Tuesday, 21 March 2017

"Foreign judges’ issue mere exaggeration on Mahinda’s part"



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Finally, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has acknowledged that, in terms of the Constitution foreign judges couldn’t participate in proposed domestic accountability mechanism in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1.

Samaraweera hadn’t said anything to that effect since Sri Lanka co-sponsored the resolution in Oct 2015.

Twice Foreign Minister Samaraweera made the declaration at the Foreign Ministry on the afternoon of March 16, 2017.

Samaraweera held the foreign ministry portfolio at the onset of the eelam war IV, in Aug, 2006 till he switched his allegiance to the UNP, in early 2007

On the day, before the media briefing, Samaraweera, referring to the Geneva Resolution, co-sponsored by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration said: "Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, especially as a lawyer, is very well aware that the issue of foreign judges is mere exaggeration on his part, and he does this on purpose to mislead the public. Let us not forget that it was under his leadership that multiple transitional justice processes were initiated, and international prosecutors were engaged. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), established by him, engaged foreigners invited by him, and also nominated by Australia, Canada, the European Commission, the UK, Japan, the Netherlands, USA, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and a Cypriot nominated by the Government of Sri Lanka. International prosecutors were also engaged in connection with the Paranagama Commission."

Samaraweera also declared that the decision to co-sponsor the resolution was not imposed on the government of Sri Lanka.

Having dismissed former President Rajapaksa’s criticism and concerns, Samaraweera said: "We know that truth, reparation and justice are essential, and further, that international jurisdiction over serious crimes only applies when national jurisdiction fails. We are declaring our vision in a resolution before the world to demonstrate that, as an independent, sovereign, and responsible nation, we are fully able to pursue accountability, with our national capacities, and in cooperation with our friends and partners in the international community, thus restoring credibility to our judicial processes and building capacity."

Samaraweera flayed Rajapaksa for interpreting resolution 30/1 in what he called a wildly unreasonable and illogical manner in order to drive fear into people’s minds and divide Sri Lankans in an attempt to realize his dream of returning to power.

Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran responded to Samaraweera last Saturday. Addressing the media, Sumanthiran said that Samaraweera hadn’t previously said that foreign judges participation in judicial mechanism was contrary to the constitution. Sumanthiran urged the government to bring in the required amendment to pave the way for foreign judges, in accordance with resolution 3/1.

TNA in Washington

A statement issued by the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), in June, 2016, should be examined against the backdrop of Samaraweera’s assertion in respect of foreign judges in domestic judicial mechanism.

The TNA has claimed to have reached a tripartite consensus in respect of foreign judges, defence attorneys, investigators, etc, in a local judicial mechanism before Geneva unanimously adopted resolution 30/1.

On behalf of the TNA, its spokesperson, and Jaffna District parliamentarian, M.A. Sumanthiran, told ‘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.

The declaration was made in the presence of Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington, Prasad Kariyawasam. The TNA released the text of Sumanthiran’s statement. The electronic media completely ignored the MP’s statement. Except The Island, Sinhala and English print media, too, didn’t give the coverage Sumanthiran’s statement deserved. The Joint Opposition loyal to former President Rajapaksa, hadn’t been aware of it until the writer brought it to the grouping’s notice.

The event in Washington had been moderated by Sadhanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank. The Caucus is an initiative launched by the United States House Representatives, Bill Johnson of Ohio, and Danny Davis of Illinois, in November, 2013.

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.

The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) spokesperson, Suren Surendiran, told the writer that the agreement, on the text of the resolution, had been reached, following negotiations among what he called Core Group of members at the UNHRC, the government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamils. The agreement on a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators, was certainly not negotiable, Surendiran stressed.

In his lengthy presentation to the Congressional Caucus, on June 14, 2016, Sumanthiran discussed a range of issues, including the role of the US and India in resolution of the national issue.

Both MP Sumanthiran and Surendiran emphasized that they expected the full implementation of the UNHRC resolution.

In his brief remarks, Ambassador Kariyawasam provided an overview of the measures taken by Sri Lanka to promote its two-pronged policy of reconciliation and development since the January 2015 election of the current government, and reiterated in detail, measures taken by the government to vindicate its commitment to these processes and explained the several challenges that militate against government efforts. Kariyawasam conveniently refrained from making any reference to Sumanthiran’s revelation.

The TNA, nor the Foreign Ministry, had never challenged The Island coverage on the Washington meet.

Obviously, the yahapalana government is in severe difficulty over Geneva Resolution 30/1. Having failed to muster the required support, in parliament, to bring in constitutional amendments to implement resolution 30/1, the government is now playing a different tune. The government wants two years to address war—related issues, hence the decision to move a fresh co-sponsored resolution.

A few days before Samaraweera’s briefing, the TNA stressed that space for Sri Lanka should be subjected to a fresh commitment to fulfill Geneva obligations, including foreign judges, in the proposed judicial mechanism.


* Between March-Sept. 2015: GoSL, US, TNA reached an agreement on foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.

* Sept 21, 2015: Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha strongly opposed sections of the draft resolution based on GoSL, the US, TNA agreement. Aryasinha made GoSL’s position clear at the first informal session on the resolution.

* Sept 24, 2015: GoSL accepted US resolution regardless of concerns expressed three days before.

* Oct 1, 2015: GoSL co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1

* June 14, 2016: TNA revealed existence of tripartite agreement on foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.

* Jan 3, 2017: The government appointed Consultation Task Force for Reconciliation Mechanism (CTFRM) endorsed foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.

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.

= Jan 5, 2017: CTFRM reiterated its stand on foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators, at a media briefing, at the Government Information Department.

= Jan 6, 2017: State Finance Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena declared, at President’s House, foreign judges wouldn’t be accepted under any circumstances.

= March 11, 2017: TNA reiterated its demand for the full implementation of resolution 30/1.

= March 13, 2017: US supported GoSL bid to secure time and space to implement resolution 30/1.

= March 16: Foreign Minister Samaraweera ruled out foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.

The GoSL, TNA and the US owed an explanation to the public as regards resolution 30/1. Sumanhiran should speak out now. Having revealed the existence of a tripartite agreement in respect of foreign judges et al in June last year, in Washington, Sumanthiran cannot continue to remain silent as the government contradicted the very basis of resolution 30/1. The developing situation must have quite embarrassed the US as well as Sumanthiran, chief negotiator for the TNA. Obviously, both the US and the TNA are not in a position to contradict the government publicly.

