Posted on September 4th, 2014


Dr.Tilak Fernando

 At the height of the LTTE terrorism in Sri Lanka, a delegation from the Council of Churches in the UK visited home on a peace promoting exercise. Upon their return, Sinhala expatriates in London had an interaction meeting with the team that visited Sri Lanka, which turned out to be a vociferous incident. To counter the myth that dominated at home at the time that expatriates ‘involvement or contribution was much to be desired’, the same writer published the proceeds of the meeting that took place in June 1999 in a Sri Lankan daily English newspaper. This is being dug out from the archives and reproduced in a serial format in the ‘Life Abroad column’ for the benefit of those who were not aware of the incident and/or who were lachrymose and pointed a finger at the expatriate Sinhala community for their lack of enthusiasm in helping the motherland in the hour of need.

Continuation from Pt. 1 …….. ‘Parapitiya was not convinced and raised another question: ‘Fr. Davis, I am still not clear whether your delegation was on a religious basis or something to do with any other matter’!

Father Davis simply smiled at Parapitiya and kept quiet’…….

However, Wijeratne Parapitiya became somewhat impatient to get a straight answer to a direct question and continued: ‘The Church delegation from the UK did not go to resolve any political or economic problem in Sri Lanka. The most obvious inference was to find out the basic truth behind the present conflict between the government and the terrorists in Sri Lanka’.

‘George’ Parapitiya then referred to the traditional map of Sri Lanka, which Fr. Davis displayed initially and vocalised:

Father Davis; the regions you just mentioned, where your delegation visited, are predominantly Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim areas where all communities intermingle and live peacefully in complete harmony. South of the country has always been peaceful in that respect from the beginning. What I would like to know, therefore, is why did not either you or your delegation make an attempt at all to visit the North of the country where the root of the problem lies?

Fr. Davis tried to explain that they were able to speak to a variety of people in those areas, but Parapitiya was not happy with such answers coming out of Fr. Davis, hence consistently fired more questions at Fr. Davis to find out the reason for the unimaginable gross omission during such a vital expedition.

Pressing further, he became curious to find out as to what kind of problems the delegates came across or saw when they visited. ‘Did they manage at all to communicate in Sinhala and/or Tamil without any knowledge of the two languages? Or did the delegation absorb whatever interpreters (choice of the church) translated into English as the Gospel truth’?

Fr. Davies tried to explain the role of the Church and said: ‘Being in the Church one could not cut oneself off from the problems of the world, and the Church had a duty to try and address any situation — in this scenario the Sri Lanka’s problems — to see what the Church could do about it.

Referring to the involvement of the Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, Fr. Davies pointed out that it was the very reason why even the Buddhist monks were involved in ‘the same sort of problems’ — trying to promote peace!

Third party mediation

Next ‘in the firing line’ was Dr. Susantha Goonatillake who referred to Sri Lankan press reports and said he was under the impression that Fr. Davis was all out for a third party mediation which was completely at variance with the public opinion in Sri Lanka and that went completely against any international intercession. Delving further into the subject, Dr. Goonatillake wanted to know what exactly was the involvement of the Church in the Sri Lankan conflict. He continued, ‘Year on year, for the past fifteen years, a resolution was passed in Geneva at the NGO Section of the Human Rights Organisation which endorsed the false terrorist map of Sri Lanka of the so-called traditional homeland for Tamils’.

‘The danger of passing such a resolution was that the young Tamil kids were made to believe in a fictitious ‘traditional homeland’ which helped the LTTE to brainwash them seriously and discreetly before sending youth to the battlefield as cannon fodder’ !

My feeling Fr. Davis, ispart of the problem lies in this map that you just exhibited to us. Your representative of the cloth, Bishop Kenneth Fernando, made a very interesting statement few years ago that Prabhakaran was a great humanist! Another man of the cloth was Fr. Emmanuel, who has declared ad nauseam that theTigers are the saviours of the world” !

At this juncture, Fr. Davis in an attempt to let steam off the situation blurted: “As I understand, it is this man (referring to Fr. Emmanuel) who has been talking in general about Jaffna”!

Dr. Goonatillake very politely explained to Fr. Davis that he (Goonatillake) had a very sizeable database in his computer; as such he could e-mail all the relevant details to Fr. Davis at any time for his examination and scrutiny.

Fr. Davies in an endeavour to brush the question aside said, Emmanuel had a particular opinion on various things, to which Dr. Goonatillake replied:

“No Sir, he says he is a Tamil first, and then a Catholic, but he is under the direct orders from the Pope!”

Tourist or opinion maker

Fr. Davis in desperation tried to explain that he went to Sri Lanka only as a tourist, but Dr. Goonatillake corrected Fr. Davis by reiterating that his (Fr. Davis’s) visit was far from that of an ordinary tourist, but as ‘an opinion maker within the country and continued:

Fr. Davis, your representative of the cloth, Fr. Emmanuel belonged to the National Christian Council, a spin off in the form of the National Peace Council, which later was funded by the International Alert’.

Referring to a whole series of facts Dr. Goonatillake had written extensively to the Sri Lankan press on the subject, he requested Fr. Davis to approach the International Alert and verify with the officials, who were there at that time, and be convinced with all the relevant information as to how the situation had come to pass.

At this stage Fr. Davis appeared to be in a somewhat confused state of mind and precipitously asked: What is this Tamil Homeland map that you were referring to? I am not aware of such a map at all !

That made Dr. Goonatillake to go berserk and, in a somewhat aggravated tone, responded to Fr. Davis’s question thus:

Well, to my knowledge Sir! After visiting Sri Lanka on a peace and reconciliation mission with a team from the Church, and now you come back here and say you are not familiar with this map! I am sorry to say you are making a terrible mistake. May I suggest that you consult someone who is familiar with this demarcated map by the LTTE terrorists, which they claim as ‘Tamil Homeland’?

‘Surely, Sir, if you have no knowledge of this map, then it is not worth the effort or wasting your time here by just attempting to persuade us that you and the Church could solve our problems in Sri Lanka’.

‘Any one for that matter, Fr. Davis, whoever is interested in solving the Sri Lanka’s terrorist problem in the first instance should know what this map is all about, and if you say in front of this audience, after visiting Sri Lanka and being on the verge of publishing your report covering your mission to Sri Lanka, then I have no words to express except saying it is a pathetic situation’.

At this point of confused and alert state, George Parapitiya and Wimal Ediriweera stood up from the audience and handed over several maps of Sri Lanka to Fr. Davis, for his examination, which clearly displayed the LTTE claimed areas as ‘Tamil Homeland’ marked in red.

To be continued next week in Pt iii

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