Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Wartime seizure of UN workers and an abduction that never happened

Swiss mystery bared:


President Gotabaya Rajapaksa greeting Sidonia Gabriel, First Secretary of the Swiss Embassy at the Presidential Secretariat. Ambassador Hanspeter Mock looking on (pic courtesy President’s media)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

War winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa (Nov 2005-January 2015) addressed editors of national newspapers and senior representatives of the electronic media at Temple Trees. Formal meetings with the media began in his second term, beginning 2010. President Rajapaksa was always flanked by several ministers and in some instances, top officials. Finance Secretary Dr. P. B. Jayasundera and Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga had been present regularly at the meetings at Temple Trees.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s predecessor, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, during her tenure (Nov 1994-Nov 2005), never bothered to invite the media for formal briefings.

President Maithripala Sirisena (January 2015 to Nov 2019) invited the editors of national newspapers and senior representatives of the electronic media to the President’s House. At the beginning of the yahapalana government, President Sirisena was flanked by senior UNP ministers. The then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse had been among them. There had been junior politicians present on some occasions.

The writer had the opportunity to cover almost all the briefings given by Presidents Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena. President Sirisena didn’t bother to invite the media, after the April 2019 President’s House briefing, held in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks.

The then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake (July 2017-August 2019) and Northern Governor Dr. Suren Raghavan flanked President Sirisena. President Sirisena, who had been on a private visit to Singapore at the time of the near simultaneous suicide attacks which killed approximately 270, blamed the then IGP Pujith Jayasundera and Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando while Lt. Gen. Senanayake faulted the then Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) retired DIG Sisira Mendis of not sharing vital intelligence warning provided by New Delhi. The Army Chief’s assertion was the Easter Sunday carnage could have been thwarted if the CNI shared intelligence with the Army. The Army Chief refrained from explaining as to why the country’s premier intelligence outfit, the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), failed in its primary duty. Dr. Raghavan quite surprisingly asserted that the government should initiate a dialogue with those responsible for the Easter Sunday massacre.

One-time Director of the President’s Media said direct talks were necessary in the absence of an accepted mechanism to deal with such a situation. Dr. Raghavan declared that there was no model/framework to tackle such security threats.

No one should be surprised of President Sirisena’s decision not to invite the media after the April, 2019 meet. The pathetic failure on the part of the President and the UNP administration to thwart the suicide bombings ruined the UNP government. The Security crisis, caused by the previous administration, facilitated Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidential bid. Having promised to restore stability, wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa comfortably won the Nov 16, 2019 presidential election. His closest rival Sajith Premadasa lost by a staggering 1.4 mn vote margin. Thirty-three other contestants, including JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, couldn’t regain their deposits.

Prez media

Within a week after his triumph over Sajith Premadasa, who contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket, those who couldn’t stomach the change of government hit back hard.

Swiss Embassy employee Garnier Banister Francis was used in a high profile project to tarnish the image of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Swiss Ambassador Hanspeter Mock, on behalf of Francis, complained to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of the Embassy employee being abducted at gunpoint. In fact, the Swiss operation involved accommodating Inspector Nishantha Silva along with his family on their political asylum programme and using an alleged abduction to cause a debilitating setback to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Nishantha Silva fled the country, courtesy Switzerland Embassy, on Nov. 24, 2019. Francis claimed being abducted by five persons, in a Toyota Corolla car, on Nov. 25, 2019. Swiss Ambassador Mock complained to Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa on Nov 27. 2019. Defeated presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa, MP Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and the JVP faulted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government over the incident.

Those who planned the propaganda blitz certainly took into consideration a spate of still unsolved cases – the disappearance of 11 youths & in the hands of the Navy, mostly in 2008, torturing of Deputy Editor of The Nation, Keith Noyahr, on May 22, 2008, assassination of the founding Editor of The Sunday Leader, attorney-at-law, Lasantha Wickrematunga, in the morning of January 08, 2009, on Attidiya Road, near Bakery Junction, attempt on the life of Rivira editor, Upali Tennakoon, on January 23, 2009, at Imbulgoda, Gampaha, abduction and assault on well-known journalist and civil society activist, Poddala Jayantha, on June 1, 2009, near Embuldeniya Junction, in Nugegoda, and disappearance of media personality, Prageeth Ekneligoda, on the eve of the January 26, 2010, presidential poll. Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennakoon sought political asylum overseas.

Had the Swiss managed to force the government to allow Francis to leave the country, in an air ambulance, without being subject to immigration formalities, as planned, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would have been in serious trouble today. Their plan was to get the worker out of Sri Lanka, claiming rapidly deteriorating health. Had the government succumbed to Western pressure, Francis would have been most probably moved out of Sri Lanka during President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first official visit to New Delhi. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was away on Nov. 28 and 29.

Having blocked the Swiss move, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered no holds barred investigation into the Swiss saga. Investigations proved conclusively that the alleged abduction never took place. Foreign Secretary Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasingha and Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne briefed Ambassador Mock of the findings in the evening of Dec 01.

By the time President Rajapaksa met Ambassador Mock at the Presidential Secretariat before he addressed the media, the Swiss mystery was bared. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa highlighted the New York Times coverage of the incident to justify his assertion that he was the target of a diabolical project. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa didn’t mince his words when he questioned Sajith Premadasa’s statement on the alleged incident. The writer was among those present on the occasion where a quite satisfied President declared his government defeated the high profile propaganda initiative.

The scribes were quite surprised to see President Gotabaya Rajapaksa joining the queue to serve himself buffet style lunch.

Analysis of telephone data revealed that Francis had been in touch with Inspector Nishantha Silva before the latter left the country. She had also been in touch with several others. There had never been a previous case of Sri Lanka successfully countering lies propagated by international players. The writer dealt in previous articles (Alleged abduction of embassy employee: Swiss jolted by GR govt response, The Island, Dec 04, 2019 and Swiss mystery underscores need to examine wider picture, The Island, Dec 11, 2019) as to how previous governments failed to properly counter lies.

The writer discussed how Norway-led SLMM (Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission) reversed death toll after The Island challenged its unsubstantiated claims, unverified accusations in respect of 40,000 civilians killed, in 2009, the Mannar mass graves, Man killed by DMI arrested in India, Australian identity for high profile JVPer, Missing LTTE cadre in the French movie, Sri Lanka Navy blamed for killings carried out by the LTTE, and over 100 LTTE cadres in government custody being poisoned.

