Tuesday, 19 September 2017

A dossier on corrupt deals



Lalith Weeratunga leaving Dharmayathanaya after receiving dossier on corrupt deals from Ven Elle Gunawansa, chiefincumbent of the temple on June 21, 2006.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

On the late afternoon of June 21, 2006, Presidential Secretary, Lalith Weeratunga, arrived at the Dharmayathanaya, situated close to the BMICH, on the invitation of its chief incumbent, Ven. Elle Gunawansa. The writer was one of the few journalists invited by Ven. Gunawansa, on that day, to report what the outspoken monk called a significant intervention made by a group of civil society activists. Staff photographer, Jude Denzil Pathiraja, accompanied the writer to cover Ven. Gunawansa handing over a dossier that dealt with a spate of corrupt deals to Weeratunga (Dossier on fraudulent deals handed over to President’s Secy, The Island, Thursday June 22, 2006).

 A smiling Weeratunga accepted the report that dealt with corruption, involving the previous SLFP-led People’s Alliance (PA) politicians and officials, assuring the outspoken monk that President Rajapaksa would take tangible measures to tackle waste, corruption and irregularities. Weeratunga promised to make representations to President Rajapaksa on their behalf.

 Weeratunga also acknowledged corruption within the defence services. Although, Weeratunga assured Ven. Gunawansa that the dossier, furnished by the Ven. Thera, would be investigated by the Special Presidential Investigation Unit, and then cases handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the Rajapaksa administration simply forgot the promise given. 

The visit to Dharmayathanaya took place close on the heels of the Auditor General’s Department revealing what was then called the country’s biggest tax fraud, amounting to a staggering Rs 360 bn. The detection made by officers, who had been engaged in a confidential inquiry. It sent shock waves through the government. The investigation revealed the alleged involvement of senior officials of the Inland Revenue, Customs and the Department of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles in the scam (Auditors reveal tax fraud of Rs 360 billion-The Island, June 11, 2006).

Obviously, the then President Rajapaksa lacked courage to take punitive measures against those who had been involved. There had been a spate of allegations, directed against the SLFP-led People’s Alliance (PA) since it ousted the UNP, at the Aug 1994 parliamentary polls, and then Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga secured presidency, in Nov 1994.

Having succeeded Kumaratunga, in Nov 2005, Rajapaksa thwarted an attempt to transfer a massive sum of money fromthe President’s Fund before she gave up office.

 Having strongly stood by the then Premier Rajapaksa, who had been under a cloud over what was dubbed as the Helping Hambantota scam, Weeratunga received appointment as Secretary to the President.

There hadn’t been a previous occasion where a leading monk directly requested the government to tackle corruption, before Ven. Gunawansa stepped in.

 Ven. Gunawansa told the writer that corruption was threatening the entire society and the failure to address the issue could have had a detrimental impact on the war effort as well. Although a full scale Eelam War IV hadn’terupted yet, the government knew it was only a matter of time before the LTTE resumed its offensive.

In July, the LTTE the blocked sluice gates of Mavil-aru, in the Eastern Province, to trigger a large scale conflict. But, an all-out war was still several weeks away. In the second week of Aug, 2006, the LTTE resumed Eelam War IV with simultaneous attacks on the northern and eastern fronts.

The writer raised the failure on the part of the Rajapaksa administration to tackle corruption with Weeratunga, a few days after he received Ven. Gunawansa’s dossier and received an assurance that President Rajapaksa would give the required political backing to investigate corruption accusations (President’s won’t be soft on colleagues, officials-Presidential Secretary, The Island, June 26, 2006).

Obviously, the Rajapaksa administration had no intention to rein in politicians and officials, and financial regulations, at every level, were violated with impunity.

Political project

With the change of government, in January 2015, Weeratunga, who had been Chairman of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), was investigated and subsequently found guilty by the Colombo High Court in respect of transferring Rs 600 mn from the TRC, in late Oct 2014. The HC faulted him for making available funds to distribute sil redi among Buddhists around the country, ahead of the January 8, 2015 presidential polls. At the onset of the investigation, interested parties referred to misappropriation of TRC funds amounting to Rs 600 mn though the allegation was proved wrong.

Obviously, distribution of sil redi, mugs, wall clocks and money, during Dec 2014-Jan 2015, had been all part of a costly project to secure a third term for war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Distribution of sil redi had been a key part of the Rajapaksa political strategy implemented at the expense of public funds though the then Election Secretariat warned the then government not to go ahead with the project. Those at the helm of the campaign weren’t in a mood to deviate from their strategy.

Weeratunga, obviously had no option but to authorize the massive payment or face the consequences. If Weeratunga was allowed to quit, in early 2010, he wouldn’t have ended up in Welikada. Wouldn’t it be pertinent to examine, urgently, whether cash cow TRC should remain under the executive president in the wake of Colombo HC ruling on the sil redi case. It would be the responsibility of the President and parliament to take remedial measures to thwart future transfers for political purposes.

The Colombo HC found Weeratunga and Director General, TRC, Anusha Palpita, guilty of making available funds for the specific purpose of promoting the candidature of the then President Rajapaksa. The circumstances under which the funds had been transferred weren’t examined.

Had TRC not been under the then President, Weeratunga wouldn’t have had to undergo the humiliation of a prison term. The former President had repeatedly declared that he issued instructions to Weeratunga to release the money therefore he was responsible for the transaction.

Would he have dared to make such a declaration if not for presidential immunity?

Let me briefly discuss the circumstances leading to President Rajapaksa seeking a third term, two years ahead of time. President Rajapaksa called for presidential polls, on the morning of Nov 19, 2014, three weeks after the transfer of the TRC funds. Those who had accused the government of political vendetta on the basis the TRC funds been transferred, before the announcement of the presidential poll, quite conveniently forgot that the then administration was exploring the possibility, since early 2014. No less a person than the then General Secretary of the SLFP Maithripala Sirisena, UPFA MP, in early 2014, officially requested Rajapaksa to drop plans for presidential polls. At that time, Minister Sirisena hadn’t reached an agreement with the UNP though he was seriously unhappy over him being overlooked for the premier’s post.

The Opposition feared the worst when President Rajapaksa forced the UPFA to endorse the 18 Amendment to the Constitution in Sept, 2010. Communist Party Chief Dew Gunasekera, National List MP and Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, National List MP, declined to vote for the 18 Amendment. But, it was passed in parliament with a majority of 114 votes. The required 2/3 majority was obtained with 161 members voting for it and 17 against it. Six UNP MPs Upeksha Swarnamali, Earl Gunasekara, Abdul Cader, N. Wijesinghe, Lakshman Seneviratne and Manusha Nanayakkara crossed over to the government, in Parliament, during the debate on the 18 Amendment to the Constitution, for obvious reasons. Some of them switched their allegiance to President Sirisena after the Aug 2015 parliamentary polls.

The 18 Amendment to the Constitution removed the two-time limit on executive presidents.

In January 2013, President Rajapaksa impeached Chief Justice 43, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake to clear the way for his political project.

Today, even the Joint Opposition had been forced to forget how President Rajapaksa’s right hand man weakened the then administration.

Weerawansa’s project

 Many an eyebrow was raised during the second week of July, 2014, when Weerawansa invited the convener of the Movement for Just Society, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha thera, to finalise far reaching constitutional reforms, including the abolition of the executive presidency.

