Wednesday, 18 January 2017

A reference to Kadirgamar at Mangala’s Chatham House speech

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 154

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, MP, recently referred to several of his predecessors having the opportunity to speak at the Chatham House when he discussed ongoing post-war national reconciliation process.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009.

Minister Samaraweera was speaking on behalf of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government wanting to bring in a brand new Constitution in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by the ruling coalition, in Oct, 2015.

Yahapalana leaders consider the proposed constitution as panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills, a view not acceptable to a large section of the population.

A Foreign Ministry statement quoted Minister Samaraweera as having said at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, on January 11, 2017: "Several of my predecessors, too, have spoken here at the Chatham House. This includes the late Lakshman Kadirgamar who spoke at length here, in 1998, about the danger faced by our nation at the time, and democratic societies everywhere, from terrorism."

In spite of having liberated the entire Jaffna peninsula, in early, 1996, the then Kumaratunga administration suffered a series of debilitating setbacks in the Vanni theater. By 1998, the LTTE, had gained the upper hand, in the northern theater, with the Army facing a massive conventional challenge. It would be pertinent to mention that Kumaratunga, in consultation with Kadirgamar, in May, 1999, requested Norway to facilitate secret negotiations with the LTTE. Kumaratunga revealed the Norwegian role soon after the LTTE made an abortive bid on her life, in Dec., 1999, at her final presidential polls campaign rally.

Assassination of a top leader

Minister Samaraweera discussed post-war reconciliation efforts with the focus on key challenges facing the government and how the country was moving forward in its endeavor to create a peaceful, unified, stable and prosperous country.

There hadn’t been any further reference to Kadirgamar, who was shot dead on the night of Aug. 12, 2005, at his private Bullers Lane residence in Colombo. Kadirgamar was the only member of parliament to be sniped to death during the entire conflict.

Having infiltrated Colombo, an LTTE hit squad shot Kadirgamar through his chest using a sniper rifle, in spite of being guarded by Sri Lanka’s elite Army Commandos. The LTTE carried out the assassination in spite of a Norway arranged truce being in place, since Feb., 2002. Norwegians struggled to save the CFA, with Co-Chairs to the so called Sri Lanka peace process, namely the US, Norway, Japan and EU, directing the then Kumaratunga government to continue with the initiative, regardless of the killing. Co-chairs interfered with Sri Lanka’s right to take on the LTTE.

Thanks to Wikileaks, the world is aware how Norway had talks, in London, with top LTTE representative, Anton Balasingham, to explore ways and means of tackling the issue. Having served the British High Commission, in Colombo, Balasingham received and retained British citizenship, though he represented the LTTE. The UK tuned a blind eye to Balasingham’s role, even after the UK proscribed the LTTE. The UK also allowed the LTTE to run its International Secretariat from there.

Those who had been demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lanka since the conclusion of the war in May, 2009, never bothered to take punitive action against the LTTE or its political wing the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi-led Tamil National National Alliance (TNA). At the time of Kadirgamar’s assassination, the TNA had declared the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. The LTTE retained that title until the Army finished off the LTTE on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

The Royal Institute of International Affairs should examine Sri Lanka’s case and the failure on the part of the international community to throw its weight behind tiny Sri Lanka fighting for its survival.

Forgotten India’s culpability

The well-funded outfit could also examine how Commonwealth giant India destabilized her southern neighbour, and Commonwealth member, for geo-political reasons, as acknowledged by no less a person than one-time Indian Foreign Secretary and National Security Advisor J.N. Dixit in his memoirs, "Makers of India’s Foreign Policy". India gave the wherewithal to several Sri Lankan terrorists to take on the military. India provided training to terrorists, both in India and Sri Lanka, while providing Sri Lankan military officers, training at establishments there.

Indian - trained terrorists made an attempt to seize the Maldives, in early November 1988. Air borne Indian troops intervened in the Maldives to prevent the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) from assassinating the then Maldivian leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Instead of being blamed for unprecedented Maldivian crisis, India received praise for swiftly coming to little Male’s rescue. International community, and the media, conveniently forgot that there wouldn’t have been sea borne raid on Male if India didn’t provide weapons training to Sri Lankan terrorists.

Today, the PLOTE is a constituent member of the TNA with Dharmalingham Siddarthan representing the former terrorist group in parliament. Jaffna District MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan headed the much discussed parliamentary group on Center-Periphery relations accused of a spate of recommendations inimical to Sri Lanka’s unitary status. Dharmalingham, himself, had accused India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of ordering the assassination of his father Visvanather Dharmalingham (MP for Manipay) and K. Alalasundaram (MP for Kopay) in early September, 1985. Siddarthan, in an interview with this writer, early December, 1997 (carried by The Sunday Island on its December 7, 1997 issue), alleged that TELO assassinated the two MPs on the instructions of its Indian masters. Accusing India of playing a double game, Dharmalingham insisted that the TELO had received orders from India to assassinate four Jaffna-based TULF MPs. TELO, led by Sri Sabaratnam (Tall Sri), had no option but to assassinate them. A local TELO leader identified as Bobby had been identified as the leader of the killer squad. TELO leader Das had refused to assassinate the remaining two TULF MPs living in Vadamarachchy. According to him, the Indian Intelligence Services had felt that the presence of TULF MPs would give the party influence. The Indians wanted to undermine TULF leader Amirthalingam’s authority and one way of doing that was to assassinate his Mps.

Co-Chairs react to Kadir killing

Minister Samaraweera wouldn’t have had an opportunity to speak on ‘Reconciliation Process in Sri Lanka’, at the Chatham House, had western powers succeeded in throwing a lifeline to the LTTE, responsible for Kadirgamar’s assassination 13 years ago. Even after Kadirgamar’s assassination, Western powers refused to acknowledge that there couldn’t be a peaceful end to the conflict as long as the LTTE retained conventional military capability. Let me reproduce verbatim statements issued by key players in the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination to prove their determination to continue with the Norway-led process whatever the consequences. They never had Sri Lanka’s interests in mind.

The then US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, on behalf of peace Co-Chair said: "We must honour Kadirgamar’s memory by re-dedicating ourselves to peace and ensuring the CFA remains in force."

The then European Union Commissioner, Ferrero-Waldner, said, on behalf of peace Co-Chair EU: "We must all honour the passing of Foreign Minister Kadirgamar by continuing his work for peace and maintaining the CFA."

Peace Co-Chair Japan issued the following statement through its Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura: "I strongly hope for calm response by all parties at this moment so that the move towards the peace process will not be hindered."

In the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination, peace facilitator and Co-Chair Norway declared: "... It is now of great importance that both parties to the conflict do their utmost to fully fulfill their obligations according to the CFA."

One of the largest recipients, if not the largest of Norwegian funds, the National Peace Council, in early Dec 2005, while referring to resumption of claymore mine attacks, in the northern theater, and killing of civilians, asserted that such incidents were tragic but inevitable due to of the stagnant peace process in which the Ceasefire Agreement hadn’t been fully complied with.

Heading for eelam war IV

Co-Chairs, as well as the NPC, et al, refused to blame the LTTE for resumption of claymore mine attacks in the wake of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory, at the Nov., 2005, presidential polls. The LTTE resumed attacks in spite of newly elected President assuring his commitment to the Norway-led peace talks. Rajapaksa also accepted Norwegian proposal for government-LTTE talks at overseas venue, though those who campaigned for his victory opposed the move. In fact, the LTTE-TNA deprived UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe of certain victory, at Nov., 2005, presidential poll, by ordering Tamils not to exercise their franchise. They operated on the premise inexperienced Rajapaksa could be easily overwhelmed and battlefield success swiftly achieved.

