Former FM frowns on US embassy Iftar meal in Batti ….

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Wartime Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama yesterday told The Island that President Trump had unceremoniously ended a two-decade long tradition of hosting an iftar meal at the White House during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, while the US repeatedly told Sri Lanka how to proceed with post-war reconciliation process here.

The previous Rajapaksa government brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

Bogollagama said the new US leader’s decision to do away with the practice initiated by former First Lady Hillary Clinton, who hosted a meal on Eid al-Fitr, in 1996, should be viewed by Sri Lanka against the backdrop of US interventions here.

The former Minister pointed out that US Ambassador Atul Keshap had hosted an iftar meal a few days ago in Batticaloa where he praised those seeking to transform Sri Lanka into what he called a united,

reconciled, peaceful, prosperous, and harmonious country, with equal opportunities for all.

Surely, Ambassador Keshap owed the public here an explanation in respect of its policy, Bogollagama said, adding that many an eyebrow was raised over US embassy claim that Muslim community leaders in Batticaloa called for the modernization of the out-dated 1951 Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.

Bogollagama held the foreign ministry portfolio during Jan. 2007 to Apr. 2010. The former MP also twice led ministerial delegation for talks with the LTTE in Geneva in 2006.

Appreciating crucial US support received during Sri Lanka’s battle against the LTTE, Bogollagama said that a despicable attempt was being made to depict a bleak picture here. Bogollagama added that Western powers, particularly the UK had turned a blind eye to security crisis caused by the LTTE. "They used to regularly issue travel advisories in the wake of attacks here during the war. The UK wasn’t the only country to do that," Bogollagama said, urging Western powers not to undermine Sri Lanka. The former minister alleged that those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s victory over terrorism were pursuing an agenda inimical to the country.

Provincial Council and Local Government Minister Faizer Mustapha called President Trump’s move ‘wrong’ when the issue was raised by news line host Faraz Shauketally yesterday. Having faulted President Trump, Minister Mustapha emphasized that cancellation of White House event and US intervention here shouldn’t be compared. Minister appreciated the role played by the US in respect of post-war national reconciliation process.

The National Peace Council (NPC) which has been critical of Sri Lanka’s failure to address grievances of the Muslim community expressed concerned over the US move. In response to a query by The Island, NPC spokesperson Dr Jehan Perera said: "President Trump stopped an existing practice. It was an act of exclusion.  This was unfortunate. In this time of stress between the United States and the Muslim world there is a need to look for approaches of inclusion, not exclusion. As an example of a good practice from our country, President Sirisena ensured that our national anthem is sung in both languages on Independence Day. In a time of stress, symbolism is important."

Bogollagama alleged that Western powers had harassed and undermined the previous government on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations. The former minister, however, admitted that the previous administration had played into the hands of those wanting to undermine the country by failing to investigate isolated incidents. Had there been political will to inquire into complaints, various interested parties couldn’t have exploited the situation to their advantage, the former minister said.

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