Tuesday, 27 May 2014

How DMK, AIADMK combination prolonged eelam war IV



By Shamindra Ferdinando

IN JUNE, NEW DELHI 2006: Karunanidhi and Sonia Gandhi after his re-election as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister in May

Had the Tamil Nadu administration effectively implemented the ban on the LTTE, eelam war IV (August 2006 – May 2009) would not have lasted nearly three years. In spite of the ban imposed by the Central Government of India following the assassination of one time Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE on May 21 1991, successive Tamil Nadu administrations allowed the group a free hand. Tamil Nadu remained a key supply base, transit point, until the very end of the conflict. The Central Government turned a blind eye to what was going on in Tamil Nadu, especially during eelam war IV.

Now that the United Nations Human Rights Council is about to initiate an investigation into accountability issues in Sri Lanka during eelam war IV, it would be pertinent to examine the roles played by Tamil Nadu as well as the ousted Congress Party which were supportive of the LTTE. Although the Congress extended the ban on the LTTE by five more years immediately after the conclusion of the Parliamentary polls, which brought the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (DNA) in to power, it allowed the Tamil Nadu-LTTE relationship during the final war.

Although the LTTE no longer retained a conventional military capability, both Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi’s DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) remained committed to the eelam cause. Sri Lanka should be concerned about their continuing support to the separatist cause here, though they were not constituents of the NDA.

Those propagating the eelam cause have some support within the NDA. Vaiko, MDMK (Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) founder and NDA constituents are strongly opposed to closer ties between Narendra Modi’s India and Sri Lanka. Vaiko could not win even his own seat in Tamil Nadu state. The DMK too, ended up without a single seat in the same state.

However, the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) appears to be confident that CM Jayalalithaa could influence the Centre, though not being a constituent of the NDA. She secured 37 out of 39 seats in Tamil Nadu, while the remaining seats were bagged by two BJP allies.

Let me recollect some incidents during eelam war IV to highlight the LTTE’s relationship with Tamil Nadu and the failure on the part of the Centre to intervene. The Centre went to the extent of backing Tamil Nadu propaganda meant to humiliate Sri Lanka.

The Indian Coast Guard on February 20, 2007 blew up an LTTE vessel seized on February 13, 2007, 27 nautical miles south west of Point Calimere. The Coast Guard seized the vessel along with five persons – three Sri Lankan Tamils and two Indians. The Coast Guard also recovered bomb making chemicals, suicide belts, a satellite phone and hand held GPS. Many an eyebrow was raised when the coast guard declared that a controlled explosion had to be carried out to destroy the vessel as it carried 2000 kgs of explosives, therefore posing a threat to the Chennai Port. The Coast Guard claimed that the explosives, hidden in a secret compartment was found on February 19, 2007. The Coast Guard never explained why it took a week to discover the secret compartment, as well as its inability to defuse the detonating mechanism. The Coast Guard is on record as having said that the boat was coming from Iranative Island. According to India, the initial detection was made on February 12, 2007.

India ignored Sri Lanka’s request for permission to question those arrested by the Coast Guard (Mystery surrounds the fate of the India held LTTE boat – ‘The Island’ February 23, 2007).

Did the boat really carry 2000 kgs of explosives? Did the Coast Guard make a false claim to justify the destruction of the craft? If the boat was really carrying explosives, it was engaged in an operation to transfer weapons from an LTTE ship on the high-seas to Tamil Nadu.

The SLN never had access to those arrested, therefore could not conduct a thorough investigation. The Tamil Nadu administration and the Centre covered up the incident.

At the onset of eelam war IV, the SLN arrested an Indian fisherman following a confrontation between the SLN and the LTTE.

A pair of SLN Fast Attack Craft (FAC) intercepted a large trawler 40 nautical miles west of Kudiramali Point, North of Kalpitiya on November 14, 2006. A person, who jumped into the sea from the trawler and was rescued by the SLN, explained the circumstances under which the LTTE commandeered the Indian fishing trawler. The Indian identified himself as Sekar. Forty-five year old Sekar carried an identity card issued by the Government of Tamil Nadu. Sekar claimed that 5 LTTE craft had a surrounded the Indian trawler (the one such by the SLN on November 14) and transferred three of his colleagues, Ravi, Thamirajan and Manoharan before commandeering the craft. Sri Lanka gave the Indian High Commission access to Sekar. Although the SLN believed that Sekar could have been involved with the LTTE, the government decided against taking legal action (Lanka won’t press charges against Indian accomplice in arms smuggling – ‘The Island’, November 20, 2006). Sekar claimed that the LTTE seized his boat on November 13.

The Chief Minister, Karunanidhi, turned a Nelsonian eye as regards LTTE activities in his state. Karunadhi ruled Tamil Nadu during eelam war IV. He suffered a heavy defeat in the March 2011 elections to the state assembly at the hands of Jayalalithaa. Now, the AIADMK leader has consolidated her power in Tamil Nadu by winning 37 seats out of 39 in the state at the recently concluded Parliamentary polls.

The first major detection of equipment/armaments coming from Tamil Nadu since the Presidential Election in Nov. 2005 was made in January 2006. The SLN arrested five Indians after a routine patrol detected an Indian trawler carrying 65,000 detonators meant for the LTTE.

The then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha (March 2002-May 2006), allowed the LTTE a free hand. During the Norwegian-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), which came into effect in February 2002, the LTTE enhanced its operations in Tamil Nadu. Towards the tail end of Jayalalithaa’s administration, the LTTE cleverly exploited her party, the AIADMK, as well as Karunanidhi’s DMK. Obviously, the LTTE continued to deal with both parties as they did throughout the conflict. Karunanidhi’s victory over Jayalalithaa at the May 2006 elections in Tamil Nadu didn’t affect the LTTE’s project meant to ensure freedom for its operatives in the state. Although occasional arrests were made, the Tamil Nadu administration guaranteed a safe environment for LTTE operations.