Having resumed large scale hostilities, in early Aug., 2006, the LTTE lost the war, in May, 2009. Sri Lanka sustained a nearly three-year combined forces campaign until Prabhakaran was killed by the Sri Lankan infantry.

Goodhand at Chatham

House event

Foreign Ministry released a set of photographs of Minister Samaraweera with Jonathan Goodhand, Professor in Conflict and Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, at the Chatham House event. The ministry wrongly identified Prof. Goodhand as Chairman of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London.

Prof. Goodhand had been involved in the evaluation of the Norwegian peace initiatives, in Sri Lanka, with the focus on the disastrous project, launched in 2002. Norway-based Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) together with SOAS, University of London carried out the costly project (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009).

Described as one of the first independent evaluations of ‘peace diplomacy’ involving a third party government facilitation, CMI-SOAS had collected data, beginning Sept., 2010, over a year after the LTTE’s defeat. They obtained the services of an experienced international team, including Sri Lankans to gather information. The joint team consisted of Norwegian social scientist Gunnar M. Sørbø (team leader), Jonathan Goodhand (deputy team leader) and other experts Bart Klem, Ada Elisabeth Nissen, Hilde Beate Selbervik. Goodhand, Klem and Sørbø released Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009 in Sept 2011. Those who had been interviewed included twice President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, ICRC, UN, journalists et al. They also examined Wikileaks cables.

Due to Norway making available all documents pertaining to its Sri Lanka project, the Sorbo-Goodhand team could establish wrong assessment made by the Norwegians at the onset of the Eelam war IV, in Aug 2006. Let me reproduce verbatim the relevant section: The Norwegian government realizes its role has become very difficult and limited. Against the background of discussions on whether or not to stay engaged and how, the mediation team develops a number of scenarios. On the military front they foresee either: 1) no war, no peace, 2) resumed peace talks, or 3) full-scale war. Politically, they expect the government to either remain dependent on its junior partner, or enter into a coalition with the UNP. If neither works, new elections may be the result. Indian and US pressure to stop the war may affect the scenarios. During an internal strategy session with Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, in May, 2007, the mediation team reiterates that: ‘All observers think that this is a conflict that cannot be won by military means and most believe that the government cannot beat the LTTE militarily.’ Moreover, the group concludes: ‘International pressure does not seem to have any positive influence, but rather to contribute to locking the military strategies of the parties. Strategic thinking thus tends to hinge on the premise that at some point a new stalemate may emerge, either because the LTTE rolls back the front-line (as it did several times in the past), or resorts to guerrilla style tactics to avert defeat. In hindsight, the Norwegian team underestimates the Sri Lankan government’s strength, both militarily and politically. The team considers a wide range of likely and less likely scenarios, but (like most observers at the time), it does not reckon with the sequence of events that is to follow: a strong SLFP-led coalition and a military victory."

Mangala’s warns LTTE

Having crushed large scale LTTE offensive action, in Aug, 2006, the military launched operations, targeting Sampur in early Sept, 2006. The LTTE abandoned Sampur on September 4, 2006. In the aftermath of the liberation of Sampur and the seizure of Tigers’ Jaffna front line, in Sep, 2006, the then Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera declared that in spite of LTTE aggression, the GoSL was committed to a negotiated settlement. Minister Samaraweera reiterated Sri Lanka’s commitment to the Oslo-led peace initiative, while emphasizing the need to face the LTTE’s military challenge. Addressing the Colombo-based diplomatic community, on Sept. 8, 2006, Minister Samaraweera didn’t mince his words when he warned the LTTE of grave consequences of its decision to resume hostilities. Samaraweera warned its military action would prove counterproductive. Samaraweera declared: "I must note here while the government would like to show the LTTE that any military aggression on their part would entail military costs to them, the government remains committed to the ceasefire agreement and is vigorously continuing with the constitutional reforms process. On behalf of President Rajapaksa, Minister Samaraweera declared the government’s readiness to consider proposals for a comprehensive and verifiable cessation of hostilities (Forces seize Tigers’ Jaffna front line with strap line...any military aggression on their part would entail military costs to them-Foreign Minister Samaraweera, The Island, Sept 11, 2006).

Obviously, Co-Chairs hadn’t taken Minister Samarawera’s warning and offer for talks on fresh truce seriously as they felt that in spite of the SLA’s superiority in numbers, the LTTE was able to overwhelm the military. Co-Chairs as well as others involved in Sri Lanka had been guided by experts and strategists who propagated the line of thinking that the LTTE couldn’t ever be defeated.

Having played a significant role in Rajapaksa’s victory at the Nov., 2005, presidential poll, Samaraweera received foreign, ports, shipping and aviation portfolios. President Rajapaksa picked Samaraweera, though his erstwhile friend the late Anura Bandaranaike begged for the post of foreign minister after having held that post in the wake of Kadirgamar’s assassination. Samaraweera functioned as foreign minister at a crucial period as the military fiercely responded to the LTTE threat.

Bandaranaike wanted to continue as foreign minister under Rajapaksa. Unfortunately for the SLFP, Minister Samaraweera later teamed up with Bandaranaike and Sripathy Sooriyaarachchi to challenge President Rajapaksa’s authority. President Rajapaksa replaced Samaraweera with UNPer Rohitha Bogollagama in late Jan., 2007. An irate Samaraweera quit the SLFP, formed a separate political outfit before switching his allegiance to the UNP. Bogollagama functioned as foreign minister until April 2010 before being replaced by Prof. G. L. Peiris.

Who could have envisaged Samaraweera’ s return as Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, under a UNP government, to pursue a political settlement, after the SLFP-led previous government in May 2009 removed the main obstacle to peace.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Foreign participation in war crimes probe reiterated

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 153

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Having repeatedly assured the country that the change of government, in January, 2015, had ended the likelihood of foreign participation in proposed war crimes inquiry, the yahapalana government struggled to cope up with a report released by its own outfit, headed by attorney-at-law, Mrs Manouri Muttetuwegama.

The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) called for full participation of foreign judges, and other personnel, including defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators, in transitional justice mechanism to address accountability issues.

Mrs Muttetuwegama delivered the report to the, Chairperson of Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, on January 3, 2017, at the Presidential Secretariat. The CTFRM released the report on the eve of the third anniversary of President Maithripala Sirisena’s victory over his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The report proved that yahapalana leaders’ assertion wrong. Those who had been propagating the lie that war winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat, at the January, 2015, presidential polls, would automatically save Sri Lanka from the humiliation of being probed by the international community, ended up with egg on their faces. Well compiled dossier backed calls for foreign participation in the judicial process. The writer is also of the view that the victims should not be deprived of a proper inquiry. Yahapalana government cannot ignore the recommendations made by its own. Addressing a packed media conference, at the Government Information Department last week, the CTFRM declared that members unanimously approved the report.

The CTFRM comprised Muttetuwegama, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Gamini Viyangoda, Prof. Sitralega Maunaguru, Dr Farzana Haniffa, Mirak Raheem, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, Visaka Dharmadasa, Shantha Abhimanasingham, PC, K.W. Janaranjana and Prof. Daya Somasundaram.

