Monday, 13 August 2012

Amnesty International & the Tigers

War on terror revisited: Part 29

article_imageBy Shamindra Ferdinando 

Prabhakaran inspects Thamileelam police parade during CFA

CBK told AI in no uncertain terms that the LTTE had taken advantage of its visit to legitimise its reign of terror. The President said that AI’s presence in Vanni would only legitimise illegal detention facilities run by the group. The President criticised AI for visiting LTTE prisons, while suggesting that the visitors wouldn’t have been shown underground detention facilities. While Kadirgamar endorsed CBK’s assertion, AI bluntly told them that it had been invited by the government.

Soon after the Norwegian brokered Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) came into operation in Feb 2002, the LTTE launched a project to legitimise its control over areas held by its forces.

The UNP-led United National Front (UNF) didn’t even realise what was going on in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The LTTE and its supporters among the international community moved swiftly and decisively to help the group consolidate its power in the region.

The LTTE secured the support of London headquartered Amnesty International (AI) to spearhead the project. AI conveniently ignored the LTTE’s refusal to stop forcible recruitment of children for combat operations, in spite of the CFA.

Interestingly, both AI and the UN under Secretary on children in conflict areas, scheduled visits in the wake of the CFA. Olara Otunu, who had been here in May 1998 to explore ways and means of compelling the LTTE to end the use of children as cannon fodder met the then Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando in New York (Olara Otunu to visit Wanni again––The Island June 20, 2002). AI ignored reports from UNICEF and the ICRC, which dealt with a major child recruitment drive under the nose of the Norwegian-led Scandinavian truce monitoring mission. (More flee training camps as LTTE assures UNICEF it will not recruit children––The Island June 21, 2002).

AI visits Kilinochchi

On the invitation of the LTTE, a delegation of AI representatives arrived in Colombo in June 2002 for a two-week long visit. The government welcomed the AI delegation, which was led by Derek Evans, one-time Deputy Secretary General of AI. Evans was accompanied by Ingrid Massage, researcher on Sri Lanka at AI’s International Secretariat in London. Although AI had been in touch with the LTTE, the June 2002 visit was its first to an area under the outfit’s control in Sri Lanka. One of AI’s main contacts was one-time British High Commission employee in Colombo, Anton Balasingham.

Addressing the media in Colombo, at the conclusion of their visit here, Evans said that AI was ready to help the LTTE to refine its police force and judiciary. The government remained silent. The SLFP, the JVP and nationalist groups, too, didn’t take up the issue, though they vehemently opposed the CFA. Obviously, the government and the Opposition as well didn’t grasp the danger in the latest LTTE initiative in the wake of CFA. AI was of the view that it could go ahead with the plan. Evans declared in Colombo that AI had the expertise and resources to help the LTTE (LTTE seeks Amnesty help to tighten control––The Island).

The AI delegation went on to explain how its members had been given access to LTTE ‘police stations’ as well as detention centres in the Vanni. Much to the surprise of journalists covering its media briefing in Colombo, AI revealed that members of the delegation made some suggestions to help improve conditions at LTTE ‘police stations’ and detention centres. AI revealed that the LTTE was planning to establish more ‘police stations’ in areas under its control, though it already had 15 ‘police stations’ at the time of theAI visit.

The LTTE and AI also discussed training for ‘Thamileelam Police’, handling of prisoners and streamlining of the ‘Thamileelam judiciary.’

Obviously, the LTTE had high hopes of legitimising its terror through an international mechanism. AI asserted that the LTTE needed to prepare to take over police functions as it could be soon in charge of law and order operations under the proposed interim administration, for the then temporarily merged North-Eastern Province.

AI meets CBK, RW

The AI delegation during its stay in Colombo held talks with the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP Lakshman Kadirgamar and Attorney General K. C. Kamalasabeyson, to discuss issues relating to the peace process. AI stressed the need to do away with what it called the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), to facilitate the peace process. AI put pressure on the government over alleged rape and torture of terror suspects in state custody.

