Eelam in Chatham House

By M. Devadasan ( London) - Courtsey LankaNet news

On Thursday 15th October, the "Eelam Lobby" in London attempted to gain equality, by staging a seminar at Chatham House in London. In April this year, the International Foundation of Sri Lankans (IFSL) held a widely publicised and timely lecture by Lakshman Kadirgamar at Chatham House. This lecture, on International Terrorism, was attended by officials of the British Foreign Office and members of several foreign diplomatic missions from countries that face Terrorist problems similar to Sri Lanka, the British Press including Reuters and members of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, which jointly hosted the lecture with IFSL. Kadirgamar outlined the various problems of international Terrorism, such as fund raising, human and drug smuggling, child soldiers etc. and what Sri Lanka expected from Britain, at a time when the British government of Tony Blair was drafting legislation to clamp down on Terrorism at home and abroad. Thursday's seminar at Chatham House was a comic attempt by the "Eelam Lobby" to respond to the Kadirgamar lecture. The main initiator for Thursdays seminar was James Karunakaran who goes as James Karan. Karan is a key LTTE activist in London, and as the convenor of the International Tamil Federation in London, plays a role in LTTE's propaganda activities. He is also LTTE's London based financial advisor. Mr. Karan works from Eelam House, at 202 Long Lane, London and is often seen together with Mr. Anton Raja, LTTE's "official" spokesman, who also works out of the same office as Mr. Karan. Mr. Karan had approached Chatham House as a member of the International Federation of Tamils (IFT). Chatham House was not aware that it is a well known LTTE front organisation. The argument pursued by Karan was that Kadirgamar had put forward the Government view and so it was only fair, that Chatham House allows the "International Federation of Tamils" to put forward the "Tamil" view. There is a distinct air of the "Eelam Lobby" having muscled their way into Chatham house. The concern of Chatham house can be judged by the fact that, Head of Meetings at Chatham House, Mrs Heather Weeks had appointed Malcolm Rutherford to chair the seminar. The Kadirgamar Lecture was chaired by John Field, a former British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. The International Foundation of Sri Lankans (IFSL) had invited him to chair the lecture and John flew in from the US, where he lives, specially for the event. According to Mrs Heather Weeks, Malcolm Rutherford is a member of the Council at Chatham House and a regular contributor to the Financial Times.

Other than the appointment of Malcolm Rutherford, another strange occurrence for which Chatham House is responsible for, was the timing of the event. The Kadirgamar Lecture was held at prime time, at 7.00pm in the evening. The "Eelam Lobby" seminar was held at 11.00am. Mrs Heather Weeks dismissed this diplomatically as a "diary" problem. The seminar began at 11.00 am, Thursday and went on for over an hour. The Panel of speakers consisted on Malcolm Rutherford (Chair), Kumar Ponnambalam, Prof. Naganathan Ethirweerasingham, Barry Gardiner MP and Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran. James Karan, was playing host, ushering people in and welcoming them. Many members of the "International Federation of Tamils" were present. Members of Chatham House were thin on the ground. This may be explained by the timing of the event. The hall, was the same one used for the Kadirgamar lecture, but a partition had been put up at the back, halving the seating capacity. Less than ninety people attended. Anton Rajah, quietly strolled in and sat down as if he did not know anyone. Others also pretended, not to know him. After all, this was a "Tamil" thing and nothing to do with the LTTE. A C Shanthan, the head of the LTTE in London, and a few goons came in with some propaganda pamphlets and started handing them to a select few. Vasantha Rajah came in with his fourth wife, a lady who had just arrived from Sri Lanka. She was freelancing as "Sirasa" radio's London correspondent, until her marriage to Mr. Vasantha Raja. Another radical, elderly Adrianne Wijemanne walked in with his Tamil wife. Wijemanne is a leftist cum LTTE supporter who contributes regularly to LTTE publications as a "Sinhalese" putting forward his theories. A few minutes later, Wijemanne's "golaya" (disciple), Ranjith Fernando walked in and pretended not to know anyone. Fernando writes frequently to Vasantha Rajah's Tamil Guardian under the name of "Vebeeshana". Ranjith Fernando had posed with a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk at Amarawathi Buddhist Temple in Great Goddesdon, near Hemel Hempstead and then without the monks permission used this same picture in a article in the Tamil Guardian blaming the Buddhist monks for the ethnic problem. His bout of Buddhist monk bashing seems to have led him closer to enlightenment as he is now seen frequently at Amarawathi. Among the "natives" in the audience were a couple of members of the Tamil press, a BBC Sinhala service reporter and another representing a national weekly in Sri Lanka, some officials from the British Foreign Office, a representative from a British group which is against the sale of armsand a few others representing similar radical interest groups.

