Tuesday, 31 December 2013

An opportunity to highlight origins of eelam terror

War Crime:Urgent need for reappraisal of Go SL's response



A smiling Jaffna-born Canadian MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan with Rev. Father S. J. Emmanuel, President of the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum

By Shamindra Ferdinando

There is something common in Rathika Sitsabaiesan and Nisha Desai Biswal, now in their early thirties. Both left their countries of birth as toddlers along with their families, seeking better lives in the West. Rathika and Nisha had been just five and six years of age, respectively, when their families migrated. Jaffna-born Rathika’s family moved to Canada in the mid 80s. Both had achieved important milestones in their lives; Rathika is now a Canadian MP, while Nisha, from rural India recently succeeded Robert O Blake as US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia.

Rathika returned to Sri Lanka on an Etihad flight on December 28, 2013 as a Canadian member of parliament representing the New Democratic Party (NDP). Having obtained a tourist visa, Rathika rushed to the Northern Province where she had a series of meetings with representatives of the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK). She is here on a fact finding mission ahead of the next session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March, 2014. Rathika was among those wanting President Mahinda Rajapaksa to address accountability issues during the final phase of the military offensive on the Vanni east front (January-May 2009) or face the consequences in Geneva. She also publicly accepted war crimes allegations made by the UK media outfit, Channel 4 News in June 2011.

Sitsabaiesan was elected to the House of Commons on the New Democratic Party (NDP) ticket at the last parliamentary polls on May 2, 2011.

Canada is home to one of the largest communities of the Tamil diaspora in the world, outside of India, many of whom live in Rathika’s constituency, Scarborough—Rouge River and across the greater Toronto area in general.

The MP was the first person of Tamil origin to be elected to the federal parliament in Canada and a close associate of pro-LTTE activists still propagating Eelam sentiments, though the LTTE remained a proscribed organization in Canada.

The first Indian-American Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Biswal is scheduled to visit Colombo next month ahead of the next Geneva session. Biswal too will raise the issue of accountability for atrocities committed during the final phase of the offensive. It would be the responsibility of the government to remind the two ladies of the circumstances under which neighbouring India destabilized the country, plunging Sri Lanka to a three decades long war. It would be important to establish why Rathika’s family fled her Jaffna. Did the Sitsabaiesans seek asylum in Canada after the deployment of the Indian army in Jaffna on July 29, 1987? Did they suffer at the hands of Sri Lankan forces, the Indian army or over a half a dozen terrorist groups sponsored by India? Was a close relative or relatives involved in Indian sponsored terrorism? It would be of pivotal importance to establish the truth, as the country is under intense scrutiny by a section of the international community.

Those meeting Biswal should have the guts to remind Biswal that she too, wouldn’t have been here on a fact finding mission if her country of birth didn’t intervene. Whatever happens, Sri Lanka must lucidly present its case before the international community.

At the mercy of Indian terrorism

Although a commission appointed by the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga investigated some allegations made by the Tamil community against the Indian army during its deployment in the Northern and Eastern districts, Sri Lanka never conducted a comprehensive inquiry to verify these accusations. The Presidential commission of inquiry into involuntary removals and disappearances wasn’t meant to exclusively investigate atrocities committed by Indian forces, but incidents reported in all parts of the country.

India deployed forces here during the period July 29, 1987 to March 24, 1990. At the height of the war between the Indian army and the LTTE (Oct 1987 to Dec 1989), the Indian strength reached 100,000.

Successive governments ignored the need to probe atrocities committed by Indian personnel. Sri Lanka didn’t have the political will to conduct a proper investigation into the unprecedented Indian destabilization project. Had there been such an investigation, it could have been presented to the international community to explain the circumstances leading to the eelam war. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, too, didn’t have a mandate to go into Indian intervention.

Today, India is demanding Sri Lanka to explain the conduct of its forces during the phase of the Vanni battle (January-May 2009) or face the consequences at the next session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, in March, 2014.

It would be pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka had no jurisdiction over Indian troops as well as Indian police deployed in the then temporarily merged North-Eastern Province in accordance with the Indo-Lanka accord signed on the morning of July 29, 1987 in Colombo. India never dealt with allegations made against its personnel here in an orderly manner. President JRJ’s government was never briefed on actions taken against those accused of atrocities.

In fact, the Indo-Lanka agreement never dealt with the issue of those peacekeepers accused of committing atrocities during their deployment here. Those Indian sponsored Tamil terrorist groups active in the Northern and Eastern districts too, weren’t subject to the law of the land. Accountability hadn’t been an issue at that time. Western powers turned a blind eye to what was happening in Sri Lanka. Tamil politicians too, remained largely silent on the issue of accountability, hence atrocities committed by India and those groups sponsored by India were never investigated. The UNP too, ignored the need to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the allegations directed at Indian personnel, at least after the withdrawal of the Indian army.

Indian forces quit Sri Lanka on March 24, 1990.

Ranasinghe Premadasa, who succeeded JRJ in January 1989 as Sri Lanka’s second executive president never realized the need to investigate the Indian intervention. In spite of being severely critical of India’s conduct Vis a Vis Sri Lanka, Premadasa ignored the pivotal importance of recording events during his predecessor’s tenure.

CBK’s commission

Kumaratunga’s commission comprised attorney at law Mrs Manouri Muttetuwegama (chairperson), retired high court judge P. Balavadivel and retired Commissioner General of Prisons H. G. Dharmadasa. Retired SLAS officer M. C. M. Iqbal functioned as the Secretary to the Commission. The commission was tasked to investigate 10,136 cases of disappearances, a vast majority of them in areas outside the then merged North and Eastern province in the wake of three zonal presidential commissions concluding investigations (Inquiries into some disappearances in north during IPKF regime start tomorrow-The Island March 13, 1999).

Although the commission during its sittings in Jaffna obtained detailed accounts of Indian army involvement in some disappearances, the government never raised the issue with New Delhi. The Muttetuwegama report was never made public as the government felt that it could be detrimental to Sri Lanka’s interests. The government believed controversy over the conduct of the Indian army could hamper its desperate efforts to secure Indian support to combat the LTTE. Secretary to the commission, M. C. M. Iqbal, didn’t mince his words when he explained the delicate situation to the writer on the condition of anonymity at that time (Will IPKF be named in commission’s interim report with strap line Probe into alleged disappearances of persons in Jaffna in 80s-The Island May 1999).

