YAHAPALANA AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Part 8b
Posted on July 30th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

STATUS OF FORCES AGREEMENT (SOFA) continued.

US and Sri Lanka had  an agreement  in 1995, by exchange of diplomatic notes, regarding the status of US military personnel and civilian employees of the Department of Defence  who may be present in Sri Lanka for exercises or official duties. The SOFA currently under negotiation seeks to update this 1995 agreement between the US and Sri Lanka. US government has made a request to extend the former agreement, and to include an annexure to expand it, called Annex B.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced in Parliament in July 2019 that Sri Lanka is negotiating a fresh military cooperation deal with the United States. The government was discussing a replacement for the 1995 Status of Forces (SOFA) arrangement that would allow the US military easier access to Sri Lanka.

The United States Embassy in Colombo sent to Foreign Secretary, Prasad Kariyawasam a five-page document dated August 28, 2018.it was a draft Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which Washington was keen to sign with Sri Lanka.  Kariyawasam initiated discussions supported by Foreign affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera. Discussions were between the United States Embassy in Colombo and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.   Ministry of Defence, responsible for the country’s national security, was kept out.

The draft said that the acceptance of their draft” shall constitute an agreement between the two Governments, which shall enter into force on the date of Ministry’s reply.” This meant that once the Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign affairs, Sri Lanka, accepted the offer or says Yes, the agreement is effective. Once the Sri Lanka Government agrees, it has to stick by it, the embassy said. The Public Affairs Office of the US Embassy had invited select local media to brief them on this. . The veiled warning made news, said Sunday Times.

However, at this point President Sirisena butted in. He asked Secretary Kariyawasam to quit his post in Washington.  Ambassador Kariyawasam left on October 31, 2018. That put the SOFA project on temporary hold. But negotiations went on.

 SOFA was listed for discussion at the third Sri Lanka-United States Partnership Dialogue in Washington DC in May 2019, Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, who led the Sri Lanka delegation, discussed the draft SOFA, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

He was to express Sri Lanka’s concern over some of the provisions. There were two clauses which Minister Marapana sought to change during talks in Washington DC — one was diplomatic immunity for US troops who would be present in Sri Lanka and the other subjecting all their actions to US laws. Such an agreement, would have given an open licence for uniformed US troops with arms and communications equipment to roam any part of Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile President Sirisena declared, in June 2019, I am against the proposed SOFA.  He was not prepared to accept military agreements with the US including SOFA. President Sirisena then telephoned Marapana in Washington DC and said he should not sign the SOFA agreement without any consultation with Sirisena since Sirisena was the Minister of Defence. This has stalled the move for the time being but pressure from the United States continues, said the media in June 2019.

State Minister for Defence, also said No agreement which is not favourable and which has consequences to national security will be signed. If any agreement was to be signed, the President’s advice as Minister of Defence would be sought and signed thereafter by the Defence Secretary.”

The proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US has come in for much discussion. The whole process lacks transparency and accountability, said critics. SOFA is very comprehensive.  Our independence, our territorial integrity, and freedom of action are at stake. Ths treaty once signed witll be binding on us. Sri  Lanka will be dragged into the US camp.

The new agreement is comprehensive and provides for full enjoyment of diplomatic immunity not only by any member of US armed forces, but also by the contractors and employees of US armed forces. SOFA is more far reaching than ACSA since it is not confined to purchase of goods and services. They include rules governing US military personnel in a foreign country.

 WARNING STATEMENT BY M.M. ZUHAIR.

M.M. Zuhair has provided the clearest and bluntest assessment of what will happen when SOFA is signed. Here are his comments.

Zuhair warned that proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) would transform Sri Lanka into a US military facility. it will create a ‘separate state’, having an independent power structure for the US military and its contractors, within the territory of Sri Lanka.  That state will be run from Washington by the US Defense Department. The Sri Lankan government, it’s Parliament, the country’s judiciary it’s armed forces or the Police will have no say, under the published agreement, over the US armed forces entering Sri Lanka at their will and pleasure, freely transiting, exiting or remaining without exiting, within any part of the territory of Sri Lanka in vehicles, vessels and aircrafts, wearing uniforms, armed with communication equipment and weapons.

