SOFA not for Sri Lanka
Posted on July 5th, 2019

By Lakshman I.Keerthisinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

Once we agree on the future, the present will be much easier. A captain who does not know where he wants to sail, there is no wind on Earth that will bring him there. We have first to decide where we want to go, where we want to sail”
– Ami Ayalon –Israeli Politician

 It was reported in the Media that President Maithripala Sirisena told heads of Media institutions, at a meeting held on 26 June that he is strictly against the proposed signing of the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States of America. 

Although, it was reported that ACSA has already been approved by the Foreign Ministry, influenced by a former diplomat, SOFA is yet to be signed.

Critics say that if the SOFA were to be signed, by Sri Lanka, it can be noted that since Independence, 71 years ago, this would be the first time foreign troops, in uniform, carrying weapons and communication equipment, would be free to roam the country. Regarding foreign troops permitted free access to Sri Lanka in the past, the only forces were the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) but they were confined entirely to the war-torn North and East during the separatist war. 

They were sent back by late President Ranasinghe Premadasa. The other was the presence of foreign troops during the December 2005 Tsunami but they were not allowed to carry weapons and given specific areas to undertake relief work.

 It must be recalled that the US was the sponsor of a resolution against Sri Lankan troops for the purported violation of human rights, international humanitarian law and alleged war crimes. Unfortunately due to the intervention of the then Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, Sri Lanka became a co-sponsor of that resolution. It is rather strange that the very country that accused the Sri Lankan troops and placed them under scrutiny before the UNHRC and blacklisted many military officers now desires joint military ties.

 Meanwhile, the Chief Prelate of the Malwatte Chapter Most Venerable Thibbatuwawe Sri Sumangala Thera expressed the following views when the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka called on the Venerable Thera recently. The Mahanayaka Thera said that there are allegations against America as well and that these agreements should be publicised so that the people are aware of the contents. The Venerable Thera emphasised that the majority of the clergy consider entering in to these agreements as dangerous and added that he too feels the same, about the issue.

 If SOFA is signed, unavoidable presence of American troops on the ground, which Sri Lanka will be powerless to prevent, the country would undoubtedly jeopardise its sovereignty and territorial integrity, over the whole Island. The real cost of the civil war is coming to light only now and with the most startling and disastrous consequences.

It is to be noted that history reveals that during the British colonial period, the British East India Company was able to conquer the whole of India, because of disunity amongst Indian rulers, princes and chiefs. Similarly, a communally disunited Sri Lanka may succumb to the same fate due to a new strategic power game played by the US in the Indian Ocean region.  The root cause of the nation’s misfortune appears to be its ethnic and religious disharmony with the background of disunity between our present leaders.

Engineered chaos

It is in this context that one is prompted to ask the question whether the Easter massacre was just the joint handy-work of home grown jihadists and ISIS only, or chaos engineered and executed by even more powerful and sinister game players. Because, ISIS is no more an arch enemy of US as once thought to be, but a friend of convenience in the fight against Assad. ISIS lost its territory and caliphate not because of US bombing but because of Russian and Syrian joint attacks.

The timing of SOFA/ VFA deal is also significant. Sri Lanka is about to face Presidential as well as Parliamentary elections, soon. Having envisaged the increasing prospect of Chinese influence escalating with a new regime not so amenable to them, US would prefer to conclude the deal while the pro-US UNP regime is still in power. The fact that Pompeo excluded Sri Lanka from his recent Asian tour may have been due to the US displaying its displeasure for not signing SOFA thus giving a veiled threat to Sri Lanka.  US seem to attach a great importance in gaining a foothold in Sri Lanka. But sooner or later, the presence of US troops in Sri Lanka presents a worrying scenario.

In conclusion, the decision of President Sirisena not to sign the SOFA is very astute, which will safeguard the sovereignty of our motherland.

(The writer is an Attorney-at-Law with LLB, LLM, MPhil.(Colombo)

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