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Playing politics with disappearances

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A recent protest in Jaffna demanding justice for those who had been reported missing during the conflict and after the successful conclusion of the war, in May 2009(pic posted by PEARL)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Washington-based People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL) says it campaigns for justice and self-determination for the Tamil people, living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Identifying itself as a non-profit organization, PEARL says formation of the group took place in 2005 in the wake of volunteers visiting Sri Lanka – the year before the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) launched the fourth phase of the war.

Having reignited the war, in August 2006, with devastating initial success, the LTTE, however, lost the entire Eastern Province, by mid-2007. The armed forces brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. Since then, various Tamil politicians, Diaspora organizations and suspicious bleeding hearts, in the West, have been alleging enforced disappearances on a mass scale.

“For too long, the plight of the families of the disappeared has been used as a talking point and a prop for politicians and the international community, but no concrete measures have been taken,” said PEARL’s Executive Director Tasha Manoranjan. “The international community contributed to the destruction of Tamil lives and Tamil aspirations in 2009 — it is now time for the same international community to meet the demands of the families of the disappeared,” she said, in a statement issued in solidarity with the Tamil families of victims of enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka, from the 1980s and during the entirety of the country’s armed conflict. PEARL estimated the number of disappearances at 60,000-100,000, during this period.

PEARL, too, alleges genocide and demands accountability on the part of Sri Lanka. The group admits that it twice revised its five-year strategic plan after wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the 2019 presidential election. The original plan, put out in 2018, has been revised in Dec 2019 and April-July 2020. Perhaps, PEARL will have to revise its strategic plan further in the wake of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s party securing an unprecedented near two-thirds majority at the Aug 5, 2020 general election. PEARL anticipates rapid deterioration of the situation in the Northern and Eastern Provinces as a result of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory. PEARL has conveniently forgotten Tamils living there overwhelmingly voted for General Sarath Fonseka at the 2005 presidential election. The group’s concerns over Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory obviously seemed baseless against the backdrop of Tamils’ backing for war-winning Army commander Fonseka’s candidature at the 2005 presidential election.

PEARL will also have to take into consideration the major setback suffered by one-time LTTE mouthpiece, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), at the recent general election. Having championed hybrid war crimes court in terms of Geneva Resolution 30/1 ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’, co-sponsored by the yahapalana government, the TNA felt comfortable though the general election results proved otherwise. The TNA ended up with just 10 seats, its worst performance since winning 22 seats at the April 2004 general election with overt and covert help from the LTTE.

In addition to the TNA, two other political outfits, namely the Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress (AITC) and Tamil Makkal Theshiya Kutani (TMTK), led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and C.V. Wigneswaran, respectively, have emerged at the expense of the TNA grouping, led by veteran Sampanthan. It was more a war of attrition, fought by the two, against the established TNA that resulted in the major electoral reversal by the latter.

It would be pertinent to remind how lawmaker Ponnambalam, on Aug 21, 2020 reiterated genocide allegations during the debate on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policy statement, delivered on the previous day. While declaring their resolve for self-determination, Ponnambalam challenged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s mandate, and that of the SLPP, received in Nov 2019 and August 2020. Many an eyebrow was raised when Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, in respect of C.V. Wigneswaran’s provocative speech, at the inauguration of the parliament, declared that lawmakers were free to say whatever they wanted to.

The writer felt the need to examine the contentious issue of missing persons, against the backdrop of PEARL’s latest statement, headlined “PEARL stands with Victims’ Families in Sri Lanka on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances”, with the strapline ‘Since the end of the war in 2009, thousands of Tamils have not been heard from, after surrendering to the government’

PEARL has estimated the number of disappearances at 60,000-100,000 during the conflict and after. If the number of disappearances has been estimated as much as 100,000, wouldn’t it be necessary to examine the number of killed? Did some of those, who had been listed among the disappeared were actually killed in the fighting, or perished after being caught in the crossfire. Before examining the missing persons issue, let me remind the reader what yahapalana Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said of those categorized as disappeared.

