Wednesday, 15 January 2020

What will be Prez Gotabaya’s Geneva policy?


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Lord Naseby recently spoke about Sri Lanka in the Queen’s Speech debate in the House of Lords. The Conservative member asserted that there was a huge opportunity for improvement if the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Commission) project against Sri Lanka was wound up.

Lord Naseby said: "…There are complaints about torture. I have seen the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) three times and asked it whether it has seen torture in Sri Lanka. Every time, the answer has been a clear ‘No’. It is fake news. Today, there is a shadow. That is the claim that the UN started with—of 40,000 killed.

"I have spent 10 years looking at the reports by Gash and the Tamil university teachers, at the census and at all the coverage I could find. The net result is about 6,000 people killed, of which a quarter is Tamil Tigers. Despite all this, we now find that the UNHCR has decided that it wants to try to get war crimes pinned on the Sri Lankan Army. Yet, the reports of Colonel Gash made it clear that the Army behaved admirably and looked after the civilians. If the SLA had wanted to knock them off, then over 295,000 people would not have been safely brought across the lines, would they? I believe that the time has come for the March, 2020 review, when it takes place, to be the wind-up time for that phase of life in Sri Lanka."

Colonel Anthony Gash served in Colombo as the British Defence Advisor during the Eelam War IV (August 2006-May 2009).

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka Parliament lacked interest in addressing the accountability issue though it posed a growing threat to its unitary status. In spite of the change of government, in Nov 2019, following the presidential poll, the Geneva threat remains. Now, it would be the responsibility of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government to explore ways and means of neutralizing the Geneva threat.

The current political turmoil, caused by UNP lawmaker Ranjan Ramanayake’s secret recordings of him making a mockery of the country’s judiciary and the entire legal process, including the police, shouldn’t be allowed to divert the government’s attention from the Geneva sessions. Having accused the UNP-led yahapalana government of betraying the country, in Geneva, by it backing the controversial resolution 30/1 against the country, adopted on Oct 01, 2015, the incumbent political leadership cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for not taking tangible measures to address the issue.

Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) leader Dinesh Gunawardena, MP, in his capacity as the then leader of the Joint Opposition parliamentary group, is one of the few lawmakers who discussed the Geneva issue, both in and outside Parliament. Lawmaker Gunawardena quite rightly recognized the opportunity, presented by Lord Naseby’s disclosure in the House of Lords, on Oct 12, 2017. The then JO Chief in Parliament underscored the pivotal importance in using Naseby’s revelation, based on wartime British High Commission dispatches from Colombo (January 1, 2009-May 2009).

Marapana’s assurance

It would be pertinent to remind the reader about the assurance given by Foreign Affairs Minister Tilak Marapana, in Parliament, on Nov 25, 2017. One-time Attorney General and President’s Counsel Marapana assured that Lord Naseby’s disclosure would be used as ‘an ace’ when the time came and at the right place.

Responding to lawmaker Gunawardena’s query as to why Lord Naseby’s statement hadn’t been used, especially at the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Minister Marapana said that the Government would use Lord Naseby’s statement at an appropriate forum.

Lawmaker Marapana said: "We are not saying that we will not use Lord Naseby’s statement. We certainly will use it at the proper time and at appropriate forums. There may be a time when the UNHRC will ask us to conduct investigations into the allegations of war crimes. We will use this statement when such a time comes. Otherwise, our opponents will find counter arguments so we must use it as an ace."

MP Gunawardena alleged that the Foreign Ministry had not properly made use of Lord Naseby’s statement which categorically proved that the Lankan security forces did not massacre 40,000 civilians, on the Vanni front, during the final phase of the war, as alleged by a so-called panel of experts, appointed by then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

MP Gunawardena said: "Although Lord Naseby proved that reports used by the UNHRC are erroneous, the Government’s representatives, like Dr. Harsha de Silva, had made a different statement in Geneva recently."

Minister Marapana told the House that he did not agree with MP Gunawardena’s allegations. The Minister said Dr Harsha de Silva did not make such a statement, as claimed by the MP.

"We are mindful of Lord Naseby’s statement and we really appreciate his efforts. He has done extensive research on it. The forum in Geneva, which Dr. Harsha de Silva attended, was not an appropriate forum to take it up."

The UNP never used Lord Naseby disclosure to defend Sri Lanka. The UNP discarded credible information provided by Lord Naseby. President’s Counsel Marapana who received the foreign affairs portfolio, in August 2017, followed his predecessors Mangala Samaraweera’s (January 2015-May 2017) and Ravi Karunanayake’s (May 2017-August 2017) policy in respect of war crimes.

Following the last presidential election, lawmaker Gunawardena received the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s leadership, the government named the Foreign Affairs Ministry as Foreign Relations Ministry and placed it under Dinesh Gunwardena.

Minister Gunawardena has an opportunity to use Lord Naseby’s disclosure to save Sri Lanka. Having repeatedly demanded that the UNP properly defend the country, in Geneva, the veteran politician can now use Gash’s reports to thwart the Geneva project. The Foreign Relations Minister can certainly consult Lord Naseby in this regard. Gash reports contradicted the primary UN Panel of Experts’ allegation, blindly rubber stamped by the Geneva body. Lord Naseby obtained highly confidential Gash reports in terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, though the UK government desperately tried to suppress them on the basis their disclosure would jeopardize UK-Sri Lanka relations. The UK’s claim was nothing but a blatant lie. It realized that the disclosure of Gash reports would have certainly undermined the move to adopt an accountability resolution in Geneva in the aftermath of the 2015 presidential election. If the UK promptly released Gash reports, when Lord Naseby sought them on Nov 06, 2014 from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the very basis for the Geneva resolution would have been disputed.

UN claim

Having faulted the Sri Lanka Army, on three major counts, the PoE (Panel of Experts) accused Sri Lanka of massacring at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing no 137, verbatim: "In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths."

Lord Naseby on the basis of Gash reports, proved the UN claim wrong. Let me remind the reader that the FCO continues to withhold significant number of Gash dispatches in spite of Lord Naseby requesting for disclosure.

Sri Lanka never officially raised Gash dispatches with the UK or UNHRC. Would Foreign Relations Minister Gunawardena recommend Lord Naseby’s disclosure be taken up with the British and the UNHRC. In the wake of Lord Naseby’s statement, in the House of Lords, the writer raised the issue with Farhan Aziz Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for UNSG António Guterres. Haq told the writer that the Geneva-based UNHRC could revisit resolution 30/1 titled ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’

The US resolution, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, was adopted on Oct 1, 2015. Sri Lanka accepted the US-led resolution, days after Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, Ravinatha Aryasinha, rejected the draft at an informal session. Aryasinha is the current Secretary to the Foreign Relations Ministry. As the then Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, Aryasinha was forced, by the then Yahapalana government, to endorse the Geneva resolution on behalf of Sri Lanka, though interested parties constantly blame the then Foreign Minister for signing it.

Haq said that decisions regarding actions taken by the UNHRC were solely in the hands of the members of the Human Rights Council. He added that it would be up to the member states of the Human Rights Council to decide whether to revisit Sri Lanka’s case. The UNHRC comprises 47 countries, divided into five zones.