Except the accusation made in August 2018 with regard to poisoning of ex-LTTE combatants and the Mannar mass graves, all other failures took place during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration. Sri Lanka never bothered to probe these accusations. But President Gotabaya Rajapaksa handled the Swiss accusations entirely differently.

The new government strategy placed Western powers in an embarrassing situation. Western powers expressed concern over the way the government handled the situation. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pointed out he had no option but to set the record straight.

A controversial UN bid

Let me examine the UN having secret talks with the LTTE in a bid to secure the release of two local Tamil workers, detained by the LTTE, against the backdrop of the Swiss taking up cudgels for its worker. Sri Lanka never really inquired into the matter. The government was not bothered at all. The Island exposed the secret UN pow-vow with the LTTE, in early 2007, as the Army was battling the LTTE on the Vanni west and the Eastern Province.

UN Panel of Experts (PoE) report on Accountability in Sri Lanka called for a comprehensive review of actions by the UN during the war in Sri Lanka. The probe was meant to examine the implementation of the UN’s humanitarian and protection mandates.

It was the final recommendation made by the three-member PoE (Panel of Experts), comprising former Attorney General of Indonesia Marzuki Darusman (Chairman), US attorney-at-law Steven R. Ratner and NGO activist Yasmin Sooka. The PoE released its report on March 31, 2011.

For want of a cohesive strategy, Sri Lanka never exploited the PoE’s recommendation to push for a thorough inquiry into the conduct of UN personnel here. Had there been a proper strategy, Sri Lanka could have exposed the sordid relationship between the UN mission in Colombo and the LTTE. Even a decade after the conclusion of the conflict, Sri Lanka is yet to examine as to how the UN and other UN agencies, as well as the NGO community, prolonged the war. Did the UN system in Sri Lanka facilitate Western strategy? Did they work closely together to save the LTTE?

The UN turned a blind eye to what was happening on the ground. The LTTE made a strong bid to prevent civilians from crossing the front lines, on the Western front, in early 2007.

The LTTE obviously needed the cover of civilians, primarily to discourage the military from using heavy weapons. Secondly, the LTTE leadership felt the need of the population to ensure a steady supply of fresh recruits. (Remember, the forced recruitment of children continued until the very end. The PoE, too, confirmed this fact.) Instead of taking tangible action to thwart the LTTE move, the UN propagated lies that the Sri Lankan military was recruiting child soldiers on behalf of the breakaway LTTE faction led by one-time Batticaloa commander, Karuna.

Tamils started fleeing LTTE-held areas as the 57 Division gradually stepped up pressure on the Vanni west front. Although the UN knew of the LTTE bid to stop the exodus of people, the world body remained quiet for obvious reasons.

The UN mission in Colombo stayed silent even after the LTTE detained two of its Tamil employees for helping civilians to flee the war zone. The LTTE refused to release them in spite of the UN repeatedly appealing to the top LTTE leadership. The so-called human rights champions remained tight lipped. No one dared to voice concern over the new development. The Co-chairs to Sri Lanka’s peace process, namely Norway, the US, EU and Japan, conveniently remained silent even after The Island revealed the unprecedented detention of UN workers While confirming the high handed LTTE action, the then Foreign Secretary, Dr. Palitha Kohona, alleged that those who accused the government of death and destruction at the drop of a hat ignored what was happening in the Vanni mainland (LTTE detains UN workers-The Island April 20, 2007).

The UN mission in Colombo declined to respond to The Island report. Those Colombo-based foreign correspondents, as well as locals working for the international media, ignored the incident. The Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA), too, disregarded The Island revelation. Obviously, they felt the story would be inimical to the LTTE’s interest, and none of them wanted to cause an uproar.

Further inquiries by The Island revealed as to how the UN engaged in secret negotiations with the LTTE in a bid to secure the release of its employees. An influential section of the Colombo-based diplomatic community tried to resolve the issue without bringing it to the notice of the then government. The UN alerted the government only after the LTTE refused to release its workers. The LTTE went to the extent of warning the UN that anyone disregarding its authority would have to face the consequences (UN had talks with the Tigers on the sly with strap line UN workers in LTTE custody-The Island April 23). Human rights champions remained mum.

The then Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in a brief interview with the writer, strongly criticized the Colombo-based UN bigwigs for having secret talks with the LTTE, following the abduction of two UN workers, in February 2007. The issue took centre stage at a meeting chaired by Human Rights Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, to discuss the situation in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Among those present were Colombo-based heads of diplomatic missions, including the then US Ambassador, Robert O. Blake and senior officials representing the UN and other agencies. During the meeting, the UN acknowledged that it had decided against going public, believing the LTTE would eventually release them (Lanka urges UN not to shield Tigers-The Island April 25, 2007).

Swiss mystery bared:

On the day The Island published Defence Secretary Rajapaksa’s criticism of UN action, the issue was raised at the daily media briefing, in New York. Responding to queries, UNSG moon’s spokesperson, Michele Montas revealed that the UN mission hadn’t informed New York of the kidnapping. Montas was speaking on the kidnapping over 10 weeks after the incident. Wouldn’t it be interesting to examine the accountability on the part of UN mission in Colombo? Referring to The Island exposure, Montas said: "We don’t have any confirmation of that newspaper report. We have heard them. As soon as we have a confirmation, we’ll get something for you on that. I am checking with the UN presence in Sri Lanka". Stressing that the UN mission in Colombo hadn’t confirmed the newspaper reports, Montas said: "I don’t know. We don’t have any confirmation. They haven’t confirmed those reports. I heard them through the press. (UN HQ admits Colombo office kept it in the dark with strap line SL government criticizes UN inaction-The Island April 28, 2007).

The UN cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for the LTTE forcing the entire Vanni population to retreat towards the Mullaitivu coast where the group finally collapsed in May 2009.

