| by P. Sivakumaran
(November 16, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Expressing dismay at the “chauvinistic attitude” of the Sri Lankan state, former US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said on Friday the international community was united in its criticism of Sri Lanka’s conduct in the north and east and that SL President Mahinda Rajapaksa would not be welcomed internationally unless conditions there improved. “I don’t think anyone disagrees that the Tamil people have been mistreated and are continuing to lack – across the board – fundamental freedoms, dignity, etc,” Mr. Armitage told the audience.
“Much to my dismay the government of Sri Lanka is still caught up in a chauvinistic attitude,” Mr. Armitage said.
“I don’t think they’ve been far sighted enough in their approach to the north and east. There has been a somewhat lessening of violence there, somewhat lessening of the abductions and things of this nature, but not sufficient.”
“From the US point of view we are quite dismayed at the lack of progress in human freedoms, human rights, etc, and I made that view known [to SL President Rajapaksa].”
“But what to do about it is the question. [Firstly] the international community is generally coalesced around the fact that the north and the east particularly need protections, and the government of Sri Lanka has to move in that direction. … That is the united message the international community gives.
“Second, I don’t think President Rajapaksa is going to be widely welcomed internationally – across the board – until there is some movement. Maybe that’s the wrong strategy, but that’s the way things are going.”
“I think in two conversations with President Rajapaksa he actually understood – better than I had thought – what the government has to do.”
Mr. Armitage speculated that SL President Rajapaksa might be constrained by chauvinist political forces. However, Mr. Solheim suggested otherwise.
“[Rajapaksa] has the strongest position of any Sri Lankan President ever; huge majority in the parliament, huge electoral victory, fantastic – from his point of view – military results,” Mr. Solheim said.
“So why is he not using this opportunity to reach out to [the Tamils] and find a settlement?,” the failed peace broker wondered.
Asked about India’s expectations after the end of Sri Lanka’s war, Mr. M.R. Narayan Swamy, Executive Editor with Indo Asian News Service (IANS) said:
“The expectations [of India] are the same as the rest of the international community. Nobody wants Sri Lanka to develop into a state where [the Tamils] feel permanently a minority – politically, culturally, in every sense of the term. If in the past the Sri Lankan state gave the argument there was the problem of the LTTE, they can’t advance that argument anymore,” said Mr. Swamy ignoring the structural genocide against Lankan Tamils since the island got its independence, and which is continues till date within the unitary system of Colombo.
Meanwhile, in a news feature appeared in IANS on Sunday Mr. Narayan Swamy highlighted Solheim revealing a secret meeting between the LTTE and the Indian officials ahead of 2002 CFA.
Solheim declined to say where the meeting took place or who participated in the meeting from the two sides. “Solheim also added that contrary to public knowledge, the Indian government, then led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), played a key behind-the-scenes role in the framing of the Norwegian-sponsored CFA,” the IANS feature reported.
Discussing the peace process and the evaluation report in a panel meeting conducted at the release of the report on Friday, apart from Messrs Armitage, Solheim and Narayan Swamy, the other speakers were Mr. Milinda Moragoda (former Sri Lankan Minister and government peace negotiator), Prof. Gunnar M. Sørbø, (team leader for the evaluation), Dr Jonathan Goodhand (Reader in Conflict and Development Studies, SOAS and deputy team leader for the evaluation) and Dr Suthaharan Nadarajah (lecturer with Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS – who was not involved in the evaluation). The panel was chaired by Ms. Frances Harrison, Head of News at Amnesty International and former senior BBC correspondent.