Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A contradictory US diplomatic cable from Colombo

How the media influenced Blake to believe P’karan, 300 terrorists committed suicide on the night of May 16/17



The army invited Defense Advisors/Attaches of seven countries, from USA, UK, Japan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Maldives to visit the Vanni in December 2008 ahead of the successful assault on Kilinochchi. The visitors represented three of the Co-Chairs to the Norwegian-led peace process, namely the USA, UK and Japan. Among the group was US Defence Advisor, Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith. The group is pictured receiving a briefing at a military base in the Vanni. 
(Pic courtesy SLA hq)

by Shamindra Fedinando

Since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, the Sri Lankan government has spent a colossal amount of taxpayers’ money to counter war crimes allegations directed against the leadership, political as well as the military.

Expensive foreign PR firms have engaged in unsuccessful propaganda campaigns on behalf of the government of Sri Lanka. The foreign PR projects were in addition to the government’s own initiatives, both here and abroad. The passage of US led resolution 25/1 in March meant that government efforts have pathetically failed and the administration is now under investigation. The resolution paved the way for the appointment of a team of investigator under the leadership of Ms Sandra Beidas, formerly of the London headquartered Amnesty International.

Sri Lanka’s decision not to cooperate with the UN investigation team, will not have a bearing on its final report scheduled to be revealed at the 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) next March. Sri Lanka will have to face the consequences in spite of New Delhi strongly opposing the investigative mechanism. In fact, India’s criticism of what it called an intrusive mechanism is irrelevant as as far the Western block seeking a regime change here is concerned. Having backed two previous resolutions moved by the US in 2012 and 2013, India skipped the vote this year.

With the recent appointment of an International Advisory Panel (IAP) to the Presidential Commission to investigate cases of alleged disappearances of persons in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, the government should re-examine the entire gamut of issues. The government shouldn’t hesitate to closely study projects undertaken by foreign PR firms on its behalf. Consequent to the broadening of the scope of the Presidential Commission’s mandate, it is of pivotal importance to thoroughly examine the entire range of accusations, as well as Sri Lanka’s response. Sir Desmond de Silva functions as Chairman of the IAP which comprises Sir Geoffrey Nice and Professor David Crane. The three-member Presidential Commission, comprises Maxwell Parakrama Paranagama (Chairman), Mrs. Suranjana Vidyaratne and Mrs. Mano Ramanathan.

For want of a cohesive strategy, the government didn’t even realize the need to study the Wiki Leaks revelations pertaining to Sri Lanka’s conflict, though the Norwegians did, probably for entirely a different reason. Last week, the writer discussed a confidential discussion the then Geneva based US ambassador Clint Williamson had with ICRC head of operations for South Asia, Jacque de Maio on July 9, 2009 as regards war crimes allegations. If not for whistle blowing Wiki Leaks, we wouldn’t have known what transpired at the discussion. In a cable dated July 15, 2009 originating from the US mission in Geneva, Williamson quoted de Maio as having said: "...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."

The ICRC official declared that military actions on the Vanni front didn’t amount to genocide. Sri Lankan government or those PR firms on the payroll of the government never cited the ICRC official, though there couldn’t have been a better statement than the Wiki Leaks cable to counter accusations of genocide. The UNHRC couldn’t have ignored that particular statement attributed to de Maio now in charge of ICRC operations in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

A secret US diplomatic cable

from Colombo

Many secret diplomatic cables authorized by war-time US ambassador in Colombo Robert O. Blake is now in the public domain, though the government never made an attempt to analyze them. Had there been a real effort, the government could have had a better defence in the face of unsubstantiated allegations.

Perhaps one of the most important cables authored by ambassador Blake dealt with desperate Norwegian efforts to arrange a ceasefire agreement meant to facilitate a mediated surrender of the remaining LTTE terrorists trapped on the Vanni front. Ambassador Blake revealed his attempts to convince Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the then Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama to ensure a mediated surrender as well as maximum restraint on the part of the military.

Ambassador Blake’s missive, authored perhaps two or three days before troops gunned down LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon should be studied with a statement made by wartime US Defence advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith at the first Defence Seminar in Colombo organised by army headquarters, in early June 2011.

The US official questioned the authenticity of surrender offers made by various persons on behalf of the LTTE as the fighting cadre was about to collapse. The soldier was responding to a query posed by retired Indian Army officer Maj. Gen. Ashok Metha to General Officer Commanding the celebrated 58 Division, Maj Gen. Shavendra Silva.

Lt. Col. Lawrence said: "Hello, may I say something to a couple of questions raised. I’ve been the defence attaché 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."

Lt. Col. Smith obviously didn’t believe in what his own ambassador’s assertion that the LTTE wanted to surrender. In fact, the US embassy in Colombo unwittingly revealed that those who had sought to arrange a ceasefire, in fact, had no control over what Lt. Col. Smith described as the the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE.

Let me reproduce verbatim what the US ambassador said about LTTE giving up arms. Captioned LTTE pitches surrender, it was part II of a long cable, which discussed several relating issues. "Norwegian ambassador Hattrem called Ambassador (Blake) late evening May 16 to report that he had received a phone call from Selvarasa Padmanathan (KP) stating that the LTTE were prepared to surrender without conditions to a neutral third party. Ambassador called ICRC head of delegation Paul Castella, who said he had been in conversation with the government of Sri Lanka and that ICRC staff were prepared to go into the conflict zone by military helicopter. Castella said that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had agreed to the arrangement, but first wanted the names of the LTTE leaders who were prepared to surrender. Despite helpful efforts from Norway and SCA Acting DAS Owen, the LTTE has yet to provide such a list."

Obviously, KP had failed to secure Prabhakaran’s blessings for his efforts. If KP had received Prabhakaran’s consent, he could have provided a list of names of those wanting to surrender to Defence Secretary Rajapaksa through Castella. In fact, Castella could shed light on the situation on the ground as the government had allowed the ICRC international staff to visit the war zone though other foreign agencies were deprived of that opportunity. Consequent to the Vanni east not being accessible overland due to fierce fighting, the ICRC/World Food Programme (WFP) moved essential supplies by sea beginning February 10, 2009 and also evacuated the wounded from war zone to Pulmoddai. The lCRC suspended the operation on May 9, about a week before KP made his offer to the Norwegians. The bottom line is that ICRC international staff went into the war zone for the last time on May 9. The LTTE had an opportunity to negotiate with the ICRC during the February 10-May 9 period. There is no doubt that even KP was aware of the ICRC operation.