“The unwritten objective of the proposed agreement would be for the US to obtain from Sri Lanka, the non-consultative status of using at any time, any part of the Sri Lankan territory, as a permanent or transit point for the military activities the US is habitually and perennially engaged in, outside the Western world. For the first time, fully armed American men and women can freely move within any part of Sri Lanka, as persons above Sri Lankan laws,

US armed forces can move anywhere in the island both individually as well as collectively with arms and ammunition. All the recognised ingredients that constitute a technologically virtual ‘separate State’, though an unrefined concept in international law are to be found sandwiched in SOFA.”With SOFA in hand, the Americans do not require a military ‘base’ in Sri Lanka’s Eastern city of Trincomalee or elsewhere here, because the whole island will be a US controlled super State operating above the Sri Lankan laws and State”. The consequences would be the country will abdicate its sovereignty, in respect of an unprecedented list of powers exercisable by the Sri Lankan State, to the US President and his successors.

The list of US contractors is open ended. It will include contractors signing with the US Defense Department in the future and the future employees of the contractors, over whom Sri Lanka will have no control.  The US armed forces and its civilian personnel will be governed only by US laws while enjoying privileges, exemptions and immunities in Sri Lanka that even the country’s Head of State, our Mahanayake Theros or Sri Lanka’s Judges or Generals do not have.

Zuhair points out that this could be used further. US money power will also enjoy structural facilities in the island that can be used to influence future elections. Eventually the US might want a puppet regime elected or installed to consolidate more effectively and permanently its presence” in this admittedly strategic location.

“The US Ambassador here had tried to call the SOFA as the Visiting Forces Agreement. The one is entirely different from the other. In fact the Visiting Forces Act of 1949 is more than adequate to serve the objectives the Ambassador had been publicly posturing on this issue. The Visiting Forces Agreement and the Public Security Ordinance, the latter empowers Sri Lanka’s Head of State to declare emergencies, are adequate to receive any emergency assistance. But red tape is absolutely necessary to exercise due diligence before foreign forces are allowed into the country.

“As per the agreement, the US armed forces and its civilian components, while in Sri Lanka, will not be subject to Sri Lankan criminal or civil laws, hitherto applicable under the Visiting Forces Act No 31 of 1949.

“Lately, we have seen the US over active in Sri Lanka under colour of joint military exercises. Almost every other month they are here”. Enemies of the US in the Asian region, though pretending to be asleep, will soon fully wake up. Are we going to allow our country to be used for engineering external wars and internal conflicts? SOFA is not limited to any emergency in Sri Lanka. It applies to any emergency the US is getting itself entangled in, presently in the Middle-East and very soon in Asia.  The agreement is a clear threat to the national security of the country, particularly vis a vis competing international forces which the American government treats, from time to time, as its enemies. This country cannot afford to get dragged into the present or future wars that the US government has a devastating record of getting involved in third world countries. Sri Lanka will have to pay a heavier price than the returns from exports to the US, when Sri Lanka is used by the US as a front line launching pad for its military operations, which could include wars in the Middle-East and Asia to confront its real and fake enemies.

The US will not give up the agreement so easily as some anticipate. No doubt the US can force its way. But to surrender in advance to the US, with its declared policy of ‘US interests first’ will turn out to be a national disaster. (end of statement)

LSSP STATEMENT

The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), at a meeting of its Politburo in june 2019 last week, called upon the people of Sri Lanka to publicly protest against the move to sign the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

This agreement which is being signed with the Government of the USA is a follow up to the ACSA agreement, a 83-page document, signed by the UNP Government with the USA in 2017. The ACSA agreement enables the American armed forces to make use of any military bases and ports, whenever they want, and the Sri Lankan Government would take all action to provide them with the necessary support. There will be joint training exercises to enable the two armed forces to work together under US directives.

