Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Munich betrayal, Moscow pact and Geneva sell-out



By Shamindra Ferdinando

German Ambassador to Sri Lanka Jorn Rohde recently contradicted his Russian counterpart in Colombo Juri Matery’s widely published statement in the local English print media that dealt with dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, close on the heels of the Munich Agreement, finalized on Sept 30, 1938.

There had never been a previous instance of a Colombo-based diplomat, of a European power, sharply contradicting his counterpart, representing another great power.

Matery, in a statement issued to the print media, flayed the UK, France, Germany and Italy over what Russia called Munich betrayal. The Russian envoy also emphasized the importance of respecting the principles set down in the United Nations Charter.

Acknowledging Russia’s strong criticism of the Munich Agreement, Rohde chided Matrey for conveniently forgetting a second betrayal perpetrated by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, just 11 months after the Munich Agreement. Rohde slammed Russia over the Aug 23, 1939 agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany that paved the way for Blitzkrieg (lightning war thrust). Rohde reminded Matery of the Nazi invasion of Poland, a week after the signing of the German-Soviet Non-aggression pact in Moscow, and almost simultaneous occupation of Eastern Poland by the Soviet forces. The pact remained in force for nearly two years until Nazi Germany launched military campaign against the Soviet Union.

The German envoy depicted the Moscow Pact as bad as the Munich Agreement.

The German response to Russian statement, in Colombo, is nothing but a lesson to Sri Lanka. Germany, quite rightly set the record straight, immediately, thereby thwarted the Russian move. The outspoken German Ambassador, obviously with the approval from his Foreign Ministry, in Berlin, tore into the top Russian envoy. The German response clearly asserted that both the Munich and Moscow Agreements contributed to the bloodiest war in history.

Questionable Sri Lanka strategy

Sri Lanka, of course, lacked the wherewithal to respond the way Germany did. Sri Lanka shouldn’t hesitate to counter lies propagated here, and at international forums, by interested parties. However, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government continues to shun its responsibility in spite of having the required ammunition. No less a person than Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, who led the victorious Army, in response to a query raised by the writer, at a media briefing, over a month ago, admitted that the cabinet never bothered at least to discuss Sri Lanka’s response to Geneva Resolution 30/1. Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, too, had confirmed Field Marshal’s revelation, also in response to the writer raising the issue at the regular SLFP media briefing, nearly two months ago.

Germany recently succeeded the US as a member of the four-nation Sri Lanka core group at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Rohde represents the core group as the German envoy in Colombo. A statement, dated Sept 11, 2018, issued by the core group, comprising the UK, Germany, Macedonia and Montenegro, dealt with Sri Lanka, with the latter being blamed for the lack of progress in important areas of reform risks’ undermining reconciliation efforts.

The statement was delivered at the 39th session of the Geneva council.

The joint statement said that in co-sponsoring a resolution that called for an accountability mechanism with international judges, "Sri Lanka recognized that national accountability mechanisms are essential to dealing with the past, and to restoring confidence among its communities".

The following is the full text of the statement: "We welcome further recent steps Sri Lanka has taken to implement commitments made to the Council in 2015 and 2017. We welcome the Government’s continued engagement with the UN system and actions to implement its National Reconciliation Action Plan and Peace-building Priority Plan. We applaud the Office on Missing Persons’ commencement of work and encourage everyone able to advance or contribute to its work to do so. We hope the Government will establish an Office for Reparations quickly. We also welcome the return of further private land in the north, and commitments to return more military-occupied land to civilian ownership.

"Nonetheless, the pace of progress, on important areas, remains much slower than many hoped for. As time passes, lack of progress in delivering key steps risks undermining reconciliation efforts.

"In co-sponsoring resolution 30/1, Sri Lanka recognized that national accountability mechanisms are essential to dealing with the past, and to restoring confidence among its communities. These have yet to be established. The Prevention of Terrorism Act has not been replaced with a law that accords with international standards. And, though processes to consider reform to important provisions of the Constitution, including devolution of political authority, has been ongoing since 2016, a way forward has not been found. We are concerned by recent reports of harassment of and attacks on human rights defenders.

"Our view remains that, with determined leadership and a clear time-bound action plan, this Government can make more progress towards delivering its Council commitments, and that doing so will better position Sri Lanka and its people to enjoy a more enduring reconciliation and prosperity. We urge Sri Lanka to prioritize and drive forward implementation of resolutions 30/1 and 34/1, before the Council next considers Sri Lanka in March."

Core Group members, the UK and Germany never bothered at least to revisit the Geneva Resolution 30/1 following the revelation of wartime British High Commission dispatches from Colombo (January-May 2009) contradicted the very basis of the Resolution. Sri Lanka, has so far refrained from officially requesting Core Group and the members of the Geneva council to examine all available information.

The government, had, in fact betrayed the people by not presenting available facts before the Geneva council.

Recently concluded Geneva session

Anti-Sri Lanka elements (Tamil Diaspora) successfully carried out their campaign at the recently concluded Geneva session. Sri Lanka Permanent Mission in Geneva did nothing to counter lies. Retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and Prof. Channa Jayasumana, who represented Sri Lanka at Geneva bitterly complained about the failure on the part of the Permanent Mission to object to propaganda campaign directed at the country. Appearing on ‘Aluth Parliamenthuwa’ (New Parliament) on Derana, they pointed out that the Sri Lanka mission turned a blind eye to what was going on, while senior representatives of other countries, including India, challenged the accusers.

Having raised the Geneva mission’s failure with Ambassador A.L.A. Azeez, the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva, Weerasekera quoted the top career diplomat as having told Sri Lanka didn’t want to downgrade itself by responding to Diaspora elements.

Ambassador A.L.A. Azeez succeeded Ravinatha Aryasinghe, in April this year, soon after the conclusion of the March sessions in Geneva.

