Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Lanka lacked strategy to counter lies propagated by Western powers



Western powers and India humiliated Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) after the successful conclusion of the war in May 2009 before the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe in October 2015 co-sponsored a resolution inimical to the country. Sri Lanka co-sponsored the resolution soon after Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative there Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha strongly opposed the move.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka lacked a strategy to counter lies, propagated by Western powers, bent on undermining the war effort.

Successive governments, particularly the war-winning Rajapaksa administration, had been overwhelmed by high profile relentless propaganda projects.

For want of a cohesive plan, interested parties pursued anti-Sri Lanka propaganda offensive with impunity. Political and military leaderships pathetically failed to meet the challenging task. They never realized their folly until the UN Panel of Experts (POE) accused the military of massacring 40,000 civilians during the final phase of the offensive on the Vanni east front. On the basis of unsubstantiated allegations, the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution, in Oct 2015.

Against the backdrop of the House of Lords being told, on Oct 12, 2017, that the death toll, on the Vanni east front, couldn’t have been more than 8,000, let me examine a despicable plot, in March 2007, to discourage the government from pursuing a military solution. Foreign Ministry initially reacted as if Lord Naseby’s statement is irrelevant. But, subsequently, clarified its position with the following statement: "With regard to Lord Naseby’s statement, the Government fully recognizes its contribution to the Transitional Justice/ Reconciliation process in Sri Lanka."

The writer believes what Lord Naseby really meant was that those who demanded accountability, on Sri Lanka’s part, on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations, to review their case. Unfortunately, those in power, as well as in the Joint Opposition, seemed to be uninterested in adopting a common strategy to clear Sri Lanka’s name.

Wartime Secretary General of the Government Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha recently told the writer that Lord Naseby had brought the situation to notice of the Office of President Maithripala Sirisena as well as his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, though they never acted on information received from the UK. Prof. Wijesinha, who had been concurrently the Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights emphasized that the failure on the part of the current government as well as the Joint Opposition to use Lord Naseby’s statement to defend the country couldn’t be justified under any circumstances. Prof. Wijesinha asserted that with the very basis of the Resolution 30/1 being challenged in the House of Lords, it would be the responsibility of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration to request Geneva to revisit the case. SLFP factions certainly owed the country an explanation as to severe shortcomings in Sri Lanka’s defence. Prof. Wijesinha, during the war and after constantly engaged those who had targeted Sri Lanka, but the then government lacked a cohesive strategy.

Monitors deceive public

The Scandinavian Truce Monitoring Mission aka Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) issued a controversial statement to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), signed on Feb 21, 2002. The Norway-led mission, comprising five countries, declared that nearly 4,000 people had been killed since the change of government, in Nov 2005, whereas 130 persons perished during the remaining period, covered by the CFA (Feb 2002-Nov 2005).

The SLMM, headed by a retired army officer, holding the rank of Major General, was tasked with supervising the CFA. Subsequently, a separate SLMM group was established to rule on incidents involving the Navy and Sea Tigers.

Mahinda Rajapaksa won the Nov 2005 presidential poll, thanks to the LTTE and its ally, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), depriving UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe of the northern vote. Having had helped Rajapaksa secure the presidency, the LTTE resumed claymore attacks in the first week of Dec 2005. The LTTE launched an all out war in Aug, 2006, with simultaneous large scale attacks on the Jaffna front line, as well as the Eastern Province.

However, by Feb, 2007, the combined forces were making progress in the Eastern Province, though the LTTE retained substantial military strength. The SLMM statement simply underscored the futility of the war.

The Rajapaksa administration never bothered to seek an explanation from the SLMM. The media, including The Island, carried the SLMM statement meant to step up pressure on the then government. The SLMM declared that it had arrived at a death toll of 4,000 on the basis of daily reports from truce monitors, based in the northern and eastern districts where every case, related to the conflict had been recorded. The SLMM conveniently refrained from differentiating the number of civilian deaths.

By not making any reference to combatants, the truce monitoring mission implied the dead were civilians.

The SLMM consisted of international monitors, from five Nordic countries, namely Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, supported by local staff.

(The mission was terminated on January 16, 2008, following the abrogation of the CFA by Sri Lanka, and the organization ceased to exist by the end of 2008, following an administrative termination in the Nordic countries).

As the writer felt that there couldn’t be any basis for the SLMM’s claim, a clarification was sought from its headquarters in Colombo, in early March 2007. After a series of telephone calls, the mission admitted that the dead included combatants and civilians. However, the mission refused to provide a breakdown of the number of persons killed during the 15-month period. The Oslo-led mission claimed that the revelation of such information wouldn’t be favorable to its role in Sri Lanka. However, the mission placed the number of civilian deaths at 1,500 (Deaths due to the conflict: SLMM backs down on breakdown with strapline Changes figure to 1,500 from 4,000 - ‘The Island’ March 12, 2007).

The SLMM statement was meant to draw attention to the fact that there was a sharp escalation of violence since November 5, 2005, following the election of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the fifth executive president of Sri Lanka.

Subsequent inquiries revealed that the truce monitors simply exaggerated deaths among combatants just to get away from a tight spot.

The monitoring mission also refused to divulge its sources.

Both the local and international media gave wide coverage to the monitoring mission’s claim. But they never rectified the misconception. The SLMM, too, conveniently refrained from correcting its original statement for obvious reasons.

The government never sought a clarification from the monitoring mission, or the Norwegian peace facilitators. The government’s failure would have even surprised the truce monitors as well as the co chairs to the Sri Lankan peace process, namely the US, EU, Norway and Japan.

However, army headquarters, in response to a query by ‘The Island’, insisted that there had been only 694 civilian deaths during the November 2005 –March 2007 period. Army headquarters rejected truce monitors’ claim of 1500 civilian deaths during this period. But the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) accepted the controversial figures in spite of the Army contradicting the figures quoted by the mission. The military acknowledged that the government’s failure to challenge the truce monitors over the false report was damaging, especially in the backdrop of growing international scrutiny of human rights.

The SCOPP declined to comment on the truce monitors’ report. In fact, the SCOPP accepted the statement issued by the monitoring mission.

The Army, too, would have remained silent if The Island didn’t challenge the Nordic mission.

The government never felt the need to challenge the SLMM.

The government’s response to PoE’s claim of 40,000 civilian deaths, during the final phase of the offensive on the Vanni east front, was very much similar to that of the truce monitors’ bogus claims - first, 4,000 civilians perished during November 2005 to March 2007 and the second 1500 civilians and 3,500 combatants died during the same period.

Interestingly, other print and electronic media never bothered to take up this issue. Those who had reported the original SLMM statement ignored the issue even after the disclosure of its agenda.

Who authorized that statement? Did the then head of the SLMM mission consult the Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo before issuing the statement? Had there been at least an attempt of the then government’s part to establish the motive for issuing exaggerated figures.

The SLMM spokesperson repeatedly declined to discuss where these 4,000 killings took place and why there was absolutely no reference to such large scale violence in previous statements issued by the monitoring mission. The spokesperson also refused to estimate the death toll due to direct military action, or crossfire, between the armed forces and the LTTE.