The LTTE strategy was meant to maintain relations with both the AIADMK, DMK as well as other smaller regional parties, such as the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK). The MDMK leader V. Gopalsamy aka Vaiko, formerly of the DMK, worked for the LTTE’s cause. The LTTE may have played a role in Vaiko quitting the DMK in the early 1990s to form his own party. The MDMK may have probably received LTTE funding over a period of time. As the LTTE dealt directly with all major parties in Tamil Nadu, even those in the opposition didn’t voice concern over the state being used for terrorist operations. In fact, all political parties bent backwards to appease the LTTE. They ignored that the LTTE killed almost 1,500 Indian soldiers deployed in Sri Lanka under a peace accord signed in July 1987 and assassinated Congress leader Gandhi on May 21, 1991 during a political rally in Tamil Nadu. They never accepted the ban imposed on the LTTE by the Central Government of India.

The LTTE welcomed Karunanidhi’s victory over Jayalalithaa in the May, 2006 at elections to the Tamil Nadu parliament. The LTTE realized the importance of Tamil Nadu backing as it prepared to launch what it believed was the final war. The LTTE wanted an uninterrupted sea supply route to bring in arms, ammunition and equipment. The success of the LTTE offensive rested on the continuous supply routes between its bases in the Vanni and ‘floating warehouses’ on the high seas. The LTTE planned to use large Tamil Nadu trawlers to move supplies from big ships to the Vanni. Although the LTTE had been using the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet for many years, the operation launched in 2006 was the biggest as the LTTE intended to move several ship loads of supplies from the high seas to the Vanni.

The LTTE felt confident that an ambitious SLN operation ‘Waruna Kirana’ aimed at blocking supply routes heading towards Chalai and Mullaitivu posed no threat. Launched in May 2001, the costly operation was meant to interdict the LTTE’s ‘floating warehouses’ about 100 to 150 nautical miles away from land. In the run-up to eelam war IV, both the SLN and the LTTE changed their tactics. The then SLN chief, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda called off ‘Waruna Kirana.’ Karannagoda (presently Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Tokyo), decided to hunt down floating warehouses on the high seas. The LTTE too, changed its tactics. Instead of bringing in floating warehouses into Sri Lankan waters, Prabhakaran decided to carry out mid sea transfers using trawlers acquired from Tamil Nadu. Arms transfers were to take place outside Sri Lankan waters. The LTTE seemed to have been confident that Tamil Nadu officialdom wouldn’t undermine its operation.

The Tamil Nadu government couldn’t have been unaware of what was going on. Although Tamil Nadu knew fishermen could die in the LTTE operation, it remained silent. The LTTE made preparations for war under the very noses of the Indians as well as Co-Chairs, namely the US, EU, Norway and Japan. Many realized the Tamil Nadu factor in the LTTE design, none wanted to voice concern. Having realized the LTTE bid to enhance its firepower, President Rajapaksa on October 9, 2006 warned the peace Co-Chairs that he wouldn’t hesitate to order military action to thwart the LTTE plan. Among those present at the meeting were US Ambassador Robert O. Blake, EU Ambassador Julian Wilson, Norwegioan Ambassador Hans Brattskar, Japanese Ambassador Kiyoshi Araki and German ambassador Juergen Weerth. Weerth was there as Germany at that time held the rotating EU presidency. President Rajapaksa stressed that the prospect of direct negotiations with the LTTE under the auspices of the international community wouldn’t discourage him from countering arms smuggling attempts (Tigers planned mid-sea transfer of arms-US-’The Island’ October 11, 2006).

Sri Lanka’s assertion that the LTTE shopped for arms, ammunition and equipment was reinforced by the arrests made by US authorities at the onset of eelam war IV. The indictment of four persons by the US for conspiracy to provide material support to the LTTE and money laundering highlighted the project.

"In today’s world, keeping sophisticated US weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists has never been more important. As this case demonstrates, we have no tolerance for international arms brokers looking to equip terrorist organisations with Stinger missiles and other advanced American weaponry. Arming a radical organisation with more than 200 suicide bombings to its credit jeopardises the security of the US and nations around the globe," Julie L. Myers, Assistant Secretary for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement posted on www.usdoj. gov/usao/md. Myers was referring to the LTTE.

According to the indictment, the suspects conspired to export state-of-the-art firearms, machine guns and ammunition, surface to air missiles, night vision goggles and other equipment for the LTTE, beginning April t2006

According to the indictment, 69-year-old Indonesian national Haji Subandi, one of the suspects in US custody, sought ‘price quotations and technical specifications of military items including night vision goggles, Special Forces weaponry and equipment, communication devices, spare parts for helicopters and military aircraft, sonar technology and unmanned aerial vehicles,’ between March 2004 and April 2006. It also revealed that the LTTE wanted an undercover US agent to visit Malaysia to discuss the deal. The US investigation also revealed that the LTTE wanted to take delivery of the equipment in international waters 200 nautical miles off Sri Lanka. Another Indonesian and a Singaporean are among the arrested. Their initial order totalled about US$ 3 million. The second Indonesian was identified as 60-year-old Erik Wotulo, who was identified as an Indonesian Marine Corps General.

US investigations revealed that the deal was to be finalised in Jakarta.