The breakaway faction of the JVP caused irreparable damage to President Rajapaksa. Weerawansa, the then Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities Minister, warned the Rajapaksa government to meet his demands or face the consequences. Weerawansa threatened to throw his weight behind Ven. Sobitha’s campaign, unless the SLFP accepted his demands, meant to bring in far reaching constitutional reforms. Weerawansa’s strategy caused mayhem at the Uva PC polls, in late 2014.

In early Oct, 2014, Dew Gunasekera requested President Rajapaksa drop plans for early polls. Gunasekera’s appeal was supported by his Socialist Alliance (SA) colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Prof. Tissa Vitharana. Gunasekera told the writer at the time: "Calling for either presidential or parliamentary polls, nearly two years ahead of the scheduled dates, can cause a catastrophe. As the last presidential and parliamentary polls were held in January and April, 2010, there is absolutely no need to engage in a risky political venture now." (Dew makes strong case against snap national polls with strap line calls for thorough examination of ground realities before holding elections two years ahead of scheduled, The Island, Oct 4, 2014).

The SA subsequently, urged the SLFP to abandon its plans for an early presidential poll (SLFP told early presidential poll not required, The Island, Oct 8, 2014).

Their sound advice was simply ignored. The SLFP’s chief strategist Basil Rajapaksa firmly believed his elder brother could secure a third term.

The Island was the only print media to report it whereas the electronic media refrained from giving coverage. However, the writer exercised his franchise for President Rajapaksa at the presidential poll.

Prof Wijesinha was certainly the only UPFA MP who had guts to write letters to President Rajapaksa, the then UPFA General Secretary Susil Premjayantha, as well as Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardena. Premajantha switched his allegiance to President Sirisena after the last parliamentary polls, in Aug 2015. Dinesh Gunawardena functions as the leader of the JO.

Prof. Wijesinha is one of the few politicians to take on corrupt politicians, regardless of who perpetrated fraud. His criticism in respect of the Central Bank bond scams, involving primary dealer, Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL), is an example to all those in parliament, and outside.

Prof. Wijesinha, who had played a pivotal role as the wartime administration’s Peace Secretariat Chief, told the writer recently that the previous government could have had taken advantage if Northern PC was held soon after the conclusion of the war in May 2009. The wartime Defence Secretary Rajapaksa had subscribed to that view whereas Basil Rajapaksa thought differently.

Northern PC poll was finally held in Sept. 2013.

Prof. Wijesinha’s letters

Let me reproduce Prof. Wijesinha’s letter addressed to President Rajapaksa: "At the last meeting of the Executive Committee of the Liberal Party, it was decided, as requested by them, to support the request of the Left Parties (Dew, Vasu and Tissa) that national elections not be held in the short term. We, too, feel that it would be better, instead, to embark on the reforms that have been pledged in Your Excellency’s manifesto, as well as in other contexts.

These reforms should be based on the vision Your Excellency used to express, regarding bringing government closer to the people, and ensuring greater responsiveness and accountability in respect of local needs. The need for devolution is something the Liberal Party has always stressed, but we have also been conscious of the need for national security. However, as we have often pointed out, giving greater responsibility to the people, and to local communities, for matters that affect them closely, on the principle of subsidiarity, is quite feasible, whilst also ensuring the security of the nation.

But devolution must also be accompanied by empowerment. So we also need to move towards developing a technologically competent younger generation, and pay much greater attention than now to maximizing human resources.

In this regard Bills that need to be expedited include the following, which are pledged or planned

a) A new Universities Act that provides meaningful training that promotes employability free to those who need it, whilst facilitating the establishment of other centres of excellence through private/ public partnerships

b) A new Education Act that ensures holistic education, with greater stress of skills and competencies that are developed through extra-curricular activities such as Sports and Social Service and Cultural Activities

c) A new Local Government Act that increases the power of local authorities in specific fields whilst also entrenching consultation mechanisms with provision for feedback

d) An Act to change the Electoral system so as to enhance the accountability to specific electorates of Members of Parliament, whilst also preserving proportional representation without the distortions of the current system

We must also revise Administrative and Financial Regulations, as has been agreed is essential in response to strictures made by the Committee on Public Enterprises on which I have had the honour to serve. Such Regulations should establish consultation mechanisms such as the Jana Sabhas you mentioned, but these must be vehicles for the people, not tools for politicians. The initial steps taken by the Ministry of Public Administration in this regard should be strengthened.

It would also help to fast forward action on the National Human Rights Action Plan, as well as on the LLRC Recommendations, all of which have been approved by Cabinet. I believe the position of the government would also be immeasurably improved if the National Policy on Reconciliation were adopted.

Without such measures the decline in popularity that we have recently witnessed will continue. A hasty election will be seen as evidence of panic, and this can be easily exploited. On the other hand, unless there is evidence of change, the people will have no reason to continue to vote for this government, since the economics and social benefits of peace that were anticipated are no longer evident.

It would be tragic if the tremendous achievement of 2009 were to be squandered. Though it may be claimed that the Liberal Party is not in touch with electoral reality, it must also be recognized that our analyses of political developments, based on wide knowledge and established principles, have generally been accurate. Given our initial contribution to the international dimensions of the victories of 2009, we too have reason to argue for measures that will allow us to build positively on that foundation, rather than stand back and see it destroyed.

Yours sincerely."

The following is the text of hitherto unpublished Prof. Wijesinha’s letter to then UPFA General SecretaryPremjayantha: "Thank you for your letter of 10th Octoberregarding offices for any forthcoming national election.

The Liberal Party is deeply appreciative of the UPFA having appointed a representative of the party to Parliament on the National List. We take pride in the success of the war against terrorism during the preceding Parliament, and the speed with which the government engaged in resettlement and rehabilitation thereafter. We will continue to support the government for the term of this Parliament, and trust the government will move on these matters even more effectively before its mandate is concluded.

However we have taken a decision to urge the President to engage in reforms before holding any national election. If reforms do not occur, we may not be able to support his candidature. We continue to wish the UPFA, and the SLFP and its traditional allies, well for the future in fulfillment of the Middle Path of the late S W R D Bandaranaike which accords with the liberal philosophy."

The same letter was also copied to then Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardena.

The decision to utilize TRC funds, at the expense of Weeratunga, should be examined against the backdrop of above mentioned events and the pathetic failure to thwart organized violence directed at the Muslim community at Aluthgama and neighbouring areas in June 2014. Had President Rajapaksa triumphed, TRC would have been at the mercy of the executive.

Weeratunga, played a pivotal role as a member of troika comprising Basil Rajapaksa, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Weeratunga during the Eelam War IV. The Indian ‘troika’ member Shivshanker Menon, the then Indian Foreign Secretary in his memoirs Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy referred to Weeratunga’s role.

Let political parties take immediate measures to deprive politicians’ power to exercise power over funds at the expense of parliament, where the ultimate responsibility for public funds lies.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

A challenging task for Gotabhaya




By Shamindra Ferdinando

The high profile launch of Eliya (light) by wartime Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa underscored Sri Lanka’s PATHETIC failure to counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, directed by a section of the international community, since the conclusion of the war, in May 2009.

Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for its failure and the previous government can never absolve itself of the responsibility for the situation.

Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s Army brought the war to a successful conclusion, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, on the morning of May 19, 2009, when heavy caliber ammunition penetrated LTTE leader Velupillai’s Prabhakaran’s forehead. The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) has credited the Fourth Battalion of the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment (4 VIR) for Prabhakaran’s killing. A not so celebrated infantry battalion was fortunate to secure unprecedented recognition.

