Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Sri Lanka’s pitiable failure on Geneva front

War Crimes charge: Urgent need for reappraisal of GoSL's response




By Shamindra Ferdinando

US Statement Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley on March 10, 2011 declared that the Defence Department treatment of former intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning was ‘ridiculous, counter-productive and stupid.’

Crowley was speaking in the wake of the international media quoting Manning’s lawyer, Lt. Colonel David Coombs as having said that his client had been forced to sit naked in his cell for seven hours and then forced to stand naked at attention at the front of his cell for about ten minutes.

Manning, accused of releasing classified information to Wiki Leaks was held in detention at Quantico military base outside Washington DC.

The US military, while confirming the claim made by Lt. Colonel Coombs, emphasized that the practice was in line with military policy.

The US State Department swiftly forced Crowley to quit. At the behest of his former superiors, Crowley issued a brief statement taking full responsibility for his controversial statement. "Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and the spokesman for the Department of State."

No country dared to issue a statement condemning the US action. Those who preach of the importance of freedom of speech remained silent.

It wasn’t an isolated case.

In June, 2010, Gen. Stanley McCrystal, the then Commander of all US and NATO forces deployed in Afghanistan was compelled to end his 34-year-military career following his criticism of the Obama administration. The US regime reacted angrily to comments the war veteran and some of his aides had made to Rolling Stone magazine.

With the vote on the third US resolution moved against Sri Lanka taking place tomorrow (March 27) at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), it would be pertinent to examine the US position vis a vis post-war Sri Lanka. The US resolution was meant to humiliate Sri Lanka over accountability issues and a range of other issues, including the suppression of free speech

The US moved two successful resolutions against Sri Lanka in 2012 and 2013.

Since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, Sri Lanka is increasingly under pressure with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government being severely criticized for war crimes as well as suppression of free speech. The US flayed Sri Lanka in the run-up to tomorrow’s vote. The last US statement dealt with the arrest of two persons alleged to have acted in a way inimical to national security interests. In spite of their subsequent release, France too, issued a similar statement condemning Sri Lanka over the arrests. The French statement indicated in no uncertain terms that France would throw its weight behind the US resolution.

Both US and French statements painted a bleak picture of post-war Sri Lanka.

The State Department response to a statement made by its war time defence attaché in Sri Lanka, Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith on June 1, 2011 during an international security conference in Colombo revealed the absurdity of the US stand on war crimes allegations. It would be important to mention that Lt. Colonel Smith made his controversial statement many months before the US moved its first resolution targeting Sri Lanka in Geneva in 2012. The following is what the US official said in response to a query by retired Indian Major General, Ashok Metha directed at Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative in New York, Major General Shavendra Silva, who commanded the celebrated 58 Division during eelam war IV.

Lt. Colonel Smith: "Hello, may I say something to a couple of questions raised. I’ve been the defence attaché here at the US Embassy since June 2008. Regarding the various versions of events that came out in the final hours and days of the conflict — from what I was privileged to hear and to see, the offers to surrender that I am aware of seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE — Nadesan, KP — people who weren’t and never had really demonstrated any control over the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE."

"So their offers were a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content hour by hour, day by day. I think we need to examine the credibility of those offers before we leap to conclusions that such offers were in fact real."

"And I think the same is true for the version of events. It’s not so uncommon in combat operations, in the fog of war, as we all get our reports second, third and fourth hand from various commanders at various levels, that the stories don’t seem to all quite match up."

But I can say that the version presented here so far in this is what I heard as I was here during that time. And I think I better leave it at that before I get into trouble. "

The Island’s exclusive report on contradictory position taken up by Lt. Colonel Smith compelled the State Department to dismiss the statement (Now, US suspects credibility of LTTE surrender offer with strap line Dismisses KP, Nadesan as ‘mouthpieces’ with no real authority-The Island June 3, 2011).

Interestingly, Lt. Colonel Smith made his revelation two days before Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields produced by UK’s Channel 4 News was shown to UNHRC members in Geneva. The documentary was shown to UK audiences on June 14, 2011.

Although the US official statement to a large extent negated United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE) report released on March 31, 2011, the Sri Lankan government never exploited the situation. In fact, the government is yet to exploit Lt. Colonel’s Smith statement to its advantage. The US State Department reacted swiftly to Lt. Colonel Smith’s statement as it realized it could cause an irreversible setback to the Western campaign to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal.

In Washington, no sooner Lt. Colonel Smith made these remarks, the US State Department disassociated itself from the controversial statement. The State Department’s Deputy Spokesman, Mark. C. Toner fielded a series of questions at the daily briefing. This is how the Questions and Answers session went.

QUESTION: I have one on Sri Lanka. The senior Defense Attaché at the U.S. Mission in Sri Lanka went public that he questioned the credibility of surrender offers made by senior LTTE leaders who was the head of the (inaudible) last year. Does this reflect any change in the U.S. position on the war crime victims?

TONER: Right. You’re talking about remarks that were made at a conference in Colombo?

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah.

TONER: Well, just to clarify, the U.S. did decline invitations to participate in that conference as either a conference speaker or panelist. My understanding is that the Defense Attaché was there as an observer and a note taker. His comments reflected his personal opinion. There’s no change in the policy of the United States, and his remarks do not reflect any change in our policy.

QUESTION: So that was a personal opinion?

TONER: Personal opinion. The United States - and just to reiterate that policy - remains deeply concerned by the allegations in the panel of experts report, and we’re committed to seeing a credible accounting of and accountability for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. And we believe that the Sri Lankan Government must act quickly and credibly to address these allegations.

