Tuesday, 27 October 2015

War crimes probe: Relevance of leaked US cables and UK court case

Foreign experts highlight previous government’s failure



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The report on the Second Mandate of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry Into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances, aka the Paranagama Commission, highlighted the relevance of Wikileaks cables in assessing the accountability issues in Sri Lanka.

The Norwegian government underlined the relevance of Wikileaks revelations, pertaining to Sri Lanka, in Sept. 2011. A comprehensive report, titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, stressed the importance of Wikileaks. In fact, the authors of the report deeply regretted their failure to examine the entire set of Wikileaks cables on the wartime situation (2006-2010). The authors said: "As the report was being published, new material of relevance for assessing Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka was released by Wikileaks. Unfortunately, it came too late for a evaluation."

The previous government never made an effort to examine Wikileaks. In fact, the government ignored the urgent need to explore the possibility of using them for Sri Lanka’s defence, even after Norway underscored the importance of classified US diplomatic cables, released by Wikileaks. Those who had been responsible, during the previous administration, for Sri Lanka’s defence in the face of growing war crimes accusations, failed pathetically in their duty. The External Affairs Ministry never bothered even to study Wikileaks, in spite of Norway revealing the importance of the US cables. The Norwegian report revealed that in addition to about 120 persons, interviewed in aid of the evaluation process, relevant Wikileaks cables, released at that time, proved useful.

If not for the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s much delayed decision to expand the scope of the Paranagama Commission, on July 15, 2014, to accommodate a team of international legal and military experts, to assist the domestic mechanism, Sri Lanka would never have received the benefit of Wikileaks revelations. The international team comprised Sir Desmond de Silva, QC, Chairman of the legal advisory council (UK), Professor Sir Geoffrey Nice QC. (UK), and Professor David M. Crane (USA), They were backed by Rodney Dixon, QC. (UK/ South Africa), Professor Michael Newton (USA), Commander William Fenrick (Canada), Professor Nina Jorgensen and Major General John Holmes, DSO, OBE, MC (UK) former Commanding Officer of the Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment, Paul Mylvaganam (UK) and Victoria de Silva and Delarney Uyangodage, for their research.

Former President Rajapaksa established the Paranagama Commission, on Aug. 15, 2013. However, the Paranagama Commission ignored a statement made, in Colombo, on June 1, 2011, by the then US Advisor, in Sri Lanka, Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith, who earned the wrath of the US State Department by denying claims of a bid to arrange surrender of LTTE cadres going awry. Most probably the previous government had failed to bring it to the notice of the international experts.

While clearing the government, and the Army, of seeking to annihilate the Vanni population, the Commission called for a domestic judicial investigation, backed by international technical assistance, under foreign observers.

The Island, on several occasions, highlighted the relevance of Wikileaks to Sri Lanka’s defence. The previous government, for some strange reason, refrained from even referring to Wikileaks. Instead, the previous government squandered millions of US dollars on expensive US public relations firms, in a foolish bid to influence US decision makers. Thanks to international experts, the Paranagama Commission took up the issue of Wikileaks. The following points, contained in the Paranagama Commission, in no uncertain terms, highlighted the importance of Wikileaks cables, pertaining to Sri Lanka. Point No 11: In addition, the Commission had available to it via WikiLeaks, contemporaneous and classified cables from the US embassy in Colombo. The Commission is aware that in the judgement in the case of The Queen (on the application of Louis Oliver Bancoult) v. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the English Court of Appeal held that the evidence of these cables was admissible as it did not violate the archive and documents of the diplomatic mission which sent the cables, since they had already been disclosed to the world by a third party. The Commission has relied on the reasoning in that judgement. Point No 65: This Commission seeks to document chronologically some of the salient events that occurred during the final phase of the war in Sri Lanka and to analyse the thinking and conduct of both individuals and states whose interaction helped shape the outcome of the events both before and after the end of Asia’s longest running civil war. The Commission makes no apology for having delved into diplomatic cables that have come to be disclosed by WikiLeaks to shed light on matters hitherto unknown or only guessed at. On 23 May, 2014, the Court of Appeal, in the UK, upheld the principle that the contents of WikiLeaks cables could be admissible as evidence in court.

The previous government never sought to use Wikileaks revelations to establish battlefield situation or ascertain the stand taken by the US, Norway, UN, ICRC, as well as India. The Paranagama Commission pointed out a US diplomatic cable, dated July 15, 2009, authored by US Ambassador in Geneva, Clint Williamson, cleared the Army of crimes against humanity during the Vanni offensive. In addition to clearing the Army of crimes against humanity, according to Ambassador Williamson, during the Vanni offensive, Jacques de Maio, head of ICRC operations, in South Asia, stated that any serious violations of the international humanitarian law that may have been committed by the military did not amount to genocide. On the basis of available information, including Wikileaks revelations, the Commission asserted that the Army couldn’t have received any military advantage by deliberately targeting the Vanni civilian population. US diplomatic cable quoted Jacques de Maio, head of ICRC operations, in South Asia as having said that while the Army regarded its military objectives as paramount, the Army was, ‘open to adapting its actions to reducing casualties’.

Contrary to unsubstantiated allegations, directed at the Army as regards indiscriminate military action, on the Vanni front, leaked US diplomatic cables revealed the true position on the ground. The Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government should ensure that those responsible for Sri Lanka’ defence, at the proposed war crimes court, use US diplomatic cables to counter baseless accusations. It would be pertinent to mention that US cables can counter allegations pertaining to the massacre of over 40,000 Tamil civilians on the Vanni front. Contrary to claims, the Army earned praise from the then US Ambassador, in Colombo, in January, 2009. The cable, dated January 27, 2009, referred to US Ambassador stressing the need to minimise loss of civilian lives.

‘The Government has gained considerable credit until this point for conducting a disciplined military campaign, over the past two years, that minimized civilian casualties. We are concerned by statements from several Government Ministers that the "[GoSL] will fully occupy the Vanni by your independence day, on February 4. Given the recent high civilian casualties, we urge that you not tarnish your reputation for minimizing civilian casualties in your haste to end hostilities by February 4."

