December 29, 2019

Daya Gamage worked at the American Embassy in Colombo, as the Sole Foreign Service National and a Political Specialist. He retired in 1994 and has been living in Las Vegas since retirement. After two years of concentration, he has been able to share his knowledge, understanding and his intimate professional association with the US Department of State in the form of a book titled – ‘Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America’. Being aware of how America’s foreign policy worked- sometimes in a strange manner, he has come out with an unbiased text full of data in his book nowhere else is contained. Daya Gamage has authorised the writer to ” to quote anything from his book” so that the readers will get a clear picture of America’s Foreign Policy, Sri Lanka’s National Issues and the LTTE struggle in depth. Gamage handles the United States Bureau of the Online daily newspaper Asian Tribune constantly making the readers knowledgeable of the U.S. foreign policy towards Third World Nations’ works. His book is available at Amazon.

Influenced by the misinformation and completely ignoring the Sri Lankan demography that the majority of Tamils who live in the Northern and Eastern provinces in Sri Lanka have endorsed a separate and an independent Tamil State in Sri Lanka during the 1977 parliamentary elections, the American FSOs (Foreign Service Officers) in Colombo incorporated into their ‘developed’ mind-set that the Federal Structure was the best to solve the nation’s national issues.  This was not since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009, but long before that.

As discussed in a future episode at length is the manner in which the concept of Tamil homeland and a separate governing entity for the minority Tamils in the Northern and Eastern provinces in Sri Lanka emerged. The concept was first brought forward by a Tamil political leader the late S.J.V. Chelvanayakam in 1947,  a couple of months before Ceylon ( formally Sri Lanka was known as)  gained independence from the British Colonial rule.


In 1999 Victor L. Tomseth, who was assistant secretary at the State Department in Washington  for South Asia in 1982 to 1984, was asked by Charles Stuart Kennedy for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training whether  they were “ involved at all in trying to moderate or do anything about the Tamil movement in Sri Lanka.” Tomseth confirmed that Washington and the Embassy in Colombo were fairly proactive in that…… But ‘we’ the US., were trying to do whatever we could to encourage some kind of a dialogue with the responsible Tamil political leaders and pushing on the Sri Lanka Government to think in terms of some kind of a structure through Federalism or Regionalism that would address many of the concerns that a lot of Tamils had, not just the radicals,” he declared. In the same interview he said the following:

“  The United States felt that there were some real grievances on the side of the Tamil Community. One way of addressing those grievances was through a greater degree of local autonomy in Tamil majority areas in the north and the east. I think that was a view that the US Government shared, that you could separate the portion of the Tamil community, which we thought was a fairly substantial majority if you would make some reasonable concessions in terms of greater local autonomy to Tamil majority regions. That too was part of the bilateral dialogue between the U.S and Sri Lanka governments.” Mr. Tomseth was later assigned to Colombo as the Deputy Chief of the American Mission, from 1984 to 1986.

R. Grant Smith, country director from 10985 to 1989 at the Near East and South Asia Bureau, who was in charge of the Sri Lanka Desk expressed similar sentiments in his 1999 interview with Mr. Kennedy ( http://adstr.org/wp-content/uoploads/2012/09/Ceylon-Sri-Lanka.pdf).

He was commenting on the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement signed by Sri Lanka president Jayawardena and Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in July 1987 in Colombo to which, the Regan White House publicly announced its endorsement. Grant said the following:

“ We assumed that Rajiv would not sign this agreement, which as I recall provided for a way that the Tamils would get a fair amount of autonomy within Sri Lanka. We certainly saw that the Sri Lankan Government had a long way to go in the sense of providing some sort of local autonomy, and my recollection is that the agreement went in that direction and seemed like a good thing because this seemed to be the only way that it could be. We got a lot of criticism on because the U.S government strongly supported that agreement.

Very progressively building the American perspective towards Sri Lanka’s national issues and establishing a mind-set in the 1980s and 1990s, Washington and the FSOs in the American Embassy in Colombo jointly addressed the issue of the Tamils left behind-discrimination-Sinhala hegemony; direct quotes are available.

