Polonnaruwa District MP Maithripala Sirisena leaving P CoI recently
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Many an eyebrow was raised when Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, intervened in the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI), tasked to inquire into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage.
The Diocese of Colombo stepped-in, in the wake of accusations that attempts were being made to suppress the investigation. The then President Maithripala Sirisena, who named the P CoI, on Sept 22, 2019, wouldn’t have anticipated the P CoI to boomerang on him.
Sirisena, who is also the beleaguered leader of the SLFP, constituted the P CoI, ahead of the seven-member Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) submitting its report to the Parliament, on Oct 23, 2019. The PSC sittings took place between May-Oct 2019.
Sirisena, who had been away in Singapore, at the time of the coordinated suicide attacks, on the morning of April 21, 2019, returned on the following day, to take charge of the situation. Initially, the public didn’t find fault with the President, whereas the then Premier Ranil Wickemesinghe was mercilessly attacked. Within days after the attacks, Sirisena appointed his first P CoI to probe the attacks. The P CoI, headed by Supreme Court Justice Vijith Malalgoda, included former IGP N.K. Illangakoon (July 16, 2011 to July 11, 2016) and retired Secretary to the Ministry of Law and Order Padmasiri Jayamanne.
It would be pertinent to mention that the Easter Sunday carnage mastermind Zahran Hashim stepped up his clandestine activities, during Illangakoon’s tenure, as the IGP. By August 2015, Hashim had reached consensus with a group of Muslim politicians, and the parties they represented.
Sirisena named his second P CoI, in response to the PSC named by the then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. Headed by Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri, the PSC consisted of SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem, Ravi Karunanayake, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa , Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, and Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, PC. The PSC summoned members of the first P CoI, on August 20, 2019. Illangakoon and Jayamanne also appeared before the PSC, on July 25, 2019.
Special status for Prez, SIS head
Sirisena declined to appear before the PSC. Instead, the PSC visited him at the President’s House, on Sept 20, 2019. Sirisena received kid glove treatment. Let me reproduce what the PSC stated in its report on meeting Sirisena:
“Committee, having observed the evidence of H.E. Maithripala Sirisena, the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, who was the Minister of Defence at the time these incidents took place, would be very helpful and important in preparing the final report of the Committee, decided to make a request to H.E. the President to give the Committee an opportunity for that.”
Sirisena named his second P CoI two days after his chat with the PSC, on Aug 20, 2019. The then head of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena too received special status when his testimony was recorded in camera, at the Parliamentary Committee Complex (formerly Agriculture Ministry) located at Rajamalwatta Road, Battaramulla, at 7.00 p.m., on July 24, 2019. The hearing continued till 1 a.m. the following day. Jayawardena, having joined the Police, as an ASP, in February, 1998, received appointment as Senior DIG, in late Feb 2019. Interestingly, even after the PSC named Jayawardena as the main culprit, the incumbent SLPP administration appointed him Senior DIG, in charge of the Eastern Province. Jayawardena received the appointment on Jan 1, 2020.
Obviously, Sirisena never expected the second P CoI to really go into the Easter attack. Perhaps, Jayawardena, too, didn’t anticipate any devastating exposure, at the second P CoI.
Sirisena concluded his testimony, on Nov 25, having appeared before the P CoI, on eight occasions, with Shammil Perera, PC, Counsel for the Diocese of Colombo, giving the former President a very hard time. Sirisena, now an SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) MP for Polonnaruwa, ended up having to produce his medical reports to the P CoI.
The on-going second P CoI comprises Court of Appeal Judge Janak de Silva, Court of Appeal Judge Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne, Retired High Court Judges Nihal Sunil Rajapaksa, and A.L. Bandula Kumara Atapattu and former Secretary of the Ministry of Justice W.M.M.R. Adikari. Secretary to the Commission is H.M.P.B. Herath.
Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith refrained from seeking changes to the P CoI, though President Gotabaya Rajapaksa requested the Archbishop of Colombo to make suggestions. Instead, the Church had Counsel therein to raise pertinent issues. Perhaps Sirisena felt confident that he could deal with the situation. However, the proceedings have taken a nasty turn with the Counsel for disgraced former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando questioning Sirisena whether he lied before the P CoI.
Responding to Fernando’s Counsel, Sirisena, on Nov 24, acknowledged how his son Daham’s wedding had to be shifted from the Shangri-La Hotel, where Zahran Hashim, and another, carried out suicide attacks, to Hilton Colombo. Sirisena also defended visiting Tirupathi, before Singapore, where he claimed he received treatment, whereas Fernando’s Counsel insisted he was there for a regular checkup. The Counsel also challenged Sirisena’s excuse for not taking an earlier flight, in spite of the unprecedented national security emergency.
Diocese of Colombo responds
sought an explanation from His Lordship Rt. Rev. Dr. J. Winston S. Fernando, S.S.S., President, Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Bishop of the Diocese of Badulla as regards the intervention made by the Church.
