By Shamindra Ferdinando
In spite of issuing a five-year multiple visa to retired Maj. Gen. Udaya Perera in Aug 2019, the US, in early Dec, 2021, barred him from entering the country. The US ordered Singapore Airlines not to permit the Gajaba Regiment veteran to board the Singapore-bound flight, from where he, his wife and a son were to continue their journey to the USA. Maj. Gen. Perera, who had retired in 2017 after having served the Army for 36 years, suddenly found himself categorised among war criminals. One-time Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner in Malaysia (2009-2011) Maj. Gen. Perera was about to board the flight (Colombo/Singapore/Los Angeles) with the final destination being California, to see his granddaughter. However his wife and son departed as planned, whereas the ex-top combat officer of the famed Gajaba regiment had to return home dejected at having been humiliated at the country’s main international airport by such crass behaviour of the self-appointed world policeman. We could forgive such behaviour as a mistake if it came from a country that has clean hands, but certainly not from one that has shed so much innocent blood around the world and continue to do so at will.
The highly embarrassing snub, in full view of the public, of Maj. Gen.Perera, who had received his Master’s Degree from the prestigious US Army War College, a couple of years after the successful conclusion of the war, didn’t attract the attention it deserved. The government and the Opposition conveniently refrained from at least issuing a statement as regards the development. Perhaps they felt there was no point in trying to complain against two members of the self-appointed international community, as the US and Australia imposed similar travel restrictions earlier on Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, General Shavendra Silva and Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage et al over unsubstantiated war crimes accusations and they, too, were left unanswered.
Maj Gen Perera received the prestigious United States Army War College Alumni Award for his academic performances and in recognition of his services as the International Fellows Class President at the US Army War College and is a lifetime member of the US Army War College Alumni Foundation.
During his tenure as the Deputy HC in Malaysia, Maj. Gen. Perera played a significant role in the extradition of Kumaran Pathmanathan alias ‘KP.’ It would be pertinent to mention that the Eelam War IV time Director Operations, received the diplomatic appointment in April 2009, a few weeks before the military eradicated the top LTTE leadership.
The incident involving Maj. Gen. Perera that happened on the night of Dec 5 at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) remained under wraps till Dec 26. Perhaps the incident could have gone unreported at all if not for some concerned party bringing it to the notice of The Island. But the issue failed to attract sufficient interest of the print and electronic media, including social media.
Need for US clarification
The Foreign Ministry should seek an explanation from the US Embassy, in Colombo, as regards the punitive measures taken against Maj. Gen. Perera. Only the US can explain why Maj. Gen. Perera, now a top employee of a prominent private sector enterprise, did during the Eelam War IV to be categorised as a war criminal. Eyebrows have been raised over the ex-officer’s predicament as he hadn’t been assigned to fighting formations on the Northern front (2007-2009) or involved in the Eastern campaign (2006-2007) or commanded the divisions after the war. Australia found fault with Maj. Gen. Gallage for commanding the 59 Division after the conclusion of the war.
What did the US find unacceptable about Maj. Gen. Perera’s conduct after the issuance of five-year multiple visa in August 2019? The US has issued the visa over two years after his retirement and eight years following the end of the war. Maybe, the US wants to expand the proscribed list as part of its overall strategy to intensify pressure on Sri Lanka to bring it to its knees for daring to get financial and other assistance from China that has helped us in numerous ways in the past, especially when the West attempted to throttle us on the military front by putting an arms embargo.
No doubt India, too, helped us at crucial times, but as we have said before what Beijing did by helping us to defeat the LTTE in actual fact was a favour done to Delhi because initially the ultimate goal of the Eelam project was the breakup of India, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union the equation changed with America also wanting to have a solid friend for Tel Aviv in India for increasingly arrogant and unpopular Israel among a sea of Arab masses.