Book on Indian atrocities

Those wanting to haul up Sri Lanka before an international war crimes tribunal, on the basis of ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ series, now have an opportunity to learn all about atrocities committed by the Indian army.

Unlike unsubstantiated allegations propagated by the UK-based Channel 4 News, at the behest of the Global Tamil Front (GTF), a new book titled ‘In the Name of Peace: IPKF Massacres of Tamils in Sri Lanka’ documented violations of the International Humanitarian Laws (IHL).

The book was launched in early April 2011, ahead of the the release of controversial ‘Darusman report.’

The Northeast Secretariat on Human Rights (NESoHR) documented IPKF atrocities In the Name of Peace: IPKF Massacres of Tamils in Sri Lanka which was published by the Delhi Tamil Students Union. The book launch took place at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, under the patronage of the Coordinating Committee for Oppressed Nationalities.

The book launch was followed by the screening of a documentary film, Mullaiththeevu Saga by Someetharan on the alleged atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan military during the final phase of the conflict.

The book focused on 12 massacres carried out by the IPKF, including the Jaffna hospital massacre in October 1987 and the Valveddiththurai massacre.

A. Bimol Akoijam, representing the organizers, Satya Sivaram, an independent journalist and visiting professors, S. Santhosh and Sabir Ahmed spoke at the book launch.

NESoHR was established in July 2004 as part of an overall strategy to promote the Oslo-led peace process, following the April 2004 parliamentary polls and also to highlight excesses by Sri Lankan forces.

The Indian media had largely ignored the NESoHR attack on the IPKF and failure on its part to prosecute members of the Indian military responsible for excesses during their deployment in Sri Lanka (New book targets India over ‘accountability issues’ in Sri Lanka-The Island August 10, 2011).

All those attacking Sri Lanka on accountability issues have been silent on the atrocities committed by the Indian army in Sri Lanka. They had also ignored the fact that these accusations were made by Tamil speaking people. Senior lawyer Gomin Dayasri said: "On Tamil civil casualties there are allegations against Sri Lankan forces and the Indian army. It is ironical that there should be a cacophony of shrieks about the Sri Lankan army and an eerie silence as regards the Indian army. Is it not a case of deliberate fire at a selected target with double standards? Are lives lost by Indian fire irrelevant and harm caused by Sri Lankan fire that needs to be accounted for? Is it that India can do no wrong and only Sri Lanka violated international humanitarian laws?"

Dayasri said: "Name a country that asks for an inquiry targeting India over the years. If asked, would India comply?" (Accountability issues: Why focus only on GoSL?-Gomin –The Island August 13, 2011).

A daunting challenge in Geneva

For want of a cohesive strategy, the war winning Rajapaksa administration too, hadn’t been able to counter an expensive international propaganda campaign directed against the government. The government needs especially to counteract various negative statements attributed to Indian politicians, who played politics at the expense of Sri Lanka. A damaging statement issued by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi some time after the conclusion of the conflict is a case in point.

On December 22, 2010, Gandhi criticized Sri Lanka’s rehabilitation, reconstruction and re-settlement efforts in the post-war era.

Voicing concern over the Sri Lankan government ‘not doing enough’" for the Tamils there, Gandhi said he would ensure that they get justice.

"We are concerned that enough is not being done for Sri Lankan Tamils by the government there," Gandhi said, during a brief interaction with a group of intellectuals in Chennai.

Gandhi was quoted as saying that he would take up the matter with "appropriate persons" at the Centre and see that Sri Lankan Tamils received justice.

Sri Lanka needs to establish India’s culpability and perhaps a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) may help the government to present its case. Although many opposed the establishment of the TRC as recommended by the government of South Africa, it would be advantageous to Sri Lanka if the proposed body received the required mandate to examine the conflict. In fact, the TRC could help Sri Lanka to prove that there wouldn’t have been a war in the first place if not for Indian action. The LLRC as well as the US-led resolution moved in Geneva with the backing of India against Sri Lanka has been silent on the Indian factor.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Accountability for Male invasion Gayoom assassination bid

War Crimes charge: Urgent need for reappraisal of GoSL’s response


Coup leader Abdulla Luthufee is pictured among Indian troops soon after the collapse of PLOTE attack

By Shamindra Ferdinando

With the next session of the
Geneva-based United Nations
Human Rights Council (UNHRC)
session three months away, The
Island intends to discuss what Sri
Lanka’s response to unsubstantiated
war crimes allegations should
be as well as the government’s failure
to exploit the ‘ground situation’
for want of a cohesive strategy.

Accountability had never been an issue in Sri Lanka until the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) brought the LTTE down to its knees on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon in May 2009. Until then the international community as well as those who had been loudly singing for their supper, both here and abroad, weren’t bothered about accountability issues. In fact, those who had been involved in a spate of peace initiatives, including the government of Norway responsible for the last bid (Feb 2001-April 2003), conveniently overlooked the contentious issue of accountability.

Successive Sri Lankan governments, too, ignored the need to examine the issue thoroughly. The incumbent government should have appointed a commission with a mandate to examine the entire gamut of issues, including accountability as soon the SLA finished off the LTTE on the Vanni east front. Sri Lanka should have invited the international community to facilitate the investigation.

Those threatening President Mahinda Rajapaksa to address accountability issues before the next United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in March, 2014 or face dire consequences had never sought at least an explanation from India as regards it responsibility for causing death and destruction in Sri Lanka. Having sponsored over a half a dozen terrorist groups in Sri Lanka, India is now pushing for an independent investigation into war crimes along with its Western allies, who turned a blind eye to massive fund raising projects to acquire arms, ammunition and equipment.