Asked whether the decision to employ legal counsel had been taken by the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Dr. Fernando explained how the Diocese of Colombo could take the relevant decision as the Easter Sunday attacks took place within the area coming under its authority. The senior clergyman pointed out that the church, attacked in the Batticaloa district, didn’t come under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Batticaloa. Responding to another query, Dr. Fernando said that the intervention of the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference depended on the nature of the issue at hand. On behalf of the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Dr. Fernando strongly endorsed the measures taken by them to ensure justice for those who perished in terror attacks.
Dr. Fernando underscored the pivotal importance of maintaining cordial relations among communities as the investigation progressed. Colombo is among altogether 12 Dioceses which constitute the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Supreme body responsible for the overall direction of the community. Rt. Rev. Dr. J.D. Anthony Jayakody, Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo, functions as the Secretary General of the body.
In October 2020, the supreme body had the courage to reject the much touted 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Instead, it called for the appointment of an independent constitutional council to draft a new constitution. It also called for tangible measures to plug the loopholes that could lead to multiple interpretations.
Thanks to apt strategies adopted by the Church, the P CoI inquiry attracted unprecedented attention with the Counsel going ahead with no holds barred questioning of no longer privileged ex-President Sirisena which would have been unthinkable a year ago. Did Sirisena realize how the P CoI inquiry could boomerang on him! Obviously, consequences are catastrophic and irreversible. The impact on the Muslim political leadership too is quite devastating and likely to undermine their longstanding relationship with major political parties. If not for the tough stand taken by the Church, utterly corrupt political party system could have easilysucceeded in suppressing the investigation.
The releasing of Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Vanni District lawmaker Rishad Bathiudeen’s brother, Riyaj, taken into custody over his alleged involvement with one of the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) suicide bombers, by the incumbent government, is a case in point. Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC called for an inquiry into the release of Riyaj. However, law enforcement authorities are yet to take him back into custody.
Pompeo’s questionable claim on Easter Sunday attacks
Outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at the end of his official talks in Colombo on Oct 28, 2020, directly blamed ISIS for the Easter Sunday attacks. Let me reproduce the relevant section of his statement verbatim: “Finally, this afternoon, I’ll travel – it’s important for me to take a moment to go and visit the Shrine of St. Anthony, one of the five sites that were attacked by ISIS on Easter Sunday of 2019. I’ll shortly have the chance to pay my respects to the hundreds of victims of evil terrorists, including five Americans. I’m proud that the State Department has offered substantial counterterrorism assistance to help Sri Lankans bring killers of Americans and their own people to justice. These Easter Sunday attacks represent the kind of sectarianism that Sri Lankans are ready to leave behind forever. Sri Lankans of all backgrounds – Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims alike – want a peaceful nation where their human rights are respected.”
Two senior intelligence personnel, a retired official and a serving officer categorically denied ISIS culpability, though the organization claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage, several days after the attack. Both having access to an entire range of information, emphasized that at the time the suicide bombers struck, the ISIS hadn’t been aware of the operation. Referring to the US Secretary of State’s claim, they underscored the need to set the record straight as the perceived ISIS leadership could divert government and public attention, away from the real perpetrators.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, they explained that the ISIS claimed responsibility for coordinated bombings at churches and high-end hotels on Tuesday (23) after a youth, 21, from Matale, who had been in Qatar before, contacted the ISIS. The CID later arrested the suspect.
The ISIS offered no evidence to back its claim, initially announced in Arabic, carried by its Amaq news agency, on April 23, 2019. The news agency claimed the attackers were ‘among the fighters of the Islamic State.’
ISIS later issued a longer, formal statement, identifying the seven suicide bombers, who detonated explosive-laden vests, at the churches, and hotels, and a housing complex, on that particular Sunday.
Elusive ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a week later, reiterated his fighters carried out the attack.
In spite of Sirisena continuing to deny knowledge of the NTJ build-up, there had been three briefings on Zahran Hashim at the National Security Council (NSC) before the Easter Sunday massacre. In addition to them, the Defence Ministry received nine comprehensive reports on the extremists. The DMI, on several occasions, in the run up to the Easter Sunday attacks, suggested that Zahran Hashim be arrested and dealt through legal means.
Who really masterminded the Easter Sunday carnage?
What really triggered the Easter Sunday attacks? Did negligence on the part of the political leadership, and the security apparatus, paved the way for this high profile terror project? Who masterminded the overall operation? If Zahran Hashim wasn’t responsible, who actually picked the targets? Did Thowheed Jamaat suicide bomber Atchchi Muhammadu Hastun’s Tamil wife P. Pulasthini Rajendran alias Sarah, 24, leave their Sainthamaruthu hideout, on April 28, before troops, and the police, cordoned off the area. Pulasthini remains an enigma, well over a year after a series of blasts, within the hideout, claimed the lives of 15 persons, including six children. Troops captured Zahran Hashim’s wife and child following the confrontation at Sainthamaruthu.
