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Brussels fools the prophets of gloom

EXPECTATIONS: The doomsday prophets did not get it right. The buildup in the preceding weeks was one of inevitable disaster for Sri Lanka with the European Union over Human Rights and Tsunami Relief.

One noticed more than a touch of glee in the headlines that were preparing the people for the terrible beating that Sri Lanka would get when the Development Affairs Committee of the European Parliament held its Public Hearing in Brussels earlier this week. Sri Lanka's chances were worse than that of an ice cube in hell.

One headline screamed that Sri Lanka would be roasted in Brussels. Another said Lanka would face heavy flak. Those who believed their own propaganda gave the impression that Sri Lanka was avoiding a spirited defence by sending what was described as a downgraded team to Brussels.

Analysts, commentators and headline writers were wallowing in their predictions of Sri Lanka being seared, scorched, stewed and thoroughly grilled in Brussels. In the event, they must all be waiting for their prophecies to come true on the next occasion.

When the EU Parliament's Development Committee did meet in Brussels last Tuesday, Sri Lanka carried herself with dignity with the mood that prevailed throughout and after the Public Hearing being one of satisfaction over the progress Sri Lanka had made in post-tsunami reconstruction and the handling of the Human Rights situation by the government.

In fact, concluding the session on post-tsunami reconstruction, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Niranjan Deva Aditya expressed satisfaction over the progress Sri Lanka has made in reconstruction of affected sectors. I refer to him because he is no particular friend of the government of Sri Lanka, being closer to the UNP and a Conservative from the UK.

Focus on terrorism

The next session billed to be on the "Human Rights situation and humanitarian space in Sri Lanka" was where the prophets of gloom had their eyes trained on. Those awaiting a concerted attack on the Sri Lankan record on Human Rights from MEPs and representatives of Sri Lankan and Foreign NGOs and Human Rights organisations were in for more than a shock when MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, also a British Conservative, suggested that the session be renamed "Terrorism in Sri Lanka and its impact of humanitarian aid".

This was a sign that the flak would be flying in another direction. He said the greatest abuser of human rights was the LTTE, and its prime target was the Tamils themselves.

These were not the words of any "majoritarian chauvinist", as anyone who is critical of the LTTE's policies is so easily described. On the killing of humanitarian aid workers, Van Orden said the government needed to prosecute those responsible, and also called for a credible devolution from the Government to resolve the conflict in Sri Lanka.

Neither of these are matters that have been refused by the Government. It is also committed to bringing those responsible for the killing of aid workers to justice, as well as to a political solution based on greater devolution of power.

By the time the second session ended the Sri Lankan team led by Ambassador Aruni Wijewardane, who came to Brussels from Vienna, had not gone through any of the threatened roasting nor faced the heavy flak they were warned about.

Instead, throughout the hearing, several Members of the European Parliament condemned terrorism by the LTTE as a cause of concern, and stressed the need for the LTTE to return to the negotiating table.

Some MEPs identified terrorism as the root cause of the prevailing situation in Sri Lanka, and highlighted the complete denial of human rights of civilians living in areas under LTTE control. MEPs stated that the prime target of the LTTE are the Tamils themselves, and also highlighted the need for long term solution that reaches out to the Tamil population of Sri Lanka in order to fulfill their aspirations.

The representative of the European Commission welcomed the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that humanitarian supplies will be provided to affected civilians.

The Chair of the session Josep Borrell Fontelles, MEP and former President of the European Parliament, concluded that an extensive debate had been held on the issues relating to the Human Rights Situation and Humanitarian Space in Sri Lanka, and thanked the representatives of the Government and NGO Speakers for their participation.

The other flak

If the calculations of those who were expecting the Sri Lankan team at the Brussels Public Hearing to be held on spits for the roasting did not turn out as expected, there was no lack of other dangers for the government. Last weekend saw the abduction and killing of two Red Cross volunteer workers from the East in Colombo.

The well-orchestrated reaction to this was to blame it on the President or Government. It took some time to show people that no Head of State or Government would sanction such fell deeds that can only have a boomerang effect.

The proximity of the Brussels' Public Hearing and the scheduled visit of President Rajapaksa to Geneva (where the ICRC is headquartered) for the ILO annual sessions, seemed a good enough calculation to carry out such an act to discredit the President and Government, and for those so interested also tarnish the image of Sri Lanka internationally.

It now appears that saner counsel has prevailed among those who were rushing to blame the Government for these killings, although not denying the Government's overall responsibility for the maintenance of law and order in the country.

The President is reported to have given a seven day deadline to the Police to come up with good clues to help trace those who carried out this crime. Failure may lead to the Government seeking foreign expertise to pursue the investigation.

The frequency of such abductions is certainly a matter for concern for those concerned with the strength of democracy in Sri Lanka, and it is not wrong to expect the Police to also share such concerns, which can be the motivating factor in bringing these criminals to book.

It is not only abductions that are used as political flak these days. The bodies of dead soldiers also become the stuff of such attacks by those whose vision is limited to grabbing the reins of power and nothing else.

The UNP was shameless in its effort to sow enmity towards the Government when it went public with a figure of 90 troops killed in a recent battle in the North.

The fact that the figure was not even near the actual casualty figures, and had not been verified with responsible authorities before going public with it, shows both a total lack of concern for the truth as well as a despicable interest in using such figures for cheap political gain.

The UNP also displayed a similar cavalier attitude to national interest and good relations between India and Sri Lanka, when one of its members charged in parliament earlier this week that this Government had deliberately soured relations with India.

Such a charge seemed quixotic coming from the UNP that began spoiling the good relations Sri Lanka had with India over the years, when JR Jayawardene began his unwarranted attacks on Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and his pro-Yankee foreign policy that angered India.

It is useful to recall that this is what led India to train and arm the Tamil militants, including Prabhakaran and the LTTE, which is today a threat to India too.

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Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
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