The then government squandered an excellent opportunity to expose the Nordic mission. In fact, the previous government never felt the requirement to systematically counter lies, propagated by the international community, or a section of the media, that had faith in the LTTE’s military prowess. It is nothing but strange that the Joint Opposition members of parliament, loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, were still reluctant to examine the previous administration’s failure on the media front. They haven’t still realized that the previous government’s failure paved the way for Western powers and India to facilitate the regime change operation, in 2015 January. Almost a similar project went awry in 2010 January when war-winning Army Chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the then Commander-in-Chief Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Govt’s shocking failures

Army headquarters and the Defence Ministry rejected the SLMM statement, though they couldn’t convince the government to take it up with the mission, publicly. They placed the number of civilian deaths at 694, from Nov 2005 up to Feb 2007, whereas the SLMM initially placed the death toll at nearly 4,000, then reversed it to 1,500 when The Island sought district wise breakdown of deaths. Surprisingly, an obvious attempt to influence the public opinion, as well as that of the international community, was never raised in parliament. The government never referred to the SLMM attempt throughout the war, or post-war, as unsubstantiated war crimes accusations were hurled at the armed forces.

It would be pertinent to mention that the international community had been guided by SLMM reports, hence it was the responsibility of the then government to be on alert (Military contradicts SLMM report on civilian killings-The Island, March 23, 2007).

Sri Lanka’s failure to challenge these lies allowed various interested parties to pursue this highly detrimental propaganda campaign until it was too late. Would you believe the previous government (2007-2015) and the present Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government hadn’t raised the discrepancy in the vastly different figures, quoted by various interested parties, at Geneva, where the country repeatedly suffered humiliating defeats. Those responsible for Sri Lanka’s defence, in Geneva, lacked foresight to underscore the circumstances under which the LTTE resumed Eelam War IV in Aug 2006. Both the External Affairs Ministry and President Rajapaksa’s Human Rights envoy, Mahinda Samarasinghe could have had certainly handled the Geneva challenge better. Unfortunately, for want of an efficient strategy, Sri Lanka never gathered relevant information, hence lacked the wherewithal to justify the military response/military solution.

Shameless attempt by the SLMM to hoodwink the public here should be examined against the backdrop of its statement on the resumption of war. In fact, the SLMM contradicted the LTTE accusations that the Army had triggered the Aug 2006 Muhamalai battle that convinced the Rajapaksa administration there was no point in negotiations. The Muhamalai battle strongly pushed the government to go for a military solution.

SLMM blames LTTE for Jaffna battle

The SLMM strongly disputed the LTTE claim that it launched on attack on the Muhamalai front line in response to artillery fire directed by the Army. The monitoring mission said: "...considering the preparation level of the operations its seems to have been a well prepared LTTE initiative."

Former Swedish head of the SLMM, retired Maj. Gen. Ulf Henricsson, said so in a special report that dealt with the situation in the peninsula in the immediate aftermath of the LTTE offensive launched on Aug 11. The Swede said that the armed forces halted the LTTE advance on the following day. The SLMM statement countered NGOs, the TNA and other interested parties’ attempts to blame the government. Sri Lanka never exploited that statement (SLMM blames LTTE for Jaffna battle-The Island, Sept 8, 2006).

The TNA remained silent. Having declared LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran as the sole representative of the Tamils, in late 2001, the grouping refrained from commenting on the resumption of war. The TNA lacked courage at least to publicly request the LTTE in April 2003 not to quit the negotiating table. The LTTE move was meant to destabilize the then UNP government, struggling to maintain the CFA amidst violations almost on a daily basis. In Nov, 2005 the TNA ordered the Tamils, at the behest of the LTTE, to boycott the presidential polls. Having ensured Rajapaksa’s victory, the LTTE resumed operations in Dec 2005 and in Aug 2006 launched all out war.

In Aug, 2005 the LTTE, assassinated Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, at his Bullers Lane residence.

Having done extremely well in the northern and eastern electoral districts, at the April 2004 general election thanks to the LTTE backing, the TNA remained silent on Kadirgamar’s assassination. In the immediate aftermath of the Kadirgamar assassination, the international community demanded that Sri Lanka remained in the Norway-led peace process in spite of the grave provocation. Those who had been demanding accountability on Sri Lanka’s part for alleged battlefield atrocities never bothered at least to directly blame the LTTE for the Kadirgamar assassination.

The JVP that had wept buckets for Kadirgamar, in Jan 2010 and Jan, 2015 joined political groups, that included the TNA, to try and help General Fonseka win. The first project undertaken, with US advice, failed though the same grouping, succeeded five years later. On both occasions, they used one-time Rajapaksa loyalists.

Interestingly, another Rajapaksa loyalist, Mangala Samaraweera, had been the Foreign Minister at the onset of Eelam War IV. Samaraweera, while reiterating Sri Lanka’s commitment to the Oslo-led peace process, on Sept 8, 2006, warned the LTTE of dire consequences unless the group returned to the negotiating table. The warning was issued at a meeting with Colombo-based diplomatic corps in the wake of the Army overrunning the LTTE front line, at Muhamalai, and liberating Sampur. Samaraweera said: "I must note here that while the government would like to show the LTTE that any military aggression on their part would entail military costs to them, the government remains committed to the ceasefire agreement and is vigorously continuing with the constitutional reforms process. Samaraweera reiterated Rajapaksa’s readiness that he would consider any proposal for a comprehensive and verifiable cessation of hostilities that could bring an end to violence (Forces seize Tigers’ Jaffna front line with strap line...any military aggression on their part would entail military costs to them-Foreign Minister, The Island, Sept 11, 2006)

Today, hardly anyone would remember Samaraweera’s role as the wartime Foreign Minister or President Rajapaksa bringing in UNPer Rohitha Bogollagama as Samaraweera’s successor in late January 2007. The Foreign Ministry should examine its overall role during the war and post-war period to ascertain its failures, at least belatedly. The post-war performance of the ministry certainly contributed to Sri Lanka’s failure with the decision taken at the behest of President Rajapaksa to secure the services of US PR firms to improve Sri Lanka’s image there being the most foolish project.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Implications of UK's refusal to release evidence



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The British parliament was told, on Oct 12, 2017 that Velupillai Prabhakaran killed Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah in 1973. The statement was made by Michael Morris, Baron Naseby PC, during a debate on Sri Lanka. Having declared that he launched the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka, way back in 1975, the politician urged Theresa May's government to review its policy as regards post-war accountability process in relation to the Geneva Resolution 30/1 adopted on Oct 1, 2015.

Very few foreign politicians could have declared that they had known Sri Lanka for over 50 years. Baron Naseby said that he was the current President of the All-Party Parliamentary Group and knew Sri Lanka for over 50 years.