The Foreign Ministry should be mindful of the growing threat posed by the continuing Geneva agenda meant to weaken the country. Over two years after the last presidential election that brought wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa into power in Nov 2019, the incumbent dispensation is yet to properly address the accountability issues. Sri Lanka’s pathetic response has facilitated the despicable Geneva agenda intended to weaken the Sri Lankan State.
May be it is time that we raised such issues as justice for victims of West in places like, for example, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Palestine, etc., especially due to false flag operations like the one staged on entirely staged weapons of mass destruction that supposedly Saddam Hussein had. Then what about justice for victims of hundreds if not thousands of hell fire missiles that rained death and destruction on innocent wedding parties, funeral processions, etc., in those countries, in the guise of killing terrorists. Where are you UNHRC?
The political leadership needs to realize that humiliation of the military is part of the Western strategy. That is the undeniable truth. Geneva wants to tarnish the image of those who spearheaded the actual military campaign against the LTTE, service commanders and selected senior as well as junior security forces officers.
Both Canada and Italy snubbed Sri Lanka over the latter’s proposal to name retired Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sumangala Dias as High Commissioner. Regardless of AM’s clean war record, Canada rejected him. Having allowed the LTTE rump a free hand over a period of time and undermined the war-winning Sri Lanka at every turn, the Canadian rejection of AM Dias was meant to degrade the country.
Human rights crusader Canada, member of the Sri Lanka Core Group in Geneva recently attracted massive media attention following the shocking revelation of how thousands of indigenous children perished in government-run schools. These schools were meant to erode indigenous culture, language and family and community ties. Politically motivated racial project was notorious for the neglect and abuse of the children compelled to attend them. Thousands of Indigenous children died therein and had been interned in unmarked graves on grounds of such schools among other places, obviously hoping such dastardly deeds would never come to light.
An utterly contemptible Canadian decision to back Tamil Diaspora propaganda pertaining to genocide in Lanka by way of a Private Member Bill 104 on ‘Tamil Genocide Education Week’ in the Ontario Legislative Assembly should be examined against the backdrop of Ottawa’s rejection of AM Dias. Instead, Canada swiftly accepted prominent civil society activist Harsha Kumara Navaratne as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner. The writer recently dealt with the Navaratne’s appointment in an article titled ‘From meeting Pottu, Balraj and Soosai to being Sri Lanka’s top envoy in Canada’ in the Dec 22, 2021 issue of The Island.
Foreign Ministry bid to save precious dollars
Cash-strapped Sri Lanka on Dec 27, 2021, announced a long overdue decision to close down some missions. Declaring that the Sri Lanka High Commission in Abuja, Nigeria, the Consulate General of Sri Lanka in Frankfurt, Germany; and the Consulate General of Sri Lanka in Nicosia, Cyprus, would be closed down with effect from 31 December 2021, the Foreign Ministry announced that the Cabinet of Ministers approved the move. The Foreign Ministry asserted that foreign reserves could be saved by minimising expenditure on the maintenance of diplomatic missions. Perhaps, the Cabinet of Ministers should have considered closing down many more missions than those at Abuja, Frankfurt and Nicosia.
Over the years, Sri Lankan missions overseas have become a haven for political appointees. We also wonder whether many of our serving diplomats are rendering a worthy service to the country. Some of them have joined the service through the backdoor, thanks to influence. We can recall how our top career diplomat, in a leading capital in the East, gave a talk to a group of leading businessman in that country’s capital in the presence of our then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and repeatedly referred to the construction of the second RUNAWAY at BIA with valuable assistance from that country. At that moment we ourselves felt like running away from there!
Successive governments have shamelessly utilised diplomatic missions to accommodate associates, friends as well as some former parliamentarians. The incumbent dispensation is no exception.