The UN spokesperson said so when the writer asked him whether the UN could revisit Geneva Resolution in the wake of Lord Naseby’s revelation that the Vanni death toll was at most 7,000 to 8,000, and not 40,000 as claimed by the PoE, in March 2011, and that Sri Lanka never targeted civilians purposely.

"Decisions about the actions taken by the Human Rights Council are solely in the hands of the member of the Human Rights Council. It would be up to the member states of the Human Rights Council to decide whether to revisit this case", Haq said.

Would the new government request the UNHRC to revisit Sri Lanka’s case? Would Sri Lanka request British government’s help to establish the truth by releasing the entire set of Gash dispatches, including those heavily censored ones, in support of Sri Lanka’s call to revisit the case? The UK, a UNHRC member, owes Sri Lanka an explanation as to why the government withheld vital information pertaining to Sri Lanka while interested parties maligned and humiliated Sri Lanka with unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. This even led to our heroic senior military officers, and men, responsible for successfully leading the fight against the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit, being treated like pariahs by Western countries, and the UN.

The UK had Gash dispatches since 2009 - six years before the UNHRC adopted accountability resolution. If not for Lord Naseby’s intervention, in Nov 2014, leading to the disclosure of a highly redacted section of Gash reports, in Oct 2017, in the House of Lords, the UK would never have released them. Lord Naseby’s move exposed the UK government quite badly. Lord Naseby’s passionate defence of Sri Lanka, both in and outside House of Lords, should be examined against the backdrop of the failure on the part of our own Parliament to reach a consensus on accountability issues.

Sri Lanka Parliament seems primarily interested in perks and privileges of its members. The Parliament never bothered to examine unsubstantiated war crimes accusations even after the House of Lords disclosure on Oct 12, 2017. It might be due to lack of high caliber people like the late Lakshman Kadiragamar, the late S.L. Gunasekera or the late Lalith Athulathmudali, in Parliament, any longer. In response to queries raised by the writer, at separate media briefings, during the previous administration, three ministers, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Dayasiri Jayasekera and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka acknowledged that the cabinet never discussed the contentious issue. The Joint Opposition, too, failed in its responsibility. The JO never made a real effort to pressure the government over the Geneva issue. Instead, the JO helped the Geneva project by joining the treacherous attempt to draft a new constitution meant to do away with Sri Lanka’s unitary status at the behest of the West and the Eelam lobby.

Parliament’s responsibility

Sri Lanka Parliament should take up the Geneva issue. There cannot be any other matter more important than properly using Lord Naseby’s disclosure to save Sri Lanka from the Geneva trap. Unfortunately, Parliament is in turmoil, with UNP lawmaker Ranjan Ramanayake’s disgraceful conduct sending shockwaves through the establishment and the country at large. Although parliament disregarded Lord Naseby’s disclosure, thereby facilitating the ongoing Geneva project against the country, it responded swiftly and decisively in the wake of investigations into incidents involving three lawmakers, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and Ranjan Ramanayake.

Shan Wijetunga, Director, Department of Communication of Parliament, on January 09, announced representatives of the government and the Opposition met to discuss as to how the police could arrest a member of Parliament without harming his/her dignity and honour. Having discussed recent developments, the Parliament requested the Defence Ministry and Police Headquarters to formulate a set of guidelines to be followed in case the police wanted to arrest a member of Parliament.

Among those lawmakers who had been present, on Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s invitation, were Chamal Rajapaksa, Nimal Siripala, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Sajith Premadasa and Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Interestingly both Wickremesinghe and Premadasa figure in the controversy caused by UNPer Ramanayake.

Unfortunately, the Parliament never felt the requirement to call such a special meeting to discuss the UN war crimes accusations, soon after the release of the POE report, in March 2011. The Rajapaksa administration lacked a proper strategy to meet the Geneva challenge, though they did the virtual impossible by defeating the LTTE convincingly in the battlefield, when all the pundits, particularly in the West, said that our forces were incapable of defeating the Tigers.

The war-winning government handled the hard won peace quite badly. There cannot be any excuse for squandering millions of USD on US public relations firms, some of them now under a cloud, in a bid to farcically influence US policy on Sri Lanka. During the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, too, the Parliament had no role in respect of Geneva. The UNP-led coalition signed the Geneva resolution without consulting Parliament.

However, the UNP cleverly used the Parliament to achieve its objectives. The UNP shrewdly involved all political parties, represented in Parliament, in a constitution making process, as directed by Geneva against the country’s interest. The operation was meant to do away with the unitary status. The project could have even succeeded if not for the massive turmoil caused by the Treasury bond scams, perpetrated by Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) in Feb 2015 and March 2016, with the full backing of the UNP leadership.

Between the two Treasury bond scams, the then government betrayed the war-winning military in Geneva. The Geneva resolution set in motion a process that undermined the Sri Lankan State. The Parliament became a tool in the hands of those promoting separatism here, much to the dismay of the vast majority of people. The Parliament, as an institution, failed in its duty to protect the country’s Constitution. Instead those playing politics with the Constitution, at the expense of the country, were rewarded. The TNA, in 2016, declared that the party reached a tripartite agreement, involving the US and the yahapalana government, to include foreign judges in accountability mechanisms. On behalf of the TNA, its spokesman and Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran made the declaration in Washington. That statement, made in the presence of the then Sri Lankan Ambassador in Washington, career diplomat Prasad Kariyawasam, was never challenged. The Parliament never raised it.

Political parties represented in Parliament should examine the accountability on the part of the House in respect of the Geneva imbroglio, with a view to taking remedial measures. The government should be mindful of the challenges it faced as Western powers seek to manipulate the government. The crisis caused by the Swiss and cases involving lawmakers Patali Champika Ranawaka, Dr Rajitha Senaratne and Ranjan Ramanayake shouldn’t be allowed to divert attention from Geneva.

The new government’s Geneva policy will decide the country’s fate. It would be pertinent to mention that by the time the country goes to the next parliamentary, polls in late April or early May, 2020, the new government’s Geneva policy would be known to the public.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Questions remain over runaway CID officer’s fate

Swiss affair:


By Shamindra Ferdinando

United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative, Una McCauley, 54, died on her way to the Bandaranaike International Airport, on Feb 24th, 2018. Cancer patient McCauley passed away in an ambulance taking her to the BIA where an air ambulance, hired by the UN, was waiting to move her to Europe.

The Foreign Ministry acted swiftly to clear the way for the UN to move McCauley, who had served here for six years - two years as UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative and as the UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka.

The UN hired an air ambulance after her health deteriorated rapidly following regular treatment she received in Singapore in January 2018. At the time the UN-hired aircraft touched down at BIA, McCauley was receiving treatment at the Navaloka hospital.

There had never been a previous instance of the UN, or any other mission, hiring an air ambulance, to move a diplomat out of Colombo. A diplomatic mission hiring an air ambulance to evacuate a local employee is unthinkable.