 

Ranil sets the record straight

The 2015 presidential election brought an end to war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rule. The Rajapaksa administration was repeatedly accused of running secret detention facilities, both in the Northern and Eastern provinces. A section of the Western powers, too, subscribed to these unsubstantiated allegations. In spite of the change of the government, in 2015, accusations persisted. In the run-up to the 2015 Geneva sessions, Sri Lanka was accused of still operating secret detention facilities.

In 2015, Sri Lanka agreed to set up (1) a judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international human rights law (11) Commission truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence (111) An Office on missing and (1V) An office for reparations.

In the run-up to the Geneva sessions, Premier Wickremesinghe chose to set the record straight, at a ceremony at Rukmale Sri Dharmaloka Vijayaloka Maha Viharaya, on March 01, 2015, to felicitate the newly appointed Maha Nayaka Thera Ven. Ittapane Dharmalankara. Among those present was Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo. Premier Wickremesinghe declared that as all those who had been taken into custody, during the war and the post-conflict period, were being held in legally run facilities, all detainees/prisoners could be accounted for. The UNP leader didn’t mince his words when he emphasized that those missing, but not listed among those in government custody, had either perished during the conflict or were living overseas ‘(Prime Minister denies existence of secret detention camps’. with strap line ‘Those not among prison population either perished during the war or living overseas, The Island March 04, 2015.’)

A couple of days later, Premier Wickremesinghe challenged the much-touted UN claim of over 40,000 civilians killed on the Vanni east front, in 2009. Wickremesinghe also stressed the urgent need to verify the UN claims, as well as various other accusations. Unfortunately, Wickremesinghe’s did nothing. Wickremesinghe handling of the post-war accountability issue, too, contributed to the humiliating defeat his party suffered at the recently concluded general election. Over seven decades old, the UNP ended up without an elected MP. Nearly a month after the general election, the UNP is yet to reach consensus on its solitary National List slot.

The UNP leader Wickremesinghe set the record straight in an exclusive interview with Indian Thanthi TV in which he insisted that figures, quoted by the UN or other organizations, couldn’t be accepted without being verified. The March 6, 2015, interview couldn’t have been conducted at a better time, though Wickremesinghe did nothing subsequently to examine the Vanni death toll. Instead, Wickremesinghe gave the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera the go ahead to co-sponsor the accountability resolution, in Geneva, on Oct 01, 2015. The rest is history.

When the interviewer, S.A. Hariharan, pointed out that the Tamil Diaspora had estimated the number of civilian deaths closer to 100,000, Wickremesinghe asserted that it wouldn’t even come up to 40,000. Wickremesinghe pointed out that, in addition to the PoE (Panel of Experts) report, there had been other official reports that dealt with accountability issues. The Premier emphasized the pivotal importance of verifying such accusations to establish the number of civilian deaths. The Premier said that some official reports placed the number of civilian deaths at 5,000. The UNP leader never called for the verification of the UN report until he was kicked out of parliament.

In spite of underlining the importance of verifying accusations, Wickremesinghe didn’t take any follow-up action. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government conveniently refrained from using heavy ammunition in our rightful defence, provided by Lord Naseby, in Oct 2017, to counter the PoE report. The incumbent government, too, is yet to formulate a cohesive strategy to use Lord Naseby’s disclosure.

 

PEARL owes an explanation

During the conflict, thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils fled the country. The war here gave them an opportunity to secure political asylum in Europe, the US, Australia and the Scandinavian region. The Tamil Diaspora provided a substantial amount of funding, required by the LTTE to continue its conventional military campaign. The LTTE, in turn, controlled the Diaspora groups. The LTTE maintained strict surveillance over them. The Diaspora groups lacked courage at least to request the LTTE not to use their own helpless people as human shields in 2009. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what PEARL did during the last phase of the war in Sri Lanka? Did PEARL intervene on behalf of the Vanni Tamils after the LTTE abandoned Kilinochchi, in January 2009? Did PEARL request the LTTE, at least privately, to let go of those who were being held as human shields on the Vanni east front at the behest of a megalomaniac?

