If you have seen the movie Machang by Uberto Pasolini, then you have seen actors playing these guys. Below is video footage of the REAL guys who decided to migrate to Europe illegally by pretending to be a Sri Lankan handball team. This is them really playing a match. Badly, I might add.
You have to hand it to our guys. When it comes to bullshit, I don’t think any other country in the world comes close. The pride with which they sing the national anthem in this viedo is justly deserved. Note how in the second part of this three part youtube extravaganza, they even compliment the opposing players on it having been a good match. Then, in part 3 (my favourite), they sing a Shaggy song with the gusto of the man himself. Did I say they sing a Shaggy song? Well, it’s more like pretend to sing it, cos it’s obvious none of them know the words. Also, they can’t sing for toffee either.
Here’s some movie trivia for you. Did you know that one of the actors playing one of the fake handball team members also absconded in Germany after shooting had finished. That’s right: in a bizarre twist of life imitating art imitating life, a guy playing a guy who absconded, also absconded. It was the guy playing the police cop. In real life this actor is also a goldsmith. He disappeared on the last day and never turned up to the bus, or the airport. I kid you not. Yes, the actor. Playing the guy who absconded. Yes. I am not shitting you. I got the story from some of the other actors. One of the other actors this guy was closest to had been warned in advance that he was going to hook it. He had been picked up in a car by relatives. A few months later he had made it to London from Germany without a passport and was doing rather well as a goldsmith. (The passports of all the cast and crew were with the movie production admin guy).
Amazing huh? It warms the cockles of my heart.
(Here’s the link to part 3 of the video where you get the entire group have a bajaw session and the subsequent German news reports of the incident. Crazy.)
Vodpod videos no longer available.
“We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punch-line“. Colonel Nathan R. Jessep in the movie “A Few Good Men”.
Fri May 12, 2009 3:46pm EDT – SOMEWHERE WITHIN A DENSE EDITORIAL (Reuters) –
More than 7,000 adjectives were expended in the final throes of the article. The number of ad-verbs is possibly three times the official count.
Scanning over the area, one could see that the words were trapped in a sliver of sandy opinion over a turquoise lagoon of propaganda.
The protagonists, claiming no use of heavy imagery – “we only used similes and analogies” – insisted on minimizing collateral euphemisms.
Despite this, a cursory examination shows clear areas where a freewheeling judgement had smashed into a metaphor, causing heavy symbolism everywhere. The brutal bombast shook alliteration violently.
The Dictionary and Thesaurus issued a joint-decree condemning the unedited use of redundant pejoratives.
Acronyms we spoke to claim that massive exaggerations rained down on them until the final hours, punctuating them to within an inch of their lives.
The only escape came from jumping to a conclusion, and then swimming against the undertone to finally reach a safe interpretation. Many arguments, too worn-out to continue, submerged under the allusion, unable to fight the rising conceit.
As night gave into daylight, this trickle gave way to a flood of hyperbole.
Even then, the respite proved brief, as the pressure from the unmanned aerial assumptions was relentless. With nowhere to turn, shelter was often found under a make-shift allegory. “Everywhere we looked headlines were screaming.”
Those who fled were hit by constant flashes of polarisation.
In the final hours, after a lot of confusion, the end of the sentence was found. Ominously, however, many claimed it was just a comma, not a period.
In the aftermath, presumptions were brought for triage to a transit commentary and then taken to an extreme. Sadly, more often than not, no significance could be salvaged.
For the misplaced, the long narrative is still not over. Many are desperately searching for missing facts, only to come up with anecdotes.
The weary acronyms are currently being held out-of-context, surrounded by sharp double-quotes under the vigilant glare of rhetoric.
This is the second solid post on this blog by Yakkada Yaka. After reading this last cracker, Ravana is scratching his ten heads, plotting a way to make his guest demons resident spirits. Solid shit, no?