QUESTION: Who was the attaché?

TONER: I don’t have his name.

QUESTION: Is he still the attaché? (Laughter.) Was there any discussion —

TONER: I believe he’s still there, but I’ll try to get an update.

Shortly thereafter Lt. Colonel Smith was replaced.

Due to negligence on the part of the government, the country missed an excellent opportunity to expose the duplicity of the US position. In fact, the US Defence Attache’s statement contradicted an assertion made by no less person than the then US Ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis. Thanks to Wiki Leaks, the entire world knows what Butenis said about accountability on the part of Sri Lanka’s political and military leaderships.

In leaked US diplomatic cables, Butenis said that former Army Chief, General Sarath Fonseka should share the blame for ‘war crimes’ with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the president’s brothers, Gotabhaya and Basil. The government turned a blind eye to the explosive Wiki leaks’ exposure of secret US diplomatic cables. Contradictory positions taken by various US officials weakened the case against Sri Lanka. But the Sri Lankan government never made an attempt to use available information to its advantage. Had it done that, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have faced an embarrassing situation in Geneva again.

The government failed to question the credibility of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which backed Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s candidature at the Jan. 2010 presidential election, though he had been branded as a ‘war criminal’. For want of a cohesive strategy, the government is still struggling on the diplomatic front. It hadn’t even observed that Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields had conveniently avoided making any direct references to General Fonseka. The Sinha Regiment veteran wouldn’t have been spared if he had remained loyal to President Rajapaksa.

The TNA which fully cooperated with the LTTE until the very end, ended up as the darling of the international community in the post-war era. The government had failed to expose the TNA’s close relationship with the LTTE. Those responsible for countering LTTE/TNA propaganda pathetically failed to use an explosive EU report which directly blamed the TNA for receiving the LTTE’s support to gain supremacy in the then temporarily merged North-Eastern Province at the December 2001 parliamentary polls. The EU polls monitoring mission alleged that the TNA had immensely benefited from violence directed by the LTTE at those opposing the TNA.

The government failed to realize the importance of revelations made Wiki Leaks. Sri Lanka would never have known the rationale behind the position taken by a section of the international community if not for Wiki Leaks disclosure of some sensitive statements attributed to various diplomats, including the then US ambassador, Robert O. Blake and the likes of Mohan Kumar, the joint secretary (for Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma) at the Ministry of External Affairs, India.

It would be pertinent to mention that Ambassador Blake moved to Colombo from New Delhi where he was privy to negotiations conducted under Norwegian leadership.

Wiki Leaks revealed India’s assumption that the LTTE engineered the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat the November 17, 2005 presidential poll to pave the way for ‘hawkish’ Mahinda Rajapaksa in a bid to prevent further talks under the auspices of Norway. The assertion was made in diplomatic cables sent by Blake in November, 2005.

In fact, the LTTE’s directive to Tamil speaking people to boycott the presidential poll was made public by the TNA. Whatever the TNA leadership say in the post-Prabhakaran era, it cannot absolve itself from the facilitating the LTTE’s war strategy. The TNA on behalf of the LTTE made the announcement in Kilinochchi on November 10, 2005.

None of those demanding accountability on the part of Sri Lankan government dared to interfere with the LTTE/TNA strategy. India too, turned a blind eye to what was going on. Thanks to Wiki Leaks, we know of India’s position as the LTTE prepared to launch what it believed was final offensive. One US cable quoted Joint Secretary Mohan Kumar as having said that India believed that the LTTE was looking for a leader ‘easier to tackle’ after having used Ranil Wickremesinghe to secure some critically important concessions. Western powers as well as the TNA leadership did absolutely nothing to discourage the LTTE from resuming hostilities. The TNA probably felt confident in the LTTE’s capacity to sustain a major offensive meant to bring the new President to his knees. The LTTE as well as the TNA obviously underestimated political and military leaderships.

Even as late as December 2008, veteran political and defence commentator, D.B.S. Jeyaraj asserted that the LTTE could wipe out army divisions deployed on the Vanni front. Such assertions gave hope to the TNA as well as the Tamil Diaspora which believed in Prabhakaran delivering a knockout blow to General Fonseka’s army on the Vanni east front. Within two weeks after Jeyaraj’s piece, the army overwhelmed the LTTE at Kilinochchi. Until then, no one talked about a final phase of the conflict. Human rights and accountability were probably the last things on the minds of those who backed the eelam project. As long as they felt the LTTE could somehow achieve its military objectives even at the expense of the entire population of the Vanni, they remained silent.

The UN did absolutely nothing to prevent the LTTE from forcing the entire population of Vanni west to cross the Jaffna-Kandy A9 road and gradually retreat towards the eastern coast along with the LTTE fighting cadre. In fact, none of those UN member states scheduled to vote for the US resolution tomorrow opposed the LTTE move. Instead some of them, including the US made desperate attempts to evacuate LTTE leaders and their families to safety.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

US-UK moving third resolution on the basis of C4 propaganda



Indian medical personnel at Pulmoddai, where India set up a makeshift facility in early March 2009 to treat those who had been transferred from Puthumathalan in ships under the auspices of the ICRC at the height of the fighting.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) had the wherewithal to provide accurate real time intelligence required by ground forces pushing into rapidly shrinking LTTE-held territory on the Vanni east front. In fact, the SLAF had the capacity to conduct such operations during the night thanks to Israeli manufactured Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), including the EMIT Blue Horizon II acquired in 2007. In fact, Sri Lanka had acquired Israeli UAVs in 1996 during the tenure of the then President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who authorized the acquisition of a range of expensive weapons to boost the SLAF’s firepower as well as surveillance capacity. By 2008, the SLAF had the means to deploy UAVs to designate LTTE targets with laser beams, thereby paving the way for Israeli built Kfirs to deliver laser-guided ammunition. As the army executed a well coordinated rescue mission to save those held hostage by the LTTE, the government invited the Colombo-based diplomatic community to observe UAV footage.

