SPECIAL REPORT : Part 81July 14, 2015, 5:41 pm
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Global Tamil Forum (GTF) Director for Strategic Initiatives and spokesperson, Suren Surendiran, recently fired a broadside at war – winning former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. UK – based Surendiran declared that the Rajapaksas should be hauled up before, both local and international courts, for gross human rights violations during Eelam War IV. Commenting on the former President, contesting the forthcoming parliamentary polls, Surendiran asserted: "... the only people who may campaign and vote for his return are the ones who have a lot to lose personally," (Aug. 2006 to May 2009) and post-conflict period (Post-war national reconciliation: Diaspora factor-The Island, July 8, 2015).
Mahinda Rajapaksa gave resolute political leadership to bring the war to a successful conclusion, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, on the morning of May 19, 2009. A grateful nation can never deprive Mahinda Rajapaksa of the credit he quite rightly deserved for beating Prabhakaran in his own game.
The then Opposition refused to back the war against terrorism. The so-called civil society, at the behest of their foreign sponsors, worked overtime against the Rajapaksa administration, while an influential section of the media, and various experts, asserted that the war can never be won, through military means. Dr. Rohan Gunaratne was one, though he subsequently switched his allegiance to the Rajapaksa administration. Canada based veteran journalist, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, as late as Dec. 2008, predicted of an LTTE counter, on the Vanni front, leading to collapse of the offensive. Despicable attempts were made to defeat the budget, during the war. Such moves, if succeeded, would have derailed the offensive. But wily Rajapaksa kept the offensive on track. The former President went to the extent of personally intervening to ensure weapon supplies. A victory would never have been possible if not for the former President authorizing doubling of the army’s strength, a far reaching political decision no previous ruler was prepared to take.
Rajapaksa earned the wrath of the LTTE rump, the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a section of the international community, as well as an influential segment of the Tamil Diaspora, for defeating terrorism. The former President sustained Sri Lanka’s largest combined offensive on track in spite of heavy international pressure. That wouldn’t have been possible without the unstinted support extended by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the then army chief, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s leadership qualities, as well as an unwavering then Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda. The SLAF, under the then Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke, played a pivotal role in bringing Prabhakaran to his knees. The elite STF threw its full weight behind the overall offensive, with DIG Nimal Lewke playing a crucial role. The Intelligence Services provided unprecedented support.
The writer regret the inability to mention names of those senior security and police officers who made Sri Lanka’s triumph, over terrorism, possible.
In fact, the GTF came into being during late Feb 2010, nearly a year after the eradication of the LTTE leadership. It would be pertinent to examine the setting up of the GTF, as well as various other outfits, including the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), also after the successful conclusion of the war. Had the LTTE survived the military onslaught, it wouldn’t have probably seen a requirement for either the GTF or the TGTE, though the British Tamil Forum (BTF) came into existence, in 2006. The Diaspora organizations rapidly grew in the wake of Prabhakaran’s defeat and the realization that the LTTE was no longer in a position, at least to wage a hit and run campaign.
At the end of the Vanni offensive, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had in place a comprehensive security apparatus to meet any eventuality. Sarath Fonseka played a critical role until he quit Mahinda Rajapaksa’s team, in late 2009, to challenge him at the January, 2010, presidential election.
The GTF spokesperson had conveniently forgotten the TNA campaigning for Sarath Fonseka at the January, 2010, presidential election. The TNA had no qualms about throwing its weight behind the war veteran whom, it repeatedly accused, of deliberately killing thousands of Tamils on the Vanni front. The TNA delivered northern and eastern electoral districts to Fonseka.
The TNA comprised the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) and three political parties, namely EPRLF, TELO and PLOTE. The original outfit included the TULF.
At the November, 2005, presidential election, the TNA, at the behest of the LTTE, ordered Tamil – speaking people not to exercise their franchise in support of either Mahinda Rajapaksa or Ranil Wickremesinghe. The LTTE-TNA directive was meant to ensure Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory as they felt the overwhelming inexperienced SLFPer would be much more easier than confronting Wickremesinghe. The UNP leader has accused Mahinda Rajapaksa of bribing the LTTE to engineer his defeat. TNA leader, R. Sampanthan, too, expressed a similar opinion in the run-up to the January 8 presidential election.
However, a fearful UNP refrained from commenting on the despicable LTTE-TNA act at that time.
Did Prabhakaran receive a bribe to dig his own grave?
