Tuesday, 30 April 2019

How shocking police, intelligence services’ failure facilitated Easter Sunday carnage

...first NTJ attack took place in the wake of the Oct 2018 ‘constitutional coup’



President Sirisena, flanked by Lt. Gen. Senanayake and Dr. Raghavan addressing the media at the President’s House

By Shamindra Ferdinando

In spite of being seated next to President Maithripala Sirisena, Northern Province Governor Dr. Suren Raghavan, last week, obviously didn’t hear what the Commander-in-Chief told a group of print and electronic media journalists and proprietors of privately-owned media invited for a special briefing on the Easter Sunday carnage.

The briefing, last Friday (April 26), at the President’s House, began 30 minutes later than the scheduled time.

At the onset of the briefing, President Sirisena rapped his staff for the inappropriate placing of a projection screen. An irate President, while directing the moveable projection screen be placed appropriately, pointed out this reflected the situation in the country. The President didn’t bother to hide his displeasure. President Sirisena was on a three-day holiday, in Singapore, when suicide bombers struck in three different administrative districts.

The briefing began with Brigadier Chula Kodituwakku, the Director of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), explaining the circumstances leading to the worst single security breach ever. His 20-minute, briefing with the help of a power point presentation was followed by President Sirisena’s explanation as to why his government pathetically failed to thwart the terrorist operation. Having declared that he wouldn’t seek to absolve himself of the responsibility for the situation, President Sirisena vowed to finish off those responsible. The President flayed the UNP for weakening the military and the DMI. The Commander-in-Chief expressed confidence the military had the wherewithal to speedily neutralize the threat. The President, flanked by Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, and Dr. Raghavan, asserted that the threat would be taken care of, militarily.

Within a week, terrorists suffered debilitating setbacks, with a chance detection of a key hideout in the Ninthavur area, leading to the mass suicide, thereby thwarting a possible second wave of suicide bombings. Wife of Zahran Hashim, the person widely believed to have led those responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage, was apprehended by law enforcement authorities, following the confrontation there on April 26 evening. Their little daughter, too, was rescued.

Have you ever heard of a President, outside Sri Lanka, alleging his own government of jeopardizing the military and intelligence services? The situation in Sri Lanka seems unique. Then President Chandrika Bandaranaike accused the UNP of jeopardizing national security in the wake of a Norway-spearheaded negotiating process. The UNP caused a debilitating setback by ordering a probe on DMI on the basis of unsubstantiated allegation the premier intelligence service planned to assassinate UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe during the Dec 05, 2001, parliamentary polls. The UNP persisted even after the then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, himself one-time DMI Chief, assuring the UNP there was absolutely no basis for the accusation (Army chief says no truth in UNP claims,’ The Island, Nov 11, 2001)

At the April 26 briefing, the President didn’t indicate an interest in initiating talks with extremists. Instead, President Sirisena wanted to go the whole hog. President Sirisena, who is also the Minister in charge of the Law and Order portfolio, secured parliamentary approval to unleash the military.

Perhaps, Hemasiri Fernando has something SHOCKING to say. Did he have no option but to take blame for something he wasn’t responsible?

The media posed a spate of questions to President Sirisena and Lt. Gen. Senanayake. However, Dr. Raghavan, towards the very end of the session, offered advise, contrary to what President Sirisena said. The writer was quite surprised to hear Dr. Raghavan calling for direct talks with those responsible for the heinous crime. One-time Director of the President’s Media asserted talks were necessary in the absence of an accepted mechanism to deal with such a situation. A smiling Dr. Raghavan declared that there was no model/framework to tackle such security threats.

This statement was made on his own. The media certainly didn’t seek the Northern Governor’s opinion. The writer is certain no other journalist present on that occasion bothered to take down notes of Dr. Raghavan’s brief unsolicited advice. Perhaps, the electronic media must have recorded him, hence an opportunity to verify, if necessary.

Dr. Raghavan received appointment as Governor Northern Province in early January this year. Subsequently, he captured media attention in the wake of being included in the government delegation to the 40th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The writer doesn’t want to examine Dr. Raghavan’s assertion, taking into consideration TNA heavyweight Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran’s allegation that Eastern Province Governor M.L.A.M. Hisbullah maintained clandestine links with the group the Easter Sunday attackers belonged to. The writer himself raised the issue with President Sirisena at the briefing.

Dr. Raghavan recently caused quite a controversy in the wake of the Geneva sessions. The Northern Governor earned the wrath of UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet for misleading comments on a meeting she had with the Sri Lankan delegation in Geneva. Dr. Raghavan immediately withdrew his comments. This column dealt with the Geneva issue. Subsequently, Dr. Raghavan played a key role in the Presidential Media awards 2018.

President Sirisena’s team must speak in one voice. President Sirisena, cannot afford to have key members of his team pulling in different directions, especially now. Perhaps, Dr. Raghavan should call a media conference of his own to explain/justify recommendation for direct talks with the terrorist grouping, comprising members of the National Thowheed Jamat (NTJ) and Jamiathul Millathu Ibrahim (JMI). Certainly, Dr. Raghavan also didn’t take into consideration what Brig. Kodituwakku told the gathering in respect of those seeking to cause mayhem. The Brigadier also dealt with the Sri Lankans involvement with ISIS or IS with the focus on expanded ties between them since the first Sri Lankan member of the group died in an American air strike in Syria.

Since the April 26 meeting, the President had with the media, his government proscribed both the NTJ and JMI and was busy in cracking down on those connected with both grops. It would be interesting to know how the government dealt with politicians allegedly involved with the NTJ and JMI. All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen, MP, Western Province Governor Azath Salley, and Mujibur Rahaman, MP, denied allegations directed at them. However, the arrest of UNP Colombo Municipal Councillor Noordeen Mohamed Thajudeen over the discovery of 46 swords in a Mosque, at Slave Island, sent shock waves through the UNP. Thajudeen represents the Colombo Central area. ACMC with its five parliamentarians aligned with the UNP is a constituent of the government. The ACMC represented the previous Rajapaksa administration, too.

With the presidential election scheduled for later this year, President Sirisena still hoping for a consensus with the Sri Lanka Podujana Peranuna (SLPP) to contest the presidential poll, cannot afford to allow a second wave of suicide bombings in Colombo, its suburbs or any part of the country. The suicide, attack directed at the Zion Church, in Central Road, Batticaloa, underscored the daunting challenge in protecting civilian targets not only in the East but North as well. The government cannot ignore evidence that the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday massacre also planned to bomb St. Theresa’s Church, in Kilinochchi. Former TNA member of the Northern Provincial Council Anandi Sasitharan’s called for beefing up of security in the Northern region, though she was earlier at the forefront of a high profile campaign to withdraw the Army. As the wife of one-time LTTE senior Sinnathurai Sasitharan alias Elilan, she played a critical role in anti-Sri Lanka campaign. With the Army back on the roads, in the North, following re-imposition of Emergency Regulations, the TNA will have to rethink its political strategy. TNA ally, the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), too, will have to review its strategy. The top TNA leadership, as well as those foreign governments, and some civil society groups pushing for much reduced military presence in the Northern and Eastern regions, find themselves in an extremely difficult situation. The re-imposition of Emergency Regulations, without a division in parliament, reflected the political crisis experienced by the TNA and the JVP.