So, Im a Tamil.and proud of it. Proud of my culture, proud of my language, proud of the achievements of many of my fellow tamilians all over the world. Born here, right here in sunny Sri lanka. And Ive finally decided to say something. I know Im going to ruffle a lot more than a few feathers here- possibly even have a few people get themselves off my facebook friends list , but then, I’ve gotten sick and tired of all the chitter-chatter around me these past two weeks, So I shall say what I have to.
Firstly, I know that Im just tired. Tired of the racism, tired of being generalized, labelled, looked down at, tired of the frikin war and everything that happened because of it. Im sure, as a tamil, you are too.
Second, I’m not too jubilant and dancing on the street now that the war is over. there was too much of a price to pay to get what is today labelled as peace. and I will not dance till it really happens. we all “know” too much about the politics. So I won’t need to say much.
But, here’s where the feathers get ruffled. Im happy too. Im happy that the war is “over”. Happy that He is dead ( oh yes, I said it). happy that maybe, just maybe, if the politicos and powers that be play thier cards right, this country- my country- can actually go somewhere. Develop. be a happy place. Maybe.
But just when I start looking at the positive side of things, I realised that suddenly the racism has actually increased. I realised that I had to keep voicing my usually quite thoughts just so that I wont be labelled anymore. and unfortunately, my dear fellow tamilians, its because of some of you.
I’ve been repeatedly accused of “not knowing the real story” whenever I voice my absolute disgust at the terrorist organisation that has plagued my race, and at the man some of you celebrate as a hero. and you know what? I don’t care what the “real story” is anymore. I am NOT and will NOT allow anyone to label me anymore. To the dear people who are publicly becoming “fans” of Mr.Velupillai Prabaharan, to those of you who are “fighting” for eelam because you don’t want to leave your western comforts, to those of you who say its not over till all of us are killed ( Im sorry, please speak for yourself), to those of you who still beleive the LTTE fought for your rights and nothing else, to those of you who say it is only because of HIM that we can walk the streets today because he has given us a voice ( sorry- he has only made the others so scared to approach a tamil just in case he/she blew themselves up, so he has not given us a voice, he’s just made the world frightened of tamils), to all those who after all this are still making me feel GUILTY to be a tamil, this is a plea to you to please STOP.
STOP, and START trying to make a difference for a change. Turn your patriotic songs of praise for the LTTE into some positive songs about rebuilding our fallen nation.
NO, Im not asking you to help the other terrorists, our dear government who are guilty of many many crimes, but Im asking you to help yourselves. If you live abroad, use your dollars and pounds to fund development for your people here, rather than contribute it towards arms to kill someone. If you live here, then try spreading some positivity rather than telling the whole world that the tamils can’t live in peace and still want a frikkin separate state.
THIS is our country. THIS is a country that many years ago was ahead of even singapore. WHEN will we get there? When we can do things together. please knock that into your deranged brainwashed heads. PLEASE, let this , OUR country get some real happiness. Its about time.
If you think that by saying all this I’m not a real tamil, please think again. I want our race to get somewhere, but not by trampling the others down. I know we don’t have the rights of our fellow sinhalese here, but we will never get them by killing them. ever. we have to work with them. hey, be selfish for a change and do something positive so that YOU can benefit from peace and prosperity. at least think of it that way.
Im doing my part by helping the IDP’s in whatever way I can, but I will not let myself be labelled anymore.
to all of you who were afraid of saying things to me, or when I was around because I am a tamil and you thought I shared the view of the “diaspora” supporters, now you know. I don’t blame you for generalising. its the fault of my people. but you know very well that its not thiers alone.
I can’t write kavithais , but when I listen to this song, it still gives me goosebumps, still gives me tears. justchaneg a few words here and there and we can look at it as an anthem for us to get up and do something positive, make a change. Please.