A career Foreign Service Officer with over 25 years of experience, Ambassador Azeez previously served as the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Organisations in Vienna from 2011 – 2015. Azeez coordinated EU related matters and multilateral treaties, acting as Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately prior to his new assignment.

The Geneva mission has no option but to follow directives from Colombo. That applies to all missions. During President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s time Sri Lankan High Commission in the UK facilitated senior LTTE cadre Sathasivam Krishnakumar alias Kittu to receive medical treatment there during the UNP-LTTE honeymoon. At the behest of Velupillai Prabhakaran, Kittu decimated members of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) in 1986. Northerners experienced violence like never before. Those who were killed were ‘necklaced’ - tyres soaked in petrol were placed around the victims’ neck and set alight. Kittu personally killed TELO leader Sri Sabaratnam. Having machine gunned Sri Sabaratnam, his body was displayed.

Those demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lanka, and bending backwards to appease the LTTE rump, had quite conveniently forgotten mindless violence perpetrated on the Tamil community by the terrorist organisation, dubbed to be the most ruthless by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Panacea for all post-war issues

Western powers and the LTTE rump consider the Geneva Resolution as panacea for all problems. Having adopted the resolution on the basis of now strongly disputed allegations, Western powers are forcing Sri Lanka to implement it fully. During the live Derana political programme, the writer intervened over the phone to remind the panel how the government co-sponsored the resolution just over a week after the then Permanent Representative there Ravinatha Aryasinghe strongly opposed it at an informal meeting with Sri Lanka Core Group. Foreign Ministry in Colombo released Ambassador Aryasinghe’s full statement not realizing the consequences. Thanks to the Foreign Ministry oversight, the statement is in the public domain. Unfortunately, those battling the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government never bothered to examine all available evidence, ranging from Ambassador Aryasinghe’s statement, Wiki Leaks to the late J.N. Dixit’s memoirs. Had they done that the country could have had a better defence. The writer also queried the Derana panelists, Rear Adm. Weerasekera, Prof. Jayasumana and Dr Godahewa as to why no reference was made at all regarding Lord Nasebys’ disclosure in the House of Lords in Oct 2017 which disputed the very basis of the Geneva Resolution. Presidential Advisor Shiral Lakthilaka and Director General Information battled well for the government strongly endorsing the Geneva Resolution. Interestingly, Lakthilaka dismissed UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) report released in March 2011, the very basis of the project against Sri Lanka. The writer reminded the panel that President Maithripala Sirisena in spite of his Sept 14 promise to furnish a set of written proposals in respect of accountability issues on behalf of Sri Lanka to Geneva and New York, disappointed the vast majority of people of this country.

Against the backdrop of Sri Lanka reiterating its commitment to Geneva Resolution, it would be pertinent to examine Ambassador Aryasinghe’s statement to the Sri Lanka Core Group, on September 21, 2015, at the first informal session called by the Core Group. The group comprised the US, the UK, Montenegro and Macedonia. Germany has replaced the US in the Core Group.

In fact, it was Sri Lanka’s position in Geneva during the war-winning Rajapaksa administration.

The US team, at the first informal session, included US Ambassador in Geneva, Keith M. Harper, who had been a partner at the law firm of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, with newly appointed US Ambassador in Colombo, Atul Keshap. Keshap had presented his credentials to President Maithripala Sirisena exactly a month before the first informal session in Geneva. Keshap recently completed his assignment in Colombo.

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.

Let me reproduce verbatim the sections relating to judicial mechanism in the two draft resolutions:

(September 21, 2015 draft resolution) Welcomes the government’s recognition that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, takes note with appreciation of the government of Sri Lanka’s proposal to establish a Judicial Mechanism, with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; and affirms that credible transitional justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for integrity and impartiality; and calls upon the government of Sri Lanka, to involve international investigators, prosecutors and judges in Sri Lanka’s justice processes.

(September 24, 2015 draft resolution) Welcomes the government’s recognition that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, takes note with appreciation of the Government of Sri Lanka’s proposal to establish a Judicial Mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; and affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for integrity and impartiality; and further affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the Special Counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators.

The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, on October 1, 2015, adopted, what it called, a consensus resolution on accountability for the alleged human rights violations during the war.

In spite of government leaders and various spokesmen declaring that foreign judges will not be acceptable, the Resolution remains the same.

Western powers moved three resolutions, targeting Sri Lanka, in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The third resolution demanded an external inquiry into accountability issues. The draft resolution finally adopted in 2015 is largely based on the findings and recommendations made in a report prepared in accordance with the 2014 resolution. The report was prepared by UN staffer, Ms. Sandra Beidas, formerly of Amnesty International. The Beidas report followed the PoE report.

It would be pertinent to reproduce what Ambassador Aryasinha told the Core Group on Sept 21, 2915: "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, judgemental 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.

"Further, given that both the HCHR’s report (A/HRC/30/61) and the Report on the OHCHR investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) (A/HRC/30/SRP.2) recognizes that the report represents a ‘human rights investigation’ and not a ‘criminal investigation’, emphasizing excessively on the criminal justice aspects, makes the resolution imbalanced. It would be more helpful to have a holistic approach when making recommendations in this resolution on promoting reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

"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."

Obviously, Sri Lanka is under pressure not to challenge the Geneva Resolution. With two key national elections-presidential in 2019 and parliamentary in 2020 set to take place, all political parties, including the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, are likely to come under pressure in this regard. Regardless of the consequences, Sri Lanka should set the record straight.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

How govt., ‘int’l community’ deliberately undermined reconciliation



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Two photographs - one taken on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon on the morning of May 19, 2009 and the other captured in Vishvamadu on June 10, 2018 - can be used to depict the gradual transformation of the northern community, since the demise of the conventional military capability of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) nearly a decade ago.

