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Sri Lankan tradition upheld

120910_07

Chief Monk Sao Chanthol of Wat Lanka receives a Sri Lankan Buddha from Ambassador Shantha Kottegoda yesterday afternoon at Wat Lanka. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

The Sri Lankan Ambassador presented a Buddha to abbot and Chief Monk Sao Chanthol yesterday at Wat Lanka, in keeping with Buddhist exchange between Cambodia and Sri Lanka dating back to the 12th century.

Ambassador Shantha Kottegoda, a retired Sri Lankan Army general and former Commander-in-Chief of Sri Lanka’s army, took the time to make the case that Tamil Tiger insurgency had ended in 2009, making the country safe and peaceful once again, ushering in a new era of trade and Buddhist tourism.

Appointed Sri Lankan Ambassador to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia in October, 2011, Kottegoda presented his credentials to Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni on Saturday, during his first visit to the Kingdom.

Later that evening, he attended a reception for Cambodia’s Sri Lankan community and well wishers at the Tuol Kork offices of Ruwan Hulugale, an American of Sri Lankan ancestry who runs a consultancy helping businesses get started in Cambodia.

During his visit to Wat Lanka yesterday, Ambassador Kottegoda revived a tradition that dates back hundreds and hundreds of years to the key roles played by Sri Lankan monks in spreading Buddhism throughout Southeast Asia, including Cambodia. Gautama Buddha himself is known to have visited Ceylon, present day Sri Lanka, three times during his life.

Ambassador Kottegoda, who retired from a 36-year career in the Sri Lankan army in 2005, served as Ambassador to Brazil for two years until 2008. He and his wife now live in Thailand where the Sri Lankan embassy covers the three countries.

He was intimately involved with Sri Lanka for nearly all of the Sri Lankan civil war, during which the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) insurgency, led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, attempted to separate the northern one-third of Sri Lanka into a new state.

LTTE commander Prabhakaran was killed in May, 2009, during an offensive in the Mannar district of northern Sri Lanka by the Sri Lankan Army, and with him, much of the insurgency also died.

Ambassador Kottegoda said that while the situation in Sri Lanka had much improved since the end of hostilities in 2009, that the Tamil diaspora were still a well-funded group. He used his speech at Hulugalle’s compound to call for Sri Lankan unity.

“We had the problem for almost three decades, from 1978 when two soldiers were shot in the northernmost part of Sri Lanka. I’m comparing that with what is happening in South Thailand. Thailand’s south is facing something like we faced in the 1980s,” he said.

On September 20, Ambassador Kottegoda will give a speech to senior members of the Royal Thai Army about what he learned during his many years fighting the insurgency in Sri Lanka, including more than one narrow escape.

“This was not an ethnic problem. It was only a group of Tamils who took up arms and wanted to carve off a separate state that was one third of Sri Lanka,” he said. After many years of failed negotiations, Kottegoda said, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power and had the political will to change the scenario.

“The major change, the advantage we had was the political will to fight and defeat terrorism, and also the president’s brother was Secretary of Defence, so he could get things done quickly.”

An estimated 100,000 people died in the conflict, Kottegoda said. “We were fighting a terrorist organisation that had missiles, air power and naval power.”

Kottegoda is happy to report that nobody is frightened any more in Sri Lanka, that the one million Tamil population are now safe and peaceful and that the key to the ending of the insurgency was the support of the entire population of the country and the dedication and the motivation of the soldiers.

Today, Kottegoda is looking for a new era of peace and trade as well as exchanges of Buddhist scholars.

“If you take Cambodia and Sri Lanka, the relationship that we had for many years, from the 12th century onwards, the binding factor was Buddhism. We have exchanges of monks during this period. Now we are enjoying peace from 2009, a lot of development taking place, reconstruction works, and reintegration of former combatants. If you visit Colombo you will see the peace prevailing. This is the opportune time for any investor to invest in Sri Lanka. The message is that Sri Lanka is a peaceful, stable country, good security, and open for business.”

He added that visitors to Sri Lanka should enjoy some world-famous Ceylon tea and a booming tourism and investment climate.

Something approaching 100 Sri Lankans are estimated to live in Cambodia. A Sri Lankan company owns 20 per cent of Prasac Microfinance. Other Sri Lankans are involved in hospitality and education.

Ambassador Kottegoda returns to Thailand today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at stuart.becker@gmail.com

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