The US position was subsequently endorsed by the UN Resident Coordinator, in Sri Lanka. The Colombo-based UN chief told the Foreign Minister, on 7 February, 2009: ‘We [the UN] recognise that throughout the military, campaign during 2008, the level of civilian casualties was minimal especially considering the scale of the military operation. This was in large part due to the actions and caution of the Sri Lankan forces. However, since the first week of January, despite the best efforts, there has been a rapid increase in civilian casualties as the areas within which they are concentrated shrinks, and we have raised our concerns to the Government of Sri Lanka, both publicly and privately, in this regard. We have also highlighted publicly a number of times the grave responsibility the LTTE has for this terrible situation…’.

On the basis of information, obtained from the ICRC, the US established the LTTE use of civilians to enhance its battlefield strategy. A US diplomatic cable relayed information obtained from the Head of ICRC Operations for South Asia, Jacques de Maio, where: ‘De Maio said that the LTTE commanders’ objective was to keep the distinction between civilian and military assets blurred. They would often respond positively when the ICRC complained to the LTTE about stationing weapons at a hospital, for example. The LTTE would move the assets away, but as they were constantly shifting these assets, they might just show up in another unacceptable place shortly thereafter.’

Wikileaks cables, which dealt with Sri Lanka, exposed some of those who had been shedding crocodile tears for the Vanni civilian population. Among those exposed were high ranking British politicians, as high as the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, who worked overtime to throw a lifeline to the sinking Tigers, for political reasons. Wikileaks also dealt with the assassination of the then Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, in Aug 2005, in the run-up to the eelam war IV. Wikileaks also revealed India seeking US assistance to ascertain Chinese projects in Sri Lanka. But, unfortunately, the previous government turned a blind eye to this trove of information. Cables, pertaining to Sri Lanka, dealt with the then government obtaining weapons from North Korea and even the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) supplying prostitutes to the Sri Lankan military. Sri Lanka cables included many on the political situation. One of the most interesting was the one which dealt with SLMC Chairman, Basheer Segu Dawaood, discussing a political strategy to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The US cables, in early 2009, revealed the US awareness of the LTTE holding the Vanni population hostage. The Paranagama Commission pointed out the US reaction to the LTTE’s move. When the LTTE ignored the then President Rajapaksa’s January 29, 2009 call ‘to allow free movement of civilians. to ensure their safety and security’, the US Ambassador, stated in a secret cable to Washington: ‘The LTTE had refused to allow civilians to leave because the LTTE needs the civilians as human shields, as a pool for forced conscription, and as a means to try to persuade the international community to force a ceasefire upon the government, since that is the LTTE’s only hope’. The then Norwegian Ambassador, Tore Hattrem, too, asserted, in February, 2009, that the LTTE was unlikely to release civilians. Hattrem expressed his concerns, in a letter dated, February 16, 2009, addressed to presidential advisor, Basil Rajapaksa. The Island recently revealed the existence of the hitherto unknown Norwegian note, headlined ‘Offer/Proposal to the LTTE’, personally signed by Ambassador Hattrem. The Norwegian envoy was writing to Basil Rajapaksa, on behalf of those countries, trying to negotiate a ceasefire between the government and the LTTE, to facilitate the release of civilians, held hostage by the latter.

The following is the text of Ambassador Hattrem’s letter, addressed to Basil Rajapaksa: "I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE on how to release the civilian population, now trapped in the LTTE controlled area, has been transmitted to the LTTE through several channels. So far, there has been, regrettably, no response from the LTTE and it doesn’t seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree with this in the near future."

Co chairs to Sri Lanka’s peace process, namely the US, EU, Norway and Japan can help the proposed war crimes court to establish the efforts made by them to arrange a ceasefire to pave the way for the LTTE to surrender.

The Paranagama Commission explained the situation, on the basis of a US diplomatic cable, dated April 17, 2009, originating from Colombo. The cable dealt with information provided by a priest who had managed to escape from the LTTE. The Commission said: ". The priest asserted that all the civilians in the LTTE controlled area would leave if they could but with only three villages left, under LTTE control, it was now much more difficult for civilians to evade detection by the LTTE when attempting to escape. The same diplomatic cable made reference to the Tamil National Alliance (‘TNA’) sending four TNA Members of Parliament, to Delhi, to explain that India had to tell the GoSL that if it could not protect civilians then India would have a responsibility to do so. In the view of this Commission, this must have appeared to the GoSL as a possible repeat of the events, of 1987, when India intervened and halted the advance of the SLA."

Just five weeks before the war ended, the US embassy, according to a leaked diplomatic cable, placed the number of casualties, from January 20, 2009 to April 20, at 6,432 killed and 13,946 wounded. The figures, quoted by the US, were provided by a UN information gathering network active in the Vanni. The UN network halted its project on May 13, 2009, six days before the conclusion of the war. The UN estimated the number of dead at 7,721 and 18,461 wounded though the UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) declined to accept the figures provided by the wartime UH mission in Sri Lanka.

On 24 April, 2009, a cable from the US Embassy, in Colombo, records UN casualty estimates between 20 January and 20 April as being 6,432 killed and another 13,946 wounded. ‘Embassy considers these to be the most reliable figures available’.

Let me end this piece with the Paranagama Commission’s assertion of Wikileaks cables on the Vanni war: "By the last stages of the war, in 2009, US diplomatic cables acknowledged that the LTTE was pursuing a monstrous campaign of cannibalising its own people, particularly children. Even apparent opponents of the GoSL corroborate the fact that the dragooning of Tamil civilians into the front line by the LTTE was to increase the scale of Tamil civilian deaths so as to force some form of international intervention in response to a humanitarian disaster. It is significant that Prabhakaran continued to sacrifice his own people, right up to 16th May 2009, when the ruling party of Tamil Nadu – Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam - which he believed might have intervened, and ensured his survival, lost out in the Indian general election. Prabhakaran’s hopes for the election, in Tamil Nadu, of a party supportive of the LTTE, were dashed when the Congress Party of India secured a majority without the need to accommodate pro-LTTE parties in the central Government."

