Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Sri Lanka’s treacherous failure to counter Geneva project

...from Nanthikadal to Colombo defense seminar 2018

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 231

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

For nearly a decade Sri Lanka neglected its responsibility to counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations directed at its Army. War-winning Army, too, cannot under any circumstances absolve itself of its failure to address accountability issues. Having defeated the LTTE, in May 2009, the government and the Army never really bothered to examine war crimes accusations. Today, Sri Lanka accused of deliberately targeting the Vanni civilian population, with the Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran alleging genocide.

War-winning Army Chief, the then Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s entry into politics, in late 2009, caused chaos with him accusing his troops of executing surrendering LTTE cadres on the Vanni east front. Fonseka’s explosive declaration, made in an exclusive interview with the then Sunday Leader editor Fredrica Jansz, in Dec 2009, exposed Sri Lanka to war crimes charges. Fonseka repeated the accusations at a propaganda rally in Ratnapura.

The then Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was accused of issuing execution orders to the then General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the celebrated 58 Division Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva.

Sri Lanka never succeeded in countering allegations with a section of the local and international media propagating war crimes accusations. Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), appointed in 2010, was not really intended to address specific accountability issues.

In March 2011, UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) comprising the US, South African and Indonesian accused the Army of indiscriminate indirect heavy artillery fire on civilians, attacks on hospitals and makeshift medical facilities and deliberate denial of basic supplies, both food and medicine, to treat the war wounded. Sri Lanka’s decision not to cooperate with the PoE resulted in the UN producing a one-sided report with the inclusion of a strict confidentiality clause that prevented the examination of evidence until 2031. Even then, the lifting of the confidentiality clause is subjected to fresh UN examination.

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

Just two months after the releasing of the PoE report, the US unexpectedly provided the required ‘ammunition’ to undermine the very basis of war crimes accusations. The US assertion disputed. The Sunday Leader report pertaining to the execution of surrendering LTTE cadres on the Vanni east battlefield.

The government and the Army, struggling to cope up with the PoE report against the backdrop of the LTTE rump demanding international judicial mechanism to probe Sri Lanka, turned a blind eye to the US statement.

The Island dealt exclusively with the revelation made by the US (Sri Lanka Defense symposium: Now, US suspects credibility of LTTE surrender offer-The Island, June 3, 2011) The then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, failed to take advantage of the US statement. Jayasuriya did absolutely nothing even after he received appointment as Chief of Defence Staff. Subsequently, he was rewarded with a top diplomatic posting. Jayasuriya served as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Brazil till mid-2017.

The Army never exploited the bombshell statement made by the then US Defense attaché in Colombo, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith.

The Defense Attaché intervened after an Indian delegate, Major General (retd) Ashok Mehta, who had served the Indian Army, deployed in Sri Lanka in the 80s, queried about the alleged surrender moves made by LTTE cadres. This is what Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith had to say in response to Metha’s question, directed at Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, whose troops fought their way from North of Mannar, brought Pooneryn under their control, then turned eastwards, captured Paranthan, before seizing Elephant Pass to the North and Kilinochchi in the South. The celebrated Division then proceeded across the eastern part of the Vanni to the eastern coast.

This is what the American had to say: "Hello, may I say something to a couple of questions raised. I’ve been the Defense Ataché here, at the US Embassy, since June 2008. Regarding the various versions of events that came out in the final hours and days of the conflict – from what I was privileged to hear and to see, the offers to surrender that, I am aware of, seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE – Nadesan, KP – people who weren’t and never had really demonstrated any control over the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE.

"So their offers were a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content, hour by hour, day by day. I think we need to examine the credibility of those offers before we leap to conclusions that such offers were in fact real.

"And I think the same is true for the version of events. It’s not so uncommon in combat operations, in the fog of war, as we all get our reports second, third and fourth hand from various commanders, at various levels, that the stories don’t seem to all quite match up.

"But, I can say that the version presented here so far in this is what I heard as I was here during that time. And I think I better leave it at that before I get into trouble. "

The embarrassed US State Department tried to disassociate itself with Lt. Col. Smith’s statement. State Department’s Deputy Spokesman Mark C. Toner responded to questions based on The Island report.

QUESTION: I have one on Sri Lanka. The senior Defense Attaché at the U.S. Mission in Sri Lanka went public in the newspapers (inaudible) that he questioned the credibility of surrender offers made by senior LTTE leaders who was the head of the (inaudible) last year. Does this reflect any change in the U.S. position on the war crime victims?

TONER: Right. You’re talking about remarks that were made at a conference in Colombo?

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah.

TONER: Well, just to clarify, the U.S. did decline invitations to participate in that conference as either a conference speaker or panelist. My understanding is that the defense attaché was there as an observer and a note taker. His comments reflected his personal opinions. There’s no change in the policy of the United States, and his remarks do not reflect any change in our policy.

QUESTION: So that was a personal opinion?

TONER: Personal opinion. The United States – and just to reiterate that policy – remains deeply concerned by the allegations in the panel of experts report, and we’re committed to seeing a credible accounting of and accountability for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. And we believe that the Sri Lankan Government must act quickly and credibly to address these allegations.

QUESTION: Who was the attaché?

TONER: I don’t have his name.

QUESTION: Is he still the attaché? (Laughter.) Was there any discussion —?

TONER: I believe he’s still there, but I’ll try to get an update.

The Army conveniently forgot the 2011 defense seminar. The second edition of the series was held in August 2012 under Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya’s leadership. The two-day event was titled: Towards lasting peace and stability. There was no reference to the US statement at the previous year’s seminar. In fact, Lt. Colonel Smith’s statement remains the most important so far made at subsequent defense seminars. Unfortunately, the Army NEVER examined the US official’s statement though many issues were discussed in 2013 (Post conflict Sri Lanka: Challenges and Regional Stability), 2014 (Sri Lanka: Challenges to a Rising Nation), 2015 (National Security in the Context of Emerging Global Threats), 2016 (Soft Power and its Influence on Global Issues), 2017 (Countering Violent Extremism: Global Trends). Jayasuriya’s successor, Lt. Gen. Daya Ratnayake and Lt Gen Crishanthe de Silva who succeeded Ratnayake, too, failed to capitalize on the US statement. Ratnayake and De Silva gave leadership to defense seminars in 2013 and 2014 and 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Incumbent Army Chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, too, missed a golden opportunity, at last year’s defense seminar to address accountability issues. Would it be the same at this year’s seminar, titled ‘Security’, in an era of global disruptions too?

Against the backdrop of the PoE report, followed by another investigation undertaken by Geneva, Sri Lanka was told to implement far reaching reforms in the security sector. Geneva dictates also caused severe problems for overseas Sri Lankan military deployments under UN command. The government and the Army, for some reason, hesitated to defend Sri Lanka’s position. Political and Army leaderships struggled to cope up with evidence favourable to the country. The Foreign Ministry simply ignored Naseby’s revelations, though the importance of British conservative politician’s statement was repeatedly highlighted, since Oct 2017.

