Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Shangri-La, a monument to Lanka’s triumph over terrorism



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Asia invited war-winning Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa for dinner on the night of Nov 17, the day after the opening of its Colombo hotel by President Maithripala Sirisena.

Shangri-La Chairperson, Kuok Hui Kwong, the daughter of Robert Kuok Khoon Ean, was there to welcome Rajapaksa, who had cleared the way for the post-war mega tourism investment project.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

The ground breaking ceremony for the Shangri-La project was held on the morning of Feb 24, 2012 with the participation of then Minister Basil Rajapaksa. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa wasn’t present. The then UNP Mayor of Colombo A.J.M. Muzammil, currently Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Malaysia, was among those who had been present. In spite of hostility between the UNP and the Rajapaksas, key UNPer Muzammil threw his weight behind the project. In fact, Muzammil worked closely with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to transform Colombo.

Having identified the invaluable land, where the Army Headquarters and Defence Ministry were situated at, for its project, Shangri-La made its move. Those who had been aware of Shangri-La’s plans were hesitant and certainly not confident of their success. They felt fearful of Defence Secretary Rajapaksa’s reaction.

But, following swift negotiations, the agreement was signed on Dec 28, 2010. Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya was the then Commander of the Army with his predecessor General Fonseka in government custody after having been arrested within two weeks after the conclusion of the 2010 January 26 presidential poll. The writer always felt that the decision to arrest Fonseka was nothing but a monumental blunder of the previous administration.

Ironically, the opening of Shangri-La took place amidst speculation that the government is planning to take Gotabhaya Rajapaksa into custody.

Shangri-La had no option but to invite members of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration and some key members of the previous government, separately, due to animosity between the former and the present rulers. What a shame. Among those who had been invited, on the night of Nov 17, were former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, former Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, President’s Counsel Gamini Marapana, Attorney-at-Law Sampath Mendis, MP Namal Rajapaksa, MP Lohan Ratwatte, MP C.B. Ratnayake, MP Pavitra Wanniarachchi and some personal friends. In fact, the Shangri-La dinner coincided with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s birthday.

GR exploits JRJ’s blueprint

Addressing the annual Viyathmaga Convention at Golden Rose Hotel, Boralesgamuwa, on March 4, 2017, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, perhaps for the first time publicly discussed his role in the Shangri-La project. Declaring that Sri Lanka suffered for want of what he called a workable formula to achieve post-war development objectives, the war veteran compared the period, in the aftermath of the successful conclusion of the war, in May 2009, with that under the current yahapalana administration.

Rajapaksa stressed the pivotal importance of swift and bold decision taking.

The former Defence Secretary said that the former government had acted swiftly, and decisively, to attract foreign investment though some such efforts were seemed not feasible. There couldn’t be a better example than the government finalizing on agreement with Shangri-La Hotels, the former Gajaba Regiment veteran said.

Declaring that red tape shouldn’t in anyway be allowed to undermine investments, Rajapaksa recalled Chairman/CEO of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Robert Kuok Khoon Ean, wanting the Army Headquarters land for his Colombo project. In fact, the hotels chain at the time had proposed to build hotels in Colombo, Hambantota and Batticaloa, and was one of the key investors wanting to exploit Sri Lanka’s success in defeating terrorism.

"Khoon-Ean’s request for army headquarters land caused a serious problem for me. It was a serious challenge. How could I shift the headquarters of the war-winning army? The army had been there for six decades. It had been the nerve centre of war for 30 years," said Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa went on to explain how he exploited a decision taken by the first executive president JR Jayewardene to shift the Army Headquarters, to Battaramulla, many years back. "Within two weeks, in consultation with the Secretary to the Finance Ministry, Dr P. B. Jayasundera, and the Board of Investment, measures were taken to finalize the transaction. The project was launched to shift the Army, Navy and Air Force headquarters to Akuregoda, Pelawatte, in accordance with JRJ’s plan."

The Hong Kong-based group announced the purchase of 10 acres of state land, in January 2011. Shangri-La Asia Limited announced plans to invest over USD 400 mn on the 30-storeyed star class hotel with 661 rooms.

The hotel is the second property in Sri Lanka for the leading Asian hospitality group, joining Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa, which opened in June 2016.

Rajapaksa said that the top Shangri-La executive had referred to the finalization of their Colombo agreement to highlight the business friendly way the then administration handled the investment. Shangri-La had no qualms about recommending Sri Lanka as a place for investment, Rajapaksa said.

Rajapaksa lamented that the previous government hadn’t been able to properly inform the public of its post-war achievements and it had suffered the January 2015 presidential polls defeat. The previous administration’s failure, Rajapaksa asserted, had helped those all out to oust it. That declaration was made in the presence of former President Rajapaksa and former minister Basil Rajapaksa among others at Golden Rose Hotel, Battaramulla.

The former Defence Secretary mentioned the Avant Garde Maritime Services (AGMS) another private enterprise that exploited the international demand for security services in the face of pirates’ threat. The AGMS had brought in foreign exchange and created employment opportunities though the project went awry after the change of government, in January 2015. The law could be exploited, used here to the advantage of those in power, the former Defence Secretary said.

The writer explained the move to shift Army Headquarters and the Defence Ministry from Colombo in a lead story headlined ‘Shangri-La to push MoD, Army Hq out of Colombo city: Army Hospital expected to be converted into a museum’ (The Island, January 4, 2011). The report certainly surprised many, including some members of parliament, who hadn’t been informed about the Shangri-La investment. Although they appreciated the substantial investment, many found it difficult to comprehend the war-winning Army having to vacate its headquarters.

Having gradually vacated the land, over the years, the Army now retain only a small portion of what was previously its headquarters land. Serving Army Chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake is going to be the last Commander to be there. Lt. Gen. Senanayake remains at the Commander’s Secretariat while work is underway at Akuregoda, where the three services headquarters as well as the Defence Ministry would be located.

Interestingly, the launch of ground work, at Akuregoda, coincided with the finalization of the agreement with Shangri-La, in Dec 2010. The Army is yet to complete the vacation of the land sold to the hotel complex.

LTTE targets SLA HQ

Two LTTE female suicide cadres mounted an attack on the Army Headquarters, on the morning of Nov 24, 1995, killing 16 persons. The dead included civilians. The second, far more serious attack, was mounted on the afternoon of April 25, 2006, in the high security area, within the complex. Had the LTTE woman suicide cadre succeeded in eliminating the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been able to bring the war to a successful conclusion. In spite of having had suffered serious injuries, Lt. Gen. Fonseka, returned to command the Army, in late July, 2006, much to the relief of those who had cherished the armed forces triumph over terrorism. Fonseka could have quit the Army but he decided to take the challenge.

Sinha Regiment veteran, Fonseka, Sri Lanka’s most successful Army Chief, and now Field Marshal and Regional Development Minister, wasn’t among those invited by Shangri-La.

Moving Army out of Colombo was unthinkable during the war, or even after. The then Defence Secretary Rajapaksa’s decision shocked the Rajapaksa government but no one dared to question. His decision was final.

