SPECIAL REPORT : Part 204February 6, 2018, 8:30 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Sri Lanka last Sunday (Feb. 4) celebrated her 70th anniversary of her independence from the UK with an armed forces parade, at Galle Face with the participation of Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex and the Countess of Wessex. The royal couple represented Queen Elizabeth II.
In a message to President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, Queen Elizabeth II, declared: "...The relationship between our two countries has continued to grow, and it is my hope that the connections between our people continue to flourish in the years to come."
The statement released by the British High Commission in Colombo, ahead of the Galle Face parade, quoted the Queen as having told President Sirisena: "Although I am unable to be with you as you mark this historic moment, I am very pleased that the Earl and Countess of Wessex are able to represent me and join you in celebrating all that the people of Sri Lanka have achieved in the past 70 years."
It would be pertinent to examine what Sri Lanka has achieved in the past 70 years. There cannot be an accomplishment bigger than the triumph over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May, nine years ago. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion amidst a determined Western effort to save the LTTE, an organization proscribed in the US, UK, Canada, India, EU et al.
Asian giant India, having gained independence also from the UK, in Aug 1947, plunged Sri Lanka into turmoil, 36 years ago, when Indian trained LTTE terrorists wiped out an army patrol in Thinnaveli, Jaffna. Overnight, hit and run attacks in the northern region turned to a conflict that soon grew into a large scale war. Terrorism bled Sri Lanka for 26 years until the combined armed forces brought the LTTE down to its knees on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, on the morning of May 19, 2009. The Vijayaba Infantry Regiment (VIR), the youngest of Sri Lanka’s infantry formations, established in 1988, received the recognition for killing LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The nearly three-year long offensive, under the political leadership of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, culminated with the elimination of the megalomaniac Prabhakaran, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.
Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists, in Nov., 1988 caused chaos in another Commonwealth Country, the Maldives. The Maldives gained independence from the UK in July 1965.
The Army almost brought the war to an end in early April, 2009 east of Puthukudirippu. Several hundred hardcore terrorists, including their experienced commanders perished in what was later described as the first classical encirclement operation carried out by the Army under extremely difficult circumstances on the Vanni East front, though it had overwhelming firepower as well as unlimited ground forces. The defeat of the LTTE formations at Anandapuram made the outcome of the conflict a foregone conclusion in spite of a section of the international community trying to throw a fresh lifeline to the LTTE. Then Brig. Shavendra Silva’s battle-hardened 58 Division carried out the operation with Brig. Kamal Gunaratne’s 53 Division, though, at that time, the Gajaba Regiment veteran was away. In his absence, Brig. Chagi Gallage had been in charge of the 53 Division.
Among those who had been seated among the invitees at the 70 anniversary celebration was war-winning Army Chief and Sinha Regiment, veteran Lt. General Sarath Fonseka, who sustained the largest ever ground forces offensive against the LTTE. Not present at the historic event were Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda and Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonetilleke who played significant roles in the war victory. The government didn’t even bother to invite wartime commanders of the Navy and the Air Force, certainly a matter for deep regret. Yahapalana rulers obviously found fault with them for being key members of the Rajapaksas ‘A’ team responsible for the LTTE’s decimation, a daunting task many believed were beyond Sri Lanka’s capacity.
Admiral Karannagoda’s contribution to Sri Lanka’s war victory should be examined against the backdrop of him securing US intelligence to hunt down LTTE floating arsenals on the high seas. The US intervention surely helped Sri Lanka to bring the war to an end sooner. Acting on US advice, Karannagoda’s Navy destroyed four large vessels, in separate operations in 2007 and 2008, to facilitate overall ground operations by depriving continuous supply lines. Goonatilleke sustained a strategic air campaign that caused heavy losses on the LTTE, in addition to operations in support of the ground forces and keeping Jaffna peninsula supplied by air.