The new SOFA agreement is aimed at providing the facilities and conditions for the implementation of the ACSA agreement. Thus SOFA, as signed by the USA with other countries, would enable US armed personnel, and even their support staff and contractors, to enter Sri Lanka without a visa or passport, merely by showing their Identity Card. There will be no checking of any containers brought in and no duties will be charged. They will be permitted to travel and work anywhere in our country, and in so doing if they break our laws they cannot be charged under Sri Lankan law, but only under US law.

This is a complete violation of our national impendent and sovereignty. Sri Lanka will be made 51st state of the USA.

Every effort must be made to prevent this agreement being signed.The ACSA and SOFA agreements would enable the US army to invade Sri Lanka, even without the consent of our government, on the pretext of fighting global terrorism, as it did in Iraq and Syria, and make Sri Lanka a battlefield. This will help promote the sale of the armaments of the USA and its allies, including Israel.

To avoid such a distressing chain of events that will adversely affect our country and our people, it is vital that all agreements signed by the present government should be made available to the members of Parliament and the general public. There must be no secret agreements.This would enable any commitments that are against the interest of Sri Lanka and its people to be exposed and revoked.

There should be legislation brought up in Parliament that makes it mandatory for government to disclose the contents of any future agreements in full to Parliament and it should also be made public. The American government has included the discussion of GSP and other trade commitments to take place at the same time. This is to bring pressure on our government with the hidden threat of removing any trade benefits given to Sri Lanka. The Government must not weaken its stand because of such veiled threats.

If we give into their demands on the SOFA and ACSA agreements, then we cannot stop the USA from using Sri Lanka as a substitute for the Diego Garcia military base, they have lost to Mauritius, to enable the USA to control the Indian ocean. Once it is used as a base and they have open entry into our country in terms of these agreements there will be no way in which we can get rid of them so long as there is a pro-USA puppet regime in power.If we are to stop this dangerous sequence of events that threatens Sri Lanka taking place, then we must act now to stop the signing of the SOFA agreement and get parliament to revoke all harmful parts of the ACSA and other agreements.

OTHER  OBSERVATIONS

Sri Lanka has no defense agreement with the US and it should be cautious as regards agreements that may put it on a collision course with countries like India, China and Iran, warned former Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Palitha Kohona at a media conference on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and Acquisition and Cross-Servicing agreements (ACSA) between Sri Lanka and the United States of America, He said  under SOFA,  US military personnel could come to Sri Lanka, carry weapon and do anything and they could not be dealt with under the local laws”.For instance, US forces faced a number of rape charges in the Philippines, but did not face legal action in that country.

Defence Secretary Gen.(Rtd). Shantha Kottegoda also said that SOFA should not be signed. He  said that no foreign troops are needed to protect Sri Lanka, referring to provisions in SOFA in regard to the deployment of US defense personnel in the island.

Ven. Mahanayakes and His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith issued a joint statement, on the need to exercise caution when entering into agreements with foreign powers.

In the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, senior officers whom I spoke with this week were numbed by the provisions in the SOFA,  said a journalist, In July 2019. They seem to have woken up. a senior Army officer, said My earlier understanding was they were coming here to help us – paint walls of hospitals, make donations for orphanages, provide injections for livestock, build schools and other social welfare or humanitarian measures. However, they are now asking for immunity from our laws.

An Air Force officer remarked unlike naval operations which the US can co-ordinate even outside Sri Lanka’s territorial waters, the US has to use our airports for troops as well as cargo. We will have to share all our Air Force installations and air fields with a foreign country’s air force. Unlike for emergency situations like relief or rescue operations, prolonged use will definitely affect our activities. We will see another Air Force functioning alongside us and this is abhorrent.” . We should not antagonise the United States. However, we should find acceptable common ground instead of forfeiting our national interests,” said a senior Navy official.

