Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Facing defeat for want of strategy

Geneva genocide charge gathers momentum:



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Retired Supreme Court judge and Northern Province Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran’s call for a wider UN investigation, targeting Sri Lanka for genocide of Tamils, since 1948, received the backing of 15 overseas Tamil organizations.

Wigneswaran made his appeal on Feb 10, 2015, whereas overseas Tamils wrote to Jordanian UN rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on Feb. 14, 2015.

The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) strongly supports the ongoing Geneva project, though the grouping backed Maithripala Sirisena at the Jan.8, 2015 presidential poll. Wigneswaran went to the extent of blaming President Maithripala Sirisena for war crimes on the basis of him being Acting Defence Minister for two days, during the last week of fighting.

On behalf of those who had been demanding Sri Lanka’s accountability, during the conflict, CM Wigneswaran has explained the circumstances under which successive governments subjected the Tamil community to genocide.

The Island dealt with CM Wigneswaran’s 11-page missive, partly, last Wednesday (Wigneswaran’s resolution alleging genocide of Tamils and President’s visit to New Delhi, The Island, Feb.18, 2015).

The writer pointed out CM Wigneswaran conveniently leaving out crucial issues/events for obvious reasons. Last week’s article couldn’t deal with all issues, hence this piece.

*The TNA comprised the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) and former Indian trained terrorist the groups namely the PLOTE, TELO and EPRLF recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of Tamil speaking people. The TNA-LTTE deal was made in the run-up to the general election in 2001. The LTTE retained that privileged status until the Sri Lankan military eradicated their conventional military power. Over 11,000 LTTE cadres surrendered to the military during fighting on the Vanni east front. The TNA leadership never accepted the responsibility for strengthening the hands of Velupillai Prabhakaran, whose despicable Eelam project received a turbo-boost courtesy the Tamil political leadership. The alliance came into operation in 2001. It was meant to strengthen the LTTE’s interests, both here and abroad in keeping with its battlefield strategy. The TNA played its part well. There had never been such an alliance here during the conflict. Unfortunately, both the UNP and the SLFP failed to ignore the need to take on the TNA over its alliance with the LTTE. The UPFA’s failure to take up the TNA accountability with the international community was both shocking and surprising. Sri Lanka’s failure had allowed the TNA to humiliate the country both here and overseas forums to their hearts content. The UPFA leadership should accept responsibility for this pathetic situation.

*Sri Lanka’s failure to take to task the TNA even after a high profile European Election Observer Mission revealed its murderous partnership with the LTTE was surprising. The UPFA lacked the interest to pursue the matter though The Island on several occasions pushed the former government on this issue.

A statement, issued by the TNA, in the run-up to the April 2, 2004, general election, highlighted its alliance with the LTTE. Unfortunately, the UPFA failed to exploit the environment to its political advantage. The TNA declared: "Accepting the LTTE’s leadership as the national leadership of ‘Tamil Eelam’ Tamils and the Liberation Tigers as the sole and authentic representative of the Tamil people, let us devote our full cooperation for the ideals of the Liberation Tigers’ struggle with honesty and steadfastness. Let us endeavor determinedly, collectively as one group, one nation, one country, transcending race and religious differences, under the leadership of the LTTE, for a life of liberty, honour and justice for the Tamil people."

The UPFA and UNP didn’t even respond to the TNA’s statement. The readiness on the major parties to accept the TNA as the mouthpiece of the LTTE was nothing but a national crime.

*The EU Election Observation Mission report, released on Jun 17, 2004, described the LTTE as the primary source of violence at the April 2 general election. The EU monitoring mission’s head, John Cushnahan, didn’t mince his words when he declared that the LTTE’s primary aim had been to garner a huge majority for its proxy, the TNA, to project the group (the LTTE) as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. The UNP refused at least to condemn the LTTE for making an attempt on the life of T. Maheswaran, Jaffna District candidate, in the run-up to the election. TULF chief, V. Anandasangaree, strongly urged the government and the Opposition not to accept the TNA. His appeal had been in vain (TULF leader applauds EU for unmasking LTTE proxy––The Island of June 23, 2004).