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

A wartime UN ‘network’ and ICRC role




By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Report of the Secretary General Ban ki-moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE), on Accountability in Sri Lanka, alleged the deliberate use of artillery fire to cause loss of civilian life, during the Vanni offensive. The PoE alleged that the majority of civilian casualties, during the final phase of the war, had been caused by indiscriminate military action, particularly the use of artillery, hence the decision to exclude international organizations from the war zone. The use of heavy artillery, purposely, against civilians, as well as hospitals, in the Vanni region, had been the two main allegations, with the third being the denial of humanitarian assistance to the Vanni population. The Island comprehensively dealt with the third accusation, last week. The first and the second allegations should be examined, keeping in mind the PoE claim that external organizations were excluded from the war zone.

The LTTE had formidable fire power with over several dozens of artillery pieces and mortars. The PoE, too, acknowledged that the LTTE deployed artillery, mortars, as well as a few multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRLs). In spite of losing its floating warehouses, the LTTE retained considerable firepower, until the very end of the Vanni offensive (PoE report/page 18).

The LTTE artillery ‘regiment’ had been its most powerful component, comprising at least 30 artillery pierces, including 152 mm (15 units), 130 mm (11), 122 mm (3), 85 mm (1) and one 120 mm mortar.

Since the recovery of one 152, mm on Jan 29, 2009, at Vishvamadu, on the Vanni east front, the SLA had recovered altogether 30 artillery 152 mm, 130 mm, 122 mm and 85 mm pieces and one 120 mm mortar. Of them, five were recovered on Oct 31, 2012, buried in the Vellamullivaikkal beach. But the actual number of artillery pieces, in the LTTE hands, is much more.

The British media outfit, Channel 4 News, as well as many other interested parties, including the PoE, had alleged that the Army waged a war without witnesses. The accusation was based on the premiss that evacuation of UN and other foreign NGO staff, in mid Sept. 2008, consequent to a Defence Ministry directive, was meant to annihilate the civilian population. The PoE said: "The withdrawal of international staff, of the United Nations, and INGOs from Kilinochchi, represented a pivotal point in the final stages of the war. From that moment on, there were virtually no international observers able to report to the wider world what was happening in the Vanni."

On the basis of unsubstantiated allegations, made by the PoE, Western powers moved three Geneva resolutions on Sri Lanka, in 2012, 2013 and 2014, paving the way for a joint resolution, on Sept 30, 2015. In accordance with the joint resolution, setting up of a special court, with the participation of foreign judges, and other experts, is now inevitable. It would be the duty of the incumbent administration, as well as the international community, to bring forth all available information before the proposed court. A comprehensive inquiry is required to ascertain whether the previous government sought to annihilate the Vanni population, as alleged by a UN investigation, headed by Ms Sandra Beidas, formerly of Amnesty International.

Having alleged that the previous government had forced all foreigners out of the Vanni, in mid - Sept. 2008, the PoE admitted the presence of a foreign military official, in the first No Fire Zone (NFZ), in late January, 2009. Although the PoE refrained from naming the officer, he was described as a highly experienced military officer, serving the United Nations as a security officer. The PoE claimed that the foreigner had called head of UN Security in Colombo, Vanni commander, as well as Joint Operations Headquarters, to demand the immediate halt to artillery strike on UN hub, within the NFZ. Although, the PoE alleged that all foreign humanitarian workers had been forced out of the Vanni, in mid - Sept. 2008, the UN remained in the Vanni. In fact, the UN stayed in the Vanni, even after the army liberated Kilinochchi on January 1, 2009, to pave the way for large scale operations, on multiple fronts. The PoE admitted that foreign UN staff quit the Vanni east, leaving two, who moved with civilians to the first NFZ. The person described as an experienced military officer was one of the two foreigners on the ground when the Army directed heavy artillery fire on the NFZ, on January 24, 2009.

Alleging that the government never gave an explanation for the January 24, 2009, artillery assault, the PoE admitted that there had been international presence in the NFZ.

The proposed war crimes court can summon UN staff, who had been present in the Vanni east, to establish the circumstances under which the Army conducted the offensive. The PoE alleged that hundreds of civilians perished during two days of artillery, fire directed at the first NFZ, on January 24 and 24, 2009. Interestingly, the PoE, then admitted that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), too, had been present in the first NFZ at the time of the two-day artillery onslaught that is said to have caused hundreds of civilian deaths.

The proposed court has an opportunity to summon both UN and ICRC staff to verify accusations that the Army engaged in a deliberate campaign to wipe out civilians. They can assist the court to establish the situation, in the Vanni, since mid - Sept. 2008, until the UN completely pulled out of the war zone on January 29, 2009. But the ICRC remained.

In spite of vacating the Vanni, by January 29, 2009, the UN maintained a large network of civilians, including local staff, clergy and government officials, to monitor loss of life. The UN project received the ICRC support, hence an opportunity to verify still classified UN report which dealt with the situation, between Aug. 2008 and May 13, 2009. The bottom line is that the report can shed light on large scale offensive action undertaken by the Army, both west and east, of the A9. The members of the network, on the ground, can facilitate the war crimes probe. That network placed the number of dead and wounded at 7,721 and 18,479, respectively. The UN network hadn’t been able to gather information for less than a week, due to heavy fighting, from May 14 to May 19, 2009, when the Army brought the war to a successful conclusion.

The UN report, which dealt with the Vanni situation, on a daily basis, is the most comprehensive dossier on the ground situation in the Vanni. Yet it remains beyond public scrutiny, due to a UN policy decision.

Thanks to the existence of ICRC - backed UN network, in the Vanni, the proposed court can verify a spate of allegations. In fact, the UN network can verify the PoE claim that hundreds perished during artillery onslaught direct at the first NFZ on January 24 and 25, 2009. Each and every allegation, pertaining to attacks on hospitals, as well as civilians, can be verified to enable the court to establish the number of dead. The PoE claimed that the Army fired artillery at the Puthukudirippu hospital everyday from January 29-Feb 4, 2009. According to the PoE, two foreign ICRC personnel had been present when the hospital came under fire on Sri Lanka’s independence day.

The PoE alleged that the Army directed artillery fire at the Puthumathalan hospital on Feb 9, 2009, killing 16 patients.

The Army directed MBRL fire at Ambalavanpokkanai killing 140 civilians, including many children, on March 25, 2009, the PoE alleged. The PoE also referred to a second artillery strike on the same village on April 8, 2009, causing loss of civilian life.