The Earl of Wessex couldn’t have been unaware of a desperate bid by the British to throw a lifeline to the LTTE, in late April 2009, as frontline fighting formations had surrounded the remnants of the LTTE on the Vanni east front. The then British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, arrived in Colombo on April 29, 2009, close on the heels of UK International Development Minister Mike Foster’s visit, to broker a ceasefire. The high profile bid was made to appease the Tamil Diaspora engaged in massive protests in their host countries at the behest of the LTTE. The LTTE wanted the Diaspora to force Western powers to intervene in Colombo to halt the offensive.
President Rajapaksa unceremoniously dismissed the joint UK-French initiative. Rajapaksa earned the wrath of the Western powers for not heeding their advice. Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, once the Commanding Officer of the celebrated first battalion of the Gajaba Regiment, threw his weight behind his brother. The younger Rajapaksa ensured the close coordination between the military and the political leadership and virtually gave the overall leadership to the war effort.
Had the LTTE assassination attempts on Lt. Gen. Fonseka and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa succeeded, on April 25, 2006, and Dec 1, 2006, respectively, Sri Lanka would never have been able to secure victory over the LTTE. Unfortunately, post-war political ambitions of Fonseka, and the Rajapaksas crude response, following the war-winning General’s defeat at the Jan. 2010 presidential poll, ripped apart the country.
Nearly 10 months after the conclusion of the war, t then US Ambassador in Colombo Patricia Butenis called the Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda, Gotabhaya and Basil, as well as Gen. Fonseka, war criminals in a confidential memo to Washington, subsequently leaked by Wiki Leaks. But that didn’t prevent the US from backing Fonseka’s Jan. 2010 presidential candidature. The US went to the extent of forcing the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to vote for Fonseka, in spite of it accusing him of mass murder. The US arranged alliance included strange bed-fellows, the UNP and the JVP. The same trio, UNP, JVP and TNA backed Maithripala Sirisena’s presidential candidature, five years later.
Had President Rajapaksa given into the UN backed UK-French proposal to reach consensus on a ceasefire, the conflict would have taken a different turn. Before Miliband and Kouchner flew in for urgent talks with President Rajapaksa, UNSG’s Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar visited Colombo, in April 2009, also to explore a cease-fire, on the Vanni east front, to save the LTTE.
Top notch combined forces parade
The victorious armed forces parade at Galle Face was led by the Armour, followed by Artillery, Engineers, Signals, Sri Lanka Light Infantry, Sinha Regiment, Gemunu Watch, Gajaba Regiment, Vijayaba Infantry Regiment, Mechanized Infantry, Commando Regiment, Special Forces, Military Intelligence Corps et al.
The parade was commanded by Jaffna Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Dharshana Hettiarachchi of Engineers. The parade moved along the road opposite Taj Samdra where the LTTE assassinated Navy Chief Admiral Clancy Fernando on the morning of Nov 16, 1992, a little distance away from the top notch Shangri-La hotel, built after the end of the conflict. To pave the way for the massive Shangri-La investment, wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, on his own, decided to shift the Army Headquarters to Akuregoda, Battaramulla.
The parade was followed by a guard-of-honour comprising eight officers and 96 other rankers representing the Army, Navy and Air Force, commanded by Maj. Duminda Rasika Kumara of the Armoured Corps. Before the Army parade followed by sail and fly past, those present observed a two-minute silence in memory of those Sri Lankans who died in the service of the motherland. The Artillery presented a 21-gun salute, before President Maithripala Sirisena addressed the nation.
His previous address to the nation, delivered on January 3, caused political chaos with Yahapalana partners, the UNP and his own SLFP trading charges and counter charges over waste, corruption and irregularities, with the focus on the Treasury Bond scams involving disgraced primary dealer Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL). The celebrations took place with the country in political turmoil over the Treasury Bonds scams. The mega fraud has severely damaged the US-backed unholy alliance that ousted twice President Rajapaksa whose excesses, rampant waste, corruption and irregularities surely facilitated the ‘regime change’ project. The previous government sure needed an electoral drubbing though those who campaigned on a platform of accountability and good governance ended up plundering the national economy almost from the start. What a tragedy.