PEARL’s Executive Director, Tasha Manoranjan, and a member of its board of directors, having alleged in their latest media release that the international community contributed to the destruction of Tamil lives and Tamil aspirations in 2009, demanded the same international community should meet the demands of the disappeared. As a Diaspora group seeking to influence Western policy, through legal and political advocacy and direct research and reporting, PEARL should know how Western powers prolonged the conflict. In fact, the LTTE wouldn’t have survived nearly three decades without Western support, if not overt, but definitely covert. Western powers allowed the funding required to procure arms, ammunition and equipment needed to wage war though some countries proscribed the group. Neither did they unmask the international Tiger terrorist network, which was also resorting to drug running, extortion, etc., to fund the war here. However, the US facilitated the destruction of the floating arsenals in secret naval operations undertaken by the SLN. This was at the onset of the Vanni offensive.

If PEARL is genuinely interested in knowing what really happened to those who had been reported missing, it would seek the assistance of Western powers, as well as India. A substantial number of those who had been categorized as missing is today living in various countries, in many cases under assumed names. If not for them, there wouldn’t have been so many Diaspora organizations still raising funds on behalf of their people living in the Northern and Eastern Province.

PEARL tweeted on August 14, 2020: “Today marks 14 years since the #SLAF dropped 16 bombs over the #Sencholai children’s home, killing at least 51 #Tamil schoolgirls and 4 teachers. We remember them, acknowledge the gendered dimension of genocide, and continue to call for justice and accountability.”

Tasha Manoranjan, who had been in the Vanni at the onset of the Eelam War IV, tweeted on the following day; “I visited Sencholai hours after the bombing. The wailing of the mothers and families of these slaughtered schoolgirls haunt me to this day.”

Now that Tasha Manoranjan had claimed that she was hours away from Sencholai at the time of the SLAF attack on August 14, 2006, how could she become the founder of PEARL, established in 2005.

Manoranjan certainly owed an explanation.

Let me produce the description of the PEARL official on its official website: “Tasha Manoranjan is the founder and director of People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL). She spent over a year documenting human rights violations committed against Tamil civilians in northern Sri Lanka, and remains committed to pursuing accountability for violations of international law. Tasha was previously an associate in Sidley Austin LLP’s Litigation Practice. Tasha received her B.A., magna-cum-laude, in Justice and Peace Studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Tasha earned her law degree at Yale Law School, where she served as the Features Editor and Book Reviewer for the Yale Journal of International Law, Chair of the South Asian Law Students Association and Community Enrichment Chair of the Women of Color Collective. While at Yale, Tasha wrote a paper entitled “Beaten but not Broken: Tamil Women in Sri Lanka”, which was subsequently published in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs.”

According to the website, Manoranjan works as a Senior Policy Advisor at the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Is she a Canadian passport holder?

From Vanni to the US

How could Manoranjan, who had been in LTTE held Vanni, on August 14, 2006, ended up in the US? Or had she been a member of the PEARL at the time she entered the Vanni? In other words, what was her status at the time she entered Vanni? Did she ever serve the LTTE? When did she leave the Vanni? And, most importantly, how did she leave the country? Depending on the duration of Manoranjan’s stay in the Vanni, she can surely shed light on the circumstances leading to the entire Vanni population being herded into accompanying the retreating LTTE fighting units. What was Manoranjan’s status in the Vanni? Had she been a displaced person? Did anyone of her family serve the LTTE or any other terrorist group? In Manoranjan’s brief description there is no reference to her being in the Vanni during the conflict.

