Tuesday, 29 September 2015

War winning army on the Geneva ‘human rights front’



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The combined security forces concluded ‘Exercise Cormorant Strike VI’ with an assault on enemy bases, at Punnakudha, Batticaloa, on the afternoon of September 23, 2015. The exercise involved 2,500 troops, including Army Commandos and Special Forces. Launched on September 3, the exercise covered Pulmudai, to the north of Arugam Bay, in the East. The exercise attracted 53 foreign participants, both as participants and observers.

During the exercise, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report that dealt with the Sri Lankan military. On the basis of unsubstantiated accusations, the report recommended a series of punitive measures meant to humiliate the war-winning military. The presentation of the 250-page report, on September 16, paved the way for informal discussions on the draft resolution to reach a consensus.

The Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in no uncertain terms rejected the first draft resolution at the first Geneva informal session, on Sept. 21. A statement issued by Sri Lanka’s top envoy in Geneva, Ravinatha Aryasinha, clearly reflected Sri Lanka’s disappointment.

Oddly, other members of the administration seem to be oblivious to this development. Obviously, they haven’t bothered to peruse Aryasinha’s well-articulated statement. Asserting that the first resolution hadn’t met Sri Lanka’s expectations, Aryasinha said: "... my delegation is of the view that a lengthy resolution of the nature of the current draft before us which contains 24 preambular paragraphs and 26 operative paragraphs, which is repetitive, judgmental and prescriptive is not keeping with the spirit of the process of reconciliation and reform that is underway in my country under the National Unity Government. Neither is it helpful in adopting a collaborative approach to reaching consensus. Many paragraphs in the current draft are in fact counterproductive for the reconciliation efforts of the government, and have the tendency to polarize communities, vitiate the atmosphere on the ground that is being carefully nurtured towards reconciliation, and the peace building and restrict the space required for consultations. There is a real danger that the current approach will leave room for negative interpretation, thus, only helping ‘spoilers’ in the process."

Veteran career diplomat, and one-time Foreign Secretary, Bernard Goonetilleke, frowned on the first draft of the proposed Geneva resolution under discussion.

Pointing out that the draft resolution contained 24 preamble paragraphs and 26 operative paragraphs, Goonetilleke said, "It looks like a novel to me."

Goonetilleke echoed Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, that the sections of the current draft were counterproductive to reconciliation efforts. Goonetilleke didn’t mince his words when he explained the circumstances under which Western powers used Geneva as a political instrument. The diplomatic veteran emphasized that the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) remained a political tool among Western powers, though United Nations Human Rights Commission had been worse.

However, subsequent to consultations, Sri Lanka accepted an amended shorter version of the draft, a few days later, thereby paving the way for a special hybrid court, comprising Sri Lankan as well as Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.

Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE, in May, 2009, made Exercise Cormorant Strike possible. Had the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s troops failed on the Vanni front, there wouldn’t have been Exercise Cormorant Strike or Geneva taking up accountability issues. Geneva turned a blind eye to what was happening here until nearly a three-year long offensive brought the LTTE to its knees. The Commonwealth never felt the need to intervene here during the conflict. In fact, the Commonwealth allowed influential member India to destabilize Sri Lanka, another member of the grouping. The Commonwealth also turned a Nelsonian eye to Sri Lanka’s plight. The LTTE raised massive amounts of funds in Commonwealth countries to procure weapons to cause mayhem in Sri Lanka. Commonwealth heavyweight India even funded over half a dozen terrorist groups in Sri Lanka. One of them, the People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), mounted a sea-borne assault on Male, in Nov., 1988. The operation, meant to assassinate the then Maldivian leader, went awry. The rest is history. Hope Sri Lanka has the guts to present its case before the hybrid court in correct perspective. Perhaps, one-time Liberian President Charles Taylor’s case should be closely examined in the backdrop of Sri Lanka accepting the UN backed mechanism. Taylor is now serving 50-year-long jail term in the UK after being found guilty by a UN- backed court for aiding and abetting war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Having eradicated the LTTE, the then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, authorized the military to launch Exercise Cormorant Strike well over a year after the war victory. The role played by Gajaba Regiment veteran Rajapaksa can never be disputed, though an ungrateful few despised him. Some obviously cannot stomach Sri Lanka’s victory over terrorism. Unfortunately, the war winning Army Chief, now Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, never had an opportunity to give post-war leadership to troops.

The inaugural Exercise Cormorant Strike was launched on November 21, 2010, in the North Western region. The nine-day exercise had been the first post-LTTE era joint exercise conducted, on an amphibious setting, on the north-western coast.

The twice-put off training exercise had been originally scheduled to be held in the Vanni east, where the Army’s 58 and 53 Divisions finished off the LTTE in the third week of May, 2009.

The inaugural exercise coincided with LTTE’s ‘Heroes Week’ events in the West. The LTTE-organized week-long celebrations, in areas under its control in the Northern and Eastern provinces, culminated with its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday speech, until 2008. The Army brought that boru show to an end in late 2008 with the crushing of enemy formations in the Vanni west region.

Annual Defense seminar, and the Galle Dialogue, organized by the army and the navy, respectively, got underway with the blessings of former Defence Secretary Rajapaksa. That, too, was thanks to the eradication of the LTTE.

Rajapaksa also played a significant role in paving the way for Indo-Sri Lanka Defense Dialogue in the wake of the latter’s victory over the LTTE. The inauguration of the annual event, in 2012, should be examined in the backdrop of Indian intervention here, leading to a three decades long war. Rajapaksa’s successor, Eng. Karunasena Hettiarachchi, led a high level delegation for talks, in New Delhi, at the latest edition of the Indo-Sri Lanka Defense Dialogue over a week ago. Whatever, the differences between the Rajapaksas and the present administration, that shouldn’t in any way, undermine Sri Lanka’s defence. National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa recently recollected Maithiripala Sirisena had been high on the LTTE hit list during his tenure as SLFP General Secretary. Weerawansa said that President Sirisena wouldn’t do anything to facilitate the eelamists project.

