Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Glaring omission of US brokered 2010 TNA-SF ‘pact’

‘Sri Lanka: The New Country’



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Veteran Indian journalist Padma Rao Sundarji’s ‘Sri Lanka: The New Country,’ authored during the tail end of war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term, expertly dealt with Sri Lanka’s conflict that was brought to a successful conclusion, in May 2009. Rao, who had been to the northern part of Sri Lanka, at the time the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was in control, as well as during the post-war period, discussed the conflict, certainly without bias. By and large, Rao addressed conflict and post-war issues, fairly, and much more objectively than some Sri Lankan commentators.

Rao hadn’t been reluctant to blame New Delhi for arming, training and assisting the LTTE with its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran receiving the privileged treatment as a state guest of India in the ‘80s. Rao asserted that New Delhi intervened in Sri Lanka because of growing relationship between the US and Sri Lanka against the backdrop of India’s close partnership with the then Soviet Union.

One-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1985-1989), Foreign Secretary (1991-1994) and National Security Advisor (2004-2005) J.N. Dixit, in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha,’ in 2004, over a decade before Rao’s declaration, stated that New Delhi’s strategy in respect of Sri Lanka should be examined taking into consideration the then regional and international environment between 1980-1984. Dixit alleged that the US and Pakistan exploited Tamil terrorism to create, what he called, a politico-strategic pressure point against India. Dixit suffered a fatal heart attack, in January 2005.

It would be pertinent to mention that Rao finalized ‘Sri Lanka: The New Country’ in January, 2015, as Sri Lanka brought Rajapaksa’s reign to an end with substantial outside inputs.

India has been widely accused of facilitating the US-spearheaded project to thwart Rajapaksa securing a third term.

Dixit on Indian intervention

Let me reproduce verbatim Dixit’s comment on Indian intervention during Indira Gandhi’s tenure as the Prime Minister of India: "The two foreign policy decisions on which she could be faulted are: her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Whatever the criticisms about these decisions, it cannot be denied that she took them on the basis of her assessments about India’s national interests. Her logic was that she could not openly alienate the former Soviet Union when India was so dependent on that country for defence supplies and technologies. Similarly, she couldn’t afford the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils. These aspirations were legitimate in the context of nearly fifty years of Sinhalese discrimination against Sri Lankan Tamils."

‘Sri Lanka: The New Country’ was launched in New Delhi, in April 2015, with the distinguished presence of former Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Nirupama Rao (2004-2006) followed by he Colombo launch, in July 2015. The then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera had been among those present at the Colombo event that took place two months before the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, at the behest of the US, co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1 in spite of it being severely inimical to Sri Lanka. The Yahapalana leaders co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1 just over a week after the outgoing Sri Lanka Permanent Representative in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, strongly objected to the wording at an informal discussion there.

Strangely, Sri Lankan politicians and officialdom never bothered to examine Dixit’s work, or that of Rao, an internationally recognized journalist whose contribution could have been efficiently used to counter those propagating lies. Rao is perhaps one of the few fearless scribes at the top in our part of the world to take on the powerful Western media. She had done that much to the appreciation of the vast majority of Sri Lankans. Rao commented on Western media double standards in respect of war and post-conflict reportage.

Rao was the South Asia bureau chief of German news magazine Der Spiegel. She has also worked with ARD German Television Network in New York, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, Geo magazine and Deutsche Presse-Agentur. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and the Herald Tribune. She lives in New Delhi and freelances for German, Swiss and Austrian dailies.

Obviously, Rao, like Lord Naseby, must have been shocked at the way the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe had neglected its responsibility to defend Sri Lanka at the recently concluded 37 Sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The writer felt the urgent need to peruse Rao’s work in the wake of her exclusive with Lord Naseby outside the British parliament last year following the Conservative politician’s dramatic revelations and assertions on the basis of wartime British High Commission dispatches from Colombo. But Naseby’s bombshell, in Oct. 2017, couldn’t move the yahapalana (good governance) administration at the Geneva sessions. Having defended Sri Lanka in the House of Lords, Lord Naseby went to the extent of personally bringing relevant dispatches to the attention of Geneva though Sri Lanka conveniently refrained from at least referring to the latest developments. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative there, Ambassador Aryasinha, and leader of the ministerial delegation Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, were silent on the Naseby issue. Those who had believed President Maithripala Sirisena would intervene on Sri Lanka’s behalf to ensure that UNHRC was appraised of the latest developments were quite disappointed and angry.

The yahapalana government has indicated that it will never, under any circumstances, seek a review of Geneva Resolutions 30/1 or 34/1 though Lord Naseby showed the way. Sri Lanka refrained from taking up the issue for obvious reasons. Instead, the Sri Lankan delegation reiterated commitment to fully implementing the Geneva Resolution 30/1. The state managed media painted a rosy picture though Sri Lanka essentially acknowledged its culpability.

Rao, at the time she had concluded ‘Sri Lanka: The New Country,’ wouldn’t have, under any circumstances, envisaged Colombo accepting responsibility for war crimes it never committed during Eelam war IV. Rao explicitly discussed the entire gamut of issues and key events such as media briefing given by Velupillai Prabhakaran to over 150 journalists in Kilinochchi. Rao recalled how the LTTE applied ‘whites-first’ policy in taking questions from those gathered there resulting in a section of the Indian scribes loudly complaining to British citizen of Sri Lankan origin Anton Balasingham, who was seated next to Prabhakaran. Rao’s work provided readers an opportunity to know the origins of India-sponsored terrorism, the growth of LTTE, conventional military challenge, failed peace efforts, successful war against the LTTE, post-war developments and Maihripala Sirisena’s emergence as Mahinda Rajapaksa’s successor.

A forgotten TNA project

However, Rao has completely missed the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) role in the first US managed project in 2009-2010 to thwart Mahinda Rajapaksa from securing a second presidential term, at the 2010 January polls. In spite of her close watch over Sri Lankan affairs, the Indian, obviously, had been completely in the dark in respect of the abortive operation in 2009-2010 to help war-winning Army Chief, General Sarath Fonseka, beat Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Janatha Vikukthi Peramuna (JVP) as well as the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), too, had been involved in the anti-Rajapaksa project, on both occasions.

In spite of calling Fonseka a ‘war criminal,’ in January 2010, the US Embassy, in Colombo, worked overtime to arrange a coalition to ensure his victory over Rajapaksa at the January 2010 polls. The US played a critically important role in forming the coalition under the ‘swan’ symbol. Thanks to Wiki Leaks, confidential US diplomatic cables that dealt with US efforts to form a political grouping capable of defeating Rajapaksa, is in the public domain. Maithripala Sirisena, too, contested the 2015 presidential poll, under the same symbol. Last year, the leader of the ‘swan’ party, Shalila Munasinghe, was arrested, along with Janaka Nammuni , son of retired Maj. Gen. Jaliya Nammuni, one-time Chief of Staff, SLA, over defrauding USD 2.1 mn from a Taiwanese bank, last Oct. Nammuni held dual British and Sri Lankan citizenship while Munasinghe carried a British passport.