But, having perused Baron Naseby's statement, the writer is of the opinion that for want of a clear strategy on Sri Lanka's part, the world didn't really know the origins of terrorism here. What his statement proved was that Baron Naseby lacked understanding of the situation here. Let me reproduce verbatim Baron Naseby's comment on Duraiappah's assassination: "In 1973 Prabhakaran killed the Mayor of Jaffna, along with six soldiers, whose bodies were brought to Colombo. There was a resentful response from the Sinhalese youth, very sadly it was three days before a curfew was brought in, and well over 1,000 Tamils were killed. From then on it has been a situation of Eelam, the independent state, on one side versus the unitary state of Sri Lanka on the other."

Would you be able to swiftly recognize Baron Naseby's mistake? Those who had shared the report on the debate, initiated by Baron Naseby on the internet, obviously didn't recognize the glaring but inadvertent blunder that had distorted the picture. The British politician has, obviously, due to lack of understanding and knowledge of the situation here, considered the assassination of Duraiappah, in July 1975, and the killing of 13 soldiers at Thinnaveli, Jaffna, in July 1983, as one incident.

Duraiappah was gunned down on July 27, 1975 when he arrived by car at the Ponnalai Varadaraja Perumal Temple with two companions, as was his custom on Friday evenings.

Mixing up of Duraiappah's assassination, in 1975, with the wiping out of an army patrol, eight years later, highlights Sri Lanka's pathetic failure to brief the international community.

The LTTE killed two soldiers, outside a hardware store, in Jaffna in Oct 1981. They were the first SLA personnel to die in the hands of the LTTE.

At the time Prabhakaran shot dead Duraiappah, the victim didn't have even a police bodyguard, let alone soldiers.

Baron Naseby has, inadvertently, stated that anti-Tamil riots, that claimed 1,000 lives, had taken place in 1973, whereas they occurred in July 1983.

Invasions on Sri Lanka

Baron Naseby referred to the Chola invasion of Sri Lanka and the subsequent Portuguese, Dutch and British colonisation of the country, though absolutely no reference was made to Indian intervention in the 80s. No less a person than the late Indian National Security Advisor (May 2004-Jan 2005) in his memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun to Yashwant Sinha had admitted that India militarily intervened in Sri Lanka to thwart US-Israel-Pakistan using the country to New Delhi's disadvantage. The shocking admission made by Jyotindra Nath Dixit, who had been New Delhi's High Commissioner in Colombo during the deployment of the Indian Army (July 1987-March 1990) should be studied keeping in mind the then Cold War environment, with India solidly backing the Soviet Union. Dixit, boldly blamed the then PM Indira Gandhi for Sri Lanka destabilization project started by Delhi in the early 80s to teach a lesson to overtly pro-Western Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene, on top of tacit support for Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in Dec 1979. Dixit called those Gandhi decisions the only foreign policy blunders made during her tenure as the PM (1966-1984). She was assassinated on October 31, 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards for ordering the storming of their holiest site, Golden Temple in Amritsar in June of that year.

For want of a cohesive strategy, Sri Lanka hadn't been able to counter the massive propaganda project meant to pave the way for a new Constitution in the guise of addressing accountability issues. If Sri Lanka hadn’t been able to properly brief its friends, there is absolutely no point in blaming those wanting to achieve their despicable objectives through constitutional means, after having failed to overwhelm the Sri Lankan military. Baron Naseby's statement has proved beyond doubt that successive governments lacked strategy to brief both friend and foe and rectify glaring mistakes.

The military brought the war to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009, not on May 18, 2009, as stated by Baron Naseby.

But, Baron Naseby, quite rightly, explained the urgent need to reexamine the primary allegation directed at the Sri Lankan military as regards the number of civilians killed. Baron Naseby did it much better than any Sri Lankan politician, or Foreign Ministry has done so far. Having pointed out the absurdity and unfairness in the allegation that 40,000 civilians had perished in the offensive, Baron Naseby said: "...the UK must now get the UN and the UNHCR in Geneva to accept a civilian casualty level of 7,000 to 8,000, not 40,000. On top of that, the UK must recognize that this was a war against terrorism, so the rules of engagement are based on international humanitarian law, not the European Convention on Human Rights."

Having relentlessly pursued Sri Lanka during the Rajapaksa administration and forced the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to co-sponsor Geneva Resolution 30/1 in spite of it being inimical to Sri Lanka, the UK will not, under any circumstances, accept a lower casualty figure.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon of the Conservative Party, in his response, on behalf of the government, indicated, in no uncertain terms that the May administration wouldn't seek reappraisal of casualty figures. "My noble friends Lord Naseby and Lord Sheikh talked about the numbers killed. While the differential may remain, what is undisputed is that a number of civilians died in the final stages of the war and there are still serious allegations of human rights abuses against both the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers."

Lord Ahmad's response revealed that they really didn't know how many civilians died on the Vanni east front. The British response also disclosed that they didn't have faith in the much touted UN Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka whose report released on March 31, 2011, placed the number of civilians killed at 40,000. Had the British accepted the UN report, Lord Ahmad, wouldn't have hesitated to directly quote from it. Instead, Lord Ahmad side-stepped Baron Naseby's challenge. Interestingly, the State Minister conveniently refrained from using specific information provided by Colombo-based wartime British Defence Attache Lieutenant Colonel Anton Gash to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office during January 1-May 19, 2009 period. Had the State Minister placed the confidential information that had been provided by Gash, the lies propagated against Sri Lanka would have been exposed.

Discipline and success of the Sri Lankan Army

Baron Naseby quoted Gash as having told him, in January 2009, that he was amazed at the controlled discipline and success of the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and in particular the care that it was taking to encourage civilians to escape and how well they were looked after, and that certainly there was no policy to kill civilians. Baron Naseby said that there could not be a better military man than Gash to express such an opinion. The politician described Gash as knowledgeable, independent and would be authoritative about what happened on the Vanni front.

The writer had the opportunity to meet Baron Naseby twice during the Rajapaksa administration. Once, the British politician visited The Island editorial to meet Editor-in-Chief Prabath Sahabandu and the writer for journalistic perspective of the conflict.

Obviously, the British had been concerned about the reports sent by Gash as they certainly exposed the absurdity of accusations made against the SLA. The British had shamelessly suppressed those reports while stepping up pressure on Sri Lanka to address accountability issues on the basis of mass killings committed on the Vanni east front. Thanks to Baron Naseby's effort to secure reports sent in by Gash, during the Vanni offensive, the entire world got to know how the British desperately tried to hold in vital information that would have cleared the SLA. Unfortunately, the SLA failed to gather the required information and evidence, in a systematic way, to counter lies. Since the conclusion of the war, in May 2009, the SLA had done precious nothing to defend itself much to the disappointment of families of those courageous officers and men who died in the battle against terrorism. (In June, 2011, the SLA, during Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya's command, simply ignored a statement made by the then US Defence Attache, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith in support of Sri Lanka. The statement made in response to a question posed by retired Indian Army Major General Ashok Mehta to Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva regarding battlefield executions in May 2009 could have been the basis of SLA's defence. But, the SLA didn't even bother to examine it. The Island's exclusive report by the writer on the US Defence Attache's statement was not challenged by the US embassy. But, the US State Department declared that Lt. Colonel Smith wasn't there in any official capacity. Whatever, his status at the first defence seminar, organized by the SLA, the officer was there, defended the SLA, though those in authority lacked the strength to exploit the opportunity for Sri Lanka's advantage.)

