Tuesday, 19 February 2019

A peacetime medal for Sri Lanka armed forces




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Admiral Ravindra C. Wijegunaratne, on the afternoon of Feb. 13, 2019, received the Nishan-e-Imtiaz (Military) medal from President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, at a special investiture ceremony, in Islamabad.

Wijegunaratne’s wife, Yamuna, and only son, Satyajith, were among those invited by the Government of Pakistan. Wijegunaratne received the appointment as CDS on Aug 22, 2017 after having served as the Commander of the Navy, from July 11, 2015.

The following is a section of a statement, issued by the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo on Feb. 14, 2019: The ‘Nishan-e-Imtiaz’ (order of Excellence) medal is the highest honour given to any civilian in Pakistan, based on their achievements towards world recognition for Pakistan or an outstanding service for the country. The award is not limited to citizens of Pakistan and while it is a civilian award, it can also be awarded to military personnel and worn on the uniform.

"It is regarded as the highest award one can achieve in Pakistan since the higher award Nishan-e-Pakistan is awarded only to foreign Heads of States.

"For those in the Military it is given after distinguished service and is also the highest award that can be awarded to those at the rank of Generals (Army), Air Chief marshals (Air Force) and Admirals of the Navy, Coast Guards and Marines.

"Nishan-e-Imtiaz" or Order of Imtiaz highly is a restricted and prestigious award roughly equivalent to the Presidential Medal of Freedom (USA) and Order of British Empire (UK).

"Few foreign military senior officers awarded this medal during recent past are Vice Admiral Abdulla Al- Sulthan, Chief of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces, General Zhang Youxia of the Chinese Military and Vice Admiral Adnan Ozbal, Chief of the Turkish Naval Forces."

Wijegunaratne couldn’t have received recognition from Pakistan, a true friend of Sri Lanka, at a better time. The honour Pakistan bestowed on Wijegunaratne should be examined against the backdrop of current UK-led efforts, inimical to Sri Lanka. In spite of deliberately undermining a friendly country, the UK continues to assure Sri Lanka of its friendly intentions.

Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)’s statement made on Feb. 05, 2019, in the House of Lords, in response to Lord Naseby’s call to annul the 2015 and 2017 Geneva Resolutions, exposed the duplicity in the British position.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, in his speech, desperately tried to convince the world that the UK is a friend of Sri Lanka. A true friend would never have allowed a friendly country to be intimidated, humiliated and faulted on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Actually, the UK should have been ashamed of the way successive British administrations mollycoddled by the LTTE till the very end of the organization on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in May 2009, and those who continue to pursue the separatist agenda.

Lord Ahmad, who is also the UK Human Rights Minister, expressed satisfaction regarding Canada and Germany joining the leader of the Resolutions core group (UK), Macedonia and Montenegro as co-sponsors of Geneva Resolutions in the wake of the US quitting the Geneva body. Lord Ahmad assured the House of Lords; "Both Canada and Germany share our understanding of the importance of achieving reconciliation in Sri Lanka. At the same time, the US remains a strong external supporter of the resolution and an advocate for progress..."

Canada and Germany owe the people of Sri Lanka an explanation as to why they still believe in unsubstantiated UN allegations, pertaining to the massacre of over 40,000 Tamil civilians on the Vanni east front, in 2009. It would be interesting to know whether Canada and Germany sought a clarification from the UK as regards the credibility of war crimes allegations before pledging their support to the British initiative. Canada and Germany couldn’t have turned a blind eye to Lord Naseby’s sensational disclosure, in Oct 2017, on the basis of wartime British Resident Defence Attache (RDA) Lt. Col. Anton Gash’s dispatches (January 1, 2009-May 31, 2009) to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Gash cleared Sri Lanka of war crimes. It would be interesting to know whether the British had at least unofficially shared Gash’s reports, sought by Lord Naseby, in Nov 2014, with Canada and Germany, before they joined the UK-led core group. In spite of Lord Naseby seeking the intervention of the Information Commissioner’s Office, in terms of the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, he couldn’t secure the entire set of dispatches. Thereby, the so-called true friend of Sri Lanka deprived Sri Lanka of an opportunity to examine war crimes allegations afresh. Those in power, in Colombo, cooperated and, in fact, facilitated the despicable British project while the war-winning former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s team lacked a strategy to counter lies. In a way, the latter’s failure is far worse than the treacherous conduct of the UNP-SLFP administration (January 09, 2015 – Oct 26, 2018) and the UNP government established on Dec 20, 2018. The Rajapaksa team, pathetically failed, both in parliament and outside, to expose those in power. The Rajapaksa team never conducted a vigorous campaign to highlight the injustice done to the armed forces though, from time to time the grouping sought to take political advantage.