Back to President Sirisena’s meeting with the journalists. It would be pertinent to mention how journalists were subjected to scrutiny before they entered the road, leading to the President’s House. President’s Security Division introduced new measures in the wake of the Easter Sunday morning suicide attacks. The writer, however felt that security measures that had been adopted weren’t sufficient to thwart possible infiltration attempt. In fact, the writer is of the view new security measures in place were wholly inadequate in view of the growing threat posed by deranged Islamic terrorists.

Fonseka in the limelight

An unprecedented negligence, on the part of the police that led to the Easter Sunday massacres, gave Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka the perfect opportunity to lambaste the current dispensation. The war-winning Army Commander rationally explained as to how those at the helm of the administration contributed to the deterioration of national security, since the change of government in January 2015. Referring affectionately to those who held law and order portfolio over the past four years, Fonseka questioned their suitability to exercise authority over law enforcement. Fonseka said that all of them had been clueless regarding their ability and capacity to handle the vital portfolio. The Sinha Regiment veteran also questioned the rationale in appointing Ruwan Wijewardene, MP, in his early 40s to, deal with the military. Fonseka criticized Wijewardene being appointed as State Defence Minister. But perhaps, Fonseka’s most important assessment was that the Easter Sunday carnage shouldn’t be simply blamed on the then Defence Secretary, Hemasiri Fernando, and IGP Pujith Jayasundera. Fonseka declared that the political authority should take the blame for the massive loss of lives, injuries to hundreds and the economic cost as well.

Fonseka declared that in any other country, the government would have resigned in the wake of such a national calamity. Fonseka pointed out that here no one took responsibility.

UNP National List lawmaker hit all around the wicket on April 24, 2019

The only one to accept responsibility for a major debacle/failure at national level was Army Commander Lt. Gen. Cecil Waidyaratne. Lt. Gen. Waidyaratne resigned in the wake of the Pooneryn debacle, in early Nov 1993, though he could have easily passed the buck as happened after so many debacles, before and after Pooneryn.

Commando-style multi-pronged assault on Pooneryn-Nagathevanthurai complex jolted the then President D.B. Wijetunga’s government. Several hundred troops perished in the assault. The Army managed to hold onto a section of the Pooneryn base until reinforcements fought their way in. The Nagathevanthurai Navy detachment was lost. Waidyaratne took the rap.

Sri Lanka suffered debilitating setbacks due to political and military miscalculations. President Sirisena cannot absolve himself of the responsibility for appointing Hemasiri Fernando as the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence on Oct. 30, 2018. Fernando succeeded Kapila Waidyaratne, PC, formerly of the Attorney General’s Department. After the change of government, in January 2015, President named B.M.U.D. Basnayake as the Defence Secretary (January-Sept 2015). Basnayake was followed by Karunaratne Hettiarachchi (Sept 2015 to July 2017) and Kapila Waidyaratne (July 2017 to Oct. 2018). President Sirisena brought in Hemasiri Fernando close on the heels of the ‘constitutional coup’ perpetrated by President Sirisena and his predecessor twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Fernando, who had held various vital posts during previous administrations earned the wrath of the armed forces, in late January 2019, for a disparaging statement regarding the war-winning military. President Sirisena allowed Fernando to continue regardless of the controversial statement. Fernando owed an explanation as to why he felt comfortable in seeking Tamil Diaspora help to prosecute military officers and men over accountability issues.

Why did President choose Fernando, a former member of the Volunteer Navy holding the rank of Commander?

Can Fernando explain as to why he refrained from informing President Sirisena of the Indian intelligence alert, received on April 04, 2019?

In fact, Fernando’s lapse is far more serious than IGP Jayasundera’s whose failure to verify action taken by his subordinates caused a catastrophe. A three-member presidential committee now investigating one of the worst security failures should also examine as to why Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) retired Senior DIG Sisira Mendis failed to verify action taken by those responsible.

Muslim fanatics went on the offensive on the morning of April 21, 2019, 16 days after Sri Lanka received, warning from New Delhi.

The writer sought an explanation from Lt. Gen. Senanayake as to why the Director of DMI Brig. Kodituwakku was deprived of the CNI warning, based on the Indian alert. The issue was raised at the President’s House briefing. Lt. Gen. Senananayake acknowledged the denial of the intelligence alert. Who ordered the DMI out of the national intelligence loop, though it should have been a rightful recipient of such a valuable document? When did the Office of CNI stop sharing such information with the DMI?

Perhaps, it would be pertinent to examine whether Army Headquarters brought the situation to the notice of President Sirisena, or at least Defence Secretary Fernando.

During the war, DMI played a crucial role in the war against the LTTE with Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendavitharana receiving the appreciation of all for valuable services rendered by his officers and men. The DMI provided crucial information that led to high profile successful operations. The Nov 02, 2007 SLAF strike, on the Kilinochchi hideout of so called LTTE political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan, was provided by the DMI. The Navy hunted down floating LTTE arsenals on the high seas on the basis of intelligence provided by the DMI. The list of DMI success is long.

The Island inquiries also revealed that the Office of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) too was denied intelligence warning.

The post of CNI was created by way of a cabinet paper, in 2006, to accommodate Hendavitharana who returned to the country following a foreign assignment. Can the post of CNI be held by a serving or retired police officer?

The arrest of a Mohamed Sharif Adam Lebbe alias Gaffoor (53), during a raid in Kattankudy, revealed another shocking intelligence failure. Gaffoor, who had been Zahran’s driver, under interrogation revealed their involvement in the killing of two police constables at Vavunativu on Nov 30, 2018. The killings were blamed on former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The police detained several ex-LTTE cadres. Investigators asserted that ex-LTTE cadres mounted the attack to avenge the Vavunativu police interfering with the annual Heroes’ week celebrations. Obviously, the police and intelligence services failed in the Vavnativu probe. It would be interesting to know whether the DMI conducted a thorough inquiry to into the Vavnativu killings. The police and the DMI certainly owed an explanation as to why they couldn’t bring the investigation to a successful conclusion. Had they succeeded, Sri Lanka may have averted the Easter Sunday massacre. Unfortunately, the police have been on the wrong track. The arrest of Zahran’s driver led to the recovery of personal weapons of victim policemen seized after Vavnativu killings, buried at Wanathavilluwa.

Did the NTJ and the JMI seek to exploit political turmoil to their advantage? Thanks to swift and decisive law enforcement and military response to the new threat, perpetrators of the Vavnativu killings are now known. Don’t forget those extremists caused damages to Buddha statues at Mawanella, in late Dec 2018. Investigations led to the exposure of their Wanathavilluwa hideout.

With two key national elections, scheduled for later this year, and mid next, a comprehensive post-Easter Sunday security/intelligence study is needed. Possible links these extremists may have had with people’s representatives at different levels, including lawmakers, cannot be ignored under any circumstances. Failure to do so may result in a catastrophe even worse than the Easter Sunday carnage. Let me stress that it would be a grave mistake on the part of the government to blame the recent attacks on the then Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and IGP Pujith Jayasundera, who has been sent on compulsory leave by President Sirisena and Senior DIG C.D. Wickremerathne appointed as Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP) on Monday.