Sea Tiger leader Thillaiambalam Sivanesan alias Soosai  wouldn’t have allowed his wife, Satyadevi and children to make an attempt to escape by sea on May 14, if there was the slightest chance of having the international community working out a truce. Satyadevi was the sister of Satyanathan, the first LTTE cadre to die at the hands of the army on Nov 27, 1982. The LTTE observed the day as Great Heroes Day, an annual event until 2008.

Wounded LTTE fighting cadre denied treatment at Pulmoddai

During February 10-May 9, 2009 operation, the ICRC evacuated over 14,000 wounded and their relatives from Puthumathalan to Pulmoddai. Only Castella or those ICRC foreign staff who went ashore during that period helped ascertain whether the LTTE made an attempt to surrender through the ICRC. The Secretary General’s Panel of Experts’ on Accountability in Sri Lanka obviously had received help from the ICRC. According to the PoE’s report released on March 31, 2011, the LTTE leadership prevented the ICRC from evacuating wounded LTTE cadres. The PoE said: "In all, the ICRC evacuated 14,000 wounded persons and their relatives from the second and third no fire zones and delivered around 2,350 metric tons of food to Mullaivaikkal. Those evacuated were all civilians, as the LTTE did not permit its cadres to leave the conflict area for treatment (page 32/point number 108). Those evacuated to Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee received treatment from a special Indian medical delegation.

The US embassy cable that dealt with KP’s move, also discussed other issues, including Prabhakaran and senior cadres committing suicide on May 16. Obviously, the US embassy took reports on mass suicides seriously. Otherwise, the mission wouldn’t have felt the need to inform the State Department of the possibility. The US embassy quoted Toronto-based Tamil journalist D.B.S. Jeyaraj as having said: "Speculation is rife among knowledgeable circles in Colombo that Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is no more among the living. It is widely believed that the 54- year- old Tiger supremo who was born on November 26, 1954 has committed suicide along with more than 300 of his deputies and senior cadres in the Mullivaaikal area of Karaithuaipatru division in Mullaitivu district."

Having acknowledged that it couldn’t independently verify Jeyaraj’s claim, the embassy said that the speculative report appeared to be based on several large explosions heard from inside the small LTTE controlled area on the night of May 16-17.

The Colombo based diplomatic community believed anything. The US embassy was no exception. They obviously fashioned their policy on the basis of assessments made by those who propagated what some diplomatic missions wanted to hear. In an article titled War in Wanni: Why the Tigers are down but not out published by a section of the local press on December 20, 2008, Jeyaraj asserted that as the armed forces found LTTE defences impregnable they gained territory mainly due to superior tactical maneuvering. Having asserted that of some 4,000-4,500 cadres killed in eelam war IV, 3,000-3,500 were inexperienced young fighters, Jeyaraj declared that Prabhakaran held in reserve the greater or best part of his fighting formations. The veteran columnist declared that the ‘finest and fittest’ were being preserved for use at a later stage. Asserting that Prabhakaran had as many as 50,000 cadres to face troops advancing on multiple fronts, Jeyaraj described 25,000 to 30,000 as ‘fighting fit.’ Those categorized as fighting fit included 12,000 to 15,000 well trained experienced cadres. Referring to severe damages caused by the Sri Lankan navy to the LTTE’s sea supply line, Jeyaraj indicated that the LTTE may have restored the supply line. "In recent times there seems to have been a marked improvement in procuring supplies. This in turn is reflected in the battlefield where Tigers are raining shells and firing off myriad rounds. This means that either the Tigers have streamlined their supply modes again or those agencies that were helping Sri Lanka to restrict Tiger supplies are letting the LTTE off the hook or a combination of both."

The Sri Lankan military proved Jeyaraj wrong ten days later. Troops liberated Paranthan before overrunning LTTE defence line at Elephant Pass and then smashed through Prabhakaran’s Kilinochchi defences. Troops fully secured Kilinochchi by January 1, 2009. The loss of Paranthan, Elephant Pass and Kilinochchi within days meant that the LTTE no longer retained the capability to defend its bases on the Vanni east front. Although the LTTE realized the pathetic ground situation it was facing a section of the diplomatic community obviously believed in the theory propagated by Jeyaraj. Had they realized the gravity of the situation, they would made an earlier bid to arrange a ceasefire between the warring parties. Both the army and the LTTE could have avoided thousands of deaths if Western powers managed to arrange a ceasefire to pave the way for the LTTE to surrender. But as long as they felt that the LTTE could somehow turn around the situation, they choose to ignore the carnage. KP’s move to arrange a ceasefire made in the late hours of May 16, 2009 apart of being too late, lacked the support of Prabhakaran.

Front-line fighting formations lost a staggering 2,350 officers and men on multiple fronts during January-May 19, 2009. A further 70 personnel were categorized as missing in action. Deaths due to other reasons other than combat during the same period were placed at 334. Thousands received injuries. The losses suffered on the Vanni east front during the first five months of 2009 were over 100 per cent when compared with battlefield losses of the previous year. For the whole of 2008, the SLA lost 2,174 killed and 43 missing in action.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

How the ICRC exonerated SLA from genocide charge

War crimes: The relevance of a secret US missive from Geneva




Maj Gen. Shavendra Silva, commanded the much celebrated 58 Division on the Vanni front. Currently functions as Sri Lanka’s No 02 in New York.

by Shamindra Ferdinando

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) much to the surprise of those wanting to blame the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) for the bloody end to the conflict 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 released through whistle-blowing Wiki Leaks 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.

Had the LTTE not resumed the war in early August 2006, leading to its eventual battlefield defeat in May 2009, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been discussed extensively in US diplomatic cables, primarily originating from Colombo. But there had been references to Sri Lanka in diplomatic cables originating from New Delhi as well as London. But perhaps, the most important cable relevant to Sri Lanka originated from Geneva soon after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka never exploited the situation to its advantage. Surprisingly, even five years after the war the government is yet to examine all available information to counter accountability issues. Had there been a cohesive effort on the GoSL’s part, it could have successfully challenge war crimes accusations, including genocide, targeting the Vanni population.

If not for U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, who was sentenced in August 2013 to 35 years in a military prison for turning over more than 700,000 classified files to Wiki Leaks in the biggest breach of secret data in the US history, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have known what was happening behind the scenes.

Manning was working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2010 when he gave WikiLeaks a trove of diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts that included a 2007 gunsight video of a U.S. Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people including two Reuters news staff.

A US diplomatic cable

from Geneva

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 mulch-pronged 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 that 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."