However, CBK told AI in no uncertain terms that the LTTE had taken advantage of its visit to legitimise its reign of terror. The President said that AI’s presence in Vanni would only legitimise illegal detention facilities run by the group. The President criticised AI for visiting LTTE prisons, while suggesting that the visitors wouldn’t have been shown underground detention facilities. While Kadirgamar endorsed CBK’s assertion, AI bluntly told them that it had been invited by the government.

AI plan goes awry

Had the LTTE remained committed to the Norwegian initiative, it could have had the opportunity to advance its strategy. However, it quit the negotiating process in April 2003 and set the stage for an all-out war three years later. But AI remained part of the LTTE’s operation, playing different roles. It would be interesting to examine the circumstances under which the LTTE and AI launched a propaganda blitz, at an early stage of eelam war IV in 2007.

The hotly disputed AI-led campaign, styled ‘play by the rules’, written on dummy cricket balls targeting the Sri Lankan cricket team, participating in the World Cup in the Caribbean, revealed the relationship between AI and the LTTE.

It was a part of a wider conspiracy against the Sri Lankan government. The project strengthened LTTE efforts to internationally embarrass Sri Lanka.

The AI move coincided with the proposed Human Rights Council (HRC) action against Sri Lanka. Although the HRC deferred its resolution on Sri Lanka’s human rights situation at the conclusion of its recent sessions in Geneva, the government came under heavy pressure to suspend ‘offensive’ military action against the LTTE.

The inclusion of a former AI heavyweight in an LTTE delegation in October 2005 shed light on the unholy alliance. Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois and a leading practitioner and advocate of international law, represented the LTTE at a meeting with the EU in Geneva. Boyle had served on the Board of Directors of AI (1988-1992).

The Geneva meeting took place against the backdrop of an EU decision against inviting LTTE delegations following the assassination of Kadirgamar. But it did not bar V. Rudrakumaran, a New York based attorney-at-law and a member of the LTTE negotiating team at the Norwegian-managed peace talks during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Premier, meeting the EU on behalf of the LTTE.

Commonwealth link

Those who had dealt with major international organisations on behalf of the LTTE always came up with the goods. The Commonwealth extending its support to the group was case in point. In spite of killings, abductions and assassinations as well as a major fund raising operation abroad to acquire new weapons, the Commonwealth declared its support for the LTTE in Dec 2002 on the eve of a meeting in Oslo to support the Norwegian initiative here. The then Commonwealth Secretary General, former New Zealand Foreign Minister Don McKinnon, called for international financial assistance to Sri Lanka. McKinnon declared that the commitment of donors to what he called the cause of peace in Sri Lanka would be measured by how deeply they dug into their pockets.

LTTE cleared of Al Qaeda link

In its haste to reach an agreement with the LTTE, the UNF government went to the extent of giving a character certificate to the LTTE. Responding to a query raised at meeting organised by the Japan Centre for Conflict Prevention (JCCP), at the Imperial Hotel in early Dec 2002, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe assured that there was no evidence to suggest that the LTTE was connected with Al Qaeda (LTTE not linked to al-Qaeda, PM tells Japan––The Island Dec 8, 2002).Turning towards Ambassador Yasushi Akashi, heading the Japanese peace initiative in Sri Lanka, Wickremesinghe said that there was no connection between the two organisations. The possibility of an LTTE-al Qaeda relationship would have greatly embarrassed Japan due to its role in the US-led war on terror in the wake of 9/11. Wickremesinghe was flanked by Secretary to the Prime Minister and the then Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Tokyo, Karunathilake Amunagama, who is back in Colombo as Foreign Secretary.

The writer accompanied the GoSL delegation, which pushed for a wider Japanese role in Sri Lanka in support of the Norwegian effort. The UNFdelegation felt that Japan’s entry would help the UNF to counter Opposition allegations that the Norwegians manipulated the entire peace process to the advantage of the LTTE. Like Norway, Japan too, declared that the LTTE could be tackled through negotiations.

Japanese role

Akashi told a symposium, which dealt with the Japanese role in the Sri Lanka peace process, at Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, that terrorism could be tackled through negotiations. He claimed that there were two ways of tackling terrorism––through military means and negotiations––and that the Japanese preferred the latter.