Sri Lanka certainly could have benefited from the exposure of confidential US diplomatic cables, originating from Colombo. Unfortunately, successive administrations never bothered to examine those cables, thereby lost chance to exploit them. The US guaranteed the TNA support to Fonseka. Although, the US-led plan went awry, in January 2010, an almost identical project succeeded in January 2015 to oust President Rajapaksa. It would be pertinent to keep in mind that the then staunch Rajapaksa loyalist Maithripala Sirisena had held the defence portfolio at a crucial stage of the final battle (May 2009 third week) on the Vanni east front where unsubstantiated accusations were made in respect of battlefield executions.

In January 2010, Tamils voted for Fonseka amidst widespread wild allegations that the armed forces had massacred over 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front and substantial number of LTTE cadres too executed. Whatever the TNA leadership said, northern Tamils wouldn’t have voted for Gen. Fonseka if they really resented him and held him accountable for civilian deaths.

Had the Tamil community really felt conquered and overwhelmed by the military presence, in the Northern Province, they wouldn’t have exercised their franchise in support of General Fonseka. All northern and eastern districts overwhelmingly voted for Gen Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena at the 2010 and 2015 presidential polls.

It would be important to keep in mind that UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe led the coalition against Rajapaksa, both at the 2010 and then at the 2015 presidential polls, he didn’t contest. Rao clearly missed that the TNA played a leading role in the 2010 operation to bring Rajapaksa’s reign to an end. Rao’s assertion that twice president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga returned from retirement to prop ‘the new coalition’ behind Maithripala Sirisena, too, is inaccurate. Kumaratunga backed Gen Fonseka’s presidential bid.

None of those whom Rao had spoken to in Colombo, including Wickremesinghe and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran, in the run-up to the January 8, 2015 presidential poll, obviously didn’t tell her about the TNA role in the 2010 project. Even after Rao had pointed out to Sumanthiran, two days before the presidential polls, that the ‘TNA’s astounding support for Sirisena found his party on the same side as Sinhalese nationalist parties JVP and JHU, the TNA spokesman didn’t bother to tell her their role in Gen. Fonseka’s bid. The author could have missed it. That could have happened to any writer but Sri Lankans couldn’t be excused for failing to mention the TNA-SF project. Surprisingly, Rajapaksas’s side, too, remained silent. That is obviously negligence.

Neelakandan’s response

The writer sought an explanation from top lawyer, the late Kandiah Neelakandan, President of the All Ceylon Hindu Congress, during a ceremony in Vavuniya, in the run up to the January 2010 presidential poll, how he felt about Tamils having to choose between Gen Fonseka and President Rajapaksa whose political leadership made Sri Lanka’s victory possible. President Rajapaksa was there to personally release some rehabilitated LTTE cadres, and top ACHC representatives were among those invited to participate at the event. Neelakandan acknowledged the paradox of the situation. Then Minister Milinda Moragoda played a pivotal role in securing the support of the ACHC in a bid to dispel fears among the Tamil community that those who had surrendered and were captured, on the Vanni front, were to be executed.

The TNA has always played down its involvement in Gen. Fonseka’s campaign. Having had accused the Rajapaksa administration of atrocities and deliberate killings, on the Vanni east front, the TNA voted for the General, who conducted the actual war and was called a war criminal by the then US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Patricia Butenis.

Rao’s anecdotal narrative received superb reviews with Vinod Metha, Editorial Chairman, Outlook Group, India asserting, "Padma Rao Sundarji’s superb account of post-conflict Sri Lanka is written with impeccable objectivity. This is, I believe, the first independent attempt to tell the story largely from ‘other’ side...Must read."

Obviously, those Sri Lankans who had been in touch with Rao were determined to keep TNA’s shocking relationship with Gen. Fonseka under wraps. In fact, the writer, on numerous occasions, including on electronic media, underscored the pivotal importance of examining the 2010 electoral agreement against the backdrop of the TNA still pursuing war crimes inquiry. While Sri Lanka meekly again reiterated its commitment to Resolution 30/1 in Geneva, TNA heavyweight Sumanthiran was in the US to secure continued UN, US and Norwegian backing to pressure Sri Lanka. Sumanthiran was accompanied by senior representatives of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) as well as several other Diaspora organizations. Many an eyebrow was raised in June 2016 when Sumanthiran revealed in Washington about having a tripartite agreement involving the US, Sri Lanka and the TNA for the full implementation of the 2015 Geneva Resolution. Sumanthiran went to the extent of declaring that the agreement specifically settled the contentious issue of foreign judges in hybrid war crimes court.

Attorney-at-law Sumanthiran told American ‘Congressional Caucus for Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka’, in Washington, that the government of Sri Lanka, the TNA and the US had been involved in the negotiations leading to the agreement. The declaration was made in the presence of Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington, Prasad Kariyawasam. The Island reported the Washington meet in its June 28, 2016 edition. The story was headlined ‘Constitution no bar to foreign judges in war crimes court - TNA’

In fact, the TNA statement was meant to pressure the government, and to remind the Yahapalana leadership that it wouldn’t give up, or dilute arrangement, over foreign judges.

TNA-Sarath agreement

Sampanthan, on January 6, 2010, in parliament, pledged his support for Fonseka. Sampanthan declared that the decision following consultations with candidates, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Fonseka. The TNA chief asserted that Rajapaksa’s re-election wouldn’t be in the best interests of the country, nor the Tamil community. The TNA made its surprising announcement with the knowledge of the US Embassy, in Colombo, soon after the grouping reached an agreement with Fonseka. Like the tripartite agreement worked out to pave the way for hybrid war crimes court, the US arranged the TNA-Fonseka pact, titled ‘Immediate Relief Measures for War Affected Persons and Areas or Peace’

I. Restoration of Civil Administration and Normalcy

1. Full restoration of all institutions of Civil Administration from the Office of Grama Sevaka upwards – free from Military, Police and Political interference. 2. Committees for each District headed by the respective District Secretary (GA) and comprising: - Nominee of the President -Divisional Secretaries -Other Officials (Representatives of such Officials) -Members of Parliament/Their Representatives -Representatives of Local Authorities -Judicial Officers -Security Forces/Commanders/Officers North/East -DIG — Police /Officers -Civil Society Representatives To prepare Plan of Action for immediate implementation within one month Monthly Reports on progress to be submitted to the President, Cabinet and Parliament. A dedicated Secretariat to be established under the President to monitor progress and ensure implementation. 3. The immediate measures stated herein to be implemented through Presidential Orders, including appointing Presidential Task Forces therefor. 4. Security Forces to be stationed at strategic locations only, taking into consideration national security. High Security Zones to be dismantled in keeping with the COLOMBO 00000017 003.4 OF 005 re-location of the Security Forces. 5. Free movement of all persons to be guaranteed without being impeded by Security and Police personnel. 6. Police to be manned, as far as practicable, by Officers who are conversant in Tamil.

II. Prohibition of ‘para-military cadres’ and armed groups (self-styled ‘War Lords’)

1. All ‘para-military cadres’ and armed groups to be disarmed forthwith. 2. Areas of civilian activity to be free of weapons. 3. Except the Security Forces and Police, only persons with permits under the Firearms Ordinance would be entitled to possess firearms.