In the run-up to Eelam War IV, newly appointed Defence Secretary recommended Fonseka as the Commander of the Army though many resented the proposal but none dared to oppose it. In the wake of its abortive bid to assassinate Fonseka, the LTTE made an attempt on Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s life, on Dec 1, 2006, as Prabhakaran stepped up pressure on the government.

Fonseka, in his testimony in the White Flag case, recalled how Gotabhaya Rajapaksa rushed to the Colombo National hospital, within five minutes, after he gained consciousness seven days after the suicide attack and assured government scholarships for Fonseka’s daughters to study in the US. Anoma Fonseka and daughters had been present at the time the Defence Secretary had visited him.

Colombo was under siege and Shangri-La wouldn’t have dared even to contemplate investing in Colombo. But, within three years, the armed forces brought the LTTE to its knees to pave the way for major foreign investments to come in.

In his address to the annual Convention of Viyathmaga, in March this year, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa explained the pivotal importance of rapid decision making process (Shangri-La investment a case in point, with strap line, Doing away with ‘red tape’ for the greater good – The Island, March 5, 2017).

Post-rainbow revolution


In the wake of the January 2015 change of government, the new leadership caused chaos with the suspension of the China-funded Port City Project, a little distance away from the Shangri-La project. Many an eyebrow was raised when the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake declared, in mid March, 2015, that funds wouldn’t be made available to Akuregoda Defense Complex project until the exact cost estimation of the project could be clarified.

Lakna Paranamana, of Daily Mirror, quoted Karunanayake as having said that as a responsible government they couldn’t simply release tax payers’ money unless it’s certain that they were put to good use. "Presently, this project seems like a bottomless pit and we need to know the depth of what we are getting into. From the current state of finances, allocated for this project, it seems as if they are building a complex that’s even bigger than the Pentagon!"

The declaration was made in the wake of the 2015 Feb. treasury bond scam that shook the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration. In fact, the yahapalana administration never recovered from the treasury bond scam and now is pathetically struggling to overcome the growing crisis.

In mid June 2016, cabinet spokesperson, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne announced the suspension of the Akuregoda project. Citing financial irregularities and mismanagement of funds, Dr. Senaratne alleged that all cabinet papers on the project, had been prepared according to the whims and fancies of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

The suspension order was made public a few months after the second far bigger treasury bond scam, in 2016 March.

Obviously, a section of the government couldn’t stomach mega projects undertaken by the former Defence Secretary.

Today, thanks to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, the world knows how issuance of treasury bonds had been manipulated, on two occasions, for the benefit of Perpetual Treasuries and some of those Central Bank of Sri Lanka employees, who connived in the scam.

In spite of despicable attempts to sabotage national projects, finally saner counsel prevailed. Hence the decision to go ahead with Akuregoda project. President Maithripala Sirisena on Sept 5, 2017, inspected the Akuregoda Defence Complex, as well as the Lotus Tower, under construction.

Wartime military spokesman the then Maj. Gen Udaya Nanayakkara received appointment as the Akuregoda project director in Aug 2011. Nanayakkara held that post till Sept. 2015 Maj. Gen. Mahinda Ambanpola succeeded Nanayakkara.

Within weeks after President Rajapaksa’s defeat, the new administration made its move against the Akuregoda project.

The following is The Island front page story, dated January 19, 2015: "Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, in the third week of January, said that Rs 13.2 billion, in an account maintained at the Taprobane branch of the Bank of Ceylon, had been transferred to Consolidated Account of the Treasury. The matter was being investigated as the account belonged to the Ministry of Defence, he added.

The Finance Minister stressed that the MoD had no right to maintain such an account in violation of regulations and therefore the opening of the account was being investigated. The Minister alleged that several illegal transactions, including one involving Samurdhi, had come to light. He estimated the Samurdhi transaction (now under investigation) at Rs. 4 billion.

Responding to the allegation, former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that the funds received from the Shangri-la transaction had been deposited there and the funds utilised for the construction of Akuregoda Defence Complex.

The former Defence Secretary said that the chief accountant of the Defence Ministry could explain the matter. Insisting that the particular account hadn’t been in his name, Rajapaksa said that a detailed response would be issued shortly (Ravi K orders Rs 13.2 b in MoD account transferred to Treasury, with strap line, Funds were meant for Defence Complex – Gotabhaya).

The writer obtained the above statements from Karunanayake and Rajapaksa in the wake of the former’s statement that the Akuregoda Defence Complex was even bigger than Pentagon.

Yahapalana role in

Shangri-La expansion

In spite of strongly objecting to almost all projects launched by the previous government, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration pledged their commitment to them. Yahapalana support extended to Shangri-La is a case in point. Having secured 10 acres, from the previous Rajapaksa administration, Shangri-La purchased an additional three and a half acres, also on a 99-year lease, recently.

However, The Sunday Times recent reportage of the second Shangri-La land deal prompted President Maithripala Sirisena to direct cabinet spokesman, Dayasiri Jayasekera, to clarify the transaction. In other words, President Sirisena contradicted Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema for alleging that the President gave three and a half acres, situated between the newly opened Shangri-La Hotel and Beira Lake.

Jayasekera explained the circumstances under which Shangri-La, through its Singapore based subsidiary Perennial Real Estate Holdings, acquired three and a half acres adjoining its latest hotel, situated on 10 acres, abutting the Galle Face promenade, in Colombo.

On the day before the opening of Shangri-La by President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe, Jayasekera explained how the government had re-negotiated with the Shangri-La Group what he called a much better deal than the one struck by the previous administration.

Jayasekera confirmed that the lease was for a period of 99 years.

The government leased three and a half acres of land at a rate of Rs. 13.1 mn per perch whereas the previous administration agreed to Rs 6.5 mn per perch.

According to Jayasekera the previous government had leased 10 acres at a rate of Rs 9.5 mn (with taxes) per perch.

Shangri-La opening on Nov. 16, 2017, and an assassination on Nov. 16, 1992

The LTTE assassinated then Navy Commander Vice Admiral Clancy Fernando, right opposite Taj Samudra, on the Galle Road, a little distance away from where Shangri-La is situated, on Nov 16, 1992. President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe opened Shangri-La on Nov 16, 2017. A suicide bomber, on a motorcycle, detonated explosives beside a car carrying VA Fernando, the only service commander to die in an attack before Prabhakaran made an attempt on Lt. Gen. Fonseka. Some believed the suicide bomber had rammed VA’s official car. VA Fernando earned the wrath of Prabhakaran for a bloody blockade of the Jaffna peninsula. The Navy operation mounted from Nagathevanthurai naval station, on the Vanni side of the Jaffna lagoon, during VA Fernando’s tenure, led to the attack. Prabhakaran picked Galle Road for the spectacular strike.

The killer pulled up within two feet of VA’s fast moving car at about 7.45 am, and detonated a bomb packed with iron pellets. The blast completely damaged the Mercedez Benz.

VA received the appointment as the Commander of Navy on Aug. 1, 1991.

