Sunday, 4 September 2016

A belated UNSG visit to Jaffna




by Shamindra Ferdinando

Outgoing 72-year-old United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will fly to Palaly air base in the Jaffna peninsula on Friday (Sept. 2, 2016).

The former South Korean foreign minister’s visit to Jaffna takes place over two decades after the liberation of the Jaffna peninsula.

The UNSG and Mrs Ban Soon-taek are scheduled to arrive at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) today (Aug. 31, 2016) in the evening. Their visit coincides with the two-day ‘Colombo Defence Seminar’ meant to discuss ‘Soft Power and its Influence on Global Issues’ at the BMICH, which ends on Sept. 2, and the seventh edition of annual joint exercise, codenamed ‘Cormorant Strike’, gets underway. The exercise will continue till Sept. 25, 2016.

Sri Lanka would never have had the opportunity to receive a UNSG twice, in eight years, if not for her triumph over terrorism, in May, 2009. Similarly, there wouldn’t have been a possibility to inaugurate Defence Seminar/Colombo Defence Seminar or launch Cormorant Strike in case Western powers managed to save the LTTE, facing defeat on the Vanni east front, in early, 2009.

The UN never recognized the liberation of the Jaffna peninsula as key to Sri Lanka’s ultimate triumph over terrorism. The military brought the peninsula under government control, in early 1996, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency (Aug.1994-Nov.2005). The Army cleared Vadamarachchi in early 1996 after liberating Jaffna town in December, 1995. Western powers ignored Sri Lanka’s achievement as the LTTE vowed to regain Jaffna.

The liberation of the Jaffna peninsula was certainly twice-president Mrs. Kumaratunga’s biggest achievement though she suffered a spate of devastating battlefield defeats, subsequently in the Vanni. Having defeated the Army in the Vanni, the LTTE overran strategic Elephant Pass base, in April, 2000. The Army faced defeat in the peninsula. Although, a series of ground operations stabilized the northern theatre of operations, the Army again lost the initiative, in April, 2001 when an ambitious Agnikeela offensive went awry.

Mrs. Kumaratunga, in her capacity as the Chairperson of Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), visited Jaffna on Aug. 11 and 12, 2016. The Island dealt with her visit in an article, titled ‘A secret Norwegian missive to ‘Dear Mr Prabhakaran in the wake of Kadirgamar assassination’, on Aug. 17, 2016 edition. Contrary to the aircraft taking Mrs Kumaratunga, having to return to Katunayake air base, a few minutes after taking off, as reported, the former President had to take a smaller Y 12 in the wake of an AN 32 developing an engine problem. The eight-member delegation had to get off the AN 32 and await the SLAF making arrangements to fly the group in a 16-seater aircraft.

In spite of liberating Jaffna peninsula, the armed forces faced a massive conventional military threat for many years. During late 1999/2000 the LTTE almost succeeded in routing the Army in the Jaffna peninsula. The UN turned a blind eye to Sri Lanka’s predicament. The Army thwarted the LTTE bid with the induction of a range of new weapons, including multi barrel rocket launchers.

UNSG is scheduled to meet Northern Province Governor, Reginald Cooray, Leader of the Opposition, R. Sampanthan, and members of the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA). The UN chief will also visit a group of resettled Tamil speaking people in Jaffna. The UNSG visit here, ahead of his participation at the G 20 summit in Beijing, reflected their keen interest in pursuing accountability issues and also underscore support for the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration. The UNSG will meet Premier Wickremesinghe and President Sirisena separately before flying to Palaly, Jaffna.

Having been elected on Oct 13, 2006 to be Kofi Annan’s successor, Ban Ki-moon took office on January 1, 2007. Ban Ki-moon visited Sri Lanka in May, 2009, immediately after the military eradicated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

It would be pertinent to examine the UN’s interest in Sri Lanka during Ban Ki-moon’s tenure. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion during Ban Ki-moon’s first five-year term.

The then President strongly resisted an attempt made by Western powers and the UN to throw a lifeline to sinking Tigers. Having failed to halt the offensive, on the Vanni east front, the UNSG visited Sri Lanka to pave the way for an accountability process severely inimical to Sri Lanka.

During his last visit, the UNSG visited the displaced, in Vavuniya, and flew over the Vanni east battlefields. At the end of the UNSG’s visit, the two parties issued a joint statement. The following is the last paragraph of that statement: "Sri Lanka reiterated its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations. The Secretary General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Government will take measures to address those grievances."

The then Opposition, on numerous occasion, justified the UN process. The Opposition spokesperson repeatedly stressed that the UN action was in line with the statement attributed to the UNSG in the joint statement.

Interestingly, the UN had never raised the issue of accountability during the conflict caused by Indian military intervention. The UN allowed India a free hand. The global body turned a blind eye, even after Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists made an abortive bid to assassinate the then Maldivian President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in early Nov. 1988. New Delhi earned the praise and respect of Western powers, including UN Security Council members, the US and the UK for swift intervention in Male. India called its air borne intervention to save the Maldivian President ‘Operation Cactus.’ India conveniently forgot her accountability. India never acknowledged that the Maldives was attacked by persons trained by her personnel. Sri Lankans received training both in India and Sri Lanka. The Indian Army had been responsible for security in Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern Provinces comprising eight districts at the time two trawler loads of terrorists left Mannar to capture power in the Maldives. The UN never bothered to discuss accountability with India.