The Parliamentary High Posts Committee, whoever chairs it, follows political directives. There cannot be a better example than the yahapalana administration granting an ambassadorial position to businessman A.S.P. Liyanage. The self-serving cunning businessman, who merely pretended to play the part of a stooge to those in power and served twice as head of mission, contested the presidential election on more than one occasion and at the last parliamentary election appeared on the Colombo District UNP list. Liyanage was on the same list with UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and its Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake at the disastrous August 2020 parliamentary election that reduced the former governing party to just one National List slot. Liyanage was so influential he received appointment as Sri Lanka top envoy in Nigeria during the previous Rajapaksa administration. President Maithripala Sirisena then made him Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Qatar.
Controversy over Embraer Legacy 600 jet
About a week before the New Year, an unexpected controversy erupted over Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, accompanied by wife, Shiranthi, and other members of the family, utilising a private jet to visit the famous hill shrine of Lord Venkateswara in Andhra Pradesh’s Tirumala where they offered prayers. Social media was dominated, their two-day visit. Rajapaksa visited the temple in February 2020, less than three months after the last presidential election, when a special puja was performed at the Devasthanam on the first anniversary of his current term.
Contradicting statements relating to the visit (departure Dec 23 morning and return De 24 evening) resulted in speculation that Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Uganda Velupillai Kananathan provided the Embraer Legacy 600 jet. Velupillai Kananathan had been among Premier Rajapaksa’s entourage and was pictured holding his hand as they walked away from the aircraft in question having landed at Renigunta airport in Andra Pradesh. Kananathan had moved to Uganda way back in 1987 and established therein before receiving the appointment as High Commissioner in 2013. Velupillai Kananathan has received the top posting back after the last presidential election.
Social media alleged that Velupillai Kananathan had been with the LTTE though well informed Tamil Diaspora as well as former intelligence officers emphasised there was absolutely no involvement with the terrorist organisation. Studied at S. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia, Velupillai Kananathan had been involved in the hospitality trade, having first served the Hatton National Bank.
The Divaina quoted Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa as having said that it was a private visit with no expenditure of public funds. The Premier’s Media Secretary Rohan Weliwita, too, declared that public funds hadn’t been utilised and expenses borne by the Premier himself. However, Pohottuwa lawmaker Milan Jayatilleke is on record as having said that a powerful Indian businessman provided the jet for the pilgrimage and the cost borne by the Indian. The lawmaker defended the Thirupathi visit in the wake of some sections of the Opposition accusing Premier Rajapaksa of squandering public funds at a time the country was reeling from severe economic difficulties. The controversy has taken a new turn after Premier Rajapaksa’s Chief of Staff Yoshitha Rajapaksa’s declaration that a friend of his father provided the jet though he didn’t know the identity of the benefactor.
Who owns the super luxury aircraft, believed to be registered in Europe? The Opposition is likely to pursue the jet story. In the January 02, 2022 edition of ‘Annida’, Aruna Jayawardena dealt with the issue at hand, comprehensively. The writer questioned the ownership of the super luxury aircraft against the backdrop of continuing controversy over High Commissioner Velupillai Kananathan’s role in the whole affair. The writer questioned the appropriateness of the Premier accepting such an expensive freebie. The government should set the record straight.
Paying homage to Tirupathi
Many Sri Lankan politicians annually visit Tirumalar. Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maithripala and Ranil Wickremasinghe are among them. Sirisena accompanied by wife, Jayanthi Pushpakumari and other family members prayed at Tirumalar on April 17, 2019, four days before the Easter Sunday carnage. Sirisena has been accused of leaving for Tirumalar and from there flying to Singapore on the second leg of a private visit, in spite of specific Indian intelligence warning of impending terrorist attack. Sirisena, who also served as the Defence Minister at that time paid a very heavy price for neglecting the Indian intelligence warnings pertaining to the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) plot, though he has repeatedly claimed he was not aware.