PEARL board of directors includes Dr. Vino Kanapathipillai, Gajan Raj and Sadena Thevarajah. In addition to the PEARL board of directors, its team comprised Tasha Manoranjan (Executive Director), Mario Arulthas (Strategic Advisor / Sr. Advocacy Officer, US), Anji Manivannan (Legal Director), Vivetha Thambinathan (Research Director), Avi Selvarajah (Sr. Legal Officer), Sivakami Rajamanoharan (Sr. Advocacy Officer, UK), Sagi Thilipkumar (Sr. Advocacy Officer, CH), Archana Ravichandradeva (Sr. Advocacy Officer, CA), Abarna Selvarajah (Advocacy Officer, CA), Thevya Balendran (Advocacy Officer, CA), Ernest Rajakone (Advocacy Officer, US), Luxsiga Ambigaibagan (Research Associate / Education Coordinator), Brannavy Jeyasundaram (Operations Officer) and Athavarn Srikantharajah (Interim Project Manager).

In addition to Manoranjan, did other members of the PEARL board of directors, as well as the PEARL team, live in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, during the conflict? Had their parents been refugees during the conflict? Had their parents served the LTTE, or any other terrorist organization? As PEARL had secured the services of a capable team, it can probe how 60,000-100,000 people disappeared during the conflict. Let me remind multiple causes for disappearances/ cases where bodies were not found.

* Disappearances resulted from fighting among /between Indian trained terrorist groups.

* Abductions of civilians carried out by Tamil terrorist groups

* Disappearances during Eelam War 1 (1983-July 1987) blamed on Sri Lankan military and police.

* Disappearances blamed on the Indian military during its deployment here (July 1987-March 1990).

PEARL should take into consideration the level of fighting between the Indian military and the LTTE as the former lost well over 1,300 officers and men and over 2,000 wounded.

* Those who disappeared /killed during weapons training in India

* Disappearances/deaths due to capsizing of boats taking youth to training facilities in India or while returning from India

* Those LTTE cadres killed by Indian security forces and police after the assassination of Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur, India.

* PLOTE cadres killed/disappeared during an abortive sea borne raid on the Maldives in early Nov 1988 and as a result of Indian military operations.

* Disappearances blamed on the Sri Lankan military during Eelam War II (June 1990 to 1994), Eelam War III ((April 1995 to Dec 2001) and Eelam War IV (Aug 2006 to May 2009)

* Those who perished while trying to reach Australia in boats.

* Clandestine movement of Sri Lankans facilitated by foreign missions in Colombo during the conflict and after.

* Issuance of new foreign passports to Sri Lankans under different names. One of the most glaring examples is Australia issuing a new passport to leader of the breakaway JVP faction Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) Kumar Gunaratnam bearing Noel Mudalige, a Sinhala Buddhist. Many countries continue to issue passports under different names, even to former members of terrorist groups.

*Those taken refuge in India and other countries to avoid forced conscription by the LTTE.

* Bodies disposed of by Sri Lankan and Indian militaries due to their failure to establish identities of the dead. Those killed during clandestine operations in the South. And finally,

* Political asylum in industrial countries for bogus refugees on the false grounds of persecution in Sri Lanka?

Let me end this piece with a story of an ex-LTTE cadre who ended up being an internationally renowned actor. Anthonythasan Jesuthasan, the lead actor of French film ‘Dheepan’ which won the top Palme d’Or prize for director Jacques Audiard at the 68th Cannes International Film Festival in 2015 had been an ex-LTTE cadre who fled the country in early 90s. Jesuthasan is on record as having said that he wanted to reach the UK but had to settle for France. Perhaps, members of the PEARL board of directors/team should watch ‘Dheepan’ if they hadn’t already done so.

Those who had been killed in combat though their bodies were not recovered and those who fled Sri Lanka for various reasons and are leading comfortable lives overseas while Sri Lanka is under pressure to account for the dead and the missing. The vast majority are those who had secured political asylum, on bogus grounds, taking advantage of hostility of some countries towards Sri Lanka.