The Singaporean, Haniffa Bin Osman, 55, according to the indictment, discussed the "illegality of the arms transfer to the LTTE, provided navigational coordinates for delivery in the Indian Ocean, and asked about serial numbers on the weapons." Osman signalled that the second order could be worth US$ 15 million. He also inquired about the pricing for unmanned aerial vehicles.

The US alleged that the suspects transferred US$ 250,000 from a bank in Kuala Lumpur. It was the first payment for the arms purchase invoiced at approximately US$ 900,000. The fourth conspirator was identified as 36-year-old Thirunavukarasu Varatharasa.

The LTTE depend on Tamil Nadu trawlers to move weapons from the high seas to the Vanni. The Tamil Nadu complicity in the LTTE operation prolonged eelam war IV.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Post-war politics: Will BJP landslide be advantageous to Sri Lanka ?



Can Narendra Modi fashion his own policy without being influenced by those hell bent on avenging the LTTE’s battlefield defeat?

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Now that the (Bharathiya Janatha Party) BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has secured a simple majority in the 543 member Lok Sabha, the LTTE rump, the Tamil Diaspora as well as western powers pushing for a regime change in Sri Lanka will have to re-examine their strategies. The success of their efforts will largely depend on the Indian position.

The NDA’s victory will surely weaken their ongoing campaign, though they succeeded in having a resolution adopted at the 25th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNCHRC) to pave the way for a war crimes probe targeting Sri Lanka.

The change of government in New Delhi will give Sri Lanka time and space to rethink its strategies and explore ways and means of overcoming the threat.

A change of government in neighbouring India could not have come at a better time for Sri Lanka, struggling on the diplomatic front. However, everything will depend on 63-year old Narendra Modi, a former Chief Minister of Gujarat, who led the DNA to a landslide. Modi has obtained the strongest mandate of any Indian leader in three decades.

Unlike previous governments’, Modi will not have to depend on a political ally in Tamil Nadu for the survival of his administration. In the absence of political pacts between Modi and Karunanidhi’s DMK or Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, the LTTE rump and Tamil Diaspora will find it difficult to influence the central government through their South Indian partners. The bottom line is that Modi’s India will not have to bend backwards to appease Jayalalithaa or back western efforts to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes probe. Unlike his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, Modi will be able to decide on policy towards Sri Lanka without being influenced by those propagating lies against Sri Lanka.

Throughout the post-war period, the Indian central government humiliated Sri Lanka, on several occasions at the behest of its south Indian allies. The Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had no option but to undermine Sri Lanka as it was dependent on Jayalalithaa for its survival. Jayalalithaa brazenly acted on behalf of the UK-based Global Time Forum (GTF), widely believed to be the most influential Diaspora grouping.

Suren Surendiran issued a statement on behalf of the GTF expressing the belief that Jayalalithaa would be able to influence the new administration. Surendiran appears to have ignored Jayalalithaa’s hostility towards the BJP.

"The GTF is delighted that the determined voice of support that has echoed consistently from across the Palk Strait has been strengthened by a historic democratic vote. Madam Jayalalithaa and her party have stood firm against the injustices levelled upon the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka. Madam Jayalalithaa is the first elected international leader who has formally referred to what is happening to the Tamil Nation in the island as genocide, called for an international investigation in Sri Lanka to establish whether war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed, demanded for economic sanctions against the Colombo government and referred to President Rajapaksa as a war criminal.

The GTF sincerely hopes that Madam Jayalalithaa will be able to influence the new BJP led government under Prime Minister elect, Hon. Narendra Modi to stand firm and be decisive when dealing with the historic and continued injustices served upon our people in the island of Sri Lanka. The Global Tamil Forum sends its humble congratulations in celebrating Madam Jayalalithaa and her party being re-elected with an overwhelming historic majority to lead the people of Tamil Nadu and be the leader of Tamils all over the world, including the Tamil Nation in the island of Sri Lanka."

"Just as Chief Minister Madam Jayalalithaa and her party have won in a clean sweep in the State of Tamil Nadu, Prime Minster elect, Hon. Narendra Modi and his party the BJP and its allies have swept the largest democracy in the world! The Global Tamil Forum sends its heartiest congratulations and best wishes for a successful future!

Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka wait in great anticipation and hope that the new Indian government will stand firmly against past and present injustices faced by the "Tamils and deal decisively with the Rajapaksa government in bringing just peace in the island of Sri Lanka."

The LTTE rump, the Tamil Diaspora, MDK and AIDMK will soon realize that New Delhi’s policy towards Sri Lanka cannot be manipulated to their benefit. They repeatedly harassed the ousted government in accordance with their overall strategy to undermine Indo-Lanka relations. A case in point is former Indian Premier Manmohan Singh skipping the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo last November. Singh would have been here if not for AIDMK threats.

Pro-eelamists also campaigned against India building two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) for the Sri Lanka Navy. They held the former government hostage until Manmohan Singh retrained from voting for the US-led anti Sri Lanka resolution in Geneva late last March. Perhaps that decision was taken in India’s national interests after having realized that the UPA could not win the recently concluded parliamentary elections.

