Daya Gamage worked at the American Embassy in Colombo, as the Sole Foreign Service National and as a Political Specialist with Dr Robert Boggs, who in recent times served as Professor of South Asian Studies at the Near East South Asia Centre for Strategic Studies at US National Defence University, from 1989 to 1993. Dr Boggs was the Foreign Service Political Counsellor, while Daya Gamage was the Foreign Service National Political Specialist. Both of them were the Colombo Diplomatic Mission’s key persons who closely monitored the Southern (JVP-88-89) insurrection and the North’s LTTE separatist-terrorist movement for the U.S. State Department. Daya Gamage retired in 1994 and has been living in Las Vegas since retirement. Sharing his knowledge, understanding and his intimate professional association with the US Department of State he has come out in the form of a book ‘Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America. He assures that facts found in his book cannot be found anywhere else! Daya Gamage 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. His book is available at Amazon.
continuation of series: EXTRACTS FROM TAMIL TIGERS’ DEBT TO AMERICA‘
When Jeffrey Lunstead was the US State Department’s envoy to Sri Lanka in 2003-2006, he lived through totally different regimes with contrasting outlooks, pro-Western Wickremesinghe- Kumaratunga and the nationalist-orientated Mahinda Rajapaksa regime ( installed in November 2005) with a strong indigenous agenda sceptical of the moves of the West. It was during his tenure that Ambassador Lunstead endeavoured to convince the Sri Lanka administration and foreign diplomats stationed in Colombo how indispensable the Tamil Tigers were, and underscored the importance of a political solution.
The “ peace process” during the tenure (2001-2004) of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s government, which initiated the 2002 cease-fire agreement was given tacit approval by the then Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage. The Deputy Secretary was drawn into the process by Sri Lankan Ambassador to Washington Davinda Subasinghe, who was the prime minister’s personal friend. Jeffrey Lunstead and his American FSOs in Colombo Embassy believed strongly at all times that according to Jeffrey Lunstead’s own words, “ The US opposes all terrorist groups, but all such groups are not equal in the extent to which they threaten U.S. interests directly. He expressed his sentiments in his scholarly paper to the Asia Foundation, which Daya Gamage has extensively.
What emerged since the 2009 defeat of the Tigers and subsequent actions in UNHRC as the central theme of the US policy towards Sri Lanka was clearly displayed in 2007 when Jeffrey Lunstead declared in his forty-eight-page paper to the Asia Foundation entitled “ The United States Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process, 2002-2006, as follows:
48 Page Paper submitted to Asia Foundation by Jeffrey Lunstead
“ The US clearly differentiates between an elected government in a society with multiple centres of power and channels for redress grievances, on the one hand; and authoritarian terrorist organisation, which ruthlessly suppresses dissent on the other. However, if the Government of Sri Lanka does not take action to improve an increasingly difficult human rights situation, and show that it is ready to make the dramatic political changes necessary to meet the legitimate Tamil grievances, U.S. support may well diminish. The concern in the U.S. Congress over these issues is already apparent, and will grow if the human rights situation continues to deteriorate and the GSL shows no signs of a serious political strategy.”
What Daya Gamage has reiterated the issues Ambassador Lunstead raised in his scholarly paper on Sri Lankan issues: (1) Tamil Tiger terrorism,(2) Peace process,( 3) Tamil grievances,(4) Tamil Tiger participation in a political solution,(5) US interests, and (6) Economic Assistance, his stated judgments, and US positions in the context of the newly emerged scenario in Sri Lanka. His previous projections for a new era for the country with Tamil Tiger participation in a devolved statehood was also noted in the scholarly paper.
Scrutinising Ambassador Lunstead’s observation.
Daya Gamage scrutinises Jeffrey Lunstead’s observations, projections and opinions expressed in his 48-page study in May 2007, to the overall scenario that emerged in Sri Lanka in 2009.