Although the international staff of the ICRC, too, vacated the war zone (Puthumathalan) on February 10, 2009, they returned with ICRC chartered vessels deployed to bring in essential supplies and evacuate the seriously wounded and some of their relatives. The final evacuation was made on May 9, 2009. Altogether, the ICRC evacuated 14,000 persons, including helpers, and delivered 2,300 metric tons of food, to besieged civilians, between Feb 10, 2009 and May 9, 2009. It would be pertinent to mention that the UN network functioned even four days after the ICRC brought its mercy mission to an end.

The proposed war crimes court should examine the evacuation of the wounded and delivery of food in the backdrop of persistent allegations that the Army pushed for the extermination of Vanni Tamils. No less a person than former Supreme Court judge and Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, called for UN intervention here on the basis of the Sinhala majority trying to annihilate the Tamil speaking minority.

The proposed court should make every endeavor to establish the number of civilians and LTTE cadres killed during the Vanni offensive. In fact, all dead should be identified.

The then High Commissioner for Human Rights, on March 13, 2009, placed the number of dead at 2,800 and 7,000 wounded on the basis of the information provided by the UN network operating inside the Vanni.

Following an exhaustive investigation, the Amnesty International in September 2011 placed the number of civilians killed during the Vanni offensive at 10,000.

In the same month and year, the British parliament was told of the Sri Lankan military killing 100,000 civilians and LTTE cadres during January-May 19, 2009 period. The Labour Party MP, Siobhan McDonagh, conveniently ignored several emails sent to her by the writer seeking a clarification regarding her claim. Subsequently, an unsuccessful attempt was made through the UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) to secure an interview with the lady. The previous government didn’t even bother to raise the issue with the UK government. The British High Commission, in Colombo, declined to comment on whether the MP checked with the Colombo mission before she accused Sri Lanka of killing 100,000 Tamils in four and half months. McDonagh said: "The civil war in Sri Lanka was one of the region’s most dreadful conflicts of recent times. In its last five months alone, 100,000 people were killed, 40,000 of them civilians. War crimes took place."

Ms McDonagh called for justice for all people in Sri Lanka and the establishment of an independent, credible and thorough investigation into the allegations of war crimes committed by the Government and the LTTE during the final months of the armed conflict, in 2009.

The previous government never realized the urgent need to counter lies. Instead, it hired expensive PR firms, in the US and UK, in a ridiculous bid to stall the Geneva project.

Now that all political parties, in the UK, support the proposed war crimes court, which is certain to include at least one or two judges, representing the Commonwealth, Ms McDonagh can make submissions before the hybrid court and help prove charges against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as well as the military top brass.

Let me reproduce verbatim what the PoE said about civilian casualties: "In the limited surveys that had 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 there 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."

The proposed war crimes court can address the issue raised by the PoE. Tangible measures can be taken to identify the dead, both civilians and LTE cadres. The PoE comprising Marzuki Darusman (Chairman), Steven R.Ratner and Yasmin Sooka in no uncertain terms emphasized the pivotal importance of establishing an accurate number of dead. However, the PoE should ensure that those described as credible sources, responsible for estimating the original estimate of over 40,000 civilian deaths, should substantiate their claims. The Sri Lankan government should strongly push for an effective mechanism to list the number of dead and the missing. To ensure transparency and clarity, Sri Lanka should seek a hybrid mechanism to carry out a survey in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The INGO/NGO community, too, can join the process. But a comprehensive survey cannot be carried out without international cooperation. Many of those who had been categorized as missing are believed to be living overseas, in India, Europe, and various other countries. Sri Lanka should seek the intervention of the proposed court to help establish the number of Sri Lankan Tamils given foreign citizenship, while they remained categorized as missing persons. Western countries repeatedly declined to assist the Paranagama Commission to locate missing persons living overseas. However, the proposed war crimes court should be able to address the issue. Those countries wanting to know the truth can assist the proposed hybrid mechanism to inquire into the cases of Sri Lankans obtaining foreign citizenship, at least since 2006, the commencement of eelam war IV.

The propose war crimes court can help Sri Lanka dispel many lies. Nothing can be as important as verifying the number of dead LTTE cadres and civilians. Only a court, set up in partnership with the international community, can pave the way for international agencies to make submissions. Perhaps, leaked confidential Wiki Leaks cables, pertaining to Sri Lanka, may help the proposed court to ascertain the situation on the ground.

Wiki Leaks revealed top ICRC official, Jacque de Maio, as having told the then US Ambassador to Geneva Clint Williamson on July 15, 2009, the LTTE effort to keep civilians in a permanent state of violence. The ICRC official alleged that the LTTE used the civilian population as a ‘protective asset’ and kept its cadres embedded amongst them. De Maio said that the LTTE commanders’, objective was to keep the distinction between civilian and military assets blurred. They would often respond positively when ICRC complained to the LTTE about stationing weapons at a hospital, for example. The LTTE would move the assets away, but as they were constantly shifting these assets, they might just show up in another unacceptable place shortly thereafter.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

War crimes: Robert Blake and his colleagues can strengthen Lanka’s defence - Gotabhaya




by Shamindra Ferdinando

Report of UNSG Ban ki-moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE) on Accountability in Sri Lanka accused the then Sri Lankan government of five major human rights violations, committed during eelam war IV (Aug. 2006 to May 2009). Three dealt with the conduct of the Sri Lankan political and military leaderships during the war, while the two remaining allegations dealt with violations committed after the conclusion of the Vanni offensive.

The military brought the entire country under government control on the morning of May 19, 2009.

The PoE, comprising Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia), Steven R. Ratner (US) and Yasmin Sooka (South Africa), identified the three violations as civilian killings caused by widespread shelling, indiscriminate attacks on hospitals and other humanitarian objects, and denial of humanitarian assistance. Let me reproduce the relevant accusation verbatim: "The government systematically deprived persons in the conflict zone of humanitarian assistance, in the form of food and basic medical supplies, particularly supplies needed to treat injuries. To this end, it purposefully underestimated the number of civilians that remained in the conflict zone. Particularly, the denial of surgical supplies greatly increased the suffering of the civilians and added to the large death toll," (PoE report/page 49).

