Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sri Lanka - the "beach-head" for a Tamil Homeland Ven. Walpola Piyananda, Chief Sangha Nayake of America

Given below is the full text of the written submission made to the Lessons Learned & Reconciliation Commission in Colombo on 22 November, by Ven. Walpola Piyananda, Chief Sangha Nayake of America and Abbot, Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara, Los Angeles, California: "I would like to introduce myself. I am the Chief Sangha Nayake of America, President of the Sri Lankan Sangha Council of America and Canada, and Abbot of Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles.

I have been living in the United States for over thirty-four years. I am a dual citizen of both the United States and Sri Lanka. I have traveled annually back and forth between the two countries. I have remained in constant communication with friends and associates throughout the period of the LTTE War.

I have been witness to a number of events and privy to a great deal of information during this time that I feel would be relevant to your Commission’s proceedings. I have also written a number of articles supporting the Government, almost all of which were published in the Sri Lankan and international media.

I think the information I share with your commission worthwhile; it has to do with the reasons the war was prolonged for 35 years. I submit below the following list of categories is for your consideration:

1. During the late 1970’s Sri Lanka’s relations with India, its most powerful neighbor was not very good. The rift between the two countries, though not made public, provided Indian authorities sympathetic to the Sri Lankan pro-separatist Tamils to secretly allow them to train on India’s soil, providing them with weapons and other forms of assistance. This greatly impaired Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and put it at risk for civil war.

2. There are over 100 million ethnic Tamils scattered throughout the world without a "motherland" they can call their own. This has instilled in the Tamil consciousness an unfounded sense of low self-esteem. Tamil academics decided the way to remedy this situation was to establish a "beach-head" for a national ethnic identity; their own country.

Even though the Indian state of Tamil Nadu’s population is nearly 100% ethnic Tamils, and it is their ancient cultural homeland, they did not see the possibility of persuading that state to secede from the Indian Union. In the early 1990’s, a group of Tamil intellectuals meeting in Sacramento, California decided that Sri Lanka was the easiest target for achieving their goal and they began to actively support it.

3. During periods of war, the weapons dealers are the ones who really profit – supplying both sides of the conflict. Such was the case when the Israeli Navy trained Sri Lankan Navy personnel while in the same building they trained LTTE cadres to blow up ships.

Another example is the island of Phuket in southern Thailand where arms dealers and smugglers were based for years aiding the LTTE in the procurement of arms.

Meanwhile the Government of Thailand, a Buddhist country Government remained silent doing nothing, even though such activities are against their law.

4. Arms dealers were not only overseas nationals operating from other countries, there were isolated incidences of high-ranking Sri Lankans – both civilian and military used the conflict for personal gain.

Incidents have been recorded about Sri Lankan army officers selling bullets and petrol to the LTTE; some of which made millions, setting themselves up with comfortable lives in other countries.

Even in Sri Lanka it was not un-heard-of during the war for some Sri Lankan military families to enjoy certain perquisites, such as drivers, servants, and other amenities, which they would certainly have to give up if there was peace. For these two reasons those people had very little incentive to end the war for to do so would end their profits and benefits.

5. A major problem during the conflict with the LTTE was the NGO’s. These ostensibly humanitarian organizations from various countries descended on Sri Lanka in droves under the guise of helping the country end the conflict in positive and peaceful ways.

However they actually prolonged the war in a number of ways: (1) they raised funds abroad that would "dry up" if there was peace;

(2) their administrators lived lives of luxury in Sri Lanka which would certainly change if there was peace;

(3) whenever there was a minor incident (e.g. traffic accident or minor infraction by a member of the armed forces), instead of reporting the matter to the local police, they used it as propaganda running to the nearest embassy or diplomatic mission;

(4) generating propaganda leading to negatively biased media reports about the Government.

There are a host of reasons why the NGO’s did more harm in Sri Lanka than good. Let’s not forget Amnesty International and Alert, both of which were infiltrated by members of the Tamil diaspora; these Tamil infiltrators subsequently became the very individuals who created the agendas for these agencies operating in Sri Lanka.

6. The Tamil diaspora did an excellent job raising funds – not only for the LTTE’s armed conflict, but for financing very sophisticated public relations campaigns against the Government of Sri Lanka.

A perfect example is the hiring of Bruce Fein, a former US Deputy Attorney based in Washington DC. Various LTTE front organizations in the US and Canada used him (in fact, they are still using him, paying him large monthly retainers) in the following ways:

(1) to write and publish articles against the GOSL;

(2) to file lawsuits (for genocide) against key members of the GOSL’s leadership;

(3) to lobby influential members of the US Congress (e.g. Sen. Patrick Leahey, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee) to formulate and implement US policy that was detrimental to the wellbeing of Sri Lanka and its Government.

Members of the diaspora whose sons and daughters have been educated in US universities obtain degrees in international affairs and political science manage to get jobs as interns or other staff positions with members of the US Congress. These "interns" were actually the very individuals who often wrote the policy-changing memos that condemned the GOSL to the US Government.

Another example is the way the Tamil diaspora managed to get the attention of the BBC bringing them over to their side in regards to swaying public opinion in their favor.

7. The Sri Lankan Government basically was not effective in defending itself in the crucial world media arena.

Neglecting to hire professional media strategists and experts to manage their "spin," they instead relied on Sri Lankan embassy staffs around the world who had little, if any, experience or expertise to be able to generate positive counter-messages.

