How Mahinda Rajapaksa rebuffed David Miliband

Michael Roberts

In 2008/09 Professor GL PEIRIS was Minister of International Trade in the Mahinda Rajapaksa government and I interviewed him on 2 July 2018 with the intention of securing more details re USA’s pressures on the government then in 2009.[1] GL Peiris did not have any details about one of my particular pursuits, namely, the PACOM’s recce visit to the island, but in response to my initial query he focused upon the pressures mounted by the EU team of David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner[2] [which was in late April 2009 after the SL Army had penetrated the LTTE’s Last Redoubt and released over 110,000 Tamil civilians and Tiger deserters].

  

Professor Peiris then provided a detailed account of the stand-off [my phrase] between Miliband and President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Chandrikawewa on May 2009 – a report conveyed to Peiris by the President himself, but now embellished with comments from Peiris.

Miliband, said Peiris, was of Polish Jewish lineage and fully aware of his intellectual prowess. He was “basically arrogant” and “lacked finesse” – unlike Kouchner, an older man who had been head of Medicins Sans Frontieres. Miliband had been confrontational and direct. “Mr President we want you to agree to a ceasefire. We cannot be passive spectators. There has to be a lull in the fighting “

President Rajapaksa, said Peiris, had stayed cool and taken a “cerebral decision” and a cerebral position. His response: “Secretary Miliband, I want to tell you we are no longer a colony. Empirical experience has shown that ceasefires only prolong the war. It would be a gross betrayal of our country to permit the Tigers to recuperate and return to war – as they have done on countless occasions.”

At this point Kouchner had intervened by pouring a glass of wine and serving it.  This move cooled the situation. But there was little more the European duo could do

In effect, the EU team went back to Europe empty-handed — with their tails between their legs so to speak.

Thoughts

This story has been related by me earlier by Palitha Kohona (who was present in person at Chandrikawewa). Its embellished re-telling here will be interpreted by the verbal snipers of the internet world as another example of my allegedly pro-Rajapaksa stance. But Peiris has provided additional inflections by quoting Miliband’s speech verbatim. Miliband’s demanding arrogance, moreover, assumes greater significance in the light of additional information that has been brought to light recently about the moves by the Western consortium to intervene in support of the LTTE and the Tamils trapped in the Vanni Pocket: namely

A = the advent of a PACOM recce team in February 2009 to explore the potential pathways of active US military intervention;[3]

B = Indications that even in April 2009 Ambassador Blake was floating the possibility of an US ship turning up in the waters off Sri Lanka’s eastern coast[4] to generate some sort of evacuation.[5]

Add to all this that colossal give-away from Michael Owens, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs in Washington, on the 6th of May:[6]

  • We, of course, have designated the LTTE as a terrorist organization, and we certainly have no sympathy for some of the things that they’ve carried out, but I think you do have to ask a very legitimate question: Why did they have a following in the beginning? And I think it’s because some in the Tamil community do have legitimate grievances, and we need to find — I think it’s imperative for Sri Lankans to find a way to give everyone in the community, all Sri Lankans a legitimate voice in their government. And so we want to support the government of Sri Lanka as they move forward in an effort to do exactly that.
  • “We are trying quietly — and I can’t talk too much about this– but we are trying quietly behind the scene to find a way to bring an end to the fighting. It’s very difficult to see exactly how that’s going to happen, but we think there are a couple of elements that need to be involved, and we need to find a way for the LTTE to surrender arms possibly to a third party in the context of a pause in the fighting, to surrender their arms in exchange for some sort of limited amnesty to at least some members of the LTTE and the beginning of a political process.

This admission must be linked to the secret meeting in Kuala Lumpur in February (when precisely?) arranged by KP Pathmanathan with the intention of spiriting the LTTE leadership to Eritrea, South Africa or East Timor.[7] And the whole corpus of interventions indicated above must be capped by the data revealed in the Wikileaks disclosures that indicate Ambassador Blake’s several admonitions to Rohitha Bogollagama (Foreign Minister) and/or Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (Defence Minister).

This critical evaluation on my part is not a ‘simple’ case of a Sri Lankan railing at the West. The initial version of the Miliband story led Tony Donaldson, a Kiwi located now within the Australian shores, to indicate that “the US, its diplomats and think tanks which operate in the guise of academic institutions, do not present global or universal values as they pretend or claim, but a deeply entrenched relativist one that is tied to US interests;” and to cap this statement with the comment “in this instance, the sheer lack of understanding about what occurs in SL is mind-boggling.

Game, set and match, don’t you think!