Today, those in authority hardly remember sacrifices made by the armed forces. Sri Lanka, following the change of government, stunned the world by giving into unreasonable demands, to cancel the annual combined forces military parade, at Galle Face to celebrate the May 2009 triumph over the LTTE. Can there be a decision as idiotic as calling off a military parade to appease those who always believed in LTTE’s superiority and strength to somehow overwhelm the Army until the very end? This is while other countries celebrate their famous victories like D Day!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

UN having private meetings in Colombo

In the wake of Naseby disclosure


November 21, 2017, 8:37 pm

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot Michael Wolfgang Laurence Morris, or Lord Naseby, has severely rattled the UN, relentlessly pursuing a war crimes investigation, in Sri Lanka, in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1, adopted on Oct. 1, 2015.

Lord Naseby’s intervention on Sri Lanka’s behalf in the House of Lords on Oct 12, 2017, and subsequent two exclusive interviews with India headquartered WION news agency, embarrassed, and jolted, the Sri Lankan government. Instead of taking advantage of the situation, the government struggled to distance itself from Lord Naseby’s declarations. In its first exclusive, WION dealt with war crimes issue and in its second demolished accusations that the Sri Lanka Army, and the CID personnel raped 50 Tamil men, now seeking political asylum in Europe, mostly the UK.

The British Conservative has placed those who had been propagating lies in an embarrassing situation. Similarly, Lord Naseby’s move has exposed the pathetic failure on the part of the Sri Lankan government and the Joint Opposition to counter unsubstantiated war crimes allegations and the absence of a common strategy to face the Geneva challenge.

The then Rajapaksa administration and the UNP couldn’t reach a consensus on war against the LTTE. Until the very end of the conflict, in early 2009, the UNP believed Prabhakaran could defeat the Army, on the Vanni east front. Now, nine years after the successful conclusion of the war, they haven’t been able to take a common stand on the Geneva issue.

One of those, who had been really perturbed by Lord Naseby’s Oct 12 declaration that the Vanni death toll couldn’t have been more than 8,000, though the UN quoted 40,000, and that Sri Lanka never purposely targeted the Vanni population, couldn’t have been made at a worse time for the UN as Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, was in Colombo, at that time.

At the conclusion of his 14-day visit, Colombian de Greiff, at UN compound, in Colombo, on Oct 23, 2017, referred to Lord Naseby’s statement. Una McCauley, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, flanked de Greiff.

Although UN Colombo deprived The Island of an invitation to cover de Greiff’s briefing, the writer raised two issues with him a week after the Colombo event. The Island queries were based on de Greiff’s following reference to the Vanni death toll: "Transitional justice processes can help in settling interminable debates precisely of the sort that manifest and produce low levels of trust and that lend themselves easily to political manipulation. As I write this statement the debate continues in the newspapers concerning the number of victims at the end of the conflict, whether it was 40,000 or ‘merely’ 8,000. While the final number may be impossible to determine with absolute precision, there is of course a lot that has been learned in the last 30 years about forensics and other methods offering reliability that political opinions cannot."

The Vanni death toll hadn’t been an issue for both print and electronic media, except The Island, at the time of the UN briefing in Colombo. The UN man was certainly responding to The Island coverage and he essentially followed the inexcusable stand taken by the Foreign Ministry, in response to a query by the writer. Reiterating Sri Lanka’s commitment to national processes, aimed at realizing the vision of a reconciled, stable, peaceful and prosperous nation, the Foreign Ministry asserted, on Oct 25, 2017: "Engaging in arguments and debates in the international domain over the number of civilians who may have died at a particular time in the country will not help resolve any issues, in a meaningful manner, locally, except a feel good factor for a few individuals who may think that they have won a debate or scored points over someone or the other."

UN response to query from Colombo

Both the UN and our own Foreign Ministry had conveniently forgotten that unsubstantiated war crimes allegations in the international domain, since the conclusion of the war, in May 2009, led to the Geneva Resolution, in Oct 2015. Having had faithfully responded to unsubstantiated allegations, they found Lord Naseby’s defence of Sri Lanka unpalatable. Shame on them.

As none of those journalists, who had been invited to cover de Greiff’s briefing bothered to seek the UN response to Naseby’s declaration, the writer, on Oct 31, 2017, sought answers from the Colombian through two questions.

The Island queries: Greiff has had a series of meetings with political and military leaders in Sri Lanka during his two-week official visit. (a) Did Sri Lankan political and military leaders or civil society representatives make representations to him regarding a statement made by Lord Naseby in respect of accountability issues in Sri Lanka and the responsibility on the part of the UN/Geneva to revisit unsubstantiated war crimes allegations? (b) Did Greiff discuss Lord Naseby’s claims with Sri Lankan officials and civil society?

The UN acknowledged receipt of The Island queries on Nov 1.

High riding Greiff brought to grief

However, The Island had to remind de Greiff’s Office of its failure to respond to its queries.

Then on Nov 9, 2017, The Island received the following response from an aide: "With apologies, Pablo has been preoccupied with the General Assembly and other events in the past week but let me follow-up and revert back to you.

As the UN continued to delay its response, the writer again reminded de Greiff’s Office on Nov 16, 2017. The UN was told The Island would go ahead with the story regardless of its response.

The Island received the following response on Nov 17, 2017: I regret to inform you that the Special Rapporteur will not be able to comment on the content of private meetings (emphasis mine). Thanks for your understanding and best wishes."

Obviously, the Colombian felt uneasy in responding to the queries. In fact, de Greiff couldn’t have responded without compromising the UN position, vis a vis Sri Lanka, and greatly embarrassing Sri Lankan political and military leaders. But, to categorize all discussions de Greiff had in Colombo over a period of two weeks, as private, is nothing but a foolish attempt to side-step The Island queries. Before commenting further, it would be pertinent to name those who had PRIVATE meetings with de Greiff in Colombo.

According to UN Colombo, de Greiff, in addition to President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, had had very productive discussions with other high level government officials including Minister of Foreign Affairs Tilak Marapana; Minister of Finance and Media Mangala Samaraweera; Minister of Law and Order and Southern Development Sagala Ratnayake; Minister of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages Mano Ganesha; Minister of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs D.M. Swaminathan; Minister of Justice Thalatha Atukorale; Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam; Secretary to the President Austin Fernando; Secretary of Defense Kapila Waidyaratne; Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya; the Sectoral Oversight Committees on Legal Affairs and Media, and on Reconciliation and North and East Reconstruction; Chief Justice Priyasath Dep; Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya; Chief of Defense Staff Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne, Commander of the Army Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake; Commander of the Air Force Air Marshal Kapila Jayampathy and Commander of the Navy Vice Admiral Sirimevan Ranasinghe; the Chief of National Intelligence; Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundera; the Chairperson of the Victim and Witness Protection Authority; the Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms; the Director-General of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation; the Human Rights Commission, the National Police Commission, members of religious communities, political parties, and representatives of the diplomatic community, academics, civil society organizations, victims groups and many others who have shared their insights. At the local level, de Greiff had the opportunity to exchange views with the Governors of the Northern Province and the Eastern Province.

It would be interesting to know whether any of those mentioned politicians, officials and civil society had sought de Greiff’s opinion on Lord Naseby’s statement to the House of Lords based on confidential dispatches from the British High Commission during January-May 2009. Although political and military leaders hadn’t been bothered to take up the issue ahead of Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, the UN Colombo on its own referred to the House of Lords statement. The UN couldn’t have ignored Lord Naseby’s statement, particularly against the backdrop of Theresa May’s government being requested to make representations to Geneva and New York. Lord Naseby wanted the member of Geneva – based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) the UK, to revise the Vanni death toll from a staggering 40,000 to 7,000-8,000 with one fourth of them being LTTE cadres.