The Joint Opposition, loyal to Rajapaksa, still seems to be unable to take advantage of the situation. Those who had been tasked to address the Geneva issue never bothered, at least to refer to Aryasinha’s statement at the first informal session on the draft resolution, on Sept 21, 2015. The JO is obviously clueless as to the developments in Geneva. In fact, the JO should seek a clarification as regards the contradictory nature of the yahapalana rulers decision to co-sponsor resolution 30/1 after having rejected critically important sections of it.

Aryasinha told the informal meeting: "At a time when we have a new Government that is adopting a calmly different path to that which was followed in the era, before 8 January, 2015, the expectation is, naturally, that there would be a similar change in tone, tenor, and even strategy on the part of the Council as well."

"In this context, my delegation is of the view that a lengthy resolution of the nature of the current draft before us which contains 24 preambular paras and 26 operative paras, which is repetitive, judgmental and prescriptive, is not in keeping with the spirit of the process of reconciliation and reform that is underway in my country under the National Unity Government. Neither is it helpful in adopting a collaborative approach to reaching consensus. Many paragraphs in the current draft are in fact counter-productive to the reconciliation efforts of the government, and have the tendency to polarize communities, vitiate the atmosphere on the ground that is being carefully nurtured towards reconciliation and peace building and restrict the space required for consultations. There is a real danger that the current approach will leave room for negative interpretation, thus, only helping ‘spoilers’ in this process."

"We also remain concerned regarding the formulations provided in several of the Operative paragraphs. Certain terminology used such as ‘verification’, is new and intrusive language to be presented in a human rights resolution, especially when the country concerned is engaging with the international community including with the OHCHR."

"I, therefore, urge, that in order to enable consensus, this resolution be sensitive to the constitutional and institutional difficulties that will have to be overcome in implementing its recommendations as well as political realities. It must also observe clear, cogent language that the people of Sri Lanka find respectful."

Had yahapalana rulers threw their weight behind Aryasinha the government wouldn’t have been in a dilemma today. But, the administration had no option but to overrule Aryasinha due to tripartite agreement involving the GoSL, the US and the TNA. If not for Sumanthiran going public on the secret agreement, the world wouldn’t have known about the circumstances leading to Sri Lanka co-sponsoring resolution 30/1.

Both Sumanthiran and Surendian are on record as having stressed that they accepted foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators in a domestic set up after giving up their original demand for exclusive foreign mechanism. They told the writer on more than one occasion that the there had been prior agreement on robust foreign participation in the run up to resolution 30/1.

It would be a mistake on the part of the public to find fault with Manouri Muttetuwegama-led CTFRM for recommending foreign judges and other personnel. During a recent discussion on the Geneva process on TV I involving the executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, who is also the Secretary to the CTFRM, Dr. Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council and the writer, Dr. Saravanamuttu explained that the Geneva decision on foreign judges preceded CTFRM recommendation on the same. Saravanamuttu pointed out that resolution 30/1 had been adopted in Oct 2015 whereas the CTFRM submitted its recommendations on January 3, 2017.

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga received the CTFRM report from Muttetuwegama at the Presidential Secretariat on Jan 3, 2017. Minister Samaraweera was also present on the occasion.

The eleven-member CTFRM 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’s 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.

War crimes accusers’ responsibility

Samaraweera’s assertion on behalf of the government that inclusion of foreign judges is contrary to the constitution has undermined the very basis of Muttetuwegama’s report.

During the TV I discussion, the writer strongly articulated the pivotal importance of foreign judges participation to ensure an inquiry acceptable to all. Having been accused of massacring over 40,000 Tamil civilians by the UN in March 2011, Sri Lanka should seek a credible investigation to clear her name. The UN should be asked to prove its unsubstantiated allegations before a hybrid court. Yahapalana leaders seemed to be blind to the fact that the external inquiry undertaken by Sandra Beidas on the basis of unproved accusations led to resolution 30/1. Let war crimes accusers prove their allegations before hybrid court. It would be their responsibility to prove these allegations having manipulated the entire process to Sri Lanka’s disadvantage. They had been so unfair that the Sri Lankan military was blamed for killing over 40,000 civilians on the basis of over 4,000 still unverified submissions received by UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE). In fact, the POE recommended those submissions couldn’t be subjected to scrutiny until 2031. Let the well funded NGO fraternity prove their often repeated allegations before hybrid court. Sri Lanka should push for a comprehensive inquiry to ensure those who had been propagating war crimes accusations are forced to prove them. Previous administration’s failure to properly address accountability issues facilitated the despicable Geneva project. The previous government played politics with the issue since the end of the conflict in May 2009 until it was too late.

A credible investigation undertaken before a hybrid court, the writer has no doubt would help establish the truth. Let those who had been demanding hybrid court prove their accusations

(A) The GoSL ordered UN/INGOs to vacate Kilinochchi in September, 2008 to conduct ‘a war without witnesses’.

(B)Vanni population denied medicine, food and other basic needs.

(C) Coordinated mortar/artillery/MBRL (multi barrel rocket launchers) attacks on civilian population. Channel 4 News alleged the then Secretary Defence and the then Army Commander executed the operation.

(D) Massacre over 40,000 civilians.

(E) Rape of combatants/civilians. Subsequently, the military was accused of abusing men.

(F) The use of cluster bombs

Now the onus is on the accusers, particularly TNA, whose leaders played ball with the LTTE until the very end in May 2009 after having worked closely with the murderous outfit since Oct 2001. If the government is genuine in its effort to defend the armed forces, it’ll place European Union Election Observation Mission report on April 2004 general election to prove LTTE-TNA unholy alliance in the run-up to the war. The EU report is evidence that cannot be dismissed by the hybrid court. The TNA will find it extremely difficult to justify its relationship during the war and its current efforts to seek justice against the backdrop of its failure at least to issue a statement calling for the release of over 300,000 Tamil civilian hostages used by the LTTE.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Can foreign judges et al be avoided?

Debate over Geneva Resolution 30/1



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Amidst mounting pressure, on the political front, with the Joint Opposition (JO) relentlessly undermining his authority, President Maithripala Sirisena has apparently ended his ‘honeymoon’ with those who had brought him to power, just over two years ago.

President Sirisena has thrown a coalition that had helped him to defeat war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the January 2015, presidential polls, into disarray.

The President made his move at the onset of the 34th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Obviously, the change of the President’s stance was meant to consolidate his position, both in and outside parliament.

The Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces assured loyalists that foreign participation in war crimes probe wouldn’t be allowed, under any circumstances. President Sirisena told an executive committee meeting, of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), on Thursday (March 2), that he had the ‘backbone’ to reject foreign judicial investigation.