தமிழா தமிழா நாளை நம் நாளே
தமிழா தமிழா நாடும் நம் நாடே
என் வீடு இலங்கை நாடு என்றே சொல்லடா
என் நாமம் இலங்கேயர் என்றே என்றும் நில்லடா
தமிழா தமிழா நாளை நம் நாளே
தமிழா தமிழா நாடும் நம் நாடே
நிலம் மாறலாம் குணம் ஒன்று தான்
இடம் மாறலாம் நிலம் ஒன்று தான்
மொழி மாறலாம் பொருள் ஒன்று தான்
கலி மாறலாம் கொடி ஒன்று தான்
திசை மாறலாம் நிலம் ஒன்று தான்
இசை மாறலாம் மொழி ஒன்று தான்
நம் இலங்கை அதும் ஒன்று தான் வா..
தமிழா தமிழா கண்கள் கலங்காதே
விடியும் விடியும் உள்ளம் மயங்காதே
உனக்குள்ளே இலங்கேயர் ரத்தம் உண்டா இல்லையா?
ஒன்றான இலங்கை உன்னை காக்கும் இல்லையா
தமிழா தமிழா நாளை நம் நாளே
தமிழா தமிழா நாடும் நம் நாடே
For the benefit of those who can’t read tamil- a pretty loose translation of a song I think can’t really be “translated”!! listen to it on youtube. search thamizha
O! Tamil! our tomorrow is all our tomorrow
O Tamil! this land is all our land!
Say that my home is the Lankan motherland.Be firm that my name is always Sri lankan...
The Community may vary, but the Values are one
The Place may vary, but the Country is one
The Language may vary, but the Meaning is one
The Staff may vary, but the Flag is one
the Direction may vary, but the Land is one
The Music may be different, but the Melody is one
We are all Lanka, we are one. O Tamil! Don’t shed any tears O Tamil! It will dawn, don’t be fade inside
Isn’t there Sri Lankan blood inside you?
Then won’t united Sri lanka protect you?
Our land is common to all It is born out out of hard toil.Diversity was the fertiliser used to create it
We are the roots that make it strong.O human!It is strong There shouldn’t be division on this land.O Lord!
June 2, 2009
“Britain sold weapons to help Sri Lankan army defeat Tamil Tigers
Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent
Britain and other EU countries sold military equipment worth millions of pounds to the Sri Lankan Government in the last three years of its bloody civil war with the Tamil Tigers, The Times has learnt.
Britain approved commercial sales of more than £13.6 million of equipment including armoured vehicles, machinegun components and semiautomatic pistols, according to official records.
Slovakia provided 10,000 rockets worth £1.1 million, while Bulgaria approved sales of guns and ammunition worth £1.75 million, according to EU documents and officials.
It is impossible to verify whether all the approved sales were delivered as the governments involved do not publish those details. Only Slovakia has confirmed delivery of the rockets.
The approval of the sales still raises the question of whether weapons from the EU were used in the last five months of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, during which UN officials estimate that 20,000 civilians were killed.
“I think we need answers about what these were used for,” said Mike Gapes, a Labour MP who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee and is a member of the Committee on Arms Export Controls.
The sales were cleared despite the 1998 EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, which restricts transfers to countries facing internal conflicts or with poor human rights records and a history of violating international law.
They were approved while the EU called for peace talks in Sri Lanka, saying that it did not support a military solution, and expressing concerns about human rights abuses after the collapse of a 2002 ceasefire.
The US also sold Sri Lanka millions of pounds of military equipment in 2006-07 but suspended all military aid and sales early last year because of concerns about alleged rights abuses.
British MPs and MEPs, as well as activists against the arms trade, said that the EU should have done the same as early as 2006, when the ceasefire began to unravel.
“The EU had an obligation not to supply these things,” said Malcolm Bruce, a Liberal Democrat MP who visited Sri Lanka last month. “There were too many unanswered questions. With hindsight, Britain’s sales did violate the EU code of conduct.”
John Battle, a Labour MP, former Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister and now a member of the Committee on Arms Export Controls, said: “We should have been sharper off the mark and so should the EU.”
He called for an immediate suspension of EU arms sales to Sri Lanka until it lifted all restrictions on journalists and aid workers.
