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‘Qingdao organic fertiliser shipment is pathogen free’: How scientifically acceptable is test report?



by Prof. Devika de Costa

(Chair Professor of Plant Protection, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya)


The bulk carrier, Hippo Spirit, carrying an organic fertiliser shipment of 20,000 metric tons manufactured by the Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd., China,started to sail to its destination, Colombo, Sri Lanka, from Qingdao port, China, on the 22 September 2021. Seventy-two days after its departure, on the 04 December 2021, Hippo Spirit left the Sri Lankan waters heading towards Singapore without unloading its shipment of organic fertiliser at the planned destination.

The reason for not allowing the shipment to be unloaded by the Sri Lankan authorities was the detection of the contamination of the organic fertiliser onboard with a plant pathogenic bacterium named Erwinia spp. and another group of bacteria of Bacillus spp., as confirmed twice by the National Plant Quarantine Service, Sri Lanka (NPQS). As per the Plant Protection Act No. 35, 1999 of Sri Lanka, material containing any organism harmful to, or injurious to, or destructive of plants and for the sanitation of plants in Sri Lanka, is not allowed to be imported.

Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd., the supplier, directed the Hippo Spirit, along with the bulk organic fertiliser shipment, to a test laboratory in Singapore, with the intention of getting a sample of the shipment tested for its quality by a third party and to initiate an international arbitration procedure.

The third party testing laboratory that the Qingdao Seawin selected was SGS Testing & Control Services Singapore Pvt. Ltd. (SGS). The reason for obtaining the services of a third party for the testing procedure was to support the allegations made by Qingdao Seawin against the NPQS. Qingdao Seawin denied the fact that their shipment was contaminated with the bacterium Erwinia, emphasising that NPQS had not conducted the test procedures scientifically and had not followed standard methodologies adopted by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).

Accordingly, a sample of the organic fertiliser shipment in Hippo Spirit was submitted to the SGS laboratory for testing its microbial quality on the 13 December 2021. At the SGS laboratory, this sample was tested to detect the presence of a specific group of bacteria, according to a standard test procedure, and the test results were released on 20 December 2021.

SGS test report Figure 1

shows an image of the test report released by the SGS laboratory on the 20 December 2021. According to the report, the submitted sample was tested by two standard methods, namely ISO 21528-1 (2017) and ISO 21528-2 (2017), to detect bacteria belonging to the Family Enterobacteriaceae, a sub-group within the large taxonomic group of bacteria.

The testing period of the sample has been reported as seven days from the 13th to the 20 December 2021. Results released by the SGS laboratory reveal that bacteria belonging to Enterobacteriaceae have not been detected in the sample subjected to the above two testing procedures.

(see Figure 1: The SGS test report)

What are Enterobacteriaceae bacteria?

Enterobacteriaceae is a large family of bacteria consisting of 53 bacterial genera (Reference No. 1). According to ‘Gram Staining’, the standard staining technique used in bacteriology for initial categorisation of bacteria, the bacteria belonging to this Enterobacteriaceae are classified as ‘Gram negative’. A majority of the bacterial genera belonging to this family are inhabitants of the human and animal intestine. Such bacteria are termed as ‘enteric bacteria’. In addition to the enteric bacteria, some of the genera belonging to the family Enterobacteriaceae live in natural environments such as soil and water.

There are some bacterial genera of this family, which are pathogenic (i.e. having the ability to cause diseases) to plants and animals. Most of the bacterial members of this family grow well at a temperature of 37 oC but there are some bacteria that show a better growth at a temperature range of 25 – 30 oC. Therefore, it is clear that within the same bacterial family, there are different bacterial genera and species with different physical, nutritional and functional characteristics. It is equivalent to siblings of a given family having differences in terms of their external morphological features, behaviour, attitudes, performances, working efficiency, etc.