Have anyone heard of UN dignitaries visiting countries for private meetings? The question is whether Greiff had any official meetings at all

The Sri Lankan government’s failure to take up Lord Naseby’s revelation is inexcusable. The parliament took it up on Nov 14 evening, over a month after the original statement with Deputy Foreign Minister Wasantha Senanayake tabling a copy of a letter, dated Nov. 2, 2017, addressed to Lord Naseby by President Maithripala Sirisena. The Deputy Minister never bothered to explain why it took so long for the President to write a letter of appreciation and release it four weeks after the House of Lords debate on Sri Lanka.

Naseby has stood up for Sri Lanka at a time Sri Lankan leaders pathetically failed in their responsibility.

Government’s shocking reaction

When the writer asked Cabinet spokesman, Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, on Nov. 15, at a post-cabinet media briefing at the Information Department, whether cabinet had taken up the Naseby revelation, the usually affable SLFPer reacted angrily. Jayasekera reacted as if the writer had asked him something extremely negative of Sri Lanka and the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration. Jayasekera almost shouted at the writer that he raised the same issue previously while declaring the government wouldn’t be influenced by the ongoing The Island project. Jayasekera asserted that the cabinet hadn’t discussed the issue as it felt it was not a serious matter. Jayasekera’s assertion is nothing but ludicrous. Having been in the Rajapaksa Camp, before the January 2015 ‘rainbow revolution’, Jayasekera cannot be unaware that the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) threw its weight behind Maithripala Sirisena’s candidature on the basis of unproved war crimes allegations, with the massacre of 40,000 being the primary accusation made by the UN.

Had the current government acted sensibly in the wake of Lord Naseby’s statement, Jayasekera would have had probably asked the writer to pose suitable question for him to respond.

On the day before the cabinet briefing, Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva told the writer that Lord Naseby statement wasn’t directly relevant to UPR. The UNP politician, obviously, didn’t realize that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have had to face a tough time at UPR if not for Geneva Resolution adopted on the basis of wrong investigative accusations. Dr de Silva responded to The Island query, on the eve of his departure to attend UPR where he led the government delegation.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government and the UN certainly owed an explanation to Sri Lanka regarding original war crimes allegations that led to extremely unfair Resolution 30/1. Sri Lanka created history as the only country to defeat terrorism through military means. There cannot be any dispute over that. Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ensured political-military liaison throughout the relentless offensive that brought Prabhakaran to his knees, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, on May 19 morning, 2009.

Lord Naseby’s offensive has seriously undermined Trincomalee District MP R. Sampanthan’s Tamil National Alliance (TNA) pushing for full implementation of the Geneva Resolution. None of those who had been demanding foreign judges and other international experts in a hybrid judicial mechanism, in line with Geneva Resolution 30/1 as well as tripartite agreement involving Sri Lanka, the US and the TNA, so far haven’t challenged Lord Naseby’s account.

Lord Naseby has also placed the Geneva human rights council member, the UK, in an extremely embarrassing position. Having examined a statement, dated May 4, 2016, issued by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, in respect of Lord Naseby’s request for disclosure of military dispatches from the UK High Commission in Colombo, the writer is of the opinion, British authorities had acted contrary to official assessment on Vanni front. Had its own military dispatches, in any way assisted US-led global effort to condemn Sri Lanka, the UK would have certainly used them. The same can be said of military dispatches from the US and Indian officers, based in Colombo, during the war.

Relatively a clean war

It would be pertinent to recall a high profile Al Jazeera programme aired in the run up to the January 2015 presidential election. Special live programme ‘Inside story: clinging to power in Sri Lanka’ was surely meant to step up pressure on the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa over war crimes accusations. The project went awry due to UPFA MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, in spite of his serious differences with the Rajapaksas, at that time, steadfastly stood by Sri Lanka. Prof. Wijesinha thwarted the project though the then SLFP leadership reacted angrily without watching the entire programme. The writer pointed out to Rajapaksa loyalist Dullas Alahapperuma, at an SLFP briefing at Darley Road headquarters, the absurdity in criticizing Prof. Wijesinha not knowing what he said on Al Jazeera.

The Sri Lankan military had fought a relatively clean war against the LTTE, when compared with others engaged in such operations, Prof. Wijesinha told the programme anchored by Jane Dutton. The lady was surprised.

Prof. Wijesinha was responding to allegations made by Global Tamil Forum (GTF) spokesman Suren Surendiran that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the final phase of the offensive, on the Vanni east front, in early 2009.

The former head of the Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat asserted that President Rajapaksa earned the appreciation of the vast majority of the people for eradicating LTTE terrorism. However, Prof. Wijesinha faulted President Rajapaksa for not consulting others when launching post-war projects in war-torn areas. Prof. Wijesinha asserted that there had been a lot of development since the conclusion of the conflict.

Joining the programme from Dublin, Surendiran, the UK based GTF’s Director of Strategic Initiative, predicted that the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) would bring out a damning report almost accusing the government of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in March 2015. The GTF official alleged Sri Lanka’s economy had been dwindling, foreign reserves sharply down with the IMF demanding the government to drastically reduce public expenditure. Surendiran alleged that people couldn’t even feed their own families in the wake of rising inflation.

Surendiran said: "The security situation is poor and the judiciary politicized."

Al-Jazeera telecast the programme the day before Prof. Wijesinha joined a rebel SLFP group led by the then General Secretary of the party, Maithripala Sirisena, to pledge support for a political movement against incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Taking part in the discussion, UNP National List MP Dr. Harsha De Silva explained the discussions as regards a joint campaign against President Rajapaksa whose popularity was dwindling. The economist emphasized that the project meant to defeat the Rajapaksa government involved the Opposition as well as the SLFP.

Calling Sri Lanka a nationalist state, Surendiran said that President Rajapaksa hadn’t addressed Tamil grievances even after the conclusion of the conflict. The GTF official said that both the international community and the Tamil speaking people wanted President Rajapaksa to provide a political solution to the national problem. Surendiran accused the government of causing racial hatred among communities while specifically identifying the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) as a government tool used against other communities.

Surendiran further alleged that Sri Lanka’s relationship with India was in an extremely bad position.

Prof. Wijesinha challenged Surendiran only on the war crimes issue.

Prof. Wijesinha accused Surendiran of propagating unsubstantiated claims.

Responding to a query by Dutton, Dr Harsha de Silva said that President Rajapaksa had purchased a two-thirds majority to introduce the 18th Amendment at the expense of the 17th Amendment. Referring to a statement made by Prof. Wijesinha, MP De Silva said that President Rajapaksa, his brothers and sons were equally responsible for the current crisis in the country. The UNPer said that President Rajapaksa hadn’t been used by others as asserted by Dr. Wijesinha.

Prof. Wijesinha explained what he meant by an earlier statement which was challenged by De Silva.