Several MPs and MEPs also called for the EU code of conduct, which became legally binding on December 8, to be strengthened to ensure consistency and transparency across the 27 member states.
The code says: “Member states will not allow exports which would provoke or prolong armed conflicts.” It also says that member states should “not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression”.
Until December 8, however, it was up to member states to decide whether the criteria applied to any given arms sale.
Slovakia said that its rocket deal was justified because there was no UN arms embargo on Sri Lanka, the island had a right to defend itself and the Tigers were banned in the EU as a terrorist organisation.
Britain disputed Slovakia’s position at the time but approved its own arms sales out of concern that countries, such as China, would take its place.
Arms sales approved by the British Government include:
2008 £4 million of equipment including military sonar detection items and components; components for aircraft military communications equipment and military communications equipment
2007 £1 million of equipment including ejector seats, grenades, ground vehicle military communications equipment, military parachutes
2006 £8.6 million of equipment including 50 semi-automatic pistols, components for combat aircraft, military aircraft communications equipment, armoured all-wheel-drive vehicles, components for general purpose and heavy machineguns, small arms ammunition
Source: Times research”
Credit to Sophist for original e-mail.
By Rukmankan Sivaloganathan
The ongoing campaign by The Times to discredit the recent military victory by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces over the LTTE seems, at times, relentless. Not a day passes by without Jeremy Page, Marie Colvin or Catherine Philp lecturing on alleged war crimes by Sri Lanka. I usually despise the shrill hysteria and the ‘me against the world’ mentality that envelops my countrymen when faced with criticism, but on this occasion I feel it is warranted. In a world where innocent Afghan and Pakistani tribals are killed on a regular basis by unmanned Predator drones in the name of fighting terrorism, the West, quite unbelievably, finds the moral high ground to preach to Sri Lanka. No matter how good the intentions may be, the West just cannot ignore the irony of preaching what they do not practice.
The Times’ campaign is a sad example of the depths to which modern journalism has plummeted. Journalists are now not content to merely report news and provide readers with information to form their own opinions. They are often the source of news themselves, these self-appointed media celebrities. It is no surprise then that two of The Times’ journalists made the news in recent years in Sri Lanka. First, Marie Colvin enters LTTE held territory illegally in 2001 without informing the Sri Lankan authorities and then gets caught up in an SLDF ambush of the LTTE. She then accuses the SLA of deliberately targeting her. This is a ridiculous claim as she assumes that the junior infantrymen who took part in the attack knew who she was and were targeting her. That protagonists in a war usually attack each other was a fact that escaped her I suppose. Then, earlier this year, Jeremy Page was deported from Sri Lanka for not possessing a valid visa. Both of these journalists now write with a decidedly anti-Sri Lankan slant, liberally lacing their articles with unverified facts and figures. In fact, Jeremy Page even called for tourist boycott of the country in a recent article. The Times is currently attempting to escalate their petty vendetta by involving India, accusing that country of being ‘complicit’ in the killing of 20,000 Tamils. This figure has been disputed by the UN itself.
I hold no brief for the Sri Lankan government, which, unfortunately, is growing more despotic by the day. The trampling upon of media freedom and civil liberties was justified under the pretext of war not just by the government, but also by a significant section of civil society who argued, quite wrongly in my mind, that human rights and media freedom were secondary to the goal of crushing terrorism. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy seems to be controlled by individuals who pander to the government’s nationalistic mindset by rabid attacks on any individual or institution who dares question anything the government does or comments on a relevant situation in Sri Lanka. Granted that some of these individuals and institutions are busybodies but then diplomacy is not called diplomacy without reason. However, for all its warts, I don’t believe the Sri Lankan government is racist, which is exactly what The Times et al are implying through their allegations of ‘genocide’. It is incredible that the nations who gave us that terrible term ‘collateral damage’ don’t seem to understand that people die in war. It is unfortunate and, yes, the SLDF could have done more to reduce civilian casualties, but death is a fact of war. I can’t imagine the US or the EU calling for a ceasefire when they have Osama Bin Laden cornered in cave in Afghanistan or Pakistan so expecting the SLDF to do so is hypocrisy of the highest order. The GOSL, though, has played into the hands of the West through its draconian regulations regarding the coverage of the war. It gives the western media a readymade excuse when accused of one-sided coverage. A smarter move would have been to give them the necessary access, possibly embedding them with the troops like the US and the UK armies did in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we could have had them on our side cheering a rare triumph over terrorism. Sadly, common sense is not something the GOSL seems to have.