Chandraprema had a different take on the subject. Even though the Status of Forces Agreement that has been proposed with Sri Lanka is shrouded in secrecy, as far as other countries are concerned, SOFA agreements are open documents.

 The provisions of the proposed Status of Forces Agreement between Sri Lanka and the US are almost identical for example to the USA’s SOFA with Poland. The provisions in these agreements are largely generic and can be cut and pasted from one agreement to another with minimal changes. SOFA agreements apply to US military and civilian personnel working for the US Department of Defense, and to US contractors under contract to the US Department of Defence. The agreement applies to the presence of US personnel in the host country in relation to ship visits, training, exercises, humanitarian activities, and other activities mutually agreed, said Chandraprema.

the Department of State and the Department of Defense, working together, identify the need for a SOFA with a particular country and negotiate the terms of the agreement. SOFAs may be as short as one page or in excess of 200 pages as is the case with the SOFA between the US and Germany.

 The question that the US government should ponder is why there is so much resistance in Sri Lanka to signing a SOFA agreement with the US. The first reason is that Sri Lankans in general do not see the USA as an ally or even a friend. For the most part, the US is seen as an adversary that has worked against Sri Lanka in the international arena. The few hundred million dollars that the US seems to be willing to throw in Sri Lanka’s direction is just chicken feed and the people know it.

What Sri Lanka has been getting from the US since 2009 are only criticisms and lectures on how to run our country. The US does not want to even acknowledge us as partners. In such circumstances, who in his right mind will be happy at a proposal that will give US troops a free run of this country? The presence of US troops in this country will on the one hand seriously compromise the non-aligned tradition which has become an article of faith in this country. Then there is the very real danger that the presence of US troops on Sri Lankan soil may spark off rivalry between super powers. Then there is the danger that the presence of US troops in our country may fuel Islamic terrorism as well. Sri Lanka will have to go through all that for nothing in return from the US– not even a kind word let alone the kind of goodies that other countries get for doing the US similar favours, concluded Chandraprema.

AMERICA REPLIES

The US embassy in Sri Lanka had now turned defensive. In view of the opposition,  SOFA is now given a new name, Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).  the embassy held a press conference and announced that There was no plan to establish an American military base in Sri Lanka and ongoing negotiations on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), was aimed at facilitating cooperation between the two countries,. “Allegations being leveled against the proposed VFA, are blatant misinformation”, any agreement reached, would fully respect the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.

US ambassador also tweeted that US denied any plan to establish a US base in Sri Lanka. Teplitz in a twitter message said the negotiation on the Visiting Forces Agreement is aimed to facilitate cooperation and any agreement will respect the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.
Any agreement will fully respect the sovereignty of Sri Lanka,” she has tweeted.

In a note to the Government (a non-paper), a copy of which was seen by the Sunday Times, the US Embassy in Colombo has claimed that  the SOFA in no way would permit the United States to base forces or equipment in Sri Lanka.”

US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz met the Mahanayakes of Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters and told htem that SOFA was not meant to take advantage of Sri Lanka. There hadn’t been a previous instance of a US Ambassador, or any other foreign envoy for that matter, making representations to Mahanayakes as regards security-political issues, commented analysts.

PRESENT SITUATION

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe denied that the new SOFA would lead to a permanent US presence on the island.”The US navy is not a fleet of fishing trawlers. They don’t need any bases in Sri Lanka,” he said.

 He told the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce in July 2019  that there is no SOFA” agreement between the Sri Lankan and US governments and neither is there any proposal to that effect forwarded by any Ministry to the Cabinet. The government has not signed any Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with United States.

 Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament , in the same month  that the government had not signed a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with America, although discussions were ongoing. he had  informed the U.S  that his government was not agreeable to some of the conditions in the draft proposal under discussion. He stressed that regardless of the outcome of negotiations, nothing would be done to harm Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. ( continued)

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