The PoE released its report on March 31, 2011. The then government refused to cooperate with the investigation, thereby contributed to the release of one-sided report. On the basis of that unsubstantiated report, Western powers moved three successive Geneva resolutions, targeting Sri Lanka, in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The US project culminated with a fourth resolution moved jointly with Sri Lanka, on Sept. 30, 2015. The fourth resolution has paved the way for a joint judicial mechanism to inquire into alleged atrocities though the government still talk of a domestic mechanism. The writer is of the opinion the country should be prepared to face the external challenge.

The PoE further elaborated the allegation pertaining to denial of humanitarian assistance. The PoE accused the government of (a) deliberately and publicly underestimated the number of civilians in the LTTE-held area, in the Vanni, to reduce food relief, hindered movement of overland supply convoys, and relief ships, from entering the war zone, and, intentionally, shelled areas where humanitarian agencies operated. The PoE alleged that the strategy was meant to prevent civilians from securing essential supplies and medicine (PoE report/page 60).

The Island raised the issue of the then government deliberately depriving those who had been in LTTE-held areas, of food and basic medicine, as alleged by the PoE, with the then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Had there been such a murderous project, it would have been spearheaded by no less a person than Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa closely supervised the war effort until the very end. The proposed judicial investigation can help the international community to establish whether Sri Lanka systematically denied humanitarian assistance to the Vanni civilian population. Various interested parties repeatedly alleged that denial of humanitarian assistance had been part of the overall strategy to wipe out Tamil-speaking people. Northern Former Supreme Court judge and Northern Province Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran, is one of those propagating genocide charge against the previous government. Wigneswaran has called for UN intervention to inquire into genocide charges.

Former Defence Secretary, Rajapaksa, said that the Tamil community had never been deprived of humanitarian assistance, during the conflict. Rajapaksa said that successive governments ensured that those living in LTTE-held areas received relief. Sri Lanka never adopted discriminatory approach towards any particular community, Rajapaksa said, adding that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, followed the same during eelam war IV. Rajapaksa insisted that Sri Lanka had a comprehensive mechanism to address humanitarian concerns during eelam war IV. The former Defence Secretary asserted that the PoE wouldn’t have made such an unfair accusation had it consulted top Western and UN officials, based in Colombo, during the war. The proposed judicial inquiry could summon all those who had been present during that time to examine accusations regarding denial of humanitarian assistance.

Asked whether he, as the former Defence Secretary, could absolve himself of the charge of starving civilians during eelam war IV, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said: "Soon after heavy fighting erupted, on multiple fronts, in Aug. 2006, the government appointed a Commissioner General of Essential Services to ensure supplies to the Jaffna peninsula, and LTTE-held areas, in the Vanni. But, Co-chairs to the Norway-led peace process, namely the US, EU, Japan and Norway sought a wider role for them to ensure humanitarian assistance to the war-affected community. In response to Co-chairs concerns, we established a Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA) in Oct. 2006. We met almost on 30 occasions, throughout the war. The last meeting was held on May 11, 2009, eight days before the end of the conflict."

The then Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, headed CCHA. The outfit included Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and senior presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that the government had absolutely no control over distribution of food and maintaining medical services in areas under LTTE control. The government had no option but to depend on the international community to ensure required supplies to areas beyond military control, he said. "The government accommodated key international representatives in the CCHA. We never interfered with their nominees and worked very closely with them though there were differences."

The government couldn’t have deprived Tamil-speaking people of humanitarian assistance without the international community knowing what was going on the ground. The Colombo-based diplomats had direct access to Government Agents, Ms Imelda Sukumar (Mullaitivu), Vedhanayagam (Kilinochchi), Ms P.S.M. Charles (Vavuniya), Nicholas Pillai (Mannar), as they too were, made members of the CCHA.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that the proposed war crimes court could summon top diplomats who had been members of the CCHA to verify accusations. In fact, those wanting to prove war crimes allegations should urge those diplomatic representatives to come forward, Rajapaksa said. "Their evidence can help justify accusation regarding denial of humanitarian assistance. Therefore, there is no reason for them not to come before the proposed court."

According to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, expatriate CCHA members were the then US Ambassador Robert Blake (Chairman of Co-chairs to the peace process), Julian Wilson (Head of Delegation, European Union Delegation), Juergen Weerth (German Ambassador), Dominic Chilcott (British High Commissioner), Kiyoshi Araki (Ambassador to Japan), Frederick Lyons and Neil Bhune (UN), Amin Awad (UNHCR), Ms Joanna Van Gerpen and Philippe Duamelle (UNICEF), Valentin Gatzinski and Ms Zola Dowell (Head of Office, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), Dr. Agostino Borra (WHO), Taft-Dick, Mohamed Salaheen and Adhnan Khan (WFP), Marc Bellemans (Food and Agriculture Organization), Ms Tine Staemose (ILO), Chris du Toit (Country Security Advisor, UN Department of Safety and Security), David Verboom (Head of Office, European Community Humanitarian Office) and Toon Vandenhove and Paul Castella (ICRC).

The delegates included Jeevan Thiagarajah, Executive Director, and Firzan Hashim, Deputy Executive Director of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa insisted that those persons could not only easily verify the situation, prevailing during the war, but also efforts taken by the government to provide facilities for the displaced.

Responding to a query, the former Defence Secretary pointed out that the PoE accused the LTTE of six specific crimes during the conflict. The LTTE was alleged to have used civilians as a human buffer, execution of those trying to escape to the army-held area, deployment of long range mortars and artillery pieces, very close to the civilian population, forced recruitment of children, forced labour, and directing suicide attacks on civilians. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa alleged that the PoE never really examined the wartime situation. "The PoE was hell-bent on bringing in war crimes charges against us,"the former Defence Secretary said.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that the then US Ambassador Blake and his colleagues, with the CCHA, knew constant efforts made by the LTTE to disrupt food supplies to the Vanni as well as the Jaffna peninsula. Many had conveniently forgotten that the Jaffna peninsula had been isolated due to, closure of the only overland entry/exit point at Muhamalai, since late 2006, following a massive terrorist attack. The government had no option but to deploy ships to move supplies. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa recollected the ICRC declining to lend its flag to enable supply vessels to operate free of Sea Tiger threat. The former Defence Secretary said: "The LTTE stepped-up pressure on shipping movements to Point Pedro and Kankesanthurai harbour. We struggled to maintain supplies. For want of required naval assets, we experienced severe difficulties in sustaining supply runs as well as operations against Sea Tigers. Don’t forget, food requirements of over 40,000 officers and men, deployed in the Jaffna peninsula, had to be moved in ships. Diplomatic representatives of CCHA knew the situation."