The SLAF carried out its last UAV mission over the Vanni east front on May 17, 2009 to facilitate ground operations spearheaded by the celebrated 58 Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva. The US-UK coalition now pushing for a war crimes investigation as well as India are fully aware of the SLAF’s capacity. Therefore, it would be a travesty of justice if they accepted ridiculous allegation that the Sri Lankan military used information received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to target makeshift medical facilities during the last phase of fighting.

But Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields portrayed a different picture. The documentary produced by British media outfit, Channel 4 News and shown on Channel 4 alleged that the military brazenly exploited information provided by the ICRC to direct attacks on makeshift medical facilities. The then UN spokesperson in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss declared that Tamil doctors serving on the war front had no option but to request the ICRC not to inform the Sri Lankan military of where makeshift medical facilities were. Weiss said that the ICRC had briefed warring parties regarding medical facilities situated on the opposing parties’ territory to prevent accidental attacks. But the Sri Lankan military used information received from the ICRC to mount operations.

Gnanakumar survives artillery fire

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields presenter, Jon Snow said that a representative of the ICRC visited a makeshift hospital located at Mulliyaikkal secondary school in April 2009. (Snow unintentionally contradicted the much touted lie that foreigners hadn’t been allowed in to the war zone since September, 2008. Having accused Sri Lanka of waging a war without witnesses, Snow admitted the presence of foreign ICRC personnel in the Vanni as late as April 2009). Snow produced a British citizen of Sri Lankan origin, Damil Vany Gnanakumar as his star witness. She had arrived in Sri Lanka on February 28, 2008 from London and served in the frontline LTTE fighting formation, Sothiya Regiment. Gnanakumar said that about 30 minutes perhaps one hour after the foreigner working for the ICRC had left, the military directed a shell attack at the makeshift hospital. She depicted a picture of sheer terror. Gnanakumar said: "I saw bodies struck into walls. It was completely destroyed." According to her, there had been only a few survivors. Responding to a query by Snow, Gnanakumar insisted that the medical facility was deliberately targeted. Weiss asserted that the deliberate targeting of medical facilities was nothing but a war crime. His assertion was based on the allegation that by May 2009, there had been altogether 65 attacks on makeshift medical facilities (Gnanakumar failed to explain how she managed to survive direct artillery hit on a single building after being inside the targeted building even without receiving scratch. Had she been really in the targeted building it would have been nothing but a miracle if she survived. Unfortunately, due to a lapse on the part of the government the issue wasn’t taken up nearly four years after the first airing of Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields).

Snow alleged that the government attacked another makeshift medical facility located at a primary school on May 12, four days after announcing a new no fire zone. According to Snow, Channel 4 News hadn’t come across any video footage taken after May 12, 2009.

Issue of LTTE deaths

On the basis of findings made by UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE) which investigated accountability issues, Snow alleged as many as 40,000 civilians died on the Vanni east front. Snow claimed that the number of dead could be far more according to Channel 4 News sources. (Surprisingly, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields conveniently avoided the contentious issue of LTTE deaths. Those Tamils trapped on the battlefield couldn’t have been unaware of members of their families who fought for the LTTE. Now that almost 12,000 ex-combatants had been released after rehabilitation, it wouldn’t be too difficult to identify those missing. But it wouldn’t be a reality unless Western powers and India reveal true identities of those living there. Sri Lanka has irrefutable evidence that some Sri Lankans received new identities courtesy some foreign governments. Australia issuing a new passport to Frontline Socialist Alliance leader Kumar Gunaratnam bearing the name of Noel Mudalige is a case in point).

Snow accused Sri Lanka of executing captured LTTE prisoners on the basis of video footage. Snow also blamed the military for systematic rape and abuse of Tamil speaking women. The execution of three prisoners on May 15, 2009 as well the killings of a person identified as an LTTE commander too, were shown.

Snow alleged that women who escaped fighting to reach government-held areas two months before the conclusion of fighting were raped by troops. Snow interviewed a woman who had been among the group of escapee. Her daughter too, had been with her. The unidentified woman told Snow: "They told us to take all our clothes off. Then they hugged us. Young people were told to hug each other and then they were shot. Young people were taken away and never came back. I heard screaming and shots."

Snow: You were saying all the women were raped and then they were taken away and you heard shots. And you never heard of them again."

Woman: "Yes"

Snow: "Both you and your daughter were raped"

Woman: "Yes"

The documentary showed naked corpses of women. The army was accused of killing of some them after being raped and sexually assaulted. Among the dead were television presenter, Isipriya and those who fought the final battle. Soldiers were shown loading naked bodies of women to a tractor trailer.

C 4 News clears SF

Snow emphasized that President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his younger brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had to take the responsibility for battlefield excesses.

Weiss alleged that the UN didn’t do enough to stop the carnage. UNSG Ban Ki-moon too, was accused of doing nothing, though he visited Northern Sri Lanka five days after the end of the conflict.