Although, both pictures accessible on line and published and telecast by private television channels, they had never been used side-by-side in a bid to strengthen post-war national reconciliation efforts though a section of the international community funded a range of activities to promote amity among the communities.

The picture of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, 54, carried by young infantrymen, who had been engaged in the last phase of offensive operations on the Vanni east front and ex-LTTE cadres and their families carrying Sinha Regiment officer Lt. Col. Ratnapriya Bandu, formerly of the Special Forces in a mark of respect underscored the urgent need for reappraisal of high profile and costly reconciliation efforts.

 The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government remains determined not to recognize and appreciate the transformation of the northern community. The government, the four-party Tamil National Alliance, Tamil Diaspora and Western powers had conveniently turned a blind eye to much improved relationship between the armed forces and the northern community over the years. There cannot be a better example than the unprecedented sending off given to Lt. Col. Ratnapriya Bandu by the Vishvamadu community. It would be pertinent to mention that the officer, who had been recently recognized by Derana Sri Lankan of the Year Awards, functioned as the Second-in-Command of a Sinha Regiment battalion attached to the 59 Division deployed on the Vanni east front.

As the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) celebrates its 69th anniversary today, the country is in a crossroads with the government unable to cope up with economic challenges. The Joint Opposition (JO) loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, has failed to give the required leadership, both in and outside parliament. The military, too, unfortunately, seems confused with its duties and responsibilities. Many an eyebrow was raised when Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake offered to deploy troops for operations to eradicate heroin trade. There cannot be a role for the SLA in such operations. The war-winning Army should remain clear of law enforcement operations under any circumstances. 

Media responsibility in post-war transition

The writer had an opportunity to make a brief presentation at the inauguration of a two-day seminar meant to discuss media responsibilities in post-war transition at the Colombo Hilton on Sept. 26. The Institute for Social Development, Kandy, and the Sri Lanka College of Journalism organised the seminar for the benefit of journalists from all parts of the country, including the Jaffna peninsula. The panel of speakers comprised South African media and rights activist Christine Karen Williams, Director General Government Information Department attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena, editor of Jaffna-based Kalai Kathir N. Vithyatharan and the writer. Journalist and leading commentator on social, cultural and political impacts on ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) Nalaka Gunawardene didn’t turn up though he was named as a panelist.

Muthulingan Periyasamy, Executive Director, Institute for Social Development, Kandy, delivered the introductory remarks. The welcome address was delivered by Shan Wijetunge, head of the Sri Lanka College of Journalism and a former colleague of the writer.

The writer made use of his presentation to underscore the inexcusable deliberate failure on the part of the government to counter lies propagated by interested parties to justify Geneva Resolution 30/1, adopted in Oct 2015. The gathering was told how the state-owned media, including the Army media, conveniently turned a blind eye to significant developments such as Vishvamadu sending off to Lt. Col. Ratnapriya Bandu, the senior officer in charge of rehabilitation of LTTE cadres after the war. The images from Nanthikadal and Vishvamadu were displayed on a large screen side-by-side along with dates they were taken. The audience, especially those from the North, never expected the screening of Prabhakaran’s body along with that of a military officer receiving appreciation of the Tamil community. The writer posed the query why the government and the Army media refrained from using the images from Vishvamadu in support of post-war reconciliation efforts. The gathering was reminded that the government did absolutely nothing to defend the country thereby allowed continuing humiliation of its armed forces.

The display of Nanthikadal and Vishvamadu images were followed by showing of the primary allegation directed at the Sri Lanka Army by UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) report released on March 31, 2010. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing no 137, verbatim: "In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years, after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths." 

The UN never bothered to initiate what the PoE called a proper investigation to identify the victims and formulate an accurate figure for the total number of deaths. Sri Lanka co-sponsored Geneva Resolution in Oct 2015 on the basis of original accusations (1) killing of civilians through widespread shelling (2) Shelling of hospitals and other humanitarian objects (3) denial of humanitarian assistance (4) human rights violations suffered by victims and survivors of the conflict and finally (5) human rights violations outside the conflict zone.

The writer sought an explanation from the panel and those journalists present why a government that always takes pride in enactment of Right to Information (RTI) Law on June 23, 2016, shunned crucial information uncovered by a friend of Sri Lanka, Lord Naseby (Conservative Party) by way of UK Freedom of Information Act 2000..

Unlike the previous Rajapaksa administration, those who followed yahapalana polices always maintained the pivotal importance of freedom of information. They propagated that freedom of information should be exercised for the benefit of the people and since the enactment of the RTI Law in 2016; the government went out of its way to encourage the public to use the new law. However, the government turned a blind eye to revelations made by Lord Naseby, thanks to the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000. There hadn’t been a previous instance of a politician exercising Freedom of Information Act/Right to Information Law for the benefit of another country (Sri Lanka) but the latter has so far failed to utilize those findings to clear its own name.

Those present were reminded how the government dismissed authentic Naseby revelations based on severely censored wartime British High Commission dispatches from Colombo while the PoE report that denied Sri Lanka an opportunity at least to scrutinize accusers until 2031 were accepted. The PoE however violating universally accepted rules decreed that allegations that led to the estimation 40,000 killed cannot be examined for a period of 20 years from the day of the report issue nor can the accusers be identified, sometimes even after the 20 year period.

The government ensured that Naseby revelations were never made use of. The government bent backwards to appease Western powers by not exposing lies. The media collectively lacked courage to expose the despicable government operation. Foreign funded civil society groups for obvious reasons never found fault with the government for not bringing Naseby’s revelations officially to the notice of the members of the UNHRC. 

A South African experience

Christine Karen Williams shared her experience as a journalist, rights activist and international critic on political matters with the gathering. Essentially, Williams justified the ongoing post-war reconciliation process undertaken by Sri Lanka though some shortcomings were pointed out.