The SLA would never have succeeded in pursuing Prabhakaran, successfully, if the Sri Lanka Navy and the Sri Lanka Air Force had failed to achieve their strategic objectives during Eelam War IV (Aug 2006-May 2009). Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda and Air Marshal Roshan Gunatilleke provided legendary leadership to the SLN and SLAF, respectively, whereas Defence Secretary Rajapaksa ensured an unstoppable offensive, over a period of three years, until the LTTE was brought to its knees. His role, in Sri Lanka’s victory over terrorism, can never be challenged or disputed.

But the failure on the part of the Rajapaksa administration to counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, certainly helped those who had been propagating war crimes allegations as well as accusations in respect of post-war incidents, leading to the change of government, in January, 2015.

The US, EU and India spearheaded the 2015 project in collaboration with the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), one-time political arm of the LTTE.

Although a US led project failed, in January 2010, to oust President Rajapaksa, an identical mission succeeded in January 2015. On both occasions, they used those who had been close to President Rajapaksa, namely the then Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Minister Maithripala Sirisena as battering rams, in 2010 and 2015, respectively.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa facilitated the enemy project by calling presidential polls two years ahead of scheduled time. Among those who had officially requested President Rajapaksa not to do so were then SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena in April 2014 and D.E.W. Gunasekera, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Prof. Tissa Vitharana in Oct 2014. President Rajapaksa ignored their sensible advice.

Gajaba Regiment veteran Rajapaksa launched the Eliya project on Sept. 6, 2017, amidst the latest simmering dispute over war-winning Army Chief the then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka accusing the then Vanni Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya of atrocities.

The Eliya project, meant to thwart the ongoing bid to bring in a new Constitution, in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by the UNP-SLFP government, on Oct 1, 2015, received the backing of the civil society. Among them were distinguished non-career diplomats, Dayan Jayatilleka, who calls himself a Sri Lankan patriot, and also an internationalist, and Tamara Kunanayakam. Jayatilleka and Kunanayakam made brief presentations on behalf of Eliya. It would be pertinent to mention that the Rajapaksa administration unceremoniously removed both Jayatilleka and Kunanayakam, at the expense of Sri Lanka’s defence overseas. Now they are back, along with former MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe, who switched his allegiance to Maithripala Sirisena at the onset of the operation against President Rajapaksa, in late 2014. Prof. Wijesinghe was also present at the launch of Eliya.

Among those who had been present at the launch of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s initiative, were twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa and brother Basil Rajapaksa accused of war crimes. They were among four leaders of the war-winning Rajapaksa team blamed by the then US Ambassador in Colombo Patricia Butenis for war crimes. The other accused are Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, on the podium, and now Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Regional Development Minister in the UNP-SLFP coalition.

Fonseka’s entry into politics, in late 2009, triggered an unprecedented crisis and, unfortunately, divided the war-winning team. But, whatever political disputes, Sarath Fonseka had been a key member of the war-winning team, and his contribution to Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism can never be challenged. That is the undeniable truth. In fact, Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism or resultant war crimes allegations cannot be discussed, under any circumstances, without taking the Fonseka factor into consideration.

Those who had flayed Fonseka for accusations, directed at Jayasuriya, must not forget the Sinha Regiment veteran is also part of the solution, regardless of his political affiliations now.

The writer had an opportunity to take up a range of issues, pertaining to accountability issues, during Balaya, a weekly live programme, hosted by Sudewa Hettiarachchi, Director News, Hiru, on Sept 7, 2017, the day after the launch of ‘Eliya.’ The timing of Balaya couldn’t have been better with naval veteran Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera (former Deputy Minister, UPFA), who had addressed the gathering at the ‘Eliya’ launch on the previous, on the ‘Balaya’ panel. The writer teamed up with Weerasekera, whereas the opposing team comprised Gamini Viyangoda of Purawesi Balaya, an influential civil society organization that had forcefully campaigned for President Rajapaksa’s ouster, and Dr. Jehan Perera, executive Director of the National Peace Council (NPC), the foremost NGO funded by successive Norwegian governments, and the recipient of substantial funding from other foreign ‘sources.’

Perera, accompanied the Sri Lankan delegation to the Geneva Human Rights Council sessions, in March 2017. He backed Sri Lanka’s request for an additional two-year period to implement Resolution 30/1.

The debate dealt with war crimes allegations in the wake of Fonseka’s latest outburst directed at Jayasuriya.

Essentially, Viyangoda, a member of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) and Perera strongly pushed for a thorough investigation into accountability issues. Viyangoda reiterated his backing for CTFRM recommendation for foreign judges in domestic war crimes court, in line with Resolution 30/1. Perera threw his weight behind Viyangoda, while faulting the previous government for excessive loss of civilian lives during the Vanni offensive and detention of over 300,000 people at the conclusion of the fighting. They asserted that international intervention could have been averted had the Rajapaksa administration swiftly and decisively addressed human rights concerns. They squarely placed the blame on the previous government for the current crisis, while underscoring the responsibility on the part of Sri Lanka to address domestic as well as international concerns in respect of wartime conduct of political and military leaderships.

Weerasekera lucidly explained how the ongoing Geneva project relentlessly undermined Sri Lanka with the focus on immense sacrifices made by the armed forces and the people. The naval veteran also discussed the failure on the part of the international community to intervene and take punitive action against the LTTE at an earlier stage. Weerasekera recalled the atrocities that had been committed by the LTTE over a period of time while explaining their own efforts to protect civilians. Weerasekera cited the rescue of Sea Tiger leader Soosai’s wife and children by the navy on May 16, 2009, as they were fleeing in a boat towards Tamil Nadu as an example of their approach towards non-combatants. Weerasekera proved that Resolution 30/1, that had been co-sponsored by the current government, was based on the report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka, aka OISL, though Viyangoda took a contrary view.

Weerasekera strongly opposed foreign judges as well as other foreign personnel in proposed judicial mechanism whereas the writer expressed the opinion that proper defence strategy following fresh reappraisal of the entire gamut of issues will enable Sri Lanka to successfully counter allegations even before foreign judges. It would be pertinent to stress that the responsibility in proving allegations directed at Sri Lanka lies with those pushing for war crimes probe. The writer asserted that foreign judges wouldn’t be an issue if Sri Lanka, forcefully brought out all relevant factors.

The writer raised the following issues with the panelists.

Thamilini’s revelations

The pivotal importance of establishing the circumstances leading to the resumption of war, in Aug 2006. Sivakamy Sivasubramaniyam alias Thamilini, in her memoirs, Thiyuni Asipathaka Sevana Yata (Under the shadow of a sword), launched in May 2016, following her death in Oct 2015, briefly explained how Prabhakaran had wanted to facilitate Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory, at the Nov 2005 presidential poll, to enable the LTTE to resume war and bring his campaign to a successful end. There cannot be any dispute over Thamilini’s assertions as regards the LTTE creating an environment for resumption of all out war and the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, in Aug. 2005, on specific orders given by Prabhakaran as Thamilini’s book was launched by artiste, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, on her husband Jeyakumar’s request. Viyangoda and senior lecturer Swaminadan Wimal had addressed the gathering at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI). Dharmasiri Bandaranayake or Viyangoda wouldn’t have done anything under any circumstances to justify the war against the LTTE, hence the need to seriously examine Thamilini’s revelations.

