We shouldn’t deviate from non-aligned policy: Dinesh Gunawardena

By Skandha Gunasekara

United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Parliamentarian Dinesh Gunawardena condemned the Government for attempting to enter into the Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US.

Below are excerpts of his interview with The Sunday Morning:

Does Sri Lanka need to enter into an agreement such as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)?

Sri Lanka is in a peaceful environment after the defeat of the LTTE. So we don’t need to deviate from our non-aligned foreign policy under which we have continuously avoided any agreement with any military blocks or powers. That is where we should be.

So you believe Sri Lanka doesn’t need the SOFA?

Sri Lanka does not need any such special military agreement because of its respected non-aligned policy that it has followed right through.

Will Sri Lanka’s sovereignty be violated through this agreement which has clauses giving diplomatic immunity to all US personnel based in the island under the agreement?

It is so. That is why after independence our government took steps took abrogate and took back powers of the Trincomalee naval base and the Katunayake airforce base from the Royal Air force.

Many developed nations, such as Japan and South Korea, who host foreign military personnel under SOFA have repeatedly raised concerns over the agreement, particularly about the immunity of foreign servicemen from local laws. How can Sri Lanka avoid such problems?

Sri Lanka will be forced to abide by the agreement it enters into by allowing foreign troops to be under their own jurisdiction. If Sri Lanka allows any agreement of this nature, foreign troops that land will have their own law in application.

But isn’t the US benefiting from the SOFA, especially when one considers the strategic importance of Sri Lanka to the US?

All throughout the history of Sri Lanka, it has been a strategically important island in the Indian Ocean.That’s why the Portuguese wanted to take over and then the Dutch came and finally the British came. Ever since the end of the Second World War, the new world military powers have always shown interest in Sri Lanka because it is strategically located in the maritime lanes of the Indian Ocean.

So the US would benefit more than Sri Lanka?

We need not go for any such special agreements. Sri Lanka has maintained friendly relations with all countries whether it’s the US, neighbouring India, or any other Asian country. So why should we get into special engagements for which it would be difficult for Sri Lanka to adopt and follow its non-aligned policy.

Wouldn’t entering into agreements such as the SOFA further entangle Sri Lanka in the geopolitics of superpowers such as China and the US?

Definitely. Neither the Sri Lankan people nor the Parliament have given consent to the Government to sign the agreement. It will drag us into unnecessary situations.

Does the Government need Parliament’s approval to enter into such agreements?

The Government has to get parliamentary approval if the country’s sovereignty and independence as well as our economic independence is to be adhered to and followed. No personal agreements of a head of state, prime minister, or minister can stand in the way of a sovereign and independent country.

What is the position of the Opposition on this agreement?

The Opposition has questioned this agreement and have demanded that the Government place it before Parliament so that the members of Parliament as well as the people of this country would know what the clauses and what the agreement entails.