A robust foreign participation, in the proposed judicial process, is the cornerstone of the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, in Oct 2015. The government-appointed Consultation Task Force for Reconciliation Mechanism (CTFRM), in January this year, strongly endorsed foreign participation. President Sirisena was certainly having CTFRM recommendation, on his mind, when he rejected foreign judges’ participation. It was the President’s first reaction to the CTFRM report since former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga accepted it on behalf of the government at the Presidential Secretariat on January 3, 2017.

"Two weeks ago, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, in his report on Sri Lanka, called for a probe by foreign judges. Within 24 hours, I rejected it saying I am not ready to bring in foreign judges here," said President Sirisena.

The President declared that those who had been tasked to represent the country should have the backbone to do the right thing. Although, President Sirisena refrained from naming Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, it was obvious whom he referred to in his speech. The writer is of the opinion that Foreign Minister Samaraweera had discussed Geneva matters, candidly, even at his expense, and the cabinet of ministers has been fully aware of the ground situation.

In fact, Samaraweera, in July last year, expressed confidence that a consensus could be reached on accountability mechanism acceptable to the majority of stakeholders, by January-Feb, 2017.

Samaraweera was briefing the media as regards accountability issues taken up at the 32 session of the UNHRC.

When the media pointed out that both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had ruled out the participation of foreign judges, Samaraweera said that they could express their opinion. There could be a difference of opinion on this matter though the final decision, acceptable to the majority of stakeholders, would be taken after having examined all options, he asserted. Samaraweera stressed that there couldn’t be a dispute regarding international participation in the proposed mechanisms. So, the issue has been discussed though some acted as if the President and the Premier hadn’t ruled out foreign participation before.

On the day after President Sirisena’s talk at the SLFI, Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, too, ruled out foreign judges’ participation in the proposed judicial process. Unlike President Sirisena, Premier Wickremesinghe asserted that foreign judges’ participation (in hybrid courts) weren’t politically feasible as such a move was subjected to approval at a referendum. Premier Wickremesinghe made his position public at an event held at the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) auditorium. New Chief Justice, Priyasath Dep was present on the occasion.

Wickremesinghe declared that the proposal to set up a hybrid court was not practical. The UNP leader said the international community called for a hybrid court at a time they had no faith in local judiciary.

President Sirisena stepped up his offensive on the following day (March 4). The former General Secretary of the SLFP couldn’t have chosen a better place to reassure the military against the backdrop of mounting criticism of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration in respect of accountability issues.

Prez flays NGOs

Addressing the armed forces, at Palaly air base, President reiterated that foreign judges wouldn’t be allowed to come in. Assuring his commitment to the safeguard of the interests of the military, President Sirisena flayed the civil society for working against the national interest. President Sirisena lambasted civil society activists for pursuing foreign judges participation in domestic judicial process and seeking a role in the decision making process.

Those who had taken advantage of the then SLFP General Secretary Sirisena’s animosity towards the Rajapaksas wanted constitutional reforms an integral part of the Geneva process. They sought a brand new Constitution at the expense of Sri Lanka’s unitary status. Under heavy pressure, on the political front, against the backdrop of the devastating Central Bank bond scam, and foreign debt crisis, President Sirisena seems to be making a desperate bid to stabilize the situation. The President’s much publicized claim that his predecessor Rajapaksa had called presidential poll two years ahead of schedule as the former SLFP leader couldn’t counter Geneva allegations seemed frivolous in the wake of the on-going confusion over foreign judges.

A clueless parliamentary reforms and mass media minister who is also the Chief Government Whip Gayantha Karunatilleke declared that President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe had settled the Geneva issue. In spite of being the minister in charge of the media portfolio and co-cabinet spokesperson, Karunatilleke hadn’t received a proper briefing from those handling the issue. Karunatilleke declared that the Geneva issue no longer existed, soon after President Sirisena ruled out foreign judges’ in proposed judicial mechanism.

Fresh TNA demands

The yahapalana government is in turmoil over the Geneva issue with Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan demanding the full implementation of the Geneva Resolution. Having met in Vavuniya, over the weekend, the TNA issued the following statement, headlined TNA decision concerning impending UNHRC Resolution: "The following decision was arrived at, following a meeting of TNA Members, of Parliament and Provincial Council Members, held in Vavuniya today (11th March 2017).

All Sri Lanka’s obligations in terms of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 of 1st October 2015, co-sponsored by the Sri Lankan Government, must be fully implemented. These obligations must be fulfilled under strict conditions, under the monitoring of an office of the UN High Commissioner for Human rights, which must be established in Sri Lanka.

The UN Human Rights Council must ensure that, in the event that the Sri Lankan Government fails to fulfill the abovementioned obligations by way of an appropriate mechanism, victims will receive the intended benefits of the fulfillment of such obligations, by way of international mechanisms.

MP Nadesu Sivasakthi stated that the EPRLF did not agree to the above mentioned decisions."The TNA statement is evidence that the government is not in a position to dismiss the Geneva Resolution. Sampanthan cannot compromise TNA’s stand on Geneva without jeopardizing his authority in the face of Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran’s challenge. Having co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1, the government cannot go back on its word for want of consensus on the accountability issue.

Colonne on Geneva

Resolution 30/1

The following front-page news report on Feb 4, 2016 edition of The Island applies to the current situation.

Geneva Resolution encapsulates pledge in 100-day programme - FM spokesperson

The Foreign Ministry says them Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution encapsulates what was promised by the new administration during its 100-day programme and subsequently stated at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Sept. 14, 2015.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mahishini Colonne was responding to a query by The Island whether UNHRC or some members of the Geneva-based body, had sought clarification from the Foreign Ministry as regards recent contradictory statement pertaining to Geneva Resolution made by President Maithripala Sirisena. The Island also asked whether the Foreign Ministry had briefed or reassured UNHRC regarding Sri Lanka’s commitment to the Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution.

Spokesperson Colonne said: "No to both. What the government of Sri Lanka has committed to her people already in the 100-Day Work Programme and set out in the UNHRC on 14 September was what was encapsulated in the resolution."

Colonne was referring to a Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s statement in Geneva.

President Maithripala Sirisena, in recent interviews with the BBC, and Al Jazeera, had ruled out the possibility of having foreign judges in the proposed court to inquire into accountability issues as envisaged in the Oct. 1 Resolution.

The issue is expected to be taken up during a four-day visit undertaken by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. The Geneva delegation is scheduled to arrive on February 6.

High Commissioner’s spokesperson Rupert Colville said he couldn’t respond to several queries raised by The Island as he had been unable to contact their ‘main Sri Lanka expert’ as well as the High Commissioner who was travelling. The Island: "Recently, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena issued a statement contrary to Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution. However, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, subsequently, clarified Sri Lanka’s position. Premier assured Sri Lanka’s commitment to the Oct. 1 resolution. My queries (1) Did UNHRC seek a clarification from the government regarding its stand?

