Diplomatic disaster in British soil – a shame to Rajapaksa and his failed State

by Satheesan Kumaaran

(December 24, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) With the illusion of selling his dismal image of a racist war criminal desperately wanting to sell an angelic image to the Western world, His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Executive President of Sri Lanka, with a 40-member delegation, left Sri Lanka and landed on November 29, 2010, at the London Heathrow International Airport, something like the fabled first Sinhalese King, Vijaya, landing on the shores of Sri Lanka with his followers said to have been blessed by Lord Buddha. During his tenure, he adorned himself with the reputation among Sinhalese as a saviour of Sinhala-Buddhist land freed from the clutches of the “Tamil” terrorism for which he ordered his armed forces to take the lives of tens of thousands of non-combatant Tamil civilians.

Having been endorsed by the Sinhalese, he apparently wished to win the sanction, tacit approval, and impunity from the International Community especially the Western countries, initially through his address to the Oxford Union, which is calling upon Rajapaksa to allow an impartial international investigation into the war crime abuses. But Rajapaksa does not want to allow the international investigation team as this could put him behind bars since he is the principal accused in the war crimes and human rights abuses. Rajapaksa’s other intention is to win the hearts of the Diaspora Tamils as they are an influential factor in shaping the lives of Tamils who live in the North and East of Sri Lanka and in influencing the thinking of the countries of their adoption.

The events that took place in Great Britain were unexpectedly shocking and a total diplomatic debacle for Rajapaksa and his rogue state. His government paid money only to meet with disaster in Britain. The question is whether he and his regime learn any lesson from this?

Although Rajapaksa’s government spent millions of State money for the trip to Britain, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry said that the trip was purely private. Why do they need to spend such millions of Sterling Pounds for such private visits? This is the way the Sri Lankan polity works as they don’t have to show any accountability to the citizens as to how they spend the money. The Sri Lankan government is pouring millions of dollars every year through its missions abroad just to counter the perceived propaganda of the LTTE supporters who speak the truth about the plight of the Tamils living in the North and East of the island where more than 100,000 Sri Lankan soldiers have been stationed and are widely taking part in human rights abuses such as rape, kidnapping, and killing.

Tamil politicians and NGOs demand the government explain why they want to keep the soldiers who wander around the streets of Tamil traditional land with guns and military uniforms despite the government’s acknowledgement that there is no more LTTE threat. For this reason, the government is fabricating stories saying that the remnants of the LTTE are trying to regroup and they are on the way into North and East to begin next phase of Eelam war. The government further states that the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) is helping to regroup the remnants of the LTTE and find ways to procure arms, etc. Also, the government has continued extending the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) which is an anti-terrorism law aimed to crushing not only the Tamil militants but, in the guise of crushing the militants, target innocent Tamil civilians.

In actual fact there is no return to normalcy for the Tamil civilians even after the war had been concluded since May 2009. Suffering is rampant. The government is trying to propagate their claims around the world, saying that their aim is to solve the Tamils’ problem within the frame work of a united Sri Lanka and that they are doing everything to create normalcy for the Tamils, and hence, the government needs monetary aid from donors in order to help the badly-shaped economy, especially since Sri Lanka went into bankruptcy after many countries stopped providing monetary aid after the government failed to reciprocate the LTTE demands for a peaceful settlement to end the ethnic conflict and the government unilaterally annulled the ceasefire agreement mediated by the Norwegian government. This angered many donor countries, and they were putting pressure upon Rajapaksa’s regime to enter into genuine peace talks, but the government did not respect the international community’s call for stopping the war and entering into peace talks.

With the diplomatic setback, Rajapaksa needed an immediate venue to reach the International Community and the choice was no other than the highly reputed Oxford Union. The President of the Union, James Kingston, sent a formal invitation earlier this year to Rajapaksa to address the Oxford Union. Rajapaksa, too, admitted it would be the best venue to expose his “lies” to the world, as he is considered a military and political victor in his home country ruling as a dictator leaving no space for the journalists and totally suppressing any freedom of speech and dissent. He won the elections with threat and intimidation. But, he does not want to be alienated by the International Community.

Ironically, Sri Lanka’s south-western neighbour is the Republic of Maldives, which features 1,192 islets, of which two hundred are inhabited. This island-nation’s President, Mohanmed Nasheed, spoke to the Oxford Union on December 3, which is the day after the President Rajapaksa was scheduled to speak. Nasheed spoke on the most troubled subject for all Maldivians -- global warming. Unlike the President of a failed State, the Maldivian President Nasheed met with Prince Charles, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, as well as Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne. He also took part in BBC's Hard Talk programme with Stephen Sackur. Interestingly, another speaker at the Oxford Union just a week before Rajapaksa was to speak was buxom Baywatch star Pamela Anderson. The 43-year-old actress spoke on vegetarianism. Another interesting fact is that famous explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes spoke at the Union on December 2nd too while Rajapaksa’s address was cancelled.