The recognition of Admiral Wijegunaratne should be considered an honour bestowed, not only on an individual, but the war-winning armed forces now at the receiving end of a Western operation. The former Navy Chief himself is under investigation regarding his alleged role in helping one Lt. Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi to leave the country in a Fast Attack Craft (FAC). The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) accused Admiral Wijegunaratne of coming to the rescue of Hettiarachchi, one of the personnel allegedly responsible for nearly a dozen wartime disappearances, in Colombo and its suburbs. Since then the CID allegation has been proved baseless though the CDS case is pending in court. CDS is also under investigation for allegedly trying to assault and shoot Lt. Commander Laksiri Galagamage, a key witness in the disappearance case. The Fort Magistrate court granted Wijegunaratne bail, in early Dec 2018, pending further investigations.

There cannot be any dispute over the need to punish those responsible for killing civilians during war or peace or facilitated sordid operations, regardless of their standing in society.

Since Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009, the armed forces are under fire over gross human rights violations. Today, those in power have conveniently forgotten the case of 11 disappeared youth, first reported by the wartime Navy Chief Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda about a week after Velupillai Prabhakaran died at the hands of the Army. The previous government should accept responsibility for its failure to bring the investigation to a successful conclusion before the change of government in January 2015. The Rajapaksa government sat on the investigation. The case sharply divided the Navy, with a section, following the change of government extending, its support to the political project meant to implicate Karannagoda.

The previous government’s failure facilitated the Western project. The abduction and assault of the Deputy Editor of The Nation, Keith Noyahr (on May 22, 2008), the assassination of The Sunday Leader Editor, Lasantha Wickrematunga (on January 08, 2009), attempt on the life of the then Editor of Rivira Upali Tennakoon (January 23, 2009) and the disappearance of media personality Prageeth Ekneligoda (on the eve of January 26, 2010) ruined Sri Lanka’s reputation. The previous government never made an honest attempt to bring the cases to a successful conclusion.

The writer sought an explanation from the then Foreign Minister, Prof. G.L. Peiris, who is the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), and retired Maj. Ajith Prasanna, at a media briefing given at the SLPP Office at Nelum Mawatha, Battaramulla, as to why the cases couldn’t be solved until the change of government in January 2015. They couldn’t explain the indefensible failure on the part of the previous administration. The above mentioned cases, including the disappearance of the Tamil youths, will remain in public focus and will certainly become campaign issues at the next presidential and parliamentary polls, in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Patriotic National Front (PNF) General Secretary, Dr. Wasantha Bandara, recently alleged that there was an attempt to take Admiral Karannagoda into custody, along with several other Navy personnel regarding the disappearance of the 11 youths. Dr. Bandara alleged that the arrests were to be made before the commencement of the 40th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) next month. The civil society activist offered to brief President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, on the move against Karannagoda. Dr. Bandara, who has been at the forefront of nationalist efforts to expose the anti-Sri Lanka project alleged that in addition to Ministers, Mangala Samaraweera and Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, incumbent Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando was involved in the move to take Karannagoda into custody.

Dr. Bandara’s allegation should be examined against the backdrop of Defence Secretary Fernando, obviously referring to the case of the 11 missing youth case declaring that 11 military men would be prosecuted within the next two weeks. The assurance was given on the morning of January 21, 2019 at Nalanda College where he was felicitated by the College for being appointed the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. Fernando had erred by referring to 11 suspects whereas 11 was the number of alleged victims. Many an eyebrow was raised when Fernando declared that only those who had received gallantry medals by way of a gazette issued by the government could be called ‘war heroes.’ A section of the media loved Fernando’s assertion. Those in the media who cannot stomach the LTTE’s annihilation defended Fernando. He had no qualms in inviting the Tamil Diaspora to furnish information regarding atrocities committed by the military.

Fernando declared: "There are only 39,000 war heroes in this country, out of which 34,000 are in the Army, 4,400 in the Navy, and 868 in the Air Force. To be a war hero, you have to have a war hero medal gazetted to your name. The young man who joined the Army three months before thinks he is a war hero when he returns home. That is not right."

Among those in the audience were both senior serving and retired officers. The assertion that only those who received gallantry medal can be called ‘war heroes’ is nothing but an affront to those who served the armed forces at the risk of their lives.