(2) Will UNHRC Chief take up this issue during his visit to Colombo?

(3) Did UNHRC receive representations from members of the UN body as well as other interested parties such as the GTF regarding the Sri Lankan President’s statement?"

Although, the yahapalana government has repeatedly asserted that Geneva Resolution 30/1 is meant for a domestic inquiry, various individuals pushed Sri Lanka to accept robust international participation in the proposed judicial mechanism.

Leahy on hybrid mechanism

Influential U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, speaking on Sri Lanka at the U.S. Senate, in June 9, 2015 strongly recommended hybrid mechanism to address post-war accountability issues here. Leahy said: "It is essential that the justice process is not only about truth telling, but is a credible, independent mechanism with authority to investigate, prosecute, and appropriately punish those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, on both sides. It is also important to the development of a credible accountability mechanism and to the success of this endeavour that Sri Lankan officials consult with local civil society organizations, including the families of the war’s victims. They should also invite international bodies, such as the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, to take part in this process, to provide technical assistance as well as substantive input and help with prosecutorial work, evidence-gathering, and judicial decision-making. A hybrid mechanism, with international experts involved at the prosecutorial and judicial level, will help ensure that the failings and cynicism associated with past domestic accountability mechanisms are not repeated."

Sumanthiran reveals tripartite understanding

TNA heavyweight M.A. Sumanthiran, in June last year, revealed the existence of an understanding. Let me reproduce the relevant section of MP Sumanthiran’s speech which he made at Congressional meeting in June 2016. Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington, Prasad Kariyawasam, was seated next to the Jaffna District MP (The TNA) made available the full text of Sumanthiran’s speech to the writer requesting coverage.

Commenting on the international involvement in the accountability process, Sumanthiran said: "...as far as I know the Government has not said ‘no’ to international involvement. All the multiple voices that you talk about say ‘international involvement - yes, but not judges’. Now I take great exception to that, because as I said at the beginning, the text of the 2015 Resolution is a negotiated text. We asked for an international inquiry, and we settled for a hybrid model. So that was negotiated with the Government of Sri Lanka. And having compromised and settled to a model which in the Resolution doesn’t merely say hybrid but explains in detail judges, prosecutors, defence attorneys and investigators, it obviously means judge qua judges, prosecutors qua prosecutors, so on and so forth. So it does not mean (for) judges to be advisors or judges to be involved in some other capacity. And that was well understood. I was personally involved in the negotiations, with the United States of America also participating in that particular process. 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 and that is how that phraseology was agreed upon. And so, to us having negotiated and compromised and agreed that there would be a hybrid tribunal to try these mass atrocities, it is not open for the Government now to shift its stance and say ‘well, international involvement yes, but it’s in a different form, now...’. That is not acceptable to us at all. And we have said this. Quite openly I have spoken in Parliament at least two or three times and the Government has not contested me on that. We have said it to the President when he called for an all party conference on the implementation of the UN resolution, and he has not contested us on that. But, as you say, in the public there are different voices that we hear. So we are concerned as much as people are, with regard to this particular issue, wondering if the Government is shifting its stance. However, such a mechanism has not been brought about as yet. So we will wait until we reach that particular point of setting up a court of the Special Counsel’s office and so on and so forth and insist that every word, and spirit, in that resolution will be complied with.

Aryasinha in failed bid

Now that there is absolutely no question as regards Sri Lanka accepting the Geneva Resolution 30/1, it would be pertinent to closely examine the disputed intervention made by Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, at the first informal session that dealt with the draft resolution on Sept 21, 2015. Among those present, on that occasion, were US Permanent Representative to the UNHRC Ambassador Keith Harper and current US Ambassador Atul Keshap as well as other representatives of the ‘Core Group’ pursuing the matter. Ambassador Aryasinha, in no uncertain terms, rejected several sections in the draft resolution.

Ambassador Aryasinha said: "At a time when we have a new Government that is adopting a calmly different path to that which was followed in the era, before 8 January, the expectation is, naturally, that there would be a similar change in tone, tenor, and even strategy on the part of the Council as well."

"In this context, my delegation is of the view that a lengthy resolution of the nature of the current draft before us which contains 24 preambular paras and 26 operative paras, which is repetitive, judgmental and prescriptive is not in keeping with the spirit of the process of reconciliation and reform that is underway in my country under the National Unity Government. Neither is it helpful in adopting a collaborative approach to reaching consensus. Many paragraphs in the current draft are in fact counter-productive to the reconciliation efforts of the government, and have the tendency to polarize communities, vitiate the atmosphere on the ground that is being carefully nurtured towards reconciliation and peace building and restrict the space required for consultations. There is a real danger that the current approach will leave room for negative interpretation, thus, only helping ‘spoilers’ in this process."

"We also remain concerned regarding the formulations provided in several of the Operative paragraphs. Certain terminology used such as ‘verification’, is new and intrusive language to be presented in a human rights resolution, especially when the country concerned is engaging with the international community including with the OHCHR."

"I therefore urge, that in order to enable consensus, this resolution be sensitive to the constitutional and institutional difficulties that will have to be overcome in implementing its recommendations as well as political realities. It must also observe clear, cogent language that the people of Sri Lanka find respectful."

The government simply overruled the Ambassador’s objections and ordered the Geneva mission to accept the draft resolution.

In the wake of Sri Lanka’s strong objections, the ‘Core Group’, on the draft resolution, submitted an amended resolution, on September 24, 2015. Sri Lanka accepted the amended resolution though it was essentially the same. That is the undeniable truth.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Conflict over Air Force presence at Mullaitivu



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Various interested parties relentlessly push for further reduction of military presence in the Northern, as well as the Eastern Provinces, comprising eight administrative districts.

The Northern Province comprises the administrative districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya. The Eastern Province consists of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara

Following the nearly three-year combined security forces campaign, the military brought back the whole of the two provinces under state control, in May, 2009.

Since then, those who had faith in the LTTE’s battlefield strategies are pursuing Velupillai Prabhakaran’s objectives.

 Among those wanting the government to further scale down armed forces deployment are some foreign governments as well as the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Geneva has repeatedly called for significant armed forces pull-out, regardless of the re-deployment of formations since the conclusion of the war over seven years ago.

Geneva on military presence

 Geneva has interpreted the first step in proposed security sector reform as withdrawal of a section of security forces.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, didn’t mince his words when he called for the reduction of the military force, deployed in the two provinces, to a less intrusive and intimidating as the first step in security sector reform.