The EU said: "Firstly, the LTTE intended that no other rival Tamil party (or Tamil candidate from the mainstream political alliances) to the TNA would be able to claim to represent Tamil interests. A chilling message to this effect was sent early in the campaign when a UNP candidate and an EPDP activist were murdered. Incidents such as this seriously restricted the right of the parties other than the TNA to campaign freely in the Northern and Eastern Districts. During the 2004 elections, the major incidences of violence was perpetrated by the LTTE, whereas at the earlier elections, the primary source of the violence (although not all), were the two largest political parties."

*Having blamed both the SLFP and the UNP for depriving the Tamil community of its political rights, CM Wigneswaran left out a courageous bid made by one-time President Ranasinghe Premadasa to accommodate the LTTE in the political mainstream. Premadasa made his bid in Dec., 1989. At the behest of President Premadasa, the then Elections Commissioner, Chandrananda de Silva, recognized the LTTE’s political wing, the People’s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT). The Island revealed political recognition for the terrorists, even though the polls chief declined to confirm (LTTE recognized as a political party-The Island, Dec 20, 1989). President Premadasa bent backwards to appease the LTTE. The then LTTE ideologue, Anton Balasingham, made the announcement in Colombo. The writer was one of the few journalists present on the occasion (LTTE turned PFLT spells out aims and objectives-The Island, Dec 21, 1989). President Premadasa’s attempt to reach an understanding with the LTTE had been in vain. The LTTE resumed war on the night of June 10, 1990, with the massacre of over 400 surrendered police officers. The Premadasa-Prabhakaran honeymoon lasted for 14 months (May 1989-June 1990).

*Those who had been accusing successive Sri Lankan governments of genocide of Tamils are always remained mum on lives claimed due to fighting among the various Indian trained Tamil terrorist groups, fighting between the LTTE and the Indian Army, fighting between the LTTE and the Indian trained Tamil National Army (TNA), civilian killings carried out by the Indian Army as well as Indian intelligence services causing mayhem in Sri Lanka. CM Wigneswaran had also avoided political killings carried out by the Tamil terrorists, particularly the LTTE, with all communities suffering. The learned judge avoided reference to high profile political killings, such as the assassination of the then TULF chief, Appapillai Amirthalingam, on July 13, 1989, during the Premadasa-Prabhakaran honeymoon. He was assassinated  by the LTTE. The political veteran was killed along with former TULF Jaffna MP Vettivelu Yogeswaran. Vettivelu’s wife, Sarojini, was shot five times at her Jaffna home, on May 17, 1998. At the time of her assassination, she was the Mayor of Jaffna. The LTTE assassinated Sarojini’s successor, Pon Sivapalan, on Sept 11, 1998, in Jaffna. For the first time, the LTTE used a claymore mine inside a building to carry out multiple killings. The then Jaffna town commandant, Colonel Susantha Mendis, had been among the dead. An LTTE suicide cadre blew up lawmaker, Neelam Tiruchelvam, on the morning of July 29, 1999. Perhaps, the NPC should initiate a study to identify the perpetrators of civilian killings. In fact, it can facilitate the post-war national reconciliation process. The Governor of the Northern Province, respected retired career foreign service officer, H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, and CM Wigneswaran can explore this possibility.

*The NPC resolution also avoided a substantial number of LTTE cadres killed during internal conflicts. One-time LTTE Deputy Leader, Gopalswamy Mahendraraja, alias Mahattaya, and a large group of cadres loyal to him, had been arrested and executed, during the 1993-1994 period.

*The NPC should also take into consideration those LTTE and PLOTE cadres who had perished, fighting the Indian navy.