The PLOTE factor

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as recommended by the government of South Africa should examine the entire range of issues, including an unprecedented attempt by the People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) to assassinate the then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to pave the way for a Colombo based Maldivian businessman Abdulla Luthufee to take over the government. Luthufee may never have had the opportunity to militarily challenged Gayoom without the PLOTE support. At the time, the PLOTE launched the operation during the first week of Nov. 1988 it operated under the guidance of the Indian army as well as the intelligence services deployed in Sri Lanka. The PLOTE carried arms and ammunition provided by the Indian military. In fact, it was one of the groups extremely close to Indian intelligence services and the beneficiary of both weapons as well as funds. Did somebody within the Indian intelligence community know about the PLOTE operation? How PLOTE preparations for Male operation did go unnoticed? And most importantly, what would have happened if the coup attempt succeeded? None of those seeking to establish the circumstances under which the SLA cleared the last pockets of LTTE resistance on the Vanni east front were bothered about regional instability and uncertainty caused by Indian action. The UN, the EU as well as the Commonwealth didn’t even issue statements highlighting the crisis caused in Male due to Indian interference in Sri Lanka. Instead, India was praised for saving democracy in the Maldives by swiftly responding to the sea borne raid mounted by Sri Lankan terrorists. Had the terrorists succeeded, there would have been a bloodbath leading to a protracted conflict. Strangely the security crisis caused by Sri Lankan terrorists had never been an issue at international forums, particularly because the government in Male was sensitive to India’s concerns. The bottom line was Gayoom didn’t want to embarrass India. The then Sri Lankan President JRJ’s government too, largely remained silent for reasons best known to the UNP leadership.

The PLOTE was among terrorist groups invited by India to participate at Thimpu deliberations in the latter part of 1985. The Thimpu confab held under the auspices of New Delhi was meant to dilute the sphere of the Tamil United Liberation Front’s (TULF) influence particularly in the Jaffna peninsula and to pave the way for a grand alliance among terrorist groups namely the PLOTE, Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), LTTE, Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS) and the TULF. The assassination of two TULF stalwarts, both former MPs, in September 1985 by TELO at the behest of Indian intelligence services should be closely examined in case Sri Lanka was compelled to undertake a wider investigation into accountability issues.

Saving Gayoom the Indian way

India never conducted an investigation into its intervention here hence the Maldivian episode was never investigated. Had Sri Lankan terrorists killed Gayoom, those sponsored by India would have claimed the lives of two Presidents. Instead of taking responsibility for failing to thwart the PLOTE operation, the Indian navy claimed credit for saving the Gayoom’s administration. The Indian media talked in glowing terms of the operation code-named ‘Operation Cactus’ to save Gayoom. The Indian navy pointed out that success of ‘Operation Cactus’ prompted The TIME magazine to feature the Indian Navy on its cover, hailing it as the ‘the Next Military Power.’

The TIME magazine didn’t even mention that the PLOTE was one of the Indian trained groups working on the ground under direct Indian army supervision. The PLOTE raiding party included eighty men originally trained by Indian instructors to engage Sri Lankan forces. The Indian navy which proudly declared its role in the crackdown never explained how two 40 feet long trawlers carrying 40 men each managed to leave Mollikulam under its nose on the night of Oct 29, 1988 to reach Male at 4.30 am on Nov 3, 1988.

In case Sri Lanka and South Africa agree on a mechanism to inquire into the conflict, it would be of pivotal importance to probe the Maldivian affair. The Commonwealth ignored the Male raid, was a member, though the UK is pushing for a war crimes investigation targeting Sri Lanka. Perhaps, the UK move would give Sri Lanka an opportunity to place all facts before the international community as well as the media. The government shouldn’t shun the chance to accountability on the part of those who had been only interested in the final days of the Vanni offensive.

In an exclusive interview with the writer in October 2011, Luthufee revealed how he finalized the project after having a series of discussions with the then PLOTE leader Uma Maheswaran. According to him, they had been discussing the operation since the deployment of the Indian army in Sri Lanka in July 1987. Luthufee revealed that his personal relationship with Maheswaran made the unprecedented operation possible. However, Maheswaran didn’t take part in the raid leaving a senior Indian trained cadre in charge of the mission. Luthufee and another Maldivian joined the mission. (The Island published three articles; Male plot leader speaks out Nov 3, 2011,Rajiv saved us from Gayoom Nov 4, 2011 and How Luthufee moved SAARC venue from Male to Addu)

On July 16, 1989, Maheswaran was shot dead in Colombo. The police never managed to establish motive for the assassination though some believed his decision to take up Luthufee’s assignment may have led to his death.

PLOTE-JVP relationship

The government should realize the necessity to record facts to prevent propagation of lies, in some instances, inadvertently. Ikram Sehgal, Publisher and Chief Editor, Defence Journal, Karachi, wrongly blamed the EPRLF (Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front) for the raid on Male. The accusation was made at a presentation made in Colombo on Feb 23, 2005, jointly organized by the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad and Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) Sehgal’s statement meant that even 17 years after the attack on Male, the identity of the perpetrators could still be mixed up. Sehgal alleged that 200 EPRLF cadres had been involved in the operation, while speculating on the possibility of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) being aware of Luthufee’s adventure. Citing swift Indian intervention in support of Gayoom, Sehgal asserted that India could have allowed the raid to take place to secure the Maldivian president’s confidence. But that allegation has never been substantiated.

There had never been a similar attempt by terrorists in any part of the world. Those who had examined the Sri Lankan conflict never really took the Maldivian factor into consideration though it is an issue the global community couldn’t ignore. Had the PLOTE operation succeeded, the fate of Male would have been different. A destabilized Male could have been a cause for concern in the entire region. The crisis caused by Somali pirates compelled the international community to establish a multinational naval force to neutralize the threat. Just imagine two terrorist groups, the LTTE and the PLOTE having the capacity to launch maritime operations in the region. The LTTE remained active on the high seas until the Sri Lankan Navy eradicated its fleet in a series of operations. (The swift destruction of four of the eight vessels sunk by the SLN was made possible by US intelligence.)

Today, the PLOTE is a key constituent of the five-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) now running the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) led by Chief Minister Wigneswaran. The TNA comprises of Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) and three former terrorist groups, the TELO, EPRLF and PLOTE.