Malcolm Rutherford, selected by Chatham House to chair the meeting, was clearly not a sympathiser of the "Eelam Cause". He started the seminar with a pale face and turned various shades of pink and red, in response to the various utterances of the four speakers, grunt and laugh at them and at comments by the audience and ended the seminar with a very red face. He was very clearly, a hostile chairman, and his facial expressions and postures made this hostility very clear to the speakers and the audience. Mr. Rutherford is a distinguished journalist, having worked as the Assistant Editor at Financial Times and has written articles covering South Asia. He is also a member of the Chatham House Council. Ten minutes was allocated by Malcolm Rutherford to each speaker.

Kumar Ponnambalam kicked off on time and read his bit from the papers he had in front of him saying that he was not going to give excuses. He pointed out the so called oppression of Tamils, mass graves, discrimination and how the Government is allegedly killing Tamils and bombing them. Kumar referred to the other democratic Tamil parties as "quislings" and that if the Sinhala Government was not prepared to give equality to Tamils, there should be separation. He spoke of Sinhalese colonisation of Tamil homelands as ethnic cleansing and pointed out that all this ethnic cleansing had begun around 1920, before independence. No one inquired from him, if he is suggesting that Her Majesty's government in 1920, conspired with the Sinhalese to ethnically cleanse the Tamils. Kumar pointed out that "Thamil Eelam" had existed long ago and delivered a "history of Sri Lanka", the abridged Ponnambalam version. He spoke a lot about alleged Sinhalese racism and that it was racist for the Sinhalese to say that they were the first on the island and that this results in the Tamils being relegated to second class status. Thimpu was dragged out, hammered and nailed to the wall, as the words of Moses, that will lead to the promised land. He, of course, had the grace to say that his party, the "Archaic" All Ceylon Tamil Congress, was the only Tamil party that was not represented at the Thimpu talks. Ponnambalam in his "Mike Tyson" like delivery was adamant, that the LTTE were not a Terrorist organisation, but liberators of Tamil people who had taken over from an ineffective democratic Tamil leadership. He pleaded that the West must not regard the LTTE as Terrorists. He pointed out that the Tamil voice in Sri Lanka was dead and that the expatriate Tamils numbering over half a million must unite with one voice. Sometime during the seminar, Kumar may have felt the hostility of the Chair, as the initial warmth and courtesies gave way to a somewhat of a chill between them.

Ponnambalam was followed by the mild, Prof. Naganathan Ethirweerasingham. He started by saying that he was no politician and that he was going to explain his personal experiences. But he hardly did. He said that he has met all the Sri Lankan leaders, most of the LTTE leadership and that he has wide experience in international departments related to conflict resolution in several foreign universities. He pointed out that the Sinhalese and the Tamils speak two different languages and are unable to communicate to each other because English was abolished by the Oxford educated SWRD Bandaranaike. He wanted Britain to intervene and restore the status quo, as far as the Tamils were concerned, to the pre-independence era. Prof. Ethirweerasingham, hardly spoke a sentence without referring to some expert or the other. In his 10 minutes, he quoted at least 10 to 15 experts or authors, in trying to convince the audience in the legitimacy of the "Tamil struggle" and the use of violence. Malcolm Rutherford was clearly amused by this. Later, when Prof. Ethirweerasingham tried to read out another quotation, Malcolm Rutherford commented? "not another one". To the great annoyance of Malcolm Rutherford, Prof. Ethirweerasingham tried to put on a slide show. Each slide consisted of two pictures, mostly of refugees in their shelters and one with Prof. Ethirweerasingham in it.