III. Re-settlement and rehabilitation of internally displaced persons

1. De-mining of areas to be speedily concluded through De-Mining Units. 2. Displaced persons to be returned to their original homes, and where homes have been destroyed alternative accommodation to be provided, with financial support to establish themselves and develop livelihoods. 3. Social infrastructure requirements, such as provision of essential Foods, Medical Centers, Hospitals, Schools, Transport etc to be provided.

IV. Land and Agriculture

1. Restoration of possession of private land and buildings, now occupied by Security Forces/Police/ Government Agencies, to those lawfully entitled to such land and buildings. 2. Committees referred to in 1.2 above to arrange for such restoration. 3. Committees to submit a Scheme to the Government for payment of compensation for damage caused to buildings. 4. a. Eviction of persons legitimately entitled to State Land from such Lands; b. Other instances of deprivation of legitimate title holders of State Lands; and c. Unlawful occupation of State Lands to be reviewed and the position regularized on lawful and just basis. 5. Indiscriminate alienation of State Lands to be terminated. Allocations thus far made to be reviewed and cancelled, where such allocation -has not been transparent, or -lacked equal opportunity to all concerned, or -lacked proper consultation with the elected Representatives of the areas concerned, or -are unwarranted, or -has been on a corrupt basis. 6. Relief packages for full cultivation of lands. 7. A special law to be enacted to decide on disputes, as to ownership and succession of lands.

V. Fisheries

1. Full restoration of fishing rights. 2. Joint Committees to be set up of Representatives of those engaged in the fishing industry and the Navy to ensure security.

VI. Trade and Commerce

1. All barriers in respect of transport of passengers, goods, agricultural and fisheries produce to be eliminated forthwith. 2. No payments (‘Kappang’) to be levied by anyone. Stringent action to be taken against those who do so.

VII. Transport

1. Trains service to be restored, without delay, within the Jaffna peninsula, i.e. Elephant Pass to Point Pedro. 2. All impediments for shipping and air transport to be removed, with effective facilities which would ensure a reduction of costs and shipping and air transport. 3. Establishment of a new rail line, with private sector participation, from Point Pedro to Trincomalee.

VIII. Special Relief Packages

1. For dependents of all persons who have lost their lives during the war, including military and police personnel, and civilians. 2. For persons disabled as a result of the war.

IX. Persons in Detention

1. Release of all persons in detention, within a period of one month against whom there is no evidence, and on the basis that such detention would not be a stigma or setback for their future. 2. Rehabilitation of those persons, who had been engaged in war activities, on the basis of a general amnesty.

X. [State of Emergency]

As an overall measure affecting all Sri Lankans, the State of Emergency presently in force and the Regulations made thereunder to be terminated, since it affects the liberties and fundamental rights of all People, in accordance with my Pledges.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Geneva debacle: Negligence on the part of war winning govt.



Global Sri Lanka Forum protest in Geneva on March 18. Former navy Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera and Nalaka Godahewa are among those present (pic courtesy GSLF)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meets thrice every year in regular sessions – in Feb.-March, June, and Sept. The ongoing 37th Session of the Council convened on Feb 26 will conclude on March 23. Having considered the implementation of Resolution 30/1 of 1 Oct. 2015 co-sponsored by the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), the Council, at its 34th Session (27 Feb – 24 March 2017) adopted Resolution 34/1 on 23 March 2017. By this Resolution, the Council requested the Office of the High Commissioner to continue to assess progress on implementation of its recommendations and other processes related to reconciliation, accountability and human rights and to present a written update to the Human Rights Council at its 37th Session. Sri Lanka has received two years in terms of the 34/1 to fulfill its obligations. Accordingly, as requested by the Council, the Office of the High Commissioner will present a written update to the Council today (March 21). Sri Lanka will be represented at today’s session by Foreign Affairs Minister Tilak Marapana, PC and Special Assignments Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama. Two National List MPs represent the UNP and the UPFA, respectively. Sri Lanka hasn’t been previously represented there by both political parties in power. Later, President Maithripala Sirisena instructed another National List MP, Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha, PC to join the government delegation to Geneva.

The Geneva project is obviously on track in spite of perennial delays in the implementation of various proposals and subsequent debilitating setbacks caused by humiliating February 10 Local Government polls debacle suffered by the ruling UNP and the SLFP. The situation has been further aggravated by the commencement of judicial proceedings into massive treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016. Disgraced CBSL Governor Singaporean Arjuna Mahendran, his son-in law Arjun Aloysius (owner of Perpetual Treasuries Pvt Ltd) and Kasun Palisena (CEO, PTL) have been named as suspects in Sri Lanka’s biggest financial fraud. The top UNP leadership is struggling to cope up with the Joint Opposition/Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna bid to move a no-confidence motion in parliament against the Premier and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, primarily on the basis of his alleged role in treasury bond scams. The coalition is in turmoil with President Maithripala Sirisena again coming under pressure to commit SLFP parliamentary group to JO/SLPP project.

Wickremesinghe will not easily give up premiership nor the leadership of the beleaguered ruling UNP. Those external and internal elements who had been instrumental in paving the way for a change in Sri Lanka’s leadership in 2015 will certainly do their utmost to sustain the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe marriage of convenience. Although an influential section of the UNP parliamentary group is of the view that far reaching reforms are required, urgently in the wake of the worst ever performance at local government polls by a political party in power, external interests overshadow own political requirements. They thwarted President Maithripala Sirisena bid to replace PM Wickremesinghe in the wake of Feb. 10 debacle. They derailed President Sirisena’s initiative to strengthen his tottering three-year-old administration facing unenviable task of containing war winning twice president Mahinda Rajapaksa now on the offensive. Having bagged vast majority of local government bodies at countrywide polls widely considered a referendum on the performance yahapalana administration, Rajapaksa is now threatening the fragile coalition. With elections to nine Provincial Councils scheduled to take place in 2018 and 2019, in addition to presidential and parliamentary polls before end of 2020, the current dispensation will be under tremendous Western pressure to keep the Geneva process on track regardless of domestic political consequences. Geneva project is meant to replace the existing Constitution on the premise Sri Lanka had committed war crimes. The Joint Opposition remains in the constitutional making process

War winning government’s failures

The previous government’s failure to address accountability issues certainly facilitated high profile Western powers’ project to bring in anti-Sri Lanka resolution after having changed the country’s leadership in 2015. The former President has earned the wrath of the Indians for being close to Beijing with no less a person than one-time New Delhi’s High Commissioner in Colombo, Foreign Secretary and then National Security Advisor Shiv Shanker Menon accusing the Sri Lankan leader of receiving Chinese funding for his political project. Menon directed some shocking allegations at Mahinda Rajapaksa and in no uncertain terms expressed New Delhi’s displeasure at the way the then President had handled their security concerns vis-a-vis China.

