Tuesday, 26 January 2016




East terminal, Colombo port, January 21: INS Vikramaditya.
(Pic Dimuthu Premaratne)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Commanding Officer of INS Vikramaditya, Captain Krishna Swaminathan said that he hadn’t been involved in IPKF operations in Sri Lanka. Captain Swaminathan was responding to the writer, after having briefed Sri Lankan media, as well as Colombo - based Indian correspondents, last Thursday (January 21) afternoon at the recently built east terminal, Colombo port, one of the many major Chinese - funded projects.

The incumbent government commissioned the first section of the east terminal. Once completed, the total length of the east terminal will be 1,200m.

Captain Swaminathan’s curt response deprived the writer of an opportunity to pose a second question. The Indian intervention led to Indian trained terrorists making an attempt on the life of the then Maldivian President, during the first week of Nov. 1988. The Indian navy intercepted and sank MV Progress Light which had been commandeered by members of the People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) after their operation went awry. Although, the Indian navy proudly referred to its intervention, in Male, codenamed ‘Operation Cactus, New Delhi never accepted the responsibility for causing terrorism in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. It would be pertinent to mention that two trawlers, carrying about 80 PLOTE cadres, surreptitiously left Mannar, under the very noses of the Indian navy, to reach Male. Under the Indo-Lanka Accord, the Indian navy had been tasked to prevent unauthorized movements to and from Sri Lanka. Remember, in the 80s, the Indian navy operated two aircraft carriers.

The PLOTE has ended up as a constituent of the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) running the Northern Provincial Council and the main Opposition in parliament.

INS Vikramaditya’s highly publicized three-day visit to Colombo should be examined against the backdrop of India’s intervention in Sri Lanka, in the early 80s, the relationship between the previous Sri Lankan government and China, and drastic change in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy since the much touted January 2015 revolution.

As scheduled, India’s most powerful warship, INS Vikramaditya, reached the east terminal at 9 a.m. last Thursday. The vessel, formerly of the Soviet and then Russian navies, had been accompanied by destroyer, INS Mysore. India acquired the vessel in late 2013. The Indian built destroyer, along with another vessel, INS Ranvir, had been deployed just outside Sri Lankan territorial waters, in late July 2008 to provide security to the then Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, who was here to attend the 15th SAARC summit. India feared the possibility of a spectacular LTTE assault, hence the decision to position warships. The deployment was meant to ensure swift military intervention in case the LTTE, a brainchild of India, mounted an assault in Colombo.

India positioned two frigates, within visible distance off the Galle Face, when the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, flew into Colombo to sign the Indo-Lanka Accord, on July 29, 1987.

Captain Swaminathan said that his ship and INS Mysore were transiting, from the West Coast of India, to Visakhapatnam, on the East Coast of India, to participate in the second International Fleet Review (IFR) being hosted by the Indian Navy early next month (Feb 4-8). Naval ships from about 50 countries, including Sri Lanka, are scheduled to participate in this prestigious event. The first IFR was held off Mumbai in 2001. China will participate in the February event.

A brochure, made available to the visiting media on-board INS Vikramaditya revealed that Swaminathan had been commissioned on first of July, 1987, less than a month before India deployed troops in Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka in accordance with Indo-Lanka Accord inked in Colombo.

Twenty four hours before the visit, the Indian High Commission in Colombo declared: "The visit to Colombo, by INS Vikramaditya, will be its maiden overseas port call after its arrival in India, two years ago, and is a manifestation of the close maritime cooperation and mutual trust between India and Sri Lanka."

In fact, INS Vikramaditya is the first aircraft carrier to dock in Colombo harbour. The significant event took place during Vice Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne’s tenure as the Commander of Navy. According wartime Navy Chief retired Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, aircraft carriers, USS Enterprise as well as FNS Foch, had visited Sri Lanka in the late 70s though both were anchored outside the old harbour due to the Colombo port not being able to accommodate them. Karannagoda, then a Lieutenant, recalled having the opportunity to be on-board the French warship for a five-day period. Karannagoda said: "I was brought back in a helicopter after five days." The USS Enterprise had a crew of over 4,000, much more than the entire strength of the Sri Lankan navy, at that time, Karannagoda emphasized.

In the wake of the January 2015 revolution, the US invited a high level Sri Lankan delegation to visit aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, anchored off Sri Lanka, in international waters. The Sri Lankan delegation included Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and the then Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Jayantha Perera. The April 19, 2015, visit marked a significant development in US-Sri Lanka relations. Two days before, an Indian delegation visited the aircraft carrier.

"This was amazing and an extraordinary opportunity for us to see first hand the enormity and complex set of flight operations," said Samaraweera. "This is something we have only seen in films before," the media quoted Foreign Minister Samaraweera as having said.

"Visits like these are impressive and incredibly informative," said Andrew Mann, charge d’ affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka. "It really helped our Sri Lankan Navy counterparts understand the power that this aircraft carrier can project and what it is able to achieve."

INS Vikramaditya’s visit certainly marked a new chapter in Indo-Sri Lanka relations with President Maithripala Sirisena receiving a guard of honour on-board the Indian platform on January 23. Defence Minister Sirisena, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, was received on-board by Rear Admiral Ranveet Singh, Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet and Captain Swaminathan. The visit was President Sirisena’s first to a warship, local or foreign. Most importantly, he was the first foreign head of state to visit the Indian flagship.

Since it was the first ever foreign port, being visited by INS Vikramaditya, after being inducted into the Indian Navy two years ago, it made the visit of the President, on-board, even more remarkable. Senior military officials and their families as well as top officials visited the Indian carrier, one of two such vessels operated by the Indian navy. The massive ship reflected the growing Indian influence in the region, with New Delhi teaming up with the US to pursue a common agenda.

India recently scrapped its first aircraft carrier, Intransitive (formerly HMS Hercules), inducted to her navy in 1961. There cannot be a better phrase than the one used by the Mumbai-based Western Fleet to describe INS Vikramaditya: 45,400 tons of Diplomacy. The vessel’s motto, Strike Far, Strike Sure aptly explains its role. The rapid expansion of the Indian navy, and her ties with US and Japan should be deliberated in the backdrop of a simmering US-China conflict over South China sea disputes. India recently equipped INS Vikramaditya with advanced Barak long range surface-to-missile system that has been jointly developed by Israel and India. A six-day joint US-Japan-India naval exercise, off the Andamans archipelago, in the Bay of Bengal, last October, reflected closer ties among the three countries. Some consider US-Japan-India might as a counterweight to growing Chinese influence in the world.

China commissioned her first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, in late Sept. 2012, well over five decades after India acquired her first.

Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF) participated in the Malabar Exercise last year, too. MSDF took part in the exercises in 2007 and 2008. Although the US and India had been originally involved in Malabar exercise, Japan is now likely to become a permanent participant.

The US, as well as regional powers, are obviously keen to enhance their relationship with the new Sri Lankan leadership in the wake of the Rajapaksas defeat at the presidential and parliamentary polls, in January, and August, 2015. The recently initiated Sri Lanka-Japan policy dialogue, at senior official level, reflected keen Japanese interest in enhancing ties. The first round of talks took place on January 12, in Colombo, in accordance with a joint declaration on a ‘Comprehensive Partnership" issued during the visit of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to Japan in October, 2015. The Foreign Ministry said: "Under the framework of the Policy Dialogue it was decided to hold three specialized Dialogues: a Dialogue on Maritime Security, Safety and Oceanic Issues to be chaired by the Ministry of Defence; an Economic Cooperation Policy Dialogue & Consultation on National Development Cooperation, to be chaired by the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, and an Economic Policy Dialogue, to be chaired by the Ministry of Development Strategies & International Trade in the months of January, February and May of this year, respectively. The next round of the Policy Dialogue at the Senior Official Level of the two Foreign Ministries, will be held in Tokyo, in early 2017."

President Maithripala Sirisena recent declaration that visits undertaken by Chinese, Indian and Japanese warships, to Colombo port are a huge blessing to Sri Lanka and should be examined in the context of further strengthening of US, Japan and India partnership. The US has conveniently forgotten serious human rights accusations directed at the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi over the massacre of over 2,000 Muslims, in his state, during the 2002 riots. Although the Bush administration, in March 2005, had denied Modi, entry to America, over his alleged complicity in communal riots, President Obama revoked the ban. The US couldn’t have sustained its influence in the region without Modi’s India. The Bush administration denied Modi tourist and business visa, in addition to diplomatic visa. Had the State Department envisaged the possibility of the then Gujarat Chief Minister’s rise, it wouldn’t have resorted to such drastic measures. India never allowed the visa issue, or the humiliation of Modi, to undermine its relationship with the US.

The British, resuming military ties with Sri Lanka, after a lapse of several years, is also significant. The UK recalled her Colombo-based military advisor, in 2009, amidst serious rift with the previous government. The UK recently accredited her New Delhi based defence attache to Colombo. Former Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, asserted that with the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, Colombo had the opportunity to host many foreign warships, particularly those, either on their way for counter piracy missions off Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, or returning from such operations. The Chinese vessels, too, had used the port of Colombo, Rajapaksa said, alleging that routine Chinese visits were portrayed as something sinister and clandestine project meant to undermine India. In the run-up to the last presidential polls, the reportage of the Chinese naval visits assumed an extremely hostile approach with a section of the Indian media, as well as the Sri Lankan media propagating lies regarding entry of Chinese nuclear submarines to Sri Lankan waters. Emphasizing that during Rajapaksa’s presidency, the government never resorted to a strategy inimical to India or any other, the war veteran said that the administration was keen to sustain relations with all countries. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa recalled all UN Security Council members participating at an event, in Colombo, in 2013, to mark the SLN’s 60th anniversary. Rajapaksa said of the five permanent Security Council members, Russia (Udaloy-class Destroyer Admiral Vinogrado) and China (Missile Destroyer Lanzhou) had sent warships. The US, UK and France, too, had sent senior-level naval delegations, the Defence Secretary said, adding "the country wouldn’t have attracted the ‘big’ five if we had still been at war. In fact, many countries would have been reluctant to send warships had we been bogged down on the northern front."

In the wake of wild allegations regarding Chinese nuclear submarines and Chinese military presence in Sri Lanka, the then Navy Chief Vice Admiral, Jayantha Perera, stressed that the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) would not cause hostilities among countries under any circumstances. Such a course of action would be inimical to all countries, including Sri Lanka, VA Perera said in an exclusive interview titled Navy Chief: Sri Lanka’s relationship with China not at India’s expense published on Nov 6, 2015 edition. "There is absolutely no need for Sri Lanka to pursue a strategy hostile to India or any other country," he said.

The then navy chief was responding to allegations that GoSL had aligned itself with the People’s Republic of China by accommodating nuclear-powered Chinese submarines at the port of Colombo in spite of India’s serious concerns.

VA Perera said: "The Chinese submarine Changchen 2, accompanied by another vessel Changxingdao, reached Colombo. on Sept. 7, 2014, for refuelling and crew refreshment. The vessels left on Sept. 13. They were on their way to the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia. The same vessels arrived at the Colombo port on Oct. 31. They were to leave on Nov 5."

The navy chief stressed that contrary to claims being made in some quarters, the Chinese submarine wasn’t a nuclear powered one on some clandestine mission. The Janes could shed light on the vessel, he said.

Responding to a query, VA Perera said that the growing relations between Indo-Lanka navies reflected the strong bilateral relationship between the South-east Asian neighbours. The Indo-Lanka ties had received a further boost consequent to his recent visit (Oct. 26-30) to India on the invitation of new Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral R.K. Dhowan. VA Perera was accompanied by his wife, Shalika.

VA Perera dismissed suggestions that India had called for urgent talks due to the Chinese submarine visit.

The navy chief said that during his visit to New Delhi, the Indian media had raised two questions as regards, what they called, the Chinese military presence as well Chinese submarines docking at the Colombo Port. VA Perera said that there had never been a permanent Chinese military presence, in Sri Lanka, though during the conflict, representatives of many countries had visited Sri Lanka. The acquisition of a range of armaments from different countries to fight terrorists during such visits was almost routine, the navy chief said.

Successive governments acquired weapons, including artillery, gun boats, armoured personnel carriers, transport aircraft and assault rifles, etc., from China.

VA Perera said that since the conclusion of the conflict, in May, 2009, China, as well as India, had launched some major projects in Sri Lanka.

Responding to another query, VA Perera said that India remained a key defence partner with ongoing bilateral engagements, such as training exercises at different levels. "And there were trilateral engagements such as Coast Guard exercise involving India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The latest trilateral exercise codenamed, DOSTI XII (Oct 28-31), was conducted in the seas off Male."

Recollecting the role played by Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), acquired and loaned by India, during eelam war IV, the navy chief said that India was in the process of building two more OPVs for the SLN.

A despicable attempt was also being made to portray the Colombo Port as being mainly used by Chinese vessels, the Navy Chief said. According to him, since 2010, 206 warships belonging to different nations have visited Sri Lanka. Among the countries which had utilized facilities here were Russia, America, China, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, France, Italy and Iran.

