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Upali Wijewardene brilliant man and generous friend



Cambridge days

by A. C. Visvalingam

Some time in late 1955 or early 1956, I was planning to abandon a course in Agricultural Engineering that I was following at the University of Tokyo in order to return to Sri Lanka with a view to starting a scientifically-run farm when I was called upon to act as an interpreter for the well-known personality Mr. Ray Wijewardene, whom I had then just met for the first time. He was appalled at my decision to give up my studies and, on his return to the island, had made a special trip to Kandy to see my father in order to persuade him that there was only one place in the world that I should be going to – and that was Peterhouse, the oldest college in the University of Cambridge, his alma mater.

My father, who was unaware at the time that an earlier operation he had had for stomach cancer had failed to halt its growth, was persuaded – and, in turn, convinced me -to apply to Peterhouse. It was about this time that Mr Wijewardene told me that two of his younger first cousins – Ranjit Wijewardene and Upali Wijewardene – would also be entering Cambridge at the same time.

For his part, Upali had obtained admission to Queen’s College and it was one or two days more before I met him. That is, Ranjit had arranged to meet Upali and a few others at an Indian restaurant and I, too, was invited to joint the crowd. Even before I saw Upali, I happened to hear his voice from a little distance and was rather put off because he spoke with a strong public school accent – which many Sri Lankans still frown upon as an affectation. It was not long before I learnt that Upali had, in fact been studying for two years at Bedales, an exclusive private school in England, and that his accent was nothing unusual in the circumstances. Later on, after he returned to Sri Lanka, he lost almost all trace of this accent.

Even at that stage of his academic career, Upali gave one the impression that he had great ambitions and had no doubt about his ability to fulfill them.

Within a month of my entering the university my father wrote what was to be his last letter to me to say that the doctors had diagnosed extensive cancer and that he had been given only a few months more to live. He counselled me not to give up my studies and not to return to Sri Lanka for his funeral rites.

As my father had been a very powerful personality and had had a profound influence on the formation of my character, the prospect of his death completely put me off my studies and I became greatly dejected. It was in this context that Upali, though a few years younger than myself, showed his maturity by persistently exhorting me to look at things less emotionally and more objectively. He, almost literally dragged me out of the depths of my depression.

Cambridge University was, at all times, a hive of intense activity with students immersing themselves in their studies, in sports, in the work of the numerous associations, societies, clubs and unions, in heated intellectual discussions, in innumerable extra-curricular activities, patties, dances and so on.

Most of the Sri Lankans did not involve themselves much in these activities – other than their studies, in the discussions and in sports to some extent. In any event, when it came to parties, dances and river picnics, there was no chance for a Sri Lankan to get a local girl as a partner because the British men in and around Cambridge far outnumbered the available British girls. This shortfall was met by the substantial number of other European girls who were in Cambridge to study English. For some obscure reason, these girls felt a greater rapport with Asians than they did with Britishers.

Now the interesting thing is that, whereas these continentals did spare the rest of us an occasional glance, there were two Sri Lankans whom they just swooned over at the mere sight. One of them was Upali, who was quite slim then. His height and sharp angular features, which Europeans hold in such high regard, made him a real winner. Upali’s close friends felt that Providence had been most unfair in distributing its largesse of unevenly! In fact, there was more than one attractive girl who would have gladly given up her fiance back at home if Upali had only dust given the requisite signal!

One of these girls, I remember, had been the object of the attention of a large number of foreign undergraduates. However, she was, for all practical purposes only, interested in horses and the beauties of nature. While the others who were very keen to get to know her gave-up their efforts after a time, it was not long before Upali was seen going horse-riding! He, like Sir Oliver Goonetilleke before him, had found quite early in life that the way to make a person take an interest in you is first to take an ardent interest in the things which are of importance to that person. Although he looked upon getting her attention as a challenge which he could not ignore, he did not allow the friendship to develop so far as to cause her any pain of mind when they eventually went their separate ways.

It was in December 1958 that Upali, Ranjit and three other contemporaries, including myself went on a motor car trip to Spain via France. It was a hair raising trip as we had to drive through unbelievably thick fog on the way from Cambridge, to Dover, and on the most slippery ice; through the precipitous Pyrenees, without benefit of tyre chains. Some details of this trip, have already appeared in these pages before; so I shall only mention a few things which got left out the last time.

Upali’s generosity continued unabated even though I had refused to work for him.

I had agreed to go on this trip reluctantly because my allowance was strictly limited Ranjit and Upali were determined that I should not return to Sn Lanka without having seen something of the Continent. So they kept on at me until I agreed and, hence, had to bear part of the expenses which I myself should have properly borne. Luckily, they had access to rich relatives in the UK!