Gash's reports

Baron Naseby explained in parliament how the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office had dismissed his 2014 request for Gash's reports pertaining to the period January 1 to May 19, 2009, in accordance with the freedom of information law. Thereafter, Baron Naseby's appeals to higher officials, too, had been rejected, prompting the intrepid politician to seek the intervention of the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner's intervention resulted in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office making available 26 pages of heavily redacted dispatches from Gash. Had Gash condemned the SLA, those reports would have been extensively used by the British and the British media outfits such as Channel 4 years ago. Had the British not done so, the May government would have used them during debate on Sri Lanka in response to Baron Naseby.

The Baron explained to British parliament how he had received an additional 12 pages, all redacted, from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office when he pointed out insufficient number of Gash reports.

Baron Naseby explained how he gave up his struggle for Sri Lanka when judges of the First-tier Tribunal upheld the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office assertion that had they revealed confidential information they wouldn't receive such information in the future. It would be better to reproduce verbatim what Baron Naseby told parliament: "...Still concerned about the lack of dispatches in the past few days, I made a final appeal to the First-tier Tribunal, assisted my very good friend Amal Abeywardene. We had the sympathy of the judges for the cause, but they accepted the Foreign Office view that if confidential information was given out, nobody in future would give us any more. So I now have the princely sum of 39 pages of heavily redacted dispatches—nevertheless, if you dig deeply, as in life, you find some real gems. For example, on 28 January:

"It is not possible to distinguish civilians from LTTE cadres as few are in uniform".

Then, from 16 February: "IDPs being cared for in Trincomalee. Welfare appears to be overriding security considerations".

Then on 20 January they say, "no cluster munitions were used", and on 26 April, "civilians killed Feb 1-April 26—6432".

Obviously, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office stance cannot be acceptable as the person making available information in this case Lt. Colonel Gash was a British government employee. The British position could have been acceptable if those dispatches were sent by a mole within the Sri Lankan establishment. Those who had perused Wiki Leaks now know how our honourable members of parliament provided information to US diplomats in Colombo regarding a range of matters.

Situation on the Vanni east front.

The reports submitted by Gash and Smith should be compared to ascertain the situation on the Vanni east front. The British and the American defence attaches would have shared information as well as 'sources' within the then administration, including the military as well as the LTTE. A thorough examination of despatches from US, British, Indian, Japanese, ICRC and UN missions will establish how the SLA behaved on the Vanni east front.

In fact, the UN Panel of Experts, headed by one-time Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, admitted the existence of UN report that placed the number of dead at 7,721 and 18,479 injured from Aug 2008 to May 13, 2009. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka never officially requested the UN to release that report or requested the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to examine it.

The UN report that dealt with 10 months should be compared with the UN Panel of Experts report which placed the number of civilians killed during the last phase (reference to Jan-May 2009 period) at 40,000.

Office of Missing Persons (OMP)

Can there be anything as unfair as demanding Sri Lanka to establish Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and introduce new law against enforced disappearances to ascertain the truth while refusing to share information vital to achieve the same purpose. The British should be ashamed, especially because British national Anton Balasingham influenced the murderous LTTE for over three decades. UK-based Balasingham played a significant role in overall LTTE strategy hence there cannot be any dispute regarding his culpability for political assassinations—from TULF leader Papilla Thingamajig in 1989, Raj iv Gandhi in May 1991 and Lakshman Kadirgamar in Aug 2005.

Both Gash and Smith would have had to send many dispatches as the SLA rapidly encircled the LTTE after having inflicted the single biggest battlefield defeat on Prabhakaran in early April 2009. The LTTE had no chance of reaching an understanding with the government following the Anandapuram battle that resulted in irrevocable damages. Among the dead were top commanders, including Pathuman, once the proud commander of LTTE formations deployed on the northern front.

Baron Naseby has exposed the British efforts to suppress the truth.

Interestingly, during the Oct 12, 2017 debate there hadn't been any reference to a previous debate in the House of Commons on 'human rights in the Indian sub-continent.'

Long standing LTTE supporter Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Labour) told the House of Commons on Sept. 15, 2011 that Sri Lanka’s war, in its last five months alone, had claimed the lives of 100,000 people, 40,000 of them civilians.

The MP never explained how she had come to such a conclusion and her claim should be now re-examined against the backdrop of Minister of State Foreign and Commonwealth side-stepping Baron Naseby's challenge. McDonagh never responded to The Island queries regarding her controversial statement while the British High Commission in Colombo declined to confirm whether the MP had sought information from the diplomatic mission. The British High Commission adopted a similar stance when the writer asked whether the politician sought information from the mission.

Sri Lanka never conducted a proper investigation into various allegations/claims made in respect of Sri Lanka's war. Had the government done that Sri Lanka could have exposed the big lie propagated by various interested parties.

Number of civilians killed during war

UK-based Amnesty International, in its bulletin headlined ‘WHEN WILL THEY GET JUSTICE?,’ estimated the number of civilians killed at 10,000 on the basis of information provided by eye-witnesses and aid workers. The September 2011 report however didn’t make any reference to the number of combatants killed during Eelam war IV or the final five months.

If Amnesty International had based its report on eyewitnesses and aid workers, it would be interesting to know who briefed British MP McDonagh regarding the ground situation.

MP McDonagh thanked the previous British government for terminating the GSP plus trade facility given to Sri Lanka, opposing Sri Lanka receiving IMF stand-by facility amounting to $ 2.6 billion and thwarting a move to host the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo

The MP said: "Britain must take a brave and principled lead—just as we did in Kosovo and, with France, in Libya—and do all that it can to ensure that a full independent international investigation of war crimes takes place. Those of us who believe in justice want the people responsible to be held to account, just as all of us would agree about Colonel Gaddafi, Radovan Karadzic and Charles Taylor. Sri Lanka still wants to host the Commonwealth Summit in 2013. We should be clearly saying "No, not until there is a fully independent, UN-led international inquiry. I hope that if one thing comes out of today’s debate, it will be that commitment."

That statement was clearly meant to prevent Sri Lanka hosting the useless Commonwealth Summit 2013. Had she succeeded, millions of taxpayers money could have been saved. Those who had been working with Tamil Diaspora pursued anti-Sri Lanka campaign at different levels. They had succeeded primarily due to Sri Lanka's failure. Let there be a fresh call to the international community to re-examine allegations in the wake of debate on Sri Lanka in the UK parliament.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

US influences Lanka’s foreign policy, undermines China relations



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The US recently twice commented on Sri Lanka-China relations, in an extremely negative way.

There hadn’t been such highly controversial and critical US statements regarding Sri Lanka-China relations during the war, or after the successful conclusion of the conflict, in May 2009.

 One statement was made in Washington and the other in Colombo, much to the embarrassment of Sri Lanka, a recipient of substantial Chinese investments and loans, military supplies during the war, as well as critical support at international forums, such as the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

If not for China, Pakistan and Russia, Western powers and India would have had isolated Sri Lanka in Geneva during the Rajapaksa administration. Their support had been special because they also provided military hardware, as well as much required training.