Jayasundera, in spite of being asked by the President to resign, held on to his post, pending a decision by the parliament.

In the wake of the recent crisis, the powerful Constitutional Council, headed by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, should be cautious in its decisions. The ten-member CC includes PM Wickremesinghe, Opp. Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Thalatha Atukorale, Bimal Ratnayake and three civil society members Jayantha Dhanapala, Naganathan Sellvakumaran and Javid Yusuf. One vacancy exists with Both TNA leader R.Sampanthan and EPDP leader Douglas Devananda seeking it. Can CC absolve itself of the responsibility choosing Pujith Jayasundera whose failure certainly contributed to the shocking disaster.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Cardinal Ranjith raps Govt. over ‘NZ revenge attack’

Vasu on Easter Sunday carnage: Wheels within wheels



President Maithripala Sirisena visiting the devastated Katuwapitiya Church on Tuesday (April 23) morning. The President was away from the country when extremists mounted co-ordinated suicide attacks in Colombo, Batticaloa and Negombo.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Soon after the Easter Sunday carnage, one-time Norwegian peace negotiator Erik Solheim tweeted: "When we watch the horrific pictures from Sri Lanka, it is important to remember that Muslims and Christians are small minorities. Muslims historically were moderate and peaceful. They have been victims of violence in Sri Lanka, not orchestrating it."

UN’s environment chief, Erik Solheim resigned early this year following severe criticism of his global travels and internal rule-breaking which led some nations to suspend their funding.

Solheim received a spate of reactions, with some expressing anger at his opinion. Solheim was told to keep out of Sri Lanka and also reminded him of his sordid role in Sri Lanka during the Eelam conflict.

Charith Samarakoon tweeted: "You are not needed in Sri Lanka. The same friends of you devastated the country and failed people."

Solheim responded: "My friends in Sri Lanka among many others Chandrika, Ranil and Mahinda. Everything we did in the peace process was on their request."

Raini Goonatillake, while reminding Solheim all Sri Lankans had suffered due to violence over the years, requested the former Norwegian Minister to remove the post.

Shardha Sosa asked a pertinent question from Solheim: So who, according to you, is orchestrating it? Norway?

Solheim declaration that Norway handled the peace process the way Chandrika, Ranil and Mahinda wanted was nothing but a blatant lie meant to deceive the people here and the international community. Only Wickremesinghe really believed in the Norwegian project though Oslo also failed him badly.

Norway finalized a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) under questionable circumstances in Feb 2002 between the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. They didn’t even bother to consult the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, let alone secure her blessings. Mahinda Rajapaksa, in spite of assuring his commitment to the Norwegian initiative, following the Nov 2005 presidential election, launched a sustained combined security forces campaign, in Aug 2006 once the LTTE resumed large scale hostilities.

Norway never listened to President Rajapaksa. Norwegians always believed Sri Lanka should agree to a negotiated settlement on Prabhakaran’s terms as the organization was militarily in an unbeatable position. Sri Lanka proved Norway wrong in less than three years after Prabhakaran resumed the war, with large scale simultaneous attacks in both the northern and eastern theatres.

Under Rajapaksa’s leadership, Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

Solheim still seems keen to influence and deceive the Sri Lankan public. Those who responded to Solheim’s tweet, the writer believes represented the interests of the vast majority of people. Unfortunately, the government lacked an efficient apparatus to counter lies and anti-Sri Lanka propaganda. Interested parties exploit Sri Lanka’s failure to counter propaganda and lies, both here and abroad. Solheim has cleverly misinterpreted facts to divert attention from the murderous group responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage - the largest single coordinated suicide attack directed against non-military targets in Sri Lanka.

Why did Solheim play down unprecedented multiple attacks on prominent places of worship, like St. Anthony’s Church at Kochchikade, Kotahena, St. Sebastian's Church at Katuwapitiya, Protestant Zion Church in Batticaloa, three leading hotels, namely Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury in Colombo, and Tropical Inn, a rest house at Dehiwela.

Former Commandant of the elite Special Task Force (STF) retired DIG Nimal Lewke appearing on Sirasa Pathikada yesterday (April 23) morning pointed out extremists targeting both Sinhala and Tamil Catholics.

Amidst varying claims and assertions, a senior commando, responsible for counter-terrorist measures, told the writer there were altogether nine explosions caused by suicide bombers.

Prez-UNP rift widens

A press conference, called by the UNP at Temple Trees, and another chaired by war-winning President and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the Opposition Leader’s Office, on Monday afternoon (April 22), to discuss the Easter Sunday carnage and subsequent developments, revealed continuing infighting in the government.

President Maithripala Sirisena, as head of the cabinet in terms of the Constitution, is the head of the government. Therefore, President Sirisena, who is also the leader of the SLFP, and the UNP members of the cabinet, cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for the deaths of over 300 men, women and children and injuries to approximately 500 others.

They proved parties, represented in Parliament, lacked political will and courage to acknowledge shortcomings and take remedial measures.

Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne accused members of the National Security Council (NSC) of spurning Premier Wickremesinghe’s move to chair an emergency meeting in the absence of President Sirisena, who was away from the country at the time terrorists launched attacks. President Sirisena returned to Colombo on Sunday night. Dr. Senaratne explained how Premier Wickremesinghe had to meet NSC members at State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene’s office. Separately, outspoken Colombo District UNP MP Mujibur Rahaman told the writer how Premier Wickremesinghe was deprived of an opportunity to participate in NSC deliberations since the abortive Oct 2018 constitutional coup. The UNP questioned as to how President Sirisena left the country without making proper arrangements in case of an emergency.

Dr. Senaratne claimed that the initial warning was received on April 04, 2019, from a foreign intelligence service though the much discussed DIG Priyalal Dissanayake letter, now in the public domain was written later.

Lawmaker Rahaman asserted that UNP leader Wickremesinghe couldn’t be held accountable for the failure on the part of the administration to thwart Sunday’s attacks as he was not in any way involved in security matters and President Sirisena held the law enforcement portfolio. Rahaman is of the opinion that since President Sirisena took credit for the successful campaign conducted against narcotics on the basis of him being in charge of the police, he should accept the failure on the part of the police to thwart Sunday’s massacre.

Opposition Leader Rajapaksa blamed the deaths of over 300 people on the government. Rajapaksa declined to comment on the battle between President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe when the media raised the issue at the media briefing at the Opposition Leader’s Office. Rajapaksa pointed out that the media knew much more about the disagreement between President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe than him.

Although, Dr. Senaratne and MP Rahaman blamed President Sirisena for depriving Premier Wickremesinghe information pertaining to possible attacks by an extremist group, Western Province Governor Azath Salley claimed that he in spite of personal risks, alerted President Sirisena, PM Wickremesinghe and Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando of planned terrorist strikes.

Salley told the writer how he tried, in vain, to convince political leaders and the Defence Secretary to go the whole hog after dangerous activities of some of his community were brought to his notice. Salley alleged yahapalana leaders lacked the political will to face the daunting task.

Media coverage of post-Easter Sunday attacks raised many an eyebrow with Minister Mano Ganesan’s shocking revelation at the Temple Trees media briefing how his Chief Security Officer alerted him of possible Sunday attacks days before the incident.