Successive Sri Lankan governments, including the war-winning Rajapaksa administration, lacked the courage to take up the contentious issue of accountability. Western powers allowed Indian destabilization project to cause mass scale destruction in Sri Lanka. India shamelessly manipulated Sri Lanka until the LTTE assassinated Congress I leader Rajiv Gandhi, in May, 1991. India had to change her Sri Lanka strategy, consequent to the Gandhi assassination, though Tamil Nadu still continued to play politics with the issue.

Today, the originally Indian trained People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), responsible for the abortive bid to assassinate Gayoom, is represented in the TNA - run Northern Provincial Council (NPC). Now, that UNSG Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to meet TNA representatives, in Jaffna, perhaps, it would be pertinent to mention that Dharmalingham Siddarthan who represented the PLOTE in TNA in NPC is likely to be among the delegation. Siddarthan had been with the PLOTE even at the time India trained the group. Siddarthan will be able to shed light on vile Indian operations here at that time, including the assassination of at least two elected members of parliament in 80s. Siddarthan in an exclusive interview with the writer explained the circumstances under which Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) ordered the assassination of his father V. Dharmalingam and M. Alalasundaram (both Jaffna District members) on Sept 2/3, 1985.

The UN never felt a requirement to rescue Sri Lanka from murderous Indian project. Having ignored Sri Lanka’s plight for three decades, UNSG Ban Ki-moon is here today to underline his organization’s commitment to the Geneva Resolution. The South Korean’s successor will ensure UN intervention here to ensure Sri Lanka addressed accountability issues. In accordance with the Geneva Resolution, Sri Lanka will face hybrid judicial investigation in the coming months.

The recent passage of the Office on Missing Persons (Establishment, Administration and Discharge of Functions) Bill is among the mechanisms meant to address grievances of Tamil speaking people. Regardless of the controversy surrounding the passage of the controversial Bill, the US and the UK appreciated the Yahapalana government’s efforts to appease the TNA.

The UN’s failure, at least to refer to India’s culpability, should be examined against the backdrop of former Liberian President Charles Taylor being convicted of war crimes. The UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), in Sept. 2013, convicted Taylor. The Liberian is serving his 50-year sentence in a British prison.

The Hague-based court found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including murder, forced labour and slavery, recruiting child soldiers and rape.

The SCSL declared that Taylor had been criminally responsible for "aiding and abetting" the Revolutionary United Front and other factions carrying out atrocities in Sierra Leone, between 1996 and 2002.

The visiting UN chief fully threw his weight behind the action against Taylor. Alas, the UN Chief adopted a different strategy in respect of Sri Lanka, obviously at the behest of Western powers. Had the previous government kept a healthy distance from the People’s Republic of China, the Rajapaksas wouldn’t have earned the wrath of the world’s solitary power. Had Sri Lanka been in the Western camp, the US strategy here would have been surely different. In fact, US Navy Secretary would have been to Trincomalee years ago. The US-Sri Lanka relationship suffered a setback, perhaps in late 2008, and over the next few months, deteriorated to such an extent the superpower wanted the Rajapaksas out.

For some reason, the Rajapaksas, and those around them, never realized that UN policy in respect of Sri Lanka couldn’t be contrary to the US position. They had been so foolish to believe that the US could be manipulated through expensive US PR firms. Perhaps, they knew such a course of action wouldn’t ever be successful but still went ahead with it for personal benefit. A staggering $ 6.5 mn had been paid to these firms, between May and, September 2014, alone.

The former President Rajapaksa’s government had been so close to the US at the height of the war, the latter finalised Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) in March, 2007, for a period of 10 years. The agreement facilitated transfer and exchange of logistics supplies, support and re-fuelling services.

The pact, signed by the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and the US Ambassador in Colombo Robert Blake, outlined the framework for increased interoperability.

The U.S. embassy said the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) would allow the U.S. and Sri Lanka to transfer and exchange logistics supplies, support, and re-fuelling services during peacekeeping missions, humanitarian operations and joint exercises.

The US failed to finalise the agreement during the UNP-led UNF administration, between 2002 and 2004. Washington has signed ACSA agreements with about 90 other countries.

Let me remind you New Delhi’s actions at the UNHRC during the 1987 sessions when New Delhi moved a resolution, targeting Sri Lanka. It would be pertinent to examine the then Indian effort with last year’s Resolution 30/1 co-sponsored by the government of Sri Lanka. The late H.W. Jayewardene had led Sri Lanka’s delegation to Geneva when India foisted a resolution using Argentina as a cat’s paw. The head of Sri Lanka mission, in Geneva, had been Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala. Top career diplomat Bernard Gunatilleke, too, had been on the team. Sri Lanka delegation succeeded in preventing the resolution being put to vote until the last day of the CHR (Commission of Human Rights), last session and last hour. Eventually Sri Lanka prevailed and got the amendments she wanted and allowed the resolution to be adopted without a vote. Sri Lanka had not been foolish enough to co-sponsor that resolution. An expert asserted: "That was more than three decades ago. I wonder what the provocation was to co-sponsor the resolution this time around."

Alleging that the UN system was being exploited by powerful countries to achieve their narrow ends, the expert asserted: "The sad truth is when decisions are taken at political level, they should be backed by facts and figures. When institutions are ignored and decisions are taken on a whim, we end up voluntarily entering the dog house and complaining of fleas!"