An Iranian submarine docked in Colombo during 2013. It was accompanied by two ships.

The navy chief said that Sri Lanka always believed in regional stability.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Secy to India installed NE PC speaks out




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Wartime Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, recently evoked memories of India’s disastrous intervention in Sri Lanka. Gandhi reiterated unsubstantiated war crimes accusations at an event to mark President Maithripala Sirisena’s first year in office. Gandhi was in Colombo a few days before Indian Foreign Secretary, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, arrived, in Colombo, for consultations. Jaishankar had served the Indian High Commission in Colombo during the turbulent 1988-1990 period as the First Secretary, Political Affairs.

Against the background of Gandhi’s pronouncements, The Island interviewed Dr. Engineer K. Vigneswaran, Secretary to the North-East Provincial Council, during EPRLF heavyweight Varatharaja Perumal’s tenure as its Chief Minister, in the late 80s.

Having conducted the NEPC polls, on Nov 19, 1988, India named Perumal as its first Chief Minister. Perumal received the appointment on Dec 10, 1988. The then President Ranasinghe Premadasa dissolved the Council, on March 1, 1990, immediately after Perumal made an unilateral declaration of independence. The announcement was made about three weeks before India pulled out her Army from Sri Lanka.

In a wide-ranging interview with the writer, Vigneswaran, former EPDP National List member, discussed contentious matters, including the ongoing battle between Northern Province Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran, and the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a clandestine arrangement between the then UPFA presidential candidate, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the LTTE, ahead of Nov. 2005 polls, a UNP project to sabotage the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s bid to change the constitution, in 2000, and serving Indian Army officers thwarting Tamil Nadu administration from arresting him. Vigneswarana also recollected his contacts with Jaishankar.

Vigneswaran said that those who had been involved in Perumal’s administration earned the wrath of the LTTE, therefore top officials were given an opportunity to leave for India ahead of the departing Indian Army. Having received information regarding a possible attempt on his life, by the LTTE, in Colombo, Vigneswaran had sent his wife, Ramya, (a Sinhalese), and two children, Madhavi and Udiyan, to Colombo. "I stayed in Trincomalee while members of my family took a flight to Tamil Nadu. The LTTE stepped-up pressure as the Indian Army gradually reduced its presence here. Perhaps, over a week before the last Indian contingent left Trincomalee, I was given an opportunity to join my family in Tamil Nadu."

The Indian Army quit Sri Lanka during the last week of March 1990. The writer was among those who had an opportunity to board the last ship carrying troops to leave the Trincomlee harbour.

Shortly before, an Indian Air Force flight, carrying a full load of passengers, including Vigneswaran, took off from China Bay airfield, Trincomalee, they were told of fresh instructions from Tamil Nadu as regards Sri Lankans on board the aircraft. The Indian Army here was told that any aircraft carrying members of Perumal’s administration shouldn’t be brought to Tamil Nadu, under any circumstances, in accordance with a directive issued by the then TN Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi, leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a Dravidian political party.

Vigneswaran said that India’s response to the situation in Sri Lanka should be examined against the backdrop of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s partnership with the LTTE as well as close relationship between Karunanidhi and the then Indian Premier V.P. Singh. Before taking off from Trincomalee, the Indian Air Force had received instructions to avoid Alhambra Air Force station, close to Chennai, for want of Karunanidhi’s approval. Instead, the passenger aircraft, carrying Vigneswaran, had been directed to Odisha (formerly Orissa), an eastern Indian state on the Bay of Bengal. Vigneswaran said: "Obviously, Indian officials faced a deepening dilemma due to the significant change in New Delhi’s policy towards Sri Lanka."

Having brought him to Odisha, Vigneswaran had been swiftly moved to the state guest house where he was placed under police guard. Although, Vigneswaran had enjoyed a range of facilities, he soon realized that an attempt was being made to restrict his movements. For nearly three weeks, he had been ‘held’ there even after the completion of the Indian Army pull out from Sri Lanka. Finally, Vigneswaran had solicited the help of a Tamil journalist, based in Odisha, to convince the senior officer in charge of his security and Principal Secretary to the CM, Odisha, to allow him to leave the state.

Having decided to travel by train, Vigneswaran had bought the required ticket while authorities in Odisha alerted Tamil Nadu administration of the Sri Lankan’s movement. They had planned to arrest Vigneswaran as soon as he entered Tamil Nadu to reunite with his family. Vigneswaran said that he would have most probably walked into a trap if not for the journalist who warned of the conspiracy, having overheard Odisha officials discussing the operation.

As the train left Odisha, the Tamil Nadu police knew of the exact compartment and where Vigneswaran was seated. Having entered Andra Pradesh from Odisha, Vigneswaran had changed his seat as the train approached the Tamil Nadu railway station where he was to get off. As plainclothesmen had swooped down on the compartment, and surrounded the section where Vigneswaran was supposed to be seated, he had quietly got down and walked towards an Indian Army Major (name withheld) who was there to welcome him. Vigneswaran had sent a message to the Major, before he left Odisha, to be there to move him out of the railway station. Vigneswaran had befriended the officer during the latter’s deployment, in Trincomalee, with the Indian Army, and was in a position to provide assistance.

"I was confident that the Tamil Nadu police didn’t have a photograph of mine and I also changed my appearance by growing a beard during my stay in Odisha."

Accompanied by the Major and several uniformed soldiers, Vigneswaran had used an entry/exit point exclusively used by the Indian military to leave the railway station.

The Vigneswarans stayed in Tamil Nadu for a couple of weeks before leaving for New Delhi. Responding to a query, Vigneswaran recalled the Indian Army personnel being with them at the railway station until the train left for New Delhi. Those who had served in Sri Lanka abhorred the Tamil Nadu administration. They felt the state administration had turned a blind eye to the sacrifices made by the Indian Army for want of better understanding of the situation.

Vigneswaran joins Devananda

From India, Vigneswaran moved to Singapore where he served a British firm operating in the region.