The Foreign Ministry plays a vital role in the overall national defence. The Foreign Ministry should play a leading role in national defence. One cannot easily forget how that Ministry has been used over the years to appease foreign powers or provide employment opportunities to those the government wanted to get rid of. Disgraced IGP Pujitha Jayasundera’s claim is a case in point that he was offered a diplomatic positing if he accepted the responsibility for 2019 Easter carnage cannot be ignored. Jayasundera, indicted before the three-judge bench of the Colombo High Court Trial at Bar hearing the Easter Sunday carnage is on record as having said that the then President Maithripala Sisisena offered him the diplomatic posting.
In the case of the treacherous 2015 Geneva resolution, the Foreign Ministry at the behest of political directive betrayed the country’s war-wining armed forces. The late Mangala Samaraweera served as the Foreign Minister at that time. Following the Geneva betrayal, President Sirisena, in consultations with Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, brought in Ravi Karanunayake as the Foreign Minister. Samaraweera received the finance portfolio. The late minister handled the finance portfolio quite well with government revenue topping Rs 1,900 bn mark on two consecutive years.
In spite of the change, the Foreign Ministry didn’t change its line. The Foreign Ministry quite unashamedly allowed Western embassies to exploit the so-called Mannar mass graves. Those responsible turned a blind eye to foreign diplomats propagating the lie that Army during the Vanni offensive killed and buried hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians. The despicable project continued until a US lab declared the skeleton remains belonged to the colonial era. Based on unsubstantiated claims made by Colombo-based Western embassies, the Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet blamed the Sri Lankan military for mass graves. Even after the Geneva project went awry, the Foreign Ministry lacked the will to at least refer to the extremely unfair position taken by the former Chilean UNHRC President in her capacity as the global human rights chief.
The Foreign Ministry showed its true colours when The Island sought the government response to the disclosure made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017. The Foreign Ministry simply rejected Lord Naseby’s intervention. The disclosure unsettled the then government. The then Foreign Ministry spokesperson, an experienced career diplomat, ridiculed Lord Naseby’s statement. The official wouldn’t have done so without consulting the higher-ups. The yahapalana Foreign Ministry would have probably remained quiet if The Island didn’t raise the issue. For want of a Foreign Ministry response to Lord Naseby’s very important statement, even a week after it was made, the writer, on Oct 20, 2017, sought an explanation from the Foreign Ministry.
The Foreign Ministry response really disappointed a vast majority of people, who expected the government to use the House of Lords disclosure to counter lies that had been propagated by various interested parties. Instead of taking advantage of Lord Naseby’s statement, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mahishini Colonne declared: “The Government of Sri Lanka remains committed to the national processes, aimed at realizing the vision of a reconciled, stable, peaceful and prosperous nation. Engaging in arguments and debates in the international domain over the number of civilians who may have died at a particular time in the country will not help resolve any issues, in a meaningful manner, locally, except a feel good factor for a few individuals who may think that they have won a debate or scored points over someone or the other.”
Two years later, Tilak Marapana, PC, in his capacity as the Foreign Minister made reference to Lord Naseby’s disclosure when he addressed the Geneva sessions. One-time Attorney General Marapana, who succeeded disgraced Ravi Karunanayake as Foreign Minister in the wake of explosive revelations in the Presidential Treasury Bond Commission, emphasized the importance of Lord Naseby’s disclosure based on wartime Colombo based UK Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Anthony’s Gash dispatches to London. But, his government refrained from pursuing the matter. The current dispensation, too, never officially submitted British records to Geneva though during the tenure of Prof. G.L. Peiris’ predecessor, Dinesh Gunawardena, the Foreign Ministry did raise the issue with the British. The UK continues to suppress wartime dispatches from Sri Lanka. In fact, Sri Lanka never pursued the declaration made by wartime US Defence Attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith in 2011. Basically, both British and American embassy officials said the same. They denied the Sri Lankan military perpetrated war crimes. Their statements/declarations should be examined against the backdrop of the US and the UK pursuing an anti-Sri Lanka agenda.