The Earl of Wessex, who had given up a career in the Corps of Royal Marines, was the highest ranking Royal to accept an invitation for the military parade since the Western powers launched a massive attack on Sri Lanka over human rights violations in the wake of the successful conclusion of the war, nine years ago. Prince Edward sought to pursue a career with the Royal Marines soon after leaving University.
The Western powers sustained a high profile diplomatic campaign until the foolish yahapalana administration, in Oct 2015, co-sponsored a US-led resolution against its own armed forces. There had never been a previous instance of a country accepting punitive measures against its own victorious armed forces with open arms.
Throughout the war against the LTTE and other Indian trained terrorist groups (they ceased operations against the armed forces by 1990), the UK steadfastly refused to provide tangible support to Sri Lanka. However, at the commencement of hostilities, the UK allowed former Special Air Services (SAS) personnel employed by KMS Limited to provide training to police commandos as well as other support. Support included access to the British way of handling counter terrorism, way back in early 80s, by way of senior Sri Lankan policemen being invited to the UK.
But the UK refrained from providing support that could have made a real difference on the ground primarily due to its desire not to antagonize India. Commonwealth leader, the UK turned a blind eye to Commonwealth heavyweight India destabilizing Sri Lanka to its heart’s content until the situation was conducive here for the Indian Army deployment right across eight districts in the temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provinces.
The Feb 4 parade comprised formations responsible for decimating the LTTE on the ground. The sail-past comprised Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), SLNS Sayurala, SLNS Sagara and SLNS Suraksha, Fast Missile Vessel SLNS Nandimithra, three gunboats Udara, Ranadeera and Prathapa, and Patrol Boat Ratnadeepa. In addition to OPVs, FMV, gunboats and one patrol boat there were 10 Fast Attack Craft (FACs). It would be pertinent to mention that Patrol Boat Prathapa had been among a pair of vessels gifted by Australia in recognition of the Rajapaksa administration efforts to stop illegal migrants.
The fly-past consisted of Kfir, F7, Mi 17 and transport aircraft AN 32, C 130 and MA 60 et al although since the conclusion of the war the Air Force fleet has depleted considerably with MIG 27s phased out. The SLAF is left with just one Kfir whereas Mi 24 helicopter gunships, too, no longer are available.
Among those who had been present were Canadian representatives. In 2014, Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo, Shelley Whiting, in 2014, demanded that Sri Lanka cancel her annual Victory Day parade to help post-war national reconciliation. Although the Rajapaksa administration rejected the Canadian demand, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government quickly gave into the Canadian dictate.
Former colonial power in
In the run up to the 70th Independence celebrations, Lord Naseby revealed the despicable British plot in support of Western project to move the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) against Sri Lanka on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Naseby’s House of Lords revelations on Oct. 12, 2017 showed how Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had suppressed wartime dispatches from its Colombo-based defence attache Lieutenant Colonel Anton Gash, received between January 1, 2009, to May 2009 underscored the urgent need to examine Sri Lanka’s case.
The UK dismissed Lord Naseby’s plea. Much to the disappointment and anger of vast majority of Sri Lankans, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration shamelessly played down Naseby’s assertion. Sri Lanka is yet to request Geneva to look into Naseby’s claim, based on undisputed British High Commission dispatches from here.
The month long Geneva sessions are scheduled to begin later this month. In spite of his repeated efforts and the intervention by the Information Commissioner’s Office, wartime dispatches from Colombo in its entirety hadn’t been released to ensure the Geneva Resolution 30/1 remains as it is. Even the dispatches released to Lord Naseby following the Information Commissioner’s intervention were heavily censored to save the original lie. Lord Naseby’s move placed the British in a really embarrassing position with its mission in Colombo seeking to play down the importance of revelations made in the House of Lords.