Vigneswaran had been stationed in east Malaysia when EPDP leader, Douglas Devananda, unexpectedly visited him during 1996. Devananda had sought the engineer’s expertise to promote the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. As a member of the then President Kumaratunga’s cabinet, Devananda believed he needed the support of an expert. Devananda had been of the view that the party needed expertise of an official who had handled matters pertaining to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Vigneswaran said that Mrs. Kumaratunga had unflinchingly pushed for a new Constitution inclusive of comparatively comprehensive devolution package. The President remained confident that her project could be brought to a successful conclusion, in early August, 2000. By then, Devananda had accommodated Vigneswaran among his parliamentary group and was deeply involved in the process on behalf of the EPDP, one of the Indian backed terrorist outfits. Vgneswaran recalled Mrs Kumaratunga passionately pushing her project in spite of the then TULF leadership, obviously under pressure from the LTTE trying to sabotage the process. Vigneswaran said: "At one meeting chaired by President Kumaratunga, I sat next to EPDP leader. TULF veteran Sampanthan was next and on his right was V. Anandasangaree. Remember, the draft Constitution was meant to strengthen the devolution package and promote the rights of the minorities. In spite of some initial differences, the President succeeded in securing the support of the People’s Alliance. Unfortunately, the TULF struggled to come to terms with the situation. The party was under tremendous pressure. At one point, Sampanthan promised to vote for the draft constitution though he couldn’t convince other members in parliament to do so. Even without the support of the TULF, President Kumaratunga would have achieved her dream if the UNP threw its weight behind her. Regrettably, the UNP refused to back the President’s initiative."

In spite of the UNP’s refusal, President Kumaratunga had been still confident of adopting the draft Constitution with a two-thirds majority.

CBK’s project goes awry

Vigneswaran recollected the late Colombo District MP Tyronne Fernando, on behalf of the UNP, offering the EPDP what the UNPer called a better deal if the Tamil withdraw its support to President Kumaratunga’s project. "Without any hesitation, I rejected Fernando’s proposal. We were aware of President Kumaratunga having secret negotiations with some members of parliament elected on the UNP ticket. She firmly believed they could be trusted and were confident of securing a two-thirds majority to adopt new Constitution. But, she wasn’t aware of the UNP’s strategy. In fact, all of us had been in the dark."

President Kumaratunga had been having a discussion at Temple Trees on the eve of the vote on the draft Constitution, when Vigneswaran who was there, along with several others, including EPDP leader, Douglas Devananda, received a message from his police bodyguard. The policeman had quoted a colleague who had been assigned to UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake’s security team as having claimed that a group of parliamentarians were to leave for Singapore. Vigneswaran: "I realized the UNP thwarted President Kumaratunga’s move to adopt the new Constitution with the support of the Opposition. Immediately, after the meeting, she was told of the UNP move, President Kumaratunga phoned presidential secretary Kusumsiri Balapatabendi to verify the information. Within minutes, he confirmed the group leaving for Singapore. President Kumaratunga was stunned. The President adjourned the meeting."

According to Vigneswaran those who had been identified as possible turncoats were given a party at MP Karunanayake’s residence and then taken to Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). Although President Kumaratunga had refrained from revealing what she intended to do before she adjourned the meeting, the dissolution of parliament was announced hours later. Vigneswaran lost an opportunity to address the parliament the following day.

Vigneswaran strongly criticized Sampanthan for not being able to convince his colleagues of the need to support President Kumaratunga’s initiative. Had she succeeded, the situation wouldn’t have taken a turn for the worse, Vigneswaran said.

MR-LTTE understanding

Vigneswaran claimed that in the run-up to the presidential polls, in Nov. 2005, the then Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had reached an understanding with the LTTE to deprive UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe of certain victory. Had the LTTE allowed those living in areas under its control to freely exercise their franchise, Wickremesinghe would have secured the presidency comfortably. Vigneswaran reiterated unsubstantiated allegation that the LTTE received Rs 800 MN to deprive Wickremesinghe of the much needed northern vote.

The LTTE directive to boycott the presidential poll was announced by the then five-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Sampanthan told The Island on the night of Nov 15, 2005, that the decision, taken on Nov 9, 2005, at Kilinochchi, to boycott the election wouldn’t be changed. Speaking from Trincomalee, the veteran politician claimed that nothing worthwhile could be achieved by supporting either of the two leading candidates. Both Sampanthan and Batticaloa District MP Joseph Pararajasingham told the writer that the Tamil speaking people weren’t at all interested in the Nov 17 poll. (TNA refuses to change polls boycott stance––The Island of Nov 16, 2005).

Vigneswaran: "Although Devananda expected a key ministry, following Rajapaksa’s victory, he was given Social Services. I didn’t like what was happening and decided to quit the EPDP in late 2005."

Having formed the Akhila Ilankai Tami Mahasabha after quitting the EPDP, Vigneswaran contested the Provincial Council polls in the newly liberated Eastern Province in 2008. The previous government evicted the LTTE from the Eastern Province by June 2007. One-time LTTE fighter, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, alias Pilleyan, who led the TMVP campaign, received the post of Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, courtesy the SLFP-led UPFA. Vigneswaran received an invitation from Pilleyan to be his advisor. Vigneswaran said that Pilleyan was keen to improve the living conditions of the Easterners. Vigneswaran claimed that Pilleyan retained his services in spite of the then President Rajapaksa’s objections.

Vigneswaran said: "When President Rajapaksa wanted Pilleyan to dissolve the Eastern Provincial Council, a year ahead of the scheduled election, to hold fresh polls. Pilleyan sought my opinion." Vigneswaran had inquired from Pilleyan what would he gain by recommending the dissolution of the council. Pilleyan revealed that the previous political leadership had assured him six more years as the Chief Minister. It was Vigneswaran, who drafted a letter for Pilleyan advising the President to dissolve the council. Despite lack of education, Pilleyan had functioned much better than many other politicians, Vigneswaran asserted while pointing out the failure on the part of retired Justice C.V. Wigneswaran to meet even the basic expectations of the northerners. Vigneswaran urged Tamils to examine the Northern Provincial Council administration since the four-party TNA comfortably secured the council at Sept. 2013 polls.

Vigneswaran invited to

advice CM

Hailing from the Jaffna administrative, C.V. Wigneswaran and K. Vigneswaran had studied at Royal College, Colombo. They had been friends since school days. According to Vigneswaran, he met Wigneswaran at the Uthayan guest house in Jaffna on Sept. 2013. The poll was scheduled for Sept. 21. "We discussed about the situation in Jaffna, problems experienced by the Tamil community and what we should do overcome them. We were there for about two and half hours. Sinhalese and Muslims didn’t experience some of the problems experienced by our people. Wigneswaran requested me to be his advisor. Obviously, he valued my opinion."

When TNA’s Chief Ministerial candidate, Wigneswaran had inquired about the major problems faced by the community in the post-war era, Vigneswaran explained four issues which Wigneswaran’s administration needed to address immediately. Tangible measures were required to provide relief to thousands of families headed by women, tackle unemployment, improve standard of education and housing.

Vigneswaran emphasized that they could have easily dealt with problems in accordance with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. "We didn’t need any new laws. What we needed was a tangible action plan and a vision to implement it. Unfortunately, those who had received a mandate from Tamil speaking people played politics with national issues."