Sirisena-Wickremesinghe created history by co-sponsoring a resolution against itself in spite of it being severely inimical to its interests. The unprecedented resolution has paved the way for a new Constitution, in addition to implementing four specific measures meant to address accountability issues, namely (1) a judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international human rights law (2) A Commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence (3) An Office for Missing Persons (MOP) and finally (4) An Office for reparations. 

At the end of Williams’ presentation, the writer posed the following query to Williams: You dealt with situations and developments in several countries pertaining to Truth Commissions. Reference was made to Charles Taylor, one time Liberian leader found guilty of UN-backed court. The UN found fault with Taylor causing death and destruction in the neighbouring country. Against that background, could you please explain accountability on the part of India over death and destruction on a massive scale in neighbouring Sri Lanka?

Taylor’s issue was raised as Williams made no reference to Taylor now being held in British custody.

Williams responded that it would entirely depend on the mandate given to the Truth Commission. The writer emailed the same query and an additional query to Williams within hours after the conclusion of the inauguration of the workshop seeking comprehensive answers. The following is the additional query: Do you think Truth Commissions should be established in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan devastated by US-led Western interventions?

Williams never responded. The writer made several attempts to secure her response through Shan Wijetunga without success.

Obviously, those wanting to find fault with Sri Lanka for what had happened conveniently forgot how India destabilized her neighbour over a period of time.

The writer in his presentation made before the South African’s keynote address emphasized the responsibility on the part of India in destroying Sri Lanka. India created several monstrous organizations in the 80s at the expense of democratic Tamil political system. For want of a comprehensive examination of the events leading to the outbreak of war in 1983, the despicable Indian intervention was never ever raised at the UNGA or Geneva. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LRRC) appointed in 2010 refrained from referring to the Indian role. Sri Lanka political leadership lacked strength to present Sri Lanka’s case at UNGA or Geneva much to the disappointment of the vast majority of people enjoying restoration of peace in May 2009.

The writer pointed out at the Hilton seminar that the four Geneva recommendations in respect of post-war reconciliation process in addition to the formulation of a new Constitution were necessitated on the assumption that the war-winning Sri Lanka military deliberately massacred 40,000 Tamil civilians. The writer underscored the importance of inquiring into the failure on the part of the international community, Sri Lanka, the civil society as well as the media as to why indisputable evidence unearthed by Lord Naseby were never used though Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, assured parliament in late November last year that UK dispatches would be used appropriately. The Sunday Observer in a report dated Nov 26, 2017 quoted Marapana, a former Attorney General, as having said: "We are not saying that we will not use Lord Naseby’s statement. We certainly will use it at the proper time and at appropriate forums. There may be a time when the UNHRC will ask us to conduct investigations into the allegations of war crimes. We will use this statement when such a time comes. Otherwise, our opponents will find counter arguments so we must use it as an ace."

The UNP not only discarded Naseby’s revelations, the Grand Old Party managed so far to prevent reappraisal of Sri Lanka’s Geneva position against the backdrop of Naseby revelations. The Joint Opposition/Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), too, contributed to the UNP strategy by its extremely poor performance in parliament in defence of the country’s interest. The JO failed in its duty both in and outside parliament. For want of a clear strategy, the JO lacked foresight to examine a detailed report by Gerrard Tracey, Principal Advisor, Information Commissioner’s Office. The report accessible online dealt with Naseby’s efforts to obtain wartime dispatches from Colombo. The writer discussed decision notice dated May 4, 2016 issued by Tracey in terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) UK that dealt with Naseby’s query made to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on Nov 6, 2014.

The decision notice revealed desperate efforts made by the FCO to prevent the releasing of wartime dispatches. According to Information Commissioner’s Office, the FCO censored sections of the British High Commission dispatches that were handed over to Lord Naseby under 27 (1) (a) of FOIA on the basis that full disclosure could prejudice relations between the UK and Sri Lanka. Can there be a bigger lie than this?

But the reality was that the disclosure could have certainly cleared the misunderstanding between two Commonwealth member states. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Sri Lanka betrayed

Naseby documents end up in dustbin




By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, pathetically shirked his responsibility at the recently-concluded United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) sessions. President Sirisena skipped Sri Lanka’s last opportunity to defend the country in the run up to the crucial March 2019 sessions. The UNP-SLFP coalition, in March 2017, received two additional years to fulfill its obligations in terms of Oct 2015 Geneva Resolution 30/1.

President Sirisena certainly owed an explanation as to why he refrained from at least mentioning the need to revisit Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka in Oct 2015.

Having announced that he would take up the Geneva Resolution at the UNGA, at a meeting he had with editors and senior representatives of national print and electronic media on Sept. 14, 2018 at the President’s House, President Sirisena ended up pleading with Western powers to appreciate his government’s achievements.

At the President’s House meeting, President Sirisena, flanked by Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne and Deputy Finance and Mass Media Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna, assured that the Sri Lanka issue would be separately discussed with UN Secretary General António Guterres and UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet. President Sirisena didn’t keep his promise.

In New York, instead of speaking on behalf of his country, President Sirisena compared the difference between the Rajapaksa administration and his.

President Sirisena requested that Sri Lanka be allowed to address accountability issues on its own. Sri Lanka, obviously succumbed to Western pressure to take responsibility for crimes its forces did not commit on the Vanni east front.

President Sirisena reiterated his commitment to the Geneva Resolution, adopted four years ago, on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. By reiterating allegiance to the Geneva project, the Head of State merely avoided a major dispute with the UNP-led government.

Close on the heels of President Sirisena’s Sept 14, 2018 assurance to the media, Jaffna District Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran warned that the grouping would request the international community to reject the President’s move. Sumanthiran told the writer that President Sirisena couldn’t change course after having interfered in high profile investigations, such as the wartime disappearance of youth, blamed on the Navy.