When the embassies did hire "media professionals" these were usually Sri Lankan expatriates who lived in that country. These individuals did not have the experience, credentials, or contacts with the media companies of those countries that shaped world opinion – even though they may be highly-qualified in Sri Lanka.

The results were completely ineffective. The Government of Sri Lanka was advised repeatedly that needed help in this critical area or there could be dire consequences (which is what we are dealing now).

8. There have been a few cases of high-ranking Sri Lankan politicians from opposition parties who travel to various countries spreading negative or false information – rumors – about Sri Lanka.

Their motivations seem to have been either to win the Nobel peace prize, to line their pockets, to foment dissent in the "motherland," or to increase their power base back home.

The information disseminated against Sri Lanka by these self-serving individuals has severely hurt Sri Lanka’s image overseas. Our country will perhaps pay dearly for years to come for this dissemination of misinformation by those individuals.

9. There have been numerous cases of Sri Lankan Tamils – as well Sri Lankan Sinhalese seeking political asylum in foreign countries who claim persecution and brutality by the Government.

In order to obtain asylum and permanent refugee resident status in these countries, many of them told false, greatly exaggerated negative stories about their treatment back home. These horror stories have influenced the official policy of these countries in regards to Sri Lanka – as well as public opinion and the media – in a variety of deleterious ways.

10. Fundamental and evangelical Christian groups using the turmoil created by the LTTE’s terrorism which was a drain on the countries’ resources as an opportunity to proselytize for their faiths.

They have been very successful in their efforts, causing a tremendous weakening of traditional culture: Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim. These fundamentalist Christians having significant connections in the world’s media, have managed to publish false and damaging stories, such as "Buddhist killing Christians and Hindus," etc. Almost without exception these Christian sects were wholeheartedly in support of the LTTE agemda throughout the entire conflict.

11. The majority of foreign embassy staff personnel in Colombo are people of ethnic Tamil descent. Most of these Tamil embassy employees were affiliated with the LTTE, and gave biased information to their superiors, which ultimately added to the negative opinion the world has of Sri Lanka.

12. Perhaps an important item for consideration is the fact that although the Buddhist and Hindu cultures have been living together on the island of Sri Lanka for two thousand years there are only a single handful of Tamil Buddhist monks.

The Sangha members – including myself – are the only ones to blame for this total lack of understanding between the cultures.

While Buddhist monks never bothered to learn the Tamil language and culture, members of the various Christian sects, including the Roman Catholics, not only learned the language and culture, they ordained Tamil clergymen as well. There are currently thousands of ethnic-Tamil clergymen living and working in Christian churches throughout Sri Lanka.

Resolutions and Recommendations

Based on the twelve observations above, I would like to offer the following resolutions and recommendations for implementation (not listed in any particular order of priority or importance):

1.) The citizens of our country should identify themselves as "Sri Lankans" and not by their ethnicity.

2.) Develop a standardized non-religious program for all public schools, in which loving-kindness is practiced as a group at the beginning of each day.

3.) Expand the educational system to include private universities, vocational courses, entrepreneurial programs, and other catchment devices for young people who cannot gain Government university entrance.

4.) Pirivena education for young monks should include the following languages as compulsory subjects: Sinhalese, Tamil, English, and Pali.

5.) Develop an exchange student program between the North and South during the school holidays in order to promote better understanding between ethnic groups.

6.In Sri Lanka, all important documents, i.e., Birth Certificates, etc. must be in three languages: Sinhalese, Tamil, and English, so that no one feels left out. This should be implemented immediately.

7.) The Sangha must give any interested Tamil person the opportunity to become a Buddhist monk and nun if they so wish.

8.) A translation program must be initiated that makes the literature of the Sinhalese and Tamils available to both populations, encouraging an appreciation for both cultures. Multicultural programs of music, drama, and arts should be developed.

9.) Sports programs (e.g. cricket, football, etc.) must be developed to accept any participant, regardless of ethnicity. Team participation always develops closer understanding.

10. In order to improve the Government of Sri Lanka’s world image professional media and image-building public relations experts experienced in the area of international relations should be utilized.

This includes the overseas diplomatic missions. Expertise should not only be drawn from within the Sri Lankan community.

11. In order to avoid future terrorist attacks, cooperation from Sri Lanka’s neighbors must be secured. It should be pointed out to them that they are making themselves vulnerable to this type of terrorism by allowing weapons dealers to operate in their countries.

Tighter laws must be put in place against illegal weapons dealers, and there must be a tightening on international laws in regards to same. Regional associations of countries (e.g. S.A.A.R.C. and A.S.E.A.N.) need to develop strong policies against such dealings through cooperative government-to-government discussions.

12.) NGO’s that wish to function in Sri Lanka must apply and be vetted for any ulterior motives. NGO’s should be licensed and regulated, and adhere to a strict policy of non-interference in internal affairs of the State.

13.) Employment opportunities should be open to all and based on qualifications not political influence. There must be equal opportunities for all Sri Lankans.

14.) Initiate friendly discussions with the diplomatic missions in Colombo to insure fair hiring practices of locals for their staff. The goal would be to seek the end of employing exclusively one race over another.
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