The eleven-member committee stressed that foreign participation was required as those who had suffered during the conflict had no faith in local judiciary, which lacked expertise to undertake such a task. They endorsed Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein declaration in Colombo, in February, 2016, that the judiciary here was incapable of undertaking the process. The Jordanian questioned the integrity of the local judiciary.

Weliamuna on foreign judges

Attorney-at-law, J.C. Weliamuna confirmed foreign participation in the proposed war crimes court, in Oct. 2015, in the wake of formation of the new government, in August, 2015.

Weliamuna said that Parliament would have to make the required amendments to pave the way for international participation in the process.

The Information Department organised the briefing in collaboration with the state-run Rupavahini.

Weliamuna was flanked by Deputy Foreign Minister, Dr Harsha de Silva.

Weliamuna insisted that Sri Lanka needed foreign expertise to meet the challenging task of inquiring into accountability issues. Post-war Sri Lanka required international expertise though some extremists sought to cause chaos. Quoting from a UN report that dealt with Sri Lanka, Weliamuna said that the local judiciary lacked the capacity to investigate system crimes.

Would the mechanism, proposed by the CTFRM, meet the aspirations of the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and other Diaspora groups? The GTF has repeatedly called for ‘an internationalized Special Court for criminal prosecution’ to try those who had been accused of committing atrocities, during the conflict.

The GTF urged the 47-member states of the Geneva-based UNHRC, to adopt a resolution that captured all the recommendations of the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) report, including the establishment of a Special Court, and call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to fully cooperate or face the consequences.

Geneva adopted three resolutions, plus an external investigation (2012-2014), on the basis of those who had made uncorroborated accusations at various forums. The UN investigation report, too, repeated accusations that hadn’t been verified. Those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism exploited the previous government’s failure at least to closely examine the allegations. Their failure facilitated the anti-Sri Lanka project, during the Rajapaksa presidency.

Mrs Muttetuwegama’s report proved that the change of government, two years ago, hadn’t changed the Geneva project. War crimes probe with foreign participation is now on track though State Finance Minister, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, on behalf of President Maithripala Sirisena rejected the CTFRM recommendations. Mrs Muttetuwegama’s proposals included immediate demilitarisation of the Northern Province, abolition of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and bifurcation of the Attorney General’s Department to pave the way for an Independent Prosecutor’s Office.

TNA, GTF on foreign judges

The GTF statement received the endorsement of the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is recognised by the government as the main Opposition political party. The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has joined the GTF-TNA project. They addressed gatherings, in Bern and London to articulate their position, vis-a-vis Geneva declaration. The CTFRM included two members of the CPA, namely Dr Saravanamuttu and Mirak Raheem.

The GTF came into being in the wake of the LTTE’s demise, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in May, 2009. The grouping had its inaugural meet in the UK parliament, on Feb. 24, 2010, with the blessings of three major political parties, as well as the US government. The GTF’s choice of venue was no coincidence. Had the LTTE survived the government onslaught on the Vanni front in early 2009, Prabhakaran wouldn’t probably have seen the need for such an organization. The TNA, too, would have remained simply an LTTE proxy with Prabhakaran still remaining the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people.

The bottom line is that had the US and Norway succeeded in throwing a lifeline to Prabhakaran, as desired by the British, Sri Lanka’s accountability issue wouldn’t have ended up in Geneva. In fact, those who had called for Geneva intervention wouldn’t have done so if fighting was brought to a negotiated end.

Sri Lanka now faces a formidable challenge in addressing accountability issues raised by Mrs Muttetuwegama’s outfit. It would be the responsibility of the government of the day to defend the armed forces as well as the wartime political leadership in court. The previous government should take the responsibility in messing up Sri Lanka’s defence. The Rajapaksa administration caused irreparable damage by hiring expensive US public relations firms to win over the outgoing US administration at the expense of credible effort to establish the truth.

They, however, did obtain legal opinion of some of the leading jurists and other experts in the world, who literally dismissed the one-sided charges levelled against Sri Lanka. The team consisted of Sir Desmond de Silva, QC, Chairman of the legal advisory council (UK), Professor Sir Geoffrey Nice QC. (UK), and Professor David M. Crane (USA), They were backed by Rodney Dixon, QC. (UK/ South Africa), Professor Michael Newton (USA), Commander William Fenrick (Canada), Professor Nina Jorgensen and Major General John Holmes, DSO, OBE, MC (UK) former Commanding Officer of the Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment, Paul Mylvaganam (UK) and Victoria de Silva and Delarney Uyangodage, for their research.

The CTFRM recommendation should be examined against the backdrop of Jaffna District MP and attorney-at-law M.A. Sumanthiran’s declaration in respect of foreign judges.

Sumanthiran told a ‘Congressional Caucus for Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka’ in Washington that the government of Sri Lanka, the TNA and the US had been involved in the negotiations leading to the agreement regarding foreign judges, defence attorneys, investigators etc. The revelation was made before Geneva adopted the Resolution on Sri Lanka.

The declaration was made in the presence of Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington, Prasad Kariyawasam.

Attorney-at-law Sumanthiran stressed that the resolution was moved in Geneva following an understanding that the participation of foreigners wouldn’t be contrary to Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Declaring that he had been personally involved in the negotiations, with the United States of America also participating in that particular process, Sumanthiran said: "There were some doubts created, as to whether the Constitution of Sri Lanka would allow for foreign nationals to function as judges and we went into that question, clarified it, and said yes they can".

Sumanthiran told the Congressional Caucus that the resolution, accepted at Geneva, had been negotiated and they settled for a hybrid model though they originally asked for an international inquiry.

Key issues

Let me examine issues which should be brought to the notice of the proposed judicial mechanism. It would be of pivotal importance to prepare for the best possible defence without being too much bothered with the type of court, likely to be established, in accordance with the Geneva Resolution, adopted in Oct. 2015.

Secretary to the CTFRM, Dr Saravanamuttu, underscored that their report had been prepared in line with the Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the government of the day. The Resolution, called for international judges, including those from the Commonwealth.

*It would be the responsibility of yahapalana government to establish the circumstances leading to Eelam War IV, in August, 2006, and the complicity of the TNA in the LTTE’s overall project. Co-chairs to Sri Lanka Peace Process, namely the US, EU, Japan, and Norway, as well as India, should be called in to establish the events leading to the final war.

*Norway and the five-nation Scandinavian truce monitoring mission, which monitored the tripartite Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), involving Norway (facilitator), Sri Lanka and the LTTE, should be able to prove the LTTE quitting the negotiating table, in April, 2003.

*TNA making representations on behalf of the LTTE, in the run-up to parliamentary elections, in April, 2004. The TNA-LTTE coalition should be examined in the backdrop of the former recognizing the latter as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people.

*The EU Election Observation Mission report, on the April, 2004, election, can prove the direct relationship between the LTTE and the TNA. The EU pointed out the fact that the LTTE stuffing ballot boxes helped the TNA to acquire the lion’s share of seats in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The TNA secured 22 seats, including two National List slots, at that election.

*The TNA ordering Tamil speaking people not to exercise their franchise at the Nov. 2005, presidential election, on behalf of the LTTE, underscored their joint strategy. Their move helped Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the presidency. An expensive Norwegian study, closely examined LTTE/TNA directive, leading to Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka). UNP Chairman and Minister of Development Strategy and International Trade, Malik Samarawickrema, told this writer, over the phone that Wickremesinghe could have easily won the election if not for the LTTE/TNA action (LTTE action belies ali-koti pact-The Island, Nov 21, 2005).