The military should be prepared for a robust defense with re-examination of all available evidence and look for new avenues. The previous government had to pay a heavy price for failing to take tangible measures in the face of war crimes accusations. It would be the responsibility, on the part of the military, to pursue measures meant to disapprove lies propagated since the conclusion of the war, six years ago. Those responsible for Sri Lanka’s defence, at the proposed hybrid court, should keep in mind that Western powers moved three resolutions, twice with New Delhi’s backing and the third with our neighbour’s understanding on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. The recently released Geneva report, too, had been based on unverified accusations propagated by various interested parties, in some instances for domestic political reasons. The bottom line is that the military should focus on the forthcoming probe. The top brass should put on hold various image building and welfare projects and address accountability issues. All should be mindful that Army celebrates its 66th anniversary at a critical juncture with the former political and military leaderships facing severe charges. Accusations regarding ‘system crimes’, during closing stages of the eelam war IV, are meant to prove the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa guilty. Those who had commanded the ground forces, during operations (January-May 19, 2009) on the Vanni east front, as well as senior officers in charge of air and artillery, could face charges. The previous government will be accused of turning the Vanni east to a mass killing field, during the last five months of the campaign. It would be pertinent to refer to a statement made in the British parliament, in September, 2011, two years after the conclusion of the conflict. The British parliament was told of the Sri Lankan military killing 100,000 LTTE combatants and civilians, during the period, January-May 19, 2009 Perhaps, the Labour Party MP, Siobhain  McDonagh, who made that claim, on behalf of the influential Tamil Diaspora, can appear in the proposed hybrid court to help convict Sri Lankan leaders! With the Commonwealth playing a role in the judicial examination here, British politicians can enlighten us what had happened on the ground. Maybe her colleague Joan Ryan, formerly of the Labour Party parliamentary group, now policy advisor to UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF), can tell war crimes court what she knows about those hiding in the UK under assumed names. Among those British nationals of Sri Lankan origin are, I’m sure, many categorized as missing or allegedly executed by the Army.

The government needs to comprehend the actual situation on the human rights. In spite of warm relations with the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration, the US will not do anything to jeopardize its strategic partnership with the UK, EU and other powers sympathetic towards the Tamil cause, primarily due to domestic political reasons. Thanks to whistle blowing website Wiki Leaks, we know exactly why the then British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, persuaded his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, to join him in a mission to Colombo, in 2009. Miliband had no option but to intervene here or face the wrath of the influential Tamil electorate.

Wiki Leaks also revealed that the US had asserted the then government committed war crimes over two years before the first resolution on Sri Lanka was moved in Geneva. The US diplomatic mission in Colombo alleged the Rajapaksa government committed war crimes on the basis of information received from its ‘contacts’ here.

In a cable originating, in Colombo, on January 15, 2010, the US ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis, said one of the reasons there was such little progress towards a genuine Sri Lankan inquiry into the killings was that the president and the former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, were largely responsible. "There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power," Butenis noted.

"In Sri Lanka, this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka." Butenis alleged that both Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa committed war crimes.

The US intervened in Geneva on behalf of those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal in the wake of others failure. The US moved three consecutive resolutions on Sri Lanka during 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The previous government never took all relevant factors into consideration when countering a relentless propaganda offensive. Those responsible for Sri Lanka’s defence lacked the capacity to realize the looming danger of an international probe unless meaningful steps were taken to address accountability issues.

But, the then US Defence Attache, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith contradicted Butenis in June, 2011.

Even five years after that public contradiction, Sri Lanka is yet to examine the US military statement’s official. For want of a cohesive strategy, the country struggled in Geneva over the past several years finally leading to last week’s resolution meant to set up a hybrid court. Sri Lanka has no way of side-stepping the forthcoming probe. The Sri Lankan military face an unprecedented scrutiny with foreign judges and top experts intervening in the accountability probe.

Key recommendations included unprecedented security sector reforms in accordance with what the amended US resolution called transitional justice process. That particular recommendation is meant to deprive those who had been found guilty of serious crimes involving human rights violations, abuses or violations of international human rights law of an opportunity to serve the military, including the intelligence services. The resolution suggested that action should be taken once they were implicated through a ‘fair administrative process.’ Although there cannot be any dispute over that recommendation, Sri Lanka should go for a credible investigative process to verify hitherto unverified accusations. Let me give you an example of the circumstances under which the US State Department acted on false complaint regarding a clandestine operation carried out by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), in September, 2009.

Kathiravel Thayapararajah, allegedly abducted and killed by the DMI, surfaced in India, in May 2014. Thayapararajah disappearance, in September, 2009, prompted a section of the media, as well as some international NGOs, to accuse the DMI of executing him. No less a person than the then US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs and one-time US Ambassador in Colombo, Robert O. Blake, inquired about the missing person.

The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), the Australian Government Refugee Review Tribunal, Tamilnet and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights among others blamed the Sri Lankan intelligence for the disappearance.

After the much publicized disappearance his wife Uthayakala, too, accused intelligence services of having executed Thayapararajah.

Thayapararajah had been closely connected to the LTTE, though he wasn’t involved in actual fighting on the ground. Having graduated from the Peradeniya University, Thayapararajah had joined a project run by Vanni Tech, in Kilinochchi, with the financial backing of the US based Tamil Diaspora. The project, launched in 2003, during the Ceasefire Agreement, brokered by Norway, was one of those operations undertaken by the Diaspora, though Thayapararajah joined the organization in 2005.

Thayapararajah is still believed to be in India. His wife is with him. India can help Sri Lanka to question them to ascertain the circumstances under which one-time Vanni Tech director disappeared, in September, 2009. Thayapararajah’s case is a glaring example of Sri Lanka being falsely accused of disappearances. It wasn’t an isolated case. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know whether the previous government inquired into this particular case? Did External Affairs Ministry take it up with the Indian High Commission? Did the previous government make an attempt to extradite the suspect? The government didn’t see any requirement, in spite of the rapid deterioration of the situation.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

War crimes probe: An inevitable UN role



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Calling for an’ internationalized Special Court for criminal prosecution,’ to try those who had been accused of committing atrocities, during the conflict (2002-2009), the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum paid a glowing tribute to the survivors who bravely shared their horrific experiences, despite the fear and uncertainty they faced, without which last Wednesday’s Geneva report would not have been a reality.

The GTF urged the 47-member states, of the Geneva-based UNHRC, to adopt a resolution that captures all the recommendations of the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) report, including the establishment of a Special Court, and call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to fully cooperate or face the consequences.