An abortive bid made by Swiss Ambassador Hanspeter Mock to surreptitiously evacuate Garnier Banister Francis (allegedly abducted, threatened and molested by an unidentified gang on Nov 25, 2019) should be carefully reexamined. If not for the tough stand taken by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Swiss would have pulled it off. Had the newly installed government succumbed to Western pressure, the Swiss project would never have been exposed.

Although the government was accused of abducting Garnier, to secure information regarding Inspector Nishantha Silva, who left Colombo for Switzerland on Nov 24, 2019, Bern conveniently refrained from referring to the CID officer. The Swiss diplomatic note dated Dec 30, 2019, handed over to Sri Lanka, following a series of consultations, conveniently left out the CID officer taking refuge there, though the first Swiss Embassy statement, dated Nov 29, 2019, referred to the policeman, who was whisked off at lightning speed. 

Both Switzerland and Sri Lanka owed an explanation as to why Nishantha Silva was dropped from the diplomatic note. Sri Lanka cannot be mum on this matter as the Swiss diplomatic note was also released through the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

Lanka never sought extradition of Nishantha Silva

Let me reproduce the statement, dated Nov 25, 2019: "On 25 November 2019, a serious security incident, involving a local employee of the Embassy of Switzerland in Colombo, occurred. The employee was detained against her will in the street, forced to get into a car, seriously threatened at length by unidentified men and forced in order to disclose Embassy-related information.

Several false pieces of information are circulating in the reporting of this incident. The Swiss Embassy in Colombo is issuing the following clarifications:

1. The Swiss Embassy immediately lodged a formal complaint and is fully cooperating with the Sri Lanka authorities in order to support police investigation and initiate an inquiry over the case, while duly considering the health condition of the victim and their relatives.

 2. Due to a deteriorating health condition, the victim is currently not in a state to testify.

3. It has been alleged that the Swiss government rejected a request for the extradition of an employee of the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and his family. No such request has been submitted (emphasis mine)

An examination of Swiss statement dated Nov 25, 2019 and diplomatic note on Dec 30, 2019 is necessary. But, it would be foolish, on our part, to expect politicians and officials to address these matters seriously. 


Swiss diplomatic note conveniently leaves out fugitive cop

Switzerland, on Dec 30, 2019, said it hoped for a swift return to an environment conducive to resuming the positive co-operation between the two countries, after relations were marred over an alleged incident involving a local Embassy employee.

In a Diplomatic Note communicated to the Ministry of Foreign Relations by the Embassy of Switzerland in Sri Lanka, the Embassy said it regretted that these developments have led to the Sri Lankan authorities’ commitment to due process being called into question and reaffirmed that Switzerland, like Sri Lanka, is committed to upholding good governance and the rule of law.

"Switzerland and Sri Lanka have maintained excellent relations for decades and have engaged in substantial cooperation in a variety of fields, to the benefit of both countries and their populations. Both countries value these relations greatly," the Note said.

It added that in the last few weeks, this relationship was marred by misunderstandings surrounding an incident involving a local staff member of the Embassy, who was subsequently taken into custody by the Lankan authorities. "In this context, uncorroborated facts made it into the public domain, putting an unnecessary strain on the otherwise cordial relationship between the two countries. At no point during this time did Switzerland have the intention of tarnishing the image of the Government of Sri Lanka," it added.

"Recognizing that local staff is subject to local laws, the Embassy is convinced that both sides will remain attentive to the working conditions and the wellbeing of all staff of diplomatic missions. Switzerland recalls that it is the responsibility of any government to protect the diplomatic missions of other states on its territory," the Note added.

The Diplomatic Note added, "Attaching great importance to its relationship with Sri Lanka, committed to maintaining and to further strengthening these relations in a constructive manner, and convinced that both countries will together continue to build relations which are based on mutual respect, the Embassy of Switzerland in Colombo avails itself of this opportunity to renew to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka the assurances of its highest consideration."

This Note was simultaneously released by the Embassy of Switzerland in Sri Lanka and the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Colombo.

Have they agreed not to take up the contentious matter of the fugitive CID official taking refuge in Switzerland any further?

In spite of strong condemnation of Swiss questioning Sri Lanka’s commitment to due process by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), various interested parties, including sections of the media, commended the way two countries handled the unprecedented diplomatic row.

The government went to the extent of alleging that some interested parties tried to undermine Sri Lanka – Switzerland relations. Having badly exposed its bias towards a friendly country, Switzerland certainly appeared to have safeguarded its interests.

Civil society group Yuthukama Sunday, January 05, 2019 urged both the UNP and the JVP to disclose their stand on the Swiss Embassy affair as both parties, without hesitation, accepted the Swiss accusations. Yuthukama Chief political analyst Gevindu Cumaratunga explained that the UNP and the JVP couldn’t remain silent in the wake of the Swiss allegations being proved baseless. The Swiss never really cooperated with the ongoing investigation, Cumaratunga pointed out.

Having requested permission to move Garnier and her family out of the country on the basis the former was in a really bad health condition, the Swiss denied the police access to her till Dec 08, 2019. The Swiss never explained as to how a person in such a bad medical condition survived without proper medical attention. Perhaps unknown to the government, the Swiss Embassy had an intensive care unit, within its premises.

A Norwegian denial

One-time Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Teheran, M.M. Zuhair responded to The Island reportage of Dec 17, 2019, arrest and the immediate releasing of a 31-year-old foreigner who carried a Norwegian passport in spite of claiming Iranian nationality. Zuhair, who had represented the UPFA in parliament during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure, asserted that the detection of the foreigner off Silavathurai, should have been thoroughly investigated.

Norway declined to comment

on the arrest

Asked by The Island whether Norway inquired into the arresting of a Norwegian passport holder, as to why he identified himself as an Iranian and whether Sri Lanka got in touch with Norway in that regard, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Communications Advisor Guri Solberg sent us the following response: "Due to the Norwegian legislation of secrecy, the Foreign Service cannot comment on information it receives concerning Norwegian citizens abroad."

Ramin Nazery carrying a Norwegian passport bearing No 31268128 was apprehended off the once Sea Tigers dominated Silavathurai sea, under suspicious circumstances.

Zuhair said the foreigner owed an explanation as to why he lied as regards his nationality. Zuhair, while emphasizing the pivotal importance of strict border controls especially in the wake of Easter Sunday attacks, recalled a somewhat similar incident at the onset of the yahapalana administration in 2015. At a felicitation ceremony for the then State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene on August 05, 2016, organized by the Forum for National Unity (FFNU), Zuhair discussed the detection of a foreigner trying to enter Sri Lanka on a forged passport.

Israeli on a forged Iranian


Zuhair said: "In December, 2015 a 40-year-old Israeli arrived, at the BIA, on a fake Iranian passport. Why an Israeli on a fake Iranian, passport? That would be the relevant question anyone will raise! He also had an Israeli passport with his correct picture but with a different name, kept concealed in his baggage. Why did he come prepared to masquerade as an Iranian while in Sri Lanka unless he had some dangerous mission here and perhaps to leave on a different identity! He had arrived from Mumbai and was detected by the Immigration, at Katunayake, while attempting to enter Sri Lanka on the forged Iranian passport.