Shame in London!

The Sri Lankan Airlines flight UL 509 landed at Heathrow Airport on November 29, and taxied to a parking bay in Terminal 4, the terminal allotted to Sri Lankan Airlines. However, as the aircraft rolled in, it was channeled by Air Traffic Controllers to the apron ahead of Terminal 5, the newly built glass, concrete, and steel structure used exclusively by British Airways. Escort vehicles and VIP limousines were waiting on the ground for Rajapaksa and his entourage. They stepped out from the passenger steps, boarded the vehicles, and drove off with no hassle from the protesters. It was thereafter that Sri Lankan Airlines Airbus A-340 headed to a parking slot at Terminal 4. Protesters learnt later that Rajapaksa and party had already reached the five-star Dorchester Hotel. It was in this very suite that Elizabeth Taylor received the news of her record-breaking, multi-million pound deal to star in the epic Cleopatra. Michael Jackson, the most extravagant of pop stars, stayed here too.

Thanks should also go to the Metropolitan Police for escorting the Sri Lanka team to the hotel although the team was on a private visit to London. The Metropolitan Police did realize the frustrations of the Tamils who came in hundreds to the Airport as they received news that the war criminal Rajapaksa and his delegation were arriving. An interesting story is that some Sinhala protesters also joined hands with the Tamils against the Sri Lankan team, but these protesters were shouting slogans to release the incarcerated former Sri Lankan army commander, Maj. General Sarath Fonseka, who jailed with the charges on conspiring to overthrow the government.

Rajapaksa received an urgent one-page letter from James Kingston, the President of the Oxford Union, in December, just days after he arrived in London, He said “…it is with the very deepest regret that I must report we now feel bound to withdraw our invitation to you, in light of pressing security concerns brought to us yesterday afternoon (November 30) by Thames Valley Police.” The letter (dated December 1, 2010) was in marked contrast to a statement issued by the Union on December 2. It said “…… the union has regretfully found that the talk is no longer practicable and has had to cancel his address.”

Rajapaksa was doing his homework to address the Oxford Union when he received the letter from the Union President. The cancellation was in fact due to the pressure exerted by the Diaspora Tamils as well as the proposed protests made by local Tamil organizations in London. In fact, efforts were high in transporting thousands of Tamils from other parts of Europe as well. If Rajapaksa was allowed to speak at the Union, no fewer than 50,000 Tamils would have surrounded the Oxford Union premises despite freezing temperatures and thin sheets of ice and snow on the streets.

After the news of the cancellation, the Tamils diverted their attention to encircle the Dorchester hotel where the president was staying. When the Tamils were pouring in by the thousands around the hotel, there was a plan to airlift the President to the Airport in order to send him home along with his delegation, but luckily he managed to get out of the hotel and sought refuge in the Sri Lankan High Commission where he was scheduled for several agenda, and upon hearing the news that Rajapaksa was taken to the High Commission, the protesters made the move to encircle the High Commission site with the slogan that either British government arrest the war criminal or let them to arrest the criminal and produce him in the court for the mass murders and human rights abuses on Tamils.

The British Police managed to escort the President and his team elsewhere safely and put them on a flight to Colombo. On their arrival in Colombo, Rajapaksa’s supporters and hand-picked religious leaders were waiting at the Airport and praised him with slogans for safe return home. On the other hand, his supporters also held a protest in front of the British High Commission in Colombo raising slogans saying that the British government is none other than white-skin Tigers and they shouted slogans condemning the Oxford Union for cancelling the address to be delivered by Mahinda saying that it was a great insult not only to Mahinda but to the whole of Sri Lanka.

Bell Pottinger and Lankan High High Commission failed

Bell Pottinger, a public relations firm, which receives more than a million Sterling Pounds a year from the Sri Lankan government for public relations and diplomacy in Britain, and side-by-side with the Sri Lankan High Commission in London, have both failed to save the war criminal, accused along with his aides whose purpose of the visit to London was to convince the world community there were no war crimes.

It was none other than Bell Pottinger Group Chairman, Kevin Murray, who assured the Sri Lankan government that the reputation of the President and his delegation remained in good standing. Murray claims that his clients come to him when they need to build great reputations, win more customers, increase sales, and build brands. He told the government that his group would help them receive a positive spin in print and broadcast media and on the web, and he would create active brand advocates in social media. But President Mahinda’s visit was total flop. The attempts made by Bell Pottinger did not bring any fruitful results, rather, it brought a negative reputation to the delegation in London. Bell Pottinger did its best to influence the most reputed London Times newspaper. Its editor, James Harding, and journalist Ben Macintyre visited President Rajapaksa at his suite at the Dorchester Hotel. Their story was totally different from what either Bell Pottinger or the Sri Lankan government had expected. This showed that the Sri Lanka’s taxpayers’ money was wasted, and instead, it helped to expose the President’s hidden agenda.