 The US-spearheaded a project against Sri Lanka in Geneva, which culminated in the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration co-sponsoring Resolution 30/1 inimical to post-war Sri Lanka. There hadn’t been a previous instance, at Geneva, where an elected government co-sponsored a Resolution against its own country. The Resolution has paved the way for contentious constitutional making process meant to devolve powers to the provinces.

Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in the second week of Sept 2017, declared in Washington, the US was seriously concerned over what she called unsustainable debt burden on Sri Lanka due to non-concessional loans from China.

 That statement was made soon after she visited Colombo for the Indian Ocean Conference (IOC), held at Temple Trees and organized by the India Foundation.  Minister of Commerce and Industry of India, Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu, heads the India Foundation. The Colombo event was not meant, in anyway, to give China an opportunity to promote its strategies at the expense of the growing US, India and Japan military-political cooperation. The event received much attention due to the participation of President Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe.

 In Colombo, Wells joined a candlelight vigil at Vihara Mahadevi Park, on Aug 30, to mark the UN Day of the victims of Enforced Disappearances. She was accompanied by US Ambassador in Colombo Atul Keshap. They joined top representatives of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of Tamils, way back in 2001.

International media quoted Wells as having told a Congressional Sub Committee: "China is providing non-concessional loans that promote unsustainable debt burdens, which I think are increasingly now of concern to the Sri Lankan people in the government."

"In Sri Lanka, we’re the largest grant provider of assistance. China is providing non-concessional loans that promote unsustainable debt burdens, which I think are increasingly, now of concern to the Sri Lankan people in the government. But what we bring to our relationship are multiple tools."

 Wells conveniently ignored that China had made substantial investments even during the war, including the Hambantota port agreement. Obviously, China had believed in Sri Lanka’s capability to bring the war to a successful conclusion, though the LTTE behaved as if it was invincible. The China-funded Hambantota port construction commenced in January 2008 at a time the Army was still struggling on the Vanni front.

 Those grants are channelled primarily to NGOs working to the US agenda

 Against the backdrop of Wells unwarranted statement, the US military delivered unprecedented advice to the government of Sri Lanka at the 8th edition of the Galle Dialogue, a few days ago.

Rear Admiral Donald D. Gabrielson, of the US Navy, declared, in Colombo, that every country should be cautious when working with China for want of transparency in certain engagements. The Rear Admiral was responding to a query regarding Chinese presence in the region, particularly Sri Lanka.

 The top US official accused China of trying to rearrange the very system from which they were already receiving benefits. Rear Admiral Gabrielson also expressed concern over Chinese One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.

Had Sri Lanka failed to defeat the LTTE, in May 2009, perhaps India wouldn’t have had felt the desire to hold the Indian Ocean Conference here. Had the Army suffered a reversal on the Vanni east front, the US wouldn’t have seen the requirement for a special relationship with Sri Lanka, under any circumstances. It would be pertinent to mention that wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa authorized the Army and the Navy to organize annual symposiums, with high level foreign participation, ONLY after the conclusion of the war. Bottom line is that the Galle Dialogue wouldn’t have been a reality had the Army failed on the Vanni east front.

Former President Rajapaksa earned the wrath of the US for thwarting a despicable effort to throw a lifeline to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The US had been prepared to deploy its naval and air assets to evacuate Prabhakaran and other senior cadres, as well as their families. However, Rajapaksa strongly objected to US intervention and ordered the Army to continue with ground operations.

The LTTE was brought to its knees on the morning of May 19, 2009.

Sri Lanka should be always grateful to China for providing arms, ammunition and equipment, as well as critically important diplomatic support, at its hour of need.

Chinese support and interventions prevented Sri Lanka being overwhelmed by Indian sponsored terrorist groups in the 80s and early 90s. The situation gradually changed in the wake of the LTTE assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991.

LSSP General Secretary, veteran politician Prof. Tissa Vitharana, last week lambasted the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration for giving into US influence. Prof. Vitharana asserted that the current US-Sri Lanka partnership was severely inimical to the latter. However, Rajapaksa loyalist, Prof. Vitharana overlooked the fact that the US provided vital intelligence required by the Navy to hunt down four LTTE floating arsenals, sharply upgraded the firepower of Fast Attack Craft (FACs) at critical stages of Eelam War IV (Aug 2006-May 2009).

The US, at the onset of Eelam War IV, sabotaged the LTTE project to acquire advanced surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles to destroy the country’s precious jet squadrons.

In spite of the US forcing Sri Lanka to accept Geneva Resolution 30/1, prepared on the basis of unproven allegations, Sri Lanka cannot deny the US role in its triumph over the LTTE. Thanks to the US, the best navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda received specific intelligence required to hunt down LTTE ships. That was due to Karannagoda’s diplomatic skills rather than any government initiative. Karannagoda will always be remembered for giving unwavering leadership, under extremely difficult conditions.

Many an eyebrow was raised when Rear Admiral Gabrielson spoke ill of China, in Colombo, against the backdrop of US-China disputes at various theaters, especially South China Sea conflict.

In the aftermath of the change of the government, in January 2015, Sri Lanka adopted an anti-China posture with various spokesmen condemning China. The government acted belligerently as if it could do away with all major Chinese investments. A section of the government apparently believed the US would invest here and the subsequent realization of its folly forced Sri Lanka to seek continued Chinese assistance.

Having declared to do away with China’s flagship Port City Project, in the run up to the presidential poll, in January 2015, the government suspended it. The foolish move caused irreparable damage though the project resumed over a year later.

In Oct 2015, the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake appealed for Chinese help. South China Morning Post quoted Karunanayake as having said: "Chinese loans are a big part of our problem. A bulk of the government expenditure goes into servicing them.

"I urge China to put the acrimony of the past behind us and come and help us by adjusting the terms of the loans to make them more viable. We are serious about putting our relationship on the right path and mending the pathetic finances we have inherited from a corrupt regime."

Karunanayake was asked to quit in Aug 2017 in the wake of shocking revelation made at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P-CoI) regarding the owner of Perpetual Treasuries, Arjun Aloysius, paying the monthly rental of Monarch Residencies’ penthouse, occupied by the Karunanayake family.

In Nov 2016, Karunanayake’s criticism of Chinese loans triggered an angry response from China’s Ambassador Yi Xianliang. The Chinese diplomat lashed out at the then minister publicly inquiring why Sri Lanka sought more loans if terms and conditions were so bad. Xianliang went to the extent of quoting Karunanayake as having told him of how Sri Lanka had obtained USD 50 mn loan from Europe at a higher interest rate.

The most recent controversy between Sri Lanka and China was over the accusation that the latter disrupted the debate on the lease of the Hambantota port in parliament. Close on the heels of that controversy, Parliament received a huge donation of computers from a Chinese state-run company, China National Corporation for Overseas Economic Cooperation. The donation was received by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya from the Chinese Ambassador in Colombo, Yi Xianliang.