Victor Ivan’s disclosure

Former Ravaya Editor Victor Ivan, in a special article on ‘Jeyaraj’, published in Sept 2011, in memory of Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, assassinated in April 2008, revealed how President Rajapaksa had sent Seva Lanka chief Harsha Navaratne to reach an understanding with the LTTE soon after Prabhakaran launched claymore attacks in Dec 2005. The then presidential secretary Lalith Weeratunga had accompanied Harsha Kumara Navaratne. President Rajapaksa had sent Harsha Navaratne again with Fernandopulle to make representations to the LTTE, on his behalf, in the wake of the Mavilaru crisis, caused by the LTTE in June/July 2006. According to Victor Ivan, Navaratne had made the revelations a few months after Fernandopulle’s assassination at Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe’s residence. Among those present had been Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne (then an influential member of the Rajapaksa cabinet), TNA leader R. Sampanthan and TNA members of parliament, Suresh Premachandran and Mavai Senathirajah. Victor Ivan also quoted Sampanthan as having said that the war couldn’t be called genocide though he wasn’t prepared to admit that publicly. Victor Ivan underscored that Harsha Kumara Navaratne had made the revelation after the TNA accused President Rajapaksa of resorting to war without making an effort to negotiate with the LTTE.

P’karan’s targets

The LTTE realized the requirement to deprive President Rajapaksa of Lt. Gen. Fonseka and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa at a very early stage of eelam war IV. Had Prabhakaran succeeded in eliminating Fonseka, in April 2006, and Rajapaksa, in Oct 2006, the war effort would have failed. Fonseka had the strength to declare that he wouldn’t leave the war to his successor, while Gotabhaya told Norwegians the problem could be definitely settled through military means, according to Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka released in Sept 2011. Let me reproduce verbatim the relevant section: "On April 6, 2006, Norwegian Special Envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer and Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar have a tense meeting with Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. In response to a question about whether the ethnic and political problems could be solved by military means Gotabhaya answers, ‘yes.’

Had Prabhakaran succeeded, the outcome of the war could have been different. The split in the Rajapaksa camp obviously delighted those elements wanting to divide the country on ethnic lines.

Denial of ‘white flag’ allegations

Reappraisal of specific allegation in respect of execution of LTTE cadres on the Vanni east front in mid May 2009 against the backdrop of a public statement made by Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith, US defence attache, in Colombo, in June 2011, regarding the allegation. Lt. Col. Smith denied the allegation at the inaugural Defence Seminar organized by the SLA at the Ramada. Interestingly, the US State Department never denied Lt. Col’s statement, though it declared the officer didn’t make that statement on behalf of the US.

Discrepancy in numbers killed

Requirement to establish the number of civilians killed during the final phase. The UN Panel of Experts (PoE) estimated the number of killed at over 40,000, in March 2011, whereas the Amnesty International, in Sept 2011, placed the number of civilian deaths at 10,000. In Sept. 2011, the British parliament was told of 60,000 civilians and 40,000 LTTE cadres killed during January-May 2009. These vastly different figures should be examined taking into consideration still confidential UN report that placed the number of persons killed in areas under LTTE control during Aug 2008 – May 2009 at 7,721 and 18,479 wounded. The war ended a week after the UN stopped collecting data due to the intensity of the fighting.

TNA’s culpability

Inquire into TNA’s partnership with the LTTE since 2001 when the former came into being. The EU alleged that the TNA secured the lion’s share of electorates/seats in the Northern and Eastern electorates at the April 2004 parliamentary polls, thanks to violence unleashed by the LTTE on those opposed to the TNA and former stuffing ballot boxes of the latter. Having declared the LTTE sole representative of Tamils in 2001, the TNA faithfully served the terrorist group, both in and outside parliament, until the SLA put a bullet through Prabhakaran’s head.

Allegations against the SLA should be probed taking into consideration the TNA support for Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena at the January 2010, January 2015 presidential polls, respectively. Fonseka had commanded the victorious SLA accused of indiscriminate killings while Maithripala Sirisena held the defence portfolio in the last week of Vanni offensive. The TNA had no qualms in throwing its weight behind them in spite of war crimes allegations. Would Sampanthan have backed them, especially Fonseka, if he really believed in his own accusations?

Wiki leaks revelations

Although, the Paranagama Commission, in its second mandate, referred to Wiki leaks, for some strange reason, the previous government never made use of US diplomatic cables. One such cable, revealed top ICRC official asserting how SLA could have finished off the LTTE quicker if it didn’t take civilian factor into consideration.

The cable, dated July 15, 2009, signed by the then Geneva-based US ambassador, Clint Williamson, cleared the SLA of crimes against humanity during the Vanni offensive. The cable, addressed to the US State Department, was based on a confidential conversation Ambassador Williamson had with the then ICRC head of operations for South Asia, Jacque de Maio on July 9, 2009. Ambassador Williamson wrote: "The army was determined not to let the LTTE escape from its shrinking territory, even though this meant the civilians being kept hostage by the LTTE were at an increasing risk. So, de Maio said, while one could safely say that there were ‘serious, widespread violations of international humanitarian law,’ by the Sri Lankan forces, it didn’t amount to genocide. He could cite examples of where the army had stopped shelling when the ICRC informed them it was killing civilians. In fact, the army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths. He concluded however, by asserting that the GoSL failed to recognize its obligation to protect civilians, despite the approach leading to higher military casualties."

SLA lost 2,400 officers and men in 2009 though the war ended in May 2009.

Tamil victims

In response to Viyangoda’s assertion that 90 per cent of victims were Tamils, the writer pointed out the need to inquire into circumstances under which that community suffered since the Indian military intervention in 1980s. A thorough inquiry should examine the deaths due to Indian Army operations in Sri Lanka (1987-1990), fighting among Indian sponsored Tamil groups, sea borne Tamil terrorist raid on the Maldives in Nov 1988, LTTE executing its own for allegedly plotting against its leader and political killings. It wouldn’t be right to restrict investigations into allegations blamed on Sri Lanka. TNA MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan, Chairman of Center-Periphery Relations Sub Committee that recommended far reaching constitutional reforms meant to weaken the 1978 Constitution is on record as having said that two TULF MPs including his father were abducted and executed by Indian sponsored TELO terrorists at the behest of RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) in 1985.

Humanitarian missions

Proposed accountability mechanism should seek clarification from foreign powers and INGOs in respect of supplies that had been moved overland and then by sea to the area under LTTE control up to the second week of May 2009. The previous government lacked even a basic plan to prepare solid defence to counter lies and to cleverly use vital information provided by foreign sources such as the US (Lt Col. Lawrence Smith) and UN (PoE report). Let India inform the proposed accountability mechanism how its personnel, based at Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee, received wounded men, women and children evacuated by the ICRC. The writer had the opportunity to visit a makeshift Indian medical facility in late April 2009. The evacuation operation allowed nearly 15,000 civilians, both wounded and relatives to reach Pulmoddai. The accusation that Sri Lanka had waged genocidal war should be investigated keeping in mind how the wounded were evacuated even in the second week of May 2009. War ended on the morning of May 19, 2009.

Role for Norway

Proposed accountability mechanism should thoroughly inquire into efforts made by the international community to save civilians. The then MP and presidential advisor, Basil Rajapaksa, received a one-page missive, on Feb. 16, 2009, from then Norwegian ambassador, Tore Hattrem. The Norwegian embassy delivered the letter to Basil Rajapaksa in the wake of Ambassador Hattrem discussing the situation on the Vanni east front with President Rajapaksa’s brother. Basil Rajapaksa had been exploring ways and means of securing the release of the Vanni population, held hostage by the LTTE, and was in touch with Western diplomatic missions in Colombo, in this regard.

Hattrem’s note to Basil Rajapaksa revealed Norway’s serious concern over the LTTE’s refusal to release the civilians. The Island received a copy of the hitherto unknown Norwegian note, headlined ‘Offer/Proposal to the LTTE’, personally signed by Ambassador Hattrem. The Norwegian envoy was writing to Basil Rajapaksa on behalf of those countries trying to negotiate a ceasefire between the government and the LTTE, to facilitate the release of civilians, held hostage by the latter.