The UN was careful not to interfere with LTTE operations, though it knew the lives of UN workers as well as their dependents were in jeopardy. Still the UN decided to secretly negotiate with the LTTE instead of demanding their immediate release. The plight of UN workers and their families came to light again in late September 2009 when Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered UN international staff as well as foreign representatives of other INGOs to vacate the Vanni region. Having agreed to complete the withdrawal within three weeks, the then Resident Representative, Neil Bhune, tried to evacuate families of local UN staff (Government wants UN, INGO pullout completed by September 29 –The Island September 17, 2008).

Although the LTTE rejected the UN’s move, its Colombo mission didn’t make a big fuss. Human rights defenders, too, turned a blind eye to the rapidly deteriorating situation. In spite of the UN seeking three weeks to complete the withdrawal, except the project manager of an INGO called ZOA, all representatives quit the war zone by September 16, 2008. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee, which represented all UN agencies and other INGOs active in Sri Lanka, acknowledged the LTTE’s refusal to allow over 500 local staffers of INGOs to leave (Attempt to evacuate Tamil INGO, UN workers thwarted – The Island September 29, 2008). Subsequently, the ZOA manager returned to Vavuniya on September 26, 2008, over a week after all other foreign nationals quit the LTTE-held area. The then ZOA Country Director, Bernard Jaspers Faijer made a desperate attempt to shield ZOA employee accused of joining the LTTE (ZOA defends employee facing expulsion-The Island September 29, 2008). The Island reportage included a front page lead story headlined INGO kingpin with Italian passport joins LTTE as a fighter with a strap line ZOA informs Defence Ministry of its project Manager’s decision on September 27, 2008.

The UN never objected to the LTTE strategy. The TNA as well as NGOs, who were shedding crocodile tears for Tamil civilians, never asked the LTTE to release them. The LTTE knew it wouldn’t have lasted a week if it allowed the civilians to leave. By March/April 2009, the LTTE fighting cadre had been trapped in the Mullaitivu district.

Let me reproduce what the PoE said in its report on the LTTE’s refusal to release civilians (Page 28/Point 98): "In spite of the futility of their military situation, the LTTE not only refused to surrender, but also continued to prevent civilians from leaving the area, ensuring their continued presence as a human buffer. It forced civilians to help build military installations and fortifications or undertake other forced labour. It also intensified its practice of forced recruitment, including children, to swell their dwindling ranks. As the LTTE recruitment increased, parents actively resisted, and families took increasingly desperate measures to protect their children from recruitment. (Page 28/Point 99) "…Beginning February 2009, the LTTE commenced a policy of shooting civilians who attempted to escape, and, to this end, cadres took up positions where they could spot civilians who might try to break out."

One of Sri Lanka’s famed diplomats discussed the issue of accountability when he addressed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), headed by one-time Attorney General the late C. R. de Silva on Aug 25, 2010. Dhanapala, in his submissions said: "Now I think it is important for us to expand that concept to bring in the culpability of those members of the international community who have subscribed to the situation that has caused injury to the civilians of a nation. I talk about the way in which terrorist groups are given sanctuary; harboured; and supplied with arms and training by some countries with regard to their neighbours or with regard to other countries. We know that in our case this has happened, and I don’t want to name countries, but even countries which have allowed their financial procedures and systems to be abused in such a way that money can flow from their countries in order to buy arms and ammunition that cause deaths, maiming and destruction of property in Sri Lanka are to blame and there is therefore a responsibility to protect our civilians and the civilians of other nations from that kind of behaviour on the part of members of the international community. And I think this is something that will echo within many countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, where Sri Lanka has a much respected position and where I hope we will be able to raise this issue."

Dhanapala also stressed on the accountability on the part of Western governments, which conveniently turned a blind eye to massive fund raising operations in their countries in support of LTTE operations. It is no secret that the LTTE would never have been able to emerge as a conventional fighting force without having adequate funds to procure arms, ammunition and equipment.

The Swiss allegation is nothing but a continuation of overall project to undermine Sri Lanka.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Swiss mystery underscores need to examine wider picture


August 17, 2016: Ambassador Keshap, Chief Minister of the Northern Province C.V. Wigneswaran and Minister of National Coexistence, Dialogue and Official Languages Mano Ganesan, on their way to Palaly onboard US Air Force plane C130. Wigneswaran, in his conversation with Keshap, accused the government of poisoning detained LTTE combatants.

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Against the backdrop of a deepening crisis, caused by Switzerland providing political asylum to Inspector Nishantha Silva, his wife and three children, followed by accusations over alleged abduction of a local female Embassy employee, the writer examined a spate of high profile propaganda projects, carried out by interested parties, against the country, over the years.

Last week’s Midweek column inquired into as to how Sri Lanka pathetically failed to exploit Lord Naseby’s contradiction of UN war crimes charges, in Oct 2017, Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) bid to deceive the public in 2007, exposure of those propagating lies over Mannar mass graves early this year, a man alleged to have been killed by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), in late 2009, surfacing in Tamil Nadu, in May, 2014, Australia providing a new identity to one-time leading JVP activist, Kumar Gunaratnam, in 2013, and a missing LTTE child soldier showing up in an award-winning French movie.

In a way, Switzerland cannot be blamed for seeking to exploit Sri Lanka’s weakness, especially in the wake of wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election as the President just 10 days before. In line with the overall Western strategy, Switzerland accommodated Inspector Nishantha Silva in its asylum programme, caused media furore over an alleged abduction in Colombo, and then questioned the LTTE’s terrorist tag in a high profile case heard there.

The Swiss Federal Court ruled that the LTTE was not a criminal organization. The court acquitted 12 persons of charges filed by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).

In its indictment, the OAG accused them of violating the Swiss Penal Code by raising funds for the LTTE between 1999 and 2009. Following its nine-year investigation, the OAG accused them of financially supporting the World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC).

But, in June 2018 the Federal Criminal Court found that the hierarchical link between the LTTE and WTCC could not be sufficiently established. The judges also felt there was not enough proof to consider the LTTE a criminal group.

In April, 2019 the OAG appealed against the verdict, insisting that the accused had supported a criminal group.

In a decision, published on Tuesday, Dec 03, the Federal Court upheld the previous ruling, noting that Article 260 in the Swiss Penal Code was designed to combat organized crime of a mafia nature though it has also been applied to terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS). The LTTE was not regarded as a criminal organization, at the time the funds were raised, stated the Federal Court.