Let me mention how Sri Lanka acquired jets from China in spite of Indian and Western pressure. Air Force on January 1, 1991, established No 5 jet squadron comprising F7s, six months after the LTTE launched Eelam War II. Although the Air Force had sought Chinese manufactured A 5s, capable of carrying a higher payload, external pressure compelled China to provide F7s. Subsequently, Air Force pilots had to be sent to Pakistan to receive training in jet ground attack maneuvers as the Chinese weren’t prepared to share experience and knowledge. The writer received a briefing regarding the Chinese role in Air Force build-up by the then Commander Harsha Abeywickrama, first Commanding Officer of Katunayake-based No 5 squadron.

Abeywickrama recalled how the Air Force had acquired four F7 GS jet interceptors on what he called a soft loan, in June 2007, in the wake of the first LTTE air attack, on the Katunayake air base, in March 2007. But the Chinese interceptors hadn’t been available for missions until January 2008.

In Sept 2007, the Air Force acquired Chinese JY 11 three dimensional radar (3D) though India strongly opposed such deployment years ago.

China provided a range of arms, ammunition, equipment, aircraft, as well as artillery, on loan schemes. Chinese manufactured T-56 remains the standard assault rifle in use among armed forces here.

Unfortunately, the LTTE, too, had received a range of armaments of Chinese origin. The situation has been so bad, the previous government requested China to take tangible measures to prevent the LTTE from acquiring weapons with the help of corrupt officials. Alleged North Korean involvement, too, had been mentioned in that regard. Several LTTE ships hunted down had carried weapons and ammunition of Chinese origin.

Perhaps Rear Admiral Gabrielson is not aware of US interventions at two presidential elections, in January 2010, and January 2015 in a bid to defeat war-winning President Rajapaksa.

 The US has been so keen to remove Rajapaksa; it played the central role in bringing in the TNA into the UNP-led coalition that included the JVP, on both occasions. The US succeeded in its second attempt. The American project to change the Colombo government should be now examined against the backdrop of shocking revelation that both Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena had contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket whose leader Shalila Moonasinghe held British citizenship. That wouldn’t have come out if he didn’t receive foreign currency stolen from Taiwan’s Far Eastern International Bank recently.

Former Times of Ceylon journalist Hassina Leelarathna, recently revealed how USAID made available urgently required funds to the tune of US 3.4 mn, to the UNP-led 100-day administration, in the run-up to the August 2015 parliamentary polls. The funds had been meant to provide, what the USAID called, visible support to the newly elected administration. The US made fresh commitments through the USAID in spite of contemplating a lesser role for the agency here a few years ago. The change of US policy is obviously a sign of new post-Rajapaksa era strategy.

US-based Leelarathna, who co-edited with her husband Deeptha, the first Sri Lankan newspaper published in the US, years ago, made the revelation on the basis of information she had obtained from USAID under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). (Former Lankadeepa staffer and the founder editor of Sri Lanka Express Deeptha passed away in late Feb 2006)Accordingly, USD 3.4 mn had been released from Complex Crises Funds (CCF) which was meant to make available USD 40 mn in support of governance, rule of law and economic reform in Sri Lanka.

In addition to USAID funding, it would be interesting to know who had received funds made available by the US under high profile project to promote democracy here. According to State Department financial report for 2016, the US has invested USD 585 mn in 2015 in three countries, including Sri Lanka. Money had been spent by the State Department under the article ‘Democracy, human rights and governance’ – $70 million down from the previous year’sfigure. Although, the report refrained from specifying projects funded by the State Department, former Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in the foreword that "we have supported important democratic gains in Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and Burma."

Kerry also stressed that "in an era of diffuse and networked power, we (the US) are focusing on strengthening partnerships with civil society, citizen movements, faith leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, and others to promote democracy and good governance and address gender-based violence."

Those who had been demanding transparency, accountability as well as good governance on the part of Sri Lanka should seek clarification from the US Embassy here as regards disbursement of funds for whatever the basis.

The National Election Commission (NEC) shouldn’t turn a blind eye to reports regarding US funding. In fact, the US has funded various projects, including one implemented by Maryland headquartered Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) meant to reform Sri Lanka’s public sector, in accordance with an agreement between Sri Lanka and the House Democracy Partnership of the US House of Representatives.

Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) worth Rs 1.92 bn (USD 13 mn) is first of its kind implemented in Sri Lanka.

DAI operates in Asia, the Pacific, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, West Asia, North Africa as well as Sub-Saharan Africa.

Such high profile projects carried out at US taxpayers’ expense should be studied against the backdrop of current administration delaying local government polls by over two years, put off Provincial Council polls and the probe of mega Central Bank of Sri Lanka-Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) bond scams.

It would be interesting to know whether those funding/implementing SDGAP project had taken up with Speaker Karu Jayasuriya the inordinate delay in government adopting the National Audit Bill, aimed at curbing corruption. They cannot be unaware of strong demands by Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe and audit trade unions to adopt the National Audit Bill.

They cannot be insensible to members of parliament routinely skipping sessions while receiving a range of perks and privileges. The country was humiliated recently when members skipped special session in spite of Speakers and senior officials from all SAARC countries being invited to attend parliament.

Interesting, nearly 120 members of the current parliament had so far visited China in addition to receiving computers recently. China altogether provided computers for members as well as officials. Speaker Jayasuriya is on record as having said that he requested China to arrange for members to visit the country. Obviously, US funded high profile project has failed, pathetically.

Sri Lanka cannot further delay recognizing its real needs.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Country at a crossroads as SLA celebrates 68th anniversary



As the SLA surrounded the LTTE fighting cadre, on the Vanni east front, India stepped up pressure on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to stop using heavy weapons. Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Mayankote Kelath Narayanan insisted and secured agreement that compelled President Rajapaksa to direct the SLA to cease using heavy weapons and also suspend air strikes. The US-backed Indian move was meant to save civilians held hostage by retreating LTTE fighting cadre. During the final phase of the offensive, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva’s celebrated 58 Division and Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne’s 53 Division fought on the Vanni east front. Fourth battalion of the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment (VIR) attached to the 53 Division was credited with the killing of Prabhakaran. 4VIR hadn’t been a famous battalion like some of the other formations engaged in the battle. It was however lucky to bag Prabhakaran at the conclusion of the offensive, which involved five infantry divisions (57, 58, 59, 53 and 55) plus Task Forces. During January-May 19, 2009, the SLA lost nearly 2,500 personnel. The SLA could have minimized losses if it had deployed heavy weapons and jets without taking civilian factor into consideration. A few years after the conclusion of the war, a confidential US diplomatic cable sent from its Geneva mission to State Department included the following statement: "In fact, the army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths."

That statement was based on a meeting the then US Ambassador to Geneva, Clint Williamson, had with Jacques de Maio, ICRC’s head of operations for South Asia, on July 15, 2009.

Would you believe the SLA, Foreign Ministry or any other ministry never exploited that US statement. They never bothered to examine Wiki Leaks cables pertaining to Sri Lanka until President Rajapaksa expanded the scope of the Paranagama Commission to include foreign experts. Unfortunately, that decision was taken in July 2014, six years after the conclusion of the war. Due to grave omissions on the part of the SLA / previous administration, the country paid a very stiff price. Sri Lanka was deprived of proper defence, much to the disappointment of the armed forces.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka Army (SLA) celebrated its 68th anniversary yesterday (Oct 10) in the wake of the country celebrating 70 years of parliamentary democracy.