The Tamil speaking Muslim, P.M. Amza, who served as Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner in the southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu when the last phase of the war peaked, has now been serving as Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner in the U.K. Interestingly, he earned Rajapaksa’s confidence when he was serving in the Tamil Nadu, especially when he managed to influence well known media in favour of his government and he managed to ease the tension of Tamils of Tamil Nadu when they were angered over the killings of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Further, in India, Amza sabotaged any support given to Tamil Tigers or Eelam Tamils for their cause. After the war was over, Rajapaksa thought Amza would be the best candidate to be shifted to the U.K. as his government is facing pressure from Britain over war crime abuses. Amza, too, thought that he could win over the hearts of media outlets in the U.K, and more importantly, convince the British politicians, but Rajapaksa’s and Amza’s calculations failed.

Just a day before Rajapaksa and his delegation arrived in London, Amza told the media that Rajapaksa would meet British MPs and other senior leaders, but Rajapaksa and his delegation returned home without having met them except meeting with the Britain’s Secretary of State for Defence, Dr. Liam Fox, in a personal capacity. It has been revealed that during the meeting, both discussed the question of power devolution in Sri Lanka and development assistance from the U.K. It is a well-known fact that Fox is a close ally of Sri Lanka since early 1990s, and when many of the British parliamentarians were speaking against Sri Lanka over human rights abuses, Fox maintained silence and he even paid several visits to Sri Lanka after the war ended in May 2009 with the claim he would ease tensions. But in reality, he spent most of his time as a favoured guest of the Sri Lankan government. It is no surprise that he is being loyal to the Sri Lankan government for the lavish hospitality and the comforts afforded to him.

Another revelation is that the senior British ministers were disappointed over Fox’s meeting with Rajapaksa, and the British government official issued a statement saying that the meeting between Dr. Fox and Rajapaksa was purely private. And another interesting story is that Fox scheduled a visit to Sri Lanka to address the Kadirgamar memorial speech on December 18th. What a coincidence! Kadirgamar was the former Sri Lanka Foreign Minister. Born into a Tamil family, he favoured Sinhalese over Tamil, and he even failed to say a word about the sufferings of the Tamils, but he spoke on behalf of the Sinhala regime that caused much suffering to the Tamils. Kadirgamar’s killing that took place within a high security zone in Colombo was, as usual, blamed on the Tamils. Due to pressure from the British government, Fox had no choice but to call off the visit.

On December 17th, Fox’s spokesman said: “Dr Fox has postponed his private visit to Sri Lanka due to an extension to his scheduled official visit to the Gulf. He intends to carry out an official visit to Sri Lanka next year, during which he proposes to fulfill the speaking engagement that he had planned.” However, reliable sources reveal that Fox was forced to abandon the private visit to Sri Lanka after a row with British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who feared that he would upset Britain’s carefully balanced approach to Colombo.

Just days after arriving in Colombo, Rajapaksa told the Parliament that he intended to explain his political solution in his address to the Oxford Union, but sinister elements prevented him from revealing his political proposal to be offered to Tamils in Sri Lanka. This clearly shows what a rat cunning politician that Mr. Rajapaksa is. The question is why he needed the Oxford Union forum to reveal a political package to offer to end the Tamils’ grievances? Why couldn’t he reveal it in the Sri Lankan Parliament and get the majority support and implement it? He is not interested in a political solution.

He told Parliament: “We have paid attention to a political solution that empowers the economy and people at village level. Terrorists’ strategy was to prevent us from informing our stand to the world. They wanted to distract the attention of the country which now enjoys peace to a different direction.”

Mr. Rajapaksa also threw a bombshell on business leaders and NGOs saying certain business leaders and NGOs that appeared for the LTTE at that time are still engaged in terrorist financing in pursuit of their goal to create a Tamil Eelam. If he has a political package ready, why couldn’t he implement it as the North and East of the island are in his total control with his civil administration? It is a shame for him and the Sinhala governments that they have political packages but they never reveal them. Rather, these years Rajapaksa’s government continued to claim that they are going to solve the ethnic problem and hold talks with Tamil political parties. This is another eye-wash to hoodwink everyone.

There’s an old saying that one who knocks on one’s head is a fool and the one who bows the head to be knocked is a greater fool. The Sinhala leadership cannot fool the Tamils all the time. Rajapaksa and his 40-member delegation should be ashamed of what happened to them on British soil. It is time for the perpetrators of the war crimes to be punished, not in the courts of the failed state, but by a global court. The perpetrators of those who killed more than 150,000 innocent Tamil civilians, in addition to causing tremendous sufferings to the Tamils, should be brought to justice. Rajapaksa and Co. take heed of the lesson learned on British soil as a way to progress not only Sri Lanka, but humanity too.

(The author can be reached at e-mail: satheesan_kumaaran@yahoo.com)

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