Responding to Prof. Wijesinha, an irate Surendiran said that President Rajapaksa had been accused of war crimes. Some had accused him of conducting a genocidal war against the Tamil speaking people. Surendiran warned that President Rajapaksa too would be hauled up before the International Criminal Court the way one-time Liberian President Charles Taylor and Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic had been. Surendiran queried Prof. Wijesinha the basis for his assumption that the Sri Lankan military fought a relatively a clean war, when over 140,000 civilians died at their hands. The GTF spokesman alleged that the military also executed surrendering LTTE cadres and civilians, killed an 11-year-old (possible reference to the killing of LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s son) et al.

Prof. Wijesinha accused Surendiran of propagating unsubstantiated claims. The Prof. lashed out at Surendiran for repeating often mentioned allegations. The UPFA MP urged Surendiran and the GTF not to interfere in the forthcoming presidential election because that would be advantageous to the Rajapaksa government.

Those who had been vigorously campaigning for war crimes investigations quoted various figures as the Vanni death toll. What would you have to say to Surendiran, whom the writer met in Geneva during a side event during the Rajapaksa administration and subsequently in London in early 2015, regarding GTF’s continuing silence in the wake of Lord Naseby’s claim. Now that the British politician has challenged the UN’s claim of 40,000 killings, what would those who had been quoting much higher figures have to say?

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Prez rattled by denial of visas to Army

War crimes



By Shamindra Ferdinando

President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Maithripala Sirisena, has explained his position pertaining to post-war accountability issues and alleged attempts made by his opponents to exploit the situation at the expense of political stability.

It would be pertinent to mention that the President addressed the Army top brass at the auditorium of the Army Hospital, Narahenpita, last Thursday afternoon, as his Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera delivered the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration’s third budget.

President Sirisena’s absence in parliament during the presentation of the budget raised many an eyebrow as he was present on previous presentations by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake.

Among the audience were Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva and Director General, Infantry, Maj. Gen. Chagi Gallage, both of the Gajaba Regiment, now under fire by South African Yasmin Sooka, a member of the then UNSG Ban K-moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE) which dealt with alleged accountability issues here.

In his address, President Sirisena referred to some Western powers refusing to issue visas to both retired and serving officers on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. President Sirisena emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the situation. The Commander-in-Chief called for tangible measures to change Western governments’ decision.

President Sirisena’s message was transmitted live to Security Forces Headquarters, Divisions and other formations where approximately 30,000 officers and men received it.

Fonseka’s dilemma

Obviously, President Sirisena was reacting to recent reports pertaining to Western powers refusing to issue visas to both retired and serving officers. Although President Sirisena refrained from mentioning names, war-winning Army Chief, the then Gen. Sarath Fonseka, is among those who had been affected.

Field Marshal Fonseka, in September, alleged that he had been denied a visa to attend the UNGA 2017 because of unresolved war crime allegations against the Army. Sri Lanka’s most successful Army Commander, who is now Minister of Regional Development, said he was due to travel to New York but he was the only one in the Sri Lankan delegation not issued a visa by the US. Fonseka said he could not accompany President Sirisena to the UNGA.

Field Marshal Fonseka has repeatedly underscored the pivotal importance of a comprehensive investigation into accountability issues to clear Sri Lanka’s name.

Although President Sirisena has never referred to the contentious issue, many senior officers, in some instances those, who had never been in actual combat or directly involved in military operations, were denied visas.

Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne, who had previously been the Senior Additional Solicitor General in the Attorney General’s Department and was with President Sirisena on the podium at the auditorium of the Army Hospital, Narahenpita, can explain to the President the circumstances under which Western powers acted against the military. Waidyaratne and Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, who had been one-time Attorney General, I’m sure, can advise the government on ways and means of addressing accountability issues raised by Western powers.

There is no need to remind the current Sri Lankan leadership that imposition of travel restrictions is based on the outcome of UN investigation run by Sandra Beidas, formerly of Amnesty International. As long as Sri Lanka is unable to disprove UN accusations, travel restrictions will remain on those who had risked their lives for the country.

Gallage’s predicament

There cannot be a better example than that of Maj. Gen. Gallage, a key strategist who had earned the admiration of officers and men over the years.

Australia callously deprived Gallage of an opportunity to visit his brother, an Australian citizen, after the change of government, in January 2015.

Australia found fault with Gallage for being in command of the 59 Division, from May 7, 2009, to July 20, 2009.

The Australian High Commission asserted that a visa couldn’t be issued as the Division, under his command, had certainly committed war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection has extensively cited the Report of the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) on Sri Lanka (OISL) to turn down Gallege’s visa. On the basis of the OISL report, Geneva adopted Resolution 30/1 to pave the way for foreign judges in a domestic judicial mechanism, though the government still tries to defend its decision to co-sponsor the Resolution. Geneva released OISL report on Sept. 16, 2015. Sri Lanka co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1 on Oct. 1, 2015 in spite of Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, rejecting the draft resolution. The government dismissed Ambassador Aryasinha’s concerns. President Sirisena never intervened in the UNP’s strategy.

Australia also cited the PoE report on accountability issues released on March 31, 2011. POE accused Sri Lanka of massacring over 40,000 civilians and depriving the Vanni population of their basic needs.

Australia also cited a statement attributed to General Officer Commanding (GOC) 58 Division Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) real time footage had been made available to ground commanders marking targets, to justify its decision. On the basis of Maj. Gen. Silva’s statement, Australia has alleged that Maj. Gen. Gallage had been aware of artillery strikes on third no fire zone.

Can there be any justification in the Australian assessment?

There have never been specific allegations against Maj. Gen. Gallage before.

Contrary to the Australian assessment, the deployment of Israeli built UAVs was meant to direct attacks on the enemy. Colombo-based foreign military attaches were invited to Air Force headquarters to observe real time video footage provided at crucial stages of the Vanni offensive.

Australia has accused Maj. Gen. Gallage of planning, implementing and supporting war crimes and crimes against humanity. Australia also held him responsible, as the serving officer, for failing to prevent troops, under his command, from committing war crimes.

The Australian report, while identifying Gallage as ‘potential controversial visit’, alleged that the SLA committed atrocities, even after the conclusion of the war.

Gallage has been screened by Australian authorities following him seeking a visa for a month long visit.

The Australian stand on this visa matter meant that it believed the Sri Lankan army carried out systematic attacks against Tamil civilians.

Australia has identified the 59 Division, credited with wresting control of the LTTE Mullaitivu bastion, in late January 2009, as one of the formations responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Formed in Jan, 2008, the 59 Division, deployed on the eastern flank, aka the Weli Oya front, fought under then Brig. Nandana Udawatte’s command, for one year, to cross the Anandakulam and Nagacholai forest reserves, which served as natural defences for the LTTE Mullaitivu stronghold.

Over the years, the US and some other countries have denied visas to senior commanders, on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations. In the case of Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, the US refused to accommodate him on a programme as he commanded the elite 53 Division in peacetime. The 53 Division killed LTTE leader Prabhakaran.