Having handsomely won the Northern PC polls, Wigneswaran again met Vigneswaran at the Cambridge Terrace residence on Oct 2, 2013. Vigneswaran used the opportunity to emphasize that he should immediately launch an action plan on the basis of the 13th Amendment to provide relief to the people. When the issue of him being the new Chief Minister’s advisor came up, Vigneswaran had told Wigneswaran that Sampanthan would never permit that. Wigneswaran had assured that he would take care of that problem. There had been two other persons present at that meeting. Vigneswaran said: "Although I didn’t realize at that time, they had been there to convey what took place to Sampanthan. At the conclusion of the meeting, Wigneswaran promised get in touch with me."

A meeting before Rahu Kalaya

Vigneswaran remembered Wigneswaran requesting him to come for the Oct 2, 2013, meeting before Rahu kalaya. The former Supreme Court Justice had been sincere in his efforts though he couldn’t go ahead with an action plan of his own due to interference by the TNA leadership which pursued an agenda spearheaded by influential Diaspora.

Asked to explain what prompted Wigneswaran not to appoint him as his advisor, Vigneswaran said that a few days after Oct 2, 2013, meeting, the Chief Minister had sent an SMS to Vigneswaran inquiring whether Northern Provincial Councillor Ananthi Sasitharan could be appointed as Deputy Minister of Women Affairs. Ananthi had been an influential member due to her husband being a senior LTTE leader whose disappearance at the final phase of the operations on the Vanni east front she blamed on the Army. Vigneswaran had pointed out that Sasitharan could be made the coordinator of that particular ministry as there was no provision for appointment of deputy ministers in accordance with the 13th Amendment. Vigneswaran had further explained that decision to appoint Sasitharan as coordinator should be taken by the Chief Minister and four ministers of the Council. In accordance with 13th Amendment to the Constitution, Board of Ministers of a Provincial Council consisted of Chief Minister and four Ministers.

Subsequently, Wigneswaran had spurned Vigneswaran efforts to contact him prompting an irate Vigneswaran to denounce the Chief Minister. Now, Wigneswaran appeared to have taken even a harder stand than the other lot in the TNA, Vigneswaran said, adding that the recent formation of the Tamil People’s Council (TPC) highlighted the widening divisions among the present Tamil leadership.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Mahinda Rajapaksa warned of dire consequences over war crimes



Former Indian High Commissioner, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, is seated between President Maithripala Sirisena and twice President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Kamal Bogoda captured the scene at an event held at the BMICH on January 8 where Gandhi endorsed unsubstantiated war crimes allegations directed at the previous government, including the execution of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s second son, Balachandran.

by Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, declared, in Colombo, on January 8, that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa would be remembered for eradicating the LTTE.

Former President Rajapaksa brought the war to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009.

Having commended the former President for giving resolute political leadership to the successful war effort, Gandhi delivered an unmistakable warning, pertaining to war crimes allegations.

But the crimes committed during eelam war IV would also not be forgotten, Gandhi warned the former President who skipped the event.

Gandhi was delivering the keynote address at a ceremony to mark the completion of President Maithripala Sirisena’s first year in office, at the BMICH.

War-winning Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka was also in the audience, seated next to UN Resident Representative, Subanay Nandy. Among the Colombo-based diplomats, present on the occasion, was Indian High Commissioner, Y.K. Sinha.

Gandhi accused the previous government of having executed LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s 12-year-old son during the final phase of the Vanni offensive, in May, 2009.

Gandhi alleged that the Sri Lankan military had executed Balachandran because he was the younger son of the LTTE’ leader. The retired Indian career diplomat subscribed to the allegation of mass scale killings of civilians, during the final assault, though he refrained from mentioning an exact figure.

UNSG Ban Ki-moon Panel of Experts (PoE), in March, 2011, estimated the number of civilian deaths, due to military action, at over 40,000.

Many an eyebrow was raised at the timing of Gandhi’s statement meant to give credence to war crimes allegations. "The massacre of innocents at its denouement has compacted the gore of terror with the blood-thirst of revenge," Gandhi said.

"And the killing in cold blood, of a child, for the sole reason, that he was his father’s son, has left the world in cold horror."

Gandhi went to the extent of justifying the war waged by Prabhakaran for nearly 30 years. The retired diplomat refrained from bringing up the bloody Indian Army campaign against the LTTE, launched in Oct., 1987.

"If the Ponnambalams and Chelvanayakams had not been disappointed, spurned and marginalized, Velupillai Pirbakaran would not have been required. We may not have those great leaders today, but we have in the Tamil leaders of Sri Lanka today, let us not forget, persons who have survived terror. The Tamil nationalist who has striven to find political solutions within a united Sri Lanka is a terror survivor. The very presence of such a politician is a huge acknowledgement of the efficacy and strength of perseverance."

Gandhi conveniently failed to mention the massive excesses committed by the LTTE.

Gandhi basically asserted that Rajapaksa’s defeat, at the presidential polls, a year ago, ended a reign of terror. The former High Commissioner took the shine off Sri Lanka’s triumph over LTTE terrorism in May, 2009. Obviously, Gandhi had conveniently forgotten the situation, in Sri Lanka, during his short tenure as Indian High Commissioner, in Colombo (2000-2002). The country was in unprecedented turmoil due to a series of high profile battle-field defeats experienced by the Sri Lankan Army (SLA). Sri Lanka also experienced massive political crisis with a spate of defections from the then ruling SLFP-led People’s Alliance (PA), leading to parliamentary elections, in early December, 2001. The UNP-led United National Front (UNF) comfortably won the polls. Having formed the government, the UNP swiftly entered a ceasefire agreement (CFA) with the LTTE, under the auspices of Norway. India threw its weight behind the CFA, though New Delhi declined to publicly support the Norwegian initiative that received the backing for the US, EU and Japan. They functioned as Co-chairs to Sri Lanka’s Peace Process with Norway being the fourth in the grouping.

It would be pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka suffered her worst battlefield defeat, in April, 2000. India declined to come to Sri Lanka’s rescue, even in the aftermath of the SLA’s humiliating defeat at strategic Elephant Pass area. The 54 Division, headquartered at Elephant Pass, suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the LTTE, by then developed into a conventional fighting force. India also spurned Sri Lanka’s call for urgent military assistance to save the SLA trapped in Jaffna. A disappointed President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga re-established diplomatic ties with Israel, in May, 2000, in accordance with her overall plan to meet the LTTE challenge.

Jolted by the shocking loss of Elephant Pass, Mrs Kumaratunga sent the then Maj. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, along with Maj. Gen. Janaka Perera, to thwart the LTTE bid to overrun Jaffna. Although, the SLA managed to halt the advance, it couldn’t regain Elephant Pass, until early 2009.