Those who had blamed the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government for not exploiting Lord Naseby’s disclosures for Sri Lanka’s benefit in Geneva, never found fault with the previous government for serious shortcomings in its Geneva strategy. For some strange reason, the Rajapaksa administration conveniently failed to take up critical disclosures, in spite of them being in the public domain at Geneva sessions. The previous government refrained from making reference to critically important statements/documents and significant developments much to the disappointment of the armed forces. In fact, the previous government treacherously neglected its duty though it had material as important as Naseby papers (wartime British dispatches from its High Commission in Colombo to London) to disapprove allegations. The Rajapaksa administration’s pathetic failure allowed Western powers to form UNP led coalitions in 2010 and 2015 presidential polls. On both occasions, Rajapaksa’s opponents were described as common candidates. They contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket under swan symbol. The UNP led coalition received the backing of the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on both occasions. Having accused the Army of massacring civilians on the Vanni east front, the TNA had no qualms in urging the Tamil electorate in 2010 to vote for the war winning Army Commander. The Tamil electorate responded enthusiastically to the TNA’s plea. Five years later, the Tamil electorate answered in a similar fashion when the TNA threw its weight behind Maithripala Sirisena, who held the defence portfolio during the week the Army wiped out LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his diehard cadres and family on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

Had General Fonseka succeeded in 2010, the UNP would have certainly implemented a strategy similar to the one launched after 2015 presidential poll. Fonseka, in his capacity as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces would have replaced the then Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake with Wickremesinghe and pave the way for parliamentary polls. Had Fonseka won, the UNP could have had easily secured simple majority in parliament at the following polls. But, 2010 project went awry due to Fonseka’s defeat. Unfortunately, the Rajapaksa administration didn’t care to address accountability issues until it was too late. Its failure ensured the UNP led coalition that came into being in 2010 remained in tact for 2015 presidential polls. Western powers and their yes men here pursued a political strategy and deceived the electorate that the previous political and military leaderships deliberately committed war crimes. Therefore, to appease the Tamil community a new Constitution that went beyond 13th Amendment should be granted with the intervention of Geneva. The Geneva process is pursued vigorously on the assumption war crimes took place.

GSLF efforts

Global Sri Lanka Forum (GSLF) as well as other patriotic organizations should be profusely commended for highlighting Sri Lanka’s predicament and how a member state of the UN is unfairly treated. In the absence of government initiative, the GSLF plays a critically important role though it cannot reverse the Geneva process or least delay it unless the incumbent government acted on available information. The previous government certainly owed an explanation to the country as to why it didn’t counter propaganda. Sri Lanka lacked courage at least to mention in Geneva how current UN human rights council member India through covert and overt means destabilized its neighbour. Instead of taking responsibility for its murderous and monstrous 80s foreign policy that destroyed s smaller neighbour, India ended up being part of Western project meant to change post-war Sri Lanka’s direction. Sri Lanka lacked sense at least to point out that difference in UN approach to accountability issues here and Sierra Leone. A UN-backed court convicted ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor in May 2012 of war crimes over his support for terrorists who committed atrocities in Sierra Leone in the 90s. Taylor has been sentenced to 50 years in prison and is held in the UK. Sri Lanka lacked courage to raise internationally culpability of India over atrocities committed in Sri Lanka.

Main allegations

(A) The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) ordered UN/INGOs to vacate

Kilinochchi in September, 2008 to conduct ‘a war without witnesses’.

(B) Vanni population denied medicine, food and other basic needs.

(C) Coordinated mortar/artillery/MBRL (multi barrel rocket launchers) attacks on civilian population. Channel 4 News alleged the then Secretary Defence and the then Army Commander executed the operation.

(D) Massacre of over 40,000 civilians.

(E) Rape of combatants/civilians. Subsequently, the military was accused of abusing men.

(F) The use of cluster bombs (The Sirisena-Wckremesinghe government recently denied this charge)

Primary evidence

Geneva was moved on the basis of about 4,000 submissions received by

three-member Darusman Panel. About 2,300 persons furnished information to the panel. But UN directed that these accusations cannot be

verified until 2031. Even then, verification has to be approved by the UN.

Glaring omissions

President Rajapaksa’s government ignored two critical events. (A) In June, 2011 (over two years after the successful conclusion of the war) the then Colombo based US Defence Attache Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith defended Sri Lanka at a seminar organized by the Army. The seminar dealt with ‘Defeating Terrorism: The Sri Lanka Experience.’ In response to a question regarding the alleged move by some LTTE cadres to surrender during the last few days of the war, the US official denied that possibility, thereby effectively contradicting those propagating massacre of surrendering persons. The US official was responding to a query posed by retired Indian Maj. General Ashok Metha. (Metha served in Sri Lanka during the deployment of the Indian Army in the late 80s in accordance with the Indo-Lanka accord). The Island exclusive on the US official’s reaction was ignored by the GoSL.

This is what Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith had to say.: "Hello, may I say something to a couple of questions raised. I’ve been the defense attache here at the US Embassy since June 2008. Regarding the various versions of events that came out in the final hours and days of the conflict-from what I was privileged to hear and to see, the offers to surrender that I am aware of seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE – Nadesan, KP – people who weren’t and never had really demonstrated any control over the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE.

So their offers were a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content hour by hour, day by day. I think we need to examine the credibility of those offers before we leap to conclusions that such offers were in fact real.

And I think the same is true for the version of events. It’s not so uncommon in combat operations, in the fog of war, as we all get our reports second, third and fourth hand from various commanders at various levels that the stories don’t seem to all quite match up.

But I can say that the version presented here so far in this is what I heard as I was here during that time. And I think I better leave it at that before I get into trouble."

The Rajapaksa administration refrained from at least referring to the US statement in Geneva. The government for some strange reason ignored the INCREDIBLE statement made over two years after the LTTE’s defeat. As the senior Colombo-based US military officer, he would have had certainly had access to all relevant information.

The Rajapaksa government owed an explanation to the public why Sri Lanka’s Geneva defence wasn’t built on the US statement. His failure can be compared with Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration’s failure to utilize Naseby’s disclosure.

The US State Department asserted that the US military official hadn’t been at the Defence Seminar on an official capacity. The government remained silent. The State Department NEVER contradicted Smith statement. Instead it disputed the military official’s right to make that statement.

Close on the heels of US military official’s defence of Sri Lankan military, the then national cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara delivered an exceptional speech in his 2011MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture in which he paid glowing tribute to armed forces with the focus on immense sacrifices they made in the fight against terrorism. The then government simply ignored Sangakkara’s statement.

(B) The Rajapaksa government failed to take advantage of leaked US diplomatic cables (Wiki leaks) in spite of them being crucial for Sri Lanka’s defense. One leaked cable dealt with a discussion Geneva-based US Ambassador Clint Williamson had with ICRC Head of Operations for South Asia Jacques de Maio. The US envoy declared on July 15, 2009, that the Army actually could have won the battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths.

The Army lost nearly 2,500 officers and men during January-May 19, 2009. Thousands suffered injuries. The government never examined leaked US diplomatic cables until it was too late. The Paranagama Commission, in its Second Mandate perused Wiki leaks. The Paranagama Commission pointed out that Wiki Leaks were admissible in court in accordance with a ruling given in the UK.

Other developments advantageous to GoSL

(A) Deployment of Indian medical team at Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee to receive the wounded transferred from Puthumathalan under ICRC supervision. The Indian team remained there until the conclusion of the war. The Indian team received several thousand wounded civilians during February-May, 2009 via sea. The government commenced transferring war wounded by sea soon after fighting blocked overland routes to and from Vanni east. Both ICRC and India can furnish details regarding evacuations by the sea. Don’t forget the vessels deployed to evacuate the wounded transported several thousands of essential supplies to Puthumathalan. Foreign relief workers were also allowed to go ashore.