Under the auspices of Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, the SLA organised a series of religious events, with the focus on the traditional flag blessing ceremony, at Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura, to invoke blessings on formations.

Senanayake’s return to the SLA, in time for the 68th anniversary celebrations is a grim reminder of the events leading to the late 2009 split, following Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism.

It would be pertinent to examine the SLA’s role in preserving parliamentary democracy by defeating two Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) led insurgencies in April 1971 and 1987-1990 and the LTTE in May 2009, as it celebrated its 9th post-war anniversary. The SLA spearheaded all three campaigns. For the SLA, defeating the JVP, which comprised almost 100 per cent Sinhala Buddhists and in spite of it (SLA) also being overwhelmingly Sinhala Buddhist is not a simple achievement. The JVP never managed to influence the SLA, particularly the fighting formations though, at the onset of its second insurgency, the Marxist group believed a substantial section would switch their allegiance. Instead, the SLA butchered the JVP.

Rajarata Rifles mutiny in the early 80s shook the SLA. However, in the wake of that roughly dealt situation, the SLA raised the First Battalion of the celebrated Gajaba Regiment by amalgamating a section of Rajarata Rifles officers and men with Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment.

During the deployment of the Indian Army (July 1987-March 1990) under the Indo-Lanka Accord, the SLA was confined to barracks. The LTTE went on the rampage in the eastern Trincomalee District soon after that while the SLA was confined to barracks. Indian Army blocked entry/exit points of SLA bases.

During direct negotiations, between President Ranasinghe Premadasa and the LTTE (May 1989-June 1990), there had been a tacit understanding between the LTTE and the SLA to enable the former to hunt down rival Tamil groups. The LTTE killed several hundred members of the Tamil National Army (TNA), established by India soon before Varatharaja Perumal’s North East administration collapsed. At President Premadasa’s behest, the SLA also provided arms, ammunition and equipment to the LTTE. Premadasa provided millions of rupees to the LTTE as part of his efforts to strengthen the group. In June, 1990, it was the SLA turn to be at the receiving end. Within days after the resumption of Eelam War II that month, the SLA lost the overland route to Jaffna. SLA couldn’t regain the road until January 2009.

In spite of setbacks, in some instances with massive loss of lives and equipment (example July 1996 overrunning of Mullaitivu base), the SLA retained offensive capability.

There had been shocking lapses on the part of the SLA that caused heavy losses. Debacles at Pooneryn (Nov 1993), Mullaitivu (July 1996) and collapse of the entire Vanni east front in late 1999 were caused by lapses on the part of the SLA. Only in the case of Pooneryn, the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Cecil Waidyaratne took responsibility and quit.

There had been excesses in all three campaigns. There is absolutely no point in denying the SLA had committed atrocities. For want of the previous government’s refusal to inquire into alleged atrocities, as well as unsubstantiated war crimes allegations, Sri Lanka is under international scrutiny.

The LTTE infiltrated the SLA at various levels. The failed attempt on the then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka was made in late April 2006 with inside help. Investigators identified the Army’ chief’s cook as the LTTE’s conduit. The suspect subsequently committed suicide while in the custody of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID).

The SLA-led offensive action resulted in the Vanni east front being blamed for causing the deaths of over 40,000 people, thousands of disappearances and systematic and continuing abuse of Tamil civilians. For want of a cohesive plan and the failure on the part of the previous administration, the SLA pathetically failed to address accountability issues. Sri Lanka’s defence has been so weak, it couldn’t even exploit vast discrepancy in figures quoted by the UN, Amnesty International and various others, including the British parliament.

Had the SLA failed, the JVP and the LTTE would have definitely succeeded. However, achieving success by itself wouldn’t have been possible under any circumstances. The SLA battlefield and counter-insurgency accomplishments should be examined taking into consideration significant contributions made by the Navy and the Air Force, as well as the Police.

SLA brought Jaffna under its control in Dec 1995. It was certainly its biggest achievement until successful conclusion of the Vanni campaign (March 2007-May 2009).

During the war against the LTTE, the SLA also suffered debilitating battlefield losses and massive reversals which threatened to disintegrate the country. The SLA faced its worst crisis, in April 2000, in the wake of the shocking defeat at Elephant Pass. The failure on the part of the fully fledged 54 Division to thwart a sustained LTTE offensive shocked the nation. The situation had been so bad, the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga sought Indian intervention to evacuate the SLA from the Jaffna peninsula. Had India consented to Kumaratunga’s desperate plea, Eelam would have been granted and the country divided on ethnic lines.

But 19 years after the Elephant Pass debacle, the SLA achieved what Western powers, India and the vast majority of Sri Lankans believed not possible. In fact, in the third week of Dec 2008, Canada-based veteran political analyst, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, who had been with The Island when this writer joined the editorial, in June 1987, asserted the LTTE could force the SLA to reverse. Within two weeks, after Jeyaraj’s prediction, the SLA brought Prabhakaran’s administrative center Kilinochchi under its control.

Unfortunately, the parliament at least failed to mention the immense sacrifices made by the SLA in special session on Oct 3 to mark 70 years of parliamentary democracy. Among those special invitees were representatives from India, responsible for causing terrorism here, and ‘all weather friend’ Pakistan. The SLA throughout the war received Pakistan support. The SLA immensely benefited by Pakistani training which was crucial to its overall buildup.

The SLA brought the war to an end on the morning of May 19, 2009 on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon when troops recovered LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s body following a gunfight.

But, sadly, the eradication of terrorism didn’t result in peace and stability the people desired. Soon after the combined armed forces had defeated the LTTE’s conventional military challenge, sharp differences emerged among members of war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s team.

Simmering hostility between Fonseka and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, one-time Commanding Officer of the IGR (First Battalion Gajaba Regiment) sent shock waves through the establishment. Their battle disheartened vast majority of Sri Lankans, who realized the immense contribution made by them in Eelam War IV.

President Rajapaksa wouldn’t have expected a political challenge, under any circumstances, from Sinha Regiment veteran Fonseka. Seasoned politician Rajapaksa wouldn’t have expected any political arrangement between Fonseka, whom the UNP despised at that time, and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. But, Fonseka and the UNP reached an accord much to the surprise of the Rajapaksas. Many an eyebrow was raised when they also received the blessings of the JVP that had been twice crushed by the SLA. The JVP conveniently forgot how the SLA had killed its beloved leader Rohana Wijeweera and wiped out hundreds of cadres. Having accused the SLA of massacring thousands of Tamils during the conflict, especially during fighting on the Vanni east front, in early 2009, the TNA, too, threw its weight behind Fonseka, at the behest of the US. Thanks to whistle-blowing wiki leaks, the US role in forming the coalition that had unsuccessfully campaigned for Rajapaksa’s ouster in January 2010 is well known. Common presidential candidate Fonseka, too, forgot how the TNA contributed to terrorism since its formation by Prabhakaran in late 2001. Veteran politician R. Sampanthan, having recognized Prabhakaran as the sole representative of the Tamils during the war, urged his people to exercise their franchise in support of Fonseka, within a year after the SLA killed the LTTE leader.

