We see and hear many things happening on the stage. Some we only hear about and do not see. More things are happening without being seen clearly. An observation with extensive view and survey will be the only means of bringing to light the true nature of the happenings going on in the dark. This is an attempt in that direction in the context of what is currently unfolding in the country.
The events and episodes enumerated here appear to be unconnected to each other but a careful examination will show up the anatomy of the issues. A chronological order of the events and concerns would be helpful in this exercise. Hence so we proceed.
Sri Lanka enters into an expanded version of an Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with USA on 4 August 2017. According to what was partly disclosed in Parliament on 24 May byMP Kiriella,the ACSA previously signed during the tenure of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga was renewed in 2007 when Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was the Defence Secretary,and it has now been renewed again.
He did not,however, inform the Parliament that the new ACSA in 2017 has 80 pages of content with specific notations on strategic issues in comparison to the nine-page document that existed. When the matter was raised in the media, expressing concern as to how the President as the Defence Minister gave his consent to such an agreement, it is revealed that the former Defence Secretary and now Ambassador for GermanyKarunasena Hettiarachchiwas pressurised bythen Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam and by the Foreign Ministerto rush and expedite the signing of this agreement.
He did so even before he received awaited reports and observations from the Commanders of the SL Armed Forces who had serious reservations about the matter. It is reported thatPrasad Kariyawasam is now an employee of the US Government attached to the USAID.
This agreement paves the way for US military forces to use our ports and airports in addition to mutual cooperation between the two countries to extend logistical support, supplies and services. It is not known whether the ACSA has any reference to an understanding for a subsequent Status of Forces agreementbetween Sri Lanka and the US.
The Seventh Fleet of the US Navy
In December 2018 the Seventh Fleet of the US Navy was engaged in their periodic naval exercises in the Indian Ocean.
The Seventh Fleet called over in the region in January for a second timeto carry out a more specific military exercise involving Sri Lanka. Calling this operation a “temporary cargo transfer initiative” the American Military forces used our Bandaranaike International Airport(BIA) between 24 and 29 Januaryto transport some unidentified supply materials to a US Aircraft carrier called USS John Stennis,berthed in Sri Lankan waters near Trincomalee.
The materials arrived at the BIA in a US military plane and were transported to the US ship using the ship’s military aircraft which used the BIA for landing and loading before transporting them to the naval ship harboured in our waters.
No one had any more information about this operation although such an operation needs security and defence clearance of our Government. This was described as a commercial operation according to the embassy news release. The Defence Secretary, when asked, had said that the MOD and MOF have no involvement in regard to these operations as they are commercial.
He appears to have been totally influenced by the embassy news. But this defence secretary was unaware of a second statement issued by the US mission to the effect that “The US Navy is doing a cargo transfer operation at Sri Lanka’s main international airport under a plan to use the island’s location to make it a military logistics hub”!
Even if he became aware we are not sure whether it could have prompted him to take any action or make any further inquiries at least to know what was going on, according to the publicly available knowledge regarding his behaviour prior to the terrorist attack after receiving vital advance information about it.
A delegation from US Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) led by its Managing Director visited Sri Lanka during the first week of March.The objective of this visit was to engage with the senior government officials, the private sector and civil society to understand their perspectives about the current situation.
MCC is a foreign assistance agency of the US established in 2004 to provide development assistance to third world countries to alleviate poverty. In Sri Lanka they have been associated with the radical transformation of the country’s land laws and the ownership of lands to increase the market value and tradability of our lands.MCC has an office running in the Prime Minister’s office.
Terrorist attack of 21 April takes place on Easter Sunday
The Defence Secretary Fernando who visits the Kochchikade Church premises (the worst-affected location) immediately after the attack and answering foreign journalists says that “he had prior information but did not think that it is going to be of this magnitude and that the Government cannot give security to tourist hotels.”
The President was away from the country in Singapore and receives the information about the attack at 10 a.m. that day.
Declaration of a State of Emergency and the security forces taking control of the situation
On 26 April, the MCCof the US approves a five-year grant of $ 480 million to Sri Lankaat its meeting held on 25 April in Washington. Minister Mangala Samaraweera announces that it is a blessing coming as a benefit after the terrorist attack. The Government pursues action to enter into an agreement with MCC compact for the $ 480 million grant.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announces the contemplated steps to annul the PTA and introduce new legislation for prevention of terrorist activities under a proposed counter-terrorism act.