Ganesan is the second minister to claim that he was aware of the impending attacks. Harin Fernando was the first. The Badulla District MP claimed that his father alerted him after receiving the warning from a police officer.

Interestingly, those who ignored repeated warnings of an extremist attack on Catholic churches, called for the immediate questioning of Chatura Alwis soon after he presented ‘Derana Aruna’ on Monday at 6.30 pm. The police recorded his statement at the Derana office in the Maradana police area. His crime was allegedly inciting people over the Easter Sunday massacre.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, who sat next to Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Opposition Leader’s Office briefing, claimed that among those who had been taken in for questioning was a person on the National List of the JVP at the August 2015 parliamentary election. Can the government ignore Weerawansa’s revelation? The JVP should explain its position on this accusation? Weerawansa alleged that the children of the arrested person were among the suicide attackers.

Weerawansa went on to accuse Salley and Rahaman of having close links with those responsible for Sunday’s attacks. The one-time JVP firebrand recalled how Rahaman chided him in parliament, early this year, when he expressed concerns over activities of extremists following incidents at Mawanella and the police raid on a hideout at Wanathavilluwa. "Rahaman accused me of seeing crocodiles in a basin of water", the NFF Leader said.

The Joint Opposition, too, knew of intelligence warning though the issue wasn’t raised until the Sunday massacre. JO lawmakers cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for those who perished.

‘Intelligence failure’ or ‘political negligence’

Defence Secretary Fernando on Monday admitted that in spite of being alerted the government couldn’t do anything for want of an Emergency declaration. The government did away with the Emergency following the end of the war a decade ago.

Having visited the devastated Colomba Kochchikade church, Fernando, in response to a query from a foreign journalist said: "We never expected an attack of this magnitude." Fernando also claimed that the government couldn’t take tangible measures though it had prior information because Sri Lanka was a democracy.

Defence Secretary Fernando’s assertion that tangible counter measures couldn’t be taken for want of legal authority should be examined taking into consideration Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake’s declaration that the military lacked authorization to respond to the threat.

Lt. Gen. Senanayake didn’t mince his words when he admitted the military though having specific intelligence couldn’t act on its own for want of proper legal cover. The shocking admission was made in response to Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith raising the failure on the part of those exercising political power to inform him of the possible attacks on Easter Sunday. The accountability on the government’s part was taken up when Lt. Gen. Senanayake met Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House, Borella, on Monday morning.

Cardinal Ranjith asked as to why the Church was deprived of the benefit of the intelligence alert. Pointing out Minister Harin Fernando’s claim that he received warning ahead of the Sunday massacre, Cardinal Ranjith strongly emphasized the responsibility on the part of the government to take the public into confidence.

Cardinal Ranjith also pointed out a person no less than Premier Wickremesinghe acknowledged the government having intelligence regarding the multiple attacks.

It would be pertinent to mention that in addition to Salley and Rahaman, SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem, at the briefing at Temple Trees, accused the government of turning a blind eye to specific information regarding the extremist group’s activities.

His Cabinet colleague, Kabir Hashim, the Chairman of the UNP, made a devastating revelation regarding alleged political interference that may have hindered high profile investigation into the extremist group’s activities. The Kegalle District lawmaker speculated that among those who carried out suicide attacks was a person released from custody a couple of months ago due to high level political intervention. He was among three others arrested after the detection of an arms cache in a coconut estate at Wanathawilluwa, immediately following the vandalizing of Buddhist shrines at Mawanella in December last year.

A three-member committee, appointed by President Sirisena, certainly cannot ignore shocking revelations made by ministers if it really intended to establish the truth. The committee comprises Supreme Court judge Vijith Malalgoda, former IGP N.K. Illangakoon and Former Law and Order Ministry Secretary Padmasiri Jayamanne.

A proper investigation, free of political interference, will expose those responsible for criminal negligence at different political, security and administrative levels. The Malalagoda report can be as explosive as the Supreme Court judge K.T. Chitrasiri’s on treasury bond scams perpetrated in Feb 2015 and March 2016. Perhaps, the forthcoming report is likely to be politically far worse than the bond scams report as the recent government failure caused the deaths of over 300 people and wounded 500. Among the dead were nearly 40 foreigners.

With members of the government pulling in different directions, Sri Lanka seemed in deep political turmoil in the absence of a clear strategy to tackle the threat. Defence Secretary Fernando’s shocking declaration that those involved in the vital hotel trade should have looked after their security and the government even at the height of the war never provided security to hotels shocked the public. Fernando earned the wrath of a section of the public when he called for information from Tamil Diaspora to prosecute those who were allegedly responsible for atrocities during and after the conflict. That statement was made at an event organized in Nalanda College to felicitate him on being appointed as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.

Vasu links Lanka attacks with

NZ massacre

Appearing on Derana 360 Monday night, UPFA lawmaker Vasudeva Nanayakkara discussed the Easter Sunday massacre and its implications with Dilka Samanmali.

Responding to a query regarding local extremists targeting churches, Nanayakkara asserted the possibility of the Easter Sunday carnage being a retaliatory strike against the New Zealand church massacre in March this year.

Nanayakkara alleged the local attackers carried out ISIS instructions to avenge the Christchurch massacre.

The group’s spokesman, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, interrupted a six-month silence to call on ISIS friends to "take vengeance for their religion" in a 44-minute audio recording.

"This slaughter in those two mosques is no more than another tragedy among past and coming tragedies, which will be followed by scenes of force that reach all who were tricked to living among the polytheist," al-Muhajir said in the message distributed by Al Furqan, a media organization allegedly linked to ISIS.

The ISIS spokesman last issued a statement in September 2018 immediately after an attack on an Iranian military parade in Ahvaz.

The Easter Sunday attack attracted journalists to Sri Lanka in droves from major news agencies a decade after the restoration of peace.

Nanayakkara underscored the pivotal importance of investigating the Easter Sunday massacre taking into consideration the alleged attempts to assassinate President Sirisena and wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Referring to allegations regarding the government turning a blind eye to intelligence warnings, Nanayakkara queried as to whether those in authority deliberately allowed the extremists to grow. The lawmaker alleged that a complicated situation existed and investigators should inquire into all aspects of the case to ensure those responsible were punished.

The lawmaker reminded that the extremist threat emanated from the Eastern Province, where an alleged plot involving interdicted DIG Namal Silva, now in remand, would have targeted  President Sirisena.

Nanayakkara also speculated the possibility of those responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage planning a simultaneous operation to rescue notorious drug dealers detained at the maximum security Welikada prison. Nanayakkara requested Dilka Samanmali to interrupt him if she felt his reading of the situation was not acceptable to the television station.

Responding to another query, Nanayakkara said that he would inquire from President Sirisena whether he received the much discussed DIG’s letter dated April 11, 2019, before the Easter Sunday massacre on April 21,

2019. Nanayakkara said that he didn’t have an opportunity to raise the issue with the President. "Of course, President Sirisena owed an explanation."

Nanayakkara explained that Sri Lanka could have averted the Easter Sunday carnage had those in authority properly investigated extremist activity the following high profile raid on the Wanathavilluwa safe house in the third week of January this year.

Nanayakkara speculated whether the negligence paved the way for multiple attacks or deliberately allowed the extremists to strike. The outspoken politician expressed concerns over the US role in Sri Lanka and alleged the UNP bid to divert attention from the plot to kill the President.