Strangely both the Indian and Sri Lankan governments acted as if the PLOTE didn’t do anything wrong. The PLOTE went to the extent in training some Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) cadres to launch landmine attacks. The first mine attack was mounted on the morning of July 21, 1988 at Kapparathota in the Weligama electorate.

The writer and staff photographer Jude Denzil Pathiraja were the first journalists from Colombo to visit the scene of the attack. The JVP had targeted a convoy of vehicles carrying a group of UNP Southern Provincial Council members to Galle. Those standing near the scene of the blast alleged that it could have caused deaths among students of the nearby Sangananda Kapparathota Vidyalaya. Fortunately, there hadn’t been any children on the narrow road when the targeted convoy passed the spot.

The blast took place in the wake of the then President JRJ placing the security in the entire Southern Province comprising the districts of Galle, Matara and Hambantota under the army. It would be pertinent to know that Maheswaran couldn’t have unaware of the liaison with the JVP, though top PLOTE military commander Mannikkadasan was widely believed to be responsible for helping the JVP. A series of JVP landmine attacks sent shock waves through the military. The JVP-PLOTE project meant that the Indian intervention could have had far reaching consequences. Had the JVP mastered mine warfare, the southern insurgency could have taken an entirely different mode, especially after the outbreak of eelam war II on the night of June 10, 1990. The military couldn’t have coped with the JVP if it had the capacity to restrict mobile and foot patrols as Tamil terrorist did by using a range of mine. Tamil groups utilized ordinary landmines as well as radio controlled devices and claymore mines which caused massive destruction.

For some strange reason, the government failed to examine the relationship between the PLOTE and the JVP. In fact, the Indian intervention had a debilitating impact not only on the Northern and Eastern districts but other areas as well. The then UNP government should be congratulated for wiping out JVP terrorism within three years, though it failed on the northern front. The swift destruction of the JVP thwarted a possible long term alliance between the JVP and the PLOTE which could have had caused a major security crisis in the South.

Now that the international community is demanding Sri Lanka to explain its conduct of its forces on the Vanni east front, the government should seek to establish the conduct of all Indian trained terrorist groups and funding networks. The proposed TRC should examine the culpability of India as well as of those who had turned a blind eye to a regional bully terrorizing a country for what one-time Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit asserted was India’s national security interests.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

War Crimes charge: Urgent need for reappraisal of GoSL’s response

The road from New Delhi to Nanthikadal



With the next session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session three months away, The Island intends to discuss what Sri Lanka’s response to unsubstantiated war crimes allegations should be as well as the government’s failure to exploit the ‘ground situation’ for want of a cohesive strategy.

 By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka’s celebrated war time General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 58 Division, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva was deprived of a slot at the United States War Army War College (USAWC) in Pennsylvania on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes, allegations/accountability issues during the third week of the ground offensive directed at the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in May 2009 on the Vanni east front.

The Gajaba Regiment veteran was accused of ordering troops under his command to execute surrendering LTTE cadres and their families at the behest of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

The US ignored a statement made in June 2011 by the then Defence Advisor in Colombo, Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith that there had never been an offer to surrender on the part of the LTTE during the final phase. The State Department dismissed the declaration on the basis that it was the personal opinion of the officer. But strangely, the same administration took punitive measures against Maj. Gen. Silva, currently Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative in New York, on the basis of unproven allegations. Silva holds ambassadorial rank.

It would be pertinent to mention that Lt. Col. Smith wouldn’t have made that statement lightly as he was responding to retired Indian Maj Gen. Ashok K. Metha at a security confab in Colombo. Maj. Gen. Metha, who had served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka during the 1988-89 period, was a participant at the annual event. In fact, Metha had posed the question as regarding battle front atrocities to Maj. Gen. Silva, though Lt. Col. Smith responded.

The US was acting on the basis of what is widely called the Leahy Law or Leahy Amendment, introduced by Patrick Leahy in 1997. The Leahy Amendment envisaged denial of military assistance to countries or at least specific units responsible for alleged atrocities unless tangible measures were taken against the perpetrators of violations.

Acting on the same allegations, Canada recently deprived ambassador Silva of a visa to attend a function there.

Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias who commanded the 57 Division on the central front tasked with liberating Kilinochchi was recently denied an Australian visa over accountability issues. Having taken over the newly raised 57 Division which had been struggling on the war front in early 2007, Dias gave inspiring leadership to the formation.

SLA targeted

Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe too, was twice denied the opportunity to join US sponsored programmes for commanding the 53 Division. The US ignored the fact that Maj. Gen. Ranasinghe was given the command of the fighting formation some time after the end of the conflict. In fact, Maj. Gen. Ranasinghe of the Engineers hadn’t commanded any of the Divisions or Task Forces involved in eelam war IV during the Sept 2006-May 2009 period. Maj. Gen. Ranasinghe came under the category of those affected by the Leahy Law.

Due to Tamil Nadu protests, India doesn’t want to accommodate Sri Lankan military officers at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington.

The US and its allies are bent on punishing the Sri Lankan military for finishing off the LTTE. Interestingly, India, which laid the groundwork for terrorism here is among those countries demanding that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government address accountability issues.

India’s culpability should be studied in the backdrop of the recent conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes against humanity.

Western powers welcomed the decision against Taylor.

Taylor was convicted in April 2012 on 11 counts for crimes committed during the neighboring Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war and subsequently sentenced to 50 years in prison.

The Prosecutor of the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). Brenda J. Hollis applauded the court’s decision to uphold the conviction of Taylor. SCSL’s Appeals Chamber upholding the convictions and sentencing of Taylor, the first former head of State to be convicted for war crimes by an international criminal tribunal since Nuremberg in 1946.

Also welcoming the judgment was the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, who declared that the decision clearly affirmed that no one was above the law. "This verdict is a milestone for the accountability of those who use child soldiers, and another warning to warlords and military commanders that child recruitment will not go unpunished.

Ms. Zerrougui’s office noted that the use of child soldiers was extensive in the conflict in Sierra Leone. "Children under the age of 15 had been used to actively engage in armed combat, and were also recruited and used to amputate limbs and to perform auxiliary duties such as manning checkpoints, guarding diamond mines, going on food-finding missions and acting as bodyguards," Zerrougui said in a statement.

