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.