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know whether this particular cable had been examined by the Norwegian funded inquiry conducted by the CMI and SOAS. The Ambassador also quoted de Maio as having said that the Sri Lankan military was somehow responsive to accusations of violations of international humanitarian law. The Sri Lankan military was also open to adapting its actions to reduce casualties, but only to the extent that it wouldn’t undermine its overriding military objective to destroy the LTTE, de Maio was quoted in the secret US cable. Now that Norway had accepted US diplomatic cables could help establish the situation in war-time Sri Lanka, perhaps the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) inquiring into alleged atrocities committed here too, should examine the US diplomatic cables.

It would be pertinent to mention that the Jacque de Maio had unhindered access to war zone information from the ICRC mission in Sri Lanka. The Secretary General’s Panel of Experts’ on Accountability in Sri Lanka too, acknowledged that the ICRC maintained a permanent ground presence at Puthumathalan, east of Kandy-Jaffna A9 road until February 10, 2009. Although, the international ICRC staff at Puthumathalan were evacuated on February 10, 2009, in a ship deploy to rescue wounded civilians, they returned and stayed onshore for several hours every time the ships came back. Altogether, 16 evacuations were carried out between February 10, 2009 to May 9, 2009, according to the UN panel. The war ended ten days later. The writer had an opportunity to observe the ICRC operation from an SLN Fast Attack Craft (FAC) deployed off Puthumathalan. On board the FAC were the then Captain Noel Kalubowila, the Commanding Officer of FAC squadrons and SLN media spokesman, Captain D.K.P. Dassanayake, temporarily posted there.

The SLN made arrangements to hand over those evacuated from Puthumathalan to an Indian medical team based at Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee in accordance with an agreement between India and Sri Lanka. India would be able to explain to UN investigators the circumstances under which the medical team accommodated the wounded as well as categorize those who received treatment from them. For some strange reason, the Sri Lankan government hadn’t bothered to get in touch with the Indian team.

Front-line fighting formations lost a staggering 2,350 officers and men on multiple fronts during January-May 19. A further 70 personnel were categorized as missing in action. Deaths due to reasons other than combat during the same period were placed at 334. Thousands were injured. The losses suffered on the Vanni east front during the first five months of 2009 was over 100 per cent when compared with battlefield losses in the previous year. For the whole of 2008, the SLA lost 2,174 killed and 43 missing in action. Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative in New York and the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the celebrated 58 Division, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva told the writer that the Sri Lankan military had the wherewithal to decimate the LTTE in a far shorter period if not for the human shields. "We paid a heavy price for being mindful of the civilian presence among the LTTE cadres. Restricted use of long range weapons as well as air support on the Vanni east front caused a quite a bit of problems."

Responding to a query, the Gajaba Regiment veteran said that none of those giving vastly different figures as regards deaths among civilians are strangely silent about the losses suffered by the LTTE fighting cadre.

The army lost 784 personnel in 2006, 571 in 2007, 2,174 in 2008 and 2,350 during the first five months of the conflict.

Maj. Gen. Silva, who holds ambassadorial rank, said that it would be important to establish the losses suffered by the LTTE during those four years as an attempt was now being made to portray all dead as civilians.

A surprising response

from Geneva

Unlike faceless and nameless sources/witnesses quoted by the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts’ on Accountability in Sri Lanka in its report released in September 2011, the US cables provide authentic assertions/statements attributed to responsible government officials, which can be verified. The writer recently sought an explanation from OHCHR spokesman, Rupert Colville as regards the UN position on Wiki Leaks. Colville declined to answer the following question: would Wikileaks cables that dealt with the situation here (August 2006-May 2009) originating from the US embassy in Colombo, New Delhi and London be considered as evidence (Post-war study undertaken by the Norwegian government also examined WikiLeaks cables pertaining to Sri Lanka. The Norwegian report titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009 revealed the examination of WikiLeaks.) The Norwegian report too was released in September, 2011.

The following questions submitted to the OHCHR through the UN mission in Colombo too, went unanswered. The Island wrote:

Now that the UN investigation on accountability issues in Sri Lanka during Feb 2002-May 2009 is underway, The Island, would like to clarify some matters with the UNHRC spokesperson.


(1) Against backdrop of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) denying UN investigators as well as the three-member panel an opportunity to visit the country, would you seek access to those who had provided information to the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka. (According to the Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka released on March 31, 2011, the panel received over 4,000 submissions from more than 2,300 persons- point number 17/page 5 of the report).

(2) Would you request the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts to declassify its records to facilitate your investigation (According to the report issued on March 31, 2011, records wouldn’t be available for examination for a period of 20 years- 20 years from March 31, 2011- point number 23/page 6 of the report).

(3) As the US resolution adopted at the last session of the UNHRC in March, 2014, was largely based on the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, would UN investigators examine the evidence/information available to the Panel of Experts?

(4) Would you take into consideration the hitherto ignored report prepared by The United Nations Country Team during the conflict? The report that dealt with the ground situation from August 2008 to May 13, 2009 placed the number of dead (including LTTE combatants) at 7,721. The report estimated the number of wounded at 18,479. (The war ended less than a week after the UN stopped collecting data due to the intensity of fighting- point number 134/page 40 of the report).

(5) The UK media outfit, Channel 4 News in its first documentary that dealt with eelam war IV alleged that 40,000 civilians perished during the last phase. The Channel 4 News allegation was made in June 2011. However, various persons and human rights organizations have given vastly different figures with British Labor Party MP Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden-Labour) declaring in September, 2011 that 60,000 LTTE cadres and 40,000 Tamils died during January-May 2009. However, a special Amnesty International report titled When will they get justice: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission issued in September 2011 estimated the number of civilian deaths at 10,000. Would you summon UK MP McDonagh and Amnesty International representatives as well as the Channel 4 News team to establish the number of deaths on the Vanni front? 

(6) In the run-up to eelam war IV in August 2006, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people; hence the political grouping encouraged the LTTE to go on the offensive. Senior TNA members attended passing out parades of child combatants during the Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement. Would UN investigators speak to TNA leaders regarding their culpability? (The EU Election Observation Mission in Dec 2001 alleged that the TNA benefited from LTTE terror at the Dec 2001 parliamentary polls).

Obviously, the OHCHR is unwilling to examine Wiki Leaks as well as the report prepared by the United Nations Country Team during the conflict. It would be the responsibility of the government to take up these issues vigorously even if didn’t want to cooperate with the ongoing investigated launched in accordance with resolution 25/1. The government should take tangible measures to expose OHCHR’s approach inimical to Sri Lanka. The forthcoming three-day Defence Seminar titled Sri Lanka: Challenges faced by a rising nation can be a platform to present counter arguments. Sri Lanka will not have another opportunity before the OHCHR presented an oral update at the 27th sessions in Geneva in September 2014. Regrettably, officialdom seems clueless as regards to the importance and the relevance of Wiki-Leaks revelations as well as the secret UN report.

