Brits who bat for Sri Lanka on the Political Front: FOSLA

Rajeewa Jayaweera, in Sunday Island, 14 September 2019, where the title is FOSLA batting for Sri Lanka”

Friends of Sri Lanka Association (FOSLA) is a non-political association comprising of a diverse group of British nationals. They all are drawn together by a shared common interest in Sri Lanka. In 1987, several leading Englishmen including Sir John Nicholas, a former British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka (1979-1984) and a Sri Lanka-born lawyer had been invited to the High Commission by the then High Commissioner Chandra Monerawela. Former Foreign Minister ACS Hameed had met them and urged this group of Sri Lanka enthusiasts to form an association. FOSLA was the outcome of this meeting (http:/HYPERLINK “https://eur02.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.fosla.org.uk%2F&data=02%7C01%7 %7Cbe1c60dbcb2e4ec2a3e008d730ce3620%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637031534534473663&sdata=RK%2BwgG%2BswgbtzHwoZn0JowKSMsy6L1FQSDsriV%2FwFjA%3D&reserved=0″/www.fosla.org.uk/).

L to R: John Field (BHC 1991-6), HE Manisha Gunasekera (Sri Lankan HC to the UK), Sir Peter Heap (FOSLA Chairman), Linda Duffield (BHC 1999-2002) and Jame Dauris (BHC 2015-19) at the recent luncheon.

The Association’s objectives were set out during its first annual general meeting on June 1988. Members resolved to foster friendship, goodwill, and understanding between the people from all walks of life of the UK and Sri Lanka. Also, it would strive to maintain close unofficial contacts between the UK and Sri Lanka besides promoting social activities and regular meetings between those in the UK interested in Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans.

Activities also include an annual luncheon and other Receptions. Though not a charity, the Association does make donations to charities that help people in Sri Lanka from time to time. In 2016, FOSLA provided GBP2,000 to ‘We Are One Sri Lanka’ to help with flood relief. GBP 1,000 was gifted to the Amelie & Daniel Linsey Foundation recently to assist the Sri Lankan victims of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks.

The current Chairman, Sir Peter Heap, KCMG, is a former member of the British diplomatic service and has served in Dublin, Ottawa, Colombo, Caracas, New York, and Lagos. He also served as British High Commissioner in the Bahamas and Ambassador to Brazil. After retiring from the diplomatic service, Sir Peter has held several positions in the private sector, including that of Advisor to the Board of Directors of HSBC Investment Bank. He exemplified his commitment to Sri Lanka in an article to The Guardian immediately before CHOGM in Colombo on October 2013. Titled “Sri Lanka does not deserve to be boycotted,” he urged the British government to attend the summit in Colombo without boycotting the event. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/28/sri-lanka-boycott-ommonwealth-colombo-summit

FOSLA’s patrons include Sir Christopher Ondaatje OC CBE and two members of the House of Lords, Baroness Boothroyd (formerly Betty Boothroyd MP, the first lady Speaker i n the Commons) and Rt. Honorable the Lord Naseby PC. The latter needs little introduction and bears the distinction of having been awarded the Sri Lanka Rathna for exceptional and outstanding services to the nation.

The annual luncheon held this year on September 03 at the prestigious London Scottish Regiment Headquarters had over 100 persons in attendance. The delicious Rice & Curry meal served was appreciated by all. Amal Abeywardene, a committee member, invited me to the event.

Sri Lankan High Commissioner HE Manisha Gunasekera and Lord Naseby were present at the Chairman’s table. Also present were Gareth Bayley, Foreign & Commonwealth Office Director for South Asia and Afghanistan and James Dauris, who till recently was British High Commissioner in Colombo.

Some of the others present were Renuka Randhawa, current Desk Officer handling Sri Lanka at the Foreign Office, John Field CMG and Linda Duffield CMG, both former British High Commissioners to Sri Lanka & Maldives, Peter Gregory-Hood, a one-time British Deputy High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, and Lt Col Peter Cameron, a former Defense Advisor in Sri Lanka. Also present was the well known journalist Neville de Silva and his lawyer spouse Sunetha. She did her best, though unsuccessfully, to convince me of the ills of capital punishment!