"The man had committed offences, falling under several limbs of Section 45 of the Immigrants and Emigrants Act. He should have been produced before a Magistrate as the Immigration officials do in such cases. The offences carry a minimum sentence of one year to five years in prison and to fines in addition! The foreigner should have been questioned by the intelligence authorities and the CID unit of the police which works on a 24-hour 365 days a year operation at the airport. They ought to have elicited valuable information. The man was allowed to go back to Mumbai in the very next flight, without being dealt with for violating our laws!

"The troubling question that I wish to raise is, assuming the Israeli man had been cleared on arrival and if he had either himself or contracted for dollars a narcotic addict, to leave some explosive packages near some Temples here and left the Iranian passport close to the site of the planned explosions, similar to the 21 bombs planted by someone in Ahmedabad and similar to the explosives planted on 7 th July 2013, at the world renowned Mahabodhi Temple, in Buddha Gaya, in Bihar, North India, would that not be the beginning of anti-Muslim riots here? It is a serious possibility. It has happened elsewhere. It is happening around the world. It is not such a difficult task to those with access to dollars and to explosives. That is why we urge the authorities, all citizens, and particularly the Muslims, to be vigilant. Incidentally, the Explosives Act comes under the purview of the Defence Ministry. We need to be alert to all possibilities. We cannot afford to go home and forget our obligations by our country.

"I have taken a lot of your valuable time but do allow me to summarize the more essential points. Firstly the armed forces and the Police, to the extent the law permits, should comprehensively investigate all reports relating to allegations of terrorism, including those published in the media, quoting unidentified sources.

"Secondly, intelligence gathering must encompass not only possible ISIS or other terror infiltration but also cover foreign agents who may venture into the country for operations similar to the David Headleys and Ken Haywoods. Thirdly, identify dubious intelligence reports planted by vested interests, possibly the agents of the arms industry. Fourthly, enhance the need for the country, in general and the Muslims in particular to be vigilant for terror related activities, without needlessly exciting fears. Fifthly, Muslims to explore possible areas of cooperation with the authorities to strengthen terror-related intelligence gathering and investigations."

Zuhair said that he dealt with foreign agents, on Sri Lanka soil, years before the near simultaneous Easter Sunday bombings that caused devastating losses in terms of human lives, stability and economy.

Zuhair, in his August 2016, speech discussed how intelligence failures could result in catastrophes. The President’s Counsel stressed the responsibility of the State and the importance of the Muslim community exercising vigilance.

Easter Sunday attacks revealed as to how the previous UNP government ignored specific intelligence, made available by New Delhi, well in advance. The then State Defence Minister Wijewardene was among those summoned by Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) which inquired into the suicide bombings. PSC member Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka rapped Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe for Wijewardene’s appointment as the State Defence Minister. The war-winning Army Chief questioned Wijewardene’s suitability as the State Minister for Defence.

Zuhair dealt with several cases to highlight the need for prudent thinking in intelligence matters. Among them were utterly wrong British intelligence assessment regarding Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, false reports pertaining to the Lashker e Taiba also known as LeT, having a "facilitation centere" in Sri Lanka, Jaffna-based LeT planning an attack in South India, and the need to be alert to threats posed by ISIS as well as foreign agents,

Zuhair, in his August 2016 speech discussed two cases reported from India to emphasize the need to be eternally vigilant. The President’s Counsel: "One is the deadly 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, centered around the Taj Hotel, also known as 26/11, India’s 9/11. The three day massacre left 160 dead, paralyzed for months business in India’s largest city, and rightfully earned world-wide condemnation. The man who confessed to the US authorities of planning the terror attack and scouting around the location was from Philadelphia, in the US. His name is David Coleman Headley, who grew up under his American mother, who had been married for a short time to and later divorced by the Pakistani father, said to be a poet and diplomat. David Coleman Headley is the man who planned the Taj Hotel terrorist assault, having made seven undetected visits to India for the purpose! He was prosecuted in the US Courts and convicted for his role in India’s three-day massacre and is now serving a 35-year prison sentence in the US.

"The only point that I wish to urge, by referring to the Mumbai massacre, is that we need to alert our border control for possible external deadly agents of terror, if we are to avoid possible mayhem within our country. Vigilance, irrespective of nationalities, ethnicities and faith, must be enhanced. The cooperation of all sections of our people must be sought. I am not saying, nor am I knowledgeable enough to say, that something is about to happen here. All I am saying is, it had happened in our region and can happen here. The compass for detection must be universal and not merely ethnic or religious oriented. We the Muslims of Sri Lanka must cooperate with the authorities by playing a more pro-active role.

The mechanism that needs to be established for such a role is a matter that the community should go into first and discuss with the authorities thereafter. The next case I wish to refer to is India’s 2008 Ahmedabad bombings, in which bombs had been planted in 21 locations in Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Several local TV channels said that they had received an email from a terror outfit called the "Indian Mujahideen" claiming responsibility for the blasts. What is relevant to us tonight is an Associated Press or AP report filed on 29 th July 2008, according to which, the email in which the "Indian Mujahideen" had claimed responsibility for the explosions, which were to occur shortly, had been sent from the computer of an American national named Ken Haywood operating from Bombay. As far as I know there was total silence, thereafter on Ken Haywood’s role in dispatching the advance terror threat. His email predicting terror in Ahmedabad that night turned out to be frighteningly true, with 56 dead and over 200 injured! We are left wondering who is speaking for whom and whether the US guy is the global voice for the Indian Mujahideen! Ken Haywood is reportedly living a free man somewhere in the USA! A very important case from the intelligence point of view but appears to have been mishandled!

We have seen similar claims purportedly from Al Qaeda, ISIS and other globally branded terror outfits appearing in the media, claiming responsibility for almost every act of terror, occurring in all corners of the globe! Co-incidentally we also hear reports predicting terror attacks, mostly quoting unnamed intelligence sources, as if some of them are acting hand in glove with terror outfits."

In spite of eradication of the LTTE, over a decade ago, Sri Lanka is certainly not out of the woods. Security threats persist as post-war Sri Lanka struggles to maintain strict neutrality in foreign relations.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Sumanthiran at Sirikotha briefing, Rajitha, Swiss Embassy employee Garnier remain in media focus


Lawmaker Dr. Rajitha Senaratne’s wife, Dr. Sujatha leaving the Colombo Magistrate court after her husband was granted bail, on Monday, Dec 30, pending further investigations. (Right) Swiss Embassy employee accompanying Garnier Banister Francis (face covered) in the wake of she, too, being given bail, also on the same day (pics by Kamal Bogoda)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The UNP, struggling to cope up with a simmering crisis caused by the then Minister, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne’s, declaration, at a pre-presidential poll press conference, that some of those who had been abducted in ‘white vans’, at the behest of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, were thrown into a tank in Moneragala, infested with crocodiles, received the backing of Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

The briefing was held on Nov 10 - less than a week before the presidential poll, in support of the candidature of UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa who contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket under the ‘swan’ symbol. A section of the media described the briefing as dramatic.