With the US, UK as well as India demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lanka, it would in the best interest of the government to revisit the issue.

Gandhi betrayed

Could the government of India absolve itself of responsibility for the massive death and destruction caused in Sri Lanka due to its intervention? One time Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit in his memoirs titled ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun to Yashwant Sinha’ called the Indian project India’s involvement in Sri Lanka from 1980-1990.

It would be of pivotal importance to study what various Indian political, military as well as foreign office spokespersons said before the conclusion of the conflict on the banks of Nanthikadal lagoon in May 2009. Due to weakness on the part of successive Sri Lankan governments, including the incumbent administration, the country is overwhelmed by negative media coverage. Let me remind you of what one time Commander of the Indian Army in Sri Lanka, Maj. Gen. Harkirat Singh revealed in his sensational book ‘Intervention in Sri Lanka.’ Singh alleged that Dixit, in his capacity as the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, ordered him twice to kill LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran even before the outbreak of large scale hostilities between the Indian Army and the LTTE on Oct 8, 1987. Having consulted his superior, Overall Force Commander (OFC) Lt. Gen. Depinder Singh, Harkirat had declined to carry out the directive. He quoted Dixit as having told him: ‘He (Rajiv Gandhi) has given these instructions to me and the Army should not drag its feet, and you the GOC, IPKF will be responsible for it."

The author said that had this order came from the military chain of command and if implemented, history may have been different. India deployed troops on July 29, 1987. The last troops left Sri Lanka on the morning of March 24, 1990.

Interestingly, the conduct of the Indian army was never subject for an investigation. India never examined circumstances leading to the deployment of its army here, though the Tamil community accused Indian forces of large scale atrocities. India simply ignored allegations while accusing the LTTE and the Diaspora of propagating lies to bring the Indian military to disrepute. India alleged that ‘Satanic Force’ –two large volumes of LTTE material was nothing but propaganda. "There were more than 1,000 affidavits, mostly in Tamil, with names and addresses, narrations of cases of women raped and killed by the Indian army, of men tortured and butchered. It would make anyone shed tears," the Indian media quoted K. Ragothaman, the CBI’s chief investigating officer who interrogated some of the key suspects involved in the Gandhi assassination, including Santhan, Murugan and Perarivaian.

Silence of the int’l community

At the height of the Indian offensive action against the LTTE, the Indian army deployment consisted of four full divisions in the temporarily merged North-Eastern Province backed by Mi-24 helicopter gunships and main battle tanks. India deployed helicopter gunships as well as main battle tanks at a time Sri Lanka was not even thinking of acquiring such armaments. The Indian army routinely carried out reprisals, targeting civilians in the wake of LTTE attacks. The massacre of nearly 70 men, women and children at Valvettiturai in early August 1989 sent shock waves through the Tamil community. It wasn’t an isolated case. Although Western diplomatic missions in Colombo were aware of what was happening under Indian army occupation, no one even bothered to take it up. The British, Canadian and Australian missions remained silent. The US wasn’t bothered. In fact, the UN, EU as well as the Commonwealth turned a blind eye to what was going on in predominately Tamil areas.

Sri Lanka should make an effort at least now to establish the number of Tamil, Muslim as well as Sinhalese civilians killed due to Indian army action. It would be important also to ascertain the number of LTTE cadres killed by the Indian army and the number of persons perished due to operations undertaken jointly by the Indian army/intelligence services with Tamil groups led by the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). And the government should also strive to establish the number of Tamil youth killed as a result of battles between the LTTE and the Tamil National Army (TNA), created by India to prop up the then NE Chief Minister Varatharaja Perumal’s administration. India caused a catastrophe here. For want of comprehensive investigation, New Delhi’s murderous role had never been examined, nor presented to the international community. Sri Lanka should seriously consider preparing a full dossier on the conflict and present it to the international community. Wouldn’t it be necessary to establish the number of youth killed during the training conducted for Sri Lankan youth in India, those who had drowned while crossing the Palk Straits to receive training as well as returning from training? Sri Lanka should seek India’s help to established the identities of those who had been killed in India due to attacks carried out by the LTTE during the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Siddarthan on RAW project

Those wanting Sri Lanka to address accountability issues are strangely silent on the need to examine India’s culpability. Unfortunately, successive Sri Lankan governments too, had failed to take up the issue. Unlike the unsubstantiated allegations propagated by the UK media outfit, Channel 4 News and Channel 4 on the basis of claims made by nameless persons, serious accusations were made by those who once closely worked with India as regards New Delhi’s responsibility. PLOTE leader Dharmalingham Siddarthan, in an interview with the writer alleged that the premier Indian Intelligence Agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), ordered the assassination of his father, former MP Visvanather Dharmalingham and his colleague ex-MP Alalasundaram on Sept 2, 1985. Siddarthan, now a member of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) said that the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) killed them at Thavady, in Manipay. However, two other former TULF MPs living in Vadamaratchchy escaped death as the TELO leader in charge of the area, Das refused to carry out the RAW directive (My mother prepared thosai for us with strap line Prabhakaran was a regular visitor to our house-The Island Dec 7, 1997).

Siddarthan asserted that RAW targeted the TULF to deprive the people of Jaffna of the political leadership in accordance with overall Indian strategy. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) will help Sri Lanka to establish the extent of New Delhi’s ‘role’ here as well as the failure of the international community to stop the Indian project. The proposed TRC should be mandated to investigate the entire gamut of issues. Let India make representations to TRC. Wouldn’t it be necessary to discuss Siddarthan’s claim that RAW ordered the assassination of four TULF MPs living in Jaffna in September 1985 and Maj. Gen. Harkirat Singh claim that Dixit, on behalf of the then premier Rajiv Gandhi ordered him to finish off Prabhakaran in September 1987. Those pushing for the setting up of TRC before the next session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva next March should go the whole hog, without seeking to investigate a week of a three decade long conflict.

