Why did Maithri send Dhanapala to UNHRC?
No doubt Presidential Advisor on Foreign Affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala is now in Geneva to met UNHRC High Commissioner, Zeid Hussein to discuss the issue of the war crimes probe against Sri Lanka. The UNHRC is expected to present a report in March which may contain the necessity to initiate such a probe against Sri Lanka and the refusal by the previous Rajapaksa government to permit the probing team passage to Sri Lanka to conduct investigations. Dhanapala’s mission to Geneva could be to make amends before that report is presented to the UNHRC and assure that an internal mechanism would be put in place to probe alleged war crimes.
The talk in many circles is why Dhanapala and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera have mediated in the deep crisis Sri Lanka faces at international level with regard to alleged war crimes. Some debate that Dhanapala is engaged in that exercise due to his experience and links with the United Nations. While Dhanapala took wing to Geneva, Mangala flew to Brussels to resolve the issue of the ban imposed on Sri Lankan fish exports. Prior to that, Mangala flew to India to meet Indian Premier Narendra Modi. It was a successful visit; an Indian Prime Minister meets a visiting foreign minister rarely. The Mangala-Dhanapala relationship dates back to the 2004-2005 Chandrika Kumaratunga regimes. When the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration of 2002-2003 sought Dhanapala’s help in the peace process, the latter placed conditions and Ranil’s attempt failed. When Chandrika dissolved Ranil’s government in 2004 and took control of the government, Dhanapala served as the Head of the Peace Secretariat. However, then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was not in favour of the involvement of Dhanapala.
From the beginning of Chandrika’s administration in 1994, there was a ‘Professional War’ between Kadirgamar and Dhanapala. The reason was that both expressed their desire to contest for the United Nations Secretary General’s post after Kofi Annan. Kadirgamar could not stand Dhanapala as the latter had better qualifications to enter the contest. Kadirgamar wanted to stifle the attempt by the Chandrika government to nominate Dhanapala to contest that position. Chandrika’s decision to appoint Dhanapala to Head the Peace Secretariat was much to the displeasure of Kadirgamar and it was reported in the ‘Sunday Times’ in the following manner: “The appointment of Jayantha Dhanapala, a seasoned diplomat with not-so-well concealed ambitions of aiming for the UN’s top job in 2007, to head the Peace Secretariat was a deft move to smother Kadirgamar’s influence and grasp of things. Dhanapala’s appointment came at the insistence of the President’s siblings. His connections with the Bandaranaikes go back to Sirimavo, though Kadirgamar got the flak for refusing his secondment to the UN Atomic Energy Agency when he was our envoy in Washington, when in fact it was President Kumaratunga’s decision. In style if not essentially in substance, the suave Dhanapala will be no passive head of the Peace Secretariat unlike his predecessor Bernard Gunatillake. And we did predict last week that a Kadirgamar-Dhanapala clash was inevitable more so given the fact that their personal relations, which were once excellent, plummeted over the last decade”.
During the Dhanapala-Kadirgamar battle, the then Ports Minister Mangala Samaraweera supported Kadirgamar. It was Dhanapala who prepared the Tsunami Relief Agreement better known as ‘P-Toms’. Both Kadirgamar and Mangala, with the JVP opposed that agreement. However, Dhanapala was able to convince Chandrika to sign that agreement. Finally, the JVP viewed Dhanapala as an enemy following pressure mounted by Kadirgamar. Mangala’s opposition to Dhnapala’s P-Toms agreement was reported in the Lankadeepa in the following manner: “Ports and Aviation Minister Mangala Samaraweera, previously a close presidential confidante, took a similar stance. In an interview last weekend in IridaLankadeepa, he said: “If the JM [joint mechanism] is the reason to weaken the coalition or destroy it, then the JM will be useless and it is essential to think again. Even if the JM is to be a bridge builder, yet if it is going to lead to a government break up, then I am definitely against it.” On Monday, Samaraweera resigned his post as Media Minister, saying he wanted to concentrate on his other portfolios. His decision has been widely interpreted as a protest against the joint mechanism. Samaraweera was a key figure in facilitating a coalition between the JVP and SLFP in 2003 against the previous United National Front (UNF) government”.
We now record a ‘Sunday Times’ report to recall how Mangala and Kadirgamar issued statements opposing, the then government’s and the LTTE’s peace initiatives: “That was good news for some but bad news for the JVP. The JVP openly accused Dhanapala of trying to goad the government into an arrangement with the LTTE that would hurt the country’s sovereignty. During a popular TV talk show last Monday night, a UPFA parliamentarian Wijedasa Rajapakshe declared that the statement did not come from the Alliance but was one issued by Dhanapala. The imbroglio placed the government in a dilemma. A failure to work out a joint mechanism would mean there would be no aid money from donor co-chairs. Agreeing to such a “joint mechanism” would see the exit of the JVP, a move that would see the fall of the Government.
For his part, Dhanapala was all out to issue another statement clarifying what was said by the Government Information Department. He was advised not to do so. Later, Dhanapala was to tell senior officials in the Peace Secretariat that he stood by the assertions made in that statement. He also disclosed he had received an assurance that Ministers Lakshman Kadirgamar and Mangala Samaraweera would talk to the JVP to make sure it is on board. Who gave him the assurance, was it President Kumaratunga or any other Cabinet Minister? He did not make that clear. It is in this backdrop that Ministers Kadirgamar and Samaraweera met President Kumaratunga for a meeting on Wednesday. Later, the Information Department issued another statement that spoke of “some confusion with regard to reasons for the failure to resume talks with the LTTE last year.”
The statement explained “the Government has agreed to the concept of setting up an Interim Authority within the context of negotiating a permanent settlement to the ethnic conflict, on the basis that an interim authority will be useful in a transitional period from a situation of conflict to one of democracy. Agreeing to negotiate an interim authority in such a context is very different from opening negotiation solely on the basis of the LTTE demand of the Interim Self Governing Authority, which prevents the re-opening of direct negotiations.”
Mangala and Dhanapala who were in two camps over the P-Toms Agreement and the issue of Kadirgamar, is working together in the Maithri-Ranil government as the Foreign Minister and Special Advisor on Foreign Relations. It is not clear whether it was on Ranil’s, Chandrika’s or Maithri’s initiative Dhanapala was appointed as Special Advisor on Foreign Relations. Be that as it may, Dhanapala is the best choice to that post. May be Maithri made such appointments on his choice. Therefore, he may have placed confidence in Dhanapala to resolve a deep international crisis like a war crimes probe. After Mangala took over the subject of Telecom, Maithri appointed his own brother as Chairman, Sri Lanka Telecom.
In such a backdrop, it is interesting to view the roles of Mangala as Foreign Minister and the role of Dhanapala as Special Advisor on Foreign Relations.