Over 100 LTTE cadres in

custody poisoned

Sri Lanka never took tangible measures to counter those who propagated lies in a deliberate attempt to ruin the country. They could not stomach the LTTE’s annihilation on the Vanni east front, a decade ago. One-time Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran was one such person. Wigneswaran and a section of the Tamil media, in August 2016 accused the military of killing over 100 LTTE combatants, in custody by poisoning them. The PTI and NDTV were among international media which reported unsubstantiated allegations.

Accusers placed the number of such deaths at 104. Accusations were made while the U.S. Pacific Command’s ‘Pacific Angel’ exercise was underway in the Jaffna peninsula.

Wigneswaran boldly declared that the U.S. Air Forces medical team, in Jaffna would examine the former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, who, he alleged, had fallen sick because they were injected with poisonous substances at government detention or rehabilitation centres.

The then State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene and Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne dismissed the vicious accusations. Wijewardene offered the international community access to rehabilitation facilities. What the Minister didn’t realize was that by Aug 2018, the vast majority of ex-LTTE combatants had been released.

The US conveniently refrained from making its position clear on Wigneswaran’s claim when the writer raised the issue with the US Embassy in Colombo. There had never been such a claim before TNA’s Wigneswaran sought to humiliate Sri Lanka. It would be pertinent to mention that one-time LTTE subordinate, the TNA, backed common candidate Maithripala Sirisena at the 2015 presidential poll having earlier supported Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the previous poll. On both occasions, the TNA delivered all northern and eastern electoral districts to Fonseka and Sirisena, who contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket with the ‘Swan’ as its symbol. The TNA did the same for Sajith Premadasa in the North and the East at the last presidential, though the South overwhelmingly defeated the UNPer.

In answer to several questions The Island posed, regarding ex-LTTE cadres being poisoned, US embassy said: "Operation Pacific Angel is providing assistance, based on the specific needs of the local communities. Among the nearly 70 members of this multilateral assistance programme – including some medical staff and engineers from Bangladesh, Nepal, and Maldives, as well as the United States – are over 40 doctors providing basic medical services: dental procedures; physical therapy; general medical assistance; and optometry. These are the only services being provided."

The writer asked the US Embassy whether it could confirm that US Pacific Command personnel, conducting medical tests on ex-LTTE cadres, allegedly poisoned by the previous government; whether they would be moved to overseas medical facility for further tests; whether the GoSL had been informed of the development; when did the TNA request the US intervention and whether the US military had conducted similar tests in other countries. For obvious reasons, the US side-stepped The Island queries.

The five-day ‘Operation Pacific Angle’ was launched, in Jaffna by the then US Ambassador in Colombo Atul Keshap.

The New Indian Express quoted Wigneswaran as having said that the US Air Force’s medical team would examine ex-LTTE cadres who had been sick because they were injected with poisonous substances by the Sri Lankan armed military while they were undergoing detention or rehabilitation. Wigneswaran, according to the New Indian Express, had told the NPC (Northern Provincial Council) that he had mentioned the plight of the former combatants in his conversation with the US Ambassador, Atul Keshap, and asked if the USAF team could examine them and give an independent report.

Wigneswaran’s allegations died a natural death. The TNA, or the US, never discussed the issue publicly.

SLN blamed for killings carried

out by the LTTE

The Sri Lanka Navy was accused of killing a group of Tamil Nadu fishermen, in early 2007, in Indian waters. Accusations placed the then Rajapaksa government in an extremely difficult position. Wartime Navy spokesman Captain D.K.P. Dassanayake (now Commodore) played a significant role in exposing the blatant lie. The writer worked closely with Dassanayake on many stories, during the war and there couldn’t be a better example than the early 2007 accusations as regards fishermen’s deaths to underscore the need to counter propaganda. Dassanayake played a significant role in countering the propaganda, directed at Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s Navy. Ironically, Dassanayake, himself, is now embroiled in disappearance of at least 11 Tamils, mostly in 2008. The previous UNP-led government bungled the investigation by politicizing it for obvious reasons. Dassanayake, who served with those who had been deployed off Chalai, in 2009, to intercept LTTE movements and then carried out a clandestine operation, overseas, with a small Navy team, with the backing of the DMI, found himself in real trouble over disappearance cases. Dassanayake’s team commandeered an LTTE owned ship ‘Princess Cristina’, anchored in a foreign harbour, to Colombo harbour, in Dec 2009. The writer was among those who had an opportunity to go on board the vessel immediately after its arrival at the Colombo port where a beaming Dassanayake, and his team, were received by the then Navy Chief VA Thisara Samarasinghe.

Let me discuss how the Navy tackled the missing Tamil Nadu fishermen’s case leading to the disclosure of a big lie, thanks to a chance detection made by the Maldivian Coast Guard. Dassanayake worked tirelessly to bring out the truth. He proved that there was a huge difference between just repeating battlefield reports and actually handling media for strategic purpose. The Island coverage wouldn’t have been a reality without Dassanayake’s role. Interestingly, the Defence Ministry and the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) never bothered to examine the incident as part of their overall efforts to counter lies. They never did until the end of the war, in May 2009. The Rajapaksa government made some efforts to put the record straight, in the wake of the devastating March 2011 UN report that accused the military of killing over 40,000 in 2009. However, the government failed. The public are owed an explanation as to why millions of USDs were squandered on US and UK PR firms and whether any government personality personally benefited from such projects.

The Indian case is a glaring example of deception meant to undermine the war effort against the LTTE.

In late March 2007 Karunanidhi sought the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intervention in the wake of an attack on a Tamil Nadu fishing craft, about 35 nautical miles off Kanyakumari, well within Indian territorial waters. In a letter, dated March 31, 2007, addressed to PM Singh, Karunanidhi alleged: "... an unidentified group of attackers opened fire on a Tamil Nadu fishing boat." He was referring to the killing of five Tamil Nadu fishermen on March 29, 2007. Quoting a fisherman who had survived the attack, the Tamil Nadu leader said that two boats, which approached the ill-fated boat from "the Sri Lankan side and without any provocation or warning, indiscriminately opened fire on the Indian boat. All the attackers, numbering about 20, were youngsters, either bare bodied or in casual dress."