With presidential election scheduled for later this year, Sri Lanka seems to be heading for a catastrophe especially against the backdrop of a deeply divided government struggling to cope up with an unprecedented security challenge.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Vanni death toll: numbers game continues



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), on April 05, 2019, ahead of the final vote on the 2019 budget, estimated that the number of Tamil civilians killed on the Vanni east front during the final phase of the offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in January 2009, could be as many as 60,000 to 110,000.

This claim was made by TNA leader attorney-at-law Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, MP. Declaring that everything couldn’t be swept under the carpet, Sampanthan explained how he made his assertion.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion on the morning of May 19, 2009 on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. Let me reproduce the relevant section verbatim for the benefit of our readers. "The reason why I am reminding the House of these matters is that you cannot sweep everything under the carpet. Your current approach can do immense harm to this country. Much has been said about the fact that there is a complaint that 40,000 people have been killed and as to how that can be accepted. There were at least 350,000 people in this area, probably around 400,000 based on our own investigations, only 290,000 people came out. What happened to the balance? Your estimate was that there were only 60,000 to 70,000 people who lived in this area at this point of time. You sent food, medicine and other supplies only for that number – 60,000 or 70,000. When the number was as large as 350,000 why did you restrict the number to only 60,000 or 70,000? We conducted our own investigation in regard to this matter and we were satisfied that there were at least 350,000 to 400,000 people in that part of Mullaitivu at that point of time."

The Office of MP Sampanthan released the full transcript of his statement on April 08, 2019. The Island carried the entire statement the following day. The 86-year-old veteran politician conveniently forgot some critically important matters though he warned the House that its approach could cause much harm to the country.

Sampanthan’s warning should be examined against the backdrop of Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, challenging the UNSG Panel of Experts’ (PoE) claim of as many as 40,000 civilians killed during the final assault on the Vanni east front (PoE report. Section 137).

Marapana contradicted the PoE claim on March 20, 2019 at the Geneva based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The former Attorney General based his assertion on wartime British High Commission dispatches. MP Sampanthan, however, not only reiterated his faith in the UN claim as regards civilian deaths but asserted the actual figure could be as many as 110,000.

The TNA Chief called for (1) the full implementation of Geneva Resolution 30/1 and (2) introduction of a new Constitution as unanimously decided by a resolution in parliament in early 2016. MP Sampanthan, in respect of (1) declared that the Geneva Resolution was based on two investigations - the POE report, released in March 2011, and the UN Human Rights Council report later.

At the onset of his long speech, Sampanthan recalled what he said in parliament on January 21, 2009. Referring to constant aerial bombings and heavy artillery fire directed at civilians trapped in the Mullaitivu district, the Tamil leader asked: "Is this happening in any part of the world?"

A disappointed Sampanthan was addressing the parliament about three weeks after the armed forces liberated Kilinochchi, which the LTTE considered as its ‘capital.’ The LTTE used to receive those loyal to the group as well as various foreign emissaries. Until the fall of Kilinochchi, the likes of Sampanthan believed the LTTE could somehow thwart the armed forces offensive and launch its own successful counter attack to regain lost territory.

Obviously, MP Sampanthan has forgotten his ‘honeymoon’ with LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in the run up to the Eelam War IV. The Eelam War IV began with simultaneous LTTE assaults in both the northern and eastern theaters in the second week of August 2006. The Norway-led Scandinavian truce monitoring mission blamed the LTTE for the resumption of large scale hostilities. The mission asserted that the LTTE offensive seemed to have been a well prepared initiative (SLMM blames LTTE for Jaffna battle, The Island, September 08, 2006).

Sampanthan didn’t find fault with the LTTE, under any circumstances, until the group capitulated to the massive military pressure.

Sampanthan, while raising the military onslaught on the LTTE, quite conveniently forgot his own role in the LTTE project that compelled the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa to crush it militarily.

The group, proscribed in India in the wake of one-time Premier Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by a Tiger suicide cadre, and also the US and the UK, accepted the TNA’s recognition as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. This was in late 2001 following the LTTE taking the upper hand in the northern theatre with the dramatic capture of the strategic Elephant Pass base from the army. The TNA, obviously believed in the LTTE’s capacity to overwhelm the armed forces thus the LTTE-TNA alliance. Overnight, the LTTE had its representatives in parliament. Imagine, a proscribed organization having its own political outfit in parliament.

The European Union Election Observation Mission in June 2004 accused the TNA of securing the Northern and Eastern electorates with the direct support of the LTTE. The EU report, on the April 2004 parliamentary election, sent shock waves through the international community. But, Sampanthan was jubilant having the northern and eastern electorates under his command even with the murderous LTTE stuffing ballot boxes to ensure TNA victory. TULF leader Veerasingham Anandasangaree was the only politician to appreciate the EU report that alleged the LTTE engaged in violence in support of the TNA. Thanks to the LTTE, the TNA secured 22 seats in parliament. So far, it’s the TNA’s best performance at a general election (TULF leader applauds EU for unmasking LTTE proxy-The Island, June 23, 2004).

In a brief interview with the writer, Anandasangaree faulted both foreign and local monitors, CMEV and PAFFREL, for not calling for a fresh poll in the wake of EU report (Monitors should have called for fresh poll in North and East-TULF, The Island, June 25, 2004).

Except The Island, both print and electronic media, including Colombo-based wire services, refrained from reporting the EU revelation. The same lot did not report the Norwegian led truce monitors blaming the LTTE for resumption of the Eelam War IV.

Having relinquished ‘political authority’ to the LTTE, Sampanthan, on behalf of Velupillai Prabhakaran, prohibited the Tamil electorate from exercising its franchise at the Nov 2005 presidential election. The move was meant to ensure Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory because the LTTE-TNA grouping felt confident President Rajapaksa lacked the will to face a massive conventional military challenge. The LTTE-TNA move led to the defeat of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Many were of the opinion that Wickremesinghe would have definitely won the Nov 2005 contest.

Sampanthan speaks to The Island on

the eve of 2005 prez poll

MPs Sampanthan and Joseph Pararajasingham, on the night Wednesday (Nov 15, 2005), confirmed the decision to boycott the Nov 17, 2005 presidential poll by Tamils at their behest. TNA MP Sivajiilingham, appearing on state-run ITN a few days before strongly dismissed assertion that Rajapaksa’s victory would cause imminent resumption of war. Sampanthan, speaking to the writer on the night of Nov 15, from Trincomalee, said: "Nothing worthwhile would be achieved by either of the two leading candidates." Pararajasingham told the writer that the polls boycott decision was taken in Kilinochchi on the previous Wednesday following talks with the LTTE (TNA refuses to change polls boycott stance, The Island, Nov 16, 2005).