During the Japanese visit, Wickremesinghe articulated the position that the Japan could handle economic and development issues, whereas Norway spearhead political issues. Wickremesinghe was responding to a query by The Island at a joint media briefing at the Japan National Press Club. Wickremesinghe asserted that the success of the peace process would depend on the simultaneous handling of both economic and political issues.

Akashi spoke quite candidly of the Japanese role in Sri Lanka when he addressed the symposium at Ritsmeikan University. Akashi admitted: "Our approach involves certain risks but we are determined to engage in the process."

Professor Monte Cassim, Executive Director, Centre for Global Education and Research of the Ritumeikan Trust reminded Akashi that Japan’s primary relationship was with the government of Sri Lanka. "Sri Lanka is merely a test case. Japan’s ultimate objectives are far greater and wider."

Both Norway and Japan obviously felt that they could exploit the success of the peace process in Sri Lanka to showcase their negotiating prowess. The Norwegians desperately needed to succeed in Sri Lanka due its failure to sustain the negotiating process between Israel and Palestine. Both countries spent a considerable amount of funds to sustain the peace process. They never truly realised the true intentions of the LTTE or its game plan. The LTTE expertly used both Norway and Japan the way it exploited NGOs/INGOs to further its macabre cause. The LTTE went ahead with its strategy as Sri Lanka’s peace co-chairs, namely Norway, Japan, the US and the EU sought to convince the outfit that it could achieve its objectives through negotiations. The LTTE ignored international concerns as it launched a major operation to procure arms, ammunition and equipment. Interestingly, LTTE agents acquired at least four ships from Japan as it rapidly expanded its fleet to meet any eventuality. For the LTTE, the primary objective was to build a strong conventional fighting capability, which could sustain both offensive and defensive operations, for at least two years.

The navy and air force destroyed one of the four Japanese ships during an operation conducted off Kalmunai on September 16, 2006 at the onset of eelam war IV. The vessel carried a large stock of ammunition, including large amounts of artillery rounds for LTTE artillery and mortar units.

 Overseas training for  ‘Thamileelam police’

The move to provide overseas training for ‘Thamileelam police’ should be viewed against the backdrop of the AI plan to streamline both ‘Thamileelam police’ and its ‘judiciary. In fact, there hadn’t been a similar experience in any part of the world. AI attempted to compare its project in the Vanni with the ongoing assignment in Afghanistan to train the police there. AI didn’t see a difference between the situation in Afghanistan and the areas under LTTEcontrol. The UNF helped the LTTE with ‘police training’ abroad. The issue came to light in late August 2007, when a captured LTTE cadre, 29-year-old Kalimuttu Vinodkumar revealed that he had received police training in Northern Ireland. Vinodkumar had been a member of a 12-member LTTE contingent which went across to Northern Ireland on a three-month training programme immediately after the CFA came into operation.

Vinodkumar’s team had left for Northern Ireland with the knowledge of the UNF, even before AI representatives visited Kilinochchi. The tour had been organised by the Norwegians. The police also recovered a genuine passport bearing the number, N 1215070 from Vonodkumar. Inquiries revealed that the Immigration and Emigration Department had issued passports to many LTTE operatives. The 12-man group was to be the nucleus of an expanded law enforcement arm (Tamileelam police) to be deployed in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

After their return from the UK, they trained the newly recruited cadres in the Vanni region before new stations had been assigned for them. Vinodkumar had been in charge of LTTE ‘police’ deployed at Sampur before the SLA regained the area in September 2006. He claimed that he had quit the organisation after their defeat at Sampur, where the LTTE had established several ‘police’ stations during the UNF administration.

The Trincomalee Harbour Police manning a roadblock nabbed the suspect along with another person.

The suspect joined the LTTE when he was in Grade Six in a government school in the Jaffna peninsula.

Interestingly, the police, too, received a similar course at the Scotish Police College in early 2007. Among the six-member group were senior DIG Jayantha Wickremaratne (Senior IG/Range II) and two DIGs, Gamini Navaratne and H. N. S. Ambanwela. During the six-week long project, they had been taken to Northern Ireland for a two-week long familiarisation tour. The Northern Ireland factor should be viewed against the backdrop of a top IRA man visiting Kilinochchi in July 2005.