Government decides to share the ownership of east terminal quay of the Colombo Port with a collaboration with Japan and India.
Notice of a no-confidence motion against a minister in the Government is handed over to the Speaker. Another notice of a no-confidence against the Government is handed over to the Speaker.
Special Parliamentary Select Committee to examine the attacks
While the security forces are engaged in serious search operations and arresting those who were suspected and involved the Parliament appoints a Select Committee to examine and report on the terrorist attack and those involved.
PM announces that the proceedings of the Select Committee could be made open to the media. Various officials including those serving in the highly vulnerable and secretive intelligence sectors are made to publicly state about their operational activities under oath which are televised all over the world. Some members in the Select Committee state how the officials should have acted instead of ascertaining what they actually did. The evidence of the witnesses are open to other witnesses who follow.
There have been instances where some witnesses refer to evidence given by other witnesses by themselves even without being asked. Public anxiously wait for the media to release the live telecast with the same interest of waiting for a serialised tele-drama.
Government gazettes State lands (special provisions bill) and is preparing to propose a Land Bank Act. Megapolis and Western Development Ministry is proceeding with the National Physical Plan 2050, proposing economic corridors in four different directions across the country, with priority for a Colombo – Trincomalee corridor as a masterpiece.
It is conjectured that these corridors will be open to foreigners who will also be land owners very soon under the new legislation to be passed; with no upper land ceilings and such spaces will also be open to the military forces invited into the country under the SOFA agreements now under consideration.
The Foreign Minister visits US and meet senior officials. It is strongly suspected that he is discussing the terms of a SOFA agreement to be entered into with the US Government in addition to the ACSA already signed. SOFA provides for the establishment of military units and bases of super powers and such footprints will subjugate our national sovereignty and independence.
The immunities contemplated under such agreements to the foreign military personnel seriously restrain the human and fundamental rights of our citizens.
It is suspected that the interested parties are attempting to create a serious security laxity and to use such a situation ostensibly to invite foreign powers to help us.
President’s official visit to China and the commitment of the Chinese Government to give us a grant of Rs.2.3 billion and 100 jeeps to meet our security requirements happened during this period. This happened while the Foreign Minister was in US.
This tour of the President was followed by another visit to India to participate in the Prime Minister Modi’s swearing in ceremony after his re-election.
The ‘Shangri-La Dialogue’ of the International Institute of Strategic Studies(IISS) held in Singapore from 31 May to 2 June is another significant convention which will indicate important consequential passages, accesses and impending approaches regarding the Sri Lankan situation.
The US Secretary who addressed the conference clearly referred to Sri Lanka’s security situation and pledged his concerned support to intervene.
State of the US Assistant Secretary for Political and Military Affairs R.Clerk Cooper visited Sri Lankabetween 2 and 6 June. He travelled across to many strategic places in the country and had discussions with high ranking politicians of the Wickremesinghe Government.
Sporadic communal violence incidents that appeared to spearhead from nowhere long after the terrorist attack on 21 April caused alarm and suspicion that they were orchestrated and not voluntary uprises. Malcom Cardinal Ranjith had taken all steps to prevent any backlash by victimised parties and the entire country had got into that reconciliatory mood with his initiation.
Therefore the minor incidents reported appear to be instigations by some affected groups to divert the focus of the security forces. However the Muslim ministers and State ministers in the Government decided to resign their portfolios with no sound reasoning for such an action.
Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka during this period is another landmark event of importance to us. He is visiting us on his return from Maldives.
It has to be borne in mind that the Government of Maldives has refused to enter into a SOFA agreement with the US and it is also reported that China has successfully concluded an understanding with Maldives as a second Indian Ocean stop in their Belt and Road initiative.
The religious prelates of the highest order in Sri Lanka have issued a signed statement calling upon the Government not to enter into any military agreements or others which adversely affect our sovereignty with super powers without referring such to the people at a referendum.
The foregoing account of the current state of affairs of the country speaks a lot about what is in store.
It is time to concentrate on the security of the nation and get our own security forces acclaimed by the whole world as a capable sector to combat any terrorist threat, without any diversions due to political interferences.
While consolidating the search and investigative operations there is a lot more to be done in the areas of border protection, emigration and immigration, foreign exchange remittances in and out which are of great importance in controlling terrorist activities.
The forces should be given a free hand under the existing laws to discharge their responsibilities.
Evasive actions and diversion tactics of interested political and other groups have to be understood in the correct perspective and disregarded to that extent.