Allegations in respect of Vanni population denied medicine, food and other basic needs should be probed against the backdrop of supplies made available to Puthumathalan until the second week of May, 2009. The war ended in the following week.

Contradictory claims in respect of 40,000 civilians killed

The GoSL never sought an explanation from Geneva in respect of the number of civilians perished during the eelam war IV. Those who had been strongly opposed to foreign intervention, too, failed to take it up.

* British Labor Party MP Siobhan McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden-Labour) told House of Commons in September, 2011 that 60,000 LTTE cadres and 40,000 Tamils perished during January-May 2009. The MP made the only specific reference to the number of LTTE cadres killed during a certain period. The politician ignored the writer’s emails seeking a clarification regarding her sources. The British HC in Colombo declined to comment on the MP’s claim.

* Special Amnesty International report titled When will they get justice: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission also released in September 2011 estimated the number of civilian deaths at 10,000.

* A confidential UN report placed the number of the dead and wounded, including LTTE combatants at 7,721 and 18,479, respectively. The report dealt with the situation in the Vanni from August 2008 to May 13, 2009. The War ended a week after the UN stopped collecting data due to intensity of fighting. The vast majority of the wounded civilians were evacuated by the ICRC.The Indian medical team tasked with receiving them should be able to explain specific measures taken by India to assist the war wounded.

The UN is yet to release the report though it was made available to Darusman. Will it be placed before the proposed judicial inquiry? It would be pertinent to mention that the UN report had been based on information provided by those who were trapped in the war zone and even today further verification can be made as the identities of those who had provided information are known to the UN. Darusman refused to accept the report as it contradicted his own claims.

US Defence Advisor confirms Norwegian assessment

Wartime Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo Tore Hattrem on February 16, 2009 asserted that the LTTE was unlikely to release civilians held on the Vanni east front. The following is the text of the Norwegian’s missive addressed to the then presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa: "I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE to release the civilian population now trapped in the LTTE controlled area has been transmitted to the LTTE through several channels. So far there has regrettably been no response from the LTTE and it does not seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree to this in the near future."

The US Defence attache in June 2011 (over two years after the war) confirmed there had never been an agreement or an understanding regarding organized surrender between the government and the LTTE through the intervention of the UN or Western governments. The government never sought to use available information on the Geneva front

UN role in LTTE human shields

The UN remained silent and engaged in secret negotiations with the LTTE even after the group detained Tamil UN workers for helping Tamils to leave Vanni west in early 2007. The LTTE made its move in the wake of the government opening up a new front in the Vanni (west of Kandy-Jaffna A9 road).

Co-Chairs to Sri Lanka Peace Process knew what was happening. They, too, remained silent. The UN mission in Colombo kept UN headquarters in the dark. The UN Colombo never contradicted exclusive The Island reports in this regard. Other print and electronic media ignored the issue. However, UN New York confirmed The Island reports.

Had the UN, Western powers, the TNA and foreign funded civil society organizations intervened on behalf of the Vanni population in early 2007, they wouldn’t have ended up as human shields on the Vanni east front.

Response to UN accusation that Vanni population denied food and medicine

The minutes of Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA) meetings can prove UN and Western governments never complained about food and medicine shortage. The then President Rajapaksa set up CCHA in Oct 2006 to ensure essential supplies to the Northern Province.

India’s accountability

Sri Lanka never referred to the origins of terrorism at Geneva or any other international forum. In January 2004, one-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo J.N. Dixit faulted former Indian PM Indira Gandhi for intervening in Sri Lanka. The previous government never exploited Dixit’s statement.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Stability achieved in yahapalana style



by Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration, struggling for its survival in the wake of a humiliating drubbing the three-year-old coalition had suffered at the Feb. 10 local government polls, received a much needed respite, thanks to the massive ethnic violence, in the Kandy district.

President Maithripala Sirisena has promised to establish a presidential commission to inquire into the circumstances leading to the violence that couldn’t be contained until the Army moved in. The proposed commission will also examine various other aspects, particularly the failure on the part of law enforcement authorities to thwart organized attacks on Muslims.

The Kandy mayhem swiftly diverted public attention while Western powers reiterated their commitment to the fragile UNP-led government struggling to cope up with the crisis caused by the polls debacle. Influential civil society groups, one-time LTTE mouthpiece, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), as well as the UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) insisted that the government stayed with the Geneva process or face consequences.

Parliament enacted the much opposed Enforced Disappearances Bill on March 8 amidst the Kandy mayhem. The Bill received 53 votes in favour while 16 voted against. Two-thirds of the 225-member parliament conveniently missed the vote. The passage of the Bill took place close on the heels of the setting up of the Office of the Missing Persons (OMP) in accordance with the ongoing Geneva process. In spite of the delay, the Geneva project seems to be on track.

The OMP is one of Sri Lanka’s four big transitional justice mechanisms – the others being an office to handle reparations, a truth commission and a judicial mechanism to address allegations of wartime abuses.

Sri Lanka, last March, received an additional two years to bring the project to a successful conclusion.

The government’s poor electoral performance dominated both print and electronic media with a section of the UNP demanding an immediate leadership change in the aftermath of the debilitating polls setback. An attempt was also made to explore the possibility of moving a no-faith motion against beleaguered Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe after the UNPer turned down President Maithripala Sirisena’s demand to quit the premiership. Intra-party trouble persisted regardless of a foolish attempt to deceive both public and party alike by changing some cabinet portfolios.

Interestingly, Digana erupted on March 5, over a week after Premier Wickremesinghe succeeded Sagala Ratnayake as the Law and Order Minister in a cabinet ‘reshuffle’ that State Minister of Foreign Affairs Wasantha Senanayake called a farce. Wickremesinghe gave up the Law and Order portfolio on March 8. He received it on Feb 25.

There had been a number of major incidents during the period Wickremesinghe held the portfolio. Tambuttegama erupted on Feb 28 over a violent protest against a move to introduce new drinking water distribution scheme at the expense of the people living in the area. Tambuttegama violence was followed by an eruption in Ampara, on Feb 26, as a result of false allegations pertaining to crushed birth control pills being mixed with food. But the Kandy violence was the worst.

The Kandy crisis diverted media attention. For over a week, the media largely ignored the crisis in the UNP, their failure to locate disgraced Central Bank Governor Singaporean Arjuna Mahendran wanted in connection with his role in the treasury bond scams that had been perpetrated by Arjun Aloysius, the owner of Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) and its CEO Kasun Palisena, in 2015 and 2016. Mahendran last week spurned a second opportunity given by Fort Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne to surrender to the Criminal Investigation Department(CID).

The Geneva issue, too, hadn’t received the required media attention in spite of a treacherous government decision not to take up British wartime dispatches from its High Commission here to London, though Lord Naseby made representations on behalf of Sri Lanka. Those dispatches clearly show that the UN and other interested parties had levelled highly exaggerated war crimes charges against Sri Lanka pertaining to civilian casualties during the final phase of the war here to defeat the world’s deadliest terrorist organisation.

At one point, the Kandy crisis threatened to engulf the entire country, though it brought immense relief to those who had been severely weakened by former war winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa gaining ground at the recently concluded polls. Although, the government received relief, the yahapalana partners, much to the disappointment of their foreign sponsors, couldn’t reach consensus on Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s political future.

