Sri Lankan diplomat who advocated power sharing is sacked

One of Sri Lanka's most outspoken diplomats who consistently argued for devolution of power to the country's minorities has been sacked by Colombo.

In one of the most significant developments since the Tamil Tigers were decimated in May, Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka's permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, has been told to go home by Aug 20.

No reason has been given to Jayatilleka, 52, for the sudden decision. But his friends have told him that his fate has chiefly been decided by Sinhalese hardliners unhappy with his political views.

A man known for academic excellence and a penchant for political forthrightness, Jayatilleka, a Sinhalese with a Marxist past, took charge of the Geneva post June 1, 2007, for a period of two years.

As the contract ended in June 2009, less than a month after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was crushed and its leaders slain, the foreign ministry told Jayatilleka he would not get an extension.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa intervened and extended the contract by a year - until June 2010.

But now Jayatilleka has been served the sacking order without assigning any reason.

Not a career diplomat, Jayatilleka moved to Geneva in 2007 when no one was certain how Sri Lanka's war would proceed and when some in the West were putting enormous pressure on Colombo over rights violations.

Jayatilleka is widely credited with mounting a strong challenge to the concerted drive against Sri Lanka, networking with diplomats mainly from the Third World as well as UN veto members Russia and China.

This year Sri Lanka managed to defeat a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that sought to pin down Sri Lankan leaders over alleged war crimes.

But even as he waged diplomatic battles for Sri Lanka, Jayatilleka came under attack from Sinhalese nationalists in his country over his writings in which he argued that Colombo should devolve powers to the minorities in order to address Tamil and Muslim grievances.

Jayatilleka, who wrote extensively for Sri Lanka's media, stood for the implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution that followed the India-Sri Lanka accord of 1987.

Officially, Sri Lanka is for the 13th amendment, which sought to devolve powers to provinces including Tamil and Muslim areas in the north and east. But its provisions have not been implemented fully.

Although Sri Lanka has promised other countries, including India, that it believes in power sharing with the minorities, nationalists from the majority Sinhalese community are steadfastly opposed to such a concept.

To many of the hardliners who are close to Sri Lanka's ruling party and also President Rajapaksa, devolution of powers is a stepping stone to separatism.

Since the end of the war, Sri Lankan Buddhist leaders have visited the Tamil-majority areas in the north in signs of increasing display of Sinhalese supremacy.

A major archaeological excavation is also on in the north to unearth Buddhist 'viharas'.

Tamils in Sri Lanka are dominantly Hindus but there are many Christians too among them.

Although Jayatilleka made it clear that his writings were his personal opinion, his arguments in favour of devolution of power to the minorities did not please the ruling class in Colombo.

The LTTE fought for a quarter century with a view to breaking up Sri Lanka alleging discrimination at the hands of the Sinhalese. Many in the country feel that power sharing is the right answer to the ethnic strife.

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