The previous Rajapaksa government shirked its responsibility. Instead of using all available information to defend the country, the previous government squandered USD millions on worthless propaganda projects. Hiring expensive US PR firms did not help Sri Lanka in any way. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, having co-sponsored Resolution 30/1, targeting its own military, in Oct. 2015, continues to evade its responsibility to bring in British dispatches (January-May 2009) which contradicted the main allegation, pertaining to the massacre of 40,000 civilians, to the notice of Geneva. The dispatches authored by the then British Defence Advisor Lt. Colonel Anthony Gash who served in Colombo at the time Lt. Colonel Smith was stationed here could have helped Sri Lanka to counter lies. In spite of Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, one time Attorney General, assuring parliament in Nov. 2017 that the government would use British dispatches at the appropriate time, such promises have failed to materialise. Lord Naseby presented heavily censored British dispatches in the House of Lords, pertaining to the final days of conflict, in Sri Lanka, in Oct. 2017.

According to army.lk posting, this year’s Colombo defense seminar too wouldn’t discuss what matters most to Sri Lanka.

According to the Army, the objectives of the seminar are (a) To create a forum for local and international scholars to discuss ‘Security in an Era of Global Disruptions’, focusing on the importance of security, remedial action and application of the concept in creating a wider discourse in international affairs.

(b) To promote intellectual connectivity amongst those who seek strategic, sub-regional, regional, and global partnerships through discussions by and with prominent and renowned national and international scholars, think tanks, and diplomats.

(c) To provide an opportunity for exchange of views, experiences and knowledge acquired by experienced nations on various aspects of the topic.

(d) To develop awareness of learning strategies on how to improve the mechanisms of security to deter global disruptions by means of statecraft.

(e) To offer challenging academic content that promotes, engaged learning and critical thinking on means of developing and sustaining the peace-building processes the world over through UN peacekeeping and peace-building missions.

(f) To initiate analytical dialogue on the vital need for stretching the influence of a country to be concern over security in an era of global disruptions through its initiatives as applicable to root causes of respective nations especially in the age of the return of geopolitics, and create a distinct mode of legitimacy and acceptance that may not be possible otherwise.

The writer examined the brochure issued by the Army at the defense seminar last year. The Army had gone into extraordinary length to prevent inclusion of a picture of one-time Commanding Officer of the celebrated First Battalion of the Gajaba Regiment (1GR) Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who played a pivotal role in the government strategy leading to the annihilation of the LTTE in the booklet. Rajapaksa was not even in a group photograph.

For want of a cohesive strategy to address accountability issues, senior military officers received degrading treatment at foreign missions. In spite of backing Fonseka’s presidential bid in 2010, the US has denied a visa to General/Field Marshal Fonseka. Strategist Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage was denied an Australian visa on the basis of UN allegations. Gallage was found guilty by Australians for commanding the 59 Division at the final phase of Vanni conflict on the Vanni east front. Gajaba veteran Gallage, one of the finest officers to serve the Army, retired recently. Although, President Maithripala Sirisena promised, in Nov 2017, to take up the issue with Western missions, the government has done nothing so far. Reference to the visa matter was made in the presence of Lt. Gen Senanayake and Defense Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne, formerly of the Attorney General’s Department.

President Sirisena referred to some Western powers refusing to issue visas to both retired and serving officers on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. President Sirisena emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the situation. The Commander-in-Chief called for tangible measures to change Western governments’ decision.

President owes an explanation as to why absolutely no action has been taken since his well-received speech delivered at the military hospital, Narahenpita.

Field Marshal Fonseka, in September, 2017, alleged that he had been denied a visa to attend the UNGA 2017 because of unresolved war crime allegations against the Army. Sri Lanka’s most successful Army Commander, who is now a Minister, said he was due to travel to New York but he was the only one in the Sri Lankan delegation, not issued a visa by the US. Fonseka said he could not accompany President Sirisena to the UNGA.

Field Marshal Fonseka has repeatedly underscored the pivotal importance of a comprehensive investigation into accountability issues to clear Sri Lanka’s name.

Political and Army leadership pathetically failed to exploit leaked US diplomatic cables to counter lies. Nearly a decade after the successful conclusion of the war, the government and the Army are yet to properly record evidence provided by various parties, including those countries who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism. The UK went out of its way to prevent the disclosure of wartime dispatches from Colombo only for that reason. The UK knew its dispatches would contradict two primary accusations - the massacre of 40,000 civilians and the political leadership deliberately targeted those trapped on the Vanni front.

Had the Army studied Wikileaks cables, originating from Colombo, New Delhi, London, Geneva et al, it would have found the following cable, perhaps the most important one that could have been the basis for Sri Lanka’s defense. The Army never bothered to examine them.

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

The Kotelawala Defence University and the Navy, too, could have played a significant role in addressing accountability issues. Unfortunately they never did. In addition to them Army organized defense seminar series, the Galle Dialogue, conducted by the Navy, as well as the annual research conference, organized by the General Sir John Kotelawela Defence University, too, failed to focus on real challenges faced by Sri Lanka. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka never wanted to set the record straight. Even the much touted Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was denied the required mandate to conduct a comprehensive inquiry. The Kadirgamar Institute and the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies, too, avoided the issue. For nearly a decade, the Parliament and various other institutes, responsible for countering massive propaganda project against Sri Lanka, NEVER took up the real challenge. Experts invited by them for various forums discussed everything except what really affected Sri Lanka.

All those involved in Sri Lanka appeared to have extensively examined Wikileaks, except us.

Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) commissioned by the Norwegian government largely dealt with Eelam war IV. The report, officially released in September 2011 by Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) examined a series of classified US diplomatic cables that shed light on the situation here. The evaluation team which commenced data collection in September 2010 included Gunnar M. Sørbø (Social anthropologist, team leader), Jonathan Goodhand (Development studies, deputy team leader), Bart Klem (Geographer, conflict analysis, monitoring and mediation), Ada Elisabeth Nissen (Historian, archival studies) and Hilde Beate Selbervik (Historian, overview of Norwegian aid to Sri Lanka).

The evaluation team, in its final report, acknowledged that the examination of confidential US diplomatic cables, relating to Sri Lanka, had been useful. However, the team admitted that Wiki Leaks released what it called new material of relevance to assess the situation in Sri Lanka and that such information couldn’t be evaluated. Sri Lanka never properly examined Wikileaks. Shame on those responsible for the obvious deliberate negligence. But nothing could have shamed the government and the Army than their shocking decision not to exploit the unprecedented salutation received by Lt. Colonel Ratnapriya Bandu, the senior officer who had been in charge of rehabilitated LTTE cadres in the northern region, since 2012, until recently. Outgoing DIG Vavuniya Deshabandu Tennakoon, too, recently received a similar reception. The reception received by Lt. Col Bandu is an honour for the institution but unfortunately those responsible for Sri Lanka’s defense in Geneva ignored the images from Vishvamadu. There couldn’t have been a better picture to adorn the defense seminar 2018 than those of ex-LTTE cadres and their families carrying the former Special Forces officer.