Many an eyebrow was raised when TNA spokesman and Jaffna District parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, appeared at an urgently called media briefing, at Sirikotha, last Thursday, Dec 26, to oppose what the UNP called politically motivated witch hunt directed at top opposition lawmakers.

In spite of joining the Sirikotha briefing, lawmaker Sumanthiran didn’t want to sit under the UNP name-board, at the usual place. The organizers had to shift the briefing to another room where the TNA heavyweight strongly defended his parliamentary colleague, the Kalutara District lawmaker, who was in hiding.

The UNP called the briefing several hours before MP Senaratne arrived at Lanka Hospital, Narahenpita, and got himself admitted. The rest is history.

What is the cost of lies?

Lawmaker Sumanthiran pointed out that allegations pertaining to ‘white van’ abductions were nothing new. The President’s Counsel said such accusations were first made over a decade ago. Flanked by lawmakers Ravi Karunanayake, Ajith P. Perera, Ravindra Samaraweera, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Eran Wickremaratne, Wijeyapala Hettiarachchi and Karunaratne Paranavitana, the President’s Counsel asserted that Dr. Senaratne couldn’t be held accountable for statements made by those invited to address the briefing. Later lawmaker Hirunika Premachandra joined the briefing, though she didn’t address the media.

As the war was brought to a successful conclusion, in May 2009 - over a decade ago - it would be interesting to ascertain as to when ‘white van’ abductions really began.

Referring to a couple of reported abductions, allegedly carried out by ‘white van’ squads, during Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tenure as the Secretary, Ministry of Defence, lawmaker Sumanthiran emphasized the pivotal importance of a thorough inquiry. On the day of the special Sirikotha briefing, a group of civil society activists called another media briefing at NMSJ (National Movement for Social Justice) at Rajagiriya, on the top floor of the Keells building, to defend MP Senaratne. For the Rajagiriya briefing, the media received an invitation from health sector trade union activist, Saman Ratnapriya, who backed Sajith Premadasa’s candidature at the Nov 16, 2019 presidential election. However, Saman Ratnapriya wasn’t there.

Accusations regarding throwing bodies of abducted persons into a crocodile-infested tank, in Moneragala, were made by the then Minister Senaratne before his two guests (Anthony Douglas Fernando and Athula Sanjeewa Madanayake), at the briefing, repeated them. The writer was among those invited by the Minister’s media outfit, headed by Malith Wijenayake, to cover the briefing at the Prajathanthrawadi Jathika Viyaparaya office at Thimbirigasyaya. Soon after the launching of investigations into Dr. Senaratne’s claims, Wijenayake fled the country.

The police arrested Fernando and Madanayake, at Mahara, on Dec 13, 2019. They quickly admitted the truth. The suspects confessed they lied at the behest of Dr. Senaratne for a payment et al.

As lawmaker Sumanthiran quite rightly pointed out ‘white van’ allegations had been there for over a decade. Surprisingly, neither the war-winning government, nor the UNP-led coalition, ever inquired into there often repeated allegations.

The Irate media refrained from raising questions as the briefing was held over an hour later than the scheduled time.

It would be pertinent to mention the Thimbirigasyaya office had been previously used by those who managed presidential polls campaigns of common candidates, retired Army Commander Sarath Fonseka (2010) and Maithripala Sirisena (2015). Following Fonseka’s heavy defeat at the hands of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former used the Thimbirigasyaya office at the onset of the 2010 April general elections. Fonseka contested the general election, on the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) ticket, as its prime ministerial candidate. The JVP, too, contested the election on the DNA ticket. The DNA secured seven seats, including two National List slots. The group comprised Sarath Fonseka, Arjuna Ranatunga, businessman Tiran Alles and four JVPers, Anura Kunara Dissanayake, Vijitha Herath, Sunil Handunetti and Ajith Kumara.

During Maithripala Sirisena’s 2014-2015 campaign, the Thimbirigasyaya office was used as their main office in Colombo. Among those who addressed the media there, at that time, were Patali Champika Ranawaka and Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa.

Accusations made at the Timbirigasyaya briefing pertaining to ‘white van’ abductions wouldn’t have caused such a huge crisis for the UNP, if not for Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s triumph over Sajith Premadasa at the Nov 16 presidential poll.

Dr. Senaratne’s guests also alleged the Rajapaksas stole and moved approximately 7,000 tonnes of gold from the Northern Province to the South.

Mock’s claims countered

Accusations in respect of ‘white van’ abductions, and the massive gold robbery, should be examined also taking into consideration the unprecedented diplomatic crisis caused by high profile Swiss accusations over an alleged abduction of local Embassy employee, Garnier Banister Francis. Within days after the Swiss complained in respect of the alleged abduction, that they claimed had taken place on Nov 25, 2019, Sri Lanka furnished irrefutable evidence to prove the incident never took place. Foreign Secretary Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, accompanied by Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunartane, briefed Swiss Ambassador Mock as regards the findings, on Dec 01, 2019. Two weeks later, Ambassador Mock received an assurance from no less a person than President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that the alleged abduction never took place.

But by the time President Rajapaksa met Ambassador Mock, at the presidential secretariat, Dr. Senaratne was on record as having alleged that someone had thrust a pistol in Garnier’s mouth. Dr. Senaratne also declared that the purported victim’s health had deteriorated to such an extent she was not in a position to talk. Dr. Senaratne’s claim was proved wrong as Garnier, in spite of an abortive bid to fly her out of the country, in an air ambulance, remained holed up at the Swiss Embassy until she reported to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on Dec 08 afternoon.

Swiss owed the Sri Lankan government an explanation as to why Garmier, allegedly abducted and released on Nov 25, was not presented before police till Dec 08 afternoon.

Weeks later, Dr. Senaratne had to admit himself to Lanka Hospitals as the government turned the heat on the former minister over propagating lies. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa moved quite speedily to counter propaganda projects. Having ruled out the Swiss proposal to move Garnier out of Sri Lanka without her being subjected to immigration formalities, President Rajapaksa took tangible measures to set the record straight. If not for President Rajapaksa’s hands on approach, the unthinkable could have happened. Had Sri Lanka succumbed to Swiss pressure, Garmier would have been moved out of Sri Lanka without an investigation. Garnier’s clandestine departure would have taken place close on the heels of Inspector Nishantha Silva, of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), his wife and three children, receiving refugee status in Switzerland, at lightning speed.

The government owed an explanation as to how it planned to tackle controversial Inspector Silva receiving asylum in Switzerland.

High profile political projects

The first media briefing, arranged at the Thimbirigasyaya political office, in the run-up to the Nov 16 presidential poll, was called off by Dr. Senaratne’s media outfit, claiming that those scheduled to join the Minister at the briefing couldn’t be contacted. There were a dozen representatives, from both print and electronic media, at the venue. The writer was among them.

The propaganda project, directed from the Thimbirigasyaya office, played a significant role in the overall strategy against Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Dr. Senaratne now embroiled in controversy over accusations pertaining to alleged ‘white van’ abductions, also in the run up to the Nov 16 poll, revealed civil society decision to move court against Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Dr. Seneratne didn’t mince his words when he declared that court would be moved against Gotabaya Rajapaksa over absence of his Sri Lankan citizenship. Civil society activists, Gamini Viyangoda and Prof. Chandragupta Thenuwara pursued the matter.