Those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes inquiry, meant to examine accusations pertaining to eelam war IV, remain silent on the Indian terrorist project here. In act, the previous government pathetically failed at least to mention the Indian role at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), even after India voted against Sri Lanka, in 2013.

However, the former Indian High Commissioner obviously lacked courage to admit Indian intervention in Sri Lanka, in the early 80s, by providing weapons training to terrorists; how the LTTE brought terror back into Indian soil, and also Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists making an attempt on the life of the Maldivian President, in early Nov. 1988. Gandhi must also admit that the crimes committed by the then Government of India, too, would also not be forgotten. India also paid a heavy price for its foolish decision to destabilize a small neighbouring country. The former Indian High Commissioner couldn’t be unaware of the circumstances leading to the high profile assassination of one-time Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, on May 21, 1991.

The year before Gandhi succeeded Mennon, the LTTE made an abortive bid on the life of the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. The LTTE targeted her at her final Dec. 1999, president campaign rally, at the Town Hall. Mrs. Kumaratunga secured a second term. Had Prabhakaran succeeded, the war would have taken a different course. The presidential election took place against the backdrop of devastating battlefield losses in the Vanni. During the 1996-1999 period, the LTTE inflicted massive losses on the SLA, in the Vanni theater of operations, and, by Dec. 1999, was poised to take on the 54 Division, deployed in the Elephant Pass-Vettilaikerni sector.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi was in Colombo when the LTTE mounted its boldest attack in the South, during the entire war. The LTTE stormed the Bandaranaike International Airport, in the early hours of July, 24, 2001. The national economy was on the brink of collapse. The losses suffered by the national carrier, and the SLAF, caused a massive impact on the economy. India can never absolve itself of responsibility for causing terrorism in Sri Lanka.

One of Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s predecessors in Colombo, J.N. Dixit (1985-1989) in his memoirs titled Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha, launched in 2004, lucidly explained the circumstances under which the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (1980-1984) intervened in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka should be grateful to Dixit for having the courage to publicly acknowledge the Indian role after having retired from the esteemed Indian Foreign Service. Dixit retired as the Foreign Secretary, in 1994, and received the post of National Security Advisor, in 2004. Dixit at the age of 68, suffered a massive heart attack in January, the following year.

The writer received a copy of Dixit’s memoirs, courtesy Ministry of External Affairs, during a visit to New Delhi, on the invitation of the government of India, in July-Aug 2006. Let me reproduce verbatim Dixit’s explanation on Mrs Gandhi’s action: "India’s involvement in Sri Lanka, in my assessment, was unavoidable not only due to the possible ramifications of the Sri Lankan government’s oppressive and discriminating policies against its Tamil citizens but also in terms of India’s national concerns due to the Sri Lankan government’s evolving security connections with the US, Pakistan and Israel."

Obviously, India was acting in accordance with its overall strategy as a cold war ally of the then Soviet Union. Dixit said: "It would be relevant to analyze India’s motivations and actions vis-a-vis Sri Lanka in the larger perspective of the international and regional strategic environment obtaining between 1980 and 1984."

Dixit alleged that the US and Pakistan had exploited the situation in Sri Lanka at the onset of hit-and-run attacks by Tamil youth in the Northern Province to create what he called a politico-strategic pressure point against India. Having discussed the Indian intervention, in Sri Lanka, as well as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Dixit faulted Premier Gandhi’s position on both. Dixit asserted: "The two foreign policy decisions on which she could be faulted are: her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Whatever the criticisms about these decisions, it cannot be denied that she took them on the basis of her assessments about India’s national interests. Her logic was that she couldn’t openly alienate the former Soviet Union when India was so dependent on that country for defense supplies and technologies. Similarly, she could not afford the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils."

Sri Lanka never made an effort to examine the origins of terrorism. Instead, successive governments accepted responsibility for their failure to address the grievances of the Tamil-speaking people. Tamils believed India backed their campaign of death and destruction to pressure the then Sri Lankan government, whereas New Delhi was seeking to thwart the growth of separatism in Tamil Nadu. In other words, India had averted a major threat to her security and stability at the expense of Sri Lanka. For want of comprehensive examination of events, leading to eelam war, I in the early 80s, and subsequent phases, Sri Lanka failed at least to verify and record facts. War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa never made a serious effort to examine the origins of the conflict even after the armed forces brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009.

Seven years after the war, Gopalkrishna Gandhi was in Colombo to remind Sri Lanka of accountability issues. What would be Gandhi’s response to Dixit’s assertions? Would Tamil militancy developed to such an extent if India didn’t intervene here? Having sponsored over half a dozen terrorist groups, India thwarted Sri Lanka’s first determined effort to wipe out the LTTE, in May-June, 1987. Had Operation Liberation was allowed to proceed, as planned, India could have saved the lives of over 1,500 officers and men, Rajiv Gandhi wouldn’t have had to die in the hands of an LTTE suicide cadre and, most importantly, the war wouldn’t have lasted for nearly three decades. India intervened as troops of Operation liberation were in the process of gradually achieving their objectives.

Former President Rajapaksa squandered an opportunity to conduct a thorough examination of events. Had he provided the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) the required mandate, it could have examined the origins of terrorism here. Had that happened, his government could have successfully countered an expensive propaganda campaign directed at the country, since the end of war, seven years ago. The former President paid a very heavy price for his lapses.

The Indian Army, during its deployment here, was accused of numerous atrocities. Those accused of atrocities were never punished. The then Sri Lankan government had no authority, at least to inquire into violations, whereas the Indian Army simply ignored allegations. Perhaps Gopalkrishna Gandhi should be reminded of accusations made against India’s premier intelligence service, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in respect of the assassination of two Jaffna District TULF members, V. Dharmalingham and M. Alalasundaram, in early Sept. 1985. Dharmalingham’s son, Siddarthan, now a member of the TNA-run Northern Provincial Council, told the writer, way back in 1997, of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) abducting and killing the two politicians. Dharmalingham asserted that India carried out the killings to bring the LTTE under pressure. The decision was obviously prompted by the collapse of tripartite talks aimed at resolving Sri Lanka’s national problem, in the Bhutanese capital, Thimpu, involving the governments of India and Sri Lanka, as well as representatives of Tamil speaking people of Sri Lankan origin, during the third week of August, 1985.

An irate Rajiv Gandhi ordered the immediate deportation of LTTE theoretician, Anton Balasingham, a former employee of the British High Commission in Colombo.