Had the Army and the Foreign Ministry made a genuine effort, they could have shed light on the culpability of the UN in the unprecedented Vanni hostage crisis. For want of cohesive strategy, and negligence on the part of the previous government, and treacherous incumbent administration, Sri Lanka was denied proper defense in Geneva.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Near disintegration of a Commonwealth country

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 230

 

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British HC in Colombo James Dauris looks on as former lawmaker and Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland addresses representatives of Australia, Canada, South Africa and the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry. India wasn’t represented while the Maldives remained out of the Commonwealth. Canadian HC David McKinnon sits next to Dauris (pic courtesy BHC)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Close on the heels of Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) member Ian Paisley being suspended from the House of Commons for two undeclared free luxury family visits to Sri Lanka, in 2013, courtesy the war, winning Rajapaksa government, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government received Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who once provided costly legal advice to the Maldives, another Commonwealth country. Controversy surrounded Scotland’s involvement with the Maldivian government. She threw her weight behind the Maldives to cope up with the pressure exerted on her by Commonwealth powers for committing anti-democratic acts.

One time Maldives High Commissioner, to the UK, Dr Farahanaz Faizal, is on record having described the Maldives hiring of Scotland as ‘absolutely shocking. If the government wanted legal advice to support the Attorney General’s Office, the proper way is to request the UK government bilaterally.

"To think that someone of her caliber would undertake an assignment to check if Foreign Ministers of Australia, Canada, Bangladesh, Jamaica, and others of CMAG had acted against their mandate is disgraceful," Dr Faizal said.

Scotland has been previously probed by the UK media, in 2009, after she was found to have been employing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper in her posh London home.

The first woman to secure the prestigious post, Scotland, in April 2016, succeeded Indian Kamalesh Sharma, who held the privileged position since 2008. Obviously, the Commonwealth didn’t find fault with Scotland for professional examination of CMAG decision.

Scotland was here as part of an 11-day visit to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Brunei.

Paisley’s sojourns-two visits (altogether 17 days) cost hapless Sri Lanka a staggering Rs 22 mn, though the British lawmaker couldn’t help Sri Lanka’s efforts to influence the then Premier David Cameron. Cameron was hell-bent on backing politically motivated resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and finally succeeded in October 2015 with the support of the US.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government created history by sponsoring a resolution against Sri Lanka, in respect of accountability issues. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

Paisley’s party affiliation has been changed on the British Parliament website from being a member of the DUP to ‘Independent’.

The North Antrim MP is set to serve a 30-day suspension from the House of Commons. The lawmaker has also been suspended from the DUP pending the outcome of a further investigation. The British media quoted a spokeswoman for the House of Commons as having said the change in his status on their website was standard procedure.

She said: "If an MP is suspended by their party, they are classed as an independent MP."

It would be pertinent to examine Scotland’s involvement with the Maldives, several years ago, at a time that country was under tremendous Western pressure following accusations by the then President Mohamed Nasheed, who quit under duress on February 7, 2012 as a result of military and police intervention.

Maldivian Attorney General’s 2012 audit report revealed that the former UK Attorney General and member of the House of Lords, Baroness Patricia Scotland receiving £50,000 extra in addition to an agreed fee for legal advice following their suspension from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). The controversial payment was in addition to 75,000 Sterling Pounds the lawmaker received in accordance with Terms of Reference (ToR). The staggering extra payment was 66 percent of the consultancy fee.

The audit report also reveals that the Maldives spent US$7,062 on plane tickets and accommodation for Scotland and her assistant for a visit to the Maldives.

Before further examining the UK’s role as well as that of the Commonwealth here and also in the India-dominated region, let me reproduce verbatim a contentious issue raised by the British media during UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher first visit to Sri Lanka.

Thanks to Margaret Thatcher Foundation the full text of her question and answer session with Sri Lankan and the British media at the President’s House in Kandy on April 12, 1985, can be accessed on its website. The media took up the issue of the UK turning a blind eye to Indian-sponsored Tamil terrorists using the UK to procure arms, ammunition and equipment. This was two years before India forced Sri Lanka to accept the deployment of its Army in northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka.

The Times correspondent Michael Hamlin: "Sri Lankan government officials have indicated their concern about the activities of Tamil extremists based in London, particularly in buying arms and military supplies to support the terrorism in the north of the island here. I wondered whether there was anything that you felt the UK Government could do to clamp down on this activity."

Prime Minister Thatcher: "We do everything possible to stop the purchase of arms for such a purpose and that will not surprise you, because as you know, I asked the United States Government to do everything possible to prevent the purchase of arms for the IRA through NORAID, and we do everything possible to see that no such arms are purchased."

In response to another query, Thatcher said: "The matter of the Tamils is a matter for the Sri Lankan Government. With regard to my own view about terrorism, it has not varied and will not vary. Terrorism must never be seen to win. If it does, it is the end of democracy. There is a democracy in Sri Lanka and I believe that, as in Britain, the problems must be solved through democracy—at any rate by all who believe in democracy."

Thatcher was here for the ceremonial commissioning of the Victoria Dam under the JR Jayewardene government’s flagship accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme. The UK provided 130 mn Sterling Pounds for the construction of the dam by the British joint venture Balfour Beatty and Edmund Nuttall Ltd.

At the State banquet, later in the day, the then President JR Jayewardene told Thatcher: "I am against violence. I said so at the Commonwealth Conference presided over by Mrs. Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, at Delhi, in November 1983, at which you were present, Madam Prime Minister. The Goa Declaration accepted my idea and included Non-violence."

But, the UK and Commonwealth did absolutely nothing to prevent Commonwealth giant India from destabilizing Sri Lanka to such an extent the country almost disintegrated. Commonwealth powers, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand turned a blind eye to what was going on here with Indian trained terrorists causing mayhem. In early Nov. 1988, Indian trained People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) raided the Maldives. The then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom escaped the PLOTE assassination attempt made at the behest of Abdullah Luthufee. This writer is the only journalist so far to interview Luthufee following his release from the Maldivian custody several years ago. Although the Maldives earned the wrath of the Commonwealth and was suspended from CMAG – the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm – and placed on its formal agenda following Nasheed’s allegation that he resigned "under duress" on February 7, 2012 amid a violent mutiny by sections of the police and military, the Commonwealth never found fault with India for sponsoring terrorism. Even after the raid on the Maldives carried out by Indian trained and equipped Sri Lankan terrorists, the Commonwealth never bothered to take meaningful measures to discourage /discontinue the New Delhi project. Western powers never referred to Indian culpability in Sri Lanka destabilization project resulting in an assassination attempt on the Maldivian President. India unashamedly claimed credit for its forces coming to the rescue of Gayoom. What they didn’t want to admit was two trawlers carrying PLOTE terrorists quietly left Sri Lanka’s Mannar under the very nose of the Indian Navy and reached the Maldives undetected.