The TNA must realize that it cannot sweep everything under the carpet. Sampanthan certainly owed an explanation to his people as regards his relationship with Velupillai Prabhakaran. Sampanthan cannot wish the people to forget how he faithfully cooperated with the LTTE throughout the war until the very end. Can the TNA explain why it remained mum while the LTTE forced the entire Vanni population, living both west and the east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9, road to accompany retreating LTTE fighting units. By late 2008, a substantial portion of the Vanni population had been displaced and by March-April 2009 ended up in the Mullaitivu district. Did Sampanthan, who now speaks of 350,000 to 400,000 trapped in the war zone, ever issue a public statement requesting the LTTE to (1) Release them (2) Did Sampanthan pressure Western powers to demand the LTTE to give up ‘human shields’ and lastly (3) Did Sampanthan at least once, following the fall of Kilinochchi, request Prabhakaran to accept the government offer to surrender.

It would be interesting to know whether Sampanthan ever discussed with Norway ways and means to secure the release of the people held by the LTTE against their will. Sampanthan, at that time directly dealt with the international community as M.A. Sumanthiran was yet to enter parliamentary politics. Sumanthiran, now the key TNA negotiator, even responsible for a tripartite agreement on foreign judges, worked out in 2015, entered parliament in April 2010.

In the absence of a TNA effort to save the Vanni population, some of those countries involved with the LTTE sought an understanding with the LTTE. The former President’s Office made available a copy of a brief missive sent by war time Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo, Tore Hattrem, to the then National List MP and presidential adviser Basil Rajapaksa. The letter dealt with Norwegian bid to secure the release of civilians held by the LTTE. The following is the text of the letter headlined Offer/proposal to the LTTE dated Feb. 16, 2009: "I refer to our telephone conversation today. The proposal to the LTTE on how to release the civilian population now trapped in the area it controlled has been transmitted to the LTTE through several channels. So far there has been regrettably no response from the LTTE and it does not seem to be likely that the LTTE will agree to this in the near future." Norway never pushed the influential Tamil Diaspora, in Norway, to pressure the LTTE leadership to give up its meaningless resistance. Thanks to WikiLeaks, the world knows the ICRC believed the Army could have finished off the LTTE much faster if it didn’t take the civilian factor into consideration on the Vanni east front.

As Ambassador Hattrem predicted, the LTTE refused to release civilians in spite of repeated appeals. Interestingly, the Tamil National Alliance never urged the LTTE to give up ‘human shields.’ The TNA remained steadfastly committed to Velupillai Prabhakaran macabre cause until the very end.

For how long Sampanthan can continue to deny his outfit’s honeymoon with the terror group? Can Sampanthan play politics with the issue regardless of the consequences, blaming all except his group for the predicament of the Tamil community.

Relevance of Wikileaks revelations

Thanks to WikiLeaks, the world knows some important aspects of Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE. Sri Lanka benefited immensely due to unprecedented leakage of diplomatic cables from US missions in Colombo, London and New Delhi in 2010. It would be pertinent to examine the relevance of WikiLeaks disclosure in respect of Sri Lanka against the backdrop of 47-year-old Julian Assange’s arrest in the UK last week. The British police arrested the WikiLeaks co-founder Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Australian national Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012.

Assange has been accused of conspiring with US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to download classified databases.

Assange established WikiLeaks in 2006 with a view to securing and publishing confidential documents and images exposing grave wrongs committed by the West.

WikiLeaks hit the headlines four years later when it released footage of US soldiers killing civilians from a helicopter gunship in Iraq, including two Reuters correspondents.

Former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was arrested in 2010 for disclosing more than 700,000 confidential documents, videos and diplomatic cables to the website.

The Rajapaksa government did absolutely nothing to exploit WikiLeaks revelations. Both Defence and Foreign Ministries turned a blind eye disclosures in spite of a section of the media underscoring their relevance. Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009, in Sept 2011 acknowledged the importance of WikiLeaks. Those responsible for the Norwegian report examined WikiLeaks though they couldn’t take all relevant documents into consideration for obvious reasons. The authors said: "As the report was being published, new material of relevance for assessing Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka was released by WikiLeaks. Unfortunately, it came too late for the evaluation."

Sampanthan’s accusations regarding massive artillery and aerial assaults on the Vanni should be discussed taking into consideration the following US diplomatic dispatch now in public domain, thanks to WikiLeaks.

The then US Ambassador in Geneva, Clint Williamson, following a meeting with Jacques de Maio, ICRC head of South Asia Operations on July 09, 2009, two months after the conclusion of the conflict, sent the following dispatch dated July 15, 2009 to Washington: "The army was determined not to let the LTTE escape from its shrinking territory, even though this meant the civilians being kept hostage by the LTTE were at increasing risk. So, de Maio said, while one could safely say that there were ‘serious, widespread violations of IHL (International Humanitarian Law),’ by the Sri Lankan forces, it did not amount to genocide. He could site examples of where the army had stopped shelling when ICRC informed them it was killing civilians. In fact, the army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths. He concluded, however, by asserting that the GSL failed to recognize its obligation to protect civilians despite the approach leading to higher military casualties. From his standpoint, a soldier at war should be more likely to die than a civilian."

Sri Lanka should be grateful to Assange and Manning for that particular diplomatic cable from Geneva. That cable proved the heavy price paid by Sri Lanka for adopting a strategy, taking civilian factor into consideration. The Army lost 2,400 officers and men during the 2009 battles (the war ended on May 19, 2009) whereas 2,500 personnel laid down their lives between Aug 2006 to Dec 2008).

In fact, the war-winning Rajapaksa administration owed the country, especially the bereaved families, an explanation as to why the fighting formations were deprived of maximum possible firepower on the Vanni east front. Sri Lanka had the wherewithal to finish off the LTTE, trapped in a part of the Mullaitivu district, though it choose not to do so.

Did TNA leaders come across this particular US dispatch? Sampanthan’s Office should at least now take all available matters into consideration including US diplomatic dispatches, Lord Naseby’s disclosure, based on British dispatches during the same period and US Defence Attache Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith’s revelation at the inaugural Defence Seminar in May-June 2011 in Colombo.

Ambassador Williamson’s dispatch made a specific comment on Sampanthan’s sole representative of Tamil speaking people. "On the LTTE, de Maio said that it had tried to keep civilians in the middle of a permanent state of violence. It saw the civilian population as a ‘protective asset’ and kept its fighters embedded amongst them. De Maio said that the LTTE commanders, objective was to keep the distinction between civilian and military assets blurred. They would often respond positively when ICRC complained to the LTTE about stationing weapons at a hospital, for example. The LTTE would move the assets away, but as they were constantly shifting these assets, they might just show up in another unacceptable place shortly thereafter."

Williamson quoted Maio as having said it would be hard to state that there was a systematic order to LTTE fighters to stick with civilians in order to draw fire. Civilians were indeed under ‘physical coercion not to go here or there. Thus, the dynamics of the conflict were that civilians were present all the time. This makes it very difficult to determine though at what point such a situation becomes a case of ‘human shields.’

Sampanthan is also silent on a special report prepared by the United Nations Country Team that placed the number of dead (civilians and LTTE cadres) at 7,721 and wounded at 18,479 during Aug 2008 to May 13, 2009. The war ended a week later. The report, based on information obtained from UN national staff, NGOs inside the Vanni, the ICRC, religious leaders and other Vanni-based ‘sources’, contradicted the both unsubstantiated UNSG PoE report as well as Sampanthan’s recent claims.

