Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The original suicide bombers of the world



by Shamindra Ferdinando

The French response to Nov. 13 Paris massacre should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka having to address accountability issues during eelam war IV (Aug 2006-May 2009).

In accordance with overall Western strategy, France, a current member of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), pushed for war crimes probe, targeting Sri Lanka. The Western project was meant to undermine the previous government of war - winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Western powers accused Sri Lanka of atrocities, as well as excesses. However, French counter-terrorism operations, launched in the wake of the Paris massacre, underscored the use of maximum force against a ‘target,’ according international media. Obviously, the French wanted the alleged ‘mastermind’ of the Paris massacre dead.

The French police fired over 5,000 rounds at a safe house, at Saint Denis, where Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, the suspected ‘mastermind’ of the Paris massacre was hiding. The French tracked down the jihadist within days after gunmen killed 130 persons in coordinated attacks.

According to the media, the suspect was first hit in the head by a police sniper and then blown to pieces by numerous grenades, during the raid in the suburb of Saint-Denis. The French had to conduct forensic tests to identify the mutilated body. The media, quoted Paris prosecutors, as having said the suspect’s body had been ‘riddled with bullets’, adding that it was unclear whether Abaaoud had detonated a suicide belt.

Three persons died in the assault, namely the Paris attack mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, his cousin, Hasna Ait Boulahcen, and another man who detonated his own suicide bomb which caused a massive explosion, (not Ait Boulahcen as previously thought).

France also dispatched her only nuclear aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, to join the ongoing assault on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. The warship left for the Persian Gulf on Thursday (Nov. 19), six days after the massacre.

French delegation meets Army Chief

French Ambassador, in Colombo, Jean-Marin Schuh, and Rear Admiral Antonie Beaussant, Joint Commander of the French Forces in the Indian Ocean, paid a courtesy call on Friday afternoon (Nov 20) on Army Commander Lt. Gen. Crishanthe De Silva. Rear Admiral Beaussant arrived in Colombo to attend the sixth edition of the Galle Dialogue 2015 International maritime conference, organized by the Navy. Having expressed condolences, Lt. Gen. De Silva offered to share Sri Lanka’s experience in combating terrorism.

Sri Lanka can share her experience in fighting terrorism with France, as well as other members of the European Union. In spite of on and off setbacks and shortcomings, Sri Lankan police and military gained vast experience in fighting small groups of terrorist infiltrators, not only in the then operational areas, but Colombo, as well. Having sponsored terrorism, in Sri Lanka, in accordance with her Geo-political strategies, India, too, experienced small groups of Sri Lankan infiltrators, mounting attacks in the late 80s and early 90s.

Before further discussing India’s experience, in hunting down Sri Lankans, and Indians, involved in the May 1991 Rajiv Gandhi assassination, it would be pertinent to recollect the unprecedented LTTE assault on the World Trade Centre, and the Hotel Galadari, before a small group of terrorists seized control of a section of Lake House, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency. The LTTE struck around 7, on the morning of Oct 15, 1997, three days after the opening of the World Trade Centre. In spite of heightened security, in the city, and its suburbs, and severe restrictions on the movement of people from areas under LTTE control, to the South, the LTTE succeeded in infiltrating again. Prabhakaran mounted a devastating attack, on the Central Bank, on the morning of January 31, 1996.

The LTTE developed a fine strategy for infiltration. Those tasked with mounting attacks even used places of religious worship to coordinate attacks.

Europe under ISIS pressure

The ISIS would have found it relatively easy to infiltrate Paris due to lax border controls. Absence of effective security measures, within French borders, obviously facilitated the largest ever coordinated assault, within EU borders. The French assault, on the Saint Denis hideout, revealed their inexperience in handling such a situation. The firing of over 5,000 rounds of ammunition, during the siege, on the suspects safe house, revealed the absence of a clear strategy. Obviously, two hugely embarrassing incidents,, in the wake of Russia having to acknowledge the possibility of ISIS planting a bomb in a Russian airliner, last month. The Oct 31 blast, over Sinai, killed 224 persons, on their way from Egypt to Saint Petersburg.

In the aftermath of the May 21, 1991, suicide bombing that killed the then Congress leader, Rajiv Gandhi, at Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, India launched a major manhunt for those responsible. The wanted included both Sri Lankans and their Indian accomplices. The operation, spearheaded by the Special Investigation Unit of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), lasted nearly 100 days. Perhaps, Europe should closely study the LTTE infiltration, as well as the Indian search operation, leading to the elimination of the killer squad. There had never been an operation similar to that undertaken by India against a foreign undercover team.

At the time of humiliating security failure, Tamil Nadu had been under direct rule of the Central Government of India due to dismissal of the then DMK government. The take over took place after the Centre blamed the DMK for rapid deterioration of law and order situation.

The French tracked down the Belgian mastermind, of the Paris massacre, after having followed Hasna Ait Boulahcen, who also died in the police raid, whereas India was lucky to have retrieved a camera, from the Gandhi assassination site, which contained a series of shots of the scene, before the blast, captured by an Indian, on the LTTE’s payroll. The Indian photographer had been positioned close to the blast and he, too, perished. As the digital technology hadn’t been available at that time, the Indians didn’t realize the paramount importance of available evidence until the film roll in Chinon was developed. If not for the LTTE overwhelming desire to have the Gandhi’s assassination captured on film, the killer squad could have easily returned to Jaffna, across the Palk Strait.

The killer squad (remember, the team comprised Sri Lankans and Indians) carried out a ‘dry run’ at a propaganda meeting of the then Prime Minister V.P. Singh, at Chennai on May 7, 1991. Clearly, Indian security agencies hadn’t considered a real threat from the LTTE though its battlefield capabilities were known.

