Mara­pana keeps an ace up his sleeve

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - COMMENT -

to­gether with the help of in­for­ma­tion ob­tained from knowl­edge­able sources on the ground, amounts to be­tween 7,000 to 8,000.

This is far, far less than the spec­u­la­tive 40,000 or more touted by some un­in­formed per­sons who served as ‘ ex­perts’ to then UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki- moon and other par­ties de­ter­mined to in­flate the number of ca­su­al­ties as props to their prej­u­dices and one-sided nar­ra­tives.

What is so in­trigu­ing about this ace as Mara­pana calls it, is the sum­mary treat­ment of it ini­tially by the for­eign min­istry in a state­ment it made in or about Oc­to­ber 25.

On that oc­ca­sion the min­istry tried to dis­miss-rather ar­ro­gantly too -- the re­sults of Lord Naseby’s three-year strug­gle to get at these des­patches of the Bri­tish De­fence At­tache’ in Colombo, par­tic­u­larly those sent to Lon­don dur­ing the clos­ing stages of the war when the LTTE was us­ing the Tamil civil­ians it had cor­ralled, lit­er­ally as can­non fod­der.

In fact, I had read the highly ‘cen­sored’ des­patches made avail­able to Lord Naseby some weeks be­fore he ac­tu­ally used them at the Lords de­bate on Oc­to­ber 12 to but­tress his case.

His ar­gu­ments clearly pre­sented a counter nar­ra­tive to that prop­a­gated by the UK and US gov­ern­ments, the main ar­chi­tects of UNHRC Res­o­lu­tion 30/ 1, which were highly crit­i­cal of Sri Lanka and its se­cu­rity forces. They pro­posed mea­sures in­im­i­cal to Sri Lanka which the ya­ha­palana gov­ern­ment tamely ac­cepted by co-spon­sor­ing the res­o­lu­tion.

With­out be­ing grate­ful for what the Lord had done to un­der­mine the doc­tored case against Sri Lanka that western gov­ern­ments, the me­dia and hu­man rights ac­tivists had put to­gether, the min­istry in its pe­cu­liar state­ment seemed to go out of its way to belit­tle the re­sult of the Naseby ini­tia­tive.

Strangely enough, the For­eign Min­istry ap­peared to be tak­ing pot­shots at lo­cal po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, which was not only ir­rel­e­vant to the ques­tion at is­sue and cer­tainly not its task. In its state­ment the min­istry said: “En­gag­ing in 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.”

As I said in a pre­vi­ous col­umn it is surely a rare for­eign min­istry that, re­spond­ing to a me­dia query on a se­ri­ous mat­ter that has not only en­gulfed Sri Lanka but has been, and still is, an unset­tled is­sue for sec­tions of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in­clud­ing the UN, would try to treat the deaths of civil­ians in war in such a cava­lier man­ner.

The For­eign Min­istry treats the death of thou­sand of Sri Lankan civil­ians in a dis­as­trous and de­bil­i­tat­ing war like a play­thing and with no in­ter­est in try­ing to reach the truth.

One thought that the then for­eign min­is­ter by co- spon­sor­ing Res­o­lu­tion 30/ 1 had agreed to es­tab­lish a Truth Com­mis­sion. Is not try­ing to ar­rive at the truth with re­gard to civil­ian ca­su­al­ties of war and how it hap­pened, a cru­cial task of any com­mis­sion es­tab­lished to search for the truth?

Is it not of par­tic­u­lar im­por­tance to the peo­ple of Sri Lanka bom­barded with in­for­ma­tion (con­cocted or oth­er­wise) by ex­ter­nal sources that ac­cuse its se­cu­rity forces of geno­ci­dal in­tent or de­lib­er­ate killings, to know whether there is any truth in these ac­cu­sa­tions and whether the deaths were as high as 40,000 and even more ac­cord­ing to some?

Hav­ing pointed a fin­ger at a “few in­di­vid­u­als” who might feel good about what Lord Naseby was able to squeeze out of his own for­eign of­fice, surely it is a duty the For­eign Min­istry owes the pub­lic to iden­tify these “few in­di­vid­u­als” who seem to have been elated by Lord Naseby’s dis­clo­sures which de­flate some of the ac­cu­sa­tions against Sri Lanka’s se­cu­rity forces.

The whole tenor and tone of the min­istry state­ment is that those who are elated and even over­joyed by what Lord Naseby had un­earthed with much dili­gence are some­how trai­tor­ous for sup­port­ing the Naseby ini­tia­tive.

After hav­ing put both of its feet in its open mouth, the for­eign min­istry tried to re­tract by pulling one foot out a cou­ple of days later. But by that time the dam­age had been done be­cause by then the me­dia was dig­ging into why the gov­ern­ment was re­main­ing silent over the Naseby dis­clo­sures. After all they pro­vided vi­tal ev­i­dence that ended the ac­cu­sa­tions lev­elled by our so-called ‘friends’ the UK and US which the UNP was vig­or­ously cul­ti­vat­ing.

The “few in­di­vid­u­als” that the For­eign Min­istry al­luded to had a few days later grown to in­clude Pres­i­dent Sirisena and State Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs Va s a n t h a Se­nanayake. Ad­mit­tedly the gov­ern­ment was late in recog­nis­ing the value of what Lord Naseby had un­earthed or there were at­tempts by some out­side the min­istry ma­noeu­vring to down­play the Naseby find­ings.