Karunanidhi made several allegations as well as recommendations to Premier Singh. Karunanidhi warned Singh that unless some stern measures were taken by the government to make Indian waters safe, the situation was likely to get out of control. Alleging that a third party might have carried out the attack, Karunanidhi urged Singh to establish the identity of attackers as well as their international connections. Karunanidhi also called for enhanced Indian Navy and Coast Guard presence in the Tamil Nadu seas and to bring the entire naval effort under a unified command.

The Sri Lankan Navy strongly denied the Tamil Nadu leader’s claims, made in the wake of a section of the Indian media accusing the SLN of the massacre.

When the SLN strongly countered the Indian media reports, Karunanidhi made a ridiculous attempt to assert that some smugglers, with international links might have killed the fishermen. The SLN insisted that there was no basis for claims that there was a third party operating in the sea.

Interestingly, on the day of the Kanyakumari massacre, there had been a high level SLN delegation in New Delhi. The delegation responded to what SLN headquarters called was unfounded allegation. The SLN recalled how the Norwegian - led Scandinavian truce monitoring mission accused an unknown third party of attacking a Chinese fishing vessel about 22 nautical miles north of Mullaitivu on March 19, 2003. The attackers mowed down 16 Chinese and two Sri Lankans on ‘FU Yuan YU 225’. The monitoring mission asserted that neither the LTTE nor the Sri Lankan government could have carried out the attack. Although those who had survived the attack as well as the crew of another Chinese vessel also operating in the area told the mission of the LTTE’s culpability, chief of monitors, retired Major General Tryggve Tellefsen requested the government and the LTTE to find, disarm and arrest ‘criminal elements’ operating on their own.

Both the truce monitoring mission and the Tamil Nadu administration went out of their way to protect the LTTE. Their approach towards terrorism baffled many (Lanka challenges bid to shield Tigers, with strap line Killing of five Tamil Nadu fishermen - The Island, April 5, 2007).

The Indian Coast Guard made a crucial but chance breakthrough on April 11, 2007. Having spotted two ‘vallams’ 26.5 nautical miles southeast of Kanyakumari, a Coast Guard vessel had ordered them to stop. It was among nine ships backed by three maritime aircraft engaged in a special operation in the wake of the Kanyakumari massacre. The Coast Guard swiftly apprehended the ‘vallams’ and took 12 persons into custody.

A section of the Chennai-based media quickly identified the arrested persons as armed Sinhala men. The widely read Dinakaran, affiliated to the ruling DMK, on a front-page report declared that 12 fishermen were in custody. But the arrested consisted of six Sri Lankan Tamils and six Tamil Nadu fishermen. The six Sri Lankans were identified as Arul Gnanadasan (20), C. Robin (23), S. Selvakumar (19), M. Pannibose (28), D. Arul (19) and Ravi Kumar (24). Under interrogation, the Indians claimed that they had no option but to rescue the Sri Lankans stranded off Kanyakumari in a trawler named ‘Maria.’ The Indian Coast Guard seized the two ‘vallams’, about 14 nautical miles away from the ‘Maria’.

India ignored an SLN request for an opportunity to interrogate the arrested Sri Lankans, whom the Navy believed had been involved in the Kanyakumari massacre. The SLN strongly suspected that the six arrested Sri Lankan Tamils were LTTE cadres assigned for a special operation aimed at transferring armaments from the high seas to the Vanni, via Indian waters. The Coast Guard detection and subsequent revelations embarrassed the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister; though he pretended he wasn’t bothered at all (Indian Coast Guard seizes ‘Maria’, six Lankan Tamils-The Island April 16, 2007).

Although India arrested several LTTE cadres, during 2007, beginning with the apprehension of three persons, along with two Indians on February 13, 2007 off Kodiyakarai, the SLN was never given an opportunity to question them (Lanka wants access to ‘terror’ suspects in Tamil Nadu custody-The Island April 19, 2007).

In spite of the DMK’s attempts to whitewash the LTTE, the ‘Q’ branch of the Indian Criminal Investigation Department (CID), on April 27, 2007, accused the LTTE of carrying out the Kanyakumari massacre. The ‘Q’ branch asserted that the six Sri Lankans arrested in the company of Tamil Nadu, men on April 11, 2007, were members of special Sea Tiger squads deployed to ferry arms, ammunition and equipment from an LTTE ship on the high seas. According to a two-page note issued by the then Tamil Nadu Director General of Police, the group in Indian custody was among the units given this task. The arrested persons claimed that members of another Sea Tiger squad carried out the Kanyakumari massacre, whereas the SLN believed the group in custody was responsible. The police chief said that the boat involved in the March 29, 2007, attack also bore the inscription ‘Maria.’

The ‘Q’ branch made another extremely important revelation into clandestine LTTE operations. The investigation resulted in one of the most important findings made during 2007, thanks to a chance detection made by the tiny Maldivian Coast Guard, a couple of weeks later. Under interrogation, those Sea Tiger cadres, arrested on April 11, 2007, revealed that another squad had seized a large Indian fishing vessel, ‘Sri Krishna’, on March 4, 2007 close to the Indo - Lanka maritime boundary. The seized vessel’s crew comprised 12 men-10 from Kanyakumari and one each from Thoothukudi and Kerala. The arrested persons claimed that the Sea Tigers commandeered the vessel after having transferred the crew in an LTTE craft to the Vanni. The ‘Q’ branch made the revelation in the backdrop of some interested parties alleging that the SLN either seized or destroyed ‘Sri Krishna’ (LTTE massacred Indian fishermen, seized large vessel with 12 men with strap line Tamil Nadu probe reveals-The Island April 29, 2007).

LTTE Political Wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan accused the SLN of seizing Sri Krishna.

A humiliated Karunanidhi informed the State Assembly of the LTTE’s direct involvement in a spate of incidents. The DMK leader had no option but to acknowledge the LTTE’s complicity in attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen. However, the opposition AIADMK didn’t make a big issue about it. Then much to the surprise of all, the Centre intervened on behalf the LTTE. No less a person than the then Defence Minister, A.K. Anthony, reiterated the hotly disputed charge that the SLN was continuing attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen in the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar. Anthony was responding on May 9, 2007 to a query raised by C. Perumal in the Rajya Sabha.

