Diplomatic Incident Involving the Swiss Embassy

Swiss Embassy in Sri Lanka

By Nanda Wanninayaka

I don’t know what REALLY happened with the Sri Lankan employee who worked at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo. Nobody will ever know, would they? The embassy says one of their local employees was kidnapped, detained and was questioned for good two hours and then let go. But the Government of Sri Lanka says that there is no clue about such an incident after their thorough investigations. We know that our Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is not the FBI nor the Scotland Yard, but the victim has to assist the CID to continue their investigations to bring the culprits to the book. But it looks extremely impossible with the way the things go and if the said employee and her family are taken out of the embassy to board a plane to Switzerland, this would become an extreme diplomatic incident that can damage the relationship between the two countries.

A Sri Lankan Passport

Without going any further with this, I would write down how my students and I were treated by foreign missions in Sri Lanka when we wanted to travel to certain countries.

  1. My first travel abroad was to China (assisted by a US project) in the year 2000. Once I went to the Chinese embassy the Chinese employee at the embassy told me that my destination in China was not to a hotel but some government office. I had to reiterate that the destination was correct before he granted to process the visa application. (Apparently, the place I stayed in China was a government building related to some scientific affairs and there were enough star-class rooms and a restaurant to entertain 1000 odd visitors from different parts of the world. (I think all these embassy people follow the espionage missions’ “Suspect Everyone” method when granting visas.
  • My second trip was to Egypt in 2000 to attend a regional event organized by the same organization that organized the above-mentioned event in China. The Egyptian embassy man at the gate didn’t even open the door but talked to me in a very rude manner as if I was some criminal. But the visa was approved later. (In most cases, it is these minor staffers who tarnish the names of their countries but we cannot believe that the higher officials are unaware of these.)
  • My third overseas tour was to the USA and the visa was provided with the help of the US State Department and I had no problem at all in getting my visa as Ms. Chulie de Silva (a local official at the American Center) who knew about my work assisted me getting it. But I was detained for some time as the immigration officer in the New York Airport kept asking about a document I never knew I had in my possession. I was asked to find it in my luggage and I had to open up all the stuff in my luggage but it was not to be found. Later I found it among the documents I already handed over to the officer and he sincerely apologized for his mistake.
  • My next visit was to Italy with 3 young students of Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya and the Sri Lankan visa officer in the Italian Embassy did not even give us visa application forms to proceed with visas. His argument was that I would not return and will stay in Italy as many other Sri Lankans do. This was a ridiculous argument because I had already been to the USA by then and if I wanted, to be an illegal immigrant, the USA must have been the best option. I never want to become an illegal immigrant even during the most trying conditions I faced in Sri Lanka. The 3 kids had obtained passports and even had bought warm clothes to wear during that cold season in Italy. If the visa officer’s concern was the three kids’ security, I could easily arrange a chaperone for them to travel. But he was arrogant and did not even provide us the visa applications. So, the three kids lost their chance of traveling to Italy with all the expenses paid by the sponsors.
  • I visited Japan twice and at the interview for the visa, I never saw the Sri Lankan visa officer but could only hear her voice as she spoke to the interviewee from behind some screen where she could see me and I couldn’t see her. I don’t know why they do it. Do they treat all Sri Lankans like rogues?
  • Two students and a lady teacher from my organization (Horizon Lanka Foundation) were invited by a Delhi-based Indian organization to do a presentation and we submitted the visa applications at the last minute as one of the students could not find the money needed to buy the flight ticket. (The expenses were to be reimbursed upon arrival to India.) But the Indian visa center that has been outsourced the visa process was very helpful and did not let our team down. They ensured they get the visas without any trouble. So my team could visit India without me having to travel with them.
  • I planned to visit Ecuador two years ago to volunteer as a teacher of English and after I submitted all the documents properly to the visa center. The Ecuadorian visa was to be obtained on arrival in Ecuador. For some reason, the organization that sponsored my trip had selected a flight route to Ecuador via Amsterdam, Holland. After submitting my papers, the visa center that dealt with the so-called “Schengen” visas turned down my request and handed me over a letter saying that I would disappear in the Amsterdam airport and seek a job in the Netherlands!!! I needed a transit visa in Amsterdam only for 3-4 hours till I caught the next flight to Ecuador. The other friend of mine who went to Ecuador via the same route for the same purpose around a few weeks ago was a Tamil guy from Batticaloa and he said, “Most of the embassy officials are Tamils in Sri Lanka and they favor only Tamils. This might be the reason for the denial of your transit visa.” Till that, I thought this was only a rumor but I understood it was a lot more than just a rumor.
  • I was to send a female student with a female teacher from Horizon Academy – Mahawilachchiya to South Africa for a conference. Since the invitation letter from the event organizers came from a Gmail account, not an account with the organization’s domain, the South African High Commission in Colombo hesitated to grant them visas. Fair enough. Still, the local and the South African High Commission officers were very supportive and gave us the visas at the last moment but the lady teacher from our organization hesitated to go since it was her overseas tour and was not comfortable at the 11th hour. That was our fault, not theirs. I can say that the South African High Commission in Colombo was the best foreign mission I have dealt with so far and they are very efficient and people-friendly.