Scientific basis of the test protocol to determine the quality of the sample

ISO 21528-1 (2017) and ISO 21528-2 (2017) are recommended test protocols to detect the presence of bacteria belonging to the Family Enterobacteriaceae in food samples used for human/animal consumption or to test the environmental samples used for primary food production, food production and food handling. Using the above test protocols it is possible to detect the presence of ‘culturable bacteria’ (i.e. bacteria which are capable of growing on synthetic culture media) belonging to the family Enterobacteriaceae. This means that the selected test protocols are suitable for detecting only a limited, focused group of bacteria and that these specific test protocols have not targeted the detection of all types of bacteria. The specificity of this test protocol to target only the culturable type bacteria of the Enterobacteriaceae family has been achieved through the specific synthetic culture medium used in the protocol. The culture medium used here is called the ‘Violet Red Bile Glucose Agar medium (VRBGA)’. Microbiologically, the culture media which specifically target a particular group of bacteria or microorganisms are termed ‘selective media’. Such selective media favour the growth of a particular group of microorganisms while suppressing the growth of all other types.

Selectivity of the VRBGA medium is determined by the ingredients used when preparing it. For example, the chemical stain called crystal violet and bile salts are used when preparing the VRBGA medium and both these chemical ingredients suppress the growth of Gram positive type bacteria. Moreover, the bile salts used in this medium encourages the growth of bacteria that are resistant to bile salts. In other words, only the bacteria which are not destroyed by the action of bile salts will grow on the VRBGA medium.

On the other hand, the bacteria which cannot tolerate bile salts will not grow on this selective medium even if they are present in the test sample.

Enteric bacteria naturally inhabit in an environment containing bile salts (i.e. the gut of animals and humans) and consequently are usually resistant to bile salts. Therefore, growth of such bacteria will not be suppressed when a test sample is allowed to grow on the VRBGA medium. However, non-enteric bacteria usually live in environments such as soil or plant tissue, and therefore, have no exposure to bile salts. Accordingly, they are not accustomed to grow in an environment containing bile salts. As a consequence, the growth of non-enteric bacteria is suppressed on the VRBGA medium. Therefore, it is clear that a test protocol using the VRBGA medium is not appropriate to test the presence of microorganisms or bacteria in a test sample of plant origin such as the organic fertilizer consignment from Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd. More importantly, this renders the conclusion by the SGS test report invalid.

Erwinia spp. grow naturally in plant tissues which have no bile salts in them. Thus it is a group of non-enteric bacteria. As explained above, the growth of such non-enteric bacteria is heavily suppressed on the VRBGA medium. According to the results of the publication given as Reference Number 2, the VRBGA medium has been identified as a medium which underestimates the presence of plant bacteria such as Erwinia, despite Erwinia being a member of the Family Enterobacteriaceae. Therefore, it should be clear that even if bacteria belonging to Erwinia spp. had been present in the tested organic fertilizer sample from Qingdao, there was a very high probability for them not being able to develop colonies on the VRBGA medium. Thus, the conclusion that the sample is free from Erwinia is erroneous and inconclusive.

Scientific reasons for not agreeing with the conclusions made by the SGS report

The SGS report concludes that based on ISO 21528-1 (2017) and ISO 21528-2 (2017) test protocols, the sample does not contain bacteria belonging to the family Enterobacteriaceae, and therefore, the sample is free from Erwinia as well. Based on the above test report, news reports were released through public media (Daily News, 24th of December 2021 and News First, 22nd of December 2021) saying that the organic fertiliser shipment was free from plant, animal and human pathogens including Erwinia.

Given below are the scientific reasons to emphasise that the conclusion drawn is erroneous:

(a) Because of the highly selective nature of the VRBGA medium, all bacteria in the Enterobacteriaceae family will not develop colonies on it when the sample is tested by the above ISO procedures. Accordingly, Non-enteric bacteria and bacteria which are usual inhabitants of bile salt-free environments, and hence are not resistant to the effect of bile salts will not develop on the culture medium even if they are present in the test sample. Therefore, it is erroneous to conclude that the sample is free from Erwinia;


As a selective medium, VRBGA targets the detection of bacteria belonging to the Enterobacteriaceae family only. This medium suppresses the growth of all Gram positive type bacteria and other non-Enterobacteriaceae bacteria. There are many plant, animal and human pathogenic bacteria which belong to many other taxonomic families (i.e. other than Enterobacteriaceae/non-Enterobacteriaceae). Therefore, based on this test report, it is not possible to conclude that the sample is free from plant, animal and human pathogens from taxonomic families other than Enterobacteriaceae;


In giving their conclusion, the SGS report assumes that Erwinia belongs to the family Entereobacteriaceae. However, according to the most recent taxonomic classification of bacteria as given in Reference No. 3, the genus Erwinia is no longer a member of the Family Enterobacteriaceae. Accordingly, Erwinia genus is now included in a separate family named Erwiniaceae. This recent taxonomic classification is based on molecular biological methods of bacteria identification. In contrast, the previous classification, under which the genus Erwinia had been classified within the Family Enterobacteriaceae, was based on morphological and biochemical features of bacteria. It is widely acknowledged that molecular biological methods of bacteria identification are superior to methods based on morphological and biochemical features. This is equivalent to identifying a person by his/her genetic make-up as opposed to his/her external features and performance.