Sri Lanka’s treacherous failure to request for re-examination of the Geneva Resolution on the basis of wartime British High Commission dispatches, revealed in Oct 2017, must have shocked Lord Naseby who obtained vital once classified information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office under the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).

Sri Lanka’s continuous refusal to counter allegations, directed at her armed forces and the wartime political leadership, should be examined against the backdrop of President Sirisena’s decision to record the country’s war history. Success of the project, handed over to Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, will entirely depend on those involved in the project being given a free hand. President Sirisena’s decision not to challenge Geneva Resolution revealed the crisis Sri Lanka is facing today due to the current political leadership lacking the courage to defend the country. Obviously, Geneva project meant to pave the way for a new Constitution is still on track thanks to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government unquestionably accepting war crimes charges in Oct 2015. Much to the disappointment of those who really appreciated the armed forces saving the country from terrorism, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo refrained from acting on genuine evidence unearthed by Lord Naseby.

JRJ to Maithripala Sirisena

The proposed dossier on Sri Lanka’s war history should deal with two JVP inspired insurgencies (1971 and 1987-1990) in addition to the North-East war (1970s-2009).

(1) The war history will have to be recorded taking into consideration the political background. Minister Rajapakse’s team will have to examine developments during JRJ (1977-1989), Ranasinghe Premadasa (1989-1993), Dingiri Banda Wijetunga (1993-1994), Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (1994-2005), Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-2014) and Maithripala Sirisena.

It would be pertinent to examine Maithripala Sirisena’s role during the war as he is now on record as having said in New York (not at the UNGA) that during the last two weeks of the ground battle the armed forces were under him. President Sirisena claimed that he was in control as his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Army Chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka were out of the country. Field Marshal Fonseka publicly challenged President Sirisena’s claim.

(2) Indian intervention in the 80s leading to New Delhi recruiting, training, arming and deploying thousands of Tamil youth against the Sri Lanka armed forces. They fought for several groups, including the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). All groups, except the LTTE, accepted the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987 that paved the way for the deployment of the Indian Army (July 1987-March 1990). Before India quit Sri Lanka, the Indian Army formed Tamil National Army (TNA) to prop up the then puppet North-East administration. It would be important to keep in mind that by July/Aug 1987, all Tamil terrorist groups, except the LTTE, accepted Indian military leadership.

(3) Examination of counter insurgency/military operations conducted during JRJ administration with the focus on the largest ever combined services offensive, ‘Operation Liberation’, carried out in the Jaffna peninsula in early 1987, India violated Sri Lankan airspace and forced JRJ to halt the offensive. In other words, India threatened to militarily intervene to save its monstrous creation - the LTTE. Had the then Indian leader Rajiv Gandhi allowed Sri Lanka to finish off the LTTE, he would have probably still been alive. Eelam War I (1983-1987) took place during JRJ presidency.

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

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

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

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

Prabhakaran declared, on Aug 4, 1987, that India forced his organization to accept the Indo-Lanka accord. The bottom line is that the UN turned a blind eye to India destabilizing its tiny neighbour.

(4) Examination of Indian military trained PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam) raid on the Maldives in early Nov 1988, too, is necessary as the Sri Lanka Navy lacked the wherewithal to prevent unauthorized/ illegal movements to and from Sri Lanka. Two trawler full of PLOTE cadres, numbering nearly 90, left Sri Lanka under the very nose of Sri Lanka Navy to make an attempt on the then Maldivian President Gayoom’s life. India shamelessly took credit for saving the Maldivian leader. The world conveniently forgot the sea borne raid was mounted by Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists.

(5) Having tricked President Premadasa during the LTTE-UNP honeymoon to get rid of the Indian Army, the LTTE launched Eelam War II in June 1990 - less than 100 days after the Indian pullout. Premadasa lacked strategy to meet the LTTE challenge. Within days, the Army lost control of Jaffna Kandy A9 road northwards of Vavuniya, Jaffna bases got isolated and the military high command was compelled to position troops close to the coast to ensure supplies by sea. Premadasa never managed to take back territory lost to the LTTE. Premadasa also suffered a debilitating setback in Aug 1992 when battle - tested and extremely popular war veterans Maj. Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Brig. Wijaya Wimalaratne were killed in a landmine blast at Araly point, Kayts. During Premadasa’s time, the military developed capability to mount large scale amphibious operations (Operations Sea Breeze, Balavegaya). Amphibious operations saved Mullaitivu and Elephant Pass bases though the LTTE overran both during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kunmaratunga’s presidency. In the wake of President Premadasa’s assassination on May Day, 1993, the LTTE inflicted another massive blow on the military. President Wijetunga was in control. The LTTE caused heavy losses on the military in early Nov 1993 when the Pooneryn-Nagathevanthurai complex was partly overrun. The military presence there was to intercept LTTE and civilian movements across the Jaffna lagoon. The loss of Nagathevanthurai brought that operation to an end. The Pooneryn-Nagathevanthurai debacle took place close on the heels of the disastrous Operation Yaldevi conducted in the Jaffna peninsula to destroy Kilali boat point.

In fact, the then Navy Chief Clancy Fernando was believed to have been especially targeted because he was responsible for the Nagathevanthurai operation. Clancy Fernando was assassinated outside the Taj Samudra hotel in Nov 1992. Fernando was the only service commander to perish during the over three decades long conflict.

The then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Cecil Waidyaratne resigned over the Pooneryn-Nagathevanthurai defeat. Waidyaratne was the only service commander to quit over battlefield failure during the war. A genuine war history cannot avoid Premadasa arming and funding the LTTE between May 1989 and March 1990. The transformation and development of Sri Lankan military should be examined vis-a-vis the LTTE capabilities and experience Prabhakaran’s fighting units received from the Indian Army. The military suffered badly during the Premadasa era. The LTTE never allowed the military to regain the initiative during Premadasa-Wijetunga administration.