More on British stand on terrorism

Apropos last week’s piece titled ‘Naseby disclosure disregarded, Lanka reiterates commitment to Geneva process’, with strap line ‘Lord Ahmad reveals constructive meeting with Mangala in London’, a Sri Lankan, domiciled overseas, told the writer that Lord Naseby, in his Feb 05 speech, in the House of Lords, made a direct reference to Mrs Adele Balasingham, the Australian-born second wife of LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham. "The Eelam conflict would not have lasted as long as three decades in SL, if the LTTE had not received material assistance (funds, equipment and political support) from the Tamil Diaspora. The countries that turned a blind eye to the support that the Tamil Tigers received, should now acknowledge that their inaction for so many years contributed to the slaughter of innocent civilians by the LTTE throughout the Eelam conflict. Thus countries such as the UK, Canada, the USA and Australia are also responsible for the atrocities that the LTTE committed," he said, adding Martin Luther King Jnr summed it up when he said: "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

The Balasinghams had a direct connection to the British state and establishment. Anton Balasingham served the British High Commission in Colombo before he settled in London. Balasingham passed away in the UK in Dec 2006 as his organization was battling the military in Sri Lanka. Balasingham wouldn’t never have believed the annihilation of the lot. Balasingham, would have been certainly proud of the British if he was alive to know how the UK government made a desperate effort to throw a lifeline to the LTTE. Thanks to secrets revealing Wiki Leaks, the British effort to save Prabhakaran, and his key leaders, in April 2009, is in the public domain.

The Sri Lankan who wished to remain anonymous recalled a BBC documentary titled "Suicide Killers Inside Story" on Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers (https://vimeo.com/304944042). This documentary was broadcast in the UK on Oct 23, 1991, and was shot in Sri Lanka a few months after the assassination by a woman LTTE suicide bomber of the former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi, in Tamil Nadu, in May 1991. The documentary included interviews with both Anton Balasingham and Adele Balasingham. This documentary provides evidence of Adele’s role in the leadership of the LTTE and her position in the Tiger’s women wing.

Sri Lanka should have made a formal request for the investigation of Adele Balasingham’s role in the alleged human rights violations by the LTTE in Sri Lanka. "If both countries are serious about honouring the commitments of the UNHRC Resolution, then there should be no hiding place for those people in the LTTE who supported the Tamil Tigers from abroad," he told The Island.

Lord Ahmad, who on Feb 05, 2019, rejected, on the UK government’s behalf, Lord Naseby’s call to annul Geneva Resolutions, based on lies, was the Chief Guest at a diplomatic reception at the Sri Lanka Residence on the following day to celebrate Sri Lanka’s 71st independence anniversary. Lord Naseby, President of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Sri Lanka in the UK Parliament, was also present along with several other dignitaries, including Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland, QC, the Lord Mayor of Westminster Lindsey Hall and Sri Lankan-British author Romesh Gunasekera.

Sri Lankan High Commission quoted High Commissioner Manisha Gunasekera in her welcome address as having recalled the strong bonds of friendship, based on historical ties, which the two countries enjoy, which have, in recent times, been reinforced with high level visits. Gunasekera also referred to the significant progress made by the Sri Lanka Government in strengthening the democratic institutions, upholding good governance and the rule of law, and reconciliation. She also referred to Sri Lanka’s economic competitiveness, and the important role that the UK continued to play as Sri Lanka’s 2nd largest single export destination, the 3rd largest source market for tourism and as one of the top 10 investors in Sri Lanka. She also appreciated the support extended by the British Government towards Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process.

Sri Lanka’s political leadership lacked courage at least to request the UK to examine its own wartime RDA Lt. Col Gash dispatches along with other official reports from other missions, such as the US, Germany and Canada, without depending only on claims made by persons whose identities cannot be revealed until 2031. The UN Panel of Experts’ report, released in March 2011’, is clear about the confidentiality of ‘sources for a period of 20 years, beginning in March 2011. Sri Lanka never challenged this either. The Foreign Ministry, under the Rajapaksa watch, played politics with the issue after the end of the conflict. The period after the April 2010 general election was the worst.

Let me end this piece by recalling what one-time top diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala told the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC) Commission, in 2010. Former head of the Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat Dhanapala dealt with the accountability on the part of the international community. The Rajapaksa government never felt the requirement to use Dhanapala’s significant statement though a section of the media pointed out the importance. So far, Dhanapala’s statement has never been mentioned even by a single politician, though, Sri Lanka, during the Rajapaksa watch, squandered millions of USD on US and other foreign PR firms. The government, at least now should initiate an inquiry into public funds spent on PR firms under extremely controversial and questionable circumstances. Below is what Dhanapala told the LLRC, on Aug 25, 2010, after having discussed several contentious issues: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; are harboured; are 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 happened, and I don’t want to name countries, but even countries who 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 the arms and ammunitions 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 nation States from that kind of behavior on the part of the members of the international community, and I think this is something that will echo with many countries in the Non Aligned Movement where Sri Lanka has a very respected position and where I hope we will be able to raise this issue."