The TNA cannot expect to deceive the public by mere rhetoric in and outside parliament. Had the armed forces failed on the Vanni east front, Prabhakaran would have devoured the TNA by now. The writer is sure the TNA now realized that it paved the way for Eelam War IV by backing the LTTE decision to quit the negotiating table in April 2003. That was the TNA’s second major mistake, the first being recognition of the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil-speaking people. The move ruined the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s efforts to reach consensus at the negotiating table even at the expense of him and that of his party. But, eventually, the LTTE-TNA combine facilitated the election of a President who had the political strength to sustain the nearly three-year war until Prabhakaran found his maker on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

UK reiterates foreign judges as Killing Fields producers crucify Lanka again



Army Chief of Staff Major General Shavendra Silva recently received the appointment as the new Colonel of the Commando Regiment at its Ganemulla headquarters. Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, told Geneva sessions that it wouldn’t be fair to deprive security forces commanders of their due rights on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Marapana said that as allegations hadn’t been proved officers couldn’t be dealt with on the basis of them. The delegation also pointed out that information supportive of the military had been disregarded.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The House of Commons seems far more interested in Sri Lanka’s accountability in respect of war against terrorism than our own parliament.

Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Mark Christopher Field, on April 04, 2019, reiterated foreign judges in Sri Lankan judicial mechanism to hear war crimes cases.

Conservative Party member Field reassured the UK’s commitment to ensure participation of foreign judges in proposed mechanism in response to a query raised by Labour MP and shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury).

Obviously, the misleading question was meant to compel the UK government to reiterate its stand on foreign judges in the wake of Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, briefing the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) the extreme difficulty in allowing foreign judges. Marapana addressed the UNHRC on March 20, 2019. The UK, plainly dismissed Sri Lanka’s concerns over foreign judges.

Let me reproduce the question and answer verbatim to prevent possible accusation of misinterpretation of facts.

MP Emily Thornberry’s question: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, for what reasons the Government decided to remove the requirement on Sri Lanka to allow foreign judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers to investigate human rights abuses committed in that country in Resolution A/HRC/40/L.1 presented at the Human Rights Council on 21 March 2019."

Minister Field’s answer: "On 21 March the UK introduced a new Resolution rolling over Sri Lanka’s commitments on post conflict reconciliation and accountability at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The resolution was adopted by consensus, with 42 co-sponsors, including Sri Lanka.

The new Resolution reaffirms Sri Lanka’s commitments under Resolution 30/1, which welcomes the intention of the Government of Sri Lanka to establish a judicial mechanism to investigate allegations of violations and abuses, including the importance of independent and impartial institutions to ensure the credibility of the mechanisms of the participation of foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorises prosecutors and investigators. The UK will continue to support and encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure full implementation of the UNHRC Resolutions."

Having first elected as the Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster in 2001, Field received appointment as Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on June 13, 2017. Before that, Field served on the Intelligence and Security Committee, from September 2010 until March 2015. Field was also made a Privy Counsellor, in March 2015, in recognition of his service for Intelligence and Security Committee.

The UK spearheaded the latest Geneva Resolution in the absence of the US. The world’s solitary superpower quit the UNHRC in June 2018 calling the UN body a cesspool of political bias. Sri Lanka has accepted the UK as the leader in the Core Group on Sri Lanka. Iceland replaced the US. The Core Group, comprising the UK, Canada, Germany, Macedonia and Montenegro, presented a resolution on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.

One-time External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L Peiris queried as to why a single Asian-Pacific member of the UNHRC couldn’t be accommodated in the Core Group on Sri Lanka. The 47-member Geneva body, divided into five zonal, groups included 13 Asian-Pacific countries, namely Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Fiji, India, Iraq, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Prof. Peiris alleged that those hell-bent on hauling war-winning Sri Lanka military and political leaderships before foreign judges are pursuing what he called a Western agenda meant to introduce a federal structure.

A new war crimes documentary

A powerful grouping engaged in a relentless anti-Sri Lanka campaign, produced and released another documentary recently. It coincided with the recently concluded 40th Geneva sessions. The group cannot be faulted under any circumstances for continuing its strategy. The 33-minute documentary, titled ‘Sri Lanka and the Search for Justice ten years on’, began with a warning, of what the producers’ called distressing images throughout the film.

The latest documentary, made by producers of ‘No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka’ dealt with what they called background to crimes perpetrated by Sri Lanka and the extremely slow progress in implementing the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka in Oct 2015, following the change of government. ‘Sri Lanka and the Search for Justice ten years on’ delivered a powerful message in the absence of cohesive government initiative to counter a well developed campaign.

Callum Macrae directed ‘No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka’ produced by Zoe Sale , and telecast on British television station, Channel 4, in June 2011. They thanked Tamil Guardian, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS),The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice and Sacha Walker for backing their latest initiative.

The war-winning Rajapaksa government pathetically failed to counter the Western propaganda. The Rajapaksas played politics with the accountability issue. Their actions, too, contributed to the current situation.

The latest documentary, began with a scene at the UN Compound, in Kilinochchi, in Sept 2008. Benjamin Dix, a former UN staffer, was shown recalling how the government directed the UN to vacate Kilinochchi. Dix asserted that it was supposed to be a war without witness. This scene had been taken from the original ‘No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka.’ Dix was followed by Gordon Weiss, a former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka (2005-2009). Weiss alleged Sri Lanka removed UN personnel as it felt international presence hindered offensive action. Sri Lanka was accused of removing independent witnesses. Weiss’s scene, too, had been taken from the original documentary.

The producers declared, in spite of the government move against the UN, there were witnesses and they filmed what happened. According to them, the witness included both victims and those who perpetrated war crimes.

The latest documentary claimed that based on UN probe six years after the conclusion of the war, Sri Lanka co-sponsored Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution.

The documentary referred to the 2002 Feb Ceasefire Agreement between Sri Lanka and the LTTE arranged by Norway. The documentary expressed the view that the CFA brought peace stability.

The documentary conveniently avoided reference to India sponsoring terrorism here, or Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists making an abortive bid to assassinate the then Maldivian President Mohammed Abdul Gayoom, in Nov 1989. The Sri Lankan raid on the Maldives took place during the deployment of the Indian Army in the Northern and Eastern regions of Sri Lanka (July 1987-March 1990).

The documentary faulted the LTTE for forcible recruitment of child soldiers. The LTTE was also blamed for not tolerating opposition whatsoever.

Reference was made to Mahinda Rajapaksa winning the Nov 2005 presidential election and the launch of the combined security forces offensive against the LTTE in the following year. Unfortunately, the producers made no reference to the LTTE quitting the Norway-led negotiating peace process in late April 2003, high profile assassination of the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in Aug 2005, helping Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the Nov 2005 presidential election by depriving the northern vote to rival UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, assassination bids on Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka in April 2006 and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Dec 2006. Of course, the documentary also conveniently refrained from mentioning President Rajapaksa’s delegation meeting LTTE at overseas venues twice to explore ways and means of resuming negotiations under Norwegian supervision.

Accountability in Sri Lanka cannot be investigated without taking into consideration the ‘pact’ between the LTTE and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). The two parties reached an understanding in late 2001 in the run-up to the Feb 2002 CFA. Can anyone serious about accountability here avoid examining as to how the TNA, on behalf of the LTTE, ordered Tamils not to exercise their franchise at the Nov 2005 presidential election.