Israeli ambassador on LTTE


Former New Delhi-based Israeli ambassador to Sri Lanka, Mark Sofer, during an interview with this writer, in early 2011 said that his country was a victim of suicide bombing, pioneered by the LTTE. Sofer said that many Israeli civilians had been killed and wounded due to human bombs and Sri Lanka should be proud of achieving military victory over the LTTE. Sofer emphasized the strongest possible measures against terrorism and those sponsoring violence. At that time, Europe wouldn’t have at least considered the possibility of ever experiencing a security nightmare. Of the 10 ISIS personnel, killed in Paris, on Nov 13 and Nov 18, at least four certainly committed suicide by exploding explosives-laden vests.

Sofer said that the LTTE had influenced those causing mayhem in the Middle East. He alleged that LTTE suicide attacks had inspired those targeting Jewish targets.

It would be pertinent to recall that India created the LTTE, in the 80s, and the West paved the way for gradual build-up of the ISIS in accordance with its overall political-security strategy until it was too late. Having received Western financial and military backing, including advanced training, ISIS took on the West with devastating success.

LTTE inspires Oslo massacre

The LTTE, which once received the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) recognition as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people, inspired violence abroad. Norway’s worst atrocity is a case in point.

Norwegian Anders Behring Brevik massacred 77 persons, in July, 2011, in two separate attacks in Norway. Before the mass slaughter,

Breivik, in his 1,518 manifesto, which was released hours before he carried out the massacre, said had felt that Europe should follow the LTTE example of expelling the Muslims from Sri Lanka He had interpreted the expulsion of Muslims, from the North, in October/November 1990, by the LTTE, at gun point, as a move by the then government of Sri Lanka to drive out the Muslim community. 

The killer’s manifesto also referred to the Anuradhapura massacre, in 1985, and the slaughter of Muslims at the Kattankudy Mosque, in August 1990.

Remember, the al Qaeda attack on USS Cole in the port of Aden, on Oct 12, 2000, prompted the LTTE to proudly claim the operation was inspired by its own tactics. The mission killed 17 US personnel and injured 39 others.

The international community never bothered to examine the LTTE influence in grooming international terrorism.

The state-of-the-art Destroyer was rammed by a small craft, laden with explosives, which blew a 40 foot hole in the side of the guided missile ship.

The operation was very much similar to the Black Sea Tiger hit on surveillance command ship, ‘Edithara’, in the Kankesanthurai harbour, in the mid 90s.

Sea Tigers employed similar tactics in another successful attack on another SLN vessel, ‘Abeetha’, off Point Pedro, on May 4, 1991.

Soosai on Al Qaeda attack on USS Cole

Thillaiyampalam Sivanesan, aka Soosai, in an exclusive interview with BBC’s Francis Harrison, during the Oslo-managed Ceasefire Agreement, boasted Al Qaeda copied tactics from the LTTE. Soosai is quoted as having said that other terrorist groups should learn from the LTTE as the Al Qaeda had already copied them.

The interview, with Soosai, recorded during the LTTE celebrations of Heroes’ Day, and broadcast over BBC Television, was posted on the BBC Website’s South Asia section, under the heading, "Tamil Tigers Reveal Suicide Secrets" as a video clip. The news feature introduced the Black Tigers as "the Original Suicide Bombers of the World."

Referring to the attack on USS Cole, Soosai said "They are using our tactics. I think in Yemen they used our strategy of suicide attack to blow up an American ship. That is exactly what we used to do."

Soosai is believed to have been killed, in May 2009, while crossing the Nanthikadal lagoon with LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and his family.

Examination of LTTE’s project to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi, during the polls campaign in Tamil Nadu, should be a case study for Western intelligence services. The LTTE picked Pakischandran, of Udippidy, Jaffna, to spearhead the operation. The man was also identified as Raja Arumainayagam. The operative was also called ‘one-eyed Jack’, Sivarasan, Raghu and Raghu Anna. Having received military training from Indians, in the early 80s, Sivarasan had been a veteran undercover operative responsible for a spate of operations in India, including high profile killing of the EPRLF leader, Padmanabha, and 12 of his key associates, on June 19, 1990. India turned a blind eye to LTTE operations in Tamil Nadu. Having wiped out the EPRLF group, Sivarasan, who personally carried out the attack with another LTTE operative, returned to Jaffna. Although, Sivarasan could have crossed Palk Straits few times, subsequently to carry out Prabhakaran dictates though there was no record of such movements. However, the Sivarasan’s hit squad, assigned to assassinate Gandhi, reached Tamil Nadu on May Day, 1991, after leaving Madagal, on the previous day. The squad included two female suicide cadres. The squad stayed with Indians committed to the eelam cause until the May 21 assassination of Gandhi. Interestingly, Sivaran, wounded in action during Operation Liberation, was believed to have been moved by the Indian Air Force, Jaffna to India, soon after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord, in late July, 1987.

Sivarasan, and the other suicide cadre, evaded Indian security agencies for near 100 days until troops surrounded their Bangalore hideout, on Aug. 19, 1991. Following a 30 - minute exchange of fire fight, the Indians laid siege to the building with the Black Cats deciding to delay a frontal assault until the next day. When the Black Cats entered the building without facing resistance, they found seven bodies, two female and five men, including Sivarasan; the man with many aliases Sivaran shot himself in the head while others took cyanide. The dead included Subha, the second suicide bomber sent in case Dhanu, for some reason, couldn’t go through the operation.

India disposed the bodies of those Sri Lankans perished in crackdown. At least 21 Sri Lankans committed suicide to avoid arrest. In addition to them, suicide cadre Dhanu claimed the life of Rajiv Gandhi. India never offered to send bodies of those terrorists back, nor Sri Lanka ever asked for them.

