Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran received “tough tuition” from the US State Department during talks last Thursday, the Sunday Times learns. He was asked to soften his ‘genocide’ rhetoric and instead work with the Central Government in matters relating to reconciliation and the development of the province.
The Chief Minister is on a tour of the United States and Britain. He had, however, obtained permission from President Maithripala Sirisena for the visit and informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as protocol demanded. His office deemed it as a private visit on the invitation of the Federation of Tamil Sangams (organisations) in North America.
In the US, Chief Minister Wigneswaran had met Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal. It is learnt that he had been told to work towards reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Northern Province rather than up his rhetoric on genocide charges. He had been told that it was the best chance for him to work with the Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe Government.
In the US, the Tamil American Peace Initiative (TAPI) had hired a lobbying firm, Podesta Group, to handle the visit. Among other things, it has got an article under the Chief Minister’s name in The Hill — a Congress blog which is a forum for Congressmen and policy professionals. In that article titled “Sri Lanka: Seize the opportunity for true reform”, Chief Minister Wigneswaran criticises the Government’s inaction to release the full list of political prisoners and calls upon leaders in the US to urge President Sirisena to “undertake meaningful reforms, demilitarization and returning all ‘Tamil lands’…”.
TAPI had also arranged a Sri Lanka Ethnic and Religious Freedom Caucus in the US House of Representatives with Congressman Bill Johnson presiding. Chief Minister Wigneswaran attended this closed door meeting. Mr. Wigneswaran also obtained meetings at the World Bank. No details of the meeting were available. In Colombo, questions were raised over the issue of a Chief Minister holding direct discussions with international lending agencies. Confirming that the Chief Minister’s office had requested a meeting at the Bank while he was in the US capital, the Colombo office of the Bank said, “The World Bank would always respond positively for meeting requests of this nature. The Sri Lanka Country Director is currently in Washington and she and the Regional Vice President would be meeting him”.They added that the objective or reasons for the meeting have not been communicated.
However, the Chief Minister’s office said that prior to his departure Northern Provincial Ministers had given him project proposals which he would be taking with him for discussions with the Sri Lankan American Diaspora in the US and seeking their assistance to invest in the Northern Province.
Prior to visiting Washington, the Chief Minister is learnt to have visited key US cities Los Angeles and New York. Addressing a FeTNA (Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America) 2015 event in California, he spoke of the “sweet honey like sound of the Tamil language”, and praised the ‘Tamil Diaspora’ in the US for their involvement in the growth of the language and their interest in defending the Tamil speaking people. Unfortunately, he said in Britain the new generation of those of Sri Lankan Tamil origin hardly spoke the language.
He praised the genocide resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council and said it served as an archive of genocidal acts committed against the Tamil people. He said the ‘canton’ model in Switzerland was successful and provincial self-rule was important in Sri Lanka for the people of the North within a Federal system.
Nirmalan Karthikeyan, a former official of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and National Peace Council member, is accompanying the Chief Minister on his US tour. He holds an Australia passport and functions as ‘Diary Secretary, Executive Assistant and Advisor to the Chief Minister’. During the last round of peace talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE, he was a member of the LTTE team.
Chief Minister Wigneswaran rejected a meeting with the self-anointed ‘Prime Minister’ of the ‘Tamil Eelam Government in Exile’, New York based lawyer R. Rudrakumaran and a delegation from the TGTE. En route to the US, the Chief Minister had stopped over in Britain where, despite his visit being classified as ‘private’, he has been given an official engagement with Hugo Swire, the Minister of State for Commonwealth at the Foreign Office. He entertained him for dinner as well.
A request for a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron has been politely turned down.