Perumal was evidently acting at the behest of the LTTE lobby. Reporting a slight increase in such attacks, Minister Anthony accused the SLN of killing 77 Tamil Nadu fishermen between 1991 and 2007 period. India totally overlooked a spate of incidents as well as the findings made by the ‘Q’ branch.

Sri Lanka strongly denied Indian claims alleging complicity on the part of some Indian officials in the LTTE terror campaign (India shields Tigers despite compelling evidence of attacks on TN fishermen with strap line...overlooks Kanyakumari massacre, seizure of Sri Krishna with 12 men, castigates SLN in Rajya Sabha-The Island May 11, 2007).

What Tamil Nadu, as well as India, never expected was the Maldives intervening in the clandestine LTTE arms smuggling operation. That intervention was made by the Maldivian Coast Guard on May 16, 2007. The Maldivian Coast Guard engaged a vessel carrying the Sri Lankan flag after the latter fired at a Maldivian fishing craft. Following a 12-hour standoff, the Maldivians sank the craft flying the Sri Lankan flag. There had been some Indian naval personnel on-board the Maldivian craft at the time of the confrontation. The Indian presence ensured that their government knew what exactly happened in the Maldivian waters. The Maldivians rescued five persons who jumped overboard from the sinking vessel, subsequently identified as ‘Sri Krishna’. The rescued men told the Maldivians and their Indian instructors (The Indians were helping the Maldivian Coast Guard personnel to familiarize with CG vessel Huravee, gifted by New Delhi to Male) the circumstances under which they were found in Maldivian waters, while engaged in transferring armaments from a floating warehouse. Sri Krishna’s skipper, Simon Soza had been among the five rescued by the Maldivians. The Sea Tigers admitted that the remaining Indians (other members of ‘Sri Krsihna’ crew) were being held in a camp in the Vanni (Maldives sink Indian craft hijacked by Sea Tigers-The Island May 18, 2007).

The sinking of the ‘Sri Krishna’ was the second high profile incident involving an Indian trained terrorist group in Maldivian territory. The raid on Male during the first week of November, 1988 by sea borne PLOTE (People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorists at the behest of a Colombo-based Maldivian businessman, Abdulla Luthufee was the first. Interestingly, the Indian Navy sank MV Progress Light commandeered by Luthufee’s mercenaries in a bid to reach Sri Lankan waters. The writer had the opportunity to interview Luthufee, both at his residence and the home of the writer.

Had the SLN had an effective deployment in the seas off the northwestern coast, it could have thwarted an LTTE plan to shift the remaining crew of ‘Sri Krishna’ from the Vanni mainland to Tamil Nadu. The LTTE transferred altogether 11 Indians on May 18 and dropped them at two different locations. Had Soza died during the confrontations, the LTTE would have quietly killed the Indians to cover-up the Sri Krishna episode. The Maldives promptly responded to an SLN request to question those in their custody. Their interrogation helped SLN efforts to break the enemy sea supply route (LTTE frees Indians after losing ‘Sri Krishna’ with strap line SLN gains access to Sea Tigers in Maldivian custody-The Island, May 20, 2007).

Soon after the Maldivians had intercepted the ‘Sri Krishna’, the Norwegian embassy in Colombo sought information from the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo regarding the incident. The Norwegians probably got in touch with the Maldivians at the behest of the LTTE. However, by the time Norway got in touch with the diplomatic mission, the Maldivians had cleared SLN intelligence to interrogate those in their custody (Foreign embassy tried to help LTTE arms vessel escape with strap line Sinking of ‘Sri Krishna’ by the Maldivian Coast Guard-The Island May 26, 2007).

Sri Lanka needs to examine the wider picture when probing the conduct of the Switzerland Embassy in Colombo.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Swiss jolted by GR govt response

Alleged abduction of embassy employee:


Amidst diplomatic row with Switzerland, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received Norwegian Ambassador Trine Joranli Eskedal at the Presidential Secretariat on Monday, Dec 02. A smiling President shaking hands with a Norwegian delegate as Ambassador Eskedal standing on his right looks on. During the war, in his capacity as the Secretary Ministry of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa dealt forthrightly with the controversial Norway led peace process (pic courtesy President’s Media)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Having battled high profile accusations for several days in the wake of an alleged abduction of a local Swiss Embassy employee, the government, on Sunday night, Dec 01, 2019, accused Ambassador Hanspeter Mock of lying. A one page statement, issued by the Foreign Ministry, following consultations with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had been closely monitoring the developments, set the record straight.

Pointing out that the Swiss Embassy deprived law enforcement authorities of interviewing the alleged victim, who claimed to have received injuries in captivity, the government alleged that the sequence of events, and time-line of the alleged incident, as presented by the Swiss mission, on behalf of the alleged victim, did not in any way correspond with the actual movements of the alleged victim on that date, as borne out by witness interviews and technical evidence, including Uber records, CCTV footage, telephone records and the GPS data.

The government insisted that the alleged victim should be examined by a judicial medical officer, and that law enforcement authorities be given access to her. On behalf of the government, Foreign Secretary Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasingha and Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne briefed Ambassador Mock and the Deputy Chief of Mission on Sunday evening. The statement was put out immediately after that.

Sri Lanka thawarted a calculated move to undermine the new government. But, it would be the responsibility of the government to bring the case to a successful conclusion. The Swiss shouldn’t be allowed to side-step the inquiry, having been publicly humiliated by being caught lying.

President Rajapaksa’s government struggled to cope up with demeaning accusations as regards the alleged, abduction on Nov 25, 2019. The alleged abduction received international media coverage with the New York Times alleging that the government agents had sought information regarding a police officer who fled the country on the previous day.

Switzerland wouldn’t have undertaken the operation without approval from big brothers. Perhaps big brothers wanted Switzerland to carryout the operation, at its expense, as they tackled the new government.

The New York Times quoted officials in Colombo as having said that the "men forced the embassy employee to unlock her cellphone data, which contained information about Sri Lankans who have recently sought asylum in Switzerland, and the names of Sri Lankans who aided them as they fled the country because they feared for their safety after Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidency at the election this month." The story headlined ‘Sri Lankan critics fear a crackdown is underway, and some flee," first posted on Nov 27 and updated on Nov 29, also alleged Defence Secretary retired Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne of commanding a unit that the United Nations accused of conducting summary executions of LTTE cadres in custody. The NYT also quoted Gunaratne as having denied the UN accusations.