Interestingly, Snow didn’t categorize war winning army commander General Sarath Fonseka as a war criminal. Although war time US ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis in a confidential diplomatic cable to Washington named the Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda, Gotabhaya and Basil as war criminals along with Fonseka, the latter was cleared by the British media outfit. Perhaps, those working overtime for a regime change in Sri Lanka felt that Fonseka should be cleared of war crime charges as he was to be used in a political project against the government. Possibly Channel 4 News couldn’t have dragged the former Chief of Defence Staff’s name after the LTTE’s political wing, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) backed him at the January 26, 2010 presidential election. The LTTE rump funding the Channel 4 News project wouldn’t have liked to portray General Fonseka as a war criminal in the wake of the TNA’s alliance with him. The grouping included the UNP, the JVP, the SLMC as well as the CWC and was widely believed to have the broadest political alliance ever set up for a single project. The project was meant to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first attempt at the presidency.

Snow never asked Gnanakumar whether she was raped or sexually abused when she surrendered to the army on the Vanni east front. If not why a marauding army allowed the pretty girl to leave the war zone? If LTTE women cadres and ordinary women had been victims of a systematic project to rape, what prompted the military to save the wives of Sea Tiger leader, Soosai and Tamilchelvam. Both lead normal lives today.

India given access to war wounded

In fact, Sri Lanka quickly accepted an Indian offer to deploy a medical team close to the operational area in early March 2009. India obviously wanted to keep an eye on what was going on in the northern region as the Sri Lankan army fought its way into the last LTTE bastion. As Sri Lanka too,was aware of New Delhi’s intention, would it engage in so called policy of systematic targeting of civilians and then permitting the wounded to be treated by the Indians at Pulmoddai, north of Trincomalee. The writer had an opportunity to visit the Indian facility located at a dilapidated building belonging to the Mineral Sands Corporation. The Indian team operated on its own, though the Sri Lankan Navy maintained a robust presence there. The Indian team had access to all those wounded men, women and children moved from Puthumathalan to Pulmoddai under the supervision of the ICRC, including foreign representatives. Therefore, it would be the responsibility of the government to effectively counter continuing attempts to portray the conflict as war without witnesses. In fact, Gnanakumar could help Sri Lanka establish what was really happening on the ground, since her entering the LTTE held-area in early 2008. A thorough investigation would expose her and help the world to establish the circumstances under which the LTTE forced the entire population of the Vanni west, the area east of Kandy-Jaffna road to cross the road and move towards the eastern coast. Perhaps, the government would be able to find some girls who had undergone weapons training with Gnanakumar in early 2008.

For some strange reason, Sri Lanka never highlighted the presence of the Indian medical delegation, though it could have helped to counter allegations.

The Indian medical team arrived in Sri Lanka on March 9, 2009. During deployment at Pulmoddai, the Indians treated nearly 7,000 Tamils. Subsequently, they treated over 40,000 men, women and children at the Menik farm till August 31, 2009. The Indians set up base at Menik farm in May. The bottom line is that India could provide a clear picture as regards the nature of wounds as well as injuries suffered by those treated by its medical team. The data available with India could prove that Sri Lanka, in spite of its limitations, did its best to look after the war wounded as well as those held at Menik farm.

It would be important to recollect what the then Indian High Commissioner Alok Prasad said in Colombo at a meeting at the Taj Samudra to felicitate the medical team. Indian High Commissioner Alok Prasad said that any government would have found it a difficult situation to take care of over 250,000 people moving into a particular area. Prasad said that India had shifted its medical mission to Menik farm from Pulmoddai in support of Sri Lanka’s efforts. He emphasised that India had offered medical assistance not due to any shortcoming on Sri Lanka’s part, but as a true friend.

Health Minister NImal Siripala de Silva told the gathering that the deployment of the Indian medical team had been done without any formal agreement. When India offered medical assistance, Sri Lanka had accepted it promptly and there had not been any delay in deploying the Indians in the East, the minister said (India: Any country would have found IDP influx difficult to handle, The Island September 9, 2009).

India handed over 25 million Sri Lankan rupees worth of medicine and medical supplies to Sri Lanka, as it terminated the medical mission. This was in addition to SLR 100 million worth medicine and medical supplies used by the Indians during their deployment here.

The US-UK coalition pushing for an external inquiry into war crime allegations could get in touch with the Indian medical team. In fact, India, also a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) too, should interview those who had served in Sri Lanka to ascertain what was going on. If mass scale rape of Tamil speaking women took place during the final phase of the conflict and in Menik farm as alleged by various interested parties, the Indian team could provide information, as at least some of the victims would have received medical treatment.

Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan government hadn’t really studied the Channel 4 News agenda, therefore its response failed to counter the main accusations thrown at the armed forces, as well as the political leadership.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Channel 4 project: LTTE portrayed as relatively weaker force, army losses downplayed



War Crimes charge: Urgent need for reappraisal of GoSL's response

A WFP/UN food convoy pictured at Omanthai in October 2008 before moving to LTTE held area.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields was meant to pave the way for Western powers to intervene in Sri Lanka. Last week, The Island dealt with some of the issues highlighted by the documentary produced by the British media outfit, Channel 4 News and the failure on the part of the government to counter them. Although the documentary was first shown to UK audiences on Channel 4 in June 2011, Channel 4 News made its initial allegations in August 2010.

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields is often mentioned as the basis for an international war crimes probe primarily due to the government’s failure to expose lies propagated by the British media outfit.

