Rajiva expresses concern over
over NZ recommending LTTE
sympathizer for Queen’s award

By Saman Indrajith

New Zealand has recommended an LTTE activist for the Queen’s medal. Acting Foreign Minister Dilan Perera, in parliament on Wednesday, expressed serious concern over the move.

Queen Elizabeth II, who is the reigning queen and head of state of the 16 independent sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realm, honoured three Tamils – two Sri Lankan Tamils and an Indian Tamil this year, at the New Year’s awards in New Zealand and in the UK.

The Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) to 77-year-old Arumugam Thevarajan from New Zealand, an old student of Hartley College, Point Pedro, was in specific recognition for his services to the Tamil community in New Zealand.

Foreign Employment Promotion and Acting External Affairs Minister Dilan Perera said that Thevarajan was a member of the so-called Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam.

Proposing an Adjournment Motion concerning the inappropriate award of an honour by the New Zealand government, UPFA National List MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha said that relations between Sri Lanka and New Zealand were at a level which ensured sensitivity to the concerns of the other. "It was worrying therefore to see the New Zealand government nominating an avowed separatist, associated with the excesses of a terrorist group and its successors, for such a great honour," Wijesinha said.

Full text of Prof Wijesinha’s motion: Mr. Speaker, it is with some sorrow that I rise to propose that this house do stand adjourned to express its surprise that the Government of New Zealand saw fit to honour Mr Arumugam Thevarajan, a member of the so-called Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, in the recent New Year Awards presented by the Queen; to regret that such an award was conferred upon an individual pursuing a separatist agenda during a postconflict situation in Sri Lanka where reconciliation between all communities is of paramount importance, to appreciate the prompt reaction of Sri Lanka in providing assistance to New Zealand following the disastrous Christchurch earthquake; to acknowledge the positive trade relations between New Zealand and Sri Lanka and recognize that this contributes nearly $300 million each year to the New Zealand economy, mainly through the export of milk powder to Sri Lanka by Fonterraa; and to urge the Ministry of External Affairs not only to raise Sri Lankan concerns with the Government of New Zealand but also to ensure prompt replies to these concerns, inasmuch as the positive relations between the peoples of the two countries should not be adversely affected by insensitive indulgence of a separatist agenda.

I am sorry, Mr Speaker, because I had thought that relations between our countries were at a level which ensured sensitivity to the concerns of the other. It was worrying therefore to see the New Zealand government nominating an avowed separatist, associated with the excesses of a terrorist group and its successors, for such a great honour.

I say great honour, because New Zealand is undoubtedly the country, apart from the United Kingdom, in which an honour from the Queen is taken most seriously. Mr. Arumugam Thevarajan, who is one of the two members representing New Zealand in the so-called Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, was given the Queen’s Service Medal, for which he must have been nominated by the current New Zealand government. Not at all surprisingly, neither to us nor to that government, he took advantage of the honour to inform the media that ‘What’s happening in Sri Lanka is not war or even riot – it’s genocide.’

The Tamilnet article, in which the account of Mr. Thevarajan and his politicking appeared, mentioned that two other Tamils had been honoured in the British New Year honours. Neither seems to have been involved in separatism, and I believe we too can be proud of the contribution to education of Mr. Yogamoorthy, who was born and educated in Sri Lanka like Mr Thevarajan. Mr Yogamoorthy was a graduate of Peradeniya and has used the skills he obtained through our free education system to shine as an Engineer in England, to the extent of being able to lecture even to the British Army on the Rhine.

The other person to receive an MBE was Lakshmi Holmstrom, who was originally from India. Tamilnet suggests support for their cause by noting that she has translated ‘a good number of Eezham Tamil poetry into English’, but Ms Holmstrom is simply an excellent scholar, who has done much for Tamil Literature in general. While her sympathies for Tamil people are understandable, I do not think she would ever lend support to terrorism.

If Britain then has been circumspect, in spite I am sure of pressures from those hangers on in the last British Parliament, who furthered a terrorist cause for electoral advantage, it is doubly sad that new Zealand has failed to live up to the ideals we both cherish as democratic countries. We have shown our sympathy for their suffering after the recent earthquake, and we must congratulate our diplomatic and consular officials for their prompt action in this regard. I hope too that we will also continue to make more tangible and continuous benefits to the New Zealand economy through our passion for their milk powder. I personally feel that this is an area in which successful marketing has triumphed over health considerations, but I do not think even those who agree with me about the disadvantages of powdered milk would consider trying to reduce the trade gap between our countries. It would be nice, though, I should add, if New Zealand too were to help us to improve our own dairy industry in the North. This is I think is being done by more active supporters of Sri Lanka such as the Netherlands, but perhaps New Zealand too would consider such assistance in a field in which they have profited from us so successfully in the past.

Given our good relations, Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe that New Zealand could have deliberately engaged in actions that lend strength to proponents of separatism and terrorism. It is possible that they have not been adequately briefed about the situation. In this regard, I believe it important that our Ministry of External Affairs make it clear to its counterpart that we are deeply hurt. We should not only protest through our High Commission in Australia, which is I believe accredited to new Zealand too, but we should also make contact with the New Zealand High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, who is based in Delhi.

I should note that the High Commission there has seemed to me sensitive about Sri Lankan concerns. I was able to assist the High Commissioner a couple of years ago about a consular question, with which he was deeply but very practically concerned. Later our own High Commission in Delhi, which maintained good contacts with high professionalism with their counterparts there, arranged a very positive meeting for me when I visited, at a time when there was some unfair criticism of Sri Lanka by other countries.

But I think it important too that we should make clear our concerns, diplomatically and quietly, but definitely. For too long, Mr Speaker, we have allowed feelings to be built up against us, which we have ignored, following which we tend to react dramatically when problems arise. I have myself in the past advocated that we should call in people when difficulties begin, and quietly make clear our position. I believe we have every right to deplore support for separatism and to expect that friendly nations refrain from providing implicit encouragement to the remnants of the Tiger caravan. That picked up a lot of decent people in what seemed its relentless march to success from 2001 onward. We must teach friendly countries to help us to wean such people away from violence and terror, and encourage them to join with us in the great efforts we are making to promote resettlement, rehabilitation and reconciliation.

In such a context, the insensitive approach of the New Zealand government will not help. I hope that we can ensure that such regrettable actions will not recur."

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