Geneva adopted three resolutions, plus an external investigation (2012-2014), on the basis of those who had made unsubstantiated accusations at various forums. Those responsible for Sri Lanka’s defence should keep in mind that the UN investigation report, too (unveiled last Wednesday), repeated accusations that were never verified. Those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism exploited the previous government’s refusal to cooperate with Western powers. The war-winning administration failed, at least, to closely examine the allegations, thereby facilitated the anti-Sri Lanka project, during the Rajapaksa presidency.

The recent explosive revelation of the circumstances under which the then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, mistakenly accused Sri Lanka of using rape as a tactic of war, must prompt the government to call for the re-examination of unsubstantiated allegations which resulted in the latest Geneva report.

The GTF statement has received the endorsement of the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main Opposition political party here. The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has joined the GTF-TNA project. They addressed gatherings, in Bern and London, last Thursday and Saturday, to articulate their position, vis a vis Geneva declaration.

The GTF came into being in the wake of the LTTE’s demise, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in May, 2009. The grouping had its inaugural meet in the UK parliament, on Feb. 24, 2010, with the blessings of three major political parties, as well as the US government. The GTF’s choice of venue was no coincidence. Had the LTTE survived the government onslaught, on the Vanni front, in early 2009, Prabhakaran wouldn’t probably have seen the need for such an organization. The TNA, too, would have remained simply an LTTE’s proxy with Prabhakaran still remaining the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people.

Sri Lanka now faces a formidable challenge from the GTF-TNA grouping with the UNHRC almost certain to order a comprehensive inquiry into accountability issues. The type of the mechanism will be known next Wednesday (Sept.30).

Addressing a hastily arranged media briefing, at the President’s House, last Friday (Sept.18), President Maithripala Sirisena emphasized that Sri Lanka would have to face an inquiry, whether we accepted such a situation or not. It would be pertinent to mention that Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, on the previous day, asserted that the forthcoming investigation could be turned into Sri Lanka’s advantage. The Premier was participating at an event to commemorate JRJ’s birth anniversary.

Let me examine issues which should be brought to the notice of the proposed investigate mechanism. It would be of pivotal importance to prepare for the best possible defence without being too much bothered with the type of court, likely to be established, in accordance with next Wednesday’s Geneva resolution.

*It would be the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka to establish the circumstances leading to Eelam War IV, in August, 2006, and the complicity of the TNA in the LTTE’s overall project. Co-chairs to Sri Lanka Peace Process, namely the US, EU, Japan, and Norway, as well as India, should be called in, before whatever the investigative mechanism is to establish the events leading to the war.

*Norway and the five-nation Scandinavian truce monitoring mission, which monitored the tripartite Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), involving Norway (facilitator), Sri Lanka and the LTTE, can prove the LTTE quitting the negotiating table, in April, 2003.

*TNA making representations on behalf of the LTTE, in the run-up to parliamentary elections, in April, 2004. The TNA-LTTE coalition should be examined in the backdrop of the former recognizing the latter as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people.

*The EU Election Observation Mission report, on the April, 2004, election, can prove the direct relationship between the LTTE and the TNA. The EU underscored the LTTE throwing its weight behind the TNA to acquire the lion’s share of seats in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The TNA secured 22 seats, including two National List slots, at that election. It was their best results.

*The TNA ordering Tamil speaking people not to exercise their franchise at the Nov. 2005, presidential election, on behalf of the LTTE, underscored their joint strategy. Their move helped Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the presidency. An expensive Norwegian study, closely examined LTTE/TNA directive, leading to Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka). UNP Chairman and Minister of Development Strategy and International Trade, Malik Samarawickrema, told this writer, over the phone that Wickremesinghe could have easily won the election if not for the LTTE/TNA action (LTTE action belies ali-koti pact-The Island, Nov 21, 2005).

*The SLMM blamed the LTTE for launching Eelam War IV, during the second week of Aug. 2006, with a multi pronged assault, meant to overrun the Jaffna peninsula. The battle claimed the lives of 700 combatants, and 1,000 wounded (SLMM blames LTTE for Jaffna battle-The Island, Sept 8, 2006). The LTTE resumed claymore mine attacks, during the first week of Dec 2005. In January, 2006, the LTTE blasted a Fast Attack Craft (FAC) off Trincomalee. In spite of grave LTTE provocations, the then President accepted Norwegian facilitated talks. Much to the chagrin of those who had backed his candidature, at the Nov. 2005, presidential polls, President Rajapaksa went ahead with the Geneva talks. The TNA never uttered a word in support of the President’s initiative. The so-called civil society remained mum as the LTTE flexed its muscles. Had the LTTE succeeded in assassinating the then Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the war effort would have suffered an irreparable loss. The failed April, 2006, LTTE assassination bid, on the Sinha Regiment veteran, marked the turning point of the conflict. The LTTE suffered another devastating setback when its attempt on the then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in Dec 2006 failed. Had Prabhakaran succeeded, Sri Lankan wouldn’t have been in the Geneva agenda.

* Those who had bravely shared their horrific experiences, with British media outfit, Channel 4 News, UNSG Ban ki moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE), International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), leading to last Wednesday’s report, can now come before the investigative mechanism, scheduled to be decided next week, in Geneva. The PoE in, March 2011, recommended that accusations directed against Sri Lanka cannot be verified for two decades. Even after the completion of the mandatory 20-year period, information cannot be verified without a declassification review. (PoE report page 6 point no 23). In the backdrop of the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government cooperating with the OHCHR, the UNP cannot deprive the proposed hybrid special court of an opportunity to hear those who had bravely shared their experience with various interested parties.

*A comprehensive inquiry is required to establish the number of civilians killed, during the final phase of the conflict. For want of an inquiry, various interested parties propagated varying figures regarding the number of civilians dead. Long standing LTTE supporter, Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden - Labour) told the House of Commons on Sept. 15, 2011, that Sri Lanka’s war, in its last five months alone, had claimed the lives of 100,000 people, 40,000 of them civilians. The UN backed court can request McDonagh to reveal how she had reached that conclusion. The Labour Party politician targeted Sri Lanka during a debate in the House of Commons on ‘human rights in the Indian sub continent.

