The government reaction to the police shooting at a violent protest at Rambukkana on April 19, 2022, undermined the overall security posture. Repeated US interventions, HRCSL (Human Rights Commission) action as well as the position taken by some members of the Bar Association demoralized the police and the military. That was the only death caused by police/military shooting during the entire protest campaign. Those who now question the failure on the part of the military on May 09 and July 09 conveniently forgot how the government responded to the Rambukkana shooting. Therefore, the decision on the part of the National Freedom Front (NFF) to present ‘Nine: The Hidden Story’ to the two daughters of the protester who died in the Rambukkana shooting surprised quite a number of people, including the writer, at the well-attended book launch.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
US Ambassador to Colombo Julie J. Chung tweeted: “I am disappointed that an MP has made baseless allegations and spread outright lies in a book that should be labelled ‘fiction’. For 75 years, the US and SL have shared commitments to democracy, sovereignty, and prosperity – a partnership and future we continue to build together.”
Ambassador Chung was responding to explosive accusations made by National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, at the launch of ‘Nine: The Hidden Story’ at Sri Lanka Foundation on the evening of April 25. The American responded within 24 hours.
Displaying a 133 page book written in Sinhala, one-time minister Weerawansa discussed the US role in President Gotabaya Rajapaksas’s removal and their current strategy that involved some projects targeting Parliament. It must be noted that the US Ambassador must be having a super-fast translator to translate that book into English, in a matter of a few hours. Therefore, the bone of contention is whether the US, in fact, conducted the regime change operation as it had done elsewhere, as alleged by lawmaker Weerawansa.
Chung presented her credentials to the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at Janadhipathi Mandiraya on February 25, 2022, just over a month before public anger exploded, opposite the President’s private residence, at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, possibly incited by interested parties, as happened in Libya, in the lead up to the staged ouster of Gaddafi by Western powers. President Rajapaksa was flanked by State Foreign Minister Tharaka Balasuriya and Gamini Senarath, Secretary to the President. But, by the time Chung took over the US mission here, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration was in serious trouble. The Rajapaksas quite wrongly felt that the situation could be somewhat stabilized by replacing Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, who functioned as the Secretary to the President.
Gamini Senarath was brought in on January 19, 2022. though President Gotabaya Rajapaksa preferred senior public servant Anura Dissanayake. This was disclosed by Derana Chief, Dilith Jayaweera, at one time, one of the closest associates of ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in a YouTube interview, with Eraj Weeraratne, recently.
By the time Chung succeeded Alaina B. Teplitz, the architect of the controversial deal with US-based firm New Fortress Energy, finalized close to midnight on September 17, 2021, the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) was rapidly moving towards inflicting grave injury on the coalition. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sacked Ministers Wimal Weerawansa and Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila on March 03, 2022, over their protests against the deal with the US firm. Weerawansa is on record as having alleged that they were sacked by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the behest of his brother Basil Rajapaksa, Minister of finance. Vasudeva Nanayakkara, who joined Weerawansa and Gammanpila to move the Supreme Court against the New Fortress deal, thereafter boycotted the Cabinet.
In the run-up to the Pangiriwatte flare-up, the United States’ notorious regime change guru, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland. arrived in Colombo. Her delegation included Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Amanda Dory. Ambassador Chung joined the visiting delegation when a meeting took place with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat on March 23, 2022.
The stage was set for an operation to oust President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. But, according to Weerawansa, National List MP Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP leader was not to be the beneficiary of the US project, according to the original plot hatched by them.
A clandestine meet
The crux of the matter is Weerawansa’s assertion that Chung put immense pressure on Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to accept the Office of the President, consequent to President Gotabaya Rajapaksas’s resignation. Weerawansa declared that the US envoy visited the Speaker, unannounced, at his official residence, amidst protesters’ bid to take control of Parliament. The MP’s statement that the Speaker hadn’t been aware of Ambassador Chung’s arrival at his official residence, until she walked in, is astonishing.
Speaker Abeywardena never contradicted Weerawansa’s claim though Ambassador Chung swiftly and totally rejected Weerawansa’s work ‘Nine: The Hidden Story.’ Speaker Abeywardena, for some reason, remains stone silent so far, even though Weerawansa, at the book launch, acknowledged the possibility of the Matara District lawmaker denying his claim.
If MP Weerawansa lied through his teeth, as alleged by Ambassador Chung, why is Speaker Abeywardena remaining silent? Did the clandestine visit actually take place? Would Ambassador Chung have gone to the extent of assuring Speaker Abeywardena that he could assume presidency, contrary to the Constitution, without specific instructions/approval of the US State Department?
In case Speaker Abeywardena quickly denied MP Weerawansa’s claim, immediately after Ambassador Chung’s denial, or before Weerawansa’s book came out, it would have been thrown to the dustbin.
Those who dismissed MP Weerawansa’s shocking claims, pertaining to the US project here, should be concerned about Speaker Abeywardena’s response. If the Speaker remains silent, to protect a lawmaker propagating lies, the Matara District MP, too, should be held accountable for the destabilization caused.