Barry Gardiner MP was next. Rutherford introduced him as a Sri Lankan expert, especially on Tamil issues in the British Parliament. Gardiner is disliked by many Sinhalese in the UK and is categorised by them as a LTTE sympathiser. Gardiner, was even slower than Prof. Ethirweerasingham in his delivery. First trying to define, amid great pauses, "ethics" and then trying to define, amid great pauses, "foreign policy". He was desperately trying to get to "ethical foreign policy". His point was that a British Government trade delegation was due to visit Sri Lanka, next month, and that the British Government should have an ethical foreign policy towards Sri Lanka and bring about pressure on the Sri Lankan Government in relation to the Tamil issue. During the British elections, Tony Blair had spoken of a British foreign policy based on Human rights. Gardiner, a labour MP, was mildly voicing his dissatisfaction of increasing British links and trade with Sri Lanka, in light of mass graves and human rights abuses. He read out from the US State Department human rights report on Sri Lanka and voiced concern. He pointed out that, with Sri Lankan exports and imports in relation to the UK passing the 200millon mark, Britain is emerging as an important trading partner for Sri Lanka and that this in turn gives Britain increased influence over Sri Lanka. Gardiner had raised questions in the British Parliament about export licences granted to Sri Lanka in relation to military equipment. He pointed out that Britain may have sold torture equipment to Sri Lanka. He also said that one of the descriptions on the licences was open ended and seems to be a means of selling to Sri Lanka certain equipment that the British do not wish to identify openly. Gardiner stated that both Sinhalese and Tamils talk a lot about history and that he does not give a "fig" about history. Malcolm Rutherford changed colour. At this stage, some members of the audience applauded, and Malcolm Rutherford cut him short and moved on to the next speaker. Gardiner who was obviously half way through his speech looked shell-shocked, but Malcolm Rutherford stated, that the applaud meant that the audience had indicated that it was the end. Gardiner, still looking shell-shocked, indicated that he understood that time was running short and accepted the abrupt ending of his speech. The whole tone of all the speakers and in fact the show at Chatham House was an attempt to convince the audience that the LTTE were not Terrorists and to gain some respectability towards the "cause".

To the great embarrassment of those who espouse this "cause" Malcolm Rutherford kicked it in the head when introducing the next speaker. He introduced Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran as the lawyer who is trying to fight the US ban of the LTTE as a Terrorist organisation. There was an awkward pause. Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran quickly tried repair the damage by saying that it was not a ban but a listing and ?grunt.mumble? "I will explain it later". Rudrakumaran, explained that the mere fact that the LTTE have given certain assurances to the UN on certain human rights articles, makes the LTTE an organisation recognised by the UN. Lots of UN articles were read out in trying to convince everyone, that the LTTE is a legitimate liberation organisation fighting for a legitimate cause and therefore not Terrorists. Visuvanathan had a nervous laugh looking sideways at the panel as he told us that he hoped the US courts will accept this argument. Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran went on to compare Sri Lanka with other conflict zones, especially Kosovo and Yogoslavia. It was questioned as to why the West is using the threat of bombing to demand the withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosovo, when it is not making similar threats to Sri Lanka to demand the withdrawal of Sinhala troops from Thamil Eelam.

Malcolm Rutherford now opened the floor for questions. Several questions were directed at Gardiner, by the anti-Arms-sales pressure groups and assurances demanded. Gardiner replied that he was only a very small back bencher. Tamils in the audience were angry that there was going to be a trade delegation going to Sri Lanka in November. They demanded that there should be no trade between Britain and Sri Lanka. There was an attempt to highlight "ethnic cleansing" of Tamils by Sinhalese. Barry Gardiner MP cut in, and said that it was not in the interest of Tamils to talk of "ethnic cleansing" as there was no "ethnic cleansing" of Tamils in Sri Lanka. He said that Yogoslavia did not have a Kosovan Foreign Minister and what is happening in Sri Lanka is not Ethnic cleansing but ethnic subjugation. He said that "ethnic cleansing" is just used to "shock", but that it is counter productive to the Tamil cause to use such tactics. Some Tamils in the audience were now annoyed at Barry Gardiner MP and one got up and said that as Barry Gardiner had stated that he does not give a "fig" about History, he does not give a "fig" about Barry Gardiner's opinions.

The little pamphlets distributed by A C Shanthan the LTTE supremo in London had a recent picture of Defence Minister Ratwatte on a horse, inspecting a Police "Balu" guard (Police Dog Guard). This picture was displayed and remarked that it was the first photograph of a "donkey" riding a horse. At this stage, I tapped on A C Shanthan's shoulder and asked him for some pamphlets. He obliged. Maharasingham, an old, largely built Tamil gentleman sporting a grey military moustache got up and said that there had to be a revolution. That was the only way. Another suggested that the Sri Lankan army should be absorbed into the LTTE. The logic behind this was that when the soldiers return home, there will be great turmoil in their villages resulting in revolution.

Vasantha Rajah vented similar views on the discontented Sinhalese. Adrianne Wijemanne got up and introduced himself as a "Sinhalese". There was a pause as heads turned. Wijemanne went on to say that the Sinhala government was tottering and that a military take over was imminent and wanted to ask the panel, if the military was in power in Colombo, will the West side with the Tamils? By now, Malcolm Rutherford's face was flushed and had turned a deep red and even Kumar Ponnambalam had a mask like expressionless face. The circus was over, it was time to go home.

Courtsey Lanka Net