Defeated presidential candidate Fonseka has declared, in no uncertain terms, his keen interest in the Law and Order portfolio.

The relationship between the SLFP and the UNP further deteriorated due to the latter not being able to convince President Maithripala Sirisena to appoint Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka as Law and Order Minister. The new crisis certainly gave President Sirisena an opportunity to consolidate the SLFP’s position vis-a-vis the UNP, at the expense of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Amidst the turmoil in Kandy, the UNP desperately tried to secure President Sirisena’s consent for Fonseka’s appointment, repeatedly asserting there couldn’t be a better choice than former war-winning Army Chief Fonseka, who, subsequently, declared that had he been in charge, he wouldn’t have allowed the Kandy crisis. But, finally Moneragala District MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara received Law and Order portfolio, much to the disappointment and anger of Fonseka, who condemned President Sirisena’s decision.

Imagine war hero Fonseka who had been the common candidate at the 2010 presidential election had been denied the Law and Order Ministry.

Having suffered a debilitating setback, as bad as the one suffered by the UNP, at local government polls, the SLFP worked overtime to overcome its own crisis at the expense of Wickremesinghe. Amidst political turmoil, the UNP leader undertook an investment promotion visit to Singapore

A Rajapaksa folly

National Freedom Front (FF) spokesman Mohammed Muzammil, who hails from Digana, last week explained to the writer how local police had turned a blind eye to threatening developments in the wake of 41-year-old H.A. Kumarasinghe, succumbing on March 3, to injuries caused by four Muslim men on Feb 22. Muzammil asserted that the situation could have been easily averted had law enforcement authorities called in military reinforcements to Digana, ahead of Kumarasinghe’s funeral.

It would be pertinent to examine the circumstances leading to the organized violence, directed at Aluthgama residents in, June 2014.

The then IGP N. K. Illangakoon received a timely warning on a planned Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) protest at Aluthgama, on the morning of June 15, 2014. The warning was given by National Unity Alliance (NUA) leader, M. Azath S. Salley, a strong critic of the then administration. Salley sent a letter, warning of BBS plans to go on the rampage, to the IGP, with a copy to senior DIG, in charge of the Western Province, Anura Senanayake.

The police had ample time to thwart the BBS protest. Police could have swiftly called in the elite Special Task Force (STF) as well as the Army. In spite of having the wherewithal to disperse the BBS, the then government allowed the situation to get out of hand. The local police turned a blind eye, believing the BBS had the backing of the then government.

The then Colombo Mayor, A.J.M. Muzammil, reacted angrily to the UPFA’s failure to rein in the BBS. Muzammil alleged the UPFA had caused irreparable damage to its relationship with the Muslim community. The Rajapaksa government would have to face the consequences, the veteran politician thundered, alleging that the BBS was pursuing an agenda extremely hostile to the UPFA, though it pretended otherwise. The Colombo Mayor alleged that the BBS had been specifically created to cause the downfall of the Rajapaksa administration.

The writer received a copy of Salley’s letter to Illangakoon. Then UNP Central Provincial Councillor, Salley, emphasized that the Alutgama mayhem could have been easily thwarted had Police Headquarters promptly responded to his request.

The then government allowed the BBS to storm the Trade and Commerce Ministry, in late April 2013.

The BBS was looking for Ven. Watareka Vijitha alleged to be close associate of the Trade and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen who developed a special relationship with a section of the Buddhist clergy to counter the threat posed by the BBS. Bathiudeen played an extremely dangerous game, though he realized the very existence of his relationship with the SLFP was at stake.

Salley asserted that the Alutgama violence could have been prevented if the police had heeded his plea to prevent a gathering of extremists at Alutgama. Unfortunately, the police, obviously acting at the behest of the government, allowed the gathering, leading to unprovoked attacks on the Muslim community. Responding to a query, Salley said that having urged Senior DIG Anura Senanayake to prevent the gathering, the situation was also brought to the notice of IGP N. K. Illangakoon. Asked whether he identified those planning to gather in Alutgama, Salley released a copy of his letter, addressed to the IGP, in which he accused the BBS, as well as Sihala Ravaya, of planning to go on the rampage. Salley warned the IGP that the gathering in Alutgama was nothing but a planned attempt to cause mayhem.

The previous government never bothered to find out the circumstances leading to the Aluthgama violence. Today, the Joint Opposition/Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna have conveniently forgotten the then government’s failure at Alutgama.

Yahapalana debacle through the eyes of LSSP

Obviously, the yahapalana arrangement could have certainly collapsed if not for the swift intervention by a section of the international community. The civil society groupings, too, played a significant role in saving the yahapalana arrangement. Efforts to save the government received unexpected assistance by way of the Kandy turmoil that diverted public attention. But, it would be pertinent to mention that the government hadn’t addressed contentious issues. Yahapalana partner Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP/United Left Front) in the wake of Feb. 10 polls debacle reprimanded President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe. In fact, the LSSP statement issued by its General Secretary Lal Wijenayake at a media briefing chaired by MP Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne flayed the President and PM for the defeat. The statement very clearly asserted that the yahapalana leaders were responsible for the present pathetic situation. In fact, the LSSP statement is the toughest issued by a coalition member in the wake of their defeat. The LSSP alleged that President Sirisena interfered in high profile cases involving monks, military officials and public servants while PM Wickremesinghe shielded the Rajapaksas. The LSSP pointed out that the yahapalana administration suffered the polls setback in spite of some significant constitutional reforms, including the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and the Right to Information Act. But, unfortunately, the Sirisena-Wickrenesinghe duo subsequently had pursued a personal agenda in addition to following the strategies of their respective political parties. In a bid to facilitate their personal strategies they had reached deals with those corrupt elements at the expense of yahapalana principles. The LSSP asserted that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe leadership failed to bring those defeated criminals and corrupt elements before court of law thereby contributed to the current unfavourable situation. The LSSP faulted the government for its failure to restore law and order as expected and desired by the public.

Obviously, the LSSP has cleared former Law and Order minister Sagala Ratnayake of any wrongdoing on his part. Those who had repeatedly accused Sagala Ratnayake and the Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya of continuous interference in police investigations and wrong decisions, respectively, should re-examine the original accusations. President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe had never responded to LSSP allegations in respect of the law and order situation and judiciary. Therefore, the decision to replace Sagala Ratnayake is questionable and misleading. Can anyone imagine Ranjith Madduma Bandara managing law and order against the backdrop of Premier Wickremesinghe’s deplorable failure, in his capacity as law and order minister to curb the Kandy violence. Battle hardened Fonseka would certainly have been a better choice and capable of meeting any eventuality. There cannot be any justification in depriving Fonseka of the Law and Order portfolio.

The LSSP also found fault with President Sirisena for being always critical of economic policies proposed by Wickremesinghe. Asserting that President Sirisena’s response to UNP economic policies, too, contributed to the current crisis and some presidential criticisms weren’t acceptable. The LSSP explained how the Joint Opposition/Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna exploited President Sirisena’s statements in the absence of a government common economic strategy. The LSSP termed the failure on the part of the government to reach agreement on economic policy the second major reason for yahapalana defeat at the local polls.