Western media, particularly some British media outfits, glorified the LTTE. The BBC’s coverage of LTTE suicide cadres promoted those who believed in violence.

In the wake of the Paris massacre, Europe stepped up security with Belgium recently experiencing a massive security scare.

The unprecedented crisis will compel Western powers to review granting of citizenship to outsiders. Tamils, of Sri Lankan origin, received citizenship at Sri Lanka’s expense. Having obtained citizenship of a particular country, they put pressure on that government and also worked jointly with similar groups to achieve political objectives. Sri Lanka having to face international scrutiny is a case in point.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Paris massacre: An act of war



‘Only those who have endured the same agony will fully understand what the people of France are going through at this moment’-Mahinda Rajapaksa’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council comprises 47 countries. The UNHRC is divided into five regional groups with the Western Europe and pro-Western States being the most influential. That grouping essentially takes a common stand on almost all issues except Israel. The group comprises France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, the UK and USA. France unreservedly backed Western call for war crimes investigation into alleged atrocities committed by Sri Lanka during the eelam war IV. As a member of the European Union, France strongly backed several resolutions on Sri Lanka, moved at the UNHRC, since the end of the war in May 2009.

The Western action immensely contributed to the change of government here, last January, and the subsequent adoption of a resolution calling for a judicial inquiry with the participation of foreign judges and experts. A project to defeat President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the January, 2010, presidential went awry. A leaked US diplomatic cable originating from Colombo, revealed the mission receiving a briefing from Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Chairman Basheer Segu Dawood regarding the build-up against Rajapaksa.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government co-sponsored the resolution much to the chagrin of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who gave unbending political leadership during the eelam war IV (Aug 2006 to May 2009).

Western powers held the previous government accountable for war crimes with the main accusation being the claim of army massacring over 40,000 Tamil civilians during the last phase of the assault on Tigers whose leadership used the Vanni population as a shield. The UNSG Ban Ki moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE) as well as the Report on the Second Mandate of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry Into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances (Paranagama Commission) accused the LTTE of taking hostages. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), too, blamed the LTTE for the same as revealed by a leaked confidential US diplomatic cable originating from Geneva. The US agreed with the ICRC’s stand. The Paranagama Commission referred to this particular cable.

Western powers never appreciated Sri Lanka’s efforts to minimise civilian casualties on the Vanni front. Another leaked US diplomatic cable, also originating from Geneva, asserted that the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) could have finished off the LTTE much faster had it not taken the civilian factor into consideration. The ICRC admitted that the SLA paid a heavy price for being considerate of the civilian presence. Nearly 2,400 officers and men died on the Vanni front, during January 1- May 19, 2009.

The Paranagama Commission is confident that US cables could be used for Sri Lanka’s defence. "...the Commission had available to it via Wiki Leaks, contemporaneous and classified cables from the US embassy in Colombo. The Commission is aware that in 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 judgment."

France experienced an unprecedented terrorist attack as worse as the two-day terrorist attack on Mumbai, in late Nov 2008. Sea borne Lashkar-e Taiba (LET) group from Pakistan mounted the operation. An American terrorist of Pakistan origin David Coleman Headley born Daood Sayed Gilani received a 35-year prison term for assisting LET to plan the Mumbai massacre, the worst hostage taking situation in the Indian sub-continent before the LTTE held over 300,000 civilians against their wishes. Headley had been with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a US federal law enforcement agency placed under the Department of Justice.

India and France confronted two small groups of well armed suicide squads whose primary intention was to attract global attention. Although some experts asserted that the Paris massacre had been modeled on the Mumbai raid, last week’s operation seemed much more sophisticated. The Paris operation was not only to humiliate France, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, but a challenge to the West. Terrorists took advantage of lax security measures in Europe to move men and material to Paris. The coordinated assault stunned France.

Islamic State terrorists mounted six simultaneous attacks in Paris. They mounted (1) a suicide attack outside the Stade de France, where French President Francois Hollande was watching a friendly football match between France and Germany; (2) stormed the Bataclan theatre, where they took hostage a large group of people and massacred over 100; (3) a man armed with an AK47 stormed popular Parisian restaurant Le Petit Cambodge; (4) at a nearby bar, Le Carillon Restaurants, patrons were selected at random and killed; (5)an attack took place at Cafe La Belle Equipe in central Paris and lastly a busy shopping centre.

The IS operation claimed the lives of 127 persons of different nationalities. Of 200 persons, who had been wounded, nearly half suffered serious injuries. Initial investigations revealed that three of the eight-man suicide squad had come from from Brussels.

The LET team responsible for the Mumbai massacre comprised 10 persons. India in Nov 2012 hanged the lone surviving Pakistani gunman from the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, which left more than 160 people dead. Ajmal Kasab was one of those who hijacked an Indian fishing boat, killed its captain, took a rubber dinghy into Mumbai and then systematically attacked high-end hotels, a train station, a hospital and a Jewish community centre over a three-day period.

It would be pertinent to know the French position on the Paris massacre. The following is the full text of a statement issued by President Hollande on Saturday (Nov 14): "What happened yesterday in Paris and in Saint Denis is an act of war and this country needs to make the right decisions to fight this war. This act committed by the terrorist army, Islamic State, is against who we are, against a free country that speaks to the whole world.

It is an act of war prepared and planned outside, with outside involvement which this investigation will seek to establish. It is an act of absolute barbarism. France will be ruthless in its response to Islamic State.

At this painful and serious time, which is such a decisive one for our country, I call for unity, for a collective spirit and for cool heads. I will address Parliament at Versailles on Monday.

France is strong, and even if she is wounded, she will rise once again. Even if we are in grief, nothing will destroy her.

France is strong, valiant and will defeat this barbarism. History reminds us of this and the strength we today bear to come together convinces us of this.