We cannot afford to burn our bridges with the West as we need them, at the very least, for economic reasons. They are the market for our biggest sources of income; tea, garments and tourism. Though the GOSL did the smart thing in taking aid and military assistance from whichever country that gave it, I don’t see any long run benefit in being allied to Iran and Libya without having excellent relations with the EU and the US. Playing off China against India is probably the only silver lining in our foreign policy storm cloud but I wonder how much of that was planned and how much was a result of us having nowhere else to go. What we now need is a PR offensive with two primary objectives. The first would be to directly counter specific allegations such as those made by The Times, as well as those made by institutions such as the UN. Most of these allegations are based on flimsy evidence and it should not be too difficult to counter them. The difficulty would lie in ensuring that our rebuttals receive adequate coverage. The second objective would be a diplomatic campaign to repair the damage done to our relations with the EU and the US. Although Rajiva Wijesinghe and Dayan Jayatilleke have spoken out recently, I am not convinced it is part of a grander plan. For Sri Lanka to successfully counter all the negative press it has been receiving it has to act now and use the above mentioned gentlemen, along with others of similar calibre, as our voice to the world.
Ultimately though, the success of this campaign would also depend on how effectively we can ‘walk the talk’. The GOSL needs to sort out the issue of the IDPs quickly and transparently, and needs to table the long awaited political solution. The GOSL also needs to start its own investigations into possible violations by the SLDF, not just in this last battle, but in the entire conflict. If the SLDF’s actions have indeed been above board, then it has nothing to fear from such an investigation. In fact, even if found guilty of minor violations, the very act of auditing itself would boost its reputation and strengthen the institution of the SLDF. This last suggestion may not go down well with the ‘armchair patriots’ but the fact is that no army in the world is without its rotten apples. [For example, Israel recently conducted an investigation into the conduct of the IDF in the most recent campaign against the Hamas and this is important for two reasons. One, Israel is arguably the nation most under threat from terrorist attacks and, two; there is an extremely strong connection between the military and civil society due to compulsory national service. Despite this, some of the soldiers involved felt free enough to talk about certain violations committed by the IDF during the Gaza conflict at a university gathering and the media, in general, was objective enough to report it and free enough to demand an enquiry and get it. This example also clearly undermines the GOSL’s implicit position that a war against the LTTE could not have been waged with a free media looking over its shoulders]. Without the deeds to back up the words, any attempts to counter the prevailing anti-Sri Lankan sentiment would unfortunately turn out to be as farcical as the claims made against us.
On the day after Sri Lanka kicked ass at the UNHRC, I happened to have lunch with a diplomat from one of the countries that backed the UNHRC motion against Sri Lanka. I did not know she was in a senior position in her embassy in Colombo. I had just planned to meet my friend for lunch, and she happened to bring this person along. We had rice and curry at a very modest eaterie – a typical working or school lunch place, and the bill didn’t come to more than Rs. 200 each. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I ended up having a massive argument with her. Later both of us calmed down and she invited me over for coffee to her office in the embassy where we continued the conversation in a calmer mode. Then she gave me a copy of the original draft UNHRC resolution that her country had tried in vain to get passed along with their European buddies.