(More on Wiki Leaks next week)

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

How many civilians really perished on the Vanni front?



by Shamindra Ferdinando

The media recently received a missive from Brigadier K. J. Jayaweera, Director, Media at Army Headquarters announcing the dates for a Defence Seminar 2014 titled Sri Lanka: Challenges faced by a rising nation. According to Brigadier Jayaweera, the three-day seminar (August 18-20) will discuss matters of national, regional and international security et al.

Can there be a bigger challenge than the ongoing war crimes investigation undertaken by the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner at the behest of Western powers? Sri Lanka faced formidable challenges, countering war crimes allegations directed against the political and military leaderships. In the backdrop of the government’s decision to boycott the investigation, the August seminar can be used to address specific allegations. The country will face a catastrophic situation unless tangible action is taken to provide comprehensive answers to accountability issues raised by the UN. The August seminar can be a platform for a successful counter offensive, but only if those in authority closely examine the allegations directed at the government. There is absolutely no point in talking about resettlement or rehabilitation of ex-LTTE cadres or the reconciliation process.

At the first Defence Seminar held in early June 2011, two years after the conclusion of the conflict, the then US Defence Advisor in Colombo Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith gave Sri Lanka the required ammunition to blast those making wild allegations against Sri Lanka. Lt. Colonel Smith questioned the very basis of allegations, including the execution of surrendering terrorists directed at the Sri Lanka Army. The US official was responding to a query posed by retired Major General Ashok K. Mehta, formerly of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) deployed in Sri Lanka to Major General Shavendra Silva, the first General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the celebrated 58 Division. A highly embarrassed US State Department had no option but to declare Lt. Colonel Smith wasn’t representing the US at the seminar. Surprisingly, the government never exploited the statement made by the US military officer, who was stationed here during the entire Vanni offensive. The government didn’t even realize that Lt. Colonel Smith made the statement nearly two years after the conclusion of the conflict and two months after the release of the Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts’ on Accountability in Sri Lanka.

The US embassy man couldn’t have been unaware of the report and the then US ambassador, Patricia Butenis categorizing President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Economic Affairs Minister Basil Rajapaksa as war criminals in a confidential diplomatic cable originated from the US mission in Colombo.

Can India save Sri Lanka from the ongoing war crime investigation? Will Indian Premier Narendra Modi risk upsetting President Barack Obama by trying to derail a major US initiative meant to undermine President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government? Perhaps the most important question is whether India can influence the outcome of the high profile probe.

The Sri Lankan government seems convinced that Modi’s India will come to Sri Lanka’s rescue at the September and March 2015 sessions at the Geneva based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The government is obviously of the opinion that India’s decision to miss the vote on the US-led resolution 25/1in March this year and vote against a specific paragraph seeking to send a UN investigation team here can influence the inquiry, and hence save the government of Sri Lanka.

Indo-Lanka talks

In the immediate aftermath of External Affairs Minister, Prof. G. L. Peiris’s third visit to New Delhi last week, a section of the media asserted now that India was solidly behind Sri Lanka nothing could go wrong in Geneva. The media quoted Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin as having said that India not only abstained at the vote on the Geneva resolution but voted against a specific paragraph seeking to send a UN team to Sri Lanka to probe excesses committed by the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE during eelam war IV.

India voted twice against Sri Lanka in 2012 and 2013, though it missed the vote last March.

Unfortunately, whatever the public sentiments expressed by Indian politicians and officials, India is powerless as far as the UN investigation targeting Sri Lanka is concerned. That is the reality. India’s refusal to cooperate with the UN on this issue cannot impede the investigation in anyway, hence the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) can portray itself as a friend of Sri Lanka, while the investigation continues. But Sri Lanka seems to think otherwise. In fact, India’s perceived opposition to the ongoing probe, as well as Sri Lanka’s refusal to cooperate, will be irrelevant. The bottom line is that Sri Lanka’s decision not to cooperate with the investigation will surely help those trying to cause a regime change in Sri Lanka. The government, for some strange reason, has chosen not make an effort to prove unsubstantiated war crimes allegations made in the Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts’ on Accountability in Sri Lanka wrong. Sri Lanka’s decision, in fact, will make things easier for UN investigators, who will basically endorse allegations contained in the Panel of Experts’ report released on March 31, 2011.

The Panel of Experts, in its executive summary alleged that tens of thousands lost their lives from January to May 2009, many of whom died anonymously in the carnage of the final few days. The panel categorized the following as the five main violations committed by President Rajapaksa’s government: (1) killing of civilians due to heavy shelling (2) systematic attacks on hospitals and other civilian targets (3) denial of food, medicine and other essential items to the Vanni population (4) violation of human rights of those who had survived the war, including LTTE cadres and (5) violations committed outside the war zone, including suppression of the media.

Essentially, the panel endorsed Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, a documentary produced by the UK media outfit, Channel 4 News. The panel referred to ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ on more than one instance, thereby giving credence to both Channel 4 News as well as its work.

It would be pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka’s refusal to cooperate with the UN allowed the panel to produce a highly damaging report. In spite of having the wherewithal to counter allegations, the government preferred to ignore the panel. Instead, the government launched a counter offensive to discredit the panel as well as recollect crimes committed by the LTTE. It didn’t realize that the panel didn’t have any interest in shielding the militarily defeated LTTE. Had the LTTE survived the final onslaught and had been removed to safety to some overseas haven as some Western powers envisaged, at one stage, the panel wouldn’t have taken such a harsh position on the LTTE. The eradication of the LTTE leadership made things easier for the panel. It was able to take a common stand on the issue of accountability when dealing with the government and the LTTE.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which once recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people didn’t utter a word in defense of the LTTE. The TNA silently accepted the panel’s accusations directed against the LTTE. The TNA is obviously happy that the panel conveniently ignored the TNA’s close relationship with the LTTE, as well as the moral support given by the five-party alliance to Velupillai Prabhakaran’s terror campaign.

The panel accused the LTTE of (1) using civilians as a human buffer between its cadres and the advancing army, (2) killing those attempting to flee the rapidly shrinking area under its control (3) deployment of military equipment in close proximity to civilians (4) deployment of children for combat operations (5) forced labour (6) launching suicide attacks on civilians fleeing the area under its control.

The government should realize though it had rejected the Channel 4 News allegations, the UN panel had accepted them, including the main accusation that as many as 40,000 civilians perished on the Vanni east front. In fact, this is the main accusation among five allegations contained in the executive summary of the panel’s report. Let me reproduce the relevant section verbatim (point number 137 in the report): "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 could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is still 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."