My compatriots, what we defend is our homeland and much more than that, it is our own values of humanity and France will bear its responsibilities."

Former President Rajapaksa sent the following message to President Hollande: "It is with shock and disbelief that I heard of the terrorist attacks in Paris which have left well over 100 people dead and scores more injured. Only those who have endured the same agony will fully understand what the people of France are going through at this moment. Sri Lanka suffered the scourge of terrorism for well over three decades and attacks similar to that which has just taken place in Paris were commonplace in Sri Lanka. This is why my government resolved firmly to put an end to terrorism. Today, my country is at peace with no terrorist attacks reported since May 2009. I wish to convey my heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families in France and sympathies with those injured. This barbaric act of terrorism perpetrated against ordinary citizens has once again underscored the need for global resolve in dealing firmly with terrorism. I wish to express solidarity with the people of France at this moment of travail."

When the LTTE forced almost the entire Vanni population to Mullaitivu coast in early 2009, western powers, including France did nothing to stop the LTTE. The then Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo Tore Hattrem, in a letter dated Feb. 16, 2009, addressed to Basil Rajapaksa admitted the LTTE’s use of hostages.

The following is the text of Ambassador Hattrem’s letter: "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."

Hattrem was proved right. The LTTE held the Vanni population hostage until troops eliminated the top terrorist leadership while trying to breakthrough its fortified defences.

Instead of forcing the LTTE to release hostages or immediately surrender, Western powers, particularly the British and the French played politics at Sri Lanka’s expense. They sought to placate their nationals of Sri Lankan origin. Thanks to a leaked US diplomatic cable originating from London, the world got to know why the then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband shed crocodile tears for the Vanni population. The then French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner joined his British counterpart in late April 2009 in a visit to Sri Lanka. The visit was meant to halt the offensive. The West never forgave the previous government for not halting the offensive. President Rajapaksa didn’t stop until his forces eradicated the monster created by India in the early 80s in accordance with overall geo-political objectives and strategies as explained by one-time Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit. Let me briefly recall the Indian destabilisation project having a catastrophic situation in the Maldives.

The Maldives experienced terror unleashed by an Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorist outfit the PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam) terrorist group in early November, 1988. There had never been a similar attempt in any part of the world. Colombo based Maldivian businessman Abdulla Luthufee hired the PLOTE to eliminate the Maldivian President. The project went awry due to Indian military intervention. However, India could never absolve itself of creating terrorism in this part of the world. Sea borne raids on Mumbai in late Nov 2008, the Maldives in early Nov 1988, as well as the Paris operation should be closely examined. A section of the media portrayed the Indian action as that of an emerging world military power conveniently forgetting New Delhi’s direct hand in setting up half a dozen terrorist groups as well as a Tamil National Army (TNA) to challenge the SLA. New Delhi made the despicable attempt before it withdrew the so-called Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in March 1990.

Even the assassination of one-time Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991 could be compared with terrorist attacks carried out in Mumbai, the Maldives and Paris.

Western countries accommodated terrorists and various other undesirable elements. Those who had entered Western countries were not only given citizenship but new identities as well. They went to the extent of changing ethnicity of some of those seeking citizenship. They refused to assist Sri Lanka to establish the identities of persons categorised as missing in Sri Lanka. The Paranagama Commission pointed out Sri Lanka’s failure to secure their cooperation. France is among the countries which declined to assist Sri Lanka claiming privacy of individuals couldn’t be violated. Thanks to top French director Jacques Audiard choosing a French national of Sri Lankan origin in film ‘Dheepan’ which won the top prize at Cannes, the Palme d’Or 2015, another missing person was found. Anthonythasan Jesuthasan, a former child soldier of LTTE had fled Sri Lanka soon after the IPKF departed seeking a better life in the West. Dheepan tells the story of people fleeing war ravaged Sri Lanka for a life in France. The former LTTE cadre is on record as having said that he settled in France after having failed to secure asylum in the UK or Canada. Many exploited lax European laws to secure citizenship. So many Sri Lankans have obtained citizenship in the West, they can be now elected to parliament. The election of TULF leader V. Anandasangaree’s son, Gary to Canadian parliament is a case in point. As many as one million Sri Lankans now have foreign citizenship. The ongoing controversy over Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) pushing for political rights of Noel Mudalige, an Australian passport holder (formerly Kumar Gunaratnam) underscored the need for review of policies currently practiced by developed countries. Western Europe and pro-Western States among the UNHRC represent the interests of the US and its allies. The Paris massacre will compel Western powers to rethink their strategies.

Terrorist organizations as well as governments had carried out attacks in foreign territory. A case in point is France sinking Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior on July 10, 1985. The ill-fated vessel, which had been about to lead a Greenpeace flotilla in a cruise protesting French nuclear testing in the Pacific, was blasted by French intelligence officers in the harbor of Auckland, New Zealand. A Greenpeace photographer, Fernando Pereira, was killed in the blast.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

A fresh look at DMI affair against the backdrop of Marapana’s resignation



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Avant Garde controversy couldn’t have re-erupted again at a worse time for Sri Lanka and the ruling UNP-SLFP coalition. Leader of the Democratic Party and war winning Army Chief, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake with axes to grind tore apart the government over its failure to prosecute Avant Garde proprietor retired Army Commando Maj. Nissanka Senadhipathi. They directly accused Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, and Law and Order and Prisons Reforms Minister Tilak Marapana, a former Attorney General of throwing their weight behind Senadhipathi’s outfit.

The split in the coalition which brought Maithripala Sirisena into power last January sent shock waves through the government as well as its international supporters. President Maithripala Sirisena acted swiftly to assert himself at the expense of the UNPers who ended up having egg on face.