India voted twice against Sri Lanka in Geneva since the conclusion of the conflict. It would have voted again last March if not for the realization that a Modi-wave was sweeping through India, though Tamil Nadu voted differently. In spite of securing 338 seats, Modi’s DNA could manage only two seats in Tamil Nadu. That would be advantageous to Sri Lanka. Tamil Nadu could no longer influence New Delhi at the behest of the eelam bobby. Former Indian leader Manmohan Singh went to the extent of shunning meetings with President Rajapaksa to appease those who called the Sri Lanka leader a war criminal.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) too, is in a dilemma. Modi’s India is unlikely to throw its weight behind the TNA’s project backed by a section of the international community. The TNA consisted of five parties, namely the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), TULF, EPRLF, TELO and PLOTE of them, the last three engaged in terrorism in Sri Lanka under the direction of Indian intelligence services during the congress rule in the early 80s. The TNA now represented in parliament and running the Northern Provincial Council will have to weight its options. The TNA leadership cannot ignore that both major parties in Tamil Nadu, DMK and AIDMK had no influence over policy makers in New Delhi. Although New Delhi will definitely take into consideration Tamil Nadu concerns, the centre is unlikely to give into unreasonable demands.

The eelam lobby managed to prevent India accommodating security forces officers at Staff College in Wellingon, Tamil Nadu. Eelamits also prevented Sri Lankans from playing in the IPL. The situation deteriorated further when eelmists targeted Sri Lankans visiting India on several occasions. They also prohibited the showing of ‘Madras Cafe’ in Tamil Nadu, alleging the movie showed the LTTE and its leader Prabhakaran in bad light.

The eelam lobby warned UK cinemas of dire consequences if they showed ‘Madras Cafe’. Same tactics were used successfully in Canada. The former Indian government turned a blind eye to what was going on. The like of Vaiko, who supported a heavy defeat at the recently concluded parliamentary elections, sought to attract voters at the expenses of Indo-Lanka relations. The centre could have provided further help to defeat the LTTE if not for the powerful eelam lobby in Tamil Nadu.

But nothing could be as humiliating as India’s failure to execute those who had been found guilty for the May 21, 1991 assassination of one-time Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the midst of an election propaganda rally in Tamil Nadu. The eelam lobby strongly opposed capital punishment to those LTTE operatives, though they sought punitive action against Sri Lanka over accountability issues. The eelam lobby had the backing of the European Union (EU) which opposed capital punishment.

It would be interesting to note that ‘Madras Cafe’ discusses the complicity on the part of some Indian officials on the LTTE operation leading to the assassination of Gandhi.

The LTTE rump and the Tamil Diaspora are likely to softly push Jayalalithaa to continue her efforts on their behalf though she cannot influence the centre.

Those who have been waiting for international intervention too are disappointed over the development in India. A strong government in New Delhi is not conducive for such projects.

What would be the new government’s position on the South African initiative to facilitate a dialogue between the Sri Lankan government and the TNA?

Would Modi’s DNA take a different position vis-a-vis Sri lanka at the UNHRC?

What would be his position on Sri Lanka’s long standing relationship with China and Pakistan?

Had Modi been dependent on Jayalalithaa or some other South Indian political partner for survival in the Lok Sabha, the situation would have been different.

Thanks to a vast majority of Indians, Modi has received a strong mandate in the 16th Lok Sabha elections. Whatever various interested parties say, Modi’s massive victory is greatly beneficial to Sri Lanka.

Both DMK and AIDMIK will have to review their position on Sri Lanka in the wake of the likes of MDMK leader Vaiko, who campaigned on an anti-Sri Lanka platfrom suffering a crushing defeat. Vaiko has been pushing for a UN backed referendum on eelam. Vaiko’s defeat revealed that The Tamil Nadu electorate had not been overtly concerned about accountability issues in Sri Lanka.

The LTTE’s ally, Karunidhi’s DMK has suffered a stunning defeat in Tamil Nadu due to the AIDMIK securing 37 out of 39 seats in the state. But both are not in a position to compel the new government to pursue pro-eelam strategies at the expense of Indo-Lanka relations.

The Hindu nationalist party’s decision to name Modi as its prime ministerial candidate in spite of allegations over his involvement in violence directed against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 meant that the BJP quite rightly realises that there were other issues to worry about than accountability over the Gujarat massacre.

The BJP ignored western criticism of Modi. Although some BJPers expressed displeasure over Modi’s nomination, he had the support of the vast majority, hence he received the go ahead.

Tony Blair suspended all ties with Modi in the immediate aftermath of the Gujarat massacre. The UK restored ties with him in 2012 as Modi gradually, moved up.

British PM David Cameron was one of the first leaders to phone Modi on May 16 to congratulate him on his victory. Modi was also boycotted by the US as well the EU over the Gujarat riots that left over 1,000 people dead. Since Modi’s nomination as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, those who had previously shunned him sought to enhance direct links with him. In fact, they approached him in late 2012, in the backdrop of reports that the Gujarat Chief Minister could emerge as the next leader. Having sent the British High Commissioner in India to meet Modi in Oct 1012, the UK declared "active engagement with Gujarat," was the way to boost relations.

The change of attitude by western powers towards Modi was a forgone conclusion. They could not have shunned the prime minister of India, regardless of allegations.

These preaching accountability at international forums will find it extremely difficult to explain the basis of their arguments in the wake of a major turnaround from their previous boycott of the Indian leader.

But they never felt the need to take punitive action against the Congress for causing deaths of thousands in neighbouring Sri Lanka by launching terrorist groups. The Congress leadership, though being tainted by massive violence in Sri Lanka under its watch, was never asked to explain its conduct. The Congress detabilized Sri Lanka to pave the way for Indian military intervention.

The Congress never accepted responsibility for destabilizing Sri Lanka. There hadn’t been a similar case where a regional power destabilized a friendly country primarily for domestic, political and security reasons. But the international community adopted a different approach in other cases. A case in point is former Liberian President Charles Taylor being sentenced to 50-years in prison for fomenting terrorism in the neighbouring Sierra Leone. Taylor, a one-time US agent, began serving his jail term last year in the UK.