 The declaration was made in the afternoon of February 9, 2016, during a media briefing at the UN compound, in Colombo. The media didn’t seek an explanation from the former Jordanian diplomat Hussein, as regards Geneva’s right to decide on military deployment here.

 Hussein had served as Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the UN (2007 to 2010) before being appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in 2014. Immediately before being PR in New York, Hussein served as Jordan Ambassador to the US.

 Hussein asserted that over six years, after the end of war, people of the Northern and Eastern Provinces still lived in fear, to a certain extent. Hussein, who had played a significant role in setting up of the International Criminal Court, claimed that the continuing existence of fear, among the people living there, was due to intrusive as well as the intimidating presence of the military.

 Hussein declared: "The element of fear has considerably diminished, at least in Colombo, and the South. In the North and the East, it has mutated but, sadly, still exists." 

Having helped to form the ICC, Hussein received the appointment as the first President of the Assembly of State Parties of the ICC, in Sept 2002.

The UN diplomat called for urgent measures, on the part of the government of Sri Lanka, to create normalcy in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Hussein urged the government/military to vacate land, used by security forces, immediately.

Expressing serious concern over the slow progress, Hussein declared: "There are some measures that could be taken quickly which would reverse this trend of draining confidence. First of all, the military needs to accelerate the return of land it has seized (and is still holding) to its rightful owners. While some land has been returned in the Jaffna and Trincomalee areas, there are still large tracts which can and should be swiftly given back. Once the land has been given back, the remaining communities of displaced people can — if given the necessary assistance — return home, and a lingering sore will have been cured once and for all."

 They believe post-war national reconciliation couldn’t be achieved unless the government abandoned military bases to such an extent their presence would be irrelevant. Sri Lanka’s military deployment is now under discussion, both here and overseas.

TNA project

Last week, The Island dealt with on-going efforts to force the Air Force out of their Mullaitivu station, established over five years ago. Former Supreme Court judge, C.V. Wigneswaran-led Northern Provincial administration is determined to get rid of the Air Force presence at Mullaitivu as well as Iranamadu. Mullaitivu and Iranamadu airstrips established by the LTTE during the Norway arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), have been categorized as Air Force stations after  the crushing of the Tigers.

 The airstrip, near the Iranamadu tank, was meant to bring in plane loads of ammunition and some specialized armaments, which could have had helped the LTTE to stall the advancing army, on the Vanni east front. The Air Force transformed the Iranamadu airstrip to the largest such facility in the eastern part of the Vanni region. Spanning a length of 1,500 metres and width of 25 metres, it can accommodate even a fully loaded C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, the largest in service with the SLAF. Even a jet can land there in an emergency. The SLAF’s Rapid Runway Repair Wing (RRRW) had spearheaded the runway building project with the main work commencing in Feb. 2012, nearly three years after the liberation of the entire Vanni region.

Those pushing for the eviction of the Air Force, from Mullaitivu, have claimed that during the tenure of the UNP-led United National Front (UNF) government some Mahaveer families were given the land now occupied by the military. They called the disputed area Keppapulavu. According to them, the deeds for forest department land had been issued during the CFA. The UNP bended backwards to appease the LTTE even after the group quit the Norwegian-facilitated negotiating process, in late April, 2003.

LTTE strategy

 Having finalized CFA, in Feb 2002, the LTTE implemented a well-coordinated project to challenge the military presence in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The LTTE executed the plan in coordination with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the public. The LTTE formed the TNA, in Oct, 2001, in accordance with its overall plan to overwhelm the Sri Lankan state. 

The European Union Election Observation Mission, in mid 2004, confirmed the LTTE-TNA partnership, where Tigers stuffed ballot boxes in their presence to ensure victory of TNA candidates. The EU dealt with the LTTE-TNA operation in its report on the April 2004 parliamentary election. The Rajapaksa administration didn’t even bother to comment on the EU confirmation that the TNA had secured the lion’s share of parliamentary seats in the North-East with the LTTE’s support. The Election Commission, too, conveniently remained silent.

Soon after signing the CFA, the LTTE launched protests outside selected military bases. The LTTE leadership had no qualms in involving students in violent protests directed at military bases. The TNA publicly endorsed the despicable LTTE strategy. Western diplomatic missions turned a blind eye to what was going on. The much talked about ‘Pongu Thamil’ protest campaign was meant to put pressure on the UNP over military bases.

An embarassed UNP administration directed Army headquarters not to release daily situation reports in an effort to suppress the crisis up North and in some parts of the Eastern Province. But, the military released information to a section of the media, regardless of government directives. Much to the discomfort of the UNP leadership, its attempts to influence the media failed.

On the one hand the LTTE and its allies strongly pushed for reduced military presence in the Northern and Eastern Provinces while they consolidated the LTTE-held area recognized by the CFA.

Austin on LTTE scheme

Austin Fernando, who had been the Defence Secretary at the time of the CFA, explained the situation faced by the then government. In an article titled ‘The Peace Process and Security Issues’ accommodated in ‘Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures and Lessons’ edited by NGO guru Kumar Rupesinghe, in early 2006, Fernando dealt with the issue at hand. Let me reproduce verbatim what present Governor of the Eastern Province Fernando stated: "...even the long established forward defence lines were challenged by the Tamil public, purportedly instigated by the LTTE causing political embarrassment to the government of Sri Lanka as happened in the army camp raid in Point Pedro and numerous attempts to break into the High Security Zones (HSZ) in the Jaffna peninsula. At an inspection of the Point Pedro camp immediately after the incident, it was apparent that the LTTE had instigated children and parents demanding ‘public presence’ (inclusive of LTTE cadres) within the HSZs. The contradiction is that the Tamil public in HSZs of the LTTE (eg. Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Puthukudirippu, Vakarai, Pittugala, Taravai and Karadianaru camp areas) did not enjoy such freedom."

The so-called civil society turned a blind eye to LTTE actions. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) threw its weight behind the LTTE project.  The CFA facilitated their campaign to weaken the military presence, in accordance with the CFA.

The on-going efforts to further reduce military presence up north should be examined with overall eelam objectives in mind.

Swaminathan’s role

Prisons reforms, rehabilitation, resettlement and Hindu religious affairs Minister D.M. Swaminathan, on Feb 28, 2017, explained his role in securing some land held by the Air Force in Mullaitivu. Fifty two families had received land. Referring to the on-going public protests at Mullaitivu, which commenced on Feb 1, 2017, the ministry, said that Swaminathan had discussed the issue with President Maithripala Sirisena on Feb 14. The discussion led to President Sirisena issuing instructions to the military vacate land, held by them, as soon as possible. Subsequently, the Air force handed over 42 acres of land. In addition to Swaminathan, TNA leader, who is also the Opposition Leader, R. Sampanthan, has received an assurance from President Sirisena regarding the planned release of 42 acres of land on March 1. President Sirisena has reiterated his commitment on Feb 27.