*The SLMM blamed the LTTE for launching Eelam War IV, during the second week of Aug. 2006, with a multi-pronged assault, meant to overrun the Jaffna peninsula. The battle claimed the lives of 700 combatants, and 1,000 wounded (SLMM blames LTTE for Jaffna battle-The Island, Sept 8, 2006). The LTTE resumed claymore mine attacks, during the first week of Dec 2005. In January, 2006, the LTTE blasted a Fast Attack Craft (FAC) off Trincomalee. In spite of grave LTTE provocations, the then President accepted Norwegian facilitated talks. Much to the chagrin of those who had backed his candidature, at the Nov. 2005, presidential polls, President Rajapaksa went ahead with the Geneva talks. The TNA never uttered a word in support of the President’s initiative. The mainly foreign funded so-called civil society remained mum as the LTTE flexed its muscles.

* Those who had shared their horrific experiences, with British media outfit, Channel 4 News, UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE), International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) should be requested to come to - the judicial mechanism. The PoE, in March, 2011, recommended that accusations directed against Sri Lanka cannot be verified for two decades. Even after the completion of the mandatory 20-year period, information cannot be verified without a declassification review. (PoE report page 6 point no 23).

*A comprehensive inquiry is required to establish the number of civilians killed, during the final phase of the conflict. For want of an inquiry, various interested parties propagated varying figures regarding the number of civilians dead. Long standing LTTE supporter, British MP Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden - Labour) told the House of Commons on Sept. 15, 2011, that Sri Lanka’s war, in its last five months alone, had claimed the lives of 100,000 people, 40,000 of them civilians. The UN backed court can request McDonagh to reveal how she had reached that conclusion. The Labour Party politician targeted Sri Lanka during a debate in the House of Commons on ‘human rights in the Indian sub continent.

*A proper inquiry is required to establish the truth. A confidential report, prepared by the UN mission, in Sri Lanka, can help ascertain the ground situation, during the Vanni offensive. The report dealt with the situation, in both the west and the east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, from August, 2008, to May 13, 2009. The war ended six days later. The PoE rejected that report, in spite of it being based on accurate information provided by the national staff of the UN and NGOs, as well as the ICRC. The UN report estimated the number of dead, at 7,721, and 18,479 wounded. The UN report disproved claims that the then government conducted a war without witnesses. Although, the government requested expatriate staff of international NGOs to vacate the Vanni, during the battle for Kilinochchi (August-Dec 2008), the ICRC remained there, until Feb 2009.

*The entire set of confidential US diplomatic cables, originating from Colombo, New Delhi, Geneva, Washington, as well as London, relating to Eelam War IV, too, should be examined. The Norwegian examination of its role here included a comprehensive study of diplomatic cables revealed by whistle blowing website Wiki Leaks. Unfortunately, the previous government never thought of studying them. The US cables dealt with various aspects, including the then British government intervention in Sri Lanka, due to domestic political issues, ICRC on accusations of genocide committed by the Sri Lankan Army, as well as secret consultations with political parties here. One such cable dealt with SLMC Chairman, Basheer Segudawood, discussing political strategy in the run-up to the Nov., 2005, presidential poll. US cables also extensively dealt with communications among Colombo-based embassies. Another cable quoted a top ICRC official as having told the Geneva-based US envoy that the Sri Lankan Army could have brought the war to a conclusion much earlier than May, 2009, with less casualties of its own if not for the civilian factor.

*The ICRC, as well as the Indian High Commission, will be able to help establish the total number of wounded, evacuated by sea, following the closure of overland routes due to intense fighting. The last ICRC - supervised evacuation took place on May 9, 2009, 10 days before the final confrontation. Those who had been accusing the previous government of conducting a genocidal war never explained that President Mahinda Rajapaksa allowed an Indian medical team at Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee, and subsequently at Manik Farm in the final phases of the war. In fact, one US diplomatic cable, originating from Geneva, in June 2009, cleared the Sri Lankan Army of genocide charge.

*Wartime US Defence Attaché in Colombo, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith, can provide crucial evidence. Lawrence is on record as having denied accusations relating to massacre of surrendering LTTE personnel. The denial is of utmost importance because it took place over two years after the conclusion of the conflict.

*An Amnesty International report, titled ‘When will they get justice: Failure of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’, released in September, 2011, too, should be examined. The Amnesty International estimated the number of civilians killed at 10,000, whereas others accused Sri Lanka of killing as many as 100,000 Tamils within five months (January-May 2009). The investigative process should seek to reach a consensus on the number of civilian dead.

*India, EU, the US and other countries, including Australia, should cooperate with the new court to establish the identities of Sri Lankans living overseas under new identities. Such a process is needed in the backdrop of evidence that many Lankans obtained new identities while receiving foreign citizenship. Front line Socialist Party (FSP) leader, Kumar Gunaratnam, receiving Australian passport bearing the name of Noel Mudalige, is a case in point.

The OHCHR comment, as regards the LTTE restricting movement of Tamil speaking people, during Eelam War IV, revealed the shocking failure on the part of UN investigators to investigate all relevant information. The following is the relevant section, headlined Control of movement: 49. OISL’s findings indicate that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the LTTE had a clear high level policy of preventing civilians from leaving the Vanni, thereby unlawfully interfering with their liberty of movement. The information also shows that the policy hardened, from January 2009, although the specific instructions as to how LTTE cadres should prevent anyone from leaving need to be clarified. Nevertheless, the information gathered indicates that a number of individuals, including several children, were shot dead, injured or beaten by LTTE cadres as they tried to leave, in contravention of their right to life and physical integrity. These acts may amount to direct attacks on civilians not taking direct part in hostilities, in violation of international humanitarian law. If established before a court of law, and depending on the circumstances, such conduct may amount to a war crime."

"50. By compelling civilians to remain within the area of active hostilities, the LTTE also violated its obligation under international humanitarian law to take all feasible measures to protect the civilian population under its control against the effects of attacks from the security forces."

In fact, the UN knew of an LTTE project to prevent civilians from seeking refuge in the government -held area, in early 2007, at the onset of the Vanni offensive. The Island revelation of the LTTE detaining Tamil UN workers, in April 2007, led to the issue being raised in New York (LTTE detains UN workers-The Island, April 20, 2007) and (UN had talks with Tigers on the sly-The Island, April 23, 2007).

In the wake of The Island reportage of criticism of UN action, the issue was raised at the daily media briefing, in New York. Responding to queries, UNSG Ban Ki moon’s spokesperson, Michele Montas, revealed that the UN mission in Colombo hadn’t informed New York of the kidnapping of the Tamil UN workers. Montas was speaking 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).

Had the UN intervened forcefully, a sizable section of the Vanni population could have escaped from the LTTE and sought protection in the government-held area. The LTTE subsequently, prevented the UN from moving its local staff from the Vanni to the government-held area. Still the UN and Colombo-based Western embassies tolerated the LTTE’s action and the TNA never even bothered at least to issue a statement expressing displeasure. Instead, it remained mum until the Army brought the war to a successful conclusion, thereby freeing it from Prabhakaran’s terror network.

Sri Lanka should present its defence in proper context. The responsibility lies with the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration.

Lionising Prabhakaran

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 152

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister of Child Affairs, Vijayakala Maheswaran, on Dec 28, declared that LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, who hailed from Valvettiturai, could have been Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, or a member of Parliament.