Let me stress that sponsoring terrorist groups in a friendly country is a violation of the norms of international laws as well as of the values that Indian foreign policy was meant to uphold. Sri Lanka should never permit New Delhi to rationalize the unprecedented deviation through a moral argument.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Culpability of states which have subscribed to terrorism

SPECIAL REPORT : The road from Nanthikadal to Geneva : Part 2


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry swears in Nisha Desai Biswal as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on November 21, 2013. [State Department photo]

 By Shamindra Ferdinando

Having succeeded Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert O’ Blake recently, an American of Indian origin Nisha Desai Biswal declared that the US and its friends across the international community had underscored the need for Sri Lanka to make progress on issues of reconciliation, on issues of accountability and issues of human rights or face the consequences.

Blake was America’s wartime ambassador in Colombo (Sept 2006 –May 2009). He moved to Colombo from New Delhi where he was No. 2 at the diplomatic mission.

Ms Biswal was addressing the media in Washington on Dec. 4.

The first ever Indian-American to hold the post, Ms Biswal didn’t mince her words when she warned the Sri Lankan government that unless real progress was made, particularly on the issues of accountability, the patience of the international community would start to wear thin.

Addressing a distinguished gathering at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department on Nov. 21, 2013 after the swearing in of Ms Desai as Robert O’Blake’s successor, US Secretary of State John Kerry said, "Think about the message that we’re sending today, which I’m excited about: The story of a woman who left a small town in India at the age six, to come to America and now as become one of the most important leaders in the Department of State."

Instead of vowing in both in and outside parliament that the government wouldn’t bow down to international pressure, those responsible for formulating Sri Lanka’s response to war crimes allegations should closely examine the issue of ACCOUNTABILITY. The government needs to remind those pushing for an international war crimes tribunal that ACCOUNTABILUTY issues couldn’t be examined in isolation. It would a grave mistake on the part of the government to scrutinize the entire range of issues in the run-up to the next session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. For want of cohesive strategy and negligence, the country had been overwhelmed by a relentless international propaganda campaign. Had Sri Lanka failed on the war front, none of those demanding that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government addressed ACCOUNTABILITY issues would have bothered to take up the separatist eelam war at international forums. That is the bottom line.

Before discussing the war crimes issue further, it would be pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been able to bring the war to a successful conclusion in two years and nine months (Sept 2006-May 2009) without the US helping the SLN to locate four LTTE floating arsenals on the high seas. The US offered tangible help following the then Navy Chief Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda briefing Blake regarding the need for urgent action against the LTTE. The LTTE never recovered from the loss of four ships loaded with arms, ammunition and equipment in September and Oct 2007.

Shocking failure to exploit Dhanapala’s advice

One of the most prominent international diplomats produced by Sri Lanka, Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala discussed the issue of ACCOUNTABILITY when he appeared before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission on Aug. 25, 2010. The correspondent was fortunate to be present at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies where Dhanapala made his presentation (Intl. laws shouldn’t apply to conflicts between States and terrorist groups with strap line …calls for a review of Rules of War-The Island August 26, 2010). Although it was perhaps the most important submission made before the LLRC, the government didn’t make use of Dhanapala’s effort. Western and the civil society organizations couldn’t have ignored the statement attributed to Dhanapala on the issue of the controversial Responsibility to Protect (R2P) concept. Let me reproduce verbatim what one-time head of the SCOPP (Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process) Dhanapala told the LLRC headed by former Attorney General C.R. de Silva. Having recollected the circumstances under which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the R2P concept at its 60th summit in September 2005, Dhanapala emphasized the pivotal importance to expand that concept with regard to the issue of ACCOUNTABILITY. The former UN under Secretary General said: "Now I think it is important for us to expand that concept to bring in the culpability of those members of the international community who have subscribed to the situation that has caused injury to the civilians of a nation. I talk about the way terrorist groups are given sanctuary; are harbored, ; are supplied with arms and training by some countries with regard to neighbors or with regard to other countries. We know that in our case, this has happened, and I don’t want to name countries, but even countries who have allowed their financial procedures and systems to be abused in such a way that money can flow from their countries in order to buy arms and ammunition that caused the deaths, maiming and the destruction of property in Sri Lanka are to blame and there is therefore a responsibility to our civilians and the civilians of other nation states from that kind of behavior on the part of members of the international community …" Dhanapala went to the extent of calling for a new set of rules as the IHL didn’t address a situation a conventional army had to battle terrorists (Dhanapala calls for a new set of rules with strap line The rules of war as they exist do not meet today’s requirements-The Island September 6, 2010).

Unprecedented case of Charles Taylor

The government needs to revisit Dhanapala’s submissions especially in the backdrop of former Liberian President Charles Taylor being sentenced to serve a 50-year jail term for sponsoring terrorism in neighboring Sierra Leone, a long standing member of the Commonwealth. The 65-year-old Taylor was sentenced by the UN backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. The verdict was upheld in The Hague. He was sentenced on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The court declared that Taylor in his capacity as President of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, provided arms and ammunition to terrorists in neighboring Sierra Leone. During proceedings, much to the embarrassment of the US, Taylor revealed his close relationship with US security authorities and his extraordinary escape from the maximum security Plymouth Country Correctional Facility in Massachusetts in November 1985 with the help of US agents. The revelation was made in July 2009. The escape took place several days before an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the then Liberian government was made with the support of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Taylor told the tribunal.

Dixit on Indian intervention in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka could never have finished off the LTTE during eelam war IV (Sept 2006 to May 2009) without India’s blessings. Although India made a desperate attempt to arrange a ceasefire as the Sri Lankan Army (SLA was closing in on the LTTE formation’ on the Vanni east front, the government couldn’t have brought the ground offensive to that stage if India intervened much earlier. But Sri Lanka would never have been plagued by terrorism if not for Indian intervention. Shoojit Sircar’s ‘Madras Café’ discussed the Indian intervention here leading to the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur near Chennai by an LTTE suicide woman cadre on May 21, 1991.

Former Indian High Commissioner in Colombo J.N. Dixit who retired with the rank of Foreign Secretary, faulted former Premier Indira Gandhi for intervening in Sri Lanka. Dixit in his memoirs titled ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’, asserted that Indian intervention here was one of two foreign policy blunders made by Premier Indira Gandhi.

