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Defence Secretary’s statement creates a serious diplomatic furor

"One can say that the Tigers have trapped the Government of Sri Lanka in a terrible dilemma from which it may not be able to extricate itself easily."

By Nilantha Ilangamuwa

(February 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The anxiety of the Sri Lankan Government to wipe out Tiger terrorism at a stage when it sees as within reach at whatever the cost of innocent civilians in their thousands caught as hostages are likely to suffer, could not have been better expressed by the unfortunate statement believed to have been made by the Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. His warning to ambassadors, news agencies and non-governmental agencies engaged in Sri Lanka of dire consequences if they give a second wind to the LTTE is most understandable and regrettable too.

Understandable since the terrorism of the LTTE has to be wiped but regrettable because in the light of the fate the Tamils are caught in the claws of the Tigers, the government appears to consider the finishing off of the Tigers as the top priority and not the lives of 300,000 civilian hostages. The world has every right to be concerned about this hostage horror and the integrity of the Government of Sri Lanka will be judged by how it reacts under the circumstances. The LTTE will make capital out of it and there is every chance, the Tiger leader himself may order the hostages to be massacred as his final bow to his brutal psyche that is natural to him.

Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s threat that those who offer a leverage to the LTTE will be chased away and was even accused of having made pointed references specially to the German and Swiss ambassadors, has smashed up a hornets; nest letting loose a swarm of stingers out to hurt him. Diplomatic officials in Berlin and Berne are obviously enraged and President Mahinda Rajapaksa has not wasted time to apologize for what has been considered as a serious diplomatic amiss of the part of the Defence Secretary.

Mr Rajapaksa also specially named the CNN, Al-Jazeera and the BBC of trying to sensationalize civilian hardships by telecasting video clips from LTTE websites. He has urged on many occasions that the international community including UN agencies and the ICRC should maximize pressure to bear on the Tigers and release civilians trapped in the war zone.

Following Mr Rajapaksa’s outburst many media agencies in Europe especially in Germany and Switzerland, the homes of many Tamils who fled Sri Lanka on account of racial violence against them, have taken strong exceptions to his reactions.

Sri Lanka Guardian has been inundated with calls from the Tamil Diaspora living in these two countries and in UK and Canada expressing their shock at the position taken by Mr Rajapaksa. They are now fully of the view that come what may be, the Sri Lankan Armed Forces will continue their attack on the LTTE even if they know that thousands of Tamil civilians will perish.

Many of them want to know as to why the Armed Forces could not be ordered to cease action until such time the fate of the hostages are sorted out.

Germany has been particularly annoyed by how its ambassador to Sri Lanka was treated over the condolence sentiments expressed at the funeral of the assassinated journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge. The Swiss government meanwhile has expressed the view that Mr Rajapaksa’s reactions may have been a misunderstanding and could amount to a false alarm.

It is also possible that Mr Rajapaksa could have been quoted totally out of context and does not apply to the current diplomatic furor. However, the fact remains that international opinion may reach the level of shock and anger against the Government of Sri Lanka, if the civilian hostages are harmed. Such a danger prevails ominously at this juncture.

One can say that the Tigers have trapped the Government of Sri Lanka in a terrible dilemma from which it may not be able to extricate itself easily. Meanwhile, Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa speaking to the media this morning said that he did not warn any foreign ambassadors or journalists would be chased out of the country. He said that he only stressed the need for them to act responsibly and help Sri Lanka to crack terrorism.

(The writer can be reached at nilantha@srilankaguardian.org )
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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