Although Pulasthini was widely believed to be therein, later multiple sources claimed she escaped. Had the P CoI been able to verify claims Hasthun’s wife fled to India, in September 2019, suggesting the possibility of she being one of the informants, run by Indian intelligence?
The Indian intelligence warning, in spite of being ignored by Sri Lanka, revealed the true status of the Indian operation that enabled New Delhi to alert Colombo, well over two weeks before the coordinated terror strikes. Perhaps, Sri Lanka’s response to intelligence warning wrong-footed New Delhi, as Indian interests here were provided enhanced security. On the other hand, New Delhi certainly knew the attackers’ preparations, hence additional warnings.
The confidential Indian memo provided names, addresses, phone numbers, even the times in the middle of the night that one suspect would visit his wife.
If one examined the testimony of Sirisena, and fallen SIS Chief Jayawardena, who appeared before the P Col, for at least 20 days, the bone of contention is nothing but the latter’s failure to tell President of the Indian warning, received on April 4th. Zahran Hashim’s group carried out thespate of blasts, on April 21. Who would believe Sirisena didn’t receive the alert against the backdrop of revelation at the P CoI where there were at least 20 telephone conversations between the two from April 4 to April 21 period alone.
During October 24 P CoI proceedings, President’s Counsel Shamil Perera watching the interests of the Catholic Church, revealed how Sirisena and Jayawardena engaged in a 159-second telephone conversation, beginning at 7.59 am on the day of the attacks. The first blast hit St. Anthony’s Church, at 8.45am. The bomber targeted the Tamil service. However, the PSC, in its report, asserted that the suicide attacks, on St. Anthony’s Church, as well as St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, were carried out at 8.45 am. The next blast, at The Kingsbury Hotel took place at 8.47 am, Shangri-La at 8.54 am, Zion Church, Batticaloa, at 9.10 am and the sixth explosion at the Cinnamon Grand at 9.12 am.
There were two subsequent blasts at Tropical Inn, Dehiwalaand the Dematagoda house of spice tycoon Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, at 1.30 pm and 2.25 pm, respectively. Ibrahim’s two sons were among those who carried out attacks. When police surrounded the Dematagoda residence, Ibrahim’s daughter-in-law detonated explosives. Ibrahim who had been on the JVP’s National List, at the 2015 general election, is still in detention, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
Counsel Perera produced a document before P CoI, in the presence of Sirisena, that proved the then President and hisspy chief had been constantly in touch. The list proved that there had been altogether 221 calls, from January to April 2019, therefore claim of Jayawardena didn’t receive an opportunity to pass such vital information, is highly questionable.
Similarly, can the possibility of Premier Wickremesinghe receiving the intelligence warning be ruled out, asJayawardena had shared security alert, received from New Delhi, with the then IGP Pujitha Jayasundera and CNI (Chief of National Intelligence Intelligence) retired DIG Sisira Mendis? Both IGP Jayasundara and Mendis wouldn’t have received appointments if they weren’t the UNP’s favourites.
The NTJ struck a couple of months after UNP leader Wickremesinghe regained the premiership, following Sirisena’s abortive bid to have the general election ahead of the presidential poll, which eventually took place on Nov 16, 2019. If the UNP-TNA-JVP combine hadn’t been successful in its legal challenge, the general election would have taken place on January 5, 2019. Had that happened, who would have taken the upper hand? Under whatever the circumstances, the SLPP wouldn’t have secured a near 2/3 majority by winning 145 seats. The result could have gone either way. Most importantly, the then UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa wouldn’t have an opportunity to contest the general election, under a new symbol. In other words, in case the SLPP won the Jan 2019 general election, envisaged by Sirisena, with a slim majority, the main Opposition would have been the UNP. What we should also take into consideration is that if Sirisena managed to sustain his strategy, his SLFP would have had a far bigger share in the SLPP parliamentary group. The SLFP managed to obtain 13 seats, under the SLPP ticket, and one on its own, in the Jaffna peninsula, at the Aug 2020 general election, after the judiciary reversed the then President’s strategy.
The NTJ mounted attacks after Wickremesinghe regained premiership though the police couldn’t be brought under the UNP. Sirisena would have been in a far more comfortable situation now if he gave in to the UNP demand to have the police under its control. However, an adamant Sirisena retained both the defence and police portfolios thereby automatically taking responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage.
As claimed by academic Rajan Hoole in his explosive ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth, ‘launched ahead of the Nov 2019 presidential election, the failure of high profile NTJ’s political project to get some parliamentary representation, at the 2015 general election, may have prompted the Easter Sunday attacks. According to Prof. Hoole, the NTJ sought an arrangement similar to that of the LTTE having its interests represented in Parliament, through the TNA. An in depth examination of political factors is certainly essential as part of the overall investigation which is still at a very early stage.