The following is the text of Ambassador Hattrem’s letter, addressed to Basil Rajapaksa:

"I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE on how to release the civilian population, now trapped in the LTTE controlled area, has been transmitted to the LTTE through several channels. So far, there has been, regrettably, no response from the LTTE and it does not seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree with this in the near future."

Those who really want to clear Sri Lanka’s name should face the accusers in a court of law. It would be pertinent to stress that it would be their responsibility and challenge to prove still unproven allegations on which Geneva wanted our Constitution changed to pave the way for a federal structure.

Field Marshal triggers fresh storm



July 23, 2009: Lt. Gen Jagath Jayasuriya presents a memento to his predecessor General Sarath Fonseka at a ceremony at army headquarters in Colombo.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

War-winning Army Commander and Regional Development Minister, Sarath Fonseka last Saturday (Sept 1, 2017) declared that wartime Security Forces Commander, Vavuniya, the then Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya had committed crimes during his tenure as the senior officer based in Vavuniya.

Sinha Regiment veteran Fonseka, who now holds the rank of Field Marshal, alleged that Jayasuriya had subjected those who were arrested by troops, under his command, to ‘criminal activity’.

In early Feb. 2016, the UNP accommodated Fonseka on its National List in the wake of M.K.A.D.S. Gunawardena’s demise. Having unsuccessfully contested the last general election, in Aug. 2015, on the Democratic Party (DP) ticket, Fonseka was lucky to enter parliament, courtesy UNP National List. In late March 2016, President Maithripala Sirisena promoted Fonseka to the rank of Field Marshal.

Fonseka didn’t mince his words when he stressed that Jayasuriya had continued such criminal practices, even after becoming the Commander of the Army.

Jayasuriya succeeded Fonseka, in July 2009, amidst political turmoil caused by the latter indicating desire to enter national politics through the UNP. The change of command took place about eight weeks after the successful conclusion of the war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed Fonseka as the Commander of the Army, on Dec 6, 2005, on the recommendation of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who, too, had served the Army during eelam war I and II. Rajapaksa served as the Commanding Officer of the first battalion of Gajaba Regiment at the time Fonseka held the same position in the Sinha Regiment.

Fonseka dropped the latest bombshell immediately after newly appointed Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne, and Navy Chief Vice Admiral, Travis Sinniah, made courtesy calls on him at the Regional Development Ministry, Rajagiriya. Sinniah is also embroiled in a defamation case following former Navy Chief Wasantha Karannagoda initiating legal proceedings against a statement allegedly given by Sinniah to the CID in respect of the disappearance of 11 Tamil youth, in 2008.

Minister Fonseka offered to furnish information available with him in respect of Jayasuriya’s activities, in case the government initiated an inquiry.

FM Fonseka made his move close on the heels of South African lawyer, Yasmin Sooka, on behalf of the International Truth and Justice Project, accusing Jayasuriya of war crimes during the Vanni offensive in Eelam War IV (Aug 2006 to May 2009). BBC’s Newshour programme quoted Sooka as having said:"In the pivotal period, between 2007-2009, Jayasuriya was really in charge of what was happening in the Vanni area."

Sooka served as a member of the questionable three-member UN panel, headed by former Indonesian Attorney General, Marzuki Darusman. Sooka’s allegations, directed at Jayasuriya, should be examined against the backdrop of her role as member of UN Panel of Experts (PoE), which covered its tracks by instituting a caveat by which the unnamed witnesses it had cited would not be divulged for 20m years. The panel, in its report dated March 31, 2011 accused the Sri Lankan military of massacring over 40,000 Tamil civilians. Let me reproduce the relevant section verbatim: "In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the immediate 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 can not 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."

Jayasuriya received appointment as SF Commander, Vavuniya, on Aug. 7, 2007. The armoured corps officer held that post until he was unexpectedly summoned to take over as Commander of the Army, on July 15, 2009, at the onset of the battle between the Rajapaksas and Fonseka.

As FM Fonseka very clearly pointed out, at a media briefing, on Saturday, Jayasuriya, in his capacity as SF Commander, Vavuniya, hadn’t enjoyed command and control responsibilities over fighting formations, deployed on the Vanni west and Vanni east fronts. Jayasuriya had been tasked with ensuring supplies and basically looking after the area under government control. Jayasuriya’s functions had been similar to those assigned to SF Commander, Jaffna. Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri and SF Commander, East.

When the Rajapaksa administration bluntly told Fonseka to accept the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the war-winning Army Chief wanted Chandrasiri to succeed him. But, the government picked Jayasuriya at the expense of several other deserving senior officers over their perceived loyalty to Fonseka.

Jayasuriya, way down the seniority list, was lucky at that time to secure the command of the war-winning Army.

Fonseka received the appointment as CDS on July 14, 2009.

Fonseka, in a letter dated Nov 12, 2009, addressed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, sought permission to quit the largely ceremonial post on Dec 1, 2009, as he finalized arrangements with the UNP-led coalition to contest the presidential election.

President Rajapaksa declared presidential election, on Nov 15, 2009, though some advised him to abandon the plan to call for early poll. They urged Rajapaksa not to face Fonseka.

Since then, Fonseka, widely called Sri Lanka’s best army commander, had flayed the Rajapaksas, Mahinda and Gotabhaya, for their conduct during the war, and after. Fonseka sent shock waves through the country, in early Dec. 2009, when he claimed, in an interview with the then editor of The Sunday Leader, Frederica Jansz, that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had ordered the Army to execute surrendering LTTE cadres on the Vanni east front. Jansz, in 2004, reported the disappearance of a soldier attached to the then Eastern Commander Maj. Gen. Nanda Mallawarachchi, under mysterious circumstances. Mallawarachchi was blamed for the disappearance. Subsequently, the man who had been reported killed was arrested by the Veyangoda police.

Fonseka alleged that the change of command was made against the backdrop of speculation that there could be a coup in the aftermath of the final triumph over the LTTE. Referring to Jayasuriya, Fonseka strongly condemned the government’s decision to promote wartime SF Commander, Vavuniya, as the Commander of the Army, at a time he was facing a disciplinary inquiry. Fonseka, while calling Jayasuriya commander of holding formations deployed there, explained the circumstances leading to his decision.

Fonseka strongly criticized the then government having suspicions about him as well as questioning the loyalty of the Army. It would be pertinent to mention that former Indian Defence Adviser Shivshankar Menon’s ‘Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy’, launched in 2016, dealt with the issue. Menon explained how President Rajapaksa swiftly and decisively moved to rein in the powerful Army soon after the successful conclusion of the war. Obviously, Menon was making a reference to the alleged coup bid in Sri Lanka in Oct 2009, an assertion strongly denied by Fonseka, in Nov. 2009.

The continuing battle between Fonseka and the ‘Rajapaksa camp’ should be examined against the backdrop of the former entering politics through the UNP in late 2009. Both Fonseka and the UNP exploited the then political situation to their advantage.

In the wake of Sri Lanka’s signal triumph over the LTTE, in May 2009, the UNP had no option but to field Fonseka to deprive the then president of heavy political advantage. Fonseka received the blessings of all those who had been wanting to see the back of the Rajapaksas. The US was desperate to bring the Rajapaksa rule to an end. The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) declared its support for Fonseka at the behest of the US. Having repeatedly accused Fonseka’s Army of massacring Tamil civilians, raping Tamil women and committing a range of battlefield atrocities, the TNA urged Tamil electorate to vote for the retired Army Chief. The TNA comfortably delivered predominately Tamil electoral districts, including Jaffna, to Fonseka whereas the South largely voted for Rajapaksa.

