President Maithripala Sirisena’s move to block what would have been the routine course of action following the throat-cutting gesture by Brigadier Priyanka Fernando, Minister Counsellor (Defence) in the Sri Lanka mission in London, has served to bring together the hitherto divided Tamil diaspora groups.
Although initially the decision was to suspend Fernando and hold an inquiry, the President revoked it. This has raised the ire of Tamil diaspora groups who have not talked to each other since the war ended and have spent years in bitter infighting. Sirisena’s decision has prompted them to come together for the first time since May 2009. They have decided to write a letter to the Foreign Secretary of the UK.
The joint letter is drafted by the highly renowned law firm Birnberg Peirce and Partners in the UK, Colombo Telegraph reliably leans. Gareth Peirce is a highly respected human rights lawyer and the law firm is known to take on high profile human rights cases.
The President has used the issue to stamp his ‘patriotic credentials’ perhaps in view of the forthcoming local government elections and low approval ratings.
Not to be outdone several ministers from the United National Party (UNP) have come out in support of the errant officer whose throat-cutting gesture at a demonstration by a Tamil organization on Independence Day caused a diplomatic furor.
Although Fernando’s status is not clear as yet, State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene praised Fernando for making the said gesture, claiming that ‘it was the right signal to pro-LTTE diaspora.’
Wijewardena told the Daily Mirror that although the Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had made a request to recall Fernando, “the President intervened and asked him to remain in the UK”.
The Minister of Plantation Industries Navin Dissanayake has written to two members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils Joan Ryan and Siobhain Ann McDonagh APPG for Tamils, condemning the two for supporting front organizations for the LTTE. Dissanayake claims that Fernando pointing to the lion emblem on the arm of his uniform was ‘to countenance the disgust he felt when he saw Tiger flags displayed before him.’
Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Finance and Media, who has not expressed opinions on the matter has complained to the Criminal Investigation Department that a letter purported to have been written by him to ‘The British Tamil Forum’ is being circulated in social media. The latter which erroneously has Samaraweera as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, carries assurances by Samaraweera to one T.R. Balu to the effect that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had requested President Sirisena to recall the Army officer.
The incident, which led to the protestors demanding action from British authorities, has created roughly two schools of thought in Sri Lanka, some demanding Fernando’s removal while others consider him a national hero. The latter has found resonance among Sinhala nationalists. The sudden outpouring of patriotic fervor by ministers and the President is likely a pitch to this voter-segment.