Present Air Force leadership will have to take all factors into consideration in responding to the new threat. Mullaitivu situation must be tackled carefully. The government shouldn’t allow its partners to exploit the situation at Mullaitivu or any other district to their political advantage. Obviously, both members of parliament and outside are seeking political gains at the expense of national security. The Air Force leadership, the writer is sure is pondering over the crisis as the service celebrated its 66 anniversary last week.

Handing over of a part of the Air Force held area in Mullaitivu will certainly not stop on-going public protests instigated by an influential section of the TNA. In fact, both Swaminathan and Sampanthan hadn’t been originally involved in the project to evict the Air Force from Mullaitivu. High profile public protests had been an integral part of the campaign to undermine the current TNA leadership. Sampanthan had earned the wrath of some members of the TNA for promoting Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran, leading attorney-at-law, and the party spokesman. With the TNA deeply divided over issues ranging from the release of military held land to the 30/1 Geneva Resolution, different factions are likely to step up pressure on the government. Evidently, they’ll go all out against military presence in areas that had been previously held by the military.

Constitutional reforms

A determined bid to force significant scaling down of the military should be examined amidst stepped up calls for empowering Provincial Councils with land and police powers.

Nationalist groups are of the opinion that in spite of political rhetoric, the government, the TNA and their foreign partners may soon reach consensus on the full implementation of the 13 Amendment to the Constitution that was forced on President JRJ by New Delhi. Police powers to PCs should be examined vis a vis drastic cut in military muscle in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

The National Joint Committee (NJC) asserts that those wanting to divide the country on ethnic lines are likely to be satisfied with the full implementation of the 13 Amendment to the Constitution and few critical amendments meant to weaken the executive presidency in relation to Provincial Councils. Police powers to Provincial Councils against the backdrop of the Governors losing executive powers can cause quite a problem. Those wanting to empower PCs believe they didn’t require a brand new Constitution. Instead, they will influence the government to bring in an Amendment meant to fully implement the 13 Amendment to the Constitution. That’ll set the stage for a federal state in the North-East region. The 20th Amendment will be aimed at diluting presidential power to bring a province under direct rule, weakening of Office of the Governor, elimination of the Concurrent List and the government ability to implement ‘national policy’ in all provinces in respect of all subjects and functions.

The deployment of armed forces should be the sole prerogative of the government. That right shouldn’t be subjected to negotiations with political parties and civil society organizations. Those who had been shedding crocodile tears for civilians deprived of their original land turned a blind to the LTTE build up leading to the Eelam War IV.

 The LTTE built seven airstrips in the Vanni region. The Task Force I/58 Division captured the seven airstrip in the first week of February, 2009, north-east of Piramantharukulam in the Puthukudirippu area.  The two-km long airstrip situated west of Sundarapuram, Thirivilaru, had been among a network built in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts.  However, only those at Iranamadu and Mullaitivu had been built to acceptable standards. The SLAF acquired both. The LTTE enforced tough security measures to prevent civilians coming near airstrips. There had never been protests against measures adopted by the LTTE to protect installations vital to them. Those who had been complaining about heavy military presence in the Northern and Eastern Provinces since the conclusion of the war never found fault with the LTTE. In fact, they never found fault with the LTTE for withdrawing from Norway managed negotiations in April 2003 with the then Premier Wickremesinghe.

The TNA remained silent. The civil society and the diplomatic community, too, contributed to the LTTE strategy. The LTTE complained about everything. They resorted to various tactics to impose restrictions on the armed forces. Specific measures were made to protect its airstrips. The LTTE called for the intervention of the Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) to stop the Air Force from flying over the Vanni. The LTTE stepped up pressure on the mission, comprising Scandinavian countries, in the wake of the Air Force spotting light aircraft on the Iranamadu airstrip. Norway and SLMM ignored Sri Lanka’s concerns. Although, the SLAF pointed out the danger in allowing the airstrip project, the then government lacked the strength to bring the operation to an end. Although government representatives complained to the SLMM, they didn’t really pursue the matter. National security certainly hadn’t been on the minds of the then leaders, who believed in appeasing the LTTE. Had the LTTE remained at the negotiating table it could have developed its military infrastructure under the very noses of the then government leaders. The SLFP-led government that succeeded Wickremesinghe’s administration followed foolish policy of appeasement. No government would have tolerated the assassination of its Foreign Minister like Mrs Kumaratunga’s did in Aug 2005. Don’t forget, her successor Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, promptly accepted Norwegian facilitation as well as Peace Co-Chairs’ role. The President twice sent delegations for talks with the LTTE abroad. President Rajapaksa also made an attempt to negotiate with the LTTE through NGO guru Dr Kumar Rupesinghe. The LTTE spurned Rajapaksa’s efforts as it was convinced of its military capability. Those who had been demanding accountability on the part Sri Lanka never found fault with the LTTE strategy as they, too, had faith in the LTTE’s strength until the fall of the strategic Elephant Pass, on January 1, 2009.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A post-war bid to evict Air Force from LTTE built airfield




By Shamindra Ferdinando

All Ceylon Hindu Congress (ACHC) recently sought an appointment with President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, to make representations, on behalf of those demanding the government abandon the SLAF station at Mullaitivu, formerly an LTTE airfield, situated in a maximum security zone.

The military, engaged in operations on the Vanni east front, took over the airfield, in 2009.

ACHC President Kandiah Neelakandan e-mailed the writer, a copy of the letter, dated Feb. 23, 2017, addressed to President Maithripala Sirisena regarding the SLAF station in Mullaitivu which the top lawyer identified as Keppapulavu land.

Since the conclusion of the war, in May, 2009, the SLAF established stations at Iranamadu and Mullaitivu in the one-time LTTE bastion Mullaitivu administrative district. The two stations celebrated their fifth anniversary in early Aug last year. The SLAF set up a detachment at Mullaitivu, in June 2009, before upgrading the facility to a station, in August 2009.

The 9 SR (Ninth battalion, Sinha Regiment) captured the LTTE airfield in early January 2009. Situated about five kms west of the west bank of the Mullaitivu lagoon, the 2.5 km-long and, approximately 100 m wide airfield, had been used by Air Tigers to mount attacks on Colombo. The 9 SR, attached to the 59.3 Brigade, compelled the LTTE to abandon the airfield following a two-day battle. The largest airfield, captured by the Army, up to January, 2009, Mullaitivu was the fourth to be overrun on the Vanni front.