In the wake of raging controversy, Marapana had no option but to quit the government to save the coalition. Having sent his letter of resignation to President Maithripala Sirisena, Marapana called a media briefing at his residence on Monday (Nov 8) where he reiterated that Avant Garde was a legitimate operation and the police cooked up a case to appease their new masters after the January 8 revolution. Marapana repeated that police action directed at Avant Garde was similar to police raid on a safe-house operated by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) at the Aturugiriya Millennium City in early January 2002. The then Defence Minister Marapana recalled the police mounting the raid on the basis of allegations that the DMI had conspired to assassinate UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. The DMI affair immensely contributed to the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga taking over three ministries, including defence portfolio in early November, 2003. Marapana was among those who were deprived of portfolio as a result.

The Avant Garde affair caused irreparable damage to the incumbent Attorney General as well with Field Marshal Fonseka repeatedly accusing the department of throwing a lifeline to the company under a cloud. Fonseka named AG Yuwanjana Wanasundera and Solicitor General Suhada Gamlath as the main culprits. The allegations made against them would have delighted those wanting to accommodate foreign judges and other international experts in the proposed war crimes court as envisaged by the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council.

Marapana wouldn’t have referred to the DMI affair had he not been certain it facilitated Kumaratunga’s move against the UNP. The November 2003 take-over of ministries in the wake of the LTTE quitting the Norwegian-led peace process in April same year finally led to the eelam war IV in August 2006. It would be pertinent to examine the DMI affair which shaped Sri Lanka’s response to terrorism.

In the run-up to the Dec 5, 2001 parliamentary polls, UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe alleged that the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) was planning to assassinate him. He claimed that the DMI was training Tamil terrorists at the Panaluwa Army Testing Range to mount an attack on his campaign bus, as well as his political rallies. The unprecedented allegation triggered hostilities between the then ruling People’s Alliance (PA) and the UNP, with the army placed in an extremely embarrassing position. The UPFA came into being ahead of the April 2004 parliamentary polls.

On the instructions of Wickremesinghe, the then UNP Chairman Charitha Ratwatte and Deputy Chairman Daya Palpola wrote a hard-hitting letter to the then Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle warning that he would be held responsible ‘in the event of an unfortunate incident’. The UNP duo accused the Army chief of training personnel to engage in a destabilization campaign against the UNP.

Having consulted the government, an irate Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Balagalle addressed a letter to Ratwatte and Palpola dismissing their accusations. The Island, in a front-page exclusive headlined ‘Army chief says no truth in UNP claims,’ in its Nov 11, 2001 issue revealed the exchange between army headquarters and the UNP headquarters, Sirikotha. The report was based on what Lt. Gen. Balagalle had told this writer the previous evening. The army chief, himself a one-time head of the DMI, said that there was absolutely no basis for the UNP allegation that a hit squad was undergoing training in the use of high explosives and thermobaric weapons.

The UNP ignored the army chief’s letter. The allegation was repeated throughout the campaign.

The UNP-led United National Front (UNF) emerged victorious with 109 seats, while the defeated PA managed to retain 77. The remaining seats were shared by the JVP (16), the TNA (15), the SLMC (5), the EPDP (2) and the DPLF (1). It was one of the bloodiest elections with the five-week of campaigning claiming the lives of almost 50 people, with the Dec. 5 massacre of a group of SLMC supporters at Udathalawinna being the single worst incident. The United National Front coalition government after assuming office ordered a raid on a safe house used by the DMI situated at Millennium City, Aturugiriya, in early Jan. 2002, which changed the course of the conflict. The UNF cited intelligence reports that Anuruddha Ratwatte’s sons wanted in connection with the Udathalawinna massacre were taking refuge at Aturugiriya.

Although the UNP subsequently played down the incident, it turned out to be one of the major political blunders in the conflict. It contributed to a deterioration of the security situation and thereby helped the CBK-JVP combine to undermine the UNF government. Finally President Kumaratunga took over three key ministries in Nov. 2003.

Had the UNP leadership been a little cautious, it would never have publicly accused the army of an assassination plot, Gen. Balagalle told The Island at that time.

Operating hit squads behind enemy lines had been a key element in the army’s strategy, Lt. Gen. Balagalle said, alleging the then Opposition had failed to grasp what was going on. He said: "Had they quietly raised the issue with us and sought a clarification without playing politics with national security, the Aturugiriya fiasco could have been averted. Even ex-LTTE cadres were brought in for those operations along with a valuable input from especially northern civilian informants. We were successful due to many reasons such as training from Pakistani instructors. We also accommodated troops from other fighting battalions to engage in operations behind the enemy lines, though the Special Forces and Army Commandos spearheaded the campaign."

The Aturugiriya raid ruptured relations between the UNP and the Army. It caused irreparable damage to national security and giving the PA an opportunity to undermine the UNF government.

At the behest of the UNP, a section of the media, including the Colombo-based correspondents working for international news agencies, highlighted the Aturugiriya raid speculating the army’s alleged involvement in anti-government activities. Investigating officers alleged that those based at Aturugiriya had been involved in the alleged attempt to assassinate Wickremesinghe in the run-up to the Dec 5 polls. Subsequently, they were accused of planning attacks in the city and suburbs to sabotage the Norwegian-led peace process.

The UNP allegations had the desired impact in the wake of state television showing recovered items, which included 66 sets of LTTE uniforms, four thermobaric weapons, seven claymore mines each weighing 10 kgs, 10 claymore mines, each weighing one kg each, three T-56 assault rifles along with 400 rounds of ammunition, 10 anti-tank weapons, detonators, cyanide capsules, exploders, remote controlled devices and wire rolls.

