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Mahinda’s Bad Omens And Mixed Signals

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 23 January 2011 11:32 No Comment]

President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the gathering at the Thai Pongal festival in Jaffna on January 15 It is widely known that Mahinda Rajapaksa took a sudden trip to America just after winning the presidential election in January 2010. Since then there have been no official or unofficial visits to the US by him, except to attend the UN annual General Assembly sessions and that, too, for the very first time.

He left to the US after the Supreme Court had decided on a future date to declare whether Courts Martial are part and parcel of the judiciary in the country; a decision which would directly impact on Sarath Fonseka’s future. The US and especially, Robert O. Blake, Jr., U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs are eagerly waiting to see that Fonseka is judged through a normal court of law. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to the US and his stay there while the judgment is being given regarding Fonseka’s future has aroused suspicion at a time when the US is also awaiting to see fair dealing of the Rajapaksa regime. And to the amazement of all, Rajapaksa went to the US when Ban Ki Moon’s efforts to send his Experts Panel to Sri Lanka to investigate war crimes had failed. The Government of Sri Lanka said that the Panel could only go before the LLRC and Ban Ki Moon refuted such an idea and the visit of the Experts Panel came to naught.

The story goes that Mahinda Rajapaksa is on a private tour but then Lalith Weeratunga, President’s Secretary and the Foreign Minister G.L.Peiris also accompanied him. Would this not then be for official purposes? This is typical of the President trying to mislead the nation as usual by calling his US tour a private one, though accompanied by an official team.  The entire trip as a result is ambiguous.

The ministers of the UPFA government were unaware that the President had travelled to the US. This tour was kept a secret as a result of his bad experience in London when Tamil Tiger acolytes protested against his tour in the UK.

The President left to the US on Wednesday morning around 2 a.m. with his team and had a chartered flight to Dubai and from there directly to America on a normal commercial carrier. The total number in his entourage is 20. The government continues to insist saying that the President is on a private visit but then why would 20 persons accompany him on a private visit?

Some say that this sudden take off by Mahinda Rajapaksa is for astrological reasons. Temple Trees sources reveal that the President’s astrologers had advised him that since he is passing through a period that is not so good for him, travelling to a country like America to bide this bad time would be beneficial. Informed sources reveal that he will stay with his brother Dudley Rajapaksa who resides in Houston. Dudley Rajapaksa has no connection with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government or his politics. Even Basil and Gotabaya were residing in the US before they came down to support Rajapaksa when he contested the presidential elections. However, Dudley is still in the US. It is also said that the President expects to obtain medical treatment while in the US.

When the President landed in Houston the Tamil Diaspora got agitated. Amnesty International made the first public announcement against his tour and Prof. Francis A. Boyle, a Professor of International Law at Illinois University had also protested to the Obama government for permitting Mahinda Rajapaksa to enter America.

Below is the Amnesty International statement:

(Washington, D.C.) The United States should investigate Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapksa, who arrives on a surprise visit to the United States today, for his alleged role in perpetrating torture and war crimes, Amnesty International said today.

Rajapaksa reportedly left Sri Lanka early Wednesday morning with a delegation of 20 bound for the United States.

“The United States has an obligation under international law to investigate and prosecute people who perpetrated war crimes and grave human rights violations such as extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearances,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director.

Rajapaksa is commander in chief of Sri Lanka’s armed forces, which face numerous allegations of engaging in war crimes, enforced disappearances, and torture. Under international law, military commanders may face criminal responsibility if they knew, or should have known, of such crimes being committed by their subordinates.

The President’s visit comes as a Panel of Experts appointed by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon works on a report advising him on accountability issues in Sri Lanka. Both Sri Lankan government forces and members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are accused of having committed war crimes in the final phase of the decades-long conflict.

Amnesty International has called for the United Nations to initiate an international investigation.

“Thousands of victims in Sri Lanka demand accountability for the abuses they’ve suffered from the Sri Lankan security forces as well as armed groups such as the LTTE,” Zarifi said.

In December Wikileaks exposed a secret United States Embassy cable sent by Ambassador Patricia Butenis from Colombo in which she noted the difficulty of bringing perpetrators of alleged crimes to justice when “responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers ….”

The United States should further investigate these allegations and support calls for an international investigation into Sri Lanka’s role in war crimes.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

Their contention is that when Ambassador Patricia Butenis in one of her cables had commented that ‘responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers…’, how come the US gave permission for Rajapaksa to visit America. In the meantime a US based activist group namely Tamils Against Genocide has said that they have already handed over papers to the US Justice Department charging the President of Sri Lanka for war crimes. These charges are brought to make Mahinda Rajapaksa individually responsible and if the Justice Department does not take action on these charges then individual citizens could file civil suits claiming compensation for the damages arising from war crimes.

Previously members of the US Congress had requested Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to investigate war crimes in Sri Lanka and that request had once more been taken up just prior to the arrival of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the US by Democratic Congressman Edward. J. Markey.

Sarath Fonseka who visited the US while still serving in the army as the commander, had been questioned by the Justice Department on the contents of documents given by Tamils Against Genocide. This group now says it will be bringing a civil suit against Mahinda Rajapaksa. This may spoil the image that the President was struggling to build for himself to the extent of even damaging the country’s image as the sole responsible Executive. The question asked is why does he let the Tamil Tiger Diaspora tarnish the name of the country by engaging in private tours such as what happened to him in London.

