not been made public by Yahapalana either. Sri Lanka Freedom Party, among others,  said that the people should be made aware of the dangers of ACSA.

The Prime Minister said considering the current international political situation and developments, the 2017  ACSA agreement would be favorable to the country. He said extending the agreement with the U.S. will be utmost importance given the global situation today. The Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) allows the United States and Sri Lanka to transfer and exchange logistics supplies, support, and re-fueling services, either in kind or at cost, during peacekeeping missions, humanitarian operations or joint exercises. The categories of allowable goods and services include food, petroleum, and transportation. The provision of weapons or ammunition is prohibited. Each nation’s forces can support the other during contingencies such as disaster relief or peacekeeping operations, which reduces the logistics requirement for each nation. 

But  others are not so happy. President of the Bar Association (BASL) Kalinga Indatissa, PC has written to Minister of Foreign Affairs Tilak Marapana, PC in June 2019, under the provisions of the Right to Information Act No. 12 of 2016 and Article 14A of the Constitution, requesting a copy of the proposed Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA).

The letter said, ‘the undersigned is a citizen of Sri Lanka and the present President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka which is the sole representative body of more than 19,000 Attorneys-at-Law in this Country. The BASL has always been concerned about matters of national importance, and matters relating to the Rule of Law and administration of justice. It has been reported in the media that the Sri Lankan Government is due to enter into an Acquisition and Cross Services Agreement (ACSA) with the United States of America. Considering the national importance of the said agreement and I request from you to make available a printed copy of the proposed Acquisition and Cross Services Agreement (ACSA) by virtue of Section 3(1) of the Right to Information Act No. 12 of 2016 read with Section 24 of the Right to Information Act No. 12 of 2016 and Article 14A of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’. ( Continued)

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