It was in Spain that i came to realise, to my great annoyance that Upali’s idea of a holiday was to go to sleep as late as possible every night and to get up only in time for lunch the next day! My hopes of looking at some of the cultural treasures of Spain were totally blasted. As he was the most pleasantly persuasive guy, when it came to getting his own way the rest of us just accepted the routine set by him.

In Torremolinos, too, the great attractiveness of Upali to European girls became manifest. The four others were green with envy to see a red rose appearing every afternoon by his bedside when we used to return after our breakfast-lunch. The rose was, as we realised all too soon, an expression of the admiration which the two pretty maids felt for him!

Back at Cambridge, Upali had come to make the acquaintance of a mixed couple an English wrestler and his black West Indian club singer cum entertainer wife.

One day, the wife turned up alone to see him in his rooms during the period he had set aside for his studies, clearly indicating that she had a more than a passing interest in him. With some difficulty, he managed to get her to leave and had just got back to his work when there was a heavy banging on the door.

It was the wrestler! Upali’s knees nearly gave way when the Englishmen told him that, when he found his wife missing, he had thought that she must have come to see Upali. He succeeded in convincing the powerfully-built man that there must be some other explanation for her absence from his side and the matter happily ended there.

Upali obtained an Upper Second Class in his first examinations. He was encouraged by this but was determined to do better in his Finals. All of us were hopeful that he would achieve a good result because he was very disciplined in the matter of the time which he spent on his studies.

For example, he would agree to meet us only during certain specified hours which were outside the hours he had reserved for his academic labours. Nevertheless, something did not go quite work out and he was greatly disappointed when he got only a Lower Second Class Honours degree in Economics – a subject in which he later shone in the practical world of business.

Our ways parted in mid-1959 after our degree examinations. I stayed on in England and then went on to Ghana but kept in touch with Ranjit and Upali who had both returned to Sri Lanka.

By 1970,1 felt that I had studied long enough and acquired sufficient experience overseas in the fields of civil engineering which were of relevance to river basin development to be able to make a positive contribution here and, therefore, decided to return home.

When I wrote to Upali in this connection and asked for his advice on whom I should write to, he, instead, offered me a job in his then young organisation as his Managing Director I remember that he sent me his projections for the expected growth of his business – which, if I recall correctly, was to reach a turnover of Rs. 100,000,000 by 1976 or a little thereafter.

However, I did not find any difficulty in convincing him that I should stick to my chosen path and that, in any event, I would be a rather difficult-to-control employee. I may mention that lie did, by various innovative strategies, achieve the targets he had set for himself despite the highly adverse economic policies being enforced at the time.

He found that my efforts to obtain a post – any post at all – in the engineering field here was being met with blunt resistance by the local engineering establishment. When he found that I was not making any progress, he took it upon himself to speak to the Minister concerned but even the latter could not help me against the might of the technical bureaucracy. Eventually, thanks to some information which was passed on to me by Dr. Lal Jayawardena, I found myself working at Embilipitiya at the River Valleys Development Board.

Upali’s generosity continued unabated even though I had refused to work for him. The ground floor visitor’s room in his castle-like home was put at my disposal whenever I had to be in Colombo on duty, irrespective of whether he was in Sri Lanka or not. When he was in the Island, long hours were spent discussing the Mahaweli Development Project, the Walawe Project, water management, road construction, business, economics, politics, the share market and important personalities in Sri Lanka.

His comprehension of engineering principles was astonishing. Months after I had explained some engineering matter to him, he would refer to it accurately in some other related engineering context with an understanding which I would normally expect only of engineer.

It may surprise the reader to learn that Upali did not have much experience of the workings of the stock market until I told him one day that I had managed to complete my PhD at the University of London largely with the help of money that I had made on the UK stock market by investing my savings from my Ghana days. He questioned the exhaustively on whatever I knew but it was not very long before he had gone into the intricacies of the subject to a professional depth to which I had no aspirations.

He once explained to me the secret of business growth. It was, he said, the legal avoidance of the payment of tax to the maximum extent possible. He was solidly in agreement with the view expressed by certain economists that any tax in excess of 15% provides a strong incentive to finding all possible means to avoid payment – and is, therefore, largely self-defeating. It causes businessmen and the senior people in their organisations to divert an excessive proportion of their time from productive efforts to tax minimisation.

I recollect asking him who were the Sri Lankan men whose business acumen he respected. At the risk of embarrassing those of them who are still alive, I can recall, inter alia, that he mentioned the names of Senator Sarath Wijesinghe (his uncle), N. S. O. Mendis, Mark Bostock and D. P. D. M. de Silva.