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before war crimes court remained mum even after the LTTE mounted suicide attacks on cargo ship, MV Liverpool, while it was unloading supplies, for civilians, at the Point Pedro harbour. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) worked closely with the LTTE throughout the war. The TNA leadership never uttered a word about LTTE atrocities. It would be interesting to know whether the TNA leadership ever took up LTTE atrocities with the Colombo-based diplomatic community. In fact, those foreign diplomats, with the CCHA, never complained about shortage of food, in the Vanni, during regular meetings held at the Defence Ministry, Rajapaksa said, adding that they were primarily concerned about inadequate supply of cement, fuel, aluminium utensils and takaram.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said: "Records of Defence Ministry meetings are available with relevant parties. The proposed war crimes court can call for minutes of those meetings to ascertain true facts pertaining to PoE accusation as regards denial of humanitarian assistance to the Vanni population."

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa stressed that soon after the military had liberated and consolidated Kilinochchi, during the first week of January, 2009, fighting Divisions encountered fierce resistance, on the Vanni east front. By January 23, 2009, supplies for the Vanni population couldn’t be moved overland due to heavy fighting. Having realized the rapidly deteriorating situation, we called an emergency meeting on January 17, 2009, to work out modalities to commence sea transportation, Rajapaksa said. "We invited the ICRC to facilitate the process. ICRC mission in Colombo can verify events leading to the launch of sea transportation. Initially, we had to deploy tug boats and passenger vessels due to owners of merchant vessels refusing to join the operation. They feared suicide attacks on their vessels. Despite severe difficulties, supplies were moved to those trapped on the Vanni east front. The LTTE, too, benefited from supplies, though we continued the operation. The ICRC, and World Food Programme, are aware of the amount of supplies moved to the Vanni east (Puthumathalan area) since January, 2009."

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that the World Food Programme had acquired a fleet of extra long trucks, in 2008, on a request made by the CCHA, to expedite the food programme. The former soldier said that meticulous food supply operations underscored the then administration’s determination to meet humanitarian needs of the war-affected community. The World Food Programme had played a very significant role in the project, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said, recollecting the Bangladeshi head of WFP going out of his way to set up food stores meant for the war affected. The former Defence Secretary said: "Under the Bangladeshi’s supervision, the WFP did a fantastic job. But strangely, he was suddenly transferred to Japan. The WFP claimed that their man in Colombo was needed in Japan. They said it was an important assignment. But, it couldn’t have been as important as feeding the war affected in the Vanni. The WFP man was a key member in the CCHA. Either, those responsible for that particular transfer wanted to hinder the CCHA project, or realized the situation was stable."

The former Defence Secretary said that before leaving Sri Lanka, the friendly Bangladeshi paid a courtesy call on him. The outspoken former official quoted the Bangladeshi as having told him that on his directions the WFP stockpiled food for a six-month period. The wartime WFP head should be called, by the new government, to contradict allegations. The PoE could be easily exposed, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said, insisting that a fair investigation was required to establish the truth.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that the lady who had represented a UN agency at the CCHA raised the issue of schools and Montessoris in the wartime Vanni. "Let me remind those demanding accountability on our part for eelam war IV. The international community did nothing....absolutely nothing to avert war. The LTTE was allowed to pursue a campaign of death and destruction. They never wanted the LTTE to renounce violence and accept a negotiated settlement until the army cornered the top leadership on the Vanni east front."

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that perhaps one of the most important decisions taken, at that time, was the directive issued by him to allow the evacuation of the wounded from Puthumathalan during the last phase of the assault. Had the government planned to eradicate the Tamil community, as alleged by some, we wouldn’t have allowed evacuation of the wounded under any circumstances, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said. The ICRC would be able to inform the proposed war crimes court of the number of wounded and their family members brought to Pulmoddai. The ICRC managed the operation. In fact, we allowed ICRC foreign representatives to go ashore when the evacuations took place., Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said. "We had no way of knowing whether those evacuated were LTTE cadres. In spite of that, we handed over all wounded to the Indian military medical team, based at Pulmoddai, alongside the navy. We never tried to hide anything. The Indians had direct access to the wounded and their families. So let the war crimes court invite the Indian government to provide details regarding the number of persons treated by them, at Pulmoddai. Immediately after the war, the Indian team moved from Pulmoddai to Menik farm to look after the refugees. Had we ran a concentration camp there, as some alleged, the Indians wouldn’t have been allowed in. In fact, there were other foreign personnel. The war crimes court can summon them. In fact, Sri Lanka’s defence can be greatly strengthened by those foreigners, Westerners, Japanese and Indians alike. We felicitated members of the Indian medical team at the Taj Samdura before they left. We appreciated what they did. They can now help us by revealing the truth."

The writer had an opportunity to visit the Pulmoddai-based Indian medical team, in April, 2009, following a visit to Chalai waters, on board a Fast Attack Craft. The visit was made possible by the then Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, who felt the necessity for media coverage of the unprecedented naval blockade off Mullaitivu, as well as the Indian project, at Pulmoddai.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that the bottom line was that had Prabhakaran wanted, he, along with his family, could have joined those who were being evacuated from Puthumathalan and safely arrived at Pulmoddai. "We couldn’t have done anything except arrest him. But he, until the very end, believed in Western intervention to save his life," Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

War crimes probe Gotabhaya speaks out



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Mangala Samaraweera had been Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister at the time the LTTE resumed hostilities, in Dec, 2005. Having helped the then Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the Nov. 2005 presidential polls, Samaraweera accepted the vital foreign ministry portfolio.

In accordance with an understanding, with Western powers, President Rajapaksa, soon after assuming presidency, reiterated his commitment to the Oslo-led peace process underwritten Co-Chairs, namely the US, EU, Japan and Norway. Regardless of the government’s commitment, the LTTE gradually stepped-up attacks. The Rajapaksa administration struggled to cope up with the rapidly deteriorating situation.