Unprecedented political crisis ruined the war-winning Army. Swift change of command in July 2009, with wartime Security Forces Commander, Vanni, the then Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya taking over the 200,000 SLA caused dismay among some sections. The then government resorted to measures to dilute Fonseka’s hold though he was named the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Fonseka quit in late 2009 to contest the presidential election, an unthinkable situation made possible by the LTTE’s eradication. Fonseka, having been fully occupied with the war, didn’t even bother to register himself as a voter hence his inability to exercise franchise at the presidential poll, where he was the common opposition candidate.

In spite of a general belief that the SLA would back Fonseka at the presidential, it didn’t materialize leading to his heavy defeat, though Sampanthan delivered the northern and eastern electorates to the war hero. Fonseka contested under the Swan symbol.

Having suffered defeat at the presidential, Fonseka, had no option but to contest the parliamentary polls in 2010 on the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) ticket. The DNA, under Fonseka’s leadership secured five seats, including two National List slots. Influential businessman Tiran Alles filled one of the NL slots while the JVP obtained the other seat. Elected members included Fonseka and former national cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunga.

The UNP’s refusal to contest the general election, under the Swan symbol, prompted the JVP to contest under the Swan symbol.

Perhaps, the SLA’s most humiliating experience was the arrest of Fonseka soon after his defeat at the presidential poll. Then he was deprived of his parliamentary seat. But, Fonseka, himself, had caused massive damage in the run-up to the presidential poll. The Sunday Leader quoted Fonseka as having alleged that wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ordered surrendering LTTE cadres executed on the Vanni east front, in May 2009. Fonseka repeated the allegation at Ratnapura, soon thereafter.

The then Maj. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake was one of those who had been at the receiving end due to his alleged loyalty to Fonseka. Having fled the country, in the wake of Fonseka’s defeat, Senanayake returned soon after President Rajapaksa’s failure to secure a third term, in January 2015. Reinstated, Senanayake succeeded Lt. Gen. Crishanthe de Silva last August. Senanayake received public appreciation, when he declared that he wasn’t a political victim. The Special Forces officer declared in no uncertain terms that he didn’t engage in politics for him to be politically victimized. Senanayake proved his mettle again when he publicly urged now Field Marshal Fonseka not to issue statements at the expense of the SLA. The SLA Chief made unexpected intervention close on the heels of the damaging battle between Fonseka and Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, who received the backing of the Joint Opposition and various nationalist organizations.

Their ‘battle’ centered on Gen. Jayasuriya’s war time conduct as Security Forces Commander, Vanni. Although, Gen. Jayasuriya had never commanded fighting formations deployed on the Vanni front, Fonseka’s allegation that crimes were committed under Jayasuriya’s watch received media attention with interested parties exploiting the situation.

The war-winning SLA had pathetically failed to address accountability issues, thereby causing a situation extremely inimical to Sri Lanka. Overall failure of political and SLA leadership finally led to the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition, in Sep 2015, to sponsor Resolution 30/1 at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. Based on that Resolution, Western powers, through former Jordanian diplomat, Zeid bin Ra’ad al Hussein prescribed in June 2016, a new Constitution for Sri Lanka. The Jordanian, in no uncertain terms called for a new Constitution, subject to a referendum. Obviously, the Geneva prescription is also acceptable to the TNA and those elements who had strongly believed in the LTTE’s prowess until the very end.

Can there be anything as unfortunate as Sri Lanka’s victory over terrorism paving the way for a division of the country on ethnic lines?

Eradication of the LTTE, finally, has restored the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led TNA status as the dominant Tamil grouping. TNA leader Sampanthan last week reiterated his call for re-merger of the Eastern and Northern Provinces when he met the UK Minister of State for Asia and Pacific, Mark Field at Westminster House, Colombo.

Sampanthan’s call is all part of the overall strategy meant to create an autonomous region in an area covering eight administrative districts. As Sri Lanka celebrated 70 years of parliamentary democracy and SLA’s 68th anniversary, post-war Sri Lanka is at cross roads with the fate of its unitary status under  serious threat. The emerging threat is far bigger than the conventional military challenge posed by the LTTE. The TNA is applying pressure on the government, both in and out of parliament. In parliament, the TNA works closely with the government to ensure stability. Recently, the TNA voted for the controversial Provincial Council Elections (Amendment) Act to provide a two-thirds majority required for its passage. Its passage, in contravention of the Supreme Court ruling, meant to thwart the government’s Provincial Council polls delaying project, dealt a deadly blow to democracy.

Those who had been worried about good governance during the previous administration conveniently turned a blind eye to what was happening for obvious reasons. They are certainly of the view Local Government and Provincial Council polls can undermine their primary objective, namely a new Constitution with federal features.

Although there are policy differences between the Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran and the Colombo based TNA leadership, the former is relentlessly pushing for further reduction of the SLA in the Jaffna peninsula as well as the Vanni region. In case Sri Lanka amalgamated the two provinces, the TNA leadership will certainly take up the SLA deployment in the entire region. Can Sri Lanka subject deployment of her armed forces to the dictates of a political grouping that once represented the interests of the LTTE, both in and outside parliament?

The writer recently sought an explanation from former Supreme Court judge Wigneswaran as to his strong opposition to the SLA presence in the North. Wigneswaran suggested that government pulled out the SLA entirely from the Northern Province to pave the way for an enhanced police presence. Wigneswaran alleged that the SLA was maintaining an overbearing presence. The Chief Minister’s statement should be examined against the backdrop of Zeid bin Ra’ad al Hussein‘s declaration in Colombo. At the conclusion of the visit, the Jordanian said that the size of the military forces in the North and the East could be reduced to a level that is less intrusive and intimidating as a first step in security reforms.

In the name of security reforms, recommended by Geneva, a section of the international community had taken punitive measures against senior SLA officers. Australia found fault with Gajaba Regiment veteran Maj. Gen. Chagi Gallage for commanding the 59 Division on the Vanni east front. On the basis of that Division being involved in the Vanni offensive, Australia turned down Gallage’s visa request. Australia simply ignored the fact that none of the allegations had been proved in a court of law or at least thoroughly examined. But Australia had never been bothered when Australian Adele Balasingham and her husband Anton Balasingham, British passport holder and LTTE theoretician, promoted terrorism.

The UK based Balsinghams supervised LTTE’s unbridled terror in Sri Lanka. The UK or any other country, or those well-funded civil society organization, never bothered to raise the issue publicly. They remained silent even after the LTTE assassinated Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar in Aug 2005. Balasingham, who had been a British High Commission employee, in Colombo, enjoyed special status in the UK during the conflict. Years later, a leaked US diplomatic cable revealed how top Norwegian diplomats met Balasingham in London to discuss implications of Kadirgamar’s assassination. Today, Mrs Balasingham, who had encouraged the use of child soldiers against the SLA, lives peacefully in the UK.