While a section of the media lashed out at the army, in a front-page exclusive captioned ‘Controversy over police raid on army officer’s Millennium City residence,’ on Jan 4, 2002, The Island revealed that a police team from Kandy led by UNP loyalist, Kulasiri Udugampola, had raided an army safe house. The police team was backed by a team of CCMP (Ceylon Corps of Military Police). In spite of the army strongly objecting to the police action, with both Lt. Gen. Balagalle and the then Director of DMI, Brigadier Kapila Hendarawithana (Subsequently Chief of National Intelligence, now retired) reassuring the government of the legitimacy of operations undertaken by the DMI, the police was let loose on covert operatives. In spite of Lt. Gen. Balagalle rushing Hendarawithana, who later figured in many controversies to the scene, SP Udugampola went ahead with the raid. He had obtained permission from courts to search the premises. Udugampola had the backing of the then Interior Minister, John Amaratunga. IGP Lucky Kodituwakku, though being convinced of the legitimacy of the DMI operation, was helpless.

The Kandy police raided the safe house shortly after the officer-in-charge of the DMI operation had handed over part of their arsenal. Those involved in the hit-and-run operations in LTTE held-areas had returned to Colombo on Dec 27, 2001 in the wake of the Wickremesinghe administration declaring its readiness to go ahead with a Norwegian initiative to bring about a truce. The Kandy police also accused the army of planting two claymore mines targeting a UNP candidate along the Wattegama-Panwila road, in the run-up to the Dec 5, 2001 polls.

The then security forces spokesman, Brig. Sanath Karunaratne emphasised that those operating from Aturugiriya were involved in ‘army duties’ (The Island Jan 4, 2002). Regardless of protests by the army, those arrested were taken away to the Narahenpita CMP headquarters before being transferred to Kandy. They were treated like criminals and held under humiliating conditions. Six of them, including an officer were held in one room. For two weeks, the media reported all sorts of conspiracy theories.

Those arrested were held for almost two weeks before being released. The police raid would never have been possible without an influential section within the army cooperating with the political establishment to undermine a vital operation, which brought the LTTE under immense pressure.

The UNP and the police justified Udugampola’s raid. Asked whether he had used the safe house to accommodate his sons, one-time Defence chief, the late Anuruddha Ratwatte, candidly acknowledged that he wasn’t even among those who knew of the existence of that particular rear base, though the army kept him informed of operations undertaken by the DMI. (Feb 1 issue of The Island, 2002)

Marapana thwarted an attempt by the Kandy police to prolong the detention of DMI operatives using the provisions of the PTA. The Wickremesinghe regime didn’t even bother to consult the armed forces and police top brass regarding the provisions of the PTA. Then Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri told the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) how the then government, had bypassed them with regard to sensitive military issues.

The UNP realised the importance of clandestine operations undertaken by the DMI when the CFA (Ceasefire Agreement) declared that ACTIVITIES BY DEEP PENETRATION UNITS should be ceased along with the cessation of all military action. The LTTE wouldn’t have demanded a ban on DMI operations unless it had been vulnerable to those hunting them in their own backyard. Obviously, the LTTE wouldn’t have bothered about the DMI had the latter been stalking Wickremesinghe in the run-up to Dec 2001 polls.

Retired Senior DIG Merril Gunaratne, who was Defence Advisor to Wickremesinghe during the CFA, exposed the UNP leadership in ‘COP IN THE CROSSFIRE.’ The first book of its kind, written by one-time Director General of Intelligence, revealed how the top UNP leadership has taken security issues lightly at the expense of the country as well as the party. Asked whether he had been involved in the operation to move the Kandy police against the DMI, Gunaratne told The Island some time back that he categorically opposed the move. "I was convinced the PA government wouldn’t target Wickremesinghe, thereby allowing the UNP to benefit from the sympathy vote. Unfortunately, the top UNP leadership felt the army was hell bent on destroying the UNP."

The Aturugiriya raid had a catastrophic impact on the armed forces, which experienced untold hardships due to miscalculations on the part of political and military leaders. Following the betrayal of the DMI, the LTTE unleashed a series of operations in the city, its suburbs and in the Eastern Province. Altogether, about 50 military personnel, Tamil informants as well as ex-terrorists, died at the hands of the LTTE as their identities were revealed owing to the raid on the army safe house. The dead included two senior military officers, both killed in Colombo. Although, the two military officials, holding the rank of Major and Colonel could have been on a hit list regardless of the Aturugiriya fiasco, the LTTE exploited the situation to demoralise the army. Daring operations directed at the DMI and police intelligence helped boost the LTTE’s image. The military was placed in an unenviable position as the suspension of the PTA effectively neutralised counter-measures directed at LTTE hit squads.

Inspector Dale Gunaratne (now retired), the then President of the Police Inspectors’ Association, was perhaps the only officer publicly critical of the UNP’s response to the LTTE threat. Although his superiors reacted angrily, Gunaratne lashed out at the government for allowing the LTTE to exploit the CFA to its advantage. Citing the killing of Inspector Thabrew at the Dehiwela police station, IP Gunaratne alleged that the suspension of the PTA in keeping with the CFA was nothing but a grievous threat to those fighting terrorism. He kept on lambasting the UNP and his own superiors for not taking action to neutralise the growing LTTE threat. But the UNP was determined to salvage the crumbling peace process at any cost. For those at the helm of the government, the lives of security forces and police didn’t matter, as long as they believed the LTTE would remain in the negotiating process. Politicians felt whatever the provocations, the peace process should continue.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Int’l community, Army bear responsibility for assisting proposed war crimes court

Probe on missing persons




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Last week’s piece, titled War Crimes probe: Relevance of leaked US cables and UK court case, with strap line, Foreign experts highlight previous government’s failure, in the Midweek section received a spate of responses. A retired Major General asserted the responsibility, on the part of the top military leadership, to examine all relevant factors, without being guided by domestic political issues.