Organisms/microorganisms belonging to different taxonomic strata have unique behaviours and unique characteristics. These specific behaviours and features should be considered carefully when selecting appropriate methods for detecting microorganisms. Inappropriate selection of detection methodology leaves a very high possibility for a majority of microorganisms passing undetected, leading to erroneous conclusions about test samples.

If the fertiliser supplying company had the intention of clearing its good name that the shipment was free from Erwinia, the most appropriate methodology was to use specific, standard microbiological methods that are available to specifically detect the genus Erwinia or selected species of Erwinia. Or, the most logical and scientific approach should have been to test the sample for the presence of any culturable microorganism (using a standard microbiological technique suitable for this purpose) and if microorganisms were detected, to confirm their identity for genus Erwinia or species of Erwinia, subsequently. Instead what has been attempted through the test procedures that have been adopted by the SGS laboratory in Singapore was to try to convince the absence of Erwinia in an indirect way using a less sensitive and highly selective method targeting a particular group of bacteria with a questionable approach.

According to ISO 21528-1 (2017) and ISO 21528-2 (2017) test procedures, there is no specific guideline on the way of sampling. It is stated that the sampling is done on a case-specific way (if standard procedures are available for a given sampling material) and when such standards are not available, it is done via mutual agreement of the relevant parties.

According to the SGS report, the sample submitted for testing (Figure 2) is a parcel with approximate dimensions of 30 cm x 15 cm. The content within it could be estimated to be about 500 – 1000 g. It is highly questionable whether the amount of fertiliser sample submitted for testing was truly representative of the whole bulk of the 20,000 metric ton shipment. Furthermore, the number of samples submitted for testing seems to be only one, which is also not a sufficient number to represent the bulk of the shipment. There are widely-accepted sampling protocols that should have been used to obtain a series of representative samples. In scientific research, results based on a single sample are rarely, if ever, accepted as valid.

(See Figure 2: The sample used for testing as shown in the SGS test report)

ISO 21528-1 (2017) and ISO 21528-2 (2017) test procedures emphasise that the samples used for testing should be a proper representation of the bulk. In addition they provide clear guidelines on the quality of the sample at the time of its submission for testing. Accordingly, the sample should not have been damaged or changed during transport and storage. It is highly doubtful if the latter requirement could have been fulfilled from a shipment that had been stored in a bulk carrier for more than three months. Therefore, the validity/accuracy of the test results is questionable as the results do not reflect the initial quality/status of the shipment.

Based on above questionable/doubtful test procedures, it is not possible to conclude that the organic fertiliser sample tested by the SGS laboratory is free from plant, animal and human pathogens including Erwinia. The biggest concern arising from the conclusions of this nature is their negative impact on policy decisions and thereby the potential catastrophes that could be encountered by the nation as a whole. For example, the potential disease damage to a wide range of crops grown in Sri Lanka that could be caused by application of an organic fertiliser containing a plant pathogen such as Erwinia is enormous and could last for a very long period, incurring billions of rupees. Similarly, diseases to plants, animals and humans that could be caused by the wide range of microorganisms that are not detected by these highly-selective test protocols adopted by the SGS could lead to substantial economic and environmental damage along with human health hazards. These could take several years and several billions of rupees to be brought under control.

The meek response of the Sri Lankan authorities to the legal challenge of Qingdao based on the erroneous and questionable SGS test report from Singapore demonstrates their readiness to accept anything coming from an international agency while ignoring the scientifically-valid tests and conclusions of the Sri Lankan scientists. This sends a very negative detrimental signal to the national scientific community and to the nation as a whole.


1. UK Standards for Microbiology Investigations: Identification of Enterobacteriaceae (2013), Issued by the Standards Unit, Microbiology Services, Public Health England, 32 pp.