A Norwegian – funded study (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts, 1997-2009) briefly commented on Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory at the November, 2005, presidential election. Launched in September, 2011, the report asserted that Mahinda Rajapaksa had been willing to resume negotiations with the LTTE on his terms, whereas Ranil Wickremesinghe secured the UNP block vote and made overtures to Muslim and Tamil electorates. "Ironically, Wickremesinghe’s defeat is determined in the Vanni. The LTTE decides to enforce a boycott among Tamil voters, thus tipping the balance to Rajapaksa, who wins with a margin of less than two per cent."
Would the GTF and other Diaspora organizations care to comment on the LTTE-TNA strategy that was meant to ensure Wickremesinghe’s defeat?
Since its inception, the TNA had no option but to promote the LTTE or face the consequences. Having recognized the LTTE, as the sole representative of Tamil – speaking people, the TNA represented the LTTE in parliament. Regardless of the overwhelming evidence of LTTE-TNA collusion, the then government couldn’t do anything about it. The government remained silent, even after the EU Observation Mission in Sri Lanka alleged that the LTTE engaged in systematic violence, in support of its proxy. The EU, in no uncertain terms, rejected the LTTE’s claim that it was the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people. In fact, the TNA nomination lists had to be cleared with the LTTE before being submitted to the Election Secretariat. The EU released its full report, in Colombo, on June, 17, much to the embarrassment of the TNA. The outspoken TULF leader, V. Anandasangaree, was the only Tamil politician to commend the EU report (TULF leader applauds EU for unmasking LTTE proxy-The Island, June 23, 2004). The major political parties remained silent while the Election Secretariat wasn’t bothered. Anandasangaree asserted that the Election Secretariat should have called for fresh polls, in the Northern and Eastern districts, as the April, 2004, parliamentary election didn’t reflect what he called genuine people’s mandate.
The TNA couldn’t absolve itself from atrocities committed by the LTTE. The TNA worked closely with the LTTE to achieve their overall objectives. They remained together until the very end.
*In 2001, the TNA recognized the LTTE as the sole representatives of Tamil speaking people. The announcement was made in Colombo. The move was made amidst secret negotiations between Norway and the government of Sri Lanka, leading to the signing of a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), in February, 2002. Although the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had initiated the process, the actual agreement was signed by the then Premier, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
*In April 2003, the LTTE quit the negotiating table, thus paving the way for Mrs. Kumaratunga to call fresh election, in April, 2004. The TNA backed the LTTE’s decision to suspend Norwegian facilitated peace talks. The LTTE made its move after the successful conclusion of six rounds of negotiations, at overseas venues.
* In April, 2004, the TNA received the direct backing of the LTTE to consolidate its position in the then temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provinces.
*In August, the LTTE assassinated the then Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, in Colombo. The Norwegian – funded National Peace Council (NPC) promptly issued a statement justifying the assassination. The NP declared the killing was tragic but inevitable. The TNA remained silent.
*In November 2005, At the behest of the LTTE, the TNA ordered Tamil speaking people to boycott the presidential election. They ignored the UNP’s secret pleas not to interfere with the electoral process.
*Less than three weeks after the presidential election, the LTTE resumed high profile attacks in Jaffna. The TNA remained silent.
*The TNA remained silent even after the LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate army chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka.
*The TNA turned its back on Mahinda Rajapaksa’s efforts, throughout 2006, to kick start the peace process, under Norwegian auspices. Rajapaksa sent delegates for meetings overseas though his political partners strongly objected to succumbing to LTTE-Norway pressure. The international community, the TNA and Diaspora never appreciated Mahinda Rajapaksa going ahead with Norwegian – facilitated talks even after the attempt to assassinate the army chief.
*The TNA solidly stood with the LTTE, until the very end, in May 2009. The grouping refrained from at least urging the LTTE not to use human shields, or throw children, into high intensity battles.
*In January, 2010, the TNA backed Sarath Fonseka’s candidature at the presidential election.
*In January, 2015 presidential election, the TNA delivered the northern and eastern electoral districts to Maithripala Sirisena.
*At the forthcoming, August 2015, parliamentary polls, the TNA will go it alone. However, the grouping will work with the UNP-led coalition, depending on the outcome of the result.
The TNA should be grateful to both Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka for eradicating the LTTE. Whatever their public pronouncements, the entire TNA leadership would have heaved a sigh of relief when Prabhakaran’s body was shown on Television, on May 19, 2009. That was the undeniable truth. The Sinha Regiment veteran Sarath Fonseka’s army achieved what his predecessors couldn’t for over three decades. Over 10,000 LTTE cadres, including thousands of experienced cadres, surrendered to frontline fighting troops. Of about 12,000 in government custody at the end of the war in May 2009, less then 275 LTTEers remained in custody, including those undergoing rehabilitation.