Closure of Norwegian Embassy in Colombo and other matters (Part II)
Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is one of those who strongly believed that the LTTE could be defeated. The Gajaba Regiment veteran didn’t mince his words when he met Norwegian officials on April 06, 2006 in the run-up to the closure of the Mavil-aru sluice gates in the third week of July 2006. According to a NorwegianForeign Ministry document in the public domain: “On April 06, 2006, Hanssen-Bauer and Brattskar had a tense meeting with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In response to a question about whether the ethnic and political problems in Sri Lanka could be solved by military means, Gotabaya answers, ‘yes’. The LTTE launched Eelam War IV in August 2006. Within two years and 10 months the Sri Lankan military brought the war to a successful end.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Colombo-based Norwegian diplomats burnt their fingers by seeking information from the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo as regards an Indian fishing craft (Sri Krishna) that had been commandeered by Sea Tigers and was intercepted and sunk by the Maldivian Coast Guard in May 2007.
The Norwegian Embassy reached the Maldivian HC soon after the Maldivians intercepted ‘Sri Krishna’ that was reported missing several days before while fishing in Indian waters.
The Island last week dealt with the Norwegian decision to close down its diplomatic mission in Colombo next year, two decades after Oslo arranged a highly controversial secret Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) (Not even the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga was aware of it till it had been signed) between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The US, EU, Japan and Norway functioned as Co-Chairs to the peace process.
The Norwegian effort received the backing of New Delhi though the Indians were skeptical. Nevertheless, they fully cooperated.
The LTTE quit the negotiating table in April 2003, one year and three months after the signing of the CFA. But, the Norwegians went out of their way to appease the LTTE regardless of the consequences. The diplomatic intervention made on behalf of the Tigers involved in the incident in the Maldivian waters is a case in point. In a way, the LTTE and its sidekick the Tamil National Alliance failed to utilize the Norwegian effort to advance the peace process, whether sincere or not. Instead, the LTTE exploited the Norwegian initiative so much that the negotiating process finally collapsed. Their strategy undermined the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, who meekly towed the Norwegian line. On the other hand, their actions bolstered the nationalist groups and those opposed to the Norwegian questionable initiatives.
Dissolution of Parliament and calling for fresh parliamentary elections in April 2004 should be examined against the backdrop of utterly irresponsible LTTE strategy and its appeasers. However, the elections allowed the TNA, with the LTTE openly stuffing ballot boxes in areas it controlled, to secure the lion’s share of seats in the then amalgamated Northern and Eastern Provinces. Peace Co-Chair EU in its Election Observation report declared that the TNA colluded with the LTTE. Unfortunately, Co-Chairs, including the EU didn’t take the report into consideration.
The incident in the Maldivian waters should be examined basically against the backdrop of the overall deterioration of the situation for want of clear guidelines to handle the peace process.
The Norwegians wouldn’t have intervened without being asked by the LTTE with a nod from a powerful Western interest. We must also note that Norwegian peacemaking efforts in Palestine with obvious American backing that brought about the Oslo Accord with much promise fared even worse with the Palestinians continuing to be humiliated and pasted by the Israelis almost on a daily basis. Where the hell is UNHRC? No war crimes there on your watch Michelle Bachelet? At least the UN should have given her a Nelsonian eye patch.
The Norwegian mission here definitely cleared its move with Oslo. However, by the time they got in touch with the Maldivian HC, Male had cleared Sri Lankan Navy intelligence to interrogate the apprehended LTTE cadres in the custody of the Maldivian. The Island reported the Norwegian intervention in its May 26, 2007 edition. The LTTE had used the ill-fated vessel to transfer weapons from its floating armories to Wanni and was on such a mission when the Maldivians intervened.
At the time the Maldivians sank Sri Krishna, Tamil Nadu had accused the Sri Lanka Navy of destroying that particular vessel. What Tamil Nadu as well as India never expected was another country intervening in the clandestine LTTE arms smuggling operation.
The Maldivian Coast Guard made the intervention 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.
Interestingly, there had been some Indian naval personnel onboard the Maldivian craft engaged in the operation against the Tiger commandeered vessel.
The LTTE would have never expected its cadres who commandeered the vessel to surrender as they are noted for biting their cyanide vials to prevent capture. The Maldivians however rescued five Tigers 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 were being held in a camp in the Vanni (Maldives sinks 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 the 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 while trying to reach Sri Lankan waters.
Former Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, who led the then UNP government’s negotiating team for talks with the LTTE in 2002-2003 period, appreciated the role played by the Scandinavian country.
GL, Palihakkara, Salter,Jehan comment
Prof. Peiris, now a leading member in one of the SLPP rebel groups said: “The Norwegian government was significantly involved in the economic development of Sri Lanka, long before its association with the peace process. In particular, there had been substantial Norwegian support for infrastructure development, especially rural roads in the South of Sri Lanka, in addition to assistance in the fisheries sector, human resources development and community work of various kinds.
In the aftermath of its facilitation role in the peace process in the late 1990s and early in the present century, the government of Norway commissioned an independent evaluation of their role here with a view to ascertaining its strengths and weaknesses. I believe this study led to more useful insights.
We regret the decision to close down the embassy in Colombo for the time being, but understand that it is part of a worldwide evaluation process.