*A proper inquiry is required to establish the truth. In fact, as Prime Minister Wickremesinghe pointed out last week, Sri Lanka can turn an inquiry into her advantage. A confidential report, prepared by the UN mission, in Sri Lanka, can help the hybrid court to ascertain the ground situation, during the Vanni offensive. The report dealt with the situation, in both the west and the east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, from August, 2008, to May 13, 2009. The war ended six days later. The PoE rejected that report, in spite of it being based on accurate information provided by the national staff of the UN and NGOs, as well as the ICRC. The UN report estimated the number of dead, at 7,721, and 18,479 wounded. The UN report disproved claims that the then government conducted a war without witnesses. Although, the government requested expatriate staff of international NGOs to vacate the Vanni, during the battle for Kilinochchi (August-Dec 2008), the ICRC remained there, until Feb 2009.

*The entire set of confidential US diplomatic cables, originating from Colombo, New Delhi, Geneva, Washington, as well as London, relating to Eelam War IV, too, should be examined. The Norwegian examination of its role here included a comprehensive study of diplomatic cables revealed by whistle blowing website Wiki Leaks. Unfortunately, the previous government never thought of studying them. The US cables dealt with various aspects, including the then British government intervention in Sri Lanka, due to domestic political issues, ICRC on accusations of genocide committed by the Sri Lankan Army, as well as secret consultations with political parties here. One such cable dealt with SLMC Chairman, Basheer Segudawood, discussing political strategy in the run-up to the Nov., 2005, presidential poll. US cables also extensively dealt with communications among Colombo-based embassies. Another cable quoted a top ICRC official as having told the Geneva-based US envoy that the Sri Lankan Army could have brought the war to a conclusion much earlier than May, 2009, with less casualties if not for the civilian factor.

*The ICRC, as well as the Indian High Commission, will be able to help establish the total number of wounded, evacuated by sea, following the closure of overland routes due to intense fighting. The last ICRC - supervised evacuation took place on May 9, 2009, 10 days before the final confrontation. Those who had been accusing the previous government of conducting a genocidal war never explained President Mahinda Rajapaksa allowing an Indian medical team at Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee, and subsequently Manik Farm. In fact, one US diplomatic cable originating from Geneva in June 2009 cleared the Sri Lankan Army of genocide charge.

*Wartime US Defence Attaché in Colombo, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith, can provide crucial evidence. Lawrence is on record as having denied accusations relating to massacre of surrendering LTTE personnel. The denial is of utmost importance because it took place over two years after the conclusion of the conflict.

*An Amnesty International report, titled ‘When will they get justice: Failure of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’, released in September, 2011, too, should be examined. The Amnesty International estimated the number of civilians killed at 10,000, whereas others accused Sri Lanka of killing as many as 100,000 Tamils within five months (January-May 2009). The investigative process should seek to reach a consensus on the number of civilian dead.

*India, EU countries, US and other countries, including Australian, cooperate with new court to establish the identities of Sri Lankans living overseas under new identities. Such a process is needed in the backdrop of evidence that many Lankans obtained new identities while receiving foreign citizenship. Front line Socialist Party (FSP) leader, Kumar Gunaratnam, receiving Australian passport bearing the name of Noel Mudalige, is a case in point.

The OHCHR comment, as regards the LTTE restricting movement of Tamil speaking people, during Eelam War IV, revealed the shocking failure on the part of UN investigators to investigate all relevant information. The following is the relevant section, headlined Control of movement: 49. OISL’s findings indicate that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the LTTE had a clear high level policy of preventing civilians from leaving the Vanni, thereby unlawfully interfering with their liberty of movement. The information also shows that the policy hardened, from January 2009, although the specific instructions as to how LTTE cadres should prevent anyone from leaving need to be clarified. Nevertheless, the information gathered indicates that a number of individuals, including several children, were shot dead, injured or beaten by LTTE cadres as they tried to leave, in contravention of their right to life and physical integrity. These acts may amount to direct attacks on civilians not taking direct part in hostilities, in violation of international humanitarian law. If established before a court of law, and depending on the circumstances, such conduct may amount to a war crime."

"50. By compelling civilians to remain within the area of active hostilities, the LTTE also violated its obligation under international humanitarian law to take all feasible measures to protect the civilian population under its control against the effects of attacks from the security forces."

In fact, the UN knew of an LTTE project to prevent civilians from seeking refuge in the government -held area, in early 2007, at the onset of the Vanni offensive. The Island revelation of the LTTE detaining Tamil UN workers, in April 2007, led to the issue being raised in New York (LTTE detains UN workers-The Island, April 20, 2007) and (UN had talks with Tigers on the sly-The Island, April 23, 2007).

In the wake of The Island reportage of criticism of UN action, the issue was raised at the daily media briefing, in New York. Responding to queries, UNSG Ban Ki moon’s spokesperson, Michele Montas, revealed that the UN mission in Colombo hadn’t informed New York of the kidnapping of the Tamil UN workers. Montas was speaking over 10 weeks after the incident. Wouldn’t it be interesting to examine the accountability on the part of UN mission in Colombo? Referring to The Island exposure, Montas said: "We don’t have any confirmation of that newspaper report. We have heard them. As soon as we have a confirmation, we’ll get something for you on that. I am checking with the UN presence in Sri Lanka". Stressing that the UN mission in Colombo hadn’t confirmed the newspaper reports, Montas said: "I don’t know. We don’t have any confirmation. They haven’t confirmed those reports. I heard them through the press. (UN HQ admits Colombo office kept it in the dark with strap line SL government criticizes UN inaction-The Island April 28, 2007).

Had the UN intervened forcefully, a sizable section of the Vanni population could have escaped from the LTTE and sought protection in the government-held area. The LTTE subsequently, prevented the UN from moving its local staff from the Vanni to the government-held area. Still the UN and Colombo-based Western embassies tolerated the LTTE’s action and the TNA never even bothered at least to issue a statement expressing displeasure. Instead, it remained mum until the Army brought the war to a successful conclusion, thereby freeing it from Prabhakaran’s terror network.

Sri Lanka should present its defence in proper context. The responsibility lies with the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Rape as a tactic in Sri Lanka’s war against Tigers




By Shamindra Ferdinando

The recent release of some emails, sent and received by the then US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, during 2009, revealed the circumstances under which uncorroborated accusations had been directed at the Sri Lankan government at a time Western powers were trying to take the shine off the country’s triumph over terrorism.

The emails, released by the US State Department, disclosed the issuing of a clarification without actually retracting baseless claim made by Clinton that rape had been used as a tactic of war in Bosnia, Burma, and Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. The statement was made on Sept. 30, 2009, at the UN Security Council. That was a calculated move to appease those who had been calling for an international inquiry into the Vanni offensive, at Sri Lanka’s expense.