Dixit said, "The two foreign policy decisions on which she could be faulted are: "her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Whatever the criticisms of these decisions, it cannot be denied that she took them on the basis of her assessments about India’s national interests. Her logic was that she couldn’t openly alienate the former Soviet Union when India was so dependent on that country for defence supplies and technologies. Similarly, she could not afford the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils. These aspirations were legitimate in the context of nearly fifty years of Sinhalese discrimination against Sri Lankan Tamils. In both cases, her decisions were relevant at the point of time they were taken. History will judge her as a political leader who safeguarded Indian national interests with determination and farsightedness."

With the next Geneva session scheduled for March 2014, it would be necessary for decisions makers here to peruse Dixit’s memoirs. Perhaps make one available to the new Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Ms Biswal to help her understand the crisis caused by the then Indian political leadership. She should be able to comprehend the catastrophe caused by India, the country of her birth.

Perhaps Sri Lanka’s policy makers never really understood India’s decision to intervene here. Sri Lanka will have to pay an extremely heavy price for the failure of those in authority to have a cohesive defence in the face of mounting international pressure. India sponsored over a half a dozen terrorist groups targeting the then President JRJ’s government in accordance with its security policy. The Indian operation was meant to thwart the US project involving Pakistan and Israel. Unfortunately, successive governments had failed to examine the logic in India fomenting terrorism here, and hence failed to counter anti-Sri Lanka propaganda. Those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal unless President Rajapaksa addressed human rights, ACCOUNTABILITY and reconciliation issues had conveniently forgotten the Indian role. India, due to domestic political compulsions, threw its weight behind a US sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka in Geneva. Recent electoral losses suffered by the incumbent Congress administration at the hands of the BJP will compel it to appease Tamil Nadu further.

Dixit explained lucidly New Delhi’s decision to destabilize Sri Lanka. The outspoken diplomat said that India had no option but to take measures due to Sri Lanka’s evolving security connections with the US, Pakistan and Israel. Dixit stressed that India’s motivations as well as actions Vis-a-Vis Sri Lanka should be analysed in the context of the regional as well as global political, security and economic environment during the 1980-1984 period. Dixit went on to allege that the US and Pakistan exploited the rise of Tamil militancy to create what he called a politico-strategic pressure point against India in the island nation.

Need for a Truth Commission

Sri Lanka is now under pressure to accept a South African proposal to establish a Truth Commission to inquire into the conflict. Those backing the SA move are of the opinion that an agreement on the establishment of a truth Commission can subdue the push for an international war crimes tribunal. Perhaps a Truth Commission or whatever one calls such a mechanism, can help Sri Lanka to prove the culpability of those who had sponsored terrorism here. In case Sri Lanka and South Africa can reach agreement on the proposed Truth Commission, it should be given a mandate to fully investigate the national issue leading to eelam war IV. Such a commission can help prove that Sri Lanka would never have had to transform its ceremonial army to a lethal fighting force if not for the LTTE wiping out a routine army patrol made of troops of the first battalion of the Sri Lanka Light Infantry (1 SLLI) in Jaffna in July 1983.With Dixit publicly admitting Premier Gandhi had authorized ‘active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants’those interested in establishing ACCOUNTABILITY should seek to establish the circumstances leading to the unprecedented coordinated attack on the 1 SLLI. The LTTE operation was meant to provoke the poorly trained army as well as the Sinhalese. India and LTTE succeeded in their attempt. The rest is history.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Act now or face the consequences

SPECIAL REPORT : The road from Nanthikadal to Geneva : Part 1


With the next session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session three months away, The Island intends to discuss what Sri Lanka’s response to unsubstantiated war crimes allegations should be as well as the government’s failure to exploit the ‘ground situation’ for want of a cohesive strategy.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lankan government reacted angrily to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s ultimatum that the failure on its part to initiate what he called a credible investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the Army during the final phase of the offensive on the Vanni east front would prompt him to move the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), against Sri Lanka in March next year.

The British Conservative leader issued the challenge on Nov. 16 after having met President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo. Cameron was keeping his much publicised promise given to the UK based Tamil Diaspora groups; namely the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), British Tamil Forum (BTF) and Tamils against Genocide, at a meeting on Nov. 7.

Cameron didn’t mince his words when he told a packed media conference at the BMICH (Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall) that Sri Lanka, in spite of being at the helm of the Commonwealth for the next two years would have to face the consequences if the government ignored the British ultimatum.

Cameron deprived local journalists of an opportunity to pose questions to him. Instead, he invited British, Australian and one Indian journalist to direct questions at him. A representative of a local private television station too, was allowed to direct a ‘full toss’ at him.

UK bashing won’t help GoSL

As anticipated, the state-run media lambasted Cameron, recalling atrocities committed by British forces over a period of time in various parts of the world, including Sri Lanka and Northern Ireland. The local media also harped on the UK’s failure to release the long awaited Sir John Chilcot report on the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. But such a campaign will not prompt the British to change its strategy. Such a project will be nothing but an excise in futility. The government needs a reappraisal of its strategy.

In the backdrop of the British ultimatum, it would be pertinent to reexamine the entire gamut of issues relating to the war crimes charge with the focus on ACCOUNTABILITY and the RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT (R2P) concept.

The government would have to rethink its strategy within the next few months. Those responsible for formulating the government’s response should keep in mind that repeating the success of the post- war recovery process and the status of national reconciliation in accordance with the recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) wouldn’t blunt a high profile Geneva offensive. Although it would be of pivotal importance to repeat Sri Lanka’s unprecedented post-war achievements, the government couldn’t afford not to develop a fresh strategy. The decision makers would have to take a new look at the contentious issues of ACCOUNTABILITY as well R2P. Nothing could be as important as reexamining all information available to the government before formulating Sri Lanka’s response. The failure on the part of the government to counter those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal could cause a debilitating setback on the diplomatic front.