The government of Norway has announced its commitment to and support for the people of Sri Lanka will continue. We appreciate this assurance.”
In response to The Island query regarding the Norwegian pull out, Executive Director of the National Peace Council (NPC), Dr. Jehan Perera has sent us the following statement: “The departure of the Norwegian Embassy from Sri Lanka is a big loss to us. This is a time when we need all the assistance and friendship we can from the international community, especially those who have helped us in the past. The Ambassador has stated that Norway will continue to provide Sri Lanka with assistance and will engage in development activities. However, Sri Lanka will lose out because remote support is not the same as in-country support where Norwegian diplomats and embassy staff are in constant interaction with Sri Lankan people. We also need to acknowledge the huge investment Norway made to help us resolve our ethnic war through negotiations and a political solution. They supported organisations such as the National Peace Council to build bridges between the communities, which we continue to do. Norwegian support for peace-building work got reduced after the failure of the ceasefire agreement and peace process. NPC did not receive Norwegian financial support over the past decade. But the capacity for peace-building work that Norway supported us to achieve, and which continues to remain with us, is a cause for gratitude and we regret very much the closure of their embassy.”
The author of ‘To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka’ Mark Salter said: “The closure of the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo ends an important chapter in relations between the two countries. At the joint invitation of the government and the LTTE leadership, in 1999-2000 Oslo accepted the role of peace facilitator between the two parties. To their great credit, over the following decade the Norwegians stuck at their appointed ‘peace diplomacy’ task through thick and thin – possibly the most sustained instance of external engagement with a peace process to date. And this including when, in the aftermath of the return to war in autumn 2006 and the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) the Norwegians brokered in 2002 looked increasingly dead in the water, they became the subject of increasing domestic attacks, notably by both the government itself and Sinhala nationalists who tarred them with the brush of ‘White Tigers’.
As we know, theirs (and other) peace efforts ultimately failed. A messenger, however, is only as good as the message they carry – a fact that often seems completely lost on the legions of Lankan critics of the Norwegian’s ‘messenger’ role. As Erik Solheim and others have long since acknowledged, Oslo undoubtedly made mistakes along the way – notably the failure to foster an initial bipartisan Sinhala political consensus in support of the peace process. Ultimately, however, the failure of the peace process comes down to the failure in their different ways of both parties to continue to engage seriously with the process itself.”
For those who are genuinely interested in knowing the Norwegian-led process, perusal of Salter’s work is a must. Former BBC journalist and analyst, Mark Salter who launched ‘To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka’ in Colombo several years after Norway released ‘Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009)’ meticulously addressed the issues. Salter’s work help the readers to understand what really went wrong if the official Norwegian examination didn’t achieve what was expected. Chr. Michelsen Institute and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, jointly put out that report. The team responsible for the official version comprised Gunnar Sørbø, Jonathan Goodhand, Bart Klem, Ada Elisabeth Nissen and Hilde Selbervik. The Wikileaks revelations should be of pivotal importance for those keen to know the developments here.
One-time Foreign Secretary H.M.G.S. Palihakkara who served as the Governor of the Northern Province during the Yahapalana administration, has sent us the following statement in response to a query posed to him: “It does not look like a singular decision by one country, at least optics-wise, since both countries announced the intended closures within a space of a few months this year, Sri Lanka being the first in April and Norway following in September. Embassy closing of course is news one can hardly celebrate esp. in bilateral diplomacy. The notion that reciprocity is the first lesson in diplomacy still has some currency. And that factor may have weighed in at some stage of this decision-making process. However, speculating on that won’t help either side.
What is of promise is that both countries have been quick to emphasize that the decisions are derived from ‘structural’, rather than bilateral considerations and will not impinge on relations.
Sri Lanka has further qualified closure as ‘temporary’ while Norway has recommitted itself to ‘further the constructive and friendly relations’. It would be reasonable to say these relations have endured many decades and vicissitudes including a complicated and even controversial ‘peace process’ with the LTTE through a vain facilitation effort by Norway.
The Norwegian envoy in Colombo, Ambassador Trine Jøranli Eskedal in her media comments has quite professionally put these positives at a higher notch saying ‘ We will continue to maintain our warm bilateral relations with Sri Lanka and development assistance will also continue.’ So the ‘distancing’ signified by these closures at first glance, may be more apparent than real. The fact remains that SL has benefitted from several billions of NKR bilateral ODA for projects ranging from the well-known Cey-Nor in the North to extensive rural development in the South. Since modern diplomacy is often about building on what you have rather than imagining the ideal, it is up to both sides to do just that-build on the positives.”
Whatever the views expressed by interested parties regarding the planned Norwegian closure of its embassy here the fact remains the move is detrimental to Sri Lanka, especially at a time the country is experiencing its worst post-independence economic crisis. Norway spent lavishly on its Sri Lanka project. Civil society groups benefited immensely. A simmering dispute between the Norwegians and the late Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe, one of the largest beneficiaries of the Norwegian funding highlighted the controversial relationship between the embassy and the civil society. The Norwegians ended up squandering their taxpayers’ money even on the LTTE and its front organizations. That is the undeniable truth.