The situation, faced by the Army, can certainly be described as a crisis. The bottom line is that any officer, attached to those formations, involved in operations, either in peace or wartime, can be denied a visa on the basis of unsubstantiated UN allegations. Western restrictions, now in place, can affect those who had served the 57 Division, Task Force I /58 Div, 59 Div, 53 Div, 55 Div as well as other Task Forces deployed on the Vanni front. The same unreasonable rule can be applied on those taking over command of the Divisions or Brigades or Battalions attached to them as part UN measures directed at Sri Lanka

Confused US position

Now that President Sirisena has referred to the visa matter, it would be the responsibility of the Foreign and Defence Ministries to make representations to Western powers, without further delay. The government can begin its effort by taking up the issue with US and Australia in the wake of Lord Naseby disputing the Vanni death toll on the basis of wartime military dispatches from the British Embassy in Colombo. The Shocking revelation that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had desperately tried to withhold information, sought by Lord Naseby, on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), underscores the need to revisit the Sri Lanka issue.

Let us hope Army headquarters ensures that the relevant ministries take tangible measures. Having pathetically failed to counter the lies, propagated by interested parties, since Gen Fonseka’s abrupt removal, Army headquarters should take advantage of this opportunity.

The US refusal to issue a visa to Field Marshal Fonseka should be examined against the backdrop of three critically important factors: (a) The US backed Fonseka’s candidature at the 2010 January presidential poll. The US formed a political alliance, that included the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by R. Sampanthan, current Leader of the Opposition. There cannot be any dispute over the US role in that poll in the wake of Wiki Leaks revelation, pertaining to secret discussions between the Colombo-based US diplomat and Sampanthan. Sampanthan gave into US pressure though he had initially resisted the proposal. The Tamil leader must have been deeply embarrassed to publicly urge Tamils to vote for Fonseka, after having accused his Army of killing thousands of civilians, raping Tamil women and disappearances. The Tamil electorate obliged. Fonseka was able to secure the predominately Tamil administrative districts, including Jaffna, though he suffered a heavy defeat at the presidential poll. (b) The US picked Fonseka as the common presidential candidate in spite of the then US Ambassador Patricia Butenis calling him a war criminal along with the Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda, Basil and Gotabhaya. (c) Colombo-based US Defence Attache Lt Col. Lawrence Smith’s declaration in June 2011 (over two years after the conclusion of the war) that there had never been an agreement between the Army and the LTTE regarding an organized surrender on the Vanni east front. The US official disputed widespread claims of battlefield executions in spite of an arranged surrender of LTTE cadre to the advancing Army.

The US also deprived Majors General Prasanna Silva, wartime GoC, 55 Division and Jaffna Security Forces Commander Mahinda Hathurusinghe of an opportunity to join programmes. Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva was denied entry into US War College though he functioned as Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative in New York.

GoC, 57 Division Maj Gen Jagath Dias, and Military Secretary Sudantha Ranasinghe, too, were denied the chance to participate in US programmes. Ranasinghe’s application was turned down in spite of him receiving command of the 53 Division after the end of the conflict. The then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa personally brought the situation to the notice of the US Embassy though he couldn’t achieve the desired policy change.

In late, 2010, the Tamil Diaspora activists made a failed bid to secure a warrant, in the UK, to detain Gallage who was at that time the head of President Rajapaksa’s security. Although, they couldn’t move the British judiciary against the officer, the move underscored the need to address high profile international campaign meant to portray the Army as a criminal organization.

A recent letter, written by PoE member Sooka, to US multinational Coca Cola, for sponsoring the Gajaba Super-Cross 2017, organized by Maj. Gen. Silva, in his capacity as the Colonel Commandant of the celebrated Regiment, must jolt the Army and the government to take remedial measures. Having called the most successful GoC, a notorious war criminal, the NGO guru demanded explanation from Coca Cola why it financed a project undertaken by Silva. Sooka called both the Gajaba Regiment as well as 58 Division criminal organizations on the basis of UN reports. The Foreign Ministry, for some strange reason, turned a blind eye to Sooka’s attack. The same ministry recently issued a lengthy statement in response to adverse reportage of the controversial visit undertaken by Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur, on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.

At the conclusion of his two-week long visit, Colombian de Greiff went to the extent of even humiliating President Sirisena.

UN ridicules Lanka’s stand

Greiff, in an obvious reference to often repeated President Sirisena’s remark, expressed concern over the use of rhetoric such as ‘war heroes will never be brought to trial.’

The UN official said that the promise regarding ‘war heroes’ is a legally unenforceable political statement, and therefore couldn’t offer any real security.

The official said: "In order to make it effective it would ultimately require a violation of the principle of the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, amongst others. Moreover, needless to say, it offers absolutely no warranty internationally. As the recent case presented in Brazil against a former member of the Armed Forces demonstrates, accountability will be sought either here or abroad. In my opinion, this is an additional reason for the country, with the full support of the Armed Forces – who stand a lot to gain from this process – to establish a robust and credible comprehensive transitional justice policy."

The Colombian declared that those who had perpetrated human rights violations or laws pertaining to conflict/war didn’t deserve to be called heroes.

Sri Lanka cannot ignore the UN challenge. Sri Lanka shouldn’t allow the UN to continue its despicable operation.

So far, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration hasn’t taken up the unfair decision to deny visas to senior military officers on the basis of the unsubstantiated OISL report. It covered the period from 21 February 2002 to 15 November 2011.

In June 2014, the then High Commissioner Navi Pillai appointed three Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland, Ms. Silvia Cartwright, former High Court judge of New Zealand, and Ms. Asma Jahangir, former President of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, to play a supportive and advisory role, as well as independent verification throughout the investigation. Obviously, they were expected to simply endorse the project. They did that.

The previous government declined to make representations to the OISL probe, headed by Beidas, though it had the wherewithal to counter the lies propagated by interested parties.

Those who now accuse the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government of betraying the armed forces should also accept responsibility for their pathetic failure to counter lies. They owed an explanation to the nation.

Interestingly, President Sirisena’s Nov 9 address to the Army caused some concern among his advisors handling the media. They issued two separate media releases on Nov 10, with the second one leaving out some critically important sections pertaining to the Geneva intervention. The Island also compared the statements issued by the President’s Media Division with the one posted on the Army website. The Army website report headlined "No War Hero would be Subjected to Appear before Any Foreign Tribunals" - President Assures Meeting Army Personnel dealt with the issues at hand.

Basically, the first statement that had been issued by the President’s Media Division tallied with the Army headquarters post in respect of the Geneva issue. The second statement issued by the President’s Media Division conveniently left out sections that may attract attention of the UN pushing hard at Sri Lanka to implement Geneva Resolution 30/1.

Sri Lanka needs to take a clear stand on Geneva Resolution. The government should reexamine Aryasinha’s statement and explore the possibility of initiating a dialogue with Geneva in respect of concerns raised by Lord Naseby.

What really surprised the writer is the absence of any reference to Naseby’s defence of the Sri Lanka Army and the political leadership in the House of Lords in President Sirisena’s historic address to the Army top brass. There had never been an instance a President having the opportunity to address a representative gathering of more than 350 Commanding Officers (COs), Adjutants and Regimental Sergeant Majors (RSMs) of the Army.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

UN rewards Darusman with Myanmar mission amidst new controversy over his report on Lanka



April 5, 2012: Lord Naseby, PC, Baron of Sandy and Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group in UK meets wartime Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Temple Trees
Lord Naseby has challenged the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) findings pertaining to Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism soon after the head of that panel, former Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, received another key appointment. In late July, 2017, Darusman received appointment as head of a fact-finding mission on Myanmar where violence caused thousands to flee. Darusman’s team includes Radhika Coomaraswamy and Australian Christopher Dominic Sidoti.