Democratic presidential front-runner, Clinton, is struggling due to the raging controversy over her controversial decision to use a private server, at her home, in Chappaqua, N.Y. However, thanks to former US Secretary of State, as well as the US decision to declassify a considerable number of emails, we have an opportunity to closely examine the post-war US project. During Clinton’s tenure, as Secretary of State (2009 to 2013), the State Department took an extremely hostile approach towards Sri Lanka, in spite of helping the military to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The then Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, had diplomatic skills to secure US intelligence to hunt down four LTTE ships. Karannagoda also succeeded in enhancing the fighting capabilities of Fast Attack Craft (FAC) squadrons by mounting US built 30 mm guns on 30 craft. Sri Lanka’s military received significant help from the US, over a period of time, though it drastically changed its strategy in the wake of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s refusal to halt the offensive. The then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, too, strongly opposed Western powers throwing a lifeline to the LTTE. Perhaps, the world’s solitary super power felt humiliated by the Rajapaksas’ refusal, hence the so-called regime change project.

Interested parties propagated lies to undermine the previous government. The Clinton statement, at the UNSC, should be examined in the backdrop of a vast conspiracy meant to ridicule the administration, as well as the military.

Immediately after Clinton declared, at the UNSC, on Sept 30, 2009, that Sri Lanka had used rape as a tactic of war, the writer sought clarifications from the then Military Spokesperson, Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, as well as the then Secretary to the Human Rights Ministry, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha.

Speaking on the adoption of a United Nations Security Council Resolution to Combat Sexual Violence, in Armed Conflict, Clinton said: "Now, reading the headlines, one might think that the use of rape, as a tactic of war, only happens occasionally, or in a few places, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Sudan. That would be bad enough, but the reality is much worse. We’ve seen rape used as a tactic of war before in Bosnia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. In too many countries and in too many cases, the perpetrators of this violence are not punished, and so this impunity encourages further attacks".

The following is The Island lead story headlined ‘Now, Hillary Clinton bats for anti-Sri Lanka lobby,’ with a strap line ‘Swedish move to disgrace Lanka countered at HRC’ -The Island, Oct 2, 2009).

"The government, yesterday, strongly denied US allegations that rape had been used as a weapon in Sri Lanka’s successful war against the LTTE. Military Spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, told The Island that nothing could be far from the truth. He emphasized that there was absolutely no basis, whatsoever, to even suggest Sri Lankan forces had raped anyone during the three-year campaign.

Clinton’s attack came close on the heels of Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, meeting Robert Blake, in the US, where he explained the situation in Sri Lanka, particularly ongoing efforts to resettle the war displaced.

The US targeted Sri Lanka at a UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday (September 30, 2009). U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said that rape had been used as a weapon of war in the Balkans, Burma, Sri Lanka and elsewhere and that in too many countries and in too many cases, the perpetrators had not been punished. She said that this impunity would encourage further attacks.

Government sources told The Island that Clinton had chaired Wednesday’s meeting on the last day of the US presidency of the council.

Sources said the US was trying to make a case against Sri Lanka.

The UN Security Council, on Wednesday, unanimously adopted a resolution creating new tools to combat sexual violence against women and children, in conflict situations.

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary to the Human Rights Ministry, told The Island the government would like the US to reveal any specific allegations against the Sri Lankan Army.

"’Maybe she is confused with the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan,’ he said, adding that a section of the international community was working overtime to discredit Sri Lanka. He said that it was unfortunate that those who had failed to save the LTTE from being crushed, at the hands of the SLA, was now harassing Sri Lanka.

Wijesinha said the US should explain the basis on which the allegation was levelled against Sri Lanka. Both, the US Ambassador, in Colombo, and the US Embassy spokesperson, were in the Maldives.

Prof. Wijesinha said that some countries derived a sadistic pleasure by making baseless allegations against Sri Lanka. According to him, the Swedish delegation, at the recently concluded Human Rights Sessions, in Geneva, had expressed concern over ill-treatment of children and women at government-run welfare centers in the north of Sri Lanka.

Wijesinha said that the Swedes had so far failed to keep their pledge to provide Sri Lanka with details to facilitate an inquiry. ‘They are silent now though I have contacted them on my return to Colombo,’ he said. Responding to The Island queries, he said that Sri Lanka had a right to know the reasons for their claim, made on behalf of many other countries.

The SLA said that a recent attempt to liken Vavuniya refugee camps to Nazi-era concentration camps, by a group of Sri Lankans, supportive of the LTTE cause, was part of the campaign."

Brig. Nanayakkara succeeded the then Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe on Sept 10, 2007, at the onset of the Vanni offensive. Nanayakkara functioned as the Military Spokesperson, until January 29, 2010, during an extremely difficult period, due to internal and external factors.

Subsequent to The Island report, the then Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, took up Clinton’s allegation with US Ambassador, Patricia Butenis. Bogollagama called for immediate retraction of Clinton’s claim.

Having declared open an exhibition, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Army, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that false allegations, including those of rape, were being brought against the military. The Commander-in-Chief emphasized that the troops were the best disciplined in the world.

In the wake of Sri Lankan protests, the US Embassy’s blog had the following account posted. During the 26-year long war in Sri Lanka, there were allegations of rape and sexual violence, just as in other conflicts.

Secretary Clinton’s statement was to raise awareness of such brutality, not to implicate specific perpetrators. She made no reference to the Sri Lankan Army or to the LTTE.

Sri Lankan troops had not only being accused of rape but in some cases found guilty of such crimes. The brutal rape and murder of Premawathie Manamperi, during the 1971 JVP-led insurgency shocked the nation. There had been cases of rape in other areas during the war against the LTTE but it had never been ordered by the political, or military, leaderships. The Indian Army, too, during its deployment here (July 1987-March 1990) earned the wrath of the Tamil community for a spate of rape cases involving Indian troops. But the Indian Army never used rape as tool of war. That is the truth.

Clinton never withdrew her statement. Instead, after intense internal consultations, the State Department issued a partial retraction under the name of the then ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, Melanne Verveer.