But, perhaps their biggest mistake that had been influenced by interested parties here was the assertion as acknowledged in ‘Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009)’ that the LTTE cannot be defeated.
The Norwegians as well as other Co- Chairs operated on the premise the Sri Lankan military couldn’t match the LTTE’s strategy or the fighting will. Those who benefited from the Norwegian largesse propagated that myth wherever possible like their Western pay masters. That assessment was proved wrong in May 2009 when a soldier shot Velupillai Prabhakaran on his head on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.
The Isle on a High
By Lynn Ockersz
At the Lotus Tower’s highest point,
Where the pain of living eases for a while,
And delirium takes over minds and hearts,
Sightseers look down and find nothing wrong,
With gold chain-grabbing turning a way of life,
Poor women calling at mushrooming spas,
And elders hitting the streets in despair;
All happening amid a rash of plush malls,
And palatial houses seeing steady demand,
Making up quite a skewed state-of-affairs,
Which serve to remind the few of clear mind,
That Lotus Towers and other lulling ploys,
Are aimed at silencing the revolting mind.
Oslo pullout, new Geneva resolution and origins of terrorism (part 1)
” Norway will never forget how LTTE influenced the worst ever act of terrorism on its soil. Far right Norwegian Andres Breivik, 32, responsible for the July 22, 2011 massacre of 77 persons, mostly teenagers in two successive attacks in Norway was inspired by the LTTE. A few hours before, Breivik went on the rampage, he made reference to the LTTE’s eviction of the Muslim community from the Northern Province in Oct/Nov 1990, in his so-called manifesto released online. The following are the references (1) Pro-Sri Lanka (supports the deportation of all Muslims from Sri Lanka) (Page 1235) and (2) Fourth Generation War is normally characterized by a ‘stateless’ entity fighting a state or regime (the EUSSR). Fighting can be physically such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to use a modern example. (Page 1479). Perhaps, Sri Lanka should ask for an international inquiry. One of Sri Lanka’s foremost diplomats Jayantha Dhanapala appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in 2010 stressed the accountability on the part of foreign governments. The then Mahinda Rajapaksa government probably blinded by unfathomable victory was not bothered. It only sought political advantage of the developments even at the expense of Sri Lanka.”
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Norway on Sept 09 announced that its diplomatic mission in Colombo will be closed at the end of July 2023. The Norwegian Embassy in Colombo declared that this would be among five diplomatic missions to be closed as part of the planned structural reforms in its network of diplomatic missions. The Embassy didn’t mention the other diplomatic missions facing closure.
Norway established a diplomatic mission here in 1996 during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency. The setting up of that mission was primarily to facilitate negotiations between Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The establishment of the Colombo mission took place in the wake of the military consolidating its position in the Jaffna peninsula. Jaffna town was brought under government control in early Dec 1995.
The signing of the one-sided Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in Feb 2002 can be considered the highpoint of the Norwegian intervention here that allowed the LTTE to expand its sphere of influence. Who really drafted the CFA? Did the then top Norwegian negotiator Erik Solheim draft it as he claimed in an interview with the late Kumar Rupesinghe? Whatever the circumstances, the CFA certainly didn’t take into consideration concerns of the military.
However, the Norwegian Embassy made available the Norwegian Foreign Ministry press release that dealt with the proposed closure of some diplomatic missions. Accordingly, the diplomatic missions in Slovakia, Kosovo and Sri Lanka and the Embassy office in Madagascar and the Consulate General in Houston, Texas, are to be closed. It would be pertinent to mention that Norway established a diplomatic mission in Slovakia in Sept. 2004, just a year after Slovakia moved out of the Czechoslovakian Federation and in Kosovo four years later. NATO member Norway participated in large scale air offensive to drive out Serbian forces from Kosovo-Norway set up Embassy office in Madagascar in 2004 and the Houston ‘mission’ back in 1977.
The closure of the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo should be also examined against the backdrop of cash- strapped Sri Lanka closing down our missions in Norway and Iraq and the Consulate General in Sydney, Australia, early this year.
Norway has thrown its weight behind a new six-page draft resolution before the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, (UNHRC) handed in by the UK. The UK leads Sri Lanka Core Chairs and the resolution is widely regarded as the strongest since the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE in May 2009.
A vote on this new resolution is due before the sessions end on October 7. Sessions commenced on Sept 12.
The resolution is co-sponsored by the United States, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. Sri Lanka’s rejection of the latest resolution is irrelevant. Therefore, another heavy defeat at the UNHRC is quite possible. But, Sri Lanka conveniently failed so far to set the record straight in Geneva and at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Successive governments allowed Geneva to dictate terms by failing to present Sri Lanka’s case. The incumbent government is no exception.