The Commonwealth has suspended several countries, including Pakistan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Fiji. Although no country has been formally expelled some quit, including Zimbabwe (2003), Gambia (2013) and Maldives (2016).

But, large scale destabilization projects carried out by India never received the attention of the Commonwealth. In fact, the Commonwealth rewarded India by naming senior diplomat Kamalesh Sharma as the Commonwealth Secretary General. Sharma, who had been New Delhi’s Permanent Representative to the UN (1997-2002) before being appointed High Commissioner to the UK (2004-2008) received top Commonwealth appointment on April 1, 2008. Sharma enjoyed the perks of the Office for eight years. Commonwealth refrained from at least urging the LTTE proxy, the Tamil National Alliance to request the LTTE to give up human shields ‘employed’ on the Vanni east front. The Commonwealth failure should be examined against the backdrop of Scotland recently meeting TNA leader and the leader of the Opposition during the recently concluded visit to Colombo.

Scotland, who once represented the Maldives, in her new capacity as the Commonwealth Secretary-General issued the following statement in the wake of the Commonwealth member announcing her decision to quit the organization: "I have received news that the Maldives Government has today decided to leave the Commonwealth.

"The Commonwealth family at large – its member governments and its peoples worldwide – will share my sadness and disappointment at this decision.

"The Commonwealth Charter reflects the commitment of our member states to democracy and human rights, development and growth, and diversity. We will continue to champion these values and to support all member states, especially small and developing states, in upholding and advancing these practically for the enduring benefit of their citizens.

"Therefore, we hope that this will be a temporary separation and that the Maldives will feel able to return to the Commonwealth family and all that it represents in due course."

India’s military, particularly its navy, claimed credit for saving the Maldives from PLOTE mercenaries. The Indian media, too, talked in glowing terms of the operation code-named ‘Operation Cactus’ to save Gayoom. The Indian navy even mentioned it in an anniversary publication, ‘The Indian Navy: A nautical tryst’ alongside ‘Operation Pawan’ launched to liberate the Jaffna peninsula, in October 1987. The Indian navy also pointed out that success of ‘Operation Cactus’ promoted TIME magazine to feature the Indian Navy on its cover, hailing it as the ‘the Next Military Power.’

TIME magazine didn’t even bother to point out that the PLOTE was one of the Indian trained groups, which had operated alongside the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force), deployed in the then temporarily merged Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. The PLOTE also maintained offices in India and worked closely with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

Today, the PLOTE is represented in Parliament through the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA). During the war the TNA represented the interests of the LTTE, both in and outside parliament until the very end. The unprecedented TNA-LTTE relationship or working partnership since late 2001 automatically resulted in all other Tamil political parties/groups being marginalized. The TNA cannot absolve itself of the death and destruction that had been caused by the LTTE after its parliamentary group unanimously accepted terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s leadership. The TNA really believed the LTTE conventional military capability could somehow overwhelm the Sri Lankan military. Soon after the parliamentary polls in April 2004, the European Union in no uncertain terms condemned the TNA’s partnership that allowed the grouping to enhance its parliamentary representation with the LTTE stuffing ballot boxes on its behalf. In spite of the UK being in the EU, Commonwealth wasn’t bothered at all. While the UN, Commonwealth et al looked the other away, the TNA on behalf the LTTE engineered Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat at November 2005 presidential polls by depriving the Tamil vote to the UNP leader. The LTTE-TNA action helped Mahinda Rajapaksa to secure the presidency and set the stage for all-out war. Those who repeatedly accuse the Rajapaksas of bribing the LTTE to engineer Wickremesinghe’s defeat never bothered to seek an explanation from Sampanthan. Parliament definitely owed an explanation to the public as to why the issue was never raised with the TNA over the past 13 years. Having served the LTTE from 2001 to 2009, the TNA threw its weight behind war-winning Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election. In spite of accusing the Sri Lankan military of massacring Tamils on the Vanni east front, the TNA, at the behest of the United States, joined the UNP-led coalition in Fonseka’s abortive presidential bid. Commonwealth should at least now examine its failure in Sri Lanka.

Let me reproduce a statement issued by Sampanthan’s Office soon after Scotland met the Opposition Leader, who is now under pressure to step down as the Joint Opposition group in parliament consists of nearly 70 against his 16. The following is the text of the TNA statement: "Sampanthan pointed out that even though the war has come to an end, we still don’t have complete peace and harmony among the people. Speaking further Sampanthan said, "People had a great deal of hope with the change of Government particularly the minorities. They expected the government to deliver on the promises it made both locally and internationally. A new Constitution which will alter the structure of the governance and give more powers to the regions, ascertainment of truth and justice, reparation, dealing with missing persons, return of civilians lands occupied by the armed forces, release of people held in custody under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act are some of those promises but the delivery on these matters has been slow and inadequate, said Sampanthan.

Sampanthan highlighted that there is a commitment to make a new Constitution, "a unanimous resolution was adopted in Parliament in this regard, on account of political factors there is a delay on the part of the Government in pursuing this matter.

The TNA Leader said "there were reasons why this country faced a war, one cannot address these reasons by not being firm, one cannot abandon these issues being addressed because of extreme elements. The Government must take a firm stand and lead the country in the right direction. Adopting a new Constitution will be a big step in taking the country forward", said Sampanthan.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General briefed the Opposition Leader on the continuous support provided by it to Sri Lanka to promote Democracy, Rule of Law, Good Governance and Environmental related issues and said that the Commonwealth would continue to support the new Constitution making processes. Further, the Secretary-General appreciated Sampanthan for his moderation and for being an ambassador for peace.

Assuring his continuous support Sampanthan said, "We will extend our fullest support to achieve true peace and harmony in this country". Sampanthan also urged that the International community including the Commonwealth has a role to play in achieving harmony amongst the people."

Following her meeting with Sampanthan, Scotland tweeted: "Delighted to have the opportunity to hear from the Leader of the Opposition of #SriLanka, Hon R. Sampathan, on efforts for strengthening good #governance and enhancing post-conflict reconciliation."

The Island learns that none of the Sri Lankan politicians and officials briefed Scotland regarding the need to review accountability issues against the emergence of evidence that disputed the original accusations leading to Geneva Resolution 30/1 in Oct 2015.

Interestingly, Indian High Commission wasn’t represented when British High Commissioner James Dauris hosted Scotland and representatives of Commonwealth countries, based in Colombo, at his residence on Aug. 3. Perhaps, India High Commission wasn’t bothered about Commonwealth. The meeting was attended by representatives from the High Commissions of Australia, Canada, Pakistan and South Africa, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka.