*Both the LTTE rump and the TNA should be asked to explain their decision to deprive a large segment of Tamil speaking people, living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, of their right to exercise there franchise, at the Nov 17, 2005 presidential poll. The allegation that the then UPFA presidential candidate, Mahinda Rajapaksa, bribed the LTTE to order the polls boycott, should be investigated. The TNA leadership too, should be probed as the polls boycott order had been announced in Kilinochchi by none other than R. Sampanthan, MP, on behalf of the LTTE. The Trincomalee district political veteran would be able to enlighten the country as regards the LTTE/TNA polls boycott order. Every effort should be made to establish whether the UPFA bribed the LTTE to engineer UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat. The UNPer lost by less than 200,000 votes. Had he received the Tamil vote, he could have easily won the presidential election and Eelam war IV wouldn’t have taken place.

*It would be pertinent to investigate whether the LTTE engineered Wickremesinghe’s defeat in the belief that it felt confident in dealing with Rajapaksa. Prabhakaran’s successor, Kumaran Pathmanathan, alias ‘KP’, in his first interview with the writer, since his arrest in Malaysia, and extradition to Sri Lanka, in early August, 2009, revealed that Rajapaksa could be overwhelmed in just two years. KP asserted that Rajapaksa lacked the expertise to tackle the LTTE, hence Prabhakaran felt comfortable having the SLFP leader at the helm.

*CM Wigneswaran completely ignored international efforts to end the conflict here. International efforts, particularly a determined bid made by the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the Norwegians in Feb 2002, failed, primarily due to the lack of TNA support. Instead of supporting the Wickremesinghe-Norway peace initiative, the TNA chose to throw its weight behind the LTTE. The TNA steadfastly backed the LTTE, quitting the negotiating table during the fourth week of April, 2003. CM Wigneswaran should consider having ‘Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997 to 2009’ translated into Tamil for the benefit of members of the council, as well as the TNA parliamentary group. The study, released in Sept. 2011, dealt with complex issues, such as the circumstances under which the LTTE launched Eelam war IV after having engineered Wickremesinghe’s defeat. The Norwegian study said: "Although the LTTE never explained its decision to prevent Tamils from voting, one possible explanation is Prabhakaran’s fear of Wickremesinghe’s international safety net. The Norwegian report: "Prabhakaran was obsessed with the so-called safety net... he felt that Rajapaksa was less Western oriented than Wickremesinghe and would be less able to build up an international framework.

*Both the Norwegians, as well as CM Wigneswaran seemed to have ignored that President Rajapaksa and his indefatigable younger brother, Gotabhaya having the support of world’s solitary superpower. Even over five years after the conclusion of the war, the NPC had chosen to ignore the US factor in the eradication of the LTTE, though Obama’s administration seemed hell-bent on hauling Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal. In fact, the US provided vital intelligence leading to the destruction of four floating LTTE warehouses during 2007. The US also enhanced Sri Lanka’s naval capability by replacing 23 mm twin barrel main armament on Fast Attack Craft (FACs) with 30 mm Bushmaster, also during Eelam war IV. Sri Lanka deployed an ex-US Coast Guard vessel, Courageous, to hunt down LTTE ships on high seas. In a series of operations, US agents thwarted LTTE attempts to procure a range of arms, ammunition and equipment during Eelam war IV. The US saved the day for Sri Lanka from an ambitious LTTE project to acquire missiles meant to annihilate Sri Lanka’s precious jet squadrons. Sri Lankan troops also had the benefit of training with US Special Forces. Hence, the attempt to portray that Sri Lanka had to entirely depend on China should be resisted.

*During Eelam war IV, India also supported Sri Lanka’s efforts. Perhaps, enhancing Sri Lanka capability to conduct operations on the high seas by making available three Off shore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) at the crucial juncture was the most significant Indian help.

*CM Wigneswaran had also failed to take into consideration that successive governments had to gradually strengthen the military to meet the threat posed by the LTTE. Those blaming the Rajapaksas for accommodating the Chinese, had ignored that the then President JRJ had no option but to secure assistance from Pakistan, Israel, China, South Africa, as well as British mercenaries, in the 80s.