It must be said in favour of State Min­is­ter Vas­an­tha Se­nanayake who was the first to take cog­nizance of the value of the Naseby find­ings which his own min­istry pos­si­bly dic­tated to by an un­seen hand was try­ing des­per­ately to bury. He wrote an of­fi­cial let­ter thank­ing the Bri­tish peer.

On Novem­ber 2 Pres­i­dent Sirisena wrote to Lord Naseby thank­ing him for his help to Sri Lanka. Lord Naseby told me that the Pres­i­dent’s Novem­ber 2 let­ter reached him at the House of Lords de­liv­ered by our High Com­mis­sion in Lon­don on Novem­ber 21. Per­haps the For­eign Min­istry and its satel­lite mis­sions still rely on car­rier pi­geons for de­liv­ery.

So now hav­ing done its best to den­i­grate Lord Naseby’s ef­forts on be­half of Sri Lanka which the Bri­tish peer did out of his gen­uine in­ter­est in Sri Lanka, For­eign Min­is­ter Mara­pana who re­mained silent all those weeks un­til the for­eign min­istry vote came up in par­lia­ment, has also de­cided to cling on to the wagon.

He has now re­alised he has an ace in his hand. He is only wait­ing for that sin­gu­larly ap­po­site mo­ment to play it. Why? Be­cause oth­er­wise our crit­ics would pre­pare a de­fence against it to de­stroy its im­pact.

Min­is­ter Mara­pana does not re­alise that he is not at the bar ta­ble or even the card ta­ble. The last time he en­gaged in some ad­vo­cacy in par­lia­ment speak­ing on the Avant Garde is­sue he had to throw in the towel and his port­fo­lio.

Surely he must re­alise that this ‘ ace’ he is try­ing to keep up his sleeve is now rather passe’ in that it has been out in the open for six weeks or so. The ar­gu­ments are well known here and Lord Naseby’s en­tire speech is avail­able in toto in the Bri­tish par­lia­ment’s Hansard. Lord Naseby has been in­ter­viewed by TV and he has said his piece.

Doesn’t Mara­pana re­alise that the re­cent story pub­lished by As­so­ci­ated Press of some 50 Tamil asy­lum seek­ers who claimed to have been tor­tured by Sri Lankan se­cu­rity and played out in the me­dia here and else­where was an at­tempt to di­vert at­ten­tion from the Naseby story, was ma­nip­u­lated by the Tamil di­as­pora and some hu­man rights ac­tivists?

By the time our For­eign Min­istry and some of its diplo­mutts scat­tered around wake up to meet­ing and coun­ter­ing such me­dia ma­nip­u­la­tion the sun would be­gin to set in the east. This for­eign min­istry is more con­cerned with cov­er­ing up its tracks and scratch­ing each other’s back.

Lord Naseby faced bu­reau­cratic ob­struc­tion from the Bri­tish For­eign Of­fice when he in­voked UK’s Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act to ob­tain the in­for­ma­tion he sought.

Our own Right to In­for­ma­tion Act which the Ed­i­tors’ Guild fought for years to get on the statute book and Prime Min­is­ter Ranil Wick­remesinghe ad­vo­cated for nearly two decades, was made law by this ya­ha­palana gov­ern­ment.

The gov­ern­ment rightly claims the RTI Act as one of the most valu­able pieces of leg­is­la­tion that it suc­cess­fully pi­loted through par­lia­ment.

But there are in­creas­ing signs that bu­reau­cratic ob­struc­tion­ists are try­ing to un­der­mine the pub­lic’s right to seek and re­ceive in­for­ma­tion so that the dark deal­ings of min­istry bu­reau­crats will not reach the pub­lic.

As Lord Naseby once told me ahead of launch­ing his quest for the An­ton Gash des­patches there will be bu­reau­crats stand­ing in the way but one must be pre­pared to go up the totem pole to higher au­thor­i­ties and con­test the de­ci­sions of of­fi­cials and over­come their bar­ri­ers.

The same would have to be done to our own buroocrats who are try­ing to nul­lify the pub­lic’s right to know in the be­lief that they are the fi­nal ar­biters of what the pub­lic needs to know.

It would not surprise the pub­lic if they hear sto­ries of of­fi­cials whose back­bone needs straight­en­ing play­ing around with tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced mo­bile phones to has­ten com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the fur­ther­ance of favours.

Large scale bribery and cor­rup­tion are not the only ob­sta­cles that stand in the way of clean gov­ern­ment. Of­fi­cial­dom has a hand in un­der­min­ing the trans­parency, ac­count­abil­ity and mer­i­toc­racy that the gov­ern­ment promised the peo­ple.

Now that the State Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs Vas­an­tha Se­nanayake has played a lead role in negat­ing his min­istry’s at­tempt to un­der­cut the Naseby ini­tia­tive, he should take a hand in clean­ing up his min­istry and en­sure that laws are obeyed and ad­hered to.

For­eign Min­is­ter Mara­pana: Re-cal­i­brates ear­lier ap­proach

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