But strangely, the panel has recommended that the identities of those who had provided information to the group shouldn’t be revealed for 20 years since the day of the reports release. Even after that, the release of such information is subject to declassification review. The writer is awaiting a response from the Office of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, after having raised the issue with regard to the confidentiality clause over a week ago. In fact, it should be a priority for the ongoing UN investigation to verify various claims made by different parties.

Nothing can be as important as establishing the number of dead in the wake of various persons/organizations making varying claims as regards the loss of civilian life. It is of equal importance to establish the period now called as the final phase. Does the final phase consist of the last three days, five days, final two weeks or January 1 to May 19, 2009.

Different claims

* British Labor Party MP Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden-Labour) told the House of Commons in September, 2011 that 60,000 LTTE cadres and 40,000 Tamil civilians perished during January-May 2009 at the hands of the Sri Lankan military. She is the only one to make a specific reference to the number of LTTE cadres killed during a certain period. Obviously, the British MP categorized the January-May 2009 period as the final phase of the conflict. The British High Commission declined to respond to query from the writer regarding the MP’s claim. The MP didn’t even respond to ‘The Island’ query regarding the same. The UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) asserted that it couldn’t request the British MP to answer ‘The Island’ query, when the writer contacted the UK based GTF spokesman Suren Surendiran.

The truth is, even if deaths since the mid ‘80s, among those who had fought for the LTTE as well as all other Tamil terrorist groups sponsored by India at one time is taken together, it cannot come near the 60,000 figure. Don’t forget that the LTTE lost hundreds of cadres fighting the Indian army during its deployment here (July 1987 to March 1990). Some Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists died in a failed attempt to overthrow the democratically elected Maldivian government in November 1988.

The government parliamentary group didn’t at least respond to the Labour Party MP’s allegation. The SLFP-led UPFA should be ashamed of its failure to challenge such a blatant lie. UPFA constituents played politics with the issue. None of them had the courage nor the capacity to pressure the government to adopt a realistic approach.

In February, 2012, MP McDonagh teamed up with Australian Green Senator Lee Rhiammon to recommend the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the Channel 4 News team responsible for ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.’

*In September, 2011, the London headquartered Amnesty International, in a special report titled ‘When will they get justice?: Failures of Sri Lankan’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission placed the number of civilian deaths at 10,000. "Amnesty International’s conclusions, derived independently from eye witnesses testimony and information from aid workers, are that at least 10,000 civilians were killed; that the LTTE used civilians as human shields and conscripted child soldiers; that the Sri Lankan army shelled areas it knew were densely populated by civilians; and that people trapped by fighting suffered severe and avoidable deprivation of food and medical care."

The government failed at least to point out the discrepancy in various figures quoted by the UN panel and Channel 4 News (40,000 civilians), MP Siobhan McDonagh (40,000 civilians and 60,000 LTTE cadres) and Amnesty International (10,000), all during 2011.

Instead, the government hired expensive foreign PR firms which did nothing to counter the lies. Tax payers’ money is being squandered on foolish projects without undertaking a cohesive examination of all facts to pave the way for a robust defense.

*In fact, the UN is still holding back a confidential report prepared by its mission during the conflict for obvious reasons. The UN as well as those Western powers wanting a regime change in Sri Lanka realize that the release of the UN report which dealt with the situation on the Vanni front August 2008 to May 13, 2009 can jeopardize its strategy. Interestingly, the UN panel refused to accept the report prepared by those who risked their lives on the front while accepting unsubstantiated allegations made by interested parties. The UN report estimated the number of dead and wounded at 7,721 killed and 18,479 wounded, respectively. The UN report said that it couldn’t counter the number of dead and wounded only after May 13, 2009. The war ended six days later.

The government should urge the UN to release information collected by an internal crisis group established in early 2009 to gather information relating to civilian deaths. The government’s first priority should be to effectively dispute unsubstantiated allegations as regards civilian deaths. That would be the key to Sri Lanka’s defence. Unlike Channel 4 News and others engaged in a campaign to vilify Sri Lanka, the confidential report can reveal the circumstances under which deaths occurred on the Vanni front, on a daily basis for 10 months.

Sri Lanka’s defence at Geneva entirely remains the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka. It will have to mount its defence, after closely examining the allegations.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Comparing Operation ‘Cast Lead’ with Vanni humanitarian mission

Accountability issues: The relevance of Israeli experience




by Shamindra Ferdinando

Hillel Neuer, an executive director of UN Watch and Marissa Cramer, a Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fellow also at UN Watch, in a joint Op-ed titled A case study in UN hypocrisy in the National Post (Canada) in its July 17, 2009 edition compared war crimes allegations faced by the governments of Israel and Sri Lanka.

They compared ‘Operation Cast Lead’, - a 22-day Israeli offensive launched on Dec 27, 2008, aimed at destroying those firing rockets from the Gaza Strip into the Jewish state and the last phase of the Sri Lankan assault (January -May 19, 2009) on the LTTE on the Vanni east front.

The report that dealt with Gaza issued in September 2009, is officially called the ‘United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict,’ but it is widely called the ‘Goldstone Report’ after the former South African jurist. The Gaza Fact Finding Mission comprised four persons. The dossier on the Vanni war is called Report of ‘The Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability’ in Sri Lanka. It was released in March 2011. The panel on Sri Lanka comprised three persons.

The writers alleged that the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) created a fact-finding mission to justify its pre-determined conclusion that Israel was guilty of massive human rights violations. Having accused the UN body of targeting Israel, the duo alleged that Sri Lanka was completely left off the hook.

The UNHRC earned the wrath of Neuer and Cramer for adopting a resolution put forward by Sri Lanka at a special UNHRC session on Sri Lanka in the immediate aftermath of the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. The then Sri Lankan ambassador in Geneva, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka spearheaded the successful diplomatic campaign. The Resolution titled ‘Assistance to Sri Lanka in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights’ received 29 votes in support, 12 against and six abstained. The Foreign Ministry dubbed it Sri Lanka’s greatest diplomatic victory (How the Geneva vote was won-The Island May 29, 2009).

The writers analyzed a particular UNHRC session that dealt with Israel in January 2009 and the one on Sri Lanka in late May same year. They said: "At first glance, the conflicts this year in Israel and Sri Lanka appear similar. In the backdrop of territorial disputes, both countries fought terrorist groups that target civilians and use them as human shields, and in both cases, innocent civilians became casualties."But if one examines their actual conduct, the two cases are different.