The LTTE rammed a navy Fast Attack Craft (FAC), off Trincomalee, in early January, 2006.

In late April, the LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, in April, 2006.

In August, 2006, the LTTE launched eelam war IV with coordinated attacks in the Northern and Eastern Province. The LTTE smashed through the heavily fortified Jaffna frontline. The government launched a major counter offensive in the Eastern Province to bring the LTTE stronghold, Sampur, under government control. The liberation of Sampur was the first major government success. Close on the heels of the Sampur success, as well as a successful counter attack on the northern front, Foreign Minister Samaraweera reiterated the government’s commitment to a Norwegian peace initiative.

Addressing the Colombo based diplomatic community, on Sept. 8, 2006 Minister Samaraweera stressed the responsibility on the part of the government to meet the LTTE challenge. Addressing the Colombo-based diplomatic corps, Minister Samaraweera said: "I must note here that while, the government would like to show the LTTE that any military aggression, on their part, would entail military costs to them, the government remains committed to the Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement and is vigorously continuing with the constitutional reforms process."

On behalf of President Rajapaksa, Minister Samaraweera offered to resume immediate negotiations to work out a truce (Forces seize Tigers’Jaffna frontline with strap line...any military aggression on their part would entail military costs to them-Foreign Minister Samaraweera-The Island, September 11, 2006).

However, Minister Samaraweera had been severely critical of the Rajapaksas, especially the then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, over the way he prosecuted the of war. Rajapaksa and Samaraweera clashed over the former’s decision to close down the Muhamalai entry/exit point until the successful conclusion of the war, in the northern theater.

Samaraweera switched his allegiance to the UNP, early 2007. Having joined the UNP, Samaraweera waged war on the Rajapaksas for years until he returned to the Foreign Ministry last January. Samaraweera consolidated his hold as he received the same portfolio after the UNP victory at the Aug. 17 parliamentary polls.

Samaraweera, in his capacity as the Foreign Minister on September 14, 2015 declared during the General Debate of the 30th Session of the UN Human Rights Council Geneva: "Defeating terrorism in Sri Lanka was a necessity. Today, we have greater freedom to deal with the causes of terrorism and engage in nation-building and peace building as a result of the cessation of hostilities. The armed forces of our country have been hailed in the past for their discipline and professionalism. However, the reputation of the vast majority of the armed forces was tarnished because of the system and culture created by a few in positions of responsibility."

President Maithripala Sirisena made an equally important declaration, on September 30, 2015, at the recently concluded United Nations General Assembly New York. For some strange reason, the Sri Lankan media largely ignored President Maithripala Sirisena’s statement as regards the conclusion of the conflict here.

Declaring that Sri Lanka had defeated one of the world’s most ruthless terror outfit, President Maithripala Sirisena said that his country’s experience could be shared by other developing countries, affected by terrorism. Sri Lanka was prepared to engage in an active dialogue with those affected countries and would continue to campaign against terrorism.

The President said that all forms of war and terrorism were a disgrace to humanity. "Whatever their root cause may be, the challenge of this era is to find ways and means of defeating such brutality against humanity. Resorting to terrorism, as a means to solve grievances, as well as action taken to eliminate terrorism, can create problems. Sri Lanka succeeded in eliminating terrorism, which continues to throttle other developing countries, extending from Asia to Africa and Latin America."

In the wake of Geneva adopting a resolution meant to pave the way for powerful war crimes court to inquire into accountability issues, it would be pertinent to examine the statements made by FM Samaraweera and President Maithripala Sirisena, in Geneva and New York, respectively.

The writer sought former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s assessment regarding a UN mandated fresh investigation into accountability issues here. The Gajaba Regiment veteran strongly opposed an external investigation into Sri Lanka’s war which he quite rightly believed was an internal matter. However, the former Defence Secretary now faced the prospect of a no holds barred judicial investigation never held in this part of the world. It would be pertinent to mention that former US Ambassador in Colombo, Ms Patricia Butenis, called Gotabhaya Rajapaksa a war criminal in a classified diplomatic cable originating from Colombo on January 15, 2010. Butenis also named President Mahinda Rajapaksa, General Sarath Fonseka and Basil Rajapaksa as war criminals.

The following is excerpts of a brief interview with former Defence Secretary Rajapaksa:

Q: Do you really believe the proposed judicial mechanism can help address accountability issues?

A: Execution of surrendering LTTE cadres during the last phase of the offensive on the Vanni east front was one of major accusations directed at the army. Widely dubbed the white flags killings, the allegation brought the Sri Lankan Army to disrepute. There had never been an agreement or an understanding between the government and the LTTE for the latter’s surrender though various interested parties alleged execution of surrendering persons. The proposed court call the then Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo Tore Hattrem (present State Secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to verify accusations. Hattrem was in Colombo during the 2007 to 2010 period. On the night of May 16th, 2009, Hattrem visited me at my official residence, Baudhaloka Mawatha, where he claimed that LTTEer Pulithevan had offered to surrender along with some other cadres and their families as all senior leaders were dead by then. Hattrem had been in touch with Pulithevan over the phone. However, arrangements couldn’t be made for the surrender as Hattrem failed to get in touch with Pulithevan to know the identities of those willing to surrender. Primary objective of an investigative judicial mechanism is to verify accusations made by various parties.

Q: Who wanted to establish the identities of those wanting to surrender?

A: That decision was mine. In fact, Hattrem sent me an sms informing me of his inability to get in touch with Pulithevan, hence the effort couldn’t proceed. Several hours later, the LTTE made its last desperate bid to breakthrough the army cordon, leading to some of the fiercest fighting during the closing stage of the war. Perhaps, the LTTE wanted to deceive us by offering to surrender while finalizing plans for their final assault. The then head of the ICRC delegation, Paul Castella, can also help ascertain efforts made by concerned parties to arrange surrender of hardcore terrorists. They probably believed we would lower the guard on the front on the basis of their offer to surrender. In fact, US diplomatic cables, originating from its mission in Colombo, released by Wiki Leaks, referred to discussions among the Norwegians, the US, us and ICRC regarding a possible surrender though agreement couldn’t be reached. Those who had been engaged in discussions can be summoned by the much touted war crimes court. Wiki Leaks identified all foreigners involved in talks, therefore there can not be any difficulty in establishing the truth. Norwegian State Secretary Tore Hattrem at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs can help verify unsubstantiated accusations regarding ‘white flag’ massacre.