Why did the argument start? Well, my friend and she commented on how even moderate Sri Lankans seemed to have turned more nationalistic after the military victory. Listening to this, I guessed that this opinion on their part may have been formed by exposure to the reaction to the recent unprecedented international meddling, rather than the Sri Lankan population suddenlty becoming more nationalistic. I preceded to say this, perhaps not very well articulated, on my part, but I did end up saying something about the way the West seems to frame their statements, using the example of David Miliband and his now famous diplomatic flair. I said it was almost like he believes Sri Lanka is still a colony of Britain. And then she said, “Well if Sri Lanka does not want to be treated like a colonial country, it should not act like a colonial country.”
That’s when the shit hit the fan.
[I wish I had time to expand, but I’m moving house and the internet cafe dude just told me they are shutting down, so I gotta run, but before I go…]
This article was published in the Asia Times Online under the title “Sri Lanka wards off Western bullying”. It’s by Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar, a former career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service in Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey. As I tried to explain to the diplomat in the course of our conversation, just because we don’t pander to the West anymore doesn’t mean we’re acting like a colony. It is the opposite in fact. We’re playing our cards beautifully. I am glad to see someone agrees. Read the article.
“The strange lineup of the member countries of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for or against Sri Lanka at the special session of the body scheduled to take place in Geneva on Tuesday underscores the maritime Great Game unfolding in the Indian Ocean.
Geopolitics is drowning the lamentations over the legitimate aspirations of the Sri Lankan Tamils for equity, justice and fair play and the perennial human-rights questions that arise when the state violates the integrity of the individual. Control of the maritime routes of the Indian Ocean through which 70% of total world traffic of petroleum products passes – and half of the world’s container traffic – takes precedence over the tragic plight of the 300,000 ethnic Tamils of Sri Lanka uprooted from their life. The focus of the world powers is on becoming the “Lord of the Malaccas”.
The special session is being convened in Geneva at the request of 17 of the 47 members of the UNHRC, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Britain. Hovering in the background is the United States. The initiative is primarily of the European Union (EU) and it aims at forcing Sri Lanka to face charges of gross human-rights violations in its war against the Tamil insurgents. An UNHRC recommendation to set up an international commission of inquiry will not mean the end of the world, but it can be a needless headache. An UNHRC special session has been called only on 10 previous occasions.
However, Colombo is not browbeaten. The seasoned poker player has tabled a counter resolution titled “Assistance to Sri Lanka in the promotion and Protection of Human Rights”. Believe it or not, the Sri Lankan resolution commends Colombo for its victory over terrorism and solicits funding from a grateful international community. The 12 co-sponsors of the Sri Lankan resolution include China, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia.
Russia, China backing Colombo
The outcome of the UNHRC special session can be foretold. The EU won’t get anywhere. It had better think of approaching the International Criminal Court based in The Hague. But then, Sri Lanka is not a signatory state. The “international community” can get the United Nations Security Council to refer the case to the ICC, in which case the ICC is mandated to summon a non-signatory state. But then China and Russia wield veto power.
As soon as Colombo declared victory in the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu took friendly note of it. “As a friendly neighbor, China has kept a close eye on how the Sri Lankan situation developed. We sincerely hope Sri Lanka will make efforts to accomplish national reconciliation, social stability and economic progress,” Ma said.
Equally, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko “welcomed” Colombo’s success in “restoring control over the entire territory of the country” and liberating the civilians held hostage. Russia “supports the fight of the Sri Lankan government against terrorism and separatism and for state sovereignty and territorial integrity” and stands ready to “strengthen further its cooperation [with Sri Lanka] … both in a bilateral format and in regional and international organizations on counter-terrorism and on other themes of mutual concern”.
China and Russia will ensure that the “international community” cannot torment Colombo. They have invited Sri Lanka to come close to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a “dialogue partner”. In essence, Sri Lanka is transforming as the theater where Russia and China are frontally challenging the US’s incremental global strategy to establish a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) presence in the Indian Ocean region.