One UK based keen follower of events, during the war, as well as post-war developments, stressed the need to examine the Rajapaksa administration’s failure to address the accountability issues, particularly turning a blind eye to available information, such as US diplomatic cables, to counter accusations.

The UK-based Sri Lankan said: "I think it’s time we found out why? Is it due to sound legal advice or just plain ignorance? Or, the previous administration didn’t care, or wasn’t bothered with growing Western hostility towards Sri Lanka?

Has the then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, External Affairs Minister, Prof GL Peiris, or Central Bank Governor, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, ever mentioned why? "Perhaps Neville Ladduwahetty can shed light on the previous government’s failure. As some of the leaked US cables, originating from Colombo, were negative, the previous government perhaps felt Wikileaks cannot be used unless all such cables, pertaining to Sri Lanka, were scrutinized."

Although some of the leaked cables had been certainly negative and misleading, overall Wikileaks cables helped Sri Lanka’s cause. In fact, many countries as well as local and foreign NGOs, examined Wikileaks revelations, pertaining to Sri Lanka, though the country concerned ignored them. In spite of making a spate of unsubstantiated accusations, based on information received by embassy contacts, on the one hand they didn’t really reveal anything really incriminating which can be used against Sri Lanka. On the other hand, Wikileaks gave an insight to US projects, particularly its involvement in politics here. In a cable, dated Nov 6, 2009, authored by the then US ambassador here, Patricia A. Butenis, the State Department was told of the ongoing efforts to unite all Opposition political parties against the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The cable dealt with SLMC Chairman, Basheer Segudawood, assessment on building up forces in support of General (retd) Sarath Fonseka at the January, 2010, presidential election. The same cable quoted Tamil National Alliance leader, R. Sampanthan, as having said that his party would back Mahinda Rajapaksa’s candidature as it would be extremely difficult for the Tamil community to back Fonseka. The veteran politician went to the extent of calling Mahinda Rajapaksa the lesser of two evils. The Nov 6 cable should be examined with the another one, dated January 15, 2010, also originating from the US mission, in Colombo, which categorized three Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda, Gotabhaya and Basil, along with Fonseka, as war criminals.

The previous government, until the very end believed in changing US opinion, through expensive PR firms, which did nothing but to obtain massive amounts of money. The present government should investigate whether politicians, or officials, benefited from such transactions and name and shame them.

Leaked cables revealed the US wanting to see the back of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Having explained the difficulty in Tamils backing Fonseka’s candidature, during first week of Nov 2009, Sampanthan changed his position. Who could have forced the TNA leader to back Fonseka? Although the January, 2010, project went awry, the US supervised a similar project which brought Maithripala Sirisena into power. Had it not being the case, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, wouldn’t have been here last May.

A leaked cable, originating from the US mission, in London, revealed that the then British government intervened in Sri Lanka, in early 2009, to save the LTTE due to domestic political reasons. The Labour government move was meant to appease British citizens, of Sri Lankan origin, in view of the elections.

If not for 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.

The report on the Second Mandate Of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, Into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances, explained the possibility of using Wikileaks to strengthen Sri Lanka’s defence vis a vis the main allegation pertaining to massacre of over 40,000 Tamil civilians.

The Commission also dealt with the contentious issue of disappearance of detainees in the final phase of the war. The report pointed out the failure, on the part of the international community, to assist Sri Lanka to establish the fate of missing persons, during the previous administration. Citing privacy laws, foreign governments had declined to help the Commission to establish the identity of those who had secured foreign nationality, while being categorized as missing in Sri Lanka. The Commission asserted that absence of foreign assistance had deprived investigators of an opportunity to establish the truth. Verifying the allegations, regarding disappearances, is as important as establishing the number of civilians dead due to military action.

The Commission asserted: "Whilst it is quite possible that persons, who had been in custody, went abroad, upon their release, without the knowledge of their families, or alternatively went underground, or changed their identities, the truth must be ascertained as regards the fate of the majority of those disappeared persons whose fates are hitherto unknown. This, the Commission feels, is a vital contribution to reconciliation."

The Commission referred to the alleged disappearance of Kathiravel Thayapararajah in the hands of the security forces and his subsequent arrest in Tamil Nadu to underscore the need for a comprehensive investigation into missing persons cases. The Commission categorized the Thayapararajah’s case as the most high profile case. However, the Commission failed to explain why the Thayapararajah’s incident was called the most high profile case.

Let me produce the Commission’s reference to the Thayapararajah’s case: "The most high profile such case was that of Kathiravel Thayapararajah, who was alleged by LTTE sources to have been executed by the security forces, with a respected Jaffna-based NGO describing his gun shot injuries and subsequent cremation. The truth was that he had gone underground, surfacing in May, 2014, in Tamil Nadu, with his wife and four children. His identity was discovered upon his arrest for illegal entry into India. The Commission does not speculate as to how many such phantom disappearances there may have been."

A section of the Indian and Sri Lankan media, including The Island, in May, 2014, revealed US Assistant Secretary of State, for South Asian Affairs, and one-time US Ambassador in Colombo, Robert O. Blake’s role in the Thayapararajah’s affair. Blake had intervened on behalf of Thayapararaja, married to a notorious human smuggler Uthayakala. Blake’s role came to light soon after the duo were apprehended during the first week of May, 2014 (Man whose ‘disappearance’ evoked Blake’s interest found with suspect, with strap line, Indian help sought to recover money from human smuggler-The Island, May 15, 2014).

The Indian High Commission, in Colombo, declined to comment on Thayapararajah’s case though the writer sought information on several occasions. The previous government never raised the issue with India. Those well-funded NGOs, habitually demanding international intervention here, to establish the truth, never felt the need to inquire into Thayaparajah’s case. They refused to admit it was not an isolated incident (‘Executed’ Director of Vanni project in Indian custody: SL seeks access to him-The Island, May 16, 2014).