Those who had been demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lanka never bothered to seek an explanation from the TNA. In fact, the TNA, at the previous presidential election, in Nov. 2005, ensured Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory by ordering the Tamil electorate not to exercise their franchise in support of UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe. Rajapaksa managed to secure victory in 2005 by less than 200,000 votes, thanks to the TNA directive issued at the behest of the LTTE.

Against the backdrop of the TNA’s support for Fonseka, the very basis of accusations that Sri Lanka had conducted, what Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran called genocidal war against Tamils, sounds hollow. The Tamil electorate wouldn’t have overwhelmingly voted for the former Army Chief, as directed by the TNA, if it really believed in the war crimes accusations. A classified US diplomatic cable, revealed by whistle blowing Wiki Leaks, quoted TNA leader R. Sampanthan as having told the then US Ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis, his party would support the Rajapaksas as they were the lesser of the two evils. But a few days later, the US brought in pressure on the TNA to go along with the overall plan to oust the Rajapaksas.

Butenis also forgot that in another classified cable, dated January 15, 2010, she dealt with the contentious issue of war crimes accountability. Butenis implicated President Rajapaksa, his brothers, Gotabhaya and Basil, and Gen. Sarath Fonseka. Butenis pointed out "that responsibility for many of the alleged war crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa, and his brothers, and opposition candidate.

Print media coverage of Fonseka’s media briefing, as well as various reactions, indicated that many construed the war veteran remarks as war crimes accusations directed at Jayasuriya. Allegations, pertaining to Jayasuriya’s conduct, during his tenure as SF Commander, Vavuniya, cannot be in anyway related to alleged war crimes. Jayasuriya had absolutely no command responsibility in respect of fighting formations on the Vanni west or east fronts. Fonseka directed five fighting Divisions and Task Forces assigned to clear the Vanni region in the absence of Overall Operations Commander (OOC) responsible for the offensive. General Officers Commanding and Brigadiers responsible for Divisions and Task Forces received battlefield commands directly from Fonseka.

There is absolutely no basis for Sooka’s assertion that Jayasuriya had given leadership to the Vanni offensive, at any stage of the offensive. Jayasuriya had been overseas before taking up the appointment in Vauniya, a few months after Fonseka launched the Vanni campaign.

In the wake of the International Truth and Justice Project moving court against Sri Lanka’s ambassador, in Brazil, Jayasuriya on the eve of his departure, after completing a full term, the BBC, in a story, datelined Aug 29, 2017, headlined ‘Sri Lanka’s Jagath Jayasuriya wanted for war crimes’ declared: "Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Suriname was in charge of troops in the north-east of the island who are alleged to have attacked hospitals and abducted, killed and tortured thousands of civilians."

Jayasuriya received the diplomatic posting in Aug 2015 though he was considered loyalist of the previous government.

The BBC didn’t attribute its allegation to anyone. Contrary to the BBC’s claim, Jayasuriya hadn’t commanded ground forces in the Eastern Province (Aug 2006 to June 2009), Vanni region (March 2006 to May 2009) or Jaffna theater (Oct/Nov 2008 onwards until the war in the norther theater was brought to an end). A section of the international media had backed expensive diabolical campaigns to haul Sri Lankan officers before international courts and international war crimes court. Interestingly, in their haste to exploit Sooka’s case against Jayasuriya, they (media) hadn’t even bothered at least to verify commands held by the officer concerned. There had never been any previous reference to Jayasuriya in respect of alleged war crimes before the International Truth and Justice Project recently moved court against him.

There had been various unsubstantiated allegations directed against the Army over the years with a section of the international community and the media accusing the previous government of forcing foreign relief workers to leave the Vanni region in 2008. Interestingly, Jayasuriya had been SF Commander Vavuniya at that time though he didn’t exercise operational command over fighting formations engaged in the offensive. The 57 Division and Task Force I / 58 Division had been deployed west of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 and 59 Division east of A9. Jaffna based 53 Division as well as 55 Division had joined offensive action east of A9 after the celebrated 58 Division evicted the LTTE from strategic Elephant Pass area. In addition to them, multiple task forces had attacked enemy fortifications across A9 (west to east).

Obviously, Sooka, in spite of being a member of the Darusman panel and over eight years after the conclusion of the war, still lacked a clear idea about the Vanni theater of operations. Sooka seems to be interested in appeasing her sponsors, hell bent on stepping up pressure on Sri Lanka.

Fonseka had repeatedly declared that he was directly in charge of the non-stop offensive that began with the recapture of Muttur on the eastern front, in early Sept 2006. Throughout the war, the then main Opposition, the UNP, flayed Fonseka. The UNP accused the then Army chief of being behind attacks on reporters, a charge strongly denied by the army.

In July 2008, Gampaha District UNP MP Joseph Michael Perera told parliament that the attacks were carried out by a "special team" controlled by Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka.

MP Perera said the government should arrest the offenders and "immediately bring them to justice".

"We are told by those in the army itself that journalists are abducted and subjected to grievous injury by none other than a special unit, under the army commander," MP Perera, a former parliamentary speaker, said. The media quoted the then military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara as having said:"We have nothing to do with the attacks against journalists. "If the MP has evidence, he must present it to the police."

During Fonseka’s command, the Army was accused of killing Lasantha Wickrematunga on Jan 8, 2009, attempt to kill the then Rivira editor Upali Tennakoon on January 23, 2009, abduction and assault on Deputy Editor and the then defence correspondent of The Nation, Keith Noyahr, on May 22, 2008.

The UNP mercilessly targeted Fonseka until the war was brought to a successful conclusion, leading to Fonseka’s unceremonious exit in July 2009. Jayasuriya was brought in from Vavuniya to take over command of the victorious Army. Fonseka’s arrest, under controversial circumstances, weeks after his defeat at January 2010, presidential polls further complicated the situation. Jayasuriya dispatched troops for Fonseka’s arrest and the former commander was taken into custody by the Army. The decision to hold Fonseka at Navy headquarters, in spite of Admiral Karannagoda not being at the helm, made matters worse. Karannagoda retired in mid July 2009 in accordance with overall changes that compelled Fonseka to accept the post of CDS.

In Nov 2011, a three-judge Bench of the Colombo High Court sentenced Fonseka to three years in prison after he was found guilty of "inciting violence" in the ‘White Flag Case.’

Fonseka claimed that he was quoted out of context.

Fonseka was serving a 30-month jail term imposed by a court martial when Colombo High Court delivered its judgment.

During Fonseka’s imprisonment, the US repeatedly brought pressure on the previous government to release him. Once, Colombo based US diplomat met the then SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena to deliver a strong warning to President Rajapaksa. The US diplomat warned President Rajapaksa to pardon Fonseka or face the consequences. The then SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena himself told the writer about him receiving a message from US diplomat and passing it on to President Rajapaksa. The then President, too, confirmed it to the writer.

Various interested parties had tried to move foreign courts against senior military officers, including Majors Gen. Jagath Dias (General Officer Commanding 57 Division), Shavendra Silva (GoC 58 Division) and Chagi Gallage. In fact, Field Marshal Fonseka has been denied a US visa-while Australia turned down a request for a visa by Gallage on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. Australia found fault with Gallage for giving leadership to the 59 Division, from May 7, 2009, to July 20, 2009.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection has extensively cited Report of the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) on Sri Lanka (OISL) to turn down Gallege’s request. On the basis of OISL report, Geneva adopted Resolution 30/1 to pave the way for foreign judges in a domestic judicial mechanism.