(6) All bases in the Northern region received, supplies via air and sea, as overland routes fell under the control of the enemy. Those who had been deployed in the Jaffna peninsula and surrounding islands struggled to find space in transport aircraft flying out of Palaly air base amidst sporadic shelling directed there by the Tigers.

(7) Having led the People’s Alliance to victory at the Aug 1994 parliamentary polls, Kumaratunga overwhelmingly won the presidential election a couple of months later with the backing of the LTTE. The LTTE assassinated UNP presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake in the run up to the Nov 1994 poll to ensure Kumaratunga’s victory. The world turned a blind eye to what was going on in Sri Lanka. The PA shamelessly went ahead with talks with the LTTE in spite of the massacre of over 50 persons, including Dissanayake at Thotalanga. The Premadasa-LTTE honeymoon lasted 14 months while Kumaratunga-LTTE honeymoon lasted just 108 days. The LTTE resumed Eelam War III in April 1995 by firing heat-seeking missiles at Avro transport aircraft coming to land at Palaly. Two missile strikes claimed the lives of 100 security forces officers and men and two aircraft within a matter of few days. The Kumaratunga administration was stunned. Then Kumaratunga virtually bent backwards to appease the LTTE. She ignored the sinking of SLNS Sagarawardene off Mannar in Oct 1994 and a spate of other incidents believing a political solution was at hand. She ridiculed the military and neglected the needs of the fighting military. But to her credit, once the LTTE, shot down aircraft and threatened the very survival of Jaffna military presence, Kumaratunga unleashed the military on the LTTE. During Kumaratunga’s first tenure, the military brought the Jaffna peninsula under its control. For the first time, the Army conducted large scale offensive at Division level. Liberating Jaffna was nothing but the greatest military achievement during Kumaratunga’s rule though she couldn’t finish off the LTTE. Unlike her predecessors, Kumaratunga didn’t hesitate to provide the required firepower and the political backing to the military. The then Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte played a significant role in the overall military strategy. However, Kumaratunga couldn’t keep the momentum. Within months after the capturing Jaffna, the military began gradually losing control of the Vanni region. In July 1996 the LTTE destroyed Mullaitivu Brigade comprising two battalions. The Army responded by launching Operation ‘Sath Jaya’ southwards of Elephant Pass. The operation was meant to divert public attention away from Mullaituvu debacle and regain as much as the Jaffna – Kandy A9 road as possible. The formation pushing southwards from Elephant Pass was to meet Jayasikurui offensive pushing northwards. They were to link up to re-open the overland route to Jaffna. The LTTE thwarted the government strategy. The LTTE caused such devastating losses on the military by April 2001, that the entire Jaffna peninsula was under enemy threat. Both Kankesanthurai and Palaly bases were brought within long range LTTE artillery. The LTTE rolled back ‘Sath Jaya’ troops and in April 2001 overran the strategic Elephant Pass. In Dec 1999 Kumaratunga survived an LTTE suicide attack in Colombo. On the same day, the LTTE assassinated retired Maj. Gen. Lucky Algama at Ja-Ela. Although, Kumaratunga’s forces managed to halt the LTTE advance on the Jaffna town and mount a counter attack of its own, the government offensive went awry at Muhamalai when the LTTE defeated ‘Operation Agnikheela.’ The Army never recovered from that defeat and the change of government at Dec 2001 brought UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to power.

(8) Wickremesinghe quickly negotiated a Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE and signed it on Feb 21, 2002. The UNP caused chaos in the military. Foolish UNP leadership exposed a top secret Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) run operation resulting in the LTTE hunting down intelligence operatives, including former members of the LTTE. Under terms of the CFA negotiated by Norway and underwritten by the US, EU and Japan, the military suspended all operations.

(9) Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, accepted Norwegian mediation and declared his willingness to talk peace with the LTTE at overseas venues. Wickremesinghe did the same. Having officially suspended military operations in Feb 2002, the military faced the LTTE again in June-July 2006 at Mavil-aru. However, it wasn’t the beginning of Eelam War IV. It began in the second week of Aug 2006 with simultaneous attacks on the northern and eastern sectors. The Army suffered devastating losses. But once the combined forces regained Sampur in early Sept 2006, the forces didn’t stop until Prabhakaran was eliminated on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon on the morning of May 19, 2009. Rajapaksa sustained the offensive for two years and 10 months in spite of tremendours international pressure to suspend the offensive. President Rajapaksa gave unprecedented political leadership. The writer believes perhaps the most important decision taken by him was to authorize the doubling of the Army thereby making available sufficient infantry formations to take the battle into hitherto enemy held territory through deep penetration units and frontal assaults from several fronts.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Defence Secretary, ensured the implementation of the overall military-political strategy with the required wherewithal, while the service commanders, Lt. Gen Fonseka, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda and Air Marshal Roshan Gunatilleke gave unparallelled leadership. President Sirisena’s claim that Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa fled the country during the final phase of the war (last two weeks), along with then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Fonseka was openly countered by the Field Marshal. Fonseka declared that the Rajapaksa brothers did not leave the country as alleged by President Sirisena. This certainly is an interesting development.

Examination of war history should focus on the transformation of the Navy and the Air Force with the former achieving 100 per cent success by destroying LTTE’s floating arsenals in international waters while the Air Force achieved strategic bombing that caused massive losses on the enemy, including prized Tigers killed in their hidden lairs.

The roles played by the Intelligence Services, the STF, the Civil Defence Force and those countries which provided the wherewithal to destroy, should also be part of the dossier.