Their mission has received a mandate set out by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 34/22, adopted on 24 March 2017, to "establish facts and circumstances of the alleged recent human rights violations by the military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar, in particular in the Rakhine State".

The outcome of their investigation is not too difficult to comprehend.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A brief but powerful WION exclusive with Lord Naseby (Michael Wolfgang Laurence Morris) couldn’t have been telecast at a better time for Sri Lanka. 

The WION report dealt with Lord Naseby’s significant statement in the House of Lords, on Oct 12, 2017, made in respect of the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka. Lord Naseby challenged the Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (PoE) on Accountability in Sri Lanka, the foundation for the Geneva Resolution.

The PoE comprised former Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, South African civil society activist Yasmin Sooka and US attorney-at-law Stevan Ratner.

Responding to Mandy Clark, of Uttar Pradesh headquartered WION, Lord Naseby declared that one-fourth of the 7,000 Tamils killed, in military operations on the Vanni front, were members of the LTTE. The veteran Conservative politician based his claim on US and British wartime diplomatic dispatches from Colombo. Lord Naseby named the then US Ambassador Robert O. Blake and UK Defence Attaché Lt. Col. Anton Gash as the authors of those reports.

Blake and Gash hadn’t so far challenged Lord Naseby’s claims. In fact, the PoE should respond to Lord Naseby’s challenge as it cannot remain silent in the face of such a serious allegation.

Lord Naseby didn’t mince his words when he explained how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) repeatedly denied his requests, since 2014, to secure the entire set of dispatches from Lt. Col. Gash.

The former CBS News war correspondent and the winner of the Richard R. Snell Award for investigative journalism, Mandy had covered the war in Afghanistan and was among those who entered Libya at the onset of the US caused conflict in Libya.

Having had dealt with the accountability issues, Lord Naseby criticized the UK for accommodating LTTE cadres and turning a blind eye to Tamil Diaspora still promoting the group, nine years after the conclusion of the war. Lord Naseby explained how the LTTE had eliminated the rival Tamil leadership to clear its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s path.

Against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to decisively and swiftly act on Lord Naseby’s Oct 12, 2017 statement, WION’s Special Report, titled ‘UN fudged Lanka casualties: Lord Naseby found 7,000, not 40,000 correct estimate of civilian casualties’, certainly embarrassed those hell-bent on forcing Sri Lanka to admit mass scale massacre during the final phase of the offensive on the Vanni east front.

In his Oct 12, 2017 statement, in the House of Lords, during debate on Sri Lanka, Lord Naseby urged the Theresa May government to request Geneva to lower casualty figure from 40,000 to 7,000 taking into consideration Sri Lanka never willfully targeted civilians.

A glaring omission, perhaps the only shortcoming in the Emmy-nominated Clark’s exclusive, was her failure to mention how New Delhi, in the early 80s, had caused terrorism here for geo-political reasons. Clark couldn’t have refrained from referring to New Delhi’s role, especially after Lord Naseby recalled the LTTE assassination of former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991.

No less a person than the late Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit, who had been New Delhi’s top envoy in Colombo at the time of the Indian Army deployment here, in July 1987, acknowledged in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’, released in 2004, that India was responsible for causing terrorism here. Obviously, India’s decision to subvert Sri Lanka had been part of her overall security and political strategy in the wake of the growing threat posed by the US-Pakistan and Israel alliance. Although China hadn’t been aligned with the alliance, Dixit asserted that China worked closely with Pakistan to undermine India in response to Indians’ backing for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. India made the destabilization of Sri Lanka an integral part of a security project to safeguard Indian national interests.

UN responds to Lord Naseby

 Lord Nasebys bombshell really undermined the despicable UN strategy here. The House of Lords statement obviously placed UN Special Rapporteur (on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees) Pablo de Greiff in a difficult position. Greiff, having concluded his two-week long visit to Sri Lanka, called a media briefing at the UN compound, in Colombo, on Oct 23, 2017, where the Colombian warned Sri Lanka of dire consequences unless Colombo fulfill its obligations to the international community.

The visit was Greiff’s second since the change of government, in January 2015.

However, the Colombian had no option but to refer to the situation that had been caused by Lord Naseby. Obviously, UN Colombo had been embarrassed. The Colombo briefing took place before Clark’s interview with Lord Naseby.

"As I write this statement, the debate continues in the newspapers concerning the number of victims, at the end of the conflict, whether it was 40,000 or ‘merely’ 8,000. While the final number may be impossible to determine, with absolute precision, there is of course a lot that has been learned in the last 30 years about forensics and other methods offering reliability that political opinions cannot," the Colombian told the Colombo media. The Island, however, didn’t receive an invitation from UN Colombo, though the writer was invited for a press conference given by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter Terrorism, Ben Emmerson, in July this year.

Unfortunately, those who had been invited by UN Colombo didn’t raise Lord Naseby’s statement with Greiff even after he made reference to the debate in respect of the number of victims.

Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in an exclusive interview, headlined ‘War Crimes: GR highlights confusion over civilian death toll’ (The Island, Oct 21, 2017), with the writer, discussed the implications of Lord Naseby’s statement. The writer dealt with the government’s lukewarm response to Lord Naseby’s statement, in a front-page lead story, headlined ‘Govt yet to capitalize on Lord Naseby’s call to UK parliament’ (The Island, Oct 26, 2017). The writer also obtained Lord Naseby’s comment in respect of a meeting he had with Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Mark Field, following his statement (FCO to study Naseby’s proposals-The Island, Oct 26, 2017)

Had The Island received an invitation, the writer would have certainly asked Greiff whether any Sri Lankan government representative had sought an explanation in respect of Lord Naseby’s statement. The House of Lords revelation should be examined against the backdrop of those who had the opportunity, to take it up with the UN official, failing to do so. In addition to President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UN Special Rapporteur is on record as having said that he had very productive discussions with other high level government officials, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs Minister Marapana; the Minister of Finance and Media Mangala Samaraweera; the Minister of Law and Order and Southern Development Sagala Ratnayake; the Minister of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages Mano Ganesan; the Minister of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs D.M. Swaminathan; the Minister of Justice Thalatha Atukorale; the Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam; the Secretary to the President Austin Fernando; the Secretary of Defense Kapila Waidyaratne; Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya; the Sectoral Oversight Committees on Legal Affairs and Media, and on Reconciliation and North and East Reconstruction; the Chief Justice; the Attorney General; the Chief of Defense Staff, the Commander of the Army; the Commander of the Air Force and the Commander of the Navy; the Chief of National Intelligence; the Inspector General of Police; the Chairperson of the Victim and Witness Protection Authority; the Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms; the Director-General of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation; the Human Rights Commission, the National Police Commission, members of religious communities, political parties, and representatives of the diplomatic community, academics, civil society organizations, victims groups and many others who have shared their insights. At the local level, the UN official had the opportunity to exchange views with the Governors of the Northern Province and the Eastern Province.

