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Sunday, 3 June 2012

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Respect rights of sovereign nations

Sri Lanka's foreign policy took a new turn after President Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office in November 2005. While strengthening cordial relations with other countries, Sri Lanka maintains diplomatic ties and has won new friends in the international arena.

The 2006-2009 battle against LTTE terrorism helped Sri Lanka to realise her true friends. In point of fact, there were only a handful of countries which sincerely supported Sri Lanka during that dark period while a few others, which project themselves as champions in the global battle against terror, turned a Nelsonian eye to the goings on.

Nevertheless, Sri Lanka constantly briefed all Colombo-based diplomats during its battle against terror and apprised them on the measures the Government had taken to ensure the well-being of those who had been liberated and the steps taken by the Security Forces to minimise the number of civilian casualties. Even Colombo-based diplomats were taken to the battlefront time and again to receive first-hand information on the world's largest human rescue mission. The Government held such briefings and organised field tours to prove its sincerity and the transparency of its actions.

However, a few foreign diplomats in Sri Lanka seem to have been carried away by those gestures which were done in good faith and took things for granted by attempting to interfere in Sri Lanka's internal affairs. Perhaps, certain foreign diplomats here had taken Sri Lanka's amiability and cordiality as a sign of weakness and overstepped their limits as Ambassadors and High Commissioners.

The British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka John Rankin had contradicted the President's Victory Day speech recently. Rankin had been told in no uncertain terms that he had incurred Sri Lanka's displeasure over his controversial remarks in having called for the scaling down of the military presence in the Northern Province.

Rankin's outbursts are even more serious as he not only interfered in the internal affairs of another country, but also on matters pertaining to defence and national security. Rankin should first and foremost realise that Sri Lanka is no more a British colony. It is of no concern to him where Sri Lanka locates its military camps.

On the other hand, Rankin should have verified his facts prior to making that unwarranted comment. There are fewer military camps in the Jaffna or Kilinochchi districts compared to Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa or Kandy districts. Since the risk is still high, the necessity to protect the North is of utmost importance.

Rankin, or any other diplomat serving in any country, for that matter, has no right whatsoever to meddle in the internal affairs of the countries they are stationed in. It is not their business to tell the governments in those countries what they ought to do and not. Hence, it is crystal clear that Rankin has gone beyond his role, thereby meddling in the internal matters of a sovereign State.

However, Rankin had subsequently said that the UK will support Sri Lanka in its reconciliation efforts. This is a positive statement which would inspire people in the North. We earnestly hope that the British High Commissioner, with his typical Sri Lankan smile at all times, would have a better understanding on the situation in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka always values and appreciates the roles played by friendly countries, including the UK, in development and social welfare. This does not necessarily mean that they have a right to interfere in Sri Lanka's internal affairs.

What baffles one and all is the extraordinary concern shown by certain Western countries about Tamils in the North. Surprisingly, when civilians were forcibly held by LTTE terrorists as a human shield, these countries did not utter a word in their favour and it was Sri Lanka's valiant Security Forces which eventually liberated them from the clutches of LTTE terror.

As Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa quite rightly pointed out recently, Sri Lankans have the right to live anywhere in the country. Sri Lankans, irrespective of ethnicity and other petty differences, could live in any part of the country. On the other hand, Sri Lanka has reached new global standards in resettling displaced persons, though a section of the international community raised a big hue and cry over it no sooner the LTTE was crushed militarily.

At a time when Sri Lanka is putting in place its reconciliation and marching forward triumphantly as a nation, the need of the hour is for sincere friends and certainly not arbitrators or advisors. Sri Lanka has the strength, wherewithal and will-power to achieve its goal of becoming the Wonder of Asia. Any international interference would only thwart that goal and prevent the country marching towards new economic horizons. If Western countries are sincere in what they preach, they should make a tangible contribution to improve the living standards of people in the North, rather than merely counting the number of military camps in the province.

Certain Western countries, which voted in favour of the recent UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka, seem to be unduly concerned about the human rights of terrorists. They, however, kept mum when LTTE terrorists brutally massacred thousands of civilians in broad daylight. Those countries which now shed crocodile tears over human rights in Sri Lanka are the very same people who had massacred thousands of people when they invaded countries a few centuries ago.

Sri Lanka and its people have enjoyed a rich culture of over 2,600 years. Hence, no country could pontificate to us on human rights. Sri Lankans are world-renowned for their warmth and hospitality. This great culture and heritage, which may sound alien to the West, is only experienced here. Sri Lankans not only care about humans but even their dumb friends - animals. In this scenario, does Sri Lanka need the expert advice of the West on human rights?

In similar vein, we are not ready to swallow all that the West dishes out. It goes without saying that Western countries do not practise what they preach. Despite the ignominy of having innumerable human rights abuses in their backyards, they attempt to blow out of proportion even an isolated incident in this part of the world.

All countries, irrespective of the size of their land or military strength, should respect one another's sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is exactly what the UN Charter spells out!

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