First, according to The Times of London, the death toll of civilians in Sri Lanka is more than 20,000. By contrast, even according to Palestinian figures, the toll in Gaza was approximately 1,000 – meaning that Sri Lanka killed over 20 times more civilians." Second, Israel undertook extensive measures to prevent harming civilians while fighting in a densely-populated region, using leaflets and personal telephone calls to warn civilians to seek shelter. According to British Colonel Richard Kemp, no military in history had ever taken greater precautions. Sri Lanka, by contrast, never claimed to do any of this. And while Israel made humanitarian pauses every day, Sri Lanka failed to do so, and shelled civilians trapped in its self-proclaimed ‘no-fire zones.’ Third, while Sri Lanka cracked down on journalists and doctors who dared to publicize the government’s actions against civilians, Israel tolerated vehement criticism every day in newspapers, the Knesset and from pro-Palestinian NGOs.In sum, the war-time actions by Sri Lanka were far worse than that of Israel. Yet, at the council, it was Israel that got slammed and Sri Lanka praised."For some strange reason, Sri Lanka never examined/compared offensives undertaken by its military and that of Israel, though various interested parties compared the two situations at the expense of Sri Lanka. Israel as well as many experts compared the two situations over the past six years. Regardless of being always supportive of Sri Lanka during the conflict, Israel never hesitated to exploit Sri Lanka’s dilemma to its advantage. Israel cannot be blamed for seeking to advance the interests of its own.

Israel proposed to send a combined UN and WHO team to Sri Lanka to investigate the conduct of the Sri Lankan military, the day before LTTE leader Prabhakaran was killed on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. The move was made on May 18, 2009, the first day of the five-day meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva at the WHO headquarters. The Israeli delegation at the conference declared that Sri Lanka too, should be subjected to an inspection similar to the one carried out in the Gaza strip. Leader of the House and former Health Minister, Nimal Siripala de Silva told the writer how the Israeli delegation demanded action against Sri Lanka, in spite of its longstanding support to the Sri Lankan armed forces (Israel in shocking move demands probe on Lanka-The Island May 26, 2009).

Colombo-based correspondent of The New Indian Express, P.K. Balachandran, recently quoted Dr. Jayatilleka as having said: "The UN fact finding mission on the Gaza conflict had only one person – Richard Goldstone – but the inquiry panel on Sri Lanka is a troika. It is very strong, and  heavily front-end loaded."

The Lankan panel has Martti Ahtisaari (former President of Finland, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and an international expert in peace building); Dame Silvia Cartwright (former Governor General of New Zealand and a judge in the Cambodian war crimes court), and Asma Jahangir (a leading Pakistani lawyer and a former holder of several UN human rights mandates).

With a UN probe on Sri Lanka now underway, it would be pertinent to examine the Gaza probe as well as accusations made by Hillel Neuer and Marissa Cramer, targeting Sri Lanka.

On the basis of The Times of London reportage of the conflict in Sri Lanka, they estimated the number of civilian deaths over 20,000, whereas placing the number of Gaza deaths at 1,000. They asserted that Sri Lanka killed over 20 times more civilians. As earlier mentioned, this allegation was made on July 17, 2009. In September, two years later, Amnesty International estimated the number of civilians killed at 10,000. It would be important to mention that the Amnesty International report titled ‘When will they get justice?: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ was issued six months after the Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka. For want of a cohesive action plan, Sri Lanka pathetically failed to counter propaganda, at least to point out the discrepancies in various figures quoted by those wanting to punish the country.

Let me examine the three points raised by Neuer and Cramer in their over zealous bid to paint a bleak picture of Sri Lanka. What they conveniently failed to mention was significant.

They compared the loss of civilian lives in Gaza (1,000 dead) and Vanni (20,000 dead). But they forgot to mention that the Israeli offensive lasted just 22 days, whereas the Sri Lankan army fought continuously from August 2008, until the collapse of the LTTE’s conventional fighting formations in May 2009. LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed on the morning of May 19, 2009. The Sri Lankan offensive gradually pushed enemy fighting formations from the Vanni west to Vanni east across the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road. Israeli losses were negligible, when compared with the dead and wounded suffered by the Sri Lankan army. The writers ignored the fact that the Israeli army lost 10 personnel and 340 wounded during the entire offensive, whereas the Sri Lankan Army paid a very heavy price on the northern front. According to Sri Lankan military spokesman, Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya, the army lost 2,350 officers and men during January-May 19, 2009 on the Vanni front. During the same period, seven personnel were placed as missing in action. A further 334 personnel died during the same period, though their deaths were not due to combat. Brig. Wanigasooriya, who had played a crucial role in defending the conduct of the army during the conflict, told the writer that the losses suffered during less than five full months in 2009 was evidence of the ferocity of enemy resistance on the Vanni east front. The military spokesman said: "Let me compare the losses suffered during 2008 and 2009 (January to May 19, 200). During 2008, the army lost 2,174 personnel while 43 were categorized as missing in action. A further 279 died due to various other reasons also during the same year." Brig. Wanigasooriya declined to compare the situations faced by the Israeli army and the Sri Lankan army. "But we always value the excellent support and advice provided by successive governments of Israel since the 80s. Israel always stood by Sri Lanka during difficult times."

Neuer and Cramer totally ignored a range of measures taken by Sri Lanka to protect civilians trapped on the Vanni front. Like Israel, Sri Lanka too, allowed selected journalists, including some Indians to join frontline fighting formations. Among them were Colombo based Indian journalists, included the then Press Trust of India (PTI) correspondent based in Colombo. Had the writers bothered to get in touch with the ICRC and the government of India, they could have easily obtained data on wounded civilians and their relatives evacuated by sea (from February 10, 2009 to May 9, 2009). Under the supervision of the ICRC, 14,000 war wounded, seriously sick as well as some of their relatives were evacuated from the war zone to Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee, where Indian medical specialists took charge of the wounded and the sick before being transferred to government hospitals. The ICRC also delivered 2,350 metric tons of food to the war zone. The government allowed International ICRC staff into the war zone each time ships reached the seas adjacent to the war zone to evacuate the wounded and the sick. Hence, the international staff visited the war zone on 16 occasions, though they quit Puthumathalan on February 10, 2009, the day the ICRC launched the operation to evacuate the wounded and the sick. The war ended just 10 days after the ICRC last rescue mission on May 9. The report of The Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka too, confirmed (page 32) the ICRC’s role. Neuer and Cramer could obtain data on food supplies sent both overland and by sea to the war zone from the World Food Programme (WFP), during the last phase of the conflict.