Although, Modi had to experience western ire for killing, raping and looting, which began in February and continued until mid-June 2002, the Congress escaped international scrutiny. More than 2,000 Muslims were murdered, and tens of thousands rendered homeless in carefully planned and coordinated attacks of unprecedented savagery. Under Congress watch, mobs slaughtered thousands of Sikhs in the wake the then Premier Indira Gandhi’s assassination in late October 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards to avenge the army assault on militants in Amritsar, Punjab in June 1984.

Let us hope that the new Indian administration rethink its policy on Sri Lanka. Although some believed that Jayalalithaa could influence Modi, the new government is most likely to adopt a different approach towards post-war Sri Lanka. The Congress will never be allowed to forget that it caused war here. Sri Lanka’s fate could have been much different had the Congress managed to retain power at the parliamentary election in late 1989. Had the then premier Rajiv Gandhi secured victory, he wouldn’t have accepted President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s unilateral call for the immediate withdrawal of the Indian army. Having won the election, the National Front Government, under Premier V.P. Singh’s leadership acted swiftly to withdraw the Indian army. One-time Indian Foreign Secretary, J.N. Dixit, in his memoirs titled Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha asserted that the Indian pullout was one of the three significant events faced by the then Foreign Minister, Inder Kumar Gujral. Let me reproduce what Dixit said:

"He (Gujral) was the principal advocate of India withdrawing its armed forces from Sri Lanka in response to demands from the then President of Sri Lanka, R. Premadasa. Gujral’s view was that India should not have got into any active mediatory role in Sri Lankan ethnic crisis ab initio. He was even more opposed to India training and providing support to Tamil separatist groups and to India ultimately sending its armed forces into a neighbouring country to resolve what was essentially an internal problem of Sri Lanka. He did not accept the argument that if India had not got actively interested , it might have had to face a separatist movement in Tamil Nadu. He was also of the view that India’s military involvement and political mediation in Sri Lanka was against the basic principles of nonalignment and the stipulations of international law. He orchestrated a 180 degree turn in India’s Sri Lanka policy. There were segments of Indian public opinion which welcomed his decision as a statesman-like action, restoring India’s foreign policy on the right track and regaining the moral high ground which it had apparently lost in Sri Lanka."

Dixit’s assertion should be examined with his own assessment on the Indian project in Sri Lanka. Dixit called Premier Indira Gandhi’s decision to throw India’s weight behind terrorism in Sri Lanka as one of the two foreign policy decisions she could be faulted with.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Saving children the UN way



Some delegates attending the World Conference on Youth (WCY) in Colombo demonstrate on Friday (May 9) at the BMICH demanding international action to secure the release of girls abducted by Boko Haram terrorists in north-eastern Nigeria. They urged the international community to act swiftly and decisively to prevent Boko Haram from carrying out further abductions. The organisers prevented the demonstrators from entering the media centre though they assured a peaceful protest within the building.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorists earned the wrath of some western powers for abducting over 200 girls on April 14, 2014.

The US and the UK pledged to support Nigerian efforts to locate the girls.

The AFP quoted an aide to British Prime Minister, David Cameron as having said that the UK would send a team of experts to help locate the missing girls. The times revealed that Abuja based liaison officers from the elite Special Air Services (SAS) too, would join the rescue mission. The agreement came in the wake of Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck having a telephone conversation with Premier Cameroon.

Six US Senators moved a resolution supporting Nigerian efforts to find the abducted girls. They called for the immediate release and return of the girls.

"We and our African allies should do everything to help the Nigerian government rescue innocent girls and return them to their families," senator Dick Durbin, one of the six sponsors of the resolution tweeted, while calling the Boko Haram action "an affront to the civilized world."

US First Lady Michelle Obama expressed sympathy for the missing girls in a personal message on twitter. She was responding to the mass kidnapping, in the wake of President Obama calling the seizure ‘heartbreaking’ and ‘outrageous’. The US too sent military experts to help locate the girls.

People demonstrated outside the Nigerian embassy in Washington, demanding swift action to track down the girls. In Colombo, some delegates spearheaded by Nigerians attending the World Conference on Youth (WCY) on May 9 protested at the BMICH to highlight the plight of the Nigerian students.

All leading western news agencies targeted Boko Haram for the abductions. The media quoted state department spokesperson, Marie Harf as having said that the as feared, many of the 276 Nigerian girls kidnapped in the northern part of the country had been moved out of the country. The US asserted that they could have been taken to nearby Chad or Cameroon, last Friday.

Protests by some delegates to the WYC demanding tangible measures to secure the release of the missing evoked memories of brutal LTTE tactics – the use of teenage girls as cannon fodder.

The LTTE freely used child soldiers even in high intensity combat operations.

Although the LTTE continued with this despicable practice for many years, the international community turned a blind eye to what was going on in the ground. The five-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), ahead of parliamentary election in December 2001, recognised the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. The so-called civil society didn’t even bother to voice their concern over the LTTE-TNA partnership. In fact, no other terrorist groups had used children on combat operations as well as suicide missions the way the LTTE did.

The LTTE carried out its forcible recruitment campaign until the very end. Let me reproduce a paragraph (No. 98 – Page 28) in Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts’ on Accountability in Sri Lanka" to highlight the LTTE strategy.

"In spite of the futility of its military situation, the LTTE not only refused to surrender, but also continued to prevent civilians from leaving the area, ensuring their continued presence as a human buffer. It forced civilians to help build military installations and fortifications or undertake other forced labour. It also intensified its practice of forced recruitment, including children, to swell their dwindling ranks. As LTTE recruitment increased, parents actively resisted, and families took increasingly desperate measures to protect their children from recruitment. They had their children in secret locations or forced them into early arranged marriages. The LTTE cadre would beat relatives or parents, sometimes severely, if they tried to resist recruitment. All these approaches, many of them aimed at defending the LTTE and its leaders, portrayed the callousness towards the desperate plight of civilians and a willingness to sacrifice their lives."

