New Defence Secretary General Shantha Kottegoda today said that he can’t give an assurance to the effect that there will be no ‘American boots on the ground’ but added he hopes it will not come to that.
Kottegoda made the statement this morning at his first TV interview, when he was questioned by Bandula Jayasekara on whether Kottegoda, in his capacity as the Defence Secretary is able to assure there would be no U.S. boots on the ground, in response to growing fears in the country about possible arrival of American troops to Sri Lanka.
“I cannot guarantee that there will be no ‘boots on the ground, but I hope it won’t get to that… Anyhow, we have studied and analyzed some of these contentious agreements and due concerns about certain points have been raised with relevant authorities,” he added.
Kottegoda said he believes the upcoming Defence agreement with the US – SOFA/VFA; Status or Visiting Forces Agreement – that has been a subject of contention for the past few months, must be tabled before the Cabinet and then the Parliament, before signing it.
“Then only we can ensure it would be for the betterment of the country and ensure it does not impose any concerns or threats to the territorial integrity of the country,” the new Defense Secretary added.
He went on to state that Sri Lanka does not need foreign armies and although foreign armies maybe equipped with the latest technologies, none can match up to the experience of the Lankan troops.
“Our military is well equipped to take care of our security, Sri Lanka does not need foreign armies – Sri Lanka must be very wary in signing such agreements,” he added.
The SOFA/ VFA between Sri Lanka and the US has been a hot topic of debate for the past few months. The US has been accused of attempting to manipulate Sri Lanka into signing a defence pact that is partial to America as opposed to both parties receiving equal benefits. Critics have also pointed out that the clause demanding diplomatic status to all U.S. military personnel and open navigation and travel routes through the country to all US military vehicles, aircrafts and ships that would visit Sri Lanka, will be a threat to territorial integrity and national security of the country.
Weekly print outlet, the Sunday Times, in their political columns over the past few weeks has also been writing extensively on influence exerted by Americans behind the scenes to ensure the speedy signing of the agreement in secret. Among Sri Lanka Government officials named by the columns as those who push American agendas forward was former Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam and former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
Colombo Telegraph also learns that former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Atul Keshap was keen on seeing former Foreign Ministry employee Mahishini Colonne – close associate of both Prasad and Mangala – being appointed the Defence Secretary. Mahishini at present holds a position in the Finance Ministry.
The plans however fell through.
Last week UPFA MP and former Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said despite concerns raised by all stakeholders including military commanders, the government is preparing to sign the SOFA during Secretary Mike Pompeo’s visit to Sri Lanka next week. (By Purnima Ranawaka)