2. Baruzzi, F., Cefola, M., Carito, A., Vanadia, S. and Calabrese, N., (2012). Changes in bacterial composition of zucchini flowers exposed to refrigeration temperatures. The Scientific World Journal,, 6 pp.

3. Adeolu, M., Alnajar, S., Naushad, S. and Gupta, R.S., (2016). Genome-based phylogeny and taxonomy of the ‘Enterobacteriales’: proposal for Enterobacterales ord. nov. divided into the families Enterobacteriaceae, Erwiniaceae fam. nov., Pectobacteriaceae fam. nov., Yersiniaceae fam. nov., Hafniaceae fam. nov., Morganellaceae fam. nov., and Budviciaceae fam. nov. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, 66(12), 5575-5599.


President’s efforts require parliamentary support



President Ranil Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

With less than a year and half to the presidential elections, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has a tight deadline to meet if he is to attain his aspirations for the country.  His visit last week to Japan where he sought to renew ties which had made it Sri Lanka’s largest aid donor for decades, was reported to be highly successful.  During his visit, the President had apologized to the Japanese government leaders regarding the cancellation of the Light Rail Transit project which was subsequently delivered by Japan to Bangladesh.   The completion of the elevated railroad would have significantly reduced Colombo’s traffic jams. The disastrous mistake the previous government made in crudely cancelling the project unilaterally and without rational reason lost Sri Lanka the goodwill of Japan which will not be easy to get back.  Getting Japan back as a donor partner would be a great boon.  Overcoming the serious economic crisis that besets the country and its people would require a massive infusion of foreign assistance if the period of recovery is to be kept short and not prolonged indefinitely.

President Wickremesinghe’s leadership is also being credited with the structural economic reforms that the country is undertaking with regard to revenue generation and cost cutting.  Undertaking economic reforms that would streamline the economy has been a long term desire on the part of the President and seen during his past stints as Prime Minister.  During the period 2001 to 2004, when he effectively led the government as Prime Minister and entered into the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE, he tried to implement the same set of economic reforms.  Both of these radical measures proved to be too much for the population to bear and he suffered defeat at the elections that followed. Typically, the reform measures he presents is based on the “trickle down” theory, which, in highly corrupt polities, like Sri Lanka, means that the poor have to be content with the crumbs falling off the table. Once again, and unfazed, he is taking up the challenge of taking up unpopular economic measures, such as cutting subsidies, increasing taxes and privatizing state owned enterprises.

As part of the IMF recovery plan for the country, the government, under his leadership, is putting in place anti-corruption legislation that is required by the IMF.  It appears that this legislation, which is still in its draft form, is being pushed more by the President than by the government.  This was evident when a civil society group, led by the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, held a meeting for parliamentarians of all parties within the parliamentary complex.  The attendance from the government side was limited, though the Opposition participated in strength.  The top leadership of most of the Opposition parties, was in attendance, especially the largest Opposition party, the SJB, whose leader Sajith Premadasa also made an appearance.  They gave an inkling of the change of faces that needs to accompany any “system change.” The consensus of the discussion was that the draft legislation was a positive addition to the fight against corruption.


The situation on the ground, in terms of implementation of the laws pertaining to good governance and accountability, continue to be highly unsatisfactory.  The protest movement that was in evidence a year ago, gave its attention to issues of corruption and economic mismanagement for the reason that it had led to the economic collapse of the country that affected the entirety of its population. Both corruption and economic mismanagement had been facilitated by the concentration of political power in the executive.  One of President Wickremesinghe’s first actions was to give astute political leadership to the passage of the 21st Amendment which sought to restore the independence of key state institutions necessary for a check and balance function.  The most important aspect of the 21st Amendment is to protect those who are in charge of oversight bodies from interference by the political authority.

 A notable feature of the present is that the parliamentary majority has shown itself to be willing to follow President Wickremesinghe’s lead when it comes to putting frameworks of good governance and accountability in place for the future.  But when it comes to implementing them in the present, the ruling party, in particular, works in its own self-interest and to protect its own.  Unfortunately, there are a growing number of instances in which it can be seen that the parliamentary majority, led by the ruling party, continues to flout the spirit of the law and practices of good governance.  This was seen in the manner in which the Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission was forced out of his position through a majority vote in Parliament.  Regrettably, the protections afforded by the 21st Amendment could not protect the Chairman of the regulatory authority who opposed the electricity price hikes that led to the price hike to the poorest being up to 500 percent, while to the super rich and companies it was only 50 percent.