Report of the UN Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict released on April 13, 2010, dealt with the situation on the Vanni East front.

Having recorded 397 cases of child recruitment, including 147 girls during Jan.1, 2009 – May 19, 2009, period, the UNICEF admitted that the actual number of abductions was much higher. Among the child victims was a 16-year old girl dependent of a UN national staffer.

With Sri Lanka facing an international inquiry over accountability issues, it would be pertinent to examine the issue of child soldiers in the backdrop of international condemnation of Boko Haram for abducting over 200 girls.

At the onset of Indian intervention is Sri Lanka, its intelligence services encouraged the use of child soldiers. All Tamil groups, including these now in the Illankai Tamil Arosu Kadchi (ITAK) led TNA running the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), recruited children.

The TNA consisted of the PLOTE, EPRLF, TELO, ITAK and TULF.

India forced the then President TRJ to invite the Indian Army in July 1987. When India decided to call off its operation, it formed what was known as the Tamil National Army (TNA), to protect the EPRCF – led NE provincial administration. The Indian army provided training as well as weapons to the TNA cadre, including many child soldiers.

The international community ignored the Indian actions. Thousands of child soldiers died in fighting among Indian sponsored Tamil groups, fighting between the LTTE and the Indian Army (Oct 87 – March 90) and the war involving the LTTE and the Sri Lankan military. Due to negligence on the part of successive governments of Sri Lanka, those who had supported the use of child soldiers never faced legal action. The Tamil National Alliance, which openly backed the LTTE throughout the conflict (2001-2009), hence supportive of the despicable use of child soldiers, are now recognised as human rights defenders. Even 5 years after the end of the conflict, the government is yet to conduct a survey to estimate the number of child soldiers in accordance with an overall plan meant to counter lies propagated by interested parties.

India never acknowledged its shocking role in using child soldiers in combat operations. The TNA constituents too, never commented on the contentions issue of using children as a weapon.

The government should launch a survey to identify those who had died fighting as child soldiers and the circumstances of their death.

The conflict in Sri Lanka would not have lasted so long if the LTTE was deprived of an opportunity to use child soldiers. During the Norwegian government led peace initiative (Feb. 2002 – April 2003), the LTTE brazenly conscripted children.

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), did nothing except recording statements from those parents accusing the LTTE of abducting their children.

The records are with the government as well as other Scandinavian countries which contributed personnel to the SLMM.

The SLMM ignored high handed LTTE actions, regardless of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), in place since Feb. 2002.

Sri Lanka’s peace Co-chairs, namely the US, EU, Japan and Norway too, did not take up the issue. No country demanded that the LTTE cease using child soldiers. Had the international community adopted punitive measures against the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran would have been compelled to give up using children as cannon fodder. Instead, the global community engaged in a foolish bid to reach an agreement with the LTTE to stop the conscription of child soldiers. Let me examine the UN-LTTE agreement finalized in May 1998.

On behalf of the UN, negotiations were conducted in May 1998 by Olara Otunnu, the Special Representative of the then UN General Secretary. Otunnu functioned as the top UN Representative in charge of children affected by Armed Conflict. Otunnu was here on the invitation of the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. The LTTE declared a two-day ceasefire in view of the UN official’s visit. The then Jaffna Commander, Major General Lionel Balagalle told the writer that the LTTE would never give up employing child soldiers.

Having met Otunnu at his headquarters in Palaly, Balagalle asserted that Prabhakaran could not stop using child soldiers, even if he wanted to do so. The very survival of the LTTE remained on the unlimited supply of child soldiers, one-time Director of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) said. (Jaffna security forces commander briefs UN Special Representative. The Island, May 5, 1998).

Otunnu was widely believed to be the first foreign official to meet the LTTE leadership in the Vanni, since the departure of the Indian Army in March 1996. Having met British passport holder Anton Balasingham and Political Wing Leader SP Thamilchelvam, Otunu, in a statement issued through the UN office of the Resident Co-ordinator in Colombo, claimed that the LTTE would not use children below the age of 18 in combat. Otunnu also quoted the LTTE as having said that the group would not recruit children below the age of 17. (Tigers agree to end use of children below 18 in combat-The Island, May 9 1998)

Although the UN claimed it had the LTTE’s consent to set up a mechanism to monitor the commitments made by the group, it did nothing to implement the agreement. The UN admitted that during talks between Otunnu and the LTTE, the latter refused to release under-age recruits or reveal the number of such cadres in uniform at that time (UN, LTTE to discuss modalities with strap line pledge to stop using children in combat – The Island – May 11, 1998)

The UN never made a serious attempt to ensure the implementation of decision taken in the Vanni. International human rights organizations, particularly the London headquartered Amnesty International remained mum, though they knew what was happening on the ground.

Instead of stopping child recruitment, the LTTE launched a major drive to boost its fighting strength. The LTTE needed additional muscle as it prepared to launch a massive offensive on the Vanni front meant to drive the army out of the Vanni region. The LTTE sacrificed hundreds of children in a series of high intensity battles along the Kandy – Jaffna A9 road, north of Omanthai as well as east of the road before overrunning the strategic Elephant Pass base in April 2000.

The LTTE used child soldiers in frontal attacks on army fortifications, regardless of heavy casualties. The LTTE refrained from giving the date of birth of those killed in action.