He had a phenomenal memory for names and connections. He could tell the relationships between almost any of the important people whose names cropped up in our discussions.

His comprehension of engineering principles was astonishing.

On one occasion, I happened to be in Colombo on the day Dr. N. M. Perera was presenting his Budget for the following year. His speech, or excerpts of it, were being broadcast and both of us were listening carefully While I had no idea what Dr. Perera was going on about half the time, Upali kept up a constant stream of instantaneous comments on how a smart businessman would exploit the very proposals which Dr. Perera was putting forward to tie them down hand and foot. This ability to think on his feet. as it were, and to react extremely rapidly to adverse developments was the principal hallmark of his business personality.

His office desk was always clear of papers. That is, any papers which were brought to him were dealt with immediately and the appropriate directions given to the person bringing the papers, up to him. To my knowledge, he never studied any office document by himself.

Because of the pace at which he made decisions, he had a great deal of spare time which lie spent talking to his friends and business contacts either at home, in his office or on the telephone. His telephone calls often exceeded one hour in length -sometimes even overseas calls.

In retrospect, one of the more remarkable qualities of Upali Wijewardene was his ability to get the most out of relatively unpromising managerial material. He was not impressed by degrees, wide experience or other considerations. With his ability to analyse problems and arrive at answers with lightning rapidity the qualities he looked for most in his employees were the ability to carry out orders, loyalty and a willingness to work at all hours of the day or night as the situation demanded. Given these qualities in those who worked for him, he was able slowly but surely, to get them to take on more and more responsibilities to the point where several of them became capable of managing large enterprises on their own. This, he was able to do with many employees who would not have passed through even the preliminary tests of a management consultancy organisation.

His office and factory layouts were planned by him personally and were, in my view, extremely efficiently and neatly laid out. The late Mr. Lawrence Tudawe was just given a free hand sketch or two, with a few overall dimensions, and told to get on with the job.

His tastes in furniture and fittings reflected the greatest simplicity of line and good proportion.

As for his cars, he had then maintained beautifully.

At a certain point in time, he got tired of merely making money and decided to use his business strength to introduce a little excitement into his life – needless to say, with no adverse impact on the growth of his business. He chose horse-racing because it was the sport of kings. In particular, it was the sport of his late maternal uncle, for whom he had an enormous admiration. Apart from the sheer thrill of winning, I have no doubt that one of the considerations which would have been uppermost in his mind would have been the high profile image it would provide in dealing with top businessmen in other countries.

Upali did not talk about the few business failures I believe lie had because he probably felt that that would reduce his authority in dealing with people, not excluding his friends.

When the UNP came into power in 1977 and Upali became the Director-General of the Greater Colombo Economic Commission, he twice asked me to join the organisation to look after the engineering side. I declined on the grounds that I had had enough of working for the government, i.e. considering my experiences at Walawe.

There was, however, a problem for the young GCEC to find counterparts to deal with the foreign experts who were being sent to help it to set up the Investment Promotion Zone at Katunayake and to plan improvements to the associated infrastructure. Upali, therefore, got certain members of the Commission to persuade me to work, at least as a consultant, with the foreign experts, who happened to be from the Shannon Free Trade Zone in Ireland.

I hardly met him at all, either privately or officially, during the period I did work for the GCEC because of the pressure on all of us to get things organized quickly. It was towards the close of my association with the GCEC that the engineer from Shannon and I met Upali to discuss a technical -report of ours. It took Upali only a few seconds of explanation by us to grasp the essence of the problem and give his decision. The speed of his comprehension greatly surprised the Irishman.

After Upali started taking an interest in entering politics, I found that I did not feel like making the same effort to meet him as I had done hitherto. This was because his new goals led him to tolerate around him a great number of sycophants whom he would normally not have allowed within a mile’s radius.

Only once did I advise him in this connection -and that was to warn him, after ‘The Island’ started attacking certain political figures – that it was a very unwise thing to do and that he should try to “mend fences” with his targets as quickly as possible. After all, I argued, people who have been in the hurly-burly of politics could not be expected to take kindly to a relative newcomer upstaging them. Unfortunately, those giving the opposite advice were more numerous and spent more time around him. Thus, my advice came to naught. The rest is history.

No man is without fault but Upali had many more pluses going for him than minuses. May his journey through Sansara be brief!

The one thing that I never could have foreseen was the immense hold lie had developed on ordinary Sri Lankans by the tremendous strides he was making in the business world, particularly outside Sri Lanka. The man in the street felt proud that one of their countrymen could go out into the wide world and make a success of himself with such panache. It was his disappearance – and the suddenness of it – that created the situation where all of us became aware of his charisma.

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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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