The LSSP asserted that the treasury bond scams that had been perpetrated in 2015 and 2016 were the third reason for the yahapalana debacle. Pointing out that the treasury bond scam crisis erupted in the run up to the 2015 August parliamentary polls, the LSSP accused Wickremesinghe of shielding Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran, a Singaporean of Sri Lankan origin alleged to have carried out the scam. Mahendran continues to evade the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in spite of a directive issued by Fort Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne. The LSSP alleged that massive treasury bond scams had diverted public attention from corruption charges directed at the Rajapaksas and their associates. The LSSP also faulted President Sirisena for exploiting treasury bond scams for his/SLFP advantage at the Feb 10 local government polls at the expense of the UNP. The battle between the President and the Prime Minister caused immense damage to the coalition and boosted the Joint Opposition, the LSSP alleged that ill-fated strategies adopted by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo allowed the Rajapaksas-led extremists to make electoral gains. The LSSP, however, asserted that the gains made by the Rajapaksas hadn’t undermined the collective 2015 January 8 mandate. Dr. Wickremaratne’s group expressed confidence that the electorate had declared that it wasn’t ready to bring the Rajapaksas back to power though a red light was shown to the yahapalana leaders. The group called for a united effort to consolidate the yahapalana administration and tangible effort to defeat those threatening the 2015 mandate.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Govt. continues to ignore UK wartime dispatches



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Nearly a decade after the successful conclusion of the war, Sri Lanka is still struggling to achieve national reconciliation.

The previous Rajapaksa administration brought the violent conflict to an end on the morning of May 19, 2009 on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon,o n the Vanni east front, by militarily crushing the ‘world’s most ruthless terrorist organisation’.

In spite of rhetoric, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has pathetically failed to accomplish a genuine rapprochement. Instead, the yahapalana leadership has allowed further deterioration of the situation by deliberately suppressing a comprehensive dialogue on wartime British High Commission dispatches that surely cleared, both previous political and military leaderships, of war crimes, as alleged by a section of the international community. In addition to British dispatches, Sri Lanka could have utilized specific US declaration at the first defence, seminar organized in June 2011, and also Wiki leaks, to deny unverified allegations thereby encourage post-war national reconciliation.

The British had certainly, but unintentionally, dealt a devastating blow to a brazen project to humiliate the country on unproven crimes allegations.

Yahapalana leaders, since coming to power in January 2015, pursued an agenda severely inimical to Sri Lanka. Their despicable strategy was meant to address post-war issues in terms of the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by the GoSL on Oct 1, 2015. Yahapalana cabinet spokesman and Health Minister, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, last Wednesday (Feb. 28) fiercely argued with the writer that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government didn’t co-sponsor the Oct 1, 2015 resolution during the post-cabinet media briefing.

In its haste to appease Western powers and onetime LTTE mouthpiece, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that had helped Maithripala Sirisena to secure presidency, the government depicted the Geneva prescribed new Constitution as the panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government had no option but to ignore British dispatches as they strongly disputed the very basis of the Geneva Resolution. In other words, had the government utilized official British data, presented by Lord Naseby, in the House of Lords on Oct 12, 2017, Sri Lanka could have sought re-examination of the Geneva Resolution. No less a person than UNSG’s Deputy Spokesman Frahan Aziz Haq said so when the writer sought an explanation as to how Sri Lanka could use Naseby’s revelations. Haq told the writer that decisions regarding actions taken by the UNHRC were solely in the hands of the members of the Human Rights Council. Haq said that member states could decide whether to revisit Sri Lanka’s case (Naseby revelations: UNSG Spokesman: Decision to revisit resolution in the hands of UNHURT members-The Island, Dec 1, 2017).

Lord Naseby requested Geneva to review the Sri Lanka case while a shameless yahapalana leadership ignored the opportunity for petty political reasons.

A deeply rattled British High Commission in Colombo, in response to The Island query dismissed Naseby’s statement (Naseby’s call doesn’t reflect UK’s stand-HC - The Island, Dec 6, 2017).

Those who had been shaken by a massive drubbing suffered by the UNP and SLFP, at the Feb.10 local government polls, and wanting to examine ways and means of enhancing their image should at least now re-think their Geneva strategy. They cannot continue to ignore fresh review of accountability issues, especially in view of scheduled elections to nine Provincial Councils followed by presidential and parliamentary polls. The presidential polls are less than two years away, after the Supreme Court ruled that President Sirisena cannot continue beyond five years.

Sri Lanka will have to take a clear stand in Geneva during the ongoing sessions. The sessions commenced on Feb. 26. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government will have to face political consequences soon depending on its Geneva strategy. Decisive decision on a future course of action cannot be put off, against the backdrop of the recent LG polls debacle.

The Marxist JVP, too, should accept responsibility for remaining mum on this vital issue. Anura Kumara Dissanayake, in spite of being the Chief Opposition Whip, never pushed the government on the Geneva issue in the wake of Naseby’s revelations. In fact, all political parties, that backed Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena, respectively, at 2010 and 2015 presidential polls, conveniently refrained a from seeking fresh examination of the Geneva Resolution as they felt the outcome could be advantageous to the previous administration. The coalition that had been in existence, since late Dec 2009, comprised the UNP, the JVP, the TNA, the SLMC and few other minor and minority parties. The vast majority of the Sinhala electorate will surely react angrily to their combined failure to exploit an opportunity to counter lies propagated on behalf of the Eelam lobby by the so called international community, made up of mainly powerful Western countries.

A deeply flawed yahapalana policy

Those who had been spearheading the post-war reconciliation process, under the current administration never paid attention to available information that could be effectively used to convince the Tamil speaking people that the government offensive was never meant to annihilate the civilian population. Naseby’s declarations and assertions in the House of Lords as well as other forums, subsequently, could have had helped Sri Lanka to set the record straight. Unfortunately, the yahapalalana government lacked the courage and vision to use undoubtedly the most important data that had been made available, courtesy the British government, nine years after the conclusion of the war, to convince the Tamil speaking people.

Had the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government acted responsibly and made representations to the international community, it could have taken the first step in the right direction to clear Sri Lanka’s image.

When the writer inquired from co-cabinet spokesman and Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera whether Naseby’s revelations had been discussed at the cabinet, Jayasekera asserted that there were far more important issues than that. It would be pertinent to mention how Jayasekera reacted angrily when the matter was raised by The Island at the weekly cabinet briefing over a month after Lord Naseby’s explosive statement (Cabinet spokesman provoked by query on govt. response to Naseby move - The Island, Nov 15, 2017).

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government tried its best to downplay the importance of Naseby’s defence. Instead of exploring ways and means to push for reappraisal of the Geneva Resolution 30/1, the government made a desperate bid to divert attention. The Foreign Ministry’s despicable initial response to Naseby’s defence of Sri Lanka shook the conscience of the vast majority of people. Even those who had been wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before a hybrid court in terms of the Geneva Resolution 30/1 were certainly surprised by the servile manner the current political leadership refused to defend its own. A deeply embarrassed Foreign Ministry issued a second statement to clarify its first that exposed the unashamed mindset of officialdom hell-bent on appeasing foreign powers.