The documentary alleged that the final offensive got underway in September, 2008 in the absence of foreign staff of the UN as well as INGOs. The continued presence of international staff of the ICRC in the Vanni region was purposely ignored by the Channel 4 News production team and others wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal.

For want of a cohesive strategy, the continued ICRC presence in the Vanni east (East of Kandy-Jaffna A9 road) even months after the UN pullout from Kilinochchi never received the required international media attention. In fact, the army had been struggling in the face of fierce resistance from well experienced LTTE units defending Kilinochchi and the LTTE remained confident of repulsing the offensive. The LTTE held Kilinochchi until the first week of January 2009. The LTTE’s bid to defend Kilinochchi collapsed in the wake of Major General Shavendra Silva’s celebrated 58 Division crushing the town’s northern defences, after having seized Pooneryn and Paranthan.

The main anchor of Channel 4 News, Jon Snow, cleverly propagated the lie the Sri Lankan military compelled international workers to leave to pave the way for annihilation of innocents.

The then UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss, explained to Snow how the fall of Kilinochchi caused a massive exodus of people. Weiss accused government forces of forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee. The military was also accused of failing to distinguish civilians from LTTE cadres. Blaming the LTTE for using them as human shields, Weiss said that over the next four months, they were deliberately targeted

Snow alleged: Civilians fell victims to the relentless government offensive. This was an unequal war. The Sri Lankan government had the tacit support of most of the world’s powers and was equipped with heavy artillery from China as well as a squadron of Israeli built Kfir aircraft."

Having accused the LTTE of adopting brutal tactics, including the use of child soldiers as well as suicide bombers, Snow subtly painted a picture of government forces having had superior firepower on the Vanni battlefield. Snow suggested that excessive government firepower had been the cause for heavy loss of civilian life. The Channel 4 News presenter refrained from making any reference to the LTTE’s awesome firepower. It was a clever move on the part of the Channel 4 News team. Although the government had accused the LTTE of having a range of weapons, it failed to counter the Channel 4 News allegation, pertaining to the use of excessive firepower.

The LTTE had an arsenal comprising a range of mortars as well as artillery pieces of Chinese origin, anti-aircraft guns also of Chinese origin, high explosives and a highly trained fighting cadre. Snow was careful not to mention the vast experience gained by the LTTE fighting cadre during its war against the Indian army deployed in Sri Lanka in the wake of Indo-Lanka peace accord signed on July 1987. Snow also ignored that the LTTE and about six other terrorists groups had their initial military training in India, under the supervision of Indian instructors and intelligence personnel. India quit Sri Lanka on March 1990 after having lost nearly 1,600 officers and men and more than double that number wounded. It would be pertinent to mention that at the onset the war, Sri Lankan terrorists also received training from Palestinians fighting the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

Channel 4 News conveniently ignored that the US in late 2002 recommended the use of cluster bombs against the LTTE as the world’s solitary superpower felt such drastic action was necessary to break the backbone of the LTTE fighting cadre. But Sri Lanka never resorted to the use of cluster ammunition, though it was being accused of utilising the same.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa used his appearance before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to highlight the LTTE’s ferocity. The Defence Secretary Rajapaksa asserted the huge losses suffered by the Army during eelam war IV revealed the true extent of the LTTE fighting capability. The LTTE, he said, had weapons similar to those used by the army and the amount of artillery and mortar rounds fired by the outfit was a testament to its tremendous fire power.

In his presentation before the Lessons Learnt Commission headed by former Attorney General C. R. de Silva, the war veteran said that the combined forces campaign (June 2006 to May 2009) had claimed the lives of about 6,000 officers and men and wounded about 30,000. About half of them died during the Vanni campaign.

Sri Lanka produced Lies Agreed Upon in response to Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields. Lies Agreed Upon effectively countered the young British passport holder Vany Kumar, who had been with the LTTE during the final phase of the battle. She was depicted as a UK qualified bio medicine technician who ended up on the Vanni east front as the multi-pronged army offensive cornered the LTTE fighting cadre. Snow said that Kumar was in Sri Lanka to spend six months. He never explained why the British passport holder wanted to spend six months in a war zone despite being aware that the LTTE was retreating.

Snow interviewed several faceless persons who accused the military of indiscriminate as well as deliberate attacks on civilians. On the basis of eyewitness accounts attributed to faceless persons, Snow alleged the military of intentionally attacking a makeshift hospital, east of the Kandy-Jaffna road causing many deaths. Speaking in Tamil, an unidentified person alleged that there were scattered body parts, bodies and blood everywhere. Claiming that this was happening continuously, he declared that he felt it was not an accident.

Snow declared that the UN monitored what was happening on the ground.

The presenter interviewed another unidentified person who discussed the situation at Puthukudirippu hospital immediately after an artillery attack directed at the building. Snow claimed that the man whose identity had to be concealed for his protection, arrived at the scene after 10 to 15 persons were killed in an artillery strike. Responding to Snow’s queries, the man insisted that the hospital was targeted intentionally. "Over the next few days, government shelling of the hospital intensified. Although both Snow and unidentified accusers alleged massive bombardment, there was no footage of totally or partially destroyed buildings. They alleged that the army had caused more deaths among civilians by firing shells at the nearby no fire zone situated close to Puthukudirippu hospital and also due to incursions by troops.