The British High Commission issued a statement that dealt with Dauris meet with Scotland and other Commonwealth representatives. The statement acknowledged the absence of Indian representatives at the meeting. Perhaps, the Commonwealth is irrelevant to the regional power….

Saturday, 4 August 2018

CHOGM 2013, Naseby revelations and the Paisley affair

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 229

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando 

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) quite rightly suspended lawmaker Ian Paisley pending an internal investigation into the member’s conduct. The DUP, the fifth largest party in the House of Commons, as well as Tory partner, acted swiftly and decisively close on the heels of the House of Commons Committee on Standards found fault with Paisley for violating parliamentary rules over two clandestine luxury trips, received in 2013, at the Sri Lankan taxpayers’ expense.

UK based pro-LTTE lobby has claimed credit for Paisley’s downfall. The ruling UNP laughed with glee demanding a wider probe into other lawmakers bribed by the previous Rajapaksa government.

Northern Ireland-based DUP unanimously accepted the recommendation to suspend Paisley for 30 sittings, beginning Sept 4, 2018. Tories and DUP couldn’t have allowed the Paisley affair to undermine their arrangement in parliament.

In her report, the Standards Commissioner, Kathryn Stone, found that Paisley breached the rules on paid advocacy – lobbying in return for reward or consideration – by writing to the then Prime Minister David Cameron on March 19, 2014 to lobby against supporting a US led resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on accountability issues in Sri Lanka, after receiving free holidays from Sri Lanka.

On January 1, 2018, Stone took over the Standards Committee, tasked with regulating MPs’ conduct and propriety. Interestingly, the Parliamentary Commissioner is not a lawmaker but chosen by the House of Commons to run the Office for a period of five years.

Belfast headquartered DUP said: "The Officers of the Democratic Unionist Party have considered the report of the House of Commons Committee on Standards on Ian Paisley MP. The party takes this report, and the matters contained within it, very seriously. The party officers have decided to suspend Ian Paisley MP from membership of the party pending further investigation into his conduct. The party does not intend to make any further comment on these matters during the course of the above outlined process."

The Northern Ireland’s largest party, led by Arlene Foster, accidentally, became kingmakers following the 2017 parliamentary polls. Theresa May’s minority Tory government depends on the DUP’s 10- member parliamentary group to remain in power.  The move against Paisley should be examined against the backdrop of an agreement between the Tory government and the DUP to sustain the fragile administration. Under their agreement, the DUP will help thwart possible Opposition efforts to bring down the government. The Tory-DUP agreement comes under pressure at a time the government is fighting for its survival over Brixit vote.

Had the North Antrim MP not been so greedy and was wise enough to be accompanied by only his wife, he could have defended the controversial 2013 decision, at least to some extent. Unfortunately, the politician brazenly exploited Sri Lanka’s plight to travel first class at the latter’s expense twice with his wife and children in March/April and July, 2013, in the run up to the three-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), in November, 2013, in Colombo. Being a politician, Paisley had absolutely no hesitation in taking advantage of poor Sri Lanka’s struggling to cope up with a massive international onslaught over unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. They enjoyed Sri Lanka’s hospitality for 17 days, in five-star hotels, with the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) providing free rides.

Paisley was again paid by Sri Lanka to attend the utterly useless CHOGM-23rd edition, boycotted by the leaders of India, Canada and Mauritius. Actually, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the then External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L Peiris owed an explanation as to what they expected to achieve by squandering Rs 22 mn on a British lawmaker, his wife and children. Obviously, they couldn’t have been unaware that Paisley was certainly not in a position to influence Premier David Cameron who played ball with the LTTE lobby.

Having failed to use wartime US Defence attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s June 2011 statement to defend Sri Lanka, the government squandered money on Paisley family. Smith’s statement, made at the first defence seminar, organised by the war-winning Sri Lanka Army, over two years after the conclusion of the conflict could have been efficiently used along with Wiki Leaks revelations. The writer has dealt with Wiki Leaks revelations before on several occasions. The Rajapaksa government cannot absolve itself of the shoddy defence of Sri Lanka and wasting money on UK lawmaker and high profile US PR firms.

The US State Department tried to cover its embarrassment by declaring that Lt. Col. Smith didn’t represent the US at the Lankan military defence seminar. But never disputed what he said. The then government never referred to the US statements. Sri Lanka’s approach certainly helped its opponents. The UK gleefully engaged in Sri Lanka bashing.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee went to the extent of urging Cameron not to attend the three-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), in November 2013, in Colombo, while Conservative lawmakers were banned from travelling on an all-expenses-paid trip to the summit amidst concern over Sri Lanka’s lobbying activities in the UK.

There were calls from many bodies not to host the summit in Sri Lanka and to boycott the event.

The House of Commons Committee on Standards found fault with Paisley for declaring only his November visit.

It would be pertinent to examine the circumstances under which war-winning Sri Lanka secured the opportunity to hold CHOGM 2013, four years after the successful conclusion of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) whose ideologue Anton Balasingham, a British citizen of Sri Lankan origin, oversaw the high profile terrorism project. The House of Commons turned a blind eye to a terrorist leader’s presence in the UK. Balasingham oversaw Sri Lanka’s destabilization project until he died in the UK in Dec 2006.

It would be interesting to know whether the House of Commons Committee on Standards ever inquired about lawmakers’ relationship with the LTTE/LTTE rump.



A despicable Commonwealth role

 Before examining the relationship between major UK political parties and the LTTE/LTTE rump, let me remind you the Commonwealth accepted Sri Lanka as the 2011 CHOGM venue at the CHOGM 2007 held in Kampala, Uganda. At that time, the Sri Lankan military was struggling on the northern front after having brought the Eastern Province under its control in the previous year. Commonwealth powers, India, the UK, Canada and Australia never expected Sri Lanka to finish off the LTTE by the time Colombo was to hold CHOGM 2011. They, obviously couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism. At the CHOGM 2009 in Trinidad and Tobago, a decision was taken to deprive Sri Lanka of CHOGM 2011. Instead, Australia received that opportunity while Sri Lanka was asked to host 2013 CHOGM.

The Rajapaksa administration squandered a massive amount of public funds on a worthless project. A ridiculous attempt was made to deceive the public as regards substantial foreign investments that were expected because of CHOGM 2013. The country should be glad that only Paisley accepted Sri Lanka’s offer to visit the country in return for backing its efforts to thwart the Geneva Resolution. Obviously, Paisley knew that he couldn’t influence Cameron under any circumstances due to political reasons. Thanks to Wiki leaks, the status UK’s relationship with Tamil voters is in the public domain. Wiki leaks revealed no less a person than the then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband playing politics with the Sri Lanka issue for political gain. Miliband, in early 2009, won French support to make a hurried intervention in Sri Lanka. Accompanied by his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner, Miliband flew in late April 2009 to force Sri Lanka to stop the offensive.