The UNP project was meant to demonize Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The former Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was routinely depicted as a person who resorted to ‘extra judicial practices.’ Having survived an LTTE assassination bid, on Dec 01, 2006, in Colombo, Gotabaya Rajapaksa dealt with the LTTE the way any sane person would do. Whatever the subsequent differences between the Rajapaksas and Fonseka that emerged in the immediate aftermath of the successful conclusion of the war, in May 2009, the wartime government successfully faced the conventional military challenge, in the North and East regions, and undercover terrorist units operating in the City and its suburbs.

Those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE a decade ago, still propagate the lie that innocent people were abducted in white vans. All arrests made by security forces and law enforcement authorities are depicted as abductions. The TNA continues to call those who had been convicted over terrorism and those detained in remand custody, pending conclusion of their cases, political prisoners. Having recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils, way back in 2001, the TNA remained committed to Velupillai Prabhakaran’s macabre cause until the very end.

To former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s credit, the UNP leader publicly rejected widespread claims the government held political prisoners. The then Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, too, strongly denied accusations as regards secret detention facilities. During the conflict and post-war period, the Rajapaksa administration was repeatedly accused of running secret detention facilities. Sri Lanka never denied conducting military operations against terrorists and taking tangible measures to neutralize threats posed by covert operatives. Sri Lanka should be proud of eradicating the LTTE - definitely its single biggest post-independence achievement.

The TNA threw its weight behind the UNP’s bid to discourage the government from pursuing the case against Dr. Senaratne. But, did the TNA at least publicly request the LTTE to release as many as 300,000 civilians forcibly held on the Vanni east front, in 2009, as a human shield as it was being routed militarily?

Within months after the elimination of the LTTE, the TNA teamed up with the UNP and the JVP to back war-winning Army Commander Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential poll. The TNA conveniently forgot its accusations of grave human rights violations directed at Fonseka’s army. Although Mahinda Rajapaksa comfortably defeated Fonseka, with a margin of 1.8 mn votes, the TNA delivered northern and eastern electoral districts to the former Army Chief.

Similarly, the TNA managed to ensure that Maithripala Sirisena and Sajith Premadasa secured the northern and eastern electoral districts regardless of the results in areas outside the once temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provinces. Let me remind you that on all three occasions (2010, 2015 and 2019 presidential polls) candidates backed by UNP-led coalitions contested on the New Democratic Front ticket. In spite of the NDF not being represented at Local Government, Provincial Council and parliament, they fielded main presidential candidates thrice since the introduction of the presidential system. Having backed the UNP-led coalition at 2010 and 2015 presidential polls, the JVP contested 2019 presidential on its own. JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake couldn’t even save his deposit made ahead of handing over nominations.

Why did the TNA join the Sirikotha media briefing? Political weekly Ravaya, in its Dec 29, 2019 edition, quoted Jaffna District MP Mavai Senathirajah, General Secretary of the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, as having said that the TNA was yet to decide on its stand at the 2020 parliamentary election. Lawmaker Senathirajah contradicted recent media reports to the effect the TNA would help the UNP form the next government. MP Sumanthiran recently declared TNA’s backing for the UNP at the forthcoming parliamentary poll.

The TNA is obviously divided over its strategy though an influential section seems hell-bent on continuing its alliance with the UNP. Against this backdrop, Colombo District UNP lawmaker Mujibur Rahuman, on Sunday, Dec 29, made quite a frank admission at a media briefing. Responding to a query at the Sirikotha briefing, MP Rahuman admitted the party leadership had been aware of the ‘white van’ accusations that were to be made at Thimbirigasyaya on Nov 10. Lawmaker Rahuman revealed that Dr. Senaratne, as a senior leader of the UNP, briefed the party leadership regarding the claims that were going to make headlines. In addition to the top UNP leadership, had those who backed Sajith Premadasa’s candidature been informed of the Thimbirigasyaya propaganda project, based on total lies?

Throughout the war, and after the conclusion of the conflict, over a decade ago, interested parties propagated lies to undermine Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksas were accused of mass slaughter on the Vanni front. In the wake of 2015 presidential poll, Sri Lanka co-sponsored an accountability resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Oct 2015.

The Geneva resolution was adopted on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations pertaining to killings on the Vanni front. The primary accusation was the massacre of 40,000 civilians. In case of the Nov 10, 2019 media briefing, at Thimbirigasyaya, the identity of accusers is known, whereas those who alleged 40,000 Tamil civilian killings remain unknown though the accusation was made in March 2011. The UN certainly applies strange legal standards when it comes to weak and small countries.

Let me reproduce the UN accusation verbatim. Having faulted the Army on three major counts, the UN Panel of Experts (much more like a kangaroo court) accused Sri Lanka of massacring at least 40,000 Tamil civilians. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing no 137, verbatim: "In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths."

Sri Lanka squandered a golden opportunity to seek a review of Geneva resolution, in late 2017, on the basis of official British military wartime dispatches from Colombo in 2009.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Wartime seizure of UN workers and an abduction that never happened

Swiss mystery bared:


President Gotabaya Rajapaksa greeting Sidonia Gabriel, First Secretary of the Swiss Embassy at the Presidential Secretariat. Ambassador Hanspeter Mock looking on (pic courtesy President’s media)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

War winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa (Nov 2005-January 2015) addressed editors of national newspapers and senior representatives of the electronic media at Temple Trees. Formal meetings with the media began in his second term, beginning 2010. President Rajapaksa was always flanked by several ministers and in some instances, top officials. Finance Secretary Dr. P. B. Jayasundera and Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga had been present regularly at the meetings at Temple Trees.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s predecessor, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, during her tenure (Nov 1994-Nov 2005), never bothered to invite the media for formal briefings.

President Maithripala Sirisena (January 2015 to Nov 2019) invited the editors of national newspapers and senior representatives of the electronic media to the President’s House. At the beginning of the yahapalana government, President Sirisena was flanked by senior UNP ministers. The then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse had been among them. There had been junior politicians present on some occasions.

The writer had the opportunity to cover almost all the briefings given by Presidents Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena. President Sirisena didn’t bother to invite the media, after the April 2019 President’s House briefing, held in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks.

The then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake (July 2017-August 2019) and Northern Governor Dr. Suren Raghavan flanked President Sirisena. President Sirisena, who had been on a private visit to Singapore at the time of the near simultaneous suicide attacks which killed approximately 270, blamed the then IGP Pujith Jayasundera and Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando while Lt. Gen. Senanayake faulted the then Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) retired DIG Sisira Mendis of not sharing vital intelligence warning provided by New Delhi. The Army Chief’s assertion was the Easter Sunday carnage could have been thwarted if the CNI shared intelligence with the Army. The Army Chief refrained from explaining as to why the country’s premier intelligence outfit, the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), failed in its primary duty. Dr. Raghavan quite surprisingly asserted that the government should initiate a dialogue with those responsible for the Easter Sunday massacre.