Australia also cited the UN panel of experts report on accountability issues released on March 31, 2011. The report accused Sri Lanka of massacring over 40,000 civilians and depriving the Vanni population of their basic needs. The combined security forces brought the war to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009.

Australia has cited a statement attributed to Shavendra Silva that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) real time footage had been made available to ground commanders marking targets, to justify its decision. On the basis of Silva’s statement, Australia has alleged that Gallage had been aware of artillery strikes on the third no fire zone.

There have never been specific allegations against Maj. Gen. Gallage before.

The US also denied visa to Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe for commanding 53 Division after the conclusion of the war.

Today, people have forgotten how the US tried to entice Maj. Gen. Prasad Samarasinghe to betray Sri Lanka for monetary gain. Samarasinghe brought the US attempt to the notice of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Unfortunately, the previous government conducted an inquiry. But, the government could never absolve itself of the responsibility for not taking advantage of wartime US Defence attache Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s contradiction in early June 2011 of battlefield executions in May 2009. The US statement was undoubtedly Sri Lanka’s best defence though the previous government failed to capitalize on it. The Island exclusive on the US military official’s statement was denied by the State Department as it struggled to contain damage caused by Smith.

There was no need for the State Department to be worried about Sri Lanka’s reaction. Sri Lanka never officially referred to that statement yet.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

In the absence of monument for IPKF in India...



March 15, 2015: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying homage to the Indian Army monument at Sri Jayawardenepura, Kotte. Modi is the first Indian leader to pay tribute at the memorial built during the previous Rajapaksa administration.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Lt. Gen. P.M. Hariz, General Officer Commanding (GoC) Southern Command, Indian Army, on the afternoon of Aug. 19, 2017, paid homage at a memorial built for five fallen Indian military personnel, 30 years ago. They were were members of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The Tamils at that time called IPKF the Indian People Killing Force.

The Sri Lankan Army (SLA) hadn’t been even aware of the existence of the derelict memorial until India brought it to the notice of Sri Lanka, ahead of Lt. Gen. Hariz’s arrival in Jaffna. India wanted Sri Lanka to arrange for the Southern Command delegation to visit the memorial, located in a private land, off Kalviyankaadu, in Kopay.

The three-member Indian delegation, headed by Lt. Gen. Hariz, laid floral wreaths in memory of an officer and four men killed at the hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Lt. Gen. Hariz received the latest appointment on Sept. 1, 2016, and last week’s visit to Jaffna was his first. Hariz hadn’t been attached to the Indian Army that caused mayhem in Sri Lanka, though he was a serving junior officer at that time.

The delegation, led by Lt. Gen. Hariz, visited the tomb which the Indian Army put up during its deployment here, after having met Maj. Gen. Darshana Hettiarachchi, Security Forces Commander, Jaffna.

The owner of the marshy land must have been surprised when the SLA informed him of the urgent requirement to clean his property ahead of the commemoration. The memorial, at Kopay, is the second in the Jaffna peninsula, where the Indian Army had suffered substantial losses, in late 1987, to bring Jaffna under its control.

India commenced deploying its Army, in the Jaffna peninsula, immediately after the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord, on July 29, 1987. India brought its military misadventure to an end on March 24, 1990 after the then Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa asked them to withdraw.

In late 2012, India found a long-forgotten memorial put up for those who had been killed in a high profile heli-borne operation mounted in the second week of Oct, 1987, in the Jaffna University premises. The Indian memorial, situated within the Palaly high security zone, remembers 33 Indian soldiers, including Lieut. Col. Arun Kumar Chhabra, killed in action during that heli-borne operation. The ill-fated Indian assault, jointly mounted by Para Commandos and the Sikh Light Infantry, was meant to wipe out the top LTTE leadership believed to be at their tactical headquarters, at Kokuvil, in the Jaffna University.

The Palaly memorial was ceremonially opened in early 2013.

India has now conveniently forgotten that those who had taught Para Commandos and the Sikh Light infantry an unforgettable lesson, were the beneficiaries of Indian military training. Obviously, the Indian military leadership had underestimated the LTTE’s fighting capability. Those who had planned the heli-borne assault believed Para Commandos and the Sikh Light Infantry could comfortably secure the University and swiftly hunt LTTE leaders.

The then Indian High Commissioner, Ashok K. Kantha, requested Sri Lanka to spruce up the memorial soon after the then Indian Consul General in Jaffna, V. Mahalingam, and a team had verified the structure.

India established a Consulate in Jaffna, in Nov 2010. It would be pertinent to mention that India set up the diplomatic mission over a year after the Sri Lankan military brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May 2009. However, the Jaffna peninsula was brought under government control, way back in early 1996.

The Hindu quoted Mahalingham as having said "Some people found it, and they informed us. Initially, we were not sure. But they took a few pictures and sent them to us."

The memorial comprises seven structures and has the names of 33 soldiers, killed in Jaffna battles.

However, it is not clear if all those buried, in Palaly, were from the first battle or from multiple battles.

The Indian Army put up another small memorial, within a Catholic institution called ‘Manresa,’ about two kms out of Batticaloa town. It was erected by retired Maj. Gen. Askok Mehta, who had once commanded the Indian Army, deployed in the Batticaloa and Ampara districts. The writer had contacted Maj. Gen. Mehta on several occasions over the phone during his deployment in Batticaloa. Interestingly, Maj. Gen. Mehta had used ‘Manresa’ in spite of it being a Catholic institution. No one found fault with the Indian Army for using ‘Manresa.’

The Indian Army put up three memorials, at Palaly, Kopay and Batticaloa, whereas the previous government built a monument for the Indian Army at Sri Jayawardenepura, Kotte, in 2008. The first official memorial service was held there (Kotte) on Aug. 15, 2010 with the participation of the then Indian HC Ashok Kantha.

Sri Lanka’s decision to put up a grand monument for the Indian Army, at Kotte, Sri Jayawardenepura, and also allow memorials in the Jaffna peninsula and the East, should be examined against the backdrop of India not having a monument, on its soil, for 1,200 officers and men killed in Sri Lanka.

In fact, the Indian Army refrained from at least putting up a memorial for the Indian Army officers and men killed in Sri Lanka at any of the bases coming under the purview of the Southern Command in India. Instead, Indian political and military leaders pay homage to memorials in Sri Lanka. Why not have a monument of its own for those families, who lost their loved ones in Sri Lankan battlefields, to pay their last respects?

The failure on the part of India to honour the Indian Army that fought in Sri Lanka had never been a political issue with the Indian media, turning a blind eye to the absence of an Indian monument.

Indira Gandhi’s India that started destabilising Sri Lanka in the early 1980s to such an extent that the smaller neighbour had no option but to invite New Delhi to intervene during her son’s rule, militarily. But, Sri Lanka, in spite early setbacks, by late 1986-early 1987, achieved the wherewithal to take on the LTTE in the Jaffna peninsula. India intervened as the SLA engaged in Operation Liberation and was making making progress in the Vadamaratchchy region.

Lt. Gen. P.M. Hariz, in his capacity as GoC, Southern Command, wouldn’t have had the necessity to visit Jaffna, or Trincomalee, if India didn’t intervene in Sri Lanka. For some strange reason, Sri Lankan leaders lacked the courage to state, at a proper forum, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have ended up in the agenda of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) if not for the Indian destabilization project.