The US has succeeded in bringing NATO up to the Persian Gulf region. In October 2007, NATO conducted its first-ever naval exercises in the Indian Ocean. The alliance is swiftly expanding its relationship with Pakistan. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told a US Congressional hearing on Thursday, “Where I see NATO going is increasingly towards a broader and more in-depth relationship with Pakistan, because of the common interests.” But it is Sri Lanka that will be the jewel in NATO’s Indian Ocean crown. Russia and China (and Iran) are determined to frustrate the US geostrategy.
US pressure won’t work
But the US has taken a position of high principles – the human-rights situation in Sri Lanka. It can block Sri Lanka’s application for a US$1.9 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Sri Lankan economy is in dire straits. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on May 15 that this “is not an appropriate time” to talk about the IMF loan. She confirmed that the US had “raised questions about the IMF loan at this time”.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly has linked the release of the IMF loan to Colombo allowing the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international aid agencies, to access the camps where “hundreds of thousands” of internally displaced Tamils uprooted in the fighting are sheltered.
Washington is peeved that Colombo already forgot it was the vehement US support that enabled Colombo to launch the military operations against Sri Lanka in 2006. But the Sri Lankan government would say it reciprocated the US backing by signing in March 2007 an Access and Cross Servicing Agreement with the US that allows American warships and aircraft to use facilities in Sri Lanka.
At any rate, the US feels snubbed that Sri Lanka spurned its offer a few months ago to dispatch a naval force to evacuate or provide humanitarian assistance to the Tamil civilians trapped in the war zone. An “assessment team” of the US Navy visited Sri Lanka with a view to work out the range of options for the operation. But Colombo somehow developed cold feet about the wisdom of inviting US “humanitarian intervention”. Quite possibly, third countries might have alerted Colombo to the risks involved.
Unsurprisingly, Washington is pressuring Colombo. Kelly said on Thursday, “The international community needs to make an assessment of exactly what happened and consult with the Sri Lankan government on the way forward … we need to take things a step at a time. We need to focus on the humanitarian situation, and we need to focus on starting a political reconciliation process. Once we take those steps, we can start looking at the broader issue of economic and trade issues [IMF loan]”.
However, the US pressure tactic may not work. Like in the case of Myanmar or Sudan, if Washington steps up pressure, China may come to Sri Lanka’s help. There is moral muddiness all around. Simply put, a “containment strategy” on the part of the US towards Sri Lanka becomes unworkable. Testy times lie ahead.
On Friday, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa accused unnamed foreign powers of having tried to stop the military operations against the LTTE by “threatening to haul us before war crimes tribunals” and that he was ready “to go to the gallows”.
On Saturday, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (who is the president’s brother) told an Indian TV channel, “If one talks of taking our military to a war crimes tribunal, before that you have to take US troops, UK troops, all those troops and all those leaders, into war crimes [tribunals].” He was angrily responding to the EU demand for an independent inquiry into alleged war crimes by Sri Lankan army.
The countries that are backing Sri Lanka at the UNHRC special session on Tuesday have a convergence of interest insofar as they oppose the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” in sovereign states. China and India have been at the receiving end in the past on the human-rights issue and have extended mutual support in warding off UNHRC pressure.
But in the present context, the motives of China and India are complex. The fact is, China has exploited Sri Lanka’s vulnerability to secure the pre-eminent status of a “steadfast ally”. China is building in Hambantota a $1 billion port that it may eventually use as a refueling and docking station for its navy as it patrols the Indian Ocean and protects China’s sea lanes in the Indian Ocean.
Jane’s Defence Weekly has reported on Chinese supplies of ammunition and ordnance for the Sri Lankan army and navy. The Stockholm International Peace Foundation says China gifted Sri Lanka six F7 jet fighters last year. Chinese aid for Sri Lanka touched $1 billion last year. China is presently Sri Lanka’s number one foreign donor, overtaking Japan. (The US and the UK gave measly amounts of $7.4 million and $1.9 million, respectively.)