If you can remember, most of the embassies in Sri Lanka treated the local people like trash until recent times. We had to be in long ques in the hot sun or torrential rains outside the embassies without any shelter. The government of Sri Lanka did nothing until some people raised the issue in the local newspapers. Now the treatments are better and still, there is a lot to change in this regard.

So, I wrote this to tell you how foreign missions treat Sri Lankans and we should make use of the present issue with the Swiss embassy to make things right. The late president Mr. Ranasinghe Premadasa had an issue with H. E. Mr. David Gladstone, the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka by interfering into internal issues and he was ordered to leave Sri Lanka. I don’t say the same should happen in the light of the present diplomatic incident but the West has to learn a lesson too when interfering with the internal issues. Instead, we should try solving this type of incident amicably without risking too much.

A guide to byte – A LAcNet project brings the world to remote Lankan classrooms


This appeared in the Sunday Times Plus Section on September 10, 2000. By this time I was the computer instructor of this project launched by LAcNet.

By Kesara Ratnatunga (10th September 2000)

The computer screen was their window to the rest of the world and they were having a field day. Exploring with wide-eyed wonder what lay beyond their horizons, were the grade seven and eight students of Nivaththaka Chethiya Maha Vidyalaya, Anuradhapura, the first beneficiaries of the Lanka Academic Network’s (LAcNet) ‘Computers for Sri Lankan Schools’ project.

LAcNet, a virtual network of Sri Lankan academic professionals living here and abroad, implemented and funded this pilot project by which a computer lab with five computers as well as Internet facilities was set up at the school. The objective is “to provide an opportunity for rural children to gain competency in computer and Internet, proficiency that will enhance and broaden their academic and entrepreneur skills.”

“Nivaththaka Chethiya was selected because its principal and teachers were very keen and also because a tremendous amount of support was given by Sena Gonapinuwala, a businessman of the area,” says LAcNet’s vice-president Chulie de Silva who is also the coordinator for this project.

Since the lab became functional in January this year, the students of all classes have had the opportunity to become familiar with the computers and the Internet.

“We were scared at first that we might break the computers,” said one eighth grade student who was busily typing out an essay with a group of his friends, “but now we are quite comfortable with them,” said all of them grinning from ear to ear.

There are no periods specially dedicated to computer education due to administrative problems. However, the computers are used to supplement the other subjects such as science and environmental studies. Many of the teaching sessions are conducted with the kids seated on the floor around the teacher who uses electronic encyclopedias such as Encarta to teach them.

The students themselves get hands-on time on the PCs and are already capable of using word processors and graphics software with ease – very encouraging progress considering many of them had never seen or touched a computer before. The idea seems to be to expose the children to the technology and make it part and parcel of their thinking rather than teaching computers as a science. “I like to give the smaller children a chance because they are very keen and learn fast,” says Mr. Nandasiri Wanninayaka, an English teacher cum computer instructor at the school, who has worked tirelessly to make this project a success.

“Using the computers has helped the students improve their English as well,” says the Principal, Mr. Piyasena Ratnamalala.

The students have also been exposed to the Internet and email, which they have been using under the guidance of Mr. Wanninayaka. They have even made friends via email, with their contemporaries in Australia. Nuwan Prasad Wanninayaka, a year 13 student having taught himself by reading books on web programming, has designed the school webpage as his Advanced level project. He says that the school having received these computers was indeed a great help and incentive for him to learn. It has inspired him to go into an Information Technology related career.

Having access to computers seems to have sparked an interest in many of the younger students as well, who are very keen to pursue computer studies outside school. Many of them troop to school an hour early as well as during the holidays, to spend some extra time playing around with the computers. The students’ enthusiasm is further highlighted by the fact that they have pooled and bought several CD-ROMs for the school.

“Parents are also very keen that their children should learn how to use computers,” says Mr. Ratnamalala.”They even accompany their children when they come during the holidays.” An enthusiasm no doubt fueled by the knowledge that in this day and age, computer literacy is as vital as being able to read.