"Now is the time for the fighting to stop," the media quoted Miliband as having said in Colombo. "Protection of civilians is absolutely paramount in our minds." Miliband never bothered to urge the LTTE to give up massive civilian human shield or immediately surrender to avoid annihilation. The UK didn’t care for civilians. UK political parties were determined to convince Tamil voters that they did their best to save the LTTE. Canadian position at the closing stages of Sri Lanka war was the same. Canada, too, struggled to appease large and influential Tamil electorate that believed until the very end the LTTE could overwhelm the Sri Lankan military.

In fact, Tamil media speculated, in Dec 2008, the LTTE could turnaround the situation in the Vanni region where it was fighting the Army on multiple fronts. Within 10 days, after Tamil media reports, the LTTE fled Kilinochchi, and began retreating towards the Mullaitivu coast.

The UK and Canada led Commonwealth efforts to throw a lifeline to the sinking Tigers. Can they absolve themselves of responsibility for allowing Commonwealth member India to destroy neighbouring Sri Lanka? Commonwealth giants, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand turned a blind eye to Sri Lanka’s plight and never ever intervened on behalf of Sri Lanka. In fact, the UK allowed the LTTE to establish its International Secretariat on British soil though authorities knew the outfit engaged in terrorism. The operation was allowed even after the LTTE assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1993. UK’s love with the LTTE was so much it allowed UK-based terrorist ideologue Balasingham to defend the group in talks with top Norwegian representatives in the wake of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination in August 2006.

Did the House of Commons Committee on Standards ever inquired into why British lawmakers adopted such a friendly posture towards the LTTE?

If the LTTE survived the war in 2009, perhaps Prabhakaran wouldn’t have felt the need for the formation of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) in the UK. The GTF was inaugurated in the House of Commons in February 2010, less than a year after the Sri Lankan military crushed the LTTE conventional military capability. Senior British politicians, representing major political parties, attended the event. Among them were the then Foreign Secretary David Milliband who made an abortive bid to save the LTTE the previous year, Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague and Liberal Democrats Shadow Foreign Secretary Ed Davey. The unprecedented meeting, in the Gladstone Room of the House of Commons, began at 10am and concluded at 4pm, followed by a reception between 4pm and 6pm at the Terrace Cafeteria where the invitees included a Buddhist monk.

There had been so much rapport between the GTF and some UK lawmakers. When Labour member Joan Ryan (Enfield North) lost her seat at the 2010 general election, the GTF accommodated her as its policy advisor. The LTTE, too, had a British national, of Sri Lankan origin, Anton Balasingham, as its ideologue. Ryan was on the GTF’s payroll until she regained her seat at the 2015 general election. Having entered parliament in 1997, Ryan received considerable media attention in 2006/2007 when she was identified as the MP to make the highest tax claim amounting to 173,161 Sterling pounds in 2006/2007 year. Previous year, she had been the second highest tax claimant.

Siobhain Ann McDonagh also of the British Labour Party politician who has been the people’s representative for Mitcham and Morden since the 1997 general election, in September 2011 declared in parliament that the Sri Lankan military killed 100,000 (40,000 civilians and 60,000 LTTE cadres in 2009 alone). Perhaps the House of Commons Committee on Standards should inquire into whether the MP received any benefit for propagating such lies. McDonagh was proved wrong in 2017 when the UK released a section of British wartime dispatches from Sri Lanka in accordance with Freedom of Information Act 2000.



Turning back on Naseby

 In the wake of the Paisley affair, the UNP called for a wider inquiry into the conduct of British lawmakers. Colombo district UNP MP Mujibur Rahuman alleged in parliament that there were at least five other British MPs who similarly were bribed by the Rajapaksa regime to make statements supportive of it. The MP did not name the five.

Rahuman said Sri Lanka’s then High Commissioner to London, Chris Nonis should be questioned about granting free holidays to Paisley and the then foreign minister G. L. Peiris should also be questioned.

"We wonder if a string of African leaders, who visited the country during the Rajapaksa presidency, were also paid like this."

Sri Lanka parliament devoted substantial time to Paisley’s case which received both print and electronic media coverage. The UNP went on the offensive whereas its partner in parliament, the SLFP, largely remained aloof.

The UNP and the SLFP refrained from taking up sensational revelations pertaining to Sri Lanka’s defence at the UNHRC made by Lord Naseby in the House of Lords in Oct 2017. The former Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot on the basis of wartime dispatches from the British High Commission in Colombo to FCO strongly countered the Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in Oct 2015. The UNP steadfastly refused to bring Lord Naseby’s revelations to the notice of the Geneva council comprising 47 countries divided into five groupings.

Instead, treacherous yahapalana leaders pledged to implement the 2015 Resolution. Geneva granted Sri Lanka two more years since March 2017 to fulfill its pledges. The government is yet to take up British wartime dispatches from the Office of Lt. Colonel Anthony Gash, who contradicted bogus accusations as regards the killing of over 40,000 civilians in the final phase of the offensive in May 2009.

Naseby took up the matter with Geneva in the wake of both the UK and Sri Lanka refusing to bring British military dispatches to the attention of the UN body.

When the writer raised the failure on the part of the government to use UK dispatches for Sri Lanka’s defence in Geneva, the then cabinet spokesman Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera reacted angrily. In response to the writer’s query, an irate Jayasekera told the post-cabinet media briefing that there were far more important issues than Geneva. Jayasekera accused the writer of causing unnecessary problems while admitting the cabinet never discussed Naseby revelations.

Jayasekera, who held the sports portfolio at that time, said that Naseby revelations would be used by the government appropriately at the right time, though the cabinet was yet to discuss it. Jayasekera was addressing the media in mid Nov 2017. The government never took it up with Geneva or the UK in spite of the latter continuing to hold vital dispatches which could be used to disprove unsubstantiated Geneva Resolution.

Jayasekera said that they wouldn’t take up issues pursued by The Island the way the newspaper wanted. It had not been taken up by the Cabinet as it was considered not a grave a matter, the minister said. The minister initially asserted that Lord Naseby’s statement wasn’t directly relevant to the Geneva issue.

Paisley’s affair should be examined against the backdrop of Western powers, including the UK withholding vital information which could be useful to establish the circumstances leading to the collapse of the LTTE on the Vanni east front. Thanks to Lord Naseby, the despicable British bid to deprive Geneva of documents that could help ascertain the truth has been revealed. Lord Naseby exposed how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) tried desperately to withhold documents on the pretext of protecting diplomatic ties with Sri Lanka whereas the public exposure would have certainly bring the Geneva Resolution under intense scrutiny.