The Norwegian study also revealed that the then Oslo administration underestimated Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Norwegian team, assigned for Sri Lanka peace effort, appeared to have mislead the government, unintentionally. Obviously, the team was acting on information received from those who had been confident in the LTTE’s wherewithal. Let me reproduce the relevant part verbatim. "During an internal strategy session, with the Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store, in May, 2007, the mediation team reiterates that: ‘All observers think that this is a conflict that cannot be won by military means and most believe that the government cannot beat the LTTE, militarily.’ Moreover, the group concludes: International pressure does not seem to have any positive influence, but rather to contribute to locking the military strategies of the parties. Strategic thinking thus tends to hinge on the premise that at some point a new stalemate may emerge, either because the LTTE rolls back the frontline as it did several times in the past, or resorts to guerrilla – style tactics to avert defeat. In hindsight, the Norwegian team underestimates the Sri Lankan government’s strength, both militarily and politically. The team considers a wide range of likely, and less likely, scenarios, but, like most observers at that time, it does not reckon with the sequence of events that is to follow: a strong SLFP-led government and a military victory.
Sri Lanka’s triumph, over terrorism, brought immense relief to the TNA and Diaspora groups. Sri Lanka also set an exemplary example by defeating the LTTE, a major terrorist group on the proscribed lists of India, US, UK and Canada.
The Gajaba Regiment veteran Gotabhaya Rajapaksa always believed that the LTTE could be defeated and he never minced his words. In fact, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa asserted that the LTTE had to be militarily dealt with, following the assassination of Kadirgamar. Rajapaksa resented efforts to appease the LTTE by providing various facilities, including free SLAF flights. The Norwegian report referred to a meeting Norwegians, Hanssen Bauer and Brattskar, had with Rajapaksa, on April 6, 2006, about three weeks before the attempt on Sarath Fonseka’s life. "On 6 April, 2006, Hanssen Bauer and Brattskar have a tense meeting with Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. In response to a question about whether the ethnic and political problems in Sri Lanka could be solved by military means, Gotabhaya answers, ‘yes.’
*In May, 2009, the TNA regained its right to function freely without being dictated by the LTTE. Subsequently, the military gave up some public and private land, held over the years, in accordance with overall defensive and offensive strategies in the ‘war zone.’ The previous government also substantially reduced military presence. The TNA, nor the Diaspora, acknowledged significant progress made on the ground.
*In September, 2013, the TNA comfortably secured the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) at a free and fair election conducted by the previous government. The first election for the then temporarily merged Northern-Eastern Provincial Council was conducted in November, 1988, under the auspices of the Indian Army. The Indian Army exercise was meant to install EPRLF administration.
*The TNA received an opportunity to deal directly with Western powers, and India, without having to pursue Prabhakaran’s strategy. Unfortunately, the TNA squandered that opportunity. Instead of seeking an understanding, with the war winning government, the TNA and Diaspora launched a hostile campaign to avenge the LTTE defeat. They couldn’t stomach the LTTE’s debacle. They pushed for regime change in Sri Lanka with the UK taking the lead. The British went to the extent of calling for regime change in Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The Diaspora-led effort culminated, in March, 2014 with the US moving a resolution, in Geneva calling for an external investigation into accountability issues.
The British never got over with Mahinda Rajapaksa turning down a joint UK-French appeal made, in April, 2009 to halt the offensive. Although the GTF hadn’t been in existence, at that time, the UK intervened on behalf of the Diaspora community. The exercise was purely political. The whistle-blowing website, Wiki Leaks, subsequently exposed the then British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, intervening in Sri Lanka with an eye on British voters of Sri Lankan origin.
Those wanting to have the previous government hauled up before an international war crimes tribunal should seriously examine the circumstances leading to Eelam war IV, in August, 2006. Although many asserted that Mahinda Rajapaksa declared war because of the closure of sluice gates of Mavil-aru in July, 2006 the fact is the real offensive commenced during the second week of August, 2006. Those shedding crocodile tears for the loss of life turned a blind eye to what was going on, as long as they felt the LTTE could meet its military objectives. The August offensive was meant to overrun Jaffna peninsula in a lightning offensive. The Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission quite rightly identified the LTTE strategy. The SLMM said: "...considering the preparation level of the operations it seems to have been a well prepared LTTE initiative."
Had Mahinda Rajapaksa lacked guts to fight back and bring the war to a successful conclusion, within three years, the country would have been divided on ethnic lines. In his first exclusive interview with the writer, Prabhakaran successor, Kumaran Pathmanathan, aka ‘KP’, asserted that the LTTE believed it had the wherewithal to defeat the army in two years.