Former Sri Lankan Ambassador to Brazil, General (Retd.) Jagath Jayasuriya yesterday rejected the war crimes allegations levelled against him and said the then Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka in a written document had exempted him from responsibilities of all military operations.
Speaking exclusively to Daily Mirror he said: “After all, General Fonseka was known to declare that it was he who did ‘everything’ to bring the war to an end.”
“I have the official document sent by Army Commander Fonseka during the latter part of the war, saying I have no responsibility for military operations,” he said.
Q: Why did you seek a change of career from military to diplomacy and did you actually ‘flee’ Brazil as reported by the foreign media amid war crime law suits?
A: I was selected as the Ambassador to Brazil at the end of my tenure as the Chief of Defence Staff. I took up the post and assumed duties in August 2015 for a term of two years. You don’t find many Sri Lankans in Brazil but the embassy with its staff did several projects to promote Sri Lanka in South America. We were able to hold the first ever Vesak Festival in Brazil with the support of other Asian countries. In June, this year I wrote to the then Foreign Secretary Esala Weerakoon saying that my tenure has been completed and if I’m being re-appointed as an Ambassador, I requested for that appointment be made to an Asian Country. On July 10, I received a reply saying the completion of the tenure has been approved and asked me to return before August 31. On August 7, I shipped my luggage and departed on the 27 from Brasilia. I Arrived in Sri Lanka on August 29 via São Paulo and Dubai.
Q: Were you aware of the ‘lawsuit’ filed against you before you left Brazil and why you think they had waited till the end of your tenure to make allegations?
A: I was not aware of the lawsuit. It only upon my arrival in Sri Lanka that I got to know about the news when chargé d'affaires of our embassy contacted me in the morning of August 29. He said media personnel are contacting the embassy to get a comment on this matter. Also, no one has filed a lawsuit in a court as reported by the media. The lawyer who had prepared the document had simply handed it over to the Federal Police of Brazil. In the document, they have requested the police to launch an investigation against the Sri Lankan Ambassador, to deprive diplomatic immunity of the Ambassador and to declare him a 'persona non grata' in the event the Sri Lankan government refused to cooperate with a probe.
The timing of the allegations is also questionable. Why wait till my tenure ended? They could have easily prepared this when I was still the Ambassador. I have questions as this could be an attempt to sling mud at me personally, to deprive me of a further appointment as an ambassador or based on some other hidden agenda.
Q: What do you have to say about the allegations levelled by the International Project of Truth and Justice (IPTJ) headed by Yasmin Sooka against you in connection with the torture that taken place at the Joseph Camp in Vavuniya?
A: Neither Sooka nor anyone else came there. All these allegations are those they bring up time to time changing the name of a person. This time they have levelled the same set of charges against me. Earlier, Kamal Gunaratne and Shanvendra Silva were targeted. There is no authenticity or any basis for these charges which are being made for the survival of some elements.
Q: Earlier this week, Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorale said she would take measures at a government level to remove any international or foreign barriers against you. Has she approached you?
A: If she has said so, it should be appreciated. Foreign travelling is something which would be affected by these allegations. Once, I had to move my transit point from Miami, US to Canada as I was not given clearance even for transit via the US when returning from Brazil. My wife was cleared for transit but not me. My daughter is in Australia and my son is in Hong Kong. The way some media reported the incident had affected them as well. I have to visit them from time to time. Embassies are reluctant to issue a visa even when there are mere allegations even without any basis. This is something I’m really concerned about.
Q: Would you be taking up the issue with the Government especially the Foreign Affairs Ministry?
A: Yes. I already have an appointment with Foreign Ministry Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam on Monday to handover official documents of ending my tenure as the Ambassador. I will raise this issue as well. I also spoke to the President’s Secretary and sought a meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena.
Q: Are you satisfied with the measures being taken by the government to address war crimes allegations being levelled against the military occasionally?
A: No. I’m not satisfied with the action taken by the government so far. It should settle this issue before any other matter and settle this once and for all. It has been eight years since the end of the war but still baseless allegations, the same set of allegations, keep surfacing from time to time. (Lahiru Pothmulla)