The Deputy Chief of the Mission in Colombo between 1984-1986, Victor Tomseth told how the Tamils were left behind due to the Jayawardena regime’s open economic. Policies year (http://adstr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Ceylon -Sri-Lanka.pdf) and there was a real transformation in terms of the economic life of the country, which probably……..  The causes of this ethnic problem in Sri Lanka are very longstanding. But rapid economic development probably exacerbated the situation in many senses, the Tamils in the traditional  Tamil areas of the North and East were being left behind by this rapid economic change that tended to be concentrated in Colombo and in the South West of the Island.


This was a half-truth. The liberalised economy adopted by the Jayawardene Administration between 1977 and 1988 affected the Tamil agricultural sector as much as the Sinhala agricultural regions in the South. Both sectors grew Sri Lanka’s premier agricultural produce like potatoes, onions, and green peppers when the Jayawardene regime’s trade liberalization policy imported these three items in excess of what is required, adversely affecting the farming community of both the Tamils and Sinhalese.

Frank D. Correl was the USAID Mission Director in Sri Lanka from 1984 to 1986. In his interview with Haven North on September 29, 1990, he revealed that the Foreign Affairs Oral History Project of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training aptly reflected the sentiments of the US FSOs who were stationed at the Mission in Colombo in 1980s and 1990s and their counterparts in Washington, who fed policymakers in the administration and lawmakers in Congress stories about how the Tamil minority received a raw deal in Sri Lanka. (http://adst.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Ceylon-Sri-Lanka.pdf).

The insurrection had started not quite a year earlier, It was a manifestation of feeling by the more militant Tamils that they were getting an unfair deal from the majority of Sinhalese. During the British period, peace had been maintained in the country by sort of sharing of power. The British relied on Tamils to quite a substantial degree in administrative positions and the Tamils had achieved considerable prominence in economic affairs. In the late 1950s, the more conservative party that had dominated Ceylonese politics, even before the Independence, lost the election to a coalition government headed by a man who was nominally socialist, but in actual fact was a very staunch Sinhala nationalist, Prime Minister S.W.R.D Bandaranaike, who proceeded to introduce legislation to give greater power to the Sinhalese at the cost of the Tamils. From that moment on, there was considerable racial tension in Sri Lanka, which from time to time manifested itself in armed clashes and uprisings.

Daya Gamage remembered how the Ambassador, Edward Marks, the  Deputy Chief of  the Colombo mission (DCM) in 19086 to 1989 was one of the American diplomats who contributed to the development of the mind-set when he uttered the interviewer Charles Stuart Kennedy on 12 August 1996:

Ambassador Edwards Mark’s interpretation.

“ Yes, we supported the J.R. government, particularly in terms of his economic policy. We, of course, supported Sri Lanka’s democratic tradition. We were essentially opposed to the Sinhalese insurgency movement, because it was rather Maoist in character, although we were sympathetic to the problem of unemployed youth. We were not very sympathetic or supportive of the Tamil separatist rebellion, both because of its ethnic separatism and its violence. We took the view that while the Tamil community, which is about 15 per cent of the country, had legitimate grievances, they were not severe enough to justify the taking up of arms. Also, we felt that they were still functioning in a democratic enough society, which still offered political ways to deal with these problems. By 1985 to 1986, the Tamil insurgency movement had a shakeout and one group was now in charge: Tamil Tigers headed by a guy called Prabhakaran. He was, and still is, obviously a very talented guerrilla leader but was very bloodthirsty. We were not too sympathetic to his movement and his tactics, although we were sympathetic to some of the Tamil concerns.

The Sri Lankan Tamils had played the tradition of the Colonial role of the outcast elite. They had done exceptionally well in the colonial period and naturally wanted to continue their prominence after the Independence.(for instance, 50% of the Permanent Secretaries at Independence to the nation were Tamils). However, the Sinhala majority was obviously not going to permit this, and the Independence negotiations were very concerned with the competition between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. That competition continued after the Independence and produced a very complicated internal political situation in the country – the traditional divide between left and right complicated by the tension between the Tamils and Sinhalese (http://adst.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Ceylon-Sri-Lanka.pdf).

curtesy: Daya Gamage – “ Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America”

To be continued: American Ambassador Ashley Wills’ active role with Norwegians

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