One-time Director of the President’s Media said direct talks were necessary in the absence of an accepted mechanism to deal with such a situation. Dr. Raghavan declared that there was no model/framework to tackle such security threats.

No one should be surprised of President Sirisena’s decision not to invite the media after the April, 2019 meet. The pathetic failure on the part of the President and the UNP administration to thwart the suicide bombings ruined the UNP government. The Security crisis, caused by the previous administration, facilitated Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidential bid. Having promised to restore stability, wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa comfortably won the Nov 16, 2019 presidential election. His closest rival Sajith Premadasa lost by a staggering 1.4 mn vote margin. Thirty-three other contestants, including JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, couldn’t regain their deposits.

Prez media

Within a week after his triumph over Sajith Premadasa, who contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket, those who couldn’t stomach the change of government hit back hard.

Swiss Embassy employee Garnier Banister Francis was used in a high profile project to tarnish the image of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Swiss Ambassador Hanspeter Mock, on behalf of Francis, complained to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of the Embassy employee being abducted at gunpoint. In fact, the Swiss operation involved accommodating Inspector Nishantha Silva along with his family on their political asylum programme and using an alleged abduction to cause a debilitating setback to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Nishantha Silva fled the country, courtesy Switzerland Embassy, on Nov. 24, 2019. Francis claimed being abducted by five persons, in a Toyota Corolla car, on Nov. 25, 2019. Swiss Ambassador Mock complained to Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa on Nov 27. 2019. Defeated presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa, MP Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and the JVP faulted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government over the incident.

Those who planned the propaganda blitz certainly took into consideration a spate of still unsolved cases – the disappearance of 11 youths & in the hands of the Navy, mostly in 2008, torturing of Deputy Editor of The Nation, Keith Noyahr, on May 22, 2008, assassination of the founding Editor of The Sunday Leader, attorney-at-law, Lasantha Wickrematunga, in the morning of January 08, 2009, on Attidiya Road, near Bakery Junction, attempt on the life of Rivira editor, Upali Tennakoon, on January 23, 2009, at Imbulgoda, Gampaha, abduction and assault on well-known journalist and civil society activist, Poddala Jayantha, on June 1, 2009, near Embuldeniya Junction, in Nugegoda, and disappearance of media personality, Prageeth Ekneligoda, on the eve of the January 26, 2010, presidential poll. Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennakoon sought political asylum overseas.

Had the Swiss managed to force the government to allow Francis to leave the country, in an air ambulance, without being subject to immigration formalities, as planned, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would have been in serious trouble today. Their plan was to get the worker out of Sri Lanka, claiming rapidly deteriorating health. Had the government succumbed to Western pressure, Francis would have been most probably moved out of Sri Lanka during President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first official visit to New Delhi. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was away on Nov. 28 and 29.

Having blocked the Swiss move, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered no holds barred investigation into the Swiss saga. Investigations proved conclusively that the alleged abduction never took place. Foreign Secretary Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasingha and Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne briefed Ambassador Mock of the findings in the evening of Dec 01.

By the time President Rajapaksa met Ambassador Mock at the Presidential Secretariat before he addressed the media, the Swiss mystery was bared. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa highlighted the New York Times coverage of the incident to justify his assertion that he was the target of a diabolical project. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa didn’t mince his words when he questioned Sajith Premadasa’s statement on the alleged incident. The writer was among those present on the occasion where a quite satisfied President declared his government defeated the high profile propaganda initiative.

The scribes were quite surprised to see President Gotabaya Rajapaksa joining the queue to serve himself buffet style lunch.

Analysis of telephone data revealed that Francis had been in touch with Inspector Nishantha Silva before the latter left the country. She had also been in touch with several others. There had never been a previous case of Sri Lanka successfully countering lies propagated by international players. The writer dealt in previous articles (Alleged abduction of embassy employee: Swiss jolted by GR govt response, The Island, Dec 04, 2019 and Swiss mystery underscores need to examine wider picture, The Island, Dec 11, 2019) as to how previous governments failed to properly counter lies.

The writer discussed how Norway-led SLMM (Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission) reversed death toll after The Island challenged its unsubstantiated claims, unverified accusations in respect of 40,000 civilians killed, in 2009, the Mannar mass graves, Man killed by DMI arrested in India, Australian identity for high profile JVPer, Missing LTTE cadre in the French movie, Sri Lanka Navy blamed for killings carried out by the LTTE, and over 100 LTTE cadres in government custody being poisoned.

Except the accusation made in August 2018 with regard to poisoning of ex-LTTE combatants and the Mannar mass graves, all other failures took place during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration. Sri Lanka never bothered to probe these accusations. But President Gotabaya Rajapaksa handled the Swiss accusations entirely differently.

The new government strategy placed Western powers in an embarrassing situation. Western powers expressed concern over the way the government handled the situation. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pointed out he had no option but to set the record straight.

A controversial UN bid

Let me examine the UN having secret talks with the LTTE in a bid to secure the release of two local Tamil workers, detained by the LTTE, against the backdrop of the Swiss taking up cudgels for its worker. Sri Lanka never really inquired into the matter. The government was not bothered at all. The Island exposed the secret UN pow-vow with the LTTE, in early 2007, as the Army was battling the LTTE on the Vanni west and the Eastern Province.

UN Panel of Experts (PoE) report on Accountability in Sri Lanka called for a comprehensive review of actions by the UN during the war in Sri Lanka. The probe was meant to examine the implementation of the UN’s humanitarian and protection mandates.

It was the final recommendation made by the three-member PoE (Panel of Experts), comprising former Attorney General of Indonesia Marzuki Darusman (Chairman), US attorney-at-law Steven R. Ratner and NGO activist Yasmin Sooka. The PoE released its report on March 31, 2011.

For want of a cohesive strategy, Sri Lanka never exploited the PoE’s recommendation to push for a thorough inquiry into the conduct of UN personnel here. Had there been a proper strategy, Sri Lanka could have exposed the sordid relationship between the UN mission in Colombo and the LTTE. Even a decade after the conclusion of the conflict, Sri Lanka is yet to examine as to how the UN and other UN agencies, as well as the NGO community, prolonged the war. Did the UN system in Sri Lanka facilitate Western strategy? Did they work closely together to save the LTTE?

The UN turned a blind eye to what was happening on the ground. The LTTE made a strong bid to prevent civilians from crossing the front lines, on the Western front, in early 2007.

The LTTE obviously needed the cover of civilians, primarily to discourage the military from using heavy weapons. Secondly, the LTTE leadership felt the need of the population to ensure a steady supply of fresh recruits. (Remember, the forced recruitment of children continued until the very end. The PoE, too, confirmed this fact.) Instead of taking tangible action to thwart the LTTE move, the UN propagated lies that the Sri Lankan military was recruiting child soldiers on behalf of the breakaway LTTE faction led by one-time Batticaloa commander, Karuna.

Tamils started fleeing LTTE-held areas as the 57 Division gradually stepped up pressure on the Vanni west front. Although the UN knew of the LTTE bid to stop the exodus of people, the world body remained quiet for obvious reasons.