Oslo has announced the termination of its mission here over a decade after the eradication of the LTTE’s conventional military capability. Had the Western sinister project succeeded, Sri Lanka would have been divided on ethnic lines. The CFA allowed the LTTE freedom to operate in the Northern and Eastern Province as it did away with restrictions placed on Tiger armed cadres entering government-held areas. The Norwegian led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) that was empowered to oversee the Ceasefire Agreement, continued to mollycoddle the LTTE in spite of a spate of blatant CFA violations by the Tigers.
In the wake of the then treacherous UNP government exposing the covert intelligence operation carried out by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) behind enemy lines, the LTTE went after its operatives with a vengeance. The Norwegians went to the extent of providing funding to the LTTE and its front organizations, much to the dismay of those who really believed in a genuine effort to bring peace.
The Norwegian funding continued even after the LTTE quit the negotiating table in late April 2003. There had never been a proper examination of the Norwegian intervention here though Norway funded the costly joint study undertaken by Gunnar Sorbo of the Chr. Michelsens Institute (CMI) and Jonathan Goodhand of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Their report titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009, released in September 2011 made specific reference to the SLMM, having accessibility to best possible intelligence.
High profile Oslo project
According to the report, the SLMM received intelligence from both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
Thanks to NATO and India, those running the peace process couldn’t have been unaware of the LTTE’s rapid preparations for war. Norway received NATO support as a member of the military alliance (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009, page 100).
The Norwegian study quoted the then SLMM head as having said that RAW only reached them through informal channels, therefore they couldn’t be fully trusted. “They weren’t giving it to us to be nice. We would always ask ourselves why they want us to know this. Intelligence provided by NATO only confirmed what they already knew”, the SLMM chief was quoted as having said.
The RAW destabilized Sri Lanka to such an extent, beginning with the election of J.R. Jayewardene, because of his overt tilt to the West, Sri Lanka was compelled to transform its ceremonial army into a lethal fighting force.
But, those who had been pursuing hostile agenda against us in Geneva quite conveniently forget how major powers ruined Sri Lanka by sponsoring, particularly the LTTE terrorism, and also giving them a free hand. Can the so-called leader of the Core Group, the UK, absolve itself of the responsibility for promoting terrorism here? The UK allowed LTTE’s International Secretariat to propagate the war against a Commonwealth country from London, granted citizenship to the late Anton Balasingham who advised Prabhakaran on terror project and even allowed secret talks therein between the LTTE theoretician and top Norwegian diplomats in the wake of the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination by the Tigers. The UK has also given refuge to his wife Adele despite her having nourished Tamil young girls to take up violence. She was photographed donning cyanide capsules around the necks of such girls as they passed out after training.
The LTTE assassinated Kadirgamar on Aug 12, 2005, while the CFA, supervised by Scandinavian countries, was in operation. On April 25, 2006, the LTTE almost succeeded in assassinating Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the Army headquarters. On Oct 01, 2006, the LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa near Piththala junction, Kollupitiya. The Norwegians and Peace Co-Chairs comprising the US, Japan and the EU remained inactive. The LTTE continued to advance its project. The CFA didn’t prevent the LTTE from unloading ship loads of armaments or carrying out high profile assassinations.
The Norwegian role should be examined taking into consideration the Japanese involvement in the peace initiative.
Dr. John Gooneratne, who had been with the government Peace Secretariat from its inception in January 2002 to May 2006, explained serious shortcomings in the CFA over a year after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. Appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on September 15, 2010, Dr. Gooneratne revealed that four key matters proposed by the government weren’t included in the CFA. (A) There had been no reference to the requirement to use the CFA to pave the way for talks to find a negotiated settlement. (B) Specific reference to the prohibition of unlawful importation of arms, ammunition and equipment was not included. (C) Although the LTTE was allowed to engage in ‘political work’ in government controlled areas, other political parties weren’t given access to areas under the LTTE control (D) Forcible conscription of personnel to the LTTE’s fighting cadre, too, was not added to the list of prohibited activities.
Dr. Gooneratne, a veteran career diplomat, faulted the then UNP government as well as the Norwegians for being hasty in their approach. Dr. Gooneratne said: “What lessons can we learn from this experience? Firstly, negotiating on such security and military matters should have been a more inclusive format than by just the party in power. Secondly, in negotiating documents, such as the CFA, thoroughness should be the standard, and not just the speed.”
The CFA created an environment that allowed the LTTE to exploit the situation. Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne in his book ‘Road to Nanthikadal’ launched in 2016 dealt with the CFA and how the LTTE abused and misused it. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, former The Island columnist and prolific writer C.A. Chandraprema, in his book ‘Gota’s War’, too, dealt with the Norwegian role here. But, those who really desired to know about the Norwegian project should definitely peruse ‘Peaceful Intervention in Intra-State Conflicts: Norwegian Involvement in the Sri Lankan Peace Process.’
Career diplomat Dr. Chanaka Thalpahewa had dared to go the whole hog and lucidly explain the Oslo initiative harmful to Sri Lanka.