This venture owes much of its success to the commitment of Mr. Wanninayaka who spares no effort in facilitating the children’s learning. He has big plans for the computer lab and the students, including a magazine to be published by the students. “We need more computers, even old ones,” says Mr. Wanninayaka citing the primary problem they face. Niwaththaka Chethiya MV has around 4000 students on its roll, and many of the classes which use the lab comprise around 70 students making both teaching and learning on just five computers very difficult.


The paintings of two of the school’s students, Nadeeka Wijesingha and Anusha Nilminimala Ariyarathna which were taken abroad by Mr. Wanninayaka have been offered to be sold in the U.S. Any earnings from their sale would be used to buy PCs for the school. Everybody at Nivaththaka Chethiya anxiously awaits a favourable response from those in the United States who have volunteered to sell the paintings for them.

“We would be more than happy to do more paintings,” say Nadeeka and Anusha, anxious to do their part for the school.

In Sri Lanka, Information Technology is restricted to a select urban community. Considering that much of the population reside in rural areas it seems grossly unfair that this should be the case. LAcNet’s project and any others to be initiated in the future by government or non-government organizations would be a key in linking these areas to the modern world. They will also have a major positive impact on the way future Sri Lankan generations think, the standard of their education and their global awareness. However, it is important that all attempts are made to ensure every child – regardless of economic standing or geographic location – gets this opportunity.

The enthusiasm of the staff and most of all of the students has been remarkable. LAcNet’s pilot project aimed at “creating a computer savvy student population in a rural school” seems to be in good hands and well on its way to achieving its goal. Hopefully it will lead to more people recognising the importance of educating children in Information Technology and coming forward to help and initiate forward-looking projects such as this. If the progress of the bright-eyed students of Nivaththaka Chethiya Maha Vidyalaya is anything to go by, the potential for the future is heartening indeed

You can read the original article at http://www.sundaytimes.lk/000910/plusm.html

Nanda in Beijing, China – In the Land of the Square Faces


nanda beijing1

In Beijing, China

Sunday, July 09, 2000

At the airport, I met another Sri Lankan delegation, which was heading for Beijing to attend the same conference. Two lady teachers and one of the parents were accompanying some young boys from the Royal College, Colombo to take part in the I*EARN Youth Summit.

When I was on board the plane I was so thrilled like a child who was given a ride in a merry-go round. I was impatient till the take off. I thought a little before departure about how my life had changed during a short period of time. After an exciting few minutes, the Singapore Airlines flight took me to Singapore over the Strait of Malacca, where Sri Lankan business magnate Upali Wijewardene‘s aircraft disappeared while flying over the Straits of Malacca.

I saw the sunrise from the Window – must thank Ms. Chulie de Silva for booking me a seat by a window – it was such a beautiful scenery. Singapore was my transit airport so I got on board another flight to reach China.

When I was flying over the sea, I spotted the islands, countries which I had only seen in maps. Wow! What a joy to see those maps in real? As a keen student of geography, I could mark more than 150 countries if I were given an empty world map in my school days.

At the Beijing Capital Airport I had some trouble since my name was bit complicated to the officials due to its unusual length. My full name is Tikiri Bandage Nandasiri Wanninayaka. It takes 33 letters to write my name. And 13 letters of the English alphabet are used in it. I had to answer endless questions at the airport and then I was released. A nice looking square-faced Chinese girl was waving an I*EARN sign near the exit gate of the airport and few Americans were also there. An unusually shy American guy, Michael Chertock and Miss Zoya were my first friends. Then we came to the Hotel we stayed by a taxi. I was amazed to see the square faces everywhere……….. In Sri Lanka we see round faces. But in China every face is square. Chinese letters, which I saw along the roads also, looked square. Oh! even in our alphabet we have round letters and our people have round faces.

To see ever laughing and ever teasing Ms. Celia Einhorn (an American professor whom I had met in Sri Lanka) was a great pleasure to me. She was with her husband, a man with a huge beard all over the face. Another interesting person I saw was Mr. Jose Avila from the USA. An extremely tall easygoing guy. I was invited to have dinner with Celia and the other American friends at a restaurant outside the hotel. As I was very hungry, had a heavy Chinese meal. Oh, what a taste! You can eat anything the Chinese cooks cook. The food was so good-smelling, delicious and cheap. I remembered the saying “Heaven is to have an American salary, British house, a Chinese cook and a Sri Lankan wife.”

Walked a little with Avila and Paul Lucero in Beijing after dinner. People were cooking and eating outside the houses in small streets. They said it was due to the extreme heat prevailed. But I didn’t find the heat that uncomfortable since I also am from the dry zone of my country.

My roommate was a Nepali guy called Bishnu Bhatta. Slept well after watching television for a while. Gosh!!! All the programs were in Chinese. Watched Hercules dubbed in Chinese.