The following is the text of the brief letter, signed by Neelakandan, and ACHC General Secretary V. Kandasamy: "... while we pray to His Almighty Lord Sivakami Samedha Shri Nadarajapperuman for showering His blessings on Your Excellency’s Government and the people of this country. On the eve of Maha Sivarathiri we on behalf of the Hindus of this country make fervent Appeal to Your Excellency and the Government of Sri Lanka to give immediate reliefs to all the people who are fasting at Keppapulavu and all the others who have been deprived of their fundamental right to live in their own homes. We also appeal to Your Excellency to give us an appointment to meet Your Excellency and bring to Your Excellency’s attention the several other grievances of the Hindus of this country."

The ACHC decision to intervene on behalf the affected people shouldn’t be disputed under any circumstances. Messrs Neelakandan and Kandasamy declared in a brief note to The Island that they believed in the rights of the people , irrespective of race and religion, to know the truth regarding the land dispute, They asserted that the ACHC, being a religious institution, shouldn’t be an obstacle for the institution to issue a statement in this regard.

ACHC represents Federation of Hindu Religious Associations and Temple Trusts in Sri Lanka. In fact, ACHC’s move should be appreciated and strongly backed against the backdrop of a simmering dispute among some members of the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) over the Keppapulavu issue.

Those who had been agitating for the return of the Mullaitivu SLAF station/Keppapulavu conveniently refrained from referring to the wartime High Security Zone (HSZ) maintained by the LTTE. The LTTE had two fortified and fully camouflaged hangers, adjoining the airfield. At least two light aircraft had operated from Mullaitivu, an area deep inside the the LTTE held territory was not vulnerable to ground forces advance. However, the hangers had been fortified to such an extent to face possible air strikes by jets and infiltration by Special Forces and Commandos operating behind the lines.

The TNA has been sharply divided over its post-war strategy with an influential section challenging the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) leadership. ACHC has intervened amidst on-going disputes at Keppapulavu, Puthukudiyiruppu and the recently concluded Vavuniya agitation caused by factionalism within the grouping.

ACHC is certain to know about simmering factionalism within the former political wing of the LTTE. The TNA comprises ITAK, TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization), PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam) and EPRLF (Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front).

The EPRLF, headed by former Jaffna District MP Suresh Premachandran and Vanni District MP Sivasakthi Anandan, recently organized a protest campaign to highlight the issue of disappearances. The Vavuniya project was directed at the ITAK as well as the TELO.

The EPRLF has stepped up its efforts to grab a bigger role for itself in the grouping at the expense of the ITAK.

A section of the TNA is also behind the Puthukudiruppu protests. The grouping is divided over three major issues, namely the military holding public/private property in the former war zones, war time disappearances and continuing detention of LTTE terrorists (TNA calls them political prisoners).

An LTTE-time pact

In Oct, 2001, Tamil political parties at the behest of the LTTE reached an agreement to contest the impending general election. Interestingly, the TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front) had been the main party in the political grouping with R. Sampanthan signing the agreement on behalf of the then most influential political party. N. Kumarakuruparan on behalf of All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), N. Sri Kantha on behalf of TELO and Suresh Premachandran of behalf of EPRLF-Suresh wing signed the agreement.

The project was meant to pressure whichever party won the general election to immediately declare a ceasefire, lift restrictions imposed on the transport of a range of items northwards, beyond Omanthai, to do away with the ban on the LTTE and to enter into talks with the group to arrive at an acceptable political solution to the ‘Tamil national question’ through Norwegian initiative.

The ITAK hadn’t been in the scene at that time. TULF leadership had no option but to work according to LTTE directives or face the consequences.

The LTTE had been in a commanding position at the time it formed the political outfit, especially to contest Dec 5, 2001 general election. The LTTE achieved a series of significant battlefield victories, including the unprecedented success at Elephant Pass, in April, 2000. The then Kumaratunga administration struggled, both on political and military fronts, in the wake of over a dozen members of the People’s Alliance (PA) parliamentary group switching their allegiance to the UNP.

Way paved for political project

The LTTE overwhelmed the Kumaratunga administration on the political and military fronts. In the run-up to the Dec 2001 parliamentary poll, the army suffered a debilitating setback on the Jaffna front. What was expected to be the first phase of a large scale ground offensive ended in failure with the Jaffna forces suffering massive losses.

On the morning of April 25, 2001, the army launched Operation Agnikheela I, to expand the Eluththumaduval defence line. The operation got underway at 5.30 am; a few hours after the LTTE launched a heavy mortar attack on Muhamalai, Kilali and Nagarkovil causing many casualties. A confident Lt. Gen. Balagalle arrived in Palaly as troops were making headway, though the situation changed later in the day. (Army mounts Agnikheela 1: regains more territory––The Island April 26, 2001). The army top brass soon realized that troops couldn’t penetrate strong LTTE fortifications. The enemy withstood heavy artillery and mortar attacks as well as air strikes. The first major operation, in 2001, was in disarray. The army had no alternative but to call off the operation. It was a humiliating setback. The SLA believed that the deployment of two Divisions would force the LTTE to abandon Pallai. Although they regained approximately eight square kms, a series of devastating counter attacks caused heavy losses among troops. The army withdrew, leaving behind bodies of about 100 personnel which were later returned by the LTTE through the ICRC. The army lost about 200 personnel. Almost 900 received injuries (Fallback to save lives: Pallai offensive called off––The Island April 29, 2001). In fact, the SLA launched Agnikheela to regain Elephant Pass. It was the most ambitious project launched by Lt. Gen. Balagalle since President Chandrika Kumaratunga picked him over one of the most decorated soldiers, Maj. Gen. Janaka Perera, to command the army. Agnikheela was launched two days after the LTTE called off its unilateral ceasefire declared at midnight Dec 24, 2000.

The LTTE stepped up pressure on the PA administration with a devastating attack on the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in July 2001. The commando raid destroyed aircraft worth millions of dollars and brought immense pressure on the administration.

Having secured a commanding battlefield position, the LTTE developed a political strategy using TULF-led groups. The Oct 2001 political pact brought together groups which accepted the LTTE leadership. The LTTE ran the grouping though at an early stage the TULF was left out and the ITAK brought in as the main party. The grouping was in crisis in the post-war era though it worked as a team under LTTE command (Oct 2001 to May 2009).

The TNA faced a major crisis in the wake of one-time LTTE battlefield commander Karuna Amman quitting the organization, in early 2004. Karuna made a determined bid to discourage TNA members of parliament, representing the Ampara and Batticaloa electoral districts, from following the LTTE line. However, the TNA survived the bloody battle for supremacy between the LTTE and the breakaway LTTE faction primarily consisting of cadres born in the Batticaloa and Ampara sectors.