Before his departure to the US, Mahinda Rajapaksa had participated in the Thai Pongal celebrations in Jaffna where all bad omens befell him. He was there on Thai Pongal day to declare open the Sanguppidi bridge. It was the UK that funded the construction of the bridge. However, Rajapaksa made it a point not to utter a single word about the British contribution and British High Commission officials were not to be seen in the VIP seats, either.

In the case of all Chinese funded projects Mahinda Rajapaksa does not fail to thank the Chinese, but what stopped him from thanking the UK?  Could it be that he wanted to teach them a lesson for the embarrassment he faced in London? In Jaffna, Rajapaksa stayed at the Thal Gas Arana Hotel. The businessmen and civil society representatives had a cultural show organised for him that night and it was merry for the President and he was seen enjoying the songs sung by Manoharan. President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, too, sang heartily to the applause his boss.

Rajapaksa also wanted to bathe in the Kankasanthurai Sea and after having his physical exercises in the morning he had a sea bath. He even rode the water scooter that was allegedly found during the war. But the most ill-fated incident he faced was during the Thai Pongal cerebration time.  The President was supposed to wear the Thalappa (turban) as it is traditional for such an occasion and to put rice into the pot for boiling. When he was putting rice into the pot the Thalappa fell into the pot and the President’s face reddened. Those who attended the ceremony said that that was a bad sign. The Thalappa and the pot had to be thrown away. As he strongly believes in astrology the President returned to Colombo in an uneasy state.

The only issue that Mahinda Rajapaksa could comfort himself with is the conflict in the UNP. Ex-president Chandrika is also awaiting to see what happens in the UNP. Chandrika attended the wedding of one of the grand daughters of Indradasa Hettiarachi, an ex-UNP cabinet minister, at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, where she made it a point to have a chat with Bodhi Ranasinghe and Harsha De Silva, on the UNP crisis. Chandrika said that Ranil cannot give leadership to the party now and if he tries to retain power the UNP will go asunder. She also observed that if Sajith is not prepared yet to take over the leadership then Karu should be appointed to that position.

Like Chandrika, Mangala, too, thinks that he could play a bigger role only with a UNP leader who could bring a coalition. Sajith doesn’t need coalitions and he could very well bring the UNP to the level it was in 1977 which is not for Mangala. So it is Mangala’s wish that the UNP remains with a weak leadership either of Ranil’s or Karu’s.

Even the JVP has the same attitude. They too fear that if Sajith becomes the leader of the UNP it will not need any support of other parties. This fear was visible when ex-JVP Parliamentarian Lal Kantha expressed that it is a big lie to say that Ranil has failed in elections. What the JVP wants is to exploit the UNP votes or to have a weak leader in the UNP so that building a coalition is possible.

Not only those who are waiting to build a coalition with UNP are fearful, but the Jathika Hela Urumaya too has been shaken by the possibility of Sajith’s leadership. The Hela Uramaya has started to sling mud at Sajith following his campaign Sasunata Aruna, fearing that he could take over the Sinhala Buddhist voter base of the Hela Urumaya. Even Wimal Weerawansa is worried about Sajith’s bid for the UNP leadership and is lashing out at Sajith via his website.

Since Ranil is well aware of the power behind Sajith, he has made plans to make things worse for Sajith and Karu Jayasuriya. He has planned to appoint a committee under the leadership of Sajith and Karu for the forthcoming local government elections and when the party loses, they would be blamed.

Knowing what Ranil has planned for them, Sajith has begun accusing the leader of not supporting the local leaders in Hambantota. Another reason for him to criticise the leadership is because even though there was an agreement to contest the local government elections, Ranil marred the agreement made at the Executive Committee meeting.  During the meeting, arrangements were made for Ranjith Maddumabandara to be nominated to the Uva Province committee, Sujeewa Senasinghe was to prepare a nomination list for Kaduwela, and Maithri Gunarathne and Bandula Bandarigoda were to prepare a nomination list for Galle — all of whom are from Sajith’s faction. Ranil did not agree on Maithri’s appointment and Karu and Tissa Attanayake who were witnesses to the agreement were helpless. It was Ranil’s decision. The Sajith faction says that this action of Ranil wiil see the downfall of the party. He does not want to win the elections but to just destroy the Sajith faction.

Then again it was planned to bring Ranil and Sajith to a common ground by John Amaratunga who organised a campaign in the Wattala electorate which the Sajith faction decided to boycott as they believed John’s effort to bring Ranil and Sajith together is a plan of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s whereby Ranil can continue to be in power and Mahinda can continue to feel comfortable.

Sajith goes on to accuse Ranil of not providing financial assistance to the elected UC officers. There is an accusation leveled against Ranil on the disappearance of money, too, that comes to the party for election purposes. Ranil denies all charges against him saying that there is no such tradition in the party to provide financial assistance to contestants. Therefore, the UC members of the UNP have now rallied against Ranil. In some areas UC contestants have put Sajith’s picture in their posters and cut outs. The name of the party leader is not visible on those posters. Sajith’s declaration that he will take over leadership before April 12th has also put the party members in high spirits.

When inquiring about Rajapaksa’s sudden trip to the US last Wednesday, a member of the UPFA had told another in the Sajith faction that if Sajith comes to power then Rajapaksa will have to stay on in the US till the soothsayers predict that his ‘bad time’ has passed.

[Full Coverage]

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