The writers’ allegation that Sri Lanka didn’t tolerate criticism is nothing but propaganda. The Tamil media as well as an influential section of the English and Sinhala media backed the LTTE’s campaign through devious means. Some went to he extent of repeatedly asserting that the LTTE couldn’t be defeated on the battlefield and the Sri Lankan army faced a catastrophe on the Vanni east front. Unlike any other terrorist group, the LTTE had its elected representatives in Parliament, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) members, who threw their full weight behind Prabhakaran. None other than a high level European Union election observation mission highlighted the nexus between the LTTE and the TNA.

Those comparing Israeli’s response to terrorism as well as that of Sri Lanka are silent on the circumstances under which the UN probe on Israel came to an abrupt end. In April, 2011, Richard Goldstone contradicted his own report. In a Washington Post op-ed column, Goldstone said he would have reached different conclusions if the Israeli military had been more forthcoming and if he had known the results of subsequent investigations.

"If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document," Goldstone declared.

Goldstone wrote that Israeli investigations found cases involving individual soldiers, but the intentional targeting of civilians was not a "matter of policy."

But the three co-authors of the U.N. report on the Israeli offensive publicly challenged Goldstone’s move. In spite of Goldstone being one of the four authors of the report, the US accepted his position much to the disappointment of co-authors, Pakistani human rights lawyer Hina Jilani, Professor of international law at the London School of Economic, Christine Chinkin and retired Irish Colonel Desmond Travers. In a Guardian newspaper column in Britain, they declared that they wanted "to dispel any impression that subsequent developments have rendered any part of the mission’s report unsubstantiated, erroneous or inaccurate."

"There is no justification for any demand or expectation for reconsideration of the report, as nothing of substance has appeared that would in any way change the context, findings or conclusions of that report with respect to any of the parties to the Gaza conflict."

"The report of the fact-finding mission contains the conclusions made after diligent, independent and objective consideration of the information related to the events within our mandate, and the careful assessment of its reliability and credibility. We firmly stand by these conclusions."

The report found both Israel and Hamas likely committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the conflict between December 27, 2008, and January 18, 2009.

Why did Goldstone change his position? Did he consult Jilani, Chinkin and Colonel Travers before contradicting their own report? Goldstone accepted the challenging task in the wake of many other international personalities declining to take up the daunting task. One time UN rights chief Mary Robinson as well as former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari were those who refused to head the UN fact finding mission. In fact, Robinson declared on March 9, 2009: "Unfortunately, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution seeking a fact-finding mission to only look at what Israel had done, and I don’t think that’s a human rights approach."

Ahtisaari is among the three-member panel on Sri Lanka. The Goldstone inquiry was followed by another report by the U.N. committee of independent experts — chaired by former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis — that followed up on the recommendations of the Goldstone Report has found that "Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in the Gaza Strip," while "the de facto authorities (i.e., Hamas) have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel."

Basically, the Davis report was complimentary of Israel.

The bottom line is that regardless of Goldstone’s controversial retraction of his own report, its findings stands. Sri Lanka needs to closely study the Goldstone affair as faces the unenviable task of facing the three-member panel led by Ahtisaari.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Accountability issues of a different kind

Sri Lanka peace process: The role of NATO, RAW and Norwegian military experts



Disgraced peacemaker Solheim with LTTE leader Prabhakaran

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Norwegian envoy to the Sri Lankan peace process, Erik Solheim has claimed that he drafted the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) signed by the then government of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and the LTTE on February 22, 2002. Solheim was responding to a query by the one-time darling of the Norwegians, Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka (Efforts, Failures and Lessons-Volume II edited by Dr. Rupesinghe-first published in February 2006).

Now that Solheim has declared his intentions to publish memoirs early next year and go before the UN group tasked with investigating alleged atrocities committed during the Feb 22, 2002 to May 19, 2009 period, it would be pertinent to examine the conduct of the foreign peace makers.

Asked by Dr. Rupesinghe to explain the circumstances under which the CFA came into being, Solheim said that having had extensive discussions with LTTE theoretician, Anton Balasingham as well as ministers, G. L. Peiris and Milinda Moragoda, he drafted a new proposal. That process had taken about two months.

Solheim, presently Chair of the Development Assistance Committee in the USA, is also on record as having said that he along with a colleague, Vidar Helgesen, one-time Secretary of State, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs intended to launch a book on the Sri Lankan conflict. Helgesen was one of those present at the inauguration of direct talks between Sri Lanka and the LTTE at Sattahip, Thailand, on September 16, 2002.

Solheim said that they would launch a book early next year to explain the Norwegian role in Sri Lanka. The book is authored by Mark Salter, a longtime speechwriter and adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

In response to another query by Dr. Rupesinghe that dealt with Norway’s relationship with the Co-Chairs to the peace process, namely the US, EU and Japan as well India, Solheim emphasized that all major decisions regarding the peace process had been made in consultation with India. Interestingly, the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had been in power (October 1999 to May 2004) during the Norwegian efforts to work out an agreement between the LTTE and the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Soon after Mrs Kumaratunga lost the parliamentary polls in Dec 2001, the Norwegians launched a bid to finalize a CFA between the new government and the LTTE. The CFA came into operation on February 23, 2002.

Dr. John Gooneratne, who had been with the government Peace Secretariat from its inception in January 2002 to May 2006, explained serious shortcomings in the CFA over a year after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. Appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on September 15, 2010, Dr. Gooneratne revealed that four key matters proposed by the government weren’t included in the CFA. (A) There had been no reference to the requirement to use the CFA to pave the way for talks to find a negotiated settlement. (B) Specific reference to the prohibition of unlawful importation of arms, ammunition and equipment was not included. (C) Although the LTTE was allowed to engage in ‘political work’ in government controlled areas, other political parties weren’t given access to areas under LTTE control (D) Forcible conscription of personnel to the LTTE’s fighting cadre too, was not added to the list of prohibited activities.

Dr. Gooneratne, a veteran career diplomat faulted the then UNP government as well as the Norwegians for being hasty in their approach. Dr. Gooneratne said: "What lessons can we learn from this experience? Firstly, negotiating on such security and military matters should have been a more inclusive format than by just the party in power. Secondly, in negotiating documents such as the CFA, thoroughness should be the standard, and not just the speed."

Solheim’s proposed book can respond to these allegations.

In his exclusive interview with Dr. Rupesinghe, Solheim claimed that Norway lacked any intelligence that provided Norway an insight into the ‘military balance’ of the government and the LTTE. Dr. Rupesinghe quoted Solheim as having said that what was acceptable to the government and the LTTE would also have to be acceptable to Norway.