‘Support change’ in Sri Lanka

Before discussing the options available to the government, it would be important to realise that the British had been far more hostile towards Sri Lanka than the US though the latter moved a resolution targeting Sri Lanka at the last Geneva sessions. Although a reluctant India too, had to throw its weight behind the US-led resolution, the British fired the first salvo targeting Sri Lanka at the Geneva session. The British statement went to the extent of calling for a regime change in Sri Lanka. On behalf of the Conservatives-led UK coalition, the Foreign Office Minister responsible for the human rights portfolio, Jeremy Browne, called for UN intervention in Sri Lanka to ‘SUPPORT CHANGE’ in Sri Lanka. Browne said: "We, as UN member states, must take our human rights obligations seriously, and where states fail, the institutions of the UN should act and support change. Such actions are what makes the council an effective human rights body, able to scrutinise states’ compliance with their obligations and offer technical assistance," ( UK for IN intervention to ‘support change" in SL with strap line UNHRC chief pushes for new mechanism to tackle uncooperative governments-The Island of Feb 28, 2012).

With parliamentary elections scheduled for the early part of next year, India will have no option but to support the joint UK-US-EU initiative in Geneva next March. That is the bottom line. They will go on the offensive whatever the measures taken by the government to appease the five- party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), now in control of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC). The government mustn’t forget that for those pushing for war crimes inquiry there are certain ‘push factors’ though they pretended their exercise is meant to address the grievances of the Tamil speaking people living in Sri Lanka.

The accountability issue here is nothing but an excuse for them to pursue their own agendas. The Conservative Premier Cameron’s motive for playing politics with the issue cannot be different from that of former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is on record as having told a London based US embassy official how he spent a two thirds of his time on Sri Lanka to appease the Tamil electorate. Similarly, India too is influenced by the Tamil Nadu factor, hence Sri Lanka can expect major political parties to take an extremely hostile approach in the run-up to Geneva.

US plan goes awry

The US seems bent on teaching Sri Lanka a lesson for ignoring US pressure to stop the Vanni offensive. The US, India as well as the UK and France demanded a ceasefire on the Vanni east front during a crucial stage of the offensive. President Rajapaksa insisted he wouldn’t accept anything but an unconditional surrender. The US probably felt humiliated and thus wanted to bring the Sri Lankan leadership to its knees.

The US strategy suffered a major setback due to the man who led the victorious army General Sarath Fonseka breaking ranks with the Rajapaksas to challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January , 2010 presidential election. The Sinha Regiment veteran had inadvertently jeopardised the US game plan.

Fonseka’s move should be examined in the backdrop of former US ambassador in Colombo Patricia Butenis categorising President Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Gen. Fonseka as well as Economic Affairs Minister Basil Rajapaksa as war criminals (US diplomatic cable originating from Colombo on January 15, 2010). Butenis alleged that President Rajapaksa and General Fonseka were largely responsible for war crimes. Subsequently, the US sided with General Fonseka and went to the extent of calling him a political prisoner. The US invited General Fonseka for diplomatic functions, where he was seen with former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who criticised the conduct of the army during the final assault on the LTTE.

Can the US drop General Fonseka from the original list of alleged war criminals? Did the TNA’s shocking decision to back General Fonseka, when they accused of causing irreparable harm to the Tamil community, at the presidential election too, influenced the US decision? (TNA backs Fonseka, The Island January 7, 2010). Ambassador Butenis called General Fonseka a war criminal just a week after the TNA declared its support to the tough talking soldier. The TNA joined the UNP led campaign to propel General Fonseka to the presidency. Interestingly, the TNA made its announcement in parliament. The UNP had absolutely no qualms about backing the war veteran whom it accused of ordering the killing of The Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in January 2008. Senior UNPer Joseph Michael Perera alleged in Parliament that a special unit controlled by General Fonseka was responsible for attacks on journalists.

The US, TNA as well as UNP owed an explanation to Sri Lankans and the UNHRC as regards their mind-boggling change of position. Various Tamil Diaspora groups too, should explain their position as regards the war crimes probe.

Shocking US statement

For want of an effective approach and the lethargic attitude of a section of officialdom, the government pathetically failed to take advantage of some critically important developments. Nothing can be as shocking as Sri Lanka’s failure to exploit an astounding statement made by war-time US Defence Advisor in Colombo Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith a little over two years after the killing of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon (Now, US suspects credibility of LTTE surrender offer-The Island, June 3, 2011).

Those responsible for countering unsubstantiated war crimes allegations totally ignored the controversial statement attributed to the US official.

Addressing a Defence Symposium in Colombo on June 1, 2011, Lt. Col. Smith questioned the very basis of the allegation that the Army had executed a group of surrendering LTTE personnel and their families on the Vanni east front. Much to the surprise of those present at the symposium, the US official stressed the need to examine the credibility of the alleged attempts made by Kumaran Pathmanathan aka ‘KP’ as well as Nadesen (in charge of LTTE ‘Police’) to facilitate a surrender of LTTE leaders. He declared that the surrender offers he was aware of seemed to have come from those who had nothing to do with the command of the LTTE fighting cadre on the ground.

Interestingly, Lt. Col. Smith was responding to a query posed by retired Indian Major General Ashok Kumar Metha to the then General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the celebrated 58 Division, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva. Metha’s query was meant to harass the army top brass and he probably wouldn’t have raised the query if he had known that Lt. Col. Smith was going to make a statement detrimental to a high profile anti-Sri Lanka project.

Lt. Col. Smith, who had been in Colombo since June 2008, declared that the likes of ‘KP’ and Nadesen had no real authority over the LTTE, in spite of being the group’s mouthpieces.

US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner swiftly dismissed the statement attributed to Lt. Col. Smith on the basis that it was his personal opinion. Toner couldn’t have said anything contrary, especially in the wake of his predecessor P.J. Crowley being forced to quit for being critical of the treatment of Wiki Leaks suspect, Badley E. Manning.

Could the UN ignore the statement made by Lt. Col. Smith? It wouldn’t be fair to dismiss his statement on the basis that he was at the symposium as an observer. What matters is the US official questioned the very basis of the allegations directed at Sri Lanka, therefore the government should take up the issue with those pushing for a war crimes probe.

The haste and the circumstances under which the US State Department rejected a US embassy official assessment was nothing but shocking in the backdrop of its readiness to take unsubstantiated allegations made by nameless persons.

Why would the US dismiss such valuable opinion if the Obama administration is keen to establish the truth?

To be continued on Dec 11