Sri Lankan armed force can certainly be proud that the British lie had been exposed. Perhaps the acceptance of Sri Lanka’s invitation for the military parade, paving the way for the Earl of Wessex and the Countess of Wessex participation at the Colombo event, revealed a rethinking of British position. Global Tamil News on Dec 6, 2017 posted the following The Island report on its website: The British High Commission has declared that Lord Naseby’s recent statement in the House of Lords pertaining to accountability issues in Sri Lanka doesn’t reflect UK’s stand.
The British HC said so in response to The Island query whether the BHC had discussions with the Foreign Ministry here or the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as regards Lord Naseby’s call for reviewing Geneva Resolution 30/1. The following is the text of the BHC statement: "Lord Naseby was not speaking for the British Government when speaking recently in a debate in the House of Lords. As a Member of Parliament he is entitled to express his own views."
"A point that has not been in dispute in all that has been written and said since Lord Naseby spoke is that many thousands of civilians died during the conflict. We continue to encourage the Sri Lankan Government to implement the commitments it gave and which are set out in UNHRC resolution 30/1 and reaffirmed in UNHRC resolution 34/1, including the undertaking to establish a truth-seeking commission. Resolution 30/1 emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive approach to dealing with the past, incorporating the full range of judicial and non-judicial measures, including truth-seeking. The resolution affirms that the commitments given, if implemented fully and credibly, will help to achieve reconciliation. Achieving reconciliation is in the clear interests of every community in Sri Lanka", the BHC statement said
Lord Naseby urged the UK to take up Sri Lanka’s issue with Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The Conservative member called for amending the Resolution on the basis that 40,000 hadn’t been killed in the Vanni offensive and of the 7,000-8,000 killed, one fourth were LTTE cadres. Naseby also declared that the then government hadn’t deliberately targeted civilians.
Those who had been propagating lies as regards the massacre of over 40,000 Tamil civilians with some declaring in the House of Commons that as many as 100,000 perished (both LTTE and civilians during the January-May 2009 period) remained mum in the face of Lord Naseby’s challenge. The Geneva process led to international restrictions on those fighting formations and some officers who risked their lives for the country. Majors General Shavendra Silva and Chagi Gallage are two of the victims.
The LTTE devastated the Dalada Maligawa on the morning of January 25, 1998, ahead of Sri Lanka’s 50 Independence Day celebrations in Kandy. However, the LTTE failed to deter Prince Charles from visiting Sri Lanka to attend the event. Sri Lanka should be certainly grateful to the UK for that gesture. An influential section of Tamil political parties, both covertly and overtly, backed terrorism. There is absolutely no doubt about that. They, too, have been placed in a difficult situation due to Lord Naseby’s solid assertions as to what really happened during the final phase of the war. In his address to the House of Lords, Naseby flayed the British system for giving British citizenship to LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham, a former employee of the British High Commission in Colombo, who also masqueraded as a holder of a PhD. The British advisor to the terrorist organization lived in the UK with impunity until he died in Dec 2006 at the onset of the eelam war IV. The eelam war IV lasted two years and 10 months.
At the end of the war, Geneva on the basis of lies, prescribed a new Constitutiaon for Sri Lanka. Lord Naseby has disputed lies on the basis of which Western powers want a new Constitution here. Wartime LTTE mouthpiece, the TNA issued a statement ahead of the 70th Independence Day celebrations. Although TNA leader R. Sampanthan didn’t attend the Galle Face event, he used his statement to call for a new Constitution again.
Sampanthan seems sure of Diaspora efforts. Sri Lanka should never forget that Diaspora role in domestic UK politics can influence decision makers. Thanks to Wiki leaks, the US cable on Miliband playing politics with Sri Lanka issue is in public domain.