India, didn’t want monuments for Indian Army, in Tamil Nadu, for obvious reasons. Such monuments would constantly remind India of its murderous project in Sri Lanka, leading to the assassination of Congress I leader Rajiv Gandhi under whose watch the Indian Army moved into the Northern and Eastern regions here. The LTTE assassinated Gandhi, in May 1991, over a year after India withdrew its Army in the wake of change of government in New Delhi.

Gandhi would have suffered grievous injuries, in Colombo, on the morning of July 30, 1987, had the naval rating, on a guard of honour, managed to land a blow with his rifle butt on the Indian leader’s head. The attack reflected the armed forces anger at the Indian intervention meant to save the LTTE.

No less a person than one-time Indian Foreign Secretary, the late J.N. Dixit, in his memoirs, ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’ launched in early 2004, faulted the late Indira Gandhi for Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. However, Dixit, who had been India’s HC, in Colombo, during the Indian Army deployment here, justified the Indian intervention on the basis of the then global geo-political situation. India had been in the Soviet camp at the time of its intervention here and was in line with its overall strategy to thwart possible US military presence here. Today, India and US are best of friends with Israel being a leading weapons supplier to New Delhi.

Indian media love to propagate the lie that the Indian Army moved into Sri Lanka to keep peace but had to fight a war. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Within hours after the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord, Indian Air Force AN 12s and AN 32s began transferring troops from the Southern Command to Palaly air base. The writer, being a trainee reporter then (having joined The Island in June 1987) couldn’t really comprehend what was going on. Unfortunately, 30 years on, most of our politicians seemed to be blind to the crisis as they desperately fight for political power, even at the expense of national interest.

On the first day (July 29, 1987), the Indian Air Force brought in two infantry battalions. Within a week, India deployed a Brigade and by end of August, a Division was in place. Obviously, India believed it could manage with one infantry Division, initially, though by Oct. 1987 there were clear signs that the LTTE was about to renege the accord.

A few days before the signing of the accord, two Indian Air Force helicopters flew in to Jaffna peninsula. They were on a top secret mission to airlift five LTTE terrorists, including its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran for a clandestine meet with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Years later, retired Indian Air Marshal Denzil Keelor is on record as having said that they received instructions from Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to shift the LTTE delegation from Jaffna peninsula to India. Keelor discussed how Indian Air Force had sent in two choppers with specific instructions provided by the RAW to pick the LTTE delegation from the Suthumalai Amman kovil temple, Jaffna. Having flown the LTTE delegation across the Palk Strait to Trichy and then transferred to a special flight standing by, the group was flown to New Delhi via Madras to meet Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi, on July 28, 1987.

By then, India had already violated Sri Lankan air space on June 4, 1987 to air drop food.

Prabhakaran was flown back to Jaffna on Aug. 2, 1987 amidst a round-the-clock troop airlift from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran hadn’t been in Sri Lanka at the time India forced JRJ to sign the Indo-Lanka accord.

Prabhakaran declared, on Aug 4, 1987, that India forced his organization to accept the Indo-Lanka accord.

India launched a raid on the Jaffna campus, on the night of Oct 11, 1987, in the wake of a group of senior LTTE cadres, including Pulendran and Kumarappa, committing suicide in the custody of the SLA. LTTEers took their lives as the SLA was making arrangements to airlift them from Palaly to Colombo in spite of strong Indian objections.

Let me reproduce verbatim what the Indian Southern Command briefly posted on Indian Army website about deployment of the Indian Army in Sri Lanka: "With the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, in 1987, the Command was tasked to ensure implementation of the Accord. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), under Lt Gen A.S. Kalkat, was raised and moved to Sri Lanka, to participate in Op PAWAN. Over the next two years, the IPKF gradually built up, and made tremendous sacrifices in their attempt to enforce the mandate. The IPKF was eventually de-inducted in early 1990, after the successful conduct of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka."

The Southern Command also referred to an operation India conducted in the Maldives.

"HQ Southern Command also controlled Op Cactus in the Maldives, in 1988, to restore President Gayoom after a coup bid in that country."

What the Indian Army had conveniently omitted was that the assassination attempt was made in early Nov. 1988 by Indian-trained Sri Lankan terrorists . Thanks to my senior colleague, Ivan Alvis, accidentally meeting Maldivian Abdulla Luthufee, at the Ramada Hotel, in Colombo (now Cinnamon Lakeside), responsible for that attempted take-over, the writer was able to interview Luthufee. It was the first interview given by the Maldivian, since his release following over two decades long detention in the Maldives. Luthufee hired an 80-man People’s Liberation Organization Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) group to seize the Maldives. The Sea borne PLOTE cadres’ bid was thwarted by the timely intervention of the Indian Army.

Subsequently, the Indian navy sank a merchant vessel commandeered by PLOTE cadres. On July 16 1989 unidentified gunman assassinated the then PLOTE leader Uma Maheswaran (44) near the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo.

Was Maheswaran shot for planning the raid on the Maldives? Who ordered Maheswaran’s killing? Did he earn the wrath of RAW for the Maldivian adventure?

PLOTE member and Tamil National Alliance MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan (Vanni District) has accused RAW of assassinating his father, a Jaffna District MP representing the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in Aug. 1985. Dharmalingham has explained to the writer how the TELO, another Indian trained terrorist group, at the behest of RAW, assassinated his father Dharmalingam and Alalasundaram. India never investigated allegations that its intelligence services ordered members of Sri Lanka parliament assassinated.

Perhaps, there should be a monument for those who had been killed and maimed due to Indian intervention.

Two of the worst Indian atrocities, occurred in Oct 21, 22, 1987, at the Jaffna Teaching Hospital and Oct 21,22, 1989 at Valvettiturai where about 70 and 60 Tamils were massacred, respectively. India never owned up and those responsible for these executions were never punished. The Indian Army has refrained from commenting on wide spread allegations directed at those who had fought under the Southern Command.

Following the Indian Arny pullout, from Sri Lanka, in March 1990, it was re-designated as 21 Corps in April 1990. The Indian Army, in Sri Lanka, later became the offensive fighting formation of the Southern Command and was based at Bhopal in July 1990.

The claim that the Indians had been eventually de-inducted in March 1990, after the successful conclusion of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Sri Lankas should be examined. India, for some reason had refrained from making reference to the first North-East Provincial Council polls conducted under the superviison of the Indian Army.

Those who demand free and fair elections today never even bothered to issue a statement condemning India for rigging important NEPC election on Nov 19, 1988. The JRJ administration couldn’t interfere with the Indian strategy, meant to ensure an administration, in Sri Lanka’s North-East, loyal to New Delhi. Having installed the EPRLF-led administration, India later created a Tamil National Army (TNA) to protect the outfit. The TNA undermined the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s government.

The Dec, 1988, the presidential and the Feb, 1989, parliamentary elections were also conducted in the temporarily merged North-Eastern Province, under the supervision of the Indian Army. At the presidential election, the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa defeated SLFP’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike in a close race, marred by violence. Premadasa was sworn in as JRJ’s successor, on Jan 2, 1989. In February, Premadasa led the UNP to a comfortable victory in the parliamentary polling, capturing 125 of the 225 seats under a new proportional voting system. Both presidential and parliamentary polls took place before Premadasa reached an understanding, in May, 1989 to pave the way for talks with the LTTE. The Premadasa-LTTE talks collapsed in June, 1990.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991, should be probed against the backdrop of the collapse of the Premadasa-LTTE talks, as well as the change of government in New Delhi that paved the way for the Indian Army pullout.