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know who prompted Ambassador Blake to intervene on behalf of Thayapararajah, who had worked closely with the LTTE, in the Vanni. Blake can assist the proposed war crimes court to establish the circumstances under which Thayapararajah and Uthayakala reached Tamils Nadu. Thayapararajah (33 in 2009) disappearance in September, 2009, prompted a section of the media, as well as some international NGOs, to accuse the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) of executing him.

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. The proposed court can also seek their assistance, to establish Thayapararajah’s case. Ambassador Bake will certainly want to assist Sri Lanka to establish the truth. Neighbouring India can inform Sri Lanka of Thayapararajah’s whereabouts. New Delhi bear the responsibility for assisting Sri Lanka as Thayapararajah had been in their custody in May, 2014. Now, that the report on the Second Mandate Of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry Into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances had been tabled in parliament, the Commission should write to the Indian High Commission, through the Foreign Ministry, seeking immediate assistance to track down Thayapararajah. Is the man still in Indian custody, living some where in India after having obtained bail, or already left for Europe, or perished while trying to reach Australia. Sri Lankans are among those who had risked perilous sea journey, over the years, to gain political asylum, in Australia.

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 project in 2005.

The Geneva Resolution, co-sponsored by the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, never made a specific reference to such cases. In fact, US led resolutions, which dealt with Sri Lanka, never raised the issue. The much discussed UN investigation, undertaken by Ms Beidas, into accountability issues here, conveniently ignored cases of Sri Lankans clandestinely, either leaving, or returning to the country. Purely a domestic court is unlikely to help Sri Lanka to establish the truth. Now that Western powers have adopted a resolution, in Geneva, for a thorough investigation, and Sri Lanka through the latest Commission report, too, underscored the same, the urgent need to verify allegations, pertaining to the disappeared, cannot be further delayed.

Australia issuing a passport to a Sri Lankan Tamil, Kumar Gunaratnam, bearing the name of Noel Mudalige, during the previous government, further highlighted the need for a comprehensive hybrid investigation. Unfortunately, the Commission hasn’t made a reference to Gunaratnam case due to failure on the part of the previous government. The previous government never knew the Australian connection until the Australian High Commissioner here, Robyn Mudie, took up with the then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the disappearance of Gunaratnam allegedly in the hands of the intelligence services. What really surprised the previous government was HC Mudie had Gunaratnam/Mudalige’s travel documents in her purse when the Australian was handed over to her in Colombo.

The previous government never sought to examine individual incidents to ascertain the bigger picture. The following case is a glaring example;

The Commission cited a complaint, received from Mrs. Ilangatheepan Thusiyanthini, of Mullativu, regarding the disappearance of her husband during the war. Having ‘lost’ her husband due to the circumstances of the war, she sought the assistance of the Commission to find her beloved. She subsequently told the Commission that she had received information, from friends of her husband, that he was seen at the Andapan Camp, in South India, where he was a refugee. She was able to make contact with her husband at the camp. They reunited.

However, the Commission strongly emphasized the need to inquire into accusations, directed at the army, regarding specific cases of disappearances. The Commission identified several cases which it felt should be thoroughly investigated and those responsible punished.

The Commission said: "The Commission has heard first hand testimony on one of the incidents dealt with in the Channel 4 allegations which may involve international crimes, namely the alleged forced disappearance and alleged summary execution of approximately 100 persons who boarded a bus during the last days of the war. The Commission is of the view that a judge-led investigation into this incident is necessary and indeed the Commission has already taken steps to appoint an investigative team that has begun its work in relation to this incident. We have made a finding that there is a reasonable basis to believe, having heard evidence on this issue, that these individuals may have been executed."

Army headquarters, too, should initiate a thorough inquiry, without further delay, or face the consequences. The top brass must realize that particular allegation is an extremely serious, therefore tangible action is required on the part of the Sri Lankan government. The government bear the responsibility for inquiring into accusations, particularly in the backdrop of a Commission, appointed by the war winning government, and thereafter accepted by the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition making specific allegation. The failure to probe individual cases will result in the country having to accept the responsibility ‘system crimes.’ The integration of 12,000 members, as well as sympathizers of the defeated LTTE, to the civil society, after rehabilitation, proved beyond any doubt that the previous government acted prudently. Former Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, paved the way for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to work closely with the detained. Former IOM head, Richrad Danziger, in an interview with the writer, in April, 2013, explained their role in the post-conflict situation. A mutual friend, Prabath Fernando, arranged the interview as Danziger was preparing to take over new responsibility in Kabul. The Island report, titled Sri Lanka generous towards vanquished, quoted Danziger as having said the IOM had access to over 11,000 ex LTTE personnel released after rehabilitation. Perhaps, Danziger can be requested to appear in the proposed war crimes court.

According to Danziger, the project had begun even before the conclusion of the conflict, in May, 2009. "IOM had access to LTTE cadres from the Eastern Province at an early stage due to military operations in the region ending earlier."

The eastern campaign ended, in July, 2007. The military launched the Vanni offensive, in March, 2007.

Commenting on the basic difference between the project here and projects undertaken by the IOM in other parts of the world, including the Philippines, Danziger said that unlike in Sri Lanka other ventures involved two parties to peace agreements. In spite of the GoSL being victorious, in its war against the LTTE, it had been very generous towards the vanquished.

Asked whether he was able to achieve what he intended to during his mission here, Danziger said that the IOM was definitely able to improve the living standards of many, particularly of those who fought for the LTTE.

Danziger said that the IOM launched projects in Sri Lanka, way back, in 2002, in the wake of the Norway arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) coming into operation. "We launched a pilot project to rehabilitate 100 personnel each from the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE. Although the project with the SLA went on smoothly, the LTTE declined to cooperate," Danziger said.