Referring to the incumbent UNP-SLFP coalition, led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, working closely with the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the 44-year-old Jaffna District MP emphasized that even the President couldn’t be compared with Prabhakaran. Describing the LTTE leader as the bravest man, with a personality, Mrs. Maheswaran said that the Tamil community had been so unfortunate not to have Prabhakaran as the Prime Minister, or as a member of Parliament.

The Army killed Prabhakaran, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in May, 2009. The war was brought to a successful conclusion following a relentless nearly three-year combined security forces campaign.

The Jaffna District UNP MP was addressing a meeting held at the Kilinochchi Divisional Secretariat to provide compensation to those who had lost their property due to a recent fire in the area. Northern Province Governor, Reginald Cooray, and Prisons Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Affairs Minister, D.M. Swaminathan, were present on the occasion.

Mrs. Maheswaran couldn’t have been unaware of the implications of her statement. She drew heavy flak for lionising Prabhakaran. An embarrassed UNP disapproved her statement.

Mrs. Maheswaran first entered Parliament at the age of 38, at the April, 2010, general election. She was comfortably re-elected at the August, 2015, general election.

Had Prabhakaran survived, Mrs. Maheswaran wouldn’t have had the an opportunity to enter politics, through the UNP, in 2010. Had the Western powers managed to throw a lifeline to Prabhakaran, in 2009, he would have been the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people.

No less a person than one-time Indian Foreign Secretary and National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon, in his recently (Oct., 2016) launched memoirs, Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy, confirmed the abortive bid made by the US and Norway to save the LTTE. Let me reproduce what Menon, who had been India’s High Commissioner in Colombo (1997 to 2000), said about that bid: "At the same time Norway and the United States were attempting to secure a ceasefire, to negotiate exile for Prabhakaran, and to explore other exit strategies that would effectively keep the LTTE alive to fight another day politically or militarily."

Mrs. Maheswaran hadn’t been in parliament at the time her party declared Prabhakaran as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. That infamous declaration was made a couple of years before Prabhakaran ordered Mrs Maheswaran’s husband, former Jaffna District UNP MP Thiyagarajah, assassinated in the run-up to the April, 2004, general election. Maheswaran, however, survived the attempt on his life, in late March, 2004.

Thiyagarajah Maheswaran

enters parliament

Karainagar born, Thiyagarajah Maheswaran was the first Tamil to enter parliament, on the UNP ticket, from the Jaffna district, during the war. Maheswaran was 34 years of age at the time he entered parliament.

In fact, the UNP hadn’t been able to secure a Jaffna seat for almost 50 years. Although, many felt the UNP lacked the strength, in the Jaffna electorate, to secure a seat, Maheswaran achieved the impossible at the Oct 10, 2000 general election. The Jaffna MP was re-elected again on the UNP ticket at the Dec 5, 2001 general election.

The then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed him the Hindu Affairs Minister. Maheswaran entered parliament at a time the country had been in deep political turmoil in the wake of a section of the then People’s Alliance (PA) switching allegiance to UNP leader Wickremesinghe. Among those who changed sides were current Joint Opposition bigwigs Prof. G. L. Peiris and Bandula Gunawardena. The PA’s defeat, at the Dec 2001 general election, paved the way for the Oslo-arranged Ceasefire Agreement, in Feb., 2002, between Premier Wickremesinghe’s administration and the LTTE.

The CFA brought the then temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provinces, comprising eight administrative districts, under LTTE control.

Then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga called early general election, in April, 2004, after having dissolved parliament, Maheswaran had been told by the LTTE to quit the UNP or face the consequences. Maheswaran declined as he didn’t want to deprive himself of the opportunity to make more money. Fearing for his life, Maheswaran switched electorates, from Jaffna to Colombo, at the April 2004, general election, though no one from Jaffna had been elected since the time of the legislative and State Councils.

The ban imposed on transport of fuel to the North by the UNP, gave Maheswaran the opportunity to smuggle in supplies at a great profit to himself. Maheswaran shared profits with UNPers as well as the LTTE. Although, the military and the police knew of the illegal enterprise, Maheswaran was allowed to continue. Maheswaran also smuggled in large quantities of kerosene. Having become the wholesale kerosene supplier in Jaffna, Maheswaran earned the name Mnnnennei (kerosene) Maheswaran. Maheswaran had been among those who made massive profits at the expense of the Jaffna population. Goods transported, by ship, from Trincomalee to Kankesanthurai, due to the closure of Kandy-Jaffna road, brought in massive profits to Maheswaran and his friends.

First attempt on

Maheswaran’s life

The LTTE made an abortive bid on Maheswaran’s life, at Ginthupitiya, in Colombo, in late, March, 2004. An LTTE gunman shot and wounded Maheswaran on the final day of the general election campaign. Speculation was that the LTTE had used the Colombo underworld to carry out the attack.

The UNP struggled to explain the incident. Having called a media briefing, at the Cambridge Terrace, on March 28, 2004, then UNP General Secretary Senarath Kapukotuwa and UNP spokesperson Minister Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku declined to blame the LTTE for the attempt on Maheswaran’s life and the killing of another UNP candidate contesting the Batticaloa district. The LTTE also made on abortive bid on the then Batticaloa District Divisional Secretary R. Maunaguruswamy, also on March 27, 2004. Instead of blaming the LTTE, Dr. Kodituwakku, currently Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Beijing, accused the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga of jeopardizing security of UNPers contesting the general election. When the writer pressed Kapukotuwa over the LTTE’s involvement in the killing of a UNP candidate, in Batticaloa, and the attempt on Maheswaran’s life, the top party official said that he couldn’t comment until the police completed the investigations.

Dr. Kodituwakku endorsed Kapukotuwa’s position. Both blamed Mrs Kumaratunga for jeopardizing security of the candidates by taking over three ministries, including defence portfolio. Kapukotuwa said that depending on the outcome of police investigations, the government would raise the issue with the LTTE, through the Norway-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). However, the head of the European Election Observation Mission, John Cushnahan, who had been in Colombo at that time, strongly condemned LTTE attacks (UNP to confront LTTE if it is responsible for shootings with strap line President accused of jeopardizing candidates’ security-The Island, March 29, 2004).

Both Kapukotuwa and Dr. Kodituwakku refrained from commenting on the writer’s assertion that the LTTE had killed many lawmakers and there couldn’t have been any doubt regarding the LTTE’s responsibility.

Maheswaran refused to comment on the incident in spite of the writer repeatedly requesting for an interview. Due to Maheswaran pleading with The Island not to pursue the matter, we refrained from reporting further on the incident. The UNPer warned that The Island would be held responsible in case its reportage caused him trouble. The writer failed to convince Maheswaran to discuss the incident even after he won a seat, contesting from the Colombo district, at the April 2004 general election. Maheswaran polled 57,978 preference votes and entered parliament though the UNP lost the general election (Maheswaran in despite LTTE threat-The Island, April 5, 2004).

LTTE-TNA partnership

There had been an agreement between the LTTE and the TNA, in the run-up to April 2004 general election. The Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led TNA had the backing of the LTTE and the latter threatened rival candidates to quit the contest. The LTTE, obviously wanted to deprive Maheswaran a seat in parliament. Against the backdrop of the split caused by one-time Tiger Eastern Commander Karuna, the LTTE wanted a strong TNA presence in parliament. The TNA secured 22 seats, including two National List slots. The TNA emerged as the third force in parliament.