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Midweek Review

Oslo pullout, new Geneva resolution and origins of terrorism (part 1)

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Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo Trine Jøranli Eskedal

” 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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Midweek Review

A Baby Cries in the Wilderness

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By Lynn Ockersz

A new-born girl child,

Left alone and found crying,

In desolate provincial wilds,

Seems yet another story,

Of family planning gone awry,

But this time around,

There’s more to it than that,

Because the lights are going out,

One by one in the Isle’s hearths,

As the economy grinds to a halt,

And scarcities take their toll,

On elders’ minds and hearts,

Driven to further extremes,

Than living hand-to-mouth,

But Reverence for Life being prime,

Giving the desperate a patient ear,

Becomes a must for giving sanity a chance.

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Midweek Review

A message from Keith Noyahr at the launch of ‘Notes from the battlefield’

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Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, flanked by Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, and Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, C. A. Chandraprema, at the 51 sessions of the ongoing Geneva sessions ( pic courtesy Foreign Ministry)

The 51 sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council is underway. Sri Lanka is again in the focus with Western powers and their lackeys targeting the war-winning Sri Lanka military.

Successive Sri Lankan governments, including the incumbent administration, failed to address core issues. Their failure to counter accusations that over 40,000 Tamil civilians died in the hands of the military is inexcusable. The Foreign and Defence Ministries, without further delay, should review Sri Lanka’s strategy or fall victim to unceasing Western machinations against the country for militarily crushing the LTTE, against their advice.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Lankadeepa journalist Ratnapala Gamage had been with the late General Rohan de S. Daluwatte, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), in Sept. 2001 at the latter’s Colombo office when the one-time Army Commander (May 1996-Dec 1998) was informed of the killing of Vaithilingam Sornalingam alias ‘Colonel’ Shankar.

At the time of his death the 51-year-old former Air Canada employee commanded the ‘Air Wing’ and ‘Marine Division’ of the LTTE.

The 20-minute call interrupted the exclusive interview Gamage was having with the CDS as Daluwatte had to rush for a meeting which was also to be attended by the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

Ex-Lankadeepa journalist Gamage, now domiciled in Switzerland, dealt with the high profile ‘hit’ carried out by the LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) aka DPU (Deep Penetration Unit) in the eastern part of the Vanni region. The raid carried out so deep, within the LTTE-held territory, sent shock waves through not only the enemy’s rank and file but the Colombo-based diplomatic community as well. Gamage in his maiden book ‘Rana Bimaka Panhinda’ (Notes from the battlefield) discussed the war that was brought to a successful conclusion in May 2009, with the focus on his experiences and visits to operational areas. The launch of ‘Rana Bimaka Panhinda’ took place at the J.R. Jayewardene Centre on Sept 13 with the presence of Lankadeepa Editor Siri Ranasinghe. The gathering was told a Tamil translation of the book would be available later this year. Gamage had an opportunity to meet one of those intrepid men who participated in that particular operation on the Oddusuddan-Puthikudirippu road, east of Kandy-Jaffna A9 hi-way on the morning of Sept. 26, 2001. Gamage reveals his failed bid to convince one of those Long Rangers to give him one of the four pictures he had of the ‘hit’ on Shankar, one of Prabhakaran’s closest associates. Gamage explained as to why the soldier declined to give him a photograph. At the time the LRRP unit triggered the claymore mine that blasted the heavily guarded vehicle, the attackers had believed Velupillai Prabhakaran was on the move in it. Operations behind enemy lines that developed over the years involved elite men, including Muslim military personnel and ex-LTTE cadres. During the Eelam War IV, the Air Force, on more than one occasion, evacuated several teams of Long Rangers who had got trapped in enemy territory. Did such highly successful operations carried out behind enemy lines prompt Prabhakaran to return to the negotiating table in Feb 2002? The Norwegians finalized the one-sided Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) that included a clause specifically meant to halt all LRRP/DPU operations. Due to an oversight on the part of Gamage, the unprecedented crisis caused by the raid on a safe house at Athurugiriya Millennium City housing scheme, operated by those conducting operations behind enemy lines, didn’t receive the attention it deserved. The UNP government crippled the clandestine operation in spite of assurances given by no less a person than the then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle that LRRP/DPU didn’t target UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Interestingly, Gamage wasn’t at the launch of his book. The ex-Lankadeepa defence correspondent addressed the gathering from his home at Aarburg, Switzerland at the onset of the event attended by several retired military officers. Retired Maj. Gen. Sanath Karunaratne, who led the defence of the Elephant Pass base way back in July 1991, in his then capacity as a Major, was among the guests at the launch. Gamage discussed the heroic defence of Elephant Pass base and the largest ever sea-borne operation ‘Balavegaya’ launched to save those trapped therein.