When The Island inquired from the leader of the Sri Lankan delegation to Universal Periodic Review (UPR), in Nov. 2017, Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs Dr. Harsha de Silva, whether Naseby’s revelations would be raised by Sri Lanka, the economist asserted that the House of Lords statement wasn’t directly connected to the matter at issue (House of Lords statement not directly relevant to UPR-Dr. De Silva-The Island, Nov 14, 2017)

Failure of new ministry

Against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s continuing failure to ascertain the truth, the role of the National Integration and Reconciliation Ministry should be examined. No less a person than President Sirisena heads the ministry with veteran politician A. H. M. Fowzie functioning as the State Minister. Ministry Secretary V. Sivagnanasothy has explained to the media how foreign students were here to study Sri Lanka’s integration and reconciliation programme. Among them were a group of 20 Virginia University MBA students headed by Professor Marc Modica who participated in a knowledge sharing exercise.

The foreign group studied the innovative interventions such as integration friendly schools programme, ‘peace journalism’ and integration friendly media programme, District Reconciliation Committees with inter-religious leaders to address ethnic and religious tensions, National Integration Week, Reconciliation Declaration, 7 core virtues on reconciliation and reconciliation focused economic empowerment programme, initiated by the Government of Sri Lanka.

But, unfortunately, the ministry hasn’t paid attention to the fact that the very basis of the primary allegations directed at Sri Lanka needed to be re-examined and Geneva Resolution 30/1 amended in view of the Naseby revelations. In fact, President Sirisena’s ministry has missed a golden opportunity to promote national reconciliation by effectively using Naseby’s assertions, based on the British High Commission’s wartime dispatches, to disprove deliberate propaganda against us. Sri Lanka should have had asked the UK, a key member of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), to help convince Tamil speaking people that the Sri Lankan military didn’t massacre over 40,000 civilians. Had the British been so keen to assist post war national reconciliation process here, they would have surely helped establish the truth. Instead, the British worked overtime to deprive Sri Lankans of the battlefield truth. Thanks to Lord Naseby, the British had been badly exposed. National Integration and Reconciliation Ministry could have played a pivotal role in restoring genuine peace, following nearly 30 years of war. The ministry engaged in futile exercises to promote reconciliation while turning a blind eye to trustworthy information that could have been used to deny unsubstantiated allegations. The government cannot ignore the need to challenge the Geneva Resolution, based on unproven accusations accepted and presented by Western powers. Theirs had been an effort meant to change the previous Rajapaksa administration due to its close relationship with Beijing in addition to domestic political reasons. Western powers and India felt that the Colombo-Beijing relationship posed a regional threat to them.

The recent British demand that Sri Lanka’s defence attache in the UK be recalled immediately following the officer’s controversial throat-slitting gesture indicated the hardened British stand vis a vis Sri Lanka.

However, ongoing countrywide survey undertaken by the National Integration and Reconciliation Ministry to ascertain the number of war dead, both civilians and combatants as well as the circumstances under which alleged disappearances took place et al should be appreciated.

ONUR project

In support of post-war reconciliation efforts, yahapalana grandees launched a film project soon after the change of government in January 2015. Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), headed by twice-president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, funded the project carried out by Asoka Handagama, Vimukthi Jayasundara and Prasanna Vithanage, the directors of the omnibus film ‘Thundenek’, under the English title ‘Her. Him. The Other’

The film produced by ONUR premiered at the Regal cinema on February 27. Thundenek comprised three short movies that addressed post-war issues.

On the invitation of Kumaratunga, President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe joined the event at the cinema where the former President launched ‘National Policy on Reconciliation and Coexistence Sri Lanka’

The Island features editor, Sajitha Prematunge, dealt with the movie consisted of three short films in an article headlined ‘ONUR never dictated terms’ with strap line Handagama, Vithanage and Jayasundara on making of ‘Thundenek’ the March 2, 2018 edition of The Island, also accessible online. Therein, the directors maintained, quite rightly the movie does not advance personal political agenda, though being funded by Kumaratunga’s ONUR.

The writer had an opportunity to join the audience that included civil society activists, Colombo-based diplomats, embassy local staff et al at the screening. ‘Her’ directed by Prasanna Vithanage based on actual events, as claimed, dealt with an LTTE media unit man (videographer Kesa) who wanted to locate the wife of a Sinhala soldier killed on the Vanni front in 2008., Kesa, succeeded in locating the woman married to another man living in the north central province in 2010, a year after the successful conclusion of the war. Interestingly, Kesa, figured in recruitment of child soldiers at the last phase of the war on the Vanni front in Asoka Handagama’s ‘The Other’. ‘Her’ reminded the LTTE’s despicable tactics. The LTTE used a telephone number written on the other side of a photograph found in the wallet of the soldier killed on the Vanni front to contact his wife. Although, ‘Her’ depicted a story about a man, who had been involved in the conflict coming to terms with his own conscience, the reality is different.

Vimukthi Jayasundara’s ‘Him’ dealt with reincarnation of an LTTE terrorist into a Sinhala family and how subsequent media exposure of the rebirth as a result of a foolish intervention by a school principal compelled the latter to flee their coastal village.

‘The Other’ by Asoka Handagama discussed the sufferings of a woman who had lost both her husband and her only son during the war, with the latter portrayed as a young warrior ready to sacrifice his life for their cause to bring the war to a successful conclusion. Having had reached Colombo with a young war widow to participate in a post-war protest demanding to know the whereabouts of her missing son, the lady follows a young man whom she wrongly recognized as her son. Later, the young amputee turned out to be a Sinhala soldier now attached to the army hospital after being wounded in the battle against the LTTE. ‘The Other’ underscored the State’s roughshod response to those wanting closure in the wake of the end of war.

The writer felt the film makers had certainly tried to address post-war issues in an impartial way though those who had lost loved ones cannot simply feign ignorance of the actual ground situation.

Beyond ONUR initiative

Mrs. Kumaratunga, one-time Commander-in-Chief, was once called Mother of all battles. Kumaratunga earned the wrath of the LTTE and those who believed in its war after she fought back after the LTTE resumed hostilities in April 1995. She has been accused of committing atrocities. Rev. Father Emmanuel, President of the UK based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), had called her mother of all battles in the wake of the Eelam War III (April 1995 to Dec 2001). Since the change of government, Kumaratunga, on a number of occasions, declared that by the time she handed over presidency to Mahinda Rajapaksa in Nov 2005, the LTTE controlled maximum 30 per cent of the Vanni territory. Obviously, she was lying or simply didn’t have a real sense of the actual ground situation. But Kumaratunga deserve praise for bringing the entire Jaffna peninsula under government control though the military couldn’t sustain the offensive due to strategic miscalculations and unpreparedness.

Had the Army failed on the Vanni front during Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency (2005 Nov-January 2014), there wouldn’t have been space for much touted projects to promote national reconciliation. The ‘Thundenek’ would never have been made. An influential section of the Tamil community would have remained in perpetual belief the war could be brought to a negotiated settlement in terms advantageous to the LTTE. None of those demanding genuine reconciliation or seeking closure felt such requirement as long as the LTTE had the wherewithal to wage war. Today, they had quite conveniently forgotten that reconciliation wouldn’t have been possible until Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion. In fact, had Sri Lanka failed, the LTTE could have overwhelmed the Army on the northern front. Had that happened, Western powers and their agents would have propagated a different theme today.

Let there be a genuine effort to inquire into still unproven accusations to ascertain the truth.