The Sri Lankan military was accused of intentionally attacking civilians fleeing the war zone. Snow interviewed another unidentified accuser who described how indiscriminate military fire claimed the life of his 14-year-old son. The military was accused of firing at the same location in accordance with an overall plan to maximize casualties among civilians. Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields alleged that subsequent artillery fire was to target those volunteering to assist the war wounded. Then the LTTE too, was accused to resorting to violence to stop people from fleeing to government held areas. Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields recollected the circumstances under which an LTTE woman suicide cadre killed a large number of soldiers at a frontline facility to welcome those reaching the army-held lines. The LTTE was also accused of violating rules of war in no fire zones.

Although the accusers remained unidentified, hence no verification of their allegations possible, the UN, US and UK had accepted them and brought war crimes charges against Sri Lanka.

Gordon Weiss alleged that the LTTE used civilians as a shield. Weiss said: "We know from available evidence that Tamil Tigers were killing people in order to stop them from fleeing.

Snow: Laws of war apply equally to both sides.

Another unidentified accuser said that those trapped in the second no fire zone had no food.

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields accused the Sri Lankan military of depriving the civilian population of adequate food. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE) was used to justify that particular allegation, while Steve Crawshaw, Advocacy Director, Amnesty, declared that civilians shouldn’t starve under any circumstances.

The British media outfit was either ignorant of what was happening in Sri Lanka or it felt an extremely nasty picture of the Sri Lankan government could be painted. Although the Defence Ministry on several occasions clearly responded to this particular charge, Channel 4 News continued to propagate lies. Had Channel 4 News bothered to ask the World Food Programme (WFP) and that the ICRC, it would have had a clear picture of measures taken by the government to ensure essential supplies were delivered under the extremely difficult situation. The international community wouldn’t be able to pinpoint a similar situation in any other part of the world since the Second World War.

It would be important to remind those making ridiculous allegations against the Sri Lankan government the circumstances under which food supplies were delivered. Following the LTTE launching eelam war II on August 11, 2006, the government faced the daunting task of moving supplies to the Jaffna peninsula by sea. As the re-opening of the Muhamalai entry/exit point would have given the LTTE an advantage, the army felt it should remain closed until the ground situation could be stabilized. Having decided to close the Muhamalai entry/exit point for the time being, the government sought the ICRC’s assistance to move supplies needed by the civilian community in the Jaffna peninsula. The ICRC declined to lend its flag to enable food ships to move from Trincomalee to Kankesanthurai without being targeted. Those now accusing Sri Lanka of starving the civilian population didn’t utter a word. The international media and their Colombo based local correspondents ignored the crisis. The ICRC insisted that it couldn’t lead convoys unless both parties agreed. The LTTE warned the ICRC not to get involved in the operation. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) conveniently remained silent on the issue. The LTTE pushed for the re-opening of Muhamalai entry/exit point, as it knew of the advantage of having the obstacles on the main access road to Jaffna removed. India too, pushed for the re-opening of the road (Jaffna won’t be accessible overland-The Island September 28, 2006).

The LTTE strategy was simple. Prabhakaran most probably felt the government’s failure to move supplies to Jaffna peninsula could cause chaos there, hence facilitate his operations in the Eastern Province as well as the Vanni region. The army was on the defensive at that time, though it managed to halt the initial LTTE push across the Muhamalai frontline.

In January 2007, the LTTE caused massive damage to a civilian cargo vessel, ‘Liverpool’ carrying supplies to the Jaffna peninsula. But the government sustained the operation.

Channel 4 News completely ignored LTTE efforts to disrupt food supplies throughout eelam war IV. While the British media outfit accused the government of starving the population, the World Food Programme can help Sri Lanka to establish the amount of food moved to Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts overland amidst some of the bloodiest fighting during the conflict. Food convoys were launched after UN and other foreign staff quit Kilinochchi following a Defence Ministry directive in September 2008. According to WFP records available with its mission in Colombo, it delivered 7,694 metric tons of food items to LTTE held areas from October 2008 to January 2009. Altogether, there were 12 separate convoys. As the ICRC too facilitated this operation, the Geneva-based organization can help establish the circumstances under which food convoys moved from Vavuniya to the LTTE-held area. When heavy fighting east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road brought overland food convoys to a standstill, the government moved food stocks by sea. The ICRC facilitated the transportation of 3150 metric tons of supplies from February 19, 2009 to May 8, 2009 to those trapped in the Puthumathalan area.

Sri Lanka should request both the ICRC and the WFP to explain their role in facilitating supplies to those trapped on the Vanni front, as the army gradually pushed the LTTE towards the eastern coast.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Paying the price for failure to counter C4 propaganda



An image from Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields. A scene outside UN compound in Kilinochchi captured by British UN worker, Benjamin Dix.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

British Premier, David Cameron, last November (2013), reiterated his call for an international war crimes probe on the basis of Channel 4 News revelations of atrocities committed by Sri Lankan forces during the final phase of the conflict, in early 2009. Citing Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, first aired in the UK on June 14, 2011, the Conservative Party leader demanded an immediate war crimes probe. Addressing the media in Colombo, after having visited Jaffna in the company of Channel 4 News crew, including its main anchor, Jon Snow, Cameron warned President Mahinda Rajapaksa of dire consequences unless he addressed accountability issues by March, 2014. Cameron insisted that the UK would use its position as a member of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), to censure Sri Lanka. In fact, member states of the UNHRC and some other interested parties were shown the documentary on June 3, 2011, ahead of its release in the UK.

A smiling Snow sat next to the writer, at a makeshift briefing room at the BMICH premises, as some foreign correspondents bowled full tosses at the cricket loving British leader. In fact, one of them queried about simmering dispute between the UK and Spain over fishing rights around the British territory of Gibraltar. Of the local correspondents, only Shameer Rasooldeen was allowed to pose a query.