The documentary also interviewed Sir John Homes, former UN head of humanitarian affairs, as regards the situation in Northern region at that time. By early 2009, over 400,000 civilians had been on the run.

Contradicting own claim

Having alleged the Rajapaksa government ordered UN out of the war zone in Sept 2008, the documentary admitted the presence of two UN employees in the war zone, in late 2009. Former UN staffer Peter McKay dealt with the final offensive. McKay alleged government forces deliberately targeted those taking refuge in the first no fire zone declared in late January 2009. According to McKay, he had directed his staff to take photographs of the scene of devastation.

The former UN official also discussed deliberate government attacks on the second no fire zone on the Vanni east front. The documentary alleged deliberate denial of sufficient medicine and other essential requirements. The Sri Lankan military was accused of deliberate attacks on hospitals and makeshift medical facilities.

The producers of the latest documentary certainly owed an explanation as to how foreign UN personnel remained in on the Vanni east front five months after the government ordered them out. Did the government allow limited foreign presence though a section of foreign personnel was asked to leave for their own safety?

UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE), too, in its report released in March 2011 admitted the presence of UN personnel, including a highly experienced military officer functioning as the UN security officer in the first no fire zone (Section 83 and 84).

Some of those propagating the lie that foreigners were ordered out of the Vanni for the Sri Lankan military to perpetrate war crimes also refrained from referring to the presence of foreign ICRC personnel on the Vanni east front in early Feb 2009. Let me reproduce verbatim the relevant section of the PoE report (section 106): The ICRC continued to play a leading role in alleviating the plight of the civilians population in the Vanni, by evacuating wounded civilians from the coastal strip by ship, starting on 10 February 2009. In total, 16 ICRC ships came to the conflict zone in the final months. The international ICRC staff that had remained in Puthumattalan left on the first ship, but they returned and stayed onshore for a few hours each time the ships came back. The Government did not allow United Nations staff on the ships."

The writer was among a small group of journalists taken by the Navy in late April 2009 to the Chalai-Mullaitivu waters to observe the ICRC operation and later to Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee, where an Indian medical team was in charge of receiving and treating those evacuated from Puthumattalan.

According to Navy Headquarters and the PoE, the ICRC ship carried out the last evacuations on May 09, 2009, just 10 days before the successful conclusion of the war.

The ICRC evacuated 14,000 wounded and their relatives from Puthumattalan and also delivered 2,350metric tons of food to Mullivaikkal between Feb 10, 2009 to May 09, 2009.

‘Sri Lanka Humanitarian Effort’ published by the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province in 2011 clarified the number of people evacuated from Puthumattalan during Feb-May 2009 period. According to the report, the total number of people evacuated were 12,820 and of them only 4,740 were wounded.

The war-winning government and the current dispensation should be ashamed of their failure to counter propaganda in spite of having the required ‘ammunition.’

An unknown death toll

‘Sri Lanka and the Search for Justice ten years on’ towards the end discussed the Vanni death toll. On the basis of PoE report, reference was made to as many as 40,000 civilians killed and 70,000 suggested subsequently.

Sri Lanka military was accused of implementing, what the producers of the latest documentary called ‘A systematic pattern of execution,’ with the focus on the arrest and execution of Ramesh, a senior LTTE cadre from Batticaloa. Among those interviewed were Prof Derrick Pounder, forensic pathologist and Prof Williams Schabas, an international human rights lawyer and Dharsha Jegatheeswaran, human rights activist. The documentary accused the military of executing senior LTTEers, its ‘police’ chief Nadesan, Pulithevan of the ‘political wing,’ as well as LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s 12-year-old son Balachandran and his bodyguards.

Prof Williams Schabas called military action ‘murder’

Sri Lanka was flayed for a culture of impunity and sexual violence with specific accusation that troops raped and executed captured LTTE women cadres, including Isipriya, an LTTE news reader.

The documentary targeted ‘Menik Farm’ where the government accommodated the displaced until they were screened and allowed to return to their villages as well as the rehabilitation programme.

Having alleged the Rajapaksa government of setting up Sinhala settlements, the documentary welcomed Maithripala Sirisena election as the President in January 2015 leading to Sri Lanka co-sponsoring Geneva Resolution in Oct 2015.

Alleging Sri Lanka hadn’t implemented the Geneva Resolution, the documentary targeted wartime General Officer Commanding (GoC) 57 Division Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias (retired), wartime Vanni Security Forces Commander Jagath Jayasuriya (retired) and serving officer Maj Gen. Shavendra Silva, Army Chief of Staff. Silva, the wartime GoC of the celebrated 58 Division was especially targeted by the documentary with Dharsha Jegatheeswaran condemning his appointment as the Army Chief of Staff. The documentary, while repeating the unsubstantiated allegation of using cluster ammunition in the northern theater, called for security sector reforms.

Reference was also made to President Sirisena sacking Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Oct 2018. The documentary addressed the Oct constitutional coup thereby proved readiness to take into consideration the latest developments.

A gaping hole in UK documentary

However, the latest documentary (read UK project) should be examined against the backdrop of its failure to take into consideration the following factors. (1) Wartime US Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith, in early June 2011, contradicted accusations pertaining to the execution of Pulithevan and Nadesan in spite of a surrender plan (2) UK headquartered Amnesty International in a special report titled ‘When will they get justice?: Failures of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ released in Sept 2011 placed the number of civilians killed at 10,000. This assessment was made a few months after the UN alleged 40,000 perished on the Vanni front (3) The UN in a special report placed the number of dead during August 2008 to May 13, 2009 at 7,721 and the wounded at 18,479 (4) Lord Naseby in Oct 2017 in House of Lords contradicted the UN claim of 40,000 killed. The Conservative Party member based his statement on wartime British High Commission dispatches from Colombo sent by Lt. Col Anton Gash, a colleague of Lt. Col Lawrence. Lord Naseby waged quite a battle with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to secure those dispatches and finally made the disclosure on Oct 12, 2017. It would be pertinent to mention that Lord Naseby sought the required information from FCO on Nov 06, 2014. Releasing of Gash dispatches could have derailed the high profile political project to get Sri Lanka to co-sponsor Geneva Resolution on Oct 01, 2015 on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.

Having squandered quite a time, Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, PC, at last used Lord Naseby’s disclosure in Geneva on March 20, 2019. Sri Lanka’s belated move didn’t hinder the unanimous approval for latest Geneva Resolution – a move meant to ensure the full implementation of the original resolution. A fresh examination of Geneva Resolution is necessary to ascertain the truth.

Those who fought the LTTE at the risk of their lives shouldn’t be at the receiving end. The UK documentary made a despicable effort to paint a bleak a picture of Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva whose 58 Division (formerly Task Force I) played a significant role in Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism a decade ago. Senior commanders, Maj Gen. Chagi Gallage, now retired and Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, both of the Gajaba Regiment are two of the victims of unsubstantiated allegations. But Sri Lanka’s failure to counter lies has paved the way for the entire military to be subjected to international scrutiny with UN peacekeeping missions undertaken by Sri Lanka also badly affected. Security sector reforms are still being called for on the basis of allegations that the military killed 40,000 civilians, deliberately targeted hospitals and makeshift medical facilities and purposely deprived civilians trapped up north of medicine and food.