The TULF, and a grouping of Indian sponsored terrorist organization calling itself Eelam National Liberation Front (ENLF), represented the Tamils at the Thimpu talks.

The abortive Thimpu deliberations comprised two rounds of talks; first in early July 1985 and the other in August. Bodies of TULF members were found on the morning of Sept. 3, 1985.

The killings should be examined against the backdrop of the Thimpu fiasco as well as the short-lived Delhi Accord of 1985. India should accept responsibility for plunging Sri Lanka into crisis. New Delhi pursued a deliberate policy meant to cause chaos in Sri Lanka to achieve its political and military objectives.

Those hell bent on destabilizing Sri Lanka ordered the killings, with a view to discrediting the LTTE and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The assassinations were meant to isolate the LTTE, thereby paving the way for rival groups to consolidate their power in the post-Thimpu environment. Another objective was to curb the TULF influence over the Jaffna populace. Whoever had the power to decide on the fate of two politicians, the TELO led by Sri Sabaratnam alias Tall Sri had been given the dastardly assignment. Obviously, the enmity between Prabhakaran and Sri Sabaratnam had been taken into consideration when the latter was ordered to carry out the killings.

The JRJ government wrongly blamed the LTTE for the killings. Sri Lankan authorities never made a genuine attempt to investigate the assassinations.

Interestingly, TULF heavyweights, M. Sivasithamparam and A. Amirthalingam, were in New Delhi to meet Premier Gandhi when TELO cadres carried out the killings. Having discussed the Delhi Accord of 1985 with Premier Gandhi, the TULF leaders returned to Chennai, where they rejected the latest initiative on the basis it didn’t address three vital issues, namely Tamil homeland in a merged North-East Province, the devolution of power in respect of land, as well as police powers.

Post-war reconciliation in Sri Lanka is not possible unless India, too, admits its despicable role here. Perhaps, the proposed war crimes court can be utilized by those wanting to establish truth to give an opportunity to India.

Wartime secret negotiations between UN mission in Colombo and LTTE




President Maithripala Sirisena shares a light moment with Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan at an event at the UN compound, Colombo in late Oct. 2014 to commemorate the UN’s 70th anniversary. Jaffna District MP M.A.Sumanthiran and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Sri Lanka, Subinay Nandy look on.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Had the UN acted swiftly, and decisively, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have had to experience terrorism for nearly three decades. In actual fact, the UN, and its agencies, deprived successive Sri Lankan governments of much needed support during her battle against terrorism.

Last week, The Island examined the failures on the part of the UN, against the backdrop of a commemorative event, held at Sri Lanka’s Permanent Mission, in New York, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the then Ceylon’s entry in to the United Nations, where the gathering was reminded of sometimes strained relations between Sri Lanka and the global body, with special emphasis on the situation during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency.

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in New York Dr. Amrith Rohan Perera, PC, told the gathering: "As in other relationships, the relationship between Sri Lanka and the United Nations has, at times, undergone stresses and strains. This was particularly so during the conflict, and in its immediate aftermath."

Sri Lanka was among over a dozen countries admitted to the UN, on Dec 14, 1955.

UN policies contributed to spread of terrorism in Sri Lanka. Having immensely contributed to a catastrophic situation here, by neglecting its responsibilities, for over two decades, the UN made its biggest blunder at the onset of Sri Lanka launching the Vanni offensive, in early, 2007. Instead of taking tangible measures to thwart the LTTE from preventing Tamil-speaking people taking refuge in areas under government control, the UN facilitated the terrorist project. The Colombo-based UN mission secretly communicated with the LTTE in a bid to secure the release of Tamil employees, of the UN, accused of helping civilians to flee the war zone.

The UN mission, in Colombo, conveniently failed to immediately bring the Vanni situation to the notice of the then government. The mission negotiated with the LTTE, clandestinely. The UN, in New York, too, wasn’t briefed of the crisis. The UN mission in Colombo never explained its decision not to bring the detention of two UN workers immediately to the notice of the government.

Having failed to secure their release, in spite of secret negotiations, for perhaps over a month, the UN brought the situation to the then government’s attention in April 2007 (LTTE detains UN workers-The Island, April 20). The UN mission in Colombo never responded to The Island revelation. The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) comprising the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF, too, remained silent. In fact, none of those, who had been demanding accountability on the part of the then administration for causing civilian deaths during the final phase of the offensive, ever bothered, at least, to issue a statement calling for the release of UN workers and an immediate end to restrictions imposed on the movement of people. The Norwegian-led five-nation Scandinavian truce monitoring mission, as well as Co-Chairs to Sri Lanka’s Peace Process, refrained from commenting on the incident.

The UN and LTTE, in May, 1998, agreed that free movement/resettlement of civilians should be respected. (The UN-LTTE agreement was dealt comprehensively last week.).

The UN, and a section of the Colombo-based diplomatic community, had desperately tried to settle the issue without involving the government. Prominent Diaspora activists, particularly those with the influential British Tamil Forum (BTF), remained mum. The Colombo-based UN bigwigs kept the seizure under wraps believing the LTTE would eventually release them (‘UN had talks with Tigers on the sly’ with strap line UN workers in LTTE custody-The Island, April 23, 2007).

The UN policy eventually led to the LTTE forcing the vast majority of the Vanni population to retreat, along with its fighting cadre, across the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, towards the Mullaitivu coast, where Velupillai Prabhakaran made his final stand, in May, 2009. The retreat began in early 2007.

The then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, strongly condemned the UN’s approach towards terrorism. The war veteran alleged that Western powers, Diaspora activists as well as an influential section of the media, which champion human rights, remained silent. Both print and electronic media, including Colombo-based international news agencies ignored the UN-LTTE dispute. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa revealed the abduction of UN workers took centre-stage at a meeting of the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance held at the Defence Ministry in April 2007. Chaired by the then Human Rights Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, the CCHA met bi-weekly to discuss the situation in operational areas. The consultative apex body first met on Oct 14, 2006. Among those who had been present at the CCHA discussion, on the plight of UN workers, was the then US Ambassador in Colombo, Robert O. Blake. The LTTE resented UN workers interfering with its strategy. The UN was told in no uncertain terms that anyone challenging its authority would have to face the consequences.(Lanka urges UN not to shield Tigers with strap line UN workers in LTTE custody-The Island, April 25, 2007).