The UN mission in Colombo stayed silent even after the LTTE detained two of its Tamil employees for helping civilians to flee the war zone. The LTTE refused to release them in spite of the UN repeatedly appealing to the top LTTE leadership. The so-called human rights champions remained tight lipped. No one dared to voice concern over the new development. The Co-chairs to Sri Lanka’s peace process, namely Norway, the US, EU and Japan, conveniently remained silent even after The Island revealed the unprecedented detention of UN workers While confirming the high handed LTTE action, the then Foreign Secretary, Dr. Palitha Kohona, alleged that those who accused the government of death and destruction at the drop of a hat ignored what was happening in the Vanni mainland (LTTE detains UN workers-The Island April 20, 2007).

The UN mission in Colombo declined to respond to The Island report. Those Colombo-based foreign correspondents, as well as locals working for the international media, ignored the incident. The Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA), too, disregarded The Island revelation. Obviously, they felt the story would be inimical to the LTTE’s interest, and none of them wanted to cause an uproar.

Further inquiries by The Island revealed as to how the UN engaged in secret negotiations with the LTTE in a bid to secure the release of its employees. An influential section of the Colombo-based diplomatic community tried to resolve the issue without bringing it to the notice of the then government. The UN alerted the government only after the LTTE refused to release its workers. The LTTE went to the extent of warning the UN that anyone disregarding its authority would have to face the consequences (UN had talks with the Tigers on the sly with strap line UN workers in LTTE custody-The Island April 23). Human rights champions remained mum.

The then Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in a brief interview with the writer, strongly criticized the Colombo-based UN bigwigs for having secret talks with the LTTE, following the abduction of two UN workers, in February 2007. The issue took centre stage at a meeting chaired by Human Rights Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, to discuss the situation in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Among those present were Colombo-based heads of diplomatic missions, including the then US Ambassador, Robert O. Blake and senior officials representing the UN and other agencies. During the meeting, the UN acknowledged that it had decided against going public, believing the LTTE would eventually release them (Lanka urges UN not to shield Tigers-The Island April 25, 2007).

Swiss mystery bared:

On the day The Island published Defence Secretary Rajapaksa’s criticism of UN action, the issue was raised at the daily media briefing, in New York. Responding to queries, UNSG moon’s spokesperson, Michele Montas revealed that the UN mission hadn’t informed New York of the kidnapping. Montas was speaking on the kidnapping over 10 weeks after the incident. Wouldn’t it be interesting to examine the accountability on the part of UN mission in Colombo? Referring to The Island exposure, Montas said: "We don’t have any confirmation of that newspaper report. We have heard them. As soon as we have a confirmation, we’ll get something for you on that. I am checking with the UN presence in Sri Lanka". Stressing that the UN mission in Colombo hadn’t confirmed the newspaper reports, Montas said: "I don’t know. We don’t have any confirmation. They haven’t confirmed those reports. I heard them through the press. (UN HQ admits Colombo office kept it in the dark with strap line SL government criticizes UN inaction-The Island April 28, 2007).

The UN cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for the LTTE forcing the entire Vanni population to retreat towards the Mullaitivu coast where the group finally collapsed in May 2009.

The UN was careful not to interfere with LTTE operations, though it knew the lives of UN workers as well as their dependents were in jeopardy. Still the UN decided to secretly negotiate with the LTTE instead of demanding their immediate release. The plight of UN workers and their families came to light again in late September 2009 when Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered UN international staff as well as foreign representatives of other INGOs to vacate the Vanni region. Having agreed to complete the withdrawal within three weeks, the then Resident Representative, Neil Bhune, tried to evacuate families of local UN staff (Government wants UN, INGO pullout completed by September 29 –The Island September 17, 2008).

Although the LTTE rejected the UN’s move, its Colombo mission didn’t make a big fuss. Human rights defenders, too, turned a blind eye to the rapidly deteriorating situation. In spite of the UN seeking three weeks to complete the withdrawal, except the project manager of an INGO called ZOA, all representatives quit the war zone by September 16, 2008. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee, which represented all UN agencies and other INGOs active in Sri Lanka, acknowledged the LTTE’s refusal to allow over 500 local staffers of INGOs to leave (Attempt to evacuate Tamil INGO, UN workers thwarted – The Island September 29, 2008). Subsequently, the ZOA manager returned to Vavuniya on September 26, 2008, over a week after all other foreign nationals quit the LTTE-held area. The then ZOA Country Director, Bernard Jaspers Faijer made a desperate attempt to shield ZOA employee accused of joining the LTTE (ZOA defends employee facing expulsion-The Island September 29, 2008). The Island reportage included a front page lead story headlined INGO kingpin with Italian passport joins LTTE as a fighter with a strap line ZOA informs Defence Ministry of its project Manager’s decision on September 27, 2008.

The UN never objected to the LTTE strategy. The TNA as well as NGOs, who were shedding crocodile tears for Tamil civilians, never asked the LTTE to release them. The LTTE knew it wouldn’t have lasted a week if it allowed the civilians to leave. By March/April 2009, the LTTE fighting cadre had been trapped in the Mullaitivu district.

Let me reproduce what the PoE said in its report on the LTTE’s refusal to release civilians (Page 28/Point 98): "In spite of the futility of their military situation, the LTTE not only refused to surrender, but also continued to prevent civilians from leaving the area, ensuring their continued presence as a human buffer. It forced civilians to help build military installations and fortifications or undertake other forced labour. It also intensified its practice of forced recruitment, including children, to swell their dwindling ranks. As the LTTE recruitment increased, parents actively resisted, and families took increasingly desperate measures to protect their children from recruitment. (Page 28/Point 99) "…Beginning February 2009, the LTTE commenced a policy of shooting civilians who attempted to escape, and, to this end, cadres took up positions where they could spot civilians who might try to break out."

One of Sri Lanka’s famed diplomats discussed the issue of accountability when he addressed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), headed by one-time Attorney General the late C. R. de Silva on Aug 25, 2010. Dhanapala, in his submissions said: "Now I think it is important for us to expand that concept to bring in the culpability of those members of the international community who have subscribed to the situation that has caused injury to the civilians of a nation. I talk about the way in which terrorist groups are given sanctuary; harboured; and supplied with arms and training by some countries with regard to their neighbours or with regard to other countries. We know that in our case this has happened, and I don’t want to name countries, but even countries which have allowed their financial procedures and systems to be abused in such a way that money can flow from their countries in order to buy arms and ammunition that cause deaths, maiming and destruction of property in Sri Lanka are to blame and there is therefore a responsibility to protect our civilians and the civilians of other nations from that kind of behaviour on the part of members of the international community. And I think this is something that will echo within many countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, where Sri Lanka has a much respected position and where I hope we will be able to raise this issue."

Dhanapala also stressed on the accountability on the part of Western governments, which conveniently turned a blind eye to massive fund raising operations in their countries in support of LTTE operations. It is no secret that the LTTE would never have been able to emerge as a conventional fighting force without having adequate funds to procure arms, ammunition and equipment.

The Swiss allegation is nothing but a continuation of overall project to undermine Sri Lanka.