Electoral alliances and secret pacts dominated the period up to the April 2 general election. But, none could be as diabolical as the understanding between the LTTE and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which came into existence in 2001. The formation of the grouping comprising members from the ITAK, PLOTE, ACTC, TULF, EPRLF and TELO was meant to strengthen the LTTE’s interests, both here and abroad. The TNA played its part well.

The LTTE’s attempt to influence Parliament by helping the UNP to help elect its man at the April 2 general election should be studied thoroughly.

A statement issued by the TNA, in the run-up to the April 2 general election, highlighted its alliance with the LTTE. Unfortunately, the UPFA failed to exploit the environment to its political advantage. It simply ignored the rapidly developing situation. The TNA declared: "Accepting the LTTE’s leadership as the national leadership of ‘Tamil Eelam’ Tamils and the Liberation Tigers as the sole and authentic representative of the Tamil people, let us devote our full cooperation for the ideals of the Liberation Tigers’ struggle with honesty and steadfastness. Let us endeavour determinedly, collectively as one group, one nation, one country, transcending race and religious differences, under the leadership of the LTTE, for a life of liberty, honour and justice for the Tamil people." 

The TNA publicly pledged its support to the LTTE leadership and its efforts to divide the country on ethnic lines. The LTTE/TNA alliance made war inevitable, though the UPFA failed to comprehend the impending danger. Following the UNP strategy, the UPFA, too, pledged its commitment to the Norwegian peace initiative shortly after the April 2 general election. In its haste to persuade the LTTE to return to the negotiating table, the UPFA didn’t even bother to comment on the unprecedented TNA statement. The UPFA remained silent. President Kumaratunga was wary of confronting the TNA. The UPFA took up the position that an understanding with the TNA was necessary to bring back the LTTE to the negotiating table.

Both major parties, the SLFP-led UPFA and the UNP-led UNF, accepted the TNA as the LTTE’s mouthpiece. The TNA wielded immense power, with the Colombo-based diplomatic community bending over backwards to appease the group in spite of it openly representing the LTTE. The TNA had access to any Western embassy in Colombo as it propagated LTTE ideals at every level. Both TNA bigwigs and representatives of the LTTE Political Wing were guests at regular diplomatic functions, while killings and forced conscription of children continued in the temporarily merged North-East Province.

A demoralised military watched the LTTE build-up, though a section of the defence establishment challenged the LTTE. Those who resented the UPFA’s policy of appeasement at the expense of national security gradually responded to the LTTE challenge, with disputed counter-terrorist actions. Unfortunately, the government failed in its duty. Had it realised the importance of a statement issued by the EU Election Observation Mission, which explicitly dealt with the TNA/LTTE alliance, it could have been used both here and abroad. Only The Island took up the issues raised in the EU report in respect of the LTTE/TNA alliance and its implications being discussed editorially on several occasions.

The EU report, released on Jun 17, 2004, described the LTTE as the primary source of violence at the April 2 general election. The EU monitoring mission’s head, John Cushnahan, didn’t mince his words when he declared that the LTTE’s primary aim was to garner a huge majority for its proxy, the TNA, to project the group as the sole representative of Tamil speaking people. In fact, the EU endorsed what TULF chief V. Anandasangaree had been saying throughout the campaign. Unfortunately, the then government, the international community and even the Nordic truce monitoring mission didn’t take any notice. Anandasangaree was ignored. The UNP refused at least to condemn the LTTE for making an attempt on the life of T. Maheswaran, even after the EU issued its report. Anandasangaree urged the government and the Opposition not to accept the TNA. The LTTE proxy had no right to be in parliament (TULF leader applauds EU for unmasking LTTE proxy––The Island of June 23, 2004).

The EU said: Firstly, the LTTE intended that no other rival Tamil party (or Tamil candidate from the mainstream political alliances) to the TNA would be able to claim to represent Tamil interests. A chilling message to this effect was sent early in the campaign when a UNP candidate and an EPDP activist were murdered. Incidents such as this seriously restricted the right of the parties other than the TNA to campaign freely in the Northern and Eastern Districts. During the 2004 elections, the major incidences of violence was perpetrated by the LTTE, whereas at the earlier elections, the primary source of the violence (although not all), were the two largest political parties.

The EU accused the TNA of being the direct beneficiary of violence unleashed by the LTTE. There hadn’t been any previous case of a political party having an armed organisation to help it at an election. Although the EU election observation mission lashed out at the TNA over its complicity in political violence, including murder, the Colombo based diplomatic community didn’t want to jeopardise their relationship with either the TNA or the LTTE. The EU mission as well as other diplomatic missions ensured that Cushnahan’s report didn’t cause any impediment to their relationship with either the TNA or the LTTE. Senior representatives of both organisations continued globetrotting at the expense of Norwegian taxpayers. The EU assured the TNA that Cushnahan’s report wouldn’t have an impact on their relations and the European community remained committed to helping the TNA’s cause.

Maheswaran assassinated

Having survived the assassination bid, Maheswaran reached an understanding with the LTTE. The UNPer had to pay large sums of money to the LTTE. They made profits at the expense of the Jaffna peninsula.

At the time, the LTTE assassinated him on January 1, 2008, in a Kochchikade, Kotahena Hindu temple, Maheswaran had been one of the richest members of parliament. Maheswaran had been even exploring the possibility of supplying weapons to the military. While publicly declaring that only arms dealers would benefit from war, Maheswaran was planning to sell weapons.

Maheswaran’s colleague, the then UNP MP Jayalath Jayawardena blamed the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the killing. Jayawardena alleged that drastic reduction of Maheswaran’s police bodyguards paved the way for the assassination. The MP refused to blame the LTTE for the killing though the police captured the assassin alive. Shot and wounded by Maheswaran’s police bodyguard, the assassin was later identified as Johnson Collin Vasanthan Valentine from Gurunagar. (Jayalath says prez must be held accountable for MP’s killing The Island June 6, 2008).

State Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran has conveniently forgotten the LTTE killing her husband. Mrs Maheswaran has also ignored the TNA-LTTE partnership at the time of the abortive bid to assassinate her husband and his killing, in March 2004 and January 2008, respectively. The UNP politician has also ignored the LTTE engineering Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat at Nov 2005 presidential poll to pave the way for Eelam war IV. Could there be anything as ridiculous as Child Affairs State Minister choosing Prabhakaran who had caused the deaths of thousands of child soldiers as Sri Lanka’s premier.

Sri Lanka's foreign policy dilemma

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 151

 

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A P-8A Poseidon from Patrol Squadron (VP) 10 taxis down the runway at Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota on Dec. 11, 2016 . The Poseidon arrived in Colombo on December 4, where its sailors met Sri Lankan military personnel to demonstrate the capabilities of the P-8A and exchanged expert advice. (U.S. Embassy Sri Lanka photo)

Wartime President Mahinda Rajapaksea, Foreign Secretary of India Shiv Shankar Menon, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama in New Delhi in Oct 2007.


By Shamindra Ferdinando

A veteran Sri Lankan diplomat asserted that India wants Sri Lanka to be an Indian aircraft carrier. "China wants Sri Lanka to be a Chinese sub dock yard. The US wants it to be a back-stop for Diego Garcia. The previous SLFP-led Rajapaksa administration caused chaos in foreign relations. Unfortunately, the incumbent administration is far worse." The expert was responding to former Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1997-2000), Foreign Secretary (Oct. 2006-July 2009) and National Security Advisor (January 2011-May 2014) Shivshankar Menon’s assertion, ‘Sri Lanka, an aircraft carrier parked 14 miles off Indian coast.’ Menon, in his recently launched memoirs, ‘Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy,’ acknowledged India’s fear of Sri Lanka being used as a launching pad for hostile action, directed at India.