A comprehensive study conducted by the US on Sri Lanka military capabilities on a request made by the Wickremesinghe government at the time Kumaratunga held the presidency could be quite useful in the proposed endeavour.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Prez launches project to record ‘war history’ as pressure mounts on Geneva front




By Shamindra Ferdinando

A senior journalist covering a hastily arranged media conference at Sirikotha last Friday (Sept. 21) sought Public Administration and Management and Law and Order Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara’s response to the predicament of Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage.

 The Gajaba veteran, designated as a war criminal by Australia, retired on Aug. 31, 2018. The Moneragala District MP expressed confidence that Gallage would be able to overcome difficulties soon. Deputy Law and Order Minister and Kurunegala District MP Nalin Bandara refrained from commenting.

 Obviously, the UNPers didn’t know the circumstances under which Australia, in 2016, denied Gallage a visa on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations that led to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to co-sponsor Geneva Resolution 30/1. Australia has effectively prevented Gallage from receiving an Australian visa on an official capacity or otherwise.

 The journalist, too, didn’t know that Gallage had served the celebrated Gajaba Regiment as he called the retired soldier an officer of the Gemunu Watch when posing the query to Madduma Bandara.

Those at the Sirikotha press conference would have been surprised if they were told that Chagie’s mother, Daisy Rathnawalie Nanayakka, a long time faithful of the UNP bosses, retired after serving the country’s oldest political party as an accountant. In fact, she had served the UNP when its headquarters was on the Galle Road, where Chagie frequently visited. The retired soldier recently recalled him visiting his mother on his first ever leave as a Second Lieutenant where he ran to the then UNP Chairman N.G. Panditharatne. Gallage still vividly recalls Panditharatne inquiring from his mother whether the young man wearing a mustache was her brother. Subsequently, Mrs Nanayakkara had moved from the Galle Road UNP office to its present day main party office at Kotte.

The writer dealt with Gallage’s retirement in last week’s Midweek with the focus on his superlative farewell speech delivered at the Gajaba home at Saliyapura, Anuradhapura.

It would be pertinent to examine the stand taken by Army Headquarters in the wake of the Australian snub. The then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Chishanthe de Silva (Feb 22, 2015-June 26, 2017), in early 2017, took up Gallage’s issue with Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Karunasena Hettiarachchi, a close confidant of President Maithripala Sirisena. Lt. Gen. De Silva, along with his missive, sent an Australian government report on Gallage.

Lt. Gen de Silva now serves as Sri Lanka’s top diplomat in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

It would be interesting to know whether Karunasena Hettiarachchi had consulted President Sirisena, or the Foreign Ministry, as regards the letter received from Lt. Gen. De Silva. The Island understands the National Unity Government did absolutely nothing. Instead of at least taking up the issue with the Australian High Commission, the government chose to remain silent. President Sirisena publicly referred to the crisis faced by some of those who gave leadership to the ground forces in the Eelam war IV. The President, in his capacity as the Commander-in-Chief, expressed serious concern when he addressed senior commanders at the military hospital in mid - November last year. Gallage was among those seated in the front row. Those responsible for countering war crimes accusations refrained from at least officially briefing countries which accepted the UN allegations.

 Let me reproduce the letter addressed to Karunasena Hettiarachchi by Lt. Gen de Silva. AHQ/JAG/A/9/1/2 (253)

 April 5, 2017


Ministry of Defence

Denial of an Australian visa

Major General CP Gallage WWV RWP RSP USP USAWC


(A) An appeal made by Major General CP Gallage (enclosed)

(B) An Australian Government Report on Major General CP Gallage (enclosed)
Major General CP Gallage has been denied a visitor’s visa by the Australian High Commission in Colombo on the grounds that 59 Division troops, under Major General Gallage, were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Australian decision is based on certain UN and Human Rights Watch Reports cited in the Australian Government Report (Reference B).

The aforesaid UN and Human Rights Watch Reports are primarily based on unsubstantiated and hearsay evidence planted by LTTE sympathizers and totally lack objectivity. Therefore en bloc categorization of officers who had served in certain formations during the humanitarian operations, to say the least, is totally unjustifiable.

At present the Ministry of Defence is closely cooperating with the Australian government and Sri Lanka Armed Forces have extended their fullest cooperation to Australian authorities in many defence and security related matters. In such circumstances, arbitrary denial of visas to members of Sri Lanka Armed Forces will not augur well for the bilateral relationships between the two countries.

Therefore, it is kindly requested that his Excellency the President be appraised of the situation in order to take effective remedial measures.

A W J C de Silva, RWP VSV USP

ndu psc

 Lieutenant General

Commander of the Army

Army headquarters response to war crimes

It would be pertinent to ask whether Lt. Gen de Silva’s predecessors officially took up with the Secretary to Ministry of Defence the contentious issue of officers, faulted on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations, being denied visas, both on official and unofficial capacities. Interestingly, Lt. Gen de Silva, obviously failed to point out to Secretary Ministry of Defence that Gallage had taken over the command of the 59 Division after the end of the war. In other words, at the time, Gallage received appointment as the General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the 59 Division, the LTTE was no more.

The 59 Division, a principal fighting division raised in 2007 was tasked with securing the coastal LTTE stronghold Mullaitivu. The 59 Division achieved its primary task in late January 2009 after having crossed dense Vanni jungles.

The LTTE, routed the Army at Mullaitivu on July 18, 1996, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga presidency. The Mullaitivu debacle remained the worst single defeat experienced by the Army until the LTTE evicted the Army from the strategic Elephant Pass base in April 2001, also during Kumaratunga’s presidency. The LTTE overran a Brigade-size Mullaitivu deployment (though its actual strength was much less) within 24 hours, whereas fully fledged 54 Division plus deployment backed by overland supplies from Palaly-Kankesanthurai, crumbled, in the worst ever defeat. The loss of Elephant Pass stunned the entire nation. Unfortunately, the then military leadership made a silly bid to describe the humiliating defeat as a strategic withdrawal.