Sri Lanka should push for a comprehensive probe into the failures of international actions. The UN never examined its failures in Sri Lankan. The reluctance to investigate the circumstances under which UN agreement with the LTTE came into being in May 1998 is a case in point.

The UN never commented on its agreement with the LTTE. The UN was careful not to discuss it. Strangely, the Sri Lankan government too never expressed concern over the failure on the part of the UNP to implement the agreement.

Although, the 1998 Rome Statue for International Criminal Court (ICC) listed enlistment of children under the age of 18 into the armed forces of a sovereign country and their deployment as a was crime, the LTTE was given the freedom to exploit children.

To the credit of the Sri Lankan government, it never resorted to conscription in spite of a severe shortage of fighting men. Successive governments refrained from introducing conscription, though some felt the need to bring in compulsory military service to meet the LTTE challenge.

Throughout the campaign in the Vanni (1998 – April 2000), the LTTE issued media statements from its International Secretariat based in London. Of course, statements from London never made any reference to heavy sacrifices made by child soldiers on the front.

Today, Adele Balasingham, who threw her weight behind the LTTE recruitment campaign at the onset of the Oslo-arranged ceasefire, lives comfortably in the UK. Adele played a high profile role in the recruitment of girls, for frontline fighting units. The Colombo based diplomatic community did not take any notice about what was going on in the Vanni. The TNA leadership backed the child recruitment campaign. The then UNP government never complained, though the armed forces and the police tried to sabotage the LTTE project.

The UN reacted strongly to the Nigerian abductions. UN chief Ban Ki-moon sent a special envoy to explore ways and means of assisting Nigeria. A unanimous UN Security Council declared the mass kidnappings ‘may amount to crimes against humanity’ under international law. The 15-member UN security council said that it would follow the situation and consider ‘appropriate measures’ to take against Boko Haram.

But the world turned a blind eye to mass recruitment campaigns undertaken by the LTTE from time to time.

The LTTE projects were meant to restore depleted fighting units as well as increase the strength to meet additional battlefield commitments.

Sometimes, passing out parades were held in schools with the participation of TNA politicians and government officials, during the Feb 2002 – April 2003 period.

In spite of the LTTE being listed as a terrorist organisation, in several countries, including India, child recruitment continued until the Sri Lanka military brought the LTTE to its knees, on May 18, 2009.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Impending int’l war crimes probe: Misreading New Delhi’s Geneva move



Permanent Representative of India to the UN office, Dilip Sinha

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka prepares to celebrate the fifth anniversary of her victory over three decades of LTTE terrorism on May 18, 2014 as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) readies to officially launch the much talked about investigation into alleged atrocities committed in Sri Lanka. This year’s armed forces parade will be held in Matara, with the participation of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the services. The OHCHR will announce the appointment of a high powered team of investigators, just before or shortly after the military celebrations in the South.

The Sri Lankan government publicly denounced the proposed UN mechanism, alleging it has no mandate to investigate the conflict here. The government appears to be confident that it will have India’s backing to face the UN challenge. India abstained from voting on March 27, 2014 in the US-sponsored resolution titled "promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka" in the UNHRC, which authorised the body to set up an independent international inquiry in Sri Lanka to probe accountability issues.

"The resolution is inconsistent and impractical in asking Sri Lanka and UNHRC to conduct investigations simultaneously," said, Dilip Sinha, Permanent Representative of India to the UN office.

Sinha noted that unlike the resolutions in 2009, 2012 and 2013, this resolution asks the OHCHR to "investigate, assess and monitor" the human rights situation in Sri Lanka which was an "intrusive" approach that undermines national sovereignty.

"It has been India’s firm belief that adopting an intrusive approach that undermines national sovereignty and institutions is counterproductive. Any significant departure from the core principle of constructive international dialogue and cooperation has the potential to undermine efforts of the Human Rights Council for promoting universal respect for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms," he said.

Moreover, any external investigative mechanism with an open-ended mandate to monitor national processes for protection of human rights in a country, was not reflective of the constructive approach of dialogue and cooperation envisaged by earlier UN General Assembly resolutions, he added.

"India has always been of the view that the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka provided a unique opportunity to pursue a lasting political settlement, acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka, including the Tamils," the explanation given of India’s vote said.

"India believes that this council’s efforts should contribute to a state’s own efforts in the promotion and protection of human rights. We are strongly supportive of Sri Lanka’s continued engagement with the OHCHR.

"We encourage the High Commissioner to continue to provide technical assistance in accordance with the relevant HRC resolutions. We are also supportive of a close engagement of UN Special Procedures with the Government of Sri Lanka," it said.

India’s decision to skip the vote on the US-UK led resolution moved at the 25th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was meant to protect her interests. Had India felt so strongly against the resolution, it should have voted against the move. Instead, India played it safe.

The Indian move was clearly aimed at preventing further deterioration of its relations with the Sri Lankan government. Having voted for anti-Sri Lanka resolutions moved by the US in 2012 and 2013, India probably felt that another ‘Yes’ vote would cause irreparable damage to Indo-Lanka relations. In spite of both the US and UK expressing serious concern over the unexpected move, India abstained. Even if India voted against the resolution, it wouldn’t have made a difference on the ground. The resolution received 22 ‘Yes’ votes, whereas 12 countries voted ‘No’ and 12 abstained. The US too, being a member of the UNHRC voted for its own resolution. The adoption of the third US resolution at the March session was a foregone conclusion, therefore the Indian move didn’t undermine the overall objectives of Western powers pushing for a regime change in Sri Lanka.