The second incident, in the same week, has been the apprehension of a parliamentarian at the airport for gold smuggling who was let off with a fine that was much less than the fine provided for by law for such offenses.  The parliamentarian himself has shown no remorse whatsoever and on the contrary has argued with considerable gumption that he is a victim of injustice as he did not pack his own bag and it was done by another.  The very same day that he paid his fine and was released by the Customs he went to Parliament, as if he had no problems. Opposition parliamentarians have urged that the parliamentarian, caught gold smuggling, should resign, but so far to no avail.  The question is whether he will be held accountable for the discredit he has brought upon himself, his political party, Parliament and the country or whether he will be judged to be no worse than many of his peers and the matter put aside.


The third incident, in the same week, is that of a foreign national who entered the country, on a forged passport, and was apprehended, at the airport, by Immigration officers.  They were instructed by a government minister to release the foreign person on the grounds that he was a businessman who had come to invest in the country.  However, when the incident was reported in the media, the government decided to deport him and said it will take action against the Immigration officers who had followed illegal orders in releasing him.  The media reported that no inquiry will be held against the Minister for influencing the Immigration officials to release the arrested foreign national as anybody could make a request like that but that an inquiry should be held against the Immigration officials for obeying the wrong instructions.

President Wickremesinghe has won many plaudits for his willingness to take up the challenge of rescuing the country from the abyss when he accepted former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s offer to become Prime Minister. It has now become clear that the President is determined to set laws and frameworks for the future. Unfortunately, it appears that the implementation of good governance practices and accountability is simply impossible in a context in which the parliamentary majority is not willing to follow them.  As a result, the crackdown on corruption and abuse of power that was hoped for when President Wickremesinghe took over has not manifested itself on the ground.

There is still little or no evidence that President Wickremesinghe is able or willing to take action against those within his government who violate the laws and frameworks of good governance that he is setting for the future of the country.  Up to now, the President has only been able to use the security forces and the parliamentary majority to crack down on the protest movement which demanded an end to corruption and accountability for abuse of power. If this situation continues, the President will lose both credibility and authority while those who engage in corruption and abuse of power will once again entrench themselves and become impossible to dislodge to the detriment of the national interest.  There is a need for all in the polity, both government and opposition, to strengthen the hand of the President to make a break with the past so that the resources of the country will be used for the common good rather than end up in private pockets.

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Sri Lanka’s ignorance matches that of US – II



LTTE training forcibly recruited civilians

Human Rights and war crimes:

By Daya Gamage
Foreign Service National Political Specialist (ret.)
US Department of State

(Continued from yesterday)

It is essential to note the most fundamental divide in the country is between rural and urban populations. Sri Lanka’s economy has always been essentially agricultural and even today some 77 percent of the population lives in rural districts. The ratio of Sinhalese to Tamils living in rural districts nationally approximates their ratio in the population at large.  Rural areas include Tamil-majority parts of Vanni (Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya Districts) and the Kilinochchi District in the Northern Province.  Similarly, such Sinhalese-majority districts as Monaragala and Badulla in the southern province of Uva, and Hambantota in the south are mostly rural.  During the colonial period and until the early 1970s the economic and political elites of Sri Lanka were almost exclusively a subset of the approximately 19 percent of the population living in urban areas.

These areas were privileged in terms of better economic infrastructure, better health and other government services, and better educational and employment opportunities.  These advantages were shared by all communities living in the cities: Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, who coexisted and cooperated in general harmony.  Again, all three ethnic communities in the rural sector face inadequate educational facilities, less economic infrastructure and employment opportunities.

Post-Independence dilemma

Post-independence leaders faced a prickly dilemma: the economic development and broadened enfranchisement demanded by democratic politics required that more resources and opportunities be shared with the countryside, which would dilute the power and privileges of the 19 percent. All sections of the educated urban class were threatened by this, and none more than urban Tamils.  Not surprisingly, political leaders reacted to this broadening competition for national resources by reaching out to their ethnic constituencies for support in defending their privileges.

