SL expresses outrage to US envoy

  • Teplitz summoned by Foreign Minister
  • MCC review at risk
  • Cabinet to discuss matter

By Easwaran Rutnam

The Sri Lankan Government expressed outrage to the US Government over moves to ban current Commander of the Sri Lanka Army and Acting Chief of Defence Staff Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, even before the formal announcement was made by the US, The Sunday Morning learnt.

The US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina B. Teplitz had called on Foreign Affairs Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha on Friday (14) and informed him of a decision to  ban Silva.

When contacted, Foreign Secretary Aryasinha confirmed to The Sunday Morning that the meeting took place on  Friday (14).

Aryasinha had explained the Government position on the allegations against Silva and its objections to a ban on him.

The Sunday Morning learnt that Ambassador Teplitz has been summoned for a discussion by Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena today (16).

When contacted by The Sunday Morning, the US Embassy in Colombo confirmed that the Ambassador had met the Foreign Affairs Secretary on Friday. The Embassy however did not comment on the specific discussion the Ambassador had with regard to the Army Commander. “The Ambassador and Foreign (Affairs) Secretary discussed a range of issues that represent the breadth of the US-Sri Lanka relationship,” the US Embassy said.

Government sources told The Sunday Morning that the ban was likely to have a serious impact on relations between the US and Sri Lanka.

The most likely casualty from the ban is expected to be the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement which is under review. Sources said that the Government is unlikely to approve the deal unless and until the US ban on the Army Commander is lifted. A committee appointed by the Government is currently reviewing the agreement and is scheduled to submit a report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Cabinet is also expected to discuss the implications of the ban on US-Sri Lanka relations when it meets this week. The US however said that it hopes the relationship between Sri Lanka and the US will remain strong.

“The United States remains committed to strengthening the bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka, including on defence and security, to promote peace, prosperity, and stability throughout the region,” the US Embassy stated.

On Friday, US Secretary of State Pompeo announced that Silva had been designated as required under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programmes Appropriations Act, due to credible information of his involvement, through command responsibility, in gross violations of human rights, namely extrajudicial killings, by the 58th Division of the Sri Lanka Army during the final phase of Sri Lanka’s Civil War in 2009.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry later issued a press release saying the Government of Sri Lanka takes strong objection to the imposition of travel restrictions on Lt. Gen. Silva and his immediate family members by the US Government based on independently unverified information. The Government reiterated that Lt. Gen. Silva was appointed as the Commander of the Army by the then Head of State (Maithripala Sirisena), taking into account his seniority and that there were no substantiated or proven allegations of human rights violations against him. The statement said that his elevation as the Acting Chief of Defence Staff by the current Head of State President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was on account of Silva being the seniormost serving military officer.