On the basis of British High Commission dispatches, Naseby estimated that the number of dead at between 7000 and 8000, of which one forth were members of the LTTE. The veteran politician declared that the Sri Lankan leadership never deliberately targeted the Vanni population.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government should explain, without further delay, its reluctance to defend Sri Lanka at Geneva. The UNP should prove that the party is concerned about the failure on the part of House of Commons to inquire into British military dispatches the way it probed Paisley. Of course, the DUP member certainly deserved what he got for exploiting a poor country. Paisley proved that politicians, the world over, are same though there can be exceptions. Sri Lanka proved that there can be governments that supported international action against its own armed forces and did absolutely nothing after the original lies leading to UN action was disputed unintentionally by the accusing countries.

Vishvamadu success yet to be utilized

Reconciliation process:

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 228

 

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May 2009, on the Vanni east front: Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of celebrated 58 Division (seated) talks to surrendered LTTE cadres. Sri Lanka implemented a highly successful rehabilitation programme which paved the way for restoration of peace. Contrary to speculation, there hadn’t been a single terrorist attack since the May 2009 though there were some detections of explosives. Sri Lanka rehabilitated nearly 12,000 LTTE cadres and the vast majority of them live peacefully. Among them Vishvamadu cadres who were lucky to receive Lt. Colonel Ratnapriya Bandu as their ‘guardian’ in 2012.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One time Human Rights Commissioner, attorney-at-law Javed Yusuf, says Lt. Colonel Ratnapriya Bandu’s post-war experience with former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) combatants and their families, in the Vishvamadu, area can be quite useful to the national reconciliation process.

 The former diplomat, educator and peace activist, Yusuf is certainly not alone in asserting Ratnapriya Bandu’s capacity to play a role in the reconciliation process.

Yusuf had been Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, in addition to being former Senior Advisor on Arab and Islamic Affairs to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and former Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat for Muslims. Yusuf managed the Peace Secretariat for Muslims during the Norwegian-facilitated peace process that ultimately led to the final war (2006 August-2009 May).

 Lt. Colonel Bandu, formerly of the Special Forces, played a critical role in the post-war reconciliation process in his capacity as the most senior officer responsible for Civil Security Department deployment in the north. Vishvamadu-based Lt. Colonel Bandu’s groundbreaking handling of the ex-LTTE cadres earned him love, respect and admiration from the vast majority of Tamils, living in the Vanni.

The writer sought Yusuf’s opinion on the Sinha Regiment officer’s still unused Vishvamadu experience.

Asked whether he could explain how the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), responsible for spearheading post-war national reconciliation process as well as the civil society seeking the same, could utilize the Army officer’s experience and whether he would talk to Bandu if he hasn’t done so already, Yusuf said: "...one of the ways that ONUR works is to build trust among people of different communities at the grassroots level and attempts to facilitate the reconciliation process by acting as a catalyst to reconciliation initiatives. In this context, Lt. Colonel Bandu’s efforts and his work in winning the trust and confidence of former LTTE rehabilitated cadres, with whom he worked, will have many lessons for those working in the field of reconciliation. His efforts have received the attention of ONUR and his role is an interesting case study not only for ONUR but for all those working towards reconciliation."

The Island Midweek section dealt with Ratnapriya Bandu’s story, twice, in June 2018 in the wake of grateful Vishvamadu Tamils giving an unprecedented send off on June 10 to the Army officer. The two pieces titled ‘Vishvamadu images: BIG BOOST FOR NATIONAL RECONCILIATION’ and ‘Parliament reacting differently to images from the Vanni.’ Among those who responded to the writer’s query as regards Lt. Colonel Bandu’s experience was ONUR, headed by twice President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. On behalf of the ONUR, its Director General M.S. Jayasinghe said: ONUR has noted, with optimism, the developments in Vishvamadu in relation to the news reports about Lt.Col. Ratnapriya’s farewell event and his approach with local stakeholders. We will get in touch with Sri Lanka Army and seek any relevant inputs from the officer concerned as part of our efforts to understanding various perspectives and learning from experiences, to move forward. We already support initiatives to assist with livelihood, psycho social, development and similar needs of war-affected communities, including ex-combatants, to bring normalcy to their lives."

 Unfortunately, neither the government nor the civil society, has so far taken any tangible measures to learn from Lt. Colonel Bandu’s experience though Lanka is still struggling to cope up with reconciliation issues, nearly a decade after the conclusion of the conflict. Interestingly Lt.Col. Bandu had functioned as the Second-in-Command of the First Battalion of the Sinha Regiment, assigned to the 59 Division deployed across the Nanthikadal lagoon, during the final phase of the offensive carried out by the celebrated 58 Division and 53 Division.

Many an eyebrow has been raised over the continuing failure on the part of the government, and the civil society, to examine the Vishvamadu experience.

 Perhaps, National Integration, Reconciliation and Official Languages Minister Mano Ganesan, who had previously intervened on behalf of Lt. Colonel Bandu, on a request from ex-LTTE combatants, should explore ways and means of utilizing the officer’s valuable experience with members of one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations that enjoyed conventional military capability, till 2009.

Since the conclusion of the war, nearly 10 years ago, Western powers repeatedly pressured Sri Lanka on the diplomatic front, initially demanding an international war crimes investigation during the previous Rajapaksa administration. Following the change of government, in January 2015, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government quickly accepted despicable Western strategy leading to Sept/Oct 2015 consensus on Geneva Resolution ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’. Instead of genuine reconciliation, the Resolution on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, recommended punitive and humiliating measures. Geneva, also recommended a brand new Constitution, subjected to approval at a countrywide referendum.

Rs. 1.6 bn worth US project

 In support of the Geneva project, Western powers, following the change of government in January 2015, had made available substantial funds in support of the post-war national reconciliation process. The European Union and the US, this year, granted Rs 4.3 bn in support of the Sri Lanka reconciliation process. Perhaps, the recipients of the EU and US funding may seek to benefit from Lt. Colonel Bandu’s experience. There is no clear estimate of the amounts spent by foreign taxpayers in support of reconciliation projects here.

Let me reproduce verbatim a US embassy press release, titled ‘USAID partners with community organizations and government to support reconciliation in Sri Lanka’ issued last Friday (July 20). The statement dealt with releasing of a staggering Rs. 1.6 bn on June 29, 2018, to community organizations to cover projects covering a three-year period. The US statement: "On June 29, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded approximately 1.6 bn Sri Lankan rupees ($10,000,000) in grant assistance to Global Communities to engage local communities in reconciliation activities.

"This three-year initiative will partner with the Government of Sri Lanka and local civil society to address underlying challenges to reconciliation. The project will promote a shared and inclusive Sri Lankan identity, reduce socio-economic disparities, and strengthen resilience among multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities."

 The statement quoted USAID Mission Director to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Reed Aeschliman as having said: "USAID is proud to partner with the Sri Lankan people and government in their efforts to build a society that works together for the greater good and prosperity of the country."

"Activities will expand citizen-driven initiatives and networks among local communities and support those affected by the war. They will also strengthen local governments and community-based organizations that provide critical services to the most needy and increase access to psychosocial services.  Additionally, the project will increase opportunities for youth and women to exercise leadership in promoting responsible citizenship and reconciliation.

