One of the most important achievements of the new all-party National Unity Government is a major improvement in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy and international relations as seen by the highly successful visit of President Maithripala Sirisena to India this week.
Much credit for this needs to go to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera who, through a new non-aligned policy and choosing the right people for important jobs, have dramatically changed Sri Lanka’s diplomatic service within five weeks. Earlier, the family-centred Rajapaksa Regime had appointed 75% of Sri Lanka’s envoys from outside the Foreign Service, with their main qualification being blind loyalty or servile flattery of the Rajapaksas.
As a result of the new foreign policy, ties with India, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union have improved. So much so that the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) has deferred next month’s proposed debate on a report by experts who probed allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka. Sequel to the talks Mr. Samaraweera had with the leaders of India, the US and the UN, that the debate on the report has been put off till September to give Sri Lanka time to conduct a credible internal inquiry.
This will, among other matters, expose former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election campaign propaganda about the danger of him being sent to the electric chair for liberating Sri Lanka from the LTTE. Soon after his appointment, Mr. Samaraweera went to India for talks with Indian leaders to discuss the possibility of the UNHRC report being deferred.
The Indian leaders responded positively, much in contrast to their attitude during the Rajapaksa Regime where the relationship with India was handled by the Rajapaksa family while External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris engaged largely in professorial talk and focused on a “look Africa” policy which turned out to be cockeyed.
The US also responded positively by sending Nisha Biswal the Asst. Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs for three days of talks with Sri Lankan leaders.
After that Mr. Samaraweera visited the US, where he held talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry, with the State Department issuing a statement saying that it was excited and hopeful over the new National Unity Government. Mr. Samaraweera then went by express train to New York, where he met UN Secretary General Ban Ki -Moon to brief him on the new government’s policy of engagement instead of confrontation with the international community.
The UN Chief also responded positively and supported the move to defer the UNHRC report on Sri Lanka. Complicating the moves by the new Government was a secrecy-shrouded effort by the former Rajapaksa Regime to conduct an international probe. A commission headed by Maxwell Paranagama had been probing the disappearances of people. A proclamation had been issued by the former President asking the Commission to extend its probe to look into the loss of lives during the final months of the war.
World experts were hired to assist the Commission. One of these experts, Queen’s Counsel Sir Desmond de Silva made two visits to the North in December, and the payments made to him for the period July 2014 to February this year amounted to more than Rs.164 million. The payments to him and other experts were reportedly made by the Central Bank without the approval of the then Cabinet.
The total payments to these experts amounted to more than Rs.400 million, but analysts are asking what effect their report might have, since their investigations were not conducted through the Paranagama Commission. Investigations are being conducted to find out who was responsible for paying so much to so few for so little.
Even on the economic front, Mr. Samaraweera’s visit to Brussels for talks with EU officials has led to a reconsideration of the GSP plus concessions for garment exports and the ban on the export of Sri Lankan fish products to the EU. Two of the main new appointments that lifted foreign policy to highly professional levels were those of Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala as presidential adviser on international affairs and Dr. Rohan Perera as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UN.
We hope this trend will continue for Sri Lanka to maintain mutually beneficial ties with the super-power US, the emerging Russia and the Asian giants China, Japan and India. The policy is based on the motto of peace on earth and goodwill to all
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