The government lacked courage to counter the NYT report, authored by Maria Abi-Habib and Sameer Yasir. There had never been specific accusations against Gunaratne’s 53 Division during the Vanni campaign, in 2009. Interested parties renewed there war crimes accusations, in the wake of the alleged abduction of an embassy employee, with some sections of the international media even having the audacity to target President Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself.

Swiss Ambassador in Colombo, Hanspeter Mock, raised the abduction with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, on the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov 27, at his Wijerama Mawatha residence. His Embassy provided some information, on Nov 29, while continuing to deny access to the alleged victim.

The unprecedented allegations, close on the heels of Switzerland providing refuge to Chief Inspector Nishantha Silva of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), his wife and their three children, caused a crisis ahead of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first overseas visit to New Delhi. President Rajapaksa had to address the ‘Swiss issue,’ during the two-day Indian visit. It was the first real crisis the wartime Defence Secretary had to cope up with since his election as the President over a week ago.

The Swiss accusations in the immediate aftermath of CID investigator receiving refuge in Switzerland underscored the pivotal importance in swiftly and decisively addressing such issues.

The Rajapaksa government cannot afford to allow unsubstantiated accusations cause turmoil especially in the run up to the Geneva sessions, in March 2020.

The war-winning Rajapkasa government pathetically failed to counter high profile projects meant to haul up Sri Lanka before the Geneva Human Rights Council. Sri Lanka’s failure led to Western powers adopting an accountability resolution, in Geneva, in Oct 2015, against the country.

The treacherous yahapalana government co-sponsored the resolution. Western powers engineered twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat, in 2015 having failed in a similar project in 2010. War-winning Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka challenged Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2010 presidential poll. The celebrated war veteran, however lost by a staggering 1.8 mn votes with the country clearly rejecting his allegations against his former Commander-in-Chief  Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The alleged abduction, of the Swiss Embassy employee, took place between 5 pm – 5.30 pm on Monday, Nov 25, on R.G. Senanayake Mawatha, a little distance away from the Swiss Embassy. A section of the media quoted diplomatic sources as having said that the employee alleged she was sexually molested.

The new government should solve the Swiss mystery soon or be prepared to face the consequences. Having accused of war crimes, in addition to several other high profile killings, attacks and disappearances, during the 2005-2014 administration, the Rajapaksas should ensure a speedy conclusion of investigations into the Swiss accusations. The delay, on the part of the government, will help those propagating lies, both here and overseas. However, the government should be mindful of the consequences, in case law enforcement authorities operated beyond accepted norms.

The new administration cannot afford under any circumstances, fresh controversies against the backdrop of still unsolved cases - disappearance of 11 youth in the hands of the Navy, mostly in 2008, torturing of Deputy Editor of The Nation, Keith Noyahr, on May 22, 2008, assassination of the founding Editor of The Sunday Leader, attorney-at-law, Lasantha Wickrematunga on the morning of January 08, 2009, on Attidiya Road, near Bakery Junction, attempt on the life of Rivira editor, Upali Tennakoon, on January 23, 2009, at Imbulgoda, Gampaha, abduction and assault on well-known journalist and civil society activist, Poddala Jayantha, on June 1, 2009, near Embuldeniya Junction, in Nugegoda, and disappearance of media personality, Prageeth Ekneligoda, on the eve of the January 26, 2010, presidential poll. Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennakoon sought political asylum overseas.

The war-winning government cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for killings, attacks and disappearances happened under its watch. Killing of three persons, at Rathupaswella, on August 01, 2013 and killing of 21-year-old worker Roshen Chanaka Ratnasekera, of the Katunyake EPZ, in late May 2011, caused severe problems for the Rajapaksa administration. The Rathupaswella killings took place in the wake of protests, demanding clean drinking water, whereas Ratnasekera was killed during protests against a controversial move to introduce a new pension scheme.

It must, however, be noted that the killing of Editor Lasantha Wickramatunga, abduction and torture of Associate Editor of The Nation, Keith Noyahr, and the attempt on the life of Rivira Editor, Upali Tennakoon, were squarely blamed on rogue Army units, operating under then Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, by none other than the then opposition, led by the UNP, in public, backed by the NGO lot. It is a supreme irony that no sooner Fonseka turned against the Rajapaksas that narrative changed suddenly.

It would be pertinent to examine the failure on the part of the Rajapaksa administration to address accusations in the South, as well as in the North and East. A thorough examination of past failures is required now, amidst fresh accusations that may have a significant impact on the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government.

SLMM reverses death toll

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

Fighting erupted in August 2006 following the Mavil-aru battle in the East.

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

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

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

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

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

The Army headquarters, in response to a query by ‘The Island’, insisted that there had been only 694 civilian deaths, during the November 2005 –March 2007 period. Army headquarters rejected the truce monitors’ claim of 1500 civilian deaths during this period. But the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) accepted the controversial figures, in spite of the Army contradicting the figures quoted by the mission.

The Army, too, would have remained silent if The Island didn’t challenge the Nordic mission. The government never felt the need to challenge the SLMM.

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

The then Rajapaksa government squandered an excellent opportunity to expose the Nordic mission. In fact, the previous government never felt the requirement to systematically counter lies, propagated by the international community, or a section of the media, that had faith in the LTTE’s invincibility.

The Swiss mystery should be studied against the backdrop of previous accusations and attempts to undermine Sri Lanka.

Western strategy exposed

Lord Naseby, in the House of Lords, on Oct 12, 2017, debunked the much-touted UN accusations regarding the massacre of over 40,000 Tamil civilians, on the Vanni east front, in the last phase of the war, in 2009. On the basis of classified wartime dispatches from Colombo (January-May 2009) received by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Lord Naseby for once and for all countered UN accusations. Lord Naseby used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000 to secure the much-sought-after information that disproved accusations pertaining to 40,000 deaths. The British dispatches placed the number of deaths at 7,000 to 8,000, with one fourth of them being LTTE combatants.

The previous government disregarded the British revelations. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has an opportunity to seek reappraisal of Geneva resolution on the basis of British dispatches. The new government can do so at the Geneva sessions, in March 2020.

