It is the season of the scuffle in New York, it seems, and veteran journalists aren’t the only ones at the receiving end of blows.
The Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Great Britain has reportedly resigned after he was assaulted by a high-ranking Sri Lankan government official during a private function in New York on September 25.
According to the Colombo Telegraph, Dr Chris Nonis was attending the function at the house of a Sri Lankan businessman when he was set upon by Sajin Vass Gunawardena, a businessman-turned-politician and close confidante of President Mahinda Rajapakse.
The President, along with Gunawardena and a number of other officials were in New York for meetings at the United Nations General Assembly.
Details of the incident remain sketchy and neither Dr Nonis nor the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry have made any official comment whilst reports from Colombo suggest that the government has ordered a ‘blackout’ on reporting of the story.
The Colombo Telegraph reports that Dr Nonis had been ‘taunted’ by Gunawardena over alleged comments made by the ambassador about Mrs Kshenuka Senewiratne, the controversial former Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the UK.
Dr Nonis was first slapped and pushed to the ground by an inebriated Gunawardena who then continued to kick Dr Nonis repeatedly.
Dr Nonis is then said to have left the function and tendered his resignation. The Telegraph report adds that the President had promised to “deal with” Gunawardena but many believe that no action will be forthcoming given Gunawardena’s proximity to the President.
The 41-year-old Gunawardena has been a close ally of President Rajapakse for a number of years and is often seen as an “enforcer” although he has held numerous official posts including as the “supervising MP” at the Foreign Ministry and the president’s “confidential financial advisor”.
He was also the first Chief Executive of Sri Lanka’s loss-making budget carrier Mihin Lanka.
A graduate of Imperial College London, member of the Royal College of Physicians (UK) and chairman of the 170-year-old Mackwoods Group of Companies, Dr Nonis first came to the British public’s attention in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009.
He established a reputation for his erudite and eloquent arguments against allegations of rights abuses and warm crimes aimed at the Rajapakse regime.