The Norwegians had been careless, extremely reckless. There cannot be a better example than importing radio equipment in agreement with the then government that bent backwards to appease the LTTE. The then Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg earned the wrath of some Opposition political parties as well as Sinhala nationalist groups for directly playing a role. The political leadership tried to underscore the importation of state-of-the-art radio equipment by the Norwegian Embassy in agreement with the Peace Secretariat though all knew it was a political decision. CFA time Defence Secretary and one of those who negotiated with the LTTE Austin Fernando’s ‘My Belly is White’ launched in January 2008 at the height of the war, too, is a must read.
UNHRC, GTF silent on India’s accountability
The Island in its Sept 19, 2022 edition (both print and online) carried a statement issued by the UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF). The TNA’s partner called for a strong new resolution on Sri Lanka that reflected the recommendations of the High Commissioner’s Report. Having demanded punitive action against Sri Lanka, the GTF thanked India for backing their cause at the UNHRC. The GTF and the UNHRC owed an explanation whether they wanted to leave India out of the proposed investigations.
Can accountability pertaining to the Sri Lanka conflict be examined by turning a blind eye to Indian intervention here, ranging from sponsoring of terrorist groups, atrocities perpetrated by the Indian Army that prompted the LTTE to assassinate former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi and the sea borne raid on the Maldives carried out by Indian trained PLOTE terrorists and the killing of TULF’s Jaffna MPs by TELO at the behest of RAW?
The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report called on Sri Lanka to ‘re-launch a comprehensive, victim-centred strategy on Transitional Justice and accountability, to establish credible truth seeking mechanism and ad hoc special court’. Obviously, UNHRC and GTF are in a dilemma. India lost well over 1,000 officers and men here while approximately 3,000 others received injuries, some maimed for life.
Instead of opposing Geneva led investigations, Sri Lanka should request for a wider probe to establish how foreign support allowed the LTTE to wage war for nearly three decades and to ascertain the origins of terrorism.
The incumbent government should publicly ask those demanding accountability on Sri Lanka’s part to explain why the predominantly Tamil speaking northern and eastern electorates overwhelmingly voted for General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential poll after repeatedly accusing he and his Army of committing war crimes and how the TNA should be dealt with for recognizing the LTTE in late 2001 as the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people. Those who are skeptical about alleged TNA-LTTE links should peruse the European Union Election Observation Mission report on the April 2004 general election. The EU explained how the TNA secured 22 seats at that poll with the direct help from the LTTE by stuffing ballot boxes in areas controlled by it. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka never bothered to raise these issues thereby allowed those pursuing extremely hostile agenda to humiliate the country.
Should the TNA be accountable for atrocities committed by the LTTE after their recognition of the organization as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people? Perhaps, the TNA and the very vociferous Tamil Diaspora should be asked to prove that they at least requested the LTTE not to take cover behind civilians and hold them as a human shield after the combined armed forces pushed the LTTE fighting forces across the A9 to the Mullaitivu coast by April- May 2009.
The role of the Sri Lankan Church, too, should be probed. There cannot be any justification in leaving the Church out if Geneva wants to establish the truth.
Can the proposed Truth Seeking Mechanism refrain from inquiring into the deaths of Sri Lankan Tamils in the hands of Indian law enforcement authorities in the aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination? How many died? What were their identities? Do they still remain in the missing persons lists? Perhaps, the female LTTE cadre who committed suicide in the process of blowing up Gandhi may still be categorized as a missing person. Would it be possible to identify those PLOTE cadres killed by the Indian Navy on the high seas as they fled the Maldives in early Nov 1989 following the abortive bid to assassinate the then President of that island nation?
However, the writer has no dispute with the GTF’s call for thorough investigation into corruption accusations and action against all those responsible regardless of their standing in society.
Foreign passport holders
For want of Western governments’ support, thousands of people, categorized as dead/missing, live abroad under assumed identities. Sri Lanka never succeeded in securing their cooperation as they hid the real identities of thousands of Sri Lankans issued with new passports. How many Sri Lankans have received foreign passports over the past 30 years, particularly since 2009? The missing persons issue must be examined taking into consideration the rapid expansion of the Tamil Diaspora and their capacity to influence major political parties in Western countries, where they now reside.
Take the case of newly elected Norwegian lawmaker of Sri Lankan origin Khamshajiny (Kamzy) Gunaratnam, who reached Norway in 1991. Her family fled Sri Lanka in the wake of the Indian Army withdrawal and was lucky to end up in Norway. India ended itse military mission in March 1990 with then President Ranasinghe Premadasa showing them the door. The LTTE assassinated Gandhi just over a year later. Another high profile case is the ex-LTTE terrorist Antonythasan Jesuthasan receiving an opportunity to play the lead role in notable French Director Jacques Audiard’s award-winning Dheepan (2015). Jesuthasan, too, may be on some missing persons list.
The much-touted Geneva investigation should ascertain the actual number of Sri Lankans living abroad under assumed names. No less a person than Ranil Wickremesinghe when he served as the Premier of a previous government denied the state holding any Tamils in any secret location other than those held officially in jails.
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