India views the Chinese inroads into Sri Lanka with disquiet as part of a broad move into the Indian Ocean. But India faces an acute dilemma. Delhi hopes to influence Colombo to seek an early settlement of the Tamil problem, which has serious implications for India’s politics and national security. But its capacity to cajole the diehard Sinhalese nationalists to compromise and reconcile suffers as long as China backs Colombo to the hilt. Colombo’s defiant statements to the West also hold a subtle message for Delhi.
If Delhi tries to roll back its substantial political, military and economic support to Sri Lanka, China will simply step in. The lure of Sri Lanka for China cannot be overestimated by Delhi. Colombo plays the game beautifully. Before procuring weapons from China, Colombo first presents the wish list in Delhi. If Delhi declines, it promptly approaches Beijing. (This was what happened in the case of Hambantota port, too.)
Therefore, Delhi is unsure about Washington’s pressure tactic. It has known Colombo all through as a tough negotiator – be it on the rights of Indian fishermen or over Kachativu Island or regarding stateless persons of Indian origin. Colombo stonewalled for decades all Indian attempts to mediate a settlement to the Tamil problem.
Great Game in the Indian Ocean
Clearly, it is far too simplistic to portray Sri Lanka as a mere playpen of China-India rivalry. There is a huge geopolitical backdrop. The US’s naval dominance is declining. On the other hand, China’s navy may have more warships than the US’s in the coming decade.
In the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, noted strategic thinker and author Robert Kaplan analyzed the power plays in the Indian Ocean. As Kaplan wrote, the US is “beginning an elegant decline by leveraging the growing sea power of allies such as India and Japan to balance against China”.
To a great extent, the US volte face on Rajapksa’s war (after having been such a strong supporter until quite recently) stems from the strategic setback it suffered insofar as while the American admirals had been scared away by Sri Lanka’s ethnic strife, China simply moved in. The West finds Rajapaksa getting too close to China for its comfort. On China’s part, however, the fueling station in Sri Lanka becomes vital for optimally using the series of port facilities that it has lined up in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar connecting the southern Chinese province of Yunnan.
The naval presence in Sri Lanka becomes invaluable for China if the planned canal across the Isthmus of Kra in Thailand materializes connecting the Indian Ocean with China’s Pacific coast, a project that has the potential to dramatically shift the balance of power in Asia. Therefore, no matter what it takes, Beijing will strive to expand its influence in Sri Lanka and help Colombo ward off US bullying.
But, having said that, the US also has a need for greater cooperation with China. To quote Kaplan, the US “seizes every opportunity to incorporate China’s navy into international alliances; a US-Chinese understanding at sea is crucial for the stabilization of world politics in the 21st century”. This in turn creates a compulsion for the US to both act as a “broker” between India and China and as a moderator of the competition between the two hugely ambitious powers. As Kaplan put it, even as India and China “bump into each other” in the Indian Ocean, “the job of managing their peaceful rise will fall on the US Navy to a significant extent”.
Curiously, during a visit to Delhi on May 14, the US Pacific Command chief Admiral Timothy J Keating dropped a bombshell among the unsuspecting Indians by revealing that he declined an offer recently from a top-ranking Chinese naval official for a US-Chinese understanding to split the seas east of Hawaii and west of Hawaii between the two navies.
Keating went on to say that on his part, he invited China to join the annual US-India naval exercises codenamed “Malabar Exercises” (which strategists in Delhi fancy as their exclusive partnership with the US), but China declined, saying it preferred to be an observer. Kaplan was right in saying, “There will be surely tensions between the three [US, Chinese, Indian] navies, especially as the gaps in their relative strength begins to close.”
What all this adds up to in immediate terms is that Colombo will be plainly dismissive of the UNHRC meet on Tuesday. Indeed, its first instinct is to hoot with derision. The Sinhala establishment is fully aware of Sri Lanka’s immense strategic value in the accelerating power struggle in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka sits on a central theater of global conflict and competition and will derive leverage to reinforce its sovereignty and independence and its strategic autonomy.