However, Solheim’s claim that Norway had been hampered by lack of intelligence was roundly contradicted by a costly joint examination undertaken by Gunnar Sorbo of the Chr. Michelsens Institute (CMI) and Jonathan Goodhand of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Their report titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009 released in September 2011 made specific reference to accessibility to best possible intelligence.

According to the report, the Norwegian led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) received intelligence from both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Thanks to NATO and India, those running the peace process couldn’t have been unaware of LTTE’s preparations for war. Norway received NATO support as a member of the military alliance (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009 page 100).

The Norwegian study quoted the SLMM head as having said that RAW only reached them through informal channels, therefore they couldn’t be fully trusted.

"They weren’t giving it to us to be nice. We would always ask ourselves why they want us to know this. Intelligence provided by NATO only confirmed what they already knew," the SLMM chief was quoted as having said.

The Oslo-funded study revealed that the Norwegians had high level meetings in New Delhi with RAW.

The Norwegian-led SLMM comprised men from Scandinavian countries.

The study also cited the SLMM as having alleged that Sri Lanka, the LTTE and India opposed the mission having radar surveillance. Until the release of the CMI-SOAS study, there had never been any reference to the SLMM having the support of NATO as well as the RAW.

Why did Solheim chose to lie about the absence of credible intelligence, while having the backing of NATO? What was NATO’s role? Had the SLMM received intelligence as regards overseas procurement of weapons and the steady build-up of forces, LTTE units leading to the commencement of eelam war IV in early August 2006? Unfortunately, the Norwegians failed to take tangible measures to discourage the LTTE from resuming hostilities.

According to the CMI-SOAS report, Norway had offered to mediate as early as January 1991, after India pulled out troops deployed in the Northern and Eastern Province in accordance with the July1987 peace accord. India completed the withdrawal of its army during the fourth week of March 1990.

Solheim would have been among some 120 persons interviewed by the CMI-SOAS team. According to the team, among those interviewed were Chandrika Kumaratunga, Ranil Wickremesinghe, those who were close to the LTTE, Norwegian officials as well as US and Indian officials et al.

Can Solheim take a position contrary to that of the CMI-SOAS findings?

Unfortunately, the government refused to cooperate with the investigation. Had the government granted approval for the CMI-SOAS to visit Sri Lanka, it could have had an opportunity to explain its point of view. They also examined a series of Wikileaks relevant to Sri Lanka. Regrettably, Sri Lanka never made an attempt at least to examine Wikileaks to ascertain the mindset of those Westerners as well as Indians who had dealt with the peace process here.

CMI-SOAS also made the startling revelation that on the night of Wickremesinghe’s election as the new Prime Minister following the December 2001 parliamentary polls, the UNP leader had phoned the then Norwegian ambassador Jon Westborg, requesting him to go ahead with preparations for talks with the LTTE.CMI-SOAS said: "Wickremesinghe’s victory clears the way to proceed as the LTTE had advocated: start with a ceasefire normalization and confidence building measures, while pushing the core substantive political issues backwards"

CMI-SOAS also contradicted Solheim with regard to his statement to Dr. Rupesinghe that Norway lacked the required intelligence and expertise to comprehend the military balance on the ground. According to the CMI-SOAS, Norwegian military experts helped work out what their report called military technicalities of de-escalation, advanced positions and front lines et al. Solheim should explain his failure to mention the support received from NATO as well as Norwegian military experts to facilitate the peace process (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009-page 36).

Obviously, the separation of forces as mentioned in the CFA (1.4) had been recommended by the Norwegians. "Where forward defence localities have been established, the GoSL’s armed forces and the LTTE’s fighting formations shall hold their ground positions, maintaining a zone of separation of a minimum of 600 metres. However, each party reserves the right of movement within 100 metres of its own defence localities, keeping an absolute minimum distance of 400 metres between them. Where existing positions are closer than 100 metres, no such right of movement applies and the parties agree to ensure the maximum possible distance between their personnel." CFA (1.5) dealt with another critical aspect of the deployment of forces. "In areas where localities have not been clearly established, the status quo as regards areas controlled by the GoSL and the LTTE, respectively, on 24 December 2001, shall continue to apply, pending such demarcation as is provided in Article 1.6)."

Perhaps Solheim purposely omitted any reference to NATO as well as Norwegian military experts as the then Sri Lankan government hadn’t been briefed of their involvement. The then navy chief, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri is on record as having said that the then government never gave the service chiefs as well as senior ground commanders an opportunity to study the CFA. Even five years after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, the government is yet to examine the Norwegian intervention here. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) didn’t have a mandate to inquire into many important aspects, including Norwegian intervention. The involvement of NATO as well as Norwegian military experts should be examined, particularly because the US was given access to the Sri Lankan military to examine its strengths and weaknesses at the onset of the peace process. There had never been such a study during the conflict. Did the US share its findings with other NATO members, including Norway? Perhaps, the LTTE received crucial information from some of those who had been involved in the peace process. CMI-SOAS acknowledged that Scandinavian truce monitors passing SLN (Sri Lankan Navy) intelligence to the LTTE, hence helping a weapons carrying LTTE vessel to escape. The controversy, according to the CMI-SOAS led to the removal of the then head of the SLMM, retired Maj. Gen. Trygve Tellefsen at the behest of President Kumaratunga. Did the peace facilitators, as well the as truce monitors pass on information to the LTTE?

Dr. Rupesinghe had been a key element of the Norwegian project in Sri Lanka at that time. It would be important to keep in mind that Dr. Rupesinghe had interviewed Solheim in his capacity as the Chairman of the Foundation for Co-Existence. That particular NGO had been one of the major recipients of Norwegian largesse. Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka (Efforts, Failures and Lessons-Volume II) edited by Dr. Rupesinghe badly exposed the Norwegians. The Norwegians would never have funded Dr. Rupesinghe’s project if they realized the LTTE was going to experience an unprecedented battlefield defeat. Don’t forget that none of those who contributed articles to Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka (Efforts, Failures and Lessons-Volume II) before the outbreak of eelam war IV, would have done so if they at least suspected the GoSL could crush the LTTE. They would never have envisaged the Norwegian government having to commission a study paving the way for Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009. Among the contributors were Bradman Weerakoon, Austin Fernando, G.L. Peiris, Bernard A.B. Goonatilleke as well as Keith Noyahr. Austin Fernando acknowledged that the armed forces chiefs as well as senior ground commanders were deprived of an opportunity to study the CFA. Fernando said: "The military chiefs were not consulted in the drafting of the CFA. Of course, a casual opportunity was given to them to discuss the draft with the ministers of Defence (Tilak Marapone) and Constitutional Affairs (Prof. G.L. Peiris)."