Perhaps, one of the most exciting chapters dealt with the rapid developments that took place immediately after a disappointed Ambassador Chung left the Speaker’s residence. Having seen a contingent of over 100 Special Forces troops in the Speaker’s compound, a much agitated Speaker Abeywardena contacted the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was at Army Headquarters at Pelawatte, Battaramulla. Following consultations with Premier Wickremesinghe, Speaker Abeywardena had left the compound, from a gate in the rear, and sought refuge at Army headquarters where the PM and military top brass viewed aerial footage of the mayhem. Live drone coverage included footage of protesters setting Premier Wickremesinghe’s house, near Royal College, ablaze.
Did Speaker Abeywardena visit Army headquarters, on the evening of July 09, 2022, and subsequently moved to a safe location, close to the Ratmalana airport, provided by the Air Force, as claimed by MP Weerawansa?
As disclosed by MP Weerawansa, did Speaker Abeywardena issue all statements pertaining to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation, and related matters, from the safe house, provided by the Air Force?
The government should respond to MP Weerawansa’s published allegations and set the record straight, if the NFF leader propagated lies. Actually, Speaker Abeywardena should have raised a privilege issue if a lawmaker pursued such a destructive political project, at the expense of Sri Lanka’s relations with the US. Regardless of accountability issues, raised by the US since the successful conclusion of the war, in May 2009, to Washington’s dislike. The US, however, did facilitate the destruction of the LTTE’s sea supply chain by divulging specific US intelligence on the positioning of floating LTTE arsenals, on the high seas, during the last phase of the war, that enabled the Navy to deliver a knockout blow to the Tigers, in international waters, at a crucial time for the overall combined forces fight to end the LTTE terror menace.
In case of a second print of ‘Nine: The Hidden Story,’ Weerawansa should examine whether Speaker Abeywardena had revealed Ambassador Chung’s sudden appearance, at his residence, on the evening of July 09, and the controversial offer made to install him as President of an interim administration, when he called Premier Wickremesinghe, from his official residence. If not, did Speaker Abeywardena brief Premier Wickremesinghe of the unexpected development when they met at Army headquarters shortly thereafter?
Speaker Abeywardena should unreservedly earn the respect of all Lankans for turning down the US underhand offer to facilitate a complete regime change. Regardless of whatever shortcomings and failures on his part, lawmaker Abeywardena thwarted plan ‘A’ designed to install an interim administration, under the Speaker’s leadership. For how long can Speaker Abeywardena remain non-committal as MP Weerawansa repeats accusations?
India’s role and plan ‘B’
Can MP Weerawansa substantiate accusations directed at New Delhi? The former JVP firebrand claim that India sought to replace Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa with Basil Rajapaksa in response to growing public protest campaigns cannot be taken at face value. Similarly, Weerawansa’s other unsubstantiated assertion that India declined to deploy an aircraft to take President Rajapaksa, and the first lady, out of Sri Lanka to their safety, consequent to the President’s refusal to sack Premier Wickremesinghe before he himself resigned, has to be proved. Weerawansa boldly claimed that India made its position clear to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, through Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington, Mahinda Samarasinghe, and High Commissioner in New Delhi, Milinda Moragoda. Regardless of the President’s refusal, Gamini Senerath, the then Secretary to the President, forwarded two letters -one the President’s resignation letter and the other that dealt with Premier Wickremesinghe’s removal – for approval. Did such a drama really take place? If Weerawansa propagated blatant lies, in a bid to cause further chaos, those who have been identified by name, as part of the US-India conspiracy, should contradict the NFF leader. It would be pertinent to mention that Samarasinghe and Moragoda represented in Parliament and served Cabinet-of-Ministers, under President Mahinda Rajapaksa, both notable turncoats after having crossed over from the UNP.
Weerawansa’s assumption that both the US and India wanted to thwart Wickremesinghe shouldn’t go uninvestigated. The plan ‘A’, designed to be implemented, envisaged an interim administration, under the leadership of Speaker Abeywardena. Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, MP, has lambasted Weerawansa, in Parliament, for implicating him, as well as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Shavendra Silva in the alleged conspiracy. Denying his role or that of the serving military in the alleged conspiracy to oust President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the war-winning Army Commander questioned the very basis of the former Minister’s claims. Fonseka, who contested the 2010 presidential election, challenging his former Commander in Chief President Mahinda Rajapaksa, with the backing of the US, as revealed by Wikileaks, obviously attempted to denigrate Weerawansa by claiming to recall how subservient Weerawansa had been during the time he served as the Commander of the Army.
Weerawansa referred to Field Marshal by name when he addressed the gathering at the book launch, though the name was not mentioned in ‘Nine: The Hidden Story.’