 "USAID has provided development and humanitarian support to the Government and the people of Sri Lanka for more than 60 years."

 The writer didn’t receive a response to the following questions emailed to the US embassy soon after receiving the statement which The Island carried on its front page. The print media largely ignored the statement: (a) Could you please give us the number of civil society organizations involved in this particular project? (b) Were there North-East based organizations among those recipients? The Island also sought pictures taken at the event.

EU funds projects to the tune of Rs 3.7 bn

 The European Union, now at logger heads with Sri Lanka in the wake of President Maithripala Sirisena vowing to resume judicial executions, regardless of consequences, launched a high profile project, with the support of Germany, in November 2017. According to the EU, the project is aimed at strengthening the reconciliation processes in Sri Lanka (SRP). The high profile project is implemented by GIZ and the British Council. The EU-German initiative intends to support government, non-government, and grassroot-level initiatives in six different areas. The EU explained:

 Tracking Progress on Reconciliation involves developing a barometer for this purpose, in cooperation with national and international partners. This area will also work to produce scorecards to assess performance of the government’s reconciliation initiatives.

Facilitating Learning and Institutional Development seeks to establish sustainable, institutionalized capacity development of stakeholders along with training and dialogue platforms.

Through Communication and Inclusive Policy Making the programme aims to increase public engagement in the reconciliation process, involving the media, government, civil society and development partners.

 The area of Dealing with the Past comprises two units. The first being historical dialogue, which aims to create a space to acknowledge the past and discuss history and memory. The second is strengthening mental health and psychosocial support services, which aim to build capacity, develop referral systems, and promote emerging/promising practice in the field.

 Through Arts & Culture, SRP will develop the capacity of organisations and build networks in this field, while supporting arts and culture initiatives on reconciliation, the production of related content, and coordinating forums such as the WINGS conference and film festivals.

 The sixth area, Reducing Language Barriers, involves developing the bilingual capacities of public service officers, improving and facilitating access to bilingual services and increasing the number of registered bilingual translators and interpreters."

 The following is the text of EU statement verbatim issued on 2018 March 21. Headlined ‘Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation, the European Union and the Government of Germany to support reconciliation in Sri Lanka’, the statement dealt with a four-year programme: "The Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation, the European Union and the Government of Germany launched a programme today to support reconciliation in Sri Lanka. The programme, worth Rs 2.7 billion, will be in collaboration with the Ministry of Co-existence, Dialogue, and Official Languages, the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), as well as other relevant line ministries and civil society organizations. It will be implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the British Council.

"The goal of the four-year programme is to support government, non-government and grassroots organisations in the national reconciliation process. The primary focus of the programme is to track progress on national reconciliation, facilitate learning and strengthen institutions at national and sub-national levels as well as promote public engagement in policy making. The programme will also contribute to dealing with the past through memorialisation, strengthening mental health and psychosocial care, and using art and culture as a medium to promote reconciliation. As a means to help address challenges identified by the Government of Sri Lanka, the programme will lay emphasis on reducing language barriers in order to provide better public services. Some of the key outputs of the programme include:

* a mobile museum and theatre in 35 locations reaching up to 350,000 people;

* 6,000 clients accessing mental health and psychosocial support services;

* a minimum of 300 media personnel and cultural actors trained in arts and culture, aiming to reach a minimum audience of 4-5 million;

* 1,200 public officers receiving language training, including police, court officials and health workers.

The European Union has supported reconciliation in Sri Lanka since 2017 through various programmes and with a total funding amounting Rs 3.7 billion.

 For more than 15 years, projects / programmes funded by the German government contribute to the overarching objective of peace building and reconciliation."

 In addition to Rs 2.7 bn made available in support of the four-year project, the EU has granted another Rs 1 bn since the beginning of 2017. If totalled, EU and US funding alone in 2017 and 2018 amounted to an astounding Rs. 5.3 bn.

Perhaps the Sri Lanka Army can offer the services of Lt. Colonel Bandu to those civil society organizations and ONUR engaged in peace building. In case, they aren’t keen to benefit from his experience or the Army, and for some silly reason does not want to exploit the Vishvamadu success, ONUR and civil society should go straight to the people of Vishvamadu to learn their experience during the 2012-2018 periods. The failure to benefit from hitherto unknown highly successful Vishvamadu reconciliation cannot be acceptable under circumstances, especially since Western powers are funding costly projects. The inordinate delay in utilizing the officer’s experience to further develop existing reconciliation process is shocking. The failure on the part of the Army to benefit from its Vishvamadu experience is pathetic. Absence of Vishvamadu images of grateful ex-LTTE combatants, their families and other Tamils felicitating Lt.Col. Bandu in any of the government-run websites, including that of the Army and ONUR, is nothing but a disgrace.

Images from Vishmadhu must have been posted on ONUR website at least after the writer sought its Director General, Jayasinghe’s opinion on Lt. Colonel Bandu’s achievement.

The government certainly owed an explanation to the discerning public why Vishvamadu achievement is continued to be ignored amidst continuing efforts to pursue war crimes inquiry. The government and the Army seemed to be blind to the fact that Lebanon, bound peacekeepers are held up since 2018 March pending Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) vetting, largely due to unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.

 The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government created history in 2015 Oct by co-sponsoring Geneva Resolution against its own armed forces.

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s group, too, has failed to pressure the government over the handling of the post-war national reconciliation process (read a lucrative industry). In addition to the funding made available by the EU and the US, several other ‘sources’, including Norway, provided funds to civil society groups here. The government and those who funded costly projects should now examine them to ascertain the failure to achieve national reconciliation. Had previous projects succeeded, the EU and US wouldn’t have to grant a further Rs. 5.3 bn since last year for the same.

In fact, successive governments never bothered to properly examine grandiose projects undertaken by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and civil society during the conflict and after. For want of an efficient monitoring process, those recipients pursued agendas, in some instances severely inimical to national interest. During the conflict, foreign powers and NGOs granted funds amounting to millions of USD to various organizations that propagated the LIE a negotiated settlement a necessity as the LTTE couldn’t be defeated militarily.

Even Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the onset of his first term, strongly believed in Oslo- negotiations. Soon after becoming the Opposition Leader in 2004, Rajapaksa accepted Oslo mediation and proceeded accordingly. But, once the war erupted, Mahinda Rajapaksa gave unparalleled political leadership to bring the conflict to a successful end. NGOs and civil society worked overtime to convince Rajapaksa that whatever the difficulties negotiations were necessary to thwart an LTTE offensive. They proceeded even after the abortive attempts on the then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s life on the afternoon of April 25, 2006 and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa six months later. Had the LTTE succeeded, the war couldn’t have been won three years later. Whatever, the post-war differences, Fonseka and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa achieved what previous Army Commanders and Defence Secretaries couldn’t achieve. They brought about the post-war national reconciliation process.