The beleaguered men of the sixth battalion of the Sinha Regiment (6SR) under Karunaratne’s command held the strategic base till seaborne ‘Balavegaya’ troops fought their way in from the Mullaitivu coast to break the siege. ‘Balavegaya’ involved 10,000 men and was considered the largest action undertaken before ‘Operation Riviresa’ (Oct-Dec 1995) that brought Jaffna and its suburbs under government control.

If not for the successful suicide attack on an advancing armour-plated LTTE bulldozer carried out by Lance Corporal Gamini Kularatne, the garrison could have probably fallen before the Army launched Operation ‘Balavegaya.’ Kularatne received Sri Lanka’s highest gallantry award ‘Parama Weera Vibhushana’ for the supreme sacrifice he made on the battlefield. Kularatne was the first recipient of the decoration.

Referring to the fall of Kokavil detachment south of Elephant Pass in June 1990, Gamage quite rightly blamed the military top brass for the shortcomings. The second recipient of the highest decoration was Captain Saliya Upul Aladeniya also of the Sinha Regiment. Aladeniya commanded besieged Kokavil detachment established for the protection of the Rupavahini transmission tower there. However, the LTTE attacks on isolated detachments along the A 9 road north of Vavuniya up to Elephant Pass should be examined against the backdrop of the then President, late Ranasinghe Premadasa’s foolish attempts to reach a consensus with the LTTE by even transferring truckloads of arms to it. In June 1990 the government lost control of the A 9 road north of Vavuniya up to Elephant Pass. That stretch of the road overland route remained inaccessible to the government until the Army systematically liberated it in the final phases of the war in January 2009.It would be pertinent to mention that though 6 SR valiantly held Elephant Pass base in 1991 with less than a battalion of troops, a Division plus troops couldn’t repulse multiple LTTE attacks on Yakachchi and Elephant Pass base in late April 2000. The 54 Division abandoned the base and retreated in all directions. The LTTE killed well over 1000 officers and men. The then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Balagalle made a vain attempt to portray the humiliating Elephant Pass defeat as a strategic withdrawal. Many fighting personnel also perished as they ran out of potable water after the LTTE destroyed their sole water source at Yakachchi

Keith Noyahr’s commendation among the well-wishers who couldn’t attend the book launch but chose to issue a recorded statement commending Gamage’s work was Keith Noyahr, the Deputy Editor of now defunct ‘The Nation. Noyahr recalled his close association with Gamage during the conflict and when he earlier worked at the Daily Mirror, the sister paper of Lankadeepa. Noyahr fled the country following his abduction and subsequent release in May 2008. The then Mahinda Rajapaksa administration was accused of targeting ‘The Nation’ journalist over his column ‘Military Matters’ that questioned the conduct of war-winning Army Commander the then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. Unidentified persons abducted Noyahr on the night of May 22, 2008 in the wake of a provocative piece titled ‘An Army is not its Commander’s private fiefdom’ on May 11, 2008. Noyahr wrote the column under the pseudonym ‘Senapathi. ’Fearing Noyahr’s fate would also befall him, Gamage quietly left the country with his only son in Dec, 2008. His wife died a few years earlier and in spite of political changes never returned to the country. The then joint Opposition comprising UNP-JVP-TNA-SLMC-CWC backing Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election must have been quite a shock for those who criticised Fonseka ‘s controversial strategies, that however brought about the unbelievable crushing of the LTTE in the battlefield, which many a pundit claimed was not within Sri Lanka’s military capability.