In late April, 2007, the UN admitted that its Colombo mission had withheld information pertaining to the detention of UN workers. When the issue was raised at the daily press briefing, at the UN, on April 25, 2007, UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson, Michele Montas, acknowledged that its mission in Colombo hadn’t informed New York of the incident. Without referring to exclusive The Island reportage of the incident, Montas said: "We don’t have any confirmation of those newspaper reports. We have heard them. As soon as we have a confirmation, we’ll get something for you on that. I’m checking with the UN presence there (in Sri Lanka." Montas stressed that the Colombo mission hadn’t confirmed the newspaper reports. "I don’t know. We don’t have any confirmation. They have not confirmed those reports. I heard them through the press also." Two days before the UN briefing, the then government strongly condemned the UN’s approach towards the abduction of UN workers (UN HQ admits Colombo office kept it in the dark with strap line The Island expose of UN employees abducted by LTTE-The Island, April 28, 2007).

Now that the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government had co-sponsored a resolution in Geneva paving the way for a comprehensive judicial investigation into alleged atrocities committed during the eelam war IV (Aug. 2006-May 2009), the culpability on the part of the UN, too, should be investigated. Had the UN and other members of the CCHA took tangible measures in the wake of the abduction of UN workers, the LTTE could have been discouraged from carrying out their dastardly project to use the Vanni population as human shields. The LTTE needed the population to ensure conscription of fighting cadres as well as use them as a tool to protect their military assets/positions.

It would be important to keep in mind the circumstances under which the LTTE moved to block those living in Vanni from seeking refuge in the government-held area. By February, the military had taken the upper hand in the Eastern theater of operations. Major LTTE bastions had been under heavy pressure in the Eastern Province while the Army was preparing to open up a new front west of the Kandy-Jaffna road. The LTTE realized that there could be an exodus of people from the Vanni in case stringent measures weren’t taken. Having lost the Jaffna peninsula, in early 1996, and its Eastern cadre in total disarray, due to split in the organization, caused by one-time field commander Karuna Amman, the LTTE couldn’t under any circumstances deprived itself of the population. The LTTE needed fresh fighting cadre. The top leadership obviously feared an exodus of civilians could have affected the morale of fighting cadre. The then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka was on the verge of opening up what was later called the Central front where the newly raised 57 Division fought. The Division was tasked with the liberation of Kilinochchi, a task it achieved on January 1, 2009, jointly with the celebrated Task Force I (later named 58 Division).

Perhaps, it would be pertinent to examine the detention of UN employee, secret negotiations between the UN and the LTTE meant to secure their release, and correspondence between the UN mission in Colombo and its headquarters in New York. Although the then UNSG’s spokesperson Montas promised to reveal its stand on the issue, it never materialized.

Let me mention the countries/ organizations and their representatives informed in late April 2007 of the February 2007 abduction of UN workers by the LTTE, namely US (US Ambassador Robert O. Blake, European Union (Head of Delegation Julian Wilson), Representative of the President to the Council of the European Union (Ambassador to Germany Juergen Weerth and UK High Commissioner Dominic Chilcott), Japan (Ambassador Kiyoshi Araki), UN (Frederick Lyons and Neil Bhune), UNHCR (Amin Awad), UNICF (Ms Joanna Van Gerpen and Philippe Duamelle), UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Valentin Gatzinski and Ms Zola Dowell), WHO (Dr. Agostino Borra), WFP (Taft-Dick, Mohamed Saaheenn and Adhnan Khan), Food and Agriculture Organization (Marc Bellemans), ILO (Ms Tine Staermose), UN department of Safety and Security (Security Advisor Chris du Toit), European Community Humanitarian Office (David Verboom), ICRC (Toon Vandenhove and Paul Castella). In addition to foreign representatives in the CCHA, the apex body included two representatives of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, namely Executive Director Jeevan Thiagarajah and Deputy Executive Firzan Hashim.

As CCHA had met on 28 occasions (first meet on Sept. 14, 2006 and the final one on May 11, 2009), its minutes can facilitate ongoing efforts to establish the ground situation in the Vanni region during the war. Mahinda Samarasinghe, who had chaired CCHA can as a member of the new administration speak on the deliberations at CCHA meetings, including detention of UN workers.

The minutes of CCHA deliberations are available with those who had been tasked for that particular assignment.

Although the previous government lashed out at Western powers and occasionally criticized the UN as well as the NGO community, for want of an effective strategy, it never conducted a thorough investigation into their activities. CCHA minutes should be made available to the proposed war crimes court. Although the government and the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) are yet to announce the composition of the war crimes court, the government should endeavor to produce all relevant information before the investigative mechanism.

The UN still retained vital documentary evidence which can be used to counter accusations that the Sri Lankan military had killed over 40,000 civilians during the final phase of the government offensive. In fact, the Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka in March 2011 repeated widespread accusations as regards the death of 40,000 civilians. The panel asserted: "In the limited surveys that have 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 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."

However, those who had been demanding accountability on the part Sri Lanka over the deaths of 40,000 deaths during the last phase, are yet to specify the period the killings took place.

Interestingly, UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s panel rejected a comprehensive study conducted by his own mission in Sri Lanka with the support of the ICRC as well as NGOs based in the war zone during August 2008 to May 13, 2009 period. In spite of it being the only such study which placed the number of deaths at 7,721 including those of the LTTE during that period, Western powers, too, rejected the report. The previous government never raised the issue publicly at Geneva. Instead of countering propaganda with solid information, the previous government engaged in wasteful and futile projects such as employing expensive PR firms. Such image building exercises certainly didn’t help Sri Lanka. Those still loyal to former President and Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa are yet to review their previous strategies. They seemed to be still thinking that the proposed war crimes court can be averted and in case the present government accepted foreign judges the issue exploited to its advantage. A rethinking of their strategies is necessary.

Against the backdrop of Sri Lanka and UN celebrating the 60th anniversary of the then Ceylon’s entry in to the United Nations, a genuine reexamination of ties will help both parties. Those genuinely interested in knowing the truth, pertaining to the number of persons, both civilians and the LTTE dead, should reveal the still classified UN report which placed the number of wounded during Aug. 2008 to May 13, 2009 at 18,479. Those who contributed to the report can be summoned by the proposed court. Those who had declared that the UN report cannot be accepted because the figures pertaining to the number of dead and wounded were, too, low, readily acknowledged unsubstantiated accusations propagated by persons whose identities remained confidential until 2031 in accordance with UN requirement. The UN confidentiality clause relating to nameless witnesses remains in force with Sri Lanka officially taking it up with the global body. Sri Lanka needs to request the UN to review its confidentiality clause and present the UN report on the Vanni war to the proposed court. Those who had been opposed to the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government should pressure the new administration to take up relevant issues with the UN, instead of playing politics with accountability concerns. Having caused irreparable damage to Sri Lanka’s cause due to foolish handling of the accountability issue, decision makers of the previous government should at least now rectify their mistakes.