Q: Do you think those demanding accountability, on the part of Sri Lanka, failed to take into consideration vital information in the public domain?

A: A Norwegian investigation into their role in peace initiatives here, during the 1997-2009 period, examined a series of Wiki Leaks cables. The Norwegian report, released in late 2011, acknowledged the examination of US cables pertaining to Sri Lanka. Those responsible for the report admitted that they couldn’t study all cables. Will the proposed war crimes court accept Wiki Leaks cables?

Former Defence Secretary Rajapaksa recalled a note, dated Feb. 16, 2009, sent to Basil Rajapaksa by Norwegian Ambassador Tore Hattrem expressing concern over the fate of those trapped on the Vanni east front. Hattrem’s note to Basil Rajapaksa revealed Norway’s serious concern over the LTTE’s refusal to release the civilians. The following is the Norwegian note, headlined ‘Offer/Proposal to the LTTE’, personally signed by Ambassador Hattrem:" I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE on how to release the civilian population, now trapped in the LTTE controlled area, has been transmitted to the LTTE through several channels. So far, there has been, regrettably, no response from the LTTE and it doesn’t seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree with this in the near future."

The military brought the war to a successful conclusion, less than 100 days later.

Former Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said: "The Norwegian envoy was writing to Basil Rajapaksa on behalf of those countries trying to negotiate a ceasefire between the government and the LTTE, to facilitate the release of civilians, held hostage by the latter. None of those shedding crocodile tears for trapped civilians dared to at least issue a statement requesting the LTTE to release civilians. In fact, the international community knew the LTTE was preventing civilians from taking refugee in the government-held area."

The war veteran said that the war time UN mission in Colombo could explain to the war crimes court the circumstances under which the LTTE detained Tamil speaking UN employees for helping civilians to escape. When the issue was raised at the UN, in April, 2007, the UNGS spokesperson admitted that their Colombo mission deprived New York of information regarding the unprecedented development. During the latter stages of the fighting, the LTTE thwarted UN attempts to evacuate all local UNP workers as well as those employed by INGOs and their families, the former Defence Secretary said.

Q: The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) declared that the proposed war crimes court fell far short of their expectations. However, the GTF which is closely working with some Western powers in the human rights issue, asserted that the proposed court could do the needful? What is your take on that?

A: Nothing can be as important as placing all available information, pertaining to the conflict, before the proposed war crimes court. The UN can do away with its confidentiality clause to pave the way for the court to summon all those who had directed accusations against the government of Sri Lanka. Now that we are not in power, there can not be any excuse for them to take cover behind the confidentiality clause meant to prevent verification of accusations contained in the Darusman report for a period 20 years from the date of its release. Darusman report was made public, in March, 2011. Let the Diaspora produce witnesses before the court and prove accusations. People have forgotten that the proposed court is coming into being on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Three consecutive Geneva resolutions, in 2012, 2013 and 2014, with the third one paving the way for an external investigation, brought immense pressure on Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, none of the accusations were verified. Any statement supportive of Sri Lanka or seemed contrary to the project undertaken by those who couldn’t stomach the LTTE’s defeat, were conveniently ignored. The international community turned a blind eye to war time US Defence Attache Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith assertion that there was no basis for accusations regarding battlefield execution of surrendering LTTE cadres. Smith declared that there had never been an organized attempt by the LTTE to surrender. The US statement was made in June, 2011, over two years after the conclusion of the conflict. Smith wouldn’t have made that statement lightly as he was fully aware of war crimes accusations made by various parties. The bottom line is that none of those responsible for Geneva resolutions, an external war crimes report, or the proposal for war crimes court, bothered to inquire into Smith’s statement. In fact, Lt. Colonel Smith’s statement confirmed Tore Hattrem assertion that the surrender of LTTE personnel couldn’t take place due to his inability to contact Pulithevan. It is important to keep in mind that Lt. Colonel Smith was giving a public opinion on an extremely crucial matter over two years after Hattrem’s move. There is no doubt that the US official know about Hattrem’s efforts as throughout that period Norway and US coordinated efforts to work out an LTTE surrender. The plan could have succeeded if not for the LTTE’s stubbornness.

Q: Will you cooperate with the forthcoming investigation?

A: Former President resorted to military action in the wake of the collapse of peace initiatives. The government even accepted Norwegian supervised talks, outside the country, though those who had backed my brother’s candidature, at the Nov, 2005, presidential polls, strongly opposed to the move. The Norway-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) blamed the LTTE for initiating major offensive action, in August, 2006. The government didn’t have any other option but to fight for survival. We kept New Delhi informed of the action being taken to neutralize the LTTE threat. At the conclusion of the war, in May, 2009, we were accused of massacring over 40,000 civilians during he final phase of the battle. In my former capacity, as the Defence Secretary, I would like those demanding accountability on our part to specify the so-called final phase. Is it a reference to the period (January 1, 2009, to May 19, 2009) after the army liberated Kilinochchi? British media outfit, Channel 4, Darusman and several other organizations placed the number of persons killed over 40,000, whereas the British parliament was told on September 15, 2011, the killing of 100,000 persons, both civilians and combatants during January-May 19, 2009 period. But strangely, the UK headquartered Amnesty International, also in September, 2011, estimated the number of persons killed at 10,000. How could these be such vast discrepancy in the number of dead? A confidential UN report, that dealt with the situation in the Vanni (August 2008 to May 13, 2009), placed the number of dead at 7,700. But the UN report is yet to be released. Let the proposed court examine all relevant information/evidence to help verify accusations. Thanks to Wiki Leaks, we know that ICRC told US in June 2009 that the Sri Lankan Army could have finished off the LTTE much faster if the civilian factor wasn’t taken into consideration. ICRC quite rightly asserted that the SLA could have minimized its losses had it ignored the civilian factor though it chose not to. We lost nearly 6,000 officer and men during the eelam war IV. Of them, about 2,400 died during January -May 2009 on the Vanni east front. Such heavy losses were evidence of fierce LTTE resistance. Hope, the forthcoming inquiry will help establish the number of LTTE cadres dead.