Focusing on Lunstead’s role in the peace process since the inception of its phase-in late 2001 through 2006. The study was conducted over a two-month period in October and November 2006. It involved interviews with a wide range of participants in the peace process from the US Government, other countries, the Government of Sri Lanka, and other relevant entities, such as multilateral development banks. It was based heavily on his own experience as US Ambassador to Sri Lanka from August 2003 through to July 2006.
Jeffrey Lunstead observed in his May 2007 paper that “ the US has made it clear that despite the designation of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, it believed peace could only be achieved by a process that involved the LTTE.”
Ambassador very clearly says in his report that the United States has no significant strategic interests in Sri Lanka, “ certainly in comparison to other areas of enhanced U.S. engagement.”
Here’s what he wrote in the study, which can be considered a reflection of the USG policy plank towards Sri Lanka:
“ The U.S. has no significant strategic interests in Sri Lanka, certainly in comparison to other areas of enhanced U.S. engagement. If the U.S. developed anything approaching a strategic interest in Sri Lanka, it derived from the feeling in the post-September 11, 2001 world that the threat from terrorism had to be confronted globally and that the governments facing terrorist threats should cooperate against them. Even though the LTTE had never targeted Americans, the simple fact of the LTTE’s status as a designated terrorist organisation under U.S. law brought the two countries closer together. The U.S provided assistance on global terrorism issues, to which Sri Lanka responded willingly. For example, The U.S. treasury experts on terrorism financing visited several times to work with the Government on strengthening the Sri Lanka financial system’s ability to cut off terrorist financing flows. While this might be considered a strategic interest, it was also limited by the fact that the LTTE is essentially a local Sri Lankan phenomenon with no clear ties to other terrorist groups with a worldwide reach.
Daya Gamage states that ‘ we need to make two things clear’:
- Lunstead says, “The US aided on global terrorism issues, to which Sri Lanka responded willingly. For example, US treasury experts on terrorism financing visited Sri Lanka several times to work with the government on strengthening the Sri Lanka financial system’s ability to cut off terrorist financing flows.”
Without the endorsement of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe allowed the use of Sri Lanka’s premier international airport at Katunayake for the US “ Extra-ordinary rendition programme”
The United States in her Global War on terrorism (GWOT) got effective assistance from other countries to cut off terrorist financing flow that helped secure the American homeland. The endeavour helped the United States to safeguard it. Without the endorsement of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe allowed the use of Sri Lanka’s premier international airport at Katunayake for the US “ Extra-ordinary rendition programme” in which those in CIA custody for alleged international terrorism were transferred to other countries that used torture in their “ enhanced interrogation programme.
- The former American ambassador categorically stated that the LTTE had never targeted the Americans or the US interests and that the LTTE was a Sri Lankan phenomenon.
Lunstead clearly moved Sri Lanka away from GWOT agenda of the United States to describe the Tamil Tigers as “ essentially a local Sri Lanka phenomenon.” It is in this context that Lunstead, as the US envoy to Sri Lanka, the US State Department, prominent and influential US Congressmen like Mr.Kerry, who was chairing the Senate foreign-relations committee before he became Obama’s Secretary of State in 2013, and other global power centres have considered LTTE terrorism and minority Tamil grievances as interconnected issues to lead Sri Lanka on a path of a political solution with an effective participation of the LTTE.
The outfit during its terror campaign was instrumental in lobbying the Western world about unsolved Tamil minority grievances. This influenced Ambassador Lunstead to declare, “ The U.S. has made it clear that despite the designation of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, it believes peace can only be achieved by a process that involves the LTTE.” In this context Lunstead wrote the following:
“ If the GSL did not act to improve an increasingly difficult human rights situation, and show that it is ready to make the drama political changes necessary to meet legitimate Tamil grievances, U.S. support may well diminish. The concern in the U.S Congress over these issues is already apparent, and will grow if the human rights situation continues to deteriorate and the GSL shows no signs of a serious political strategy.”
pic credit: Sangam & Google photos