With External Affairs Minister, Prof. G.L. Peiris, scheduled to address the 25th session of the UNHRC today (March 5) it would be pertinent to review Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, as well as Lies Agreed Upon, a documentary produced by Sri Lanka in response to the Channel 4 News production.

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields was nominated for BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) for best current affairs documentary. It won the current affairs (international category) of the Television Journalism Awards conducted by the Royal Television Society. The UK project also secured two One World Media awards. British Labour Party MP, Siobhain McDonagh, and Australian Senator, Lee Rhiannon, went to the extent of nominating the ITN production team, responsible for Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, for a Nobel Peace prize. The documentary was also shown in many countries, including India. (Addressing the House of Commons, MP McDonagh, on September 15, 2011, alleged, during the last five months of the conflict (January to May, 2009) that 100,000 people died - 40,000 of them civilians). Sri Lanka failed to point out discrepancy in the various figures given by those working closely with the LTTE rump/Diaspora groups.

Channel 4 News followed up with a second documentary, titled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished. It was shown in March, 2012, at the onset of the UNHRC sessions. Let me focus on the first documentary which painted a bleak picture of Sri Lanka, under the leadership of war, winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

C4 zero-in-on President

Having claimed that the Channel 4 News had gathered devastating evidence to prove war crimes and crimes against humanity on the Vanni front, Snow alleged President Mahinda Rajapaksa of launching a bloody war in 2008. Snow asserted that the LTTE had, what he called, a functioning military state with banks, schools and its own television station when President Rajapaksa unleashed armed forces on the LTTE territory. Snow declared: SRI LANKA’S INCREASINGLY REPRESSIVE PRESIDENT MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA MADE CLEAR THAT THIS WAS TO BE A WAR TO THE BLOODY END."

Foreign audiences would have been definitely deceived by Snow’s assessment. Snow’s commentary was meant to suggest that President Rajapaksa Caused Eelam War IV. The President was depicted as a hardliner.

Unfortunately, Lies Agreed Upon, failed to counter Snow’s baseless assertion.

What Snow conveniently failed to mention was that the so called functioning military state, in the then temporarily merged North-Eastern Province, came to being following the Norwegian - arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) between the government and the LTTE, finalized on Feb 21, 2002. Snow didn’t mention the five-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) recognizing the LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people, before Prabhakaran quit the negotiating table, in April, 2003. Snow was careful not to mention President Rajapaksa twice sending high level delegations to Geneva for direct talks with the LTTE, in early 2006, even after the LTTE launched attacks a few weeks after the November 17, 2005, presidential election which brought Rajapaksa to power. Much to the discomfort of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), two of his close allies, the new President agreed for the Geneva talks under Norwegian facilitation. In spite of landmine attacks, President Rajapaksa refrained from launching a sustained campaign. His position didn’t change, even after the LTTE targeted the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka on April 25, 2006. Although Snow alleged that President Rajapaksa, ordered an all out war in 2008, large scale hostilities, in fact, started during the second week of August, 2006.

The Norway - led Scandinavian truce monitoring mission blamed the LTTE for launching a large scale offensive on August 11, 2006. Major General Ulf Henricsson (formerly of the Swedish Army) on behalf of the monitoring mission said: "…considering the preparation level of the operation it seems to have been a well prepared LTTE initiative." The official said that LTTE units had advanced across the forward defence lines near Muhamalai entry/exit point while cadres landed on several beaches, as well as Kayts and Mandathivu islands. Henricsson dismissed an LTTE claim that it was only responding to artillery strikes launched by the government. The attempt to overrun Jaffna peninsula was made close on the heels of an abortive bid to blast the SLNS Jetliner carrying off duty officers and men approaching Trincomalee harbour (SLMM blames LTTE for Jaffna battle-The Island September 8, 2006).

The truce monitors’ statement coincided with a hard hitting statement issued by the then Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, MP. Addressing the Colombo-based diplomatic community, MP Samaraweera warned that military aggression, on the part of the LTTE, would entail military costs to them.

President Rajapaksa assured his commitment for a negotiated settlement in September, 2006, when he met the then Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, on the sidelines of the UNGA sessions (MR wants better ties with Norway-The Island September 21, 2006).

Channel 4 News refrained from reaching either Norway or the CFA monitoring mission for comment. Unfortunately, the producers of Lies Agreed Upon, too, failed to realize the Norwegian factor.

Misrepresenting facts

Having identified the LTTE as a brutal army, responsible for using child soldiers, as well as pioneering suicide bombing, Snow asserted that the group retained the reluctant support of much of the Tamil speaking people as they feared the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) even more. Snow declared the LTTE fought for a separate state, for 25 years primarily due to discrimination.

The experienced presenter cleverly refrained from making any reference to the origins of terrorism. Regrettably, Sri Lanka didn’t challenge Snow on that point either.

Let me reproduce what J. N. Dixit, one-time Indian High Commissioner, in Colombo, stated in his memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun to Yashwant Sinha. Dixit made explosive comments following a stint as India’s Foreign Secretary. Dixit: "India’s involvement in Sri Lanka, in my assessment was unavoidable, not only due to the possible ramifications of the Sri Lankan government’s oppressive and discriminatory policies against its Tamil citizens, but also in terms of India’s national concerns due to the Sri Lankan government’s evolving security connections with the US, Pakistan and Israel." Dixit went on to say: "It would be relevant to analyze India’s motivations and actions vis a vis Sri Lanka in the larger perspective of the international and regional strategic environment between 1980 and 1984."