On Oct 3, 2009, Lissa Muscatine, a senior aide to Clinton, while sending a mail listing human rights violations, including rape atrocities committed in Sri Lanka, acknowledged there had been a lack of due diligence, prior to clearing Clinton’s statement. "The problem is that it was not sent to SCA or East Asia and should have been. But the rest of the building signed off on it," she wrote, referring to the South and Central Asia desk which covers Sri Lanka.

The then State Department spokesperson, Philip Crowley, sent a draft of a statement to Clinton, as a possible response to the Sri Lankan government’s protest note. But, five minutes later, he wrote of Clinton being open to the idea of the response coming from someone else.

"She feels that this has generated a great deal of media commentary in various quarters, including prominent outlets in this country, and in Asia, that we have no choice but to respond in a public way. Government supporters are saying that Clinton is listening to the Tamil Diaspora," Crowley wrote in an email to Clinton aides. Crowley hinted at active lobbying in Washington on behalf of the Sri Lankan government to put pressure for a retraction.

Crowley said that a conference call with Clinton led to a consensus that US response to Sri Lanka should not be from Clinton. "What this does is reinforces her statement, but gives the government a little something on recent experience and then goes the pivot to reconciliation and what they need to do now, reinforcing our current policy," Crowley wrote.

A little later, Philippe I Reines, Clinton’s senior advisor, wrote that if the letter was sent by Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, it will be "far more confirming of HRC’s statement", rather than from the spokesman "which will invariably read like a correction/retraction". "I fear how the 3,000 outlets, who have not even noticed the issue, will react to this statement," he added.

Clinton herself wrote an email to Crowley, saying she was "happy" to have Melanne Verveer release the letter to the Sri Lankan ambassador, but emphasized that she wanted to see it.

An hour later, a text, in language largely based on the original draft statement by the US spokesperson, was sent to Hillary to review. Verveer agreed. "We do not want to make this a bigger story, so if it makes sense for me to respond, I have no objection to course."

Within 15 minutes, Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl D Mills, said she had spoken to "HRC". "We should do this from Melanne. She still wants to see a draft".

In a missive, Verveer, assured Bogollagama: "In the most recent phase of the conflict, from 2006 to 2009, we have not received reports that rape and sexual abuse were used as tools of war as they clearly have in other conflict areas around the world." However, Verveer added that there had been such accusations only in the past. The letter further said: "We hope that this clarification puts the issue in its proper context."

The State Department adopted a similar strategy when Colombo-based US Defence Attache, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith, in June, 2011, publicly contradicted unsubstantiated war crimes accusations directed at Sri Lanka. An exclusive report in The Island, on the Smith affair, at the inaugural Defence Seminar, organized by the victorious Sri Lanka Army, prompted the State Department to claim that the Defence Attache wasn’t representing the US at the forum. The State Department never explained what Lt. Colonel Smith was doing at the venue, in US uniform.

Wikileaks revelations, as well as State Department emails, can be used to establish that the previous Sri Lankan government had been unfairly treated.

There had been a previous instance of US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, correcting an erroneous statement immediately after Sri Lanka brought it to the notice of the US State Department. Addressing a gathering on religious freedom, Albright had referred to the conflict, in Sri Lanka, as one between Hindu separatists and Sinhalese. The US State Department, in its daily news briefing, acknowledged that the Secretary of State had inadvertently made that remark. But the State Department had dealt with Clinton’s emails in an entirely a different way.

For want of a proper US retraction of a false Clinton statement, the accusation persisted. The UN repeated the allegation, in early 2014.

The media quoted Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, as having said, at the launch of a new report that dealt with rape, Sri Lanka was one of those affected countries. Responding to a query as regards the situation in Sri Lanka, Bangura said that she was concerned and spoke with the Sri Lankan Permanent Representative, Dr. Palitha Kohona, about the situation, urging him that Sri Lanka designates a focal person on the issue.

The report, covering 2013, dealt with sexual violence in the 21 countries, including Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Colombia, Guinea, Liberia, Libya, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Yemen.

When the writer sought a clarification from the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Bangura, said that she hadn’t been able to visit Sri Lanka before the release of the report which placed Sri Lanka among 21 countries, where rape and other sexual violence were committed in current and recent conflicts.

Communications Officer, Ms. La Neice Collins, said that Bangura had called for the appointment of a special person to handle the situation when she met Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Dr. Palitha Kohona. Collins was also asked whether Bangura had consulted the Office of the UN Resident Representative here regarding rape and sexual violence.

The Office of the UN Resident Representative, in Colombo, having declined to respond to The Island queries regarding the UN report that dealt with Sri Lanka, directed the questions to Bangura’s office.

It would be pertinent to reproduce what the then Military Spokesperson, Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya, said in response to UN allegations. The outspoken official said that the Sri Lankan military had never been accused of systematic rape during the conflict or post-conflict period, though various interested parties propagated lies. The Brigadier said that police headquarters, as well as hospital authorities, could provide data pertaining to rape in every district. The Brigadier pointed out that the Office of the UN Resident Representative was aware of the ground situation. The military spokesman insisted that the army had expeditiously dealt with anyone found guilty of sexual violence in former conflict zones or outside. "The UN should reveal the circumstances as well as the basis under which Sri Lanka ended up among countries named in the report."

Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, asserted that allegations of rape, during the conflict, as well as port-war period, were meant to justify demands for withdrawal of the army from the Northern Province. The international community could examine the situation, on the ground, as all Northern and Eastern districts were accessible, the former General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the celebrated 58 Division told The Island. The Maj. Gen said that anti-Sri Lanka propagandists hadn’t been able to sway northern opinion.

The Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government should invite the international community to verify rape accusations in accordance with the overall objective to inquire into accountability issues.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

TNA reigns supreme




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Now that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader, R. Sampanthan (Trincomalee District MP), had been named the Leader of the Opposition in the eighth parliament, it would be pertinent to examine the circumstances under which the four-party grouping succeeded the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), once the dominant minority party.

The project wouldn’t have succeeded without the LTTE’s direct support.

The TULF emerged as the minority party, with the largest block of seats, in parliament at the 2000 general election. The group secured 5 seats.

In the following year, the TULF gained ground in the Northern and Eastern electoral districts due to the then president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga calling for fresh parliamentary polls in the wake of a major political crisis, caused by a group of senior PA members, including Prof. G.L. Peiris and S. B. Dissanayake, switching their allegiance to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The UNP emerged victorious with 109 seats, including 13 National List slots. The People’s Alliance (PA) managed to secure 77 seats, including 11 National List slots. The TULF secured 15 seats, including one National List slot. However, the JVP gained the third position with 16 seats, including three National List slots.