ADDENDUM: EXTRACTS from Notes kept by Dr. PALITHA KOHONA, Official Aide to the EU Ministers, 3 July 2018

David Miliband had wanted to discard a programme agreed upon earlier and abandon the scheduled meeting with the President at Chandrikawewa after the helicopter visit to Manik Farm IDP Camps. Kohona had rejected that request so Miliband was in a foul mood when he reached Chandrikawewa.

Later that evening, at a formal reception hosted at Mt Lavinia Hotel, Kouchner approached the Russian ambassador Michalov at a moment when Minister Karuna Amman was present and asked him if Russia would support a formal UN investigation into alleged war crimes. Only if France would consent to a formal UN investigation into crimes committed in Afghanistan by NATO, replied Michalov. This response raised loud laughter  — much to Kouchner’s discomfort.

  SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

Kelum Bandara 2017  “ÜS strived to secure Prabhakaran’s surrender to American troops: Rohitha Bogollagama,” 2017,  http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/US-strived-to-secure-Prabhakaran-s-surrender-to-American-troops-Rohitha-Bogollagama-126470.html

Diplomatic Editor, Sunday Times 2009 Donor Co-Chairs working out çoalition task force,” http://www.sundaytimes.lk/090222/News/sundaytimesnews_01.html

Tony Donaldson 2001 The Kavikāra Maduva: Ritual singers in the Daladā Māligāva (Temple of the Tooth), Kandy, PhD thesis, Monash University, 2001.

Tony Donaldson 2018 “Neville Weereratne the Artist and His Distant Homeland,” 17 February 2018,  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2018/02/17/neville-weereratne-the-artist-and-his-distant-homeland/

Tony Donaldson 2017 “In Search of Sunil Santha,” 28 October 2017, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/10/28/in-search-of-sunil-santha/

Daya Gamage 2014 The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National Issues, 1970s-2014,” 5 July 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/the-american-agenda-for-sri-lankas-national-issues-1970s-2014/

DBS Jeyaraj 2011 “KP’ Speaks Out. An Interview with Former Tiger Chief, Vavuniya: NERDO.

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: US Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE,” 27 August 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/ball-by-ball-through-wikileaks-us-embassy-despatches-from-colombo-2009-one/

Michael Roberts 2015 “Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009,” 26 August 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/ambassador-blake-in-never-never-land-misreading-ltte-capacity-in-early-2009/

Michael  Roberts 2016 Reuters in Word and Image: Depicting the Penetration of the LTTE’s Last Redoubt, 19-22 April 2009,” 19 March 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/reuters-in-word-and-image-depicting-the-penetration-of-the-lttes-last-redoubt-19-22-april-2009/#more-20190

Roberts, Michael 2016 “Saving Talaivar Pirapāharan,” 5 April 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/saving-talaivar-pirapaharan/

Roberts, Michael 2016 “David Miliband’s Imperious Intervention in Lanka left in Tatters,” 5 July 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/david-milibands-imperious-intervention-in-lanka-left-in-tatters/

Roberts, Michael 2018 “The Bogollagama Gem: Thoughts on the Threatening US Spectre in March-May 2009,” 7 May 2018, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2018/05/07/the-bogollagama-gem-thoughts-on-the-threatening-us-spectre-in-march-may-2009/

Salter, Mark 2015 To End a Civil War, London: Hurst and Company.

Sulochana Ramiah Mohan 2015 “US ready to take Prabhakaran,” …..   8 November 2015, https://www.ceylontoday.lk/90-108791-news-detail-us-naval-ship-was-ready-to-take-prabhakaran.html

END NOTES

[1] GL Peiris was Ceylon’s 4th Rhodes Scholar in the late 1960s and has since been elected a Fellow of All Soul’s College in Oxford, a rare distinction. I sought him out because he has earned a reputation for his powers of recollection and eye for detail.

[2] See my previous account at https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/david-milibands-imperious-intervention-in-lanka-left-in-tatters/

[3] See Diplomatic Editor, Sunday times, 2009, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/090222/News/sundaytimesnews_01.html

[4] https://www.ceylontoday.lk/90-108791-news-detail-us-naval-ship-was-ready-to-take-prabhakaran.html

[5] See Sulochana Mohan 2015.

[6] See Gamage 2014.

[7] See Jeyaraj 2011 and Roberts, “Saving Talaivar Pirapaharan,” 2016.

 

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Filed under american imperialism, authoritarian regimes, British imperialism, conspiracies, governance, law of armed conflict, legal issues, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, politIcal discourse, power politics, Rajapaksa regime, security, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, the imaginary and the real, Uncategorized, unusual people, war reportage, world events & processes

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