ACHC intervention

ACHC’s intervention in the Mullaitivu land issue should be examined against the backdrop of the internal crisis in the TNA. The alleged attempt on the life of TNA heavyweight Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran cannot be taken lightly though an influential section of the group dismissed recent media reports pertaining to the arrest of members of the defeated LTTE cadres in connection with the incident. Five LTTE cadres, including some who had been in direct touch with some diaspora elements, had been remanded in connection with the alleged Sumanthiran assassination bid.

There had been another arrest of an LTTE cadre in the eastern Batticaloa district following an alleged attempt to strangle Karuna.

Perhaps ACHC should also discuss the situation with other parties to the crisis in addition to President Maithripala Sirisena. President Sirisena has publicly accused some Tamil politicians of sabotaging the yahapalana government efforts to settle the war displaced. Responding to a query posed by the Tamil media, at a Janadhipathi Mandiraya meeting with editors and proprietors of print and electronic media last year, an irate President Maithripala Sirisena claimed that some northern politicians had instigated public protests. President Sirisena alleged that those politicians had advised protesting public not to accept alternate land offered by the government.

As ACHC, in its letter to President Sirisena referred to ‘all the others who have been deprived of their fundamental right to live in their own homes’ in addition to the Keppapulavu displaced, it would be pertinent to mention that the civil society never took up the large scale displacement of people caused by the LTTE. In Oct and Nov 1990, the LTTE forced the entire Muslim population out of the Northern Province at gun point. The LTTE confiscated their property. Those who had been demanding accountability on the part of the government for unsubstantiated war crimes allegations never bothered at least to voice their concerns. The Sinhalese were driven out of the Jaffna peninsula and some other parts of the Northern Province at a much earlier stage of the conflict. Even seven years after the end of the war, the government hadn’t been able to resolve the issue.

Essentially, the Tamil society firmly believed in the LTTE’s capability to achieve its military objectives. The formation of the TNA, in Oct 2001, had been aimed at achieving its political objectives. The TNA played a significant role, both in and outside parliament, over the years, and firmly remained committed to the cause until the very end. The diaspora had been part of the LTTE-run operation meant to raise funds to procure arms, ammunition, and equipment and also to obtain the services of various foreigners. The diaspora also exerted pressure on EU governments, as well as Canada and the Scandinavian countries, at the behest of the LTTE. The diaspora had been so influential that the largest grouping Global Tamil Forum (GTF) had its inauguration at the House of Commons, in Feb 2010. In a way, the decimation of the LTTE had freed the diaspora as well as the TNA. They are now free to charter their own courses. The existing post-LTTE partnership between the TNA and the GTF should be examined carefully as they push the Yahapalana government over constitutional reforms.

Having lost the war, in May 2009, the LTTE rump and those who had been at the beck and call of Velupillai Prabhakaran, both here and overseas, are now pursuing separatist objectives. They are hell bent on achieving LTTE objectives through constitutional means and campaign of protests. The on-going agitation, aimed at forcing the government to abandon the SLAF station at Mullaitivu, is a case in point. Recently, Prisons reforms, rehabilitation, resettlement and Hindu affairs Minister D.M. Swaminathan took up the Keppapulavu issue with President Maithripala Sirisena. Subsequently, Minister Swaminathan issued a statement to the media assuring the matter would be settled soon and the President discussed the issue with Army Chief Lt. Gen. Crishanthe de Silva. But the Keppapulavu issue involved the Air force. Had those wanting to regain the land, where the LTTE had its largest airfield, succeeded in their on-going project, it may inspire further protests. The next target will be the SLAF station at Iranamdu, originally set up by the LTTE. The LTTE undertook construction of airfields, east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road during the Norway-run peace process. The CFA, which came into operation in Feb 2002, made things much easier for the LTTE. The LTTE efficiently utilized that period to enhance its military strength both in terms and men, material and infrastructure projects such as the Mullaitivu airfield.

Nagarkovil example

During the CFA, the LTTE ordered a series of protests in the Northern and Eastern Provinces to force the military to give up areas dominated by them. The LTTE cleverly used the then government to pressure the military. Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne (KG), in his memoirs Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal recalled one such instance

KG dealt with an incident at Nagarkovil, in Vadamamaratchy (Jaffna peninsula), soon after the signing of the CFA to underscore the growing threat posed by the LTTE. The UNP-led United National Front (UNF) government, as well as the Army top brass, bended backwards to appease terrorists. At the time of the Nagarkovil incident, KG had been the 55.1 Brigade Commander, an appointment he received before the CFA. Having taken over the Brigade, deployed along the northern front line, KG had seized an LTTE fortification, situated 200 meters, south of Nagarkovil junction. Soon after the signing of the CFA, the LTTE demanded that the Army withdraw from that position to facilitate the Norwegian-led peace process.

Due to KG’s refusal to quit the forward position, the LTTE had sought Norwegian intervention. Subsequently, the then powerful Minister Milinda Moragoda, accompanied by Army Commander Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, had visited KG’s Nagarkovil headquarters before proceeding to the Army point. KG explained that Moragoda, having praised the peace process, called for the withdrawal of troops from the disputed territory. Moragoda explained the requirement, to compromise, to ensure the success of the peace process. When KG stressed that the position couldn’t be vacated, under any circumstances, Moragoda bluntly declared the Army could never defeat the LTTE. KG quoted Moragoda as having told him that the Army could never win this war. Although, the Army had waged war for about 20 years, it couldn’t bring the war to a successful conclusion. As the Army couldn’t achieve success, in the future, the government was going ahead with negotiations. Therefore, quit the disputed territory to facilitate the peace process.

Much to the disappointment of KG, the Army Chief had endorsed Moragoda’s position. KG examined the stand taken by Moragoda and Balagalle on behalf of the political and military leaderships, respectively, to highlight the Army’s plight. KG described their disgraceful fearful response to terrorists with disgust. KG couldn’t stomach the commander of the Army meekly giving into Moragoda, who, at that time, wielded immense political clout. Moragoda had been a member of the then government’s four-member peace negotiating team tasked to engage in talks with the LTTE. The team comprised Prof. G.L. Peiris, Moragoda, SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem and career diplomat Bernard Goonetilleke, the first head of the Peace Secretariat.

A few weeks later, Army headquarters shifted KG, from Nagarkovil, to the Army Command and Staff College. Obviously, Balagalle felt that KG’s presence, at Nagarkovil, could undermine the ‘peace project’ and moved him out of the then temporarily-merged North-East province. KG declared that Balagalle’s endorsement of Moragoda’s assertion that the Army could never have finished off the LTTE caused him great pain and disappointment.