The Swiss accusations shouldn’t be allowed to distract the attention of the government from its prime responsibility to exonerate the armed forces from the wild accusations levelled by the West and the UN hatchet team, with its panel of experts quoting unnamed accusers.

The government should also pay attention to revelation made by the wartime US Defence Attache in Colombo, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith, in June 2011, at the inaugural defence seminar. Two years after the UN accusations of battlefield executions, Lt. Col. Smith contradicted them in the presence of military delegates from several countries. The then Rajapaksa government ignored the sensational statement. Sri Lanka never bothered to examine revelations made by Lt. Col. Smith, in 2011, and Lord Naseby, six years later, as authentic evidence which could be part of its defence. Western powers exploited Sri Lanka’s weakness. Sri Lanka never considered Lt. Col Smith’s statement and Lord Naseby’s disclosure as strong counter arguments against Western strategy here.

"The Government of Sri Lanka remains committed to national reconciliation 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 then Foreign Ministry spokesperson? said. She was responding to The Island query whether the government would request the UK and Geneva to review the allegation that 40,000 civilians had been killed during the Vanni campaign, in the light of Lord Naseby’s statement in the House of Lords, disputing the figure, on Oct 12, 2017.

Mannar mass graves forgotten

Early this year, US lab tests proved sensational accusations that the Sri Lankan military was not responsible for the Mannar mass graves found in early 2018. The remains of over 300 men, women and children were found at a site in the northern Mannar district.

Sri Lanka’s Office on Missing Persons (OMP) funded, tests, on the remains, to determine whether the victims were killed during the conflict.

The LTTE and government forces held the Mannar district at different times during the conflict.

Radiocarbon dating analysis by the Beta Analytic Testing Laboratory, in Florida, US, in respect of six skeletal samples sent there, in January 2019, with the intervention of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), established, in accordance with Oct 2015 Geneva Resolution, that the skeletons belonged to a period that covered the Portuguese and the Dutch colonial rule.

But the Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet was in a great hurry to blame Sri Lanka. Bachelet, in a report titled ‘Promoting Reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka,’ submitted to the 40th session of the HRC, dealt with Mannar mass graves.

The following is a relevant section bearing No 23: "On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office as an observer is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured."

The Bachelet report dealt with the situation in Sri Lanka from Oct 2015 to January 2019. If Swiss Ambassador Hanspeter Mock was here, at that time, he, too, would have followed his European colleagues to the Mannar mass graves. German Ambassador in Colombo Joern Rohde was among the diplomats who visited the site, accompanied by foreign and local media.

The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and some other interested parties, who couldn’t stomach the LTTE’s battlefield annihilation, asserted that a second opinion was required. Had the US report referred to a period less than 40 years, the Army would have been in serious trouble.

The Foreign Ministry never called a meeting of Colombo-based envoys to explain the government’s response. The Defence Ministry and Army Headquarters, too, did nothing as regards the Mannar findings. Had the US carbon testing report referred to a period less than 40 years, it would have become a major issue in Geneva and further strengthened the call for the full implementation of the Oct 2015 Resolution.

The US report brought the Mannar mass graves story to an end.

In March 2019, Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne, flanked by Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, Air Marshal Kapila Jayampathy and Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva, asserted that responding to the Geneva allegations wasn’t their (the military) responsibility. Admiral Wijegunaratne said so when the writer pointed out to the top brass that the military had neglected their responsibility in this regard, for 10 years. The Island raised the contentious issue of the military conveniently forgetting its responsibility at a special media briefing called by the Defence Ministry at the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) to explain the role played by them in President Sirisena’s high profile battle against the lucrative narcotics trade.

Man killed by DMI arrested

in India

One-time US Ambassador in Colombo Robert O Blake and several other international organizations and a section of the media accused the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) of killing Kathiravelu Thayapararajah. The DMI was accused of torturing and killing Thayapararajah in Sept 2009. Allegations persisted though Thayapararajah’s body was never found. Accusations continued until Thayapararajah was    taken into custody in May 2014 after entering Tamil Nadu illegally. The former head of Vanni Tech set up in Kilinochchi during the Norway-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) is now languishing in an Indian jail. Thayapararajah’s case is certainly not an isolated incident.  Thayapararajah had never been wanted in Sri Lanka on terrorism charges though he chose to flee the country clandestinely with his wife and children. Had they died on their way to Tamil Nadu by boat, due to some mishap, they, too, would have been in the list of the disappeared.

Australian identity for high

profile JVPer

Australia admitted that it issued a new passport to one time top JVPer and leader of the Frontline Socialist Party, Kumar Gunaratnam, under the assumed name Noel Mudalige. Although large scale issuance of passports, bearing new identities to those seeking political asylum on various grounds, is common knowledge, the admission by the then Australian High Commissioner Robyn Mudie in respect of Kumar Gunaratnam (at that time missing in Sri Lanka) surprised many. But, she had no option but to acknowledge Australia’s role due to circumstances beyond her control. This was during the previous Rajapaksa administration. The issurance of Australian passport came to light after Mudie intervened on Gunaratnam/Mudalige’s behalf.

Missing LTTE cadre in French movie

Another case that underscored the absurdity of accusations, pertaining to missing persons, is ex-LTTE combatant, Jesuthasan Antonythasan, who had been listed among the disappeared, but acted in Dheepan which won the Palme d’Or award at the 68th Cannes film festival in May 2015. Antonythasan was introduced there as a Sri Lankan novelist and former child soldier. Interestingly, Antonythasan played the role of a former LTTE cadre who had fled the country. Antonythasan had reached France during 1993, using a fake passport, via Thailand, and was given political asylum.

The media quoted the award-winning ex-LTTEer as having said: "I came to France because at the time I was able to only find a fake French passport and not a fake British or Canadian passport," Anthonythasan said, noting how difficult it had been to learn the French language. He declared that it would still be dangerous for him to return home.

"Officially in 2009 the civil war came to an end. However, even today there are still armed attacks against minorities in Sri Lanka," Antonythasan was quoted as having said.

"Even today, we don’t know how many prisoners of war were captured by the government, we have no real information."

Anthonythasan refrained from mentioning who forcibly conscripted him at the age of 16 to fight for the terrorists.