Although the major Tamil outfit, contested under the TULF symbol, the TNA had been the public face of the Eelam movement.

In the run-up to the parliamentary polls, on Dec 5, 2001, the TNA comprising the TULF, TELO, ACTC and EPRLF (Suresh Premachandran faction), publicly identified with the LTTE. The TNA declared that its support for the UNP, or the PA, would entirely depend on immediate de-proscription of the LTTE. TULF heavyweight, and the then Batticaloa District candidate, Joseph Pararajasingham, told the writer that the TULF/TNA would cooperate with the party that accepted its conditions, namely (1) de-proscription of the LTTE, immediate ceasefire and resumption of the Norway-led peace initiative. Pararajasingham insisted that their conditions wouldn’t be negotiable, under any circumstances (TNA to support party that de-proscribes LTTE with strap line Tamil Alliance endorses Prabhakaran’s stance-The Island, Nov 30, 2001). Of course, Pararajasingham wouldn’t have made that particular statement unless authorized by the LTTE. During the period, between the 2000 and 2001 parliamentary polls, the LTTE transformed the TULF/TNA into its mouthpiece. The Tamil political leadership simply followed directives issued from the LTTE. The LTTE carried out attacks, in support of the TULF/TNA, contesting the Dec 5, 2001, general election. Suspected LTTE gunmen killed 48-year-old retired Chief Inspector of Police, Thambirasa Jayakumar, close to Onnachimadam junction, in the Kalawanchikudy police area, in Nov., 2001. Jayakumar’s crime was joining the fray, in Batticaloa, on the UNP ticket. The TULF/TNA remained silent. The LTTE strategy had been clear. Having decimated the once proud TULF leadership, as well as those members of Indian-trained Tamil terrorist groups, who could have challenged them, the LTTE brought the entire Tamil political leadership into its knees. The LTTE forced the TULF, and one-time terrorist groups, to join hands for its ultimate objective, a separate North-eastern Province, under its domination.

Responding to the writer, the then TULF General Secretary, R. Sampanthan, and Joseph Pararajasingham, declared that they had the backing of the LTTE. They went on to justify their efforts, explaining that the LTTE would back the TULF/TNA bid to resolve the national issue. They were in the fray in all five northern and eastern electoral districts, as well as Colombo. TULF candidates led the grouping in all districts, except the Vanni, where Selvam Addaikalanathan was in command. Addaikalanathan, of the TELO, had been involved in terrorism. Addaikalanathan is now the Deputy Chairman of Committee in the eighth parliament. But, perhaps the most important message, given by Messrs Sampanthan and Pararajasingham, was nothing but the LTTE would speak on behalf of the Tamil speaking people. It was a frightening situation. The international community didn’t take notice of what was happening in Sri Lanka. They turned a blind eye. (LTTE will talk for Tamils, says Alliance-The Island, Nov 11, 2001).

TULF great, V. Anandasangaree, too, had been involved in the LTTE-TULF/TNA deal. There had never been such a political arrangement, in Sri Lanka, with the LTTE seeking to have its representatives in parliament. The LTTE’s move made a mockery of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, introduced by the then President J. R. Jayawardene, to thwart possible attempts by a section of the parliament to undermine Sri Lanka’s unitary status. Having successfully contested the Dec., 2001, general election, Anandasangaree soon realized that he could no longer continue to deceive himself. Anandasangaree clashed with Sampanthan, over TULF/TNA policies leading to them parting company. Anandasangaree, on numerous occasions, in conversation with the writer, regretted the failure, on the part of the Tamil political leadership, to resist the LTTE. Anandasangree once confided that he felt the need to oppose the LTTE, especially the day the LTTE assassinated Pon Sivapalan, the TULF Legal Secretary, on Sept., 11, 1998. Sivapalan earned the wrath of the LTTE for filling the vacancy, created by the assassination of Sarojini Yogeswaran, the then Mayoress of Jaffna, The Jaffna Mayoress was gunned down by a gunman who called at her home on the morning of May 17, 1998.

The TULF expected the LTTE to leave Sarojini Yogeswaran alone. If the TULF leadership thought the LTTE would not assassinate both husband and wife, the LTTE proved what it was capable of. Her husband, Vettivelu, was gunned down by LTTE gunmen on July 13, 1989, at TULF leader A. Amirthalingam’s Colombo 7 residence. This was shortly after Sarojini served refreshments to the would-be assassins. They also killed TULF leader Amirthalingham before his bodyguards gunned them down. They were subsequently identified as Vishu and Aloysius. Before police reacted, former Udupiddy MP M. Sivasiththamparam too received gunshot injuries. Later, it was transpired that the assassins had been airlifted from the Vanni jungles to Colombo by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) at the behest of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who had no sense of the despicable LTTE strategy.

In the run-up to the April 2, 2004, parliamentary polls, the TULF/TNA had been under total control of the LTTE. The TULF/TNA had no option but to continue with the LTTE project or face the consequences. The LTTE threw its full weight behind the TULF/TNA. The LTTE desired the grouping should represent its position publicly, therefore those opposed to its strategy had no option but to leave the outfit. Anandasangaree was unceremoniously pushed aside as the TULF/TNA secured the LTTE approval for its nominations for the April 2, 2004, parliamentary polls.

In the run-up to the polls, the LTTE in no uncertain terms revealed its intention to facilitate the TULF/TNA victory. The LTTE stepped up pressure on political parties, especially the UNP. The LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate Colombo District UNP MP, T. Maheswaran, on the night of March 27, 2004. The attempt was made in Colombo. The former Hindu Affairs Minister, who had entered parliament from the Jaffna electoral district, at the Dec. 5, 2001, general election, moved to Colombo, following LTTE threats. The LTTE warned the Tamil electorate of dire consequences if they voted for either the UNP or UPFA at the general election. In spite of Jaffna town and major civilian centers, in the Jaffna electoral district, under military control, the two major parties decided against joining the fray in Jaffna. Although the UNP had been under heavy LTTE pressure, the then UNP General Secretary, Senarath Kapukotuwa, and Minister Karunasena, declined to blame the LTTE for the assassination attempt on Maheswaran, though the writer pushed them for a direct answer. The hastily arranged press conference, at the Cambridge Terrace, on the morning of March 28, 2004, exposed the UNP’s plight. When pressed for an answer, Kapukotuwa claimed that the UNP would take it up with the LTTE, if the police could establish the group’s responsibility. The UNP spokesmen also declined to comment on the Kalawanchikudy killing (UNP to confront LTTE if it is responsible for shootings-The Island, March 29, 2004). Instead, the UNP accused the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga of jeopardizing candidates’ security. However, the EU Election Observation Mission condemned the LTTE in no uncertain terms.

