US Ambassador’s disingenuous statement on SOFA

24 July 2019 12:50 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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I write in response to US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz’s comments in the article headlined ‘US wants military cooperation pact with SL to tackle red tape’ published in the Daily Mirror of July 2. In my opinion, the envoy’s comments are an insult to the intelligence of Sri Lankan people owing to the following three reasons. 

Firstly, the ambassador is reported as saying that with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the US has “no intention of setting up a base [in Sri  Lanka].” Anyone familiar with current events including the fundamental changes the US has made in its military strategy is aware that America is no longer interested in establishing traditional bases consisting thousands of troops in foreign territory. The new model is the type of arrangement the US has set up in Africa (AFRICOM). African scholar Nunu Kidane observed: 

“If you’re thinking traditional bases with thousands of military personnel think again. General Kip Ward has said: “it is not about ‘bases’ or ‘garrisons, but rather a network of sophisticated military operations strategically placed throughout the continent, which can be moved around and utilised for any purpose.” General Gates called AFRICOM “a different kind of command with a different orientation, one that we hope and expect will institutionalise a lasting security relationship with Africa.”

US no longer interested in establishing traditional bases in foreign territory 

US carried out a systematic campaign to gain maximum indirect control over SL in past 4 years

US might use SOFA, ACSA and MCC ‘compact’ to extend something like AFRICOM to South Asia 

It is a “civilian-military partnership” where diplomatic and humanitarian relief by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will get directives from the Department of Defence” (The Nightmare in Somalia, Len Wengraf, Counterpunch, February 13, 2009.) 

Secondly, SOFA cannot be considered by itself, but as part of a triumvirate that includes the Acquisitions and Cross Services Agreement (ACSA) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s proposed “economic corridor.” According to reports, the ACSA permits the US troops to be in uniform and carry weapons while in Sri Lanka, and the MCC ‘compact’ along with stipulated changes to land laws will permit American companies to lease vast tracts of land in this country. 

ACSA permits the US troops to be in uniform and carry weapons while in Sri Lanka, and the MCC ‘compact’ along with stipulated changes to land laws will permit American companies to lease vast tracts of land in this country

Meanwhile, SOFA will permit the US military to bring in whatever equipment they want into this country without being checked by the Customs. If American companies can lease vast tracts of land in Sri Lanka and the US troops can carry weapons and be in uniform here, it is not difficult to state that Americans will be able to store or transit whatever they want into areas under their control, which will be guarded by Americans in uniform without local authorities being able to do anything about it. 

In short, the danger is that the US will use SOFA, ACSA and the MCC ‘compact’ to extend something like AFRICOM to South Asia. So there are legitimate reasons for Sri Lankans to be afraid and the ambassador cannot simply pooh-pooh these concerns away saying the US is only interested in cutting through “red tape.” 

Challenge for Lankans is not just to reject SOFA, but, in the event there is a new Govt. in the near future, to undo rest of the damage caused in the last four years

Finally, since January 2015, the US has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting constitutional, economic and military reforms in this country. Sri Lankans have learned from the ‘Interim Report of the Constitutional Steering Committee’ and also the subsequent ‘Experts Report’ what was in store for them if the new Constitution had been enacted, to wit, Sri Lanka would have been turned into an “Orumiththa Nadu,” a confederation of the nine provinces. 

Meanwhile, from PM Ranil Wickremesinghe’s testimony at the bond scam hearings, Sri Lankans discovered among other things that formulation of the national monetary policy including ‘growth strategy’ had been handed over to an official brought in from the US Treasury Department (See ‘PM says had to raise money to pay for unaccounted expenditure, Daily Mirror, November 20, 2017.) Finally, under ‘military reform,’ the Americans have helped develop a battalion of marines capable of being deployed with the US Marines. 

From the PM’s testimony at the bond scam hearings, Sri Lankans discovered that formulation of the national monetary policy including ‘growth strategy’ had been handed over to an official brought in from the US Treasury Department

In short, in the past four years, the US has carried out a systematic campaign to gain maximum indirect control over Sri Lanka. If they had fully succeeded in their designs, this country would have been turned into a classic ‘Banana Republic.’ The great challenge for Sri Lankans today is not just to reject SOFA, but, in the event there is a new government in the near future, to undo the rest of the damage caused in the last four years, and enact necessary legislation including a new Constitution to ensure the encroachment into Sri Lanka’s sovereignty that Americans and others have got away with in the past will never again be repeated. 

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