NGOs should back off from Sri Lanka

THE main thrust of Gordon Weiss’s attack against the Sri Lankan government (The Australian, February 22) is to dismiss the situation analysed objectively by the visit of Julie Bishop, the Liberal Party’s deputy leader.

Having got the inconvenient facts out of his way, he cites the report of the International Crisis Group, produced in distant New York, as the acceptable analysis of the current situation in Sri Lanka.

Weiss then proceeds to demand regime change of the elected government of Sri Lanka as the panacea for all ills. To say “only upheaval can stem flow from Sri Lanka” is to encourage a violent, sudden change and disruption in my country from thousands of kilometres away.

It is not acceptable.

The shortest reply is to quote Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who told his diplomats recently: “We are running a foreign policy for a nation-state; not for a non-governmental organisation.” International NGOs that pose as all-knowing problem-solvers have invariably worsened conflict and post-conflict zones.

In most cases, they have become a part of the problem instead of being the solution. As Greg Sheridan wrote recently: “Some NGOs may not like Carr’s approach on Sri Lanka, but it is right, morally and in terms of Australia’s national interest.”

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the most popular elected leader of Sri Lanka since its independence. That he should be changed for an unknown entity is highly questionable.

Besides, those who propose to destroy today for a new tomorrow should know precisely what will surface after midnight. That is the lesson of the Middle East.

To some international NGOs, the idea of democracy seems totally disconnected from the universally accepted government of the people, by the people, for the people. Sri Lankan democracy has survived a right-wing coup, two left-wing uprisings, and the longest-running terrorist war in Asia. This is because Sri Lanka is rooted in democratic traditions.

The opposition spokesman on immigration, Scott Morrison, who visited Sri Lanka, argued convincingly that boatpeople are economic refugees and not political refugees. Fear-mongering goes to the extreme of drawing scenarios of an apocalyptic end in which a fourth bloody civil war erupts leading to a flood of boatpeople. That is done when one does not have an understanding of the realities.

After 33 years of terrorism, Sri Lankans are opting for the benefits of the rapid economic recovery that was witnessed by Senator Carr and Ms Bishop. Australia has extended its fullest support to Sri Lanka to host this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Critics of Sri Lanka cannot substantiate their figures. For instance, Weiss has quoted a figure of 40,000 Tamils killed “mostly by government forces”in the final few months of the conflict. Who counted the bodies for the UN in the middle of a raging war on terror? In fact, the house-to-house census to count the missing was conducted by Sri Lankan Tamil teachers and sundry public officers in the region under UN-approved guidelines.

If Australia sends troops to one of its territories for security reasons, is that an occupation force? Every inch of Sri Lanka belongs to all Sri Lankans and the state has the right to station its forces in any part of the island. An occupation force moves in forcibly to take over foreign territory. Is the north of Sri Lanka a foreign territory?

We expect the critics of Sri Lanka to have a better understanding of the realities before delivering a tirade against Sri Lanka — a nation recovering from a deadly war against Tamil Tiger terrorists who, according to the calculations of the Tamil leaders, killed more Tamils than all the other forces put together.

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Bandula Jayasekara is consul-general of Sri Lanka for NSW and Queensland.

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