Commenting further on ground realities as India perceived at that time: "China and Pakistan were encouraging suspicions about India in Nepal and Bangladesh as part of this exercise. The rise of Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka and the Jayewardene government’s serious apprehensions about this development were utilized by the US and Pakistan to create a politico-strategic pressure point against India in the island nation. Jayewardene was apprehensive of support from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lankan Tamils. He was personally averse to Indira Gandhi and was of the view that she should not control the Indian support to the Sri Lankan Tamils. He, therefore, established substantive defence and intelligence contacts with the US, Pakistan and Israel."

Having explained the circumstances under which India had ordered the destabilization of neighbouring Sri Lanka, Dixit asserted that the two foreign policy decisions on which Indira Gandhi could be faulted were her failure to take a stand on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and ordering support to Sri Lankan terrorists. Indira Gandhi had felt that India’s failure to support Sri Lankan terrorists could cause Tamil separatism in India.

For some strange reason, the Sri Lankan government hadn’t used ammunition, provided by no less a person than one-time Indian Foreign Secretary Dixit, to counter those demanding the government to address accountability issues. Surprisingly, the government never raised India’s accountability even after New Delhi voted for US resolutions against Sri Lanka in 2012 and 2013. India is now poised to vote for a third US resolution against Sri Lanka later this month.

Sri Lanka’s decision makers should peruse Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun to Yashwant Sinha, first published in 2004 jointly by HarperCollins Publishers, India and The India Today Group.

India’s accountability should be examined in the backdrop of a UN backed court sentencing former Liberian President Charles Taylor for 50 years in jail on 11 counts, including use of child soldiers and using terrorism to destabilize neighbouring Sierra Leone.

C 4, PoE allege 40,000 deaths

Snow’s third allegation was meant to shock the global community. Having claimed that the documentary contained very disturbing images of death, injuries and evidence of sexual abuse and murder, much of it filmed on mobile phones and small cameras, Snow estimated the number of civilians perished in the final assault at 40,000. Snow didn’t explain how he arrived at that conclusion, though he produced several unidentified eyewitnesses who accused the Sri Lankan military of indiscriminate as well as deliberate action directed at civilians.

Interestingly, the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) comprising Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia), Steven Ratner (United States) and Yasmin Sooka (South Africa), too, in their report, released on March 31, 2011, quoted several credible but unidentified sources as having estimated the number of civilian deaths at 40,000. The PoE said that a multiple sources of information indicated that 40,000 civilians had been killed due to military action. The PoE suggested that a proper investigation was required to establish the number of civilian dead.

Snow conveniently ignored PoE’s shocking recommendation that the identities of those who had made written and oral submissions wouldn’t be revealed until 2031. Even after the prescribed period, further declassification review would be necessary to pave the way for the release of information. The PoE claimed that they received over 4,000 submissions from more than 2,300 persons.

Unfortunately, The Lies Agreed Upon didn’t raise the controversial move to deprive Sri Lanka of an opportunity to verify allegations. This should be discussed at the UNHRC.

War without witnesses

Snow alleged that the Sri Lankan government had ordered the UN to vacate Kilinochchi in September, 2008, on the basis of interviews given by British national, Benjamin Dix, and the wartime UN spokesperson, Gordon Weiss, though he admitted there were eight or nine UN staffers there at that time. The UN was told that the government could no longer guarantee the safety and security of the UN. Dix said: "There were a number of air raids, pretty much every day, and quite often in the night time."

Weiss alleged that the government’s real motive was not the safety of UN personnel. Weiss said: "The government regarded UN organizations as impediments to their conquest of Tamil Tigers. By moving those organizations there were no longer international witnesses to what was happening."

Snow: "That is a very serious charge." Weiss: "The government wanted to do things which it didn’t want the foreigners to see. They intended to remove independent witnesses."

Dix recalled how Tamils besieged UN office in Kilinochchi urging them not to leave.

Dix quoted a Hindu religious leader as having told him: "We want international eyes on the ground.

Weiss: Our official position was that we accepted the government’s suggestion that it could no longer guarantee our safety.

Snow: What do you personally think?

Weiss: I personally thought that it was a mistake

Dix: "For me that was personally the worst moment in my life. In their greatest hour in need with an army sitting on the door step waiting to take the town, we drove out. That was a very difficult experience and a real sense of abandonment."

The government announced the decision to request all UN agencies and INGOs, except the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to vacate Kilinochchi by September 29, 2008. The announcement was made following consultations between Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the then UN Resident Representative, Neil Bhune. The Defence Secretary agreed for UN top man’s request for three weeks to complete the withdrawal (Government wants UN, INGO pullout completed by Se. 29-The Island September 17, 2008). The directive was meant to remove all expatriate staff from the war zone. However, the ICRC was allowed to continue.

Snow, as well those interviewed by him, conveniently failed to mention the presence of ICRC’s international staff until February 10, 2009. The bottom line is that the international staff of the ICRC remained east of Kandy-Jaffna A-9 road about five more months after other foreign staff quit Vanni. Had Snow bothered to ask the ICRC, he would have been told that international staff came ashore each time ICRC chartered ships reached Puthumathalan to evacuate the sick and those wounded. The ICRC would confirm that people were evacuated on 16 occasions amidst fighting. As the LTTE remained in control of the sea exit point, it could have helped at least families of senior cadres, including the parents of Prabhakaran to board ICRC ships. But the LTTE choose to fight. Not even Prabhakaran’s parents were allowed to leave safely.