Gamage declared in his foreword, his close working relationship with the then Daily Mirror Editor Lalith Alahakoon (having joined The Island in June, 1987, the writer worked under Alahakoon who was the Night News Editor at that time) and his Deputy at the Daily Mirror Noyahr.

Acknowledging his weekly contribution to the Sunday Lankadeepa greatly enhanced his capacity, Gamage appreciated the opportunity and support extended by both Alahakoon and Noyahr for him to do a weekly article that dealt with ‘Military Matters. According to Gamage, it had been a joint effort by him and Noyahr. By the time, Noyahr was targeted ‘Military Matters’ was penned by Noyahr for ‘The Nation.’

Having joined Lankadeepa in late 1993, Gamage moved overseas as Fonseka’s Army was making headway on the Vanni east front. Close on the heels of Gamage’s departure on Dec 18, 2008, the 59 Division brought Mullaitivu, once considered impregnable, under its control. Mullaitivu had been under LTTE control since July 1996 after the LTTE massacred well over 1,000 officers and men in a devastating assault on that isolated base shook the country.

Gamage hadn’t been with the Lankadeepa to report the last phase of the combined security forces campaign that brought the LTTE to its knees.

Wijeweera’s execution

Gamage hadn’t even thought of joining the staff of the Lankadeepa at the time the UNP battled the second JVP inspired insurgency. The government brought the counter

insurgency campaign to an end in late 1989 early 1990 with the elimination of the JVP leadership.

Controversy surrounds the circumstances, the late Somawansa Amarasinghe escaped with the help of an Army officer. The rest, including the Marxist Party’s leader, Rohana Wijeweera were apprehended and summarily executed.

Gamage recalled him raising Wijeweera’s execution with the late Brigadier Janaka Perera (the much decorated officer was killed in an LTTE suicide attack in early Oct. 2008 at Anuradhapura as he came to address an election rally after having retired as a Major General) at his quarters within the then Army headquarters (the war winning Mahinda Rajapaksa government sold that land. The Yahapalana government (2015-2019), too, sold the adjoining land).

Brigadier Perera had been the head of one of the three teams that were assigned the task of eliminating Rohana Wijeweera. Then DIG Premadasa Udugampola (He passed away in January 2019), the late Maj. Gen. Lakshman Algama (killed in LTTE suicide blast in Dec 2001) and the then Colonel Janaka Perera had been in charge of the teams that eventually hunted down the JVP leadership. Gamage recounted his stimulating conversation with Perera while sipping wine. Gamage was there on the invitation of the officer to share a meal with him. The arrest of a JVPer in the Dehiowita area by an officer attached to Perera team, his interrogation that led to the capture of JVP politburo member Disanayake Mudiyansalage Nandasena alias D.M. Ananda who revealed Wujeweera’s hideout at Ulapone. Did Janaka Perera participate in the execution of the JVP leader? What was the assurance the celebrated the army officer gave Wijeweera soon after he placed a pistol at the JVP leader’s head? Where did Janaka Perera detain Wijeweera? Who accompanied the then Army Chief Cecil Waidyaratne when he visited Wijeweera? Gamage answered all these questions and also revealed why Janaka Perera accompanied the journalist to meet a soothsayer in Anuradhapura. This was years before Gnana Akka’s entry into the scene. Gamage’s reportage of LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s press conference in the Vanni on April 10, 2002 captures the attention of the readers. How a police intelligence officer infiltrated the LTTE defences on the pretext of being a journalist from Colombo assigned to cover the much-touted media briefing and unprecedented security measures that were in place therein to prevent an attempt on Prabhakaran’s life was certainly exciting. Gamage discussed how the LTTE turned the media briefing to a propaganda exercise by non-stop screening of footage of their battlefield victories. The stunning attack on Pooneryn-Nagathivanthurai base established in the early 90s to intercept boat movements across the Jaffna lagoon spurred the LTTE. Those directly responsible for the failure weren’t punished though Army Chief Lt. Gen. Waidyaratne resigned after having accepted responsibility. The LTTE smashed the base in early Nov 1993.