Let’s turn to war crimes and human rights violations the 18 May 2023 US House of Representative Resolution and the Canadian prime minister were referring to. The data and facts given below could be new to policymakers and lawmakers in Sri Lanka as well as to their counterparts in Washington. I say this because there was no evidence that Sri Lanka ever presented these factual data to the West. If the policymakers and lawmakers in Washington were aware of the following data the Resolution would have taken a different tone.

The question of war crimes—and related charges of crimes against humanity and even of genocide—are a telling example of the frequent gulf between complex facts and simplistic popular beliefs that has distorted perceptions of the Sri Lankan civil war and, one would argue, US policy towards Sri Lanka. In a broader sense, this writer believes that the persistent fictions that have grown up around the separatist conflict are symptomatic of a larger problem in the crafting of policy toward countries that are insufficiently or incorrectly understood.

In the case of Sri Lanka, the tendency of international observers to rush to judgment— and censure—under worst-case assumptions is evidenced by the civilian fatalities figure cited extensively in print and public discourse. This figure of 40,000 is alleged to be the number of unarmed Tamils who were killed during the final stage of the war (January–May 2009). These deaths are blamed largely on the Sri Lankan military, which is accused of using excessive and indiscriminate force, and thereby of committing war crimes. The 40,000 figure became an item of international orthodoxy after it was mentioned in the report, often referred to as the Darusman Report, by an “unofficial” panel of experts appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The figure was arrived at by simply subtracting the number of internally displaced civilians who were administratively processed after the hostilities from the UN’s estimate of the number of civilians caught up in the final offensive.

To be precise, the March 2011 Darusman report conceded that “there is still no reliable figure for civilian deaths” but stated that the figure of 40,000 “cannot be ruled out” and needs further investigation.  The report did not refer to “credible evidence,” much less adduce any, using instead the vague expression “credible allegations.” This verdict was not voted upon or endorsed by the United Nations as an organisation, and despite its questionable logic and conflicting figures from other sources, the UN Secretary General pronounced the figure of 40,000 to be definitive. In a strange case of groupthink, most western governments and international NGOs have accepted it unquestioningly and wielded it rhetorically.

Disputed death count

The currency and obduracy of the death count, to which the Darusman Report gave birth, is all the more mystifying because it represents a major departure from calculations made not only by other reputable observers but even by UN staff on the ground in Sri Lanka. On March 9 (2009), the country team of the UN mission in Colombo briefed local diplomats for the first and only time on the civilian casualty figures it had collected from its Humanitarian Convoy.

 According to this briefing, 2,683 civilians had died between January 20 and March 7, and 7241 had been wounded. The UN country team did not indicate to the diplomats that the majority of these casualties were due to government shelling.  According to a cable from the US embassy in April 2009, the UN had estimated that from January 20 to April 6 civilian fatalities numbered 4,164, plus a further 10,002 wounded.  The International Crisis Group is quoted as reporting that “U.N. agencies, working closely with officials and aid workers located in the conflict zone, documented nearly 7,000 civilians killed from January to April 2009.

Those who compiled these internal numbers deemed them reliable to the extent they reflected actual conflict deaths but maintain it was a work in progress and incomplete.” Some three weeks before the end of the war, Reuters reported that “A UN working document, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, says 6,432 civilians have been killed and 13,946 wounded in fighting since the end of January.” An unpublished report by the United Nations country team in Sri Lanka stated that from August 2008 to May 13, 2009 (five days before the war ended), the number of civilians killed was 7,721. Even if the UN Secretary General chose to ignore reporting from his own staff in the field, there were reports from other sources that should have tempered the figures adopted by other international organizations and governments with diplomatic representation in Colombo.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the only outside agency present in the war zone during the final phase, used various statistical indicators to conclude that the total number of noncombatants killed was around 7,000.  Lord Naseby, a British parliamentarian and longtime advocate for Sri Lanka, announced in the House of Lords in November 2017 that he had managed to pry classified documents out of the Foreign Office through a freedom of information inquiry. These documents, which were dispatched from the British Defense Attaché in Colombo during the final days of the war, reported that about 7000 people had been killed.  Amnesty International wrote that . . . “derived independently from eyewitness testimony and information from aid workers [we estimate that] at least 10,000 civilians were killed.” This figure is in line with the estimate of an anthropologist working in Australia who questioned LTTE government servants and others who survived the final battles. This academician estimates that total fatalities from January 1 to May 19 ranged from 15,000 to 16,000, including some 5,000 Tiger dead. He cautions that any final figure must take into account the 600-900 deaths due to non-military causes that would be expected at standard death rates for a population of several hundred thousand over a period of five months, especially under very difficult conditions. He emphasizes that it was very difficult to distinguish civilians from combatants because the latter often did not wear uniforms.

