Gotabaya Rajapaksa Returns: Why Is Sri Lanka’s Deposed Leader Now Returning?

He has yet to explain why he has traveled to three Asian countries in recent weeks and why he has decided to return home now, amidst the economic and political turmoil at home.

some activists is now calling for criminal charges against Rajapaksa, but with his allies in power, analysts say prosecution is unlikely. And it remains unclear whether his return to the island nation of 22 million will provoke further demonstrations.

After temporary stays in the Maldives, Singapore and Thailand, Rajapaksa may have run out of countries he wants to enter or stay in, analysts said.

And according to the quoted source, Reuters As of August 23, the costs of sustaining his life abroad (private jets, presidential quarters, security, etc.) were already running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Rajapaksa’s widespread unpopularity in Sri Lanka is a major reversal from the days when many in the country looked up to him. “Warrior King” A leader who defeated the Separatists in a decades-long civil war.

Ambika Satkunanathan, a lawyer and former commissioner of the country’s Human Rights Commission, said the dethroning of the deposed leader “would have taken a huge blow to his self-esteem”.

“Finding a permanent or semi-permanent place to stay was very difficult for him. It turned out to be more difficult than he imagined,” she said. “This was a politician who was once considered a demigod. He’s not used to being held accountable.”

Moving from country to country

Rajapaksa’s first stop was Male, the capital of the Maldives, just a 90-minute flight from Colombo.

A senior security official said his plane was initially denied permission to land until former Maldivian president Mohammed Nasheed, now chairman of the Maldives parliament, intervened.

However, Sri Lankans in Male were not satisfied. took me down the street protest his arrival.

“Throw him out here,” read one protester’s placard. “Dear friends of the Maldives, urge your government not to protect criminals.”

In less than 48 hours Rajapaksa left the archipelago. Saudia flights to Singapore.

Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed on July 14 that Rajapaksa had been cleared to enter the island city-state on a “private visit”.

“He has not applied for asylum and has not been granted asylum,” Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at the time.

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Several media outlets reported that Rajapaksa would later visit Saudi Arabia, but the visit did not materialize.

It’s unclear why, but some analysts point to possible reasons. severely criticized Rajapaksa policy of 2020, which called for Muslim Covid-19 victims to be cremated.
One said the practice was “against Islamic precepts.” statement That December from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), of which Saudi Arabia is a member. The OIC expressed concern and “called for respect for burial rituals in the Muslim faith.”

Rajapaksa has since reversed this policy, but implemented another controversial rule requiring Muslim victims to be buried on remote government grounds without having a final religious ceremony with their families. .

From Singapore, Rajapaksa formally submitted his resignation as leader of Sri Lanka.

He then realized he could face criminal investigation in the city-state for alleged human rights violations while serving as Secretary of Defense during Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war. he denies the claim.

On July 23, lawyers for the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) filed a criminal complaint with Singapore’s Attorney General demanding the immediate arrest of Rajapaksa.

According to a 2011 United Nations reportSri Lankan government forces have been responsible for abuses, including deliberate shelling of civilians, summary executions, rapes, and preventing food and medical supplies from reaching affected communities. , “Many credible sources estimate that as many as 40,000 civilians may have died.”

A spokeswoman for the Singapore Attorney General’s Office confirmed to CNN that it had received a complaint from ITJP but declined to comment further.

Yasmin Sooka Sooka, Executive Director of the ITJP, said the allegations in Singapore were “incredibly symbolic” and that “After Goyokuya lost his ex-officio immunity, he was an equal before the law.” ,” he said.

August 11th, Rajapaksa From Singapore to Thailand on a private jet.
Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arriving at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand August 11, 2022.

His diplomatic passport gave him the right to enter the country visa-free for up to 90 days, according to a spokesman for Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The exiled leader’s stay was temporary and he was not seeking political asylum, the spokesperson added.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha cited “humanitarian” reasons for allowing Rajapaksa to enter Thailand, but said the former president had been advised to go into hiding.

“He was promised to stay here temporarily. No visits, no meetings, no travel,” Prayut said. told reporters August 10.

At his home in Sri Lanka, supporters of the former leader put pressure on new president Ranil Wickremesinghe, an ally of Rajapaksa, to ensure his safe return home.

On August 19, Rajapaksa’s brother and former finance minister, Basil Rajapaksa, requested protection to allow him to return, according to a statement from the Sri Lanka Podjana Peramuna Political Party (SLPP), the family’s majority member of parliament. .

“SLPP’s primary request is the former president’s safety and security,” the statement said.

People visit the official residence of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo on July 12, 2022.

what happened now?

Sri Lanka took a step towards stabilizing its economy on Thursday, reaching an interim agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $2.9 billion loan.

The four-year program aims to restore stability to a country plagued by food, fuel and medicine shortages by boosting government revenues and rebuilding foreign exchange reserves.

But Sri Lanka faces a long road to economic recovery as the IMF has yet to approve loans, and analysts said it was unclear whether Rajapaksa’s arrival would exacerbate the country’s situation again. I’m here.

A police officer stands behind a security barricade near a protest camp in Colombo, Sri Lanka on August 5, 2022
Since Wickremesinghe took the oath of office on July 21, demonstrators have been forcibly removed from protest sites by police, and some have been imprisoned on charges such as damaging public property. increase. condemned by rights groups and opposition politicians.

“There is certainly an element of fear,” said human rights lawyer Satk Nanathan. “I don’t know if there will be further protests. But of course, the cost of living is still high and inflation is escalating.”

And while millions of people in the country cannot afford food and fuel, Rajapaksa’s comfortable lifestyle after returning home threatens to exacerbate the situation again.

“That’s why I bring my men to the streets. They are so angry at this hypocrisy,” said Satkhnanathan.

Demonstrators prepare to leave a protest site near the presidential palace in Colombo, Sri Lanka on August 5, 2022.

ITJP’s Sooka said it was also “unlikely” that the former leader would be investigated for alleged war crimes.

“The political class protects him. Despite his escape, the structures and loyalties he relied on are still intact.”

“There is always hope that brave civil society groups will petition the courts to bring a case against him, and that the Attorney General and the police will support such action,” she added.

“Impunity should not be tolerated. Dealing with Gotha will show the world and Sri Lanka that no one is above the law.”

CNN’s Kocha Olarn and Iqbal Athas contributed to the report.


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