Strangely, The Island didn’t receive a response from Army headquarters as to what action they intended taking in respect of Lord Naseby’s statement. Unfortunately, the Army as an institution hadn’t sought to explore ways and means of using the only favourable statement made, on Sri Lanka’s behalf, in a key foreign parliament, to clear its name.

Repudiation of Gaza war report

 Lord Naseby’s call to Geneva to revisit the Panel of Experts allegation, pertaining to the death toll, should be examined with the US reaction to South African justice Richard Goldstone contradicting his own report on Israeli invasion of Gaza (2008-2009) keeping in mind.

In July 2011 the US Senate voted unanimously in favour of calling the UN to revoke the Gaza war report, prepared by a four-member UN Panel, headed by Goldstone. The Obama administration made its move in the wake of Goldstone retracting the report’s findings.

The US went to the extent of calling on the Human Rights Council to repair the damage caused to the Jewish State.

The US, while stepping up pressure on Sri Lanka, to adhere with the Panel of Experts report, had sought to nullify Goldstone’s report.

Goldstone on Sept 15, 2009 declared both Israeli Defence Forces and Palestinian militants committed serious war crimes and breaches of humanitarian law, which may amount to crimes against humanity.

"We came to the conclusion, on the basis of the facts we found, that there was strong evidence to establish that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian law and human rights law, were committed by Israel during the military operations in Gaza," international wire services quoted Goldstone as saying.

The US Senate vote was initiated by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator James Risch. While the decision has no legal binding, it is significant as the US is the UN’s largest contributor.

The US said that contrary to the report’s findings, Israel did not embrace a deliberate policy of hurting civilians in Gaza. It is also noted that Judge Goldstone himself admitted that the number of civilian casualties in Gaza was smaller than claimed in the report and recognized that Israel, like any other sovereign state, has the right to defend itself and its civilians.

In the wake of Goldstone’s move, followed by the US reaction, Geneva conveniently dropped the matter, quietly, though other members of the Goldstone panel firmly stood by the report.

An opportunity for Sri Lanka

 Sri Lanka should now request Geneva to review unsubstantiated allegations directed against Sri Lanka by the Panel of Experts. On the basis of scurrilous claims, the UN triggered an investigation under the direction of Sandra Beidas, formerly of the Amnesty International. That led to Geneva Resolution 30/1 on Oct 2015, though Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative there, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, strongly objected to it, just over a week before.

The Panel of Experts, having had placed the number of civilian deaths at 40,000 on the basis of information provided by what the panel called credible sources, ruled they couldn’t be verified under any circumstances, until 2031.

Whatever the declarations made by the Panel of Experts, Geneva, as well as Theresa May’s government, cannot turn a blind eye to Lord Naseby’s statement. Having defended Sri Lanka, Lord Naseby should expect the UK-based Channel 4 that pushed for an international war crimes probe against Sri Lanka to pounce on him. Channel 4 cannot ignore Lord Naseby’s bid to clear Sri Lanka of unsubstantiated allegations, especially after Mandy Clark’s exclusive. In fact none of those who had contributed to the Geneva exercise, as well as the project to defeat President Mahinda Rajapaksa at two presidential polls in 2010 and 2015 too cannot remain silent.

 Lord Naseby has challenged the VERY BASIS of political grouping formed by the US in the run up to the 2010 presidential poll. The US brought in the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) into the UNP-led political grouping. The TNA threw its weight behind wartime Army Chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka on the basis that President Rajapaksa gave political leadership to the war that annihilated the LTTE and caused massive loss of civilian life. They implemented, basically the same anti-Rajapaksa strategy at the 2015 presidential poll.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government’s reluctance to act on Lord Naseby’s statement is obvious. When the writer raised the issue with co-cabinet spokesman and Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, the Minister acknowledged that it hadn’t been discussed at the cabinet. Can there be anything as important as defeating trumped-up war crimes charges. In fact, the Foreign Ministry should have had brought the matter to the notice of the cabinet immediately after Sri Lanka High Commission in London alerted Colombo as to the House of Lords statement.

Unenthusiastic Foreign Ministry’s response

 Did Sri Lanka High Commission bring Lord Naseby’s statement to the Foreign Ministry’s attention? For want of Foreign Ministry response to Lord Naseby’s very important statement, even a week after it was made, the writer, on Oct 20, 2017, sought an explanation from the Foreign Ministry. The Foreign Ministry response really disappointed a vast majority of people, who expected the government to counter lies that had been propagated by various interested parties. Instead of taking advantage of Lord Naseby’s statement, issued on behalf of Sri Lanka, the Foreign Ministry declared: "The Government of Sri Lanka remains committed to the national processes, aimed at realizing the vision of a reconciled, stable, peaceful and prosperous nation. Engaging in arguments and debates in the international domain over the number of civilians who may have died at a particular time in the country will not help resolve any issues, in a meaningful manner, locally, except a feel good factor for a few individuals who may think that they have won a debate or scored points over someone or the other."

The Foreign Ministry, obviously, decided to ignore the fact that such debates in the international domain over a period of time led to Geneva Resolution 30/1. Those responsible for counter malicious propaganda directed against Sri Lanka had been exposed. Those in power remained silent as it is obviously detrimental for them to admit, in any way, Geneva forced Sri Lanka to accept massacre of over 40,000 Tamils during the last phase of the offensive. The failure on the part of the UK, Geneva as well as civil society groups to thwart Lord Naseby’s offensive must have shocked those who really believed in the UN claims.

Civil society responsibility

 Those who had been engaged in costly exercises to promote post-war national reconciliation should realize the main obstacle to amity between the Sinhalese and the Tamils is the unsubstantiated allegation that the military massacred over 40,000 on the Vanni east front.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

Civil society groups that had contributed to an expensive campaign meant to defeat Rajapaksa received substantial benefits. Now, their main allegation has been challenged on the basis of information that had been furnished during the war by UK and US diplomatic missions in Colombo. Civil society groups, such as the National Peace Council, perhaps the largest recipient of Norway undoing over the years, should request Indian, Japanese and other missions to furnish diplomatic cables pertaining to Sri Lanka casualties to Geneva. Their primary objective should be to establish the truth. The UN can release its own confidential report that placed the number of dead, between 2008 August to May 13, 2009, to be compared with dispatches from diplomatic missions.

On the basis of unproved allegations, Geneva has recommended change of Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Parliament last week debated recommendations made by PM Wickremesinghe-led Steering Committee in respect of constitutional reforms. Members of the government as well as the Joint Opposition refrained from commenting on Lord Naseby’s statement. Perhaps, some cannot comprehend the very basis for Western intervention in constitutional making process is unproved war crimes allegations that paved the way for Geneva Resolution 30/1. But, on the other hand, those, who had been spearheading the constitutional making process and aware of fraudulent means employed to ensure foreign intervention for regime change, are in a dilemma.

Unfortunately, those loyal to former President Rajapakse seemed a thoroughly disorganized lot not capable of exploiting the situation to Sri Lanka’s advantage.