According to some commentators, the prevalence and resilience of the 40,000-fatality figure can be attributed in significant measure to the publicity given to it by Gordon Weiss, an Australian journalist, who served as spokesperson for the UN mission in Sri Lanka from 2006 to 2009. In that official capacity Weiss reportedly used the fatality figure of 7,000 for 2009 and noted that, for the Sri Lankan Army, it made no tactical sense to kill civilians. Yet, in interviews to promote his popular book on the final days of the war, he used the unsubstantiated figure of 40,000, presumably for its shock value. When the book was published, the fatality figure had been reduced to 10,000.

ICRC figures 

On July 9, 2009, the US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, John Clint Williamson, met in Geneva with Jacques de Maio, Head of Operations for South Asia for the International Committee of the Red Cross. Williamson requested the meeting in order to collect information required for reporting to the US Congress. This information was invaluable because the ICRC was the only international organisation allowed by the GSL onto the northeastern battlefield for humanitarian work. In his diplomatic cable to Washington on that meeting, Williamson quoted de Maio as saying that “the Sri Lankan military was somewhat responsive to accusations of violations of international humanitarian law and was open to adapting its actions to reduce casualties.” The ambassador added that de Maio . . . “could cite examples of where the Army had stopped shelling when ICRC informed them it was killing civilians. In fact, the Army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths …. On the LTTE, de Maio said that it had tried to keep civilians in the middle of a permanent state of violence. It saw the civilian population as a ‘protective asset’ and kept its fighters embedded amongst them.

De Maio said that the LTTE commanders’ objective had been to keep the distinction between civilian and military assets blurred.”  In April, as the fighting was nearing its climax, both the United Nations and the Group of Eight nations strongly condemned the LTTE for using civilians as human shields.

This writer can assure that the manuscript he is preparing with the retired Senior Foreign Service and Intelligence Officer of the Department of State Dr. Robert K. Boggs will disclose startling evidence of Washington’s foreign policy trajectory toward Sri Lanka, and how successive governments in Sri Lanka since 1980 – to date – displayed their utter ignorance that led to the infantile foreign policy approaches.

(The writer, Daya Gamage, is a retired Foreign Service National Political Specialist of the U.S. Department of State accredited to the Political Section of the American Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka)

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Excitement galore for Janaka



Janaka Palapathwala…a new identity soon!

Another artiste who is very much in the limelight, these days, is singer Janaka Palapathwala, who specializes in the golden hits of the past, made popular by Engelbert Humperdinck, Elvis, Tom Jones, Jim Reeves, and the like.

He has been seen crooning away at some of the prestigious events, in Colombo, and is now ready to entertain those who love the golden oldies…in Canada and the States.

Janaka, who plans to reveal a new identity soon, indicated to us that he is eagerly looking forward to this particular overseas tour as he has already been informed that the opener, on 3rd June, in Washington D.C., is a ‘sold out’ event.

“Summer Mega Blast’, on 3rd June, will have in attendance the band Binara & The Clan and DJ Shawn Groove.

Dynasty (Apple Green)…in action at ‘Memories Are Made Of This’

On 16th June, he will be in Toronto, Canada, for ‘Starlight Night’, with the band 7th String.

He has two dates in New York, on 24th June and 28th July (‘Welcome To My World’); Nebraska, 4th July (‘An Evening With Janaka’): Los Angeles, 15th July, and San Francisco, 22nd July.

Both the Los Angeles and San Francisco events are titled ‘Memories Are Made Of This’ and Janaka will perform, backed by the group Dynasty (Apple Green).

On his return home, he says he has to do the St. Peter’s College Welfare Society Dinner Dance, “Wild West’, scheduled for 26th July.

There will be plenty of action at this Peterite event, with the bands Misty, and Genesis, Shawn Groove, Frank David, Mazo, Ricardo Deen, Dinesh Subasinghe and Clifford Richards.

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