The Army lost precious artillery pieces, both at Mullaitivu and Elephant Pass, during the tenure of the late Rohan de S. Daluwatte (May 1, 1996-Dec 15, 1998) and L.P. Balagalle’s (Aug 25, 2000-June 30, 2004) tenures as the Commander of the Army, respectively. In spite of northern debacles, they received appointment as Chief of Defence Staff following retirement. However, Daluwatte and Balagalle had their moment of glory as well. Daluwatte, in his capacity as the Overall Operations Commander, gave leadership to Operation Riviresa in 1995-1996 that brought the Jaffna peninsula under government control, whereas Balagalle earned the appreciation for his role in Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI).

At the time the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe signed the Oslo-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in the third week of Feb 2002, the security situation was in such a perilous state, perhaps Wickremesinghe had no alternative but to seek a negotiated settlement with the LTTE.

Just five years after the signing of the CFA, the Army transformed itself to a lethal fighting force that brought the war to an end within two years and 10 months. Unfortunately, those who gave leadership to that herculean task are now at the receiving end. Gallage’s predicament is a case in point. Sri Lanka will mark its glorious war victory in May next year with the likes of Gallage categorized as war criminals.

Over the years, many officers were denied the opportunity to join foreign military courses on the basis of such unsubstantiated war crimes accusations.

Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, the first GOC, of the celebrated 58 Division, Maj. Gen Prasanna Silva, the war time GOC of the 55 Division as well as Jaffna Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Mahinda Hathurusinghe had not been allowed to join US programmes over war crimes allegations. In the case of Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, the then Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative in New York was denied entry into War College.

The US also refused to include Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias and Military Secretary Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe in the September 2013 military programme in Auckland, New Zealand citing accountability issues.

They were among three Majors General nominated by Army Headquarters for the ‘Pacific Army Management seminar’. The US accepted the nomination of Boniface Perera, the then Security Forces Commander, Vanni.

While Majors Gen Jagath Dias and Prasanna Silva commanded troops during the period under UN investigation, Sudantha Ranasinhe hadn’t been involved in operations though he was denied visas twice on the basis of him receiving peacetime command of the 53 Division. Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s personal efforts to convince the US embassy in Colombo to review its unfair policy didn’t succeed.

 Recently, some members of the international community told Sri Lanka that it should fully implement Geneva Resolution 30/1 by March next year or face the consequences. The government refrained from responding to the statement issued by those countries.

A challenging task

 Before discussing President Sirisena’s move to have the war complete history recorded close on the heels of the launch of the latest edition of the Mahawansa, let me reproduce what retired Gallage, in his farewell address at Saliyapura, said about two of his seniors. Due to an inadvertent error on the writer’s part, wrong impression may have been created as to their seniority.

Having referred to his contribution to the transformation of the army, Gallage named those who made that impossible task possible. Among them were… Maj Gen (rtd) Udaya Perea (Who was my debut Snr Subaltern; on whose foot prints I constantly trailed on)

 Then,…Maj Gen (rtd) Jagath Alwis (Who inspired me to join the Army when I was gallivanting after schooling and just recruited to Marines; not in the USA; but at CBO Dockyards to scrap rusted metal as a special apprentice).

Addressing editors and senior representatives of both print and electronic media at Janadhipathi Mandiraya on the morning of Sept. 17, 2018, President Sirisena emphasized the need to record Sri Lanka’s war history. The writer was among those present on that occasion. President Sirisena, discussed the high profile project towards the end of his speech in which he flayed the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) over its handing of investigations into several key cases, including wartime disappearances involving the Navy.

President Sirisena revealed him having a meeting with retired security forces commanders over a month ago to discuss proposed project to record the war history. President Sirisena, however, didn’t say war winning Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka was among those present. Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, too, wasn’t present though a successful project required Rajapaksa’s assistance. One-time Commanding Officer of the First Battalion of the Gajaba Regiment and Defence Secretary Rajapaksa played a significant role in the overall war strategy.

President Sirisena emphasized that he expected a comprehensive dossier which covered all aspects of the conflict and the circumstances leading to the conflict. President Sirisena pointed out that nearly a decade after the conclusion of the war Sri Lanka lacked an authentic report on the conflict. President Sirisena stressed that the proposed project should cover critical aspects such as the circumstances leading to the war, what was the background to the conflict, the formation of the LTTE, military operations conducted since 1980s, Operation Jayasikurui, battlefield victories and defeats and the arrival of the Indian Army. President Sirisena said that there was no official government record on the war. Turning towards Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne, President sought confirmation of the project which involved the Universities of Colombo and Sri Jayewardenapura. President Sirisena assured that an impartial and balanced report would be produced. The President said that the project would take two to three years to complete and such a project would be of pivotal importance.

Wijeyadasa’s task

Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, is in charge of the President’s project. In addition to those responsible for the latest edition of the Mahawamsa, Dr. Rajapakse is expected to finalize the team soon. It would be interesting to know how the team tackled sensitive issues such as war crimes allegations leading to punitive international action against selected military officers. Chagie Gallage is in quandary today for no fault of his. It is a case in point. Gallage, who had kept low profile during the war didn’t mince his words when he addressed the war crimes issue in a way no one else had done before. In his farewell speech at Gajaba home at Saliyapura, Gallage dealt with a range of issues on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the Gajaba Regiment. There had never been a previous instance of an officer having the courage to declare at a farewell banquet him being categorized as a war criminal. "So, I’m happy to be retired being a tiny particle of that proud chapter of the history, though designated as a ‘War Criminal.’

Recording Sri Lanka’s war history will not be an easy task. It’ll be a challenging task for Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, elected to current parliament on the UNP ticket. A proper recording of the events leading to the war, the war and post-war developments will help the country to clear its name and expose those responsible for over three decades long war finally brought to an end in May 2009.