A visit to Vanni

Among other issues addressed by Gamage, perhaps one of the most important was the deficiency in the infantry. The ex-Lankadeepa journalist underscored the extreme difficulties experienced by the Army for want of sufficient men under arms. Gamage dealt with the issue against the backdrop of a visit organized by the Army for a group of Colombo-based journalists, including photographers to visit Army lines in the Vanni during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency. Ravi Ladduwahetti had been on The Island editorial at that time and was among those were taken there. Veteran journalist Ladduwahetti who had served many English newspapers passed away last week. He was 64 years old. The then Divaina Defence correspondent late Sirimevan Kasthuriarachchi and former UNL photographer Siripala Halwala were also in that media team.

Kasthuriarachchi, whose brother, an officer of the Vijayaba Infantry Regiment (VIR) died in the July 1996 Mullaitivu battle, had covered the conflict extensively and was one of those who always joined such arranged visits.

Like many other journalists Gamage, too, experienced flying with bodies of military personnel killed in action, when he was returning to Colombo from Palaly. The writer experienced the same on more than one occasion over the years.

Gamage shared his experience in flying to Palaly after the LTTE brought down two Avros with heat-seeking missiles on consecutive days in late April 1995. Among those who perished in missile attacks were three Lake House journalists. Gamage was lucky to avoid a Sam 7 hit as in spite of speaking to the then Commander of the Air Force he couldn’t secure a seat on an ill-fated Avro that flew out from Ratmalana air base. Instead, the Commander had offered him the opportunity to board the flight at the Anuradhapura air base when the Avro touched down there. Perhaps the second Avro disaster could have been avoided if the Air Force didn’t take the risk of flying there the day after the mysterious destruction of an Avro while taking off from Palaly.

There had been several other books on the conflict since the eradication of the LTTE’s conventional military capability. The books authored by our Permanent Representative in Geneva C.A. Chadraprema (Gota’s War) and the late Subramaniam Sivakamy alias ‘Col’ Thamilini (‘Thiyunu Asipathaka Sevana Yata’/In the Shadow of a Sharp Sword) are must read. Sinhala translation of ‘Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil’, life story of high ranking LTTE cadre, ‘Col’ Thamilini, took place at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) on May 13, 2016.Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil’ was launched on March 19, 2016, in Kilinochchi, the one-time LTTE bastion.

Gamage’s coverage of UNP presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake’s assassination should be examined taking into consideration his assessment that the LTTE did so to facilitate Kumaratunga’s victory. At the following presidential election in 1999, the LTTE tried to assassinate Kumaratunga to pave the way for Wickremsinghe to secure the presidency and in 2005 engineered polls boycott to help Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the presidential poll.

Gamage refrained from commenting on why the LTTE helped Mahinda Rajapaksa to win. Perhaps, the LTTE miscalculated Mahinda Rajapaksa’s capacity.

Chief of LTTE procurement ‘KP’ in his first interview with the media given to this writer in the ‘custody’ of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) declared the LTTE calculated they could take an irreversible upper hand in the battlefield within two years.

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