Since the conclusion of the war, in May, 2009, the US has intensified its relationship with Sri Lanka, with high level visits, including US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and Commander of US Pacific Command, Admiral Harris B. Harris participating at the 7th edition of the Galle Dialogue. Such high level US presence has prompted India to send Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of the Naval Staff, Indian Navy.

Decades ago, India covertly intervened in Sri Lanka fearing Sri Lanka’s relationship with the US. No less a person than Menon’s predecessor, J.N. Dixit, had admitted that in his memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram, Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha.

New Delhi destabilised Sri Lanka to such an extent to pave the way for the deployment of the Indian Army in the Northern and Eastern Provinces (July 1987-March 1990). The Indian deployment covered the strategic eastern port city Trincomalee, the home to Sri Lanka’s Eastern Naval Command. India always feared US military presence in Sri Lanka, particularly Trincomalee. India’s premier intelligence service Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) had been engaged in Sri Lanka since Tamil youth took up arms in the 70s.

The US had been seriously interested in developing a close relationship with Sri Lanka during the cold war era though it never got the opportunity until JR Jayewardene led UNP to victory, at the 1977 general election. India reacted furiously.

By the time, Sri Lanka’s war against the monster, created by India, was coming to an end, in 2009, New Delhi feared Beijing’s intentions here. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, in early the 90s, India gradually turned towards the US. Today, they are best of friends with US ally Israel being one of the major weapons suppliers to India. India has joined forces with the US and Japan to face the growing Chinese influence in the region. Vietnam, too, has been brought into the grouping. India has been always wary of Chinese, and the Rajapaksas relationship with Beijing definitely unsettled New Delhi.

Menon acknowledged that India had felt that their intervention, on behalf of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, would certainly give competing power China an edge over India in dealings with the Rajapaksa administration. As there hadn’t been any doubt about war-winning President Rajapaksa comfortably securing a second team, India tacitly backed the annihilation of the LTTE. Remember, the war-winning Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka had been in the Rajapaksas’ Camp and there was absolutely no dispute among them as the war was brought to an end. Real internal trouble erupted, in the Rajapaksa camp, following the conclusion of the war.

Menon declared that had New Delhi thrown its weight behind desperate US and Norwegian efforts to save Prabhakaran and his top lieutenants, competing powers would have taken advantage of the situation. Menon said: "If India had stood aside or asked him (Mahinda Rajapaksa) to desist, in effect, defending the killers of an Indian Prime Minister, we would have effectively written ourselves out of Sri Lanka for the next decade or more, sacrificing our maritime and other interests in Sri Lanka and abdicating a geopolitically strategic neighbour to other powers. More than 90 per cent of our foreign trade and most of our energy supplies came along the sea-lanes that Sri Lank sits astride., and we could hardly abandon Sri Lanka to potentially hostile influences. In effect, Sri Lanka is an aircraft carrier parked 14 miles off the Indian coast. This is the perpetual dilemma of India’s Sri Lanka policy: we must engage in order to keep Sri Lanka free of antagonistic outside influences while also trying to prevent the growth of Tamil extremism and separatism that could affect Tamil Nadu."

Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, recently explained to the writer how India threw its weight behind the political project here to oust President Rajapaksa. According to him, the project had been authorised in the wake of Narendra Modi becoming India’s Prime Minister, in May, 2014. The war veteran recalled him meeting Menon’s successor, Ajit Kumar Doval, in New Delhi, and subsequently, in Sri Lanka, in late 2014. Doval had demanded an end to Sri Lanka’s growing post-war relationship with China. "Doval wanted us to stop the Port City Project, terminate the agreement with the China Port Holdings Company for the operation of Colombo International Container Terminals, stop all major Chinese infrastructure projects and, finally, deny Chinese a role at the Hambantota port."

President Rajapaksa earned India’s wrath for not heeding Doval’s warning.

Rajapaksa asserted that the controversial decision to hand over the Hambantota port control to China Port Holdings Company, currently operating a major terminal at the Colombo harbour, should be studied against the backdrop of Indian demands. "Nothing has changed due to change of government in January 2015. In fact, Chinese projects are underway in spite of problems at the onset of the new administration."

Wiki leaks revelation

India obviously despised the growing Chinese relationship with the Rajapaksa government. Chinese submarine visits to the Colombo port caused further deterioration of Indo-Lanka relations with Beijing, in no uncertain terms, reiterating its right to such visits. The Indian media caused a major furore alleging that Colombo was accommodating Chinese nuclear submarines, though China and the previous Sri Lankan government denied such accusations.

A diplomatic missive, originating from the US embassy, in New Delhi, on April 27, 2007, revealed New Delhi’s assertion of the ground situation in Sri Lanka as the war entered the final phase, in the Eastern Province. The military brought the entire province under its control, in June 2007. The world wouldn’t have known about India’s attitude if not for whistle-blowing website, Wiki leaks.

The cable, quoted Joint Secretary of the External Affairs Ministry, Mohan Kumar, as having said that "The situation in Sri Lanka is bad, really bad – beyond bleak." Alleging that neither the government nor the LTTE had any regard for the international community, Kumar sought a briefing from the US regarding Sri Lanka’s growing relations with China.

The cable: "Kumar confirmed reports that the Indian Navy has stepped up patrols in the Palk Strait, and said that India and Sri Lanka are doing coordinated patrolling to prevent the smuggling of weapons from the Tamil Nadu coast. Kumar said it would be helpful to get the American assessment of the port being built in Hambantota, which, he estimated, China was willing to spend US $500 million to help develop." He noted that China has increased its influence with President Rajapaksa, opining that Rajapaksa had a ‘soft spot’ for China, following his visit to Beijing, in March, 2007.

President Rajapaksa commissioned the first stage of the Hambantota port project, in 2007.

In spite of Kumar’s claim of coordinated patrols in the Palk Strait, the Sri Lankan Navy intercepted and destroyed many trawlers carrying weapons after they entered Sri Lankan waters. There had never been coordinated patrols.

According to the leaked cable, which dealt with Burma, the Maldives and Bangladesh, the Indian Joint Secretary of External Affairs has expressed concern over the Hambantota Port building project. A New Delhi – based British diplomat, Alex Hall-Hall, too, had been involved in the discussion. The British had been always a part of the Indian strategy on Sri Lanka. This was evident when the British Defence Minister, Michael Fallon, during bilateral talks with President Maithripala Sirisena, in London in early 2015, raised the contentious issue of the Chinese naval build-up in the region, as well as Sri Lanka’s military ties to China.

President Maithripala Sirisena, at the time of his meeting with Fallon, wouldn’t have thought the economic crisis would compel his government to reach an agreement with China Port Holdings Company. In fact, President Sirisena wouldn’t have envisaged being compelled to go ahead with Chinese projects, launched during his predecessor’s time. Today, Sri Lanka is in turmoil over Chinese investments with former President Rajapaksa struggling to maintain a balance amidst backlash against the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government seeking a bigger role for China.