India hasn’t responded to Weerawansa’s accusations. In fact, except for Ambassador Chung, the only other person to call MP Weerawansa a liar was Sarath Fonseka whose Army brought the LTTE down to its knees in May 2009. But, that wouldn’t have been possible without the extraordinary contribution made by the Navy and the Air Force, and the valiant sacrifices of the battle hardened soldiers, and their frontline commanders, who took the fight to the LTTE. We grant, as someone has said, Fonseka is the type of commander with a sixth sense that a country gets once in a thousand years, but it was wrong of him to claim the victory trophy, single handedly, after it was won by the sacrifices of so many.
Weerawansa has explained that in the wake of the US failure to convince Speaker Abeywardena to assume the leadership, the superpower, and India, were compelled to implement plan ‘B’ with Wickremesinghe. Perhaps a wider examination of the entire gamut of issues, beginning with the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, is necessary to ascertain what is going on in the ‘land like no other.’
In hindsight it can be recalled that a section of the media jumped the gun and quite confidently, and conveniently, reported simultaneous resignations of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, on July 10, 2022. So how such clairvoyant reports did come to be written unless there were in fact a sinister plot in progress, but it buckled because of the decency of the Speaker and his commitment to do what is right?
Colombo based The Hindu correspondent Meera Srinivasan, in an online report, posted on May 10, 2022, and updated on the following day, headlined ‘Sri Lanka parties scramble to form all party govt,’ with strapline ‘Rajapaksas’ parliamentary majority, public anger with political class complicates exercise’ dealt with resignation of the President and the Prime Minister. Srinivasan declared that both the President and Prime Minister agreed to resign after party leaders asked for their resignations at a meeting chaired by Speaker Abeywardena. The Hindu correspondent added: “Party leaders met on Saturday in a discussion convened by the Speaker. They sought the immediate resignation of the President and the Prime Minister, agreed that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena be made Acting President as per the Constitution, after which Parliament be convened to elect a President from among its members, to pave the way for an interim, all-party government. A flurry of political meetings followed on Sunday.”
Anurada Herath, in a report headlined ‘Speaker should become Acting President – Watagala’ posted on July 13, 2022, confirmed the push for Speaker Abeywardena’s elevation as the Acting President. JVP Central Committee Member, Attorney-at-Law Sunil Watagala was quoted as having said that if Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe has an iota of sense, he should not allow the political turmoil to drag on and instead should pave the way for the Speaker to become the Acting President.
Hong Kong flag on the protest ground
MP Weerawansa, in his foreword, disclosed hitherto unreported Chinese intervention to prevent the displaying of the Hong Kong flag at the Galle Face protest site, on May 09, 2022, the first day of the ‘Gota Go Gama’ campaign. Comparing the Maidan revolution, launched in Ukraine in February, 2014, with the Western project here, lawmaker Weerawansa questioned the displaying of the Hong Kong flag. Can the lawmaker substantiate his assertion that Western powers planned to unleash protest campaigns in Hong Kong in the wake of their Colombo operation.
Following the Chinese Embassy intervention, ‘Gota Go Gama’ organizers stopped the displaying of the Hong Kong flag.
Maidan violence, instigated by the US, followed a similar wave of protests, beginning November, 2013, when the then President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement. Throughout the Maidan uprising, a protest camp occupied Independence Square in central Kyiv.
MP Weerawansa’s declaration that the Galle Face protest campaign should be examined taking into consideration Maidan uprising is of significant importance. The MP underscored the need to educate the younger generation of foreign-funded operations/agendas.
Weerawansa and those who really believe in the much touted conspiracy theory/theories should keep in their minds Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration created an environment conducive for such a devious project. ‘Gota Go Gama’ strategy relied on the ruination of the economy. Gotabaya Rajapaksa caused his own downfall and ruined the economy as a result of a spate of ill-advised, ill-fated, and reckless decisions.
Who really advised the President to change the country’s agriculture policy (April/May, 2021)? Overnight, in his capacity as the head of the Cabinet, President Rajapaksa banned the use of chemical fertilisers and other agro chemicals. The foolish decision on the use of chemical fertilisers, followed unprecedented tax cuts (November 2019). In between, Sri Lanka lost an opportunity to reach consensus with the IMF for a bailout package as a result of its decision to go ahead with an unprecedented tax cut that deprived the Treasury of as much as Rs 600 bn (March/April 2020) in vital revenue, at a very crucial time.
The economy couldn’t endure such short-sighted policies, particularly against the backdrop of the devastation caused by the April 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, followed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, Weerawansa refrained from speculating the possibility of external hand in influencing ill-fated decisions. Disclosure of an utterly corrupt decision to reduce Rs. 50 tax on a kilo of imported sugar to 25 cents, on October 13, 2020, too, contributed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s downfall. The government fiercely defended it, both in and out of Parliament. Regardless of repeated assurances, the SLPP failed to pursue the Treasury bond scams perpetrated, in February 2015, and March 2016, thereby causing rapid erosion of public confidence. And, finally, unbridled corruption, at every level, and the pathetic failure on the part of the government to address accusations pertaining to the Easter Sunday massacre and the continuing China-Quad battle created the perfect environment for the President’s ouster.