India couldn’t have ignored the growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka. A third consecutive vote would have further strengthened the Chinese position here. Perhaps the Indian strategy would have appealed to the US due to President Obama’s dependence on India to counter the Chinese challenge in the region. Closer Indo-Lanka relationship is advantageous to the US. Therefore, Sri Lanka needs to examine the geopolitical interests of the world’s solitary superpower when dealing with post-war issues.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka appears to have failed to realize the Indian strategy. Although the Indian backed five-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the UK-based Global Tamil Front (GTF) expressed disappointment at the Indian approach, they basically refrained from criticizing Premier Manmohan Singh’s government.

TNA leader R. Sampanthan told The Hindu that the Indian move caused surprise and a measure of disappointment. quoted the Trincomalee District MP R. Sampanthan as having said: "Nevertheless India must have good reasons for its decisions and we look forward to discussing that with India in due course," he told The Hindu on Thursday.

However the TNA, he said, was very satisfied and happy that the resolution was passed. If this resolution was properly implemented, it would pave way for genuine reconciliation and permanent peace in Sri Lanka, he added.

UK based GTF spokesman, Suren Surendiran told The Island that Tamils in Sri Lanka and the world over were very disappointed and hurt by the Indian abstention. Responding to a query by The Island, Surendiran said: "India’s action is a devastating let down! Considering that 75 million Tamils live in Tamil Nadu alone, their feelings have been ignored completely by the decision makers. However, GTF is moved and elated by the continuous support by Tamils in Tamil Nadu, the civil society all-over India and the media in India in general." (GTF hails US resolution, echoes TNA’s call for immediate international probe-The Island March 29, 2014). Since then, the GTF refrained from commenting on the issue. Perhaps, Surendiran wouldn’t have made that statement if The Island didn’t raise it.

Political parties based in Tamil Nadu too did not make a big issue over the Indian action. Major political parties acted as if they had reached an understanding on the issue, though it could have been exploited particularly in Tamil Nadu during ongoing Indian parliamentary polls.

The Sri Lankan government seems to be blind to what is happening on the ground.

The bottom line is that the Geneva resolution has paved the way for an international probe. In spite of missing the vote, India, as a member of the UNHRC, will fully cooperate with the UN body. The investigation will focus on events during the period from February 2002 to May 2009.

All those wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes tribunal privately agree that such an investigation shouldn’t be at the expense of India. Those who threatened to set ablaze cinemas in the UK to stop screening of Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Cafe early this year claiming the movie depicted the LTTE as responsible for the assassination of one-time Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, remained mum over the Indian move in Geneva. Although cleared to screen in both Hindi and Tamil, theaters across Southern India, the United Kingdom and Canada suspended screening of the controversial political thriller starring John Abraham, because of protests.

India has achieved its objectives, though some Sri Lankan officials portrayed the Geneva vote as a victory for Sri Lanka. They went to the extent of counting the abstentions with the ‘No’ vote to declare 24 countries opposed the resolution. What they didn’t admit was that India’s position in Geneva was irrelevant as far as the UN investigation is concerned. The resolution ensured that India’s interests wouldn’t be jeopardized though it didn’t vote for it. Firstly, the resolution accommodated a critically important paragraph relating to the implementation of the 13th Amendment in Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Secondly, it effectively restricted the proposed investigation to the period between February 2002 to May 2009. India wouldn’t want anyone raising the issue of its intervention in Sri Lanka in the 80s, leading to three decades of bloodshed.

The following is the relevant section resolution bearing No. 10 of the 12 point resolution

10. Takes note of, the recommendations and conclusions of the High Commissioner regarding ongoing human rights violations and the need for an international inquiry mechanism in the absence of a credible national process with tangible results, and requests the Office of the High Commissioner:

(a) To monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and to continue to assess progress on relevant national processes;

(b) To undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedures mandate holders;

(c) To present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-seventh session, and a comprehensive report followed by a discussion on the implementation of the present resolution at its twenty-eighth session;

11. Encourages the Office of the High Commissioner and relevant special procedures mandate holders to provide, in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Government of Sri Lanka, advice and technical assistance on implementing the above mentioned steps;

12. Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner in the implementation of the present resolution.

The government will find itself in an extremely difficult and embarrassing situation in the coming months due to the mistaken belief that India can save it. It should also keep in mind that a change of government in India too will not in anyway affect the UN investigation. Even if the government reached some sort of understanding on the 13th Amendment with India, it will not have an impact on the UN action as well as the US-UK project. They’ll push for a full scale war crimes probe, regardless of the ongoing South African initiative. Whatever the experts say, India’s objectives in Sri Lanka cannot be compared with that of the US and UK as well as the EU.

No less a person than one-time Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit, in his memoirs, admitted that the then Indian Premier Indira Gandhi intervened in Sri Lanka to safeguard its own interests.

Dixit, in his memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy, launched in 2004, says that he preferred to call India’s interference in Sri Lanka during 1980-1990 period as ‘Indian involvement.’

Dixit asserted that the decision to give active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants could be considered one of the two major foreign policy blunders made by Gandhi. But he strongly defended the Prime Minister’s action, while asserting Gandhi couldn’t have afforded the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils [Chapter 6:An Indocentric Practitioner of Realpolitik-Makers of India’s Foreign Policy].

Dixit failed to explain how the Prime Minister hoped to achieve her twin objectives by recruiting, training, arming and deploying thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil youth. India also helped Sri Lankan terrorists establish contact with international terrorist groups.

Indian action caused irrevocable damage to Indo-Lanka relations. The Maldives, too, suffered due to Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Dixit totally ignored the Maldivian factor, though India was responsible for the coup attempt in the Maldives in Nov. 1988.