With the LTTE’s backing, the TNA gained 22 seats, including two National List slots, at the April 2, 2004, polls. In the run-up to the polls, the renegade Karuna faction ordered those contesting Batticaloa and Digamadulla electoral districts not to endorse the Vanni faction. In spite of threats, the LTTE managed to ensure that its nominees had the required electoral support to gain access to parliament. The emergence of the TNA, as the third, with the third largest block of seats, in parliament, greatly strengthened the LTTE. The LTTE had a proxy capable of pursuing its agenda in parliament. The TNA faithfully worked for the LTTE. The TNA remained committed to the LTTE’s strategy as long as it felt Prabhakaran had the wherewithal to achieve Eelam, regardless of consequences. The TNA remained confident, until the army liberated Kilinochchi, during the first week of January, 2009.

The TNA parliamentary backed W.J.M. Lokubandara for the post of the Speaker. The vote took place in the wake of the LTTE calling the entire TNA parliamentary group for a meeting, in the Vanni. Following their return, Batticaloa District elect, Kingsley Rasanayagam, quit, claiming personal reasons. But it was no secret that the LTTE wanted Rasanayagam out due to his close relationship with Karuna.

Ousted Anandasangaree hit back hard at the TNA, in the wake of the EU alleging a direct nexus between the LTTE and the TNA. In its final observations, on the April 2, 2004, parliamentary polls, the EU asserted that the LTTE had directed violence, at political rivals, to enable the TNA to secure the lions share of seats in the northern and eastern electoral districts. The EU alleged that the LTTE’s overall objective was to legitimize its claim that it represented the Tamils. In a brief interview with the writer, Anandasangaree said that the Elections Secretariat, and the international community, failed to stop the LTTE project (TULF leader applauds EU for unmasking LTTE proxy-The Island, June 23, 2004).

Strangely, the government, Elections Secretariat, and the international community, ignored the EU report. The TNA never discussed the EU report. The Colombo-based Western diplomats turned a blind eye. In fact, they actively encouraged the TNA, hence strengthening the LTTE’s overall strategy. The TNA tacitly endorsed child recruitment by participating in passing out parades during the Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).

Strangely, none of those, who had been demanding accountability, on the part of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration, for taking on the LTTE, never once questioned the TNA’s culpability in war. The TNA never bothered, at least to express regret, in or outside, parliament. Instead, TNA chief Sampanthan again called for division of the country, on ethnic lines, in his first speech, after receiving the Opposition Leader’s post. Sampanthan’s utterance is evidence that their mindset remained the same though thanks to the previous Rajapaksa administration Prabhakaran and his loyalists, as well as their conventional military power, were stilled.

President Rajapaksa brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009. The non-stop offensive lasted two years and 10 months.

The TNA suffered a setback at the first general election, after the LTTE’s defeat. At the April, 2010, general election, the TNA could secure only 14 seats, including one National List slot. Under war-winning President Rajapaksa’s leadership, the SLFP-led UPFA secured a staggering 144 seats, including 17 National List slots. Undoubtedly, the Rajapaksa’s victory was the biggest achieved by a political party, under the present proportional representation system.

The UPFA registered the massive general election victory, a few months after the TNA backed war-winning army commander, the then General Sarath Fonseka’s candidature, at the presidential polls. The TNA joined hands with the UNP and the JVP to challenge President Rajapaksa. The TNA’s revealed its duplicity. Its much touted demand for international war crimes probe seemed hollow in the wake of its alliance with General Fonseka.

It would be pertinent to mention that at the Nov., 2005, presidential polls, the TNA/LTTE combination ordered Tamil speaking people not to exercise their franchise. The TNA/LTTE move was meant to deprive UNP presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe of the Tamil vote, particularly in the Northern Province. The LTTE envisaged that it could military deal with Rajapaksa much more easier than Wickremesinghe. The strategy was proved wrong within President Rajapaksa’s first term.

The TNA engaged in some silly games, on behalf of the LTTE, both here and overseas. The TNA leadership, until the very end of the murderous LTTE, demanded international intervention but never requested the LTTE to release the Vanni population. The TNA steadfastly refused, at least to appeal on behalf of children, though it knew they were being used as cannon fodder. The UN Panel of Experts (PoE) in March, 2011, revealed children being forcibly recruited, as late as February, 2009, as the army relentlessly advanced on LTTE territory.

The TNA never acknowledged that it captured the Northern Provincial Council at the September, 2013, PC polls, thanks to President Rajapaksa liberating the entire LTTE-held area. The existence of TNA reminds us of Indian destabilization project here. The TNA today comprises four parties. In addition to the main constituent, the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, the TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF were originally raised by the government of India in the 80s. Indian trained PLOTE terrorists mounted a sea-borne raid to seize Male, in Nov. 1988. The operation went awry due to the raiding party’s failure to execute the operation swiftly. Had they succeeded, the then Maldivian President Gayoom would have been killed.

At the January, 2015 presidential polls, the TNA backed the longstanding SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena, one of those top SLFP politician, once high on the LTTE hit list.

At the recently concluded general elections, the TNA won 16 seats, including two National slots. The once powerful TULF failed to secure a single seat with its leader Anandasangaree suffering a humiliating defeat in Colombo. The TNA received two key positions in the present parliament, namely the post of Opposition Leader and Deputy Chairman of Committees. The TNA refused to field a single ex-LTTE cadre, though it once worked very closely with the group.

A genuine post-war national reconciliation process would largely depend on the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe national government and the TNA, as well as Tamil Diaspora organizations, working in unison. The success will largely depend on the readiness of both sides to compromise on key issues, though unitary status shouldn’t be among them, under any circumstances.

It would be interesting to examine TNA’s options in the face of sharp differences with Northern Province Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran, whose affiliation with hardliners was causing trouble for the party leadership.