Recently, former External Affairs Minister, Prof. G.L. Peiris, described impending Chinese presence in Hambantota as a country within a country. Prof. Peiris, recently accompanied former President Rajapaksa on a week-long visit to China where they discussed Chinese projects/investments. Obviously, the Rajapaksa Camp had been wrong-footed by emerging China-Sri Lanka relationship. Those who accused the former President of turning Sri Lanka to a Chinese colony are defending new government’s China policy. The Rajapaksa Camp had been so confused now it couldn’t even remember China Port Holdings Company held 85 per cent shares of Colombo International Container Terminals whereas the Sri Lanka Ports Authority owned the remaining 15 per cent.

Bogollagama’s version

Menon dealt with US-Norwegian efforts to save Prabhakaran’s life as the Sri Lankan Army rapidly advanced on the Vanni east front. Menon wrongly compared LTTE tactics, on the Vanni east front, where the Army had cornered the group, with the situation faced by the Indian Army during its operations in the Northern Province (1987-1990). The two situations couldn’t be compared under any circumstances. Menon indicated that the Indian Army operations had been affected by what he called standard LTTE practice of using civilians as human shields. Unfortunately, Menon resorted to cheap propaganda by calling the Sri Lankan Army Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s Sinhala Army which the wartime Foreign Secretary asserted wouldn’t be deterred by presence of civilians.

Menon hadn’t taken into consideration ICRC acknowledgment that the Army could have finished off the LTTE much faster had it ignored the civilian factor. The relevant Wiki leaks cable, originating from US Geneva mission, has been in public domain for several years.

Sri Lanka’s wartime Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, recollected the US-Norway project to throw a lifeline to the LTTE in the wake of British and French governments sending top envoys to meet President Rajapaksa. President Rajapaksa had absolutely no intention of calling off the rapidly developing offensive, under any circumstances. US Ambassador Robert O. Blake, over the phone, had told Bogollagama of forthcoming US Navy intervention to remove Prabhakaran from his hideout. Blake had asserted that there could be a massive bloodbath unless the LTTE was evacuated to bring the military campaign to an end. Blake had proposed Prabhakaran could be evacuated to a US warship. However, President Rajapaksa had emphasized that there couldn’t be such a surrender to a third party, under any circumstances, and the LTTEers should give themselves up to the Army. Bogollagama had alerted the wartime Indian High Commissioner in Colombo regarding the US move. However, India couldn’t have been unaware of the US-Norway move. Most probably, India felt it couldn’t get involved in the rescue mission though New Delhi reached an understanding with US-Norway regarding the operation. In other words, India couldn’t have been unaware of the operation and it certainly didn’t oppose the rescue mission. Had the US succeeded, New Delhi could have had achieved its overall objectives, including blessings of Tamil Nadu community. Sri Lanka, too, couldn’t have found fault with India for US-Norway intervention. The role played by top UN official, Vijay K. Nambiar, in the attempt to force a ceasefire, during the final phase of the offensive, should be examined, taking into consideration he had been a veteran Indian diplomat. Nambiar had been Chef de Cabinet under UNGS Ban Ki-moon at the time he flew into Sri Lanka to negotiate a deal. Unfortunately, the Indian had given his plan away when he discussed his mission with a person overseas while using a toilet at the Bandaranaike International Airport. A Sri Lankan diplomat who had heard the conversation brought it to the notice Bogollagama who alerted President Rajapaksa.

Wartime Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo, Tore Hattrem, had been in Malaysia to discuss rescue mission with Kumaran Pathmanathan, at that time a top LTTE financier responsible for the procurement of weapons. Bogollagama recalled how he contacted Hattrem over satellite phone before calling the Norwegian to the Foreign Ministry to discuss Norwegian interference.

A further boost for China

military ties

China recently set up an aircraft overhaul wing at the Katunayake air base to service military aircraft. Chinese specialists recently overhauled two Chinese built PT 6 training aircraft. The project, initiated during the Rajapaksa administration, disturbed New Delhi, particularly because it was to be established at China Bay, Trincomalee. A section of the media severely criticised the continuation of the Chinese project. Those who couldn’t stomach the LTTE’s crushing defeat depicted the new facility as former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s project. They have expressed concern over taxpayers’ money being utilised for the upkeep of the military. Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for not acquiring required systems during the conflict. A case in point is delay in acquiring 3 D radar due to external factors. In other words, an external factor jeopardised Sri Lanka’s security by thwarting deployment of Chinese radar. In late March, 2007, at the onset of the Vanni offensive (only 57 Division had been deployed then), the LTTE nearly succeeded in destroying the Katunayake-based jet squadrons (Kfirs and MiG 27s) for want of radar. Had LTTE aircraft succeeded in hitting the jet squadrons, the war effort would have suffered an irreparable loss. In fact, the Vanni offensive couldn’t have proceeded without air power.

Sri Lanka wanted to acquire and instal a proper air defence system during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure as the President. Kumaratunga acted on the recommendations of the then SLAF Commander, Air Marshal Donald Perera to acquire air defence system, though the UNP led-UNF government (Dec 2001-Nov 2003) did not pursue the initiative. Sri Lanka re initiated plans in March, 2005, to acquire air defence system. Kumaratunga approved plans to go for Chinese radar. But, due to Indian pressure, Sri Lanka couldn’t proceed with it. Instead, New Delhi offered to install, operate and maintain an integrated air defence system covering the entire country. Sri Lanka was told that an Indian 2D system was more than adequate to meet the LTTE threat. India was of the opinion that Sri Lanka didn’t require personnel from any other country to man radar stations as it could take care of the system on its own. India reiterated its position in September, 2005, ahead of the Nov 2005 presidential poll (Govt. rejects UNP charge, CBK initiated air defence plan - The Island April 5, 2007).

The March 2007 LTTE attack exposed the deficiencies in the SLAF air defence system. The fact that LTTE aircraft, involved in the March 26, 2007, raid on the Katunayake air base, had survived some 400 kms of flying distance, and that, too, in the night, highlighted the urgent need to upgrade the system.

While the Chinese offered 3D radar, India installed 2D radar, thereby causing a major shortfall in the system. Sri Lanka had to accept the first generation 2D radar as New Delhi strongly opposed the installation of Chinese radar. Investigations revealed that the Indian radar didn’t even detect the approaching enemy aircraft until the radar sited adjacent to the BIA identified them. The BIA radar made the detection as the LTTE aircraft were about three kilometres off the air base.

In the aftermath of the strike, the LTTE declared that about 40 per cent of the SLAF’s strike capability was gone.

Immediately after the raid, Sri Lanka raised the issue with the Indian High Commission in Colombo. The government stressed the urgent need to fully activate the air defence system as vital military and economic installations were at risk of being bombed. Although three out of four radars promised by India had been installed by that time, there were operational problems. The fourth radar was to be installed in the north. Sri Lanka requested India to install it quickly.

In June, 2005, the then Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, voiced concern over the LTTE acquiring an air capability. In his last visit to Washington, Kadirgamar pointed out the danger of allowing the LTTE to go ahead with its plans. Kadirgamar said that the international community should take tangible action to thwart LTTE plans as the acquisition of air capability could threaten not only Sri Lanka but also international civil aviation and commercial shipping. The issue was taken up at the highest level, with Kadirgamar explaining the situation to the then US Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Advisor Dr. J.H. Croch.

Having received credible intelligence as regards LTTE efforts, Sri Lanka, in early 2005, briefed the five-member UN Security Council, plus India, of an air threat. Sri Lanka went to the extent of providing a comprehensive dossier, including a short video footage obtained by Israeli Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), in service with the SLAF of some LTTE assets.