During pre-lunch drinks, I met up with Lord Naseby, who I had met previously. He was looking forward to his forthcoming visit to attend the inauguration of the 32nd Annual Conference of the Organization of Professional Associations (OPA) on September 17. His memoirs, titled ‘Sri Lanka Paradise Lost Paradise Regained – Recollections from 50 years of a unique friendship between a British Politician and the people of Sri Lanka’ is due to be released on February 26, 2020. Naseby has had a lifetime of interaction with leading political figures ranging from Sirima Bandaranaike and JR Jayawardene to Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe.

James Dauris agreed with me, the two interviews in the electronic and print media before his departure, had been mild. He confessed he had expected a much harder time!

A British couple owning a business enterprise in Sri Lanka spotted my name tag and stated, he was a regular reader of my column in the Sunday Island. I was pleasantly surprised.

The upper crust of the British establishment still very much believes in their old ties of schools, universities, and clubs et al.  Even though most FOSLA office-bearers are now in retirement, they still wield influence over decision-makers. Their contacts could be of enormous value.  Considering their shared common interest in Sri Lanka, suitably cultivated, their invaluable connections could be harnessed for the benefit of this country. Given their affinity to Sri Lanka, they would gladly and willingly bat for Sri Lanka.

Besides High Commissioner Gunasekera, also present were outgoing Deputy High Commissioner (and High Commissioner Designate to Ethiopia) Sugeeshwara Gunaratne, incoming Deputy High Commissioner Samantha Pathirana and Defense Attaché Brig Swarna Bothota.

It was indeed refreshing to see our diplomats moving around and networking with influential persons well-disposed to Sri Lanka. It is a welcome change from the over-emphasis on Sri Lankan diaspora, a practice adopted by many Heads of Mission (both political and career) during the pre-January 2015 administration.  High Commissioner Gunasekera and her team in London engaging with FOSLA members who could bat for Sri Lanka is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

***  ***

A NOTE from Nathan Sivasambu in London, 14 September 2019 ….. Michael, There is a glaring omission in this summary:  Shelton Perera it was who founded FoSLA. The SL Foreign Minister who visited London asked him to form such an Assn. Shelton Perera was asked because he carried weight as a result of his high office at Farrar and Co.as a member of Farrar and Co., the Legal Team which is Advisor to the Queen.

Shelton was a simple, unassuming person. We were contemporaries at Peradeniya University, and after he graduated in Law and left Peradeniya he would visit me at Arunachalam Hall where I was Senior Sub Warden during my tenure as Temporary Asst. Lecturer, Philosophy Dept.

A NOTE from Michael Roberts: In late February 2018 it was a pleasure to be introduced to several friends of Sri Lanka at Amal Abeywardena’s house in London, among then John Gimlette and Peter Heap. Since Peter Heap was an old Mertonian like me, albeit younger and more vigorous, our affinities were enhanced. I append a biographical note gathered from Google below; but wish to highlight an important observation on his part. He had been among those attending a function at the Sri Lankan High Commission on the 4th February, As they emerged on the steps of the building they were confronted by a protest demonstration mounted by Sri Lankan Tamils and their friends on the pavements opposite. These activists had loud hailers. Their pitch was fervent. The effect was “frightening.” In brief, he identified a depth of animosity and zealotry that we must file away in our mind.

This is an important significant note. I have no direct evidence but am reminded of the video displaying the protests mounted by Sri Lankan Muslim activists in London after the Digana riots in Sri Lanka. These activists (all men) displayed a degree of zealotry that presaged the fervency revealed by Zahran Ismail and his aides in Sri Lanka  in the course of the Thowfeeq agitation that resulted in the Easter Sunday attacks in April 2018.

 

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